Did You Know You Were Part of a Massive Science Experiment?

I have previously noted that the GMO labeling campaign in the United States is “couched as a consumer rights issue, but really it’s based on fear.” What are people afraid of? Let’s go to a recent op-ed by Linda Stender, a New Jersey politician who is sponsoring a state bill to label genetically modified foods. Her piece is a mishmash of fear-mongering, bad science and faulty logic. As such, it neatly encapsulates the typical anti-GMO argument.

Let’s start with the opening sentence:

Ordinary Americans should not be forced to act as human guinea pigs for a real-time study on the long-term health impact of genetically engineered foods.

This human guinea pig trope pops up frequently in the anti-GMO discourse. (I’ll be returning to it in a moment.) Moving on, we come to this gem several paragraphs down (my emphasis):

Industry­wide, no long-term studies on the side effects of these foods have been conducted, leaving us with little to no knowledge of the health effects of these foods that are rapidly invading dinner tables across America.

Hmm. There’s something odd about the way that is phrased. In any case, let’s assume the author is trying to say there is a lack of research on the safety of genetically modified foods. I suppose I could refer you to this nice round-up of authoritative statements on the safety issue by Ramez Naam, but it’s more fun to cite Grist:

Is there any evidence that genetically modified food is directly harmful to people who eat it? There’s a one-word answer to this: no.

To save time I’m going to skip over the sillier parts of the piece so we can get to where the author cites a highly criticized 2012 French study, which she says “underscores the need for more comprehensive safety studies into these [GMO] foods.”

Of course!  That infamous rat study–no matter how much it’s been discredited— is the gift that keeps on giving to GMO opponents.

Now we come to the end of the column, which is my favorite:

Most of us probably know someone over the past 10 to 15 years who has started to experience a vast array of health issues that appear to be food-related. Every day, I hear more and more people complaining about allergies they never had before. And children, in particular, appear to be much more allergic to a vast array of food items than in previous generations.

I can’t tell you whether this is all because of genetically modified foods. And that’s the point of my legislation — we just don’t know.

Until we do, a simple little label can give consumers the power to make the choice on their own of whether they want to consume such food.

Taken as a whole, this piece–its reasoning–reflects the state of the GMO discourse. This is where it’s at. GMOs should be labeled so people aren’t human guinea pigs. Put another way, here’s a quote from a recent op-ed in Live Science (my emphasis):

“The introduction of genetically modified organisms into the American food supply is a grand experiment,” said Ann Yonkers, co-director of Fresh Farm Markets and a leader in the sustainable-farming movement. “We should be using the precautionary principle with GMOs, and assume that GMOs have to be demonstrated to be good rather than assume that they are good.”

This human experiment frame is popular in the anti-GMO orbit. Here are just a few examples plucked from Twitter:




This talking point, while increasingly used, is not new. In the mid-2000s, prominent Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki told an interviewer: “We are now unwittingly part of a mass science experiment.”

Today it is part of the standard conversation on GMOs. Here is a recent Larry King segment (post CNN):

This should give you a sense of the anti-GMO hysteria spreading across the United States. There’s a reason why Chipotle and Whole Foods are swearing off genetically modified foods. It’s not because they suddenly realized that GMOs are part of some spooky science experiment. It’s because their customers have been scared witless by the  food and anti-GMO movements.


62 Responses to “Did You Know You Were Part of a Massive Science Experiment?”

  1. Buddy199 says:

    1) Require labeling of GMO-containing foods.

    2) With flawless circular logic, start pushing the falsehood with the aid of the hyster-media that GMO foods must be dangerous since they are labeled.

    3) Push for a world-wide ban on GMO foods and crop seeds “for the sake of the children”.

    4) Bask in smug, self-satisfaction.

    5) Deny millions of people in developing countries a more robust, reliable food source.

    The anti-GMO crowd never really stops to consider anything beyond #4.

  2. Robert Ford says:

    Keith, after all these posts would you agree that the primary driver for this behavior is a romantic view of humans’ relationship with all things “natural”? That’s my best guess so far.

  3. bobito says:

    I’m sure that’s part of it, but from the comments on Keith’s posts, it also seems to be a distrust of big evil corporations.

  4. Skeptico says:

    To save time I’m going to skip over the sillier parts of the piece so we can get to where the author cites a highly criticized 2012 French study, which she says “underscores the need for more comprehensive safety studies into these [GMO] foods.”

    Of course!  That infamous rat study–no matter how much it’s been discredited– is the gift that keeps on giving to GMO opponents.

    Ah so she broke The Seralini Rule. You know she’s not interested in any real debate.

  5. Laura says:

    This is nothing new. The day the AHA, NIH, FDA, and USDA decided to sit down and dish out dietary advice and recommendations( with very little evidence to back up the recommendations) was the day the great food experiment began with us as guinea pigs.

    It was supposed to make us all healthier. Even though statistics show that as a whole America cut back on our calories, fats, and our meats, still we are fatter and unhealthier then ever.

    With all the money and research spent on on diet and health you’d think there would be a clearer idea of what exactly is good for us, But surprisingly there is not.

    Everyone needs to be doing their own research, Don’t rely on the news and news articles to tell you whats healthy. Go to the source. Find the actual studies and read them. You’d be surprised how the results are very different from what is published.

  6. Ken says:

    Keith Kloor juvenile bashing of the real concerns raised by the application of GMO technology for profit is nothing short, of well I would provide justification by I’ll just use his most common method of scientific debate and just call him silly. Sheesh, why Discover continues to employ this man is beyond.me.

  7. Denise McNamara says:

    I don’t understand what the big deal is about labeling GMO’s, except that maybe the purchasing public won’t buy them, so money won’t be made by those producing GMO’s. This is the true reason why they fight so hard against labeling. If GMO’s want to sell their product, then they need to push a counter campaign to promote the benefits of GMO’s like high fructose corn syrup did. Don’t give me the stupid argument that this is all a scientific argument–it’s not. It’s a fight over who gets to make more money in the market. Everything in the US boils down to money. Quit whining and label GMO’s and be part of the capitalist culture that you want to overpower. And I say, with sincerity, I will consider your product. Right now, I don’t want your products because you’re pissing me off with your whining.

  8. jh says:

    The “guinea pig” argument is the banner argument of the environmental movement. It’s not restricted to GMOs.

    Where would civilization be Guinea Piggers has emerged 100K years ago?

    Don’t paint that bead and put around your neck! The paint on your skin could cause cancer! You’re going to sleep in a grass hut? It’s vulnerable to fire! No sleeping in huts until they’re proven structural sound and safe against fire! You’re going to put my water in that clay vessel? No way! Not until all the chemicals are listed on the label!

  9. jh says:

    I don’t think Twinkies are on the FDA food pyramid. Could be wrong about that….

  10. Buddy199 says:

    Pretty much. If everything had to be thoroughly double-blind tested and vetted since day zero we’d still be living in safety foam lined caves. Not to say that raw Dickensian bloody claw and tooth survival is the way to go but the comfy Nanny State is not Life’s plan for advancement and evolution either.

  11. jh says:

    I can only imagine what the response would have been to dressing in the skin of dead animals. Lawsuit!! Morally wrong!!

  12. mike thefordprefect says:

    Whilst I agree with some of your environmental stanse I must take issue with this GMO line you are taking

    Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management
    “Overreliance on glyphosate herbicide in genetically modified (GM) glyphosate-resistant cropping systems has created an outbreak of glyphosate-resistant weeds (Duke and Powles 2009, NRC 2010). Over recent growing seasons, the situation became severe enough to motivate hearings in the US Congress to assess whether additional government oversight is needed to address the problem of herbicide-
    resistant weeds (US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform 2010”

    Roundup ready crops can require an increase in the acceptable limits previously imposed on the concentration of glyphosate in the food crop. (cannot find reference at present)

    Overuse of weedkillers is causing resistance:

    and see other pages

    Labelling. Why not? Why do I not have a right to reject gmo? If it produces cheaper food then sell it cheaper and let the buyer decide. If it sells more then fine but I want the ability to chose what I eat. I usually buy “organic” for this reason and pay more.

    Surely this is what USA stands for – freedom to chose?

    Surely GMO must give an advantage to the producers, let them pass that advantage on to the consumer.

    Transgenic crops

    How long will it take for genetic problems to show up in the human race. 2 or more generations? plus the time to isolate the cause. Perhaps 40 to 50 years?

