What the GMO Four aren’t telling you about biotech food

I for one am pleased to see that the Arcata Eye has morphed into an ongoing source of interesting controversy. Wisdom occasionally emerges from such controversy, but not always. Examples are the lengthy but content-free hit piece (Mad River Union, Feb. 26) in which Kevin Hoover, Rollin Richmond and Chad White assert without evidence that “Everything you think you know about GMOs is probably wrong,” and “HSU’s ‘Anti-GMO Speaker Series’ tells one side of the biotechnology controversy” (Mad River Union, Aug. 20) from Professor Mark Wilson. Collectively let’s call them the GMO Four.

Whatever you think you know, facts show that what the GMO Four and GMO companies want you to believe is in fact wrong. Might GMO companies lie, as have Big Tobacco, Big Pharma and climate change deniers, just to make money?

Genetic engineering places genetic material from one species into the DNA of another, to create GM organisms (plants, fish, etc); it’s different from what occurs naturally. It’s more complicated and costly than conventional plant breeding, which has occurred for thousands of years, and it’s different from the development of hybrid seeds. The GMO Four would like you to believe GMOs are just like those other advancements but they are as different as Agent Orange and aspirin.

Schaefer column logoIgnore the red herrings

The four authors recommended attention to “basic, well-established science” but completely ignored overwhelming scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful to animals that eat them, that GMOs are no more profitable for farmers than conventional crops, and that GMOs have been especially harmful to small farmers feeding the world. Was that what you believed?

Genetic engineering is a fascinating science, and may someday provide useful products for society. But just because it’s fascinating doesn’t mean products should be adopted without scrutiny. The scientific process is based on experimentation and ongoing examination of results, so results shouldn’t be ignored.

Ignoring their own admonition about “basic, well-established science”, the GMO Four failed to report what independent researchers say about GMOs. They have also conflated biotech with GMOs, without telling you that the GMO is only a narrow, corporate-funded (and dangerous) portion of all biotech.

Misleading you further, the Union ignores the fact that Measure P would only ban the planting of dangerous GMOs, and certainly not all biotech.

Professor Wilson’s criticism of Professor Noah Zerbe is a red herring. The real question is not whose opinion he believes or whether HSU is biased, but rather what the facts show is good for Humboldt County. The county now holds an advantage in agricultural products that health-minded customers prefer. Pollen travels for miles, so GMO contamination would hurt our agriculture and our economy. To allow that would be foolhardy, and voters who care about our future should vote yes on Measure P.

GMOs and illnesses

Dr. Robin Bernhoft, MD, noted that American Academy of Environmental Medicine opposes introduction of GMOs because research indicates serious risk to humans: infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen, and gastrointestinal system.

Other than that, the GMO Four might say, GMOs aren’t so bad. As a physician, however, Dr. Bernhoft is better equipped than most editors and even biologists, to know the truth about this.

Since GMOs became a staple in our food supply, autism rates in the U.S. have climbed to more than 1 in 68 children. Correlation doesn’t prove causation but it should raise suspicion.

Dr. Don Huber, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Purdue, says, “Studies with pigs show the allergy response from GMO food reproduced all of the physiological changes that we see in the intestine, the inflammatory response in the stomach to those foreign proteins, that we see with autistic children.”

That correlation applies to other illnesses as well. Dr. Martha Grout, MD, says that many diseases she deals with have inflammation as a source. For many, the source is in the gut, which is the first interface between body and food. Between 1995 and 2004 as GMOs were introduced to the U. S. diet, inflammatory bowel disease rose from 47 to 62 per 100,000, ulcerative colitis from 18 to 26, chronic constipation from 70 to 155, gastrointestinal infections from 110 to 148, Crohn’s disease from 31 to 36, and gastroesophageal reflux from 250 to 750. Dr. Grout says we should look at allergies, autoimmune diseases, and anything that’s related to inflammation. Could the correlation between GMO food consumption and these diseases be pure coincidence?

