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.

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California GMO labeling law: Bad science, crackpots and hucksters


In November, California voters will decide on a law that requires mandatory labeling of food products made with genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs (the O is for “organism”). It has been framed by its supporters as a right-to-know issue, playing Organic David to GMO’s Goliath. To its detractors, it’s nothing more than a campaign of fear mongering brought on by the organic industry in league with a cadre of alternative medicine crackpots.

One of the biggest misconceptions about GMOs is that it’s seen as a total solution. It’s not a solution, it’s a tool. Sometimes GMOs are warranted,  other times not. A farmer should be free to go GMO—if its use is warranted—without fear of being regulated out of the marketplace.

I would argue that the California labeling law will result in an effective ban on GMOs, taking away that choice from farmers. The negative press, based on nonsense that is written about GMOs, is too overwhelming, making the average consumer fearful of GMOs—if they are labeled as such, they will rot on the shelf. No matter what the supporters say, this law will cripple or destroy GMO farming and bolster the organic industry. Monsanto, being a multinational, can survive it, but in the end it will be the average  farmer who will suffer. (A good analysis of the law’s economic impact on farmers is by Freakonomics’ Steve Sexton: How California’s GMO Labeling Law Could Limit Your Food Choices and Hurt the Poor  (Thanks for the link, Stan.)

On the surface, it seems reasonable that consumers should know what their food contains. The FDA requires labeling if products contain known allergens, possibly harmful ingredients, etc. However, when it comes to GMOs, there’s an enormous amount of misinformation and bad science out there. The anti-GMO crowd is depending on this negative association. Since they don’t have the science behind them, they are relying on scare tactics. It’s a variation of an old adage: If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you don’t have the facts, argue the law. If you have neither, pound the table. With its labeling law, the anti-GMO crowd are pounding the table. In fact, to find misinformation and bad science about GMOs, one need not look any further than the text of the proposed law itself:

California consumers have the right to know whether the foods they purchase were produced using genetic engineering.  Genetic engineering of plants and animals often causes unintended consequences. Manipulating genes and inserting them into organisms is an imprecise process. The results are not always predictable or controllable, and they can lead to adverse health or environmental consequences.

Right out of the box it’s all wrong. GE of plants is not an “imprecise process”, quite the opposite, and there is less of chance of “unintended consequences” with GE as compared to conventional breeding.

Anastasia Bodnar is doctoral candidate at Iowa State University in genetics and sustainable agriculture. Here is her explanation of the process:

Plants that have been genetically engineered undergo many levels of screening and breeding to remove unwanted mutations.

 Genetically engineered crops are tested by event. An event is a single instance of a gene being integrated into the genome of a single embryo or other plant part (depending on the species being genetically engineered). Sometimes the gene will integrate in the middle of an important gene and effectively cause a mutation (those would be removed from the breeding program). Other times the gene will integrate in a place where it isn’t interfering with other genes, which is what we want.

In the process of creating a genetically engineered crop a lot of events are created, and they are tested to see where the gene integrated and if there are any strange characteristics that might indicate an unintended mutation. Any plant that isn’t what the breeders/genetic engineers want is destroyed. The events that pass then go through a breeding process called backcrossing, which essentially replaces all the genetic material from the transformed plant line with genetic material from an untransformed plant line, except for the region around the gene that was inserted. This ensures that any mutations caused by the transformation process are not left in the final line.

Mutations happen all the time. There are natural mutations due to DNA replication errors and due to mutagens like UV light from the sun. There are all sorts of strange chromosomal rearrangements when two related species are crossed. And so on. There are also intentional mutations caused when a plant breeder exposes seeds to a chemical or radioactive mutagen to try (on purpose) to induce mutations  that might produce new and valuable traits. What happens if there are harmful mutations? If a plant breeder notices something weird in one of the plants, it’s removed from the breeding population and either destroyed or kept for further study if it is interesting.

