New Book Sets Record Straight on GMO Myths and Truths
Many of us have become convinced thatgenetically engineered (GE) foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) areharmful to health and the environment. But how can you effectively respond tofriends and family who have fallen for the oft-repeated fallacies and mythsabout GMO safety and efficacy?
Claire Robinson is the editor of GM Watch,which is based in the U.K.. Together with genetic engineers Drs John Fagan andMichael Antoniou, she also co-authored the book “GMO Myths and Truths,” which can be a veryhelpful resource.
I was really impressed with Steven Druker’s landmarkbook, “Altered Genes, TwistedTruth,”which decimates most of the GMO proponent arguments. Sadly most proponents fail toever read his book.
Steven’s book is longer and a more challengingread for most, while “GMO Myths and Truths” is very concise and to-the-point,and it does a great job of providing you with strong arguments to effectivelycounter nonsensical GMO propaganda.
Robinson has been involved in the GMO debatesince 1999. Her initial concerns were not incited by environmental groups, butrather by scientists.
“I knew some genetic engineers in the 1990s,” she says. “They were warning about the possibleeffects on health and the environment of genetically modified foods. At thetime, I just didn’t want to think about it because there were too many otherthings to worry about.
But it became increasingly urgent that we do something, becausebefore we knew it, there was talk about Monsanto wanting to geneticallyengineer every food crop on the planet, and I thought, “This is something weshould be concerned about.”
The scientific voices did not die away. They were stillwarning about the possible effects of these foods. That’s really how I gotinvolved…
[My co-authors and I] noticed there was this rumor outthere that activists against GE crops had no science on their side, that theywere uneducated, and that they were irrational. We knew that that wasn’t the case.”
That’s what led to the creation of the book. Infact, it was written for the explicit purpose of arming people with facts tocounteract claims that there is no scientific basis for concern.
Myth: GMOs Are Just an Extension of Natural Breeding Techniques
Many GMO proponents claim that geneticengineering is just an extension of natural breeding methods, and just as safe.Nothing could be further from the truth — on both counts.
Genetic engineering is radically different fromconventional breeding techniques used to improve a crop. For starters, it’s alaboratory-based technique allowing scientists to create a food that could never be created by nature. As explainedby Robinson:
“Genetic engineering enables DNA to be transferred not onlybetween different kinds of plants, but even between different kingdoms. You cantake DNA from an insect, an animal, a virus or a bacterium, and insert it intothe genome of a food crop plant.
This is actually a very imprecise process. The truth isthat the genetic engineering process disrupts the genome (organization and functionof genes) of the plant. As a result we found time and time again that there areunexpected effects on the plant that is genetically engineered.
They tell us that it’s exactly the same, except for theinserted gene that’s been deliberately put in…But this isn’t the case. Thegenome is very complex. It’s not like Lego; you can’t just take out one bit,put in another bit, and expect there to be no knock-on effects.”
Unintended and Unforeseeable Side Effects Abound
There have been many occasions where the GEcrop has been unexpectedly toxic or allergenic when the non-GE crop had no suchissues. The reality is that scientists really don’t know what they’re doing interms of what side effects are produced by DNA tampering. The effects are very unpredictable.
Genetic engineers are just now starting to admitthis. Ironically, many of the drawbacks of genetic engineering, including thefact that it’s imprecise, were not openly admitted until they came out with anew technique, called genome editing and using, for example, CRISPR technology,which is said to be far more precise than earlier methods.
Alas, even genome editing techniques such as CRISPRcreate off-target effects, according to Robinson. So we’re still far fromknowing all there is to know about genetic manipulation.
Why CRISPR Technology Will Not Remove Concerns
While the use of CRISPR-cas 9 allows more precise geneticengineering in one respect, in that you can target a genetic alterationincluding foreign gene insertion to a specific area of the genome, thepotential for unintended effects remain, for the simple fact that when youalter one or two genes in a genome the side effects ripple through the wholegenome.
In addition, just as with conventional geneticengineering, genome editing involves using plant tissue culture (plant cellsgrown under laboratory conditions), which has a wide-scale DNA mutagenic(damaging) effect in its own right. This too can dramatically alter thefunction of multiple gene functions.
