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The Seralini GMO Study – Retraction and Response to Critics

Elsevier has announced that they are retracting the infamous Seralini study which claimed to show that GMO corn causes cancer in laboratory rats. The retraction comes one year after the paper was published, and seems to be a response to the avalanche of criticism the study has faced. This retraction is to the anti-GMO world what the retraction of the infamous Wakefield Lancet paper was to the anti-vaccine world.

The Seralini paper was published in November 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology. It was immediately embraced by anti-GMO activists, and continues to be often cited as evidence that GMO foods are unhealthy. It was also immediately skewered by skeptics and more objective scientists as a fatally flawed study.

The study looked at male and female rats of the Sprague-Dawley strain of rat – a strain with a known high baseline incidence of tumors. These rats were fed regular corn mixed with various percentages of GMO corn: zero (the control groups), 11, 22, and 33%. Another group was fed GMO corn plus glyphosate (Round-Up) in their water, and a third was given just glyphosate. The authors concluded:

The results of the study presented here clearly demonstrate that lower levels of complete agricultural glyphosate herbicide formulations, at concentrations well below officially set safety limits, induce severe hormone-dependent mammary, hepatic and kidney disturbances. Similarly, disruption of biosynthetic pathways that may result from overexpression of the EPSPS transgene in the GM NK603 maize can give rise to comparable pathologies that may be linked to abnormal or unbalanced phenolic acids metabolites, or related compounds. Other mutagenic and metabolic effects of the edible GMO cannot be excluded.

Sounds pretty scary. Now let’s look at the multiple criticisms:

The biggest criticism of the study is the combination of two features – the small sample size and lack of statistical analysis. The entire study is premised on comparing various dose groups with control groups that were not exposed to GMO or glyphosate. And yet, the authors provide no statistical analysis of this comparison. Given the small number of rats in each group, it is likely that this lack of statistical analysis is due to the fact that statistical significance could not be reached.

In other words – the results of the study are uninterpretable. In the retraction statement Elsevier wrote:

Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.

The retraction reads like a long excuse for the editorial failure of the journal, and is disappointing. But at least they ultimately reached the correct conclusion – this paper should never have been published. It slipped through the cracks of peer review.

If you look at the survival curves for the various groups, I think you will see that the results are all over the place. This is a typical scatter of data with no clear pattern. In the male groups, the GMO and glyphosate groups tended to do better, if anything. In the female groups they did worse, but there is no clear dose-response effect evident, and the overall results are a wash. Inconclusive is being polite – the data do not show anything, especially absent any statistical analysis.

The study has also been criticized for their choice and treatment of animals. Choosing a strain with a very high background rate of tumor is asking for lots of noise in the data. In fact, a study of the strain found:

The total tumor incidences were 70 to 76.7% and 87 to 95.8% in males and females, respectively.

Further, many scientists charged that the rats were not treated ethically. It is standard practice in such studies to establish an endpoint, such as tumor number and size, at which point the animal with be euthanized. In this study the rats were allow to die of their tumors. The more cynical critics of the study speculate that this was done to generate graphic images in order to have the intended effect on public opinion.

Seralini Responds

Despite the fact the the article has been withdrawn, Seralini is not backing off his support of the results. In a detailed response to critics, Seralini and his coauthors write in the introduction:

This may explain why 75% of our first criticisms arising within a week, among publishing authors, come from plant biologists, some developing patents on GMOs, even if it was a toxicological paper on mammals, and from Monsanto Company who owns both the NK603 GM maize and R herbicide.

They are immediately trying to frame the discussion as that between vested corporate interests and scientists. This is a diversion, however, and is irrelevant to the substance of the scientific criticism of their paper. Further, much substantive criticism came from the scientific community, not Monsanto. The most recently published, for example, concludes:

We and many others have criticized the study, and in particular the manner in which the experiments were planned, implemented, analyzed, interpreted and communicated. The study appeared to sweep aside all known benchmarks of scientific good practice and, more importantly, to ignore the minimal standards of scientific and ethical conduct in particular concerning the humane treatment of experimental animals.

They also call for Monsanto to release the raw data for the 2004 Hammond study, which was a 13-week trial of Roundup Ready corn. This is a reasonable request in itself – I think all such studies should disclose the raw data for independent review. But the placement of this request in the Seralini response still serves as another diversion from criticism and a way of calling into question the results of the 2004 study, which showed no health effects from the GM corn.

Much of their defense of their protocol consists of pointing out deficiencies in other similar research. While this does address the standards typical in this type of research, it does not address the main criticism, that the cumulative deficiencies in the Seralini study make interpreting the results impossible.

They even defend the lack of statistical analysis of the survival curves, which were the main outcome. They stated that they wanted to be “simply factual” and then again criticize the statistics used in other studies.

Conclusion

The Seralini study suffers from small sample size, lack of statistical analysis, ambiguous results, a questionable selection of rat strain which maximizes noise in the data, and dubious ethical treatment of the animals for possible dramatic effect. At this point anyone referencing this study as support for their position that GMO has health risks sacrifices their credibility.

It helps that the study has now officially been withdrawn, but references to the study in the anti-GMO literature are spread across the internet. The damage is done.

The study is similar in quality to the Carman pig stomach study – which was also worthless but was presented as evidence that GMO is bad. This study also took a random scatter of data and then hunted for any possible illusion of a signal in the noise.

Meanwhile, systematic reviews of the research show no evidence for any health risks from GMO foods.

Seralini et al.’s response to their critics is not convincing, and mostly consists if the tu quoque logical fallacy. They also call for more rigor and transparency in further GMO research. This is hard to disagree with – we can always use more rigor and transparency. This does not, however, answer the deficiencies in the Seralini study.

Calls for more rigorous research also echo what we hear from the anti-vaccine movement. Safety data consists of not finding a health risk, and negative findings are difficult to prove. They are only ever as good as the amount and rigor of our current data. We can always benefit from more and more rigorous safety data, and this makes for an easy criticism for anti-GMO activists or anti-vaccinationists (or anti-fluoridation, or whatever) to make.

At some point we have to set reasonable thresholds for safety data. To the critics, it will never be enough. Vested interests, of course, want the bar to be very low (they would probably be happy with the bar being eliminated, as with the supplement industry). The scientific community, in collaboration with regulators, need to set reasonable, science-based thresholds for safety data, which will never be perfect or guarantee zero risk.

For current GMO foods the evidence seems to be above a reasonable threshold for safety. More data is always welcome, but that does not mean holding an industry hostage to endless calls for more data.

Posted in: Nutrition

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174 thoughts on “The Seralini GMO Study – Retraction and Response to Critics

  1. Allison Wilson, PhD says:

    Anyone who wants a data-based analysis of the criticisms and issues surrounding the “Seralini Affair” would be advised to read the peer-reviewed publication by two respected and independent scientists:
    “Rat feeding studies with genetically modified maize – a comparative evaluation of applied methods and risk assessment standards” by Hartmut Meyer and Angelika Hilbeck published in Environmental Sciences Europe available at
    http://www.enveurope.com/content/pdf/2190-4715-25-33.pdf
    This paper was researched and submitted long before the current Food. Chem. Tox. “retraction”.
    It is a scientific paper that should also be mostly understandable to non-scientists and should be required reading for anyone wishing to weigh in on the Seralini discussion.
    And for those wishing to know more about the antics of the journal “retracting” the Seralini et al. paper — and other science journals with significant pro-industry biases — I advise reading the critical analysis of scientific publishing at:
    http://www.independentsciencenews.org/science-media/the-goodman-affair-monsanto-targets-the-heart-of-science/

    1. windriven says:

      @Allison Wilson

      Your link to the Meyer, Hilbeck stalls during loading in both Firefox and Chrome. If you know an alternate server that might be helpful.

      Independent Science News seems to be an anti-GMO, anti-agriculatural chemicals organ. Beyond that their breathless presentation of the Goodman appointment gives good reason to question whether this is news or advocacy.

    2. Johnny Comment says:

      One commenter, windriven, already pointed out that Independent Science News is a mouthpiece for an anti-GMO organization Bioscience Resource Project. Not that she’s hiding the fact, but she’s not really being upfront with discloser either, but Allison Wilson, PhD is a co-founder of Bioscience Resource Project and Independent Science News.

      Additionally, the paper coincidentally published by Environmental Sciences Europe on December 1st, is from two authors associated with The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), which is another anti-GMO organization, by that I mean, that anti-GMO advocacy is all they engage in. Also, the organization CRRIGEN, that funded Séralini’s study, is a member of ENSSER.

    3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Ms. Wilson:

      1) Your first link seems to be a tu quoque study; in other words, it states “yes, Seralini’s paper was flawed, but look at this other paper by Monsanto that was ALSO flawed!” True, the Monsanto 90-day technical feeding study may be flawed. Those flaws should be corrected. But this is merely an attempt to distract from the flaws found in Seralini’s paper.

      2) Your second link to a “news story” by the Orwellian-named “Independent Science News” (as if they were a neutral observer rather than an agency with a pre-determined position on genetic modification) is little more than an attempt to say “since the new editor once worked at Monsanto, that means he is once and forever their lapdog. Dr. Goodman, the new editor of FCT, last worked for Monsanto in 2004. Allow me to point out, this was nearly a decade ago. I once worked for McDonald’s. Does this mean my opinion can never be trusted regarding nutrition? Allow me to point out that I believe a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods is one that is close to ideal, and that carbonated sugary beverages are a complete waste of calories that should be indulged in occasionally as a treat, not as a means of quenching one’s thirst.

      Your overall post appears to be an effort to find as many links, no matter how tenuous, between Goodman and any biotech company as possible, and then pretend that this immediately and inherently discounts any opinion he might have, and that the scientific literature supporting the safety, allergenicity and environmental record doesn’t exist. That’s certainly a way of simplifying the issue to one of heroes and villains. It just completely fails to account for the real issues regarding genetic modification, its promise, perils and the real risks it may present.

      This is not an issue of heroes and villains. It’s an issue of feeding the world, reducing the environmental impact of farming, and expanding the use of foods beyond merely providing calories.

      But you probably don’t care. You’re probably a well-fed member of the first world whose disposable income makes it easy for you to afford to buy food and get enough vitamins. Fuck the poor, right? You can buy organic, no matter how toxic the “natural” pesticides it uses are, and no matter how erroneous its claims are regarding the superiority of its nutritional contents. The important thing is that companies are evil. They exist purely to poison the citizens of the world, not to provide goods and services that are desired or needed.

  2. Yeah, it certainly shouldn’t have been accepted. But if it hadn’t gone there, it would have gone to some predatory/vanity publisher and come out anyway–and still been used as fodder by the anti-GMO shouters.

    The downside of the retraction is that it just goes into the conspiracy-theory bucket–as Allison and her team at ISN demonstrates conclusively.

    So it, like the Carman stuff, as you say is “worthless” to most people. But as science has shown us, to CTers it’s just more evidence of the CT.

  3. Harriet Hall says:

    Some have criticized the retraction based on the argument that other similarly flawed studies have not been retracted. To those who complain of a “double standard,” I would say there should be one standard and all the other flawed studies that should never have been published should be similarly retracted. But then I guess a lot of journals would have to go out of business. :-)

  4. rork says:

    Our heroic author (no sarcasm there, just my honest opinion) twice complained about the strain of rat with vague statements about noise.
    Anybody that can say that clearly, I’d be obliged. You’ll mention a model hopefully.

    I’m imagining Cox proportional hazards models. Early death under control conditions means shorter duration of the experiment = cheaper. We desire that when treating mice with tumors, wanting to know if our new compounds work – if they don’t get cancer until 1 year it takes too long, and some won’t even get the cancer so we have to use more mice (expensive ones, with flox/Cre tricks), or they get the cancer but it’s so late they are dying of other causes, so it’s hard to see if our drugs are making them live longer.

    If you are instead imagining comparing %mice who got cancer by a certain date the mice used here might not be so good – it takes about 2 hundred more words to talk about issues there that I just chopped off. Summary: 1) good stat nerd wouldn’t do that anyway, 2) power for comparing proportions does vary with the size of the proportions, 3) I don’t think of the power problem as one of noise.

    1. Steven St. John says:

      Speaking of noise, I’m not sure what you just said.

      The author’s statements about “noise” weren’t vague to me. If 8 rats in one group get tumors by some age and 6 in the other group do so, our conclusion is less clear than if 8 rats in one group had the tumors vs. only 1 in the other. The noise is the baseline rate of tumors.

      Put another way, if I say “Here’s a photograph of an 19 month old Sprague Dawley rat fed GM corn and he’s got lots of tumors!” – the “fed GM corn” part of the sentence may well be irrelevant. Odds are good that a 19 month old SD rat has a tumor or three.

      1. rork says:

        OK, that triggered my defense mechanisms.

        Noise usually refers to larger errors from a model. n tosses of coin with probability of heads p has variance np(1-p), which as p gets close to 1 gets tiny – the errors get tiny.
        I’m objecting to calling large p “noise”. IF I do cohorts of 10 mice and wait very long to count how many get cancer I may find I get all 10 having cancer nearly every time. Incredible reproducibility.

        I’m also saying that this is not even a good model for this experiment, but appears to be the one you and others are imagining. Instead, think of comparing times to an event (like death) – it’ll involve modeling hazards. We might then be able to say sensible things about whether the additional risk of the treatment is accelerating failure, or is a competing hazard. I think the fuzzy noise language maybe is expressing a belief (or anxiety) about it being a competing hazard – and I could try to dispute that or not, and at least know what the discussion is about. I admit that saying that clearly in simple language is not so easy, and maybe nobody here can do a good job of it.

        Also note: even with the data-wasting model of just counting how many mice have cancer by time T, I can choose T small enough so that the proportion of mice in the control group that had “failure” are as small as I want. Nobody is telling anybody what T to use.

  5. ProSubzero says:

    And now Seralini is threatening a lawsuit over the retraction.

    Via Forbes

    1. Tallise says:

      I say let him try, it would likely drag more of his cow pile out into the open for all to smell.

  6. Frederick says:

    I’m totally for the “disclose Raw data”, for everyone publishing studies. Bu in seralini Mouth it is more “for everyone me” Because with the raw data is “study” ( because it ain’t one, it was a propaganda tool, the magazine ” Le nouvel Observateur” had the “result” of it on front page before it was even out official) Would have end in the incinerator right away! but i guess the journal wanted publicity.

