Dr. Oz’s GMO Global Conspiracy . . . Debunked

Today, Dr. Oz uncovered the “global conspiracy” surrounding GMOs.  I usually avoid these types of sensationalized “investigative” reports because they are nothing more than a regurgitation of biased studies, “expert” testimony supporting the biased studies and absolutely no exploration of another side to the story.  However, this blog is not a commentary on sensational journalism.

It also isn’t meant to attack the character of Dr. Oz or the producers of his show. I don’t know them.  They could be really nice people just doing their jobs.  They don’t know me either, but I kinda wish they did because I could have helped them clarify some of the pseudo facts they presented during their segment on “Stealth GMOs”.

Dr. Oz began his rant against genetically modified organisms by describing a tomato that can withstand frosty temperatures because its DNA has been modified with a gene from a fish.

Clarification: In the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, the company DNA Plant Technology used DNA from the fish, winter flounder, and inserted it into the DNA of a tomato in order to make the fruit frost-tolerant. This “fish tomato” never went into field testing or made it to market.  Yet, Dr. Oz viewers were left to contemplate a picture of a bin of tomatoes labeled gmo and a bin labeled non-gmo.  No tomato in your grocery store is a gmo.  Only eight crops with genetically modified varieties are commercially available to farmers – corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, papaya, sugar beets, and squash.

Then Dr. Oz switches the topic from gmos to the use of pesticides.  He gives his own example of how plant scientists “improved Mother Nature” by making seeds resistant to pesticides.  But then, alas, insects became resistant to these gm-crops and farmers had to apply even more pesticide.

Clarification:  A pesticide is just one type of crop protection tool.  There are several – insecticides for insects and are usually applied below ground, herbicides for weeds, fungicides for disease and pesticides for pests (for example: spider mites, Japanese beetles and are usually applied above ground).  I know, I know. He says ta-may-toe and I say toe-ma-toe, but I thought I’d offer a brief explanation of the differences in these things.

Secondly, herbicide resistant weeds and insecticide resistant insects are an issue on the farm. I won’t deny that.  He isn’t telling us – the ones responsible for managing our fields – anything new.  Our farm magazines are full of articles, meetings full of experts and winter shop talk full of how we should apply our knowledge of our crops and our fields to push back on this pest pressure. This is why farmers will not necessarily turn to applying more herbicides or more insecticides to our fields.  We certainly won’t (and don’t) in the manner demonstrated by Dr. Oz on today’s show. (Using a hand-held sprayer he saturated his plant DNA puzzle; I hope with just water.)

Instead, we rely on multiple modes of action and production practices which range from crop rotation, various hybrids, tillage, and yes, the use of crop protection tools.  We may just pull out my grandfather’s tool of choice – the hoe – and walk fields.

Moving on . . . Dr. Oz then joins Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group and the subject changes . . . again.  Now to labeling of genetically modified foods.  Mr. Faber begins with the suggestion that we have been eating the same food for thousands of years and these new foods are something to beware.

Clarification:  Mr. Faber’s assertion that we are eating the same foods that our ancestors ate thousands of years ago is ludicrous. Folks, all our food, produce, grains, meats, etc. have been modified in some way.  Enjoy seedless watermelons or seedless grapes?  Planting any chocolate cherry tomatoes in your garden this year?  These foods are the result of humans selecting traits from plants in order to achieve a certain result.  I suppose it has taken thousands of years for us to figure that out.

Mr. Faber also says that purchasing organic produce is your only guarantee to avoid genetically modified food and toxic pesticides.

Clarification: Avoiding gm-ingredients, yes.  But avoiding pesticides?  Organic farmers can use crop protection tools (i.e. pesticides) from an approved list.  Often, they may apply more of a pesticide than a farmer planting genetically modified seed.  This is not a reflection of good or bad on either type of farm or farmer.

Slate.com posted this really good look at organic vs. conventional produce. I like it because it was not written to claim one type better than another, but to share information.

Finally, Dr. Oz wants to let us in on a “BIG SECRET” regarding those little stickers found on our produce.  He says that if the sticker has four numbers on it then that fruit has been raised conventionally with pesticides and could be a gmo.  A number starting with ‘9’ indicates an organic fruit.

