March Against Monsanto: Be careful to consider the facts

Posted on May 21, 2013

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The 'March Against Monsanto,' an anti-GMO protest, is scheduled for May 25th. This blog entry is a joint effort by a group of independent international scientists to counter the fear propaganda that serves as the platform for initiatives such as these. We urge private citizens as well as journalists to consider their information sources and be sure decisions are science-based.

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GMO-protestors The Saturday May 25th demonstration "March-Against-Monsanto" is a global initiative that is designed to propagate and perpetuate fear of genetically modified (GM) crops and food. Unfortunately the web is full of misinformation that is intended to scare, not to educate. The marchers' fear is real but the reasons behind the fear are not. The real science says something very different:

"GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved." (World Health Organization)

Every single world food safety authority that has examined the data on food containing GM ingredients has come to the same conclusion of its safety. The American Association for the Advancement of Science said it very well:

"The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and "every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques." (AAAS 2012)

An excellent example of poorly executed science that has convinced many people of the alleged dangers of GM crops was published last year in France by a well-known anti-GMO institution. It garnered huge airplay in the media and on the web. When the marchers hold up pictures of rats with tumors, this publication is the source. However, when examined by more than 30 world food and feed authorities, the publication was quickly and completely dismissed as poor science, including Health Canada.

Over twenty five years of research has failed to find any harm from GM technology. Even the GMO skeptical European science agrees on the safety of these crops and food.

"The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies…Now, after 25 years of field trials without evidence of harm, fears continue to trigger the Precautionary Principle. But Europeans need to abandon this knowingly one-sided stance and strike a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of the technology on the basis of scientifically sound risk assessment analysis. (EC 2011)

Other studies that attest to the safety of GE/GM:

National Research Council (US) (2004): Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects.

European Commission (2010) A Decade of EU Funded GMO Research 2001 - 2010.  

  • V

    Posted on 12/06/2013

    So what about those scientists who warn about the dangers and are ousted by their employers? Have you watched 'The World According to Monsanto"? Do you really think people will be put before profit? Good luck trying to prove your cancer came from consuming GM products. Good luck even trying to consume products that haven't been GM'd. Do you honestly think that the quality of food is as good as it was 30 years ago? Just based upon your own consumption? How can it be good to inject seeds with poison that causes cancer and damage to reproductive cells, so the plants will be resistant to further poison that causes cancer and damage to reproductive cells?

  • Charles Rader

    Posted on 27/05/2013

    Mr. Strauss, one of the things I find most annoying about the rabid anti-GMO crowd is that they just make stuff up, or they pass on false statements that other people have just made up. You just commented on an article whose last paragraph said that there were independent (presumably non-Monsanto) research groups that had concluded that GMO crops were safe. OK, maybe you suspect that those groups were not really independent, but that's something you suspect, not something you know. And you are almost certainly wrong. The writer mentioned studies funded by the EU. Are we really expected to believe that the EU, which is so hostile to GMO agriculture, was funding studies meant to prove that they are safe? And doing this while it was defending at the World Trade Organization against a complaint about its moratorium on approving GMO foods?

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  • Patrick Dickey

    Posted on 25/05/2013

    Lynn, how are you forced to have them? If you don't want GMO, then instead of purchasing boxed (and processed) foods at your grocery store, only purchase fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables. You can go further by only purchasing organic foods. And you can definitely ensure it by purchasing organic foods from local farmers. Of course you'll pay more for those foods (even though they are "substantially equivalent" to the GMO foods). But you can decide if you're paying for a label (that says "Organic") or you're paying for the extra sweat and hard work that it may (or may not) have taken to grow the food.

  • MiketheScribe

    Posted on 25/05/2013

    No one is forcing anyone to eat GMOs. If it's an issue for you, look for the certified organic label. It's a matter of personal preference. I don't believe in organic foods, so I don't buy them. But I would never advocate taking that choice away from you.

  • Lyndsi

    Posted on 25/05/2013

    Risks are semi irrelevant. If we don't want GMO, we shouldn't be forced to have them. End of story.

  • Kevin Folta

    Posted on 25/05/2013

    Hi Lynn, While more information on a label is almost always good, most scientists are against labeling for several reasons. First, there is no reason to differentiate it from other products. There is nothing different about the product itself. Second, it creates a target. The anti-biotech community has shown that they'll act rather shamelessly to perpetuate fear. A label allows them to frighten those in the middle that don't really care-- just a lumpy rat picture, no matter how bad the science, is compelling to someone that does not think critically about it. Finally, non-GMO stuff is already labeled. Non-GMO project and organic food makes the choice easy for anyone that really wants a "right to know". Just my thoughts based on the science. Thanks.