    The funny thing is that, if a study Pro-Gmo, all finance by company like MOSANTO ( pronounce it with echo and a low devil voice) as bad as what Seralini did was published, and than people criticize it. the Anti-gmo would have just lost it and be relentless about it. But when they do it ( Seralini was 100% finance by anti-GMO group and he have a HUGE anti-gmo bias for starters,) it is ok!. so yeah double standard.

    1. Frederick says:

      Sorry some typo, ” But in Seralini mouth is it more like “everyone BUT me”
      Also a : his study

      Sorry about that I’m tired and As you might have notice english is not my mother tongue :-)

  7. Alia says:

    A technical OT – for about a day I’ve had a problem with the site on my Firefox 25. I use http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/, from my bookmarks and what loads seems to be for some reason the mobile site. Links do not work so I cannot go back to the home page from there, I cannot open the articles or comment. I tried removing cookies and hard refresh with Ctrl+F5, still the same result. At the moment I’m writing on Google Chrome, where everything is just fine, but I’m used to FF. Any ideas on what I can do to get the “normal” site back on FF?

    1. DrBollocks says:

      Scroll to the bottom and turn off the mobile version. Then it will behave as normal. I’m not sure why it is defaulting to the mobile version.

    2. Alia says:

      OK, forget it, for some reason it just got back to normal.

  8. stanmrak says:

    This argument will be moot in just a few years, when more farmers and consumers realize the LONG-TERM impact of GMOs. GM technology just isn’t a sustainable model – for anyone. We have infertile farm animals from eating GM corn and soy, superweeds resistant to most herbicides, no increase in crop yields, lower nutritional value, increase in gut problems and allergies, autoimmmune responses from eating GM foods, birth deformities – these are all occurring already.

    GM technology is costing the US billions of dollars as well, because we can’t export to most other countries; 60 of them have banned GMOs already.

    1. Lawrence says:

      Hey Stan – got any citations for that (any of it)?

      1. bgoudie says:

        Lawrence, don’t hold your breath, Stanmark isn’t known for the use of actual facts or supportable claims.

    2. Steven St. John says:

      That’s not even the half of it. Stanmrak could also have mentioned how GMOs have started two wars in the Middle East, turned the Amazon Rainforest into desert, and caused high society folks to start wearing white after Labor Day. The stuff is a menace.

    3. Republicus says:

      So 60 countries hate science?

    4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      There’s a nice little bit of goalpost-moving right there. Because no short term impacts have been found, there must be long-term impacts! There has to be! Because the alternative is…genetic modification by humans is no better or worse than the genetic modification that happens in nature anyway.

      Well, except for the fact that the genetic modification that happens in nature is more or less random, while the genetic modification conducted by humans is always with a goal of producing better food.

      Genetic modification is a sustainable model, and one that allows numerous benefits. It has been happening in both plants and animals for at least 15,000 years, the advent of the agriculture, and since the advent of scientific modification the lifespan of humans has continued to climb. It may be responsible for the eventual decline of human lifespan though – because food becomes so cheap that it is incredibly easy to overeat.

      Incidentally, even if it were true that GMO were lower in nutritional value (unlikely, particularly given some crops are explicitly designed to have more vitamins), why is this a problem? There is no evidence for systematic nutrient deficiencies among the first world, but agflation is a thing, with subsequent concerns over simply feeding the world.

      Genetic modification is terrifying to the ignorant, the fearmongerers, the conspiracy theorists and the “natural is better” crowd, and it’s a shame since it has tremendous potential to improve the world.

      1. Greg says:

        “…genetic modification by humans is no better or worse than the genetic modification that happens in nature anyway.” ?? Nature does not insert the genes of a completely unrelated organism.

        1. Harriet Hall says:

          Nature does too insert the genes of a completely unrelated organism. The mitochondria in every cell of your body are there because bacteria of one species were engulfed by cells of an entirely different species in the distant evolutionary past. Besides which, a gene is a gene, no matter where it originated, and there’s no reason it should necessarily be bad to incorporate one from another species. Putting fluorescent jellyfish genes into mice makes their tissues fluoresce, but it doesn’t give them any other characteristics of a jellyfish or turn them into Frankenjellymice.

          1. theLaplaceDemon says:

            I’m imagining picking up one of my fluorescent reporter mice and saying “Who’s a cute little Frankenjellymouse? You are!”

        2. MadisonMD says:

          Nature does not insert the genes of a completely unrelated organism.

          Hey, Greg: Ever hear of a retrovirus?

          WLU said:

          Genetic modification is terrifying to the ignorant

          Thanks for providing an example, Greg. You make WLU’s point quite well.

          1. Greg says:

            thanks for being an asshole… is that what you told your parents you wanted to be when you grew up? If so, you’re achieved your goal, so your parents can be proud…

          2. Greg says:

            Thanks for your arrogance and intolerance. You are a low person.

            1. Drew says:

              Okay I’ll be nicer than him. You’re wrong.

              Viruses transfer genes between organisms in nature. It’s very common.

              http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/01/how-a-quarter-of-the-cow-genome-came-from-snakes/

          3. MadisonMD says:

            Perhaps I could have stated it more kindly. However, making a false statement due to a lack of knowledge does illustrate the generally accepted definition of ignorance.

            I see below that you are trying to increase your knowledge. I honestly wish you the best in doing so.

            1. windriven says:

              Greg believes that he should be free to express his ignorance and biases freely but that any blowback should be as gentle as a baby’s breath.

              My conclusion is either:

              a. Greg has remarkably thin skin and is uncomfortable with the rough and tumble of public discourse, or

              b. he is a Luddite and philistine, anti-science, anti-technology, embracer of all things ‘natural’ and that he uses the ‘poor, poor pitiful me’ gambit in an attempt to post outrageous woo without challenge.

              1. Greg says:

                Careful now, you can hurt yourself jumping to conclusions…

              2. windriven says:

                Greg, I’m not clever enough to imagine a third possibility. Well, maybe (b) lite. That said, it isn’t much of a jump.

              3. Greg says:

                “Genetic modification is terrifying to the ignorant” I took exception to this insult by Madison MD – it was unwarranted. Genetic modification could be a good thing. In my opinion most anti-GMO people are more afraid of the corporate agenda and it’s influence on public policy than the technology itself.

              4. windriven says:

                ““Genetic modification is terrifying to the ignorant” I took exception to this insult by Madison MD – it was unwarranted. Genetic modification could be a good thing.

                Genetic modification could be a good thing. In my opinion most anti-GMO people are more afraid of the corporate agenda and it’s influence on public policy than the technology itself. agenda and it’s influence on public policy than the technology itself.”

                How is Madison MD’s comment insulting? Fear and superstition are the hallmarks of ignorance. Ignorance is curable. Education is the therapy.

                “In my opinion most anti-GMO people are more afraid of the corporate agenda and it’s influence on public policy than the technology itself.”

                Then they should focus their attention there. Look, corporations are a construct of the state. We, as a democratic body politic, are free to change the rules. But in fact we are largely complacent and entirely happy to go with the flow so long as the lights work and Monday Night Football starts on time. Meanwhile, corporations tend to pursue their interests more vigorously. And in legislative bodies large and small the only thing that speaks as loudly as a large block of votes is a large block of cash.

              5. Greg says:

                “How is Madison MD’s comment insulting?”

                In response to my first post MadisonMD wrote:
                WLU said:

                Genetic modification is terrifying to the ignorant

                Thanks for providing an example, Greg. You make WLU’s point quite well.

                How is that not an insult? With the exception of my last post, I have not expressed any views on genetic modification.

              6. windriven says:

                Greg,

                I think Madison MD might have phrased it more elegantly but his point seems to be that your opposition to GMO is rooted in ignorance rather than fact. And again, I am not using the term ignorant in a pejorative sense.

                “but being ignorant of something doesn’t equate to being terrified by it.”

                No, but fear breathes loudest in the darkness of ignorance.

              7. Greg says:

                That’s where you are mistaken. Where did I say I was opposed to GMO? Because I incorrectly asserted that it was not something occurred in nature, does not mean I am opposed to it. I readily concede that I am ignorant of GM technology. I don’t know enough about it to say whether I am for or against it.

                Sorry the double-post – these threads get confusing

              8. windriven says:

                “I readily concede that I am ignorant of GM technology. I don’t know enough about it to say whether I am for or against it.”

                Based on your comments in the totality of this thread I hope you can appreciate that your avowed agnosticism comes as something of a surprise.

              9. Greg says:

                Ok, but I think that the surprise has more to do with your perception of my comments and not what was actually written by me. To re-iterate, the insult to which I took exception was not about being told am I ignorant, but that it was somehow terrifying to me. Anyhow, I going to get a copy of Tomorrow’s Table, so I at least have a basic understanding of it.

              10. MadisonMD says:

                Well, I suppose that makes sense, Greg. Only an assh*le would infer that you are both ignorant and terrified, when in fact you are not terrified at all.

            2. Greg says:

              Agreed, but being ignorant of something doesn’t equate to being terrified by it.

            3. Peter Moss says:

              Please explain how fish genes get into tomatoes “naturally” and “randomly”.

              I’m dying to hear this one.

              1. daedalus2u says:

                The same way that virtually all genes get into an organism. The organism inherits them from its ancestors. All eukaryotes share a common ancestor. We know this because all extant eukaryotes share genes. Plants and animals both have mitochondria. Mostly the mitochondria are the same and use the same proteins.

                The last common eukaryotic ancestor (LECA) is thought to have ~4,134 genes that are still in some extant lineages. Some of those genes have been lost in some, but not all.

                http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898073/

                The branch that includes fish has a few thousand, as does the branch that has plants.

                http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898073/figure/F1/

                If fish and plants already share a few thousand genes, what does a few more or less matter?

                An antifreeze peptide is going to be digested like any other protein, it isn’t expected to cause any difficulties in food.

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                A retrovirus infects a fish, absorbs one of the fish’s genes, then infects a tomato. If it infects a germ cell, then the genetic particle will become part of the genetic line. For that matter, genetics in general is probably far more surprising than you appreciate. You can create an entirely new, wholly different species in a single generation, did you know that? Plants will occasionally duplicate their entire genome, producing an offspring that is not only fundamentally far more complex, but fundamentally different and not capable of interbreeding with its parent species. Merely because you don’t know or understand something doesn’t make it impossible.

                The point isn’t how disparate the two cell lines are, the point is that it can happen, does happen, and rather easily. Your comment is akin to asking “Oh, well, sure, you can make it to the moon, but you could never make it to Pluto!” Well, actually, you can, the principles are the same even if the likelihood is lower.

                Retroviruses and bacteria both exist that insert genes into other organisms quite naturally and easily. Sometimes they are even beneficial, such as human endogenous retrovirus K, which makes it easier for a fetus to be carried to term. For that matter, 8% of the human genome is retroviral.

                And the ultimate point is – once we know about, and can control how this happens, we can use it for our own benefit. That’s the history of human success in nature. Once we learn that dropped rocks shatter with sharp edges, we can strike them deliberately to create knives. Once we learn that tightly-wound gut will hold a sharp rock to a stick, we can create a spear. Once we realize that seeds sown in fertile soil will grown next year, we can farm. Once we realize that if we keep and plant the larger seeds, we can begin breeding. Once we realize that semiconductors can control the direction of electron flow, we can create computers. Once we realize how to extract and insert genes, we can create better food.

                The fact that your personal credulity and failure to understand the subjects at hand baffles you doesn’t mean it’s harmful. You are the pitchfork-bearing mob that attempts to burn Frankenstein’s monster.

          4. Greg says:

            That’s where you are mistaken. Where did I say I was opposed to GMO? Because I incorrectly asserted that it was not something occurred in nature, does not mean I am opposed to it. I readily concede that I am ignorant of GM technology. I don’t know enough about it to say whether I am for or against it.

        3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          One of the primary ways of inserting genes from unrelated organisms into plants (think the tomatoes with the fish antifreeze protein in them, or golden rice) is by using a naturally-occurring bacteria (Agrobacterium) whose main claim to fame is the ability to add novel, foreign genes directly into the DNA of plants.

          The movement of genes from one plant, or even one kingdom to another is perfectly natural. Like so many things in the universe, we can leash this natural process to benefit humans. Like so many such leashings, the result is superior human comfort and survival. Being a human, I’m a big fan of having adequate food. Being a fan of science, I’m also quite happy seeing it used to improve the shelf life, cost, cultivation, nutritional value and hopefully one day flavor of food. Being aware of the human GI tract, I don’t worry about the resulting transgenic proteins since they are digested by the acid and pepsin produced by the stomach.

          Read a book. And contemplate whether nature, the creator of smallpox, polio, typhoons, man-eating lions, PKU, malaria, Huntington’s disease and starvation, really gives a shit, or even matters, when it comes to human health.

          1. Greg says:

            Thanks. Keeping in mind I don’t have a background in science, is a book you would recommend?

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Tomorrow’s Table is the best I’ve seen so far, but IMO you can skip over the parts written by the guy; he’s an organic farmer, his opinions are impressionistic and based on a selective reading of the literature. Ronald’s chapters are much more interesting and focused on the science and benefits of GMO. I would suggest avoiding Food Fray by Lisa Weasel; she’s not a geneticist or related expert (she’s got a background in microbiology apparently, but is currently a professor of women’s studies), I found it’s citations and discussions tend to be old, and it reeks of subtle bias. She takes a journalist’s perspective, with competing stories rather than a discussion of evidence or quality thereof. It focuses on the controversies of GMO, with only cursory attention to its benefits.

              Science Left Behind is imperfect, and only touches on rather than focuses on GM, but is still interesting. It squarely addresses Arjen’s fallacious point about the precautionary principle, which is useful.

              I have yet to find a really good and recent popularization of the topic, and I’ve looked a bit. Websites are good, the Genetic Literacy project being one of them. Few discuss the issues scientists, rather than activists, are concerned about.

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Oops, forgot about Biofortified, I believe it’s written by graduate students who work with genetic modification technologies. Written at a readable level and addresses hot topics in the GM world (as well as more obscure ones that interest scientists).

              2. Greg says:

                Thanks – that’s very helpful.

