The Crusade in Favour of GMO: Falsehoods and Vilification will not Fool the Public

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Pro-GMO campaigners often attack critics of the technology by claiming their negative views of it emanate from well-funded environmentalist groups or commercial interests in the organic food sector. The assertion is that such bodies promote falsehoods and scaremongering about GM to protect their own interests and that the GMO agritech sector has fallen victim to this.

Another claim is that critics rely on quackery on the internet or on some form of discredited science that is only carried out by those whom the ‘scientific community’ has seen fit to marginalise due to ‘bad’ science and a perceived political agenda.

The gist of the argument is that pseudo-science and a powerful ideologically motivated group are holding the world to ransom by conspiring to mislead the public and prevent the spread of GM, which according to pro-GMO activists, is denying the poor and hungry of the world access to food.

In a recent piece on Huffington Post, Jon Entine followed a similar line of attack to denigrate Rachel Parent, her family’s business interests and the campaign which she heads, Kids Right To Know (KRTK). He calls Parent a well-polished ‘crusader’ against GM food. He also argues that on the KRTK website, there is a stream of studies cited that raise concerns about GM, but which Entine predictably and conveniently labels as mostly a combination of fringe research and a collection of discredited, misconstrued and biased studies.

Entine claims to present a “well-reasoned critical analysis” of Rachel Parent’s views by referring readers to a blog, where we are informed there are hundreds of independent studies on GM and they all show safety. During his lengthy attack, he concludes that Rachel Parent is a tool for vested interests.

Entine himself has a history of ‘hit’ pieces against prominent figures. If he wants to talk about people posing as a tool for vested interests, he is on very thin ice indeed in terms of his own situation: see “the making of an agribusiness apologist“. Indeed, that ice melted long ago to expose his lack of objectivity or credibility as an ‘independent’ analyst.

It should be made clear that opposing GM is not affecting the world’s ability to feed itself. Feeding the world is first and foremost a political issue. We hear much about the potential of GM, but the reality is that GM crops have been fraudulently placed on the commercial market, have contributed nothing to alleviating food poverty or food insecurity (have actually undermined it) and have caused a great deal of damage to health  and the environment and livelihoods too.

The path to feeding the world lies in helping smallholder farmers to develop their (non-GMO) methods in the Global South, where the majority of hungry people live. These farmers are the backbone of global food production. It also depends on challenging rigged trade, neo-liberal economics, structural inequalities and food commodity speculation, among other issues (see this).

We now have food surplus countries in the West which mirror food deficit areas elsewhere, of which the latter have become dependent on (US) agricultural imports and strings-attached loans and aid. Look no further than Africa to see what has happened. At the time of decolonisation in the 1960s, Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter. Today, almost every country is a net food importer.

Food and agriculture has become wedded to power structures that have restructured indigenous agriculture across the world and tied it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for a manipulated and volatile international market and indebtedness to international financial institutions. The solution lies in nations prioritising food self-sufficiency and extricating themselves from a system of international trade and markets that have been manipulated for both the commercial and geopolitical gain of mainly the US and its agribusiness companies.

However, the continuous push to privilege GM ahead of anything else serves the commercial agenda of transnational agribusiness (and marginalises other models of agriculture that deliver proven results) and acts as an ideological and political device that diverts attention away from an economic system of ‘globalisation’ which is fuelled by and serves these companies. For example, the argument in favour of GM in India cynically plays on a situation created by this very system, as outlined here.

The aim of the Pro-GMO lobby is to depolticise the GM debate and to get us all to focus on the ‘science’. But even when focussing on science, the pro-GMO lobby still fails to make its case.

The book ‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truth‘ highlights how GM is not based on sound science at all but on the systematic subversion of it. Then there is the claim that there have been hundreds of independent studies showing the safety of GM and the claim of there being a scientific consensus on GM. Both such claims were made by Entine in his piece and both are bogus.

Biotechnology seed companies, aided by advocates from academia and the blogopsphere, are using their substantial resources to broadcast the myth of a ‘scientific consensus’ on the safety of GMOs. In its 2014 report, Food & Water Watch dismisses the so-called scientific consensus that Entine and others like to claim.

The well-referenced report notes that the scientific bodies that purportedly are part of the ‘consensus’ are few in number and are by no means representative of the entire scientific community. The GMO-consensus campaign has misquoted or misrepresented these scientific bodies to falsely assert that they are part of a consensus on GMO safety.

The GMO-consensus campaign points to the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Society of London as part of the scientific consensus, but neither organisation has an official policy on GMO safety. The report notes the positions of several other leading scientific institutions and academies across the world that the pro-GMO consensus campaign has used to forward its case. It concludes that the campaign uses a mix of cherry-picked quotes, industry-backed sources and misrepresentations of positions held to feed its spin.

Hundreds of independent scientists in relevant fields have come forward to condemn the GMO-consensus campaign. The claim that all credible science is on the side of GM and only a few incompetent maverick scientists indulge in anti-GM pseudo-science is propaganda and nothing else.  The aim is to propagate this falsehood time and again in the hope people will come to believe it.

There is also no consensus in the scientific literature. Entine and others like to cite big-lists that supposedly make the case for GMO. Begin to sift through these studies and it becomes clear the case is being misrepresented via a mix of industry-supported sources and listing studies that do not claim there is safety regarding GM and which are often not independent of the bio-tech industry.

There is a genuine controversy about GM, and the public as consumers are right to be concerned. Despite the pro-GMO crusaders trying to argue that environmentalists and the organic industry have undue influence and are misleading the public on GMO, this situation is far from the truth.

The massive wealth of the biotech/agribusiness industry has been translated into political clout within the media, science, governments and policies: for example, see this on the corporate hijack of the FDA and EPA in the US, this on the EFSA and Monsanto in Europe, this and this on the situation in India and this on the push to get GM into the UK over the heads of the public – of course, the secretive and corrupt TTIP could possibly achieve this in the long run; and then factor in the $100 million spent to prevent labelling GMOs in the US and the amount spent on lobbying, advertising and campaign donations (see this about spending by Monsanto for the US alone).

The smear campaigns engaged in by pro-GMO economic neoliberal crusaders are intended to denigrate all criticism of GMOs in the eyes of the public, from wherever it comes. By attacking KRTK, Entine doesn’t destroy or undermine the logic and facts upon which critics of GM base their arguments, including those of Rachel Parent. If anything, this type of hit piece, laced with the usual misrepresentations about the efficacy, safety and reality of GM, indicates a certain desperation and demonstrates a failure to convince the public about the need for GM.

Colin Todhunter is an independent writer

  • Black Swan

    ” The western diet is a delivery system for cancer causing toxic chemicals used in industrial agriculture. It consists primarily of processed foods based on GMO corn, wheat, soy and sugar, and they’re consumed in large quantities, chemical residues of insectacides, fungicides and herbicides like glyphosate contaminate the entire diet and American’s love and deserve it.” Seneff

  • JBANGMO

    Colin’s first link (“gist of the argument”) is to an article called “’The Green Blob’ is threatening lives in Africa” by Matthew Holehouse, which is an interview with the UK’s former Environment Secretary and current all-time idiot. He informs readers that 6000 children die every day due to Vitamin A deficiency which he attributes to anti-GMO activists (because of the objection to GMO fortified rice referred to as Golden Rice – a product which is not yet viable). The problems with Golden Rice have nothing to do with anti-GMO activism, after all, there are roughly 70 patents and 32 patent holders who all had to agree on intellectual property conditions and consider international laws at the same time; there is still the question of gene flow (cross-contamination with non-GMO rice and who will be liable is still an issue that is not resolved). Golden Rice is not the miracle that it is hyped up to be, especially considering when there are agricultural alternatives; there are “maize lines that produce nearly four times the amount of ?-carotene (8.57 ?g g?1) of second-generation GM rice varieties (2.6 ?g g?1) have been developed through conventional breeding.” (Source: “Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology for Food Security and for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Potential and Risks,” by Jack A. Heinemann, TWN Biotechnology & Biosafety Series 17; 2013). Golden Rice is, more than anything else, a weapon used to dispel disinformation and a tool to attack anti-GMO activists. It is best summed up with this observation: “All in all, the communication strategies used by many proponents of the Golden Rice project are ethically questionable, propagandistic and alarmist. They clearly contradict the humanitarian goals of the project and impede factual debate.” (Source: “Golden Lies: No Credibility for Golden Rice Campaign,” by Christoph Then, Testbiotech; January 15, 2014).

