Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

Op-Ed: GMOs, shoddy science, and the credibility black hole

By Paul Wallis     May 28, 2013 in Science
Sydney - Genetically modified organisms are news for more than one reason. The stonewalling and hyper litigation by manufacturers ask a few questions which result in total silence, a black hole full of nothing. That silence alone deserves to be examined.
The March against Monsanto was a reflection of the depth of public worry about GMOs. It’s just not good enough to accuse millions of people of being ignorant, which is the sum total of the response from the GMO industry so far. It’s also not good enough to assume that public fury on this scale can be simply ignored by politicians, even in a do-nothing Congress and other legislatures.
One of the reasons for the public worry is the sheer lack of independent research. It’s a sort of Holy Grail of science that scientific research is submitted for peer review. It’s the norm. That hasn’t been happening to the satisfaction of the public, or many scientists.
Which raises the first set of questions:
Why has there been no interest in independent research from regulators? Even a bottle of shampoo gets more testing than food people are supposed to eat? Salt has to be labelled, but not some totally unknown organic material? Even by the appalling standards of the Doormat Formerly Known as the FDA, this is obviously absurd.
On what basis is approval granted? I saw one sorry-looking old comment in an article by the Public Health Institute of Australia that testing for GMO toxicity involved “feeding an animal one dose and seeing whether it died”. Organic chemistry is a bit more complicated than that, cumulative effects are an issue and this is nothing like a credible scientific standard. It’s a bad joke.
The issues won't go away
The sheer range of possible issues is gigantic, and again, no interest? The issues include allergens, “super weeds”, toxicity over time, environmental damage to everything from pollinators to core agriculture, indirect exposure to unknown compounds and more. Not a squeak out of anyone able to actually do the research.
If GMO is safe, why the obstacles to independent studies? I saw one Australian researcher saying it was damn near impossible to obtain samples for study because of contractual obligations to suppliers.
In the same Sydney Morning Herald article, I noticed that the general thrust of the defence of GMOs is that they’re “no different” from natural foods. This is a contradiction in terms, but in a political environment where literacy is apparently not a requirement for office, it’s predictable.
The promises of GMO vs. the facts so far
The original idea of GMOs was pretty “noble”, in a rather kitschy way. Providing food for the future, etc. all sounded very good. The truly bizarre thing about GMOs is that it’s actually possible to do these noble things. Creating a safe product isn’t hard, at least in theory. Just don’t include unknown elements and test things properly. Is that really so much to ask?
The observed facts are indicating the exact opposite. In India, Monsanto’s business model has resulted in absolute chaos for Indian farmers. Class actions are being mounted by Brazilian farmers. Litigation has been more common than achievements. Consumer demand for non-GMO products is spiking as much because of the manufacturers’ evasiveness and hostility almost as much as the health worries.
The behaviour of the GMO industry is clearly unacceptable to the public, and consumers are voting with their dollars for other foods. This is an own goal of colossal proportions. The shoddy science is another issue for those who can read. It’s just not plausible that major corporations wouldn’t test their products properly, unless they knew those products couldn’t survive real scrutiny.
The legal issues are to put it mildly open to debate: Monsanto has been holding farmers downwind responsible for breach of patent rights. Instead of suing the wind, they sued the farmers. Ask yourself how a farmer is supposed to be able to control the wind, and you’ll see the substance of this as a legal argument. Another great image for genetic science- Sue first, consider facts second. Not encouraging.
Hurting science with image
GMO science in its present form is totally undermining the credibility of arguably the most important area of biological science. Gene science is the equivalent of the invention of fire and the wheel combined, and just as important. The GMO industry is making this critical science highly suspect and giving it a public image of absolute untrustworthiness.
How are people supposed to trust a science that won’t give a straight answer to anything and hides behind its lawyers if anyone has issues with it? The usual law of human reaction is that a negative reaction will go all out in the opposite direction and to the same degree as whatever issue to which it’s reacting. Genetic science could be hit with Luddite reactions simply for not doing basic science? How is that good for anyone? Future cures for disease could go begging because someone can’t be bothered to run a few tests now? Good science will be colored with the same brush as the GMO industry.
Enough of this crap. Get the science done, fix what needs fixing, get the facts straight to the point of credibility. Nothing else will work.
For the record: This is a search of Digital Journal articles on Monsanto. That's a fair indication of the level of worry and distrust. The industry should start paying attention, now. This discontent isn't going to go away. It's going to keep coming and get louder until some meaningful action happens.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about GMO food, Monsanto, march against monsanto, Public health, GMOs and environment