GMOs, Journalism, and False Balance

By Keith Kloor | April 24, 2014 8:27 am

I recently gave a talk on agricultural biotechnology and the media to a graduate class taught by Calestous Juma at Harvard’s Kennedy school. I spoke about the frankenfood meme, the Monsanto effect and slanted journalism. During the Q & A, one of the students asked me when I thought misinformation on GMOs would stop appearing so regularly in the media.

I replied that GMO coverage in the media today is where climate change reporting was from the late 19980s until the early 2000s, a period when many news stories contained what is known as “false balance.” That is to say that mainstream media articles on climate science generally gave the impression that the evidence for global warming was still being debated by scientists, when it wasn’t. But many stories on climate science findings included the opinions of climate skeptics who represent a tiny minority in the field. Thus there were two sides in a given story, what later became known as “false equivalence.”

We see something similar today with stories about GMOs, which tend to have health related angles, because of the various GMO labeling initiatives proposed in numerous states. Although there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that genetically modified foods pose no harm to public health, that is not the impression you would get from the tenor of many stories, be they at some respected journalism outlets or on popular TV talk shows. Indeed, much of this coverage suggests that the safety issue is still an open question, debated hotly by scientists, when this is not true at all. For example, here is a recent example from a typical Reuters article on GMOs:

Consumer groups say labeling is needed because of questions both about the safety of GM crops for human health and the environment.

The language of the Vermont bill states that foods made with genetically engineered crops “potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture and the environment”, and should be labeled.

Last October, a group of 93 international scientists issued a statement saying there was a lack of empirical and scientific evidence to support what they said were false claims the biotech industry was making about a “consensus” on safety.

The group said there needed to be more independent research as studies showing safety tend to be funded and backed by the biotech industry.

But GMO crop developers such as Monsanto, and their backers say genetically modified crops, also referred to as biotech crops, have been proven to be safe.

Notice that the two opposing sides are 1) consumer groups versus 2) industry (e.g., Monsanto). And that expert opinion is represented by this group of academics and researchers, which includes known opponents of biotechnology. Additionally, many of the 93 signees have no relevant expertise. See the list and their credentials for yourself. For instance, #57 is a retired astronomer and #58 is a philosopher.

But more importantly, to present this group of dissenters as representative experts on GMOs and safety is utterly misleading. (Another similar Reuters article this week by the same authors trots out the same exact sentence on the group of 93. I’m not surprised, given one of the bylines.) Reuters could instead have cited the judgment of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, or even the European Commission, to name just a few highly respected bodies, all which have declared genetically modified foods safe to eat.

Now, it’s one thing to pass off a smattering of outliers and GMO opponents as legitimate scientific experts, it’s quite another to foist a phony expert onto an audience of millions. That’s what Dr. Oz has done twice on his popular daytime show, when he featured Jeffrey Smith as his go-to source on the supposed dangers of genetically modified foods.

It’s hard to overstate just how irresponsible this is, giving Smith that kind of high visibility platform. But Smith is milking his star status on the anti-GMO circuit for all it’s worth, now lecturing to packed houses at universities and high schools, among other venues. Thanks, Dr. Oz, for legitimizing a pseudoscience crank of the highest order!

At this point, you may be tempted to think that this sea of misinformation is being spread by fringe types who don’t have any scientific expertise (like Smith) or by journalists who have let a bias infect their reporting. That would be wrong. For here is Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the respected Union of Concerned Scientists, proclaiming in a recent piece in MIT’s Technology Review:

It’s also worth noting that there’s no real consensus on GMO crop safety.

Yep. You guessed it. He’s linking to that same fringy, science-denying group (on the issue of GMO safety, anyway) that Reuters keeps citing. By the way, the list of no consensus signees, of which Gurian-Sherman is #31, has since last last year ballooned to 214, as of this writing. #192 is an attorney, #197 has a PhD in math and #199 is a professor of sociology. Do you think the no consensus organizers may be trying to pad the list?

Another question: Can you imagine a science publication like Technology Review giving a platform (for “balance” purposes) to a climate skeptic, much less allowing a sentence that reads: “It’s also worth noting that there’s no real consensus on global warming.”

Of course you can’t. But the rules are different in the media when it comes to GMOs. Why is that?

UPDATE: Hot off the Vox presses, a handy-dandy GMO explainer by Brad Plumer.

[cartoon]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, GMOs
  • mem_somerville

    I was just laughing yesterday at this bit of “balance” from Vox. There is an interview with Michael Pollan (where he spouts a number of unsourced claims; the story is one tab and the interview is the other, I missed that at first), but in the interview part says this:

    I talk to lots of people in industrial agriculture. usually not
    publicly. I think public debates tend to degenerate into rhetorical
    warfare pretty quickly. But I talk to people at large companies all the
    time.

    Can’t be seen talking to those folks who produce most of the food….

  • Kevin Folta

    I guess they got beat by the 97 scientists that deny the evidence of evolution and are certain the earth is 6,000 years old. Of course, Bacon, Pasteur and Newton (on the list, currently spinning in respective graves) were not privy to contemporary evidence, so hard to call them deniers.
    http://www.examiner.com/article/growing-list-of-scientists-who-consider-young-earth-creationism-yec-a-fact-and-evolution-as-bunk

    • Moorhen

      GM science is based on an out of date understanding of genetics. It was thought that each gene coded for one trait. But the decoding of the genome showed – to scientists’ surprise – that there are far fewer genes than were expected, so that you get pleieotropic effects – one gene can affect multiple traits – so unexpected side effects can occur.

      Which is perhaps the reason that most of the long promised benefits of GM crops are still pie in the sky promises for the future. While it’s other modern methods of crop development which are producing disease resistance, drought resistance, increased yields.

      Maybe it’s he GM scientists who are the Luddites.

      Many believe the technology would have died a death by now if it were not for the ability for industry to patent GM crops .

      • Michael Phillips

        I respectfully disagree. The same scientists who study pleiotropic effects in crops are the same ones who make transgenics. Your statement suggests metabolic engineers are an isolated group who were caught off guard by the sequencing revolution, but they are in fact the same people. That’s why metabolomic analysis, proteomic analysis, RNAseq analysis of transcriptomes, and other high throughput techniques used to identify the pleiotropic effects you reference are all performed in the same labs that make transgenic plants.These techniques are used to determine the metabolic and gene expression consequences of altering a single gene. No one has thought a single gene coded for a single trait for decades, at least at my institute. GM scientists luddites? If you look at the table of contents of any issue of Nature Biotechnology, so you might get another impression. Research in biotechnology isn’t going to die off any more than we will give up research on DNA. Those two are closely intertwined, and the community of plant scientists interacts a lot. The scenario you describe is impossible.

      • Kevin Folta

        Michael Phillips hits the nail on the head. We can easily screen for changes in proteins, RNA, whatever, in response to adding a transgene. I’m always surprised when I see those data– how few other things are affected. Plus, something like glyphosate resistance… you just add the enzyme that does the exact same chemistry as the native enzyme.

        Long-promised benefits are only “pie in the sky” because of comments like yours and the effect they have on our population that has full bellies and empty skulls. The only traits commercialized are those that can make a company big bucks… it just is not worth the time, testing and costs to try to deregulate traits that have huge impacts on a small number of farmers or consumers (and after the resistance to Golden Rice forget about trying to use this science to help the needy).

        Luddites? Come by the lab sometime if you are ever in Florida. I’d be glad to introduce you to what we do, the incredible sophistication we have, and the huge number of people that play on the edge of technology.

        Patents. Everything recently derived plant you buy has a patent on it– that’s not just GM. Plant breeding is expensive and laborious. Royalties protect breeders’ rights and ensure new varieties.

        • Tom Scharf

          “full bellies and empty skulls” Ha ha.

        • Moorhen

          Golden rice has taken a normal length of time for a GM crop to be developed according to IRRI, the not for profit organisation which is overseeing the development of the crop. http://irri.org/golden-rice/faqs/why-has-it-taken-this-long-to-develop-golden-rice
          Not because of opposition – it’s taken a long time because of the difficulty in getting the gene for increased betacarotene backcrossed into a crop which the people in the areas for which it is intended will want to eat.
          Other factors which have made it take so long include the difficulty of getting a crop which produced enough betacarotene to be useful. It’s still not known whether the vitamin will survive storage, and whether people with deficiencies and a poor diet will be able to absorb the vitamin – so not yet known whether it will actually treat vit A deficiency. IRRI says it will only be released commercially if it’s shown to treat vit A deficiency in community trials.

        • Moorhen

          The latest from IRRI, the pro-GM not-for-profit organisation overseeing the development of golden rice is that it has to go back to the lab, for further research, because the yield in field trials was lower than the crops which farmers are already growing. Nothing to do with any opposition. It will now take several more years before any golden rice can even be considered for commercial growing. IRRI says field conditions, have found that “While the target level of beta-carotene in the grain was attained, average yield was unfortunately lower than that from comparable local varieties already preferred by farmers.”

          “As previously stated, this means that Golden Rice will only be made broadly available to farmers and consumers if it is:
          (a) successfully developed into rice varieties that retain the same yield, pest resistance, and grain quality—agronomic and eating traits acceptable to farmers and consumers—as current popular rice varieties; (b) deemed safe and approved by national regulators; and (c) shown to improve vitamin A status under community conditions.” http://irri.org/golden-rice/faqs/what-is-the-status-of-the-golden-rice-project-coordinated-by-irri

          It’s also not yet known whether the beta carotene will survive storage, or whether malnourished people lacking other nutrients in their diet will be able to absorb it.

          IRRI also said “An important goal of the trials was to test whether the agronomic performance of the new rice variety would be acceptable to farmers. The initial results indicate that more
          research is needed, with greater focus on increasing yield. Based on these results, a decision has been reached to move forward from work solely focused on GR2-R to also include other versions of Golden Rice, such as GR2-E and others.”

          It seems quite surprising that so many pro-GM enthusiasts don’t seem to have this information. I do recommend the IRRI website for accurate information on Golden Rice.

          • Kevin Folta

            Moorhen, I don’t disagree. Here’s the issue. This stuff is completely harmless and offers a nutrient people need. It is the excessive regulation and fear that have slowed deployment. Will it work? Absolutely. Will it work today? Maybe there needs to be refinement.

            But why treat it differently than any other crop? If it has a trait that people need, give it to the people! If we find it needs more development, we’ll do that.

            The point is simple. This is a life saving product potentially. Instead of rallying around it and trying to think of how to help it connect to the needy, the anti-GMOers think of ways to kill it.

            If it was my decision- give it away, now.

            if it works it works, if it doesn’t you can revel in the victory of persistently blind children. But we have to at least try it. At least get it out there.

          • Moorhen

            My point was that it’s not opposition that’s stopping golden rice from
            being commercialised – you and many others regularly seem to imply that
            it’s been ready for years – but it’s a decision of the developers. And it hasn’t yet been shownwhether it works in community conditions. IRRI said in a statement
            last year, “it has not yet been determined whether
            daily consumption of Golden Rice does improve the vitamin A status of
            people who are vitamin A deficient and could therefore reduce related
            conditions such as night blindness.”
            http://irri.org/blogs/item/clarifying-recent-news-about-golden-rice

            Meanwhile, if the current lower-yielding GR were to be given to the already
            malnourished poor, to grow themselves, it would leave them with even
            less food overall, and exacerbate other nutritional problems.

