Cosmic Queries: GMOs with Bill Nye (Part 2)

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About This Episode

Just in case Part 1 wasn’t controversial enough, Bill Nye and Chuck Nice are back to answer more of our fan’s questions about Genetically Modified Organisms. Find out whether there are nutritional and health differences between GMO and non-GMO food, and whether GMOs are even tested for their impact on human health. Learn about the unintended consequences of GMOs, including the decimation of the Monarch Butterfly and the impact of monoculture farming on pollinators like honeybees. Explore whether we can, or should, modify animals for research and drug testing, or for other purposes, like creating plants and bacteria for the bioremediation of heavy metal soil contamination or oil spill clean up. You’ll also hear about government regulation, agricultural policy, international restrictions on seed importation, and whether companies like Monsanto, Dow and Con Agra are acting as monopolies, or if marketplace competition keeps them in check. Bill and Chuck also discuss food labeling, and whether there are any truly non-GMO foods that have never had human input.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: GMOs with Bill Nye (Part 2).

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  • MM

    So imagine what it does to our guts. Many GMO crops,trees etc. are sterile. So once those crops have taken over all the land we will have GMOed our food out of oblivion.

  • MM

    Thank you for mentioning the Monarchs. Monarch Waystation 8443.

  • MM

    There are also Monsanto favored laws that makes it illegall to propgate Monsanto seed. Which means if Monsanto GMO pollen goes on your non-GMO corn that, that crop is a proprietary product and can be mowed down and destroyed. There is nothing good about GMO crops.

    • rebeccagavin

      Yes! Ding, ding, ding, ding! You are right. There are laws that allow Monsanto to patent their product. Guess what, they were passed in 1930, before Monsanto was an Ag company. The trope that Monsanto sues people for cross-pollination is worn out and false. Percy Schmeiser attempted to use that defense in his court case, but the Supreme Court in Canada rejected it, saying that there were far too many plants to have been cross pollinated. Just like your statement above about Agent Orange, you are misinformed, to put it kindly.

  • MM

    Not true about the higher yeilds and in fact most of those crops are thrown so they can further pollute the soil.

    • Jesse

      Bill is a world famous scientist that has been the champion of facts and not hear-say, conjecture, or any other narrative that the gullible have been fed. He has read numerous research papers from all types of scientists. So what are your credentials? Are you a scientist? Have you seen and conducted research first-hand? What makes you an expert on the topic besides reading propaganda from Facebook and web pages that fit your narrow point of view?

      • rebeccagavin

        Good point, Jesse. Too bad Mr. Smarty pants won’t answer.

    • rebeccagavin


  • MM

    Bill, it’s not just the Monarchs, it’s bees, beetles, many insects, birds, eventually the whole food chain.

    • BroFoSho

      Christ, f**k off MM!!

  • MM

    All of those companies have left polluted land all over the world. You have chewed the cud. The whole “feed the world” rant is bullshit, most of the corn crop goes for either biofuel or pig food and much of it not used at all and goes to waste.

  • MM

    Agent orange was not just used for “war” it is spread all over our neighborhood. It seems to me you only read a couple pages in the Monsanto catalog.

    • rebeccagavin

      It sounds suspiciously to me like you don’t know what you are talking about. 2,4 D was used in your neighborhood. That chemical was part of Agent Orange but not the cause of the dioxin mess.

  • TLowe949

    I have a question about glyphosate. When the herbicide is sprayed on the crops do they absorb it? It seems logical since the plants absorb light and water, why wouldn’t they absorb this as well. If this is the case wouldn’t the glyphosate then get transferred to humans when we eat the crops? Are we not only eating GMO’s but poison laced GMO’s?

    • Rait Saar

      I am not an expert but yes, they do absorb it. The half time of glyphosate is 50 days. So say you pour 100gallons-liters on day 1, in theory by day 50 there would b 50gallons-litres left, the rest is destroyed-absorbed by microbes etc.

      Nye’s suggestion for market to figure it out – not sure how it could happen if the agri market is so polluted with govt subsidies. Should govt pay subsides if you spend time to build habitat for mason bees vs applying glyphosate.

