Neil deGrasse Tyson goes to town on GMO critics

Mistrust of genetically engineered food smacks of anti-science fear, the Cosmos host rants

Published July 31, 2014 1:41PM (EDT)

Neil deGrasse Tyson                                          (AP/Frank Micelotta)
Neil deGrasse Tyson (AP/Frank Micelotta)

Neil deGrasse Tyson has two words for critics of genetically modified foods: "Chill out."

Mother Jones points to a recently surfaced video, of unclear origin, in which the astrophysicist and "Cosmos" host goes on what can only be described as a rant against the anti-GMO crowd. “I’m amazed how much rejection genetically modified foods are receiving from the public,” Tyson tells a French interviewer. “It smacks of the fear factor that exists at every new emergent science, where people don’t fully understand it or don’t fully know or embrace its consequences, and so therefore reject it.”

"What most people don't know, but they should, is that practically every food you buy in a store -- for consumption by humans -- is genetically modified food," Tyson continues. "There are no wild, seedless watermelons. There's no wild cows."

"You list all the fruit, and all the vegetables, and ask yourself, is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is, it's not as large, it's not as sweet, it's not as juicy and it has way more seeds in it. We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables and animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them. It's called artificial selection. So now we can do it in a lab, and all of a sudden you're gonna complain?"

Tyson's argument, of course, only touches the surface of anti-GMO sentiment, calling out a misinterpretation of the concept much in the way others are challenging the use of the word "natural" to sell foods that have obviously been processed, or at the very least benefited from human intervention. (For a more nuanced discussion of GMO panic and the degree to which it is or is not warranted, Nathanael Johnson's series for Grist is a must-read -- and here's his exploration of the distinction between natural breeding and genetic engineering.)

So far as the perceived anti-science sentiment goes, we'd expect no less of a response from our Nerd-in-Chief. But man, does he get riled up about it. Check it out below:

By Lindsay Abrams

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Agriculture Food Gmos Natural Food Neil Degrasse Tyson Video