Can the tide be turning against the rabid anti-GMO movement?
A couple of recent articles, one in the popular press, give hope that it just may.
Dr. Marc Van Montagu, the 2013 World Food Price laureate, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal that not only defended GMO technology, but it also harshly criticized those who oppose biotechnology.
Van Montagu is founder and chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium. He is the co-recipient of the World Food Prize with Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton of Syngenta Biotechnology and Dr. Robert T. Fraley of Monsanto.
--Genetically modified crops are now planted on nearly a quarter of the world's farmland by some 17.3 million farmers. More than 90 percent are small farmers.
--GM crops ensure food security and bolster incomes for farmers, allowing parents to focus more resources on other priorities, such as educating their children.
--GM crops reduce hunger and will help meet the challenge of nourishing the 2 billion more people in this world in the near future.
--Biotechnology has an unblemished safety record and demonstrated commercial success.
Remarkably, however, biotechnology might not reach its full potential because outspoken opponents of GM crops in the U.S. have spearheaded a "labeling" movement that would distinguish modified food from other food on grocery store shelves. “Never mind that 60 to 70 percent of processed food on the market contains genetically modified ingredients,” he says.
He admits opponents of GM crops have been extremely effective at spreading misinformation. GM crops don't, as one discredited study claimed recently, cause cancer or other diseases. GM cotton isn't responsible for suicides among Indian farmers — a 2008 study by an alliance of 64 governments and nongovernmental organizations debunked that myth completely. And GM crops don't harm bees or monarch butterflies.
Nearly everything humans have eaten though the millennia has been genetically altered by human intervention. Mankind has been breeding crops — and thereby genetically altering them — since the dawn of agriculture. Today's techniques for modifying plants are simply new, high-precision methods for doing the same, he points out.
The extreme opposition to genetic modification has led to what he calls a “hyper-regulation of GM crops.” This has raised the cost of bringing them to market. Ultimately, this hurts smaller enterprises in developing countries in utilizing the technology.
He says a good step forward would be for educated, scientifically literate people to avoid being taken in by the myths about genetically modified food.
Some of those “scientifically literate” folks reacted and a paper entitled, “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize," by Gilles Eric Séralini et al. has been retracted by the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
After the study was published, scientists reacted with outrage at the poor science and the article was retracted and the journal’s editor asked that the raw data be analyzed.
That analysis revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached about glyphosate toxicity with this small sample size.
Successfully countering the fanaticism the anti-GMO movement has planted in society will be challenging, but facts revealed in these articles are a start.