The Propaganda Mill

By Keith Kloor | March 7, 2013 6:11 am

Since I’m always on the lookout for helpful advice on how to talk to my friends about GMOs, this tweet caught my eye:

In her bio at the Worldwatch Institute, Nierenberg is listed as “an expert on sustainable agriculture.” Indeed,

Her knowledge of global agriculture issues has been cited widely in more than 3,000 major publications including The New York TimesUSA Today, the International Herald TribuneThe Washington PostBBC….

So without further ado, let’s see what knowledge on GMOs this knowledgeable expert (who recently co-founded a think tank on food issues) considers worthy of attention. She points to a “fact sheet” put out by the Small Planet Institute. It starts off:

In the 1990s, GMOs took off in the United States without public debate and today they’re in most processed foods–making Americans the world’s GMO guinea pigs. Now peer reviewed and other authoritative studies reveal…

Uh oh. I think we know where this is heading. 

Sure enough, the “fact sheet” on GMOs is a compendium of widely debunked myths and junk science that, nevertheless, is perfect for internet dissemination. Good job, Danielle!

Among the seven things listed: “GMOs have proven harmful in animal studies.” The authority cited by the Small Planet Institute is a notorious French researcher, who, as Andrew Revkin noted last year in the New York Times, “has long campaigned against genetically modified foods and attracted criticism for flawed science.” The researcher’s credibility has been shredded.

The “seven things to tell your friends about GMOs” that Nierenberg tweeted is the sort of crazy talk that triggers a gag reflex in mild-manngered scientists like Anastasia Bodnar, who countered:

In another tweet, Bodanar implored:

Here’s hoping.


  • Robert Ford

    It’s sad that “expert” often is meaningless. Seems like reading Wikipedia would be more productive for stuff like this.

  • Buddy199

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.
    –Joseph Goebbels

  • Tom Scharf

    One thing you learn pretty quick about Washington and Think Tanks is the name of the legislation or the name of the think tank often have no relevance to the product.

    The more words thrown in like “fair” “justice” “balanced”, the more likely it is exactly the opposite.

    GMO activists are thankfully truly on the fringe. They have their whole food markets, and the rest of us aren’t asking for their “help”.

  • dogktor

    Please debunk the statements made scientifically–one by one, without resorting to the logical fallacies listed — for those seeking out to discredit Joseph Goebbels:

    As far as Anastiasia:

    Dear Anastasia, Please stop promoting misinformation. You are better than that ( appeal to flattery hopefully noted).

    Maybe talk to some medical practitioners (both animal and human working on real chronic diseases out here in the trenches) about gmos.

    • dogktor

      The principle used to test these novel foods safety is that it does not differ substantially from normal natural food. In the United States, the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition reviews summaries of food safety data developed and voluntarily submitted by developers of engineered foods, in part on the basis of comparability to conventionally produced foods.
      There are no specific tests required by FDA to determine safety.
      FDA does not approve the safety of engineered foods, but after its review, acknowledges that the developer of the food has asserted that it is safe:

      The voluntary safety studies on genetically modified crops submitted by the manufacturer to the FDA
      are 90 day studies on rodents. No studies are required for longer periods than this, which means these studies can not detect any Chronic disease.

      Here is a typical safety study on one of the most common genetically engineered crops-corn. This corn is engineered to produce its own insecticide (B.T known as cry3B protein) in every kernel.

      Results of a 90-day safety assurance study with rats fed grain
      from corn rootworm-protected corn
      B. Hammond a,*, J. Lemen a, R. Dudek a, D. Ward a, C. Jiang a, M. Nemeth a, J. Burns b
      a Monsanto Company, 800 North Lindbergh Blvd., St Louis, MO 63167, United States
      Received 1 June 2005; accepted 22 June 2005

      In this safety study on effects of a variety of Monsanto B.T. corn, there were a total of 400 animals.

      80 were fed genetically engineered corn (40 of each sex) and 320 were fed non genetically engineered corn.
      Typically the experimental animal group size is as similar as possible to the control group. One usually expects to see 200 control rats and 200 experimental rats. When a study is this statistically unbalanced, it leaves you wondering what the study is trying to hide.
      The study is NOT Blinded.
      The standard medical method to prevent researcher bias is single blinded or single-masked experimental design. These terms are used to describe a study in which the investigator is unaware of the nature of the treatment the participant is receiving.The study showed the following:

      Kidneys: chronic inflammation and tubular regeneration. In other words –the kidneys of quite of few rats were showing signs which over time would lead to kidney failure. The pathologist conclusions reported were that these changes are normally seen in the kidneys of rats as young as 2 months of age. However, the journal article cited to support this conclusion contradicts the author, as the normal changes found affect the Bowman’s capsule of the kidney and are non-inflammatory in nature, in contrast to the inflammatory kidney changes reported in rats eating genetically modified corn.
      No urinalysis data was published. A urinalysis is a very simple and essential test in assessing kidney function. A serial urinalysis and blood tests would permit assessing trends of (stable or worsening) kidney function, and these were not performed.
      Liver: vacuolization : histopathology showed liver cells distended with globules. We often see these changes in biopsies of cats with hepatic lipidosis and likely with people with NAFLD ( non-alcohol -related fatty liver disease).
      Chronic inflammation, chronic bile duct inflammation, bile duct hyperplasia were reported. Meaning-many of the rats were suffering from liver disease centered on the biliary system; which likewise are found in biopsies of cats and dogs with hepatobiliary disease
      As many pet owners know, a bile acid test is required to test liver function.
      A quick and cheap bile acid test is available for rats, but was not performed.
      Test results were only reported for half the rats…..what happened to the rest of the experimental rats? Did they get sick and die?
      Anonymous pathologists reported that these changes in the kidneys and livers were normally seen in rats, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were… in aged rats. However, these rats were..only 5 months old.

      Results of a 13 week safety assurance study with rats fed grain from
      glyphosate tolerant corn
      B. Hammond a,*, R. Dudek b, J. Lemen a, M. Nemeth

      The entire safety study on this Round-Up-Ready corn,
      is available for review at this link >

      Of 400 rats in this study, just like the above study on B.T. Corn, only 80 were experimental. The study is once again, statistically unbalanced to avoid finding adverse effects.
      The study, like the above, is not blinded– the researchers knew which rats received which food.
      Test results are reported for as few as 22 out of 80 rats, but in no case for all the rats.
      Bilirubin was reported for as few as 22.
      Urinalysis results are omitted.
      Bile acid test, once again-not done
      The histopathology findings support kidney and liver disease, while claiming that these findings are normal in 5months old rats.
      However, the “normal” kidney changes expected in young rats are not inflammatory—which these are.
      Table 7
      Summary incidence microscopic findings in male and female Sprague–Dawley rats following 13 weeks of exposure to high dose (33%) test and
      control corn grain in the diet
      Tissue Microscopic finding Control Males N=20 RR Males N=20 Control Fe N=20 RR Females N=20
      Heart Cardiomyopathy 4 6 3 3
      Kidney Casts, proteinaceous 5 9 3 2
      Infiltrate, mononuclear cell 14 10 4 7
      Cystic tubules 2 2 1 1
      Dilation, pelvic, unilateral 0 2 0 0
      Mineralization, tubular 0 2 6 5
      Regeneration, tubular epithelium 17 17 3 2
      Liver Infiltrate, mononuclear cell 8 8 6 7
      Inflammation, chronic, multifocal 16 17 15 17
      Pancreas Infiltrate, mononuclear cell 2 2 2 1
      Inflammation, chronic, focal 2 1 0 0
      Thyroid Cyst, ultimobranchial 3 2 5 3

      What happened to the rest of the 80 rats? One can’t help but suspect that they were sick or dead of kidney, liver disease and possibly heart muscle disease; after eating this variety of Round-Up-Ready corn for 90 days.

      No clinical feeding trials comparing safety of genetically modified foods to conventional food in cats, dogs or people have to date been published in scientific literature.

      My conclusion
      We see a high prevalence of liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatic disease in our pets whose root causes remain unknown. The rates of chronic kidney disease in our cats have escalated.

      There are no epidemiological studies being done comparing the effects on metabolic organs in cats or dogs eating genetically modified food with those on conventional foods.

      Until scientifically convincing blinded controlled clinical trials of significant statistical power are published; or epidemiological studies determine that genetically modified crops do not pose a risk of medical harm, I DO NOT recommend GMO’s be fed to our pets. And I don’t recommend that my friends and family eat them.

      This is particularly important as “stacked” varieties which include multiple genetic modification in the same plant, as well as other crops ( currently wheat) modified with new gene- silencing technology, are making their way through the regulatory pipeline.

  • Small Planet

    Small Planet Institute here, creators of the GMO fact sheet. We’re happy to engage in meaningful dialogue about our fact sheet based on peer-reviewed journal citations with anyone interested. We feel that an issue this complex warrants more than a 140 character response. Please see our website for contact information. As for the controversial French study mentioned in the post above, our intention, as stated in the fact sheet, is to “underscore that we need more long-term studies”.

    • kkloor

      Small Planet,

      I appreciate your civil tone, but with all due respect, I don’t see how we can engage in “meaningful dialogue” about a “fact cheet” that is so selective with the facts. As one commenter pointed out on twitter, it’s so incredibly slanted and hyperbolic that it’s in Jeffrey Smith territory–and he’s in the fringe.

      I feel it’s a waste of time and energy to engage the fringe on any issue.

      • Martin

        Slightly iffy surely? It’s very tempting to mark up anyone who is at all distant from your own views as slanted and hyperbolic, and therefore not worth engaging with, and so you end up only talking to people you agree with.

        The fringes (from your point of view – after all, you’re in someone else’s fringe :-) are where people need to be engaged if there’s any publically useful discussion to be had. Otherwise all you have is echo chambers surely?

  • JonFrum

    Where does the ‘you’re better than that’ come from? She obviously isn’t.


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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