Zero tolerance for a different perspective on GMOs

Published: August 15, 2013
Categories: The Non-GMO Blog

Blindfolded man with "intolerance" text on the blindfold

Blindfolded man with “intolerance” text on the blindfold

How an “emeritus professor” resorted to insults when I disputed his GMO “facts”

By Ken Roseboro

Genetically engineered food is a divisive topic that can generate strong emotions. Some people have the ability to “agree to disagree” and be respectful of another person’s opinion. Others argue and resort to insults and personal attacks, which unfortunately is more common—on both sides.

Pro-GMO educational session

I was on the receiving end of the insults recently at the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) Expo held in Chicago. Bruce Chassy, an emeritus professor of food science from the University of Illinois, lost his cool and insulted me after I disputed a few points he made following his presentation at a GMO educational session.

In his presentation, Chassy attacked GMO opponents. He described how they had billions of dollars to smear GM technology, and called them “a bunch of liars.” He showed a photo of starving children in Africa with bloated stomachs, saying they are going hungry because of opposition to GMOs. He blasted initiatives to label GM foods, saying they violated the First Amendment and that many state labeling bills have “zero tolerance” standards for GMOs, meaning that a food would have to be labeled with just traces of GMOs. He showed a cartoon of two cavemen; one saying to the other “we exercise, eat organic and free-range food but we’re still dying at 30 years old.” Chassy also said that virtually all the soybeans grown in the world are GMO.

“I’m going to be rude to you”

Following his presentation, Chassy took questions from the audience. After a few questions, I went up to microphone, introduced myself as the editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report and politely disputed several of his points. I said there were no state GMO labeling bills that had a zero tolerance standard. Chassy got flustered and asked another speaker, Wayne Parrott, who said that California’s Proposition 37 had a zero tolerance requirement. It didn’t. I said that GMO labeling did not increase consumer food costs in Europe. Chassy responded that European consumer costs increased 10% – 15% and that “it’s in the scientific literature.” (I’m still looking for that. An analysis by the National Economic Research Associates for the government of the United Kingdom found that consumer food costs would increase by at most $4.00 per year with GMO labeling.) Regarding Chassy’s “virtually all soybeans are GMO” claim, I said that the US alone produces two million acres of food-grade non-GMO soybeans each year.

At this point Chassy became visibly frustrated and said: “I’m going to be rude to you.” And he was, telling me I was deluded among other insults. Then he waved his hand to dismiss me and said “Now let someone else ask a question.”

“On behalf of IFT, I want to apologize.”

Another person may have angrily returned the insults to Chassy. Instead, I sat down, shut down my laptop computer, and left the meeting. As I was leaving a woman from Kraft Foods approached me and said, “He was very rude. I’ve seen people on both sides act that way. There needs to be dialogue.” She then said: “On behalf of IFT, I want to apologize.”

Kirsten Berman, who has a website GlutenFreeGal, also attended the session. After Chassy’s tirade she yelled out how rude he was. “I was so appalled and disgusted by his behavior,” she said.

Chassy’s attack didn’t bother me. I was polite, and he was rude and intolerant. The audience saw that.

At another IFT educational session a few years ago, I saw another tirade, this time from a Monsanto representative in the audience. The speaker was an organic consultant who discussed organic certification. During the Q&A, the Monsanto rep, who was a few seats from me, stood up, pointed his finger, and yelled: “What is the organic industry going to do to prevent their genes from contaminating our genetically engineered crops?”

The outburst stunned the audience, but the speaker calmly responded to his question—quite a contrast to Chassy’s personal attack.

I agree with the woman from Kraft Foods. There needs to be respectful dialogue.

Unfortunately, people like Chassy have zero tolerance for different perspectives than their own.


Published by

Ken Roseboro

Ken Roseboro has been called “the nation’s reporter on all issues surrounding genetically modified foods” by Acres USA magazine. He has written extensively about GM foods and the non-GMO trend since 1999. Ken’s articles have appeared in leading food and agriculture publications and websites such as Civil Eats, Harvest Public Media, Prepared Foods, Natural Foods Merchandiser, Food Processing, as well as The Huffington Post, Yahoo News, Mother Earth News, and others. He is a contributing editor to EcoWatch. Ken is author of Genetically Altered Foods and Your Health and The Organic Food Handbook both published by Basic Health Publications. He has spoken at many conferences including Natural Products Expo West, Acres USA Conference, The Organic Farming Conference, National Heirloom Seed Expo, and others. Ken is a member of the design team of the Non-GMO Supply Working Group and a founding member of the board of directors of the Iowa Organic Association. Ken also serves on the board of directors of Soil Technologies Corporation. He appears in the award-winning documentary film, GMO OMG. In 2006, Ken received an Award of Merit from Seed Savers Exchange for his efforts to preserve genetic diversity through his publications.


