GMOs? Not So Fast GMOs were developed to satisfy certain values, so it is reasonable to judge them by those values—and others

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Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have become a hot political issue. Thirty states have considered legislation that would label food containing GMOs. Two states, Maine and Connecticut, have passed GMO labeling laws that will go into effect if nearby states pass GMO labeling laws. Vermont’s GMO labeling law will go into effect in 2016—barring the success of a lawsuit against it. Outside of the United States, 64 countries have GMO labeling laws. However, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Rep G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) have introduced a bill in Congress that would block states from implementing their own labeling laws. Critics have lampooned the bill as the “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know” or DARK Act.

What is the fuss about? Are foods containing GMOs something that consumers should be worried about? Are they the product of unnatural tampering—are they “Frankenfoods”? Many scientists say “No.” Rather, they say that proponents of labeling are anti-science. The debate has become polarized.

As a philosopher of science, I think I can best help by sorting through some of the arguments concerning GMOs—arguments being a philosopher’s stock-in-trade—in particular by showing how a proper understanding of science and values can help to understand the issues at stake. This is difficult to do, since some of the GMO studies themselves are controversial. So, I will try to be scrupulous with my sources, citing only peer-reviewed articles and well-accepted findings.

Let me put my cards on the table from the outset. I think there are good reasons to label GMOs. However, I am not “anti-GMO”—I don’t think GMOs should be banned or outlawed, and some applications are promising. Research should continue. But there needs to be stricter oversight of GMO testing. In short, I take a middle-ground position which will no doubt antagonize both sides. But it is the middle ground that the arguments steer us toward.

 

Roberta Millstein, professor of philosophy at University of California, Davis

Roberta Millstein, professor of philosophy at University of California, Davis

What are GMOs?

GMOs are organisms, including plants and animals that we eat, that are created using recombinant DNA methods (“genetic engineering”). These methods allow a gene from any species, including distantly related species, to be inserted and subsequently expressed in a different species, such as a food crop. (When a gene is “expressed,” that means that it is producing a desired protein, which it will do if it is in the right genetic environment and the right external environment). There are also GMOs that are not designed to be eaten, such as GM bacteria for medical purposes.

Most GMOs on the market today have been designed in one of two ways. First, many crops are resistant to herbicides. For example, Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops are resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which has glyphosate as its main ingredient. These crops allow farmers to spray their crops with the herbicide, killing the weeds but not killing the crop. Second, many crops contain a pesticide, usually Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which protects crops from pests such as the European corn borer. Here the pest eats the crop and dies; there is no need to spray.

Biotech companies claim that modifications like these will increase crop yields, save farmers time and money, and reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides.

The majority of GM plants are used to make ingredients that are used in other foods: soybean, canola, sugar beets, corn, cotton. These are contained in everyday foods such as cornstarch in soups and sauces; corn syrup as a general purpose sweetener; cottonseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil in mayonnaise, salad dressings, cereals, breads, and snack foods. GMOs are also fed to livestock, leading to indirect human consumption of GMOs.

According to the FDA, in 2012, approximately 88 percent of corn, 93 percent of soybeans, and 94 percent of cotton produced in the United States was genetically modified. This suggests that unless you have made a special effort to avoid eating GMOs, you have almost certainly eaten them.

Other modifications of foods on the market include vitamin A enriched rice, virus-resistant papayas, and virus-resistant squash. Some modifications that have been proposed or are under research, but are not yet on the market, include apples and potatoes that resist browning (recently approved by the FDA), salmon that grow twice as fast as their un-engineered counterparts, and oranges that resist citrus greening disease.

 

The labeling question and the anti-science charge

Currently, labeling foods containing GMOs is purely voluntary. The Non-GMO Project coordinates an effort to label foods that do not contain GMOs. Also, foods that are labeled “organic” do not contain GMOs. The FDA supports voluntary labeling only, not mandatory labeling.

GMO critics say that voluntary labeling is not enough. Some say that GMOs may contain toxins or allergens. They point out that GMOs are in so many foods that it is almost impossible to avoid them. They want mandatory labels so that people can more easily decide for themselves if they want to eat food that contains GMOs.

GMO proponents, on the other hand, say that GMOs have been proven safe, so labels are unneeded—and unscientific.

It is a mistake to lump together climate change deniers, evolution deniers, and GMO critics, in part because the reasons for doubt in each case are different and in part because the so-called “precautionary principle” would incline us to accept climate change while rejecting GMOs, but also because (ironically) a proper understanding of evolution forms the basis for some of the concerns about GMOs.

For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) states that “crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe” and that labels are “meant to alarm.” The Genetic Literacy Project’s Jon Entine cautions against the anti-science views of anti-GMO NGOs. A well-cited poll by the PEW Research Center shows that the views of scientists and non-scientists diverge on a number of issues, including GMOs, climate change, evolution, among other topics; in a typical response, a Slate article casts this as a bipartisan anti-science problem. A recent cover of National Geographic calls it a “War on Science.”

It is true that some GMO critics go too far. Calling GMOs “Frankenfood” is simply a scare tactic; that genetically engineered food is “unnatural” is neither here nor there. Not all that is unnatural is unsafe (think life-saving drugs) and not all that is natural is safe (think naturally occurring poisons).

But is it really anti-science to raise any concerns about GMOs?

In short, no. It is a mistake to lump together climate change deniers, evolution deniers, and GMO critics, in part because the reasons for doubt in each case are different and in part because the so-called “precautionary principle” would incline us to accept climate change while rejecting GMOs, but also because (ironically) a proper understanding of evolution forms the basis for some of the concerns about GMOs. More specifically, I have identified six problems with the claim that GMO critics are anti-science.

 

Problem 1: The anti-science charge falsely assumes that science is value free

Many philosophers have argued that values may be an intrinsic part of all sciences; value-free science might be a myth.

What are values? Values are things that are important to us. They can include moral values, political values, or aesthetic values.

Climate science is a clear-cut example of a value-laden science. We study the connection between fossil fuels and our changing climate because we value the benefits of using fossil fuels as energy but are concerned about harms to humans and other species. Another example of a value-laden science is medical science, which includes values such as improving health and well-being.

When people criticize a science, they are not necessarily criticizing theory, data, or inferences drawn from data—they might instead be criticizing values that are embedded in the scientific theory or practice itself.

 

Problem 2: The anti-science charge falsely assumes that GMO science is value free

The stated and unstated reasons for developing GMOs in the first place were all value-laden: making money for biotech corporations and their shareholders, feeding the hungry, developing new and beneficial strains of food for consumers, reducing pesticide and herbicide use to save money and help the environment.

