Respectful Insolence

About a week ago, I wrote one of my usual meandering posts in which I pointed out the similarities between two different anti-science movements. On the one hand, there are anti-vaccinationists, who fetishize the naturalistic fallacy (i.e., the belief that anything “natural” is better and that anything human made or altered by science is dangerous) and use misinformation, pseudoscience, and bad science to demonize vaccines. On the other hand, we have the movement that is opposed to “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs), who fetishize the naturalistic fallacy, and frequently use misinformation, pseudoscience, and bad science to demonize GMOs. In all fairness, I’ll concede that there is probably somewhat more basis to be critical of GMOs, but not so much on the science as on the implications of business practices that companies like Monsanto engage in. In terms of apocalyptic language, in which the object of each group’s fear is portrayed not just as not as safe as advertised but rather as downright dangerous and even evil, antivaccinationists and anti-GMO activists are pretty close to being equal. All you have to do is to read a few Mike Adams screeds on vaccines and then compare them with his anti-GMO posts, and you’ll see what I mean. Indeed, you’ll find vaccines represented as an evil plan by a shadowy cabal of global elite to “depopulate” the planet right alongside posts representing GMOs as an evil plan by a shadowy cabal of global elite to—you guessed it—depopulate the planet.

One quack in particular, Joe Mercola, is a major supporter of California Proposition 37, which would require the “labeling” of foods containing the products of GMOs. Indeed, he’s donated $1.1 to the cause. That’s why it is amusing to see him bringing together two antiscience movements that taste crappy together, antivaccine and anti-GMO in a hilarious post entitled Are You Concerned Over Genetically Modified Vaccines?

Answer: No.

Of course, virtually all vaccines are “genetically modified” in one way or another; so the question itself is downright silly in its current form and should be rephrased as simply, “Are you concerned about vaccines?” the answer to which would of course be for antivaccine advocates like Mercola, a resounding yes because, well, they’re antivaccine. To demonstrate that, Mercola interviews Vicky DeBold, PhD, RN, who just so happens to be the director of research and patient safety with the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). Now, one thing I would point out is that if you have a title like the director of research and safety at an organization devoted to the promotion of pseudoscience, like the NVIC, after having gotten an RN and a PhD, your career has taken a seriously wrong turn somewhere. You need to reassess. Actually, it’s rather scary, because according to the NVIC website:

Dr. Debold has been employed in the health care field for more than 30 years as an ICU nurse, health care administrator, health policy analyst and research scientist primarily focusing on pediatrics and patient safety. Currently, she is a Research Scientist and Affiliate Faculty member at George Mason University in the Health Administration and Policy Department where she teaches Health Services Research Methods and Introduction to the US Healthcare System.

She even mentions her NVIC affiliation on her faculty web page. George Mason University, it would appear, has a problem.

Be that as it may, let’s take a look at what she says to Joe Mercola:

Joe frames it right off the bat to appeal to the anti-GMO crowd:

If you’ve ever had qualms about eating genetically modified (GM) foods, you’d likely be deeply concerned about receiving a GM vaccine as well.

Such vaccines are already being produced – some are even on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended vaccine schedule – even though, as is the case with GM foods, we know very little about their long-term effects.

In the interview above, Vicky Debold, PhD, RN, director of research and patient safety with the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), spoke with me about the many reasons to be very wary of this new technology, which is far more intertwined with other biotech “innovations,” like GM food, than you might think.

Oh, noes! The same techniques used to produce GMOs are also used to make some vaccines! Horrors! Yes, Joe, it’s molecular biology and biotechnology. The techniques behind biotechnology are indeed the same, because that’s all they are: Techniques. These are techniques that have a broad utility to a wide variety of applications. These techniques allow the introduction and alteration of DNA to useful ends, be it to modify bacteria or other cells to make proteins in large quantities, to study cell function, or, yes, to make food or vaccines. Whether the products of these techniques are safe or not is not a function of the broad technique of “genetic modification” (GM) but a function of what is done with it.

As I said, antivaccine activists and anti-GMO activists share one thing (actually several things) in common, and that one thing is how they fetishize the “natural.” They also share another trait, and that is what I like to call the Jack D. Ripper trait. For those of you who don’t know who Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper was, he was a fictional character in a classic Stanley Kubrick Cold War black comedy, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb. Commander of the Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses the SAC B-52 airborne alert bomber force just hours from the Soviet border, Ripper starts the movie by ordering his strategic bombers to begin an attack flight on the Soviet Union. The rest of the movie is an increasingly bizarre and black comedy about how the President, Ripper’s assistant, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff work furiously (and run into many problems, not the least of which is a “doomsday device”) to try to abort the attack before U.S. bombers turn dozens of Russian cities and targets into molten blobs of radioactive debris, resulting in World War III and the destruction of both the U.S. and Soviet Union in a full-scale nuclear conflagration.

Here are a couple of classic scenes featuring Ripper. They are the scenes that inspired me to refer to this particular bit of naturalistic fallacy favored by anti-GMO and antivaccine activists. You’ll see why very quickly:

Notice Gen. Ripper’s obsession with the purity of his “precious bodily fluids.” Back in the day, Gen. Ripper was a parody of the common fear that fluoridation was a Communist plot to “sap and impurify all our precious bodily fluids.” To him, it’s all about a “loss of essence” that “contaminating” his “precious bodily fluids” with fluoride supposedly causes.

Anti-vaccinationists and anti-GMO activists are a lot like Brig. Gen. Ripper. They fear the contamination of their “essence.” Don’t believe me? Take a look at what DeBold says:

Well, I think there’s a lot of danger, because we don’t know what portion of the DNA can be incorporated into our own genome. We don’t know what portion could be heritable to our children. We also don’t know what happens when the immune system is exposed to DNA that has been recombined in lots of ways that the human body, through the course of time, has never had any exposure to, and what diseases – diseases of the immune system – may occur because of these exposures.

And:

I think the use of foreign DNA in various forms has a potential to cause a great deal of trouble. Not only because there is the potential for it to recombine with our own DNA, but there is the potential for it to turn the DNA’s switches, the epigenetic parts of the DNA, on and off. I think that we’re still in a place where there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to figure out what the short and long-term effects of this type of DNA are on people who have lots of different genetic makeups.

Yes, DeBold is protecting her child’s “essence” from contamination by those evil genetically modified vaccines and organisms!

I’ve discussed this issue in depth on multiple occasions. For instance, it’s become a meme among the antivaccine movement that DNA “contamination” of the anti-HPV vaccine Gardasil. Indeed, Helen Ratajczak has published a ridiculous review article that claims that “foreign DNA” from vaccines can undergo “homologous recombination” in neurons and thereby invoke autoimmunity. As I explained, only someone who doesn’t understand anything about how DNA gets into cells, how its expression is regulated, or even what DNA is in the various vaccines being demonized could say something like that with a straight face and believe it. Indeed, Harold Buttram even speculated that childhood vaccines could result in genetic hybridization from alien and animal DNA. As I said at the time, if we’re to believe Buttram, those evil vaccines are turning your baby into some sort of animal-human hybrid; that is, if the horrific toxins don’t fry their brains and making them autistic first!

More recently, antivaccinationists have been claiming that there is “microcompetition” between DNA contaminants in Gardasil (which can apparently only be detected by super-sensitive nested PCR assays), in which this DNA gets into cells and “competes” for the cellular machinery for turning the genetic code in DNA into proteins. They’ve even gone so far as to blame this mechanism for the death of a teenager. There’s one huge problem. It takes enormous amounts of DNA to compete for those proteins, and even the worst case scenario does not suggest that there is anywhere enough DNA in Gardasil to result in such “microcompetition”; that is, even if that DNA could get into somatic cells in adequate quantities to “compete.” It’s all nonsense that DeBold is laying down, and, more than anything else, it reminds me of Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper drinking vodka instead of water to avoid contamination of his precious bodily fluids. Or maybe, if Dr. Strangelove were remade today, it would be GMOs instead of water fluoridation (or maybe it would be both), and Ripper would be injecting DNase into his bloodstream in order to chew up all that evil vaccine and GMO DNA and protect his “essence” from their contamination.

One can’t help but wonder if any antivaccinationists are diabetics and whether they use insulin. The vast majority of insulin used in the US is manufactured using genetically engineered bacteria.

DeBold also commits the fallacy that so many other antivaccinationists and anti-GMO activists commit, and that’s to invoke epigenetics as though it’s some sort of magic that can mysteriously turn genes on and off. It’s not. We might not understand epigenetics as well as we understand other aspects of genetics and gene regulation, but that doesn’t mean that the magic fluoride—I mean, DNA—can magically reprogram the gene expression profiles of human cells. In fact, when it coms to alternative medicine and quackery (but I repeat myself), the term “epigenetics” has become every bit as protean in its use as a form of magic that can do anything as the term “quantum” has as a justification for homeopathy and other forms of magic. Of course, if it isn’t the evil foreign DNA from vaccines that’s sapping and impurifying your baby’s precious bodily fluids or the evil foreign DNA from GMOs that threatens to sap and impurify your precious bodily fluids, then it must be the vaccine adjuvants. So sayeth Vicky DeBold, and Joe Mercola not only is antivaccine, but anti-GMO.

There is an amusing side to all this fear mongering about “contamination” with vaccines and GMOs, particularly GMOs. I was highly entertained to learn the other day that there is one unexpected group that is opposed to California Proposition 37. Given the fact that Mercola is the single biggest donor to the pro-Proposition 37 forces and that Mercola makes his money selling supplements, you probably wouldn’t expect that the Natural Products Association would be completely opposed to Proposition 37, but it is.

While NPA supports the consumers’ right to know about the foods they purchase and appreciates the transparency Proposition 37 offers regarding genetically engineered foods, we cannot support the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. NPA is very concerned with the enforcement provision as well as the limited definition of natural included in the language. Proposition 37 places every supplier, manufacturer, and retailer of food products at risk of unreasonable and frivolous litigation. We are concerned the restrictions on natural foods in the proposition language could create a difficult business environment in California and further hinder the ability of our members to sell natural products.

The NPA’s objection to Proposition 37 boils down to this:

The Natural Products Association has come out against California’s Proposition 37 GMO labeling proposal, in part because it would prohibit members from marketing thousands of foods as “natural”—even if they do not contain any genetically engineered ingredients.

Under the proposal, which will become law in July 2014 if Californians vote “yes” this November, a food cannot be labeled as “natural”—regardless of whether it contains GMOs—if it is a “processed food,” the definition of which includes “any food produced from a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation, or milling.

This would mean scores of products from salted almonds to apple sause that have not been genetically engineered would no longer be allowed to call themselves “natural,” NPA chief executive John Shaw told NutraIngredients-USA, adding that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

And:

The NPA has yet to decide whether products featuring its “natural seal” for foodstuffs should be allowed to contain genetically engineered ingredients, said Welch.

Given that 94% of all soy, 90+% of sugar beet and canola and 88% of corn in the US is grown using GM seeds, securing non-GM alternatives is becoming increasingly challenging.

Hmmmm. Maybe Proposition 37 isn’t so bad after all. If the NPA and other supplement industry representatives are correct and it really would be devastating to the supplement industry (given that nearly every supplement is highly processed) and “natural” food sellers, one consolation if the antiscience silliness that is Proposition 37 passes is that it might cause supplement manufacturers considerable agita. In fact, it would be a good thing if fatuous advertisements touting how “natural” various highly processed food products and supplements are were eliminated because the term has become utterly meaningless. It also just goes to show how artificial the whole distinction between “genetic modification” and other forms of processing are. After all, nearly every plant grown for food has been genetically modified over centuries by selective breeding, hybridization, and other techniques. All the new genetic techniques allow us to do is to speed up this process and make it a lot more precise. With proper safeguards, it’s no more dangerous than what farmers have been doing all along. Moreover, what supplement manufacturers do to make their supplements is at least as “unnatural” as any genetic modification.

