Heidi Stevenson amuses me. I know, I know, I’ve started a previous post with exactly this sentence a mere month ago, but it’s so damned appropriate that I can’t help but try it again.

A homeopath (which means that she’s reality-challenged to begin with), she’s produced some of the most hilariously off-base, pseudoscientific, and downright antiscientific articles I’ve ever seen. Examples include the times when she launched a truly nonsensical attack on Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch, lectured scientists about anecdotal evidence, or, most hilariously of all, utterly misunderstood the concept of prior plausibility in evaluating why homeopathy is so ridiculous from a scientific standpoint. So when I saw that she wrote an article in which she claimed that genetically modified wheat may damage human genetics permanently, I couldn’t resist. Never mind that somehow I missed it the first time around, when it was first published last October. Better late than never, I say, particularly when there is a “teachable” moment! I mean, Stevenson even includes a picture of a ghostly skull floating above a wheat field. It’s comedy gold, I tell you! It doesn’t get much better than this, as far as blogging goes. It also allows me to teach a bit about something I’m very interested in scientifically. Win-win!

Stevenson prefaces her article with this scary paragraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So basically, the claim being quoted by Stevenson is that a variety of genetically modified wheat under development by the CSIRO will kill your children. I kid you not. Of course, Stevenson apparently doesn’t see the contradiction between saying that this GM wheat will kill your children but that its gene-silencing effects will also be passed down the generations. In any case, I could recognize some amazing speculation and fear mongering right off the bat; so it’s time to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s put it this way. For Heinemann’s fear mongering to be a real concern, any siRNA or microRNA from genetically modified wheat would not only have to be made in sufficient quantity at least to equal the normal concentration of miR-168a in rice, be stable enough to pass through stomach acid and the gut lining undigested, and get into the bloodstream at a high enough level to affect gene expression. That’s leaving aside the question of whether there is even enough sequence match that the siRNA could even target the human GBE mRNA in the first place, which is impossible to say because we don’t know the actual sequence of the siRNA being used. It’s true that Heinemann has updated his “report.” However, that update doesn’t really show anything new or contribute to the plausibility of Heinemann’s concerns. In fact, it trashes the plausibility even more because the homology (in laymen’s terms, match) to the glycogen enzyme that Heinemann was promoting pretty much disappears. Add to that the enormous lack of likelihood that, even if the siRNAs and microRNAs in GM wheat could actually make it into the bloodstream in concentrations sufficient to alter gene expression, it’s incredibly unlikely that such RNAs could actually induce “permanent” epigenetic changes to justify the fear mongering.

Even if there were a legitimate scientific concern raised by Professor Heinemann, as has been pointed out, the way he raised it was about as far from helpful as there is. It was fear mongering based on pure speculation, and Heidi Stevens—surprise! surprise!—eats it up to come to this mind-numbingly predictable conclusion:

The Australian government appears to have become nothing more than another Agribusiness corporate entity. They’re using the people’s money to fund a massive profit-making venture in genetic engineering without any consideration for the potential harm that may be done to either the environment or the welfare of the people. Not only are they willing to risk mass deaths from products they’re hoping to put on the market, they also seem to have no concern for whether they might be doing permanent damage to generations that follow.

There might be questions about GMOs, but by and large they are not issues of safety. Rather, they are issues of intellectual property; i.e., how large companies developing GMOs behave. Hysteria of the like generated by Professor Heinemann and parroted by useful idiots like Heidi Stevenson generate heat, but no light.

Comments

  1. #1 Narad
    May 2, 2013

    Suppose we examine a case of a “risk”–namely, that of a fatal event. In one example, we could take the game of “Russian roulette” in which a revolver having six chambers

    How do you know it’s not a Nagant?

  2. #2 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE 397:

    See 398.

    by the way, RE: “In the case of GM crops, you have yet to provide any evidence there’s the equivalent of that ‘live round in the chamber’

    Does “the equivalent of a ‘live round in the chamber’ ” mean, in other words, a risk of fatalities? If so, do you contend that fatalities are not among the risks being run in the production and consumption of GMOs?

    Please explain why, to be valid, my objections to GMOs’ risk, if any there be, must be “the equivalent of a live round in the chamber’ since, as you may not have noticed, unlike a game of Russian roulette, which, barring an illegal act of coercion or other conditions in which one is not responsible for one’s actions–such as being drunk or under the influence of other mind-altering drugs– is only undertaken by people who have apparently chosen to participate–i.e. run the risk.

