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Prop 37 Loses, Scientists Cheer

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


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It comes as no surprise to anyone who reads my blog regularly, follows my Twitter or Facebook feeds, or has talked with me in person lately that I’m pleased to see that Proposition 37 has failed to pass in California. I firmly believe that passing this legislation—as it was proposed—would have been a mistake.

The rallying cry for supporters of this proposition has been “The Right To Know.” It sounds so simple: why shouldn’t people know if their food is genetically modified? What does Monsanto have to hide? But couching the issue in terms of knowledge assumes one thing: that labeling will be in any way informative. In the case of Prop 37, it simply wouldn’t have been. Michael Eisen put it perfectly:

This language reflects the belief of its backers that GMOs are intrinsically bad and deserve to be labeled – and avoided – en masse, no matter what modification they contain or towards what end they were produced. This is not a quest for knowledge – it is a an attempt to reify ignorance.

The simple fact is that there is no evidence that GMOs, as a blanket group, are dangerous. There’s a simple reason for this: not all GMOs are the same. Every plant created with genetic technology contains a different modification. More to the point, if the goal is to know more about what’s in your food, a generic GMO label won’t tell you. Adding Bt toxin to corn is different than adding Vitamin A to rice or vaccines to potatoes or heart-protective peptides to tomatoes. If Prop 37 was really about informed decisions, it would have sought accurate labeling of different types of GMOs so consumers can choose to avoid those that they disapprove of or are worried about. Instead, anti-GMO activists put forward a sloppily written mandate in a attempt to discredit all genetic engineering as a single entity. The legislation was considered so poorly worded that most Californian newspapers rallied against it, with the LA Times calling Prop 37 “problematic on a number of levels”.

By all means, boycott Monsanto, or any food containing their products. Despite rumors to the contrary, I do not support Monsanto in any way (nor do they, in any way, support me). Like many big companies, I think they have had shady business practices at times and are more concerned with their own bottom line than the good of the people or the environment. I’ve already come out strong against RoundUp Ready crops. But my lack of love for Monsanto doesn’t tarnish the fact that GMOs have the potential to dramatically benefit people across the world by providing balanced nutrition and enhancing production in struggling areas. GMOs aren’t inherently evil, and they have the potential to address many of the very real concerns about our current and future food supply.

There’s also another reason that GMOs aren’t considered dangerous: decades of scientific research support their safety. As Pamela Ronald, a UC-Davis plant geneticist, phrased it last year in Scientific American: “There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops.” Or, as Ingo Potrykus, career plant scientist, put it in a review article for the Journal of Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology, “GE-technology has an unprecedented safety record and it is far more precise and predictable than any other “traditional” and unregulated breeding technology.”

And, despite the call to arms against GMOs on environmental grounds, a 20 year study published in Nature found that some GM crops can actually improve biodiversity. Because Bt crops reduce pesticide spraying, scientists saw increases in populations of ladybugs, lacewings and spiders. Even more impressive, these benefits weren’t just seen in Bt fields—these upsides spread to the fields near them. And it’s just one of many studies refuting the ecological argument against GMOs.

Based on the growing body of scientific literature, numerous scientists and scientific organizations have come out in defense of genetic engineering technologies and against labeling initiatives like Proposition 37, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization. The AAAS statement put it succinctly: “Legally mandating such a label can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers.”

The proponents of Prop 37 sought to use rhetoric and language to sway against science. They used the word “right” to smother dissent—after all, how can anyone debate against someone’s “rights”? They tried to capitalize on people’s lack of knowledge of the science of genetic engineering to push their own political agenda. Instead of stimulating discussion and understanding of genetically modified foods, they sought to guilt or scare people into making rash decisions. So yes, I’m happy to see that they have failed. Californians have stood in defense of science, and should be applauded for it.

Christie Wilcox About the Author: Christie Wilcox is a science writer and blogger who moonlights as a PhD student in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawaii. Follow on Google+. Follow on Twitter @NerdyChristie.

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

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  1. 1. kevinfolta 10:12 am 11/7/2012

    Well put Christie. As a scientist I’m sad that neither side used science to justify for-against. It was all rhetoric and fear.

    Could we live with Proposition 37.1? No ballot box needed, and nationwide? Could we as scientists get this movement rolling?

    http://tinyurl.com/bolkvzg

    Link to this
  2. 2. WordSpiritComNet 10:34 am 11/7/2012

    with all due respect, I have been researching both GMOs and Monsanto (both the “old,bad” Monsanto as well as the “new, green” Monsanto) for over twenty years.

    Our right to know is one thing. Your article about the science is erroneous and disingenuous, which speaks to an opinion rather than research. The science (credible)speaks to the dangers, including long-term effects – for which we have no data – and allow me, please, to ask you this:

    If you had the ability to cure world hunger, improve the lot of so many in the world, especially the global south…would you not be flying banners; blitzing media; AND INSISTING that your food be labeled with this life-saving science?

    Cheers. Do the research,please, using all data, rather than simply what supports what you think it is, or what serves an agenda.

