Michael Pollan used to be my hero, my shining example of everything that was still good when it comes to food in America. My first exposure to the industrial food mechanism was when I watched “Fast Food Nation” – shortly followed by “Food Inc” and thus began my tirade against all things concerning ‘Big Food’ . A certain narrator of “Food Inc” – Michael Pollan – exposed some of the more unsavory practices in the world of mass produced food. I was equally horrified and spellbound. I took full notice of what I presumed to be an upstanding, smart, mild mannered journalist doing what he could to expose the food industry. I trusted him, believed in him. I put “Cooked” and “The Botany of Desire” on my reading list. I followed him, read his tweets, listened to his interviews. His opinions were my opinions.
Pollan had a monumental influence on me and I later went on to become a staunch supporter of the anti-GMO movement, a logical next step at the time. I jumped in with both feet and posted the fear infused rhetoric on my blog day after day, week after week. Embarrassing as it is, the record is all still right here on Sleuth4Health. Granted, my choice to be an anti-GMO activist was my own and I’m not trying to put that onus on Pollan. I am only saying that up to that point, he had been the largest influence on me.
When it comes to GMOs, I freely admit that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I got caught up in the hype of a movement that predicates itself on fringe characters and psuedo-science. I got wise, jumped ship and have been breast-stroking the ocean of sanity and science ever since and though I still don’t know what I’m talking about all too often, at least I’m swimming in the right sea .
Now, I am saddened and disheartened by my former hero, Mr. Pollan. This time he has gone too far. I think he means well, but is increasingly going the way of the Smiths, Shivas and Seralinis of the world who use highly questionable science to make their point. Michael, you are a professor of journalism. Please be professional here. Stick with the facts. Or at the very least, admit that you are confused and conflicted around the issue of GMOs. You don’t want to like them but there really isn’t a scientifically backed reason not to. Fair enough. But kindly refrain from touting activist drivel as if it were bona fide data.
OK, let me explain why I am being so hard on this guy.
Pollan has proclaimed in so many words and at different times that GMOs just might be acceptable in certain circumstances, are probably safe and though they are associated with factory farming which he loathes, they could be useful (see source article). But in rapid succession, he has also tweeted a link to an article by an activist group calling itself the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) that proclaims the belief that there is not consensus surrounding the safety of GMOs. This is a blatantly false statement  – and just more perpetuation of the same old crap that I once regurgitated then later rejected. In other words, non-credible science is yet again being passed off by respectable journalist types as credible science when it comes to GMOs. Pollan’s stamp of approval will likely win over a whole new crop of loyal eager beavers, scared and grossly misinformed, ready to take up the anti-GMO cause.
Being Michael Pollan
We caught a glimpse of the true Michael Pollan this week, and it wasn’t pretty. On Monday, an organization known as the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), issued a statement declaring, there is “No scientific consensus on GMO safety.” To those familiar with the science of GMOs and the safety testing record, the full statement reads like farce. It has 93 signators, not one considered a mainstream scientist—a ‘Who’s Who’ of anti-biotechnology campaigners.
A recent paper by independent Italian scientists noted there have been 1783 studies on safety and health issues related to GMOs over the last ten years alone, including many publicly funded studies, confirming the safety of GMOs. The literal avalanche of GMO safety studies, short term and long, have prompted more than 100 of the world’s independent science bodies to conclude that foods made from genetically modified crops are as safe or safer than conventional or organic varieties.
So who is behind this bizarre declaration? ENSSER, for those not familiar with it, is an organization with a mission. Its members believe—this is faith and not science— that the debate over GMOs is over, that the technology is harmful and should be banned or restricted out of existence. Its members are among the most high profile anti-GMO activists in Europe. Remember the pictures of rats supposedly twisted into cancerous monsters after eating GMO corn that were blasted across cyberspace and onto ‘laugh-out-loud’ pop shows like Dr. Oz? The rats were props for humans, according to the notorious 2012 Gilles-Erich Séralini study that stands as one of the most discredited experiments in scientific history. Séralini is a signee of this statement, along with co-author Nicolas Defarge, who is ENSSER’s Deputy Chairman.
What did mainstream scientists—those without a precooked position on crop biotechnology, whose judgments are shaped by the evolving empirical evidence—have to say about the Séralini study? Six French national academies (Agriculture, Medicine, Pharmacy, Science, Technology and Veterinarians) issued an extraordinary joint statement condemning the study and the journal that published it. The paper was reviewed and refuted by the most prominent independent international science organizations and every food standards agency of note, including French HCB and the National Agency for Food Safety, the Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie, Technical University of Denmark, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Brazilian National Technical Commission on Biosafety and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Quoting the EFSA: “The study as reported by Séralini et al. was found to be inadequately designed, analysed and reported…. Taking into consideration Member States’ assessments and the authors’ answer to critics, EFSA finds that the study as reported by Séralini et al. is of insufficient scientific quality for safety assessments.”
To mainstream scientists and science journalists, saying that GMOs pose any serious or unusual health threats is akin to climate change denialism or pretending that creationism should be discussed in the same breath as evolution. The only well known dissenters from this consensus are groups like ENSSER—and Michael Pollan, it appears.
Here is what Pollan, always prepared to diss crop biotechnology, tweeted on the release of the report:
Does Pollan really believe that the opinions of activist scientists with avowed opposition to GMOs match the scientific weight of 100+ independent organizations? Considering Pollan’s influence, tweets like this are the journalistic equivalent of a prominent science journalist disseminating a study by creationists that suggests there is no science consensus on evolution. It’s a disturbing example of how Pollan views empirical evidence.
Last year, without even reading the Séralini study (or just as likely and even more discouraging, being unable to critically interpret it) he jumped on the Séralini anti-GMO crusade bandwagon.
So there you have it: respected journalist and highly influential public figure misleads public by implying credibility where it does not exist. Shame.
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 These two films are related in content and have Eric Schlosser in common.
 See Science Is Laughing At Us