A Strategy Built on Nervous Moms
Fearmongers seek to block technology that could feed multitudes
In a very real sense, genetically modified food has existed for millennia. Recent scientific advances in the field are decreasing starvation, helping the world’s poor, and lowering food costs at your neighborhood grocery store. Unable to counter these advances for mankind, environmental activists have taken to scaring mothers that such food will poison their children, in the hope that nervous moms will pressure government to suppress “frankenfood,” even in the absence of any scientific evidence that it is harmful.
In politics, fear is a powerful weapon. Throughout human history, politicians and activists have exploited fear—fear of people who come from other places or who look different from oneself, fear of other religions or systems of belief, and, as in the case of genetically modified foods, fear of changing technology.
It’s believed that workers in the Netherlands expressed their opposition to new textile loom technology by throwing their wooden shoes (sabots) into machinery, becoming the original saboteurs. Early in the Industrial Revolution, workers calling themselves Luddites formed anti-tech organizations such as the League of the Just, which evolved into the Communist Party. Anxiety about the effect of new technology has been reflected in works ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) to the Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times (1936), which inspired the famous “Lucy in the chocolate factory” bit from TV’s I Love Lucy in 1952, through the ’50s and ’60s, when radiation could, it was imagined, turn ants into giant man-eaters or change a scientist into the Incredible Hulk, and on to the present day.
Americans today seem particularly vulnerable to the effects of technophobia. We have become a nation of nervous wrecks. In spite of empirical data showing people’s lives are improving generally, Americans have become increasingly worried about almost everything. And playing off the general sense of anxiety—scaremongering—is a key strategy of people who oppose the idea of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the U.S. food supply.
GMOs are organisms such as plants and animals that have been altered using modern techniques that involve changing the DNA “blueprint” of an organism. Anti-GMO activists often use the term “frankenfood” to evoke Shelley’s terrifying gothic tale about a monster created in a laboratory. The likening of frankenfood to Frankenstein’s monster helps promote two myths about biotech crops: that genetically modified (GM) food is grotesque, abnormal, and unhealthy; and that our reckless tinkering with the natural world through GM will come at a high cost to human life.
This anti-GMO message is aimed at the public in general, but aimed in particular at a segment of the public: mothers worried about their children.
Anti-GMO activists have enlisted a vast network of female writers and “mommy bloggers” …