Essay

The necessary "GMO" denialism and scientific consensus

07/06/2016

Abstract: 

"Genetically Modified Organisms" are not a consistent category: it is impossible to discuss such a miscellaneous bunch of products, deriving from various biotech methods, as if they had a common denominator. Critics are too often pre-emptively suspicious of peculiar risks for health or the environment linked to this ill-assorted ensemble of microorganisms, plants or animals: yet, even before being unscientific, the expression "GMO(s)" has very poor semantic value. Similarly, claims that recombinant DNA technology is always safe are a misjudgement: many unsatisfactory "GMOs" have been discarded, as has happened also for innumerable agri-food outcomes, obtained via more or less traditional field and lab methods. The scientific consensus, i.e. the widespread accord among geneticists, biologists and agriculturalists, maintains that every biotech invention has to be examined case by case, evaluating the unique profile of each new organism ("GMO" or otherwise): to assess its safety, the technique(s) used to produce it are irrelevant. Therefore, in considering "green" biotechnologies, a triple mantra should be kept in mind: 1. product, not process; 2. singular, not plural; 3. a posteriori, not a priori. Both people's and law-makers' attitude to agricultural biotechnologies should be reoriented, and this is an interesting task for science communicators: they should explain how meaningless and misleading the "GMO" frame is, debunking a historical, ongoing socio-political blunder, clarifying to the public what most life scientists have been recommending for several decades.