The GMO Lobby Loves Lazy Journalists

suzuki

I found a facebook post today claiming that a “Study of 100 Billion Animals Finds GMOs Safe.

First of all, I consider the source.  Here’s what the “I fucking love science” page says about itself:

We’re here for the science – the funny side of science. Quotes, jokes, memes and anything your admin finds awesome and strange.  If you take yourself seriously, you’re on the wrong page.

That tells me I need to dig deeper, so I go read the article and click on the source that the writer cited, which purported to be an academic study, but instead I found an article in Forbes, which used to be a credible business magazine for the one percent.  The headline confidently proclaimed  “The Debate About GMOs Safety is Over, Thanks to a New Trillion-Meal Study” but nothing could be further from the truth.  The article was written by Jon Entine, whose bio says:

I’m executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project (www.GeneticLiteracyProject.org), an independent NGO, and Senior Fellow at the World Food Center’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at the University of California-Davis.

That sounds harmless enough, but a quick look at his wiki says he’s also the author of “Crop Chemophobia: Will Precaution Kill the Green Revolution?” and is connected to the American Enterprise Institute – a right wing think-tank.  Alright, so I’m sensing there might be a wee bit of bias here, but lets give him the benefit of the doubt by looking at his evidence for the alleged safety of GMOs.  Here’s a quote:

Writing in the Journal of Animal Science, in the most comprehensive study of GMOs and food ever conducted, University of California-Davis Department of Animal Science geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam and research assistant Amy E. Young reviewed 29 years of livestock productivity and health data from both before and after the introduction of genetically engineered animal feed. [NOTE: article is behind a paywall until October 1.]

That bit about the paywall would discourage people from seeking it out, but when I read the abstract, it looked very similar to another article published last year by the lead author in the new article.  You can read the entire earlier article here.

The study Entine refers to is a review article in a scholarly journal, not original peer-reviewed research.  For those of you unfamiliar with academic jargon, that means instead of solid evidence, we’re looking at someone’s interpretation/opinion of other scientists’ work. Entine gives some quotes clearly cherry-picked to support his opinion that GMOs are safe, but for the sake of balance, here are some other direct quotations from Van Eenennaam’s 2013 article:

From the Abstract:

Requiring long-term and target animal feeding studies would sharply increase regulatory compliance costs and prolong the regulatory process associated with the commercialization of GE crops.

From the conclusion:

Regulatory frameworks should formally evaluate the reasonable and unique risks and benefits associated with the use of both GE plants and animals in agricultural systems, and weigh them against those associated with existing systems, and the opportunity costs associated with regulatory inaction.

From the Acknowledgements:

Preparation of this manuscript was supported by funds from the W.K. Kellogg endowment to the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

Yes, folks, the same Kelloggs who donated an undisclosed amount to fight against the implementation of  labelling laws that would allow people to know whether they’re eating and feeding their children a product that has never been proven safe for human consumption.

Here’s the entire text of the Abstract (summary) of the new article:

Globally, food-producing animals consume 70 to 90% of genetically engineered (GE) crop biomass. This review briefly summarizes the scientific literature on performance and health of animals consuming feed containing GE ingredients and composition of products derived from them. It also discusses the field experience of feeding GE feed sources to commercial livestock populations and summarizes the suppliers of GE and non-GE animal feed in global trade. Numerous experimental studies have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals are comparable with those fed isogenic non-GE crop lines. United States animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. Data on livestock productivity and health were collated from publicly available sources from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed. These field data sets representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed. Globally, countries that are cultivating GE corn and soy are the major livestock feed exporters. Asynchronous regulatory approvals (i.e., cultivation approvals of GE varieties in exporting countries occurring before food and feed approvals in importing countries) have resulted in trade disruptions. This is likely to be increasingly problematic in the future as there are a large number of “second generation” GE crops with altered output traits for improved livestock feed in the development and regulatory pipeline. Additionally, advanced techniques to affect targeted genome modifications are emerging, and it is not clear whether these will be encompassed by the current GE process-based trigger for regulatory oversight. There is a pressing need for international harmonization of both regulatory frameworks for GE crops and governance of advanced breeding techniques to prevent widespread disruptions in international trade of livestock feedstuffs in the future.

Let me translate to plain English and summarize what those journal articles actually said to me. “Let’s not bother to do a proper assessment of risk to human health because it’s just so darn expensive.”

Forbes says GMOs are safe.