            If on the other hand, other farmers were going to grow this
            lower-yielding rice, and the finished product were to be bought from
            them and distributed to the malnourished, these farmers would need to
            be persuaded to grow a lower yielding crop, which would mean it would
            need to be more expensive than other rice. So that’s why it’s back in the lab.

            It’s a very expensive way to to treat vitamin A deficiency, to provide
            the entire rice requirements of whole populations free of charge!

            Meanwhile, putting resources
            into other existing methods like supplementation, which costs 25 cents a
            dose twice a year, and food fortification, are already reducing Vitamin A deficiency and are much
            cheaper. VAD has decreased significantly over the last decade in the
            Philippines, through such a a campaign. Such methods continue to be needed for some time to come.

          • Kevin Folta

            If it is so cheap and easy to give supplements, why is there VAD?

            This is a simple point. It is not just golden rice, we’re talking cassava too. We have tools to increase folate, iron, beta carotene, and many other needed metabolites. Why aren’t people jumping up and down demanding this be done?

            Agronomic issues can be dealt with in many ways, and if it is like the rest of ag, one size does not fit all. Of course. But there are people and places where this can work. My glass is half full on this one- I just can’t understand the desire to shut down progress that can help people.

  • Janearthlover

    There is not 100% consensus on GMO safety. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Scientists_Declare_No_Consensus_on_GMO_Safety.php These are real scientists, not freelance journalists with no science background.

    • Michael Byrne

      Trillions of GMO meals have been eaten without a single documented case of them causing a problem. Every single major independent scientific organization that has reviews the 100′s of legitimate studies on GMOs has found them safe. You are being misled by people who are making money by spreading fear of what they know people don’t understand.

      • Rain Bojangles

        You are being misled by corporations (now considered to be “people”, too) who are making billions by selling you bogus “patent medicines” because of a conflated fear of lack.

        • Michael Byrne

          Tell me which one of these is a corporation: the World Health Organization, the American
          Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the European Commission,
          the American Council on Science and Health, the Royal Society of Medicine, the
          French Academy of Sciences, the Union of German Academies, and far too many
          more to list here? Sadly, progressives have abandoned science in their stances on biotechnology, and are committing the exact same sins as the climate deniers.

          • Rain Bojangles

            Are you really this naive? Have you never heard of the revolving door game of musical chairs that politicians play with corporations? Do you actually still have blind faith in these scienterrific organizations which have repeatedly misled people in the past? Are you not aware that science gives prizes for disproving previous scienterrific theories? If science is your almighty God then you are just as delusional as the religious zealots.

          • Michael Byrne

            I don’t have blind faith in any one person or group, but when ALL of the people who truly understand a field of study and ALL of the organizations agree on something, I accept that. If you can’t accept an overwhelming, international consensus, then you wouldn’t be able to accept anything as true. But I do find it amusing that you think I’m the naive one. You should seriously talk to people who work in biotechnology – in an academic setting if you don’t trust corporations – and/or farmers who use state-of-the-art practices and techniques. I can introduce you to some if you like.

          • Rain Bojangles

            There have also been times when mercury and thalidomide were given to patients based on the modern science of the time. Science is not infallible and is still in it’s infancy when it comes to mapping the biochemistry of the human organism.

    • Moorhen

      In reply to your message, Michael B (below) uses the old canard of trillions of meals! It’s a basic error of logic to say this!! Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. GM food is being eaten by a whole population, and is not labelled, so no-one can say what harm it may be doing.

      It took years to prove a link between smoking and lung cancer, and that was with a group of consumers who could be easily identified.

      There have been almost no lifetime toxicological animal studies into the effects of eating GM foods. Differences which have been found in short term studies between GM fed and non GM fed animals have been dismissed as being not “biologically significant” a term with no scientific definition. They can’t know it’s not biologically significant unless they do long term studies to follow up.

      • Michael Phillips

        Please pay attention to the claim made in the article. There is no difference in the risks of consuming plant varieties generated by transgenic techniques compared to other techniques of genetic modification (hybridization and mutagenesis, for example). The implication of janearthlover and many other anti-GMO sympathizers is that any DNA sequence automatically becomes dangerous because it was manipulated by human hands, even if the encoded protein is harmless to begin with. There are hundreds of thousands of known proteins with widely different properties. To talk about the safety or danger of GMOs categorically is absurd.

        There was no trouble finding evidence that smoking causes lung cancer when the proper studies and statistical analyses were performed. Public scientists did this work. Why are the same kinds of public scientists called shills when the same science shows that GMOs are no different from conventional crops in terms of risk?

        • Moorhen

          Unfortunately though, tobacco companies poured money into encouraging other lines of enquiry for the cause of lung cancer fora long time which delayed the proper studies.

          • Michael Phillips

            But in the end, the data were undeniable. Big tobacco companies had and have a lot of money, maybe more than the agribusiness industry, but they still couldn’t “buy” all those scientists. There’s simply too much benefit to the individual for publishing the correct data and exposing the truth. Lots of public scientists did this of course. The scientific process that showed us tobacco was harmful is the same process that shows us that crops manipulated by transgenesis bear no additional risks. But that’s not good enough if a person believes emotionally that GMOs are dangerous. You say “There have been almost no lifetime toxicological animal studies…” but how carefullly have you looked? Are you saying all those professional toxicologists and epidemiologists don’t know what they’re doing but you do?

          • Moorhen

            There can be no epidemiolgy on GM foods, because of the lack of labelling of foods eaten by whole populations. Various adverse health
            conditions have increased in the US since the introduction of GM foods, but only with labelling could we find out if there is any connection.

          • Moorhen

            The Snell review is often used to support the idea of GM safety. However, other
            scientists who have looked closely at the report say that many of the
            studies included there are not of good design – applying Snell’s
            criteria for good/acceptable studies based on adequate number of test
            animals and use of near-isogenic crop variety controls, it seems that only two of the
            24 reviewed studies pass (i.e., they all either use too few animals by
            OECD standards or do not use isogenic controls). It seems that Snell and
            co ignored these criteria in their
            overall assessment.

            The other two studies used test animals that are
            not optimal (poultry, fish or cows). And the fish study apparently did find higher serum triglyceride levels, which could be a possible
            indicator of circulatory problems.

            By contrast, independent scientists whose research has found problems with GM
            crops have been consistently denigrated, even when the study design has
            been good.

          • Moorhen

            In some of the 3 month industry studies used for regulation of GM crops, there have been statistically significant differences between the GM and non-GM fed animals, which have been dismissed as “not biologically significant”. The genetic engineer Dr Michael Antoniou has pointed out that this term has no scientific definition, and that in his branch of genetic engineering there is no such thing as a statistical difference which is not biologically significant.

            It was finding statistically significant differences in the data for Monsanto’s study on its NK603 maize (which he was able to see with difficulty – data for industry studies, even those used for regulation, are held as “commercially confidential”) that led to Prof Seralini’s 2 year study. The study has been extensively criticised as if it were a carcingenesis study, when in fact it was a toxicological study, which was designed to be comparable with Monsanto’s – an acceptable practice when follow up is needed.

          • Moorhen

            Prof Seralini examined all the rats, whereas Monsanto only examined half the rats in its study – how did they choose which to test?
            Toxocological findings in Seralini’s study included multiple organ damage, and between 2.5 and 5 times as much liver toxicity in the treated rats, also greatly increased kidney toxicity.
            It was set up as just a tox study because Prof Seralini had no expectation of finding more tumours in the treated rats than in the non-treated.
            However this toxicology study has been retracted on the spurious grounds that it was inconclusive as a cancer study!! Which many scientists have commented is unprecedented.
            It seems that among the studies that would have to be retracted on grounds of
            “inconclusiveness” were two pioneering papers by the Nobel Prize winners James Watson
            and Francis Crick, describing the structure of DNA and how it might replicate.
            http://blog.endsciencecensorship.org/en/page/retraction-reason#.U19NPY-RA5Y

          • Michael Phillips

            I assume you have read this paper. Do you really stand by its conclusions based on its experimental design and your knowledge of comparable studies in the field? This paper has been beaten to death with criticism, and rightly so. It never should have been published because it is so bad, yet its pre-determined ‘conclusions’ have been trumpeted by anti-science groups all over the world. How about the 1000s of studies with far superior (i.e. acceptable) methods that find the opposite? How can glyphosate and a protein that is not inhibited by it BOTH produce the same effects in experimental rats? Why would RR corn cause cancer when plants already express EPSP synthase? Why don’t all humans develop cancer when the E. coli in the gut are teeming with SPSP synthase that is nearly identical to the Agrobacterium EPSP synthase used in PP corn? Why would Seralini use such a long experimental time frame guaranteed to produce tumors in all experimental animals, as Sprague Dawley rats are known to do? Why was there no picture of the control group? Why was there no dosage dependence? Why did some high dose treatment groups live longer than the controls?

            All these questions can be answered the same way: the study is a fraud designed to produce a desired outcome and they got called out. It is because anti-science activists tout this paper as their gold standard that we know they have nothing.

          • Moorhen

            As I commented below, It sounds as if you haven’t yet heard that Wallace Hayes of the FCT, reported in a letter in the journal that he didn’t find any fraud in the study. In response to letters to the editor, he writes “The review of
            the data made it clear that there was no misconduct. However … it is the entire paper with the definitive claim that there is a definitive
            link between GMO and cancer that is being retracted.”
            However Prof Seralini has always said that it was not a cancer study, it was a toxicology study and he doesn’t mention the word cancer in the study!
            So it seems more than bizarre that Hayes should state that Seralini makes a “definitive claim” of a link between a GMO and cancer. He acknowledged that more research with higher numbers would be needed to draw any definite conclusions.
            There’s quite a bit more info, so I’ll put it into other posts.

          • Moorhen

            On the subject of Sprague Dawley rats, it’s interesting to see that the National Toxicology Programme of the US Department of Health and Human Services uses the same type of rat that Seralini used, the Sprague Dawley, for chronic toxicological (and carcinogenic) tudies, after in-depth discussions on the suitability and advantages of the SD rat over previously used strains http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov?objectid=72015DAF-BDB7-CEBA-F9A7F9CAA57DD7F5
            And 21 more 12-24 month studies which were carc. & tox studies and which used the SD rat are described in “Rat feeding studies with genetically modified maize – a comparative evaluation of applied methods and risk assessment standards” Hartmut Meyer and Angelika Hilbeck http://www.enveurope.com/content/25/1/33#B24

            So if these breed is regarded as the rat of choice by the US National Toxicology Programme, for chronic toxicological and carcinogenicity studies, I have to wonder why it should not be a suitable rat for Seralini’s study.

          • Michael Phillips

            If you are going to trust the recommendations of scientific organizations when it agrees with your choice of experimental organism, why ignore all the scientific organizations that find no additional risks associated with crops modified by transgenesis (AAAS, NAS, AMA, etc.)?

