Genetically Modified Foods Revisited: Skeptically Speaking


This is a great hour of talking about GMOs. The guests are who I call the Transgenic Trio:  Kevin Folta, Anastasia Bodnar and Karl Haro von Mogel. They’ve been out in front of the GM issue, combating the misinformation that is being peddled by anti-GMO crackpots. They’re smart, funny and interesting.

Spare an hour and give it a listen: Skeptically Speaking

The zany and madcap world of the GMO labeling crowd


The GMO labeling crowd seems to be quite the wacky bunch.  Out in front you have a yogic flying dance teacher, a snake-oil salesman, a professional protester, and an alternative  health knucklehead who claims GMOs are the equivalent of Zyklon B. Oh, and GMOs are the new thalidomide as well. All are in the anti-vaccine camp and all of them are anti-GMO. All are anti-science and say The Man is out to get them. They have ways for you to avoid the poison of GMO.  Just buy  their health supplements that will counteract the GMO poison. But this is just a right to know campaign, right?

Then you have the schizoid messages the campaign is peddling:

  1.  It’s just a right to know.
  2.  We’re not saying we want GMOs banned.
  3.  GMOS are dangerous which is why we want them labeled.
  4.  No long-term studies have been done as their safety.
  5.  They’re not safe and here are the discredited studies to prove it.
  6. It’s just a label, we don’t want GMOs banned even though they are responsible for all health problems.
  7.  They label in Europe,  China et al. Why not here?

Let’s look at number eight.  Labeling supporters always point to other countries that require labeling as if that is a legitimate reason to do it here…  Hey, here is some timely news:   Italian scientists guilty of manslaughter in 2009 earthquake. 

Yup, you read that right. “Italian prosecutors say that the scientists gave inaccurate and incomplete information about whether smaller tremors before the April 2009 quake should have been grounds for an official warning.”

Among those convicted were some of Italy’s most prominent and internationally respected seismologists and geological experts, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the national Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

I’ll  just leave that there.

Oh wait, there is this from last year… EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration.    “EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.”

China? They require labeling but have been found to be exporting toothpaste, food  and other products found to contain high levels of lead.

Yeah, we should follow their scientific lead.

The latest coup of the campaign is they got over 300 celebrity chefs to endorse Prop. 37. That’s right, celebrity chefs who are well versed in the subject of transgenics.  Such experts like Mario Batali who recently settled for $1.5 million in a lawsuit which accused him of stealing employee tips.

And that’s another thing about these kooks.  They chose to fight for a dubious cause against a process that has never been proven dangerous, just that they think it is. If food is your fight, why not choose real world problems, ones that we know affect real live human beings? Oh I don’t know, like farm workers’ rights? I wrote about this in an August 4th post

United Farm Workers spokesman, Mark Grossman told grist.org, “There’s a common conventional wisdom by a lot of consumers, especially at the higher-end stores, that just because it’s organic the workers are treated better. “And that’s simply not true.”

Urban Habitat, in a 2011 survey of 500 organic growers in California found, “only 7.5 percent were in favor of labor standards. Forty-seven percent felt strongly that organic standards should not include labor standards and over 50 percent felt that organic certification should not require growers to provide workers with health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or the right to unionize.”

Why do 47% feel strongly that “organic standards should not include labor standards?” Why do over 50% feel that “organic certification should not require growers to provide workers with health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or the right to unionize?”

Considering this campaign is heavily promoted by the Organics industry, I guess I can see why they wouldn’t take on an issue like that.

The more you look at it, the more this campaign is nothing more than an attempt to do at the ballot box what they can’t do in the marketplace. In fact, as I’ve written before, one of the big donors to the campaign, Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Union has admitted as much in an open letter to supporters.

It’s also a venue for the snake-oil salesmen, conspiracy theorists and other lamebrains to advance their tinfoil hat agendas.

Site after site promotes the same talking points and in many cases, they re-publish the very same articles over and over again without vetting them to decide if they are correct or not. There is very little original thought that goes into this campaign among supporters.

I find I have a conundrum with this issue.  Despising as I do corporations, I find it unsettling to be on their side on this issue.  Well, I guess I’m not so much on their side as I am against this badly written, bad science law. And the fact of the matter is, even with the Miller controversy and the misleading mailer quote with improper use of the FDA official seal, the industry has more valid points than the labeling side. You can argue whether food prices will rise due to the law, but one thing is not arguable and that is that the supporters have relied on bad science and a worldview rather than facts and evidence.

As a life long progressive, I find that disturbing. It’s disturbing because what it says to me is that the crackpots have gained major influence among progressives. Over at ScienceBlogs,  David Gorski, a surgical oncologist who goes by the nom de blogger, Orac, weighs in on the issue.  “When it comes to GMO, I don’t really have a dog in the hunt, so to speak, but brain dead studies like this one certainly prod me towards the view that much of the “science” behind anti-GMO activism just doesn’t hold water, and the easy acceptance of such nonsensical results as valid by “progressives” is just plain depressing.” ( He was speaking of the widely discredited Seralini study).