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  3. 3. golden_dalia 10:37 am 11/7/2012

    So what your saying is that it is more important for corporations to continue to fly under the radar themselves and that people should not have the right to know what is in there foods. Regardless if it was sloppy the fact is people have a right to know………PERIOD. Scientists smhhh. sounds like you and everyone else that is mindless would rather let these companies have there way with the food supply and make us their Guinea pigs….no thank you.

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  4. 4. tjay04 11:35 am 11/7/2012

    Follow the money – profits over peoples health is what it boils down to. Science aside, this is about fundamental human rights. Of course those of us that know the difference will avoid gmo – but its the uniformed that will be feeding there families this unproven genetic entity we now call “food”. I remember back when “scientist” made claims and did studies proving cigaretts were good for digestion after meals. I wonder how long it will take for this the truth to come out. Its always good to step away from the microscope and look and at the world for what it is…

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  5. 5. Heteromeles 11:37 am 11/7/2012

    Wow, did you actually read Proposition 37? The problem with much of the logic is that we don’t know what’s in most of our processed food. I don’t know how any researcher can claim evidence that there’s no effect (at least in the US), when there’s no way to separate out GMO-based foods from non-GMO based foods in our food-stream.

    The nice thing about Prop 37 (assuming it survived the legal challenges, and assuming that producers didn’t cheat on labelling), was that it would have made it very easy to perform studies of the effects of GMOs. Instead of performing a complex deconstruction of diet (was the corn in those Doritos chips GM or not?), you could, quite easily, set up dorms or similar study groups, where people could eat diets controlled simply by what was on the package label, and see if there were any measurable effects.

    Instead, we have the current reality, where Monsanto and Big Ag poured a huge amount of money in, massively distorted what the proposition actually said (I’m a Californian, I read the proposition and saw the ads), and managed to kill it through what was obviously a smear campaign.

    What are they so afraid of? a little “GE” in the corner of the bag, next to the “K” for Kosher?

    In fairness, the pro-Prop 37 ads weren’t perfect either. However, I voted for it, as did a number of my highly educated friends in the medical and life sciences. We simply wanted to see what happened and find out what was in our food. It was about being informed, not about being scared.

    Unfortunately, with Prop 37 going down, it’s pretty obvious that Monsanto is really afraid of us finding out for some reason. That’s scarier than finding out it’s not worth worrying.

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  6. 6. NathanielZ 11:56 am 11/7/2012

    Failure to disclose is a barrier to entry in most markets – including food markets. Given that these products are ingested and affect health and well being, there is even more logic for prudent labeling.

    While the legislation as written may not have sufficed in differentiating different GMO’s, it was a step in the right direction. That is an issue that could have been amended in the future.

    The U.S. is still behind the rest of the world in food labeling. Over 50 countries plus the E.U. already have GMO labeling laws.

    The agri-chemical food and seed manufacturers already have to label GMO products for those markets that require them, and are prepared to implement the same in the U.S.

    These companies simply do not want to marginalize their profits. Given the amount of money they spent lobbying against Prop 37 – I read $48 million in total – those profits are quite a sum.

    Back to the science. Some countries, such as India and New Zealand, do not even allow growth of GMO products at all. This is based on the reasoning that the science is still limited by the relative short term findings – GMO’s have only been in the food cycle for 20 years.

    The effect of GMO’s on the environment, human and other biological species is far from certain. Moreover, laboratory results have often been quite different from real world results.

    You state “They tried to capitalize on people’s lack of knowledge of the science of genetic engineering to push their own political agenda.” This is true of both sides of those in the Prop 37 battle.

    The precautionary principle should come before profit, and the science should be based on long term outcomes, not short term conclusions.

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  7. 7. tberker 12:05 pm 11/7/2012

    “I’m pleased to see that Proposition 37 has failed to pass in California. I firmly believe that passing this legislation—as it was proposed—would have been a mistake.”

    Ok, I’ll give you this. Now what are you going to do about since you expressed negatively about Monsanto? They can now blend their way along with all the good GMO science out there and…
    …continue to “own” farmers with their patented seeds and financial requirements.
    …continue to set up Indian farmers for failure with lies about yields etc.
    …continue to destroy the Amazon as they push for GMO soy while dealing with the 5 million farmers who are in a class action suit against them.
    …continue to sue farmers who “accidently” have their seeds growing on their lands.

    So, what is the esteemed scientific community going to do about this parasite that hides “in the name of science”?
    You folks are the intelligent ones telling us that “wait, GMOs aren’t bad, it’s the way the regulation is written…vote NO”. Well, I have a real problen with a handful of companies that want to own the food supply thru patented seeds. Especially with their deceitful, strong armed litigious history.

    Bottom line, you, the scientific community needs to be the ones to flush the snakes out if you want us to believe
    you give a damn about the ethics of this science.

    I fear where food genetics could go it continues on its current path without more checks and balances.

