In Back to the Future, Michael J Fox goes into the past to alter the future. That’s what Steven Druker did in his self-published book Altered Genes, Twisted Truth. He exploits misinformation found in a limited selection of cherry-picked studies as the foundation for his unsubstantiated claims intended to scare people away from GMOs and Big Ag. The problem is there is nothing new in his claims. In fact, most of the points he makes are strikingly similar to those previously published in Jeffrey Smith’s book Genetic Roulette, and these allegations were subsequently addressed section by a section on this website almost a decade ago.
Specifically, much of Druker’s discussion regarding his alleged hazards of GM crops is spent focused on two studies, Ewen and Pusztai, 1999 (see Pusztai’s Flawed Claims) and the retracted and subsequently republished without peer-review Séralini rat study (Séralini et al., 2012) (see Scientist deconstructs Séralini’s PLOS GMO study). The fact that publication of these two papers was accompanied with extensive marketing campaigns (unusual for research papers) and that Pusztai and Séralini are considered heroes within activist circles likely factored into Druker’s choice to focus so much effort on them. His choice most certainly is not based on any scientific evidence supporting the inherent danger of GM crops since neither of these studies provides any evidence to support that conclusion. He must have recognized that almost no one would want to read 300 pages of detailed studies. So in their place he presents stories of conspiracies between governments and big companies alleging inadequate safety testing for added fictional drama.
Given the nearly unanimous international consensus among scientists, scientific societies, national academies of science, medical societies, and government regulators that GM crops pose no new or different risks, and that they are if anything less likely to cause unintended harmful effects than crop varieties produced using older less precise breeding methods, there really wasn’t much of a story that Drucker could come up with to support his case against GM foods.
It is disappointing that Druker focuses on long debunked allegations and conspiracy theories instead of the facts. This does not serve any benefit to society and only attempts mislead people about science and its applications. GM technology has been extensively studied using internationally accepted testing procedures established by regulatory authorities. As a result, there is a long and established record of safety for this technology and GM crops. GM crops are tested for consumer and environmental safety, and in the U.S. are reviewed by the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. GM crops are also then reviewed by dozens of regulatory agencies throughout the world before they are commercialized (for more on this see GMO answers).
Why then would Drucker write such claims? It’s always important to consider the expertise and motives of a source as well as the quality of the evidence they present. In this case that’s easy, Drucker has no formal scientific training and he presents no verifiable evidence. Druker, an anti-GMO activist attorney long affiliated with the mystic-organic food promoting and yogic-flying Maharishi movement, has an extensive history of promoting various conspiracy claims involving GMOs and alleged corporate, government and multinational institution treachery to poison the public through nefarious schemes to dupe the global scientific and medical communities into endorsing biotech foods as safe. He has stated his claims are based on guidance received through prayer, vedic science and Maharishi Vedic Psychology ( Alexander et al. 1990 ) which led him to form the Alliance for Bio-integrity in 1996 and to file suit with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seeking a ban on GMOs. Like co-conspiracy theorist Jeffrey Smith, Druker’s books are self-published and without any recognized scientific or peer review for accuracy of claims.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to distinguish conclusions based on comprehensive safety testing from those based on pseudoscience and scare tactics. I will more fully address the above mentioned studies as well as all the other assertions made by Druker in a subsequent posting. In the meantime, if you’ve already bothered to buy the book, you can pretty much use our review of Genetic Roulette – chapter by chapter – to compare peer-reviewed science with the unsubstantiated claims in Twisted Genes. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra said, it’s “Déjà vu all over again”.
Alexander, C.N., Davies, J.L., Dixon, C.A., Dillbeck, M.C., Druker, S.M., Oetzel, R.M., Muehlman, J.M., & Orme-Johnson, D.W. (1990). Growth of higher states of consciousness: The Vedic psychology of human development. In C.N. Alexander & E.J. Langer (Eds.), Higher stages of human development: Perspectives on adult growth (pp. 286–340). New York: Oxford University Press.
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