Tag: GMOs

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

GMOs Decoded is Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky’s latest skeptical discussion on the virtues of plant biotechnology. Unlike his previous book, The GMO Deception, Krimsky here appears at first to take a more nuanced approach, by taking about eight of his fourteen chapters to explain the details of various biotechnology issues.

The book opens with a Foreword by nutritionist Marion Nestle, which you can read here in her column. Nestle has never been a fan of biotechnology so her comments are fairly anodyne.

Then, in the Introduction, gives away the game by noting that “there is a strong scientific consensus among elites over GMOs.” He goes on to say that “Although some scientists have declared the debate…over,” referencing Jon Entine’s Forbes article which references von Eenennaam and Young’s trillion animal feed study, This major study in the Journal of Animal Science studies feed records for over 100 billion animals fed either GE or non-GE foods, and found no unfavorable effects on the animals.

Then Krimsky notes that “other scientists declare with equal confidence that there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.” His reference is to a paper in the trivial non-journal Environmental Sciences Europe, by prominent GMO disinformationists: Nicholas DeFarge, Michael Antoniou from Seralini’s group, and Indian pseudo-science mystic Vandana Shiva, among others. The paper presents no research but merely a report on a petition signed by “300 scientists worldwide.” (I have that list and most of the signatories are not scientists.)

The Seralini problem

Critiques of biotechnology, or colloquially “GMOs,” really was heightened by Giles-Eric Seralini’s 2012 paper in Food and Chemical Toxicology featuring tumor-laden Sprague-Dawley rats: Long-term toxicity of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically-modified maize.” Even the title made the objective confusing.  Wayne Parrott’s criticism describes the paper’s problems clearly.

The paper had so many problems from animal husbandry to poor experimental design that protests and a re-review caused the journal to withdraw the paper. It was eventually reprinted (without review) in Environmental Sciences Europe where you can find it now.

Seralini’s group has continued to publish papers critical of biotechnology, all of questionable validity, and many very difficult to follow. His co-workers and colleagues have been publishing these papers ever since, and Brazeau has dubbed them the “Seralini pseudo-science syndicate.” And none of his lab’s papers have been replicated be others.

The footnotes

You can learn a great deal about a book’s approach by scanning the footnotes, which occupy pages 156-181 in Krimsky’s book. It doesn’t take long to discover that the footnotes are larded with 15 references to Seralini’s disinformation machine.

Charles Benbrook who was for a few years at Washington State University, but whose salary was paid by the Organic Center and has close ties anti-GMO activists, appears in 5 footnotes, and his paper (published in a predatory pay-to-play journal) claiming negative impacts of GM crops has been roundly debunked by Brookes, Carpenter and McHughen.

Jonathan Latham, publisher and author of the anti-biotech Independent Science News appears twice arguing that transgenic plants can sometimes mutate dangerously. He has been severely criticized by Katiree.

There are, however, many footnotes to well-regarded sources such as Brown and Federoff’s Mendel in the Kitchen and papers by legitimate scientists like Wayne Parrott and Alessandro Nicolia, for example.

The chapters

The book starts out soberly as an outline of various genetic breeding techniques: traditional, molecular and their differences. Chapter 4 details difficulty in producing the Flavr-Savr tomato and FrostBan  bacteria. Chapter 5 covers herbicide resistant  crops and brings up no-till farming, which can improve soil health. However, it suggests that herbicide resistant weeds may require tilling. However, this has obvious solutions in crop rotation. The chapter also brings up Benbrook’s discredited paper claiming increases in herbicide use that are significantly overstated. This chapter also brings up the IARCs discredited claim that glyphosate can cause cancer.

Chapter 6 fairly and accurately covers disease resistant crops, but in Chapter 7 covering insect resistant crops, Krimsky goes afield in his summary of Starlink Corn, spending  several pages scaring us, only to finally report that there was no evidence that Starlink corn caused any illnesses. Krimsky then cites Antoniou and Robinson from Seralini’s stable to claim GM-fed rats suffered liver and kidney damage in a 3-generation study that you can safely ignore.

Chapter 8 on GMO Risk Assessment makes claims that “scientists differ,” but suffers from a dearth of supporting footnotes on who and what these differences are. There is a lot of “some groups” but “other groups” but little supporting explanation.

Chapter 9 on Contested Viewpoints argues that trans-genes may be placed differently and could result in plants having different properties, including varying toxicity, but cites Latham twice and actual scientists in Kuiper et. al. You have to actually check the papers to see that there is little to be concerned about here. He also raises the question of whether pre-market testing is actually done, as if this is not a requirement for approval. Krimsky also gets “substantial equivalence” wrong, but Kuiper explains it clearly.

  • Substantial Equivalence is a starting point for a safety assessment
  • Make a comparison between the GM organism and its closes traditional counterpart.
  • Identify intended or unintended difference on which further safety assessment should be focused.

By contrast, Krimsky says that a transgenic crop and its conventional counterpart about which toxicology information is known are compared. “When extensively analyzed, if the transgenic crop exhibits no changes …compared to its parent strain it can be treated as substantially equivalent to that strain. After that determination is made, further safety or nutritional concerns are expected to be insignificant.”

This is just not the same idea at all!

The chapter also mentions a 13-week pilot study on the effect of Roundup on the gut microbiome of rats in a study performed by the Ramazzini institute in Italy. While they did claim to find some changes in the microbiome, the Ramazzini institute seems to have a spotty reputation, having been criticized for poor reliability in another recent study on aspartame, and in the glyphosate case, Brazeau criticizes them for finding “results that match their priors but not anyone else’s research.” (They also did a questionable report on cell phone radiation.)

Much of the rest of the chapter deals with worries that have never been found to be an actual problem.

Chapter 10 rehashes all the arguments for labeling GMOs and some of the issues various states have encountered, closing with the fact that Congress passed a “labeling law” that amounts to a QR code you can scan with your phone, and is thus pretty harmless.

Chapter 11 deals with the 2016 National Academies Study on Genetically Engineered Crops. Krimsky admits that the evidence of the report reinforces the fact that GM crops are safe to eat and do not pose any risks. However he carefully picks advantageous quotes to suggest that biotechnology does not improve yields. One would wonder why famers are then willing to pay more for them. If you read through the report or its summary you will find a number of carefully written conclusions suggesting that it is mostly difficult to measure the effects of yield because it is difficult to find identical cropland to compare GM and non-GM crops, and whether the GM and non-GM varieties were true isolines to be comparable. The report also discusses the strategy for preventing evolution of herbicide reisistant weeds and Bt resistant insects.

In fact, the report suggests that in the U.S. and in China, insect-pest populations “are reduced regionally and that this benefits both adopters and nonadopters of Bt crops.” And it is important to note that Bt brinjal (eggplant, or aubergine) has significantly improved farmers’ lives in both Bangladesh and India.

Krimsky also spends 3 pages defending Seralini’s disgraced paper, claiming that was “not a carcinogenicity study” to defend the small number of rats used. In fact, critics have said that Seralini’s paper had no particular objective in advance and he let the S-D rats grow until they naturally developed tumors and published their pictures.

Finally, Krimsky attacks the integrity of the NASEM panel itself, pointing to a reference that claims 6 out of 20 members had conflicting financial interests. Of course that paper is by Krimksy himself.

