As early as 1998, the dangers of genetically modified food (GMOs) have been recognized by numerous scientific studies. Yet, no mainstream media included stories warning of these studies. Even today, the general North American public remains ignorant of their daily foodâ€™s dangers due to the mainstream pressâ€™s continual disregard of the topic.
The media research group Project Censored brought this issue to light by admitting it in its 2007 database. Annually, the American media research organization Project Censored records the twenty-five most underreported stories of the year, in hopes of exposing significant (and ignored) stories to the public and informing them on key issues that would not otherwise be brought to their attention. Underreported stories submitted must be reliable and of major significance to the population.
This article tracks the coverage GM foodâ€™s dangers since its induction into Project Censoredâ€™s database, searching in American mainstream press, Canadian and foreign mainstream press.
In 1998,Â Dr. Arpad Pusztaiâ€™s examination ofÂ laboratory rats concluded that rats fed a diet of GM food became sickly, had malformed organs, and had abnormal blood composition, while the rats fed a non-GMO diet had no such problems (Lean, 2005). Consequently, questions were raised about the long term health risks of GM foods for humans. This study was covered in the British article â€œRevealed: â€˜Health Fears Over Secret Study in GM Foodâ€™â€ by Geoffrey Lean.
In 2005, the Organic Consumers Association website also documented Pusztaiâ€™s report with the article â€œMonsantoâ€™s GE Corn Experiments on Rats Continue to Generate Global Controversyâ€. This article, like Leanâ€™s, tells of how authorities required Pusztai to sign a confidentiality agreement before examining the secret study. Lean further exposed the dangers of GM foods in his article â€œGM: New Study Shows Unborn Babies Could Be Harmedâ€. The study, by Russian scientists, found GM-fed laboratory rats much more likely to give birth to offspring who died before they were three weeks old and were severely underweight.
Finally, Herve Kempfâ€™s article â€œNew Suspicions About GMOsâ€ was featured in Le Monde and Truthout in 2006. Kempf summarized Australian researchersâ€™ findings that mice fed GM peas suffered an allergic reaction. In the same article, Kempf also remarks on studies by an Italian team of researchers who fed GM soy to laboratory mice. The mice experienced misshapen liver cells, which returned to normal after the GM diet was terminated.
Since the induction into Project Censoredâ€™s 2007 database, American (and Canadian) mainstream coverage since 2007 on genetically modified foods has been substantial, but lacking in reporting the health concerns. For instance, in contrast to the independent studies Project Censored refers to, the recent New York times article puts a positive spin on the issue, reassuring consumers thatÂ Â "new guidelines should allow engineered animal foods to be introduced safely. Producers will have to show that the inserted genes do not harm the animal's health and that any food from a genetically engineered animal is safe to eat" (â€œComing to a Plate Near Youâ€, 2008, para. 2).
Surprisingly, foreign mainstream coverage is not very different. Some European articles align with the American view. For example, The Observerâ€™s Robin McKie denies all concrete evidence for the dangers of GMOs, and argues instead that their â€œpotential to improve human health is considerableâ€ (McKie, 2008, para.3). However, other European articles criticize GM foods. For example, the British â€œObserverâ€ addresses the American viewpoint that "in America, where more than 90 per cent of all soya is now GM, people have been eating the stuff for years, with no adverse effects. 'That ... is only because nobody is looking at what the effects might be.' In short, GM [is] a risk because nobody knows what it might be doing" (Rayner, 2008, para. 16).
In a search for articles referring to the specific studies, there was extensive press coverage in mainstream Australian and English newspapers. Some articles, such as Steve Dubeâ€™s, even covered Dr Pusztaiâ€™s research in detail (Dube, 2008). Some local Canadian newspapers also picked up on the stories. For example, a local daily from Duncan, BC tells of lab ratsâ€™ offspring dying (Riley, 2008). However, there was no mention of the specific studies in any mainstream American or Canadian press. Usually, when the mainstream press did mention GMO dangers, they cited â€œrecent studiesâ€, not mentioning the researchers or universities. It is safe to say that the public is more familiar with the idea of genetically modified foods, but there is no consensus of their dangers.
The most probable reason that the story was underreported was because it challenges the profitable business of large corporations. Project Censored (2007) explains that â€œthe vast majority of toxicological studies are conducted by those companies producing and promoting consumption of GMOsâ€. Clearly, this has the potential to cause many problems, including the suppression of important findings. This could not be more true than in the case of Dr. Pusztaiâ€™s work. Monsanto, being such a wealthy corporation and a worldwide producer of GMOs, has the power to stop negative press. As previously noted, Pusztai was â€œforced by the German authorities to sign a â€˜declaration of secrecyâ€™â€ (Project Censored, 2007).
It should be noted that Europe has banned the import of GM foods and has strict labelling requirements (Project Censored, 2007). The American and Canadian public consume genetically modified food (such as the soy and corn tested on the lab rats) on a daily basis, and currently, there are no mandatory labelling regulations (Project Censored, 2007). Â
Therefore, although the dangers of genetically modified foods may have been confirmed, they have yet to be confirmed by mainstream news. Although it is almost certain that further scientific studies will reveal dangers of genetically modified foods, it remains unclear whether these dangers will become known to the general public.
Coming to a Plate Near You. (2008, October 4). New York Times, p. A18. Retrieved October 10,Â lexisnex2008 from LexisNexis database.Â
Dube, S. (2008, August 17). Food Fight. Wales on Sunday, p.26. Retrieved October 10, 2008 from LexisNexis database.Â
GM Free Cymru. (2005, June 2). Monsantoâ€™s GE Corn Experiments on Rats Continue to Generate Global Controversy. Retrieved October 12, 2008 from Organic Consumers Association website: http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/rats060205.cfmÂ
Kempf, H.Â (2006, February 9). New Suspicions About GMOs. Le Monde and Truthout. Retrieved October 10, 2008 from LexisNexis database.
Lean, G. (2005, May 22). Revealed: Health Fears Over Secret Study in GM Food. Independent on Sunday. Retrieved October 10, 2008 from LexisNexis database.
Lean, G. (2006, January 8). GM: New Study Shows Unborn Babies Could Be Harmed. Independent on Sunday. Retrieved October 10, 2008 from LexisNexis database.
McKie, R. (2008, October 5). Science and food: Scare stories have drowned out the good that GM could do. The Observer, p. 29. Retrieved October 10, 2008 from LexisNexis database.
Project Censored (2008). #11 Dangers of Genetically Modified Food Confirmed. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from Project Censored website: http://www.projectcensored.org/publications/2004/12.html
Rayner, J. (2008, October 5). Science and food: The war over GM is back. Is the truth any clearer? The Observer, p. 28. Retrieved October 10, 2008 from LexisNexis database.
Riley. J. (2008, July 4). How to avoid the genetically modified. Cowichan Valley Citizen, pg. 26 Retrieved October 10, 2008 from Canadian NewsStand database.
Photo credit: Matt Callow