According to the Onion, a National Science Foundation Symposium concluded that Science is Hard. It really isn’t any harder than governing or public speaking or performing arts. Each has their own vocabulary and courses of study. But somehow, the general public thinks it is hard.
This has been borne out for years by our Congress, where only two members have degrees in any sort of science. So it is not surprising that the Congress makes poorly informed decisions or assertions, like Senator Imhofe, who brandished a snowball in winter to assert that global warming is not real. Even worse, he cited biblical references to support his view, a book in which many people find comfort, but which was written by bronze age goatherds and unlikely to cover climate change.
So it is not surprising that incoming President Trump has dubbed climate change a “Chinese hoax.” To the contrary, Beijing is actively participating in policies to reduce carbon emissions, as are most countries.
You cannot expect a President to be an expert in all fields of endeavor, but you can expect him to appoint advisors who are experts in these fields, and it is here that the 28 appointments Mr Trump has made (out of about 660 that require Congressional approval) fail to support or understand science. As we noted earlier, science is not a branch of politics, where many views may seem to be correct. Science is the result of rigorous experimentation, study and peer-review, and far less debatable than politics is. Or, to quote NGT, “Science is true, whether or not you believe in it.”
In this context, it is deeply disappointing that Scott Pruitt, the nominee to head the EPA told Congress that “the extent of [human] impact [on climate change] is subject to continuing debate.” In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2013 that more than half of the climate warming from 1951 to 2010 was due to human activity. And it was just reported that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. This is no longer subject to debate, and government administrators cannot put off vigorous action if we expect our children and grandchildren to survive.
Likewise, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has expressed reservations on climate change and does not view it as an imminent national security threat.
The most horrifying recent hearing was for billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. DeVos has been a forceful advocate for charter schools, even though studies have shown that they are not particularly effective, especially in Michigan where DeVos has spent millions promoting them. From a science point of view, it is equally disturbing that Ms DeVos believes that the Earth is only 6000 years old. Her hearings have also shown that she knows nothing about education, either.
Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor, has just been nominated as Secretary of Agriculture. He once led a prayer ceremony in front of the Capitol, asking God to be forgive Georgians for being wasteful with water. According to the barely credible Environmental Working Group, as a former fertilizer salesman, Perdue seems less than likely to understand the water pollution problems uncontrolled fertilizer runoff can cause. The Agriculture Department has been involved in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and while we do not know Perdue’s positions, his boss has expressed significant skepticism on this issue. Perhaps more comforting is that as governor, Perdue established a seed capital fund, focused on the life sciences industry, and allocated $30 to$40 million towards strengthening biotech research at the state’s universities.
And, of course, Rick Perry, who is slated to take over the Energy Department, is famous for wanting to close it, once he remembered it’s name. Joking aside, though, in Congressional hearings, he was completely unwilling to admit that climate change poses a global crisis.
Every incoming President provides a mixture of hope and skepticism to the public, and our skepticism on his approach to science is substantial.
Gravitational Waves. One of the most striking scientific discoveries of 2016 was the observation of gravitational waves. Predicted by Einstein’s theories 100 years ago, ripples in space-time were finally observed last year by physicists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), using instruments at Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana. They announced that they had indeed observed this waves as two black holes spiraled into each other 1.3 billion light years away. The Advanced LIGO systems were completed only a week or so before this black hole collision took place, but they represent a long term investment by the National Science Foundation, and design work done by nearly 1000 scientists. Funding was also provided by Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC) and Australia (Australian Research Council).
Citrus greening. Citrus greening disease attacks orange trees, causing green, inedible fruit, and is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. It is spreading widely in Florida as well as in Texas and even California and research into controlling it is in high gear. Essentially, you have to find or create trees immune to the disease, and that is what has been done at the University of Florida. Researchers report having bred a “mother tree” with greening resistance, and look forward to being able to provide replacement trees that are more or less immune. This is, of course, a long term and expensive solution, but at least some approach has been “fruitful.”
CRISPR. The gene editing technology CRISPR came into its own in 2016. This technique allows scientists to edit genes without inserting foreign material, using the Cas9 enzyme. Scientists Jennifer Doudna at UC Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden found that they could exploit the Cas9 protein by feeding it a pattern of RNA. The Cas9 would then seek out this pattern and snip out that pattern in any genome it was presented with. Related work showing that this could be done in mice was published about the same time by Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute. You can read a very good explanation of CRISPR/Cas9 by Brad Plumer and Javier Zarracina here. This simple, and relatively cheap technique can be used to create new foods, treat diseases. This follow-on article suggests some of the further advances that CRISPR might be used for, including cancer and Alzheimer’s treatments.
Of course, which of the two groups (Berkeley and Broad Institute) have the patent rights to CRISPR is now the subject of an interesting court case, explained here by C&E News.
Homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic “medicines” are usually substances diluted so far that no active components remain. The FTC issued a new Enforcement Policy on Marketing Claims for Homeopathic Drugs. Essentially, companies must have actual scientific evidence of their efficacy for any health-related claims they make.
How do we do science? Science is the result of a collection of measurable observation under careful control, and usually represents many observations by many research groups. Science is different from politics, where various philosophies can lead to different conclusions. Science is not a set of beliefs, it is a system of careful studies, reviewed by others and published in major technical journals. The results of scientific studies may result in corrections over time: science is inherently self-correcting, but it is not dependent on scientist’s personal political or moral outlooks.
Further, the idea that science can be suspect because of who funds it reveals considerable naivete about how research grants are obtained and how research is actually done. Professor Allison van Eeenenaam of UC Davis Animal Science explains this very well in this excellent article.
Vaccines: Andrew Wakefield was a gastroenterologist who published a fraudulent paper in 1998 claiming that the MMR vaccine could cause autism. This paper has been refuted many times (and retracted) by careful studies and Wakefield was barred from medical practice. Nonetheless the rumors caused by his crackpot paper, has done considerable damage, as too many people believed the rumors that vaccines were somehow dangerous. In fact, it was demonstrated that Wakefield’s paper was an elaborate fraud, designed to make money. The CDC firmly notes that all research has shown that vaccines do not cause autism, citing the supporting research.
Nonetheless, there are pockets of non-vaccinating families, often living near each other which represent a serious health hazard. Organizations of non-vaccinating parents have formed, and even have a Facebook group! Clusters on such parents are sure to spread disease and it is not unreasonable to ask your child’s friend’s parents if their child is vaccinated before allowing them to play with your child.
This is essentially science denial based parenting and it has been difficult to break through, although more and more pediatricians are refusing to treat children whose parents refuse to vaccinate them.
This non-vaccination of children is supported by pseudo-science based practitioners such as naturopaths, who should know better. And this has led to Wakefield making a propaganda film called VAXXED, which purports to give some support to this practice. The film has received scathing reviews, notably by Dr Paul Offit , co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, and by the Washington Post. Nonetheless, some stars in the entertainment industry still claim to these disproven claims.
But to bring us up to date, we just learned of an article by an actual doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, Daniel Neides, who seems to have jumped onto the pseudo-science bandwagon and attempts to connect vaccines and autism, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Today, the Cleveland Clinic apologized for Neides column and promises discipline. However, the column is still there spreading misinformation. We would suggest termination of Neides at once,
But not to make you think the Neides is along in this crackpottery, the ever-reliable lunatic Mark Hyman (MD?) has said much the same things, and also claims staff privileges at the Cleveland Clinic.
Organic foods are spreading through supermarkets like tribbles. They are a high-profit class of foods, marked up by both the farmers, and the grocers, so they have every reason to expand their availability. Some stores tart up their organic aisles with special flooring to make you think of “luxury.” But “organic” is a marketing term, as was explained by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman when the National Organic Program was announced. It does not say anything about food safety, nutrition or quality. It is a series of agricultural practices based primarily on prescientific ideas about farming. Organic trade groups continue to trumpet the lie that organic crops are “free of pesticides,” when the USDA allows dozens of pesticides to be used on organic crops.
And in a 2009 review by Dangour, et. el., they found no nutritional differences between organic and conventional crops. A similar study in 2012 by Smith-Spangler found much the same thing. And as far as pesticide residues go, Bruce Ames seminal paper shows that the pesticides manufactured by the plants themselves are 10,000 times higher in concentration than any agricultural pesticide residues, and thus these residues are more or less irrelevant.
Genetically modified crops have been in use in many countries for nearly 20 years now, and there has not been a single verified case of any sort of harm to humans or animals in that time. In particular the study of 1783 papers by Nicolia and the billion animal study of van Eenennaam have laid this canard to rest permaenently.
However, the organic industry has mounted a continuous scare campaign about the dangers of GM crops, leading to mendacious labeling such as “GMO free,” when in fact “GMOs” are not an ingredient but a breeding technique. The idea that there is any difference between animals fed GM crops and those fed conventional crops is simply absurd: there is no detectable difference of any kind.
In fact, just like “organic,” the “GMO free” label is a marketing label, attempting to extract more money from consumers by scaring them. The only result of this campaign is higher prices. But because of this relentless scare campaign, only 37% of the public believe GMO foods are safe to eat according to a Pew Research Center survey, while 88% of scientists do. And, in fact, there is a generation gap here as well with millennials more likely to seek out on GM foods. This has led to the ridiculous claims such as those by Hunt’s that you won’t find any GMO tomatoes in their products. That’s because there are no GMO tomatoes on the market!
Climate change. The year 2015 was the warmest on record. The year 2016 was likewise the warmest year on record. Virtually all climate scientists are convinced that climate change is occurring and caused by humans, and that if we do not make significant modifications in our use of carbon-based fuels, the Earth will end in disaster, and fairly soon. Already, the ocean regularly invades the sewers of Miami Beach. It won’t be long until coastal flooding begins to make cities less habitable.
The Republican Party in the United States is the only major political party in the world who pretends to deny these obvious scientific facts, both because of lack of interest in science and because of their funding by the energy industry. As Upton Sinclair has written,
“it is difficult to to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Every time you get into conversations about cooking and food, there is a good chance someone will bring up MSG, or monosodium glutamate. It was identified by Professor Kikunae Ikeda in Tokyo in 1908 as the brothy flavoring found in seaweeds such as kombu. This seaweed has been used to make a soup stock called dashi. But the unique flavor of dashi was a mystery until Ikeda boiled down stock from 75 lbs of seaweed stock and allowed it to crystallize. He found that the flavoring, which he called umami, was due to the sodium salt of the common amino acid, glutamic acid, commonly called monosodium glutamate.
In the formula and picture above, you will see that MSG is a simple 5-carbon compound with 2 carboxylic acid groups, one at each end. In a mildly basic solution, the hydrogen comes off one of the acid groups, replaced by a sodium ion, making the sodium salt of glutamic acid, which we call mono sodium glutamate. It can be extracted from a number of foods, but is most commonly obtained either by fermentation of proteins or by using bacteria to make the compound for us. No matter how it is obtained, it is exactly the same simple compound. You will see it referred to as MSG, or “glutamate” but it is the same thing either way.
You will find MSG used in Japanese and Chinese cooking as well as in many other cuisines, because it occurs naturally in mushrooms, tomatoes, parmesan and blue cheeses, broccoli, peas, soy sauce, prawns and Marmite.
But some people believe that MSG is harmful and the cause of any number of allergic symptoms. This is the thesis of this frequently cited misguided article: “Glutamate and your gut: understanding the difference between umami and MSG.” The first part of the article starts out soberly enough, outlining the history of the flavoring, including scientific references, but then veers off into scary, but inaccurate claims. Of course, you shouldn’t expect an article on a web site called bodyecology.com to be scientifically reliable, but this one started out so well.
Now, while glutamate is a common amino acid, the body can and does make its own, so whether it gets some from foods or seasonings doesn’t matter. Inside the body, it works as a neurotransmitter. And while buildup of glutamate is possible in certain diseases and brain injuries, it is not likely in healthy people and poses no harm. It is used in Japanese cooking and the Japanese are one of the world’s healthiest populations.
The article also talks about gamma aminobutrylic acid (GABA), which the body synthesizes from glutamate. This can take you down a whole rabbit hole of pseudo-science where naturopaths dwell, who insist that GABA is a valuable supplement and that MSG can interfere with the production of GABA. This is essentially nonsense, as there is little evidence that GABA is an effective natural supplement. Within your body GABA helps balance the production of glutamate, but has nothing to do with the traces of MSG used as a seasoning.
The place where MSG mythology begins to take off (in this article and in general) is the assertion that naturally occurring glutamate and manufactured glutamate are somehow different. This just reveals lack of basic knowledge of chemistry. As you can see from the above diagram, MSG is a relatively simple 5-carbon compound, and one that is easily synthesized in a number of ways. It was once made from wheat gluten and from acryonitrile, but now is made by bacterial fermentation of various sugars from sugar beets and molasses and corynebacterium.
If you look at the drawing of the structure above, you will notice that the carbon having the NH2 group attached has 4 different things attached: an H, an NH2, a COOH and a CH2 group. This makes this carbon an asymmetric center and it has two mirror images that cannot be superimposed, much like right and left hands. Thus, there are two forms of glutamate, the right-handed and the left-handed versions, often labeled “D-glutamate” and “L-glutamate,” for “dextro” and ”levo.” Only the L-version has umami flavor properties, the D-version is tasteless. Extracted from seaweed, there is about 5% of the D version and 95% of the flavorful L-version. Synthesized by fermentation, there is much less D-version, probably less than 1%.
Are there allergic reactions to MSG?
As explained by the Cleveland Clinic, a true food allergy is a reaction mediated by immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies. The antibodies are directed at protein allergens and are less common than other sorts of food reactions. MSG has never been shown to produce IgE antibodies under any conditions.
However, anecdotal evidence persists of reactions to MSG, mostly in reports of headaches after consuming MSG containing foods. But, considering how common MSG is in foods, this seems somewhat unlikely.
