Commentary: GMOs: How do I hate thee?

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You know something’s arrived as an “issue” of substance when it has its own Top Ten list. With all the opponents—irrational and otherwise—that the science of genetic engineering has generated, the only question about a Top Ten Reasons to Hate Biotech is this:

What took you so long?

Well, thanks to the Food Consumer group (www.foodconsumer.org), we now have that list. Let’s explore it, shall we, and along the way, helpfully point out the group’s ignorance, bias and overall wrongheadedness.

In the spirit of dialogue, of course.

Here are their Top Ten Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM Foods:

10). GM crops won’t solve the food crisis. Probably not—at least all by themselves. To date, genetic engineering has been deployed primarily to develop crops that can withstand the application of broad-spectrum herbicides, which significantly simplifies cultivation and weed control. It also has the side-effect of enabling no-till farming, which helps the soil preserves moisture from rainfall, prevents erosion, dramatically reduces nutrient and pesticide pollution in rivers and waterways and helps minimize the consumption of fuel, since plowing is greatly reduced. So, yes—genetic engineering’s no panacea, but its full potential has yet to be tapped.

9). GM crops do not increase yield potential. Again, give the science a break. Genetic engineering is in its infancy, and since so much of the low-hanging fruit (pardon the pun) in food production has already been captured, incremental gains in crop yields and farm productivity have become harder and harder to achieve. But when really smart people, like the ones working on food security for the Gates Foundation, start investing in biotech as a pathway we need to travel if we hope to feed another two billion people in the next couple decades,

8). GM crops increase pesticide use. True and not true. Some studies have indicated that in terms of “pounds on the ground,” the widespread adoption of GM crops (ie, Roundup-Ready) has resulted in a slight (somewhere around 7%) increase in the use of herbicides. But Round –up is a relatively benign chemical; it readily biodegrades and has far less adverse effects, environmentally speaking, than many alternatives. And with cotton in particular, genetically engineered Bt cotton crops have dramatically reduced the use of some very harsh and ecologically detrimental pesticides. The bottom line is that biotech has been developed for other ends; it’s overall impact on chemical use is close to neutral.

7). There are better ways to feed the world. I don’t mean to be snarky, but: Such as? Let’s hear them, and I’m not referring to the usual geo-political rant about “better distribution of food among haves and have-nots,” or “if we’d just stop eating meat, all that corn could feed the entire developing world.” Such statements dismiss economic realities and ignore the most promising way to leverage food security: Ramping up food production across Africa. If farming in the areas of Africa—and we’re not talking about mowing down rainforests or somehow irrigating the Sahara Desert—where agriculture is prominent could even be approach North America productivity, the world’s food crisis would be well on the way to being solved. And one way to shortcut that process is biotech crops that can survive in semi-arid climates and produce in poor soils.

6). Other farm technologies are more successful. Here, the Food Consumer people reference “Integrated Pest Management and organic methods (?) of controlling pests” as alternatives to pesticide use.

5). GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat. Yeah, we need another 20 years of people consuming genetically modified corn, soy and other crops by the trainload before we can have any assurance that these foods aren’t going to cause the people who eat them to drop dead on the spot. Please.

4). People don’t want GM foods, so they’re hidden in animal foods. You could make the argument that most of the ingredients are “hidden” in animal foods, although the labeling’s right there if you care to check out Fluffy or Fido’s bag of kibbles. As for feeding livestock, since virtually everyone raising food animals wants them to be healthy and productive, if the feed rations fed to cattle, pigs and chickens actually were repositories for “dumping” GMO ingredients—and they adversely affected the livestock that consumed them—the suppliers of such chow would be out of business overnight. Farmers and producers aren’t stupid. They buy feed to grow their animals, and if the formulations aren’t working, they switch to something else. Period.

3). GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers. Get serious. Farmers don’t make these decisions on which sees to buy or which crops to grow at the expense of their farmland. They not about to willfully destroy the source of their livelihood, and liely that of their children and generations to come. Let’s give them minimal credit for being smart enough to make economic decisions without the “input” of anti-GMO activists who’ve never so much as harvested an ear of corn in their lives.

