GMO Hysteria

Pseudoscience and GMO Food

Ron Sparks Science 4 Comments

GMO Hysteria

Everyone knows that GMO food is bad right? GMOs are the Frankenstein’s monster of the food world. They’ll give you cancer, diabetes, digestive issues, shorten your lifespan, make you blind, and unleash an epidemic of (insert your poison here) on us all. GMOs are making us all sick and obese. Yeah, GMOs are bad.

Except they aren’t bad. The hysteria and negative opinions that surround GMOs are all based on bad science, pseudoscience, and marketing ploys. Read on and I’ll explain.

The lies and pseudoscience that surround GMO foods is a real issue and one we need to put to bed soon if we’re going to feed an ever-growing population.

What Is a GMO exactly?

GMO, as we all know, stands for genetically modified organism. It refers to any organism whose genetic material has been altered by humans. Organism can be plant or animal.

We’ve actually been engaging in intentional genetic modification for thousands of years through selective breeding.1

Wolves bred to become man’s best friend is the classic example. My personal favorite example was taught to me by Carl Sagan in his Cosmos series.

Selective breeding applies to plants, fruits, and vegetables as well as animals. The cauliflower and broccoli you eat today has very little resemblance to the original vegetables from whence they came.2 Using selective breeding techniques for thousands of years, these veggies have been bred for taste, durability, and yield.

GMO and Frankenstein

But selective breeding is not what has the pseudo-science opponents up in arms. No, these guys are fearful of modern genetic engineering techniques. No longer do we have to go the slow route and breed subsequent generations of something for desired traits. We can now directly modify the DNA of the parent to jump start the desired trait right into the progeny.

GMO and Frankenstein Fear are both Anti-Science Fear

GMO and Frankenstein Fear are both Anti-Science Fear

Mixing plant species is how we’ve gotten papayas free of viruses, corn plants that survive drought, soybeans that stand up to weed killer, potatoes that don’t bruise, and crops that yield more and cost less.3

Not only that, but we can also combine DNA from two very different organisms – and herein lies the heart of the problem. The Frankenstein fear.4

Mary Shelly’s 19th century science fiction tale is a cautionary tale of the woes of science outstripping morality. The idea that science without morality as a recipe for disaster is not new. We’ve always feared the unknown and, honestly, it’s a pretty sound survival trait in our species. Those conservatives in the center of the pack tend to get eaten far less often than those on the fringes.

These tales of the mad scientist who performs science without thinking of the consequences have long been one of our favorite boogeymen. Jeff Goldblum articulated this fear perfectly in the movie Jurassic Park when he said “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. “

The lesson both Frankenstein and Jurassic Park would teach us is that humans should not mess with nature – or else nature will mess back with us. We’re not as smart as we think we are and in our myopic quest for knowledge, we’ll trip and destroy the entire human race.

The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. And GMO food, meant to feed the world, is a pretty big cobblestone on that road according to many.

This is one of the primary arguments of GMO critics. That we are creating another Frankenstein’s monster because we don’t really know what we are doing. This fear goes hand in hand with…..

GMO and Corporate Conspiracy

Another big hot button for GMO critics is the conflation of GMOs themselves with corporate interests. The argument is that we can’t trust GMO foods because we can’t trust the corporations that create them.

GMO Pseudoscience Tinfoil Duck

Say hi to the GMO Pseudoscience Tinfoil Duck

For example, many people argue that GMO giant Monsanto, which also creates the herbicide Roundup, engineers their crops to be resistant to only their herbicide and not others and, as such, are injecting a lot of questionable elements into the DNA of their Roundup Ready crops. This falls flat as a warning when we realize that these crops have never been found to be problematic or harmful.5

Another is the fact that Monsanto owns the gene modifications for the seeds they sell. It’s a “signature” in the crop that they can find, and track. If they determine someone is selling their seeds and cutting them out of the loop, they can sue the farmer who does so.

This leads to fears and horror stories of “unintentional” cross-pollination of Monsanto seeds with someone’s legitimate crop and then Monsanto laying claim to it or injury if the farmer sells those seeds later (without ever knowing they had been contaminated with patented DNA). The fear: Monsanto will sue you for growing their patented GMOs if traces of those GMOs entered your fields through wind-blown pollen. There have been zero instances of this unintentionally happening to date.6

The list goes on, but much of the resistance to GMO foods comes from a David and Goliath struggle (as they paint it) against the corporation that produces them. The taint of the business’ practices taint the acceptance of the GMO.

The Pseudoscience Levied Against GMO

For the record, there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of misinformation about GMO foods out there. Arguments against GMO overwhelm and drown out much of the legitimate results in any Google search.

