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.