Blowback from the Anti-GMO Crowd

By Keith Kloor | May 14, 2014 11:26 am

I’m not feeling the love:

Journalist Keith Kloor, always a busy beaver advancing the biotech industry’s agenda, linked to Food & Water Watch in a recent blog, portraying us as part of the “GMO Fear Train” that’s going off the tracks.

His post centered on New York Times’ writer Mark Bittman’s recent statement that GMOs are “probably harmless,” a stance Food & Water Watch criticized last week as hollow and shortsighted.

The advocacy group is referring to this recent post of mine on Bittman’s apparent turnabout on GMOs. The evidence for my “busy beaver” work on behalf of the biotech industry is a link to this CJR piece from last year, which noted that I had “made a beat out of policing bad journalism related to GMOs.”

It is unfortunate that some progressive voices in the food movement are blind to their denialism on the scientific consensus regarding the safety of GMO foods, but as I have written before, “they are the climate skeptics of the left.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs, science
  • bobito

    The ‘you are either with us or against us’ attitude, as always, getting in the way of reasoned debate.

    I also noted some comments on your “Squaring New US Climate Report Policy” post seemed to be suggesting you are a climate change denialist!!!

    As far as I’m concerned, if you have people attacking you from both sides you are doing something right. Keep up the good work, you are one of the few writers I trust implicitly…

    • realheadline

      “reasoned debate” … “climate-change denialist!!!”
      Speaks for itself.

      • Viva La Evolucion

        I would love to hear if Keith Kloor believes there are any legitimate concerns with GMOs, overuse of herbicide, or inefficient use of GMOs as biofuel and animal feed.

  • mem_somerville

    Heh. This is the strangest aspect of the GMO drama to me. I feel like I’ve been in the same place all along–on creationism, on stem cells, on women’s reproductive choices, on vaccines–standing on the biological science and the evidence. So to get slandered and battered by my former allies is bewildering.

    And to watch them play the same games as creationists and anti-abortion types, the cherry picking, fringy scientists, fictional graphics and emotional appeals, is really excruciating to watch.

    • Viva La Evolucion

      I agree that some GMO-haters stick their head in the sand when confronted with scientific evidence showing the safety of GMOs, similar to how GMO-lovers stick their head in the sand when confronted with the fact that the majority of GMOs (corn and soy) are being used in inefficient food and energy production methods such use in biofuel and animal feed. It is almost as if many GMO-lovers have a creationist-like love/trust in GMOs that blinds them to the fact that current GMOs are not turning out the be a very efficient method of food production for feeding the world.

      • mem_somerville

        Funny, I remember trying to tell Dems on DailyKos that putting our topsoil into our gas tanks was a stupid idea, but at one point environmentalists were big fans of that.

        Look, here I am in 2007 suggesting it might be a problem.

        It’s also astonishing that some people pretend that if we didn’t have GMOs that their pet issues would be different–this is a complete miscalculation on their part, and their heads remain in the sand, with a bunch in their ears blocking their hearing that fact. Even Bittman gets this now (see Keith’s Bittman post for details).

        And I’m such a good environmentalist that I’ve been a vegetarian for decades–but I don’t feel it is fair to force that on everyone else.

        • Viva La Evolucion

          I do not pretend that corn/soy biofuels and animal feed would be eliminated by eliminating GMOs, I am merely pointing out that the fact that the GMO technology you and I love so much is primarily being used for biofuels and animal feed, which are some of the most inefficient forms of producing energy/food known to man. I would like to see GMOs put to better use. Until that time, I don’t think it is the best idea to be an overly enthusiastic supporter. I congratulate you on being a vegetarian. I tried being a vegetarian, but only lasted about 6 months. I now am a vegetarian who occasionally eats seafood :-)

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      • Jeff Clothier

        This is primarily due to GM-enhanced foods such as “Golden Rice” failing to receive needed approvals for distribution out of unreasoned fear. You can’t blame the technology or technologists for GM not being allowed to be put to its best possible use. That is circular logic.

        • Viva La Evolucion

          I don’t blame GM technology for the fact that GMO corn/soy are primarily being used as biofuel and animal feed. But, I would say that GMO corn/soy supporters and farmers are indirectly supporting, enabling, and facilitating the continuation of these inefficient food/energy production methods. In regards to Golden Rice, I love the idea, but in reality it does not provide enough vitamin A to prevent vitamin A deficiency. There are more affordable and effective ways to address the issue of vitamin A deficiency.

      • First Officer

        It should be noted that cries for biofuels came form the environmental left. Where did they think the bio in biofuels was going to come from ?

  • Tom Scharf

    An Inconvenient Truth About Our Food
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/opinion/bittman-an-inconvenient-truth-about-our-food.html?hp&rref=opinion

    “Like “An Inconvenient Truth,” too, “Fed Up” can be seen as…???”

  • Swami_Binkinanda

    Food safety is one issue that certainly is emotionally compelling and woefully understudied; however, this could be remedied with a public, transparent testing program and even-handed public explanation: if you’ve eaten soy or corn, you’ve eaten gmo. It wouldn’t take much effort to publicize the process and make it boring and uncontroversial; perhaps one or two PBS specials would do it.
    The greater issue that is usually unaddressed because it lacks the body-horror element of the “Frankenfood” aspect is the issue of the externalized economic effects of super monoculture plus engineered resistances on our national food security, which has international implications due to our production levels. Are we degrading the soil too quickly? Are we destroying the waterways and oceans with excessive pollution from fertilizers and other ag chemicals? Are we risking food security by allowing a few companies to dominate and vertically integrate the commodities markets? Are we making adequate plans for climate and weather effects and the evolution of resistant weeds and pests? Are we making adverse cultural tradeoffs in terms of “family” farming and rural ways of life that are key memes in our national identity in exchange for market dominance in corn, wheat, and soy commodity markets?

    • Viva La Evolucion

      those are excellent questions.

      • mem_somerville

        Please specify which of these excellent questions are unique to GMOs.

        • Viva La Evolucion

          None of them are unique to GMOs, that is why I think they are excellent questions, as they will not have an automatic GMO love/hate emotional response that divides people and slows down progress on environmental conservation.

  • Viva La Evolucion

    Yes, it is true that the anti-GMO crowd has partaken in some untrue fear mongering regarding safety of GMOs, similar to how the pro-GMO crowd has partaken in some untrue fear mongering regarding drastic food price increases on groceries if GMOs are labeled. Nevertheless, I still tend to side with the GMO-haters rather than GMO/herbicide lovers. I do believe that GMOs have a lot of potential for good, so I don’t think they should be banned or anything, but unfortunately the majority of current GMOs are the herbicide tolerant variety, like Roundup ready corn/soy, which only continues our worldwide problem of overuse of herbicides. While I love the thought of genetically modifying crops for resistance to molds/virus/insects ect, and to use less pesticide, I’m not a big fan of genetically modifying crops for resistance to herbicides so millions of acres of farmland can be sprayed in herbicide several times per year. And, while GMOs have been shown to be safe for human consumption, the herbicide Roundup that is sprayed on GMO corn/soy,etc. has recently been linked to kidney problems in farm workers in under-regulated developing countries. Similar to overuse of antibiotics, there are legitimate human health and environmental problems that can result in overuse of herbicides. Not to mention that the majority of GMOs (corn and soy) are being used inefficiently as biofuel or animal feed. If one is concerned about feeding the world they would surely choose a more efficient method of food production that is not as water and resource intensive as growing corn and soy to feed to cows and chickens. I like to support efficient methods of food production that I would like to see grow in the future, so I don’t support the use of GMO corn/soy for biofuel or animal feed. If you support current GMOs then you are indirectly supporting these inefficient methods of food and energy production, as the majority of GMO corn and soy goes into these biofuel and animal feed.

