Everyone says organic food is better for you and better for the environment. But is that true, or is it just eco-marketing rhetoric?
Everyone says organic food is better for you and better for the environment. But is that true, or is it just eco-marketing rhetoric?
Hollywood celebrities have a reputation for espousing a sort of prepackaged, fast-food version of politically correct “liberal” issues, as if they buy a kit of personal convictions off the shelf at Whole Foods. It includes environmental concerns, usually exaggerated and often wrong; rejection of “all things corporate” including pharmaceuticals and biotech, with a corresponding embrace of alternative medicine, organic agriculture, and “empowered individual” philosophies like home birth. Then there are the outliers who go the other way toward full alt-right with an imagined superior insight into world affairs. They tend to reject history and science in favor of conspiracy mongering and alternative science, be it the young Earth, the flat Earth, or calling us all sheeple for believing in the standard model of the universe.
Interestingly, anti-vaccination is found in both camps. Left-leaning antivaxxers tend to reject it because it’s not a natural healing method, and right-leaning antivaxxers think it’s an evil government program of enforced mercury poisoning. It increasingly seems that a rational, level-headed, science-literate Hollywood celebrity is as rare as a truly good movie.
So here my list of top 10 celebrities, 2017 edition, who contribute to the Endarkenment by abusing their notoriety to spread misinformation far and wide:
#10 – Shaq and the NBA Flat Earthers
Former player Shaquille O’Neal and current NBA basketball players Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, and Draymond Green have all expressed their belief that the Earth is flat, but I put them all the way down at #10 because it’s not clear that all four literally believe this. They may just be trolling. But whether they are or not, they do genuinely influence a huge number of young people, including some demographics where education is not necessarily a life priority. Guys, if you want to inspire kids to achieve and succeed, you’re doing it wrong.
#9 – Michael Phelps
I include him as a representative of the many athletes and celebrities who loudly and proudly promote cupping, the overtly pseudoscientific technique of suctioning great round hickeys into the skin by rupturing capillaries. A lot of trainers sell this because it costs nothing to administer, requires no training, and they can charge whatever they want for it; and since it’s unregulated, they make a vast array of claims for whatever workout benefits they say it confers. Usually, it just happens to solve whatever that athlete’s complaint of the day is. Phelps proudly shows off these ugly bruises, as do many other athletes and celebrities, and has even posted pictures of himself getting it done on his Instagram. Sellers have even come up with a sciencey-sounding name for it to impress the scientifically illiterate: “myofascial decompression”.
All of those nasty pesticides that are used by commercial farms to kill insects sure are — to use the scientific term— icky. So, it’s a good thing that shoppers have the option of getting all that ickiness out of their lives by buying organic produce instead, right?
This is what the Whole Foods-type operations want you to believe. And, it works! In the never ending quest to lead a fairy tale “natural life,” people will wait on line to pay extra for a cucumber that will make your live another 50 years.
Too bad the whole thing is one big, fat lie.
The dirty little secret that the huge organic food industry doesn’t want you to know is that “certified organic” produce is not grown with no pesticides, just different ones. One of them is called rotenone, which owes its place on the magic list of approved chemicals for organic farming because it just happens to be a naturally occurring chemical rather than a man-made one. As if that matters. Rotenone is also a pretty decent poison. Whole Foods does not want you to know that either, but I do.
So, let’s take a look at some toxicological data on rotenone. Then perhaps you will decide that the $10 cucumber isn’t such a great deal after all. The following table will probably surprise you:
Whole Foods is like Vegas. You go there to feel good but you leave broke, disoriented, and with the newfound knowledge that you have a vaginal disease.
Unlike Vegas, Whole Foods’ clientele are all about mindfulness and compassion… until they get to the parking lot. Then it’s war. As I pull up this morning, I see a pregnant lady on the crosswalk holding a baby and groceries. This driver swerves around her and honks. As he speeds off I catch his bumper sticker, which says ‘NAMASTE’. Poor lady didn’t even hear him approaching because he was driving a Prius. He crept up on her like a panther.
As the great, sliding glass doors part I am immediately smacked in the face by a wall of cool, moist air that smells of strawberries and orchids. I leave behind the concrete jungle and enter a cornucopia of organic bliss; the land of hemp milk and honey. Seriously, think about Heaven and then think about Whole Foods; they’re basically the same.
The first thing I see is the great wall of kombucha — 42 different kinds of rotten tea. Fun fact: the word kombucha is Japanese for ‘I gizzed in your tea.’ Anyone who’s ever swallowed the glob of mucus at the end of the bottle knows exactly what I’m talking about. I believe this thing is called “The Mother,” which makes it that much creepier.
Next I see the gluten-free section filled with crackers and bread made from various wheat-substitutes such as cardboard and sawdust. I skip this aisle because I’m not rich enough to have dietary restrictions. Ever notice that you don’t meet poor people with special diet needs? A gluten intolerant house cleaner? A cab driver with Candida? Candida is what I call a rich, white person problem. You know you’ve really made it in this world when you get Candida. My personal theory is that Candida is something you get from too much hot yoga. All I’m saying is if I were a yeast, I would want to live in your yoga pants.
Next I approach the beauty aisle. There is a scary looking machine there that you put your face inside of and it tells you exactly how ugly you are.
By Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen via Forbes
Organic certification is process-based. That is, certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices which meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the [National Organic Program] regulations . . . If all aspects of the organic production or handling process were followed correctly, then the presence of detectable residue from a genetically modified organism alone does not constitute a violation of this regulation. [emphasis added]
Up until the visit with Monsanto scientists, Nye disapproved of the use and creation of GMOs. According to the Washington Post, Nye stated in his 2014 book, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation” that the foods containing GMO crops are fundamentally problematic. The Post explained that Nye also said that GMOs could possibly have “environmental risks” that cannot be ruled out with any kind of certainty (1).
Yet, somehow one visit to Monsanto some 10+ years after aligning himself against GMOs, and Nye appears to be singing GMO praises. So what exactly happened during that visit? Was it the science as pro-GMO advocates claim that changed Nye’s opinion?
Bill Maher’s Interview with Nye
Backstage after his appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Nye revealed that he’s revising the entire chapter on GMOs in his 2014 book.
I went to Monsanto,” Nye said during the backstage interview, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.”
It’s not surprising that anti-GMO supporters are astounded by Nye’s change in his stance on GMOs. It begs the questions: Why did Nye decide to visit Monsanto after all these years? What was he shown or told that changed his long-held opinion?
To add more fuel to the conspiracy theories, Nye is being tight-lipped, citing his revised chapter will reveal all. However, Monsanto’s tweets reveal their immense pleasure in winning Nye over to their side.
By Yvette d’Entremont via gawker
Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe, has amassed a loyal following in her Food Babe Army. The recent subject of profiles and interviews in the New York Times, the New York Post and New York Magazine, Hari implores her soldiers to petition food companies to change their formulas. She’s also written a bestselling book telling you that you can change your life in 21 days by “breaking free of the hidden toxins in your life.” She and her army are out to change the world.
She’s also utterly full of shit.
I am an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology. Before working full-time as a science writer and public speaker, I worked as a chemistry professor, a toxicology chemist, and in research analyzing pesticides for safety. I now run my own blog, Science Babe, dedicated to debunking pseudoscience that tends to proliferate in the blogosphere. Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact. Between her egregious abuse of the word “toxin” anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.
Hari’s superhero origin story is that she came down with appendicitis and didn’t accept the explanation that appendicitis just happens sometimes. So she quit her job as a consultant, attended Google University and transformed herself into an uncredentialed expert in everything she admittedly can’t pronounce. Slap the catchy moniker “Food Babe” on top, throw in a couple of trend stories and some appearances on the Dr. Oz show, and we have the new organic media darling.
But reader beware. Here are some reasons why she’s the worst assault on science on the internet.
Natural, Organic, GMO-Free Fear
Hari’s campaign last year against the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte drove me to launch my site (don’t fuck with a Bostonian’s Pumpkin-Spice Anything). She alleged that the PSL has a “toxic” dose of sugar and two (TWO!!) doses of caramel color level IV in carcinogen class 2b.
The word “toxic” has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose. Enough water can even be poisonous in the right quantity (and can cause a condition called hyponatremia).
But then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen monoxide?
It’s a goddamn stretch to say that sugar has deleterious effects, other than making your Lululemons stretch a little farther if you don’t “namaste” your cheeks off. However, I implore you to look at the Safety Data Sheet for sugar. The average adult would need to ingest about fifty PSLs in one sitting to get a lethal dose of sugar. By that point, you would already have hyponatremia from an overdose of water in the lattes.
And almost enough caffeine for me.
See if you know how many of these GMO “facts” are right.
by Brian Dunning via skeptoid
No matter how many articles are published detailing how and why genetically engineered crops are safe, misinformation always seems to reign. Anti-biotech activists persist in charging GMO crops (Genetically Modified Organisms) with just about every crime against humanity, ethics, and science. Although Monsanto is the company drawing nearly 100% of the flak from anti-biotech activists and is probably the only genetic engineering company known to most people, it’s actually only one of the six biggest companies that develop GMO crops. The others are DuPont-Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, and Bayer Cropscience. Beyond the big six, about 20 other smaller companies located all around the world are also in the business. But don’t expect to go down to the local nursery and find seeds branded with these names: like most manufacturers, they all sell under a variety of more customer-friendly brands. Monsanto, the market leader among the big six, sells 15 different brands, each tailored to specific products or regions. What happens to all these brands of seeds that get bought, sown, and reaped? See if you can guess all of these “fact or fiction” choices right, starting with:
Supermarkets are full of GMO foods.
True, but mostly as ingredients in prepared food. About 85% of three major food crops grown in the US — corn, soy, and cotton — are GMO. Most of the produce you buy (corn and soybeans being the only real notable exceptions) are currently not GMO. Another exception is the papaya. Most of the papayas available in the United States come from Hawaii, where the ringspot virus decimated the species in the mid 1990s. But in 1998, a crop scientist found a way to insert a single ringspot gene into the papaya, thus conferring natural immunization; and now the Hawaiian papaya flourish.
But beyond those three examples from the produce aisle, it’s pretty hard to find a prepared food product that contains no corn, soy, or cottonseed products, so the answer is yes. If you live in the Americas, you’ve been eating a lot of GMO food from the supermarket for the past several decades.
GMO leads to monoculture.
False. Supply and demand is what leads to monoculture, and that’s got nothing to do with GMOs. Monoculture is when you plant the same crop over and over again in the same field, without rotating. Rotating crops naturally prevents the most common pathogen and pest antagonists to gain a foothold on any particular crop, and keeps the soil as healthy as practical. Farmers have understood the benefits of crop rotation since at least 6000 BCE. If there was an equal demand for corn, soy, and cotton, farmers would be able to rotate perfectly and everything would be hunky dory.
Sadly that’s not the case. In 2011, the United States had 84 million acres of corn; 74 million acres of soybeans, 56 million acres of hay, 46 million acres of wheat, but only 10 million acres of cotton. So many products, both food and industrial, come from these, but the acreage needed from each is so disparate that crop rotation is often problematic. Further complicating it is that each crop grows best in a specific climate zone and soil. It’s really, really hard to find two or more crops that are both in equal demand and that will grow well on any given farm’s ecology.
Three of these top five crops are mostly genetically engineered varieties. But as we can see, this has nothing to do with the problems of monoculture or the farmer’s ability to rotate.
GMO crops contain genes from jellyfish and other animals.
False. There have never been any GMO crops brought to market that contained any animal genes. But it’s not necessarily for lack of trying. In many parts of the world, crops can freeze and get destroyed. So one thing researchers have tried is to give them some genes that confer antifreeze abilities in the winter flounder, a fish that can survive sub-freezing temperature. These genes express a protein (found in many plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria) that binds to small ice crystals, preventing them from becoming larger ice crystals that can damage cells. Although it would be great if we could give fruit and vegetable orchards this same ability, so far it hasn’t worked. This is why genetic engineers are always going to be busy: for every one project that succeeds, a hundred fail.
In an age when consumers have become increasingly suspicious of processed food, the Internet has become a powerful platform for activists who want to hold Big Food accountable.
One of the highest-profile of these new food crusaders is Vani Hari, better known by her online moniker, Food Babe. Among her victories: a petition that nudged Kraft to drop the artificial orange color from its mac and cheese, and another one that helped get Subway to do away with the common bread additive azodicarbonamide — which Hari noted was also used in making yoga mats.
To followers on her website and on social media, who are known as the Food Babe Army, Hari is a hero. And with a book and TV development deal in the works, her platform is about to get a lot bigger.
But as her profile grows, so too do the criticisms of her approach. Detractors, many of them academics, say she stokes unfounded fears about what’s in our food to garner publicity. Steve Novella, a Yale neuroscientist and prominent pseudoscience warrior, among others, has dubbed Hari the “Jenny McCarthy of food” after the celebrity known for championing thoroughly debunked claims that vaccines cause autism.
Hari is a self-styled consumer advocate and adviser on healthful eating. Her website, FoodBabe.com, offers recipes, tips for nutritious dining while traveling, and, for $17.99 a month, “eating guides” that include recipes, meal calendars and shopping lists. But she’s best-known for her food investigations, frequently shared on social media — posts in which she flags what she deems to be questionable ingredients.
Take, for example, Hari’s campaign urging beer-makers to reveal the ingredients in their brews. Among the ingredients that concerned Hari was propylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze. But, as cancer surgeon and blogger David Gorski writes, the product used in some beers to stabilize foam is actually propylene glycol alginate — which is derived from kelp. “It is not the same chemical as propylene glycol, not even close. It is not antifreeze,” he wrote.
Also See: Food Fears (iLLuMiNuTTi.com)
Note from Mason I. Bilderberg:
If, as Fear Babe says, we should “Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce,” then we should NOT be eating any of the following:
“It is no surprise that about half of the students who attended the speech walked out . . .”
The world may be coming closer to an end when The University of Florida paid Vani Hari, aka Food Babe, to speak on its campus as part of the “The Good Food Revolution” last Monday, October 21. Why would a prestigious university — home of the Gators — hire a self-proclaimed food “expert” to give students “a clear plan of action for making positive food choices” instead of more qualified professionals, such as one of their food science professors? The $16,000 fee that Food Babe received to speak is quite a hefty amount to spread false information. This prompted Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department, to write his thoughts about the event on his blog. After Food Babe spoke at the university, Professor Folta may have a somewhat challenging task of undoing the damage.
“The problem is that giving non-experts a forum to spread outright lies and bad information just pollutes the discussion. There are important issues in farming, diet and food science,” explained Dr. Folta in an online interview with Guardian Liberty Voice. “We need to acknowledge them, and get students excited about participating in solutions. Hari’s tactics are to use social media as a means to essentially blackmail corporations into changes she mandates, not based on science.”
Folta’s blog highlights some of the claims Hari made, such as GMO labeling in other countries, transgenic crops linking to cancer and autism, and the increase use of pesticides in crops. “She coordinates elaborate smear campaigns against companies that [she feels] use ingredients that should not be used. Teaching students that achieving your goals by harming the reputations of others is something that should not be tolerated, let alone endorsed as part of an ‘expert’ series.”
It is no surprise that about half of the students who attended the speech walked out . . .
