Consumers not stupid, just scientifically illiterate: Doering

A former head of the CFIA says consumers shouldn’t know whether or not foods contain
genetically engineered crops because the label is akin to a ‘skull and crossbones’

The old adage the consumer is always right doesn’t hold much cache for Ron Doering. In fact it doesn’t hold any.

The Ottawa-based lawyer and former president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency spoke to members of the biotechnology industry during a recent GrowCanada conference in Calgary, urging them to continue to fight consumer demands for the labelling of genetically modified foods.

“(Consumers) don’t have an ability to understand this stuff,” he said. “The more you tell them, the less they know, often.”

The reality is that consumers need to be convinced that genetically modified organisms are nothing to fear, he told conference attendees, adding that will require messaging that goes beyond promoting what he called “sound science.”

“I think what we have to do is accept that consumers can’t move. Scientists, government regulators, industry are going to have to move, we are going to have to be way more creative of how we explain this stuff to consumers because they’re not really capable of moving to where we are,” he said.

Doering later clarified and said that he doesn’t believe consumers are stupid, only scientifically illiterate.

Bruce Cran calls that assessment “bulls–t.”

“That is absolutely untrue, that is rubbish. Consumers in Canada are very sophisticated and they understand it well,” said the head of the Consumers’ Association of Canada.

For nearly two decades the association has polled Canadian consumers on the issue of GM labelling and has consistently found that 90 per cent of Canadians want genetically modified foods to be identified.

But the former CFIA head said he believes consumers have fallen victim to “chemical paranoia,” thanks to what he terms the “mainstream-liberal media.”

“The growth of the environmental movement, the junk science of the Silent Spring book that got it started, obviously has created a major ideological challenge to the pesticide industry,” Doering said.

Organic ideology

Consumers have been duped into the belief that organic is better than conventional, he added.

“Organic really is an ideology, you can’t fight it… you might as well debate faith with a Catholic,” he said, adding that the organic label amounted to a “tax on the gullible.”

But Cran believes it’s the Canadian government that has failed consumers, in part by allowing its food inspection agency to have close ties with agribusiness — too close to allow for independent public policy or consumer rights.

“There’s not enough information around, over whether genetically modified foods harm us… Canada hasn’t done a very good job, or any job, in relation to assisting consumers in understanding genetically modified foods,” he said, adding he doesn’t believe GM foods have undergone sufficient testing when it comes to long-term health effects.

Doering disagrees, and said long-term tests aren’t needed because people have been eating trillions of meals made with genetically engineered ingredients, without having so much as a “tummy ache.”

Doering said that requiring GM labels on food, would only serve to confirm that the products are harmful in the eyes of the consumer, and that would be bad for the biotech business.

“If you put a great big contains GM on all the products, you’re really putting a skull and crossbones on it, you’re saying there must be something dangerous about this stuff, or the government wouldn’t require it,” he said.

The Canadian government already requires nutritional labelling, including fat, salt, calorie and vitamin content.

Although disappointed by the trampling of consumers’ right to know what’s in their food, Cran said the biotech companies may have already won, by dragging the process on for such a long time.

“Genetically modified food has infiltrated its way into everything we eat, I don’t think it is possible to label it at this point,” he said, adding that 10 years ago his organization had a working group with the CFIA, but progress on the GM issue was stymied.

“It was very obvious we were being obstructed at every move by governmental forces, including the CFIA,” said Cran.

Indeed, Doering is proud of his work convincing then federal health minister Allan Rock to retract a plan to make GM labelling mandatory in the late 1990s. “I worked really, really hard to stop it,” he said, adding, “you just fight, fight, fight and never allow it to happen.”