    5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      GMO foods and technology have been around for more than 30 years. How much “longer term” do you want? Also, GMO is a range of technologies, more akin to a general principle than a specific invention. Your statement is akin to claiming the wheel and axle has no long-term sustainability because modern cars are contributing to global warming. GMO has far more uses than merely making roundup-ready crops. It can enhance nutritional content, build in resistance to flood or drought, and in the future, I bet they’ll build in genes from nitrogen-fixing bacteria that will allow plants to create their own fertilizer.

      Meanwhile, do you have anything to substantiate your claims, in particular that infertile animals, superweeds, allergies, gut problems and autoimmunity are all problems found with all GM organisms? That they’re somehow inherent to the genetic modification process and not found in the other ways of improving crops, crossbreeding and mutagenesis through irradiation or chemicals? Let’s remember that the world’s most dangerous celery came about through conventional breeding.

      And are you really concerned about the economic effects of GMO crops, or is that merely another desperate straw you grasp at in your effort to throw whatever you can at the wall and hoping it sticks?

  9. Frederick says:

    Like if modifying DNA was new, human as cross-bred and hybrid plant and animal for centuries. they thing that the plant we eat the same as the wild ones millenia ago? A lot of anti-GMO people do not have a understanding of how dna work. i’m not geneticist, but i was curious enough to learn about it, throught science site, magazine and of course my wife, a plants biologist!

    That stanmark is surely funny to read. the worst part is he believe his stuff.

  10. stanmrak says:

    No, but they are ahead of the US in most of the worldwide health statistics.

    1. Dave says:

      What does this comment have to do with GMO foods?

      The US does fall below many other developed nations in health outcomes. A large part of this is because we are at the front of the developed world in auto accidents, gun-related deaths, underaged and out-of-wedlock mothers who don’t seek good prenatal care, alcohol and drug abuse, AIDS, obesity and diabetes. About one out of six Americans, in this “propsperous” country, falls in the federal poverty level income bracket and up until now about one in 6 had no health insurance. These are SOCIAL PROBLEMS which affect health outcomes. One of the November issues in JAMA has some patient directed information about American health rankings if you want to access it. In the US if you are alive at 75 you will probably live longer than anywhere else, and if you have cancer or a stroke you will do better than in most other countries. However, it’s much easier and more fun to bash the medical system than to come up with solutions to some of these problems. Better education would be one solution, especially in the sciences. We also don’t do well in standardized testing compared to other countries. However, this is also skewed. Kids from Manhattan do great. Those in some parts of other states I wont mention really do terrible.

    1. So, Monsanto must be the bad guy? Let me guess: It’s because they’re a corporation? And, of course, corporations are automatically bad because profit, right? So, does that mean Big Homeopathy, Big Natural, and Big Organic are also bad? I mean, those three rake in billions of dollars a year.

      Wait. They are bad: They fecking kill people.

      1. windriven says:

        Following the principle that even a blind squirrel will occasionally find an acorn, stan makes a semi-accurate statement in his first sentence. Purchasers of GM seeds must agree to terms of use that prohibit using those seeds for research.

        I am sure that the seed companies would argue this is to prevent ‘reverse engineering’ but that is a much.narrower restriction than the terms of use demand. This, in my opinion, is outrageous but don’t hold your breath waiting for legislative or legal relief.

      2. Arjen says:

        Wow! What a distorted sense of reality is displayed here by Robert Foster. Of course Monsanto is the bad guy: they gave us Agent Orange! Talk about Big Homeopathy, Big Natural and Big Organic killing people? Have you ever noticed what Agent Orange does? Monsanto has an incomparably worse record than Big Homeopathy (and I do not believe in homeopathy at all). Corporations are not necessarily bad because they are for profit, but satisfying investors will usually lead to completely different outcomes than making the world a better place. Just look at the terminator seeds Monsanto created or at the fact that they bring organic farmers to court for “stealing” patented crops. Monsanto’s claims about solving world hunger problems do not ever seem to pan out. We do need to feed a huge population, but there are better “low tech” solutions to do that. I have been vegan for more than 20 years and if applied on a bigger scale that would save huge amounts of resources. Even when people do not want to become vegan, getting animal protein and fats from insects and other invertebrates is way more ecological than raising livestock.

        1. Arjen – If we are going to discuss corporate malfeasance, it should be evidence-based.

          Monsanto was one of 8 companies contracted by the US government to create a defoliant for military use. How does this make them the bad guy? It is also completely irrelevant to their GMO development.

          Terminator seeds were created to limit modified genes getting into the environment. In response to criticism – Monsanto ended their terminator seed program. They are not pursuing it.

          The suing organic farmers thing is a complete distortion. They have only sued farmers who were actually trying to steal their seeds and violate their contracts. They have not pursued a suit against anyone for accidental contamination. This is just propaganda.

          Would you care to elaborate on the “low tech” solutions, and why these are not only better than GM but justify abandoning GM as a technology.

          1. Frederick says:

            Agreed, That canadian farmer trial Vs mosanto is also distorted by anti-GMO, because in a way he copied the patented use of the seed and use it at is own profit. So if he had won any body our corporation copy a patent of another company/person will use that judgment as legal precedents, rendering the patent system useless in many case. but since it a trial VS mosanto anti-gmo don,t care about the fact or the ‘what might happen if’ the juste assume the bad guy is the corporation. The debate was not even about gmo but about patent

          2. windriven says:

            One of the more interesting cases to date pitted Monsanto against one Vernon Bowman, an Indiana soybean farmer who, if memory serves, purchased soybean from a grain elevator and used it as seed. The grain purchased (some accounts claim it was soybean that Bowman himself had recently sold to the elevator) was used to seed another crop. SCOTUS held unanimously (!) that Monsanto’s patent was durable beyond the initial sale.

            One presumes this will prove to be a monumentally important ruling in coming years as genetic engineering broadly enters commerce. Meanwhile, what happens when Monsanto Roundup Ready cross pollinates with heirloom soybean seed in a nearby field? Does Monsanto deserve payment for any ensuing yield used by the heirloomers as seed stock?

            1. Rokujolady says:

              Windriven, I’m fairly sure GMO crops shoot blanks so to speak. I don’t think they can cross with heirloom breeds.
              I do not think they would have ever passed any environmental regulations if they could. There was always a big worry about that when they were testing.

              1. Calli Arcale says:

                There is no reason to presume GMO crops “shoot blanks” — after all, if they cannot produce fertile offspring, they would be immensely expensive to mass produce. They can cross with non-GMO strains, and honestly I’d be shocked if it hadn’t already happened many times over. I’m not sure the legal question of what happens to inherited patented genes has been tested yet, but it will sooner or later have to be.

              2. windriven says:

                @Rokujo

                “I’m fairly sure GMO crops shoot blanks so to speak.”

                In the case of Mr. Bowman they most certainly did not shoot blanks. Moreover, Monsanto claims that it does not employ “terminator” technology. This from Monsanto’s website:

                “Myth: Monsanto sells “Terminator” seeds.

                Fact: Monsanto has never commercialized a biotech trait that resulted in sterile – or “Terminator” – seeds. Sharing the concerns of small landholder farmers, Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment, with no plans or research that would violate this commitment. ”

                I do not know whether or not GMO seeds can cross with heirlooms of the same species. I presume that they can.

          3. Arjen says:

            Steven,

            I’d like to respond to your response:

            “Monsanto was one of 8 companies contracted by the US government to create a defoliant for military use. How does this make them the bad guy?”

            Agent Orange is an extremely potent defoliant, which causes severe health effects and ecological damage. I realize that Monsanto did not use Agent Orange, but they created it knowing what the consequences would be. That Monsanto is not responsible because they were not the ones using it, is in my opinion comparable to people helping the Nazi’s during WW2 while knowing what they are doing and claiming innocence. History found those collaborators guilty and I agree with that conclusion. In the same sense Monsanto is guilty.

            “It is also completely irrelevant to their GMO development.”

            Agreed, but I was reacting to the killing statement that was made about Big Homeopathy, which I find to be ironic given Monsanto’s history.

            “Terminator seeds were created to limit modified genes getting into the environment. In response to criticism – Monsanto ended their terminator seed program. They are not pursuing it.”

            This is a matter of evaluating Monsanto’s motivation. You believe Monsanto created terminator seeds to limit modified genes getting into the environment; I believe that Monsanto created such seeds to make them sterile and unusable for replanting, resulting in farmers having to buy new seeds from a central supplier each year and thus increasing Monsanto’s profits, which is their main goal. The fact that Monsanto terminated the terminator seeds is not because they believed they created a bad product, but because public opinion forced them to. I find this to be bad intention. In my opinion when we let corporation profits be the primary motivation for global agriculture we are in trouble.

            “The suing organic farmers thing is a complete distortion. They have only sued farmers who were actually trying to steal their seeds and violate their contracts. They have not pursued a suit against anyone for accidental contamination. This is just propaganda.”

            Since I was not present myself at any of these court cases, I need to rely on the press. What I have read is that Monsanto sued farmers whose crops were inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto’s product. On Monday June 10 2013, a federal appeals court extracted a binding promise from Monsanto that they would not sue farmers whose crops were inadvertently contaminated with their product. Why would a federal appeals court extract such a promise if Monsanto had never done a thing like that?

            “Would you care to elaborate on the “low tech” solutions, and why these are not only better than GM but justify abandoning GM as a technology.”

            I am not saying that the “low tech” solutions justify abandoning GM as a technology, but I do think that we should look at simpler solutions first. Besides the fact that Monsanto still hasn’t delivered on the promise of solving world hunger, high tech solutions like GMO are highly dependent on finite fossil fuels, so this will per definition not be a long term solution.
            Early on in my training as a biologist I was taught that only about 10% of the energy produced in one level of the food chain is past on to the next level of the food chain. This is of course a rule of thumb, but it makes it obvious that eating lower on the food chain is much more efficient. The amount of US corn, grain and cereals eaten by livestock is in the order of 70-80% (1,2), which will be used much more efficiently when consumed directly by humans.
            There is a lot of cultural resistance against eating invertebrates, but they are nutritionally of high quality (JSTOR: Biotropica, Vol 34, No. 2, June 2002, pp273-280; actually available online) and take a lot less resources to breed. So my “low tech” solution is being vegan or eating bugs.

            1) Heitschmidt, R.K. et al., “Ecosystems, Sustainability, and Animal Agriculture”, Journal of Animal Science 74 (1996): 1395-1405

            2) Ciborowski, P., “Sources, Sinks, Trends and Opportunities” in Abrahamson, D., ed., “The Challenge of Global Warming” (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1989)

            1. Carl says:

              Arjen says:
              December 5, 2013 at 6:19 pm
              Agent Orange is an extremely potent defoliant, which causes severe health effects and ecological damage. I realize that Monsanto did not use Agent Orange, but they created it knowing what the consequences would be.

              COULD be, depending on how it was used. Monsanto did not make the decision to dump it on farms instead of uninhabited jungles.

              Since I was not present myself at any of these court cases, I need to rely on the press. What I have read is that Monsanto sued farmers whose crops were inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto’s product.

              Try a little harder. Try to actually look for details about a court case, don’t just brush over some blunt news headlines. It’s mostly false. The most famous case involved a farmer who took seeds from the blown roundup plants, TESTED a few acres to confirm that he had Roundup seeds, and then used them on his ENTIRE FARM the following year.

              On Monday June 10 2013, a federal appeals court extracted a binding promise from Monsanto that they would not sue farmers whose crops were inadvertently contaminated with their product. Why would a federal appeals court extract such a promise if Monsanto had never done a thing like that?

              This is just using your ignorance and laziness as an excuse to speculate. “Why would the court blah-blah-blah?” Why don’t you GO FIND OUT WHY, instead of guessing?

              Had you made the slightest effort, you would find out that this is the case where a bunch of organic wackjobs sued for no reason other than their own imagination about what Monsanto might do. And the judge told them they were full of it. Monsanto had already said they wouldn’t sue people for accidental growth, and the judge noted that they never have. The fact that this promise became binding is really rather pointless. And of course the plaintiffs claim victory over that, preferring to headline that over the fact that their gratuitous lawsuit against Monsanto was dismissed.

              http://web.archive.org/web/20120302233623/http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-monsanto-prevails-in-suit-brought-by-organic-growers-20120227,0,814254.story

              1. Arjen says:

                We can of course go back and forth about who said what forever, but I find those details to be rather irrelevant. The main point I am making is that Monsanto’s history gives plenty of examples to make me not rust them. Just one other example of their recklessness is the history of PCBs. They were known to be highly toxic from the beginning, but it was assumed that they would be contained in the products in which they were used. An assumption that did not work out so well. Of course that this is the case totally makes sense. Like I stated before: Monsanto’s main goal is to make profits, not to make the world a better place. Sometimes these goals go together, but often they do not. As a trained evolutionary biologist and animal ecologist I find the risks of introducing GMOs into the environment just too high, because it could potentially wipe out whole ecosystems. Some resources, like functioning ecosystems, are just too precious to gamble with. And since there are solutions that have absolutely no risk (decreasing meat consumption drastically and switching to invertebrate meat sources for people who feel they need their animal foods) the choice is a no-brainer for me.

              2. Carl says:

                So your answer is basically, “no, I don’t want to look at the facts of the cases I distorted”.

              3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                We can of course go back and forth about who said what forever, but I find those details to be rather irrelevant.

                Of course you do, because you don’t care about the facts, you care about your preconceived conclusion!

                Monsanto’s main goal is to make profits, not to make the world a better place.

                A banal statement that applies to all companies, and in fact, most humans. But Monsanto can make the world a better place, by producing crops that feed the world, reduce pesticide use, improve nutrition, etc. They can also make the world a worse place. Do you know the way you can tell the difference? An honest assessment of the evidence. Which would require, ahahahaha, the details you are so contemptuous of above.

                As a trained evolutionary biologist and animal ecologist I find the risks of introducing GMOs into the environment just too high, because it could potentially wipe out whole ecosystems.

                As a trained evolutionary biologist, I’m surprised you don’t appreciate the flexibility, adaptability and robustness of nature, the ability of plants and animals to evolve into new and empty niches, and so on. I’m also surprised you think that GMOs will somehow dominate and take over the environment. Do you notice a sudden invasiveness of conventional crops? Roundup-ready seeds only have a survival advantage when exposed to roundup, which doesn’t tend to happen in the wild. In fact, given their propensity for putting most of their energy into calorie storage rather than seed distribution, arguably crops are at a disadvantage compared to unmodified crops.

                And do you really understand what genetic modification does? It doesn’t produce triffids, or give tomatoes teeth. It’s far more selective than conventional breeding, it’s the addition of single genes to produce single proteins. Exactly what specific modifications are you afraid will produce monster plants? Most of the invasive species are found in and produced by nature, far more effectively than GM. You have to work pretty hard to farm with modern crops, that’s why we need fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and genetic modification. Fields left fallow do not overgrow and consume surrounding lands, they are invaded.

                Not to mention, GM can allow intensification of agriculture which can leave more lands unfarmed by concentrating greater numbers of crops in existing lands.

                And since there are solutions that have absolutely no risk (decreasing meat consumption drastically and switching to invertebrate meat sources for people who feel they need their animal foods) the choice is a no-brainer for me.

                You know what’s a no-brainer for me? Vat meat. Sterile, no waste, and flavour-ready. I can’t wait for the future, but I predict terrified Luddites like yourself will freak out and insist on veganism instead.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I also found this rather interesting story, which posits ways in which fast food can turn its marketing and production genius towards healthier foods (and also the way “health foods” that are absurdly high in fat, sugar, salt and calories are victories of marketing, not biology).

            2. rork says:

              “high tech solutions like GMO are highly dependent on finite fossil fuels” seemed like a whopper. And it’s way overgeneralizing about GMOs. Like how would that apply to GMO papaya? How would Bt corn require more fuel rather than less?

              On another point: what is wrong with terminator technology? I don’t get it. Approximately 100% of the corn grown by farmers near me is hybrid corn, and has been for many decades – they must be fools, eh?. You buy the seeds every year if you grow that, unless you are making the hybrids yourself. Hell. I’ve been growing hybrid beans and spinach on occasion. I know going in that I can’t plant seeds I obtain from those plants unless I want to observe the crazy plants I will get from that. Sure it would be nice if I could just put the seeds back in the ground next year, and if that’s important enough, I use varieties that are good at that, and don’t use hybrid seeds.

              1. nancy brownlee says:

                The vast majority of plants grown commercially and by home gardeners are from F1 and F2 hybrid seeds, and for excellent reasons- higher yields, and less susceptibility to pests and diseases. The higher cost of hybrids is a small price to pay for a perfectly uniform, highly productive crop- if you’re a farmer. Their seeds, of course, produce only ‘hopeful monsters’. Heirloom plants are a lot of fun to grow and they offer a wider range of flavors, sizes, yields, etc- but they do sometimes have drawbacks, especially in disease susceptibility. Seed saving of heirlooms is an adventure in its own right. Brassicas and squashes cross so prolifically with nearby wild plants that you may have just as many monsters in the next generation as from hybrid seeds.

              2. Arjen says:

                No Carl, my answer is there are plenty of problems with Monsanto and even if I am wrong on one of them, any of those problems on it’s own is enough to mistrust Monsanto. My biology background gives me enough inside that GMOs are risky and that reducing meat consumption is not. If you are not willing to see that simple blatant truth it’s pretty obvious that you are the one with the agenda.

              3. Nashira says:

                my answer is there are plenty of problems with Monsanto and even if I am wrong on one of them, any of those problems on it’s own is enough to mistrust Monsanto.

                And it’s the people who disagree with you who have the agenda, Arjen? Really? Because it sounds like you’d be happy to keep digging for any reason, no matter how farfetched or tenuous, to continue viewing Monsanto as The Big Bad, regardless of how wrong you may be.

                I don’t think I should consider that I may be wrong, because I am using the precautionary principle.

                Especially in light of the fact that not only did you attempt to refuse to consider whether or not you were wrong in another instance, but you then went on to insist that “no risk solutions” were, you know, a thing that exists.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                No Carl, my answer is there are plenty of problems with Monsanto and even if I am wrong on one of them, any of those problems on it’s own is enough to mistrust Monsanto.

                Mistrusting Monsanto is not the same thing as demonstrating genetically modified crops are dangerous. Not to mention, Monsanto is not the sole producer of genetically modified plants and animals. What do you think of golden rice for instance, produced by a not-for-profit agency that had to navigate extensive intellectual property rights at their own expense and can prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of childhood blindness and even death?

                My biology background gives me enough inside that GMOs are risky and that reducing meat consumption is not.

                Your biology background didn’t seem fit to prepare you to even understand the science or provide any scientific objections – just vague pronouncements about how evil Monsanto is, and even vaguer claims that somehow genetic crops will invade nature and destroy ecosystems. The main problem I’ve seen with GMO is quite the opposite – nature becomes invasive and prevents the benefits of GM being realized.

                Read a book.

                If you are not willing to see that simple blatant truth it’s pretty obvious that you are the one with the agenda.

                Your “truth” is simple, that’s for sure; one might even call it “simplistic”, or perhaps a “gross caricature that substitutes cheap shots and knee-jerk distrust and conspiracy for critical thinking”.

                Oh, and there’s also “everyone should just be a vegan!” Good idea, the entire world should be vegan. Never mind the fact that humans are evolved as omnivores, that it would add tremendous complications to the diets of those in the developing world in terms of getting adequate protein, calories, iron and B12. Never mind the fact that it is never going to happen. What’s your solution to global warming, “everyone should just stop driving cars and they should shut down the coal plants”? Helpful.

            3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              I believe that Monsanto created such seeds to make them sterile and unusable for replanting, resulting in farmers having to buy new seeds from a central supplier each year and thus increasing Monsanto’s profits, which is their main goal.

              And the problem with this is what? Of course Monsanto’s goal is profit, as a private company, what other goal would it have? Farmers are not forced to buy Monsanto’s products, heirloom seed companies exist, as do competing seed companies, or the ability to save seed from previous crops. But Monsanto does put tremendous money and time into developing crops with various useful properties, that’s why farmers use them. Should they not recoup the cost of developing these seeds?

      3. Peter Moss says:

        “Big Homeopathy”? “Big Health”? (ooooh, health is evil), “Big Natural?”

        I have no idea what these slurs are supposed to refer to, let alone how you came to the conclusion that they (whatever they are) are multi-billion dollar industries.

        The difference is these boogeymen don’t fund university departments or stack peer reviewed journals with their minions.

        1. weing says:

          “The difference is these boogeymen don’t fund university departments or stack peer reviewed journals with their minions.”

          They are cults. Why should they? They have slavish followers like you do their work for them. BTW, you never heard of Boiron?

        2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Ha, the reason why these boogeymen don’t fund university departments or stack peer reviewed journals with their minions (which is false by the way, note for instance that the editorial board for Journal of Homeopathy is stacked with homeopaths) is because they don’t have to conduct research in order to sell their nostrums. Natural products don’t need to be tested or proven to work before they can be sold, they just have to have the quack Miranda warning and avoid making specific claims. All homeopathic preparations were grandfathered into the FDA and don’t have to be tested before being sold.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      All the studies? All the information on GMO is controlled by Monsanto? All of it? Are you sure there aren’t upwards of a thousand conducted by independent scientists?

      Also, when dropping in a list of references that allegedly prove your point, you might want to a) go with something academic (like say, these ten scientific organizations from around the world) and b) avoid dropping in duplicate references (like your first and last, which are the same). What, are you hoping people just look at the list and are convinced? You don’t want anyone to actually read them? For instance, one might note that your first (and last) link doesn’t support GMO being dangerous, merely pointing to problems of intellectual property (which do need to be addressed), and also noting solutions (such as government intervention to prevent such science-blocking practices from occurring; another solution is government-funded GMO research and development). The second is basically a book review that the reviewer, Marion Nestle, admits is completely one-sided. Your third link is a litany of precautionary principle woes – never that “X gene causes problems”, only that “X partial viral gene might be a problem.” Note that this is an incomplete viral protein fragment; while it might be a problem, it also might protect the plant from the virus (that’s how the GMO papaya is protected against the otherwise-extinction-inducing ringspot virus).

      As for the remaining three, which are all about “superweeds” (more accurately, weeds resistant to a single, low-toxicity herbicide). Yup, that’s a problem. What’s the solution? Organic agriculture, with its massive demand for raw feces as fertilizer and incredibly labour-intensive farming techniques? How do you feel about all food costing several times more? Did you notice the NYT story in particular was lamenting the ineffectiveness of glyphosate, and thus the effectiveness of GMO Round-Up Ready crops? Of course you didn’t, because you don’t care about the facts, just your paranoia.

      1. stanmrak says:

        You’re sourcing Forbes magazine? They’ve had to flip flop on Monsanto before.

        Forbes named America’s Best company:
        author, Robert Langreth, Forbes Staff

        http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0118/americas-best-company-10-gmos-dupont-planet-versus-monsanto.html

        Forbes Was Wrong On Monsanto. Really Wrong.
        I know because I wrote the article. Robert Langreth, Forbes Staff

        http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlangreth/2010/10/12/forbes-was-wrong-on-monsanto-really-wrong/?partner=yahootix

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          The page I linked to mentions the word “Monsanto” exactly zero times. In fact, the entire article never mentions Monsanto, so why are you bringing it up? Of course, I know why – because you can’t refute any of my points. Not to mention, possibly because you are thick, you missed the true point of linking to the article. The author, Jon Entine, is the executive director of the Genetic Literacy project which provides factual analysis of the science of GMO. They have assembled a list of more than 1700 studies on genetically modified crops, a thousand of which have been conducted by independent scientists not employed by a Big Ag company.

          Do you have anything to say about the science of genetic modification, or do you just want to pretend that because a company did it, it’s inherently evil?

  11. Daniel says:

    If only there was some sort of summary of the ~1700 studies published in the. . . wait for it http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Nicolia-20131.pdf

    1. Frederick says:

      Cool, Thank about that link! it is going in my bookmarks

    1. windriven says:

      Stan, dude, really? Mother Jones? Alternet? Agreenroad? This is where your science comes from?

      1. stanmrak says:

        It’s not THEIR science, dude! They’re just the journalists relaying the message from scientists who who aren’t beholden to Monsanto. Or would you rather get your ‘science’ from the people who stand to profit from it?

        1. windriven says:

          Stan, you truly are eaten up with rage against the machine. You assume scientific fraud to be ubiquitous. It isn’t. You assume journalists to be free of axes to grind and biases to project. Unless they write for Forbes. They aren’t. In short, you portray yourself as a kind of a nut.

          It is fine to dislike Monsanto. There are some pretty good reasons to dislike it. But imagining Monsanto as the archetype of evil and Mother Jones’ writers as Polly Purebred is just childish.

          Monsanto is doing what corporations do. Their shareholders expect it. Their managers are compensated for excelling at it. I’m not saying that it is right but I am saying that it predictable.

  12. stanmrak says:

    A former Monsanto scientist finds himself in charge of a specially-created post at the very journal that published two landmark studies questioning the safety of Monsanto’s products. This should surprise no one who is aware of the Monsanto revolving door. This door is responsible for literally dozens of Monsanto officials, lobbyists and consultants finding themselves in positions of authority in government bodies that are supposedly there to regulate the company and its actions.
    Monsanto agents run the USDA, Dept. of Agriculture, the FDA – they even have 2 former employees on the Supreme Court. To think that GMO ‘science’ is unbiased and scientific is foolhardy at best.

    http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2013/15184-journal-retraction-of-seralini-study-is-illicit-unscientific-and-unethical

    Knowledge allows you to “prove” that GMOs are safe. Wisdom is not putting them in your body anyway.

    1. Arjen says:

      Right on, Stanmrak. It seems to me that the commentators on this board are all about defending Monsanto, ignoring Monsanto’s shenanigans, bribing of politicians and the obvious revolving door. Objectivity, anyone? Money talks, people, so is it surprising that Monsanto’s motivations are not pure? Well, actually they are: they are pure for making profits…

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        It’s not about defending Monsanto, it’s about defending science. People treat GMO as if it were a risk because it is Monsanto that is doing the science. It’s not. People treat GMO as if it were a risk because a profit is being made. It’s not. If adding a gene means improved crop yields, objective tests will reveal this. There is a convergence of evidence that genetic modification, unsurprisingly, is a difficult but effective process for increasing or decreasing characteristics found in food that humans desire – be it the increase in vitamin levels, reduced infectiveness, better shelf life or faster growth. You’re just adding snippets of DNA to create novel proteins. Repeatedly, the popular belief that GMO is somehow inherently dangerous is refuted by experts, expert bodies, and scientific publications. And further, not all GMO products are made by Monsanto. If there were less opposition to GMO and a reasonable amount of safety testing (instead of the current ridiculous burden), entry barriers to the market would be reduced and you wouldn’t see megacorporations being the only entities capable of doing the work.

        Consider that you may be wrong. GMO may be no more harmful than conventional breeding, but a lot better at increasing the traits in foods that we find useful.

        Monsanto’s motivations are not pure, it’s a company, it exists to make a profit. That doesn’t mean it’s products are inherently evil, harmful or wrong. Because you don’t understand the science, you are turning what should be a scientific issue into a narrative. You are simplifying it into good guys and bad guys, and pretending that motive somehow dictates effects. The motives of Greenpeace, Seralini and related activists may be completely pure, with no financial incentives – but they appear to be doing great harm to an extremely promising area of scientific inquiry and increasing the cost of food and likelihood of shortages.

        Rather than saying “Monsanto is evil so I don’t have to learn anything about the issue”, consider perhaps learning something about the issue. Your knee-jerk rejection doesn’t make you smart or a critical consume. It just means you are falling for a simple, simplified, even simplistic story fed to you by activists on the other side of the divide. The reason they use story rather than science, is because the science doesn’t support them.

        1. stanmrak says:

          No William – we look at the evidence first. We don’t presume Monsanto to be evil, but looking at their actions makes it quite apparent that they know their science is fraudulent and don’t care. They promote all the positive studies, and make sure the negative ones don’t see the light of day. So if you limit your reading to scientific journals, this is all you see.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            That would be a valid argument but for a few things. First, there is independent testing and development of GMO foods. Golden rice is a wonderful example, rejected for begin GMO, not because of Monsanto, despite being a valuable means of preventing blindness and death. Second, the reason Monsanto (and Bayer, and the other big players in GMO food) is among the few that can actually support the technology and research to create new and useful strains of food is because of the irrational entry barriers created by people ignorantly enamoured of the precautionary principle and above all the naturalistic fallacy. I count you among them, Stan. Because loons like you proclaim GMO to be solely the handmaiden of Monsanto and therefore wholly evil, it is expensive to develop and license, so there is less competition. Monsanto isn’t upset by people like you. They appreciate your efforts since they ensure that they have fewer competitors. Talk about your unintended consequences, how do you like being a puppet of Big Agriculture? And third, you are as usual relying on a massive, irrational conspiracy theory that every single plant scientist in favour of GMO (which is most of them) is part of a ploy to systematically manipulate the research to some nefarious end. This signifies of a failed argument, not a critical mind. You use this belief of the all-powerful corporation to discount any science that disagrees with your pre-existing point of view without actually engaging with the evidence. Your reply, always “But Monsanto!” and “But Big Pharma!” smacks of an ouroboros of closed thinking.

            For instance, what is your explanation for the near-universal agreement of scientific bodies that GMO crops are no more risky than their conventionally bred counterparts? That they present no unique risks, in fact involve no unique technology beyond the application of existing tools and biochemical processes to human rather than random ends? Do you have one? Or is it, once again, “But Monsanto!” as if it were an argument rather than a dodge.

            What do you think about global warming? Because if you hate the Koch brothers and are disgusted at the irrationality of the arguments there – keep in mind that regards GMO, you are the denier.

        2. Arjen says:

          Thanks for the long explanation, William, but I find it extremely naive to think that the for profit motive is not going to have any influence on the kind of research the scientists focus on, the formulation of the hypotheses, the interpretation of the results etc etc. Scientists are humans to. I am sorry to burst your bubble, but in the real world people often do not do the right thing, even scientists. Monsanto’s PCB production is a good example of them not being careful enough with their assumption that it would not contaminate the environment. And it is not just about Monsanto, it is about the for profit motive of companies in general. Of course that doesn’t mean their products are inherently evil, harmful or wrong, but it does mean that their products can be evil, harmful or wrong when there is a lot of money to be made.

          By the way, I am not saying that GMO is inherently dangerous; I am just saying that GMO organisms have the potential to spread by out competing the natural species in an ecosystem and taking over, so your refutation of the inherent dangers of GMO by experts and scientific publications is meaningless. It does not take away this risk.

          I don’t think I should consider that I may be wrong, because I am using the precautionary principle. You are not using the precautionary principle, so you should really think about what happens when you may be wrong. Your refusal to see the risks involved doesn’t make you smart, especially because there are no risk solutions out there to solve world hunger.

          1. weing says:

            “I don’t think I should consider that I may be wrong, because I am using the precautionary principle.”

            A formula for infallibility. Makes me want to be very cautious in applying the precautionary principle.

            “Your refusal to see the risks involved doesn’t make you smart, especially because there are no risk solutions out there to solve world hunger.”

            No risk solutions? Elaborate, please. What’s stopping the farmers from using them?

            You make it sound as if corporations are run by aliens flourishing on their far-away planet and thus have no skin in the game.

            1. Harriet Hall says:

              The precautionary principle sounds reasonable; but it is not a reliable guide to action, because it can result in unforeseen consequences that are worse.

            2. Arjen says:

              Me: “I don’t think I should consider that I may be wrong, because I am using the precautionary principle.”

              Weing: “A formula for infallibility. Makes me want to be very cautious in applying the precautionary principle.”

              I can contemplate what happens when I may be wrong, which means that we do not develop GMOs. We solve the problem with no risks solutions that I mentioned earlier: reducing livestock and increasing invertebrate consumption. It saves huge amounts of resources (see my references I gave earlier) and I can guarantee you that I am completely healthy after having been vegan for more than 2 decades. On the other hand, the impact of GMOs on reducing world hunger is still non-existent to minimal, even after decades of research.

              Weing: “You make it sound as if corporations are run by aliens flourishing on their far-away planet and thus have no skin in the game.”

              That seems a very appropriate comparison to me. Unfortunately humans are only interested in short term planning and that doesn’t work well for preserving our planet. Welcome to the real world where humans are not perfect!

              It is interesting to me that people in this discussion keep on promoting research with unknown benefits and risks, while the low tech solutions I am offering are completely ignored. I am suspecting that this is happening because people are very weary of having to change their comfortable modern world lifestyle, where we consume way more than our fair share. Instead of realizing the impact of our choices, we desperately cling to our wasteful lifestyle and grab for any high tech solution that might prolong our wasteful choices a little longer. Just the fact that in modern agriculture we use 10 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food, shows the utter unsustainability of our system (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/2011/08/11/10-calories-in-1-calorie-out-the-energy-we-spend-on-food/). We need less industrialized agriculture, not more. We will get more industrialized agriculture when the Monsantos become involved. If we really believe that we can thrive in the future without making adaptations to a simpler lifestyle with less impact, we are certainly going to be doomed.

              1. weing says:

                @Arjen,

                Congratulations. Let’s force all to eat like you do. Sounds like you would be at home in the Soylent Green society.

              2. MadisonMD says:

                Arjen: I’m in favor of sustainable agriculture. However, I also think that GMO may be part of the solution–e.g. plants that require fewer or no pesticides.

                Let’s be honest, though. You say you have a no-risk solution. There is no such thing as no risk– in fact this statement undermines your credibility. You are trading the perceived risks of GMOs for risks you are not able to perceive.

                If you want you solutions to not be “completely ignored,” then educate yourself in agrarian economics and nutrition (if you are not educated in this already), then embark and toil in the domain of public health. Through persistence, hard-earned wisdom, and a bit of humility (about whether you can completely and accurately assess risk), perhaps you could lead the US Department of Agriculture and influence public policy. Then your solutions would not be ignored.

              3. windriven says:

                “I can guarantee you that I am completely healthy after having been vegan for more than 2 decades.”

                Homo is omnivorous. You may happy as a vegan but you must recognize the reality that a huge fraction of your fellow humans have no interest in following a vegan diet. It is a non-starter. Arguing veganism against GMO is self absorbed silliness.

                Madison MD is on the right track in taking a broad view of building sustainable agriculture.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I can guarantee you that I am completely healthy after having been vegan for more than 2 decades. On the other hand, the impact of GMOs on reducing world hunger is still non-existent to minimal, even after decades of research.

                So your solution is “let everybody eat like me”. That’s great.

                The impact of GMOs on reducing world hunger is not zero, it has saved the papaya and produced massive surpluses of corn, soy and cotton (not a food crop) with reduced pesticides. Part of the reason GMO is not effective is because the opposition to it prevents the crops from being used – such as golden rice.

                Also, if you’re so convinced that cows are a drain on the world’s resources (they are, a delicious, delicious drain), how do you feel about vat meat? Meat is an important part of the human diet, providing valuable calories, scarce protein and necessary micronutrients. Vat meat would be a great solution, as would trees that are genetically engineered to produce meat rather than fruit. I can’t wait for the chicken tree to be a thing!

                Welcome to the real world where humans are not perfect!

                Absolutely, including their irrational opposition to effective solutions to world hunger based on tunnel vision that their choices are the only effective one.

                It is interesting to me that people in this discussion keep on promoting research with unknown benefits and risks, while the low tech solutions I am offering are completely ignored.

                …except for two things. First, the benefits and risks of GMO are known. Not completely, and each modification must be evaluated on its own merits, but the crops that exist have been tested for risks and benefits; the opposition to them is not based on these tests, but on opposition to the idea itself.

                Second, the “low tech solutions” mean restricting the human diet to one you happen to find acceptable, and that only work by denying and ignoring many of the nutrient needs and gustatory pleasures so very inherent to the human condition. GMO could let you have both. On less farmland.

                very weary of having to change their comfortable modern world lifestyle

                I think you mean “wary”. But also, your vegan diet is a product of a comfortable modern world lifestyle. Industrialized agriculture is part of the solution, it allows more food to be produced on less land, which leaves more land fallow for regression to nature or other human uses.

              5. DrDuran says:

                Just because you’re Vegan and healthy doesn’t mean that veganism is the best way to be or that anyone else but you should be vegan, the plural of anecdote is not data.

          2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Well duh, of course there is profit motive. Nearly everything we buy is based on profit motive. You think organic farmers oppose GMO solely because they perceive it as a risk to the environment, or perhaps because it allows them a way of setting their goods apart and thus being able to charge more for them? Profit motive exists on both sides, and a substantial funder of anti-GMO groups are in fact lobbyists for organic foods, a multi-billion dollar business. Profit can be pernicious, but it can also drive down costs and drive forward improvements. The knee-jerk opposition to GMO are in fact part of the problem because it makes entry barriers to the market so substantial that the only organizations that can afford to compete are huge conglomerates, who in turn are motivated to distort the evidence to ensure they can turn a profit.

            Not that the profit motive means GMO is dangerous in the first place. Profit motive is a reason to question the data, it’s not a reason for a whole technology to be inherently dangerous.

            I am just saying that GMO organisms have the potential to spread by out competing the natural species in an ecosystem and taking over

            Really? You really think that GMO species, which tend to be food species, which put an enormous amount of energy into large, calorie-rich starch and fat storage, will fare well in the wild away from the interventions of humans to keep weeds and pests down? The whole point of GMO and other interventions are to develop new strategies to prevent the weeds and pests that are currently wasting crops from continuing to be successful. Are you also afraid of current crops running amok and strangling out nature once free of our fields? There’s a reason why farming requires such intensive work and technology, it’s because nature is actually quite good at outcompeting our crops for sunlight and fertilizer. Not to mention, studies have taken place examining these questions, scientists aren’t stupid – they know it’s a risk and they study it. And their conclusions tend to be that the risks are overblown. Further, the irrational activists are the idiots who intervene to tear out and destroy the very crop fields that attempt to come up with empirical quantification of how risky specific crops are regards invasiveness in the real world. You’re basically saying “no scientific research can ever change my mind”, which doesn’t surprise me, since you show no evidence of having arrived at your conclusions rationally, with a reflection of any of the realities of crop breeding and science behind GMOs. Why pretend Seralini or any other study matters, since you’ve already made your decision and you don’t care what the reality is? You’ve created an impenetrable flat-earth bubble full of truthiness, with no concern for the realities and science involved.

            I don’t think I should consider that I may be wrong, because I am using the precautionary principle

            The precautionary principle must be limited, otherwise all progress stops. The precautionary principle would have us still dying of vaccine-preventable diseases in case of side effects, and currently has us sidelining nuclear energy, a clean source of power far less dangerous than coal, in favour of much dirtier sources of electricity. As Science Left Behind discusses, the precautionary principle must be limited else progress stops and people die. You’re using the precautionary principle as an excuse and a bludgeon, not as an evidence-based tool to ensure safe food. You’re using the precautionary principle as an excuse to move goalposts and raise barriers ever-higher with every study that finds your concerns unfounded, because you’re not really interested in whether GMO crops are safe – you’re already convinced they aren’t. I would guess mostly because you don’t understand the principles involved. The risks involved already exist, either in nature or in the breeding techniques used for centuries. We’re just harnessing them in new ways.

            Where do you limit the precautionary principle? How much proof do you need before you accept that GMO foods lack the risks you are projecting onto them? If there is no standard of proof that will convince you, then you are only pretending to be reasonable. You are cloaking your arguments in a rhetoric of scientific justification when you are actually just irrational.

            What exactly are these “no risk solutions” to world hunger by the way? I’m curious, since starvation and malnutrition is such a problem throughout the world.

            1. Arjen says:

              William and Madison,

              Again, I have no interest in a huge back and forth on the details that are brought up. Let me just pick out some highlights. First of all: let’s just agree to disagree. You think the risks of GMOs should be ignored: I and many others do not (e.g: http://chge.med.harvard.edu/topic/genetically-modified-foods). Luckily the majority of the people seem to agree with me (I believe even in the US, definitely in the rest of the world). I just find it very manipulative of you to pretend that science is behind your view. I do agree that concerns are exaggerated, but that does not discard all of them.

              “Second, the “low tech solutions” mean restricting the human diet to one you happen to find acceptable, and that only work by denying and ignoring many of the nutrient needs and gustatory pleasures so very inherent to the human condition.”

              This exactly confirms my suspicion in my last post: at all cost we need to preserve our wasteful habits because we need to maintain our “gustatory pleasures”. Screw everyone else and let them starve because we need to wallow in our gluttony! Considering our nutrient needs: last time I checked I was still considered a human being and I happen to be one who thrives on a decades long vegan diet. Granted, some people might have complications and health disorders that requires them to eat animal foods, but if I can thrive on vegan foods, most people can. And if not, look at the alternative to get those needs satisfied with invertebrate meat sources, because those can be raised with much less impact than livestock. And if that does not work, you can look at the possibility of raising rabbits for food consumption, which also has a massively lower impact than raising livestock. So I am not saying that everyone should eat like me. I am saying that we should critically evaluate how much impact our food choices have and if we can not fulfill those in a way that has a lot less impact. My training in biology did give me the insight that only about 10% of the energy produced in one level is past on to the next level in the food chain. Even if there might be some variations on this in particular circumstance, it makes it clear that eating low on the food chain saves a significant amount of resources. This is a well known fact. That this well known fact is being ignored in the problem solving for world hunger shows you how the world that is driven by the for profit motive is not interested in exploring alternatives that threaten powerful economic interests.

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Again, I have no interest in a huge back and forth on the details that are brought up.

                Of course not, because details trip up the convenient narrative you’ve set up, just like science trips up the convenient explanation for why GM is evil (because it’s done by a coooorpooooraaaaattiiionnnnnnn!!! OOOOHHH!!! Should be pronounced like one of the ghosts on Scooby Doo). The reality is you can’t engage with the details because your objections are not based on facts, they are based on rhetoric.

                You think the risks of GMOs should be ignored

                Nope, you ignorant rube. I think it should be acknowledged that the the risks of GMOs have been tested and consistently found to be overblown; that GMOs have no more risks than conventional breeding techniques. You are the one ignoring the potential benefits of technology, the consensus of multitudes of scientific bodies that GMO offers promise and the risks are overblown (not to mentioned – extensively studied).

                Luckily the majority of the people seem to agree with me

                That’s not luck, that misinformation. The majority of scientists don’t agree with you. Why do you think it is that the people who actually study these things, the genuine experts who understand the ins and outs of the topic, the specifics of how a gene codes for a protein, how the genes flow through the environment, the environmental impact of the plants, why do you think experts on these topics nigh-universally think the concerns are unjustified and overblown?

