Commentary: A new counter to GMO haters

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GMO Since Vermont passed the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law in April—and Connecticut and Maine followed with passage of similar laws that would take effect if other states climb onboard the anti-GMO bandwagon—industry has pushed back with a court challenge to prevent Vermont, or other individual states, from requiring such labeling.

At this point, it is uncertain whether the Vermont’s law will survive judicial review, In the meantime, it remains imperative for all of the food production and food processing industry to renew its efforts to educate the public on the science—and safety—of bioengineering. GMO labeling laws stem from one primary source: the public’s distrust and paranoia about the science and applications of bioengineering. Period.

It’s not about some “right to know” groundswell. That’s the talking point activist groups have developed to convince otherwise unaware consumers that their “rights” are being violated. We know from mountains of research that only about one-third of consumers actively read the labels that already provide an extensive amount of product and nutritional information. Is it really a critical issue requiring legislative action to add more information to food packaging that two-thirds of people ignore?

Of course not. What’s driving the GMO labeling push is fear, plain and simple. Anti-GMO activists have promoted the Frankenfoods model so long and so hard that even people who tend to be well-informed on issues of science and technology fall prey to the fear-mongering.

That point was underscored in an editorial from an unexpected source, who offered a couple of compelling arguments in support of genetic engineering that I believe ought to be embraced in some form by industry. The first one involves the bioscience itself, but with a novel approach.

“It is no mystery as to why GMOs invoke a knee-jerk reaction” wrote Beau Kjerulf Greer, Ph.D., an Associate Professor and the director of the exercise science and nutrition program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., in a recent opinion piece for the Hartford Courant. “It frankly sounds scary that corn can be engineered to produce its own pesticide—until you know that a regular head of cabbage produces 49 different pesticides of its own.”

I did not know that common vegetables were capable of producing such a wealth of endogenous pesticides, and more to the point, I’ve never heard that argument used as a way to refute GMO’s “scariness.” In other words, genetic engineering mimics the same biological processes that take place in plants naturally. As Greer phrased it, “Creating a GMO is as simple as taking the gene that codes for one of those naturally occurring compounds and inserting it into a different food.”

Here another variation on that same theme that is underutilized.

“Consistency seems amusingly rare among the anti-GMO contingency,” he wrote. “A pro-labeling friend who admirably admits to having no scientific knowledge on the subject recently lectured me about the perils of tinkering with Nature—all the while eating a muffin made of enriched wheat [flour]. That is wheat that has been stripped of its germ and bran, had synthetic vitamins added to it and even in its ‘natural’ state bore little resemblance to its botanical ancestors, due to human-controlled breeding.”

How many bakery brands tout “whole wheat” and “all-natural” on the loaves of bread they market? Yet even if the main ingredient is source-controlled, minimally processed whole wheat flour, the crop from which that ingredient was harvested is not at all “natural.”

Although the science differs—some would say conventional plant cross-breeding is far less efficient—the impetus behind both genetic engineering and traditional crop development is the same: higher yields, more disease resistance and added nutritional value.

Fact-free zone

In his article, Greer mentioned GMO Free CT, a GMO-labeling advocacy group that he characterized as having “more conviction than education.” They are in fact one of the principal sources of the misinformation that has permeated the GMO labeling debates in New England. In contrast, various scientific and bioengineering organizations have tried to publicize the fact that most reputable scientific and food-safety agencies that have studied the impact of bioengineering could find no evidence of harm to human health—and since the consumption of foods made from GE ingredients is now a 20-year-old experiment, there are certainly sufficient data to certify the safety of GMOs.

But industry should keep in mind the constituency most attached to anti-GMO zealotry. It is a subset of consumers who are more educated, more affluent and more aware of the impact of science and technology in other areas affecting modern lifestyles. Yet this segment exhibits an incredible disconnect on the subject of bioengineering, a point Greer forcefully made in his article.

The very same constituency that demands politicians and lawmakers agree with and respond to climate science then brings equal vigor to denying the science supporting the safety of GMOs.

“In almost 20 years of research, there has been zero credible evidence that GMOs cause any detriment to human health,” Greer wrote. “There are not even viable hypotheses as to why ingesting GMOs would be harmful. Last year in Italy, not exactly a country known for its fondness of GMOs, a team of biologists reviewed more than 1,700 published papers and concluded there is far greater research consistency on the safety of GMOs than on the ability of human activity to affect climate change.”