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Here’s the problem. Feedlot cattle are fed grain and other concentrates for usually 90-120 days. There are many reasons that feedlot beef isn’t the healthiest or most ethical choice, but that’s not the issue. After 90-120 days, feedlot cattle are sent to the slaughterhouse. How likely is it that they would manifest illness that soon as a result of genetically engineered feed?  It may be impossible to determine whether eating GMO-fed beef has a negative impact on human health but, again, that’s not the question that concerns me.

Genetically modified corn is already in foods that are produced for direct human consumption and we don’t send our children to the slaughterhouse after three months. They keep eating these products year after year.  There are no long-term feeding studies on human health. The producers are not doing them and the government isn’t telling them to. We cannot choose between GMO and non-GMO foods unless they are labelled. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is fighting tooth and nail to prevent citizen-driven initiatives to label GMO products.  I have the right to know what I’m feeding my child.  My child’s right to safe food trumps Kelloggs’ right to huge profits.  A billion cows sent to the slaughterhouse after three months of GMO feed have absolutely nothing to tell us about how genetically modified corn and soy products affect the health of humans who have been eating them, unwittingly, for years.

But wait, there’s more!  I looked up the author of the article, Alison Louise Van Eenennaam and found biographical data and a C.V. submitted to the FDA that indicate she was hired by Monsanto in 1998.  This isn’t the first time scientists have been called out for hidden connections to corporate interests.

Others have written extensively on how huge corporations use their money to influence not just politicians, through lobbyists and political donations, but also to corrupt the practice of scholarly research and scientific inquiry. Whenever you read some mainstream media article telling you not to worry about some issue that you’re hearing other people voice concerns about, consider the following questions:

Who is the author? What else has s/he written? Who pays him/her? What do this person’s professional connections tell you about his/her point of view?

Who is the publisher? What corporation owns the publication and what are their other corporate affiliations?  Who are the major advertisers?

What about scholarly articles? Can you access it directly online?  Does the source material cited really say what is stated in the article? What does the sections on conflicts and acknowledgements say about sources of funding or professional affiliations?  Can you find a C.V. that tells you about the author’s previous employers?

Read critically. Seek the truth. Don’t take any so-called expert’s word for it. Lets use the internet to expose the Matrix of lies that surrounds us before greedy corporations destroy the biosphere.

Finally, if you want to gain a better understanding of how the “Matrix” of lies is constructed, I recommend reading the following books:

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, and

Understanding Power: The Indespensible Chomsky

 

References;

Alison L Van Eenennaam. (2014). GMOs in animal agriculture: time to consider both costs and benefits in regulatory evaluations. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, 2013, 4:37 http://www.jasbsci.com/content/4/1/37

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About Connect ALL the Dots

SJW trying to save the biosphere from greedy billionaires hiding behind opaque, unaccountable, undemocratic transnational corporations.

Posted on September 21, 2014, in Agriculture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Heather, you have a few things wrong. The main data presented are a first-time compilation by the authors in many cases. The conclusion is rather simple– despite consumption of GM foods for 15 years in multiple animals, nothing changed. There is no evidence of harm.

    This contrasts with the claims of anti-GM folks that say transgenic crops are toxic, poisonous and deadly. There is no evidence of that before, and this evaluation of 100 billion animals that consumed almost exclusively GM crops does not present any data supporting that hypothesis.

    It is rather disturbing that you fall into the ad hominem trap against Alison Van Eenennaam. She’s top notch. Sure, she worked for Monsanto until 2002, but the operative word is “worked”. She left corporate science to work for YOU. She’s as good as they get in her field, and we are fortunate to have her in public science. Funding form Kellogg’s? The fact that you point it out, yet fail to show where the data, methods or interpretations are incomplete or incorrect is troubling. It says to me that she can do solid work, independent of who funds it– plus they are not her data, she just compiled them.

    Moreover, her publication record and science is not questionable. There is no evidence that she ever claimed anything not supported by rigorous data, including discussion of its strengths and limitations.

    What do you consider to be a “proper assessment of risk”? Do you know the current assessments?

    Thanks for pointing this out to me, but I’d urge you to dig a little deeper into criticizing data, methods and interpretations rather than attacking independent academic scientists and the entities that allow them to conduct research in the public’s interest. Take care.