It’s too bad almost all of them are rooted in bad science, pseudoscience, or logical fallacies.7 I’ll provide a couple here – the entire list is way too long to include. If you want more examples, see me in the comments and I’ll be happy to oblige.

GMO Food Causes Digestive Problems

Argument: There’s a rise in digestive problems, gluten intolerances, IBS, and other digestive issues as a result of GMO food introduction into our food supply.

GMO Stomach Pain

Many claim that GMO food is bad for your digestion

The kernel of truth: It is possible, in theory, that a new gene sequence can cause an immune reaction. In fact, a GMO soybean, vitamin-enriched from the protein of a Brazil nut, was never released to market when studies showed a slight chance of this creating nut allergies in people.8

Why this is wrong: This argument fails to account for the rigorous testing internally as well as the FDA allergy and toxicity testing before new GMOs are permitted to go to market.

This is also a fine example of “correlation implying causation,” or the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.9 It is a fallacious argument that states that because a second event follows the first, the first event must be the cause of the second. The ridiculous extreme of this argument is as follows: my daughter tripped and fell down after eating GMO corn; therefore GMO corn caused her to fall down.

This is by far one of the biggest fallacies people tie to GMOs. Everything from allergies to obesity to cancer, and more, fall under the umbrella of the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.

These arguments are usually easy to parse and debunk. For example, obesity rates have greater links with a rise in high fructose corn syrup usage than in the source of the corn – GMO or not.

All GMO Science is Funded by the Industry

Argument: All science and research into GMO foods is biased. There are no legitimate studies of GMO foods by independent outsiders and and only industry-led, agenda-driven, studies that support the foregone conclusions of the industry are published.

GMO Corporate Conspiracy

Many GMO Opponents Falsely claim there are no independent science reviews

Why this is Wrong: It’s all a lie. This is the “Tobacco Science” argument which states that GMO studies are only done on behalf of their interest in defending themselves from credible science that shows it is harmful or detrimental to the public in some way.10

This is untrue and any diligent web search can prove this false.11  The World Health Organization and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have also stated that the GMOs currently approved for market are safe. Over the past decade, hundreds of independent researchers have published peer-reviewed safety studies regarding GMO foods.

Sugar Derived from GMO Food Promotes Obesity

Argument: Sugar from GMO beets and corn are interacting poorly with our bodies, is making us fat, and leading to an upsurge in diabetes. This is seen easily in the uptick in obesity and diabetes across the world.

Is this a GMO Sugar Molecule?

Is this a GMO Sugar Molecule? There’s no difference!

Why This is Wrong: This is exactly the same as the allergy argument. It’s a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument. People create patterns and correlations that don’t exist in reality.

A sugar molecule is a sugar molecule. Period. You can’t lay two sugar molecules side by side, compare them, and determine which one came from a GMO source and which came from a non-GMO source.12

For point of reference, over 90% of all livestock feed is sourced from GMO crop and has been for decades. Billions of cows, chickens, pigs, and other livestock have lived full, healthy, lives eating only GMO foods with no ill consequence. They are not making livestock fatter by virtue of being GMO – farmers still have to “fatten up” their livestock by increasing daily caloric intake.13

More GMO Falsehoods

Here’s a short list of debunked GMO claims I don’t answer here. As I said above, if you want to chat about them, let’s do it in the comments.

  • False! GMO is too new for us to safely use.
  • False! GMO foods die out after a single generation (termination gene).
  • False! GMOs are unnecessary.
  • False! GMO cause pesticide overuse.
  • False! GMO harms beneficial insects.
  • False! GMO create “super insects.”
  • False! If GMO food spreads it will take over the world.
  • False! Our ancestors were healthier than us and they didn’t have GMO.
  • False! Scientists are being persecuted if they tell the truth of GMO.

GMO & You

Because of consumer misinformation and fear, many countries are requiring labels for GMO crops, are banning them, and are catering to the false fears from GMO opponents. GMO opponents represent perhaps the largest instance of the Frankenstein fear in modern times, and it is growing as misinformation skyrockets.

Some companies are capitalizing on the lies and disinformation – and it’s not the GMO companies like Monsanto. It’s companies like Chipotle14, who are preying on the ignorant and misinformed by marketing that all of their food will be GMO free. Chipotle is preying on the fear of “Frankenfood” and portraying themselves as the good guys when in reality all they are doing is propagating harmful myths about the realities of GMO.

The Bottom Line

As a consumer you have a choice. You can buy GMO food or not. Your choice. Just know that you’re paying premium dollar for false assurances; its bad science, and pseudoscience wins when you buy non-GMO products. Non-GMO foods are not healthier for you. They are not better.

