The GMO Debate

This page is dedicated to pieces covering the GMO debate.



A Flawed Approach to Labeling Genetically Modified Food


At ‘Crucial Moment’ For GMO Labeling, Organic Industry Finds Itself Divided

06/29/2016 02:20 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016
Carey Gillam 

The blame-game was in full swing this week in the aftermath of the GMO labeling deal announced by U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow as embittered organic, consumer and environmentalist groups who want mandatory labeling struggled for a cohesive strategy to oppose the deal many have dubbed a “dream” for the food and biotech agriculture industries but a disaster for consumers.

Though agricultural and food industry interests celebrated the proposed legislation they called a “compromise,” dozens of food, farm, environmental and consumer groups penned a letter Monday to members of the Senate decrying what they called “profoundly undemocratic” deal-making. The proposed law, the groups said, cheats consumers and is the product of hidden, back-room bargaining between the senators and industry interest groups.

The groups are outraged that their key demand – on-package language that states clearly if a food contains genetically engineered ingredients – was traded away in favor of codes that consumers must decipher by scanning with smart phones. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has been pushing for such codes. Other provisions are almost as onerous, the critics say, and all act to further the interests of food companies and sellers of biotech seeds like Monsanto Co. If passed, the law would nullify the mandatory GMO labeling law that takes effect July 1 in Vermont, which requires on-package statements. Read full blog entry here…

107 Nobel laureates sign letter blasting Greenpeace over GMOs

June 30

This post has been updated.

More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world.

“We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular,” the letter states.

The letter campaign was organized by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and, with Phillip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences known as introns. The campaign has a website,, that includes a running list of the signatories, and the group plans to hold a news conference Thursday morning at the National Press Club in Washington. Read full article here…

Genetically modified Golden Rice falls short on lifesaving promises

GMO activists not to blame for scientific challenges slowing introduction, study finds

Heralded on the cover of Time magazine in 2000 as a genetically modified (GMO) crop with the potential to save millions of lives in the Third World, Golden Rice is still years away from field introduction and even then, may fall short of lofty health benefits still cited regularly by GMO advocates, suggests a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

“Golden Rice is still not ready for the market, but we find little support for the common claim that environmental activists are responsible for stalling its introduction. GMO opponents have not been the problem,” said lead author Glenn Stone, professor of anthropology and environmental studies in Arts & Sciences.

First conceived in the 1980s and a focus of research since 1992, Golden Rice has been a lightning rod in the battle over genetically modified crops.

GMO advocates have long touted the innovation as a practical way to provide poor farmers in remote areas with a subsistence crop capable of adding much-needed Vitamin A to local diets. A problem in many poor countries in the Global South, Vitamin A deficiencies leave millions at high risk for infection, diseases and other maladies, such as blindness. Read full article here…


New GE report misses its own point

Last week, the National Academies of Science (NAS) attracted much media attention with the release of its new report, “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects.” The report assessed a range of health, environmental, social and economic impacts of GE crops.

According to report authors, genetically engineered (GE) crops have failed to live up to the hype advertised by corporate manufacturers. And more rigorous monitoring and oversight by regulatory agencies is needed, they say, to protect against unexpected adverse outcomes. I heartily agree.

Unfortunately, these and other important findings are buried within the report’s 400+ pages — and then glossed over in the authors’ own recommendations, as well as in the NAS press release that paints a decidedly more upbeat picture of the impacts of GE crops.

Failure to deliver

A popular and oft-repeated claim by the biotech industry is that GE crops boost yields and are necessary to “feed the world.” The prestigious and most comprehensive assessment of agriculture ever to have taken place — the UN-led International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) — already shredded that thesis in its 2008 landmark study authored by over 400 scientists and development experts from more than 80 countries. GE crops, the IAASTD found, primarily serve to boost multinational corporations’ profits rather than to benefit poor and small-scale farmers around the world. Read more here…

Organic Farmers Are Not Anti-Science but Genetic Engineers Often Are

by Elizabeth Henderson

At one of the public brainstorming sessions for the New York Organic Action Plan, an organic farmer made an impassioned plea for support for “independent science” and told us that with 8.5 billion mouths to feed by 2050, we will need genetic engineering to prevent starvation.

I would like to examine these words carefully to decipher what they mean, how those words are used by this farmer and by others, and suggest how the movement for locally grown organic food in this country should respond.

What is the meaning of ‘independent science’? As co-chair of the Policy Committee for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), I have been an active participant in the coalition that is campaigning to pass GMO labeling legislation in NY State. In this capacity, I have spoken at public meetings, to the press and on radio interviews. A question that I have heard from proponents of biotechnology is “why do you organic farmers oppose science, like the climate deniers?”