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  • Call me stupid

    Obviously, this lawyer has little respect for anyone but himself.
    He says we need to have things explained to us, but suggests we are too stupid to understand.
    Whether I am right in suspecting GM foods or not, is not the issue. I have a right to know what I am eating; I have a right not to be lied to, which is exactly what he uses as an excuse – that we have eaten many meals made up of GM foods with so much as a ‘tummy ache’ – though we were unaware we were being used as lab rats. Can he say that absolutely? How does he know? He is a lawyer, not a scientist, so he must be ‘stupid’ as well! With the increase in chronic disease, at a time when health care budgets are constantly increasing, and we are making inroads toward cures, is something that should not be happening. When all other possibilities have been eliminated, what is left must be the truth. There has been insufficient study to claim we have reached this point.
    It comes down to this; consumers are not stupid, and the industry is relying on us to drop our dollars to make them richer. Telling us we are stupid is probably not the best advice. If they have nothing to hide, label it. If there is nothing wrong with it, you should have nothing to hide. The actions of industry speak otherwise. (General Mills introduces GMO free Cheerios, even as it contributes to fighting labelling initiatives)
    If the public is already suspicious, lying and hiding is not going to change that.
    If ‘science is on your side’, you will be vindicated.
    In the mean time, call me stupid if it makes you feel better, but I will err on the side of caution, and avoid as much as I can. After all, Round-up resistance enhances neither flavour nor nutrition, and ‘improvements’ that could not be made through hybridization – in nature – are probably superfluous anyway.

    • monica millar

      Well spoken!

  • Katherine Edmund

    “(Consumers) don’t have an ability to understand this stuff,” That is why I, and many others, place our faith in those who do know. ie: the Scientists of the Royal Society, who the CFIA commissioned to research the health risks of GM.

    This Report details how the Canadian Government has successfully gagged science with regard to GM technology and, in fact, uses the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Environment Canada and Health Canada to promote Corporate advancement with no regard to their own scientists warnings of human risk.

    Read it here:

    It is plain to see that absolutely nothing has changed since this Report was written in 2001.

  • S. McCumsey

    With so little respect for the general public this is the arrogance we can expect for those who support an industry that does not care at all for it’s “customers”. For me it just says yet again, that this is needed and that the claims that we don’t understand science are the only argument here. Let’s forget that several genetic scientists see something wrong here. I don’t know how I can talk myself “out of” understanding how these products are produced in the lab. I spent many years working in a lab doing some research and so I find I am quite capable of reading studies and understanding the production of GM products. This is difficult for some people to grasp and this is the only reason that this debate is still going on or this “science” would have been scraped long ago for the many better alternatives that already exist out there. This is about money, lots of money. The patents on GM products enable these industries to have a great deal of control and they do not want to lose that control. You will consistently find statements like “pseudo-science” and fear mongering because this is the base of this argument. Many of the studies the industry boasts about are nothing but claims or studies that lack depth in numbers or time. When ever anyone publishes something that does not support them they find any way possible to attack what they like to call “pseudo-science”. All around the world GM technology are failing farmers in production, resistant to pests, high cost and the pure fact that no body wants them. They have nothing to offer except lots of money to big corporations with lots of power. That power has bought a lot of propaganda. Expect to see lots of it in the near future. This science has done a tremendous amount of damage to farmers, environment, health and economies. If you do enough research you will find all of these are issues including the claims associated with “golden rice” which they are attempting to use as some kind of redemption. This product still has a patent on it. Why? This product still has questionable safety issues around it that will not be tested. Why? Why are we not attempting the various ways to eliminate Vit. A deficiencies that already exist? Ask lots of questions and you will get answers. Sometimes I have to admit I wish I didn’t know.

  • Robert Bright

    Funny how the same people who refuse to have GMOs independently tested by science are accusing those who want independent scientific testing unscientific and scientifically illiterate. Such arrogance and ignorance in the name of science is shameful. But since we already know the current Canadian governments views on science (as well those of agencies like Health Canada and the CFIA) it isn’t difficult to dismiss almost any “scientific” claim they propose. Canada’s biggest export in the near future will be our scientists.

  • Maurice Ryton

    These are the comments of a lawyer who thinks he is now a scientist. Even thinks he is well versed in the field of Genetically Engineered organisms.
    He must be really stupid to think any educated and intelligent consumer is going to believe any word an uneducated lawyer has to say on the matter GE period.

