Saturday, September 22, 2012

GMOs: Knowledge Roulette

A new documentary on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is travelling the cybersphere right now.  It's a compelling exploration that suggests GMOs could be causing the increase in intestinal disorders, autism, skin disorders (the three often go together - I know firsthand), cancers, and other health problems.  A red flag for me, though was the number of individual farmer and mom testimonials of the miracle that happened as soon as they took their animals/kids off GMOs, and, at the end, a story of a puppy that preferred to eat non-GM food over GM food.  Hmmm....

The documentary has been rigorously criticized point by point at Academics Review, and, after some hunting (because it's not clear on the site), it seems the criticism originated from which is chalk full of good news about GMOs.  The authors are all scientifically educated, but I wonder if their bias is subsidized.

On the Academics Review site, they describe Jeffrey Smith as
"once nearly as well known for his swing-dancing lessons as his “expertise” in biotech agriculture. Still, Smith, who has also enjoyed longtime ties to Fairfield’s Maharishi religious group and the state’s Natural Law political party, travels the world reading excerpts from his two self-published books on genetic engineering."  
At Biofortified, the authors and editors list their own favourite produce.  I'm not fond of attempts to ingratiate me with cuteness, and ad hominem arguments also raise red flags.  It doesn't follow that, because he can swing dance, he can't also be an expert on GMOs.

And here's Jeffrey Smith's rebuttal on the point by point opposition.

And the burning question is, how can we know who's the honest, unbiased, reporter here?

I usually suggest an attempt to follow the money.  The pro-GMO groups profit off making sure everyone thinks GMOs are not only healthy, but necessary to our survival.  The anti-GMO groups typically don't profit from people avoiding GMOs.  But Smith will benefit if people read his books and pay him to speak.  So that doesn't work.

Next up is checking with other newsfeeds:

* The BBC reported recently that a study comparing rats eating GM maize and non-GM maize, the GMO group had a 70% pre-mature death rate compared to 20% in the non-GMO group.  But the study was criticized for using rats that have a tendency to get tumours.

* The American Academy of Environmental Medicine called on doctors to educate patients to avoid GMOs.

* The BBC reported on round-up ready use in GMOs cross-pollinating with weeds to produce super weeds that grow taller than corn and can't be killed with any pesticide.  Didn't they see that coming??

So some media run bad news copy on GMOs.  But could the media be biased against them?  Does it sell papers to be anti-GMO?  Or are the reports all true?

A final method I use to decide which way to lean on material that's being debated endlessly is a version of Pascal's Wager:

If Smith is wrong, and GMOs are healthy, and we stop eating GMOs, then nothing bad will happen.  But if he's right, and GMOs are harming our health, and we continue to eat them (and not label them), then bad things could happen.  So maybe we should try to avoid these experiments with nature, and petition the Canadian government to label our food!  The worst that might happen is we'll waste a bit of time buying organic produce at the local health-food store.

Click here for a pamphlet that lists the GMO-tainted and GMO-free brands.  Happy shopping.  And if you want to keep hearing about how bad GMOs are, join the facebook group.

ETA, January 2022, because I've seen a sudden increase in traffic to this post, I now believe that GMOs aren't A thing, and this class of foods has to be explored as a wide variety of products, each with their own risks and benefits. 

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