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More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism

More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism

I never used to write much about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) before. I still don’t do it that often. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t been on my radar very much. That seems to be changing, however. It’s not because I went seeking this issue out (although I must admit that I first became interested in genetic engineering when I was in junior high and read a TIME Magazine cover article about it back in the 1970s), but rather because in my reading I keep seeing it more and more in the context of anti-GMO activists using bad science and bad reasoning to justify a campaign to demonize GMOs. Now, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, (Forgive me, I have no idea why I like that expression, given that I don’t hunt.) I really don’t. I was, not too long ago, fairly agnostic on the issue of GMOs and their safety, although, truth be told, because I have PhD in a biomedical science and because my lab work has involved molecular biology and genetics since I was a graduate student in the early 1990s, I found the claims of horrific harm attributable to GMOs not particularly convincing, but hadn’t bothered to take that deep a look into them. It was not unlike my attitude towards the the claims that cell phones cause cancer a few years ago, before I looked into them and noted the utter lack of a remotely-plausible mechanism and uniformly negative studies except for a group in Sweden with a definite ax to grind on the issue. Back then, I realized that there wasn’t really a plausible mechanism by which radio waves from cell phones could cause cancer in that the classic mechanisms by which ionizing radiation can break DNA molecular bonds and cause mutations don’t apply, but I didn’t rule out a tiny possibility that there might be an as-yet unappreciated mechanism by which long term exposure to radio waves might contribute to cancer. I still don’t, by the way, which has gotten me into the odd kerfuffle with some skeptics and one physicist, but I still view the likelihood that cell phone radiation can cause cancer as being just a bit more plausible than homeopathy.

As was the case for the nonexistent cell phone-cancer link, there has now been a steady drip-drip-drip of bad studies touted by anti-GMO activists as “evidence” that GMOs are the work of Satan that will corrupt or kill us all (and make us fat, to boot). Not too long ago, I came across one such study, a truly execrable excuse for science by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen purporting to demonstrate that Roundup-resistant genetically modified maize can cause horrific tumors in rats. I looked at the methods and conclusions and what I found was some of the worst science I had ever seen, every bit as bad as the quack “science” used by the antivaccine movement. It wasn’t for nothing that I made the comparison, because the anti-GMO movement is very much like the antivaccine movement and the cranks who claim that cell phone radiation causes cancer. As if to demonstrate that very point, last week I came across an article by the all-purpose crank to rule all cranks, Mike Adams, at NaturalNews.com entitled GMO feed turns pig stomachs to mush! Shocking photos reveal severe damage caused by GM soy and corn:

If you have stomach problems or gastrointestinal problems, a new study led by Dr. Judy Carman may help explain why: pigs fed a diet of genetically engineered soy and corn showed a 267% increase in severe stomach inflammation compared to those fed non-GMO diets. In males, the difference was even more pronounced: a 400% increase. (For the record, most autistic children are males, and nearly all of them have severe intestinal inflammation.)

The study was conducted on 168 young pigs on an authentic farm environment and was carried out over a 23-week period by eight researchers across Australia and the USA. The lead researcher, Dr. Judy Carman, is from the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Kensington Park, Australia. The study has now been published in the Journal of Organic Systems, a peer-reviewed science journal.

It sounds pretty damning, doesn’t it? It sounds truly horrific, just as the Séralini study did. Adams is useful in that he takes the messages of anti-GMO activists (well, actually, he takes the messages of just about all cranks and quacks) and, as they said in This Is Spinal Tap, turns them up to 11. On the surface, it does, anyway. But what about the actual study. There was really only one thing for me to do, and that’s the same thing I did with the Séralini study: Go and see for myself. So I did.

What hath Judy Carman wrought?

Judy Carman’s study was, fortunately, published in an open access journal, and there was a direct link to the study itself. The first thing I did was to look at the journal. I had never heard of it before. The journal seems to cater to the organic crowd, being sponsored by groups like the Organic Federation of Australia and CSAFE, while the guidelines for authors state that “topics are to be consistent with current principles of organic farming and its associated industries, especially those in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and the Pacific Islands.” The journal itself appears not to be indexed on PubMed, which tends to indicate either that it’s a new journal or not a very good journal. On the other hand, to be fair, there are plenty of CAM journals indexed in PubMed, and many of them are pure pseudoscience; so I can no longer conclude that lack of indexing in PubMed automatically means a journal is dodgy. It is, however, often an indication that it is. Moreover, if you wander over to Judy Carman’s website, gmojudycarman.org, you’ll see that it’s chock full of anti-GMO activism.

After having seen this study, I think that the editors of this open access journal have made a massive mistake and have, either wittingly or unwittingly, allowed their journal to become a tool of anti-GMO activist groups, a couple of which which gleefully announced the results of the study with press releases (for example here and here) calling the study “groundbreaking,” asserting that it was evidence of “adverse effects” due to GMO feed, and claiming that the results show “…clear evidence that regulators need to safety assess GM crops containing mixtures of GM genes, regardless of whether those genes occur in the one GM plant or in a mixture of GM plants eaten in the same meal, even if regulators have already assessed GM plants containing single GM genes in the mixture.”

Here’s a hint: It’s none of the above.

As I read the study itself, the first thing that became apparent to me is that it’s a massive fishing expedition. What do I mean by that? I mean that there’s no clear hypothesis. Basically, the only seeming hypothesis was “GMOs bad,” and the study was designed to find bad things associated with GMOs. At first glance, the design seems simple enough. The investigators used 168 just-weaned pigs at a commercial piggery in the US. The pigs were fed a standard diet, but half the pigs were fed widely used varieties of GM soy and GM corn, while the control group fed an equivalent non-GM diet. Basically, one protein made the plant resistant to a herbicide and two proteins were insecticides. The specific GM varieties used were as follows:

The corn used in this study contained 90% DK 42-88 RR YG PL (a triple stack of NK603, MON863 and MON810 genes) with the remainder being equal quantities of Pannar 5E-900RR (containing NK603), Pannar 4E-705RR/Bt (a double stack of NK603 and MON810) and Producers 5152 RR (containing NK603). Therefore, the GM corn that was used was genetically modified to produce three new proteins. Two were Bt proteins that protected the plant against insect attack, while the third protein provided the plant with tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate (Testbiotech, 2012; Monsanto, 2012). Because Roundup ReadyTM (RR) soy is predominant in the GM soy market, this was used. This crop contains a gene that provides tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate. GM DNA analysis (Genetic ID, Fairfield, Iowa, US) confirmed that the GM corn contained a combination of NK603, MON863 and MON810 genes (expressing the CP4 EPSPS, Cry 3Bb1 and Cry 1Ab proteins respectively), that the RR soy was 100% RR soy (expressing the CP4 EPSPS protein), that the non-GM feed contained a median of 0.4% GM corn and that the non-GM soy contained a median of 1.6% GM soy. Such GM contamination of apparent non-GM material is common in the US.

So the investigators fed piglets a diet of GMO grain versus non-GMO grain, let the pigs mature according to the normal methodology, and then after slaughter looked at a variety of outcomes. Worse, the authors measured these variables without any sort of control for multiple comparisons. Of course they found differences! Actually, what surprised me is how few differences they found between the groups, not how many. I’m going to hone in on the main finding of the paper first. It’s the finding that seemed the most dramatic and was the most highly publicized, the one mentioned by Mike Adams in his breathless description of he results, as though it was slam-dunk evidence that GMOs are evil. I’m referring, of course, to the claim that more stomach inflammation was observed in the pigs fed a GMO diet, specifically a 267% increase in severe stomach inflammation in the GMO group, with a whopping 400% increase in male pigs. It’s the result that produced pictures like this one in the paper (and, not surprisingly the same picture posted to many an anti-GMO website):

GMO

These images certainly look striking, but what do they mean? Well, not much. First of all, as many have pointed out, the photos chosen are deceptive in that not enough of the groups are shown, nor can we be sure that these are representative. Also, as Mark Hoofnagle points out, the assay for inflammation in the gastric mucosa of the piglets was only based on gross pathology. Basically, there was no histological study and pathological examination of the tissue to detect and quantify actual inflammation. Basically, the assay was based just on a gross visual inspection of the the tissue by a veterinarian (not even a veterinary pathologist even, as far as I can tell). Unfortunately, such inspections can be highly misleading, particularly after animals have been slaughtered in an abattoir, as described by Professor Robert Friendship, University of Guelph:

Dr. Robert Friendship, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph and a swine health management specialist, reviewed the paper [see reference below]. He concluded that ‘it was incorrect for the researchers to conclude that one group had more stomach inflammation than the other group because the researchers did not examine stomach inflammation. They did a visual scoring of the colour of the lining of the stomach of pigs at the abattoir and misinterpreted redness to indicate evidence of inflammation. It does not. They would have had to take a tissue sample and prepare histological slides and examine these samples for evidence of inflammatory response such as white blood cell infiltration and other changes to determine if there was inflammation. There is no relationship between the colour of the stomach in the dead, bled-out pig at a slaughter plant and inflammation. The researchers should have included a veterinary pathologist on their team and this mistake would not have happened. They found no difference between the two experimental groups in pathology that can be determined by gross inspection.’

What I found particularly suspicious was Table 3. Notice how the level of inflammation is divided into no inflammation, mild inflammation, moderate inflammation, severe inflammation, erosions, pin-point ulcers, frank ulcers, and bleeding ulcers. This is not really a standard way of scoring inflammation. I don’t know about pigs, but in humans there are a variety of scoring systems for the endoscopic assessment of inflammation (for example, this one), particularly chronic gastritis (which is what we’re talking about, although such redness as described would, if associated with gastritis, be more associated with acute gastritis). Worse, gross visual assessment of gastric mucosa is subject to high inter-observer variability, and, although the personnel caring for the pigs and doing the autopsies were blinded to the experimental group (which is good), I don’t see any attempt to control for inter-observer variability, and, again, no control for multiple comparisons.

I also note that the difference between pin-point ulcers, frank ulcers, and bleeding ulcers is rather arbitrarily defined and not entirely clear. Also notice how twice as many pigs had no inflammation in the non-GMO group and that there was actually a lower risk of mild and moderate inflammation, as well as erosions and pin-point ulcers. Of course, the p-values are all non-significant, except for one: that for severe inflammation. In fact, on the entire table, the only “statistically significant” result is for “severe inflammation.” In fact, as Mark Lynas points out, many more pigs fed non-GMO feed had stomach inflammation than those with GMO feed.

Lynas also points out that the data are all over the place with respect to reported levels of inflammation, asking the very apt question, “If GMO feed is causing the severe inflammation, why is the non-GMO feed causing far more mild to moderate inflammation?” One also can’t help but notice that for “moderate” inflammation, there was a difference favoring the non-GMO feed, and I echo the question, “Do Carman et al perform a test for statistical significance to see if GMO feed has a protective effect on pigs stomachs? Of course not – that’s not the result they are after.” Exactly. Even worse, they used the wrong statistical analysis to analyze categorical data. When the data are analyzed more appropriately, there appears to be no statistically significant difference between the groups, just as there was no real statistically significant difference in the tumor burden of the rats in the Séralini study. Come to think of it, Carman’s study resembles the Seralini study in that it basically looks at a whole lot of outcomes in a fairly arbitrary fashion and cherry picks the inevitable “positive” result. In fact, if you take all the groups together, there actually appears to be a non-statistically significant trend towards less stomach inflammation in the GMO group. Yes, less. As Karl Haro von Mogel put it, the authors appeared to be “trying to shoe-horn individual categories that aren’t binary data into a statistical test designed for binary data is the wrong approach.” Basically, however you look at it, there’s just no “there” there. Analyzed correctly, there is no statistically significant (or, no doubt, biologically significant) difference in stomach inflammation in this study. As for the reported increase in uterus weights, as Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge points out, “There are also 19 other reported statistical tests, which means we would expect one significant association just by chance: and so the apparent difference in uterus weight is likely to be a false positive.”

There’s another aspect of this paper that’s very troubling, and it is that these animals were all very sick. Indeed, I have to wonder how they were being cared for. Over half the animals are reported in Table 3 to have pneumonia, defined as “consolidating bronchopneumonia of the cranial ventral lung lobe(s) and/or caudal lobes.” That is just not normal, and it doesn’t sound like a minor pneumonia. True, this pneumonia wasn’t histologically verified either, as far as I can tell, although pneumonia can be viewed grossly if it’s bad enough. It is, after all, basically puss mixed with mucous in the alveolae and bronchial passages. As has been pointed out in multiple discussions of this study, such a high percentage of animals with pneumonia is an indicator of very bad animal husbandry, indeed. The bottom line is that there are many, many problems with this study, the totality of which are more than enough to render its results meaningless. There is no dose-dependent mechanism for the effects reported, no rhyme or reason consistent with a mechanism that would explain why GMOs would affect just the stomach (and then only to cause severe inflammation) and uterus size. The study was a fishing expedition and not hypothesis-driven. It’s not surprising that it found something. I’d be shocked if it hadn’t. In the end, this study abused a fairly large number of innocent pigs to produce no useful data. She might try to defend it against criticism, but she basically fails. In particular, one notes that she can’t seem to defend against the charge of a lack of hypothesis and that she didn’t even try to defend the criticism that she didn’t bother to look at stomach histology to verify that there really was inflammation in the gastric mucosa, despite Carman’s touting that the “authors have over 60 years of combined experience and expertise in medicine, animal husbandry, animal nutrition, animal health, veterinary science, biochemistry, toxicology, medical research, histology, risk assessment, epidemiology and statistics.” Sad that they didn’t use all that experience to produce a paper whose results are believable and useful.

This isn’t Judy Carman’s first time…

In reading this study, I couldn’t help but notice the corresponding author: Judy Carman. I had heard that name before. But where? Oh, yes. I remembered. I had encountered her making some truly ridiculous claims about GMOs, so ridiculous that I think it’s worth bringing up now. She didn’t write the commentary I’m about to describe, but she voiced support for its findings, providing tactical air support to its author, Jack Heineman. I had wanted to write about it at the time I came across it, but, for whatever reason, didn’t manage it. So now’s as good a time as any. In brief, Carman appears to be an anti-GMO activist who, along with another anti-GMO activist, Professor Jack Heinemann at the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, made some truly nonsensical claims about GMOs. I first encountered these nonsensical claims in the blog of a homeopath named Heidi Stevenson, who claimed that genetically modified wheat may damage human genetics permanently.

Stevenson prefaces her article with this scary paragraph:

The Australian government, in the form of its science research arm, is joining Agribusiness profiteering by designing a GM wheat that could kill people who eat it & be inherited by their children.

Scared yet? Does Stevenson have your attention? Who are these nefarious scientists, and why would they want to make genetically modified wheat that would do these things? They wouldn’t, of course, but, like the Frankenstein that anti-GMO activists think scientists are, it’s a matter of messing with nature resulting in unintended consequences. In fact, the hilarity is such that I think it’s worth quoting a decent sized chunk of the first part of Stevenson’s article:

We have not yet seen the worst damage that genetic engineering may do. Australia’s governmental agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is developing a wheat species that is engineered to turn off genes permanently.

Professor Jack Heinemann at the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety has studied the wheat’s potential. Digital Journal reports that he says1:

What we found is that the molecules created in this wheat, intended to silence wheat genes, can match human genes, and through ingestion, these molecules can enter human beings and potentially silence our genes. The findings are absolutely assured. There is no doubt that these matches exist.

The implications are clarified by Professor Judy Carman of Flinders University:

If this silences the same gene in us that it silences in the wheat—well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five.

Silencing the equivalent gene in humans that is silenced in this genetically modified wheat holds the potential of killing people. But it gets worse. Silenced genes are permanently silenced and can be passed down the generations.

Yes, that’s the very same Judy Carman who published this awful “stomach inflammation” study that I just discussed.

Basically, Carman’s claim here is that a variety of genetically modified wheat under development by the CSIRO will kill your children. I kid you not. And Judy Carman has not only promoted this idea but amplified it by emphasizing that she thinks children could die. Of course, Stevenson apparently doesn’t see the contradiction between saying that this GM wheat will kill your children but that its gene-silencing effects will also be passed down the generations. Neither does Carman, who continued:

As a result, there is a chain of evidence to show that there is a risk that the dsRNA from this GM wheat may survive digestion, enter the tissues of people that eat it and silence a gene or genes in those people. There is also evidence that any genetic changes so produced may be stable and become established in many cells of an organ. Furthermore, there a possibility that these changes may be passed-on to future generations.

In any case, I could recognize some amazing speculation and fear mongering right off the bat; so it’s time to explain.

Gene “silencing” means what the name implies: Shutting down the activity of a gene so that it stops making its gene product. Of course, gene silencing is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Like other forms of gene regulation, silencing happens on a continuum from zero to complete silencing, depending on the level and activity of the silencing agent. In this case, the silencing agent that is being turned into the bogeyman du jour is RNA. Specifically, it’s a type of RNA-mediated gene silencing called RNA interference (or RNAi), also known as post transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS). The idea is that the CSIRO is apparently engineering a strain of wheat that produces a short RNA molecule designed to silence specific genes in the wheat. Most of the time, when we talk about RNA, we talk about messenger RNA (mRNA), the RNA that is the intermediary between DNA and protein. However, back in the late 1990s, it was discovered that there are other RNA molecules that actually regulate gene expression by binding to complementary sequences on mRNAs. These molecules include classes of RNAs called microRNAs, as well as double-stranded RNA molecules known as short interfering RNA (siRNA), that can participate in cellular pathways that contribute to gene silencing, most commonly through binding to complementary sequences and inducing the degradation of different mRNAs in a sequence-specific manner. In fact, siRNAs were first discovered in plant genetics and only later was it discovered that short RNAs serve as a gene regulatory mechanism in mammalian cells as well.

An excellent video explanation of RNAi can be found, courtesy of Nature:

So what’s the problem? Heinemann and Carman are apparently worried that the siRNA that will be used to silence two genes in wheat called SEI and SEII. Heinemann apparently did an analysis based on the sequence of the SEI and SEII genes, comparing them against the human genome and looking for matches. He found them in the gene for the enzyme mentioned by Judy Carman. In humans, the equivalent gene is known as glucan (1,4‐alpha‐), branching enzyme 1, abbreviated GBE. Based on some similarities he found between SEI and GBE, Heinemann sounded an alarm through an anti-GMO activist group known as the Safe Food Foundation & Institute. Humans store carbohydrates as glycogen, and GBE makes branches in glycogen. There is a consequence to not being able to branch one’s glycogen, although not branching it in wheat could be useful for decreasing its glycemic index. There is a disease known as glycogen storage disease IV, which leads to damage to the liver over time. That’s the disease that Judy Carman was referring to.

Of course, the problem with Dr. Heinemann’s highly speculative analysis is that he didn’t know the actual siRNA sequences that were going to be used. Without that information his analysis was pretty pointless. At the very best, it was highly speculative. At the worst, it was ideologically and politically motivated.

So how could this possibly matter? After all, it’s RNA. It’s really unstable, isn’t it? Well, not exactly. Single stranded RNA is very unstable. It can’t survive long outside of the cell. However, dsRNA can be quite stable, even outside of a cell. But that still leaves the question of whether dsRNA from a plant that is eaten can have any effect. To do that, the siRNA would have to survive digestion, be absorbed into the bloodstream, enter other cells, and act on gene expression. Heinemann notes that such a phenomenon can be observed in insects and worms.

But can it happen in humans? Well, there is one paper that Heinemann latched on to because he thinks it demonstrates that the same phenomenon can happen in humans. It’s a paper by Zhang et al. published in Cell Research that showed that showed that a plant-derived microRNA (miR-168a) from rice can be found in human serum after ingesting rice and that it can actually bind to the mRNA for low-density lipoprotein receptor adapter protein 1, thus inhibiting the expression of this protein. It’s an interesting observation, but there are a number of questions. For one thing, although the microRNAs are detectable in serum they circulate at a really low concentration, namely the femtomolar range (10-15 mole/Liter). News stories describing the study at the time were quite credulous, but a better discussion can be found at Sandwalk. In any case, the exceedingly low concentration of microRNA observed in the bloodstream leaves a huge question in that there is no known mechanism by which such a low concentration could have such an effect. When I first read the study, I thought it plausible, but the more I think about it the more I agree with the Sandwalk commenter who says it screams “artifact” to him. Or this commenter:

There is probably 10 fM of everything in the blood. Sheesh, that’s less than 4×10^9 molecules per whole body consisting of about 7×10^12 cells and containing no more than 7×10^10 hepatocytes. That’s less than 0.1 miRNA per liver cell in the best possible scenario. What are these RNAs, totally magic?

