Genetic food critics engineer dubious evidence to support their claim
Author: David Tecce
The debate regarding genetic modification is possibly this decade’s biggest pop culture dispute. In one corner, we have the anti-Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) advocates which claim GMO’s are causing everything from increased cancer rates to increased gluten sensitivity. In the other corner, we have pro-GMO advocates, which is composed of a large portion of the scientific community as well as corporate spokesmen who claim genetically engineering could be a breakthrough technology that answers many of the world’s food issues. I am a fourth-year biology student who has been following and contributing to this debate for about two years now. From what I have found, I am one hell of a genetic modification supporter.
One of the first skills you are taught in any scientific discipline is how to scrutinize a scientific study in order to identify a valid article from a poor article. I have found this to be the most important tool in developing my position on GMO safety. Possibly the most fundamental component of a valid scientific paper is the use of proper citations. I find the majority of anti-GMO articles either use bunk citations or don’t use citations at all. Often these articles will use correlations such as the exponential growth rate of any given human disease and the exponential growth rate of GM crops and infer a causal relationship. If there is a causal relationship between correlated phenomena, then there must be statistically significant evidence, which indicates the relationship to be causal. For example, many anti-GMO authors will claim the rise in cancer is attributed to the rise in GM-crop consumption because, statistically, the increased use of both is on a similar scale. Using this logic, I could also claim that Nike shoe sales have increased on a similar scale, but does that mean Nike shoes are causing cancer? This is why evidence is needed to conclude a causal relationship.
Sometimes, these articles do give citations, but I find these to be very poor studies with cooked up results. A great example is the classic Seralini study, which shows rats that consumed a Monsanto GM maize line developing huge tumors, complete with a scathing graphical picture show. This is one of the few prominent studies used by anti-GMO supporters to prove GM crops as dangerous. The complete lack of statistical integrity and disregard for even basic scientific standards automatically rule the Seralini study, along with many like it, as invalid, but they are still used to back up the anti-GMO agenda.
Another commonly used attack on GM crops is the idea that there is a lack of study and, therefore, a possibility of unknown side effects. The problem with this argument is that there are thousands of studies for each GM crop, written by some of the world’s most prominent scientists, which testify to the safety of these products. It takes years of research for any GM-crop to make it into mass production and the toxicology reports produced by many independent and corporate sources during this time result in very strong evidence that supports the safe consumption of these products.
The promises of genetic modification are immense; we are effectively reducing conventional artificial selection inefficiencies and pushing the evolution of our food in a precise direction. Some may call this “unnatural,” but I say that since we are human, nothing we do is natural. From the computer in your pocket to the pacemaker in grandpa’s heart, what we do is a result of our unmatched ability to take in information, calculate, and manipulate this world to our advantage. I am just happy to see that we are finally realizing that what is advantageous to this earth is also advantageous to us, and genetic modification is one very useful tool that humanity could use to work towards a future mutual symbiosis.