  • Ishmael

    Bill, you’ve totally gone to the dark side. You drank Monsanto’s Kool-Aid, and you’re bragging about it. The Europeans are much more skeptical about GMOs. The weeds have developed resistance to Roundup, and they’re (Monsanto et. al.) trying to develop newer and stronger poisons. Your position on this debate is straight from Monsanto’s and Dow’s PR departments. Please leave this topic and go back to the stars.

    • rebeccagavin

      Er, um, Bill Nye is not an astronomer. You are mistaking him with Neil degrasse Tyson. I think Bill Nye may be more educated in science than you are, but don’t let that stop you from having an opinion.

  • Bryan

    Ahh… those unknowns? Disappointed Bill. Why did you not address the concern of consuming glyphosate?

    • rebeccagavin

      That is a pretty weak list of references there, Bryan. You think Earth Open Source and Responsible Technology are credible sources? Think again.

      • dr.L

        Take a closer look, Rebecca. Some of these are peer-reviewed scientific journal articles. Anyway, it’s way more than actual science than Bill Nye supplied. His only reference is Monsanto!

        • rebeccagavin

          I don’t remember what references he used, and it would be a pretty big hassle to get disqus to take me to that article (anybody else have that problem?) but if any of those links he provided were reputable, credible studies, I wouldn’t have said what I said, Why would you expect a guest on a radio show to provide citations?

    • Vm

      your zero’th link was from Seralini which needs no further explanation as to how unreliable it is

      your first link has been debunked

      your second link has also been debunked and even if it was true, all it says is plant DNA can be seen in blood, which also applies to eating organic plants

      etc etc etc

      special thanks to the firefox plugin rbutr which makes it easy to spot false stuff

  • Bryan

    This doesn’t bode well for your credibility Bill.

    The online hactivist collective Anonymous recently hacked into the databases of individuals and Facebook pages and revealed that they have all been bought and paid for by Big Pharmaceutical companies.

    Here is the first list:


    Dorit Reiss

    Richard Pan

    Paul Offit

    Steve Novella

    David Gorski

    Amanda Peet

    Kevin Folta

    Neil deGrasse Tyson

    Kavin Senapathy

    Facebook Groups:

    The Skeptics Guide to the Universe

    The Spudd

    Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes


    The SkepDick

    We Love GMOs and Vaccines

    This is the second list:


    Bill Nye

    Mark Crislip

    Barack Obama

    Liz Ditz

    Steve Novella

    Allison Hagood

    Sarah Michelle Geller

    Mark Zuckerberg

    Facebook Groups:

    Food Hunk

    The Credible Hulk

    Skeptical Inquirer

    A Science Enthusiast


    Skeptical Raptor

    Forbes Magazine

    Big Pharma is among the United States’ largest political donors, giving $31 million last year to national political candidates. Many of the state lawmakers are also on the industry payroll.

    • mem_somerville

      You’ve been had, Bryan. That’s a hilarious list from a satire site. Anonymous was so gullible they put it up on their blog. They have since been so embarrassed they took it down. It’s from The Spudd. Like The Onion, only different genes.

      Doesn’t bode well for your credibility, Bryan.

    • Todd Elliott

      So you’re saying that Bill Nye knowingly presented false data/arguments in these last two episodes because he was paid to do so by big pharmaceutical companies?

  • Bryan

    I see that my earlier source links and critical comments of this GMO discussion were “detected” as spam and therefore removed??

    • Yes, but that’s just something Disqus does. I reviewed your comment, saw it wasn’t spam, and approved it.

      • Bryan

        Thank you sir.

  • Josepha Mccollum

    We are in the “goldilocks” orbit/ distance from our sun..could we not find a way to push / drag a moon or dwarf planet into our same orbit for distant future habitation? vs traveling multiple light years in search?

    • Chainezo

      First of all the moon is basicaly in the same orbit as earth bu doesnt have an atmossphere. Regarding the dwarf planet if we did that gravity would sooner or later make it crash into earth(not like we could do it in the first place).

  • Bryan

    I found it quite odd that there was very little discussion from Bill, or no questions taken that discussed the human health effects of glyphosate. When you read what this lawsuit agains Monsanto claims, you can see why this is probably the preeminent question.

  • Juan Diego Lopez

    Hmm, maybe I chose the wrong words, what I meant is that the US government + Monsanto does not let us bring for example, round-up ready alfalfa, but U.S can take flora and fauna from Colombia almost without anyone to stop it. I dont get why GMOS are more protected than Endemic species.

    I’m Juan Lopez, you killed my father, prepare to die!… you can do the joke no worries 😛

    • rebeccagavin

      Why would the US government prevent your country from importing RR alfalfa. Why would Monsanto refuse to sell it, unless there are some trade restrictions or non-compete restrictions that you are not aware of. GMOs are protected because they are patented. Is that so difficult to understand?

  • Jay

    Hello, my name is Jay & from London, England. I studied physics at school and I am a big fan and hope to join the planetary society soon.

    I recently enjoyed listening to the startalk shows in which the topic of GMOs was discussed and whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the science based reasoning behind why certain attitudes to GMOs may be misguided, I believe that the mistrust that exists was not accurately examined at all.
    The real issue on people’s minds was only touched upon when comedian contributor Mr Chuck Nice brought up the secrecy that the large companies choose to adopt which understandably causes suspicion. Mr Nye could only respond with “I don’t know.” The likes of Monsanto saying that their own scientific studies is proprietary information merely means that corporate, profit-driven, secret and politically powerful science is allowed to override open, academically peer-reviewed science. The burden of proof of the safety of GMO engineering, to constantly do testing in the fields, to constantly disclose findings and methodologies is their responsibility but it is shifted to independent scientists with low levels of funding and no access to the material of the large corporations lest they be sued.
    Then when Mr Nye talked about the corporate consolidation that has occurred because international commerce has made everything more efficient, he mentions that there is competition between a “handful of companies,” and that “farmers choose which seeds to plant based upon what ones perform the best, not at gunpoint.” While this is somewhat true it is only to the extent that these few large corporations do not act as a cartel or industrial complex. The ability to take genetic sequences and patent them means it gives companies a legal monopoly. A 1980 political Supreme Court decision is apparently what grants the corporations the authority to do this. I was also surprised as to why there was no mention of the group of Harvard and MIT scientists from The Council for Responsible Genetics who release a magazine called An example of monopoly patenting is the genetically modified seeds of the neem tree from India which has hundreds of food and medicinal uses but has meant that farmers are now dispossessed and have to sign an agreement constricting them to one growing season and payments of royalties.
    Finally the points made by Mr Nye on the problems of monoculture and unintended consequences were appreciated however the the recent scientific research which suggests that genes of some pests have mutated to now be resistant to the products companies are making was never mentioned at all.

    Thank you for your time,

    • Taxil Necrobane

      Well said Jay! Well said indeed!

    • Cosmic Rogue

      So glad you already articulated what I was thinking.
      It’s dangerous to gloss over the shady policies that the companies have a long history of making. (Especially Monsanto).

  • Joshua Smith

    Regulators! Mount up.

    But seriously, Chuck’s suggestion of truffles as a plant that is not modified by humans was pretty close to the first thing that popped into my head, which was matsutake. (My understanding is that nobody as yet has even figured out how to cultivate matsutake.)

  • Tipsy

    Look I gotta agree mostly with Bill, BUT he hasn’t mentioned some of the main reasons we hate Monsanto, they do some really evil stuff for profit, NOWADAYS, forget agent Orange.

    E.G. Making crops that don’t give out seed for next year’s crop, i.e. messing with their reproductive cycle. What this means is instead of having a crop that atleast supplies some of next year’s crop, now a farmer with Monsanto seed has to BUY new seeds every year. Are you kidding me? That’s called making a problem then selling the solution.

    And there’s that nonsense about suing farmers who happen to have some of their neighbour’s Monsanto crop grow in their field, just because plants tend to do that.

    • Proverbialfunk .

      I get your issues with the Non Reproducing seeds….but its a Free Market, Farmers dont HAVE TO buy crappier seeds if they don’t want to.

      • Tipsy

        The market looks more or less depending on your wealth, to Monsanto it’s too free, to an average wealth farmer who sees cheap and expensive seeds that are easier or harder to get it doesn’t look so free.

        • Proverbialfunk .

          I get that, I’m not saying that ‘GMO Seeds are Healthier’ by any means – But you make it sound as if farmers ‘Have no Choice but to buy these inferior seeds.’ Can’t they just use traditional like they’ve been doing the last century? OR buy a DIFFERENT GMO seed, from a company that DOESNT Neuter their seed’s reproductive capability?

