ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Brainwaves

Brainwaves


Current thoughts on mind, life and culture
Brainwaves Home

Film Review: GMO OMG SRSLY? An #EpicFail in Exercising Our Right to Know

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Email   PrintPrint



GMO-opponent

Credit: Daniel Goehring, via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremy Seifert’s new documentary “GMO OMG” opens with a series of maudlin pastoral scenes—sun-dappled forests, kids playing outdoors, a close-up of ants crawling in a line—as a man’s somber voice reads Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things.” With this subtle Malickian prelude out of the way, the film begins more earnestly. Lately, Seifert explains onscreen and in narration, he has been thinking about the food that he and his family eat. In particular, he has been wondering about a kind of food he has heard of now and then, but does not really know much about—genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Certain questions have been flitting through his mind: What are GMOs? Where do they come from? And are they safe to eat? So he begins a quest to find out.

What quickly becomes obvious, however, is that Seifert’s naivete is a charade. He is not so much trying to develop an understanding of GMOs from scratch as searching for affirmation of preconceived concerns. Even before he talks to any scientists or farmers, Seifert suspects that GMOs are unhealthy; that they disturb “the peace of wild things;” that the government and scientists have hidden damning facts about GMOs from the public; and that, in general, we don’t know how they work or what the consequences of growing and eating them will be. Instead of seriously investigating these suspicions, he is content to parrot numerous misconceptions spread by people who fiercely oppose genetic modification. As a result, Seifert’s intellectually lazy and, at times, emotionally manipulative film only detracts from the public understanding of GMOs.

Seifert concludes that the “science is still out” on genetically modified organisms. This is completely misleading. For almost 20 years, farmers around the world have grown corn, cotton, soybeans, canola and other crops that scientists and biotech companies have genetically engineered to fight off specific pests and survive a dousing of weed-killer, among other advantageous traits. Using evidence from studies conducted in the last two decades, scientists have in fact reached conclusions about the safety and dangers of GMOs—especially about how safe they are to eat. As the editors wrote in the September issue of Scientific American: “The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization and the exceptionally vigilant European Union agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. Compared with conventional breeding techniques—which swap giant chunks of DNA between one plant and another—genetic engineering is far more precise and, in most cases, is less likely to produce an unexpected result. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tested all the GMOs on the market to determine whether they are toxic or allergenic. They are not.” (To clarify, it is incumbent upon biotech companies to fund and conduct such tests, the results of which the FDA rigorously evaluates. If the FDA is not satisfied, they will request further testing. Selling a GMO before going through such procedures puts a manufacturer at great financial and legal risk.)

GM crops do not always work as intended; the biotech companies that make many GM seeds are not charitable organizations with the little guy’s best interest at heart; and there are legitimate concerns about how GM crops inadvertently imbalance insect ecosystems and accelerate weeds’ resistance to herbicides. Still, research and practical experience demonstrate that, when made and grown responsibly, GMOs are an incredibly useful agricultural tool, albeit one of many. GM crops provide immense benefits: namely, they greatly reduce the use of toxic insecticides—which is good for people, wildlife and the environment—and dramatically increase yields.

In one of the most disingenuous scenes in Seifert’s film, he takes his two young sons Finn and Scout to a cornfield. Back in the day, he explains, children could scamper through such fields carefree. But now farmers grow so-called Bt corn, which has been genetically engineered to produce a pest-killing toxin. So, Seifert reasons, the plants themselves are toxic and before he and his sons can enter the cornfield, they need to take some precautions. The Seifert boys pull on white biohazard suits and gas masks and dash off, filming all the while. Seifert loses his sons amid the stalks at one point, but once he relocates them they leave the field and fall exasperated on the ground. Visibly upset, one of his sons begs for water.

