Terry D. Etherton
On December 7, 2010, Dr. Pamela Ronald, a distinguished plant scientist at the University of California – Davis, appeared as guest expert on the nationally-syndicated “Dr. Oz Show” to discuss the benefits of GMOs. I had been contacted by the producer of the show to participate, however, I could not because of scheduling issues (they asked at the “last minute”).
My initial thought about the show was that it provided a great opportunity to present the facts about the efficacy and safety of GMOs to a large audience. Unfortunately, what “played out” was way past disappointing. There was unbelievable bias in how the segment was edited to produce the “final” version that overshadowed the sound scientific facts about GMOs. I found it remarkable that much of what Dr. Ronald presented during the filming of the segment was edited “out” of the final version of the show!
As readers of Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology appreciate, I am strong believe that science journalism should being practiced in an accurate and non-biased manner. Unfortunately, there are many, many examples of inaccurate and deceptive scientific reporting. The GMO segment on the Dr. Oz Show is a good example of how journalistic bias is conducted. It is reprehensible to me that sound science was ignored and that the virtues of the scientific method were attacked on the Dr. Oz Show!
After watching the segment, and learning about what really occurred during the filming of the segment, I was compelled to write to the producer of the show to convey my disappointment in how the segment was produced.
The letter I e-mailed to the producer of the show, Rosalyn Menon, is presented below. Dr. Ronald has already written a provocative blog on Tomorrow’s Table about her experience of appearing on the Dr. Oz Show. It is a compelling read.
If you wish to watch the segment that was aired on the Dr. Oz Show, click here.Ms. Rosalyn Menon
The Dr. Oz Show
30 Rockefeller Plaza – 43rd floor
New York, NY 10112
As you recall, you had invited me to participate on the Dr. Oz Show to speak about GMOs, and the scientific evidence that supports their efficacy and safety. Because of prior schedule commitments, I was not able to participate.
The purpose of my letter is to comment on the Dr. Oz Show episode that aired December 7, 2010 (Dr. Oz Investigates: Genetically Modified Food). I value the effort made by the show’s producers to educate the audience on this important topic; however, I was stunned at the amount of misinformation that was included in the segment.
By allowing guests Jeffrey Smith and Dr. Michael Hanson to deceptively raise alarm among your audience about concerns that have been thoroughly addressed by the international scientific community, you have done a disservice to your audience. The ultimate scientific authorities recognized in this country, such as the National Research Council of the National Academies[i] and the American Dietetic Association[ii], have concluded that foods with biotech-derived ingredients pose no more risk to people than any other foods (including organic).
The National Research Council also has documented that, in addition to their safety, biotech crops contribute positively to farm sustainability in the United States, due to their environmental benefits and economic benefits to farmers.[iii] Moreover, farmers have been using biotech seeds safely and effectively for nearly fifteen years, and continue to increase adoption of the technology globally each year.
Mr. Smith, who Dr. Ronald correctly pointed out is not a scientist by any stretch, boasts dubious credentials and books that are self-published, because the pseudo-science contents are so specious that no respectable publisher would attempt to publish them. Credentialed scientists who teach at top agricultural institutions internationally, such as Bruce Chassy, Ph. D. (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and David Tribe, Ph.D. (University of Melbourne) have debunked the 65 unsubstantiated claims Mr. Smith makes about the health and safety of biotech foods in his book, Genetic Roulette, on their website http://academicsreview.org.
While it is commendable that you included a guest such as Dr. Pamela Ronald, the time allotted to Dr. Ronald fell short in allowing her to fully explain her position as representative of the scientific consensus on this topic. As a formally trained scientist and physician, it is disappointing that the show’s host, Dr. Oz, seemed skeptical and biased against the opinions of Dr. Ronald, who, in addition to being a respected scientist and academic, is a mother and the wife of an organic farmer—a story she tells with her husband in her book, Tomorrow’s Table.
One particular issue that was presented in a misleading manner in this episode was labeling of foods with biotech-derived ingredients. Mr. Smith and Dr. Hanson clearly support a mandatory labeling system, which would be a stark contrast to the current science-based policy of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)[iv]. Advocates of mandatory labeling often demand that consumers have a right-to-know and a right-to-choose, and indeed they do. A mandatory label would imply a difference where no material difference exists. A voluntary labeling system provides consumers with exactly the same information and choice as would an FDA-mandated label.
Unfortunately, the undertone of this segment was that the American people are the victim of some sinister plot by the conventional agriculture industry (and the scientific community) to feed them unsafe and unhealthy food, and that niche market food products, such as organic or “non-GMO verified” labeled foods are somehow safer or healthier. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The men and women who farm in America as well as agricultural/food scientists involved in developing new technologies to feed the growing World’s population care about the safety of food and food products sold to consumers (I know because I grew up on a farm in Illinois). To imply otherwise, simply to frighten people into purchasing alternative products that are no safer or more nutritious, is simply irresponsible.
Should there be future episodes on this topic, I urge Dr. Oz and the show’s producers to be more mindful about presenting “all” sides of the “story”. As you appreciate, it is important to present credible science-based information to the audience in a fair and balanced manner, so that viewers can make informed decisions, and form opinions based on facts, not fear.
Terry D. Etherton, Ph.D.
[i] See http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10977; Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects, National Academies Press (2004), wherein the National Research Council of the National Academies concluded that genetic engineering “…poses no unique health risks that cannot also arise from conventional breeding and other genetic alteration methods…”
[ii] J.Am.Diet Assoc. 2006; 106:285-293.
[iii] See http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12804; Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States, National Academies Press (2010), wherein the National Research Council of the National Academies concluded that “…crops with traits that provide resistance to some herbicides and to specific insect pests have benefited adopting farmers by reducing crop losses to insect damage, by increasing flexibility in time management, and by facilitating the use of more environmentally friendly pesticides and tillage practices.”
[iv] The FDA’s policy is that food labels should indicate any chemical, compositional, or nutritional characteristics of foods when they differ from their conventional counterparts, and should not be based on the processes by which the product or the product’s ingredients were produced.