Myths of Industry

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What are Myths of Industry?  Myths are stories that may have a grain of truth.  Often it is that grain of truth that gives a myth its staying power.   Here are some myths about genetically engineered foods.  Each is meant to make you feel stupid or guilty, each contains a truth, but not the whole truth, and each is easily debunked.

1.  The Myth: Genetically engineered foods are just the same as any other conventionally bred foods of the same kind.

The Truth: The basis of this myth is most likely because the popular term for genetically engineered food is GMO (standing for genetically modified organism).   The term genetically modified organism (or GMO)  could indeed be used to describe food that is "modified" through traditional breeding methods, such as hybridization, seed saving or grafting.  We agree that genetically engineered food is a better term to use, but GMO as commonly used today generally does not denote foods bred through traditional means.

Genetically engineered foods, often referred to as GMO's, are produced in a laboratory by forcing genetic material from the genome of one organism into that of another.  This generally involves different species that would never reproduce together in nature.  This is quite different from traditional plant breeding methods.

2.  The Myth: The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates and tests genetically engineered foods for health and safety.

The Truth:  The FDA relies on a 1992 "Policy Statement" having no force of law that simply "presumes" these foods to be safe.  See Altered Genes, Twisted Truth by Steven Druker, Chapter 5.   And to see the concerns of FDA scientists asked to review this document prior to publication, but whose views were largely ignored, click here.

While FDA currently provides for voluntary consultation with industry, it cannot require industry to turn over studies and other materials that industry prefers not to share.   And even that "voluntary consultation" process generally uses a standard called "Substantial Equivalence," a superficial standard designed specifically for genetically engineered foods and one that does not consider a broad range of parameters.

This was confirmed at a United States Senate Agriculture committee hearing on October 21, 2015:

Q&A with Dr. Susan Mayne, Director of FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition with Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand of NY, around 2:08 into the tape:

Sen. Gillibrand: I just want to go back to Dr. Mayne. At the end of your consultation process for producers
you issue a letter that says no further questions on your determination remain How come you don’t
end that process with a letter that says your product is safe?

Mayne: Well the consultation process is a service that we provide to industry to help assure that they are
meeting their compliance obligations to /have a/ safe food. It’s voluntary and to date it has worked well.

Gillibrand: But you don’t make an assessment of whether it’s safe.

Mayne: Well what we do is we consult on the safety, we consult as to whether we believe that anything has
any antigenic, allergenic potential, any toxic potential.
 But it’s ultimately industry’s responsibility to assure the safety of that product so we consult with them on this.

Gillibrand: So you don’t determine if it’s safe; you just create a dialogue to make sure they’re doing their job.

Mayne: Correct. We review the science, we review the data to make sure we have no further questions about
the safety. If we were to have to attest to that safety specifically then that would shift some of
that burden to FDA with all its resource implications.

Gillibrand: Thank you.


Read more about the limited role of FDA safety oversight of genetically engineered foods click here. 

3.  The Myth: We cannot feed the world without genetically engineered crops.

The Truth: While it is true that yield may increase, at least for a while, using these crops, this effect is often short lived, especially when "super pests" that can withstand the herbicidal applications or internal insecticides that quickly evolve.  More importantly, war, corruption and poverty are the most frequent sources of world hunger.  For an example of what can happen when yields are great but no one can buy, click here.

UPDATE: October 29, 2016, New York Times reports "Doubts about the Promised Bounty of Genetically Engineered Crops."  To see this article click here.  (Note if you cannot open this please let us know using "Contact Us" and we'll try to make this available for you.) 

4. The Myth: Genetic engineering is required to produce crops with specific traits such as drought resistance and needed nutritional content.

The Truth: This can be done with genetic engineering, but it is by no means required.  Similar results can often be gained with conventional breeding practices, often resulting in less costly seed when there are no patent monopolies.

Here are a few examples of sweet potatoes rich in needed nutrients bred flourish in countries where the need is greatest; to see how one organization, Harvest Plus, does this, click here.   The sweet potato produced by Harvest Plus recently won the prestigious World Food Prize for their vitamin A rich sweet potato produced using traditional breeding techniques.  These nutritious sweet potatoes are  inexpensive for gardeners to propagate where they are needed most.  To read about this please click here and click here .

One of the most famous would-be example of alleged benefits of genetic engineering is Golden Rice
For a discussion of some of the issues surrounding "Golden Rice" click here.  Golden Rice is not nearly as rich in vitamin A ounce per ounce as the sweet potato discussed above and must be grown each season from newly purchased patented seeds, a considerable expense in many locales.

As to drought resistance, frequently the drought resistance itself is bred into the plants using conventional breeding methods,  and the genetic engineering is applied only to produce traits such as herbicide resistance and insecticide production.

5.  The Myth: Genetically engineered foods and the toxic chemicals they enable present no serious health or safety issues.

The Truth: For years scientists have presented empirical evidence of hazards to health and safety presented by genetically engineered foods.  In 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine examined existed scientific literature and concluded that the public should be warned about this.  To read this position paper click here.

Because these seeds are patented, it is often difficult for scientists to obtain permission from the corporate patent holder to study them legally.    And when scientists gain access to seeds for this purpose and conduct experiments demonstrating health and safety issues, seemingly orchestrated campaigns to prevent publication and smear reputations frequently result.  See the following examples in connection with Dr. Gilles Eric Seralini click here,  and Dr. Judy Carman click here.

6. The Myth: Unless it is shown that GE foods are unsafe using controlled human studies there is no reason to label them or take them off the market.

       The Truth: Properly randomized and controlled human feeding studies on a free living human population would be almost impossible to carry out even if this were ethical.  But we have plenty of animal studies using the same kinds of animals (generally rats) used to test pharmaceuticals for human safety, and many of these have pointed to areas of concern.   Since there is no consumer advantage to the bulk of genetically engineered foods on the market today, and given the red flags we have already seen from a variety of sources, it is understandable that many people would wish to avoid them.

7. The Myth: There are no reported cases of human illness from GE foods. Therefore they are safe.

       The Truth: While there are indeed some reported cases of human illness (see Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, ibid.) at this time there seems to be no widely understood and effective means of reporting illness suspected to be related to genetically engineered foods to any federal regulatory agency.

       8.  The MythState labeling laws produce a “patchwork” of confusing legislation.

       The Truth:  Almost all of the state mandatory labeling bills introduced in the past several years were modeled on a single model bill produced by Center for Food Safety.  However, as of July 2016, this question is now moot as Congress has preempted the right of states to require labeling of genetically engineered foods. 

      9. The Myth:  Food prices will increase if labeling is required.

     The Truth:  Food companies change their labels often and for many reasons as a regular cost of doing business.  Recently several food companies began to label their genetically engineered products with no increase in prices.  And see Consumers Union's discussion in the supporting documents linked below, concluding that food prices will not increase as a result of labeling.

  10.  The Myth: Sourcing will be difficult if labeling is required.  

        The Truth: As in so many other areas, as demand increases so will supply. Right now many farmers produce non-GMO foods for export to countries where the demand is high.  This would happen here as well if consumers demand it.

     11. The Myth: Major science organizations say GMO's are safe. 

     The Truth:  Many have in fact done this, but as Steven Druker points out in Altered Genes, Twisted Truth,  many of these pronouncements are not based up on actual scientific research but result from a cherry-picked rehash borrowing from primary but also secondary sources to achieve a desired outcome.  

      The least heard group of scientists comprises senior scientists at the FDA who expressed their views in response to the 1992 FDA "Policy Statement" which "presumed" genetically engineered foods to be safe.  The concerns of these FDA scientists directly charged with assuring the safety of the American food supply are only rarely included in lists of science organizations claiming asserting safety.   Read these comments here.

      For an example of the kinds of distortion that took place in one of these reports, as reported by The Ecologist,  click here.

     To learn more about the distortions used to buttress safety claims by some national and international health organizations as compiled by GMO Free USA, click here.  Among science organizations and publications expressing concerns are the Royal Society of Canada, the British Medical Association, the Public Health Association of Australia and the leading medical journal The Lancet.  For more background from, click here.

     To  read what Sustainable Pulse had to say about this click here.  National Geographic questioned some of the alleged advantages of genetic engineering contained in that report.  To see this article click here.

       12. The Myth:  People who question GE foods are “anti-science”

       The Truth: This is of course a matter of opinion, but it would seem that the most "anti-science" people are those who side with suppression of the work of scientists whose findings do not fit their corporate mold.  Also, supporting research that increases our understanding of the world does not necessarily mean favoring every application of that knowledge.  For a thoughtful article about that, click here.

      Arguably the label "Anti Science" should be pinned on some of the corporations owning the patents on genetically engineered seeds who exercise strict control making it difficult or even impossible for independent scientists to use them in research.  For a discussion of this, click here.

       13.   The Myth: There's no problem with genetically engineered foods because we routinely use medicines developed with genetic engineering.

        The Truth:  It is true that we use medicines developed with genetic engineering but these are carefully vetted by the Food and Drug Administration (which is NOT true for genetically engineered foods - see No. 2 above).  Also FDA has extensive post-surveillance reporting procedures to make it easy for health care providers and/or patients to report harms possibly associated with drugs (including these drugs) so that they may be investigated.  Also, pharmaceuticals are generally used by people with some condition that needs treatment and under the care of a health care professional with whom they can make informed decisions about the need for a particular medication and the possible harm that might result from that medication, while foods are consumed by millions of healthy people who have no knowledge as to whether their foods are genetically engineered and are typically not in a position to make an informed decision with the assistance of an appropriate health care professional.  


Updated September, 2016
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