Just about every major scientific and medical association in the world agrees GMOs are safe?
Since the first GMO was commercialized in 1994, there have been over 1700 studies on issues from the safety of GMOs to their impact on the environment. Roughly half of those come from independent peer-reviewed research without industry funding. Every major scientific body and regulatory agency in the world has reviewed the research about GMOs and openly declared crop biotechnology and the foods currently available for sale to be safe. Some of these organizations include the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Science, and the European Commission. GM crops are as safe as conventional and organic crops. The consensus over the health and safety of GMOs extremely sound.
In 20 years, there have been exactly zero negative human health effects from GMOs.
GMOs are the most researched and tested agricultural product in history. It takes an average of 13 years and $130 million of research and development to get a GMO to market. Since the introduction of GMOs there has not been one single documented incidence of harm to human health. Despite what you may have read, GMOs do not cause new allergies or cancers, infertility, ADHD or any other diseases.
Monsanto does not and cannot legally sue farmers for unintentionally growing crops that may have been cross-pollinated by GMO crops?
Monsanto has never sued a farmer when trace amounts of patented seeds or traits were present in a farmer’s field as an accident or as a result of inadvertent means. Not only that, but in 2012-2013, two separate courts acknowledged that Monsanto has not taken any action – or even suggested taking any action – against organic growers because of cross-pollination. As a result of that case, Monsanto is legally bound to that decision by judicial estoppel- they cannot legally sue a farmer for inadvertent presence.
Since 1997, Monsanto has filed suit against a US farmer 147 times. Considering that Monsanto does business with more than 325,000 American farmers each year, that’s not very many. Out of those, only eleven have gone to full trial and all eleven cases were found in Monsanto’s favor and not one of them was about inadvertent presence.
Good management practices and good communication with neighbors is not a new concept to farmers, they’ve been doing it for decades.
Many people muddle up the conversation of GMOs with the use of pesticides, in particular glyphosate, because they think pesticides are toxic poisons that farmers just dump on their crops willy nilly. What this fails to take into account is a number of things:
There are no GMO tomatoes on the market?
The very first commercially available GMO crop was the Flavr Savr tomato but due to poor performance, it was only on the market for three years. There are currently only eight crops available as GMOs, and that doesn’t include tomatoes. In 1995 GMO soybeans and GMO squash were introduced, those were followed by cotton and corn in 1996, papaya in 1997, canola in 1999, and sugar beets and alfalfa in 2006.
There is not and has never been a commercially available GMO plant with animal-derived DNA?
GMOs are tomatoes with fish genes, right? Wrong. Back in the 1990s, the biotech company DNA Plant Technology inserted a gene responsible the flounder’s ability to thrive in arctic waters into tomato plants. The idea was to produce a tomato that could be frozen and thawed without becoming mushy. But that didn’t pan out and the tomato never went to market.
The bigger point is that while DNA isn’t specifically pulled from a fish and combined with a plant, DNA from all sources is made up of the same building blocks. As one of the founders of this movement wrote, “My position is that there is no such thing as a plant gene. Or an animal gene, viral gene, etc. There are, instead, genes found in plants, genes found in animals, and genes found in viruses. Genes shared by Eukaryotes are just that – genes in common. Apart from the syntactical preferences of different organisms in how they like their DNA to read, there is nothing about a gene that makes it belong to one lineage or another.”
There are only 8 commercially available GMO crops. (soon to be 10)
Many people think that GMOs are everywhere and that there is no way to know when you’re eating them. Not true. While 70-80 percent of the food on the grocery store shelves likely contains ingredients derived from GMO crops, very little of the food in the produce section is actually GM. There are only eight GMO crops that are commercially available today: corn (field and sweet), cotton, canola, sugar beets, papaya, alfalfa, and squash. So in the produce section, the only thing that even could be GM is sweet corn, papaya and squash. Where you find the bulk of foods with GM ingredients in on the shelves in products that contain ingredients like corn oil, corn starch corn syrup, soybean oil, soy protein, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and refined sugar (from beets not cane). Recently, the USDA approved two new GMOs: a non-browning apple called the Arctic Apple and a non-browning/low-acrylamide potato called the Innate Potato. The Innate Potato is expected to be available in limited quantities in 2015, so we probably won’t see them in the grocery stores for a few years. Limited amounts of the Arctic Apple are currently available for planting, so we should see the apples on the shelves in the next few years.
GMOs have helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 11.9 million cars from the road for one year?
In 2014, PG Economics did a study on the economic and environmental impact of genetically modified crops since they were first widely adopted nearly 20 years ago.One point from that study was that, “Crop biotechnology has contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This results from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage with GM crops. In 2012, this was equivalent to removing 27 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 11.9 million cars from the road for one year.”
GMOs saved the Hawaiian Papaya and scientists are using them to bring the American Chestnut tree back from the brink of extinction?
Since the 1940’s, the papaya industry in Hawaii has been battling the Papaya Ring Spot Virus (PRSV) a very destructive virus that spreads quickly through insects that feed on the fruit. In the course of six years in the 1990s, PRSV reduced the amount of fresh papaya being produced in Hawaii by half. This both threatened small farmers’ livelihood and the availability of fresh papaya. Researchers used biotechnology to make the papaya resistant to PRSV and by 2001 the papaya industry had rebounded in Hawaii.
Before the American chestnut tree was devastated by a fungal disease called the chestnut blight, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range. The chestnut was used for lumber, food, forage, and fuel. From the Washington Post, “If we still had those 3 to 4 billion trees, they would meet 100 percent of the caloric needs of today’s entire American population of just over 300 million. They could feed every last one of us.”But today, the chestnut is nearly gone – and the impacts of this loss have been felt across the Appalachians, and even to parts of the Midwest. Using biotechnology, scientists have introduced a gene from wheat to make a blight-resistant American chestnut tree.
1.4 Million human life years have been lost in the last decade as a result of delays in approving GMO Golden Rice in India?
Vitamin A deficiency is a serious nutritional problem in many countries, particularly in the developing countries. The symptoms include compromised immune system, night blindness followed by complete loss of sight, and then eventually death. The World Health Organization calls Vitamin A deficiency “the leading cause of preventable blindness in children,” and estimates that 250,000-500,000 children go blind each year from the condition. Sadly, half of those children die within a year of going blind.
GMOs could help.
Vitamin A supplementation could also help reduce maternal mortality. According to recent studies, vitamin A or beta-carotene supplementation in Nepali women reduced maternal mortality by approximately 40 percent.
Scientists developed a strain of rice to combat Vitamin A deficiency. It’s known as Golden Rice, and its creators distribute its seeds and licenses free of charge to subsistence farmers. Or at least they would like to. Even though Golden Rice has been available since 2000, many countries with vitamin A deficient populations have not approved its use. As a consequence, children continue to suffer blindness and death. Agricultural economists Wesseler and Zilberman created a model to determine exactly how much damage the delay in approval has done. In a 2014 study they concluded that 1.4 million years of human life have been lost due to the lack of availability of Golden Rice in India alone.
Many GMO varieties are equipped with traits that give them an advantage in producing greater yields. This is an important breakthrough for combatting hunger, for minimizing the environmental impact of agricultural incursions into wilderness areas, and for cultivating enough food for a growing population. But just how much of a difference do GMOs make on crop yields?
According to a study by Brookes and Barfoot from 2014, 17. 3 million farmers were using biotechnology in 2012. In order for those farmers to meet 2012 levels of production without biotech, they would have needed to plant an additional 4.9 million hectares of soybeans, 6.9 million hectares of corn, 3.1 million hectares of cotton, and 0.2 million hectares of canola. If you add it all up, those 15.1 million hectares equal 58,301 square miles of additional cropland. Altogether, that’d be a farm bigger than the state of Illinois.
GMOs aren’t the reason for the decline in honey bee health?
Lots of people want to blame GMOs for Colony Collapse Disorder and the increase in overwintering loss that beekeepers have been experiencing recently, but there’s no science to support that. Honey bee health is a complex issue and scientists agree that many factors challenge the honey bee population. GM plants are not one of those contributing factors, though. The impact of GMOs on honey bees has been widely studied and the results indicate that GM plants are not harmful to bees.
One important point to mention here is that while scientists point to a parasitic mite and bee viruses as leading factors challenging honey bee health, another possible contributor is pesticides, specifically a class called neonicotinoids. The conversation about if and how those pesticides impact bee health is complex and evolving, but the bottom line is that seed treatments that contain these pesticides are not specific to GMO seeds.
Resources for more myth busting on GMOs:
How Much Do you Know About GMOs? (Playbuzz quiz)
October is Get to Know GMOs Month (gmoanswers.com)
Core Truths: 10 Common GMO Claims (Popular Science)
Top Five Myths Of Genetically Modified Seeds, Busted (NPRs The Salt)
The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops (Reason.com)