Mark Bittman is a well-respected food writer. While he did not, as far as I can tell, ever attend culinary school, he took the time and trouble to inform himself in detail about all aspects of cooking and explain it to his admiring readers.
This does not apply to his views on biotechnology and agriculture, which he seems to have gathered from propaganda releases from the Organic Consumer’s Association, and his current employer, the extremist Union of Concerned Scientists. On these issues he is woefully uninformed, and should not be taken seriously.
He starts by claiming that “Big Food and its allies” spent $100 million to counter the movement to label GMO foods. Of course, he does not mention how much the anti-GMO propagandists spent to fill Congress’s ears with pseudo-scientific nonsense. In fact, as we have already explained. The bill says that labeling is required for
“…a food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques.”
It also says that labeling can be a barcode, a QR code, a URL or a phone number where you can get further information. He bemoans the fact that not everyone has a smartphone. Not everyone has a price code scanner either, and most supermarkets provide price code check scanners throughout the store. This is not a serious issue.
What is a serious issue is Bittman’s continuing insistence that you “have the right to know what’s in your food.” This seductive slogan (sort of like the “death tax”) makes people believe that GMO foods contain different and dangerous ingredients. They do not. “GMOs” are not an ingredient: they are a breeding process that allows farmers to grow better crops. They are nutritionally identical to the non-GMO version or they WOULD have to be labeled. There is no there there, as he sheepishly admits in paragraph 9. The foods are the same, and after over 20 years on the market, not a single illness has been found that can be attributed to biotechnology.
But he then goes on to claim that our system for declaring products safe “leaves much to be desired.” Really? Years of feeding trials and FDA-mandated testing doesn’t count? Where’s his evidence? I venture to suggest he has none other than the usual ignorant left fearmongering.
He suggests that using GMO crops has encouraged the growth of weeds that are resistant to herbicides. Overuse of a single herbicide can indeed lead to weed resistance, but this is a farming problem, not a biotechnology problem, than can be solved with crop and herbicide rotation. In fact, pulling weeds by hand can lead to weeds evolved to look mimic the crops. “Superweeds” are just weeds that are hard to kill, as Porterfield explains and result from overuse of a single herbicide.
BIttman further sloganeers about the “fertilizer and pesticide dependent monoculture that is wrecking our land and water.” Citation please? Here’s one: Klumper and Qaim in PLOS One.
On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.
Doesn’t sound too bad. And clearly the land is not being ruined or this would not continue. And as Katiraee explains, a “monoculture” is just a big field of the same crop: whether corn or spinach. That’s how agriculture works: they grow a lot of food. This is not harmful and it has nothing to do with “GMOs.” And pesticides are part of large scale agriculture: they are not overused, because that would be wasteful, but you can’t grow a lot of food without controlling pests, as Jenny Dewey Rohrich explains.
Bittman says consumers should now be demanding even more information on agriculture, such as whether traces of pesticides remain. They don’t. The level of pesticide applications permitted by the USDA leaves far lower amounts of pesticides than can ever be harmful to humans, even if eaten every day. And again, we need to go back to Bruce Ames’ research on pesticide residues that found that the carcinogenic pesticides that plants themselves make to defend themselves occur in concentrations 10,000 times higher than any farmer-applied pesticide residues. They are so small that they simply don’t matter.
Dr Jill Stein is a perennial candidate: she has run for many offices, including Massachusetts governor andfor President in 2012, and has never won any election, beyond a representative to the Lexington, MA Town Meeting (this is a low bar, indeed). Nor has she any experience in government. She runs under the banner of the Green Party, which is a minor party which an attendee described in the New York Times as “kind of small and disorganized and, honestly, just weird.”
Now Jill Stein is trained as a physician and graduated from Harvard Medical School, where she presumably had to study science in both her undergraduate and graduate curriculum. However, she retired from medical practice in 2005 and seems to have been ignoring science ever since. Her anti-science statements are both alarming and somewhere between ridiculous and just plain dumb.
WiFi Signals? Really?
For example, she recently said that it is dangerous to expose kids to WiFi signals! There is, of course, not s shred of evidence for such a claim, and as Bob Park explained so eloquently some years ago, microwaves are too low energy to break any chemical bonds, so they can’t really cause any harm. This sort of statement is simply pandering to the fears of the uninformed, and a cheap way to troll for votes, in much the same way Trump has been doing.
But it gets far worse. Her platform says she will
Ban neonicotinoids and other pesticides that threaten the survival of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
There is no evidence that neonicotinoids have any effect on the population of bees. The USDA says that the three major causes of colony collapse are then Varroa destructor mite, the Israeli acute paralysis virus, and the movement of colonies to use in pollination. Neonicotinoids, like any insecticide can kill any insects, but they were developed to be safer than any prior insecticide. For most major crops, they pose no real harm to bees. The exceptions are cotton and citrus. And, of course, there is no bee population problem, the population has been growing steadily for some years.
The Precautionary Principle
Stein says we should uphold and expand the Precautionary Principle, which says that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof that it is not harmful lies with those proposing the action. The problem with the principle as stated is that the level of risk is no longer considered, and that such policies are likely to block innovation.
Support organic and regenerative agriculture
Sorry Jill, organic farming is a prescientific technique based on the naturalistic fallacy, and having yields 50%-80% of conventional agriculture. It is essentially a marketing term. Thus, purchasing organic produce is the purview only of wealthy white people. There is not enough land to expand organic’s low yield techniques and still feed our growing populace; it cannot feed the world. Further, there is substantial evidence that organic has a higher carbon footprint (because of composting of manure, as well as more tilling) and is less sustainable because of its likelihood of polluting the ground water. No-till farming using low impact herbicides is much more the technique of the future. Organic farming still uses pesticides, just different ones that they have to spray more often because they are ineffective, and organic crops are nutritionally equivalent to conventional ones.
Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.
“…evidence is now showing that once these foods reach our digestive tract, they can affect our very DNA. “
What utter nonsense. You eat genes every day in every single food, but somehow these magic genes affect your DNA? This was ridiculed by my colleague Laya Katiraee, comparing it to a boa constrictor eating a rat and creating a hybrid “rat-strictor.” And Stein surely learned this in medical school.