Clarification: This half-truth actually taught me something.  I’ve always been annoyed by those little stickers, and will continue to be, but upon further research I now know their purpose. (Some big secret. Google PLU stickers and the answer pops right up.)

PLU stickers or Price Look-Up codes are meant to offer grocers an easier way to check-out and inventory produce.  The numbers on them do have a purpose.  A four-digit number preceded by a 9 means organic.  Preceded by an 8 means genetically modified.  Four digits on their own means “non-qualified”.  It doesn’t fit in either category.  So, the assertion that an apple sporting a four digit code “could be genetically modified” is a blatant lie.

  • A) It would have been labeled with an 8.
  • B) There are no genetically modified apples!  Or peaches! Or grapes! Or tomatoes! Or carrots! Or lettuce . . .

Dr. Oz leaves his audience believing that any food found at the grocery store – a potato, a pound of beef, a box of cereal, a tootsie roll or a gallon of milk – could be genetically modified. I feel bad for that audience. They responded so enthusiastically to his dire warning composed of half-truths.

This blog post is already too long to offer any other thoughts.  I will, however, link to a few other bloggers who have posted recently about gmos.

The Farmers Daughter USA recently wrote about a push for federal labeling rules vs. the current trend for each state to pass its own regulations.

SlowMoneyFarm posted this view on gmos just today. I always appreciate her thoughts since she comes from a farm that does not plant gm-seed.

Minnesota Farm Living explained why gmos are safe in this post.

Finally, I’ll link to an oldie but a goodie from A Colorful Adventure. “What are GMOs?” is a straight forward explanation of the why, how and what of these crops.

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58 responses to “Dr. Oz’s GMO Global Conspiracy . . . Debunked

  1. I thought you provided some very good educational information. You need to send your blog link to Dr. Oz so he can read it!

  2. I like the way you broke everything down without lashing out or getting all scientific. You used terms that an average person can understand! What a great approach :)

  3. I agree with the previous comments and applaud your passion, approach and content. Please share your thoughts with the Dr Oz show producers to help keep them informed. It isn’t about making them ‘wrong’, but about sharing another perspective based on science-based, validated facts from a local farm family.

  4. Great past Katie! I think that half truths are very scary and again…play into the fear that most anti groups are hoping to foster.

  5. Thank you so much for this info Katie!!!!

  6. Great comments! As an entomologist, I used to like Dr. Oz when he was a guest on other shows, but now he has turned into a song-and-dance man! Would you trust your doctor to give you financial advice? Why trust Dr. Oz, M.D. on farming, pest management, or other environmental issues?

    • Thanks David! We all can’t be experts on everything, so being comfortable to seek out information that makes us confident in our food choices is important and respecting the folks who are the experts in areas we are not, is important too. That’s something lacking in our society today.

  7. Good post, but your definition of pesticide needs updating. Pesticide is a broad term that encompasses all herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, rodenticides, etc. So when you state that pesticides are for mites, etc what you should be saying is insecticide, which is a type of pesticide. Any pesticide that combats bugs is an insecticide. Also, insecticides are applied over the top as well, and in my experience (I am a grain farmer) are almost exclusively applied in this manner in row crop situations. However, I have little knowledge of their use in vegetables or ornamentals.

    Thanks for the positive article regarding GMO’s. It is unfortunate that the media continues to push a false narrative that hurts our image and livelihood as producers.

    • Scott – Thanks for helping to clarify the pesticide definition. I was with a group of chemical reps this winter and used pesticides as the umbrella term for crop protection tools and was told that was not the case, thus the definitions I used in the blog. Looks like I’ll do some more digging on this. Thanks again for commenting and sharing your thoughts.

      • Just think of it like the first part of each word. Insecticides = insects. Herbicides = herbs/plants. Fungicides = fungus. Insects, weeds (plants,) and fungus are all different types of “pests” that cause problems, thus the coinciding treatments all fall under the category of “pest-icides.”

        Keep doing what you’re doing. The more people who get the word out the better.

    • Good points. Actually mites are not insects. They’re part of the related class arachnida, which also includes spiders, ticks and scorpions. Miticides control mites.

