Argument of Inquiry
Genetically Modified foods can be modified to generate higher nutrient and yield levels and to produce their own pesticides, fertilizers, and vaccines. They are modified by the addition of foreign genes to enhance a desired trait. However, many consumers debate stressing the potential health, environmental, economic, and moral consequences. Nevertheless, this argument expands beyond the surface debate between the pro and anti GMO advocates, but instead looks at the wide spectrum of perspectives that allow for a more prolific conversation, exploring how a variety of informative sources can shape public opinion regarding the GMO debate.
The largest gap between public opinion and scientific consensus in the Untied States is regarding the safety of GM foods. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in association with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, concluded that 88 percent of scientist believe GM foods are safe to eat, while only 37 percent of the public believe GM foods are safe, and only 25% of the public know what GMOS actually do (Hallman). So why is their a big gap regarding this issue when 80% of packaged food in the United States contains GMOs? While the research is clear about the safety and benefits of these products, there is still a debate surrounding GMOs because biotech industries, the mainstream media and anti-GMO activist groups all frame the public’s opinion regarding GMOS. Understanding the influence on consumer power is extremely important, as they influence the ultimate rejection or acceptance of GM foods in the market place.
Large influences on public opinion pertaining to GMOs are Biotech Industries. They have the power to sway media coverage. Biotech industries threaten media outlets and news stations if their products have the potential of being reported negatively. Two investigative reporters working for Fox News were fired after Monsanto threatened to sue because the journalists were ready to publish a story about the possible risk of a genetically engineered hormone made to increase cow’s milk production. The journalists’ manager, after receiving a threatening letter from Monsanto, wanted to alter the story in a way that would make it slanted. The two investigative reporters wouldn’t agree to this and instead had to rewrite the story eighty-three times with Monsanto lawyers before it was aired (Smith). Fox News was ready to frame a news story and manipulate it to portray Monsanto’s genetically engineered hormone in a different light for fear of being sued.
Mike Snow, a journalist and author of “From Watchdogs to Lapdogs: How Corporate Media Mislead Us on GMOs” presents another reason the media may frame information. He argues that the media have succumbed to influences by biotech industries because it will run “articles favorable to the technology but routinely dismissing critics of it as “anti-science,” often in concert with industry front groups” (Snow). He also reveals in his article, “Earlier this year, Monsanto tried without success to have one of them, Carey Gillam, fired from her job of 16 years covering agriculture for Reuters” (Snow). Monsanto tried to have a journalist fired who reports critically about GMOs, influencing what the media will report thus influencing the debate surrounding GMOs. As seen in these two examples of Monsanto’s actions, biotech industries contribute to the ongoing debate over GMOs because they can influence what the media reports.
While biotech industries can affect media by pressuring them to portray their GMO products in a positive light, the media will still for the most part portray GMOs in a negative way. Media will negatively frame information reported because they ultimately need to make a profit due to the fact that large corporations fund many news stations. The media will listen to these corporations even if they are asked to report slanted information. Roxanne Darrow, Investigation and Outreach Coordinator for the Food Integrity Campaign, wrote “Media Blackout on GMOs” published in the Food Integrity Campaign Blog which reveals that the media will spread, “…misinformation and half truths about GMOs…” with industry funded groups that give the illusion of being oriented towards consumers (Darrow). The media may not report information even if it’s credible because it didn’t come from the right source, like ones that provide funding. Unfortunately, the media is willing to spread false information for money. Additionally, “when experienced journalists do get credible information from non-industry scientists, these media outlets often appear reluctant to publish it” (Darrow). The media may not publish information from credible sources if those sources do not fund them. If the media is willing to report information that is false from sources that are not credible because they offer money, then the media is not geared toward reporting accurate news to the public. Instead the media is biased in reporting about GMOs and is geared towards making a profit.
While biotechnology and mainstream media have large levels of influence over the public’s opinion anti- GMO activist organizations and lobbyist groups have an equally strong influential voice. Anti-GMO activist organizations want to create sustainable environments that benefit society just as much as biotech industries that create new GMO products. Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero’s article, “GMO, the Controversy That Won’t Go Away: A View from Puerto Rico” demonstrates an anti-GMO organization’s view on genetically modified foods by implying that they are harmful because “farmers are still… using toxic agrochemicals” (Ruiz-Marrero). Since toxic substances are still being used, GMOs are viewed as bringing more setbacks in agricultural technology than forwarding it and not living up to their full potential.
Another anti-GMO activist group named Food and Water Watch, has an article titled, “Five Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know about GMOs”. This article reiterates Ruiz-Marrero’s claim and adds how GMOs present problems such as the need for more herbicides and being unproductive with crop yields. In fact, “studies on certain GMO crops have found little to no yield improvements, and long term studies of organic farming show that organic can match conventional agriculture’s yields” (Food&water). This suggests that organic farming can be just as productive as conventional farming or farming that uses genetically modified seeds. Not only does this activist group try to undermine GMOs by making claims that they are unproductive, it also argues “the undeniable fact is that GMOs are bad for our environment, our food system, and the people in it” (Food&water). Anti-GMO activist groups aid in continuing the ongoing debate about the safety and overall benefits of GMOs by posting articles that would suggest GMOs is not safe.
Consumer knowledge regarding GMOs has not increased at the same rate as the adoption of GMO crops. Consumers worldwide are showing limited understanding, misconceptions, and even unfamiliarity with GMO food products. Information regarding GM crops can be given a negative “halo effect” which is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand or product influences the observers feelings and thoughts about the entity’s character or properties (Konnikova). It’s clear why the public perceives GMOs to be a risk and is confused and somewhat ignorant on the subject. Even though research proves GMOs are safe, there are many different sources presenting different views to the public. If the consumers were properly informed about what a GMO is and its proven safety, then there would not be a need for this debate. Ultimately, the media is not solely responsible for the ongoing debate as biotech industries and anti-GMO activist groups are just as guilty. If the media, biotech industries, and anti-GMO activist groups continue framing the information surrounding GMOs, the controversy over the safety of GMOs will not end anytime soon. The public needs to be properly informed about GMOs. The media does not help people understand the science behind GMOs because their information is usually unbalanced. The same goes for anti-GMO activist groups who only talk about the negatives to GMOs. Biotech industries don’t aid in the debate because they want to promote their products in any means necessary. All three of these groups do not help the public understand the science behind GMOs and, instead, frame the information in a way that benefits them.