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Renowned Expert: GMOs Pose More Risk Than We Think

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Source: Nassim Taleb, Quozio 

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the ability to cause "an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet."

This warning, as emotional and overstated as it sounds, isn't coming from some anti-science zealot or conspiracy theorist.

It is, instead, coming from Nassim Taleb, distinguished professor of risk engineering at New York University, author of best-sellers The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, and shrewd investor who made a fortune when "black swans" like September 11 and the Great Recession occurred. 

Recently, he's been making his feelings on GMOs crystal clear: they're dangerous to the overall health of our planet. In a paper that's available to the public, yet still in draft form, Taleb -- along with two colleagues -- lay out their case.

The threat
GMOs are historically different from their naturally occurring peers in that their genetic make-up has been altered in a laboratory before being planted in fields.

Often, these types of seeds are favored because of their ability to yield larger harvests and avoid certain pests or weeds that usually eat up some of their productivity.

Source: Lindsay Eyink, via Wikimedia Commons 

Taleb's primary concern isn't that ingesting GMOs is necessarily bad for us; he's instead focused on the monumental threat such technology has on our worldwide ecosystem. While Taleb agrees that the relative risk of any one transgenic seed ruining the ecosystem is incredibly small, people are still underestimating the risks involved.

That's because, as humans, we are ill equipped to understand the mathematics behind such risks. Let's say each GM seed that's produced holds a 0.1% chance of -- somehow, in the intricately interdependent web of nature -- leading to a catastrophic breakdown of the ecosystem that we rely on for life. All by itself, it doesn't seem too harmful, but with each new seed that's developed, the risk gets greater and greater.

The chart below demonstrates how, over time, even a 0.1% chance of ecocide can be dangerous.

I cannot stress enough that the probabilities I am using are for illustrative purposes only. Neither I, nor Taleb, claim to know what the chances are of any one type of seed causing such destruction.

The focus, instead, should be on the fact that the "total ecocide barrier" is bound to be hit, over a long enough time, with even incredibly small odds. Taleb includes a similar graph in his work, but no breakdown of the actual variables at play.

Source: Author's input, based on Taleb, Read, and Bar-Yam paper

As Taleb says, "Over time, something bound to hit the [ecocide] barrier is about guaranteed to hit it."

Why be so worried if the level of threat isn't known?
The crux of this argument hinges on the fact that GMOs represent a systemic, and not localized, risk. Because the wind will blow where it wants to, insects will go -- and carry with them -- what they please, and GM goods will surely be exported to countries throughout the world, the concept of being able to control GM traits in nature is impossible to guarantee.

As Taleb says, "There are mathematical limitations to predictability in a complex system, 'in the wild,' which is why focusing on the difference between local (or isolated) and systemic threats is a central aspect of our warnings." 

What it means for investors
Obviously, Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) , Syngenta (NYSE: SYT  ) , Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) , and DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) have a vested interest in the success of GMOs -- as these four produce the vast majority of GMOs in use right now.

And if authorities start to heed Taleb's warnings, it would cause investors in these four companies to take a serious hit.

But the amount of revenue that each company derives from GMO activity varies quite a bit. Here's how each company's revenue total breaks down in their most recent annual reports.

Company % of Rev from GMO-related products
 Monsanto  60% to 90%
 Syngenta  52%
 DuPont  23%
 Dow Chemical  2% to 12%

Source: SEC filings. Dow Chemical herbicides and pesticides account for 10% of total sales, and cannot be determined to be a by-product of GMO seeds or not.

Monsanto derives about 30% of its revenue from "agricultural productivity," which is the word they use for herbicides. It's hard to tell how much of that is sold because of the Roundup Ready GMO seeds that are sold. Either way, it's clear that GMOs are a huge part of Monsanto's business.

DuPont and Dow Chemcial, which have far more diverse business segments, are less exposed to sensitivities or possible regulations regarding GMOs.

Answering the critics
Unsurprisingly, Taleb has run into a fair share of criticism for his views. 

