Consumer Reports is widely known as a respectable organization that reviews and tests products on behalf of consumers. It is somewhat of a watchdog for consumer products. Unfortunately, the organization has stepped off the tracks into the realm of “pseudo-science.” In its latest articles, Consumer Reports has taken an anti-GMO position, even though they have come to the party a little late and seem woefully uneducated about the topic.
Now representatives from the organization are making the rounds on morning television talk shows to talk about biotechnology. For all the consumer advocacy the organization has done and the credibility it has earned, it seems they have decided to throw it all away.
Consumer Reports story on biotechnology is nothing more than campaign literature for the anti-GMO labeling campaigns. As I’ve written about previously, Colorado’s Proposition 105 and Oregon’s Measure 92 are ballot initiatives that would require labeling. The organization is now advocating in favor of these proposals. While Consumer Reports has blathered on about the opposition to labeling efforts spending money on these campaigns, I certainly hope they are calculating the time, effort, and media reach they are donating to the labeling initiatives.
Unfortunately, Consumer Reports also made a handful of statements both in print and on various television programs that are just straight up false. I’ll take them one at a time.
Consumer Reports claim: There haven’t been sufficient studies done to determine whether there are long-term health risks for people eating GMO foods.
Truth: I’m not sure what Consumer Reports would consider a “sufficient” amount of research on the long-term health risks, but the general scientific consensus is that genetically modified crops are safe. In fact, there have been over 2,000+ studies — most of them done by independent researchers — that unquestionably demonstrate GMOs are safe. The database of studies is online and available for anyone to peruse. It’s called GENERA and easily accessible to the public…and Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports claim: “[S]ome animal studies suggest that eating genetically engineered crops such as corn may have harmful effects on the immune system, liver, and kidneys.”
Truth: Again, Consumer Reports seems to use carefully crafted language to portray biotechnology in a bad light. To most people, “studies” means something with some minimum level of scientific standards. But Consumer Reports obviously doesn’t seem to think those are important, because the only studies on animals that show negative effects have all been discredited or severely criticized for not following scientific standards. In layman’s terms, that means they aren’t credible. (I’ve written about several of these “studies” here, here, and here.) In reality, livestock operations in the United States for the past 18 years has provided the largest, multi-generational study available. Over the last 18 years, feed has been fed to our livestock, comprising anywhere from 70-90% of genetically modified crops. In all of that time over the course of several generations, there has never been a single report of an animal getting sick, having complications, and any other negative reaction to biotech crops. In fact, we’ve fed our livestock over 1 trillion GMO meals without a single incident.
Consumer Reports claim: “[T]he federal government has not mandated that genetically modified organisms be proved safe before they’re used in your food.”
Truth: If you’re even tempted to believe this one, I suggest you read my interview of Neal Carter, the man responsible for developing Arctic Apples. I specifically asked him about the regulatory process and he explained a little about the huge hurdles a new biotech product must go through to make it to the market. On average, it takes 13 years and $136 million to get a new biotech product through the regulatory process so that it can be commercial produced. The FDA reviews the crop to ensure it is safe to eat. The EPA then reviews GMOs that are enhanced with pest resistance to see that they are safe for the environment. The USDA then reviews the new biotech crop to ensure it is safe to grow. Government agencies are involved in the process.
Consumer Reports claim: “The increase in GMO production “has led to about a 10-fold increase in farmers’ use of glyphosate, a weedkiller better known as Roundup, which is made by Monsanto—a company that also produces genetically modified seeds—because the herbicide won’t harm their GMO crops.”
Truth: This statement is technically correct, but the assertion it is making is deceptive. No doubt the introduction of genetically modified crops that are immune to the effects of glyphosate has lead to an increase in the use of RoundUp and other glyphosate herbicides. However, what Consumer Reports fails to mention is that the overall use of herbicides has gone down. So, while we may be using more of one kind of herbicide, GMOs have led to a decline in the overall use of herbicides. That’s something that both farmers and consumers can be happy about.
As Consumer Reports continues this baseless attack on modern agriculture, I hope they’ll be confronted with the truth about this technology. Biotechnology is safe, it is environmentally-friendly, and it is an important tool in crop production.