One of the main impediments to rational discussion of biotechnology is fear-mongering by anti-GMO zealots. The most outlandish claims (cancer! birth defects!) are couched in science and often peddled by activists like Jeffrey Smith, who is given the opportunity to air his baseless assertions to nationally syndicated TV audiences (on multiple occasions), courtesy of the popular but irresponsibly credulous Dr. Oz.
As I’ve previously discussed in this Slate piece, progressives who should know better also play an unfortunate role in the dissemination of GMO-related misinformation and urban myths.
And then there are the scientists themselves.
John Vandermeer is a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan. I don’t know much about him beyond what I can glean from his website, but he has injected himself into the larger discussion over the widely publicized Mark Lynas speech on GMOs. Evidently, Vandermeer is quite rankled by what Lynas had to say and has published his own response at a California-based “think tank” called the Institute for Food and Development Policy. In his post, Vandermeer conspicuously plays up his qualifications as a scientist and educator. This guy is not anti-science, which is the term in vogue these days and used by Lynas and others to describe GMO opponents. Yet Vandermeer ticks off a laundry list of harms purportedly associated with GMOs and Monsanto, among which this jumps out (my emphasis):
He [Lynas] will discover that a bunch of scientific studies have linked Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) to endocrine disruption and he will come to realize that endocrine disruption can sometimes have negative consequences, things like birth defects and cancer, and I can’t wait to see his response to the well-know effects on penises.
Is Vandermeer asserting that a Monsanto
GMO product herbicide has been linked to cancer and birth defects, including “well-known effects on penises?” No. But he is suggesting that these may be the consequences.
This is not the measured voice of science talking, it’s fanaticism. That is what fuels the fury of the anti-GMO crowd and keeps us from having a constructive discussion on this topic.
UPDATE: I emailed Professor Vandermeer, asking for a citation for the penis/
GMO Monsanto herbicide reference. He responded, saying it “was an attempt at humor.” He also reiterated his main point about endocrine disrupters.