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Dishonest Attacks on Genetically Modified Organisms

Dishonest Attacks on Genetically Modified Organisms

4 Mins
April 16, 2016

For those who take their health seriously, it’s always a challenge to determine which claims are true and which are fiction. This task is made more difficult by those who, either out of malice or shear ignorance, spread misinformation. One example that seems more deliberate distortion is the case made by many against Genetically Modified Organisms or “GMOs.”

GMO Tomato


GMOs refer to organisms, in this context those used for food or other human purposes, that have had their genomes altered by human engineering, usually in laboratories. Genetic change occurs in nature as well; indeed, evolution is simply random genetic change by natural mutation, with nature "selecting" mutations beneficial for survival. That’s where we humans come from! By contrast, genetic engineers alter organisms in precise, predictable ways, for example, to produce crops that are more resistant to pests or inclement weather.


GMOs, unfortunately, have been the targets of much deliberate misinformation and fear-mongering by organizations like Greenpeace and countless bloggers who spread memes that ignore underlying research.

They state as fact that GMOs are somehow harmful to human health. The evidence suggests they aren't.

They state as fact that GMOs increase the use of pesticides or reduce yields. The evidence suggests they don't.

They state as fact that GMO cotton has caused the suicides of tens of thousands of Indian farmers. The evidence suggests it hasn't.

They state as fact that GMO companies, Monsanto in particular, engage in unscrupulous business practices, somehow "forcing" farmers to buy from them. The evidence suggests they don't.

The objections to GMOs are almost always demonstrably false.



Occasionally, there are genuine attributes of GMOs which are the basis for critics’ objections. However, these attributes are presented in the most distorted and out of context ways possible.


For example, it is asserted that GMOs are "unnatural." Technically, this is true in the sense that human intervention rather than nature evolution has resulted in altered organisms. What the anti-GMO folks don't usually mention is that apart from wild game, virtually the entire modern food supply is unnatural, the result of hundreds or thousands of years of artificial selection. For example, the teosinte, the ancestor of modern maize, was a scrawny little thing the size of a small string bean. The corn on the cob you enjoy today is the result of crop cross-breeding over centuries by native Mesoamericans.

Another claim by critics is that some GMOs produce their own pesticides. True, but misleading. GMO “BT Cotton” produces its own Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium which is toxic to certain pest species, but essentially harmless to mammals. That’s the whole point of the engineering, to have more food and products to be consumed by humans and less by pests! Despite its safety, anti-GMO activists still oppose BT's use, except as a standalone pesticide in organic farming, which is rather like being opposed putting ice in tea, but being in favor of pouring tea over ice.


The anti-GMO people are also rather quiet on "mutagenesis" or mutation breeding. This is the technique whereby produce is exposed to chemicals or radiological bombardment in hopes of creating beneficial mutations in the offspring, which can then be cultivated. The technique is over 80 years old but pretty clumsy compared to the transgenic technology of recent decades. The mutations produced are random and unpredictable. However, mutagenesis is an accepted organic practice and has created commercially viable products in everything from grapefruit to potatoes to rice. Most of the anti-GMO folks are okay with this form of genetic engineering. But many consumers of organic products don't even know of its existence.

So surely if those consumers knew that this technique was being used on the products they buy, they would be shouting "just label it" as unnatural since it is food borne of radiation or chemicals. This is the way they shout for labeling of the GMOs they don’t like. Don't the people have a "right to know?" Likewise, wouldn't vegetarian consumers like to know whether or not their produce was fertilized with animal products such as manure, feather meal, bone meal, or blood meal, favorite fertilizers of the organic farming crowd? Why do the organic farmers insist on "forced labels for thee, but not for me?" The silence from the anti-GMO, anti-progress crowd on this issue is deafening.


In the parlance of poker, the inconsistencies and evasions of facts by the anti-GMO crowd are "tells" that expose the fact that there’s a deeper dogma involved that is anti-competitive, anti-reason and has nothing to do with human well-being; it reflects a deep hatred of modernity coupled with a fuzzy appeal to nature. We who welcome the best advances in agricultural technology since the plow should not be afraid to call their bluff, because reason—a strict commitment to facts in context—is the only way to ensure the best for our bodies.

Kevin Schooler is a visual effects artist, who has worked in over a dozen countries on feature films, broadcast, video games and live events.

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