Myles reviews part of Gary Null’s 2012 anti-GMO documentary Seeds of Death: Unveiling the Lies of GMOs
The following transcript via mylespower.co.uk
I recently sat down and watched the 2012 anti-GMO documentary “Seeds of Death: Unveiling the Lies of GMOs“. The documentary was written, produced and published by Gary Null (an alternative medicine promoter who was once almost killed from one of his own supplements) and claims to expose the dangers of genetically modified foods. It consisted of interviews from apparently “leading” scientists, physicians, professors, attorneys. Most of which, for some unknown reason, are shot in front of a green screen with rather boring backdrops added in post-production.
Like nearly all other anti-GMO documentaries, it’s full of the same scientifically inaccurate statements that we have seen a thousand times before; Roundup ready crops produce Roundup, the bT endotoxins are harmful to humans and GM-food has been shown to produce tumours in rats. All of these ideas can be disproven by a quick Google search or by reading the source material. The documentary also included some familiar faces, like Gilles-Éric Séralini, the lead author of the highly discredited “long term toxicity of Roundup” paper and Mike Adams, a man who believes that the nerve agent sarin is used in water fluorination. However, unlike other anti-GMO documentaries I’ve watched in the past, this one turns up the anti-SCIENCE to eleven.
By far one of the more hilarious, stupid and demonstrably incorrect comments in the documentary came from a Dr Rima Laibow, MD. According to her website she is a graduate from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and for the past 35 years has been promoting drug-free, natural medicine. However, after reading some of the outrageous and potentially dangerous claims on her website (like “nano-sliver will stop HIV), I question if she even has a basic medicine or science qualification. It also seems that she is aware of her own bullshit, as her website comes with a disclaimer saying that none of the advice given is intended to “diagnose, prescribe for, treat or claim to cure, mitigate or prevent disease conditions”.
Also See Snopes.
Organic food labeling is marketing, not science. Organic marketers utilize any bit of data that can be spun to promote a significant difference, producing a constant drone of nonsense. This week an article in Science World Report tops my nonsense list for organic agriculture promotion. The article “New Test May Detect Organic Food Fraud: Is Your Produce Really Organic?” is a subtle but effective promotion of organic foods’ purported benefits. This article is based on a press release offering the idea that there may be a test to separate falsely labeled organic produce from true organic produce.
Testing foods for organic label fraud sounds plausible on the surface, but is it? The proposed methodology for testing, as described by Science World Report, lacks a major scientific underpinning. Organic agriculture proponents have long suggested that there organic foods have measurable nutritional benefits over conventional agriculture, asserting that organic foods are safer and/or more nutritious than conventionally grown products. Most of this conjecture is based upon small, poorly structured studies. Any measurable benefit, when compared to conventional agriculture, disappears in large well controlled studies. That pattern—poor research yielding positive outcomes, well-structured research producing negative outcomes—is consistent with statistical noise or poorly done research. So what is this proposed test looking for? Is there any testable difference between organic and conventional?
Testing organic food is the agricultural world’s version of the ghost meter, in my opinion. A ghost meter is a electromagnetic field meter used by “Ghost Hunters” to detect the presence of ghosts. Sometimes it’s a charlatan’s prop, but more often the device is used to assure people (typically the user) that ghosts can be detected. A science-y sounding method and device is demonstrated, just without any science actually involved. The meter finds changes in EM fields around a supposedly haunted site, and ghost hunters assume that ghosts produce or affect EM fields. This also assumes that the fields they detect are different from any regular EM field, which are everywhere, produced by the sun, cellphones, cameras, light bulbs, and other electrical devices.
A test for organic food “authenticity” similarly lacks any scientific basis. Like a ghost meter there are fundamental assumptions being made that thus far have been answered tested out as false. Currently the best information is that there are no . . .
The use of Genetically Modified Organisms, better known as GMO, is an area of debate among skeptics. GMO is actually a broad term that has a lot of moving parts. Forced labeling for consumer foods containing GMOs in the United States has been a growing issue. In skeptical circles this is a controversial topic. Recently, at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism in New York City, there was a GMO discussion panel involving Dr. Steven Novella, Kevin Folta, and Marty Mesh, representing a fair distribution of experts from both sides of the aisle. The discussion panel debated the idea of labeling GMO products for consumers. The organic lobby suggests it as an answer to the questions about the safety of GMO and wants it to be required. The scientific community claims that such labels are deceptive, unnecessary, and there are already safeguards. The GMO proponents say requiring labels would mislead the public about the content and safety of the product.
I have intended to write this blog post since that panel discussion, but it is such a broad subject. Simplifying the issue has been difficult. Here I will limit GMOs to the following definition: food or food-producing organisms that have been altered using genetic engineering techniques . Conventional and organic use selective breeding to tailor organism genetics.
Currently there is advocacy in the United States to require labeling of GMO food. Some EU member states now require labeling of GMO. Is labeling necessary or desirable? Is it a systematic marketing assault on GMO food?
There are good reasons to want GMO in the food supply.
- Creating plants better resistant to weeds, pests, and other diseases.
- Bigger yields to create more efficient use of land, less uses of herbicides and other pesticides.
- Foods with better texture, flavor, and nutritional value.
- Foods with a longer shelf life for easier shipping.
- GM foods can create an essentially sustainable way to feed the world.
From my own observations, most objections to GMO food fall into two categories: corporate fear-mongering and unsubstantiated “fear of the unknown” arguments. The science shows absolutely no dangers in consuming GMO food. There are environmental issues and monocrop issues, but they are not significantly different from conventional crops, including organic crops and animal-farming. Most of the con arguments (we’ll skip the wacky ones) comes from two broad and possibly accurate points:
- Genetic modification is unpredictable. It may have unknown horrible consequences for the consumer, environment, or stability of the food supply. I call this the Frankenstein Argument.
- GMO are corporate attempts to monopolize food consumers as well as restrict producers through manufactured controls. I call this Argumentum Monsanto.
Like all really good ideological arguments they contain a certain amount of truth. Also like all really good ideological arguments they minimize or avoid facts that do not support their argument. Scientific evaluation of GMO shows no significantly different risk from GMO products than from conventional crops. In many cases the product is chemically identical. Sometimes GMO have been shown to be safer products than conventional foods
Via The Conversation
All too often the use of the word “chemicals” in the news, in advertising and in common usage has the implication that they are bad. You never hear about chemicals that fight infections, help crops grow or lubricate engines. That is because the chemicals doing that job are called antibiotics, fertilisers and engine oil, respectively.
As a result of the emotive language often used in conjunction with “chemicals”, a series of myths have emerged. Myths that Sense about Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry are debunking with the publication of Making Sense of Chemical Stories. Here are five of the worst offenders.
1. You can lead a chemical-free life
Despite the many products that claim otherwise, using the term “chemical-free” is plain nonsense. Everything, including the air we breathe, the food we eat and the drinks we consume, is made of chemicals. It doesn’t matter if you live off the land, following entirely organic farming practises or are a city-dweller consuming just processed food, either way your surroundings and diet consists of nothing but chemicals.
2. Man-made chemicals are dangerous
So we have established that there is no way to lead a chemical-free existence. But surely natural chemicals are better than synthetic ones?
Nope. Whether a chemical is man-made or natural tells you precisely nothing about how dangerous it is. Sodium thiopental, for example, is used in lethal injections but it’s about as toxic as amygdalin, which turns up in almonds and apple seeds. What makes one of these chemicals dangerous and the other part of your healthy five-a-day is quite simply the quantity that you consume.
Granted there are many documented cases of man-made chemicals that have been banned due to health concerns. But on balance chemicals have done far more good than harm. A good example is brominated flame retardants which are no longer used in furniture due to allegations of unpleasant side-effects. However these worries should be balanced against the estimated 1,150 lives saved because the chemical stopped furniture fires spreading.
Even substances that are upheld as terrible cases of chemical pollutants, such the pesticide DDT, have their place. The World Health Organisation support its use for control of malaria transmitting mosquitoes stating:
DDT is still needed and used for disease vector control simply because there is no alternative of both equivalent efﬁcacy and operational feasibility, especially for high-transmission areas.
3. Synthetic chemicals cause cancer
News outlets are fond of reporting about research showing “links” between particular chemicals and occurrences of cancer and other diseases. Sometimes the stories even claim that a substance definitely causes cancer or definitely cures it.
But more often than not these reports . . .
Here we go again. A pseudoscience pushing website (which occasionally tosses in stories about real science) is trumpeting a primary research study (published 6 months ago) that may, or may not, indicate that plant DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream. You just know what they’re going to say next.
This will now be all about genetically modified foods.
In case you’ve ignored this area of pseudoscience, genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs); of course, all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. Based on some of the worst science available, anti-GMO cultists have condemned GMO foods as being dangerous. Of course, there is actually no science supporting the anti-GMO claim, and the vast scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals and the environment.
A paper published in the online journal, PLoS One, seems to indicate that possible DNA fragments pass from the digestive tract into the blood. The authors, Spisak et al., concluded:
…based on the analysis of over 1000 human samples from four independent studies, we report evidence that meal-derived DNA fragments which are large enough to carry complete genes can avoid degradation and through an unknown mechanism enter the human circulation system.
Based on our knowledge of the digestive process, fats, DNA, carbohydrates, and proteins are broken down into their simplest components, and specialized transport systems move these simple components across the barrier between the digestive tract and blood. They have evolved to not transport full size molecules, partially because the blood is incapable of carrying large foreign molecules (and could induce an immune response). Moreover, small constituent molecules, like amino acids instead of the whole protein, or glucose instead of a long-chain carbohydrate, are more easily transported to locations in the body to be then used as fuel or building blocks for new proteins and DNA. We just have not seen a mechanism in the digestive tract that can move large molecules, like gene-length DNA fragments, into the bloodstream.
In fact, the authors admit that the mechanism is unknown . . .
Back in December, I was excited. The reason I was excited was because everybody’s favorite über-Libertarian, New World Order conspiracy theorist quack, Mike Adams, a.k.a. The Health Ranger, had made an announcement. That announcement was that on January 6, 2014 Adams would announce astonishing “scientific findings” about food that would “revolutionize” nutrition and health. Given Adams’ past history of doing hilariously off-base things with scientific instruments, such as putting Chicken McNuggets under a microscope and being amazed that things look a lot different when highly magnified, resulting in his misinterpreting dust and probably flecks of spice to be bizarre and alien fibers responsible for Morgellon’s disease, I was hoping for, as I put it, comedy gold and blog fodder galore.
I was disappointed.
January 6 came and went, and all I saw over at Adams’ repository of all things that quack, NaturalNews.com, were reports from the hilariously named Forensic Food Lab at NaturalNews.com finding heavy metals and all sorts of “toxins” in not just grocery store food, but organic foods and “superfoods.” Holy hell, even vegan foods and seaweed and sea vegetable products were not immune from Adams’ incompetent use of expensive scientific equipment to generate terrifying numbers for concentrations of lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals. However, it soon became apparent to me that Adams was clearly using his newfound ability to misuse actual scientific instruments to “find” horrifying levels of metals and various scary chemicals in a lot of the supplements and “superfoods” that you’d normally expect him to support. It was then that I started to realize that Adams’ lunacy wasn’t really about belief. Not really. Not this time. Rather, it was about eliminating his competition by testing their products and finding them to be “loaded” with various scary sounding chemicals. He even went so far as to publish an unstintingly funny (unintentionally, of course) article entitled Heavy metals discussions reveal striking state of denial in the minds of some natural products consumers, in which he had the chutzpah to state, “You can’t pick and choose which laws of chemistry you want to be true,” and then follow the section of his article following that title with a claim like, “There is also convincing evidence that at least some people are able to truly live off nothing more than sunlight and air.”
Uh, the laws of chemistry and physics say that living off of nothing more than sunlight and air is impossible for a mammal like humans. Mikey really needs to take his own advice. But I digress…
Yesterday, the old Mikey was back. Gone was the Mikey ruthlessly trying to eliminate his natural foods competitors by “revealing” horrible chemicals and heavy metals in their products, and back was the utterly nutty conspiracy true believer that we’ve all come to know and love. The old Mikey was back in the form of an article entitled Battle for humanity nearly lost: global food supply deliberately engineered to end life, not nourish it. To drive the point home, right next to the title is a picture of a man wearing a hazmat suit and a gas mask. As if that weren’t enough, the second paragraph . . .
Many of my friends and family will only touch organic food. That’s their right, and I don’t try to fight with them. I sometimes get uncomfortable, though, when they make claims about organic food that just aren’t supported by data and evidence. Moreover, I think arguing with anyone who is attempting to eat more fruits and vegetables that theirs are in some way “not good enough” is counter-productive.
Anyone whom has read this blog is probably aware that I don’t like the Anti-GMO movement. I find the movement to be highly deceptive and uses propaganda and fear mongering in order to get people to buy “organic” food, and to reject all GMO foods no matter what.
Normally in spite their BS I would still have bought and eaten organic foods, not because I believed it was healthier for you (although I admit I at one time I did believe that) but because it tasted a little better, but now knowing more facts about the Anti-GMO movement and the extremes that they have gone to, and about organic food and it’s sustainability, as well as the organic food industry itself, I can no longer consciously buy and/or eat organic foods. To put it bluntly I am now Anti-Organic Foods, and I have several reasons (besides what I just what said here) why.
My first and foremost reasons for why I am now Anti-Organic Foods is because of the Anti-GMO movement itself and what it’s highly deceptive propaganda and fear mongering has done, which is to cause governments around the world to pass completely moronic Anti-GMO laws that is based off of fear rather than legitimate science, and has at times because of these laws hampered research into GMO foods, and to cause normally intelligent to reject GMO foods without any reason other than what lies the Anti-GMO movement has told them.Another reason why I am now Anti-Organic Foods is because of the deaths that have been caused by the Anti-GMO movement and their propaganda, particularly in developing in certain developing countries where the leaders of those countries actually rejected food donations because they were lead to believe (most notably by Greenpeace) that the food may have contain GMO foods and was (according to these Anti-GMO groups) poisonous. This type of deception has resulted in thousands of deaths, and possibly more.
My third reason why I have rejected organic foods is because of the physical destruction caused by the Anti-GMO movement, particularly of experimental GMO food crops due to the perception that these crops were dangerous. This destruction has caused millions of dollars worth of damage, not to mention the lose of valuable research data. The fact that many Anti-GMO groups (including Greenpeace) often praise this destruction, and have been accused of directly or indirectly responsible of being the cause of such destruction only makes the whole Anti-GMO movement look so much worse to me.
Now my fourth reason for rejecting organic foods isn’t because of the Anti-GMO movement, but because of . . .
Well, wouldn’t you know it? Mike Adams thinks he’s an actual scientist!
Regular readers are all too familiar with Mike Adams, a.k.a. The Health Ranger, arguably the most quacktastic site on the Internet. Sure, Joe Mercola is probably the most trafficked quackery site on the Internet, but, being number two (or number three or four, I’m not sure), Mike Adams definitely tries harder. In addition, Joe Mercola steers mostly clear of politics and non-medical pseudoscience. Sure, he promotes just as much quackery as Mike Adams does, if not more, but he doesn’t delve into Tea Party-drenched New World Order conspiracy mongering the way Adams does. Indeed, Adams regularly appears on the network of the über-crank to rule all über-cranks, Alex Jones. You know that if a person is considered “worthy” to appear on Alex Jones’s network, he is among the most elite of cranks. To borrow a term from recent political parlance, you know he’s a member of the 1% when it comes to crankery. To prove it, he also “questions” evolution and a couple of years ago he produced a short film that portrayed science as the inevitable gateway to the Holocaust.