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  8. 8. Skorpiius 12:17 pm 11/7/2012

    “The simple fact is that there is no evidence that GMOs, as a blanket group, are dangerous. ”

    So? I’m quite certain that all of the ingredients listed on product label, as mandated, aren’t there because of evidence of being dangerous. Why should GMO be any different?

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  9. 9. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 12:42 pm 11/7/2012

    Nothing against GMOs in general, but Monsanto is one of the worst stereotypical giant evil companies in the world.

    Excellent job preventing this thread from being spammed by GMO haters. Kudos to Ms. Wilcox.

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  10. 10. phalaris 1:58 pm 11/7/2012

    It’s presumably still open to those who think their products contain no GMO component to label them so.

    Link to this
  11. 11. leafwarbler 2:11 pm 11/7/2012

    Like Christie, I share most of the concerns of the food movement about the industrialization of our food systems and its ecological and social consequences. Monsanto is bad – just like many other multinational corporations in many other sectors of the global economy. To those of you upset by Christie’s cheering of prop 37′s loss, despite her statement that she too doesn’t support Monsanto, I ask: how would this blanket labeling have done anything to change those practices of Big Ag that are truly problematic: seed monopolies over farmers, broader environmental impacts, and the industrial-food-processing chain that does demonstrably more to harm human health than GMOs to the best of our knowledge? How much of a difference have fat and sugar labeling made to the way food is processed? I would submit that labeling is not the best strategy to take on the industrialized globalized food system because ultimately it may actually be an easy point for the Monsantos to concede while continuing all their other practices. Slap a label if forced to do so, and carry on business as usual – why not?

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  12. 12. hanmeng 2:14 pm 11/7/2012

    I agree this is a good thing, but I was surprised it failed, and by such a large margin.

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  13. 13. Babs9 2:38 pm 11/7/2012

    So let me get this straight, by not labelling food it is a win for science, how does that make any sense. Do you simply state that because you feel that gmos are safe, even though there are no studies to support your claim and several recent studies and reports showing different. Let us just say that gmos are safe, how is a win for science to not label them. Is not science supposed to be about knowledge, discovery etc. How would denying people the right to inform themselves of what they are eating and the choice to do so,be a win for science. I guess it really has become this closed circuit religion. Such a shame that true science is being extinguished by people like yourself. We have a right to know what we are eating and if it is genetically modified or not. But I am sure that you also agree that patients should not look up what ails them or the treatment for themselves, that patients should not ask what side effects(all of them) that accompany a medical intervention or that people should not be privy to what ingredients are in things like vaccines for instance. People like you will be the downfall to our society, those who ignore actual science and instead rely on statistics and falsified studies by big name companies. Hey this article is such crap that you may even get a free cruise out of it. . . . . Cannot wait for the real scientists to show up and start actually doing their jobs properly and focus on hard data instead of crap stats that are easily altered. It is pretty bad when parents are becoming more knowledgeable and observant than the professionals in the field. You should be ashamed

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  14. 14. outsidethebox 3:03 pm 11/7/2012

    This has always been a fascinating area of discussion to me. Those against GM food have always proclaimed there is a safety problem – without any proof. The other side has always said they are perfectly safe – again without any real proof. My own feeling on the subject is if it bothers you that much, buy organic.

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  15. 15. alan6302 3:53 pm 11/7/2012

    GM labeling would not apply to military use of GMO. A GMO disaster is part of the apocalypse. Wormwood is the name of the event.

    Link to this
  16. 16. pdjmoo 4:08 pm 11/7/2012

    Christie, you are way off base with your understanding of the “proponents” of Prop 37. I offer you 42 pages of deep concerns that justify why genetically modified foods should be regulated with government oversight for the health and well-being of both humans and the environment.
    YOUR FOOD, YOUR HEALTH: Latest on BiotechFood, GMOs, Pesticides, Chemicals, CAFOs, Industrial Food http://ow.ly/f6DvY
    Sadly the biotechnology cartel has governments and international agencies by the tail. This industry has brought opposition down upon itself through its lack of disclosure, blocking genuine peer reviewed independent research by the patenting of its seeds and arm-twisting entry into foreign countries through trade blackmail (see articles).
    It is naive to suppose this industry has the interests of public and environmental health in their view. It is a trillion dollar industry and run by the pesticide/chemical companies. Need I say that pesticides are poison! And now we are faced with sneaking in genetically engineered animals to the food supply, untested, unregulated and certainly with no notification to consumers. Further, now we have inserted, without notice, nanoparticles into our foods.
    It is a very serious issue that MUST be addressed. Full disclosure of what is in our food is a democratic right.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Uniformity 4:15 pm 11/7/2012

    I’m a scientist as well, calling yourself a scientist and going on and on about what is good or bad is … ones own opinion, since these areas have so much uncertainty. Everyone has a right to know what they are eating. Unless everyone agrees that these corporations are doing the best in our interest.

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  18. 18. Perisoreus 4:24 pm 11/7/2012

    “The proponents of Prop 37 sought to use rhetoric and language to sway against science.”