Homeopathy is a pseudo-scientific practice where medicines are diluted so many millions of times that not a single molecule of the medicine remains. It is that solution that is used to “treat patients.” The Green Party Platform supports homeopathy as well as naturopathy, herbal medicines and other quack treatments.
How does Stein stand on those? With an evasive round-de-lay of accusations against corporations:
The Green Party platform here takes an admittedly simple position on a complex issue, and should be improved.
I agree that just because something’s untested – as much of the world of alternative medicine is – doesn’t mean it’s safe. But by the same token, being “tested” and “reviewed” by agencies directly tied to big pharma and the chemical industry is problematic as well. There’s no shortage of snake oil being sold there. Ultimately, we need research and licensing establishments that are protected from corrupting conflicts of interest. And their purview should not be limited by arbitrary definitions of what is “natural.”
Would you buy a used car from someone that evades the point like that?
Pandering to the Anti-vaccine unscientific left
In Stein’s Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) she said vaccines were important but that she was suspicious of those in the US,
Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure–each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them. In an age when industry lobbyists and CEOs are routinely appointed to key regulatory positions through the notorious revolving door, it’s no wonder many Americans don’t trust the FDA to be an unbiased source of sound advice.
This is pseudo-scientific paranoia. She is saying that the entire FDA is corrupted by industry lobbyists, when in fact, nearly all of them are from academic backgrounds. All she is doing is trying to gain the support of the anti-vaccination crazies who refuse to accept the fact the vaccines are safe and are not harmful.
Of course, she also brings up the anti-GMO anti-science movement’s favorite “Manchurian candidate” bogeyman, Michael Taylor:
A Monsanto lobbyists and CEO like Michael Taylor, former high-ranking DEA official, should not decide what food is safe for you to eat.
Of course, Michael Taylor was never a lobbyist nor a CEO. He was a consultant to Monsanto for 18 months, who left because he disagreed with their policies, and now is an FDA commissioner. If issues come up that he worked on while in industry, he recuses himself, as he should. Here’s the whole story.
Willingham notes that “ …I’m never, ever going to get on board with a party that claims an environmental mission but fronts someone who compromises scientific evidence and public health for the sake of pandering.”
And Amanda Marcotte, writing in Salon criticizes her pandering as well as noting that Dr Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia concludes, “I think she’s anti-vax.” And while Kim LaCapria, writing in Snopes believes that Stein is not anti-vax based on her press-releases, many, including Dr David Gorski in his Science Blogs, have concluded that she is engaged in “left wing anti vaccine dog whistles.”
This is exactly the sort of dancing around the truth that we continually accuse Donald Trump of doing, and for that reason, neither is qualified to be President. In fact, Trump has said that he really likes the Green Party, because he figures that Green Party (Stein) voters would otherwise vote for Hillary. Dan Arel confirms my views in his column in Patheos.com. He won’t vote for Stein and neither should you.
Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association lobbying group, has released a letter citing Gandhi. In it he described Gandhi leading a salt tax boycott by illegalliy gathering salt himself at the seaside.
“…a food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques”
You might think that is pretty broad, but Cummins has been banging on about “GMO ingredients” that include things like sugar from sugar beets, (or corn syrup from Bt corn) even though they contain no genetic material or proteins or DNA! It’s just sugar (or corn syrup), but if it was produced by glyphosate resistant beets, or Bt corn it must be evil. Sorry Ronnie, you are talking through your hat! They are nutritionally identical to the on-GMO versions.
The bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture to come up with a labeling standard within 2 years that allows foods to be labeled with text, a QR code or a phone number where consumers can get full ingredient information including which ingredients are produced by genetic engineering.
But in fact, Cummins and his crowd got most of what they wanted. Products containing genetically engineered ingredients will have some sort of label. The difference is that the label can be quite subtle rather than the scary sort of statements his anti-science lobby had wanted.
The fact is, this bill is a compromise between anti-GMO extremists and farmers and grocers who would be impacted by an extreme bill like Vermont’s. It is not what scientists wanted (no label because GMOs are not an ingredient) and it is not what Cummins’ crazies wanted (huge warning labels despite no evidence of harm), but good politics is a compromise, and we have to actually praise Senators Roberts and Stabenow and Congress for accepting this compromise.
But the OCA wants a boycott
Seeing his whole disinformation campaign sinking into the sea of reason, Cummins proposes to compare himself to Gandhi and launch a boycott, because he continues to claim that GMOs have “caused a terrible toll on our health” (according to charlatans like Joe Mercola). So he is trying to launch a “buycott…[to] reject brands owned by corporations that lobbied against GMO labeling.”
And this is the best part. They way you join in this “buycott” is to download an app to your smart phone that allows you to scan product barcodes in the supermarket and find out if they are produced by companies that support this bill.
Do you get this?Cummins and the OCA opposed this compromise GMO labeling bill because you had to scan a QR code. But it’s OK to use an app the OCA has had created to find out which products not to buy. It’s only OK if they do it, but not if the Secretary of Agriculture does! His app also sends “nyah..nyah” messages to the companies that supported the bill. This is surely going to have a great effect on E-mail filtering software!
Meanwhile, Cummins continues to make unsupported claims about “toxic chemicals” (GM crops use fewer pesticides, not more) and tries to make you believe you cannot trust the scientific establishment but you can trust an organic lobbying group instead. This defies common sense, and he probably knows it.
The short form report has 16 references, but only three from legitimate peer-reviewed journals. The longer report seems to have 171 references, but less than 20 of those references are to legitimate peer-reviewed journals, and many of the references repeat multiple times. For example, there are 5 separate reference entries to Lappe and Collins recycled opinion book World Hunger: Ten Myths, which echoes the precepts of the FOTE report. You will also find a book on Poverty and Famines by Sen referenced 3 times, a paper by Reganold referenced 3 times, and one by Ponisio cited 4 times. So the total number of unique references is far fewer. Apparently they never heard of reusing a reference number or using op. cit.
The central thrust of the FOTE report is that the “food industry” has produced “pervasive myths” about the food system that they seek to debunk . The idea that there actually is a monolithic “food system” is taken as a given without proof.
These three myths are all the same thing, really, that farmers already produce enough food, but that poverty is the main culprit in world hunger. They assert that “agroecological farming, including organic farming” can yield more than enough food and that “industrialized agriculture” is only efficient if you ignore the “massive environmental, social and health degradation.”
The problem is that organic farming is less than 1% of US acreage and its yield is substantially lower: 50% to 80% in many cases. A recent paper by Seufert estimated organic crop yields at only about 65% of those of conventional farms.And one reason is that you only get as much out of a farm as you put in: the nutrients have to come from somewhere. That is why conventional farms using fertilizers yield much better and are more profitable. Further, the pesticides that organic farmers use are not very effective, because they are restricted to those of natural origin, and they have to be applied more often and at greater expense.
Further, “ecological health” is a somewhat slippery concept, because organic farms may have more run-off both of manure used for fertilizer and of the soil itself which can be better preserved using no-till farming. In that case not only is run-off reduced, but the layers of soil microorganisms are not inverted by plowing. Finally, Savage has calculated that the carbon footprint of composting manure is far worse than that from manufacturing fertilizer. And remember, plants take up the same nutrients either way.
Now this whole idea that we produce enough food already is a pretty squirrely concept. Right now I have a lot of food growing in my garden. Some (especially the zucchini which are prolific) will probably end up being recycled, but I could hardly sent it abroad effectively. In fact, this applies just as well to actual farmers. Sending food abroad is expensive and it may end up spoiling.
It is far better to help third world farmers become self-sufficient in the crops their population prefers. For example, Bt brinjal (eggplant) has been wildly successful in Bangledesh and India, reducing insecticide spraying from nearly daily to almost zero. This transgenic eggplant has the soil bacterium Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) inserted into the plant, which kills most insect pests, but poses no harm to humans or animals.
The trouble with developing crops for local farmers is the pervasive opposition to biotechnology promulagated by western (read white) groups like Greenpeace. They campaign relentlessly spreading fear and misinformation, which in fact is seriously detrimental to the health of the third world population. Similarly, the European Parliament adopted a resolution criticizing “intensive agriculture” in Africa, and opposing using GMOs in Africa. White man’s burden anyone?
In this article and those we refer to, you probably have noticed the term agroecology. This confusingly vague term has cropped up in the FOTE report and in similar literature. While it does not seem to be a full fledged academic discipline, you can major in Plant Science at Penn State and take courses in agroecology. You will find similar courses at Iowa State. And, you will find a long, wandering editorial in the journal Sustainable Agriculture asking whether we can feed 10 billion people using classical agriculture and recommending we consider agroecology, without defining it. But African agriculture specialist Isaac Ongu, writing for the Genetic Literacy Project, called agroecology “anti-modern farming.”
Agroecology seems to be vaguely a return to the naturalistic fallacy that conventional farming is bad and a return to simple lower-yield methods is better. Professor Stephen Gliessman, who seems to have written the only book on this topic, says that sustainable agrosystems
Maintain their natural resource base.
Rely on minimum artificial inputs from outside the farm system.
Manage pests and diseases through internal regulating mechanisms.
Recover from the disturbances caused by cultivation and harvest.
and, that sustainable agriculture is
A whole-systems approach to food, feed, and fiber production that balances environmental soundness, social equity, and economic viability among all sectors of the public, including international and intergenerational peoples.
If you notice some disturbing vagueness here, you are not alone. To a large degree, “agroecology” seems to be a way of saying
We don’t like GMO crops and think we should be able to do better without them, even though no such evidence actually exists.
The FOTE article suggests that there is something evil about “chemically dependent industrial production” of crops, but shows no real proof for their hyperbole. Conventional farming allows for no-till, which is far better for the soil, and built-in insecticides like Bt which reduce chemical spraying. And farmers are not stupid: conventional farms use every “agroecology” trick that has been developed for soil care, including crop rotation, cover cropping, intercropping, conservation tillage, composting, managed livestock grazing and combined animal and plant production.
Further, the idea that there are “factory farms” is not really true. Nearly 97% of all farms in the US are family-run farms. And you can be sure that if there is an agricultural technique that will improve their yield or their animal’s welfare, they are using it already.
The argument that you should use organic (or pre-scientific) methods because they are “sustainable” is simply untrue. There isn’t enough cropland in the US (or the world) to grow crops organically. It’s inefficient, and more likely to damage the soil because of runoff after tilling. Further, the inefficient insecticides organic farmers are restricted to have to be applied much more often and are thus more likely to pollute.
Nor are organic crops necessarily pesticide free as the industry likes to claim. In fact, the provenance of organic-labeled imported foods is very difficult to police, as Porterfield has pointed out.
“Organic” is essentially a marketing term devised to raise the price of produce (and demonize biotechnology). As Roger Cohen wrote in the Times, Organic is “a fable for the pampered parts of the planet — romantic and comforting,” and as Henry Miller wrote in Forbes, organic isn’t sustainable.
In a letter sent out yesterday, anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith admits what we have suspected all along.
“Labeling GMOs was never the end goal for us. It was a tactic. Labels make it easier for shoppers to make healthier non-GMO choices. When enough people avoid GMOs, food companies rush to eliminate them. Labeling can speed up that tipping point—but only if consumers are motivated to use labels to avoid GMOs.”
Here’s that segment of the actual letter.
And noting that President Obama’s signing S.764 restricts states from requiring stringent (and meaningless) GMO labels, he writes:
Although this is clearly a defeat in our campaigns for getting mandatory labeling in the United States, we are still winning the bigger, more important effort to ELIMINATE GMOs from the market altogether.
In other words, the whole edifice of moral claims that “we have the right to know what we are eating” has just collapsed! Smith admits that his goal was to eliminate a perfectly safe breeding technology, presumably forcing people towards the more expensive organic products whose producers support Smith’s scare campaign. If you’re looking for anything hammock related your best bet is to check out https://bestcampinghammockgear.com.
Smith, who has no scientific training, has been writing scary articles and giving paid speeches about the alleged dangers of GMOs for years now. Running the Institute for Responsible Technology out of his house in Fairfield, IA (and just across the street from Maharishi University, and two blocks from Genetic ID) he is a one man misinformation institute. He is or has been supported by Nature’s Path, Organic Valley, Earth Balance, Natural News, Nutiva, Joe Mercola and the Organic Consumer Association.
To a large degree, this bill (S. 764) is a victory for science, since it specifically notes that products which do not contain genetic material such as sugars, oils and starches are exempted from such ridiculous labeling. Labels can be a QR code or phone number rather than a scary and inaccurate warning, when there has never been any adverse reaction reported to any GM product.
Here’s Smith’s entire letter, complete with all his misleading claims, to show we are not taking anything out of context:
As you may know by now, Congress passed legislation (S.764) that wipes out Vermont’s excellent GMO labeling law and substitutes a fake national GMO labeling regime. President Obama signed the bill into law Friday, July 29th. This sham labeling bill:
1. Excludes most processed foods from requiring a label;
2. Defines genetic engineering so narrowly, that most GMOs on the market don’t qualify; and
3. Gives the USDA two years to come up with additional criteria for labeling, which will likely contain even more loopholes.
For products that will require labeling, companies can avoid actually stating on the package that it contains GMOs. Rather, they can force consumers to go on a wild goose chase by calling a listed 800 number to find the answer, or using their smart phones—if they have one—to scan a QR code and then navigate a website.
And to make this law even more irrelevant, if companies decide to ignore the labeling requirements altogether, there is no enforcement or penalty.
Although this is clearly a defeat in our campaigns for getting mandatory labeling in the United States, we are still winning the bigger, more important effort to ELIMINATE GMOs from the market altogether.
Mandatory Labels are not Required for Victory
Labeling GMOs was never the end goal for us. It was a tactic. Labels make it easier for shoppers to make healthier non-GMO choices. When enough people avoid GMOs, food companies rush to eliminate them. Labeling can speed up that tipping point—but only if consumers are motivated to use labels to avoid GMOs.
Therefore, if mandatory labels had been put into place, we would still be required to educate and motivate consumers.
The good news is that the tipping point is already underway based on the voluntary non-GMO labels being put on packages. Major food companies already realize that making non-GMO claims gives them a competitive edge. Why else would Nestles dedicate time during their extremely expensive TV commercials to brag that their coffee creamer is non-GMO? Why else would Dannon announce that their feed for dairy cows will be non-GMO within three years? And why else would Del Monte, Campbell’s, Hershey’s, Post, General Mills, Red Gold, Applegate, and so many others make similar non-GMO commitments? They are scrambling to get the non-GMO sales advantage before their competitors. The flood gates are opening. We are totally winning. Let that sink in.
Behavior-Change Messaging is the Key Success Factor
This major shift in the marketplace has come about due to compelling, behavior-change messaging. And that’s IRT’s specialty. It involves:
1. Accurately conveying the health dangers of GMOs in compelling ways, and
2. Exposing the lies, cover-ups, and outrageous behavior of the pro-GMO forces.
IRT participated in labeling campaigns around the country using these potent behavior-change messages.
We think it was an unfortunate decision by several of the state and national labeling groups to focus almost exclusively on the “Right to Know” message, which, by itself, doesn’t motivate healthier non-GMO choices. Newer CPAP Suppliers are small enough to be portable, although not quite as portable as inhalers, which fit easily into a pocket. In fact, the vast majority of the money raised for labeling was used to support the Right to Know platform.
If there is a silver lining to the recent defeat of mandatory labeling, it is that our movement can now put our collective attention back on the key success factor—tell people the truth about GMOs and how they can protect themselves and their families from the dangers.
We’d like to thank and celebrate the thousands of GMO labeling campaigners and supporters who have worked so hard for these years. Our collective efforts alerted tens of millions of people that GMOs were indeed in the food supply and we created a national conversation about the topic.
Our ultimate goal, to eliminate GMOs, is happening more and more with each non-GMO announcement. Now let’s focus our attention on getting the word out in the most effective manner, and achieve final victory.
The just signed S.764 is a serious defeat for the forces of scientific misinformation, and Smith and his fellow travelers are struggling to resurrect their mendatious claims!
“Genetic Roulette” is activist Jeffrey Smith’s film version of the arguments he puts forward in his eponymous self-published book. Smith has no scientific training and he relies on a number of “experts” to make his case that GM foods are somehow bad for you.
“Americas are getting sicker, and one reason may be GMOs.”
This is as close to causality as the film ever reaches: his evidence is anecdotal and not the result of rigorous scientific investigations. His experts for the most part are not scientists at all, but drawn from parents, activists, pseudo-scientists and members of the alternative medicine community.
We hear from the owner of Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps, osteopath Arden Anderson, lawyer and Maharishi University faculty member Steven Druker, Lawrence Plumlee, MD, an alternative medicine specialist, Garry Gordon, an osteopath, Robyn O’Brien, the author of a nonscientific alarmist book we have already reviewed, Bob Street, MS, an agronomy consultant, Dan Skow, DVM who represents the discredited Albrecht and Reams school of agricultural theory, Michael W Fox, DVM who dabbles in homeopathy and acupuncture, Shiv Chopra who was fired from Health Canada for his unsupported views on bovine growth hormone, Analiese Behling ND, Michelle Perro, MD a specialist in complimentary and integrative medicine, Doris Rapp, a homeopath, Michael Visconti, ND, William Cowden, MD, a homeopath who was reprimanded twice in Texas and Russell Maur, ND.
Smith claims that “chronic illnesses are now epidemic,” and would like to connect this assertion with consumption of GMO foods. However, it is well known that the causes are the aging of the population, poor access to affordable care, and increases in diabetes associated with excess caloric intake. For example, recent surveys suggest that fewer than half of U.S. patients with hypertension, depression, diabetes, and asthma are receiving appropriate treatment.
Smith also claims that transgenic plant breeding amounts to genes being randomly forced into DNA. In fact insertion of transgenes is less disruptive than conventional plant breeding, as shown in papers by Di Carli, and by Catchpole.
He also claims a significant increase in digestive disorders but is unable to make any actual connection to consumption of GM foods. In fact, digestive disorders are mostly associated primarily with poor dietary practices.
His claim that there is an increase in “leaky gut syndrome” is particularly specious, since this is not a recognized diagnosis. And his attempts to tie this diagnosis to autism spectrum disorder are ridiculous, since this entire theory was put forth by the discredited Andrew Wakefield and has been retracted.
And a statement suggesting that autism spectrum disorder “may be” increasing because of GMOs, but “we can’t say for sure,” is simply irresponsible. Further, the Center for Disease Control has noted that while there has been an increase in the reporting of autism spectrum disorders, it is not entirely clear whether there has been an actual increase in the disorder itself.
Anecdotal evidence versus peer-reviewed research
Nearly all of the “evidence” put forward in this alarmist film is in the form of anecdotal evidence: one farmer or parent telling a story about how GM crops hurt their farm animals or children. But there is simply no peer-reviewed research to support any of these findings. There are no carefully measured feedings or double blind studies to support their anecdotes.
Alleged dangers of Bt crops
Much of the focus of this film has to do with corn and other crops that contain a gene that causes generation of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) insecticide. The thesis of these segments it that this bacterium, toxic only to lepidoptera, is dangerous to humans and to livestock.
However, Bt has been sprayed on crops for over 50 years, and is preferentially used by organic farmers. If there were human reactions or effects on livestock, nearly every farmer would be reporting them In fact, there are just about no research papers at all reporting any such problems.
In fact, Siegel reviewed a large number of papers on Bt products in 2001, finding that they have an excellent safety record in labs and in the field.
Exceptions are the papers of French bio-activist Giles-Eric Seralini, who claimed to find tumors in rats fed with Bt treated feed. One of these is briefly flashed on the screen The only trouble was that he used Sprague Dawley rats that develop tumors in later about 71% of the time. And guess what: Seralini’s rats developed tumors about 72% of the time. His work was debunked by Campbell and by Chassy and Miller. It’s also worth noting that Seralini is hardly unbiased, as he is the principal scientist of the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, which exists to oppose the use of GM crops. And his work is funded by Greenpeace, which also takes an anti-GMO stance.
The film also briefly flashes a paper by Aris and LeBlanc alleging maternal and fetal exposure to Bt from GMO corn, but the paper actually reports possible detection of the Cry1Ab protein. But the Food Standards Institute points out that the detection method has not been validated for this protein, and the Cry1Ab protein could also come from spraying of crops with Bt pesticides. And the paper does not in fact imply that there is any human safety issue here. Tribe has similar observations.
On the other hand, an extensive review of animal feeding studies by the European food Safety Authority found that the GM crops were comparable to traditional crops.
In another segment, the film asserts that Indian farms develop allergies after working in Bt fields, that thousands of animals got sick and that buffalo died after grazing on Bt cotton plants. There are no published claims or research confirming these stories, nor is there any medical evidence confirming these claims. Again, if there were such serious effects, they would be reported world-wide rather than in one or two farms in India. It is more likely that the feed was contaminated.
Numerous safety studies have confirmed the safety of Bt cotton, (see Brookes and Barfoot) and it now comprises more than half of all cotton grown world wide. Academicsreview.org notes that many of these claims
come from a self-proclaimed anti-GM activist organization, however, they do label their report as preliminary and note that it is only based on interviews with a very small number of people. Smith is more bold in his claims than self-admitted opponents of the technology.
Genetically modified soy is safe for animals
The movie suggests that feeding animal GM soy products causes rat testicular changes, causes a fertility decline and is nutrient deficient. However, dozens of published peer-reviewed studies such as Flachowsky (2005) and Flachowsky, Aulrich, Bohme and Hall (2007) have concluded that there are “no significant differences in safety or nutritional value between Gm feeds and conventional feeds.” And findings reported in the press but never published by Ermakova have been studied and found to “defy logic.”
Don Huber’s strange organism
One of the few actual scientists represented in this film is Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology (Purdue) Don Huber. Huber had an extensive career in 1980s and 1990s, but has published nothing since 2005. In fact, we find a total of only 4 papers of his in all of PubMed. Huber’s expertise is/was in the manganese uptake in plants and its relation to glyphosate (Roundup).
However, within this film he is more concerned with his “discovery” of an “electron microscopic pathogen… new to science.” This pathogen is apparently found in plants treated with Roundup, or perhaps in the Roundup resistance gene. Other than his letter to the USDA expressing his concern, there is no research, no paper and, it would seem, no science whatever. While, this certainly could be possible, the proof remains with Dr Huber, who has provided no evidence for this extraordinary claim. His claims have been seriously questioned by Anastasia on Biofortified.org.
Huber also claims that Roundup weakens plants by preventing their uptake of manganese and other minerals. He has published a number of articles as part of fertilizer advertisements suggesting addition of the missing minerals may be beneficial. However, a team of Iowa state agronomists studied all the available literature in this area and concluded that it was possible that some Roundup Ready (RR) varieties are somewhat less effective in taking up manganese compared to non RR varieties, but that it was just as likely that some other difference between the plant varieties give rise to this observation.
In other words, there is little or no evidence that RR crops take up minerals less efficiently than non-RR varieties. And there is no evidence of a mysterious new organism!
rBST Milk is just the same as any other milk
The treatment of cows with rBST bovine growth hormone to increase milk production has been the subject of more misinformation than any other issue. The propaganda against rBST in the press as well as in Smith’s movie and books is so intense, that a group of scientists got together to debunk all of these bizarre claims.
Milk from rBST treated cows contains no more IGF-1 than conventional milk.
All milk contains hormones, and rBST treated milk contains no more than conventional milk.
rBST milk is just as nutritious as conventional milk.
rBST milk does not contain antibiotics
Regulators were not bribed to approve rBST milk
rBST allows for more efficient production and is thus better for the environment.