Freeze-dried animal glands, anyone?

Comments

  1. #1 ERV
    October 2, 2012

    We are not just using GMO viruses in vaccines– we are using GMO viruses to treat (and sometimes even cure) genetic diseases and deadly diseases.

    Its easy for someone to turn their nose up at GMO vaccines (if they are anti-vax) or GMO cheese (‘I want to kill baby calves and use their guts to make my gourmet organic GMO-free cheese!’), but I have the usual argument: I would love to see Mercola turn up his nose at a GMO virus if he gets diagnosed with an otherwise untreatable stage IV metastatic cancer (weve got GMO viruses to treat end-of-life pain, as well as treating/eliminating the tumors).

  2. #2 Edith Prickly
    wherever I go, there I am
    October 2, 2012

    I for one am looking forward to the awesome mutant superpowers I will develop after ingesting all these GMOs – what’s that? X-men wasn’t a documentary? Oh, crap…

  3. #3 kruuth
    honestly, I have no idea
    October 2, 2012

    to some of these anti vaxxers it may add well be

  4. #4 imr90
    Springfield, MA
    October 2, 2012

    Hospitals send out ambulances that use the same methods to power them that drunk drivers use to kill people! What are we going to do about that?!

  5. #5 DVMKurmes
    Az
    October 2, 2012

    It turns out that GMO Rabies and Feline Leukemia vaccines are much safer for cats than the old killed virus vaccines were (some cats tend to develop fibrosarcomas secondary to the inflammation caused by adjuvants). The new canary pox vectored vaccines cause much less inflammation, but stimulate immunity just as well. Vaccines of this type can also be used to vaccinate wildlife against rabies in oral bait packets. These GMO vaccines work quite well and are very safe for the animals that receive them, often safer than the older, non-GMO vaccines.

  6. #6 Pris
    The Dark Side of the Force
    October 2, 2012

    I know an insulin dependent diabetic. He loves to confront anti-GMO fearmongers with the fact that GMOs are keeping him alive.

  7. #7 Heliantus
    October 2, 2012

    We don’t know what portion [of DNA] could be heritable to our children.

    Small DNA strings injected in the muscle (or worse, inhaled or swallowed) ending in the germinal cells? You fail biology forever.

    The more I listen to the anti-vax / anti-GMO people, the more I feel they are likening science/technology to black magic. You put on a white labcoat, wave your hands over a bench with some weirdly-shaped glass containers, and voila, transmutation!

    In the previous thread about GMO, I did point out that some vaccines are made from GMO. Should I ask Mercola and Debold for a finder’s fee?
    On the other hand, maybe I will just shut up my big mouth. No need to give them more ammo.

  8. #8 Swivels
    October 2, 2012

    Somehow I’m reminded of the front page story that ran in the local alternative weekly a number of years ago. It seems that scientists at the university are…gasp shock horror…genetically modifying E. coli in their research. I was in grad school at the time and all I could do was shake my head and do my best to explain to my crunchier friends that this was nothing to get worked up about.

  9. #9 Chris
    Neither here nor there...
    October 2, 2012

    I love the wording on “processed” food. I am amazed that so many people have no clue what goes into many food products that they consider “natural.”

    Like the applesauce I finished making last night. I spent a good chunk of the day peeling and cutting apples (my apple parer/slicer/corer was used, but it doesn’t hold on to apples where a coddling moth larvae has munched the core, plus I cut around the holes they make), then cooked them very slowly and thickened them to something between apple sauce and butter. I’ll be freezing them to be used in cooking.

    I have one tree down, only four more to go. Though, truthfully the first tree has about as much apple mass as about two of the other trees. It is a Belle de Boskoop that produces every other year with lots of very large apples (even after being culled). It needs to be tied to a wall or the branches break. The other trees are part of my front fence, all under five feet tall and six feet wide.

  10. #10 Roadstergal
    Yay Area, CA
    October 2, 2012

    Does Mercola know what else can get into our cells and contaminate our precious bodily DNA? Viruses! HPV is rather notorious for doing so; he should get vaccinated against it…!

    Then again, the idea of Mercola ‘knowing’ anything halfway accurate is a bit laughable.

  11. #11 Glaxxon PharmaCOM Terrabase DIA
    The Rothschilds Summer Place, Location Undisclosed
    October 3, 2012

    MESSAGE BEGINS——————-

    Shills and Minions,
    Lady Astra and I are enjoying a rare evening dining alfresco with the Rothschilds. Everyone is going on about how dreadfully hot it is, of course we find it just warm enough to go without thermal nets. But it’s lovely to enjoy an evening of fine dining without the dreadful itchiness and constriction of a shiftfield. And what a motley crew we are, Glaxxons, Humans, Kthraaaxx and one very drunk Ypstini who keeps sloshing out of his bucket. All of us undisguised as the day Vixxorix made us, plotting new ways to control this rock.

    Now GMOs are, of course, near and dear to my hearts. What don’t we modify genetically? Our PaciPriMate™ Monkey Mist along with our other KemTrail™ line is simply packed with nefarious, altered genes. Mind-B-Gon™® our popular soporific is added to most of your colorfully packaged snack foods and sucrose laden beverages. Honestly, our goal of an army of strapping, docile monkey slaves is moving towards its inexorable conclusion in which the glorious PharmaTROOPS of Her Imperial Highness, Clopidogra Invicta XXIII (may her eggs dominate the universe) shall walk, free and undisguised with their loyal Shills and Minions a few steps back, on the artificially heated, genetically modified fields of Vitara (the planet formerly known as Earth).

    But that day is still a distant dream Shills and Minions, a distant, beautiful, shimmering dream. There is much treachery and skullduggery in which you must engage before that glorious day. So go and make the world a better place for your favorite marauding species and for your hard work you shall bask in the lovely luxury of PharmaLucre.™

    Lord Draconis Zeneca VH7ihL
    Foreward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, MonkeyMaster of Mars, Holder of the Grand Komodo Cup of the Rothschild’s Annual Concours de Petanque.

