At Iowa State University Crop Bioengineering Center's annual meeting, a team of scholars showed their research validating what the scientific community has long suspected - that some anti-GMO groups are either sending information to Russian propaganda sites to assist in their efforts to undermine American agricultural dominance or they are acting as what Joseph Stalin called "useful idiots" by promoting concern about America's food supply.
GMOs are genetically modified organisms, where a gene has been moved from one species to another to instill a useful trait. GMOs are a more precise successor to the thousands of foods previously produced by genetic modification techniques like mutagenesis, which includes many foods labeled organic, and hybrids and selective breeding before that. Though more precise, they were once controversial because of concerns about unintended effects. Yet history has validated the science. From the Rainbow Papaya that saved the industry in Hawaii in the 1990s to corn that has meant more yield using less water on less land with less environmental strain than ever possible, GMOs have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people and a hundred billion animals with no ill effects. Insulin, the first GMO product approved, has been in use for 36 years.
Yet despite decades of solid science a number of anti-GMO articles have continued to appear that hope to cause concern, alleging that they are a monopolistic effort by businesses effort to control food supply (they are off patent) or are linked to suicides in India (long debunked) or that they cause cancer in rats (retracted).
Since 90 percent of Iowa farmers grow corn and soybeans genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides and pesticides better, meaning fewer chemicals are needed, Iowa State University scholars Dr. Carolyn Lawrence-Dill and Dr. Shawn Dorius sought to find out why anti-GMO claims persist. What they found was shocking, given Russia's prominence in worry about political manipulation of American elections. The results showed that Russia Today, recently rebranded as RT.com and considered a propaganda site, accounted for 34 percent of GMO-related articles. Along with Sputnik, they carried more GMO-related articles than CNN, Fox, Breitbart, MSNBC, and the most anti-GMO site in the US, Huffington Post, combined. The difference was that the Russian sites' coverage was uniformly negative. For example, what do abortions related to worries about the Zika virus have to do with GMOs? Nothing, but Russia Today still linked them, and their only source was other clickbait claims on social media.
As Donnelle Eller writing in Des Moines Register noted, Russian propaganda sites are not alone in promoting concern despite the consensus from the US Food and Drug Administration and every worldwide body affirming their safety. Celebrity physician Dr. Oz, activist organizations such as the Center for Food Safety, and industry trade groups like Organic Consumers Association also routinely promote fear and doubt about the American food supply.
Those groups' fears are simply misplaced or perhaps financially motivated but the reason Russia Today and Sputnik are involved has nothing to do with concern about health. Food is Russia's second-largest export, second to only oil and gas, which the Obama administration's Director of National Intelligence found was promoting concerns about hydraulic fracturing of natural gas ("fracking") using offshore foundations to funnel money to environmental groups.
Russia is able to exert more influence in Europe and elsewhere if their largest competitor in those two areas is penalized. What they can't accomplish in the free market they can accomplish with legislative fiat - if they can get enough of the public mobilized to get politicians to ignore the science and go with emotion. And it works. Nearly half of Americans still believe the science behind genetic engineering remains unsettled despite decades of safety studies showing no concern.
Twitter banned ads by RT.com last year due to concern about "fake news" but Americans don't need such a heavy-handed approach. We just need to recognize what they are and penalize the groups that collaborate with them.
It also helps to support groups who combat them and provide evidence-based independent science media - like us. To do so, you can donate here.