Jul 24, 2014
Home / Advocacy / 10 ‘Reasoned’ Responses to “10 Reasons Why We Don’t Need GMOs”
10 ‘Reasoned’ Responses to “10 Reasons Why We Don’t Need GMOs”

10 ‘Reasoned’ Responses to “10 Reasons Why We Don’t Need GMOs”

By Cami Ryan

You may have run across this article “10 Reasons We Don’t Need GM Foods” on the FoodConsumer website.  It’s been making its rounds on social media (Facebook and Twitter). I would like to address some of the inaccuracies in this article – point by point:

1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis

Well, surprisingly enough, I agree with this one.  Or at least with the statement: GM foods ALONE won’t solve the food crisis. GM foods and genetically engineered (GE) crops aren’t a silver bullet in resolving problems with food security.  I refer to Mark Lynas (former Greenpeace activist and author) who said in a recent talk he gave at Cornell University:

“[GE/GM] cannot build better roads or chase away corrupt officials. But surely seeds which deliver higher levels of nutrition, which protect the resulting plant against pests without the need for expensive chemical inputs, and which have greater yield resilience in drought years are least worth a try?” Mark Lynas (April 2013)

Hey, I’d say so.  It is important to note that the introduction of GE crops (in particular) has enabled wider adoption of “no-till” farming (see a farmer’s perspective on this).  No-till is a system which conserves soil moisture, prevents erosion, dramatically reduces nutrient and pesticide movement to streams and rivers, and reduces fuel use.  All good, in my opinion.

Did you know that if we still farmed using the inputs and techniques that we did in the 1950s, we would need 2 billion more hectares available to produce what we produce today? Advances in plant breeding techniques, introduction of no-till practices, integrated pest management and adoption of genetically engineered crop varieties account for this rise in production.  This translates into higher productivity on less land.  We all win.

2. GM crops do not increase yield potential

Seriously?! Hmmm.  Well, research suggests differently. The results of meta-analysis (that means a study that analyzed the results from MANY MANY other studies) published in a peer reviewed science journal in 2012 found that organic yields of individual crops were on average 25% percent lower than that of conventional yields.   Productivity in GM crops are purported to be anywhere from 7 – 20% higher than conventional varieties. Again, GE technology and GM crops are not a silver bullet by any means. But genetically engineered crops are an important technology in the food production toolbox. So, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, OK?

3. GM crops increase pesticide use

If that’s the case, then how do you explain this interesting fact? Cotton farmers in India spray heavily to control for pests that damage production. Did you know that the application of pesticides to cotton in India is done by hand? With farmers walking through their small cotton fields using backpack sprayers? The adoption of GM cotton in India has reduced the number of pesticide applications per season by 50%. It is estimated that more than 2 million fewer cases of pesticide poisoning are occurring on an annual basis which saves the Indian government US$14 million (Smyth 2013, Herring 2009).

Want a first world perspective on the whole GM and pesticide use issue? Check out Applied Mythology‘s “The Muddled Debate on Pesticides and GM Crops.” Pesticide use is lower. Combine that with other economic and environmental benefits (refer to #1 and #2)… it’s a good thing.

4. There are better ways to feed the world

Let’s re-phrase this so that it’s a bit more accurate: ”There are “many” ways to feed the world”

Absolutely.  A million of them.  Food security is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted approach in resolving the political and economic issues that come with feeding a growing world population.  Again, GE and GM crops are very important technologies in the food production toolbox…

I mentioned the “baby” and the “bathwater” already, didn’t I?

5. Other farm technologies are more successful

Farming is complex. I don’t know ANY farmer who is not up against making a hundred decisions in a given day.  Just ask a producer (grain, livestock, organic, conventional): Ryan Goodman, Brian Scott, Emily Zweber, Carrie Mess… Again, this is not an all or nothing scenario. Many factors go into the strategic management at the farm level.  And its never as simple as saying that GMO is ‘bad’ and organic is ‘good’ or vice versa. It’s more than just picking a production method.

6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat

I hear this a lot and I have to remind everyone that nothing is 100% safe. Nothing. NO food. You can test organic, conventional and GM for the next 500 years and there will never ever be “absolute proof” that a food produced a certain way is 100% safe. That’s not how things roll here in the ‘real world’. The food value chain is long and involves lots of actors.  Lots can happen. Take for example the Maple Leaf Foods listeria crisis in 2008 (23 confirmed deaths). Then there was the XL Foods e.coli incident in 2012 where 18+ people were taken ill when they ingested tainted meat. And the anti-GM folks get a bit hot under the collar when I mention this one:  almost 4000 people were affected and 53 died from a rare strain of e.coli in sprouts that were produced on an organic farm in Germany in 2011.

There has been some food-related tragedies.  But there is no documented evidence of harm to human health or deaths from consumption of GM foods since they were introduced to the market two decades ago. None. Here are TWO studies (US and EU – and there are more) that attest to the safety of GM foods (NRC 2004, EC 2010). GE crops or GMOs have been the most heavily tested food products in the history of our regulatory system.

7. People don’t want GM foods – so they’re hidden in animal feed

I wonder who thought this little gem up.  GM foods aren’t “hidden.” And they are certainly not “hidden” in animal feed.  Livestock producers use corn and soybean as a base for animal feed, all over the world (including the the European Union where GE soybeans are exported from the US and Brazil for animal consumption). As of 2012, there has been a 100-fold increase in the planting of biotech crops since 1996.  In the US alone, between 67% and 94% of all acreage attributed to corn, soybean, cotton and canola are genetically engineered. Nothing is “hidden” here… genetically engineered crops are ‘front and centre’ in world agriculture production.  Biotechnology is the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture (James 2012).

8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers

Wow. That sounds scary.  Yes, GM seed prices are higher than that of conventional seeds.  But farmers that utilize the technology get higher yields and extract higher margins from doing so.  Just ask Brian Scott: “I can get a premium price for the soybeans we grow to be used as seed by other farmers next year.” If you ask Brian, he is neither “dependent” on the technology nor is he a “slave to ‘big ag’”.   Rather he (and other producers like him) are making economic decisions at the farm level based on input costs and projected market outcomes.  And don’t kid yourself.  These folks don’t make these decisions at the expense of the land.  They *care* about the environment (environmental benefits: see #1).  They are not about to willfully destroy land that has been farmed by them and their ancestors – and potentially their children and children’s children – for generations.

9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist

There’s that word again – – – “contamination”.  It’s an ugly word with ugly connotations.  Did you know that we already operate in a segregated agriculture and food system?  If you want, you can choose to eat organic.  It’s all labeled in your grocery store.  Organics standards were adopted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2009 in Canada.  These standards are enforced by organic inspectors through accredited certification bodies all over the country. Contamination? Organic farm and crop certification is based on the production methods used, NOT on the purity of the end product. So, nothing would happen to an organic grower or his produce if (in the highly unlikely event that) trace amounts of some other variety were found (BTW – there is no testing in organic crops). Organic growers will never lose their organic certification (unless, of course, they are shown to be intentionally growing ‘non-organic’ produce or crops and sending them to market as ‘organic’).

10. We can’t trust GM companies

Don’t believe everything you read. Syngenta, Dow, Bayer, Monsanto and other ‘big ag’ companies are just that - companies. They are profit-motivated and generate revenues to cover the costs of doing business and to provide a return for their shareholders. These companies, and others like Apple or MicroSoft, make no secret of that. And isn’t that the tenet of any business – big or small? Companies step into the space where the public sector can’t and won’t – they bring the products downstream to the market. Did you know that the time that it takes to put a product through the regulatory system has almost tripled in the last 20 years (13 years and $140 million US)? And just to clarify, the regulatory system is no more robust than it ever was. But the political pressures that have been placed on governments by interest groups (anti-GM) have forced a ‘slow down’ in the regulatory process. This means more costs. And, right now the only companies that have the resources to navigate the costly and complex regulatory processes are big ag.

The whole “David and Goliath” thing (small defenseless farmer vs big ag company) gets wayyyy overblown in the anti-GM rhetoric.  Like I said before, don’t believe everything you read.  Like ‘em or not, ‘big ag’ companies are the only ones that can take these technologies to the marketplace where society can extract value from them.  Who else? Universities and public research institutes? I don’t think so.  At least, that’s not where I *want* my tax dollar going. These multinational ag businesses invest the dollars in the research and product development and they have a right to protect that investment for a limited period of time. It’s how our patent system works – for EVERYONE.

Want to know more about patents and plants? Check here.

- – – -

We live in a privileged world; one where food is plentiful and varied and one that affords us this seemingly ‘aesthetic’ relationship with what and how we consume.  We have turned our backs on the functionality of food and entered into this realm of ‘food snobbery’ where the ‘food police or elites‘ (as Jayson Lusk refers to them) rule. As my grandmother used to say “Food is food is food. Now eat what’s put in front of you!”

On a final note: For every 10 reasons cited suggesting that we don’t need GMOs, I can list 100 or more of why we *do* need genetically engineered crops and GM food.

rant/off

This blog post first appeared on Cami Ryan’s site. Visit Cami Ryan’s blog at: http://doccamiryan.wordpress.com/

About Cami Ryan

Avatar of Cami Ryan
I am a Professional Research Associate with the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Plant Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. I am affiliated with the Total Utilization of Flax Genomics (TUFGEN), a $12M project funded by Genome Canada. Beyond this, I am attached to other great initiatives such as Value Addition through Genomics and GE3LS (VALGEN) and am working actively on associated projects around canola, pulse crops and wheat. All in all, I am having a grand time!

25 comments

  1. Brian Rossnagel

    Very good set of comments.

    Ironically, in number 10, the statement “Like ‘em or not, ‘big ag’ companies are the only ones that can take these technologies to the marketplace where society can extract value from them.”, the fact is that it is the anti-GMO folks who are in fact responsible for creating the totally unnecessary (at least based on science) set of extremely expensive set of regulations around this technology that have robbed public and SME breeders of the opportunity to utilize this powerful technology. At this point in time, it is the regulatory requirements and associated ridiculous liability that make these techniques so expensive, not the actual technology needed to utilize the GMO process. While true that 20+ years ago many of the technologies per se were extremely costly, as is often the case, the tech costs have been drastically reduced by many, many fold so that even “poor” public institutions or less well capitalized SME breeders can now afford to utilize the technology but can’t afford the regulatory costs to take the results to market. Also of interest is the apparent lack of interest by “big ag” in actually getting rid of these costly impediments – wonder why that might be…………………

    Brian Rossnagel
    Professor Emeritus
    Barley & Oat Breeder
    Crop Development Centre
    University of Saskatchewan

    • Brian, your last statement is incorrect. Biotech companies spend considerable time as an industry and individual companies to reduce the regulatory burden and make approvals science-based. However, we are often faced with either providing a particular study or not getting an approval, even if that study is not scientifically justified and does not inform the risk assessment. You can check the public documents for EPA and USDA (www.regulations.gov) rule-making and see the comments submitted by ag biotech companies to see which way we are arguing.

      Keith Reding, Ph.D.
      Biotech Regulatory Policy
      Monsanto

  2. NO TO ALL GMO AND MONSANTO! !

  3. Good arguments, though I am not a fan of products like the Monsanto Terminator seed that requires you to re-up. Or anything that prohibits a farmer from saving seeds. Also the process of suing farmers for cross-contamination.

    • James, Monsanto makes no “terminator” seeds — nor do any other biotech companies. That’s a straight-up myth. The technology probably exists, but it’s not in use, and Monsanto has pledged not to implement it.
      As for saving seeds — ever heard of hybrids? Seed companies have been selling plenty seed that isn’t /worth/ saving for a looong time before GMO tech came around. Farmers tend to be smart businesspeople, and if lots of farmers think it’s worth paying a yearly premium for their preferred seeds, they probably know what they’re doing.
      Also, once the patents expire on biotech seeds (next year for Roundup Ready corn, actually) there will be nothing to stop anyone from saving seeds all they want.
      Monsanto have sued a few farmers for contract violations, and for saving and planting patented seeds. They may have been overly aggressive in some of those cases, and I’m not defending them (although they actually donate the proceeds of those suits to charity, for what it’s worth). But no farmers have ever been sued for innocent cross-contamination — hint: if you repeatedly douse your rows with Roundup and replant the seeds from the survivors, it’s not accidental cross-contamination.

    • first: all conventional hybrid (non-GMO) seeds (e.g. maize) need to be purchased from seed-companies. This technology was at first developed to prevent loss of heterosis lines. So basically nothing new.
      Second: to my knowledge suing farmers for cross-contamination is a myth.

    • first: all conventional hybrid (non-GMO) seeds (e.g. maize) need to be
      purchased from seed-companies. This technology was at first thought of to
      prevent loss of heterosis lines. So basically nothing new. To my knowledge monsanto has no such seeds. There is a list with all current GMO plants in the EU (http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/home/). Probably there is such thing in the US and elsewhere as well!!
      Second: to my knowledge suing farmers for cross-contamination is a myth.

    • first: This technology was at first thought of to

      prevent loss of heterosis lines. So basically nothing new. To my
      knowledge monsanto has no such seeds. There is a list with all current
      GMO plants in the EU (http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng…. Probably there is such thing in the US and elsewhere as well!! all conventional hybrid (non-GMO) seeds (e.g. maize) need to be
      purchased from seed-companies.

      This technology was at first thought of to

      prevent loss of heterosis lines. So basically nothing new. To my
      knowledge monsanto has no such seeds. There is a list with all current
      GMO plants in the EU (http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng…. Probably there is such thing in the US and elsewhere as well!!
      Second: to my knowledge suing farmers for cross-contamination is a myth.

    • First: This technology was originally thought of to make the creation of hybrid lines easier. To my knowledge monsanto has no such seeds. However, it is possible to create male sterile plants in order to facilitate the production of hybrid lines.
      Second: all conventional hybrid (non-GMO) seeds (eg maize) need to be purchased annually from large seed-companies, because only they have the parental inbred lines. So nothing new here in the end.

  4. Kissed A Farmer, Suzie Wilde

    Our cotton farms have been free of insecticide for 6 years now thanks to GMO cottonseed. The farmers in Brazil that we met last May have to spray insecticide up to 13 times to save their non-GMO cotton crops. We think 0 sprayings vs 13 sprayings is a very good use of technology. You can see our insecticide free cotton operation at http://www.kissedafarmer.com. Great article by the way!

    • Pamela Volentine

      cotton is one thing, and that seems like a great reason to genetically modify a crop.

      soybeans are another story. increased chemical herbicide use. :/

      • As a retailer I can say I definitely recommend less sprays and less times sprayed on the GMO soys, than the IP varieties. Talk about building resistance, there are more weeds that I half kill with conventional herbicides. A half dead weed is a very dangerous thing. I like to start with a clean field and keep it clean to have the best quality crop possible. And if I’m in the field close to harvest I’ve been known to crack a few pods and chew on some good ol gmo beans myself. No extra appendages yet…

      • Pamela Volentine

        how come the permissible levels of glyphosate were just increased? from what i understand, it was because of superweeds. i understand as a retailer you may RECOMMEND less spray and less times sprayed, but is that what’s really happening out in the field? glad you don’t have any extra appendages…yet.

      • Me too…love the fresh ‘edamame’ direct from the soybean fields!

  5. Good article. Thanks. My only serious disagreement is with your stance that you don’t want public money going to develop GM crops and bring them to the marketplace. With patent law being as restrictive as it is, and allowing the patenting of living organisms (!), I believe that government-funded research that provides new and improved crops to the world’s farmers free of licensing restrictions and market premiums would result in greater prosperity for farmers and greater food security. I don’t think Monsanto et al are evil; I just think we can improve on the ground rules.

  6. Pamela Volentine

    let me preface this with a statement. i’m not against biotechnology. i just think that if
    technology’s whole idea is to invent a product that can withstand a good
    spraying of a chemical herbicide (which is produced by that same that
    engineered the resistant seeds) it seems a little suspect. there’s the trust problem, which was number 10.
    number 9. pollination and cross pollination? if i farm organic canola and the guy down the road farms gm canola, how is it possible that some of his gm canola won’t end up in my field and vice versa? whether you call it contamination or not, isn’t there a good chance that will happen? and what are the ramifications on the organic market? what are the ramifications for the farmer where the gm canola shows up? will he be sued for growing a gm product? what are the ramifications for a not-yet-approved gm crop, like rice that is being grown in a field trial getting into the “wild?”
    number 7. gmo’s ARE hidden, because there is no labeling requirement. most people don’t have a clue as to what they are and if they did, they MIGHT not want to eat it, or they MIGHT not care. we’ll never know till it’s on the label. the large majority of the population don’t even stop for a second to think what the chicken they are eating ate, or consider that it was once a living breathing animal…it didn’t just appear in the meat case neat and clean and wrapped in plastic by magic, but no one wants to think about that. so we’re dealing with people who probably couldn’t give a rat’s behind if they are eating gm food, so why not label it? and it’s not as if the industry has been willing to go ahead and label it…they spent a bazillion dollars on an anti-labeling campaign in california. trust issues, at least for those of us who DO care. back to number 10.
    number 6. where does e.coli come from? sick cows. why are they sick? they are being fed corn. gm or not gm, corn is not natural food for cows, and it makes some of them sick and more susceptible to things like e.coli, which are then deposited in feces which land in places like in alfalfa fields (why the alfalfa was contaminated) and run off into agricultural land where food crops like spinach are grown. and let’s be honest, a big market for gm corn is animal feed.
    also on number 6. most food has been around for a long time, so there’s no need to test it. gm food has not been around for a long time, and there should be long term studies showing the effects on humans. until that time, all we have to go on is an increase in things like food allergies, adhd, and celiac disease that began around the same time as gm crops were introduced into the food supply.
    don’t know about 5, 4, 3, and 2, because i’m not a farmer and i haven’t researched those items.
    number 1, i’m not a feed the world expert, or an expert on anything, really…but i like to think i have a little common sense and some pretty decent critical thinking skills. i’m pretty sure the world has been feeding itself long before gm crops were invented. people have been farming since the first fig tree was planted, and before that, people hunted and gathered. nowadays we can grow our own gardens and support local farms. and as long as big biotech doesn’t decide that it knows best (look what happened to the local dairy farmers in kenya) and shut down the local production of food, the world will continue to feed itself.

  7. a few unexamined assumptions that I would challenge:

    1) The anti-GMO movement is essentially a network of Western lobby groups who are ignorant of GMOs potential to address poverty and malnutrition in the developing world.

    Global hunger and malnutrition are important issues, AND I would argue that it is dangerously ignorant to assume that broad-scale uncertain, cookie cutter technological interventions are the only way to address them.
    Why not instead draw on the rich (and threatened) storehouse of locally-appropriate food and agricultural knowledge that already exists? It doesn’t mean ignoring science altogether. But in order to be robust, scientific research needs to integrate other disciplines such as history, culture, ecology, geography, and economics, along the wisdom and knowledge of local conditions already present in the communities. In this way, it can lead to much more empowered, locally-responsive, and infinitely more creative solutions in the longer term.

    Case in point: For thousands of years, people around the world cultivated a cornucopia of nutritionally whole, locally appropriate foods, and developed methods of preparing and storing both cultivated and wild foods that have endured until today. For example, there were at one time thousands of varieties of ancient grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, kamut, maize, and many others grown around the world. Not only did these staple foods contain high nutritional value, but they were appropriate to the regions in which they were grown, and were often very hardy and drought-resistant.

    Enter the Green Revolution, with its introduction of higher-yielding seeds and modern farming techniques. This launched an era of cash crops replacing subsistence farming, and water-intensive rice edging out more water-conservative traditional grains. Which led to plummeting water tables, local food insecurity, a dependence on chemical fertilizers and a severe reduction in the diversity and variety of grains. In India alone, it reduced some 30,000 varieties of rice down to about 10. This increase in crop homogeneity caused (guess what?) vulnerability to pests which caused (guess what?) increased use in pesticides. Which has led to (guess what?) research and development of GM pesticide-resistant seeds.

    This imposed intervention, in other words, showed a lack of understanding of local conditions, a disinterest in traditional farming techniques, and targeted one issue without taking into account the whole system in which it was embedded. Broad-scale interventions like genetic modification, besides treating the world as one giant laboratory, tend to create a whole new set of problems for which another clumsy and inappropriate technological fix will be applied in an endless spiral of damage control.

    That no one anticipated the cascade of spin-off effects of the Green Revolution shows an extreme lack of vision and imagination on the part of the scientists and technocrats who introduced it.

    That no one among the GM proponents have anticipated the possible problems created by this new, poorly-understood technology to billions of people on the planet, is deeply myopic and very unscientific.

    The point is that people around the world already know how to feed themselves. Poor nutrition and health are a result of global changes, not only in the developing world, but right here in the West, where rates of cancer, obesity and diabetes are skyrocketing. We need to look at the roots of these issues, and draw on the past as much as we look to science and technology, to apply more holistic, decentralized, and human-scale solutions to these issues. And we also must include the people who will either benefit or suffer the consequences.

    2) We can’t feed the world without genetic modification: I would agree to the part that ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL, we can’t feed an increasing population under our current conventional farming techniques.

    But I have serious reservations about genetic modification’s ability to solve this problem. Hunger exists is not because of lack of arable land, but because of a combination of many reasons, including climate change, political and economic instability, and faulty distribution. Hunger also occurs because of changes in worldwide agriculture, where initially subsistence and small-scale farmers were seduced into cash crops for export. Most of these farmers are now struggling in cycles of escalating debt, dependent on a cash economy and buying processed, packaged food exported from elsewhere.

    Hunger is a complex issue, but solving it means we need to totally reframe our relationship with growing food. More of us need to become involved with farming again, and it needs to happen more in cities and suburbs. When we start growing food on our lawns, on our rooftops, on vacant lots, and eat and sell/trade it locally, much less is wasted and this cumulatively will take tremendous pressure off the world’s shrinking supply of arable farmland and water in rural areas. A look at Cuba’s transition towards near-complete self-sufficiency in food and the fact that most of this is done in urban regions is a model that the rest of us, whether developed or developing, can learn from.

  8. If we can grow are own food an not have to put anything in it yeyyyy for us now say they put something an we alll die then what . Why should kauai be a testing ground or any were at that. So things need to be just left alone.

  9. Come on, where’s the full disclosure?

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