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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

Media Blackout on GMOs

Roxanne Darrow | August 6, 2015

Why does mainstream media refuse to cover the genetically modified organism (GMO) issue in a balanced way? Last Wednesday, at the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights, a panel of two journalists, an author, and a scientist spoke to a packed room about the media’s biased coverage of GMOs.

“Scientists and other scholars are having a lively debate about GMOs within their communities, including critiques, but the media rarely reports on this,” said Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a former GM wheat and rice researcher, who is now the Senior Scientist at the Center for Food Safety. The voices of these experts are rarely heard because journalists, who are frequently inexperienced with complex GMO science, predominantly go to industry-funded or other pro-GMO scientists as sources. Scientists who have some concerns about GMOs are often too afraid to speak out, making it even more difficult for journalists to represent the issue in a balanced way.

Panelists explained that scientists fear being labeled as anti-GMO activists and their careers could be damaged. Steven Druker, public interest attorney and author of Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, stated, “I think that it is a shame that many scientists who do have concerns [about GMOs] don’t have the courage right now to speak out about their convictions because they’ve seen how other scientists have been pilloried.”

The same applies to journalists. According to reporter Michael Snow, “Unwittingly some prominent news outlets have been caught spreading misinformation and half truths about GMOs, sometimes in concert with industry funded ‘astroturf’ front groups that pretend to be consumer oriented.” However, when experienced journalists get credible information from non-industry scientists, these media outlets often appear reluctant to publish it. Snow waited 13 months for the Washington Post to print his assigned and accepted op-ed on the myths and truths of GMOs in its Sunday Outlook Section, only to have a new editor quietly kill the piece. He also recalled the 1997 case of two investigative journalists who were fired from a Fox Television affiliate after Monsanto threatened to sue the station. The journalists were ready to publish an exposé about the dangers of rBGH, a genetically engineered hormone manufactured to increase cows’ milk production.

Mainstream media is not covering the full range of the scientific debate around GMOs, in part because scientists are afraid to come forward and journalists are not supported by their employers. As a result, the presentation of the public GMO debate is lopsided. Dr. Gurian-Sherman explained: “The GMO debate is framed as scientific consensus versus an uninformed public, but scientists are not in agreement about many aspects of the technology and how it is being developed.” We need scientists to come forward and provide information that will create a more balanced public debate that can lead to more informed legislative decisions.

 

Roxanne Darrow is Investigation and Outreach Coordinator for the Food Integrity Campaign.

4 Comments

  1. Jeff K says:

    The irony of course, is that the entire disinformation/propaganda /suppression/denigration campaigns all have one common theme: the use of pseudoscience to rationalize everything they do. When examined closely, when a great deal of effort and time is applied, the veil lifts, and the spin is revealed for what it is. Quintessential B.S.Report

  2. Robert Mann says:

    In my country, New Zealand, a main reason why the GM issue is shunned by the media (except for hype-PR which some of them do launder for the GM-trade) is that the anti-GM cause was firmly hijacked c.15 y ago by PC politicians. These operatives are aware that GM is a concern to most citizens, and have latched onto this cause as a vehicle for political publicity. Unfortunately they happen to be unable to discuss the matter because they have only paltry understanding of the science. The media soon realised these political activists are not reliable, and often shun them.Report

  3. JH says:

    The fact that there are any scientists against or critical of GMOs says quite a lot in itself. Given that science is tacitly pro-technology (what’s the point of science if we think nature knows best in this domain?) there is an aspect here of asking clergymen if they believe in god. When they say ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’ that sure suggests there is need for caution.Report

  4. GMOsRdeadLytuyu says:

    This is only one of many reasons why I no longer subscribe to a single newspaper or magazine anymore. In America, there are very few journalists worthy of the name.

    In “liberal” Boulder, Colorado (which is really a highly conservative city in many ways in spite of its reputation), the local syndicated “newspaper” (not locally owned!) is frequented by an extensive army of GMO shills. (Pesticides are used “liberally” throughout supposedly “organic” Boulder. The Boulder County government has long been a very aggressive advocate of deadly GMO technology which has been force fed to its constituents. The GMO Mafia has apparently long been active in Boulder County. Boulder’s reputation as an organic Mecca is pure bunk.Report

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