Food Policy Schismogenesis
Food policy engenders conflict with an intensity that echoes historic religious conflicts. Battles over labeling for genetically modified (or GMO) foods are the latest example. A messy rift in a committee of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics charged with developing a position statement on GMO foods erupted into headlines this week. The New York Times reported that a dietitian was removed from the committee after questioning the objectivity of two other members of the committee. Her questions were based upon the ties of those members to Monsanto, one of the biggest makers of genetically modified seeds.
“Perhaps it is possible for someone who works for an organization that creates or promotes GMO’s to be objective, however, that would be hard to do,” wrote Carole Bartolotto, the dietitan who was later removed from the panel. With an unusual twist of irony, the Times reports that the Academy cited Bartolotto’s failure to disclose her consulting practice as its reason for dismissing her from the panel.
Schismogenesis is the term anthropologists use to describe how conflicts escalate when every word and action from each side in a conflict makes the other side respond more negatively. Reasoned dialogue evaporates and evidence-based decision making becomes virtually impossible. It’s playing out in policy related to GMO foods. Corporate GMO interests recently defeated Prop 37 on GMO labeling in California by a wide margin and engineered passage of a federal measure derisively dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
These defeats have GMO activists staging protests at the FDA and looking desperately for a fight they can win. Such desperation will do nothing to bring back reasoned dialogue about science and evidence.
Gennadios Scholarios with Mehmet II, key figures in the Great Schism, public domain image from Wikimedia
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