Instead of using his children like marionettes for ludicrous theatrics, Seifert could have, I don’t know, done some actual research. If he had, he would have learned that the toxins Bt corn plants make are extremely specific, killing only certain pests; that Bt corn is not toxic to people; that Bt corn is generally coated in far fewer chemical insecticides—which can poison people—than non-GM corn; and that Bt crops were invented precisely to avoid the application of those noxious chemical insecticides. He would also have learned about some real risks, which have nothing to do with making people sick and were never mentioned in his film. I summarized the research on Bt crops to date in a recent Scientific American article:

“At this point, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that Bt toxins are some of the safest and most selective insecticides ever used. Claims that Bt crops poison people are simply not true. When properly managed, Bt crops increase yields and make croplands far friendlier for insect populations as a whole by reducing the use of broad-spectrum chemical insecticides that kill indiscriminately. Fewer chemical sprays also translate to cleaner grains, legumes and vegetables mixed into processed foods and sold whole in the produce aisle.

Bt crops are not entirely benign, however, nor are they a panacea. Despite the unparalleled specificity of Bt toxins, recent studies indicate that in a few rare cases they may inadvertently kill butterflies, ladybugs and other harmless or helpful insects, although so far there is no solid evidence that they poison bees. Even more concerning, agricultural pests can, will and have become resistant to Bt crops, just as they inevitably develop immunity to any form of pest control. If biotech companies prematurely release new Bt varieties without proper testing or farmers do not take adequate precautions when growing them, Bt crops ultimately fail and, ironically, encourage the use of chemical pesticides they were meant to replace. Most recently, some farmers in the Midwestern U.S. have realized that one kind of Bt corn no longer repels voracious root-chomping beetle larvae.”

Seifert also uncritically accepts the views of researchers like Gilles-Eric Seralini whose studies have been funded by anti-GM organizations like Greenpeace and thoroughly rejected by the larger scientific community. He uses flashy graphics and statistics ripped from their context to create a sense of peril and imminent doom. He sprays the screen with a cacophonous shower of scientific jargon, like a Sesame Street puppet’s fever dream, because all that crazy science stuff is obviously way too complicated for any “normal” person to understand, so why bother parsing it? And he acts as though all of Big Ag is unwilling to interact with journalists because Monsanto denies his feeble and unprofessional requests for an interview and turns him away when he drops by unannounced.

You can’t even take your kids to a lake in the woods and fish some “natural” rainbow trout anymore, Seifert laments on a family camping trip, because the trout probably came from a fish farm and ate food pellets made with GMOs. Never mind all the truly worrisome toxic chemicals with which we have contaminated rivers and lakes over the years; or the way we radically transformed almost every species we eat through selective breeding long before GM crops were around; or the fact that fishing rods and hooks—which are tools invented by humans, after all—are no more or less “natural” than genetic engineering.

Identifying all the inaccuracies and confusion in this film would require many more paragraphs. Honestly, if you really want to understand GMOs, I think it’s best to stay away from Seifert’s new documentary altogether. There are many books and articles on the subject much more deserving of your time and attention.

The central irony of  “GMO OMG” is the same irony underlying so much of the GMO controversy: many GMO opponents harp the “right to know” what is in their food, but very few exercise that right. While making his film, Seifert could not be bothered to seriously review the facts. “I didn’t really dig too deep into the scientific aspect,” Seifert told Nathanael Johnson of Grist. “It was almost more of the cultural phenomenon of our widespread ignorance because I feel that we’ve been intentionally kept in the dark, and then asking the question, ‘How is it possible that we’re all eating this every single day, and no one even knows what it is?’” Likewise, people who oppose GMOs in California, Maine, Connecticut and other states have demanded mandatory labels on foods containing ingredients from genetically engineered crops because, they say, they want to know what they are eating. But such labels will not help people understand the advantages and risks of GMOs or help them make smarter dietary choices or even explain what a GMO is. The FDA labels foods that pose real dangers to consumers—those that cause allergies, for example. If premarket tests reveal that a GM food is allergenic or otherwise dangerous to some people, then the FDA will label it. So far that has not happened. We do not gain any useful knowledge by insisting that the government slaps labels on all GMOs indiscriminately.

Anyone who is genuinely curious can learn about GMOs and reach informed conclusions about them, but only if they take the time and make the effort required to critically engage with the evidence. Hundreds of published studies are available for review; plenty of government organizations, universities and educational non-profits have created highly informative websites; and respected magazines and newspapers routinely publish insightful investigative articles. Unfortunately, we cannot add Seifert’s film to the list of helpful resources.

“The power of a film is to—if it’s a good film—allow people to feel something,” Seifert told Johnson of Grist. “And in a documentary you have to also learn something.”

On that point, at least, Seifert and I completely agree.

“GMO OMG” is in theaters starting September 13th

About the Author: Ferris Jabr is an associate editor focusing on neuroscience and psychology. Follow on Twitter @ferrisjabr.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





Rights & Permissions

Comments 27 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. curiouswavefunction 9:15 am 09/9/2013

    Sounds like a cringeworthy exercise in pure, unadulterated fear-mongering. The real tragedy is that this kind of nonsense really hurts the cause of legitimate GMO criticism; with friends like this you don’t need enemies…

    Link to this
  2. 2. Bozobub 10:03 am 09/9/2013

    Seriously, SciAm?

    You pick one loon out of the sea of opposing viewpoints, and that proves your thesis. Mmhm, yeah.

    Nor are you going to be successful in equating FISHING RODS with anything you injest. A little hint: “tools” =/= “food”, generally, unless your fishing rods are quite different from what I’ve ever seen; are yours crunchy?

    Some other obvious problems with this inane article:

    - You are making an assumption, that people cannot make an informed choice, when presented with the presence of GMOs in their food. Bullpuckey. Many certainly can, and furthermore, it’s quite interesting that you have to label *every* ingredient in foods, as it is; do you think the average person understands exactly what monosodium glutamate is? How about any of the other food processing chemicals? Funny, how those are required to be shown on the label, and furthermore, people generally still buy them.

    - GMO foods *have* been shown to, at least in some cases, have drastically lower nutritional content than traditional versions; corn is a great example. That’s NOT unimportant information.

    - “The FDA labels foods that pose real dangers to consumers…” Funny, how I see foods labeled ALL THE TIME, that don’t present any known danger. Are you really implying the tomatoes in spaghetti sauce, for example, whether GMO or not, are a danger and that’s why they’re on the label? Really?!

    - “Anyone who is genuinely curious can learn about GMOs and reach informed conclusions about them, but only if they take the time and make the effort required to critically engage with the evidence.” Apparently you have decided that only those who agree with your point of view can possibly be “informed” or “critically engaged”. This is such an obvious fallacy, that I can only assume the author has no comprehension of the issue at all; this is covered almost immediately in any high school debate class, for heaven’s sake.

    - “Hundreds of published studies are available for review; plenty of government organizations, universities and educational non-profits have created highly informative websites; and respected magazines and newspapers routinely publish insightful investigative articles.” Certainly. Just as there are many articles and studies published with the opposing viewpoint, also with excellent information. Your dismissal of these sources is easily perceived by anyone who bothers to type “hazards of gmo foods research”, as just ONE example, into a Google search.

    Being a patronizing ass does not, in fact prove your point. I can only note that both the EU and India, as two excellent examples, have already moved to extensive GMO restrictions and labeling (EU), and even outright banning of the practice altogether, along with a push to drive Monsanto from the country (India). None of this article’s snarky crap can hide these facts, no matter how much Monsanto pays SciAm.

    Link to this
  3. 3. mem from somerville 11:01 am 09/9/2013

    I’m shocked–shocked, I say…

    Because exactly what this issue needed was another crappy YouTube video for comment thread battles. I was just thinking that folks who value YouTube over the scientific literature were running out of ammunition. \

    Link to this
  4. 4. Sleuth4Health 12:29 pm 09/9/2013

    Excellent review and a great place to send people before they fall for the uninformed histrionics of the film.

