The scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe for humans, livestock, and the environment. There is no need to avoid them.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs or GMs) are one of the most well-studied areas of biological and agricultural research. However, one of the tactics of the GMO refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMOs are safe.” It’s time to look at the GMO science facts – examining myth from science.
Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMOs are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the argument from ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”
The anti-GMO forces also like to invoke the precautionary principle, which attempts to shift the burden of proof to those who are advocating GMOs (or any new technology) until the advocates “prove” that there are absolutely no negative consequences of using GMOs.
The principle is often cited by anti-science and/or environmental activists when there is a perceived lack of evidence showing that this technology is absolutely safe.
I’ve written numerous articles about GMOs, focusing on scientific evidence supported by high-quality research. And more than a few articles debunked myths and bad research from the anti-GMO crowd. To assist those who are doing research on the topic, this article was created to be a one-stop shop for GMO science facts – and fiction.
One of the tropes of the anti-GMO movement is that nature does it better for food, a logical fallacy. In other words, they believe that our ancestors’ foods are somehow better than our GMO foods. Of course, this belies the fact that there are over ten thousand years of GMO foods – it’s really not something that showed up during the last century or so.
People seem to endow “nature” with a special status that is ridiculous. Evolution proceeds along a random process where environmental changes select for certain mutations over time (and yes, I’m oversimplifying the process), which is called natural selection. Moreover, there are random mutations that just occur that provide no benefit to the organism, although they might in the future because of some environmental change.
Nature has no goal. It has no guidance. It has no underlying value of good or evil. Unless you believe that some higher being controls it, and at that point, you’re a creationist, claiming that “nature” is better than the alternative is basically ridiculous.
So, we’re going to talk about how genetic modification has moved from the early days of waiting for a random, beneficial mutation to the modern world of genetic modification.
One of the tropes of the pseudoscience world is that glyphosate causes cancer – but what does real science say? Well, numerous large epidemiological studies have yet to provide evidence of a link that would convince us that the herbicide has any link to any cancer.
Recently, another article in a prestigious cancer journal looked at thousands of individuals exposed to glyphosate, and once again, have found no convincing evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. The totality of evidence, unless you are into glyphosate- and GMO-free cherry picking, continues to lead us to a simple conclusion – there is no link between the chemical and any of the 200 or more types of cancer.
One of the major issues with the tropes and myths about glyphosate is that many anti-science liberals tend to conflate glyphosate with genetically modified crops. This leads to a lot of unsupported hatred of GMO plants, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that says that GMO agriculture is safe for humans, animals, and the environment – a consensus as broad and powerful as the one that states that climate change is caused by humans.
So let’s look at this new article, and how it fits into the narrative about glyphosate and cancer.
Monsanto glyphosate (Roundup) is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that are known to compete with commercial crops grown around the world. It has several advantages over many herbicides in that it breaks down in the soil into non-toxic organic molecules, reducing or eliminating contamination of groundwater and lower soils.
Monsanto has developed genetically modified (GMO) grains that are resistant to glyphosate, so that agriculture can apply the herbicide to kill the competitive weeds while not harming the crop. This allows farmers to suppress the weeds while allowing better production out of the grain crop.
Whatever the benefits of Monsanto glyphosate, GMOs and the herbicide are tied together in many minds. And there has been an ongoing effort by many people to claim that glyphosate causes cancer. But let’s look at the science, because maybe we’ll get some information.
A few weeks ago, Gilles-Eric Séralini and his homeopathy loving coauthor published an article in Food and Chemical Toxicology that concluded that glyphosate (known as Roundup)-resistant NK603 GMO corn, developed by Monsanto, causes severe diseases such as tumors in rats. And usual anti-science websites bought into this nonsense, including the TV medical practitioner, Dr. Oz.
It’s time to remind everyone that the Séralini study was bogus, and that Dr. Oz is also bogus. Here we go.
For the past few years, I’ve posted nearly 50 articles here discussing the relative safety of genetically engineered crops. I’ve debunked myths. I’ve written about massive studies that show that they are safe for humans and animals, and, frankly, also for the environment.
I’ve also discussed the broad scientific consensus that supports the safety and usefulness of genetically engineered crops. This consensus derives from the best scientific minds in genetics, agriculture, botany, biomedical sciences, and many other areas of science germane to this topic.
And no different than the climate change deniers, who reject the broad scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, the anti-GMO activists reject science for any number of logical fallacies, and cherry picking of the science that supports their preordained beliefs. Many of us believe that the anti-GMO crowd are the left’s version of climate change deniers.
A new report has reviewed 900 studies and data since genetically modified crops were first introduced. And what did they find? Genetically engineered crops are safe.
In 2012, the interwebs exploded because of an article (pdf) published in Food and Chemical Toxicology by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al. that attempted to show that GMOs cause cancer in rats fed genetically modified corn which is resistant to the herbicide Roundup. They also found similar health problems in rats fed the herbicide alone (along with non-GM feed). The rodents experienced hormone imbalances, along with more and larger mammary tumors, earlier in life, than rats fed a non-GM diet. The authors claimed that the GM- or pesticide-fed rats also died earlier.
Séralini et al. stated that this is the first time GMO corn has been tested for toxicity throughout a rat’s lifespan even though this type of GM corn accounts for more than half of the US crop.
Séralini’s article could have been an important part of the discourse regarding the safety of GMOs – except for a few important problems. Scientists across the world criticized the study for its bad study design, bad statistics, and overhyping of the results.
I personally found the study lacking in basic toxicology methodology, like providing us with dose-response studies, that show us at what level of consumption of the GMO corn would have an effect (if there is one). Of course, Séralini used so few rats in his “study” that it would have been difficult if not possible to develop a dose response.
If you don’t know about the case of anti-GMO activists harassing Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, I’ve written about it extensively over the past few months.
Dr. Folta is considered to be an expert in plant genetics including genetic modification of plants. He has been studying this field for nearly three decades, published extensively in real peer-reviewed journals, and has trained legions of graduate students. He should be considered a real authority figure in GMO research.
In 2012, Dr. Folta was “targeted” by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from an activist to get all of Dr. Folta’s emails about GMOs. If you are unfamiliar with this particular tactic, it is used frequently by climate change deniers to harass and bully climate change scientists.
This will be a repeating theme of this article – the science deniers who are harassing Kevin Folta are almost exactly the same as the science deniers who attack climate change scientists. They must be proud of this.
As I have written previously, a PLoS blog was posted that served as an attack piece on GMO scientist Kevin Folta – a respected University of Florida plant genetics researcher. The PLoS post, written by Paul D. Thacker and Charles Seife, attacked Dr. Folta for a whole host of… Read More »Retracted PLoS article fallout – GMO scientist Kevin Folta