Aren’t GMOs just a big conspiracy theory? Isn’t all the anti-GMO hype just a marketing ploy to sell more organics? Haven’t studies failed to show any detrimental effects of consuming genetically engineered food?
Nearly two decades after genetically engineered crops have been in your grocery store, human studies are only now starting to be performed — but not in the United States.
Why is there no research being done on the potential human health risks of GMOs in our country?
Scientific American magazine explains it this way: “Agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.” Scientists must literally ask these corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops.
Not surprisingly, no such permission has been granted in the last twenty years, except for studies that are crafted to put GMOs in a positive context. Biotechnology companies routinely prohibit, restrict, bury, or slander all credible independent research on genetically engineered crops / GMOs.
Need to see sources to back up those statements? I’ve begun to compile as many as I can find below. Simply click on the links (in blue text) to be taken to the article or study.
Identifying the Sources
First let’s start by examining a basic list of lobbying groups and PR agencies with ties to Monsanto.
Next let’s look at a far more comprehensive list of the individuals, organizations, and websites backing GMO technology on this website, and how they are related to the ag-biotech industry.
The next time you see a report claiming that a study had “serious defects” and “improper methodology” because its results put GMOs in a bad light, see if you recognize any of these names in the list of report authors. Likewise, the next time you see a study report concluding GMOs bear “no harm” and are “substantially equivalent,” see if you can find any corollary with the names of the organizations that provided funding for the study.
Which industry has the luxury of a multi-million dollar publicity budget? (Hint: it’s not the scientists).
“Biotechnology companies are not in the habit of publicizing studies that question the efficacy of their products,” said Barry Commoner, American biologist, college professor, author, and former Editor of Science Illustrated Magazine. (Source: Harper’s Magazine, February 2002)
“One of the great mysteries surrounding the spread of GMO plants around the world has been the absence of independent scientific studies of possible long-term effects of a diet of GMO plants on humans or even rats,” wrote the Editors of Scientific American Magazine. “The GMO agribusiness companies like Monsanto, BASF, Pioneer, Syngenta and others prohibit independent research.” (Source: Scientific American Magazine, August 13, 2009)
“But that type of research infringes on our intellectual property rights!” claims the biotechnology industry.
The editors had a response for that too: “Although we appreciate the need to protect the intellectual property rights that have spurred the investments into research and development that have led to agritech’s successes, we also believe food safety and environmental protection depend on making plant products available to regular scientific scrutiny.” (Source: Scientific American Magazine, August 13, 2009)
Ag-bio’s veto control goes far beyond independent researchers. Recently, they gave themselves power over the US federal court system, thanks to Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) who worked closely with Monsanto to craft a rider (dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act”, aka Section 735 of HR 933) that he quietly slipped into an entirely unrelated spending bill about government shut-down.
“Many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ even existed within the bill they were voting on.” (Sources: Washington’s Blog, International Business Times, and OpenCongress.org — search for “735″ to find the rider text.)
Interpretation of the rider’s legalese: if you plant a crop that is legal to plant when you plant it, you get to harvest it even if it’s undergoing legal action in U.S. federal court (i.e., if it was found to have health or other risks) before it’s ready to harvest. As worded, it protects “farmers, growers, farm operators, or producers” (Monsanto is a producer of RoundUp Ready crops). Was the USDA already allowing Monsanto et al to do this? Yes. Was it ever documented in a bill before? Not until this new rider.
Other scientists studying the sources of so-called “research” done on the health risks and nutritional assessment of genetically modified products consistently found conflicts of interest: “Where there was a conflict of interest, 100% of the studies (41 out of 41) made a favorable GM safety finding.” (Source: Food Policy study published in SciVerse / Science Direct Journal, Volume 36, Issue 2, April 2011)
Says Doug Gurian-Sherman, plant pathologist and senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists: ”We don’t have the complete picture. That’s no accident. Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically engineered crops. They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they’ve set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.” (Source: Los Angeles Times, Feb. 2011)
Gurian-Sherman goes on to say “The companies that produce the seeds claim that genetically engineered crops are safe and are better than traditional crops in a range of ways. It’s time for these companies to back up their rhetoric. The only way to test their grand assertions is to let independent science take its course.”
Back in 2009, Christian Krupke, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Entomology, Purdue University, joined with a team of university scientists to submit a statement to the Environmental Protection Agency, stating “Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops.” (Source: the New York Times, Feb. 19, 2009)
The statement goes on to say: “Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology, its performance, its management implications, IRM [insect resistance management], and its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited.” (Source: Landes Bioscience, Volume 1, Issue 2, March/April 2010)
In short, “Industry is completely driving the bus,” said Dr. Krupke in an interview with a scientific journal.
In an analysis done by Pryme and Lembcke on several “pro-GMO” studies by Monsanto in collaboration with private corporations, the scientists came to a similar conclusion: ”Industry-funded research favors the funders.” In all cases, the animal feeding studies that were performed in collaboration with private companies reported no negative effects from the GM diet.
“On the other hand,” they wrote, “adverse effects were reported (but not explained) in [the five] independent studies.” They further noted, “It is remarkable that these effects were all observed after feeding for only 10–14 days.” (Source: Ian F. Pryme and Rolf Lembcke, “In Vivo Studies on Possible Health Consequences of Genetically Modified Food and Feed—with Particular Regard to Ingredients Consisting of Genetically Modified Plan Materials,” Nutrition and Health 17(2003): 1–8)
An alternate approach: “greenwashing”
One of the best ways to clean up a corporation’s public image is to align with non-profit organizations that do good things for the world.
A series of global bargains have been struck by international agribusiness with many of the biggest conservation nonprofits including World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy, with the goal of creating programs that presumably protect the world’s wildlife.
One such example of a joint program is the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), whose membership includes WWF, Conservation International, Fauna and Flora International, the Nature Conservancy, and other prominent nonprofits, as well as Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, Nestle, BP Oil and the UK supermarket ASDA. The purpose of this partnership is to “greenwash” GMO soybeans as certified wildlife friendly, despite being grown in large-scale chemical-intensive monocultures, for the purpose of providing feed for animals, in countries with hungry populations. Consult this source for more in-depth information: (Source: Independent Science News, February 2012)
Another fortuitous alignment with a respected non-profit organization came about after Monsanto made significant financial contributions to NPR, resulting in extensive advertising extolling all the “positive benefits” provided by the ag-bio giant. (Source: TheBohemian.com )
A third type of greenwashing comes in the form of Monsanto’s recent ad campaign, “America’s Farmers,” in which they align themselves with happy farmers who are “growing America.” Unfortunately these ads don’t mention the contract that farmers become bound to, nor how they must defend themselves in court when seed contamination occurs (Monsanto recently edited their website to refute this claim by using the word “pollen” — note the lack of the word “seeds”). Since the mid-1990s, Monsanto has filed 145 lawsuits against farmers for patent infringement and/or breach of contract in connection with its genetically engineered seed. (Source: Monsanto’s website; and the Center for Food Safety’s report “Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers”)
Outside of reports by independent scientists / scientific journals and examples of greenwashing, other sources of buried information include…
In a 2007 cable from the US ambassador to France, Craig Roberts Stapleton recommended “retaliation” against European “targets” in order to defend Monsanto sales of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe, where controversy over GMOs is strong. In the cable, the French decision to suspend Monsanto’s MON 810 patented seed product line was described as “damaging” and not “science-based”. The French government’s “apparent recommitment” to the precautionary principle written in the French Constitution was also referred to as “damaging”. In the cable, Stapleton stated, “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.” (Source: Stapleton, Craig (2007-12-14). France and the WTO ag biotech case. WikiLeaks cable:07PARIS4723; archived from the original on 26 December 2010; retrieved 26 December 2010.)
This website documents a variety of additional efforts made to confuse and sway the public’s opinion about genetically modified foods, with numerically referenced sources listed at the end of the article.
This website documents several of the statements already mentioned above on the first page of their article, and other / additional claims on page 2. Not all claims are sourced: the reader is urged to do their own research before drawing any conclusions.
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