Why GMO Myths Are So Appealing and Powerful

By Keith Kloor | May 30, 2013 11:22 am

Guest post by Cami Ryan, a Canadian agricultural researcher:

Last week, an executive with a biotech trade group asserted in an interview that it wasn’t too late to win the hearts and minds of consumers suspicious of genetically modified foods. Biotech advocates just need to do a better job of explaining the technology and its benefits. The headline for the piece read:

 It’s not too late to change the conversation on GMOs

While I admire this optimism and agree that we should continue to engage in conversations about GMOs, there are certain present-day realities that constrain our efforts to find common ground on this very controversial topic.

At the top of this list is the sheer amount of information we are inundated with every day. Many of us are tapped into mobile technology. We are referred to as ‘just in time’ users (Rainie and Fox 2012).  We account for 62% of the entire adult population who often look to online sources and online social networks for information. Anti-GMO interest groups have successfully leveraged these networks to disseminate misinformation and influence public opinion. Using carefully crafted words (frankenfoods!) and images (syringes in tomatoes), they create myths–GM corn causes cancer, fish genes have been forced into tomatoes or GM corn kills the larvae of monarch butterflies–that tap into people’s fears about genetic engineering.

When you combine these myths with our cognitive habits, things become even more complex:

People are conspiratorial thinkers: Public Policy Polling (2013) conducted a survey earlier this year where (among other things) it found that 20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism while another 14% of voters believe in Bigfoot. As Maggie Koerth-Baker reported in her article in the NY Times last week: “Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness” where the human brain jumps into “analytical overdrive … in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative.”

People think in ‘pictures’: We humans think in pictures in order to visually organize and process information.  To do this, we use parts of our grey matter that pulls together both the emotional and the creative facets of our brains (Bostrom and Clawson 2000).  So, the myths, metaphors and images that are leveraged by interest groups to push an anti-GMO agenda are often visually compelling and can be powerfully influential (i.e. “Frankenfood”).

[Scary peppers.  http://mlkshk.com/p/6GJY]

People are pattern seekers:  We humans like to ‘connect the dots’ …from A to B and everything in between. In fact, all animals do this. This is referred to as associational learning. According to Michael Shermer (1997), it is the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise and it is how all organisms adapt to their environments.

People are conformists: Ideological loyalties arise within our close personal networks where ideas are communicated and reinforced by the people around us. “People acquire their scientific knowledge by consulting others who share their values and whom they therefore trust and understand” (Entman 1989: 255).  And, as Dan Kahan (2012) suggests, when an environment fills up with toxic partisan meanings – ones that announce that ‘If you are one of us, believe this; otherwise, we’ll know you are one of them.’ - humans will think that their lives will go much better if they just conform with the group.  Additionally, humans not only source information from personal networks, we seek information that validates our beliefs. Psychologists refer to this as ‘confirmation bias’ (Plous 1993; Risen and Thomas 2007; Arceneaux 2012).

We human beings are adaptable, social creatures and we are pattern seekers.  Human behaviour suggests that we will always be dealing with mythmaking, magical thinking, and oppositional viewpoints – particularly around innovative (and new) technologies.

Myths provide context and explanation during times of change. As Claude Levi-Strauss (1966) observed, myths offer gateways to a nostalgic past or to what may be perceived as a more promising future.  What I find most compelling about what Levi-Strauss said – particularly in the context of the GMO debate – is his claim that mythmaking is, in and of itself, an act of power. We see this demonstrated over and over again by the anti-GMO movement with the success they have in perpetuating myths about biotechnology.

Is it too late to change the conversation on GMOs? No, of course not. But I think that it may be a bit short-sighted to think that we will win the hearts and minds of a population. The best we can do is to continue to engage in and constructively counter the mythmaking of the anti-biotech activists.

References:

Arceneaux, Kevin. (2012). Cognitive Biases and the Strength of Political Arguments. American Journal of Political Science. Volume 56, Issue 2. Pps: 271-285

Bostrom, Robert P. and Vikki Clawson. (2000). “How People Think: Human Information Processing”. Available online at: http://www.terry.uga.edu/~bostrom/How%20People%20think.doc.  Accessed on: January 4, 2012.

Entman, R. (1989). “How the Media Affect What People Think: An Information Processing Approach.”  The Journal of Politics, Vol. 51, No. 2 (May, 1989), pp. 347-370.

Kahan, D. (2012). Why we are poles apart on climate change, Nature, 488 (7411) 255

Levi-Strauss, C. (1966). The Savage Mind. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Plous, Scott (1993), The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, McGraw-Hill.

Rainie, L. and S. Fox. (2012). Just in Time Information through Mobile Connections. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Report. Available online at: http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2012/PIP_Just_In_Time_Info.pdf Retrieved May 8.

Risen, Jane, T. Gilovich. (2007). “Informal Logical Fallacies.” In Critical Thinking in Psychology (R. Sternberg, H.L. Roediger III, D.F. Halpern (eds)). Cambridge University Press.  Pps: 110-130.

Shermer, Michael. (1997). Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. Henry Holt and Company: New York.


Cami Ryan is a researcher with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada), and an outspoken advocate for agriculture and science. Follow Cami on Twitter and visit her blog, where she holds forth on agriculture and food-related issues.

 

  • http://freetobewealthy.net/ Doreen Agostino

    Seeds of Death: Unveiling The Lies of GMO’s | World leading Scientists,
    Physicians, Attorneys, Politicians, and Environmental Activists, expose
    corruption and dangers surrounding widespread use of Genetically Modified Organisms in a new feature length documentary, Seeds of Death: Unveiling the Lies of GMOs. http://youtu.be/a6OxbpLwEjQ

    • kkloor

      Funny you should mention that interesting piece of propaganda. I actually have a post on it that will be going up tomorrow morning. Be sure to check back!

      • RobertWager

        Can’t wait for this one. “world leading scientists” hmm we will see

        • Charles Rader

          It’s easy to become a world’s leading scientist. For about $500 Euros, you can buy the award “international scientist of the year”.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000980613760 Kevin Folta

          World’s leading scientists. I’m guessing Jeffrey Smith, Shiva, Seralini. If you want synthesis supported by the world’s leading scientists just read the GMO book by the National Academies of Science.

          • RobertWager

            You get the prize Kevin.

          • Tom

            Which GMO book exactly? Nina Fedoroff’s “Mendel in the kitchen”? The “browsability” of http://www.nasonline.org/publications/nap/ leaves much to be desired…

            and my condolences on your recent loss :(

    • detribe

      World’s leading scientist’s like Jeffrey Smith?. Hmm.

      http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-content/genetic-roulette/

      Here there is a demonstration that he makes hundreds of fundamental errors in science. On 65 consecutive GMO issues he doesn’t get one right — with lots of wrong facts in every one.

      Seems the “Lies of GMOS” are actually on the anti-side and IN THIS FILM

  • Alex Salkin

    So Cami is saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with GMO foods, not one bit, and that everyone is just a crazy conspiracist?

    Well, go ahead and call me one, but I think she should have mentioned that the University of Saskatchewan receives funding from the Monsanto Fund: http://www.monsanto.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/fund-reports/monsanto-fund-contribution-report-2008-09.pdf

    (Search for “Saskatchewan” and it’s right there)

    • http://pdiff.weebly.com/ Pdiff

      Really!??? Seriously!??? Right out of the chute, a shill accusation! Shallow, Shallow, Shallow! This is pathetic and insulting.

    • FosterBoondoggle

      OK. You’re a conspiratorial thinker.

    • bobito

      You do realize that your first sentence is complaining about being labeled a conspiracy theorist, and your second sentence is claiming a conspiracy.

      Clearly you are being paid by Monsanto to go around entering blog posts that make anti-GMO folks look foolish.

      • marxmarv

        Stop conflating corruption with conspiracy. Corruption does not need collusion; with the reward structure generally oriented toward those with discretionary income to burn and strongly influenced by them, it’s very easy for a group of similarly situated people to pursue self-interest and receive benefit to the exclusion and at the expense of the broad majority.

    • Julie Carole

      No, she is saying humans are easily-influenced.

    • Julie Carole

      No, she is decidedly NOT saying anything of the sort. Perhaps reading the article will help you understand. It is about how organisations, companies, people influence others, how myth-making influences perception and how humans are easily-lead, when those leading rely on emotion and guilt.

      • Pythagore

        Exactly, she is not saying anything the original poster says she said. That is a typical argument where the poster rewords everything to make his own point.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000980613760 Kevin Folta

      NEW RULE. When discussing biotechnology as a science, the first person to mention Monsanto loses.

      Let’s not deflect the discussion away from a well-referenced article about why people behave the way they do.

  • Debbie Shepheard

    Perhaps you should do more reading and educate yourself before jumping into bed with Monsanto. The biotechnology was never tested, except directly on us. This is irresponsible science, to be polite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9hjy-CJlzbM

    • RobertWager

      Never tested myth raises again. So exactly why did the WHO say:

      :GM foods currently available on the international market have
      passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human
      health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a
      result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the
      countries where they have been approved.”

      • Debbie Shepheard

        GMOs currently on the market were not tested. Risk assessment was based on guesswork not scientific theory. Many current diseases and afflications are suspected to be caused, influenced or aggravated by a contaminated nutritional base.

        • RobertWager

          You have clearly been reading activist literature. Now would you like to read the real science? I can supply many links to real evaluation results. But here is the rub, its the world science , health and food safety bodies that oversee the test results so…

          • Debbie Shepheard

            Did you watch the video that I shared the link of, for just one small example of real information out there? Or are you too blinded by the misinformation that Monsanto has put out. Their own scientists have spoken out against them. Their own cafeteria will not serve GMOs.

          • RobertWager

            It is really sad when such misinformation is believed by so many. you do not know of which you speak. The cafeteria food is just one more myth that far too many believe.

        • Charles Rader

          Debbie, explain to me about Starlink corn. I remember objections to it having shown up in the food supply although it wasn’t approved. But if the foods on the marker are not tested, why on earth wasn’t Starlink corn approved?

          I have a second similar question. There was a proposal by the company Pioneer Hi-Bred, for a soybean with a gene for an added protein that would be rich in one of the essential amino acid, but the added protein was from a Brazil nut. There was a concern that the Brazil nut protein might be cause allergies. So the proposal was cancelled. I don’t think this ever reached the stage of the government getting involved, but isn’t it an example of a GMO not being approved because of testing. And this was found by Pioneer Hi-Bred, not some anti-GMO activist.

          • Debbie Shepheard

            I’ve no idea what you are referring to, sorry.

      • Debbie Shepheard
    • RobertWager

      Do you really think these organizations gave a thumbs up without looking at the real data?

      “Moreover, the AAAS Board said, the World Health Organization, the
      American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the
      British Royal Society, and “every other respected organization that has
      examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods
      containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than
      consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants
      modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.””

      • Julie Carole

        Case in point, bananas.

    • Tom

      Debbie, is your beef with Monsanto or GMOs in general?

      • Debbie Shepheard

        My “beef” is with ALL of these companies (Monsanto, DuPont, etc.) that are manipulating the genetic structure of our food supply and wreaking havoc when their science is bad. No GM/GE crops should exist outside a lab. They are ruining the biodiversity of the planet and are making huge profits from it, while we get sicker and sicker. http://www.naturalcuresnotmedicine.com/2013/06/former-pro-gmo-scientist-speaks-on.html

        • Debbie Shepheard

          So, sorry but my answer is “both”. The companies utilizing bad science AND GE which has been proven harmful to humans and environment.

          • Tom

            How do you feel about crop varieties developed by random mutagenesis (either ionizing radiation or mutagenic chemicals)? Some people classify these kinds as “GM”.

          • Debbie Shepheard

            if it doesn’t happen in nature, ie; hybridizing or open-pollenation, I am against it. PERIOD. Human beings should leave the structure of plants they way they are in nature. Our digestive systems cannot tolerate anything else.

        • Tom

          Okokokok – I hear you. Next question – when you say no GM/GE crop should exist out of the lab do you include public sector GM/GE crops in that category i.e. crops that are essentially “freely available” to the farmer? (Like the Rainbow papaya in Hawaii.)

          • Debbie Shepheard

            I’m unsure what you mean by “freely available”. Any farmer can buy their GMOs from Monsanto et al. Nothing is free. Hawaiian farmers are trying desperately to save the papayas due to the infestation of GMOs. They weren’t supposed to cause problems, but they have, which is why they should not have left the lab until all these possibilities were discovered. It should have taken several generations in the lab before any were even considered for trials on human beings. but I digress.

  • treeoceaneast

    tthis article has noting to do with GMOs. The title could easly be “why people are so willing to think smokeing is bad for you” Evidence please. Maby if this was addressing “tower 7″ it might be apt.

  • GoodGriefCharlieBrown

    When folks who do not buy into the writer’s position are immediately lumped in with anyone who has ever claimed to believe in “bigfoot”, the writer has lost all credibility with me.

    Am I the only one who saw the same sentiments in this article as the struggling GOP party “fix” – “We just have to make the message appeal, not the product”. (Truly no desire to make this political, just couldn’t overlook the similar approach! lol)

    • Alex Salkin

      I agree with you. It’s the “if you don’t agree with me then you are crazy” approach. I wish there was a middle ground.

      • bobito

        Define middle ground?

        If you believe Monsanto caused hundreds of thousands of suicides in India – Crazy

        If you believe that GMO foods are causing a world wide health crisis – Crazy.

        If you believe that GMO foods are something that should be developed and implemented with extreme caution – Not Crazy

        • Alex Salkin

          I’m with you on #3.

          The companies behind GMO foods are large, powerful, and have lots of money. I’m not convinced that they have everyone’s best interests in mind.

          • bobito

            Does “with you on #3″ mean you are not with me on 1 and 2?

            I would say that people that believe both 1 and 2 are on the fringe and nowhere near “middle ground” on the subject. And, with that, will be considered crazy by anyone that’s thinking rationally about the subject.

          • marxmarv

            I don’t believe that Monsanto caused those farmers to commit suicide, but they certainly influenced the market to the farmers’ detriment to their own corporate gain. Yeah, it’s what they do, they’re a corporation. Which is all the more reason to not have corporations working with this stuff: their interests are diametrically opposed to the public interest.

        • Julie Carole

          The article is NOT about Monsanto or GMOs. It is about myth-making. Go back and read again.

          • bobito

            No

          • Debbie Shepheard

            The Heading says the article IS about GMOs

      • Julie Carole

        Alex, you have also missed the point. The article is not about GMOs. It is about how easily humans can be lead to a conclusion and how often, as evidenced here, they allow their emotional response to an issue override information.

      • Charles Rader

        OK Alex, in general the crazy-calling is a bad idea. But there are a few ideas espoused by some of the anti-GMO protestors that are so far from rational that one can’t bend over backwards far enough to avoid considering them crazy. The fellow who thinks crystals give off healing vibrations is crazy. The people who believe that diluting something by hundreds of billions to one turns them into effective medicines are crazy. The people who say the FDA is being bribed, by a company with fewer employees than my local supermarket, to allow a GMO salmon to be sold, after a regulatory process that has already lasted 17 years, are crazy.

    • Julie Carole

      GGCB, the writer’s position is that humans are easy to influence when the influencers do so on the basis of guilt and emotion.

      You totally missed the point.

      • marxmarv

        Easy to influence based on authority and tribalism, too. It’s worth looking at the essay itself in light of your interpretation. I believe guilt-by-association is valid rhetoric.

    • Buddy199

      “We just have to make the message appeal, not the product”.
      Sort of like re-branding Liberals as Progressives, right?

  • Marco Rosarie Conrad-Rossi

    This article touches on a point that I think is important for a lot of
    issues — not just GMO, but climate denial, anti-vaccination, and
    others. People’s beliefs are imbedded in social networks, and because of
    this reasonable arguments don’t often work
    in changing people’s minds. The only thing that does work is changing
    their social networks, getting them to challenge who they respect and
    who they trust, and providing an alternative community for people to be a
    part of. That requires more than well-reasoned arguments–it really
    requires social change work. I think the most important thing that
    skeptics and free thinkers can do is create a ‘culture of science’ where
    the values that make good science possible become part of the general
    values of society.

    • Judy Cross

      “Climate denial”? What is to deny? The climate changes and GMO corn gives mice cancer….

      • RobertWager

        the cancer publication was completely debunked by world experts.

        http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/gmf-agm/seralini-eng.php

        Or were they all bought off as well?

        • Judy Cross

          You just keep believing that if that helps you sleep at night.

      • Buddy199

        Climate “denial” is a lot different than AGW skepticism, though the two are deliberately conflated by ideologues. One can look at the data and see an apparent trend in warming temperatures, punctuated by periods of temperature stasis for reasons still not fully explained by the man-made CO2 dominant theory. You can also be rationally skeptical of claims projecting environmental conditions 100 years in the future. And of “solutions” which will be administered by the same bureaucratic types who’ve done such a marvelous job running the Internal Revenue Service, for instance. Not swallowing the dogma whole hog doesn’t mean you just swung out of a tree.

      • Tom

        [cough, cough] Rats, not mice. “This particular rat strain [Sprague-Dawley rats] exhibits a 45–80 % incidence of spontaneous tumors in the absence of any exogenous factor, depending on the diet and whether or not fed ad libitum.”

        http://www.ask-force.org/web/Seralini/Arjo-Plurality-Opinion-Scientific-Discourse-Seralini-2013.pdf

    • Buddy199

      Climate “denial” is a lot different from AGW skepticism, though the two are deliberately conflated by ideologues. One can look at the data and see an apparent trend in warming temperatures, punctuated by periods of temperature stasis for reasons still not fully explained by the man-made CO2 dominant theory. You can also be rationally skeptical of claims projecting environmental conditions 100 years in the future. And of “solutions” which will be administered by the same bureaucratic types who’ve done such a marvelous job running the Internal Revenue Service, for instance. Not swallowing the dogma whole hog doesn’t mean you just swung out of a tree.

  • Hotsaus

    The industry is to blame. They have not been transparent about this, they have sought to block legislation for labeling GMO’s. Of course people will think it’s a conspiracy because it’s being jammed down their throats. Although seedless grapes and navel oranges are delicious…

    • Judy Cross

      Seedless grapes and navel oranges were not genetically modified.

  • Julie Carole

    Oh Good GRIEF!!! Do you people read? This is NOT a piece that supports GMOs or doesn’t support them, and it isn’t a piece that is all “Go Monsanto.” It is a piece that discusses human tendencies and how those tendencies influence how people perceive information.

    Not surprisingly, some of the comments here (most, sad to note) absolutely support the realities of human perception, and how humans are so easily manipulated by myth-makers, activist groups and influencers who rely on human emotion – and hence human guilt – to make their case. The strength of the CASE, then becomes secondary to the manipulation.

    I will wager many of the commenters here didn’t read the article beyond the first paragraph or two.

    • Micha

      “The piece doesn’t support GMO’s”? So when the author states in the last paragraph “The best we can do is to continue to engage in and constructively counter the mythmaking of the anti-biotech activists.” he must have meant to say “counter the mythmaking of the anti-biotech activists AND the pro-biotech activists”?
      Either way, I disagree with that sentence. The best you can do is support USA GMO Labeling. Labels aren’t about science – they’re about consumers having the power to choose. And by coming out in support of labeling, I think scientists will find that they do, in fact, “win the hearts and minds” of the American people (at least the vast majority of them).
      If you need your decision to support GMO Labeling to be scientific, then call it sound social/political science (because that’s exactly what it is).

      • Pythagore

        You extend the author’s argument beyond what he is actually saying to
        prove your own point here. The whole article is about debunking myths.
        In first place, we talk about myths, you know what is a myth? That is
        the whole point. And anti-GMO activists are creating myths in order to
        influence opinion. This is even not anti-anti-GMO people, it is all
        about the myths some of them (frankly, most of them) are using. It is
        about lying at people with these myths to lock them into an anti-GMO
        opinion forever exactly like any religious belief.

        • Mario Gutierrez

          I would just point out that the author is listed as a “Canadian agricultural researcher.” He’s not a Psychiatrist specializing in how people latch onto conspiracy theories or myths. He’s not a Sociologist. He’s part of the Agricultural industry. So…not buying into the idea that this article is just about debunking myths. It’s about debunking one particular myth.

          • http://twitter.com/ruth_dixon Ruth Dixon

            Actually, “she”…

          • marxmarv

            LOL. Did you read the author’s CV? *Her* areas of study, from degrees to publications to the courses she taught at university, focus on marketing, persuasion and the market concerns of big agribusiness. Her career is to manufacture consent, and I have scarcely any respect for those who try to do so with anything but bare, honest facts.

    • Richard Dress

      I am completely with Julie. Keith Kloor’s article is not about GMO, it is about communication. GMO is just one of many issues that have difficulty getting through to the general population. I suggest that the reason for this is the most people have been estranged to the point that their differences are beyond the power of communication to bridge the gap.

      All these issues have moved beyond rational discourse and will be decided politically. “Conversation” is kabuki. It is an epiphenomenon. Matters like GMO lie in a different plane of action.

      The cultural success of Alinsky, I believe, is that it allows a faux-conversation to take place, and thus gives people the warm feeling of engaging in a debate without risking one’s position.

      You may say that this conversation in the Comment Section disproves my point, but this is not the the way most people “communicate”.

  • http://www.thealders.net/blogs Doug Alder

    Cornell University did study on the effects of GMO corn pollen on Monarch Butterflies back in 1999 that showed pretty conclusively that gmo corn pollen dusted on milkweed leaves (a common plant near cornfields and the only thing that Monarchs eat) was deadly to the larvae.

    from: http://news.cornell.edu/stories/1999/04/toxic-pollen-bt-corn-can-kill-monarch-butterflies

    “In the laboratory tests, monarchs fed milkweed leaves dusted with so-called transformed pollen from a Bt-corn hybrid ate less, grew more slowly and suffered a higher mortality rate, the researchers report. Nearly half of these larvae died, while all of the monarch caterpillars fed leaves dusted with nontransformed corn pollen or fed leaves without corn pollen survived the study.

    The toxin in the transformed pollen, the researchers say, goes into the gut of the caterpillar, where it binds to specific sites. When the toxin binds, the gut wall changes from a protective layer to an open sieve so that pathogens usually kept within the gut and excreted are released into the insect’s body. As a result, the caterpillar quickly sickens and dies.”

    so why are you calling this a myth – granted it is only certain strains of bt-corn – primarily 176 Bt – that generate enough toxins to be deadly to the larvae – see http://www.pnas.org/content/98/21/11937.long but that does not negate the claim that Bt corn pollen can kill Monarchs – unless they have stopped selling that strain of Bt corn

    • Julie Carole

      ONE university study does not prove ANYTHING conclusively. There are any number of reasons this particular study came up with the results it did.

      You might want to read the article on scientific testing in the current issue of Skeptic Magazine.

    • RobertWager

      You missed the quote in the article that explicitly stated the laboratory results were not to be extrapolated to field conditions. Then of course you also missed the series of PNAS articles that conclusively demonstrated Bt corn does not threaten Monarch butterflies. Why is that?

      • http://www.thealders.net/blogs Doug Alder

        Because I’m at work and only spent about 5 minutes searching – and did not read both articles all the way through.

        • detribe

          Exactly. You formed an opinion based on a 5 minute search in a topic where the context is important– and where most people lack familiarity with that real-word context. Not only that, you assume the fake cyber world of internet echo chambers is a good substitute.

          • http://www.thealders.net/blogs Doug Alder

            “Not only that, you assume the fake cyber world of internet echo chambers is a good substitute”: an assumption (false) in itself -

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000980613760 Kevin Folta

            That’s not an ad hominem. That’s a proper criticism. Dr.Tribe is not arguing your point is invalid because of you (ad hominem), he’s arguing your point is invalid because it is.

    • CDRYAN

      Doug: that article was a one-page brief published in Nature magazine. Drawing broad based conclusions based on a
      one-page brief is really short-sighted at best. Scientists recognize that. But sadly, most of us non-scientists and the general public do not. This one-page brief got quite a bit of media attention. And so began a new myth… Just so you know, the results that Losey et al’s outlined in the brief have been challenged across a number of factors. First, the pollen doses used by Losey et al. (1999) were not quantitatively measured. Rather, they were gauged by the naked eye to match pollen dustings on milkweed leaves collected in the field. This, alone, raised concerns about subjective bias. The validity of extrapolating from the Losey et al’s results when they used only ONE type of pollen to all types of Bt maize pollen left the results lacking. Finally, the soundness of extrapolating from laboratory assays to the field was uncertain (and always is – not reflective of ‘real world’ scenarios) (you can read more on this in Minorsky 2001 http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/127/3/709.full and Sears et al (2001) http://www.pnas.org/content/98/21/11937.abstract?ijkey=cd851e0b31438c6efcb5661d511694aa81d2ea8e&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha. Research has shown that the impact of Bt corn pollen from commercial hybrids on monarch butterfly populations has been deemed negligible.

      • http://www.thealders.net/blogs Doug Alder

        Thanks a good answer better than another trying cast aspersions on my motivation

        • Charles Rader

          There’s another important feature about the argument that Scharf presented. Assume that it is true. Then the fix presents itself instantly. We would establish milkweed refuges, little patches of land with milkweed encouraged instead of killed. Cost trivial, no need to give up the advantages of the Bt corn.

          It’s always the case that if you don’t get the cause right you won’t solve the problem and it’s almost always the case that if you do get the cause right you can solve the problem by intelligent management.

    • Tom Scharf

      Try this instead:

      Tracking the Causes of Sharp Decline of the Monarch Butterfly

      http://e360.yale.edu/feature/tracking_the_causes_of_sharp__decline_of_the_monarch_butterfly/2634/

      This also blames GMO’s, but not in the GMO’s are toxic evil killers typically propagated by the loonies, but ironically instead by GMO’s accomplishing their intended purpose a little too successfully. The use of Roundup resistant crops allowed Roundup to pretty much kill all the “weeds” in the fields, including milkweeds which the Monarchs feed on.

      “Now you are really hard pressed to find any corn or soybeans that have milkweed in the fields. I haven’t seen any for years now because of the use of Roundup after they planted these crops. They have effectively eliminated milkweed from almost all of the habitat that monarchs used to use.”

      This is an example of a legitimate point to be debated on GMO’s, or pesticides in general.

      • RobertWager

        Agreed

      • First Officer

        Easily fixed by allowing roadsides grow milkweed.

      • Brad

        why don’t you plant some milkweeds in your garden and lawn for those poor Monarch butterflies? I like having higher yielding, weed free fields- just like most people’s lawns.

    • Charles Rader

      Two problems. One you caught yourself with your last words, “unless they have stopped selling that strain of Bt corn”. And they have.

      The other problem was that Losey was reporting on a preliminary experiment without controls. No control for how much pollen, no control for how the time of pollen shed correlated with the time that larvae were feeding, etc. When Losey conducted the carefully controlled experiments, he found that monarch larvae were hardly affected.

      Kloor is calling this a myth because so many people pass on the results of the preliminary experiment without mentioning the results of the more refined experiment. That’s sort of like calling an election result in New Hampshire based on the votes cast in Dixville Notch.

    • Time4Dogs

      You do realize that the whole reason that Bt genes are put into corn is to kill caterpillars? That’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work. Bt is harmless to humans, it is a bacteria that is spread on crops now to kill worms and it is completely NON TOXIC to humans.

      • Guest

        It is absolutely harmful to humanbs when it is trapped inside the kernels of corna nd not exposed to sunlight. do your research

        • Time4Dogs

          Absolutely NO harmful effects to humans from Bt has EVER been demonstrated. Bt is a certified ORGANIC method of pest control and can be used up to the day of harvest in foods that are certified and labelled as ORGANIC. You do YOUR research.

          • DWS

            Well, if that is true, then it’s a shame that only about 10% of GMOs are Bt, the other 90% are Roundup Ready, designed to be sprayed with huge amounts of toxic chemicals. Why are you defending this corrupt industry?

          • Time4Dogs

            Roundup disrupts the enzyme activity of plants, but has little effect on animals. It is not toxic, which is part of its appeal. Corrupt YOU, spreading lies.

          • DWS

            Glyphosate was originally patented as a broad spectrum chelator, it works by binding to certain minerals, reducing their bioavailability – so yes, it is toxic – and has been shown in many studies to produce organ damage in animals and humans. Are you so naive that you are unaware of how the biotech industry suppresses all negative information? And pours vast amounts of money into biased “research”? I can probably guess that you are a student or you work at a university that gets money from this industry – and you have been fed cherry-picked information, because anyone who does any real research on this – ON THEIR OWN – ie without being told what to read and what to ignore, will have come to a different conclusion to you.

          • Time4Dogs

            Water and plain table salt are also toxic if ingested in large enough quantities. If glyphosate were so extremely toxic, it wouldn’t have been so easy to develop crops that are unafffected by it. I’m not a naive student, I’m a sixty plus year old woman who has worked as a critical care registered nurse for over thirty years. I understand the difference between hype/hysteria and science. The risks of both glyphosate and so-called “GMOs” are overblown.

          • DWS

            Yeah right, same old argument – everything is toxic. You should know better. Do you think developing GMO crops are “easy”?

            You do realize you are in the extreme minority, don’t you? There have now been countless documentaries showing up all the biotech indstry lies – maybe you need to switch off you corporate-owned TV, and start watching the things they DON’T show you on TV, such as “Genetic Roulette”, “Seeds of Death” etc.

            I am an engineer, and I understand how things work. Until the day that biotech “scientists” are able to design a successful life-form, completely from scratch, all they are doing with GM is tinkering around with genes to see what happens – and they don’t wait very long to see what happens either. As long as they can make a fast buck, and they don’t kill you outright instantly, they think they can get away with it by bribing governments and universities.

          • Time4Dogs

            And there it is, the typical liberal’s misanthropist pessimistic world view. It’s all an evil conspiracy to make money killing people.

          • DWS

            And there it is, the typical ignorance resulting from a lack of critical thinking, a lack of history knowledge and too much TV.

          • Time4Dogs

            You just described yourself perfectly.

          • DWS

            And you know this how? (apart from the fact that I have not owned a TV for 10 years) As I said, devoid of critical thinking, and I will add delusional to the list.

  • Micha

    The Pro-GMO scientific community should take a hard look at their own “myths” – not just Biotech Industry propaganda myths like “we need GMO seeds to feed the hungry masses”, but also myths like “the growing resistance to GE seeds is based on the public’s lack of knowledge about biology and genetic engineering”. Bottom line, it’s a power struggle, and if the Pro-GMO faction continues to insist on pushing GMO food on the American people without their consent (i.e., continues to oppose GMO Labeling), the struggle will intensify. Ironically, scientists who actively oppose GMO Labeling are undermining the very science they are striving to promote. How smart is that?! Not very, but I’m convinced they’ll continue to do it. Like the rest of us, scientists make mistakes; their resistance to GMO labeling is, unfortunately, a particularly damaging one – damaging to the relationship between scientists and the general population and damaging to the evolution of technology itself.

    • RobertWager

      I dare say many can learn a lot about the labeling debate from this document

      http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/csaph/a12-csaph2-bioengineeredfoods.pdf

      • marxmarv

        Got any sources from “around the world”? The AMA tends to be influenced by cultural and economic factors. Perhaps in cultures which do not command their adherents to profit and hustle, and grant them the holy right to do so, may not figure corporate entitlement and rent-seeking into the calculus of whether GMOs are a good thing or not.

  • Buddy199

    People are conspiratorial thinkers… “Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness” where the human brain jumps into “analytical overdrive … in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative.”

    ——–
    Mermaids and Monsanto-phobia aside, too many conspiratorial suspicions are later confirmed as fact. Case in point: the I.R.S. being used on a massive scale as a political weapon. People are more suspicious than is years past because they’ve found out time and time again that much of what they are told by the powers that be is just self-serving BS.

  • Judy Cross

    It can’t be called a conspiracy when it is out in the open. Monsanto was given $600 million by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and an equal amount from Pres. Clinton to develop GM wheat. Just like Global Warmism, GMOs are government sponsored.

    • Benjamin Edge

      And another conspiracy theory is born. What is your source for that one?

  • gbacoder

    Not another person linking conspiracy theories with nutters who will believe anything! Conspiracy theories are theories. It’s good to question things, to question authority. To think for ourselves. That’s how the best science was done. I explore the moon landings because it does seem they could have been faked. I state could. They had the ability and motivations at the time. It’s interesting and fun exploring it ourselves. And not taking people’s word for it to “shut up” etc because some “expert” has proved it. I find many experts also point the other way. Photographic etc. I go into the details myself to try and find out.

    • Chris Kelly

      Anyone who believes that all the food safety regulatory organisations of the world that have investigated the safety of the
      GM foods that have been released on the market have been bought by Monsanto are not conspiracy theorists they are upper level conspiracy fantasists.

      • gbacoder

        The issue is that these foods are not being investigated enough. Not that there is a conspiracy of a massive cover up, I don’t believe that. They are an entirely new type of food. They could do anything long term to the body. Like radiation, they said it was safe at low does, and later many of those exposed started getting cancer. I won’t be part of this experiment. You are welcome to eat it it you want to. My point was to defend conspiracy theorists. But you don’t even need a conspiracy theory to see that GMO foods could be very harmful to health long term. Much better that less meat is consumed globally. With the same land you can feed so many more people. And red meat that many eat is strongly linked to cancer.

        • RobertWager

          Please elaborate by what GMO-unique mechanism such health outcomes can occur?

      • marxmarv

        Safety for which species? Unless all these wild GMOs are being grown in hangar greenhouses and no animals are allowed in the field area? GMOs in the wild only sound safe when you aren’t thinking in terms of rearranging self-replicating parts of an incompletely characterized system, especially when the problem is that we have decided to waste lots of food (I’ve heard 1/2) rather than see someone benefit from it without sacrificing money for it.