Let’s read more from the proposed law:

Government scientists have stated that the artificial insertion of DNA into plants, a technique unique to genetic engineering, can cause a variety of significant problems with plant foods. Such genetic engineering can increase the levels of known toxicants in foods and introduce new toxicants and health concerns.

No. It can’t. See above. Moving on:

No federal or California law requires that food producers identify whether foods were produced using genetic engineering. At the same time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require safety studies of such foods. Unless these foods contain a known allergen, the FDA does not even require developers of genetically engineered crops to consult with the agency.

That first sentence is true. The rest is misleading.  Not only do GM foods have to go through the FDA, they also have to go through the USDA, and the EPA depending on intended use(s). From the FDA website:

In the Federal Register of May 29, 1992 (57 FR 22984), FDA published its “Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties” (the 1992 policy). In the 1992 policy, FDA recommended that developers consult with FDA about bioengineered foods under development; since issuance of the 1992 policy, developers have routinely done so…. These procedures describe a process in which a developer who intends to commercialize a bioengineered food meets with the agency to identify and discuss relevant safety, nutritional, or other regulatory issues regarding the bioengineered food and then submits to FDA a summary of its scientific and regulatory assessment of the food; FDA evaluates the submission and responds to the developer by letter.

One last excerpt from the law:

Organic farmers are prohibited from using genetically engineered seeds. Nonetheless, these farmers’ crops are regularly threatened with accidental contamination from neighboring lands where genetically engineered crops abound. This risk of contamination can erode public confidence in California’s organic products, significantly undermining this industry. Californians should have the choice to avoid purchasing foods whose production could harm the state’s organic farmers and its organic foods industry.

Okay. This is disingenuous at best. It’s not just GMOs that can “contaminate” neighboring fields, conventional crops can do the same. That’s why farmers take measures to ensure this doesn’t happen.

In fact, in the 16 years that GMOs have been grown there hasn’t been one reported  instance of cross-pollination between a GMO plant and an organic one. I asked Dr. Mark Westgate, Director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods at Iowa State Univesity about the “contamination” issue. He responded by email:

Dr. Westgate: First, as a matter of clarity, crops that are domesticated by man have been and continue to be genetically modified from their wild progenitors.  Modern gene sequencing technology has revealed today’s hybrid corn contains only about 80% genetic identity with its ancestor teosinte. Mutations occur all the time and DNA is re-arranged every time germ cells are formed. The term GMO has taken on a negative connotation, but biologically speaking genetic modification is a very positive phenomenon and forms the foundation for crop improvement.  Literally, every new generation is a GMO. A more accurate and informative terms to use are transgenic or conventional (transgene-free).  These terms describe how the specific traits are incorporated into the crop.

Q:  The idea of cross-pollination and drift loom large in the anti-GMO campaign. We know that cross pollination can occur in all methods of farming. Is there any difference between cross pollination of GMO vs. conventional crops?

Dr. Westgate:  No.

Q: Are organic crops in any more danger from GMOs than conventional crops?

Dr. Westgate:  I’m not sure what you mean by danger. Organic production is determined by the methods of crop management, not by the genetic makeup of the crop or the way it reproduces. The USDA does not require crops to be transgene free to be certified as organic. The buyers of these crops do. If “danger” means a greater potential for out-crossing in one or the other, again the answer is no — unless one is inherently sterile or less prolific, which is not necessarily related to the presence or absence of transgenes.

Corn is a wind-pollinated crop.  As such, crossing between plants is an inherent and beneficial aspect of seed production.  The potential for crossing between such wind-pollinated plants depends on several biological and physical factors. These include timing of flowering, amount of pollen produced, size of pollen grains, distance between plants, weather conditions, topography, etc.  These things are fairly well understood and predictable. [emphasis mine]

Crops that are predominately self pollinated (e.g. Beans) are not affected by most of these factors. Crops that rely on insect pollinators, such as fruit trees and many vegetables, have another biological dimension to consider.

