A few years ago, next to a small barn converted into a winery, I noticed a flyer asking voters to support Measure M, an initiative in Sonoma county that sought to ” prohibit the raising, growing, propagation, cultivation, sale, or distribution of most genetically engineered organisms.”
It pictured the destruction in New Orleans wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the bewildered gaze of George W. Bush. The flyer proclaimed “Who do you trust with your family’s health and safety? When FEMA failed, more than a million Americans suffered.”
That flyer was typical of the misinformation about GE crops, aimed more at alarming consumers than helping voters understand the issues. I am certain that flooding was not one of the dangers posed by GE foods. Furthermore, it is doubtful that President Bush knew anything about the local initiative nor was much interested in science or agriculture.
Ironically, this lack of scientific scrutiny, willingness to pass on unsubstantiated rumors and fear mongering through the media were equally manifest in President Bush’s campaign to launch war in Iraq. In 2002, high profile news stories focused on the Bush Administration’s insistence of the dangers from weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq and the need for a preemptive strike. As the world now well knows, this information was not correct. So why did Bush’s opponents imitate his methods? And why, today, do Obama’s opponents spread false rumors that the newly passed health care law will create government-sponsored “death panels“?
As my colleague Sarah Hake, a professor of corn geneticist at UC, Berkeley, says, “fear sells, data do not. Simple successes of genetic engineering in agriculture are not often heard in the popular press-rather we are given a smorgasbord of reasons to be afraid. Supporting Anti-GE measures simply shut the door rather than allowing important questions to be asked about the environmental and food safety risks and benefits of GE crops” (Bolinas Heresay News 2004).
One of the strangest descriptions of genetic engineering can be found in the book “Genetic Roulette” by Jeffrey Smith. In it, he details 65 separate, “documented” claims that the technology causes harm in a variety of ways.
Fortunately for those interested in science-based information about GE crops, two food science and biology academics today are launching a new Web site, Academics Review, to examine claims against GM foods by Jeffrey Smith. Click here to see each of those claims – referred here as Myths — stack up against peer-reviewed science.
Founders Bruce Chassy, Ph.D, professor of food microbiology and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dr. David Tribe, Ph. D., senior lecturer in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, authored a point-by-point scientific analysis of Smith’s claims, which is posted on the site.
“Reliable information is extremely important to enable people to make healthy choices,” said Tribe. “We hope Academics Review will be a resource for anyone who respects the open-minded search for truth that is the basis for scientific thinking.”
Chassy and Tribe point out anyone searching the Internet for information to help them decide on the safety of GM foods would likely find a lot by Jeffrey Smith, who, like many people pushing advice online, isn’t an expert on the issue.
“Much of the ‘evidence’ Smith cites for his theories about GM foods has never been peer-reviewed or examined by the international community of scientists for verification,” said Chassy.
Chassy and Tribe applied the same scientific method they teach their students to Smith’s claims, posting the blistering results of their review of Genetic Roulette in clear, understandable language. The site can be accessed for free by anyone seeking to base their decisions on the best information available.
“When Wendell Phillips in 1852 said ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,’ he may as well have been referring to Jeffrey Smith,” said Chassy. “We all have to be vigilant about what to believe, especially when it comes to our health.”