Dianne Feinstein: anti-science Democrat

J. Justin Wilson Senior Research Analyst, Center for Consumer Freedom
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Republicans are frequently and often justifiably charged with waging a so-called “war on science.” By rejecting the biological principles of evolution and the widely supported evidence that human activity is causing harmful levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, many politicians on the right open themselves up to those criticisms.

But failing to trust scientists isn’t a mono-partisan vice. Some of the loudest supporters of scientific consensus on climate change are among the loudest opponents of food crop biotechnology, which scientists hope will increase crop yields, reduce the need for pesticide use, and prevent up to 500,000 cases of child blindness worldwide every year.

Consider the case of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. She finds the scientific consensus on climate change overwhelming and authoritative. She responded to an Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas reduction rule by saying, “The scientific consensus is stronger than ever: greenhouse gas pollution is changing the climate and warming our planet.”

But on biotechnology in agriculture, Sen. Feinstein finds herself on the wrong side of an equally strong scientific consensus. Feinstein recently petitioned President Obama to override a longstanding Food and Drug Administration policy and to require that warning labels be placed on foods produced using so called GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Feinstein’s gambit may be savvy pandering to the Berkeley and Hollywood organic foodie scenes, but what about the science, so important when the Senator addresses climate change? Numerous scientific authorities, including the American Medical Association (AMA), the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Royal Society of London, and the World Health Organization, who all endorse the consensus position on climate change, also endorse a consensus position that biotechnology in food crops is safe and beneficial. The AMA and AAAS have also found that labels such as those Feinstein proposes are misleading.

In engaging in this cynical political hypocrisy, Feinstein is simply following her supporters on the environmentalist far left. Among other groups, the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Greenpeace, Green America, and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) all contend that while there is a scientific consensus that carbon emissions cause climate change, there is not a consensus that genetically improved food is safe, even as the same scientific authorities promote both science-based positions!

This rank hypocrisy should call into question the real reasons for campaigns to place scaremongering labels on genetically improved foods. Some of the rabble rousing is undoubtedly ill-informed fear-mongering: EWG is a notorious hype factory on purported “risks” from chemicals. In a recent poll, 79 percent of members of the Society of Toxicology — experts on chemical health risks — who expressed an opinion agreed EWG overstated such risks.

But there are moneyed interests behind the calls too. One of the leading funders of two recent ballot measures in California and Washington State to require these scientifically suspect warning labels is Nature’s Path Foods, an organic foods manufacturer. (Organic standards forbid the use of genetically improved crops.) Combine hysterical scaremongering by the EWGs and Greenpeaces of the world with government mistakes like Feinstein’s proposal, and it might mean big profits for Big Organic.

There is a solution to this toxic mixture of disrespect for science, donations-driven hysteria, and crony capitalism: Applying the same level of respect for the science on biotechnology as they apply to the science on climate change.

J. Justin Wilson is a Senior Research Analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom.