trusted science magazine is spreading disinformation on behalf of a failing and
desperate industry, in utter disregard of scientific integrity and the overwhelming
evidence of hazards to health and the environment Dr Mae Wan Ho, Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji and Prof Peter Saunders
authoritative pronouncements not backed up by evidence, scientific or otherwise
A recent editorial in Scientific American entitled
“Labels for GMO Foods are a Bad idea” caught most people by surprise. In
beguilingly authoritarian tone and without providing references for any of its
confident-sounding assertions, it tells us that labelling GM Foods  “would
only intensify the misconception that so-called Frankenfoods endanger people’s
health.” If anything, the editorial itself is guilty of spreading disinformation
regarding GMOs, which is very disappointing for a normally trustworthy and
serious science magazine. We feel obliged to expose some of the major
misconceptions in the editorial.
The piece begins with the tired old pronouncement used by
industry to reassure the public since the early 1990s that humans have been “tinkering”
with crop genomes since the beginning of time through the process of
conventional breeding, implying that genetic modification is no different. In
reality, there is no longer any doubt that genetic modification is distinct
from conventional breeding and introduces new risks, as fully acknowledged in the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety for regulating GMOs under the United Nations Convention
on Biological Diversity , which was adopted by the international community
on 29 January 2000 and entered into force on 11 September 2003.
The assertion that genetic engineering is more “precise”
than natural plant reproduction flies in the face of abundant evidence
documenting extensive mutations and scrambling (rearrangements) of the host genome
as the result of genetic modification, with new transcripts and harmful
proteins found in the rare cases that were subjected to further investigations .
Using American citizens as guinea pigs for
the past 20 years is another common justification for GM food. The claim that
they are eating it without evidence of harm is not based on science, as without
GM labelling it is impossible to tell who has eaten GM food and who has not or
in what amounts. The only way one could tell if GM food has any effect on the
health of American citizens is to compare their health status before and after
GM food was introduced.
Increase in GMOs parallels deterioration of health in the
Dr Nancy Swanson, retired scientist of the US Navy, used
data from official sources -including the Centers for Disease Control, National
Cancer Institute, National Kidney and -Urologic Diseases Information
Clearinghouse and US Renal Data System – to find out if the status of health of
US citizens has changed since GM crops were introduced . According to
Swanson, the data revealed a “marked deterioration of health” with the
introduction of GM crops. The incidence of diseases and adverse conditions that
have gone up in parallel with the increase in GM crops and the use of
glyphosate herbicide since 1994 (first year of commercialization of GM crops)
include thyroid cancer, liver and bile duct cancer, obesity, high blood
pressure, hospitalizations for acute kidney injury, diabetes, and end stage
renal disease. As Swanson points out, correlation does not necessarily imply
cause and effect, and there may be other factors, i.e., a long list of
environmental endocrine disruptors and toxic substances including food
additives and preservatives. “GMOs may be pushing us off the cliff.” She said. “Certainly
more research should be done to firmly establish causality.”
epidemiological findings do not establish cause and effect, there is now
overwhelming evidence from laboratory studies on cells and animals documenting
damages to practically every organ system from exposure to GMOs and/or
glyphosate herbicides, confirming what farmers have been experiencing for years
in the fields (see our comprehensive report  Ban GMOs Now).
GM crops do not increase yield
A common myth perpetrated by the pro-GM lobby is that GM
crops increase yield, which is blatantly untrue. A recent study based on yield
data from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization showed that the US
staple crop system has been failing since the adoption of GMOs and is being
overtaken by predominantly non-GM Europe in all respects including yields,
resilience, pesticide use, and genetic diversity [6, 7] (US
Staple Crop System Failing from GM and Monoculture, SiS 59).