                I just find it very manipulative of you to pretend that science is behind your view.

                Excuse me? What science have you presented? You’ve spouted off a whole lot of nonsense about Monsanto, but I’ve yet to see any science.

                Considering our nutrient needs: last time I checked I was still considered a human being and I happen to be one who thrives on a decades long vegan diet.

                Consider our nutrient needs involve B12; vegan Jains were brought to Britain and developed anemia because the treated water lacked the microbes that were their only source of the vitamin. Veganism requires careful attention to nutritional needs, including blood tests to ensure adequate micronutrients. Good luck getting that in the third world. Humans can thrive on a variety of diets, including those with extensive meat.

                Also, incidentally, how many people have you convinced to become vegans? I’m assuming you proselytize, how many successes have you had? How long do you think it’ll take to convince the 7 billion people across the globe to eat exactly like a self-righteous first-worlder?

                but if I can thrive on vegan foods, most people can

                Really? You think you are representative of what 7 billion people are capable of? Consider the fact that perhaps you are only able to maintain a vegan diet for decades because of the availability of expensive (relative to a peasant farmer in China’s annual salary) vitamin supplements, and perhaps a unique biology that better allows you to absorb or conserve certain micronutrients. Consider that there may be people who tried, but were unable to maintain veganism because they lack your specific biology (like, I don’t know, Louise Le Moaligou. Also, do you know who Alex Jamieson is?

                Veganism is hard, it’s hard to maintain a proper diet over the course of years, it’s potentially dangerous, it requires ignoring an enormous number of built-in biological drives and needs, and deprives the person of a tremendous number of flavours and textures. You may consider this a minor inconvenience, but it’s not.

                Perhaps make a donation to the researcher who is working on viable vat meat instead? I agree that factory farming and excessive meat consumption is tremendously problematic, but I doubt veganism will ever be the solution, no matter how superior being a vegan makes you feel. Another option would be genetically engineering cows and pigs that can survive on the waste scraps produced through conventional farming, that would be a tremendous boon to the world.

                Enjoy your self-righteousness. Seriously, what are you, an undergraduate student?

              2. MadisonMD says:

                My training in biology did give me the insight that only about 10% of the energy produced in one level is past on to the next level in the food chain. Even if there might be some variations on this in particular circumstance, it makes it clear that eating low on the food chain saves a significant amount of resources. This is a well known fact.

                True. But the devil is in the details. Your “no-risk” solution has flaws that you do not perceive. Examples:

                (1) Most energy generated by plants is locked up as cellulose, which is energetically inaccessible to humans. Fortunately, bovine ruminants are able to digest cellulose, and thereby unlock vast stores of this energy, and convert to forms of energy accessible to humans–milk, yogurt, cheese, and meat.

                (2) One of the best nitrogen-fixing crops is alfalfa/hay. Planting of this crop can reduce the need from nitrogen fertilizers obtained intensively from limited ‘mined’ sources. Of course, this can provide food for bovine but again is not a usable human energy source. (Though perhaps soy could replace alfalfa in some regions.)

                (3) The highest yielding crop is field corn. I’d bet a pretty penny that you have never bit into a cob of this. With your proposal, we’d need to replace with lower yielding crops.

                So your solution would seem to provide less of an advantage than you imagine, even were it possible to convince all of humanity to eat vegan plus bugs (you did say bugs, didn’t you?). I would find your argument more convincing if you seemed to recognize some of the problems– the devilish details– of what you are proposing.

              3. Dave says:

                Folks, I believe Arjen has a point. His point also illustrates another unintended consequence, which are probably more common in ecology than in medicine. He points out that a lot of the corn produced in this country is to feed livestock in feed lots and is not consumed by humans.

                A couple of issues ago the journal Science had an editorial on antibiotic resistance based on a recent study from the Pew Charitable trust, but known since the 1970′s. The agricultural practice in this country has been to give antibiotics to chickens packed in warehouses and cattle packed in feedlots to prevent epidemic infections among densely packed anmals. Although it’s trumpeted ad nauseum that doctors are responsible for antibiotic resistance (a view loudly lobbied in Congress by the agricultural industry) the fact is that 73% of the antibiotics used in the US are for veterinary purposes and most of this goes to animals who are not sick. I don’t have the issue in front of me but one sentence states “Farm management practices are responsible for antibiotic resistance in the US” although the wording may be a little different. There’s currently pressure in Congress to legislate on this. An attempt was made in the 1970′s to legislate on this issue but defeated in Congress, which is not known for intelligent behavior.

                Arjen is pointing out that using corn to feed cattle to feed humans is inefficient. Using grass to feed cattle to feed humans is not, (though it has other consequences). It’s hard to disagree with that. Why argue with that idea?

                This of course says nothing about the safety of GMO foods. As usual, this thread has gotten a little off subject.

                Invertebrates are definitely overlooked as a potential food source. Bears in Yellowstone gorge each summer on army cutworm moths which collect under the rocks on talus slopes. Each moth has the nutritional equivalent of a peanut and one bear may eat several thousand in a day. They would probably not survive hibernation without this food source. The biomass of insects is enormous and we largely ignore this food source. Even our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, relish termites.If you think eating insects is “yucky” realize that honey is regurgitated from the gut of an insect.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Dave, Arjen’s suggestions and your comments have little to do with GMO, as you note, so why discuss them here? But you know what you could do with GMO? Engineer resistance to common pathogens into cows and chickens, reducing antibiotic use (but then again – antibiotics are not used exclusively to reduce pathogens, one of their side effects in animals is increased growth rates; even if they became completely useless at eliminating diseases, they would still be used as growth-boosters).

                Arjen is pointing out that using corn to feed cattle to feed humans is inefficient. Using grass to feed cattle to feed humans is not, (though it has other consequences). It’s hard to disagree with that. Why argue with that idea?

                And as was pointed out – cows and pigs can eat more than just corn, they can eat cellulose that is not edible by humans. Genetic modification could permit cows to digest corn more easily (currently you need to treat them with medications because they aren’t designed to eat corn), or more readily break down cellulose, or produce fast-growing grasses that make it easier to feed more cattle on the same patch of land. Again, GMO is a potential solution.

                Yes, intertebrates could be tapped for food. As could VAT MEAT!!! Sterile, pre-infused with flavour, satisfying, and potentially genetically engineered with vaccines. The future is awesome.

  13. Dave says:

    I have a question which maybe someone can answer. Preliminarily, I think everyone would agree that if we had a grain which lacked certain essential amino acids, and that genetic engineering could cause the plant to contain those amino acids, making it a more complete food, this would be beneficial. However, if we put a pesticide into a food crop, and somehow the gene got transmitted to other wild plants, the effects could be quite widespread and dangerous. When humans have adjusted the environment to suit their own needs it often has had unintended consequences. The most recent example I’ve read about is in the fall issue of the journal of the Xerces Society, of which I am a member. (This society deals with invertebrate conservation, much as the Audubon society focuses on birds). In Wilsonille, Oregon, 50 blooming Linden trees were sprayed with dinotefuran, an insecticide which it was hoped would kill aphids which were dripping honeydew onto parked cars. The result was the death of over 50,000 bumble bees, which are important pollinators, the most massive bee kill ever recorded. Oregon has currently banned this insecticide pending further evaluation and all the trees were covered with fine mesh netting to prevent a further bee kill. Ecological history is rife with similar examples, which is I think is why Arjen is concerned, though I hate to speak for him. So my questions are:

    1) Given that interspecific gene transfer is possible, do we know how likely such transfer is to occur I would expect it to be unlikely, but I don’t know enough about cross-pollination in plants.
    2) If the transfer is felt to be possible, do we have any idea of the possible consequences?

    Note I am not voicing an opinion because I don’t know enough about the subject. GMO technology seems to me to have great promise but I can understand why there are reservations. Have these issues been looked into? Please respond if you have data, not opinions. Thanks

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      However, if we put a pesticide into a food crop, and somehow the gene got transmitted to other wild plants, the effects could be quite widespread and dangerous.

      Unlikely for a couple reasons. First, we’re unlikely to put a pesticide in a crop (roundup ready, for instance, means plants are resistant to a pesticide, not that they contain it; Bt corn does contain a “pesticide”, but one that is already sprayed on organic (!!) crops in much larger volumes than what is found in the crop itself). Second, pests evolve. Third, genes get diluted rather quickly, it takes a lot of effort to keep lines pure. Not to mention, what wild plants? Most crops that are eaten for macronutrients are so heavily engineered they bear very little resemblance to their wild counterparts and would probably be outcompeted by other plants, not pests.

      The remainder of your questions are beyond my specific knowledge; may I suggest you google the Genetic Literacy project? They probably have much more specific information and specialize in addressing public questions regarding genetic modification.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Also, as I mentioned above, Biofortified is another decent website written by specialists that is worth checking out.

  14. MadisonMD says:

    I find it interesting that there is widespread fear of recombinant genes in food, but little concern about recombinant proteins as medication. Recombinant proteins such as human insulin are injected straight into blood or subcutaneous tissue–and save lives– whereas in food, digestion occurs to effectively destroy any nucleotide or protein sequence information before nutrients can enter the bloodstream.

    Any thoughts on this from the anti-GMO crowd?

  15. Biped says:

    Fun fun. Disclaimer : uninitiated in the world of genetics.
    So what is the pragmatic difference between additional genetic diversity engineered by (evil) men in white lab coats, and natural causes? I understand one is designed and one is random. How can you derive weather an engineered organism has greater chance of being malicious to the environment versus random chance. I suppose it would be trivial ( ready within 10 years ) for BigBadCorp™ to generate one if they felt it there was any market advantage in doing so. However PureNature™ seems to have no issue generating evil little buggers of its own.

    Disclaimer #2 : I love the pursuit of knowledge via science.
    Not particularly trusting in Corporate anything to act in the best interest of anyone but it’s own profit margin, and even then being semi-effective at it. I have little faith in management types and their doctrines which lead them to often head scratching business decisions; after working for them for a few years personally. I trust lawyers even less. The current IP/Patent laws need a massive overhaul. Been mulling the thought of doing away with them altogether. All IP becomes public domain. It would reduce the burden of enforcement, and as side effect might bring more funding back to public research. It would be hard to question the motivation were that environment.

    Enjoyed the article and discussion, thanks.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      As crap as corporations often are at being good citizens, the do tend to be wizard at driving down costs and pushing forward proprietary technology, which can be of net benefit to humanity. Vaccines are a great example, cheap, effective and safe. Corporations are not inherently bad, but they are amoral, and should be strongly regulated. Intellectual property laws do provide incentives for innovation (and profit!), I wonder what the effect would be of doing away with them. I question whether it would be solely beneficial…

      It’s complicated!

  16. Edward the V says:

    Why do all the anti-GMO hypocrites pop out babies? Why don’t they oppose humans making babies? Anyone who willingly reproduces themselves is automatically a murderer, because they necessarily force death upon their child. They make the (im)moral choice that the positive to their selfishness justifies that child’s eventual death, whether in 1 minute or 90 years. No exceptions.

    And why do all the anti-GMO anti-science hypocrites deny Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), a far greater cause of damage to others?

    Let me guess: because they would be forced to accept that THEY partly cause the deaths and harm to others.

    It’s because selfish breeders – whether of human or nonhuman animals – cannot do hard math. They cannot calculate the total consequences of all actions.

    The thing that is conceptually hardest to those first doing hardcore mathematical modeling & quantifying: cause-and-effect is an ARBITRARY DEFINITION.
    To say 1 thing – whether an electron or a sentient being – CAUSES another thing to happen is, ultimately an ARBITRARY definition.
    One could in principle define cause & effect of all possible events any way one wants, but then one runs into CONTRADICTIONS.
    e.g. “big corporation -> death” “Monsanto -> big corporation” -> “Monsanto -> death”
    “Homeopathic corporation -> big corporation” contradicts
    “Homeopathic corporation -> life”

    Thus, the hard part is making all definitions of cause and effect LOGICALLY CONSISTENT.

    Whatever definitions hold true for macroscopic objects must hold true for all objects.
    Hence, to define “electron1 -> electron2 moves” is just as valid as defining “electron2-> electron1″. If you add up all electrons (and nuclei) and all such implications, then you can create definitions of cause and effect for macroscopic objects.

    -> means “to cause”. I deliberately use that as the same symbol used in formal logic as “implies”.
    Issues of cloning & genetic modification, as several intelligent commenters have said here many many times already (William Lawrence Utridge, Harriet Hall) are simply
    side distractions.

    And most of all, why aren’t the anti-GMO 911-toother AGW-denying woo-woo religionists opposing certain amounts of animal testing? Let me guess: again, because it might require giving up a few years of your life in order to prevent a certain amount of suffering forced upon confined full sentient non-fetal animals.

    I am proud to be a pro-vegan-for-animal-rights-and-not-this-health-bullshit antinatalist atheist, as all intelligent caring people should be.

    1. windriven says:

      Dude. Where do you buy your smoke?

  17. C.S. Loberg says:

    It’s been a decent discussion but so many of the simple things are overlooked. If there is nothing to hide with GMOs, and there may not be, then the ones putting billions behind their device can fund a two year study that can squash all of this nonsense.

    If there is nothing to hide then prove it. I and many others would be very much thankful to see all this bullshit go away. 90 day studies are completely useless. The study in question doesn’t look big enough either and things can surely be done to improve this.

    Monsanto spent millions of dollars trying to prevent the anti-GMO laws being passed. Well, why can they not put some of that money into funding a two year study on GMOs, without bias, that will effectively kill off all criticism. I ask you: what is wrong with what I just suggested? They could spend another couple dozen million dollars, if this theoretical study were to prove GMOs as harmless, and market it all over the world. People can’t beat the facts when they are in your face like this.

    Simplicity at its finest. If you don’t want to fund this study for whatever reason than this debate goes on and on and on. Until someone does a thorough study on the mechanisms in which GMOs could be harmful, proving them to be or not to be, then no one on any side is ever going to have enough data to be convinced. Mostly, these discussions just turn into name calling as they pretty much have here.

    1. Sawyer says:

      Well, why can they not put some of that money into funding a two year study on GMOs, without bias, that will effectively kill off all criticism.

      I think you just answered your own question.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      C.S. Loberg, those studies have been conducted, the results show that GM food is still food, with no unique risks, and opponents to genetic modification don’t care (and don’t understand). Opposition to GM is not science-based, it’s fear-based. It’s the naturalistic fallacy writ large.

      Seralini’s two-year study was useless, killed a lot of rats through the agony of uncontrolled tumors, and answered no questions. That’s rather the point of this article and the retraction of the study overall.

      It’s not about science, it’s about marketing.

      Ha, where’s Stan when you need him?

  18. MadisonMD says:

    If there is nothing to hide then prove it. I and many others would be very much thankful to see all this bullshit go away. 90 day studies are completely useless. The study in question doesn’t look big enough either and things can surely be done to improve this.

    So would this have to be proved for each engineered plant? Would it be required for crops that are genetically engineered through crossing/selection? What would the endpoints be (survival, tumors, stomach folds)? Could this be a priori agreed upon as adequate for ‘proving’ safety or would the goalposts move after done? After all, couldn’t someone just come along after the long-term safety study and say it is “completely useless?”

    Perhaps such a study would satisfy you, but I doubt it would satisfy the anti-GMO crowd.

  19. DayneATC says:

    I have a question about this whole GMO labelling thing. I have no issue with labelling them, but what should the label say?
    Should they put a label on every food that has been genetically modified? If that’s the case, what food wouldn’t be labelled?

    What source of food today has not been genetically modified either through shotgun cross-breeding/artificial selection or more refined modification of seeds prior to planting?

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Dayne, your questions are the kinds of valid, knotty, difficult ones that people who support science-based labeling have to deal with. Anti-GMO people seem to think that if you slap a label on it, they’ll win because no rational person could possibly buy it (and they might have a point, if you substitute “uninformed” for “rational”).

      Marion Nestle had a couple suggestions that were interesting. One is the simple “This may contain/contains genetically modified _____”. Another one, which I found superior, was “This food has been scientifically enhanced using genetic modification technology, and approved for consumption by the FDA” or something like that. Labeling while emphasizing the scientific nature of the enhancement and approval by a recognized authority. Wish I had the link.

  20. Roman100 says:

    Marion Nestle reports I’ve seen candy bar labels in England with this statement: “Contains genetically modified sugar, soya and corn.” We could do this, too.

    Sweet & simple.

    1. Roman100 says:

      And her link to that is

      http://www.foodpolitics.com/2012/03/petitions-to-label-gm-foods-deserve-support/

      My apologies, I would have liked to have made that link clickable but boilerplate HTML code doesn’t seem to work in this blog
      :-/

  21. Roman100 says:

    It seems clear enough that, given the bad odour surrounding what has just occurred (see commentary at http://www.foodpolitics.com/tag/gmgenetically-modified/ ), the Seralini study should be repeated, but this time with populations of rats large enough to permit statistical analyses of the results.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Such studies have been done, there is a list at the Genetic Literacy project. It’s for reasons like these that real experts don’t take studies like Seralini’s seriously.

  22. MadisonMD says:

    There is a good NYT article about this issue here.

  23. Tara says:

    One concern I have about GMOs which nobody seems to address. From what I understand, GMO crops are sterile. I am not comfortable with the fact that the only way i can re-seed to grow my food is by purchasing a lab created seed.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      The so-called “terminator” seed varieties created by Monsanto and other companies, a technology that never took off and was eventually discontinued, were sterile.

      GMO is a technology, not a single entity. There’s no reason to expect all GMO crops to be sterile (far more likely to be sterile – crops created through the “conventional” breeding technique of blasting seeds with radiation and other mutagens to induce mutations that hopefully create new traits in the subsequent generations).

      Genetic modification can be used to specifically induce sterility, but it can also be used to specifically induce colour changes, nutrient enrichment, reduced growth rates, increased growth rates, frost resistance, salt resistence, etc. It’s not a single thing, the only thing that unites “GMO” is the conceptual piece of “inducing the change in a single gene, through introduction, removal or modification”.

      Farmers are not, and never will be, forced to buy seeds from Monsanto or Bayer or whoever else. They have the choice to save and replant their own seeds, or buy them year-after-year. Many choose the latter because the varieties offered are superior in one way or another, and it’s a way of saving time, lowering costs, or increasing yields, without the bother of having to carefully select and cultivate your own plant traits through conventional breeding. In some cases, farmers are required to sign a contract that they will not replant or cross-breed the GMO varieties and are thus contractually prevented from saving and sowing seeds across years, but this is not a feature of the technology itself.

      GMO crops are not inherently sterile.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Oops, incidental relevant point. I believe the “terminator” seeds were produced by conventional breeding, not genetic modification.

    2. MadisonMD says:

      From what I understand, GMO crops are sterile. I am not comfortable with the fact that the only way i can re-seed to grow my food is by purchasing a lab created seed.

      @Tara
      In addition to WLU’s good points here, please recall that most crops are hybrids, increasing yield and pest resistance. You are not going to get decent crops by re-seeding hybrid crops. So if you feel strongly about “not purchasing lab created seed” then you will not be planting hybrids. Please check the seeds you are planting because most that you purchase will be hybrids.

      Do you also prefer not to purchase food from hybrid plants at the grocery? Do you think these should be labeled? Or do you think it is OK that your food suppliers improve pest resistance and yield by purchasing “lab-created” seed from a company?

    3. Chris says:

      “I am not comfortable with the fact that the only way i can re-seed to grow my food is by purchasing a lab created seed.”

      Does this mean you do not eat bananas, seedless grapes, apples, conventionally hybridized tomatoes/eggplant/peppers, seedless oranges and lots of other foods that need to be hybridized or cloned?

      There is a reason that many tree fruit growers learn to graph fruiting stock on to root stock. Also, even if someone plants heirloom varieties of several types of veg with the intention of saving the seed need to be very careful how the flowers are pollinated.

      I do enjoy having an edible garden, but I much prefer buying seeds when they go on sale in the fall. I have my limits. Though I have gotten some interesting volunteers, like the lavender plants that decided to grow next to the driveway, they seem to be a combination of two different colored lavenders that I have. There is a local gardening radio show, and one guy has called into the host over the past couple of years about a volunteer plant in his yard that seems to be a cross between a zucchini and a winter squash.

    4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Tara, in case you are genuinely interested, and not merely here in a fit of righteous masturbatory indignation (we get a lot of people who are), there is an extremely interesting set of articles over at grist.com that discusses a journalist’s attempts to understand the GMO issue from a scientific perspective. From what I’ve read so far, the first four articles or so, it appears quite fascinating and well-researched, with a lot of really interesting nuance.

      http://grist.org/series/panic-free-gmos/

      1. Tara says:

        I am not here for anything negative. I’m genuinely interested/concerned about the quality of food that is available. Thank you for the suggestion WLU. And Chris, believe it or not, I have my own garden and buy as much local food as possible. I won’t sit on a pedestal and state self righteous lies, but I actually do avoid foods that are not native to where I live…and buy as little in the store as i possibly can. Last fall I canned for 3 months (seriously…it was a lot!), I froze and preserved much of what we are eating now.
        Back to the GMO discussion this was intended to be, I have a question to put out there. Have you ever considered why chronic and degenerative diseases and consuming cancers have become almost epidemics, when we live in an age of advanced research and medical treatments? What has changed in the last 40 years since these staggering statistics began to climb? Look at how our food has changed in the last 40 years. The use of chemicals becoming mainstream, farming and harvesting practices and processing. Just a thought.

        1. Chris says:

          “Have you ever considered why chronic and degenerative diseases and consuming cancers have become almost epidemics, when we live in an age of advanced research and medical treatments?”

          Please name the “chronic and degenerative” diseases, and cite their demographics.

          “What has changed in the last 40 years since these staggering statistics began to climb? Look at how our food has changed in the last 40 years. ”

          Provide us a citation of those “staggering statistics.” And one reason is we are not dying as young. Those are mostly diseases of older age, especially cancer. Some are diseases of excess, since many problems are related to eating too much.

        2. MadisonMD says:

          Have you ever considered why chronic and degenerative diseases and consuming cancers have become almost epidemics, when we live in an age of advanced research and medical treatments?

          @Tara. Thank you for the question. I have heard this question a few times in my line of work (cancer treatment and research). Although it is common to find things that correlate and attribute a cause-and-effect relationship between them, there are risks in doing so. There are some excellent articles about this on SBM and here is one.

          If correlation was sufficient to make conclusions about causation, you could also perhaps conclude that chronic and degenerative disease were caused by:
          -freeways
          -air travel
          -radio
          -cable satellite
          -lasers
          -GMO
          -microwave ovens
          -the internet

          All have increased in usage in recent decades. However, your idea that chemicals cause chronic disease has something more going for it than just a correlation. Your hypothesis does have mechanism since we know that some chemicals are carcinogens (although we also know that some chemicals are not and so it might be necessary to drill down to specifics to address this plausibility).

          ——————

          Before making definitive conclusions about “why chronic disease is more prevalent today than in the past,” I think we have to evaluate it carefully

          (1) Do we know chronic and degenerative disease is more prevalent today?

          There is a danger in using prevalence as our reference since prevalence goes up with improved medical care (people can live longer with better treatment, so there are more people with disease). Incidence is perhaps a safer bet, since it counts each person who gets the disease once, regardless of how long they live with the disease. However, incidence is still problematic in that it depends on diagnosis. With more screening and better access to medical care, incidence increases for chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, hypercholesterolism, and high blood pressure.

          So it would be safer to use mortality as our reference point to avoid this confounders. Consider the historical mortality data:
          Leading causes of death
          Note that the top 3 mortal diseases from 1900 are no longer in the top 5. Notice also that death rate have decreased between 1950-2000 for all diseases except cancer. So we can conclude that, yes, cancer mortality is higher today than in previous decades.

          (2) What other factors are known to impact cancer?

          Age is critical. Consider that cancer is a disease of aging:
          Male cancer probability age 1-59: 10% (1.46+8.79)
          Male cancer probability age 60+: 54%
          Female cancer probability age 1-59: 11%
          Female cancer probability age 60+: 37%

          [I am showing incidence here but cancer mortality is similar.]

          Now consider the change of the age of our population
          Life expectancy
          Also notice that 72-83% of 21 year-olds now make it to aged 65 and, if they do, are expected to live another 15-20 years.

          Thus we have an aging population. What happens to cancer incidence over time if we correct for age? We get age-adjusted cancer death rates, which are decreasing:
          for men
          for women

          Conclusion
          So Tara, thank you for your question. These data demonstrate that (a) increased prevalence of chronic diseases can be explained by improved medical care; (b) increased incidence of chronic disease can be explained by improved screening and diagnosis; (c) increased mortality is mainly restricted to cancer, and that this can be wholly explained by an aging population.

          Thus, these data do not support the hypothesis that chemicals in the environment are increasing chronic disease in recent decades.

          1. Andrey Pavlov says:

            @Madison:

            Very, very well said.

          2. weing says:

            “Notice also that death rate have decreased between 1950-2000 for all diseases except cancer. So we can conclude that, yes, cancer mortality is higher today than in previous decades.”

            Newer data is more encouraging.

            http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.21208/full

          3. windriven says:

            @Madison

            So what’s up with liver cancer? Referring to your chart on age-adjusted death rates for men, everything looks pretty darn good except that liver cancer hit a nadir around 1975 and seems to be inching up. Pancreatic and ovarian cancers appear to be inching up for women, and over a longer time span.

            1. MadisonMD says:

              @Windriven:
              The most common causes of liver cancer in the US are chronic hepatitis B and C. There is a multi-year latency between the initial infection and cancer from chronic disease (longer for Hep C as it usually causes cirrhosis prior to liver cancer).

              If you look at US incidence rates of Hep B and C, you see these peaked in the 1980′s and 90′s for multiple reasons including intravenous drug use, sexual contact (mostly B), vertical transmission (B), blood transfusions and medical procedures (prior to availability of screening of donated blood). B has been markedly reduced through vaccination starting in the 1990′s and C through testing blood products, recombinant clotting factors for hemophiliacs, as well as public health measures (needle exchanges, etc– it wasn’t for HIV alone). What you are seeing in the delay between hepatitis incidence and peak in liver cancer death rates is latency between acute infection and cancer.

              As an interesting aside, there is a similar latency visible between smoking rates and lung cancer rates, although I cannot find any good figures on smoking by decade broken down by gender. Note that peak in lung cancer for women is about a decade after that of men. Remember “You’ve come a long way baby,” tagline of the 70′s and 80′s? There’s the outcome.

              Regarding pancreatic cancer, 20% is caused by smoking, and obesity is another major cause according to the ACS (here is the link– see p27– warning, large pdf). These factors, and possibly others may explain the small “inching up” of mortality you are seeing, primarily in women where smoking peaked later.

              ——-

              Now in the interest of bending over backwards to be utterly honest:

              Mortality numbers are the best I can do here. What we would really like to know to answer Tara’s question is “true age-adjusted cancer incidence” if that were a statistic that were possible to obtain. For mortality, modest increases in “true incidence,” if any had occurred, may have been masked by improvements in early detection and treatment.

              Windriven prompts me to disclose this by asking about liver and pancreatic cancer. Unlike most other cancers, there have been essentially no improvements in early detection or treatment of these cancers over the past few decades. Thus, it is easiest to detect modest mortality increases of environmental factors for these diseases (i.e. hepatitis, smoking, obesity), whereas they might not be evident for others.

              1. windriven says:

                Thank you Madison. And I’m doubly glad I’ve been vaccinated for Hep B!

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Madison, you just eked out Angora Rabbit as my favourite commentor.

                Angora Rabbit, you may be upset by losing this coveted position.

                May I suggest – GUEST POST!! GUEST POST!!

                And that goes for both of you!

              3. Andrey Pavlov says:

                @WLU:

                What am I, chopped liver? ;-)

                (just kidding, I actually like chopped liver… and minced meat)

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                You’ve already written a guest post :P

                What I really appreciate about AR (and now MMD)’s comments are the combination of brevity, specificity and comprehensability. While yours are fascinatingly detailed, they’re also long and usually specific to a lengthy argument you’re having with, let’s face it, Pete Moran. Plus your comments are an embarassement of riches – you have foie gras every day, eventually you stop appreciating it. AR (and now MMD) are more like the ripe peaches I can only get once per year – rarer, and disproportionately appreciated for it.

