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Leftist Shareholders’ GMO Crusade Runs Aground on Science

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Ahhhh, the Left! So often passionate, so obstinately assured of the rightness of their secular crusades mounted under the variety of flags and anthems espousing “social justice” and “environmental sustainability.” And, unfortunately, so often just plain wrong.

Such is the case with As You Sow, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and other shareholder activist groups that each year apply their supposed religious authority to the proxy resolutions they submit to major companies. Certainly, AYS and ICCR investors believe from the sanctuary of their respective progressive bubbles that they’re working for the benefit of humankind when it comes to such topics as climate-change mitigation and genetically modified organisms. Yet, nothing could be further from reality viewed through the lenses of science, religion, economics and common sense.

For the purpose of this post, let’s take a look at the work AYS and ICCR apply against GMOs. Both shareholder activist groups are affiliated with Inside GMO coalition – AYS as an acknowledged member and ICCR listing Inside GMO as a featured resource. The Inside GMO website portentously lists the organization’s purpose:

Large agribusiness and chemical companies oppose our right to know when foods have GMOs. These are the same companies that put GMOs out on the market without adequate testing – turning us all into lab rats in a giant science experiment.

GMO Inside is a campaign dedicated to helping all Americans know which foods have GMOs inside, and the non-GMO verified and organic certified alternatives to genetically engineered foods. We believe that everyone has a right to know what’s in their food and to choose foods that are proven safe for themselves, their families, and the environment.

GMO Inside gives people information and tools, and provides a place for a growing community of people from all walks of life, to share information and actions around genetically engineered foods.

Sigh. It gets worse.
On Wednesday, Oct. 14, Inside GMO issued a clarion call to its members, petitioning them to urge the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture into clamping down on GMOs:

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is requesting public comments to proposed changes in the regulation of field trials for GE wheat. We need to tell the USDA that these trials should not happen at all, and if the USDA insists on moving forward with field tests, it must to do so in the most cautionary manner so that it protects the environment and surrounding communities, and prevents contamination of the world’s most precious crop.

In order to build a more sustainable food system, we must reduce the use of GE crops and their associated pesticides and support farmers who use sustainable practices. It’s time for the USDA to start moving us in that direction and assessing the real, on-the-ground impacts of GE crop production systems.

Failing thus far to ban GMOs altogether, AYS and ICCR shareholder resolutions have been repeatedly submitted to force companies to label foods containing GMOs. All this is so much folderol registered for an arbitrary dietary preference with no scientific basis to support it. In fact, increasing crop yields brings down prices for consumers as well as ensuring more people are fed in an economically responsible fashion – including but not limited to the poor. I can’t imagine a better moral argument supporting the use of GMOs.

Writing for the economic research and public policy nonprofit Manhattan Institute, James Davis eviscerates the oft-told urban legends against GMOs with a Oct. 13 homerun article titled “Genetically Modified Crops Cause Progressives to Abandon Science.” Davis safely rounds first by citing several authoritative sources as to the safety of GMOs:

According to the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and countless other qualified international bodies, there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that genetically modified crops (GM crops) are unfit for human consumption. Despite this unanimous scientific consensus, opponents continue to generate controversy. As one example, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a Democratic presidential candidate and climate change warrior, has fought for a bill allowing states to require GM food labeling. Though he “does not believe that GMOs are necessarily bad,” his bill plays directly into the hands of GM crop alarmists.

Evoking distaste for government’s heavy, special-interest involvement in agriculture, mandatory labeling proponents charge that firms conspire to hide GM crop usage and that consumers have a right to know what is in their food. And yet, many companies already voluntarily identify their products as non-GM to attract consumers. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) labels foods “certified organic” when they meet certain standards, including a requirement they not contain GM components.

So much for the scientific argument; Davis barrels toward second-base with the economic argument:

Mandatory labeling could stigmatize GM crops and cost the average American family hundreds of dollars every year because non-GM foods cost more to procure. Many advocates of labeling overlook not only the cost to businesses and consumers, but also remain unaware of the substantial economic benefits of GM crops, including increased agricultural yields and enhanced environmental sustainability.

In total, the U.S. agricultural sector generates 4.7 percent of the nation’s GDP and indirectly accounts for 9.2 percent of U.S. jobs. GM crops make up a substantial percentage of this output — nearly 90 percent of all corn, soy beans, and cotton grown in the United States is genetically modified to be herbicide resistant.

Davis rounds third base with the moral – re: “social justice” – argument:

Moreover, the use of GM crops has uniquely increased corn yields by 5 percent in the United States and upwards of 30 percent in other areas of the world. This has increased the world’s total supply of food and lowered its price for the world’s least fortunate. If farmers were deprived of the ability to grow GM crops, the global price of corn and soy would be 5 percent and 10 percent higher, respectively.

Assuming the progressive members of AYS and ICCR are sincere in their quest for environmental sustainability, Davis puts third behind him as he heads toward home plate standing up:

The environmental benefits of GM crops are also well established. A study by agricultural economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, owners of the agricultural research firm PG Economics, concluded that from 1996 to 2011, U.S. farmers were able to reduce herbicide use by 11 percent when growing GM maize and 5 percent when growing GM cotton in addition to significantly reducing insecticide use across the board. The herbicide-resistant nature of the crops has allowed farmers to eliminate weeds using smaller doses of glyphosate, which scientists and stringent European regulators alike have approved as a safe herbicide.

Additionally, GM crop farmers have substantially reduced their fuel use and CO2 emissions because farmers no longer have to make as many insecticide and herbicide spray runs to preserve their crops. These emission reductions have been the equivalent of removing nearly 10 million cars from the road. Considering that agricultural-related emissions account for 7 percent of U.S. emissions and nearly 20 percent of global emissions, GM crops should be welcomed by policymakers, such as Sanders, who claim to be concerned about climate change.

Researchers from the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Economic Research Service have shown that farmers who began using GM soy crops reduced their herbicide use by a third and were 21 percent more likely to adopt conservation tillage systems. This means that farmers need to till their fields less, which in turn has reduced fertilizer runoff into rivers and further reduced emissions released from tilled soil. Additionally, by lowering total insecticide and herbicide use, GM crops have — in some sense — reduced the potential for weeds or pests to spread based on naturally-selected immunity.

I’ll give Davis the final say on GMOs, which sums up perfectly why AYS and ICCR get it completely wrong on GMOs:

While fringe media outlets continue to give GM crops a bad name, a comprehensive analysis of the evidence reveals they have a host of economic, environmental, and humanitarian benefits. The consensus is clear—progressives should set aside this crusade and heed the scientific consensus.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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