In a 2019 Wall Street Journal article, I brought a "genetically rescued organism" some popular attention. It was the American Chestnut, which had been devastated by a blight that conventional techniques and chemicals could not stop.

This was a completely non-profit public good to rescue a tree - but because it used science $3 billion in environmental lawyers lined up to oppose it. They used the same tired story. Environmental activists claim they don't hate science, they hate corporations, but when a non-profit with no lawyers creates something, like a tree with a gene that makes it resistant to blight or a vitamin-fortified bowl of rice, environmentalists exploit the lack of a corporate parent (and the lawyers corporations have) to oppose science every step of the way.

The chestnut joined the Rainbow Papaya in being saved, yet the Rainbow Papaya in Hawaii sailed through without objection. Activists had not been told to campaign against GMOs yet. Now they not only protest GMOs, they call everything from RNAi to CRISPR a GMO.

A ghost forest when blight ruins American Chestnut trees. Image: Library of Congress

Yet progress is continuing to happen even while progressives oppose it every step of the way. The anti-biotech movement in America is on its last legs and scaremongering groups like Friends of the Earth are resorting to terrorizing poor people in Mexico to try and get a win somewhere. You know when they team up with discredited economist Chuck Benbrook they are really desperate.

In a Breakthrough article, Emma Kovak discusses another genetic rescue effort, but this time the environment is getting saved, and the mechanism is a faster growing poplar tree. The science is not that complex but the regulatory environment is arcane. Kovak's argument goes that it is the responsibility of scientists to avoid backlash by 'building public trust' and that will make approval easier.

That is a false cultural battlefield. Where was concern about public trust when the first GMO, insulin, was put into use? Or the Rainbow Papaya mentioned earlier? Or the 2,000 plant varietals - many of them certified organic - created using literal chemical and radiation baths to force mutations, known as Mutagenesis? None of those were an issue but a Concorde flight that could go from London to New York City in three hours had Congressional hearings - because of activist efforts.

That is the issue today. It is not a public trust problem, or a science credibility one. We instead have a tort system that has made it lucrative for environmentalists to sue over everything and convince a jury that safe products are either not tested or only have 'industry-funded' studies. Very few journalists object to such false framing, primarily because they are political allies. It is the same reason that Environmental Working Group is in its 20th year getting New York Times coverage of a "dirty dozen" list that intentionally omits organic industry pesticides.

Public trust in genetic solutions for agriculture was only eroded by environmentalists who were out to make money 25 years ago. I am old enough to remember when activists also claimed coffee causes breast cancer. Everyone reading this is old enough to remember when activists claimed the BPA lining in cans of food caused miscarriages. Science showed both of those were completely manufactured hysteria but how many people still buy BPA-free labels?

There is no public trust issue, because you can never win when the side being paid to conspiratorially intone 'but can you be sure?' gets media attention in a news cycle that is paid to advertise products and publishes the most provocative claims. Breakthrough isn't doing that, but emotional verbiage like "responsible use" and "backlash" even in an article where a journalist thinks they are being scientifically agnostic shows just how ingrained anti-science framing in media has become.

There is no 'responsible use' problem in America, the closest we have to frauds are not in science, they are instead organic industry economists like Chuck Benbrook or osteopaths like Joe Mercola. 

COVID-19 encouraged FDA to do what the science community had requested for years - use evidence-based decision-making instead of creating artificial barriers to entry, like an 18-month process to change the color of a font on a drug label, that increases costs and blocks out small competitors.

If FDA and especially the Biden EPA were not so vehemently determined to stand in the way of progress, getting approval could be affordable enough that it wouldn't take giant Evil Corporations to spearhead breakthroughs with a phalanx of lawyers, products could show safety and go into the marketplace - and be a lot more affordable.

Just like 2,000 Mutagenesis products did before environmentalists decided that the thing Rachel Carson promoted in "Silent Spring" - more biology, far less chemistry - was going to ruin the world.