Is science being taken hostage? The “killer canola” example

In the debate between environmentalists and industry, science is a word that comes regularly in their arguments. However, scientific “evidence” seems to be used to support an agenda instead of making us all wiser.

The recent example of the “killer canola” that has been widely spread in the media over the past week illustrates the concerns we should have about the use of science for non-scientific purposes.

To sum up the story about canola, researchers from the University of Arkansas found herbicide-resistant genetic traits included in the plants through genetic engineering in canola growing in the wild in North Dakota. They even found traits from two different GMO producers. This does not exist in commercial varieties. They claimed that they demonstrated these GMO escaped into the USA.

Of course, all media, internationally, with a bias against GMOs jumped on the occasion to make their point about the risks of genetic engineering.

Very quickly, media favourable to the GMO industry, actually funded by that industry reacted to undermine the finding of the researchers. In particular, I enjoyed this column in AG Network. To counter the results of the researchers, the author claims that most scientists reject their theory. He names only two, one in the UK and one in Canada. Is a sample of two scientifically representative? I think not. He does not review the protocol of the research. Does that mean it was in order? I would tend to think so; otherwise, he would surely have attacked it. His main argumentation is about canola not being able to thrive in the wild; therefore, the “gene escape” is about a non-event, so let’s not talk about it anymore. Case closed.

What really disappoints me in this process is the bias. The opponents of GMO see this research as a proof of their point of view without really looking into the research and challenging it, or at least asking a few questions to the researchers. The proponents of GMOs, at least this one, elude the conclusions of the research by shifting the debate to the survival chances of wild canola. The real questions that arises from this survey is to find out how a genetic trait introduced by people (therefore, not the result of natural evolution and selection) can spread outside of our control (nature does not care about intellectual property), and what can be done to have more control on this. What all participants in this debate should do is to join their science and collaborate. It deserves the necessary attention.

The purpose of science is to help us understand our world so that we can take the proper measures to stay in control of what we created. If science tells us something that we do not like, that is too bad, but what we can learn is for our best interest. In the end, it would serve nobody to take chances with food security. The long-term interests must come before the short-term ones. The example of the canola is just one out of many. I could have chosen other food production sectors with similar cases.

Selectively picking the science that suits one’s agenda is not scientific. It does not serve anyone on the long run. On this blog, I posted a poll asking what should come first between morals and science. Although, this poll has no scientific value, it shows an interesting trend that I had not expected.

Copyright 2010 – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

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