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Enthusiasm is no substitute for facts

By Holly Martin

The enthusiasm of youth can sometimes be infectious. Rachel Parent, a 14-year-old from Canada, is one of those enthusiastic young women. What began for Rachel as a school-assigned speech soon turned into a media storm that found her as a guest on a CBC news television show, “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange.”

Rachel is a youth activist who campaigns for the labeling of genetically modified foods. She challenged Kevin O’Leary to debate the issue and was invited to be a guest on the show. The video has since been viewed all over the world, as these things often happen today.

The problem is that when you are 14, things seem awfully simple. But a passionate, articulate young woman? That’s pretty convincing.

Labeling GM foods seems simple enough. The problem is the sheer magnitude of paperwork and red tape the labeling would create. And to a teenager who has never had more paperwork than an English paper, that doesn’t quite register.

Nor does the fact that nearly every product on grocery store shelves would have the label because genetically modified crops are so widely used in the United States. Transparency and a consumer’s “right to know” are all good things that the agriculture industry supports; however, labeling GM foods implies that there is something inherently wrong with the product.

As is often the case when discussing genetically modified foods, the labeling issue gets confused with the science itself. During Rachel’s appearance on O’Leary’s show, he asks her if she would like to stop the type of research that is producing advancements that could benefit the increasing world population as well as the environment. Her answer is that she simply wants GM products labeled, but she goes on to talk at length about how bad these products are.

She says there are no long-term or independent studies confirming the safety of genetically modified foods. She says Monsanto and other companies only do 90-day tests on GM grains. All of these statements simply aren’t true.

While that is troubling, the bigger concern is that the anti-GM lobby seems to have identified young people as an untouchable conduit to deliver their message. By utilizing these eloquent, albeit naive, young people to deliver the message, they get their word out and anyone who challenges them seems like the big, bad wolf.

O’Leary was widely criticized for debating the 14-year-old well-spoken girl. Before even watching the video, you can imagine what his critics said.

We can only hope that as young people like Rachel gain some experience, they learn to evaluate the science. She wouldn’t be the first to change her mind on the value of genetically modified organisms, and let’s hope we see science as the new trend.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171, ext. 1806, or by email at hmartin@hpj.com.

Date: 3/17/2014

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