In other words, the production of GMOs is not pure science for the sake of knowledge alone. It is not “value-free” science. It is not even close.

Furthermore, GMO critics are not challenging the truth of genetic engineering technology or genetics, as some challenge the truth of climate change or evolution. At best, they might challenge the truth of studies that purport to show the safety of GMOs and evaluate risks. But note that studies that concern health and risk are value-laden—and individuals might reasonably differ on how they weigh risks.

Because GMOs were developed specifically in order to satisfy certain values means that it is reasonable for them be judged by those values—and other values.

 

Problem 3: The anti-science charge fails to recognize that questions about rights involve questions about values.

The question over whether to label GMOs is a question about the public’s right to know what they are eating and the right to decide what they eat, in accordance with their values. GMO science involves values, but it does not and cannot tell us what our rights are. The question of what our rights are is a question about values that falls outside of the domain of GMO science. Thus, to take a stand for labeling GMOs on the basis of rights is not anti-science.

Triclosan, an antibacterial agent used in some toothpastes and hand sanitizers, can serve as an analogy. There is some preliminary evidence that it is a hormone disrupter. For now, however, the FDA says that triclosan “is not currently known to be hazardous to humans.” In the meantime, it is labeled. Consumers can decide whether to use those products.

However, some anti-labelers insist that the very labeling of GMOs as GMOs implies that there is something wrong with GMOs, akin to warning labels on cigarettes or alcohol. Similarly, they maintain, ingredient labels are there to inform those who may be allergic to or otherwise harmed by one of the ingredients.  Thus, anti-labelers might think that proponents of labeling GMOs are anti-science because label proponents refuse to accept the evidence that shows that GMOs are safe. I will return to the issue of GMO safety momentarily.

 

Problem 4: There really is something biologically new about GMOs

GMO proponents claim that there is nothing new about GMOs because farmers have been genetically modifying food for centuries. And this is true to a certain extent. Artificial selection led to the domestication of many species, with significant modifications. More recent techniques include hybridization of inbred lines.

These statements are correct, but they are misleading. The techniques of genetic engineering are different from selection or hybridization. These techniques allow genes from one species to be introduced into a very distantly related species—for example, the insertion of a gene from a fish into a tomato (created but never commercialized) or the insertion of a gene from a pig into an orange (currently under research).

These kinds of modifications have an “ick” factor, but we should avoid knee-jerk reactions; that is not the real problem. The worry of using distantly related genes—resulting in changes of a larger magnitude than would be likely to occur in nature or by most other methods—is how they will behave in a very different genetic context given that genes can affect the expression of other genes in unpredictable ways.

 

Problem 5: We lack good evidence for GMO safety

The evidence for the safety of GMOs is not as good as some GMO proponents claim because the scientific protocols are somewhat lax. In the United States, the testing of most GMOs is voluntary, not mandatory; according to the FDA, most GMOs are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). The AMA, however, has called for mandatory safety testing. Currently, testing is performed by the companies who manufacture the GMOs without FDA oversight. The studies are for the most part short term (three months), meaning that the long-term effects of consuming various GMOs are simply unknown.

These are reasonable—and scientifically-based—concerns about the studies that have been performed to date.  There is enough uncertainty about the studies of GMOs to make it reasonable for individuals to want to decide for themselves whether to eat GMOs or not.

Compare the many steps involved in the FDA’s testing protocols for new drugs. Most notably, after performing FDA-reviewed laboratory and animal tests, the company performs a series of clinical trials in humans in three phases, which the FDA monitors, to test if the drug is effective and safe. Next, the company sends its data from all these tests to FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). A team of CDER physicians, statisticians, toxicologists, pharmacologists, chemists and other scientists review the data and proposed labeling. After a drug is approved for the market, the FDA continues to monitor its performance. A more cautious, scientifically based approach would include FDA oversight for testing of new GMOs; the protocols would not necessarily need to be identical to those for new drugs, but they could be (and arguably should be) stronger than they are.

Jon Entine trumpets a study by A. L. Van Eenennaam and A. E. Young in an article entitled, “The Debate About GMO Safety Is Over, Thanks To A New Trillion-Meal Study.” But let us take a closer look at the nitty-gritty details of Van Eenennaam and Young’s article, which seeks to provide a review of studies on livestock that have been fed GMOs, as well as field data on livestock that have been fed GMOs.

In the former category, Van Eenennaam and Young particularly highlight two “long-term” studies (which they define as studies between 90 days and two years in duration), one performed on 36 dairy cattle and one performed on 40 pigs, both seeking to determine the health effects of consuming Bt corn on the study animals. The authors note that there have been other “long-term” peer-reviewed multigenerational studies (less than 100 of them), but point out that these two studies “were notable in that they included appropriate controls consuming isogenic non-GE lines of corn, and both comprehensively examined a range of phenotypes and indicators of growth and health.” Although Van Eenennaam and Young clearly state that they do not think that further such studies are needed, they seem to be implying that the other “long-term” multigenerational studies either do not contain the appropriate controls or are not as comprehensive (or both). And yet even the “notable” studies are cautious in their conclusions, for example acknowledging that “[e]xposure to GM maize did induce some alterations in localized and peripheral immune responses in weanling pigs which require further investigation”; another article states that “further studies are currently underway to evaluate the lifetime health and growth performance of offspring from Bt MON810 maize-fed sows.” In other words, the researchers themselves do not think that their studies are the last word on the health effects of Bt corn on pigs, and they call for further study.

In the latter category are data from the animal industry; it is here that the vast majority of the “trillion meals” referred to in Entine’s article can be found. These data, unlike the two “notable” studies, are not data from controlled experiments, and thus, we should have much less confidence in their findings. In a controlled study, every effort is made to reduce the differences between groups to just the cause under study, e.g., by using similar-as-possible animals randomly assigned to one of two groups, with one group fed Bt corn and one group fed the genetically identical corn lacking the Bt modification. When a study is not controlled, other factors may be producing the effect in question; as Van Eenennaam and Young themselves note (while dismissing the significance), there have been changes in the genetics of the animals and in management practices during the period that the data cover, and there may have been other changes as well. Furthermore, the animal industry data include factors like feed to gain efficiency, data which are important for farmers but not the point at issue for consumers who are interested in the safety of their food.

