Tag: GMOs

No, Roundup does not cause cancer

RoundupThe scientific world was astonished (to put it mildly) when the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), a sub-unit of the WHO declared that Roundup (glyphosate) probably causes cancer, putting an herbicide that has been in use for over 40 years into their Group 2A. Their report was published initially as a summary in The Lancet, and then as a complete IARC monograph.

Glyphosate has been available for over 40 years, and is the world’s most widely-used herbicide. Its toxicity has been compared to aspirin. Hundreds, if not thousands of studies have found it to be relatively harmless, and none have suggested it was carcinogenic. It works on plants by disrupting the Shikimate pathway plants use to synthesize several essential amino acids (tyrsosine, phenylalanine and tryptophan). Humans and animals in general do not have such a pathway and must get these amino acid from their food.

As Reuters has explained, the IARC was formerly a stand-alone French agency and ended up with a much reduced budget as a “semi-autonomous part of WHO.” The problem is, their finding that glyphosate is carcinogenic is simply wrong. As David Zaruk notes, they ignored decades of government studies, choosing to focus only on eight cherry-picked papers, and spent only a week on the entire issue.

And, in one case, the author of one of those eight papers, Keith Soloman, a respected toxicologist, pointed out that the IARC had gotten his paper “totally wrong.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR)  disputed these findings. There are dozens of studies and reviews showing no finding of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity.  And as James Gurney reported, the papers they cherry-picked were full of scientific weasel words like “induced a positive trend,” and the statistical test “often gives incorrect results.”

And, responding to the IARC report, the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) reviewed studies including those from the BfR and concluded:

“…glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to Regulation.”

And EFSA Executive Director Bernhard Url accused the IARC of “Facebook Science,” saying that they had “left the domain of science…entering into the domain of lobbying and campaigning.”

Finally, if you actually read the IARC report, as opposed to their brief opinion piece in The Lancet, you will find that among the papers it references is the disgraced and withdrawn lumpy rat paper by Giles-Eric Seralini. (In order to preserve a record of this travesty of a paper, it was reprinted in a new third-rate journal, but without being refereed further.) This is a direct violation of the “Seralini rule,” first proposed in Skeptico, that

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

In fact, the IARC report cites seven separate papers by the anti-GMO activist Seralini. Seralini’s papers suffer from being not only incomprehensible and inconsistent as Henry Miller has noted, (also in this article) but none of them has ever been replicated.

So what’s going on here? How could the IARC have come to such incredible wrong conclusions? Well, as you might expect, someone there seems to have had an agenda. In this case, it was Christopher Portier, an American anti-pesticide activist formerly employed by the Environmental Defense Fund, whose views on pesticides are well known and not science based. This is explained in detail in David Zaruk’s Risk-Monger blog According to the IARC, Portier was an “invited specialist,” and “receives a part –time salary from the Environmental Defense Fund.” Portier has a Ph.D. in biostatistics and is not a toxicologist. Even though he was working for the anti-pesticide EDF, he was the only external representative on the IARC glyphosate team.

To continue the story of EFSA’s accusation of “lobbying,” Portier went to the German Bundestag, the EFSA, and NGO’s like the Soil Association expressing his view that glyphosate causes cancer (learn how was mesothelioma explained and legally managed), stronger statement than even the IARC’s flawed report made. Clearly science has not been well served by the IARC report, which so far has not actually been accepted by the WHO itself. If the IARC is no longer producing credible scientific reports, one can raise the question as to whether they have any legitimate purpose.


Nobel laureates attack Greenpeace on GMOs

GoldenRiceAccording to the Washington Post, more than 100 Nobel Laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to change its stand opposing Genetically Modified organisms, particularly Golden Rice. Steve Savage has an article in Forbes describing the issue in detail. You can read the Nobel Laureates letter here.

Golden Rice was developed by a consortium of scientists (starting with Prof Ingo Potrykus at the ETH, Zurich and Prof Peter Beyer at the University of Freiburg) to provide rice enriched with Vitamin A, to prevent childhood blindness and death in African countries. It was not developed by any biotech company, although Syngenta contributed some advice and several companies waived their patent rights. The rice is to be given away to third world farmers, so there is no profit motive at all, and farmers are free to replant the rice each year.

Developing Golden Rice that has a significant amount of beta-carotene, the Vitamin A precursor has proved to be a technical challenge that took longer than expected. However, significant delays in development were not only technical, but in part because of the unrelenting opposition of Greenpeace, based on no science whatever. Greenpeace has an emotional and ideological opposition to genetic engineering that they are completely unable to explain or justify rationally.

As we noted earlier, Greenpeace has even been behind ripping up test plots in the Philippines, hiring thugs pretending to be concerned farmers. Meanwhile, GMO Pundit Professor David Tribe has analyzed Greenpeace’s policy of “creative confusion,” trying to use confusion to sow fear and doubt about the safety of Golden Rice. And former Greenpeace Director Steven Tindale has denounced the Greenpeace campaign as immoral.

