When It Comes To Being Pro-Science, Kenyans > Americans > Europeans
    By Hank Campbell | August 24th 2012 03:57 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    The British may think they 'colonized' Kenya to teach them about civilization and the modern world, but it would be the other way around today.  While over 80 percent of Europeans admit they are against any GMO regardless of whether or not they can be 'proved' safe - an impossibility anyway - and some Americans on the kooky anti-science left insist they are allergic to any product that has anything to do with GM sugar beets, Kenyans are downright enlightened about food science.

    What does it tell you?  Patronizing elitists are not as smart as they think they are.  The vaccine rate in Mississippi - dismissed as stupid religious people (i.e. Republicans) by the bizarre left - trounces the vaccination rate in of progressives in Washington state. And anti-science residents of coastal California might be politically correct and praise the 'culture' of Kenya but will quietly dismiss the idea that Kenyans are more pro-science.  They would simply mutter something about George Bush and abortion and buy more organic soap.

    Still, what the fringes of the anti-science debate in America get enacted into law impacts the world and so Kenyans can empathize with the reality-based community in California; because they are facing the problems labeling harmless products brings; higher prices and unnecessary panic.

    The people in Kenya are not concerned about GM labels or GM food at all. Not are scientists and most politicians. A nation that has the food insecurity of Kenya wants modern science to help fix that problem.  Instead, like in the US, the issue has become politicized and science has been pushed to the background.  

    Writing in The Star, Angwenyi Gichana quotes Cereal Millers Association chairman Diamond Lalji, who put it plainly; “We shall not sell the GM products because by labelling, we are raising questions about the safety of the products. So, as scientists, you have to decide whether GM products are safe or not. If they are not, let’s not talk about them altogether.

    And that's the crux of the issue, though proponents of the legislation here deny it.  Comments on Science 2.0 regarding GM foods by proponents show they don't trust scientists and are rabidly anti-corporation.  I guess they all work in communes and barter with each other since businesses are evil and they would never work at one - except Dr. Joseph Mercola's homeopathy for dogs and trial lawyers, those are apparently all ethical.  

    If they are so unsafe they need a label, ban them.  Or require accuracy in labeling for all foods - Whole Foods should not be exempted from accuracy in labeling just because Mercola is worried the USDA and the FDA will start to look into his supplement business.  Why does a package of "Mrs. Smiths" cookies need transparency but a Whole Foods gluten-free cupcake is impossible to get accurate information about - and organic shoppers are fine with that?

    Joel Ochieng’ of the University of Nairobi agreed labeling should be implemented if Kenyans actually rejected GM products. “However, this is not the case from the 3,529 respondents we studied. Many policies are not informed by research and that is why we can end up with regulations that make life of a low income earner more complicated.”

    So the average person in Kenya understands science better than Dr. Oz.
    It will raise prices and lower choices, there is no question.  GMOs are the great equalizer for people who were not lucky enough to be born in agricultural havens where food grows easily - the agricultural 1%, like we are in California.  Optimizing plants can help produce good yields in bad conditions and without dangerous pesticides or herbicides. Why do rich, white people in California want to make it impossible for Africans to compete globally?   Isn't is proven by now that wealth leads to education and culture?  Don't we want African nations to be able to be part of the world marketplace and not need handouts from patronizing Western nations? 

    Belief in the organic food process is an intellectual placebo and placebos are fine, as long as they are harmless.  I don't like that Mercola exploits uninformed people with too much money but it is harmless - until he starts promoting nonsense like that GMOs cause autism, then he is a danger.

    When it comes to being pro-science, at least Americans are better off then Europe - unless Prop 37 is passed, because California will have a standard twice as anti-science as what Europeans have.  But, really, the Kenyans shouldn't be making us look bad when it comes to biology awareness.


    Gerhard Adam
    I guess they all work in communes and barter with each other since businesses are evil and they would never work at one...
    I think that's a bit too snarky.  You don't have to live in a commune to have a desire for greater equality among people, neither do you have to engage in barter to recognize that corporate interests are rarely paralleling individual's interests.

