GMOs: Respected Analyst Says They Could Destroy Life on the Planet

Invoking the risk of famine as a justification for GMOs is “a deceitful strategy, no different from…Russian roulette,” according to the report. Action Alert!
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a scholar, statistician, Wall Street analyst and advisor, professor at New York University, and the bestselling author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. He predicted the 2008 financial crisis by pointing out that commonly used risk models were wrong. (He was correct, and he became quite wealthy from the strategic financial decisions he made at that time.)
Now his analysis of our use of genetically modified organisms shows that GMOs could cause “an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet.” Taleb and his two co-authors argue that calling the GMO approach “scientific” betrays “a very poor—indeed warped—understanding of probabilistic payoffs and risk management.”
Taleb believes GMOs fall squarely under the rule that we should always err on the side of caution if something is really dangerous. This is not just because of potential harm to the consumer, but because of systemic risk to the system, which in this case is the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet:
Top-down modifications to the system (through GMOs) are categorically and statistically different from bottom-up ones (regular farming, progressive tinkering with crops, etc.). There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of arbitrarily taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another.
The interdependence of all things in nature, Taleb points out, dramatically amplifies risks that may initially seem small when studied in isolation. Tiny genetic errors on the local scale could cause considerable—and even irreversible—environmental damage when the local is exported to the global. The lack of understanding of basic statistical principles, he says, is what leads GMO supporters astray:
The interdependence of components [in nature] lead[s] to aggregate variations becoming much more severe than individual ones….Whether components are independent or interdependent matters a lot to systemic disasters such as pandemics or generalized crises. The interdependence increases the probability of ruin, to the point of certainty.
The problem is that the general public, and indeed most policy analysts, are ill-equipped to understand the statistical mathematics of risk. But as Brian Stoffel explains in his helpful article on Taleb’s research, we can assume that each genetically engineered seed carries a risk—albeit a very tiny risk—that in the intricately interdependent web of nature, the GMO seed might somehow eventually lead to a catastrophic breakdown of the ecosystem we rely on for life. Let’s call it a 0.1% chance, just for the sake of illustration. All by itself, that risk seems totally acceptable. But with each new seed that’s developed, the risk gets greater and greater, and over time, we could hit “the ecocide barrier”:


Critics say, “But risk is inherent in everything. We can’t just be paralyzed by fear and not progress!” Taleb responds that the risk of “generalized human extinction” is absolutely not “inherent in everything.” That’s because most consequences are localized, not systemic. And progress can be made using bottom-up techniques that have worked for eons.
While quite a few countries have banned GMOs because of their risk to human health and the environment, the US lags behind. Politicians complain that we don’t have the full picture on GMOs and therefore shouldn’t ban them—but that’s because of the lack of human safety studies being performed on GMOs in the US, and because GM companies keep a lot of their data proprietary, that is, concealed from the public. Consider the implications of keeping it secret: if the research finds GMOs to be harmless, wouldn’t that be something you’d want to shout from the rooftops, if you were Monsanto?
There is, however, clear evidence that GMOs pose risks (such as increased herbicide use) that could easily destabilize ecosystems, pose grave dangers to human health, and all without much benefit to the farmer or indeed anyone but the manufacturer:

Our fact sheet on GMO risks offers much more evidence of ecological harm.
Action Alert! Write to the USDA and ask the agency to do, for the first time, detailed statistical analyses of ecological risks when considering the deregulation of GM crops.


  1. There are just too many unknowns concerning GMOs. I don’t want to eat it and I don’t think people should eat it. Neither do I think animals should be fed food from GMOs. Even if nothing is noticed immediatly, who knows what a longer term effect is.

  2. A very informative — and distressing — article. Thanks for educating us! I have always distrusted GMOs as an unnatural intervention; now I see how potentially disastrous they are!

  3. To: USDA
    Please conduce a detailed statistical analyses of ecological risks when considering the deregulation of GM crops.

  4. Sadly, at the FDA, the inmates are running the asylum. Asking them, many of whom have close business ties with Monsanto, big Agra, and/or big Pharma to stand up to Monsanto is like asking the military to regulate Lockheed. Only a grassroots mass movement will ever stop the production and distribution of GMOs.