            Why would EPSP synthase ever be a candidate for toxicity studies in the first place? Plants already make this enzyme and so do the bacteria in your gut, so you already have plenty of it going through your digestive tract. Seralini’s study implies that EPSPS magically becomes poison because it was manipulated by human agency (i.e. Monsanto) but similar proteins are harmless in your diet otherwise. Can you explain this? And why would glyphosate have the same effect as EPSPS? It looks like a personal crusade. If the bully who picked on Mr. Seralini in school was included in this study, I have no doubt he would have caused tumors in SD rats as well. The flaws in this paper have been well documented. If this is the study that you feel is the best example of the evidence that GMOs are harmful, can you honestly say you are convinced by this but unmoved by the thousands of uncontroversial studies that say the opposite?

          • Moorhen

            On the size of tumours, If you’ve actually read the study you will know that Seralini and team describe them. The tumours in treated groups appeared earlier in life (the 1st at 4 months old), peaked in mid-life, grew faster and became larger, with more tumours per rat. In the control rats only 30% developed tumours, and these mostly developed in old age, smaller, and slower growing. But do remember that it wasn’t a cancer study.

          • Moorhen

            “A peer reviewed study (Meyer and Hilbeck,
            2013) concluded that double standards were used by the European Food Safety Authority
            (EFSA) in evaluating the Séralini study. The authors applied the criteria EFSA used for evaluating the Séralini study to two Monsanto publications on the same NK603 maize, which were accepted by EFSA as proof of the maize’s safety.The authors found that all three publications either satisfied or failed to satisfy the EFSA evaluation criteria to a comparable extent. Yet only the Séralini study was judged by EFSA as defective – and EFSA has only applied its criteria to Séralini’s study. The authors concluded that EFSA’s rejection of only one of the papers – the Séralini study – was not scientifically justified.”
            http://blog.endsciencecensorship.org/en/page/retraction-peer-reviewed-publication-seralini#.U19O04-RA5Y

          • Michael Phillips

            I’m not sure what the point of that quotation was. The Seralini paper was possibly the worst attempt at a scientific publication I have ever seen. Clearly a case of fraud, as dozens of trained scientists have pointed out. Yet this is what anti-GMO activists hang their hat on. If you are attempting to defend this work, by all means, please explain why it is anything other than an embarrassment for the anti-GMO movement.

          • Moorhen

            Hi again. It sounds as if you haven’t yet heard that Wallace Hayes of the FCT, reported in a letter in the journal that he didn’t find any fraud in the study. In response to letters to the editor, he writes “The review of the data made it clear that there was no misconduct. However … it is the entire paper with the definitive claim that there is a definitive link between GMO and cancer that is being retracted.”
            However Prof Seralini has always said that it was not a cancer study, it was a toxicology study and he doesn’t mention the word cancer in the study!
            So it seems more than bizarre that Hayes should state that Seralini makes a “definitive claim” of a link between a GMO and cancer. He acknowledged that more research with higher numbers would be needed to draw any definite conclusions.
            There’s quite a bit more info, so I’ll put it into other posts.

          • Moorhen

            Hi, It sounds as if you haven’t yet heard that Wallace Hayes of the FCT, formerly of Monsanto, reported that he didn’t find any fraud in the study. In response to letters to the editor, he writes
            “The review of the data made it clear that there was no misconduct. However … it is the entire paper with the definitive claim that there is a definitive link between GMO and cancer that is being retracted.”
            However Prof Seralini has always said that it was not a cancer study, it was a toxicology study and he doesn’t mention the word cancer in the study! The tumours which he merely
            describes, rather than interpreting, were not malignant.
            So it is more than bizarre that Hayes should claim that Seralini makes a “definitive claim” of a link between a GMO and cancer. All he suggested was that more research with higher numbers would be a useful follow on to see what that revealed.
            There’s quite a bit more info, so I’ll put it into other posts, as my previous postings seem to have vanished!

          • Moorhen

            On the subject of the type of rat, it’s interesting to see that Monsanto used the same type of rat for its 2 year chronic carc & tox studies of glyphosate. If it was the right rat for that study. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be acceptable for a 2 year toxicology study which was following up Monsanto’s 90 day study on GM maize which used the same rat.

            The US National Toxicology Program US Department of Health and Human Services uses the same type of rat that Seralini used, the Sprague Dawley Harlan rat, after discussion on the suitability and advantages of the SD rat over previously used strains http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/?objectid=72015DAF-BDB7-CEBA-F9A7F9CAA57DD7F5
            And 21 more 12-24 month studies which were
            carc. & tox studies which used the SD rat are described in “Rat feeding studies with genetically modified maize – a comparative evaluation of applied methods and risk assessment standards” Hartmut Meyer and Angelika Hilbeck
            http://www.enveurope.com/content/25/1/33#B24

          • Moorhen

            Endocrine disruption is one thing which causes non-linear responses, as discussed in this study. There may also be others for which the mechanism is not yet known.
            “Hormones and endocrine-disrupting chemicals: low-dose effects
            and nonmonotonic dose responses” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22419778 Vandenburg LN et al

          • Michael Phillips

            The post order seems to change on Disqus for some reason, some disappear and reappear later. In any case, it seems strange that you actually trust someone from Monsanto (formerly? Why did he leave?). Perhaps because he is saying something you like. If you read enough scientific papers, it eventually becomes obvious when one is just a piece of activism masquerading as science, and sadly Seralini is the worst case of this. The bias is so obvious, he should not be doing research in this area. An essential component of science is dispassion, but I admit this is not a word most people will readily align themselves with. I will check your other posts, perhaps you have expanded on this below already.

      • Tom Scharf

        “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

        This canard has been making the rounds lately, very wrong:

        Absence of evidence IMPLIES absence. Exactly as correlation IMPLIES causation. It is a necessary first step in proving or disproving a theory of causation.

        There are many levels of evidence of absence, take an example:

        Theory: My daughter is not in the closet.

        Levels of evidence:
        1. I haven’t looked in the closet.
        2. I yelled for her and she didn’t respond
        3. I opened the closet and searched and she wasn’t there.
        4. I found her in the kitchen.
        5. I don’t have a daughter.

        So, yes, if you have extensively looked for problems with GMO’s, and haven’t found any, that matters (a lot).

        Another interesting example is the search for extraterrestrial life. Does the fact that we haven’t found any proof, show that ET does not exist? Does it even yet imply this given the huge numbers of planets that likely exist in the universe?

        The “evidence of absence” has to be judged on a case by case basis.

        • Moorhen

          The problem is, that no one is looking for evidence! Yes, if GM foods were causing people to instantly die when they ate a GM produced food, then you might quickly make the link, but with even with various pharmaceutical drugs where it is easy that have caused 100s of thousands of deaths it has often taken a long time to make the link.

          On the other hand, when effects are slow to appear, chronic and insidious, you can only make the link if you do epidemiology, or long term independent toxicology studies,.

          Which is why labelling of GM foods is essential. And probably why industry puts vast amounts of money into fake “community” organisations in attempts to dissuade people from voting for labelling.

          Quite a few illnesses have increased in the US since the introduction of GM foods there.
          There are close correlations between increases in hospital admissions for various gastro-intestinal conditions and the increase in the amount of GM foods being consumed. Also increases in hospital admissions for allergic reactions.

          • Tom Scharf

            I would submit there is (lack of) evidence. GMO’s have been on the market, there are no indications of long term problems, and GMO opponents are certainly looking for evidence.

            Is there a possibility that there is some yet undetected long term problem with a GMO? Sure. But the science says this risk is no greater than with other non-GMO food products.

            You at least have to have a plausible story for causation on how this long term problem happens, and then have some preliminary evidence to even start making a case here. The FDA would be very interesting in this.

            We already know alcohol, ice cream, and hamburgers have serious long term affects when taken in large quantities over a long period, yet we still sell them.

          • Moorhen

            You know when you’re eatiung a hamburger or an ice cream. We can choose to avoid GM foods if they are labelled. If they aren’t labelled, you can’t know and may have little choice.

            I refer you back to my previous comments on the increase in gut related health problems in the US population since the introduction of GM foods. Also other health conditions.

          • Jon

            I do need to point out the statement you make about industry money put into changing community sentiment… “Which is why labelling of GM foods is essential. And probably why industry puts vast amounts of money into fake “community” organisations in attempts to dissuade people from voting for labelling.”

            Anti-GMO organizations have vastly more (and traceable) ‘fake’ community organizations than ‘industry’. It’s like a shell game similar agencies that corporations use to ‘hide’ money and losses in profits or shuttle money to off-offshore accounts. “Green America” has at least 7 ‘community group’ organizations with nation-wide campaigns and over $3million in operating budgets (look at their 990 tax forms for the past 5 years), likewise for GMO-Free America, and Center for Food Safety. Easily $10million of ‘community organizations’ set up as carefully planned shell-games to foment misinformation across the nation. Their ‘community group’ advocacy is directly and publicly funded by companies that profit through fear (Nutiva, etc.).

          • Moorhen

            The entire operating budgets of the organisations you mention are chicken feed beside the amount of money that industry is able to pour into campaigns eg Monsanto spent $8.1 million on the campaign to persuade people to vote against GM food
            labelling in California alone
            http://www.bizjournals.com/stlouis/print-edition /2013/01/18/monsanto-ad-spending-drops-33-million.html?page=all
            And Bayer, Dow, BASF Plant Science and Syngenta each contributed $2 million. Their financial clout is far greater. They and other industry organisations have also spent many more millions on many other campaigns.
            Monsanto’s advertising budget was $839 million in 2010 – they are in a totally different league of financial clout.

          • Rain Bojangles

            With the aid of a willing and immoral media, Monsanto can buy public opinion as easily as it can buy a Supreme Court Judge, aka, Uncle Clarence Thomas.

          • Moorhen

            I’ve looked up the organisations you mentioned.
            “Green America” has 150,000 individual members and 5000 business members – so hardly a “shell company” in that it obviously has popular support as well as businesses who share its aims, and it doesn’t hide this
            information. A total turnover of three and a half million dollars – and of that, GM issues appear to be only a small part of the focus of the
            organisation. I haven’t found the 7 community groups that you refer to, but given that there are 150,000 individual members – perhaps they could be connected to actual community activity?

            The Center for Food Safety is a legal and consumer advocacy group which accepts donations from the public and its entire turnover for 2011 was less than $3 million.

            Other than on Facebook I haven’t so far been able to find an organisation called GMO-Free America on line.

            The total combined turnover of these organisations for all the work they do, both GM related and other work, is less than the money that industry put into just one campaign on GM labelling.

          • Rain Bojangles

            Exactly! Just label it and let the consumer make informed decisions.

      • Moorhen

        It’s not the involvement of people in producing new crops that is the problem, it is the unpredictable nature specifically of recombinant DNA genetic engineering. Other modern methods, for instance, marker assisted breeding, does not result in any more unpredictable results than concentional breeding – and this and other forms of breeding are rapidly outpacing GMOs in producing drought resistance, disease resistance and in increasing yields..

        There were huge vested interests in keeping the finger of suspicion away from finding the harm done by smoking – e.g. the tobacco industry funding other lines of enquiry. Which took the focus off smoking as a cause, for years and years.

        All GM crops have been approved using industry’s own studies and the raw data are held as “commercial confidential”. many scientists seem happy to accept this as good science, when we know form research about research that industry funded research is more likely to find positively for its own products.

        Ricarda Steinbrecher, a scientist specialising in mutation, describes many ways in which re-combinant DNA genetic modification carries different risks from conventional breeding, for example in the document “GE RIce – the Genetic Engineering of the World’s Staple Crop.” While some mutations can be picked up in the lab, she describes how theadverse effects of other mutations are more subtle “For example, reduced
        nutrient levels, slightly enhanced anti-nutrient levels,10 and especially changes that become evident only under situations of stress such as drought or heat stress, are easily missed”. http://www.panap.net/sites/default/files/rs_gerice.pdf Which is perhaps why the performance of some GM crops has been disappointing in field trials.

  • Tom Scharf

    “That is to say that mainstream media articles on climate science generally gave the impression that the evidence for global warming was still being debated by scientists, when it wasn’t.”

    I usually let these type of statements go, but today I will respond, just for the record.

    The.debate.is.on.whether.it.is.dangerous.
    Are.climate.models.accurate.
    What.should.we.do.about.it.

    This is a legitimate scientific debate. This “clever” conflagration of these two concepts is repeated ad naseum everywhere. It is dishonest when stated as a purposeful misrepresentation (maybe not done so here). It is the “science is settled” on one thing, therefore it is settled on all things fallacy. Most skeptics are part of the so called 97%. It can always be stated there are legitimate areas of debate, but instead most prefer to use this typical well worn talking point.

    Rant over. But I do get your point, and am with you on the GMO’s. There is a difference between a science debate and a public debate. The implication here is the public should bow to the alter of science. Maybe I agree with this, but it sure sounds like authoritarianism to a libertarian, and the public gets a vote.

    It is proper in a public debate to allow the opposing side to state their own case.

    The devil’s advocate view is that there are areas humans should not be messing with. Evolution. It is a moral argument. It is inconsistent to say designer plants are moral and designer humans are not. Most of the GMO opponents are likely buying into the appeal to nature. This force is strong in environmentalism.

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

    There is a real risk with the design of GMO’s, even if it is a very low probability tail risk. Many dream up scenarios similar to the bio-engineered weapon escapes from the lab, as seen in a lot of fiction. Natural mutation of a GMO to something “dangerous”, etc. I sure hope the scientists do worry about these things, and assume proper precautions are taken. It is wise to force science to prove to the public in a clear and convincing manner this will * continue * to be safe.

    If this very low probability event did happen, guess what? The GMO opponents were right. Very low risk is not equal to zero risk. Are the benefits worth the risk? I would say yes, but it is a valid question.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      Tom, you write:
      “The.debate.is.on.whether.it.is.dangerous.”

      That’s not what the debate was about 10-15 years ago, which is the timeframe I’m alluding to–not the present.

      Although was plenty of scary headlines and talk about the future threat of global warming, many mainstream news stories left the impression that there was much debate on whether global warming was happening and if it was–caused by human activities.

      In reality, there was already a strong scientific consensus that global warming was indeed for real and caused by greenhouse gases.

      That’s the context for my observations about where GMO media coverage is today.

      • Tom Scharf

        And that’s probably a valid observation.

        Scene opens with Tom in front of group in church basement…”Hi, I’m Tom.”…”Hello Tom!”…”I’m a denier.”

        When I first started my path of denial, I questioned the accuracy of the temperature record, Phil Jones and all that. I did come around on this, and it was really BEST that cemented it for me, which was an “independent” confirmation. The team wasn’t trustworthy in my opinion. The team being lionized after ClimateGate was a seminal moment for my distrust of climate science. Looking back, it was improper to throw all of climate science under the bus for the actions of a few team members. I’m slightly wiser now.

        Will I come around on other things? Maybe. I want to see climate models prove their efficacy. Unfortunately this takes decades. Meanwhile I will just complain a lot.

        • Jay Currie

          Keith knows well enough that the current “consensus” is a not terribly clever fake created by Cook et al. in a desperate attempt to keep the warmest meme alive. There are virtually no sceptics who disagree that CO2 has some greenhouse effects and that man’s activities may have caused some warming.

          Where there is disagreement and a legitimate need to report that disagreement is on virtually every other element of the science and the policy implications thereto. The Pause and theories which might explain it, the deviation of observed temperature from the models, cost benefit analysis of measures purporting to reduce climate change – are all contested. There is no consensus and it cannot be “false balance” to bring competing view points to public attention.

          With GMOs I am generally with you as to there being little to fear; but I don’t arrive there because I accept the correctness of the consensus – Michael Mann and the dolts at SkS have shown how such consensus may simply be an artifact of bully boy tactics rather than science – I arrive there because I have read both sides and made a judgement. Had I seen pro-GMO people trying to shut down debate, SLAPP suit their opponents, concoct fatuous psychological assessments of dissenters and fake up “consensus” by motivated readings of papers in the field I would be much less inclined to believe the science put forth by those people.

          And, therein a lesson for the fools wondering why the alarmist side is losing public and political support. In their attempt to promote consensus and silence dissent they have arroused suspicion. The shriller they get – and you can’t really get shriller than Mann, McGibben, Rohm, Dana and Cook – the faster their credibility melts. (The Pause doesn’t help either nor do the dozen, competing, explanations of the pause most of which were denounced as heresy by the climate.orthodoxy only a few years ago.)

          • Graham Strouts

            well said, Tom also: Keith’s habit of comparing GMOs and climate change is very unfortunate, and does no good at all to the valid GMO cause: they are entirely different kinds of science. Safety of GMOs can be verified by standard lab experiments to the same standard- higher in fact- that is applied to other forms of plant breeding. This is the kind of thing that science excels at. The “consensus” is not that there is no risk at all but that there is no greater risk than for other breeding methods. This is after all a technology.
            Climate science is not based on verifiable lab experiments at all, but on speculative climate models trying to predict the future. Climate science is like an evolutionist actually trying to predict how evolution will play out- what traits will evolve in particular species- over the next few hundred years.
            I think when you compare someone like Smith on GMOs (who is way out on left field with respect to even the scientific method) with say Judith Curry- who Michael Mann calls a “denier”- the problem should be immediately obvious. This is Curry:

            “With regards to climate science, the biggest concern that I have is the
            insistence on ‘the facts.’ This came up during my recent ‘debate’ with
            Kevin Trenberth. I argued that there are very few facts in all this,
            and that most of what passes for facts in the public debate on climate
            change is: inference from incomplete, inadequate and ambiguous
            observations; climate models that have been demonstrated not to be
            useful for most of the applications that they are used for; and theories
            and hypotheses that are competing with alternative theories and
            hypotheses.”

            There is noone in the anti-GMO camp even remotely comparable to the likes of Prof Curry, who is a senior climate scientist. Keep banging on about the “consensus” in climate science obscures the real issues as Tom points out above. Conflating the two widely disparate kinds of science is poor science communication IMO. I find Keith’s response about 10-15yrs ago rather disingenuous tbh since he is constantly making this false comparison between climate and GMOs and links to the very current NoConsensus blog, which clearly does not “deny” CO2 as a warming gas.

          • Graham Strouts
  • David Skurnick

    The IPCC uses tricky wording to imply that the science is settled, but their report actually says almost the opposite. The most important figure is “sensitivity” — the number of degrees of warming caused by a doubling of atmospheric CO2. This is believed to be a single, fixed constant which is unknown. The most recent IPCC report says that sensitivity is highly likely to be between 1.5 deg C and 4.5 deg C. In other words, the IPCC doesn’t know how big climate sensitivity is. They think it’s probably a fixed number in the range of 1.5 – 4.5, but admit that it might be outside this range on either side.
    What does this mean? If true sensitivity is below 2, then we have plenty of time to deal with warming, If it’s above 4, then radical action is urgent. In other words, the IPCC assigns high probability that they are ignorant of whether or not radical action is needed.
    (BTW my own view FWIW is that the IPCC has exaggerated their state of knowledge. The actual rate of warming since 1970 is consistent with a sensitivity between 1 and 1.5 deg C. I think there’s a reasonably good chance that the true, long-term sensitivity is close the actual observed sensitivity.)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Kailyn Kyle

    1. It’s ironic that you’ve submitted an article stating it’s silly to use non-geneticists’ opinions in matters relating to genetic engineering when you, as a non-geneticist, are writing an article pertaining to such a matter.
    2. Many American universities have been ‘purchased’ by Monsanto, and researchers at those universities have been warned to produce only positive-spin research for the Monsanto machine or funding could be lost (as well as jobs.) It’s difficult to find researchers willing to put their jobs on the line for this research.
    3. There are many studies showing negative results from GM corn and soy consumption. Please read ‘Genetic Roulette’ and ‘Seeds of Deception.’
    4. Johns Hopkins published a paper recently that shows research participants with digestive difficulties who abstained from eating GM soy enjoyed a return to health and no further intestinal problems. Researchers concluded that those with digestive difficulties should consider changing their diets and staying away from GM soy.
    5. There is research being published concerning problems associated with GMO consumption if you are really looking for it and don’t just buy the hype from Monsanto/Dow/Sygenta reps that “there is no research …” The scientists who are conducting this research are often times putting their jobs on the line to provide it for us, though mainstream media doesn’t report it!!
    6. If a scientist says it’s completely safe, one should ask: Is this a researcher? Is this a researcher involved with genetic engineering (if they are only involved with physics, stem-cell research or the environment then they don’t really know about genetic engineering, and no, hybridization is not the same thing.) Does this scientist work at a lab or facility associated with Monsanto/Dow/Sygenta (they lose objectivity points because of financial incentive.) Not all scientists are researchers, not all researchers are knowledgeable in genetic engineering. It’s too bad more reporters and media outlets refrain from interviewing objective, genetic engineers–the public might actually get some answers they can use!

    • jfowler

      Data Please, for the following:
      “2. Many American universities have been ‘purchased’ by Monsanto, and researchers at those universities have been warned to produce only positive-spin research for the Monsanto machine or funding could be lost (as well as jobs.) It’s difficult to find researchers willing to put their jobs on the line for this research. ”

      As far as I know, publicly-funded universities get most of their funding from tuition, state governments and federal research grants. The amount of $$ required to ‘purchase many American universities’ would be quite high, and it would be difficult to hide the sums of money required.

      Furthermore, academics are a notoriously ornery bunch, and many have their jobs protected by tenure. Any attempt to ‘warn’ them to produce only positive-spin research would be greeted with indignation, disbelief and rejection – even the whiff of trying to produce results of a particular spin, based on outside influence, would ruin a scientific career.

      Do you have evidence of such ‘warnings’?

      • Ron Lobb

        Safe or not , we should have the right as a citizen of a free country, to know if it’s in the food I’m putting in my mouth, 38 + countries have banned them for a reason, I would like the choice by reading the label.

        • JH

          buy organic.

        • brec

          And you would like the choice, via labeling, as to whether to consume plants developed by mutagenesis, and also which, if any, fertilizers and/or herbicides and/or insecticides were used.

