Thursday, May 31, 2007

SIRC and Arpad Pusztai

When I searched for Arpad Pusztai to do some more research I quickly stumbled on this article: Pusztai Published!. It comes from the Social Issues Research Centre, which sort of sounds like an academic, unbiased source. Here is their page on GM foods. Here is their page on funding.

It's interesting to note that while they are a non-profit organization, they still have clients such as "Masterfoods", "GSK" (GlaxoSmithKline), and other very biased organizations. One must be very careful not to confuse "non-profit" with "non-biased". (In fact, most of the lobbying groups are "non-profit", because the individuals inside the group keep all the profits to themselves.) I doubt you will ever hear SIRC referring to the GM pea which caused allergic damage to mice or refuting Pusztai's claim as of 2001 that "no peer-reviewed publications of clinical studies on the human health effects exist". Anyone disagree with me there?

What it comes down to is the science, and notably SIRC doesn't spend much time talking about the science. Then again, neither do I. Neither of us really know biochemistry all that well. You might break us into people who believe that the risks are worth mentioning and the people who think that the risks aren't worth mentioning, because they "scare people." Or perhaps people who wish to present all possibilities and people who don't. All of their stories make the same essential points, using very few citations or empirical facts. They are a typical special interest group.

Sourcewatch has a good page on them. It covers one shady campaign where they were hired by a lobby group to campaign for an estrogen for postmenopausal women -- their coverage of the treatment didn't include the pharmaceutical funding.

What's scary is that this group "has played a central role in advising the government on the development of a "Code of Practice on Science and Health Communication" for communication science issues to the media."

Some economists like to believe that we can outsource lots of knowledge-gathering activities. People are "rationally ignorant". I don't think the average citizen can afford to be rationally ignorant -- there are too many people spinning half-truths in all areas. People who have something to hide will try to make things either overly complicated or overly simple, when the truth is probably somewhere in between, and likely accessible. (SIRC: "a GM tomato is just a tomato" - no, a GM tomato could have genes which are not even in the same genus as a normal tomato, which is impossible to attain through cross-breeding.)

At the very least, if these people are interested in helping consumers, then they should increase the amount of information available to consumers and support the labeling of GM products. Currently we don't even have that, and I see no reason why -- except that it could potentially hurt the profits a biotech company.

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