        Let it be said I have no problem with reactor vessels of E. coli brewing up insulin. We’ve had not-terrible success handling and exploiting isolated biological organisms safely, so why not? But the incentives of the public are at odds with the incentives of big agribusiness, and the only way to get them harmonized is to nationalize the food production industry.

  • gbacoder

    Newton was full of myth. He believed in alchemy. Everyone thought the Earth was flat and those that suggested it could be a sphere (i.e. not obvious and not what the authorities of the time told us was true). Not so long ago radiation was considered perfectly safe, at levels now that would be banned. Doctors still tell people that too much pure natural orange juice will affect insulin sensitivity like sugar filled cola does (it does not!).

    • RobertWager

      “There is valid reason for them to think like they do.”

      Yes its called the multinational multi million/billion dollars fear campaign on the web. Greenpeace alone is spending $150 million on their fear campaign.

      • gbacoder

        Poor answer, sorry to say. Like the scientists only looking for positive results you conveniently forgot to mention Monsanto and how they make Greenpeace look small at lobbying. Greenpeace gets donations of $150 million a year, in total. That’s to spend on everything. Montano’s total revenue is $11.822 billion a year. You forget to mention Greenpeace have a lot more to do than just lobby monsanto over GMO foods! Please when you give an answer, include the complete picture.

      • marxmarv

        So why don’t the GMO vendors go away instead of forcing people to buy their products at gunpoint or unawares? Consumers demand labeling. The industry fights it off because they know they’re selling junk. When an industry fights as vigorously as that, typically there is something they are concealing (and the anti-Prop 37 campaign is exactly that).

    • Tom

      I’m a genetic engineer (independent, state-funded academic) but agree completely with your points on understanding the viewpoints the average lay person out there (the true ‘conspiracy theorists’ out there are sadly beyond reach) and the danger of patronizing them. At the same time it’s extremely frustrating for us to be bashed around the head with the same old “sources” that are at best flawed (the ’99 Monarch butterfly paper in Nature) and at worst pure misinformation (Seralinin’s paper from last year or Samsel’s and Seneff’s recent “review” in Entropy). I don’t think “my lot” are in any mood to start apologizing any time soon but I’m all for softening the rhetoric. The GMO skeptics have legitimate concerns but they must also have legitimate arguments based on reliable sources – not bizarre YouTube videos. Let’s try and meet somewhere in the middle, keep a civil tone and discuss the issues as calmly as possible.

      • marxmarv

        Why? The burden of proof is on those trying to change the status quo. Even the pro-GMO types’ first principles are false. There is no food supply issue. There is a food distribution issue. GMOs aren’t going to help that as long as the rules by which we allocate food are as unjust as they are; in fact GMOs are only even a thing because they maintain and support the unjust rules as they are.

  • gbacoder

    “People are conformists”. Same could be said of the scientists who all conform to the view that suits their work being safe. You may say they are professionals interested in the truth. but no, ultimately they are professionals interested in keeping their careers and supporting their families. Any of them that speak out will not do well, and they know it.

  • dogctor

    I don’t take medical advice from people named Doc, who lack medical training. Additionally, when and if I decide I want my head examined, I’ll go see a professional shrink, not an agriculture expert.
    One of the most pernicious myths propagated is that Americans fighting for labeling are not entitled to express health concerns of being clandestinely fed transgenic crops blasted with foreign DNA, which inserts randomly in an unpredictable number of copies of desired genes along with superfluous DNA, which leads to insertional mutagenesis, truncated and fused proteins. You are also conveniently forgetting to discuss the recently published biochemical review of 286 studies suggestive of health risks to the microbiome and mammalian hepatic cytrochrome p450 @ 3.7microMolar.

    • kkloor

      So why should people listen any more to you, a veterinarian? Does treating pets make you more of an expert on GMOs?

      But I do admire your tireless gish gallop comments.

      • dogctor

        You don’t have to listen to me Keith, although I am a veterinarian with a keen interest in preventive medicine, nutrition and comparative medicine, I do have a degree in biochemistry.
        I don’t claim to be an expert.
        Molecular biology is light years away from the basics I studied when I graduated in ’85. For gosh’s sake, when I took my classes we learned about junk DNA, which turned out not to be junk at all and miRNA wasn’t even a blip on the radar.

        For whatever reason, it just so happened, it seems, that I happen to post here on Discover and happen to have some medical qualifications. Our pets are likely eating more GMOs than we are, are smaller and live shorter lifespans–so the effects to a generalist ( which most vets are) could be a little more obvious than they would be from a perspective of specialized medicine.

        I do believe this issue needs serious analysis from the medical community–the entire broad medical community , which is very under-represented in this debate- that’s all.
        I obviously can’t represent the human medical community, but that public health representation is an important piece in this discussion.

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Can you tell me exactly how you hold two such conflicting ideas in your head–that the appeal to MD authority that you always make is in 100% opposition to your flogging of the crockery paper by an electrical engineer with no biological background.

      How do you do that, really? How do you rationalize that?

      • Charles Rader

        Mary, Stephanie Seneff has some biological background. I’m not arguing that she’s right, but as an electrical engineer I’d very much like to still be allowed to have ideas about biotechnology.

        • Benjamin Edge

          Charles, I don’t believe Mary was making that argument. She was pointing out the double standard that dogctor uses. It is like Seralini claiming that no one but a toxicologist has a right to critique his paper. Yet anyone with more than basic statistical training can tell that he either knows little about proper experimental design and analysis, or he was intentionally using ambiguous statistics (and hiding data) in order to hide his lack of conclusive results.

          • dogctor

            Lets talk about the statistics in these studies:

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=hammond+safety+assurance

            Please show me the statistical calculations which lead you to extrapolate findings in 9-10 rats fed the crap for 90 days, to millions of people and billions of animals eating the crap for generations,
            Let me see your work, as is customary in science.

            The only double standard is on your team, which shines in PR, but is duller than a bowling bowl in medical science.

      • dogctor

        By reading the paper itself, Mary, and analyzing whether the substance of the paper makes sense, whether the cited studies check out relative to chronic illnesses I am most familiar with– IBD and liver disease, which are exceedingly common in practice.

        For example, we have a version of IBD in Boxers, which clearly suggests a genetic inheritance, reported since the 60s. However, very recently this illness has been associated with an invasive E.coli, just like people, which is a new development. It makes sense in view of the microbial effects of glyphosate because Ecoli lacks p450, and thus it is plausible that glyphosate is applying positive selection pressure favoring those new bugs, along with the other biochemical pathways she describes.
        There is also empirical data on Clostridium in poultry and cattle.

        Since animals don’t suffer from the same neurodegenerative illnesses as people ( autism, parkinson’s, alzheimers) those pieces of her hypothesis need to be looked at by professionals knowledgeable in those illnesses, which I am not one of.

        In addition, Stephanie Seneff has a degree in biology from MIT and yet was awarded a prize for her accomplishment in chemistry.

        Biology + chemistry=> biochemistry.

        • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

          So if you read a paper and it matches your preconceptions, the author doesn’t have to be an MD?

          Are you on board with her that this caused the Boston bombings too? https://twitter.com/franknfoode/status/337690473969901568/photo/1

          You can hear the whole claim here: https://twitter.com/franknfoode/status/337265327605964801

          • dogctor

            Actually Mary, you are the one with preconceived notions. I am the one connecting the medical dots of clinical diseases on the ground.
            I gave you plenty of reading material, including a veterinary quiz, which I am quite sure you flunked. So far what I’ve noticed about you is your snark and pretentious comments, rooted in self-absorption and willful ignorance of the science and art of medicine. How very emabarassing for science to have you pretend you are on the science team. Your best qualifications as far as I can tell so far is in the science and art of brainwashing.

            And no, I am not wasting any of my time on your useless links–I am certain they have no science of any sort in them.

          • dogctor

            I guess you don’t actually read posts.

            Since animals don’t suffer from the same neurodegenerative illnesses as people ( autism, parkinson’s, alzheimers) those pieces of her hypothesis need to be looked at by professionals knowledgeable in those illnesses, which I am not one of.….and neither are you, unless you are a human neurologist and a biochemist.

    • Charles Rader

      [transgenic crops blasted with foreign DNA, which inserts randomly in an unpredictable site, and an uncontrollable number of copies of desired genes, along with superfluous DNA, inserted in unpredictable orientation- leading to insertional mutagenesis, truncated and fused proteins.]

      doc, that is a description of the result of inserting transgenes into the receptor plant – indeed there are elements without much control. But after the transfer has been accomplished the scientists know exactly where the transgenes ended up, how many copies, what other native genes might have been disrupted, etc. So none of those criticisms have any importance.

