Leaky Brains and GMOs

By Keith Kloor | May 14, 2013 11:48 am

When the definitive history of the GMO debate is written, Jeffrey Smith is going to figure prominently in the section on pseudoscience. He is the equivalent of an anti-vaccine leader, someone who is quite successful in spreading fear and false information. (As David Gorski at the Science-based Medicine blog has noted, the anti-vaccine and anti-GMO movements are two birds of the same feather.) The Academics Review blog writes of Smith:

His self-published books Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette have built for him an online profile that has made Smith one of the most widely quoted opponents of biotech ag —despite his evident lack of scientific credentials or other formal training on the subject.

It appears that the education he gained at Maharishi university has been put to good use. Here he is demonstrating “yogic flying” in 1996.

This passage from Smith’s Wikipedia bio seems a fair representation of him:

A variety of American organic food companies see Smith “as a champion for their interests”, and Smith’s supporters describe him as “arguably the world’s foremost expert on the topic of genetically modified foods”. Michael Specter, writing in The New Yorker, reported that Smith was presented as a “scientist” on The Dr. Oz Show although he lacks any scientific experience or relevant qualifications. Bruce Chassy, a molecular biologist and food scientist, wrote to the show arguing that Smith’s “only professional experience prior to taking up his crusade against biotechnology is as a ballroom-dance teacher, yogic flying instructor, and political candidate for the Maharishi cult’s natural-law party.” The director of the Organic Consumers Association says Smith is “respected as a public educator on GMOs” while “supporters of biotechnology” have described him as “misinformed and misleading” and as “an activist with no scientific or medical background” who is known for his “near-hysterical criticism of biotech foods.”

As Jon Entine wrote at Forbes, what galls scientists the most is that Smith has been presented as a GMO expert to millions of TV viewers. Liberals and environmentalists who put a premium on science should be equally galled that Smith is treated as a credible source.

When it comes to GMOs, though, many seem to take even the most outlandish claims at face value, including some journalists, as I recently pointed out. It amazes me when otherwise smart people are quick to trump a story or supposed finding that, for example, links an herbicide to “a great number of the diseases and conditions that are prevalent in the modern industrialized world.” Such a recent paper, as one person hilariously said on Twitter, “reads like it was scribbled on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard.”

Perhaps you’re wondering what those scribblings might sound like when explained on a video? Lucky you, the co-author of the aforementioned paper recently sat down with none other than Jeffrey Smith to discuss how GMOs and  a “Darth Vader chemical” are poisoning humanity.

I hereby give you a one-stop shop of crazy talk.

GMOs and the autism connection:

GMOs and alzheimers:

GMOs and leaky gut:

Connecting the dots on GMOs and obesity:

GMOs and Parkinson’s disease:

There are also clips discussing how GMOs are causing heart disease and diabetes. These are the kind of people that fuel the worst kind of fear-mongering about biotechnology, and unfortunately, what they say is taken seriously by foodies, environmentalists, popular talk show hosts and some mainstream journalists.

So long as Jeffrey Smith is treated by the media and influentials as a go-to source on biotechnology, the public debate on genetically modified foods will remain mired in loony land.

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Oh, that’s so cruel. To show all that horror, without showing the solution.

    An author of the widely-touted EarthOpenSource report has the answer for us. Pandits.

    http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2012/09/genetics-expert-dr-john-fagan-promotes.html

    • http://pdiff.weebly.com/ Pdiff

      Ahhh, Dear Dr Fagan, the guy making all the money behind the scenes off the Non-GMO Project and drooling over the potential of labeling laws.

      • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

        Can you rent pandits? Or do they have to live on the property? My housemate and I call our house a commune, but we don’t really mean it.

    • http://profiles.google.com/edgeben Benjamin Edge

      All I could think about while listening to that video was this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwrKKbaClME

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      I would also like to point out that when the absurdity of the vibrations-improving-crops claim was pointed out to Claire Robinson from Earth Open Source, within 2 days the video disappeared. We can only see it now because past experience has taught us to grab all such videos and documents as soon as we see them.

      • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

        I also asked her for the evidence of the pandit crop improvements and she wouldn’t give it to me.

  • JonFrum

    ” a recent paper, as one person hilariously said on Twitter, “reads like it was scribbled on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard.”

    So that’s hilarious because only a right wing nutter like Glenn Beck could say such a crazy thing? Apparently there are no left wing conspiracy theory nutters out there to reference. But wait – the entire anti-GMO craze evolved naturally straight out of garden variety 1960s leftism.

