Oct 27 2014

7 Propaganda Talking Points Against GMOs

After reading about genetically modified organisms for years, it seem pretty clear to me that the anti-GMO activist position is not an objective science-based position. Rather it has all the features of a political/marketing campaign. The campaign has talking points that are all spin and propaganda. Like a slick car commercial, it is selling a vibe, a worldview and a certain self-image.

Also like many political and commercial campaigns it is based on fear. Fear is a great motivator and politicians know the value of making the voters afraid of what will happen if their opponent is elected. Advertising agencies understand that you can sell a product by making it a solution to an imaginary fear. “Better safe than sorry” sells a lot of widgets.

The anti-GMO community seems closely tied to the organic food industry, which essentially sells the naturalistic fallacy on the back of irrational fears about everything artificial, whether or not there is any science behind those fears. Both, in turn, are tied to the alternative medicine community, which overlaps considerably in its fetish with all things natural, its demonizing of anything technological, and its apparent disdain for science (see Whole Foods as a good example of this overlap).

Unfortunately, marketing and political campaigns can be very effective. They are not magical – you can’t, necessarily, make people believe or buy anything, but they can be very persuasive, especially if they key into an existing fear, desire, or emotion.

The organic food lobby has successfully created a “healthy halo” glow around the idea of “organic.” Just the label “organic” will affect consumers’ perceptions. By now you have probably seen this prank by Dutch TV show hosts who pawn off McDonald’s fast food as if it were organic at a food convention. The reactions (well, the one’s they chose to show) say it all.

At the same time the anti-GMO lobby has successfully created a negative halo around GMO. Many people don’t really have a solid scientific understanding of what GMOs are, or the scientific evidence surrounding their safety or environmental effects. They just know that they are bad. Again we have a video to demonstrate. (I understand this is not scientific and is done for entertainment value, but it’s a fun demonstration.)

My personal unscientific survey of acquaintances (generally smart and well-educated) who are anti-GMO is that their positions are almost universally based on misinformation. When the incorrect and misleading facts are stripped away, they also pretty universally retreat to a position of, “Well, I just don’t like corporations patenting seeds,” which is really just an ideological position.

By the way, my experience with global warming deniers is almost identical. When the misinformation and bad science is stripped away, they almost always retreat to, “Well, I just don’t like the government controlling industry and our lives to that degree.”

However, that misinformation seems to have played a key role in forming, maintaining, or at least hardening their position. It is important, therefore, to correct the misinformation. This, of course, won’t change everyone’s mind, but it won’t change no one’s mind either (sorry for the double negative).

Here is the latest list of misinformed talking points against GMOs that has crossed my path, from Care2. It’s as good a list as any. (I will reprint only part of each point here, you can go to the original article to read the whole thing.) This website also confirms the aforementioned overlap between anti-GMO sentiments, organic advocacy, and promotion of alternative medicine.

1) Health risk – According to the Academy of Environmental Medicine, animal studies link GMOs to organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility.

The cherry-picked link is to a highly biased article by the AAEM, which in turn cherry picks biased sources, like the Union of Concerned Scientists. The article emphasizes any point they can portray as negative, without putting the information into real context. For example, they state multiple times that the location of gene insertion in GM techniques is “random” and that the effects are unpredictable. They don’t mention, however, that techniques are used to select only those plants that received a working copy of the gene without apparent other effects, and that the result is back crossed with the parent cultivar to create a stable new cultivar with the desired working gene.

The Care2 article does not cite or reference (nor does the AAEM article) the many leading scientific organizations around the world that have reviewed the evidence and concluded that GM technology is safe, including the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Science, the AMA, and World Health Organization, among others.

Here is a fairly comprehensive list of safety studies showing existing GMO crops to be safe. I wrote about the recently published feeding trial which looked at 19 years of data with billions of animals showing absolutely no health effect from using GM feed.

The scientific consensus for the safety of GMO is overwhelming. This has not seemed to have any effect on the use of health scares as a talking point for anti-GMO marketing.

2) Contamination of other crops – Like other plants, GMOs cross pollinate. When the wind blows, their seeds can travel. Farmers trying to grow crops organically or with non-GMO seeds report that their fields are being contaminated through the natural cross pollination that occurs when GMO seeds go airborne.

Like many of the points brought up against GMOs, the issue of contamination is not unique to GMOs themselves, and is not as problematic as presented. Any crop that is wind pollinated will spread its pollen to nearby fields. Any cultivar will contaminate all other cultivars. In order to plant enough fields to grow enough food to feed the world, this is going to happen.

Why is this more of an issue spreading GMO to non-GMO and not the other way around? It is self-fulfilling – GMOs are a problem because they can spread to non-GMO and we don’t want that because GMOs are a problem.

Organic farmers claim that GMO contaminated crops can cost them their organic label, which allows them access to certain markets and to charge a premium. But again, if they are going to create what is essentially a boutique market so that they can charge a premium based largely on false claims and pseudoscience, that does not necessarily give them the right to inhibit the farms that are feeding the world. This is their problem to solve.

Further there are practical solutions to minimize contamination. You can plant wind barriers, barrier crops, and plant cultivars that pollinate at different times than any nearby GMO fields, for example.

Finally, not all GMO crops are wind pollinated. Cotton, for example, is bee pollinated and can self-pollinate. Bees can still carry pollen between fields, but there are strategies for dealing with this also. Some plants, like rice, are almost exclusively self-pollinating.

3) Increased pesticide use – Most GMO crops are engineered so that they are not susceptible to particular herbicides. For example, many GMO crops are resistant to Roundup, an herbicide produced by Monsanto. Ironically, as a result, farmers appear to be using more Roundup to control their weeds than previously.

This is one of those “true but incomplete and misleading” facts. First, the term “pesticide” can be confusing. It is used to refer to both insecticides and herbicides (so weeds count as “pests”).

The evidence is clear that the introduction of GMOs with inherent insect resistance (such as Bt varieties) has reduced insecticide use and has been overall helpful to native non-pest insect species.

At the same time, herbicide resistant GMOs have increased the use of the herbicide to which they are resistant. The article author finds this ironic, but it is actually exactly what we would expect. The whole idea is to plant glyphosate resistant crops, then spray the field with glyphosate to kill the weeds and leave the crop unharmed. This strategy displaces the more labor intensive and harmful to the soil practice of tilling. It also displaces the use of other herbicides which are more toxic than glyphosate, which is actually one of the least toxic herbicides.

Anti-GMO activists gloss over this complexity by lumping insecticides and herbicides under the confusing label of pesticides.

4) Unpredictable side effects – We’ve all seen science fiction movies that feature monsters created when lab experiments go wrong. What happens if our GM foods turn into “Franken-Foods”? Some scientists worry that the process of creating genetically-modified plants could lead to new allergens, carcinogens, nutritional deficiencies, and toxins that we’re unprepared to confront.

This is the fear strategy in full force, sometimes presented as the “precautionary principle” (although it is an abuse of this principle). So far no GM crop has produced an allergen, new toxin, carcinogen, or had any negative effects on nutrition. Further, new GM crops have to be tested to make sure they do not contain any protein sequences that are known to be allergens or toxins or that share features with allergens (such as being resistant to digestion).

GM crops are also tested for nutritional equivalence, and feeding studies are used to show they are safe.

