Ecocentric

Modifying the Endless Debate Over Genetically Modified Crops

GM crops have become a symbol: either you're for agribusiness or you're against science. But for all the heat, GM crops are something much simpler: one of many tools we need to explore to meet the farming challenges of tomorrow.

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ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

Non-GMO food products, in Los Angeles, Calif., on October 19, 2012.

I’ll admit—I’ve never quite understood the obsession surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops. To environmentalist opponents, GM foods are simply evil, an understudied, possibly harmful tool used by big agribusiness to control global seed markets and crush local farmers. They argue that GM foods have never delivered on their supposed promise, that money spent on GM crops would be better funneled to organic farming and that consumers should be protected with warning labels on any products that contain genetically modified ingredients. To supporters, GM crops are a key part of the effort to sustainably provide food to meet a global population that is growing by the billions. But more than that, supporters see the knee-jerk GM opposition of many environmentalists as fundamentally anti-science, no different than the deniers on the other side of the political spectrum who question the basics of man-made climate change.

For both sides, GM foods seem to act as a symbol: you’re pro-agribusiness or anti-science. But science is exactly what we need more of when it comes to GM foods, which is why I was happy to see the venerable journal Nature devote a special series of articles to the GM food controversy. You can download most of them for free here, and they’re well worth reading. The upshot: while GM crops haven’t yet realized their initial promise and have been dominated by agribusiness, there is reason to continue to use and develop them to help meet the enormous challenge of sustainably feeding a growing planet.

(LIST: 6 Genetically Modified Foods That Changed the World)

That doesn’t mean GM crops are perfect, or a one sizes fits all solution to global agriculture woes. Nature points out that most of the benefit of GM technology so far has indeed gone to big agribusiness, much of it in the form of herbicide-resistant crops like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans or cotton. Of course, just because something benefits Monsanto doesn’t automatically make it wrong—though clearly not everyone would believe that—and advocates say that GM crops have increased agriculture production by nearly $100 billion and prevented nearly 500 million kg of pesticides from being sprayed since the technology was first commercialized nearly two decades ago. GM cotton in China has helped farmers increased yields by nearly 6% since 1997 and reduced the use of insecticides by around 80%.

But hasn’t the use of GM crops increased herbicide-resistant weeds—the so-called “superweeds”? Yes—but it’s not just genetic modification. Before GM crops like Roundup Ready, farmers would often use multiple herbicides to keep weeds in line, which would slow the pace of resistance. (Weeds, like bacteria and antibiotics, inevitably develop resistance to herbicides over time—otherwise they wouldn’t be very good weeds.) Once they started using crops that were genetically modified to handle a specific herbicide—glyphosate, in this case—farmers overwhelmingly began to rely on that herbicide, and weeds like the Palmer amaranth caught up fast. Still, Nature points out that weed species are becoming resistant to herbicides that aren’t covered by GM crops, like atrazine. An—industry-funded, admittedly—study by the consulting firm PG Economics found that the introduction of herbicide-tolerant cotton saved 15.5 million kg of herbicide between 1996 and 2011—a 6.2% reduction from what would have been used on conventional cotton. The problems seems to be less the GM crop itself than the way it was deployed—no rotation of crop types and no varying chemicals to head off resistance.

(MORE: Grocery Chains Won’t Sell Genetically Modified Fish)

That should really be the lesson of the GM debate. GM foods are a useful tool—and as scientists develop next-generation GM crops, like the long awaited vitamin A-infused Golden Rice, they have the potential to become even more useful. The problems we face in feeding ourselves are very real—out of the 7 billion people on this planet, 1 billion are chronically hungry and an additional 1 billion people are malnourished because their diets lack vital micronutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A. We’re likely to add another 2 billion or so people over the next 40 years—driving demand for food up a predicted 40% by 2030. And here’s the real challenge: we need to grow that additional food without using up much more land, because we’re already near the 15% of the Earth’s surface that can sustainably be used for farming.

So anything that can increase farming efficiency—the amount of crops we can produce per acre of land—will be extremely useful. GM crops can and almost certainly will be part of that suite of tools, but so will traditional plant breeding, improved soil and crop management—and perhaps most important of all, better storage and transport infrastructure, especially in the developing world. (It doesn’t do much good for farmers in places like sub-Saharan Africa to produce more food if they can’t get it to hungry consumers.) I’d like to see more non-industry research done on GM crops—not just because we’d worry less about bias, but also because the Monsantos and Pioneers of the world shouldn’t be the only entities working to harness genetic modification. I’d like to see GM research on less commercial crops, like maize, cassava and cowpea. I don’t think it’s vital to label GM ingredients in food, but I also wouldn’t be against it—and industry would be smart to go along with labeling, just as a way of defusing fears about the technology.

