Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Employee of Anti-GMO Group Writes Article for 'Time'; Doesn't Disclose Affiliation, Doesn't Want to Be Labeled?

Stuart K. Hayashi

As The Corporate Crime Reporter reports rather approvingly, Carey Gillam -- formerly a writer for Reuters -- is presently the research director of the advocacy group U.S. Right to Know.  U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) presses lawmakers to impose GMO labeling laws.  The idea is that if a food product contains ingredients from cultivars that resulted from transgenics (more conventionally known as genetic modification), the food product must be labeled as such.  At present, the absence of such laws has not prevented consumers from finding non-GMO foods; there are food producers who take the initiative to label their own products, voluntarily, "non-GMO" or "organic."

In any case, Time magazine has republished an article by Carey Gillam that repeats a favorite talking point of anti-GMO groups:  that regulatory agencies like the FDA have been too lax on account of their not finding the chemical herbicide glyphosate to be significantly dangerous.  Glyphosate -- better known by Monsanto Corporation's brand name, RoundUp -- is of special interest to anti-GMO groups because of it being used in conjunction with GMO crops:  corn and soybeans that are engineered to be resistant to this herbicide.  These glyphosate-resistant crops are known as RoundUp Ready crops.

RoundUp Ready crops and RoundUp are intended to be a method of addressing the problem of soil erosion.  A major problem farmers face is that of weeds competing against the crops for survival.  Often, weeds take the nutrients in the soil that were intended for the crops.  The result is that the weeds thrive while the crops die.  For much of the twentieth century, farmers fought the weeds through a method called tillage -- they would run tilling machines through the fields that would root out and destroy the weeds as the crops remain firmly planted in the field.  A major drawback to this is that the tilling machines inadvertently erode the soil of much-needed components, making it more difficult to re-use the fields for future planting.

RoundUp (glyphosate) was invented in the late 1900s as an effort at no-till (or less-tilling) agriculture.  If RoundUp is sprayed on weeds, then the weeds can be killed without as much of a need to till the soil, thereby reducing soil erosion.  The drawback of this method is that the glyphosate was not discriminating:  it would often kill both the weeds and crops.  The solution came when genetic engineers invented glyphosate-resistant corn and soy.  If you grow RoundUp Ready corn or soy and spray your fields with glyphosate, you can kill the weeds and reduce soil erosion simultaneously as the crops remain unharmed.

Anti-GMO activists often allege that glyphosate is a toxic carcinogen.  It is true that glyphosate can cause cancer if one is exposed to an inordinately high dosage of it --say,drinking literally a ton of it in one day.  Microscopic doses of it, though, have not been shown to be dangerous.  Even if, over the past 30 years, there has been an increase in the spraying of glyphosate, it happens that, overall, the present standard spraying of chemicals by farmers has been less toxic and less environmentally hazardous than the methods of the early 1900s that the present spraying has replaced.  The older methods consisted of applying much more toxic substances.  Anti-GMO activists wish to convince the public that glyphosate is significantly more toxic and dangerous than the FDA and most crop specialists have let on, which would mean that consumers and farmers should give preference to non-GMO and organic produce.

In any case, Time published an article by an employee of USRTK implying that the FDA has been too laissez-faire toward glyphosate use.  As I type this, there is no disclosure in the article itself about the author's affiliation to an anti-GMO pressure group.

When weed management specialist Andrew Kniss pointed this out, Carey Gillam replied to him over Twitter, "too tough to follow the link to original article and my bio?"

The scientist Karl Haro von Mogel responded to her, "Most people will not click the link to search for that. Advice: Put your industry funded affiliation at bottom"

This is what I have to say about it.

First, how difficult would it be for Time to put one sentence on the bottom disclosing that the article's author is the research director of the group US Right to Know?

Ah, but if the article had a disclaimer mentioning that its author worked for a group demanding GMO labeling, wouldn't that be . . . labeling?  An anti-GMO writer doesn't want to be labeled?

To throw their own rhetoric back at them: "We have a Right to Know™ when an ostensibly objective news article on GMOs is authored by an employee of an anti-GMO group."

It's about ethics in journalism. -_-  . . . Yes, really. :@