March 12, 2018

Russia Tries to Influence GMO Perception

 |  By: Fran Howard

More than two decades after the first genetically modified (GMO) crops were introduced, criticism and skepticism of GMOs continues to run high. Distrust of foods made with GMO crops persists despite numerous studies that show they are actually no less healthy for humans and even better for cows than non-GMO produced feed and food.

After reviewing more than 900 studies and data covering the previous 20 years, the prestigious Academies of Science released an extensive 388-page report in May 2016 that found GMOs were safe for both humans and livestock to eat.

An Iowa State University study released in February, however, found that news articles related to GMOs featured by five major U.S. and two Russian-backed news outlets were often negative, particulary from the Russian media.

“The Iowa State study showed that the Russian articles overwhelmingly portrayed GMOs in a bad light,” notes Sarina Sharp, agricultural economist with the Daily Dairy Report. “Russia hopes to sow discord on GMOs, similar to its efforts in the political sphere, and in the process to establish its own agricultural industry as a favored alternative to healthy GMO foods.”

The Iowa State researchers also found that the two Russian-backed news sites, RT and Sputnik, produced 53% of the articles posted by the seven sites, which included U.S. media outlets CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Breitbart News, and the Huffington Post.

Despite science that shows that GMO-foods are healthy for humans and better for cows, the Russians are not the only ones who distrust foods produced with GMO crops. Worldwide, Sharp says that 38 nations, including Russia and 19 European countries, ban the cultivation of GMO crops, but many still allow GMO crops to be imported. Moreover, a Pew Research survey shows that 39% of Americans believe GMO foods are less healthy than non-GMO foods.

“Major food brands have responded to this consumer skepticism by marketing some products as non-GMO,” notes Sharp. “That type of marketing can reinforce consumers’ negative perceptions of GMO foods. And now through negative news articles, Russia has been trying to capitalize on that distrust.”

Sharp notes that Italian researchers recently analyzed 6,006 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that herbicide- and insect-resistant corn varieties have significantly fewer mycotoxins than non-GMO strains, while non-GMO corn is more susceptible to fungi that cause mycotoxins. “Mycotoxins are also harmful to humans, which means this study shows that GMO corn is healthier for humans than non-GMO corn,” Sharp notes.

Dairy cows are particularly sensitive to mycotoxins, including aflatoxin, Sharp states. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends a maximum aflatoxin level of 20 parts per billion (ppb) in food for humans and feed for immature livestock and all dairy animals. That compares to 200 ppb for finishing swine and 300 ppb for finishing beef cattle, she adds. The study showed that GMO crops had a 28.8% lower incidence of mycotoxins than non-GMO corn.

“The fact that higher-quality GMO corn is better for dairy animals is good news for the U.S. dairy industry, because the United States by far is home to the largest share of the world's GMO corn acreage, followed by Brazil, Argentina, and Canada,” Sharp says.


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