    If you want a good model for Jeffery Smith, re-read Silent Spring some time. It’s all there. The wild speculations, the precautionary principle, all of it. But of course, saying that a recent paper reads like it was cribbed from Rachael Carson wouldn’t be so hilarious, would it?

    • Erik

      The few people I know who are antivax and anti-GMO are all super liberals. I’m about as liberal as they come, but I still mock these people because they’re WAY out there by any sane person’s standards.

      • Bonnie Joy Barker

        I might say that killing off honey bees with crops that are genetically engineered to kill insects is insane.

        • RealityCheck131

          Cool story with no evidence to back it up. You fit right in with the anti-GMO nutters!

    • FosterBoondoggle

      Were you alive in the ’60s? I was, and I remember a complete absence of wildlife from forests near my home that now have turkeys, coyotes, foxes and deer. I also remember the Cuyahoga river catching fire. We now have healthier wildlands and clean water thanks to the environmental movement you seem so intent on deriding wholesale.

      There are certainly leftwing nutjobs out there. The left and right seem to converge at the conspiracy-mongering extremes, though not on everything. There does seem to be an excess of medical and environmental quackery in parts of the left – though it hardly infects the progressive political mainstream the way Beck and el Rushbo have the right wing.

      But to lump Carson in with the nuts is way out of line. She identified – or at least drew attention to – a real problem, one that we now take much more seriously in our regulatory process, so that you can easily sit back smugly and deride the effort, just as the anti-vaxxers can stay safe thanks to herd immunity and not earn the consequence of their ignorance.

    • chris

      Wow dude, you got angry fast. Maybe the reason a stranger on the internet compared this crazy person to Glenn Beck is because Glenn Beck wrote crazy things on chalkboard on mainstream television for years. Now name me a liberal crazy who’s had that much airtime in the last decade. It’s not a political point that’s being made here, it’s a comparison to pop culture.

      • Buddy199

        Air America tried, no one listened. MSNBC tries, no one watches. CurrentTV was like watching Wayne’s World. It wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of liberals, or lack of bug-eyed, apoplectic partisan ranting. No one paid attention to them.

      • Bonnie Joy Barker

        Angry? I didn’t hear angry. Maybe, rightious indignation.

      • RealityCheck131

        Bill Maher.

    • Keith Kloor

      Don’t be sensitive. You should be happy that the Left doesn’t have such popular nutters like Limbaugh, Jones, and Beck.

      And yes it is hilarious because that chalkboard was the apex of Beck’s lunacy.

      • Buddy199

        What about Ed Schultz, Keith Olbermann, Al Sharpton or the collective Occupy traveling circus? They are the voices of calm, chin-rubbing progressive sanity?

        • Keith Kloor

          They are pikers compares to Limbaugh, Jones, and Beck.

          • Buddy199

            Reasonable, intelligent people can look at the same set of facts, evaluate them, prioritize them and come to very different – and equally intelligent – conclusions. They can also acknowledge the validity of another point of view contrary to their own. You know, that whole diversity thing that’s so popular these days.

            Partisans, on the other hand, ascribe any opposing point of view to insanity, evil or stupidity – pretty much what Schultz, Olbermann, Sharpton, Limbaugh, and Beck do. The first three are “pikers” only because they aren’t able to draw a larger audience than the last two, which I’m sure drives them straight up a wall since Limbaugh and Beck are obviously insane, evil, and stupid. Don’t be an obvious partisan, Keith.

    • Bonnie Joy Barker

      Really unbelievable. Have any of you ever even been on a farm, much less worked one? So far, yes, we have modified crops, but I’m old enough to remember real food before the modifications. Now, they are splicing in genes from non-related organisms. It’s Franken-science and foolish to mess with evolution in such a cavalier way. Mind you, none of this would be happening were it not for unbridled capitalism.

      • http://twitter.com/RobertWager1 Robert Wager

        But you seem OK with using ionizing radiation or mutagenizing chemicals to randomly mutate the DNA and then sell the product to the public with virtually no idea what was done to the DNA. Decades of such products and where is the outrage.

        Why is it that real context for the DNA alteration for all crop production wrt GM crops is never acknowledged by those who push the fear campaign about GMO’s

    • Your1Friend

      Your thinking is profoundly incoherent. I am sure you have been told that more than once before. Get some help.

  • Steve Crook

    So, basically, GMOs can cause every disease. Impressive. Why am I reminded of Victorian cure-alls?

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Good thing there was no autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or obesity before Roundup. It would be so hard to convince everyone…oh, wait….

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.zabrocki.355 David Zabrocki

    People baffle me. All that we eat contains genetic material. So, it would seem that we are well prepared for it. I would eat GMO foods.

