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Corn waits to be harvested on land leased by Tempe Farming Co., July 22, 2021, in Casa Grande, Ariz. (AP)
According to an alarming claim in a video circulating on Facebook, scientists have found a way to engineer food to cause infertility in Black people.
“Food crops can be engineered right now based on existing technology to cause infertility in Black people alone. That technology is a reality,” says a narrator in a TikTok video that appears to have originated on Natural News. “If you’re Black and you’re watching this, the government is at war with you.”
Whoever reshared the video on TikTok added their own warning in a text overlay: “My Black folk beware This sh– is crazy.”
It’s also wrong.
The video was shared on Facebook and flagged as part of that platform’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
According to the narrator, who describes himself in the clip as a “lab science director,” food scientists “have found a way to cause food crops to grow RNA fragments that can be targeted like bioweapons to interfere with physiological processes of targeted species that might eat the food.” He said it’s called “RNA interference technology,” and it’s being touted as a way to eliminate pesticides, because it can kill pests.
“What’s disturbing,” he continues, “is that this technology can be fine-tuned to target a specific race of humans who eat the food.”
The video’s claims appear to stem from a 2017 article published on the website for Natural News, an outlet that has spread misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, and has been banned from Facebook and other major platforms.
But the Natural News article is speculative and draws together a 1969 article from The New York Times about a United Nations conference with a discussion of gene-splicing research from 1998 and 2008, none of which prove what the article is suggesting.
We spoke with scientists who have expertise in RNA interference technology in plants, and they all told us that this claim that existing technology can be used to modify food crops and cause infertility in Black people is not accurate. That technology doesn’t exist right now, and might never exist, they said.
RNA interference, or RNAi, is a technology that can silence genes and is a natural process, said Sam R. Nugen, professor of food and biosystems engineering at Cornell University. It can potentially be designed to silence undesirable genes for treating genetic disease, and has many potential uses in agriculture, he said.
The technology can be used to alter food crops, fight pests, make food more nutritious, or make it more resilient against climate change impacts, said Neelima Sinha, a distinguished professor in plant biology at the University of California, Davis.
But scientists don’t know what genes make up ethnicities, so targeting a specific race through this technology is not possible, Sinha said.
Nugen described at least five technological problems with the claim that Black people could be made infertile with RNAi, not least of which is delivery — the RNAi system would have to get to the body part being targeted.
Some scientific research has shown that human consumption of food that has been altered with this RNAi technology is safe, because the body breaks down the affected RNA during digestion, prohibiting the spread to other organs.
In addition, scientists don’t know how to cause infertility through the food supply, and are not looking for ways to do it, Sinha said.
“Every layer of this is stacked on things that don’t happen,” Sinha said.
Jonathan Lundgren, a scientist who worked for the USDA, said that, to his knowledge, it has never been demonstrated that food including RNA interference affects humans through consumption.
The RNAi would have to be engineered in a way that could bypass the physical, chemical, and cellular defenses of the gut in order to be taken into the body’s cells, said Lundgren, an agroecologist who runs a farm in South Dakota. The RNAi would also have to be at a dose high enough and be ingested consistently enough that prolonged gene expression in the targeted cells or organs would be suppressed. He said that this is all extremely challenging. To include a race-specific component “seems beyond our capabilities,” he said, because it’s not clear that a race-specific reproductive gene exists.
A video claims that technology exists that would allow food to be engineered to cause infertility in Black people.
Scientists told us that RNA interference technology does exist in food crops, but that genes indicating race, if they exist, have not been identified. Furthermore, it has not been established that this technology can be used to affect humans through food.
We rate this False.
Facebook, video, Dec. 29, 2021. Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.
Natural News, "New ‘RNA interference’ crop technology WEAPONIZES food into the ultimate eugenics weapon… could target Blacks for covert sterilization," Sept. 7, 2017. Accessed Jan. 26, 2022.
PolitiFact, "Health misinformation site promotes conspiracy about coronavirus," Feb. 10, 2020. Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.
The Atlantic, "The Small, Small World of Facebook’s Anti-vaxxers," Feb. 27, 2019. Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.
Vox/Recode, "Facebook’s war against one of the internet’s worst conspiracy sites," June 25, 2020. Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.
PolitiFact, "Health misinformation website rebrands as pro-Trump outlet to get around ban from Facebook," June 5, 2020. Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.
Email interview, Sam R. Nugen, PhD., professor of Food & Biosystems Engineering, Department of Food Science, Cornell University, Jan. 21, 2022.
Email interview, Jonathan Lundgren, Ph.D., director, Ecdysis Foundation; CEO, Blue Dasher Farm, Jan. 24, 2022.
Phone interview, Neelima Sinha, Ph.D., distinguished professor in plant biology, University of California, Davis, Jan. 24, 2022.
Email interview, Bryce Falk, Ph.D., professor emeritus, plant pathology, University of California, Davis, Jan. 24, 2022.
Alliance For Science, "Anti-GMO website promotes new conspiracy theory linking GMOs with supposed campaign to ‘eliminate Africans,’" Nov. 21, 2017.
The New York Times, "A STERILITY DRUG IN FOOD IS HINTED," Nov. 25, 1969. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.
Science Daily, "Crops that kill pests by shutting off their genes," July 27, 2017. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.
Pest Management Science, "Food safety assessment of crops engineered with RNA interference and other methods to modulate expression of endogenous and plant pest genes," Gijs A. Kleter, July 2, 2020. Accessed Jan. 27, 2022.
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