          Right?

          • Ron Lobb

            Correct, I think it’s too new to know what it will do to us 20 to 30 years from now, i don’t want to consume them ,and I would like to be informed via label.

          • brec

            Does “consume them” refer to plants developed by mutagenesis, or by genetic engineering (transgenesis)? They are not the same. My real question is why so many are afraid of GMOs and want them labeled, but no one is afraid of mutagenesis or calling for labeling of its products.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutation_breeding

          • Ron Lobb

            Mutagenesis and transgenesis are not genetically modified organisms?

          • brec

            I’m not sure what you’re asking. Mutagenic plant varieties are not GMOs as the latter term is usually used. The usual meaning of GM refers to the products of Genetic Engineering, i.e., transgenesis. That process is precise and limited with respect to genetic alteration, whereas mutagenesis is not. Of course any process that produces new varieties, including conventional selective breeding, does so via genetic “modification” in the general sense of “modification.”

          • Michael Phillips

            No, both are processes for modifying genomes, not organisms. The point is that plants modified by mutagenesis are not covered by the labeling initiative and can be sold as organic but in fact they have a much higher chance of unexpected consequences. Why demonize transgenesis but ignore mutagenesis?

          • Ron Lobb

            My point is I, think soil,seeds,plants,(humans) should not be mutated,altered, modified, engineered in any way , food has been Ok coming from the ground in its natural state for about 4000 years, leave it alone, I believe there is a place for science but I particularly don’t want it rammed down my throat.I do eat mostly organic ,but believe there are some higher quality foods that are safer to eat if i new it or its soil were not mutated,altered,modified or engineered in any way. You guys sound and are probably very intelligent , i can’t match wits with you on this subject from a genetics point of view, next time you go to the grocery store , or the mall, take a minute and look around, our society is seriously hurting from our food supply that we are knowingly mutating, altering, modifying and engineering , even someone as stupid as me can figure that out.

          • Michael Phillips

            I respect your point of view and don’t want to imply that a thorough knowledge of genetics is necessary to have an opinion on what you eat. What you describe is a fairly common point of view, i.e. that many people would prefer natural foods unaltered by technology. But the food coming out of the ground only looks the way it does because we have genetically modified it in the past even before we realized what we were doing. The wild cousins of every cultivated crop still exist and really represent the unmodified plants you refer to. But you wouldn’t want to try and live off those plants, they would make you very sick until you got used to them and even then would be a hard way to live. Nutritionally, unaltered plants are a poor bet for modern humans. Even the organics you buy have been radically modified in a genetic sense and this modification continues today. I get what you’re saying about our society hurting, but that is probably due to something other than food. Our food is the healthiest it has ever been in the history of humans. Our life spans are longer and diet related diseases are virtually non-existent in our society, except obesity of course, which is a serious problem, but compare that to famine! Humans engineer every aspect of our lives, including our food, but that’s not something to be afraid of, although I admit the pace is intimidating.

          • Tom Scharf

            Ron,

            You are getting what you want by deciding where to spend you money. Buy organic. Enough people like you feel this way that an industry has grown to serve you.

            What’s the problem?

            It’s when people feel so strongly that they think change is required to protect others who do not share these same feelings. Don’t impose these requirements on those who don’t feel they need them.

            Simple enough. Everyone wins.

          • Rain Bojangles

            The problem is, without labeling, informed choices are impossible for the average consumer. LABEL IT first. Give the consumer a choice, and inferior, questionable food products can be consumed by inferior questionable people.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            “My point is I, think soil,seeds,plants,(humans) should not be mutated,altered, modified, engineered in any way , food has been Ok coming from the ground in its natural state for about 4000 years, leave it alone,”

            is this a joke? You cant truly know this little about food and plants can you?

            Lets get several things clear.

            Domestication, artificial selections which is genetic modification in the truest of senses has been occuring for atleast 15000 years. nothing we eat is natural out of the ground.

          • Moorhen

            Probably because most people are unaware of mutagenesis. Both should be labelled imho.

        • jfowler

          HI Rob – from what I understand, you already have that choice. Just purchase organic or products labelled ‘NonGMOCertified’. These are voluntary labels, and allow you to make that choice.

      • Paul Shipley

        Well said. Too much hysteria is being created in the media. I would love to see some of the professors I had being even thought of as being paid off cronies.

      • jazzfeed

        They don[t bother to hide anything at this point.
        1. http://bit.ly/1lTTCIj

        2. http://bit.ly/1lTT8C4
        Monsanto establishes scholarship at UH Mānoa CTAHR
        University of Hawaiʻi
        Posted: Jul 8, 2010
        Honolulu – With a $100,000 gift, Monsanto Company has established the Monsanto Scholarship Fund in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Their goal is to support the education of students interested in the plant sciences, including plant biotechnology and biological engineering. The scholarship award can be used for costs associated with attendance including tuition, books, fees, and supplies.http://www.hawaii.edu/news/attachments/img3718_893.jpg

        2. http://bit.ly/1lTT8C4
        Posted: Sep 6, 2011
        HONOLULU — The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa received $500,000 from Monsanto Company to establish the Monsanto Research Fellows Fund. The fund will assist graduate students pursuing a masters or PhD degree and post doctoral researchers at the college related to the study of plant science and protection.
        “We are very grateful to Monsanto Company for its generous financial support of CTAHR students engaged in agricultural research – Hawai‘i’s future leaders of sustainable industries and a strong, diversified economy,” said UH Mānoa Chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw.

        • Mike V

          I do not see this as corruption. This is Monsanto donating money to the university to assist students who are in or interested in plant science and related majors. It would look pretty funny if Monsanto provided grant money to the university’s art department. Monsanto would not survive if, in the future, they hired college graduates who majored in art history or something similar. I believe Monsanto is looking to protect their own future here not by saying “you must agree with us” but by helping the university and its students do the best research they can do.

          • Rain Bojangles

            Monsanto would not survive if they were honest about the poisons they have released onto this planet for over 100 years and counting.

    • Kevin Folta

      Kailyn! Wow, where to start!

      1. Keith Kloor comes from an evidence-based perspective that takes science into account. His points are consistent with scientific interpretations of the literature.
      2. Universities “purchased by Monsanto” ??? Please name these institutions and researchers! By all means, if this is happening you should tell us who it is and where they are!

      I hope that once you’ve pointed them out you’ll join me in a Google Hangout where we can discuss it with them.

      3. Genetic Roulette? You know Smith is not a scientist, does not know how to interpret science, and profits by spreading fear, right? I’m happy to talk to you about any major point you find compelling evidence of danger in either opinion piece. Please just send me an email. I’d be glad to help.

      4. Can you please provide the Johns Hopkins citation? I have not seen this.

      5. This is such a junk statement. Who’s job is on the line? The scientist that publishes hard evidence that 70% of US food is poison will be highly recruited by the best universities and enjoy massive publication/grants etc.

      6. I’m a researcher in that area that has been studying it for 30 years. No affiliations with MON/DOW/syngenta. I can introduce you to thousands more like me worldwide– all of our professional organizations.

      We sit around and wonder why people want to stop good technology that can help the needy, the environment and farmers. Those are our concerns and clientele as public researchers. I can introduce you to colleagues in Europe that come here as visitors because just to make a GM plant for research only is such a hassle. Scientists worldwide do not understand the opposition to good technology.

      • JH

        “Keith Kloor comes from an evidence-based perspective”

        I disagree. Keith comes from an authority-based perspective. He generally does not discuss or argue the scientific evidence itself. He sticks to his perception of the “consensus” view on every issue.

        Keith’s primary interest is not in the science itself, but in the way it is reported. He uses his perception of the consensus as a jumping-off point to discuss the media portrayal of the consensus. He investigates and debunks various legends and stories associated with his favorite issues, like the “Indian Farmers Commit Suicide over GM crops” legend, but only insofar as they relate to media portrayal.

        • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

          It’s always fun when someone speaks on my behalf, saying what my primary interest is and such.

          So In this long feature on the Indian farmer story, I guess you didn’t see any discussion about numerous studies?

          http://issues.org/30-2/keith/

          Of course the point of the story is to show how it became entrenched in the media, but to imply that that is all I’m doing is just plain wrong.

          I come from a reality-based perspective that is informed by expertise, scholarship, science, whatever you want to call it. Everybody looks to authorities in specific fields to help understand and contextualize problems/issues.

          So, to cite another example, in the Syria/climate case, I’m not looking to Thomas Friedman as my guide to the climate-conflict debate. I’m reading what the notable scholars in that field have to say and seeing where the evidence stacks up. I read all their papers in addition to having talked to a number of them over the years. Does that mean I’m relying on authorities? Well, sure, but then again, we all rely on authorities/experts to a great extent throughout our lives.

  • JH

    “a period when many news stories contained
    what is known as “false balance.” That is to say that mainstream media
    articles on climate science generally gave the impression that the
    evidence for global warming was still being debated by scientists, when
    it wasn’t.”

    That’s funny, because today many (most? almost all?) media presentations about climate science contain false statements that have never been accepted fact within climate science, but are regularly flogged by some alarmist scientists, alarmist propaganda outlets and even many government officials (Kerry, Jane Lubchenco, and, sadly, now Sally Jewel, among others).

    Should we call this “false imbalance”? :) Keith, when do you think this false imbalance will end? :)

  • David Skurnick

    I generally admire Keith’s writing, but he has fallen for a trick regarding consensus. The trick is to claim that there’s a consensus on climate change, but not say what it is that the consensus agrees on.

    From what I’ve read, there is a consensus, but only that the globe has been warming and that man’s activity has contributed some amount to the warming. However, I don’t believe there’s a consensus on other vital issues, such as:

    – the amount that man’s activity contributes, e.g. expressed in degrees per century or in percentage increase in extreme weather events,

    – the amount of danger and of benefit posed by greenhouse gas emissions

    – the amount of benefit from various proposals to curb greenhouse gas emissions, e.g. expressed in degrees of temperature reduction as of year 2100.

    BTW I think there’s a scientific consensus that natural forces have also contributed to global warming. This point can get lost, when someone says “man’s activity causes GW, meaning man’s activity is one of the things that causes GW.

  • lyllyth

    Okay, so, riddle me this:

    Why do most of the studies touting the “safety” of GMOs exclude mutli-generational effects on fertility and inflammatory diseases? Why did they cherry-pick only the 3 to 5 month feedings studies as the basis of data to extrapolate safety outcomes from?

    This debate is like the global warming one, alright: Americans are decades behind the rest of the world on the science, through WILLFUL IGNORANCE.

    • Michael Phillips

      Because our fundamental knowledge of biology tells us that toxic effects of environmental chemicals do not extend over multiple generations. Epigenetic effects, if this is what you are referring to, are lost after a generation or two. The effects of toxins are not generally thought of as heritable The most relevant information on toxicity is obtained from the same animals used in toxicity experiments, not their offspring. It is easy to say ‘Yes, but, why didn’t they do experiment x…?’ but that is just moving the goalposts. When you say ‘they’ cherry picked data, who are you referring to? The best example of cherry picking I have seen in a long time is the Seralini paper.

