Connecticut legislature makes anti-science history

Today’s post is a version of an op-ed that was quickly and roundly rejected by the Hartford Courant with a curt,  No Thanks, response.


The Connecticut legislature made history recently when it overwhelmingly approved a gmo labeling bill. They made history by giving credibility to the anti-science views of crackpots, frauds, and charlatans.

In 2012, the Assembly’s GM labeling task force had one Jeffrey Smith testify.  Readers of this blog are well acquainted with him. He is the go-to-guy and is considered an “expert” on gmos. Unfortunately he is not a scientist and has no agricultural experience. He is considered a joke among the scientific community.

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.

Smith recently backed out of a debate on the safety of gmos at the Cato Institute where he would have had to defend his nonsense against actual scientists. Those scientists are Karl Von Mogel and Kevin Folta. Von Mogel is a Ph.D. candidate in plant breeding and plant genetics at the University of Wisconsin who co-founded the science site Biofortified.  Folta is Interim Chairman and Associate Professor Horticultural Sciences Department at the  University of Florida and writes the blog Illumination. 

Last year, I wrote the Connecticut legislature’s GMO Labeling Task Force suggesting they have an actual scientist testify as a counterbalance to Smith’s nonsense. From my email:

I just read that Jeffrey Smith, of the Institute of Responsible Technology will be speaking before your GMO Labeling Task Force on August 8th. I would recommend you rescind this offer as Mr. Smith is a self-styled expert on GMOs. He has no experience in science or agriculture. For some reason he is considered an expert by the media and others.

If this is not possible, I suggest you at least have actual scientists testify on this issue to counterbalance his nonsense.

I received a polite reply from Elaine O’Brien who wrote

 “my intention is to gather as much information as possible. I understand that this is not a simple subject and I do not believe we should be rushing to label before we understand the issue”.

It seems they didn’t take my advice and consult any real scientists and listened only to a minority of vocal activists who peddled discredited studies and lies.

Every major health and scientific organization have weighed in on the safety of genetically modified foods. The safety is not in question.

Humans have been genetically modifying foods for thousands of years. Activist claim GM is different. Yes, it is. It is more precise.

With conventional breeding it is a hit and miss method. With conventional breeding they transfer thousands of genes, hoping they will get what they want. With GM, scientists only transfer the gene(s) that they need.

Activists point to the 64 countries that have laws requiring labeling as a talking point. Well, 74 countries have laws against homosexuality. Should we follow their lead?

The legislature should be ashamed of themselves.

Thinking beyond Argumentum ad Monsantum.

I wish Monsanto would go away. The anti-GMO activist obsession with them has queered the genetic technology discussion. It has clouded their thinking.

Common Dreams has a link to a pdf, which I won’t link to here, that is a history of Monsanto’s evil chemicals.  The logic is since they created or helped create such poisons as Agent Orange, the fact they use GE technology means  because of past work, this must be bad as well. It’s their main argument against GMOs. Argumentum ad Monsantum.

But even if they have invented some gnarly compounds, does that mean everything they do is bad? They were the first producer of bulk aspirin. They developed  chiral hydrogenation catalysts. That made possible  L-dopa, a breakthrough drug used  in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Somehow the anti-GMO crowd (hereinafter referred to as “the crowd”) has to get by their hatred of Monsanto and look objectively at the technology itself. Instead, they look for any industry connection to a study to discredit it. They spend more time looking for industry connections than they do learning about the technology

It baffles me how people who consider themselves progressive can be so regressive when it comes to this issue. Again, it goes back to their hatred of corporations.  It’s really blinkered thinking.

A big misconception of the crowd is that GMO is the answer. In a way, I can’t really blame them since there are companies and people out there who oversell  GM as a silver bullet. It’s not. It’s just another tool. But companies are going to pimp their product no matter what it is.  How many products are New and Improved!  The crowd should be able to see beyond that.

But here’s where not thinking things through raises its ugly head. The technology of GE is safe and proven, or as safe as anything can be.  It is a technology that can provide benefits if only the crowd would stop focusing on Monsanto. They didn’t invent it. They only use it.

At present, the only real benefit is to the farmer who uses the technology. They get better yields, crops that are more resilient and they don’t have to use as much herbicide/pesticide. Yet there are biotech seeds out there that are literally sitting in the refrigerators of universities and small companies, languishing due to the high cost and red tape of getting a crop approved. That is where the future of GMOs lie.

Anti-GMO site, GMWatch recently linked to a story from Cornell regarding  the development of a disease resistant tomato. They used it to promote the idea that GM isn’t needed; that the same result can come from conventional breeding. Cornell plant breeder Martha Mutschler-Chu did come up with a solution, but that solution took ten years.

What if you don’t have the luxury of ten years? What if the threat is imminent?  That’s one area where GM can be beneficial.

The Hawaiian papaya industry was on the verge of collapse due to a virulent disease, papaya ring spot virus. Nothing could eliminate or contain it. Enter Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, retired Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Cornell and at the time, director of the USDA’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Center. He developed a genetically modified disease resistant papaya and gave it to the growers.  It is now sold to them at cost. They didn’t have the luxury of ten years.

How big of a deal was it? The Governor of Hawaii. Neil Abercrombie declared April 6th of this year as  Dr. Dennis Gonsalves Day

Dr. Gonsalves served for 10 years as PBARC’s director and recently retired. He is most noted for his efforts that saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from the ringspot virus. The transgenic “Rainbow Papaya” that he and his team developed and released to growers in 1998 helped to bring the industry back after ringspot virus had reduced Hawaii’s papaya production by 50 percent.

A few years ago, a plum pox virus was devastating the plum crops in the Adams County, Pa. In order to contain the virus and keep if from spreading across the U.S. the only method to stop it was to pull up the trees and bulldoze them before the disease spread.  Then in 2010, through government research, they came up with the GM Honeysweet, a disease resistant plum that solved the problem.  Should they have waited ten years for a more “natural” method while the disease spread and threatened the entire plum industry?

Then you have the idea that future GMOs can have increased nutrients, like Golden Rice or other beneficial health aspects. That is going to come,  more than likely from smaller companies, universities and government research, not big corporations.  But in order for that to happen, the crowd has to look past Monsanto. It has to allow a faster and less costly approval process.

Toss argumentum ad Monsantum to the sidelines, where it belongs.

Send in the anti-GMO clowns

Every once in a while you read something that fires on all cylinders. That most recent something is an analysis on a Canadian website Troy Media. The junk science clowns behind the GMO scare is the last  installment of a four-part series  Quacks and Conspiracies.

The author, Alan McHughen systematically demolishes all the nonsense peddled by the anti-GMO crowd.

GMO technologies have been around since the early 1970s and have given us many useful products, from human insulin to safer crops grown with fewer pesticides. Moreover, in over 30 years of experience, according to authoritative sources such as the U.S. National Academies and the American Medical Association, there is not one documented case of harm to humans, animals or the environment from GM products.

That is an impressive track record, considering the extent of GM products in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food and industrial applications. So why are so many still fearful of this technology? One simple answer is junk science and its carefully crafted use as a weapon of mass fear.

That’s it in a nutshell. McHughen goes on to take apart the nonsense peddlers like  Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the U.K.’s Soil Association, accusing them of  “fear-mongering,” and deploying “their considerable media-manipulating machinery to spread more scare stories.”

I wish he would have included the Organic Consumers Association, headed by anti-vaccine and professional activist. Ronnie Cummins, but hey, you can’t have everything. But all in all it’s a great piece and he even includes a video from Penn and Teller who castigate the activist groups and publicize Norman Borlaug who most people have probably never heard of.

In the video, P&T relate how in the early 2,000s, Greenpeace and other activists went to Zambia and urged the government to refuse the GM corn that was donated to help with a famine by saying it was “poison.”

According to the article,

As reported by the BBC, Mwanawasa duly locked up the food in the warehouses – the same GM corn eaten without incident by millions of Americans – and then watched his subjects die, insisting such a fate was preferable to eating “poison.” That is, until the starving Zambians broke into the warehouses and gorged themselves healthy on the allegedly poisonous corn.

Readers of this blog know that I can be harsh on anti-GMO activists and actions like they took in Zambia is why I do take a hardline. I think it’s criminal that well-fed westerners would deny starving people food because they have a problem with it.

I feel the same way about the Golden Rice issue. Here we have a solution to the problem that would prevent the deaths and blindness of millions of Third World children due to lack of Vitamin A. Activists, led by Greenpeace promote all kinds of bogus information about the rice and lobby governments to reject it. I’m sorry, I think that is advocating mass murder, pure and simple.

In a private email, a reader of this blog suggested I should tone it down so I don’t alienate the people I am trying to reach.  But I am not against the well-meaning people who are taken in by these groups. They think they are doing the right thing.

What I try to do is alert them to the fact they are being used by extremists and charlatans.  The downside of that is no one wants to think they’re a rube. I know whereof I speak. I used to fall for every bit of nonsense that came down the pike because it fit in with my worldview. Then I found out I was being a rube. Psychic Ouch.  So, I dusted off my ego and became the progressive contrarian. 

Since I started this blog, I’ve come to realize that maybe I’m not so much a contrarian in the strictest sense of the word. I think I defined myself by the rules of my tribe which makes me a contrarian. I look for the facts and evidence and if the facts and evidence  take me to different place, I have to go with it.

I hope that my posts are well-reasoned and evidence based, despite the sometimes strident tone.

Oh, of course I digressed once again from my original point. So let’s finish this one off with another quote from the article. It has to do with my bete noire, Jeffrey Smith.

 Meanwhile, the New World spawned another popular junk scientist in the person of Jeffrey Smith, who has penned several books decrying his perceived hazards of modern agriculture, saving the most potent venom for genetically modified crops and foods. Smith’s self-published, non-peer-reviewed Genetic Roulette, for example, expounds upon already questionable reports – almost all from non-peer-reviewed sources – in a confident, technical voice that suggests that he actually has some scientific or medical credentials. However, closer inspection of Smith’s CV reveals that the closest he has come to scientific credentials is working as a ballroom dance instructor and a flying carpet yogi. Genetic Roulette is so packed with scientific misunderstanding and misinformation that a group of actual scientific experts established a Web site to counter and explain, point by point, some 65 false claims.

The anti-GMO gang that couldn’t label straight

Throughout the Prop 37 campaign we heard the refrain from the GMO labeling crowd, “Just label it.” They wanted to know what Big Ag was hiding. It was, after all, just a simple label, May Contain Genetically Modified Ingredients. 

After a long battle the initiative went down to defeat. But supporters vowed to carry on in their quest. And they made good on their threat. From all accounts, around 30 states are considering labeling foods made with GMOs. This didn’t  escape the notice of Big Ag.  They needed a plan.

So, the 20 Big Ag and food families called for a sitdown in Washington, D.C with the FDA and two representatives from the opposing anti-GMO families. They decided it wasn’t worth it to go to the financial mattresses and keep fighting this war.

It made perfect sense. They knew this would be a never ending battle costing millions. They needed to hammer out an arrangement with the opposing families.

You would think the anti-GMO soldiers would have welcomed this meeting. You would have thought wrong.

The minute notice of the meeting was leaked by “Crazy Ron” Cummins, head of the OCA family, he cried conspiracy as did the others. He smelled a rat. Michelle Simon, consigliere of the anti-GMO families was equally suspicious. In a column on the site  Nation of Change, Simon wrote, “any effort to label GE foods at the federal level could bring the current grassroots movement to a grinding halt by preventing any stronger local laws from ever being enacted.”

We have been told non-stop for over two years that it was just a simple idea of a label; the right-to-know that food products were made with GMOs. Then in the middle of that, it morphed into how GMOs cause  every malady known to mankind. Still, they kept saying it was simply, the right-to-know. Now the anti-GMO families are making noise about stronger local laws?

The anti-GMO families have been holding meetings across the country where a yogic flying dance teacher with no scientific credentials whatsoever gives his expert opinion on the dangers of GMOs. If he isn’t available, they screen his quackumentary*, Genetic Roulette. 

So, what is it? They can’t keep their motives straight. Do they want a simple label or do they want GMOs banned? Its obvious it’s the latter, but they still can’t keep chanting the it’s just a label mantra.

The anti-GMO crowd has to get real. They have to stick to one message and not be so weasly in their intentions. The bottom line is they want GMO foods banned because they think they are poison.  They should come clean that they are organic advocates that hate any kind of modern progress in regards to farming. They have to come clean that what they perceive as the dangers of GMOs have never been proven, despite the bogus science they believe.

As much as I hate corporations, they were smart to call this confab, where a strict code of omerta was observed, even by the opposing family representatives. I think the reaction to this meeting(s) show(s) the true motives of the anti-GMO crowd.

*Oh, man. I thought I invented that word, but a friend sent me some links where it was used, usually by crazy conspiracy theorists.

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, “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.

Everybody Panic! Eating GM wheat will destroy your liver!

On comment boards across the vast interwebs, people swear they suffered from all kinds of physical ills until they gave up eating GMO foods, more often than not, it’s genetically modified wheat. There’s only one problem, there is no genetically modified wheat on the market.

Therein lies another problem with the anti-GMO crowd. They ascribe all kinds of disease and physical ills with the introduction of GMO foods.  It’s what is called a logical fallacy.

Activists rely on correlation=causation; the idea that because two things happen at roughly the same time there is a cause-and-effect relationship.

The activists claim since the introduction of GMO food, there has been a rise in asthma, allergies and all kinds of scary diseases. So, using their logic we can conclude that organic food may be causing these things. After all, the rise of the organic food movement pretty much parallels the rise of asthma, allergies etc.

It’s simplistic, non-critical thinking. It’s a cognitive bias that results in confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a “tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions” and to dismiss any information that contradicts that preconception. We see this all over the place in regards to GMOS. The comment sections are rife with it.

Any information that doesn’t paint GMOs in a negative light is suspect, worse if it attempts to correct misconceptions about GMOs. Commenters will refuse to entertain the idea that they may be wrong. They will never accept contrary evidence. They respond with claims of bias and the ever popular meme, “How much is Monsanto paying you?” The confirmation bias on this issue is so deep it’s almost pathological. It’s like arguing with a creationist.

This is one of the reasons I have a problem with modern-day progressives. Somewhere along the line, the anti-technology, anti-progress mentality of the hippie got cross-pollinated with the progressive mentality of the political left and created a progressive imbecile hybrid. And I should note this happened conventionally and not through genetic engineering.

The problem is, for the most part, this hybrid isn’t stupid. They may be imbeciles, but they’re not stupid. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of them are well-educated.

What’s even more depressing is they’ve wittingly, or unwittingly aligned themselves with fringe nut jobs like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and fellow traveler, alternative health freak Mike Adams.  Both of these crazies are on the anti-GMO bandwagon. Both think the Aurora shootings were a black psyop by Obama.

They believe wackos and dismiss actual experts on the issue since they have convinced themselves that worldwide, every biotech scientist, scientific organization and writer who doesn’t blast GMOs has been bought off. I knew Monsanto was rich, but to have the wherewithal to buy off thousands of scientists, their organizations, government agencies and journalists is quite a feat.

Yet, they don’t stop and think how absurd that is when they say it.

Progressives need to be even more skeptical of activists on their side than they do of corporations. It’s a given that corporations are weasly and only in it for the money.

Yes, Monsanto is bad, but you have to separate the tech from the corporation that uses it. Again, here’s bad logical thinking. Monsanto is bad. Monsanto uses biotech. Therefore, biotech is bad. I now that’s a logical fallacy but I can’t think of what it’s called at the moment. Any reader know?

Before jumping on a bandwagon, progressives should stop and think, “Who’s pushing this agenda? Why are they pushing this agenda? Most importantly, don’t accept anything simply because it fits your worldview. Ask, is it true? It’s okay to be wrong. It happens.