Further, there is really no more reason to fear the results of GM technology than the results of hybridization or mutation farming. In fact, there are known cases of hybrid crops unexpectedly containing a toxin, such as the case of the poison potato. So in this regard, GM crops have a better track record than traditional breeding.

5) Impacts on the environment – GMOs are causing an explosion of “superweeds,” weeds that have evolved resistance to glyphosate, a chemical used on GM crops. As a result, even more powerful insecticides must be applied to control weeds, which ultimately contaminates groundwater and kills many animals and plants that are not targeted by these toxic chemicals but are nevertheless susceptible to them.

The term “superweed” is misleading. There is nothing “super” about the weeds. They are just resistant to glyphosate. This is only a problem if you want to use glyphosate as an herbicide.

The real issue here is the overall issues of resistance, to both insecticides and herbicides. There is a legitimate point to be made in that over-reliance on any one strategy will more quickly produce resistance to whatever you are using to control herbs or pests. The term “integrated pest management” is used to refer to combining many strategies in order to minimize resistance to any one.

So again, this is not an issue unique to GMOs, but more has to do with how GMO and other pest management strategies are used. I agree that encouraging the use of a single GMO strategy for pest management is short sighted, but GMOs can also be a very useful component of an overall pest control strategy.

Notice, by the way, that the author confused insecticide and herbicide in the paragraph above. Also keep in mind that non-GMO crops require pesticides to be viable, and will also have issues with resistance.

6) Impacts on birds, bees, and butterflies – Research is ongoing into the impacts that GMOs could be having on birds, butterflies, bees, frogs, and micro-organisms that live in soil and our lakes, rivers and streams.

Yes, research is ongoing, as it should be. So far it seems that the bee colony collapse disorder is not to blame on GMOs. The Monarch butterfly issue is more complex, and the effect of herbicides on milkweeds which the butterflies depend on is likely part of the picture.

The real issue here is the fact that we are displacing natural environments for fields of crops so that we can feed the world. This is going to have an effect of the environment and native species. This is a farming effect, not a GMO effect. In fact, to the extent that GMO varieties allow us to grow more food on less land, this will have the greatest benefit to the environment as land use is the biggest issue.

Also there are strategies to help minimize the negative effect of massive farming, such as incorporating refuges where native plants like milkweed are allowed to grow.

7) Corporate control of seeds and agriculture – Ideally, farmers could get seeds from a variety of sources or save their own seeds for the next planting cycle. Today, one company controls about 95 percent of GM seeds. As cross-pollination increases, more and more natural crops may be unable to produce their own seeds, putting farmers – and us consumers, too – at the mercy of an agribusiness that is more focused on profit that people or the planet.

This is a complex issue and it’s hard to do it justice here. I was unable to confirm the 95% figure (I could only find ideological sources, but will keep digging), but even if we assume that it is true, there are still other seed companies out there and some GM crops are open source, like golden rice.

Let me just correct the obvious misconceptions. First, cross pollination will not render crops unable to create their own seeds. This is a baseless fear.

Although not mentioned specifically, the terminator seed issue (a plant that cannot produce its own seeds) is often raised in this context. Monsanto, however, never marketed a terminator seed and promises never to do so.

Also, most farmers do not reuse their own seeds because it is more convenient to just buy seeds each year. You also cannot reuse hybrid seeds because the hybrid traits do not breed true. You have to buy them every year. Most crops are hybrids, and have been for decades. So it is simply not true that without GMO most farmers would be replanting their own seeds.


The Care2 article is not a balanced or meaningful exploration of the complex issues surround GMO crops. Rather, it is a hit piece against GMO full of misinformation and propaganda. These are, however, the standard talking points against GMO. They are simply not based on a fair and accurate reading of the science.

68 responses so far

68 thoughts on “7 Propaganda Talking Points Against GMOs”

  1. Alexis says:

    another point–you attack the specifics of each argument but there is an overarching trend here. Even if some of these arguments were true, they are an argument against a particular application of GMOs. If Roundup Ready soy has effects on the environment, that doesn’t prove anything about genetic engineering as a technology. This is a major weakness of many of the arguments about GMOs, aside from the ones that are outright false (like the rat tumor study). If a hybrid crop has negative consequences we don’t use it as proof against hybridization as a principle.

    Anti-GMO activists fail to distinguish between principle and application.

  2. Nick says:

    The one I hear most about these days is ‘the precautionary principle’, a la Brody “You’re meddling with powers you can’t possibly comprehend.” Okay, so maybe not Indiana Jones and divine intervention, but the idea that if you are doing something that has the risk of global ruin due to a single unforeseen event (the kind that comes ahead of evidence you could use for prevention), no matter how small that risk, you must avoid it (risk-management strategy in a divide by zero condition)

    Someone over on Food Babe posted a link to an arxiv article that is in heavy need of editing and ‘un-biasing’ before it’s likely to get published, but it does lay out the argument well enough before leaping to ‘…and gmo’s = risk of ruin, so PP must apply’. at the end he goes through a number of counterarguments that are at least worth addressing, even if he just handwaved some of them away.

    The validity of his thesis basically comes down to: does the ‘global interconnectedness’ and ‘possible one shot untested-for mistake’ create a ‘risk of ruin’ event equivalent to global thermonuclear war, as he suggests. if not, what are the pieces he misses or assumptions he makes that invalidate his thesis.

    I’m sure there are better PP descriptions, this one was just (overly) thorough, and the most recent. Many people might get a chuckle from the final Dunning–Kruger jab at the end. 🙂


  3. Bronze Dog says:

    Further, there is really no more reason to fear the results of GM technology than the results of hybridization or mutation farming. In fact, there are known cases of hybrid crops unexpectedly containing a toxin, such as the case of the poison potato. So in this regard, GM crops have a better track record than traditional breeding.

    Quoted for truth. As I’ve said in several previous GMO threads, nature isn’t as servile or sterile as anti-GMO activists imply without thinking.

    Yes, it’s possible that a genetic modification could lead to an unexpected harmful result. But if that happens, it should be easy to trace it back because the offending crops will have a paper trail or at least a temporal relationship with the introduction of the modification to investigate. The old fashioned method is just as likely to produce harmful mutations, but it has no clear trail to follow because mutations occur at random.

  4. BBBlue says:

    Not sure where (or if) this fits in the discussion, but I thought I would throw it into the in-basket to be filed under “Organic Producers are Businessmen Too”

    Tango mandarin has become a very popular food item (easy-peel citrus like Cuties, Halos, etc., although not all Cuties and Halos are Tango.) and it is a product of mutation breeding. Some hard-core organic and anti-GMO types insist that mutagenisis should be among the excluded breeding methods allowed under the USDA Organic label. If I were an organic purist, I would probably agree with them as using ionizing radiation and mutagenic chemicals in a lab environment do not seem very natural, but I guess it is traditional if one’s criteria for “traditional” is something that has been done for decades.

    In any case, there is a lot of money to be made selling Tango mandarins, as well as other products of mutagenisis, and organic producers want their piece of the action, so pressure was brought to bear on USDA to produce a policy memo that states: “Mutagenesis is considered part of traditional breeding programs.” I am amused when I see some purveyors of organic produce distance themselves from this reality by calling Tango the “offspring” of its parent variety.