    Undisclosed Vatation Palace in a Warm Climate
    00000001000100000001110101110

    ———————–MESSAGE ENDS

  12. #12 Von Krieger
    October 3, 2012

    I play too much Team Fortress 2, as when I read the title I went “SPAH SAPPIN’ MAH FLUIDS!”

  13. #13 janerella
    October 3, 2012

    @Chris – I once locked horns online with one of those hermit/chemtrails/organic food rulz nutjobs, who boasted ad nauseum about how his amazing home made “Reversatrol” bread kept him young, pure and healthy. When I pointed out (with citations) the high tech processing, necessitating khemicalz to actually extract reversatrol from grape skins, he got very quiet.

  14. #14 Mark
    October 3, 2012

    George Mason actually has a big problem. While the undergraduate program is pretty standard for any college, the university masks an anti-climate science agenda from the Mercatus Center, and the other generally right-wing thinktank friendly academic departments. It was actually founded for this explicit purpose, to create academic cover for ideas that were generally rejected by academia, like supply-side economics. It was originally a satellite of UVA, that became independent and subsequently overrun by cranks. They’ve got creationist professors, Exxon apologists, and a rotating door policy with right wing think tanks like Cato, CEI etc.

  15. #15 Whomever1
    October 3, 2012

    Nonetheless, I will vote for Prop 37, Providing people with more information is seldom or never wrong. And the worst I can see happening is that some giant corporation will have to wait a decade or two for the return on their investment in self-canning tomatoes.

  16. #16 Bob G
    Los Angeles
    October 3, 2012

    Here’s a technical question for the microbiologists. If I understand correctly, the two main GMO inserts are the BT toxin gene and the roundup ready resistance gene, which comes from a strain of agrobacterium. My question is this: Do we humans already ingest these bacteria or their close relatives in substantial quantities? For example, bacteria which make the BT toxin apparently grow all over the place, and we probably get a dose of them from flour etc. I don’t know much about agrobacterium, but it sounds to me like there are plenty of them around and they get into plants quite a bit. Do we ingest any of these bacteria from food?

    The reason this question might be politically pertinent is that the cultists make a big deal about us ingesting these teensy pieces of foreign DNA in our GMO corn and soy, but perhaps we are ingesting the original source of the DNA all the time. In that case, there is nothing new at all about getting a dose of BT toxin or a dose of the gene that confers resistance to Roundup.

    I understand full well that the overall argument by the cultists is weak beyond belief (and seems to be an endless process of goal post shifting), but it would at least be amusing to point out that we have been eating the very same genes for hundreds of thousands of years.

    By the way, when it became possible to get vaccinated for hepatitis B (and the research center offered it for free), I got the shots of what was then called Recombivax. I still have my old immunization record somewhere. As an aside, I should point out that about 15 years or so later, I was offered the hepatitis B immunization again, and a blood test showed that my antibody titer was low enough to warrant redoing the vaccination sequence. I got another 3 shots. I saw it as something of a secular miracle that I could be offered protection against a very nasty disease that any researcher could get from a little human serum.

    Without recombinant DNA technology, we would be missing a lot of important drugs such as the vaccine I got — as Orac points out, the human insulin sequence developed by Genentech has replaced the earlier animal version. In addition, it is pretty obvious that developing a vaccine from a noninfectious antigen rather than from the whole virus or bacterium is potentially a lot safer way of doing things, as experience with polio vaccine in the 1950s demonstrates.

    Another aside: There was in fact a placebo controlled test of the Salk vaccine in the 1950s that involved about 600,000 American children. It is described as the largest such experiment ever conducted. The results were strongly indicative that the vaccine worked, so the mass immunizations went forward. You can look up the details in Wikipedia or lots of other places.

  17. #17 lilady
    October 3, 2012

    @ Bob G:

    “By the way, when it became possible to get vaccinated for hepatitis B (and the research center offered it for free), I got the shots of what was then called Recombivax. I still have my old immunization record somewhere. As an aside, I should point out that about 15 years or so later, I was offered the hepatitis B immunization again, and a blood test showed that my antibody titer was low enough to warrant redoing the vaccination sequence. I got another 3 shots.”

    I don’t know why you were re-immunized with another series of hepatitis B vaccines. Various studies of healthy adults who had the primary series and whose immunity waned somewhat, indicate that when exposed to the virus, the body mounts an anamnestic response.

    http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv/hbvfaq.htm

    “How long does protection from Hepatitis B vaccine last?

    Studies indicate that immunologic memory remains intact for at least 20 years among healthy vaccinated individuals who initiated Hepatitis B vaccination >6 months of age. The vaccine confers long-term protection against clinical illness and chronic Hepatitis B virus infection. Cellular immunity appears to persist even though antibody levels might become low or decline below detectable levels.”

    And…

    “Are booster doses of Hepatitis B vaccine recommended?

    Booster doses of Hepatitis B vaccine are recommended only in certain circumstances:

    For hemodialysis patients, the need for booster doses should be assessed by annual testing for antibody to Hepatitis B surface antigen (anti-HBs). A booster dose should be administered when anti-HBs levels decline to <10 mIU/mL.
    For other immunocompromised persons (e.g., HIV-infected persons, hematopoietic stem-cell transplant recipients, and persons receiving chemotherapy), the need for booster doses has not been determined. When anti-HBs levels decline to <10 mIU/mL, annual anti-HBs testing and booster doses should be considered for those with an ongoing risk for exposure.

    For persons with normal immune status who have been vaccinated, booster doses are not recommended."

  18. #18 ChrisP
    October 3, 2012

    Bob G, Bacillus thuringiensis and Agrobacterium are both common soil organisms. Chances are you have eaten both with your lettuce, green onions, cabbage and any other vegetable that has contact with soil.

    In any case, human digestive systems are really quite efficient at breaking DNA down into little pieces.

