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When and how did the opposition to GMOs start?

Submitted by: Haley Appel


Expert response from Dr. Stuart Smyth

Assistant Professor, Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics, University of Saskatchewan

Thursday, 08/03/2018 15:12

Many people have commented on this, offering a variety to reasons for the opposition to GMOs and GM crops. They offer examples such as the detection of BSE in British cattle and the UK Minister for Agriculture publicly announcing British beef was perfectly safe to eat to the detection of dioxins in chocolate, all of which occurred in the late 1990s. At this time, GM food products were entering the market and in some instances even labelled as being GM products, such as GM tomato paste in the UK. These products sold very well.

It is my view that the opposition started when the environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs) realized that the public knew very little about science and particularly the science of how plants are bred and how food is produced. These eNGOs successfully lobbied within the European Union to have a moratorium on GM crop production and import that lasted from 1999 to 2003. eNGOs began campaigning in 1999 against GMOs, using online marketing strategies that were designed to scare the public with misleading and false information about the technology. It was at this time that eNGO activists dressed up in all kinds of fictional costumes designed to draw media attention to themselves and their erroneous stories of harm and danger.

As environmental groups launched into these fear-based campaigns, they quickly realized the power that fear had when it came to raising donations from their members and the general public. With the public’s lack of knowledge about the biological sciences behind the innovation, it gave the eNGOs free reign to be as imaginative as they desired in their efforts to scare the public, meanwhile there was no voice coming from the agriculture biotechnology sector that could balance these stories with factual information. So successful were these campaigns of fear, deception and misinformation that the eNGO movement began to abandon their science-based origins, becoming depending on fundraising for political lobbying.