Podcast: GMOs = witchcraft? ‘Big Ag’ didn’t cause coronavirus; Remdesivir for COVID-19

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Credit: OtherWords cartoon/Khalil Bendib

We finally have a drug to treat COVID-19 in remdesivir, but how well does it work? Anti-GMO activists have blamed the coronavirus pandemic on ‘factory farming’ without any justification. Trusting your gut can lead you astray, especially when it comes to scientific issues. A farmer in South Africa has been accused of practicing witchcraft after achieving massive yield increases with GMO corn.

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP editor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down the latest stories from the GLP:


After three months of speculation about possible COVID-19 treatments, the FDA has granted an emergency authorization for the antiviral drug remdesivir, following promising results from two preliminary clinical trials. How well does it work? Experts say the initial results are encouraging, but remdesivir is far short of the wonder drug we’ve been hoping for. Still, the World Health Organization is aiming to expand access to the antiviral and several pharmaceutical firms are scaling up production to distribute a generic version to developing nations around the world.

Organic food activists have been eager to blame the ongoing pandemic on ‘factory farming,’ alleging it provides an ideal setting for deadly viruses like SARS-COV-2 to jump from animals to humans. This narrative has attracted generous media coverage, but there is little science to support the allegation that modern agricultural practices are to blame for infectious disease outbreaks. Ironically enough, the data show we should expand industrial farming to minimize the risk of experiencing another pandemic.

Related article:  Gene-edited crops declared GMOs in EU court ruling

Trust your gut. It’s an old habit we fall back on when tough decisions have to be made absent all the facts. But according to a new study, humans have a tendency to go with our gut instinct even when we have evidence showing us that instinct is wrong. Why do we do this, and how does our gut-trusting tendency impact our thinking about scientific issues?

Biotech skeptics have argued for years that GMO crops don’t boost yields. They may have a difficult time making that argument in South Africa after a farmer in the country saw 1,600% yield increases from planting insect-resistant Bt corn. South African vegetable grower Sam Maebela says the yield increase was so dramatic, his neighbors accused him of practicing witchcraft. What does this anecdote teach us about the significance of crop biotechnology?


Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

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