In a similar manner that Jenny McCarthy scared parents that vaccines do cause autism, anti-GMO activists are doing the same in their movement today with scares on the dangers of GM foods and GMOs. Even though the autism/vaccine myth has been officially debunked, as a nurse I still hear way too many parents stating that is their sole reason for not protecting their children from these deadly diseases. Celebrities and social media have extremely powerful, influential voices these days and it’s all too easy to jump on those bandwagons because it’s the “trendy” thing to do and the latest “buzz” topic. Unfortunately it seems that a lot of us put our faith into health advice from celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Oprah, Dr. Oz, Roseanne Barr (seriously!?), and in turn the activists vs the true experts in their respective fields.
Since almost all the articles and pictures I see online are negative things about GM foods and GMOs, I wanted to find out for myself and to be a positive voice. Before I go any further, I would like to introduce myself to those who are not familiar with me and my background. My name is Sarah, I have my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Alberta, and I married a 4th generation grain farmer who has his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (Crop Sciences) degree, also from the University of Alberta. We are the parents of two amazing little 5th generation farm boys!
When I posted about a call out for your questions on GMOs as a starting point for this blog post, I admit I almost threw in the towel. I knew I was guaranteed to receive comments from anti-GMOers and I did. Someone said I was biased and pro-GMO and I was here to convince you all that they are good.
I’m not here to convince anyone of anything.
I am very vocal for my love of breastfeeding and cloth diapers too, but I really don’t care if you use formula and disposable diapers – I don’t blog to convince people of anything. I blog because these are things I’m passionate about, and GMOs tend to be one of my husband’s passions that have rubbed off on me. We both have science degrees, we’ve both taken research courses and know the process of valid, peer reviewed, and evidence-based studies and research.
The Anti-GMO Movement is Louder
When I started researching this blog post when I typed in my Google search “GMO myths and truths” the entire first page was all anti-GMO publications that were written by, or referenced to, Earth Open Source. This is also where I always get shoved to when I join in on GM foods discussion. I did a bit of research on Earth Open Source and one of the directors is a man named John Fagan. I won’t get into his history but, I’ll let you watch this video and feel free to Google “Fairfield Iowa”, “Vedic Science”, and/or “Maharishi University”, if you want to see why I have a hard time putting faith in him as a reliable resource on GMOs and GM foods. He is also a co-author on their “GMO Myths & Truths” article.
One of the best things I’ve found in my research has been Mark Lynas’s “Time to call out the anti-GMO conspiracy theory” speech. To brief you, Mr. Lynas is a former anti-GMO activist for Greenpeace who decided to do his own research to find out the truth behind the science of GMOs. I quote from Mr. Lynas:
I am a historian, and history surely offers us, from witch trials to eugenics, numerous examples of how when public misunderstanding and superstition becomes widespread on an issue, irrational policymaking is the inevitable consequence, and great damage is done to peoples’ lives as a result. This is what has happened with the GMOs food scare in Europe, Africa and many other parts of the world. Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policy making on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.
Activists and environmental groups are powerful people. They can lobby to change legislation (and they have), they can even prevent food entering a famine-ridden country which in turn ends up in thousands of people dying. Their movement is loud and their movement can be powerful. I think the other side needs to be heard too, and some postitive news from a couple of weeks ago was that the French court annulled the ban on GMO maize.
Are GM Foods Safe To Eat?
According to Earth Open Source, “GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat.” You can read more why they claim that here, but I find in a lot of the info on this website there’s a lot of “suggests”, “potentially”, “could” and the like – and they cash in on that. For this reason? I don’t blame anyone for being scared and believing it. BUT, you just have to dig a bit deeper to find more.
The question of GM foods safety is asked a lot, and Dr. Cami Ryan often reminds people “nothing is 100% safe. Nothing. NO food.” She also reminds us of the listeria crisis in 2008 (23 deaths) and the e.coli incident in 2012. Oh, and don’t forget about the organic sprouts from an organic farm in Germany that affected almost 4000 people while 53 died in that case alone.
The truth, that cannot be denied, is there is no documented evidence of harm to human health or deaths from consumption of GM foods since they were introduced to the market two decades ago. GM crops and GM foods have been the most heavily tested food products in the history of our regulatory system. If you want to learn more about exactly how the above graphic works, please read this. Plants have been genetically modified for decades, science just has a more specific way of doing it now!
Is This All Monsanto’s Fault?
Something that has come up time and time again in my own research on GMOs is the constant statement from the anti-GMO activists that say “Monsanto funds all the research and controls the studies.” I’ve also heard these people claim that Monsanto controls the farmers, Monsanto pays off scientists, Monsanto funds the universities that the research is done in. You know what? I cannot prove or disprove that (can you?)…but even just typing it out, those statements, seem like a big hoax and a part of the conspiracy theory to me. I’m sure you’ve also heard that Monsanto is in control of family farms, and forces farmers to buy their products. That is a myth and I can assure you that they are certainly not in control of my family farm.
My personal thoughts, feelings, and gut instincts? I’ve gone and looked at all the top medical and science groups: American Association for Advancement of Science, American Medical Association, World Health Organization, US National Academy of Science, British Royal Society of Medicine, and I have not been able to find one group (other than on Facebook) that say GM food is bad. They and many others [click for a great graphic with statements] state that GM food is safe. I also then asked myself, if the FDA states GE food is safe and allows it to be in our food chain for over 20 years, is it really all in Monsanto’s control?
Can you really, boldly say with certainty that it’s a conspiracy that all these medical, science, and government groups are lying? Or that they’re receiving funding from big companies like Monsanto? With over 20 years and 600+ peer-reviewed studies proving that GM crops and GM foods are safe? For me, that right there sells it. For me. People are concerned about long term results. Is 20+ years not long enough? Is trillions of meals of GM food served not enough? I was educated in university to be a critical thinker and to only trust peer reviewed studies. I urge you to trust the science and not the countless (and quite frankly ludicrous) memes that are used for fear mongering out there that are no doubt flooding your Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds.
The Truth (Science) Shall Set You Free
One of my readers and friends challenged me to be objective, see both sides, and to report to you the truth. Unfortunately most anti-GMO social media users I’ve run into have been far too emotional (cue the tears and violins, for real) to have a level-headed discussion with about GMOs. I am by no means an expert, in this sense I’m “just a mom” like many of you, and I have done all my own research with guidance from my husband. I urge you: do your research from credible sources (aka not the new Elle magazine article on GMO corn). There is way too much propaganda out there that it can be daunting to sort through it all. I have looked at a lot of the references and articles and studies that are claimed to be “peer reviewed” from my anti-GMO commentors. Any time I followed a lead on any said article such as the newer pig study or the rat tumors…it wasn’t hard to find out that those studies have either been rejected (see this video on the Seralini rats) and just recently the pig study was deemed to be invalid. Did you know the only thing that the Seralini study proved was that male rats who ingested water laced with RoundUp lived longer? Seriously, watch it.
I have also learned that a lot of the people who publish these papers also have nothing to do with crop science, agriculture, or genetics. Their studies may be “peer reviewed” but not by peers in the field of study. Dr. Ryan’s explanation in the comments of my last post that “if you write an article about how to construct a building and the article gets ‘peer reviewed’ by a chef, there are problems with that, yes. It brings into question the validity of the results” – this explains it perfectly.
A great resource, and person to talk to and ask questions, is Kevin Folta. You can see a 5 minute interview of Kevin, a scientist, discussing GMOs on Huffington Post Online. Kevin is an independent scientist who is passionate for educating people on biotechnology. He wants to listen, to hear what people are afraid of, and to teach. Monsanto’s business practices has to be considered separate from the science, says Folta. Genetic manipulation of plants has been happening for 50 years, and for the public – that’s okay. But with the addition of one gene of known function where we know what it does – somehow this causes controversy.
More than one person commented in my last post that a “GM food free diet” has cured them of their (too many to list) ailments. Great! I think this would be hard to conclusively prove, but if it works for you, good on you. However, this would be akin to me saying “my husband works with RoundUp and sprays it in the fields around our house, I’m sure I have inhaled trace amounts of it and been exposed to it because of this. I have had 2 healthy pregnancies and 2 healthy babies. Thus concluding RoundUp does not cause birth defects like some have claimed.” I wish it were that simple, but it’s not. That’s what science and research is for!
As I said at the beginning of this post (if you’ve even made it this far!), I’m not here to convince you of anything. This is what I found, and yes – it’s what I believe. I just wanted to be positive about agricultural biotechnology and not instill any fear in you as so many have already done in this “mommy blogger” community that I’m in. I have read claims that have NOT been proven that GM food will give our children allergies, autism, diabetes, cause obesity, and cancer. That is scary. Is it not? My goal is to reach my readers who didn’t know about GM food and GMOs, and my readers who are on the fence and just not sure about the things that they’ve read. We are all scared of what we don’t know. I’m not an expert and I cannot answer all your questions about the specific science and genetics of how GMOs work, but I can do my best to refer someone who does know to answer your questions.
I would also like to disclose the following:
- Yes, we are farmers
- Yes, we purchase some GMO canola to seed, grow some GM crops, harvest, and sell by our own free will
- No, this post is not sponsored by anyone or any company
- I am not an expert in this field, I just did my own research with some guidance from my husband (who has vast knowledge, but is not an expert either)
- If you have a comment or a question that I cannot answer (read: I am not an expert in the exact science/genetics) I will refer someone to answer your question
- I do not give health advice on this blog
- I have the right to close the comment section when I deem necessary
I hope you enjoyed my post and that if you choose to leave a comment you will be respectful, keeping the above that I just disclosed in mind. Also note: all comments will be left up, unless it contains profanity or abuse, please be kind to one another – we’re all adults here. I will address the comments as best I can, but I repeat again – I’m no expert so I apologize in advance if I do not respond.