One of America’s top pediatricians, Dr. Michelle Perro, MD, says she treats kids who are allergic to every food group, and asks how that can be possible. “I see a lot of children now with leaky guts,” she says. “The food that they eat is leaking into their bloodstream. This creates an antibody response to those foods and so they are coming in with food intolerances and food allergies.”

She finds the only way to cure them is to take kids off all GMO foods.

Dr. Arden Anderson, PhD, DO, MPH, says, “One sad side effect of glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup] are birth defects. In the towns where people were workers on the farms, particularly the soybean farms, we had as much as 70 times increase in the number of birth defects in these sprayed areas. And in fact studies around the world show that glyphosate causes birth defects.”

If those risks affect cattle, what effect would infertility have in the dairy industry?

None of this is new news, as researchers found birth defects as long ago as the 1980s. But results were suppressed in Europe, South America, and here in the U.S.

GMO companies claim that agricultural yields and profitability are higher with their products, but that’s actually not true. Dr. Charles Benbrook, PhD, former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, says “Essentially all of the independent studies—and by that I mean a study not paid for directly or indirectly by the biotech industry—all independent studies conclude that the GM technology has been close to an economic wash.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists described how increases in developing country yields are not due to GMOs but rather to improved practices. In the U. S., GMOs grown side by side with organics show no difference for soy or corn, except in times of drought when the organic outperforms the GMOs.

With Mother Nature showing her customary adaptability, the New York Times reported (Farmers Cope with Roundup-Resistant Weeds, May 3, 2010), that superweeds resistant to Roundup are already present on as many as 100 million acres in the U. S.

So once a farmer is suckered into using some gateway GMOs with Roundup, he’ll need to buy more of it to kill superweeds. That’s good for chemical companies that also sell the patented GMO seeds, but not for us.

GMOs threaten Humboldt’s markets 

All these findings from independent researchers convinced Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Marin, and Trinity Counties to ban cultivation of GMO crops. Jackson and Josephine Counties in Oregon just passed similar bans. Vermont just passed a labeling law.  Oregon will vote on a labeling law in November. Similarly, other countries have examined results from scientific journals and decided they don’t want GMOs fed to their citizens. They include most of Europe, China, and Japan.

Last year Japan cancelled shipments of U. S. wheat because of fears that it was GMO. In two events last year China, which is not known for high food safety standards, returned both 60,000 ton and 887,000 ton shipments of U.S. corn. Clearly, GMOs have damaged and could continue to damage export markets from the U. S., or from Humboldt.

As long ago as 2005, the Center for Food Safety criticized Monsanto’s business tactics. It is notorious among farmers for its aggressive investigations and pursuit of farmers it claims have infringed on its patents. The company devotes $10 million a year and a staff of 75 to investigate and sue farmers. Since 2001, it has sued at least 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses, almost always winning.

GMO pollen drift is an issue for farmers whose crops are damaged, and it was fear of pollen drift that caused a Jackson County seed farmer to lose his markets. Pollen drift causes GMO plants to appear where farmers don’t want them. So farmers might lose their health-related markets, or they might be sued by GMO companies for patent violation. Because cases are usually settled out of court it’s unclear whether pollen drift was an issue, as denied in the first of the two articles. Perhaps the GMO Four have inside knowledge.

GMO companies can’t just remain silent in the face of information noted above, so they have to retaliate. GMO-funded “researchers” like Monsanto-supported universities often criticize independent studies. UC Davis supports GMOs and vice-versa; I have no information about HSU. Retaliators may even attack this brief article, and they’ll probably say something negative about Measure P. It’s part of their business plan.

These business practices alone should be enough to keep GMOs out of the county. They’ve caused suicides in India, where many Indian farmers fell for the story, as did the GMO Four. The difference is that Indian farmers’ crops failed and left them desperately in debt, whereas the GMO Four have other means of support, like writing editorials.

Even tiny El Salvador, where I once lived, has recently resisted pressure to adopt GMO seeds because of kidney disease. I hope Humboldt can do the same.

We shouldn’t put up with GMO companies’ practices or products here. Humboldt County is already a source of grass-fed beef, dairy, and the GMO-free products that intelligent consumers increasingly prefer. Regardless of what voters might have thought about GMOs, I hope they will now support Measure P so we can maintain that healthy economic advantage.

John Schaefer is an Arcata resident.

Upcoming GMO events

The Humboldt Grange #501 is pleased to welcome a special guest speaker Wednesday, Aug. 27. Dr. Ray Seidler wull discuss Genetically Modified Organisms in the food chain. A second guest speaker will discuss a similar topic on Saturday, Sept. 13.

Seidler will appear on this week’s KHSU 90.5 FM Thursday Night Talk with host Eric Kirk, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.

Seidler will also present Friday evening, Aug. 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Native American Forum, Room 162 of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building. as part of HSU’s GMO Speaker Series.

More GMO speakers appear as part of Local Foods Month.



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  1. Miles Stockdale said:

    If you knew and understood the science you would be far more concerned about the original piece. Perhaps you should first actually learn what the scientific community has to say and why that is their view, instead of forming an opinion and then searching information that confirms your view (as is the case with the UCS – incidentally the UCS being concerned that their position on GMOs was completely at odds with all the major scientific organizations has just got rid of Doug Gurian-Sherman and is trying to distance themselves from his steady stream of statements that were at complete odds with the science).

  2. jeandoran said:

    unionj of concerned scientists extensively covers GMO research–technical, interesting—-

  3. Pingback: Rollin Richmond: Education and knowledge, not fearful ideology, are key to understanding GMOs | Mad River Union

  4. California Conservative said:

    All this anti-GMO crap seems like fear mongering from the nuts.

  5. Cairenn Day said:

    I noticed a total lack of links to the studies you mention. That is a red flag to any skeptic. If one cannot check the studies to see if 1) the were peer reviewed 2) if they were published 3) where where they published and what is the impact factor of that publication 3) who payed for the studies 4) how was the study done.

    The rise in autism more closely follows the increase in organic products in stores. That just goes to show that ‘correlation is not causation’. That ‘theory’ gave use old wives tales about ‘black cats being bad luck’ and such. They have no place in the world of the internet.

    Farmers all over the US use GMO feed, why are they not reporting problems? Research labs across the US and Canada use rat and mice chow that are primarily from GMOs. They keep tight records, why have they not seen any of these ‘possible’ problems?

    “Genetic engineering is a fascinating science, and may someday provide useful products for society.” That comment shows me, and those that have taken the time to look for accurate information on GMOs that you haven’t. Millions of Americans use GMO derived insulin every day. GMO renet is used in cheese processing also.

    BTW, I am not associated with the biotech industry in any way. I am a working studio artist, but my background is in geology and physics. I look to science for evidence, not tall tales told by those that wish to mislead me

    The problem is not the companies that make GMOs, it is the group and the
    activists that spread misinformation, hoaxes and outright lies about
    the industry.

  6. Miles Stockdale said:

    “Might GMO companies lie, as have Big Tobacco, Big Pharma and climate change deniers, just to make money?”

    Sure they might. But here is what you have wrong big tobacco and big oil used their money to plant doubt. The science was well known and it was not on their side, but they knew they could muddy the issue and gain vocal supporters who due to ideology were partial to their views.

    The same thing has gone on here in a way. The science is well known and it is not on your side. Opponents of this useful technology such as the organic industry knew they could muddy the issue and gain vocal supporters who due to ideology were partial to their views. The reality is that way you approach this issue is no different than a climate change denier approaches that issue, and you are just as wrong.

    “it’s different from what occurs naturally. It’s more complicated and costly than conventional plant breeding, which has occurred for thousands of years, and it’s different from the development of hybrid seeds.”

