Fast-food chain Chipotle finds itself being sued for advertising that its food is “GMO-free.” The lawsuit is still nascent but may attain class-action status and already threatens to be a PR nightmare for the burrito joint. For those following the debate over genetically modified foods—and we use the word “debate” generously, considering the level of crazy involved—what’s happening to Chipotle was inevitable. The people bringing the lawsuit do have a point about deceptive advertising. The restaurant declared it was “G-M-Over It,” but Chipotle’s menu was never totally free of genetically modified organisms. However, the people invested in labeling, and inevitably restricting, genetically modified food are anti-science and obsessed with attaining a level of dietary purity familiar only to those who lived on ashrams in the 1970s.
Slate’s William Saletan wrote a good long essay about GMO foods in July that pulled no punches:
The people who push GMO labels and GMO-free shopping aren’t informing you or protecting you. They’re using you. They tell food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants to segregate GMOs, and ultimately not to sell them, because people like you won’t buy them. They tell politicians and regulators to label and restrict GMOs because people like you don’t trust the technology. They use your anxiety to justify GMO labels, and then they use GMO labels to justify your anxiety. Keeping you scared is the key to their political and business strategy.
Indeed, fostering such anxiety is downright harmful. The science of GMO crops being beneficial is not in dispute. It’s estimated that genetically modified crops may have saved as many as a billion lives around the world by increasing yields and enhancing the nutritional value of produce. But of late, there’s been a lot of grumbling from the left about how GMO crops are part of a Western corporate plot to exert control over the developing world. If such sentiment takes root, it’s not hyperbole to say it could increase starvation.
In the meantime, consumer brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Target have been happy to manipulate the anxious and make more money by convincing rich American consumers they’re paying more for products that are allegedly healthier. There are reasonable objections to harmful chemicals being put into food, and thus for decades there has been no shortage of laws related to food safety. But those most interested in lobbying for anti-GMO laws seem to be getting little pushback for their focus on fearmongering over demonstrating harm.
Interestingly enough, a few liberal science writers such as Saletan are, to their credit, aghast that corporations are manipulating consumers with anti-GMO pandering. “When Jenny McCarthy argues that there’s a link between vaccination and autism, or a politician says he thinks anthropogenic global warming is a scam perpetrated by greedy climatologists, they are swiftly pilloried in most mainstream venues,” wrote Jesse Singal at New York magazine. “And yet when the burrito giant Chipotle announced earlier this week that it will no longer be using any ingredients that contain or originate from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, there was barely a peep from the usual guardians of empiricism.”
Gee, we wonder why? Could it be that the media are loath to correct the biases of their own political and cultural class, no matter how unfounded they are? Lobbying for GMO-labeling laws isn’t exactly the Tea Party cause du jour. However, we bet we could find a whole lot of vehement and unscientific hostility to genetically modified crops at any random Bernie Sanders rally. When science serves to largely discredit the opinions of the progressive street, it’s not a mystery why you don’t hear more about it.