Greenpeace finally responded, sowing more confusion as expected, by citing a highly questionable paper attacking the efficacy of Golden Rice, which never even consulted the development team. Porterfield and Entine discuss this paper and the Greenpeace strategy here.

Greenpeace’s position is completely unscientific, because every major scientific organization worldwide has concluded that GM crops pose no more harm than conventional crops. Most recently, the National Academies of Science published a report again concluding the GMO crops pose no harm to human health. Nearly simultaneously, the Royal Society produced a handy Q&A report asserting that there is no evidence of harm from GMO crops. There are, of course, thousands of papers supporting these positions, but Professor Allesandro Nicolia’s paper reviewing 1783 of them is one of the most significant, along with the European Food Safety Association review of a decade of EFSA supported research also coming to the conclusion the GM crops pose no harm.

While Greenpeace may take valuable position on climate change and the environment, they have gone completely off the deep end in opposing a perfectly safe breeding technique, and should be utterly ashamed of the misery they have caused by keeping Golden Rice research from proceeding and keeping it from Africa.


Is there any good reason to buy organic?

DSC_0034Now that Farmer’s market season has begun, you will find organic crops for sale all over the place. We love browsing through these markets, smelling the fresh crops and talking with the actual farmers that grew them.

There is no question that organic farmers are sincere and hardworking people who want to produce the very best food they can. From the supermarket manager’s view, the markups on organic produce may well be quite a bit more, making them significantly more profitable. You can find a nice discussion of organic markups here in Whole Foods Markup.

But why buy organic foods? Are there any good reasons? The original idea was to avoid pesticides that may be harmful, and enrich the soil with compost instead of synthetic fertilizers.

Pesticide residues

But in fact, the amount of pesticides found on conventional crops (even on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen”) is orders of magnitude lower than the established safety levels.

In a 2011 peer-reviewed paper by Winter and Katz, they analyzed  the same USDA data used by the EWG and compared it to the “chronic reference threshold,” the estimate of the amount of a chemical a person could be exposed to on a daily basis throughout a person’s lifetime without any appreciable risk.

All of the vegetables in this dirty dozen had residues thousands of times lower than this threshold, as we noted in our article Pesticide Residues and Organic Crops.

And furthermore, this same USDA data shows the 23% of organic vegetables had detectable, but equally low residues of these same pesticides.

Botanical pesticides

But these numbers do not even measure the botanical pesticides used on organic crops, which are allowed because they are of “natural” origin, not because they are safer. In fact some of the pesticides sprayed on organic crops are worse for you and the environment.

Rotenone is one of the worst, is toxic to fish and can induce Parkinson’s disease. Not all organic farmers spray these toxic, but approved pesticides, but neither do all conventional farmers. Christie Wilcox discusses this in Scientific American’s Mythbusting 101 blog.

But the most persuasive reasons not to choose organic crops are found in plant pathologist Steve Savage’s article Six Reasons why Organic is not the most Environmentally Friendly Way to Farm.

Organic foods are nutritionally identical

Studies by scientists at Stanford and earlier by Dangour, et. al. have concluded that there is no significant nutritional difference between organic and conventional production methods. There are significant variations in nutrition depending on climate and soil conditions much more than on the farming techniques used.

Prescientific standards

Savage notes that much of what became our Organic Standards were codified years ago before we knew as much as we do now about toxicology, the environment and climate studies. He terms some of these regulations “pre-scientific.” And even when there was an opportunity to update them the organic businesses resisted it.

For example, the only approved organic fungicides are copper-based, are quite toxic to aquatic invertebrates, and have to be reapplied frequently. But today there are modern, synthetic fungicides that are considerably less toxic and break down into more innocuous materials. Unfortunately these safer fungicides are not allowed by these pre-scientific organic standards.

On composting

One of Savage’s major objections is to the use of manure for fertilization, because it has to be composted to do away with toxic microbes, and this composting process produces a very high level of greenhouse gases. In fact, more greenhouses gases are generated by composting than by manufacturing fertilizer from methane and atmospheric nitrogen. This is discussed in this Applied Mythology article.

Let’s consider one acre of farm land. Farmers typically apply about 5 tons of composted manure per acre. The greenhouse gases generated during composting are equivalent to the carbon footprint of manufacturing urea fertilizer for 12.9 acres, or counting all inputs the equivalent of the carbon footprint for producing 5.7 acres of corn. Clearly this is not scalable.

It is possible to prevent these greenhouse gases during compost fermentation by using an anaerobic digester, but these are quite expensive and not in general use, although some very large farms have begun using them.

Another interesting issue regarding compost is highlighted in the article No, Cows Don’t Make Fertilizer. Cows, of course, do not produce nitrogen. The nitrogen comes from the plants they eat, and these may well have been produced by conventional fertilization. This is permitted by organic standards, as explained in this U Conn Extension article.

