Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Genetically modified foods: What is and isn’t true - The Washington Post

Genetically modified foods: What is and isn’t true - The Washington Post:

Case in point: the impact on human health of genetically modified crops, Unearthed Issue No. 1. Are they safe to eat?
There’s a great deal of research on the subject, but parsing the hundreds of studies done on GMO safety requires more time and expertise than most of us have. Instead, we look to someone else, someone we trust, to do it for us. And so the question of whether GMOs are safe becomes a very different question: Whom do you trust?
Most of us are already leaning one way or the other on GMOs, and it’s natural to trust the source we agree with. And there’s the problem. We talk to people who share our worldview (it’s a nicer word than bias), dig our heels in deeper and before you know it we’re shutting down the government.
To figure out how we all might make better decisions about charged issues, I talked with James Hammitt, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and a professor of economics and decision sciences. “Risks that are uncertain and dreaded tend to be more feared,” he said. GMOs are relatively new, poorly understood by many consumers, and in violation of our sense that food should be natural. Not only are those risks uncertain and dreaded, they’re visited on people trying to feed their families healthfully and safely while the benefits accrue to farmers and biotech companies. All of that adds up to an atmosphere that makes a reasoned debate difficult.
Reasoned debate requires that we weigh risk against benefit, and GMOs undoubtedly have both. Hammitt suggests looking for sources that discuss the trade-offs rather than just one or the other. The tip-off to your source’s, ahem, worldview? “If everything’s on one side of the ledger,” he says, “that’s a pretty good clue.”

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