    Businesses don't have to be evil, to still operate with the clear understanding that your interests are not what they are after, and if they happen to mesh then it is purely coincidence and not intent.  It is equally understood that when the interests of the business and individuals collide, there is little doubt that the business will seek to protect its own interests and not other individuals.

    One might wish that it weren't that dismal, but unfortunately we've had far too many instances over the past few decades that indicate exactly how little businesses think of other people.  One obvious example was the fiasco over the Toxic Shock Syndrome and Rely, since this clearly was the exploitation of technology against all known scientific data.  It also illustrates precisely how poorly testing can be done for products despite known hazards to the public.

    We've also seen numerous other incidences regarding such behaviors, and while it isn't fair to characterize all corporations in this light, it becomes clear that such behavior is intrinsic in organizations of this nature.  While the individuals might not behave that way normally, their role in maintaining their responsibilities to the corporation often result in such actions.

    The other side of this equation is that most people are experiencing the indifference that today's environment fosters in companies that don't seem to care about customer service.  While costs continue to rise, service gets worse and worse.  As a result, there's a direct correlation between those attitudes created by a bad experience and the quest of these corporations to then gain public trust.  Coupled with the apparent arrogance of many corporate officers that generally get far more government entitlements than the proverbial "welfare mom", it isn't difficult to see where such attitudes derive from.
    Mundus vult decipi
    It is ridiculous that this debate is still going on.  Though I've got to say that people on my side of the country don't seem too concerned by GMOs.  The food seems pretty safe, as does all the other food we eat and yet we have outbreaks of sickness from foods all the time.  Food has inherent risks when it is shipped nation wide regardless of whether it is "organic" or not.  I'm not sure why people are so afraid of of GMOs but it is just ignorance.  
    "some Americans on the kooky anti-science left insist they are allergic to any product that has anything to do with GM sugar beets"

    This is the one problem I have with your article as I have argued with you in past articles.  If I remember correctly, you clarified that you are talking about the wealthy "liberals" who only like to buy food from WholeFoods, Trader Joe's because they want only "organic" foods.  My wife brought up a good point while I was discussing this with her.  Here we refer to them as "Crunchy moms" and while they pretend to be liberal, they are nothing of the sort when you actually have a conversation with them.  I can't say I have evidence of this myself because this comes from my wife but she has had MANY long and tedious conversations with them on several parenting boards.  From the conversations she has had, these "Crunchy moms" are in actuality very conservative despite what they try to claim.  Just be careful who you call leftists because the true liberals I have encountered absolutely support science and GM foods.  I WILL agree that this is not true to everyone since we are all individuals.  I for one am a really big fan of Serj Tankian and many of his political beliefs but I will never say I support his anti GMO views as portrayed in his latest music video.  Truly I am only saying to give the left a break because they're not all the way you seems to like to portray them.  

    I really hate the polarization of political belief that has evolved in this country but I won't go into detail and take away from the point of your article.
    Well, it only shows that Kenyans haven't quite got Science the Descartes way. Cue: transfat. It works and its effects were thought to be nil. Or is it?

    Actually, I think trans fats were one of the more hyped up 'evil' foods of last decade.  Anti-GMO people use it as an example - and they should, because scare tactics without much of an evidence basis worked there, so they at least have a model for using scare tactics when there is zero evidence, like with GM food.  The trans fats debacle is the perfect example of anti-science people getting a culture war against one thing 'for the children' - animal fat - and having it replaced with something worse; trans fats.  Look at the lousy pesticides because of the hype about DDT.  Look at MTBE in gas and who knows what we will get because of anti-science nonsense about BPA.

    GMOs won't get a new product to replace them, they will get what banning DDT got us; a whole lot of dead kids.
    Looking forward to seeing Hank Campbell actually address some of the scientific data showing hazards and harm from GM foods and crops, eg studies summarized in this report:
    As a defender of GM food once said of his opponents, "Quit grandstanding and show us the data!"
    Back at you, Hank Campbell.

    These are media talking points - i.e. preaching to their choir - not studies. 

    Again, spend $400 and test the stuff yourself if you think the science world is wrong and you are right.  Proving harm from GMOs will quite literally get you a Nobel prize. 