But Taleb also addresses those concerns in his paper. Here's how he responds to the most common critiques:

Humans have been modifying plants for years via selective breeding and tinkering with crops.
While this may be true, Taleb claims there's a fundamental difference between this and GMOs. "There is no comparison between the [bottom-up] tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another."

Furthermore, Taleb claims that nature has never allowed such a systemic risk to evolve. "The planet took about close to zero risks of ecocide in trillions of variations over 3 billion years, otherwise we would not have been here." 

How about the risk of famine without GMOs?
This is "a deceitful strategy, no different from urging people to play Russian roulette in order to get out of poverty." That's because, as his probability shows, we'll all end up dying in the end when we hit the ecocide barrier.

New technologies could solve these problems if they arise
The whole point is that these threats could lay dormant for years before they finally surface. When they do, they would be difficult to control, and could act fast.

Risk is inherent in everything. We can't just be paralyzed by fear and not progress.
The risk of "generalized human extinction" is not inherent in everything. That's because most consequences are localized, not systemic. And progress can be made using bottom-up techniques that have worked for eons. 

There is no evidence that this type of ecocide could really happen
The precautionary principle -- which is what Taleb calls his warning -- is all about managing risk, not about waiting for it to surface. The fact that GMOs are a systemic entity is undeniable. Taleb is equally skeptical of all entities that carry systemic risk -- like too-big-to-fail banks.

New organisms have been introduced into new ecosystems before and this hasn't caused total collapse
Many of these new organisms -- people often refer to potatoes or tomatoes being introduced into the Old World from the New World -- were naturally occurring in nature, or the result of bottom-up tinkering.

Also, the fact that there's no evidence showing that GMOs have so far caused system damage doesn't mean it won't eventually surface. We don't, as Taleb says, argue that a game of Russian roulette is safer with each empty barrel we find. It is, in fact, more dangerous.

By no means am I as smart as Taleb when it comes to risk, and I don't have a degree in agricultural sciences. I do find Taleb's assertions to be a little alarmist.

At the same time, as someone who spends a quarter of every year working on a coffee farm in Costa Rica that transitioned from conventional farming methods to permaculture ones -- and having seen the vast improvements in the overall ecosystem on the farm, I think it's wise to, at the very least, give some credence to the concerns Taleb raises.

After all, it's not that scientists are dumber than Mother Nature; it's simply that Mother Nature has been around for about 300,000 times longer than us humans, and what she's picked to stay around have obviously passed the test of time.

Avoiding catastrophe in your own portfolio

In the end, this is a tough battle for Taleb to prove true. That's because, he says, "[W]e would only discover errors after considerable and irreversible environmental damage."  

These types of risks are enough to make me shy away from buying shares of companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, and DuPont.

Instead, I look for companies that the help me rest easy at night. In the special free report "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich," The Motley Fool shares investment ideas and strategies that could help you build wealth for years to come. I already own one of these stocks, but all three deserve YOUR attention. Click here to grab your free copy today.

Read/Post Comments (30) | Recommend This Article (16)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2014, at 4:53 PM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    I was unaware that Nassim Taleb had become a biologist in his spare time.

  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2014, at 7:18 PM, devoish wrote:

    Hey Alex,

    Attempting to dismiss Taleb like that reflects worse on you, than him. Ultimately the only answer you have is to assure us of something that you have decided not to believe. That there is no serious risk from GMO's.

    And that is a claim I have spent time investigatiing and am convinced it is wrong. Especially in light of the fact that Monarch Butterflies will soon be endangered, not because of an accident of GMO's, but because it did what it was designed to.

    Granted it is not ecocide this time.

    Monarch Waystation Habitats

    Monarch Waystations are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas in North America, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall. Similarly, without nectar from flowers these fall migratory monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico. The need for host plants for larvae and energy sources for adults applies to all monarch and butterfly populations around the world.

    Why We Are Concerned

    Milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. Because 90% of all milkweed/monarch habitats occur within the agricultural landscape, farm practices have the potential to strongly influence monarch populations.

