by James Corbett
August 19, 2013
Every year, a greater and greater percentage of our food supply sources back to genetically modified ingredients. Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, DuPont and the other biotech giants have made GMOs into a multi-billion dollar industry and unsurprisingly have launched one of the largest pr campaigns in the history of the food industry to convince the public that their products are safe, healthy and beneficial. Let’s examine five of the main claims of this PR campaign and see how they stack up to reality.
5) GMOs feed more people
Contrary to what the biotech giants say on their industry-sponsored websites, GMO crops do not produce greater yields. A comprehensive 2009 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrated that GMO soybean and corn produced no increase in intrinsic yield over conventional soybean and corn.
But even if future improvements were able to increase yields, a 2008 study demonstrated that organic farming methods with little or no chemical fertilizer and pesticide use was able to increase yield by 116%. But there’s no money to be made for the international agri-chemical companies by citing that research, so the public continues to be told that GMOs, which do not increase yield, are necessary to end world hunger.
4) GMOs reduce pesticide use
Again, despite what the chemical companies who are spearheading the GMO revolution are telling you, these GMOs are requiring farmers to buy more of their chemical pesticides, not less. A 2012 paper concluded that the rise of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” in the wake of the GMO revolution has actually increased pesticide use in the last 15 years by 183 million kilograms, or 7%. The study estimated that if new strains of GM corn and soybeans are approved for commercial use, herbicide use could increase by a whopping 50%.
Still, you have to admit it’s a good business move for the chemical companies that produce the fertilizer to also create the GMO crops that require more fertilizer.
3) There is no scientific proof of adverse health effects from GMO
This is one of the most disingenuous pieces of the GMO PR campaign. In reality, the FDA doesn’t even test the safety of GMO crops. Instead, all GMO foods are assumed to be safe unless there is already evidence to the contrary. In other words, the FDA relies on self-reported data from the companies that manufacture the crops as to their safety.
Even worse, due to legal and copyright restrictions surrounding GMO patents, independent scientists have to ask the biotech companies’ permission before publishing research on their products. As a result, almost all of the long-term animal feeding studies that have ever been conducted on GMOs have been carried out by the biotech companies themselves, on their own rules and with their own standards of reporting. What few independent studies have been conducted have shown a range of adverse health effects from reduced fertility to immune system dysfunction, liver failure, obesity and cancer. Yet still, for some reason Obama’s “Food Czar” Michael Taylor refuses to make FDA testing of GMO safety mandatory…I wonder if it’s because he used to be the Vice President of Monsanto?
2) There is no difference between genetic engineering and traditional breeding techniques
Argue with a GMO proponent long enough and they will eventually try to tell you that there is no difference between conventional breeding techniques and genetic engineering except for the time frame involved. What used to take hundreds of generations can now be accomplished in a laboratory in a short time, they say.
But this is not true. Conventional breeding takes one strain of a certain crop, such as corn, and breeds it with another strain of that crop. Genetic engineering takes genetic material from one species, such as soil bacteria, and inserts it into a crop, such as corn. This can be done by a variety of techniques, such as the use of gene guns to fire the genetic material into the cell of the target organism, an inherently imprecise process that leads to random and unintended genetic combinations.
To say that this is the same process as conventional plant breeding is simply a flat out lie. And if anyone wants to challenge that assessment, I will give them a soil bacteria, a corn plant and a thousand years. They will never get that bacteria’s genetic information into the corn plant through “conventional breeding.”
1) Labeling GMOs is a bad idea…for some reason
The argument for why companies should not have to label GMOs is not an argument at all. The biotech giants and their PR fronts merely say that the public is so stupid that they don’t deserve to know what they’re eating because it would “scare them.” That is the sum total of the argument.
On the other hand are people who believe it is their right to know what they are eating, every bit as much as ingredients and dietary information labeling have long been standardized. The logic is simple enough for a 14-year-old girl to understand evidently, but not a fully-grown man. Observe: