‘Pro-Science’ Democrats Reject Biotechnology

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Imagine if Congress voted on whether or not to teach evolution and climate change in school. And imagine that 73% of Republicans voted against it. The backlash would be easy to predict: The national media, and science journalists in particular, would spend a week making somber declarations of impending educational and scientific collapse that would reverberate across the cosmos.

As it so happens, Congress did just vote on something of tremendous scientific importance: Biotechnology. And, as it so happens, 73% of Democrats voted against the bill. Yet, the national media remained deafeningly and hypocritically silent. 

On July 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, H.R. 1599, that, among other things, would block states from requiring foods containing genetically modified ingredients to carry special labels. From a scientific viewpoint, this is the correct policy. Yet, the Democratic Party, which has branded itself the “pro-science” party over the last two decades, overwhelmingly opposed it.

Why? Well, it’s hard to say, though the fact that places like the GMO-hating Whole Foods tending to be located in counties that voted for Barack Obama might have something to do with it.

In the final vote tally, 94% of House Republicans supported the bill, while a stunning 73% of Democrats voted against it. Even Democrats who represent districts with a large biotechnology constituency voted against the bill: Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Mike Honda (CA-17), and Anna Eshoo (CA-18) — all from the Bay Area — as well as Boston’s Michael Capuano (MA-7) and Stephen Lynch (MA-8) and Seattle’s Jim McDermott (WA-7).

The vote pattern made it abundantly clear: On the needlessly hot-button issue of genetic modification, Democrats sided with fearmongers and organic foodies, while Republicans sided with the medical and scientific mainstream.

And yes, just like vaccines, evolution, and anthropogenic climate change, GMOs are mainstream and non-controversial in the scientific community. Indeed, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (PDF) — organizations that represent our nation’s finest doctors and scientists — reject GMO labels.

But don’t just take their word for it. A massive literature review published in 2013 in the journalCritical Review of Biotechnology, which examined 1,783 papers on the topic, found that GMOs were safe for humans and the environment. In other words, the scientific community is solidly united behind the science of genetic modification; in fact, the toxic C-word, “consensus,” is entirely appropriate.

Unfortunately, Democratic politicians aren’t the only ideologues who are opposed to GMOs. The $72-billion organic food industry is, too. And anti-GMO activists, such as Gary Ruskin, use the legal system to harass academic scientists. His group, U.S. Right to Know, abuses FOIA requests in order to smear the reputation of honest biotech scientists. And who serves on his Board of Directors? None other than former Democratic Party apparatchik, Lisa Graves, who is now Executive Director of the far left-wing propaganda outlet, Center for Media and Democracy.

Our food is precious. Labels are meant for nutritional and health purposes, not for scoring political points against Monsanto or buttressing Luddite protests against biotechnology.

Let us hope that President Obama and the U.S. Senate can unite behind a bipartisan victory for science and approve the House bill.