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Op-Ed: GMO Lives Matter II: Who is Behind the Propaganda and Misinformation?

The internet is a vast ocean of information. Some sources being valid, credible, and reliable. Not so much, others. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)  is currently one of the most controversial topics out there. However, much of the heated debate and paranoia could be avoided if people could better determine the difference between reliable and unreliable sources of information. Certain anti-GMO content published on the web from outlets such as the Huffington Post, Alex Jones, and Natural News are either completely misguided or flat out lying to you.

I’ll begin with the Huffington Post. As a more mainstream source, more people are unfortunately inclined to take them seriously. WhyHunger Co-founder and ambassador, Bill Ayres, made the following statement in a piece published in September of 2016:

“Members [of the Food Sovereignty Program] believe that increased dependence on technology, as heralded in the World Food Prize honorees, in the form of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seeds is not the answer to hunger and food production.”

On what evidence are you basing your “beliefs”? As I mentioned in the previous GMO Lives Matter piece, this technology has saved an estimated one billion (with a ‘b’) or more lives thus far. Largely due to the scientific and technological achievements of Dr. Norman Borlaug–the brains behind certain varieties of wheat and rice–who happens to be the founder of the World Food Prize. Let us not forget that this technology also has allowed for impoverished importers of grains like Mexico and Pakistan to double their wheat production and become major exporters of the crop within a handful of years. As mentioned in this lecture given in June of 2013 by Cornell University Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Margaret Smith, approximately six (out of seven) billion people today have access to adequate carbohydrates, up from two (out of 3.3) billion just fifty years ago. So if you “believe” this isn’t the answer to hunger and food production, despite the evidence already having shown that it is, you should probably consider looking at it a bit more objectively.

Alex Jones, well-known conspiracy theorist and host of The Alex Jones Show, is vehemently against genetic engineering. He was quoted saying “We’re all being shoved GMO that kills the rodents that eat it.” He makes reference to the 3rd generation of some rats being fed Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) corn which he claims renders them infertile and “looking like something out of a Frankenstein movie”. He also stated the following: 

“Rats have a multi-year life cycle, but they don’t live that long. Humans, of course, have about a 75 year cycle. We’re already one cycle into this and you can already see the cancer, the death, the mutations, the problems, all of it. Can you imagine phase two? It’s already started. Every TV show I watch is ads to raise money for kids that have cancer. They’re all over the place.”

So much to dissect and refute here. According to a publication in the journal, Recent Patents on Food, Nutrition & Agriculture:

“It could be conjectured that GMFs/GMOs could be potential hazard on reproduction, linking to the development of infertility through influencing the endocrine metabolism, endometriosis. However, little evidence shows the impaction on embryo or reproductive related tumor due to the limited literatures, and needs further research.”

Basically, there isn’t enough evidence to substantiate a link between GMOs and infertility. In the realm of science, correlation does not always imply causation. The Séralini rat study is a solid example of bunk science supposedly displaying a link between GMOs and tumors in rats. However, it was retracted by the publishers in 2013 for “inadequate data to support its conclusions.” The small number of rats, as well as the fact that there is a well-known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley strain of rat, means that “no definitive conclusion can be reached.” You can’t exclude such important variables like that and expect the entire scientific community not to notice.

What about the concerns of childhood cancer? According to the National Cancer Institute, “the causes of most childhood cancers are not known”. Much of it is caused by inheritable genetic mutations. Children with Down syndrome are also 10-20 times more likely to develop leukemia than those without. There is a list of other variables that come into play, but GMOs aren’t even one of those. Alex never mentioned the specific studies was referencing to. But considering that the debunked study already specified has been so since years before he made this segment in Januaray of 2016, it would help his case here had he been a bit more specific. As Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” However, Alex fails to provide that in yet another brilliant segment of his. That doesn’t keep him from reaching 6.2 million people monthly on his website, infowars.com. He also has approximately 1.6 million subscribers on his YouTube channel. So a lot of people take this guy seriously. 

Natural News, a well-known pseudoscientific outlet, is another outlet which pumps out a considerable amount of anti-GMO propaganda. A piece from June of 2016 made the following claim:

“So the problem with some modern diseases, like metabolic syndrome, is they probably have multiple causes. Eating too much sugar and pesticides (from GMO corn syrup) in this case could be two causes adding to metabolic syndrome.”

I’m not sure where this author is getting their information from, but according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are many possible causes of Metabolic syndrome, and none of them are related to GMOs. They include overweight and obesity, an inactive lifestyle, insulin resistance, excess fats in the liver, polycystic ovarian syndrome, gallstones, and breathing problems during sleep such as sleep apnea. Not only is there solid evidence to show GMOs are safe for consumption. Here is a list of more than 1,700 studies which conclude precisely that. 

I hope reading through his piece has shown that many outlets that speak out against GMOs either do not have an adequate enough understanding of the topic or are purposely misrepresenting it. There are more reputable voices out there than the Huffington Post, Alex Jones, and Natural News. Be skeptical. In the next piece of this series, we’ll explore how this propaganda and misinformation has shown itself to be rather dangerous.

Joshua D. Speer

I'm an undergraduate student living in Denver, CO. I am currently working on my prerequisites at Front Range Community College--where I'm a staff writer for the Front Page (campus newspaper) and chapter president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). I intend to transfer into a four-year Bioengineering program, sub-specialty of Neuroengineering. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @JoshuaDSpeer.

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