WaPo columnist explains why Chipotle decision hurts more than just GMOs

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imrsPH2007060501923Rarely does a day go by when GMOs are not discussed here. Thus, we re quick to point out the ludicrousness of the recent Chipotle decision. We were pleased to note that Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has a good take on it today. He calls the decision Corporate Irresponsibility. He also charges that corporate irresponsibility is not just polluting the GMO debate but is seeping out into other vital science based policies.

First, Gerson does a tremendous job poking a serious hole in the whole Right to Know argument: Yet Whole Foods promises full GMO transparency by 2018. Its Web site emphasizes your right to know. But you will search the site in vain for any explanation of how or why GMOs are harmful, because an actual assertion would not withstand scrutiny. Evidently your right to know does not include serious scientific arguments.

He then goes on to tackle why this anti-science movement persists. He explains that people fear to go against the grain of the cultural group they belong to. He explains: people refuse to listen to the science because they fear becoming ostracized by their peers, friends, or neighbors. He quotes a recent piece in Nature to describe his point: When this communication environment fills up with toxic partisan meanings ones that effectively announce that if you are one of us, believe this; otherwise, we ll know you are one of them.

For corporations, this translates to a fear of being singled out as one of them by their perceived customer base, (for Chipotle that s apparently millennials) which they fear will translate to lost business and profits.

Gerson sums up the piece by saying that the impact of this corporate irresponsibility will probably be minimal as it relates to GMOs because of the enormous benefits GMOs have for farmers are are too wildly popular with farmers to be stigmatized out of existence.

However, Gerson has a different fear about how this could play out for other science based policies (e.g. vaccines): They (Chipotle, Whole Foods, et al.) are polluting public discourse on scientific matters. They are legitimizing an approach to science that elevates Internet medical diagnosis, social media technological consensus and discredited studies in obscure journals. They are contributing to a political atmosphere in which people pick their scientific views to fit their ideologies, predispositions and obsessions. And they are undermining public trust in legitimate scientific authority, which undermines the possibility of rational public policy on a range of issues.