Commentary: GMO grass mix-up is embarrassing

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Last week, reports flew through over the internet and the social media universe that cows in Texas were dying from eating genetically modified grass. To make it worse, they died of cyanide poisoning! What was not clearly explained was that drought-stressed grasses create prussic acid, which is cyanide. It is a natural process, not something created in a Frankenstein’s laboratory of GM plants.

Mainstream media was quick to point out the sensationalism by capitalizing on the word cyanide as opposed to prussic acid poisoning. Throw in some GMO terminology and you have a recipe for a panic in the making thanks to mainstream media.

The grass called into question is Tifton-85, which is a Bermuda grass. It is not genetically modified. However, thanks to the media story, the wrong information is now circulating the internet, raising alarm and frightening people over something that does not exist.

Fortunately, there has been a voice of reason this week. The American Medical Association has announced that it does not support the labeling of foods containing GM ingredients. The scientists said, “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is focused on consumer education.”

Despite its science-based approach, critics claim the AMA is being duplicitous because on one hand it says there is no difference in GM and non-GM food, but it supports GM foods be tested for public health and that the government have continued oversight of bioengineered crops and livestock.

Continually testing GM crops and animals is a good idea. If the government didn’t, the anti-GM crowd would clamor for it. In this case, the anti-GM groups are being duplicitous. They don’t want GMOs, but they want GMO foods tested. In the meantime, it’s easier to just scare everyone into thinking everything that grows out of the ground can be potentially harmful to humans and livestock.

In the end, shoddy journalism and a rush to sensationalism won the day and scared the public. It convinced people that some man-made, super weeds were deliberately poisoning cattle. This is a story that never should have happened in the way it did. That it did is embarrassing.


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John Gault    
Wisconsin  |  July, 06, 2012 at 03:01 PM

So the AMA takes a position...won't be the first time they are wrong...if GMO is "so safe" and "no difference" why not stand by it and "label it"? What's to worry...?

Jim    
Oklahoma  |  July, 09, 2012 at 10:39 AM

We've grown out young breeding stock on the same ranch for over 50 years. We use native grass pastures and formerly used a bit of home grown, non GMO feedstuffs. We shifted to purchased feedstuffs, some of which were GMO's. Problems quickly developed in two categories (1) fertility issues we'd never seen, and (2) health issues that always manifested themselves in a pneumonia like condition. Remove the GMO feedstuffs and it cleared, if in the early stages, and/or with aggressive treatment. Some died. If allowed renewed access to GMO products it returned. We stopped using any GMO's and life has been normal again for years. If it does this with cattle, why not humans? It does require very expensive medicines and aggressive treatment. Could AMA actually be about money?

M. Davis    
Montreal  |  July, 06, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Your piece also has an error; deliberate? "Continually testing GM crops and animals is a good idea. If the government didn’t, the anti-GM crowd would clamor for it." The government DOES NOT test.

Jamie    
July, 09, 2012 at 09:08 AM

If the AMA states that foods containing GM ingredients do not need to be labeled, I think the same should apply to LFTB; however, I understand the reasons and causes that led to the LFTB controversy. It's another unwarrented obstacle for agriculture.

Jane    
California  |  July, 11, 2012 at 05:24 PM

Why embarrassing? Almost nobody in the U.S. knows anything about how their food is produced anymore. What's a bit disconcerting is your taking that story as an opportunity to rant about labeling foods with transgenic ingredients. If there isn't anything different about these crops, why are they special enough to be patented?


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