Chapter 12 discusses the development of Golden Rice, which the author calls a “promise unfulfilled.” It has now been approved by the US FDA, however.

Chapter 13 discusses conflict among scientists regarding GMOs as if it actually existed. The overwhelming worldwide consensus, including every major national scientific association, is that GM crops pose no harm. He mentions “uncertain risks,” and the “GMO divide” which he himself has tried to manufacture. He recycles the canard that “farmers do no own their own seeds” as if hybrid seeds had never before existed, and of course mentions international crackpot Vandana Shiva who questions  patenting living organisms. Oh, and don’t forget “corporate hegemonic control.”

Chapter 14 presents Krimsky’s completely expected, but erroneous summation. He attacks the values of science and “trans-scientific concepts,” (whatever they are!). He suggests that “it’s an evolving story in India,” despite the overwhelming success of Bt brinjal, and questions whether yields actually improve. Of course he trots out Robin Mesnage, one of Seralini’s henchmen to argue that corn (maize) sprayed with Roundup produces different metabolites, and claims farmers have untold economic losses because of unexpected GM contamination.

Conclusion

Krimsky starts out soberly enough trying to explain the various techniques that have been developed and some of their successes. But he can’t help himself, and by Chapter 5 he is back beating the same poor old horse, and gradually slipping more misinformation into each succeeding chapter. Nothing really new here, unfortunately.

 

Sheldon Krimsky publishes more anti-GMO malarkey

Sheldon Krimsky publishes more anti-GMO malarkey

This 2015 review is being republished in advance of my forthcoming review of Krimsky’s latest book.

Sheldon Krimsky, Professor of Humanities & Social Sciences at Tufts University has published another in a series of articles and books attacking the safety of genetically modified plants (GMOs). Professor Krimsky’s appointment is in the Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, but he holds and adjunct appointment in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. Krimsky holds a masters in physics, but his PhD is in philosophy. Thus, many of his arguments have already been rejected by biologists.

Last year Krimsky published The GMO Deception at Skyhorse publishing (who also published RFK jr’s anti-vax book). While the book’s anti-science point of view is obvious from the title, it received a devastating review at Biofortified , who pointed that the book is nothing but a repackaging of old, discredited articles from GeneWatch archives. That site is hosted by the Council of Responsible Genetics, where Krimsky is the chairman.

Getting to Krimsky’s latest publication “An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment,” it too brings up a number of discredited articles and workers.

The thesis of Krimsky’s article is that there is not a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, because he has uncovered about 26 articles attacking them. Krimsky’s paper is published in the journal Science, Technology and Human Values, where Krimsky is on the editorial board.

In discussing articles on biotechnology, it is useful to remember  The Seralini Rule, published in the Skeptico blog, which states that

If you favorably cite the 2012 Séralini rats fed on Roundup ready maize study, you just lost the argument.

That Skeptico article summarizes all the problems with that discredited and withdrawn paper, noting that if you cite this paper as serious science you haven’t taken the trouble to consider all of its scientific weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Professor Krimsky’s paper fails this test, citing 5 papers by this discredited scientist.

Krimsky’s  article is divided into three parts. In the first part, he summarizes eight recent review articles on GMOs finding some very critical and some much less critical. We read several of the more critical ones to see if we could understand his point.

He first cites “Genetically Modified Foods and Social Concerns,” by Maghari and Ardekani, published in the Iranian journal Avicenna Journal of Medical Biotechnology. This paper is basically a summary of potential concerns, none of which are supported by actual science. Suggesting that transgenic DNA might break up and reintegrate into the genome (which has never been observed), he cites two non-peer-reviewed reports by Mae Wan Ho, who has been criticized for embracing pseudoscience. Even more risible is Maghari’s assertion that GMOs may be responsible for “food-borne diseases” such as the “epidemic of Morgellon’s disease in the U.S.” In fact, Morgellon’s disease is a delusion that one’s skin is crawling when no cause can be found, and is considered a psychiatric ailment, not one caused by diet.

The second paper we read from his list was a literature review by Domingo and Bordonaba, which also violates the Seralini rule, and asserts without proof that studies showing the safety of GMOs have been performed by biotechnology companies. This is in fact contrary to the findings of Biofortified’s GENERA database of papers, which found that more than half of the studies were performed by independent researchers.

The third paper he cites, by Dona and Arvanitouannis also violates the Seralini rule, and completely misstates the doctrine of “substantial equivalence.” The correct statement of this principle is that if a GM and a conventional crop have similar origins, then their “substantial equivalence” can be the starting point for testing of the GM version to see if it has different properties that might make it dangerous to the consumer. It does not mean that no further testing is required. It also erroneously suggests that the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus, which is found on all cauliflower, is dangerous if used in biotechnology. This is, of course, rubbish, since we eat it every day on most brassicae.

In checking these papers, we quickly wander down a “rabbit hole” of papers referring to other papers and to each other, but all seeming to cite the same erroneous information. After citing some inconclusive studies, Krimsky quotes the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, which is listed on QuackWatch, and is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. It has been criticized by Science Based Medicine, and is considered a dubious certifying board.

Arpad Pusztai and Giles-Eric Seralini

In the second part of his paper Krimsky focuses on the poorly regarded work of Pusztai and of Seralini, carefully omitting some of the more damning details about their work.

Pusztai was asked to evaluate some experimental genetically modified potatoes, and reported that they damaged the stomach lining of rats. After an investigation by his employer, the Rowett Institute, found that his data did not support his conclusions, he was fired. However, Krimsky does not note what Chassy and Tribe have pointed out: the potatoes Pusztai used were an experimental and unapproved variety, and that the rats were fed uncooked potatoes, which are always harmful to rats. Moreover, two expert panels concluded that no scientific conclusions could be drawn from his work. Pusztai has become an anti-GMO activist, travelling the world giving scary talks, but has not carried out any further science.

Professor Giles-Eric Seralini has published a number of papers critical of GMOs, and their confusing style and lack of rigor have been criticized long before his rat tumor paper. However, when Seralini published his 2012 paper, scientists immediately began criticizing its small sample size, lack of double blinding, animal mistreatment, and unsupported conclusions: Sprague-Dawley rats develop tumors anyway, which is why they are suitable for 90 day experiments but not 2-year experiments.

Krimsky notes that Seralini revealed his association with CRIIGEN, a French anti-GMO organization he headed, but did not mention that Seralini’s work was sponsored by Carrefour grocery chain and the Auchan retail group who wanted to promote their new line of organic (non-GMO) products.

When many, many scientists protested to Food and Chemical Toxicology that this paper did not represent good science, the journal editor, A. Wallace Hayes, convened a new group of referees to review the paper. After nearly a year, the review panel concluded that the paper should be withdrawn because of its scientific flaws, and it was. Krimsky fails to mention the panel, but suggests the editor did this unilaterally.

Krimsky also cites an article which suggests that a “new assistant editor” joined the board of Food and Chemical Toxicology who had previously worked for Monsanto. This old conspiracy theory is easily laid to rest: biologist Richard Goodman worked for Monsanto from 1997-2004 and then joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska, long before Seralini’s paper came to light. He was an assistant editor during the Seralini controversy, but Hayes specifically excluded him from the review panel at Seralini’s request.

Author’s Conclusions

Professor Krimsky’s conclusions rely on the fact that he claims to have found 26 animal studies that found “adverse effects or uncertainties of GMOs fed to animals.” We didn’t read all of them, but we have already read some which are discredited and/or published in very low-level journals.

  1. Ewen and Pusztai, “Effects of Diets Containing Genetically Modified Potatoes,’ Discussed above.
  2. Ermakova, “Genetically Modified Soy Leads to the Decrease of Weight and High Mortality of Rat Pups.” Not published in any journal.
  3. Seralini, Cellier and Vendomois, “New Analysis of Rate Feeding Study with GM Maize Reveals Signs of Hyporenal Toxicity.’ The EFSA has debunked this paper.
  4. Aris and LeBlanc, “Maternal and Fetal Exposure to Pesticdes Associated tp GM Foods in Eastern Township of Quebec, CA.” Critiqued by Anastasia Bodnar.
  5. Carman, Vlieger,Ver Steeg, Sneller, Robinson al., A Long-Term Toxicology Study on Pigs Fed a Combined GMO Soy and Maize Diet.” Published on a non-peer-reviewed journal. Bozianu’s work rebutted this paper. Rebutted by Mark Lynas  and  by David Gorski.
  6. Seralini al. “Long Term Toxicity of a Roundup herbicide…” Discussed above, and debunked by Skeptico and by Wayne Parrott.
  7. De Vendomois, Spiroux and Seralini, “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health” Reviewed and debunked here.

 

Conclusions

Professor Krimsky has recycled old, discredited papers and arguments as if they were new to try to imply that there is a serious doubt about the safety of GM crops. He neglects the thousands of papers that make up the scientific consensus over the few weak ones he has dredged up to make his point. And Professor van Eenennaam’s billion animal study simply closes the door on this discussion.

Sweet potatoes were naturally made using GMO techniques

sweet-potato-fries-with-sea-56276If you look at the packaging for Alexia Sweet Potato Fries (which are actually very good) you will see “Non-GMO” and that annoying GMO Free butterfly label.  This is called fear-based marketing. We don’t use that scary GMO stuff (whatever that is) in our potatoes. But in the case of sweet potatoes, nature beat them to the punch.

Farmers breed plants all the time to get new, stronger and tastier varieties by crossing them. This is tricky because you usually then have to “back-cross” your new variety with its parents to make it more like its parent. And this can result in exchanging of over 10,000 genes! This was the way the pioneering plant biologist Norman Borlaug bred the wheat that saved Mexico and later India. For this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another way farmers and breeders have used is irradiation of seeds. This is kind of a crude technique, called mutation breeding, but it is how we got the current Ruby Red Grapefruit. You just have to plant the seeds and see what comes up. Then you save the good ones.  You can also perturb the seed using mutagenic chemicals (such as colchicine) to cause it to mutate. This is just as uncertain, but we have gotten a lot of nice flowers and a few vegetables that way.

The last way is using biotechnology to insert just the gene we want for the trait we want. This is the most precise method, but not everyone (except most scientists) is convinced that there aren’t some sort of unknown side effects. They usually use a bacterium called “agro” (for agrobacterium tumefaciens) which is a sort of a ring of DNA called a plasmid. This bacterium can insert genes into plants, and that is where the bulges come from you see on oak trees, called oak galls.

Now if biologists make that ring of DNA longer by including the genes they want in the plant they can persuade agro to do their insertions for them and this is the way most genetically modified crops are made today.

Here’s the news. This wasn’t our idea! That intellectual property belongs to a sweet potato! Virologist Jan Kreuze of the University of Washington in Seattle reported that they examined the genes of some 291 varieties of sweet potatoes from around the world, and found in all of them foreign genes from bacteria. Further, they found genetic sequences analogous to those in agro. And while they found these in sweet potatoes, they did not find them in close relatives.

Now, sweet potatoes are just the swollen parts of the plant’s roots and the authors theorize that this modification is what gives sweet potato plants this bulge; both are lacking from the close relatives. So sweet potatoes did their own “genetic engineering” some 8000 years ago, and farmers selected the plants with the best “bulge” to plant each year. And clearly after 8000 years we can be pretty sure there are no ill effects from eating them.

This is a pretty good indication that such genetic modification is perfectly safe, and every major scientific organization world wide agrees that this is true. You can find declarations from the AAAS, the AMA, and the EFSA.  Every major scientific society and national scientific organization has indicated that GMO foods pose no harm of any kind. Here is a good review in Scientific American by Pamela Ronald. And the position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is very clear in stating that GMO crops pose no harm.

So, ignore those meaningless “non-GMO” marketing labels, and avoid products making those specious claims when you can. You may actually save money, too.

 

 

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

In Saturday’s NY Times, Stephanie Strom, no stranger to pseudo-science, wrote an article praising how friendly Boulder, CO was to development of new food products “where new companies are challenging the old guard in the food business.”

The trouble is every single company she mentioned is peddling products based on scaring into buying them. That’s right, all of these companies are peddling bullsh*t.

Quinn Snacks

Starting with Quinn Snacks, whose goal was “cleaning up food,” we find that their plan is no GMOS (um, there is no such thing as GMO popcorn)  combined with English and science illiteracy:

“we’ll take  real butter over carbonyl group (=C=O) any day of the week.”

Grammatically, it’s either “a carbonyl group” or “carbonyl groups.” Chemically, you should write a carbonyl group as >C=O to show two different bonds coming off the C. But come on, ninnies, butter flavoring is usually diacetyl

CH3-(C=O)-(C=O)-CH3

which has TWO carbonyl groups, and occurs naturally as a major flavor component in butter. So real butter contains diacetyl and has two carbonyl groups. They also claim that the Male Health and Enhancement Information and all their ingredients are pronounceable, which, of course, is really reassuring if you are functionally as well as chemically illiterate.

And Quinn perpetuates the Big Lie, that “GMOs” are an ingredient rather than a process. GMO crops are the most heavily tested class of foods in the world and not a single problem has ever been found in over 20 years of use. For more information about this topic and bees, go to Lee S Rosen Miami FL.

Of course Quinn’s foods are “organic,” which is the triumph of PR over science. There is simply no evidence that organic crops, using pre-scientific rules are any healthier or more nutritious than conventional crops. Organic crops have a yield that Is 50-80% of conventionally crops, deplete the soil, and have a greater carbon footprint. And yes, they spray pesticides on organic crops, too. Just different ones.

Purely Elizabeth

Purely Elizabeth  sells “ancient grain granolas,” at $6.99 for 12 oz (probably about two servings) which is fully buzz-word compliant: gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, organic and sweetened with “coconut sugar,” which they claim erroneously to be low glycemic, and baked with the ever popular foodie coconut oil, which has no discernible benefits except profitability. They also claim to provide support to organic, anti-GMO organizations like Slow Food USA and the Rodale Institute, whose entire reason for being is to promote organic farming.

Coconut sugar and palm sugar are the same thing, and are at least 70% sucrose, with the rest being glucose and fructose. While the Phillippine Department of Agriculture claims to have measured the  glycemic index for coconut sugar at 35, others have measured it at 58, close to that for sugar.  Chris Gunnars explains his skepticism of these measurements.

The glycemic index is a measure of glucose content, or more accurately how available the glucose is, but while this was formerly of interest to diabetics, current thinking according to the American Diabetes Association is that total calorie count is more important, and obviously, the calorie count for sugar is the same whether derived from cane, beets, or palms, and that’s why so many people who are into fitness decide to track their calories intake, to analyze better what works for there and for their body, although sometimes they still get a little help from cosmetic surgery for that places when no matter how much exercise, don’t change.

Exercise can benefit your digestive system through best yoga mats reviewed, inversions, and forward folds. These poses massage your digestive organs, increase blood flow and oxygen delivery, aid the process of peristalsis, and encourage stools to move through your system.

Madhava Sweeteners sells “organic sweeteners,” such as the ridiculous coconut sugar just mentioned, and organic honey, which is more or less a sweet illusion according to Scientific American. Incidentally, honey, too, is just sugar (sucrose) but the bees secrete invertase which breaks the sugar up into its two smaller sugar components: glucose and sucrose. It is not a special sweetener:  it’s sugar.

You can make similar criticisms of the bogosity of other mentioned companies like Made in Nature who make organic fruit and grain snacks, and Good Karma Foods, whose products but seem to be “flax milk” and yogurt made from flax seed, and of course are “non-GMO,” gluten free, non-dairy and allergen free.

Gluten free, of course, is only of concern to the approximately 1% of the population that suffers from celiac disease. Evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity is minimal, and going “gluten-free” is a lifestyle choice, not treatment of a medical issue.

Birch Benders

Finally we come to Birch Benders, who makes a line of pancake mixes. We’ve never understood the appeal of pancake mixes, since pancakes recipes only contain about 6 ingredients you can stir together in less than a minute, but we had to try theirs, because they claim to be “just like grandma’s.” Well, we have our grandmother’s recipe for buttermilk pancakes and thought we’d compare ours against theirs. This recipe has been in the family for probably 100 years, and is just:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • buttermilk (about 2 cups)

You just stir the ingredients up (this really takes only a minute) and bake them on a griddle or frypan at medium heat, turn once and serve.

Birch Benders has a classic pancake mix as well as a gluten free version, both are, of course, organic. They also  make a buttermilk pancake mix, but only the traditional one is available in stores in our area.

My grandmother never heard of either “organic” or “gluten free,” of course. But there are only 2 ingredients in making their pancakes:  ¾ cup of pancake mix and 2/3 cup of water.  Um…really?

Well of course, with those proportions, the batter came out the thickness of milk, and cooked into something thin and ridiculous that stuck to the pan.

We mixed in about 3 more Tb of flour to make a decently thick batter and tried to make comparable pancakes. Well they were about the same size as ours, but not as puffy and they had no taste except sweet, and in fact they were too sweet. There was no buttermilk or wheat flavor at all. They were actually pretty awful.

 

Their pancake mix is made from “organic evaporated cane juice,” which is just a cryptonym for sugar, organic wheat flour, baking powder, non-GMO cornstarch, organic potato starch and organic cassava starch. We paid $4.99 for a 16 oz package at Caraluzzi’s in Georgetown, CT. But never again.

The point of this rant is that the New York Times really needs to point out that these expensive little startup companies that form a coven in Boulder offer nothing new but unscientific malarkey. Claims like “organic,” “gluten free” and “GMO free” attempt to scare you into buying into their nonsense. And some of them aren’t even very good.

 

The best 2016 science and pseudo-science stories

Science

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).

Ebola outbreak over. The WHO declared that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is at an end and that all known chains of transmissions have been stopped. Flare-ups may still occur and monitoring will continue. In addition, a promising Ebola vaccine has been reported in The Lancet.

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 herpes simplex I symptoms 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. If you suffer of any health issues such as anxiety or depression you can find kratom powder for sale online wich is a natural drug that van help you.

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.

Pseudo-Science

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

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.

Organic crops also have significantly lower yields, which is part of the reason they cost more. Typically organic crops yield 60-80% as much per acre as do conventional crops. They also are less environmentally friendly.  Organic is not in any way “better.” In fact, writing in Forbes, Henry Miller calls it a “colossal hoax.”

GMO Crops

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.”

 

 

 

Are GMO producers covering up ‘just like’ Big Tobacco?

corntassels2016One of the popular slogans of anti-GMO protesters has been that there is a “cover-up” going on by GMO seed companies about the actual harm of GMO crops, just like the kind of cover-up that Big Tobacco carried out for 40 years on the dangers of smoking. You will hear this sort of talk from Dave Murphy from Food Democracy Now, who can sound pretty extreme in print (see this article in the Huffington Post) but when interviewed on MSNBC sounds somewhat more reasonable, even while talking through his hat. (Recently the Huffington Post was rated the worst anti-science web site by Skeptoid.)

However, in that interview, the best e cigarette companies are engaged in “cigarette science,” and not telling the “real truth.” The trope that a science cover-up on GMO crops is going on just like Big Tobacco carried out is common in anti-GMO protest signs and literature.

Tobacco history

We went back and looked at some of the history of the science on tobacco smoking and lung and heart disease. As more states decide to legalize hitman glass or medical marijuana, cannabis is becoming more accessible to a broader range of people, and gaining mainstream appeal. For new patients or novice users who can’t roll a joint, don’t want the mess of grinding up bud, or would rather not smell like weed, vaping offers a convenient, discreet, and tidy alternative. Most people who have tried vaping they stick to it because its healthier and tastes better, I recommend you to try out best selling e juice. Surprisingly, the research goes back to at least 1950 (1), where the authors found that smokers were substantially more likely to develop lung carcinoma. This was one of only two papers on this subject in PubMed in 1950, but the number grew in subsequent years to hundreds and then thousands of papers per year, all pointing to the same conclusions. Visit Medpot for the most reliable resource of medical plants.

So, in fact, the carcinogenicity of cigarettes was well known over 60 years ago, while it may have been discounted publicly by tobacco companies, there was no cover-up at that time. What is in e juice products? E-juice is the liquid put in vaporizers that creates the vapor itself. It can be made with nicotine, and it can be made without nicotine, but it really depends on the preference of the person.

However, when people began to ask questions about the dangers of second hand smoke (“passive smoking”), tobacco companies took an aggressive approach to neutralize the impact of this research. While Schmidt (2) indicated that the carcinogens in passive smoke were a serious problem, Grandjean et. al. suggested that there was unlikely to be a problem, but by 1981 researchers were pointing towards benzo(a)pyrene as a prime culprit in tobacco smoke. (4)

In 1998, as part of the resolution of a lawsuit by various attorneys-general against tobacco companies, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement resulted in significant funds being transferred to the states and the tobacco companies ceasing various marketing practices (check another kind of health-related lawsuit at http://sideeffectsofxarelto.org/current-xarelto-lawsuits/). At the time, the entire archives of the Tobacco Institute and related front organizations became available to researchers.

Because of these documents and the many papers that have been published about them, we now know that the tobacco companies conspired to cover up the harm they knew was being caused by second hand smoke. They also used their law firms and advertising agencies to recruit apparently unbiased scientists to tout their points of view expressing skepticism about the dangers of second hand smoke.

In 2000, Ong and Glanz (5) described the tobacco industry’s efforts to discredit second hand smoke studies, and Drope and Chapman(6) described how this was done by reviewing tobacco industry documents. And the tobacco companies’ law firms and agencies constructed the term “junk science” to try to refute some of these studies as Ong and Glanz noted in 2001 (7).

Perhaps most disturbing was the industry’s attempts to recruit (and pay) independent scientists to repeat industry talking points. The scientists’ papers would still indicate that they were being supported by tobacco industry groups, but as Bero, Glanz and Hong revealed, this wasn’t that hard to get around, as they show by detailing payments to one scientist who published such papers. (8)

A complete history of the tobacco industry’s second hand smoke cove-up was published online by PR Watch.

Development of GM Crops

There are two major types of GM crops in wide use in the US and other countries: Bt maize (corn), cotton, potatoes and tobacco and Roundup resistant soy, corn, sorghum, canola, squash, alfalfa and sugar beets. Roundup-resistant wheat has been developed and found to be safe, but is not being marketed.

In addition, there are ringspot-resistant GM papayas, non-browning Arctic apples and the non-browning Simplot potato, as well as Golden Rice with Vitamin A bred into the plant to combat blindness in vulnerable populations.

Bt insecticides

The bacillus we now know as Bacillus thuringiensis was, according to a review by Je et. al. (9) discovered originally in Japan in 1901 by Ishiwati and rediscovered in Germany by Berliner in 1911 (10), when he isolated it from flour moths.

Bt was found to be toxic to various Lepidoptera that were known to be crop pests and it began to be used in France in 1938, (11) and interest in its use as an insecticide more broadly was due primarily to Steinhaus.(12). There are now a large number of varieties of the Bt, specific to a number of different insect pests. It was found by Angus (13) that during sporulation, it forms a crystalline protein that creates the toxicity.

The important breakthrough in Bt research was when Gonzalez (14) reported that the genes that coded for the crystal proteins were located on separate cell sections called plasmids, paving the way for the cloning of these genes and eventually for insertion of these genes into plant material. The first genes isolated coded Bt toxic to the tobacco hornworm (15), and soon several groups began creating transgenic plants with various Cry genes inserted. The first to reach the market was Bt cotton (16).

Koziel (17) and a dozen coworkers from Ciba-Geigy described the field performance of transgenic maize in 1993, and commercial Bt corn followed soon after the cotton.

Once the Cry genes which coded for various strains of Bt were inserted into foodstuffs, concern was expressed regarding their safety. Numerous independent short and long term studies have shown these foods to be completely safe, however (18, 19).

Roundup

Roundup or glyphosate herbicide was discovered and patented by Monsanto chemist John E Franz in 1970 (20). It’s effectively made by combination of glycine and phosphonic acid, hence the name shortened from glycine phosphonate. It is a contact herbicide, used to kill emerging weeds and is not used as a pre-emergent weed killer. Duke and Powles, in a mini-review (21) have called it a “once in a lifetime herbicide.” Franz received the National Medal of Technology (1987) and the Perkin Medal (1990) for this work.

Even before the development of Roundup resistant plants, Roundup was used by farmers to clear the fields before planting, obviating the necessity of tilling. Glyphosate is of extremely low human toxicity, comparable to aspirin or baking soda, and binds to the soil while it decomposes, so water supplies are not at risk. All the commercial patents have now expired, and it is made by a large number of companies.

Steinrucken and Amrhein (22) reported in 1980 that glyphosate killed plants by inhibiting synthesis of the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase, (ESPS) which is critical for the synthesis of the  aromatic amino acids phenylalaninetyrosine and tryptophan. If researchers could interfere with this process, they could create plants that could resist glyphosate.

After several years of experimentation in a number of groups, Klee, Muskopf and Gasser at Monsanto reported the creation of a glyphosate resistant petunia (23). This technique resulted in a general method for creating glyphosate resistant plants by cloning a gene that encodes ESPS and inserting it to various plants. Patents on this were filed in 1990 by Shah, Rogers, Horsch and Fraley (24). Fraley recently received the World Food Prize for leading this work.

Related approaches continued for some years and the first glyphosate tolerant soybeans were introduced to the market in 1996.

Research on Safety of Transgenic Plants

Substantial research on the safety of each of the genetically modified plants has been conducted and published by research groups inside and outside the various seed companies. A complete list of nearly 6oo peer-reviewed papers attesting to the safety of transgenic crops has been compiled and published by the Biofortified web site (25).

All of these papers are published in major peer-reviewed journals and thus as an aggregate represent the best scientific knowledge on these systems. Among these hundreds of papers representing thousands of experiments, there are really only two papers reporting health problems from genetically modified crops.

One of these, the paper by Giles-Eric Seralini (26) is the paper most frequently referenced in this regard. While Seralini and coworkers claimed to find that rats fed transgenic maize developed tumors, the Sprague-Dawley rats they used all develop tumors at the same rate as they observed. The paper has been denounced by dozens of scientists for poor experimental design and statistics. The European Food Safety Authority (27) published a final assessment, calling the study of “insufficient scientific quality for a safety assessment.”

Forbes contributor and molecular biologist Henry Miller and biochemist Bruce Chassey published a critical article of Seralini’s work as well (28).

The other recent paper purporting to find dangers in feeding transgenic crops to animals was published by Judy Carman, et. al, (29). Published in a low level on-line journal supported by the Organic Federation of Australia, and not even indexed in PubMed, it is of little scientific validity, and was immediately criticized by scores of scientists.

Carman’s study fed pigs either transgenic or conventional maize for 23 months and then examined their stomachs after slaughter. They claimed that GM-fed pigs had more inflammation, but their own tables show the opposite. Critics (30) also noted the visual inspection of stomachs is not the same as an actual histology study, and probably was meaningless. If you want to read the full info via this guide, visit Kratom News. But most significant, FSANZ, the Food Standards Agency of Australia and New Zealand concluded (31) that the data “are not convincing of adverse effects due to the GM diet and provide no grounds for revising FSANZ’s conclusions.”

Comparison with Tobacco Cover-ups

In the case of tobacco companies, the cover-up was clear, because independent research had established and continued to establish the dangers of smoking and of second hand smoke, while at the same time, tobacco sponsored research was attempting to suggest alternate explanations for the observed diseases associated with such smoke.

By contrast, there are not really any credible studies from any source showing any damage to animals (or people) from any current transgenic crop. There is no sign of any coverup of evidence or papers adopting alternate hypotheses, because no negative results have been found. Nor are there conflicting conclusions presented by independent studies versus industry funded studies.

Consequently, there is no analogy between the near-criminal behavior of the tobacco companies and the relatively open research environment in which transgenic crops have been developed. There just doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a conspiracy.

The only evidence we find of mendacity and conspiracy is in Seralini’s and Carman’s papers, which have been found to be wanting of solid, believable science. And strangely enough, the web site gmoseralini.org and gmojudycarman.org have an identical design and style. And as Byrne and Miller noted (32), the organic industry is spending upwards of $2 1/2 billion opposing transgenic crops.