A scientific attitude is a cautious attitude that does not draw conclusions that go beyond the data or denigrate those who expect the usual scientific standards be followed. Entine fails to display that scientific attitude. Two “notable” controlled animal studies with small sample sizes plus uncontrolled data from the animal industry (regardless of the numbers of animals or period of time that the data cover) are not enough to conclude that GMOs are safe for humans to eat. Researchers from the controlled studies themselves think that further study is warranted; tougher standards exist and are used for testing drugs (and by the way, even the FDA does not declare drugs that pass its stringent standards to be “safe”). If we think that certain studies should not be done for ethical reasons, then by all means, let us not do them, but then let us not confuse our hesitancy to subject humans and animals to extensive testing with evidence for the safety of what we are declining to test for.

People who say flatly that “GMOs are safe” are being unscientific in another way. A GMO is not a GMO is not a GMO. Each one needs to be tested; the safety of one does not show the safety of another, given that each genetic combination is different. For example, the safety of including Bt pesticide in corn is potentially quite different from including vitamin A in rice. And the safety of Roundup resistance in one plant is not necessarily the same as in another (since gene expression is affected by other genes).

 

Problem 6: Saying GMOs are safe overlooks environmental concerns

This is arguably the most serious of the six problems. There are several categories of actual and possible environmental harms.

One is the evolution of herbicide-resistant and pesticide-resistant plants and animals 
(in other words, evolution of organisms no longer killed by herbicides like Roundup). 
This effect was predicted, although Monsanto denied that it would occur. It was known that weeds naturally varied in their response to Roundup (glyphosate): 
with some very susceptible and others less so (i.e., some were resistant). Spraying Roundup on the weeds killed the susceptible ones, in effect selecting for the resistant ones and allowing them to flourish without competition.

In 2012, the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) website listed 22 Roundup-resistant weed species in the United States. Dow AgroSciences estimates that 100 million acres in the United States are already impacted by Roundup-resistant weeds; Dow has used this estimate to argue for the deregulation of 2,4-D corn.

2,4-D is considered a more toxic herbicide, with a heightened risk of birth defects, more severe impacts on aquatic ecosystems, and more damage to nearby crops and plants.

But why should we expect a different outcome this time? Where does the cycle of herbicide application leading to the evolution of herbicide resistance end?

Another environmental harm is that the evolution of Roundup-resistant crops has lead to an increased use of herbicides (not the promised decrease). According to Charles Benbrook, the Roundup-resistant weed phenotypes are forcing farmers to increase herbicide application rates, make multiple applications of herbicides, and apply additional herbicide active ingredients. Note that the World Health Organization has recently classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

On the other hand, Bt corn has led to a reduction in pesticide use so far. However, western corn rootworms have now evolved Bt resistance, as have other corn pests. So, that decrease may be short-lived, or as with Roundup, stronger pesticides may be proposed.

Yet another possible environmental harm is the transmission of genes (outcrossing or gene flow) from GMOs to wild weedy relatives. When GMOs reproduce with closely related wild species, transfer of herbicide-resistance to weeds can occur.

This creates the same problem as the evolution of herbicide resistance—herbicide-resistant weeds—but with a different cause. Susceptible species include rapeseed (canola), sugar beets, and corn. Roundup Ready wheat (not on the market yet) was found to be six times more likely than non-GMO control lines to produce outcrossed offspring.

Relatedly, there can be transmission of genes from GMOs to other, conventional (non-GMO or organic) crops. In a 2014 survey of 268 organic and non-GMO farmers in the United States, 31 percent said that they had found or suspected GMO presence in their crops. Of these, 52 percent said that they had been rejected by a buyer because of it.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, one of the places where diverse strains of maize (corn) are found, researchers found “a high level of gene flow from industrially produced maize towards populations of progenitor landraces.” This is concerning because these maize strains might otherwise be used to create new commercial corn varieties.

Finally, there are possible effects on other species that consume the GM crops. As with humans, there is no widely accepted evidence of direct harms yet (there is laboratory evidence that Bt corn harms Monarch butterflies, but no field evidence).

However, there is some evidence of indirect harms. Increased spraying of Roundup has led to a loss of milkweed habitat for Monarch butterflies and contributed to a major decline in the size of their populations. Much Roundup Ready corn seed is coated with neonicotinoid pesticides; neonicotinoids have been shown to affect bee reproduction (whose pollination we rely on) and to persist and accumulate in the soil.

In sum, these concerns over environmental harms—concerns about evolution or transmission of pesticide resistance to weedy relatives, concerns about increased pesticide use, concerns about unwanted contamination of crops, and concerns over harms to other species—do not reflect a misunderstanding or rejection of “science.” On the contrary, they reflect an understanding of the relationships between different species and the sorts of evolutionary changes that can occur.  If someone is concerned about these environmental effects, they might want to avoid consuming GMOs on those grounds alone.

Summarizing the six problems described above: given the role of values in the deployment of GMOs, given the lack of mandatory and long-term testing of GMOs with outside oversight, and given the demonstrated environmental harms, it is not anti-science to want to GMOs labelled as GMOs.

 

Other important values in the GMO debate

Monsanto claims that we need GMOs to feed the world, a commendable, value-laden goal.

Critics point out that as pesticide use has increased with GMOs while pesticide resistance among weedy and pest species has also increased, crop yields have been harmed. To combat the resistance problem, crops have been designed that contain multiple modifications (stacked-trait crops). However, a study commissioned by the USDA showed interactions between the introduced genes often reduced yield, and researchers were “surprised” not to find greater yields among the studied GM crops more generally (although they did find that GM crops were more stable over time). Another study by the USDA showed that in the United States 31 percent (133 billion pounds) of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply in 2010 went uneaten. Here again, however, it is worth emphasizing that not all GMOs are the same, so that some may do better than conventional crops under some conditions while some may do worse than conventional crops under different conditions.

There are other methods for improving crop yields, such as the System of Rice (Root) Intensification method or by making better use of the “available diversity of eminently adapted alternatives.” Perhaps more importantly, as Hugh Lacey suggests, we should put the same resources toward alternatives to GMOs as we have put toward GMOs themselves in order to truly know which methods are best.

The effects on farmers are another value-laden consideration, in part tied to crop yield. That is, if it turns out that GMOs increase crops yields, that ought to be good for farmers, but not if they are reduced. Other considerations are that farmers cannot save or trade GMO seeds, or they will face lawsuits. Seeds from GMOs tend to be more expensive than non-GMO seeds, and sometimes require buying the related pesticide (e.g., Roundup for Roundup Ready crops). More dramatically, there have been 250,000 farmer suicides in India, which some have blamed on the failure of Bt cotton to live up to its promises and subsequent farmer debt.

