We’ve been accused this week of promoting the views of anti agricultural biotech activists and organizations for a story we ran Friday: “Scientist’s Letter Raises Roundup Concern.”
How do we plead? Not guilty, not on this one.
Writer Amy Halloran and Managing Editor Mary Rothschild both worked too hard on this one. We are not here to serve the activists, but we are here to ferret out stories that are interesting and important, or sometimes both.
Most of the news items about genetically modified organisms (GMO) are what I call “process” stories. Court decisions, European Union committee meetings, and administrative decisions are at the center of these stories, and for the most part any science dispute involved is just so much background noise.
While the anti-GMO activists have won some of these process cases, including keeping GM crops out of the EU for years, the biotech side may well be winning in the long run. I really do not think reporting on which side comes out on top in “the process” is promoting one side over the other, and we’ve run more of these stories than anything in the GMO category.
Amy came to me about 10 days ago with this story about a professor emeritus from Purdue University warning the Secretary of Agriculture, just days before USDA deregulated GM alfalfa, about what he said was a new pathogen linked to the herbicide Roundup.
Whenever a story outline sounds like a movie script, you know you are in danger of having the facts ruin a great story. I asked Amy to be sure to call the Secretary of Agriculture and Monsanto for comment. If they had something to say that would make the story go away, I wanted them to have the opportunity.
Luckily I had Mary to help deal with the science part of the story. GMO stories are not what you’d call Mary’s favorites. As she puts it, opponents use every fear-mongering tactic available to them and we don’t know if advocates may be glossing over potential risks.
Mary’s goal all week was to get this written with a clear an explanation as possible as to what may be happening. All the while, she was as frustrated as any of us with the fact that we could not cite “peer-reviewed” research and the like to indicate whether there was any validity to these claims, or why the letter was being leaked in the first place. But she did help Amy tell a fascinating story.
Anytime we can tell a good story and not hide anything from the reader–well, I’ll be glad to plead guilty to that.