      When I need to thread a needle, my hand-eye coordination is sufficiently poor that very often the thread doesn’t go through the eyelet. So I try again, and again, until it does and when I have finally gotten the thread through the eyelet, it works just as well as if I had gotten it right on the first try.

      • dogctor

        I am not so sure that is entirely accurate, Charles.

        First of all in looking over the industrial literature I haven’t seen publication of flanking regions.

        For another there is this.

        (sorry about the gish gallop Keith)

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1559911/

        INSERTION-SITE MUTATIONS GENERATED BY PARTICLE BOMBARDMENT

        Particle bombardment has also been used to create numerous cultivars for research and commercial use. Most of the particle bombardment insertion events described in the scientific literature are extremely complex and insertion of multiple copies (often more than 40) of delivered DNA, sometimes interspersed with fragments of plant DNA, appears to be the norm (eg, [control28]).

        Only a handful of studies have provided detailed data on the chromosomal mutations resulting from particle bombardment insertion. None of these have been large scale or systematic and all chose to examine relatively “simple” insertions identified by southern blotting as containing only a single copy of the transgene. Although relatively simple insertion events from particle bombardment are rare, they are important because they are more likely to be relevant to events presented for regulatory approval.

        Analysis of insertion-site mutations requires DNA sequence analysis of large stretches of flanking DNA and a careful comparison with the original target site. Without this, deletions or rearrangements will probably not be detected. We have found only two studies where detailed analyses (ie, PCR, cloning and DNA sequencing) were used to characterise single-copy particle bombardment insertion sites from regenerated plants. Since so few studies are available, it is worth detailing their findings. One analysed the commercialised Roundup Ready soybean insertion event 40-3-2. In addition to the intended EPSPS (enoylpyruvate shikimate synthase) transgene described in the original application for commercial approval, the authors found a 254 bp EPSPS gene fragment, a 540 bp segment of unidentified DNA, a segment of plant DNA, another 72 bp fragment of EPSPS, and evidence for additional alterations to flanking plant DNA. These insertion-site mutations were reported only after commercialisation of Roundup Ready soybean insertion event 40-3-2. Interestingly, independent analysis of another commercialised event, Maize YieldGard (event Mon810), also found evidence for previously unreported insertion-site mutations. Again, these were not characterised further.

        In the most complete study of particle bombardment loci performed to date, three insertion events (all from oat) were sequenced. One event was nonfunctional and contained 296 bp comprising two noncontiguous fragments of delivered DNA flanked by probable rearranged genomic sequences of approximately 300 bp, 500 bp, and 800 bp. A deletion of 845 bp of chromosomal DNA was also detected at this site. At the second, a functional locus, 18 DNA/DNA junctions were detected among multiple juxtaposed sequences of genomic and transgene DNA. The authors also found evidence for still further rearrangements which were not analysed further. These authors also sequenced a third locus, which they had again selected as “simple.” It contained one truncated copy of each of two codelivered plasmids “interspersed with six small scrambled fragments of transgene and genomic DNA” as well as probable additional rearrangements that were not investigated further.
        The sequence of a functional transgene insertion site resulting from particle bombardment has therefore never been definitively compared to its undisrupted site of insertion, either in the scientific literature or in applications submitted to US regulators. Consequently, the minimal extent of mutation possible at a functional particle bombardment insertion site is unknown. Due to the small number of events analysed (even partially), any conclusions regarding particle bombardment insertion events can only be provisional. However, it appears that transgene integration resulting from particle bombardment is usually or always accompanied by substantial disruption of plant DNA and insertion of superfluous DNA.

        Given the relative lack of research describing insertion sites resulting from particle bombardment, it is interesting that there is a single report of the insertion of contaminating bacterial chromosomal DNA adjacent to a transgene. It is as yet too early to say whether insertion of contaminating DNA is a common outcome of particle bombardment.

        • RobertWager

          Just because you are ignorant about the real evaluation processes does not mean they do not exist. You do realize the insertion f the DNA is only the first step in a (too) long process

          • dogctor

            Thanks for the laugh.
            I needed it from a Canadian robo- shill whom I’ve seen around for a year, during which time he’s shown himself capable of nothing more than copy and pasting of position statements from authorities, he himself doesn’t understand.
            LOL

          • kkloor

            The master of copy and paste citations complaineth. LOL

          • dogctor

            I know what I am copying and pasting :)

          • kkloor

            Of course you do. It’s obvious to everyone that you know you what you’re talking about. You keep dazzling us!

          • gbacoder

            just because some tests have been done does not mean it has been tested for everything. do you realise how complex biology is and how little scientists really know about it?

          • dogctor

            I realize that you are promoting very sloppy science, which is not caught by the regulatory process….

            http://richardacollins.com/images/public/FoodControl2004(15)471-478.pdf

    • xanthoptica

      Wait, are you conflating health risks *from* glyphosate with the transgenic techniques that make crops resistant to glyphosate? Nobody is suggesting that we engineer crops to *produce* glyphosate, nor is the use of glyphosate limited to transgenic crops (the herbicide has been around a lot longer than GMOs have). Readers might enjoy my blog post on this: http://wantonempiricist.blogspot.com/2013/06/being-anti-gmo-is-like-being-anti.html.

    • Don Rowe

      I’ll give you a little credit for at least investigating far enough to learn some words that are actually used in genetics, but you’ve got a lot of learning to do if you think anything you’ve said there is an accurate representation of the GM products that are bought in stores. Let’s clear up a few of your fallacious remarks:

      1. Foreign DNA is not inherently bad. It’s just DNA. If the molecule itself were toxic, life would be impossible. Every single cell, in every single organism, contains DNA and we all eat it with every single mouthful of animal/vegetable, organic or GM. Only the gene products of DNA (proteins) can be toxic and this would require the specific insertion of genes coding for toxic products into another organism’s genome, deliberately… and maliciously.

      2. Random insertional mutagenesis is one means by which genes are incorporated into endogenous DNA, but making it sound like the entire process is very misleading. It’s a single step in a very involved process that provides a number of mutant genotypes. These are all tested to determine whether genes have been inserted at useful locations in the genome and only the individual that has, by chance, provided the desired outcome is propagated further.

      3. All your talk of “unpredictable orientations” and “truncated and fused proteins” is irrelevant. Firstly, there are only two orientations possible, so it’s very predictable and the wrong one is very effectively avoided by using what genetists call “3′ (3-prime) overhangs” which are short lengths of single stranded DNA that will only bind to a complementary sequence on the second strand. Secondly, fused and truncated proteins are non-functional by their very nature. They will not provide any useful mutant individuals and will be discarded from the process as described in point 2.

      4. It’s CYTOchrome p450, not CYTROchrome, and the suggestion of health risks, as you state, comes from the glyphosate used in the herbicide Roundup. Of course a herbicide is toxic… it is designed to kill plants. If you want to take exception at the use of herbicides, go for it, but it’s hardly isolated to GM crops, is it.

      5. On health risks… your use of the term ‘microbiome’ seems oddly placed and representative of a person that is regurgitating information they don’t understand. The only ‘microbiome’ that would have relevance to this conversation would be our gut flora, and DNA (as has already been discussed) cannot harm them.

      6. Based on points 1-5, your demand for “valid blinded feeding trials” is unnecessary.

      Hopefully that helps you, and the 13 people (at the time of posting) who seem to agree with your pseudo-scientific babble, to see the picture a little more clearly.

  • jh

    OMG! Those must be GMO peppers! Hilarious!

    • First Officer

      GMO Peppers ! Stroll for your lives !

  • Shirley Mohr

    Maybe doesn’t help the conspiracy theory thing when articles like this are coming out of college departments receiving monies from Monsanto: http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/university-of-saskatchewan-program-gets-usd150000-boost-from-monsanto-fund-625289.htm

    • Tom

      If it’s any comfort, $150,000 is peanuts in science funding. That’s basically my annual salary with taxes, social benefits and massive university overhead.

  • jh

    Keith,

    This is OT, but I think it’s relevant to the whole anti-GMO movement and your (and others’) claims that such beliefs are driven by “cognitive bias”.

    Near my neighborhood, there’s a natural spring. I drive by it once a week or so and there are always at least five cars parked there, with their owners waiting in line to fill their water jugs. The spring is reputed for its good taste and health benefits.