    • Kevin Folta

      These tests are not done because in science, we just don’t do something because a person on the Discover comment thread thinks its necessary. In science, any effort starts with a plausible hypothesis. Why would you expect a multi-generational issue? You have to first provide a plausible mechanism and reason WHY you’d anticipate such things.

      It is like saying that if you change from a Ford oil filter to a superior NAPA gold one you have to retest the airbags. There just is not a plausible reason to engage expensive and unnecessary testing.

      That said, such tests may have been done, and when negative, are difficult to publish. That could be why you don’t find them in the literature.

      • Tom Scharf

        Yes, true. But not always. Sometimes it is necessary to work bottom up. The effects of lead poisoning for example had to be worked backwards from symptoms as the mechanism was not known previously. There are probably better examples.

        However it is obvious that when there is a breakout of some new condition with an unknown cause, increased autism diagnoses for example, everyone with a previous agenda jumps on the bandwagon to blame it on their pet cause. A huge amount of bad “science” ensues.

        You really have to carefully examine the trail of causation in these studies, they are many times next to non-existent or completely speculative.

    • lyllyth

      Yes, of course. Epigenetic changes don’t stack up when you continue to feed subsequent generations the same thing that produced those changes in the first generation, right? You don’t have to actually stop feeding those subsequent generations the variable that causes those changes, the effect just *magically* goes away on its own, yes?

      And mutagenesis is certainly not driven by epigenetic changes any much more than viral or bacterial insertions gained from gut biomes or illnesses, correct? Our “standard” understanding of biology never changes and is always correct, hmm?

      My problem with GMOs is the rush to get them everywhere is being pushed by marketing and not enough critical thinking. It’s like every other industry-sponsored hush-job on problematic products. Alcohol and tobacco and petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers have NEVER had any negative, long-term, mutli-generational effects, right? High fructose corn syrup is A GREAT source of carbohydrates for everyone and everything, it’s super-nutritious, isn’t it?

      I’m not against GMOs, but I AM against white-washing scientific studies to produce favorable outcomes for profit. Follow the money.

      If there is a different coding/splicing alteration that does not produce harmful side effects, I’m all for it. If there are found to be problems in GMOs post-marketing, they should be pulled from production, just like prescription drugs.

      Oh, wait. They spread by pollen.
      CRITICAL THINKING. It’s good for you. Swim in data all you like, slice it, dice it, extrapolate all you want, but be honest about implications you find, don’t shush them because you just found your money horse.

      It’s okay, darling. Your intellect is obviously far superior to mine.
      Have another cup of glyphosate. Two lumps of sugar or three?

      • Rain Bojangles

        Brava!

    • lyllyth

      http://www.researchgate.net/publication/47632301_The_effect_of_multigenerational_diet_containing_genetically_modified_triticale_on_immune_system_in_mice

      Inflammation is no joke. It’s behind a lot of really not-awesome autoimmune conditions and has broad implications for health. Especially if it ends up that multi-generational effects on immune modification become apparent. If they don’t, I will be amongst the first to be ABSOLUTELY THRILLED.

      But, from where I sit, my view from the rheumatology angle is probably completely worthless, isn’t it?

  • Dill

    You make really good points, so did the tobacco industry…

    http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1848212_1777633,00.html
    We should have a right to decide who is getting our money when we buy products as consumers. GMO labeling should not even be about safety, it should be about transparency. No business should have a right to profit incognito. Every company earns money not by forcing the people to buy it, but by encouraging them to… By selling it!

    Also, no matter the consensus on global warming, er climate change, it is not the consumers fault for any such events happening. Yet, the speculators sitting on their couch will end up being the ones to suffer the actions of big business once things take a turn for the worse, in both cases. This gives these ‘couch speculators’ every damn right to question what their media and these money hungry giants are really up to.

    If no one opposed GMOs and we (greater majority) were still unaware of them being present, what benefits would we get? From what I can see, only the ones involved with the GMOs are actually benefiting. After all, GMOs are only “substantially equivalent”, not better for us.

    To oppose GMOs is not to oppose the advancement of science, it is to fight for transparency and give the people whose only voice is currency a choice.

    • Ron Lobb

      Thank you

    • brec

      As I asked Ron above… In the interest of transparency do you also advocate that consumer products of crop varieties derived from mutagenesis also be labeled?

      Few seem to know about mutagenesis — I didn’t, until recently. More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutation_breeding

      • Moorhen

        My feeling is that crops produced by mutagenesis should also be subject to safety tests and also labelled.
        As with GM crops, there’s no epidemiology.
        Do the Italian mutation-produced wheat varieties used for pasta making have any link to increases in wheat intolerance and coeliac disease? We can’t know.

      • Dill

        Absolutely.

    • Michael Phillips

      It sounds like you want a complete papertrail of where the money goes when you buy any consumer product. That sounds difficult to implement but I am not opposed to the notion. So why does every labeling initiative focus exclusively on crops modified by genetic transformation but ignore those modified by hybridization and mutagenesis? As written, these labeling initiatives attempt to reward Organic producers for no reason whatsoever and punish anyone who uses a perfectly safe technology. I like your idea, but unfortunately at the present it is only being used as propaganda to poke corporations in the eye according to an unscientific ideology (hatred of GMOs). It may come from an anti-corporate sentiment, but the labeling initiative is purely anti-science. Aren’t big organic producers also corporations driven by profits? Greenpeace is also a profit driven organization, isn’t it?

      • Dill

        Gmos got noticed, it’s that simple. And I don’t encourage fighting for multiple propositions at a time… Look at us, these hot button issues (guns, gays, abortion, chirst in schools) are being shoved down our throats, and making us all dispise one another over opinions that will ALWAYS have two sides. How can we win anything if we remain divided and conquered? I say one thing at a time, keep the people focused on one thing at a time, else we get destracted and lose numbers.

        Also, I am not against profiting corporations, I just dont trust them. No matter what lies organic may be saying about gmos, at least I know their food is natural

        • Michael Phillips

          Thanks for your thoughts. How much information can fit on a label, though, and how do we decide what is included and what is not? For instance, GMO labeling initiatives only seem to insist on branding products as GMO (therefore dangerous, or at least suspect) like a scarlet letter. The transgene, enzyme activity, promoter, or other relevant information would not be included. My concern is that anti-GMO activists who have succeeded in using fear and hysteria to manipulate public opinion wish to use this scarlet letter approach to ban certain products from the market, so there is a distinct commercial angle, at least for the organic industry. If you’re opposed to corporations profiting ‘incognito’, why are foods the best place to invest your energy? Why not arms sales, dodgy mortgage products, or election contributions?

          • Dill

            Regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual preference… we all must eat. The contents within the foods we consume should have all questions answered openly and honestly. Half the names currently within the list of ingrediants are barely pronouncable by me already… Even though I may question what a lot of these ingrediants are in my food, I do not become more afraid of that food just because of this. However, it is nice to know that I can begin to research if/when I feel pressed to inform myself of what these ingrediants are.
            I’m not sure how to debate the ‘label size’ and ‘where’s the room to put the info’ argument, to me this seems like a horrible excuse as to why we shouldn’t inform the people.
            and as far as…
            Arms sales, dodgy mortgage products, election contributions… all in due time… one thing at a time, else no one has enough numbers in support of any one subject needing addressed. Food, which is required to continue to live seems most important and IMO top priority.

          • Dill

            Both sides have their own fears in this debate, so who should get their way? The rich who fear losing profits to the informed poor, or the poor who fear losing their health to the covert rich?
            Seems like an easy question to answer to me. Best bet is to put it out there and let the people decide for themselves.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            It’s really irresponsible to cast this as “rich vs. poor”. It speaks more as a reflection of your motives and intentions then it reflects reality. But sure you can make false dichotomies and try to pass it off as fact as much as you want. The rest of us will be over here laughing at just how ridiculous you sound.

            Now if you want to talk about what this is truly about, let’s ground ourselves in reality and recognize that opposition to genetic engineering is spearheaded by the organic movement and by alternative medicine quacks. The “david vs goliath” “common man vs industry” narrative is incredibly powerful and those who oppose genetic engineering are quick to capitalize on peoples ignorance and fear, especially if it sells more organic food.

            But lets just stop trying to to pad this up and call this out for what it is. Its two competing ideologies regarding the role and extent to which humans should alter their environment, including the genetic environment. its not about “rich vs poor” its not about “corporations”. This is a philosophical debate about the where to place the limits of human tinkering (if there should be limits at all, i think that possibility is discounted far to readily) and its a debate about the science of plant breeding, comparing the risks of one method against others. Anything else is a poor attempt a obfuscation

          • Dill

            Sorry but I believe you are wrong. Answer this question, Why doesn’t biotech companies want labeling? Isn’t it because they say they’ll lose profits? Now answer this question… Who wants labeling? Isn’t it the uninformed couch sitters? Just one more question, who are more wealthy, the biotech giants or the average citizen? … But go ahead and try to make it more than what it is, it’s always about money.

          • Mark Jones

            Because people like you have been misled by quacks like Mercola, and Food Babe. Big Organic profits from food fear mongering.

          • Dill

            Tell me of anything going on behind my back in the products I purchase with my voting dollars, and I am against the lack of their transparency. Some people actually do want to decide which companies to support financially regradless of what anyone else is actually saying to mislead them. If they put a ge free cheerios beside standard cheerios at a higher price due to organic being a smaller production; which obviously would increase costs; and consumers still started buying the more expensive cheerios, wouldn’t they put more into the production of organic cheerios causing the prices to stabalize once it becomes produced in greater bulk? Go shopping at Cost Co. or Sams Club… Isn’t it obvious that you save money when buying in bulk? Why then can’t we apply this same concept to the smaller organics vs the bigger biotechs? Sheesh, trying to mislead someone with the same tactics as the opposition is silly.

          • Mark Jones

            “Both sides have their own fears in this debate, so who should get their way? The rich who fear losing profits to the informed poor, or the poor who fear losing their health to the covert rich?” Your unsubstantiated fears will harm the poor with higher food prices. The organic crowd is well heeled.

          • Dill

            There we go again with higher food prices. Why then; after ’96 when ge foods became largely introduced; that our food prices did NOT deflate and save the poor some money? I call bulls&@$. How is it that a ge food being so special somehow becomes the affordable method of creating food stuffs?
            Really, it’s sad that all this odd debating over trivial stuff is happening. High fructose corn syrup still makes profits, and guess what, you can find it on a product label, oh my! Monosodium glutomate is also labeled, but guess what?, yep, people are still buying those products! Hopefully I wont have to post every questionable product ingrediant that comes from companies still profiting in order to point out how stupid it is to fight against informing the american people.

          • Dill

            On the topic of how much information can fit on a label? … I don’t see why ge ingrediants can’t just have a * or ^ or • or that little dagger looking symbol beside them. There is no need for big notifications, subtle honesty listed within the already provided ingrediants should be fine. Each ingrediant within a product should be identified anyway and not just the whole product labeled as ‘contains gmos’

      • Rain Bojangles

        “reward Organic producers for no reason whatsoever” Really? Obviously you know nothing about farming.