  5. We decry the deeds of the Nazis, who murdered six million driven by a twisted theory racial purity, yet THESE people would destroy all life, in service to their own greed. Which is worse? We acknowledge that the assassination of Hitler would have been a positive thing, but what about these CEOs — working to destroy life. Passive resistance is a preferred course, when dealing with normal, responsive, responsible opponents, but it didn’t work against Hitler, or against Genghis Khan, or against Attila. When faced with an inhuman adversary, there is no alternative but to remove them, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  6. DO NOT!! rely on “test results” from the same corporations that make these artificial life constructs and DO NOT just rubberstamp their findings blindly. Any fool knows that the ones wanting their products approved will say whatever it takes to get them approved–and they know that you’re notorious for just taking THEIR word that these things are just fine and dandy and not harmful. GMOs are not the solution that they were intended to be, as the gene manipulation causes unpredictable results when the plants or other organisms grow and reproduce. How could they NOT? Shrimp genes in tomatoes, for instance–WTF?! And what about people who are allergic to shrimp? They’d never expect that their BLT could kill them! Yes, I’ve read “The World According To Monsanto”, and what I learned is terrifying. Frankly, between the USDA and the FDA whoring for Monsanto, Big Pharma and Big Chem, I don’t trust you to “protect” me from anything!

  7. It is truly a serious concern for us and for future generations. It appears there is nothing big corporations and greedy people will not do, including risking the very planet on which we live. I’m always curious about the liars, cheaters, the greedy. Do they even think about harm to their own families? Do they think they’ll just collect more money than they can ever spend and they win the prize — like the joke about a quilter who has the most collected the most unused fabric when she/he dies will be the one who wins. Wins what? Monsanto, ADM, all of the chemical companies and all of the politicians who take money from them are complicit in this hellbent greed over good.

  8. When I eat GMO foods I know because I get a spontaneous weeping sore at the base of my skull. If I get them more than once in a week the sore opens and starts to bleed. This is an immune response. I am a health care professional and see other people having health problems exacerbated or caused by GMOs. Whether or not it is this obvious with everyone, they are causing serious problems, and we do not know how far the reactions will spread or what will be the final result.

  9. Taleb is certainly correct about the potential outcome of very improbable events. It is an interesting statistical exercise to show that ‘it is very likely that something unlikely will happen.’ However, I question the reasoning behind the claim that each GMO carries a 1/1000 probability of destroying life on earth.
    Of course, the logical course of action would be to require detailed studies and careful controls for any GMOs, so that such risks could be analyzed and prevented.

  10. Nassim Nicholas Taleb might be interested in a recent review of the literature that allegedly shows that GMOs are safe.
    According to Monsanto and friends who profit from the production and sale of genetically modified crops, there are hundreds of studies that demonstrate that GMOs are safe for human and animal consumption.
    That, however, is a bold-faced lie. Why a “lie?” Because the “hundreds of studies” cited are made up of:
    Unpublished studies produced by Monsanto; and unpublished research reports produced by Monsanto; that Monsanto refuses to show to those who might dispute their credibility;
    Published studies that violate the assumptions of the statistical tests used in claiming GMO safety;
    Published studies involving GMOs, but having nothing to do with human or animal reactions to GMOs;
    Published studies wherein the design and implementation of research guarantee that researchers will be able to claim that GMOs are safe, i.e., studies that have been rigged to guarantee that researchers will be able to claim that GMOs are safe.
    All of the “hundreds of studies” cited by the EPA, EU, WHO, Monsanto, and friends as demonstrating GMO safety fall into one or more of those five categories.
    Details will be found at of the safety of glyphosate is non-existent_ShortenedWithS&D.htm

  11. Thank you so very much for your research and proving what many of us have been concerned about for a long time. THANK YOU also that you have made it possible to share of Facebook. Sending to a few friends in different parts of the country now.

  12. GMOs are a part of the eugenics agenda supported by Bill Gates and his foundation. It is no accident that his foundation bought 500 thousand+ shares of Monsanto stock. GMOs were never designed to reduce world hunger – except if you consider the eradication of the human population the solution to world hunger.
    This travesty goes hand in hand with Agenda 21, chemtrails, and global warming.

