- Special Projects
Anti-GMO activists have a problem, and that problem is a complete and total lack of evidence for their outrageous claims about the inherent dangers of GMOs. While they often quote a few thoroughly debunked and discredited studies funded and/or conducted by anti-GMO organizations (which they call “independent” science), they simultaneously ignore the vast body of scientific evidence demonstrating the safety of GMOs.
The scientific consensus on GMOs is backed up by The World Health Organization, The National Academies of Sciences, Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, The Royal Society, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the European Commission and the International Science Academies of every major country, all of whom agree that GMOs are safe to consume and pose no unique health or environmental risks.
This is based upon thousands of safety and environmental studies conducted over decades. In fact, according to a poll of AAAS scientists, there is greater agreement over the safety of GMOs than there is on anthropogenic climate change.
But anti-GMO organizations and individuals routinely ignore the large body of evidence demonstrating the safety of genetic engineering because the evidence is not consistent with their worldview. Instead, they rely on blatant lies, half-truths, and fear mongering in order to scare vulnerable groups into joining their holy crusade against the seed companies.
For example, as journalist Joan Conrow reported last April, in 2012 Hawaii SEED and the Pesticide Action Network conducted “drift tests” in West Kauai to determine whether pesticides were blowing on the wind into people’s homes and schools. According to the group’s meeting minutes: “The Hawaii SEED drift monitoring project is NOT yielding the kind of info to move this work forward. This project will be closed.”
Because the evidence did not support their wild assertions about pesticide drift, they developed a new strategy to target certain vulnerable groups. The minutes go on to report: “Target native Hawaiians , moms, Ag. Laborers, middle class. Goal: Tell the story of epidemic sickness in Hawaii that may be related to pesticides. Use this as ammunition to pressure health department into addressing the effects of pesticides statewide.”
Rather than relying on non-existent evidence to support their claims, they instead decided to assert their beliefs as fact in hopes that would resonate more with their targeted “focus groups.” In other words, they appealed directly to people’s emotions and fears in order to get them to believe in something that they simply could not demonstrate with evidence.
The SHAKA movement on Maui was even more blatant with its propaganda campaign. Their signs promoted everything from thoroughly debunked myth about Indian farmer suicides to the fully discredited Seralini Affair. SHAKA volunteers routinely repeated lies about the dangers of GMOs until confronted by pro-science activists like myself.
When it became clear that their position on GMOs was not supported by the science, they shifted the discussion towards the use of pesticides. Allegations of poisoning of children, oceans, and reefs were standard operating procedure. Zero evidence was provided to support any of these claims, they were simply repeated loudly and often on the streets and over the airwaves until it became “common knowledge” that Monsanto was poisoning Maui.
So what is all of this really about? The answer is an international political movement that has preyed upon unsuspecting Hawaii residents.
The only problem? The ballot initiative which they wrote and collected signatures for did not ban any pesticides, only GMOs. I asked several of the authors and supporters of the ballot initiative and others to show me where in the bill these “dangerous pesticides” are being addressed. I asked each one to name a specific pesticide that is being banned by the initiative, with no answer of course.
But that didn’t stop SHAKA from “educating” the public about the dangers of glyphosate as a reason to support the initiative. They did this fully aware of the fact that the “moratorium” would not ban glyphosate in any way. They produced leaflets and videos, propaganda posters and slick ads, telling the public about how this ballot initiative was to “protect the keiki and the aina” from “poisoning” by pesticides that were not even mentioned in the law itself.
After being questioned, SHAKA members had no answer to why planting GMO papayas should be a felony, or how GMO papayas “poison” the land and people. They were unable to identify any pesticides that were banned by the new law. They were unable to articulate the unique dangers of GMOs or what evidence this belief was based upon. In summary, they had no facts whatsoever to rely on, only fear and the public’s ignorance of modern agricultural practices.
One common talking point that resonated well with the public was that this was about “testing,” but they simply ignored the thousands of tests demonstrating the safety of GMOs. Activists claim that all the studies are “funded by biotech corporations,” but this is simply not true. The European Commission spent over 200 million Euros of taxpayer money studying the GMO issue over a decade and concluded that GMO fruits and vegetables are safe for consumption and the environment when compared to non-GMOs. Anti-GMO activists do not seem to understand the peer-review process or how ruthless it can be.
The Center for Food Safety spent hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning in Hawaii to promote the anti-GMO worldview. They brought in guest speakers to tour the islands talking about Hawaiian sovereignty and the science of biotechnology. They hired a professor of political science to “educate” the community about food safety.
It was not for a lack of funds that these “safety studies” were not conducted, but rather, a fear that the studies may demonstrate the opposite of what they had been claiming this whole time. Rather than spending the money on tests to demonstrate the validity of their claims, they instead used it to focus on using the political system to circumvent the science, which was definitely not on their side. Science is hard. It takes time and energy and a willingness to change your views based upon the evidence. Inciting fear and hysteria is a much easier method of attaining political goals, and it doesn’t require you to adjust your position in any way.
So what is all of this really about? The answer is an international political movement that has preyed upon unsuspecting Hawaii residents. Wealthy white westerners who have never gone without food descended upon our land to spread their anti-GMO propaganda, with the overall goal of eliminating biotechnology here in Hawaii. In their worldview, seed companies are evil and thus any action taken to get rid of them is morally justifiable, including lying and taking advantage of people’s emotions.
This is not about “testing” or “safety” or “the children,” this is a war against the seed companies, and compromise and co-existence are simply not possible for many activists. There is no amount of concessions that the seed companies could give to appease the activists, whose goal is the complete removal of seed companies from Hawaii. No tests, especially one funded or conducted by the seed companies, would ever satisfy them,
My message to the anti-GMO movement is this: You have it within your power to end this debate right here and right now. Demand action from SHAKA, the Center for Food Safety, the Pesticide Action Network, and Hawaii SEED. Tell them to stop spending money on vacations to Europe and Hawaii and start spending it on tests.
There are six labs on Oahu capable of handling these kinds of compliance tests. Hundreds of samples could be taken with the money already spent on “celebrity speakers” and “outreach” drives. Put your money where your mouth is and prove that this really is about the keiki and the aina. If you are confident that the test results will vindicate your position then by all means, let us work together in the interest of science.
I’m more than willing to change my position based upon the evidence. How about you?