    • I accept your support for the integrity of the scientist who wrote the review. I don’t disagree that GMO feed has no detrimental effect on feedlot cows. I would be surprised if the results were otherwise because they only eat GE feed for 90-120 days before they are shipped off to the slaughterhouse. I’m not aware of any anti-GMO argument based on GMO-fed beef being unfit for human consumption either.
      The problem is that cows and humans are different, as are their consumption patterns. Genetically modified corn and soy have been added to our industrial food supply and there are no studies that I am aware of that look at the prevalence of various diseases in human populations who eat genetically modified foods compared to those who don’t. I’m not even suggesting that these foods should be banned, but I think I have the right to know what I’ve been feeding my child all these years. Suggesting that the debate about the safety of GMOs for long-term human consumption is over because the cows were healthy for the whole 4 months before they were butchered is just about the worst false equivalence I’ve ever seen. People have been unwittingly feeding genetically modified corn and soy products to their children for years, not months. The scientific review acknowledges that we have no evidence that GMOs are safe for long-term human consumption. The one thing that bothered me about the conclusions in the review was that they seemed to make the argument that the kind of trials that would prove GMOs safe for human consumption would be difficult and very expensive, so we should look at the benefits, which begs the question – whose benefit?
      There are ‘true-believers’ who are certain they know what the outcome of such studies would be, but again, that’s not the issue I was drawing attention to. The Forbes contributor who wrote that incredibly misleading headline and the editor who published it should be taken to task for it. Jon Entine cherry-picked data to ignore the contentious issue raised in my post. You cannot take short-term cow feeding findings and suggest that it proves long-term human consumption will cause no detrimental effects. That would be lying or stupidity. The logic isn’t that difficult.

      • No, the data do not prove anything “safe”. Science does not “prove anything safe”. Science can only test the hypothesis that the products cause harm. There is no evidence to support that hypothesis. The report shows no differences in physiological measures or end-point analysis in rapidly growing farm animals. In the 1990’s critics of GM said that animals or humans would be riddled with disease and death in days or weeks after ingestion. No evidence of that here, in billions of animals fed 100% gm feed. No evidence of harm.

        That’s may stance, and it is completely in line with science. There is no evidence of harm, so feasible basis for it. As usual, the anti-GM folks have no evidence. These data simply say with a 100% GM diet, over rapid growth and development, there are no effects.

      • Your logic seems severely flawed to me. There is ‘no evidence of harm’ not because there is ‘no feasible basis for it’ but because there was no research done that would produce evidence of harm. Substantial equivalence is not solid science, its a lazy way out of spending the money that might put a dent Big Ag’s profits.

  2. Dear Heather
    I would phrase “I don’t disagree that GMO feed has no detrimental effect on feedlot cows.” more as “I don’t disagree that it is possible to conclude from the data chosen by the authors that GMO feed has no detrimental effect on feedlot cows.” and I would add the additional caution, which I think you allude to, that given the horrendous conditions to which feedlot cows are subjected, only extremely hazardous effects would manifest in such short time periods. The harmful effect of a food ingredient is not expected to be acutely toxic and more subtle but still important effects would be lost in such an analysis. If a particular GM were harmful, signs of it could easily be lost in a mix of cattle feed from different sources. But most importantly, and I think particularly relevant to your point “You cannot take short-term cow feeding findings and suggest that it proves long-term human consumption will cause no detrimental effects.” is that cows are not eating these feedstuffs the way humans eat them following specific processing or home preparation. This is the kind of study that is recommended by international food safety guidelines (Codex Alimentarius) but is selectively not enforced by the major food safety regulators.
    Of course there is more to this paper than just cattle data and I think all of it must be taken into consideration. It is unfortunate that it has been described by others in such misleading terms, but that is the fate of many papers! But thank you for calling that out.

  3. One could also write a post called, “The anti-GMO crowd loves lazy journalists (and lazy bloggers, too).” Oh, wait…

    http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/keith_kloor_genetically_modifi.php?page=all

    • People will argue till the cows come home about the safety or dangers of GMOs. Regardless of the outcome, consumers have the right to know what is in the food they are buying.

      • “people argue til the cows come home”. they do about vaccines and climate change and 9/11 too. on the one side is overwhelming scientific consensus, and on the other are conspiracy loons who make arguments like “who benefits”. Nobody is stopping companies from labeling their product “GMO free”. Have at it, Big Org. But, like the bullshit “natural” label companies use, it doesn’t tell anybody anything meaningful.

  4. Ba HA ha..my son is an anaphylacticly allergic to many ingredients in all kinds of every day, and ordinary food that you wouldn’t believe. I do , because I have to carry an epipen , and he’s 23! 23 years of day to day, fear of DEATH! Due to an accidental overlook of a tad of whey protein, in a piece of bread he’s eaten all his life!