    Well, that’s no surprise since considerable parts of the scientific community (labelling themselves as “science”) do not hesitate to rally against anti-GMO activists, astrology, creationism and what not. I do not want to accuse you of this verdict, but I think you notice that this kind of rhetoric (“This is not a quest for knowledge – it is a an attempt to reify ignorance.”) does not do any good, the very least so for scientists and their interests.

    The reason for the rise against GMO and their complete failure in Europe is a massive fear of something those who are affected by it are unable to understand. This is not because they are dumb, ignorant, uneducated or superstitious, let alone hostile towards science. Their heads are simply stuffed with crazy exaggerations of what GMO are able to to (make hunger history and all that nonsense) and that genetic modification is basically like playing with legos. Since the beginning of the Human Genome Project, the scientific community has shown little interest in getting the public involved, so what people get is some kind of ready-made blackbox, bundled with a huge amount of fairytales that scientists used to raise funds for their research.

    How should any sane person not get angry, anxious or confused about this? Sure, if you have any insight into actual genetic research, it looks crazy. But “science” (please remember that what we usually associate with this term – reason, progress, enlightenment – is not at stake here) has done very little to inform the public about what “it” is doing and continues to do so.

    I don’t know whether one should hail or bemoan the failure of Prop 37, but I think the biggest losers here are the scientists who had to rely on the big business money to bring down this proposition. I don’t think that this is reason’s victory, and that’s what really concerns me.

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  19. 19. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 5:24 pm 11/7/2012

    alan6302: “”"GM labeling would not apply to military use of GMO. A GMO disaster is part of the apocalypse. Wormwood is the name of the event.”"”

    Based on this and previous comments you have made, I am deeply concerned about your mental health.

    pdjmoo: “”"Further, now we have inserted, without notice, nanoparticles into our foods.”"”

    WTF???

    I would ask you if you had been watching too much Fox “news”, except that Fox doesn’t cover stuff like this.

    There is no believable evidence that nanoparticles have been inserted into food for human consumption.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Chryses 6:51 pm 11/7/2012

    outsidethebox (14),

    “… My own feeling on the subject is if it bothers you that much, buy organic.”

    Exactly. Thank you.

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  21. 21. catkp 7:53 pm 11/7/2012

    “Californians have stood in defense of science, and should be applauded for it.” really??? in defense of science? they were just scared that the food will get more expensive. I have PhD in Microbiology with Master in Biochemistry so I can say I am a scientist but I do not care about the “good” GMOs like Vaccine in Potatoes or Vit A in rice. GMO science might be nice in the lab but I do not want to eat it. It is not needed, at least not in a way how is it done now.
    “The reason for the rise against GMO and their complete failure in Europe is a massive fear of something those who are affected by it are unable to understand.” Really???? how very arrogant to say that all people who rise against GMO are unable to understand this “something”.
    “Bottom line, you, the scientific community needs to be the ones to flush the snakes out if you want us to believe you give a damn about the ethics of this science.” I agree with this person, most of scientist do not give a damn about the ethics and do not give a damn whats going on as long as they get their names published and grant money for their research.

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  22. 22. hb 10:36 pm 11/7/2012

    I agree with Christie Wilcox that not all genetically modified foods are bad. Genetic experimentation is justified as long as scientific standards are met and the results, positive or negative, are published.

    Of course, I don’t for a moment believe assurances by the biotechnology industry that GMO foods are safe. The Monsantos of this world don’t give a hoot about people’s health; they simply want to have their way. Voting in favour of GMO labeling could have forced biotech companies to demonstrate the safety of their products if they wanted to keep selling them.

    I believe voting against mandatory labeling was a mistake. The NO vote gives the biotech industry the green light to keep on doing what they want – take control the world’s food supply.

    Link to this
  23. 23. soy.lor.n 12:51 am 11/8/2012

    @phalaris: “It’s presumably still open to those who think their products contain no GMO component to label them so.”

    If so, don’t expect any company who does this to be able to keep doing it for long before the government shuts them down – much in the same way that Creekstone Farms was told they they couldn’t put labels on their products stating that every cow was tested for Mad Cow disease, because it undermined the USDA guidelines for testing beef.

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  24. 24. mem from somerville 8:54 am 11/8/2012

    That’s not true @soy.lor.n . The Non-GMO project has been doing this for years. It’s already in place, and that’s the right way to handle this labeling. Those who have objections to the foods should establish the rules, monitor the products, test, and punish the breaches–and pay for it. The government should stay out of philosophical labels like that and Kosher.

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  25. 25. JennyN 9:40 am 11/8/2012

    Christie: I am a scientist. I am not cheering. I know many with PhD’s in biology, chemistry, and physics who are not. This “Scientists Cheer” header is a generalization of an entire class of people and insulting, generalist, and essentially bigotted in tone. A better title would be “Some” (or even “Many”) “scientists cheer”. The idea that all scientists are cheering considering the hundreds of papers pointing out potential dangers in some GMO foods is not particularly

    “By all means, boycott Monsanto.” Hard to do when the corn and tomatos come unlabeled, Christie. It’s not about whether or not GMO’s are dangerous. It’s about giving us the freedom to find that out. Freedom of information.

