A link between Ebola, GMOs?

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the recent measles outbreak in the United States and the recent anti-wheat, anti-gluten, anti-genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food crops movements: What do they have in common?

On the surface, one might conclude they have nothing in common. However, after much observation, I believe there is a common thread among them all.

Two recent conferences I attended as the National Association of Wheat Growers? official representative offered insights into the people and their organizations that are anti-wheat, anti-gluten and anti-GMO.

At a conference sponsored by Crop Life, an agribusiness media organization, agricultural commodity groups were given the opportunity to interact with consumer activists and gain insight into their opposition to biotechnology and genetically modified crops.

Asked why she opposed the use of biotechnology with food crops, one activist said, ?I do not trust their (bio technology proponents) science and I will not ingest something that may cause harm to my body.?

When the questioner replied that bio-science had made tremendous inroads in life-saving discoveries in the medical field, the activist acknowledged that value and supported the research efforts and its use, yet would not allow the same method of scientific research and discovery to introduce ?manipulated? crops that would ?invade her body with horrible toxins and other unknown poisons.?

Last week, I attended a National Academy of Sciences public forum in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the day and a half hearing was to allow alternative views (primarily anti-biotech) to be heard by the academy?s Committee on Biotechnology.

It is important to note that in the 1980s, the NAS had already approved a report calling for the eventual introduction of genetically engineered traits in crops, that these meetings were a review of that position?not that they were likely to reverse it, but to see if any evidence warranted some change or modification.

With some exceptions, the presentations were restating philosophical and ethical positions that were already known by yours truly, relying on research that was generally discredited from a science-based, peer-reviewed and replicated protocol, by the broader scientific community.

Fear of the unknown is the first notable common thread among all three cases I mentioned at the start. In West Africa, health workers entering villages are viewed with suspicion, as actually carrying the virus into the village. They refuse to accept personal hygiene recommendations and continue with the practice of close contact with infected people.

They trust their own network of homegrown herbalists and witch doctors, and do not report deaths in the family, preferring to keep the remains in their huts, keeping close contact.

Fear of the unknown increases the incidence of violence between villagers and relief workers. In one case, health workers were killed as they entered the community.

The other two examples also express fear of the unknown, and they use this fear to draw in new converts to their cause. They also rely on similar networks to receive and send information. They distrust the mainstream scientific/medical community, believing there is something inherently evil in their body of research.

One presenter at the academy said all research is biased and paid for by biased people and companies. He even said the NAS was biased as well, and therefore incapable of determining whether his anti-GMO position was right or wrong. He did not admit to his own personal bias, however, as that would defeat his case from the start.

The only difference between the Ebola victims and the other examples is, when confronted with a life-threatening disease, they have little experience nor knowledge about science and what it has to offer. The other two groups have that privilege, yet they choose to ignore the consequences of their decision. Today, we have seen measles cases reach a 20-year high as a result of this science denial.

In that sense, I shudder to think what the future would look like if those who spread their brand of fear of the unknown are successful in destroying a promising field of biotechnology. It is one of the greatest opportunities for increasing food security in the world since Norman Borlaug?s introduction of the Green Revolution.

In the May 29, 2014, issue of the online Reuters journal, reporter David Beasley writes that 85 percent of all unvaccinated people cited religious, philosophical or personal reasons for not getting immunized.

The website Science?basedmedicine.org has relevant information regarding these reasons and the underlying myths that explain all but the religious reason. On the website, pediatrician John Snyder writes in his article about the danger zones of parental vaccine refusal.

At his current area of practice, Snyder writes that these parents tend to be highly educated, economically privileged and part of the cultural trend toward self-empowerment and the questioning of authority.

The categories of parental concerns are:

? They believe vaccines cause diseases, including autism and autoimmune diseases.

? Vaccines contain toxins, which can harm the body in unknown ways. (My emphasis here is on ?unknown.?)

? Too many vaccines, given together, can overwhelm the immune system.

? Vaccines are unnecessary or do not work.

In these bullet points, the reasons for not vaccinating a child against diseases that can be eradicated sounds hauntingly similar to the reasons for not eating wheat and campaigning against the use of genetically engineered traits in food crops.

We know that celiac afflicts 0.6 percent of the population, yet 30 percent say a gluten-free diet appeals to them.

Their primary sources of information? You guessed it: friends, the social networks and ?experts? selling products and books.

It also suggests that civilized Americans are not that much different, nor better than, West Africans living in the bush, especially when it comes to learning and understanding the world in which they live.

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