    There is a segment of organic producers who see their practices as a lifestyle choice and philosophy, while others view it primarily as a business oportunity made possible by misinformation and fear mongering. In my neck of the woods, the tension between the two is starting to reveal the absurd nature of anti-GMO arguments.

  5. jsterritt says:

    “When the incorrect and misleading facts are stripped away, they also pretty universally retreat to a position of, “Well, I just don’t like corporations patenting seeds,” which is really just an ideological position.”

    With a labeling vote coming up in OR, I find myself having a similar conversation over and over again. It appears to be the very first conversation many people have ever had about GMOs, yet they enter it cocksure and convinced of the evils of GMOs. I have patiently and respectfully dismantled a number of Gish Gallops of talking points and myths, only to find the person I’m speaking to retreat to the position mentioned above: “well maybe GMOs aren’t all evil and there might be some good, but I don’t like that corporations are controlling profits.”[1]

    I remind people that the ballot initiative is ostensibly about food safety, or as some would have it, consumer “rights.”[2] I ask if they are comfortable turning it instead into a referendum on business practices. I ask if voting this way would be honest, moral, ethical, cynical? No one is troubled by morality or ethics, most consider it “honest” to use the vote in this way. Though supposedly swayed by the science on GMO safety, no one I spoke with changed their vote from “yes” to “no.” Rather, they changed what they are voting on (in this case, a punitive measure to punish big companies for vague and unspecified business practices). People are voting their hearts and not their minds. It seems that hearts may be more easily won and, once won, nearly impossible to lose.

    [1] not a real quote. My comment digests several conversations across different media. More than one person I spoke with accused seed companies of “controlling profits.”
    [2] http://ballotpedia.org/Oregon_Mandatory_Labeling_of_GMOs_Initiative,_Measure_92_(2014),_Full_text_of_measure

  6. pbc9 says:

    A naive question: while glycophosphate is one of the more harmless herbicides, has the “increased amount” that is being used after GMO introduction been shown to be harmful/harmless? That would be a good thing to add too, to quell fears that even just an increase in herbicide use is harmful to health.

  7. I agree – many people I speak to seem to object to seed companies making profits, as if it is inherently unethical to profit from food production.

    Or they talk about “controlling” food production, grossly overestimating the actual control that seed companies have. This also has nothing to do with GMO – the exact same situation exists with hybrid seeds.

    I have also heard from many farmers who find the whole thing insulting, as if they are hapless and stupid. They choose which seeds to buy based on business decisions.

    And I have said before, there is a meaningful conversation to have about the role of patents, proper regulation, and the balance of economic interests between seed companies and farmers. The anti-GMO talking points, however, make a meaningful conversation more difficult.

  8. jschwarz says:

    Time to repeat my sarcastic reply to people who advocate labeling of GMO’s:

    I’ll support labelling of GMO’s if you’ll support labels that say “fertilized by excrement”.

  9. Willy says:

    Thanks for an excellent post. Your points are all well taken.

    Over the years, I have become increasingly disillusioned with the (broadly speaking) environmental movement. In general, it is anti-everything, but really not pro-anything and they offer little in the way of real solutions. Like you, Dr. Novella, I am also sickened by the implication that farmers are too dumb to make wise, sensible choices and that they don’t care about people or the environment. How condescending!

    Early this year, I was (finally) struck by the fact that there are about 7 billion of us currently and we’re on our way to 9 or more billion. If we can’t improve agricultural technology and yields, we’ll need to put a whole lot more land to use for food production–land that is forests, jungles, and such now. People tend to have a very naïve and romantic view of agriculture, imagining farmers leaning on fence posts while birds tweet and deer roam happily. Really, agriculture is a pretty violent upsetting of the natural order. Every acre of farm or ranch land is an acre denied to lions, tigers, and bears, not to mention redwoods and the like.

    Here’s a link to a fascinating (!!!) table comparing GMO corn with non-GMO corn: http://www.momsacrossamerica.com/stunning_corn_comparison_gmo_versus_non_gmo. Take the time to look carefully at the table and think about some of the entries. A couple of my personal favorites are “available energy”, “Percent organic matter”, “chemical content” and “cation exchange capacity”. You’ll split a gut, then cry at the level of understanding exhibited by the table composer and those who take it at face value.

  10. mark.hadf says:

    “My personal unscientific survey of acquaintances (generally smart and well-educated) who are anti-GMO is that their positions are almost universally based on misinformation. … By the way, my experience with global warming deniers is almost identical. …”

    You must be great fun at parties!

  11. grabula says:

    We’ve seen the evolution of the argument here on this blog from time to time,usually within the same conversation. Anti-GMO types start out with the frankenfood, more pesticides, cross pollination like claims. When presented with data showing these concepts are faulty they move to the better safe than sorry argument, and finally to the I don’t want corporations owning all the food crops argument. Occasionally those last two get flipped but either way, it’s funny to see the pattern after a while.

  12. Charon says:

    I think many people are upset about GMOs because our entire industrial food production system seems bizarre to those who aren’t familiar with it. Which is most of us these days, with a population that’s almost entirely non-farmers. Most people are likely to be familiar with food production mainly in their or a friend’s garden (very different from industrial-scale production).

    GMOs are just what made them pay attention to food production. So then they get upset at GMOs.

    And certainly many on the left are coming from an environmental background with “beyond organic” standards trying to minimize environmental impact (I’m not talking large-scale organic factory farms). If that were a practical alternative, many of us would be happy, but it’s not (financially or maybe even just in terms of arable land vs. population).

    Chatting with friends who work in ecology and genetics in the past few years is what made me change my mind about GMOs. Education on this can work.

  13. halincoh says:

    Hi Steve.

    Hal here. I’m the doc in Maine.

    A friend of mine is big into the anti monsanto process. In an effort to be objective, I ran a pub med search on glyphosate. It seemed like there was a lot of toxicity associated with it, yet you state, “it also displaces the use of other herbicides which are more toxic than glyphosate, which is actually one of the least toxic herbicides.”

    Is there a good source that compares the relative toxicities, lists the research, reveals the specific types of potential toxicities, and presents an overall picture of safe vs unsafe, as relative as those terms may be?


  14. Bruce says:

    As per usual Steve knocks it out the park.

    I really wish there was an app or something, (Pocket Novella or Steve-a-Tron?) that I could whip out whenever someone starts with their bullcrap either face to face or on Facebook. I have neither the patience or brain capacity to be as consitently cogent.

    And, when it comes to internet arguments I do link a lot of this blog and SBM but I suspect most people don’t actually bother to read through the articles so the effect is often lost. I often have to find the paragraph that debunks their myth specifically and post it in the thread they are in before it actually gets read… hence the easy point by point format of this article is very useful.

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

  15. grabula says:

    “And, when it comes to internet arguments I do link a lot of this blog and SBM but I suspect most people don’t actually bother to read through the articles so the effect is often lost. I often have to find the paragraph that debunks their myth specifically and post it in the thread they are in before it actually gets read”

    Yep, I do all of this lol. I always post the most pertinent and damming text whenever possible in the hopes it piques their interest. I suspect it almost never works but I gotta keep trying.