In other words, there is even less uncertainty about GMO safety than about the effect of greenhouse gas emissions on global climate trends.

Try that one with the anti-GMO crowd. Science is science. Either you accept its validity or effectively deny pretty much all of the technology that underpins modern life.

On one hand, I would argue that the looming pressure of the additional two to three billion people who will be alive in the next generation or two will eventually make arguments against genetic engineering moot. The world will need every and any available technology to produce enough food without catastrophic damage to the land, water and energy resources need to maintain agricultural productivity.

But in the meantime, it would be helpful to put to rest the tired and troubling fear-mongering that undercuts the food production research we will soon desperately require.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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Marcuscassius    
Arkansas  |  September, 02, 2014 at 08:35 AM

Onnly 10% of your readers actually "use" their brains for anything deeper than setting the temperature on their deep fryer. Does that mean that you shouldn't have written the article? Of course it does. After all, if ONLY 33% of America reads the labels ( How often? For what reason?) that only leaves a piddling 100 MILLION people. When I read stupid comments like those above, my trust factor drops to zero. If it is so important to hide what you do that you actively insult 100 million people, and even those that aren't mentioned, I have to think you're covering up something monumentally huge. Something that, when exposed, could bring you down. I really want to know what that is. Because it usually involves a lot of death and an enormous group that's involved in the lie.

Kyle    
Ohio  |  September, 02, 2014 at 09:31 AM

So Marcuscassius - what is your real name, and where in Arkansas do you live and who exactly do you work for? And by the way what training do you have to comment on this subject anyway? Are you hiding something? I think we have a right to know that. And by the way please include your mailing address and phone number. When people make the comments you do and hide their identity - the trust factor drops to zero. And by the way labels are not designed to satisfy people's curiosity, they need to have things that actually affect them.

Kyle    
Ohio  |  September, 02, 2014 at 09:31 AM

So Marcuscassius - what is your real name, and where in Arkansas do you live and who exactly do you work for? And by the way what training do you have to comment on this subject anyway? Are you hiding something? I think we have a right to know that. And by the way please include your mailing address and phone number. When people make the comments you do and hide their identity - the trust factor drops to zero. And by the way labels are not designed to satisfy people's curiosity, they need to have things that actually affect them.

Michael J. Marsalek    
Bel Air, Maryland  |  September, 02, 2014 at 09:43 AM

Reasonable people agree that even highly informed and intelligent people truly don't know which food label items are harmful, which are not and which are beneficial. So the issue comes down to not who reads or understands the labeled items in the food supply; it's about the concerned people's right to access complete nutritional informtion & to make an informed decision. Good examples are high fructose corn syrup and aspertame. Most consumers are not fully aware how pervasive both are in the food supply and how toxic both are.

Patty Smith    
Saskatchewan  |  September, 02, 2014 at 09:53 AM

I appreciate the article. Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and as a beef producers,I support that. I wish consumers better understood all the risk, worry and stewardship we employ to bring food to their plates. The welfare of our animals and our land is our number one concern. I am puzzled though that consumers are so worried about organic, GMO's, etc. yet they continue to eat highly processed food in record numbers. It doesn't take much to figure out that if people took more time to eat food that they actually prepared fresh, whether it was organic, GMO or not, they would be incredibly healthier. We live in a fast paced, high stress society, where people want convenient, fast food -- these foods are usually high in fat, high in sodium and low in nutrition. Then on top of that -- most people are far less active than they used to be. I am not advocating never eating fast foods, it is just that they should be consumed in moderation not a staple in people's diets. Consumers need to spend more of their grocery dollars in the fruits, vegetable, meat and dairy counters rather than in the aisles where all the processed food is. Let's get back to the basics - cook more meals at home from scratch - it's not hard, and I guarantee you will feel much better!

Chris Hitch    
Guymon, OK  |  September, 02, 2014 at 10:13 AM

In what way is corn syrup toxic? I agree that Americans definitely eat too much food with artificial sweeteners, but that doesn't mean it is toxic. It's just extra calories that add little in the way of nutrition.

