Guest post: Some of the more common misconceptions about GMOs

Guest post by James Garnett, from a Facebook post inspired by yet another GMO fray on a friend’s wall.

This is off the cuff and not super organized, but I want to hit some of the more common misconceptions.

1. Monsanto does not “ruin farmers with lawsuits”. In the last ~20 years, Monsanto has gone to court only 11 times, in cases of overt lawbreaking. Moreover, the juries have found in Monsanto’s favor every single time.

2. Exactly one farmer was sued for replanting patented seeds in a lawsuit brought by Monsanto: Canadian Percy Schmeiser. He lost the case after being caught in an outright lie about his practices. However, the court awarded no damages to Monsanto because—bizarrely—Schmeiser didn’t even use herbicides on his herbicide-resistant plants grown from the patent-protected seeds.

3.. Monsanto does not preclude farmers from replanting seed from the previous year’s crop; nature, common sense, and financial reality do. Plants grown from the seed of F1 hybrids of the type that Monsanto sells do not grow true, and so the resulting crop cannot be sold. Anyone who has ever replanted their own seeds from hybrid plants knows this, even backyard gardeners.

4. Even if a farmer were confused enough today to want to replant the seeds grown from RoundUp Ready seed stock, Monsanto would not sue them–because the patent on that technology has expired.

5. Seed patents are not new. “Traditional” seeds as well as GMO seeds are covered by patents, and have been ever since people began experimenting with hybrids of any kind at all.

6. Farmers are not required to buy and plant patented seeds. There are plenty of seeds not under patent that they can use, including many sold by Monsanto.

7. The overwhelming majority of commercial large-scale farmers have no problems with Monsanto seed/technology contracts, because they ensure consistency and fairness.

8. Monsanto contracts do not require farmers to purchase their herbicides.

9. The infamous “Monsanto Terminator Seeds” don’t exist.

10. No farmer has ever been sued by Monsanto for “the wind blowing patented seeds” into their fields from a neighbor’s patented-seed crop or a passing truck.

11. Monsanto’s policies have not resulted in “thousands of Indian farmers committing suicide.”

12. Lateral gene transfer already happens in nature all the time. There are snake gene sequences in the bovine genetic code, for example.

13. GMO crops result in less pesticide use.

14. GMO crops have not been shown to cause allergies, cancers, or other health problems, despite thousands of studies over the last ~30 years. The scientific consensus is that GMO crops are no more or less risky than conventional crops.

15. If you say “GMO crops are not proven safe!”, then you fundamentally misunderstand how science works. Statistical studies do not “prove something safe”, they attempt to demonstrate specific correlations. That is, science of this kind does not generally demonstrate the _absence_ of something, but rather the _presence_ of something*. Consider the example of tobacco: did the many tobacco studies of the 20th century list all the conditions that tobacco use DOESN’T cause, or did they establish correlations between tobacco use and cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and COPD? (*Scientists reading this, yes, I know, that’s not strictly true. Hence the use of the word “generally”.)

16. GMO labeling laws do not work, if by “work” we mean “inform consumers about the presence of proteins derived from GMO crops in the food they are buying”. There is no active law on the books, or proposed bill in the works, that will inform you via a label that you’re about to consume GMO-derived food. The reason for this is political: in order to get these bills to a vote, too many exceptions must be incorporated into the bills, e.g. packaged foods must be labelled, but not prepared foods. Political special interests will always preclude these labels from having any real meaning.

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