Nothing spells D-R-A-M-A like a mother going up against academics and former scientists in a public blogging forum. That’s just what happened this month to Michelle Maisto, a food-blogging mother writing at Forbes.com after she wrote a post calling for the labeling of GMO foods. Granted, Michelle is not a biochemical engineer, nor is she a trained physician. However, she wasn’t writing about the health or safety of GMO foods. She was just asking a logical question.
How can we know the effects of GMOs on the health of the population without food labeling to add traceability?
Imagine her surprise when the science writer for Forbes.com, Henry Miller, chimed in, writing a scathing blog post labeling her as a “radical food activist” promoting “groundless fear” in her readers and advocating “junk science”.
Not one to be backed into a corner, Michelle wrote back. And I love what she wrote. It will go down as one of the most readable anti-GMO blog posts I’ve ever encountered.
Miller also calls the safety record of GMO foods “extraordinary,” writing that there hasn’t “been a single ecosystem disrupted or a single confirmed adverse reaction.” Which, of course, is ridiculous to say — short of being omnipresent, he can hardly be aware of all changes occurring in all ecosystems. Additionally, it’s just not true, as the beginnings of such changes are occurring.
In addition to GM crops being found growing in the wild, calling into question their potential long-term effects on wildlife in those ecosystems, genes from GM crops, as The Guardian reported in 2005, have “transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant ‘superweed’.” These superweeds — at least one of which, pigweed, can grow three inches in a day — are causing farmers to use even more herbicide (though Miller asserts that farmers planting GM seeds “spray millions fewer gallons of chemical pesticides”).
Fast Company reported that herbicide resistance has grown beyond what weed scientists have ever seen before and is leading to the development of alternative chemical solutions — one of which, an expert told The New York Times, is expected to be responsible for a “large-scale problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of trees, if not more.”
Dr. Ron Epstein, at San Francisco State University, warned as early as 1996 in a research paper that genetically engineered organisms released into the environment “can disrupt the functioning of ecosystems, reduce biological diversity, alter the composition of species, and even threaten the extinction of various species and change climactic patterns. In addition, genetic engineering can aid in the creation of new pathogens against which the biosphere cannot develop natural defense systems.”
As for “adverse reactions” in humans, that, too, is hard to prove or know — particularly since sufficient testing of GM foods wasn’t completed when the first GM food, StarLink corn from Aventis, entered the food supply in a major way.
As Marion Nestle describes in her fascinating “Safe Foods: The Politics of Food Safety,” the EPA approved StarLink corn in 1998, but only for use as animal feed, since testing wasn’t sufficient and a “key protein in StarLink corn appeared similar to other proteins known to cause allergic reactions.”
In 2000, however, the StarLink corn was found in Taco Bell taco shells, leading to a recall of 2.5 million boxes and recalls of 298 Mission Foods products. But it hardly stopped there. The farmers who’d bought the StarLink seeds filed a class-action suit, saying they’d never been told that the corn was for animal feed only — they hadn’t been separating it at all. Subsequently, Japan found 28,000 tons of StarLink corn in its food supply, the Canadian government spent $1 million trying to keep it out of theirs, and two years later Australia still found StarLink corn in one-third of its test food samples.
Following the taco shell discovery, the EPA asked its Scientific Advisory Panel to advise it regarding the “allergenicity of the StarLink protein,” Nestle writes. The panel ultimately responded that they were “uncomfortable with the available data.” Not a perfect recommendation for a product that had so weaseled its way into the global food supply that Aventis asked the EPA to set a “tolerance” limit for StarLink that was higher than zero, since it was impossible to get rid of it completely.
With GM foods both so prolific and unlabeled, it’s impossible to know what health trends might be tied to them.
I often get belittled in the comments of controversial posts for using my blog as a platform for unscientifically justified fear mongering. I get verbally abused for simply being a concerned mother rather than a trained dietician or medical professional. Who am I to have an opinion on something so obviously beyond my head? Who are you? You bunch of radical food activists. You bunch of soccer moms with inflated egos, thinking that you know what’s best for your children. That you can research a topic and draw your own conclusions about it. That you can feed your babies egg yolks and butter and liver and raw milk without it being tantamount to child abuse. Who are you?
Who are we?
We’re Food Renegades. And we’re not going away.
I applaud Michelle Maisto for not backing down, but instead responding with a cogent and reasonable defense. I may not agree with all of Michelle’s food choices, but I’m all for her right as an informed parent to have an opinion and voice it in the public sphere. Go read her full response here.
(photos by MillionsAgainstMonsanto)