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Who Turned Scientific American?

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Agribusiness Undertaking by by jdial

Ladies and Gentlemen of Scientific American: 

Great that you had an issue in September 2013 devoted to food.  It is a topic that deserves scrutiny.  Scrutiny as you know means careful examination of all pertinent aspects of a subject. 

Having read the nakedly biased industry talking points in the two GMO articles in your September issue, I did a Google search to see what else came up.  Scrolling past the first part of the results page, which was liberally sprinkled with positive commentary from your own blogs and PR people, I came across evidence of a Scientific American article all set to go to press in August 2013 but which somehow never made it into the magazine (I checked) and is no longer available on the web, other than through this inconvenient Google trace.  The disappeared article questions the ability of GM corn to protect against pest damage: 

GMO Corn Failing to Protect Fields from Pest Damage: Scientific ...


Aug 28, 2013 - GMO Corn Failing to Protect Fields from Pest Damage ... had no immediate response to a request for comment, but the company has said in the ...

I don't know what happened to those two articles in your September issue, but in them all pretense to evenhandedness evaporated, and as subscribers we no longer feel that we can trust to your objectivity.  You can skip the rest of this letter, because what concerns you is the fact that we are canceling our subscription, which we have carried for over 15 years, to Scientific American.  The rest of this letter, however, is being published for the benefit of others.  

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The Editorial 

Labeling:  A bad idea?

The September issue of Scientific American devoted two articles to genetically modified foods.  The first, an unsigned opinion and analysis from an unnamed Board of Editors, was titled, "Fight the GM Food Scare:  Mandatory labels for genetically modified foods are a bad idea."  Well, that certainly set the tone, if not for scrutiny. 

According to polls, more than 90 percent of US consumers want to know when GM ingredients are in foods.  People want to know what they're eating.  Connecticut and Maine now have GM-labeling laws, and this November voters in Washington will vote on a GMO-labeling ballot initiative.  Around the world, 64 nations require GMO labeling.  Yet in one week in September, Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer wrote checks for $4.5 million and $3.2 million dollars, respectively, to the campaign against Washington State's GMO-labeling ballot initiative.  If GMOs are so innocuous, why all the industry resistance? 

Your editorial board opines, in perfect harmony with industry, that labeling will raise prices, that the FDA has tested "all" of the GMOs on the market for toxicity and allergenicity and found them unsullied, and that "conventional crops often require more water and pesticides than GMOs do".  Let's look more closely at these statements. 

Labeling will raise prices?

According to Monsanto et al, requiring retailers to verify non-GMO ingredients on the label will be burdensome and costly, and those costs will of course be funneled straight to the consumer.  Your editorial board trots out a remarkably similar statement:  "Private research firm Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants estimated that Prop 37 would have raised an average California family's yearly food bill by as much as $400."  Food manufacturers and retailers who already verify non-GMO, rBGH-free, trans-fat-free, country of origin, and fair-trade practices would disagree. 

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Trader Joe's, a company known for its discounted prices, provides GMO-free private-label foods in over two-thirds of its estimated yearly $9 billion in sales.  It does this, says a company spokesman, by requesting "the supplier of the product in question perform the necessary research to provide documentation that the suspect ingredients are from non-GMO sources." 

Trader Joe's spokesman went on to say, "This documentation is in the form of affidavits, identity-preserved certification of seed stock, and third-party lab results from testing of the ingredients in question."  Then, not unlike the US Department of Agriculture, Trader Joe's uses an outside, third-party lab to audit random items with suspect ingredients.  For foods to be certified as organic, USDA requires test samples from around five percent of products and they all must be GMO-free.  The agency relies on sworn statements for the other 95 percent.  Clif Bar & Company requires affidavits from suppliers as well to demonstrate that they are meeting the company's non-GMO provisions.  So the "burdensome" argument made by the industry for labeling comes down to adding another line of ink to a label, something that is done quite often for advertising purposes and with no discernible expense to the consumer. 

The "opinion and analysis" is full of opinion that has not been analyzed, at least outside of industry.  It complains that "Labeling might cause consumers not to choose GM foods, and, as happened in the EU, most major retailers removed GM ingredients from products under their brands, and today it is almost impossible to find GMOs in European supermarkets."  That surely would be a sad consequence--from a certain perspective.    

FDA has tested all the GMOs?

The anonymous editorial board made this statement:  "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tested all the GMOs on the market to determine whether they are toxic or allergenic.  They are not."  No wonder the editorial went unsigned.  Note to the editorial board:  FDA does not test GMOs.  It trusts industry for that. 

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Dr. Dial is a psychologist and medical illustrator who for well over a decade has worked as a freelance medical and science writer and editor. She is an editor for OpEdNews, having contributed a number of articles about hydraulic fracturing, (more...)

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