And Orac isn’t the only one in science who feels that way. Many scientists tend to hold progressive views and it is those very scientists who are disturbed by this trend toward nonsense.

Orac also writes this:  “Next up, I anticipate that someone, instead of calling me a “pharma shill,” will call me a “Monsanto shill.” It’s coming. You know it is.”

Oh boy, ain’t that the truth. I’ve had that lobbed at me on more than one message board and so has every single person who has the temerity to contradict the anti-GMO party line.

Dr. Oz/Jeffrey Smith Smackdown by Bruce Chassy


I’ve been a big detractor of fraud Jeffrey Smith on this blog for quite a while. He is a fraud and a charlatan with no scientific credentials who has been given credibility by State legislatures and the media as an expert on GMOs. He spouts nonsense. So, it was heartening to see this. It is a link via Pamela Ronald via ScienceBlogs

When an alert came across my digital transom letting me know that Dr. Oz would be doing another show on GMOs, I refused to watch.  It turns out I made the correct decision. Bruce Chassy, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Food Science & Nutrition at the University of Illinois was invited to appear on the show but due to conflicts he couldn’t make it. It was probably a good thing, since Oz stacked the deck. Chassy, along with a real Oz guy, Australian David Tribe have a website dedicated to debunking the yogic flying Mr. Smith called Academics Review. On that site, using peer-reviewed science, they demolish Smith’s self-published book Genetic Roulette, what is really an anti-GMO comic book and  full of  pseudo-scientific nonsense.

He wrote a scathing letter to the show and its producers laying out his objections to the program and what he saw as  “potential violation by Dr. Oz of medical ethics and high risk of misrepresentation of human health information by Dr. Oz, Zoco Productions and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios on this issue.”

Chassy doesn’t mince words:

Simply put, Mr. Smith’s health, environmental and safety claims about biotechnology have no basis whatsoever in medicine or science. Thousands of published and peer reviewed studies conducted over the past thirty-plus years contradict his claims and bizarre hypotheses associating health dangers linked to foods derived using biotechnology production methods. This is corroborated by such respected scientific and medical authorities as the American Medical Association, World Health Organization with the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Institute for Food Technologists and the American Dietetic Association. Regulatory bodies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Food Safety Commission of Japan (FSCJ) all confirm this safety.

He castigates Oz throughout the letter basically accusing him of dishonesty.  Later in the letter he says:

All of this would lead any reasonable person to believe your representations were disingenuous and that this show was orchestrated theater on behalf of Mr. Smith and the Proposition 37 campaign. Since Mr. Smith and his collaborator, Dr. Oz show co-producer Lisa Oz, are active proponents behind the Proposition 37 California Ballot Initiative, the program you intend to air on the Fox network prior to the November 6, 2012 election appears by all manners to be an orchestrated and essentially in-kind donation of a free campaign commercial for this initiative. Worse, Dr. Oz will be amplifying thoroughly debunked and potentially dangerous nutrition and health-related advice to his viewing audience.

Your assurances and the tactics of the Dr. Oz show fall short of even the lowest standards of media and medical ethics.

I want to thank Dr. Chassy for making this effort since his credentials way outweigh mine when it comes to science. I’m just a civilian, a  fact and evidence based cranky blogger, Chassy has the CV.

Read it here: Letter to Dr. Oz Show Producers

Support for California GMO labeling law in free fall


Recently, the big guys opposing Prop. 37  started pouring their millions into television ads in an effort to sway public opinion and defeat the measure.  Up until the ads started running, all polls led to an overwhelming win for the labeling law. Now the gap has tightened up. The latest polls say that support has declined in the last two weeks, from 66.9 %  to 48.3%.  Opposition has gone from 22.3% to 40.2%.

Since the campaign for labeling began over a year ago, the proponents were out there spreading their message pretty much without any major opposition from the corporate side.  They overwhelmingly had the public on their side. Just a few months ago the polls said this referendum would skate to victory. Then the money by the opposition started being spent.

It was a brilliant tactical move.  They waited until crunch time to shoot their wad and it has had an effect.  This is a classic example of tactical politics. While the “grassroots” liberal/left with their worldview were getting all the press, they failed to assess why they weren’t facing strong opposition. They were lulled into a false sense of security by the poll numbers.

How has the support campaign reacted to this nosedive in support? Have they countered with their own “facts?” Nope, they’ve attacked the messenger rather than the message. No side spokespeople are called out for any real, imagined or tenuous connection to industry.  Very rarely has the Yes side taken issue with the substance of what is being said.

The latest bogeyman in the fight is Henry Miller of the rightist Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  He is featured in one their ads. The No side tried to slip one by people by making it seem that Miller was a faculty member of Stanford and used university buildings as a backdrop. Supporters complained and Stanford listened issuing a statement that took issue with the hustle. The ad has since been revamped.

Not satisfied with the retraction and revamped ad, the Yes campaign has filed a complaint with the Feds claiming fraudulent advertising activities.  They are also upset at the fact that Miller is, according to the L.A. Times,  listed in the “state’s official voter guide…as a senior official with the FDA when in fact he does not work at FDA… The anti-proposition ballot argument signed by Miller, a medical doctor, identifies himself as “founding director of the Office of Biotechnology Food & Drug Administration.”

Well, it is true that he is not a senior official with the FDA, but he did in fact, work for the FDA for 15 years and he was the founder of the Office of Biotechnology Food & Drug Administration. I haven’t seen a hard copy of the Voter’s guide but the online version says that Miller is the Founding Director, Office of Biotechnology of the Food & Drug  Administration.  I don’t know if that has been changed since the complaints

Undoubtedly, the massive spending frenzy by the corporate side has had an effect,  but how much of an effect? For over a  year the Yes campaign had unfettered access to the public.  It seems the  minute the No campaign weighed in, that support ebbed. You can say it’s due to the cash influx, but perhaps it goes deeper than that.

As I wrote above, the Yes campaign seems to be concentrating on who the opposition is rather than what they are saying.  They expect the public to react with the same mindset as them. That’s a huge mistake. They spend too much time screaming dirty pool rather than responding substantively. Campaign manager Gary Ruskin told the L.A. Times the opposition was “running a campaign of lies, deceit and trickery.”

That one got me. If you look at the text of the law itself as I did in a  July post, California GMO labeling law: Bad science, crackpots and hucksters  you will see that it’s a mess of inaccuracy.

I don’t know how representative comment sections of media websites are of the supporter mindset, but you see this shoot the messenger mindset all over the place. If a media website publishes an article that dares take issue and contradict any of the claims of the Yes side, you will see tons of comments suggesting or accusing them of being on Monsanto’s payroll.  It is also true of commenters who dare contradict the posts of supporters. I can attest to that and so can anyone who has waded into those pits. We’re accused of being “Monsanto shills” and apparently we too are on the payroll.  You rarely get a cogent, reasoned response.

The initiative may still win despite the free fall and if it does win, then the real fun will begin. The law will be challenged in court and then in the end, lawyers will get rich.  Oh, and if the courts do throw out the law, you can except the response from the anti-GMO side to be, “The judges were bought off by Monsanto.”

Alert: Skeptically Speaking live podcast on GMOs today at 6 pm MT


“This week, we’ll spend the hour talking about genetically modified foods, that are causing conversation among scientists, lawmakers and the public. Horticulture professor Kevin Folta returns to the show, along with Karl Haro von Mogel and Anastasia Bodnar, co-editors of Biofortified.org. They’ll give us the scientific perspective on the benefits, and possible dangers, in manipulating the genes of  common food crops.

We record live with our panel on Sunday, October 14 at 6 pm MT. The podcast will be available to download at 6 pm MT on Friday, October 19.”

 

Skeptically Speaking website

Deconstructing Jeffrey Smith: Yogic flyer, dance teacher and GMO expert


I’ve written about self-proclaimed GMO expert Jeffrey Smith several times. I’ve pointed out what a fraud and charlatan he is. He heads a questionable organization called the Institute for Responsible Technology. Here is what I’ve written about him in the past:

Smith is the media’s go-to-guy for anti-GM information. He even has a blog on the Huffington Post.  He isn’t a scientist and has no experience in agriculture, yet he is considered an expert on GM. Not much else is known about Smith. His bio and resume are vague. What is known is he was a member of the Maharishi Natural Law Party in Iowa whose solution to the national crime problem was “yogic flying.”

In 1996, the Daily Illinni wrote, “Smith presented charts with evidence of a correlation between the presence of yogic flyers and an increase in the quality of life and a decrease in crime. Smith cited limited yogic flying programs in Washington D.C. and near the Middle East that resulted in less crime and more harmony.” He has two self-published books on genetic engineering.  One of them, Genetic Roulette has been discredited by real scientists. The organization, Academics Review, looked at the book to see how his claims stacked up against current peer-reviewed science and submitted a chapter by chapter take down of the book.

Back in January, I came across a video on the GMO Pundit’s blog by a guy whose YouTube username is LithodidMan.  I’m not quite sure who he is, but he lives in Alaska and may be a biology teacher.  He has quite a few videos. In this almost hour long video, he refutes the nonsense spewed by Smith using not only Smith’s own words, but clips of him using those words.  It’s worth a watch and it would be good if you sent this link to anti-GMO friends and family because LithodidMan really takes Smith to cleaners.  What I like about it is that it isn’t slick. It’s just him sitting in front of his webcam. The vid contains NSFW language.