Tarasoff and Kelly described a double blind experiment in which 71 healthy subjects were given a capsule containing MSG or a placebo before a standard breakfast over 5 days. Of the subjects, 85% reported no responses to the MSG or the placebo, and sensations previously reported as MSG reactions did not occur at a significantly higher rate in the MSG test than for the placebo. And reviewing the existing experimental literature the next year, Freeman reported that there was no significant data to support reported reactions such as headache or asthma. Nor did they find any subset of the population with an MSG sensitivity.
One interesting recent paper by Shimada examined the possibility that MSG could cause headaches and TMD (temperomandibular disorders) or aching of the jaw muscles. Three of the subjects experienced some pain in this study. However, the study of 14 healthy young men administered 150 mg/kg of MSG each day for 5 days in a diet lemon soda that the authors believed masked the taste of MSG.
Note, that for a 100 kg man, this would be 15 g of MSG (pictured) which is a whopping dose. Even for a considerably lighter man or woman, 7 or 8 g of MSG Is still probably more than 20 times the usual amount used as seasoning. The authors noted that at the end of the double blinded study, the subjects admitted that they could taste the MSG in the lemon soda, this essentially nullifying the experiment.
A paper on headaches and a review of dietary factors published this year by Zaeem concluded that there were no studies showing such effects for MSG when you eliminated papers where double blinding was ineffective. Interestingly, Nakamura found that there were glutamate sensors not only in the oral cavity, but in the stomach, indicating that this is clearly part of the body’s normal processes.
Some negative effects in very high concentrations
But getting into something close to conspiracy theories, Nakanishi published an article called “Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia.” In this paper, Nakanishi and co-workers injected a solution of MSG into 123 newborn mice, at a concentration of 2 mg/g of body weight. Not only is injection quite different than digestion, that concentration is 2 g/kg, or for a 100 kg man, the equivalent of injecting 200g of MSG. With concentrations this far from those in normal consumption of foods, any results are pretty unlikely to be significant. They found that this concentration induced liver inflammation and damage as well as obesity. Their conclusions were that MSG be withdrawn from the diet, ignoring the fact that it occurs naturally in so many foods, and is synthesized by the body as well. A similar paper by Tsuneyama injected twice that concentration (4 mg/g) and found much the same effects. Again, this has no real relevance to the normal human diet.
But people continue to report headaches
But despite the continuing findings that MSG causes no ill effects in double blind studies, people continue to insist that it does and the science “must be wrong,” because they or their spouse gets strong reactions from foods with added MSG. Sometimes they even report that Parmesan cheese (which is high in MSG) also produces such symptoms. Usually, they report headaches, but sometimes other varied symptoms as well. For example, if you read the comments on Rachel Feltman’s 2014 Washington Post article, you will see some very annoyed people insisting that negative effects do exist. Similar comments have been made on previous articles I have published.
The question is why such reports contradict all carefully done experiments. The reports are anecdotal, of course, which means that those reporting have not been part of any study to find out what is causing these very real effects.
So, in brief, we really don’t know. One possibility is called the nocebo effect. This very real effect is caused by the expectation of a negative effect even when there is no actual medical reason for such an effect. The nocebo effect is very powerful and cannot be brushed off as some psychological oddity. But even this year, a series of studies among self-identified MSG sensitives showed no statistical effect.
So in conclusion, all studies have failed to show any significant effects of MSG on humans. But some people persist in reporting such symptoms, and we really do not know for certain what is behind these reported effects, nor why it has never been observed experimentally.
The ill-informed Environmental Working Group has been engaged in a blizzard of press releases and E-mails claiming that nearly everyone’s drinking water is contaminated with chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium). Consisting mainly of lawyers, PR people and self-promoters like Brockovich, the EWG has little scientific expertise, but loves to issue scary broadsides about evil chemicals. Their board members and staff contain almost no actual scientists. Their yearly press releases on the “Dirty Dozen,” have been widely discredited for failing to recognize that all the residues they report on fall far below USDA safety levels.
Comes now Erin Brockovich, mostly known by having been portrayed by Julia Roberts, recycling her claims from 25 years ago about Cr+6 in our water supplies. In fact she and the EWG have sent out regional alerts with lists of the chromium levels in water supplies for that region, conning naïve local papers into publishing these data with little contextual explanation.
Well, as McGill chemistry professor and science writer Dr Joe Schwarcz explained some years ago, there was actually little cause for concern in the town of Hinkley, CA where Brockovich made her name, and little cause for alarm now. Learning that trace amounts of chromium were in the Hinkley water supply caused by PG&E using it as a corrosion inhibitor, she quickly connected it to every conceivable malady, including miscarriages, Crohn’s disease, lupus and cancer, without any actual evidence. She eventually got PG&E to pay a $333 million settlement to Hinkley.
Now the trouble is, as Schwarz points out, chromium exists in two ionic forms trivalent or Cr+3 and hexavalent, or Cr+6. The trivalent state is pretty benign and an essential nutrient. It also sometimes appears in nutritional supplements (where it probably does little good). The hexavalent form is actually rather toxic, but Brockovich disregarded the chemistry, much as the EWG always has. The small amounts of hexavalent chromium would quickly react with chemicals in the soil and groundwater, reducing to the safer trivalent chromium.
And, in fact, exhaustive, repeated studies have shown no toxic effects on any residents either in Hinkley or other sites of contamination, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, and by ABC News. While hexavalent chromium may be carcinogenic to some chemical plant workers, there is no evidence at all that ingestion of trace amounts of chromium in drinking water poses any sort of harm.
The EWG could quickly find this out. After all, reviews of the movie even pointed out that this contamination probably was not actually harmful. But, no, they want to scare you and use the claims to raise their membership levels and raise money. They are not qualified to undertake “research” in this area and should cease these ridiculous claims.
In fact, the USDA, on a site hosted by the University of Georgia, explains that the pH of canned tomato sauce must be at or below 4.6 to prevent the growth of botulism. This sounds like really good advice, but we have been canning tomato sauce for over 30 years without adding lemon juice, and no one has had any ill effects.
The pH value is a measure of the acidity of a solution, here of tomato juice, and the lower the pH the higher the acidity. Thus foods having a pH of 4 are more acidic than those with a pH of 5. This Is a logarithmic scale, so foods with a pH of 4 are ten times as acidic as those with a pH of 5.
So we decided to look into this a little further. It turns out that we aren’t the first. The University of North Dakota Ag Extension in 2007 looked into the pH of a number of popular tomato varieties that you might use in making salsa. They measured the pH of the tomatoes, of the salsa and of the salsa with lemon juice, and found that only the salsas with added lemon juice had a pH below 4.6. These were grown in Williston, ND and probably in a greenhouse, so the pH values might differ from the garden and in warmer states.
More recently, in 2010 Heflebower and Washburn at Utah State measured the acidity of juice from a number of popular varieties, including Celebrity and Rutgers, finding that the pH varied from 3.92 to 4.32. Clearly sauce from these varieties need not be further acidified. They also found that pH didn’t vary much based on maturity of the fruit, nor on whether a new or an heirloom variety was tested. However, since tomato sauce may vary with the mixture of fruits you use as well as the weather conditions, they suggest that it would not be unwise to continue to add lemon juice.
However, since 2010, there have been a number of tomato varieties bred especially for flavor, and we decided to test the pH of the 8 varieties growing in our garden. We used a THZY portable pH meter, calibrated with the supplied buffer solution. We squeezed juice out of part of each tomato and filtered it through a coffee filter into a freshly washed glass, rinsed with distilled water.
Here are our pH readings
Garden Gem **
Amish Paste *
Fourth of July
Garden Treasure **
** Recently developed
The Opalka variety has been a reliable paste tomato for years, but obviously if you use it, you must add lemon juice to your sauce. If it is only one of many, you may not need to. Note that Lemon Boy, a mild yellow tomato is the only other one even close to a pH of 4.6.
The pH of the final sauce will be influenced by the ingredients you add: in our case onions and spices. We tested the pH of sauce from 2015 and from last week. They were 4.18 and 4.33 respectively, and thus perfectly safe. Interestingly, it was the 2015 sauce that used Opalkas. This year they haven’t done well and none was in last week’s batch.
You would probably be safe without adding lemon juice, but a tablespoon of lemon juice will make a substantial change in the pH and in your safety. We found that adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to a pint of distilled water reduced its pH from 5.86 to 2.96. Thr scientists at the University of North Dakota found that the lemon juice reduced the pH of salsa by only 0.3 pH units. And don’t worry about the possible sourness: one or two teaspoons of sugar will easily cancel it out. In the batch we made yesterday, we added 1 Tb of lemon juice and 1 tsp of sugar to the bottom of each pint jat.
What is pH? [a sidebar]
The concentration of acid, or specifically of hydrogen ions (H+) in a water solution can vary from 100 (or 1.0) to 10-14. Since this is hard to write down, we usually refer to the concentration by the exponent of 10 or 0 to -14. And, in order to make this more convenient we remove the minus sign, so pH values run from 0 to 14. Neutral pH (neither acidic nor basic) is pH 7, where the concentration of hydrogen ions and hydroxyl ions (OH–) are equal.
So if we want to write down the acid concentration equivalent to a ph of 4.6, that means 10-4.6 and that is the same as.00002512.
