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Mutant Corn Vs. Canadian Bees

Amid the detritus of the sparsely attended mid-term election, many folks in Oregon are still all riled up. Measure 92, which proposed labeling for GMO foodstuffs was defeated although the PR war promises to continue through the next election cycle and into perpetuity. Not surprisingly I see more and more articles popping up in social media on both sides of the issue and, even though I'm not quite ready to open up that particular can of worms (unless we get requests........), I'd like to use the debate to highlight some issues with how we parse the huge amounts of information provided to us through the many interconnecting tubes of the internet.

We’re here about the corn, my good chap!

We’re here about the corn, my good chap!

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter of GMO technologies. I am a supporter of STRONGLY REGULATED GMO technologies. I am a supporter of strongly regulated GMO technologies that are NOT being regulated by the same companies that make said GMO technologies and products. We need some type of independent, not beholden to anyone but the public, regulatory device. I'd prefer hyper-intelligent dogs wearing bowler hats and monocles but I'll settle for a non-partisan government agency, if any of those still exist.

An article was brought to my attention with the startling title, "37 Million Bees Found Dead In Ontario, Canada After Planting Large GMO Cornfield". First and foremost, no, the bees were not responsible for the planting of the GMO corn. I figure I should get that out of the way right at the start.

Other than the title, and the recap of the title in the first paragraph of the article, no more mentions were made of GMO corn. The rest of the article dealt with the hypothesis provided by a local beekeeper that a neonicotinoid class of pesticides could be responsible for the colony collapse. No mention was made if the GMO corn in question had been treated with that class of pesticides, produced that class of pesticides through its growth, or indeed had any connection with the bee deaths other than being in geographical and temporal proximity.

So why mention that the corn was GMO? Why neglect to provide the thread of connection between the fact that the corn is GMO and the fact that the bees died? The article spent time discussing colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the bafflement scientists have over its causes. Pesticides do appear in the wax and pollen of bees and there seems to be a correlation between pesticide use and the decline of honeybees although the strength of that correlation isn't completely understood.

Just by reading the title and skimming the article, a casual reader could get the impression that planting GMO corn in Canada is killing bees, despite there being no attempt made on the part of the authors to provide that link. I think this does a disservice to both the ongoing discussion over how GMOs should and will change our food system and the truly frightening decline of honeybees. Both are issues that I feel very strongly about. I enjoy food and I hope that food will continue to be an integral part of my life for many years to come.

What I don't enjoy is being misled with false correlations. In this era of tl;dr (that's Too Long; Didn't Read for anyone out there who's not hip), there is so much information bombarding us that the ability to skim through large amounts of text is more common and necessary than ever. How many people will read that title, think "Oh My" in their best George Takei voice, and go merrily on their way armed with the incorrect factoid that GMO corn kills bees? I fully expect to see more GMO-centric legislation in 2016 and two years of poorly written and misleading articles like this can do much to sway voter opinion.

So please, read with a critical eye, listen with a critical ear, and think with a critical brain. Truly "the truth is out there" but you may have to dig through a whole bunch of crap before you find it.

Copyright 2017 by Aaron Berenbach and Don Riefler

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