One of the tropes of the pseudoscience world is that glyphosate causes cancer – but what does real science say? Well, numerous large epidemiological studies have yet to provide evidence of a link that would convince us that the herbicide has any link to any cancer.
Recently, another article in a prestigious cancer journal looked at thousands of individuals exposed to glyphosate, and once again, have found no convincing evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. The totality of evidence, unless you are into glyphosate- and GMO-free cherry picking, continues to lead us to a simple conclusion – there is no link between the chemical and any of the 200 or more types of cancer.
One of the major issues with the tropes and myths about glyphosate is that many anti-science liberals tend to conflate glyphosate with genetically modified crops. This leads to a lot of unsupported hatred of GMO plants, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that says that GMO agriculture is safe for humans, animals, and the environment – a consensus as broad and powerful as the one that states that climate change is caused by humans.
So let’s look at this new article, and how it fits into the narrative about glyphosate and cancer.
Continue reading “Glyphosate causes cancer? – large scientific study says no”
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs or GMs) are one of the most well studied areas of biological and agricultural research. However, one of the tactics of the GMO refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMOs are safe.” It’s time to look at the GMO science facts – examining myth from science.
Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMOs are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the argument from ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”
The anti-GMO forces also like to invoke the precautionary principle, which attempts to shift the burden of proof to those who are advocating GMOs (or any new technology) until the advocates “prove” that there are absolutely no negative consequences of using GMOs.
The principle is often cited by anti-science and/or environmental activists when there is a perceived lack of evidence showing that a technology is absolutely safe.
I’ve written numerous articles about GMOs, focusing on scientific evidence supported by high quality research. And more than a few articles debunked myths and bad research from the anti-GMO crowd. To assist those who are doing research on the topic, this article was created to be a one-stop shop for GMO science facts – and fiction.
Continue reading “GMO science facts – your one stop shop”
People love their bananas, one of the most popular fruits consumed in the world. We generally only eat one banana cultivar, the Cavendish, which replaced another cultivar that was susceptible to Panama disease, a type of Fusarium wilt. Unfortunately, the Cavendish banana has been devastated by a new form of that fungal disease which might lead to the end of the availability of the banana in your local grocery store. But there is hope – scientists are developing GMO bananas that may save the fruit from becoming a distant memory.
Let’s take a look at how the banana industry got here and how GMO bananas may be the salvation for the delicious yellow fruit. Continue reading “GMO bananas – necessary to save the fruit from extinction”
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed research data regarding Monsanto’s glyphosate weed killer, also known as RoundUp. The IARC, at that time, concluded that glyphosate causes cancer.
The IARC, one of the intergovernmental agencies within the World Health Organization, is widely respected for their research into the causes of cancer. And with respect to glyphosate, the IARC concluded that:
There was limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides.
The AHS cohort did not show a signifi cantly increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In male CD-1 mice, glyphosate induced a positive trend in the incidence of a rare tumour, renal tubule carcinoma.
A second study reported a positive trend for haemangiosarcoma in male mice. Glyphosate increased pancreatic islet-cell adenoma in male rats in two studies. A glyphosate formulation promoted skin tumours in an initiation-promotion study in mice. Glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption.
Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro. One study reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) in residents of several communities after spraying of glyphosate formulations.
The Working Group classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A).
When I looked at their conclusions from a couple of years ago, I argued that there was significant evidence that glyphosate was not correlated or causal to any of the 200 or so cancers. And I wasn’t alone in that assessment.
Glyphosate causes cancer – IARC lacked evidence
Unfortunately, when the IARC made its decision two years ago, there was one major problem. According to an extensive article by Kate Kelland in Reuters, one of the members of the IARC’s study group looking at glyphosate knew of recently published data that showed no link between the weed killer and cancer. Aaron Blair, an epidemiologist from the US National Cancer Institute, never mentioned this new data to the study group examining whether glyphosate causes cancer. So the IARC made its decision without all of the available evidence.
Reuters obtained information that lead it to state that:
Previously unreported court documents reviewed by Reuters from an ongoing U.S. legal case against Monsanto show that Blair knew the unpublished research found no evidence of a link between glyphosate and cancer. In a sworn deposition given in March this year in connection with the case, Blair also said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis. He said it would have made it less likely that glyphosate would meet the agency’s criteria for being classed as “probably carcinogenic.”
The IARC acts in a manner that it appears to develop a scientific consensus about what may increase the risks of cancer. As I have mentioned many times, the scientific consensus is a powerful tool in providing us with the collective conclusions of top scientists in a field. However, this consensus must be based on evidence, not opinion or belief. And if a consensus is “proclaimed” without consideration of all of the high quality evidence, then it’s hard to put much value in it.
Now there wasn’t a grand conspiracy that blocked the IARC from considering this new evidence. Blair himself was a senior researcher on the study that showed no link between cancer and glyphosate. The reason the research wasn’t included was simple – the IARC only uses published data to come to its consensus about cancer risk, and Blair’s research could not be included in the discussion. This leads to increased transparency and reduces the risk of claims of “secret evidence” that may lead to accusations of bias.
Now, this rule may seem onerous to some, it does keep the discussion to peer-reviewed data, ignoring data that hasn’t been vetted. This probably works both ways, leaving out data that may move a chemical into a cancer causing category or not.
But this decision by the IARC had some significant consequences. First, it’s hard to read anything about GMO foods, agriculture, or food without someone spouting off that “glyphosate causes cancer.” In fact, there’s a class action lawsuit in California, with 184 individual plaintiffs, who use the IARC analysis on glyphosate, claiming that exposure to the chemical gave them cancer. The plaintiffs allege Monsanto failed to warn consumers of the risks of RoundUp, which Monsanto fiercely denies.
Monsanto claims that the fresh data should have been published in time for use in IARC deliberations on glyphosate. Or, at the minimum, the preliminary data should have been evaluated, considering Blair’s involvement with both the IARC and the new research.
Again, according to Reuters,
The company also goes beyond saying the fresh data should have been published. It told Reuters the data was deliberately concealed by Blair, but provided no specific evidence of it being hidden.
So this gets a bit more troubling.
What did Aaron Blair do? And why?
This is what is troubling to me. Actually, the data that mostly refuted the hypothesis that glyphosate causes cancer was available two years before the IARC assessment meeting. Now, science does move slowly, but that’s glacial.
According to Blair, the data was not published in a timely manner because there was too much data to fit into one scientific paper (which seems like a lame excuse to this writer). Reuters actually asked whether “he deliberately did not publish it to avoid it being considered by IARC.” Of course, Blair denied it. Furthermore, the National Cancer Institute also stated that “space constraints” was one of the reasons why the new data on glyphosate was not published in a timely manner.
Of course, the absence of Blair’s data was a critical oversight – the IARC ended the meeting by concluding that the weed killer is a “probably human carcinogen.”
In fact, the statement based its findings on “limited evidence” of carcinogenicity in humans, but “sufficient evidence” in animal research models. It specifically stated that there was a “positive association” between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the blood.
Beyond the litigation mentioned above, the IARC had all kinds of negative consequences. For example, some countries have pending decisions regarding whether to relicense or ban sales of glyphosate. Some countries have even restricted glyphosate’s use in home gardens and on crops immediately prior to harvest.
And back to the class action lawsuit in California, Reuters reports that:
… (the) California judge took the IARC assessment into account in a separate legal case in March when ruling that the state can require RoundUp to carry a warning label that it may cause cancer. Monsanto is now facing further litigation from hundreds of plaintiffs across the United States who say glyphosate gave them or their loved ones non-Hodgkin lymphoma, citing the IARC assessment as part of their claims.
All, because of an apparently flawed decision without all of the high quality evidence considered. This is frustrating from a scientific standpoint.
What is in Blair’s study?
This unpublished research, and it’s still unpublished, came from the Agricultural Health Study, a large multi-center study led by scientists at the National Cancer Institute. The researchers examined agricultural workers and their families, in the USA, who were exposed to various agricultural chemicals, including glyphosate. Blair himself agreed that the unpublished data showed “no evidence of an association” between exposure to glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In fact, a review by Acquavella et al., published in 2016, examined the body of research regarding glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The authors concluded that, “overall, our review did not find support in the epidemiologic literature for a causal association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma or multiple myeloma.” That’s a pretty powerful finding with regards to the IARC decision.