  19. #19 Bob G
    Los Angeles
    October 3, 2012

    Lilady: Thanks for the information. Perhaps I didn’t need the boosters, but I doubt they did any harm. Do you have information on hepatitis A and whether I could use a booster now that it is close to 20 years since my series?

    ChrisP: Thanks to you too. I suspected as much about the bacteria being common in soil and edible vegetables. I may pull this argument out if I happen to participate in any of the discussions of Proposition 37. The pro-arguments I’ve seen are the same old stuff that was flogged in the early 1990s, except they’ve learned a couple of new words now.

    In terms of DNA getting broken down in the digestive system: Yes, it was something that was pounded into me when I started working on DNA and then RNA in the ’70s. As I explain to my less knowledgeable friends, every time you eat a lettuce leaf you are taking in thousands of nuclei full of DNA. And it’s good for you. We call it nutrition. Your body breaks down the DNA and protein and recycles the subunits. The metabolic pathway for building nucleotides from scratch is long and energetically expensive, but the metabolic cost of recycling RNA and DNA subunits is low.

    I suspect that the take home message for us from Prop 37 and the anti-vaccination cult is that scientists don’t communicate with non-scientists as well as the demagogues do. I’m trying a little experiment in which our local congressman is going to meet with a few working scientists to hear about a high level of overall progress and the need to keep up the funding.

  20. #20 puppygod
    October 3, 2012

    Bob G, Bacillus thuringiensis and Agrobacterium are both common soil organisms. Chances are you have eaten both with your lettuce, green onions, cabbage and any other vegetable that has contact with soil.

    Actually, if you ever took a stroll, during early spring, after the rain, breathing in the smell of nature springing to life… well, you probably took a lungful of, among many other thing, some aerosolised soil bacteria. Also pollens, tire rubber particles, silicon and iron oxides and many, many other fun stuff.

    I wonder, when they start arguing against breathing. It’s unnatural!

  21. #21 Tatiana
    Seattle
    October 3, 2012
  22. #22 ChrisP
    October 3, 2012

    Tatiana, that is Charles Benbrook, Chief Scientist of the Organic Centre. Benbrook has a history of fudging the figures.

    What has really happened in the US is insecticide use has gone down significantly in corn and cotton. Herbicide use has gone down in cotton, down in corn, down in sugar beets and slightly up in soybeans. In addition, at the same time there has been a move to no-till (somewhat, but not entirely related to GM crops), which has replaced cultivation for weed control. If you add this herbicide in, it increases the amount of herbicide slightly. This is then complicated by the fact that less innovative farmers who were less likely to use GM crops were also less likely to use pesticides.
    This work http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/BrookesGMC2-1.pdf does a better job of analysing the data because it is able to separate herbicide use on GM crops from non-GM crops, something Benbrook was unable to do, so Benbrook just fudged the numbers.

  23. #23 Krebiozen
    October 3, 2012

    We also don’t know what happens when the immune system is exposed to DNA that has been recombined in lots of ways that the human body, through the course of time, has never had any exposure to, and what diseases – diseases of the immune system – may occur because of these exposures.

    So if I eat something that comes from say, Australia, where its genes have been mutating and recombining for several million years and that my northern European ancestors never encountered, my immune system may implode? Do these people not know that pretty much everything we eat and drink contains vast amounts of foreign DNA. Gout is mostly the result of the metabolic byproducts of the breakdown of foreign DNA crystallizing out in the joints, there’s so much of it. Yet a barely measurable trace of DNA that has been modified in a lab is supposedly deadly? I don’t buy it. I think after millions of years of practice our bodies have gotten pretty good at dealing with foreign DNA.

  24. #24 Mu
    October 3, 2012

    Kreb, you can get that effect from a single evening of drinking Fosters. At least it feels like it the next morning.

  25. #25 Denice Walter
    October 3, 2012

    @ Krebiozen:

    So all of the Europeans arrived and encountered the foreign DNA in AUS and died like flies. Oh wait, they didn’t. The rabbits did alright too.

    On a lighter note:

    As you may know, our friend Mike Adams has ranted, raved and rankled on about the threat of GMO food and seed contaminating our preciously-guarded bodily fluids and pristine environment; he has uncovered how a major retailer of organics LIES about GMOs in their products ( shame on them!) and how the media censors the truth about GMOs ( what would you expect, they’re the MEDIA)..

    Now Mike announces that, in order to celebrate the recent re-opening of his Natural News ‘store’ ( @ NN website), he will be offering “organic preparedness storable food” available in 40 lb containers ( shipping is free on orders over 99 USD). “Survive/ Thrive” is his motto which is printed on boxes carried by a smiling Health Ranger ( see photo), who is pleased that his purity will remain intact.
    And *yours* can remain so too!

  26. #26 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    October 3, 2012

    @Denice

    I know someone that’s actually planning on buying that crap from Natural News.

    She’s a conspiracy nut; GMO’s are out to get us, the FBI is listening to her phone, 9/11 was an inside job, Obama is Kenyan…

    You name it, she buys into it.

  27. #27 Old Rockin' Dave
    over a cup of tea, between classes
    October 3, 2012

    I wonder how many of the GMO-haters also use canola oil. The plants it comes from are genetically modified organisms too, and, worse, modified by RADIATION!
    As Krazy Kat would say, “Oh, Horace!”

  28. #28 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    October 3, 2012

    @ORD

    The woman I know refuses to buy canola oil, since it’s GMO as well.

    She tried to convince me mine was too, but I know better.

  29. #29 Mu
    October 3, 2012

    How much mutant DNA or rogue protein does she expect in the oil?

  30. #30 lilady
    October 3, 2012

    @ Bob G: Regarding your question about “booster” shots for protection against the hepatitis A virus:

    http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/hepa.pdf

    “Data concerning the long-term persistence of antibody and
    immune memory are limited because the current vaccines
    have been available only since 1995 and 1996. Estimates
    of antibody persistence derived from kinetic models of
    antibody decline indicate that protective levels of anti-HAV
    could be present for 20 years or longer. Other mechanisms
    (e.g., cellular) may contribute to long-term protection, but
    this is unknown. The need for booster doses will be determined by postmarketing surveillance studies.”

  31. #31 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    October 3, 2012

    @Mu

    In her mind, a single strand of DNA is enough to give her cancer, turn her into a mutant, and make her vote for Obama.

  32. #32 W. Kevin Vicklund
    October 3, 2012

    If I understand correctly, the two main GMO inserts are the BT toxin gene and the roundup ready resistance gene, which comes from a strain of agrobacterium. My question is this: Do we humans already ingest these bacteria or their close relatives in substantial quantities?

    Indeed, we do. Especially if you eat organic vegetables – many of the organic-certified pesticides contain live Bt as the active ingredient.

    Oh shoot, did I hook up my irony meters in series or parallel? I think I smell smoke…

  33. #33 pyst
    October 3, 2012

    The wikipedia page for bacillus thuringiensis provides some interesting detail on the history of the organism.
    It also discusses perhaps incorrectly that bacillus thuringiensis and bacillus anthracis might differ only at the plasmid.

    plasmids are used in recombinant genetic engineering
    so at least to me it seems that this may have some unforeseen consequences particularly since both bacteria produce their toxins at transition to the spore form.

  34. #34 T.
    October 3, 2012

    I have a (respectful) point to make.

    Some background: I am against GMOs. In my case, however, science is not the base of my decision. Other reasons (geopolitical e ethical, mostly) enter in my (inner, personal) debate.

    What I would like to point is that science is not always the end-all word on a topic. Let me explain. Two purses, one made by 5 years old paid 10 cents a day who work 15 hours a day and one made by an adult who get paid a decent wage might be “scientifically” identical, and one might cost, say, 5$ and the other 15$. I would still prefer to buy the one who cost 15$.

    One of my ex co-workers made precisely such a “scientifical” argument about fair trade. Since, scientifically, a tea made by people in virtual slavery and one made by people paid decently are the same, there was no reason to buy the more costly one. He believed to have science behind him.

    Science don’t make moral decisions. Science is, by definition, amoral, like Nature. There is something of a “scientifical fallancy” that I sometime see being made by people who believe that once that science has said something, an ethical solution had been reached. It is not (always) so.

    Orac himself made an interesting post about this, a long while back, talking about, I believe, Nazi science.

  35. #35 Ewan R
    October 3, 2012

    I would suggest then T that you aren’t against GMOs, but are against certain agricultural practices, and possibly certain GM traits.

    Stating your above argument and concluding you are against GMOs is rather akin to your fair trade purse comparison ending up with you being against purses.

    If there are ethical concerns then sure, bring them up, but they likely don’t apply to the technology as a whole, and may well be utterly fallacious anyway (many of the supposed moral arguments against GMOs are)

  36. #36 T.
    October 3, 2012

    It is true that I am against some GMOs, not all of them. Not the one in this article, for example. But I don’t want to make this personal, it is not. And I don’t want to miss the point, even more :)

    What I wanted to point is the lack of morality of science. Science is amoral, like Nature is amoral. People are moral, and they make moral decisions that are base also, but not only, on science.
    Of course it is possible that somebody reject morality as a whole, and be utterly scientific-minded. I do doubt that there are many scientists like that, though.

    I can envision a scenario in which even vaccines could be morally wrong. I am a Star Trek TOS fan, and I remember an episode in which there was a planet so drammatically overpopulated that they had to introduce disease to diminish the population. In such a (please, remember) hypothetical world, vaccines might be argued to do more harm than good. Or not.

    There are great possibility for harm in considering Science as Good, just as there are great possibility for harm in considering Nature as Good.
    Though I admit it is not a pretty topic to post in a science blog, peraphs^^

  37. #37 Denice Walter
    October 3, 2012

    OT: but is over-the-top, hate-mongering rhetorical floundering by anti-vaccinationists ever *truly* OT @ RI?
    I would think not.**

    Today @ AoA:

    we find that AJW will ” Detail UK Reporter’s Fraud” in Wisconsin perhaps aided and abetted by David Lewis. Would I lie to you?

    And standing out amidst the usual snivelling drivel masquerading as astute commentary, Patricia serves up the love for RI ( I believe) whose “scientists, medics and retired caring nurses ( Ha!) etc, etc”.. are the “agents of destruction” who may soon be in “need of a little intensive care”. Karma is headed our way. I can hardly wait. Tell me more.

    Also the woo-meister-in-training, I mean *graduate student* writes about *another* despised reporter while his devoted audience cheers him on.

    ** it’s a miserable, dreary day and I didn’t have much work later in the day so I decided to dive right into the swamp since I am soaking wet anyway.

  38. #38 Chris
    Neither here nor there...
    October 3, 2012

    T.:

    I am a Star Trek TOS fan, and I remember an episode in which there was a planet so drammatically overpopulated that they had to introduce disease to diminish the population.

    Um, that is actually the opposite of what happens in this non-fiction world. Preventing children from dying of disease actually causes families to become smaller. Plus when women are educated they can control their own lives more, and that includes reducing pregnancies. It is quaintly explained in this video:
    http://www.gapminder.org/videos/population-growth-explained-with-ikea-boxes/

  39. #39 larry
    October 3, 2012

    farmandranchfreedom.org/gmo-miscarriages
    Researcher: Roundup or Roundup-Ready Crops May Be Causing Animal Miscarriages and Infertility

  40. #40 lilady
    October 3, 2012

    @ Denice Walter

    “Also the woo-meister-in-training, I mean *graduate student* writes about *another* despised reporter while his devoted audience cheers him on.”

    I suspect that Jake’s attack on Trine Tsouderos is based on my post directed at some of the cranks from AoA, who are citing Boyd Haley on this blog:

    http://lacrossetribune.com/news/local/vaccine-autism-debate-coming-to-la-crosse/article_88fe3612-0a92-11e2-bf97-0019bb2963f4.html

    lilady – October 02, 2012 2:38 am

    Welcome Truthout…We so enjoy seeing another anti-vaccine spammer posting here.

