GMO vs non-GMO foods – genetic modification techniques

GMO vs non-GMO foods

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.


GMO vs non-GMO foods

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”

Scott Pruitt, climate change denier EPA chief – wrong about the science

Scott Pruitt

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1970 for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by the United States Congress. Among its many responsibilities, it is at the forefront in attempting to reduce the effects of climate change. Of course, Donald Trump appointed a climate denier EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, who has absolutely despised the EPA while attorney general for Oklahoma.

In an interview on CNBC, Pruitt said the following:

In recent years, critics would say the EPA has been too focused on CO2 and maybe things like hazardous waste sites, particulate pollution, strip mining, what’s happening to the oceans — there are so many things that the EPA could do productively that maybe have been diverted from this single-minded focus on CO2.

I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s (CO2) a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet…we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.

But the new climate denier EPA administrator is wrong about his “opinion” about the science of climate change. Let’s look at just how wrong Scott Pruitt is about the science of climate change. Continue reading “Scott Pruitt, climate change denier EPA chief – wrong about the science”

DDT effects – Paul Offit tries to set the record straight

malarial cell DDT effects

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”

Dr. Oz falls for the overhyped and debunked GMO corn study

dr. oz

A few weeks ago, Gilles-Eric Séralini and his homeopathy loving coauthor published an article in Food and Chemical Toxicology that concluded that glyphosate (known as Roundup)-resistant NK603 GMO corn, developed by Monsanto, causes severe diseases such as tumors in rats. And usual anti-science websites bought into this nonsense, including the TV medical practitioner, Dr. Oz.

It’s time to remind everyone that the Séralini study was bogus, and that Dr. Oz is also bogus. Here we go.

Continue reading “Dr. Oz falls for the overhyped and debunked GMO corn study”

The DDT facts – examining the evidence after 50 years

DDT facts

DDT facts and myths have been part of our shared environmental consciousness for two generations. Most of our beliefs about DDT, a powerful insecticide long-banned by most countries, came from Rachel Carson’s best selling book, Silent Spring, published over 50 years ago.

Carson was an aquatic biologist, working for the US Department of Fisheries, who became a champion of the environmental movement across the world. Her influence on environmental policy is still felt today. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that her movement lead to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.

Silent Spring was an influential book that drove pro-environmental policies and thinking of many of us who grew up in that era. Essentially, the book outlined the environmental disaster caused by the indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides, especially on agricultural lands. She seemed to advocate for a complete ban on DDT and other pesticides based on some anecdotal and statistical correlation between DDT use and certain environmental issues.

But it was too late. The DDT myth (or facts, depending on the evidence) had started, and it was imprinted into the American consciousness. In 1972, DDT was banned for use in agriculture in the USA, which has lasted until today. It’s ironic that the Reagan administration, a notoriously anti-environmental group, refused to reconsider the ban on DDT.

Predictably, the chemical industry lashed out against the Ms. Carson and her book. But given the nature of the times, they really had no shot, and the environmental movement was born.

However, what do we make of the strength or weaknesses of DDT facts? Is it a myth? Or were some of Ms. Carson’s points valid? I think after 50 years we can answer some of that, but DDT has evolved into a word that induces fear and loathing in most people across the world. Let’s take a look at it. Continue reading “The DDT facts – examining the evidence after 50 years”

Traditional Chinese medicine kills dolphins

Traditional Chinese Medicine kills dolphins

I am not a fan of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Very few of its medical claims ever amount to anything. Most of it isn’t very traditional and doesn’t work, like acupuncture. Worse yet, TCM is involved in the destruction of rare animals like the African rhino and other endangered animals. Now, we find that Traditional Chinese Medicine kills dolphins – just to push a “medicine” that has no evidence supporting its use.

Let’s look at this recent story where purveyors of TCM have indirectly lead to the collapse and near extinction of a beautiful ocean going mammal. Per usual with TCM, it’s a tale of greed and junk medicine.  Continue reading “Traditional Chinese medicine kills dolphins”

Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism

The Walking Dead and science denialism

I am really impatient with science deniers, so I saw something that will allow me to mash up two of my favorite subjects – the Walking Dead and science denialism – and it makes me happy. I know, you want to know how I can possibly combine the Walking Dead and science denialism – you’re just going to have to read on!

I know it’s shocking, but I find it difficult to be really civil towards science deniers. Partially, it’s because no matter how much evidence you present, science deniers rely on logical fallacies like strawman arguments, arguments from ignorance, post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies, and so many others.

Or they rely upon all of their biases. Confirmation bias, yes. Selection bias, yes. Cognitive biases, yes. And that logical fallacy that’s also a form of bias – cherry picking. The denialist’s favorite fruit has got to be cherries, because they’re picking them all day long.

Then toss in a big dollop of Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s really difficult to take any science deniers very seriously. They take themselves seriously, despite their total lack of affirmative or negative evidence.