Additionally, Robert Tarone also published a paper in 2016 that took IARC’s decision regarding glyphosate to task. He concluded that,
It is shown that the classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen was the result of a flawed and incomplete summary of the experimental evidence evaluated by the Working Group. Rational and effective cancer prevention activities depend on scientifically sound and unbiased assessments of the carcinogenic potential of suspected agents. Implications of the erroneous classification of glyphosate with respect to the IARC Monograph Working Group deliberative process are discussed.
The IARC’s decision that glyphosate causes cancer seems to be under attack by serious researchers.
Blair admitted, while being deposed by Monsanto lawyers, that IARC’s review of whether glyphosate causes cancer would have been different if the Agricultural Health Study data were included. According to Blair, the addition of the missing data would have “driven the meta-relative risk downward.” In non-scientific terms, that means meta-data would have shown a reduced correlation between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Essentially, the IARC review ignored a huge body of robust data from a comprehensive study on exposure to glyphosate, and it’s relationship to cancers. This is a major oversight of the IARC decision.
And it’s just shocking to note that one person, Aaron Blair, was on the IARC review committee and had insider access to high quality data that refuted the IARC’s claims of correlation (and causation) between glyphosate and cancer.
Reuters took the data (which, as I stated, still has not been published, although the NCI told Reuters that they are currently working on an updated analysis) to two statistical experts to determine what it may say about whether glyphosate causes cancer. Neither of the experts had seen the data, and neither had a conflict of interest with respect to glyphosate or Monsanto.
The experts came to two key conclusions after examining the data:
- There was “no apparent scientific preseason for not publishing the data” from the large study. In other words, absent some issue like bias or bad study design, they felt that the data was publishable in its current form.
- The data shows no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer, especially non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Of course, you’d think that the IARC would reconsider it’s decision about glyphosate, relying upon all the science, not just what they had already decided. Apparently, that’s not going to happen.
Reuters wrote to the IARC about Blair’s new data and whether they would reconsider their position. They responded by email,
IARC declined to say whether Blair informed IARC staff about the unpublished data, whether he should have, and whether that data might have changed IARC’s evaluation of glyphosate had it been published in time. The agency said it had no plans to reconsider its assessment of the chemical.
That’s not very scientific. The consensus must change with new, high quality data. It seems like the IARC is being stubborn about their decision rather than looking at more robust evidence that contradicts their conclusions.
Glyphosate causes cancer – the Summary
As I wrote in 2015, without the data from the Agricultural Health study, I, and other researchers, felt that the IARC decision was suspect. It seemed to rely upon very weak associations between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, while ignoring high quality evidence that showed no correlation.
With this data, as yet unpublished, the IARC’s decision about the carcinogenicity of glyphosate just doesn’t pass scientific credibility.
I hope that when Blair’s study finally gets published, the IARC will review its findings and follow the science to a more defensible conclusion. What should trouble the IARC is that many scientists are starting to look askance at their decisions regarding carcinogens. The evidence just doesn’t support their conclusions on glyphosate, but what if their decisions about other chemicals is also this badly done?
I’m convinced that we overstate the risk of cancers for lots of reasons. But there are really only a handful of ways to prevent cancer – avoiding glyphosate isn’t one of them.
Glyphosate causes cancer? The body of scientific evidence seems to say no.
- Acquavella J, Garabrant D, Marsh G, Sorahan T, Weed DL. Glyphosate epidemiology expert panel review: a weight of evidence systematic review of the relationship between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or multiple myeloma. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2016 Sep;46(sup1):28-43. PubMed PMID: 27677668.
- Guyton KZ, Loomis D, Grosse Y, El Ghissassi F, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Guha N, Scoccianti C, Mattock H, Straif K; International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group, IARC, Lyon, France. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. Lancet Oncol. 2015 Mar 20. pii: S1470-2045(15)70134-8. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)70134-8. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 25801782.