  8. Well written article! It’s incredibly frustrating to see people like Dr. Oz get away with spreading such misinformation. I wish people would turn to more reliable sources to get their information, such as the farmers themselves.

  9. I truly appreciate people like you who have the time, energy and patience to write coherent, realistic responses to the stories that gets written and broadcast about GMOs, food production and modern agriculture.

  10. You explained it very plainly & easy to understand. I am a 4th generation farm wife & actively involved in our farming operation of row crops & a commercial cow-calf operation of 150 angus cows. I get so frustrated with the general public who so readily believe someone well know on TV; sometimes believing things that are impossible . Thank you for your blog & I agree with the others ; you need to send your info to Dr. OZ

  11. Excellently said. I found myself nodding along and thinking “yes! Now I can just link here instead of writing anything myself.”

  12. It’s refreshing to read such a factual response to some misinformation of our industry, and done without any ranting or angst.

    It’s too bad stars like Dr Oz don’t do some thorough research prior to going on air as they have a huge following that now all have a twisted view on GMO’s.

    • Thanks Bruce. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the people from the information, but in this case the information stood on its own as being wrong. I’m sure quite a bit of researching and word-smithing is done in order to give just enough truth that it doesn’t come off as a lie.

  13. Loved your reply covering Dr. Oz show GMO discrepancies. To many people hang on his every word and its all that. He has a great show no doubt however, well….. things are what they are facts. I research everything its the only way to be now a days….Ive been in the Ranching business for years liven the life.

  14. Someone needs to send this to Dr. Oz. He is all about sensationalism. It sells

  15. I’m not a fan of Dr OZ’s scare mongering. Having said that, NONE of the scientists researching human DNA can fully explain the behavior and function of the whole gnome. Why would I trust anything that’s based on a partial understanding? That’s like trusting a dentist to perform brain surgery. Sometimes, knowing a little isn’t enough.

    I’d like clear labeling to allow me to make a choice, but I’d like that label to include country/state of original and provide me with the names of the pesticides used too. If these chemicals/countries aren’t an issue, we should have no problem being open about where our food comes from or the chemicals used.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. I specifically didn’t delve into labeling in this blog post because it is a BIG topic, not only as a trend but as subject matter goes it certainly takes in a lot of different things. I’ve heard different things about using QR codes to direct the buyer to a profile of the farm from which the produce, meat and or ingredients in the food came. That does make sense. Transparency is what we’re looking for.

    • Veronica Brunjes

      Label issues are not as much about having a problem with the information. It is about in large test groups it was found that all the information you want on the label is not desired by a large range of customers.Majority of customers were not willing to pay for such large and demanding labels. When informed to the extent all that new packaging and labels would cost per item customers picked up the product with less labeling. Yes, we would all like to have everything we wish for, getting everyone to pay for everything they wish for isn’t realistic. You do have the choice of those labels right now, You just have to pay extra for it but its your choice right now.

  16. Great, organized set of comments. I’m always afraid of the shows like Dr. Oz, that are more interested in their ratings than the truth. I hope he invites you to be on his show, but I think he’s afraid to be “outed” for the untruths or partial truths he pushes.

  17. This reminds me of the Meryl Streep interview on 60 Minutes in the 80’s that basically destroyed US apple production because of half truths and lack of accurate information. Supposedly American children were being poisoned by the Government through apples, treated with ALAR, provided in the government lunch programs at schools. The truth is…ALAR was rarely used in the US at that time. It has since joined the long list of banned pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used in the U.S. You notice I said USED IN THE U.S., because the imported fruits and vegetables purchased and consumed by Americans are NOT SUBJECT to these same stringent rules the American farmer must use. These imported produce items are actually being treated with chemicals that have been banned in the U.S. for over 30 years.
    It is unfortunate for all American farmers and for the American consumer, that celebrities use their status to start these witch hunts that are so full of false information. This is what will ultimately destroy the small American farmer.

  18. I think people like Dr. Oz believe they are doing a public service and perhaps see themselves as heroic by blowing the lid off some secret. While I have no problem with people questioning our food system, it is so discouraging how someone as educated as Dr. Oz can have such simplistic and distorted understandings. What is sad is that, even if ge were abandoned as a crop breeding tool, such distorted idealogical information leaves people vulnerable to being manipulated by food companies, health food claims, and charlatins. Dr. Oz demonstrates that it is easy to be popular. It is a lot harder to be honest.

  19. Clearification is good but there are major differences in hybrid and GMO plants.

  20. Nice job! Factual material is sorely lacking by Dr. Oz. I am a physicain and disgusted by his pseudo-science. Another good source about GMO’s is the genetic literacy project. We went through much of the same misinformation during the label GMO campaign in Wash State. Thanks for the clarification based on fact!

  21. Excellent clarifications. It’s such a broad topic, this should come to the viewer as a supplemental information sheet. :)
    However, I disagree with the produce code clarification. I have worked in the retail grocery world and at one point in produce for 10+ years. There might be a code for GM produce, but because there is not a labeling requirement it is not used. I doubt the option for packers to use those coded stickers even exists and if it does, I guarantee nobody is jumping on board to do so. My point being, the conventional corn, papaya and squash could certainly be gm, but will not be labeled as such until it is law.

  22. Clarification; Dr. Oz is not a journalist. Having a TV show and conducting an “investigative report” doesn’t mean he’s a journalist. He is part of the media, but so is SpongeBob SquarePants.

  23. The PLU codes are voluntary. A GM apple could have four digits, as could an organic one.

    • Yes, a previous commenter pointed out the same thing. You are correct there and thank you for sharing. However, I do need to state that there are no genetically modified apples in produce bins.

  24. I’m with you on your points! Thank you for adding to the conversation of this important topic. I recently heard the term “first world problems” and GMO is one of those because if we compare our problems to third world countries problems, it helps to see the bigger picture.

    I’ve blogged on the same topic: http://jenhaugenRD.wordpress.com

  25. The box of cereal probably has GM sugar in it (from the GM sugar beets) along with GM corn, the pound of beef is from cows who were fed the GM corn (most of them are) etc… that is why it is talked about like that. No the fruits and vegetables may not be genetically modified but they have probably been dosed with pesticides and insecticides.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Some good places to find more information about gmos are gmoanswers.com or biofortified.org. I think produce growers may take exception to the insinuation that they “dose” their crops, when instead they must follow a very strict set of rules and regs for the use of herbicides and insecticides, if that is what they chose for their farm. I think the great thing about American agriculture is that our market supports all types of farms, raising crops and livestock in a variety of manners. Something is available for everyone.

  26. OUTSTANDING post! Keep up the good work!

  27. Great job! You summarized this big topic very succinctly and understandably. The challenge, I feel, is that even if you tell people this info, they don’t believe you because “Dr. Oz” and “so-and-so” said or a family member died of something “linked to GMOs and pesticides.” I hear it regularly; these are real conversations people are having. The farm community actually is considered an unreliable testimony to the non-ag community it seems. Either way, thanks for sharing!

  28. To the person that mentioned sugar. If one took sugar from GMO sugar beets, organic, heirloom sugar beets and cane sugar, and sent them to the most well equipped lab in the nation, they would be able to tell you which sugar was cane sugar because of they have different isotopes of carbon. but they could not tell the beet sugars apart.

  29. Well done! I perform research on pesticides (both efficacy and food residue) and I am concerned about the uninformed attacks common in some media sources about commercial agriculture. Nobody “loves” to use pesticides. I use pesticides and consult with producers who use them. We treat them like tools. Any misuse of a tool can be dangerous. They are expensive and difficult to use. Most pesticide use that I am aware of is well below what the label allows.

    Most growers will use the bare minimum to address real problems they are facing. It is unrealistic to think we can do away or avoid all pesticides and still enjoy the cheap, abundant food supply we have here in America.

  30. I stumbled across your blog and felt that I needed to add my .02 worth. The problem that I (I can’t speak for anyone else) have with GMO’s is that I just don’t know what to believe. For every study claiming they are harmless (such as the one cited in your blog), there is one claiming they are dangerous (such as: http://ecowatch.com/2013/06/12/study-disturbing-effects-gmo-feed-pigs/). I am afraid that the truth likely resides somewhere in the middle, with MONEY being the agent driving each side of the debate. Sadly, It seems to usually work out that way.
    I did enjoy reading your blog – I grew up on a small farm down here in Alabama – and I hope that my response showed the class and respectfulness expected of you-

    regards,

    A Roberts

    • Thanks for reading and commenting AND pointing out the truth of the matter. . .somewhere among all the finger-pointing, allegations, and misinformation is the middle ground. I hope we can find that one day through respectful conversation.

  31. GMO Answers is funded by the members of The Council for Biotechnology Information, which includes BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto Company and Syngenta. This info is published on GMO
    Answers sight.

    • Yes, you are correct. The info is on the front page of the site, however, regardless of the website or source of information we’ll still find the same information. Only 8 crops are available with gm-varieties: corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, papaya, squash, sugar beets, and alfalfa. On this point funding does not affect the fact. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  32. I’m curious why we should trust a company like Monsanto or Pioneer with our health and the health of the planet. Also, those 8 GM crops you reference make their way into most of the processed food in the world. I appreciate your work as a farmer. I just wish Monsanto didn’t make good people shills for their product. Suicide rates among farmers in India and South and Central America aside, we need to understand what AG/Pharma is doing to manipulate public policy, with their lobbying and campaigning against GMO free zones, conventional and organic biodiversity.

    • I’m not asking anyone to blindly accept anything. We all have the ability to make choices, and the ability to decide if we are going to base our opinions on fact or fiction. The purpose of this blog post was to provide some fact to Dr. Oz’s fiction.

      To address your other statements: I do not hold Monsanto or Pioneer responsible for my health, the health of my family or the health of my farm. We make choices based on experience and education as to best practices when caring for our land. The fact that some of the products we use come from Monsanto or Pioneer or Bayer or whoever has no baring on the decisions we have made. We made those decisions. No one else, and quite honestly, I’ve ceased being offended by the “shill” comment.

      I would offer the following series of blog posts (all of them are good, but here is one) as another perspective on the role of “big” ag: http://onehundredmeals.com/2012/10/09/meal-six-monsanto/.

  33. It always amazes me that people tend to forget how many people are employed by large companies. I work for a company that serves the livestock industry and is a division of a large pharmaceutical company. People will bash my employer because it is — well — big! For some reason, the word “big” is associated with “evil.” Really? What these folks tend to forget is that these big companies employ a lot of people (about 150,000 at my company) who have studied various disciplines that involve agriculture. Let’s put it this way: If my company didn’t make money, I wouldn’t have a job! I have a degree in agriculture and appreciate the fact that my company allows me to do what I set out to do in my career — and that is to use my talents to improve the agriculture industry. I may only farm part time, but my full-time work helps get products out to producers who need them. While I don’t work in the crop protection industry anymore, I know a lot of people who do. They are good hardworking people who have similar backgrounds as mine and are also are using their talents to bring new ideas, research and improvements to the industry. I love farming, but I also am a believer in developing new tools that will help us produce food in the future. It is not “evil” as everyone is led to believe these days.

  34. Thanks, I’ll check out onehundredmeals.com. I imagine the two solitudes of pro and anti will have to coexist. That said, we here in Canada are facing new threats on the aquaculture front from GM Salmon and on the farming front from GM Alfalfa which will spell the end of Organic Dairy farming everywhere and the Arctic Apple, the apple that never bruises even when it’s rotten. That’s pretty rotten!

  35. So glad I found your blog. I Googled ‘debunking Dr. Oz’ because I am sick of my yoga instructor constantly telling us what Dr. Oz said. Now we are doing full-on push-ups because Oz says it will prevent Alzheimer’s. Most of us are over 65. He spews out more garbage than a broken disposal in the kitchen.

  36. For all the people who wanted you to get your column to Dr. Oz; here is how they can do it themselves . . . in fact, it would have much more clout if we all posted . . . just go to https://www.facebook.com/droz (the official Dr. Oz FB page) and comment that he and his staff should read this column at http://illinoisfarmgirl.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/dr-ozs-gmo-global-conspiracy-debunked/
    If enough people post it, maybe he will actually check it out.

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