❝ The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine just issued a book-length report, strongly reaffirming what American and European scientists have long said: Food from genetically modified crops is no more dangerous to eat than food produced by conventional agriculture…
The report also finds no clear evidence that genetically modified crops cause environmental harm. It acknowledges the importance of continuing monitoring..Other studies are less equivocal, finding no special risks to the environment from genetically modified agriculture.
❝ And yet the public is deeply concerned. One survey finds that only 37 percent of Americans believed that genetically modified food is safe to eat. According to my own recent survey, 86 percent of Americans favor labeling of genetically modified food, apparently because of perceived health risks — 89 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents.
What explains that? New research, by Sydney Scott and Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania and Yoel Inbar of the University of Toronto, offers some important clues.
❝ Scott and his colleagues asked a representative sample of Americans whether they supported or opposed genetically engineering plants and animals. They also asked them to register agreement or disagreement with this statement: “This should be prohibited no matter how great the benefits and minor the risks from allowing it.”
❝ …Astonishingly, 71 percent of the opponents, and 46 percent of the whole sample, were absolutists: They want to ban genetic engineering regardless of the benefits and risks.
On its face, that’s ridiculous. Suppose that the risks of genetic modification are zero and that the benefits are high, because genetically modified food is both cheaper and healthier. If so, how could rational people want to ban it?
❝ Controlling for demographic and other differences, Scott and his coauthors found that disgust was the best predictor of whether people would proclaim absolute opposition to genetic modification.
The conclusion is simple: People who most strongly oppose genetic modification are not weighing risks and benefits. Their opposition is a product of the fact that they find the whole idea disgusting.
What’s disgusting about genetic modification of food? I speculate that many people have an immediate, intuitive sense that what’s healthy is what’s “natural,” and that efforts to tamper with nature will inevitably unleash serious risks — so-called Frankenfoods. The problem with that speculation is that it’s flat-out wrong.
None of which surprises me. Pop culture is useless for many reasons, especially questions of judgement that may involve rationality. A nation that elected and then re-elected Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush doesn’t fit that requirement.
A number of factors contribute – starting with the collapse of American education over the past 60 years. We embrace some of the silliest myths in psychologizing ideology and apply them to endeavors with reams of solid science – which we promptly ignore. We are the only Western industrial nation that feels the need to identify every area of political and economic life with approval from spirits in the sky. Laughable to much of the world.
But, it all fits together nicely with the anti-GMO side of “natural” living. Trouble is, folks, you’re giving respectability to something about as sound as giving your friendly neighborhood fundamentalist the right to deny civil rights on the basis of gender identity because their one true book says it’s a sin.