    Putting non-vegetable genes in vegitation requires manipulation that does not happen in normal hybridisation. what are all the effects over 50 years?

    As with CO2 in the atmosphere, it is possible that when we discover there is a problem it will be toolate for simple remedies.


    – Label and let the consumer decide

    – Do longer term studies.

    – Is herbicide resistance going to be a problem

    – do we have to accept higher residual herbicides in food

  13. mem_somerville says:

    Funny. Most of them are eager to experiment with all sorts of whacked foods or restriction diets, or any detox treatment and alt-med crap sold by quacks.

    But I do think it’s sad how afraid they are of food, and the fear they are generating in other people. Recently this street art was admired.https://www.facebook.com/GMOFreeUSA/posts/594336680606799

    I think it’s very sad that they are making kids fear corn. But it’s even sadder that they are using bad science to make fear-based policy.

  14. jh says:


    I wouldn’t agree with that. Look at the energy argument.

    Environmentalists are basically using a “Historical Guinea Pig” argument: “See? Look what happens when we did a massive experiment by burning fossil fuels: We almost destroyed the earth!” And yet they’re thrilled to build new windmills by the thousands in just a few years.

    It’s not clear to me why windmills are any more or less “natural” than oil or coal. Interestingly, when an oil field is tapped out, all the gear can be removed and the surface restored. Wind turbines will remain on the surface forever.

    No, what you really have here is a money/power argument. One group wants money and power and it opposes another group that wants money and power. One group has thrown it’s lot in with corporate interests, the other has – if for no other reason but to distinguish itself against the first group – thrown it’s lot in against corporations. Since government is the only kind of organization of comparable size to corporations, it’s the de facto rallying point for those that oppose corporations.

    You can break this down to all kinds of philosophical arguments – the benefits of free markets on the corporate side, or the need to control rapacious consumption and environmental destruction on the anti-corporate side; belief in the benefits of technology vs belief in the benefits of the natural world – but in the end those are just justifications for seeking money and/or power.

  15. lisa741 says:

    like Albert implied I’m in shock that any one able to profit $9777 in one month on the internet. have you seen this website w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  16. harrywr2 says:

    Natural selection is causing weed resistance to herbicides.
    The same concerns exist for antibiotics.

    Sooner or later weeds evolve to resist whatever method one uses to eradicate them and the same is true for infectious disease.

    It’s always has been a battle and always will be a battle.

    It’s been quite a while since humanity had a great famine or pandemic.

  17. ESNYC80 says:

    I agree that, for the most part, the anti-GMO people are crazy. However, in the interest of objectivity, one should acknowledge that there is likely one health issue related to genetically modified foods – micronutrient defficiency. Plants and animals that grow faster have less time to absorb the same variety of nutrients, especially those not critical to their rapid growth. Modification also tends to focus on plants and animals growing faster and larger, especially in terms of caloric content (no one ever breeds a faster-growing yam based on skin thickness to get more healthy phytonutrients, they always focus on more starch production).

    The pro-GMO side should play the rational, objective adult, and eventually most people would come around. Otherwise the crazies who think we’re being treated like guinea-pigs will gain converts.

  18. Buddy199 says:

    1918, 50 million dead. Nearly as many as all civilian and combat deaths in WW2. One not so historically distant viral outbreak caused nearly as many deaths as the greatest war in history, staggering to think about.

  19. Norm Benson says:

    I wish they were. “Twinkies part of a delicious breakfast!”

  20. marcbrazeau says:

    Let’s start with labeling products that have been demonstrated to cause harm before we move on to enshrining mass hypochondria into public policy.

  21. mem_somerville says:

    What is your evidence that is related to GMOness? And that these GMOs are causing a health problem as a result?

    I think it’s important to disentangle claims that are GMO issues and those which are not.

  22. BioWonk says:

    So, as it has been organic produce that has resulted in 3 outbreaks of Salmonella and one of hepatitis B, I keep asking where are the campaigns to have organic produce removed from the shelves until they are “proven 100% safe” or required to have warning labels. Not one TE food opponent has actually addressed this question, and when they do respond, it is with “you eat what you want, and I’ll eat what I want.”

    So much of this anti-science stems from this false dichotomy of “lab=bad/nature=good.” This labeling scheme is nothing but an attempt to enact a boycott in response to the fear mongering of associating GMO with poison.

  23. Rough Acres says:

    The question for me is, why aren’t YOU scared? Do you have magic powers to detect chromosomal changes? Or do you dismiss any and all scientific experiments if they don’t agree with your worldview?

    Thalidomide was deemed “safe” once, too.

  24. Rough Acres says:

    Do you still smoke?

  25. Rough Acres says:

    No, it’s a desire to live.

  26. Cindy Trautmeyer says:

    Products that cause harm should not be sold. Ingredients should be labeled ACCORDING TO CONSUMER DEMAND. That’s what a regulated market economy is like.

  27. Cindy Trautmeyer says:

    If 90% of consumers demand that all food that starts with the letter ‘A’ should be labeled as such for w h a t e v e r reason, wanna bet that it will be sooner or later?

  28. Robert Ford says:

    ok, as long as any alternative supplements/medicines and organic food are also labelled with “ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE – DOES NOT ACTUALLY WORK” or “ORGANIC FOOD HAS NOT BEEN PROVEN TO BE BETTER FOR ANYTHING IN ANY WAY”

  29. Marty says:

    I’m not sure that using a smug tone and belittling a handful of people on the other side is any more positive a contribution to this issue than the viewpoint you are trying to discredit.

    Nor is this issue only about what happens when you ingest GMO food:

    1) Many people have questions about the environmental impact of GMOs in the long term. Especially when it comes to our communal waterways and the ecosystems they support:


    2) Many people are skeptical of their long-term effectiveness. I for one was quite enlightened by the studies mentioned in the link above stating that GMO crops are easier on the environment than conventional crops, however, one wonders how long we can stay in front of nature. I live in Iowa, and many farmers are back to spraying: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/07/09/198051447/as-biotech-seed-falters-insecticide-use-surges-in-corn-belt

    Also, I don’t see a comparison between GMO crops and organic crops in regards to sustainability.

    3) There are issues of small farmers and what happens to them when Monsanto or others’ pollen drifts into their fields and bestows its genetic markers on their crops. If you are someone who doesn’t like Monsanto’s business practices, you should have the right to boycott their products, which is impossible without labeling.

    4) There are also philosophical/economic issues. If you think a diverse economy with lots of small businesses spread out regionally (i.e. lots of small farmers) is more resistant to economic shocks (just as is a diverse ecosystem) you should have the right to “vote with your dollar” and either avoid the big companies or at least spread your money around. And I don’t want to hear anyone defend the “independent, struggling small farmer planting GMO crops” – they are few and far between anymore.

    I think all of these are valid concerns to the, frankly, above average consumer who is at least reading and paying attention to the national discourse. I also don’t think there is “anti-GMO hysteria” spreading throughout the US. Whole Foods and Chipotle are specialty chains that serve a fraction of the US demographic. I don’t think Walmart, McDonald’s, or there customers give two sh*ts about GMOs.

    Maybe if we want to persuade people to think a certain way, we should try reasoning with them calmly and trying to understand and respond to all of their concerns, rather than teasing and insulting.

  30. Marty says:

    Most of the “smug self-satisfaction” I’m detecting on this page is from your post and many others like it. Just because you are posting on a science website doesn’t make your comments any less a trollish. Your arguments are just as ripe with wild assumptions and stereotypes than the arguments of the set of people you are attacking. If you have nothing factual to add to the discussion, then don’t.

  31. Denise McNamara says:

    I have no problem labeling “alternative medicine” or “Organic Food”, as I am behind labeling “GMO”–just that, plain and simple. I am not supporting the outrageous statements of judgement on ANY of them that you do. I am for choice in what people wish to buy. Why are you against choice?

  32. Robert Ford says:

    because social cues matter so i don’t want to promote stupidity or burden business with BS costs

  33. Denise McNamara says:

    Unfortunately, mass hypochondria already exists in public policy and will probably always remain. There treads a fine line between watching for public safety and taking away the rights of the consumer.

  34. Loren Eaton says:

    How about, ‘Improperly composted cow manure can cause E. coli infection, hemorrhagic diarrhea and can result in kidney failure.’ This sign belongs next to the organic lettuce and other fresh produce. In the interest of full disclosure.