Susie    
Illinois  |  September, 02, 2014 at 10:15 AM

First of all, I applaud and appreciate Patty Smith's response to this fabulous article. She says it all and employs courtesy in the process. The anger with which the self appointed "food police" attempt to regulate us from every angle is exhausting. And these are the very people who wouldn't give up their I-Phone for anything.....they want every medical advance, based on SCIENCE, by the way, to help them in time of crisis. But for some reason, they don't want us to team science with agriculture......and yet, we have living proof that we have assisted the hungry, world wide, by sending them high quality grain and helping them learn how to grow it through our U.S. Feed Grains Council and other commodity groups funded by farmers themselves through their check off dollars when they market their grain. The people of China want the high quality meat that we produce on our livestock farms. As their economy grows, they want the best...and that equates to beef that has been fed an exceptional, nutritionally formulated diet that includes our grains for the highest quality available. While some would take a dangerous chance of contracting undulant fever from unpasteurized milk, I'm elated to have my jug of white stuff bear the USDA stamp of approval. Others think we should consume eggs from chickens who are allowed to roam free; I'd rather have my eggs candled, inspected, and approved before sale so that I KNOW they are safe. While that's only the tip of the iceberg, I would say to re-read both the article and Patty Smith's response. VERY well done. Applause!

Sharyl    
Iowa  |  September, 02, 2014 at 11:03 AM

Patty, Spot on! I completely agree with you on all your points. As a fellow beef producer I thank you for your thoughtful words.

Sharyl    
Iowa  |  September, 02, 2014 at 11:03 AM

Patty, Spot on! I completely agree with you on all your points. As a fellow beef producer I thank you for your thoughtful words.

Judy    
Saskatchewan  |  September, 02, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Well said Patty Smith! Consumers need to get more informed and do more than read a label. They need to eat simplier foods and prepare them at home more often.

Will Lowe    
September, 03, 2014 at 09:55 AM

Patty your comments are right on the mark. Consumers need to inform themselves of the realities of their ideals. A certain option on one issue of food production is in direct contradiction to another view they may have on another issue. In many cases their view on GMO's fly in the face of their views on environmental sustainability and feeding a world population that will only increase in the next century.

Cody    
New York  |  September, 03, 2014 at 01:44 PM

Such a peculiar strawman argument -- I didn't even know that anyone said that GMOs are bad for consumer health. That's certainly not the primary issue with GMOs. The real issues, by my understanding, include the corporate monopolization of seeds and agriculture generally, which is displacing rural farmers worldwide and leading to huge rates of suicide, as well as the potentially disastrous affects on the environment made possible by rapid genetic alterations. Check out "The Violence of the Green Revolution" or basically anything else by Vandana Shiva if you want to learn more.

Cody    
New York  |  September, 03, 2014 at 01:48 PM

Also, love this line: "In other words, there is even less uncertainty about GMO safety than about the effect of greenhouse gas emissions on global climate trends." So there is less uncertainty than in an area where there is virtually universal scientific consensus?

Hank    
Kansas  |  September, 03, 2014 at 02:56 PM

"Back in August, The New Yorker ran a terrific profile of the evil anti-biotech charlatan Vandana Shiva that nicely revealed, well, her evilness to the world. Incensed that her fables were questioned, Shiva attacked using the characteristic techniques of the Big Lie, implications of racism, misdirection, and more made up data. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, has now replied. Remnick's letter was reproduced at the Genetic Literacy Project." http://reason.com/blog/2014/09/02/bioluddite-disinformationist-vandana-shi

Loyal    
Kentucky  |  September, 03, 2014 at 11:10 PM

Why is it such a problem to label food GMO? If its "safe to eat" but some people don't want food that was someones engineering whats the problem? This is one of the reasons I am happy about raising my own food. Since its not a mission to find out the truth behind it...

What?    
Midwest  |  September, 04, 2014 at 09:31 AM

Cody...do yourself a favor. Leave New York for a week and go talk directly with US farmers and ranchers across the US. Put down the book for a minute and go experience it for yourself! Your rural farmers are retiring, and if they're not retiring, they are getting bigger (ie- farming more acres).

Cody    
New York  |  September, 04, 2014 at 09:43 AM

Mike, Not that it's relevant, but New York is a huge state that is 99% rural, and I've worked on farms, large and small, for years. If you truly cared about small farmers, you'd oppose Monsanto and the rest of the transnational biotech industry.

