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In October of 2018, The Conservative Skeptic, aka Outwest @jeh7041, wrote an article titled, “Are GMO’s the Death Sentence We’re Lead to Believe?” https://consskep.com/2018/10/16/are-gmos-the-death-sentence-were-lead-to-believe/

 

Outwest wrote, “I go to the grocery store at least weekly and I’ve come to notice that almost everything I buy, has the notice on it that it’s non-GMO. Why? Where does this fear of science come from? There are absolutely zero scientific studies of genetically modified organisms that have been proven to be harmful to humans. None. Yet, there is a rising belief that there is.”

Even tuna. Yes, you read that correctly, Tuna companies are now probably virtue signaling that their products are non-GMO. Here’s a photo I took recently of a can of tuna:”

tuna

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The US Department of Agriculture provides the following definition of genetic modification and GMO:

Genetic modification: The production of heritable improvements in plants or animals for specific uses, via either genetic engineering or other more traditional methods. Some countries other than the United States use this term to refer specifically to genetic engineering.

Genetically modified organism (GMO): An organism produced through genetic modification.

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Worldwide, the following crops are approved for genetic modification.

  • Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
  • Apple (Malus x Domestica)
  • Argentine Canola (Brassica napus)
  • Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
  • Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)
  • Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
  • Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.)
  • Creeping Bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera)
  • Eggplant (Solanum melongena)
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.)
  • Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.)
  • Maize (Zea mays L.)
  • Melon (Cucumis melo)
  • Papaya (Carica papaya)
  • Petunia (Petunia hybrida)
  • Plum (Prunus domestica)
  • Polish canola (Brassica rapa)
  • Poplar (Populus sp.)
  • Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.)
  • Rice (Oryza sativa L.)
  • Rose (Rosa hybrida)
  • Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.)
  • Soybean (Glycine max L.)
  • Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
  • Sugar Beet (Beta vulgaris)
  • Sugarcane (Saccharum sp)
  • Sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum)
  • Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.)
  • Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)
  • Wheat (Triticum aestivum)

The most common U.S crops approved for genetic modification are corn, soybean and cotton. Modifications include engineering to develop insect and herbicide resistance.

Per the FDA:

“The majority of GE plants are used to make ingredients that are then used in other food products. Such ingredients include:

  • Corn starch in soups and sauces
  • Corn syrup used as a sweetener
  • Corn oil, canola oil and soybean oil in mayonnaise, salad dressings, breads, and snack foods
  • Sugar from sugar beets in various foods

Other major crops with GE varieties include potatoes, squash, apples, and papayas.

Are foods from GE plants safe to eat?

Yes. Credible evidence has demonstrated that foods from the GE plant varieties marketed to date are as safe as comparable, non-GE foods.”

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So, I kept wondering about that tuna and why it would be labeled non-GMO if it was a meat product. Then I ran across this alert provided by TINA (Truth in Advertising).  The alert, titled “BUMBLE BEE TUNA, THE NON-GMO PROJECT AND SOY,” was issued on December 6th, 2018.

TINA explains that it is labeled non-GMO because “the product contains soy, an ingredient that the organization providing the non-GMO certification, the Non-GMO Project, says is at a high risk of GMO contamination as ‘the number one genetically modified crop in the world.’”

When a consumer contacted Bumble Bee to ask what the labeling meant, he was told by a company rep that, “It is the tuna that is a wild fed product… That is what the label is referring to. Not the soy.”

TINA contacted the Non-GMO Project to clarify the labeling. Indeed, the Non-GMO certification refers to the soy included in the Bumblebee product. But it gets more confusing from there.

The Non-GMO project, which requires a $70 fee to receive its seal of approval, explains further that Non-GMO does not mean GMO-free. According to its website:

Unfortunately, “GMO Free” and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology. In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is “GMO Free.”

In fact, TINA notes, “In July 2018, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Nestle USA for allegedly misleadingly marketing that an independent third party certifies products – including Lean Cuisine Marketplace frozen dinners and Coffee-Mate Natural Bliss creamers – as containing “No GMO Ingredients” when, according to the plaintiffs, the certification is not from an independent, third party and was actually created by Nestle to use as a way to promote products. Plaintiffs also claim that the company misleadingly markets that products do not contain GMOs even though many of the products are derived from GMOs. For example, the dairy in its products comes from cows fed GMO grains. (Latiff et al v. Nestle USA, Inc., Case No. 18-cv-6503, C. D. CA.)”

Various surveys say consumers prefer the non-GMO label and believe it to be healthier, despite the fact that the FDA has been approving GMO food products for 24 years.

Consumer concerns seem to come from social media memes and myths despite scientific evidence to the contrary, confirming that there are no long term harmful effects from genetically modified food products.

Interestingly, because of social media division on this topic, it has been an area where Russian propaganda and disinformation can slip right in. In a study titled “Sowing the seeds of skepticism: Russian state news and anti-GMO sentiment,” Russian influence campaigns were confirmed:

“Returning to our original interest in understanding the reason for unusually high distrust in the science behind GMOs, we found a number of instances in which Russian News articles cast biotechnology in a negative light and otherwise raised questions about the scientific consensus concerning biotechnology. The threat of Russia’s disinformation campaign is not limited to sowing seeds of division in the US and bolstering Russian economic power – there is also the potential to erode public trust in science, an institutionalized pillar of western intellectual tradition.”

 

 

Adding to all the confusion is that the USDA has very ambiguous labeling rules. In May, the USDA sought public input on new labeling regulations:

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2018 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today invited public comment on the proposed rule to establish the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016. The standard will provide a uniform way to offer meaningful disclosure for consumers who want more information about their food and avoid a patchwork system of state or private labels that could be confusing for consumers and would likely drive up food costs.

While labeling rules may soon change, the core issue seems to be lack of consumer education.

In a recent study titled “What Do Think About GMOs?, author Kevin Higgins, editor of Food Processing, writes:

“Concern about the impact of GMO ingredients on human health tops the list of reasons Hartman survey respondents gave for avoiding or reducing intakes of foods containing them. Many within the food industry view this concern with scorn, citing a litany of chemical analyses that have concluded there is no discernable difference between genetically engineered and conventional foodstuffs. Unfortunately, science cannot prove a negative, making it impossible for any science-based evaluation to conclude that there will be no long-term repercussions from GMO consumption. More to the point, science’s imprimatur doesn’t carry the weight it once did. Better than a third of the public believes scientists have little or no understanding of the issue.”

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