Why we need to label GMOs

Mark Lynas speech to Center for Food Integrity Summit, Chicago, 15 October 2013

Audio on YouTube:

Ladies and gentlemen,

In just about three weeks from now, on November 5, Washington State will likely pass a ballot initiative to label GMOs. Polling I’ve seen suggests two-thirds of voters currently approve of I-522. Those numbers may come down a bit, but my hunch is this particular battle is lost.

I’m told that it’s entirely possible that the ballot initiative could then be struck down as unconstitutional, so it being passed is not the end point. But as Churchill once said, it is certainly the end of the beginning. The strategy of fighting labelling state by state will have failed, and something new will have to take its place. Today I want to outline to you some ideas about what this something new might look like.

But first, let’s be clear why this matters. I strongly believe that biotechnology is an essential part of the toolbox to feed the world sustainably in the future. We need crops that are resistant to new diseases, that can cope with a changing climate and that enable us to feed an increasing human population while minimising the environmental impact of agriculture.

GMOs can deliver on some, though by no means all, of this challenge. They can increase nitrogen use efficiency. They can deliver disease and pest resistance without the need for large-scale applications of agrochemicals. They can increase productivity and thereby spare land for nature even as we work to double food production by mid-century. And they can address challenges coming at us from global warming such as thermal tolerance limits and drought and flood problems also.

Let’s be clear also at the outset that there is no scientific case to be made for labelling. Foods containing GMOs or GM-derived products are no less safe than their conventional alternatives – there is as strong a scientific consensus on this issue as there is on many comparable issues like the science of climate change.

This is the considered opinion of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the European Academies Science Advisory Council and all other relevant expert groups. There is no safety case and no health case against the current GMOs which are available.

Indeed, GMOs may well be more safe than their conventional alternatives. There is a lot of published science which shows, for example, that GMO Bt corn – because it has less insect damage – is typically lower in carcinogenic aflatoxins mycotoxins than the alternatives. Organic corn may be very high in terms of this particular risk, in contrast.

If GMOs are banned worldwide, as many activists are seeking, we will be asking the scientific community to face the next few decades – perhaps the most critical in humanity’s existence – with their hands tied behind their backs. We will have denied our plant breeders the use of a powerful technology for sustainability and food security, and we will have foreclosed an important and growing area of human knowledge. This cannot and must not be allowed to happen.

And let there be no mistake: banning biotech is the explicit agenda of many pro-labelling activists. They talk about consumer choice, but what they actually want is to remove all choice. They want what I call prohibition based on superstition.

As Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumers Association has said, “If we pass this initative [meaning the labelling law in California] we will be well on our way to getting GE-tainted foods out of our nation’s supply for good.” Having a GMO label, Cummins thinks, is a “kiss of death” for any iconic brand like Kelloggs.

Now, as we know, much of the funding and drive behind these GMO labelling campaigns has come from the organic lobby. And I have to hand it to them: this is good old-fashioned American capitalism, red in tooth and claw. If you can demonize your competitor’s products, then you can increase the market share of your own alternatives, even if they cost more and don’t deliver what you claim they will.

And of course, the pro-labelling advocates don’t want the systems to be workable, which is why they are completely comfortable with a patchwork of state initiatives, which by any judgement would be a mess and cause havoc and raise costs throughout the food supply chains. They want to wreck biotechnology, and any collateral damage is just fine with them. Affordable food is no priority for the anti-GMO lobby.

But let’s also be honest about why they will likely win in Washington, and why the pro-labelling campaign has successfully changed the debate in the last couple of years, not just in the US but further afield too.

The reason is very simple. They have come up with a winning argument. It may be bad science, but it is good politics. Who can disagree with the right to know what is in your food? On just about any issue, if you stood on a street corner and asked people whether they wanted to know what was in their food, most people would sign up. People don’t want to be taken for fools, and don’t want to be denied knowledge that other people tell them is important, particularly when it comes to something as emotive as what you eat.

With labelling the antis have discovered a clever wedge issue that levers ordinary people – who don’t necessarily share the naturalistic ideology and anti-capitalist worldview of the activists – onto their side. It’s a ‘right to know’, one of the most powerful political demands of our time.

It seems so reasonable that almost everyone I talk to who isn’t deeply involved in the pro-biotech argument agrees with it – of course people have a right to know what is in their food.

It is also a triumph of framing. The framing of the issue is exactly the one the antis want – secretive big business lining up against consumer advocates trying to deny ordinary people the right to information about that most basic of human necessities, food.

And of course, Monsanto and the other big companies have fallen right into this trap – not, I’m told, because they are stupid, but because they saw no alternative. They were already fighting a rearguard battle on ground established by their opponents.

So in both California and Washington State we have Monsanto and others pouring tens of millions into a campaign that to all outward appearances is desperately trying to stop people knowing where their products are being used. Can you imagine a better opportunity for the fearmongers: ‘Why won’t Monsanto let us know what is in our food? What are they trying to hide?’

What indeed? any reasonable person would respond. Just think of the psychology this provokes: ‘if you say these GMO foods are so safe, why won’t you tell us which products and brands contain them?’ The science here is irrelevant – the framing of this issue means the focus remains squarely on big corporations and food safety, which is exactly the ground the antis are most comfortable on.

Academic work on social psychology is absolutely clear here, and to me is the killer argument: if people think you are hiding something from them, they will inevitably perceive whatever it is you are hiding as more risky. Why? Because why else would you be hiding it, if it weren’t dangerous?

Similarly, people perceive more risk when they don’t feel in control; when they don’t feel they have a choice. And attempts by experts at reassurance may even be counter-productive because they heighten the sense that people themselves are not being allowed to judge, and that men in white coats in their laboratories have something to hide.

So people are getting increasingly scared of GMOs precisely because the industry is fighting a rearguard battle not to tell people which foodstuffs contain them. This has to be the worst PR strategy ever: can you think of a single analogy where an industry uses every media tool, every electoral and legal avenue possible to stop people knowing where their own products are used?

This is the opposite of advertising – instead of telling people about the benefits of your product and encouraging them to seek it out, you have to smuggle your core products into peoples’ shopping baskets so that they can only buy them either unknowingly or by mistake. Does anyone here think this is a winning strategy? If so, please raise your hands.

I’ve said before that the anti-GMO case is essentially a conspiracy theory, and this is perfect conspiracy theory fodder, because you appear to have big business conniving to defeat democratic ballots which simply seek to give people a tiny bit of useful information – a label.

Just how failing an argument this is was brought home to me dramatically after a recent talk I gave in India. I had been making a strong pro-choice argument: to me it seemed – it still seems – morally objectionable that hundreds of millions of farmers are denied a choice of what crops to grow because of the legal machinations of a tiny number of ideologically-motivated activists in New Delhi. With the single very successful exception of cotton, GMOs are banned in India.

After my speech an Indian scientist, who worked in biotech himself for a public university, came up to me and said: ‘You talk about farmer choice, but what about consumer choice? You cannot oppose labelling, because that is inconsistent – choice goes both ways.’

I couldn’t think of a convincing counter-argument then and I can’t think of one now. Consumer right to know, however unjustifiable on scientific grounds, is an argument that – once a critical mass of people are demanding it – it is be political suicide to oppose.

However, simply giving in is not an option either. Having different laws in every state would indeed be a short-cut to prohibition, which is exactly why the labelling activists have chosen it as their strategy.

So those of us who want to defend science and who understand the true potential of biotechnology have no option – we have to change the game. My challenge to the biotechnology industry – the whole food industry in general in fact – is very clear. You have to stop opposing labelling. Instead, you have to embrace the consumer right to know.

To lose this entire debate to a motley coalition of anti-vaccine quacks, organic food charlatans, naturopathic nutjobs and magic soap manufacturers would not just be a tragedy for humanity, it would be frankly rather embarrassing. This cannot be allowed to happen.

In short: you cannot, you should not, fight against democracy. What consumers want is transparency – and you must deliver this to them. Do not dig yourselves deeper into the wrong side of a winning argument.

Transparency is the only way to rebuild trust. Trust cannot be bought via PR campaigns, trust can only be earned. The best way to earn trust is through full transparency, and – this point is crucial – this transparency cannot only be on terms that you set yourself.

That means that if sufficient people say they want to know something, you must tell them. You cannot take refuge in saying that the experts agree that they don’t need to know.

So – it’s time to make a virtue out of a necessity. If enough people say that GMOs should be labelled, then labelled they must be. So let’s think how this can be done, and moreover how it can present some opportunities to shift this debate in a more sensible and science-based direction.

And maybe, just maybe, the most powerful weapon the antis have in their arsenal will ultimately turn out to be their Achilles heel.

The first thing to get clear is that labelling must be industry-wide, and to my mind that means it must be operated at the federal level, and it must be mandatory. If it is voluntary, then no-one will do it. Which food company is going to offer their lead brand as a sacrificial lamb to test the market for consumer preferences on GMOs?

They would suffer a first-mover disadvantage which would stop this ever happening. So it must be brought in at federal level, not just for this reason, but also to supercede the patchwork of state-level regulations that will otherwise cause havoc across the entire food sector.

Second, there must be a way to design labelling so that there is no implication that there is a health and safety case for it. In other words, this is not a warning label. It is an information label purely to support choice and the exercise of consumer preference.

Thirdly, labelling must be across the board. It must be process-based – it does not matter whether there are any residues of modified DNA in the finished product. So it must include derivatives: sugar, oil and other products that are chemically identical to non-GMO alternatives.

Yes – this means we would be labelling beer, cheese, drugs even. It means we would be labelling meat and dairy if the animals were fed with GM feed. It means, according to estimates I have heard, that 80 percent of food products on the shelves would be labelled.

Why will this work? Because it is the only option which satisfies the basic demand of consumer right to know. There would be no more hidden GMOs, nothing for the conspiracy theorists to scaremonger about, no more fears to play on. Consumers could choose, based on labels clearly identifiable on the packaging of all foods on the supermarket shelves.

I believe that this could radically change the game on GMOs. Suddenly they would be ubiquitous – as indeed they already have been for 15 years. Secrecy breeds fear. Familiarity brings acceptance and understanding.

Indeed, ubiquity is surely the industry’s safest refuge. Halfway houses mean that products and sectors could be picked off one by one by determined activist campaigns. If soy products are labelled but oils are not, then the brand risk will be too high, and manufacturers will go non-GMO. That is what the activists want, of course, and is precisely why the state initiatives contain so many exemptions – not to make them workable, but to make them unworkable, and therefore trojan horses for prohibition.

Some have proposed non-GMO labelling, which already exists as a voluntary standard. Perhaps, analagous to the organic sector, this could be brought to the federal level via USDA standards, perhaps combined with some legislation that would supercede future state laws.

To my mind, this is both illogical and unworkable. Firstly, it doesn’t satisfy the consumer right to know argument. It merely implies that anything without a label is almost certainly GMO – but in that case why not go the whole hog and simply be explicit? Why hide?

Moreover, anything which appeared to supercede state laws without satisfying the right to know demand would be a political minefield. I predict that it would take less than five minutes for it to be dubbed a Monsanto Protection Act mark II.

The only way state law can be superceded is if the essential demands underlying the electoral ballot initiatives are satisfied at federal level, making further state action both unnecessary and obtrusive.

So: no halfway houses – we have to get this debate out of the way. Then we can start to move into a different space, one where once consumers are familiar with the fact that GMOs are in most of their foods, they realise that this technology is both safe and that it can deliver some things they really want.

These include, as I said at the beginning: the use of less insecticide on a crop; the retention of more carbon in the soil; higher productivity and therefore less land use; water and nitrogen use efficiency, and many others.

Instead of hiding biotechnology and hoping people forget about its purported pitfalls, we could bring it out into the open and begin to sell it on its merits. The truth is that biotech is probably the only way to achieve what organic advocates want – to produce food sustainably without the use of increasing amounts of agrochemicals.

That is why in the longer term I want to see the industry restructured, so that biotech can be a truly disruptive technology, undermining the markets for crop protection chemicals. I want to see the biotechnology industry separated from the crop protection industry. Let the biologists and the chemists fight it out in the marketplace!

But we can only do this once open-ness and transparency is established, and where the benefits and risks of different technologies can be assessed and discussed in an evidence-based and scientific way.

To get to that point will require a game-changing plan, one which gets biotechnology out of the shadows and into the limelight where it belongs. If we truly believe that this technology has so much potential, we should be shouting about it from the rooftops.

Labels, therefore, can be our friend. Perhaps the labelling debate, therefore, presents not risk, but opportunity. As FDR said, in his famous quote, ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’. Never was that more apposite than in the case of GMOs.

Today everyone I speak to, whether scientists, food industry, farmers or whatever, are scared of the fears of others. We who understand the benefits of this technology must stop being scared of the fears of those who don’t.

I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball, but I predict that these fears will not be borne out. Let’s shine a light, and let the people decide. That, after all, is what not just free markets, but surely also democracy demands.



  1. Robert Wager (@RobertWager1)

    I would take it one step further. Label ALL breeding methods. Surely the organic food industry would not object to having “made with ionizing radiation mutagenesis” labels on some of their food. After all it is the consumers “right to know” isn’t it?

    1. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      If enough people demand it, sure.

    2. Loren Eaton

      Great! What about all GROWING methods, guys? Do I have the right to know who composted the manure and whether or not it was done properly? Why not post it, if you’re so proud of the method? Can I see a test result that assures me that the organic corn chips are free of mycotoxins? If not, why not? These, by the way, are established safety issues.
      Sorry Mark, I don’t believe good or clever politics should be an excuse to accept bad science. This is a slippery slope and has nothing to do with anyone’s right to know… because a label that says GMO tells you nothing about the actual ingredient(s), just how they got there. A label implies VERY STRONGLY that the science came to the conclusion that there’s a legal reason (other than a ballot initiative) to require a label. For the FDA, that hurdle is a demonstrated compositional/safety issue. And that just hasn’t happened. I don’t think we need to open up a can of worms similar to what you guys have going on in the EU.

    3. bigcitylib

      Most farmers I’ve met (2) want to be certified “organic” . The process is somewhat expensive, however.

    4. Peter Simmons

      Except there’s no demand so another straw man argument. What’s your point? That organic is bad for us? That if we were scientifically literate we would understand what organic contains and be scared? Got no real argument then.

    5. Din Morfar

      Well, organic does kill people. GMOs don’t.

    6. Din Morfar

      And if mycotoxins are something to be worried about, perhaps you should be scared of organic. Myself, I will never buy or willingly eat anything with heightened levels of mycotoxin content or risk e-coli contamination + environmental foot print. Thanks, but no thanks. I like my food free from quasi-religious dogma.

  2. Mary M

    I understand that perspective, and I agree that there would be a general “ho-hum” as everyone continues to drop their Doritos and Oreos into the grocery cart.

    But I still think that fear-based policy is not something that should be encouraged and supported. It’s a terrible precedent. Anyone who has seen what ginned-up “terror” fear did to many security issues which devolved into security theater should recognize this.

    That said, if there will be labels, then I want everything touched by biotechnology to have them. Marker-assisted breeding, grafting, hybrids, embryo rescue–all of them. Lab-generated Bt organic sprays. Cheeses, alcohols, yep. If a label was based on the scientific facts in all cases, it would at least be consistent (if still largely ignored and useless to most people). It also needs to include products currently excluded by the “organic” label.

    And then I will laugh my ass off at the ensuing marketing campaign that convinces people what the environmental benefits of biotech are. There will be plenty of money to spend on ads once the state battles are over, and I’ll bet Madison Avenue can knock this out of the park. There was a genetically-modified Jeep ad that I thought was hilarious. It will only be the beginning.

  3. Katy Richards

    Whatever my preferences – I have right to know what I am eating. I agree with you that labeling should take place so why are Monsanto spending millions of Dollars on trying to prevent GMO labeling?

    If as you, and Monsanto, claim there is nothing to be worried about with this technology why are they so concerned about labeling? and why did they try to have an American Bill passed which would have given them total immunity from prosecution regarding any potential problems with GMO crops?

    If they are so confident about their technology and the resultant crops surely they would be lauding it and not trying to hide it.
    And why prosecute a company that puts ‘no gmo’ on it’s label. It’s a fact, no implication of good or bad.

    1. Jeff Walther

      “and why did they try to have an American Bill passed which would have given them total immunity from prosecution regarding any potential problems with GMO crops?”

      Probably because it costs $25 to file a frivolous law suit and tens of thousands of dollars, at least, to defend against one. Nut job activists have used this imbalance in the legal system to delay and inflate costs at nuclear electricity generator construction sites for more than a generation.

      It’s a dishonest, disgusting, long used tactic to abuse the legal system to delay and drive up costs until a project is dropped, not on its merits, but because of a few ignorant gad flies.

    2. Rick

      “and why did they try to have an American Bill passed which would have given them total immunity from prosecution regarding any potential problems with GMO crops?” — I am sorry Katy, but that is such a distorted description of the biotech rider [Section 733 of H.R. 933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013] in the appropriations measure that is derided as the Monsanto Protection Act. What is blatantly false is the claim by Food Democracy Now and others that the so-called Monsanto Protection Act bars lawsuits against Monsanto and prevents USDA from regulating GMO’s that have been found to be harmful, and that it ties the hands of the courts. Some allege “would strip federal courts of the authority to immediately halt the planting and sale of genetically modified (GMO) seed crop regardless of any consumer health concerns.” The provision does nothing of the sort.

      The issue is what is the process is if a court revokes a deregulated status for a GMO crop variety due to a procedural defect found in the NEPA review. In no case where groups have legally challenged a deregulation, have groups proven or even alleged a known threat to public health and safety or environmental harm. They have only raised theoretical issues and allege that NEPA review was incomplete by not fully addressing them. Nothing prevents anyone from continuing to challenge USDA deregulatory decisions or the courts from ruling in their favor. And in no case to date has a court decision to revoke a deregulated status and remand the application back to USDA for further consideration been decided on an alleged or known threat to public or environmental safety.

      The regulatory relevance of a court decision revoking a deregulated status is the crop reverts back to regulated status, meaning that its planting and disposition is once again subject to USDA regulation. The question that the provision answers is what happens to farmers and crops already planted and in the commercial chain during the period the crop was deregulated and while further review is pending.

      Anti-GMO groups want the courts in every case to enjoin its planting and harvesting, and to even order destruction of crops in the field. Part of the reason for this is to intentionally create an uncertainty for producers and impose actual economic hardships on producers to scare producers away.

      What the biotech rider says is to expressly authorize USDA, where appropriate, to impose restrictions on the planting and use of a crop, i.e. to regulate the crop again, if a court ruling revokes a previously deregulated status. USDA already arguably has and has exercised this authority.

      Furthermore, this reregulation remedy, rather than automatic injunction and court ordered destruction is precisely what the Supreme Court itself ordered in 2007 in Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, overturning a lower court’s imposition of an injunction. “An injunction is a drastic and extraordinary remedy, which should not be granted as a matter of course,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the 7-1 majority, concluding that the US District Court in San Francisco had “abused its discretion.” It hardly seems accurate reprentations that the Monsanto Protection Act strips courts of power, when the Supreme Court itself, in a 7-1 decision [Thats 7 to 1] told the USDA to do exactly what the biotech rider provision only makes explicit that they have the power to do.

      Also, the biotech rider does not, and cannot, impair the Courts authority to order injunction and even destruction of crops already planted in the event that revocation of deregulated status is based upon a finding of actual or imminent harm. The rider itself also explicitly does not revoke USDA’s authority to determine that the variety is a plant pest based on the courts finding and to prohibit its propogation entirely or or limit any propogation to strictly controlled research, ie. “nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.”

      Here is the text of the provision if you have not already seen it.

      “Sec. 733. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.

      It is interesting that when you go to websites that decry the horrors of the provision, the language itself is not made available or linked to. Its funny, but you would think these sites would want you to see the language for yourself, highlight the part in bold 14-point type that says, “hey, no one can sue Monsanto”. When you go to websites that explain how this provision has been misrepresented, they usually incorporate the text or provide a link to it. In this case, the pro-gmo site is quite transparent, but the anti-gmo sites are not.

      But, even if you are correct that the so-called Monsanto protection act grants tort liability to Monsanto, how is it that a series of tort claims have been filed against Monsanto following the discovery of regulated wheat variety in an Oregon wheat field. This occured 2 months after the biotech rider had been signed into law. Followign the discovery, some nations temporarily suspended imports of American wheat. A series of suits have been filed against Monsanto by farmers claiming damages due to the disrupted markets. Surely, the attorneys advising these farmers would have informed them that the Monsanto Protection Act bars lawsuits against Monsanto, right? Surely trained legal professionals wouldn’t overlook something so obvious.

    3. Peter Simmons

      Apart from the right to know what we eat, we also have the right to know if an American multinational is discharging novel organisms into the biosphere without concern for future effects on something which is vital to sustaining life on the planet, including human life. We ignore that small fact at our peril. But chemists don’t ‘do’ biology, let alone ecology, so are totally ignorant of the repercussions of what they are doing. They may know kow to splice genes, but that’s where it ends, and no chemist should be allowed to discharge what they have ‘created’ into the environment without restraint. That the US government is in the pockets of big business is a given, as is the bullying attitude of mega corp inc.

  4. Robert Wilson

    Thanks Mark

    Interesting perspective.

    Are you aware of any estimates showing that around 80% of food products would have to be labelled?

    I remain unpersuaded of the case for labelling, however I agree that if you go down that route it is better making it broad. This may speed up public acceptance in the end. If someone finds out that they have been drinking Budweiser every weekend for over a decade that contains GM ingredients they will probably worry a lot less about GM crops. As with everything anecdote often matters most, and people may just decide “I’ve eaten it for 10 years and I’m fine” and just move on to worrying about more important things.

    I’m not convinced however that the things you say people really want are things they really want. It sounds more like things environmentalists are concerned about. Insecticides, land use, carbon in soils etc. aren’t things people are talking about down in the pub, so to speak. The cost of food and whether it might harm matter more. Using GE technology to make food more nutritious is probably far more productive, simply from a PR point of view, than attempts to improve soil carbon. After all, people gladly eat chicken meat from chickens grown in truly horrifying conditions. I don’t imagine a PR campaign built around environmental improvements would be worth too much of Madison Avenue’s time. People’s fears around health impacts, and that is what should be addressed.

    1. Mary M

      Yeah, I used enviro ads as an example, but there are actually 3 main things I hear about that people must have the right to know because of:

      1. Allergy/health issues. But if you want this, the presence or absence of the specific trait has to be noted. Just saying “May contain…” or even “genetically-modified corn” is useless.

      2. Enviro issues: herbicides are the major demon here, but monoculture is usually bound up with this. However, GMOs are not required for either herbicides or monocultures. Again, you’d need the trait details for the herbicide. You’d also miss non-GMO based herbicides. And monoculture is not unique to GMOs either, so I don’t know what they want that label to say.

      3. Patents. They are very incensed about this and want to use the label to avoid this somehow. No matter how many times I explain that this is also not unique to GMOs, that myth persists.

      Where do their label demands end?

      But ok–say we give them the trait + herbicide + monoculture + patent label. Will this end the shouting? I don’t think it will. The goalposts will only move. They’ll shout at the individual food companies to make them get rid of all of these things.

      I understand the appeal of wanting the shouting to stop. But I’d be very surprised if that was the actual outcome. The EU labels and I haven’t seen the shouting and the corporate/techno bafflegab stop there.

    2. Jim Montgomery

      ““I’ve eaten it for 10 years and I’m fine” and just move on to worrying about more important things.”

      And people smoke cigarettes for decades until lung cancer gets them. We don’t know the long term consequences of consuming GMO food because there have been no longer term human health studies proving they are safe. GMOs have been in our food supply for less than 20 years, who knows the long term consequences. If you want to take that risk with your health, more power to you, but I do not. We have so many examples of products being released for public consumption and only recalled after it is too late; Thalidomide, DDT, Vioxx, Celebrex. I have seen enough short-term animal studies to give me pause.

    3. James Bentley

      Think Robert after I was exposed to abesto some 40 years ago and now I been told that exposure then is why I only have a few years left to live because I have Mesothmelomina I will forgot about where I work and what I did then and go on and worry about something else more important WAKE UP YOU IDIOT a few more years of life is more important to me DUMMY!!!!!!!
      THIS IS THE GMO ‘s FUTURE another Abesto epidemic !!!!

  5. Marco Rosaire Conrad-Rossi

    I am actually a little disappointed with this post. I think a fair scheme for labeling GMOs could be devised, but to be fair it would have to include all breeding methods. Arbitrarily picking out GMOs for labeling–even a fairly benign labeling scheme–just sees like the wrong path to head down. I think it is more likely to embolden the anti-GMO crowd than neutralize them.

    If consumer awareness is really our goal then I think we should remember that it is just as misleading to treat irrelevant information as important as it is to treat relevant information as unimportant. When irrelevant information is treated as important it does not add to consumer choice, because consumers are making an uninformed or misinformed choice. They think certain consequences are there when they purchase a product that actually are not, and believe that other consequences are not there when they actually are.

    The ant-GMO has made the “right to know” into a successful mantra. I think we should counter it by pointing out what they are really asking for is a “right to mislead.” That is the response I would have made to your friend Mark, and it is the response I think the pro-science food justice movement should be making to the public.

    1. Peter Simmons

      How is a right to know a right to mislead?
      And who is this ‘pro-science food justice movement’ exactly? Are you employed by Monsanto or just gullible? There’s not an anti-science movement against GMOs, those opposed to them aren’t anti-science, they are anti the casual dissemination of GMOs into the encvironment without a care about long term consequences by chemists without a scrap of understanding of the biosphere. I’d bet that 99.9% of those opposed to GMOs accept the science of climate change, this ISN’T about science-anti-science, it’s about the unconstolled and unregulated discharging of novel organisms into the environment by arrogant chemists working for huge, powerful enterprises dedicated to profits. It’s about drenching the soil with increasingly virulent poisons in an endless war against nature. And already Roundup-resistant weeds are already appearing as those critical of this American capitalist experiment with the planet forecast decades ago.

    2. Din Morfar

      Can you back up *anything* of the hilarious stuff you regurgitated with peer-reviewed science?

  6. Madeleine Love

    I agree with the thrust of Robert Wilson’s comment above, adding that building your case around the false and misleading narrative of food price increase is stronger than building your argument around the false and misleading narrative of saving land for wildlife.

  7. Din Morfar

    We have to label whether someone named Bob drove a tractor on the farm. It’s my right to know. What is Big Bob hiding? Obviously, potatoes harvested by Bob are the same as all other potatoes and there’s no scientific backing that there’s an issue BUT IT’S MY RIGHT!!!!!!11

    1. Peter Simmons

      Really intelligent comment. I think the stand up comic forum is elsewhere though. Your reasoning [!] lacks logic apart from being silly.

    2. Din Morfar

      There’s no difference in my comment than the wish to label GMO crops. How do you feel about blasting plants with nuclear rays and altering their genes randomly? Should we not label that also? Or is it holy because it’s approved for *insert heavenly fanfare* organic?

    3. Peter Ford

      Your Bob example demonstrates the absurdity. A more realistic example would be compulsory labelling of the geographical origin of all ingredients: perhaps by country, and by state within the USA. A significant minority of consumers would be interested in this information, but compelling food companies to provide this would add extra bureaucratic costs that would also have to be paid by the majority.

      I would oppose a GMO labelling law unless it also covered various other classes of information under the category of “Additional Info Of Minority Interest”. I like Clyde Davies’s suggestion of a QR code. The corresponding webpage would list GMO information, but also geographic origin, along with information about animal rights, employee rights, food miles, CO2 emmissions, religious rituals (kosher & halal), and other factors associated with all aspects of the food’s production. (But probably not whether any Bobs were involved!)

      N.B. The only way this would be affordable (rather than yet another field day for laywers), would be on a ‘best effort’ basis. The law would set up an ombudsman with powers to direct companies to improve any of their “Additional Info Of Minority Interest” that was seen to be lacking, and impose fines on the worst offenders.

  8. Nick

    re: farmer choice and consumer choice.

    Think of this analogy. As a software developer I have a choice of tools with which to develop an application. If I choose C++ over C# that’s my choice. When it’s compiled down to an executable the user of my application should not care how it was produced.

    Having choice as a developer is important to me as it *affects the way I do my job* – if I was banned by legislation from using one software language (and it was the best language for the job in hand) I’d be pretty annoyed. For the consumer of an application the software language has no impact at all on how they use it.

    1. Din Morfar

      Perfect analogy.

    2. Peter Simmons

      What a spurious lack of reasoning! Comparing programming to producing food? There IS no comparison, and only a programmer could possibly think his work so important. Programs control pixels on a screen, GM is about not just the food we eat to sustain life, but also the ecology that produces the food. I don’t know how much a progammer can understand ecology, from your example not a lot. I suggest you try harder to look more deeply into the issue, and stop making spurious comparisons with something which is by comparison trivial.

    3. Todd

      “…only a programmer could possibly think his work so important.”

      I’m not exactly sure what this slight is about or why you look down so readily on computer programmers, but I assure you, the world as we know it would absolutely cease to function without them. I get that you meant a programmer’s choice of development platform does not have the same nuances or consequences as an the choice of an agricultural method might, but your comment just comes off as mean-spirited and unnecessarily hateful.

  9. Timothy Utley

    I’ve often wondered about this myself. Change the game by making it a positive – be proud to use GMO’s!

    1. Human Genome

      Timothy, you hit this whole exercise by this Mark right on the mark; Just imagine a train going down the tracks; there is no way you are going to stop it. However, if you board the train and become “part of it”, perhaps influence the train engineer, tell him that he is actually going in the wrong direction – if he wants to get to the right location – then perhaps you might just achieve what you could not have from the “outside”! Al Alinski, one of Obama’s “heros”, the radical Marxist. used the same philosophy in his books of how to change a democratic society (like USA). And with a little bit of Corruption here and there (like within the FDA top management!) it may just work – GMO will now be openly accepted by the majority of the people – again because they believe a lie!

  10. Kristi

    You miss one very big point, and that is the patents held by corporations using GMO’s. What a lot of those “conspiracy” theories address is the concern of having large corporations CONTROL our food supply. The lawsuits against small farmers whose fields end up with small amounts of cross pollinated crops due to GMO production nearby, then being forced to pay for patent infringement. That is not the appropriate activity of a group of people dedicated to feeding the world. That is why no one is buying the PR.

    1. Lynden Shields

      Can you cite an example of that happening?

    2. Peter Simmons

      Lynden Shields says: ‘Can you cite an example of that happening?’

      Oh come on. Don’t you read anything? It’s happening all too frequently. Try Google, I understand it is very fast and finds exactly what you’re looking for.

    3. Lynden Shields

      So that’s a no, then?

    4. Din Morfar

      Peter, you need to back your statements up with evidence.

    5. Todd

      Kristi, I believed this as well after I watched Food Inc., which was my introduction to the strange world of GMOs. At the time, I was staunchly against them, until I started discovering that most of what is said within these communities is simply not true. Monsanto, however evil they may or may not be, has never sued a farmer due to having Monsanto product unintentionally growing on their land. They have, however, been preemptively sued due to a fear of just such an event occurring, which was thrown out by the court system. Not that it matters, because Monsanto has already made legally binding assurances that it will sue a farmer for those reasons.

    6. Todd

      Will NOT sue. NOT sue. *laugh*

  11. Tammy Olson

    Interesting article but for me it comes down to something much simpler. You can argue both point for/ against until both sides are blue in the face and have exhausted billions of dollars in the process but if I eat a GMO and get sick, which I have been getting sicker by the week for years on cheap GMO products, versus switching to an organic diet and finally for the first time in years feeling better I’m going to listen to that basic fundamental instinct that tells me which is the best option for me. What would make my life easier is not having to spend so much time in the isle reading the labels to make sure I’m not going to be ingesting something I’m going to regret later when my body complains. I have already made the choice about what I’m eating, I’d just like the industry to make my shopping experience faster. I don’t care where on the box you put it or how small, place it somewhere next to the tiny print that says “contains nuts” just put it on the label somewhere!

    1. Estefania

      The USDA certified organic stamp is more prominent than any allergy warning labels I’ve seen. Is it not clear enough for you? As a nearly lifelong vegetarian, I have little sympathy for the inconvenience of reading labels.

  12. Penny

    Thank you for this well reasoned article. I enjoyed reading it and I look forward to being able th share this with my students!!

  13. Lynden Shields

    I reckon that the biggest fear with labelling is that people will be *misinformed*. I’m not sure I think the right to not be misinformed trumps the right to be informed, so I think this talk has shifted my perspective, but I think Mark missed this perspective of the debate (almost) entirely.
    We *should* be labelling, but we *must* do it in a way that doesn’t give people the wrong impression. We need to take it and run with it and make it a virtue, for sure, but people are wary of companies’ marketing and PR.
    I think the difficulty in working out how to turn labelling into a virtue and fully inform people is the reason why labelling is resisted, not because they’re trying to hide anything – they’re not trying to hide us from the truth, they’re trying to shelter us from misunderstanding. So we need to do it carefully, so people become *fully* informed. I think the labels should come with a link to independent, non-privately-funded website that collates all the information about GMOs. People can then “do their own research”, without being first given the impression that it’s dangerous enough that they needed to make a labelling law.

  14. PythagoreanCrank

    “Who can disagree with the right to know what is in your food?”

    For one, Chris MacDonald can:

    The right to know is different than a preference to know. Let’s at least get that language straight.

  15. Harold Keyser

    This is an interesting, very clear and strong argument. The FDA does not require process-based labeling,and they have concluded based on the science available and the consultation data submitted by developers that GM food products are as safe as non-GM products. So, having a federal mandate to label GM food products seems like it would mean a reversal of FDA policy for some 20 years of proclaiming (correctly) that there is no scientific justification for such. This would be quite a change for FDA, and would they do this voluntarily? How would this come about – congressional action or executive order that admits we are going to throw out the science in favor of the right to know? It is an intriguing proposal, but seems like a steep climb to achieve.

    1. Tammy

      In any other situation that you can think of, if a well respected person handed you a beautifully wrapped box and told you to “take it” wouldn’t your first question be ” what’s in it?” And further if they said ” don’t worry about that” would that not peek your interest as to why they are unwilling to disclose what’s in it, along with why you are expected to simple trust them on reputation? No man or institution is infallible, if we continue to allow persons or companies in charge to keep information to themselves and away from us then we are as equally to blame for our failing health and system.

    2. Peter Simmons

      And if they prosecute people who want to investigate what’s in the box, and bully anyone who voices caution over eating the contents, you conclude this ‘well-respected’ person is dodgy at the very least.

    3. Peter Simmons

      The FDA ‘have concluded based on the science available and the consultation data submitted by developers that GM food products are as safe as non-GM products’ you claim, which doesn’t explain why the FDA raid organic growers in the US together with armed riot police and confiscate all the food ‘because they were either selling it or sharing it with friends and neighbours. This is a farming system which is as old as settled humans, and has been ‘trialed for thousands of years, what’s to test and regulate?
      Looks from here that the FDA is in the pockets of not just Monsanto, but every other agrobusiness. If anyone doubts this happens, and thinks I made it up, go to youtube and search on FDA raid organic growers; plenty of vids of actions by these ‘guardians’ of big profits. The growers on the other hand seem like really nice, friendly, intelligent, educated, sharing, kind people, faced with American Rentathugs with guns.

      ‘It’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred’ Bob Dylan.

      Although the masters make the rules
      For the wise men and the fools
      I got nothing, Ma, to live up to

    4. Todd

      Do you want farmers to have complete freedom, or do you want a reasonable amount of safety to our food? You can’t have it both ways. As long as we desire a level of quality to the products we can be sold, we will have regulating bodies to determine said level and enforce that level being met. The government raid organic farms because they are not operating within normal food safety and health regulations. That’s how the system works, because that is the only way it can work. If farmers were allowed to grow food however they liked, we’d undoubtedly have to accept exposure to food that is unhealthy due to improper cultivation, and isn’t that what this is all about in the first place?