    • mem_somerville

      So you are saying that if we weren’t using GMOs, our herbicide problems would be over?

      Do you make decisions for Chipotle too? They came to that conclusion. They are eliminating HT soy (because herbicide) to use HT sunflower oil (with a worse herbicide). This makes tons of sense somehow, I’m sure, but I have no idea how.

      And you seem to have missed this site that everyone is talking about: http://www.tylervigen.com/

      • Viva La Evolucion

        No, I’m not saying a world without GMOs or herbicide would be a world without problems. I’m saying that GMOs have a lot of potential for good, but unfortunately the herbicide tolerant varieties, do nothing to address the growing problem of overuse of herbicide. I am not a fan of herbicide tolerant crops, be them traditionally bred or GMO, as they continue overuse of herbicide problem.

    • Jon Entine

      There is no study linking GMOs to kidney problems or any other serious health problems. That was anecdotal reporting.

      • Viva La Evolucion

        no, there has not been a studying linking GMOs to kidney problems, the link to kidney problems in farm workers is suspected to be from exposure to formulations of Glyphosate, aka Roundup.

        • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

          There is no study in a first line peer reviewed journal (not ‘pay for play’ open access) linking glyphosate in food to even minor health problems in humans. It is a mild toxicant with an LD rating less than salt.

          • Viva La Evolucion

            That is correct. The study does not link glyphosate in food to health problems, but rather has shown the interaction between glyphosate and hard water consumption as possible culprit in the chronic kidney disease epidemic that started in the mid 90s in farm workers of Sri Lanka and Central America.

          • Jon Entine

            There are no studies showing that glyphosate as used in agriculture poses any human health problems to average citizens. Any chemical if misapplied could pose a hazard to agricultural workers although glyphosate is far less toxic than almost any agricultural chemical available.

          • Viva La Evolucion

            http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/2/2125

            It may very well be that the glyphosate is not being formulated or applied properly in these under-regulated developing countries that have experienced epidemic of chronic kidney disease in farm-workers starting in the mid 90s.

          • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

            There’s no evidence that there is documented evidence that there is an epidemic of chronic kidney disease not any documented evidence that it’s linked to glyphosate. And if it was, it means nothing as to potential harm to our food supply from glyphosate. This is all speculation, hyped by yet another article by anti-modern ag activists in a third tier ‘buy your way in” journal. ThisIf there is genuine peer reviewed evidence, let’s consider it…but this is not it.

          • Michael Phillips

            Sadly, Jon is right. This kind of journal is getting tediously common. Just take a look at how long it takes to say virtually nothing (23 pages!), the irrelevant figures, total absence of methods or results–not even statistical analysis of previously published data. It is also badly written. To a trained scientist, this is obviously unreliable.

            Here are some of the criteria I use to sort the wheat from the chaff. Be suspicious of any article with the following:
            1. Big claim in the title, but it turns to be a review article that doesn’t actually present results.
            2. Does not cite literature with contrary findings.
            3. Any review article written by someone who has never published in the primary literature of that field.
            4. Continually repeats phrases like “We hypothesize that…”, “We speculate that…”, X may be responsible for…” and so forth without ever actually resorting to evidence to answer those questions. A good article presents a single hypothesis, followed by data, analysis, and revisits the original hypothesis to see if it was supported or not. A crap article presents the hypothesis as if it were the evidence and just leaves you hanging (begging the question).
            5. Published in obscure journal with no print version, history of articles with specious claims (see Entropy for an example), low IF, and probably no peer review process.

            These are warning signs that you are reading something unreliable, and there is lots of it out there. Other readers may have better criteria. I hope this is of some use to you as you make your way through the literature.

          • Viva La Evolucion

            I’m pretty sure there is documented evidence of chronic kidney disease epidemic in these areas, but if you have any source claiming otherwise I would love to see it. In regards to the so-called study linking the chronic kidney disease to Roundup that I linked to previously, I agree that it is speculation, but it does provide the best hypothesis for cause of the kidney problems that i have seen thus far. If you have a better hypothesis I would love to hear it. I agree that if Roundup turns out to be the culprit it would most likely not any effect on our food supply due to minuscule amounts of Roundup residue in food, but I don’t think it is a good idea to pretend the kidney problems are not happening, as health of farm workers is important. Also, I just read that the CDC is launching an “industry financed” study on the issue, so hopefully the cause will be found soon.
            http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/02/12/14236/cdc-launches-industry-financed-studies-deadly-kidney-disease-central-america

          • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

            The misuse/overuse of any pesticide including ones approved for organic use, some of which are far more toxic than synthetic ones and almost all of which are more toxic than glyphosate could result in health damage to those who apply it. Irrelevant to the debate over pesticide or GMOs in food.

          • Viva La Evolucion

            Yes, many organic insecticides are far more toxic and/or effective than synthetic ones. I am strongly in favor of GMOs that reduce insecticide use. Nevertheless, in regards to herbicide…it is my understanding that most organic farms use herbicide alternatives such as cover crops, soil steaming, hydroponics, etc… and that the organic herbicides that are used mainly consist of citrus oil, which I believe is less toxic than synthetic herbicides. If it turns out that Roundup is the culprit in the kidney problems of these farm-workers then I believe that would be entirely relevant to debate on GMOs, as majority of current GMOs are Roundup Ready crops.

    • Michael Phillips

      Could you provide a citation to the paper on roundup induced kidney damage?

      • Viva La Evolucion
        • Michael Phillips

          Thanks. This article does not say what you claim it does however. You said glyphosate “…has recently been linked to kidney problems in farm workers in under-regulated developing countries.” and provided a link to a low impact (IF<2) review/speculation piece by Jayasumana et al which has no methods or results sections because no experiments were done or reported in this article.

          This is not science, it is a bad/selective review of the literature which speculates and hypothesizes about complexes of glyphosate with metals which might explain maybe something. No data is provided. From the abstract: "Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues of thousands of farmers …" and they then speculate with no data presented that maybe toxic metals are also toxic when glyphosate is present. Truly a terrible attempt at science. From this citation, no sane person would conclude a link between glyphosate and kidney damage has been established.

          • Viva La Evolucion

            Thank Michael. I think we can both agree that starting in the 90s there has been large increase in chronic kidney disease in

  • Bernie Mooney

    Once again Kloor, if indeed that is his real name, is “parroting industry talking points” which is the anti-GMO way of discrediting the science of GM. I agree with the computer industry that computers work. (yeah, yeah, I know), If I write that computers work, am I parroting “industry talking points?”

    • Viva La Evolucion

      Yeah, Yeah, we get it, GMOs are safe, and Keith Kloor loves bashing GMO-haters who say otherwise. But, I am curious if Keith Kloor has any concerns about other GMO issues, like overuse of herbicide, or fact that the majority of GMOs are currently being used in inefficient food and energy production methods such as biofuel or animal feed.

      • Bernie Mooney

        Your your nom de internet makes me think you get your info from activist sites and not from science and AG sites. My suggestion is to research beyond what you want to believe. That’s the way I came to my stance. I found the facts and evidence and they belie what you say.

        • Viva La Evolucion

          Actually, my nom de internet is my T-shirt selling website. In regards to GMOs, I think they have a lot of potential for good in things like mold/virus/insect resistance and use of less pesticide. Also, I love the idea of genetically modifying crops to grow faster, more efficiently, better tasting, more nutritious food. I’m just not a fan of genetically modifying or traditionally breeding plants to be resistant to herbicides, as that does nothing to address the overuse of herbicides problem. Now my turn to guess what you believe from reading your couple sentences. I am guessing that you don’t believe there are any significant issues with current or estimated future levels of herbicide usage.