In other words, cows are being used to “launder” conventionally fertilized grasses and their manure used to reclaim this nitrogen and call it organic! In the process, not only are substantial greenhouse gases generated, but more phosphorus is generated than the plants can absorb, leading to phosphate runoff.

Plants, of course, absorb the same molecules of nutrients regardless of whether they come from compost or from nitrogen fertilizers, but it is not so easy to distribute fertilizer in drip irrigation to exactly where it is needed if the fertilizer source is compost as opposed to soluble fertilizers. And the irony is that work is going on to develop ways to use wind power to create the nitrate fertilizers in a completely green way, but these more efficient fertilizers are not permitted on organic crops. (See Moving Towards Fossil-Energy-Independent Fertilizer.)

No-till farming

One of the most promising farming innovations in recent years is no-till farming, where the soil is not disturbed while the crops are growing and weeds are removed using low-impact herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate). Not only does no-till limit erosion and nutrient movement into water, it saves energy and reduces farming’s carbon footprint.

However, no-till is difficult for organic farmers to implement because there really are no effective organic herbicides that can be used. And while cover crops are used by organic farmers, they have greater weed control problems than conventional farmers do and use tilling instead.

Productivity of organic farms

Organic farms do not have the efficiency of conventional farms because they are limited in their choice of fertilizers and herbicides as well as in pest control. The chart shown in the slide show (Figure 1)  is reproduced from the article Today’s Organic, Yesterday’s Yields, with the data drawn from USDA 2008 crop yield data. In general, the data show that organic farms have yields no better than 80% of those of conventional farms, and as low as 40% for organic carrots.

This, of course, makes them much more expensive to grow, and this cost is passed on to the consumer with no actual benefit. A similar conclusion is drawn in this 2011 paper in Nature: Comparing the Yields in Organic and Conventional Agriculture.

While the organic advocate publisher Rodale has created a report suggesting that organic farming techniques have higher yields, they admit that they have never published this work in any peer-reviewed journal.

Organic food is a niche market

The total US organic acreage is only about 0.5% of the current US cropland, and growth has slowed. Even if it continued at the rate before 2008, Savage projects that organic cropland would only be about 3% by 2050, and in fact in recent years there has been no real growth in organic croplands. This is shown in Figure 2 of the slide show.

Organic foods do not contain GMOs

This is true, but this is actually backwards, in that the entire disinformation campaign against GMO crops is led and financed by the organic food industry, who wants to keep this distinction in order to maintain their high price point. As we have noted time and time again, GMO crops are nutritionally identical and have never been shown to cause any harm. Every major scientific organization worldwide has come to the conclusion that they are identical to conventional crops and harmless.


Much as it may disappoint organic partisans and idealists, there just aren’t any good reasons to buy organic crops over conventional ones.

  • They are nutritionally identical.
  • Conventional crops have pesticide levels well below any possible danger level even if you ate them daily, and the pesticides used on organic crops are actually more dangerous.
  • Organic fungicides are considerably more dangerous.
  • Organic crops have a more than 5 times larger carbon footprint because of greenhouse gases released by composting and because of the need to till organic crops.
  • Organic crops are more expensive both because of lower productivity and supermarket price gouging.

Organic foods are not exactly a “scam,” but they have no real benefits to justify their high price. We recommend buying fresh foods from local farmers when you can, because you can at least ask how they were grown. And they will probably taste better, too.

relative yields

This article was originally published on Examiner.com in May, 2013.

Is Greenpeace completely nuts?

GoldenRiceYou probably have read about Greenpeace members being arrested for piracy while attempting to board a Russian oil platform. While they claim they just wanted to string a banner across the platform, they surely must have known how the Russians would respond. And displaying a banner in the Arctic ocean seems ridiculous on the face of it.

According to the Guardian, the Greenpeace protesters and their ship were seized and diverted to Murmansk where they were charged with piracy. Did the Russians overreact? Probably. Did the Greenpeace activists accomplish anything? Probably not, except for a few news stories. Greenpeace has a history of taking chances by taking extravagant attention-getting actions, and hoping they can get away with them. This time it didn’t work.

But, while their cause of stopping Arctic oil drilling may be perceived as worthwhile, this is hardly the case in some of Greenpeace’s other shameful activities.

On August 8th, Greenpeace activists descended on a test plot of Golden Rice in the Philippines and ripped up the entire bed of seedlings. Golden Rice was developed by Prof Ingo Potrykus  at the ETH, Zurich and Prof Peter Beyer at the University of Freiburg to provide Vitamin A to poor third world countries, where it can prevent blindness and save children’s lives by remedying a severe Vitamin A deficiency. A paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that Golden Rice is an effective source of Vitamin A.