Maybe they’re homeopathic, although admittedly fM concentrations are far and away greater than the concentrations of most homeopathic remedies (i.e., zero). In any case, stoichiometry is your friend when figuring these things out. Personally, I’ll wait for some confirmation that this happens from other groups before I buy it. True, another group has reported finding miR-168a, but it also reported a huge variety of microRNAs in the serum from a variety of sources, including bacteria and fungi as well as from other species, such as various insects. Basically, we’re awash in microRNAs from other species that we come into contact with. So far, the only evidence that they have any effect whatsoever is that one study suggesting that miR-168a might regulate one gene, even though it’s hard to figure out by what mechanism it could possibly accomplish this. Add to that the utter lack of evidence that any circulating microRNA can not only silence a gene in human cells but actually induce epigenetic changes, and Professor Heinemann’s speculation becomes ever more…speculative. This is true particularly in light of the fact that we regularly eat plants that make many siRNAs and microRNAs. Why would GM wheat siRNAs be any different or more dangerous, particularly given the very low concentrations involved?

Let’s put it this way. For Heinemann and Carman’s fear mongering to be a real concern, any siRNA or microRNA from genetically modified wheat would not only have to be made in sufficient quantity at least to equal the normal concentration of miR-168a in rice, but also be stable enough to pass through stomach acid and the gut lining undigested, and get into the bloodstream at a high enough level to affect gene expression. That’s leaving aside the question of whether there is even enough sequence match that the siRNA could even target the human GBE mRNA in the first place, which is impossible to say because we don’t know the actual sequence of the siRNA being used. It’s true that Heinemann has updated his “report.” However, that update doesn’t really show anything new or contribute to the plausibility of Heinemann’s concerns. In fact, it trashes the plausibility even more because the homology (in laymen’s terms, match) to the glycogen enzyme that Heinemann was promoting pretty much disappears in this reanalysis. (In fact, if you look at it in depth, it wasn’t even there to begin with, and it’s questionable whether he even used the right wheat sequence in his BLAST analyses.) Even in the reanalysis, the only areas of match appeared in introns, which, as Biofortified put it:

However, all of the matches he highlights are either to introns – which would not matter for the mechanism of action that is the issue here. Or they are in the genome desert areas, thousands of bases away from anything that appears to be a gene.

Result: Take a deep breath. The GMO wheat that forms the basis of this claim will not kill your children or permanently alter your genome.

More interestingly, I decided to check back and see if the human GBE gene is still sticking with this sequence switcheroo. The main fear-based claim was that the GBE gene would be suppressed and children with a disorder of this can die by the age of 5. So let’s see–let’s do an analysis of this new sequence and compare it to GBE. If you perform a BLASTn at NCBI with these two sequences and default settings as Jack says he does, what do we get?

The result? No significant similarity found.

That’s right. The entire foundation of the fear–the match to GBE–is gone. Evaporated. Vanished. Nada. Zip.

No wonder Australian and New Zealand regulators have rejected the concerns.

Add to that the enormous lack of likelihood that, even if the siRNAs and microRNAs in GM wheat could actually make it into the bloodstream in concentrations sufficient to alter gene expression, it’s incredibly unlikely that such RNAs could actually induce “permanent” epigenetic changes to justify the fear mongering.

There might be questions about GMOs, but by and large they are not issues of safety. Rather, they are issues of intellectual property; i.e., how large companies developing GMOs behave. Hysteria of the like generated by the likes of Jack Heinemann and Judy Carman and parroted by useful idiots like Heidi Stevenson generate heat, but no light. Nor does the latest round of attempts to generate hysterical fear mongering based on Carman’s latest study. Both Heinemann’s speculations and Carman’s most recent bit of data mining are of a piece. They are not designed to provide a dispassionate analysis of the true potential risks and benefits of GMOs. They are designed to be propaganda to produce fear, uncertainty, and doubt about GMOs, just like Andrew Wakefield’s studies about the MMR vaccine, just like Mark and David Geier’s studies of thimerosal in vaccines, just like the studies of any variety of antivaccine cranks. It is the equivalent of shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.

Unfortunately, the pseudoscience is metastasizing. GMO Pundit points out the next frontier of anti-GMO fear mongering.:

GMO vaccine fear

Yes, because a new flu vaccine Flublok is made in “insect cells” (specifically, the baculovirus system, a very common system of expressing mammalian proteins for use in genetically engineered products), it is now a “GMO product” and to be feared as much as GMO-derived foods. In actuality, Flublok should end up being safer than the old flu vaccine because it doesn’t include all those extraneous proteins, such as egg protein, just the three hemagglutinin, or HA proteins, of the most common flu strains circulating in any given year.

What’s next? Telling diabetics that they shouldn’t take insulin derived from genetic engineering because the protein is made in—gasp!—bacteria or yeast?

Posted in: Basic Science, Nutrition, Science and the Media

Leave a Comment (239) ↓

239 thoughts on “More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism

  1. Most developed countries do not consider that GMOs are safe. In more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and all the countries of the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. In the United States, the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same companies that benefit them and their sale created. Increasingly, Americans are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to opt out of the experience of GMOs.

    1. Ryan Megan says:

      @Ashraf: These are fairly common anti-gmo talking points. As with this country, “Most developed countries” don’t have people involved with field of study writing the policy. Simply saying “X country does this” is not evidence for GMO being harmful, it’s evidence of anti-gmo policy. If you look into what the scientific community in those countries are saying, you’ll quickly find they are saying the same thing as ours are saying, as we all have access to the same studies.

      Which bring me to your other point, there is not shortage of independent studies son GMO. Simply saying all studies showing no danger are industry studies, doesn’t make it so. I’m sure it feels good to say. and no matter if the study was paid for by the industry or anti-undstry activists, is secondary to peer review of the study.

      1. Tom James says:

        Why did Monsanto need to harass and sue the farmers not using their seed out of existence? Good products should evolve on their own without jack booted thugs forcing others out of the industry. If for no other reason the companys policy and methods are reason enough for me to object to their product and monopoly. Also where did all the bees go?

        1. kevinfolta says:

          There’s not a farmer I know that will be forced to do anything. They buy the seeds because they perform well. Maybe ask one instead of succumbing to the chloroform of the anti-GM movement.

    2. lilady says:

      Nifty bit of plagiarism Ashraf Farouk, lifted right from here…

      http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/

      Why am I not impressed with the Board of Directors of this anti-GMO organization?

      http://www.nongmoproject.org/about/who-we-are/board-of-directors/

        1. Earthman says:

          The executive summary is enough to see that this is a completely biased study

      1. Glen Hopping says:

        I have no idea why your not impressed because I am bloody amazed. Thanks for the link and the laugh.

    3. Kultakutri says:

      The claim that EU doesn’t consider GMO safe for consumption is not exactly true, in fact, it is a lie. There are very strict requirements for labelling because the consumers want to know and the farmer or producer can get into quite a trouble if their product contains something that’s not clearly stated. Recently there was a huge recall of several minced meat products over several European states because it was declared beef and contained horse meat – and the problem wasn’t horse meat as such but the lack of information.

    4. Earthman says:

      “Most developed countries do not consider that GMOs are safe.”

      Please, please. It is politicians in those developed countries who are scared of losing votes who are causing the problem. They are the antithesis of science and will just go along with whatever they think will get them the most votes. Logic, reason, science, does not get a look in.

  2. smccann27 says:

    @Ashraf Fariouk, what is your point? Germany funds patient access to homeopathic remedies, does that make them effective?

  3. goodnightirene says:

    Sadly, Mr. Farouk seems to be a troll who popped in to post based only on a headline or news feed, and obviously either did not read the post or failed to comprehend any of it.

  4. Janet Camp says:

    Test post to see if my picture appears.

  5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Most scientists who study GMO, you know – the actual experts, do. While politicians and citizens within democracies have a large amount of influence over decision-making, that doesn’t make them good decisions. Science is not a democracy, nor is it a popularity contest. The smallpox vaccine when initially introduced was treated with suspicion and garnered tremendous opposition. Now, thanks to the smallpox vaccine, the disease no longer exists.

    When the people working with GMO, day in and day out, suggest that perhaps the fears are overblown (particularly when decades of research has located no consistently demonstrable harms), perhaps the nonexperts are wrong.

    1. wolf 10 says:

      Better to wait until a self-replicating entity proves to be harmful and uncontrollable in the open environment? DDT and tobacco were considered safe for centuries and decades respectively. People can stop using DDT and smoking. Controlling plant reproduction in nature is something else entirely.

      Public ambivalence toward and even deep mistrust of private, monied institutions and their effect on scientific process as well as their influence upon government policy is not completely or always unreasonable. But I doubt that less democracy, as you seem to imply, will improve either our public and private institutions or a higher appreciation of science among the general population.

      We’ll just have to keep using our words, one tedious keystroke after another.

    2. Ad Lib says:

      Any thoughts on this scientist?

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

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        His name is Thierry Vrain. Search for his name in the comments section, you’ll see one of my replies to Stanmrak, who cited Vrain. He really, really likes the Seralini rat study, but he’s less enamored of science that shows GMO crops are harmless. Oh, and he seems to lie.

      2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Incidentally, the TED talks are attracting fewer genuine scientists and more nutters. Rather than a real paleontologist, a while back they had Elaine Morgan on, promoting the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis – which no actual paleontologists believe in.

        1. There have been a lot of controversies with bad science content in TED (particularly the TEDx franchises –though the talk by Elaine Morgan was a TED talk rather than a TEDx franchise). The organizers have been claiming, as of lately, to be tightening up standards (see the kerfuffles over the Graham Hancock & Rupert Sheldrake talks as well as the pulling of the TEDxWestHollywood license). We shall see.

        2. Ad Lib says:

          Thank you for your feedback. :)

  6. Alia says:

    As dr Gorski mentioned briefly, there are a lot of things that are wrong with GMOs, but not on biological level. Rather, it’s the question of intellectual property and patent laws that are a huge disadvantage to small farmers. And then there’s the question of biodiversity or rather lack of it, which might potentially lead to disaster.
    (On a side note, I did some translation work for International Peasants’ Union on this topic and I find some of their arguments valid, but these are economical arguments and have nothing to do with panicky “GMO will kill your children!!!1!!1!”)

    1. Bill says:

      Someone read the above article and had the following comments. Can someone point me somewhere I can read to address them? It is rather difficult to wade through the internet noise to get the right answers. thanks.

      Tell your dad that was a really long article.lol. In the end I still dont know who wrote it. What scares me about the GMO crops is when I hear that some of our biggest wheat importers have cancelled their orders due to the finding of “unapproved for consumption” GMO wheat developed by Monsanto growing in a field in Oregon. Those seeds were studied by Monsanto from 1998-2005 & then deemed “unapproved for consumption”. Why ? What did their studies show ? Its wheat for goodness sake. Why cant you eat it ? And why do importers rufuse to buy it ? And the whole Monsanto Protection Act doesn’t sit well with me either.

      1. lynnk says:

        The studies showed they were safe. Monsanto withdrew the approval petition because market for GMO wheat wasn’t there because of all the antiGMO legislation and “feeling” outside North America, as the current import situation illustrates. Rumor has it the whole development and approval process is rather expensive. The “Monsanto Protection Act” was also the “Farmer Protection Act” to prevent lower courts (as happened in CA with the sugar beets a few years back) from basically ruling that the current crop in the ground is worthless. Not that Monsanto didn’t also get a great deal, but it’s much better to use Monsanto as a boogeyman than a farmer. I can find links to all that if necessary, but didn’t want to leave the question unanswered.

  7. The recent surge, iirc, started over Monsanto business practices. Too bad they didn’t stay about corporatism :(

    1. windriven says:

      Is it just me or is this ‘comment’ totally incomprehensible? The first sentence has what appears to be a subject but no object.* The second has verb that bears no obvious relationship to either the subject or the object.

      *After a third reading I think I may have it, viz.: the recent upswing in interest in GMO results from the appearance of GMO wheat in a non-GMO field in Oregon. I am not entirely sure what the takeaway from that is supposed to be. Can someone clue me into the meaning of iirc?

      1. torn says:

        If I recall correctly=iirc. I understood the comment to be that the real concern isn’t GMO itself but the corporate practices of companies like Monsanto. This could refer to the wheat contamination, or to herbicide resistant weeds Monsanto insisted couldn’t involve, or any other (to my thinking) legitimate concerns over the effects of corporate farming on the ecosystem. Instead GMO itself has become sort of a red herring.

        (How I took the comment)

  8. Ken Heinze says:

    here is the problem: Who can trust ANY authoritative voice when they are bought and paid for?
    David Gorski’s Financial Pharma Ties: What He Didn’t Tell You http://www.ageofautism.com/2010/06/david-gorskis-financial-pharma-ties-what-he-didnt-tell-you.html

    1. windriven says:

      Age of Autism? Really? You scoured the earth to find a source besmirching Dr. Gorski and that is the best you can do? Sigh…..

      Let me jump right to this:
      “Gorski’s employer, Wayne State University, is one of the partners, and he is conducting a clinical trial of one of the company’s drugs.”

      “Gorski has a reasonable expectation to receive money from a vaccine maker, even if it is through a third party.”

      Little man, do you believe that Dr. Gorski is paid on commission? Are you so clueless about the nature of scientific research in an academic setting that this raises your antennae?

      Lives abound in this wonderful nation. You should get one. Or rent if you can’t afford to buy.

      1. Bryan says:

        And what exactly is wrong with the article he “scoured the earth” for? Does it make the article less valid or somehow this guy is above reproach simply because you try to yell louder than the research done by Mr. Heinze?

  9. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Dr. Gorski addresses that very link and accusation in his “about” page. He also has a specific post about that particular accusation.

    Your post doesn’t have anything to say about the topic of the post, so it looks like you’re just here to smear Dr. Gorski. I’m sure it makes you feel better, like you’re in control, like you’ve struck some sort of blow for…I don’t know, science? Certainly conflicts of interest are an area of concern, they require us to apply an extra degree of scrutiny. But I don’t believe Dr. Gorski’s funding for cancer research affects his ability to comment on gentically modified organisms or to point out basic flaws in the science.

    And surely if this is such an area of concern for you, you are lobbying your congressperson for more funding of independent scientific inquiry, so such corporate research concerns can be addressed in a meaningful way?

  10. saijanai says:

    Here’s an interesting factoid often pitched by the GMO industry (scientists, lay advocates and corporations):

    600 or 1300 or 1600 or whatever studies show the safety of GMO food.

    Here’s the thing though, in any other context except GMOs, which are held to have “substantial equivalence” with non-GMO food, safety testing is done to find ANY differences, no matter how small. Textbooks on toxicology remind researchers and students that the point is not about the size of the difference, since a large difference may prove to be unimportant while a small difference might prove to be important.

    Because of this, toxicology textbooks instruct students and researchers to evaluate ANY differences found between experimental and control groups on a case by case basis and not screen merely on effect-size. IF an effect is deemed to be relevant, no matter how small or larger, more research is called for AND performed because obviously you don’t want to ignore relevant findings in a safety study.

    On the other hand, the quasi-GMO safety testing done with rodents, uses an extra protocol that also compares the experimental group with “auxiliary reference groups” of rodents fed food not directly related to the experiment, and justifies not reporting differences, even though they are detected in a procedure designed to detect differences larger than 1 standard deviation from the norm of the control group, as long as they are within TWO standard deviations of the norm of the auxiliary group[s]. Monsanto’s own studies always use 6 different groups pooled together.

    The result has been that Monsanto has NEVER found “relevant” differences in any of their studies so of course, no followup research is ever done. Any differences are always deemed irrelevant simply due to statistical manipulation, and NOT due to any further consideration due to toxicological relevance.

    This same pattern holds in all other GMO “safety studies” that I have seen: occasionally, differences are found, but are deemed irrelevant, or simply false positives or whatever and no followup studies are ever done.

    In a world where safety testing is taken seriously, the odds that all 600 studies would fail to trigger new research can be evaluated in much the same way that the odds that all 600 of them are null-finding, because, for all practical purposes, a safety study that fails to trigger followup research is a null-finding study.

    So, assuming a 1/20 chance (a p < 0.05) of having a false positive deemed sufficiently important to trigger further research, the odds of having all 600 GMO safety studies fail to trigger further research is by chance is:

    (1 – p)^600 or (0.95)^600

    Adjust that p value as you like, and you still most conclude that safety testing in the GMO industry is a farce.

    1. David Gorski says:

      That torrent of words is all all very well and good, very impressive on a strictly superficial basis, but do you have a point? Or a credible study showing that GMOs aren’t safe?

      I didn’t think so. Otherwise you wouldn’t need the verbal prestidigitation.

      1. saijanai says:

        OK, in a nutshell:

        So, assuming a 1/20 chance (a p < 0.05) of having a false positive deemed sufficiently important to trigger further research, the odds of having all 600 GMO safety studies fail to trigger further research is by chance is:

        (1 – p)^600 or (0.95)^600

        Adjust that p value as you like, and you still most conclude that safety testing in the GMO industry is a farce.

        Note: this doesn't prove that GMOs are unsafe, only that the rhetoric used by the industry is simple PR. By definition, GMOs are safe because they are "substantially equivalent" to other food organisms. Any testing beyond what is mandated to screen for allergens and similar things is merely PR fluff. Anyone who repeats the GMO industry rhetoric is simply repeating PR fluff.

        Got it now?

        1. windriven says:

          “Got it now?”

          No. Like the estimable Dr. Crislip, I do not claim particular expertise in statistical analysis. But like Billy Carter, I know what bullsh|t smells like. Explain, if you will, how you arrive at (1-p)^600 in a case where we are examining 600 independent studies and looking for 1 to trigger further research?

          Look at it simply: We are going to toss a 20-sided cube 600 times. In the event that side 13 comes ‘up’, that triggers further research. What you seem to be suggesting is that there is a .95^600 (roughly 4.3^-14) chance of side 13 coming up.

          Or am I too stupid to understand the brilliance of your argument?

          1. saijanai says:

            You’ve gotten your analogy exactly backwards.

            There is a 1 in 20 chance (say) that random chance will lead a researcher to find a difference that triggers a second study.

            In other words, with a standard Dungeons and Dragons 20-sided die, the odds are that you will roll a ’0′ one out of 20 times. The odds are that you will roll a zero 30 times in 600 times.

            What are the odds that you NEVER roll a zero in 600 tries?

            The situation is more complicated for a whole bunch of reasons, but it is a good first order question: do GMO safety studies ever trigger followups?

            If I showed you a table of 600 rolls of 20-sided die, and none of them were zero, you’d think the die was probably loaded.

          2. windriven says:

            @sajanai

            “In other words, with a standard Dungeons and Dragons 20-sided die, the odds are that you will roll a ’0′ one out of 20 times. The odds are that you will roll a zero 30 times in 600 times.

            What are the odds that you NEVER roll a zero in 600 tries?”

            Your mistake, from my perspective, is the assumption that the die must have a ’0′. We can take a mass of 1kg and an acceleration of 32m/sec^2 and measure the force 60 times or 600 times or 6,000,000 times and, unless we err in our execution the ‘die’ will always come up 32N, never 0.

        2. I think what saijanai is trying to say is that due to mere statistical likelihood alone, if there are 600 studies on GE crops, the chance that none of them will come up negative is astronomically small, and they are right. However, they completely misunderstand the list of 600 studies that they are talking about. How do I know? I’m one of the people building it.
          Our list of studies, which is being turned into a searchable database right now (but is at present just a list) is intended to be comprehensive and contain all known relevant peer-reviewed studies, that means the ones that find differences and the ones that don’t. They are being categorized, rated as to their outcome, and organized in a way that will allow people to browse and search for them. See our page about the project here: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/
          They do not 100% of them find no differences, or no problems, just as not every study confirms global warming. The point is that when you look at the whole of the literature together (and not cherry pick just the ones you want) you get an overall view of the relative risks. How many studies, exactly, are positive and how many are negative? I can’t tell you yet, because we’re not yet through all 600 of them!
          I hope this helps. If anyone claims that 100% of them are positive towards GMOs, please correct them. But don’t take the science predominantly supporting one position to mean that there’s some sort of grand conspiracy to cover up the harm. Instead, perhaps you might consider that the science points to that conclusion because it reflects reality.