    Development. Development (subdivisions, factories, shopping centers, etc.) in the U.S. is consuming habitats for monarchs and other wildlife at a rate of 6,000 acres per day - that's 2.2 million acres each year, the area of Delaware and Rhode Island combined!

    Genetically Modified Crops. Widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans has resulted in the loss of more than 80 million acres of monarch habitat in recent years. The planting of these crops genetically modified to resist the non-selective systemic herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®) allows growers to spray fields with this herbicide instead of tilling to control weeds. Milkweeds survive tilling but not the repeated use of glyphosate. This habitat loss is significant since these croplands represent more than 30% of the summer breeding area for monarchs.

    Roadside Management. The use of herbicides and frequent mowing along roadsides has converted much of this habitat to grasslands - a habitat generally lacking in food and shelter for wildlife. Although some states have started to increase the diversity of plantings along roadsides, including milkweeds, these programs are small.

    Unfortunately, the remaining milkweed habitats in pastures, hayfields, edges of forests, grasslands, native prairies, and urban areas are not sufficient to sustain the large monarch populations seen in the 1990s. Monarchs need our help.

    What You Can Do

    To offset the loss of milkweeds and nectar sources we need to create, conserve, and protect milkweed/monarch habitats. We need you to help us and help monarchs by creating "Monarch Waystations" (monarch habitats) in home gardens, at schools, businesses, parks, zoos, nature centers, along roadsides, and on other unused plots of land. Without a major effort to restore milkweeds to as many locations as possible, the monarch population is certain to decline to extremely low levels.

    Best wishes,


  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2014, at 8:42 PM, MathPhysicsGeek wrote:

    My problem with his argument stems from the phrase, "nature has never allowed such systemic risk to evolve." Nature does not "control" evolution. All changes are random and untested and only after selected for. I agree that the probability is low, other wise we wouldn't be here though. Which brings me to my second point, I don't like the sentence, "There is no comparison between the bottom up tinkering of selective breeding and the top down of taking one gene and putting it into another." Why is that different? A genetic change is a genetic change, and as I pointed out before how we the standard selective breeding relies on untested, uncontrolled and random changes. If those changes don't cause Eco collapse, why should planned changes? Nature does NOT play nice and does NOT try and avoid catastrophe. The argument strikes me as an appeal to nature fallacy. Heck, bacteria regularly do horizontal gene transfer. In addition, much of the genetic material in humans and other animals was inserted, again untested and at random, through ERVs. Why is viral DNA in humans not a concern?

    Finally, there is the question of the stats. One can just as readily say that efficient written communication can lead to organization and nuclear genocide. (In fact I would argue we have come much closer to this than ecocolapse) Therefore we should stop with it. Granted it hasn't happened yet, but a couple tens of thousands of years is nothing compared to the geologic time scale. To me, the answer to dangerous technology (and ALL technology is dangerous, including writing) isn't to totally ignore it out of fear, it is to evaluate the safest way to use it and put safeguards in.

    Yes, Monsanto is a company that puts short term profits over long term environment and health but that is true of many companies including the auto industry, fast food and soda, etc, etc have that same short sighted ness.

  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2014, at 10:18 PM, TMFCheesehead wrote:


    There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with Taleb, but I think it's much more instructive to point out which parts of his argument don't ring true.


    I think the key difference is that bottom-up tinkering is almost always done at the local level, it does not go from the "gene mutation" (single localized event) which spurs evolution to the "selected by evolution" status (systematic) in a matter of years in a laboratory. It's a matter of eons.

    I think, though I can't be 100% sure (you'd have to ask Taleb) that the problem with top-down approaches (GMOs) is that it beomes a systematic entity immediately, without any vetting by evolution.

