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Food Fight: The Truth About GMOs

Right now a debate is raging in the United States about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food. The biotech industry claims that GMOs will save the environment and solve the hunger crisis. But Greenpeace considers GMOs a threat to the planet, and organizations like Christian Aid and the Institute for Food and Development Policy say GMOs are likely to increase world hunger. How can you make sense of this tricky subject? Read on to find out the truth behind the genetic engineering myths.

MYTH #1:
Genetic engineering is merely an extension of traditional breeding.

Genetic engineering is a new technology that has been developed to overcome the limitations of traditional breeding. Traditional breeders have never been capable of crossing fish genes with strawberries. But genetically engineered "fishberries" are already in the field. With genetic engineering, these types of new organisms can be created and released into the environment.1

Food and Drug Administration scientists stated that genetic engineering is different from traditional breeding, and so are the risks.2 Despite this warning, the FDA continues to assert that GMOs are not different and don't require special regulations.

MYTH #2:
GMOs can make foods better, more nutritious, longer-lasting and better-tasting.

The reason for almost all of the 70 million acres of GMO crops grown in this country today has nothing to do with nutrition, flavor or any other consumer benefit. There is little benefit aside from the financial gains reaped by the firms producing GMOs. Nearly all of the GMO corn, soy, potatoes and cotton grown in the United States have been genetically altered so that they can withstand more chemicals or produce their own insecticides.

MYTH #3:
GMO crops eliminate the need for farm chemicals and are necessary for environmentally sustainable farming.

The most widely grown GMO crops actually require the use of chemical herbicides. For example, Monsanto created Roundup-Ready (RR) soy, corn, canola and cotton specifically so that farmers would continue to buy Roundup, the company's best-selling chemical weed killer, which is sold with RR seeds.

Instead of reducing chemical use, one study of more than 8,000 university-based field trials found that farmers who plant RR soy use two to five times more herbicide than non-GMO farmers who use integrated weed-control methods.3

GMOs may be the greatest threat to sustainable agriculture on the planet. Many organic farmers rely on a natural bacterial spray to control certain crop pests. The advent of genetically modified, insect-resistant crops is likely to lead to insects that are immune to this natural insect control. When this biological pesticide is rendered ineffective, other farmers will turn to increasingly toxic chemicals to deal with the "superbugs" created by GMOs. Meanwhile, organic farmers will be out of options.

MYTH #4:
The Government ensures that genetic engineering is safe for the environment and human health.

Neither the FDA, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done any long-term testing of GMOs in food or the environment.. The FDA has acknowledged that it has not established any regulation specific to bioengineered food.4 Biotech companies are on the honor system. They have virtually no requirements to show that this new technology is safe.

FDA scientists and doctors warned that GMO foods could have new and different risks such as hidden allergens, increased plant-toxin levels and the potential to hasten the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease.5

The USDA has reviewed more than 5,000 applications for biotech crop field trials without denying a single one.6

USDA officials say they will start long-term studies of GMO crops, but the agency has not required any pre-market or pre-release assessment. Studies conducted after our environment and food supply have been contaminated will be too late.

MYTH #5:
There is no scientific evidence that GMOs harm people or the environment.

There is no long-term study showing that GMOs are safe, yet the biotech industry and government have allowed our environment and our families to become test subjects in these experiments.

Doctors and scientists around the world have warned that GMO foods may cause unexpected health consequences that may take years to develop.7

Laboratory and field evidence shows that GMOs can harm beneficial insects, damage soil and transfer genes in the environment, modified, contaminating neighboring crops and potentially creating uncontrollable weeds. Already GMO canola in Canada has become resistant to three different herbicides becoming a problem weed in other fields.8

MYTH #6:
GMOs are necessary to feed the developing world's growing population.

In 1998, African scientists at a United Nations conference strongly objected to Monsanto's promotional GMO campaign that used photos of starving African children under the headline "Let the Harvest Begin." These scientists, who represented many of the nations affected by poverty and hunger, said gene technologies would undermine the nations' capacities to feed themselves by destroying established diversity, local knowledge and sustainable agricultural systems.9

Genetic engineering could actually lead to an increase in hunger and starvation. Biotech companies are still eagerly pursuing a genetic engineering technique named "terminator" technology that would render a crop's seed sterile, making it impossible for farmers to save seed for replanting.10 Half the world's farmers rely on saved seed to produce food that 1.4 billion people rely on for daily nutrition.



  1. Rissler, Jane and Mellon, Margaret. The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996, 4-5.)
  2. Discovery documents from the lawsuit Alliance for Bio-Integrity et al v Shalala, May 1998. Center for Food Safety, 666 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, Washington DC, 202-547-9359.
  3. Benbrook, Charles. "Evidence of the Magnitude of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University- Based Varietal Trials in 1998," Ag BioTech InfoNet Technical Paper Number 1, July 13, 1999.
  4. Statement of James Maryanski, FDA Biotechnology Coordinator, Before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, October 7, 1999.
  5. Discovery documents from the lawsuit Alliance for Bio-Integrity et al v Shalala, May 1998. Center for Food Safety, 666 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, Washington DC, 202-547-9359.
  6. Sally McCammon, USDA, "Regulating Products of Biotechnology," Economic Perspectives, US Department of State, vol 4, #4, October 1999.
  7. See British Medical Association, "The Impact of Gene Modification on Agriculture, Food and Health: An Interim Statement," May 1999; Patrice Courvalin, "Transgenic Plants and Antibiotics," La Recherche, May 1998; Rebecca Goldburg and Gabrielle Tjaden, "Are Bt Plants Safe to Eat," January 1991 Global Pesticide Campaigner.
  8. Mary MacArthur, Triple-Resistant canola weeds found in Alberta, Western Producer, February 10, 2000.
  9. "Let Nature's Harvest Continue!" African Counter Statement to Monsanto, at the 5th Extraordinary Session of the FAQ Commission on Genetic Resources, June 12, 1998.
  10. Peter Rosset, "Why Genetically Altered Food Won't Conquer Hunger," New York Times, September 1, 1999


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