Bill Nye Changes His Stance On GMO Foods – Was He Paid Off?

It seems like not a week goes by in which I do not come across the term “GMO food” somewhere in my online travels. Normally these stories are on environmentally oriented  news sites such as Ecowatch, and are about some new genetically modified crop that has been approved for human consumption (most recently a variety of apple and potato) along with various other  “cautionary” articles on the subject. Its a subject that I had wanted to tackle here at some point, but one I have avoided due to the massive undertaking required. But this Nye story I could not pass up.

Truth be told, before the news came out that Bill had changed his views on the subject, I did not even know he had any public views on the topic. I have heard people such as Bill Maher and Neil Degrasse Tyson address it, but not Nye. But apparently he did on an episode of his show back in his days as Americas favorite “Science Guy”.

And he has also taken on the subject fairly recently, as stated by a few articles I found below).

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2014/11/06/bill-nye-explains-gmo-skeptic/#.VRErJNxZ3tc

 http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2014/11/10/open-letter-bill-nye-plant-scientist/#.VREt2NxZ3td

However, as stated by the title, he has recently changed his views on the subject of GMO foods. Previously a skeptic on the subject, he did a 360 and is now in favor of GMOs (interestingly, after visiting and interacting with scientists at monsanto).

The first thing I have to say, is that the title is not reflective of my personal viewpoint. However, it is fitting to one I seen coming from the anti-GMO crowd when THIS Ecowatch piece was published on March 9th. And now, someone has pretty much come out and insinuated it (March 23ed). Below is my favorite part of the piece:

We’ll never know what actually went down during Nye’s visit, as Tom Philpott at Mother Jones notes, but we do know that Monsanto has poured millions of dollars into public relation efforts to sell the public on GMOs. Because that’s what you do when you are a corporation with deep coffers and a product that the public is wisely skeptical of.

9/11 was CLEARLY an inside job. Its was an obvious example of insurance fraud. The biggest case of insurance fraud in American history (involving 2 airlines and one billionaire landlord).
It also served as a great excuse to justify the American government entry into 2 nations, giving them a place to build up and secretly test various substances for the purpose of population manipulation and control.
It is not in your best interest to assume your government as being incapable of being your biggest menace. People are absolutely right to be skeptical of the official explanation of 9/11.

Companies like Monsanto hope that casting doubt on the GMO labeling debate will cause us to get caught up in the proverbial weeds of the issue. So let’s get something straight: the debate over GMOs isn’t just about GMOs. It’s about the current and future state of our food system—who grows and sells our food, how it’s marketed, and what technologies were used to produce it. By selling seeds to farmers, peddling pesticides, forming corporate monopolies and funding academic research on GMOs, agribusiness giants like Monsanto have one goal in mind: controlling the food system.

I can agree with this, to a degree. Having gigantic entities exerting monopoly or duopoly control over a majority of the worlds food supply is, not a good thing for anyone. Big companies are in the business of making sales and being as efficient as possible, so this will almost always prevail even in the case of ecological degradation (unless mandated by law). The above article comes off as (again) border line conspiratorial, when the bigger factor seems to be the money. They are out for more sales, market domination is just an unfortunate by-product of this.

It does not matter the logo. You can almost always find the reason, if you follow the money.

The millions of people calling for labeling of GMO foods have a problem with that. Furthermore, it is disappointing to see such beloved science advocates as Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson being captured by the industry.

Well first of all, millions of people also believe in various versions of 9/11 conspiracy theory, that one of the founding fathers of the United States was Jesus and who knows how many other claims without strong evidence. Though many people often THINK of themselves as skeptical, many still take seriously claims (particularly scary, or unprovable ones) without much thought.
And many people will not budge in terms of their conclusions, no matter what the subject matter. Though mildly irritating on topics such as conspiracy theory and religion, it can be flat out harmful on some subjects such as GMO’s.
I have a friend who was afraid to eat corn for a whole year after watching some garbage GMO corn documentary on youtube. Only one of many similar instances (such as avoiding garlic because it “kills brain cells”, and not eating iron fortified cereals because they contain “iron filings you can move with a magnet”). No, I am not kidding.

As for Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson “being captured by the industry”, again, stop with the conspiratorial talk.
Both may share a viewpoint that happens to be beneficial to companies like Monsanto. But both share something else. That is, they both have a background in SCIENCE. I hypothesize that both used their skills to look at the data that was available on the subject, and then came up with a conclusion.
Bill Nye at first came to the table with a differing conclusion then Neil Degrasse Tyson. But like any human does (or SHOULD DO), he apparently altered those previous conclusions with the introduction of new information.
Yes, he went to Monsanto and spoke to Monsanto scientists. But I hypothesize that the meeting was more a conversation and presentation between scientists then a bribery session.

Just because the industry has launched a charm offensive in the media when it comes to GMOs doesn’t change the basic facts: GMOs are largely untested, and their long-term effects on our health and our planet are still unknown; they promote the use of dangerous chemicals, and they pose a significant threat to organic agriculture. What’s more, consumers should absolutely get to decide whether the food they are buying carries these unknown risks or supports this system; GMO foods must be labeled.

Its always amusing that “they are untested” is almost always used as a negative in terms of anti-GMO conversations. All it means is that right now, there is no real data in terms of long term affects on health, ecology and other aspects.
Painting a void of data in a negative strikes me as the anti-GMO version of pascals wager. There is no long term data to show that this corn will make your dick fall off, but do you REALLY want to chance it???

The funny thing about what was written just previously, is that was the stance that I was writing this piece from, and arguably the stance I had largely taken on the subject. That the science was unproven.
I had finished and was in the editing stage, when I happened to start listening to a video linked further in the post. Though I linked it for another reason, the beginning effectively challenged my whole starting viewpoint, and thus, my whole grasp of the topic.

Which forced me to call myself out, and admit here that I was wrong. Not only was I wrong, but I was also writing this from a quite typical anti-GMO viewpoint.
And so I educated myself to the thousands of studies that prove the safety of genetically modified foods. Studies that have occurred over a long term periods of time.

Studies that exemplify yet another reason why such articles as those shown here (published by  Ecowatch and others) are garbage.

As for “promoting dangerous chemicals” and “putting organic agriculture at risk”,  I can understand this.
The reason why many of these crops are on peoples radar, is because they are often modified by way of having a bit of herbicide and/or insecticide within its gene structure. The herbicides/insecticides and the seeds are propitiatory and are most effective in combination, so that is normally how they are utilized.
I agree that does not exactly sound, halal or kosher. But it does not really change my viewpoint, since this has been studied. Repeatedly. No evidence is not negative evidence.

I am somewhat in agreement that this stuff may make organic farming more difficult. But this is another area that, is muddied by mis and disinformation from the anti-GMO side.

I am in agreement that organic farming is likely affected due to the widespread usage of these chemicals. For large organic farming operations, I can see the task of STAYING organic being incredibly difficult whilst in amongst many non-organic farming operations. One aspect is the aerial spraying of herbicides and pesticides, which can ride the winds onto organic plants. Then there is the water supply (if the chemicals are entering into water supplies upstream of organic operations). And I suppose insects (such as bees in the process of pollination) and other animals (even the wind and rain) can do it to, spreading non-organic containments and seeds into organic operations.

However, this one needs to have an asterisk, because its also commonly utilized in an exaggerated to flat out fear-mongering fashion by the anti-GMO side (particularly by the many documentarys you may come across on Youtube or Netflix). And in its not even as much about the phenomenon, as it is the reaction of “evil” corporate entities towards little farmers. The portrayal of them being persecuted because some nearby farmers patented seeds happened to blow over and germinate on the poor farmers property.

I will let Dusty Smith take care of this one.

Moving on, we come to the GMO labeling question (should genetically modified products be labeled?). Advocates within the anti-GMO movement think that the food should be clearly labeled, making the consumer fully aware of what they are purchasing. And in a sense, I agree.

Of course! I don’t like corporations (or anyone else) hiding ingredients within common consumer items anymore then the next guy.

However, I am hesitant to just say “Yes! Its just common sense!” because of the state of  public awareness on this topic. There is a lot of “information” available, but a whole lot  of it is mis or disinformation. And many people do not bother to find out if there is more to the story then what is said on the Netflix documentary or the Youtube video. Though there is a lot of nuance in terms of genetic modification aside from the dangerous, many people ONLY see the dangerous, and react to that.

Lets take the example of a banana. The yellow musa × paradisiaca variety that you are used to seeing in the store is a product of genetic modification. As is, almost every other fruit, vegetable and food we consume today.
Many on the anti-GMO side will hesitate to use the term “genetically modified” in these cases, favoring  “selective breeding” instead. Its a way to keep you associating the term in your mind with the image of some evil person in a lab coat.
However, in the grand scheme of things, they are both forms of genetic engineering. So a law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods and/or organisms would also theoretically have to cover these foods. Even though this is an entirely differing (and hardly scary) process in reality thats been ongoing for as long as agriculture itself, all the anti-crowd sees is the scary person in the lab coat.
This is the risk of thrusting mandatory genetic modification labels on an ignorant and largely misinformed populace.

However, unlike Dusty and others, I am not exactly ANTI-labeling. However, if it were to become a reality, it needs to be accompanied by  some sort of MASSIVE (likely world wide) education campaign designed to inform the public on the subject.
If such a campaign does not happen, then I suspect that literally TONS of foods will end up needlessly in landfills in regions of GMO labeling, simply because consumers don’t understand the nuances.

Another thing I suspect will happen is some companies will benefit financially from this ignorance, should they cash in on the trend at the right time. Or more importantly, the consumer will end up with an unnecessarily inflated grocery bill.

I do not have a problem with companies stepping in to fill a void in the market. However, being that I currently work in the grocery industry, I know that all of those specialty products (Organic, non GMO, gluten free) cost significantly more then their normally processed or “genetically modified” counterparts. Sometimes the prices can differ by 2 to 4 dollars (if not more!) just for a box of cereal or granola bars. Not even considering fruits and vegetables, and other foods.

Though it IS in a sense the fault of the consumer for not bothering to become educated enough to realize that they are being duped for nothing, it does bother me to see one entity benefit due to ignorance. Even if someone is an idiot, it be unfortunate to see them neglect other areas of family life (recreation? children’s activities?) just to make room for the higher food bill.
Yes, most people that jump onto food fads are likely in upper income brackets that allow for higher costs of food. But unlike gluten free and (to a degree) organic, the internet (and thus this GMO fear mongering) crosses all  socio-economic lines. As such, even if lower classes are not as likely to come on board just due to economic reasons, its not unreasonable to think some could.

And yes, I do call it a fad, because even if labeling becomes a mandatory reality, I don’t see this lasting much longer then maybe a couple of years (if even). I come to this conclusion due to both of the cost of such foods, and because most people will find something else to fixate on after while (“Why am I buying this $6 box of granola?! That other one is $3!”).

For this, I again reference my career in the grocery industry.

One aspect of my job (that annoys some people, me included at times) is the watching of best before dates on the products in the store. Stuff that goes beyond best before/sell by/expiration (etc) dates is pulled and either trashed or returned to the manufacturers (I imagine they do the same with said items).
Though I at times find whole cases of outdated (apparently unpopular) items across all categories of labeling (gluten free, organic, non GMO or no special labeling), the vast majority of the cases of food I pull is within the organic/gluten free/non GMO categories.
It is an unfortunate thing, not just on account to the lost revenue (particularly because I work for a co-operative), but also on account of all the preparation and distribution carbon emitted on account to those foods.  Not to mention the stupidity that is laws preventing such non-perishables from going to charities (if recipients of such foods get sick, the source would likely be held responsible, thus making donations of outdated non-perishables a legal liability).

However, what is important here, is the fact that these foods are currently available for the consumers who want them. And I do in fact hear a whole lot of discourse in the public domain about concern about what is in their foods (organics!), about the presence of gluten in much of everything (gluten free!) and of course about the GMOs in the food supply (non GMOs!).

Yet despite all the rhetoric, I still discard a whole lot of niche marketed products that fit such wants. And I see a whole lot of products that fall outside of such categories, move every day. Take good ole Corn Flakes cereal (not just what is sold under the brand name, but all others, such as store brands).
I have never found an outdated box of name or store branded corn flakes. Yet every few months I seem to find the non-modified stuff (usually whole cases). Selling one or 2 packages of non-GMO (verses who knows how many of the regular variety) certainly does not match with the public discourse.  Even amongst the people I know who are anti-GMO fanatics, they still don’t purchase organic and non-GMO. They just avoid an ever growing (and evolving) list of “scary” foods.

I have to also take into consideration that the experiences I have in the store I work in, and the community I live in, all amount to nothing more then anecdotal material.
I live in a relatively small city of just over 45,000, which is primarily agriculturally based. Most residents I would say are moderate income earners. The majority of consumers in the city tend to be moderate earning, no-nonsense conservatives who dislike change. And we also get a lot of farmers from outlying areas and communities.
As such, this community is not exactly the target market for many of the products listed (unlike say, Calgary or Toronto. Maybe even Winnipeg).

But none the less, I still believe that past behavior is a good indication of future behavior, particularly in terms of behaviors of the masses. There have been many food fads (and other fads) in the past, and there will be many more. I don’t see this anti-GMO thing as being a whole lot different, when all is said and done.

If I were to tell you my opinion on genetically modified foods, honestly I am unsure I have one. Okay, this whole piece says different. But I do not have a solidified opinion. Because at the moment,  I do not feel that there is enough scientific data available to make such a position possible.

Of course,  there will be hordes that will disagree with such views. However, many reference pseudo-science, debunked studies, or just conspiracy.  Even otherwise good ecologically oriented online publications are guilty of this.

So when it comes to genetically modified organisms, I guess you could say that I am cautious of some aspects, but otherwise I have no opinion (yet). When it comes to problems with the western worlds food supply (which is being increasingly exported elsewhere), I am more concerned about the mass availability of cheap but unhealthy foods, and also the high sugar content of much of it. Read some labels, and keep in mind that 4 grams of sugar equals to a tablespoon.
This strikes me as more urgent then, a problem that may not even exist.

Roundup 

One thing that we should keep our eyes on, is a new study put out by the World Health Organization’s International Agency For Research On Cancer. It allegedly  finds Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup (well, its active ingredient glyphosate) problematic enough to upgrade its status to “probably carcinogenic to humans” (the next up is “carcinogenic to humans”).
How this turns out will be especially interesting, being that the herbicide is not only the most commonly used in the world, but also unanimously deemed safe by pretty much all of the worlds governments.

I have not come to any solid conclusions yet (though I know many are saying “SEE!! WE WERE RIGHT!! MONSANTO IS EVIL!!”).

The first thing that I have to acknowledge, is the fact that this is but a single study. A single study being an out lier amongst potentially hundreds of others, does not make it automatically flawed or misleading. But it also does not prove that all the previous studies as being flawed or misleading (not to mention the conspiratorial baggage that is often attached to such views).

All it means, is that the study needs more evaluation. And that is what the scientific community will do over time. If it is correct, then we will work from there. If it proves to be incorrect, then we know and move on.
As such, I don’t think that anyone should take this study alone as a verification of their previously held conclusions. Anyone that has any respect for the ways of the scientific method that is.

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