How Junk Science Has Infiltrated the GMO Debate in Maine

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In 2014, Maine became the second state to adopt a law requiring labels identifying all products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.  Like Connecticut’s law, which was the first of its kind in the nation, Maine’s GMO labeling law will only go into effect if four other states adopt a similar requirement.  Some Maine activists, however, are pushing to abolish the four state requirement and implement mandatory labeling immediately.

Proponents of labeling claim that there is something inherently dangerous about GMOs.  The scientific consensus on GMO foods, however, is that they are as safe to consume as “traditional” foods.  Why then, do so many Mainers sincerely believe that GMOs are inherently dangerous?

Anti-GMO Activists Engage in Parallel Science

The last several years has seen an increase in what Marcel Kuntz, Director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, calls “parallel science.”

“Political ecologists–commentators in the media and among NGO advocacy groups–like science…when it confirms their views. When it contradicts them, rather than changing their minds, they often prefer to change the science to fit their ideology. They have thus created a “parallel science.”

In parallel science, activists dismiss political opponents as having conflicted interests, having ties to the industry, or being biased.  They then label the research backing their own views as “independent.”  In this way, activists can disregard the mainstream scientific consensus in favor of fringe scientists and research that backs their own particular ideology.  In order to maintain their ideology, activists must disengage from the scientific process while creating a separate, parallel work of scientific research that appears to justify their viewpoint.

In Maine, parallel science has reared its ugly head in the debate over GMO labeling.  Advocates push junk science, while refusing to look at the vast collection of research affirming the safety of products containing GMOs.

Anti-GMO activists like to claim that there are only a few studies on GMOs that can really be trusted–the ones that agree with their ideological viewpoint.  For example, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardiners Association (MOFGA) states on its website, “The few unbiased studies conducted outside the aegis of the biotech manufacturers have indicated that various GE organisms may threaten human health[.]”  Here, MOFGA is engaging in parallel science by claiming (1) all mainstream research on GMOs is biased, and (2) there are only a few independent studies that can really be trusted.

The truth is, GMOs have been the subject of a vast collection of research.  In a survey, Italian researchers cataloged over 1700 studies showing that GMOs had no significant health risks.  “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops,” the researchers concluded.

As of January, only 300 scientists have signed a petition claiming that there is no consensus on GMO safety.  Compare that to the tens of thousands of scientists who have signed petitions opposing the scientific consensus on man-made global warming.  Yet in popular culture, man-made global warming is treated as scientific fact, whereas GMO safety is treated as a conspiracy propagated by corporations like Monsanto.

Anti-GMO Advocates Push Junk Science

Perhaps the most widely used, and seemingly most damning, case cited in these debates is a study by Gilles-Eric Séralini purporting to prove that rats who had been fed pesticide resistant corn developed mammary tumors and liver disease and died shortly thereafter.

That study was, and still is, widely publicized by activists even as mainstream scientists have denounced it.  The study was retracted by the journal it was published in, with the editor stating that the study didn’t hold up to the necessary research standards.  No study since then has been able to replicate Séralini’s results.  Even with this almost universal backlash among mainstream scientists, activists continue to submit the study as proof that GMOs are dangerous.

In Maine, the retracted study continues to be passed around carelessly.  In a recent blog post, former Senate candidate Cynthia Dill wrote, “There isn’t any research that says genetically modified food is dangerous? Have you fallen off your horse? There’s plenty!”  The website she links to cites the retracted rat study as one of 10 studies “proving” that GMOs are unhealthy.  The retracted study also shows up in testimonies submitted on GMO labeling legislation, and was referenced by Maine State Rep. Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) in a floor speech on LD 718, the original GMO labeling bill.

The Path Forward

The fact is, most reputable organizations and scientists agree that GMOs are not dangerous, and the almost hysterical fight for GMO labeling laws is steeped in junk science.  People and organizations across Maine are waking up to the truth about GMOs even as activists push their parallel science.

In an editorial last month, the Portland Press Herald walked back a 2013 statement that the science on GMOs was “unclear.”  Now the newspaper admits that there is a strong scientific consensus supporting consumption of GMOs.  “Critics of GMOs say the FDA does not properly enforce its rules, or that the research upholding the safety of genetically modified food is supported by GMO producers themselves,” states the editorial. “But, again, those claims do not hold up.”

As Maine citizens and legislators look into GMOs, they’re finding that the available data and research isn’t as limited as anti-GMO activists claim.  As Mainers come in line with the scientific consensus on GMOs, parallel science and hyperbolic claims will fall by the wayside.

 

 

 

UPDATE:

An image included in this piece contained at least two inaccurately sourced quotations.  The quotations in questions came from reputable publications and support the claims made here, however, the image has been removed as not to detract from the article as a whole.  This serves as a timely reminder to myself and others to always double check the source before sharing information.  The image used can be found here.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Nice work on this piece. Fear is a difficult emotion to handle; it is not irrational in the mind of those who are afraid. Rather than waiting for legislation, the voluntary labeling of products would help quell the fears of those who doubt and the labeling could also be an opportunity to inform and educate the public; this would demonstrate that food manufacturers have confidence in their products. The resistance to label comes across as having something to hide.

  2. Looks like the author is using not only parallel science, but fabricated science as well. If claims of a consensus were true then the author wouldn’t need to post fake claims.

    For example, the Royal Society of Medicine never said that. The quote originates in an article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and not from the Royal Society of Medicine.
    In the same journal there is a response from medical researcher David Schubert, which points out numerous errors in this article and states, “‘GM crops consumed… with no reported ill effects’ – therefore they are safe. This statement is illogical and the conclusion is not valid. There is no assay and there is no epidemiology. If any GM food product did cause harm it would be impossible to pick up within the constant background of disease, particularly since in the USA, the biggest consumer, there are no labelling requirements.” http://jrs.sagepub.com/content/101/9/435.2.full

    Another example is the claim bout the European Commission. You guessed it, they never said that either. The report that quote comes from specifically states, “The views expressed in this publication are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission.” Not only is the claim fabricated, but the author is clearly using “parallel science”. Funny how he picked one quote from just a few of the many authors in the report, but ignored the quotes that disagree with him. Like this quote that clearly supports labeling, “In addition, the use of traceability systems for post-marketing applications requires new labelling systems that convey all necessary information on the presence of individual GMO varieties to the reader.”

    Not only do quotes in that report support labeling, but the actual European Commission clearly supports labeling. For example :

    EC 1830/2003 “It is necessary to ensure that consumers are fully and reliably informed about GMOs and the products, foods and feed produced therefrom, so as to allow them to make an informed choice of product.”

    EC 1829/2003 “Clear labelling, irrespective of the detectability of DNA or protein resulting from the genetic modification in the final product, meets the demands expressed in numerous surveys by a large majority of consumers, facilitates informed choice and precludes potential misleading of consumers as regards methods of manufacture or production.”

    So why does the author ignore his own references? Oh yeah, because the overwhelming majority of the medical and public health community support labeling so he had to use fabricated and “parallel science”. Let’s look at just a small fraction of what he conveniently omitted :

    British Medical Association (151,000 members): “Many unanswered questions remain, particularly with regard to the potential long-term impact of GM foods on human health and on the environment. There is a lack of evidence-based research with regard to medium and long-term effects on health and the environment…Labelling of GM-containing foods should be continued in order to facilitate further health research and allow the public to choose whether they consume GM food or not.”
    http://www.argenbio.org/adc/uploads/pdf/bma.pdf

    Bundesärztekammer(German Medical Association) (449,000 members):
    “through the application of genetic engineering in the food sector, health risks both during the manufacturing process and also in the consumption of these products cannot be ruled out” “the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, as well as for food (ingredients), produced with the genetic engineering techniques is stressed for precautionary health protection.” In German : “daß durch die Anwendung der Gentechnik im Ernährungsbereich gesundheitliche Gefahren sowohl während des Herstellungsprozesses wie auch beim Verzehr dieser Produkte nicht auszuschließen” http://www.bundesaerztekammer.de/fileadmin/user_upload/downloads/Beschlussprotokoll_100_DAeT_Eisenach_1997.pdf

    American College of Physicians (141,000 members) : “the Board of Regents supports legislation and/or federal regulatory action which requires all foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be clearly labeled.” “the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM) strongly encourage the study of the long-term impact of genetic engineering on the food supply and human health.”
    http://www.acponline.org/about_acp/chapters/bog_action_spring11.pdf

    Australian Medical Association (AMA) (27,000 members) : “Genetically modified foods have been developed and introduced without regard for full and independent safety evaluation, or full and adequate public consultation or rigorous assessment of health impacts.”
    http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp9900/2000RP08
    “There should also be full labelling of genetically modified foods and the current system of labeling for genetically modified foods should include reference to the method of production…The AMA has also called for an alert system whereby medical practitioners can notify authorities if they believe a reaction may have occurred to the consumption of a genetically modified or other novel food.”
    http://www.foodlabellingreview.gov.au/internet/foodlabelling/publishing.nsf/Content/foodlabelsubpublic?OpenDocument&referenceno=1ATAN-85M3G620100520111349FJNI

    California Medical Association (CMA) (40,000 members) : “the CMA support accurate labeling requirements for foods, including genetically modified foods, by appropriate regulatory agencies.”
    http://labelgmoscv.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/california-medical-associations-current-policy-statement-supporting-the-labeling-of-gmos/

    I can post plenty more, but that is already groups representing 800,000 physicians that passed resolutions, etc. in support of labeling. That is probably more than the membership of every group on that list, and unlike that list, which contains mostly general science groups including geologists, social scientists, etc. who have no qualifications to assess human health, my list is of actual health experts.

    It is really pathetic when all the author can do is post fabricated and “parallel science” to support his anti-science beliefs. The consensus in the medical and public health community(the actual health experts and not freaking geology groups) is clearly in favor of mandatory GE food labeling.

  3. How interesting that the same people denying science on GMOs are the same people claiming “settled” science on global warming……. uh, climate change…….um, climate disruption or whatever the current, trendy ambiguity is.

    If stereotypical reliance on hypocrisy was called out on every occasion, leftist ideology would implode overnight.

  4. The author of this piece is just projecting a mirror image of the corrupt junk pseudo-science, call it parallel science if you want to, that makes up the GMO pesticide industry pseudo-science cult religion. They are accusing other of doing the same thing they are doing.

  5. Robert Wagner, I am curious who do you work for? Why are you so interested in the GMO labeling in the Maine, and the USA as a whole? Seems like you should be concerned about Canada. I find it interesting.

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