NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Media Discover New Ways To Report Scientific Alarms

October 8, 1999

Critics are charging that the "mainstream" U.S. media are adopting a disturbing new policy. In reporting on biotechnology developments, they are simply repeating scare stories picked up from European tabloids. Influential segments of the American press seem to have abandoned their responsibility to investigate and provide illuminating background.

Here are some examples:

  • A Cornell University study that purported to show that pollen from altered Bt corn could kill Monarch butterfly larvae would have been important -- except for the fact that Monarch larvae don't eat corn pollen and dusting their only food source, milkweed, is quite unlikely.
  • It was reported that a company was "about to develop" a product that contained the allergen in Brazil nuts -- but the company had canceled the project once it discovered that the gene selected to improve the nutritional quality of soybeans was, indeed, an allergen.
  • A publication asserted that "Biotech foods are not tested; companies merely attest to their safety" -- despite the fact that rigorous scientific studies are conducted and reviewed by three agencies of the U.S. government before products are commercialized.
  • Then there was a Swiss study "that showed that Bt corn can harm beneficial insects, including lacewings" -- but corn borer larvae are a minor part of the lacewing diet and field studies show lacewings and other beneficial insects thrive in Bt fields much better than in fields sprayed with pesticides.

Critics conclude that unlike the biotechnology industry -- which tests genes before inserting them into new products -- today's reporters feel no obligation to test activists' claims before inserting them into their news stories.

Source: Steven J. Milloy (Cato Institute), "The Biotech Rumor Mill," Investor's Business Daily, October 8, 1999.


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