Paul LeMay is an Independent Science Writer from Vancouver. He doesn’t work for the Yes on 522 campaign or the environmental groups. He wasn’t paid to write this. He is completely independent from the food industry as well. His moral qualms about GMOs comes from a faith-based perspective.
It’s a good read and I hope you are inclined to share it with your pastors, priests and other religious and community leaders. Please share widely and freely as Paul intends.
Below is a cover letter by Paul, followed by the Op/Ed itself.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I write to you on a time-sensitive matter of profound urgency to the
Christian faith as a whole. It goes to the heart of how we break bread
together, and how we relate to one another on a daily basis. And it’s also
about the role Christians can play in the debate currently raging in
Washington State over whether they should or shouldn’t label foods that
contain genetically-modified ingredients (GMOs).
As we all know, within the last two decades or so, industrial science has
jumped into the world of genetic engineering with a vengeance, with the
widely touted goal of providing the world with a more abundant – and hence
more secure – food supply; farmers with supposedly more cost efficient
methods of food production; and consumers with cheaper food on their grocery
store shelves. Moreover, we’ve been told that these new altered foods are
entirely safe because mainstream science has told us so.
But just how much of this is true? After all, as a society we’ve been down
this road before with things like DDT, the artificial sweetener saccharin
and numerous designer pharmaceuticals like Vioxx. All were once deemed safe
until they weren’t and then withdrawn from the market. Before that, few
raised questions as well.
For Christians in Washington State, this issue has taken on an added layer
of urgency because you currently find your selves in the midst of trying to
decide whether to vote for the labeling of foods containing genetically
modified ingredients. Though the vote will technically conclude on November
5th, as it’s a mail-in ballot, people are already trying to make up their
minds on what’s the right thing to do. Indeed, many a church congregation
and many a family will be discussing this question around the dinner table
You can and should play a critical guiding role in this process by helping
to infuse Christian considerations and perspectives into this debate,
perspectives largely absent from the mainstream newsmedia coverage of this
rather technical issue.
In this connection, and as part of your consideration, I’ve pasted below a
copy of a 1,300 word Op/Ed I wrote on this very topic, written from my own
Christian perspective. I do this of my own accord without the prompting of
any organization or ulterior motive. Having been raised in the Catholic
faith, and having seriously contemplated entering the priesthood as well as
monastic life during two periods in my life, you can understand why I might
come to ponder on the implications of the whole GMO issue from a range of
perspectives, including spiritual ones.
But I also come to this matter as an independent science writer based in
Vancouver, B.C. Indeed, what also sensitized me to this whole GMO matter now
before us, is a 400 page book I recently completed co-writing with a
psychiatrist on the topic of the victimization process. We took some eight
years to complete the work. Having written a chapter on victimization in
science has made me acutely aware of both the systemic and psychological
reasons why genetically modified foods have entered North American diets to
the degree that they have with scarcely any notice over the past twenty
years. Until now that is.
What few people realize is that North American society is on the cusp of
making a critical decision over whether we humans should have the luxury of
growing a technology that could change the very genetic and physical
character of all life on the planet, forever. To put that in some sort of
biblical perspective, the only previous time this sort of thing happened was
in Genesis. But have we humans truly obtained the level of wisdom and
compassionate concern needed to mess with the creation in this way? Does
genetic science fully know what it’s doing yet, or has the profit motivation
blinded people to jumping the application gun?
As I mention in my Op/Ed below, taken to its extremes, genetic engineering
could one day result in chickens, pigs, sheep and cows custom-designed not
just for our dinner plates, but for the convenience of questionably humane
And while industry advocates are insistent in saying that what has so far
hit our dinner plates has “been proven safe by mainstream science”, there
are many within the scientific community who vehemently disagree. One such
is the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental
Responsibility, who just this week issued a world-wide news release on the
topic. (See: www.ensser.org and www.ensser.org/media/0513/ ) Another is
British-based Earth Open Source.org. (See its downloadable GMO Myths and
Truths book at www.earthopensource.org )
As a person of the Christian faith, the more I learned about this issue, the
more concerned I became, so much so that in the last three weeks or so I
decided to take on the initiative of writing to every clergyman and
clergywoman I can on the matter. So far I’ve written to the Canadian
Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Moderator of the Anglican Church of
Canada, and the Moderator of the United Church of Canada. I’ve also recently
written to the Archbishop of Seattle in relation to citizens’ initiative
I-522 on the labeling of foods containing GMOs, and at least a dozen
churches of various denominations in your state. But with some 6,000
churches in Washington State alone, it’s more than a single person can do.
