By themselves, genetically engineered crops will not end hunger or improve health or bolster the economies of struggling countries. They won't save the sight of millions or fortify their bones. But they will certainly help - Michael Specter
The scientific community has reached a consensus: It’s generally safe for genetically-modified organisms to be in our food. But most people aren’t buying it.
The gap between the scientific world’s stance and the public’s beliefs is wider on GMOs than it is on more than a dozen other science-related topics, according to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center.
Is there good reason for the public’s suspicion? Are there valid, unbiased reasons not to fall in line with the overwhelming majority of scientists’ view on the heavily studied matter? The answer, environmental writer McKay Jenkins argues, may not be as simple as you might think. In Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the American Diet, out this week, Jenkins considers all sides of the heated GMO debate and comes to some surprising conclusions.
Through meetings with anti-GMO environmentalists, the writer uncovers legitimate concerns regarding how some pesticides and herbicides ― those pushed by massive agribusiness firms and used with genetically modified seeds ― affect the environment and public health. Conversely, meetings with plant geneticists lent some credence to pro-GM groups’ arguments that such crops can also provide extraordinary economic, health and even culinary benefits to farmers, communities and eaters.
Jenkins, who approached the topic without bias for either argument, ultimately suggests that we typically miss the forest through the trees when we talk about GMOs. And he proposes a different approach that takes into account the myriad additional problems ― like hunger, malnutrition, climate change, environmental degradation ― facing America’s food supply.
The Huffington Post recently spoke with Jenkins about what we’re getting wrong when we argue about GMOs and food.
GMOs are such a divisive topic. What inspired you to wade into it?
My last book, called ContamiNation, is about the ubiquitous presence of synthetic chemicals in our consumer products, from plastic water bottles to cosmetics to paints to everything in our houses and daily lives. It’s a pretty deep exposure, most of which exists pretty far below our consciousness. We have a blind faith in these products, but you shouldn’t have as much confidence that these products are safe as you think they are.
The one thing I didn’t really write about in that book is food. There was an awful lot to say about food, but I didn’t do it in that book and decided to dive into that for this project. It was immediately clear that a lot of the same companies involved in making petrochemicals for consumer products were also the same ones making seeds, pesticides and herbicides for agriculture. A lot of these products are very intimate to us, but none of these companies’ names are on any of their labels. It intrigued me that this is an invisible force in our lives.
The GMO debate is, of course, not a new one. What points do you think have been overlooked that warranted a closer look?
The whole GMO issue is one of the most tribal issues I’ve ever written about. You find people with deep prejudices about whether or not you know what you’re talking about. One group thinks GMOs are the best possible way to feed the world and the other group feels it’s the worst thing to enter the food system ever. They scream and yell at each other and march, and tens of millions of dollars are spent on campaigns concerning labeling and all sorts of things.
I set out on this with my own prejudices on this, too, and I was forced to really re-evaluate them. I learned a great deal about the topic that I never really anticipated. Now when I go back to the people in these tribes, they ask, “Did you finally realize GMOs are great? Or that they’re evil?” I had to say that actually there’s a whole lot more to say than that and the issues are way more complicated than anybody on either side is willing to acknowledge. The book is not a polemic on either side, it’s an effort to weigh a whole lot of different things. And if that’s cognitively dissonant, than so be it. There may be many complex ways to look at a complex issue.
What was one of those prejudices you felt was particularly challenged thanks to your reporting on this?
There’s an awful lot of nonsense on the internet about GMOs, both pro and con, and we’re all exposed to quite a lot of it — especially when it comes to the health implications of eating them. But one of the first things most of the people who are professionally and scientifically involved with GMOs bring up is that they think this question of health is not the most important question we should be asking. There are many other questions that are more important to wrestle around with.
My views really opened up once I started talking to plant geneticists who I came to admire and respect and were pro-engineering for what they see as the potential benefits for humankind, as opposed to the benefits for corporate America. There are public researchers at universities and nonprofits doing really important work on this for all the right reasons, and I spent a lot of time with some of those people, and time with other people not using GMOs, like at the Land Institute in Kansas.
I spoke with world-renowned plant researchers who said that if it turns out some day that GMOs will be part of a grander idea of sustainable agriculture, then there is no reason not to use them. So the GMO question is hot but really, in a way, it’s a distraction from what’s more important: The global food system is so dramatically not sustainable today that we might consider using GMOs as part of a package of making the system itself more sustainable.
