Tag: Roundup

‘The Nation” spreads farming misinformation like a manure spreader

DSC_0006The Nation is a venerable  magazine, having been founded in 1865, and for over 150 years has been providing political commentary, mostly on US administrations and events. While it writers skew to the left, this is not entirely the case and major writers have included Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Frederick Law Olmsted, W.E.B. Dubois, E.M. Forster, Emma Goldman, Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, H.L. Mencken, Upton Sinclair, Margaret Mead, Mark van Doren, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, Pearl S. Buck, Albert Einstein, I.F. Stone, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hannah Arendt, Jean-Paul Sartre, Harold Clurman, Edmund Wilson, W.H. Auden, Anne Sexton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gore Vidal, and Toni Morrison.

With that cast of literary luminaries, you would think they could handle an issue on The Future of Food, focusing primarily on agriculture.  Unfortunately, the left tends to be agriculturally and scientifically illiterate, and much of what the contributors to this issue say is just plain nonsense.

Danny Meyer

Starting with an interview with noted restaurateur, Danny Meyer, written by food extremist Anna Lappe, we learn that in creating Shake Shack,

Our meat is free of antibiotics and artificial growth hormones; the eggs and chickens we use are cage free; the French fries are non-GMO.

How much could go wrong in one sentence?

  • All meat must be free of hormones and antibiotics by the time it is sold. Small amounts of growth hormones may be used in beef, but it must have washed out of the animal’s system before it can be sold. And you would find 1000 times more estrogen in 8 oz of cabbage than in 8 oz of beef. Hormones cannot be used in dairy cattle, veal calves, pigs or poultry.
  • All neat chickens are always cage free. And while chicken used for eggs can be raised free range or in various kinds of cages, a serious study in the Journal of Poultry Science has shown that the birds do best in conventional cages.
  • And what exactly does non-GMO potatoes mean? “GMO” is a breeding process, not an ingredient. The slogan is just fear marketing,  since thousands of peer-reviewed papers have shown that GM foods pose no harm. The JR Simplot company has developed the Innate Potato which is resistant to late potato blight and  produces lower amounts of acrylamide when fried. Why wouldn’t this be the more healthy offering?  Fear-based marketing based on organic industry sloganeering.

Zoe Carpenter

Zoe Carpenter’s lead in column asks (twice) whether consolidation in the agricultural sector will mean that farmers will pay more for inputs like seeds and earn less. The seed business is not a monopoly. There are any number of suppliers farms can choose from and if they choose a more expensive seed, it is because if performs better for them.

Raj Patel on Fair Trade

We have already written extensively on Fair Trade, which, no matter how well intentioned, has not turned out to be more profitable for farmers. This is because farmers are guaranteed a floor price, and they will sell their lowest quality crops into the fair trade market, and sell their best quality crops on the open market. It also has no effect on how temporary workers are treated. And the idea that organic bananas are produced without pesticides is a fantasy spread by the organic industry. Organic farmers just use organic approved pesticides. And, of course, as Bruce Ames showed years ago, plants generate 10,000 times more pesticides themselves than are ever detected from spray residues.

John Boyd on Small Scale Farming

Boyd echoes the canard that farmers who buy genetically modified seeds can no long replant them the next year. But as Amanda Zalukyj points out, farmers really don’t want to save seeds. It’s a huge effort to clean and save seeds, and this practice “went out the window” with the advent of hybrid seeds in the 1930s. These varieties don’t breed true in the next generation anyway.

Dana Perls on GMOs

Perls echoes disproven claims about GMO crops requiring “massive increases in the use of toxic herbicides.” Much of this claim comes from a discredited paper by Benbrook which failed to take account of the relative toxicity of newer herbicides like glyphosate. However, noted weed scientist Andrew Kniss has studied this issue in some detail.

In summary, this analysis suggests that GMOs have had a positive effect (or at the very least neutral or non-negative effect) with respect to herbicide use intensity and mammalian toxicity…

Perls also makes very unscientific claims that vanillin produced using genetically engineered yeast is not “natural,” because “synthetic biology” is involved. She also claims it drives out 200,000 rain forest farmers. Which do you think is better overall for the environment?