        • Proverbialfunk .

          I get that, I’m not saying that ‘GMO Seeds are Healthier’ by any means – But you make it sound as if farmers ‘Have no Choice but to buy these inferior seeds.’ Can’t they just use traditional like they’ve been doing the last century? OR buy a DIFFERENT GMO seed, from a company that DOESNT Neuter their seed’s reproductive capability?

      • The free-market is a notoriously bad arbiter of what’s healthy , scientifically sound, and/or safe. Once upon a time, the market said that cigarettes were actually healthy for you. If it were up to the free-market, global warming would be a figment of our imaginations.

    • jacobvalenta

      You presented 2 points for why we should hate Monsanto, but the two points you made cannot be taken seriously in any light because your first point is about the fact that the plants *can’t* reproduce, and your second point is that they are reproducing uncontrollably.

      The first point is about non-reproducing seeds, which as many other people have pointed out, is patented by Monsanto, but has never been used. They say: “Monsanto has never commercialized a biotech trait that resulted in sterile – or “Terminator” – seeds. Sharing the concerns of small landholder farmers, Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment, with no plans or research that would violate this commitment.” (

      The second is based on a case called Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto, and ended with Monsanto saying they will NOT “take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes (because, for example, some transgenic seed or pollen blew onto the grower’s land).” (, page 4)

  • e

    RE: the Q about whether any non-gmo foods exist, min.48:25, and you say a couple wild plants…what about USDA organic crops? Aren’t they mandated to be gmo-free? Is this no longer true? Especially interested to understand this point as you previously mention that there is very little inadvertent cross pollenation. Thank you!

    • Gopal Sarngadharan

      Bill is saying that agriculture and the domestication of plants is predicated on selective breeding to enhance desirable traits and minimize undesirable ones. Even GMO-free crops are the product of centuries of genetic manipulation.

  • Thomas Baldwin

    Great Job Bill!

    If someone could get this important message to him, please do.

    The key to scientifically adequate gmo labeling. Is labeling specific products, instead of labeling a blanket “gmo” for all product .I know Bill Nye would understand this argument. If free markets are to effect the sustainabilitly of agriculture the real right-to-know and choose are between the biotech products. Bt-corn, glyphosate resistant corn, and drought tolerant corn are significantly different biologically. Furthermore, they require different agricultural impacts and vary on their evironmental effects.

    Allowing for individual labels will cultivate competition between different the gmo products. Consumers can purchase products made from produce with traits that they desire. Hopefully this will allow some hardline opponents to re-negotiate their perspective on individual products. Despite purposely avoiding roundup ready crops becuase of the over use of glyphosate, consumers can still support rainbow papaya or bt-brinjal eggplant with different fundimental biology and socio-economic impacts.

    A concensus consumer could help us fully realize the remedying potential of gmo for the environment.


    • Proverbialfunk .

      That is a sweet idea, that will never ever happen. If getting ‘GMO’ labels is a huge uphill battle, MORE restrictive labeling, even if its good for the consumer, would never be supported by big (or small) Agra. Think of how so many small farms GROW Organic stuff, but can’t get the Organic Certification – BECAUSE the Labeling requirements are so hard/expensive.

      • Thomas Baldwin

        If public scientists back it, then big ag. will also back it. Small farmers aren’t growing many gmo products, yet.

      • Thomas Baldwin

        Thanks for liking my idea

    • David

      It won’t be long before we have (and need in the case of the later) BT glyphosphate-resistant drought-tolerant corn and that would make for quite a label.

      • Thomas Baldwin

        You’re very short sighted. BT and glyphosphate are old technologies. The next level of genetically modified crops involved CRISPR mediated genome editing an RNAi, transgenes from tertiary gene pools of the same or similar species.

        Irri Sub1 rice, or the new methane reducing, yield increasing rice with a barley gene.

        They will just be called by it’s product name. So Bt-glyphosate, and drought tolerant corn would just be called Starlink-advantage ect.

        • David

          Well, color me informed? I’m hardly in the industry enough to know what future tech they are working on, but your response has caused me to reanalyze your first comment and understand it better. My concern was that consumers would be overwhelmed by exact labeling of genetic varieties and I still expect there will be hybrids created to serve dual-roles. That said, I now see your point that “Contains Starlink-advantage corn” may result in more nuanced decision making than a simple “Contains GMO corn” would.