Roundup is one of the safest herbicides ever developed
Roundup is the trade name for the chemical glyphosate, brought to market in the 1970s. Its patent expired in 2000 and it is available from a number of suppliers. A review by Duke in Powles in 2008 summarized the research on glyphosate, noting that it has become the dominant herbicide worldwide, and was in wide use long before glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready) crops were developed.
It is one of the least toxic pesticides to animals, being less toxic than salt or aspirin. It is environmentally benign since it binds tightly to the soil and does not move in soil groundwater. It also has a short environmental half-life since it breaks down by microbial degradation in the soil. It does not cause mutations. This is confirmed in the latest EPA registration materials.
Like all herbicides, there is always danger of weeds developing glyphosate resistance, and the above review describes strategies for avoiding this.
Smith does not understand basic chemistry
The preponderance of sugar beets grown in the US are genetically modified and Roundup Ready. However, there is no evidence whatever that such sugar beets are harmful. Moreover, the final product is pure sugar (sucrose) much as it is from sugar cane. Since sugar is a pure compound, the source of that sugar is irrelevant, and making health claims about one source of pure sugar over another is simply ridiculous.
Along the same lines, the artificial sweetener aspartame is not a genetically modified food in any way. However, aspartame is created from aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and the phenylalanine may be made using genetically modified E-coli bacteria. Regardless of how it is made, aspartame is still a pure compound and its ancestry is irrelevant!
This is not a grass roots movement
Jeffrey Smith is the sole employee of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), located at his home in Fairfield, Iowa. This institute provides funding for much of the anti-biotechnology movement, such as, for example, GMO Free Connecticut and other similar state groups. The IRT, in turn, is pretty much entirely supported by the organic food industry, acknowledging support from Eden, Organic Valley, Frey Vineyards, Nutiva, Nature’s Path, Sun Ridge Farms, Mercola.com, Beanitos, Earth Balance, Whole Soy Co., Earth’s Best, New Chapter Organics, Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Natural News, and Kamut-Khorasan. It is thus an Astro-turf organization.
The idea that GM foods are in any way dangerous is what Paul Krugman calls a “zombie idea,” an idea that has been thoroughly disproven but still won’t die. Not only have over three trillion meals been served over 15 years without any reported effects, but prominent former GM opponent Mark Lynas has reversed himself, calling GM opposition an “anti-science movement.” He noted that
You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food.
About one hour of the film presents various alleged problems with GM crops and about half an hour is devoted to anti-transgenic evangelism. In fact, it attempts to scare you with these terrible examples. You can rent or buy the film from Smith and the anti-GMO campaigns are scheduling showings of the film in every state where their campaign is attempting to force GMO labeling laws.
Overall, the film is misleading and untruthful and best watched with a very skeptical eye or simply avoided. Sadly, the Greenwich Audubon Society ihosted a showing of this movie. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Many of the references in this article are taken from the helpful site academicsreview.org, where working professional biologists have used peer-reviewed science to debunk every single claim in Smith’s book Genetic Roulette. We also want to acknowledge helpful discussions with Professor Bruce Chassey.
The New York Times yesterday highlighted the farmer’s co-op Organic Valley, talking about their new half million dollar web site and their emphasis on “highlighting their authenticity.” Well, we had to take a look at the web site that the Times referred to, and found a number of lovely feel-good pictures of rural bliss (and $9 a gallon organic milk). And the usual misinformation with better lipstick on all the pigs, er, cows.
Their whole campaign boils down to the specious claims of “Why Organic?” which are the same old hokum:
You don’t think that is overstatement, do you? Water is a chemical (wags call it dihydrogen monoxide). Then they say organic food keeps pesticides out of kid’s bodies. Hold it there, Casey! Organic farmers spray with pesticides, too, and many of them are really toxic, just naturally occurring. Here’s an article with a list of some of the worst. Here’s a complete list. But probably the most damning evidence against these “evil chemical” claims is Bruce Ames’ classic paper in PNAS, showing that the pesticides plants produce on their own (many quite toxic) are present in concentrations 10,000 times greater than those detected as pesticide residues. In other words, you can stop worrying, there just aren’t any dangerous chemical residues on our food: our food, whether conventional or organic is perfectly safe.
Well they aren’t. In fact they cite no scientific papers here on this issue. But we have some. Some farms use synthetic rBst to increase milk production, currently maybe 17%. But it has been found that the milk from rBst treated cows is in all ways identical to that from cows not given that hormone.
And as far as antibiotics go, no milk is allowed to contain antibiotics by FDA regulation. If any are found in testing, the entire load is discarded at great financial loss to the farmer.
Antibiotic resistant infections are very real
So, the claim instead of treating their sick animals with antibiotics, they use “natural holistic measures” to treat their animals. This sounds like animal cruelty. Animal’s milk cannot be shipped until after a washout period so no antibiotics are ever found in milk. If you believe that not treating sick animals is good farming practice, please come buy the large bridge I have for sale!
Here is where the mendacity reaches a fever pitch. Because since organic foods are no healthier and actually have a lower yield, let’s demonize a perfectly safe crop breeding technique. GMOs are, of course, not an ingredient at all, but a way to create new crop varieties with desirable traits, tested on average for over 10 years before they can be marketed.
No one really knows if GMOs are safe for human consumption
GMOs increase superweeds. No, they don’t. Overuse of herbicides can cause herbicide resistance over time. That is called evolution and is usually solved by crop and herbicide rotation.
Oh, and worse yet, they link to a YouTube video from discredited charlatan Vandana Shiva, who likes to call herself a PhD physicist, when her degree is in philosophy. Michael Specter took down her crazy claims in this elegant piece in The New Yorker.
Organic Valley’s new, beautified web site just perpetuates the same wrong-headed claims (lies) they’ve been spreading for years. Organic isn’t better: it is a marketing slogan.
Last week the U.S. Senate passed a compromise GMO labeling bill which sets a national standard for GMO labeling and would override the patchwork of laws such as Vermont’s and those proposed in other states.
The Roberts-Stabenow bill, by Kansas Senator Pat Roberts(R) and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) allows foods to be labeled directly on the package, or using a web site, phone number or QR code where consumers can get more information. The bill will go back to the House this week for approval. Since the House had approved a rather similar bill earlier, it is expected to pass.
This bill requires such labeling only for foods that actually contain genetic material, which would exclude sugar produced by GM sugar beets, or aspartame produced by genetically modified E. coli. But unlike the Vermont law which took effect July 1, cheese produced using chymosin made by GM processes is not exempted, since it still contains DNA. Corn products would be labeled, by corn syrup probably would not be. Further, the law provides no penalty for noncompliance.
The Vermont law has proved to be as restrictive and expensive to comply with as people predicted, because the keeping track of the supply chain for every component in a food product can be quite onerous. In fact, we recently learned that many Kosher foods will no longer be available in Vermont, because the small companies that produce them found the law too expensive to comply with. Further, the Price Chopper grocery chain has compiled a list of some 3000 products from small producers which they will no longer carry.
Now, it remains true the genetically modified foods are completely safe, as recently emphasized by the National Academies of Science and the Royal Society, and courts have in the past ruled that consumer curiosity is not sufficient reason to require labeling. In fact, while the huge organic industry insists some 90% of consumer want such labeling, research which asks more neutral questions such as “what information should food labels contain?” shows only a few percent of consumers actually care about GMOs.
In fact, the continuing press for GMO labeling comes from the Organic Consumers Association, a lobbying group which has made opposition to GMOs a touchstone, since their objective is to move consumers to more profitable organic foods. Other groups include Just Label It, run by Stonyfield Farms CEO Hirshberg.
However, compromise is the soul of good lawmaking, and a number of these organizations have agreed that this law is way better than nothing. Others, like the Organic Consumers Association have dubbed it the DARK Act (for Deny Americans’ Right to Know). Of course, there really is nothing to know, because “GMO” is not an ingredient but a breeding process.
Nonetheless, the Organic Consumer’s Association has issued a shocking broadside, dubbing these other organizations “ Organic Traitors,” in its article Organic Traitors team up with Monsanto and the GMA on the DARK Act. Nearly frothing at the mouth, OCA president Ronnie Cummins referred to “ Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Organic Trade Association (OTA), Whole Foods Market (WFM), UNFI, and a cabal of sell-out non-profit organizations” as traitors, selling out to Monsanto.
Continuing its mendacious claims the GMO foods are dangerous, Cummins claims that over 90% of consumers want such labeling. As we noted, this is not actually true. In fact this article shows the OCA at its worst, making unsupported claims and engaging in a “circular firing squad” with some of its allies. Perhaps they would do better to go back to promoting the presumed benefits of organic farming (which are actually few) rather than making increasingly rage-filled accusations.
This column was originally published in June, 2015, but still seems relevant.
Dear Senator Sanders:
I am writing to you as one of your supporters. I have made (for me) a substantial contribution to your campaign for President.
But I must disagree with your column in the Huffington Post as well a recent statements urging Congress to pass a bill requiring labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients. Your logic seems to be that consumers have a “right to know” what they are eating. In fact, this is disingenuous, because “GMO” is a process for breeding plants, not an ingredient. The plants (corn, soy, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash) are nutritionally identical or they would never have been approved. Testing of a new GM crop variety takes over 10 years, and is the most rigorous testing of any food on the market.
Just as the overall scientific consensus is that climate change is real and caused primarily by humans, the overall scientific consensus is that GM crops pose no more harm than conventional crops. This has been found again and again in paper after paper.
The FDAs position is and has been that new crops do not need to be labeled unless they are demonstrably different from the parent plant. This is not the case: GM crops have the same nutritional profile as their non-GM parent.
You suggest that Vermont’s GMO labeling bill was passed despite Monsanto’s threat to sue Vermont. In fact, Monsanto labels all its seeds. Vermont is being sued by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Food Association: organizations that will incur real costs if the Vermont labeling bill is upheld. You can read Robert Sacherich’s analysis of the bill here. Because of the costs of maintaining duplicate supply chains for GM and non GM crops, a Cornell study has estimated that such labeling will cost the average family at least $500 a year in increased food costs.
And to what avail? To label foods that have never been shown to cause any harm in the past 20 years, just to satisfy the curiosity of a few activists? You must surely know that Vermont lost a similar case in International Dairy Foods Association v Amestoy, where the judge ruled that consumer curiosity is not a valid reason for imposing costs on dairy manufacturers.
You state that most people (90%) want GM foods to be labeled, but this is a misleading number obtained from polls asking leading questions. If you ask people what additional information they think need to be on food labels, both a US study and a European study found that only 2% suggested GMO labeling. This is hardly a groundswell.
You suggest that concerns about toxins and allergens have been “largely brushed aside.” In fact the FDA requires very extensive testing of new GM crops, which can take more than 10 years and cost more than $100 million.
You cite the paper by Aris and Leblanc in Reproductive Toxicology that claimed to find glyphosate and Bt toxin in a sample of mother’s breast milk. However, this paper has been roundly debunked, noting that the sensitivity of the ELISA technique is less than the levels of contaminants allegedly found.
In fact, the only purpose served by GM labeling is to demonize GM crops and push people towards more expensive, but nutritionally identical organic crops. Since much of the anti-GMO protests have been funded by the organic foods industry (which is larger than Monsanto), it is not surprising that this demonization has begun to work. A recent study has shown that organic sales have grown because of this demonization.
In short, I continue to support your campaign, but suggest you need more scientific advisors to keep your campaign credible. Should your staff care to contact me, I can give them a number of names of scientists who can help.
It finally happened. The sincere vendors of local produce at Westport Farmer’s Market have been joined or outnumbered by the crazy peddlers of pseudoscience and other woo. Starting out with organic. Organic farming is a marketing technique. It does not produce healthier or more nutritious foods, just more expensive ones. If you don’t think so, compare the prices of strawberries.
