Tag Archives: genetically modified organisms

Organic Farming is Bad for the Environment

By vie NeuroLogica Blog

Marketing sometimes involves the science of making you believe something that is not true, with the specific goal of selling you something (a product, service, or even ideology). The organic lobby, for example, has done a great job of creating a health halo and environmentally friendly halo for organic produce, while simultaneously demonizing their competition (recently focusing on GMOs).

These claims are all demonstrably wrong, however. Organic food is no more healthful or nutritious than conventional food. Further, GMO technology is safe and there are no health concerns with the GMO products currently on the market.

There is an even more stark difference, however, between beliefs about the effects of organic farming on the environment and reality.  In fact organic farming is worse for the environment than conventional farming in terms of the impact vs the amount of food produced.

First, organic farming may use pesticides. They just have to be “natural” pesticides, which means the ones they use are not chosen based upon their properties. Ideally choice of pesticide and the strategy in using them would be evidence-based and optimized for best effect, minimal impact on health and the environment, cost effectiveness, and convenience.   Organic farming, however, does not make evidence-based outcome choices. Their primary criterion is that the pesticides must be “natural”, even if they are worse in every material aspect. This represents ideology trumping evidence. It is based on the “appeal to nature” fallacy, an unwarranted assumption that something “natural” will be magically better than anything manufactured.

In fact my main complaint against the organic label is that it represents an ideological false dichotomy. Each farming practice should be judged on its own merits, rather than having a bunch of practices ideologically lumped under one brand. I don’t care if a practice is considered organic or not, all that matters is the outcome.

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The Colossal Hoax Of Organic Agriculture

By Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen via Forbes

Consumers of organic foods are getting both more and less than they bargained for. On both counts, it’s not good.
orhanic cost moreMany people who pay the huge premium—often more than a hundred percent–for organic foods do so because they’re afraid of pesticides.  If that’s their rationale, they misunderstand the nuances of organic agriculture. Although it’s true that synthetic chemical pesticides are generally prohibited, there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act, while most “natural” ones are permitted. However, “organic” pesticides can be toxic.  As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a 2012 Scientific American article (“Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not.”): “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 13: A label stating ‘Produce of USA’ is wrapped around a bunch of organic carrots at a farmers market on June 13, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 13: A label stating ‘Produce of USA’ is wrapped around a bunch of organic carrots at a farmers market on June 13, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Another poorly recognized aspect of this issue is that the vast majority of pesticidal substances that we consume are in our diets “naturally and are present in organic foods as well as non-organic ones. In a classic study, UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues found that “99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticidesorganic_150px in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.” Moreover, “natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.” Thus, consumers who buy organic to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on just one-hundredth of one percent of the pesticides they consume.
Some consumers think that the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires certified organic products to be free of ingredients from “GMOs,” organisms crafted with molecular techniques of genetic engineering. Wrong again. USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free. (In any case, the methods used to create so-called GMOs are an extension, or refinement, of older techniques for genetic modification that have been used for a century or more.) As USDA officials have said repeatedly:

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]

Putting it another way, so long as an organic farmer abides by his organic system (production) plan–a plan that an organic certifying agent must approve before granting the farmer organic status–the unintentional presence of GMOs (or, for that matter, prohibited synthetic pesticides) in any amount does not affect the organic status of the farmer’s products or farm.

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Bill Nye’s Suspicious Change of Heart on GMOs After Visiting Monsanto

SallyPainterBy Sally Painter via Top Secret Writers

For years, Bill Nye the Science Guy has educated audiences, especially children, about using science over assumptions, misconceptions and fears.Nye Bill_200pxHis focus has been on scientific reasoning for supporting the use of vaccinations, addressing climate change and fighting against the teaching of creationism. So when he switched from being cautionary and non-supportive of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) foods to being enamored of GMOs, his fan base was left scratching their collective heads.What caused Nye’s 180 degree shift of opinion about GMOs? He’s not saying just yet, but the change happened after he accepted an invitation from GMO giant Monsanto to visit their facility and talk with their scientists.

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.gmo-labeling_2_150px

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.

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Glyphosate Causes Cancer – So Do Apples

By The Original Skeptical Raptor via Skeptical Raptor

Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup)  is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that are known to compete with commercial crops grown around the world. glyphosate-roundup-monsanto_250pxIt has several advantages over many herbicides in that it breaks down in the soil into non-toxic organic molecules, reducing or eliminating contamination of groundwater and lower soils.

Monsanto has developed genetically modified (GMO) grains that are resistant to glyphosate, so that agriculture can apply the herbicide to kill the competitive weeds while not harming the crop. This allows farmers to suppress the weeds while allowing better production out of the grain crop.

Whatever the benefits of glyphosate, GMOs and the herbicide are tied together in many minds. And there has been an ongoing effort by many people to claim that glyphosate causes cancer. But let’s look at the science, because maybe we’ll get some information.

What’s this about cancer?

The famous (or is that infamous?) study from Séralini, which claimed that glyphosate and GMO corn caused cancer in rats, is quite popular with the anti-GMO forces. For many reasons, including bad statistics, improper experimental design, and bad conclusions, the article was retracted by the journal.

Because that article was retracted, it doesn’t actually count because it really doesn’t exist (but to be fair, it was eventually, re-published in a very low ranked journal). This story is frighteningly similar to the story of that cunning fraudMrAndy Wakefield, who wrote a fraudulent, and ultimately retracted, article about vaccines and autism. I guess Séralini  is the Wakefield of the GMO world.

There are better studies out there–maybe.

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GMO Facts and Fiction

See if you know how many of these GMO “facts” are right.

Brian Dunningby 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,gmo-labeling_2_150px 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. GMO killer tomato_200pxRotating 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.

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