  16. BillyJoe7 says:

    Bruce & grabula,

    Good for you both for bothering to take the time to do this.
    I almost never read a link unless the poster goes to the trouble of summarising what I will find at the link, or quotes directly a relevant sentence or paragraph. When a bald link is supplied, l always feel like I’m being sent on a wild goose chase because, in my experience, that is almost always how it turns out.

  17. Bruce says:

    As Grabula says, it often feels pointless. After really researching some claim someone made recently on facebook about how Organic Milk is the only milk anyone should be drinking (in response to something I linked about the Organic label pretty much being a con) and then posting the link and the relevant paragraph that stated it was NOT better and may in fact be slightly worse for you, the guy told me that even if that is the case in this one issue I should take off my tinfoil hat and not paint all organic food with the same brush…

    My irony meters exploded at that point (the guy is an astrology nut) and I promptly unfollowed my own post and never went back again.

    It is quite funny, my wife now knows my “SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET!!!” face and will often just bring me a coffee and pat my head while I type furiously and scour for data.

  18. Hal – here is one review: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10854122

    Bottom line: “It was concluded that, under present and expected conditions of use, Roundup herbicide does not pose a health risk to humans.”

    Here is also a good article reviewing the topic: http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/04/30/is-glyphosate-used-with-some-gm-crops-dangerously-toxic-to-humans/

    The money quote is that the LD50 for glyphosate is 10 times higher than for caffeine.

  19. BBBlue says:


    MSDS’ are often useful for understanding relative toxicities. http://bit.ly/1pVimge

    A problem I often run into is that any tox data at all strikes fear into some people, so when they read an MSDS without context, their only take-away is that its a poison and that it’s bad.

    Beyond that, the observation that an LD50 is large often leads to a rebuttal involving what we don’t know about cumulative effects, physiological effects such as endocrine disruption, unknown effects of pesticides used in combination, inert ingredients, etc.

    For some, facts don’t matter, there is always a reason that justifies their fear mongering.

  20. SamH says:

    Hi, Certified organic farmer here. I agree with a lot that you’ve said, Stephen, but I think you mischaracterize organic farmers (at least the ones I know). Organic farming was named for the eponymous soil component, which steadily degrades if not either amended or regenerated through fallow periods. Chemical fertilizers allow you to burn down the organic component while still producing good crops. There are environmental consequences of this practice, though. Organic matter provides a buffer for applied nutrients, mitigating polluting runoff. Soils with high organic matter also tend to be more stable, mitigating erosion. Granted, herbicide-tolerant crops are good at reducing cultivation, which you correctly point out as burning off organic matter. However, they increase runoff potential, as fertilizer is sometimes surface broadcast in no-till systems. This practice was responsible for the toxic algal bloom in Ohio this last summer.

    As for Bt crops, again it’s a mixed bag. Yes, non-target species are not affected, but the pesticide is now omni-present in the environment, creating a very high selection pressure for insect resistance. Bt is an allowed Organic insecticide, so it’s frustrating for us to see it rendered ineffective. The same can be said for glyphosphate. Already seven (I believe) different resistance modalities have been characterized in weed species, and the much increased use of glyphosphate is doubtless accelerating the day that glyphosphate is ineffective, which is unfortunate because, as Dr. Novella says, it’s less toxic than, for example, 2,4-D. The next crop of herbicide-tolerant crops are engineered for this much more toxic herbicide.

    The comparison to climate denialism is also interesting. It occurs to me that climate change can be characterized as an unintended consequence of fossil fuel technology. It seems to me a lesson of climate change could be, take it slow, consider the consequences before you wholly commit to a new technology. I think prudence is generally a good course of action, and it might be the case that we’ve been prudent in our adoption of GMOs, or not, I’m not certain. Sometimes I feel that the EPA, USDA, etc. are up to the task, and sometimes I feel they’ve been captured by industry. Regardless, I try to maintain a skeptical attitude towards all these entities claims.

    Lastly, I’d like to point our that all this talk is really about corn, soy and cotton. I feel like the pro arguments often focus on ideas like golden rice (a neat idea, but still not something that actually exists). I wonder how Dr. Novella feels about the soy and corn mega-production vis-a-vis the epidemic of metabolic disorders/obesity? Because I also grant that I’d be much more pro, for example, nitrogen-fixing or disease-resistance engineered vegetables (though I grant I’m the exception).

    While we contemplated GMO labeling in a state initiative here, I took the position that we already have a GMO-free label in the Organic label, but that mostly fell on deaf ears, I’m afraid.

  21. halincoh says:

    Excellent, Steve. This was perfect.

    Much appreciated, BBBlue, as well. Unknown effects are indeed always postulated by those who are fearful or suspicious. Endocrine disruption is often discussed as well. It’s impossible to argue against an unknown. I need to know more about endocrine disruptors to fight the good fight without researching it each and every time.

  22. Sam,

    Thanks for your reasonable comment. I have written about organic specifically before, just search on the articles here.

    My bottom line is that there are certainly interesting ideas regarding sustainable farming, and I would not take the position that industrial farming today has it just right. There are lots of difficult trade offs. The fact is, it’s hard to grow enough food to feed the world without having a negative environmental impact. We absolutely should be exploring all options to optimize agriculture while minimizing environment impact, and have it all be sustainable.

    My problem with “organic” is that it promotes a false dichotomy based largely on the naturalistic fallacy. Organic opposition to GMO makes no sense. The use of “natural” pesticides over synthetic pesticides makes no sense. Opposition to irradiating food is not based on science. Also the organic industry is often deception in their self promotion – there is simply no evidence to support claims of superiority for safety, nutrition, or taste.

    But, fertilizer run off is a problem, monoculture is a problem, resistance to pesticides is a problem. These are problems of massive farming. We need to find creative solutions. GMO should be an option on the table. There may be organic methods that are useful, in some cases, on some scale.

    The reason we bring up golden rice is to point out the very fact that, if you think pesticide resistance is a problem, GM technology is not the culprit. Don’t ban the technology because you disagree with how it is being implemented in one instance. And, I would point out, the only reason golden rice is not already feeding children in Africa who are going blind from Vitamin A deficiency is because of opposition to GM.

    Finally, I would point out that we have to consider yields. Land use is at least as much of an issue as how the land is used. Using lower yield organic methods that increases the need to turn forests into farmland is a real tradeoff and may not be worth it. I get the feeling reading some organic proponents (like Vandana Shiva) that it would be OK with them if massive starvation reduced the world’s population as a result of going all local and organic. Either that or they are simply delusional about yields.

  23. jsterritt says:


    The problem with understanding “endocrine disruptors” is separating fact from fiction. This is tricky as the very term “endocrine disruptor” — or “endocrine disrupting compound” (EDC) — is hardly an agreed-upon one. Specifically, while it is well known (and understood) that synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals exist in the environment that mimic hormones or have hormone-like effects on animals (including humans), there is little to suggest that they “disrupt” the endocrine system. There are famous examples of EDCs causing harm to animals and humans, notably DDT and PCBs, but that harm was caused by acute exposure in industrial use or by poisoning. Today’s “controversy” surrounds the EDC Bisphenol-A (BPA) almost exclusively. There is a dearth of evidence that BPA is harmful to animals or humans, even at high doses. In response to this, activists and some scientists have put forth a “low dose” theory holding that EDCs can produce effects at very low doses that they will not produce at high ones. The field is rife with fraud (Arnold et al, Science 7 June 1996) and junk science (vom Saal). The low-dose and special-dose notions, which throw core tenets of toxicology out the window, to me seem like nothing more than special pleading. This is compounded by the hyperbole and alarmism used by these same activists and scientists, whose rhetoric bears an inverse relationship to evidence (the less evidence, the louder the doom-crying).