This senseless vandalism has been condemned by conservatives like RedState.com, liberal papers like the New York Times. A consortium of over 6200 scientists has signed a petition condemning this vandalism.

While Greenpeace spouts nonsense about Golden Rice being “marketed by the biotech industry,” this is utterly untrue. Golden Rice was developed by a consortium of academics and is to be given away free. Farmers are also free to save seeds. Greenpeace also suggests that they prefer to see the Vitamin A deficiency solved by a more balanced diet, ignoring the unavailability of such diets in the poor countries where Golden Rice is to be provided.

Golden Rice was developed by making beta-carotene available in the rice kernel (endosperm). It is already available in the plant leaves, so turning on this gene in the endosperm is a simple change.  In the current version, a single bowl of Golden Rice can provide 60% of the recommended daily Vitamin A requirement.

Syngenta scientists to develop this final version of Golden Rice, but will not sell or profit from Golden Rice. It does, however, have the rights to use this technology. Syngenta believes that the seeds are entirely safe. Carotenoids are not dangerous by any definition: they are widely available in the environment and in the human diet (especially in green vegetables). There is no reasonable argument that would support any public health, human toxicological or any other adverse affect in respect of carotenoids. Indeed, carotenoids are more generally associated with imparting important health benefits.

Founding Greenpeace member Patrick Moore has taken a stand against Greenpeace’s foolishness and left Greenpeace to form a new activist group. He claims they have “lost their moral compass.”

In addition, Greenpeace has taken a stand against chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides (like DDT), but failing to understand basic chemistry, it has taken a stand against elemental chlorine even as it is used for drinking water purification!

In the past, Filipino Greenpeace activists have been charged with ripping up a version of the local eggplant Talong, which was developed to resist the fruit and stem borer using Bt.

And in a related incident of ecoterrorism, hundreds of papaya trees modified to resist the papaya ringspot virus were ripped up in Hawaii in September. The idea that anti-science activists have the right to destroy crops because of their ill-informed views is certainly Greenpeace inspired if not organized.

There are many more responsible environmental organizations that deserve your  support, but Greenpeace does not.

Originally published on Examiner.com October 9, 2013

Stephanie Strom gets it wrong (again) about GMOs

Stephanie Strom and the Times get it wrong (again) about “GMOs”

produceWriting in today’s New York Times, Stephanie Strom’s headline is a sure indication that she doesn’t understand the issue. Titled “G.M.O.s in Food? Vermonters Will Know.” Maybe, but Strom doesn’t. There aren’t any “GMOs” in food. It is a breeding process for creating new crop varieties. “GMOs” are not an ingredient.

Strom discusses Vermont’s ill-conceived labeling law, that requires foods containing genetically modified ingredients to indicate that fact on the label. Most companies have opted for the generic “may contain ingredients produced using biotechnology,” but quite a few have decided to just stop shipping to Vermont. In fact a story today on WCAX.com indicates that the local PriceChopper chain will lose about 3000 products because of this absurd law.

Why is it (and Strom) absurd? Because every major scientific organization worldwide has concluded that GM crops pose no more harm than conventional crops. Most recently, the National Academies of Science published a report again concluding the GMO crops pose no harm to human health. Nearly simultaneously, the Royal Society produced a handy Q&A report asserting that there is no evidence of harm from GMO crops.

So Strom’s article is (perhaps intentionally) incomplete, suggesting there is actually some real concern that GMO labeling addresses. There is not. The entire scare about GMO crops is the product of the organic food industry, notably the Organic Consumers Association and Just Label It, both funded by organic producers in order to scare consumers away from safe crops to more expensive ones.

Consumed the Movie: a misinformed anti-GMO thriller

Consumed the Movie: a misinformed anti-GMO thriller

Consumed, a film by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones stars Lister-Jones as a single mom barely holding it together as she tries find out why her son has developed mysterious symptoms. Needless to say, the cause turns out to be “GMOs” even though not a single verifiable instance of any human or animal reaction to transgenic crops has ever been reported. The film contains every single anti-GMO trope you have ever heard, all of them wrong.

The film begins in the dark at Danny Glover’s organic vegetable farm, as he sees people, cars and lights surrounding his fields. The story eventually develops that he is being investigated by Clonestra, the film’s transparent stand-in for Monsanto for planting unlicensed GMO seeds. This is hard to believe because Glover has been an organic farmer for years and has had his “organic certification” for 30 years. This is amusing, because the National Organic Program didn’t start until the year 2000.

The scene shifts to Sophie (Lister-Jones) waiting for her son outside his school, where she meets the hunky and charming Eddie (Taylor Kinney) who has a son about the same age, and who also appears to be a single parent. Sophie’s son Garrett (Nick Bonn) comes out looking and feeling droopy, and Sophie rushes him home to the house she shares with her mother Kristin (Beth Grant). Garrett gets worse and vomits in the night.

