View from the Levee: Biotech Baloney

Wheat customers don’t want genetically modified wheat – end of story. So why are some commentators spinning this response as some kind of hysteria?

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The “op” in “Op/Ed” is not newspaper shorthand for “opinion.” It’s newspaper shorthand for “opposite,” as in the page “opposite” the editorial page.

The positioning is both literal and figurative. An active Op page showcases opinions and writers that, usually, oppose the editorial stance of the publication so readers get both sides of any public debate.

The Wall Street Journal, however, takes Op/Ed art to another level. It publishes a full Op page opposite its red-hot editorial page and prints a pre-op page—a third page of columns and reviews—before it. These columns and columnists don’t leave you scratching your head; they leave you with a lump on your head.

An example of this red-meat righteousness was a June 12 column titled “Separating the Biotech Wheat From the Chaff,” by a Terry Wanzek, “a farmer and North Dakota state senator [who] volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by farmers.”

All you really needed to know about the column, however, was contained in a highlighted, bold-type sentence: “Recent hysteria aside, genetically modified wheat is a safe product.”

Recent hyperbole aside, the discovery of GM wheat growing wild in Oregon last month spurred anything but hysteria.

In fact, after the discovery was announced, two of America’s largest wheat buyers, Japan and South Korea, reacted quite predictably—they suspended American wheat imports until they are assured no GM wheat is present in what they buy because neither nation’s consumers want it. Period.

That’s the height of rationality, not the depths of hysteria.

The column spins other half-truths into baloney in the hope it will convince non-farm readers that “the time to commercialize GM wheat is past due. The sooner everyone stops fussing over what is a safe and healthy product, the sooner farmers and consumers all over the world will benefit.”

There’s no fussing; consumers “all over the world” do not want GM wheat. Since they are the ones paying, they get to choose what they buy. What part of “the customer’s always right” don’t the GM pushers get?

Wanzek—or more likely, Mary Boote, Truth About Trade’s CEO—supports his pitch with irrelevant “facts” like comparing the Oregon find to “a few stalks amid more than half a billion acres of conventional wheat planted and harvested in the past dozen years.”

The figure and reasoning are straight out of May 29 Monsanto press release (“… since the program was discontinued nine years ago, this is the only report after more than 500 million acres of wheat have been grown.”) 

Both are meaningless baloney because it simply doesn’t matter that only a “few stalks” were found or that they were found in a half billion acres.

People don’t want GM wheat. Not a few stalks; not many stalks; not any stalks. Period.

The writer(s) then notes that GM wheat “was developed, tested and proven safe for human consumption years ago. Yet the U.S. Department of Agriculture has never approved it for commercial use,”

The first part of that statement remains under debate while the second part is more baloney.

USDA “has never approved” GM wheat for any use because it was never asked to approve it. As Monsanto itself explains, the company “exited the wheat business in 2004… in large part, due to a lack of industry alignment for the company’s technology…”

Translation: the public didn’t want the stuff. As such, Monsanto did the smart thing. It “exited” the market.

The public still doesn’t want it, so why do this farmer and this group peddle their baloney? According to information on its website, they’re on a mission.

“… concerns about technology, both feigned and authentic, are increasingly used to justify protectionism. These fears are not based upon scientific fact, but upon a mixture of unfortunate misunderstandings owing to ignorance and deceptive propaganda spread by entrenched special interests.”

In short, if biotech doubters weren’t so susceptible to their own “ignorance and deceptive propaganda spread by entrenched special interests” this special interest, Big Ag, could better “succeed in making international trade freer and preparing the world for exciting developments in biotechnology.”

These baloney stuffers should pull their heads out of the casing to see what the rest of the world, even Monsanto, sees clearly: No customer wants GM wheat.

Period.

Ag journalist Alan Guebert lives in central Illinois.

 

 

Topics: Ag and Trade
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