Most of all, though, I wish a tenth of the energy that’s spent endlessly debating GM crops was focused on those more pressing challenges for global agriculture. There are much bigger battles to fight.

MORE: California Fails to Pass GM Foods Labeling Initiative

70 comments
I_o_u
I_o_u

To all the nuts out there that think that taking a gene from a certain organism and implanting it into another organism with no other change would cause cancer hair loss, or anything else of the sort, you are wrong. The process of taking lets say a genome from Atlantic Cod that allows it to better manage cold and placing it in the DNA of a Tomato would not cause cancer. There is no step in which "Evil corporate Scientist inserts Carcinogenic materials into plant, in order to enslave the world, pass abusive gun laws, and taking away hipster home grown organic Zucchini.". It is a simple process, however basic standards that everyone must abide by, most notably the consumer. If you know that a plant has been genetically modified to withstand a herbicide so that it can survive in higher yields and benefit humanity with more food and lower prices, you should wash that vegetable before cooking it, as heat will not always destroy the chemicals. And in certain herbicides, not all of them but a good amount, if you ingest them, they could cause allergic reactions and possibly slightly increase your risk of getting cancer. However it is not the genetic modification that does this, it is the needed herbicide and the unneeded idiocy of the consumer. So do not blame companies and farmers for your inability to wash fruit, and most of all do not blame GMO's as it is clear that they have nothing to do with it.


Something to look at.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2013/10/14/2000-reasons-why-gmos-are-safe-to-eat-and-environmentally-sustainable/




bakerthomas8
bakerthomas8

You know what? I am pro- GMO, however I have seen conflicting information:"there is not enough research", "There is research". I want direct research papers from verified non-biased researchers so I can make my own conclusion 

MelissainVA
MelissainVA

Can every scientist in the world who has found something questionable with GMOs really be incompetent?  Can the scientists in the 26 countries that currently ban GMOs all be disreputable and incompetent?


And just for the record most GMO opponents are saying stop until there is more research.  More research done by someone outside of Monsanto and over the long term.  That is not the same thing as being anti-GMO.  That is being pro-science.


How many scientists that question GMOs need to be viciously and immediately "discredited" before the media wakes up and realizes that they are missing a bigger story and that someone or some organization has a very active interest in preventing the truth from being discovered. 


I have great respect for journalists and you are letting us down here.

trlmcco
trlmcco

I'd like to know where your data comes from, because I have read conflicting data saying that crop yields have not increased since the introduction of GMO crops, and pesticide use has actually increased. I know, first hand, that GMOs are harmful. My mother is painfully allergic to all foods containing GMOs and develops blistering rashes all over her body. We have done elimination diets and tests with the same foods - organic versions and GMO versions and 100% of the time she breaks out from the GMO version, and 100% of the time she is fine with the non-GMO version. She had an allergy panel done and tested negative for all food allergies. However when GMOs are in the picture, the allergies run rampant. I also have sensitivities to GMO foods. In 2008 I developed an unexplained case of alopecia areata (hair loss) and after five years of trial and error and elimination of environmental and dietary factors, discovered that GMO foods caused my hair loss. Who knows what other chronic illnesses and autoimmune disorders GMOs are causing to people, BECAUSE THERE IS NO LONG TERM RESEARCH. However, I am finding lots of recent news about hidden short-term animal research (hidden by big aggro) showing how dangerous GMOs are in short periods such as 90 days. We're being poisoned. I don't need any extra data to tell me GMOs are good or bad... I am a living human "science experiment".

amerigus
amerigus

Besides the health issue, GMO labels tell us whether we are supporting industries that promote secrecy and monopolistic practices. Since Bill Clinton's era the US has been blackmailing poor nations into using GMO crops by threat of withholding WTO funds and USAID. The officials doing this came from the top ranks of Monsanto and CropLife, the biggest pesticide lobby.

They also extort American farmers back home, suing them out of existence when windborne GM seed invaded their crops, a so-called patent infringement. And why do their contracts include non-disclosure clauses? The strongarm tactic of force-gagging your own clients tells us quite clearly they must have something to say.

So don't be so quick to make this labeling debate just about health risks, although it should appall everyone that Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Sygenta and all the others refuse to make their research public and open to review. Speaks volumes to parents like me.



guest-a-roni
guest-a-roni

I think it is about time that the world order is redeveloped to create nations that care to adopt GMOs 

and those that do not.  The divide is growing very clearly. This is civil war material. Time to mediate.

laashcroft
laashcroft

Bryan, in your last second-last paragraph, you mentioned work on non-commercial crops. There is a South African scientist called Jennifer Thomson who is working on developing drought-resistant maize - not to get rich or destroy the planet, but to alleviate pain and suffering and starvation in Africa and other third world countries. She has written a book called Food for Africa, to be published by Juta this year (I am an editor in academic publishing and I worked on this project recently).