    1. I believe, and have, for years that GMO’s is part of the depopulation plan.
      WE, as a people….are doomed.

  13. Let’s see, a small risk of a world wide eco-disaster vs. the potential for massive corporate profits if they corner the market on agriculture. No contest.

  14. GMO’s have got to be labeled. I want to know what these foods are in and I don’t want them in my home. I understand that many foreign country’s will not allow them in their country’s. When Monsanto keeps the research under lock and key. We know that when a company locks it’s research up that there is a reason they don’t want that information to get out to the public. We already know that the GMO Foods are going to kill us all even those manufacturing them. I want all the food I buy in the grocery store labeled because I don’t want that poison in my home……………Period. Stop making GMO’s………………………………….

  15. Thank you for your hard work and keeping us informed about such critical issues!
    You may not want to publish this, but I wasn’t sure how to contact you.
    I’d like to bring something to your attention: Tonight, I repeatedly tried to respond (by clicking on Take Action) after reading “GMOs: Respected Analyst Says They Could Destroy Life on the Planet” but the link did not work. This is not the first time I have encountered this problem on your site, but I finally took the time to let you know about it. It seems to occur when a response is considered urgent/time sensitive, and especially when it is GMO related. This could just be my computer…but I wonder if other readers have experienced this ? It sure seems like your site is being sabotaged, sometimes. You may want to consider checking into that possibility. Thanks again!
    Bernadette Maness

  16. I will be in my US representative’s office tomorrow! This is too much, we need to stop the Monsanto madness!
    What is it with the world? Are we bent on self destruction just to make a buck. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong!! That’s all the science Monsanto needs.

  17. You guys are doing great work – but petitions to the USDA are useless. The USDA is run by someone who is the darling of the biotech industry, and our government agencies that were once meant to protect us only care about where the corporate/government doors will lead them.

    1. I agree with you that the USDA will not do anything. Monsanto and Dow are weapons corporations originally. And I think the Gov’t is really trying to kill us and getting rich in the process. But of course they won’t admit it and they’re doing it slow enough most people won’t notice…..they will just be sick and die young.

  18. The future is now. We all have to make ourselves heard to
    stop the widespread unsafe, unhealthy, untested GMO’s that are continuing to multiply in use in animals and human

  19. I’d like to think that analysis such as these would trigger prompt attention and changes from the powers that be but that would be naive. There’s just too much money and power at stake for food-based industries to admit wrongdoing and do anything but take us all down with their perverse engineering of plant and animal food supplies. It will take awakening, chaos and uprising to tear down the systems that put us, our ecosystem and the planet in peril; meanwhile growing as much of our own food as possible and rejecting mass produced antibiotic, hormone laced animal products through vegetarianism or buying local grass fed, free range products puts the power back in our hands…

  20. This does not surprise me, nor does the fact that it will take a lot more than this to get any of the government agencies and corporations to vaguely consider doing anything that would cost this industry any money. So the world can go to hell as long as these greed driven corporations and their government lackeys have lots of money piling up in their coffers. What do they plan to do with it after they’ve ruined our planet? Go ruin another one? Our children are going to have a lot of work to do to fix what greed and stupidity have wrought in our time.

  21. Your writer misrepresents GMO by stating taking one gene and transposing into another species is not correct. GMO is advance plant breeding technique of using a bacteria that is common to our eco system (BT) into the genome of a plant to get a favored response. Make a plant resistant to Round-up so the herbicide that has long life and horrible birth defects (Atrazine) is not used. Introduced into the root part of genome so nematodes do not like the roots, nemocides are not needed . Introduced into the stem part of the genome so corn borers don’t like the stems, insecticides are no longer needed. RESULTS: 1970 my farm in N.D. produced 30 bushel per acre, Last year my brother produced 180 bushel per acre with less herbicides, no insecticides. ONE HAVE of this increase is due to increase of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere. You will not publish information, it does not fit your info mode.

    1. So, it’s all about the money to you, right? Got to make those Holland and Deere payments. Monsanto wants their money. That anhydrous ammonia isn’t free. We get ;that modern farming has set you up to razor thin profits. What do you do with your corn, anyway? Sell it to the Ethonol still? To the feedlot? To the company that makes the high fructose corn syrup that has the fat ass video playing kids sick? Do YOUR children want to continue with your business? What do you do for your neighbors other than make dust and spend your money at Walmart?