    How do I “opt out” of the general society-wide risks, in case there are serious such risks–entailed in the production and consumption of GMOs? Note, one needn’t personally consume GMOs to suffer the environmental degredation that may come about as a consequence of their use “by others”. In other words, like it or not, we are all “playing” (assuming the risks) when it comes to GMOs.

    Please explain how and why, via the roles of scientists, often employed by and working directly in the interests of private for-profit firms, those involved in the production and distribution of GMOs have the right to impose risk on the public, whether willing and unwilling.

    Thank you.

  3. #3 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    Please explain to us what “sufficient risk” means, how to find and measure it, and, by the way, who is to do these tasks.
    Then, when we know what sufficient risk means, please explain why that’s our burden to carry rather that “sufficient safety” yours, and the scientific community’s.

    If I understand you correctly, which is difficult because the second sentence is somewhat incoherent, you are suggesting that the onus should be on producers of GM foods to demonstrate that they are safe. GM foods do undergo tests to make sure they are safe, and there is a large body of evidence supporting their safety. You need to come up with some more compelling evidence that suggests that GM foods are dangerous. That’s how science works.

  4. #4 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    How do I “opt out” of the general society-wide risks, in case there are serious such risks–entailed in the production and consumption of GMOs?

    I believe your friend Brad is planning a manned mission to Mars – perhaps you could hitch a ride.

  5. #5 Bronze Dog
    May 2, 2013

    You need to come up with some more compelling evidence that suggests that GM foods are dangerous. That’s how science works.

    Before prox’s poor reading comprehension kicks in, I’m going to rephrase that the way I read it:

    “You need to come up with some evidence that GM foods are dangerous which is more compelling than the evidence of safety.”

  6. #6 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    399:

    “We have a very good idea of what the real world probability of harm is, from our understanding of biology, of genetics, of toxicology, from in vitro studies, from animal studies and from the fact that trillions of portions of GM foods have been eaten without any hint of any harm whatsoever.”

    the above is repeatedly offered here but still, AFAIK, an unsupported claim. You don’t show any logical and data-supported relationship between

    a) ” our understanding of biology, of genetics, of toxicology, from in vitro studies, from animal studies”

    and

    b) “the (presumed) fact that trillions of portions of GM foods have been eaten without any hint of any harm whatsoever” just the assertion, as an unsupported inference.

    “We can estimate the probability of the gun’s firing on any given instance by repeating the experiment many times.”

    And how do we “repeat” the “experiment” of releasing an environment-changing element into the environment “many times” under the same conditions each time–as is possible in the RR example?

    “Your Russian roulette analogy only makes sense if we don’t know if there is a bullet in the gun at all,”…

    You didn’t directly answer these questions from my post:

    ” If we repeated it 60 times and the gun fired 10 times, we would know that the risk was 1 in 6.”

    And if the gun, in an actual trial series, fired six times in the course of 60 trials–as is a possibility, unless you deny that what appears improbable cannot ever occur (if so, please do assert that, I’d like to see it here, from you) — what would you then conclude? A risk of 1 in 10?

    How are these supposed ‘ trillions of portions of GMO foods’ (where do you get this figure?) the experimental equivalent of repeating the release of a GMO into the environment “many times”? How many discrete instances of GMO production and release (i.e. distribution) do the 3trillion food portions directly relate to?

    “So a hypothetical risk may not be a real or true risk at all.”

    So, then, as used above, we have, substituting your explanatory phrase ” risk may not be a real or true risk at all”, for the following, from post 385,

    “I’m curious how we reconcile the still mostly maybe-not real-or-true-risk-at-all of GMOs with the actual risks of natural organisms, particularly …”

    Then, how is “mostly” coherent there? “Mostly may not be a real or true risk at all” ?

    The problem, you see, is you’ve combined, from your phrase, “may not be a real or true risk at all” with a phrase that contained, “mostly hypothetical”.

    So, which is it, “mostly hypothetical” or “may not be a real or true risk at all” ?

    I don’t think a hypothetical risk can be “partly” hypothetical, or “mostly hypothetical”. And, if it is, what then, please, is the evidenciary basis for this claim of “mostly” (i.e. “> 50% hypothetical,” that is.) ?

  7. #7 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE 403: ” a large body of evidence supporting their safety” links to? —- a site sponsored by the “International Life
    Sciences Institute”, about which institute Wikipedia has this, among other things, to report,

    According to a SourceWatch entry,[7] in the 1980s ILSI “provide[d] special services to the cigarette companies behind the scene”. A 2001 editorial article in British Medical Journal[8] further claimed ILSI received money from tobacco industry throughout the period 1983 to 1998. In the article, ILSI denied accusations it sought to undermine tobacco control efforts. It further noted the infrequent symposia and publications sponsored on inhalation toxicology in the 1980s only tangentially addressed cigarette smoke. In these instances, ILSI addressed the effects of second-hand smoke.

    For example, in the 1989 ILSI Monograph Assessment of Inhalation Hazards,[9] three of 33 chapters address tobacco. Two of those papers show unequivocally that second hand smoke has adverse effects on respiratory infection and lung function, especially in children[10] and that epidemiological data show a “statistically significant increase in lung cancer risk of about 40%” for nonsmokers married to smokers.[11] The third article did not address risk per se, but rather compares the strengths and weakness of study designs for assessing risk.[12]

    ILSI is aware its funding raises questions about the neutrality of its science. The North American branch of ILSI (ILSI North America) initiated a Conflict of Interest project which resulted in simultaneous publication of the article “Funding Food Science and Nutrition Research: Financial Conflicts and Scientific Integrity” in full or excerpted in six peer-reviewed journals.[13] The article outlines eight ground rules to ensure the integrity of industry-supported science.

    So, let me borrow and paraphrase you,

    “You need to come up with some more compelling evidence that suggests that GM foods are safe.

    And, thank you for that link. It helps me make the point on conflict of interest since the “large body of evidence supporting their safety” comes from an industry consortium’s lobbying and public relations group based in Washington, D.C.

    Thank you, thank you so much.

    Would you care to list for us the members of International Life Sciences Institute’s directorship and these directors’ corporate homes? You wouldn’t ?

  8. #8 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    In 406, above, I started to ask but didn’t complete the sentence,

    ” You didn’t directly answer these questions from my post:”

    here, to complete that,

    ” You didn’t directly answer these questions from my post:

    does the number of turns taken in the scenario–in and of itself–change either the probability of the gun’s firing on any given instance of the series, or, alternatively, the “danger” being courted, (i.e. “death”) ?

    We have no answer from you to this key question.

  9. #9 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    Regarding the corporate entities behind “International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) … a Washington-D.C. based lobby group funded by food, chemical and drug companies.”

    — (from sourcewatch.org)

    other readers may want to refer to the link at SourceWatch.org ‘s pages:

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=International_Life_Sciences_Institute

  10. #10 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    Interesting!

    According to the site “Labome.org”, a certain Sylvia Rowe (are you here in this thread, Sylvia?), who, it just may be, is the “SR” in “S R Strategy Llc in Washington, District Of Columbia” has one and only one scientific paper to her credit.

    That paper, it happens, is the very same paper which is titled, “Funding food science and nutrition research: financial conflicts and scientific integrity

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2009/04/08/ajcn.2009.27604

    and the authors of which include Sylvia Rowe.

    Note the related “Corporation Wiki” page link:

    http://www.corporationwiki.com/District-of-Columbia/Washington/s-r-strategy-llc/89955836.aspx

  11. #11 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE 403: “If I understand you correctly, which is difficult because the second sentence is somewhat incoherent,”

    My sentence wasn’t well typed, it’s true.

    It ought to have read, ” Then, when we know what sufficient risk means, please explain why that’s our burden to carry (i.e. to show “proof of harm” ) rather than showing “sufficient safety” is yours, and the scientific community’s to demonstrate.”

    Later on, just after this, “You need to come up with some more compelling evidence that suggests that GM foods are dangerous,” you write, “That’s how science works.”

    Apparently, that’s how corporate public-relations and lobbying, not science, “works”. What an unfortunate choice of words, yours were.

  12. #12 JGC
    May 2, 2013

    And I replied to your request for a definition, etc., @288 in my post @312. I”l repeat it : You’re the one been arguing the risk that GMO’s will “really terribly, terribly harmful” is sufficient that their development and consumption poses an imminent threat, such that the development and consumption of GM crops must be abandoned or at the least severely curtailed.

    If you’re now admitting you not only don’t have the faintest idea what degree of risk exists, but also no idea how it could be measured and what individual or agency could reliably do so, we’re right back tat the same question you’ve been studiously ignoring for days now: what does your belief that GM crops are dangerous derive from? Where is the real evidence GM crops are likely to be harmful?

  13. #13 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    Let me get this straight, you told us that the producers of GM foods must provide evidence that they are safe. When I showed you this evidence, you triumphantly retorted that it has been provided by producers of GM foods, just as you stipulated, thus making it untrustworthy.

    I give up on this discussion. It’s both pointless and tedious arguing with someone so clueless.

  14. #14 Narad
    May 2, 2013

    other readers may want to refer to the link at SourceWatch.org ‘s pages

    And, while you’re honing your Jake Crosby routine, you may wish to note that the CMD, which overlies SW, was founded by John Stauber, who came out of the Foundation on Economic Trends, which isn’t exactly a neutral source.

  15. #15 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE:

    “Let me get this straight, …”

    ?

    …you told us that the producers of GM foods must provide evidence that they are safe. (my emphasis added)

    Huh? That’s what you call “getting it straight”?

    Here’s what I actually asked, wrote, “told you”, etc.:

    “Then, when we know what sufficient risk means, please explain why that’s our burden to carry rather tha(n) “sufficient safety” yours, and the scientific community’s.” (my emphasis added)

    RE:

    …”When I showed you this evidence, you triumphantly retorted that it has been provided by producers of GM foods, just as you stipulated, thus making it untrustworthy.”

    For that, you don’t even rate a “nice try”.

    “I give up on this discussion. It’s both pointless and tedious arguing with someone so clueless.”

    Gee! Lost interest! Right after the links and comments in my posts, 406 – 411.

    Excuse me if I’m “mostly” not terribly surprised— “at all”—in your sudden loss of interest. And here I thought things were just starting to get really interesting–as you directly cited as valid “evidence” what amounts to the best and most flagrant example of industry/research conflicts of interest so far in this entire thread.

    —————————

    RE JGC @ 412:

    You’re the one (who’s) been arguing the risk that GMO’s will “really terribly, terribly harmful” is sufficient that their development and consumption poses an imminent threat, such that the development and consumption of GM crops must be abandoned or at the least severely curtailed. ”

    What I actually argued is that it is insane to proceed as society has been doing, insane to, (citing my post, @ 80,

    (with sarcasm, as befits the general tone of this blog’s approach to, it seems, almost everything it hoists up for the self-approving community here)

    Yeah–let’s wait to see if it’s really terribly, terribly harmful. Better to wait and be f’ing SURE that it’s really really bad., that the consequences are indeed dire and, as some worry, once done, fairly irreversible in their effects with knock-on effects down the line which are, quite simply beyond anyone’s capacity to predict.

    Then, when we KNOW that, yep, it’s at least as bad as predicted, if not, indeed, much, much worse, THEN and ONLY THEN can we legitimately and “respectably’” raise concerns. And then, of course, others who BS’d the earlier concerns can say, “Oh, well, now we agree, there’s a cause for concern. But who knew? Before we knew for sure that it was dangerous, there was “nothing” we could have done!”

    (some emphasis added)

    Applying, from Hans Jonas, a principle of precaution, “in dubio pro malo” (http://www.inespe.org/phd2006/montonen.pdf) my point is, indeed, that the risk is unknown, and in my opinion, unknowable at this point, and given that, the only safe course given such an extreme consquence if the feared dangers were to materialize—supposing, that is, that the harm has not already been done with what has already occurred in the GMO insanity—the only safe course is to end further laboratory pursuits of GMO design and implementation.

    Your re-statement of my position is typical of the distortions which are routine among the thread’s home-team of Techno-evangelists and ringers and shills for industry interests.

    So, this, from you,

    “If you’re now admitting you not only don’t have the faintest idea what degree of risk exists, but also no idea how it could be measured and what individual or agency could reliably do so, we’re right back tat the same question you’ve been studiously ignoring for days now: what does your belief that GM crops are dangerous derive from? Where is the real evidence GM crops are likely to be harmful?”

    is just so much disingenuous BS.

  16. #16 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    I can’t resist pointing out proximity1’s apparent attempt to discredit the International Life Sciences Institute which sponsored The Center for Environmental Risk Assessment which collates research on agricultural biotechnologies. The Wikipedia article he linked to, and specifically the section he quotes, points out that even though ILSI received money from the tobacco industry, it published several articles that found a link between second hand tobacco smoke and disease. This directly contradicts proximity1’s claims that such funding is inescapably corrupting.

    Excuse me if I’m “mostly” not terribly surprised— “at all”—in your sudden loss of interest. And here I thought things were just starting to get really interesting–as you directly cited as valid “evidence” what amounts to the best and most flagrant example of industry/research conflicts of interest so far in this entire thread.

    You didn’t read what you posted about the ILSI did you? It directly contradicts your claims about industry/research conflicts of interest.

    Did someone mention disingenuous BS?

  17. #17 TBruce
    May 2, 2013

    Applying, from Hans Jonas, a principle of precaution, “in dubio pro malo” (http://www.inespe.org/phd2006/montonen.pdf) my point is, indeed, that the risk is unknown, and in my opinion, unknowable at this point, and given that, the only safe course given such an extreme consquence if the feared dangers were to materialize—supposing, that is, that the harm has not already been done with what has already occurred in the GMO insanity—the only safe course is to end further laboratory pursuits of GMO design and implementation.

    This morning, as I do every morning, I set out on my 20 minute walk to work. During that time, I run the risk of being hit by a car, hit by a baseball from the schoolyard I pass, hit by a dead linb from a tree, trip on a curb or a rock and fall on my face, be attacked by a mugger or a rabid dog, fall into a pit at a construction zone, be bit by a rattlesnake or coyote when I cut across the ravine – just to give a few examples. Yet 5 days a week I keep doing this twice a day. The risk is unknown and unknowable and the consequences are extreme. By your logic, I should stay home, go on welfare and have everything delivered. But then, I put myself at risk that the delivery person could attack and rob me. What to do???

  18. #18 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    Choking on food, whether GM or not, is a serious risk; on average, a child will die every 5 days in the United States from choking on food. Grapes, popcorn and hot dogs are the most dangerous foods. The only safe course is to ban grapes, popcorn and hot dogs immediately.

  19. #19 JGC
    May 2, 2013

    Does “the equivalent of a ‘live round in the chamber’ ” mean, in other words, a risk of fatalities?

    No, it does not mean the existence of a risk of fatalities, but instead the certain knowledge that development and consumption of GM crops were capable of causing harm.

  20. #20 Renate
    May 2, 2013

    @ TBruce
    And most accidents seem to happen at home, so staying at home doesn’t improve your savety.

  21. #21 JGC
    May 2, 2013

    just so much disingenuous BS

    Then you do have real evidence demonstrating GM crops are likely to be harmful?” Why have you been unwilling to share it when asked, then?

  22. #22 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 2, 2013

    @proximity1

    Have you ever killed an insect? Do you brush your teeth? Do you shower? Do you clean your home? Have you ever required antibiotics and taken them?

  23. #23 Bronze Dog
    May 2, 2013

    The whole precautionary act woos pull recalls a metaphor I use from time to time: “Sharks at the beach.”

    There is a chance that if you go swimming at the beach, you might get attacked by a shark. It would be a dramatic, memorable event, and that makes it stick out to some people. It’s a very small chance, though.

    The risks these people don’t think about are things like getting into a fatal accident while driving to the beach. The chances of it happening are higher as well as more commonly encountered because driving is a frequent activity for a lot of people. We’re used to taking that risk, and the majority of the time we drive, nothing happens, so some people erroneously think of driving as “safe” in a black-and-white thinking sort of way.

    That last part is where I think anti-GMO people come from. They don’t sort risks according to likelihood and frequency, but by familiarity, drama, and antiquity. They treat familiar, old, and boring risks as perfectly “safe.” Because of that biased thinking, any new kind of risk is inherently more dangerous simply for being non-zero. They lash out when people try to make them aware of just how much risk they already accept because it exposes their bias and forces them to think in grays and colors instead of absolute black and white.

  24. #24 Mewens
    May 2, 2013

    That’s probably part of it, Bronze Dog. I also suspect that many alties have quite a bit of their personal identity wrapped up in their belief system; I read proximity1’s complaints about cultural decline as, “I perceive that fewer and fewer people hold my views on art, philosophy and science.” The sources that inform his view are probably less important than his ownership of that view.

    In that sense, it makes sense to expect a defensive, dogmatic response; many of us are talking facts and studies, while he’s talking belief that defines his place in the world.

  25. #25 Edith Prickly
    May 2, 2013

    Is proximity1 still lighting up his mind-farts over here? Send him to a Vogon poetry slam instead, he’ll be a shoo-in.

  26. #26 Bronze Dog
    May 2, 2013

    Definitely identity politics involved in it. Far too many people who define themselves by a position, rather than the method for arriving at that position.

  27. #27 herr doktor bimler
    May 2, 2013

    Send him to a Vogon poetry slam instead
    I have been occasionally reminded of a quote from blogger ‘Thersites’ — “It’s as if Bulwer-Lytton just ate six cans of beans”.

  28. #28 ChrisP
    May 3, 2013

    From proximity1

    my point is, indeed, that the risk is unknown, and in my opinion, unknowable at this point, and given that, the only safe course given such an extreme consquence if the feared dangers were to materialize—supposing, that is, that the harm has not already been done with what has already occurred in the GMO insanity—the only safe course is to end further laboratory pursuits of GMO design and implementation.

    This is just wrong. The risks are known. We know what all the potential risks are.

    As you are starting from a completely wrong premise, it is perhaps no surprise that your arguments are wrong.

  29. #29 Militant Agnostic
    Where it is always better with gentically modified aurochs around
    May 3, 2013

    Krebiozen

    The risk of a nuclear power-plant’s reactor melting down is not hypothetical, it has happened in the past, and we understand exactly under what circumstances it can occur and what the consequences can be.

    The consequences turn out to be much less dire than the the anti-nuclear put more C02 into the atmosphere by burning coal instead activists have been claiming. The anti-GMO scaremongers ignore the consequences of going doing things the way we always have. That is the major flaw of the “Precautionary Principle”.

    herr doktor bimler –

    “It’s as if Bulwer-Lytton just ate six cans of beans”.

    I will have to remember that for the next dark and stormy night.

  30. #30 herr doktor bimler
    May 3, 2013

    My second favourite comparison: It is like someone went into the Hunterian Museum and interviewed Bishop Thurlow’s anus.

  31. #31 Shay
    the wrong office
    May 3, 2013

    cookie, bitte.

  32. #32 JGC
    May 3, 2013

    How do I “opt out” of the general society-wide risks, in case there are serious such risks–entailed in the production and consumption of GMOs?

    The path that has the greatest chance of success would be for you to convince the rest of us that the risks of developing and consuming GM crops are so great compared to the benefits they provide (in terms of improved yield, reduced ecological impact, etc.) that GM crop development is abandoned.

    Of course to do that you’ll have to do far, far better than you have been here–you’ll need to support your position with actual evidence that risks exceed benefits. As far as I can tell your entire several day’s of posting reduces to the unsupported personal assertion: “GM crops are bad because they’re man-made.”

  33. […] recently resurrected, though, at an unusual spot. Orac at Respectful Insolence actually took it on: Oh, no! GMOs are going to kill your babies and permanently change your gene expression! He does a good job of framing the issue and explaining the technology. He astutely writes about […]

  34. #34 janerella
    At my GMO- free desk...
    May 15, 2013

    Make doubleplus sure you don’t eatz teh GMOz – guaranteed GMO-free salt!!!!! http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/blogs/facepalm-of-the-week-non-gmo-salt

  35. #35 Grant
    http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/
    May 22, 2013

    If you’re looking for an update to this story, there’s Regulator rejects scientists’ GM concerns along with statements on the New Zealand Science Media Centre website.

  36. […] recently resurrected, though, at an unusual spot. Orac at Respectful Insolence actually took it on: Oh, no! GMOs are going to kill your babies and permanently change your gene expression! He does a good job of framing the issue and explaining the technology. He astutely writes about […]

  37. […] As was the case for the nonexistent cell phone-cancer link, there has now been a steady drip-drip-drip of bad studies touted by anti-GMO activists as “evidence” that GMOs are the work of Satan that will corrupt or kill us all (and make us fat, to boot). Not too long ago, I came across one such study, a truly execrable excuse for science by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen purporting to claim that Roundup-resistant genetically modified maize can cause horrific tumors in mice. I looked at the methods and conclusions and what I found was some of the worst science I had ever seen, every bit as bad as the quack “science” used by the antivaccine movement, as anti-GMO activists worry about GMOs sapping and impurifying their precious bodily fluids. Then, not too long ago, I discovered a truly quacktastic bit of fear mongering by Jack Heinemann about GMOs in which, or so it is claimed, GMOs produce silencing RNAs that not only survive transit through the gut, get into the bloodstream and thence into cells to inhibit the expression of specific genes, and even get passed down to the next generation to kill your children. […]

  38. […] Oh, no! GMOs are going to kill your babies and permanently change <b>…</b> […]

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