Here is a link: http://www.aatf-africa.org/about-us/governance/board-trustees/jennifer-ann-thomson

SabrinaDodaj
SabrinaDodaj

I've asked twice, but have seen no responses.   I guess all of you pro-GMOers who claim to have researched the safety of genetically modified foods have NO studies to cite regarding their safety for human and animal consumption. 

Bryan Walsh, care to help out your GMO supporters??  They seem to be at a loss for words.  You seem to be comfortable in the safety of GMOs in our food supply.  Where are the studies????  One would think that reviewing studies would be your first step in researching GMOs.  Since you feel that the GMO debate is a waste of time, where's the evidence that they're safe?  Without proof of safety and mounting evidence that GMOs are toxic to life, the fact that GMOs are in ~80% of the processed food in the US (unlabeled), including most infant formula, should be cause for concern.  The only long-term study done on GMOs is the Seralini study which showed organ damage, tumors, shortened life span...  WHERE ARE THE INDEPENDENT STUDIES SHOWING THAT THESE CROSS-SPECIES, GENETICALLY MODIFIED, LAB CREATED PRODUCTS ARE SAFE??????????????   

The ONLY studies required by the FDA for a GMO to be approved and unleashed into our entire food supply are the 90 day studies done by the corporations that create and PROFIT from GMOs (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow...).  THERE ARE NO INDEPENDENT STUDIES DONE.  NONE!  Note that our FDA food safety czar is Michael Taylor - former VP of Monsanto.  You think there may be a conflict of interest?

SabrinaDodaj
SabrinaDodaj

I'll try asking again since no pro-GMOers have chimed in yet to my first request --  where are the independent studies showing GMOs to be safe?  Since you are positive that they're safe, please provide the studies proving that they are safe for human and animal consumption.  Having some trouble finding them??????????????



ntile18
ntile18

Wake up world

you know we are being given crappy food. you know we are in a matrix. get outside of it and be free

TheodoreNicholasBambacas
TheodoreNicholasBambacas

Total misinformation. How much did they pay you Bryan Walsh. SHOW IS THE INDEPENDENT RESEARCH!!

SabrinaDodaj
SabrinaDodaj

Those who support GMOs, where are the independent studies showing GMOs to be safe?  Since you are positive that they're safe, please provide the studies proving that they are safe for human and animal consumption.

scheibermartin
scheibermartin

Vacuous blathering - is what you are doing when you make factless arguments, void of statistical data that claim GMOs are harmful. It's also called bad science! The fact of the matter is GM foods have been around for decades and given that we eat them everyday means that GM food has gone through the largest clinical trial EVER! In all of those years there hasn't been an associated death, disease or any other affliction linked to GMOs . Zero. I'm all for labeling, we all should be more educated and aware of how food is grown or raised. If you like to pay 3 dollars for a green pepper that has worms in it...that's your choice. I pay 3 dollars more for cage free eggs (because I feel better about it) yet I also buy chicken breasts. Doesn't make sense; the point is we pick and choose our battles. I can't stand this blind vilification of Monsanto though. Yeah they a gorilla corporation, show me a large company that isn't. Monsanto has allowed farmers to yield more product and subsequently more money. Higher yields means more people have access to affordable food. Monsanto has reduced the use of pesticides. Plus Monsanto and these huge farm conglomerates are regulated by the FDA, USDA, EPA and probably a couple of other agencies. The pesticides they do use are the safest and newest pesticides available. These small farms...who knows what they use. Who is regulating them? Seriously this country has been Oprahfied and whimpified. To the girl that thinks its unnatural for plants to grow in rows? You know what is also unnatural...cars, your house, your hair color, climate control, irrigation, twinkies, cement, roads ect.

agrobiodiversity
agrobiodiversity

GM crops are grown in and exported from North and South America to the tune of $30 billion from each region. Most are exported for animal feed use in S.E. Asia. The competition between the American production regions keeps the price lower than if any one region had a monopoly. This leads to lower food prices, cost of living, wages,and therefore manufacturing costs in S.E, Asia, which now produces phenomenal levels of exports of manufactured goods to most developed countries. If we want the price of these goods to rise, then oppose GM crop production (and therefore their export). I would prefer to keep my imports from S.E. Asia - shoes, cotton clothes, electronics and much more) at a reasonable low price. Farmers in the Americas benefit, people in S.E. Asia benefit, and I benefit. Thank you, Monsanto.