2). GM and non-GM cannot co-exist. Maybe not. And if so, that’s not an argument for condemning biotech. It might be a reason to abandon conventional farming. Anyway, organic certification—which is what this argument is really about—is based on production methods, not on the purity of the crops, so it’s a moot point.

1). We can’t trust GM companies. You knew they’d save this one ’til last. If you peel back all the pseudo-science and political ideology, the beating heart of anti-GM opposition is simply fear and loathing of big corporations—specifically Monsanto. They’re all about profit, critics complain, to which one is tempted to reply, “What’s your point?” Monsanto’s seeming dominance of the seed market is not because they can hold metaphorical guns to farmers’ heads, but because they offer  growers the opportunity to capture better margins through greater efficiencies and more predictable quality.

That’s not a cause for criticism, it’s what the rest of us like to call free enterprise.

Anti-GMO haters ought to look into it sometime.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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W.E    
May, 21, 2013 at 02:59 PM

This one burns me up. As a farmer who has dealt with both the everlasting cycle of debt, disease and land degradation from farming GMO crops and the saving grace of holistic management which allows us to work with nature rather than against it, I can tell you I will always choose holistic management. Do we still farm conventionally using GMO seeds? Yes for the time being, but only on land where we can't graze cattle because of ownership or water issues. Until we get out from under the burdens of debt and rented land, we have little choice. If we want to survive past the present generations, humanity is going to have to observe nature's ways, respond with technologies that DO NO HARM, and adapt our short-sighted ways to fit the laws of return. The top-ten fails to address one of the best I have heard: that consumption of GMO grains closely parallels the epidemic of obesity in this country. (Don't come after our farm, Monstersanto--I'm only repeating what I have heard at the coffee shop.)

tony newbill    
powell butte ore  |  May, 21, 2013 at 05:07 PM

I am sure Monsanto will buy this technology SOON !!!!!!!!! Building a $325,000 Burger http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/science/engineering-the-325000-in-vitro-burger.html?hp&_r=4&pagewanted=all&

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  May, 21, 2013 at 05:39 PM

W.E., you're partly right: The obesity epidemic is indeed linked to the over-consumption of "grains" -- but it has nothing to do with GMOs. For one thing, obesity started taking off in the mid-1980s, long before there were any approvals for genetically modified food crops. Second, it's the processing of grains into refined flour and concentrated HFCS that's causing the problem, and again, that has nothing to do with GMOs. The bottom line is that biotechnology -- unfortunately- -- has been deployed primarily by commercial interests to produce seeds that provide a trade-off: Less labor for more herbicide. greater efficiency for increased mechanization of farming. We could argue all day about whether there are enough people interested in farming to support a mass movement toward smaller-scale, labor-intensive farming -- I personally question how you'd get a couple million Americans to decide to start spending 12-hour days, 7 days a week working as farmers, no matter how much profit might be involved. So we need "industrial farming," however you want to characterize it, and ultimately we will need biotechnology -- perhaps not for the applications for which it currently been deployed, but someday (soon) for actually fulfilling the promise of crops that withstand drought, increase nutrition and improve productivity to feed the billions of people who will be alive in just a few short decades. Genetic engineering is no more of a demon than modern medicine, which can save lives or be used to develop plastic surgery that contributes nothing to our collective well-being. Likewise, GMOs can funnel corporate profits to Monsanto, or help nourish hungry people around the world. I hold out hope it will ultimately be the latter.

health sleuth    
california  |  May, 22, 2013 at 07:44 PM

"GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat. Yeah, we need another 20 years of people consuming genetically modified corn, soy and other crops by the trainload before we can have any assurance that these foods aren’t going to cause the people who eat them to drop dead on the spot. Please." For a trade organization that bludgeons the critics of GMOs as being anti-scientific Luddites, the practice of science is nowhere to be found. In truth, Monsanto et al are a corporation of lawyers and lobbyists, whose side job is seed production, rather than science. If science was the focus, laughable unscientific statements would be prohibited. Pray tell, Mr. Dan Murphy, aside from appeal to authority you normally use by linking to dozens of authoritative bodies' statements, where is there any data on safety of this crap? I've read the 90 day safety studies and all the reviews. The truth is, the only thing that can be said on the subject of safety is that the crap isn't causing people to drop dead en mass like flies. Sure, they don't cause peracute adverse effects, but neither does tobacco kill you the first time you smoke-- does that make it safe? Please drop the pretense. There is no assurance of safety with these novel crops. The entire risk assessment is done in the dark, without peer review bycorrupt regulators and biotech firms, and the vehemence with which labeling is fought strongly suggests that its a fight to avoid product liability and accountability that tracing adverse effects to labeled food would afford. People are coerced into eating this garbage, because if they understood the junk science of random insetion of foreign DNA into plants doused in Round-up, the market for GMOs would vanish overnight.

