One of the GM lobby's current favourite memes is the claim that there is a "scientific consensus" on GMO safety.
Longtime GMWatch subscribers will know this is completely untrue - numerous studies point to a wide variety of hazards posed by GM technology.
But even if there were such a consensus, its value would be questionable, in our view. Here's Claire Robinson of GMWatch's reply to Grist food writer Nathanael Johnson's claim of a scientific consensus on GM safety:
"Even if such a 'consensus' of GMO safety did exist, it wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on. Science does not advance in the manner of a flock of sheep, by 'consensus', but through the generation of new data. The new data in turn lead to new conclusions that build a new paradigm. It doesn't matter if just one scientist or hundreds generate the new data. Galileo didn't have 'consensus' support for his observation that the earth went round the sun. But because the data supported him, people eventually came round to admitting he was right."
We're pleased to see that our view is shared by biotech industry expert Sano M. Shimoda, president and founder of BioScience Securities, Inc., a strategic corporate advisory and investment banking firm in California (see below). Mr Shimoda was speaking at a GM industry event, the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC 2013) in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, held September 15–18, 2013.
Mr Shimoda's presentation can be downloaded here:
The presentation gives an excellent overview of the scientific climate around GM crops and foods. Mr Shimoda draws attention to the inadequacy of GM technology in developing crops with complex traits like drought tolerance. He cites studies that have found health risks from GMOs (including Seralini 2012). He mentions the problem of bias in industry-sponsored research and in the publication decisions of scientific journals; the vilification of scientists who find problems with GMOs; and the lack of transparency that bedevils the GM industry.
Mr Shimoda's presentation, tellingly titled, "It's time to 'get real' in investing in agbiotech and the bioeconomy: Facing the realities of the science, the marketplace, and transparency", is worth reading in full. Below we reproduce his take on the "consensus" issue.
1. It's time to "get real" in investing in agbiotech and the bioeconomy: Facing the realities of the science, the marketplace, and transparency: Excerpts from Mr Shimoda's presentation
2. Summary of presentation and speaker profile
1. It's time to "get real" in investing in agbiotech and the bioeconomy: Facing the realities of the science, the marketplace, and transparency
Sano M. Shimoda
Excerpts from presentation given at Calgary TELUS Convention Centre. Calgary, Alberta, Canada, September 18, 2013
Slides 27, 28
Slide 27: Growing Evidence of Potential Health Risks Tied to GM Crops Versus a Scientific “Consensus” - GM Crops are Safe
Scientific “Consensus” that GM Crops are Safe is an Illusion
AgBiotech industry strongly supports the view that there is a scientific “consensus” that GM does not create any health risks
Reality is that there has never been a scientific consensus
Scientific results (positive and negative) do not make it FACT – A scientific finding requires validation in multiple replicated trials
* Need to demonstrate evidence based causation/mechanism and not a correlation (between GM food and health issues)
* Scientific “evidence” (collaborated through replicated results) can dramatically change scientific understanding
* History of medical oriented peer-reviewed scientific papers has shown that many scientific results cannot be replicated
Key issue - Conflicting studies on GMO safety - Growing number of scientific studies, indicating potential health/safety risks
Slide 28: “Consensus Science” – A Perspective
“Consensus Science and the Peer Review” – Editorial
Jorge R. Barrio, Editor-in-Chief, Molecular Imaging and Biology
(peer reviewed scientific journal), April 28, 2009:
“I am quite certain that most of us have been – in one way or another - exposed to the concept (and consequences) of ‘consensus science’. In fact, scientific reviewers of journal articles or grant applications – typically in biomedical research - may use the term (e.g., ‘....it is the consensus in the field...’) often as a justification for shutting down ideas not associated with their beliefs.”
“Michael Crichton [physician, producer, and writer – Lecture, California Institute of Technology, January 17, 2003] explains it the best when he said ‘I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had... Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What are relevant are reproducible results.’ ”
2. Summary of presentation and speaker profile
Sano Shimoda, President, BioScience Securities, Inc., Venice, California, United States
Download Speaker Presentation (PDF)
Presentation Title: It's Time to "Get Real" in Investing in AgBiotech and the BioEconomy – Facing the Realities of the Science, the Marketplace, and Transparency
The commercialization of agricultural biotechnology is less than 20 years old years old, and the scientific platform is less than 30+ years old. Despite the dramatic expansion in scientific knowledge, agbiotech's commercial potential (including its role in the development of the BioEconomy) is being limited by the complexity of scientific knowledge, the realities of the marketplace, and, very importantly, the lack of transparency. Successful broad investment in agbiotech/related technologies in the future will only occur if the industry faces the realities of the science (what we don't know, as well as what we do know), the bottom line realities of the marketplace, and the need for greater transparency.
Profile: Sano M. Shimoda is president and founder of BioScience Securities, Inc., a boutique strategic corporate advisory and investment banking firm that is located in Venice, California (Los Angeles area). BioScience Securities was founded in the San Francisco Bay area in 1993. Sano, whose background is based on his experience as a Wall Street analyst, has over 35 years of experience in the Wall Street community focused on agriculture, agricultural biotechnology/seed, and the agricultural chemical industries. The firm was founded based on a vision that the long-term development of agricultural biotechnology, tied to the creation of powerful new technologies centered on the biological sciences, would redefine the value creation potential of agriculture, as well as re-engineer and create new links between agriculture and the broader economy. The firm's focus on agricultural biotechnology builds on Sano's long-standing "on-the-ground" marketplace knowledge of the crop protection and seeds industries. Sano has made numerous presentations in the U.S. and worldwide to a broad array of companies and industry groups focused on the impact, changes, and opportunities that will be created by agricultural biotechnology, as well as the future of U.S. agriculture. Sano is well recognized for his independent, forward-looking views of the changing dynamics agricultural biotechnology will have on agriculture and the developing BioEconomy.