McGoran has 20 years of experience writing about food and sustainability, and the threat of genetically-modified produce is at the center of his thriller, Drift.
How did you come to be concerned with Genetically-Modified Organisms?
After high school, I started working at a Co-op, located in West Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, an amazing, diverse, and politically active community that in the ’60s and ’70s had embraced change and integration, working hard to strengthen its neighborhood. My involvement in the food co-op got me interested in food issues. When I got my degree in communications and began editing and publishing the Co-op’s newspaper, The Shuttle, I became more aware of—and concerned about—the issues surrounding the food we eat.
What was the origin of your idea for Drift?
I had also become serious about writing fiction; mostly crime fiction, thrillers, and some sci-fi stories. As the GMO story evolved, I realized the subject was tailor-made for a thriller—in ways it already was a thriller. I also realized this was something I cared deeply about, and that fiction can be a very effective way of getting an idea out there. But mostly, when I had the idea for Drift, I was excited because I thought it made for a great story with really compelling characters.
What was the hardest part about injecting your 'message' into a thriller plot?
Job one is always to tell a good story, and whenever confronted with “message versus story” I always tried to err on the side of story. One of the struggles of keeping any story moving is minimizing expository writing, and for any science thriller, especially one that is so topical, that is an important challenge. In Drift, the protagonist, Doyle Carrick, is just learning about GMOs and many of the other issues in the book, and he is skeptical about a lot of them, so hopefully I have been able to introduce many of these themes organically and seamlessly.
What surprised you the most as you researched genetically-altered food?
One thing that I have always been almost defensive about in advocating for labeling of GMOs is not overstating claims about their dangers. I would sometimes bristle as people made claims that could not be proven or were under-supported by scientific evidence, because it seemed to me there were more than enough demonstrable, undeniable facts to justify concern, and overstating the case made it easy for others to undermine your argument. But I am much more aware now about how under-researched GMOs are, and how that is intentional, how the companies manufacturing GMOs are using their money, political power and patent protection to control and limit what research is being done. It has made me less sympathetic to complaints that some claims against GMOs are unproven. There are people out there with very serious concerns about GMOs, legitimate concerns, and you can’t dismiss them as unproven if the necessary research is being prevented from being done. People are unaware that as much as 80% of processed foods contain GMOs.
How do you feel government has handled the risks?
I think it has been an abject failure of government that will be recognized in the decades to come as one of the most egregious examples of the dangers of money in politics. Because there is really no other explanation that makes sense, unless you start going down some really bizarre conspiracy theory roads—which can be fascinating, but which I don’t think are productive at this point...unless you’re writing a thriller.
Does the US approach differ significantly from other countries?
Yes, dozens of countries have banned GMOs, and many others require labeling. Our failure to regulate GMOs is threatening our agricultural exports to those countries, potentially costing us billions. Polls have shown that 90% of Americans are in favor of labeling GMOs, but our political leaders have largely failed to stand up for their citizens, and instead have caved to the narrow interests who oppose GMO labeling. It is stunning that the will of such an overwhelming majority of Americans can be subverted by a handful of large corporations. I hate to say it, but the United States is probably the worst country in the world when it comes to GMOs, because we are not only ignoring our citizens and failing to adequately protect them, but we are applying pressure on other countries to weaken or eliminate the regulations and protections they have put in place to protect their citizens.