Exposing biotech industry misinformation about GM and conventional plant breeding
By Robert Verkerk PhD, executive and scientific director
Biotech industry aims to brainwash public into accepting GM crops
The biotech companies’ single biggest barrier to world domination — a form of domination in which the majority of human beings on our planet would be dependent on patented, genetically modified (GM) staple crops – is you!
As a result, Monsanto and its competitors are spending millions trying to get you to change your mind. In Europe, where citizen resistance to GM has been the primary reason for the relative lack of GM food crops in the human food chain, the biotech PR machine is in overdrive to get us to accept GM as a necessary evil. Without it, we’re told, we’ll have to accept expensive food and continued poverty in so-called developing countries.
Anne Glover, recently appointed chief scientific advisor to the pro-GM European Commission, has reiterated the European Commission’s pro-GM stance, saying, “I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food.”
Well, she’s clearly not looking at all of the data, as this is a ludicrous statement to make in light of the facts.
Pro-GM arguments centre on the benefits that the technology can supposedly bring to society, primarily in the form of ample, cheap food, while denying any substantive evidence of risk to either humans or the environment. We and many others have tackled this issue before on numerous occasions, and both arguments are clearly spurious.
We also argue, in another story released today, that the European Commission’s attempt, when it comes to considering the public health risks of GM food, to sidestep the precautionary principle as incorporated into EU food law, is an act of gross deception.
What does your gut tell you?
Leaving aside arguments about the presence (or absence) of data, the vast majority of people who object to consuming GM crops do so out of gut instinct. They simply feel there’s something wrong about consuming food plants containing genetic information that humans have manipulated in ways that cannot be matched by nature. To counter this view, the pro-GM lobby tells us repeatedly that GM crops are just a simple extension of traditional plant breeding techniques.
But this is yet another piece of disinformation. To help explain just how different GM is from conventional, or traditional, plant breeding, we’ve produced a graphic entitled ‘Exposing Biotech Industry Misinformation’ that can be downloaded, emailed and shared via social media.
A bit of explanation
Hopefully, the graphic is largely self-explanatory. But here are the take-home points:
- Flowering plants capable of exchanging genetic information by wind or animal dispersal of pollen evolved around 350 million years ago. Natural selection – loosely, the survival of the fittest – helps plants adapt to different and changing environments and climatic regimes
- Around 12,000 years ago, humans learned how to cultivate various primitive species of wheat (grass), such as einkorn and spelt. Because these agricultural methods allowed grains to be stored, humans began to create settlements and shifted away from nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyles. This late arrival — in evolutionary terms — of grains into our food supply, coupled with extensive genetic changes resulting from further plant breeding in modern grain varieties, probably explains why millions suffer from a high level of gut sensitivity to grains. This is especially the case with wheat
- Mendel’s breakthrough work as a geneticist spawned cross-breeding techniques around 200 years ago in which favourable traits were selected for, and adverse traits were bred out
- Given how slow this process is, humans more recently found ways of accelerating both good and bad mutations in plants, using both chemical and physical methods. But genetic exchange still occurred by natural means
- In 1996, the first commercial GM crops were released to the public. So began one of the biggest human experiments ever conducted, one that is now in its 17th year. This may sound like a reasonable period of time to evaluate risk, but it isn’t even a single generation. GM crops were produced using gene guns or highly specialised soil bacteria in laboratory conditions that splice in ‘cassettes’ of genetic material responsible for specific traits. In order to make this happen, viral promoters are included, and there is ample evidence that the process may yield both adverse and unpredictable effects not only to consumers of such foods, but to the wider environment as well. Centrally, this splicing of genetic material into the host crop cannot be undertaken naturally, and there is no guarantee that adverse, downstream and inter-generational impacts won’t occur. To suggest that there is no scientific evidence that GM crops cause adverse effects, based on an apparent lack of evidence among the American people – who have been mass-exposed to GM since 2006 – is deeply unscientific. The reality is that Americans already suffer very high rates of chronic, degenerative and inflammatory diseases, including heart disease, cancer and obesity, as well as high rates of allergy and declining fertility – phenomena that have all been demonstrated in animal studies of GM crops. It is simply not scientifically rational to argue, like Anne Glover from the European Commission has done, that exposure to GM crops cannot be a contributory factor to these diseases and disorders
Call to Action
- Please share this story and the associated graphic far and wide, and help people to understand the fundamental difference between GM and traditional crop breeding. While you’re at it, remind anyone who’s had a gut negative instinct about GM that their instinct was right!
- Please don’t delay forwarding, especially if you live in Europe, or you either live in California or have friends or relatives there. In Europe, governments, the biotech industry and the media are using misinformation to proactively condition the public to accept both the cultivation and consumption of GM foods. California, on the other hand, will go to the ballot in November to vote on compulsory GM labelling of foods. If successful, California’s requirement to label GMOs could trigger similar requirements across the USA, finally bringing the US into line with over 40 countries, including Europe, Japan and China. It will also give Americans the opportunity to avoid consuming GMOs if they so choose – a choice that should be regarded as a fundamental human right.