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.

Anti-GMO activists react to GMO experts with claims of bias.

Anti-GMO activists have finally showed themselves for the dolts they are. I just came across this post on the Red, Green and Blue website. (via the activist site GM Watch) The post, Yes, scientists are attacking the latest Monsanto study – but not because of the science seeks to discredit the scientists quoted in the Science Media Centre’s (SMC) press release attacking the Seralini corn study. And, oh yeah, it’s spreading to all the anti-GMO websites.

What do they have to say?

1. They put the word experts in quotes as if there is some question as to their expertise in the biotechnology field.

2. Then they criticize the experts because they actually work in the biotechnology field and are experts.

3.  They actually make money doing what they do in the private sector.

Apparently, the above things disqualify these experts from giving an informed unbiased opinion.  I guess it should come as no surprise, since science is not the strong suit of the anti-GMO crowd. They prefer to get their facts from non-scientists; yogic flying dance teachers, and snake oil salesmen. By their logic, we shouldn’t go to organic farmers to get opinions on organic farming, since they make money in their, ahem, field  of expertise.

This latest salvo is just another lame  attempt to deflect their totally bankrupt stance by questioning the motives of the opposition. They don’t have the science, so all they have is to accuse people who actually work in the field of science as having a corporate bias. It’s really pathetic. These activists didn’t respond to the veracity of the quotes, they simply cried corporate bias.

But wait, there’s more. They even question the objectivity of the Science Media Centre who issued the release.

It’s also telling when scientists put out a press release denouncing a study the same day that the study comes out. This presents the appearance of a PR response, rather than a considered objective analysis.

Case in point: The Science Media Centre of London (which bills itself as “an independent venture working to promote voices, stories and views from the scientific community to the news media when science is in the headlines”), put out a harsh press release the same day as the study – fast work, considering that it quotes eight top scientists!

Not only did they quote scientists, most of those scientists gave specific  reasons why the study was flawed. That’s how bad the study was. They could find problems right off the bat. While conflicts of interest should be taken into consideration, more emphasis should be given to what the person is actually saying.

But who is the SMC? The article seems to question the idea of their independence. Here is what the SMC says about itself:

The Science Media Centre is funded principally by donations from trusts and foundations, science bodies and other organisations, companies, charities, and government and related agencies. Since 2002 it has received support from over 100 organisations and individuals, reflecting the number and diversity that recognise the benefits of the improved science media landscape the centre enables. The Centre maintains its independence by capping the donations it receives, the vast majority of which are equivalent to less than 5% of its running costs. This is with the exception of the Wellcome Trust, Drayson Foundation, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council which funds the position of events officer at the Centre.

Their entire donor list is available on their site.

Number one on their hit list was the corporate devil Professor Maurice Moloney, Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research. Not only does he drive a Porsche with license plate, GMO, he developed a seed that is now owned by Monsanto and…gasp!…he launched his own GMO company. This what they have to say. “Prof Moloney’s career and business activities have long been centered around GM.”  (my emphasis) What a shock.

In May of this year, Moloney took part in a Q&A on the commercialization of GM research for the website senseaboutscience.org. He said something I have been saying here at Contrary for a while:

 In fact, much of the opposition to GM has played into the hands of the corporations who would like extended monopolies. The activists have forced the science into a corner that only large corporations can manage financially. Public institutions are the best places to move forward such ideas.

The article failed to mention all the science journalists and scientists who weren’t quoted in the press release who have weighed in on the study.  Curiously, or not, the anti-GMO campaign has failed to come up with one scientist to defend the study.  How about that?

In addition to the flawed science, journalists took issue with the pre-publication embargo where the researchers forced reporters to sign a non-disclosure agreement which forbid them from seeking comment from outside sources. Journalists who were considered, friendlys allegedly didn’t have to sign any agreement

In an article in the San Jose Mercury News, Prop. 37 flack Stacy Malkin defends the newest discredited study by saying they used the same methods as the biotech companies. How would she know that? Prop 37 supporters claim Monsanto won’t release their information for independent study. So, how does she know that the biotech companies use the same methods? The fact that she has the brass to continue to defend a study that has been discredited by the scientific community says all you need to know about the credibility of the campaign.

The Prop. 37 folks really screwed the credibility pooch on this one. While Red, Green and Blue and GM Watch questioned the idea of scientists responding the day the study was released, they didn’t seem to have a problem with the Prop. 37 folks calling a press conference right after the study was released. When the shit hit the fan they scrambled to come up with a way to save face.

If they were honest they would have said, “Oops. We blew it on this one.” Instead, they dug in their heels.

Here are few articles that take issue with the Seralini study:

Anti-biotech study and corn ban is a mockery   This is a short podcast interview with Bruce Chassy, Ph.D., professor emeritus, University of Illinois Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

On the Media on NPR: Manipulating Science Reporting

Turning point from the French maize study: GM Opponents look like climate deniers

GMO Opponents Are the Climate Skeptics of the Left

Bad science about GMOs: It reminds me of the antivaccine movement

GM Corn-Tumor Link Based on Poor Science