    Brian Stoffel

  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2014, at 10:44 PM, MathPhysicsGeek wrote:

    Brian, thanks for responding. A few things: first, this assumes that a small change in genes would necessarily yield a small change in expression. This is not necessarily the case. A single mutation can change the number of legs and wings insects have. Second, as I pointed out bacteria engage in horizontal gene transfer (so large chunks of genetic material get transferred quickly, in years, not eons). In addition, ERVs inserting DNA into humans (and other animals) also gives large sections of DNA inserted, and sometimes incorporated, for instance in the development of the placenta in mammals, very quickly in the geologic time scale. Third, Taleb claims to be equally skeptical of all things that carry systemic risk, while I pointed out a counter-example, written language, which is a technology I think we all agree had a great deal of risk to it. (Without written language, there is no danger (or at least significantly smaller danger) of human cause catastrophe.

  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2014, at 10:52 PM, Domeyrock wrote:

    Brian, thank you so much for this article. I give you a lot of credit for posting it as many readers are clearly against this topic. Of course they deniers will immediately try to discredit the messenger. I for one, agree with you and Taleb, but some need further convincing or may never change. The truth will always come out, one way or another, hopefully before the damage is irreversible. Thanks again!


  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 1:34 AM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    @ Brian -

    MathPhysicsGeek already made virtually all of the points I would have made as to why this is a bad argument, particularly as regards the appeal to nature and the misunderstanding of what constitutes a systemic risk in the food chain.

    Evolution does not always happen in a matter of eons, especially when human agriculture is concerned. Many of the crops we take for granted now are very recent entrants to the human food chain. Taleb himself points that out at the end of the paper.

    Modern corn is less than 10,000 years old and dramatic changes can be seen in the past few thousand years:

    The modern orange carrot only emerged in the 16th century:

    The modern banana is derived from a single genetic parent, and has been bred for human consumption only since the 1950s or so: ... It did not exist as a unique variety until the 1800s. Your grandparents probably remember eating a different kind of banana.

    It's taken about two decades for GMOs to become a significant part of our global food chain. In that time, has anyone conclusively identified a link between GMO consumption and worsening health conditions? People have been worrying about GMOs for years and years, but what evidence do they point to in support of the GMO ill-health trigger? I've looked, and there appears to be a lot of "could be" "might be" and "appears to" insinuations, but nothing that comes right out and says "people are sicker -because of GMOs-" with the necessary studies to back it up.

    If GMOs were the top-down systemic risk Taleb claims, then the entire world would almost instantaneously switch over after the introduction of one new GMO crop strain. It's been two decades since the first GMOs hit the market, and except for soybeans, no GMO crop type has yet come to account for over half of global output. That's not close to instantaneous in a world where anything that happens can get rebroadcast in seconds to the whole world. The global banana crop has far less genetic diversity than the global corn crop, even though GMO corn is supposed to be virtually impossible to escape.

    There have already been examples of GMOs withdrawn from the market for various reasons, but there have not been any examples of an instantaneous global plague or anything close to it. Farming doesn't work that way. If any corporation could convince the entire world to switch wholesale to an untested new crop at the same time, the -corporation- would be the real systemic risk to the human race, not the crop. And if, as Taleb points out, there has been a virtually nil chance of ecocide in the planet's history from three billion years of evolution, why should that chance suddenly explode with the introduction of any given modified crop out of the hundreds we grow today? Because it would... spread faster? The Black Death spread pretty quickly, but it didn't kill all of us.

    Taleb might be a very good statistician and a world-class trader, but that doesn't make him an expert on biological systems. I'm not saying that I am, either, but his argument is a bunch of loosely strung-together gibberish that trades on his name to further his biases. The fact that he classifies a pandemic -- which is subject to no regulatory oversight, restricted by no soil conditions or nutrient needs, and is neither actively developed nor desired by anyone -- in the same "top-down" category of systemic risk as GMOs should be some evidence of that. Sure, there are only a few companies developing GMOs today, and their tactics are pretty heavy-handed when it comes to protecting their profit margins. But Monsanto can't just wave a magic wand and spread deadly GMOs around the world before anyone can so much as check to see if they make people die.

    - Alex

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 9:36 AM, TMFCheesehead wrote:


    Thanks for the response.

    I've been very pleasantly surprised at the informative and educational value the comments section has had here!