About one-third of the book focuses on GMO battles in Hawaii. What lessons do you think can be applied elsewhere from what’s happened there?
Instead of writing about this as a global thing, I wanted to find a place where all these complex issues are all cross-pollinating each other and reflecting the complexity of the whole thing. This has been happening in Hawaii in very acute ways over the past few years. The book mentions Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. GM papaya is being grown with great success on the Big Island, and there is a massive political protest on the use of pesticides on Kauai, and a big movement to ban GMOs on the three islands.
When the voters on Kauai were so frustrated by their efforts to try and ask these global chemical companies to tell them what they were spraying on their fields next to villages and schools and they’d never reveal anything, they had a regular old democratic referendum. Lo and behold, the voters won and they tried to force the companies to disclose. The companies fought that in court and, for the moment, they’ve won.
After the counties decided to ban GMOs, the companies, I think, really started to sweat this becoming a popular movement. It’a real marketing problem for the companies, so they poured millions of dollars into county referendums on GMOs, the democratic process won and then, again, the companies sued. So here we are again. It’s a very interesting question for our democracy: Why is it that a local community can’t dictate what sorts of things are grown near schools? Where does the ethical and legal and political weight come down?
The GMO debate arguably ties in with some of the food system’s biggest problems. So how do we even begin to address it?
GMOs did not create this problem and are not the most important part of this problem. The question of whether eating a GMO corn chip will cause you cancer is not the right question to ask. The bigger question is what is your relationship to food and the land? It’s much more existential but it’s an important question. We are eating in a way that is profoundly damaging to our land and water and health and now what to do about that is the big question.
That leads me to the way the book ends. I did a project with my own students, liberal arts students, to learn about how hard it is to grow food, but how important it is on every level to buy foods grown locally and preferably without chemicals, not shipped hundreds of miles, and grown with the health of the water and soil in mind. It isn’t going to change overnight, but if we have enough people contemplating what they eat, this could cause some sort of ripple.
Are you feeling optimistic about this? Are we heading toward that ripple?
I found to my surprise how little anybody knows about their own food, whether they’re highly educated people or not. Nobody has a deep understanding about how all these systems work. But it’s nobody’s fault that we popped into this world at this moment in history and all our food is grown on industrial, monoculture fields sprayed with pesticides and shipped 1,500 miles.
But this generation didn’t make this system happen. I would be optimistic if people thought longer and harder about their food and realized how they have come to act the way they do and then act in a more enlightened way. I feel like the first step has to be awareness. So few people are actually aware of what they’re eating. If they were — if people were aware what was going on in slaughterhouses — they wouldn’t eat industrial meat. If people knew how their food was made, most people would probably be less than pleased in terms of the nutrition and energy cost of creating and shipping the food.
Source: Joseph Erbentraut, We’re Asking The Wrong Questions About GMOs, The Blog, HuffPost, January 26, 2017.
Can the gene editing technique redeem the reputation of engineered crops?
The National Academy of Sciences reaffirmed GMO safety and pointed to the potential for future improvements.
Genetically modified organisms and foods are a safe way to meet the demands of a ballooning global population, the 109 laureates wrote in a letter posted online and officially unveiled at a news conference on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Opponents, they say, are standing in the way of getting nutritious food to those who need it.
Consumers are deeply suspicious of GMO foods--products made from genetically modified agricultural crops. They are told that growing such crops may have adverse health effects.
Herbicide and insect resistance are the most commonly engineered traits, but nitrogen fixing for cereals that don't already do so could be a game changer for farmers in developing nations.
So while I don’t think you can find one single reason, there are a few major reasons I hear when I’m out talking with people about GMOs, modern agriculture and our food more broadly.
With little scientific data supporiting the claim that GMOs can cause adverse health effects, an increasing number of pro-GMO activists are speaking up to defend the potential benefits of allergy-free peanuts and other modified foods.
The crude summary goes like so: Despite all the controversy, the GM crops available to date — mostly a few crops engineered to be resistant to herbicides or to pests — are considered just as safe to eat as conventional crops.
To be clear: No one has ever found evidence that GMOs cause cancer or harm human health in any way. Researchers have found some evidence that they can exchange genes with non-GMO crops or other closely related plants, potentially spreading the modified genes to populations where scientists didn’t intend to put them. And it’s true that corn and soybeans engineered to be resistant to the powerful herbicide glyphosate allow farmers to cover their fields in the chemical—something no one would argue is good for the environment.
Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.
Genetically engineered crops appear to be safe to eat and do not harm the environment, according to a comprehensive new analysis by the advisory group the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
However, it is somewhat unclear whether the technology has actually increased crop yields.
Genetically modified crops, which have generated both controversy and widespread adoption, are hitting 20-year milestones. Perhaps the anniversary slipped your mind, but 1997 was a dark one for the European corn worm. That was the year Bt corn, the first to bear its own protection against the larvae of the rapacious corn worm, was commercially introduced.
Genetically Modified Foods seem to be in the best position to address the world's food shortages but the long-term benefits and adverse effects continue to be speculative. Don't you want to know what's in your food?
We see a social media image of a tomato pierced by a syringe. Nasty! We make up our minds right then that we’ll never eat another tomato – they’re genetically modified, whatever that means.
We have been genetically modifying food for "tens of thousands of years," he points out, and there's no reason to fear GMO foods created in a lab any more than seedless fruits created through selective breeding. GMO technology might scare people, he suggests, simply because "people don't fully understand it."
The reality is that human civilization was built on the systematic modification of other species. As a nation, we must challenge each other to accept that the central objection to GMOs depends on an imaginary perversion. To do otherwise, to brush off the GMO debate as low stakes or pander to those who want to label and restrict something they cannot define, is to perpetuate a misunderstanding of enormous consequence.
Organic and non-GMO companies push for prominence—and meaning for their labels.
All we want when we look at a food label is to know what's in the stuff we're considering putting in our bodies. Because a lot of companies know they'll move more product if they fudge the facts, only strong disincentives to their doing so will stop them.
The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fearmongering, errors, and fraud. Labeling them will not make you safer.
The Answer: Your Health.
For more than 40 industrialized nations -- including countries such as Australia, Brazil, China, Russia, and Spain -- the question of whether or not to identify and label GMOs is a no-brainer. When asked how Europeans handle GMO labeling, a European colleague of mine -- not surprisingly -- laughed as she wisely said, "You Americans can make such a big deal out of nothing. In Europe, this is a very easy question to answer: Research has consistently shown that it is bad for you, so we stopped using it."
Today’s crops made with this technology are safe to eat, advantageous for the environment, and more profitable to the farmer. The EPA, USDA, FDA, WHO, the EU and other world-agencies all support these claims. How is it possible that these facts fail to match public perception?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have met with enormous public opposition over the past two decades. Many people believe that GMOs are bad for their health – even poisonous – and that they damage the environment. This is in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that proves that GMOs are safe to eat..
It’s not just about whether genetically-modified organisms are safe to eat. We need to know if they can help fix our failing food system.
Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns for food and farming free from GM crops. We push for solutions that provide livelihoods and healthy food for people, protect our biodiversity, and don't pollute the environment. We aim to make sure GMOs and big business stay out of our food chain and our fields.
GENET is a European network of non-governmental non-profit organisations engaged in the critical debate of genetic engineering, founded in 1995. GENET's mission is to provide information on genetic engineering to its member organisations and the interested public and to support their activities and campaigns.
This seminal documentary provides compelling evidence to help explain the deteriorating health of Americans, especially among children, and offers a recipe for protecting ourselves and our future.
Genetically modified organisms — GMOs — are a major topic of discussion today. Across our society, media and the Internet, a growing number of people have shared a wide range of questions and emotions on the topic – ranging from excitement and optimism to skepticism and even fear.
GMO Answers was created to do a better job answering your questions — no matter what they are — about GMOs. The biotech industry stands 100 percent behind the health and safety of the GM crops on the market today, but we acknowledge that we haven’t done the best job communicating about them – what they are, how they are made, what the safety data says.
Raising awareness about the risks of genetically modified foods (GMOs).
GMO Free USA’s mission is to harness independent science and agroecological concepts to advocate for sustainable food and ecological systems. We will educate consumers and other stakeholders about the potential hazards of genetically engineered organisms and advance the application of the Precautionary Principle.
GMO Inside is a campaign dedicated to helping all Americans know which foods have GMOs inside, and the non-GMO verified and organic certified alternatives to genetically engineered foods. We believe that everyone has a right to know what’s in their food and to choose foods that are proven safe for themselves, their families, and the environment.
GMO OMG director and concerned father Jeremy Seifert is in search of answers. How do GMOs affect our children, the health of our planet, and our freedom of choice? And perhaps the ultimate question, which Seifert tests himself: is it even possible to reject the food system currently in place, or have we lost something we can’t gain back? These and other questions take Seifert on a journey from his family’s table to Haiti, Paris, Norway, and the lobby of agra-giant Monsanto, from which he is unceremoniously ejected. Along the way we gain insight into a question that is of growing concern to citizens the world over: what's on your plate?
The GMO Seralini website is owned and maintained by a group of concerned citizens and scientists.
The purpose of the site is to provide citizens, the media, and scientists with a one-stop resource for information about the research of Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues on genetically modified foods and their associated pesticides.
Please help us compile the new list of GMO-Free Regions.
Keeping up with the GMO industry.
The GMO Evidence project is run by a group of citizens who have no direct connection with the organisations or scientists who have carried out the research we have included in our project. We are part of a group of sites which includes: Sustainable Pulse (News), GMO Seralini and GMO Judy Carman.
All you want to know about GMO food and health ...
This is a virtual program you can enjoy at no cost from the comfort and convenience of your own home. If you want to know the TRUTH about GMOs and the risks Monsanto, the government, their paid advisors and the media are deliberately hiding from you, then join in this unique, free summit
Keep up with the latest news and comment on genetically modified foods.
The Institute for Responsible Technology is a world leader in educating policy makers and the public about genetically modified (GM) foods and crops. We investigate and report their risks and impact on health, environment, the economy, and agriculture, as well as the problems associated with current research, regulation, corporate practices, and reporting.
Join us as we represent the rights of the consumer and promote transparency in food labeling,
Kids right to know is a Youth Org that creates awareness for our Right to Know what’s in our food and help make GMO labelling a law in Canada and USA.
We are an organization to unite the people of California and elsewhere to do the work that would require mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. Polls consistently show that a large margin of the majority of citizens in the US want GMOs labeled (72-96%, depending on the poll). It's time for this to be law.
MAM is “a global call to action aimed at informing the public, calling into question long-term health risks of genetically modified foods and demanding that GMO products be labeled so that consumers can make informed decisions.”
The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and building the non-GMO food supply, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. We believe that everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified organisms.
The list of Non-GMO Project brands and products in this guide is searchable by product type, brand name, product name, and key word. It addition, you can use it to find Supporting Retailers in your area who can help you with your non-GMO shopping. The guide also includes tips for avoiding GMOs, including a list of GMO crops and common ingredients at risk for GMO contamination.
The Right to Know GMO - A Coalition of States is a broad coalition of state leaders, nonprofit organization and organic companies that have a shared goal of winning mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in the U.S. We are a grassroots movement of mothers, farmers and citizens dedicated to regaining our basic right to know what we're eating and feeding our families.
The Say No To GMOs! site offers extensive information on the complex and controversial issue of genetic engineering. The comprehensive collection of documentation spanning over a decade offers a unique opportunity for research that is not found in one place anywhere else online.
Welcome to the #1 resource for educational materials on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Our online bookstore includes all the award-winning materials written and produced by international bestselling author Jeffrey M. Smith, the leading spokesperson on the health dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Sustainable Pulse provides the general public with the latest global news on GMOs, Sustainable Food and Sustainable Agriculture from our network of worldwide sources.
Sustainable Pulse is also involved in a number of reference projects – all of which have the aim of educating the public on the possible harm caused by GMOs.
Providing consumers with safe products is our number one priority, and we understand that some consumers have questions about genetically modified food ingredients. The use of genetically modified (GM) ingredients is not only safe for people and our planet, but also has a number of important benefits.
The Future of Food distills the complex technology and consumer issues surrounding major changes in the food system today -- genetically engineered foods, patenting, and the corporatization of food -- into terms the average person can understand. It empowers consumers to realize the consequences of their food choices on our future.