GMO, Séralini, and March Against Monsanto: It’s Magically Misleading!

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GMO, Séralini, and March Against Monsanto: It’s Magically Misleading!

If you follow my posts on GP, you know that I’ve been writing a lot about GMOs and genetic engineering. I was planning to lay off the subject for a bit, maybe write about advances in prenatal diagnostics or the wonders of sleep training and okay-to-wake clocks, but I’m compelled to write another on GMOs. Why? Monsanto. More specifically, March Against Monsanto. I don’t often get into debates on social media, mainly because it’s usually a futile endeavor. Still, every now and then I succumb to a moment of weakness.

This time I’ve been following recent news on the Séralini paper republication. If you’re not familiar with it, this 2012 paper was formally retracted from Food and Chemical Toxicology after the conclusions were found to be unreliable. You’d likely recognize the well-known image of deformed white lab rats; the paper claimed a causal link between GM maize and glyphosate (AKA Roundup) added to drinking water, and development of tumors in rats. The paper was published again last week in a lesser-known journal. Importantly, the paper was republished not because reviewers agreed with the conclusions, but to allow the data to be accessible in the long term. In fact, it was not even peer-reviewed prior to republication.

Lo and behold, anti-biotech types were using the hashtag #ScienceSpeaksForItself to tout and promote the republication as presumed evidence of danger, and to support their cause. This entirely ignored that the change of journals doesn’t change that there is no causal link between genetically modified food and cancer/disease. Long story short, I ended up in a dispute with none other than March Against Monsanto. And yes, I verified that this is THE March Against Monsanto twitter feed, linked from their Facebook page.

Now I don’t say this to be snarky: the majority of people using such hashtags don’t understand biology even at a fundamental level. You don’t get to use the all-mighty “science” as a champion of your movement unless you comprehend it at least basically. As I always say, if you don’t understand transcription, translation, and protein synthesis and function at a high level at minimum, you don’t have sufficient background to justify an inherently anti-GM stance. See my previous post for a quick and basic molecular biology primer.

So back to my tiff with MAM. Here is the Wikipedia page if you haven’t followed the movement. Not only does this movement oppose Monsanto and corporate interests, but GM technology in general. One of their more ubiquitous march slogans is “Hell No GMO.” Catchy, huh? One of my main gripes is that the movement perpetuates this erroneous notion that GMO/Evil Big Science is synonymous with Monsanto. March Against Dow wouldn’t sound as catchy would it? But I digress. Anyway, I won’t get into the details of the entire Twitter exchange (link), but here are a few of the more interesting tweets:

MAM 1

Exhibit 1 – outlined in green: “tech humans can’t understand.” This is pure fear-based drivel. Just because Marchers Against Monsanto don’t understand the tech does not mean humanity is drawing its fate from a hat nor is it playing genetic roulette. Genetic engineering of food is not achieved blindly. In addition, GMO crops’ traits are precisely selected, as opposed to the methodologies of conventional breeding. I’ve said before and will say againPro-GM folks have been repeating ad nauseam, “we’ve been modifying crops/organisms for millennia,” a process known as artificial selection. Moreover, basic biology deems that organisms have been modifying themselves since the dawn of life, altering their own genes to express favorable traits (natural selection.) Sound familiar? Yep. GM technology is also applied to alter genes to express favorable traits, albeit in a more targeted manner than artificial or natural selection. GMOs are among the most stringently-tested crops in existence. This is a far cry from losing control.

Exhibit 2 – outlined in pink: The all too pervasive “follow the money” worldview that scientific consensus can’t be valid because it must be funded by corporate interests. I’ve addressed this in previous posts so I won’t get into the nitty gritty. That said, here is an excellent post about scientific consensus, and how it applies to GMOs. There is no doubt of scientific consensus on safety of these crops based on the very definition of the term. You don’t get to invalidate science or justify an inherently anti-GM stance without understanding or accepting what the term consensus means. To do so is not tenacious or strong, rather it is pigheaded, foolish, and immature.

MAM 2The tweet above pretty much speaks for itself. Need I define “science?” I hate to stereotype people involved in the MAM movement, but come on.

Moving on to the crowning moment in the conversation, voila:

Believe your eyes

Believe your eyes

It struck me to ask about MAM’s position on vaccines because of the comment about scientific consensus. People who don’t “believe” in scientific consensus often don’t “believe” in the efficacy and safety of vaccines. The first response seemed like a canned answer. I didn’t press further yet @MarchAgainstM blurted out this unbelievable comment. I kid you not, I didn’t use the word “crazy” “retard” “box” or “anti-science” anywhere. My fingers wouldn’t have even considered typing those sequences of letters. I was flabbergasted. Firstly the sheer offensive and hateful nature of using both the words “crazy” and “retard” in any derogatory context is totally unexpected and unacceptable from a social media account representing a self-proclaimed millions of people. Second, while the first response showed a refusal to take a position, the second response showed an obvious yet implied support of anti-vaccination beliefs.

I hate to generalize, to homogenize what I hope is a mixed bag of individuals. Still, the reason I wrote this post is that movements like March Against Monsanto are representative of a greater societal ill: fear of the unknown, scientific illiteracy, indiscriminate distrust of government and corporate interests, all fueling the vicious and circular mob with pitchforks mentality I’ve so often condemned. I certainly hope that not all Marchers Against Monsanto disbelieve in scientific consensus, hold a blind “follow the money” paranoia, or are scientifically oblivious. I implore anyone who has Marched Against Monsanto or plans to do so to ask, what am I really marching for?

 

Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Kavin Senapathy is an inquisitive agnostic born and raised atheist living in Madison, Wisconsin with her nerdy husband, curious 3-yr-old daughter, toddler son, and needy puggle. Her interests and pastimes fluctuate wildly, but always consist of family, reading and writing, poetry, cheese, the world of human and ag genetics/bioinformatics, and Michael Jackson. With roots in south India, she hopes to teach her biracial kids about all aspects of their heritage. Opinions expressed are hers and do not reflect her employer. Kavin loves social media--please follow her on Facebook and twitter @ksenapathy

7 Comments

  1. Not that this is an excuse (considering they are working that feed as official reps) but the punctuation and grammatical errors indicate they are not a native English speaker (very likely native francophone), and therefore might not be fully aware of the full impact of their choice of words there. They are probably using them in place of “fou” and “con(nard)” which are still problematic but not on the same level.

    • True, I noticed that as well. Like you said, it’s not quite an excuse. “Science” and “consensus” on the other hand are concepts that people of all languages should comprehend…

  2. I see this argument – some combination of an assertion that Monsanto bought out all the research and/or that profit motives undermine the believability of scientific claims – all the time, even from people who ought to know better. As you get at, even people that reject similar argument structures when applied to the topic of vaccine. What really grinds my gears is that those same criticisms aren’t applied to the massively profitable organic industry! If someone wants to sell me GMO-free pasta for twice the price, I’d like them to prove it’s tastier and/or healthier. Taste test time…

    • bunnybear, the only time I buy organic is if it’s on sale, or if the produce is riper than the non-organic and I want to eat it the same day. And profit motives are everywhere. Like you said, the organic industry is massively profitable, I’d even call it “big organic!”

      • Same! I also buy organic sort of unintentionally because sometimes foods I would like to eat (like a quinoa amaranth mix that the adults and toddler in the family all enjoy) is only in my store in a gmo free organic version. I wish a cheaper, non-organic, gmo version were available, but sadly lots of ‘niche’ type health foods are becoming only available in that format which frustrates me and can create a false assumption of higher quality from organic/gmo-free. Another time I buy organic, without necessarily wanting to, is to support local farmers because I do like to do that. One particularly annoying local farm does some great stuff, but has a big “NO CHEMICALS” sign over it’s stand at the farmers market. I’ve always been curious how they keep all chemicals of any kind out of their vegetables…. maybe the veggies are just holographic or something?

  3. I hadn’t heard of MAM by name (though I have friends who must’ve attended their march because I remember seeing pictures of anti-bmo posters/protesting in my fb feed), but your post made me want to learn more, and their video of the march speaks volumes towards your point “movements like March Against Monsanto are representative of a greater societal ill: fear of the unknown, scientific illiteracy, indiscriminate distrust of government and corporate interests.”
    http://www.march-against-monsanto.com/march-against-monsanto-global-video/

    • “…industrial model which doesn’t fit nature….” “GMO=God Move Over” Oh boy. That image of a child with a pacifier holding a protest sign is unfortunate. Indoctrinating science illiteracy at a young age :/

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