Emily'e-blanket'LawlorAaston
Emily'e-blanket'LawlorAaston

Interesting take, but I think the real underlying problem has not been addressed. GM crops have been developed to fit into a monocrop system, which has proven to be deficient and destructive in innumberable ways. Plants are NOT designed to grow in rows, tightly together, and all the same species. Take a look at any natural forest. There are layers of trees, bushes, root crops, cover crops etc. with an incredible amount of diversity. In these systems, the plants work together to build healthy, living soil and a symbiotic relationship where the plants take care of one another and certainly do not need human input. We have completely distorted natural ways of growing things to plant millions of acres of one crop where of course there will be problems with "weeds" and "pests" because there is no diversity and we have competely killed soil, which is suppoed to be full of life. It is a complete actrocity that we have so disotorted natural ways of growing things to create only a handful of crops that lack nutritional value and are sprayed with chemicals in order to survive. GMO is just a way to further develop this system that is so far from natural and good. I will be growing my own heirloom food in a permaculture system, thank you. And THAT's how we can start saving the world. In permaculture systems there is far more yield for the space used, and the food is actually good for you because it comes from live soil with nutrients shared with the variety of plant life. I will never think GMOs are a step in the right direction. 

KiniAlohaGuy
KiniAlohaGuy

I researched GMO for a long time looking for a smoking gun to point to the claims of FrankenFruit causing all sorts of illnesses from cancer to birth abnormalities; and I'm still searching for any evidence.  Just like Global Warming, it's like hunting for Sasquatch, it doesn't exist.  Yet, GMO alarmist claim that I'm not reading enough about the problem [sic].  To that I ask, why hasn't either the government, the [lazy] media, or a body count left behind in the wake of GMO deaths?  Read the contents label of any boxed food product and you will find GMO in it, it may not be labeled as such, but chances are there is GMO in the ingredients.  So, what's the point of labeling?  As for the 15% of Earth's surface for sustainable farming, I don't believe that's of any real concern.  Deserts have been turned into farming oasis's, you just have to add water; two good examples are Israel's transformable success in irrigation, and the EPA's misuse of the environment by cutting off the water to California's Central Valley.  There's plenty of land to feed the billions, there's just too much government intervention to properly use the environment for food production.  Food, that is, not to power your vehicle, but to power your body and mind.

theCodifyer
theCodifyer

Modifying plants so they can be saturated with poison is the impetus behind GMO. That our food supply & the seed pool is in the hands of pharmaceutical companies should be disturbing to everyone. Proof exists that pesticides are destroying bee colonies world-wide, and there is strong evidence ( in India, for example)  that GMO seeded land becomes unfit for planting anything else. Research into the negative health effects of consuming Round up ready plant foods is mounting. At the very least, consumers should have the right to know what foods are GMO ( like soy, sugar-beets, corn which find their way into almost every processed product), but the 'small people' have been  out lobbied by the huge bucks lavished on the politicians & press to promote the industry. If they are so proud of their product, why not admit it in print on the package? 


agrobiodiversity
agrobiodiversity

@hollylane But Seneff - the lady from MIT - is neither a biotech specialist nor a medical doctor. Her CV includes: "She received the B.S. degree in Biophysics in 1968, the M.S. and E.E. degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1980, and the Ph.D degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1985, all from MIT." She now seems to be a hobby scientist working on nutrition and disease and publishing in a low quality journal.  She should stick to writing professional papers such as S. Seneff. Interactive Computer Aids for Acquiring Proficiency in Mandarin. Keynote Speech, 1-11, Proc. ISCSLP, Singapore, 2006. Horses for courses.

PickaUraNosea
PickaUraNosea

Eat any Sweet Corn lately?  Green Beans? Watermelon? Tomatoes?  Just wondering, as those are ALL genetically modified foods, all crossbred and artificially created to fill a niche market.  Honeydew Melons, Cantaloupe, the list is ENDLESS.  How do you think Corn became long, straight eared and all yellow (or white), anyway? Let's all get a life and move on.

aliberaldoseofskepticism
aliberaldoseofskepticism

It probably won't kill you. It definitely won't fix world hunger, because that's not its point. At this point, there are more than enough kilocalories to feed everyone, but we have a distribution problem.

DemianGatins
DemianGatins

How about this? I used to agree that there was little difference between GMO and organic, but having made a shift over the past year as an experiment, I have found that free range/ grass fed/ organic tastes fantastic and is without pesticide residue. Typically, they are also richer in omega-3's, vital to brain health. There are issues with pesticide runoff that need to be addressed, but for the moment labeling would be acceptable.


