GM Watch is an anti-science propaganda outlet that publishes biased news reports and commentary on biotechnology and agriculture. This “independent organization” exists to “…counter the enormous corporate political power and propaganda of the GMO industry and its supporters…” according to its website. GM Watch is heavily financed by well-known anti-science NGOs, and is operated by Jonathan Matthews and Claire Robinson, a pair of rabid environmental activists with no scientific qualifications to speak of. A cursory glance at GM Watch’s website reveals that Matthews and Robinson are hopelessly ignorant of the science they demonize.
Transgenic Crop Success: GM Watch Sticks it Head in the Sand
The anti-GMO crusade is based in large part on the the myth that transgenic crops have contributed little to agriculture in the last 25 years. The activists at GM watch perpetuate this falsehood too, apparently oblivious to how ridiculous an argument it is. Rather, the GM Watch minions say, plant breeders have used older methods of genetic modification to develop the food crops we grow today. By crossing two or more plant varieties, for instance, breeders have developed hybrid offspring that possess desirable traits from each parent, like drought resistance and enhanced flavor. “While often speculative claims of potential [genetic engineering] ‘miracles’ win vast amounts of column inches,” GM Watch alleges “…the non-GM solutions are often way ahead of the work on GM.”
No expert doubts that traditional plant breeding techniques continue to evolve and remain essential to producing new crop varieties. But biotechnology has led to the development of disease- and pest-resistant crops that otherwise wouldn’t exist. In Hawaii, papaya immune to the ringspot virus saved the state’s papaya industry from total destruction. Likewise, Bt cotton resistant to the bollworm caterpillar increased cotton yields in India by 24 percent. Herbicide resistant crops are also worth mentioning for helping farmers control weeds and increase their yields of corn, soy and alfalfa.
GM Watch lamely replies that “…a Bt toxin to kill insects or a herbicide-resistance gene that allows [the crop] to be drenched in herbicide…has one magical effect – on the biotech company’s profit margins.” They forget to mention (or ignore) that biotech companies profit because farmers choose to buy these transgenic seeds, which control pests and weeds so effectively.
Conspiracy Theories Everywhere!
GM Watch perpetuates all sorts of conspiratorial nonsense about transgenic crops, pesticides and the scientists who develop them. The nonprofit claims the weedkiller glyphosate is carcinogenic, and that European regulators are covering up the evidence. The majority of epidemiologists, toxicologists and chemists must be in on the cover up, too, because they similarly conclude that glyphosate is safe when used according to its label. GM Watch also endorses denier for hire Paul Thacker‘s debunked accusation that Monsanto is systematically paying off scientists to deny the dangers of the company’s products. This charge against mainstream biology is especially egregious given GM Watch’s defense of one particularly unethical researcher.
Disingenuous Defense of Chris Portier
In October 2017, GM Watch reprinted an article that aimed to “set the record straight” about Dr. Chris Portier. Portier is an activist scientist who helped produce the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) monograph that declared glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) carcinogenic. The same week IARC released the monograph, Portier signed a lucrative contract to consult a team of trial lawyers who were planning to sue Monsanto, because glyphosate allegedly causes cancer.
Since Portier signed the contract about 10 days after IARC released its monograph in late March 2015, critics suspected that he knew of the impending lawsuits before IARC had completed its review of glyphosate. This suspicion later gained some credibility when Portier gave his deposition for the lawsuits. Also problematic was the fact that Portier kept his agreement with the lawyers secret for months, finally informing the European Commission of his consultancy work in December 2015.
Portier’s relationship with the two law firms involved in the lawsuits struck outside observers as a conflict of interest, since he was working with a supposedly independent cancer research agency. To the activists at GM Watch, though, this criticism is “…based on an uncritical and selective quoting of a recently published deposition of Dr Portier…”
Ironically enough, this defense mostly ignored the comments Portier made during his deposition for the lawsuits against Monsanto, relying instead on answers Portier gave during an interview with a sympathetic, anti-GMO nonprofit. During his deposition, for example, Portier admitted (p 94) to denying that he was paid for his work on glyphosate. The best response GM Watch could muster was that Portier didn’t disclose the consulting contract because “…he was insufficiently aware of the need to do so.” They also took Portier at his word that he was not advising IARC while also preparing for the lawsuit against Monsanto, which is likely false since Portier had “…been in contact with [the law firms] two months before (p 77) joining the [IARC] glyphosate working group meeting.”