    As with GMOs, EDC-decriers would invoke the precautionary principle. To my mind, the PP is only a principle in the absence of evidence. When evidence abounds — as with GMOs and EDCs — the PP becomes the precautionary fallacy. The effects of banning BPA would be staggering and leave industry (i.e., evil corporations) scrambling to replace the well-known and exhaustively studied with something new, less tested, and less well-understood (a chemophobe’s dream come true). The precautionary thing to do is to leave BPA alone until a reason can be found to do otherwise. Surely there exists a point where fears of the unknown are outweighed by the comfort we can take in the excellent knowledge we have.

    There is little room for doubt about the safety of GMOs or BPA. Yet “frankenfoods” and poison baby bottles are the stock-in-trade rallying points for those who would have us reject science in favor of their “one true cause” fear- and conspiracy-based system of belief. Here is Jon Entine’s excellent article on BPA alarmism: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2012/10/31/bisphenol-a-bpa-found-not-harmful-yet-again-so-why-did-so-many-reporters-and-ngos-botch-coverage-yet-again/

  24. Bruce says:


    It seems a study by the University of Adelaide agrees with your final point:


    “The corollary of these findings is that society’s efforts towards sustainability would be directed more productively towards reducing our impact as much as possible through technological and social innovation,”

    The full article is unfortunately behind a paywall, but from what I gather from the abstract aside from a huge worldwide catastrophe population figures are on an unavaoidable trajectory and our impact on the environment as a whole (food production included) is not going to be easily changed.

    The focus needs to be on getting more bang from our buck as opposed to trying to go back to the old and often inefficient ways.

  25. Yes, it’s certainly true that “Any cultivar will contaminate all other cultivars.” But you failed to mention the fact that GMOs do not, under any circumstances contaminate organic crops.

  26. Willy says:

    I must say that I am crushed–crushed!!!–that no one has commented on or acknowledged the “Stunning Corn Comparison” table that I linked to in my post above. Surely the utter ignorance exhibited by the table maker deserves recognition…? I mean, for goodness sake, that an anti-GMO person believes that non-GMO corn is only 2.1% organic matter must be worth some scorn!


  27. jsterritt says:


    You were right to circle back and prod us. Hilarious stuff. I now know that GMO corn has 60 times more “chemical content” than non-GMO, that “people who have cancer are low in maganese” (those dummies), and that Glyphosate “draws out the vital nutrients of living things” (y’know, like a vampire).

    I will never understand how people can act in such an amoral, underhanded fashion (e.g., stringing a series of wholesale lies together for the purpose of tricking others into believing/fearing what they believe/fear). I imagine “Zen Honeycutt” sleeps soundly, untroubled by such misdeeds and atrocious spelling (“maganese?”).

  28. jsterritt says:


    I read down into the comments. It only gets better, as the author censors all comments but her own and one or two equally outraged “moms.” In defense of her position on GMOs she offers: “Irregardless of this report, I have scores of Moms who have answered our health survey who repeatedly share that going off GMOs reduced, improved or dissappeared their children’s and their own health issues.”


  29. SadieLane says:

    You seem to be grasping at straws.. Trying to make the organic industry out to be the bad guy lol… pretty pathetic. I support organic because it is all I want to buy and eat. I am not in the business, I just want healthy food. The Kimmel show is your best argument? Mr. Spock knows, just ask him…
    http://tinyurl.com/SpockNoGMO btw Oregon Yes on 92! Colorado Yes on 105! #LabelGMO

    The link you referenced as misinformed seems to be right on with good sources. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-7-most-important-reasons-to-avoid-gmos.html

    Your link to the gmopundit site is totally bogus. First it is a known shill site. Second the ‘studies’ have been soundly debunked..

    “A review that is claimed by pro-GMO lobbyists to show that (changing number) studies show GM foods are as safe in fact shows nothing of the sort. Instead many of the studies cited show evidence of risk. ” and are funded by the AgriChemical Cartel.. doh? Not one is a long term, INDEPENDENT peer reviewed study showing no harm. Not One..

    Oh, some links to give you the other side of the story.

    Let’s let Dr. Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., former Senior Scientist, Environmental Protection Agency explain it to you.



    WATCH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsk9dc6pfaQ



    Abby Martin – Confessions of an FDA Agent

    Science organizations say GMOs not proven safe – Judson Parker
    The global medical and science community consensus is that genetic engineering of foods is not proven risk free.. Below is a list of statements from prominent science and medical organizations.

    We know who you are Steven Novella: “Surging Disinformation Analysts Commenting On Your Favorite Websites To Emotionalize and Antagonize.”

    The Secret Life of Gov. Paid Trolls

    How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

    10 REASONS WHY we don’t need GM foods
    1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
    2. GM crops do not increase yield potential
    3. GM crops increase pesticide use
    4. There are better ways to feed the world
    5. Other farm technologies are more successful
    6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat
    7. Stealth GMOs are in animal feed — without consumers’ consent
    8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers
    9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist, GM contamination of conventional and organic
    10. We can’t trust GM companies
    with references

    President’s Cancer Panel: Eat Organic… 2010

    Syngenta uses terrorist tactics against it’s own scientist who disagrees with them..

    The price of truth… Because they dared to speak out about health and medical disasters they were persecuted by those they attacked.

    The Corruption of Science

    UN Report – Small Scale Organic Farming is the Only Way to Go

    How long before it’s too late?
    GMO crops contaminating non-GMO crops across globe through cross-pollination.

    This is my biggest fear.. Putting genes back in bottles.


  30. Bruce says:


    Thanks for coming back with that… yes it is a veritable gold-mine. You have to love how they are very anti the big company making money and yet in their table they say GMOs give smaller profits.

    The following comment by the dear Zen herself in response to Kevin Folta quite rightly calling her out on his comments pointing out errors in her original post being deleted:

    “Kevin your comments, and anyone elses’ comments that insinuate that anything posted on this site is negative or inauthentic will be deleted if you don’t come with proof of your own.”

    Oh… And that Gemma Starr… Anyone that defends organic food so much MUST be a SHILL for BIG ORGANIC!!! LOL!!!

  31. Sadie – thanks for so clearly demonstrating that part of the anti-GMO movement is a conspiracy-mongering pseudoscientific cult. I’ll let me commenters take first crack and deconstructing your propaganda.

    I just want to point out – you don’t know who I am, clearly. It is cheap and easy to accuse someone of being a paid shill for government or industry (I guess you think I’m both) in order to dismiss their opinion. It is an ad hominem bullying tactic.

    Of course you have absolutely no evidence that I am anything other than exactly what my bio says I am. Your accusations are slanderous and baseless. It does expose you for exactly what you are, though, so thanks for being so transparent.

  32. BTW – the first link about “surging disinformation” pretty exactly describes the anti-GMO movement. Very ironic.

  33. jsterritt says:


    Your conspiracy theory doesn’t trump a sound argument or excuse you from making one. It is clear that you feel passionately about this subject, but we prefer reasoned debate to passion here. Name-calling, poorly organized conspiracy talking points, and links to survivalist and alarmist websites do not make an argument. In fact, this sadly typical behavior of lashing out against reason shows just how feeble your argument is. But then of course, anyone who disagrees with your unfounded, unsupported, science-denying, paranoid fantasy about GMOs is a shill. The fix is in.

    I suppose choosing to accept “facts” from ideologues and chicken littles — people and websites with zero authority and dubious motivation — is your choice to make. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that others — like Dr Novella, myself, and other commenters here — have made similarly poorly-informed choices. There is a vast and accessible scientific literature to examine and learn from, not decry.

  34. Giovanni Tagliabue says:

    Great post! 🙂
    My only criticism is that nobody should use the word “contamination” or “pollution” or the like, to indicate “admixture” of seeds. The former are strongly biased words, creating just the effect desired by “anti-GMOs” – that DNA-spliced cultivars are noxious. Such kind of words are justified only when the admixture is really recognized as harmful, as between canola (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canola) and other varieties of rapeseed with a high level of erucic acid, grown not for food but for industrial purposes, that may be dangerous for our health. That’s why a reasonable and rationally-founded distance has to be kept between fields where the 2 different varieties of vegetals are grown. Ciao from Lombardy, Italy!

  35. yolinda says:

    As a non-scientist who tries to buy organic food as much as possible, I just want to pose a question: If you were given a choice between, say, an apple raised “organically” and one raised “conventionally,” you would consider them equal in nutrition, taste, and safety? Would you be at all inclined to choose the “organic” apple? (Sorry, I guess that is two questions.) For the purposes of my question, let’s just use generally accepted definitions of “organically-grown’ vs. “conventionally-grown.”

  36. SadieLane says:

    Mischa Popoffon said: “But you failed to mention the fact that GMOs do not, under any circumstances contaminate organic crops.”

    lol really? Try to remember this Mischa PopTart so you will quit commenting these unbelievable lies..

    How long before it’s too late?
    GMO crops contaminating non-GMO crops across globe through cross-pollination.

    This is my biggest fear.. Putting genes back in bottles.

    Transgene Escape: GMOs Spreading Uncontrollably Around the World

    Spread of GM out of Control

    The entire report, entitled “Transgene Escape: Global atlas of uncontrolled spread of genetically engineered plants,” can be found here. In English and German: http://www.testbiotech.de/node/944

    Contamination Matters – Why GM crops can’t be managed at a national level

    GMO crops contaminating non-GMO crops across globe through cross-pollination.

    Washington farmer says GM crops contaminated his fields Jan 19, 2014

    You can’t trust anything Mischa Popoff says.

    Who is Mischa Popoff?

    Such a loser…
    “Mischa Popoff, who was running in Boundary-Similkameen, lost his position Thursday night after The Vancouver Sun revealed statements from him deriding the Missing Women Inquiry as a waste of time and criticizing single mothers for having children “without a man by their side.”

  37. rezistnzisfutl says:


    If all else being equal, if I were to consider whether to buy an organic or conventional apple, I suppose I would choose the one with the lower price. If they were the same price, I would choose the one that had the best appearance out of them all, whether it’s organic or conventional. That is purely on an economic level as a consumer. Ethically, I would go with conventional because I think that organic is mostly a marketing ploy based on the naturalistic fallacy that dupes many well-meaning consumers who often don’t know any better (or should) into buying overpriced products, and that most of the claims made about them are erroneous, and the techniques used based on mostly pseudoscience.

    Whether they are equal in nutrition, taste, and safety will depend on if we’re truly comparing apples to apples, so to speak. If they are the exact same cultivar grown in precisely the same conditions, other than what is specifically unique to organic (ie, soil composition, sunlight, irrigation, slope aspect, etc), safety wouldn’t be a concern for me. Environmentally, it would depend on the pesticides used and how they were administered for each (some organic pesticides are quite nasty). Nutrition I would expect to be the same, if they were grown in the same conditions as listed above. Taste would likely be the same as well (Penn and Teller did an amusing episode on this with bananas at a Farmer’s Market). Often, the taste aspect comes down to varying cultivars, or just plain consumer bias.

  38. rezistnzisfutl says:

    I find it interesting contrasting the difference between the sources anti’s and pro’s post when discussing GMOs, organic, and even nutrition itself. We are really seeing it here on this comments section, with many citations being Youtube videos, advocacy websites, opinion blogs with no backing themselves, and outright crank sites (gmwatch, gmoseralini, etc). The closest thing to anything scientific are open source “pay to play” publications. I am disappointed that I don’t see Natural News anywhere – have they gone so far off the deep end that even anti’s are too embarrassed to source them?

  39. yolindaon,

    If you were given a choice between, say, an apple raised “organically” and one raised “conventionally,” you would consider them equal in nutrition, taste, and safety? Would you be at all inclined to choose the “organic” apple? (Sorry, I guess that is two questions.) For the purposes of my question, let’s just use generally accepted definitions of “organically-grown’ vs. “conventionally-grown.”

    Not only do I choose the apple without the organic label, I generally do so with little or no regards to price. I consciously avoid the organic label because I do not wish to contribute to the success of “Big Organic”.

    I would do so partly for the same reason I would choose a bottled of “conventional” drinking water over a bottle of pure water for a lower price labeled “Homeopathic Health Boosting Drinking Water”.

  40. mumadadd says:


    I do exactly the same as K-K. I’ve been doing it for years, and it never used to be based on any understanding of the science of organic vs non-, but more of a gut reaction based on rejection of a certain life-style type – the ‘crusties’ and ‘earth mothers’ were never really a set I identified with.

    Now I have a more nuanced opinion, based largely on Steve’s posts on the topic, and I still avoid buying organic, even if it’s cheaper. Probably a large proportion is in a similar vein to my previous rejection, but now with the added component of thinking it’s largely a con, capitalizing on people’s instinctive reaction to a label that sets up a dichotomy between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’.

  41. grabula says:


    Take a look at your first post and then take a look at SamH, an admitted organic farmer in a comment thread on what is basically a pro-gmo blog post, and let us know what you think the difference is then consider who’s going to be taken more seriously in a discussion.

  42. grabula says:


    “I suppose choosing to accept “facts” from ideologues and chicken littles”

    Now you just hold on, he has at least THREE links to youtube videos. That pretty much makes it science.

  43. grabula says:


    “As a non-scientist who tries to buy organic food as much as possible, I just want to pose a question: If you were given a choice between, say, an apple raised “organically” and one raised “conventionally,” you would consider them equal in nutrition, taste, and safety? Would you be at all inclined to choose the “organic” apple?”

    If you’re saying that all things being equal, I’d go with rez and buy whatever is cheapest. I think you’re question is kind of loaded since you see a dichotomy between what is healthier, whereas I do not. If my apple is larger, tastier and has the same or better nutrition, I’m going to go with that, it doesn’t matter how it was grown.

  44. Bronze Dog says:

    I’ll go ahead and say that I wouldn’t buy “organic,” either.

    1. Fundamentally, I see no reason to. There’s no real advantage to organic food from what I’ve seen.
    2. I wouldn’t want to associate with or fund the subculture. It’s a culture of fear, made closed-minded by nostalgia, deceptive marketing practices, and a cartoonish naivete about how the world works.