  16. Clyde Davies

    Despite being pretty much a GMO proponent I’ve always been in favour of labelling these foods. It’s because I believe that the truth can never hurt anyone. Being ignorant of what you’re eating is a far greater risk. I’d suggest we take it a stage further and print a QR code on every label which would allow a smartphone app to look up a breakdown of the constituents of each foodstuff and display it in a variety of ways. For instance, how many trans fats – a far greater health risk if you ask me – have been added? How much salt? How much buckwheat, pine nuts, lupin flour, all potential allergens?

    Ultimately the only way this is going to be resolved is through regulation. Regulation balances the need for progress with that of safety. It’s the reason why we have 30 mph speed limits in built-up areas. People can still get to work at a reasonable time without putting pedestrians at undue risk. So, let’s label all foods with the riskiest ingredients, as determined by evidence, at the top of the list and the least risky ones at the bottom. I expect that people will start to ask questions about what they thought was safe, as well was the stuff they’ve been told was unacceptably dangerous.

  17. Alan K

    OK, I can see the argument for labeling directly consumed foods as GMO, plain and simple. But exactly how would you word the label on refined derivatives like oils and sugars or meat, which you already admitted do not contain vestiges of the plant DNA. I see a world of confusion erupting here.

  18. Peter Simmons

    The can of worms you’ve got yourself embroiled in Mark is of Monsanto’s making. The single most aggressive, bullying, dishonest company in the history of capitalism. Monsanto caused the suspicion in people because they bahaved, and continue to behave, in a fascistic manner, so they were taken on at their own game, and lost. Your ‘my hunch is this particular battle is lost’ illustrates that you too share Monsanto’s desire for secrecy, I wonder why that is? I can understand the sellers of a dangerous, expensive system of enslaving farmers are going to have to lie and bully those who expose their lies, but I understood you were interested in the truth [as you now saw it] and weren’t in the business of misinformation and subterfuge.
    America is a hopeless case as far as GMOs are concerned, long ago they should have been resisted, but now they cover the country and are in everything. Europe on the other hand was so much less subservient and has resisted and will continue to resist an unnecessary interference with the genetics of life. If America wants to sell food to Europe, it will have to be labeled.
    Organic food is always labeled, that’s because people actively search for it as a preference because they know it’s healthier, not just for them, but for the environment. Those arguing otherwise here have a very narrow view [understanding], know nothing about ecology [and care less] and lack a basic understanding of how the food chain works, how nutrients are made available to plants and how everything depends on the soil organisms which Monsanto’s poison sprays destroy. Their GMOs are created to be immune to the poisons, that’s their only function, to sell berbicide. Forget feeding the world, yieldsfrom GMOs are lower than ‘conventional’ chemical farming and also lower than organic, which when used properly can exceed the highest yields of chemical farming. It takes years for a once-chemical farm to revert to organic [as they all were until the fifties in the UK] as it takes that long for the soil to recover from the dead state it is in, lose the poisons and re-aquire micro-organisms and organic matter.
    The quick chemical-technological fix [how American is that!] impresses only the shallow and ignorant. It cares nothing for the future and is all about profits.

    1. Din Morfar

      Not sure if that comment above is satire….

    2. Peter Simmons

      ‘Not sure if that comment above is satire….’

      Which shows just how ignorant you are.

    3. Alan K

      The US already sells lots of corn and oilseeds to the EU most of which is fed to animals to produce meat which is NOT labeled as GMO. You are an inflammatory ignoramous.

    4. Clyde Davies

      So, Peter, your argument against labelling is basically ‘blah blah Evil Monsanto blah blah capitalism blah blah enslaved farmers blah blah organic blah blah healthier blah blah ecology blah Mother Nature blah…’

      In fact, exactly the same argument you trot out every time a new aspect of this topic is discussed. FFS change the bloody record. I’ll just settle for your saying something new for a change: I suppose we’ll have to work on it being *insightful* or *interesting* at some later juncture.

  19. Peter Simmons

    ‘We who understand the benefits of this technology must stop being scared of the fears of those who don’t. ‘

    We the enlightened ones? What a lovely circuitous self-serving argument! ‘We’ are enlightened, therefore those who oppose us must lack understanding; the unenlightened ones, the stupid public who just harbour fears without any understanding huh? How incredibly arrogant.

    Couldn’t be that those who oppose GMOs actually have a much broader and deeper knowledge and understanding of the processes and consequencies, and that the supporters of GMOs are the truly ignorant ones, with a simplistic acceptance of one-size-fits-all magic bullet solutions. A very basic understanding of physics is enough to know we can’t get something from nothing, yet GM companies constantly promise precisely that; bigger yields [not so far supported by any evidence], less inputs [except the herbicide is stronger to kill resistant weeds], and a win win situation that fails to convince.

    I’m not opposed to GMOs per se, I find it perfectly possible some GM technology could be useful, and some small companies are making interesting progress. But Monsanto has somewhat screwed it for the rest with their insatiable drive to conquer all and any opposition, if necessary by sueing, bullying, lying or other dirty tricks. As a result people are suspicious of the technology, rather than just that particular mega capitalist enterprise. And still, after decades, there is no data that shows GM as anything but a means of creating plants capable of withstanding highly toxic sprays, leading to increased sales of these sprays and profits for the company. That GM is about extending chemical-cosh farming which is destroying the ecosystem to such an extent that pollinators are in sharp decline. Someone should tell chemists the vital role pollinators play in our food chain.

    This article reads as if you’ve relocated to an American point of view, have you moved there? Further, you write as if the anti-GM lobby has set out to create distrust, to instll doubt in the public’s mind and play politics. Yet this has all come about becauseof the attitude and behaviour of the GM companies, no one asked them to be secretive, or to lie about what their product did. No one asked them to bully farmers, and sue left right and centre if people didn’t play ball. Yet we are to be blamed by you for this along with all else that you object to. I plead guilty to being anti-capitalist; the evidence is all there to see, capitalism is destroying the planet. It has one impulse, to increase profits, and we have seen across a wide range of industries that capitalists care nothing for people, animals or planet nor of the damage they do. We have the right to know what’s in our food, not because we are anti-scientific but because it is our right. That wasn’t invented for this, it operates across everything; the right to know what’s going on. Anything less is fascistic control and must be implacably opposed.

    1. Din Morfar

      “sueing, bullying, lying or other dirty tricks.”

      Be a little more specific, please.

  20. Brenda Frketich

    Mark, thank you for your comments about GMO labeling. As a farmer an someone who is trying to keep transparency of what we do on our farm an important part of my job, I find you point of view very interesting. I have been against labeling for a long time, mainly because I really don’t think that people understand what a GMO label means and as the general public becomes more and more removed generationally from the farm, I don’t know either if they have resources on both sides of the issue that they can turn to. I don’t count google as the best resource in this case because I think that many anti gmo groups and those who provoke fear have much more time on their hands to site misinformation than farmers who are actually growing the crops and seeing first hand the safety and benefits that are coming from this technology. You have given me a lot to think about and a new perspective on what seems like a constant argument. So thank you and I look forward to hearing more!

  21. Frederik V

    From what I know about this issue is that in many European nations labeling is already required. There is no reason not to do it. Second many of the GMO’s are made resistant to pesticides and herbicides. The genetic change allows increase use of chemical use. This should not be the approach and pissed off a lot of environmentalist. So who is responsible for the negative name of GMO’s? Any new technology should be primed and well introduced The industry went for teh quick buck and got the technology a based name.

    I do not have any empathy for the industry for the fact they have to fight an up hill battle after labeling is required. I think it will help focus the industry to correctly apply, sell and spread their techniques and message. Life forms as in entire species should not be patentable!

    1. Estefania

      No plants are modified to resist insecticides. Corn and cotton are modified to resist certain order of insects and as a result reduce chemical inputs.

      I have heard some argue that the reduction in insecticides due to Bt crops is less than the increase of Roundup being used on crops, but they fail to take into account the amount of all the other herbicides used or to consider the lower toxicity of glyphosate.

  22. Jim Montgomery

    Please point me to one long term independent human study proving that GMOs are safe for human consumption. I have yet to see one. Monsanto told us DDT was safe, now they tell us GMOs are safe. Sorry, not buying it. And when it comes to GMO crops feeding the world, what an epic fail. Superweeds and superbugs are showing the fallacy of Roundup resistant crops and Bt-crops. Roundup is failing so let’s climb on the chemical/GMO treadmill and try 2-4,D GMO corn. How long will that last?



    Both of these article are over 2 years old and from pro-business sources. If you want scientific rigor, check out 30 years of comparisons between chemical/biotech and sustainable farming techniques. There is no shortage of food in the world, it is a distribution and affordability issue.


    Sorry, Lynas, you don’t have the science and facts to back up your assertions. If there were GMO crops out there that increased yields and decreased toxic chemical usage, I’d be for them, but the current batch have done just the opposite.

    1. Din Morfar

      Show me a long-term human study that shows organic is safe. There simply isn’t one. On the other hand, there’s plenty of gravestones attesting to the opposite.

    2. Rupert

      Din, are you referring to e coli contamination? The 2012 Standford meta study found the following:

      “When it came to bacterial contamination and produce, the reviewers found that there was not a statistically significant difference in the rate of E. coli contamination — 7 percent for organic, 6 percent for conventional — but the review noted that only five of the studies they reviewed directly compared this type of contamination. When the authors removed one study that looked only at lettuce, the meta-analysis showed that organic produce had a 5 percent greater risk for contamination.”

      Do you have stats/evidence on # e coli contamination cases from eating organic food that lead to death?

  23. CL Roberson

    I am not a farmer nor a scientist (even though I administratively support basic research scientists). I am a mother, grandmother, and consumer who very deeply cares about the nutrition, quality, health, and safety of the food I purchase and it’s impact on the environment overall. Yes, personally, I prefer food that is organic and as close to it’s natural state as possible. All of us are paying the price for all of the cheap, fast, chemical, over processed, junk we are consuming. Therefore, as a consumer and concerned citizen, I must ask questions and in seeking answers need open, transparent, truthful information. That is all I ask so I can decide what is best for me and my family.

    1. Din Morfar

      “organic … as close to it’s natural state as possible” – what does that even mean? Blasting plants with nuclear rays is OK – precisely altering a couple of genes not? http://www.science20.com/kevin_folta/atomic_gardening_ultimate_frankenfoods-91836

      Until you are demanding a label on that, I call BS on your ‘movement’.

  24. Kevin

    Probably the best article I’ve ever read on the subject, insightful and balanced. I favor food labeling, including GMO, because we should know what is in our food, not because of someone else’s political agenda.

    1. Din Morfar
  25. Din Morfar

    The labeling of GM is simply Big Business vs. Big Business. Mind you, organic is way larger than biotech. http://jimskitchenlab.com/?p=619

  26. Scott

    “The truth is that biotech is probably the only way to achieve what organic advocates want – to produce food sustainably without the use of increasing amounts of agrochemicals. “-Lynus

    I have said before, if the GMO is actually made for that reason, sure. I am in favor of that technology. I am an organic producer, but I never agreed with the idea of providing food without using the very important tool kit of modern technology. However, the reality is that most GMOs are not designed for that reason. They are made for supporting the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) business model which is destroying the planets ecosystems.

    The other part is categorically false. We already can produce much more food and actually improve the environment by eliminating once and for all the entire CAFO business model and returning the animals to the land where they belong using the most modern scientific management practices.

    This not only produces more food per acre, it even restores more acres to productivity for a compounding effect. In the US ~70% +/- of our cropland is used to grow livestock feed. That land is slowly deteriorating.

    The good news is that you solve many pressing issues we face simply by eliminating CAFOs.

    Need to cool the planet?

    “Grasslands and their soils can be considered sinks for atmospheric CO2, CH4, and water vapor, and their Cenozoic evolution a contribution to long-term global climatic cooling.”

    Cenozoic Expansion of Grasslands and Climatic Cooling
    Gregory J. Retallack
    Department of Geological Sciences, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403-1272, U.S.A

    That’s the natural biological system that solves the problem, grasslands with
    their uniquely coevolved grasses and grazers.

