The Battle Over GMOs: A Story of Microwave Ovens, Global Warming, Scientific Denial and the Politics of Fear

When microwave ovens emerged in earnest on the commercial market in the 1970’s, a coordinated effort was launched to discredit the technology behind one of the most revolutionary appliances in modern times.

Scientists, academics, journalists, policymakers, consumers and activist groups perpetuated – with little or no evidence – that microwave ovens exposed users to nuclear radiation and also caused cancer. They preyed upon the fears of unsuspecting consumers.

We now know those claims are false. However, it took years to dispel the myths and in some ways the urban legends are never totally wiped from society’s conscience.

Today, our society is engaged in a debate over genetically modified food ingredients (GMOs). Unfortunately, the tactics used by opponents of GMOs bear striking resemblance to those used to try to ban microwave oven technology decades ago.

Virtually every credible food safety agency and organization in the world, as well as virtually every credible food safety study has determined that there is no material difference between traditional and GMO crops.

Many of the same NGO groups and policymakers that are fighting GMOs long ago adopted the position that the earth is getting warmer and that the increase in temperature is man made based on scientific consensus. Now, the same groups and people are turning their backs on the same scientific community and its methods that has determined through scientific consensus that GMOs are safe.

Rather than follow the science, they once again prey upon the fears of the public to force their will on the food and agricultural sector. It is natural for the general public to be skeptical of new technology. But stakeholders engaged in contemporary discourse are obligated to present credible research to support their point of view.

On GMOs, opponents are unable to do that, so they fill the airwaves with wild and extravagant accusations instead.

Make no mistake about it. This is high stakes power politics. NGO and activist groups keep their organizations financially viable by attacking corporate America – even when they have little to no evidence to support their point of view.

Emotion and fear, rather than science and common sense, are the weapons deployed by a billion dollar per year NGO industry bent on bringing farmers, seed companies and manufacturers to their knees. Every regulation…every law…every voluntary initiative…that forces industry to disrupt its methods is a win for the organizations and people that oppose corporate America.

That is what is playing out in the battle over GMOs. On one side – innovative, safe and beneficial technology. On the other, emotion, fear and anti-corporate zeal.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg’s Congressional testimony on the safety and labeling of GMOs last week was a good start. If the White House prizes science and fact over emotion and the politics of fear, it will follow suit very soon. As will Congress.

Sean McBride, Founder and Principal of DSM Strategic Communications & Consulting, is former Executive Vice President, Communications & Membership Services at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and former Director of Communications at the American Beverage Association