by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: GM(Genetically Modified)

Dec 16 2022

Weekend reading: Monsanto

Stacy Malkan hasa new report out.

This report documents how Monsanto manipulated public opinion to minimize concerns about the potential dangers of glyphosate (Roundup).

In this report, we show how pesticide companies not only followed in the footsteps of Big Oil and Big Tobacco, they helped to write the public relations playbook that obscures the dangers of widely used products that science shows are threatening human and environmental health around the globe.

This report about Monsanto’s campaign to defend glyphosate tells one piece of a broader story: that for decades, pesticide companies have waged expensive PR campaigns to shape the narrative about science and our food system, pushing the twin ideas that pesticides — a term that encompasses insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and more — are safe and that we need them to feed the world.

In recent years, groundbreaking global studies have shown the grave threat agricultural chemicals pose to biodiversity and public health and how they fail to deliver on their promises for greater agricultural productivity, leading to crop loss and weed and pest resistance.

Worth reading?  Definitely!

For the data and for the details of Monsanto’s highly effective PR campaign.


Sep 20 2022

Judge rules QR codes can’t substitute for GMO (GE) food labels

A couple of years ago, the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit challenging the USDA’s GMO labeling law.

I’ve discussed the law in a previous post (and in an even earlier one, Goodbye GMO, Hello Bioengineered: USDA publishes labeling rules).

Basically, the current law is supposed to put this logo on GMO foods.

Image result for bioengineering logo usda

The Center’s lawsuit called for:

  1. On package labeling.  The law allowed QR codes instead.
  2. Use of the term genetically modified or GMO rathat than bioengineered.
  3. Labeling of foods with GM ingredients.
  4. More information about GM food.

The District Judge dismissed #2, #3, and #4, but agreed that QR codes are insufficient.

Consequently, plaintiffs have carried their burden of showing that AMS’s decision to implement a standalone text message disclosure option was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law”…Summary judgment is granted to plaintiffs on the APA claim for the text message regulation, and Sections 66.106 and 66.108 of the regulations are remanded to the USDA without vacatur for reconsideration in light of this order. Summary judgment is denied in all other respects.

The Center for Food Safety’s translation:

A U.S. District Court has held that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s decision to allow genetically engineered (GMO) foods to only be labeled with a “QR” code was unlawful, and that USDA must instead add additional disclosure options to those foods under USDA’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. The Court sent back to the agency the QR code portions of the 2018 Trump administration rules for GMO labeling that went into effect on January 1, 2022, which hindered consumer access with burdensome electronic or digital disclosures.

If you care at all about whether GMO foods are in supermarkets, good luck.  I’ve seen cartons of Hawaiian papayas labeled with that logo, but not the papayas themselves and not much else.

Once again, if you want to know what GMO fruits and vegetables might—in theory—be in supermarket produce sections, you can check the FDA’s website.

The purple tomato recently approved by USDA is not on that list; the FDA hasn’t gotten to it yet.

Mostly, GMO produce is not in supermarkets.  But wouldn’t it be nice to know for sure?

It will be interesting to see if this ruling makes things more transparent.


Coming soon!  My memoir, October 4.

For 30% off, go to  Use code 21W2240 at checkout.




Sep 2 2022

Weekend reading: Food sovereignty in Ghana

Joeva Sean Rock.  We Are Not Starving: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty in GhanaMichigan State University Press, 2022.  188 pages

I enjoyed getting to know Joeva Rock when she had a fellowship in my NYU department, and was honored to be asked to blurb her book:

We Are Not Starving is an utterly compelling account of how the failure of international donors to understand and respect the recipients of development aid contributes to the failure of their projects.  Through the industry’s attempts to introduce GMO crops in Ghana, anthropologist Joeva Rock draws lessons essential for anyone who wants international development to work.  If you want to understand the real, on-the-ground politics of GMOs, start here.

A couple of excerpts from the manuscript:

  • Ghanaian officials recognized the limitations posed by IPRs [Intellectual Property Rights] as an important way to collect financial benefits from GMO.  Thus, rather than describe GMOs as a humanitarian technology, as donors sought to do, Ghanaian officials and scientists went out of their way to stress that, when coupled with IPRs, GM seeds were “the secret” to obtaining profit, revenue that was sorely needed in the post-structural adjustment era of gutted state infrastructure.
  • Ghanaians continually critiqued global discourses and development industry standards wherein philanthropists and professionals in the Global North set boundaries for conversations about hunger, collapse Africa into a homogenized, starving entity, and the prescribe solutions based on these racialized myths.  These critiques are reflective of recipient fatigue and are often held in tension with discourse emanating from the same donors that sponsor the work of GMO advocates, who rely on images and texts that depict Africa as languishing and starving.
Aug 10 2022

The FDA’s new pro GMO propaganda

You would think the beleaguered FDA would have better things to do.