GMO proponents have sought to debunk some of the concerns I’ve mentioned in this section by pointing out that they result from faulty use of GMO technology by farmers. Some say that farmers failed to follow Monsanto’s recommendation that “refuges”—areas without GMO crops—be planted. This allows non-resistant pests a place to flourish where they can interbreed with, and thus dilute the numbers of, resistant pests. This may be 5 to 20 percent of total land, depending on the GMO.

Others suggest that farmers in India likewise were similarly to blame for poor results. For example, Guillaume Gruèrea and Debdatta Sengupta claim that farmers lacked information about growing conditions, pesticide use, the importance of planting proper seeds, and the earnings to be expected from using this technology. However, these same authors also admit the possibility “that under the conditions in which it was introduced, Bt cotton, an expensive technology that has been poorly explained, often misused and initially available in only a few varieties, might have played a role in the overall indebtedness of certain farmers in some of the suicide-prone areas of these two states, particularly in its initial years” (emphasis added). They suggest that there is a “critical need to distinguish the effect of Bt cotton as a technology from the context in which it was introduced” (emphasis added).

I disagree. Context matters.

In discussing the values embedded in the use of GM crops, we must evaluate conditions as they in fact are. It might be the case that in some more perfect world, with different biotech companies using different practices, different GMOs, and different farmers, the problems I have talked about here would not have occurred. Perhaps, then, there is nothing wrong with GMO technology itself, only GMO practices. But so what? We do not live in that more perfect world. Technology is never deployed in a context-free situation. Imagine evaluating the efficacy of a traffic light without considering the context in which it is deployed—traffic patterns, traffic volumes, and traffic speeds. The result would be meaningless. The same is true for GMOs. We have to evaluate technologies in their context.

 

Final thoughts

In truth it is hard to know how to weigh the varying values involved in the use of GMO crops, and there is still much that we do not know. Surely GMO research should continue, although with better testing protocols before the seeds are deployed. We should proceed more slowly and carefully. It might turn out that some GMOs are ones that are truly beneficial (e.g., by saving a species that cannot be saved any other way) with few or no downsides.

But here is what we do know.

If someone wants to follow their values and avoid GMOs, they have no way to do so. GMOs contain new proteins as compared to conventional crops, and any new protein could potentially be an allergen or toxin when consumed over time. It is almost impossible to avoid eating GMOs; most Americans are eating GMOs and foods made with GMOs without knowing what they are eating. There is little to no oversight of the production of GMOs in the United States; scientific protocols fall far short of what they could be. Thus, while there is no strong evidence that GMOs are harmful to humans, the tests have been inadequate. Environmental harms, on the other hand, have occurred and are well-documented; here it is important to remember that the majority of GMOs on the market today are resistant to particular herbicides or contain a pesticide, and that we should evaluate particular GMOs in particular contexts, not abstract GMOs in abstract contexts.

People who would like to avoid GMOs, whether out of concerns for potential health harms or concerns over actual environmental harms, are not being allowed to judge the risks and make choices for themselves and their families. For these reasons—so that people can follow their reasonably held values—we ought to label GMOs as GMOs.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dan Hicks for helpful comments, and to Matt Brown for the opportunity to present the ideas in this article to the Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology at the University of Texas at Dallas.

  • KevinK

    I’m afraid to say that I have several reservations about the strategies employed in this article. I find that this article conflates many issues that should best be kept separate. If we are seriously concerned about ecological damage due to over-use of glyphosate, then I don’t understand how mandatory labelling works to counter-act these kinds of concerns. Concerted consumer efforts to avoid GMOs? Sure. But it strikes me as inessential – we have a perfectly good labelling system in place already. If you produce a product which is GMO-free, you can label that as is. Mandatory labelling is at best a PR move. And given the proclivities of the anti-GMO movement, it does come off as a scare tactic.

    In a very real sense – I think that the anti-GMO movement is quite frequently unscientific when pundits/authors in the movement fail to draw relevant scientific distinctions. I feel like this article makes the same error – if there are legitimate health concerns about 2,4-D spraying, or round-up, then the movement should be targeting pesticide use, not GMOs. The same point follows for pesticide use and potential ecological harms.

    Now, granted these things might not seem extricable. GMOs are the technology which lets us spray these herbicides without killing the plant we’re trying to farm, but this strikes me as besides the point. Indeed, if the central issue is ecological or about the health impact of the pesticide, it strikes me as much more prudent to make the political movement about these things.

    • Exactly, I don’t think the two things are extricable. As I note toward the end of the article, we’re not dealing with GMOs in the abstract — we’re dealing with specific GMOs deployed in specific contexts and specific ways. And since the deployment of glyphosate-resistant GMOs has led to an increased use of glyphosate, one way that consumers can register their objections to such products is by not buying them — *if* they have the information to do so, which I don’t think they do right now (I don’t think that most people are aware that organic implies no GMOs, or know about the Non-GMO Project labels, or live in places where such food is available, or can afford such food). I agree that there are other ways in which those objections can be raised, but labeling is one very concrete way in which consumers can make the personal “not for me” choice.

      • KevinK

        But historically the issues are extricable. It would be a terrible tragedy rule out strains like GMO papayas, which have been a boon for biodiversity, on the basis of your issues with glyphosate.

      • A consumer concerned about glyphosate carcinogenicity, glyphosate-resistant weeds, etc. probably knows that the organic means nontransgenic.

        Most consumers do not know precisely what transgenic crops are. In a few years we will have transgenic crops with consumer-visible benefits (Arctic apples, reduced-acrylamide potatoes). There will be broader societal debate then, without the regulatory expense or the implied stigma of labeling.

    • SageThinker

      I would like to require labeling for “Contains Glyphosate” or “May contain glyphosate” — currently one must buy organically labeled everything to avoid glyphosate, which is in quite a few foods — and not just GM or Roundup Ready foods. It’s in lentils and garbanzos, for goodness sake. It’s in wheat, sugar, corn syrup, even honey (due to bees getting into sprayed crops).

      • KevinK

        That would strike me as much more intellectually honest then the GMO line.

        • SageThinker

          Could be, although i think both are relevant. In terms of “GMO” labeling, i would rather know what is Bt GM modified, than just GMO in general, and i would rather know what is glyphosate sprayed.

    • Cindy Eby

      The “movement” as you call it is not a cohesive group. Many of the adherents to the pro-labeling campaign are completely non-scientific. There is a lot of cross-over to, for example, people who think Dr Oz is a real doctor, people who get information from the Natural News magazine, and general snake-oil consumers. So it is pretty hard to say that “the movement” is or is not scientific because there are too many different viewpoints. I personally reject the “magical thinking” of many of my cohorts in the labeling campaign. In fact, I wish they would shut up and go away. But they are here, and I support free speech, so I have to listen to them at least a little.
      I want labeling, not as an ingredient, but as an indication of how food is produced and how the market is manipulated.
      The environmental damage caused by gmos is real. I am an organic farmer, and I can personally speak to the difficulties caused by gmo farmers around me. I am a lover of nature, and I grieve the loss of the Monarch Butterfly — and I see that loss as the tip of the iceberg.
      The corruption of our government by — specifically — Monsanto is a huge concern to me and should be to all Americans no matter what diet you choose to eat. There are no politicians in congress who are free of their tentacles. The FDA and the USDA are “revolving door” employers for the industry. Decisions in those agencies are no longer based on science, they are completely skewed by industry interests.
      The health concerns about the effects of gmos in our diet are the least of my concerns, and I don’t think the science is in on them. I do wish we had the same kinds of policies as many other countries that require companies to prove safety before adding a product to our diet, instead of our system that assumes safety until proven harmful. But that issue is way bigger than just gmos.

      • KevinK

        Cindy, I’m not entirely sure that my post presupposes that the movement consists of a unified set of principles or arguments. I certainly didn’t mean to claim that the entire movement is anti-scientific. I meant to label particular practices that strike me as common (but not universal) amongst the movement as anti-scientific. While you claim to support free speech, free speech involves having a dialog. Environmentalists need to do more to have a dialog which respects salient biological distinctions.

        I’m not entirely sure that the monarchs decline is best attributed to GMOs as such – while glyphosate spraying facilitates the decline of milkweed, which in turn seems to be the primary cause of the monarch decline, the central issue is not genetic modifications. It’s about agricultural and ecological practices. This *is* extricable from the issue of GMO label.

        The remainder of your post consists of conspiracy theories – but I think you’re vastly over-estimating the political and scientific power of Monsanto. Compare their annual profits with that of oil companies, and look at the situation over global warming.

  • mem_somerville

    OMG–contain a pesticide??? Oh, that is horrible. Except all plants contain pesticides.

    A seriously misinformed piece in so many ways. But I’m glad to know how much it irritates folks who don’t want to talk about the science by using hand-waving distractions to be called “anti-science”. And the reason anti-GMO folks are grouped with vaccine deniers and creationists is because it’s the same cloth.

    • I don’t know why you’re reacting to the phrase in that way. It’s simply descriptive. That is what the Bt modification is for, yes?

      If you think that my articles is misinformed, please be more specific about in what ways. I am happy to respond.

    • SageThinker

      I am quite concerned about glyphosate in the human diet. A ballpark figure is around 100 micrograms per day in a typical western diet, and this may be enough to significantly change the composition of the human gut microbiome. Some microbes are inhibited as in the single-digit uM levels of the chemical, and microbes are differentially inhibited. Some can even catabolize glyphosate, while others completely suffer. I think we need serious research on this topic, as i can find no feeding study at all that includes glyphosate in the diet of a mammal with a gut microbiome (excluding ruminants, i mean). And even with ruminants, i can only find a single study that tested on four sheep for 14 days. That’s not adequate for the purpose of testing whether it would have a plausible effect on humans over years of time.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Wouldn’t you enjoy the next interdepartmental meeting When Pamela Ronald and her fellow Ag professors ask why they were not consulted. Might just be a bit of politicking on that campus. Essentially, for Roberta to print an article like this was a big middle finger to the U.C. Davis Ag. folks.

    • Your1Friend

      Monsanto propaganda.

    • ginny11

      Yes, plants “naturally” produce chemicals that act as pesticides or pest deterrents. Humans have been eating *some* of those plants for many thousands of years. But there are also many, many plants that are poisonous or toxic to us because of those naturally produced pesticides. So, for you to say that because we can safely eat some plants that produce natural pesticides means that anyone who worries about the safety of plants engineered to produce a pesticide is an anti-science fear-monger is disingenuous (at best) on your part.

    • Cindy Eby

      You are right — one of the coolest things about being an organic farmer is tapping into the natural protections that natural plants have to repel natural insects. There is no need to manipulate nature to some unknown end, because lots of good, clean food can be produced without creating superweeds.
      One reason I support labeling is so that people like you can pluck those gmo foods off the shelves and — perhaps — be part of an evolutionary change that we cannot foresee. I support your right to any kind of experimentation (scientific or otherwise) that you choose to inflict upon your body. Have at it!

  • alorac

    This is terrible. None of these are even good criticisms (which, there are many) of GM. Every one of your “problems” is the propaganda that the anti-GMO crowd uses to try to smear the technology.

    Quit claiming to be “in the middle”. You are not.

    • If you have specific objections, I am happy to hear them. So far, all you have really said is that you disagree. Such responses always bring to my mind Monty Python’s Argument Clinic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnTmBjk-M0c&list=RDhnTmBjk-M0c

      • Viriato77

        ironically I don’t see any of your responses in this thread to some reasoned comments. *sad trombone*

    • SageThinker

      The author makes a lot of sense to me. What article are you reading?

  • The problem is not so much in questioning GMOs, but in not accepting the answers and evidence when doing so. In that, it is exactly proper to lump the GMO “critics” in with the climate change deniers. Thinking that GMO testing is lax is one thing, but when most anti-GMO people say that nothing will change their mind and they keep on bringing up the infamous Séralini rat study and refuse to accept the criticisms of it, that isn’t precautionary principle that is motivating them, or being scientific.

    If it were, they would be even more vigorously opposed to the the use of rotenone, a popular pesticide in organic farming, because it is about 5 times more toxic than glyphosate, but they are not. They would be just as opposed to the spraying of organic crops with Bt spores for pest control as they are against Bt genes in crops, but, again, they are not. Or they’d stop saying things like “if Bt makes an insects guts explode, what do you think it does to yours?”, but, yet again, they do not.

    At the very least, the way in which most people question (reject, really) GMOs is based on ignorance and fear-mongering, and that is definitely anti-science.

    • You seem to be making a lot of assumptions about what GMO critics think and what they don’t think, and assuming that they each have the same concerns about GMO. I don’t see any reason for you to make those assumptions. In particular, you’ll note that I don’t mention any of the things you say in my article.

      • No, they don’t all have the exact same things/reasons that they talk about, no too people ever think exactly the same way or have exactly the same set of opinions. But there are overlaps and common threads.

