The Surprising Science of GMOs

The organic industry is taking advantage of the average American’s scientific illiteracy, says Pacific Research Institute Fellow Henry I. Miller

The common narrative around Genetically Modified Organisms is that they are damaging public health, as Frankenstein creations of sinister “Big Agriculture.” We hear that companies like Monsanto are suppressing scientific evidence of these harms and conspiring to put small organic farms out of business.

In reality, these are delicate questions of science and economics. What are the ideal economies of scale for farming? What’s more harmful: the naturally-occurring pesticides in organic produce or the artificial pesticides used to shield modified organisms? Most people with strong opinions on organic food one way or another have not really thought through these questions. It takes an expert to understand all of the issues in play.

Fortunately, I had an expert on my show — Dr. Henry I. Miller is a physician and molecular biologist with expertise in policy, having served as founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology. He recently a joined the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco as a Senior Fellow and was previously a fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

In an article for the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas blog last year, Miller wrote about the widespread ignorance among Americans when it comes to basic scientific ideas. When the subject becomes politically charged, such as the debate over GMOs or climate change, we see that people gravitate toward to the “science” that favors their position.

In truth, there is only one truth, says Miller — that which is obtained through the scientific method, in which falsifiable hypotheses are tested and results verified through repeated experimentation.

In a world full of fake news, who wouldn’t want to be guided by the best available evidence?

It turns out that pesticide companies are some of the biggest financial supporters of the rent-seeking organic industry. Furthermore, the vast majority of pesticides (read: bug killers) are produced naturally by crops themselves.

Henry joined me for this full hour to make the case that the best evidence points to the safety of GMO and biotechnology used for drugs. As director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, Miller was responsible for securing the approval of several genetically modified treatments that have been used to save lives.

Is there reason to take extra precautions in the face of unknown risks, or can science inform us with certainty that GMO is the way to go?