Jason    
Indiana  |  September, 05, 2014 at 06:48 AM

You DO have access to complete nutritional information. That's part of the issue here. There is no nutritional or compositional difference between corn oil, soy oil, HFCS, starch, etc from GMO sources or from non. They are literally identical. All of those ingredients are already labeled. So, that being the case, why would you force producers and consumers to bear the cost of grain separation, identity preservation and testing all the way through the process? It's a colossal waste of resources. Not to mention, that people have the right to free speech...which applies to the product labels of the companies that they own. If we expect our government to infringe on one of the most basic rights that we have they'd better have a darned good reason for NEEDING to do it. Meaning it needs to be necessary for the public good. A small group of people merely "wanting it" is not a good enough reason, in my book.

Jason    
Indiana  |  September, 05, 2014 at 06:58 AM

Cody, have you bothered to research anything Vandana Shiva has said? Its mostly total nonsense and outright lies. But regardless, I work directly with farmers every day...large and small. There is nothing about large Ag corporations that's hurting small farmers. If anything, biotech crops benefit smaller farmers more than large. It's the smaller farmers who are time and resource strapped (largely). And those are exactly the things that biotech crops help farmers save.

Joe    
Vermont  |  September, 05, 2014 at 10:22 AM

You already have a label - "non-GMO" and "organic". It is "safe to eat" which is why no regulated label is necessary. If you choose to avoid, for whatever reason, choose those other labels and pay the premium for the added costs those farmers go through to provide it for you. I'm sure they'd appreciate it.

avatar250    
September, 05, 2014 at 04:13 PM

So, if a plant breeder incorporates a gene by conventional methods (which the author notes has long been done) is that GMO and should that be shown on the label?

Mark Donner    
Salt Lake City  |  September, 08, 2014 at 03:42 AM

GMO is a poison. Eating genetically modified corn (GM corn) and consuming trace levels of Monsanto's Roundup chemical fertilizer caused rats to develop horrifying tumors, widespread organ damage, and premature death. rats exposed to even the smallest amounts, "developed mammary tumors and severe liver and kidney damage as early as four months in males, and seven months for females." The animals on the GM diet suffered mammary tumors, as well as severe liver and kidney damage. Everywhere GMO is being grown, food allergies, disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others have been skyrocketing in the human populations.

Mark Donner    
Salt Lake City  |  September, 08, 2014 at 03:43 AM

There has been a drastic decline of crop-pollinating insects all over the world, and what this means for the future of the world's food supply. Wild pollinators like bumblebees, butterflies, and beetles are basically disappearing. GMO industrial agricultural practices are causing this insect genocide. Pollinating insects in general, which include a wide range of insects and other animals, are simply vanishing from their normal habitats and foraging areas. That lower diversity and lower abundance of wild insects means less fruits and destruction of the diversity of plants and their fruits worldwide

Mark Donner    
Salt Lake City  |  September, 08, 2014 at 03:43 AM

GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel. It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool. Self-propagating GMO pollution will outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. The potential impact is huge, threatening the health of future generations. GMO contamination has also caused economic losses for organic and non-GMO farmers who often struggle to keep their crops pure.

Mark Donner    
Salt Lake City  |  September, 08, 2014 at 03:44 AM

GMOs increase herbicide use. Most GM crops are engineered to be "herbicide tolerant"―surviving deadly weed killers. Monsanto, for example, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide. Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of Roundup results in "superweeds," resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Not only does this create environmental harm, GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.

Mark Donner    
Salt Lake City  |  September, 08, 2014 at 03:45 AM

GM crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. For example, GM crops are eliminating habitat for monarch butterflies, whose populations are down 50% in the US. Roundup herbicide has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses. GM canola has been found growing wild in North Dakota and California, threatening to pass on its herbicide tolerant genes on to weeds.

Mark Donner    
Salt Lake City  |  September, 08, 2014 at 03:45 AM

GMOs do not increase yields, and work against feeding a hungry world. Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists' 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield. By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes a host of unpredictable side effects. Moreover, irrespective of the type of genes that are inserted, the very process of creating a GM plant can result in massive collateral damage that produces new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and nutritional deficiencies.

Mark Donner    
Salt Lake City  |  September, 08, 2014 at 03:46 AM

The toxins associated with GMO should never be tolerated. NEONICOTINOID PESTICIDE neurotoxins are absolutely the main factor causing the collapse of bee and pollinator populations along with other lethal chemicals, glysophate, etc. When these poisons are banned as they were in Europe the bee populations start to recover. GMO neonicotinoids, roundup etc. MUST BE BANNED OUTRIGHT and all the farmers along with Biotech and chemical companies told to cease and desist from what they are doing.

