Greenpeace misleading subscribers on science… but what’s new?

Monarch butterfly populations are  not impacted by GM crops  (image: en.wikipedia.org)

Monarch butterfly populations are
not impacted by GM crops
(image: en.wikipedia.org)

The following incidences of irresponsible use of science are from an analysis of the Greenpeace briefing Environmental and health impacts of GM crops – the science which is still, in 2015, the organisations go-to-document for people needing information on GM issues.

Throughout the ‘fact sheet’ Greenpeace make various claims and then provide references to scientific papers (or not) supposedly there to support the claim. The disparities between what Greenpeace have written and the actual results and conclusions of the cited studies are reveal a disregard for the truth that I personally find intolerable from a group whom many trust to steer us right in respect of the environment. Let’s be clear, this is not a case of finding alternative studies to refute Greenpeace… this is a case of simply reading the studies Greenpeace brazenly cite and seeing whether Greenpeace have represented them honestly.

See for yourself whether you think the following claims are supported by the citations.

 

What Gp say:  

“Long-term exposure to pollen from GM insect resistant maize causes adverse effects on the behaviour(1) and survival(2) of the monarch butterfly”

What the citations say:

1) “Larvae would have had to consume thousands of grains of pollen before the adverse effects on leaf feeding and weight gain would have been seen”

2) “It is likely that Bt corn will not affect the sustainability of Monarch butterfly populations”

… another example…

What Gp say:

“GM Bt crops adversely affect (8) beneficial insects important to controlling maize pests, such as green lacewings(9)(10)(11)(12)”

What the citations say:

8) “The results of the present study provide further evidence that C. carnea is not susceptible to Cry1Ab” – that’s pretty clear right??

9) I couldn’t actually figure out why is this one is even cited?

10) “The results of the present study provide further evidence that C. carnea is not susceptible to Cry1Ab” – yes, same study cited twice in the same sentence…

11) “To date, evidence from laboratory trials tends to suggest predator communities are rarely affected by exposure to transgenic material”

12)  “135 assessments could be categorised, with the majority (47.4%) showing no significant response (neutral)”

Some of these are in clear opposition to the alarmist warning Greenpeace are trying to put forward. Of course, in addition to the studies GP actually cited, there is a much larger body of literature further refuting their claims.

What Gp say:

“The toxin Cry1Ab has been shown to affect the learning performance of honeybees(13)”

What the citations say:

13) “our general conclusion is that negative effects of Cry1Ab protein on foraging behaviour of honey bees are unlikely in natural conditions.”

… pushing it a bit…

What Gp say:

“The long-term, cumulative effects of growing Bt maize are of concern(23)”

What the citations say:

23) “Because most studies have generally indicated few or no significant detrimental effects on microbes and other organisms in below-ground soil ecosystems, more studies on the risks associated with Bt plants, at least those currently available, to these organisms are probably not indicated. The time and money would be better spent on studies of the potential risks associated with the release of transgenic plants genetically engineered to express pharmaceutical and industrial products”

Those looking for science will not find it in the Greenpeace fact sheet.

This shameful pattern of misrepresentation continues throughout the entire briefing, were they simply hoping nobody would check? It’s one thing to cherry pick studies to find the few that support your claim against a growing consensus, but it appears that Greenpeace were so completely at a loss to support their claims that they actually resorted to citing studies that refute them and hoped nobody would notice.

Should we worry?

We should be worried any time science is communicated so poorly, because it can only mean one of two things… a genuine mistake or an intentional act of deception. Greenpeace are deeply trusted, well funded and wildly influential and have frequently demonstrated expertise at shifting public opinion and affecting policy decisions, particularly in the developing world whose fragility makes them most susceptible to the harms of bad science. Greenpeace reject all agricultural-biotechnology and synthetic chemicals, despite the many benefits of these technologies and billions of lives saved. They demand a global move to something they call Ecological Farming, a radical and ideological extension of Organic Agriculture. Experts and agricultural scientists, with unfortunately less PR savvy, say such systems would be disastrous for biodiversity and food security due to the unprecedented amount of extra land required – 28 million hectares would need to be converted if Europe switched to organic, this represents all the remaining forest cover of the UK, France, Denmark and Germany combined. If Greenpeace succeed it would be catastrophic, nay apocalyptic, for species and ecosystems. It seems that Greenpeace are guilty of greenwashing Ecological Farming. Greenpeace have failed to represent the science and have misled those that rely on, and fund them.

What we need from Greenpeace

Protesters destroying GM crop research  (image: http://www.theguardian.com/)

Protesters destroying GM crop research
(image: http://www.theguardian.com/)

It is true that Greenpeace have done much good on issues where they have accepted the science (i.e climate change) but where they combine science denial with considerable resources, only harm can come. Governments and corporations often struggle to gain public trust for new ideas; we absolutely need at least one environmental group to take the lead and push the scientifically accepted case for an integrated agriculture, particularly in this most vital all-or-nothing century for human existence. In 2005 the Dalai Lama admirably conceded “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change”. The science is now overwhelmingly against Greenpeace, they could benefit from Tenzin’s humility and they would no doubt be cheered by scientists for doing so… caring for the environment means being brave enough to admit when you’re wrong, the Earth deserves our honesty.

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