I was scrolling through Facebook recently and saw a curious post. It was hosted on Vegetarian Times and titled "GMO 101". As I'm sure a lot of vegans are aware, there is a lot of misinformation about GMOs in both vegan and non-vegan groups, so it was disappointing to see well-respected companies provide bad information to their readers with the goal of spreading fear and increasing their profits.
The infographic immediately sets the tone of "informing" consumers. It's portrayed as an objective source of information and its real intentions are obscured by its claims of education and objectivity. Ultimately, this infographic does not seek to provide reasonable evidence, but rather it aims to use fear and uncertainty to drive profits.
The first statement is a major red flag, and people familiar with the topic of GMOs can immediately spot the misleading statements. It starts by saying: "GMOs are genetically modified organisms, and specifically, crops that have had their genetics altered."
Two main things: First of all, and this should be clear to anyone who took a biology class, pretty much all crops grown today have had their genetics altered in some way by humans. This creates a dichotomy between unmodified "natural" crops, and crops created through genetic engineering.
Second, the infographic says that GMOs refer specifically to crops, but that is also not the case. The O stands for organisms, and there are many organisms that have had their genetics altered through genetic engineering. One example of this human insulin which is now biosynthesized (to the great benefit of the animals it was previously harvested from). But by only focusing on crops, the makers of this infographic are able to ignore the positive benefits of the very technology they are seeking to demonize.
The next aspect of the infographic that I wanted to address is when it talks about "The Safety Question". According to the text, "Scientific research on eating GMOs is limited, but that doesn't make them safe to grow".
Here again we can see clever wording as well as blatant misinformation. The fact is that GMOs have been one of the most tested technologies in terms of safety, and the vast scientific consensus is that they pose no greater health risks than other breeding methods. By avoiding the scientific consensus, and instead suggesting that research is limited, they can induce fear in the gullible reader (and consumer). Additionally, by focusing on the safety of growing them, the infographic can focus on the science that they actually have to seemingly legitimize their point.
The infographic then goes to state key facts relating to pesticide use, superweeds, and biodiversity. These are key talking points for the anti-GMO crowd, but it ignores the underlying issue, instead preferring to use GMOs as a scapegoat. The fact is that we would have pesticides, superweeds and a lack of biodiversity whether or not we had GMOs. The issue is intensive industrial agriculture, not some plant breeding technology. Even then, I am hesitant to criticize conventional farming as I haven't seen that much evidence that there are better alternatives. Organic farming can have higher greenhouse gas emissions, and its sometimes lower yields means that if we were to convert to organic farming we would lose a lot of wild habitat, ultimately a net-loss in terms of biodiversity and sustainability.
The infographic moves onto its final points, and states the often repeated factoid that 60+ countries have banned or restricted the production and sales of GMOs, a statement which while accurate at face value, obscures more than it reveals.
Unfortunately, this type of misinformation and fearmongering plays into the hearts of consumers. But who ultimately gains? When you ask that question the intention behind information like this infographic becomes more clear. Do consumers benefit from avoiding GMOs? Only in a psychological sense, but not in terms of health or living in a better environment. The real answer lies at the bottom of the infographic.
So, the Non-GMO Project and Follow Your Heart (a vegan food company). According to Megan Westgate, executive director of the non-GMO project, products labeled non-GMO have sales of over 8.5 billion dollars per year. At this point it should become crystal clear that these companies do not have the consumer's or the planet's interests at heart. Ultimately, it's about a capitalist food system where everything can be commodified, even fear. But the planet and the consumer pay the ultimate cost.