It sent out a press release announcing new “Feed Your Mind” materials to increase public and professional understanding of GMOs, in partnershipwith USDA and EPA.

My first question: Who paid for this?

The answer:

Funding for the “Feed Your Mind” initiative was provided by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 to conduct “consumer outreach and education regarding agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology derived food products and animal feed, including through publication and distribution of science-based educational information on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts of such biotechnology, food products, and feed.”  More funds were provided through 2018 and 2019 Appropriations bills.

How’s that for effective lobbying by the food biotechnology industry!

Why do I think this is pro-GMO propaganda?

I started with the Discussion Guide for Health Educators.  It has just a few questions and answers.  For example:

Q.  Are GMO’s safe to eat?

A.  Yes…they are just as safe to eat as non-GMO foods.

Q.  Is here a link between GMOs and cancer?

A.  No.  GMO crops are not changed in ways that would increase the risk of cancer for humans or animals.

I don’t think these answers are necessarily wrong.  They just don’t tell the whole story.

These materials have nothing to say about:

  • Consolidation in the biotechnology industry
  • Corporate control of commodity agriculture
  • Glyphosate, the herbicide used with GMOs and considered carcinogenic by international health agencies and US courts
  • How GMO crops have taken over, driving out everyone else
  • How pesticides used on GMO crops contaminate organic production
  • The ways GMO companies harrass independent farmers by enforcing intellectual property rights
  • How the Farm Bill subsidizes GMO corn and soybeans, causing them to be overproduced and corn to be used for ethanol
  • Congress’s absurd Bioengineered labeling, widely ignored.
  • The consequent lack of transparency in the supermarket

No wonder so many people look for Non-GMO labels on food products.

Take a look at these materials and judge for yourself (I particularly recommend the video for consumers).  It and the rest are quite short.

For More Information

Mar 4 2022

Weekend reading: Monsanto

Bartow J. Elmore.  Seed Money: Monsanto’s Past and Our Food Future.  Norton, 2021.

I was interested to read this book for three reasons.

  • I was familiar with Elmore’s his excellent previous book, Citizen Coke, which I blogged about in 2014.
  • I ran into Bart Elmore in, of all places, the restaurant of an otherwise empty hotel in Brasilia while I was on book tour for the Portuguese edition of Unsavory Truth, and he was doing the research for this book.
  • I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the Monsanto events I described at length in the second half of Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety.  Not much, as it turns out.

This is a history of the company from its beginnings in the early 1900s as a producer of saccharine; to its production of 2, 4-D, PCBs, and other toxic chemicals; to its development and dependence on glyphosate; to its purchase by Bayer just as courts were deciding in favor of plaintiffs arguing that glyphosate was responsible for their cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

From my reading, Elmore bends over backwards trying to be fair to the company but nevertheless paints a picture of a company that put profits over all other consideration, regardless of what its products were doing to human health.  It’s not a pretty story.

Elmore is an historian who seems to be trying to remain dispassionate.   He is disappointed that Monsanto lied when it claimed its products were safe and genetically modified foods would feed the world.   His book, he says,

reveal[s] that GE [genetically engineered] technology was erroneously deployed over the past two decades and was more about selling chemicals than investing in real solutions to our food problems, which has resulted in wasted opportunities and wasted resources [p. 277].

I think what he documents about this company’s history of profit-driven lack of ethics is chilling.  It deserves more than disappointment.  It calls for outrage.

Feb 24 2022

Corn for ethanol? Not a good idea.

We grow lots of corn in the U.S.

  • Most of it is genetically modified, meaning that the potentially carcinogenic herbicide, glyphosate, gets dumped all over it in enormous quanitities
  • 40% of the corn is used to produce ethanol; this provides an incentive to grow corn in places where water is limited or land is poor.

One argument in favor of using corn for ethanol is that using ethanol for fuel reduces climate change.