Hacking the Grain- Madeline Ostrander

This genuinely fascinating article about attempts to create perennial grains to replace wheat is well worth reading. However, it starts with the mistaken assumption that large fields of s single crop (which they call a “monoculture”) are somehow bad. Andrew Kniss debunks this in some detail, noting that Pollan and his followers never explain why this is so bad. He admits that all of Ireland was growing the exact same potato, reproduced vegetatively so that there was just a single genetically identical potato grown throughout the country. That is why the Phytophor infestans blight wiped potatoes out so completely.

This is not a problem in grain farming, however, because while there may be many thousands of acres of corn or wheat, they are not all genetically identical.

It is important to recognize that you do not need perennial wheat or corn to avoid tilling the fields, which releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, and upsets the delicate layering that good soil should have.  No-till farming is regularly done using low impact herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate) to reduce annual weeds and then plant using a seed drill instead of a plow. You can use glyphosate-resistant seed or not as you wish. I actually use this technique in my home vegetable garden.

The rest of Ostrander’s article is a fascinating description of the development and breeding of a perennial grass, they call “Kernza,” which has the potential to be milled and baked much like wheat flour.  The lead scientist on Kernza domestication, Lee DeHaan is profiles on the Land Institute page, and you can read more about his research here.

“Mass Exposure” by Rene Ebersole

In the worst article in the magazine Rene Ebersole recycles all the discredited canards about Roundup (glyphosate) being dangerous. Ebersole starts with the assertion that an “international scientific committee” ruled that glyphosate is a probably human carcinogen. She is referring to the IARC, a small French group that took refuge under the umbrella of the WHO when their funding ran out.

Unfortunately, the group’s credibility fell, when it was realized that they ruled that compounds were “probably” carcinogenic” without considering any dosage issues. As we noted, they ignored decades of government studies, cherry picking just a few that seemed to fit their agenda. Further, it became known that activist Christopher Portier, who was still working with the Environmental Defense Fund, inserted himself into the deliberations and went about telling European governments of these false findings.

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.”

More to the point, the IARC report has recently been further discredited, when it was discovered that the conclusions were edited or changed, as summarized by Ridley, and that Portier had received $160,000 from law firms involved in suing Monsanto.  And just yesterday, Hank Campbell reported that the US Congress is so disgusted with these irregularities that it may be considering “pulling the  plug” in future IARC funding.

Ebersole goes on to claim that Monsanto is being sued because Roundup “Caused them to develop non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL).” They have no actual evidence, and Derek Lowe, writing in Science explains the difference between hazard and risk,  and concludes that there is little evidence linking glyphosate and NHL.

Finally, Ebersole quotes Carey Gillam who describes herself as “research director for US Right to Know.” Gillam is not a scientist. She was once a journalist working for Reuters, but after producing a steady stream on attacks on Monsanto, she was dismissed and now works for US Right to Know, a propaganda organization supported by the organic food industry. Further, Gillam has just published Whatewash: The Story of a Weedkiller. This book has not been well received among actual scientists, however, who consider it just more of or propaganda.

Ebersole seems to have overlooked the actual science regarding the safety of glyphosate, and also neglected to point out (as Ridley does) that lawsuits against Roundup are becoming a profitable industry for some law firms hoping to extract money from Monsanto. Bad luck, though, that Roundup has been off patent since 2000, and most of it is made offshore.

In conclusion, this is one of the worst issues of The Nation in years, where fact checking has simply gone home for the week, allowing the spread of bad information and bad science.

 

 

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Organic Valley highlights inauthenticity with the usual lies

Organic Valley highlights inauthenticity with the usual lies

The New York Times yesterday highlighted the farmer’s co-op Organic Valley, talking about their new half million dollar web site and their emphasis on “highlighting their authenticity.” Well, we had to take a look at the web site that the Times referred to, and found a number of lovely feel-good pictures of rural bliss (and $9 a gallon organic milk). And the usual misinformation with better lipstick on all the pigs, er, cows.

Their whole campaign boils down to the specious claims of “Why Organic?” which are the same old hokum:

Research shows that organic foods are higher in antioxidants and other nutrients

Actually, papers by Brevata and Smith-Spangler and earlier by Dangour, et. al. found no nutritional differences between conventional and organic crops. And the paper that Organic Valley refers to by Baranski et al  was published at the University of Newcastle by  a series of authors associated with the organic industry, and sponsored by the organic funder the Sheepdrove Trust. Further, organic advocate Charles Benbrook is one of the study’s principal authors.  It has been attacked and discredited in Campbell’s article here. Further, they hype the presence of antioxidants, which have not been found to be at all healthful.

Because chemicals are bad for you

You don’t think that is overstatement, do you? Water is a chemical (wags call it dihydrogen monoxide). Then they say organic food keeps pesticides out of kid’s bodies. Hold it there, Casey! Organic farmers spray with pesticides, too, and many of them are really toxic, just naturally occurring. Here’s an article with a list of some of the worst.  Here’s a complete list.  But probably the most damning evidence against these “evil chemical” claims is Bruce Ames’ classic paper in PNAS, showing that the pesticides plants produce on their own (many quite toxic) are present in concentrations 10,000 times greater than those detected as pesticide residues. In other words, you can stop worrying, there just aren’t any dangerous chemical residues on our food: our food, whether conventional or organic is perfectly safe.

The web page also cites the discredited report by the IARC claiming that Roundup is carcinogenic. The WHO and the UN, as well as the EFSA have reported that in fact Roundup is perfectly safe

Kids and cows should not be exposed to synthetic hormones and antibiotics.

Well they aren’t. In fact they cite no scientific papers here on this issue. But we have some. Some farms use synthetic rBst to increase milk production, currently maybe 17%. But it has been found that the milk from rBst treated cows is in all ways identical to that from cows not given that hormone.
And as far as antibiotics go, no milk is allowed to contain antibiotics by FDA regulation. If any are found in testing, the entire load is discarded at great financial loss to the farmer.

Antibiotic resistant infections are very real

So, the claim instead of treating their sick animals with antibiotics, they use “natural holistic measures” to treat their animals. This sounds like animal cruelty. Animal’s milk cannot be shipped until after a washout period so no antibiotics are ever found in milk. If you believe that not treating sick animals is good farming practice, please come buy the large bridge I have for sale!

We’ve all heard GMOs are bad

Here is where the mendacity reaches a fever pitch. Because since organic foods are no healthier and actually have a lower yield, let’s demonize a perfectly safe crop breeding technique. GMOs are, of course, not an ingredient at all, but a way to create new crop varieties with desirable traits, tested on average for over 10 years before they can be marketed.

No one really knows if GMOs are safe for human consumption

Actually, we have a pretty good idea. Biotechnology in plant breeding has been declared no more harmful than conventional agriculture by the National Academies of Science, the Royal Society, the European Food Safety Association and the WHO among hundreds of other scientific organizations. And there has never been a verified case of any ill effect from a GM crop.

GMOs increase superweeds. No, they don’t. Overuse of herbicides can cause herbicide resistance over time. That is called evolution and is usually solved by crop and herbicide rotation.

Oh, and worse yet, they link to a YouTube video from discredited charlatan Vandana Shiva, who likes to call herself a PhD physicist, when her degree is in philosophy. Michael Specter took down her crazy claims in this elegant piece in The New Yorker.

Organic Valley’s new, beautified web site just perpetuates the same wrong-headed claims (lies) they’ve been spreading for years. Organic isn’t better: it is a marketing slogan.

 

 

 

No, Bernie, you’re wrong. GMOs should not be labeled

This column was originally published in June, 2015, but still seems relevant.

Dear Senator Sanders:

sport hill squashI am writing to you as one of your supporters. I have made (for me) a substantial contribution to your campaign for President.