    But of course Organic isn’t exactly “natural”, and Nature took many eons to do the process. We don’t really have that long. Organic is better described as biomimicry. Just like studying the birds’ wings helped us to conceive plane wings and we now fly faster than any bird. Organic agriculture looks at the natural biosystem and uses that template to make a model optimizing both food production and carbon sequestration far beyond what unguided Nature can do. So while grazing is good. Better than a CAFO. The organic biomimicry model of adaptive multi paddock grazing is better, both for the environment and food production.

    “Multi-paddock grazing had superior vegetation composition and biomass.
    Multi-paddock grazing had higher soil carbon, water- and nutrient-holding capacities.
    Success was due to managing grazing adaptively for desired results.”

    source: Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie
    W.R. Teague et al Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment
    Volume 141, Issues 3–4, May 2011, Pages 310–322


  27. Sara

    I know many people who say they are opposed to GMOs. Some go out of their way to avoid GMOs in their own diets. Most don’t. They buy and eat foods that with minimal investigation would almost certainly be found to contain ingredients derived from GMOs. They do this because of plausible deniability. If all GMO derived ingredients were labelled as such, most people who support this form of labelling would accept this and move on. They already accept this on some level but they are afforded the fear that industry is keeping secrets from them. Yes, most people accept GMOs. If they did not, it would not be the case that an estimated 80% of foods contain GMOs. The people have decided to buy GMOs. And they want a label. Transparency is a completely reasonable expectation and there need not be anything anti-scientific or otherwise misleading in providing that.

  28. Traci

    Wow.. What rock did all of you people come out from under? Have any one of you taken a look at any of the studies done? Do you really think it is a good idea to ingest Bt corn which has its DNA injected with a pesticide that eats holes in insects stomachs? What the hell do you think this pesticide might do to your stomach? Not to mention the destruction of the American farmer as we used to know them., the fact that almost all farmers are forced to only grow corn and soy.. two of the worst and most useless foods as far as nutrition goes, just to survive. The fact that they can no longer save their own seeds for the following season and must go to the big ag companies for seeds to each time should tell you something about what is at play here. And now these so called wonder crops are requiring greater and greater amounts of pesticide due to the insects becoming immune to the pesticide imbedded in the crops themselves.. It is an environmental nightmare. Not to mention the sky rocking allergies, cancer rates etc.. that have soared since the 1990s when GMOs first were introduced .. But whatever.. I guess I am just a crazy organic nut..conspiracy theorist .. And yes you are exactly right when you surmise that our real agenda is the out right banning of GMOs in America . Of course it is .. Americans are waking up to the sick corruption of these Big Ag companies and will soon follow in the foot steps of our more intelligent over seas neighbors and force an out right ban. I hope we are not all too sick or dead by then.

    1. Din Morfar

      Interesting how those that are most ignorant about technology are busy calling other ignorant.



    2. Scott

      @Din Morfar,
      She might have gotten the Bacillus thuringiensis part from a propaganda site. Maybe even most of her post. But the basic major points are spot on as I detailed in depth 2 posts higher.Growing grains to support the CAFO system is about as destructive a practice there is.

  29. Peter

    I agree completely with Mark. Fighting labeling feeds the hysteria and builds an even larger market of mis-informed antis who, rightly, question why so many companies would want to hide “supposedly safe” ingredients.

    So, YES, label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients but label them to clearly communicate the benefits to consumers: “Unlike Organic, this Product Contains Genetically Modified Ingredients to … to Save Water; …to Preserve Biodiversity; … to Provide Enriched Vitamins; …to be Pesticide Free; …to Reduce Spoilage; … to Reduce Risk of Bacterial Contamination …..”

  30. Paul DC

    Mr. Lynas’s entire argument is based on a false premise. He lists all the benefits that GMO crops “can” provide [lower nitrogen demands, drought resistant, etc.], but ignores that fact that GMO seeds that exist do require equal or more often higher levels of these inputs. The dominant seed technologies [BT pesticide and Round Up resistance] decrease production costs, but do not increase yields. This cost benefit is restricted, however, to the highly mechanized and low labour agriculture of the global north. On the small to medium, diversified, high labour input farms which provide 70% of food globally, these seeds have little benefit, and huge risks in terms of dependence on off farm inputs, from genetics to the mechanical and chemical technologies with which they are integrated.

  31. Mark Gubrud

    I would not be confident that consumers will simply accept foods labeled as containing GMO, because the political economics of GE are already close to the tipping point. The form and prominence of labeling will also have an effect.

    But I agree that it is possible the fallout will be to defuse the issue. Mark is certainly correct that trying to fend off labeling at the ballot box is a losing political strategy.

    On the other hand, a Supreme Court ruling that such a law is unconstitutional would be hard to overturn. The obvious grounds for such a ruling is that it in effect establishes a religion.

  32. Kelly Johnston

    As a food industry employee (writing personally, not on behalf of my employer or anyone else), I find myself in agreement with Mark. This Luddite fear of modern, life saving technology is tragic, but sad reality. And not just that, but the misuse and abuse of science to advance a political cause is nothing short of criminal. You know the scheme — conduct a cheap, bogus study with a minute or distorted sample, announce the “preliminary” results, get the headlines then disappear without any peer review or publication. Damage done.

    The “Just Label It” campaign is inherently deceitful and dishonest as it seeks to remove choice through fear. Labeling should not be necessary since it is very easy to find out what commodities are genetically modified, or not. If any ingredient says “corn,” “soybeans,” “canola” or “sugar,” and it’s not “organic,” it’s derived from biotechnology.

    The question is how to “mandate” labeling so it achieves what Mark suggests: not a warning, but a way to offer choice and preference. It must include disclosure everywhere it exists, including restaurants, beverages, drugs, etc. After all, half of all food dollars spent in the U.S. are in restaurants, who have been exempt from every state labeling legislative initiative or referendum. In addition, to the previous point, there is pretty well established body of law in the U.S. that says government cannot compel commercial speech without a compelling public interest. Mere curiosity doesn’t cut it.

    Australia’s law (disclosing in the ingredient panel those specific ingredients are “genetically modified”) might provide a road map. Industry is opposing state by state initiatives because they cannot work. A federal solution is the only solution. And when the labels appear and people see the price differences (as they can now) between most non-GM and GM foods, I suspect buying habits will not change. Then what? The pro-label forces will have to find a new business model to pick the pickets of their gullible contributors and invent new snake oil to peddle.

    But if industry were to concede this — mandating labeling based on a process, not on materiality — what will be the next demand? Animal living conditions? Fertilizer use? Carbon footprint? What about listing whether plants were manipulated by humans in some other way (grafting)? Worker safety and “living wages?” Listing of insecticides or fungicides used to grow? Proximity to power lines? There won’t be enough room on labels to meet every “right to know” demand. Sure, that’s a slippery slope argument, but it’s legit — there are well meaning people who want to know such things.

  33. Margaret

    I don’t understand how anyone can claim that there is any scientific consensus accepting the safety of gmos.



    On 21 October 2013 we released the statement “No scientific consensus on GMO safety”. It was signed byan international group of more than 90 scientists, academics and physicians and is now open for further signatories.

    Please click here to view the statement

    Please click here to view the first signatories to the statement

    Please click here to sign the statement

    1. Din Morfar

      “I don’t understand how anyone can claim that there is any scientific consensus accepting the safety of gmos”

      That’s because you don’t understand the term. The first sentence on the wiki article would have enlightened you:

      “Scientific consensus is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study.”

      In the case of GMO that’s exactly what we have.

      Sustainable Pulse? Haha, really? Next up, infowars.com and naturalnews?

    2. Margaret

      Statement: No scientific consensus on GMO safety
      “As scientists, physicians, academics, and experts from disciplines relevant to the scientific, legal, social and safety assessment aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs),[1] we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety[2] [3] [4] and that the debate on this topic is “over”.[5]
      “We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigour and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
      “Science and society do not proceed on the basis of a constructed consensus, as current knowledge is always open to well-founded challenge and disagreement. We endorse the need for further independent scientific inquiry and informed public discussion on GM product safety and urge GM proponents to do the same.
      “Some of our objections to the claim of scientific consensus are listed below. ……..”

      I won’t quote the whole article but it’s there for you to read.

    3. Din Morfar

      I tried to google the first name on that list and came up with… that list. It seems like another fake list of fake nonexistent people.

      Mind you, it’s not the first time the anti-gmo cult has played that exact same ploy: http://badskeptic.com/?p=703

      Too bad you people resort to lies, pseaudoscience, threats and other underhand tactics instead of just conceding you lost the argument.

    4. Margaret

      The first name is Michael Antoniou, PhD, Gene Expression and Therapy Group, School of Medicine, King’s College London, UK

    5. Din Morfar

      No. It’s 1. Luigi de Andrea, PhD, Expert in Biosafety Issues, Switzerland – no record of publication on pubmed.

      Anyhows, doesn’t matter. A list of names is not scientific anything. The body of literature is. You can ignore the science as much as you like and have an opinion as much as you like. The facts, however, does not change according to those opinions no matter how strongly held.

    6. Margaret

      On the list I link to Luigi de Andrea is 23rd.

      The article at http://www.ensser.org/increasing-public-information/no-scientific-consensus-on-gmo-safety/ discusses a growing body of research raises serious doubts about gmos.

    7. Peter Ford

      No, both lists are PDFs. Margaret, you provided URLs for normal HTML page articles at sustainablepulse.com (in your original post) and ensser.org (in a follow-up post). The PDF currently available at sustainablepulse.com has “Luigi de Andrea” at the top.

      Hypothesis: ENSSER’s list started out with “Luigi de Andrea” at the top, until they realized this wasn’t very impressive, so they relegated him an arbitrary 22 places (to just below “John Day”, one of the 0.8 million physicians in the USA). And this has been accidentally revealed by sustainablepulse.com and Margaret. Slightly embarassing!

      Still, the main point is, consensus is not the same as unanimity.

    8. Margaret

      Thank you, Peter, for explaining that.

      In addition to the ENSSER article that no one has commented on, here’s an article explaining the difficulties independent researchers have encountered.


    9. Din Morfar
    10. Din Morfar
    11. Margaret

      Could you tell me how to find out who/which organisation funded those studies – I’m been trying to find out but can’t.

  34. Din Morfar

    A list of names does not constitute scientific consensus. Only the body of scientific literature.

  35. Din Morfar
  36. Matthew


    You recommend that GMO’s have to be an act of Congress so everyone gets on the pro-active train. I couldnt agree more. Yet you tear down US organics by stating the industry (worth ~$27 billion, OTA 2012) is feeding people a bunch of baloney. The E. coli numbers are there.
    What about those of us who like knowing our dairy cows are on pasture at least 187 days of the year according to federal law. There are myriad benefits to a cow on pasture such as better fat (>Omega 3’s) and sweeter flavor profile. An act of US Congress it was. Twelve years in the making and still being tinkered with, for better of for worse.

    Am I making a bigger deal than necessary about a comment? Probably. Im curious about how you reconcile these viewpoints.



  37. Russ

    Mark, as always I find your insights incredibly valuable. What an interesting position! If someone had actually made this point, I might have voted yes on I-522. I did not, largely because the “right-to-know” campaign just didn’t resonate with me. Your case is convincing, but of course it could never be made by the anti’s because of their blind idealism.

    I want GMO’s to become the world’s food source. But I never considered labeling to actually help achieve those ends. Too bad the initiative got so brutally crushed.

  38. CommonGround

    GMOs today generally contain and/or are saturated with toxins. Not only does the process differ, but the result does too.

    Almost all GMO crops are based on one of two technologies — BT crops and herbicide resistant crops. Truly natural crops nourish pests (and humans); BT crops grains kill pests because they generate their own insecticide in the plant. As resistant pests emerge, farmers have to spray on additional pesticides anyway. Other GMO crops contain fungicidal toxins.

    Truly natural crops are killed by herbicides, limiting herbicide use in the past; today, crops genetically altered to resist herbicide(s) don’t die when sprayed — e.g., “Roundup Ready” crops from Monsanto resist glyphosate. So such crops nowadays get saturated with herbicides to kill weeds en masse, rather than hire workers to pull out weeds individually.