GMO foods are safe for you to you eat and there is no consensus or scientific evidence to the contrary.

Eventually GMO food will be necessary to survive. Global warning and climate change are destroying fertile land and making it harder to grow crops. The solution is to either halt global climate change, which seems doubtful at this point, or gene-modify our food to grow in less hospitable environments, dealing with new pests and threats that don’t exist today.

So you can hold out on some mistaken moral ground right now if you want, but as I said above, you’re holding out based on bad science, pseudoscience, hysteria, and marketing magic.

All non-GMO foods do is bolster your self-righteousness at the expense of the truth…and your wallet.

Ron Sparks

Ron Sparks

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author
Ron Sparks is a science fiction and fantasy author and poet. His book "ONI: Satellite Earth Series Book 1" was recently published and is available on Amazon.com. For more info on Ron, see: https://www.ronsparks.com/about/
  1. Genetically modified organism. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism
  2. Did You Know That Broccoli is a Man-made Food? (n.d.). In PonderWeasel. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://www.ponderweasel.com/broccoli-man-made-food/
  3. Siegel, Kate, and Verit, Suzanne. (n.d.). The Truth About GMOs. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/truth-about-gmos#1
  4. Van Wagner, Julie (2004). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Timeless Lessons for Modern Man. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://www3.sympatico.ca/jvanwagner/Frankenstein_Essay.htm
  5. Charles, Dan. (October 18, 2012). Top Five Myths Of Genetically Modified Seeds, Busted. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from  http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/10/18/163034053/top-five-myths-of-genetically-modified-seeds-busted
  6. Charles, Dan. (October 18, 2012). Top Five Myths Of Genetically Modified Seeds, Busted. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from  http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/10/18/163034053/top-five-myths-of-genetically-modified-seeds-busted
  7. The Original Skeptic Raptor. (April 30, 2015). The bad science checklist of GMO opponents. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/bad-science-checklist-gmo-opponents/
  8. Siegel, Kate, and Verit, Suzanne. (n.d.). The Truth About GMOs. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/truth-about-gmos#4
  9. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_hoc_ergo_propter_hoc
  10. Tobacco Science. (n.d.). In UrbanDictionary. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tobacco%20science
  11. Retreat, Smilodon’s. (October 24, 2012). A Survey of Long Term GM Food Studies. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://www.skepticink.com/smilodonsretreat/2012/10/24/a-survey-of-long-term-gm-food-studies/
  12. Larson, Rebecca. (December 14, 2015). Myth busting: There is no such thing as GMO Sugar. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/12/14/myth-busting-no-thing-gmo-sugar/
  13. Etine, Jon. (September 19, 2014).What happens when 100 billion animals, over 18 years, eat GMOs? Retrieved April 28, 2017, from https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/09/19/what-happens-when-100-billion-animals-over-18-years-eat-gmos/
  14. G-M-Over It. (n.d.). In Chipotle. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://chipotle.com/GMO

Comments 4

  1. The only coherent argument I’ve ever heard against GMO’s is that -Time- is the difference. This is to say that we can alter an organism so fast now that we’re skipping a lot of the intermediate variants. Prior to lab-based GMO techniques, those variants used to get consumed over time, and empirically proved out how safe the alteration is. Bananas are a great example; they were crossbred over decades to bring us the yellow, seedless variant we now have, with each permutation being consumed by humans. This proved them safe, over time, and was based on smaller changes in the genetic structure. This also had the benefit to more slowly show any negative impacts the new crop could have on neighboring crops.

    I’m am not arguing against your post, nor the science behind it. More pointing out a facet that I don’t see accounted for.

  2. Post
    Author

    Good point. This is interesting and something I’ll look into right now. I did touch on it obliquely in the “GMO Food Causes Digestive Problems” section of the article above when I mention the allergy and toxicity testing.

    But I did not address exactly this issue. Do you have anything in opposition or defense of this argument?

  3. Really only bits and pieces, normally peppered within larger articles. Take for example this NatGeo piece: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/food-how-altered/ (search for “gene flow” or “too quickly”).

    You can see some commentary (especially about cross-pollination to *other* relative plants) from Dr Snow here: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/opinion/when-food-is-genetically-modified.html

    Considering that the cross-pollination can occur to not just the exact plant but others that are closely related, it a factual statement (and question) to ask “Since this can happen, are we testing all variants of crops and species?”.

    Again – I am not anti-GMO – just educating myself as much as possible too.

  4. “species” isn’t the right word (as I re-read that), but you get my point I think.

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