Thus the off-target effects of genome editing andplant tissue culture-induced mutations can combine to bring about alterationsin plant biochemistry.
One or more new proteins could be created inthe process, which could be toxic or allergenic, or you could change the biochemicalpathways of a plant, making it less nutritious or more toxic.
“In addition, most genetically engineered plants areengineered to either express an insecticide or to tolerate being sprayed on by anherbicide (weedkiller).
That means you’ve got the potential toxic effects of theherbicide residues that are sprayed on the plant or of the insecticide that isengineered into the plant,” Robinson notes.
The risk of unintended consequences is so highthat even if scientists restricted the genetic engineering to the alteration ofjust one or two host plant genes or the insertion of genes into a plant into thevery same species, say from corn to corn, these problems still would not disappear. As Robinson explains:
“The important thing when you’re genetically engineering aplant is the new context of the gene that you’re putting in. Even if you wereto take a gene out of apples and put it into apples, you don’t really know whatthat’s doing, because all of a sudden the gene is in a new context.”
GMO Creation Is a Cruel and Wasteful Enterprise
Genetic engineering is also a very wastefulprocess. You create an enormous number of plants that are deformed, infertile, orotherwise not viable, so there’s a lot of waste. When it comes to the creationof GE animals there’s also the moral aspect of creating so many non-viable lifeforms.
“One of the scientists who I’m in contact with happened tosee some GE salmon that were created in the research and development phase. He said it was really shocking, because there were salmonthat were green in color. There were salmon that had lumps all over theirbodies. All these had to be thrown away… I think it’s a very cruel process,because you’re creating so many non-viable animals, and you have to dispose ofthem.”
Long-Term Safety Studies Are Sorely Lacking
“GMOs are proven safe,” is the oft-repeatedrefrain. But where is the actual evidence for this? And what’s the strength ofthat evidence? While few in number, longer-term animal feeding studies have been publishedover the past several years showing there’s definite cause for concern. Liverand kidney toxicity and immune reactions tend to be the most prevalent. Digestivesystem, inflammation andfertility problems have also been seen.
“I think we’re all concerned about the state of people’simmune systems these days. Obviously it is a huge concern. I think anysubstance you feed to a laboratory animal and get an immune response [from],you really have to ask more questions about it,” Robinson says.
A major part of the problem is that safetystudies conducted for regulatory purposes to gain market approval for a GEproduct are too short to show the damage that could occur from life-longconsumption of the GE food. Some independent studies looking at lifetime consumption ofGMOs have found rather dramatic health effects, whereas the safety studies used topromote GE foods as safe have all been short-term.
As noted by Robinson, there seems to be anagreement among biotech scientists to not test GE foods longer than 90 days in rats,which is only about seven to nine years in human terms. That’s nothing when youconsider the average lifespan is somewhere in the 70’s, and the currentgeneration is fed GMO food from day one.
“Typically, even in industry tests for 90 days in a rat,you can see signs of liver and kidney toxicity, and immune responses… Whathappens is they just dismiss the findings. They say, ‘These are notbiologically relevant findings. We don’t need to do longer testing.’ This is areally an unscientific, worrying phenomenon. We should be doing long-termtesting and multigenerational testing as well with all GE foods to get to thebottom of what is going on.”
Making matters worse, carefully calculatedbarriers have been erected by the GE industry to prevent independentresearchers from ever doing those kinds of studies in the first place. Anyonepurchasing GE seeds must sign a contract that forbids them from supplying themto researchers who do research, and in most cases the companies refuse to provideseeds to independent researchers.
Myth: Hundreds of Millions of GMO Meals Served With No AdverseEffects
Another completely unscientific and dishonestclaim used to justify the use of GMOs is that Americans have eaten hundreds ofmillions of GMO meals with no ill effects. But who’s actually checking? No oneis assessing and keeping tabs of potential side effects. You can’t even makethat connection since GE foods are not labeled.
Despite that lack of traceability, healthstatistics clearly show Americans have been getting increasingly sicker overthe past few decades. Chronic diseases are definitely increasing, and childrenare increasingly coming down with diseases that in the past did not arise untilmuch later in life. No one can say for sure that there’s a link to GMOconsumption since they’re not labeled and therefore cannot be tracked, but youcertainly cannot ignore the possibility of a link either.
Myth: Without GE Crops We Cannot Feed the World
Another common claim is that we need GMOsbecause without them we don’t stand a chance to feed our growing population.This is nothing but a flawed fantasy, and there are at least half a dozentruths that dispel it.
Part of the myth isthat GE crops provide greater yield, but they don’t. There is no gene for highyield. The GMO genes inserted are for creating herbicide tolerance or to produceinternal insecticide. There is no way of genetically engineering high yieldinto a crop as it is dependent on complex multi-gene interactions, which GEcannot deliver.
However, conventionalbreeding methods are helpful for increasing yield as they can introduce therequired multi-gene families into the crop. So a high-yielding GE crop issimply a crop that has been conventionally bred to produce high yields. Thenthe genetic engineers inserted an herbicide-tolerant gene or aninsect-resistant gene into that plant.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) even admits that yield is dependent onthe background genetics of the crop; it is not dependent on the geneticengineering. In some cases the GE crop ends up yielding less than its non-GEequivalent.
That is certainly the case with GE soy, wherethere is what is known as a yield drag. It yields less than the non-GM soy. Exactlywhy is still unknown, but Robinson suggests it may be caused by the disruptiveeffect of the GE transformation process, or perhaps the GE plant’s energy issomehow used up in resisting herbicide, for example, and therefore has lessenergy left over for growth.
Soil Destruction Promotes Food Scarcity
GE plants — courtesy of the herbicides used — alsodestroy the microbial health of the soil. Ultimately, you need the microbes inthe soil to nourish the plant, and it’s this symbiotic relationship thatprovides good yields.
From a long-term strategic perspective, destructionof topsoil is the greatest threat tothe future of food, and if we continue in this way, people will starve nomatter what GE plants they come up with. It’s a prescription for disaster. Onceyou implement regenerative agriculture you almost automatically create fargreater yields, as these time-honored traditions nourish and build soil health.
“There’s some very good long-term research done at the RodaleInstitute which shows that year upon year, the yields with organic systems cango up and up and up, because the soil fertility and health, including microbiallife, is being built. Also, organics yield better in drought conditions,because there’s more organic matter in the soil, which acts like a sponge andit can hold water.
If we’re thinking about resilient agriculture that’s goingto tide us through climate change and everything else the future can throw atus, it’s really all about agroecology, organic, and building soil. We certainlydon’t want to be killing soil by putting glyphosate or other pesticides on it.
We do know that putting glyphosate herbicide on the soil actually ties up tracemetal nutrients within the soil. It makes them less available to the plant andless available to us when we eat those plants,” Robinson says.
The World Health Organization’s InternationalAgency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has also classified glyphosate as aprobable carcinogen. Over 80 percent of GE plants are engineered to tolerate beingheavily doused with glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup.
Worryingly, laboratorytests have shown that commercial formulations such as Roundup, which arecomplex mixtures of chemicals, are up to 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosatein isolation. Roundup gets incorporated into the entire plant and cannot bewashed off, so when you eat those plants, you’re eating a general toxin and potentialcarcinogen.
Myth: GMOs Reduce the Need for Herbicides and Insecticides
Genetic engineering was sold as a means toreduce the amount of herbicides and other chemicals being used, but the realityis quite the opposite. GE crops have increased the use of pesticides, mostlybecause of herbicide-tolerant crops designed to survive huge amounts ofherbicide. As weeds have developed resistance, farmers are forced to useever-greater amounts of chemical mixtures.
Research by Dr. Charles Benbrook shows that becauseof GE crops, we have sprayed 7 percent more pesticides than we would have donehad those same acres been planted with non-GE crops. That amounts to 404million pounds of additional pesticides.
In addition to that, as of 2012, more than 61million acres of U.S. farmland was covered with glyphosate-resistant superweeds. To address these weeds, even more toxic chemicals are being employed,such as Dicamba and 2,4-D (which is an ingredient of Agent Orange). So not onlyare we using more herbicides, we’re also using increasingly toxic ones.
