donfiore/Getty Images

Stop Doubting The Science Behind GMOs. That's Exactly What Russia Wants

Stick with the science.

CARLY CASSELLA
27 FEB 2018
 

Russia isn't just interested in meddling with American politics. Now, it has come to light that Russia has also been attempting to sow scientific misinformation and mistrust among the American public. As if we needed any help with that.

 

According to researchers at Iowa State University (ISU), Russia has been paying for online articles that question the safety of genetically modified crops and biotechnology - all in a dirty attempt to further divide the American public on the issue.

The study revealed there are more news articles mentioning genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the US versions of just two Russian-backed news sites than five other American news organizations combined, including Breitbart News, Huffington Post, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

Among all seven news sites examined, the two Russian-backed sites - Sputnik and RT - produced more than 50 percent of all GMO-related articles. Furthermore, the Russian news site RT was responsible for "nearly all" of the articles where the term GMO appeared as "click bait."

"RT and Sputnik overwhelmingly portrayed genetic modification in a negative light," the researchers wrote.

"Among U.S. news organizations, the left-leaning Huffington Post produced the most 'anti' articles, followed by CNN. Fox News produced the most neutral or mixed coverage of GMOs."

Thanks in large part to the lack of scientifically accurate media coverage, public understanding and awareness of GMO technology in the US is low, leaving plenty of room for Russian interference.

 

If Moscow succeeds in undermining public confidence in GMOs, the ISU researchers said it could jeopardize the future of the U.S. agricultural industry, which is heavily dependent on genetically engineered crops.

For instance, about 90 percent of Iowa and US farmers currently grow corn and soybeans that are genetically modified to withstand herbicides and pesticides.

Carolyn Lawrence-Dill, one of the lead researchers of the study, said promoting scientific discord will only help grow Russia's agricultural sector, which is the country's second-largest industry after oil and gas.

The researchers said they believe Russia is trying to provide an "ecologically clean alternative" to America's GM crops, which Russia banned in 2016.

"That's a primary interest, but there are multiple interests. One of which is to stir up division in the US," said Lawrence-Dill.

So far, the latter tactic appears to be working.

While a 2016 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine suggests there is scientific consensus that GM foods are safe, a majority of Americans believe there is scientific disagreement on the safety of GM foods, and 39 percent believe GM foods are worse for you than regular crops.

 

"When it comes to information about scientific matters, the public is less trusting of scientists for information about GMOs than they are for information about vaccines, climate change, evolution or nuclear power," said Shawn Dorius, an ISU assistant sociology professor and another lead researcher on the study.

All of this comes just weeks after a US grand jury indicted thirteen Russian individuals and three Russian companies for scheming to interfere in the U.S. political system.

"This indictment serves as a reminder that people are not always who they appear to be on the Internet," said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.

So the next time you read an article about GMOs or biotechnology, make sure you check the source first. Otherwise, you are playing right into Putin's hand.