The Scientific American editors tell us that  “a
seven-year study of Indian farmers show that those growing a genetically
modified crop increased their yield per acre by 24 percent and boosted profits
by 50 percent.” This was a real surprise, as the failures of Bt cotton in India
were documented by many grassroots organisations and widely publicised as was
its role in accelerating farm suicides (see ISIS review  Farmer
Suicides and Bt Cotton Nightmare Unfolding in India, SiS 45). As recently as April 2013, the
agriculture minister of Maharashtra (one of the main cotton states) openly
admitted that Bt cotton was a failure . He stressed the need for agriculture
officials to be more proactive. Bt cotton spread has increased to 95 %. “Cotton
yields in Vidarbha [in India’s cotton belt] remains an abysmal 177 kg per acre.”
The agriculture minister said. “Even Pakistan was doing 400 kg average yield.” He
noted that Bt cotton was benefiting seed companies more than farmers and
wondered why agriculture scientists and officials failed to promote time-tested
traditional varieties and indigenously developed hybrids.
So what is the Sci Am editors’ assertion based on?
Our investigation turned up a paper  published in top
journal Science (which has long become the apparent mouthpiece of the GM
industry). The main author Martin Qaim at University of Bonn in Germany is
notorious for having previously co-authored a paper published in the same
journal in 2003 claiming even greater (80 %) yield increases from Monsanto’s GM
cotton . That paper drew a storm of protest and derision, as Monsanto had provided
the data, and the findings were completely at odds with reports coming from
Indian farmers and grassroots organisations. Dr Devinder Sharma, a food policy
expert, called the paper a “scientific fairytale” .
Bt cotton has been an unmitigated disaster for India in
exacerbating farm suicides, with an ecological and agronomic nightmare still
unfolding in plagues of secondary and novel pests, pest resistance, novel
diseases, and soils so depleted in nutrients and essential microorganisms that they
will no longer support the growth of any crop .
crops that do not exist
In order to put a
beneficent gloss over GM crops – now consisting of two major categories Bt and
glyphosate tolerant both damaging to health and ecosystems and benefiting no
one else but the companies  – the pro-GM lobby is conjuring crops supposedly
good for health and the environment out of thin air.
most publicised is the GM golden rice, engineered to make pro-Vitamin A, which
the editors tell us  will curb vitamin A deficiency that “blinds as many as
500,000 children worldwide every year and kills half of them.” But “Greenpeace
and other anti-GMO organizations have used misinformation and hysteria to delay
the introduction of Golden Rice to the Philippines, India and China.”
The truth is that
Golden Rice does not exist, at least not as a variety that is ready for
Rice (GR1) was created as a public relations exercise nearly 14 years ago 
(see 'Golden Rice' - an exercise in how
not to do science, ISIS/TWN Report).
It produced so little pro-vitamin A that you would have to eat buckets every
day to get enough. Golden Rice staged a comeback as GR2 in 2008 with a special
feature in Science , which revealed that Tufts University in Boston
USA has been carrying out ‘clinical trials’ of Golden Rice on children. More
than 30 senior scientists and academics signed an open letter (16 February
2009) condemning the work  (Scientists Protest
UnethicalClinical Trials of GM Golden Rice) as being in breach of the
Nuremberg Code of Ethics. Two of the studies involved children 6-10 years old.
Furthermore, the Golden rice in the trials (GR2) was not one identifiable
variety. Instead it was a collection of experimental transgenic events still in
the laboratory  (The
Golden Rice Scandal Unfolds, SiS 42), not characterized in terms of
basic molecular genetics or biological and biochemical properties, not tested
pre-clinically on animals, or subjected to any other safety assessment. The
Tufts University scientist and the Chinese scientists involved in the trials
have been reprimanded by Tufts University authorities and the Chinese
government respectively since .
The editors tell
us that for the past 20 years, Americans have been eating plants genetically
modified to “tolerate drought” . Actually, a GM
crop claimed to be drought tolerant is commercially available for the first
time in 2013 .