  • Kevin Folta

    Posted on 25/05/2013

    Yes, independent research. More every week. Check GENERA database over at Biofortified.org. And it's fine to be anti-corporation etc, I get that. But let's keep our science heads here. Keep in mind also two other things: 1. We live in a country where litigation rules. No company is going to fake data or start a conspiracy of scientists to get a dangerous product on the market. The day one person has a health issue from biotech crops, game over. 2. The scientist that finds a real issue will see grants, high profile publications and wide recognition. There's quite an incentive for independent, rigorous evidence of harm. We don't see it. The article does make a nice point about fear. It is fear that is driving this, not science. Many of us scientists would love to discuss the real facts, but most people don't want to hear them. That's too bad, because education melts fear.

  • MiketheScribe

    Posted on 23/05/2013

    Lynn Gates, GMO foods don't need to be labelled precisely *because* they are so safe. To label GMO foods would be to imply some sort of danger or health risk and would alarm consumers for *no* reason. Some manufacturers already take advantage of this fear by labeling their products "GMO free," when this is true, but misleading. For example, you could label your cranberries "non-GMO," which would be true, but since there is no such thing as a GMO cranberry, the label wouldn't really apply (apologies if there is someone out there who has actually created a GMO cranberry, but you get the idea). I've also seen metal water bottles labeled "BPA free." Since BPA is used as a plastic softener, this is a pretty safe bet. Labeling GMO foods would simply play into the hands of anti-GMO activists as well, who would then be able to say "I told you so!" and continue their campaign of unfounded, misinformed fear. I believe it's an issue of belief, and the solution is already in place. For consumers who care about such things, there are labels. For observant Jews, look for the kosher label. For observant Muslims, look for halal. For observant anti-GMO people, look for "certified organic."

  • Henry I. Miller, M.D.

    Posted on 23/05/2013

    More on the common misconceptions about genetic engineering applied to agriculture: http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2013/05/23/debunking-the-big-lie-about-genetically-engineered-crops/ Also, Cami Ryan is correct that the concept of "substantial equivalence" applied to agbiotech first appeared in an OECD publication -- the much-praised "Blue Book," published in 1986. But the concept is older: The OECD group (of which I was a member) that produced the Blue Book borrowed it from the FDA's regulation of medical devices, which treated "substantially equivalent" devices differently from devices that had no relevant precedent.

  • JRobin

    Posted on 23/05/2013

    For information on labelling: The Health Canada website includes information about the regulation of GM food..."It is a seven to ten year process to research, develop, test and assess the safety of a new GM food." "Currently in Canada, labelling is mandatory if there is a health or safety issue with a food, which might be mitigated through labelling. For example, if the nutritional value or composition of the food has been changed, or if there is an allergen present in the food, the food must be labelled as such. In this situation, special labelling is required to alert consumers or susceptible groups in the population. This applies to all foods, including GM foods." Read more: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/sr-sr/pubs/biotech/reg_gen_mod-eng.php

  • Lynn Gates

    Posted on 23/05/2013

    If GMO foods are so safe, why lobby so strongly and expensively against GMO food labelling? This is a complex issue that needs full disclosure and rationale discussion. It does seem that Monsanto is using the same model to prevent or delay appropriate food safety legislation as the tobacco industry.

  • fred miles

    Posted on 23/05/2013

    GMO bad? how many people have died by eating GMO crop vs how many people hospitilized by eating organic food that is tainted with E.coli and Listeria because of using manure and unclean methods to prepare the food

  • Cami Ryan

    Posted on 23/05/2013

    Substantial equivalence a "sham"? What's that about? The author of this comment makes it sound as if "substantial equivalence" is a Monsanto invention. It's not.

  • MiketheScribe

    Posted on 23/05/2013

    Oh, please. Can we come up with some new arguments, please? Monsanto (and many, many other companies, btw) conduct research. This is how we, as a society, come up with new products and services. If we want them rigorously tested to make sure they

  • Shawn Strauss

    Posted on 23/05/2013

    Independent research? Funded directly or indirectly by Monsanto. The US government has been corrupted by Monsanto to look the other way and declare Monsanto GMO's to be "substantially equivalent" a sham definition to avoid testing for food safety. Monsanto food crops require more water, and "RoundUp ready" crops require more herbicides while producing lower yields of less nutritious foods. This whole article is B.S.