But I must disagree with your column in the Huffington Post as well a recent statements urging Congress to pass a bill requiring labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients. Your logic seems to be that consumers have a “right to know” what they are eating. In fact, this is disingenuous, because “GMO” is a process for breeding plants, not an ingredient. The plants (corn, soy, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash) are nutritionally identical or they would never have been approved. Testing of a new GM crop variety takes over 10 years, and is the most rigorous testing of any food on the market.

Just as the overall scientific consensus is that climate change is real and caused primarily by humans, the overall scientific consensus is that GM crops pose no more harm than conventional crops. This has been found again and again in paper after paper.

The FDAs position is and has been that new crops do not need to be labeled unless they are demonstrably different from the parent plant. This is not the case: GM crops have the same nutritional profile as their non-GM parent.

You suggest that Vermont’s GMO labeling bill was passed despite Monsanto’s threat to sue Vermont. In fact, Monsanto labels all its seeds. Vermont is being sued by the Grocery Manufacturer’s  Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Food Association: organizations that will incur real costs if the Vermont labeling bill is upheld. You can read Robert Sacherich’s analysis of the bill here. Because of the costs of maintaining duplicate supply chains for GM and non GM crops, a Cornell study has estimated that such labeling will cost the average family at least $500 a year in increased food costs.

And to what avail? To label foods that have never been shown to cause any harm in the past 20 years, just to satisfy the curiosity of a few activists? You must surely know that Vermont lost a similar case in International Dairy Foods Association v  Amestoy, where the judge ruled that consumer curiosity is not a valid reason for imposing costs on dairy manufacturers.

You state that most people (90%) want GM foods to be labeled, but this is a misleading number obtained from polls asking leading questions. If you ask people what additional information they think need to be on food labels, both a US study and a European study found that only 2% suggested GMO labeling. This is hardly a groundswell.

You suggest that concerns about toxins and allergens have been “largely brushed aside.” In fact the FDA requires very extensive testing of new GM crops, which can take more than 10 years and cost more than $100 million.

You cite the paper by Aris and Leblanc in Reproductive Toxicology that claimed to find glyphosate and Bt toxin in a sample of mother’s breast milk. However, this paper has been roundly debunked, noting that the sensitivity of the ELISA technique is less than the levels of contaminants allegedly found.

In fact, the only purpose served by GM labeling is to demonize GM crops and push people towards more expensive, but nutritionally identical organic crops. Since much of the anti-GMO protests have been funded by the organic foods industry (which is larger than Monsanto), it is not surprising that this demonization has begun to work. A recent study has shown that organic sales have grown because of this demonization.

In short, I continue to support your campaign, but suggest you need more scientific advisors to keep your campaign credible. Should your staff care to contact me, I can give them a number of names of scientists who can help.

Best regards in your campaign efforts!

The WHO and the UN: Roundup is not carcinogenic

edamame
Soybeans

Everyone with an axe to grind about “evil chemicals” has been repeating the questionable finding of the IARC that glyphosate (Roundup’s main ingredient) is “probably carcinogenic.” The IARC is a subcommittee of the WHO, so the opponents of science were saying that the WHO said that glyphosate causes cancer.  They didn’t.

The IARC made no estimates of risk or dosage, however, so the finding was of little value. As we reported earlier, this finding was extremely questionable, based on only 8 cherry-picked studies rather than the vast body of existing literature, Further, it turned out that the result was politically motivated, being pushed by activist Christopher Portier, formerly of the Environmental Defense Fund, who is not a toxicologist.

The WHO says glyphosate is not carcinogenic

Now all this is overshadowed by the joint announcement yesterday by the WHO and the UN itself that they have determined that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”  and that “glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures.” You can read the Reuters summary here  and the complete WHO report here.

So that’s it. Glyphosate has not been found to cause cancer or cause mutations.  People can take down their signs in California. The IARC was clearly wrong, as the EFSA had already pointed out. And those marching against science will have to find new signs. Roundup is as safe as aspirin. Oh, and they found that diazinon and malathion aren’t carcinogenic either.

Originally published on Examiner.com on May 17, 2016

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.

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.