GMKnowBoulder
GMKnowBoulder

Embracing those scientific cornerstones of Measurement & Repeatability, why isn't there any such attention to detail regarding GMOs impact on human (animal) health? We hear and read about all the peer-reviewed blah blah about GMO safety, but invariably the entire body of research has been conducted around the GMO engineering process. Clinical Human Health Studies? You won't find any because the measures and repeatability data would expose the GMO annuity seed scam.

DemianGatins
DemianGatins

Entropy   Free Full-Text   Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome  Pathways to Modern Diseases.html

For those saying there is no proof or evidence to suggest issues with GMO's I offer this and you may decide for yourself. I used to agree with you.

KachinaLively
KachinaLively

@bakerthomas8 There have been many Scientific Studies completed on GMO's. Find those buried beneath the bottom of the mountain of research papers to find the truth. Monsanto pays for and manipulates their reports. You are correct in saying, There has not been enough long-term studies done on the harm GMO's to humans and animals! WE the people should not be their guinea pigs!!! This is what I object to! We were force-fed toxic food products without our knowledge!

ScottBisset
ScottBisset

@SabrinaDodaj  Nature is chaotic do u think that organic product in nature say oh on there a virus in me or I'm toxic food i better get rid of it to save the humans or do you think it saids oh well i don't really know what i doing virus, germs, toxins here there everywhere just need to survive(just about). Just to reinforce this 8% of the human DNA is viral and 99% of it is junk. Humans wouldn't do it if it was unsafe what the difference between a Genetically engineered cell and and a normal cell not much one just modded by man the other by nature. Man try to ID every protein strand and work out what it does nature just goes with the flow having no idea what it's doing. And what studies have there been done to show they are not safe. Do really think nature has a cares in the world about your welfare with human as least they try. Does nature do studies to see if any it makes are safe it could have just invented the worst virus ever and wouldn't know. If nature really wanted to care for us you would have a world in complete harmony and working in the most efficient way ever but i don't see that when i look out side i see million dyeing and starving being killed animal eating animal exticntion after extiction. Next time when you eat a apple think has nature vierfed it 100% safe or was it humans that saved there own lives though there intellgence. Plus if peole are being killed by GM food supposly half the time we don't even know we're eating where the mass deaths the random deaths, peole going crazy etc.

RachelMomispatient
RachelMomispatient

@SabrinaDodaj  Are you a member of Moms Across America? If not, WE NEED YOU! I heard talk of this "TIME article" on our fb page and was offering the research I have for someone to rebut. I then searched the article and found that you're ALL OVER IT already! You go girl. Thanks for representing an obvious intelligent presence of the anti-GM  folks out here in the trenches :-) http://www.momsacrossamerica.com/?recruiter_id=21775

KevinFolta
KevinFolta

@SabrinaDodaj   How do you "prove something is safe"?  You can't prove anything is safe.  All you can test is for evidence of harm, and nobody has ever shown that. 

There are many studies in a variety of animal systems that show the products have no unintended effects. Keep in mind also, that when there are no effects, it is usually not published.  It is not earthshaking news at all.  This is safe technology that after 15 years proves to be more beneficial than risky by far.

JRose
JRose

@theCodifyer I hate to break it to you but whether you eat GMO, conventional or organic, there will always be some kind of chemical.  If the intent is to know what is happening in your food stuffs, it should be across the board and include organic foods also.  The goal should be for consumer information and food safety.  I also see that the organic industry is starting to muscle its way into Congress also.  Let's label things across the board for the right reasons.

MichelleGunn
MichelleGunn

Thank you... And let's not forget broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels etc which were all "genetically modified" by man from the cabbage plant/flower. This has been going on for decades, the only problem nw is that its been labelled and mediarised!