- Mink PJ, Mandel JS, Sceurman BK, Lundin JI. Epidemiologic studies of glyphosate and cancer: a review. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2012 Aug;63(3):440-52. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2012.05.012. Epub 2012 Jun 7. Review. PubMed PMID: 22683395.
- Tarone RE. On the International Agency for Research on Cancer classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2016 Aug 22. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 27552246.
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Monsanto glyphosate (Roundup) is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that are known to compete with commercial crops grown around the world. It has several advantages over many herbicides in that it breaks down in the soil into non-toxic organic molecules, reducing or eliminating contamination of groundwater and lower soils.
Monsanto has developed genetically modified (GMO) grains that are resistant to glyphosate, so that agriculture can apply the herbicide to kill the competitive weeds while not harming the crop. This allows farmers to suppress the weeds while allowing better production out of the grain crop.
Whatever the benefits of Monsanto glyphosate, GMOs and the herbicide are tied together in many minds. And there has been an ongoing effort by many people to claim that glyphosate causes cancer. But let’s look at the science, because maybe we’ll get some information.
Continue reading “Monsanto glyphosate causes cancer – so do apples”
There are so many myths and tropes about genetically modified (GMO) foods, much like the vaccine world, it’s sometimes difficult to find out what is based in science, and what is not. Thus, I thought it would be the time to examine the crop modification techniques for GMO vs non-GMO foods.
Not to give away the conclusions early on, but all crops that end up being our food sources are genetically engineered. And have been for 10,000 years, since the dawn of human agriculture. If we hadn’t been genetically engineering our foods from day 1, we’d be eating corn that provided little nutritional value.
Take a look at the evolution of corn from the wild ancestor, teosinte, to the delicious cobs of corn we eat during a summer BBQ – it’s closely tied to human advances in genetic engineering of food crops over the past 10,000 years. Teosinte is barely edible, and the amount of nutrition per plant pales compared to modern corn.
If you want corn that’s never been genetic engineered, then you’ll have to travel through some wild fields in Mexico to find yourself some teosinte. Then harvest a small warehouse of it to feed yourself for a couple of days. But 10,000 years of genetic modification, using a variety of techniques, gave us modern corn.
I know what you’re going to say. No, ancient farmers did not practice genetic modification. They didn’t stick a gene from a walrus into the corn plant – but then again modern genetic modification doesn’t do that either. Time to take a look at various genetic modification techniques used since the dawn of agriculture – let’s see what is the difference between GMO vs non-GMO foods. Continue reading “GMO vs non-GMO foods – genetic modification techniques”
There are constant claims made about GMO food safety – everything, from causing allergies to causing cancer. Taking lessons from the anti-vaccine world, anti-GMO activists invent, based on very little or even no evidence, various claims about GMO food safety. One of the worst of these claims is that when you eat GMO foods, the genes from the food somehow, by magic apparently, get incorporated into your genes.
In case you’ve ignored this area of pseudoscience controversy, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are any type of organism where the genes have been modified by genetic engineering. Mostly, GMOs refer to agricultural crops, but there are other genetically modified foods, like salmon. To be clear, we have been genetically modifying food crops since the dawn of agriculture, over 10,000 years. However, we currently use GMO to explicitly mean genetic engineering in the modern sense.
Using the same anti-science arguments employed by climate change deniers, anti-GMO forces ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus, and use their pseudoscience to push concerns about GMO food safety. Let’s remember, the vast scientific evidence says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals and the environment.
Unfortunately, like the zombie bad research on vaccines, a widely criticized article that seems to claim that DNA passes from GMO foods to humans continues to be an anti-GMO meme. Time to look at the article again, and see if gene transfer really is an issue to GMO food safety.
GMO food safety – the gene transfer paper
In a paper published in the online journal, PLoS One, the authors, Spisak et al., seem to indicate that there is a possibility that DNA fragments pass from the digestive tract into the blood. The authors concluded that:
…based on the analysis of over 1000 human samples from four independent studies, we report evidence that meal-derived DNA fragments which are large enough to carry complete genes can avoid degradation and through an unknown mechanism enter the human circulation system.