    Here’s it’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LynnwoodArtesianWell

    Note that the photo in the lower left is a photo of the well tapping the spring. The stream in the banner photo isn’t anywhere near the spring. The stream along which the spring occurs is entirely urban, heading near the Boeing Freeway (the one that goes to the 747 and 787 plants) and outletting to Lake Washington. It’s entire length is in glacial outwash – there isn’t an outcrop of bedrock for many miles, let alone a stream full of boulders. The area north and upstream of the spring itself is a wetland. I find it kind of amusing that a spring with such healthy water needs a photo to advertise that has nothing to do with the spring itself.

    So why do these loons go to this spring to get their water? Is it cognitive bias that drives them there? That makes them believe there is some health benefit to the spring? Does the water really taste that good? Are they fooled by the photo on facebook, or does the photo represent what they believe about the spring?

    I understand the idea of cognitive bias, and I think it makes sense where there is some aspect of cognition that can be quantitatively demonstrated to be mistaken – where a person clearly misunderstands demonstrable odds. But I’m just not convinced that the GMO or the Spring phenomena can be captured and simplified into “cognitive bias” – there’s much more to it than that.

  • Perfect Element

    All the brainwashed sheep actually believe that corporations don’t corrupt science. How cute…

    • Tom

      To be fair, there is some moolah to be made on an anti-GMO platform. You got your designer GM corn outfits, your “Genetic Roulette” book tours and your GM free sea salt (http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/blogs/facepalm-of-the-week-non-gmo-salt).

      • First Officer

        You forgot my favorite ! Dr. Mercola’s very own Himalayan Salt ! By his own statements, it contains at leat 84 elements. Take a quick look at the periodic table and you’ll see at least three would have to be radioactive and many will be heavy metals !

    • First Officer

      Well, there you have it! My fellow citizens. This is what the anti-gmo movement thinks of you !

      • Perfect Element

        Yep. We are all conspiracy theorists. We all believe in this crazy idea that some corporations will act unethically to maximize their profits.
        Luckily, we have you, the Mosanto cheerleaders, to talk some sense into us and make us realize that what corporations really care about is our well being.

        • First Officer

          SAS, Shill Accusation Syndrome is strong in this one !
          Some, most don’t. Just like the human beings that make them up.

          • Perfect Element

            1) Maybe you should read a little about crowd psychology and learn why corporations are different than people.

            2) If you know anything about business, you know that the people running corporations are not liable for their corporation’s actions, which makes the crowd mentality even easier to kick in.

            3) I’m sorry to break this to you, but you don’t live in the world of good Samaritans you think you do. Most people are out for themselves because that’s what the monetary system rewards and reinforces.

            But you are free to go ahead and keep trusting all the “corporate science” that is fed to you. I’m sure it helps you sleep better at night.

          • First Officer

            Well, excuse me for having a bit a faith that most people are decent. All that you say must also apply equally well to anti-gmo organizations as well as non-profits such as Greenpeace, also enjoy limited liability.
            Misguided ideological motives can and have resulted in greater evil than misguided profit motives. The Holocaust being one. Trains to the death camps had a higher priority than those to the front or factories.

      • marxmarv

        They have no incentive to tell the truth. They have no incentive to enforce internal controls beyond the level of convenience. They have no incentives from their regulators whom they have largely captured.

        Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be explained by an adequately perverse payoff matrix.

  • Aequitas

    Irony = how the points made in the article are illustrated by the discussion below it.

  • Mario Gutierrez

    I think the problem here (as others have stated) is really transparency. I’m not a Luddite or against GMO foods — any technology that can increase the food supply cost-effectively and help feed the millions of underfed human beings on our planet is potentially a great thing! All for it.

    The problem is that companies like Monsanto are systematically obscuring the facts — both positive and negative. Here in CT, there is a bill under consideration to require labeling of GMO foods. It’s not negative labeling — it doesn’t read “Could be hazardous” or anything like that — it’s just labeling. No different from the way seafood is labeled “wild caught” or “farm raised.” Monsanto is fighting this bill tooth and nail.

    Why? Do I not have a right to know when making a purchase decision? Have we not firmly established that foods have to be labeled with nutritional information and ingredients so consumers can make purchasing choices? If I want to buy a cheaper product and am not concerned with the ingredients or method of production, I can do that. On the flipside, I can spend more and avoid certain items / methods of production. That’s all I’m asking for here — facts and choice.

    Want to “constructively counter the mythmaking of the anti-biotech activists?” Stop hiding the facts and operating in back-room deals with industry lobbyists. Hidden riders in other legislation, active lobbying against any sort of transparency — it all adds up to something smells fishy here. They could end the entire controversy by ending the secrecy tactics.

    • Tom

      According to the CT initiative, would the GMO label be placed among the other nutritional information? (fat, sugar content etc.)

      • RobertWager

        Where it is on the label is of no importance. And make no mistake about it. Once GM specific labels occur the anti-GMO industry will ramp up their fear campaign big time!

      • First Officer

        Well, that is also telling of the anti-gmo motives. If you read their proposed labeling laws, they don’t want a declaration in among any the allergen warnings or the ingredients, they want it in very large type on the front of the package. It’s scarlet lettering, yellow starring at its heart.

      • Robert Ernest Richter

        That would be silly, as it’s not nutritional information.

        • Tom

          Well isn’t that normally where the information whether the product contains traces of nuts or is a source of galactose or phenylalanine goes?

          • Robert Ernest Richter

            Allergen warnings are actually generally with the “ingredients,” which is not so much nutritional information as it is information for people with dietary restrictions. I browse it to make sure there are no animal products in my vegetable soup, for example.

            Regardless, it would imply some kind of legitimate health concern (for example, nuts are lethal to some people) where none exists.

          • Tom

            Good point. It should go under ingredients – and I would prefer it says “may contain genetically engineered ingredients” [my emphasis] and then if some consumers feel uncomfortable with that they can either buy certified organic or (in the US) certified non-GMO (http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/understanding-our-seal/ ).

    • Carney3

      The problem is that government forcing a label on this issue strongly implies that consumers have a legitimate reason for concern about GMO. This constitutes government endorsement of anti-GMO hysteria, a stigmatization of something that is utterly and completely harmless.

      Imagine, for instance, a mandatory label disclosing whenever Jews or black people or Hispanics had touched the food in its preparation process.

      • Judy Cross

        I have a right to know…period!

        • Charles Rader

          Judy, surely you are not saying that you have a right to know the ethnicity of who touched the food in its preparation process. But Carney3 is claiming that is the equivalent of the curiosity about GMO.

          • Judy Cross

            I have a right to know what the ingredients are in the food I eat. Your comment was very silly.

          • Charles Rader

            Well Judy, you force me to make the long answer.

            First, this has been brought through the courts. The case I remember involved forcing dairies to indicate that the cows were stimulated to give more milk using rBGH. As with GMO food, there is an FDA decision that the two kinds of milk are equivalent. So the mandated label would be justified only by the consumer’s “right to know” and the court said that right to know doesn’t exist. Labels cannot be justified based on curiosity.

            Second, your right to know something doesn’t give you to the right to force someone else to know it. There are food manufacturers who will serve your right to know about GMO content – they label their products GMO-free or Organic. There are costs to do this and you, who want to know, bear the cost. What you are demanding, instead, is that there be a mandated label on a product that you have no intention of buying, so there’s no cost to you at all. That’s not fair.

            But you would also be inconsistent. I don’t hear you demanding a non-organic label. I don’t see Orthodox Jews clamoring for a non-Kosher label. There are a whole bunch of other things people want to know about food which they are told about with voluntary labels – fair trade coffee, dolphin safe tuna, gluten free, low salt, caffeine free, low calorie, etc. Somehow you think you are special and entitled to a special treatment.

            Third, for all practical purposes you, who care about this, already know that almost anything containing commodity crops like corn or soy is highly likely to be GMO. So the mandatory label won’t give you any but a tiny amount of information, maybe occasionally about a summer squash.

            Some of the anti-GMO marketers have been very clear that they see a mandated label as a first step, and it’s almost impossible to miss the fact that the mandatory label is meant to scare people.

          • Judy Cross

            Canada banned rBGH…

          • Charles Rader

            Judy, if you want to talk about banning something that’s a different topic. You were talking about your right to know what you eat. I gave you a detailed discussion and you just ignored it and changed the subject. You probably don’t even know that you changed the subject.

            Canadian regulators decided that milk made with rBGH stimulation might be unsafe, so of course they don’t allow it to be sold to consumers. If the US ever decides that rBGH stimulation is dangerous, they will undoubtedly ban it here. Banning something is not the same as requiring a labeling. Canada does not consider GMO food unsafe. And they don’t require it to be labeled.