SabrinaDodaj
SabrinaDodaj

@ScottBisset @SabrinaDodaj  GMOs, which most people in the US are unknowingly consuming, are CROSS-SPECIES, laboratory creations, made by giant pesticide/chemical corporations who are making huge profits off of them.  They do their own (only 90 day) testing before their GMOs are unleashed into the US food supply UNLABELED (do you not see a conflict of interest???).   The corrupt FDA does NO testing thanks to Michael Taylor(head of food safety and former Monsanto VP- conflict of interest???).   When you question what studies have been done that show they are not safe, show me the studies that show that they are safe (do no harm).  THE GMO/PESTICIDE CORPORATIONS DO NOT ALLOW INDEPENDENT TESTING IN THE US (the corporations own patents on the seeds), and NO ONE KNOWS THEY'RE EATING GMOS BECAUSE MONSANTO AND FRIENDS ARE SPENDING MILLIONS ON CAMPAIGNS OF LIES TO PREVENT GMO LABELING! The ONLY long-term study is the Seralini Study from France which showed GMOs to cause organ damage, tumors, shortened life-span...  The only people who have tried to discredit this published, peer-reviewed study are those that profit in some way from GMOs.           At the very least, I should have the right to know if the food in the market has been artificially genetically modified or not.   The problem is that with political manipulation, the GMO/pesticide industry has been able to keep their creations a secret.  If they're so great, why are they not plastering "GMO" on all of the food labels??  Instead they spent over $45 million to block labeling in California and currently they've spent $21 million in Washington.  They feel as though people are too stupid to make their own decision, so those that profit off of GMOs have the right to make that decision for them that they HAVE to eat GMOs??  How outrageous is that?  And if GMOs are so safe, what was the need for the Monsanto Protection Act?? The measure undermined the Department of Agriculture’s authority to ban genetically modified crops, even if court rulings found they posed risks to human and environmental health. Republican Senator Roy Blunt (who, since 2008, has received $118,500 in campaign donations from Monsanto) worked with them to craft the initial rider, and it was SLIPPED into a funding resolution that passed in March.  If GMOs are so safe, what was the need for this???  They know GMOs are toxic... Oh, and a side-note - GMOs are failing.    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/28/us-usa-gmo-corn-rootworm-idUSBRE97R12R20130828  When presented with the choice of food from nature or cross-species, genetically altered food from the GMO/pesticide industry, I'll take my chances with nature.

SabrinaDodaj
SabrinaDodaj

@gdeichen @SabrinaDodaj

@gdeichen - Thank you for your effort, but your "huge" European study is not a "huge" study, but merely a report which actually causes more concern about the dangers of GMOs.  

Here's part of an in-depth summary:  

"GM proponents often refer to research studies that they claim show the safety of GM foods. However, on closer examination, these same studies raise serious safety concerns. A related tactic is to claim that regulatory authorities have pronounced GM foods to be safe – when the regulators’ actual statements are either equivocal or are based on industry-provided data.

The success of these tactics relies on the likelihood that few people will look at the source documents that are claimed to provide evidence for the safety of GM foods.

An example of such misrepresented sources is a group of fifty research projects funded by the European Union around the topic of the safety of GMOs for animal and human health and the environment. The results of the projects were published in 2010 by the European Commission in a report called A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research (2001–2010).45

This EU report has been seized upon by GM proponents and some EU officials to bolster their claims that GMOs are safe. Some says that EU regulators have also reached this conclusion, based on the projects’ findings. Those who have cited the projects in this way include:

  • The GM industry lobby group ISAAA46
  • Jonathan Jones, a British Monsanto-connected scientist47,48
  • Nina Fedoroff, former science and technology adviser to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton49
  • Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for research, innovation and science.50

Oddly, however, ISAAA, Jones, and Federoff do not cite any actual studies performed by the EU researchers. They do not even cite the findings or conclusions of the Commission’s report on the studies, A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research.

Instead, they cite a quote from an EU Commission press release announcing the publication of its report. The press release cites Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for research, innovation and science, as stating that the EU research projects provided “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms”.50

But it was not the studies’ findings, nor even the Commission’s report of those findings, but Geoghegan-Quinn’s soundbite about the report that found its way into the GM proponents’ statements. Closer examination of the case shows why.

Tracing the evidence back to its source, we examine first the report to which Geoghegan-Quinn was referring in her quote: A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research. Of the fifty research projects discussed in the report, just ten are listed as relating to safety aspects of GM foods.45

However, within those ten projects, there is astonishingly little data of the type that could be used as credible evidence regarding the safety or harmfulness of GM foods. Such evidence would normally consist of long-term animal feeding studies comparing one group of animals fed a diet containing one or more GM ingredients with a control group fed a diet containing the same ingredients in non-GM form. Instead, the studies examine such topics as risk assessment of GM foods, methods of testing for the presence and quantity of GMOs in food and feed, and consumer attitudes to GM foods.

This data is not relevant to assessing the safety of any GM food. In fact, the report makes clear that the food safety research studies were not designed to do so – though taxpayers would be entitled to ask why the Commission spent 200 million Euros of public money45 on a research project that failed to address this most pressing of questions about GM foods. Instead, the research studies were designed to develop “safety assessment approaches for GM foods”.45 One of the published studies carried out under the project confirms that the aim was “to develop scientific methodologies for assessing the safety” of GM crops.23

Nonetheless, a few animal feeding studies with GM foods were carried out as part of the EU project. It is difficult to work out how many studies were completed, what the findings were, and how many studies passed peer review and were published, because the authors of the EU Commission report fail to reference specific studies to back up their claims. Instead, they randomly list references to a few published studies in each chapter of the report and leave the reader to guess which statements refer to which studies.

