Renewable Farming

Wall Street Journal poll: 63% of readers favor labeling GMO foods

The Monday, July 13 Wall Street Journal published a “Big Issues” section on food, with the lead feature titled: “Should Companies Be Required to Label Genetically Modified Foods? (This link may require a subscription to view the full article)

Alongside that story, WSJ reported its own poll which found that 63% of its readers favor labeling of GMO foods — just as 64 other nations do.

The article that will make non-GMO advocates wince, though, is the chain of assertions by the “No” proponent, Dr. Nina Fedoroff, Pugh professor emerita at Penn State University. Federoff is one of the most distinguished U.S. scientists in genetic engineering and molecular biology. Check out her credentials listed by Wikipedia.

Most of her assertions in this WSJ article relative to GMO safety and productivity are, however, unsubstantiated by well-established data.


1. Fedoroff says, “Genetically modified crops have increased yields by an average of more than 20% globally.”

This is a common yet misleading claim. Several studies document that adding traits such as glyphosate resistance impose a yield drag on crops, compared with non-GMO crops of the same isogenic line.  A very thorough study on this issue, titled “Failure to Yield,” concluded that “No currently available transgenic varieties enhance the intrinsic yield of any crops. The intrinsic yields of corn and soybeans did rise during the twentieth century, but not as a result of GMO traits. Rather, they were due to successes in traditional breeding.”

We conducted three years of field trials in Grundy County, IA, raising 300 plots of conventional soybeans alongside 300 plots of the nearest isogenic line of Roundup Ready soybeans we could find. Yield result: No significant difference between GMO and non-GMO under identical fertility and soils. The GMO beans were not sprayed with Roundup, which typically causes a “pause” in growth because it ties up, or chelates, most trace elements in the soybeans for several days. Had the GMO beans been sprayed with glyphosate, their yields would likely have been restrained from what we measured.

Another report which cites multiple sources is from the Institute for Responsible Technology: “GM Crops Do Not Increase Yield Potential.”

2. Fedoroff claims that genetic engineering technologies… “disturb genomes less than the conventional plant-breeding methods used for centuries.”

That presumption is being proven false, as gene mapping reveals that insertion of new genetic material is essentially random, and literally hundreds of genes may be deleted or altered in the process of forcibly inserting one or two traits. The net result is unstable proteins and other components in crops which human metabolism may reject as foreign, leading to immune response and inflammation. We’re learning of a rising number of livestock producers who are transitioning back to non-GMO crops and finding improved herd health along with more profitable feed conversion.

3. Fedoroff says organic produce is “10 times more likely to be recalled for bacterial contamination than conventionally grown food. That’s a far worse track record than genetically modified food, which has never caused a health problem because of its modifications.” 

All a serious researcher needs for dispelling that illusion of “never caused a health problem” is to start with the history of Dr. Arpad Pusztai and his fellow researchers, who conducted the first long-term studies of GMO food — transgenic potatoes — on rats. Although the study initiated in 1995 was designed to demonstrate the safety of GMO crops, he found organ damage and immune dysfunction in the lab rats. His research findings were crushed, and Dr. Pusztai muzzled. 

Today, there are barely any credible, long-term government-sponsored studies in America on health implications of GMO foods. All we have is circumstantial evidence that something, or a combination of problems, is very widespread and is intensifying the rates of chronic diseases in the United States.

That rate of increase closely correlates with the rise in transgenic crops in this country. The health “research” underway has been mostly among families, experimenting on their own, when their own family members’  health deteriorated or food allergies erupted. They switch to non-GMO diets and the symptoms vanish. When they fudge on the organic or non-GMO diet, the symptoms return — symptoms like digestive disorders and acute allergies.

Many of those facts are documented in a book called Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey Smith, who leads the Institute for Responsible Technology. We extracted a few “Cliff Notes” points from this book, to encourage you to read the rest of the story. You can download our PDF notes on his book at this link.

There are many more assertions of the safety and productivity of GMO crops, but evidence is piling up so widely that it’s not surprising that a majority of the WSJ readers polled would like to see foods with GMO content labeled for what they are.  Elsewhere on this site, we’ve cited evidence on GMO health issues such as this study by Dr. Nancy Swanson and others.