The GMO Debate

Former PV Democrats President Tony Hale provided a defense of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), especially surprising since he is widely regarded as an advocate for the environment, and most of us feel that environmentalists are not in favor of GMOs.   We previously heard from Jim Montgomery, who spoke in opposition to GMOs, so Tony’s presentation enabled us to hear both sides.  Stating that scientific consensus is what brought him to favor GMOs, Tony used a scrolling background of pro-GMO references to make that point.

Tony noted that natural horizontal gene transfer gave us the sweet potato and the natural evolution of cabbage gave us 9 common edible plants, while the first genetically modified crop was tobacco in 1982.  Tony stated that the “Green Revolution”, which involves agribusiness-type pesticide/herbicide monoculture farming using GMOs has saved over 1 billion people from starvation.  Now globally, 81% of soybeans, 81% of cotton, 35% of maize and 30% of canola are genetically modified, and the US numbers are considerably higher.   He cited Monsanto (now, or soon-to-be Bayer) as the developer of Golden Rice, which has increased levels of β-kerotene, thus enriching the diets of many in Asia.

During the spirited Q & A session, when asked about some commonly criticized chemicals, Tony stated that glycophosphate (the principle ingredient in Round Up) is less toxic that caffeine.  He claimed that Bee colony collapse is due primarily to poor commercial practices rather than due to chemicals and that the decline of the Monarch butterfly is primarily due to loss of habitat.  Tony stated that “there are no credible studies showing that GMOs are unsafe” and the World Health Organization finds GMOS have no negative effects on human health.

Since so many in the audience had differences of opinions on this presentation, the PV Democrats have invited Tony to begin a blog on our website regarding GMOs.  This will give those who have facts they can cite a chance to counter Tony’s presentation.

If you would like to add a comment, we have enabled comments on this page.  Please make a comment after having read both sides of this discussion.  And please keep our discussion civil.

Rebuttal by Wes Bradford:

Our Democratic Club’s recent meeting program on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), an important subject for public information, turned out instead to be a shocking example of the Pesticide-Pollution industry’s profiteering disinformation agenda (Alternate Facts become “True” if repeated often enough).

The corporate marketing campaign promoting GMO seeds (for crops resistant to their pesticides) is so the crops can be sprayed with their profitable poisons before harvest to eradicate the weeds without killing the crops. Nobody drops dead after eating these pesticide-poisoned foods (so far), so the crops must be “safe”. (GMO itself is not the real issue here.)

The real motive of the Poisoning-Industrial Complex is to convince us that poisoning our food with pesticides is OK. These pesticides build up in the soil and are taken up by the roots of future crops as well as in the water runoff that becomes our drinking water and the environment for fish. (Not surprisingly, resistant superweeds are now proliferating.) Even “Organic” foods are now becoming contaminated. This is an uncontrolled experiment on the future health of humanity, for corporate profits, and protected by lobbyists buying politicians with reelection campaign bribery money. We’ve seen this movie before (the Fossil Fuels industry’s Climate Change disinformation, and the Tobacco industry’s “Smoking is safe” propaganda until caught lying through their teeth under oath before Congressional Committees).

This slick corporate PowerPoint presentation’s disinformation included these false analogies: Plants were modified thousands of years ago in the Dawn of Agriculture, so poisoning our food is OK. There are already poisons in nature (poison ivy, mushrooms, etc.), so poisoning our food is OK. The Agricultural Revolution is helping to feed the starving millions, so poisoning our food is OK.

The PubMed website (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/) shows >25,000 citations on Pesticides and Health, and almost 2000 citations (beginning in 1969) on Pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease. The clear consensus of these legitimate published scientists here is that pesticides are harmful to health (contradicting the bought-and-paid-for corporate “scientists”, whose conclusions are marketed to the public in palatable form by professional marketing psychologists). We were told that “there is no evidence”, and that opposition to GMO’s (read “Pesticides”) was “emotional”; however, anger is an appropriate response to deliberate self-serving corporate deception at the expense of the public’s health.

Health effects of pesticides are synergistic (reinforcing each other), and the average American now carries several hundred of them. These molecules don’t just inhibit an enzyme; they infiltrate and disrupt cell membranes, mitochondrial membranes and nerve myelin sheaths throughout the body. All life on earth depends on the dynamic functioning of cell membranes. Pesticides have been shown to be important contributors to the increasing epidemics of obesity, autoimmune diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. (These diseases were virtually nonexistent before the Industrial Age. Do you know anyone who has one of them now?)

The cover article in the current issue of the Environmental Defense Fund publication shows how some Midwest farmers are helping to save Monarch butterflies from extinction by avoiding glyphosate (Roundup) applications along their migration pathways. A number of (more civilized) countries have banned this pesticide. Monsanto was sued in France for false advertising (for claiming that “Roundup is safe”), and the verdict was upheld by the French Supreme Court. Nonetheless, lobbyists and marketing specialists are swarming over the world trying to get the best corporate deal in as many countries as they can. The real issue is pesticides, not GMO’s. This slick deceptive corporate presentation was a betrayal of our Democratic Club’s progressive values.