But it is the GM
cassava that gets the prize for disinformation. The editors wrote  “An
international team of researchers has engineered a variety of cassava – a
staple food for 600 million people – with 30 times the usual amount of
beta-carotene and four times as much iron, as well as higher levels of protein
and zinc.” Our investigation failed to locate any such GM cassava, except as
stated intentions, or at best in experimental varieties subjected to
“contained” field trials , all created with the Agrobacterium vector
system that’s especially hazardous for health and the environment (see ). The
only GM cassava created by the Donald Danforth Plant Research Center in St.
Louis Missouri and actually described in a paper published in 2011 was
retracted in September 2012 because  “an institutional investigation revealed
that significant amounts of data and supporting documentation that were claimed
to be produced by the first author could not be found” and “the validity of the
results could not be verified.”
Instead, great strides
have already been made in improving cassava through conventional breeding,
including three varieties of b-carotene
rich cassava that are being widely released in Nigeria  (How
Non-GM Cassava Can Help Feed the World, SiS 59).
Heinemann JA ,
Massaro M, Coray DS, Agapito-Tenfen SZ, Wen JD.
Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest. International
Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 2013,
Sirinathsinghji E. US Staple crop system failing from GM
& monoculture. Science in Society 59,
Allen Howells Comment left 14th October 2013 21:09:17 if GMOs are so beneficial, why isnt Monsanto proud enough to have it displayed on packaging?
Harold Comment left 15th October 2013 21:09:11 A big change in seed production a long time ago when "hybrid" seed corn was marketed. The product was the result of re crossing seed parents that had been inbred for several generations and getting a very noticeable increase in plant vigor which resulted in higher yields of grain. This shifted seed acquisition to commercial production instead of shelling some seed off of your current year's crop.
Since the commercial seed yielded more it became the expected thing to get higher yield from it when genetic modification came on line, so buying something you didn't save yourself was an expected thing.
What I am getting at is that we now get mass swings of farmer seed useage very easilyand enmasse.
Therefore GMO labeling won't do a lot of good because there will
not be much choice.
In the case of GMO roundup resistant soybeans farmers were really rushing to buy and plant RR soybeans even in the early years when some trials were indicating a 5 bu/acre lower yield.
The fools sold their souls to MMonsanto!
Francis Comment left 18th October 2013 22:10:28 The spread of disinformation on GMOs has a long history. Few people seem to be aware of, for instance, that on of the most deadly disasters of an early GMO experiment (and possible the first HUMAN evidence that GMOs are highly dangerous), the tryptophan incident of 1989, was predominantly the result of tinkering with this dangerous biotechnology (see http://www.supplements-and-health.com/l_tryptophan.html ). And just like today, the public health authorities, along with the science community, have obfuscated the real facts about the disaster as it would have directly inculpated the GMO technology.
Rory Short Comment left 19th October 2013 21:09:07 My gut feeling when I first heard about GMO's, in the mid-90's, and their commercialisation was revulsion and fear. That gut feeling has been confirmed, and re-inforced, in the present by articles such as this one.
Zoltan Kalman Comment left 23rd October 2013 22:10:43 Statistics show a clear evidence of increased organic and NON GM food consumption in the US.
How it is explained by the GM lobby?
A'ole GMO in Hawaii Comment left 28th October 2013 20:08:53 Rory Short, smart gut feeling of intuition especially when we know that GMOS affect the gut flora of insects and yes anyone who eats GMOs will feel the poison affects in their gut and vital organs...it is a slow death or as some put it genocide depends on how much one's body can handle. Zoltman Kalman yes Americans are waking UP and we need to spread the awareness each and everyone of us to completely BAN this MAD SCIENCE OF GMOS. AMERICA has to stop perpetuating LIES AND CORRUPTION for the sake of GREEDY corporations like MONSANTO and it's offsprings DOW, DUPONT PIONEER SEED, SYNGENTA and all those invested in their gains like politicians, attorneys and other twisted dark minds. WE the PEOPLE WILL NOT BUY IT ANY LONGER..NOR THE WORLD.