    Richard Feynman said science was about systematically “questioning authority.” I thought that was what the spirit of Prop 37 was all about.

    Jennifer Nielsen
    PhD Student, University of Kansas

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  26. 26. JennyN 9:42 am 11/8/2012

    Ack, clicked “submit” before finished editing my comment :)

    Christie: I am a scientist. I am not cheering. I know many with PhD’s in biology, chemistry, and physics who are not. This “Scientists Cheer” header is a generalization of an entire class of people and insulting, generalist, and essentially bigotted in tone. A better title would be “Some” (or even “Many”) “scientists cheer”. The idea that all scientists as a class are cheering considering the hundreds of papers pointing out potential dangers in some GMO foods is not even particularly well-informed.

    “By all means, boycott Monsanto.” Hard to do when the corn and tomatos come unlabeled, Christie. It’s not about whether or not GMO’s are dangerous. It’s about giving us the freedom to find that out. Freedom of information. As an earlier commenter pointed out, had GMO’s been labeled, suddenly any group of scientists at any university could have begun studying the impacts of eating/feeding GMO’s.

    Richard Feynman said science was about systematically “questioning authority.” I thought that was what the spirit of Prop 37 was all about.

    Jennifer Nielsen
    PhD Student, University of Kansas

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  27. 27. J.D Ridge 11:53 am 11/8/2012

    Wow. I have been a reader of this site for a long time and I have never been so disgusted with an article.

    NO ONE has studied the longterm or synergistic effects of GMO’s

    Until it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that GMO foods are safe for longterm, synergistic consumption – THEY SHOULD BE ABSOLUTELY LABELLED. Even if they are proven to be safe, they should be labelled.

    Monsanto spent millions against Prop 37, just like it did in the previous 18 other states that have tried to have GMO’s labelled. Actions speak louder than words.

    I fully agree with many of the previous comments. This is an opinion piece – a rather unscientific one – the title alone should have Christie Wilcox fired and I urge all the readers who agree to email SA and voice your concern.

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  28. 28. J.D Ridge 12:08 pm 11/8/2012

    Apparently, this isn’t the first time Ms Wilcox has gotten her ‘facts’ wrong.

    Interesting article I found here:
    http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/07/organic-agriculture

    This utter shite has me questioning her motives.

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  29. 29. TrueMarine 12:40 pm 11/8/2012

    “The simple fact is that there is no evidence that GMOs, as a blanket group, are dangerous.”

    100% false statement. There has been no HUMAN testing, but there are dozens that show tumor growth within 90 days in lab animals just from feeding them GMO corn. And there have been dozens showing GMO products causing liver and kidney failure. Thousand of sheep, buffalo, and goats died in India after feeding them GMO products. Soy allergies skyrocketed off the charts in the UK after the introduction of GMO soy. Animals born to GMO fed parents had a 70% mortality rate and were born 35% smaller.

    The list goes on…quit spreading lies on a website that claims to be scientific

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  30. 30. marclevesque 4:36 pm 11/8/2012

    I’m overwhelmed by the prominance, extent, and number of logical fallacies in this article.

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  31. 31. greenhome123 10:17 pm 11/8/2012

    Seeing how close this came to passing I believe it is only a matter of time before a similar labeling requirement for GMO’s gets passed. P.S. When I think of Christie Wilcox two words come to mind. one of the rhymes with cupid and the other with witch.

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  32. 32. trainerjohn 12:41 am 11/9/2012

    Regardless of one’s personal opinion about genetic modification, it is a very new development that has not been sufficiently studied. The small amount of data we do have on the subject are mixed. Ingredient labels should indicate whether or not ingredients are genetically modified so that we can make informed decisions about what we ingest.

    I am a scientist and I am not cheering.

    Christie states: “There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat.”

    No, there isn’t. Recent comprehensive literature reviews on the subject (like this one by Domingo and Bordonaba: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21296423) found that the available data on the safety of GM foods are incredibly limited. Regarding the very small amount of data we do have on the subject, there is an equilibrium between researchers who consider GM foods to be safe for human consumption and those citing significant risks. Further, Domingo and Bordonaba note that of the very few studies we do have on the safety of GM foods, many were funded by biotech companies.

    Christie states: “After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops.”

    We have commercialized an incredibly small number of GM crops (corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, papaya); the vast majority of foods are not genetically modified. For the small amount of foods that are GM, 14 years is not a long-term study! 14 years does not tell us what happens if someone eats GM foods every day for a lifetime.

    We have labels on our food that give us information about what we are eating. Labels tell us the amount of the food, the ingredients, the energy content, the amount of macronutrients, and the recommended daily values. We do this because it is important for us to know what we are ingesting. Monsanto just spent $8 million to make sure you have a difficult time figuring out if your
    foods are genetically modified.

    If you are interested in avoiding genetically modified foods, just avoid or buy organic for any products containing corn, soy, sugar from beets, cottonseed oil, canola, vegetable oil, zucchini, and papaya and you’ll be safe for now.

