Meet the Scientific “Experts” Who Are Saying GMO Foods are Safe
14 Sep, 2012
Last month, I wrote about how the food industry has hired powerful consultants with ties to Big Tobacco to oppose California’s Proposition 37, which would require labeling of all genetically engineered foods.
Now, the No on 37 campaign (ironically named the “Stop the Deceptive Labeling Scheme”) is putting up alleged scientific experts to do its bidding, once again taking a page from the tobacco industry playbook.
Third-party experts, aka corporate shills
When corporations such as Philip Morris or Monsanto don’t have actual facts on their side, they have to resort to “third-party experts” to speak on their behalf. While the name implies no obvious ties to either side, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the bias of the scientific experts for No on 37.
Enter Henry Miller, a physician and molecular biologist who recently penned an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle claiming (among other misleading statements) that, “Americans have consumed more than 3 trillion servings of food with genetically engineered ingredients—with not a single documented ill effect.”
This statement is about as relevant as saying that genetically engineered food does not cause herpes. No one has been looking for either effect.
Miller also misrepresented the positions of the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the National Academy of Sciences by claiming these groups “and other respected medical and health organizations all conclude that genetically engineered foods are safe.”
Actually, the American Medical Association called on the Food and Drug Administration to require “pre-market systemic safety assessments of these foods as a preventive measure to ensure the health of the public.” Currently, there is no pre-market safety testing for genetically engineered food.
This week, Miller co-authored an op-ed on Forbes.com opposing Proposition 37, which contains numerous additional deceptions. For example, that the FDA “followed the science and declined to require special labeling for genetically engineered foods.” But as I have explained, FDA’s action was the result of heavy-duty lobbying by Monsanto.
So who is this Henry Miller and what makes him such an expert? Currently a “senior research fellow” at the Hoover Institution (a conservative think tank), he spent 15 years at the FDA as an outspoken advocate of GMOs. So much so that he became the agency’s founding director of the Office of Biotechnology. His past includes ties to the notorious industry front group the American Council on Science and Health, which was featured in the 2000 book, Trust Us, We’re Experts, an exposé on how corporations distort science.
In a 2004 article critical of the precautionary principle (a concept in place in many other parts of the world that promotes chemical testing before market approval), Miller explained: “A large number of people in poor nations have food allergies. Biotechnology can remove the allergens … so people in developing countries can enjoy some of these foods.” Heartwarming. Never mind the scientific evidence that some GMO foods can actually promote allergic reactions.
Miller also has ties to the tobacco industry. According to this 1994 industry newsletter Miller helped write the founding principles for “The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition”—a now-defunct front group created by Phillip Morris that tried to discredit research linking tobacco to cancer and heart disease, especially among office workers and children living with smoking parents.
Pediatrician promoting Coke and Burger King?
Monsanto and friends didn’t stop there in promoting scientific experts with dubious credentials. On the No on 37 website are several video interviews with physicians, each one proclaiming the safety of GMO foods, including one Ronald Kleinman, dressed in his authoritative white coat. But how much authority should we give a doctor who also presents webinars for Coca-Cola on children’s health?
At first blush, his credentials certainly sound impressive:
- Physician in Chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children
- Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Chief of the Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Unit
- Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School
Mass General and Harvard? No wonder Coca-Cola hired him. Among the “most common misperceptions among parents” Dr. Kleinman promises to clear up on behalf of the soda giant are “the safety … of sugar, artificial colors and nonnutritive sweeteners in children’s diets.” Translation: Coke is good for kids.
Dr. Kleinman is no stranger to shilling for Big Food, nor is he even ashamed of it. According to his bio with Massachusetts General Hospital, he also consults for the Grain Food Foundation, Beech Nut, Burger King, and General Mills. Also, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Kleinman served as a paid expert witness for Gerber when the company was sued for deceptive advertising, as well as contributed to a children’s brochure entitled “Variety’s Mountain” produced by the Sugar Association.
If you were looking for a pediatrician, would you take your child to an MD that is working for Coke, Burger King, and the sugar lobby? Then why would you believe what that same doctor has to say about the safety and labeling of genetically engineered food?
Finally, all of the videos posted to the No on 37 website are “adapted” from the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), yet another industry front group, which I wrote about last year when they hosted a panel designed to dispel our silly fears about pesticides at the American Dietetic Association’s annual meeting.
IFIC’s job is to counter any scientific research or other information that might tarnish Big Food’s reputation. For example, worried about chemicals in your food? IFIC will assuage those fears with this handy document that asks: “Do long, scary-sounding ingredient names on food labels make you wonder what’s in your food and why? This resource provides the answers!”
The food industry is very good at providing answers, just not accurate ones. It’s no wonder the No on 37 campaign has to resort to relying on experts with such shady reputations, when polling shows the measure enjoys an overwhelming lead. It must be hard to find credible experts who want consumers to remain in the dark about what they’re eating.
Michele is a public health lawyer who has been researching and writing about the food industry and food politics since 1996. Visit her site at www.EatDrinkPolitics.com