Sunday, December 14, 2008

Danger: GMO (Greenpeace Membership Operation)

Whereas most would translate GMO to Genetically Modified Organism, the alternative meaning Greenpeace Membership Operation also holds true. Greenpeace and related organizations like Friends of the Earth have gained many members by demonizing GMO foods. However, their claims that all GMO foods are inherently dangerous to health have not been supported by evidence from safety studies or epidemiology.

Their latest try is related to an Austrian multi-generation study in mice that seems to show a loss of reproductive potential in GMO-fed mice (the study however was heavy criticized for technical shortcomings, e.g.

One might think Greenpeace would embrace this particular GMO food, as overpopulation is the root of all environmental problems ;-)

However, instead they claimed “… if this is not reason enough to close down the whole biotech industry once and for all, I am not sure what kind of disaster we are waiting for”.
Even if one particular GMO food would have a safety risk (which has not been demonstrated), demanding to close down the whole biotech industry is like arguing that the entire car industry should be closed if one model from one manufacturer did not meet a crash safety test.

It’s not that Greenpeace is merely employing smart marketing tactics, increasing their membership and influence at the expense of a novel technology. Worse, the result of their position on GMO foods damages public health. Resources for risk assessment, risk management and risk communication are in short supply. Due to the disruptive tactics employed by Greenpeace, and their success in making a large proportion of the (European) population believe that there must be something wrong with GMO foods, huge efforts have to be spend on GMOs by risk management, risk communication and risk assessment agencies (e.g This takes precious resources away from food safety issues like microbiological and chemical contamination that, in contrast to GMO foods, actually kill people.

I haven’t yet seen any estimates as to how many lives were damaged or lost by this inappropriate focus on GMO safety. However, I wonder how future health economists and public health historians will view the long-term effect of Greenpeace and related organisations on public health. It may well be that in the area of GMO foods, their net effect has been negative.