  45. pressedforthyme says:

    watch Gary Nulls mov!e “Seeds Of Death” to see how wrong you all are

  46. PFT -Gary Null is a notorious crank. He is anti-vaccine and an HIV denier. His film is full of misinformation and utter nonsense. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2013/05/31/gary-null-cultivator-of-dangerous-woo-plants-seeds-of-death/#.VFus5RC-1cY)

    Citing him as a reference says quite a bit.

  47. jsterritt says:


    Seeds of Death is what Harriet Hall correctly calls an “advocacy documentary.” It is the very worst of that breed, a “classic collection of all the untruths, myths, and tropes commonly used by the anti-GMO movement. The scope of its dishonesty is brazen.”[1]

    For a viewer to be taken in by such bald-faced lies and shameless propaganda shows a staggering lack of critical thinking, bordering on a lack of awareness. Or it displays a motivated willingness to accept BS as evidence. To parade your ignorance here, however honestly-acquired it might be, shows poor judgement and that sad, familiar marriage of incompetence and confidence currently being discussed in another post. [2]

    [1] Keith Kloor, Discover
    [2] http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/lessons-from-dunning-kruger/

  48. AmateurSkeptic says:

    jsterritt, you are really on your game on this post. First with respect to the preceding comment and then especially with this comment:

    “As with GMOs, EDC-decriers would invoke the precautionary principle. To my mind, the PP is only a principle in the absence of evidence. When evidence abounds — as with GMOs and EDCs — the PP becomes the precautionary fallacy. “

  49. jsterritt says:

    Thanks, AmatuerSkeptic.

    The precautionary principle is so often invoked, so seldom understood. People use it as a stand-in for an argument — the science-rejector’s best friend!

  50. James Whittaker says:

    Simply hilarious. My sides are splitting. To call oneself a scientist, yet pick so very selectively from the science that has been produced… almost as if you had arrived at your conclusions before considering any fact. You care not for the truth – that is abundantly clear. You may be an ideologue, most certainly a priest: but you are a joke of a scientist.

    Here, enjoy some science – though I must assume as you apparently do that it a priori does not qualify as such, for its conclusions are contrary to your own:

    Environmental Sciences Europe, “No scientific consensus on GMO safety” http://www.ensser.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ENSSER_Statement_no_scientific_consensus_on_GMO_safety_ENG_LV.pdf

  51. James,

    You demonstrate quite nicely with your tone and ad hominem approach who in this discussion is the ideologue.

    I read the ENSSER paper. It is a terrible work of propaganda. They deny the clear scientific consensus on GM safety in the same way some deny the consensus on climate change or the safety of vaccines. Their arguments are not compelling and are mostly non sequiturs.

    I would also point out they are an ideological group. Their self-stated mission is:

    “The objective of ENSSER is the advancement of public-good science and research for the protection of the environment, biological diversity and human health against adverse impacts of new technologies and their products.”

    If this is what you call “science” then again I don’t think my readers will have any difficulty determining who here is the ideologue.

  52. jsterritt says:

    @James Whittaker

    “Enjoy some science.”

    A laundry list of cherry-picks and unqualified statements in a press release by an anti-GMO activist group is what you call science?! The very premise of the statement is faulty, as it proposes that any finding by researcher that is inconsistent with the consensus somehow negates that consensus. As a perfect scale model of this bizarre technique, the ENSSER authors claim that methodologies in studies included by Domingo (2011) and Snell (2012) in their respective review articles are “the subject of continuing scientific debate” as if this magically invalidates the reviews in their entirety. This is as much as to say that if there is even so much as a single thread to pull at, consensus cannot exist. You are holding consensus to a standard of absolute certainty. How very scientific.

    Many of the studies included in the thorough review articles that the ENSSER authors cite have flaws. Many more studies were not included in the reviews, because they were fatally flawed. There have been atrocious so-called research papers penned in the name of anti-GMO demagoguery. The two worst abusers I would mention as examples are two that are heavily relied upon by the ENSSER authors in their poor argument: Seralini and Dona. The Dona and Arvanitoyannis paper cited is perhaps the stupidest piece of ideological, editorial drivel I’ve ever read. Seralini is, well, Seralini. You impugn Dr Novella’s scientific credibility on the authority of zealots, frauds, and the junk science of hucksters like these?! I hate to poison your well in retaliation for your ad hominem attack, but it is entirely relevant to the matter at hand: you are standing on the shoulders of worms to kick a the shins of scientific consensus.

    I will not further “debunk” the bunk claims of the ENSSER statement. It is denialist tripe meant to bamboozle the credulous with ideology cleverly (but thinly) disguised as science. Dr Novella correctly calls this kind of subterfuge “sophisticated nonsense.” By design, it is difficult for the non-scientist or casual reader to parse the false claims and dubious citations. There is no shame in being taken in by propaganda like this, but there is plenty in retailing it as you do. It says a lot about your argument when you have to resort to underhanded means to trick others into believing what you wish them to.

    You have literally substituted anti-science for science. Your argument — or rather, ENSSER’s (since all you do is name call and taunt) — fails.

  53. scienceguy says:

    No mention in this article about how the NCBI found that “Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors”. – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23756170

  54. Teaser says:

    SN – To your credit you stated

    “Yes, research is ongoing, as it should be. So far it seems that the bee colony collapse disorder is not to blame on GMOs. ”

    Some ongoing research was completed and it wasn’t good news for GMO.



  55. Teaser – that study is about neonicotinoid pesticides, not about GMOs. There is no direct connection, in fact, to GMOs.

    Oh – except one. GMO crops with built in insecticides have lead to a decrease in insecticide use. So GMOs, if anything, are helping the problem.

    The anti-GMO crowd has essentially lied in order to make it seem that there is a connection: http://www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-food/gmo-corn-treated-with-neonicotinoids-pesticides-manufactured-by-Bayer-Syngenta-kill-honeybees.php

    This is nothing but deceptive propaganda. They say that GMO crops are sprayed with this insecticide – but so are non-GMO crops. There is no connection. They then say that GMO crops have increase “pesticide” use, but leave out that they have decreased insecticide use. It is controversial whether they increase or decrease herbicide use (pesticides include both herbicides and insecticides).

    Complete deception. I am sorry you fell for it.

  56. jsterritt says:


    “Some ongoing research was completed and it wasn’t good news for GMO.”

    The two Nature papers have absolutely nothing to do with GMO. They are about neonicotinoid insecticides and their effect on bees. Why do anti-GMOers insist on conflating pesticides with GMO?

    Pesticides are not GMOs.

  57. Teaser says:

    Clothianidin is used to treat corn.
    Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid.
    Corn grown in U.S. is 90% GMO
    Corn crops = GMO = Bee Death

    GMO Corn production.

    This article cites a Purdue University study that captured the ways bee’s are exposed to clothianidin.

  58. ccbowers says:

    Teaser, your attempt to draw a direct connection that doesn’t exist is embarrassing. Why let ideology lead your reasoning? Neonicotinoids are not just used on GM corn, but would be used with nonGM corn, and are used with other crops. Whether the corn is genetically modified is not relevant to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

  59. Embarrassing indeed – but thanks for showcasing the intellectual bankruptcy of the anti-GMO movement.

    They have desperately tried to equate GMO technology with pesticide use, and unfortunately this propaganda has been successful for ideologues or the uninformed, as is evidenced here. This is such a dramatic case, neonicotinoids literally have nothing to do with GMOs. Their use on GMO crops and non-GMO crops alike is completely incidental to the GMO status of the crop. It’s truly absurd.

