If you watch The Daily Show, you’ve probably wondered why anybody would agree to be interviewed for the in-the-field segment. Chatting on camera with a Daily Show “correspondent” offers a potential to look like an idiot rarely equaled outside 7th grade gym class or Tequila Karaoke Night at TGI Fridays.
So we are left wondering today why Institute for Responsible Technology founder Jeffrey Smith would sit down with fake news correspondent Aasif Mandvi to talk about the GMO “Frankentater” approved by the USDA last year. The April 22 segment, titled “The Return of the Simplot Conspiracy,” gives Smith his screen-time soapbox, and the quotes that made it into the episode include a description of GMOs as “one of the most dangerous introductions of a food additive in our food supply in history.” Smith is sincere. Daily Show correspondent Mandvi makes him look hysterical, saying Smith would explain “exactly how GMO potatoes will kill us.”
Then Mandvi visits Walter De Jong at Cornell University’s College of Agricultural and Life Science, who describes what the comic dubs the “devil tater” as safer than pre-GM potatoes because they produce fewer carcinogens when cooked. He talks more pro-GMO before Mandvi begins pelting him with potatoes to prove the danger. De Jong doesn’t flinch. “Please stop doing that,” he says.
The segment goes on to condemn the non-GMO movement as “the bad guys.” De Jong may be studying the genetic manipulation of potatoes, but the audience didn’t hear that. They heard “bad guys.”
The lesson for the anti-GMO movement goes beyond, “Don’t go on the Daily Show unless you’ve done an HBO standup special.” The lesson might be to tone down the doomsday language and focus the message on the practices that happen in tandem with GMOs. It could be the pesticides. It could be the public’s general “big is bad” distrust of industrial agriculture. People want their food grown, not manufactured. The term “factory farming” probably did more for plant-based eating than any PETA undercover slaughterhouse video.
If a non-GMO activist can look ridiculous on a mostly lefty program like The Daily Show, that’s a sign the movement needs to retool.