Brent    
Wisconsin  |  May, 23, 2013 at 09:25 AM

Elitists hate GMO because it represents successful commercial agriculture, but it is the success of modern agriculture they resent most. Elitists dream of returning to a fabled time when a majority of the population were ignorant tenant farmers subservient to a handful of privileged barons and princelings. Nothing quite so fulfilling to an elitist as having hordes of destitute people slaving for his/her every comfort. That's the dream of "small scale farming" and the real truth behind the anti-agriculture cult.

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  May, 23, 2013 at 10:58 AM

Just because GMOs are marketed by Monsanto, a company a lot of people love to hate, doesn't mean that the science underlying genetic modification is "junk science." Far from it, especially as Monsanto had little to do with the original research into direct manipulation of an organism's genome. And by the way, cross-breeding involves genetic manipulation, too -- only done randomly and without precision. Do you really believe that seedless watermelons are "natural?" As for the FDA, a lot of corporate influence is at work in Washington, not the least of which is drug and food ingredient approvals. I don't disagree that corporate lobbyists have too much influence over regulators, but that doesn't mean that whatever FDA approves is automatically suspect. A wealth of well-credentialed scientists agree that GE foods and non-GE foods are biologically identical. The idea that somehow, weird proteins "might" be present in genetically modified food is belied by the fact that such foods have been on the market for more than a decade. If there was this huge risk you suggest -- like tobacco -- don't you think by now there would be bona fide cases of allergic reactions that lawyers could use to sue Monsanto? C'mon! You denigrate Monsanto's lawyers as bad guys, when what you're really criticizing is the pursuit of profits that is aided and abetted by lawyers. DOn't you think that same avarice you assign to Monsanto's legal team wouldn't also apply to class-action and personal injury law firms? If there was evidence that GMOs harmed people, there would be a thousand cases in court right now. But there isn't. because there is no evidence of harm -- only charges and claims and innuendos that GMOs MIGHT be harmful. Sorry--no sale.

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  May, 23, 2013 at 11:09 AM

Elitists don't hate GMOs. That's merely their public "outrage." They love the issue of GMOs because they recognize that there's traction to be had (and fund-raising to be done) on the basis of provoking unfounded fears about "Frankenfoods." Yes, there are plenty of purists and back-to-the-landers who are ignorant about the realities of feeding seven billion people, but I'm not sure that's the same thing as claiming that the opponents of genetic engineering want to return to feudal times. Personally, I'm glad we have organic farming. I support the movement, because it allows entry to the business of agriculture to people who can't afford the capital costs of running a 5,000-acre corn-soybeans operation. And it promotes consumer choice, support local food production and keeps farmland in production and out of development. There are issues and concerns tied to large-scale farming and the federal subsidies that support it -- as well as a downside to turning food processing over to mega-corporations with zero loyalty to the farm community. To pretend that everything "elitists" are concerned about is cultist is a little short-sighted, I think. We have a highly efficient system of agriculture in the USA, but there are issues with land use, resource limitations, energy consumption and environmental protection we need to be clear-eyed about addressing. But you're exactly right: We shouldn't (and can't) replace the system we have with organic farming. We do, however, need to deal with the issues noted above, because left unaddressed, they will eventually compromise our ability to feed ourselves, much less the rest of the world.

Walt    
Wesern U.S.  |  May, 24, 2013 at 11:47 AM

You are too balanced and rational to be a columnist, Dan. Let's spew a little more vitriol and contempt on this topic, O.K.? Being too reasonable and acknowledging mutlple viewpoints certainly won't help you with the anti-GMO crowd... and might hurt you with those who think organic farmers are all wackos, too.