    Of course, some GMOs now or in the future might be proven to be benign or even beneficial to humans and/or the environment. If so, developers can add such distinguishing information to the label.

    1. Din Morfar
  39. Farmscience

    Traci — you slam BT corn, but surely you knew that organic farmers apply BT to their corn, because it’s an approved pesticide for organics. (also approved for organic use by USDA are some nasty and tasty stuff like rotenone, sulfur, pyrethrins).

    Margaret and others lamenting the lack of any studies showing gmo’s are “safe” — uh, remember high school science? Or statistics? Science doesn’t work that way.. you can’t prove that X is Y. (i.e. that X is “safe.”) In science and in statistical analysis, you can only show that X is statistically unlikely to result in Z (i.e. that it is statistically unlikely that X will result in Z, where Z represents harm) That’s how science works. Inconvenient to all those who shriek that GMOs have to be “proven safe,” but NOTHING on the planet can meet that test in a scientifically / statistically reliable way.

    Including organic food.

    If we label, is it not my “right to know” that organic food was sprayed with BT? Or with pyrethrins, sulfur, copper, rotenone? (these are nasty stuffs if not applied properly; look it up)

    Genetic literacy (the lack thereof) and scientific ignorance lie at the heart of this discussion. Look up the Genetic Literacy Project, which is an independent group of scientists who address biotech. (and to the conspiracy theorists, no, they are not funded by Monsanto.)

    I’d be happy for food with gmo’s to be labeled if organic growers would also agree to have all of their stuff labeled; you’d be surprised how many of my organic – eating friends had absolutely no idea that organic production does indeed have a long list of USDA-approved pesticides they can use.

    1. Margaret

      “Margaret and others lamenting the lack of any studies showing gmo’s are “safe” — uh, remember high school science? Or statistics? Science doesn’t work that way.. you can’t prove that X is Y. (i.e. that X is “safe.”)”

      Nevertheless we’ve always been told that it’s safe. I’ve never understood how introducing genetic modification on a massive scale can be safe.

      As for organic food, it is labelled and you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.

    2. Mark Gubrud

      “I’ve never understood how introducing genetic modification on a massive scale can be safe.”

      The genetic modifications typical in biotech involve the insertion of a few genes. Genetic changes can be far more extensive and disruptive in distant cross-breeding and radiation or chemical mutagenesis, “conventional” methods of inducing variation whose product varieties are not subject to any legal safety testing requirements and can be and are sold as “organic.”

      So, if you are concerned about “massive” genetic modification, you should be less concerned about biotech and more concerned about old-fashioned cross-breeding.

      However, there is really no reason to be so concerned about either, since 100% of genes in every species are the result of millions of years of random genetic modification, plus natural or human selection.

      Natural selection tends to eliminate genes that are harmful to an organism but works the opposite way for those that are harmful to its predators. In fact, plants and animals have naturally evolved many poisons, both to kill or deter predators and for other reasons. Note that we are the predators when we eat plants and other animals.

      Over thousands of years of trial and death, humans have learned which foods are most of the most acutely toxic, i.e. which ones make you sick or kill you right away. But the “natural” foods we eat naturally contain many toxic and carcinogenic compounds which only have long-term health effects and were not recognized before modern science. These still are not subject to any kind of regulation or testing requirements.

      So, how safe is “natural” or “organic” from the point of view of containing possibly harmful compounds resulting from random genetic modification? Not at all. In fact, we know that natural foods contain such compounds.

      In addition, nature continues to modify genes randomly, and without any safety testing, all the time.

      In contrast, biotechnology products are extensively tested for any sign of an unintended harmful change.

      Biotech products generally contain the same natural toxins as the natural varieties they are derived from, so they are not really much safer, if at all. But they are also not any more risky. They are subjected to testing, at least.

    3. Margaret

      Well, thank you for that. However I found this report up to date and much closer to how I see the problems.

    4. Mark Gubrud

      Typical compilation of anecdotes, innuendo, pseudoscience and nonsense posted on a snake-oil site and written by a professional charlatan.

    5. Margaret

      Oh dear! Is name calling the best you can do?

    6. Margaret

      The points you made were so bland and old hat there’s no point – except to say that if you don’t want to eat organic, you are lucky because unlike gmos they’re labelled.

      Nothing I’ve read here has persuaded me to rethink. Bye bye.

    7. Mark Gubrud

      If I thought it would be possible to make you think, I might try.

      “Bland and old hat.” Like, Gravity is so Seventeenth Century. And who can possibly still believe that 1+1=2?

      I suppose there is some new reason to believe that random mutations are appreciably more likely to be harmful if an unintended byproduct of biotechnology than if caused by other natural human processes, including the billions of completely random mutations that gave rise to all natural genomes in the first place.

      However, I missed that important development in biology… perhaps you could fill me in?

    8. Eli

      Oh, you mean like when this highly accredited and respected scientist found exactly that?


      Please don’t speak from bias and do some research.

      Realize that no money is funding studies that show gmos are unsafe for someone’s practical joke. There is however massive money being thrown at showing gmos are safe and most of it is lobbying and coercion.

      The same people convincing you that gmos are safe said the same thing about DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs and rBGH. It took a long time to disprove them. Yet we still have to live with the long lasting effects of these poisons that were in use decades ago.

    9. Din Morfar

      “no money is funding studies that show gmos are unsafe” not true. It’s unreal how disingenuous and how at odd with reality the anti-gmo movement is. Everything is based on lies, pseudoscience and damned lies.

      What the anti-gmo cult hailed as a triumph recently, the fraudulent Carman pig study, was indeed funded by a seed company (like Monsanto). But when it’s their side there is complete silence on the subject. Hypocrites all the way.


    10. Margaret

      “Realize that no money is funding studies that show gmos are unsafe for someone’s practical joke.” is not “no money is funding studies that show gmos are unsafe”

      You must be so used to misrepresenting what’s said you no longer realise you’re doing it.

    11. Din Morfar

      I just didn’t understand you meaning, care to explain?

    12. Margaret

      ” “Realize that no money is funding studies that show gmos are unsafe for someone’s practical joke.” is not “no money is funding studies that show gmos are unsafe” You must be so used to misrepresenting what’s said you no longer realise you’re doing it.
      “I just didn’t understand you meaning, care to explain?”

      “I just didn’t understand you meaning” doesn’t make sense. If you didn’t understand what I wrote the problem is yours not mine.

    13. Din Morfar

      Then my point stands.

  40. Farmscience

    It surprises me no end the number of people who mistrust the vast majority of scientists on this subject. Reminds me of the global-warming deniers who absolutely refuse to look at the scientific evidence.

    1. Margaret

      I don’t understand your suprise. People remember thalidomide, tobacco, DDT, and so on. Also there are (more and more) scientists who are anti-gmo. Here’s what a student has to say about it: http://anh-europe.org/ANH+INTL+FEATURE+Biology+student+at+major+UK+university+exposes+biased+GM+crop+education

      You might not like what they say but they’re still scientists and when it comes to what we eat, what happens to the soil we all depend on, and socio-economic impacts, non scientists can understand a lot more than what you give us credit for.

    2. Estefania

      I find that most lists of scientists opposed to GM food are mostly made up of so called experts that are credentialed in another field (anything from sociologists to lawyers) sometimes even deliberately trying to mislead, like in the case of Stephanie Seneff who will state her occupation as Senior MIT researcher but fail to mention it’s in Electrical Engineering and robotics. I know some really smart EEs, but none who would dare self publish papers so completely outside their field, in questionable journals.

      The remaining signators are mostly retired, with at most maybe 10 who are currently working in a related field. One list/petition I saw also had a whole bunch of nut-jobs ranging from mystics to concerned shoppers who were counted in the running total of “scientists” opposed to ag-biotech.

    3. Matthew

      More and more scientists against GMO? You make it sound like thats true. Im not sure which college campuses you have been around beyond Europe, but thats simply not the mainstream view. You can read exactly what has been said by a dozen commentors mostly anti-GMO ironically, that the university-govt-industrial complex is behind the development of almost all of these crops. So Im confused, is one system growing and getting too big, e.g Monsanto, or are the scientists hitting the street marching in unison.

      I think if you were to take an honest look at people like Mark Lynas and hundreds of other scientists who were die hard anti GMO in the 90’s and 00’s, you would actually see a shift to the center. I ask that one only reads some of the literature coming out of India and Brazil; Thailand and the Phillipines. The methodology for breeding is here to stay. Sorry. We have to learn how to use it properly and to our advantage where we can. It can do too much good in this world to stop the exploration.

  41. Mark Gubrud

    You did not address what I wrote in my first reply to you, instead posting a link to a Jeffrey Smith screed posted on a snake oil site. So, I will not take the time to dissect said screed, although I recognize many of the claims and know that they have been thoroughly debunked as you could easily ascertain with the use of google and the willingness to read and think. So, rather than spend my time to do this for you, I simply offer my considered and informed judgement of the link you posted. Call it name-calling if you will, but it is my honest assessment.

  42. Justin

    It’s amazing to me how many friends who are educated and otherwise very scientific-minded just go completely off the rails concerning GMO.

    What I suspect is the root of this baffling contradiction is the inability to divorce the anti-Monsanto rhetoric from the concept and application of GMO foods. It’s possible and quite logical to be against the corporate behavior of Monsanto while supporting the responsible and revolutionary use of GMO technology. However, making this distinction is complicated and nuanced, and hard to put on a sign or bumper sticker. Thus the blanket opposition to anything and everything GMO.

    As a Washington State teacher and resident, I voted against the measure, and encouraged people to vote no because the labeling is a waste of time and resources that could be spent actually helping the people of my state.

    1. Mark Gubrud

      Actually, the case against Monsanto is wildly overstated. I get that they are guilty of some abusive business practices but how much more so than other big corps? Why are they the most hated, more than Exxon or LockMart?

      I don’t think you can attribute the anti-biotech mania to its association with Monsanto. It’s the other way around, I think.

      The sources of the anti-biotech movement are rooted in the cult of nature, hostility to science, food purity fetishism, health paranoia, aging, identity politics and the business interests of the organic foods and alternative medicines industry. For the Left, the local food co-op or petty-capitalist simulacrum thereof is one of the few surviving venues for community building and activist communication.

      These are, I think, the major factors that account for the remarkable strength and energy of this particular movement, despite its relative lack of intellectual or moral foundations.

    2. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      Well said! And thanks for your other contributions…


    3. Scott

      @Mark Gubrud says:
      20 November 2013 at 8:59 pm
      “Actually, the case against Monsanto is wildly overstated. I get that they are guilty of some abusive business practices but how much more so than other big corps? Why are they the most hated, more than Exxon or LockMart?”

      Well now that’s easy. The case against Monsanto is wildly understated. How much more so than other companies? That is a difficult thing to quantify. Let’s just say a LOT. Why are they the most hated? That’s easy. So much environmental damages that they are responsible for the extinction of entire species.Nothing new for humans you might counter. You’d be right. That’s why I said above, hard to quantify.

      Why more than Exxon? Easy again. We make the choice to use oil every time we gas up. We even have the choice to be conservationists, and buy fuel efficient cars, homes well insulated etc.. It is all known and above board. And when Exxon does have an accidental fuel spill, it really is an accident. Maybe they could do more to prevent accidents, but no one claims they dump millions of barrels of oil on purpose. And when a spill does happen they are right on it with the clean up. Monsanto? They dumped millions of tons of PCP’s on purpose, even knowing the harm it could cause, and didn’t even try to clean it up until forced by lawsuit. They also to this day sell chemical products that are known, in fact even designed, to cause environmental harm. They justify it by saying they do less harm than the previous chemicals they used to market. And we have to take Monsanto’s word for that? That’s supposed to make me as a customer feel better? Seriously?

      Most Western farmers don’t even have any real choice. The markets, the equipment, the support industries, all are built around an industrial farming model that is purposely killing entire ecosystems. For example: The tallgrass Prairie biome in North America is 99% gone. And if it wasn’t for a few old pioneer cemeteries, and a couple tiny restoration projects it would be 99.9% gone. We have to eat you say? Sure. But ~70% of that is used to grow grains for other than human food/fiber products. The majority of that is to grow livestock feed. Livestock that actually do far better on that tallgrass prairie, managed properly. Maybe not all Monsanto’s fault, but Monsanto is a huge part of the problem. They are most definitely a huge player in deciding how agriculture is done and very aggressively fighting any progress in fixing the problem.