References

  1. Smoking and Carcinoma of the Lung, R. Doll and A. Bradford Hill, British Medical Journal, 739, Sept 30, 1950
  2. Health Damage by Means of Forced Smoking, F. Schmidt, Med, 1979, 97(42) 1920.
  3. Passive Smoking, E. Grandjean, A Weber, T. Fischer, Schweiz. Akad. Med. Wiss. 1979 Mar;35(1-3):99-109.
  4. Carcinogenicity of airborne fine particulate benzo(a)pyrene: an appraisal of the evidence and the need for control. F Perera, Environ Health Perspect. 1981 Dec;42:163-85.
  5. Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer’s second-hand smoke study, Elisa K Ong, Stanton A Glantz, The Lancet, 355 , April 8, 2000.
  6. Tobacco industry efforts at discrediting scientific knowledge of environmental tobacco smoke: a review of internal industry documents, J Drope and S Chapman, J Epidemiol Community Health 2001;55:588-594.
  7. Constructing “Sound Science” and “Good Epidemiology”: Tobacco, Lawyers, and Public Relations Firms. E. Ong and S. Glanz, Am J Public Health.2001 November; 91(11): 1749–1757.
  8. The limits of competing interest disclosures, L.A. Bero, S. Glanz and M-K Hong, Tob Control2005;14:118-126
  9. Bacillus Thuringiensis as a Specific, Safe, and Effective Tool for Insect Pest Control. Yeo Ho Je al. J. Microbiol. Biotechnol. (2007), 17(4), 547–559.
  10. Berliner, E. 1911. Uber de schlaffsucht der Mehlmottenraupe. Zeitschrift fur das Gesamstadt 252: 3160-3162
  11. Lambert, B. and M. Peferoen. 1992. Insecticidal promise of Bacillus thuringiensis. Facts and mysteries about a successful biopesticide. BioScience 42: 112-122.
  12. Steinhaus, E. A. 1951. Possible use of B. t. berliner as an aid in the control of alfalfa caterpillar. Hilgardia 20: 359-381.
  13. Angus, T. A. 1956. Association of toxicity with proteincrystalline inclusions of Bacillus sotto Ishiwata. J. Microbiol. 2: 122-131.
  14. Gonzalez, J. M. Jr., B. J. Brown, and B. C. Carlton. 1982. Transfer of Bacillus thuringiensis plasmids coding for δ-endotoxin among strains of B. thuringiensis and B. cereus. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 79: 6951-6955.
  15. Schnepf, H. E. and H. R. Whiteley. 1981. Cloning and expression of the Bacillus thuringiensis crystal protein gene in Escherichia coli. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 78: 2893-2897.
  16. Shelton, A. M., J. Z. Zhao, and R. T. Roush. 2002. Economic, ecological, food safety, and social consequences of the deployment of Bt transgenic plants. Rev. Entomol. 47: 845-881
  17. Koziel, al. Field Performance of Elite Transgenic Maize Plants Expressing an Insecticidal Protein Derived from Bacillus thuringiensis. Nature Biotechnology11, 194 – 200 (1993).
  18. G Flachowsky, K Aulrich, H. Bohme , I. Halle. Studies on feeds from Genetically Modified Plants (GMP), Contributions to nutritional and safety assessment. Animal Feed and Science Technology, 133 (2007) 2-30.
  19. G Flachowsky, K Aulrich, Halle. Long-term feeding of Bt-corn– a ten generation study with quails. Arch Anim Nutr. 2005 Dec;59(6):449-51.
  20. US Patent 3799758.
  21. O. Duke and S.B. Powles, Glyphosate: a once in a lifetime herbicide. Pest Manag Sci 64:319–325 (2008).
  22. Steinrücken, H.C.; Amrhein, N. (1980). “The herbicide glyphosate is a potent inhibitor of 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase”.Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications94 (4): 1207–12.
  23. J. Klee, Y.M. Mushopf and C.S. Gasser, Cloning of an Arabidopsis thaliana gene encoding 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase: sequence analysis and manipulation to obtainglyphosate-tolerant plants. Mol Gen Genet. 1987 Dec;210(3):437-42.
  24. US Patent 4940835.
  25. See http://biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/
  26. G-E Seralini al., Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, Food Chem Toxic., 50(11), 2012, 4221-4231.
  27. European Commission, Final Review of Seralini al…, EFSA Journal 2012,10(100, 2985.
  28. Henry Miller and Bruce Chassey, Scientists Smell a Rat in Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study, Forbes 8/25/12.
  29. J Carman, al, A long term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined GM soy and GM maize diet, J Organic Systems, 8(1) 2013, 38-54.
  30. David Gorski, More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism, Science Based Medicine, June 17, 2013.
  31. Response to a feeding study by Carman et. al., FSANZ, July, 2013.
  32. Byrne and Henry Miller, The roots of the anti-genetic engineering movement: Follow the money, Forbes, 1022/2012
New York Times’ wrongheaded GMO article ignites scientists

New York Times’ wrongheaded GMO article ignites scientists

The front page of last Sunday’s New York Times featured a major article by Danny Hakim titled “Doubts About the Promised Bounty of GMO Crops.”  Hakim is an investigative reporter who has primarily been an economics correspondent. He apparently interviewed quite a number of experts before writing the piece, but he got his main point completely wrong. None of the major biotechnology seed vendors are marketing GM seeds to improve yield, so there is no “promised bounty.”

And while the lengthy article cites a lot of data both in the US, Canada and Europe, it manages to lump together statistics from completely different climates and growing regions, so that his final conclusions are pretty confused. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at what experts have already written.

Molecular geneticist Nina Federoff, who has been a science and technology adviser to Secretaries of State Condaleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton, as well as having had a distinguished research career, writes in Hakim’s Effort to Skewer Biotech Crops in Sunday’s NY Times, that GM crops were never intended to improve yield.

Writing in the Western Producer, Stuart Smyth says New York Times Ignored GMO Crop Benefits, and goes on to list the benefits by crop and region. Farmers would not be spending money on expensive seeds if they didn’t realize some benefits.

Nathaniel Johnson, writing in Grist on What the New York Times Missed in its Big GMO Story, points out that by lumping together farm statistics from North America where we grow GMO crops with data from Western Europe (where they mostly do not) is very misleading. Not only do the climates differ, but the pests do as well. He suggests Hakim ought to look at all the available evidence rather than just cherry picking data that suits his narrative.

And weed scientist Andrew Kniss writes “Straw men and selective statistics: Did the New York Times botch its critique of GMO Crops?” where he calls Hakim’s statistics “borderline disingenuous.” He notes that the figures he cites are convoluted and misleading, because they aren’t even in the same units, and comparison of total pesticide use in France versus the US ia absurd because the US is so much larger. More to the point is the usage per acre. Kniss converted them to the same units and found that the total herbicide use per hectare is and has been less in the US than in France. They may be the same in the final year measured (2012).

kniss-herbicide
From Kniss: herbicide and insecticide use: US and France.

Following Kniss’s argument further, Kevin Folta, Professor and Chair of Plant Science at the University of Florida writes “Rehashing a Tired Argument” in his Illuminations blog, along with another article “Some Actual Yield Data” that clearly shows the yield improvements provided by crop when biotechnology traits are added.  He noted that Hakim lumped together insecticides, fungicides and herbicides as “pesticides” and only reports the total pounds rather than separating them out, which makes a great different, especially when the lower impact herbicides like Roundup are included. Folta was recently awarded the Borlaug CAST Science Communications prize.