  • Arlen Kundert

    If you look long and hard enough, you will find things about GMOs that are bad. But, you can make that case about any electronic, chemical or biological technology every developed. *NOTHING* is 100% safe for 100% of everything (at least as far as I know). That’s also the case in the overwhelming majority of things in nature itself.

    The best you can do is see how bad vs. how good something is. If it does more harm than good, I’d say kick it. If the scales tip the other way, I say let it be.

  • John

    What about all the farmers in India committing suicide? They are being forced to use GMO seeds that don’t reproduce seeds and they are going broke and suffering under mountains of debt because they have no choice but to buy GMO seeds. What about the fact GMO takes much more water to produce crops? I’m not down with Nye’s endorsement of GMOs. These companies are strangling farmers to death in many places.

    • Proverbialfunk .

      I don’t understand how Monsanto can come to India, travel to these small farms, and then put a gun to someone’s head and implore them to use name brand seeds that they don’t want….

      • MM

        Exactly, you don’t understand.

        • Proverbialfunk .

          I don’t understand why you guys aggressively use unsubstantiated propaganda to discuss something you have no concept of just to sensationalize your anti-GMO argument. Monsanto = Forcing Indian farmers to commit suicide? Really!?

          I’ll help you out. “SOME Farmers in SOME Parts of India ELECT to purchase Monsanto Seeds, which while temporarily giving them more vegetables, indebts them to Monsanto.”

    • cctmsp13

      Who ever told you that was lying.
      The Indian farmer suicide rate is basically the same as before the introduction of Bt-Cotton
      GMOs produce viable seeds (Monsanto does own a patent for plants that don’t produce viable seed, but has never commercialized it)

      Indian law guarantees a farmers right to save and reuse seed, so Monsanto has no way to force them to rebuy seed. Many will choose to rebuy seed because the purchased seed grows better (F1 hybrid vs. F2 hybrid)

    • rebeccagavin

      My gods, the Indian suicide fairy tale has been debunked a million times. Try reading something other than Anti-GMO websites.

  • soul

    The prevalence of Monsanto is a bitter pill to swallow. The advancements in agriculture and biotechnology are fantastic, amazing, praiseworthy. However, their actions as a corporation are quite unsavory. They’ve successfully patented genes and organisms. I don’t think you should be able to own the rights to a lifeform, even if you’re responsible for its existence. You can own a plant–trunk, leaves, and fruit–and harvest it, but I don’t think you should be able to own the rights to a species and that configuration of DNA. I also wish they’d engineer their crops to be able to reproduce so that GMO farming could be more sustainable. They do great things in science and research, but their efforts to maximize profits go too far for my liking, and I wish farmers could benefit a little more. There are no small farms anymore, and it’s caused a huge increase in rural poverty.

    • Chainezo

      monsanto has crops that dont reproduce but they aren’t commercialized.
      all of the current commercialized crops are able to reproduce

  • Maria Marin

    Just had to share this because my husband looks like Bill Nye in this anti-GMO video we did. Wrote song and shot it also.

    New GMO Song by Luiz!!!

  • Sebastian Naslund

    What are the long term health effects of eating GMO’s? It seems like we barely understand human dietary benefits (as it seems some foods are good, then bad, then good). Do GMO plants have similar vitamins? Nutrients? Etc. to organic foods?

  • Ann Kinsinger

    I had to stop listening to Part 1 of this topic, and skip part 2, because it was just too painful listening to Bill sound like an infomercial for Monsanto. Based on these comment threads, the rest was more of the same. Touting all the good aspects of something and glossing over the associated issues and problems is not good science. I expected better.

    • Thomas Baldwin

      The lefts climate deniers.

  • Matt Cain

    I don’t believe this was covered

  • James North

    The problem with letting the public, “figure it out.”, is conformational bias. I have a friend, who asserts that chem-trails are a thing. I tell him to do some research, he says that he has. So then, it’s clear, the moon is a hologram, the earth is flat, and Our Holy Lizard Overlords run the world. Clearly.

    You can’t let, “The public figure it out.” You wind up with dumb shit from every retarded corner of the world.

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