So I hope you can help spread the word, if after reading you feel what I
present below is worthy of that effort.
More broadly though, I believe that the broader social question of
genetically-engineering foods – as represented by the vote on I-522 – is
presenting people of faith, be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, Baha’i, Hindu,
Buddhist or those who profess a North American Native spirituality, with a
matter of deep spiritual importance. And rare is the time when so many from
different spiritual traditions appear to feel the same way on a given issue,
insisting on their right to know what’s in the food one eats. It’s probably
because food goes to the core of life, whether we’re talking about its
provenance, its sharing with one other or its ability to nourish our bodies,
for the breaking bread together is foundational to human relationship.
Indeed, no matter political affiliation, 9 out of 10 people want to know
what’s in their food.
So it’s not surprising that being denied knowledge over the content of one’s
daily bread might stir many a deep concern in the lives of soulful people.
In fact, it really is grounds for a dinner plate sermon.
With this in mind, I am hoping each of you and your respective church
communities will give serious consideration to, and reflect upon the
contents of what I have written below. And again, if you feel so inclined,
please share these contents far and wide within your state. In fact, you
have my permission to post my Op/Ed on your congregation’s website if you
like. Again, I want you to know that I do not belong to any environmental
group or the like advocating for labeling of GMO foods. My writing on this
topic represents my own thoughts on the matter without any prompting by
In genuine concern for the well-being of us all,
Paul H. LeMay, B.A. (Psych)
Walking the Christian walk: Why Washington State’s Citizens’ Initiative-522
on labeling of foods with GMOs has become an example of bearing witness to
Some day, perhaps in the not too distant future, Christians everywhere could
be faced with the prospect of having to use genetically-engineered wheat in
their communion bread. Though that day hasn’t come quite yet, that day has
certainly come for ingredients that have already entered our “daily bread”
in the many processed foods that sit on our supermarket shelves.
It’s arrived for 88% of the corn, 94% of the soy, 90% of the canola and 95%
of the sugar beets grown in the United States, rendering over 70% of the
processed foods sold in North America genetically modified. Yet none of
those GMO facts appear on the label. Why is that? And should we be
Many are concerned of course because the list of genetically-engineered (GE)
foods waiting in the wings is growing, and growing fast. One such is GE
alfalfa. Alfalfa one of the primary feeds used with dairy cattle, owing to
its high protein content, is now eliciting strong vocal resistance from many
dairy farmers who fear that milk derived from cows eating GE Alfalfa will,
when mixed with their own non-GE affected milk, will spark a consumer
backlash owing largely to potential health risks. Question is: Are there any
potential risks to health?
All of these are important questions worthy of deep reflection from a faith
point of view, and answering them has become all the more urgent for those
in Washington State in view of their upcoming vote on Citizens’ Initiative
522, an initiative that asks its citizens to vote yea or nay on the labeling
of foods containing GMOs.
As a person of faith, I believe all Christians have an important moral
guidance role to play in this regard. In fact, one might say that I-522
represents a test of our faith, for it challenges us on the level of our
conviction and practice. How so? Well, for starters, during Christ’s
ministry, he asked that we love our neighbor. More generally, we were also
taught not to bear false witness.
Thus the fact there are players in this debate intent on ensuring others
remain ignorant of the presence of genetically-engineered ingredients in our
foods should raise a red flag. Hiding the presence of a food’s ingredient
inheritance hardly seems like a wholesome proposition. Indeed, it’s
relatively difficult to find people who would disagree with this view, for 9
out of 10 Americans, regardless of political affiliation, feel that they
have a right to know what they put in their bodies.
Of course industry advocates know this too, and it helps to explain why the
Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a D.C.-based lobby group for the
food industry, tried to shield the names of companies that collectively
donated $7 million to Washington State’s ‘No on I-522’ campaign –
heavy-weight companies like Pepsi, Coke and Nestlé – so their brand names
wouldn’t be reflected in such an unpopular light. Nor do they want to see
any of the health risk worries connected to GMO ingredients become
associated with their products. It would simply be bad for business.
