Are GMOs Safe? A NEJM Opinion Piece Seeks To Cast Doubt

By ACSH Staff — Aug 19, 2015
A bizarre, rambling diatribe against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A strange diatribe against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The authors criticize the National Academy of Sciences for being too scientific about biotechnology and then invoke butterflies and suggest labeling GMO foods is the solution.

If that confuses you, you are not alone. Yet co-author Dr. Chuck Benbrook, an adjunct at Washington State University, is the go-to expert for environmental groups and friendly media like Mother Jones, who promote the simplistic dichotomy that you agree with all of their talking points or you must be a corporate shill, probably for Monsanto.

Now, Monsanto is a big company, they have $14 billion in sales, so activists may feel like they can "buy" a prominent scientist like University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta with all of that revenue, but that argument hurts their cause. Group Danone ($24 billion), General Mills ($18 billion), Whole Foods Market ($13 billion) and United Natural Foods ($6 billion) all have funded Benbrook. That's 4X the revenue of Monsanto. If revenue is all that matters, they could buy Benbrook and Michael Pollan and Alex Lu and Marion Nestle and a whole bunch of other people.

But that isn't how credibility works. Nonetheless, a group called US Right To Know selectively thinks it is. They used a Freedom of Information Act request to get Folta's emails, found that Monsanto had donated $25,000 to an education fund at his school, and declared he had no credibility as a scientist. Benbrook didn't get asked to disclose his emails despite receiving far more corporate funding.

It may be that Gary Ruskin, who runs US Right To Know, and who created these FOIA actions against dozens of people, including some others at Washington State University, exempted Benbrook because those exact same giant corporations fund Organic Consumers Association, which funds Ruskin.

Obviously, no one is saying toxicological and biological issues are not important but this kind of random list of charges is not informing the public, it is just red meat for NRDC and Environmental Working Group (EWG) and whoever else considers Benbrook an "independent" scientist. These issues do need to be studied continuously, and they are, but not in this NEJM paper.

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