Textbook Agrees to Update Controversial Message on GMO Foods

·Senior Editor
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GMO controversies continue, as in this photo unrelated to the textbook controversy. Photo by Daring Wanderer/Stocksy.

A sixth-grade science textbook has a caused a dustup over its one-sided presentation of GMOs in food crops recently, inspiring the book’s publisher, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, to say it will update the material.

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“After re-evaluating the program’s presentation of genetically engineered crops, we acknowledge that it did not effectively present a robust discussion about the diversity of research on the topic,” reads a statement by the publisher that was provided to Yahoo Parenting. It refers to the sixth-grade book “Science: A Closer Look,” originally published in 2008. “We expect to include updates to this material in future releases of the program.” A spokesperson for the publisher did not know if the material had been updated since 2008, nor did he how many school districts across the country use the book. He did say that he was “well aware” that calls of protest were coming into the customer service department.

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The calls were no doubt inspired by the coverage of the textbook controversy in alternative publications including AltHealthWorks, which first published a screen shot of the page in question. The page notes that genetically modified crops “can produce more food,” “have more nutrients,” “fight disease and insects,” and “need fewer chemical pesticides.”

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The book in question. Photo by McGraw-Hill Education Global Holdings, LLC

No downsides of GMOs are mentioned, despite frequent reports that genetically modifying crops — which means the injecting of species with DNA from other plants and animals in order to alter their qualities and characteristics —may have troubling long-term health and environmental effects that are not yet known. According to some sources, the use of GMO crops (such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, designed to withstand high doses of weed killer) is already causing fallout — from the wiping out of monarch butterflies to the appearance of pesticides in pregnant women’s bloodstreams. The U.S. does not currently require genetically modified foods to be labeled, though current battles at state levels are ongoing — typically lost because of multimillion dollar ad campaigns by the food industry. At least 26 countries, including Switzerland, Australia, India, and France, have total or partial bans on GMOs.

The publisher of AltHealthWorks, which has a focus on telling stories about the “holistic and natural health communities,” did not respond to requests for comment about his story. It notes that a Hillsboro, Missouri woman named Dawn Jordan was stunned to see the one-sided GMO mention in her niece’s textbook in December. She was also upset by her teacher’s suggestion of what to write about, based on the book’s lesson, according to the story.

“When my niece sent me her homework, I noticed her teacher wrote ‘no bugs, more food,’ as a suggestion to her about what to write about…which disgusts me that a teacher in a public school system has no knowledge whatsoever on the actual truth about GMOs and is merely doing what she is told, without proper research first,” she told AltHealthWorks.

The publication, along with similar alternative-health websites, have been documenting the ways in which it sees a positive picture of GMOs being presented to children — including with a 17-page activity book geared to grades five to 12 and created by the Council for Biotechnology Information, a nonprofit created for furthering a pro-GMO message, and whose members are the so-called “Big 6” pesticide and GMO businesses, including Bayer, Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto. “You will see that biotechnology is being used to figure out how to: 1) grow more food; 2) help the environment; and 3) grow more nutritious food that improves our health,” the activity book notes in the introduction. “As you work through the puzzles in this book, you will learn more about biotechnology and all of the wonderful ways it can help people live better lives in a healthier world.” Anti-GMO activists have derided it as “brainwashing.”

More recently, another textbook company issued a Facebook apology for including a lopsided GMO essay in its composition workbook for eighth graders, following a petition from critics. “It has been brought to my attention that one of the activities in our Daily Six Traits Writing books contains a biased article about GMO foods. After reading the article, I must agree completely. I want to thank the parents and educators who brought this to my attention,” wrote William Evans, CEO of Evan-Moor Educational Publishers, who then agreed to make a replacement article available for free online. He added, “On a personal note, my wife and I have contributed to a number of organizations that are campaigning for labeling of GMO foods: Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now and Yes on 522 in Washington State. We do not allow GMO foods in our home, and we would certainly never do anything to promote them in our publications.”

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