    2. My God Lund, you can’t be serious with the lack of knowledge you have displayed!
      1. BT or Bacillus Thurengius is not inserted into genes to make them roundup resistant, BT is a bacterium that kills invading insects as used by organic gardeners and farmers. Rooundup resistance is developed so they can use more not less Roundup, hello.
      2. Monsanto used some breeding technique (?) perhaps not GMO, to make plants resistant to toxic roundup. Now that weeds Are developing resistance to the ever increasing use of these toxins, Dow Chem now wants to use 2-4-d (Agent Orange) to make up for that.
      3. GMO uses gene insertion techniques to combine dissimilar genes from unrelated species. Despite your poorly worded and grammatically incorrect sentences, GMO is not not not selective breeding. WE all now know that.

    3. @David Lund: Go home and tell your boss at the PR department (of whichever company it is) that you’ve been found out. I don’t for a minute believe you’re from North Dakota, or a farmer. Gene splicing is EXACTLY what GMOS are all about-that is in fact the definition of Genetic Modification. I has NOTHING to do with “advance plant breeding technique”. As far as not needing to use Atrazine, is a massive amount of RoundUp better for human health or the environment than an older drug?
      Even if you are indeed a farmer, your comments don’t negate the other arguments against the use of massive amounts of pesticides on crops:
      1)risk to human health on the consumer end.
      2)risk to human health during production-ie, farmers and agricultural workers
      3)risk to the environment-massive water contamination during a period of lessening availability of clean drinking water
      4)risk of food shortages due to decreased yields
      5)control of the food supply being concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer companies-the food equivalent of media consolidation, with control of the world’s water supply not far behind.

  22. GM foods affects are untested as to their “long term” effects within the environment, whether currently approved or not. The real concern here, which was not touched on in this survey, is what will be the affects/effects on (1) pollinators and other living creatures, especially insects and birds and (2) the GM plants new biodiversity abilities (or lack of) for impacting the environment and their own ability to defend off and survive new diseases, infestations, and/or other conditions.
    In the past eons we, Homo sapiens, have artificially used breeding practices that have more slowly altered the genetic make-up of animals, plants, and micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi & viruses) and, in so doing, affected and/or effected change (both positive and negative) in natures creatures and Nature itself. The lesson that should have been learned is that with all new discoveries, if only for our own good, is that we must proceed with the utmost of caution, that we must not allow short-term potential rewards blur or fog the potential long term dangers until such time as we can be as scientifically assured that, within a given range (yet to be determined), the new discovery/engineered results are safe far into the future. In short, “Be sure you are right, and then go ahead”*. Until that time (unless there are over-riding extenuating circumstances) for the good of all of us, do not proceed.
    *A motto written for Fess Parker in his portrayal of Dave Crockett in the Walt Disney mini-series of the same name (1954-55) aired on NBC.

  23. Stop interfering in nature s plan. God is nature, nature is God. Man s arrogance will pave the way forthe demise of all life on earth. LET WOMEN RULE. MEN ARE A DISASTER.

      1. I read somewhere that Hillary worked for the Rose Law Firm with the deal when Delta and Pine Land and their terminator seeds were being bought by Monsanto with the help of the USDA.
        David Suzuki narrates an interesting video The Silent Forest – about genetically altering trees – and some University projects funded by ????? Monsanto has companies worldwide that are heavy handedly pushing for their GMO stuff.
        Jeffrey Smith Institute for Responsible Technology Genetic Roulette
        Seralini studies in France – tumors on Rats beyond the 90 day Monsanto trials for safety.