And what are the units of this concentration? It is moles per liter, where a mole is the molecular weight of an element in grams. A gram of hydrogen ions (or of hydrogen itself for that matter) is one mole. It turns out that a mole of any element or compound has the same number of particles (ion, atoms or molecules) and that number is called Avogadro’s number. While Avogadro proposed it, it was first calculated by Loschmidt to be 6.02 x 1023 particles.
“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.
Last fall I had a pretty obnoxious cold, and since I was part of a singing group, I soon got advice from a lot of other singers on how to treat it or at least diminish the symptoms. One thing that seemed to come up a lot was various uses of apple cider vinegar. While this was new to me, there seems to be a large population of vinegar-o-philes who use this folk remedy for treating all kinds of things. Of course, this means it was something to look into and write about.
Vinegar is made in two stages: first you ferment fruit juice (apple or several other fruits) to make alcohol. Various yeasts speed up the fermentation process. Under the right careful conditions you can make wines or apple jack this way. Essentially, the sugars are broken down to make ethanol (ethyl alcohol, CH3CH2OH). However, if you expose that solution to oxidation or let the fermentation proceed further, the ethyl alcohol is oxidized to acetic acid: CH3COOH. It is this acetic acid that gives vinegars their acrid smell and taste.
If you don’t filter the vinegar, it remains somewhat cloudy, and this may add slightly to the flavor. If you do filter it, you are left with a clear, but colored, liquid. If you distill that vinegar, you are purifying the acetic acid, and this ends up giving the pure white vinegar used in some recipes. You usually use that in sweet-and-sour dishes and the like, but with little subtlety of taste.
Right now our pantry contains white vinegar, cider vinegar, malt vinegar, raspberry vinegar, balsamic and rice wine vinegar, each with different flavors for various kinds of cooking. You could use any of them to make a sour drink, but it really isn’t all that good for you.
Folk remedy claims
You will find a plethora of claims for the health benefits of apple cider vinegar (ACV) in articles like this wildly inaccurate one in Healthy and Natural World. Here the authors claim you can use it for sore throats (mixed with honey, I think) , joint pain, acid reflux, weight loss, reduced cholesterol and several other completely unsupported claims.
Now, here is why we know they are nuts: they correctly note that ACV (which is mostly acetic acid) is acidic (low pH), so using for heartburn and the like seems silly. But they then claim that when vinegar is consumed, it turns alkaline (high pH). Holy smoke! Is this some sort of magical transmutation? No, it is just plain wrong. This article also claims that honey is acidic (no it isn’t) but becomes alkaline in the body (no it doesn’t).
In fact ACV can be dangerous, since taking something so acidic, even diluted, it could harm your esophagus and damage your tooth enamel. WebMD says there is insufficient evidence for any of the claimed uses being effective.
Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar
One of the largest promoters of health effects of ACV is Bragg, a small company founded by two naturopaths, which makes unsupported and downright crazy claims on their cluttered web site, reminiscent of tabloids and the Wretched Mess News. Those claiming to be naturopaths are simply quacks, and are not practicing anything like science-based medicine. You can read a critical description of naturopathy here, in an article by a former naturopath.
Bragg ACV is organic, which is just a marketing term, gluten free (which apples contain gluten?), un- pasteurized (why?), and Non GMO (no GMO apples have yet reached the market anyway). They call the cloudy pulp that remains in the vinegar “the Mother,” but it has no particular nutritional value. This is in reference to Kombucha which has a similar culture of bacteria and yeast also called “the Mother.” It doesn’t have any real health benefits either.
As a company, Bragg promotes every kind of pseudo-science you can think of. The web site has links to why cell phones cause cancer (they don’t: microwaves are not energetic enough to break any chemical bonds), dangers of water fluoridation, GMOs, Monsanto’s Terminator seed (which does not exist) and, most disturbingly, a diet for preventing suicide. They also claim MSG is dangerous, while recognizing the glutamates are naturally occurring in our body.
It seems that much of the apple cider vinegar myths are being pushed by two crackpot naturopaths, who have made a successful business out of making up new folk remedy treatments. There is not a shred of evidence they work, and you would do better with conventional and much safer nostrums.
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer that has been used in Japanese and Chinese cooking since about 1908. Dr Kikunae Ikeda recognized that seaweed broth had been used as a flavor enhancer and set about to isolate the substance that caused this brothy flavor that he called umami. He published this work in the Journal of the Chemical Society of Tokyo in 1909 and it was translated and republished in English in 2002 in the journal Chemical Senses. The paper is a fascinating little piece of detective work in which he eventually concluded that the umami flavor was caused by glutamate, the sodium salt of glutamic acid. He later developed and patented a process for extracting MSG from seaweed. Today, MSG is produced by fermenting starch, sugar cane, sugar beets and molasses. It is also an integral part of soy sauce(1090 mg.ml), also made from fermented vegetable protein.