The only thing that matters in science is evidence. That’s it, that’s the beginning and the end of the story. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, alien, immigrant, liberal, conservative, a janitor, a professor, black, white, or a Nobel Prize winner. If you lack evidence, you have nothing.

If you think there are debates to be made in settled science, that means you get the denialism card, no matter who you are. If you are an MD, and think that vaccines don’t work, then why should I consider your opinion on anything in medicine to be valid, when you’re denying some of the basic principles of medicine – the Germ Theory, for example.  Continue reading “Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism”

Something’s fishy – GMO salmon is on its way

AquAdvantage GMO salmon

On 19 November 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  announced that a new GMO salmon, called AquAdvantage, is just as safe as any other salmon for consumption. The FDA based their decision on boatloads of data submitted by the company that developed the GMO salmon, Aqua Bounty Technologies, along with independent peer-reviewed data.

The approval process, taking nearly 20 years, for this transgenic salmon far exceeded the process required for pharmaceutical drug approval. The original application was filed in 1996, and data from 10 generations of the salmon had to be submitted to the FDA. It would be a ridiculous myth to claim that the FDA just bowed to the GMO salmon industry.

Of course, just like every other genetically-modified food ever developed, fear and loathing takes precedence over logic and scientific evidence. A major grocery store chain in the USA, Costco, has refused to market the fish, followed by other expensive grocery chains like Whole Foods, a promoter of pseudoscience in foods. A few countries have even written new regulations to block its import.

As can be expected, any group that doesn’t agree with the scientific evidence, turns to courts to help them out. Anti-vaccine and anti-climate change radicals love to do this, though they usually fail. In the case of the GMO salmon, the radical anti-GMO group, Center for Food Safety, has announced that they will proceed with a lawsuit to block introduction of this fish.  Once again, scientific evidence is ignored or cherry-picked in lieu of the pre-existing conclusion that GMO salmon is unsafe.

Time to look at this story with a bit more of a critical, skeptical analysis.

Continue reading “Something’s fishy – GMO salmon is on its way”

Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta

If you don’t know about the case of anti-GMO activists harassing Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, I’ve written about it extensively over the past few months.

Dr. Folta  is considered to be an expert in plant genetics including genetic modification of plants. He has been studying this field for nearly three decades, published extensively in real peer-reviewed journals, and has trained legions of graduate students. He should be considered a real authority figure in GMO research.

In 2012, Dr. Folta was “targeted” by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from an activist to get all of Dr. Folta’s emails about GMOs. If you are unfamiliar with this particular tactic, it is used frequently by climate change deniers to harass and bully climate change scientists.

This will be a repeating theme of this article – the science deniers who are harassing Kevin Folta are almost exactly the same as the science deniers who attack climate change scientists. They must be proud of this.

Continue reading “Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta”

Another myth – labeling GMO foods is not expensive

One of the goals of the anti-GMO gangs is to push labeling of food products that contain anything that is considered to be genetically modified. They have sought out laws for food labeling in various ways, including propositions and legislation.

Generally, these efforts have been a failure in the USA, except in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut, although each may be or has been subject to judicial review. And there is a strong possibility that these labeling laws will probably be found unconstitutional.

Even California, one of the most liberal states in the USA, rejected GMO labeling in a popular vote on Proposition 37 in 2012. Ironically, Proposition 37 received strong financial and person support from noted pseudoscience-pushing, anti-vaccination shill, Joe Mercola.

Even recently, Gary Hirshberg, one of the most loud-mouthed anti-GMO activists, repeated the myth  in an August 2015 op-ed: “adding a few words to the ingredient panel. . . would have no impact on the price of food.”

Given that there is little evidence that GMOs are dangerous, given that that there is a strong scientific consensus on the safety and usefulness of GMOs, and given that GMOs are an important technology for the future of humanity, it’s an odd argument that we need to label foods as to their GMO content.

Let me be clear. Food labeling is critical, and it must get better. Diabetics need accurate information about food content to adjust their diet and insulin use. Ironically, people with real gluten sensitivities (extremely rare) have benefited mightily from “gluten free” product labeling, which resulted from the myth of gluten sensitivities pushed by pseudoscience.

Given the scientific facts regarding the safety of GMOs, labeling is ridiculous.

Because the anti-GMO forces know they can’t win on the science, they have begun pushing labeling because they say that it does not add costs to food. Some of them claim that, in the USA, the cost of labeling is less than a penny a day.

Gary Hirshberg, one of the most loud-mouthed anti-GMO activists, repeated the myth  in an August 2015 op-ed: “adding a few words to the ingredient panel. . . would have no impact on the price of food.”

Even though the science says they are wrong, many ask “why not allow labeling, especially if it’s not that expensive.”

Because that claim – that labeling GMO foods is not expensive  – only accounts for the direct cost of labeling, not anything else. And it’s wrong, economically.

The anti-GMO gang exclusively focuses on only two points with regards to labeling – that the cost of changing the labels is small, and that consumer behavior probably won’t change. Most of their beliefs about costs are based on cherry picked studies (pdf), which are worth approximately nothing to a real scientific skeptic