    More baffling still are the pro-GMO pundits. I am sure that I have seen these names comment in support of human caused climate change. Climate change that was the unanticipated consequence of using fossil fuels. Why haven’t I seen the environment savvy mention that the release of modified, novel, self-replicating organisms into the environment will have consequences that we do not anticipate? There are even television programs that are focused on the damage done by animals introduced into non-native environments. Why are none of you talking about the environmental impact?

    • Neowolf

      The tragic thing about the anti-GMOs is that GMOs will reduce environmental impact and human suffering. Opposition to them is fundamentally evil, and I do not use that word lightly.

      (Environmental impact because they increase yields — land use being the biggest environental impact of agriculture — and reduce toxicity of pesticide application. Human suffering because they can reduce horrific problems like vitamin A deficiency among the global poor.)

  • mickjo

    I’m always bemused that KK sees things one way WRT GMOs, and yet seems so impervious to similar tactics being employed WRT AGW.

    • Keith Kloor

      Really. Like how? And how long have you been reading this blog?

      • mickjo

        Maybe 3 years: I usually post as Michael Larkin, but for some reason this has been changed by the sausage machine–not sure why.

        Come on, Keith, you’re pro-AGW though its proselytisers are just as ditzy as the anti-GMO crew.

        • Keith Kloor

          So you’ve been reading this blog three years and you can’t seem to recall me challenging the climate concerned community or all the grief I get for it, despite the fact that I agree that there is such a thing as AGW (which in your parlance, makes me pro-AGW)?

          • Martin

            There’s a parallel in this article about how a vast range of ills are tagged on to GMOs as they are tagged onto AGW – the ‘similar tactics’ – that does rather stand out if you’ve come here form, say, the evul WUWT links.

            OTOH this tactic of attaching any possible vaguely plausible danger is normal tactics for anyone trying to ban something, so personally I don’t see that you have to draw the parallel in every article you write.

          • mickjo

            Yes, I’ve seen you challenge them to some extent, but I think it’s more than your just saying that AGW exists. Many sceptics can go with that; but they happen to think it’s a minor issue that has been vastly overblown. I think you think it’s a genuine threat, unlike your stance on GMOs, for which you see the opposition’s fear-mongering as a symptom of uninformed craziness.

            If in fact you think that AGW isn’t much of a threat, I’d be happy to say I was wrong.

  • 2JJO

    As somebody pointed out on another blog (http://www.sci-phy.com/detecting-bogus-scientific-journals/), perhaps this lady contradicts herself a bit – or how can it be that all modern diseases are caused by glyphosate AND by a lack of sulfur? Because this is what she explains in another interview with another great crackpot, Mercola: http:// articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/09/17/stephanie-seneff-on-sulfur.aspx (I broke the link to avoid pointing search engines to his page – probably they cannot tell from the context when a link is not a recommendation.) And on a second thought, he’s not a crackpot as he makes good money out of this fearmongering, “just” unscrupulous…

  • Buddy199

    ”. Michael Specter, writing in The New Yorker, reported that Smith was presented as a “scientist” on The Dr. Oz Show although he lacks any scientific experience or relevant qualifications.
    ————-
    So what?, he can fly.

    • dogctor

      By the way, to all the mud throwers who claim that Dr. Stephanie Seneff has no formal training in biochemistry: FALSE

      She has formal training in biochemistry. Her undergraduate
      degree from MIT was in biology, and she won the “Sophomore Chemistry Award” as the sophomore most likely to succeed in the field of chemistry (given by the American Chemical
      Society).

      Personally, I think she has!

      • Keith Kloor

        Oh, I don’t think anyone needs to throw mud. They just need to watch the videos to see for themself. That’s why I put them up in the post.

  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    the cure is a homeopathic autism ointment. you do a 1 part per 1,000 solution of autism in a vial, drink it down and you’ll be better in one fortnight.

  • Bonnie Joy Barker

    If this guy is so insignificant, educationally, and otherwise, is that why you chose to feature him in your article, to make agri-business sound more palatable to people who may not know very much about the issues? If you care for intelligent discourse, why not feature someone on the side of organic agricuture, who has the credentials that you admire? I’m sure that there are plenty from which to choose.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elorson Eric Lorson

      Agreed. GMO’s cause significant damage to the environment in many ways, despite one crackpot doctor. He may even be hired by the GMO’s to discredit the movement.

      • Karl Haro von Mogel

        That’s some weapons-grade conspiracy theory there.