    Fool on!


  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 9:56 AM, Domeyrock wrote:

    Not educational enough me thinks, but hey, I'm here to help! If you don't think GMOs can be linked to illness and disease, you can think again:

    "Sri Lanka Killer Kidney Disease Linked to Monsanto Weedicide, Phosphate Fertilizer: Study"

    "N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine a widely used herbicide better known as glyphosate, could be helping carry heavy metals toxic to kidneys, occurring naturally and in agro-chemicals such as phosphate fertilizer, the researchers said.

    Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) first appeared in Sri Lanka's rice growing areas in the north central province in the 1990s and has been spreading into other areas including the South, with over 20,000 estimated deaths so far.

    Glyphosate was originally used as a de-scaling agent to clean out calcium and other mineral deposits in hot water systems, the study said. De-scaling agents tie themselves to on metals like Calcium and Magnesium and makes them water soluble.

    It was later sold as a herbicide by US-based Monsanto under the brand name 'Round up' and was under patent until 2000. By 2012 China became the largest producer of glyphosate in the world.

    The mystery kidney disease is mostly found in areas with 'hard' ground water (water containing Calcium, Magnesium, Strontium and Iron and other chemicals) except in Sri Lanka's northern province where the ground water is also hard."



  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 10:28 AM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    @ Domeyrock -

    I refer back to my earlier comment on how this literature only says "could be," "might be," and "appears to" instead of outright identifying a link between GMOs and illness. The link you're posting has all of the hallmarks of weaselly language used to finger something one doesn't like without being able to prove it... and beyond that, the link is about herbicide, not GMOs.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 11:07 AM, Domeyrock wrote:

    if you're not impressed with that link, there's more where that came from:


    "The study has been deemed "the most thorough research ever published into the health effects of GMO food crops and the herbicide Roundup on rats." News of the horrifying findings is spreading fast, with even the mainstream media in shock over the photos of rats with multiple grotesque tumors; tumors so large the rats even had difficulty breathing in some cases. GMOs may be the new thalidomide.

    "Monsanto Roundup weedkiller and GMO maize implicated in 'shocking' new cancer study" wrote The Grocery, a popular UK publication.

    It reported, "Scientists found that rats exposed to even the smallest amounts, developed mammary tumors and severe liver and kidney damage as early as four months in males, and seven months for females."

    "“It appears there is a direct correlation between GMOs and autism.” --Arden Anderson, MD, PhD, MPH

    Physician Jennifer Armstrong admits, “Twenty years ago, I didn’t even know what the word autism meant. It was rare.” But then something shifted. Whether it was the food, medicine, environment, or some combination, by 2008, an astounding 1 in 54 boys suffered from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the US [1]. What is it that is damaging the health and well-being of so many of our children? Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus from Purdue University, has an idea.

    In October 2011, Dr. Huber gave a talk in Germany about the physiological, neurological, and behavioral symptoms of pigs, cows, and rats fed genetically modified (GM) feed. After his lecture, a physician and autism specialist approached him and said, “The symptoms you describe are exactly what we are finding in our autistic children.”

    The animals in those studies were fed the same GM soy and corn eaten by children and adults in the US. Both crops are outfitted with bacterial genes that allow them to survive being sprayed with herbicide, which kills plants. As a result, higher residues of toxic weed killer end up inside our food. In addition, some GM corn varieties have an even more unsettling characteristic: their inserted genes produce an insect-killing poison called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin in every cell—and in every bite. Although the biotech seed companies like Monsanto claim that their genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are harmless, that’s not what the independent scientists are finding."

    Very sorry to disagree, but there's a lot of evidence stacked against your beliefs. And you can say things like "could be, might be, and appears to" aren't concrete enough for you, but there's problems are way too frequent to be labeled as coincidence. Honestly, if it looks like a fish, smells like a fish, and smells fishy, there's a pretty good chance it's because it IS a fish. Sometimes the answers can be right in front of you, but it's up to you to notice it. All you have to do is open your eyes and see.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 11:34 AM, Mega wrote:

    Taleb isn't a scientist. He's just a guy who makes stuff up.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 11:40 AM, Mega wrote:

    TMFCheesehead wrote:

    "There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with Taleb, but I think it's much more instructive to point out which parts of his argument don't ring true."

