The New Yorker published a lengthy piece in this week’s issue (“Seeds Of Doubt” Aug. 25th, 2014) by staff writer Michael Specter. This is The New Yorker’s first in-depth article on GMOs. The article profiles the the very popular and well known and perhaps the world’s leading food activist Vandana Shiva, who is from India. India has become a major battleground in the GMO wars.
While giving plenty of space for quotations from Ms. Shiva, and initially praising her significant accomplishments, no other voice is heard in support of her activist anti-GMO stance. We do hear from the head of the Rockefeller Foundation (which created the Green Revolution in the 1960′s, precursor to GMOs- resulting in a vastly increased use of oil-based pesticides and fertilizers) and we do hear from pro-GMO activist Mark Lynas, and we even hear from the president of Monsanto himself- while Vandana Shiva’s words remain unsupported and undefended. The article slowly and cleverly morphs from a journalistic valentine to an emotionally charged, one-sided hit-piece that is not really a profile at all, but rather an advertisement for GMO food.
The article’s pro-GMO voices consistently repeat that they are “science-based realists”. Specter in contrast describes Vandana Shiva as “dangerous”, “religious” a “mystic”, all the while calling into question her scientific qualifications. This is usually the main line of attack against the organic farming, anti-GMO movement- that it is anti-science.
The truth however is actually the opposite. Specter has ingeniously cherry-picked his science: he calls GMOs safe even though there has never been a single scientific study undertaken on humans that can support his statement! Not one. In fact, multiple animal and soil studies have confirmed that there are many hazards to animal health from consumption of GMOs and their attendant pesticides. Hundreds of scientists have signed a declaration stating that GMOs have not been proven to be safe. Specter, Lynas et. al. ignore all of this information. That’s not very scientific, and it’s not journalism.
While attacking Shiva’s rhetoric Specter does not use science at all, just the opinions of the GMO-huggers he interviews. All rhetoric and false promises aside, the real science shows that GMOs have in fact created super-bugs and super-weeds and increased the use of pesticides, while yields are falling as they harm soil fertility, according to Professor Emeritus at Purdue and soil specialist Don Huber, who also goes un-interviewed for the article. GMO crops are also in fact less nutritious and highly allergenic, creating inflammatory conditions in the gut (proven in a pig sudy). Chronic gut inflammation can lead to any major disease. Yet Specter makes it seem as if all scientists everywhere support GMOs because GMOs are ‘scientific’. As if science is some kind of messiah from the mind, some kind of pinnacle of purity in the human condition. But that’s not very scientific. Nuclear bombs and strip-mining are also scientific. Frankenstein and killer drones are scientific. Thalidomide and DDT are scientific. There is such a thing as bad science. To not admit that is bad science.
The cleverness of Specter’s “Seeds Of Doubt” lies in the fuzzy feel good-ism and righteous concern: he makes you feel like he really cares about poor people and that he really cares about the problems plaguing modern industrial agriculture, towards which he makes a brief head feint of acknowledgement only to quickly abandon the topic. “Seeds Of Doubt” closely resembles an article recently published in Forbes Magazine, which never met a GMO it didn’t like, by John Entine, which attacks Shiva with similar talking points while lacking Specter’s fuzzy feel-good warm-up. Specter even makes Shiva look like a cult leader. One of the young people attending her speech in Florence is quoted as saying she feels “magic” in her “presence”. Meanwhile the science is left on the floor.
Another fact unmentioned is that GMOs are completely unneeded, even with a growing population. There is actually a world-wide food surplus according to the United Nations. Organic farming can feed the world, (according to another United Nations report) and while feeding the world it could provide full employment. Organic farming, or its cousin, bio-sustainable farming, could greatly decrease disease by phasing out pesticides, saving us a fortune on health care. With organic farming we would not have events like toxic algae blooms that poison an entire supply of water for a large city.
Specter defends GMOs by making the misleading claim that “nearly all the plants we cultivate…have been genetically modified”. This is true, only because everything alive is genetically modified every time it reproduces, only it is done naturally, within species boundaries, with the sole exception to the species boundary limit for genetic modification being modern laboratory-produced GMOs. This is another tactic of the GMO crowd that thinks we need only one kind of ‘science’ to feed ourselves- they can just claim every natural process as ‘science’! I guess they are right, which means that organic farming is scientific, and it is: organic and conventional (non-GMO) farming yields are skyrocketing using the help of modern science. Check it out here and here.
Specter cleverly makes Vandana Shiva look not only like a “wild-eyed mystic” but also a wild-eyed kook, when he quotes her as saying that “there is no independent science any more, Monsanto controls it all”. Many scientists that support bio-tech work for bio-tech companies or government sponsored bio-tech research projects where they are very handsomely paid. Bio-tech companies have partnered up with all major universities to sponsor research. Some other scientists claim they are intimidated and harassed by biotech groups to stifle their results if they are not favorable to the biotech industry. When an independent study appeared in a peer-reviewed journal last year from French scientist Giles Seralini that implicated glyphosate and GMO soy as a source of cancer and tumor formation, a former Monsanto employee at the journal, who had become their new editor actually yanked the study and apologized for it, despite the fact that it was obviously a well done study that demanded further studies. Shiva is right in principle. Science is being controlled by corporate interests. The study has since been republished and independent scientists have expressed their support for it. It’s odd that Specter did not interview Seralini for his GMO article, but then again he’s just not very scientific.