    Furthermore, the author Matthew Holehouse is negligent in accepting and printing Owen Patterson’s assertion that “Some 6,000 children a day die in the developing world due to vitamin A deficiency,” without fact-checking or at least asking him to cite his source. According to WHO, (“Micronutrient deficiencies”) his numbers are, like everything he claims, unfounded in reality: “An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.” Assuming the higher number (250,000 children die every year from VAD) is correct, that means about 685 children die every day, not 6000. WHO is quick to mention that methods of addressing this problem include breast feeding, first and foremost (with no mention of Golden Rice as a solution).

    Owen Patterson then asserts that the “policies” of anti-GMO activists “would condemn billions to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment. And their insistence on mandating primitive, inefficient farming techniques would decimate the earth’s remaining wild spaces, devastate species and biodiversity, and leave our natural ecology poorer as a result.” Patterson is not just an idiot, or a biotech puppet; it is fair to say at this point that his ignorance is supreme and that he is more akin to a biotech whore, not a puppet, who is willing to say or do anything to appease his biotech industry “client.” His assertions are baseless, without merit, non-factual, non-scientific, and are actually contrary to the findings of science. He uses fear mongering techniques, this “emotional blackmail” to paint anti-GMO activists as cruel and heartless (“emotional blackmail” is a term coined by Colin Todhunter in this context in his article “The GMO Biotech Lobby’s Emotional Blackmail and Bogus Claims: Monsanto’s GM Crops Will Not Feed the World.” (East by Northwest; October 8, 2014); Patterson asserts this false claim while being guilty of the scare tactics he himself accuses others of doing: “who keep each other well supplied with … scare stories.”

    The reality is that the claim that “GMOs are necessary to feed the world” is nothing more than the Great Lie, and it is contrary to the evidence. “GMOs developed by these companies will not help most of the world’s farmers. On the contrary, they are expensive and increase the dependency of farmers on external inputs, and have a negative impact on income distributions. The claim that GMOs are necessary to feed the world is no more than a self-serving advertising campaign.” (Source: “Feeding the World: Genetically Modified Crops Versus Agricultural Biodiversity,” by Sven-Erik Jacobsen, et al, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 651-662; October 2013). This was also the finding of several studies and reports as well, including the 600 page report published in 2009 by the IAASTD, “Agriculture at a Crossroads – Global Report.” This report was the culmination of over four years of work by over 400 highly qualified authors and which was ratified by at least 57 nations. (The findings were similar to those in the 338 page report published in 2013, “Wake up before it is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate,” which was published by the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development).

    The latest spew by pro-GMO advocates seems to be GMOs are all about “sustainable agriculture.” To quote once again from Sven-Erik Jacobsen, et al, “Not only is GMO research an ineffective way to address these problems [of sustainable agriculture], GM crops can threaten the cultivation of minor crops, such as neglected and underutilized plant species, which today constitute the basis of much subsistence farming … GM crops will reduce the nutritional value and yield reliability of the food supply, and lead to a dangerous loss of biodiversity.” GM crops are not the solution to sustainable agriculture, they are destroying it; they are the problem.

    So, as Colin Todhunter eloquently points out once again that the pro-GMO advocates are still promoting absolute falsehoods, even after all these years. As for Jon Entine, there is a rumor that he is no longer writing for Forbes. The rumor is that his dismissal had something to do with domestic abuse charges filed against him, which, (although this rumor attributing him for not publishing in Forbes anymore is unconfirmed), it makes one wonder what his compulsion is for attacking a teenage girl when looked at in this context.