Michael Eisen: The Anti-GMO Campaign’s Dangerous War On Science

This November, Californians will vote on an initiative that would require any food containing ingredients derived from genetically modified crops to be labeled as such.

Backers of the “California Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” are pitching it as a matter of providing information to consumers, who, they argue, “have a right to know what’s in the food we buy and eat and feed our children, just as we have the right to know how many calories are in our food, or whether food comes from other countries like Mexico or China.”

I have no concerns about the safety of GMOs. But I support the right of people to make choices about what they eat, and think we should provide them with the information they need to do so.

I understand where some of the nervousness about GMOs comes from. I worry about the uncontrolled chemical experiments our species is doing on our bodies, and am a big consumer of organic foods. I am also skeptical when industries assert that their products are safe, because so often these claims have turned out to be false.

But I also appreciate the challenges of feeding our growing population, and believe in the power of biotechnology to not just make agriculture more efficient, but to make it better for people and the planet. And as a molecular biologist very familiar with the technology of genetic modification and the research into its safety, I do not find it in the least bit frightening.

What I do find frightening, however, is the way backers of this initiative have turned a campaign for consumer choice into a crusade against GMOs. They don’t want the “genetically engineered” label to merely provide information. They want it to be a warning – the equivalent for GM food of the cancer warning on cigarette boxes.

The problem is there is no justification for a warning. There is no compelling evidence of any harm arising from eating GMOs, and a diverse and convincing body of research demonstrating that GMOs are safe. But rather than reckon with this reality, anti-GMO campaigners have joined their climate-change denying brethren, and launched an agressive war on science.

Science 2.0

How sad that he destroyed his own credibility with an attack on CAGW skeptics.

My own experience has been quite different with those in fear of biotechnology also being likely to fear catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, or enhanced greenhouse effect, more correctly.

The ususal pattern has been those who have irrational fears have them on multiple issues.

In fact I can’t recall a single instance of an anti biotech opinion-holding correspondent who claimed skepticism of CAGW. Not one.

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6 responses to “Michael Eisen: The Anti-GMO Campaign’s Dangerous War On Science

  1. Dear Michael,
    the problem is that there never has been proper safety studies of GE food. And wheneve there have been trials that show negatives they have been ridiculed or worse the scientists/researchers ostracised. Absence of evidence isnt evidence of absence.

    Also feeding the world is not going to be done through huge monocultures especially as currently 70% of food today is produced by small farmers. And also the huge tracts of flat land are not available for the huge machines necessary for industrial farming economics.

    You must be aware of the IAASTD in 2008 report which was the biggest study ever done produced by the World Bank, UN, FAO, UNEP and 400 scientists (and which most countries signed up to) came to the conclusion that GM would not feed the world. Developing nations small farmers couldnt afford the costly imputs.

    ‘Junk science’ is a good description your views sadly.


    • “the problem is that there never has been proper safety studies of GE food. And wheneve there have been trials that show negatives they have been ridiculed or worse the scientists/researchers ostracised.”

      Of course they were “ostracised.” They weren’t proper safety studies, according to no less an authority than you.

    • Peter,
      It’s impossible to “prove” that things are “safe”; only if they are not safe. So far nobody has shown that for GM foods using accepted scientific standards and procedures.

      Besides, why would they? We have been genetically altering plants since humans first figured out how to splice shoots of similar strains together. The only difference between that and direct genetic manipulation is that in the first case the genetic changes are random. We really didn’t know what the results would be. Now we can make specific targeted changes with much greater confidence that nothing unintentional was modified. All things being equal it is quite obvious that the second method, direct genetic manipulation, is a safer technique than the random one. Put your fears aside and consider the facts.

  2. Thomas C. Brown

    As I recall, the first Monsanto data submissions to FDA on GMOs included only the studies that we (FDA) felt were necessary to judge the safety of the products. There were many more that we didn’t ask to be submitted.

    Paul is cetrainly correct in stating that there is no way to absolutely prove that anything is safe. There was more than one instance when a food produced by conventional breeding was turned down by FDA as dangerous. That didn’t happen with “GMOs”.

    There are very likely “organic” varieties of plants that were developed by processes that would now be classified as GMO – before EU defintions of GMO became standard.

    T. Brown

  3. I’m a die-hard CAGW sceptic who is thoroughly anti-GMO (and I have a Biological Sciences degree). GMO is a massive, un-controlled experiment with the whole biosphere at risk. My one consolation is that the biosphere is massively resilient.

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