  • For me, the readers’ comments above represent all of the concerns that one should have, after reading what this “scion” of science would have us believe: that it’s perfectly fine to take the government’s direction on this, because, after all, they are “experts” and we-the-people are not.

    What a crock. There are people on my email list alone who have garnered more lay knowledge about health and healing than their own doctors, who despite their multi-billion-dollar funding, are no closer to finding the on-off switch of the human body than they ever have been, and seem to know nothing whatsoever of the curative value of actual nutrition.

    But the question remains: We can follow this he-said-we-said argument until we are all blue in the face, with no resolve…. or we can ask WHY is our government acting so brazenly, in our faces, to tell us we should have no say whatsoever in what we eat, or in the health care we choose? WHY do our government agencies follow the path outlined by multinational pharmaceutical companies, when it is clear to anyone who investigates that there is a great deal more to be said and known for consumers to have their right of informed consent, and when their own scientists (Dr. Shiv Chopra, for one) are screaming to be heard, their labs shut down and sold (See Fifth Estate January 10th 2014 CBC video archives “Silence of the Labs”)?

    For this answer, we need to look up…. waaaaay up, to the international level of legalities: trade agreements.

    Every trade agreement Canada has entered into has been secretive, ever since GATT. Want to negotiate a trade agreement? First you must swear confidentiality. That confidentiality will extend to declaring all terms and conditions of the Agreement items of “National Security”. Then, you must agree to govern your nation’s sovereignty according to the wishes of the group, in exchange for the “benefits” derived from that association…. so, say good-bye to your democracy, because your country only has one vote at the table, and it isn’t yours.

    It gets worse: Ever since GATT, the TRIPS rules (See ) refer to “trade-related intellectual property” rules (read “patents”)
    which are part of each agreement. These rules guarantee the profitability of patented products within countries signing to the agreement. You wonder why Percy Schmeiser was beaten in court by Monsanto for “stealing” their GMO canola seed, even though the wind was the perpetrator, and their seed blew in from the GMO field next door? Well now, take a guess.

    My personal take on all this is that this is yet another flimsy tactic of hiding the truth from Canadians (and others around the world): Our nations are being subsumed by these agreements, with all our legislation being influenced from these trade tables where none of our wishes or desires are anywhere to be seen. International law supersedes all domestic law.

    So this fool comes out and tells us we are too stupid to understand, and instead of going for the gusto and finding out why he would say such inane, unconscionable things about his own people, what do we do? Go after him, the spokesperson… the “former” head of the CFIA, not a guy with actual responsibility…. vent our rage at having been insulted, and leave that question as to WHY lying unnoticed on the table.

    Until we expose that “WHY?”, people, we will continue to have that he-said-we-said argument with no result.

  • Really?

    The public understands that genetic modification is a process of adding traits that would not exist in nature.
    The public understands that these products have been fed to us without our knowledg.
    The public understands that most of the claims made in favour of GM crops have not come to fruition.
    The public understands that the main recipients of benefits derived from GM crops are their creators.
    The public understands that GM ingredients are but one of a long list of problems with processed foods.
    The industry should ‘educate’ itself, before it is too late for them!

  • Harry Mc Murter

    THIS….is why the Harper government is KILLING Canadian science….this way there will be NO CREDITABLE research except the ones done by HIS HAND PICKED PEOPLE

  • April Reeves

    Wow! Here’s a classic example of a man that never leaves his glass house! Ron, it doesn’t matter what YOU think: what matters is that none of us want this stuff, and we are educating consumers at an alarming rate (apparently, since GM industry is wasting valuable shareholder money to fight us). We are well aware of the style of politics of GM. We are well aware of the implications to the environment and food control issues. Monsanto cannot grow on every square foot of this planet! Call us whatever you want. We are the many, and we continue to grow every second of the day. Your words have just moved us further along, and for that I thank you!!!

  • Richard Barrett

    Deers and mice are wiser than the Biotech Industry and even myself. If they have a choice of a GMO food or NON-GMO food in front of them, they use their God given instincts and choose the NON-GMO every time. The Government Conservationists know this because they plant the NON-GMO for the deer. It has a higher Brix Level. Source: