i-6fa392c2a80022a3f5c036eab372d20c-images-2.jpgA few years ago, next to a small barn converted into a winery, I noticed a flyer asking voters to support Measure M, an initiative in Sonoma county that sought to ” prohibit the raising, growing, propagation, cultivation, sale, or distribution of most genetically engineered organisms.”

It pictured the destruction in New Orleans wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the bewildered gaze of George W. Bush. The flyer proclaimed “Who do you trust with your family’s health and safety? When FEMA failed, more than a million Americans suffered.”

That flyer was typical of the misinformation about GE crops, aimed more at alarming consumers than helping voters understand the issues. I am certain that flooding was not one of the dangers posed by GE foods. Furthermore, it is doubtful that President Bush knew anything about the local initiative nor was much interested in science or agriculture.

Ironically, this lack of scientific scrutiny, willingness to pass on unsubstantiated rumors and fear mongering through the media were equally manifest in President Bush’s campaign to launch war in Iraq. In 2002, high profile news stories focused on the Bush Administration’s insistence of the dangers from weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq and the need for a preemptive strike. As the world now well knows, this information was not correct. So why did Bush’s opponents imitate his methods? And why, today, do Obama’s opponents spread false rumors that the newly passed health care law will create government-sponsored “death panels“?

i-c6b35acb0b1859dbebf5b85097e64f87-images-1.jpgAs my colleague Sarah Hake, a professor of corn geneticist at UC, Berkeley, says, “fear sells, data do not. Simple successes of genetic engineering in agriculture are not often heard in the popular press-rather we are given a smorgasbord of reasons to be afraid. Supporting Anti-GE measures simply shut the door rather than allowing important questions to be asked about the environmental and food safety risks and benefits of GE crops” (Bolinas Heresay News 2004).

One of the strangest descriptions of genetic engineering can be found in the book “Genetic Roulette” by Jeffrey Smith. In it, he details 65 separate, “documented” claims that the technology causes harm in a variety of ways.

Fortunately for those interested in science-based information about GE crops, two food science and biology academics today are launching a new Web site, Academics Review, to examine claims against GM foods by Jeffrey Smith. Click here to see each of those claims – referred here as Myths — stack up against peer-reviewed science.

Founders Bruce Chassy, Ph.D, professor of food microbiology and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dr. David Tribe, Ph. D., senior lecturer in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, authored a point-by-point scientific analysis of Smith’s claims, which is posted on the site.

“Reliable information is extremely important to enable people to make healthy choices,” said Tribe. “We hope Academics Review will be a resource for anyone who respects the open-minded search for truth that is the basis for scientific thinking.”

Chassy and Tribe point out anyone searching the Internet for information to help them decide on the safety of GM foods would likely find a lot by Jeffrey Smith, who, like many people pushing advice online, isn’t an expert on the issue.

“Much of the ‘evidence’ Smith cites for his theories about GM foods has never been peer-reviewed or examined by the international community of scientists for verification,” said Chassy.

Chassy and Tribe applied the same scientific method they teach their students to Smith’s claims, posting the blistering results of their review of Genetic Roulette in clear, understandable language. The site can be accessed for free by anyone seeking to base their decisions on the best information available.

“When Wendell Phillips in 1852 said ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,’ he may as well have been referring to Jeffrey Smith,” said Chassy. “We all have to be vigilant about what to believe, especially when it comes to our health.”


  1. I see what you referring to now. I was relying on the Ewen-Pusztai paper, where they gloss over nutritional differences and simply state that the treatments were isocaloric and equivalent in protein. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. #2 Paul Christensen
    March 14, 2012

    Tribe and Chassy’s scientific case might well have been better off without mentioning Jeffrey Smith’s spiritual beliefs, but in the policy debate we take values into account, including religious values. Public figures must expect that their beliefs are open for examination. We take especially values into account when values have an impact on what is reported as science. We can be sympathetic to Mr. Smith’s desire to bring his science and his beliefs into agreement without ignoring the possibility that he made mistakes in trying to do so, or asserting that his religious freedom extends to claiming for accepted science anything which his beliefs might require.

  3. #3 air max 90
    September 9, 2010

    Ora, o que hoje vos trago aqui, não é de todo uma grande notícia, antes pelo contrário. Como já tenho vindo a referir noutros “posts” aqui publicados, o Cantinho está bastante àquem do que tem vindo a ser, já que o Inverno tem sido rigoroso por estes lados. Assim, posso apenas esperar que o tempo mude, e que a Primavera chegue depressa para que possa arranjar a terra e plantar de novo algumas espécies. Por essa altura começará também a minha habitual corrida pela procura de mais plantas para o Cantinho.

    Por agora, deixo-vos com fotografias de algumas das plantas que aguentam e prosperam neste Inverno, tais como a erva-de-são-roberto, a salvia-ananás e o absinto.

  4. #4 Dave P.
    June 15, 2010

    I don’t want to eat GM foods for the simple fact that the U.S., thanks to companies like Monsanto, doesn’t want foods labeled “GMO” or “non-GMO” which is unlike Europe, for example. It is the unscrupulous activities by these GM companies which has discredited GM foods, not Jeffrey Smith. There is no transparency and the question remains, are these GM foods tested by the FDA or are these GM companies just given a bye. These are same companies which gave us Agent Orange, DDT, they buy up all the seeds, sue farmers if their seeds accidentally cross over to their farms and so on. I want to avoid supporting these companies by not buying foods containing their GM seeds.

    Let’s face it, they are known to donate money to universities for their biotech departments and the professor who disagrees with their research will have numerous problems publishing, gaining tenure etc… these are all disincentives to be against GM products. Any professor who has received grants, worked at universities who have received GM company monies should disclose this information. Again, transparency.

    If everything is on the up and up why all the secrecy from these companies including their own testing. All I want is transparency for consumers so we can make up our own minds without being pummeled with ridiculous marketing ads or “expert” misinformation. Jeffrey Smith, as pointed out, his info can be researched in numerous ways but he does a service to the community at large by raising concerns of transparency from these large corporations who have a significant effect on our children and our culture.

  5. #5 Patrick
    June 12, 2010

    These blogs are interesting, great Pr and scamming by Academic Review. Opinions no longer need to debate Science against Science but just cast aspersions about any studies that raise concerns over GE safety.

    How many Industry GE studies have been repeated until the results show no- significance, ghost written, or just allow the research findings to be massaged by their funders.

    The GE promotion machine has billions of dollars at its fingers. Just consider the people who are pulling Smith apart are they not pro GE? Their whole life is spent earning a living from creating and patenting GEO products for us to use/eat, don’t you think they would protect their income?

    However just how many studies have they published on the safety of GE food on humans or animals? Where are the diagnostic tools for health professional to use if they suspect allergy effects from GE? I have seen GE feeding studies that say we need more safety testing because of the adverse changes on the bodies systems?

    independent examination on Monsanto own studies have uncovered significant adverse effects on renal and liver function.

    How come published and renowned Scientists, like Dr. Pusztai who has over 300 publications on food safety that are highly acclaimed, raise a red flag over the adverse effects from their GE trials they suddenly became a terrible scientists?

    Will GEO’s be the Thalidomide or DDT for our Children and if they will will they ever be able to reverse the deleterious effects?

  6. #6 Capucijner
    April 5, 2010

    #17 Academics Service, please clarify what point you are making and why you ignored the other suggestions. What is reference [14]?

  7. #7 Chris H
    April 5, 2010

    #18 Ever heard of Marker Assisted Breeding? You don’t have to make it look as if there are only two choices for plant breeding, and then make traditional breeding look medieval.

  8. #8 Ewan R
    April 5, 2010

    Thanks Pam… reason_1992 to enjoy scienceblogs… no longer need to read books or do research as there is always someone out there who already has! (I’ll definitely be using the Sub1 example in future – is there further work being done to assess how many genes/how much DNA was introgressed along with Sub1?)

  9. #9 Pam Ronald
    April 5, 2010

    Ewan, The National Academy of Sciences lists a few in their book on the risks of GE crops. They cite an example of conventional breeding of celery for insect resistance, where some farmworkers developed a rash on their hand after harvest. For the Sub1 rice developed by my collaborators using marker assisted breeding, the grain changed to a slightly different color. There must be a color gene introgressed at the same time as Sub1. We did not see this change when we used genetic engineering to introduce the single gene. It was a different genetic background though, so not directly comparable.

  10. #10 Ewan R
    April 5, 2010

    Kevin (or anyone) – out of interest, are there many examples of traditional breeding gone horribly wrong (pugs not included…)? To the sort of scary toxic extents that the anti-GM crowd occasionally already believes of GM tech?

    I’d only liken traditional breeding to roulette in a comparitive sense, rather than an absolute sense, unless you have many thousands of ‘slots’ on your roulette wheel (or a few thousand empty chambers if you’re a little more Russian in your thinking) because while I’d agree that the dangers are more unknown (and unknowable) with traditional breeding, it’s sort of like saying that a kitten is a lot more dangerous than a rubber duck.

  11. #11 Kevin Folta
    April 4, 2010

    The real roulette is traditional breeding from wide crosses. Most students I talk to don’t realize that the un-natural and sometimes almost impossible creation of wide hybrids is the mixing of tens of thousands of genes with no hint of what will fall out. Plants do make toxic stuff, quite naturally. When I explain it this way GE seems amazingly surgical.

    Too bad that the anti-GE folks will never read the reviewed literature. It is much more fun to just make up their own facts that support their narrow non-scientific view.

  12. #12 Academics Review
    April 3, 2010

    The key facts relating to whether GM causes EMS are summarised by Smith and Garrett 2005.


    According to certain epidemiologists, “the available evidence provides a strong basis for concluding consumption
    of products containing tryptophan manufactured by Showa Denko caused the 1989 epidemic of EMS in the United States” [12]. Some medical dictionaries [13], websites 2 and many investigators have favored such hypotheses, e. g., “Conclusions. The outbreak of EMS in 1989 resulted from the ingestion of a chemical constituent that was associated with specifi c tryptophan-manufacturing conditions at one company” [14].
    With respect to studies offering links between EMS and tryptophan-manufacturing conditions at Showa Denko K.K., one epidemiological study emphasized: “the company used a fermentation process involving Bacillus amyloliquefaciens to manufacture tryptophan. In December 1988, the company introduced a new strain of B. amyloliquefaciens that increased the synthesis of serine and 5-phosphoribosyl-
    1-pyrophosphate, which are intermediates in the biosynthesis of tryptophan. This new strain (Strain V)was used for the manufacture of tryptophan after December 25, 1988” [14].
    Innumerable investigations worldwide have attempted to resolve the precise cause(s) of eosinophilia with myalgia.3 As yet, few molecular breakthroughs have emerged. Pervasive
    hypothesis, two alleged (and partially interrelated) cofactors – namely, genetic engineering and a microimpurity/ies of dietary supplements [15] – are both unnecessary and insuffi cient explanations of enigmatic (multifactorial)4 chains of causality underlying a majority of official EMS cases.
    Numerous etiologic incongruities [16–19] – including two
    reports of L-tryptophan-induced eosinophilia with myalgia in 1986 [20–22] – underscore why a paradigm shift was advisable.

    [16] Blauvelt A, Falanga V. Idiopathic and L-tryptophan-associated
    eosinophilic fasciitis before and after L-tryptophan contamination.
    Arch Dermatol 1991; 127: 1159–66.
    [17] Spry CJF. Eosinophils: A Comprehensive Review, and Guide to the
    Scientifi c and Medical Literature. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University
    Press, 1988: 1–484.
    [18] Goronzy JJ, Weyand CM. Eosinophilia, myopathy, and neuropathy
    in a patient with repeated use of L-tryptophan. Klin Wochenschr
    1990; 68: 735–8.
    [19] Kaufman LD. Neuromuscular manifestations of the L-tryptophanassociated
    eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. Curr Opin Rheumatol
    1990; 2: 896–900.
    [20] Strongwater SL, Woda BA, Yood RA, Rybak ME, Sargent J, De-
    Girolami U et al. Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome associated with
    L-tryptophan ingestion. Analysis of four patients and implications
    for differential diagnosis and pathogenesis. Arch Intern Med 1990;
    150: 2178–86.
    [21] Lakhanpal S, Duffy J, Engel AG. Eosinophilia associated with
    perimyositis and pneumonitis. Mayo Clin Proc 1988; 63: 37–41.
    [22] Martin RW, Duffy J, Engel AG, Lie JT, Bowles CA, Moyer TP et
    al. The clinical spectrum of the eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome
    associated with L-tryptophan ingestion. Clinical features in 20 patients
    and aspects of pathophysiology. Ann Intern Med 1990; 113:

  13. #13 Capucijner
    March 28, 2010

    hi Academics Review,

    yeah I would like to make some fine-tuning suggestions if I may. I think it would be fair to edit the tryptophan page a bit.

    It now says “The claim that a GM microbe was at fault was made without any evidence.”. ‘Without any evidence’ is a bit harsh. For those not in possession of the book Seeds of Deception: an entire chapter is spent on tracking the possible connection, and all the academic if’s, provided’s and however’s are in place.
    Smith DOES mention several times that a direct connection between tryptophane and EMS had been suggested, in the nineties, and even mentions that there were EMS patients from, according to the sources, other tryptophane than from Showa Denko.

    Many readers of your site will assume from your summary that Smith is not aware of that and that he simply steps from correlation to causation. It would be better to make clear that this is not what his book says. Otherwise your rebuttal page would seem to be misleading.

    Smith explained that he had reason to believe that these other patients in fact did use tryptophane from earlier strands of Showa Denko’s GE microbes. The FDA at that time was ignoring the existence of these earlier strains.

    He also comes with a case example of EMS that stands out from the other cases of EMS by the symptoms.

    You wrote “No cause and effect between a GM microbe and the EMS disease has ever been established”

    The tryptophane making bacteria is not available for research anymore, because it was destroyed immediately after Dowa Shenko was linked to the cases of EMS, and the deaths.
    That makes a genetical and chemical analysis impossible and all one has are patient/disease correlations to find out if something is wrong with it.
    A relation between the users of this tryptophane and EMS is quite hard because a proper statistically neutral selection of a group of users is practically not possible.
    So however much we would like to know whether there is a link or not, we will never know.

    It would be fair to mention that in v1.2.

    You may also like to make it more clear that the book Seeds of Deception by Smith which mentions this case was written in 2004. So the direct link between tryptophane and EMS claimed in the 2005 reference you rely on for this was not known at the time of writing, it was only assumed. Smith in 2004 explained why with the data he had available he thought that explanation was just another excuse, like others he mentions in detail, like the filtering process suggestion.

    One more edit: the link you provide on the second tryptophane reference, to the information folder, is not working for me at this moment, so maybe add a second link to http://web.archive.org/web/20080223160913/http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/ds-tryp1.html or another archived version.

    PS I am not affiliated with mr Smith.

  14. #14 Academics Review
    March 27, 2010

    Re Who’s watching the watcher part 3.

    Further reflections from Academics Reviews about” Who’s watching the watcher?”

    First thanks again for real dialog – we certainly value advice where there is a chance of being misleading. We’re actively searching for any necessary minor edits to fine-tune what we say in version V1.1

    We totally agree that “Whose watching the watcher?” is a good question because it gets to the core of what Academics Review is all about, and what we believe. We sent many of our reviews out to 1 or more experts for peer review and that the every section on the entire site has been read attentively by at least one PhD scientist other than the authors. While we don’t want our site to become mired down in the rantings of GMO haters (blessfully not apparent at Tomorrow’s Table blog !), we invite legitimate review and criticism, and welcome additional arguments and material. They can be easily left at the site for us to grapple with. So the poster posits a good question and we want him to know that there sure is someone watching the watcher — as it should be.

  15. #15 pdiff
    March 26, 2010

    Academics Review,

    Thanks for the reply. It is appreciated.

    “Our tag heading is short for the major point that the potatoes giving an adverse response clearly ‘aren’t even GM potatoes’”

    The tag line is fine. Saying “… Fares and El-Sayed, did not study GM potatoes! ” was misleading, IMO. I agree completely that Smith (and the authors) confuse the readers as to what was actually causing the differences seen.

    “The Royal Society report (1999) and Kuiper and others (1999) both cited in the Academics Review dissection of Jeff Smith’s Pusztai potato article provide clear support for “different rats getting different diets” contra to Watching the watcher’s opinion.”

    Ahh, I see what you referring to now. I was relying on the Ewen-Pusztai paper, where they gloss over nutritional differences and simply state that the treatments were isocaloric and equivalent in protein. Thanks for the clarification.

    I guess we’ll differ on the nature of Pusztai’s intentions. While I truly am not a big Pusztai fan, my impression from his statements around the net was that he was more a “do better testing” than a “dump the technology all together” kind of guy. That said, his regiment of testing is completely impractical and would probably fail most “traditionally” bred crops as easily as GM ones. So perhaps you are right on his real motivations :-)

    Thanks again for the replies and web site.