          1. saijanai says:

            Karl, thanks for responding. I tried to over-think the issue, but it seems to me that if out of 600 safety studies, as you characterize them, none of them have triggered a followup study, then that is its own unusual statistic. Every study that I have seen that finds a significant difference between the GMO and non-GMO strains eventually concludes that the effect isn’t relevant.

            Out of all 600 studies, surely a few would find relevant appearing results, simply by accident? If no study ever triggers a followup to more closely investigate a finding, that is unlikely.

            Also, while I can accept that the vast majority of researchers in the field are dedicated scientists, please understand that the companies that many scientists work for, or receiving funding from, or whose bosses (e.g. the president of South Dakota State University is on the board of directors of Monsanto) work for, have a reputation that is every bit as nasty in some ways as the tobacco companies.

            I don’t just mean Monsanto. Bayer is known to have shipped blood products that they had reason to suspect were tainted with HIV, to markets that were chosen specifically because the customers would have a hard time suing Bayer if the suspicions turned out to be correct. Apparently the suspicions WERE correct, and Bayer’s lawyers guessed right: customers ARE having a hard time suing Bayer because of the differences in laws between the USA and Asia where the products were sold.

            These companies don’t merely set the policy and interpretation for their own workers, but set the guidelines that the FDA, EUSA, etc follow, and help devise the textbooks that researchers learn from. You may think that you are beyond influence, but marketing comes in all shapes and sizes, and affects everyone, no matter how well-educated they are.

            Whenever I hear a researcher insist that HIS field knows enough to be sure that something is safe, I recall the conversations I had with nuclear engineering students and their professors in the early 70′s concerning the 100% certainty that no danger existed from nuclear reactors.

            Certainly, one can never be 100% certain and to attempt to be 100% certain dooms you to never advance, but the alternate that is embraced by the GMO industry, that GMOs are substantially equivalent, has its own absolutist character that screams “Hubris.”

          2. «Certainly, one can never be 100% certain and to attempt to be 100% certain dooms you to never advance, but the alternate that is embraced by the GMO industry, that GMOs are substantially equivalent, has its own absolutist character that screams “Hubris.”»

            It’s not hubris. It’s an understanding of the nature of the change effected by the genetic manipulation in question.

            The nature of the change is not substantially equivalent to the changes produced by other means (mutational breeding, conventional selection, hybridization, etc.) with the former being well defined and limited and the latter being poorly defined and widespread.

            Whenever we have run into trouble with unexpected consequences (ie., potatoes too toxic for commercialization, celery unexpectedly hazardous to agricultural workers, forage grass unexpectedly producing enough cyanide to kill cattle) it has been from conventional breeding practices and this is as would be expected. In contrast, any undesirable side effects from transgenic modifications will be a result of the specific modification created rather than to some mysterious side effects related to the fact that mere fact that genetic engineering was used in the creation of the variety. For this reason, the claim of substantial equivalence, can be, if anything, stronger for GMO processes than for those represented by conventional breeding technologies.

            In other words, just like with everything else in life, you can get bad results if you do something stupid. This would be something to be determined on a case by case basis (as is already the case). Instead, anti-GMO zealots suggest that an entire class of improvements be rejected out of hand on the absurd basis of the use of an intrinsically safer set of techniques having been involved in their development.

          3. Hi Saijani,
            You said: “I tried to over-think the issue, but it seems to me that if out of 600 safety studies, as you characterize them, none of them have triggered a followup study, then that is its own unusual statistic.”
            Where do you get this claim that none of them have triggered a followup study? Have you scoured them and the papers citing them to see if this is true or not? This is the first time I have seen this claim being made, we certainly have not made it. You are setting up a straw man to knock down here.
            Finally, you misunderstand what substantial equivalence is:
            “Certainly, one can never be 100% certain and to attempt to be 100% certain dooms you to never advance, but the alternate that is embraced by the GMO industry, that GMOs are substantially equivalent, has its own absolutist character that screams “Hubris.””
            Substantial equivalence means that the changes to the plant or food fall within the normal background variation found for that plant. It is not something that is assumed, or guessed, but is determined through scientific investigation.

      2. wolf 10 says:

        Better to wait until a self-replicating entity proves to be harmful and uncontrollable in the open environment? DDT and tobacco were considered safe for centuries and decades respectively. People can stop using DDT and smoking. Controlling plant reproduction in nature is something else entirely.

        Public ambivalence toward and even deep mistrust of private, monied institutions and their effect on scientific process as well as their influence upon government policy is not completely or always unreasonable. But I doubt that less democracy, as you seem to imply, will improve either our public and private institutions or a higher appreciation of science among the general population.

        We’ll just have to keep using our words, one tedious keystroke after another.

        1. windriven says:

          “Better to wait until a self-replicating entity proves to be harmful and uncontrollable in the open environment?”

          Yes, we should probably have done that with penicillin, too. In fact, with all the beta lactams. You know, injecting those into the human body could lead to weird genetic abnormalities generations down the line! Three headed babies with twelve toes on each ear!

          All those evil BigPharma companies want you to believe that beta lactams are good for treating gram positive infections. BUT THEY WORK BY SCREWING WITH* THE WAY CELL WALLS WORK!!! Think what that could do if it worked its way into your genome!!! You could be walking down the street and all of a sudden the aqueous humor could start leaking out of your eyeballs. Yuck!

          ***

          I don’t get your schtick. Science is negated by the fact that “private, monied institutions” play a role in funding it? You likely have an iSomething or two. You might have a Facebook page. You might use Google to search for the mode of action of beta lactams. Are these “private, monied interests?” Do you care that they (at least the last two) collect reams of data about you and sell it to the highest bidder?

          Let’s think this through for just one little minute. Monsanto ($104.76 at today’s close with a $56 BILLION dollar market cap) is going to risk everything to buy off 600 studies that show their GM products to be the devil’s spawn? Even ‘birthers’ aren’t that nuts. But there are several thousand plaintiff’s attorneys dreaming of their own personal Hawaiian island who hope your fantasy is true.

          *Biology wasn’t my strong science :-(

          1. wolf 10 says:

            Putting your insults and shouting aside, you are attributing to me beliefs I do not hold.
            Comparing microbes in a lab, naturally occurring ones at that, with large scale agricultural projects does not scale, as it were. It’s an apples to oranges comparison.

            As to profit driven distortion of science: you can think of no example of that ever having occurred? Ever heard of tobacco or climate change deniers?

            Finally, please try to remain civil.

          2. saijanai says:

            The bias concerning the 600 safety studies is very simple to demonstrate. The GMO industry itself shouts it to the world:

            GMO food is substantially equivalent to non-GMO food and therefore needs no more safety testing than non-GMO food does. If a study finds odd effects, they are simply dismissed as noise and no followup is ever done…

            …apparently EVER, though I haven’t checked personally, just gone by the advocate’s claim that all 600 safety studies support the claim that GMOs are safe.

        2. windriven says:

          ” Public ambivalence toward and even deep mistrust of private, monied institutions and their effect on scientific process

          As to profit driven distortion of science: you can think of no example of that ever having occurred?”

          You ask civility while waging broad attack based on a few outliers and your personal fears. Private, monied institutions have bought and paid for much of the technological progress that allows large chunks of the world’s population to live extraordinarily long and rich lives compared to those lived only a century ago. They have brought forth technologies that feed hundreds of millions more who would otherwise suffer malnutrition or starvation.

          Has this come as pure and perfect good untouched by setbacks or the occasional evil manipulation? Of course not.

          You started with a snarky little comment based on fear alone and when called out you beg for civility? If you want civil discourse, start with it.

        3. ThatSkepticGuy says:

          “As to profit driven distortion of science: you can think of no example of that ever having occurred? Ever heard of tobacco or climate change deniers? ”

          I’m curious, Wolf, why do you accept the peer-review backed scientific consensus behind Climate Change/Global Warming (despite the fact that it has made an awful lot of money for panic hucksters like Al Gore and the carbon credit scamsters) but reject the peer-review backed scientific consensus behimd the safety and efficacy of GMOs?

      3. Thor says:

        Prestidigitation—the best (most complicated) word uttered in a long time.
        It will take some practice being able to pronounce it properly in a spontaneous sentence, but I’ll practice.
        Gotta love it!

        1. saijanai says:

          My “wall of text” was to establish a background for my actual argument.

          Can you, off the top of your head, explain the difference in procedure between how GMO and non-GMO rodent toxicity studies are performed?

          Can you, off the top of your head, explain why such differences might be important in safety evaluations?

          Can you, off the top of your head, explain what “substantial equivalence” means with respect to GMOs?

          1. David Gorski says:

            You know, seeing you flood the comments with this gambit, I start to smell straw, as in straw man. I haven’t seen this particular claim anywhere by a GMO advocate that 600 studies are completely negative for any potential concerns whatsoever. Perhaps you could point me to such an advocate who uses that claim, so that I can evaluate his or her reasoning for myself. A link or two or three to articles, blog posts, etc., in which GMO defenders make this claim will suffice for a start.

      4. saijanai says:

        “You know, seeing you flood the comments with this gambit, I start to smell straw, as in straw man. I haven’t seen this particular claim anywhere by a GMO advocate that 600 studies are completely negative for any potential concerns whatsoever. Perhaps you could point me to such an advocate who uses that claim, so that I can evaluate his or her reasoning for myself. A link or two or three to articles, blog posts, etc., in which GMO defenders make this claim will suffice for a start.”

        You’re raising your own straw man. I was quite careful with my wording: there is apparently, *from what GMO advocates say*, no support for the other side: that is, none of the 600 studies, whether or not they found effects, was deemed sufficiently worrisome to ever trigger a followup study.

        Ever.

        Plenty of studies may have found SOME effects but none rose above the noise to be cited as a reason to do a followup study.

        And of course, I may be mis-interpreting things since I haven’t looked at the all the 600 “safety studies” that various people point to to make sure none of them justify their existence based on prior research that found suspicious effects from the GMO vs non-GMO consumption in animals.

        http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/p/450-published-safety-assessments.html

        1. theLaplaceDemon says:

          Go look at Biofortified’s list of independently-funded GMO studies. Plenty of redundancy/followups.

          Also, I have never heard a reputable scientist say there is literally no study that says GMOs have negative health implications. Just that the weight of the evidence says the do not.

          http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/

        2. Bryan says:

          Well done sir. Scientific absolution–the calling card of good solid “thorough” science with an agenda. No outliers whatsoever. Makes it so believable. I like your style saijanai

    2. Sawyer says:

      Sorry, you don’t get to have your cake and eat it too. If a small number of studies came back showing minor health problems (just due to noise) the anti-GMO crowd shouts it from the mountaintops as definitive evidence. If no studies show health problems, you get to claim that it’s a conspiracy. GMO activists have created a no-win situation for both companies and for independent laboratories trying to do honest research.

      And gee, I wonder if this “noise” argument has anything to do with the study being discussed here…

      1. saijanai says:

        A small group of studies DO come back showing problems. IN every case, researchers explain it away as noise. Apparently, no study ever goes above the noise level. The odds of that happening by chance in 600 out of 600 studies are extremely slim.

        1. David Gorski says:

          Um, no it isn’t. Do you accept that homeopathy is water and therefore has no physiological effect aside from the small amount of water and sugar in the pill? Take my word for it for the moment. There are lots of homeopathy studies that purport to find beneficial effects against various diseases and conditions, and guess what? When you really look at them closely, such results are always due to bias, poor study design, or statistical noise.

          Rather like GMO studies, actually.

          But I am amused. First you come in here saying GMO advocates point to “600 studies” that find no problems at all with GMOs and claim that statistically incredibly improbable to the point that it must be bias. Now you admit that some studies do show problems but that they are said to be due to statistical noise. Which is it? I note that the latter explanation rather undermines your first explanation.

          Seriously, you amuse me. To a point.

          1. saijanai says:

            I have yet, I believe, to substantially change my wording from the original post, but your comprehension of the original post continues to rise while you base your accusations of MY wording change off of your misreading of my original post:

            “In a world where safety testing is taken seriously, the odds that all 600 studies would fail to trigger new research can be evaluated in much the same way that the odds that all 600 of them are null-finding, because, for all practical purposes, a safety study that fails to trigger followup research is a null-finding study.

            So, assuming a 1/20 chance (a p < 0.05) of having a false positive deemed sufficiently important to trigger further research, the odds of having all 600 GMO safety studies fail to trigger further research is by chance is:

            (1 – p)^600 or (0.95)^600

            Adjust that p value as you like, and you still most conclude that safety testing in the GMO industry is a farce."

    3. «Here’s the thing though, in any other context except GMOs, which are held to have “substantial equivalence” with non-GMO food, safety testing is done to find ANY differences, no matter how small.»

      So what you are trying to tell us is that more testing is currently required when attempting to commercialize non-GMO plant varieties than is the case for commercialization of transgenic varieties?

      I am very skeptical of this claim (if you even meant to make this claim). Could you document this if you meant to make this claim?

      1. saijanai says:

        I have no problem with doing safety studies on regular food too, especially certain hybrids which may have been causing problems world-wide since their introduction (e.g. dwarf wheat).

        My only point, however, is about how the safety tests are conducted. They apparently do not EVER trigger followup studies. I may be wrong of course. Perhaps there are not only 30-ish studies that found an significant effect and called for more research but there are many studies that cite those studies as the reason why they are being conducted.

        1. David Gorski says:

          I may be wrong of course.

          And, of course, you are.

          1. saijanai says:

            Your logic and evidence presented overwhelm me.

          2. David Gorski says:

            I gave you the response your comments have deserved and pithily expressed my annoyance at your flooding the comments at the same time.

  11. David Tribe says:

    No one can match Gorski for satire laced commentary and flair. But in defense of the comparatively clumsy and prosaic efforts by us Australians in this arena let me say it’s not so easy to write on this topic down under, as it exposes one as the probable target of legal threats.

    see here.

    http://gmopundit.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/legal-threats-for-gm-commentators-there.html

    I can personally vouch for the repeated use of other legal writs and verbal claims against SEVERAL ACADEMICS that legal action will be pursued when Safe-Food-Foundation and associated organisations are scrutinised in public over significant issues to do with safety claims. The end result is limitation of freedom of speech.

    This insidious argumentum ad libellium is allowing junk science such as that mentioned here to do even more damage to the commonwealth.

    When the evidence stinks, call in the lawyers.

  12. Alberta Hunter says:

    Even if genetic modification of food were to be deemed perfectly safe, we still would need to deal with the effects of all the Roundup being sprayed on “Roundup Ready” crops, and with the crops that have insecticides incorporated into them. I would be interested in intelligent, educated discourse on this potential problem.

  13. Carl says:

    The claim about modified DNA’s being passed on to children is stupid not just because the mechanism is ridiculous, but because if ANY genes from a plant, be they modified or not, were to somehow splice themselves randomly into the DNA in your reproductive cells, your children would almost certainly not live. Do these crackpots think that having endless strands of cellulose growing out of our blood cells would be harmless?

    1. Maybe that’s what caused Morgellons! LoL

      1. Carl says:

        Close! Remember that the main symptom of Morgellon’s is red, black, and blue plastic-like fibers. It was eventually traced back to GMO wheat sold by DuPont.

        1. Carl says:

          Crud, now some idiot is going to believe that.

  14. This issue is a real horrorshow for a lay person to get a grip on. I’ve changed my mind completely.

    http://www.pressherald.com/opinion/backers-of-gmo-labeling-unthinkingly-buy-conspiracy-based-arguments_2013-06-15.html

    1. saijanai says:

      The issue is STILL a real horror show.

      The bottom line is that no GMO safety testing is required past that which shows no allergens or other major toxic effects, and anything else that is done is done purely for show. Any significant effects found in a safety study, even those that might be due to random chance, are supposed to trigger careful consideration and at least sometimes, more research will be performed “just because” random effects simply can never be ruled out in all cases.

      With GMO safety test, no followup studies, as far as I can tell, are ever done, period. Why? Because the original studies weren’t mandatory and aren’t taken seriously by the people who perform them, or the people who read them (GMOs are *DEFINED* as being as safe as non-GMOs, remember), so no-one takes any adverse findings, random or not, seriously enough to bother performing followup research.

      1. RobLL says:

        I have long been persuaded that we will need GMO and everything else in the book to feed the world’s population in the decades ahead. But Monsanto and other agro-businesses have been utterly horrible in their business practices and refusal to label. This is a battle they will lose in the medium run. If someone doesnt want to buy GMO food that should be their right.

        There is also a certain irony in their minimumizing weeds becoming resistant to Round Up, and insects to BTT. Kind of like denying evolution.

        1. theLaplaceDemon says:

          And antibiotics cause resistance too, that doesn’t mean they can’t be used responsibly.

          (which is not to say that Round Up is used responsibly. Just that it CAN be).

          As for Bt, it is my understanding that it leads to resistance much more slowly than sprayed pesticides, due to how specific/targeted it is – much less of it in the environment, overall. But I am not an expert.

      2. windriven says:

        saijanai said: “so no-one takes any adverse findings, random or not, seriously enough to bother performing followup research”

        Of all the people who hold deep misgivings about GMO crops including researchers in genomics and proteomics, are we to believe that none have been able to produce a smoking-gun study? Or how about a single, well-run study suggesting a serious problem?

        Do we then build public policy on saijanai’s personal misgivings? Do we abandon GMO, aggressive pesticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers because all of them have raised concerns – and because none of them is perfectly benevolent? If so, how shall we cope with the ensuing Malthusian catastrophe?

  15. Janet Camp says:

    Good grief , people, I’ve been eating this stuff for years and years now–I have no tumors, I have no “inflammation”, I do not have, well, whatever it is you all are implying will happen to anyone who consumes GMO’s–just what is supposed to happen to me anyway? What would convince you? Nothing, I suspect because you are fervently (religiously) convinced that they are harmful. I realize humans are mostly hardwired for “belief”, and I just thank Darwin that I am in the group who has escaped this defect.

    1. windriven says:

      @Janet Camp

      While I’m in your camp, I’ve got to call you on the anecdote. The fact that consuming GMO everything has apparently caused you no ill does not mean that it is generally safe.

      On the other hand the anti-GMO crowd simply won’t accept the preponderance of evidence as evidence enough. They seem to insist that the lack of evidence showing GMO harm is proof positive of evil, profit-driven meddling in the science.

      You can’t make public policy based on fear and superstition*. Where then is their smoking gun? There are plenty of people in the biological sciences who hold deep concerns about the potential of GMO to cause all manner of catastrophe. But while there has been lots of speculation – much of it no more sophisticated than 1950′s era movies about post-nuclear giant insects devouring New York – but nothing of real substance.

      While it is true that absence of evidence does not equate to evidence of absence, a growing preponderance of evidence points that way.

      *Poorly phrased. We can and do base public policy on fear and superstition all the time. But serial stupidity does not make stupidity a virtue.

  16. «Not too long ago, I came across one such study, a truly execrable excuse for science by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen purporting to demonstrate that Roundup-resistant genetically modified maize can cause horrific tumors in mice.»

    That should be rats.

    1. saijanai says:

      Seralini’s study wasn’t even a study. it was a report of unexpected findings. The only relevant part of the data he presented was that there were definite differences between the number of tumors found in the experimental and control groups. The only real conclusion he could draw was to call for more research. Of course, being an advocate he milked the data for free publicity, but that doesn’t change the nature of his results: there was definitely a pattern: more tumors to appear and sooner, in the experimental compared to the control groups.

      Whether or not this pattern is meaningful requires more research to decide, preferably done by someone who is neither an anti or pro GMO advocate.

