As influential as the Times may be among the chattering classes, don’t expect this story to alter the trajectory of the debate over GMO foods. While every major scientific regulatory oversight body in the world, including the National Academies of Science and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, has concluded that genetically modified foods pose no harm not also found in conventional or organic foods, the public remains deeply suspicious of them. A survey published in the same newspaper the day before Harmon’s piece ran found that 37 percent of those interviewed worried about GMOs, saying they feared that such foods cause cancer or allergies.
Those fear-based views are regularly reinforced by popular lifestyle magazines and the echo chamber of the Web. In the past two weeks alone, Details and Elle have run pieces that credulously stoke conspiratorial fears that the government is covering up evidence that GMO foods can damage the public health.
Caitlin Shetterly’s long feature, “The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn,” in Elle—a magazine with more than 1.1 million monthly readers—was particularly appalling.
Shetterly is the protagonist of her article, and the plight she faced that spurred her to write this story is truly sad. She was plagued for years by a variety of debilitating symptoms from headaches to fatigue to hands frozen into claws by pain. She went from one doctor to another, but no cause was identified and no cure found.