Five Things about GMOs

My Generation

It's Day 26 of 30 Days|FIVE Things: today, here's a look at five common myths regarding biotechnology and the facts behind them.

Published on: November 26, 2013

Five resources for when you hear…

1. GMOs cause tumors. In rats. Special French rats. You know, I can see what this one has gotten traction. Rats with super giant GM-fueled tumors growing from their heads? Those are the kinds of phrases activists dream of. But even other French scientists couldn't get on board with it. The New York Times reported last year that France's six scientific academies issued a "rare joint statement" dismissing the rat study. The leader of the study, Gilles-Eric Seralini, is known in France as an anti-GM crusader and has been criticized in the past for his flawed science.

Image design by Erin Ehnle, Keeping It Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl.
Image design by Erin Ehnle, Keeping It Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl.

A sample of the language from the rare joint statement, which used withering terms to dismiss the study as "a scientific non-event": "Given the numerous gaps in methods and interpretation, the data presented in this article cannot challenge previous studies which have concluded that NK603 corn is harmless from the health point of view, as are, more generally, genetically modified plants that have been authorised for consumption by animals and humans. Hyping the reputation of a scientist or a team is a serious misdemeanour when it helps to spread fear among the public that is not based on any firm conclusion.”

The European Food Safety Authority agreed, saying the study's weak methodology and statistics rendered it "of insufficient scientific quality for safety assessment."

2. People have a right to know what's in their food. That's what the GM labeling activists will tell you. And it sounds great, on its surface. But consider this: more than 90% of all U.S. corn and soybeans are genetically modified crops. That means that unless something containing corn or soy is voluntarily labeled as "GM-free", you can generally assume it has GM materials in it. If you would like to buy something that's non-GM, you can buy certified organic, which according to USDA certification, means it has no GM materials.

3. We want transparency! Don't we all? But so far, campaigns to label GMOs have been about fear, not transparency. Once the activists figure out how to push for transparency instead of scaring the crap out of people, they may actually be successful. This is exhibit A of what transparency doesn't look like.

4. Monsanto is Satan. For reals. Honestly, this seems to fall under the thought process that says, "If I don't agree with them, I must hate them." I don't get that, but it's certainly common. Whether or not you agree with them, you have to admit they wholeheartedly believe in developing better products and increasing yields. Take the One Hundred Meals project, for example. If you read nothing else today, click here and read the observations of a strident anti-Monsanto consumer following her visit to Monsanto. As it turns out, there are real people who work there who have real lives and real families and are actually good people. I would agree.

Certainly, my ag journalist friends have discussed for years how much better GM crops would have originally been received all around the world if those first benefits had been to the consumer instead of to the farmer. But today, take a look at their work in soybean oil, broccoli and drought-tolerant corn.

5. GM Seed is Bad for Third World. I learned during my time in Sweden that third-world African countries can and do have very strong opinions about GM crops. I respect that and I respect their right to make that choice. But back here in America, the land of the plenty, let's at least have our facts straight when talking about those countries and their crops. Carl Pray at Rutgers University has studied the effects of GM crops on China, India and South Africa since the 1990s. The upshot? He's actually found longer life spans due to biotech.


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