  35. Loren Eaton says:

    Having produced about 20K of these GMO’s in my career, I can assure that few if any of these with grow faster than their non-GMO counterpart. Where did you get this info?
    ‘The pro-GMO side should play the rational, objective adult, and eventually most people would come around.’ Nice thought. but it hasn’t worked since the Monarch butterfly debacle, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  36. anonymousse says:

    Tone trolling much?

    “If you have nothing factual to add to the discussion, then don’t.”

    The lack of self awareness is astounding…

  37. Anonymous says:

    I am not afraid of GMOs. For the most part, they’re very tasty and nutritious. Why not label them?

  38. anonymousse says:

    “Quit whining and label GMO’s and be part of the capitalist culture that you want to overpower.”

    The capitalist market has already reacted to people that are of GMOs.

    It’s called organic.

    Labeling is not for free.

    There are costs associated with sorting crops, that’s one reason “organic” food costs more.

    Why should consumers that don’t care about the process of how their food was produced pay a higher price for other people that want to avoid it?

    A regulatory agency has no role in putting labels on food if there is no scientific evidence that there are health concerns.

    I really cannot see what the fuzz is about…

    If you want to avoid it you already have an option.

    The only reason for this labeling movement that i can see is to strengthen the fear campaign that is already in progress.

  39. anonymousse says:

    If regulatory agency’s start to implement labels according to the fad’s of certain parts of the population (in contrast to real health concerns) there is something seriously wrong with them.

    Consumer demand shouldn’t trump science…

  40. anonymousse says:

    If you are afraid of chromosomal changes you should avoid most modern crops.

    Hybrids, Hexaploid Wheat, Mutagenic breeding…. Scary stuff.

    Although none of them are what is generally called GMO.

    Edit: “Or do you dismiss any and all scientific experiments if they don’t agree with your worldview?”
    Can you give references? Most of the studies i read do not seem to agree with your narrative…

    But i am always happy to learn something new…

  41. Cindy Trautmeyer says:

    Analyzing consumers is science. Consumer demand pays scientists. +/- 90% in many consumer polls show the consumers wish to have GMO labels.

    Hardly a fad, but a fact which will bite those in the butt who invest in biotech.

  42. VegasLiz says:

    DNA changing mutant GMO and also neuro toxins in the
    pesticides have already contaminated the farms….look to the children and see more and more Autism, ADHD, etc….this is not hysteria it is a fact!

  43. anonymousse says:

    Remind me, what was the result of Proposition 37 in California?

  44. anonymousse says:


    Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy….

    Almost every time i see someone stating something as FACT!!!!!, it turns out to be bullshit.

    There has to be a internet law for that phenomenon.

  45. anonymousse says:

    They don’t demand it…

    If some pollster comes to you and asks you if you want to have more information on anything, almost everyone will say yes.

    When they are confronted with what that would entail (higher prices) that percentage drops somewhat.

    Or how do you explain the marvelous success (!sarcasm!) of the various labeling initiatives, if there is such a strong broad backing by the public against GMOs?

  46. Denise McNamara says:

    It would be humorous if it wasn’t so sad that our society has shifted its thinking so much that “organic” foods, the foods that have been in our human history for thousands of years, are the ones that we need to label, by today’s standards, instead of the foods which are treated or altered from the original.

  47. anonymousse says:

    How precious. The naturalistic fallacy… again.
    Look at our modern crops (including the organic ones) and their ancestors and tell me what you see.

    Agricultural crops have been in a constant process of alteration.

  48. Denise McNamara says:

    Not as precious as you my dear, anonymousse. 😉 You prove my point. Thank you.

  49. anonymousse says:

    “You prove my point.”
    I don’t think so. But if it makes you happy be my guest 🙂

  50. Dickybow says:

    “Products that cause harm should not be sold.” Like cigarettes? Totally agree. (Have they made GM tobacco I wonder?

  51. Cindy Trautmeyer says:

    The GMO industry’s success in marketing their technology to farmers should have shown the industry the value of proactive marketing. It didn’t.

    Instead they got on the track of lobbying the government and ‘granting’ academic institutions. Which brought along a significant distrust by voters and a clear loss of academic freedom. These sponsored scientists are now being send into the pits shouting it out with activists.

    Science doesn’t overcome fear. Patronizing fear turns to aggression. Shares of biotechs are being considered riskier than ever ( talk about irrational fears of the stock market and you have everybody’s attention).

    Prop 37 did it’s job. That’s why you didn’t get that last raise.

  52. Loren Eaton says:

    A couple of things, first ‘organic’ agriculture has been around for about 100 years, not millenia. Second, you need to watch the video anonymousse cited. Literally NONE of the food we eat now (bananas, tomatoes, corn, etc) bears any resemblence to what was being eaten 5-10K years ago.

  53. Loren Eaton says:

    ‘Science doesn’t overcome fear. Patronizing fear turns to aggression.’ Yes, but BAD science creates the fear in the first place. Don’t confuse debunking bad science with patronizing fear.

  54. Cindy Trautmeyer says:

    Consumers are not computers where information is fed in and a predictable behavior comes out on the other side.

    You guys simply don’t get it: Biotech has a branding problem–it’s not a science issue. Being lousy cowboys who can’t corral the cattle/consumers, all you cause is an unpredictable stampede.

  55. Matt B says:

    Excellent video anonymousse! The comments are worth a read as well; there’s nothing like a well-reasoned, balanced presentation critiqued by hillbillies whose entire debating repetoire consists of “corporate shill”, “propaganda”, “profit loving” etc……

  56. Matt B says:

    Good luck finding any organic backer that will have that discussion, but if you do here’s where it will go….1. You’re a cherrypicker 2.You are a corporate shill. 3. If you can get a discussion past 1 & 2 then you may actually get a conversation!

  57. anonymousse says:

    How classy…

    So the only reason a scientist could possibly disagree with you, is because he has been bought.

    Arguing in bad faith much?

    Originally i disliked participating in online discussions, but the pure inanity that has spilled forth in these “debates” brought me to my breaking point.

    By the way, my research area has little to do with plants
    So Agricultural corporations have precious little reason to give me a raise, let alone pay me at all.

    But be my guest and continue to live in your little black and white world, where every dissent to your opinion is either maliciously motivated or because of corruption…

  58. Cindy Trautmeyer says:

    You are way out of your area of expertise. Unless you expand your scientific work to market research and behavior. Actually your attitude of condoning non-labeling hinders the long term consumer acceptance of GMO in the marketplace ever more.

    When a child inquires about a new food on the table, you’re the parent who says: “Don’t ask. Just eat it!”

    We know how well that worked out, don’t we.

  59. John Pinion says:

    Cigarettes are sold to people who knowingly buy a harmful product (that is labeled as such). You don’t have to wonder. DO THE RESEARCH. (Yes, GM tobacco is commonplace. Another reason not to use tobacco, I would say.) But there is a difference in the labeling issue: I KNOW tobacco causes harm – and it is labeled as such. When GM produce is not labeled, I cannot tell which is which – GM or non-GM.

  60. jh says:

    That’s kind of a funny one.

    People have been smoking since at least the dawn of civilization. It’s only in the last century or two, as lifespans have dramatically increased, that smoking has become a recognizable health hazard. It’s also kind of interesting that if you quit smoking before age 40, you’re likely to avoid most or all of the negative health impacts.

    I suspect there’s a reason that smoking was widespread among humans prior to the industrial era: it probably yielded some health benefit, possibly something along the lines of killing bacteria or inhibiting viruses acquired through respiration.

    This is the guinea-pig argument in reverse: a technology that likely was once beneficial becomes detrimental as other technologies extend lifespan outcomes.

    Our guinea-pig friends would likely see these new technologies as scary and harmful until overwhelming proof accumulates to the contrary and they’re forced by a crushing mass to retreat from their stupidity.

    And that’s just what our guinea-pig friends are doing today with food technology. They argue that homogenized milk is bad; GMO’s are bad; protecting farm animals from potential natural sources of disease is bad; fertilizer is bad; pesticides are bad, etc etc.

    In effect, our foodie friends are saying: Keep on smoking! It’s good for you!

  61. VegasLiz says:

    and maybe a law against idiots who post these stupid pics.

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