Recently Jon Oliver discussed on his show something many of those who speak out in favor of science are all to familiar with, “whataboutism”.

Whataboutism is a type of logical fallacy called “tu quoque”. This is where someone avoids criticism by “turning it back on the accuser”. Your Fallacy Is explains:

Pronounced too-kwo-kwee. Literally translating as ‘you too’ this fallacy is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. It is commonly employed as an effective red herring because it takes the heat off someone having to defend their argument, and instead shifts the focus back on to the person making the criticism.

Mention the global consensus that human’s contribute to climate change?


By the way, Time itself “later admitted the article was high on enthusiasm but low on supporting science”.

Mention the scientific consensus that vaccines don’t cause autism?


By the way, very few actually did. There were zero studies showing cigarettes did not cause lung cancer. Companies just found a select few that agreed with them and put them on pedestals.

Mention that genetic engineering saved the papaya industry in Hawaii with disease resistant traits and how bt crops have significantly reduced insecticide use in some areas of the world?


I recently engaged with one of the few anti-GMO accounts on Twitter that I follow, “Vixen” is rather polite and has a fun habit of pointing out legitimate flaws in skeptics. She mentioned wanting to watch the pro-GMO documentary Food Evolution so she could form her own opinion.

Nice! So many on her side of the fence were unwilling to watch it, instead writing ad hominem attacks of the film. I did make one request of her though. I asked for a review that wasn’t, “what about glyphosate?”. (I am curious if they match what my wife had to say. She is really neutral in all this, favoring labeling, and had some criticisms of the films.) That is essentially what we have gotten so far. Opponents of biotech crops generally accuse the filmmakers of being on Monsanto’s payroll, or they write long essays about the film not addressing all of their concerns about glyphosate.

But that isn’t what the film is about, at least to me. Glyphosate tolerant crops were not the first GMOs on the market, nor are they the only GMO on the market.

Yes, they are currently the most prevalent one out there. I admit and recognize that. Yes, there are legitimate concerns about glyphosate tolerant crops. Over reliance on just one tool is never a good thing, as we are discovering with the emergence of more weeds growing resistant to the herbicide.

But the film was about the potential of GMOs, not one type that has been out on the market for so long that the first variety is off patent. By constantly focusing on the one trait, anti-GMO activists have been able to convince governments around the world to take a precautionary approach and continually delay approvals of GMOs that have nothing to do with herbicide tolerance.

Unfortunately their “whataboutism” approach to debate also takes us into the fundamental difference between their argument and my own. I advocate for a trait based regulatory system, whereas they argue for a process based one.

The method for creating novel traits is irrelevant. If herbicide tolerance is the problem, then let's regulate that. All breeding methods can create such a trait, and yet companies like BASF are able to get away without regulation because they used mutagenesis and artificial selection rather than genetic engineering.

The movie spends a lot of time discussing the potential of genetic engineering to solve problems for the banana crop in Uganda. Uganda is looking at vitamin enriched and disease resistant bananas. Traditional breeding methods for bananas are difficult because bananas are seedless. They are all essentially clones. So why should Ugandan work face so much scrutiny because of Monsanto and Roundup Ready crops? It shouldn’t.

Florida professor Kevin Folta once said “it’s our technology, don’t let Monsanto have it”. That always resonated with me. Monsanto doesn’t have a monopoly on seed, they have a monopoly on the science, and over regulation of the science gave it to them.

So what about glyphosate? While I personally prefer it over alternatives like atrazine and paraquat (all corn is atrazine tolerant), it isn’t necessary for me defend it in order to discuss other traits.

A brief walk through a grocery store can give you an idea why. While there are many factors that go into the price of food, efficiency can be a big part of it. So when I see organic baby carrots at Sam’s Club costing not much more than conventional it tells me that maybe organic farming systems for baby carrots could be a good thing.

But when I see the outrageous prices for organic milk over conventional, all kinds of red flags go off. Organic dairy is not better for the environment or the cows themselves.

Can I support one product from organic production and not another? Absolutely! Because ultimately it is the end result that matters. There is no one size fits all solution to agriculture.

Sadly “whataboutism” allows anti-GMO activists to rationalize the destruction of crop trials of all traits. This needs to stop.

I don’t get paid to write, but if you would like to support my classroom you can donate here: https://adoptaclassroom.force.com/donors/s/designation/a1mC0000002NxGLIA0/stepha-neidenbach