    Regardless of one’s personal opinion about genetic modification, it is a very new development that has not been sufficiently studied. The small amount of data we do have on the subject are mixed. Ingredient labels should clearly indicate whether or not ingredients are genetically modified so that we can make informed decisions about what we ingest.

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  33. 33. llmystic 4:04 am 11/9/2012

    Whether or not GM foods are actually safe is irrelevant. My feeling is that it is too early to know, and there has not been sufficient research. How many drugs (which actually are tested before being sold to the public) have proved to be dangerous after being sold for years and harming large numbers of people?

    But even if GM foods ultimately are proven to be safe, the attitude that the public should be kept in ignorance because it is convenient for corporations or Scientists is alarming and elitist. Our society is supposed to be a democracy. The basis for democracy is an educated, informed public. Secrecy is the enemy of democracy. Any Scientist who applauds the triumph of secrecy and the right of corporations to keep their activities secret is an enemy of our society, a traitor to democracy, and a poor Scientist at that. I love Science, but I despise secrecy and elitism.

    If there is a problem with ignorance, the valid solution is education and information, not secrecy! I believe that Scientists who support secrecy because it is more convenient than actually educating and informing the public are doing a grave disservice to the Scientific community. People already distrust Scientists. Seeing scientists support keeping the public in ignorance is not going to be good for Science in the long run.

    The defeat of the labeling proposition is bad enough, but having so-called Scientists cheer about it is dangerous and appalling.

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  34. 34. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 7:16 am 11/9/2012

    “”"Apparently, this isn’t the first time Ms Wilcox has gotten her ‘facts’ wrong.”"”

    First of all, she hasn’t gotten the facts wrong, and second, you seem to treat facts as optional, like Fox “News” does. Please check your facts and stop putting quotes around the word “facts”.

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  35. 35. OgreMk5 11:58 am 11/9/2012

    Interesting that none of the people arguing against Christie here seem to have actually read the bill.

    Prop 37 was NOT a “right to know” bill, because it was not applied everywhere. In fact, the only places that were required to label GMO foods were stores that had their primary activity as resale of non-prepared food. Restaurants, including hospitals, were specifically exempt from this law.

    That bag of corn chips with the GMO corn… if you buy it in the grocery store, label is required. If you buy it next door in the sandwich shop, no label is required.

    Now, what about actually making sure that the law is applied fairly? Don’t you agree that laws should be fair to all parties? Prop 37 isn’t.

    The bill requires that suppliers only have a “sworn statement” that “to their knowledge” there is no GMOs in the product. The grocery store must accept that sworn statement. Now, if the sworn statement is made in good faith, then even if the food does have a GMO in it, the Health Department may not consider the food “misbranded”.

    This law basically makes a “sworn statement” the criteria for determining if a food is or contains GMOs.

    Then it gets really weird. There is no testing provision in this law. In fact, the bill specifically says that there is not to be any testing for GMOs. The grocery store MUST accept the supplier’s sworn statement.

    But who gets sued? The grocery store. This bill specifically does an end run around most of the precedents of last few hundred years. Anyone (literally anyone) can go into a store and claim that a food is mislabeled and sue the store. What’s even scarier is that no evidence of harm is required to file suit based on this law. Even scarier is that there is specifically no limit to the judgement against a store based on a suit using this law.

    So, the store must accept a sworn statement from the supplier (because testing is not allowed, remember?), but the store bears the responsibility if anyone comes off the street, takes a bite out of a tomato and then claims it is a GMO food that is not properly labeled.

    Regardless of the safety, nutrition, long-term effects of GMOs (of which there are no problems, and I can point any interested party to at least 24 long-term (i.e. multi-year or multi-generational studies) and at least one study showing that GMO and conventional crops are more nutritious and organic crops))….

    THIS IS STILL A TERRIBLE BILL.

    It does not do what the pro-labeling group says that it does. It does NOT tell you whether any food you may buy is GMO are not, because it doesn’t apply to restaurants.

    It does not create an enforcement arm of any government division to investigation and test GMOs and GMO labeling for accuracy.

    Further, it does not tell you anything about the GMOs in the food. If it’s corn in corn chips, that’s a big deal. If it’s the oil the corn chips were fried in, that’s no deal at all, but it would still require labeling (in supermarkets).

    Finally, it puts an undue burden on the stores. Because they must accept a ‘sworn statement’ from the suppliers, but are held responsible if there is a mistake.

    I will close with a quote from the leader of the pro-labeling movement, which ought to serve to show the motivation of that group.

    “How – and how quickly – can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming? The first step is to change our labeling laws.” Said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumer’s Association (OCA) and Fund, primary backers of the measure…

    So, it’s not an attempt to let people have the right to know what’s in their food. It is an attempt by the organic market to increase their market share by legislation.

    Link to this
  36. 36. Uniformity 12:01 pm 11/9/2012

    Forgot to mention, when I went to vote few days ago. No one was checking people’s I.D. before giving them their ballots. Did something change in the validation system? Or is it just careless volunteers?

