One of my favorite news sources is The Onion. It is a web site that is filled with outrageous and satirical news stories that are simply not true. After spending all day reporting on news that is true and diligently verifying facts, it is a real release to read stories that are totally not true and make fun of our modern society and human condition. Headlines like “Doctor Just Uses Same Ultrasound Picture For Every Baby” or “Postal Service Unveils New Line Of Stamps Honoring Americans Who Still Use Postal Service” are sure to give you a chuckle and will also tempt you to read the story — just to make sure it is not really true. But then there are those news stories that are totally true, written by serious people, that make you sit up and say “WHAT?????? You have got to be kidding!”
“Surgeon General has determined that DNA is dangerous to your health!” I was convinced this was an Onion story until I learned it was true, well sort of. The Surgeon General has not made such a determination, yet; but a recent study shows just how gullible and unaware consumers are when it comes to food ingredients and food safety. An Oklahoma State survey released by economist Jayson Lusk of the Department of Agricultural Economics found that Americans remain skeptical of GMOs: 82 percent said they back mandatory labeling of foods made with ingredients grown from genetically engineered seeds. But the punch line here is that, statistically indistinguishable from the percentage of people who want GMO labeling, an astonishing 80.44 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling of foods containing DNA! The results indicate that most Americans do not understand the difference between DNA and a genetically modified food. The former is genetic material essential to life as we know it. The latter is an edible organism, the genetic material of which has been altered for some purpose.
Lusk identified at least one clue as to why the disconnect between science and food. When asked which books respondents depended upon for their information, almost all replied “none,” meaning they looked to their friends or the web. In the few cases in which they did cite a book, the most popular ones were Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, which explains a good deal. This is the root of the problem that agriculture faces today: when it comes to their food most people are stupid; but the real problem is that they are happy to remain stupid.
Even when biotechnology produces a food product that is safer and more nutritious than what Mother Nature produces, people turn a deaf ear. The latest genetically modified potato, which bruises less and produces less of a potentially dangerous chemical when fried, will likely not be accepted by some of our nation’s largest food manufacturers and restaurant chains from fear of consumer backlash.
“What Big Food is Hiding with Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs” is another headline that caught my attention recently. Here is the opening sentence: “The purpose of this campaign is to deceive the public, to deflect efforts to win the right to know what is in our food via labeling that is already required in 64 countries, and ultimately, to extend their profit stream for as long as possible.” This conspiracy theory rant went on to say, “This campaign has greatly influenced how U.S. media covers GMOs.” This piece of over the top hypocrisy was distributed by a new non-profit group called Right to Know. With irony so strong it practically has its own magnetic field, this group accuses the food and agriculture sector of everything they themselves have been guilty of for decades, media manipulation, junk science, cover-ups, misrepresentation, fear mongering, and more. It is truly hard to believe that even those against GMO technology could write this drivel in all seriousness. I can’t wait to see what this group comes up with next.
Finally, there was the facebook post that floated by that, in all seriousness, espoused that the abandonment of kittens should be a “felony offense.” I support the proper and humane treatment of animals but, give me a break, a felony? Yes, this kitten organization was serious because they view the mistreatment of kittens on the same level as murder, kidnapping, sex trafficking, forgery, embezzlement, terrorism, and other felony crimes. Yup, I could not make this stuff up if I tried.
By Gary Truitt