    Link to this
  5. 5. klarson 5:38 pm 09/9/2013

    “GM crops provide immense benefits: namely, they greatly reduce the use of toxic insecticides—which is good for people, wildlife and the environment—and dramatically increase yields.”

    This message is repeated so often in articles & on websites on GMO (with requisite superlatives like “immense”, “greatly”, “dramatically”) that it is taken as unquestioned fact at face value. But, is this statement actually true? Is it ever questioned? To be honest, I look for sources confirming these real-world assessments, to little avail. Without on-going confirmation, statements like this sound like a sales pitch. The fact it is accepted so easily & frequently by scientific writers & ‘experts’ encourages the same skepticism that goes with any corporate PR pitch.

    Also, some of the links at the end of the article lead to other links for more information, but many of these are dead links.

    Link to this
  6. 6. jcfried 9:33 pm 09/9/2013

    While i have the same concerns that Bozobub raised, although perhaps with a little less venom, i will add one more. The companies producing these GMO foods are also patenting their seeds and using their extensive resources to attack farmers who have inadvertently received these seeds through no fault of their own, ie., through the wind carrying the GMO seeds from other farms. It is very clear to me that these companies, and Monsanto is probably the best example, will do everything they can to corner the seed market using their patents so that at some point they can control the prices of the food we eat. That your article fails to even raise this important issue is very concerning.

    Link to this
  7. 7. First Officer 10:26 pm 09/9/2013

    Klarson, ask the farmers. The GM seeds are expensive compared to their non-gm counterparts. Yet, year after year, more and more farmers have bought them. Why do farmers choose them? Because they provide better yields vs the inputs needed. So much so that they significantly more than make up their extra cost. The epic drought of 2012 cut US corn yield by 22% from 2011. Yet, if that same yield occured back in non-gmo 1995, it would have been an all time record breaker.

    Link to this
  8. 8. ferrisjabr 11:35 am 09/10/2013

    @Bozobub
    (1) This is a review of one film. And I never called the director a loon
    (2) I didn’t compare fishing rods to food; I compared them to the technology of genetic engineering, both of which are man-made inventions. Every single food you eat, GM or not, has been shaped by human tools
    (3) Where is the documented evidence that some GM foods are less nutritious than conventional foods? If this were true, the FDA would have labeled them
    (4) There are hundreds of studies affirming the safety of GM foods for people to eat. There are only a handful of rejected studies arguing the opposite
    (5) GM cotton is so popular in India that the farmers there hardly grow any non-GM cotton anymore. And they have defended their fields against activists who would burn them

    Link to this
  9. 9. ferrisjabr 11:37 am 09/10/2013

    @klarson
    (1) Yes there is lots of evidence to back up these claims. You can find descriptions of the data here http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=farming-a-toxin and here http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=labels-for-gmo-foods-are-a-bad-idea
    (2) I just checked all the links in the article and they all work fine for me

    Link to this
  10. 10. ferrisjabr 11:39 am 09/10/2013

    @jcfried I completely agree that many business practices in BigAg are morally questionable. But is that an excuse to completely ignore all the science on GMOs and spread misconceptions? This article is about carefully reviewing the evidence and getting the facts straight. Monsanto’s business practices do not define the safety or benefits of GM technology itself

    Link to this
  11. 11. marclevesque 4:55 pm 09/10/2013

    “GM crops provide immense benefits: namely, they greatly reduce the use of toxic insecticides”

    Isn’t that a half truth at best? Some GMO crops are designed to withstand higher uses of herbicides, so farmers can use more herbicides to get rid of most of the “weeds” without killing the crop.

    The article contains many similar “spined” claims.

    Link to this
  12. 12. marclevesque 5:44 pm 09/10/2013

    Addendum: I don’t understand why there are so many articles on Scientific American these days directly or indirectly helping the GMO industry spin their products. And it certainly isn’t because the negative spin is a significant problem when compared to the mountain of positive spin from the GMO industry and media.

    Can’t we just stop the exaggerations of real and potential benefits of GMOs, and, stop the minimization of real and potential harms.