      • Michael Phillips

        No one can speak for Keith but Keith of course, but I for one am concerned about how GMOs (and I mean all, including hydrids, transgenics, mutant lines, and selectively inbred lines) are marketed and how large corporations make their money off of them. Unfortunately, the anti-GMO crowd is so linked to conspiracy nonsense and fears of non-existent harm to human health and the environment that is it almost impossible to have a real debate on the role of corporations in food production now. This is an overlooked consequence of the anti-GMO movement: they have poisoned a critical public debate we need to engage in dispassionately using empirical evidence, statistics, and the input of qualified experts, especially plant scientists. Sandy Hook denialists like Adams have nothing to contribute to this conversation, yet they scream the loudest and attract the most views. Sigh.

  • J M

    “they are the climate skeptics of the left.”
    Anti-GMO movement starts to look more and more like the Tea Party of the Left. Anti-science, lots of wacko claims but popular.

    • Viva La Evolucion

      I agree that there are some wackos in the anti-GMO movement who could be compared to tea party members. But, members of the pro-GMO movement are enabling, and facilitating the continuation of inefficient food/energy production methods such of biofuels and feeding livestock corn/soy, which are extremely water and resource intensive, inefficient, unsustainable methods of food/energy production, and ultimately bad for the environment/planet, which is similar to the pro-fossil fuel movement. GMOs have a lot of potential for good, but unfortunately, they are not being used that way.

      • J M

        Funny how they feed cattle with soy and corn and use biofuels also in EU which has banned GMOs.
        The fact remains that all agriculture was basically organic 100 years ago and lots of people died of starvation. Today, crop yields in grains have quadrupled. Efficiency has increased.

        • Viva La Evolucion

          Actually, the EU has NOT banned GMOs. “As of August 2012, the European Union had authorised 48 GMOs. Most of these were for animal feed imports or for feed and food processing. Spain is the largest producer of GM crops in Europe with 76,000 hectares (190,000 acres) of GM maize planted in 2009 (20% of Spain’s maize production)”. It is true that grain crop yields/efficiency have improved over last 100 years. But the increased efficiency is lost when you factor in that these crops are being used inefficiently as animal feed or biofuel.

          • J M

            Semantics aside, GMO crops are in practice banned in EU. Just two GM crops are allowed to be cultivated as per EU regulations. On national level, their cultivation is banned in several EU member countries. Any farmer planting them risks attacks by anti-GMO activists.

            http://www.europabio.org/which-gm-crops-can-be-cultivated-eu

            http://www.english.rfi.fr/visiting-france/20140515-french-anti-gm-protestors-walk-free-after-destroying-vineyard

            If you disagree with the way increased yields are used, your beef is with the consumers and politicians. If they want meat and biofuels, that’s what farmers will produce. With or without GMOs.

          • Viva La Evolucion

            My beef is with the lack of governmental regulations, which allow for the majority of GMO corn/soy grown to be used as biofuels and animal feed. Until that changes I do not think it is wise to be an overly enthusiastic supporter of current GMOs corn/soy, as by doing so one is indirectly supporting their use in biofuels and animal feed.

  • JH

    Funny, there’s an add to the left that says:

    They poisoned our food supply!

    strange times indeed.

    • Viva La Evolucion

      on my computer all the ads are on the right

  • Jeffn

    “they are the climate skeptics of the left.”

    Yes, sometimes it’s a good comparison. Of course, since many climate campaigners are every bit as devoted to science as the anti-GMO activists of the left, the analogy falls apart. Bill McKibben is exhibit A.
    Which makes the politics of climate all the more difficult for the warm. You are, after all, essentially saying on behalf of environmentalists on the climate issue: “well, yeah, we have an anti-science streak a mile wide, our work on alternatives (opposition to nuclear and support of windmills) has been a cornucopia of disinformation, and we exaggerate weather for political gain, but… this time you are in idiot for failing to trust us! Why? Because of the accuracy of climate models!”

  • JH

    Still hilarious two weeks later. I feel kind of honored to kind of know the Busy Beaver of Biotech.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

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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