In some cases it is unclear whether there is any published data to back up the report’s claims. For example, a 90-day feeding study on hamsters is said to show that “the GM potato was as safe as the non-GM potato”, but no reference is given to any published study or other source of data, so there is no way of verifying the claim.45

Our own search of the literature uncovered three published studies on GM food safety that were carried out as part of SAFOTEST, one of the ten food safety-related projects. Our examination of these studies below reveals that, contrary to the claims of GM proponents and Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn, they do not show the safety of GM food but rather give cause for concern."

- See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/3-health-hazards-of-gm-foods/3-2-myth-eu-research-shows-gm-foods-are-safe#sthash.OSS7vuke.dpuf


jdmumma
jdmumma

@gdeichen @SabrinaDodaj  
Seems to me @gdeichen that you were specifically asked "cite where in the report can I find a long-term study (or any study) showing GMOs to be safe for human and animal consumption."


I did not see where you answered that specific question.

Did you, or are you able to respond to this request (fulfill the burden-of-proof)?

To be clear I am requesting a simple yes or no and a quote and link. I wish to avoid red herring over generalization... (e.g. "Anti-GM rhetoric...") off the topic of my clear and specific request.

gdeichen
gdeichen

@SabrinaDodajIncidentally, I found this quite persuasive and, so far, hard to fault (although I have a lot of reading still to do): http://www.marklynas.org/2013/01/lecture-to-oxford-farming-conference-3-january-2013/

Anti-GM rhetoric focuses on the supposed downsides of GM technology (and of anything that they can bundle together with it, including most techniques used in modern industrial farming) and claim that there are no good sides. None. Not even a tiny chance that there might be some reason to claim that this stuff could be useful. So every farmer who grows it, every scientist who painstakingly develops and tests it and every company that tries to get this stuff onto the market are fool, charlatans or both.

Oh and of the originally mentioned Séralini et al. study, that has been trashed all over the place - here's one of those places, picked at random: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/121128.htm - a lot of people have been required to take a serious look at this and the majority of them seem to have written off its conclusions completely.

gdeichen
gdeichen

@SabrinaDodajTouché! My knee-jerk condescension arose from the CRAZY CAPITALs and WACKY punctuation that make you sound a BIT MAD... As you correctly surmise, though, I'm certainly not a scientist. Which is why I let scientists do the thinking on this for me - and by that I mean listening to knowledgeable people whenever possible and taking note of the prevailing scientific consensus.

I can fully understand why people are upset about the power that large companies in America have to choose who gets to study their products - that is inevitably going to create unnecessary mistrust. But the products have been safety tested to the extent that they have persuaded the FDA that they are safe... If there are conflicts of interest there, the assumption that bias is inevitable does require one to assume scientific fraud on a massive scale and that the entire FDA has been told what to report by one man. All of which is, of course, possible and if the system really is built that way I can understand why people don't trust it.

However - and, again, this is my understanding which, like everyone's, is open to question - the majority of people with any kind of credible understanding of the technology appear to be saying that it really isn't any different from a safety point of view from conventional breeding techniques, hence the apparent lack of trials purely from a safety POV. When you add the massive extra amount of testing required to get a GM variety approved, it doesn't seem unreasonable that the EU chief scientist (Anne Glover) has stated plainly that GM crops are safe. And part of her reason for asserting that? The US has been growing and eating GM crops for at least the past 15 years with no evidence of any negative effect. You may not like the fact that that has been allowed to happen, but it has happened and the result is what it is.

I may well invest the time, if I can free enough of it up, to work my way through enough of the raw scientific material necessary to gain a fuller understanding of the topic, but at the moment I'm taking what I consider to be the sensible course: taking seriously the opinion of those people who are best placed to provide the necessary information. And by "opinion", I mean educated opinion based upon an overview of the relevant science.

If you prefer to listen to the far less credible alternative voice - people who often have a huge incentive to be far more biased with far less scrutiny than any public official - then that is your right, but for their ideas to be taken seriously they really need to build a much more convincing evidence base.

As for labelling: I can understand why companies would object to it; as they say, it would be like putting a skull and crossbones on everything. Whether we like it or not, they have taken the official steps to getting their product into the system and they don't want to be undermined now by scaremongering. That said, I personally think that GM food should be labelled if it's what the consumer wants, in the same way that Halal and Kosher food is labelled: there may be no credible scientific reason to do it, but it's a matter of choice. I think the companies will effectively get around this, if labelling is forced through, by labelling pretty much everything "may contain GM ingredients", effectively derailing the whole thing. That is apart from food that is "certified" by anti-GM bodies that will no doubt spring up in the aftermath of labelling and which are likely one of the driving forces behind demonising GM technology. If you're going to follow the money, after all, you really have to follow it any way it takes you.