  60. Teaser says:

    Ccbowers: No ideology. Read the following chronology. Maybe it’s just anti-GMO propaganda. From what I have read neonicotinoid use is systemic in planting transgenic corn in the US cornbelt. US corn is 90% GMO. What am I missing?

    “Then, in the mid-to-late 1990s, GE corn and neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) seed treatments both entered the market — the two go hand-in-hand, partly by design and partly by accident. Conditions for the marketing of both products were ripe due to a combination of factors:
    regulatory pressures and insect resistance had pushed previous insecticide classes off the market, creating an opening for neonicotinoids to rapidly take over global marketshare;
    patented seeds became legally defensible, and the pesticide industry gobbled up the global seed market; and
    a variant of the corn rootworm outsmarted soy-corn rotations, driving an uptick in insecticide use around 1995-96.
    Then, as if on cue, Monsanto introduced three different strains of patented, GE corn between 1997 and 2003 (RoundUp Ready, and two Bt–expressing variants aimed at controlling the European Corn Borer and corn root worm). Clothianidin entered the U.S. market under conditional registration in 2003, and in 2004 corn seed companies began marketing seeds treated with a 5X level of neonicotinoids (1.25 mg/seed vs. .25).
    … and in the space of a decade, U.S. corn acreage undergoes a ten-fold increase in average insecticide use. By 2007, the average acre of corn has more than three systemic insecticides — both Bt traits and a neonicotinoid. Compare this to the early 1990s, when only an estimated 30-35% of all corn acreage were treated with insecticides at all.
    Adding fuel to the fire, in 2008 USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Board of Directors approved reductions in crop insurance premiums for producers who plant certain Bt corn hybrids. By 2009, 40% of corn farmers interviewed said they did not have access to elite (high-yielding) non-Bt corn seed. It is by now common knowledge that conventional corn farmers have a very hard time finding seed that is not genetically engineered and treated with neonicotinoids.”

  61. BillyJoe7 says:

    Here is the link to Teaser’s quote:


    It’s the second post by nealthe.
    Nealthe in turn quotes from this source:


    Panna stands for “pesticide action network North america”.
    So we are not being supplied with an independent report but an opinion by an activist.
    Maybe that was why the link was not provided?

  62. Bruce says:

    “No ideology. Read the following chronology. Maybe it’s just anti-GMO propaganda. From what I have read neonicotinoid use is systemic in planting transgenic corn in the US cornbelt. US corn is 90% GMO. What am I missing?”

    Yeah guys, no ideology, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, just asking questions you know. Obviously no agenda whatsoever.

    You are fooling no one.

  63. ccbowers says:

    “From what I have read neonicotinoid use is systemic in planting transgenic corn in the US cornbelt. US corn is 90% GMO. What am I missing?”

    To connect the final dot you seem to be missing: If US corn were 0% GM, it would not have decreased the usage of neonicotinoids versus having predominantly GM corn.

    Why are you conflating the GM status of corn with usage of neonicotinoids? They are not related as explained several times here.

  64. Teaser says:

    @ccbowers: “Why are you conflating the GM status of corn with usage of neonicotinoids? They are not related as explained several times here.”

    I went down a rat hole to formulate a response to your question. I avoided the pro-GMO sites like the plague and stuck with the farmer, ag-industry sites. All I can say at this point is the answer is out there.

    @BillyJoe7 Sorry for the “missing link” bad form on my part. As you found, forgetting to provide a link isn’t really an issue in this day and age. A quick copy paste easily leads a person to the page. I am not an activist. I find that the GMO debate is endlessly fascinating. SN provides the pro-GMO argument on a regular basis. If I were a pro-GMO activist I would require my cohorts to read this blog on a daily basis.

    @Bruce – Yeah no agenda. It started with reading this article in the Royal Society of Chemistry website.
    Perhaps they are a controversial group, or one with an agenda. If so I see no evidence of it on the internet.

  65. BillyJoe7 says:


    For your information, Steven Novella provides a science based approach to GMO.
    But thanks for your quotes from an activist site, it shows exactly where your bias lies.

  66. Teaser says:


    How do you explain the findings of this study?

    A Link:

    I quote from the article here:

    “Of the three most often found chemicals, clothianidin was the most commonly detected, showing up in 75 percent of the sites and at the highest concentration. Thiamethoxam was found at 47 percent of the sites, and imidacloprid was found at 23 percent. Two, acetamiprid and dinotefuran, were only found once, and the sixth, thiacloprid, was never detected.

    Instead of being sprayed on growing or full-grown crops, neonicotinoids can be applied to the seed before planting. The use of treated seeds in the United States has increased to the point where most corn and soybeans planted in the United States have a seed treatment (i.e., coating), many of which include neonicotinoid insecticides.”

    My closing comment:
    If the scientists at the USGS can see this relation between GMO seed treatment and neonicotinoids , why is it the learned stalwarts on this blog cannot acknowledge the relationship?

  67. jsterritt says:


    Nowhere in the link you provided does anyone so much as mention GMO. You are following a flawed logic that since most corn and soy seeds are coated with neonicotinoid insecticides and most corn and soy seeds planted in the us are GMO, that GMO is being indicted in these studies and news reports. This is as much as to say that these studies suggest that corn and soy are causing bee colony collapse. The “relationship” is wholly incidental.

    You are torturing logic to answer the question: how is GMO causing bee colony collapse?

    Pesticides are not GMOs.

  68. SageThinker says:

    This piece itself reads to me like a piece of propaganda. I think that there is a tendency for anyone with an agenda to get biased and produce polemic text. I have seen propaganda as bad from pro-GMO agendists as from anti-GMO agendists.

    Be careful not to paint everyone with the same brushstroke. There are people in either category who do use good science and good dialogue to back up their positions.

    My position is specifically related to your point #3, and about glyphosate in particular.

    I understand how glyphosate works, and what doses are relevant, and i have come to believe — through literature review of real scientific research — that it is very likely that glyphosate in the food stream as it currently exists, disrupts the balance of population in the human gut microbiome.

    I came to believe this for a reason: research.

    I have read many papers and paid careful attention to the methods, excluded those which test full formulation Roundup, of course, and excluded others where experimental design was lacking integrity, and gleaned knowledge about glyphosate through a lot of reading and thinking.

    I think it’s a travesty that the actual research on whether and/or how glyphosate effects the human or other mammalian gut microbiomes has not been done. I think it’s actually a failure of due diligence and akin to criminal negligence on Monsanto’s part.

    The science on glyphosate is extensive, how it affects plants and microbes and at what levels. There i good rational reason to think that it is very likely that the chemical in 100 micrograms per day levels is changing our gut microbiomes.

    That is a very specific topic, a specific hypothesis, and it’s backed up by facts. I speak calmly and without ad hominem and other various bad dialogic practices. (I’ve seen more of that from pro-GMO people by the way, than anti-GMO people.)

    This is simply inquiry into reality, and that is what science is about in essence.

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