By Myles Power
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that goes by many brand names, but the one most will be familiar with is Splenda. The sweetener is synthesised by the selective protection, chlorination, and then deportation of table sugar, resulting in a compound which is approximately 650 times sweeter. It is found in many lower-calorie foods including chewing gum, cereals, and diet pop, and is considered to be safe for human consumption. However, there are some online who disagree and believe that the artificial sweetener poses a real health risk. Why do these people believe this? and is there any validity to their claims? As I did with aspartame, I believe the best way to answer these questions is to give Natural News a visit.
I’ve frequently written about the “arrogance of ignorance,” a phenomenon that anyone who’s paid attention to what quacks, cranks, or antivaccine activists (but I repeat myself) write and say beyond a certain period of time will have encountered. Basically, it’s the belief found in such people—and amplified in groups—that somehow they can master a subject as well or better than experts who have spent their entire professional lives studying the subject on their own, often just through the use of Google University and the echo chamber discussion forums that they frequent with their fellow cranks. Thus we have, for example, the rambling clown car of antivaccine bloggers over at the crank blog Age of Autism declaring that, contrary to the mountains of evidence otherwise, vaccines cause autism, “brain damage,” autoimmune diseases and all sorts of mean and nasty other conditions. Skeptics quite properly point out that (1) there is no convincing evidence from well-designed and well-executed studies to support these links; (2) there is a lot of evidence from well-designed and well-executed studies that there is no link between vaccines and these conditions given that such studies invariably are unable to detect differences in the prevalence of these conditions associated with vaccines (or, in the case of the mercury militia, thimerosal-containing vaccines); meaning (3) the most parsimonious explanation for these results is that there almost certainly no link. What is the response? Antivaccine cranks will invoke the pharma shill gambit and all sorts of dire conspiracies on the part of the CDC, big pharma, the FDA, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to “suppress” smoking gun evidence that vaccines cause autism.
This is a well-known phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, a phenomenon whereby people who are unknowledgeable or incompetent about a topic hold an unjustifiably elevated estimate of their own knowledge base on the topic. In the antivaccine movement, the Dunning-Kruger effect tends to take the form of parents who think that their University of Google knowledge trumps the knowledge of physicians and scientists . . .
By Debra Kelly via Listverse
The main goal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to, theoretically, keep us safe from all those nasty diseases that they have locked away in their labs, their clean rooms, and their biohazard vaults. But, people are people, and people are naturally suspicious of anyone with that many nasty tools at their disposal. This has led a some pretty wild theories about just what’s going on behind the closed doors of the CDC.
10 • The Coffin Stockpile
The CDC is located in Atlanta, Georgia, and that didn’t go unnoticed by people who had also seen what looked like a huge stockpile of coffins sitting in a field along Interstate 20, outside Madison, Georgia. Throw in proximity to the airport, and the rumor mill started turning.
According to the conspiracy theorists, the field was the site of coffins that the CDC was stockpiling in preparation for what they were calling a “high-casualty event.” Most recently, that was the massive Ebola outbreak, when conspiracy theorists realized that not only were the coffins still there, but there was also a page on the CDC website dedicated to the handling and disposal of the bodies of people who had died from Ebola. The site absolutely does specify that special caskets were required for burial. (Originally, they were called “hermetically sealed caskets,” a term that was replaced with “metal” caskets in a January 2015 update.)
There are a couple of huge problems with the whole theory. For one, the caskets are not actually caskets; they’re burial vault liners, which are placed inside the grave in areas that are prone to ground conditions like flooding. The heavy liners keep soil from shifting and collapsing into a wooden casket. Also, the burial vaults don’t belong to the CDC, FEMA, or any other government agency; they belong to the company that manufactures them, Vantage Products. The field in Georgia is just where they store them, and there’s nothing fishy about it, as their manufacturing facilities are located nearby.
9 • The Man-Made AIDS Virus
The idea that AIDS was a man-made virus unleashed on an unsuspecting population really got its start in an East German publication, allegedly sponsored by the KGB, called AIDS: USA Home-Made Evil. The 1986 work of two scientists, the pamphlet argued that the American government had used their Fort Detrick, Maryland, laboratory to combine a sheep virus with a human one to create AIDS.
The whole idea was taken a step further by Dr. William C. Douglass, who wrote AIDS: The End of Civilization and claimed that the German scientists were right, and the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC were responsible for the introduction of the virus into the human population. He claimed it wasn’t hard because it was spread through pretty much any kind of casual contact that you could think of, including mosquitoes.
