“The GMO Deception” is, in fact, deceptive

posted in: Science & Society | 15

Recycling can be a very good practice. Re-using components of electronics, waste paper, and food scraps that would otherwise head to the waste stream can be a great idea. However, sometimes re-use doesn’t bring any value. Recycling bad claims and ideas about GMOs helps no one. Unfortunately, The GMO Deception is a prime example of worthless recycling.

A stale, misleading, text worth only about 2 pounds of recycled paper.
A stale and misleading text worth only about 2 pounds of recycled paper.

I found out about this text from Marion Nestle’s blog. She promoted this book in a post and by blurbing for it: This week’s reading: The GMO Deception. It didn’t take me long to find more details about it at the publisher’s site, because I had already been over there that same week. Skyhorse Publishing had just published RFK Jr’s new book on thimerosal and vaccines. And I learned that they had also published Andrew Wakefield’s “Callous Disregard”. This did not bode well for my confidence in scientific rigor, of course.

Unwilling to pay for the book ($24.95 at the publisher’s site), I put my name into my local library queue and waited. My chance arrived a couple weeks ago, and I began to look over the contents. This is when I realized it was almost nothing but regurgitation.

Except for an occasional new piece, or a pre-section wrapper, the material in this tome is mostly cut-and-paste from the GeneWatch archives. That’s right–it’s largely the same material that has been widely ignored for years. It’s possible to use prior material in a thoughtful or introspective way–especially if it offers updated information, or if new and current context is added to further understand the issues and outcomes. But that’s not what has happened in this case.

And sadly, even the new pieces–which could have contained current information–are rife with errors and misinformation. For example, Ralph Nader’s foreword is essentially an anti-corporation screed. When attempting science, there was this laughable result:

Ralph Nader knows the answer to every question.

“More than a decade ago, an Iowa corn farmer told me he liked Bt corn primarily because it allowed him to spend more time with his wife—meaning less time needed for weeding.”

We are perplexed about how Bt corn reduces weeding time. But similarly, Nader re-hashes incorrect or misunderstood claims of many types, none of which would be new to anyone following this topic.

Similarly, the introduction by Krimsky and Gruber offers this odd conflation and incomplete information:

In fact, there have been only two commonly applied major innovations in GMO agriculture: 1) crops resistant to herbicide, and 2) crops that contain their own insecticide. Both methods were designed to find synergies with their corporate sponsor’s existing pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer businesses in order to maximize profits. For example, a farmer who buys Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans would also need to buy Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide.

Ok, we’ll note that they were unable to include the hugely successful publicly-funded papaya project that had nothing to do with these “synergies”. And in addition they are just making up the relationship to fertilizer–the 2 innovations they cite have zero to do with fertilizer. Bt crops do not sell more pesticide–that’s just completely absurd. Dog-piling on the #fail, they neglect to include the fact that Monsanto Roundup has long been off patent and is not needed for Monsanto seeds–farmers can buy this from other sources. They also wildly mis-characterize farmer’s realities about the tech agreements and seed choices. They also leave out the fact that these issues are not unique to GMOs–because that doesn’t suit the case they are making.

In the Biofortified forum I’ll provide a complete list of the chapters that I was able to locate in the GeneWatch archives, which are unevenly available. When there is no link to a site, the volume and issue details will have to suffice. You can likely get back issues from your library if you could be bothered to do so. Some of them are from as far back as the 1980s.

The 2012 Proposition 37 voting map. Blue voted Yes, while orange voted No.

More recent pieces included a 2012 piece by “Pamm Larry and the CRG Staff”; Larry led the California Prop37 efforts. In this short piece, Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods in California, she enthused about their efforts to get the legislation on the ballot. The chapter’s short blurb failed to note that when voters did see this ballot initiative, they rejected it. That’s really just blatant ignorance of reality.

Curiously, the new segment introducing the “Labeling and Consumer Activism” section in which Larry’s piece appears offers this gem from Jeremy Gruber:”The US already allows “process” labels on other products. Kosher foods, for example, are equivalent in nutritional value and taste to non-Kosher foods.”

Why, Jeremy–are you suggesting GMOs are like this, and labels should be handled by a 3rd-party system as Kosher is? Perhaps we actually agree on something. Labeling GMOs is a philosophical issue best handled like voluntary Kosher labeling: Labeling. What is Kosher for a food community?

One new section, the “Conclusion: The Future of GM Food” by Sheldon Krimsky, suffered from all the same problems of outdated information, cherry-picked details, clinging to fringy scientists, and a failure to understand the scientific literature. I howled with laughter at this part:

“In 2009 de Vendomois et al. fed rats three commercialized GM maize varieties and found newly observed side effects with the kidney and liver and other effects observed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen, and blood (hematopoietic) system.6

Reference 6 in the Conclusion Endnotes: “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health” found here: http://www.ijbs.com/v05p0706.htm The de Vendomois team did not feed rats in this study–it was a statistical fishing expedition of previous data, which was summarily denounced by food safety experts around the world. But to see that Krimsky has no understanding of what this study comprised should certainly give a reader pause.

tlogats-3dThis text offers no new insights, it merely re-hashes decades of wild claims and misinformation, and sometimes dishes just flat-out fiction. Most of it is available in the GeneWatch archives, and the new bits are not any different than the same stuff you can find from these authors on other sites.

If you want to read a book of essays that has scientific credibility and insights from current practitioners in the fields of science and agriculture, and which was written entirely in this century, try this e-book for free instead: The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science.  That’s worth your time–and it’s free.