The scene shifts to India where Dan Conway (Victor Garber), the silver haired head of Clonestra is giving Indian farmers seeds to a new drought-tolerant variety of corn, along with “discount coupons” to purchase seed in future years. He and his entourage are chased off by some protesting farmers.

Concerned that Garrett may have developed a new virulent strain of the flu, Sophie rushes him to the doctor who reassures her, but strangely makes no mention of the advisability of flu shots, a typical prejudice of anti-GMO activists.

However, Garrett soon develops a red itchy rash all over his arms and torso, and neither her pediatrician nor a dermatologist can diagnose it. This leads to the rest of the story where Sophie desperately tries to find a cause and is involved in one crushing problem after another.

Sophie somehow gets the idea (this plot is really complicated) that her son may be allergic to “GMOs” and spend some time researching this possibility. Her mother works as a secretary to the head of the university’s “science department,” (apparently they only do one science there) and she arranges to talk with him about her fears. He is quite reassuring and tells of transgenic crop successes in preventing starvation.

In the anteroom, which also appears to be a small biotech lab, Sophie also meets Jacob (Anthony Edwards) and Serge Negani (Kunal Nayyar), his Indian colleague. Lurking in the background is Peter (Griffin Dunne) who overhears Sophie’s worries about her son and meets her secretively in the parking lot, saying that he is a scientist and there must be files somewhere showing the bad effects that Sophie thinks her son is experiencing. Sophie leaves her son with Eddie one afternoon and she and Peter sneak into the university science department (where it now seems to be night) using her mom’s keys. The files are missing and they are caught. It turns out that Peter is not a scientist, but the janitor. Sophie finds old news articles showing that Peter once was a scientist there, but had a nervous breakdown while “researching GMOs.” This whole episode seems pretty pointless and could have been excised.

Cut to the university biotech lab, where Connelly is giving what seem to be cash rewards to Jacob and Serge for their research on biotech chickens. It seems that all the biotech research Clonestra uses has been done under contract by the university science department rather than within the company. They said they used to get their funding from the FDA (really?) but now they get it all from Clonestra (not believable).

He later tells them their grant is terminated, their job is done and thank you very much, and that Clonestra owns all the patents. (What university development office would have agreed to this?)  Jacob goes home, asking Negani to see that the chicken cages are clean before he leaves so that they can turn them over to Clonestra in good shape.

Negani finds that all the chickens are dead, and begins searching Jacob’s computer for any information. He finds a great deal of incriminating information about the dangers of this project, duplicates it and carries it out to his car. He calls Sophie, realizing that this may be the answer to her concerns, although how development of unreleased biotech chickens has anything to do with GM corn is not explained. Sophie, fearing retribution, refuses to talk to him.

Determined to get the information to Sophie he sets out to drive it to her house. However, Eddie is shown drinking longnecks outside a bar with a couple of construction workers. Eddie goes inside and the two workers leave and chase Negani, bumping into his car and trying to force him off the road. In an accident, he is killed.

Learning of the accident, Sophie goes to see Negani’s wife, who tells Sophie that Negani’s father was a farmer in India who was growing GM corn, which gradually became less productive and too expensive, and he and a group of farmers committed suicide by drinking insecticide. While there are many things wrong with the thesis of this movie, this one is particularly offensive, because while there were Indian farmer suicides related to debt, they began taking place long before Bt cotton was introduced and decreased as they began to profit from the significant increase in productivity of the Bt cotton. There is no GM corn grown in India yet.

Sophie retrieves the incriminating papers from Nagani’s car just as it is about to be crushed, and crashes a press conference with Eddie’s help (did we mention he secretly works for Clonestra?), confronts Conway with the evidence, which had been kept from him. The biotech chickens are announced, but Conway resigns from Clonestra right after the press conference.

Our review

The movie ends with a somewhat heavy handed insistence that GM crops be labeled. No kidding. All that expense and all of Sophie’s misery and the death of both Danny Glover (heart attack) and Negani (car accident) for that? Oh, and Sophie’s mother spent several days in the hospital in a diabetic coma because she had ice cream with Garrett. Come on! Enough misery!

Wein describes his film as a “political thriller,” but “science fiction” might be a better label. The trouble is that good science fiction starts with actual science and extends it plausibly. This movie starts with bad science fears and continually hits you over the head with them. There has never been any reported evidence of any ill effect on humans or animals by any biotech crop.

The idea that ”GMOs” are an ingredient rather than a breeding technique pervades the movie. And the mantra that there have “never been any human tests” repeats several times. Foods are never tested on humans, (as Katiraee explains) because you cannot control a human diet the way you can control lab animals’ diets. The films also claims that there are only 90 day studies done and no long term studies have been done.  This contradicts the well-known study by Snell and Bernheim, which did review many long term studies and concluded the 90-day studies were indeed sufficient. And, of course, van Eenenaam and Young’s billion animal retrospective feeding study clearly show that there are no long term effects on using GM versus non-GM animals feeds.