    • Tom Scharf

      Godwin’s Law – “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1″

      Godwin’s Science Corollary – “As an online science discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving the Tobacco Industry approaches 1″

      • Dill

        What do we call the law of people using godwins laws to trump their opponents posts? You are right though… But my argument isn’t claiming gmos proponents are using tobacco industry tactics, simply that had people not questioned what the tobacco industry was telling us, then we; to this day; could still believe they have no adverse effects. How will we ever know if gmos are harming us if we don’t have that as an option when analizing the data? You can tell a doctor everything you ate under the sun on tuesdays, but without knowing if there are gmos in the said foods consumed, then there is no research into the possibilities that gmo in particular food is what may have caused the problem.
        Thanks for trying to defeat my argument with a godwin rule though… I was certain I closed all holes in my case.

        • Tom Scharf

          I was just getting snarky on the tobacco comparison which is routine whenever someone believes the opposition is nefariously covering up science they don’t like. It is commonly used to tar (ha, ha, get it?) the opponent with an emotional argument.

          I’ve commented on GMO’s here previously and below.

      • Dill

        I must say, I’m not happy with my reaction to such a simple post that only addresses my first sentence in my argument that supports gmo labeling. Could I have mentioned asbestos, or lead based paints, perhaps aerosol, or maybe even mercury thermometers? It’s not anything shockingly new that products make it into the market before realization that it’s hazardous to our health or the environment. You can go to any walmart today and look at all of the product recalls for that week, usually at least a page long. Go ahead and hold such conviction in gmos, that’s fine by me. In any case, my argument was about transparency, not health risks… I only started my debate with an interesting look at science opinion on something we now know was not healthy.

    • Rain Bojangles

      Exactly!

  • JH

    Keith, here’s a major problem with your work: you insist that only people actively involved in research in a given field on a given issue should be listened to regarding that issue. You’re wrong.

    Look at the list of people opposed to GMOs: its filled with PhDs. Almost all of these people, according to their credentials at least, have strong scientific backgrounds and scientific reasoning skills and many are experts in the biological sciences. Dismissing them as cranks is an uphill battle, and one you’d be a fool to engage.

    If you want to exclude any opinion or insight on any issue, there is and always will be only one way to do it: data. Demonstrate that they’re wrong with data and sound reasoning.

    The argument for GMOs has nothing to do with consensus or what credentials back up the people that support GMOs. It has everything to do with a) an immense pile of data showing that GMOs aren’t harmful; and b) lack of a mechanism by which they could be harmful.

    • Michael Phillips

      I think Kevin’s point is that a person with a PhD in sociology is using their title illegitimately. It may be acceptable to call them out for using their degree to lend of air of experise over an area where they know little. It is like the many cases of retired physics professors who decide to bash evolution to grab a little more attention in their twilight years. I certainly agree with your conclusion that data, not authority, should rule the conversation. Unfortunately, that is how scientists are trained to think but the public responds to (and is exposed to) very different types of information a la Dr. Oz.

      • JH

        “It may be acceptable to call them out for using their degree to lend of air of expertise over an area where they know little. “

        Do we know they “know little”? :) What about, for example, economists that express their views on the physical science of climate change? Isn’t it possible that, in the course of their work on economics, they’ve learned a great deal about the physical science? Isn’t it also possible that a sociologist could learn a great deal about genetics and GMO?

        Discrediting views by the quals of the person expressing them is a mistake for two reasons. First, sooner or later you’ll find yourself supporting the views of someone who “isn’t qualified” to express them by your own standards; that will lead you into the second problem: you’ll wind up defending a weak position about your standards for whose views you accept, instead of defending the strong position that you want to defend, and the only position that can convince anyone of anything: the data.

        • Michael Phillips

          I definitely agree is it the strength of one’s arguments and not titles that count. Sadly, I must disagree that data is the only way to convince anyone of anything. That is how it works in science generally, but with the general public, confronting an ideologue with data may only harden their beliefs. I wish you were right though!

          • JH

            “confronting an ideologue with data may only harden their beliefs.”

            IME, there’s not much point in trying to convince an ideologue of anything. Searching for the magic formula that makes such a person change their mind is a waste of time. OTOH, you can convince the people that are in the middle, and an ideologue provides a great counterpoint to a well-reasoned argument.

    • Kevin Folta

      JH, the problem is that a PhD should not impress you- but its application to a problem should. That’s why opinions of retired astronomers on GMOs don’t get me too excited, and certainly don’t compete well against the tens of thousands of plant biologists, crop biologists, molecular biologists and other scientists all over the world that understand and embrace these technologies.

      The data supporting safety and efficacy are there, reproducible and statistically sound evidence of harm is not, which is why I question those making statements against transgenic science.

      • JH

        “The data supporting safety and efficacy are there, reproducible and statistically sound evidence of harm is not”

        I strongly agree.

        My point is that I don’t care if those data are generated by microbiologists or astrophysicists or Volkswagen mechanics, provided that they are generated with sound methodology and widely reproduced.

        • Kevin Folta

          Which data have been reproduced or expanded upon by independent labs? In science, if you find something truly important (like 70% of USA food is poison) hundreds, thousands of other labs will jump in and study it. They’ll write grants to fund it.

          We just don’t see that. Evidence published is a dead end, and usually the interpretations overstep the statistics or data. Of course, if you have something compelling you know about let’s talk about it. Here, or email. My pleasure.

          • JH

            I guess I’m not getting your point, and I’m not sure you’re getting mine.

            You say:

            “The data supporting safety and efficacy are there, reproducible and statistically sound evidence of harm is not”

            And:

            “Evidence published is a dead end, and usually the interpretations overstep the statistics or data. “

            These seem to be conflicting points. Explanation?

          • Kevin Folta

            Not at all. The first says “reproducible”. The dead ends are ends because there is no follow up. This is important in science. If we find something of significance that is relevant (like 70% of the USA food being poison would be), then the publishing group would follow up with the next publication fast. That’s because if it was real, many other labs would be jumping on the same lead. In something so earthshaking you’d see a flurry of papers within a year.

            The reports are there overstep the data and stats. In other words, they do a fine job killing cells in a dish with chemicals. Those data can’t be translated directly to the whole animal system. They are just good starting points. Yet the authors, then the crazy media and anti GMs, treat it like it is gospel about effects in humans.

            Here’s a great example… http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2012/03/misrepresenting-science-for-fun-and.html

  • Moorhen

    There are now 297 scientitst who have signed the statement. Many of the signatories are genetic engineers or scientists who have/have had eminent careers in genetics, or who have other expertise relevant to the debate – eg on how the introduction of GM crops and their associated chemicals have adverse knock on effects in the environment.

    It goes without saying that the scientists whose expertise has led them to the conclusion that GM crops haven’t been proved safe will not
    currently be working in the industry – a fair no. of these scientists
    were in the industry until their findings, or the findings of others led them to the conclusion that there isn’t enough evidence of safety, and that on the contrary, there are many studies which point to the need for further research into long term safety.

    The presence of many doctors among the signatories appears to reflect the experience, certainly in the US, of doctors who have been
    finding that many patients improve from a variety of symptoms when they adopt a non GM diet.
    All the GM crops on the market were approved after very short term animal studies, many of which showed evidence of differences between the GM fed animals and non-GM fed. These differences were unscientifically dismissed as not “biologically significant” – a term with no scientific definition! – and were not followed up with lifetime length studies.
    In the absence of even the most basic epidemiology studies to monitor the effects on people of eating GM foods after the release of GM foods to the public, it is impossible to prove their safety, and so doctors can only note the positive differences made to many patients who stop eating these GM foods

    • BioChicaGMO

      Hi there, I encourage you to read the following literature review of the long-term and multigenerational feeding studies that have been performed using GMOs: Pubmed ID: 22155268
      “Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: a literature review.”

      • Moorhen

        Hi, Thanks for this. I am aware of this review, but Snell concluded that ““The studies reviewed here are often linked to an inadequate experimental design that has detrimental effects on statistical analysis”¦the major insufficiencies not only include lack of use of near isogenic lines but also statistical power underestimation [and], absence of repetitions”¦” (as quoted here – http://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/seralini-and-science-nk603-rat-study-roundup/ )

        Also, although the studies concluded safety, in many of the studies there actually were statistically significant differences in the GM-fed animals, compared to the non -GM fed.

        “However, the authors of the Snell review concluded, without further empirical investigation, that these were of “no biological or toxicological significance”!

        Other reviews which you might be interested to read include include ” Association of financial or professional conflict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products.” by Diels J, Cunha M, Manaia C, Sabugosa-Madeira B, Silva M.

        The link below is to an article which looks at various pieces of research which look at other similar findings. http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/3-health-hazards-of-gm-foods/3-3-myth-those-who-claim-that-gm-foods-are-unsafe-are-being-selective-with-the-data-since-many-other-studies-show-safety

        • BioChicaGMO

          My understanding is that the review concluded safety because the studies where there were statistically significant differences were poorly designed. If you know of any studies that are well designed that have found statistical significance, I’d be very interested in reading them.

          You also point out the impact of industry in swaying the results of scientific findings. As an industry researcher, I can’t help but feel that this is prejudicial, since it implies that I am less ethical than my counterparts in public industry: that somehow there’s a switch in my moral compass that gets flipped depending on where I get my paycheck.

          Finally, by the same logic, one of the 3 authors of the “Myths and Truths” document from Earth Open Source benefits directly from anti-GMO sentiments, since he is CSO of a GMO testing and certification company. However, I will review the papers that are highlighted in the document. Thanks!

          • Moorhen

            I’m certainly not implying that that you personally are less ethical, just that it has been found that the results of industry funded GM research are statistically more likely to be positive than in independent research. That doesn’t mean that everyone is “bent”!

            The same has been found in research into the pharmaceutical industry. Dr David Healy, a British psychiatrist, has written a book called “Pharmageddon” which lists the ways that industry sways the results of drug research, having been asked (and refused) to put his name to a ghost-written summary of some research. There’s a summary of some of the contents here.
            http://davidhealy.org/books/pharmageddon-is-the-story-of-a-tragedy/

            The authors of GMO Myths and Truths (2.1.10. p30) comment that the normal practice in research would be that “a researcher publishes a study; another thinks it could be done better and repeats it with the desired modifications; … but that the “trend of trying to silence or discredit research which finds problems with GMOs is unprecedented and has grown in parallel with the commercialisation of GM crops.”

            Yes, one of the authors of this report has an interest in testing for GMOs. He gave back his grant to develop the technology because of his view that it had not been proved safe. The other genetic engineer author is an expert in gene expression, and the effects of genetic changes on the human body.

            The whole report is full of references – you might find it interesting on many aspects.

          • Moorhen

            It’s interesting that observers including Erik Millstone, professor of science policy at Sussex University have noted that a fundamental problem in Europe’s EFSA is its “asymmetrical evaluations of evidence”.

