Misplaced fears of identical diseases links anti-GMOers to anti-technology fringe groups

The world is changing every day, yet many people do not appreciate the benefits of technology. Innovations in agriculture, medicine and communications given many pause, and driven others to take strong stands against new technologies. One of the most compelling ways to fight a technology is to connect it to disease, even if no such scientific association exists.

In order to wage an effective war against science and reason, it is important to convince as many people as possible that science and reason are killing them.  This task is difficult because most people realize that science and reason have greatly enhanced quality of life and life expectancy.  If you want to invoke panic, the trick is to misdirect the credulous from the daily examples where science works, instead manufacturing risk by connecting an activist target to a familiar disease du jour.

Whether you are trying to sell a book on GMOs, get more paid invites for your anti-herbicide rants, sell a t-shirt on your chemtrails site, or convince local moms to stop protecting their children with immunization, there has to be a looming threat of a horrendous physical illness.

Below are cut-n-pastes from various websites or documentaries. They note the rise in diseases associated with (fill-in-the-blank).  Note that they all are relatively similar lists in terms of specific disease issues.

The first two are from anti-GMO activists. Genetic Roulette, an immensely popular “documentary” among anti-GMO activists, was produced by Jeffrey Smith, who has no training in science; he’s a former yogic instructor but later created his one man NGO, the Center for Responsible Technology to spread fear about biotechnology. He “responsibly” lists all the diseases allegedly caused by eating foods with GMOs.


This list is fun because it includes cirrhosis and pneumonia. GMO pneumonia? Are people huffing cornstarch?  Examination of the peer-reviewed literature shows no tie to any of these claims, other than clinically meaningless extrapolated data from cells in a Petri dish.

Here’s a similar chart presented in talks by Don Huber, a retired scientist from the Plant Pathology faculty of Purdue University and a favorite on the anti-GMO lecture circuit. He claims he discovered years ago a novel pathogenic microbe linked to the herbicide glyphosate, which is often paired with GMO crops. He calls it a chemical time bomb that is wreaking havoc on humans and animals. This list a little more comprehensive than Smith’s, digging in a little deeper to find more diseases tied to his plant-animal-livestock pathogen. What we’d expect from a credentialed scientist, emeritus or not, is a little deeper thinking than simply using correlations to make conclusions. But like with Smith, all we get from Huber are meaningless correlations. His diseases include Morgellan’s and miscarriage.  Of course, he never has produced any evidence of the pathogen, but he knows exactly what diseases it causes.


Huber’s list is actually cribbed from a paper co-authored by Stephanie Seneff, a computer scientist at MIT with no scientific background in chemistry. Published in an obscure pay-for-play journal called Entropy, it made similar unsubstantiated claims about glyphosate, and produced a similar suite of disorders that the herbicide allegedly causes.

Seneff also claimed a vaccine-autism link in a co-authored paper published in a similarly obscure journal the prior year. The diseases allegedly caused by vaccines are remarkably similar to those caused by GMOs, chemicals, chemtrails and fluoride use.


This baby, assaulted by vaccines, has more syringes sticking in it than a Monsanto tomato. Note the shock phrase, “Up to 60% of the immune system destroyed” which has absolutely zero support from the scientific literature.  The list here is similar to GMO, but also includes “death,” which is quite a symptom.

Chemtrails are blamed for a similar spectrum of diseases, with the added fun of tinnitus (ear ringing) and high cholesterol.  (The purported “aluminum build up in the pineal gland” might be residues soaking in from a foil hat.)

Related article:  Why farmers have been slow to adopt GMO alfalfa


Fluoride, which has been safely used for more than 60 years, comes under similar attack for causing—you guessed it—the same diseases.


Fluoride causes many of the same problems, but I’ll give them credit for forging out and finding some new disorders to give them an air of credibility. I particularly like “Brain Damage in the Unborn Fetus”, which must rectify in the born fetus, because just about anyone reading this in the USA was a fetus in the presence of fluoride.  I also like how fluoride “Makes you docile and obeisant”, which I think means fat and willing to carry out orders.

 Common disease spectrum of crazy

The disorders share a few commonalities. First, many of them are difficulty to test for or diagnose, except for relatively certain diagnoses by TV doctors and websites.  Next, these are modern diseases with multiple etiologies and unfound cures.  These disorders are prevalent in our society, increasing in frequency since we are not dropping dead from polio, tuberculosis and the flu. We also are increasingly aware of many of these maladies and benefit from better surveillance and detection. Most of all, the lists include highly visible issues like autism, obesity and cancer, along with long-term dramatic degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. They also include lots of recent hot-topic issues (gluten intolerance) and amorphous disorders (fibromyalgia). 

What is the common theme?  To develop a list of disorders that will motivate the scientifically illiterate.  Those with causes to convey can compel the credulous by claiming physical manifestations – of course, without ever presenting supporting evidence.  After all, who needs all of those medical journals when you have slick computer graphics and documentaries?

If you go on the Internet and root around you can find similar lists for aspartame, radio waves, cell phone towers, and if you live in Kauai– “smart meters”, the Wi-Fi-reporting electrical meters. Of course, when you look at the lists they never actually cite evidence of linkage to the disease, not evidence of true cause and effect.  It is a common tactic of someone trying to scare you with a bowl of Cheerios, a microwave oven or an electric meter: manufacture the perception of risk where none actually exists.

Why attach a visible, dreaded disease to your controversy?  Simple, because it can be used to frighten people, especially when concerning their unborn fetus, and their recently born fetus.  Manufacturing mommy fear is a key tactic for any movement attempting to ban/restrict/change a perfectly sound technology.   When people have plenty of calories and disposable income, they can afford to be afraid of things that offer no evidence of harm—because the guy on the Internet in the lab coat said so.

Is it a bad thing for them to be duped into accepting pseudoscientific claims of harm?  It is.  The problem is that someone is being compelled to take action based on false information and fear.  Sure there’s one born every minute, and those that take a hard stance against science and reason are free to be fooled.  Sadly, many in our society today have enough scientific acumen to know these suggestions are false, yet they don’t want to take a chance. The bad information can have a considerable cost in time, money or illness.

Don’t fall for it. Your food is safe, flu shots work, and the chemtrails just may be condensation and not the reason you can’t get out of bed in the morning.

Kevin Folta, a contributing columnist for the GLP, is associate professor and Horticultural Sciences Department Chairman at the University of Florida. He got his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from University of Illinois at Chicago in 1998, and he has worked at University of Wisconsin before settling in at University of Florida.

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