    Link to this
  13. 13. dfcollin 10:45 pm 09/10/2013

    Ferris Jabar perhaps this movie deserves criticism, but you’ve laid on the sarcasm and the negative attitude so thickly that your bias comes booming through. Frankly I don’t trust what you’ve said and I’ll have to assess the movie myself. You didn’t help.

    Why is it that the staff at SA seem to have made a pact to condemn GMO labeling? You say, “…such labels will not help people understand the advantages and risks of GMOs or help them make smarter dietary choices or even explain what a GMO is.” How the heck do you know this? Do you know that’s true for me? And even if people are confused, what gives anybody the right to withhold that information? On the side of every food package in my grocery is a label giving consumers basic nutritional information and ingredients of the product. The nutritional information was required under the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. Note, it’s an “Education” act. It’s intended to create an education opportunity for consumers. Does everybody read it? No. Does everybody understand it? No. But my wife and I use it and everybody I know uses it. Where I shop you have to maneuver your cart around the folks standing there studying the information. The are doing their best to understand and make good decisions. The notion that we are incapable of benefiting from GMO information and therefore we should be prohibited from seeing it makes me furious. It’s so arrogant and condescending I ask why the hell are you, Ferris Jabar, an editor at SA?

    By the way, David Freedman, the author of the September edition’s article, “Are Engineered Foods Evil?” — IMHO a good effort at a balanced, fair assessment of GMOs — is opposed to fighting against GMO labeling even if there are short-term problems. It’s about trust, transparency and credibility for scientists. He and SA editor Michael Moyer did a Hangoutonair on Google+ to discuss his article, and, despite Moyer’s blatant efforts to get him to change his stance, Freedman stuck to his guns.

    Where to get good information about issues surrounding GMOs? Sadly, although I’m a long time subscriber to SA, I’ve had to conclude you can’t get unbiased input from the staff at SA. And it’s rather disheartening that the ordinary citizen is going to have a hard time finding unbiased perspectives. The discussion is as polarized as a war zone. All I can advise is to read Freeman’s article, and, just today, I looked at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ website and found that, although they’re openly skeptical of genetic engineering, their arguments are well written and, IMHO, worth reading. http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/

    Link to this
  14. 14. Bozobub 11:14 pm 09/10/2013

    1) You claim they are misconceptions (and some certainly exist), but guess what? There’s a lot of *intentional* “misconceptions” emanating from the pro-GMO shills.

    2) Don’t be intentionally obtuse, it just makes you look silly. Recombinant DNA in a lab *is not* the same as crossbreeding, pruning, grafting, and other hybridization attempts. this is especially true when the DNA involved is not even from the same phylum! Little hint: normal breeding of plants throughout history doesn’t involve pipettes or centrifuges, much less bacterial or viral DNA.

    3) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/30/monsanto-gmo-corn.aspx <– FIRST DAMN LINK, when searching for "gmo corn less nutritious than regular corn" on Google. You may claim this source isn't valid, but you simply don't know that. I can only think you never bothered to actually LOOK for any evidence contradicting your viewpoint.

    4) I NEVER claimed GMO foods are unhealthy for human consumption; that's YOUR straw man to carry around. I claim that there's no good reason NOT to label GMO foods, there are already well-known environmental costs and risks (increased herbicide use3, rising resistance to Bt in pests, over-reliance on monoculture, for example). I have only received resounding silence on these three points alone, much less the rest of my points.

    5) Yet another simple Google search for "gm crops banned in india" gives MANY very specific links on this matter. I can only note that you mention a crop that is *not* consumed by humans, as well. Imagine that.

    Scientists are people, too, and are quite vulnerable to the pressure of lots of money and "paradigm lock". Do you remember reading about how it was *proven* and accepted by science, that it was impossible to run a 4-minute mile? Funny how that wasn't even remotely true.

    Fighting to keep GMO foods from being labeled as such is quite damning. I only see patronizing excuses that "the public cannot understand such things", yet we already require labels for every damn ingredient as it is, barring trade secrets, and even trade secrets have to be LISTED. Until that patronizing, bullshit tone leaves the discussion, you *will not* see a lessening of resistance to your argument.