  24. Take responsability for our earth and all future generations, please stop GMO worldwide before it is to late

  25. It is difficult trying to determine GMO vegetables from others. Buying local vegetables is seasonal. How long can vegetables be kept frozen before loosing their nutritious value? GMO’s as described are a risk to our ECO system. How much risk is involved in human anatomy by using GMO produce. Producers of organics are pricing their produce much above the norm. Thank you. GTH

    1. If you are talking about fresh produce, then just keep up with the next GMO veggie being introduced. Right now in the produce aisle, GMO’s are corn, soybeans in any form, pineapples and a small amount of green beans and summer squash (not zuchini) and maybe beets. They haven’t yet released GMO potatoes, apples or tomatoes. If you want variety and nutrition, go for frozen veggies (other than ones listed above). Usually frozen within a day of picking. Rice is also on the horizon.
      But GMO’s are hidden in almost all processed foods, so don’t buy unless it carries the NonGMO certification logo or it’s organic.
      Some independent tests show gut damage and shorter lives in mice and pigs. Illinois and Florida have started using a LOT of (GMO) soy to replace meat and adding it to other foods in their prisons. Some prisoners are now getting sick – their guts are in pain and possibly being damaged just like the pigs. Some from both states have filed lawsuits. This has become a human study on the long term effects of GMO’s, I think. Haven’t seen the connection mentioned elsewhere, but when I read about the prisoners today – it really clicked into place for me.
      Yes, organics are expensive – supply and demand is normal. A lot of people are waking up to what GMO foods can possibly do. Remember, that ear of corn has both insecticide and herbicides in it. Both are systemic – you can’t wash the herbicide off, either. I don’t need a study to tell me that eating that stuff is healthy.

  26. To USDA,
    Request you perform detailed statistical analyses of ecological risks when considering the deregulation of GM crops.
    Betty Newman

  27. Science, being fact-based, all available data about GMO experiments should be on the table.
    GMO-supporting corporations’ notion of “proprietary concerns” means hiding data.
    If people eat less
    I need to know what I am sustaining myself on. I still lack evidence that GMO is
    safe to eat. Until we have scientific evidence based on analysis of all available
    data on genetically modified foods, such foods should not be put on the market for
    human consumption.
    I do not believe that promoters of GMO eat the food they recommend to the poor.
    That’s a crime.

  28. It is unconscionable that another extremely risky product is being allowed to exist (especially with the inherent potential to spread to non-GMO crops) just so a large and hugely wealthy company can make even more $$$$$$$$$$$$$ Connie

  29. How can something soaked in poison be healthy and good for humans or other animals which we then eat? At least give us a chance to make our own decisions about eating these types of things. I prefer making my own decisions regarding what I put into my body.

  30. How about waiting another 10 years for the results of more research before mass producing GMOs?

  31. Your work is true journalism. With pursuit of the $$ replacing moral judgement I am not encouraged the public will wake in tome to prevent the passage of the tipping point. Many of us will be dead and gone by then, but I for one, like the old native American idea, in what you do, provide safety for the next seven generations.

  32. If man has tampered with it, then there is something wrong with it. Only a ploy to corner the market in some lab created product so they can get rich!
    These super weeds that these gmo’s are creating are destroying simple things like our lawns. Our lawns are not even responding to the herbicides or pesticides designed to kill these weeds. I watcher this emidemic spread down my whole street over the past 1 1/2 year. .

  33. I can understand the crossing of one species of tomato with another to come up with a new type of tomato but the idea of putting the gene of another lifeform is totally unacceptable. This could never happen in nature. Whether one believes in evolution or creationism makes no difference. Either way that will never happen in the natural world. GM crops are killing the honeybees. And having all those herbicides, pesticides, fungicides etc. being poured on foodcrops like if it were water is totally unacceptable and is making people and animals ill.

    1. Genes do get transfered from one organism to a microbe and from some microbes to larger organisms. This is the basis for worying about herbacide resistent genes being integrated into weeds. I do not understand how any such gene exchange could leed to a major extenction event. Some explanation of the theoritecal posability is needed.

  34. Can our nation let Monsanto and their puppet politicians ruin the country and world. Our grandchildren and children are at risk of being obliterated from GMO foods. Do you really want the entire population suffering from Parkinson’s ,Alzheimer’s , and other inflamitory diseases. Cancers?
    GMO foods will not feed the world they will kill it!

    1. Do your research and make your own conclusions based on the facts…these chemical giants were born from the horrors of war, thus they will perpetuate their misdeeds on humanity….

    2. Of course, most of the drug companies (Bayer, for a start) involved in the manufacture of GMOs and the herbicides used on them also manufacture pharmaceuticals as well, so they benefit even MORE than is initially evident. And, as the food supply shrinks, we become more and more dependent on Big Chemical and secondarily, Big Pharma, for our very survival. A boycott AT LEAST is a very civilized start. We need to cut the money supply off, because that’s all these companies care about. Grow your own food.(FOOS NOT LAWNS!) Store your own seeds or buy organic seeds. Support local organic farms, buy as much organic as you can, from smaller stores. Boycott all Grocery Manufacturers Association stores and products. Talk to your neighbors about going off the food-and-drug grid. Together, we can make a difference. Si,Se Puede! (Viva Cesar!)

    1. “Goal depopulation”.
      Oh nonsense. It is greed. Monsanto is optimizing greed and ignoring the potential downside which is considerable.
      But saying the goal is depopulation, doesn’t help.

      1. Eric, you are absolutely right about Monsanto’s (and others) greed. But don’t be so quick to Poo Poo the depopulation theory without doing some research. No it’s not Monsanto, they’re in it for greed and power, but higher up are the banks that fund them and the people who own the Federal Reserve Bank ( not a government agency, it’s a private bank that has hijacked the government and our democracy). They are the “global Elite” who use and steer the greed of the corporations to their own ends. Go to and watch the documentary, then to and read or watch their videos. Henry Kissinger is on record supporting depopulation, as is Bill Gates. There are a lot of other credible sources. Get educated.
        Even if it turns out not as serious as we think, we still need to unite the American people to take back power from corporations and banks and put people into gov that won’t cave to corp $$$$. I’m sorry but the Clintons and Obama are sold out just like their republican crirics. Corporations own the government. And the Fed owns them both. When and how are the American people going to get Democracy back???

  35. Food Not Lawns! Let’s turn our backs on Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Agra, and all their buddies in the halls of power (White House, Congress, FDA, USDA, etc…) now! Grow your own, or go to farmer’s markets, trade with neighbors, coops and organic groceries. Boycott evil! Money is the only language these people who run things understand-CUT ‘EM OFF! Peace, for now……

  36. I don’t quite understand how any gmo companies are allowed to do what they do. Other countries don’t want gmo food or seeds from us. We aren’t able to sell crops to those countries. Since it’s hurting farmers and our country economically not having ability to export gmo crops, wouldn’t you think it’s illogical to permit gmo’s from being grown here???
    Plus, I don’t know about others, but I’m real tired of being experimented on by big food corporations. I want to know what’s in the stuff I eat. If Europe doesn’t permit something, why are we still the guinea pigs.

    1. Robyn O’Brien has a TED talk about how allowing GMO’s by the FDA/former Monsanto people – the revolving door of business and American politics – has allowed this to occur .
      I read somewhere that the USDA worked hand in hand with Monsanto in the purchase of Delta and Pine Land’s Terminator seeds.
      And I’ve signed a couple of petitions against 2,4-D resistant corn being allowed on the market. Will it make a difference? I doubt it. A relative who works in a hardware/garden store told me they had 2,4-D available at their business. Did I want some? Isn’t that the stuff that was accidentally created at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal back in the late 1940’s and early 50’s and eventually used in Agent Orange in VietNam to defoliate the jungles so they could kill VietCong?

    2. I agree with you. we who talk about freedom have been talking on one side of our mouths. (gop ) How are we free? We march we petition and we demonstrate. we also get rubbed maced and pushed around. How much media coverage did we get for that brave and peaceful demo O. I thank everyone of you. I wanted so much to go but too many things happened. I believe this has become money first and no value of people. very sad

  37. I have been watching a lot of documentaries lately, learning about the banking system, food supply, our government (who controls it), our water pollution and our health care system. It can be overwhelming and depressing, manly because I feel like so much is wrong and the people we elect will not do anything about it. We can march in the street but they know we will eventually go home and they will go back to normal. How can we allow them to pass laws stating corporations are only responsible for their stockholders and not the consumers? I have recently found a website about The Venus Project. I like the idea of someone having some answers. I think we need a society that is set up for success. Raise free food for everyone in that society and make our health care based on prevention not prescription drug pushing. I know some people will think this is idealistic but how hard is it going to be to change a government that is based on money and ran by the people who were employed by these companies. I like the idea of making them irrelevant on a large scale so it will make an impact.

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