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.
“The potential danger from EM fields is making millions of human beings into test animals,” Ted Koppel solemnly intones in a 1990 Nightline report on electromagnetic fields from power lines. But two decades and hundreds of studies later, there has been no great cancer epidemic caused by power lines. Why did we get so scared in the first place?
The latest video from Retro Report, a series reexamining the breathless news coverage of yore, delves into the late 80s and 90s panic over electromagnetic fields. A small number of suggestive—but inconclusive—studies showed a possible link between the presence of power lines and cancer in children. With power lines threading through every neighborhood, parents naturally panicked.
Retro Report tracks down David Savitz, one of the first epidemiologists to find a link between power lines and childhood cancer. Savitz now disavows that link, dismissing those early studies as aberrations in what is now a huge body of literature that finds no risk from electromagnetic fields. This is just how science works— with contradictions and in fits and starts.
The evening news may no longer be yammering about power lines and cancer, but the same story is still playing out with GMOs and cell phone radiation. [Retro Report]
Later this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture may approve the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, the first genetically modified apples to hit the market. Although it will probably be another two years before the non-browning fruits appears in stores, at least one producer is already scrambling to label its apples GMO-free.
The looming apple campaign is just the latest salvo in the ongoing war over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—one that’s grown increasingly contentious.
[ . . . ]
But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends.
[ . . . ]
So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.
Continue reading: the 10 Common GMO Claims Debunked
If you care about what is in your food, you have no greater sympathetic intellect than me.
But if you are an anti-science activist, you may not understand the distinction between what is in your food and what it simply is – and there we part company. A genetic modification (GMO) is your food, for example, it is no different than any other food from a health perspective. Cataloging the numerous ways agriculture has genetically engineered food for as long as food has been grown is outside the scope of this piece, but GMOs don’t bother me and that science shouldn’t bother you either. (1)
Pesticides do bother me, and you have a reason to be concerned about those. If you think you don’t need to wash organic food before you eat it, I think you need a sanity test. An organic pesticide is not superior to a synthetic one nor is eating animal feces on vegetables any smarter than eating man-made fertilizer.
That is where anti-science activists miss the mark. Caring about one thing we know is harmless while pretending something we know is harmful is not, if it carries an organic label, is a real mistake for their credibility. I care about food but putting a label on every food that has a GMO (yet exempting mutagenesis, which is all the rage in Europe now, precisely because it is genetic optimization, but not the legally vilified kind) and not putting a label on pesticide-laden organic food would be silly.(2)
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)
Throughout this year there were a lot of new conspiracy theories going around. Some of them were scary. Some of them were weird. And some of them were just bizarre, absurd, and dumb to the point where one would either have to laugh at them, or pull their hair out in frustration.
The following list are ten of what I feel are the strangest and most bizarre and/or absurd conspiracy theories of 2013:
10. Robert Sarvis was a Democratic plant to help Terry McAuliffe win the Virginia gubernatorial election.
(Author’s note: being that I am from Virginia, I just felt that I had to mention this one)
In the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election there were a lot of accusations that went back and forth (some true, some not) but one of the biggest accusation didn’t come during the election, but afterwards. The accusation that I’m talking about is the one that claims that Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis was actually a shill or plant by the Democrats inorder to steal votes away from Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli and to help guarantee victory for Terry McAuliffe.
Now as plausible as this may sound, there are just two problems with this: First there is no guarantee that the people who voted for Sarvis would have voted for Cuccinelli, and second most of the polls before the election showed that McAuliffe had an over 50% lead, and thus a spoiler candidate would not have been needed inorder to win. Also, besides those facts and the fact that there is no actual evidence that Sarvis was a Democratic plant, it’s just as likely that Sarvis actually took away votes from McAuliffe as it is from Cuccinelli.
While conspiracy theories against GMO foods are nothing new, what is new is that the Anti-GMO movement now seems to be focusing their claims on one company: Monsanto.
From what I can tell from their claims Monsanto pretty much controls the FDA, the farming industry, the food industry, Obama, the media, the U.S. Supreme Court, law enforcement, any blog that debunks the anti-GMO movement’s claims, all the science organizations, and that Monsanto is responsible for every atrocity committed in the world since World War Two.
According to many in the anti-GMO movement Monsanto does all of this inorder to sell you a product that (insert the anti-GMO claim of your choice).
8. The Boston Marathon bombing was a false flag attack.
On April 15 one of the worst terrorist attacks in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks occurred at one of the largest sporting events in the U.S., the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and 264 people were injured, many of who also lost limbs, or were otherwise permanently maimed in some way. Also, like clock work, conspiracy theories about the bombing started to be posted all over the internet within minutes of the attack.
The most common of the claims were that it was a false flag attack, and then later de-evolved into stranger conspiracy theories in that both the suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were under some kind of government mind control, right on down to the most absurd claim of there being no attack at all and that the whole thing was staged and that no one was actually hurt or killed.
Besides the fact that all of these claims were absurd on face value alone and were quickly debunked, they were also very disrespectful and just plain disgusting.
Over the summer actress Amanda Bynes began engaging in behavior that ranged from bizarre to down right dangerous. This behavior of her’s eventually lead to her being involuntarily committed into psychiatric care.
Now to most people this looks like a simple enough case of a young woman whom is mentally ill and whom’s mental illness has caused her to act out in bizarre and dangerous ways. To a conspiracy theorist on the other hand it’s a clear case of Illuminati mind control.
The main theory that is going around is that Amanda was being groomed by the Illuminati as part of a youth indoctrination program, and that she had decided to break away from them. When Amanda did allegedly break away from them one of two things happen: Either that the indoctrination was so intense that she could not function on her own and her mind snapped, or she was driven insane via remote mind control.
While this explanation kind of makes sense in a weird way, the one theory behind her behavior that makes even more sense is that she is either schizophrenic or bi-polar. Combined with her age, and her escalating erratic behavior over the past few years, this makes a lot more sense than a couple of conspiracy theories that range from being far fetched to pretty much impossible.
6. The Xbox One can see you naked.
When the Xbox One and all of it’s feature were announced there were many concerns (some legit, some not) but one of the biggest concerns that in itself became a conspiracy theory is that the new gaming counsel (through it’s inbuilt motion sensing Kinect system) can see you naked, even with your clothes on. The reason behind this claim is due to a photo of a test subject seen through the view of the Kinect that allegedly shows his ding-dong, despite the fact that he is wearing clothes.
As it turns out that wasn’t the man’s private parts, but was actually a fold in his pants that people mistook for his you-know-what. Although it should be noted that the Xbox One can see you naked… if you’re actually playing a video game infront of it while naked (and if that’s your thing then have fun playing with it… the Xbox One I mean).
- Eleven Dumb Conspiracy Theories (illuminutti.com)
- 5 Things I’ve noticed about… Conspiracy Theorists on Youtube (illuminutti.com)
- When Noam Chomsky says that’s an idiotic idea, he’s probably right (illuminutti.com)
- Why I Love GMOs (thelibertarianrepublic.com)
- The Only Study to Link GMO Foods to Cancer Retracted (depletedcranium.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)
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)
Bad science in the paper ‘Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant GM maize’
Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modiﬁed maize
Spontaneous Tumours in Sprague-Dawley Rats and Swiss Mice
I never used to write much about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) before. I still don’t do it that often. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t been on my radar very much. That seems to be changing, however. It’s not because I went seeking this issue out (although I must admit that I first became interested in genetic engineering when I was in junior high and read a TIME Magazine cover article about it back in the 1970s), but rather because in my reading I keep seeing it more and more in the context of anti-GMO activists using bad science and bad reasoning to justify a campaign to demonize GMOs. Now, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, (Forgive me, I have no idea why I like that expression, given that I don’t hunt.) I really don’t. I was, not too long ago, fairly agnostic on the issue of GMOs and their safety, although, truth be told, because I have PhD in a biomedical science and because my lab work has involved molecular biology and genetics since I was a graduate student in the early 1990s, I found the claims of horrific harm attributable to GMOs not particularly convincing, but hadn’t bothered to take that deep a look into them. It was not unlike my attitude towards the the claims that cell phones cause cancer a few years ago, before I looked into them and noted the utter lack of a remotely-plausible mechanism and uniformly negative studies except for a group in Sweden with a definite ax to grind on the issue. Back then, I realized that there wasn’t really a plausible mechanism by which radio waves from cell phones could cause cancer in that the classic mechanisms by which ionizing radiation can break DNA molecular bonds and cause mutations don’t apply, but I didn’t rule out a tiny possibility that there might be an as-yet unappreciated mechanism by which long term exposure to radio waves might contribute to cancer. I still don’t, by the way, which has gotten me into the odd kerfuffle with some skeptics and one physicist, but I still view the likelihood that cell phone radiation can cause cancer as being just a bit more plausible than homeopathy.
As was the case for the nonexistent cell phone-cancer link, there has now been a steady drip-drip-drip of bad studies touted by anti-GMO activists as “evidence” that GMOs are the work of Satan that will corrupt or kill us all (and make us fat, to boot). Not too long ago, I came across one such study, a truly execrable excuse for science by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen purporting to demonstrate that Roundup-resistant genetically modified maize can cause horrific tumors in rats. I looked at the methods and conclusions and what I found was . . .
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)
When I saw on Twitter that a ‘major new peer-reviewed study’ was about to reveal serious health impacts from GMO corn and soya, I was intrigued to say the least. Would this be Seralini 2.0, a propaganda effort by anti-biotech campaigners masquerading as proper science, or something truly new and ground-breaking?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – and it would take a lot of extraordinary evidence to confound the hundreds of studies showing that GMO foods are just as safe as conventional, as summarised in this recent AAAS statement:
“The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”
So when I found the paper, again via Twitter, I determined to read it as I would a climate ‘denier’ paper which aimed to overturn the scientific consensus in that area – with an open mind, but a sceptical one. I could see that it was already generating news, and the anti-GMO crowd on Twitter were also getting excited about some new grist to their ideological mill. Here’s what Reuters wrote:
“Pigs fed a diet of only genetically modified grain showed markedly higher stomach inflammation than pigs who dined on conventional feed, according to a new study by a team of Australian scientists and U.S. researchers.”
- The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops (illuminutti.com)
- Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong. (illuminutti.com)
- Former anti-GMO crusader speaks at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (stltoday.com)
- Why Exactly Do People Care About GMO Foods? (minus the hysteria) (jessicagottlieb.com)
- Chuck Norris puts the hurt on GMO foods (wnd.com)
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)
Are they indeed as terrible as some people say?
- Whole Foods, others to shun genetically modified seafood (reuters.com)
- Growing concerns: Rise of modified plants raise questions (poststar.com)
- Poll Shows What Americans Think Of GMOs (huffingtonpost.com)
- A founder of the anti-GM food movement on how he got it wrong (macleans.ca)