Rhonda Reichel    
Texas  |  May, 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Natural News can school you on this subject. http://www.naturalnews.com/040210_gm_corn_march_against_monsanto_glyphosate.html here is an excerpt you must read: The Corn Comparison Report detailed the nutritional deficiencies of GMO corn compared to regular organic corn. The report reveals the stunning levels of glyphosate in GMO corn and the amount of vital nutrients that have been drawn out.

Smitty    
May, 26, 2013 at 03:31 PM

Indeed, how do I hate thee vile GMO industry: 1. Concerted and continuous efforts at consumer deception 2. No published clinical human health & safety GMO feeding study 3. No means of protecting the environment from GMO trespass & genetic contamination 4. No means of recall once released into the wild 5. No means of protecting natural species from patented insemination 6. Novel protein immune system stimuli 7. Useful GMO shilling by sympathetic Ag-biotech supply chain players looking to perpetuate livelihood and income stream for self and fellow participants

anonymous    
May, 26, 2013 at 07:18 PM

Dan Murphy you sir are an idiot.

ZGain    
May, 26, 2013 at 10:16 PM

I would love to hear whether any of the Anti GMO contributors to this column have ever been starving, or had children who were starving. If there were a water use efficiency gene available that could save thousands of starving people, and it was your call, would you really keep it out of crops? And let those people die?

Paul    
May, 26, 2013 at 11:25 PM

Monsanto has already killed thousands of people with DDT , Agent Orange & PCBs! COME ON GET REAL! If Monsanto hid the truth about how harmful PCBs were for decades and didn't care how many people died of cancer from being exposed to it, why would they care about feeding hungry starving children around the world?? All they care about is lining their pockets with $$$! The CEO of Monsanto Huge Grant and his projected salary for 2013 is $14 million! That doesn't count for what all the chief executives are making at Monsanto! GMOs are a great money making scheme and all the top Monsanto executives are laughing all the way to the bank!

Sheilagh    
Oklahoma  |  May, 26, 2013 at 11:48 PM

If there is no merit to the concerns of the "few anti-GMO activists", then why not have GE/GMO labelling on the food related products and let the free market decide?

Marcelo Alcantara Whately    
Brazil  |  May, 27, 2013 at 04:15 PM

Sr. Dan Murphy, congratulations for your opinion published! We in the food production market need to explain more about GMO products. It is fact that haters don't know the real situation, because they're using/eating something produced by GMOs for years!! Here in Brazil there are GMOs and Monsanto haters too. It's exactly the same situation. These are my words os support to you. Greetings, Marcelo (Brazilian beef market)

Levi    
Illinois  |  May, 31, 2013 at 02:17 PM

To say that genetic modification is "random injection of foreign DNA" is completely ludicrous. DNA sequencing has enabled scientists to know exactly what each segment of a strand does or does not do. You sir do not know modern science

Gill    
June, 13, 2013 at 08:05 AM

Commerical Agriculture = Industrical Petrochemical Agriculture Reliance on cheap petroleum to produce food was unsustainable at it's beginning, is unsustainable now, and when there is no longer cheap petroleum, will collapse in the future. How you going to spray your crops with the required pesticides when you can't afford the petroleum to produce the chemicals, produce the fertilizers, fuel the tractors and equipment, and then transport the produce the hundreds/thousands of miles to market? What's you plan to feed the world then? My small scale farm requires non of that.

smlfarmdefender    
NY  |  September, 06, 2013 at 02:20 PM

...and you, fellow human, have just deeply cut and offended idiots!

smlfarmdefender    
NY  |  September, 06, 2013 at 02:20 PM

...and you, fellow human, have just deeply cut and offended idiots!

smlfarmdefender    
NY  |  September, 06, 2013 at 02:20 PM

...and you, fellow human, have just deeply cut and offended idiots!

smlfarmdefender    
NY  |  September, 06, 2013 at 02:20 PM

...and you, fellow human, have just deeply cut and offended idiots!

matt    
September, 12, 2013 at 03:30 PM

Natural News? Really...go to Wikipedia and read a little bit about Mike Adams the editor and founder of that website...don't be so ignorant.

Smithg764    
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