Biohazard Biohazard

Myths spread by the pro-GM, anti-organic movement

(Last updated 28 January 2003)

Other pages -> Genetically Modified Food UK and World News
Who's spinning the pro-GM story?

Here's a short list of the ways in which the pro-GM movement is trying to spin GM foods down our throats, via the media :

E. coli

Pro-GM advocates are putting about the story that organic foods are more susceptible to Escherichia coli, because organic farming uses animal manure. Animal manure is, in fact, used both by conventional and organic farmers. Organic farming has strict rules about how animal manure is composted prior to use on crops.

This is a myth started by Dennis Avery of the thinktank, the Hudson Institute. The Hudson Institute is funded by Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Novartis, AgrEvo and Zeneca. He has distorted data from from Dr Paul Mead at the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the US federal agency that tracks outbreaks of foodborne illness. The CDC had to issue a statement disclaiming any connection with Avery's allegations about E. coli :

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk for infection with E. coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods."

See the excellent article "Saving the planet with pestilent statistics" (named after Dennis Avery's book "Saving the Planet Through Pesticides and Plastics"), by Karen Charman for more details of Avery and his distortions of CDC data :

Since then, the E.Coli myth has been parrotted by GM proponents worldwide. The latest to take up on it is Dr John Mottley, University of East London, who has repeated the false allegations about E. coli without examining the evidence.

For more info about the E. coli myth see :
http://www.gmfoodnews.com/gmfaec.html

Fungal toxin / Aflatoxin / Mycotoxin

This is a comparitively recent (December 1999) addition to the pro-GM book of myths. It was started by Gary Munkvold (Iowa State University) and Richard Hellmich (USDA). According to this myth, GM corn kills not only the target corn borer but also, as a side effect, destroys fungal toxins (aflatoxins/mycotoxins) on the corn itself, by killing the fungi responsible for creating those toxins.

Far from being an advantage, I would suggest that this is more evidence that not enough is known about GM food and it effects on non-target species including beneficial plants, animals and micro-organisms.

For more info on Munkvold and his connections with the pro-GM movement, as well as a link to an article on this theme, see : http://www.gmfoodnews.com/gmspin.html

"Feeding the world"

Here's a quote from C.S. Prakash, sent to me by Frances B. Smith, Executive Director of Consumer Alert :

"We have the means to end hunger on this planet and to feed the world’s six billion - or even nine billion - people. For the well-fed to spearhead campaigns and suppress research into potential solutions for ideological or pseudo-scientific reasons is downright irresponsible and immoral."

The real fact is that there is already enough food to feed the world's population now and into the future. The US and Europe waste millions of tonnes of food each year through programs which artificially maintain the price of crops coming from farmers.

Quite simply, GM food is not needed to feed the world. What's missing are the political will and distribution mechanisms to get the existing food supplies to the people who need them.

For more on Prakash, Consumer Alert and their connections in the pro-GM world, see: http://www.gmfoodnews.com/gmspin.html

To find out more about the myth of "Feeding the world", see this ActionAid report: http://www.actionaid.org/ourpriorities/foodrights/gmtechnology/gmcrops.shtml

"Making allergenic food non-allergenic"

The pro-GM lobby would like us to believe that it will be possible to genetically modify crops such as peanuts, to make them non-allergenic.

However, as the recent case of contamination of non-GM canola (rapeseed) by GM canola in Europe have shown, even at this early stage of GM developments, it has not been possible properly to separate GM and non-GM crops.

If a person with peanut allergy were to eat GM peanuts which were supposedly non-allergic, but which had been mixed with non-GM peanuts, the result could be fatal.

"Functional" GM

The GM industry has proposed a range of "functional" GM creations which would have attributes supposedly focussed on the consumer. Amongst these might be:
Yet again, the intention of these mutant creations is not to help humanity, but to provide a "spin" for the GM industry, desperately trying to prove that GM is somehow useful.

Adding pharmaceutical properties to crops

This practice, known as "pharming" would, the pro-GM lobby suggests, enable vaccines such as polio, to be added to common fruit such as bananas. See this article for more details :

http://www.newscientist.com/nsplus/insight/gmworld/gmfood/gmnews6.html

As indicated above, with the existing problems of GM contamination, it is inconceivable that pharmaceutical products could ever be distributed this way.

Imagine the consequences of GM bananas being mixed inadvertantly with conventional bananas and causing repeated doses of GM polio vaccine in the population... Alternatively, imagine that conventional bananas were mistakenly distributed as part of an anti-polio campaign. The results either way would be disastrous.

Making food "more nutritious" - the spinning of "Golden" Rice

Of all the recent spin attempts, this is probably the one in which the media has expressed most interest.

An example of an attempt to make GM food "more nutritious" and more attractive in Public Relations terms, is the adding of vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene) to rice (so-called "Golden" Rice) to enable the rice to become "more nutritious".

For people who are lacking vitamin A in the diet, the simple solution is to eat more foods containing beta carotene. The answer is not to eat rice which has been modified to express beta carotene. Such rice may not be suitable for growing in their locality and may give lower yields.

It is also likely that in adding beta carotene, the rice may become imbalanced in other nutrients. Furthermore, the long-term effects of GM rice are not known.

The "Protato"

As another attempt at pro-GM spin, the "protato" of course does not yet exist. It is claimed that this would be a potato with higher levels of protein compared with the non-GM variety. For more information, see this article:

The GM Potato Hoax - by Devinder Sharma

Summary

I hope this short overview has helped to understand the tricks that the pro-GM lobby are attempting to use in their desperation to sell this unsafe, untested, environmentally-damaging technology.

Marcus Williamson
"Genetically Modified Food - UK and World News"