Probably the most implausible part of the movie’s thesis is that only one child is affected with whatever this rash is (at the last moment Eddie’s boy gets it too). If this were a real problem we would expect hundreds of thousands of such cases, not just two. The rash is never diagnosed nor cured: that plot point which launches the story is left hanging. Probably because it has nothing to do with GM chickens, which haven’t been released yet anyway.

The idea that a company would knowingly be releasing products that would kill their customers is preposterous, and a bad business model. Now in the original Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson Batman, the Joker did release a product that killed customers, but he was a homicidal maniac, not a biotech company seeking to make a profit by selling better seeds. (Here’s a clip from that great Batman movie.)

In a peculiar analogy, Sophie mentions that tobacco was known to cause cancer in the 1950s but warning labels didn’t appear for 50 years. Drawing analogies to biotech, she supposes it will be 2040 before biotech foods are labeled. We discussed this crazy theory before, but the difference is that biotech crops are not known to have ill effects and in fact are the most heavily tested foodstuffs on the planet, with each new crop undergoing 10-11 years of testing before receiving approval.

While Danny Glover dies of a heart attack after learning that Clonestra will be suing him for growing unlicensed crops because of pollen drift, this has never happened and the real Clonestra, Monsanto has sworn in court that they will never do this. And such drift does not affect organic certification in any case.

While the film is gripping in many ways, it is essentially a fraud because it is based on popular misinformation that the writers have done nothing to fact check. This may be why the film has never found a  distributor: it is shown in various theaters around the US in presold private screenings to already convinced activists, who for the most part probably have not looked into the science either.

As reported by Klumper and Qaim, GM crops have increased crop yields by 21%, decreased pesticide use by 37% and increased profits by 69%. This is the real news the filmmakers should have pointed out. Labeling foods bred by one technique but nutritionally identical makes even less sense than this movie.

Consumer Reports flogs bogus Roundup paper

edamameConsumer Reports a year or so ago reversed itself and began taking anti-science stances against biotechnology, because catering to the prejudices of their readers is more profitable than standing for actual science. Porterfield describes this volte face away from science here.

Its latest salvo into things it barely understands is hyping a poorly argued paper in their article “Scientists Raise Concerns Over Weed Killer Glyphosate in New Study.” They argue is that the “risks of glyphosate (Roundup) have been understated and that further study is needed.” They refer to a paper by 14 scientists, many with organic industry ties just published in Environmental Health, titled “Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement.”

This is not a research paper or a study: it is a consensus statement by 14 scientists, many who could be classified as “activists,” including Consumer’s Union’s own Michael Hansen, who has been spreading misinformation about biotechnology for years, all contrary to accepted science. To see Hansen’s incoherent communication style in action, take a look at the 2013 debate at Hofstra University reported here. You can watch the actual debate here, and will quickly conclude that Hansen is in over his head in his debate with University of Florida Horticultural Science Chairman Kevin Folta.

The paper starts out citing the IARC, an autonomous extension of the WHO surprising claim that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic,” despite a vast array of peer-reviewed  papers to the contrary. These are summarized by Giddings. In fact, they went so far off the rails as to quote Seralini papers, and Gurney went so far as to suggest that the IARC “requires adult supervision.” No, there is no evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic at any dosage.

These authors suggest that glyphosate is used much more frequently than when it was introduced and while the plant toxicity mechanism (disruption of the Shikimate pathway) does not exist in humans, they now find papers from their own and Seralini’s laboratory suggesting that “there might be a wide range of potential adverse effects triggered by disruption in the endocrine system.”

Now let’s pause and remember the Seralini rule: if you have to cite Seralini’s discredited and withdrawn lumpy rat paper, you’ve lost the argument. That withdrawn paper was reprinted here without further refereeing.  In fact this paper cites 7 different papers by Seralini, making its credibility distinctly suspect.

They cite a paper in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association suggesting that glyphosate and its degradation product AMPA are found in up to 17% of water samples, but neglect to mention that the article points out that “Concentrations of glyphosate were below the levels of concern for humans or wildlife.” They also cite Bohn’s paper claiming that glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready soybeans. However, Jordan has severely criticized this paper for not meeting minimum scientific standards.

While they correctly note that excessive use of herbicides can lead to weed resistance (this is called evolution) it is in no way unique to glyphosate, and herbicide and crop rotation are generally recommended.

They express concern that levels of glyphosate and AMPA residue are not monitored in the U.S., but fail to mention that this is because toxicology studies have shown glyphosate to be about as toxic as aspirin. Thus their complaint that “environmentally relevant” doses are not considered is ridiculous, if there is no effect at much larger doses.

