The first commercial genetically modified crop entered the market in 1995. The controversy over this type of agricultural biotechnology is even older. The critics are as vocal today as they were in the 1980s.Although the science has advanced a great deal in 20-plus years, the critics have not changed their position that GM crops and food represent a threat to people and the environment.I have been involved in public education on genetically modified crops and food for more than a decade. Experience has taught me two things: fear is very powerful and there is a great deal of pseudoscience on the Internet designed to generate fear of GM crops and food. Both fear and pseudo-science were significant factors in the recent resolution by Richmond council to ban the cultivation of GM crops.
GM crops are produced, in part, with recombinant DNA technology. Few in the public, including politicians, are trained in this field of science. The average person, including most politicians, cannot recognize the difference between the real science and the pseudo-science on GMOs. This lack of training and knowledge plays directly into the hands of organizations whose goal is to spread the fear of GMOs.
"Opponents of GM food understand that diminished understanding and lack of knowledge is the key to obstructing biotechnology," the American Medical Association has stated.
I participated in the exploratory phase, the general-purpose committee meeting and at the Richmond council public meeting that developed and passed the resolution banning the cultivation of GM crops in Richmond.
From very early on in the process, it was clear the city had been given a great deal of pseudo-science in support of the resolution.
Council claimed the transfer of GM pollen or seed to a neighbouring organic field would threaten organic certification. Alleged human/animal health issues associated with GM food were the second reason for the ban.
Neither of these two reasons cited is supported by history or science.
In 16 years of monumental growth of both GM and organic agriculture there has never been a case of decertification of an organic crop caused by trace amounts of GM pollen or seed.
Even the spokesperson for the organic food company admitted that to council. History clearly dem-onstrates that GM crops do not represent a significant risk to organic farmers.
During the two public meetings in Richmond, many of the all-toofamiliar anti-GMO fear stories were presented as fact. I presented global food-safety facts and opinion to counter the spurious claims of harm.
However, facts alone rarely dissipate fear. In this case, the fact that every single food safety authority in the world endorses the safe use of GM crops and food did little to alleviate the fear in the room.
The GMO critics spoke with great passion and fear, presenting socalled research that demonstrated all manners of harm from GM crops and food. It was an excellent example of the power of pseudo-science.
In reality, all of the alleged dangers of GM crops and food have been analyzed by global experts and dismissed. Everyone from the European Union to the World Health Organization to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority agrees there is no evidence of harm from consuming food made with GM ingredients.
In Europe, France has led the charge of banning the cultivation of GM crops. On May 21, the European Food Safety Authority released its consideration of the French case for the ban on cultivation of a GM corn crop.
The authority said there was no scientific evidence of harm to humans, animal health or the environment to support the French ban.
There is no such thing as risk-free food but the alleged evidence for the Richmond resolution banning GM crop cultivation is not supported by science.
Fear and scientific ignorance allowed for manipulation of the city council. The result was public policy based on pseudo-science.
Further, some have asked why Richmond chose to go through this exercise at all, since GM crops are regulated at the federal level where sound science directs policy.
When pseudo-science directs public policy, we get bad public policy.
By Robert Wager,
The Province June 3, 2012