Worst 10 List: Advocacy Groups That Put Ideology Ahead Of Science On Food And Farming Issues
Andrew Porterfield, Genetic Literacy Project
[Editor’s note: This is one part of GLP’s two-part series examining organizations that place ideology ahead of science in addressing genetics. The companion piece focuses on human genetics, and can be found here.]
Many non-government organizations aim to inform the public, policymakers and scientists about a wide range of complex and important issues. But there are times when science takes a backseat to ideology. Perhaps nowhere is this more common than in the volatile landscape surrounding genetically modified foods and modern agriculture. Criticism of GMOs, and everything connected to them, has given rise to a host of organizations pushing messages that often lack scientific support. Here are 10 NGOs that often abandon the science behind genetic modification of food in favor of such ideology.
Center for Food Safety
Known as the ‘legal swat team for the anti-GMO industry, the 15-year-old Center For Food Safety, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., is headed by Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer who was trained by anti-technology activist Jeremy Rifkin. The organization receives more than $3 million in donations annually and is closely tied to the organic food industry.
CFS unabashedly promotes and defends organic-only agriculture, and opposes GMOs, food irradiation, aquaculture, animal cloning and rBGH. It was one of the earliest adopters of a later debunked theory that mad cow disease was exclusively the result of non-organic livestock agriculture. CFS was the primary instigator of legal skirmishes over GMO sugar beets; it also organized opposition to GMOs in Hawaii and has aggressively backed GMO-labeling campaigns. It works closely with global anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva, and offers her office space in Washington.
CFS has filed dozens of suits, often in partnership with EarthJustice and other activist organizations, targeting various U.S. government agencies. It filed a joint suit with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service seeking to ban GMO crops from 25 national wildlife refuges.
The organization’s website contains its own news stories and other content promoting organic food, while ignoring scientific support for using genetic engineering in agriculture. The group also claims there are no pre-market safety tests for GM food, and supports labeling of GM foods. It argues that the government’s “failure to require testing or labeling of GE foods has made millions of consumers into guinea pigs.” The group also argues that, “Existing regulations that identify GE crops and food ingredients as “Generally Regarded As Safe” use an outdated process with minimal testing requirements that rely on companies to self-evaluate the safety of their products.”
Environmental Working Group
The Environmental Working Group, based in Washington, D.C., has been operating as a non-profit since 1992. It advocates the adoption of organic food and opposes genetic engineering and farm subsidies.
The organization, which received more than $6 million in donations last year, issues reports that raise fears of toxins or other chemicals in consumer products (as well as in genetically modified food).The group also creates databases for public use, including one on consumer products that may contain bisphenol A (BPA), which the EWG and other groups maintain (without clear scientific evidence) is an endocrine disruptor that can cause cancer and other diseases.
Led by Ken Cook, a lobbyist and opponent of industrial agriculture, and a board that includes several prominent members of the organic and natural products industries, the group promotes organic techniques, because, according to its website: “Organic agriculture preserves biodiversity, improves soil health and saves energy – all the while saving American farmland from getting buried under tons of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. But less than one percent of our farmland is dedicated to growing organic crops.” It annually puts out a Dirty Dozen list of fruits and groceries that consumers are urged to avoid because, EWG says, they are covered with ‘dangerous’ amounts of trace pesticides–a claim totally at odds with mainstream science, but in accord with the marketing objectives of their organic donor base.
Based in Amsterdam, Greenpeace is now the world’s largest environmental non-profit organization. Founded in the late 1960s, Greenpeace how has a budget in excess of $300million.