But recent reports suggest that using corn for ethanol is a net loss for the planet.

Comment: Growing corn for ethanol is makes no sense at all.  It’s bad for land and water.  Dumping glyphosate also makes no sense.  We need an agricultural policy that promotes agroecology/regenerative agriculture/sustainability, and that promotes the health of everyone involved in production and consumption.

Jan 12 2022

USDA’s GMO-labeling rules, such as they are, go into effect

On January 1, the USDA’s useless rules for labeling bioengineered (BE) foods, those formerly known as genetically modified (GMOs), went into effect.

Will the new rules help you figure out which items in the produce section or anywhere else in the store have been genetically engineered?

Not a chance.

I am particularly curious about what’s in the produce section.  It’s easy enough to know which genetically modified foods have been approved by the FDA; the FDA has a website for this purpose.

But just because they’ve been approved does not necessarily mean they are in production and in your supermarket.

To know which ones are genetically modified, it would be nice to have labels.

Instead, we have the results of USDA’s obfuscation, as I discussed in a blog post two years ago: Goodbye GMO, Hello Bioengineered: USDA publishes labeling rules.  It’s worth repeating:

Trump’s USDA has issued final rules for labeling food products of biotechnology, commonly known to all of us as GMOs.

Since GMOs have taken on a pejorative—Frankenfood—connotation, the USDA wanted to fix that.  And did it ever.

It drops GMOs, and substitutes “Bioengineered.”

Its logo depicts food biotechnology as sun shining on agriculture.Image result for bioengineering logo usdaAnd the rules have a loophole big enough to exclude lots of products from having to carry this logo: those made with highly refined GMO sugars, starches and oils made from GMO soybeans and sugar beets.

If the products do not contain detectable levels of DNA, they are exempt.  Never mind that GMO/bioengineered is a production issue.

When Just Label It was advocating for informing the public about GMOs, this was hardly what it had in mind.

Count this as a win for the GMO industry.

The issues

  • The obfuscating term BE, as opposed to GMO
  • The loopholes for disclosure options: text, symbol, QR code, note to receive a text message . Or, for small companies: phone number or  website.  
  • GMO corn, soybeans, or sugar do not have to be disclosed if levels of DNA are not detectable.

What’s new since two years ago?

The Washington Post has a good explanation of the rules

The Counter explains the legal challenges to the new rules.  The Center for Food Safety’s lawsuit is here.

Study: the new labeling law won’t make any difference to purchase decisions.

Comment: The law allows other certifications like USDA Organic and NON-GMO Project Verified.  These work.  Expect to see more of them.  And let’s keep an eye on that lawsuit.

Oct 4 2021

Industry-sponsored study of the week: glyphosate (Roundup) in food

Thanks to Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky for sending me this gem.

Residues of glyphosate in food and dietary exposure.  John L. Vicini,Pamela K. Jensen,Bruce M. Young,John T. Swarthout, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.  First published: 16 August 2021.

The study: A review of existing data on amounts of glyphosate residues in foods as compared to maximum limits or tolerances set by European or American regulatory agencies.  The study also reviewed data on levels of glyphosate in urine samples.

Conclusion: “Exposures to glyphosate from food are well below the amount that can be ingested daily over a lifetime with a reasonable certainty of no harm.”

Conflicts of interest:  “The authors are all employees of Bayer Crop Science, a major manufacturer of glyphosate.”
Comment: Glyphosate is used to kill weeds on fields of genetically modified crops, most notably corn and soybeans, but also other crops engineered to resist its action.  US farmers use a lot of it—300 million pounds a year on average.  Glyphosate has been linked to cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in people exposed to large amounts.  Its maker, Bayer Crop Science, settled these cases for billions of dollars last year.  It also said it would stop selling glyphosate for home use.  Bayer wants you to stop worrying about glyphosate residues in your food.  Hence, this publication.
Here’s what the FDA says about what it’s doing to protect us from glyphosate in food.
Here’s what a law firm says about which foods have glyphosate residues.
What can you do to avoid glyphosate?
  • Don’t use it in your garden or around your house.
  • Eat a wide variety of minimally processed whole foods; most are unlikely to have been sprayed directly.
  • Minimize intake of highly processed foods made with soy and corn ingredients.

And encourage the EPA to set firm standards and the FDA to continue to monitor foods for glyphosate residues.  Its last report was in 2017.