In this sense, it’s easy to see why it ultimately took the threat of a
lawsuit by Washington State’s Attorney General to finally crowbar that
ghostly information out of the GMA on October 18th so as to remain compliant
with the state’s law on campaign donation disclosure.
Still, the fact that several normally well-esteemed companies felt it
necessary to hide such monetary facts from the public doesn’t sit well with
many folks with a fully functioning moral conscience. It’s akin to catching
several rather big kids with more than a few well-greased fingers in the
family cookie jar. The guilty looks, if such could even be seen, would tell
But other companies, such as Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer aren’t nearly as
shy. Between them, they’ve donated over $8 million. And it’s not hard to see
why. GMOs represent a multi-billion dollar industry and the labeling of
foods containing such ingredients would alert more and more uninformed
consumers to what’s in their food, and possibly result in a form of
marketplace stigma, as occurred with the cancer-causing artificial sweetener
called saccharin decades ago. Hence their willingness to support a
television and radio advertising to defeat the GMO labeling effort as they
did last year in California.
Yet for Christians, the gravity of this issue extends well beyond a bit of
moolah-boola shell game mischief or corporate behemoths openly contributing
large sums of cash to construct messages largely aimed at muddying the
issue. Many Christians worry that genetically engineering our food does in
itself represent a dangerous tampering with God’s creation. Nor is this
worry completely devoid of scientific merit.
Independent studies like those conducted by Seralini et al (2012) and
Pusztai (2003) in Europe which respectively looked at herbicide resistant
“Roundup Ready” GMO corn and GMO potatoes, found that these products were
associated with statistically significant higher incidence rates of liver
and kidney dysfunction, disrupted hormone function, cancerous tumor
formation and earlier death in test animals.
If their findings weren’t sobering enough, a Canadian study by Aris and
Leblanc (2011) found Roundup Ready herbicide metabolites in the bloodstreams
of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of the fetal cord blood they examined. And
it’s no wonder. GMO cornstarch or GMO high fructose corn syrup, as found in
soft drinks, are near ubiquitous ingredients in so many of our processed
foods that it’s difficult to count.
Nor has the fact that Roundup Ready corn is one of the most widely present
and consumed GMO ingredients in North American processed foods gone
unnoticed by policy makers in Europe. There such products are labeled, and
life, from all accounts, is still rumored to go on with nary a hiccough. Nor
did such labeling cause a rise in food prices, as big Biotech firms so
keenly proclaimed it would in California’s version of I-522, Proposition 37.
(It’s worth remembering here that Biotech narrowly won that contest – 51% to
49% — for the minds of people in part by outspending their pro-GMO labeling
opposition by a ratio of five to one.)
Now it’s Washington State’s turn. But for people of faith, this contest has
become something of a battleground in a matter with far larger implications,
implications rarely spelled out in mainstream newsmedia. The outcome of the
I-522 vote could well set both the direction and pace of genetic engineering
for decades to come. If the “No” side wins, the results could be interpreted
as a social, if not political license to move full steam ahead with
genetically-engineering animals on an industrial scale. Science fiction you
say? Think again.
Genetically-engineered salmon is already in the development pipeline, and it
sets the stage for what might one day follow – genetically engineered
chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep and cows. And if that whole scenario doesn’t
feel like an imposition on the magnificence of God’s creation, the next item
Today’s contamination of the natural ecosystem with genetically-engineered
crops isn’t just a nuisance for fussy farmers who only want to grow and sell
organic crops. Some scientists worry about something much more sinister.
It’s called lateral gene transfer. This is where the naturally occurring
traits in a given plant or even an animal species become genetically altered
thanks to an invasion of their biology by artificially induced traits of
another genetically-engineered plant or animal. In the case of plants, these
are traits like an ability to make an insecticide, or an ability to better
tolerate the presence of a chemical herbicide, such as glyphosate.
(Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide called
Imagine the consequences if flowers start killing bees. And what happens
when a genetically engineered animal escapes its enclosure and begins to
interbreed with its wild counterparts?
So not only are we already playing with fire at this point, God only knows
what uncontrollable longer term genetic consequences might be – or are now
being – unleashed into the world as a result.
So what shall it be? Does the Christian walk demand that we label foods
containing GMOs whenever we can? Or do we let someone else worry about the
issue for another day? If Christians stay silent on this question, we will
only have ourselves to blame.
Paul H. LeMay, B.A. (Psych). Independent Science Writer, Vancouver, British