Colleen Scherer
Colleen Scherer

Attacks against agricultural biotechnology have increased noticeably this fall within the United States and around the world. It appears that activists who oppose genetically modified crops are advancing their causes more aggressively than ever before.

The tactics being used recently are more sophisticated than previously seen, although some of the same tactics are still being used. For example, protestors blocked the truck entrance of Monsanto’s Seminis Vegetable Seeds Inc. plant in Oxnard, Calif., in September. The nine protestors were arrested and claimed to be part of the group Occupy Monsanto, which aims to force Monsanto to stop distributing GM crop seed. The group claimed the protest was not in response to Monsanto opposing Proposition 37 in California, which seeks to require labeling of genetically modified food ingredients in all packaged items. The group has been supportive of Prop 37.

Outside of the United States, challenges to agricultural biotechnology seem to be escalating. Anti-GM activists typically employ the use of fear tactics to sway unknowing consumers away from food purchases. This tactic has been successful in the past. But what’s different this time is the activists are trying to use a more scientific approach to discount biotechnology’s benefits. Biotechnology has long held up under scientific scrutiny, and the research has consistently shown the technology is safe to use. But scaring people works more effectively if you claim to have research behind the findings.

In Australia, anti-GM researchers released a study claiming that a GM wheat variety could cause liver damage. However, the methodology of the study was questioned by many in the scientific community.

Professor Rick Roush, the Dean of the Melbourne School of Land and Environment at the University of Melbourne, said, “Not only are these claims of potential health risks from the CSIRO starch-modified wheat highly speculative, they have been advanced by three anti-GM campaigners who have deliberately bypassed independent scientific assessment of their claims. Instead, this has been launched such that it will become another scientific-sounding scare story in cyberspace, a well-worn path of anti-GM so-called ‘science’ by press release.”

In another attempt to use science to disprove the use of biotechnology, French scientists released a report saying Monsanto’s GM corn fed to rats caused them to have tumors and multiple organ damage. The researchers claimed that 50 percent of the male and 70 percent of the female rats died prematurely compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group.

Once again the scientific community criticized the research by explaining that the rats used in the study were known to be prone to mammary tumors. Another sticking point was that the researchers did not share how much they fed the rats or their growth rates.

An Australian researcher brought up the question that if these results were true and adequately applied to humans, why have we not seen such dramatic results in humans, especially in North America where citizens have been consuming foods with GM ingredients since 1996 when the first GM product went on the market? Based on the new research, Americans should be dropping like flies. The data does not add up.

One theory behind the French study is that France is pulling out all the stops to prevent the cultivation of GM crops in its country. A European court a week prior to the release of the French data ruled that individual member states could not ban GM crops once the EU had agreed not to ban them. France appears to be trying this new approach to keep GMOs from being grown.

These are not the last attacks on biotechnology. More will come. Different tactics may be tried, but in the end, the weight of the evidence of the world’s scientific community should continue to win out.