      PS Oh and BTW the shortgrass prairie is being similarly destroyed.

  43. Diane

    “To lose this entire debate to a motley coalition of anti-vaccine quacks, organic food charlatans, naturopathic nutjobs and magic soap manufacturers would not just be a tragedy for humanity, it would be frankly rather embarrassing. This cannot be allowed to happen” and all the other digs… where’s the respect???? People have a right to know what they are putting in their bodies and I’ve seen MANY of your ‘nutjobs’ promote growing your own… where’s their profit it that???

    1. Mark Gubrud

      Diane, you may see this as a matter of respect; others see it as a matter of science vs. nonsense.

      You may see it as a matter that “people have a right to know what they are putting in their bodies”; others see that you have assumptions about what people can know or is meaningful to know which are not grounded in science.

      If you want to know what is in food at a genetic level, and you want it on the package label, it is going to be a very large lablel full of GCCTAGATCGAA etc.

      That would not be very helpful, would it?

      But what you are probably asking for is not to know the GCTAs but how they got there. I.e., this GCTA got there purely by accident, that one was put there by human intention.That distinction is something that many assume is meaningful and has implications for health or the environment. However, that assumption has no foundation in science.

  44. Din Morfar

    Btw, I don’t think anyone has ever said that Agent Orange is safe. And it has zero to do with the subject at hand. I know you think AO somehow paints Monsanto as being evil or some BS. But know that AO was thought out, sprayed, misused and ordered by the US government who also ignored safety warnings regarding it. Monsanto was obliged under law to make it and so was the dozen or so other companies that were producing it. Further, the Monsanto of today is not that of 50 years ago. Way to go with the red herring. Let’s also boycott Mercedes for making Hitler a limo.

  45. PJ Fischer

    Until long term studies are available we should proceed cautiously as in 80-year and longer studies. Heck, we should proceed cautiously now, given Indian livestock and farmer deaths, the Mexican maize debacle, Sherbrooke BT study on umbilical blood, etc…all signs of bashing into a party un-announced. Probably a moratorium even more appropriate while we sort out how much of the “we need to feed the 10 billion with GM crops” line is being built upon cigarette science.

    Let’s at least thank what I here being called “the environmentalists” in business, government, agriculture and academia for whatever GM cautions have already been put in place. Who of sane reasoning cannot claim the environment to be of first value? So I see nothing wrong, only something fundamentally very sane, about being called an environmentalist. Maybe one day I will be honoured by the title as well. Who knows. Any measure of sane reasoning would know that if the environment/local ecology is healthy (read: biologically diverse) the children of all species will also be healthy (Google NPR: corn stalks every where but nothing else not even a bee). The environment is of first value and the forming of ones ideas, beliefs, and actions on the basis of environmental sustainability is essential. What I read after a long review of posts is that the “pro-GM’ers” are a clever crowd who use nuanced arguments to refute independent studies showing the harm of things like glyphosate and BT on almost every living thing these “innovations” have been tested on. Somehow the pro-GM crowd support what amounts to ballooning the population to 10 billion and quickly, through methods that grow crops off of microbe-dead soil. As if this 10 billion is an inevitability…which I suppose it will be if western multinationals are successful in establishing customers out of Asian peasant farmers. That peasant farmers in Bangladesh and in the third world want this revolutionary seed also seems debatable at best (and our place to tell them what they need at least ethically very debatable) but what is clear is that the GM crowd want very definitely for peasants to have and use this technology and just about as enthusiastically as they possibly can (all for the most “altruistic” of motives, no doubt).

    Until long term safety studies are done and in the books, let’s be cautious about what we want and especially what we want for other cultures. Let’s instead discuss a new paradigm where we don’t have to manipulate plant genes in order for them to supply us with everything we need, as they have done throughout all of recorded history as they have evolved side-by-side with humans to do…the two mutually feeding and evolving the other (and without commercial interests in mind). The pro-GM’ers seem to think it’s time we get clever with the symbiotic process of creating life in order to ratchet up revenues (spare me the feed the babies talk). Trouble is the planet apparently cannot keep up with all of our clever genetic tinkering in an industrial confluence of chemicals, genes and species generation. The alternative might be the return to where we were by taking a page from the peasant farmers’ book: growing our own food, possibly through smaller local co-ops. Keep highly controlled GM testing to tightly controlled labs held in the public domain not university labs which have fallen under industry control. GM is creating new species after all, and before these be allowed to cross-pollinate into the wild we need to protect the wild from these long-term untested species. This alternative “return to local” will cause pain but the pain will be protracted. A return to local will represent a return to the dark ages for many and that is simply a product of a lack of imagination. We can take beautiful technologies, those not applied to seeds, into the new world of new locally-based and locally-oriented economies. We really don’t need foreign vacations or 95% of the food we see on grocery shelves to live meaningful and purposeful lives. Utopia and the promise of world-savior technologies is only a distraction while we find ourselves smack in the middle of a smouldering global ecological crisis and species die-off. Can the tinkering little science-freaks go play with their genetic little games in lock down containers where the responsible people of the world can keep an eye on these adolescents? The rest of us will be busy at return-to-local economies focussed on the health essentials of eating both locally and according to what is locally in season. That means no more GM mangoes from Hawaii for sale in Saskatoon, both for heath and for ecological reasons (and yes, I am saying tropical fruit eaten out of season in northern climates is not good for you). Look forward to trade and commerce through new local currencies and locally based and sourced trading models and look forward to future generations being much happier and a lot richer for it, a “richness” which does not include accumulating unnecessaries such as obscene reserves of personal cash and collectibles.

    I wonder how many of us can handle the idea of our glass cities crumbling as populations disperse and retreat into the country, where we were born by nature to belong, and with local markets and small communities becoming the cultural focal points? For whom is this just too painful a possibility? Utopia-builders, that’s who…hose trying to sew something wearable out of the current business, economic, agriculture and scientific paradigm. At its core the GM belief/promise is a utopia for all, happy full bellies for starving Africans, beautiful “plants” springing up out of corrugated plastic siding, less work in the fields, less diversity in the soils, land and air. But at least we won’t have to work very hard to grab a box of Oreo’s off the grocery shelf. Yes, that’s what GM technology promises, a sleepy-as-possible status quo presiding over a dying once diverse planet…hardly the prescription for a future filled with life in all its abundant possibilities. Life, which mother nature is at least very reasonably well able to provide for us, and for which she has an impressive resume to show for. A resume that probably puts even the cleverest of the clever geneticists to shame. Yes, those clever genetics scientists the world over who think they “can lend her a hand” in what is pretty much universally regarded as her sole domain. But they forget this fact underlying all facts as they tinker, tinker, tinker away with the planet and her diverse cultures in a game they like to call “improving nature”. Recombinant DNA technology is “the way of the future” my first year UBC biology textbook so eagerly, arrogantly and naively promises.

    Facts and evidence to the contrary welcomed and encouraged! Lord knows I haven’t seen or heard of any to date, only a clever haranguing of words on the screen which so perfectly seems to mirror the clever tinkering of genes in the lab.

    1. Mark Gubrud

      PJ, it is apparent that you have done some reading on this subject, but only of anti-biotech writers. I see no evidence that you have read much of Mark Lynas or any other critic of the anti-biotech movement, so why do you comment here?

    2. PJ Fischer

      This is why I am writing…to discover. I would love to discover that biotech/GM science is a boon to mankind. I’ve been searching hard for evidence. I’m looking to scientists, writers, bloggers, reporters to get a sense of what’s going on. I’ve been running my own experiment in an effort to prove my hypothesis wrong (scientists will not need reminding that the traditional way to prove a thing is to try to disprove it, not prove it). My hypothesis is that GM is a miserable failure at creating a living ecology experiencing full expression in a bio-diverse abundance. I’m going about trying to prove this wrong. Proving my hypothesis wrong will in effect teach me how GM science is a boon.

      What have I discovered so far? I’ve discovered that there is in fact an elegant way forward to realizing ecological renewal but as for many things, it is so simple we don’t see it. Conscience sees it, but our workaday personalities won’t give in to our conscience…so this discovery will not be accepted by those who do not accept responsibility for the speaking of their own conscience (the subject for a follow-up thesis as my present experiments near completion). The way forward? First: Adopting a human diet (cats have a diet, cows have a diet, frogs have a diet. Humans have a diet and it is starch-based. Can we accept that humans have a diet and eliminate non-foods from the shopping list?). Second: We don’t need to take any international vacations much as we want them. Third: Most of us can walk, ride, bus, or car pool to work, or find jobs that allow for this. With each adopter enlisting two more people to adopt these painfully simple ideas, and by law of the progression of numbers, millions will have set the stage to save their own ecosystems within months. And since there are humans everywhere, that’s a lot of ecosystems on the way to renewal. Our collective purchasing power will soon enough collapse the powers-that-be. The infrastructure is subsequently re-shaped by a completely displaced workforce, where someone in the new economy (probably an exchange based economy) takes things like food and shelter to lend what they know to build their local economy. You would be surprised at how self-regulating and adaptive this process is, even at the cost of the established global-based economy. Global based in replaced with local-based. Easy to argue this is how man was fit to interact with life. This economic renewal would NOT be the armageddon so many (in establishment) fear.

      The way forward is antithetical to the growth of one thing only: corporate control and by extension shareholder wealth. Shareholders are firmly rooted in their shares however, so the demise will be gradual enough. Why is this the only solution? Complex solutions (geo-engineering, pant engineering, etc) involve balancing one thing at the distortion of another thing. This is irrefutable. “Solutions” become the next problems for the utopia-builders to “fix”. We simply can’t take in the whole picture when setting the course for remedial ecological action. Nor can the ecology take many more of our “solutions”. We only think we are evolved and clever enough to take up nature-building in effect providing nature with our “assistance”. Nothing further could be from the truth and this has been evidenced time and time again. An obvious example is our nuclear “solutions”. It’s been proven that as a species we cannot be trusted with nuclear power; we do not deserve to be trusted with nuclear power. But our enthusiastic corporate scientists presume otherwise overestimating their own cleverness (again) when in reality, they can’t even factor in such simple things as failsafes for human error or acts of God (appropriately put). It’s like we’ve been given a dog by our parents to take care of and through a child’s negligence despite best intentions, the dog attacks the neighbour kid. The kid loves to think he is capable but he is not. The evidence is irrefutable.

      I don’t get the sense that GM writers and researchers will relent to any of this kind of thinking. So far down the labyrinth of complex solutions (and arguments) have they given themselves over to. But argument won’t bake bread. Arguments like Seralini should’t have used Sprague-Dawley rats, as I was told by a UCal geneticist keen on building a “better” milk. If nature does have an intelligence evolved to fit itself to best serve humans over millions of years of evolution and mutual adaptation, it (or she) might wonder at the wisdom of the upstart adolescents come wandering into her workshop to “play with all her cool stuff”. Thing is we are not equipped at her game, in reality we don’t know the first thing about it. We’ve barely discovered the quantum nature of the universe. We just play at approaching the intelligence of nature, dreaming that we are helping her at finding “solutions”. In fact we are supremely clever at one thing and one thing only: the ability to distance our actions from our conscience the which has clever scientists running roughshod through nature’s workshop with all the elegance of a 14 year-old fat kid; upsetting furniture, leaving delicate things out, spilling on floors, lights on and doors open. Nature is for the first time having her million-year long experiments topple over, and no doubt on the day when brought up to face our conscience, we will turn to her and say “oops”. “We were only trying to bend her for our own commercial purposes”, we might say in defence. And if what I read is any indication, the crowd representing GM science is more than capable at going on the defensive.

    3. Stephanie

      What findings have consistently pointed to harm from bio-engineered foods? There have been none, including Seralini’s studies, Judy Carman’s study or any other study put forth by anti-GM advocates. They have invested millions of dollars in proving harm from transgenic foods and yet so far haven’t been able to produce one single shred of evidence that shows any.

