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:  Viewpoint: New director of International Agency for Research on Cancer, under fire for promoting cancer fears, likely to maintain status quo


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.

24 thoughts on “Misplaced fears of identical diseases links anti-GMOers to anti-technology fringe groups”

  1. Hey Kevin, do you think Stephanie ever had hard measles? I did when I was 4 years old (before the vaccine). My Dad had it too, and is still sensitive to bright light. She might actually change her tune if measles and small pox make a comeback.

    • I doubt she ever had measles because I’m almost certain she’s received comprehensive vaccination. She’s in that age window where she would have received the whole schmear. It would be quite expected for the holier-than-thou with the benefit of successful protection to wish to restrict it from others.

  2. Typical biotech defense bullshit! Amazing that a site that claims to be for the defense of science lack any scientific references to back its clamis! Also the author doesn’t hesitate to make sweeping generalizations that are typical of anti scientific, pro-sensationalist speech..Not going to waste any more time arguing with these charlatans..anybody who has a sense and appreciation of good science would be turned off by the first few paragraph of any of your “informative” articles…

  3. I appreciate the Kauai anti-smart meter reference. Kauai is “lucky” to have many people who believe all the junk you mention, and representatives who are so stupid, and such panderers, that they actually make legislation based on the garbage.

  4. Thanks Kevin for putting words to that ground hog day sense we have every time the alternative-to-science crowd shows up to blame a new technology for the same old list of maladies.

  5. Kevin, it’s really a shame that you as a University professor would make such sweepingly derogatory statements about anyone who questions GMOs, water fluoridation or vaccine safety. The underlying message is that we “mere mortals” should not bother to question the recommendations that degreed and credentialed “experts” like yourself make. That we should not think for ourselves because if we do and our conclusions don’t match with yours, then you will resort to public name calling (e.g. being “anti-science”) and other intimidation tactics, such as you do in this article. Shouldn’t you be encouraging critical thought? Isn’t that your moral obligation as a teacher?

    The fact is, all of these are complex issues and nowhere close to black and white. The stakes are very high, since money, power and human health are at stake.

    I happen to fall into the bucket you seem to be ranting about. Like most of the people you seem to want to label as “anti-vaccine,” if you actually engaged in a civil and thoughtful discussion with us, you would see that few, if any of us are actually “anti-vaccine.” Just because we question the safety of some of the additives in vaccines or their effectiveness or the way that safety trials are conducted or the timing of some of the government’s recommendations for when vaccines should be administered is VERY different from being “anti-vaccine.” Same with GMOs. My last post was on this very topic, if you care to read it. Same with Fluoride. I’m all for it being in my toothpaste, but I don’t want to drink it with my water or beer. And none of us are “anti-science” or anti-technology. I happen to have a bachelor’s degree in Physics and I sell advanced technology for a living.

    At the end of the day, we so-called “anti-technology fringe group” members are nothing of the sort. We merely want the freedom of choice. To choose when to administer which vaccines to our children. Whether or not to drink fluoridated water or unpasteurized milk. Whether to consume factory-farm meat vs. pasture-raised meats from animals who are not fed pesticide-expressing corn, even though the peer-reviewed science fails to show any danger. Sadly, we appear to have to fight tooth and nail to preserve these rights.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that all of our food is safe or that flu shots work all that well. I have no desire to stop you from eating the foods you want and getting the shots you want, but please find it in your heart to respect those of us who decide otherwise and want to share our perspectives on these matters with our peers.

    • Hi Churn. I think you misunderstand me quite a bit. I really do encourage critical thinking, and absolutely support investigating alternative hypotheses based on science. That is my job.

      But does that mean I have to open ‘critical thinking’ to any insane implausibility just because someone thinks it is true? If that was the fact, we’d have universities teaching classes in UFOlogy.

      My job is to be open to all evidence, and that means ALL evidence, evaluate it with a critical eye, and interpret it within a framework of the current understanding of science.

      These are black and white issues. Vaccines, chemtrails, GMO, fluoride— they are not issues scientists discuss. They are discussions in the produce aisle of Whole Foods or the March Against Chemtrails rally.

      The anti-technology fringe groups are exactly that, and you have all the choice in the world. You have enough calories, money, resources and safety nets to shun modern science. But let’s not deny the application of sound medicine and food technology to those that need it.

      I completely respect your decision to not vaccinate, not use medicine, not do whatever. No problem. Have at it. But be consistent. Refuse all medicine. Reject all assistance in your health care. Don’t pick and choose. That’s what I really respect about the Jehova’s Witnesses and others that refuse medical treatment for their kids. They ride it out and are consistent.

      Your note about “pesticide expressing corn” says that you don’t understand the technology. If you want, send me an email, I’ll be glad to explain it to you. My pleasure. Once you understand science, it is pretty cool.

      Best wishes to you and you unvaccinated family. I mean that too. Because of your choices they will need it.

      • So refusing medicine with a questionable back ground is wrong? Not talking vaccine specific, but how many drugs are used for years and then a safety issue is discovered because someone questioned the “science” that went into getting it approved. Take a look at Gary Taubes work. His turning support of Atkins and his proof as he shows you the studies and false claims of nutrition “science” of the last few decades. Science does amazing things and if I need my arm sown back together I am going to a surgeon. But my wife is perfectly capable of having her children without drugs or a c-section.

  6. It would be nice to have links to the published studies that support the views. A proper scientific argument would present these so that one could point out the details. Otherwise this looks like the stuff you’re accusing the anti-GMO crowd of. Since you are a scientist these things should be at your fingertips. The rest of us who can read such papers would like to have detailed analysis. I’m sure you provide these to your students.

    • Hitchens razor baby ” that which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence”

      Science and science advocates are already at a disadvantage against charlatan activists, who do not hold themselves to the same epistemic standards. So now everytime someone challenges these nonsense claims you want a line by line citation?

      “The rest of us who can read such papers would like to have detailed analysis”

      If you are truly as proficient at reading scientific papers as you’re claiming to be, then you should have no problem finding the information yourself using any number of methods. The burden of proof is on the people making the claims, in this case the people saying GMOs cause autism etc., not on those challenging the claim.

      • Thanks for making my point for me. By not providing a link to some key papers or other evidence, this piece is nothing more than an opinion that say you should believe what I am saying because I am saying Hitchen’s Razor says to dismiss the entire piece. It is a perfectly acceptable questions to ask an academic for his/her sources and they should be happy to provide them as a courtesy to their readers. It tells everyone that they want to provide the best information and provide evidence that could potentially change someones mind. As such this article drones into the endless chatter on the internet and misses the opportunity to educate.

        • You’re having some confusion over who’s making claims and who’s dismissing claims.

          People making unproven spurious assertions that GMOs cause cancer/autism/whatever else are the people making a claim that needs to supported with evidence.

          I’m not saying he shouldn’t give you sources, only that he is under no obligation to since doing so shifts the burden of proof from the person making the positive argument (GMOs/vaccines cause cancer/autism) to the critic of that argument (that would be this article). People claiming these things cause health problems are the ones responsible for proving that claim, it’s not up to the rest of us prove that its wrong. It simply is wrong barring any evidence.

          • The guy who wrote the article is making claims about his opposition and maintains that his own point of view is correct without any justification. I’m saying that to many, this is no convincing as he becomes another voice in the crowd shouting an unverified opinion. I’m merely stating that his position would be more effective if he took the time to teach people instead of saying believe this because I said so. This isn’t a scientific debate its a public debate on science, so the current rhetoric inflames the discussion into a pointless discussion centered on “I’m right” , “no you’re not” , “yes I am”, etc. That’s not going to convince anyone of anything. So you can argue about who has the burden of proof, and the author can criticize his anti-science charlatans but the charlatans will say “look we have this” and all they have is name calling and no meaningful evidence to back his claims. The public will agree with the charlatans rhetoric and opposition will grow. But you’ll have that satisfaction of knowing who had the burden of proof while momentum grows against this technology. World-wide it being banned at a significant rate. Just thought. Actually if I were against GMO’s I wouldn’t have said anything because the pro-GMO side is playing into playing into the anti-GMO rhetoric.

          • That’s a good point I really didn’t consider. I should not have come in as hot as I did and I made some poor assumptions. For that I apologize. Showing sources is always good form I agree. But the people who in their hearts truly believe vaccines or GMOs cause autism/whatever probably won’t be swayed with sources or rhetoric unfortunately. Perhaps engaging in this kind of rhetoric is the low road, but the antis have been shown to be incredibly effective at employing this exact strategy so I can see the allure of using it against them. But your probably right.

          • Well if that isn’t a strange thing to happen in a comment section of an article about genetic engineering, agreeable respectful discussion!

          • I don’t think he’s a teacher at all or he’d have his credentials behind his name. My hope for these bullies is that they suffer chemical injuries that will teach them empathy for those they are now seeking to intimidate and belittle.

  7. I like the article. I’m still not going to trust that the mega corporations who profit in the BILLIONS are putting my health first. Profit is first my health is a concern because a dying consumer isn’t ideal. Sure vaccines are useful but in the hands of big pharma I will remain cautions.

  8. This site is clearly a propaganda outlet. An opposing outlet with no evidence or refrences just like the stories it was put here to debunk. This author has no credibility. He simply wants to browbeat and ridicule you into agreeing with him.

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