    Link to this
  15. 15. ferrisjabr 11:44 am 09/11/2013

    @Bozobub

    I’m sure that some pro-GM companies or people spout misconceptions as well. But they are not in this review.

    Crossbreeding and hybridization are, by definition, a recombination of DNA. For centuries people have “forced” one plant to mate with another – even a distantly related plant – in order to mix their DNA. This process does not rely on genetic engineering and would not happen on its own. Long before GMOs, we also blasted plants with radiation to mutate their DNA and produce new traits. Many of the foods we eat today have been modified in these two ways. The advantage of modern genetic engineering is its precision and swiftness. Instead of hoping the radiation creates a useful mutation or swapping big chunks of DNA through cross-breeding, you can introduce one or two individual genes. You can find out the entire genetic profile of a seed before you plant it and cross it with other plants. GE and cross-breeding work together!

    We both know that Mercola and MomsAcrossAmerica are in no way credible or trustworthy sources. Let’s stick to peer-reviewed studies in research journals.

    The claim that GMOs endanger human health is not a straw man. It’s wonderful that you do not believe this, but it’s one of the most widely cited concerns among GM opponents.

    GM pest-resistant eggplants have been ready for release in India for the past four years but Greenpeace and other anti-GM organizations have prevented their release. This is the only GM crop for human consumption as a whole vegetable or fruit in India that I am aware of. GM cotton has certainly not been banned in India.

    I think anyone has a right to avoid GMOs for political, environmental, religious etc reasons. I think that adding a simple “contains GMOs” to the ingredients list would be fine. But I think blatant labels on the front of food packaging, which is what protesters have called for so far, is a mistake. They will be misinterpreted and will subject food companies and farmers to all kinds of unnecessary lawsuits.

    I’m confused as to why you imply that I think people aren’t intelligent enough to understand GMOs when my review explicitly said the opposite. My point is that a small label, by itself, is nowhere near enough information to truly understand GMOs. But the info is out there and anyone can comprehend it.

    Finally I’d like to point out that I have not once insulted you personally yet you have no qualms about calling me a “patronizing ass” and “obtuse.” I’m trying to have a civil discussion.

    Link to this
  16. 16. ferrisjabr 11:48 am 09/11/2013

    @marclevesque You’re absolutely right that GM crops designed to resist weed-killers encourage the use of those weed killers and have spurred the creation of herbicide-resistant weeds (although weeds have always evolved resistance to herbicides, even before GMOs). However, I was talking about pest-resistant crops and insecticides. Herbicides and insecticides are both pesticides, but GM crops have dramatically reduced the use of the latter. That’s the whole point of Bt crops. Also, we have to think about the nature of the chemicals, not just quantity. Thanks to herbicide-resistant GM crops, farmers mainly use glyphosate, which is so much less harmful to people, insects and the environment than other herbicides. And thanks to pest-resistant crops, farmers use far less toxic chemical insecticides. In this article, I took a hard look at both the benefits AND the risks of Bt crops without exaggerating either: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=farming-a-toxin

    Link to this
  17. 17. ferrisjabr 11:57 am 09/11/2013

    @dfcollin

    First of all, I absolutely agree you should review the film for yourself.

    Secondly, there is no pact among SciAm editors or between SciAm and biotech companies. We have a large and diverse board of editors with varying opinions about different aspects of GMOs. However we work together to make nuanced evidence-based conclusions when writing editorials. This blog reflects my opinions.