    So yes, everthing NEEDS TO BE LISTED IN EVERY PC. OF EDIBLE , EVEN APPLYABLE PRODUCT THAT’S NOT MADE BY YOU!!!!

    Want to challenge me…..
    Bring it
    Mrazzi50@gmail.com
    Maggie Razzi/Facebook
    Philadelphia Pa

  5. OK, someone tweeted me this article, which basically says that suggesting Forbes is “journalism” is being waaaay too generous. Sadly, nothing in this piece surprised me. On the other hand I suppose there is some upside to being able to see the Matrix, but I guess I’m having one of those “Why didn’t I take the blue pill” moments. http://gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2014/15602

  6. regarding the True source of that article…

    the article’s source is LabX Media Group, the PR firm for LabX whom owns that website (IFLSCIENCE.COM), in addition to:

    http://www.labx.com

    http://www.labmanager.com/lab-products

    http://www.labwrench.com/?manufacturer.view/manufacturerNo/141/Pharmacia-Biotech/

    and they just bought…

    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31891/title/The-Best-of-Both-Worlds/

    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/35559/title/Supreme-Court-Sides-with-Monsanto/

    reminds men a bit of RealClimate.org and their “Commentary on climate SCIENCE news BY working climate SCIENTISTS for the interested public and journalists.” – a website that just happens to be registered and owned by al gore’s campaign manager, who is obviously NOT a “scientist” but rather a professional propagandist…

    • ‘Best of Both Worlds’ seems to demonstrate that the same revolving door between industry and politics that puts the fox in charge of the henhouse also revolves between industry and academia.

  7. Here are more documents that back up what I’m saying: http://sustainablepulse.com/wp-content/uploads/ENSSER_Statement_no_scientific_consensus_on_GMO_safety_ENG_LV.pdf

    Interesting tidbits about the history of consumer advocacy in the U.S.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100,000,000_Guinea_Pigs

    The Principle of Substantial equivalence is Unscientific and Arbitrary
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/subst.php

    The concept of substantial equivalence in safety assessment of foods derived from genetically modified organisms
    http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/schauzu.pdf

    BIG Problem: Regulatory Capture
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture#United_States_examples

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_the_release_of_genetically_modified_organisms#United_States
    EXCERPT;
    Federal regulation[edit]
    The USA is the largest commercial grower of genetically modified crops in the world.[108]
    United States regulatory policy is governed by the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology[109] This regulatory policy framework that was developed under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan to ensure safety of the public and to ensure the continuing development of the fledgling biotechnology industry without overly burdensome regulation.[110] The policy as it developed had three tenets: “(1) U.S. policy would focus on the product of genetic modification (GM) techniques, not the process itself, (2) only regulation grounded in verifiable scientific risks would be tolerated, and (3) GM products are on a continuum with existing products and, therefore, existing statutes are sufficient to review the products.”[110]
    For a genetically modified organism to be approved for release, it must be assessed by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agency within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and may also be assessed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental protection agency (EPA), depending on the intended use of the organism. The USDA evaluates the plant’s potential to become a weed. The FDA has a voluntary consultation process with the developers of genetically engineered plants. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which outlines FDA’s responsibilities, does not require pre-market clearance of food, including genetically modified food plants.[111][112] The EPA regulates genetically modified plants with pesticide properties, as well as agrochemical residues.[113] Most genetically modified plants are reviewed by at least two of the agencies, with many subject to all three.[13][114] Within the organization are departments that regulate different areas of GM food including, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN,) and the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER).[113] As of 2008, all developers of genetically modified crops in the US had made use of the voluntary process.[115] Final approval can still be denied by individual counties within each state. In 2004, Mendocino County, California became the first county to impose a ban on the “Propagation, Cultivation, Raising, and Growing of Genetically Modified Organisms”, the measure passing with a 57% majority.[116] In May, 2014 Jackson and Josephine Counties in Southern Oregon passed initiatives similar to that passed by Mendocino County; both passing by 2 to 1 margins. [117]

    The concept of substantial equivalence in safety
    assessment of foods derived from genetically
    modified organisms
    http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/schauzu.pdf

  8. Some interesting news has recently been exposed about the links between the biotech industry and academia, including one who commented on my blog.
    ttp://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/food-industry-enlisted-academics-in-gmo-lobbying-war-emails-show.html
    Further down the rabbit hole, I found this; http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/09/09/the-gmo-puppetmasters-of-academia-what-the-nyt-left-out/

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