The first time I heard this, I was startled and felt defensive. Had I ever opposed science?  I searched back through things I had written and reviewed all the policy resolutions the members of NOFA-NY had passed over the years. I found a few places where I criticized reductionist science and defended “indigenous knowledge” (that is things like composting and crop rotations that people who practice a craft know and pass on to their children that has not been proven by research at a university). But nowhere could I find any statement opposing science. Just recently, I reviewed with approval this statement from an organic farming group:

“We support the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movement’s (IFOAM) definition that organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.” Read more here…

National Academy of Sciences Finds Genetically Engineered Crops Not the Solution to World Hunger

By Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst and Doug Gurian-Sherman, Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist
May 23rd, 2016

New Report Downplays Harms of Herbicide-Resistant GE Crops

A new report released this week by The National Academy of Science (NAS) – Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects – provides some useful perspectives on the contentious debate surrounding genetically engineered (GE) crops, and is particularly noteworthy for calling into question the frequent claim that GE crops are key to “feeding the world.” But in other respects it is shallow and disappointing due to the lack of holistic analysis and frequent bias in favor of GE crops and herbicides whose use they promote.

The committee that produced the report devoted considerable space to assessing the yield implications of current genetically engineered crops, which were developed to survive treatment with herbicides and/or provide resistance to certain insect pests. Overall, the NAS committee found a steady increase in U.S. crop yields that spans both the pre-biotech and biotech eras. This strongly implies that other factors, such as advances in conventional breeding methods, have played a critical role in raising crop productivity. By contrast, they found no evidence that GE traits provided measureable increases in overall crop productivity.

Significantly, the report did not find clear benefits from GE crops in developing countries for small, impoverished farms. This finding is consistent with the observation that one billion people remain food insecure, despite massive adoption of GE crops globally on over 400 million acres. Read full blog here…


94 scientists explain why EFSA got it wrong on glyphosate

Peer-reviewed article criticizes EFSA over incorrect use of data, ignoring evidence of tumours in lab animals, and reliance on secret studies to come up with a verdict that glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer

A group of 94 scientists has published an article explaining the differences in the evaluation of the weedkiller glyphosate’s cancer-causing potential by two scientific organisations.

Glyphosate is sprayed on over 80% of GM crops grown worldwide and is the most used herbicide in the world.

The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) came to opposite conclusions on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. The IARC classified glyphosate as a “probable” human carcinogen, but EFSA said a cancer link was unlikely.

The EFSA decision, based on a report prepared by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), even indicated that the allowable daily intake of glyphosate, the amount that humans can safely ingest each day over a lifetime, could be increased.

The 94 authors of the new article include most of the group of 96 scientists who publicly condemned EFSA’s assessment of glyphosate as “not supported by the evidence”. They also include many members of the original IARC Working Group that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. Read full article here…


Monsanto’s pride, Monsanto’s fall: playing God with the Indian farmer

Colin Todhunter

19th February 2016

India’s farmers are the targets of structural violence aimed at uprooting indigenous agriculture and replacing it with an intensive corporate model based on GMOs and agrochemicals, writes Colin Todhunter. But as Monsanto’s GM cotton succumbs to insect infestations despite repeated pesticide applications, agroecological farming is an increasingly attractive option for cultivators.

The mantra of global agribusiness is that it cares about farmers. It also really cares about humanity and wants to help feed a growing world population by using its patented genetically modified (GM) seeds.

It says it wants to assist poor farmers by helping them grow enough to earn a decent income. Seems like it’s a win-win situation for everyone!

If you listen to the PR, you could be forgiven for believing that transnational agribusiness companies are driven by altruistic tendencies and humanitarian goals rather than by massive profit margins and delivering on shareholder dividends. Read full article here…


AGRA WATCH PRESS RELEASE: Over 57,000 Express Concern with Human Feeding Trials of GMO Bananas



The complex nature of GMOs calls for a new conversation

An honest discussion of genetically modified organisms must move beyond narrow concepts of human health to the wider social and environmental impacts of engineered crops.

The GMO debate is one from which I’ve kept a purposeful distance.

For one thing, it’s an issue that has already garnered more than its fair share of attention. For another, when you consider that many domesticated crops resulted from seed irradiation, chromosome doubling and plant tissue culture — none of which are genetically engineered — the boundaries of “natural” are more porous than they initially appear. Read full article here…


GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science

The GM Food Labeling Law to End All Labeling Laws

Timothy A. Wise

This week the U.S. Senate is expected to begin consideration of a controversial bill that would, in the guise of “safe and accurate food labeling,” make the labeling of genetically modified foods nearly impossible. It would undercut state-level labeling initiatives, such as the one approved in Vermont. The Real News Network sat down with  Timothy A. Wise to discuss the ongoing battle over GM food, based on his recent article, “The GM Food Labeling Law to End All Labeling Laws.” Wise has followed the controversy as part of his research on A Rights-Based Approach to the Global Food Crisis, with articles on the scientific controversy (here and here) and a series on the industry push to get GM maize approved for planting in Mexico (articles 1, 2, 3). Wise was interviewed at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, where he is a Senior Research Fellow. Read full article here…

Fakethrough! GMOs and the Capitulation of Science Journalism

by Jonathan Latham, PhD

Good journalism examines its sources critically, it takes nothing at face value, places its topics in a historical context, and it values above all the public interest. Such journalism is, most people agree, essential to any equitable and open system of government. These statements are, if anything, especially applicable to the science media. But while the media in general has recently taken much criticism, for trivialising news and other flaws, the science media has somehow escaped serious attention. This is unfortunate because no country in the world has a healthy science media. Read full article here…

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