And, of course, Monsanto responded to Hakim’s sloppy reporting, noted that they had talked with him several times while he was developing the article, but that he chose to cherry-pick a few data points to fit his preconceived views. Monsanto’s article refers directly to the peer-reviewed literature. For example, Qaim and Kouser showed that insect resistant GMO cotton increased family income and food security. And Brookes and Barfoot (2016) showed that conservation tillage made possible by glyphosate tolerant corn and soybeans removed  22.4 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Further, unlike Hakim’s assertions, GM crops have reduced pesticide spraying by 8.2%.

Finally, even Mother Jones magazine, which normally takes an anti-biotechnology stance comes around wiht two articles. One by Tom Philpott takes a predictably anti-GMO stance as he always has, but in a more nuanced article, Kevin Drum accuses Hakim of “lying with statistics.”

And the ever ascerbic Steven Novella writes The Times gets it wrong on GMOs, noting that the journalist started with a preconceived conclusion and then selected facts to support his erroneous conclusions.

Finally, Professor Jayson Lusk notes that farmers are consistently choosing GM crops because they provide financial benefits despite their higher costs.

In this article, I have summarized most of the blistering opinions on Hakim’s feature article (and one which praises it) but it would seem that scientists and science writers have consistently found the article to be wanting. However, all of the references are linked here and you can read them and decide for yourself.

 

‘The Third Plate’ : Dan Barber’s book entertaining but fallacious

third-plateDan Barber is a highly regarded chef with substantial experience who is known for his two restaurants, Blue Hill in New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester (Pocantico Hills). Both restaurants emphasize creative uses of vegetables and grains and de-emphasize meat, although their menus certainly include it, and represent some of the best examples of “farm to table cooking.”

His book, The Third Plate is an entertaining description of his restaurant and the accompanying farm give you some great insights into how great chefs think.  Unfortunately, his book has some serious fallacies that diminish its credibility as we describe later below.

Barber’s Pocantico Hills restaurant is located on the former Rockefeller estate. The renovation of the buildings as well as the accompanying working farm was funded by David Rockefeller, apparently to the tune of about $30 million. The book tells the story of how Barber’s Stone Barns restaurant developed in association with the farm, where they have the freedom to try out and breed unusual historical vegetables and grains. This “third plate” refers to an evolution in cooking from plates with meat and some small veggies on the side, to meat with better tasting and better cooked veggies, to some imagined future plate where the “steak” is made from vegetables and meat becomes a side dish.

Currently, Stone Barns offers one or two prix fixe menus, which for two with wine pairings, tax and tip can cost you as much as $898. With those prices in mind, you have to recognize that there are a lot of us who will probably never eat there. The reviews for that restaurant are exceptional and apparently so is the food. An evening’s dinner may consist of ten or more courses, starting with small servings of grains or vegetables, with meat in later courses. The menu varies frequently and may vary with each table depending on how the waiters feel you are appreciating what you have just been served

Barber is a good writer and story teller, and the book describes his work with the farmer and with plant breeders to develop and introduce the grains served in the restaurant, starting with the heirloom Eight Row Flint Corn, which was grown by early settlers but had all but vanished at the time he started.

His book is nominally divided into four sections: Soil, Land, Sea, and Seed, but the discussions flow freely around these ideas and you are likely to find some topics revisited in each section.

Foie gras

After his initial soil and farming discussions, Barber spends several chapters on foie gras, with a long bucolic description of a farm in Spain where geese are not force fed, but simply provided with sufficient food all summer and then naturally gorge on acorns in the fall. The farmer, Eduardo Sousa, simply talks to his geese to get them to do what he wants: and some call him a “goose whisperer.”

Then Barber visits the Hudson Valley Foie Gras company with Eduardo, and finds that the goose feeding is not cruel at all, where the “force feeding”  (gavage) takes only about 5 seconds per bird (ducks in this case). The kicker in this otherwise rather fascinating tale is that Eduardo decides that the Hudson valley ducks “didn’t know they were ducks.” And that Barber segues from that bizarre conclusion to his own: “What’s intolerable is the system of agriculture that it reflects.”

It is at this point that I lost touch with Barber’s point of view. Raising geese for slaughter one way or another, as long as they are humanely treated, seems to me completely comparable and I have no idea what he is getting at.

Fish Farming

Barber devotes over 100 pages to the sea and buying and cooking seafood sustainably, since many popular fish like bluefin tuna are threatened by overfishing. He visits the well-regarded chef Angel Leon of Aponiente on the Iberian Peninsula, who has learned how to cook the fishing fleet’s discarded by-catch, seasoning it with a phytoplankton broth. Barber also visits the fish farm Veta La Palma, where they raise fish in existing ponds and canals, where the fish are mostly fed from nutrients that occur naturally, producing some of the most sought after sea bass in Europe (and eventually the US).

He also describes the almadraba in Cadiz, where the villagers have been capturing migrating tuna using mazes of nets for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

He also spends some time praising Gilbert Le Coze, the founding chef of New York’s pre-eminent seafood-only restaurant, Le Bernardin, but for some reason avoids mentioning for many pages that Le Coze died in 1994, and that Eric Ripert, the chef since 1994, is principally responsible for Le Bernardin’s current exalted status in the food world.

Barber also tells us the story of Glenn Roberts and his founding of Anson Mills to produce artisanal grains, including graham flour (a kind of wheat) and revitalizing Carolina Gold rice, where they discover that the crops grown in conjunction with the wheat or rice affect the flavor of the grain.

Fallacies

While Barber’s book is entertaining enough to plow through in a day or two, there are some real problems with some of what he tells us.  Starting early on and repeating throughout is Barber’s insistence on the superiority of organic farming, although he provides no good reason for that, and does not acknowledge that “organic” is a USDA marketing label that allows you to charge higher prices rather than a set of superior techniques. At no point does he explain why the farm is “organic” nor why the farm would be less successful had they chosen careful conventional farming techniques.

Studies (USDA data) have shown that organic farming yield 50-75% as much as conventional farming, and that the produce is no safer or more nutritious or flavorful than conventional produce. This is simply the naturalistic fallacy promoted by the organic marketing associations.

One of the first anecdotes in the book describes farmer Klaas Martens, who had been farming conventionally for some years and suddenly developed a sort of weakness in his arms after spraying 2,4-D. According to the story, no doctors were able to diagnose his ailment, but this caused him to switch to organic farming because as his wife said, “he was being poisoned.”

The trouble with Martens’ story is that it contradicts all known toxicology data on 2,4-D. The National Pesticide Information Center fact sheet on 2,4-D says the “No occupational studies were found reporting signs or symptoms following exposure to 2,4-D under normal usage,” and even on acute oral exposure (drinking it) no symptoms like Martens had are observed. Since Martens condition was never diagnosed, we have to take this as mere rumor.

One particularly offensive statement later in the book comes from a young farmer who comes to Barber saying that “My father just got cancer, so I am switching to organic farming.”