“Also, there’s a UN report1 called the International Assessment ofAgricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), whichwas published in 2008 by over 400 world scientists. It was on the future offood and the future of agriculture. They did not endorse the idea that GE cropswere needed to feed the world.
They pointed out that the yields of GE crops were ‘variable,’as they put it. In some cases, a GE crop might yield more; but in other cases,they don’t. Also there were lingering safety concerns over them. They said thatthe key to feeding the world and future generations will be agroecology.”
Who Benefits From GE Crops?
The answer is the companies that patent and ownthem. Profit is the real reason why GE crops are pushed so relentlessly inspite of the fact that they don’t yield more and they don’t reduce pesticideuse. When you patent a GE crop, you not only own the rights on the particularcrop, you also own the breeding rights.
Every crop bred from that GE crop, as long asyour proprietary patented genes are in that progene, you own the progene aswell as the original crop. So patenting GE seeds is a means of consolidatingcontrol over the food supply by a few big companies.
The U.S. government does nothing to preventthis, and the reason for that is because there are perpetually revolving doorsbetween the industry and the government. It’s gotten to the point where theUSDA is in practical reality a mere extension of Monsanto and other chem-aggiants, implementing and enforcing the industry’s recommendations.
“Michael Taylor is a case in point. He was an attorney forMonsanto. He crafted the biotech policy that enabled these foods to be marketedonto world markets from the USA. Michael Taylor oversaw the creation of thatpolicy. He was basically an attorney for Monsanto, and still is. People oftenthink that Europe is somehow better. Unfortunately, our own European Food SafetyAuthority (EFSA) has been absolutely infiltrated by industry-linked people.
There’s a body called the International Life SciencesInstitute (ILSI), which is basically funded by Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, andthese big GMO companies. They’re this kind of scientific lobbying-styleorganization.
They are involved in crafting rules, regulatory rules to judgethe safety of GE crops. They actually help to design them. A lot of these ruleshave now gone into the European regulatory process to judge whether a GE cropis safe. Basically, we can say the industry helped to write its ownexamination.”
Public Scientists Are Also Motivated by Greed
As revealed in Steven Druker’s book “Altered Genes, Twisted Truth”, thecollusion between the industry and the government would never have beenpossible had it not been for the early molecular biologists who collectivelyagreed to allow genetic engineering of plants to proceed, and intentionally insulatedthe public from the risks. Still to this day, many public scientists havejumped on the bandwagon to support GMOs because they see it as a way to get fundingfrom the industry.
“I’ve actually quizzed some of them about the animalfeeding studies with GE crops. Not only have those scientists never read ananimal feeding study on GE crops – I’m not talking about all of them here, justa few examples who I’ve met – but they see no reason why they should.
One ofthem said to me, ‘Why should I read those studies?’ I said, ‘Because you’regenetically engineering our plants.’ ‘Oh, what harm can possibly come of it,’he says. ‘It’s just a matter of moving around a few genes. It’s nothing veryscary.’ Again and again, we see this arrogant attitude.”
GMO Research Is Being Aggressively Thwarted
Not only do independent researchers rarely getaccess to GE seeds to perform their research, they also have few means offunding since they’re not interested in bending to the will of the industry. Industryfunds most research, and they have a long history of “motivating” theirscientists to reach certain conclusions.
Without funding, there’s not much aconcerned scientist can do. Even if you manage to get funding from somegovernment agency, they will often demand you have an industry partner to putup part of the money.
Moreover, those who have somehow managed to getaround all of these obstacles to do these kinds of studies and reach negativeconclusions typically end up being ostracized by the scientific community. Manyhave lost their jobs, and have had their entire scientific careers go up inflames. As noted by Robinson:
“It certainly is true that if you are a scientist who drawsattention to risks of GE crops or whose research shows such risks, you are indanger of losing your job. You are in danger of never getting funding fromanybody ever again. I’ve seen this happen now so many times that it ispredictable.
Scientists have basically entered a cage voluntarily, if you canuse that word “voluntarily” of this situation. Basically, they don’t ask theawkward questions. They don’t do the awkward research that may show theproblems with GE crops. They stay clear of it.
