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Oz Fest

October 18, 2012

Many months ago, in the dark ages when there was only one ShopRite in the Capital Region and it was all the way out in Niskayuna, I had a meeting. It was with the ShopRite nutritionist. She took Albany Jane and me all around the store, and we talked about a lot of things: whole grain pastas, gluten free foods, tahini in glass bottles and more.

It was a good time.

There was something she mentioned at the time that I filed away in my head. We were in the natural foods aisle talking about reducing cholesterol, and the nutritionist points down at a bag of chia seeds. Apparently they were all the rage, the latest health food fad.

Oprah used to be the queen bee for spawning this kind of craze. But these days I’m told it’s Dr. Oz. The nutritionist told me that they monitor his show because if he blesses something, the store makes sure it’s on their shelves. When Dr. Oz speaks people take action.

Well, you’ll never guess what he spoke about yesterday.

The good doctor came out in favor of GMO labeling in what is already turning out to be a highly controversial segment.

You can watch it from the links below. It’s not all that long and it’s divided into three parts.
Part OnePart TwoPart Three

First, I have to say that I’m thrilled this issue is getting more attention. Especially on platforms where it reaches new people who haven’t woken up to the fact that the food all around them is filled with GMO ingredients.

Second, the Dr. Oz show is awful. Oh man, I found that hard to watch. Why do people love this guy? The structure of the show doesn’t allow anyone to really make a full and nuanced argument or help people figure out which side to trust. The anti-GMO guy says they aren’t safe. The pro-GMO scientist says they are safe. They both say the opposition’s argument is fundamentally flawed.

Okay. But Dr. Oz doesn’t quite help get to the bottom of it. He doesn’t ask the hard questions. So, given the perceived uncertainty, he endorses labeling so consumers can have all the information to make up their own minds.

I love that. I really do. It’s truly fantastic news. And I love that this is happening in advance of the Prop 37 vote in California. Maybe this will give the ballot initiative the push it needs in the election next month.

But could this all be political theater?

It turns out that Dr. Oz has a wife, and she is very active in the anti-GMO movement. She even did the voiceover narration on one of the panelist’s documentaries about the dangers of GMOs. There is a long and nasty letter from a scientist named Bruce Chassy that calls out Dr. Oz and his producers on the details above.

Chassy makes some compelling points. And you know what? Dr. Oz may have had a stronger case with a different anti-GMO advocate than Mr. Smith. But the pro-GMO contingent really wasn’t terribly impressive either. And the quotations from Monsanto in the clip really seem to speak of their lack of concern for the public’s distrust.

Public trust is really what keeps the country moving. We trust that our food is pure and unadulterated. Note how I didn’t say safe? There is risk in doing anything and everything. Nothing is safe. Safety is a myth to which we all cling so that we can sleep at night. Such is life.

When the widespread use of pink slime in ground beef came to light there was a swift and immediate backlash. I really hope that happens for GMOs too. The danger is in overplaying the situation, and failing to keep arguments above reproach.

Arguments about the patenting of seed, and what it means for food security to have one company own a majority of our crops are compelling. So is the idea that GMOs are leading to more pesticide usage and not less as the nasty pests become resistant to the highly toxic chemicals. So is the notion of cross-contamination, and how it’s foolhardy to think we can be architects of an elaborate and fragile ecosystem without potentially facing dire unforeseen consequences down the road.

Maybe this was all too much for the Dr. Oz audience in the time the show had to bring this serious issue to light.

Yes, the arguments could have been tighter. The panel could have been more carefully chosen. But the conclusion remains on target. We all deserve the fundamental right to know what is in our foods. Hopefully California can pass the labeling law. Then, at least a small percentage of our country will have the same rights as the citizens of China.

I had hoped that in four years of office Barack Obama would have already made this happen. But he’s a busy man. The chances of this moving forward under his second term are still a lot greater than Romney doing this ever. Not that the odds are great. Monsanto doesn’t have to make the public like them, because they spend their marketing dollars on lobbying efforts. It’s a really clever, if infuriating strategy.

Just like running this TV show within a month of the election. I’m glad people are fighting back.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2012 6:21 pm

    two words in response to that last sentence: me too!!!


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