19 October 2015
by Gabriela Motroc

Vaccines and GMOs should be treated equally

Anti-vaccine and anti-GMO activists have one thing in common: they believe that people should embrace the natural and stay healthy without the “help” of vaccines or GMOs.

American writer Keith Kloor wrote in a 2014 article in Discover that it’s easy to find bad information about the safety of both GMOs and vaccines on the internet, but people tend to accept more the idea that vaccines are bad than the reality that there is no significant difference between the two. According to an overview from the Pacific Standard, the debate over the safety of genetically modified foods is over within the scientific community. The American Association for the Advancement of Science concluded that “consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.” Plus, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences revealed that “no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population,” a conclusion shared by the likes of the European Commission and the World Health Organisation.

Richard Lacey, Professor of Food Safety at Leeds University expressed concern over the introduction of genetically engineered foods due to the health risks and stated “it is virtually impossible to even conceive of a testing procedure to assess the health effects of genetically engineered foods when introduced into the food chain.” Modern Farmer quoted Glenn Stone, anthropologist at Washington University in St Louis saying the debate against GMOs has become “so very, very polarized.” In a New York Times poll conducted in July 2013, almost a quarter of respondents said they believed GMO foods were unsafe to eat or were toxic, while nearly 93 per cent supported a GM labelling law.

Kloor showed that some people tend to accept the consensus judgement of medical institutions on vaccines but not GMOs. He referred to an article written by Robert Kennedy Jr about the dangers of vaccines and thimerosal, which was rejected by the Huffington Post and another one by Carole Bartolotto, a registered dietitian, who wrote about the dangers of GMOs, which appeared in HuffPost’s Living Well section. Although the two wrote about different topics, the essence was virtually the same: Kennedy argued that thimerosal “is a potent neurotoxin that has never been proven safe” while Bartolotto emphasized that “no one can make the claim that GMOs are proven safe.”

Kloor asked Stuart Whatley, the executive blog editor of HuffPost why the GMO article met the publication’s standards and the vaccine article did not. Whatley said via e-mail that Robert Kennedy Jr’s was not accepted because it did not meet the Huffington Post’s “medical review requirement” that all bloggers offer sufficient sourcing for their claims while the article about GMOs was accepted because it included “adequate sourcing” and passed its medical review board. Kennedy’s article was eventually published at Alternet.

Kennedy has made numerous inflammatory comments in the past with regard to the link between the rise of autism and the increase in vaccination schedules during the 1980s. He believes that the rise in autism and other learning disorders in children has been triggered by the use of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative which was commonly used in vaccines. As a result, he even edited a book titled Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak.

Meanwhile, Professor John Fagan, an award-wining molecular biologist and cancer researcher said that “the process of genetic engineering always involves the risk of altering the genetics and cellular functioning of a food organism in unanticipated ways.” Dr Fagan added that “these unanticipated alterations can result in GE foods being allergenic, toxic or reduced in nutritional value.”

Both anti-vaccine and anti-GMO claims reject scientific consensus, which means both issues raise the same problem –that people should be aware of the dangers they invite when they consume GM foods and when they accept to be vaccinated. Still, one issue meets standards and the other does not.