To resist GMOs is to be anti-science? No, the contrary

I’ve been thinking about how the anti-science label tends to get assigned to anyone who tries to move the GMO debate to the level of political economy. (That is, away from whether GMO food is safe and towards who controls production and prices.) In one sense the label is right, namely, if one defines science as what scientists do. In that case, any argument that scientists could do anything else is to be anti-science and any argument that scientists used to do something else can be shrugged off – if they’re not doing it now, then it was obviously not good enough science.
In another sense, however, scientific apologists for biotechnology are the anti-scientists. From my own experience, there was a valid and productive tradition of breeding plants that would be well adapted to local or regional conditions. But biotechnology corporations not only offered funds for engineering varieties that, in order to make a profit, needed to be applied irrespective of the local conditions, but also captured the ideological superstructure to divert government funding in their direction.
An analogy of this was the growth of hybrid seeds in the US in the first half of the 20th century. The push for hybrid seeds scientifically was based on the incorrect argument that hybridity itself lead to better varieties. (This was always an irony given the cultural norm of racial purity and anti-miscegenation.) In fact, the vast majority of hybrids (produced by crossing pure and thus reproducible inbred lines) are inferior to the open-pollinated varieties. However, sometimes a hybrid cross would be found that yielded very well. Then it could be marketed with confidence that the company that owned it would profit given that the farmers had to buy seeds again every year. (If the farmers kept seeds from the hybrid plants for the next year, these would perform poorly.)
Eventually, however, superior hybrid varieties became rarer and plant breeders returned to open pollinated breeding for a time in order to produce new variation that could then be inbreed for a new round of crossing of pure lines. If open-pollinated breeding had continued the whole time, it is argued by people like Lewontin that yields for corn would be even higher. But that program of open-pollinated had been discontinued and so the counterfactual is hypothetical. What we do know, however, is that agricultural policy in the 20s to 40s was driven by father and son secretaries of agriculture who were also the owners of Pioneers seeds, namely, the Wallaces. The promotion of hybrid breeding was a matter of political economy, certainly not simply a matter of being the best science.

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