        • Bonnie Joy Barker

          Calling, “conspiracy theory” just doesn’t cut it, anymore. People are actually connecting the dots that are there, following the money trail.

          • Karl Haro von Mogel

            I’m sorry, I should not have called it a conspiracy theory. That would be unfair to theories like gravity, evolution, electron orbital theory, etc. More accurately, they are conspiracy hypotheses, mere ideas with no evidence. Please connect the dots for us and provide the evidence that this “crackpot doctor” is “hired by the GMO’s to discredit the movement” which is the conspiracy hypothesis I was responding to.

          • Bonnie Joy Barker

            The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

      • bobito

        Whelp, it works so well for Big Oil with the money they give Al Gore. They couldn’t have imagined how much damage Gore could do to the AGW movement… ;)

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      But that’s the problem. He is significantly crazy, with a disproportionate effect on people who have no grasp of the science. He’s active in talking to people working on bills around the country.

      It’s like having a climate denier talk to your local progressives. It’s bizarre, but really happening.

      • Your1Friend

        GMO Propaganda.

    • Your1Friend

      The reason for the relentless ad hominem attacks is that Jeffrey Smith is greatly feared by the international GMO mafia.

      But the GMO mafia has much more to fear than Jeffrey Smith:

      Freedom of Speech; Full Disclosure; the eventual return of Academic Freedom and Integrity; the eventual triumph of Legitimate Science (as opposed to American Corporate “Science” and popular “Science”); and lastly and quite simply, the Truth.

  • http://twitter.com/sleuth4health Sleuth 4 Health

    I used to hang on every word Jeffrey Smith said… until science grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and I was defenseless against it. I had to look at the facts. I tossed my anti-GMO leanings into the nearest dumpster and haven’t looked back. Quite a change and not easy for most. But it’s what needs to happen! I did watch this whole video and should have counted how many times I heard “I believe…” and “I think…” and “these things correlate perfectly….”

    • dogctor

      What kind of biochemical and medical data is a music instructor qualified to comprehend?

      What is glutathione?
      What is acetyl-cysteine?
      What is SAM-E?
      How are they used in medicine?

      Answer these questions intelligently, and I will do my best to show you what the data in this review actually means.

      • Keith Kloor

        Ready to stop pretending you know what you’re talking about, dear?

        • dogctor

          I gave you three categories to pick from

          1. biochemistry

          2. pharmacology

          3. microbiology

          I see you picked none.

          “How do you expect to win anything without answering a single question?”, says Alex Trebeck.

          I’ll go ahead and pick for you, in that case.

          Some of My Best Friends Are Germs for $100.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/say-hello-to-the-100-trillion-bacteria-that-make-up-your-microbiome.html?_r=0

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCVfWjlMSa4

          • dogctor

            Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450

            Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases

            Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Senef
            Genome-wide transcriptional responses of Escherichia coli to glyphosate, a potent inhibitor of the shikimate pathway enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase.

            snip:

            Glyphosate’s claimed mechanism of action in plants is the disruption of the shikimate pathway, which is involved with the synthesis of the essential aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan [10]. The currently accepted dogma is that glyphosate is not harmful to humans or to any
            mammals because the shikimate pathway is absent in all animals. However, this pathway is present in gut bacteria, which play an important and heretofore largely overlooked role in human physiology [11–14]

            Reference 39 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23247721
            Glyphosate is an effective antimetabolite that inhibits 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate (EPSP) synthase in the shikimate pathway, thereby resulting in a shortage of the chorismate-derived essential aromatic amino acids. However, little is known about the genome-wide transcriptional responses of bacteria to glyphosate shock. In the current study, a transcriptome analysis of Escherichia coli (E. coli) exposed to glyphosate identified the differential expression of 1040 genes, which represent 23.2% of the genome. The differentially expressed genes are primarily involved in amino acid metabolism, cell motility, and central carbon metabolism, indicating that the impact of glyphosate on the shikimate pathway also extends to other metabolic pathways. Expectedly, almost all genes encoding the proteins for the shikimate and specific aromatic amino acid pathways were downregulated after the addition of glyphosate. Furthermore, the expression of many energy- and metabolism-related genes was repressed. In contrast, glyphosate treatment induced the coordinated upregulation of at least 50 genes related to cell motility and chemotaxis. The reverse transcription-quantitative real-time PCR (RT-qPCR) data showed that the expression profiles of selected genes from the referred pathways were found to be consistent with the microarray data. The results suggest that the presence of glyphosate during growth induces metabolic starvation, an energy drain and other non-target effects.

          • Keith Kloor

            Wow, you have way too much time on your hands. Who are you talking to with this stuff?