  • Thanks for being there and representing all of us who feel a bit small in this issue. People get angry when they perceive they are losing power and control, even more so when the outside world perceived they had power and control. This is rather telling that his anger rose up so quickly.

  • Tom Rommelmann says:

    This reminds me of the saying “He made himself appear larger by lopping off the heads of those around him”. Way to go Ken, your patience will triumph in the end!

  • ovanpoucke says:

    Spot on with this write-up, I genuinely think this webpage needs a lot more consideration. I’ll almost certainly be once again to read far more, thanks for that info. ovanpoucke.

  • Elizabeth Briggs says:

    It’s not the first account I’ve heard of Chassy’s extreme anger and rudeness at a GMO event. Chassy yelled “Liar!” at one scientist who brought up some scientific facts about GMOs after a Chassy presentation. And when asked afterwards to elaborate on which facts he disputed, he would not. He was obviously just grandstanding for the sake of defending GMOs. Because I am not as polite as Ken Roseboro, I will just say, “What a psycho.”

  • Michelle Somma says:

    I am tired of all those starving children pics. The facts is that in this country more money is being spent on the war on poverty than ever including huge increases in food stamps and yet the issue of hunger and poverty have actually gotten worse. It is not about the food. It is about the money. Corporate greed money.

  • “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    They are loosing and unconsciously they know it and this is what happens when ones paradigm is threatened. he is probably heavily funded by agro chemical GMO proponents. and seeing the movement as demonizing him and his work.

    The Kraft woman sponsor knowing IFT was about to get negative publicity was probably just looking out for her stakeholders interest.

  • Alain Braux says:

    Thank you Ken for standing up for the rest of us and staying calm.

    Being French I would have probably lost my temper 🙂

    I hope, one day, to be able to have such discussion without getting hot under the collar.

    Keep on fighting for our health.

    Chef Alain

  • Rose Mittman says:

    I just want to say thank you to all the people who are working tirelessly to let the voices of the concerned people of the world be heard. Big food, biotech companies, the government and the FDA should be very ashamed of what they have done and what they are doing to our food soure and our health. We need to speak louder and louder until Monsanto is the one that needs to contain their deadly, dangerous science projects.

    I just want to say that until I was wed to my Mexican husband I never ate so much corn in my life, lol. But over the course of three years I felt my health diminishing. i just never felt good. And, have slowly developed some serious gastrointestinal issues. I spent so much money on doctors and tests. I also lost a lot of time at work and nearly lost my job. I didn’t think it was the food I was eating until someone told me about this GMO problem, I was really out of the loop! Well I started to read and study many things related to this issue and learned a lot! I started to by all clean foods, organic non-GMO as best I could. NO CORN at all. I ate plenty of apples and ate a very healthful diet. Several months later I started feeling so much better. I cleaned out my medicine cabinet of all stomach medications and remedies. I didn’t need to wear DIAPERS! anymore, and I was fine….I eat a totally organic diet and ONLY certified organic corn. I feel like a new person. I thank God I got my health back. And I thank all the organic food growers and providers, God bless you…I share as much information about this issue as I possibly can. I vote NO against all things GMO.

  • Tammy Friedman says:

    Thank you Ken for offering a fair and polite approach. There seems to be a pattern with a lot of pro-GMO people acting especially nasty and bully-like. Their apparent goal is to marginalize, neutralize, or label any dissenter as “crazy”, “delusional”, “conspiracy theorist”, etc. and silence all opposition. It’s a classic tactic to convince others to dismiss those who question them because they are “insane, radical, mental, whackos”. It makes you wonder what their incentive is for being so extreme and vicious. If their GMO’s are so ironclad, they should be calm and confident with nothing to worry about, right?

  • Clarice says:

    I just got back from the doctor office because I ate an Outshine strawberry popsicle that had been juice color in it. I broke out in an allergic reaction so severe my hives had hives on them. My skin turned beet red and started itching severely and then started burning and then came the hives.It has covered my whole body from the top of m head to the bottom of my feet. I have had to have benadryl shots as well as cortisone shots plus a prescription ointment that I have to apply just so I don’t have to hurt all day long. It still hasn’t gone away after having this for three days now.I called the 800 number an they said the best juice color was non GMO.Are they lying?

    • Clarice says:

      That was beet juice coloring not been juice coloring.

    • Ken Roseboro says:

      Sorry to hear about your problem. Was the product Non-GMO Project verified. If so, I would trust that it was non-GMO. If it wasn’t verified there may be doubts. There are GMO sugar beets but no GMO table beets, the common red or purple beets that people eat. Sugar beets are processed into sugar and not eaten directly.

9 Trackbacks

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

    Warning: call_user_func() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, function 'blankslate_custom_pings' not found or invalid function name in /home/nongmo2/public_html/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 179

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *