Category Archives: Agriculture

Some Problems GMOs Won’t Solve, and Some that it Will.

The latest article widely shared by the ‘anti-label’ community seeks to simplify the debate and steer it away from the real issue. The one key issue that GMO labels will absolutely address is transparency. There is a reason food producers are obliged to list ingredients and nutrition information on packaging. The consumer needs this information in order to make informed choices, if that is what they wish. Of course, there are plenty of shoppers who look at price tags and ignore ingredients, and they will likely continue to do so. The principle of “Informed Consent” means that withholding information is wrong, even if you believe on the available (however limited) evidence that there is probably no harm in long-term human consumption of a diet high in genetically engineered foods.

The safety issue is a red herring. The pro-GMO lobby often try to trip people up by saying there is no proof of harm when in truth, the types of research that would answer questions of safety with respect to long-term human consumption have not been undertaken. Nor does anyone expect that sort of study to be undertaken by the GMO promoters, as they have nothing to gain by it, but everything to lose in a simple cost/benefit analysis. With respect to the four arguments raised by Nathanael Johnson in Grist;

1. Too much technology in my food

The author correctly raises questions about the process of mutagenesis, in which chemicals or radiation is used to trigger mutations in the target organism. Changes to the genome that emerge from this process are unpredictable and may affect any part of the genome, so why isn’t mutagenesis among the genetic engineering processes that we demand labels for? Good question, and I thank Kevin Folta at the University of Florida who first brought this issue to my attention.

In my opinion, telling us whether or not our food should be labelled is not the job of science. The role of scientists should properly be to help inform policymakers and the public of the differences between various types of genetic engineering and to be clear about what existing research does and does not tell us about the possible repercussions with respect to human health. When considering a hundred billion cows that ate GMO feed for 90-120 days and were still healthy at the end of that period, just before they were slaughtered for food, we cannot draw the conclusion that feeding RoundupReady or BT corn and soy to human children year after year will have no affect on their health. Thus recent headlines asserting that the “GMO Debate is Over” were demonstrably false, and Forbes and/or Jon Entine should have changed that article’s title accordingly. Even if labels don’t reduce the amount of ‘technology’ in the food supply they are essential to uphold the principle of “informed consent” that underlies existing labelling laws.

2. Pesticides

I’m not wading into the whole complex pesticide issue except to say this. I think it would be awesome to know what chemicals are applied to the food in the produce aisle and/or what chemical residues remain on/in the food and in what concentrations. A girl can dream. Even though problems associated with pesticide use won’t be solved by labels, labels are still a good idea.

3. Corporate Control

The premise that this problem won’t be solved by labels is not a valid argument against labeling. The problem of corporate control of food is somewhat overshadowed by corporate control of everything else on this planet including our post-democratic governments. People who came out in droves to protest inaction on climate change are starting to catch on that the solution involves taking back control of the government and regulatory agencies from the corporations that successfully bought them. The revolving door between regulatory agencies and industry needs to be policed to curtail corruption. Regulatory capture has accelerated the capitalist processes of deregulation that have been gathering steam since the 80’s and this trend needs to be reversed. Even though they won’t solve the problem of corporate control, labels are still a good idea.

4. Patents

I can’t think of any impact food labels will have on any issues around patents.  If I’m missing something, I’m sure somebody will tell me in the comments, but once again, no matter what you think of patents on GE technology, indicating the use of such technology in the food we buy is still a good idea.

The conclusion Nathanael Johnson reaches is this:

I don’t buy the idea that if we throw lots of information — in the form of labels — on our products, we’ll be able to shop our way out of our problems. Rather than banking on this tenuous market solution, we could be addressing these issues directly.

This is true. Fortunately we are not forced into an either/or situation. The idea that “every problem has a solution” is a truism, but it may be more helpful to notice that most problems have several possible solutions and that we don’t have to pick just one. Labels can’t solve all the problems, but they are still a really good idea.

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GMO Apologist Funding and the End of Democracy

I’ve been poking around for information on how the money flows from the GMO Lobby to the relatively small cadre of apologists who defend them. When clicking through links about genetic engineering (GE), the same names keep popping up. If you follow the pro-GMO money it tends to lead back to the very corporations who stand to rake in massive profits by keeping people ignorant about what goes into their food supply.

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As a starting point, let’s look at Kellogg’s funding of a recent study suggesting that 100 billion cows were healthy right before they were slaughtered for food after ingesting GE feed for only 90-120 days. The study came out of the University of California at Davis, which gets lots of research funding  from ‘industry partners’ .

When I started clicking links to the Kellogg Foundation I found some rather odd data. The branding on their website is all about helping children. Nothing in the mission statement about the quality of cow feed. So I searched their grants page for UC Davis and found a number of awards adding up to over six million dollars, only a pittance of which went to grants that had anything to do with children. I fail to see how grants to livestock feed studies mesh with the stated mission of the Kellogg fund.

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This sort of inconsistency leads to accusations of corruption and money laundering akin to what the Grocery Manufacturers Association did during GMO labeling campaigns in California and Washington state. Kellogg’s funnelled money into both of those campaigns due to concerns that GMO labeling will eat further into their profits, down 16% in the 2nd quarter. This setback was attributed to changes in eating habits rather than the boycott of Kellogs products to protest their opposition to labeling their GE foods.

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I’m not attacking the scientists involved in pro-GE studies. They probably believe that they’re doing good work for the benefit of mankind. Noam Chomsky explained in Manufacturing Consent how the systemic filters ensure that the people who get ahead in the media are the ones whose outlook meshes with that of their corporate masters. There are similar filters operating in academia.

