The world of genetically modified food is rife with miscommunication – it seems that no matter how well-informed we try to be about the safety of GMOs, there’s always someone pointing us in a different direction. And this, unfortunately, is no accident.
Some of the confusion surrounding GMO food, of course, is due to the fact that the research is ever evolving.
“There isn’t a large body of evidence illustrating the dangers of GMOs,” explains Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic watchdog organization. He notes that while short-term animal studies have been conducted, there are few human studies that show whether or not GMO food is safe.
In large part, however, the scientific community tends to agree that there’s nothing wrong with genetically engineered food – in theory. Some uses of genetic modification, such as the development of genetically engineered Rainbow papaya hailed for saving the Hawaiian papaya industry or “Golden Rice” enriched in beta carotene to help vitamin A-deficient communities, have be seen as positive advances by many.
“There are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture,” reports Slate. “But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering.”
The truly valid concerns are linked to the ways in which biotech companies are using this technology, notably patenting herbicide-resistant seeds that promote monocultures, hinder biodiversity, and encourage the prolific spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, which the World Health Organization deemed “probably” carcinogenic in 2015.
But even when it comes to glyphosate, it seems, there are wide differences in opinion. For every report demonizing the chemical, there is one (or several) claiming that these fears are unfounded. And yet internal emails paint another picture. One 2001 email written by a Monsanto scientist reads, “If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern.”
It seems, then, that the biotech industry is dictating what journalists report on its products, contributing to mass misinformation.
Journalist Carey Gillam experienced this first-hand during her 17 years covering the industry for Reuters, when, she notes, “the industry pushed back on any story that they deemed not favorable to GMOs,” essentially coloring the way that the news media presented GMO food products.
“It’s a very broad, deep and cohesive effort by very powerful corporations who have their profits at stake,” says Gillam. “And for reporters, the nuances of the issues are not easy to investigate.”