GMOs are safe: a response to Clean Eating's anti-GMO article
There is a popular myth that food classified as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has not been well studied and the lack of testing is why it may be a risk to our health. The January 2015 edition of Clean Eating had an article by Jonny Bowden named “GMO Foods: It’s What We Don’t Know That Matters.” The assertion of the article is that the long-term effects of GMOs are not known and is the most dangerous nutritional experiment in history. This is completely false and Bowden has not reported on the scientific consensus.
It’s shocking to see Bowden, who states he has a PhD in nutrition, has not reported that the scientific consensus demonstrates GMOs are safe and yet he did not even discuss the topic of GMOs with experts in the field. Instead, the article quotes individuals who have questionable credentials and poorly summarizes scientific papers including ones that have been retracted.
For example, the article states spider genes are being put into goat milk to produce spider proteins. This is true, but the article does not clarify that this has only been done in the lab with the purpose of creating new bio-materials - not for consumption. The bio-materials developed could one day help surgeons one day or save a soldier’s life from new shielding materials. But this is only one of many disingenuous points outlined in Bowden’s article. He also quoted individuals who are not familiar with the science behind GMOs, but instead quotes questionable individuals.
Martha Grout, a director at the inaccurately named Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, claims that many diseases stem from inflammation and GMOs have been linked to various gastrointestinal diseases. There is no evidence presented about any link between GMOs and gastrointestinal diseases (because there really isn’t any evidence). What’s more concerning is that the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine promotes alternative treatments for cancer patients such as acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen chamber, intravenous vitamin C injections and other “natural” therapies. Worst yet, cancer patients using these "natural" therapies have died (see: Arizona Medical Board reprimand Martha Grout after death 18-month-old girl). These homeopathy treatments do not work. If these simple homeopathic treatments did work, every hospital would be using these low cost treatment options. But the fact is, homeopathy does not work. (For additional reading on the evidence that shows homeopathy is a scam, see: Homeopathy: what does the "best" evidence tell us?).
The author goes on to report that a study in Cell linked eradicating bacteria in lab animals via penicillin is linked to obesity from the study “Altering the Intestinal Microbiota during a Critical Developmental Window Has Lasting Metabolic Consequences.” For some unknown reason, the author is attempting to link the use of glyphosate to obesity. Glyphosate concentration in farming is not high enough to cause any microbial reduction in our bodies (unless you plan on drinking a lot of it) and farmers only apply the minimal amount on their crops because glyphosate cost money. Farmers ultimately want to reduce costs and would not apply excessive amounts of glyphosate.
Bowden further claims that an “alarming study” in Current Microbiology has shown glyphosate kills bacteria at low concentrations. The study he referred to is an in vitro study with Roundup that contained detergents. As stated before, the concentrations applied in agriculture are not high enough for any substantial anti-microbial effect. Therefore, it is difficult to link the concentrations of glyphosate used in agriculture to this so call “alarming study.” The in vitro study was published in 2013 under the title “The effect of glyphosate on potential pathogens and beneficial members of poultry microbiota in vitro.”
Bowden continues to distort the science by referencing a 2013 “study” in Entropy titled “Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acids biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases”, which is more like a collection of unrelated studies, including studies that have been debunked in the scientific community. What should also be a red flag about this review of literature is the author is not associated with a reputable university, but instead is an independent consultant.
Next, Bowden summarizes a 2009 study in Toxicology titled “Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines”, which is co-authored by a known fraudster, Gilles-Éric Séralini. Seralini has published flawed scientific papers that have been heavily criticized by the scientific community and have even been retracted due to poor controls and misleading conclusions. It’s important to note that it’s the concentration that makes the poison. All substances can potentially be harmful to us at high concentration.
So why do anti-GMO supporters always focus glyphosate?
The article spends a significant number of paragraphs on the non-existent “dangers” of glyphosate. Even with decades of research, the author still claims there’s not enough research on this topic. The author fails to point out that it is because of GMOs that have lead to the decrease in herbicide and pesticide use (see: A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops). Farmers are definitely not willing to spend more than they need to on any herbicides as it cuts into their profits. This is why farmers want to grow GMOs since it reduces the need to spray harsh chemicals on their crops and allow them to improve their yields. Like many anti-GMO supporters, Bowden links glyphosate to GMO technology without actually understanding the risk and benefit assessment.
Why are thousands of GMO studies demonstrating its safety ignored?
Once the argument about applying glyphosate evaporates, anti-GMO supporters will often state there are too many unknowns in the genetic modification of our foods. This argument is also false as there are thousands of studies that have demonstrated the safety of GMOs. The scientific consensus overwhelmingly supports this technology, just like how the scientific consensus supports the fact that global warming is real. Search this database for peer-reviewed research on GMOs on this website: http://genera.biofortified.org.
There have been studies in the past that have been published that claim to demonstrate GMOs cause harmful human health effects. However, they have been retracted due to improper controls in the experiment and fraud. More recently, it has been found that leading anti-GMO "studies" have manipulated date to falsely claim that GMOs are harmful (see: Anti-GMO research may be based on manipulated data)
But are GMOs natural?
Anti-GMO supports often don’t realize that humans have been modifying our food for thousands of years. Broccoli does not grow in the wild. Kale does not grow in the wild (see: Artificial selection). Corn did not originally look like the corn we know today until it was artificially modified. Humans have modified plants to become edible or have greater yield to allow us to sustain our population growth without using massive amounts of resources and land. In the past, humans cross bred plants in order to produce desirable crops. But this was very time consuming as it could take generations to produce the traits you wanted and the outcomes are random (due to random selection).
Furthermore, the organic food industry uses chemicals or radiation to induce random mutations in order to produce new varieties of crops, which does not go through any industry testing (see: Useful Mutants, Bred With Radiation). Modern GMO technologies make plant modification quicker and with a targeted approach which of course get extensively tested, thereby producing a safer product for the market. One could argue that GMOs are safer since the outcomes are not based on random selection in organic methods.
But what about the vested interest?
The next argument that is typically presented is that major corporations are influencing the scientific consensus. It’s often not mentioned that the organic industry in the US is over $35 billion industry and growing significantly in part because of lobbying by the organic food industry (see: Organic Food Sales on the Rise). The sources that were quoted by Bowden, like Martha Grout, have a vested interested in pushing pseudo-science and linking GMOs to various diseases because her “natural” therapies are provided at her business.
Bowden also has some questionable ties to the pseudo science industry. He sells supplements on his website and it’s well known that supplements are not likely to make a statistically significant impact on your health unless you are already malnourished. If these “natural” cures actually did work, one would assume the industry would jump on it as the profits would be immense. Doctors would be prescribing these “cures” to their patients, including doctors in countries where universal healthcare exist and have little ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
A comparison to the tobacco industry made by Bowden was also greatly flawed (see: Blowing smoke: Annihilating fallacious comparisons of biotech scientists to tobacco company lobbyists). He asserted the tobacco industry produced studies that demonstrated the safety of tobacco products. Yet, what he failed to mention is that the scientific consensus concluded that tobacco caused serious health problems. This is the power of the scientific consensus. No matter how much money a corporation spends on funding studies, the scientific consensus developed by peer-reviewed studies will always surface the truth. This is the case in the GMO debate and the debate is over. The scientific consensus has concluded that GMOs are safe and will be an important technology to improve our access to healthy food.