A friend of mine actually got together some independentfunding for GMO risk research in the form of an animal feeding study. Theyapproached a university and said, ‘Here, we’ve raised some money. Please, canyour scientists research the safety of this GE crop when fed to animals?’ Thescientists would not touch that money because they were frightened of losingtheir jobs. This is a very, very serious situation.
If we’re seriously interested in finding out the truthabout GE crops, if we’re interested in finding out more than we already know,it’s going to come down to the public putting up the money and findingscientists who somehow will never need to worry about industry funding everagain. Probably they have to be retired or they have to be very, very unusualpeople.”
In this interview, we’ve only touched upon afew aspects covered in great depth in “GMO Myths and Truths.” I highly recommendpicking up a copy to help you dispel the many myths circulating about GMOs.It’s really an invaluable reference if you’re seeking to learn the facts behindthe arguments presented by GMO proponents.
What You Need to Know About GMOs
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs),or genetically “engineered” (GE) foods, are live organisms whose geneticcomponents have been artificially manipulated in a laboratory setting throughcreating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and even viral genesthat do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
GMO proponents claim that genetic engineering is “safe and beneficial,” and that it advances the agricultural industry. They also say that GMOs help ensure the global food supply and sustainability. But is there any truth to these claims? I believe not. For years, I’ve stated the belief that GMOs pose one of the greatest threats to life on the planet. Genetic engineering is NOT the safe and beneficial technology that it is touted to be.
The FDA cleared the way for GE(Genetically Engineered) Atlantic salmon to be farmed for human consumption. Thanksto added language in the federal spending bill, the product will requirespecial labeling so at least consumers will have the ability to identify the GEsalmon in stores. However, it’s imperative ALL GE foods be labeled, which iscurrently still being denied.
The FDA is threatening the existence of our food supply. We have to start taking action now. I urge you to share this article with friends and family. If we act together, we can make a difference and put an end to the absurdity.
QR Codes Are NOT an Adequate Substitute for Package Labels
The biotech industry is trying to push the QR code as an answer for consumer concerns about GE foods. QR stands for Quick Response, and the code can be scanned and read by smart phones and other QR readers.
The code brings you to a product website that provides further details about the product. The video below shows you why this is not an ideal solution. There’s nothing forcing companies to declare GMOs on their website. On the contrary, GE foods are allowed to be promoted as “natural,” which further adds to the confusion.
Theseso-called “Smart Labels” hardly improve access to information.Instead, by making finding the truth time-consuming and cumbersome, food makerscan be assured that most Americans will remain ignorant about the presence ofGMOs in their products. Besides, everyone has a right to know what’s in the food. Youshouldn’t have to own a smartphone to obtain this information.
Vermont’s mandatory labeling law is scheduled to go into effect July 1. Now,Monsanto is going with the only strategy it has left to block it — a Senateversion of H.R.1599, also referred to as the DARK (Denying Americans the Rightto Know) Act. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan) introduced the bill, which would preemptVermont’s GMO labeling law, and replace state mandatory labeling laws with afederal voluntary labeling plan.
Fortunately, on March 16, the Senate rejected the bill, falling far short ofthe 60 votes it needed in its favor to pass. This is great news, but though theDARK Act was defeated, it’s not over yet.
Roberts said he would still work tofind another way to preempt the law, and majority leader Mitch McConnellchanged his vote from YES to NO for procedural reasons. This allows him tobring up the bill again later if a compromise is created, and the creation of sucha compromise is certainly already underway.
Vermont’s law is set to take effect on July 1. It’s imperative you takeaction now by contacting your senators. Ask them to oppose any compromise thatwould block or delay Vermont’s labeling law. It’s critical that we floodSenators’ phone lines — it’s now or never for GMO labeling.
Non-GMO Food Resources by Country
If you are searching for non-GMO foods, here is a list of trusted sites you can visit.
- Organic Food Directory (Australia)
- Eat Wild (Canada)
- Organic Explorer (New Zealand)
- Eat Well Guide (United States & Canada)
- Farm Match (United States)
- Local Harvest (United States)
- Weston A. Price Foundation (United States)