    Why point out specific parts - every part of his argument is made up and unscientific.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 11:47 AM, Mega wrote:

    Taleb doesn't eat "any fruits which "don't have a Greek or Hebrew name" or any liquid which is less than 1,000 years old." His dislike for GMO really just flows from his wacky personal preferences, not any pseudo-biological study which has been invented post facto to justify it.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 2:35 PM, pondee619 wrote:

    "Taleb claims that nature has never allowed such a systemic risk to evolve The planet took about close to zero risks of ecocide in trillions of variations over 3 billion years, otherwise we would not have been here."


    How many mass extinctions have occurred since life first appeared on this planet? I understand that close to 98% of all life that has ever existed here is now extinct. The planet has taken many, many risks of ecocide in in the past 3 billion years. Many of those risks came to fruition in a mass extinction event. Looking at the entire span of time that life has been on this planet, our history is meaningless. The fact is that we are here as a result of a mass extinction event that cleared the way for mammalian development.

    Mr. Taleb, nature frequently, on a geologic scale, allows systemic risks to occur which result in ecocide. Human inteliegence and tinkering MAY be what is necessary to forestall another systemic risk leading to another ecocide and our extinction.

    The tinkering that you fear will cause the ecocide barrier to be hit just may be what causes that barrier to be moved and avoided. Without human tinkering, intervention, we are all still living in trees.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 5:14 PM, devoish wrote:

    Hey Domeyrock,

    Alex has already discredited, at least in his mind, the independent 2 year study with the rats that showed the tumors because the breed of rats tend to get tumors.

    Instead he has chosen to accept industry study's of the same breed of rats that ended after 90 days.

    I do not think he liked it at all when I suggested that multi-generational studies be done before GMO plants be accepted.

    Don't beat your head on his brick wall.

    Best wishes,


  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 5:41 PM, miteycasey wrote:

    How many of those Mass Extinct Events have come from space? That's something mother nature can't control.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 8:09 PM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    @ devoish -

    I was far from the only one to discredit that study, which I did not do "in my own mind," but after examining the conclusions of experts. As I wrote previously, that study was actually withdrawn by its publishing journal:

    Here are more direct references:

    Here is more detail on the study, including the flawed methodology and media manipulation tactics used by study author Gilles-Éric Séralini, who is now threatening a lawsuit over the retraction despite the fact that the study's own authors call its results "inconclusive" in a rebuttal:

    And to respond to your request for multi-generational studies, such studies -have- been undertaken. A review of 12 long-term (up to 2 years, the same length as Seralini's discredited effort) and 12 multi-generational (2 to 5 generations) studies conducted by University of Nottingham and AgroParisTech researchers concluded the following, which I'll quote before linking to the study:

    "Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed. However, some small differences were observed, though these fell within the normal variation range of the considered parameter and thus had no biological or toxicological significance."

    So, there are a number multi-generational studies on GMOs. They don't suggest any health hazards. It was not particularly difficult to find this information, so really, who is the one putting up a brick wall to opposing viewpoints here?

    - Alex

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 10:33 PM, vv234 wrote:


    can you please provide the links to some of the studies directly if

    "there are a number multi-generational studies on GMOs", including the funding sources to the studies?

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 11:46 PM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    @ vv234 -

    You can find the link to the review of those studies in my prior comment. You're welcome to do the necessary research on your own from that starting point if you're so determined to debunk them.

    - Alex

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 12:33 AM, predfern wrote:

    The precautionary principle or better-safe-than-sorry does not take real costs to society and the economy into account. Policy based on the precautionary principle is misguided and will do more harm than good. It retards global wealth and does not provide guidance in choosing between competing policies.

