One thing I despise: ignorant celebrities having undue influence on the conduct of American science and technology by virtue of their fame alone. Here’s a tw**t, with the meeting described below confirmed by the Washington Post (Blythe Danner is Paltrow’s mother):
And, as the Post notes:
In an e-mail, [Claire] Parker offered a litany of Paltrow’s most famous quotes often trotted out as evidence of the “Iron Man” actress’s status as Not A Regular Human, including “I would rather die than let my kid eat Cup-a-Soup” and “I’d rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin.”
Seriously, she’d rather die than let her kids eat “Cup-a-Soup”? That’s one dumb woman, but of course Paltrow has been spouting woo, including “cleansing regimes” of the colon, for years.
Both Paltrow and actor/screenwriter Lena Dunham have made many statements in favor of putting warning labels on GMO foods, despite the lack of evidence that any GMO food poses a danger. Their statements have one aim: to get people to stop buying and eating genetically modified foodstuffs. Geneticist Layla Katairee of the Genetics Literacy Project addresses Dunham and Paltrow’s misapprehensions, making several good points:
To date, there is no solid research that has demonstrated that eating GMOs cause harm. I’ve read a few of the studies that are held up by anti-GMO activists as evidence of harm and the vast majority have been very poorly designed. Scientific organizations around the world have stated that GMOs pose no more of a risk than crops bred using other methods.
Many anti-GMO advocates fight for labeling based on the opinion that labeling is not about food safety: rather it is about their “right to know”. As I’ve followed this story, the editorial boards for major news publications across the country, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, have questioned the arguments behind “right to know” campaigns based on the fact that it simply does not offer any important information.
Labeling foods containing GMOs does not tell you if pesticides or herbicides were used. It does not tell you if fair-labor wages were paid. It does not tell you if the crop was produced by large agricultural companies. It does not tell you if the ingredients came from a large or small farm. Each one of these arguments applies to other forms of crop breeding: traditionally bred organic crops can be safely treated with pesticides, large farms that use seeds derived through mutagenesis can pay their workers poor wages, Monsanto produces seeds used by organic farmers, and GMOs can be grown in smaller family farms.
The diagram below shows that there are in fact at least six commonly used ways to genetically modify crops, but only one (“transgenesis”) bothers no-nothings like Dunham and Paltrow. Hybridization (“cross-breeding”) and polyploidy, for instance, are forms of genetic modification that has been pivotal in developing many of our foods, like wheat, as well as ornamental plants and animals. If you’re going to lobby for GMO labeling, then lobby for labeling based on wage fairness, farm size, or what pesticides were used.
Frankly, I’m tired of science being influenced by ignorant celebrities like Dunham and Paltrow, who have unwarranted influence on legislators only because they’re famous. I know at least as much about GMOs as either of these women, but I wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting with legislators about it, much less holding a press conference. Paltrow (and Dunham) deserve severe criticism and mockery for what they’re trying to do. GMOs hold great promise for human welfare, as in golden rice, and Organic Gwyneth, in her ignorance, is impeding that progress. Catiraee has a suggestion for these women:
So, here’s my request. The two of you have been blessed with being in a position where you can impact a lot of people. Your voices are heard and the ridiculous paparazzi write about your every move. At the beginning of this article, I wrote that I was crest-fallen that you’d taken up this cause, and it’s because I really wish you had dedicated your valuable time and effort to something that could really change things in our society, like reducing gun-violence or getting more girls involved in STEM. But since it would be incredibly impertinent of me to decide what you do with your time, this is my request: I’d like to ask that you chat with a few respected scientists about this. Not me. Hellz no. I’m a human geneticist writing about this stuff as a hobby. Go to whatever respected university is closest to where you live, and chat with a professor of agronomy or plant genetics. And not somebody who is recommended by GMO-Free USA or Food Democracy Now. Ask a normal everyday specialist in crop breeding. Ask her what she feeds her family. Ask him if he’s worried about GMO labeling.