If I come across anything that more closely reflects your apparent requirements, I'll be sure to flag it up. In the mean time, perhaps you could describe the kind of trial you would like to see? Perhaps millions of people eating GM crops for a number of years? Also, is it your opinion that the technology is potentially or fundamentally dangerous? I.e. are you concerned that every crop should be thoroughly tested in case it's dangerous (and by that I mean even more thoroughly tested than they already are, by people who you trust) or do you believe that all crops that contain GM are "bad" in some way and should be avoided? Because it is really only the latter which would precipitate mandatory labelling, from a safety point of view.

SabrinaDodaj
SabrinaDodaj

I'm amazed at your condescending response considering you don't know the difference between a report and a study.  Maybe you should Google the words and figure out the difference. You responded to my request of a long-term independent study showing GMOs to be safe for human and animal consumption with a claim that you had a link to a "huge European study".  You must not have even looked at it. What you posted was a link to a REPORT which merely cites small, short-term GMO studies which are mostly IRRELEVANT to human and animal safety.  TRY ACTUALLY LOOKING AT THE REPORT.  Since you're so knowledgeable in the scientific proof, cite where in the report can I find a long-term study (or any study) showing GMOs to be safe for human and animal consumption. I found none. You are completely vague in your supposed scientific proof, and yet you continue to insist that consensus from a bunch of gmo industry scientists is proof, although THERE IS NO SCIENCE TO BACK IT UP. 

So I ask again, cite where I can find an INDEPENDENT LONG-TERM  STUDY showing that GMOs are safe for human and animal consumption.  Finding just ONE shouldn't be that difficult.  I'm sure you've seen at least one during your research where you came to the conclusion that GMOs are safe.  Since they've allowed GMOs into our food supply in the US, they had to have done long-term testing, right?  After all, most Americans are now UNKNOWINGLY eating GMOs, including their babies and children, so the FDA/Michael Taylor/former VP of Monsanto had to have required long-term, independent safety testing, right?  He wouldn't allow the entire US population to be a giant science experiment, right?  Oh, and in case you're not sure, by "independent" I mean having no ties to the GMO/pesticide corporations creating and profiting from them.

Thanks in advance.  I look forward to reviewing the STUDY which I'm sure will clarify the issue.

And one last request.  Could you please answer why the GMO industry is spending millions (over $45,000,000 just in California) to prevent labeling food that's been genetically modified?  Aren't they proud of their product?  Why don't they want people to know they're eating GMOs?  Please explain.

gdeichen
gdeichen

@SabrinaDodaj@gdeichenAnd herein lies the problem: everything looks the same size on the Internet. I present a compilation of decades of research by thousands of scientists, you reply with a quote from a tiny, partisan group who use strangely unscientific methods both to criticise the study and to promote their own cause. It's like I've turned up with the US army and you think your kitten has won the fight. Here's a forum picking apart the above-mentioned group's flagship paper (and by that I mean PDF on the Internet, not something peer-reviewed): http://sguforums.com/index.php?topic=42208.0

We could play this game all day, though. You can "prove" anything by cherry-picking papers. The international press do it all the time - all those stories about magic cures to obesity and cancer, crap about the most depressing day of the year, all that sort of nonsense - it's sourced from science, but it's not science. Science is about consensus; you have to take lots of studies by lots of people, sort the wheat from the chaff, repeat things that are critical - it takes time and effort to build a picture that means anything. And right now, that picture is one of a fairly young technology with some benefits, some potential and some existing wins - and a very good safety record. If you disagree, that's fine, but if you want to change the consensus you have a lot more work to do than a Google search.

DemianGatins
DemianGatins

@mem_somerville @DemianGatins @GMKnowBoulder  By the way, that theory was proposed by an MIT professor, perhaps their creds are better than their detractors. There is also the fallacy of majority appeal, doesn't mean the majority is wrong, but one must guard against that possiblity.

mem_somerville
mem_somerville

@GMKnowBoulder @mem_somerville @DemianGatins This is the problem with many of the discussants in this topic. They are getting dreadful information from crappy sources. And they are unable to tell the difference between quality peer-reviewed research and any guy with a sandwich-board shouting "Be Afraid!1!". 

It's a case of Dunning-Kruger. They can't evaluate how bad their sources are. And yet they refuse to acknowledge that there are scientists who are qualified to evaluate the claims and find them bogus.

KevinFolta
KevinFolta

@DemianGatins @mem_somerville  There is no evidence for this statement.  In many many studies bees have been fed tons of Bt pollen and in the worst case under massive doses show minimal problems. 

DemianGatins
DemianGatins

@mem_somerville @DemianGatins The theory proposed is that the pollen from GMO's is affecting the nervous system of the bees and causing colony collapse disorder- GMO's are being banned in parts of Europe because of this.