      1. David Gorski says:

        Of course it was a study. It was set up with control groups and experimental groups, and he manipulated the feed of the experimental group to determine if doing so caused a difference. The problem, of course, was much the same as with this study in that his study was a fishing expedition looking at even more outcomes than Carman’s study (and at multiple time points, to boot!), with no controls for multiple comparisons and the data displayed in a very nonstandard way that makes differences look to be more than they actually were. Worse still, as far as I can tell from the paper, the investigators doing the measurements weren’t blinded to which groups the mice were in.

        1. saijanai says:

          I should say that the first published paper isnt a study, but a report, sans statistical analysis, of things that Seralini’s team found noteworthy ven though they were oiutside the parameters of what was being studied.

          The toxicological paper, complete with statistical analysis, has yet to be published. I am sure that criticism, legit and not-so-legit will be forthcoming immediately after it is published.

          Of course, given the reaction to the first paper,, it is conceivable that no journal will be willing to publish the second.

          Which is unfortunate, since few full-life toxicology studies get published, and of course , due to substantial equivalence, those that do get published never make a distinction between one seed-line/strain of a GMO and the next.

          E.G., Monsanto markets at least 24 different variations of maize under the name Mon810. No-one knows what differences, if any, toxicological studies on each variation might find because of how the regulations are worded. 1 study fits all.

          Most people don’t even know that there are at least 24 different variations out there, including most people who concern themselves, pro or con, with GMOs.

  17. David Gorski says:

    The only relevant part of the data he presented was that there were definite differences between the number of tumors found in the experimental and control groups.

    Except that there almost certainly weren’t, really. There’s a reason I compare the Seralini study to Carman’s study.

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/antivaccine-versus-anti-gmo-different-goals-same-methods/

    1. saijanai says:

      your analysis assumes the worst case for tumor incidence with SD rats. Every other study showed far less tumors at any given time point in control SD rats.

      In fact, Monsanto uses SD rats in their own toxicity studies.

      1. David Gorski says:

        My analysis found far more problems with the Seralini study than that, ignoring any other “assumptions” I made (which really were quite reasonable assumptions when you let this strain of rats live their full lifespan).

        1. saijanai says:

          The SD line isn’t a controlled genetic line and there is a lot of variation in response from one generatation to the next. IIRC, you cited (or someone does), a 40 year old study using SD rats to predict about the current behavior of the strain of rats. The breeder makes no such claims of such predictability about that strain.

  18. Mia Taylor says:

    Thank you for sharing your insights David.

    This is entirely a new information for me. All through these days I have read only things that are anti GMO. But this was different and gave me a different view on the whole.

  19. Alia says:

    As a matter of fact, there is one thing that worries me about GMO plants and that is lack of diversity. Imagine that we have acres upon acres of Roundup Ready crops. And then, by chance, there appears a mutation in one or another fungus or bacteria, to which these crops are particularly susceptible. What we get is a large-scale disaster.
    Then again, I might just have read a bit too much of Paolo Bacigalupi (who seems to hate GMO corporations.

    1. «As a matter of fact, there is one thing that worries me about GMO plants and that is lack of diversity.»

      Your concern has nothing to do with transgenic technologies. It is a legitimate concern which is probably overblown (you think these agrochemical corporations are unaware of the benefits of genetic diversity?) and which (like most of the not imagined “dangers” of transgenic technologies cited by anti-GMO zealots) has almost zero to do with the use of transgenic technologies.

      It is absolutely true that these big companies (Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer, Pioneer, etc.) go to ridiculous lengths to ensure the genetic uniformity of any given variety so as to provide their customers with a well defined final product but they do this regardless of whether they used transgenic technologies in creating a variety or not. But the important thing to note here is that this does not mean that the different varieties they market are genetically uniform (that is, there is true genetic diversity between varieties). In fact, I would love to see a comparison between the genetic diversity of the major varieties in use of various staple crops between the mid 1960′s, before this matter came to the attention of the big breeders in a big way (through the corn blight epidemic of 1970), and today.

      So what would you have them do to combat this issue? Would you perhaps have these corporations maintain vast germplasm banks as a stock of genetic diversity and to provide starting materials for the introduction of novel traits? Of course they do this already and as a result the anti-GMO zealots accuse these corporations of “biopiracy” without any apparent awareness that they are actively disputing one of their own talking points. I find this amusing.

    2. rork says:

      It’s actually pretty easy to get one modified gene (like Bt) into a different strain by conventional breeding. It’s much harder when the trait you want to confer to a different strain is determined by many genes. Some GMOs, like golden rice, need many genes (to make the vitamin A in this example) and then it’s harder to get all of that gear into a different variety. For cotton, and most other examples though, if you have a favorite drought or flood resistant strain, it’s easy to move one frankengene from the GMO strain over to it, and then backcross to your favorite strain for several generations, making sure you keep the frankengene the whole time. Seed companies do this constantly.
      Anyway: getting new traits into different strains is typically easier with GMOs – you actually know which genes you need moved around. Check out Pioneer’s corn offerings: https://www.pioneer.com/home/site/us/products/corn/.

  20. dan.joo@gmail.com says:

    Saijanai, I’m a new poster who hasn’t read this blog in some time. I’m a clinical physician, neither a researcher nor statistician.

    I do, however, believe you are misinterpreting the meaning of the P value. A p of 0.05 does not mean that 1 in 20 times you will get that result. What it means is, if the null hypothesis is in fact true, but you happen to find a difference in your sample, that this will occur 5% of the time. Thus, it speaks to the probability of rejecting the null when in fact the null is true.

    The inverse of that is what you’re claiming. Your argument states that, even if GMO’s are perfectly equivalent to non-GMO’s in every way, shape and form, that 1 in 20 studies should meet statistical significance. That is incorrect application of the p value.

    Your argument makes sense only if you use the analogy of a fair coin or die, but that is a false analogy.

    Please read the wikipedia article on P-value. They state outright that the P value is commonly, and mistakenly equated with Type I error (alpha), which is the false positive rate. A P value of 0.05 does not mean the false positive rate is 0.05.

    I’m happy to change my stance if you can defend yours.

    1. saijanai says:

      Dan Joo, thanks for pointing out a fascinatingly complex issue with how p values and alpha/ Type I errors are confused. I’m a layman, so everything I write is necessarily going to be based on superficial reading of things, but I am relieved to learn that my confusion is not unique: http://ftp.isds.duke.edu/WorkingPapers/03-26.pdf

      The original formula I used was based on an observation from a researcher in another field that if there really were no non-null-finding studies in the list of 600 safety studies, the odds of that would be (1-p)^600 (or however many studies there are in the list). I sorta tongue-in-cheek modified that with the assumption that if you could somehow assign a probability that a non-null-finding safety study would trigger a followup study, you could use the same calculation.

      There are two problems there. One I already knew about: there’s no real way to assign a probability of a followup, although if there are NEVER any followup studies based on the outcome of all the different safety studies, it still seems likely that you can claim bias in the industry literature, and in fact I still believe that there is (Its impossible for there not to be, in my opinion, since research is being done on something that has been defined out of existence, so the criteria for seriously considering data conflicting with the definition is ill defined in the first place). The second flaw is what you point out — that p and alpha have no relationship to each other — and I haven’t a clue what that really means. I don’t feel too bad about that situation since apparently many statistical textbook authors don’t understand the issues either.

      So again, thanks for pointing out yet another pile of papers and books to add to the growing reading list.

  21. Robert Macgregor says:

    I noted from your first post an oversight, not just in your use of statistics (which isn’t my strong suit, either!), but more fundamentally with lack of controls. GM crops are subjected to extensive and intensive study before commercial release. However, there is no equivalent body of research evaluating the safety of non-GM crop varieties produced via any of several “conventional” breeding techniques. Even if these studies were being done, of course, they would be done by the proponents/developers of the crops, so criticisms about bias in the studies would still exist.
    I seem to recall a publication from a year or two back demonstrating that mutation breeding introduces considerably more unintended variability in a plant’s genome than transformation via gene-splicing (particularly Agrobacterium-mediated insertions). Despite this, mutation breeding is considered “conventional”. Also, my understanding is that variation in proteins and oils in soybeans is considerably greater between varieties than between GM and non-GM isolines. With these kinds of normal inter-varietal differences, it seems ridiculous to quibble about a designation of substantial equivalence…yet only the GM versions are subjected to intensive, and expensive, analysis before release.
    Show me the rate of statistical “fails” in testing of non-GM varieties and compare it with similar rate in the GM trials…oops, no can do!

    1. saijanai says:

      People who think that more safety testing is needed concerning GMOs also think that more safety testing is needed for mutagenic organisms as well.

  22. angus says:

    Thank you Dr. Gorski for posting this enlightening article. It has bothered me for some time that the whole GMO debate has focused on the health aspects, without having any real science to back those claims up, while ignoring what seems to me the true issue at hand the politics of large agribusiness ie: crop patenting and intellectual property concerns, the unfair farm subsidies given to the likes of Monsanto and such, the loss of small scale farming operations, etc. etc. Hopefully this article might help push the public debate back in that direction and away from the fear mongering. GMO’s could be a blessing of modern science and help end world hunger, that is if we can get over ourselves and figure out the most beneficial use for them.
    So again thanks for the article!

    1. angus says:

      P.S. I would also like to raise one GMO concern not touched upon here regarding a few things i have read about GMO’s and the disappearing bee populations. I find most of these articles untrustworthy and biased but as I am a layperson from a non scientific background without the time to dig through science journals, I am curious if anyone knows anything legitimate about this topic. Again i doubt any of it has any substantiation to it, especially since beekeeping journals seem to be silent about it, but am curious if there are legit studies on this which I should know about.

      1. DugganSC says:

        I don’t have data for you, but my understanding is that pesticides are more implicated than GMO crops, although there’s a bit of a tie-in in that crops modified to not get killed off by the pesticides means more pesticides get sprayed.

        1. lynnk says:

          The pesticides that are sprayed heavily on GM crops are herbicides (affect plants) and while they aren’t totally benign, are unlikely culprits.The only GM insecticide in use is Bt and that is in the plant, not sprayed. There is some question about the effect of Bt pollen, but again, that’s not likely based on current science. Europe thinks it might be neonicotinoid insecticides which are often used to coat seeds and used on growing crops (and in landscape pesticides and flea protection products) and is banning them. Lots of possibilities beside those. If you want the latest US research read this: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/ccd/ccdprogressreport2012.pdf

        1. DugganSC says:

          That’s some interesting reading there. Quick summary, there’s no evidence that GMO crops are hurting bees, and Roundup by itself does not seem harmful to the bees, but farmers use other herbicides and insecticides, which might be harmful, and elimination of flowering weeds means less pollen, obviously.

  23. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    My replies don’t seem to be threading, so this is aimed at wolf 10

    Comparing GMO to DDT or smoking is incorrect – both of these are definitely harmful products that are non-foods. GMO foods are, well, foods, which are digested by the body. DDT isn’t self-replicating. Tobacco is perfectly natural and self-replicating, not the product of GMO, and nobody fears the spread of its genes. Both are also still for sale. The cross-breeding that is used to create new crops, or improve old crops, also has the risks of GMO crops, and is in fact rather indiscriminate (far less so than the surgical insertion of a novel gene coding for a protein that will be broken down into amino acids in your stomach anyway). GMO crops are also tested, far more so than conventionally-bred crops, and no definite harm has ever been associated with them.

    Definitely mistrust Monsanto’s business practices, but don’t think that just because it’s Monsanto, it’s automatically bad. The science continues to come in, and it’s consistently failed to find any significant risks to GMO crops – not to mention there is very little reason to expect GMO crops to have increased risks of adverse effects.

    The public mistrust of private companies is hypocritical (since anything you don’t grow, mine, process or machine yourself is the product of a company – and if the public is bitching on the internet, chances are they didn’t assemble the semiconductors themselves), irrational and misplaced. Governments should regulate companies, so if you’re pissed, you should be advocating for the repeal of all that deregulation – not the disarticulation of the companies in question. Monsanto is also the reason we have a problem of surplus food, and let me tell you – being fat is far better than dying of starvation. In addition, the public should be willing to listen when the scientific process repeatedly says something is safe.

    Genetic modification is a tool, a powerful one, that can have tremendous good. Children in third-world countries die of vitamin A deficiency because first-world middle class protesters have the luxury of the time and money to complain about problems they don’t understand. The reason Monsanto is the only company that uses GMO crops (although it’s not really, it’s just the one most conveniently available to play villain in the public’s imagination) is because the public has insisted on safety testing well-beyond what most plant and genetic scientists consider rational. A reasonable amount of safety testing would mean scientists in smaller companies and universities could produce GMO crops away from the pernicious influence of Monsanto’s patent lawyers.

    1. wolf 10 says:

      To WLU:

      I too am finding my comments popping up in the wrong places. This might account to some extent for a very strong reaction from another commenter to my previous response to you, or not. I’m not sure.

      I have worked with entomologists in a public university setting who after ample, well supervised testing will introduce exotic predators, host-specific parasitic wasps predominantly, to control inadvertently introduced agricultural pests. Some of their colleagues specialize in pesticide development. Whom might you guess gets more research funding? Those who produce a patentable product or those who reduce the need for said patentable product by employing a non-patentable organism that after some relatively modest initial costs is essentially free?

      One might reasonably note that my being a bit more well disposed to the introduction of a naturally evolved exotic self-replicating organism that itself might wreak havoc upon the environment than I am to an organism concocted in a laboratory is logically inconsistent. From a purely scientific standpoint it probably is.

      My guess regarding GMOs is that they will in terms of the general human welfare provide immediate positive effects. In some instances the effects will be important as in the case of improving nutrition and in some instances they will serve mainly to further fatten already well fattened stockholders portfolios. In the longer term they may or may not turn out to be low probability/high impact adverse event agents.

      So my concerns regarding GMOs in particular and the ends that science serves more generally has nothing to do with a rejection of science. My concerns have very much to do with the socioeconomic context in which that science is conducted. On this much at least we might find a point or two of mutual agreement.

      As one well credentialed, much published and tenured expert in the field of agricultural pest management once said to me, “Monsanto is evil.” But then, its not just Monsanto is it? The whole system needs a bit of a rethink.

  24. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @saijanai

    When you see a new variety of apple in your grocery store, do you demand safety testing? Beyond allergens and major toxicities, what other sorts of safety testing would you demand, specifically? This is the exact kind of misapplied, ill-informed and above all expensive kind of testing that drives GMO out of the capabilities of any small company or university, and into the hands of big companies like Monsanto, leading to the business practices that the company is reviled for. You can never prove absolute safety on anything, and we already sell foods which are unsafe – peaches and apples contain cyanide, fiddleheads, beets, rhubarb and spinach have enough oxylates in them to exert caution, organ meats (even of non-GMO animals) can cause or exacerbate gout, predatory fish contain enough mercury to require warning labels, soft cheeses are dangerous for pregnant mothers, organic sprouts killed a couple people due to E. coli a while back, fava beans will kill if you’ve got the right genes, peanut allergies can be deadly, bananas will harm people with latex allergies, sugar is obesogenic. Meanwhile, golden rice can cure blindness, papaya trees haven’t gone extinct due to genetically engineered autovaccination, and GMO cotton requires dramatically fewer pesticides. If you take 100 rats and give them 10 different types of feed, some groups grow uninterpretable tumors. Unreliable eyeballing of pigs shows stomach inflammation. The general approach doesn’t suggest any sytematic reason for concern, and the specifics show even less concern. In the meantime, crops which could feed more people, more nutritiously, on smaller plots of land, with fewer pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers (which do run off) aren’t being used. And a technology which could make it easier to grow even more food on the same or less land, with less waste, possibly even more nutritious and (more importantly) more delicious with better long-term storage, is reviled. Mostly by ignorant first-world arts majors who like organic because of its branding (and seem ignorant of the fact that organic companies are indeed companies, and if they had a larger market share, would be just as litigious as Monsanto with the added benefit of requiring nearly all the forests on the entire world being plowed just so we can feed everyone).

    Yeah, a substantial reason the “organic” companies spearhead resistance to GMO is because it allows them a distinct brand identity which in turn allows a greater capture of the market. Yep, it certainly does come down to money.

    And the reason there aren’t any follow-up tests? Assuming there aren’t any follow-up tests, which I frankly don’t trust you to honestly represent, is probably because there’s no general trend in the signal to noise ratio. If GMO has some sort of unique threat to human health, we would expect to see that unique threat emerging from convergent studies. Not a bunch of random effects with no clear patter across species, test and foods. Today it’s pig stomach inflammation, last year it was tumors in heavily-inbred rats, the decade before it was morbidity of butterflies being force-fed corn, a food they normally wouldn’t eat. No signal. It’s quite possible you aren’t seeing health effects from GMO as a category because there are none.

  25. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    I really wish my response threading were working. Anyway, at saijanai again.

    Regarding the Seralini study, you claim it wasn’t a study, and the drum you’ve consistently beaten was the lack of replication. Don’t you think the appropriate response here would be to write to Seralini and bitch to him about his failure to replicate, rather than doing it here? Assuming Seralini’s (or Carman’s) study validly identified an issue, the proper response is indeed to replicate, this time with better methodology. If it’s a real effect, it’ll converge on the same result but this time with an improved statistical and experimental approach that make it more convincing. Seralini and Carman’s errors were to proclaim their work done, as if they’d produced something convincing, rather than to replicate and extend with a more specific focus. Instead, they’re playing whack-a-mole with the myriad criticisms in order to defend their conclusions without further testing. Jebus, take the feedback and run with it instead of playing PR damage control. Press-release science is a sign of ideologically-motivated research, correction, replication and extension is a sign of commitment to actually finding out some sort of truth.

    1. saijanai says:

      Seralini explicitly calls for a real carcinogenic study to properly investigate the findings he reports in his latest paper.

  26. Bryan says:

    I’ve got an awesome idea–allow the public to know what they are consuming and the market will decide if GMO’s are a good thing or not. If the biological side of this argument is so clear that they are not dangerous in any way, there should be no arguable reason to resist labeling. I’m positive there will be no shortage of releases of articles like this into the public discourse by the Big Ag folks to try to curb public opinion. We all get that. Fighting like hell to prevent that doesn’t really jive with an open and honest conversation if their true intention is to build public trust of the products. Confusing the lay people and then excluding them from the process only makes things worse and opens them up to all of this criticism and backlash.

    You want to defend GMO’s on the basis of science, fine then you should also defend the consumer’s right to know as well.

    1. theLaplaceDemon says:

      “If the biological side of this argument is so clear that they are not dangerous in any way, there should be no arguable reason to resist labeling.”

      If there is an unfounded prejudice against GMOs than yes, I can see why a company selling GMOs would want to label.

      Open and honest conversation means having discussions about the science, like the OP does here. How exactly would labeling add to that conversation?

  27. DugganSC says:

    All of this discussion of issues of misuse of p-values and no one has quoted XKCD’s stunning exploration of the link between acne and green M&M’s? For shame…

    So far, we have an assertion that there have been 600 studies and none of them have merited follow-up. We have an assumption that, by random chance, at least one of those studies should have revealed false results. First, as was pointed out above, we have no evidence that we have 600 studies that all showed no need for follow-up. Secondly, we have no acknowledgement that the studies themselves almost certainly used statistical methods to eliminate random factors. Does anyone else see a major issue there?

    Also, the pedantic side of me wants to point out that never rolling a 0 on a d20 is a perfectly normal thing since there is no 0 on the standard d20. :-P

    1. saijanai says:

      I’m showing my age. Back in the good ole days of Chainmail and the 3 volume Dungeons and Dragons box set, standard d20s looked like this: http://leviathyn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/20-sided-d10-opaque-blue.jpg

      As for the rest, I have no idea if no followup studies were ever done based on the findings of a specific “safety study.” I was assuming the rhetoric from BMO fanbois that 600 studies supported the claim meant that no followup studies were ever deemed necessary.

      Certainly, the way Monsanto’s own 90day rat toxicity studies are done, any significant differences between experimental and control groups that are found are deemed not worth discussing because the difference between experimental group and the mean of the pooled reference groups remains within 2 standard deviations, meaning that the differences are “not relevant to the study.”

      I assumed the same kind of wording would be found in any member of the 600 since advocates find it acceptable in the official toxicology studies.

      1. theLaplaceDemon says:

        So you’re arguing with people who are (1) not in this thread, and (2) have opinions not espoused by anyone in this thread?

        ‘kay.

        If you’re interested in reading some papers yourself, go check out Biofortified’s list. They’ve even got them sorted into independent and non-independently funded, and they’ve started adding summaries after the references.

        1. saijanai says:

          I’ve looked at perhaps the first dozen or so of the Biofortified list, and critiqued those first few studies in terms of statistical power.

          Some studies are very large and are targeted explicitly at the farmers who would be buying the seeds directly, while other studies are quite small –especially those that might be seen as being oriented towards human safety.

          Statistical power issues become especially important with respect to safety-testing, but it is only recently that guidelines have started calling for the discussion of statistical power in GMO studies and none of the Monsanto sub-chronic rodent safety studies discuss statistical power that I have seen.

  28. stanmrak says:

    Hardly a day goes by anymore where I don’t come across yet another report revealing new problems with GMOs… allergies, incredibly high exposures to toxic pesticides and herbicides, superweeds, superbugs, drastically lower nutritional value, depletion of soil, water pollution, sterility in farm animals who eat GMO feed, etc. (These studies are not all coming from the anti-GMO crowd, but there not coming from Monsanto, either.)

    And we’re arguing over which studies are scientifically valid?

    http://www.foodrevolution.org/blog/former-pro-gmo-scientist/

    Monsanto “science” presumes GMOs to be safe until proven otherwise, something impossible to do.

    1. «Hardly a day goes by anymore where I don’t come across yet another report revealing new problems with GMOs… allergies, incredibly high exposures to toxic pesticides and herbicides, superweeds, superbugs, drastically lower nutritional value, depletion of soil, water pollution, sterility in farm animals who eat GMO feed, etc. (These studies are not all coming from the anti-GMO crowd, but there not coming from Monsanto, either.)

      And we’re arguing over which studies are scientifically valid?»

      Is this a little known corollary to GIGO? There’s some threshold such that if there’s enough garbage going in to surpass it you no longer get garbage out?

  29. weing says:

    “I’ve got an awesome idea–allow the public to know what they are consuming and the market will decide if GMO’s are a good thing or not.”

    Do we really know what we are consuming if it’s not a GMO?

    I think survival of populations will determine whether they are a good thing or not. You have too much faith in markets. Remember there was a time when people would only eat a tomato on a dare.

  30. DugganSC says:

    ^_^ You got dice? They hadn’t gotten around to the polyhedra in my area, so I had to use chits. Also, yeah, d10 traditionally had the 0 on account of it being used as a percentile.

    And yeah, I think what you’re confusing is the assumption that the 600 studies don’t already have statistical analysis done to smooth out the random factors, which seemed odd given your whole point was that they weren’t fitting the statistical figures you were quoting. Sounds like it was an honest mistake.

    Ultimately, GMO crops do need oversight, but so far, the oversight is showing that the only area they’re potentially harmful is in the area of business practices, not their science. Unfortunately, these alarmist reports just make that situation worse by making the bar of testing so high that only the established mega-corps can afford it.

  31. Julee K says:

    Just added this article to my list of links that put this so-called pig study where it belongs – in the garbage! Excellent analysis.

  32. Tina says:

    Carl, why would you call anyone a crackpot? You would paint much better picture of yourself by being respectfull especially with people who dissagree with you.

    Secondly,why would you assume that only adverse effect would be growing cellulose out of our blood? There may be effects we don’t know about. For example, is GMO as digestable by mammals as non-GMO? If I remember correctly, the food we eat is digestedby enzymes. Humans, during evolution, adapted to produce very specific enzymes for very specific types of food. Some foods themselves have enzymes that aide digestion. Now,do we know if GMO corn has those same enzymes as non-GMO. How do we know that our digestive enzymes are perfect match for GMOs?

    1. «Humans, during evolution, adapted to produce very specific enzymes for very specific types of food.»

      Really? My ancestors mostly come from Northern Europe and from Southern Europe. How could they ever cope with maize, a crop which was only introduced to them 500 years ago?

      There’s no generalized GMO characteristic or signature. Present to me some assay which can distinguish transgenic plants from non-transgenic plants without prior knowledge of the nature of the modification. You won’t be able to because transgenic organism is not a biological category.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      One reason to not expect GMO to do anything is because, for the most part, they’re coding for proteins that already exist, usually in foods we already eat. Not to mention, our digestive tract is pretty good about taking apart proteins into their component amino acids. If a rapid-growth gene exists in tuna, and we put it in salmon, why would that single gene be suddenly lethal? Or in any way detrimental?

      The enzymes that “aid digestion” are deactivated upon cooking, or upon entering our ph2 acid stomachs, or are digested themselves upon entering our stomach through the activity of pepsin.

      Humans did not adapt to produce specific enzymes for specific foods, we aren’t pandas – we can consume nearly anything that isn’t frank cellulose, particularly with cooking. We don’t have “corn-specific enzymes” – and if anyone did, it would be only those with ancestors from South and Central America where corn was domesticated not that many generations ago. Not to mention, humans haven’t stopped evolving.

      Further, a lot of genes are transferred within-species. A single flood-resistant or salt-resistant gene is transferred from a subspecies that is poor at producing adequate (calories, vitamins, whatever) but good at resisting salt, and inserted into the genome of a subspecies that is good at producing adequate (calories, vitamins, whatever). If we already eat both, if these genes are already transferred higgeldy-piggeldy whenever we cross-breed rice, what special new risk is added by adding a single extra gene?

      It’s hard to take opponents seriously when they tend to be profoundly ignorant of what GMO actually involves, how they are produced, how they are tested and the regulatory framework that surrounds them. Particularly when the flaws in their facts and arguments are pointed out – but those arguments do not change. For anyone to cite Seralini as if it were proof of the harm of GMO to continue to do so after the flaws have been enumerated many times, suggests they’re reaction is an emotional one, and there’s little point in treating them as a rational player.

  33. Doug Reed says:

    Wow, Hector! I always knew you were brilliant; I just didn’t know how prolific you are. Your writing is excellent and very much to the point. I especially enjoyed some of the references you included. On a more personal note, are you coming to the reunion this year? It would be great to see you again. Since I see their pictures on your profile, I assume your mom and dad are still with you? Hope they and the rest of your family are doing well. Anyway, drop me a line sometime if you can. -Doug

  34. Chris Preston says:

    “what is your take on the contents (not the author) of this:”

    It is 123 pages long, so I won’t give a detailed reply to everything in the document. I can sum up the document in the following terms:

    1) it is a cherry-picked collection of information from the literature and the internet, including anecdotes, that provides a one-sided view of GM crops.

    2) There are grand claims of harm in the document that are not supported by the information cited or by the rest of the literature on the topic.

    As an example, the first paragraph of Myth 4.12 on page 65 states:

    “The effects on animals and humans of eating increased amounts of glyphosate herbicide residues on such crops have not been properly investigated.”

    This statement is not true. Extensive testing involving feeding studies of glyphosate to several mammalian species have been conducted. Such studies have been summarised by the International Program on Chemical Safety 1994 (http://www.inchem.org/documents/ehc/ehc/ehc159.htm) and more recently reviewed by Williams et al. 2000 Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 31: 117–165., and Mink et al. 2011 Epidemiologic studies of glyphosate and non-cancer health outcomes: A review. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 61: 172–184. None of these studies were cited in the document you linked to.

  35. stanmrak says:

    If you’re looking for bad science on GMOs, you can start with Monsanto.
    On two occasions, the United States EPA has caught scientists deliberately falsifying test results at research laboratories hired by Monsanto to study glyphosate. We don’t know how many times Monsanto hasn’t been caught.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate#Scientific_fraud

  36. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    I have worked with entomologists in a public university setting who after ample, well supervised testing will introduce exotic predators, host-specific parasitic wasps predominantly, to control inadvertently introduced agricultural pests. Some of their colleagues specialize in pesticide development. Whom might you guess gets more research funding? Those who produce a patentable product or those who reduce the need for said patentable product by employing a non-patentable organism that after some relatively modest initial costs is essentially free?

    Two points:
    - this has no bearing on the safety and efficacy of GMO, it’s a problem of scientific funding and regulation (not to mention – if killer wasps are proven effective and are permitted as a form of pest control, I’m pretty sure someone will figure out a way to monetize it)
    - GMO have not been conclusively associated with harm to humans or the environment. Releasing invasive species on continents and boiomes? That has. Repeatedly and extensively. So I agree, you seem to have a contradictory stance here, more accurately a double standard. When someone points out I’m holding a double standard, I try to determine if they’re right, and if they are, I try to learn more or change my mind. Too often humans persist in former thinking because they don’t want to admit they were wrong, or some other cognitive bias. It’s a bad habit everyone should try to break.

    In some instances the effects will be important as in the case of improving nutrition and in some instances they will serve mainly to further fatten already well fattened stockholders portfolios.

    So what? You make it sound like a company being profitable is a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with enriching stockholders if it is through producing a product that people want to buy. People aren’t forced to purchase GMO seeds, they do so because they have advantages. Companies need leashes and oversight. In this case, protestors to GMO are actually enabling Monsanto’s “evilness” by driving the cost of GMO research into the stratosphere. The best way to create and maintain a monopoly is to increase the entry barriers to a market, and that’s exactly what GMO protestors are doing. Currently, almost nobody but Monsanto can afford to do this research because of a misapplication of the precautionary principle. While Monsanto may regret the negative publicity they’re getting, in terms of their actula profits they may be rather gleeful due to the effects of GMO protestors on restricting their competitors.

    @Bryan

    Your point only holds if the consumer is rational. The consumer is not rational. They make decisions on the basis of emotion and misunderstanding. The result of labelling GMO foods will be a pointless increase in the cost of foods. For no good reason. It’s like informing the consumer that there is mercury in vaccines – true, and inspired a huge, pointless and expensive backlash, despite there being zero evidence of harm. But I bet all the organic farmers and companies will be ecstatic since it will send them a flood of customers, probably turning them into Big Ag companies like Monsanto that people so revile.

    Organic – just like Monsanto*, but with better branding!

    *Except we’re worse for the environment.

  37. Carl says:

    Tina, you completely failed to understand what I said. Obviously there are other possible bad outcomes. The fact that there are many other possible harms only proves my point. It doesn’t matter what DNA is spliced into your genome. ANY random insertion of extra genes will probably be fatal to your offspring, it doesn’t matter if it is “GMO” DNA or not.

    Fortunately, it doesn’t happen at all. Our sperm and egg genomes do not suck up genes from our cereal.

    1. saijanai says:

      No, but epigenitic effects from the parents on both eggs AND sperm have been documented, in at least some animals. Probably totally off-topic, except to point out that the field is changing by the second, so whatever one asserts today may become irrelevant by next week.

  38. Chris Preston says:

    Saijanai

    “I should say that the first published paper isnt a study, but a report, sans statistical analysis, of things that Seralini’s team found noteworthy ven though they were oiutside the parameters of what was being studied.”

    That is a strange distinction and seems to be an after the fact justification. In the publication itself, Seralini claimed it was a study. “This study represents the first detailed documentation of long term deleterious effects arising from the consumption of a GM R tolerant maize and of R, the most used herbicide worldwide.” wrote Seralini.

    The paper also did have statistical analyses, just unsuitable ones. So 2 out of 2 wrong there.

    “The toxicological paper, complete with statistical analysis, has yet to be published. I am sure that criticism, legit and not-so-legit will be forthcoming immediately after it is published.”

    There may indeed be other data and Seralini may want to milk this for all he can get out of it, but Figure 5 and Table 2 contain toxicological data. Given the design of the Seralini study is fatally flawed, all other data from it will be useless.

    “Of course, given the reaction to the first paper,, it is conceivable that no journal will be willing to publish the second.”

    I am sure there is a bottom feeder journal somewhere he can pay to have it published in, but given the design is fatally flawed it would be better to not have it published.

    “Which is unfortunate, since few full-life toxicology studies get published, and of course , due to substantial equivalence, those that do get published never make a distinction between one seed-line/strain of a GMO and the next.”

    They are of course out there in the literature. Seralini failed to cite any of them.

    “E.G., Monsanto markets at least 24 different variations of maize under the name Mon810. No-one knows what differences, if any, toxicological studies on each variation might find because of how the regulations are worded. 1 study fits all.”

    No there isn’t. Mon810 is a single event. That is a single time the DNA was inserted into the corn genome.

    1. saijanai says:

      “No there isn’t. Mon810 is a single event. That is a single time the DNA was inserted into the corn genome.”

      Companies attempt to insert a specific gene into millions of difference cells in an attempt to create viable plants that express the proper protein. Once they find such cells, they attempt to cultivate them and eventually produce seeds from the most promising cell-lines.

      Monsanto originally submitted seeds from 26 such cell-lines to the EU for commercial approval, and all but 2 were approved:

      http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12161-008-9035-2

      When a farmer purchases Mon810 in the UK it is from any of the 24 approved variants. No distinction is made on the package between one and the next, but they are from any of 24 distinct cell-lines, each with a distinct place in the genome where the target gene was successfully inserted.

      As i said, most advocates on either side of the fence are aware of this little factoid. Monsanto claims that this factoid is irrelevant due to the principle of “substantial equivalence,” and perhaps they are correct, but it IS a genuine fact.

  39. Chris Preston says:

    saijanai wrote:

    “Monsanto originally submitted seeds from 26 such cell-lines to the EU for commercial approval, and all but 2 were approved:

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12161-008-9035-2

    When a farmer purchases Mon810 in the UK it is from any of the 24 approved variants. No distinction is made on the package between one and the next, but they are from any of 24 distinct cell-lines, each with a distinct place in the genome where the target gene was successfully inserted.”

    You are joking right?

    The 26 commercial corn varieties tested in the paper you linked to all contain the same MON810 insert. It gets into the different varieties by crossing the original varieties with elite adapted lines. Had you bothered to read that paper this should have been clear.

    And to complete the catalogue of your ignorance, farmers in the UK don’t grow MON810. They don’t have a problem with European corn borer, so would not bother to purchase MON810 seed.

    1. saijanai says:

      “The 26 commercial corn varieties tested in the paper you linked to all contain the same MON810 insert. It gets into the different varieties by crossing the original varieties with elite adapted lines. Had you bothered to read that paper this should have been clear.”

      My bad. I couldn’t find access to the original paper, just the abstract.

      As well, my understanding of “genetic insertion event” has been in error all this time. I scanned the relevant patent for Mon810, which defines the terms within the patent itself: http://www.google.com/patents/US20040180373

      And the UK reference was meant to be EU, sorry.

  40. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @saijanai

    Seralini explicitly calls for a real carcinogenic study to properly investigate the findings he reports in his latest paper.

    Seralini could have done that study. He didn’t. Instead he took 100 rats, already prone to tumors, divided them into 10 groups, resulting in a meaningless sample size per intervention, and then went straight to the press with a gag order and a pre-written release. If Seralini wants a real study, he should get 100 rats, ideally ones not prone to tumors, divide them into two groups, and report the results in the peer-reviewed literature.

    Look, if your opposition to GMO is not based on science, just admit it. Just say genetic modification of foods makes you uncomfortable in a way that is not rational, and move on. Stop invoking science to justify your discomfort. At minimum, drop the references to Seralini and Carman’s publications, which are so poorly conducted they essentially are not science. If you really want to base your objections on science, then read more than just the studies fed to you by organic farming associations. Picket and protest Monsanto for it’s shoddy business practices, not for taking advantage of incredibly high entrance barriers brought about by consumer protests. They, and organic promoters, are benefiting from from your advocacy. You posting fear-mongering based on pseudoscience helps them. You’re a tool doing the work for them, and you don’t even know it.

    1. saijanai says:

      Actually…

      1) he used 200 rats, not 100.

      2) he divided them into groups of 10, just as other studies recent rodent toxicity studies on Monsanto products have done. The Monsanto study he specifically was modeling his full-life study after used 20 rats per group, but apparently only tested 10 per group.

      3) The places where he made substantial changes were:

      a) the length of time of the study, 2 years instead of 90 days, and failed to increase the number of rats to compensate for his expected attrition rate, which would likely be at least 30% based on historical data;
      b) he tested 3 dosage levels (x2) instead of only 2;
      c) he only used 1 control group (per sex) per sub-study, while Monsanto used a control group per dose-level.

      Seralini based his protocol off of the 1998 version of the OECD 408 90-day rat protocol. In 2011, the specifics of the protocol with respect to GMOs were modified to more closely resemble Monsanto’s own 90-day rodent toxicity protocols but Seralini’s study had started before those modifications were published in june 2011.

      [I have no idea if Seralini ever even bothered to read and attempt to follow the 408 protocol. He mentions a different protocol in his attempt to justify what he did, instead].

      BTW, like many advocates, I notice your language has started to become very abusive after a while. I apologize for any similar tone my posts have taken here, and I’ll try to avoid using similar language in the future.

  41. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @saijanai

    No, but epigenitic effects from the parents on both eggs AND sperm have been documented, in at least some animals. Probably totally off-topic, except to point out that the field is changing by the second, so whatever one asserts today may become irrelevant by next week.

    So what? Epigenetic effects occur every single day. Life is the history of unfolding epigenetic effects. Using words that most people don’t have the background to understand in ominous ways is tacky scaremongering. Do you even know what epigenetic effects are? Would you prefer a body with no epigenetic changes in it? I wouldn’t, because the result would be an undifferentiated mass of cells, not a person.

    @stanmrak

    So all the research on genetic modification every conducted, all of it, was done by Monsanto? Why do you even care, since you are utterly indifferent to science anyway? You’ve already decided on your position, you don’t care if it’s correct or not. Why bother pretending that it’s the evidence?

    1. saijanai says:

      “Why do you even care, since you are utterly indifferent to science anyway? You’ve already decided on your position, you don’t care if it’s correct or not. Why bother pretending that it’s the evidence?”

      Project much, do you?

      I eat GMOs all the time. I have never asserted that GMOs are unsafe. All I have ever asserted is that the research conducted in the name of GMO safety is a farce.

  42. stanmrak says:

    Monsanto’s research is totally rigged to produce a positive result. Monsanto has managed to make it ILLEGAL to use their seeds for research by any outside lab. Why would they do that?

    “Anyone that says, ‘Oh, we know that this is perfectly safe,’ I say is either unbelievably stupid, or deliberately lying. The reality is, we don’t know. The experiments simply haven’t been done, and now we have become the guinea pigs.” ~ David Suzuki, geneticist

    I look at the evidence first, then choose.

    http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/think-anti-gmo-movement-unscientific-think-again?utm_source=www.GreenMedInfo.com&utm_campaign=54f8333259-Greenmedinfo&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_193c8492fb-54f8333259-86751606

  43. weing says:

    “Probably totally off-topic, except to point out that the field is changing by the second, so whatever one asserts today may become irrelevant by next week.”

    Does science work by assertion or hypothesis testing?

    1. saijanai says:

      Are you claiming that this discussion is science? We are arguing about the results of existing research and its implication, not conducting research to test hypotheses.

      1. weing says:

        OK, as long as your assertions are of quality research results and not just assertions. Otherwise you are wasting my time. I just don’t see how results of good quality research can become irrelevant, unless they are in a completely different field. Even then, I am not sure.
        Regarding whether this is science. I still recall the advice that six months in the lab can save you an afternoon in the library.

        1. saijanai says:

          “Regarding whether this is science. I still recall the advice that six months in the lab can save you an afternoon in the library.”

          Hmmm, science is different than programming, because MY experience is literally that an afternoon in the library can save you months of programming.

          N\o need to reinvent the wheel and all that.

  44. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Hi Stan, you included a link to a statement from Thierry Vrain, a former food scientist for Agriculture Canada, discussing his change from “pro” to “anti” GMO (link). Two points:

    1) That seems to be a letter to the editor, from what I can tell.

    2) Mr. Vrain’s facts may be in error, see here). Vrain is attempting to cherry-pick the same factually inaccurate and scientifically flawed research to justify his beliefs, at the expense of the much larger contradictory body of knowledge.