    I think you misunderstood what I was saying about GMO labels. If you want such labels simply to know what is GM and what is not, I think that’s totally fine. I support voluntary labeling of GMOs and even mandatory disclosure – that is, adding a small note about GMOs in the ingredients list. I do not support blatant labels on the front of packages because I think they will be misinterpreted and have many unintended consequences as outlined in the recent editorial. Given that all the evidence shows GMOs are just as safe as other foods, I find it extremely difficult to see how someone could use such labels to make *dietary* decisions. They could certainly use them to avoid foods for political or environmental reasons, but can you give me a specific example of how someone would use these labels to better their health? And I think we can both agree that it’s impossible to explain the biology of a GMO, how they are made etc in a small label – all of which is necessary info for true understanding. That’s what I was trying to get across. GMO labels by themselves don’t tell you what it’s in your food if you don’t already understand what a GMO is. And frankly many GMO opponents do not. That is the source of so much confusion.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Bozobub 1:09 pm 09/11/2013

    Funny how SciAm has consistently come out until now against ANY GM labeling. Odd, that. Quite literally, you are the first to even grudgingly admit that GM foods should be labeled in any way on SciAm that I have seen!

    You can continue to argue traditional breeding techniques are the same as recombinant DNA techniques in the lab. You will also continue to spin your wheels, getting anyone to accept that obviously flawed argument. AGAIN, no matter how you thrash and flail, pulling a plasmid from a bacterium and inserting into a plant’s genome is not the same as traditional breeding, no matter how you’d like it to be otherwise. In fact, I’d suggest you drop the attempt immediately, if you ever want to have anyone credit a single further thing you have to say on the subject; most people simply aren’t stupid enough to buy it.

    A simple Google search for “insects resistant to bt” turns up a horde of data immediately countering your claim re: Bt and insects/pests. Do you guys really do NO due diligence on this matter?!

    I have some respect for you, ferrisjabr, in that you actually admit that GM crops aren’t necessarily all sunshine, roses and light, and that there are valid questions about them. But yours is a tiny voice, drowned by the torrent of patronizing bullshit from your fellow SciAm contributors, nearly ALL of whom, by the by, are against any GM labeling at all.

    Link to this
  19. 19. marclevesque 7:33 pm 09/13/2013

    @ferrisjabr,

    It’s the spin that gets to me. On bt corn, I can only refer you to the comment by Doug Gurian-Sherman 01:31 PM 9/3/13 at the link you provided: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=farming-a-toxin

    I think once the positive and negative hype is striped, and studies and counter studies have been pulled apart, and only the scientifically sound parts are kept, the picture for GMO food crops is lackluster.

    Link to this
  20. 20. marclevesque 9:32 am 09/14/2013

    @marclevesque 7:33 pm 09/13/2013,

    Correction: “is striped” should read “are stripped”

    Link to this
  21. 21. klarson 4:48 pm 09/14/2013

    @First Officer
    Your comment proves why the issue of GMO is as complex as it is, and much more complex than the science itself.

    You ask, why do farmers choose to purchase GMO seed even though it is more expensive? You claim it is because of lower input costs & higher production. Sure, let’s accept that at face value (except that it is worth looking at real numbers in order to judge the real difference). However, you cannot ignore the role of direct federal subsidies, market supports, and supportive tariffs on the choices that farmers make. Politics plays a HUGE role in the agricultural economy at this point. The role of politics MUST be taken into account when discussing agriculture in America.

    Link to this
  22. 22. klarson 10:43 pm 09/14/2013

    @ferrisjabr
    You linked to a U of U web page. That page is relatively basic, but the links for more information on that page seem to be dead.

    Let me try to clarify my earlier comment. I feel that science, in order to maintain credibility as a body, should be neutral regarding economics, politics, & the success & failure of private companies. Science expands our knowledge of the world, and we can choose how to use that knowledge.

    It is obvious, however, that science is often used in the service of specific interests, for better or worse. This is fine. My problem is that science used in the service of specific interests is too often communicated as if it was done in the service of gaining general knowledge about the world. The science of GMO serves specific interests. The questions it answers are restricted to the role of genes in realizing specific outcomes. These outcomes, moreover, are judged only within the context of an increasingly centralized, mono-crop, commodity-centric, corporate system designed to produce “cheap food” that is heavily subsidized & supported by taxpayers. The “benefits” of GMO, therefore, accrue to those who benefit from THIS system and cannot unquestioningly be applied generally.