    Link to this
  37. 37. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 2:25 pm 11/9/2012

    “”"Forgot to mention, when I went to vote few days ago. No one was checking people’s I.D. before giving them their ballots. Did something change in the validation system? Or is it just careless volunteers?”"”

    No, it’s just that no rational person buys that Republican fantasy justification for their voter-suppression attempts.

    Link to this
  38. 38. ChadK 6:26 pm 11/10/2012

    Hi Christie,

    In my opinion, 14 years to 20 years of scientific study within this particular area is simply too short of a time span to give GMOs the green light; even if they seem harmless now, sometimes the effects don’t show up for generations. See the following link.

    http://www.responsibletechnology.org/article-gmo-soy-linked-to-ste…Share

    Link to this
  39. 39. ChadK 6:39 pm 11/10/2012

    ““How – and how quickly – can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming? The first step is to change our labeling laws.” Said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumer’s Association (OCA) and Fund, primary backers of the measure…

    So, it’s not an attempt to let people have the right to know what’s in their food. It is an attempt by the organic market to increase their market share by legislation.”

    OgreMk5, could the evidence you supply to support your conclusion be circumstantial? That is, could Ronnie be interested in BOTH increasing his market share AND letting people know what is in their food?? If the attempt is flawed, that is one thing, but just because the attempt would likely increase the market share of orgranic food growers everywhere doesn’t make it greedy or dishonest as you seem to imply.

    Link to this
  40. 40. OgreMk5 1:00 pm 11/12/2012

    Chad,

    I think the actual text of the law pretty much discredits the “both market share and letting people know what’s in the food”.

    As I explained, there is nothing in the bill that actually informs people effectively what in their food. First, the law only applies to grocery stores, not restaurants (including hospitals). Second, the law specifically mandates that no testing is required. Third, the grocery stores can be sued (i.e are responsible), but have no control over their products (i.e. they must accept a sworn statement). Fourth, the labels are specifically forbidden from describing the actual GMO ingredients in the food (for example, in corn chips, there’s a huge difference between using GMO corn in the chips vs. frying the chips in GMO canola oil*). Fifth, the law specifically states that the normal rules of the US legal system are suspended in cases brought on by this bill (i.e. no harm must be shown, the award can be excessive to the cost of the material, anyone can bring suit for any reason).

    This evidence leads to a rather inescapable conclusion that the bill was specifically designed to generate fear in the shopper and in the grocery store to create a defacto ban on GMO products, even if an actual ban was not available. In fact, one of the guys supporting the bill said exactly that.

    “Mercola has said, “Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labelling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85% of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market just the way it was done in Europe.””

    That is Joseph Mercola who contributed $1.1 million dollars to the Prop 37 campaign.

    I did not imply that all “organic food growers everywhere” are “greedy or dishonest”. What I said was that there is no doubt that the organic consumer association donated a lot of money to support Prop 37. I said, that the person in charge of the OCA said that her goal was to increase the market share of organic foods.

    The talk about market share is pure business. If people really have a choice, then they will buy what they want (or can afford, remember that organics sell for 2-4 times what conventional products sell for). However, this bill will effectively remove that choice. Grocery stores will be fearful of lawsuits. So they will stop purchasing GMO products.

    Think about this a second. Something like 50% of the sugar in the US is made from GM sugar beets. 90% of Papaya is GM. 90+% of soybean and corn are GM. 75%+ percent of canola is GM. Now, remove the 38 million people in California from the market for GM food.

    This is very similar to the California and Texas ‘control’ over the text book industry. They are such huge markets that publishers produce books that Texas and California will buy. All the other states combined don’t have the influence (read: purchasing power) that they do. The other states get ‘tweaked’ versions of the Texas and California books.

    Same thing here. I honestly don’t know if non-GM sources can supply California with things like sugar and canola oil. And think about all the things that are made with sugar. All those products too.

    BTW: This is a completely different argument and I haven’t researched it, I’m just thinking here. Regardless, the bill is poorly designed and multiple people (who donated millions to support Prop 37) have said that the purpose is to enact a defacto ban on GM foods and increase the market share of organics.

    That’s the evidence that I have.

    * Which, if you know anything about the process of canola oil production means that there is no possibility of any GM-based material being in the oil. But it still requires labels (or would had this bill passed).

    Link to this
  41. 41. Changingclimate89 6:29 pm 11/12/2012

    I am an environmental science undergraduate with an emphasis on Energy and Climate, so I appreciate the value of genetic engineering. However, I truly believe that had prop 37 passed, labeling would have voluntarily included information about their GMO; it’s just good marketing. Why not inform your consumer why your product is genetically engineered? Prop 37 was the first step to raising awareness about genetic engineering. There are many reasons to be for and against GMO’s (political, economic, and environmental), but why should the baseline information be stunted? People have a right to information, biases aside. There will always be rhetoric and misinformation.

    Link to this
  42. 42. nu-strt 2:35 pm 11/13/2012

    I am disappointed.

    At almost 50 years of age I have been reading SA since my older brother got me hooked as a teen.

    After reading this? I will no longer with any conscience be able to support this publication on any level.