    You seem to think the science world wants to side with Monsanto or some big corporation - that is not so.  The science world wants to stand against supernatural beliefs about science, like that any GMO food is harming people. But by all means spend some money and prove they are harmful - your chance to quit babbling anonymously about things you know nothing about and "show us the data".
    While you make a few good remarks, some of the things you mention are beside the point.

    - Joel Ochieng’ of the University of Nairobi agreed labeling should be implemented if Kenyans actually rejected GM products. “However, this is not the case from the 3,529 respondents we studied."

    I worked in TA (Technology Assessment) for a while. One of the dirty little secrets of TA is that surveys like this one don't give useful information about the behavior of people as consumers. If you ask them if they need gizmo X, they'll tell you "No". And the day after, they buy gizmo X. It's very well possible that Kenyans-as-consumers will avoid GMO-food if they can - if it carries a label and if they have the means.

    You still thinks these surveys are valuable? Then I have another discovery made by TA. When confronted with new technologies, people want a) information, b) choice c) an opt-in, not an opt-out, d) reversibility. These finding were consistent over all the studies we did in the two years I was active in TA. When confronted with neutral information about a new technology, people are (in general) not against it, but they don't like the idea of irreversible transformations caused by this technology. They want to be able to "go back" to the original starting point if the technology doesn't work out like planned.

    As I already mentioned, this doesn't say very much about their behavior as consumers. But if you insist that we should take Joel Ochieng’s work seriously, then you should insist on information, choice, opt-in and reversibility in the case of GMO-foods - not only for the US or Europe, but for Kenya as well.

    (It's my guess that GMO-food would have a better reputation if Monsanto et al. would have offered from the beginning information (including a label), choice, opt-in and the reversibility of their technology. Perhaps it even explains why "organic foods" meet less resistance. Organic food is labeled (although perhaps not truthfully), people who buy it clearly opt-in and nobody believes that we can't return to non-organic farming.)

    - While over 80 percent of Europeans admit they are against any GMO regardless of whether or not they can be 'proved' safe
    This doesn't mean a lot. I'm quite certain that, given the choice, over 80 percent of Europeans don't eat tripe soup regardless of whether or not it's tasty, safe and nutritious. The only thing you can deduce from this factoid is that people aren't basing their choices about food on science. But we already knew that, didn't we? Even "the poor" aren't rational about food. My grandfather - who was poor - hated dark breads. It was an affront to offer him dark bread, even if dark bread was cheaper then (and perhaps healthier too). Don't underestimate "the poor". They're consumers like you and me.

    I get the unpleasant impression that proponents of GMO in food are fearing the irrationality of consumers. They aren't against a GMO-label, but, you know, there's soooo much scaremongering and disinformation in the media, so not now please. The argument is not without merits. Irrationality can be dangerous: populism, racism etc. But we're not talking about racial attitudes or politics - we're talking about food. So slap a label on GMO-food, non-GMO-food and organic food.

    You still thinks these surveys are valuable?
    Oh, don't get me started on surveys.

    Yet the number one talking point of people behind Prop 37 is not that GMOs cause any harm, it is instead that a survey says 80% of people want to know what is in their food.

    So, yeah, I agree with you about surveys, but that applies to organic food also.  If a survey says "Should organic food be exempt from genetic modification disclosure?" 90% are going to say 'no'.  
    If those TA studies are worth anything, they suggest that proponents of GMO-foods are making their position weaker in this debate, meaning they are making the acceptance of GMO-foods more difficult. If you're against labeling, people will remember that their choice is limited (they don't have the information to make a choice) and that they're confronted with a difficult opt-out. On of the contributors to the debate wrote on Science 2.0 that it's difficult to keep GMO-crops and non-GMO-crops apart. People will remember that they're confronted with a fait accompli - the presence of GMO in food is more or less irreversible in practice.

    Not very smart, if you ask me.

    I always thought about TA as a study of "people-as-concerned-citizens", not a study of "people-as-customers". Prop. 37 seems to show that you can't neglect people-as-concerned-citizens. Monsanto et al. did, by neglecting choice, opt-in and reversibility from the beginning. A well-deserved backlash is the result. Prop. 37 is a consequence of stupidity - and I'm not talking about citizens who dismiss scientific information. I'm talking about Monsanto et al.