You can buy a pint of organic strawberries for $6.50 or you can buy a quart of conventional strawberries for $7.00. Is this a scam? Yes, it is. These are both local strawberries grown nearby. You are being diddled! As we have noted many times, there is no good reason to buy organic produce. Organic farming has lower yields (sometimes only 60% as much) and is not as environmentally sustainable.
If you don’t believe me, the Washington Post recently wrote up an article on strawberry farming, noting that the best strawberries by far are grown in California where the season is longer and the climate perfect. You can buy a pound of California strawberries at Stop and Shop for $2.99 and a pound of organic California strawberries for $3.99. You probably won’t find much difference in flavor. Because of packing differences (pints versus pounds) the price differential may not really be double, but the hit is substantial for no good reason. But remember, we aren’t just comparing California and Connecticut, we are comparing two Connecticut farms a few miles apart.
And it’s GMO Free, too!
Sport Hill Farm in Easton, CT is a substantial business with a good reputation for their organic produce. They even supply a number of local restaurants. But since they are “organic” why go on and say they are non-GMO? (“Organic” is by definition “non-GMO”)
In fact, as far as I could see, the only produce they had that even had a GMO version was their summer squash. Nothing else in their extensive crop list has a GMO version. These are very capable farmers, and they surely know this. They are just doing fear mongering marketing. As the National Academies of Science has stated, along with every other major scientific organization in the world, GMO crops pose no more harm than conventional crops.
But it gets worse. How about the vendor(Beaver Brook Farm) with these eggs? The chickens are fed GMO free grain? Wow! Do you think that a chicken eating grain bred by one technique over another is going to be any different? It’s ridiculous! Remember chicken growers, GM is not an ingredient. It is a crop breeding technique! I quote my colleague Layla Katiraee who jokes about a boa constrictor eating a rat and because of this hypothetical (and ridiculous) gene transfer argument, he creates a rat-strictor. You don’t believe that do you?
And as far as free range chickens go, the Journal of Poultry Science published a substantial series of studies showing the caged chickens did the best and the cage free the worst.
And it’s gluten free!
There is any number of very good bakeries in or near Westport that exhibit regularly at the Farmer’s Market. However, it is really disappointing to discover that they are all flogging their Gluten Free products as if those are products in great demand. Gluten occurs in wheat and in a few other grains, but is for most of us a very valuable nutrient. Only about 1% of the population suffers from the autoimmune disorder that leads to celiac disease. These people cannot eat gluten: it not only can cause severe discomfort, it can eventually damage your digestive system. However, far too many people somehow believe that not eating gluten is somehow “healthier,” when just the opposite is true. Gluten free products are less nutritious, and for the most part, don’t taste that great.
Oh, and then there’s Paleo, a fad diet hatched to sell books and allegedly (and inaccurately) presented as the “healthy diet our ancestors ate.” Well it isn’t. Plants and animals have evolved since those times, and so have we. We can’t eat the plants they ate, because they no longer exist. And we have evolved to tolerate lactose and (most of us) can have dairy products. The idea that our ancestors didn’t eat gluten is silly. It depends on where they lived. If there were edible grains nearby, you can be sure they ate them. Scientific American explains this here. As David Gorski explains, Paleo is part of the “naturalistic fallacy.” It provides no benefits.
Juices and the Cleanse
Of course, there had to be a representative from The Stand (not Steven King’s novel, but a juice stand). They make a lot of blended juices, some good, and some at best an acquired taste and loaded with kale. And some interesting sandwiches as well. But smack dab on the back cover of their leaflet is an advertisement for The Cleanse, a crazy regime of bizarre juices that is supposed to detoxify your body (at $60 a day). It doesn’t. There is no such thing as a cleanse: it is pure hooey. Your liver detoxifies your body every day, and juices do nothing to help. Don’t waste your money!
Nutty Ice Cream
We can’t let Nutty Bunny ice cream go unmentioned. The owner, Westporter Pamela Aflalo claims to have cured her daughter’s allergies by created a non dairy diet, and then created this imitation ice cream. It’s billed as vegan, organic, non-dairy, non-GMO and 100% gluten free, touching nearly all the woo bases. It also has no artificial sweeteners. It’s made primarily from cashews, almonds and coconut milk. It costs $10 a pint, and has a kind of grainy texture. We didn’t like it at all and her claim of curing her daughter’s allergies is at best anecdotal.
Arogya iced teas
Arogya has some nice teas, but it only takes a minute before you discover that many are “healing blends,” for colon cleanses and detox (neither of which exist), kidney cleanses, liver cleanses, female vitality and other unbelievable malarkey. They also practice quackery such as cupping, acupuncture and qigong, and other Traditional Chinese Medicine, none of which has ever been show to be effective, or it would just be called “medicine.” In fact most of it was codified by Chairman Mao.
And just for completeness, we’ll show you the absolutely crazy claims made by the Om Champagne Kombucha vendor. They speak for themselves.
And we cure autism, too
Probably the scariest and most irresponsible products come from Healing Home Foods, owned by Shelley Schulz of Pound Ridge, NY. At first, their products look rather nice, with granola, cookies and (raw?) crackers on display, with some nut butters as well. They are, of course full of the usual horse feathers: organic, non-gmo, gluten free and vegan.
But it is only when you read their label or web site that you discover their bizarre ideology. Schulz claimed to improve her autistic son’s condition by removing “dairy, gluten, grains, sugar, starches and preservatives,” and developed even more raw/vegan dietary nonsense when her husband developed cancer. None of this can actually work, of course, and you should be aware of anyone making such claims.
And finally, vendors like to make claims about Fair Trade, especially in coffee products. It turns out not to be such a great idea as we reported. We don’t know what the quality of Fair Trade coffee beans is: farmers are likely to be selling their lowest grade beans to fair trade brokers, since the floor price is guaranteed. Growers are paid very little more for such beans, but the Fair Trade organization makes a nice profit on it. It is essentially a marketing organization, not one that benefits poor farmers.
Westport Farmer’s Market is a sincere operation, but not all the vendors are in any way sincere. Some vendor debunking or cleaning might be in order.