    The link is to a site maintained by Ocean Robbins, of the Baskin Robbins family. I read The Food Revolution when I was in my crunchier vegan phase. At the time I found it comforting in confirming my then-extant beliefs about food, eating and health…though a niggling part of me noticed the logical inconsistencies, special pleading and downright incorrect statements in the book.

    Again, if you’re going to invoke science on these issues, do it for real. Otherise you’re abusing science, handwaving it to pretend to justify your beliefs, when really it’s completely irrelevant to both what you believe and why you believe it. Is it too much to ask for honesty from you?

  45. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @saijanai

    Notice that my comment about science was aimed at Stan, who is quite indifferent to science. He’s also the recipient of much of my abuse since I hold him in such contempt.

    Thank you for correcting me on the details of Seralini’s research, but naturally this doesn’t change the the fundamentally flawed, to the point of irrelevancy, nature of his “research”. The duration of his feeding experiment is borderline stupid given the particular strains of rats are genetically predisposed to more tumors the longer they live (and tumors are pretty much inevitable anyway, they are the product of life). The lack of a dose-response relationship is also interesting, suggesting as it does one of two conclusions – either the results are meaningless, or we should eat more GMO foods to protect ourselves from tumors. 200 rats, and 170 pigs, died for nothing. And the pigs probably didn’t get eaten, making it a complete waste. Why bother bringing up these corrections when they in no way change the conclusions reached about the study? Talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    I notice like most GMO protestors you are cherry-picking and ignoring the statements made by large scientific organizations about GMO, all of which note a lack of true harms. Unlike you or I, the participants in these consensus statements are true experts, real scientists who live and breathe and understand the specifics of the biochemistry, the importance of methodology and the true relevance of each study. I’m going to trust them. I always tend to trust the real experts, since they know the details in ways I have no way of knowing without spending an equal number of years developing expertise. I respect science too much to pretend I can argue the details.

    1. saijanai says:

      @WilliamLawrenceUtridge:

      You said:
      “The duration of his feeding experiment is borderline stupid given the particular strains of rats are genetically predisposed to more tumors the longer they live (and tumors are pretty much inevitable anyway, they are the product of life).”

      searching pubmed, I found several carcinoma studies of up to 104 weeks or so that used SD rats. I also found a study out of china published this year that establishes references for SD rats over a 2 year period: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3620211/pdf/tox-26-029.pdf which says:

      “According to the protocol, the animals were completely necropsied at 13, 26, 52, 78 and 104 weeks, which refers to the weeks of the experiment rather than weeks of age. Generally, anatomical examinations are performed at 13 weeks in subchronic experiments, while 26, 52, 78 and 104 weeks are commonly used for chronic toxicity/carcinogenic tests.”

      The study notes that [most?] tumors started to show up around week 78 which is inline with seralini’s report that the first tumors in the control group were found 12 months after the first tumors in the experimental groups, which showed up in month 4.

      Discussion of the use of different varieties of rats by the OECD notes that SD rats are used in many different kinds of studies, because they are cheaper.

      And, as I noted, there are many carcinoma studies done on Sprague-Dawley of various durations, including 104 week studies, e.g

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16167140

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21255596 85 week dosing

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17342196

      All in all, the criticism that Seralini used too few rats is valid. Assuming the best case scenario, he should have used at least 15-20 rats per group to alllow for the known attrition rate of SD rats. OTOH, the pattern found is suggestive. Experimental rats started dying 12 months before control rats, and there was definitely a pattern where experimental rats showed more tumors of all kinds at all dose levels compared to control groups.

      The criticism that Seralini used ad libitum feeding is also unfounded. The Chinese database study also used ad libitum feeding. Incidentally, criticism of Seralini also says that rats tend to show higher incidence of cancer with ad libitum feeding, but I ran into studies were female cancer rates were unaffected, while male rats were affected. My own impression is that Seralini’s critics cherry picked the available data every bit as much as any other group of advocates tend to.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Rather than debate specifics, I’m merely going to point out that the scientific community has analyzed Seralini’s study and proclaimed it worthless. That’s good enough for me. If you want to get into further and further fine points and hair-splitting, I’m uninterested, I’m simply going to trust the experts more than you. If you think a single study this flawed is reason to overturn previous studies of the safety of GMO in humans, then that’s your prerogative. I think it’s a waste of time, an insult to the thousands of passionate and dedicated researchers who actually understand the specifics of this technology. If there’s a real effect, then it should show up in further research. Perhaps Seralini and Carman will conduct further research with meaningful control groups and methods instead of the awful dreck and data fishing they’ve done until now. They’ve received considerable criticism of their study, on a variety of parameters. They can keep proclaiming their work as the definitive study of GMO and pretend they’ve won, or they can do what a real, honest scientist would do – repeat, extend and follow the data.

        1. saijanai says:

          So many assumptions in your response.

          I’ll just point out that Seralini calls for more research in the very last sentence of the paper:

          We propose that agricultural edible GMOs and formulated pesticides must be evaluated very carefully by long term studies to measure their potential toxic effects.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            The main one is “scientists who actually study this stuff are smarter than both of us”. They don’t want to eat something dangerous anymore than you do. And the biggest one in your series of replies is that Seralini has actually found something, that it’s not simply an artifact of bad design. If he was serious about actually testing, not merely supporting a fixed conclusion he is unlikely to change, he would have conducted real tests instead of merely torturing rats to no end other than press release. He also wouldn’t be promoting the study as if it were the definitive proof that GMO are dangerous. Yes, his study may say that. The public remembers what they saw in The Daily Mail – rats with tumors the size of golf balls.

  46. Chris Preston says:

    saijanai wrote:

    “All in all, the criticism that Seralini used too few rats is valid. Assuming the best case scenario, he should have used at least 15-20 rats per group to alllow for the known attrition rate of SD rats.”

    While SD rats are OK for a study of carcinogenicity, because they get cancers readily, they are inappropriate for long-term toxicity studies, precisely because they get cancers so readily. Cancers affect many types of metabolism in the body, and so the outcome of toxicity tests will be clouded by the effects of the cancers. This is why SD rats are only used for 90-day toxicity studies.

    Had Seralini been conducting an appropriate study where cancer was likely, 50 rats per treatment should have been used as a minimum.

    “OTOH, the pattern found is suggestive. Experimental rats started dying 12 months before control rats, and there was definitely a pattern where experimental rats showed more tumors of all kinds at all dose levels compared to control groups.”

    No. This is incorrect. The study design Seralini used was inappropriate to the test he was trying to conduct. Seralini used 9 treatment groups and one control group all of the same size. With this many treatment groups, the control group should have been much larger, ideally 90 rats of each sex.

    Your claim that experimental rats started dying 12 months before the control rats is not supported by the data in Seralini’s paper. Even so, given the design Seralini used with 9 treatments and 1 control there was in effect a 90% probability that the first death would be in a treatment group.

    It is also not true that there were more tumors in the treated rats. The variation observed in tumour number looks at first glance to be within the variation in the experiment. Seralini didn’t test this, but others have http://www.biofortified.org/community/forum/genetic-engineering-group3/news-forum12/the-latest-from-seralini-thread227/ and found no significant difference. The GMO + R treatments all had less or the same number of tumours as the control, which makes no sense at all if GMO or R were increasing the number of tumours.

    “The criticism that Seralini used ad libitum feeding is also unfounded.”

    Once again this is not true. Previous work has established that SD rats get cancer earlier and to a greater extent if they are fed ad libitum. A more telling criticism of this part of the methodology is that it provided no way of determining how much consumption there was of each of the diets.

  47. Loren E says:

    William,
    Has is ever occurred to you that perhaps folks like Seralini and Carman purposely leave their ‘research’ incomplete? As you stated, ‘Seralini could have done that study. He didn’t.’ As I understand it, Carman could have done far more detailed histology (as opposed to some highly suspect visual observations), but didn’t. It seems like these people are more than happy to ride the wave of uncertainty created by their work than to complete it PROPERLY….and perhaps risk invalidating it altogether.

  48. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Oh, I frankly consider both studies deliberate attempts to win popular support through dishonest PR campaigns. I have no proof that the studies were deliberately bad, but I have no problem believing it could be true. Lacking proof, of course, I can’t say it is true.

    I don’t think they’re riding a wave of uncertainty, I think they’re doing their best to create it.

  49. Chris Preston says:

    It strikes me that the rationale behind both groups of studies is to create a body of work that contradicts the conclusion that there are no health risks for GM crops. What is common to both pieces of work (and the rest of Seralini’s work) is the use of inappropriate tests and inappropriate statistical tests. A good example is the sheer number of statistical tests conducted with no management for multiple comparisons and the promotion of any significant results as “proof” GM crops are harmful, without considering whether those results could occur by chance.

    These studies seem to be designed as fishing expeditions to find any difference. What is noteworthy is that the different studies find different problems, not the same ones. But that doesn’t seem to matter; the authors quote each other’s work as if it is all the same. To someone with adequate statistical training this all looks like noise, not anything important.

    A third feature that these studies seem to have is the poor description of the methodology used, making it somewhat difficult to determine exactly what was done, how much feed was consumed and so on.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      You might (or Dr. Gorski might) have the knowledge to answer this – the rats were fed ad libitum, so they got to eat as much as they want. Could the cancers cause a feed-forward mechanism? They eat, they get cancer, the cancers consume nutrients, which makes the rats hungrier, which makes them eat more, which helps the tumors keep growing? I had thought that cancer patients tended to be undernourished with trouble eating, is that only one possible outcome? Or is that due to the chemo?

      I do enjoy experts who answer questions.

  50. qb says:

    Backward logic, backward science. Trying to prove a predetermined outcome is the red flag waving in the fishy smelling wind.

  51. Tina says:

    Yes, really.
    First, I said types of food. As in sugar, protein etc. So your ancestors, like all other humans, had enzymes digesting sugars. They might have had the enzyme, or a gene producing the enzyme, long before there was what we now know as Europe, Americas etc.

    There may not be scientific assays distinguishing GMOs from non-GMOs. It is all at DNA level afterall, and I dont know if we have technology to do it. But this doesn’t mean that an organism can not separate the two. There have been numerous reports of bees, pigs and wildlife not coping with GMOs

    1. «Yes, really.
      First, I said types of food. As in sugar, protein etc. So your ancestors, like all other humans, had enzymes digesting sugars. They might have had the enzyme, or a gene producing the enzyme, long before there was what we now know as Europe, Americas etc.»

      I fail to see what the nature of the distinction you are making actually is.

      All that I am understanding from your expansion on your comment is that you seem to believe that we specifically adapted to produce “very specific enzymes for very specific types of food” which, apparently, work for any kind of plant as long as it is not the product of genetic engineering. How can our adaptations be simultaneously so specific and so general?

      «There may not be scientific assays distinguishing GMOs from non-GMOs. It is all at DNA level afterall, and I dont know if we have technology to do it. But this doesn’t mean that an organism can not separate the two. There have been numerous reports of bees, pigs and wildlife not coping with GMOs»

      If an organism can “separate the two” then the technology to do so should be, in principle possible, to develop. You simply cannot have it both ways. Maybe you could have a special cell culture which reacts in some identifiable way if you have GMO cooties? Or maybe genetically engineered organisms always produce a Zombie Protein Of Doom (in which case you could develop an ELISA to test for the ZPOD). Or maybe that’s a fantasy because, in principle, there does not exist and there can never exist any common feature by which genetically engineered organisms could be distinguished from non genetically engineered organisms. That’s why testing for transgenic plants involves testing for either specific known sequences or specific proteins (so that we are relying on prior knowledge of the specific nature of specific modifications).

      «There have been numerous reports of bees, pigs and wildlife not coping with GMOs»

      There have also been numerous reports of Sasquatch, alien abductions, chupacabras and hypnotic past life regressions. What should we make of these reports?

  52. egstra says:

    “There have been numerous reports of bees, pigs and wildlife not coping with GMOs”

    And here’s one example of such a report. http://www.businessinsider.com/gm-pig-study-is-deeply-flawed-2013-6

  53. egstra says:

    And an interesting article about bees and GMOs from a professional beekeeper and entomologist

    http://scientificbeekeeping.com/sick-bees-part-18e-colony-collapse-revisited-genetically-modified-plants/

    “A recent and very well-designed experiment on the effect of GM Bt corn pollen upon the growth and survival of honey bee larvae was recently performed by a team of independently-funded German researchers [24]. They added pollen from four different sources to a standard semi-artificial larval diet.

    Results: surprisingly, the larvae fed the pollen from the “stacked” GM corn containing a combination of three different Cry proteins exhibited a higher survival rate (100%), than those fed non-GM corn pollen! To me, a big plus for this study was that they also included a positive control of pollen from a wild plant said to be harmful to bees—only about 30% of those larvae survived! This finding confirmed that even some natural pollens are quite toxic, and that we should compare any toxicity trials of pesticides with those of the natural phytotoxins in nature.

    Analysis: CCD and colony mortality occur even in the absence of GM Bt crops; feeding GM Bt pollen to adult bees or larvae does not cause observable adverse effects.

    Verdict on Bt crops: The specific Bt cry proteins used in GM crops were intentionally chosen to not cause harm to bees. There is no evidence to date that they do. On the other hand, Bt crops require less use of insecticides that are clearly toxic to bees [25].”

  54. isabel gibbs says:

    I have read a few of your articles. It is clear you equate science with pharmaceutical solutions.
    From this pro-GMO article to the traditional approach to cancer through more pharmaceutical solutions.
    I remember the days in which doctors did use the true scientific approach to finding out the causes of an ailment. They sat with you and asked you what you ate, what you did, your symptoms, etc. Then they gave you a list of what to do and not to do, including lifestyle changes and diet to follow.
    I have yet to find a doctor who will ask me about my diet and how this may be affecting my health as if it had nothing to do with it. In a society which eats from boxes rather than from the earth , which pumps fruits and vegetables full of chemicals to preserve “their” lives, and uses GMO’s (yes, GMO’s) to increase production and increase the profits of those who have patented God’s creation, I find this at best irresponsible and at worst, criminal.
    The fact is they really don’t know anything about nutrition. It is easier and cheaper to tell the patient to pop a pill. Not to mention, this takes about 10 minutes and you can cram those patients in to make more money. After all to ask a patient about their lifestyle might take a good hour.
    The sad truth is that traditional medicine (not scientific medicine) has become the norm. It is as dirty a business as the pharmaceutical industry which corrupted it and where making a buck supersedes the value of human life.
    Little wonder people don’t trust it and don’t trust those who advocate it.
    The question lingers in one’s mind: is this person one of those doctors who gets paid by the pharmaceuticals to push their drugs? Chances are they are. This is a huge problem in the medical field.
    And you are asking us to it and you?

    1. Egstra says:

      “I remember the days in which doctors did use the true scientific approach to finding out the causes of an ailment. They sat with you and asked you what you ate, what you did, your symptoms, etc. ”

      What an interesting definition of scientific. It’s also interesting tht you have no facts, simply personal impressions, on which to base your criticisms.

      BTW – EVERY MD appointment I’ve had in the last perhaps 15 years (except the ophthalmologist) has included a questionnaire about my diet, exercise, and other aspects of my life.

    2. IOW, pharma shill!

    3. weing says:

      “I remember the days in which doctors did use the true scientific approach to finding out the causes of an ailment. They sat with you and asked you what you ate, what you did, your symptoms, etc. Then they gave you a list of what to do and not to do, including lifestyle changes and diet to follow.”

      That’s the true scientific approach? Sorry, but changing your diet and lifestyle, while helpful for some things, is not a panacea. Are you in such bad shape that a doctor would be that concerned about your diet or physical activity. BTW, asking about diet and exercise, drugs, etc. are all components of the history on my exams.

  55. Dave S says:

    I hear the above comments all the time and beg to differ. In my particular health care system prmary care doctors are expected to, among other things:
    Advise smokers about smoking cessation, including what smoking cessation programs are available and what pharmaceutical aids are available.
    Similar discussions about alcohol abuse
    Have discussions concerning the importance of exercise with all patients with hypertension.
    These are monitored for each doctor and are reported as performance measures.
    In addition, dietary consults can be placed for patients such as diabetics or people with celiac sprue who need in depth dietary instruction. For most patients the usual standard advice is to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, avoid excessive amounts of red meat, and be sparing when it comes to sugar and salt. Hardly rocket science. A patient with cardiac risk factors might get a discussion about the Mediterranean diet. Most of this is common sense and what your mother told you when you were four.
    We will also spend more time talking about diet when prescribing meds in which diet plays a role – warfarin and isoniazid for example.

    If I had a teaspoon of water for every patient I’ve counselled to stop smoking, a much bigger risk factor than anything else, I could float a battleship.

  56. Alex says:

    Petition CBC News, The National to Interview Dr Thierry Vrain Regarding GMO & The Future of Agriculture

    http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/petition-cbc-news-the-national-to-interview-dr-thierry-vrain-regarding-gmo-the-future-of-agriculture

  57. Bob Phelps says:

    The charge that independent scientists are anti-GM is unfair and groundless especially as there is no similar admission that GM companies, fellow travellers, spin meisters and front groups rabidly are pro-GM. Many long-term and inter-generational, peer-reviewed experiments now confirm that some varieties of genetically manipulated (GM) soy, corn and canola harm experimental pigs, rats and mice. There’s a fair chance they also harm us, long-term, so more independent research is needed.

    But food regulators (such as Food Standards Australia NZ) have a policy to consider only chemical analyses of GM food products, provided by the applicant companies. These are not independent and are an inadequate test of GM product safety. FSANZ judges this evidence using the rubbery concept ‘substantial equivalence’ without setting any prior benchmarks or standards of comparison between GM and non-GM foods. There’s no nul hypothesis so they call the assessment process ‘science-based’.

    FSANZ ignores any animal evidence and critiques it with un-referenced and ad hominem rhetoric at: http://archive.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/gmfoods/gmtableofstudies.cfm Surely FSANZ and other regulators should apply the same standards to unpublished data from GM proponents as they do to those studies that find negative impacts, but they won’t.

  58. stanmrak says:

    Missing from the conversation is a discussion of the extreme toxic effects of RoundUp (glyphosate), an essential part of GMO agriculture. GMO agriculture has led to more and more RoundUp being sprayed.

    Here’s a 100% peer-reviewed and published research document of RoundUp’s toxic effects, with hyperlinks back to the 100′s of original citations located on the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE.

    http://www.greenmedinfo.com/sites/default/files/free_downloads/gpub_78151_toxic_ingredient_glyphosate_formulations.pdf

    1. No, the effects of Roundup are not “an essential part of GMO agriculture”. The effects of Roundup (it kills weeds) are an essential factor to be considered when employing crop plants expressing a glyphosate resistance trait.

  59. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @Stan

    I’ll believe you when you link to the actual NLM paper, not a mirror site on greenmedinfo.com. Actual peer-reviewed articles, those published in real peer-reviewed journals, say other things (1, 2, 3). Cue special pleading.

    Also, many types of GMO allow for the spraying of less pesticide. Round-up Ready crops allow the use of glyphosate, which degrades much more quickly than many alternatives and acts on a biochemical pathway that plants possess, but animals do not. Not to mention what makes them Round-up Ready is the fact that they are able to degrade Round-up quickly and efficienly, thus leading to less glyphosate in them.

    The point isn’t to throw up vague lists in non-peer-reviewed sources, it is to point to the convergent signs of harm. Cherry picking to produce isolated studies is not how you do science. Rather, you should be able to draw upon bodies of work that consisntely converge on a conclusion. If after decades of work we still can’t find a signal in the noise, we’re either asking the wrong question, or it may not be there. Further, GMO is a technique, you can’t say “all GMO is bad” anymore than you can say “all bridges are bad” or “all drugs are bad” (actually, I know you would say the latter, but a sane person would not). Genetic modification incorporates a huge number of outcomes, glyphosate tolerance is merely one. Certainly “organic” isn’t the alternative, unless you want even more of the world’s forests and open grasslands to be torn up and converted to farms (generally quite destructive farms as well, since we’re already using the available high-quality farmlands as, well, farms, so we’d be stuck irrigating the deserts or arctic tundra).

