We’re often told that if biotech traits provided some benefit to consumers that those consumers would be more likely to accept the technology without complaint. That theory will be put to the test by 2017 when two newly approved GMO apple varieties are expected to hit the market. It would seem that the theory is already in peril, however, as the democratic ideal implies that the anti-intellectual opinions of the ever growing masses should trump the knowledge of the few.
Most apples start browning when the flesh is exposed to air or damaged. But the Canadian company behind the newly approved GMO Arctic Apple says its browning-free variety will mean less food waste, more uses for cut apples and the preservation of nutrients.
Famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once said: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
Ray Williams wrote in Wired for Success, ”There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.”
Anyone with a facebook newsfeed know what Williams is talking about and what Asimov could only have imagined when he wrote about anti-intellectualism in the 1960s.
All it took was a quick glance at facebook and we harvested these few examples of the talk about the GMO apples.
Exhibit A: The conspiracy that GMO is already everywhere. “This happened with apples I got from Costco a few months ago! I was stumped as to how my daughter's apple slices didn't brown after A WHOLE DAY! So scary.” ~Amy V.
Exhibit B: It’s unnatural. “Who thinks up these monstrosities?” ~Scott S.
Exhibit C: Foods from other countries must be better because they ban GMOs. “What a shame that we now want to purchase goods from other countries because we can't trust the food from our own county. I can't even buy butter from the U.S.” ~Michelle E.
Exhibit D: The only people that are pro-GMO are paid Monsanto shills: “Grafting is not genetically modifying. I have come to realize Gary is either a troll that likes being obstinate, a troll of monsanto or has some imagined slight in his past from an organic farmer (or chipotle employee).” ~Dan M.
Exhibit E: And the crowning anti-intellectual comment, the ‘I know better than you because I research on the internet all day’: “Another shining example of a technology that answers no real need, except for its inventors. Inventing a "solution" for an invented problem is now a time-honored tradition for the biotech industry. The "problem" is really just misdirection to distract from the real issue at hand, creating a seed product that farmers will have to license. Intellectual property and food should never be used together in the same sentence let alone the same business model.” ~Marty K.
These objections are so common in the anti-GMO rhetoric that it makes the reading pretty bland. But beyond bland, it’s actually pretty alarming. The pace at which literacy on topics from geography to science is declining in this country should be moving us all to action to improve the situation. Case in point: A 2008 University of Texas study found that 25 percent of public school biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth simultaneously. Wait. What?
It seems that the illiterate masses, even among our teachers, are finding more and more influence in decision making processes, demanding their day in the democratic sun.
Except we’re not a democracy. We’re a Republic that has instituted procedures that are intended to separate the wheat from the chaff, as they say.
It would seem that science has won the day on the GMO apple, at least for now. The hundreds of thousands of signatures presented to USDA did not stop the process from concluding the safety and appropriateness of two new apple varieties. A time-lapse video that shows the apple as compared to a conventional apple can be found here.
The next time a GMO trait is on the docket for your crops, maybe you’ll remember this update and choose to participate in the process. Write to USDA. Write to EPA. Call your Congressman. Call your Senators. It may nearly take every single one of us in agriculture to offer any balance to the opinions of the masses.
Are you interested in reading more about anti-intellectualism in the U.S.? Take a look at Anti-Intellectualism and the Dumbing Down of America.