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Let’s turn our attention to the cozy group of GMO cheerleaders who jumped on that feeding study like a duck on a junebug and started sharing the shit out of it. I first found it on a Facebook page and followed the links to an article in Forbes by Jon Entine. He’s head of an outfit called the Genetic Literacy Project. Sourcewatch follows the funding through front groups and networked organizations that are funded by right-wing think tanks and ultimately the Koch Brothers, who also support anti-labeling laws.

When I started sharing my views on Twitter, I got into a lengthy exchange with Kevin Folta at the University of Florida. I didn’t find any links to Kellogg’s there, but I did stumble onto some fascinating reports on how the Koch Brothers bought a department and tried to buy the presidency of another of Florida’s state universities. Of the 12 institutions in Florida’s state system, UFlorida has the largest endowment and enrollment and also appears on the list of recipients of Koch brothers’ largesse. Unfortunately, a lack of transparency makes it impossible to determine how much Koch influence might be exerted at UF.  Regardless, it is clear that Folta has solid connections to the Genetic Literacy Project and other GMO cheerleaders who present at the same conferences.

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Why should you care who funds whom? It’s not just that a handful of corporations are trying to get a stranglehold on the world’s food supply. You should care that YOU DON’T LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY ANYMORE. Let that sink in. This is not just my opinion. Princeton academics have documented this fundamental shift to oligarchy. Predictably, this story received almost no coverage in the mainstream mediaChris Hedges  describes what has happened as a corporate coup d’etat. The same kind of stealth tactics that Big Ag pursues have also been used with great success by Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Tobacco and Wall Street took it to a whole new level.  Naomi Klein‘s new book, does a great job of explaining how capitalism is destroying the biosphere.

let that sink in

If the corporations have already won, as Hedges and a great deal of evidence suggests, what are the people to do?  Citizens in the U.S. and Canada will have to take back democracy from the ground up, starting at the municipal level. (Take a look at what they’re doing in Seattle if you need some inspiration.) In every election at the provincial/state or federal level the number one issue we need to demand accountability on in Canada is ELECTORAL REFORM. In the U.S., campaign finance needs reform to address the corruption and legal bribery that has quietly robbed the people of their power.

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Expect the bullshit machine try to scare you with all manner of reasons to keep the status quo. Don’t drink their kool-aid. An estimated 400,000 people who hit the streets of New York on September 21st to demand action on climate change were just the tip of the iceberg.  As more North Americans realize their country has been stolen by the .001%, I predict we will see even larger crowds in the street. The police state cannot prevail against a populist uprising.

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Billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer points out that when economic inequality reaches the record levels we are seeing, the result tends to be an uprising or a police state. Then Ferguson happened and showed America the police state had already arrived. Peace is a good thing. Nobody wants a violent revolution, but maintaining the status quo is not an acceptable option to anyone who values their civil rights or the biosphere we depend on for survival. If you don’t get off your arse and demand your democracy back, you will condemn your children to live as serfs on a poisoned planet, who think they are ‘free’ because the media told them so.

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ps; If you found this enlightening, please consider sharing it with others.

GMO Cheerleaders

fresh green foliage I don’t pretend to be a professional journalist. I am just a mom and curious student who is trying to help the public understand how they have been deceived. This is important because the entrenched systems that keep this constant stream of misinformation and disinformation flowing are a threat to public health and have effectively dismantled democracy. Concerned citizens who want genetically engineered (GE) foods labeled as such are not needlessly frightened about some imaginary threat. They want to vote with their dollars in the absence of credible evidence that GMOs are safe for:

a) long-term human consumption,

b) long-term animal consumption,

c) the non-GE species at risk of contamination via unwanted pollination,

d) the micro-organisms that are necessary for healthy soil (via glyphosate), and

e) crucial pollinator species at risk from pesticide use and monoculture farming.

My last blog post took apart a piece of nonsense Jon Entine contributed to Forbes just as everyone was focused on the largest climate justice mobilization in human history. Every time I see someone else share it on social media I call attention to its glaring error. The same article was used by its author as the basis for a talk at the National Academy of Sciences in which Entine tries, and fails, to pass himself off as an objective observer. Jon Entine points to two recent scientific publications in an attempt to end what he calls the “faux-debate” over the safety of GE foods. The first, by Snell, et al has already been trounced, and the other so-called 100-billion-cow study by a researcher at UC Davis, says nothing about whether GE food is safe for long-term human consumption.  In a nutshell, cows that eat GE feed for 90-120 days before they go to the slaughterhouse do not indicate that it is safe to feed our children an increasing variety of GE foods year after year.

The GMO cheerleaders keep trying to find a study that will be convincing enough that we will all stop wondering about the questions that have not yet been answered. Entine even stoops to the same name-calling that labelling proponents are often accused of, by comparing them with ‘new earth’ Creationists. He calls for co-ordination between regulatory agencies  and to reducing the length of the approval process from years to months. The latter suggestion clearly prioritizes corporate profits over public health.

The National Research Council has been charged with producing a report on genetically engineered crops in 2016. The are also inviting the public to submit comments and documentation. I have no doubt that the GMO industry will try their darndest to steer the results in the direction they want, using any and every means at their disposal.  The same playbook that was used by Big Tobacco has been adopted by Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Media and Big Ag because it works.  The more we understand about how it works, the better equipped we will be to identify and counter its abuses.

I’ve been gathering data to illuminate the machinery that has been trying to drive public opinion where Monsanto and like-minded corporations want it to go.  I noticed some rather odd contradictions with respect to funding of genetic engineering’s chief apologists. In my next post we’ll explore the flow of money into specific scientific research from the corporations who benefit from it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GMO Lobby Loves Lazy Journalists

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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