A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops

Amy Harmon, in the New York Times, on the efforts of a Hawaiian county council to respond properly to a bill proposing a ban on all GMO crops:

What really stuck with Mr. Ilagan were the descriptions of tumorous rats. Reading testimony submitted before the hearing, he had blanched at grotesque pictures of the animals fed Monsanto’s corn, modified with a gene from bacteria to tolerate an herbicide. According to the French researcher who performed the study, they developed more tumors and died earlier than those in the control group.

“Are we all going to get cancer?” Mr. Ilagan wondered.

Sifting Through Claims

The next week, when his legislative assistant alerted him that the rat study encountered near-universal scorn from scientists after its release in autumn 2012, doubt about much of what Mr. Ilagan had heard began to prick at his mind.

“Come to find out, the kind of rats they used would get tumors anyway,” he told his staff. “And the sample size was too small for any conclusive results.”

Sensitive to the accusation that her bill was antiscience, Ms. Wille had circulated material to support it. But in almost every case, Mr. Ilagan and his staff found evidence that seemed to undermine the claims.

A report, in an obscure Russian journal, about hamsters that lost the ability to reproduce after three generations as a result of a diet of genetically modified soybeans had been contradicted by many other studies and deemed bogus by mainstream scientists.

Mr. Ilagan discounted the correlations between the rise in childhood allergies and the consumption of G.M.O.s, cited by Ms. Wille and others, after reading of the common mistake of confusing correlation for causation. (One graph, illustrating the weakness of conclusions based on correlation, charted the lock-step rise in organic food sales and autism diagnoses.)

Butterflies were disappearing, but Mr. Ilagan learned that it was not a toxin produced by modified plants that harmed them, as he had thought. Instead, the herbicide used in conjunction with some genetically modified crops (as well as some that were not) meant the milkweed on which they hatched was no longer found on most Midwestern farms.

He heard many times that there were no independent studies of the safety of genetically modified organisms. But Biofortified, which received no funding from industry, listed more than a hundred such studies, including a 2010 comprehensive review sponsored by the European Union, that found “no scientific evidence associating G.M.O.s with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.” It echoed similar statements by the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Medicine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A blog post on the website of NPR, a news source Mr. Ilagan trusted, cataloged what it called “Top Five Myths of Genetically Modified Seeds, Busted.” No. 1 was a thing he had long believed: “Seeds from G.M.O.s are sterile.”

via A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops – NYTimes.com.

One response

  1. Thanks much for this post David. So difficult these days to get people to separate science from politics. The human species is genetically modified. That is, of course, if one believes in evolution 😉

    chicago, IL

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