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Activists Say the Darndest Things


If you were listening to the radio in the 1940 or watching television in the 1960s or the 1990s, then you are familiar with the phrase “Kids say the Darndest Things.” Originated by Art Linkletter on radio in the 40s, on television in the 60s, and revived by Bill Cosby in the 1990s, this show featured spontaneous and unrehearsed conversation with young children. The adult host would conduct interviews with a wide variety of children before a live studio audience. The blunt honesty, innocence, and natural humor of these young people led to some amazing statements. The Consumer Freedom web site has collected some quotes from one of today’s most recognized and popular food activists; unfortunately, his statements are not innocent, funny, or truthful.

Michael Pollan, a UC-Berkeley journalism professor, activist, author, and journalist, is often portrayed as a civil debater who can fairly argue against genetically improved foods (GIFs or GMOs). In reality, says Consumer Freedom, Pollan is a “radical, science-denier who cannot be taken seriously in the scientific community.” To prove its point, CF recently collected a series of quotes from Pollan that illustrate that what he says is not scientific, valid, and is, in some cases, nonsense. Pollan often gets a fact check pass from the New York Times and from most anti-GIF advocates. Unfortunately, he also gets a pass from many consumers.

“There is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.” Pollan tweeted this statement which was originally made by a group of radical EU scientists.  The fact is that there is overwhelming consensus by scientists about the safety of biotechnology.  The American Medical Association, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The National Academy of Sciences, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, The French Academy of Science, The Royal Society of Medicine, The European Commission, the Union of German Academics of Sciences and the Humanities, and the World Health Organization (among others) all agree that GMOs are as safe as conventional foods.

“I think there is no good reason to eat [GIFs] right now. All they offer is an unquantifiable potential risk.” Responding to Pollan’s statement, Jon Entine writing for Genetic Literacy Project said, “This is a disturbing misuse of the power by one of the most, if not the most, influential food writers in the world.” There have been literally thousands of studies on the safety of biotech foods, around the world, and the conclusion by most scientists and governments is that the food is safe. CF writes,  “There’s probably an ‘unquantifiable potential risk’ that we could be invaded by space aliens, but you don’t see anyone saying that we should invest the world economy in interplanetary defense.”

Pollan has authored five bestselling books and regularly spouts off with impunity in the NY Times, NPR, Grist, and other havens of opposition to modern agriculture. So, with this kind of exposure, what kind of food advice does he give to consumers? “Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.” He delivered this bit of twaddle to a group of CDC scientists in 2009. While cute and quotable, this statement provides no practical guidance for people are might actually want to make smart eating decisions and, as CF points, out eliminates many foods that are very healthy: blackened salmon (11 ingredients), homemade cookies (11 ingredients), and potato salad (10 ingredients), just to name a few.

Pollan is a well known example of an activist making ridiculous and unsupported accusations, but he is not alone by far. Groups and self-appointed experts are doing it in the media and on-line every day. The important things to remember when you hear Mr. Pollan or some of his ilk spouting off are: can they back up their statement with valid scientific credibility; and does what they say even make sense?


By Gary Truitt