      On the other hand there have been well over a thousand studies showing either no difference between transgenic foods and their conventional counterparts for human health, or in the case of golden rice, an indisputable improvement.

      We have a vast array of equipment and lab tests at our disposal to check for toxins, allergens and novel proteins capable of causing harm. Transgenic crops have been thoroughly studied and the currently approved plants have all passed rigorous testing.

      Virtually all the plants we eat today are the result of man improving on nature. In nature plants evolve the same as animals do- to promote their own survival. Remember that the next time you enjoy an ear of maize or a juicy, ripe tomato, that nature made them small, hard and bitter tasting.

      Over 99% of all species that have ever existed have been extinct since long before the existence of modern man. Plant diseases pose a serious threat to some of our most important foods like citrus fruits, which are at risk of being lost forever due to the Huanglongbing virus. If there is an answer to this rampantly spreading, insect vector borne disease, it will probably be through genetic engineering (which was tremendously successful with Hawaiian papaya, I should add). The same is true for the American chestnut tree, and undoubtedly many more in the future.

      Ten billion people is not a goal. It is likely going to happen, though, and we can either be prepared or face starvation and the further destruction of the planet. Good on you for choosing not to have kids, though. My husband and I have made the same choice for the same reasons.

    4. PJ Fischer

      Can someone point me to a comment where a scientist refers to tests aimed at proving a hypothesis false? Findings from such a study would pack incredible punch. For example, a hypothesis such as “GM foods are safe for rats” and then which attempts to prove the hypothesis false? By contrast, you can come up with all kinds of ways to “prove” almost any hypothesis as true. Just as “logic” is used to create arguments and bend the truth all the time, and many people swallow logic whole. But if you attempt to find a hypothesis false and cannot, you have truly discovered something.

      Commentators along this entire post aren’t wanting to discuss to advance their understanding. They want to cut and paste to prove a point, to educate! Some of whom even go so far as to want food labelling…as if that is horrible beyond horrible!

      PS. Stephanie, I do want kids. Where did you get the idea I don’t? If what you say is true then GM will be a boon to my kids. So why the skepticism? Why not THANK the independent scientists whose efforts in true science to prove their hypothesis false subsequently failed, which would only bolster the scientific rationale for GM foods? Why not acknowledge the humanitarian efforts of these researchers who, in attempts to prove a thing false and subsequently failed to do so, have furnished for GM an “extra-strength” burden of proof? We might turn around and fault them on spreading rumours and lies if they then turned quack and decided to publish results that went against their findings and against their conscience. If this be the case, then thank you for setting the record straight for all of us, and let the biotech-led utopia-building effort continue! 3 billion newborn kids in the third world is a huge selling opportunity. Seed manufacturers can froth at the mouth, just as they have set the stage for it already…providing families who could not feed one child now to feed 14 on plants engineered to grow off the sides of corrugated plastic. So a few Indian farmers (100,000 or so) kill themselves because they can’t afford GM seed prices. So a few Mexican farmers go on hunger strikes to protest their native varieties of maize becoming pollinated by transgenic maize. So a few thousand livestock die grazing on BT cotton. So a few commentators question the safety and sanity of a contraceptive gene spliced into breed which uses traditional corn as its base, taken under the ownership of a corporation. So a few mothers in Quebec have BT proteins/toxins floating around in their umbilical blood. Just like what has been going on since pre-civilization, right Stephanie?

      What is lost in the ripened plant when its genes include novel traits, if anything? We don’t know that yet because we didn’t know what to test for before that which was essential was lost, if something essential was in fact lost. While this key point may or may not be answered, we are quarrelling over methodology and spending the better part of our energies in subterfuge activities to discredit scientist who pursue this line of inquiry. It is almost imponderable to me that scientists would be coached into a line of study that conveniently ignores (studying) what could possibly be harmful to those species feeding off of organisms built with novel genes introduced into them. Impossible and troubling to say the least that a science community is complicit in suppressing studies that proven harmful effects of feeding GM food to animals. A long term human trial on GM safety is probably impossible, so we need to rely on observations made in the food web. Stephanie, I think you are leaning on the fact that isolating a control group of non-GM humans for long term trial studies is and will be impossible. To prove GM as a smoking gun will therefore also never happen. I may be wrong but the prevalence of GM in our food supply would seem to suggest as much. So, as so many commentators many with scientific backgrounds have already suggested, we are guinea pigs in this centuries ongoing grand food experiment. And yet you soften and counter this fact by saying it’s ok, GM is a boon. Am I missing something?

      Tell me Stephanie or anyone else with a shred of sane reasoning left in them, or a conscience for that matter, are the studies that show harm to other species fed on GM plants (as opposed to non-GM plants, or GM or non GM sprayed with pesticide or glyphosate only, etc.) to be written off completely? Stephanie’s black-and-white response would make it seem to be so. As if the truth is ever black and white. My earlier post suggests biotech be a lock-down study spanning decades if not longer, harmless species then very carefully introduced to the wider ecology. I am not for black-or-white formative-type conclusions for or against GM…unless we see it is doing harm and needs to be further regulated, labelled, locked down so to speak.

      So many commentators say to relax and to stop trying to accuse GM of being anything other than a boon to mankind. OK. I would love to drift off into the sunset knowing this to be undeniable fact. The burden of proof does not fall on the critics however, it falls on the responsible product developers who carry the ethical responsibility of attempting to prove their hypothesis false (that GM is safe) as a way to prove their products safe. Control conditions can be set to prove out almost anything you want to prove, we all know that.

      Some might contend that trusting to industry that which is spliced into our food genes (unlabelled at that) is all fine and good. What do plumbers know about food science anyway? I ask, what do scientists know about food science anyway? I see in my university professors and in comments here and elsewhere a scientific arrogance that is hard to find anywhere else, even in politics. Science is politics increasingly so…and as such the element of discovery (which either will or will not serve industry) is lost. Industry has too much to lose by some unintended Truth. The opportunity to prove a point is far to lucrative to worry about discovery, it seems to me.

      I hope the scientists here will provide me links which I can then offer to the public…many of whom are GM skeptics responsible for the horrors of things like “those awful misconceptions and lies” which are seeping into policy as drafts for mandatory food labelling laws.

      It would be so much easier to bust out a pop-tart and not think about any of this.

    5. Mark Gubrud

      If you are as genuinely interested in this subject as your torrent of words would suggest, then you should do some reading in earnest to find out whether your general view is accurate, or not. There is plenty of good information on this site, plus pointers to more. And I am certain you can find the sources on your own, if you are interested.

  46. PJ Fischer

    There is a missing link in this whole debate. One may pick apart an independent study or two but on the whole it is difficult to refute the findings that so consistently seem to point to harmful effects of feeding on GMO’s. Same with GM science, in testing (albeit mostly short-term testing) GMO’s meet the most rigorous of safety standards so we are told. Something is obviously happening between the GM lab tests and the independent tests which look at the effects on species longer term. Can anyone shed light on why this is so? I don’t believe GM scientists are purposefully out to do harm, and they point to their safety studies to prove this. But once a GM-fed species goes in for testing we see all sorts of calamities. Is it possible that even though the gene combinations test as completely benign in the lab, that the lab is not picking up on qualities that are not being carried into the final product, the mature and ripened plant? Qualities which are essential for nutrition and development from embryo to full maturity? Is it possible that science has not discovered yet the full spectrum of how plants have evolved to nourish other organisms? Could artificially manipulating its genes at the earliest stage of development and from a different species set off a world of developmental stage changes that, in the end, negatively impact on the plants ability to deliver nourishment? It’s easy to predict for example that a human embryo containing genes artificially selected to express for certain qualities might produce a person who then expresses those strengths, but at a cost. The cost being those traits which would have expressed otherwise, and which never will be recognized (by any measuring device) when they do not express simply because science did not know what to look for. This might even be the actual case unless of course science has already discovered everything there is to discover about the life of plants.

    I’m guessing this is just my own lack of understanding, Mark do you have any insight on this?

  47. abi

    consumer right to know is scientifically unjustifiable?

    1. MarkG

      If you are going to frame the issue simplistically in terms of rights, then what is at stake is the right to produce and market food without having the government require that it be labeled absent any scientific grounds for concern about health, safety or environmental protection.

      Nobody is interfering with the consumer’s right not to purchase any products that are not labeled to the consumer’s satisfaction. In this case, you can limit your food purchases to products labeled “organic” or “kosher” or “halal” if you choose, according to your own religion.

    2. Daws

      Well, technically speaking, yes. As a future philosophy teacher I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that ethical systems and values are only informed by science, not determined by it. Systems of rights and such are determined largely a priori, taking into consideration few basic contingent facts as possible, if any at all. As such scientific arguments can’t be made about these sort of things. Instead one must rely on reason and logic, and at least establish internal consistency.

      If a theory predicts an empirical observable event, then we can test that with science… But ethics simply propose what should happen, not what does happen.

  48. Chuck

    If there are no qualitative differences between GMO and non-GMO products, then what is the purpose of labeling?

    “Let’s be clear also at the outset that there is no scientific case to be made for labelling.”

    So we should apply meaningless labels rather than educate. That’s the ticket, by labeling GMO products, let’s establish the fact in consumers’ minds that government-sanctioned labels don’t really mean anything.

    1. CommonGround

      The GMO Myths and Truths report (http://gmomythsandtruths.earthopensource.org/) provides extensive scientific evidence challenging the claims made for the safety and efficacy of GMOs, and it summarizes the differences between GMO and non-GMO products as follows:

      “There are three possible sources of adverse health effects from GM foods:
      The GM transformation process may produce mutagenic effects that can disrupt or alter gene structure, disturb normal gene regulatory processes, or cause effects at other levels of biological structure and function. These effects can result in unintended changes in composition, including new toxins or allergens and/or disturbed nutritional value
      The GM gene product – for example, the Bt toxin in GM insecticidal crops – may be toxic or allergenic
      Changes in farming practices linked to the use of a GMO may result in toxic residues – for example, higher levels of crop contamination with the herbicide Roundup are an inevitable result of using GM Roundup Ready crops.

      Evidence presented below and in Chapters 4 and 5 suggests that problems are arising from all three sources.”

    2. MarkG

      When a report is titled “Myths and Truths,” expect more myths than truths.

      * Any genetic transformation process has the same potential to “produce mutagenic effects that can disrupt or alter gene structure, disturb normal gene regulatory processes, or cause effects at other levels of biological structure and function. These effects can result in unintended changes in composition, including new toxins or allergens and/or disturbed nutritional value.”

      Such processes are occurring constantly in nature, and are deliberately induced by traditional breeding methods. All living organisms are the result of billions of such processes. The only ones that are systematically tested for subtle harmful effects are those done by means of biotechnology.

      * Gene products deliberately inserted by biotech means may indeed be toxic, but are in general no more likely to be so than those present naturally or caused by traditional breeding processes. At least in the case of biotech we have some idea that a potentially harmful gene has been added and so we can test if it is actually harmful.

      * Farming itself is probably the single largest impact on the environment. The herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) is a less-harmful alternative to more toxic herbicides that have been extensively used. It use is not known to cause any health effects in consumers or any significant environmental impacts.

  49. Daws

    The more I mull it over the more the idea appeals to me, if done right of course, and if applied to all farming practices. People use that as a slippery slope objection to this, but it is being consistent and fair if the principle of informed descision making by the public is truly valued.

    Just have a boring non-judgmental list of all the farming practices, that may have been involved in the making of the product, looking simply like an extension of already existing Nutrition labels.

  50. MHC

    I read your opinion piece in the NY Times today (10/25/15) and then followed back reading other pieces, articles and speech transcripts to find out if you were also opposed to GMO labelling and found this piece, which was illuminating and made a great deal of sense.

    My question is whether the view expressed two years ago, that GMO advocates should take the road to acceptance and vindication by embracing labelling, is still your position? Or have you in the interim come up with a convincing counter-argument to that Indian scientist?

    I ask (as an otherwise anti-GMO leaning consumer) because both your arguments for GMO advantages and consumer comfort (and education) seem to me to make a great deal of sense.


Leave a Reply to Din Morfar Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *