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.

One Reply to “Fear of a GM planet II: Bad science and good science”

  1. Your facts are a bit out: Arpad Pusztai was actually CONGRATULATED by his boss the day after his TV appearance. The next day he was fired. The orginal lead was a telephone call from Tony Blair UK PM. We now know that Tony got a call from the US president. USA invest billions into GMO technology. they are not going to get deeper into debt by throwing that investment away.

    Funnily enough Arpad for GMO potatoes found the same as seralini for GMO Maize. Funny that?

    Nearly every GM technology has started with health problems. E coli use, retro virus use, GMO aspartame, GMO EPO, GMO super rice, GMO cotton its all there if you check.

    Advantages to date ZERO for the consumer unless you count a fivefold rise in prices in five years a help to avoid getting obese?

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