    1. stanmrak says:

      Monsanto promised that pesticide and herbicide use would go down; this has turned out to be a blatant lie. Use is increasing significantly. Furthermore, RoundUp does not biodegrade as Monsanto also claimed, nor is it harmless to humans. Most every claim Monsanto has made is false, according to independent reports.

      1. windriven says:

        Stan said it so it must be true!

        It is SO much easier to projectile vomit allegations than to cite factual sources.

  60. yvonne says:

    If GMO foods are safe why not label ALL GMO foods

    1. weing says:

      “If GMO foods are safe why not label ALL GMO foods”
      If they are safe, why label them at all? Why not label non-GMO foods so that people can be aware that they are more likely to have pesticides and herbicides on them?

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        For one thing, since there’s no harm that has been associated with GMO foods, why bother? For another thing, it adds to the cost of food. Perhaps you are wealthy enough that adding 10% to the cost of food doesn’t bother you, but there are others for whom 10% is enough to force a decision between food and medicine, transportation or clothing.

        It’s pandering to fear and irrationality.

  61. Chris Preston says:

    Bob Phelps, the appellation “anti-GM” is given to people like Carman, Seralini and yourself because of what you write. All three of you are opposed to Gm crops and GM food.

    There is an increasing number of publications that purport to show GM food is harmful, such as the one that is the subject of this post. However, when these are examined in detail it turns out that they are poor studies with feeds of unknown dietary content and dodgy statistical approaches. Small, statistically meaningless differences are touted as major harms. If this is the best that ‘independent scientists’ can do perhaps they would be better off sticking to other work.

    FSANZ quite rightly downplays the value of whole food testing on animals. It does this because such tests have very low power to identify problems.

  62. Chunjai Clarkson says:

    I would like to know your opinion on the work of Bruner-Tran and Osteen, 2011 on the Maternal-Fetal inflammatory response. The research found that the inappropriate expression of TLR-4 which was associated with preterm birth in mice. This increased risk was transferred to the female partner and through germ lines and progeny since the placenta is derived from paternal chromosomes.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Right off the bat, people aren’t mice (and particularly aren’t the heavily-inbred mice used in medical research). And it would help if you included a weblink to the research. But most of all, has the research been replicated and extended?

  63. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @Stan the man

    Monsanto promised that pesticide and herbicide use would go down; this has turned out to be a blatant lie. Use is increasing significantly. Furthermore, RoundUp does not biodegrade as Monsanto also claimed, nor is it harmless to humans. Most every claim Monsanto has made is false, according to independent reports.

    You say that, but why should we believe you? Can you produce any “independent reports”? Because frankly your word alone is not credible (then again, neither are most of the sources you provide).

    This also neatly sidesteps my previous point – Round-up doesn’t seem to cause harm to humans. We don’t even have the biochemical pathway that it interferes with. So what is your objection?

    1. John Altimus says:

      William knows that people aren’t mice… bravo!
      Where are any safety studies on GMO food proving it is safe for long term human consumption or even short term human consumption?
      There are none. Tthis “lapse” is caused by regulatory authorities trying to curry favor with biotech companies for jobs, regardkess ti the effects on the general public/\.
      Animal studies are used to determine if there is a potential for harm to humans. There are numerous studies that show potential problems with GMO. some produced by industry. But they are all, quietly or harshly, hushed or crushed. Like Arpad Pusztai’s biotech sponsored research…
      Where are the short or long term independent human feeding trials of either the GMO crops or the GMO crops sprayed with herbicide?
      I think the research into genetic engineering should continue, but we must have a moratorium on open-field growing of modified crops and the consumption of these crops by the general public until long term feeding trials on animals, then humans, are done to ensure no harm is being caused.
      Then William makes an obvious bone-headed comment while demanding proof herbicide ingestion is unsafe… He says “Round-up doesn’t seem to cause harm to humans. We don’t even have the biochemical pathway that it interferes with. So what is your objection?” And William doesn’t seem to realize how stupid or disingenuous this statement is… I’m assuming he is being disingenuous, and knows feeding GMOs without properly assessing their safety is wrong.
      Why is it done? Because it is very profitable for biotech companies… especially those who produce patented crops that are resistant to the herbicide they also have a patent on… if you are able to convince farmers to use these crops they have to buy the pateneted seed from you, promise not to save seed from the crops and but tons of herbicide to spray on the growing crop… a triple win.
      Why would farmers grow these crops? I have spoken to some. Their yield increases dramatically by destroying weeds that compete for nutrients in the soil. It’s not a hard sell, especially when they claim the FDA and USDA approved them and the spraying as safe to do.
      But William knows all of this already too…
      I think it would be a simple thing to have done these long term studies already… and all of our questions would have been resolved… GMO have been in our food supply since the 90s in ever increasing amounts… but no one knows if or how much they may be eating, so no one has any idea if their food may be causing medical problems.
      Stop obfuscating lying and deceiving William… people are being harmed, without doubt, every day we continue this triple blind experiment on people that cannot afford to eat organically.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        GMO is a process, not a product. You can’t say “GMO is a danger” any more than you can say “metallurgy” or “agriculture” is a danger. Further, the genes inserted into these plants are normally present in other plants, they’re just moved surgically rather than through the messy and unpredictable process of cross-breeding. And in cases where you are introducing a trans-species gene into the plant, it’s for a protein that you already eat in another food source. For instance, the frost-resistant gene inserted into…tomatoes? comes from an arctic fish, and codes for a protein that prevents ice seed crystals from growing – do you think eating fish is dangerous? If not, then you shouldn’t have a problem with eating the tomato. Unless you’re completely indifferent to actual proof or rationality, in which case you should admit it (and go away, because there’s no point in pretending this is a rational discussion). If it’s about Monsanto’s corporate practices – admit that, and advocate for better controls over corporations, and quit bitching about the science. And if this awful pig PR is science to you, if you consider this definitive proof of the danger of GMO crops, you’re woefully ignorant.

        GMO crops have been present for several decades. You’ve eaten thousands of meals with GMO crops, as has the entire population of the world. In this time, the average life expectancy of humanity has been creeping inexorably upwards, with nary a bump.

        Why would GMO crops + pesticides be any worse than non-GMO crops + pesticides? And not all genetic modification is related to pesticides.

        Is this a long-term enough study for you? How about this one? What about this one? But why do you distrust the nigh-universal statements about the safety of GMO crops, both theoretically and upon testing, that come from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Medical Association, WHO and more?

        What proof do you have that glyphosate is harmful to humans in the doses found on foods?

        You’re almost exactly backwards on your financial costs by the way – the unreasonable demands of consumers for safety and efficacy testing creates such large entry barriers that the only companies capable of doing the work are massive ones like Monsanto and Dow. It’s less profitable than you might think because of these costs, but on top of that it means the companies are motivated to distort the evidence even more to recoup their costs. There’s minimal competition because public and small private research facilities can’t afford to do the work.

        Please proceed to move the goalposts, I know you want to.

      2. «people are being harmed, without doubt, every day we continue this triple blind experiment on people that cannot afford to eat organically.»

        The only vegetable produce deaths I have seen as of late have come from consuming organic produce.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Oh snap.

      3. windriven says:

        “Where are any safety studies on GMO food proving it is safe for long term human consumption or even short term human consumption?”

        The null hypothesis is that GMO food is safe. Despite numerous studies, the null hypothesis stands. That’s how.

      4. windriven says:

        “Stop obfuscating lying and deceiving William… people are being harmed, without doubt, every day we continue this triple blind experiment on people that cannot afford to eat organically.”

        Where is your proof that people are being harmed “without a doubt”? It would appear to be you who is the liar, not WLU.

        Further, my dear airhead, the Big Ag that you so despise has played a huge role in avoiding a Malthusian disaster of mass starvation over the last 50 years. Bugger off with your hysterical rantings and unsubstantiated charges. Belly up to the bar with the currency of record: quality, peer reviewed, RCTs or slink off to the romper room.

    2. stanmrak says:

      http://www.alternet.org/food/why-monsanto-wrong-about-gm-crop-promises?akid=10630.1073036.LCAl8p&rd=1&src=newsletter860970&t=7

      I would be happy to have everyone who wants to eat GMOs to have all they want if they could guarantee that I will always be able to get real food. Unfortunately, you can’t quarantine GMO crops, and eventually they will contaminate everything.

  64. weing says:

    “people are being harmed, without doubt, every day we continue this triple blind experiment on people that cannot afford to eat organically.”

    Whence comes this certainty? Definitely not from science. If people started dying from GMO foods, wouldn’t you expect an uptick of deaths? Do you think it is in the interest of corporations like Monsanto to make products that kill their customers? If they kill them off, who will be left to buy? They are not tobacco companies.

  65. Chris Preston says:

    John Altimus, it would aid in responding to your questions if you have formatted your post better, but I will do my best.

    “Where are any safety studies on GMO food proving it is safe…”

    There are hundreds of safety studies. You can see a list here http://gmopundit.blogspot.com.au/p/450-published-safety-assessments.html

    The studies come in several types: tests of the novel proteins produced to determine they are not toxic or allergenic, tests for known toxins in the crop, tests for nutritional changes and whole food feeding studies.

    “There are numerous studies that show potential problems with GMO. some produced by industry. But they are all, quietly or harshly, hushed or crushed. Like Arpad Pusztai’s biotech sponsored research…”

    That depends on what you mean by numerous. There are a few. They are typically, like Pusztai’s study, have technical deficiencies. Whole food feeding studies are compromised by the very small amount of GM protein in the food. This means large amounts of food have to be fed to provide a situation where a potentially harmful amount of the GM material is likely to be consumed. In Puzstai’s case, the study showed that a diet high in uncooked potatoes was harmful to rats. There was no overall harmful effect of the potatoes being GM.

    “Where are the short or long term independent human feeding trials of either the GMO crops or the GMO crops sprayed with herbicide?”

    Such experiments would be unethical to conduct.

    “I think the research into genetic engineering should continue, but we must have a moratorium on open-field growing of modified crops and the consumption of these crops by the general public until long term feeding trials on animals, then humans, are done to ensure no harm is being caused.”

    Studies on animals have been done. No adverse effects seen. Under such circumstances, it would be unethical to conduct studies on humans.

    “people are being harmed, without doubt, every day we continue this triple blind experiment on people that cannot afford to eat organically.”

    You seem to have a problem with logic here. If, as you claim there are no studies to assess safety, how can you be so certain people are being harmed?

    While you are thinking about that, I will point out that GM products have been in the human diet now for 16 years, with no evidence of harm from their consumption appearing. So we have no evidence of harm from animal models and no evidence of harm from consumption in the real world.

  66. Loren E says:

    Altimus says, “Where are any safety studies on GMO food proving it is safe….” One needs to point out to folks like this it is statistically impossible to prove something safe or that an event will never happen. In any case, if I perform 20,000 experiments and find no harm, will that be enough for the anti-GMO types? Probably not. Are we going to subject organic foods to the same scrutiny? God knows it needs to be tested as much as any other food. Unfortunately, this group doesn’t think the precautionary principle applies to them.

    1. saijanai says:

      If 20,000 studies all support the null hypothesis, that would be very iffy statistics.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Meanwhile, there are studies on GMO showing the null hypothesis to be false. However, they are studies like this one, or Seralini’s – inconsistent, unrepeatable, and ultimately unconvincing.

        1. saijanai says:

          Just by chance, there should be a small percentage of well-conducted studies that raise concerns. You dismiss the poorly conducted research out-of-hand and then suggest that ONLY poorly conducted research raises concerns.

          That reeks of bias at several different levels.

  67. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @Tom James

    Why did Monsanto need to harass and sue the farmers not using their seed out of existence? Good products should evolve on their own without jack booted thugs forcing others out of the industry. If for no other reason the companys policy and methods are reason enough for me to object to their product and monopoly.

    A lot of your points have already been addressed above, but I’ll quickly hit on some.
    1) Monsanto’s court practices may be less “evil” and more “protecting their intellectual property”. While often portrayed as Big Corporate squashing the little guy, in this case it may be that the little guy knowingly and willingly breaking a contract. Beware of people attempting to sell you cheap and easy answers with heroes and villains rather than details and facts. Keep in mind that while definitely not a universally and unmitigatedly good thing, patent laws do support innovation in nearly every intellectual field. Without patent laws, there is no incentive to invest in research and development work that leads to better products. If you could give more details on the specific case(s) in question, then a more refined analysis could take place. Generally farmers are very willing to plant Monsanto seeds (certainly in the Bowman v. Monsanto case, Bowman obviously wanted the seeds) but are less willing to pay higher prices for them.
    2) The main reason Monsanto (and Dow Chemicals, they are just as evi- I mean promoters of GMO crops) are the biggest player in the business is because the (ignorant and easily-frightened) public demands unrealistic safety testing on a process (genetic modification) that has no a priori reason to be more dangerous than previous processes. Genetic modification covers a tremendous amount of possible outcomes, often doing things that could be done in the past at a much more rapid and controlled pace (notably cross-breeding or mutation-forcing). Do you demand safety testing for new strains of apple or wheat? If not, why demand it for GMO products? Because the safety testing is so extensive, the entry barriers to the field are incredibly high – meaning only immense companies like Monsanto (and Dow) can afford it. They also have the resources to protect their IP (which they have a right to do).
    3) Both of these issues could be addressed by supporting publicly-funded research into GMO crops, which removes a lot of the patent issues, permitting farmers to plant seeds from crops grown the year before without risking a law suit. It also removes much of the public perception of bias since it’s not a company doing the work. But realistically, it would be nice if the public just understood the issues, instead of having knee-jerk reactions that are easily addressed by a bit of reading.

    Also where did all the bees go?

    Miki addressed this above, but I’ll repost his/her link. Here you go. The collapse of bee colonies doesn’t seem to be related to GMO products. Diseases come and go quite naturally, and often helped by human interventions (introducing diseases to biologically naive populations being a big one, but there’s also the chance that pesticides and herbicides do have something to do with it. I am not an expert though). However, one must keep in mind that genentic modification may not be a factor. Keep an open mind, follow the research, and don’t assume a priori that GMO is the cause of all problems.

  68. Chris Preston says:

    saijanai, I think you have just answered Loren E’s question. No amount of data will be enough for the anti-GM type.

    1. saijanai says:

      Again, if all 20,000 studies showed “no effect,” that would be a warning flag to any statistician.

  69. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Just by chance, there should be a small percentage of well-conducted studies that raise concerns. You dismiss the poorly conducted research out-of-hand and then suggest that ONLY poorly conducted research raises concerns.

    You seem to be missing the point. By chance we expect to see random positive results. This chance is reduced by explicitly accounting for multiple comparisons in the statistical analysis (in exploratory studies such as Seralini or Carman could have been) and by having a predefined hypothesis in subsequent confirmatory studies. The real point is – if the results are by chance they will not repeat upon subsequent testing. If the results are not by chance, if they are a real effect, they will crop up again in subsequent tests. That’s the point, science converges on the correct answer with repeated and refined testing. The complete lack of convergence despite small islands of isolated significant results is why there is no empirical reason to suspect the safety of genetically modified food (along with the lack of theoretical concerns since we already eat these proteins in other foods). By selecting studies like Seralini and Carman, and ignoring their characteristic isolation of findings, you are cherry-picking. It is very easy to say “all red cars are dangerous” if you pay attention to the red cars that are in accidents and pretend the ones being driven safely don’t exist. That’s why scientific evidence is examined as a whole, not on the basis of single studies.

    It’s quite possible that if you applied the same naive and incorrect statistical tests that Seralini and Carman did to the results of other research, you might get isolated results. It’s possible if you ignore the contradictions and flaws within the data (lack of a dose-response curve, the subjective nature of the analyses), you might get isolated results. It’s possible if you use inadequate numbers of animals in each group (as Seralini did) then a small number of unusual cases will give you isolated results. If you don’t see those isolated results again, then you have essentially confirmed that they were isolated, chance results.

    You keep flagging isolated results. Please show me a consistent pattern of harm missed by the real scientists. Please show me that rats always get more tumors or that pigs always get stomach inflammation on GMO crops, then you might have a case.

    1. saijanai says:

      “You keep flagging isolated results. Please show me a consistent pattern of harm missed by the real scientists. Please show me that rats always get more tumors or that pigs always get stomach inflammation on GMO crops, then you might have a case.”

      It’s not damning, but suggestive, concerning roundup and cancer:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=cancer+(Glyphosate+OR+roundup)

      Note that there appear to be NO rodent carcinoma studies concerning glyophsphate other than seralini’s, despite the existence of research that suggests there could be a problem in *humans*.

      In 2000, a scientist with Monsanto actually sent a letter to the editor of a journal calling for people to ignore small rodent studies on cancer because the results were useless. Interesting…

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11211992

      1. weing says:

        “In 2000, a scientist with Monsanto actually sent a letter to the editor of a journal calling for people to ignore small rodent studies on cancer because the results were useless.”

        Is that what you got from that abstract? What I got out of it is that studies using liver P450 enzyme induction without liver toxicity are useless. He recommends studies that look at perturbations in tissue growth/replication as these are useful for determining cancer risk.

  70. stanmrak says:

    “GMO crops have been present for several decades. You’ve eaten thousands of meals with GMO crops, as has the entire population of the world. In this time, the average life expectancy of humanity has been creeping inexorably upwards, with nary a bump.”

    In the same way life expectancy kept rising even when people were smoking tobacco, being exposed to DDT, asbestos, lead, etc. Using your logic, none of these things are bad for your health either.
    Life expectancy does not correlate to good health. We’re waaaaay down the list in world health stats, right behind Croatia or somebody like that.

  71. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Stan, have you considered using something other than a news agency as a source of information? Perhaps the peer reviewed literature?

    @saijanai
    I was going to criticize you for linking to a search page rather than actual articles (always a poor choice) but since there were only three results I can actually provide representative quotes. For Mink et al. 2012 we have “Our review found no evidence of a consistent pattern of positive associations indicating a causal relationship between any disease and exposure to glyphosate.” Note that this is actually a study that specifically excludes cancer, so perhaps spend a bit more time reviewing your search results before presenting them as proof. For a different Mink et al. 2012 (this one actually on cancer, we also get “Our review found no consistent pattern of positive associations indicating a causal relationship between total cancer (in adults or children) or any site-specific cancer and exposure to glyphosate.” The third paper, Reis et al. 2006 uses the word “cancer” three times – once in a reference, once to identify the institutional affiliation of an author, and a third time to note that recombinant DNA technology is useful in curing cancer. These results are neither damning, nor suggestive, concerning roundup and cancer. They underscore my point – there is no association between the two.

    There’s nothing interesting about the LTTE you cite. There’s a reason we start with rodent studies but don’t regard them as conclusive – people aren’t rodents. There are lots of things that can cure (or cause) diseases in inbred rodents in labs. People share many biochemical pathways with them, but still are not rodents. You aren’t proving human harm with the studies you link to, nor with your fumbling at the science, nor with your aspersions.

    If GMO crops (or roundup) causes harm, after decades of research we should be able to identify some sort of signal from the noise. People far smarter than you or I have looked at the data with a critical eye and said a) there’s no reason to suspect such a signal, and b) there’s no signal appearing empirically. Lots of noise, no signal. So if we have to choose between a possible harm that is of such a low risk that we can’t find it after all these years, versus the benefits of enhanced crops in terms of quantity and quality of nutrition, I will happily plant and eat GMO crops.

    At some point one must concede that there may not be any added risk to GMO crops, and that the precautionary principle has its limits. Admit it, or show me better evidence. Please stop relying on the assumption of harm in the absence of evidence.

    1. saijanai says:

      Interesting how you ignored most recent study, you know, the one at the top of the list, published after all the others that you cite:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23756170
      Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors.