Wes Bradford

Parkinson’s Disease: Potential risk factors include environmental toxins, drugs, pesticides, brain microtrauma, focal cerebrovascular damage, and genomic defects.

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Mar 4;18(3). pii: E551. doi: 10.3390/ijms18030551

Scientific American, August 1, 2009 (Editors):
“Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research? Scientists must ask corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops because user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research under the threat of litigation. Unfortunately, they have made it impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. Agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.”

Tony Hale Response to the Rebuttal:

Mr. Bradford’s letter regarding my presentation on GMOs is highly accusatorial without any basis or evidence.  He accuses me of being a corporate shill because he has no argument that can defend his feelings about GMOs.  The bottom line is that he cannot argue against the fact that there is scientific consensus for the safety of GMOs, the same scientific consensus there is for our understanding of destructive climate change.  So, he resorts to using logical fallacies to make his case.  First he uses the Straw Man  Argument by putting words in my mouth and then condemns me for saying things I did not say.

” Plants were modified thousands of years ago in the Dawn of Agriculture, so poisoning our food is OK. There are already poisons in nature (poison ivy, mushrooms, etc.), so poisoning our food is OK. The Agricultural Revolution is helping to feed the starving millions, so poisoning our food is OK.”

I did not say the above nor imply the above.  Mr. Bradford’s pivot to pesticides is also a Moving the Goalpost logical fallacy.  But, let’s look at this issue brought up by Mr. Bradford.  Pesticides and herbicides are difficult things for an environmentalist like myself to defend, but I feel I should explain how the real world to Mr. Bradford.

Pesticides are an unavoidable aspect of modern farming.  Since many pesticides are toxic, their use should be minimized and strongly regulated.  But, for the foreseeable future there is no replacement for them.  Some make the argument that organic farming is the answer, but organic farming uses pesticides even more toxic than the ones used by commercial farmers.  The difference is that organic farming uses natural toxins rather than synthesized toxins.  Short of growing food in your own back yard, there is no way of avoiding exposure to pesticides.

But, there is good news.  Here in the EPA’s own words:

“EPA is confident that the fruits and vegetables our children are eating are safer than ever. Under FQPA, EPA evaluates new and existing pesticides to ensure that they can be used with a reasonable certainty of no harm to infants and children as well as adults. EPA works continually to review and improve safety standards that apply to pesticide residues on food.

 It is important to note though, that just because a pesticide residue is detected on a fruit or vegetable, that does not mean it is unsafe. Very small amounts of pesticides that may remain in or on fruits, vegetables, grains, and other foods decrease considerably as crops are harvested, transported, exposed to light, washed, prepared and cooked. The presence of a detectible pesticide residue does not mean the residue is at an unsafe level. USDA’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) detects residues at levels far lower than those that are considered health risks.”

Ironically, GMOs can also reduce the need for pesticides.  GMO beets use fewer pesticides than non-GMO beets.  GMO eggplants in India use far less pesticides than non-GMO eggplants.

Why is the anti-GMO movement so disconnected from the scientific community?  In large part because the anti-GMO movement is funded by and motivated by the organic food growers.  Organic crops are a 36 billion dollar industry and they are spending millions on anti-GMO efforts.  This is why the main focus of the movement is GMO labeling, because when the public has questions about GMO foods, they are more likely to buy organic.  [A heath tip, make sure you wash your organic vegetables.  Organic consumers are less likely to wash their organic vegetables since they think they are clean.  But, not only are they sprayed with toxins, they are also more likely to contain E.coli.]

Some will say, even if GMOs are not a threat to our health, what is wrong with labeling them?  If they make people feel better about their food, what is the harm?  An example: the Hershey’s chocolate company has announced that they are switching to a non-GMO source for their sugar.  Now, since sugar is a refined chemical, there is no difference between GMO sourced sugar and non-GMO sourced sugar.  They are exactly the same.  But, there is a problem switching from sugar beets to sugarcane, cane fields must be burned down in the harvesting process.  The burning of canes fields produces large amounts of air and water pollution and contributes to global warming.  This is not a good tradeoff for appealing to the unfounded fears of some consumers.

Modern science is complicated, and since none of us are experts in all fields of science, we must look to scientific consensus to judge which opinions have merit.  I took on this controversial subject because I wanted the Democratic Party to be the party of science.  I believe by consistently holding to solid scientific opinion, we will be better able make our case against destructive climate change.  And, when we are out spent by large corporations, our integrity in our use of science is one of our few tools in the fight for stronger regulations and smarter public policy.

Tony Hale
Executive Board Member
California Democratic Party
Former Environmental Caucus Chair
Former President of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Democrats

And, because I’m not paid for any of this, the worst possible corporate shill ever.

1 Comment

  1. Doing some internet research, I found that GM drought-tolerant crops could go a long way toward decreasing agricultural water use. However, the issues raised in the article at this link addressing GMOs are especially troubling to me: https://www.farmaid.org/issues/gmos/gmos-top-5-concerns-for-family-farmers/.
    The concerns are:
    1. Concentration and corporate power
    2. Contamination (“genetic drift”)
    3. Superweeds and superpests
    4. Biodiversity
    5. Patents
    I do not feel these concerns regarding GMOs have been fully addressed.

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