                I hate chopped liver, but do make my own sausage. And do peaches go with foie gras? Let the threadjacking begin!

        3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Tara, I am going to recommend two books, then make a comment.

          Just Food by James E. McWilliams. McWilliams makes the case that local eating is no solution in many ways. In some cases, far more time, effort and resources are wasted to produce a local fruit or vegetables, even those indigenous to the area, versus importing a shipping container full of apples from New Zealand. Though I will grant you that your emphasis on buying indigenous foods. Though this must be tremendously limiting, since that means no apples, oranges, peaches, apricots, almonds, cherries and myriad other fruits alone if you live in North America. You must have a tremendously limited diet, American Indians basically subsisted on beans, corn, squash and hunted meat, acorns if they were facing starvation. Watch out for malnutrition (or accept the fact that “indigenous” is a questionable, borderline-worthless way of classifying food into “good to eat” or not). And of course, you may not live in the United States (in which case, you’re still cutting out some modern staples – apples if you live in India, bananas and oranges if you live in Europe).

          The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This book delves into cancer, in great and fascinating detail. Pair this with Risk by Dan Gardner. One of the points both make is that cancer is a diseae of aging. So to answer your question “why chronic and degenerative diseases and consuming cancers have become almost epidemics”, it’s because we now live long enough to develop wear-and-tear on our joints, and die of cancer, rather than dying of infectious diseases, starvation, trauma and heart disease. What has changed in the past 40 years? Massive increases in life expectancy. In part brought about by the ability to feed more people through monocultures, intensive farming, pesticides, herbicides and improved processing. Don’t want to develop cancer? Do what the Irish did – die of starvation when your extremely limited food source is attacked by a devastating parasite.

          Also note that genetic modification was not mainstream or intensively practiced 40 years ago. Further note that genetic modification generally codes for proteins, which are, in most cases, digested in our gut. Because that’s what our gut does – digest proteins.

          Also consider this – “chemicals” are ubiquitous. The plants you eat produce chemicals, often quite nasty ones, to prevent themselves from being eaten. The delicious, characteristic flavour molecules we associate with many foods (menthol in mint, almondyness in almonds, spicy warmth in cinnamon) are actually lethal to most insects, and most humans if consumed in sufficient quantities. Nature doesn’t magically exist to provide you with food and good health. Nature doesn’t care if you live or die. Plants don’t wnat to feed you, they want to reproduce, and will happily do so from the interior of your rotting corpse if it means they get more offspring. And they will kill you through purely naturally produced chemicals.

          Nature doesn’t love or hate humans, she is perfectly indifferent to all of us. Only humans care whether other humans live or die.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Two points:

            1) That was actually three books, oops!

            2) Tara, the condition with which you are afflicted is called chemophobia. The cure is at your local library, in the chemistry section, or any standard textbook on the subject. Dewey Decimal Classification 540.

          2. MadisonMD says:

            I like to point out that hemlock and ricin are all natural…

            … yet they did not do much good to Socrates and Markov.

  24. Tara says:

    WLU…I really dislike how you have shown all these statistics of mortality rates on the decrease, yet fail to address the diagnosis rates? Have those dropped as well? And congratulations on your specialty…what better job security than cancer research? When I mentioned diseases earlier, I was not only referring to cancer. What about colitis? Autism? Arthritis in young people? Food allergies? You have completely misunderstood and judged me. I do not have a chemphobia. There are many positive and necessary ‘chemicals’ available that have made improvements in our lives. What I have a problem with is the arrogance of man that we are the ultimate controllers of everything on earth.

    1. weing says:

      “What I have a problem with is the arrogance of man that we are the ultimate controllers of everything on earth.”

      And that claim is being made by …….?

    2. Chris says:

      “WLU…I really dislike how you have shown all these statistics of mortality rates on the decrease, yet fail to address the diagnosis rates? ”

      Then why don’t you provide us those then? You have been making lots of claims of the increases, but have not supplied any real data.

      “What about colitis? Autism? Arthritis in young people? Food allergies?”

      Citations needed. Be careful with the autism one, make sure you are concise about which DSM manual the diagnosis is made with. My son was diagnosed before 1994, so he officially does not have autism. If he was a few years younger, then that would be different.

      (by the way, adding to a list of maladies is something called “moving the goal posts”)

    3. weing says:

      @Tara,
      “What about colitis? Autism? Arthritis in young people? Food allergies? ”
      How far back do you want to go? When criteria change for diagnoses and some become popular, how can you judge? What happened to the rate of possessions by the devil in the past 300 years? What happens when you remove selection pressures? People who wouldn’t get a chance to reproduce 100 years ago, because of a disease they inherited, now are able to reproduce. Do you think their genes magically disappear?

    4. Andrey Pavlov says:

      Tara, WLU is not a physician. He has no real dog in this fight except for being a patient from time to time himself.

      As for diagnosis rates… why on earth would diagnosis rates go down? And why would we want them to? We want to get better at diagnosing disease and ensure we are diagnosing all the disease that there is to be diagnosed. That is a continuous progression. Diagnosis rates can go up because incidence goes up and because we get better at diagnosis. In the last hundred years, both have been happening but in medicine we have gotten far, far, far, far, far better at diagnosing. Some, myself included, would argue too good sometimes. But that is a different conversation.

    5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Tara, you’re kinda 0/2. I never provided statistics, merely book recommendations and the kind of basic knowledge widely available to anyone who has read a university-level textbook on the subject (or even a popular book). I have never said that I am a cancer researcher. I’m not. I’m not a doctor. I’m not even in a medical field. I just like to read, and have a long commute.

      Autism appears to have increased primarily through diagnostic substitution and greater awareness/screening due to the emphasis placed on early intervention and the dumping of resources into the problem.

      Food allergies appear to be increasing due to reduced immune challenges, because our houses, food and water supplies are cleaner, and because people are avoiding exposing their children to allergens at young ages.

      I’m not aware of whether arthritis is increasing in young people. I would guess that at least in part, wear-and-tear due to extreme obesity in children (as well as reduced joint health due to reduced exercise – cartilage does well when regularly compressed and refilled by synovial fluid).

      The fact that you jumped to “genetic modification” as the cause of these disparate conditions suggests a minimal understanding of the human body and biology, but a maximal willingness to accept simple, blanket etiologies with minimal prior probability (and an almost certainty that you know who Gary Null or Joe Mercola are). Reality is complex. Simple solutions are rarely correct solutions, particularly when it comes to biology, which is devilish and poorly-optimized for human longevity.

      Oncologist would probably be a very secure job, you are correct. The massive increases in life expectancy, even in the face of chronic health complaints like type II diabetes and morbid obesity (caused by patients ignoring their doctors, despite attempts to blame them on doctors), would ensure that there are going to be lots of old people – and old people get cancer. I know why, do you? Read The Emperor of All Maladies, and you will see why. Educate yourself with real science, not the pretend handwaving of charlatans who want to sell you virgin coconut oil.

      What you really fail to grasp about chemophobia is that everything that is not an elemental particle is a chemical. Everything. There are not “many” chemicals that have made improvements in our lives – our lives are, and always have been chemicals.

      Man doesn’t control everything on earth. And it’s a damned shame. If that were the case, we could get rid of viral infections, some of the nastier bacteria, develop photosynthetic cattle, improve the climate so as to be a source of constant renewable energy through reliable winds, and so forth. We could make the planet a nicer place for everyone, including other species. FSM knows that the current version, red of tooth and claw that we are constantly trying to extricate ourselves from, is pretty much a nightmare.

      The arrogance of man is the only thing that is keeping you from starving to death at the age of 30, or dying in childbirth at the age of 15. And it’s responsible for the device you are typing on.

    6. MadisonMD says:

      WLU…I really dislike how you have shown all these statistics of mortality rates on the decrease, yet fail to address the diagnosis rates?

      Well, Tara, you seem confused about who said what. I did talk about incidence:

      Incidence is perhaps a safer bet, since it counts each person who gets the disease once, regardless of how long they live with the disease. However, incidence is still problematic in that it depends on diagnosis. With more screening and better access to medical care, incidence increases for chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, hypercholesterolism, and high blood pressure.

      I worried a bit about not actually defining incidence, but I didn’t want to lengthen the answer and I figured that you would know– or at least you could have looked it up. (I looked up and cited a great deal to answer your question). But I can save you the trouble: Incidence = diagnosis rate in your lingo.

      When I mentioned diseases earlier, I was not only referring to cancer. What about colitis? Autism? Arthritis in young people? Food allergies?

      So after you “just” asked a general question, I offer you an organized answer with citations to primary sources. Now you say that’s not what you were asking? Really?

      We are not able to read your mind. You said:

      …chronic and degenerative diseases and consuming cancers have become almost epidemics

      So cancer was the only disease you mentioned by name. Honestly, food allergies are not what leaps to mind when you say “chronic and degenerative disease,” for reasons that I hope are obvious. (Just avoid them already!)

      Now, if you carefully read what I wrote above, you will find that I did not consider cancer only. I considered all mortal diseases, and narrowed on cancer because it alone met your criterion for increasing statistics (mortality) between 1950-2000. To the best of my ability to discern, cancer is what you were asking about.

      —————
      Now if you are proposing the hypothesis that chemicals in the environment are causing a particular non-mortal chronic disease, then you will need to tell us:
      (a) Which disease are we talking about? Please name one which you believe to be most likely related to chemicals in the environment.
      (b) What are the statistics for incidence of that disease over time?
      (c) How can we adjust or deal with the confounders of incidence that I alluded to and also are mentioned here more specifically by Chris, Weing, and Andrey.

      Then, to identify the correlation we are speaking of, you should tell us:
      (d) Which chemical(s) we are speaking about.
      (e) How the use of the chemical(s) has increased over the same period of time of the incidence above. In what contexts is the chemical used.

      Finally, to establish plausibility of causation, you need to tell us:
      (f) how might humans be exposed to the chemical
      (g) how might the chemical(s) operate to elicit the disease in question.

      Once you’ve done this, you have established a specific hypothesis that can be evaluated. (I know science is hard– I know it every day.) Your hypothesis cannot be evaluated without this specificity.

      ———

      What I have a problem with is the arrogance of man that we are the ultimate controllers of everything on earth.

      Odd non-sequitur. I love nature and gardening myself. Yet, this rejoinder somehow suggests to me that Tara has left the realm of science and entered that of belief.

      1. Chris says:

        “I love nature and gardening myself. Yet, this rejoinder somehow suggests to me that Tara has left the realm of science and entered that of belief.”

        Her responses are a bit puzzling. She claimed at first that “I am not comfortable with the fact that the only way i can re-seed to grow my food is by purchasing a lab created seed.” But if she gardens she would know that the seeds in many of the foods she grows are created very carefully, since much of the foods us humans have created over thousands of years need to be carefully pollinated. Plus, there are those that don’t have any seeds.

        And I really don’t see what those horrible “chronic diseases” have to do with GMOs. She really needs to go into some more detail about what they are and give us some real statistics.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          That’s because her answers and questions are based around justifyng her pre-existing conclusions and ideas. They have only the loosest possible relation to actual science, facts or logic.

          Thus is my explanation.

    7. weing says:

      I’m sorry. can’t resist. Tara, it’s the only thing that matters. It’s the only thing that lasts.

  25. MelissainVA says:

    The truth about the Seralini Study done by a real investigative reporter

    http://jonrappoport.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/truth-about-the-seralini-rat-tumor-gmo-study-explodes/

    1. David Gorski says:

      The words “real investigative reporter” should never be applied to John Rappaport, who is about as far out there as Alex Jones.

    2. weing says:

      “The truth about the Seralini Study done by a real investigative reporter”
      What distinguishes him from other reporters. How do you determine whether what he writes is true or false? If you already know the truth about the study, why do you need a reporter to tell you?

    3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Melissain, since Mr. Rappaport (who appears to be a little crazy, like, thinks David Icke has a point crazy, and that’s some fine crazy) fails to link to the original Monsanto study from eight years ago (a common failing in journalism, sadly), we simply don’t know how true these claims are. The real problem with Seralini is the length of the study and the number of subgroup comparisons. Well, that and conflicting data. If the “Monsanto” study from eight years ago used ten rats per group, but a much smaller number of groups, and a shorter duration, then the papers are not comparable.

      While I think promoting the Seralini study is egregious nonsense, and the retraction of the study also rather stupid, I object even more to selective dishonesty in reporting – and Mr. Rappaport has not made it easy to check his sources. Plus, he seems to explain everything through “conspiracy”, which is a fallacy rather than logic.

  26. Brian says:

    Is it not the responsibility of the individual reader or scientist to accept or reject any research paper, any book, any posting, any anything? Do we really need Monsanto/Elsevier to do that for us? Of course we do; in my opinion they now own us, the government, and the scientific media. We are to be squelched corporate slaves and we must think and believe as we are told. Any data contradicting what we are supposed to believe must be culled out and destroyed. The authors of any “foolish non-science” ought to be ridiculed and lambasted; forget the notion that the world is a sphere. It’s really flat.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Brian, your statement comes frontloaded with a whole bunch of “corporate organic” mythology. Are you a slave to anyone who wants to charge you an extra five dollars per pound of fruit merely because it is “natural” (never mind the fact that “natural” fruits have been selectively bred for millennia to be sweeter and larger)?

      You’re basically acting as an unpaid propaganda mouthpiece for the people who make money off of opposing GMO. How does it feel to be a corporate whore for Whole Foods?

    2. Sawyer says:

      Is it not the responsibility of the individual reader or scientist to accept or reject any research paper, any book, any posting, any anything?

      Brian, I don’t think you quite understand the challenge that people reading scientific journals already face. In any given field, there are thousands of papers being published every year, and scientists struggle to keep up with the literature. With rare exceptions (like alternative medicine research), it takes hours to go through a study and tease out the strengths and weaknesses. The peer-review process, imperfect as it may be, cuts out a tremendous amount of bad science so busy researchers don’t have to waste their time with it. Doctors are often forced to do a quick pubmed search when confronting a new problem, and the idea that they can dissect every single paper that comes down the pike while a patient is dying is ludicrous.

      One of the rallying cries of CAM proponents is that almost half of published medical research ends up being proven wrong in the long run. What do you think would happen to that percentage if we cut back on peer review?

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