The video ’10 Worrying Facts About Genetically Modified Foods’ is a prime example of why we should be ridiculing the vast majority of people opposed to genetic engineering instead of listening to their purposely uneducated and uninformed views on the technology. Most of the “facts” contained in this video are trivial to counter and often are not about the technology at all. For example, one states that a scientist had their family threatened if they were to release research that showed a link between detrimental health effects and the consumption of GMOs. This has nothing to do with the safety of GMOs and falls within paranoid conspiracy territory. Also this threat must have been at the perfect level of intimidation preventing the scientist from publishing their work and telling the authorities but not threatening enough to prevent them from telling the media. If we stand back a second, we realise how unethical this scientist is. Don’t get me wrong - I love my family, but if I had uncovered evidence suggesting that GMOs were harming the population, no force on Earth would stop me from making my research public. Also, in a time where you can be anonymous online this scientist has no excuse to not publish their data.
Another “fact” says that there was a rise in allergies in the 90s which coincidentally was the decade GMOs became available to the American public. This argument holds no water as you could easily replace GMOs here with Spice Girls and it would still hold the same merit. There were, however, three examples of worrying facts about genetically modified foods that I had not heard before. Ones that have a single pixel of truth, but have been spun to the point where they are barely recognisable. In this article I am going to discuss these examples and hunt down their sources to show why they are not reasons to fear GM-food.
Fact number ten states that “a pesticide made from scorpion poison has been injected into cabbages”. The reference given to back up this claim comes from the British newspaper The Independent…..and thats as much detail as we are given. There isn’t even a link to the article in the video description and it is left up to the viewer to hunt down the original source. After searching for a while, I believe this “fact” comes from one of two articles ‘Scorpion’s genes used to engineer pesticide: Venom introduced into virus kills caterpillars more quickly and highlights alternatives to chemicals’ or ‘Scorpion pesticide test goes ahead: Scientists undeterred by fresh evidence about potency of virus’. Both discussed a scorpion based pesticide and both were published in 1994 in the Independent. They seem to be referencing the work of virologist David Bishop who was investigating the viability of a GM-virus that would express the androctonus australis hector insect toxin (a insecticide which affects voltage-gated sodium channels) in a specific target host. I realise that this is painfully obvious, but I think it’s worth pointing out… This is not about a GM-food – it’s about a Pesticide and therefore should not be included in this video. The fact that it never made it past the initial testing phase shows either the incompetence or deceitfulness of the creator of the video, who is obviously trying to scare the viewer. Also, (and I know this sounds like nit picking…) you probably should not trust the scientific knowledge of someone who seems to think that scorpions have “poison” and not venom. It is true that transgenic plants that express androctonus australis hector insect toxin were later investigated but they are still in the testing phase and not on the general market.
Fact number five states that “there is some suggestion that GMOs have a link to the controversial Morgellons Disease. The illness supposedly creates the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin” The source this time comes from the Huffington Post, which I have tracked down to the article ‘What’s the Big Deal About Genetically-Modified Organisms?’. The article was written by Edison de Mello, M.D., Ph.D. who has an intimidating CV, yet cites laughably bad sources in his laughably bad article. For example, when he talked about the supposed link between Morgellons Disease and GMOs does he cite a peer-reviewed paper or clinical trial to back up his claims? Nope – he references the intellectual black hole which is Natural News. The website is a joke and on a daily basis promotes potential life threatening medical advice and snake oil to people who don’t need it. It is also host to some of my favourite people that I have met on my travels here on the internet, including “Doctor” Bob, Liam Scheff, and Heidi Stevenson. The paragraph in the Natural News article talking about Morgellons Disease frankly makes no sense. I know what all the words in the paragraph mean separately, but when put together, I don’t have a clue what its talking about. After reading it several times I believe it says that DNA was extracted from fibre samples taken from patients suffering from the condition, and it was shown to be a fungus…and a bacteria. The strange thing is that there is no mention of a GMO; nor – as you would expect from Natural News – a source to back up their ludicrous claims. And as they say what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
Fact number two states that “a GM species of corn is based on a chemical component of the Vietnam war defoliant agent orange. This chemical doused deformities in exposed children” Although I was unable to track down the original source from the BBC, I was able to find it in the scientific literature. Approximately 75,700,000 l of agent orange was used in the Vietnam War to defoliate rural/forested land, depriving guerrillas of food and cover. As well as deforesting a large portion of Vietnaem it was also responsible for some horrific effects in human including birth defects. First it is important to mention that agent orange is not one chemical as suggested by the video but instead is meant to be a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). The reason I said ‘meant’ is because it was later discovered that side products (like TCDD) were being synthesised during the synthesis of 2,4,5-T and it was these side products coupled with the toxicity of 2,4,5-T causing the horrific effects in humans. Because of this 2,4,5-T was phased out as a herbicide in the 1970s. 2,4-D however is still used today and one of the most widely used in the world and the third most commonly used herbicide in North America. Recently scientist have produced a thrangentic plant resistant to 2,4-D. Just to clarify it is resistant to 2,4-D it does not synthesize the herbicide – a common misconception of people who bash GMOs. If 2,4,-D was not used on the plant, you could not tell the difference between the transient and natural one.
What’s most disappointing and depressing about this video is not it’s content, but it’s rating. Although people in the comment section are doing their best to call the video makers out on their bullshit, the video has been watched nearly a half million times and has received a ‘thumbs up’ 11k times, yet only ‘thumbs down’ of 1.5k. The vast majority of people watching lapped this up without giving it a second thought and some even defending the video makers’ decision not to list their sources, calling people asking for them “lazy”. The only explanation I can give for this is that the vast majority of people want to believe that GMOs are bad for you – that they want to believe that there is a conspiracy hiding the truth of GMOs from the public. This would not be such an issue if it was only about what food the average middle-class North American buys at their local shopping centre, but more often than not this kind of fear mongering is being used to prevent further research of the technology… a technology that has the potential to save millions of lives and improve the lives of billions.