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 9:37 AM, pondee619 wrote:


    We don't know. The lack of a concertration of dino fossils at the K-T boundary suggests that the Chicxulub meteorite might not have caused the last great extinction event but may have been merely coincidential therewith.

    As a final note, Mt. Taleb in not a "Renowned Expert" in GMOs. He is best described as a statistician. Maybe an alarmist, taking a trend that may or may not exist to an extreme to reach his conclulsion. We all know that you can get statistics to say anything , and represent anything you want. Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. Listed from least harmful to most. A similar argument can be made that NOT dealing in GMOs could lead to us running into the ecocide barrier. Without the pest/disease resistance of GMO crops the entire world's food suply could be wiped out by a disease/pest carried around the world in a matter of hours via world travelers in jets, or the globalization our current trade networks. Our actions could be saving us, could be destroying us or could be neutral, having no effect.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 12:30 PM, devoish wrote:


    Did you pay the $35.00 to read the study in the last link you provided? And then whatever it costs to review the individual studies, which remain unnamed, reviewed by the one you linked to? I cannot afford to do that much research every time someone wants to sell me something.

    So we are back to picking which experts we will trust.

    You have found ones to believe that are pro-GMO. I have found ones to believe that are anti- GMO

    Hooray for us.

    You did not like me using the phrase "at least in his mind" because you see it as an attempt to place you into a group of people who have made up their minds and become emotionally attached to a point of view. So attached that they can no longer draw logical, intelligent conclusions.

    The Forbes article you linked to spends three paragraphs suggesting that opinions drive anti- GMO study results, not that the study results drive the opinions.

    What is it they say? Do unto others? Your Forbes article you are perfectly OK with was worse than I was.

    The Seralini study and ensuing media reporting have caused a lot of people to decide that GMO's are more dangerous than they had previously thought or known. People want labeling to protect themselves. Industry wants ignorance of what is in the food to reign.

    Additionally unintended consequences like what has already happened to Monarch butterflies has encouraged people to want to proceed with more caution concerning the very real direct and indirect harm caused by GMO use.

    Your Forbes article and Food and Chemical Toxicology retraction letter refer to the "many" letters received by FCT after the Seralini study was published challenging the Seralini study.

    In our last discussion on this subject I linked to the 1200 scientists condemning the retraction, not the study.

    Since expert opinion matters to us, I will do it again for you. First, the text of the letter that was signed, then the link to the text and signatures.

    "Your decision [1] to retract the paper is in clear violation of the international ethical norms as laid down by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which FCT is a member. According to COPE, the only grounds for retraction are (1) clear evidence that the findings are unreliable due to misconduct or honest error, (2) plagiarism or redundant publication, or (3) unethical research. You have already acknowledged that the paper of Séralini et al (2012) contains none of those faults.

    This arbitrary, groundless retraction of a published, thoroughly peer-reviewed paper is without precedent in the history of scientific publishing, and raises grave concerns over the integrity and impartiality of science. These concerns are heightened by a sequence of events surrounding the retraction:

    the appointment of ex-Monsanto employee Richard Goodman to the newly created post of associate editor for biotechnology at FCT

    the retraction of another study finding potentially harmful effects from GMOs (which almost immediately appeared in another journal)

    the failure to retract a paper published by Monsanto scientists in the same journal in 2004, for which a gross error has been identified.

    The retraction is erasing from the public record results that are potentially of very great importance for public health. It is censorship of scientific research, knowledge, and understanding, an abuse of science striking at the very heart of science and democracy, and science for the public good.

    We urge you to reverse this appalling decision, and further, to issue a fulsome public apology to Seralini and his colleagues. Until you accede to our request, we will boycott Elsevier, i.e., decline to purchase Elsevier products, to publish, review, or do editorial work for Elsevier".

    Best wishes,


  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 2:33 PM, devoish wrote:

    For everyone wishing to not be a test subject for genetically engineered food, despite industries reassurance that it is safe, you can follow this link and join me and trying to take steps in the right direction.