    Goodbye SA. Sad to see what you have become.

    Thank you for many years of reading, but if I want fiction I’ll go to that section of the library.

    Link to this
  43. 43. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 8:34 am 11/14/2012

    @ nu-strt: If you have been a Sci-Am subscriber for 50 years, I am a plasmodial slime mold.

    You are clearly trolling here for your own sick amusement. Please leave now.

    Link to this
  44. 44. RobbynLMattei 5:01 pm 11/14/2012

    I love how some of the comments are so unscientifically thought out…XD

    It’s a well-written article and it makes logical sense. Author did not say ALL GMO’s ARE GOD-LIKE…nor did he say they were all evil…simply he’s informing the local community that NOT ALL GMO’s ARE DANGEROUS…

    @nu-strt: If you had any Scientific measure you wouldn’t disband on one article – and you’d know that this article speaks truth…there’s a massive misconception about GMO’s – I’m a Biotech student…it’s part of my research to research GMO’s…

    So I’ve been reading some of the comments – the more thought out and lengthy ones…

    Sure 20 years of research isn’t enough…but we’ve been using BT since the 60′s…that’s 60 years ago…where’s your 20 years of research…??? You should have 60 if you’re going to argue times…

    In response to those posing future arguments about “generations to come” – ok sure then give us back all medical research…because we can’t see into the future and back when Penicillin was “discovered” we didn’t know that it would be near-useless in the 221st Century…stop making shit up by claiming there’s not enough data for future generations…

    Science waits for no man…it happens…you are either with it…or you get left behind…

    Overall – when there is proof GMO’s are super massive negatives and only a scheme for rich business men to become richer – I’ll support any and all anti-GMO corps…but until then – and as long as the majority of the data shows SUPPORT for GMO and GM-tech…I will strive to use my Biotech and Nanotech knowledge to further improve this misguided and ignorant human race…

    Cheers to SA for being one of the best publications ever!!!

    Link to this
  45. 45. Don Quixote 6:20 pm 11/14/2012

    Excellent perspective, Ms. Wilcox. It’s refreshing to see a perspective that doesn’t polarize the issue, just points out the flaws in the argument for Prop. 37. I was actually surprised it didn’t pass considering the many other things people vote for or against with little understanding of the issue. I’m not sure this was an informed victory, but a small step in the right direction nonetheless.

    Link to this
  46. 46. yangshulian 8:31 am 11/16/2012

    Labeling of GM containing foods is a fundamental issue about rights – the right to know what one is eating. The labeling issue is made more compelling because we simply can’t predict what are the long term biological and ecological consequences of consuming GM foods on a wide scale.

    Watch the German documentary called “Scientists under attack”. Scientists who study and publish about the effects of GMOs that go against the corporations’ interests are essentially clamped down and punished.

    Link to this
  47. 47. mad.maeve 10:29 pm 11/21/2012

    “There’s also another reason that GMOs aren’t considered dangerous: decades of scientific research support their safety.”

    Apparently you missed a previous SA article explaining why these ‘decades of research’ can hardly be considered credible: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research

    Link to this
  48. 48. fswan 12:09 pm 01/25/2013

    Hello, I’m Finley and I’m putting this notification of a sort out here to persuade anyone who lives in California who voted “no” or did not vote at all for proposition 37. For those of you who do not know what prop 37 is it is an attempted act that got voted down in late 2012, anyways it is an act that states that all GMO crops must be labeled that they are GMO’s. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, they are crops/food that have been modified by their DNA. Often in a lab they will cross the DNA with a larger plant and a plant that more people buy or is more expensive so that they make more money from the same amount of land which is very smart but sneeky. In the amount of time that GMOS’s have been produced there is no official evidence of them posing any health risks but there have been 2 outbreaks of diseases that scientists believe could have been related to GMO’s. The reason that I believe that you have to label GMO’S is not because I am worried about health risks it’s because I believe that you should know what you are eating.

    Pro’s and Con’s from the voters point of view:
    A reason to vote “yes” for prop 37 is for the fact if you read an article or watch a TV show about GMO’s and you don’t want to buy them because they seem unhealthy to you, you would not be able to tell if you are buying GMO crops, if you vote “yes” for prop 37 you can tell what you’re buying.
    A reason that you would not vote “yes” for prop 37 is because the major businesses like Monsanto might charge you more for the extra ink and it would cost more, probably not much like 3 cents but it would all add up to a lot of money. Although fewer people would buy GMO’s and the major companies may stop producing them.

    In the future if we don’t stop or slow down genetically modified crops it will be all there is to buy and if you vote “yes” for prop 37 people will stop buying as many of them then the companies will stop producing as many GM crops. If we can stop GM crops there will be less chance of plagues and diseases which is always good to decrease chances of diseases. Over time the GMO’s might have a risk against you. Maybe if you vote for prop 37 your family will become healthier. If you vote for prop 37 than you may have a healthier and longer life. Over the course of the letter I hope I have persuaded you to vote “yes” for prop 37.

    Link to this

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