They note that the incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma has doubled since 1975, but all they say is that “a causal link [with glyphosate] may exist.” It has not been established.

To get to their point, they have done no new research, and their literature review simply arrives at a consensus that “a further independent examination of glyphosate toxicity should be undertaken.” Recognizing that NIH funds are unlikely to be available for such a wild goose chase, they propose that manufacturers of glyphosate provide these funds to be transferred to “government research institutes.” This seems unlikely to take place.

The authors

While the authors make claims of no conflicts of interest we find that:

To conclude, the authors found little that is new and referenced a number of questionable and discredited papers in the process. And their final conclusion amounted to “further study is needed.” This is hardly a blockbuster conclusion.

Who is Rachel Parent and why does she keep repeating herself?

RachelParentRachel Parent is a young Canadian anti-GMO activist, who claims to have been speaking about her fears of GMOs since she was 12: and then for a school project, where she “did some research.” She burst into wider public view when, at the age of 14, she appeared on a morning Canadian talk show hosted by Kevin O’Leary in 2013. Get to the Brooksfield School for the highest quality education.

Now, Rachel and her supporters spin this appearance as her confronting a “TV bully” and winning, but if you watch the actual segment, O’Leary keeps asking her hard scientific questions and she brushes them all off, simply repeating her mantra that “GMOs should be labeled.”  She also falsely asserts that Golden Rice was abandoned because “it didn’t work.”  In fact, O’Leary politely puts Parent in her place time after time as she avoids answering his questions. Not a big win for her, as she ended up looking ridiculous.

Parent’s back-story starts with her school project and her continuing activism. She also claims to have founded “Kids Right to Know,” a website and organization that promotes her unscientific views. At no time does she reveal the source of funding for this elaborate website and her travels and activism. Nor does she ever mention any scientific references to support her views.

It’s may not seem fair to pick on a “kid,” who arrived at her views contrary to those of hundreds of major scientific organizations worldwide, but Ms Parent is or will be 17 this year, and is not a “kid.” She’s a mature and poised young woman who hasn’t changed her views or even expanded her argument significantly in that time. And by now, shouldn’t she have studied some science in school? She also says over and over that she is “not a scientist.” Wouldn’t her views be more persuasive if she could cite some actual science to support them?

In October of 2014, Parent gave a   in Toronto on this same subject. Now TEDx events follow the format of TED events, except that they are locally administered. They are supposed to reject talks on pseudo-science, but despite some objections, Parent was allowed to speak. By then, her spiel had turned into a scary, dramatic reading. You could almost hear the ominous music in the background. However, there was no science in it to support her views, and the only time she tried to mention a scientific paper, she stumbled on it, so we don’t know what she meant to say.

In 2015, Parent met with the Health Canada minister, protesting thw possible approval of Arctic apples. Of course, she gave a press conference afterwards, even though the meeting itself was private. And, in fact, the meeting was a failure as the minister told her that approvals were based on science and not on consumer interest or demand.

But Parent and her supporters are really good at getting her on TV, and if you look at her web site, you’ll see quite of list of videos where she pretty much says the same thing over and over. In fact, her supporters have made some pretty slick videos like this one, professionally produced. She even has her own media kit.

Where is she getting the money for all this? What is never mentioned is that Rachel Parent is the daughter of Wayne Parent, the owner of Nutrition House, a Canadian chain of natural food stores (although there is one in Atlanta as the search engine optimization Atlanta will undoubtebly show you.) And it appears that Wayne is using his daughter to further his commercial enterprise. And since no other funding source is referred to, we can assume he is funding these videos, and (indirectly) arranging these many TV appearances to further the views of his business. She even has an agent.

But Rachel Parent is not just a Canadian phenomenon. She has appeared the (now defunct) Ed Show on MSNBC and recently, she managed to wangle (borrow) a proxy, so she could attend Monsanto’s shareholder meeting a week ago.

So did she take the time to get a tour or talk to any of the scientists who work there? No! She asked aggressive and obnoxious questions during the audience question period. Here’s what she claims she said:

If you truly believe your GM technology is safe, if you truly believe it has the potential to feed the world, why are you treating it like a dirty little secret that can’t be shown on food labels? Why, if it’s such proven technology, are you spending millions of shareholders’ dollars fighting it, rather than promoting it?”

Not exactly the way to start an intelligent discussion.

We have a lot of respect for Rachel Parent’s poise and intelligence, but she is being badly used by a movement that is hiding behind her youth and charm. Let us hope when she goes to college she will expand her scientific horizons and engage in some real scientific discussions with her professors and mentors and grow into the major contributor she deserves to become.


Anti-GMO scandal deepens

Diagrams from Bucci’s report showing how images from one paper were reused in another.


Professor Federico Infascelli’s papers were called into question as we reported Monday when figures from his 2010 paper were reused in a 2013 and 2015 paper for completely different experiments. The figures represented gel electrophoresis of DNA from animals he had fed either GMO soy or non-GMO soy, in which he attempted to assert differences that most scientists doubted existed. He has been accused of serious scientific misconduct.