      “Abstract
      Glyphosate is an active ingredient of the most widely used herbicide and it is believed to be less toxic than other pesticides. However, several recent studies showed its potential adverse health effects to humans as it may be an endocrine disruptor. This study focuses on the effects of pure glyphosate on estrogen receptors (ERs) mediated transcriptional activity and their expressions. Glyphosate exerted proliferative effects only in human hormone-dependent breast cancer, T47D cells, but not in hormone-independent breast cancer, MDA-MB231 cells, at 10-12 to 10-6M in estrogen withdrawal condition. The proliferative concentrations of glyphosate that induced the activation of estrogen response element (ERE) transcription activity were 5-13 fold of control in T47D-KBluc cells and this activation was inhibited by an estrogen antagonist, ICI 182780, indicating that the estrogenic activity of glyphosate was mediated via ERs. Furthermore, glyphosate also altered both ERα and β expression. These results indicated that low and environmentally relevant concentrations of glyphosate possessed estrogenic activity. Glyphosate-based herbicides are widely used for soybean cultivation, and our results also found that there was an additive estrogenic effect between glyphosate and genistein, a phytoestrogen in soybeans. However, these additive effects of glyphosate contamination in soybeans need further animal study.”

  72. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    In the same way life expectancy kept rising even when people were smoking tobacco, being exposed to DDT, asbestos, lead, etc. Using your logic, none of these things are bad for your health either.
    Life expectancy does not correlate to good health. We’re waaaaay down the list in world health stats, right behind Croatia or somebody like that.

    First, on what measure? If you’re talking neonatal mortality, you might be right (but you have to be careful, because each country measures it differently – some classify deaths within a month of birth to be “stillbirth”, thus presenting falsely-positive rates of neonatal survival; the US does not, and suffers for this in comparison to other nations). But if it’s something else, please provide a concrete claim rather than claiming we are “behind Croatia”. We’re ahead in a lot of things – English literacy, production, land mass, shoe size, lack-of-civil-wars-in-past-generation and more. Specifics please, because it sounds like you are just making things up.

    Second, if you’re actually talking about life expectancy, in the US it is currently 78.6 years, and is tied with a seven other countries in 33rd place. In Croatia it is 77 years, tied with seven other countries in 42nd place (ref). If the US had a reasonable and functioning public health care system like every other modern nation, it would doubtless be much higher.

    Finally, you think people weren’t exposed to lead, smoking, or toxins in the past? Lead pipes. Smoking existed (and lacked filters). Ergot is quite the natural toxin. But most importantly, smoking rates have decreased in the United States over the past couple decades, and lung cancer rates have tracked this decrease – because of years of public health campaigns to lower the smoking rate. Because smoking is recognized by the medical establishment as a major health risk. And your comparison is actually disproving your point – when smoking increased there was a change in the death and lung cancer rates. When smoking decreased, there was another change in the death and lung cancer rates. When something has a measurable, significant health effect, we can measure it, track it and demonstrate it. Unlike the health effects of GMO foods, for which there doesn’t seem to be any evidence.

  73. Chris Preston says:

    saijanai: “Interesting how you ignored most recent study, you know, the one at the top of the list, published after all the others that you cite”

    There is not much useful about this study. It bathed cells for 24 h in glyphosate and found some effects. There are many problems with this as a test, because it does not replicate in any way what might normally happen. There is no reasonable hypothesis to do these tests as glyphosate has been determined to have no estrogenic activity in a whole battery of much better quality studies. These were recently reviewed by Williams et al. 2012 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22202229 So why think it might be estrogenic now?

    I note in the literature that the same research group has used these cells to show a whole slew of compounds, both naturally occurring and synthetic, are estrogenic. Perhaps it is a function of the assay they are using.

  74. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Interesting how you ignored most recent study, you know, the one at the top of the list, published after all the others that you cite:

    Not really, pubmed remembers your search preferences; mine are set to report on review articles, systematic review articles and meta-analyses from the past ten years (that’s why I only got three articles in response to the query rather than the 34 you get with a raw query – but again, isolated studies are suggestive, review articles are much more convincing). Running the search without these parameters turns up more results, but less useful results because they are isolated and easily cherry-picked. Chris as already addressed the study you link to, but I’ll make another couple comments. First, this is an in vitro study – it’s in a petri dish. Much like killing cancer cells in a dish, creating cancer in cells in dishes is probably easier than doing it in a person. Further, you can bathe the cells in much higher concentrations than you can attain in an actual person. In vitro studies ignore the ability of the human body to excrete or detoxify compounds via the liver (indeed, swallowed drugs of necessity must be at high doses or have some sort of chemical wizardry to prevent the first pass effect from rendering hthem useless). Also, what does this have to do with genetic modification? This is about glyphosate, which is not a GMO product. Are we now talking about the dangers of glyphosate, and you are admitting genetically modified crops present little danger? Yes, round-up ready crops will be exposed to more glyphosate than non-round-up ready crops, but the whole “ready” part is the ability of the plant to selectively inhibit glyphosate. So by eating GMO crops, you might be exposed to less glyphosate.

    Note that a specialist in this area might prove me wrong, I’m not positive don’t know if the plants denature the round-up or store it, or if they have some other biochemical pathway that isn’t affected by round-up (based on this it might be that it simply gloms to the glyphosate molecule – any specialists who can translate?). But still – are you worried about genetic modification, or round-up? Or do you just want an excuse to worry about the food you eat and criticize Monsanto? Please select your goalposts, plant them firmly, and defend them – or admit that no amount of evidence will convince you and that you’re not really interested in the science. If you’re not interested in reviewing the actual evidence or listening to genuine scientists who repeatedly say “there’s little reason to worry and no evidence of harm”, perhaps you might want to go somewhere on the web without the word “science” in the url. I’m sure there are lots of pro-organic echo chambers you could frequent where you would get nothing but agreement (unless you started asking questions about E. coli and sprouts).

    Science means being open to error and correcting yourself. You’re doing it wrong.

  75. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    A question for the still-interested and rather-expert:

    This analysis seems to say that the associations between glyphosate and cancer might be exagerrated on statistical grounds. Am I interpreting it correctly, or is that the exact opposite of what it’s saying?

  76. robin says:

    Monsanto brought to market :aspartame, ddt, dioxin, petroleum based fertilizers, agent orange , round up, saccharine, PCB’s, bovine growth hormone, and played part in atomic bomb development… COME ON PEOPLE! wake up to reality! it’s true ignorance to even suggest that GMO is safe.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Yes, of course it did. Some of those products are safe, all are regulated. Aspartame and saccharine are safe artificial sweeteners. Petroleum-based fertilizers help feed the world. Agent orange is a potent and effective defoliant purchased and used by the US government. The atomic industry also provides cheap, plentiful energy. Round-up, as has been discussed extensively here, is a safe (in humans) rapidly-degrading herbicide. Bovine growth hormone allows cows to produce more milk, with no human adverse effects (though the cows aren’t necessarily better-off, but then again we are holding them captive for their milk).

      None of this has any bearing on the safety of genetic modification, which again is a process, not a single “thing”. Saying “GMO is unsafe” is like saying “engineering is unsafe”. It’s just wrong and really rather ignorant.

      Monsanto has also brought to market a variety of conventional seeds produced by cross-breeding, does this forgive all your crimes?

      I mean seriously, do you think the best measure of whether a substance is safe or not is “whether Monsanto sells it”? Monsanto is in the business of making money from farming, not from killing people. The fact that Monsanto happens to manufacture something doesn’t make it bad. Organic farmers are responsible for more confirmed deaths than any GMO, so get off your high horse. Go advocate for food irradation, that might actually have some positive benefits.

    2. Bob Macgregor says:

      Germany started WW1 and WW2. Germans invented petroleum based fertilizers, and played a part in atomic bomb development… COME ON PEOPLE! wake up to reality! it’s true ignorance to even suggest that bratwurst or sauerkraut is safe.

  77. Michael says:

    Lol there is nothing you can possibly do to convince us that genetically modified foods are safe.

    Your article was a colossal waste of your time.

    1. Michael wrote:
      «Lol there is nothing you can possibly do to convince us that genetically modified foods are safe.

      Your article was a colossal waste of your time.»

      David Gorski can be wordy so maybe there’s a little waste there but mainly the waste seems to be all yours because you are a close minded fool not open to evidence. Though some may mock your stupidity, such willful ignorance is more sad than funny, actually.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      I appreciate the clarity and honesty of your statement. It’s far more fruitful to identify a clear and simple line, instead of pretending science matters. Does this mean you won’t bother citing this, or Seralini’s studies when discussing GMO? Because otherwise you’re being a hypocrite.

      1. David Gorski says:

        Indeed. People like that like to claim they are science-based, until science tells them what they don’t want to hear. Then science doesn’t matter. It must be lovely to have such a flexible world view.

  78. Baruch says:

    If you want to ingest GMOs or inject them into yourself have at. I don’t, and I should not be forced to, no one should. Furthermore, the biosphere should not be subjected to these kinds of experiments. We do not know the long-term or widespread effects. You want to experiment on yourself, go for it, but leave me and this beautiful planet out of your experiment.

    1. David Gorski says:

      Do tell, Baruch. Please explain where I got the science wrong and what the scientific evidence is that GMOs are not safe or that they’re even really different than all the crops farmers have created over the centuries through selective breeding. Please use peer-reviewed citations and, oh, actual science in your arguments, if you would. That’d be helpful.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Over the course of its existence, the planet has undergone multiple, cataclysmic extinction events. Whole phyla have evolved and gone extinct. At one point it was an oxygen-free literal hell of fire and brimstone. At another point it was so oxygen rich that we would have hemorrhaged to death after a short period of time. For close to a billion years, it wasn’t blue, and the only green that existed was oxidized copper.

      Since humans arrived, the climate has undergone huge changes – most of which were completely unrelated to our existence. We have modified certain species to the point where they were unrecognizable. We have created whole new species. Plants have evolved in single evolutionary leaps through single-generation doubling of chromosomes. Endogenous retrovirii have embedded themselves in millions of genomes, and bacteria have injected wholly foreign DNA into animal and plant genomes (both due to human activity, and naturally – where do you think we found a bacteria that would allow us to surgically insert these genes into the plants and animals we are genetically modifying?).

      Nothing being done in GMO is new – not the genes being inserted, nor the mechanism by which they are inserted. The only difference is that we can do so in specific ways, rather than having nature due it through purposeless chance.

      There is no reason to expect GMO to have any effects beyond that of consuming the raw proteins – which you do anyway because we get these genes and the proteins they code for from plants, which we eat. GMO is a general category of interventions, you can’t say “all GMO is dangerous” any more than you can say “all engineering is dangerous”. You’re repeating talking points, perhaps you could inform yourself on the nature of what GMO actually is, and what the experts think about the benefits and risks of GMO? Tomorrow’s Table is a good, lay-level entry into the discussion. Shouldn’t you learn something about what you are attempting to criticize by the way?

      Incidentally, speaking of GMO – type I diabetics inject themselves with insulin produced by genetically modified bacteria multiple times per day. It’s far better for them than the previous source of insulin, pigs, which at times caused allergic reactions and worse. Without GMO, a lot more diabetics would be dead. So perhaps we could agree that for this reason alone, GMO can be used in ways that are extremely helpful.

  79. Jason says:

    This person is FULL OF SHIT. We know the industry has deep pockets. No one is getting rich trying to keep GMO’s or pesticides out of the food chain. Meanwhile this person has a HUGE profit motive to say the things they are saying. No one with a thinking brain in the rest of the world would believe this apologist crap. Please whoever you are writing this; you are doing evil work. Truly evil.

    1. David Gorski says:

      Do tell, Jason. Please explain where I got the science wrong. Please use peer-reviewed citations and, oh, actual science in your arguments, if you would. That’d be helpful.

      1. Hope you’re not holding your breath. Just sayin’.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      An industry making a profit doesn’t make something evil. You’re typing on a computer that was made by an industry for a profit, is your computer evil? Industries meet needs, and industries are not wholly honest (which is why we regulate them). GMO plants and animals have the potential to feed and nourish the world, to cure the most common cause of blindness in children, which affects more than 200,000 per year worldwide. GMO could contain safe, stable vaccines, preventing polio, measles and more. GMO plants could create their own fertilizer, become resistant to droughts and floods (both incredibly valuable given climate change), absorb extra CO2 to offset anthropogenic climate change, produce high-octane biofuels, and more.

      Having a profit motive doesn’t mean something is evil, anymore than being an ignorant, parroting fool who didn’t bother to learn anything about the topic makes a person evil.

      Not to mention, how does Dr. Gorski, a cancer surgeon, benefit from GMO crops?

      And finally, people can have motives beyond profit. For instance, an individual could be so convinced that a technology is evil, so enamored of a false idea of what a pristine earth means, that they systematically lie and distort the evidence base of an entire technology. They could be rewarded by praise, sycophants, prestige, fame. They could get lucrative speaking contracts. They could publish books. They could believe that somehow they are protecting their children. Or they could be bought and paid for by the organic lobby, who use GMO as a boogeyman to drive customers to their expensive products, using the naturalistic fallacy as a whip.

      Nature doesn’t exist to keep us alive, it is supremely indifferent to our survival. That’s why humans have been systematically attempting to tame and guide nature to our benefit. And I’m a fan.

      1. Patrick says:

        Their is a higher science,it’s divine and has provided all we need naturally on this planet.Take care Patrick

        1. I must have missed how 7 billion humans are surviving on this planet on a hunter gatherer lifestyle (because, surely, that’s what you mean when you talk about providing “all we need naturally”, right?).

  80. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    By “divine”, I assume you mean God, or perhaps a god, or many gods? The same god who created smallpox? Who created that worm that burrows into children’s eyes? The same god that built a genome containing the point mutation that codes for Huntington’s disease (and for that matter, the genome that has the capability to degrade over time and can produce massive, life-destroying and misery-creating diseases through single mutations)? The same god that failed to provide humans, or any animals, with the ability to control their reproduction such that they woudln’t exceed the carrying capacity of their environment, and thus have to live through cycles of epidemic starvation? The same god who, for most of human history, made it a requirement to have 10 children, so you could watch 7 of them die before reaching puberty?

    As for “providing naturally”, do you include crops in that? Crops are “naturally” borderline inedible. The ancestors of bananas, wheat, rice, corn, apples, almonds and nigh-any common food are extremely low-calorie, filled with indigestible cellulose, and often actuely toxic (bitter almonds, for instance, containe cyanide). Do you know that capsicum (peppers), tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and deadly nightshade are all of the same species, and unmodified in nature contain sufficient bitter alkaloids to render them inedible if not flat-out deadly? It’s only through thousands of years of selective breeding that we have anything that can be grown as crops and provide enough surplus to live as anything but hunter-gatherers.

    Nature, if it is indeed a provider, is notably stingy and cruel. Humans, on the other hand, have gotten remarkably good at improving upon nature such that we don’t starve. GMO crops are naught but a more sophisticated means of doing so.

  81. loreneaton says:

    Patrick,
    God, Mother Nature (whoever) also provides for our competition (weeds, pests, etc.) When it comes to out-competeing them so we can survive “God helps those who help themselves.”

  82. SkeptiPaul says:

    Thanks! I needed an article refuting this particular study, and like a prayer answered (get it, prayer? I am FUNNY!) a google search turned this right up!

    Chalk up another win for science based medicine!

  83. shel laren says:

    Funny, I don’t get any money for any work trying to look into GE crops. In contrast the biotech industry has a massive budget and a strong hold on the world’s governments, universities, seed supply and more marketing folk than they need.

    However I beg you to show me and consider the pro GE research, the flaws are massive they tend to have low sample numbers, are short term (<3 months), they do not consider gross organ anatomy, they do not look at the whole foods but animal feed that is fed to livestock- which has little bearing or relation to human health, statistical data is cherry picked and missing from the published data are the many failed crops and studies that show problems.

    There are no long term double blind randomised controlled human trials, yet you claim biotech crops are safe- please back this up. People don't want to eat it and opposition is growing regardless of science or your opinion, We should have the right to not participate in this experiment- that is why there are more people speaking up. The power of the biotech lobby is so strong our governments are powerless and do not stand up for the people, and the regulators just rubber stamp applications without even looking at the study. The process is obviously wrong and not set up to protect human health.

    Think about it- you are a scientist- if you change the DNA you change the proteins! Genetic changes to DNA can effect proteins including those that check DNA integrity, or turn on and off genes. Therefore by changing DNA- the result is changed protein expression.
    This should have been investigated before any crops were let loose on our landscapes, and human and animal populations.
    This research is missing from the biotech lobby and they actually claim their product is the same as conventional crops- however the simple corollary above disproves that- GE crops are not the same as conventional breeding, change= change.

    Also if biotech techniques result in the same crops- than why bother? Oh- it is for the company's financial gain in more seed purchases and pesticide spray. I don't think you will have to go far to discover strong science that shows the damage pesticide residue can have on people.
    So if the only benefit is for the company and no proven human safety trials exists THIS EXPERIMENT SHOULD BE STOPPED- by the ethics committee of the people!

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Do you expect double-blind trials for new varieties of apples?

      New breeds of pig?

      What if the new traits are the product of conventional breeding – blasting the seeds with radiation then selecting for any new traits?

      If a crop is “failed”, it didn’t achieve it’s purpose, why would they publish it? “Monsanto doesn’t get salt-resistant corn” is a waste of a peer-reviewed article if there are no further interesting traits.

      If Monsanto has such a strong hold on governments, why is there so much public opposition to GMOs, why are the regulations for GM food so much more stringent than conventionally-bred food? Why has the European Union essentially banned GM foods? Not to mention the Indian government, the Thai government and several African countries putting in restrictions.

      Why do you think the resulting proteins are dangerous? Why do you think they won’t be digested by the protein-digesting enzymes in the stomach, or denatured by the high-acidity, or by the highly alkaline bile, or by the massive number of bacteria in the gut? I mean, if GM foods were so dangerous that they were causing large numbers of whole proteins to move directly into the blood, that would be pretty easy to demonstrate and have extremely significant side effects. How do you think large proteins will pass through the gut to cause symptoms, or even cancers?

      What do you think about the shoddy methodology of this particular trial?

    2. nybgrus says:

      You realize that literally every single thing you put in your mouth and could possibly put in your mouth has been genetically engineered? It is just the mechanism by which we have done it is different and faster (and better). And it is absolutely ludicrous to say that there have been no long term data.

      Hell even Mark Lynas, widely considered the “father” of the anti-GMO movement and a rabid anti-GMO protester for YEARS has recanted and finally come to realize that not only are they safe well over a billion people would be dead right now if it weren’t for GMO crops.

      So get off your high horse and realize that literally billions of people are eating it and a billion people wouldn’t be alive today if not for it. Your fear based in ignorance of what GMO actually is, means, and how it is done is not reason to condemn a billion people to starvation. Nor billions more like myself who appreciate the decrased cost and higher quality provided by GMO crops.

      http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/01/03/mark_lynas_environmentalist_who_opposed_gmos_admits_he_was_wrong.html

      Granted, I will admit that I don’t particularly like the business politics of Monsanto, but that has nothing to do with the science of GMO crops.

  84. weing says:

    “Think about it- you are a scientist- if you change the DNA you change the proteins! Genetic changes to DNA can effect proteins including those that check DNA integrity, or turn on and off genes. Therefore by changing DNA- the result is changed protein expression.”

    That’s right. That’s how genetic engineering works. Where do you see a problem in that? Find the answer to these questions. What’s a protein made up of? How many amino acids? If you change a nucleotide in the DNA what will happen? Are there novel amino acids that DNA will code for? How do proteins differ from each other? Think. They differ in the sequence of what? What happens to this protein when you eat it and it gets into your stomach, gets mixed and mashed with acids and enzymes, then gets into your small intestine and gets exposed to pancreatic enzymes?

  85. Michael Friedman says:

    I agree with your general concern about GM alarmism. There are a host of beneficial or potentially beneficial applications: insulin comes to mind. But, there are a sufficient number of legitimate concerns raised concerning pathologies, horizontal gene transfer and other ecological effects, as well as fraud (yes, on both sides), as a result of the rush to market products conceived within a narrow, reductionist paradigm, so as to justify the application of the “precautionary principle” and demands for labeling of GMO-based products.

    One commentator, above, asserted, “GMO have not been conclusively associated with harm to humans or the environment. Releasing invasive species on continents and boiomes? That has. Repeatedly and extensively.” This is just as disingenuous as blanket judgements of GMOs. Not all invasive species prove detrimental to indigenous species and ecosystems. This illustrates my point. Science is concrete. Both introduced species and GMOs must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. And in the case of GMOs, with so much at stake in terms of investment and rewards, this must be done independently and transparently.

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