Three months ago, Mike Adams tried to represent himself as Real Scientist, and, according to one of my favorite clichés, hilarity ensued. For example, he decided that PubMed was too broad a source to spread his message, given that it actually publishes articles that counter his message; so he decided to try to create his own version of PubMed. Next, he decided that he wanted to show how evil McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets are. Now, this in and of itself isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, although it needs to be repeated that no one is claiming that McNuggets are health food, not even McDonald’s. So Adams bought some McNuggets, looked at them under his stereomicroscope, and made a video. In it, he was shocked—shocked, I say!—that they looked weird and alien when magnified a couple of hundred times. Actually, I probably shouldn’t be quoting that classic scene from the movie Casablanca, because in that scene it was obvious that no one was shocked at all that gambling was going on at Rick’s American Cafe. In marked contrast, Mike Adams appeared truly shocked at seeing fibers and strand-like objects that he naturally identified as Morgellons fibers. Never mind that they were probably nothing more than dust, perhaps flour, and almost certainly pepper or other seasoning. Adams had a real microscope, and he wasn’t afraid to use it (although he was completely incompetent at it).
Yes, Mikey thinks he’s a real scientist now. If you don’t believe me, just check out a post from a couple of days ago over at his repository of all things quackery and political hackery, NaturalNews.com, entitled Health Ranger releases first photo from the Natural News Forensic Food Lab. Apparently, this is where the “ground breaking” research that Adams promised to reveal on January 7, 2014 is going on. I’ve been very curious about just what the heck it is that Adams is brewing in his home brew laboratory. Incompetently performed science, no doubt, but what and how entertainingly incompetent will it be? I rather suspect it will be epic. Right now, this article is complete with a picture of Adams sitting in front of a lab bench with a feces-eating (sorry, no more profanity allowed here at ScienceBlogs, at least not by the bloggers) grin on his face and gloating . . .
Elsevier has announced that they are retracting the infamous Seralini study which claimed to show that GMO corn causes cancer in laboratory rats. The retraction comes one year after the paper was published, and seems to be a response to the avalanche of criticism the study has faced. This retraction is to the anti-GMO world what the retraction of the infamous Wakefield Lancet paper was to the anti-vaccine world.
The Seralini paper was published in November 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology. It was immediately embraced by anti-GMO activists, and continues to be often cited as evidence that GMO foods are unhealthy. It was also immediately skewered by skeptics and more objective scientists as a fatally flawed study.
The study looked at male and female rats of the Sprague-Dawley strain of rat – a strain with a known high baseline incidence of tumors. These rats were fed regular corn mixed with various percentages of GMO corn: zero (the control groups), 11, 22, and 33%. Another group was fed GMO corn plus glyphosate (Round-Up) in their water, and a third was given just glyphosate. The authors concluded:
The results of the study presented here clearly demonstrate that lower levels of complete agricultural glyphosate herbicide formulations, at concentrations well below officially set safety limits, induce severe hormone-dependent mammary, hepatic and kidney disturbances. Similarly, disruption of biosynthetic pathways that may result from overexpression of the EPSPS transgene in the GM NK603 maize can give rise to comparable pathologies that may be linked to abnormal or unbalanced phenolic acids metabolites, or related compounds. Other mutagenic and metabolic effects of the edible GMO cannot be excluded.
Sounds pretty scary. Now let’s look at the multiple criticisms:
The biggest criticism of the study is the combination of two features – the small sample size and lack of statistical analysis. The entire study is premised on comparing various dose groups with control groups that were not exposed to GMO or glyphosate. And yet, the authors provide no statistical analysis of this comparison. Given the small number of rats in each group, it is likely that this lack of statistical analysis is due to the fact that statistical significance could not be reached.
In other words – the results of the study are uninterpretable. In the retraction statement Elsevier wrote:
Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.
The retraction reads like a long excuse for the editorial failure of the journal, and is disappointing. But at least they ultimately reached the correct conclusion – this paper should never have been published. It slipped through the cracks of peer review.
- Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study (illuminutti.com)
- The Seralini GMO Study – Retraction and Response to Critics (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Seralini GMO Study Retracted (theness.com)
- Study Linking Genetically Modified Corn to Rat Tumors Is Retracted (scientificamerican.com)
Want to completely torque the Anti-GMO people in your life? Send them the following article. Then grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study
A study last year by the French anti-GMO campaigner who sometimes masquerades as a scientist, Gilles-Eric Séralini, has been retracted by the journal in which it was published. Seralini claimed that rats that he fed a diet of GMO corn developed mammary tumors and liver disease. The study was widely hailed by anti-GMO activists and soundly denounced by actual scientists.
In my article, “The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops,” I reported:
One widely publicized specious study (also cited by the IRT) was done by the French researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini and his colleagues. They reported that rats fed pesticide resistant corn died of mammary tumors and liver diseases. Seralini is the president of the scientific council of the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, which describes itself as an “independent non-profit organization of scientific counter-expertise to study GMOs, pesticides and impacts of pollutants on health and environment, and to develop non polluting alternatives.” The Committee clearly knows in advance what its researchers will find with regard to the health risks of biotech crops. But when truly independent groups, such as the European Society of Toxicologic Pathology and theFrench Society of Toxicologic Pathology, reviewed Seralini’s study, they found it essentially to be meretricious rubbish. Six French academies of science issued a statement declaring that the journal should never have published such a low-quality study and excoriating Seralini for orchestrating a media campaign in advance of publication. The European Food Safety Agency’s review of the Seralini study “found to be inadequately designed, analysed and reported.” Sadly, such junk science has real-world consequences, since Seralini’s article was apparently cited when Kenya made the decision to ban the importation of foods made with biotech crops.
The journal Food and Chemical Toxicity has now retracted Seralini’s article, noting:
Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. However, there is a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected. The low number of animals had been identified as a cause for concern during the initial review process, but the peer-review decision ultimately weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation. A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.
Discussion is important in science, but this publication stirred vigorous criticism by several scientists around the world. It has risen up great attention by the media that had no chance of getting an external expert opinion due to unusual non-disclosure clauses. The initial unbalanced media coverage is causing damage to an important tool for global food security. It is also important to avoid unnecessary distress and pain of the animals (e.g. Directive 2010/63/EU), the experiment should not go beyond the point required to meet the scientific objectives. I urge you to take adequate measures to keep the high standard quality of publications that come to your journal. This paper as it is now, presents poor quality science and dubious ethics.
It’s good that the journal has gotten around to retracting the study, but unfortunately it will become just another cause celebre among conspircy minded anti-biotech activists.
- Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study (reason.com)
- Journal retracts anti-GMO study (americanthinker.com)
- Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study (ivoter.com)
- Controversial French Study on GMOs and Glyphosate Retracted by Publication (organicauthority.com)
- Notorious Séralini GMO Cancer Rat Study Retracted, Ugly Legal Battle Looms (aconservativeedge.wordpress.com)
- Widely discredited study that fuelled fear of genetically modified ‘Frankenfoods’ finally retracted (news.nationalpost.com)
One of the tactics of the GMO (genetically modified organisms, usually crops–some people use the term GM instead) refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMO’s are safe.” Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMO’s are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the Argument from Ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”
Even though I don’t necessarily like arguing with logical fallacies, I did provide an exhaustive list of high-quality peer-reviewed articles that clearly stated that genetically modified crops are safe. But that’s never enough.
Updated 12 November 2013.
In the world of scientific research, the absolute highest quality evidence are meta reviews, which are methods to contrast and combine results from a wide swath of peer-reviewed studies which may be useful in identifying patterns, sources of disagreement and other relationships. Since meta reviews combine the results from a larger number of studies, they can be more statistically significant. So, if there only was a high quality, peer-reviewed meta review about the safety of GMO foods!?!?
Well, there is one. In a meta-review recently published in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal, Critical Review of Biotechnology, where the authors collected and evaluated 1,783 research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports published between 2002 and 2012, a comprehensive process that took over 12 months to complete. The review covered all aspects of GM crop safety, from how the crops interact with the environment to how they could potentially affect the humans and animals who consume them.
And their conclusion?
The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.
According to an interview with the lead author, Alessandro Nicolia, an applied biologist at the University of Perugia in Italy, ”Our goal was to create a single document where interested people of all levels of expertise can get an overview on what has been done by scientists regarding GE crop safety. We tried to give a balanced view informing about what has been debated, the conclusions reached so far, and emerging issues.”
The article provided other important results:
- Massive Review Reveals Consensus on GMO Safety (realclearscience.com)
Pesticides, fungicides, larvicides, and a myriad of other poisons are used generously on crops, sprayed onto our food, and leach into our soil, within today’s current factory farming methods. With the risks accompanied with consuming current genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and chemically saturated garbage, the consumers are constantly looking for healthier options.
Many are gravitating toward local vendors and farmers markets, preferring antibiotic-free, organic, and free-range food items. However, the label “organic” is not synonymous with pesticide-free, and organic food can and has been found to contain pesticides.
A United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] report surprisingly exposed that samples of organic lettuce had contained pesticide residue. The common residues which were found were known as spinosad and azadirachtin A/B. The USDA happens to deem these particular pesticides suitable for organic agriculture. It is also important to note that land which was treated with non-permitted poisons in the past, but is no longer being sprayed with these poisons, can also qualify as organic. It is safe to assume that just because an item is labeled “organic”, doesn’t mean it’s entirely healthy to eat.
Pesticides authorized for organic farming need to be derived from natural sources, rather than having been synthetically manufactured. Also, the land chosen for the organic crop growing cannot have been treated with any synthetic materials for at least the past three years. One study by the University of Guelph, found that some organic pesticides have a higher environmental impact than conventional pesticides because the organic ones are used in larger doses.
“The consumer demand for organic products is increasing partly because of a concern for the environment,… But it’s too simplistic to say that because it’s organic it’s better for the environment. Organic growers are permitted to use pesticides that are of natural origin, and in some cases, these organic pesticides can have higher environmental impacts than synthetic pesticides, often because they have to be used in large doses.” – professor Rebecca Hallett
Other potent natural extracts which have additionally been approved for use as pesticides in organic farming, include pyrethrin (derived from chrysanthemums) and azadirachtin, which were also detected on some samples of organic lettuce. All three of these substances are considered to be slightly toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA].
- The Truth About Produce, Pesticides, And The Dirty Dozen (charlotte.cbslocal.com)
Can simple foods and supplements actually boost your immune system?
It’s time for alternative medicine to take its medicine! (See what I did there?)
That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
While living in China from 2003 to 2005, I often served as the designated translator for fellow expatriates. Whenever we ate out, this involved asking our server which menu items contained MSG. Invariably I was told that almost everything is made with weijing (“flavor essence”), including, on one occasion, the roast peanut appetizer my MSG-sensitive friends were snacking on as I made my inquiry.
After observing that no one reacted to the peanuts, I was inspired to conduct a simple (and admittedly unethical) experiment. One evening, instead of translating honestly, I told my companions at a large banquet that the kitchen had promised to avoid using MSG. Everyone thanked me and happily ate their meal, dish after poisoned dish.
An hour later? Two hours later? The next day? Nothing.
I repeated this experiment on multiple occasions, always with the same result. And yet foreigners living in China routinely complained of reactions to their food that included headaches, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Was there something about my presence that conferred temporary resistance to MSG? Or could it be that MSG sensitivity was only in their heads?
In April 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter by Robert Ho Man Kwok that described a strange set of symptoms: “Numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitation.” Stranger still was the fact that Dr. Kwok, himself a Chinese immigrant, typically noted the onset of these symptoms 20 minutes after eating at restaurants serving “Northern Chinese food.”
An editor at NEJM titled Kwok’s letter “Chinese-restaurant syndrome,” and thus began a minor epidemic. For countless sufferers, a mystery had been finally solved. “NO MSG” signs sprang up across the United States, and, eventually, the world. Study upon study confirmed the syndrome’s existence and speculated about the science underlying it.
But after reading some of these studies, even a layperson will start to get suspicious. Take the editorial note that precedes Russell S. Asnes’ article “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome in an Infant”:
“The evidence that this infant had the Chinese Restaurant syndrome may be only circumstantial. However, the description of the symptom is accurate as attested to by the Editor’s wife who suffers from the same malady. Incidentally, she remains a devotee of Chinese cuisine.”
Science, that sworn enemy of circumstantial evidence, marched on, and slowly but surely physiological explanations of Chinese restaurant syndrome began to lose credibility. Double-blinded studies failed to turn up evidence of a clinical condition. MSG, many people noted, appears in everything from sushi to Doritos. Journalists performed experiments similar to mine, their results echoing the consensus of professional scientists: In the overwhelming majority of cases, MSG sensitivity is a psychological phenomenon.
Despite this thorough debunking, a surprisingly large number of people—generally those who lived through the epidemic—still insist they are sensitive to MSG. Google around and you’ll turn up scores of alarmist websites, which tend to combine outdated research with anecdotal, indignant rebuttals of the current scientific wisdom: “How dare you suggest my MSG sensitivity is only in my head? Why, just the other day I went out for Chinese and forgot to ask about MSG. After 45 minutes I couldn’t breathe and my heart was racing.”
Occasionally, as with vaccines and climate change denial, alarmism veers into paranoia, yielding accusations that a shadowy East Asian cabal is paying off scientists and journalists to regurgitate their propaganda.
- Are we making ourselves sick over MSG and gluten? Yeah, probably. (doubtfulnews.com)
- What if your gluten intolerance is all in your head? (newscientist.com)
- Why You Should Embrace The Culinary Benefits of MSG (tested.com)
- William’s Essay on an obscure medical condition (words4useblog.wordpress.com)
- How To Diagnose an MSG Allergy (ellskety.wordpress.com)
Via The Soap Box
There has been a lot of debate recently over whether or not food companies should legally be required to label their foods as being either GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism) or not if they happen to actually be GMOs.
Supporters of these laws claim that this would give consumers the ability to know what they are buying, and whether or not they are actually buying something that is organic or not.
Critics on the other hand claim that such laws are unnecessary and even excessive, since it is well established that most foods are in fact either considered GMOs (technically speaking all foods are actually GMOs in one way or another) or at least would not be considered organic by many people in the organic food community, and that many people who do produce organic foods already label their products as being organic.
While this labeling law debate is sure to not go away any time soon, I do wonder if perhaps the anti-GMO crowd is going about this the wrong way. Perhaps instead of there being GMO labeling laws, there should be organic food labeling laws instead.
While the GMO food industry is heavily regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (despite what many people in the anti-GMO crowd believes) there is actually very little regulation for the organic food industry.
In the United States there are no laws that says what foods are considered organic, and what foods are not considered organic. In fact anyone can actually claim that the food that they are producing is organic, when in fact what the food that is being produced is not considered organic by anyone’s standards…
- Chipotle Becomes First U.S. Restaurant Chain to Voluntarily Label GMOs (cryptogon.com)
- The War on GMOs (libertylobster.wordpress.com)
- Landslide Vote for GMO Labeling in Maine (prn.fm)
The Institute for Responsible Technology, an organization opposed to crop biotechnology, has published a list of reasons to avoid GMOs—that is, genetically modified food. It’s a mish-mash of misinformation and disinformation. All of the institute’s assertions are unfounded, but here are the five most dubious claims on the list.
1. GMOs Are Unhealthy
Every independent scientific body that has ever evaluated the safety of biotech crops has found them to be safe for humans to eat.
