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Cheerios now GMO free–it’s not what it appears to be

anti-GMO-antiscienceAs we entered 2014, General Mills, the Minnesota-based food processing giant, announced that the breakfast cereal, Cheerios, probably its most popular brand, will be labelled as GMO free. And the anti-science GMO refusers were partying across the land, with the anti-science Huffington Post adding to the Cheerios cheers:

Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen highlighted what General Mills’ decision means in a press release. “Original Cheerios in its famous yellow box will now be non-GMO and this victory sends a message to all food companies that consumers are increasingly looking for non-GMO products and companies need to meet that demand,” he said.

Of course, this was a pretty simple move for General Mills. About all it’s really going to cost them is a new box design to promote “GMO-Free”. It’s inexpensive and simple for General Mills because there are no genetically modified oats as of today. So, they don’t have to find new sources for the grain or most of the other components of the cereal. Actually, the only thing they had to do was switch the tiny amount of beet sugar used to sweeten the cereal to another type, something that is ostensibly an easy step in manufacturing. 

Despite General Mills taking a tiny, inexpensive and risk-free step over the line to label GM-free, and going against what the industry has wanted, no labeling whatsoever, really nothing much has  changed. General Mills is still opposed to all state initiatives demanding GMO labeling, which have mostly failed, probably as a result of corporate expenditures opposing these initiatives. General Mills still thinks genetically modified foods are safe and should not removed from the market. But with over 90% of Americans buying into the anti-science activism and believing that GMO’s are dangerous, and 59 percent of Americans now getting their nutritional advice from the internet, it becomes a brilliant marketing move for an aging brand. Instantly, Cheerios stands out in the supermarket aisle as one of the few major brand cereals that is GMO-free. It was a low-risk move that probably had no material impact on either General Mill’s strategies with genetically modified foods or the cost of manufacturing the cereal.

Although I have no evidence confirming my cynicism, eventually General Mills can increase the price of its GMO-free cereal, because demand will be higher for it. Then other oat cereal manufacturers will do the same, and eventually we’ll have more expensive cereal. I’m sure the anti-science GMO-radicals are happy that companies can make more profits for really not doing much. But that’s capitalism for you.

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Where’s the common sense in the GMO discussion?

gmo_protestMy job here is to push science, and push it hard.  And I’m not pushing “science” as some esoteric philosophy of academia, but as a relatively easy system of gathering evidence in support of (or alternatively, in refutation of) what people believe. There isn’t some button you push to get “science”, even though way too many people think that click on a Google search qualifies as science (and evidence supporting their “science”). I try to call out false equivalences, that is, that all evidence is equal, even if one side of the “debate” has low quality or even no evidence. I try to provide methods to rank evidence, so that an average reader can get an indication of the quality of evidence supporting a pseudoscientific or anti-science belief, which allows anyone to make a better critical analysis of what is written.

But sometimes, you don’t even need science. Just common sense, something woefully lacking in many of the anti-science memes that seem to easily circulate across social media these days.

When I wrote an article about Richard Dawkin’s comments on genetically modified organisms (GMO) agriculture, I got a lot of comments on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and comments here. One of those sources lead me to an article by one of the world’s top scientists, Nina Fedoroff, a Penn State University faculty member, who actually studies biotechnology, and, more specifically, in the field of transposable elements or “jumping genes,” one of the major beliefs of GMO refusers. Her scientific bonafides are public, including being past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, probably one of the most prestigious institutions in science. That she is also an alumna of Syracuse University is just a bonus. Read More »Where’s the common sense in the GMO discussion?

Reblog: “10 ‘scientific’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need GMOs”

gmo-cornI don’t generally re-blog articles I’ve read. Sometimes, I might read an article and then do my own take on it. But mostly, I just assume that blog posts should stand on their own merits. But today, I want to make an exception. I ran across an article, “10 ‘reasoned’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need #GMOs” by Dr. Cami Ryan, “a researcher with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) and an outspoken advocate for agriculture and science.” She does a point-by-point critique of an article, 10 reasons why we don’t need GM foods. The article has been flying across Facebook and Twitter, and before I had a chance to take it down, Dr. Ryan did a much better job. Probably because she’s a shill for Big Agra, and I’m just a stooge for Big Pharma. Anyways, let her clobber the inaccuracies of that article, point by scientific point (since I think GMO refusers are anti-science people, no different than global warming deniers, I changed the title of the blog to include the word “scientific.”:

 

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Anti-GMO liberals attack Cheerios

cheeriosgmoOver the past week, the left’s version of global warming deniers, the GMO refusers, starting attacking the Cheerios Facebook page. Why? Because apparently, Cheerios, that wonderful cereal manufactured by General Mills, used by parents worldwide to feed their young children, contains GMO grains. “GMO,” or genetically modified crops, which are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). All types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. GMO’s are a major controversy because of the use of DNA recombination-introducing genes from one species into another, which usually provides crops with added advantages, such as resistance to pests. A few months ago, when the thoroughly debunked “GMO corn causes cancer” story hit the interwebs, but that was thoroughly debunked as being bad science, bad research with bad results.

 

 

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Do GMO crops have a higher yield? It depends on the answer.

gmo-corn-rxThe Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is an American environmental organization founded in 1969 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which claims 400,000 members. They focus, generally, on environmental issues like nuclear power, global warming and a few other issues. Many of these issues are critically important, and a science advocacy group like UCS helps keep the scientific facts about global warming and other environmental issues at the forefront of the discussion.

But one area where UCS has gone off the rails of scientific evidence and embraces generally left wing science denialism is agriculture, more specifically GMO, or genetically modified organisms (or in this case crops). They are generally supportive of organic farming (which has little or no health benefit at a high cost to consumers) and vehemently opposed to GMO crops, based on what appears to be the same bad scientific critical skills that we observe in global warming deniers. There is nothing more frustrating than dogmatic science that stands against evidence. Read More »Do GMO crops have a higher yield? It depends on the answer.

England wants children to study evolution

Charles Darwin, the original British teacher of evolution

The United States has been a battleground this year in several states as right wing fundamentalists try to push antievolution legislation that would force children to be taught that evolution is controversial, or that creationism is scientifically equivalent to evolution. In most cases (except for Tennessee) these laws were pushed back, even in some fairly conservative states. The problem with education in the USA is that there are 50 states (plus DC) and 16000 school districts, each with full control over the science curriculum. Thus, children in northeastern and Pacific coast states have strong science educations, while other states, especially in the south and midwest, have a nascent antievolution movement. There are some minimal standards across the US for science education, but when you find school boards that think that creationism is a science, or that evolution is a scientific controversy, it’s hard to make certain that children get an well-rounded education in the biological sciences.Read More »England wants children to study evolution