Once isolated, MSG became a popular additive in Japanese and Chinese cooking and more recently has come under scrutiny as being the cause of all sorts of disorders from “Chinese restaurant syndrome” to brain lesions and various behavioral and physical disabilities. People have called it an “evil chemical” that is added to poison us and our children and other similar epithets. Always ready to spout nonsense, the redoubtable Joseph Mercola has called it a “silent killer lurking in your kitchen cabinets.”
Around 1968, reports of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS) began to appear, where a cluster of symptoms were described including flushing, headache and dry mouth. However numerous double blind studies have failed to confirm any relation between MSG and these symptoms. In one such study volunteers were given either MSG or a placebo. Symptoms attributed to CRS did not appear more frequently in the MSG group than in the placebo group, and most subjects had no responses at all.
Another recent review article noted that while there have been reports of an MSG sensitive subset of the population, this has not been confirmed in placebo-controlled trials.
It is very important to note that this is not an evil chemical additive, but a naturally occurring substance, easily extracted from plants. Just as important, MSG can be found in large quantities in foods such as the bleu cheese in the picture (1280 mg/ml), obtained from Stop and Shop. You will also find it naturally in Parmesan cheese(1200 mg/ml), the British Marmite spread (1960 mg/ml), soy sauce, and in broccoli, peas and tomatoes.
It is also worth noting that the Japanese consume the largest amounts of MSG and they are considered one of the healthiest populations in the world.
Some have tried to argue that MSG as an additive is somehow different than that found naturally in foods. However, since MSG is a single compound and easily purified, it is clear that its source does not matter. This argument is rather like suggesting that the pure MSG from the red bottle is worse than the pure MSG in the green bottle.
In 2005, the journal Nature published a consensus following a meeting on the current state of MSG research, concluding that “the general use of glutamate salts (monosodium-l-glutamate and others) as food additive can, thus, be regarded as harmless for the whole population. Even in unphysiologically high doses GLU will not trespass into fetal circulation.”
In conclusion, the scientific consensus after years of study is that MSG is harmless and that no cluster of allergic symptoms has been observed. MSG is extracted from fermented plant products and occurs naturally in a wide variety of foods: it is not a synthetic additive.
Nonetheless, there are a variety of hoax sites that call into question the safety of MSG, such as truthinlabeling.org, msgtruth.org and probably any of a number of others. They can and should be ignored.
The safety of MSG is firmly established and need not trouble us further.
We hadn’t heard of anyone actually opposed to water fluoridation since Colonel Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) complained to Colonel Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) in his famous “precious bodily fluids” rant in Dr. Strangelove.
But we heard a great deal in a talk given last spring by members of ConnFACT about the dangers of mandatory water fluoridation. We had already interviewed the speakers, Carol Peringer and Christine O’Day, noting that ConnFACT stands for Connecticut Families Against Chemical Trespass, a group that seems to specialize in taking positions contrary to all accepted science. In fact, you have to wonder what rational group would talk about “chemical trespass.” What chemicals? How about water or salt?
Fluoridation works by having fluoride ions replace some of the hydroxyl ions in the mineral making up our teeth: hydroxyapatite becomes fluoroapatite, which is harder and resistant to tooth decay. Fluoride, furthermore is naturally occurring in our soil and in most drinking water: it is only the concentration that is adjusted to a level determined to do the most good. Moreover, water fluoridation is considered the single greatest public health advance of the 20th century.
However, the overriding problem with their presentation was nearly every statement they made was easily determined to be untrue.
Fluoride increases risk of bone fracture: Not according to the paper in Nature by Thomas.
Fluoride decreases brain function: There is one study of naturally occurring high levels of fluoride in China where there may be some effect, but their control groups had the same level of fluoride as are recommended in the US. Thus standard fluoridation levels are perfectly safe. And, as Steve Novella pointed out in Science Based Medicine, these were not experiments, but retrospective studies.
Fluoride causes diabetes: The American Diabetes Association recommends brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and the CDC finds no problem for diabetics drinking fluoridated water.
Fluoride causes kidney disease: According to reviews by the American Kidney Foundation, there is no evidence that drinking fluoridated water is harmful to or causes kidney disease.
Fluoride is an endocrine disruptor: The WHO’s extensive report on fluoride’s effects on humans specifically says that no endocrine effects are observed in rats at any concentration (pp 95-96).
Fluoride accumulates in the body; the benefit is topical, not systemic. Contradictory and both wrong. The European Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks says that fluoride builds up in the plasma and is eventually excreted. Some ends up in the saliva where it can react to protect the teeth. Some will end up in the bones, but does not stay there.
By far the biggest objection that anti-fluoridation crowd makes is that fluoride can cause a sort of tooth enamel mottling called fluorosis. Fluorosis is caused by excess fluoride consumption before the teeth erupt, and is divided into Questionable, Very Mild, Mild, Moderate and Severe. The first three categories are only apparent to a specialist, and while Moderate may involve brown staining, the teeth are still healthy and resistant to decay. Only about 1-2% of all patients show Moderate and Severe fluorosis, and that is cause by very high dosages of naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply, far higher than would ever occur in water fluoridated for dental health.
According to the CDC: among persons aged 6-49, 16.5% had questionable fluorosis, 16.0% had very mild fluorosis, 4.8% had mild fluorosis, 2.0% had moderate fluorosis, and less than 1% had severe fluorosis. Adding these up gives you the relatively meaningless number of about 39%. And in the teenager sub-category, that number is 41%. However, claiming that 41% of teenagers have dental fluorosis is seriously misleading, because the lower categories aren’t even visible, let aloneharmful. Using this scary number in their literature as ConnFACT has done is intentionally misleading at the very least.
One of the most mendacious assertions of the anti-fluoridation crowd is in their description of how water is fluoridated. Fluoride is obtained as a byproduct of fertilizer manufacture mostly in the form of fluorosilicic acid. They claim without any evidence that these byproducts are contaminated with heavy metals and are just “dumped” into the drinking water supply. This is simply false. Any additive to our drinking water must pass safety standards of the American Waterworks Association, the EPA, and NSF International (page 42). Opponents have made up this lie to make fluoridation seem dangerous or contaminated. This is simply untrue.
Misrepresentation of Fluoridation Facts in Europe
Their handout suggests that “most other countries banned fluoridation,” which is demonstrably false. In fact, most European water supplies are not fluoridated because of their size and age, and because of multiple water sources. Instead fluoride is provided in their table salt.
They suggest that water fluoridation in Kuopio, Finland was ceased in 1992, but that caries has decreased or remained the same. In fact, virtually all children took advantage of government dental care which included topical fluoride and dental sealant programs.
Each of these cases is also summarized (in that same order) in the ADA report Fluoridation Facts, where they may well have drawn their summary from, conveniently leaving out the facts that fluoride treatments of other types replaced fluoridation. In other words, they are lying.
They also mention Landrigan and Grandjean’s discredited Lancet Neurology paper which calls fluoride a neurotoxin. Critics have called the authors “long time toxic terrorists,” who completely ignore dose-response information in order to write papers calculated to scare people. They also confuse correlation and causation.
Finally, the ConnFACT handout asserts that there are studies showing that there is no link between fluoride and cavity reduction. They cite this study by Warrren et. al. to prove that assertion, but Warren’s study was on the optimum fluoride level to minimize dental fluorosis among caries-free children. But they did note that children with caries had slightly lower fluoride intakes (as you might expect). The ConnFACT handout also claims that Cheng’s study in the British Medical Journal concludes there is a lack of strong evidence for fluoride’s benefits. That isn’t true either. Cheng asserts that the optimum fluoride level is difficult to establish exactly.
They also state that there have never been any randomized clinical trials demonstrating fluoridation effectiveness. Another fib. Just read the summary of studies on this early CDC page.
No matter how well intended the speakers were, the materials they were working from can best be described as a tissue of lies. And when we discovered that their assertions were cribbed from an ADA Report with critical facts removed, it is clear that this lying was intentional.
None of the health assertions they make are true.
None of the papers they quote say what they say they do.
None of the assertions about dangers of fluoridation are true.
Like Joe Isuzu, knowingly or not, they are lying about every aspect of fluoridation.
This time of year we try to recover from our vacation excesses by eating more sensibly. Fine. Good idea. But Bon Appetit has gone a little over the deep end by recommending a “juice cleanse” and a two week long “cleansing diet.”
Juice cleanses are a scam, calculated to part you from your money by selling you weird vegetable juices at high prices. The Mayo Clinic notes that such “detox diets” have no real effect.
However, there’s little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. Indeed, the kidneys and liver effectively filter and eliminate most ingested toxins
And the Cleveland Clinic notes that while there may be some useful vitamins and minerals in juices, much of the benefits of these vegetables and fruits is in the skin, which is normally discarded. If you make your own juices, you could include these, but a well-balanced diet will give you the same effect.
You will find the same advice on WebMD:
As for detoxification, your liver already does that. There is no medical evidence that fasting or “cleansing” diets actually rid the body of any toxins not otherwise discarded in bodily waste.
Your body is not “full of toxins.” When it is, your liver and kidneys are designed to handle those “toxins” and will do so far better than anything someone tries to sell you.
Diets only work when they restrict calories.
Your colon is fine and does not deserve to be regularly “cleansed.” Colonics have been around since the early 1900’s (maybe earlier) and the fact that they are still being used is only evidence of the gullibility of humans.