    I can’t believe you are touting and quoting Boyd Haley. Here’s an article about Boyd Haley written by Trine Tsouderos, a real science journalist, that appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-01-17/news/chi-autism-chemicaljan17_1_dismay-upon-hearing-children-dr-l-jackson-roberts-expert-in-environmental-health

    Read it thoroughly about Haley’s marketing of an industrial chemical as a chelating agent. Look for one of the “journalists” who blogs at Age of Autism and how she sprinkled this industrial chemical on her childrens’ breakfast cereal. I suppose that is less abusive than what another of the “journalists” at Age of Autism did to his child. He took his daughter to an offshore clinic to have her undergo intrathecal stem cell treatments and he blogged about it, as well.

    No type of “treatment” is too outrageous, too invasive, too dangerous and too abusive for the anti-vaccine crowd and anti-vaccine bloggers to subject their children to.

  41. #41 Denice Walter
    October 3, 2012

    @ lilady:

    Well, I suppose that the faithful at AoA, TMR and similar places spend so much time confabulating tales of iniquity about their *betes noires*, chasing after ( what our friend calls) ” monsters under the bed” and persuing the latest ‘bio-medical’ interventions being promoted by alt med prevaricators that they have little energy left over for actively working towards getting the best therapies for their children and advocating for them.

    If you believe that the source of your all problems in life are attributable to awful deeds by other people, you’ll never set to work to fix what you can about your own life.

  42. #42 herr doktor bimler
    October 3, 2012

    A NZ news item involves the application of knock-out gene technology so that a cow’s milk is hypoallergenic:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/7757038/Strong-opposition-to-GE-milk

    There is no health concern about the *product* here, but this poses no problem for anti-GMO campaigners, who switch the focus to Interfering-With-Nature:

    “Researchers that stoop so low as to manipulate the Mauri [spirit or life force] of an animal causing suffering, then pretend that this is a significant breakthrough when we already have business using technology to remove BLG, are inhumane.”

    At least this particular protester is coming out fairly openly with the argument that GE techniques are intrinsically evil, so that the health concerns and the precautionary principle are merely excuses used when they are convenient.

  43. #43 Alain
    Autistic Planet
    October 3, 2012

    @Denice,

    If you believe that the source of your all problems in life are attributable to awful deeds by other people, you’ll never set to work to fix what you can about your own life.

    So true…So true, it bear repeating along that we are the easiest fool to ourselve so if we see nothing wrong in our reasoning, we simply don’t improve.

    I’m now done with my midterm and it was easy, very easy so I think I did well but I’ll check with the professor tomorrow or next week.

    In the meantime, new blog post: http://www.securivm.ca/2012/10/le-dernier-week-end-this-past-week-end.html

    Alain

  44. #44 Roger Kulp
    October 3, 2012
  45. #45 al kimeea
    October 4, 2012

    I received an email about Glybera for pancreatitis entitled “Transient GMO Humans”.

    It refers to previous deaths due to gene therapy – Gelsinger and Mohr among others. In Mohr’s case, it quotes her consent form:

    “the genetically altered viruses in the study — called tgAAC94 — ‘could spread to other parts of your body. The risks of this are not known at this time . . . We have seen this type of spread in animal studies when tgAAC94 has been given by injection into the joint.'” Altered viruses can “damage the DNA in the cells of your body by inserting itself into your genes,” it went on. “If this happens, it could put you at risk for developing cancer in the future.” And on page 9, it said unknown side effects could result in “pain, discomfort, disability or, in rare circumstances, death.”

    and asks why is this relatively rare disease gets favour?

  46. #46 Krebiozen
    October 4, 2012

    @larry October 3, 6:48 pm

    Roundup or Roundup-Ready Crops May Be Causing Animal Miscarriages and Infertility

    It seems that a researcher, Don Huber, has discovered a new crop pathogen that lives on Roundup. According to Huber:

    This previously unknown organism is only visible under an electron microscope (36,000X), with an approximate size range equal to a medium size virus. It is able to reproduce and appears to be a micro-fungal-like organism. If so, it would be the first such micro-fungus ever identified. There is strong evidence that this infectious agent promotes diseases of both plants and mammals, which is very rare.

    A fungus the size of a virus that attacks plants and animals? I didn’t think that was even possible, that’s like finding a rabbit the size of a pinhead (I actually just figured this out, sadly). We’re clearly doomed! What’s that? It’s not true, and Huber is a well-known crank? Panic over, as you were. Mind you, Monsanto would say that, wouldn’t they…

  47. #47 Interrobang
    October 4, 2012

    I’m neither on Monsanto’s side nor the cranks’. The major issue I have with GMOs is IP (specifically patenting life forms), particularly given how promiscuous plants are.

    There was a farmer in the Canadian west several years ago who got royally screwed by Monsanto’s lawyers because his neighbours’ RoundupReady canola cross-pollinated with his long-established, bespoke cultivars (on which he’d been working for decades, ruining them, too), and so Monsanto claimed he was infringing their intellectual property. So he lost his carefully-bred hybrids, and the rest of his livelihood. Something’s wrong there.

  48. #48 Beamup
    October 4, 2012

    @ Interrobang:

    I quite agree. It’s just one of the manifestations of how utterly broken current IP law is. The ludicrousness that ensues from trying to apply the notion of “copy”right in the Internet age is another (the limitations need to be on USE now, not COPYING).

  49. #49 al kimeea
    October 4, 2012

    @ Interrobang

    Percy Schmeiser is the name you’re after. Incidentally, the person who sent me the email about Glybera has in the past arranged for Schmeiser to speak in Toronto.

  50. #50 Ewan R
    October 4, 2012

    There was a farmer in the Canadian west several years ago who got royally screwed by Monsanto’s lawyers because his neighbours’ RoundupReady canola cross-pollinated with his long-established, bespoke cultivars (on which he’d been working for decades, ruining them, too), and so Monsanto claimed he was infringing their intellectual property. So he lost his carefully-bred hybrids, and the rest of his livelihood. Something’s wrong there.