A 2004 report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded that “no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” In 2003 the International Council for Science, representing 111 national academies of science and 29 scientific unions, found “no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.” The World Health Organization flatly states, “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”
In 2010, a European Commission review of 50 studies on the safety of biotech crops found “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.” At its annual meeting in June, the American Medical Association endorsed a report on the labeling of bioengineered foods from its Council on Science and Public Health. The report concluded that “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”
Unfortunately there is no shortage of fringe scientists to gin up bogus studies suggesting that biotech crops are not safe. My personal favorite in this genre is Russian researcher Irina Ermakova’s claim, unpublished in any peer-reviewed scientific journal, that eating biotech soybeans turned mouse testicles blue.
One widely publicized specious study (also cited by the IRT) was done by the French researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini and his colleagues. They reported that rats fed pesticide resistant corn died of mammary tumors and liver diseases. Seralini is the president of the scientific council of the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, which describes itself as an “independent non-profit organization of scientific counter-expertise to study GMOs, pesticides and impacts of pollutants on health and environment, and to develop non polluting alternatives.” The Committee clearly knows in advance what its researchers will find with regard to the health risks of biotech crops. But when truly independent groups, such as the European Society of Toxicologic Pathology and the French Society of Toxicologic Pathology, reviewed Seralini’s study, they found it essentially to be meretricious rubbish. Six French academies of science issued a statement declaring that the journal should never have published such a low-quality study and excoriating Seralini for orchestrating a media campaign in advance of publication. The European Food Safety Agency’s review of the Seralini study “found [it] to be inadequately designed, analysed and reported.”
Sadly, such junk science has real-world consequences, since Seralini’s article was apparently cited when Kenya made the decision to ban the importation of foods made with biotech crops.
2. GMOs Increase Herbicide Use
First, so what? This claim is simply an attempt to mislead people into thinking that more herbicide use must somehow be more dangerous. As a U.S. Department of Agriculture report has noted, planting herbicide resistant biotech crops enables farmers to substitute the more environmentally benign herbicide glyphosate (commercially sold as Round Up) for “other synthetic herbicides that are at least 3 times as toxic and that persist in the environment nearly twice as long as glyphosate.” Glyphosate has very low toxicity, breaks down quickly in the environment, and enables farmers to practice conservation tillage, which reduces topsoil erosion by up to 90 percent. So the net environmental effect is still positive.
Second, it must be admitted that there are few honest brokers when it comes to this issue. Most of the research on biotech crops and herbicides is underwritten by either activist groups or industry. I have drawn my own conclusions, but I provide a fairly comprehensive review of the various studies on this question below.
When it comes to biotech crops and pesticide use data, the go-to guy for anti-biotech activists is Charles Benbrook. After a long career with various anti-biotech groups, Benbrook now serves as a research professor in the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University. He has a long history of publishing studies allegedly showing that the adoption of biotech crops boosts the use of pesticides. Four years after commercial biotech crops were first planted in the United States, for example, he concluded in 2001 that herbicide use had “modestly increased.” Benbrook’s article contradicted research published the year before by scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who had found that biotech crops had reduced pesticide applications.
In a 2004 report funded by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Benbrook asserted that “GE [genetically engineered] corn, soybeans, and cotton have led to a 122 million pound increase in pesticide use since 1996.” In contrast, a 2005 study in Pest Management Science, by a researcher associated with the pesticide lobby group CropLife, reported that planting biotech crops had “reduced herbicide use by 37.5million lbs.” A 2007 study done for the self-described non-advocacy think tank National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, founded in 1984 by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, reported that planting biotech crops in the U.S. had reduced in 2005 herbicide use by 64 million pounds and insecticide applications by about 4 million pounds. Another 2007 study, by a team of international academic researchers led by Gijs Kleter from the Institute of Food Safety at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, concluded that in the U.S., crops genetically improved to resist herbicides used 25 to 30 percent less herbicides than conventional crops did. In 2009, Benbrook issued a report for the anti-GMO Organic Center claiming that “GE crops have been responsible for an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 13 years of commercial use of GE crops.”
Benbrook’s latest study, issued last year, found that the adoption of pest-resistant crops had reduced the application of insecticides by 123 million pounds since 1996 but increased the application of herbicides by 527 million pounds, an overall increase of about 404 million pounds of pesticides. The media—including Mother Jones’ ever-credulous anti-biotech advocate Tom Philpott— reported these results unskeptically.
Benbrook largely got his 2012 results by making some strategic extrapolations of herbicide use trends to make up for missing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In fact, the USDA does not provide herbicide use data for corn in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, or 2011, for soybeans in any year after 2006, and for cotton in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2011. (The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is expected to issue a report updating national herbicide and insecticide usage later this year.)
As the University of Wyoming weed biologist Andrew Kniss points out, in order to get an increasing herbicide trend, Benbrook’s extrapolations turned a negative herbicide use trend for corn positive. He did the same thing to a neutral use trend for soybeans. Meanwhile, a 2012 study by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot at the PG Economics consultancy found planting modern biotech crop varieties had globally cut pesticide spraying by 997 million pounds from 1996 to 2010, an overall reduction of 9.1 percent. Brookes and Barfoot calculated the amount of pesticide used by multiplying the acreage planted for each variety by the average amounts applied per acre.
3. Genetic Engineering Creates Dangerous Side Effects
The Institute for Responsible Technology’s list simply fearmongers on this one, claiming, “By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes a host of unpredictable side effects.” Not really.
All types of plant breeding—conventional, mutagenic, and biotech—can, on rare occasions, produce crops with unintended consequences. The 2004 NAS report that I alluded to above includes a section comparing the unintended consequences of each approach; it concludes that biotech is “not inherently hazardous.” Conventional breeding transfers thousands of unknown genes with unknown functions along with desired genes, and mutation breeding induces thousands of random mutations via chemicals or radiation. In contrast, the NAS report notes, biotech is arguably “more precise than conventional breeding methods because only known and precisely characterized genes are transferred.”
The case of mutation breeding is particularly interesting. In that method, researchers basically blast crop seeds with gamma radiation or bathe them in harsh chemicals to produce thousands of uncharacterized mutations, then plant them to see what comes up. The most interesting new mutants are then crossed with commercial varieties, which are then released to farmers. The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Mutant Varieties Database offers more 3,000 different mutated crop varieties to farmers. Many of these mutated varieties are planted as organic crops. Among of the more recent new mutant offerings are two corn varieties, Kneja 546 and Kneja 627. Whatever genetic changes wrought in these corn varieties by induced mutagenesis, they must be far less known to researchers than any changes made to standard-issue biotech crops, yet these mutants get practically no regulatory scrutiny or activist censure.
The point here is . . .
- Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Debunking the Anti-Monsanto/Anti-GMO claims (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Genetically Modified Crops. Why the big fuss? (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- European Agency’s Final Verdict on Controversial GM Study: Not Scientifically Sound (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Millions March Against Monsanto: A Global Awakening Covered Up by the Media | From Agent Orange to Pesticides and Genetically Engineered Crops. Why Not to Trust Monsanto (truth11.com)
- So What If Unregulated Genetically Engineered Wheat Is Found Growing on a Farm in Oregon? (reason.com)
- Anti-GMO leaders withdraw from ‘Great Biotech Debate’; Forum will go on (catalyzingillinois.com)
- Organic Consumers Association Calls for Immediate End to Field Testing GM Crops (dprogram.net)
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Has Links to GMOs (stateofglobe.com)
- The 10 Biggest GMO PR Disasters of 2012 (thelibertybeacon.com)
- U.S. discovery of rogue GMO wheat raises concerns over controls (reuters.com)
If you fear genetically modified food, you may have Mark Lynas to thank.
Recently i was having another one of my online debates with some conspiracists regarding genetically modified foods. In the course of my discussion i remembered the story of Mark Lynas, a former anti-GMO environmentalist who recently reversed his position and is now on a mission to expose the anti-GMO conspiracists.
March 9, 2013 – Mark Lynas spent years destroying genetically modified crops in the name of the environment. Now he’s told the world – and his fellow activists – that he was wrong.[. . .]
Back in the mid-90s he’d belonged to a “radical cell” of the anarchist, anti-capitalist environmental movement. He was influential – a co-founder of the magazine Corporate Watch who’d written the first article about the evils of Genetically Modified Organisms [GMOs] and Monsanto, the multinational biotech company whose work with GMOs was to become notorious. He was a law breaker. He’d pile into vans with gangs of up to 30 people and spend nights slashing GM crops with machetes. (source)
What makes this story so compelling is, Mark Lynas is by no means a lightweight in the arena of environmental activism. As the following article states, “Thanks to the efforts of Lynas and people like him, governments around the world—especially in Western Europe, Asia, and Africa—have hobbled GM research . . .”
So, I wanted to highlight the Mark Lynas story in my online debate and ask the conspiracists “what about Mark Lynas?”
But when i did a search here on my own blog, i couldn’t find the story! Apparently, i forgot to post this story back in January (2013) when it first came to my attention. Whoops.
Believe me, if you want to see anti-GMO conspiracists frothing at the mouth, ask them about Mark Lynas.
If you fear genetically modified food, you may have Mark Lynas to thank. By his own reckoning, British environmentalist helped spur the anti-GMO movement in the mid-‘90s, arguing as recently at 2008 that big corporations’ selfish greed would threaten the health of both people and the Earth. Thanks to the efforts of Lynas and people like him, governments around the world—especially in Western Europe, Asia, and Africa—have hobbled GM research, and NGOs like Greenpeace have spurned donations of genetically modified foods.
But Lynas has changed his mind—and he’s not being quiet about it. On [January 3, 2013] at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas delivered a blunt address: He got GMOs wrong.
His honest assessment of his heretofore poor understanding of the issue continues for almost 5,000 words—and it’s a must-[listen] for anyone who has ever hesitated over conventional produce. To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on “natural” agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either. Moreover, the reason why big companies dominate the industry is that anti-GMO activists and policymakers have made it too difficult for small startups to enter the field.
“In the history of #environmentalism, has there ever been a bigger mea culpa than that given here?” Discover blogger Keith Kloor tweeted. (Kloor recently called GMO foes “the climate skeptics of the left” in Slate.)
I can’t think of another environmentalist.
Mark Lynas speech hosted by the International Programs – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (50th Anniversary Celebration) , and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University
MORE . . .
- Mark Lynas (Wikipedia)
- Mark Lynas: truth, treachery and GM food (The Observer)
- Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong. (cuene.com)
- Nature’s Must-Read Special Issue on GMOs (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- The Positive Impact of Biotechnology on the Sustainability of the Agricultural and Food Industry (catalyzingillinois.com)
via The Soap Box
The Anti-vaccination crowd claims that vaccines can cause debilitating in children, primarily autism, while the Anti-GMO crowds claim that food from genetically modified plants are unhealthy and possibly dangerous.
While I know that both of these groups believe very strongly that what they are saying is true, and that they are spreading whatever they think is true because they only have “good intention” and think what they’re doing is right, the reality is what they are doing is very wrong.
Besides the fact that the information that both of these groups put out tends to be out right false, or is based upon outdated information, they don’t seem to realize the real damage they are actually doing.
For the Anti-vaccination, the damage is very obvious.
The spreading of the anti-vaccine propaganda has caused some parents to become unnecessarily fearful of vaccines, which in turn has cause those parents to choose to not allow their children to get vaccinated, which has caused the rise of many illnesses among children that I had not even heard of anyone getting when I was in school, and that for the most part I didn’t even think could kill someone because I had never heard of anyone dying from these illnesses before, more or less know someone who died from something like the measles.
As a result of this combination propaganda and paranoia, hundreds of children, if not more so, have died, and thousands of children have gotten sick unnecessarily because their parents failed to get them vaccinated, or because they were to young to get vaccinated, and they got sick from another child that was sick with something that could been prevent with a vaccine shot.
Then there is the Anti-GMO crowd, which while might not seem as harmful, could actually be worse.
- 5 Things I’ve noticed about… the Anti-Vaccination Movement (illuminutti.com)
- JENNY MCCARTHY, MASS MURDERER: Grieving parents speak out against anti-vaccination extremists. A… (pjmedia.com)
- Anti-vaccine mom changes mind (kottke.org)
via The Soap Box
On May 25, a local group held a protest near where I live to protest Monsanto and GMO foods.
The protest itself, while larger than what I actually expected, wasn’t as large as what it could have been, with maybe only about 50 to 60 people attending.
Now about a week before this protest occurred someone was going the area and putting up some posters on lamp post and electric post not only advertising the protest, but also making several claims against both Monsanto and GMO foods.
I’ve looked into these claims that were made, and this is what I have found:
1. Monsanto fights labeling laws.
This is true [read here] but only to a certain extent, and there are a lot of other companies and groups (including scientists) that oppose these laws because many of them consider them to be unfair, and/or leaves to many loop holes, and many opponents also claim that these laws are really attempts to out right ban GMO foods.
Also, when the people of California were given a chance to vote into law Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of GMO foods, the voters rejected it, so really you can’t actually blame Monsanto about that, because when given the chance, the people rejected such laws.
2. Monsanto’s propriety and legal actions harm small farmers.
Monsanto has, since the mid-1990’s, filled 145 suits against individual US farmers for patent infringement and/or breach of contract in connection with its genetically engineered seed, and while this may sound like a lot, this is actually a very small number in comparison to thousands of individual, independent farmers in the US.
Also, only 11 of these suits actually went to trial, all of which Monsanto won.
3. Scientists’ studies show severe damage to GMO-feed animals.
There was a study in 2012 by Gilles-Eric Seralini that claimed to show that rats feed GMO corn increased cancer rates in these rats compared to rats that were not feed GMO corn. This study has been highly criticized for certain unscientific methods (such as the failure to record the amounts of food the rats were feed and their growth rates) and has pretty much been debunked. [read here, here, and here]
Agent Orange was only used between 1965 to 1970 by the US military in Vietnam (before then they used a herbicide called Agent Blue). Even though this was true, you really can’t blame Monsanto because they are not the ones who actually used it. It was various governments around the world who used it. Monsanto (along with Dow Chemical) just made the stuff.
As for DDT, most countries have been banning the stuff since the 1960’s for agricultural use, and again, Monsanto is not the only company that made DDT, and it doesn’t even make it anymore because of the 1972 US ban.
5. Monsanto falsely advertised it’s Roundup as “biodegradable.”
In 2007 Monsanto was convicted in France for false advertisement of it’s product Roundup as being biodegradable. France is of course the only country that has done this, and some people might even claim that this is the result of France’s environmental laws, rather than reality as Glyphosate (the technical name for Roundup) does not bioaccumulate and breaks down rapidly in the environment.
Whether or Roundup should be considered biodegradable or not seems to be more of a matter of opinion then fact.
6. Monsanto blocks regulations. It’s CEOs are in a revolving door from Monsanto to FDA (ex: Micheal Taylor, current Food Safety Czar).
This is completely false. Micheal Taylor (whomever he is) was never the Food Safety Czar. There has only been one Food Safety Czar, and that was Dr. David Acheson, and he only had that position from 2007 to 2008.
Monsanto can not actually block regulations, all it can do is lobby against laws and regulations that could affect it’s business, and there is no “revolving door”, so to speak, between Monsanto and the FDA.
- European Agency’s Final Verdict on Controversial GM Study: Not Scientifically Sound (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Why the big fuss about GMO crops? (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE
- New Yorkers protest to have GMO foods labeled (pix11.com)
- Pissed-Off Activists in Butterfly Suits Rally Against Monsanto (foodbeast.com)
- Protestors rally against Monsanto (stltoday.com)