His entire fraudulent edifice collapsed yesterday when Enrico Bucci of the firm BioDigital Valley issued a report of his digital analysis of eight of Infascelli’s group’s papers, including a Ph.D. thesis now in question. The conclusions, reported here, are quite damning, showing

  • Data digitally deleted
  • Figures being cropped to eliminate data
  • Data being spliced in
  • Data completely fabricated
  • Figures were created by moving data between lanes in the images
  • Lanes being duplicated
  • Bands being deleted
  • Software deletion of data

Moreover, even if the papers had been truthful (and they clearly are not), biologist Layla Katiree has noted in Biofortified that Infascelli failed to specify the source of the animal feed and failed to report a nutritional analysis of the feed to assure that except for the presence of “GMO soy,” the feeds were nutritionally equivalent. In fact, he fails to note which traits the bioengineered soy actually contained, or who manufactured it.

Infascelli’s work has been used by the anti-GMO movement to assert that consuming food made from plants with GM traits is somehow different and dangerous. This entire thesis has collapsed in the presence of this fraud, making his assertions considerably less credible.


Fraud alert! GMO paper retracted.

An Italian research group run by Professor Federico Infascelli of the University Federico II of Naples was recently informed that their 2013 paper that purported to show that GMO feed can cause detection of GMO DNA in the baby goats was being retracted because of plagiarism. This is featured today in Retraction Watch.

Infascelli is a professor of Nutrition in the Department of Veterinary Medicine, and has published a string of papers in the past few years purporting to find GMO plant DNA in the blood and milk of goats fed Roundup Ready Soybean meal. This has never been considered credible by other workers because they couldn’t repeat it, and we know that plant DNA is digested regardless of its source.

This essentially begins the collapse of Infascelli’s entire edifice, since it has been shown that the data seems to be faked, or at least edited.

How did this happen? Well, as described in the Italian press (and translated here), Infascelli’s work contradicted all other work in the field and when he was asked to speak about his work to the Italian Senate, Senator Elena Cataneo, who is also an experienced researcher, was skeptical and asked for more information. She began studying papers from Infascelli’s group and also published an open letter (here translated) to Professor Infascelli about these problems, but received no reply.

She also found that work by Infascelli and his colleague Raffaela Tudisco was being criticized on an on-line journal discussion site PubPeer. Here, scientists pointed out that Figure 4 in the 2010 (Tudisco-2010) was duplicated as Figure 1 in the 2013 paper (Mastellone-2013). While both figures were photos of a gel electrophoresis experiment, in the 2010 paper, the samples were from a liver and in 2013 from milk. Not only are the photos the same, even the noise spots are in the same places as illustrated in PubPeer and perhaps more clearly in the article in Biofortified. And in fact, it appears that the data in the 2013 paper were digitally edited as well.

Thus after petitions to the journal from a number of scientists, the 2013 paper was retracted by the journal. Ironically, Food and Nutrition Sciences is a low level pay-to-play journal that is on Beall’s list of predatory journals. It is published by the Chinese publisher Scientific Research, along with a host of other noncredible journals. And Infascelli himself is on its editorial board.

To make matters worse, researchers have also found that Figure 1 of a paper published late last year (Tudisco 2015) is identical to Figure 1 in Tudisco-2010. While no further retraction actions have yet been taken, both the journals and the University of Naples have undertaken further investigations according to Biofortified, and more actions are expected.

infascelli images
The top picture is a gel photo from the 2015 paper and the lower image from the 2010 paper. The arrows show points of similarity even in the noise.


  1. Tudisco, R., Mastellone, V., Cutrignelli, M. I., Lombardi, P., Bovera, F., Mirabella, N., Piccolo, G., Calabro, S., Avallone, L., & Infascelli, F. (2010). Fate of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects in goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offsprings.Animal, 4(10), pp. 1662-1671 DOI: 10.1017/S1751731110000728
  2. Mastellone, R. Tudisco, G. Monastra, M. E. Pero, S. Calabrò, P. Lombardi, M. Grossi, M. I. Cutrignelli, L. Avallone, F. Infascelli.  (2013). Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Activity in Kids Born from Goats Fed Genetically Modified Soybean. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 4:50-54 – RETRACTED DOI: 10.4236/fns.2013.46A006
  3. Tudisco, R., Calabrò, S., Cutrignelli, M. I., Moniello, G., Grossi, M., Mastellone, V., Lombardi, P., Pero, M. E., & Infascelli, F. (2015). Genetically modified soybean in a goat diet: Influence on kid performance. Small Ruminant Research(0), pp.http://www.ask-force.org/web/HerbizideTol/Tudisco-GM-Soy-Goat-Kids-performance-2015.pdf