Must-Read: Nathanael Johnson: What the New York Times missed with its big GMO story: "A big piece [by Danny Hakim] that made the front page of the New York Times... takes aim at...

...[the claims that] genetically modified crops... increase yields... and reduce pesticide use.... The article concludes that GMO seeds are no better at either than any other form of breeding.... The story is an odd one.... The most mild interpretation of the piece--GMOs haven’t dramatically improved yields, but they are useful... is really not news.... If your takeaway... is that GMOs just aren’t useful, then it runs contrary to loads of evidence--which the story almost completely omits. And it makes comparisons that sound compelling, but don’t actually tell you much.... The problem here is that there’s enough data that you can easily pick the evidence to support your favorite narrative, depending on where you focus....

The most balanced approach is to look at all the available evidence--and that’s what the National Academy of Sciences report already did. Hakim cites the report where it supports his conclusions, but not in the places it contradicts them.... Perhaps the most compelling stats in Hakim’s story come from a comparison with France, which has reduced insecticide use by 65 percent... [while the] United States has only reduced insecticide use by 33 percent.... But... zoom in and you can see that France started with crazy-high pesticide application levels.... It’s also odd that Hakim would single out France: Pesticide use there has been declining, but it’s been increasing in other parts of Europe....

Because most of us aren’t farmers, we have a hard time seeing the GMO age at all. But U.S. farmers can see it. Farmers aren’t backward dupes.... They clearly think they’re getting something valuable when they pay the extra money for GMOs.... And GMOs really aren’t all associated with industrial farming. The disease-resistant papaya is a wonderful innovation. The insect-resistant eggplant seems to be reducing pesticide use in Bangladesh. This banana, this cassava, and this rice could all truly improve the lives of small farmers if those new crops make it over the technical and political hurdles.... It would be a shame if we on the liberal coasts decided the technology was useless just because we have a hard time seeing the benefits that are clear to Midwestern farmers...

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