Fans of GMOs assert that their use in crops and livestock can help end hunger. They also claim that GMOs can help stop climate change, reduce pesticide use and increase crop yields.Are these claims true? We conclude no.The international report The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes outlined evidence gleaned from many sources. The report is available free at goo. gl/52wuq.GM crops do not produce more food or use fewer pesticides, the report said. As resistant weeds and bugs develop, farmers apply ever more herbicides and insecticides. “The biotech industry is taking us into a more pesticide-dependent agriculture, and we need to be going in the opposite direction,” says Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety.If GM crops don’t increase yield, don’t reduce pesticide use and show no significant promise for feeding the world, why do government and industry promote them?35   If GMOs fail, shareholders in Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and other companies will see their investments plummet. According to Yahoo! Finance, more than 80 percent of Monsanto’s stock is held by institutional holders such as Vanguard and funds such as Davis, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price.If GMOs don’t benefit the farmers who pay more to buy GM seed, and if they don’t benefit the customers who eat them unknowingly, who gains from GMOs?Stockbrokers. And you, if you have investments that own stock in Monsanto or other biotech companies.

Seed Monopolies

Monsanto now controls so much of the world’s seed stock that the U.S. Justice Department launched an “unprecedented series of public meetings” into the company’s business practices as part of a formal antitrust investigation in March 2010. “The price of a bag of soybean seed, for example, has roughly quadrupled since Monsanto began licensing genes,” the Wall Street Journal reported.The Seed Industry Structure chart (available at demonstrates how tightly consolidated the seed industry has become. That’s one reason why Monsanto’s name comes up again and again in any conversation about GMOs: The company is far and away the largest involved in GM patented seed.40 The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes also includes an appendix detailing Monsanto’s long corporate history of misleading research, cover-ups, bribes, and convictions in lawsuits covering a range of issues, from Agent Orange to toxic waste discharge to GM soybeans.

The Right to Know

The FDA and GMO supporters say that labeling GM foods would be cumbersome and costly, ultimately raising food prices.Labeling proponents point to the European Union, Russia, Brazil, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, all of which require labels for GM foods, and report costs are far lower than the industry and the FDA claim.Survey after survey and poll after poll have shown that consumers overwhelmingly favor labeling.In October 2011, the Center for Food Safety filed a petition demanding the FDA require labeling on all food produced using genetic engineering. The center filed the petition on behalf of the Just Label It! campaign, a coalition of more than 350 organizations and individuals concerned about food safety and consumer rights. The FDA’s governing rules require it to open a public docket where citizens can comment on the petition. See more about the Just Label It! Campaign in the box below.45   FDA officials have openly criticized efforts to label GM crops and food. In 2002, when Oregon voters considered Measure 27, a mandatory GMO labeling law, FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford said in a letter to the governor of Oregon that mandatory labeling could “impermissibly interfere” with the food industry’s ability to sell its products, and could violate interstate commerce laws.The Oregon initiative was soundly defeated, and money was the reason why. “Monsanto took the financial lead against Measure 27, with contributions totaling $1,480,000. Next was Dupont, with $634,000,” said Cameron Woodworth in Biotech Family Secrets, a report for the Council for Responsible Genetics. Biotech companies Syngenta, Dow Agro Sciences, BASF and Bayer Crop Science, plus the Grocery Manufacturers of America (a trade organization), PepsiCo, General Mills and Nestle USA contributed $900,000 by the reporting date, Woodworth wrote.Other high-ranking federal officials have lobbied against labeling. “If you label something, there’s an implication there’s something wrong with it,” said Jose Fernandez, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs.The assertion that labeling somehow implies inferior quality is transparently specious.Fruits and vegetables labeled “organic” made up the highest growth in sales of all organics in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association, up 11.8 percent from 2009 sales.50   If the facts in this article anger you, see the steps in the box below to help you opt out of GM foods.Have thoughts on genetically modified foods? Post your comments on the online, expanded version of this article.

What You Can Do About GMOs

■ If you think GM foods should be labeled, sign on to the Just Label It! campaign. Send letters to the FDA and your congressional representatives to urge them to require labeling of GM foods and products. You’ll find sample language and a petition at

■ If you grow your own food, buy your seed from companies that have signed the GMO-free pledge. See the Safe Seed list, maintained by the Council for Responsible Genetics, at

■ Buy organic whenever possible, and look for foods labeled “Non-GMO verified.” The Non-GMO Project is an independent nonprofit that requires independent, third-party verification before awarding its label. Find more at

■ Help combat seed industry monopolies and build local food security by supporting local growers who refuse to use GM products, and work to pass food sovereignty laws in your community. Learn more from food sovereignty expert Dr. Vandana Shiva’s blog at

■ Finally, if you have investments, consider moving out of funds that invest in biotech stock. If you are unable to do so, write letters to your fund’s managers to object to this investment strategy.

Wrong-Headed Victory

michael le page

Michael Le Page is the environment features editor at New Scientist magazine, where he covers issues ranging from climate change to genetics. This opinion piece appeared in New Scientist on November 17, 2012.

Imagine there are two plates of food in front of you. One is labelled “natural”, the other “genetically modified”. Which would you choose? I know what I’d do. Regardless of what the logical side of me knows, I’d feel more comfortable eating “natural” food.In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be a problem. If people don’t want to eat GM food, they shouldn’t have to, regardless of whether their reasons are rational or not. Food is about so much more than just stuffing down nutrients, after all, and how we feel about what we eat really does matter.Trouble is, the world is far from ideal. Nearly a billion people go hungry because they cannot grow or buy enough food. And there are problems with the food we do eat. An estimated 2 billion people suffer from a lack of iron, causing everything from tiredness to premature death. Around 250 million preschool children are short of vitamin A, leading to blindness in the worst cases.The outlook is grimmer still. There will be ever more mouths to feed, and ever more challenges facing farmers. Fuel and fertilisers are becoming more costly, soils are eroding or becoming saline, pests and diseases are evolving to outwit our defences. To add to our woes, the climate is changing and the weather becoming more extreme. In fact, farming is a massive part of this problem—it contributes more to global warming than all the world’s cars, trains, ships and planes put together. Rising food prices not only cause suffering, but also threaten political stability.5   So the world desperately needs better crops. The good news is that they can be improved dramatically. We know it’s possible to boost yields by improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, for instance, because some plants have already evolved this improvement. Similarly, there’s no doubt we could create crops that need less water, grow in salt water or make their own nitrogen fertiliser, for instance. As for making grains and fruits richer in iron or vitamin A, it’s already been done.So why aren’t people in poor countries already eating healthier food, richer in iron and vitamin A? Partly they can’t afford to pay for it, so commercial companies have little incentive to develop such crops. Instead, such work has to be funded by public money or philanthropists such as Bill Gates.A big part of the problem, of course, is the vociferous objection to GM foods. While the line between conventional breeding and genetic engineering is increasingly blurred, it is generally only practical to produce crops with complex new properties by deliberately modifying their DNA, rather than inducing random mutations and hoping a few will have the desired trait (as in conventional breeding).The opposition to GM crops is making it much harder to get funding to carry out the necessary research and to get over all the regulatory hurdles. Earlier this year, for instance, campaigners attacked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for funding the development of nitrogen-fixing crops that could boost yields without boosting emissions of the highly potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Simply not needed, apparently. Greenpeace, meanwhile, tried to halt field trials of vitaminA-rich “Golden Rice” in the Philippines, on the ludicrous basis it would deter the consumption of vegetables.The Monsantos of this world have the economic muscle needed to get crops approved despite protests, but for cash-strapped universities, it’s a different story. Their development of the crops we so desperately need is being impeded by anti-GM protesters.10   How can this opposition be overcome? Not by rational argument, that’s for sure. Even for those who understand that nature is the ultimate mad scientist, and that plants are riddled with all kinds of genetic modifications, from mistakes made during DNA replication to insertions of viral DNA, it doesn’t make existing GM crops any more appealing.Rather, we need to win people’s hearts as well as their minds. And the way to do that is to make GM foods appealing. Instead of crops designed mainly to boost the profits of large corporations, we need a new generation of GM crops that offers clear benefits to consumers, from looking better to tasting better to being better for us. Scare stories about cellphones causing cancer didn’t stop them taking off because they are so useful. Similarly, scare stories about GM foods will lose their power if GM products that help prevent cancer or heart disease can be bought in supermarkets.The very last way to win hearts is to trick people to eat GM crops by not telling them what’s in their food. Californians may have voted down the proposal for mandatory labelling of GM foods—Proposition 37—after food firms spent $45 million on TV ads telling them it would raise food prices, hurt farmers and spark legal wrangles. Few consumers will be any keener on eating GM food, though—quite the contrary.Prop 37 was flawed, and many of the arguments for it were nonsense. Its opponents argued that the science says there are no ill effects of eating GM, so labelling, which might deter GM consumption, is unnecessary. A triumph for science over anti-science then? No. The argument against Prop 37 really boiled down to something more disturbing: “If we tell people what’s in their food, they will make the wrong choice, so we shouldn’t give them one.”Why is the US of all places protecting GM foods rather than letting them sink or swim in a free market? Companies should instead persuade people that their new products are better than the alternative.15   If all countries insisted on GM labelling, corporations would be forced to convince consumers of the benefits. As it stands, in California the companies who have helped engender such rabid distrust of GM foods have been let off the hook. Prop 37 could have been a catalyst for change. Instead the status quo remains—and we’ll all be the losers in the end.

Harley, I’m Worried About Gene Transfer

john hambrock

John Hambrock draws the syndicated comic strip The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee, a character who is a ten-year-old inventor obsessed with politics and the ironies of life. This strip was published on July 2, 2013.

Monsanto’s Reasons for Fighting GMO Labeling? It Loves You


joe mohr

Joe Mohr draws environmentally themed cartoons for publications including Yes! Magazine, Greenpeace, the Center for Media and Democracy, PBS’s Urban Conversion, and other publications. He is also the creator of the comic strip Hank D and the Bee. This cartoon was published on October 24, 2013.

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