          • a20havoc

            So where’s the research reporting data establishing a direct cause-and-effect between human glyphosate exposure and a diagnosed human medical condition?

        • dogctor

          Acetyl cysteine:

          In most mammals, acetaminophen is primarily biotransformed to nontoxic products in the liver via conjugation with glucuronic acid and, to a lesser degree, sulfate, and eliminated by the kidneys (4,5,6,7,8). Concurrently, a small proportion of acetaminophen is metabolized through the cytochrome P-450 enzyme pathway producing a highly reactive and toxic metabolite, N-acetyl-para-benzoquinoneimine (NAPQI) (5,7,8). The toxic effects of NAPQI are normally limited by its conjugation with glutathione . Glutathione, which is widely distributed in mammalian tissues, is essential for cellular protection against oxidative injury by electrophilic radicals (8). In most mammals, acetaminophen exposure becomes toxic when glucuronidation and sulfation pathways become saturated and cellular glutathione stores are depleted to less than 70% of normal values (5). In such cases, NAPQI binds to cellular proteins and membranes, causes disruption of protein function and damage to cell membranes, and leads to cell injury and death, typically of hepatocytes (5,8).

          For several reasons, cats are extremely sensitive to the toxic effects of acetaminophen. Cats form glucoronides with many compounds slowly, or not at all, because they possess fewer isoforms of the enzymes that mediate the conjugation, that is, glucuronyl transferases. More specifically, cats have a relative absence of a specific high-affinity acetaminophen glucuronoyl transferase that conjugates acetaminophen with glucuronic acid (4,6,8,9). This relative deficiency of the glucuronide conjugation pathway results in more drug being conjugated to sulfates; however, the sulfation pathway has a finite capacity, which is also lower in cats than other species (6). Once the sulfation pathway reaches its capacity, acetaminophen is allowed to persist in the blood and more is metabolized by cytochrome P-450 enzymes to NAPQI. Glutathione synthesis is suppressed by high levels of acetaminophen (8) and the presence of NAPQI rapidly depletes glutathione stores.

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC340185/

          Clinicopathologic evaluation N-acetylcysteine therapy in acetaminophen toxicosis in the cat.

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7337295

          Gaunt SD, Baker DC, Green RA.
          Acetyl-cysteine
          Antioxidant shows promise as treatment for certain features of autism, study finds

          BY ERIN DIGITALE

          Antonio Hardan

          A specific antioxidant supplement may be an effective therapy for some features of autism, according to a pilot trial from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital that involved 31 children with the disorder.

          The antioxidant, called N-Acetylcysteine, or NAC, lowered irritability in children with autism as well as reduced the children’s repetitive behaviors. The researchers emphasized that the findings must be confirmed in a larger trial before NAC can be recommended for children with autism.

          http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2012/may/nac.html

          Intravenous acetylcysteine is indicated for the treatment of paracetamol (acetaminophen) overdose. When paracetamol is taken in large quantities, a minor metabolite called N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI) accumulates within the body. It is normally conjugated by glutathione, but when taken in excess, the body’s glutathione reserves are not sufficient to inactivate the toxic NAPQI. This metabolite is then free to react with key hepatic enzymes, therefore damaging hepatocytes. This may lead to severe liver damage and even death by fulminant liver failure.

          For this indication, acetylcysteine acts to augment the glutathione reserves in the body and, together with glutathione, directly bind to toxic metabolites. These actions serve to protecthepatocytes in the liver from NAPQI toxicity.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acetylcysteine

  • mörderwerk

    Keith. Thank you. This is hilarious.

  • James Cooper

    I analyzed the Seneff paper a couple of weeks ago.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/bogus-paper-on-roundup-saturates-the-internet

    Incredible baloney coming from someone who has no degree in biology and published in an online physics journal.

  • Lulu Kovic

    So according to Seneff, people become obese because glyphosate
    has made micro-nutrients like cobalt, manganese and zinc less bio-available, which leads to overeating. And the choice is between being fat and
    healthy on the one hand, or thin and sickly on the other – because, as we all
    know, fat people are much healthier than thin people.

    If only there was some way of getting adequate levels of these micro-nutrients
    without having to make such a terrible choice. If only someone would come up
    with a pill that contains cobalt, manganese, zinc and other micro-nutrients.
    Maybe they could call it a “multi-mineral” pill and tell people about
    it, so they could stop coming up with ridiculous excuses for being overweight.

  • Jeff

    So let me get this straight we are eating plants that are making thier own pesticides and we eat those chemicals…. Do I contact poison control when I accidentally overdoes on fruits and veggies?

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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