Edited by Peter
I have previously written articles critical of Sue Mallender and Tracey Lloyd, who gave speeches at the March Against Monsanto protest in Nottingham earlier this year. As well as being factually incorrect and misleading, their speeches were about as interesting as a wet fart. There was no passion behind anything these women said; nor were they able to get the crowd worked up on that particularly wet day back in May. They also did not have the knowledge or the understanding to tackle this complicated subject and were easily derailed by very basic questions. There was, however, one person that day who had done her homework. Someone who was also a speaker but, unlike the other two, had charisma and passion. Her name was Kay Haw and in this article I am going to critique the research I believe she is quoting.
Kay, who for some strange reason decided to attend the march in painting gear and devil horns, was kind enough to let me interview her before the march began. Looking back at the footage, I can say with some certainty that she was the only one that day who actually knew why she was there in the first place. Most, when questioned about GMOs, gave very vague and almost incoherent answers, but Kay KNEW that GMOs were dangerous and was able to tell me why.
Interview of Kay whilst at the March Against Monsanto protest
After the polite introduction Kay begins to talk about why you should avoid eating not just one specific GMO, but GMOs in general. She says, “There are experiments out there that say the act of genetically modifying something actually effects our internal organs and has a detrimental effect on our bodies”. This claim is parroted on nearly all anti-GMO websites, but very few of them actually reference where it comes from. The few sites that do reference other anti-GMO websites, in turn, go on to reference other anti-GMO websites. When you finally track it down to the source (if it exists at all) it will ether be an off the cuff remark or a blog-post written by an anti-GMO scientist who would be mocked if they ever tried to publish their hypotheses in a peer-reviewed paper. Why, I hear you ask? Because everyone with a basic understanding of cell biology knows how foolish this remark is. There is no possible mechanism that would encompass every singe technique used to produce a GMO that would inherently make GMOs toxic. This idea really comes from a lack of understanding of what a GMO physically is. In fact, you could make the argument that we all (and nearly everything we eat) are GMOs because of endogenous retroviruses.
Kay later goes on to talk about the dangers of feeding GMO food to livestock. She says, “They have started feeding healthy animals – perfectly healthy animals genetically modified feed and they are dying. And then they have done tests. When these tests have been done, that has been linked back to genetically modified feed” She then goes on to talk about one such study. “They put sheep in three different fields. I think it was one with Bt cotton, one with ordinary cotton, and one with pesticides on the cotton but not anything in the cotton. The animals in the genetically modified field died after a month of these tests and the others didn’t”. Ignoring for a second that Bt is used in organic farming (something which Kay promotes) and has been used for over 100 years, is there any research that suggest that GMOs that are capable of producing Bt pose any danger to sheep? This claim is hard to track down because I believe Kay is mixing up several questionable studies, anecdotal evidence, and actual legitimate research.
The idea that Bt-producing GMOs are toxic to livestock gained momentum in the mid 2000s. This was after reports were published claiming that hundreds of sheep died in India as a result of eating Bt-cotton. However, what these reports failed to mention is that sheep dying after eating cotton is nothing new in India – in fact this was commonplace even before the introduction of Bt-cotton.
Some reacted badly upon hearing that GMOs potentially caused the death of hundreds of sheep.
Still this very – to give it more credit that it deserves – tenuous link between Bt-cotton and the mortality of hundreds of sheep was investigated. Samples of the Bt-cotton leaves alleged to be responsible were analysed and discovered to contain high levels of nitrates, nitrites, hydrogen cyanide residues and organophosphates. These relatively high levels of toxic compounds could have come from the soil, fertilisers or pesticides used in cotton cultivation and were the cause of these animals’ deaths and not Bt .
I was able to track down one study that seems very similar to the one Kay was quoting. It was called ‘Sero-biochemical Studies in Sheep Fed with Bt Cotton Plants’ and was designed to investigate the toxicological effects of feeding Bt-Cotton to sheep. The only problem is that it has the opposite conclusion of Kay and states Bt-cotton has no detrimental effect on a sheep.
After Kay told me about the dangers of GMOs and how they have caused the death of animals in scientific studies, I asked her to explain how America still has a population when the majority of the food consumed there contains GMOs. Rather than defending what she just said, she side-stepped the question by saying “But don’t you think that’s a bit weird – that there are all these rates of cancers going up and obesity and other things”. Cancer rates going up are a result of an ageing population who are no longer being killed off by things like smallpox, and increases in obesity is a result of an abundance of food (which in a way is related to GMOs). Neither of these things has to do with what we are talking about, which leads me to believe that Kay knows she is spouting crap.
Normally, people who take the time research the technology come to the conclusion that genetic modification is a tool and not the final product. They have seen that GMOs have been extensively researched and shown to be safe for human consumption and that they have the potential of feeding Earth’s ever growing population. Yes some might not like the business practices of one or more of the companies involved, but that has nothing to do with the safety of their product. For example, if I don’t like Sony that does not mean I am going to say that CD players are dangerous and organise protests against them. This is why I believe the majority of people there that day did not know what they where talking about. If they had done the basic amount of research, they probably would not be there. And this is why Kay stands out from the rest, as she has obviously done her homework and knows how to argue around criticism. This is why I have come to the conclusion that Kay believes GMOs are dangerous because she wants to believe they are dangerous.