The authors admit that the mechanism is unknown, though it’s curious that years of study of the molecular transport of nutrients has never uncovered this until 2013. Based on this limited evidence, here’s what the anti-GMO crowd says about it:
What biotechnology and biotech corporations like Monsanto have done, is they have allowed for the transfer of genes from one to the other without any regard for the biological limitations, or constraints.
The problem with this is that it is based on very bad science. The conditions and biological ‘rules’ that apply to vertical gene transfer, at least those that we are aware of, do not necessarily apply to horizontal gene transfer.
Biotech science today is based on the assumption that the principles governing the inheritance of genes are the same when we move genes horizontally as they are when they are moved vertically. It just goes to show that GMO’s should be subjected to much more experimentation and rigorous research before we continue to consume them.
The paper’s conclusions were criticized by other scientists who are experts in DNA research. Moreover, there are some meta-level criticisms that can be made of this paper.
- This study is a primary publication that has not been confirmed by subsequent research. On the hierarchy of scientific evidence, primary research, especially if it’s not been repeated by others.
- Speaking of repeating this research, in the four years since this paper was published, only six papers have cited it, two of which criticized the quality of research. If this were truly groundbreaking research, we would see many more papers citing it, along with some research that repeats it.
- The study was published in an, open access, online journal, PLoS One, which has the publication philosophy of “publish first, judge later.” Well, we’re judging now.
- The study examine minuscule levels of DNA in blood, nanogram levels. We definitely are able to detect nanogram levels of DNA, but at that low level, substantial risk of contamination is so high, that if one were to see these results, the initial hypothesis would probably be “this blood sample was contaminated,” rather than the infinitely more complex and undiscovered mechanism to move these huge molecules into the blood.
- In fact, Richard W Lusk of the University of Michigan, spent six months reviewing the data and methods of Spisak et al. and concluded that they must consider contamination as the source of plant DNA. Lusk stated that contamination can account for these results, because DNA measurement is so sensitive, that even washed laboratory equipment harbors DNA fragments.
- In a review of the papers by Spisak et al. and Lusk, it was concluded that “Poor commentary and cherry-picking data helps no one. Spisak’s study tells us about a significant biological finding that needs to be carefully analysed. The cautionary tale is that one must not extrapolate wildly from good science to create horrific scenarios that are not based on any scientific observations whatsoever.” In other words, even if Spisak’s results were not affected by potential contamination, we still could not conclude that GMO food safety is impacted by this data. And given that it hasn’t been repeated, and we have firm evidence that there was contamination, this paper probably should not be used to evaluate GMO food safety.
As I have written, biological plausibility is an important factor in reviewing the viability of evidence in biomedical research. So let’s look at a few items about this research that seem to contradict what we know about biology:
- Based on our knowledge of the digestive process, fats, DNA, carbohydrates, and proteins are broken down into their simplest components, and specialized transport systems move these simple components across the barrier between the digestive tract and blood. Our digestive system has evolved to actually exclude full size bio-molecules, partially because the blood is incapable of carrying large foreign molecules (and could induce an immune response). So, a full chain of DNA isn’t going to move from the digestive tract to the blood, just individual nucleic acids. And just to be clear, nucleic acids are the same across every single organism on this planet. Exactly the same.
- Moreover, small constituent molecules, like amino acids instead of the whole protein, or glucose instead of a long-chain carbohydrate, are more easily transported to locations in the body to be then used as fuel or building blocks for new proteins and DNA. We just have not seen a mechanism in the digestive tract that can move large molecules, like gene-length DNA fragments, into the bloodstream.
- But let’s assume that there’s some unknown, mysterious mechanism that allows DNA to be transmitted into the blood (while excluding long chain carbohydrates, whole proteins, and other large molecules). The numbers are so small, just a handful complete genes, that the probability that those DNA molecules will have any effect on the body is near 0.
- Genes don’t easily jump from one species to another. If gene transfer were so simple, the medical usefulness of gene therapy would be extremely high, instead of being incredibly difficult, if not impossible. We’re trying to transfer genes to cure diseases, and researchers have not shown a lot of consistent success. If consuming a few kernels of corn, introduced some gene into the bloodstream that somehow gets incorporated into the human genome, well that would be a miracle. But reality is, even if the article is accurate, and there’s doubt to that, it has little clinical meaning.