_____________________________________________

Of course there are exemptions in the law. What are they? In a “summary of the chief purpose and points of the proposed measure,” The California Attorney General’s listed them:

  • certified organic
  • unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves
  • processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients
  • administered for treatment of medical conditions
  • sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant
  • alcoholic beverages.

So, basically if, by some infintesimal chance, organic crops accidentally get contaminated, they will not have to be labeled. Wait. I thought GMO was poison and all kinds of other bad things? Why the exemptions? Doesn’t the consumer have the right-to-know if their food is processed with or contains only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients?

It’s also interesting that the same food that needs to be labeled in supermarkets doesn’t have to be if it’s served to you in a restaurant.

To understand what’s at stake in November, I decided to look into the individuals and groups behind the proposed labelling law. One participating support group is labelgmos.org. On their website, they claim “We are the original grassroots group that organized to get the ballot initiative going in California. On September 20, 2011, Pamm Larry, a grandmother from Chico, California woke up and knew that it was her job from then until November 6, 2012 to do everything she could to get an initiative on the California ballot to label genetically engineered foods.” Speaking of transparency, why does labelgmos.org hide its domain registrar information? Who are they? Who owns the domain name? It seems that information is private. It is registered with a domain registrar called Domains by Proxy. Where’s the right to know?

The folks at labelgmos.org say they are members of a coalition called California Right To Know. Now who are they? It was started by Grant Lundberg who runs Lunberg Family Farms in Richville, CA. It is a family run farm that was a pioneer in organic farming.

The farm consists of 14,000 acres and grows both organic and conventional crops. It has an annual revenue (2007) of $48.9 million. The farm is well known for its innovative contributions to sustainable agriculture and treatment of its workforce. Lundberg is no slouch. He has a Master of Science in Agricultural Economics. So, the question is, how did he come to become an ardent supporter of an anti-GMO initiative, donating $200,000? We know that cross pollination can happen in any method of farming.  But Lundberg grows 70% organic and 30% conventional crops.

If cross-pollination might occur, how does Lundberg ensure that there is no cross-pollination or drift of pesticides from his conventional to organic crops? I reached out to Lundberg via email to find out the answer to this question and a few others, but through a spokesman, he declined to comment.

Contamination of organic from conventional and GMO is a risk. Both can have a negative impact on organic crops ability to get certification. The question remains, how does Lundberg prevent that from happening? Note: Contamination is a loaded term.  What they really mean is cross-pollination, but that doesn’t sound as horrible.

Another group to come on board early was the Institute for Responsible Technology headed by one, Jeffrey Smith. 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.

Another early supporter was Dr. Joseph Mercola who runs a very successful website selling health supplements.  Yeah, he’s a huckster and a well known fraud. He was issued three cease and desist letters from the FDA for making fraudulent claims about his products. He once said in an interview, “The FDA is an agency that protects major industry and is tragically causing death and disease in this country and across the world.” Steven Salzberg, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine whose bailiwick is bioinformatics and genomics, has called Mercola “the 21st-century equivalent of a snake-oil salesman.”

What about “Pamm Larry, a grandmother from Chico”? I was unable to find very much info about Pamela Larry except I think she has/had an alternative healing business in Chico, CA . I also know that when she started her campaign she caught the eye of The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) whose head honcho is Ronnie Cummins, a guy in the anti-vaccine camp with well-known scientist Jenny McCarthy. I don’t know if Larry started her crusade honestly or not but the fact that her initial backers were a group headed by an anti-vaccine nut and an anti-science fraud selling health supplements should give anyone pause as to the veracity of the claims of the proponents of the measure.

Cummins has appeared in YouTube videos being interviewed by Dr. Mercola. He also has a blog on the Huffington Post where he peddles his lies and misinformation about GMOs. His group led a campaign of harassment against Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee who wrote an editorial about the quackiness of Cummins buddy, Mercola.

After the column appeared, the comment boards were filled with personal attacks and rants against Morain. It got so bad the site has to disable the comment section and remove the offending posts. An example of the offending posts is this one, “I hope you get cancer you corporate sellout scumbag.”

A week after the column appeared, Stuart Leavenworth, editorial page editor of the SacBee felt the need to respond to the campaign.  He wrote that the OCA put Morain’s picture on their website and branded him put Morain’s photo on its  a “minion of Monsanto.”

The paper offered Mercola multiple opportunities to respond but he declined. Instead Leavnworth got an email from Mercola’s assistant Brian Barth, who according to Leavenworth, “effectively threatened to bombard The Bee with a new round of emails, and insisted that we retract Morain’s column and apologize to Mercola.”

Leavenworth also said the response was a “real eye opener.” Morain has covered the influence of out-of state in California politics for years and they had never received as virulent response as the Mercola editorial.

“As a columnist the last two years, Morain has steadily documented the influence of outside money on California politics – whether it be Texas oil companies attempting to overturn California’s law to reduce greenhouse gases, or an Idaho millionaire who helped finance Proposition 8, California’s law to ban gay marriage. That didn’t matter to most of the lightning responders. All they knew was that the OCA had issued a directive to go after Morain. So, with a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse, they responded to it – from all over the country.”

Last year in Wisconsin, a recall effort was launched to oust anti-union Governor Scott Walker. But, what does this have to do with this ballot measure? Progressive groups complained about the amount of outside the state money that was being funneled in to defeat the recall. The same thing is happening here. A perusal of the California State finance campaign database shows that a significant amount of money is coming in from other states to support the measure. To be fair, the same thing is happening with those who oppose the measure. But there seems to be a hypocritical attitude here among progressives. It could be said, on behalf of supporters that sometimes you have to dance with the devil.

In the first three months of 2012, The Organic Consumers Association Committee for the Right to Know About GMOS had a war chest of  $1,644,425.96. The Organic Consumers Association ponied up $40,000, twice. Surprisingly, the opponents of the ballot—the big guys—Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer have only given $625,000 in the same time period to defeat the initiative. The biggest contributor who supports the ballot is Mercola Health Resources.  His company donated $800,000.

So, what is the bottom line here?  While a campaign to prevent corporations from controlling the food supply is a noble goal, to attempt it through lies and deception is not. This is a bad law, steeped in nonsense, bad science and is heavily funded by crackpots and hucksters. While I think most small, organic farmers are honest, decent people, I think they have been hornswaggled by the “industry” who claim to have their interests at heart.

Why are progressives so regressive when it comes to agriculture?


When I posted yesterday’s “dead bodies” post on my Facebook page, a friend weighed in with this response: “the progressive contrarian!! I hope this is as much bait as I take but…..it’s a nasty spiral, go ahead, take lots of antibiotics, eat animals that are fead antibiotics, wash everything with chlorine…..how’s that workin’? I ain’t doin’ that.”

His response made me think about the disconnect many progressives have when an issue like GMOs challenges their worldview. For the most part, these are intelligent people who experience severe cognitive dissonance around this issue. They refuse to believe the body of science of GMO is solid.  It doesn’t matter that all the major science NGOs have stated that GMOs are safe and there are over 400 peer-reviewed studies. Even the European Commission has come around.

The facts are only important when they fit their worldview I think it can be safely said that politically progressive types are going to be more prone to buy organic foods. And there is nothing wrong with that. They believe the food is healthier and growing it is better for the environment. It also has the allure of being anti-corporate which looms large in progressive culture. But I think the anti-corporate mindset is part and parcel of their rejection of GMOs. If corporations use it, it has to be bad.

While I am on the anti-corporate bandwagon, I think organic proponents have a delusion that organic is all mom and pop, small farms when in reality it isn’t the case. Organic farming is a worldwide $300 billion a year industry with industrial sized farms across the globe.

California leads the nation in the number of organic farms with 5,000. However, one-third of organic sales come from 19% of California farms.

Considering the size of the organic industry, could it be when they badmouth and denigrate conventional and GM farming that they too could have a vested interest as much as corporations? I think progressives fail to take that into the consideration.

They also tend to look to activist groups to bolster their beliefs rather than actual scientists.

Progressives believe that organic farming is environmentally friendly. But, it takes more acreage to get the same yield as conventional or GM. Plant pathologist Steve Savage analyzed USDA statistics taken from surveys of organic farmers and found:

“To have Organically produced the full output of 2008 US crops, it would have been necessary to harvest from an additional 121.7 million acres of cropland (based on 30 major crops and excluding crops for which Organic growers might be growing specialty types) That additional area would represent a 39% increase over current US cropland.

The theoretical, additional cropland needed (190,101 sq miles, 492,363 sq km) would be the equivalent of all the current cropland acres in Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota combined.

On a land-area basis, this additional area would be 97% the physical size of Spain or 71% the size of Texas.”

Doesn’t sound too environmentally friendly, does it?

(A side note: It should be noted that Savage is not anti-organic. He himself said he spent some years working on pest control products that would fit into organic guidelines.)

Another progressive mainstay is the belief that organic foods are the safest foods. That isn’t necessarily true. Because they are constrained by their methods, organic food carries its own risks. While there are less pesticides on organic crops, they can be higher in, or more susceptible to natural toxins. There are risks in all methods of farming. The fact is, it was organic sprouts from Germany that sickened and killed all those people in 2011, not conventional nor GM.

In 2006, the Institute of Food Technologies release a report that concluded:

“While many studies demonstrate these qualitative differences between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to conclude that either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or nutritional composition. Pesticide residues, naturally occurring toxins, nitrates, and polyphenolic compounds exert their health risks or benefits on a dose-related basis, and data do not yet exist to ascertain whether the differences in the levels of such chemicals between organic foods and conventional foods are of biological significance.”

My friend mentions antibiotics used on animals. There is indeed an overuse of antibiotics use on livestock. But antibiotics have their place. Under organic standards, no antibiotics can be used, which can lead to the uneccesary suffering and death of livestock.  In 2010, In These Times, a very progressive publication, published an article, The Cruel Irony of Organic Standards in which they state, “The triumph of purist ideology over compassion and science means suffering and death for organic farm animals across America.”  “The organic movement must incorporate compassion into organic standards and allow the rare, regulated use of antibiotics.”

So, my progressive friends, the purist ideology creates situations like this:

“A few weeks later, another calf started to fail. Too weak to suck, Jordan let milk from the bottle leak into my hand as I cupped her head. The farmer weighed his options, and muttering in frustration and anger, reached for the antibiotics and the phone. He injected the calf and called the organic standards regulator to report that Jordan was no longer organic. The next morning the calf was back on her feet, but ruined as an organic milker. With that one shot, an ethical farmer lost much of his investment in breeding and maintaining quality organic stock.”

It doesn’t have to be either/or. Our food supply, despite the abuses of factory farming is the safest it’s been in history due to technological advances. Insisting on outdated methods that eschew modern tools doesn’t seem to be so progressive, does it? What is so progressive about embracing an agricultural method that was used in the days when food borne illnesses were rampant; when crops routinely failed?

Why do progressives insist on this all or nothing idea? Why can’t we take the best practices of all farming methods and combine them to create a healthy sustainable food supply? Why can’t we utilize the best technology to increase yields, increase nutritional value and decrease the prospect of food borne illnesses?

Fear of a GM planet II: Bad science and good science


Steven Salzberg, is a professor at the University of Maryland whose bailiwick is bioinformatics, genomics, and evolution. In a blog post he clears up some misinformation about GM foods. He also notes, “The bottom line is, you’re far more likely to be harmed by being hit on the head by a corn cob than by some kind of deviant GM corn gene. “

Back in 1999, a controversy arose when the Lancet published an article which claimed that GM potatoes were dangerous. It was published despite the disagreement of some of the peer reviewers. According to the NY Times, the editor decided to publish it, “to spur debate and to avoid being accused of suppressing information on a controversial subject.”

The Royal Society, Britain’s senior scientific academy, reviewed the work and declared it “too flawed to draw any conclusions about the effects of the transgenic potatoes, in part because because the experiments had lacked proper controls.” The editor of the Lancet wrote, the paper “is flawed in many aspects of design, execution, and analysis and that no conclusion should be drawn from it”.

A report in the Telegraph regarding the issue said the researcher, Dr Arpad Pusztai appeared on a TV show announcing the results of his study. Funny thing, though. He claimed to know the results before the data was analyzed. How could he know what the outcome was? “A properly designed experiment uses codes so that the person feeding the rats does not know whether they are feeding modified or “control” food to the animals, so that their observations of the results are uncoloured.”

Well, his bosses at the Rowett Institute made him retire. After the TV Show they called in all the data and talked to those involved and issued a press release apologizing for “the release of misleading information about issues of such importance”.

The reason I cite this particular case is how the AGMs have been spinning this. The anti-GM blog, Food Freedom had this take: He became a hero at his institute — for two days. Then came the phone calls from the pro-GM prime minister’s office to the institute’s director. The next morning, Pusztai was fired. He was silenced with threats of a lawsuit, his team was dismantled, and the protocols never implemented. His Institute, the biotech industry, and the UK government, together launched a smear campaign to destroy Pusztai’s reputation.

His experiment didn’t hold up to scrutiny, but what do the AGMs claim? An orchestrated smear campaign was launched against him. The entire biotech industry lined up against him. Pusztai appeared in two TV interviews in January and April of 1998 and then again on August 10th. He was fired two days after his third appearance, eight months later. Apparently, the Pro-GM prime minister’s office must have missed those first two appearances. There is no evidence that the PM’s office made that phone call.

This defense of Pusztai reminds me of the 9/11 Truthers response when Popular Mechanics debunked all their fake science regarding the collapse of the Twin Towers. They claimed Popular Mechanics was a CIA front.

Yet, among the AGM crowd he is still regarded as a hero. His study couldn’t be flawed, it was a big agribusiness conspiracy against him. One of his supporters is Jeffrey Smith, who wrote an article defending him in January on the Huffington Post.

Another misfire is that GM is nothing more than a way for multi-nationals to gain control of the world’s food supply which simply, is not the case. A good example is golden rice.

The inventors of Golden Rice are Ingo Potrykus, Professor emeritus of the Institute for Plant Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Professor Peter Beyer, of the Center for Applied Biosciences, University of Freiburg, Germany.

The rice was developed in an attempt to aid the poor in developing countries who suffered from a lack of beta carotene and Vitamin A.  Lack of these vitamins is a major cause of blindness in chldren in those countries. Yet the AGMs have attacked this and have used it as more evidence of the evil of big agribusiness.

While it is true that originally the claims for the rice were exaggerated. The AGM sites say that a kid would have to eat 10lbs a day to get their daily requirement, which sounds like an exaggeration itself.

But back in 2005, British scientists solved that problem by creating a version of the rice which provides “more than 20 times the amount of beta-carotene in its predecessor, or enough to provide 100% of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A from just 70g of rice. And guess what? They’re giving it away for free. Well, kind of. Although the rights to commercialization of the rice will still be held by a company called Syngenta, seeds are donated free to the Humanitarian Project for Golden Rice and given to poor farmers in developing countries.

The U.S Government is involved as well. Last year they created the “Honeysweet,” a disease resistant plum that solved the problem of the plumpox virus 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. Should they have waited for a “natural” method? Should they have let the virus spread to the rest of the U.S and South America?

Next: Debunking the GM myths.