Last week, something wonderful happened. The Daily Show dove into the newly approved low-acrylamide potato, produced using biotechnology. The show called out Jeffrey Smith, executive director of The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), for his unscientific fear-mongering on the issue of food biotechnology. Here’s what we learned:
1. “I’m not a scientist” is a red flag.
Scientists, especially those involved in biotechnology, have been waiting for years for this phrase to be a laugh cue. Yes, there are roles for a lot of us in the conversation: economists, business experts, and even lowly communicators like me. But if you show up questioning well-established science with cockamamie theories, not having any qualifications is kind of the last strike.
2. Understand the angel tot.
Biotechnology isn’t just a big, abstract issue. There are real world benefits. As Walter DeJong, potato molecular geneticist at Cornell University, points out, reducing acrylamide in a potato variety has lots of benefits. One of them is that the potato will be low-bruising, and therefore less likely to be wasted.
3. Genetically engineered crops don’t impact humans or their DNA.
Kudos to Dr. De Jong for his patient answer on this. No, your food will not change your DNA or ‘puncture’ your cells (honestly, we aren’t even sure what the latter means…). There is a clear consensus that eating foods produced with biotechnology does not negatively impact your body in any way. Just take a look at these leading scientific organizations, from the World Health Organization to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and what they have to say about the 600+ safety assessments that have been undertaken on biotechnology for food.
4. It’s always a good time for a Soylent Green joke.
Subtle (kind of?) but fabulous. Aasif snacks on Soylent Green crackers while thinking about biotechnology. With Americans meeting dietary guidelines only 2% of the time, are we missing the more obvious, Soylent Green-level threat while we obsess about issues that science has already settled?
5. Fear of being targeted is limiting the conversation
Another astute point from Dr. De Jong is that a number of scientists aren’t willing to publicize their work because their homes or offices will be targeted. We wrote last year about a ‘hit list’ site calling for violent attacks on both journalists and scientists who write about the benefits of biotechnology and gave 5 rules for keeping conversations civil. We’ve also seen how activists have destroyed field tests rather than allow bitechnology to prove its benefits. It’s important for all of us that scientists and biotech proponents can participate in this dialogue without having to be afraid.
6. Handle potatoes safely.
There’s only an imminent danger from GE potatoes if someone throws them at your head.