            Your little one-line reply was, to use your own words, silly.

          • Richard Dress

            Judy, consciously or not, is using Alinsky tactics. If one gets in a tight spot, one ignores it and moves off onto another topic. Notice that she does NOT want to communicate.

          • marxmarv

            “What you are demanding, instead, is that there be a mandated label on a
            product that you have no intention of buying, so there’s no cost to you
            at all. That’s not fair.”

            Because the rights and self-entitlements of Big Ag trump the right of the consumer to informational symmetry? That is the language of corrupt authoritarianism, not of a “free market”.

            Are you a student of Dr. Ryan’s shill classes? The quality of your noble elitism is about as bad as hers.

          • knotfreak

            I know it’s late in the game here, but I don’t think the rGBH example is equivalent. Many of us here (I live in Wisconsin) were opposed to rGBH for reasons other than the quality of the milk itself–like animal welfare and harm to small farmers. Wisconsin quickly reacted and basically banned the stuff here very quickly. I don’t contest that milk from rGBH-treated cows is different or unsafe, but I boycotted it all the same.

          • Charles Rader

            knotfreak, I don’t know why you need to tell us your opinion about rBGH milk. This is not a discussion about rBGH milk, and it is irrelevant whether it is safe or not, or whether you want to buy it or not. The thread begin with a claim by Mario Gutierrez that he has a right to require a mandatory label disclosing whether a food item has GMO origin. After his claim was challenged, Judy Cross chimed in and flatly demanded the right to know about any aspect of food processing, even to the extent of wanting to know the ethnicity of the people who were involved in its preparation. Several people attempted to explain to her that a right to know something is not justified by simple curiosity, and she dismissed them rather curtly. I was foolish enough to engage her further and used rBGH milk as one of several examples of when a court had ruled that one can’t require a label merely to satisfy curiosity.

        • First Officer

          Judy Cross, your right to know ends when there is no reasonable cause for you to know. Your right to know does not include a right to denigrate or scarlet letter. You have a right to know the ingredients because there is reasonable cause that any ingredient might be an allergen. No such findings exist for GMO counterparts. Likewise, there is no reasonable cause that you for you to know the quantity of each ingredient. Hence qunatities aren’t listed, except for specific instances.

          • Judy Cross

            “No such findings exist for GMO counterparts”, and neither do long-term generational studies either because the FDA ruled the nonsensical “substantial equivalence”. Please spare me your sophistry. The FDA does science by fiat and I’m supposed to pretend that makes it OK, because it’s legal.

        • Tom

          Judy,
          The organic label already ensures the absence of GM ingredients. Wouldn’t that be enough for people who are uncomfortable with GM foods – a guaranteed GM-free alternative?

        • Richard Dress

          There is no such thing as a ‘right’ to know. You have an obligation to be knowledgeable about your public statements. Therefore, you should do the work of learning what you want to know and not demand someone else to do it for you.

        • Time4Dogs

          Since you want to know, I’ll tell you. If you eat corn, you are eating GMO!!! If you use vegetable oil, you are eating GMO food! OH THE HORROR! Honestly you people are too much.

    • Robert Ernest Richter

      You’ve made at least one important error. “Genetically modified” *is* a negative label, and that’s the point. Anyone who uses the term seriously perceives it as a negative quality.

      What you’re really asking for is for conventional food producers to pick up the bill to sell the public on the idea that their product is an inferior good. This is problematic both because it’s false and because they shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.

      If you want that sort of fraud perpetrated upon you, the more sensible way to go is how those other labels went. Companies looking to sell an unconventional product label that product to promote it.

      tl;dr: “GMO” labeling is stupid. “Non-GMO ” labeling is less stupid.

  • http://freetobewealthy.net/ Doreen Agostino

    It is no myth that Human minds are manipulated. The indivdual versus the collective. http://youtu.be/PnrA2IHx3gc

  • Sleuth 4 Health

    Nicely done Cami. As a former anti-GMO believer, I resemble all of those reasons… and I’ll add another. Once our emotions are involved and we buy into something, our rational thinking switches off and we get lazy. We then accept everything that comes down the pike to support what we now believe. I don’t have a study to cite on that… just my own two cents worth :)

  • First Officer

    Testing bold html tagging.

    • First Officer

      Testing italic bold html tagging

  • Susan

    I am strongly pro-Science. In my opinion, addressing our current GMO problems and a solution would be best met by:

    1. Develop a US based system that is willing and able to provide accurate, unbiased information related to all types of food. (Fruits, Vegetables, Meats)

    2. Research support for new and effective food that is driven by need, nutrition & taste, not marketing dual relationships or shelf life concerns.

    3. Restoration of a public health system that gives the public easy access to food information.

    4. Putting more focus on the need for adult education, especially in the area of illnesses related to food & the climbing obesity rates.

    5. Getting public health providers on board and serving as supporting role models by vastly increasing their roles as nutrition educators.

    If people want to marginalize anti-GMO extremists as the isolated anti-science nut cases that they in fact are, Scientists need to stop providing them with a stage and stop acting like nutcases themselves. Scientists need to focus on the general public and ensure that they provide mechanisms for addressing real public concerns. Scientists especially those in the biotech industry have lost key relationships that existed in the past with medical professionals and family doctors. They need to work on mechanisms that build doctor/patient trust in this current food system.

    • Tom

      Scientists in industry shouldn’t be lumped in with scientists struggling in academia.

  • http://freetobewealthy.net/ Doreen Agostino

    Organic label does not mean GMO free. Monsanto bought California seed giant company Seminis, active in the patenting of GMO for fruit and vegetable varieties sold to organic and traditional farmers. http://seedalliance.org/Seed_News/SeminisMonsanto

    • Tom

      Doreen, I hate to rain on your parade but turns out a lot of organic foodstuffs are already genetically modified. And not by the evil Dr Monsanto.

  • marxmarv

    Agricultural researcher, my bottom. Her CV is clearly that of a PR flack for Big Ag — from education to publications to the very courses she’s taught at university (intellectual property, really?).

    Llabeling laws anti-science? Knowledge and informed consent are anti-science?! Daft, at best! What, exactly, are you trying to hide? Why are you entitled to special protection against public “madness”? No, this is about an industry whose products cannot be sold on their own merits, so they whine to the legislature and use their money to ban the alternatives.

    If GMOs were so bloody wonderful then why would they need public indemnity, anti-public-knowledge stuff like that, and blatant shilling? Very simple test: remove all protections on agricultural IP. All of them. If this is really about saving the world, then save it. If this is really about rent-seeking and market control, that’ll show up, too.

    The one and only way to keep big ag honest is outright nationalization. Some things are too important to be left to unaccountable absentee owners.

  • xanthoptica

    Here’s an assertion to chew on: Being broadly anti-GMO is like being anti-syringe. Full discussion at http://wantonempiricist.blogspot.com/2013/06/being-anti-gmo-is-like-being-anti.html

  • Smiddywesson

    Translation: The FDA and the government isn’t completely in the hands of Monsanto and Big Agr. just as it is isn’t in the hands of every other big lobby group from central banking to Pharma, to the industrial military complex. We didn’t just bail out foreign banks because thier shareholders are the same shareholders of the Fed. Go back to sleep, because being a sheep is in your nature, and if I just insult you and say you are being a kook and a nut, well then that settles everything and I win.
    You must be kidding, right?

  • H_Canáhmoac

    If someone could genetically modify the very hottest of peppers to look like these, that would be an achievement! ;)

  • Mr X

    http://www.aeonmagazine.com/being-human/david-berreby-obesity-era/

    Some pretty strong evidence that it’s the food supply chain — whether hi fructose corn getting into everything processed in North America, GMO corn/soybeans as monocrops across much of North America etc. rather than just sedentary lifestyles or excessive portions that’s making human beings fatter than ever. And non-human pet animals like rats aren’t exempt either. Something is going on at the genetic or molecular level here.

    As for the determination to defend GMOs often exhibited by Discover or Skeptic et al, I often wonder how aware they are of just how large the non-GMO grains crop is outside of North America. Principally Russia, Ukraine and Kazahkstan barring a new mini Ice Age stand to outcompete Monsanto in the vast East Asian meat and grains markets. Meaning that Monsanto is increasingly desperate because they understand an affluent Chinese or Indian is more likely to pick the meat or product labelled non GMO than they are the GMO product. Just because Monsanto can magically swing plebiscites that were trending 60% plus against them in California and block labelling in the U.S. doesn’t mean they aren’t losing market share to labelling and non-GMO competitors everywhere else.

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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, and an 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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