Strecker Group head Dr. Robert Strecker also jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon with some even more impressive theories. According to him, the CDC is actively spreading the AIDS virus, which is actually a hybrid between a cow virus and a human one, and there are six different types of AIDS viruses all engineered in what he vaguely suggested might be a partnership with the Communists. His theories, works, and poorly made amateur videos went on to inspire Dr. Alan Cantwell, who pointed the finger at the CDC for what he believed were clear political motivations for their active spread of AIDS.
According to Cantwell, the CDC is the instrument of a genocide targeting America’s gay population. One of his fellow theorists goes, amazingly, a step further and suggests that this incredible attempt at genocide calls for nothing less than martial law and a revocation of civil liberties while the whole problem is sorted out.
8 • The CDC, Mercury-Tainted Vaccines, And Autism
The battle over whether parents should or shouldn’t vaccinate their children is an ongoing one, and there’s a pretty fascinating story on the conspiracy theorists’ side. In 2005, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. published an article in Rolling Stone linking the big pharmaceutical chains with the government’s tendency to hide potentially dangerous effects.
According to Kennedy, the CDC held a meeting at the Simpsonwood Conference Center, that he described using words and phrases like “isolated” and “complete secrecy.” It was invitation-only, and only top officials from various parts of the government were invited—from the FDA, the WHO, and everyone from a who’s-who list of drug companies. They were under strict orders not to discuss anything.
The whole meeting allegedly had to do with findings released by a CDC epidemiologist that linked mercury-based vaccines with a high rate of autism and other developmental problems like delays in speech and hyperactivity. According to the data, vaccines were responsible for raising the instances of autism to one in 166 cases—up from the normal one in 2,500.
The rest of the conference, Kennedy says, was spent discussing how to cover everything up. He says that the transcripts of the super-top-secret meeting (which he acquired through the Freedom of Information Act) detail the damage control mode that all the representatives went into. Data was reworked, and the CDC was more than happy to lend a helping hand in getting rid of the mercury-based vaccinations, not by destroying them but by selling them and exporting them to other countries.
The transcripts convinced Kennedy that the dangers of vaccinations were real, pointing out that other countries, including Russia, had banned the mercury-based additive from vaccinations decades ago. He goes on to say that the clear conflict of interest and the connections between the CDC and the financial interests of the drug companies make it clear that something needs to be done.
The story hasn’t had an easy run of it. Originally, it first appeared in both Salon and Rolling Stone. Salon retracted the story, while it remained up on the Rolling Stone site in a pay-only section, until disappearing in what they called a “redesign error.” The article then reappeared, and Rolling Stone denied that they had purposely removed it, even though there were no links to the article anywhere, and search terms turned up nothing.
According to Kennedy, there are two doctors that have had access to the information he did: Mark and David Geiers. The Geiers themselves are controversial at best, promoting what they call a cure for autism that involves chemical castration. Mark Geier’s medical license was suspended for promoting this “cure,” and David Geier, who wasn’t even a doctor, was charged with practicing medicine without a license.
Today we’re going to point the skeptical eye at popular claims that ordinary radios — such as walkie talkies, police and emergency radios, and those embedded in devices such as cell phones, wi-fi hubs, and smart utility meters — are dangerous. Some say they cause cancer, some say they present other more nebulous health risks. How concerned do you need to be that something as ubiquitous as radio could be doing you more harm than good?
This issue rose to the headlines in popular media with a frightening announcement in May of 2011 by the World Health Organization. The press release stated that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had placed radiofrequency (RF) in their Group 2B of possible carcinogens due to an increased risk of the brain cancer glioma associated with the use of mobile phones. Unfortunately, very few people actually read the release, and saw only that headline, which presents a highly skewed perspective of what was actually said. As a result, new movements arose worldwide, notably in Canada, for certain RF devices to be banned. Canada’s Green party openly called for the elimination of wi-fi computer networks in schools, and many groups have campaigned against the purported health effects of smart meters (like this and this).
My question to the groups actively campaigning against stuff that’s in Group 2B is “Do you drink coffee?” Most do, and yet coffee is also in Group 2B. So are the crafts of carpentry and joinery. Pickled vegetables, coconut oil, and even the Earth’s magnetic field are in Group 2B. Now, granted, it would be fallacious logic to say that just because these other things sound ordinary and safe, that makes radiofrequency safe; but it is true that the World Health Organization considers them to be similarly risky.
Group 1 is the classification for things that have been found to be carcinogenic. This includes ultraviolet radiation, tobacco, and plutonium.
Group 2A is the classification for probable carcinogens, things that have not yet been found to cause cancer but for which there is good evidence they might. This includes engine exhaust and working in the petroleum industry.
Group 2B is the list of possible carcinogens, which are things that have not been found to cause cancer but for which there is cause to study further. It is a list of items which have not — repeat, not — been found to be carcinogenic. Will they tomorrow? Maybe, but they’re not now, according to what we know so far.
If the World Health Organization is the authority whose word you’re going on, then you should look at what they actually say. Their position paper on radio frequencies and electromagnetic radiation states unequivocally that:
…Current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.
Nor should we expect such consequences. Radiofrequency is all around us, and always has been. Tune any radio to a station containing static and what you’re hearing is normal background radiation. About 1% of that static is actually left over from the Big Bang. But just because radiofrequency is natural for all living beings throughout the universe, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. To determine whether something is safe, we look at the data. So let’s look at what we know so far.
The electromagnetic spectrum is pretty simple to understand. It starts at the low end with a frequency of zero, up through the radio frequencies, past visible light and up through gamma rays and onto infinity, with higher and higher frequencies. The frequencies at the lower end are what we call non-ionizing, because they lack sufficient energy to strip electrons and change chemistry. The frequencies at the higher end are ionizing, which makes it damaging to living tissue. The dividing line between the two is the upper end of visible light, where ultraviolet begins. A sunburn is actually tissue damage caused by ionizing radiation; that UV has enough energy to just barely penetrate the outer layer of your skin. But as we go even higher, into the X-ray range, the radiation is energetic enough to penetrate all the way through your body. X-rays can be stopped by the lead-lined blanket they give you. But even higher energy frequencies, like the strongest cosmic rays, can go all the way through the entire planet.
So remember that dividing line. Visible light, like that inside your home, is generally safe as are all the radio frequencies below it. Ultraviolet light, and everything higher, is damaging.
Yet claims persist of harm from non-ionizing radiation, and they’ll often cite studies showing a biological effect from some manifestation of radio. There are only a handful of such studies which are repeatedly cited, in comparison to the more than 25,000 studies surveyed by the WHO that found no reason for concern.
Perhaps the most vocal of all the anti-radio activists is . . .
- The Harmful Effects of Cell Phones and How to Reduce It (secretsofthefed.com)
- UK doctors say halt Smart Meters (the-tap.blogspot.com)
A recent article in The Star tells of “One Woman’s Battle with Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity,” without a hint critical thinking, skepticism, or actual investigative journalism anywhere in evidence. This is one of those issues that does not appear to be going away anytime soon, despite a fairly solid scientific consensus that there is no such thing as electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).
The claim is that certain people are especially sensitive to electromagnetic radiation in the frequency range used by modern technology (EMF) – wifi, cell phones, and radio. Exposure, they claim, causes a variety of symptoms. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) review:
“It comprises nervous system symptoms like headache, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, skin symptoms like prickling, burning sensations and rashes, pain and ache in muscles and many other health problems.”
It is important to note up front, and the WHO document reflects this, that no one doubts that people who identify themselves as EHS sufferers are having the symptoms they claim. The question is about the identified cause – electromagnetic radiation. There are very good reasons to doubt that this is the cause.
The plausibility of EHS is very low, although skeptics argue about whether or not it is truly zero. EMF is non-ionizing radiation, meaning that it is too low energy to break chemical bonds. It is therefore not clear how it could have a significant effect on biological function. Our nervous systems do not appear to have receptors sensitive enough to pick up ambient radio signals. If we are being conservative, however, we can take the approach that plausibility is low, but there is a physical phenomenon present in EMF, and so perhaps it is having a biological effect through some unknown mechanism.
What, then, is the evidence for and against EHS? Self-identified EHS suffers claim that they can detect the presence of EMF because it causes symptoms. This leads to a very testable hypothesis – are EHS sufferers better able to detect the presence of EMF than healthy controls?
A number of studies have been performed to test this hypothesis, with a very clear outcome. When EHS sufferers are blinded to the presence of EMF they are unable to detect whether or not it is present. A 2005 review of such studies concluded:
- Nocebo Mass Delusion (illuminutti.com)
- Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Still Dubious (randi.org)
- Media Reports on Health Hazards May Affect the Health of Some People (medindia.net)
- A New Allergy, Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (stopsmartmeters.com.au)
- Could You Be Sensitive To Technology? (dangerouslee.biz)
- One woman’s battle with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (thestar.com)
- Electromagnetic Frequencies and Their Effects Upon the Immune System (rawlivingfoods.typepad.com)
- DANGER: Reading articles about health and disease can make you feel ill (thisismoney.co.uk)
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)