            In a recent study of the research into aspartame he comments “The EFSA Panel opportunistically accepted at face value most of the studies that suggested that aspartameis harmless, while entirely discounting every single study that suggested aspartame may be harmful,even though the quality, power and sensitivity of many of the studies that were discounted were markedly superior to those of the contrary studies deemed reliable” https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=millstone-on-efsa-on-aspartame-16dec2013.pdf&site=25

            There are parallels with the way EFSA treats evidence on genetically modified foods, pesticides, and chemicals. Even the not-well-designed 90 day study of NK603 by Monsanto (2004) published in FCT found statistically significant differences between treated animals and controls, even though the controls included spurious varieties of maize to blur the results, rather than just the isogenic variety, and the feed of the controls was probably contaminated with GM maize – it’s standard practice at many labs to use GM feed in the controls’ diet. They also selected which 10 of 20 rats in each test group would go for analysis. How was the decision made on which animals to test?

            Without justification, the statistically significant
            differences were considered not to be “biologically significant” – a term which has no scientific definition. Only longer research could determine whether the differences were biologically significant. It was this study that led Prof Seralini to conduct his own study to see what would happen over a longer time.

          • Moorhen

            Prof Seralini looked at changes which were likely to be due to
            endocrine disrupting effects of the GMOs and /or Roundup, using
            methods of statistical analysis which took into account more up to
            date info on the non-linear effects of endocrine disruption. This
            WHO document describes the global status of scientific knowledge on
            exposure to and effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) -
            knowledge which hasn’t yet found its way into regulation systems for
            GMOs or pesticides http://www.who.int/ceh/publications/endocrine/en/ It comments “As noted above, there is no
            threshold for EDC effects due to the presence of active hormone
            pathways, and EDCs are likely to have effects at low doses.
            Consequently, their dose response curves will not necessarily
            rise in proportion to dose.”

            “Risk
            assessment approaches do not always assess toxicity during
            development, which is the most sensitive window for EDC action,
            and also do not follow the animals for their lifetime, which is
            needed to assess resulting disease” (p19 Testing for EDCs)

  • Scott Miller

    Remove “GMO” and insert “fracking” and you have the exact same thing going on, except commercial hydraulic fracturing has been going on for longer than commercial aircraft have flown with jet engines, and the list of regulators, scientists and engineers who say the process can be done safely and responsibly is probably twice as long that that which supports GM foods.

    • Michael Phillips

      I don’t think it’s the exact same thing. We’ve been modifying plants genetically for thousands of years with tremendous impact on the environment and many unanticipated consequences, like the need to use pesticides following the loss of resistance genes in seletively bred crops. GMOs usually refer to the intentional insertion of a single gene+promoter, a much more precise and controlled way to do what we have been doing for a long time: improve the nutritional quality and yield of plants that give us food.

      • Scott Miller

        My argument that journalists are creating false equivalencies in their reporting of both GMO and fracking stands. For example, the Gasland films have been debunked as false and outright manipulative on multiple levels by far more than just oil and gas industry operatives. Yet the entire state of New York and the Delaware River Basin Commission are essentially making decisions affecting millions and millions of people based on them. Journalists enable that to happen when they equate Gasland’s debunked claims and Hollywood theatrics with the scientific findings and regulatory oversight of multiple state agencies, multiple federal agencies and numerous disinterested third parties. No, the issues are not the same, so you are correct to call out my use of the term “exact.” And perhaps your “unanticipated consequences” argument has merit on some level, though you can apply that concept to absolutely every technological advance in history. But the basics remain true: there are technological advances occurring that most scientists agree are safe, but certain factions oppose, and journalists are giving those factions the same weight as the scientific evidence.

      • Rain Bojangles

        Or, cause genetic mutations.

  • Neil

    Hey Keith, I think you’re timeline is fairly accurate. I remember the Oregon Petition came out in the late 90s ( I think….) and it was an attempt to undermine global warming. This seems to be antiGM equivalent

  • Dominick Dickerson

    so many people in these comments stating their preference for “natural” crops or “natural” breeding methods, which i guess means anything but genetic engineering. I have to wonder if any of them know anything at all about botany, agriculture, or archaeology. I suspect they know little and less, elsewise how could one be so foolish as to think there is anything “natural” about the Cavendish banana, or nearly every citrus variety, or triticale or tomato, or practically any other crop we might produce. Anyone ever have poi? Taro, colocasia escualenta, was originally a nasty little corm that needed to be highly processed to remove raphides which are like tiny shards of crystal produced within the flesh of the taro. through thousands of years of artificial selection, edible taro was selected for that required less and less processing and contained fewer raphides. The wild bananas are stubby little fruit, with insipid flesh and chock full or hard inedible seeds.

    More to the point, people insistence and preference on “naturalness” in food belies a profound ignorance about the 15000 year process of domestication. It also demonstrates their lack of a critical mind by not examining and finding the entire notion of “naturalness” to be wholly arbitrary and there by a meaningless descriptor. Conflating “organic” and “natural” makes people appear foolish, it tells me they havnt really thought about the issue and instead are just parroting something back that conforms with their preexisting beliefs they heard from the organik propaganda machine.

    • Rain Bojangles

      Selective breeding is not the same thing as creating corn that produces it’s own pesticides. Wake up and stop comparing breeding to genetic engineering as if they were anything remotely similar.

  • brianmoench

    Dear Mr. Kloor:

    To use your own phrase, “It’s hard to overstate just how irresponsible” your opinion piece is. To equate educated, scientifically astute people who don’t trust Monsanto, with climate deniers is one incredible, absurd extrapolation. If you knew anything about the history or science of GMOs, you would understand how federal agencies and academic institutions have sold out to the money and power of Monsanto. Furthermore, there is no meaningful discussion about GMOs without also discussing the inherent increased use of pesticides that go with GMOs. There are only two current objectives for the high volume GMOs in production. 1. Allow crops to be plastered with repeated drenchings of pesticides, or 2. Build pesticides into the DNA of the crops. If you think that the end result is of no public health concern, then you really need to go back to the drawing board and look and see what the main stream medical organizations are now saying about all our increased pesticide exposure.

    Dr. Brian Moench
    President, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

    http://truth-out.org/news/item/23267-autism-nation-americas-chemical-brain-drain

    • Michael Phillips

      You are conflating the science of GMOs with Monsanto. One is an important technology which can help solve some of our food problems and the other is a private corporation you are angry at. Perhaps you’re not doing this consciously, but it perpetuates a very misleading idea and makes you seem ideologically motivated. If you were against handguns, would you slander the physics and engineering departments for teaching mechanics?

      Our academic institutions have not sold out to Monsanto, Dr. Moench, and it is offensive to read that accusation for which you have no proof. A lot of academic research labs are developing GMOS that are nutrionally oriented, but the rhetoric in your message is part of the reason why most will never be applied toward helping their intended targets. Have you ever contacted your local representatives and asked them to increase academic funding for plant research so those researchers are not required to seek private funding sources?

      • Rain Bojangles

        I guess next you will claim that our government has not sold out to Monsanto and numerous other globalist corporations. Wake up and smell the corruption. It’s what’s for dinner.

    • Michael Phillips

      I just followed the link you posted to support your argument. It’s an article which you wrote yourself. It links autism to pesticides and GMOs through speculation and insinuation using alarmist and overly dramatic language but no data that I can see. This is precisely the kind of fear mongering and propaganda that has poisoned the public debate over GMOS, and it is ironic you admonished Keith for being irresponsible. Some of your supporters in the comments are anti-vaccine sympathizers. So do you think autism is caused by vaccines, pesticides, or GMOs and why do you think that?

  • John

    This isn’t about being pro-science or anti-science. Like any technology, genetic engineering could be applied in ways that are beneficial or ways that are destructive. The GMOs that are prevalent now in agriculture, unfortunately fall more into the destructive category, because they:
    - are engineered to tolerate chemical applications, which has increased the amount of pesticide and herbicide entering our environment and our bodies
    - these GMOs do not have any enhanced nutrition, ability to withstand drought or greater yield than conventional species. They do, however ensure greater sales of the chemicals that are manufactured by the same companies
    - they are a means of making the open process of breeding and sharing seeds (how agriculture was done for 10,000 years) into a closed-source proprietary model
    - there is not an adequate control to prevent the genes from escaping into the natural landscape, which threatens biodiversity. In the event of a problem, there is no way to put the ‘genie back in the bottle’

    So, it isn’t about the technology itself, but rather about the flawed implementation. Even if we examine ‘golden rice’, heralded as a means to address vitamin A deficiency, the most ostensibly pro-human application to date: given the decades and fortune spent developing it, if we had really wanted to solve vitamin A deficiency, there are countless educational and interventional strategies that would have solved the problem years ago and with less money. ‘Golden rice’ is about a patent, not a solution.

    People who advocate for labeling do so not only because we have the right to know what is in our food and food system, but also because this is a conversation that needs to happen for society on a larger scale due to the threats to all of us from the current model. If GMOs are so great, let them compete on transparent terms and let the market bear that out. Ones that are truly beneficial would have no problem, while ones that do more harm than good would eventually decline – and this, I believe, is where the real resistance to labeling comes from.

    • Rain Bojangles

      Very well stated. Best argument I have heard in favor of labeling.

  • John

    To address the question of safety: this term ‘proven safe’ is used often with pro-GMO arguments. But science doesn’t work that way. You can’t prove that four-leaf clovers do not exist by observing a field of the three-leaf variety. All you can say is that you don’t have evidence to support the existence of four-leaf clovers. And that non-existence is undone the moment someone discovers a four-leaf clover in the next field, and our understanding evolves to include two types of clovers.

    So, if we were really searching for four-lead clovers, we would make every effort to look in every field available to us before even drawing conclusions, much less ever saying something as certain as ‘four-leaf clovers are proven not to exist’.

    But have we done that with the GMOs in our food supply? Have we searched all the clover fields to the best of our ability? Or are we looking at just one field and claiming this is representative of the whole world?

    I would argue that short-term studies are a particularly small field, especially when looking for health outcomes that may take years to develop. So then, it is often cited that GMOs have been present in our food system for a couple decades now, so surely we would have seen effects by now. But this is flawed:
    - without clear labeling, how exactly is one supposed to establish causation among all the different GMOs and other toxins in the marketplace? Conveniently, the ‘you can’t prove it’ defense prevents the courts from being able to establish the very links that are ostensibly invited by the statement.
    - this puts society in the position of being unwitting participants in an experiment without informed consent. That’s unethical, and the fact that this is exactly what has happened is more of an indictment on the state of GMOs in our society than a defense by any means.

    Real science invites the question and constantly evolves as more evidence comes in; it doesn’t reject questions out of hand with broad statements like ‘proven safe’ and refuse to follow valid leads on questions of safety when they are discovered. Refusing to look in those other clover fields is a hallmark of ‘science for vested interests’ that clings to the notion that ‘no evidence is the same as proof’, not true science.

    To tie in with my previous comment, labeling would be a step in the right direction. It might not make industry become magically responsible overnight, but at least it provides people with the right to informed consent on whether or not to participate.

  • Kathy

    Science and scientists are not necessary for someone to want to have their food labelled. There are philosophical reasons to want to know this as well as the uncertainty that comes this with technology that is rapidly expanding. I’d guess when Thalidomide, or DES was offered to patients there was supportive (but no definitive) science…

  • Peter Son

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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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