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'Learning to Loath GMOs': A Critical Response to the New York Times

In its July 19th issue, the New York Times Magazine published a brilliant piece of twisted pseudo-scientific propaganda. The essay, entitled “Learning to Love GMOs,” is truly stunning. Its author, journalist Jennifer Kahn, takes readers who would have little to no understanding of genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms (GMO) through a fictional labyrinth of out-dated and conflated GMO similitudes to an end point where readers might believe GMOs are really cool and there is nothing to be frantically worried about. 

Kahn spins the story of Cathie Martin’s research to develop a genetically engineered purple tomato high in the anti-oxidant anthocyacin as the work of a solo humanitarian to improve consumers’ health by providing nutrient-rich GMO produce. What is missing from Kahn’s equation is that the research was conducted at one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious independent centers for plant science, the Johns Innes Centre (JIC) in the UK. The Centre, which is registered as a charity, lists over 500 employees and is funded by some of the largest proponents of genetic-modified plants, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. JIC’s website includes purple tomatoes as one of its projects that combines “transcription factors, biosynthetic genes and iRNA [interference RNA] with the availability of natural tomato mutants.”  iRNA, or Post-Transcriptional Gene Slicing, is a method to silence certain genes the researchers desire to curtail their expression.  

The Times article makes an effort to advance the flawed agro-chemical mantra of “substantial equivalence” without citing the term. The early acceptance of GMOs was largely based upon the unproven hypothesis of “substantial equivalence.” The USDA’s adoption of this concept during Bill Clinton’s first term in the White House gave GM seed companies a free pass to avoid submitting trial evidence to prove the environmental and health safety of genetically modified crops. Since the ruling claims that GMOs are fundamentally identical genetically to their natural counterparts, no compliance of safety regulations should necessarily apply. Therefore Big Ag firms did not have to worry over strict regulatory hurdles, which otherwise apply to other products such as pharmaceutical drugs, processed foods, pesticides, cosmetics and chemical additives.