Mark Donner    
Salt Lake City  |  September, 08, 2014 at 03:47 AM

An even scarier prospect: the "BT" version of GMO soybeans and corn, (basically pesticides engineered directly into the plant ) The “BT toxin” gene is put into the DNA of the corn in order for it to manufacture its own toxins that kill pests. The BT gene originated from a soil bacteria that also infiltrates the microflora (friendly digestive bacteria) in your gut. The Bt gene converts the microflora in your intestine into toxin-manufacturing machines. So, to be clear, eating GMO corn products can cause your gut (which is primarily responsible for keeping you healthy) to turn into a breeding ground for tiny little pesticide factories inside your body, actively creating toxins which are designed to kill living things. These toxins are found in the blood and are readily transferred across the placenta to developing babies in the womb.

Ben    
USA  |  September, 09, 2014 at 03:27 PM

Study Reveals Significant Inflammatory Response to GM Foods articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/.../gmo-foods-inflammation.aspx May 18, 2014 ... A study led by Dr. Carman shows that pigs fed with GM foods have significant increase in stomach inflammation than those fed a non-GM diet. Google for: Images for pig stomach gmo feed and you'll see how the stomaches looks like. GMO should be compared with conventional grown not with organic grown. When I shop I look and ask for NO GMO or GMO free information. As the industry is not willing to label their GMO products as they have to hide something, the companies without GMO will lead the market and make the money.

Ben    
USA  |  September, 09, 2014 at 03:27 PM

Study Reveals Significant Inflammatory Response to GM Foods articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/.../gmo-foods-inflammation.aspx May 18, 2014 ... A study led by Dr. Carman shows that pigs fed with GM foods have significant increase in stomach inflammation than those fed a non-GM diet. Google for: Images for pig stomach gmo feed and you'll see how the stomaches looks like. GMO should be compared with conventional grown not with organic grown. When I shop I look and ask for NO GMO or GMO free information. As the industry is not willing to label their GMO products as they have to hide something, the companies without GMO will lead the market and make the money.

Doug    
Illinois  |  September, 11, 2014 at 04:32 PM

I am a farmer. If GMO are eliminated, yields of crops absolutely will lower. Can consumers afford the higher priced food which will result, and more importantly who will determine whom will get food and whom will not as we add 2 billion people to the world by 2050? 100 years ago my grandfather was creating a GMO when he hand picked seed from the largest ears for the next years crop. Without scientific advancement the world will face massive famine.

Saurus    
MI  |  September, 14, 2014 at 11:56 PM

(hopefully people on here know enough about science to have some idea of what it means to have research peer reviewed) A highly controversial paper by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues has been republished after a stringent peer review process. The chronic toxicity study examines the health impacts on rats of eating a commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize, Monsanto's NK603 glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. The original study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) in September 2012, found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize and low levels of Roundup that are below those permitted in drinking water in the EU. Toxic effects were found from the GM maize tested alone, as well as from Roundup tested alone and together with the maize. Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist based in London, commented, "Few studies would survive such intensive scrutiny by fellow scientists. "The republication of the study after three expert reviews is a testament to its rigour, as well as to the integrity of the researchers. If anyone still doubts the quality of this study, they should simply read the republished paper. The science speaks for itself. "If even then they refuse to accept the results, they should launch their own research study on these two toxic products that have now been in the human food and animal feed chain for many years." http://www.alternet.org/food/major-study-demonstrates-monsanto-gmo-corn-product-can-cause-damage-liver-and- kidneys-and?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Josh    
Colorado  |  September, 15, 2014 at 12:14 AM

You do realize that the Seralini study is one of the most roundly debunked studies ever conducte, and that it has been "republished" in a for pay journal with a near zero impact factor after being forcibly removed from it original publication for being incredibly bad science with intentionally skewed results?

Jeff    
nova scotia  |  September, 15, 2014 at 06:08 AM

thanks for providing examples of two popular myths about additives in our food supply., aspartame is the most studied food stuff in human history and is perfectly safe for anyone who doesn't suffer from PKU to ingest, HFCS is also harmless as it is broken down into simple sugars like all other forms of sugar ( excluding lactose)


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