- But the most important thing is that if there is some heretofore mysterious mechanism to transfer DNA from the digestive tract to the human genome, it should be noted that nearly everything we consume contains DNA. The plausibility that any number of DNA fragments from hamburger, salads, cereal, eggs, or the billion other foods will eat getting into the bloodstream is nearly non-existent. There is no evidence that we ever incorporate genes from corn. Or lettuce. Or a cow. Or a chicken. There is just no evidence of it.
- There’s actually evidence that contradicts Spisak et al. Researchers went looking for gene transfer in livestock that are fed GMO crops, and guess what they found? Nothing.
It’s not just that Spisak et al. represents faulty research, but it’s hard to comprehend how it’s even possible that DNA could be in a state that could allow it to be transported into some random cell of the body. This type of misuse of science is frustrating – anti-GMO radicals cherry pick research that seems to support their point of view, but fail to understand biology and physiology. Of course, this happens all the time with anti-science activists.
Summary, the TL;DR version
I don’t know if the study in PLoS One is going to stand the test of time given the high probability of contamination of the study samples, which has been demonstrated by another researcher. After four years, there’s just no further research that supports it, something that makes me think it’s a one-off study of marginal utility.
But even if it is confirmed by other research or becomes the initial observation that leads to the discovery of a novel, and implausible, mechanism of transport of nutrients and gene transfer, it provides NO evidence whatsoever that GMOs are dangerous because those genes will be incorporated into our human genome. GMO food safety concerns are unchanged because of this research.
You may as well become worried that we’ll turn into a chicken after eating an egg. Oh no. Franken-foods might cause franken-humans. And because…Monsanto.
- Lusk RW. Diverse and widespread contamination evident in the unmapped depths of high throughput sequencing data. PLoS One. 2014 Oct 29;9(10):e110808. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110808. eCollection 2014. PubMed PMID: 25354084; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4213012.
- Sharma R, Damgaard D, Alexander TW, Dugan ME, Aalhus JL, Stanford K, McAllister TA. Detection of transgenic and endogenous plant DNA in digesta and tissues of sheep and pigs fed Roundup Ready canola meal. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Mar 8;54(5):1699-709. PubMed PMID: 16506822.
- Spisák S, Solymosi N, Ittzés P, Bodor A, Kondor D, Vattay G, Barták BK, Sipos F, Galamb O, Tulassay Z, Szállási Z, Rasmussen S, Sicheritz-Ponten T, Brunak S, Molnár B, Csabai I. Complete genes may pass from food to human blood. PLoS One. 2013 Jul 30;8(7):e69805. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069805. Print 2013. PubMed PMID: 23936105; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3728338.
Real science is hard. It takes lots of high quality evidence to support it. That evidence needs to be published in real journal. It needs to be repeated. And it has to be open to criticism and analysis. GMO science, the study of genetically modified organisms used for crops and food, shows us that GMOs are safe.
The hard work and intellectual challenges to form a scientific consensus about the safety of GMO crops and foods isn’t something that appeared out of the ether. These individuals didn’t suddenly wake up one day and proclaim from the ivory tower that GMO science says that GMOs are safe. Not even close.
Science has provided substantial evidence supporting the assertion that GMO’s are safe. GMO refusers have provided precious little evidence, save for Cherry Picking, Special Pleading, and a few Strawman Arguments. Oh, and the occasional Poisoning the Well with the Monsanto shill accusations. Sometimes the GMO deniers will resort to the Naturalistic Fallacy that things that grow “naturally” ought to be the way foods should be – this ignores the fact that we’ve been genetically manipulating our food for ten thousand years. We’re just better at it today, but the DNA is still the DNA.
Like I said in another article, “The typical pseudoscientist will use logical fallacies to state very definitively that “it’s proven.” It’s the same whether it’s creationism (the belief that some magical being created the world some small number of years ago), alternative medicine (homeopathy, which is nothing but water, has magical properties to cure everything from cancer to male pattern baldness), or vaccine denialists. The worst problem is that in the world of the internet, if you Google these beliefs, the number of websites and hits that seem to state that they are THE TRUTH™ overwhelm those that are more skeptical or critical.”
