A few years back, former attorney Debbie Friedman got to talking with a couple of physicians about health, food and the environment. They formed a team that spent much of 2014 wading through the existing research on genetically engineered foods.
The result: GMO Science, a project aimed at exploring and providing independent analyses of the growing body of research on GMO foods and their impacts on health and the planet. Ã¢ÂÂThere hadnÃ¢ÂÂt been a place to go for level-headed science around the GMO issue,Ã¢ÂÂ says Mark Squire, owner of Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax and Mill Valley, California, and a project supporter. We sat down with Squire and Friedman, GMO Science executive director, to discuss this initiative.
WhatÃ¢ÂÂs the mission of GMO Science?
Debbie Friedman: We are creating a curated space for independent science and analyses based on evidence. In our quest to understand what the science says about the health and environmental impacts of GE crops, weÃ¢ÂÂve brought together an interdisciplinary group of scientists and doctors to analyze the research. WeÃ¢ÂÂre not only allowing space and time for these experts to work together in a way they never haveÃ¢ÂÂto write articles, analyze research and ask questions that havenÃ¢ÂÂt been asked beforeÃ¢ÂÂbut weÃ¢ÂÂre also growing this group of scientists and doctors. By doing this in a public forum and in an independent way, we hope to elevate the conversation and add value to the scientific information currently available for policymakers, educators and other decision makers on a global scale.
What role do you see GMO Science playing in the natural products industry and its discussion of GM foods?
Mark Squire: We hope it will be a real resource for everybody. IÃ¢ÂÂve been selling food my whole life. I hope GMO Science becomes a tool for people who want to understand in more depth this technology and how it impacts our industry, which it does so directly.
I hope that if we look at the science on pesticides and biotech in a meaningful way, weÃ¢ÂÂll realize we need to grow crops organically. To me, thatÃ¢ÂÂs where the really exciting science is. Why wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt we move this country rapidly toward completely organic agriculture if science shows thatÃ¢ÂÂs the best course? I believe thatÃ¢ÂÂs where we need to move, and itÃ¢ÂÂs basically money thatÃ¢ÂÂs preventing us from going there. ItÃ¢ÂÂs companies like Monsanto that have a profit motive to perpetuate what I view as a fairly broken technology. Any technology that increases the spraying of glyphosate on our crops by the magnitude that MonsantoÃ¢ÂÂs principal patent has done is hugely flawed. So I believe organic is the answer. Our industry certainly has demonstrated that, and weÃ¢ÂÂve demonstrated the viability of organic systems in a larger-scale manner.
I should also mention that GMO Science is nonprofit, so we definitely need financial support.
Many chemicals seem to pose health risks but lack definitive evidence, so we use them anyway. Why have you chosen to focus specifically on GMOs?
DF: Food is such a crucial determinant of health that we think the food supply should be one of the highest priorities. For example, the amount [of GMOs] children are ingesting versus their body weight and high metabolisms has an incredible impact on their overall health. We need to really understand the health implications of what weÃ¢ÂÂre introducing into our food systems before we allow it to be eaten.
The other reason to focus on food: There has been a lot of cutting-edge scientific information coming out recently about determinants of healthÃ¢ÂÂthe issues that lead to chronic disease in our society. That research is showing things like how the gut microbiome impacts our health in ways we had no idea about, including anxiety, depression and all sorts of illnesses. Epigenetics is a burgeoning new fieldÃ¢ÂÂhow do our genetics impact future generations? Will what I eat today impact my grandchild? If our food contains GE proteins, and if herbicides are built into plants, these could have implications for our kids, grandkids and global food supply.
MS: I have yet to see any positive science indicating that GMO food crops have any meaningful benefit to humans or farmers. All weÃ¢ÂÂre left with as consumers is this big question: What are the long-term health impacts? When youÃ¢ÂÂre presented with that kind of an equation, why would you choose to go down that road until we have the science behind this?
There have definitely been some studies that have indicated problems. From our point of view, the fact that those studies havenÃ¢ÂÂt been followed up in a meaningful way is really a crime. ItÃ¢ÂÂs been very much the opposite. When a study suggesting there might be issues with GMO crops does hit, this huge PR machine from the biotech industry kicks in and discredits the science and the individuals who did the studyÃ¢ÂÂbut not in a meaningful, scientific way. ItÃ¢ÂÂs reminiscent of the tobacco industry in the 1950s. The tobacco industry spent huge amounts of money intimidating scientists, buying off scientists and doing everything it could to control the story.
I also think itÃ¢ÂÂs a mistake to throw all GMOs into one basket and say they are good or bad, because thereÃ¢ÂÂs a huge diversity of technologies and products.
Does GMO Science decouple the impacts of GM foods from how theyÃ¢ÂÂre grownÃ¢ÂÂthe application of glyphosate, for example?
DF: WeÃ¢ÂÂre showing the public that at this point in time, the vast majority of GMO crops on the market are designed primarily to withstand multiple applications of glyphosate. We canÃ¢ÂÂt talk about GE food without talking about glyphosate, based on whatÃ¢ÂÂs on the market today. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs the point weÃ¢ÂÂre really trying to hammer home. WeÃ¢ÂÂve written several articles about the health impacts of glyphosate and glyphosate-based Roundup and herbicides.
WeÃ¢ÂÂll also be diving into research on other herbicides. The USDA just deregulated a new seed resistant to dicamba and one other herbicide. That will increase the use of those new products in our food, so weÃ¢ÂÂll start diving into that.