The GMO Deception is full of miscellaneous reused pieces that are deceptive and misleading. It is also completely stale. It’s only real value would be the cost of some recycled paper: about 2 pounds of it. Don’t waste money or time on this book.

  • Wackes Seppi

    Isn’t « The GMO Deception » an honest description of the book, in a way ?

    • Heh. I think Jeffrey Smith has that franchise all tied up though.

  • “More than a decade ago, an Iowa corn farmer told me he liked Bt corn primarily because it allowed him to spend more time with his wife—meaning less time needed for weeding.”

    Seriously? Ralph Nader is careless enough to make such a stupid statement and the editors of this book are careless enough to let such imbecility slip by in the foreword?

    That certainly is not a very promising start!

    • Yeah. And I think this is part of the recycling bad information problem. They all talk to each other and have “yes” folks who don’t challenge them on bad claims and misinformation. So they don’t even know how wrong their grasp is. This is really common.

      I was listening to a good podcast the other day too. #050 – Is Greenpeace Good for the Environment? – The League of Nerds and they were discussing an activist “report”. In the report they bemoan the effect of Bt on lacewings. The guy said he looked specifically at the reference they cited–which said very clearly there was no effect on lacewings. But usually nobody bothers to check.

  • Mlema

    However, there are effects on lacewings and other non-target insects. Not as bad as conventional pesticide use, but in some cases (like cotton) pesticides are used to supplement the bt plant anyway. And of course, with resistance developing, the point is moot. Most of our current agriculture relies very heavily on pesticides – in or on the plant. It’s fine to tout GMOs for reducing harmful effects compared to other pesticides, but it’s just another form which will become ineffective. As we’ve seen, the trend in GMOs is stacked traits and resistance to more harmful pesticides. Just a new and different environmentally-unfriendly treadmill, regardless of how it started out.

    It’s too easy pointing out the ignorance of anti-GMOers. I wish there were more impartial people looking for solutions not only to the problems that GMOs have solved, but to the ones they’ve created as well.

    • Can you expand on this, with evidence: “pesticides are used to supplement the bt plant anyway”? And do specify how it is because of the GMO.

      I’ve seen this: http://kissedafarmer.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-buggy-full-of-gmo-cotton.html

      Thanks to the genetic trait in our cotton that makes it resistant to the boll worm, we did not spray one drop of insecticide on our fields this year. Not one drop. Because we don’t have to spray for the boll worm any longer, the beneficial insects are flourishing and naturally control the other minor pests.

      Or have you just demonstrated exactly the problem that the authors of this text accomplish as well? Blaming other things you dislike on GMOs with unsourced claims, when in fact the GMOs are the thing you should be celebrating?

      And please do explain how organic farming evades evolution–that the strategies are always going to work, and resistance is never overcome. Again, with evidence.

      • Stinkbugs have become more of a problem in cotton in some areas. Or have they? Maybe they were always a problem and now that bollworms are controlled, their effects are more noticeable. Maybe they were previously controlled by the same sprays that have been eliminated due to the effectiveness of Bt cotton. Either way it is hard to claim that is a failing of the Bt cotton system. It might reduce its effectiveness in some situations, but not all.


        • I forgot to mention that insecticide use in cotton had decreased significantly in most of the US before the introduction of Bt cotton because of the boll weevil eradication program. This was a classic case of IPM being used effectively, by using pheromone traps to capture and monitor insect populations, followed by judicious spraying as needed, instead of the previous spray and pray schedule.


  • Mlema


    If bt toxins are used conservatively in the context of IPM, they will be useful indefinitely. Whereas, with failure to employ sufficient refuge, resistance to engineered bt develops.

    I’m not claiming superiority for either case. We make our choices and every one will have pluses and minuses. To me, I see the biggest difference when comparing long-term vs. short-term solutions.

  • Mlema

    here’s the study referred to on the gmo-safety site:

    And just saw your last reply. But don’t understand what you mean “that’s wrong already”. What you’ve said simply illustrates that: resistance will always develop, but is less likely when pesticides are used most judiciously.

    • Your “indefinitely” already expired before GMOs. That’s what’s wrong.

      No mechanism is effective forever. And I firmly stand with Rachel Carson who sought biological means rather than chemical, including genetic modifications. But it is nice to have the evidence that use of Bt supports more beneficial insects, certainly.

  • Mlema

    Again, bt supports more beneficial insects that use of other pesticides. But it’s harmful to non-target beneficial insects. Whether you spray bt or engineer it into the plant, it’s a pesticide. If you fail to use adequate refuge in GE, or if you spray bt too much and too often you get resistance and you’re back to more harmful pesticides.

    This has been shown from both your example and mine. The best use is restrained, judiciously applied bt as part of IPM – NOT indiscriminate spraying and NOT indiscriminate engineering. That’s all I’m trying to communicate. You continue to say that bt GE supports more beneficial insects. I’m saying that the research shows that’s only in comparison to other pesticides. So, that’s a good thing, comparatively. But it doesn’t answer the problem of harming beneficial insects and becoming useless eventually due to failure to employ restraint. That’s all Mary. Hope I’ve finally expressed myself adequately to get my point across. thanks

    • Oh, you want to compare to without pesticides–where you would get no yield in some cases, or greatly reduced yield in other cases. So you’d have to pull more land into production–which is a horrible situation for biodiversity.

      I see now. You want to do your calculation leaving off a major component of the impact. Of course. I think that point is clear, yes, thanks.

  • Mlema

    It would have been nice to see a comparison to an organic field crop where bt was used intermittently as a spray. But we don’t always get what we want. c’est la vie