So, using an open, but critical mind, the evidence is overwhelming – the GMO science says it’s safe for human consumption.
Continue reading “GMO science – overwhelming consensus that it is safe”
A scientific consensus is one of the most powerful principles in science, sitting just below the predictive power of a scientific theory. In general, a scientific consensus is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, and disagreement is limited (sometimes from individuals who are not experts in the field) and considered insignificant.
This lead me to a search for the prevailing scientific consensus on GMO safety and climate change.
For clarity, the major difference between a scientific theory and a scientific consensus is that a theory is essentially considered a fact. The theory of gravity is a fact. The theory of evolution is a fact. A theory is so predictive, it is supported by so much evidence, and it is so well accepted, it would take an incredible amount of data to refute it.
The only thing that matters in forming a scientific consensus or theory is evidence. Not rhetoric. Not debate. Not opinion. Not political expediency. Not logical fallacies. Just evidence.
I’ve written about the scientific consensus on GMOs, and it is clear that nearly every independent scientific organization across the world agrees that GMOs are safe for humans and/or the environment. Moreover, most of these same organizations provide a similar consensus about climate change–ironically, there is a significant portion of people who deny one consensus but accept the other, despite the fact that the consensus for both scientific principles are based on nearly overwhelming evidence.
On the next page, I will review the statements of seven prestigious scientific organizations across the world for the scientific consensus on GMO safety and on climate change.
Continue reading “Scientific consensus on GMO safety and climate change”
I don’t judge people by their looks, intelligence, bank account or fame. I only judge people by the good things they have done to save and improve lives. It’s a simple equation. Using a similar life calculator, Dr. Paul Offit, in an article in the Daily Beast, examined the legacy of Rachel Carson, and her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. Published in the early 1960s, Carson was the first to warn that DDT effects include accumulation in the environment, and by doing so, it could bring harm to wildlife. She also warned that its overuse could make it ineffective. And finally, she said that we should use natural means for pest control, like bacteria that killed the mosquito larvae.
If you’re unfamiliar with Paul Offit, he is an inventor of a lifesaving vaccine and provider of scientific information about vaccines – he absolutely cares about human lives, despite the nastiness thrown his way. Dr. Offit’s rotavirus vaccine, which he invented, has saved millions of lives across the world. Who amongst us can make that claim, of saving so many lives?
But Dr. Offit looked at something that is generally ignored with regards to the most important of DDT effects – it killed malaria carrying mosquitoes that kills millions of lives. Today, because of DDT, there is no malaria in the USA. But it’s more than just America, Dr. Offit looks carefully at other successes of the pesticide:
As malaria rates went down, life expectancies went up; as did crop production, land values, and relative wealth. Probably no country benefited from DDT more than Nepal, where spraying began in 1960. At the time, more than two million Nepalese, mostly children, suffered from malaria. By 1968, the number was reduced to 2,500; and life expectancy increased from 28 to 42 years.
It’s hard to imagine, but Nepal had a 99% decrease in malaria infections just because of DDT. From our cozy homes in the wealthy developed world, malaria seems like some distant disease that matters not. But it wasn’t too long ago that malaria was rampant in many areas of the developed world, like Italy, the American south, Greece, and other areas. It’s not some boring disease, it kills.
And since DDT was banned, malaria has come screaming back. According to Dr. Offit, “since the mid 1970s, when DDT was eliminated from global eradication efforts, tens of millions of people have died from malaria unnecessarily: most have been children less than five years old. While it was reasonable to have banned DDT for agricultural use, it was unreasonable to have eliminated it from public health use.”
There is a claim out there that whether we chose DDT, and killed ourselves and the environment, or choose malaria with no DDT, it was all the same. But in fact, real scientific studies have since shown us that the danger from DDT was overstated, while the danger from malaria stayed the same.
It’s the 0,1 binary scale of decision making that we see by a lot of anti-science types. DDT may save lives of by preventing malaria, but any harm to the environment is bad. Either an insecticide must be 100% safe, or it’s 100% unacceptable.
Let’s go into more detail about DDT and Rachel Carson – the story is complicated. Continue reading “DDT effects – Paul Offit tries to set the record straight”