Throughout the book, Barber continually mentions chemicals used in conventional farming as “poisoning the soil.” Since more than 98% of all farms in the US are conventional, this would imply that they must all be failing. Now, since most farmers have at least bachelor’s degrees and well understand how important caring for their soil is, this is pretty ridiculous. We would all be starving if this were true.

Even more ridiculous is Barber’s quote from Rudolf Steiner, who hatched the idea of biodynamic farming out of a series of mystical rituals, such as burying oak bark in a cow’s skull in the middle of your field. Steiner also had a lot of other crazy theories such as the one Barber quotes with a straight face, that the heart is not a pump for our blood, but that the blood that drives the heart. To support this nonsense he quotes “holistic practitioner” Thomas Cowan, who is deep into the same nonsense and Sally Fallon Morell of the discredited Weston A Price Foundation.

Barber is no friend of biotechnology either, making it clear he would never serve any genetically modified food in his restaurant (this is pretty hard to accomplish, actually). His example is the 2009 infestation of Late Blight that devastated everyone’s tomatoes in the Northeast.  There was one small patch of tomatoes on the farm that were not affected, Mountain Magic, an experimental seed from Cornell, bred to be blight resistant. (You can buy these from several seed catalogs today.) But Barber’s restaurant customers resisted them, fearing that they might be “genetically engineered.” He decided he needed to perpetuate the fallacy of tomatoes “bred the old-fashioned way at a land grant like Cornell, [versus] GM tomatoes from a company like Monsanto.”

The only GM tomato ever marketed was the Flavr Savr tomato, bred to be shipped ripe rather than green. Eventually, the tomato failed, but not because it didn’t have better flavor as Barber says, but because Calgene had trouble keeping costs down so it would be competitive.

Finally, Barber is skeptical about the whole idea of the Green Revolution, started by plant breeder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. His criticisms on the use of fertilizers to create higher yield seem to echo those of the mendacious non-scientific activist Vandana Shiva.

In fact, Barber is critical of the whole idea of modern agriculture, where farmers buy new seed each year rather than saving seeds from last year. Farmers have not saved seeds since the 1930s, because of the problems of storage and disease control as well as those of controlling new generations of seed. Barber thinks they should all be saving the best seeds from the fields each year on each farm instead, turning each farm into its own primitive seed development company. Few farmers would agree that this is a good division of labor.

In conclusion, Barber has written an entertaining and informative book on the relationship between high end cuisine and small scale agriculture, but seems oblivious to the fact that he and his restaurant are living a bucolic fantasy which can only work on a small scale, with the subsidies of the Rockefeller family and his high-priced restaurant.

Originally published on Examiner.com in September, 2014

 

Seed Diversity is not a serious concern. Ignore the Seed movie?

Seed Diversity is not a serious concern. Ignore the Seed movie?

In 1983, the Plant Genetic Resources Project of the Rural Advancement Fund, Inc. (RAFI) circulated a paper describing their study of the availability of varieties of vegetable seeds in 1983 compared to a study of 1903 seed catalogs. Their study, summarized in this 2011 National Geographic chart concluded that there had been a substantial loss of seed genetic diversity: only 16 out of 285 cucumbers remained; only 79 out of 408 tomatoes and so forth, suggesting that 93% of vegetable varieties had gone extinct. Mooney and Fowler published the entire RAFI study in their book Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity in 1990.

This report was considered gospel for years and is referred to in popular press articles all the time including the National Geographic chart. Now if you are into gardening and get a blizzard of seed catalogs in the mail, this just doesn’t sound reasonable. You see so many varieties in these catalogs, there must be something wrong somewhere.

Well there is. There have been several studies refuting the RAFI study, showing that vegetable varieties are as diverse as ever.  For example Heald and Chapman published an extensive review article called Veggie Tales: Pernicious Myths About Patents, Innovation and Crop Diversity in the Twentieth Century. They point out that the RAFI reports counted seeds in 1903 seed catalogs and compared them to the seeds in the USDA seed bank in 1983, rather than to current catalogs.

In fact, they found that while there were 7262 varieties of 42 vegetables in 1903, there are now 7100. This is all summarized clearly in David Tribe’s article. Further in a paper by van de Wuow found that

 …no substantial reduction in the regional diversity of crop varieties released by plant breeders has taken place.

Seed, the Movie

Since all available research indicates that there is not a decrease in crop diversity, it is surprising that anyone believes the contrary. And this brings us to the movie “Seed, the Untold Story,” soon to be shown in a few selected theaters. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Sept 23 and Sept 30, respectively. The directors are Taggart Siegel and John Betz, who were responsible for the misinformation about bees in Queen of the Sun, often summarized as “Naked German hippies dancing with bees.”

In this film’s PR, they admit being misinformed by the 2011 National Geographic article and present a number of non-experts who have no idea what the science actually says. These include serial agriculture fabulist Vandana Shiva whose degrees are in the philosophy of science rather than in actual science.

The film also features commentary from non-scientists such as economist/activist Raj Patel, human rights activist Winona LaDuke, anthropologist (and plagiarist) Jane Goodall, and anti-GMO activist and attorney Andrew Kimbrell. None of these people have any scientific training and their support of the misguided thesis o f this film is laughable

To see what this film is about, let’s look at a claim from the press kit:

Farmers from Minnesota to Madhya Pradesh, India toil in economic thrall to the “Gene Giants,” paying hefty licensing fees to plant their patented crops. If they attempt to save their own seed at the end of a season, following a tradition practiced by humans for over 12,000 years, they face ruthless prosecution. (Suffering under this indentured servitude, over 250,000 farmers in India have committed suicide in the last 20 years.)

  • Farmers are not in “economic thrall.” They can purchases any seeds they want from any company. If they choose to buy patented seeds, which cost more, it is because they find them more profitable.
  • Farmers do not save seeds. Farmers, for the most part, do not save seeds, preferring to delegate seed cleaning and storage to experts. If they buy patented seeds, they agree not to save or replant them without paying the license fee.
  • This is not “indentured servitude.” Farmers are free to select new seeds each year from any of a number of vendors.
  • Indian farmers have not committed suicide because of GMOs. Several studies (by Herring and Guere) have shown that since GMO cotton came to India, farms are more productive and profitable than before, and suicides from economic problems have decreased.

The central thesis of this film is that farmers should be able to save seeds and that 94% of seed varieties have been lost. Of course, farmers can save seeds if they are not patented. They usually do not. And we have just shown there is no lost in diversity. This is a film made to spread misinformation and attack biotechnology companies that have made farming more productive and reduced the use of pesticides.

It is worth noting that independent scientists Klumper and Qaim reviewed published literature and concluded that

On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.

This film cites no science and interviews no scientists. It is a misinformed political tract aimed at the gullible.

Mark Bittman is a blithering nincompoop

amish paste
Amish Paste

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.

In today’s blatherfest in the New York Times, he fantasizes that the S.764- National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard   signed by President Obama in July could spark additional consumer movements to give consumers “more information,” whether or not it is accurate or useful.

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.

We take the time to talk with you about having a pest control expert remove a possum and establish a plan to keep unwanted pests out of your home and businesses.

He then asks if we should want to know how well the workers were treated and paid. Were they unionized? Some are, and there are in fact already union labels on such foods. Look for them.