    Thank you and

    Best wishes,


  • Report this Comment On March 15, 2014, at 6:21 AM, Yunker4028 wrote:

    Alex wrote "But Monsanto can't just wave a magic wand and spread deadly GMOs around the world before anyone can so much as check to see if they make people die."

    Actually, Monsanto doesn't have to wave a magic wand. Mother Nature, through cross contamination, is spreading "deadly" GMOs for them. Furthermore, you have a lot of trust in our regulatory agencies to "check" to see if people are dying from GMOs. Open your eyes and connect the dots - America is sick. No one really wants studies that show we're dying from GMOs. As you said - profits margins!

  • Report this Comment On March 15, 2014, at 6:36 AM, Yunker4028 wrote:

    Predfren wrote "the precautionary principle or better-safe-than-sorry does not take real costs to society and the economy into account."

    Real costs? Then let's factor in the billions of dollars American taxpayers pay to subsidize GMOs. I say eliminate the Farm Bill which is just another form of Corporate Welfare.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2014, at 3:39 PM, mythodrome wrote:

    Wait... we're talking about "total ecocide" here and you all are worried about the hit this might cause to your stock portfolios? Are you kidding me?

    You do know you can't buy your way out of "total ecocide" right?

    Rich people are so messed up.

  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2014, at 4:26 PM, daz10000 wrote:

    Pity the fool who follows anyone touting their lack of understanding of a complex topic as a badge of honor (The are you a biologist fallacy). Taleb would fail his sophmore biology exam because he is willfully ignoring the most basic premise of evolution that far from being a fragile system, most organisms are highly adapted to their evironment through billions of years of warfare effectively. Our single gene interventions make them less fit to complete but easier to eat (cows are not bred for survival in the wild. GMOs aren't designed to take over other environments and we would struggle to build a better organism than the one that evolved). Millions of people have died or gone blind already due to the west withholding golden rice, and better crop technology so our local foo-foo organic markets can tout their medieval purity. I'm sickened by this cheap fear mongering. Meanwhile not a single person has been harmed by GMOs anywhere. People trot out the "society has gone downhill, GMO eating has increased so there!" arguments. One badly done french study is lauded even after it's retracted because it was wrong which the vast body of evidence showing no harm is willfully ignored. Someone really nailed it when they called GMOs the liberal equivalent of climate change denial. I'm liberal, I'm an environmentalist and just writing "total ecocide" next to GMOs enough times a scientist does not one make..

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2014, at 10:48 PM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    Just noticed that there are more posts here. Sorry for the delayed response.

    @ Steven / devoish -

    There do not appear to be 1,200 scientists on this list of signatures, and many of the actual scientists operate in fields that have nothing to do with biology. Some of the signatories include (and I'm just doing a quick term search here)... about 200 nutritionists (not scientists), almost 100 psychologists, about 14 geologists, 39 mathematicians, 18 architects (not scientists), one person whose scientific credentials are apparently that they are a "human being who eats food [and] I deserve to eat GMO free food."

    You just told me, effectively, that I can't draw intelligent conclusions about a subject we're clearly both quite interested in because my conclusions are different than yours. And to validate the superiority of your conclusions over mine, you responded to my payment-gated scientific study with a list of random people who signed a petition on the Internet.

    I'm not expecting you to pay to access the study, but did you at least look at the credentials of the signatories before you linked the article?

  • Report this Comment On April 17, 2014, at 7:40 PM, krkannan84 wrote:

    gmo foods are dangerous!! i have experience myself!!

    My gut is irritated and throwing up ever since i arrived in us 3 year ago; doctor named it stress; ibs for a while and then suspected chrons; damn all was for nothing ; i stopped gmos and felt all new ; my body is now getting back to normal levels without medications; not theories experiment need; pratically felt it ; stop gmos for god sake if u r sure it is gonna have more positive effects to environments considering the side effects it poses

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Brian Stoffel has been a Fool since 2008, and a financial journalist for the Motley Fool since 2010. He tends to follow the investment strategies of Fool-founder David Gardner, looking for the most innovative companies driving positive change for the future.

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