    Percy Schmeiser I believe (I always get the number of S’s wrong there, I assume he changes his name based on what I post).

    The most interesting thing about this story is how wildly unrelated to reality it is.

    Schmeis(s)er screwed himself. He was spraying roundup at the periphery of his field (which is perfectly normal for someone to do by the by) to control weeds etc and noticed that some canola wasn’t dying, so he surmised it must be roundup ready (I believe the source is thought to have been spill from a passign grain truck) – up to this point nothing wrong has gone on on the part of Schmeiser (and indeed he could, had he wished, have called a local seed rep and had them come clean up any contamination) – but Schmeis(s)er’s subsequent actions require a little bit of explaining, particularly given claims of how cherished his own varieties were.

    He sprayed 3 acres of crop with roundup. This unsurprisingly killed all the non-RR plants and left only RR plants. He harvested seed from these plants (knowing them to be RR you’ll recall, and thus not his own varieties) and saved this seed segregated from the rest of his stuff for replanting the next year. Which he did on ~1000 acres. Which by anything but the most insane definition is a conscious act of IP infringement.

    Poor Percy was left having to lead the life of an international voice for the anti-GM movement, trotting around the globe to give speeches to credulous audiences, oddly promulgating lies which are easily shown to be so by looking at the court documents detailing his case.

    Something is wrong. Alas it is the narrative.

  51. #51 Calli Arcale
    October 4, 2012

    Now that is very interesting, Ewan. That paints a very different picture than the one normally given of that incident. Do you have a reference? I’d like to share it with some of my IRL friends, who are often keen to mention that story as an example of overzealous IP protection.

  52. #52 Ewan R
    October 4, 2012

    Certainly can

    http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/en/2001/2001fct256/2001fct256.html

    The sections “Infringement of the patent”
    and “Testing of Mr. Schmeiser’s canola”

    are, i believe, the pertinent pieces here.

    As is another piece

    [126] Other farmers who found volunteer Roundup tolerant plants in their fields, two of whom testified at trial, called Monsanto and the undesired plants were thereafter removed by Monsanto at its expense.

    which clearly demonstrates that where there is accidental presence Monsanto, rather than being the IP monster it is portrayed as, removes the plants at their own expense (alas this doesn’t jive well with the narrative preferred by GreenPeace and their ilk, and thus it is never brought up – contamination apparently means you lose your farm, except of course where it doesn’t)

  53. #53 Krebiozen
    October 4, 2012

    I wonder why Greenpeace (not forgetting their ilk) are supporting a farmer who evidently put GMO food on the market as non-GMO.

  54. #54 Calli Arcale
    October 4, 2012

    Very very interesting reading, Ewan. I can’t thank you enough, because I had definitely had the Greenpeace version of the story (which is funny because I’m not exactly a fan of Greenpeace). Fits perhaps a little too well with the narrative of overzealous IP protection. A lesson learned on my part, to be sure.

  55. [...] that caught my interest, perhaps because he appears to be too busy producing anti-GMO nonsense fast and furious, as he promotes Proposition 37. I’m sure that he (or someone else) will get around to using [...]

  56. #56 BDNf
    twitter.com/cynocephale
    October 21, 2012

    Have you heard about this new one ? Based on a real case (real as in: report published in BMJ, not the interpretation): Gardasil destroys a girl’s ovaries. And testes aren’t ovaries. http://gaia-health.com/gaia-blog/2012-10-17/gardasil-destroys-girls-ovaries-research-on-ovaries-never-considered/

  57. #57 Cannot Take You People Serious
    December 1, 2012

    Wow. You people really do live in a bubble. You are just all soooooooo educated. You would be raped on the streets.

    Oh, no, everybody that is anti-GMO anti-vaccine MUST be MORONS… Maybe they have seen and experienced a whole lot more than you’ve read in text books.

    You, sirs, are the quacks.

  58. #58 Narad
    December 1, 2012

    Wow. You people really do live in a bubble. You are just all soooooooo educated. You would be raped on the streets.

    Oh, no, everybody that is anti-GMO anti-vaccine MUST be MORONS…

    If anyone held this opinion, your contribution would do nothing but reinforce it.

  59. #59 Bronze Dog
    December 1, 2012

    Oh, no, everybody that is anti-GMO anti-vaccine MUST be MORONS…

    That’s a convenient straw man people like to erect when they’re around skeptics. To me, it seems more likely you’re projecting your own biases onto us. I hate to break it to you, but intelligence and education aren’t as big a factor as you’d like to pretend we think. They help, but critical thinking often makes the difference. Intelligent, educated people are perfectly capable of believing insane things. They just tend to shoot higher.

    Intelligence can be misused to create clever, imaginative, but fallacious defenses for bad ideas, protecting them from casual criticism. It can also lead a person to answers that are intuitive but flat wrong when reality is often counter-intuitive.

    Education can inflate a person’s ego, and through the Dunning-Kruger effect, they assume their rote knowledge in one field makes them qualified to make bold assertions in another. I’ve found that being educated and a critical thinker is really about knowing where and how to look for answers, rather than having them in your head at any given moment. It’s the opposite of indoctrination.

    Of course, the real issue is why aren’t you presenting real arguments against GMO and vaccines? Even if we were as arrogant as you assert, how does your ad hominem prove us wrong? Why should we take you seriously, instead of just looking at you like any random troll commenting for the lulz? Why self-censor by posting typical anti-skeptic bigotry when you could present a real argument instead? My suspicion: You’re not here to argue, you’re here to stroke your ego.

  60. #60 Chemmomo
    Grammar Police
    December 1, 2012

    Cannot Take You People Seriously

    everybody that is anti-GMO anti-vaccine MUST be MORONS


    Actually, it’s your abuse of the English language that suggest it, not your misguided beliefs.

    Yeah, OK, so my comment has no substance. I’m just responding in kind.

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