Reuters (Predictably) Gets It Wrong. Again.

Crops

One of the reasons the “controversy” over crops improved through biotechnology persists, is because it is manufactured and sustained by a well-organized, ongoing campaign, funded and sustained by vested interests. This astroturf campaign is fueled by credulous and disengaged journalists who recycle their press releases, and allow those biases to bleed over into other coverage.

We’ve written before about one repeat offender, Carey Gillam, of Reuters. She’s back with more of the same, in a story that ran on April 9 covering legislation introduced in Congress that would (redundantly)  preempt state legislation to mandate labels that would mislead consumers and abet fraudulent marketing campaigns. Gillam writes “But some scientific studies warn of potential human and animal health problems, and GMO crops have been tied to environmental problems, including rising weed resistance. Millions of acres of U.S. farmland have developed weed resistance due to heavy use of crops that have been genetically altered to withstand dousings of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.”

Hold the weed/herbicide resistance issue for a moment, and let’s look at the “scientific studies that warn of potential human and animal health problems…” This claim is false, and flagrantly so. Gillam has been called on this before, yet she continues to recycle the falsehood. It bears repeating: there is not a single credible study showing any health or safety problem with any of the foods or animal feeds on the market derived from crops improved through biotechnology. Not one. FDA’s evaluation of each and every one can be found here. Gillam obviously cannot be bothered, but it makes for illuminating (if soporific) reading. Professional opponents of agricultural biotechnology, whose water Gillam reliably carries, argue that the FDA consultation process is “voluntary.” This, too, is a canard we’ve previously addressed, one which ignores that the same products have been subjected to equivalent, mandatory reviews in the EU, Japan, Australia, Canada, and other countries around the world. Gillam also ignores the recent reaffirmation from the FDA Commissioner that these foods are safe, and that FDA labels give consumers every bit of scientifically defensible information about the safety and nutritional value of these foods.

The repeated citing of these false claims ignores the robust global consensus on the safety of crops improved through biotechnology, and recycles the canard that the science is undecided; that the published studies demonstrating the safety of these crops are counterbalanced by credible scientific publications suggesting otherwise. This is bogus, and after the last time Gillam ran it, we called her on it. That led to an email exchange.

I challenged her to back up what she had written, and asked her to provide examples of the scientific papers she claims credibly support the notion that there are genuine safety issues here. . “I’d love to know what papers you think credibly support the claims you reported. Why not bring them on and let’s see what they are… But I could be wrong. If you have data, stand behind it. If not, I can provide you plenty of data on which a balanced journalist could base a correction.”

She responded “…The scientific literature showing a variety of health and environmental concerns surrounding the use of GMOs is out there. I have not just read the studies and made copies, but talked to scientists in several different countries about their concern.” Conspicuously absent from her response was any mention of just which studies these are. Perhaps because she knows she can’t cite any that haven’t been rejected by the scientific community or retracted by the journals in which they were published by mistake. Pressed further, instead of providing any examples of these mythical studies, she resorted to the shill gambit (hurling accusations that the views one disagrees with are bought and paid for, and thus do not have to be dealt with on their merits) thus conceding the argument.

As for biotech improved crops being “tied to environmental problems, including rising weed resistance. Millions of acres of U.S. farmland have developed weed resistance due to heavy use of crops that have been genetically altered to withstand dousings of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide…” there are several points to be made.

The first is that the evolution of resistance/tolerance is completely unsurprising. In fact, “The First Journal Article on Insecticide Resistance was Published 100 Years Ago this Month”. Gillam may be shocked to discover gambling in the casino, but it’s been known for some time. And experts in weed management have known about glyphosate tolerant weeds for some time as well, and they don’t fit comfortably into activist story line Gillam dutifully parrots. Never mind that farmers don’t “douse” weeds with glyphosate, or anything (why not? It costs money, and dousing is unnecessary, wasteful and expensive.) The bottom line is that the resistance issues are most severe in the fields of farmers who failed to follow the recommended and established best practices, and went instead year on year using only one method of weed control, eschewing the rotation and alternation of crops and weed control methods called for by long experience. The result is neither a new problem, nor one that cannot be managed. As any chef can tell you, the kitchen knife needs sharpening from time to time, and every so often one must buy a new one.

Others have noted Gillam’s repeated offenses in this area. Sadly, it seems nothing will change until something changes. Perhaps it’s time for her editors to move her to a beat that would give her less opportunity to exercise the prejudices she is obviously unwilling to check.

 

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About the author

L. Val Giddings has nearly three decades of experience in science and regulatory policy relating to biotechnology innovations in agriculture and biomedicine. He works with ITIF to bring intellectual leadership to examination of the constraints inhibiting innovations in these areas, and devising remedies to those constraints.
  • RobertWager

    Good article. Yes I wonder how many times a given writer can be called out for the same false information before their employer notices the damage to the publications credibility?

  • Guest


    been
    rejected by the scientific community or retracted by the journals in
    which they were published – See more at:
    http://www.innovationfiles.org/reuters-predictably-gets-it-wrong-again/#sthash.9TrbIP71.dpuf
    been
    rejected by the scientific community or retracted by the journals in
    which they were published – See more at:
    http://www.innovationfiles.org/reuters-predictably-gets-it-wrong-again/#sthash.9TrbIP71.dpuf
    been
    rejected by the scientific community or retracted by the journals in
    which they were published – See more at:
    http://www.innovationfiles.org/reuters-predictably-gets-it-wrong-again/#sthash.9TrbIP71.dpuf
    been
    rejected by the scientific community or retracted by the journals in
    which they were published – See more at:
    http://www.innovationfiles.org/reuters-predictably-gets-it-wrong-again/#sthash.9TrbIP71.dpufbeen rejected by the scientific community or retracted by the journals in which they were published” because of pressure from the INDUSTRY selling the poison. Don’t even try to tell me it is not. I can tell if I’ve eaten GMO Monsanto corn or if it’s an organically grown version 30-60 minutes after I’ve eaten w/o looking at labels. Just because big $$ interests can pay off “journals” and (some) scientists bought off does not mean the information we get via those sources is valid.

  • KT Kacer

    “been rejected by the scientific community or retracted by the journals in which they were published” because Monsanto et al bought them off or pressured them into their way of thinking. If You think $$ does not play a FAR bigger role than reality, you are sadly mistaken.

  • gmomustgeeoh

    If you say something enough times you think people will believe you. This is your problem, we don’t believe you. We don’t believe the company that told us Agent Orange was safe, we don’t believe the company that said DDT was safe, we don’t believe the company who claims Aspertame is safe. We don’t believe you. You are the vested interests in keeping the status quo.

  • SophieCT

    It is remotely possibly that GMOs are completely safe. However, without any real independent study over at least two generations, we don’t know. So, let’s look at the companies who make GMOs and see if they were ever trustworthy. Nope.

    Furthermore, GMOs do not fulfill any need the planet has. This is a “solution” in search of a problem. Who needs a GM lawn? Who needs GM alfalfa? Who one earth was having trouble growing alfalfa? Only the seed makers need patented seeds so they can collect rent in perpetuity. But anyone who questions them needs a tin foil hat!

  • sam

    Bullshit! And even IF GMO’s were safe, the associated pesticide use is insane. How long to do you think you can poison the planet and not cause a disaster? The US regulators are in the corporation’s pockets, the World Bank is pushing these poisons on countries around the world to the detriment of all, except the very rich. Your tower of babel will soon fall and it’s gonna be huge.

  • Benjamin Edge

    And by looking at most of the comments, Gillam has accomplished exactly what she set out to do.

  • Huntsvillecoalition 4Democracy

    Here’s what she got wrong: When she wrote: “Makers of biotech crops and many large food manufacturers have fought mandatory labeling, arguing that genetically modified crops are not materially different and pose no safety risk.” that was parroting biotech industry propaganda.
    Genetically modified crops ARE materially different.
    In 2008 the food safety standards organization of the UN, Codex Alimentarius’, Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology concluded that genetically engineered foods are “different than conventionally bred foods” and that “all genetically engineered foods should be required to go through a safety assessment prior to approval.” That’s the conclusion reached after 12 years of infiltration and delay by the biotech industry. That it is not well known that GE foods are “different than conventionally bred foods” and that “safety assessment prior to approval.” have not been done (a tenet of testing of any kind is that you don’t get to judge your own work) demonstrates that industry has had their way every step of the way yet they are losing despite their monetary clout. The degree of opposition and facts 30% and increasing of US households have gardens demonstrates that they have lost at least the hearts and minds of the people

  • Jay Dub

    GMO proponents pressuring Reuters to remove journalist who presents both sides of GMO debate
    Good journalism is founded on balance and fairness. This means presenting several sides of a story or points of view to help readers gain a more comprehensive perspective on a topic. Without balance, news can be skewed to a particular point of view.
    Reuters’ journalist Carey Gillam has covered issues surrounding genetically modified foods for the past 16 years, no easy task with the growing GMO controversy and its polarized pro- and anti-GMO perspectives. But Gillam’s reporting has been balanced and objective, giving both sides equal treatment. Civil Eats, an award-winning daily news source focusing on food issues, recently cited Gillam in an article, “24 Women Food and Agriculture Reporters You Should Know About.”
    In an April 9th Reuters article, “Bill seeks to block mandatory GMO food labeling by states,” Gillam wrote: “Advocates of labeling say consumers deserve to know if the food they eat contains GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.” A paragraph later she wrote: “Makers of biotech crops and many large food manufacturers have fought mandatory labeling, arguing that genetically modified crops are not materially different and pose no safety risk.”
    That is balanced journalism, presenting both sides to the story.
    Attacks by GMO proponents
    Unfortunately, GMO proponents object to Gillam’s balanced reporting and have pressured her editors at Reuters to remove her from covering GMO topics and to even fire her.
    In an attack on Gillam’s April 9th article, Val Giddings, former executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), accuses Gillam of fueling the “astroturf” anti-GMO campaign with her articles. Giddings then criticized Gillam for writing that “some scientific studies warn of potential human and animal health problems, and GMO crops have been tied to environmental problems, including rising weed resistance.” Giddings wrote: “the claim is false and flagrantly so.”
    But the reality is that there have been studies published that show harm to human health and the environment. Even though GMO proponents consistently tear apart any studies that show harm, such studies have been published in peer reviewed journals.
    It is also true that GMO crops are “tied to” the increasing problem of weed resistance in the US that now affects more than 60 million acres of farmland. Farmers are using large quantities of glyphosate herbicide, which is causing weeds to develop resistance to the herbicide. Glyphosate is designed to be used with glyphosate-tolerant GM crops. Is there a connection between the use of GM crops and herbicide resistance? I’d say so.
    The website, Academics Review, which is co-founded by Bruce Chassy, a retired professor of food science at the University of Illinois, has published articles attacking Gillam’s coverage. One article, “Reuters’ Gillam earns failing grade, again, for coverage of GMO science issues,” featured a big red “F” over her article. Keith Kloor, who writes for Discover magazine’s “Collide-a-Scape” blog, also attacks Gillam. In a blog, “GMOs, Journalism, and False Balance,” Kloor claims there is overwhelming scientific consensus backing the safety of GM foods. In an April 16th article, Gillam wrote: “Last October, a group of 93 international scientists issued a statement saying there was a lack of empirical and scientific evidence to support what they said were false claims the biotech industry was making about a ‘consensus’ on safety.”
    On Twitter, Kloor accused Gillam, “You are willfully ignoring the scientific consensus on this.” He dismissed the group, European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), which published the statement, as “a smattering of outliers and GMO opponents.”
    ENSSER members include Hans Herren, Ph.D., founder and president of Biovision Foundation and winner of the World Food Prize; Angela Hilbeck, senior scientist at the Institute of Integrative Biology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and David Schubert, Ph.D., professor and director of cellular neurobiology, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, among others.
    Such respected scientists are hardly “outliers.”
    Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, has written about Gillam: “This writer is known for her sloppy and biased writing.”
    In 2013 Entine wrote a vicious response to an article, “The Bad Seed,” by Caitlin Shetterly that appeared in Elle magazine. Shetterly wrote about health problems she attributed to a protein in GM corn. In describing Shetterly’s return to health after discovering the source of the problem, Entine wrote: “Like a cripple cured by the laying of hands, Shetterly is now forever grateful, and set out to evangelize her experience of salvation.” Elle’s editor responded by backing Shetterly’s account.
    Attacks based on fear
    Unfortunately, Reuters may not be providing the same support for Gillam. According to a source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, individuals from pro-GMO companies and organizations, have been pressuring Reuters and Gillam’s editors to remove her from covering GM food topics and to even fire her.
    In a blog, Giddings suggested that Reuters move Gillam to a “beat that would give her less opportunity to exercise the prejudices she is obviously unwilling to check.”
    I contacted Reuters to ask about pressure from GMO proponents, and a Reuters’ spokesperson responded: “We stand by our coverage.” I then asked if Gillam would be removed from covering GMO issues, and Reuters didn’t respond.
    Why do GMO proponents like Giddings, Chassy, Kloor, Entine, and others respond with attacks?
    “They are scared to death,” says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of several books on food policy.
    “They have an industry to defend and are attacking in the hope that they’ll neutralize critics,” says Nestle who has covered GMO issues for many years. “It’s a paranoid industry and has been from the beginning.”
    Gillam recently tweeted: “A bit astonished at the level of fear out there over truthful reporting…”
    GMO proponents don’t believe there is a GMO debate. They say the science is settled, GMOs are safe, and don’t ask that they be labeled. They are intolerant to another perspective. Carey Gillam’s balanced articles threaten their worldview so they respond with attacks and demand her head.
    The question is: Will Reuters show journalistic integrity by keeping Gillam on the GMO “beat” or will they succumb to industry bullying?
    The latter would be a loss to balanced journalism and encourage GMO proponents to attack and smear other journalists who provide both sides to the GMO controversy.
    Let’s hope Reuters does the former.

  • Pat Buchanan

    We the public are watching you and remembering your articles Mr. Giddings. When the truth finally comes out that you are ruining biodiversity and poisoning the planet you had better have eyes in the back of your head!!