    You may think my assessment is absurd, since the system I speak of happens to be far & away the most dominant agricultural system in the world to date. But when science fails to question the assumptions of this system, however dominant it is, then it fails to gain knowledge of the world. When science serves only specific interests, it generates inferior conclusions about the world in general. It ends up limiting what’s possible instead of expanding what’s possible. The science of GMO offers one answer for one kind of system, but it is communicated as if it is the only answer available, or else we starve, which is incredibly disingenuous. Sure there may be “documentation”, but only to the specific questions asked. Any given study is inherently limited. A thousand studies do not, by logic, offer a more complete knowledge of the world, only more knowledge of specific questions. And, yet, GMO is communicated as such. GMO serves one dominant economic system. Science, as a whole, can do better than this.

    Link to this
  23. 23. dmajka 12:33 pm 09/24/2013

    @Bozobub

    The Mercola/Moms Across America link you provide that purports to show that GMO corn is nutritionally deficient is simply wrong. Anyone who has taken a beginner soil science course could look at the table they provide and tell you that they are showing soil chemistry components, not nutrition. That they list Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) is a dead giveaway.

    If you’re open to understanding what this table actually means, Kevin Folta covers it in more detail here: http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2013/04/fake-anti-gmo-data-stokes-alarm.html and here: http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-gullible-moms-across-america-post.html

    Link to this
  24. 24. Mytwocents 2:58 pm 10/13/2013

    What street corner did the ‘new’ SA pick you off of? It wasn’t that long ago that SA was fighting against Goliath Mosanto for the right to publish studies that showed a direct link of harm to GMOs.
    Let me fill you in to some new info. The Canadian gov has determined that Monsanto falsified studies -that showed incidences of cancer harm -it provided to the FDA to get approval for BGH. Scientists worldwide have been silenced by these orchestrators. …and, Snowed wires show communication that asked US ambassador to France to put heavy pressure on EU to allow untested GMOs.
    Do a real article that includes research, instead of a movie review in which you include preposterous scientific claims!
    I’m not sure that I will continue reading this mag that has become a tabloid rag so far, by you

    Link to this
  25. 25. kchaos 4:49 pm 11/5/2013

    I was wondering if there are any other long-term studies regarding the safety of glyphosate that are funded by independent sources (other than the Seralini study that is hard to interpret due to multiple issues).

    Link to this
  26. 26. Ornithopter 9:07 am 11/7/2013

    Just to add insult to injury, the used gas masks (a Soviet/Eastern Bloc type) use screw-on filters, and while I haven’t seen the full movie (only the Youtube trailer and images), not everyone wearing a mask has a filter on it.

    He didn’t even get that detail right.

    Link to this
  27. 27. FrankG 6:51 pm 10/23/2014

    Never heard of you, Ferris, until I performed a search on “GMO OMG”. After finding this piece, I tried to find some info on your background. Turns out you majored in psychology (“working in a social psych lab” – emphasis on social psychology perhaps?) and English.

    So, tell me, Ferris, with your background in psychology and English, what do you think of the GMOs need for increasingly toxic chemicals? Does your background in English help you to understand how the usage of 2,4-D will impact our land, water and the lives of those exposed to this chemical? What does all of your knowledge in psychology, acquired through achieving a BS, inform you about the studies performed by independent scientists (strong emphasis on “independent”) that show high rates of miscarriage for animals fed GMO crops? How about the high rate of birth defects in animals born to mothers who were fed GMO crops?

    Where are the studies that show GMOs produce better yields and more resilient crops than are produced from traditional development techniques? You failed to mention studies like “Failure to Yield” which showed only a marginal difference in yields between GMO and non-GMO crops. Also, no mention of a number of others like one published in 2013 by the University of Illinois that showed non-GMO corn produced greater yields than GMO varieties. Why is that?

    Will you make public any ties, financial and otherwise, you have to Big Ag?

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Holiday Sale

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now! >

X

Email this Article

X