Did you know that genetic engineering (GE) "is helping to improve the health of the Earth and the people who call it home"? A trade group funded by Monsanto wants your kids to believe it.
The Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) has published a kids' book on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that purports to give kids "a closer look at biotechnology. 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."
If that book doesn't appeal to you, you could try a nanotechnology coloring book made by a company that produces such things as "colloidal silver nanoparticles" used in antibacterial products that find their way into the water supply and can be poisonous to the human system. It compares nanotechnologies like these silvers to "the smell of baking cookies."
Or perhaps a "biosolids" workbook made by wastewater treatment facilities? It directs kids to grow sunflowers in toxic sewage sludge to see how they grow.
Monsanto Brainwashing: GMO Myths for Kids
Monsanto and its cohorts among the "Big 6" pesticide and GMO companies -- Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont, and BASF -- are fighting a battle with California voters on whether or not GMO foods should be labeled. In the meantime, the trade group CBI, whose membership consists solely of those six corporations, is busily educating children on the supposed benefits of GMOs.
As several outlets have reported, CBI is promoting its dis-informative Biotech Basics Activity Book for kids. The book has cute illustrations and introduces kids to the "neat topic" of biotechnology.
Note that the industry uses the term "biotechnology" exclusively. According to Stacy Malkan, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 37: California Right to Know Campaign, "Polls show that the term 'biotechnology' is viewed much more favorably than 'genetically modified' or 'genetically engineered food.' Yet the term most easily recognized and understood by people is 'genetically engineered food.' So they are obviously trying to change the language for PR purposes, not accuracy or clarity." The choice of terms is a subtle example of the transfer or association technique to project positive qualities of one concept onto another.
On page four, the book asks, "How can biotechnology help the health of the Earth and its people?" It directs kids to "look closer" and use the decoder at the side of the page to figure out three ways that biotechnology helps us. The answers are at the end of the book.
Strangely, some of the hazards associated with GMOs, such as a large increase in pesticide use (383 million more pounds) and possible liver and kidney damage, are not listed.
Nano Coloring Book
In "nanoscale," one nanometer equals one-thousandth of a micrometer or one-millionth of a millimeter. Nanoparticles can occur in nature, but there is now an entire industry devoted to turning all sorts of minerals and other substances into nanoparticles that give consumer products certain properties. For instance, nanosilver has been added to dozens of consumer products for its antimicrobial qualities. Artificially produced nanoparticles are now being added to paint, cosmetics, sunscreen, vitamins, toothpaste, food colorants, and hundreds of other consumer products, without sufficient review of their safety.
But a coloring book produced by NanoSonic, a manufacturer of nanoparticles and nanomaterials, implies kids should not worry. After all, it explains, there are nanoparticles in "the smell of baking cookies." Many of the images waiting to be colored are of items found in nature, like fractals and bird feathers. These are cheek by jowl with images of nanoparticles like benzene nanogears (image at left; benzene is a known carcinogen).
Although minerals occur in nature, we've long known that overexposure to certain minerals is toxic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high doses of copper, for instance, damage liver and kidneys and can lead to death even though copper in tiny amounts is a micronutrient essential to human health. "Nano," of course, refers to the size of the particles, not the size of the dose or exposure.
According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), "Despite already being commercially available, nanomaterials in sunscreens, cosmetics, foods and food contact substances are unlabeled and largely untested for their human health effects. Existing research raises red flags, indicating that nanomaterials have the ability to enter the bloodstream through contact with the skin, ingestion and inhalation, as well as move in the natural environment once discarded."
Some scientists are concerned that certain nanoparticles may be particularly hazardous to children. Many sunscreens, for example, contain nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are potentially harmful in their nanoform.
For some products like spray-on sunscreen, nanoparticles make the sunscreen more easy to apply. Scientists like Dr. Philip Moos of the University of Utah's Nano Institute is worried that children might actually ingest this nano-sized zinc oxide, particularly from these spray-on sunscreens that carry warnings about "excessive inhalation." Dr. Robert Schiestl of the University of California Los Angeles found in a 2009 study that titanium dioxide nanoparticles cause systemic genetic damage in mice and increase the risk of cancer and concluded, "I believe the toxicity of these nanoparticles has not been studied enough."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no immediate plans to review evidence of ingredient toxicity, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The "biosolids" workbook published by the "Biosolids Program" of Kings County in Washington State (the Seattle area) suggests that kids try growing sunflower or marigold seeds in composted sewage sludge as well as in different kinds of soil to see which grow best.
Toxic sewage sludge is the material left behind after human and industrial waste is processed at wastewater treatment plants to clean and separate the water. The workbook activity doesn't suggest using gloves or any protective gear, even though some of the toxic contaminants found in virtually every sewage sludge sample tested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009 include 27 heavy metals, four volatile organic compounds, dozens of pharmaceuticals, several steroids and hormones, and multiple kinds of highly toxic flame retardants.
The workbook talks about the supposed benefits of treated sewage sludge -- "biosolids contain all the essential nutrients that plants need for healthy growth[,] . . . are rich in nutrients and organic matter, and are used as a soil amendment to improve soil and fertilize plants" -- without mentioning any of the toxic contaminants listed above. These toxics are especially hazardous to children and pregnant women. A follow-up article to the influential Chicago Tribune series on flame retardants, for example, exposed that small doses -- "no more than 3 milligrams per kilogram of weight per day" -- of the flame retardant "Firemaster 550," promoted as safe by industry and government officials, "can trigger obesity, anxiety, and developmental problems."
Toxic sludge also commonly contains endocrine disruptors, phthalates, industrial solvents, resistant pathogens, and perfluorinated compounds, which can bioaccumulate in soil, plants, and animals. All good reasons not to have kids planting seeds in it. The workbook reads like a follow-up to the "sludge puppet" on which the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) previously reported, also made to educate kids about the joys of sludge.
As CMD's PRWatch has reported, industries and their front groups "target . . . America's teachers and, ultimately, our children . . . trying to justify everything from deforestation to extinction of species . . . . Surreptitious public relations campaigns and deceptive advertising are battling today for the hearts and minds of our children." John Borowski, an environmental science teacher, reported that teachers at the 2000 National Science Teachers Convention were "quickly filling their bags with curricula as corrosive as the pesticides that the Farm Bureau promotes."
Twelve years haven't changed the way spinmeisters operate. Corporate propaganda like this is distributed online, handed out at conferences and fairs where these corporations, agencies, and their front groups exhibit, as well as at teachers' conventions like Borowski describes.
© 2012 Center for Media & Democracy
Rebekah Wilce is a farmer with a degree in writing from the University of Arizona. She researches and reports for CMD and milks cows at a local farm. She is the lead writer for CMD's