Specter makes the bald-faced claim that glyphosate, Monsanto’s flagship pesticide product, is 270 time safer than Atrazine- which happens to be one of the most toxic pesticides on the planet. And diphtheria is less toxic than tetanus! Why didn’t Mr. Specter’s search engine reveal to him the numerous peer-reviewed studies that have implicated glyphosate in birth defects and other serious problems? Not very scientific.
The article also ignores the fact that advances in drought tolerance, increased yields and pest resistance have soared in crops that are NOT genetically engineered, while GMOs have failed spectacularly in every single one of those areas. Again, not very scientific. Those non-GMO crops are not patentable, and will not create massive profits. They will only feed people.
Specter makes it seem as if genetically engineered crops are everywhere plentiful, when in fact they account for less than 3% of the world’s farm acreage. Most of them are not approved for human consumption and are mostly used to feed livestock or to make ethanol- not mentioned by Specter.
Specter’s only real defense of GMOs is made using cotton, which of course isn’t even a food, but it has become a popular use of GMOs and is the only GMO crop grown in India. Typical to Specter’s brand of journalism, he almost completely ignores any downside to GMO cotton, (while quoting two farmers that make it seem like a miracle). Specter ignores reports that GMO cotton yields are now falling, and that the cotton bollworm has developed resistance and that organically cultivated cotton is producing high yields. Specter’s writing subtly implies that there is no real alternative to GMOs.
Has Shiva made some mistakes, has she mis-spoken occasionally in her thousands of speeches and more than 20 books in over 40 years of activism? No doubt she has! She is probably the only voice to have gained a prominent platform in the effort to expose the fallacies and dangers of GMOs. The scientific evidence showing GMOs to be unnecessary and dangerous is overwhelming. The evidence exposing Monsanto’s own in-house safety studies as phony science is overwhelming. The evidence showing that organic farming is healthier and better for the economy is overwhelming. But because biotech offers the potential to actually patent the very food you eat, corporate support and therefore mainstream media support for them is completely one-sided. Food is bigger than oil and pharmaceuticals and defense contracting put together. It is the most important physical component of the human condition, and corporations want complete control of it. You cannot patent an existing life form, but if you tinker with it’s genes in a laboratory, the Supreme Court says you can have a patent. You then profit from that food every time someone eats it forever! It is the ultimate hedge fund Wall St. corporate daydream.
Shiva is ridiculed for having urged India to reject GMO grains after a cyclone in the Indian state of Orissa. Hasn’t Specter read “Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein, about disaster capitalism never wasting a humanitarian crisis for an economic opportunity? Philanthropic Capitalism is no longer a secret known only to the Rockefellers. Even Haiti refused GMO seeds after the earthquake. What do they know that Specter doesn’t? Once you start on the GMO path, your food is patented and you are licensing the right to use it. Even his argument in favor of patent-free “Golden Rice” (another favorite feel-good tactic of the pro-GMO wild-eyed realists) is specious and disingenuous. A 25-cent Vitamin A pill works easier, faster and is much much cheaper than a genetically modified staple like rice, the introduction of which, if it has a trajectory like GMO corn, soy and canola, will create multiple pesticide-laden problems. But by pulling on our sentiments, and claiming that they only want to help with nutritional deficiencies of poor children, they hope to open a door for the acceptance of GMOs in general. Golden Rice is just more phony philanthropy. Meanwhile it is Shiva who is portrayed as “blinded”, “religious” and “dangerous”, a person who “says whatever she wants” like an “end-of-days mystic”, while GMO huggers peddle pesticides.
In truth it’s the GMO-huggers who are the alarmists, creating fears of starvation, endless malnutrition, blindness and doom if we don’t immediately implement GMOs in Africa and Asia. How come Lynas et. al. don’t know that there is actually a food surplus in the world? These ‘science mystics’, believe all is well if you only trust the scientists and their corporate or government experts. Their arguments are the ones that actually sound religious. They also seem to believe that small farmers are ignorant and backward, and while feeding the world for 10,000 years, they are now just no longer capable of doing so without advanced western know-how that is less than 20 years old, and fraught with enormous problems, tied to intensive poisonous chemical inputs. “Trust us”, he implies, “we really do care, and we really do know what’s best for you.” Meanwhile real studies show that small-scale farming is much more efficient and productive and ‘green’ than industrial agriculture, as a study by the National Research Council proclaims. Jeez Mr. Specter- got science?
There is a place for genetically modified food. In the laboratory. When you wild eyed GMO-huggers can do a multigenerational safety test on animals, a 15-year safety test on humans, solve the super-weed and super-bug problem, create a truly non-toxic pesticide, then we will call it Good Science. Not that we really need it. But bring it on.