    So what if it is different? So is radiation and chemical mutagenesis. So is grafting. So are a dozen other plant propagation methods, none of which occur naturally, and none of which anti-gmo activists oppose. Is there any reason to oppose this technology? All of the major scientific organizations agree on this. One hundred years ago, people like you would have opposed hybridization for the same reason and hundreds of millions would have starved to death. Your current opposition makes even less sense today.

    “The four authors recommended attention to “basic, well-established science” but completely ignored overwhelming scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful to animals that eat them, “

    There is no evidence for this claim, and a pile of evidence against it.

    “that GMOs are no more profitable for farmers than conventional crops,”

    This arrogant claim always amazes me. Farmers are not
    stupid. There is a reason why they have overwhelmingly switched over to GMOs for any crop that has GMOs as an option.

    “and that GMOs have been especially harmful to small farmers feeding the world.”

    Again a completely baseless claim. You should be ashamed of
    yourself, pretending that you stand up for small farmers, when all that you really want to do is take away their freedom to grow the crops they want. Your claim costs you nothing, and allows you to remain smug. They face the consequences of your ignorance.

    “Genetic engineering is a fascinating science, and may someday provide useful products for society.”

    First of all you know nothing about the science. Second of all, many farmers are enjoying the benefits right now, and many more farmers and consumers could experience the benefits when ignorant luddites stop interfering.

    “The scientific process is based on experimentation and ongoing examination of results, so results shouldn’t be ignored.”

    Good idea. How about you quit ignoring the results? The rest of your post is so much worse in terms of promoting bad science then I have ever seen from climate change deniers or from Big Tobacco. That is
    really saying something. Just like Big Tobacco and Big Oil, you have promoted every crackpot out there. Just like in the case of tobacco and climate change it can be quite lucrative to push bad science and crackpot views. Just like in the case of tobacco and climate change, holding the views that you hold requires you to reject the scientific
    consensus. A scientific consensus which includes all of the major scientific organizations (they are independent, and base their positions on the evidence, not like the few crackpot organizations you refer to which are guided by ideology) and countless independent scientists at
    universities. Just like big tobacco smeared good scientists doing good work, you smear these scientists. You are a sad example of what denialism does to people.

  7. Kevin Hoover said:

    I was making a similar point at the office earlier. Biotech will take care of itself; for me, the ascendant issue is evidence-based decisionmaking.

    These anti-GMO arguments use the same reasoning as the anti-vaccination, anti-fluoride and other manufactroversies – confused logic and pseudoscience, all cloaked in fear and spewed out faster than any reasoned response could address it.


    “Named for the debate tactic created by creationistshill Duane Gish, a Gish Gallop involves spewing so much bullshit in such a short span on that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more ‘talking points’ that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it’s not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation…”

  8. Mark Wilson said:

    For clarification, I’m not Pro-GMO or Pro-Agricultural Biotechnology. I’m Pro-Science-as-a-way-of-Knowing, and Anti-Superstition and especially Anti-Fear Mongering. I think Science is the best defense we have against charlatans, and I think Reason is the best defense against fear.

    At least in the case of Dr. Richmond and myself, we’ve studied Biology and Genetics for many decades, and our opinion coincides with that of the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academies of Science, The Royal Society of Medicine, and every other scientific group that has studied the safety of GMOs. It is worth noting that NONE of these organizations have anything to gain (financial or otherwise) from GMO technologies being implemented in food production.

    The polarization of ‘Genetic Engineering’ vs ‘Traditional Methods’ is a false grouping if you are talking about safety. ‘Organic vs GMO’ is also an unnecessary polarization. Sustainable agriculture needs to be based on broadly-integrated, responsive, biologically-based farming practices that enhance soil, air and water quality. Superstitions and internet rumors are no reason to take effective tools like biotechnology out of that mix.

    Dr. Pamela Ronald, a Botany Professor at UC Davis who is married to an organic farmer, explores this unnecessary polarization in a piece she wrote for Scientific American called ‘Buddhist Economics and a GMO Rethink’, at

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