        I wasn’t making assumptions. You contend that it is wrong to lump anti-GMO in with climate change deniers because GMO attitudes ate supposedly based on the precautionary principle, and I gave you an example of one of those commonalities that calls into question that supposition.

        Tell me: Why do you think that the vast number of people who are anti-GMOs and anti-glyphosate go suddenly quiet when asked about the use of rotenone or pyrethrins in organic farming? If the precautionary principle is truly at the basis of their dislike of GMOs, Monsanto and glyphosate (for those three antis are so closely interwtined as to be nearly indistinguishable), why are they not also against the organic industry using pesticides that are more toxic than the one they are so vocally against?

    • Your1Friend

      Right out of the Monsanto playbook.

      • The Shill Gambit is used only be people too pathetic to actually deal with point in a proper discussion.

    • ginny11

      I disagree that most of the people who want GMO labeling are inflexible in their stance. I am one of those people. I am not “anti-GMO”, I work in agricultural research. But I do believe that there are many problems with the current commercially produced GMO food crops, including “lax safety” testing (for human, livestock, and environment). I also have concerns that have nothing to do with science, such as the harm done to farmers of conventional or organic crops when these are contaminated with GMO crops growing nearby.

      • You may not be inflexible, but the tone that comes through loud and clear when dealing with the masses in the comment sections, when asked “What would change your mind?” is “Nothing!!!”.

        The things is, the few who actually say something that seems reasonable, such as more testing because they think there is none, when you give them a list of testing and research that has been done, the answer very quickly goes from “needs testing” to “that’s not enough testing”, and eventually it becomes clear that no matter how much evidence you give them they are actually in the “Nothing!” camp.

        That is, I submit to you, the very definition of inflexible. And like I said, those are the most common and loudest voices on the anti-GMO side.

    • Cindy Eby

      I am a pro-labeling, organic farmer, and I never use rotenone or Bt or many other “allowable” pest control substances on my crops. The organic standards had (and continues to have) input by large producers who care more about market share than they do about producing clean, healthy food. Many small organic growers like me rely on soil health, rotation, and hand-picking insects a lot more than we do on anything that can be sprayed onto food.

      • You may not use rotenone, but that still doesn’t explain why most anti-GMO/pro-organic people shut up, avoid or deflect when questioned about it. And I don’t mean the large producers, either, I mean the everyday people commenting on the internet and posting their memes on Facebook.

        Why do you think they do everything to avoid talking about that hypocrisy?

  • Max

    I disagree with the reasoning in Problem 3. Labeling a product as containing GMOs is not comparable to labeling toothpaste as having Triclosan. Triclosan is a single composition of matter, a compound, whereas the GMO label is an entire suit of technologies encompassing an innumerable number of genetic arrangements. The GMO label, conceptually, is more similar to Evolution- a naturally occurring technology.
    As the author notes wisely, “Not all that is unnatural is unsafe and not all that is natural is safe.” This inability to put the unnatural and natural products neatly into categories of safe and unsafe is a reflection of the confusion between compositions of matter and the methods in which they are made. In reality, the foods we consume are absurdly complex and they change over time. A typical banana has thousands of unique compounds that change as it ripens.
    While I strongly value the the public’s right to information, in fact, I believe the GMO label is a form of misinformation- It falsely reifies the concept of a GMO as akin to Triclosan, MSG, arsenic, saturated fat… A piece of matter that scientists can add to a system (our bodies) and check the system’s health. For highly processed foods, or when they are fed to animals there isn’t a trace of the synthetic DNA, mRNA, or protein. It would be fair to label products specifically if they contained Bt toxin, for example, but if they do not this is misinformation. I see that as a type of anti-technology rhetoric and understand how it is painted as anti-science.
    I would like to leave the reader with a final thought. Making fire was a naturally occurring phenomenon before we humans figured it out. Many people have been burned by fire and even still people are grossly burned alive (ISIS to the jordanian pilot). This is a case of man misusing technology. But then how many people have been kept warm by glowing embers on frigid nights? How many stories have we told around campfires? How far would we as human beings have come if we categorically rejected the making of fire?

    • I think I see what you are saying. Triclosan is an ingredient and GMOs are a technology, and in that sense, the two seem disanalogous. But the technology does produce a change in the composition of the food. We agree that the same technology can have positive or negative effects depending on how it is used, which is why I am not against all GMOs. In the article above, I try to make the case that the health effects of specific GMOs are not fully known and that the environmental effects of specific GMOs are harmful. It is on this basis that I advocate for labeling. Those who are concerned about such effects can choose not to purchase such products if they are labeled.

    • Cindy Eby

      I long ago quite eating conventionally grown crops for a variety of reasons, so the purchasing or ingesting of gmo crops is actually not a personal issue for me. I occasionally eat out, or at a friend’s house, without fear.
      However, I fully support labeling. My concerns, without going into any detail, are prioritized in this way: 1. Environment 2. Contamination of organic crops 3. Bad science 4. Corruption of the democratic process 5. Food safety.
      It is sad/funny to see how much money and energy Monsanto and other Agro/Chemical companies have pumped into this fight. If they had, as soon as the “natural foods” crowd started demanding labels, just labeled food, this would be a non-issue. Most American consumers don’t care. Why should they? Pepsi and Kellogg make such crappy products with or without gmos, and that is what consumers buy. A label would have made no difference to them.
      In fact, if they had positioned themselves properly, Monsanto could have a gmo label on a product AS A SELLING POINT, since so many buyers think their products are wonderful.
      So I have to add another category: 6. Manufacturer stupidity.

  • Alison Van Eenennaam

    Hi Roberta

    I am going to respond to your comments about my 2014 Journal of Animal Science study entitled “Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations” (https://www.animalsciencepublications.org/publications/jas/articles/92/10/4255).

    First I will address the two long term multigenerational controlled studies that were conducted in Ireland and Germany. I think you perhaps missed that these studies were both associated with multiple papers. You did not do a fair job of reflecting what the researchers concluded about their own studies. You quote the 2011 paper where the researchers wrote that short term (31 day) “[e]xposure to GM maize did induce some alterations in localized and peripheral immune responses in weanling pigs which require further investigation”; however in their abstract they concluded that “Alterations in immune responses were detected; however, their biologic relevance is questionable”.

    They go on to state that “To further investigate the changes observed in this study, we are currently conducting a study to assess any immune responses that may arise from long-term feeding of GM maize to pigs.” A similar statement was included in the 2012 article you refer to that states “further studies are currently underway to evaluate the lifetime health and growth performance of offspring from Bt MON810 maize-fed sows.”

    These follow up long-term studies were published in 2012 (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0047851) and 2013 (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0047851) and concluded “There was a minimal effect of feeding GM maize to sows during gestation and lactation on maternal and offspring serum biochemistry and haematology at birth and body weight at weaning”, and that “Treatment differences observed following feeding of Bt maize to sows did not indicate inflammation or allergy and are unlikely to be of major importance”, respectively.

    I think it is disingenuous to present select sentences such as “[e]xposure to GM maize did induce some alterations in localized and peripheral immune responses in weanling pigs which require further investigation” without also including the fact that the authors themselves questioned the biological relevance of their own findings in that same paper,
    and have subsequently published further investigations (also clearly summarized and cited in Table 1 of my paper) and found no treatment effects of feeding GM feed on immune response, lifetime health or growth performance of offspring from Bt MON810 maize-fed sows. This citation of selected sentences and data points that support a specific argument is confirmation bias and does not represent a fair or accurate reflection of what is in the peer-reviewed literature.

    You make the assertion that “Although Van Eenennaam and Young clearly state that they do not think that further such studies are needed”, I would ask where is that clearly stated in my paper? As a scientist I would never make such a categorical statement, the need for such studies will always be dependent upon the trait and characteristics of the crop under consideration, and the emergence of new data.

    What I do state in my paper is “Given the large number of 90-d subchronic rodent and food-producing animal GE feeding studies that currently exist in the literature, it is worth questioning the value of more animal feeding studies as part of a GE risk assessment for crops that are substantially equivalent to conventional comparators”, and also that “In the context of GE feed risk assessment, [Snell et al. 2012; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22155268%5D argue that the decision to conduct long-term and multigenerational studies should be reserved for cases where some reasonable doubt remains following a 90-d feeding trial triggered by a potential hazard identified in the compositional analysis of the GE crop or other available nutritional or toxicological data”. In other words let the characteristics of the GE crop determine the need for further study, not the breeding method that was used to produce the crop.

    You then go on to criticize the use of field data from the billions of livestock that routinely eat GM feed annually, while acknowledging that the relatively small sample size in controlled animal studies is problematic. You state “When a study is not controlled, other factors may be producing the effect in question; as Van Eenennaam and Young themselves note (while dismissing the significance)”. What we actually said was that although the conversion of feed to gain continuously decreased over time, attributable most likely to improved genetics, this ratio and the other health parameters we documented would be expected to worsen not improve if the health of livestock was deteriorating following exposure to GE feed. I appreciate that consumers may not care about feed to gain efficiency data of livestock (although I might argue they should if they care about the carbon footprint of their diet), but if the animals were sick as a result of
    consuming GMO feed this number would be increasing. We fully acknowledge that these field datasets are noisy, but they involve very large numbers of animals and therein lies their power. Geneticists rely on these noisy field data sets to make genetic improvement in livestock, and have done so with great success.

    These field data, taken together with the hundreds of carefully controlled studies that do exactly as you suggest i.e. “every effort is made to reduce the differences between groups to just the cause under study, e.g., by using similar-as-possible animals randomly assigned to one of two groups, with one group fed Bt corn and one group fed the genetically identical corn lacking the Bt modification”, support the conclusions of our study which were “An extensive search of peer-reviewed literature and field observations of animals fed diets containing GE crop products have revealed no unexpected perturbations or disturbing trends in animal performance or health indicators.” We contend that our study does not draw conclusions that go beyond the available data.

    I agree with you that a scientific attitude is a cautious attitude that does not draw conclusions that go beyond the data or denigrate those who expect the usual scientific standards be followed. It is also an evidenced-based attitude that allows the data and weight of evidence to inform judgement, and does not selectively include only those observations and data points that support a particular viewpoint. Perhaps we should get together for coffee on campus sometime and discuss – I would welcome the exchange!

  • Miles Stockdale

    You claim that (more dramatically) there have been 250,000 farmer suicides in India which some claim is linked to Bt crops…when that is clearly not true, and your own source shows that suicide rates have not increased since the introduction.

    Between your initial claim that you are in the middle and then your piece which is a travesty of lies and misinformation and distorted claims, this is certainly in the running for most unethical piece I have read in years. Completely disgusted. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Alison Van Eenennaam

    Hi Roberta

    In the post above you criticize the use of field data from the billions of livestock that routinely eat GM feed in the study I authored along with Amy Young (https://www.animalsciencepublications.org/publications/jas/articles/92/10/4255), while acknowledging that the relatively small sample size in controlled animal studies is problematic.

    You state “When a study is not controlled, other factors may be producing the effect in question; as Van Eenennaam and Young themselves note (while dismissing the significance)”. What we actually said was that although the conversion of feed to gain continuously decreased over time, attributable most likely to improved genetics, this ratio and the other health parameters we documented would be expected to worsen not improve if the health of livestock was deteriorating following exposure to GE feed. I appreciate that consumers may not care about feed to gain efficiency data of livestock (although I might argue they should if they care about the carbon footprint of their diet), but if the animals were sick as a result of consuming GMO feed this number would be increasing.

    My coauthor and I fully acknowledge that these field datasets are noisy, but they involve very large numbers of animals and therein lies their power. Geneticists rely on these noisy field data sets to make genetic improvement in livestock, and have done so with great success.

    These field data, taken together with the hundreds of carefully controlled studies that do exactly as you suggest i.e. “every effort is made to reduce the differences between groups to just the cause under study, e.g., by using similar-as-possible animals randomly assigned to one of two groups, with one group fed Bt corn and one group fed the genetically identical corn lacking the Bt modification”, support the conclusions of our study which were “An extensive search of peer-reviewed literature and field observations of animals fed diets containing GE crop products have revealed no unexpected perturbations or disturbing trends in animal performance or health indicators.”
    We contend that our study does not draw conclusions that go beyond the available data.

    I agree that a scientific attitude is a cautious attitude that does not draw conclusions that go beyond the data or denigrate those who expect the usual scientific standards be followed. It is also an evidenced-based attitude that allows the data and weight of evidence to inform judgement, and does not selectively include only those observations and data points that support a particular viewpoint. Perhaps we should get together for coffee on campus sometime and discuss!

  • Ken Jaques

    Thank you. I see there have been a fair number of negative feedback comments, from my perspective I think this is well presented. It’s probably good that it elicits discussion and feedback. Even better that it opens people’s minds to the ideas taken on both sides. From my perspective, this does not get resolved by “taking sides in a stand-off to see who is right”, it gets resolved by understanding the issues and coming together to resolve them.

    I would love to see a similar article discussing the same topics in the whole “vaccine” debate. Here as well, we will not solve the problem by taking sides in a stand-off to see who is right. Are you up for writing that one :)?

    Cheers, Ken

  • Alison Van Eenennaam

    Hi Roberta

    In the article you critique the use of field data from the billions of livestock that routinely eat GM feed that summarized in my study (Van Eenennaam and Young
    (2014) “Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations” Journal of Animal Science 92: 10: 4255-4278), while acknowledging that the relatively small sample size in controlled animal feeding studies is problematic. You state “When a study is not controlled, other factors may be producing the effect in question; as Van Eenennaam and Young themselves note (while dismissing the significance)”. What we actually said was that although the conversion of feed to gain continuously decreased over time, attributable most likely to improved genetics, this ratio and the other health parameters we documented would be expected to worsen not improve if the health of livestock was deteriorating following exposure to GE feed. I appreciate that consumers may not care about feed to gain efficiency data of livestock (although I might argue they should if they care about the carbon footprint of their diet), but if the animals were sick as a result of consuming GMO feed this number would be increasing.

    My coauthor and I fully acknowledge that these field datasets are noisy, but they involve very large numbers of animals and therein lies their power. Geneticists rely on these noisy field data sets to make genetic improvement in livestock, and have done so with great success.

    These field data, taken together with the hundreds of carefully controlled studies that do exactly as you suggest i.e. “every effort is made to reduce the differences between groups to just the cause under study, e.g., by using similar-as-possible animals randomly assigned to one of two groups, with one group fed Bt corn and one group fed the genetically identical corn lacking the Bt modification”, support the conclusions of our study which were “An extensive search of peer-reviewed literature and field observations of animals fed diets containing GE crop products have revealed no unexpected perturbations or disturbing trends in animal performance or health indicators.” We contend that our study does not draw conclusions that go beyond the available data.

    I agree that a scientific attitude is a cautious attitude that does not draw conclusions that go beyond the data or denigrate those who expect the usual scientific standards be
    followed. It is also an evidenced-based attitude that allows the data and weight of evidence to inform judgement, and does not selectively include only those observations and data points that support a particular viewpoint. Perhaps we should get together for coffee sometime and discuss!

  • Peter Lindquist

    Label the GMO Corn that is significantly lower in nutrients than real corn, I want to buy quality/real corn! not something that kills gut flora, and besides, the Bible warns, do not mess with the seeds God gave us!

  • SageThinker

    I am especially concerned about the possible effects of glyphosate upon the human gut microbiome. No feeding study has been done to test this in any animal with a gut microbiome that would be reasonably comparable to the human gut microbiome. This research would be exceptionally easy to do, and the indications that there is a potential for glyphosate to disrupt the human gut microbiome were known long ago, in the 1980s most certainly, from the basic biochemistry of glyphosate. It is very odd that this research is not available. It seems like one of the basic things that Monsanto would have checked out int he course of due diligence for a chemical intended to be in human food.

  • Martin Dagoberto

    Fantastic and thought-provoking piece. I’m surprised there aren’t more of the usual GMO cheerleaders trying to rip this up! Thank you, and keep up the good work!

  • Kim Holmden

    Roberta L. Millstein…PLEASE look into FPIES
    #6 on your list is not the worst thing about GMO’S

    To ANYONE ELSE who’s reading this and hasn’t heard of FPIES, just Google or YouTube it.

  • a535u

    This is balanced and fair. The author is NOT saying GMOs are bad, the author is saying that – whether you like it or not – in a non-dictatorship people have the right to decide what to eat and what not to eat. Saying I have a right not to eat an apple is NOT EQUAL to saying “Apples are bad”. People really need to get a grip on logic over and above their anger about these issues.

    The comparison with Triclosan is apt – there may or may not be a problem there, people have the choice to consume it or not consume it. Conflating that with labeling of things containing saturated fat or arsenic is NOT apt – we know for certain saturated fat and arsenic are bad for you. Labeling something as containing an ingredient is not the same as issuing a surgeon general’s warning on the side of the cigarette pack. Saying something is IN my food is not the same as saying something dangerous is in my food. If people want to fight “anti-GMO hysteria” they should fight people’s perceptions of GMOs as “scary” instead of fighting labeling itself.

  • this bear is tops blooby

    Think of it like this, I’d rather have the anti-GMO proponents be the ones that are wrong as opposed to the pro-GMO proponents, cause if they’re wrong, then big whoop, the GMO movement suffers a setback/delay, but if the pro-GMO proponents are the ones that are wrong, well there’s a lot more harm than just a setback. And if that’s the case, what is everyone who endorsed these products as being safe going to say?

    It reminds of an NPR (or BBC) piece about a Japanese village after WWII that began developing symptoms and birth defects from some sort of poisoning that they suspected a factory up river was causing. The company that owned the factory vigorously denied those claims for years. At some point, the government finally investigated and their tests showed that the factory was indeed poisoning the water with their runoff. All the executives could do was apologize for years of fatal negligence, while the villagers had their lives ruined and their children suffering from all manner of maladies.

    And I think we’ve seen enough evidence in recent history where many industries claimed there would be no adverse health effects of their products (from tobacco to soda to sugar itself), with plenty of scientific studies to prove it (which they funded themselves – google Mother Jones & sugar), but then years/decades later, we see, in fact, they are dangerous for our health, so perhaps we should be more than a little skeptical.

    That isn’t fear mongering, that’s just being prudent when the priority isn’t public health, but the bottom line for all of these companies.

  • Chad Sparkes

    Someone shared this article with me, and I tried to explain how much I disagreed, but it became a bit of a rant. So I wrote it up and posted it on my own blog.
    http://rationalwarlock.blogspot.com/2015/05/gmos-go-go-go.html

  • In my experience, plant geneticists strongly disagree with Point 4. Transgenesis and horizontal gene transfer happen in nature. Transgenesis can be more precise than breeding, especially mutation breeding. No one really claims that “all GMOs are safe.” What they claim is that there is nothing inherently dangerous about recombinant DNA—everything depends on how it is used. Transgenic crops should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as you suggest in several places.

    I do not understand your analogy to pharmaceutical regulation. Why would FDA regulation of transgenic crops be superior to the current USDA regulations? Many feel that the USDA regulations are already excessive, and that the prohibitive cost of getting approval for transgenic crops has driven consolidation in the industry. Saying “there is little to no oversight of the production of GMOs in the United States” is exaggeration.

    I find it strange that you cite Quist and Chapela (2001). Nature concluded that “the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper”.