  16. #16 Ewan R
    March 26, 2010

    I’m not sure he’s right about roundup – particularly as it is off patent, and has a tonne of research work behind it, both positive and negative (most recently I think Seralini was involved in a controversy over cell cultures being effected by glyphosate and various additives)

    As far as I am aware (and I could be wrong here) on patent GMOs may well be resticted on a kind of research only with permission basis – there was some discussion of this over on the Monsanto blog which suggests that Monsanto at least are open to research and are pushing for more transparency, although Thijs Tolenaar (who if you ever get a chance to see him discussing crop physiology take it) highlighted a recent trend towards companies requiring researchers sign agreements on varieties to test (and I’m not 100% sure if this was to do with presence of biotech traits, or just hybrids – my take on hybrids was that under plant variety protection academic research was totally open, although this may not be right)

    That said, it’s wouldn’t be overly hard to study the safety of GMOs in general without access to commercial lines – if you’ve got the cash to do a serious safety study then transforming plants with a few genes wouldn’t be that hard surely, although application of the results broadly may be a bit more difficult and clearly the best tests for safety should be specific to a given event.

    I’d also be interested to know of cases where Monsanto have sicced the lawyer on anybody regarding research – not something I’ve actually come across (I thought we just ruined farmers lives, and killed cows)

  17. #17 Mary
    March 26, 2010

    @Hinemoana: this is something that I can’t figure out either. I get into these discussions on the web where the same people who tell me that GMOs have all these documented scary effects, and in the next paragraph they tell me Monsanto won’t let you study them.

    I have asked them to tell me which it is–you can’t have both claims simultaneously. They are mutually exclusive.

  18. #18 Hinemoana
    March 26, 2010

    Is what Jesse (#8) says, correct? It seems a bit over the top. I can understand a gene patent meaning you cant use and develop the gene and plants etc. containing the gene for use (i.e. agriculturally) without their permission. I can even understand not being able to study the genes effect on organisms containing it. But I dont see how they could stop people studying the effect that GE organism has on the environment and people etc. Thats like saying you cant study the effect of Coke on the environment and people’d health.

  19. #19 Academics Review
    March 26, 2010

    RE Watching the watcher Part 2.

    We need to watch the watcher watcher too.

    QUOTE RE Pusztai’s flawed research: They claim that ” … different groups of rats received different diets.” I found no evidence of this in the papers (see discussion on biofortified.com). They also describe Pusztai as “fear-mongering”, but he has consistently claimed he is not anti-gmo, just that he wants better testing. He published a paper on that topic suggesting the means to do so, many of which have been adopted by researchers. Pusztai certainly has his flaws, but I found some of this description misleading.ENDQUOTE
    Academics Review response
    The Royal Society report (1999) and Kuiper and others (1999) both cited in the Academics Review dissection of Jeff Smith’s Pusztai potato article provide clear support for “different rats getting different diets” contra to Watching the watcher’s opinion.

    Arpad Pusztai is explicitly acknowledged in Genetic Roulette as a contributer to Jeff Smiths book. On his home page he promotes anti-GM organisations such as Gene Watch Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. He is listed as a board members of environmentalist group EWG.He works closely with the other major anti-GM activists.He makes submissions to the Indian Government that seek to delay Bt-Brinjal. He makes anti-GM submissions on GM to the New Zealand Royal commission. He speaks with US anti-GM activists such as Charles Benbrook in Minnesota, Colorado, California at anti-GM forums. In short “scaremongering” is what he is fully immersed in.

  20. #20 Academics Review
    March 25, 2010

    RE Watching the watcher

    Bruce and I really welcome critical discussion. Our tag heading is short for the major point that the potatoes giving an adverse response clearly “aren’t even GM potatoes”

    As we say explicitly as a major point:
    “The researchers Smith refers to, Fares and El-Sayed, did not study GM potatoes! Jeffrey Smith wrongly attributes results to genetically modified potatoes that were obtained only with potatoes supplemented with Bt toxin made in non-GM bacteria.”

  21. #21 Jesse
    March 25, 2010

    I think it is more than fearmongering. And I have to say I am deeply skeptical when corporations make claims about their GM foods — and I am speaking as one who does understand the science involved.

    This isn’t because the companies are evil, but refusal to acknowledge that when you plant something outside a controlled environment things can happen is simply dangerous.

    It’s the old precautionary principle. The private sector has proven a complete disaster in self-regulating that kind of thing.

    More to the point, there are plenty of examples of non-GM plants invading areas they aren’t supposed to be in and causing all kinds of problems. So concern over the safety of GM foods for either the environment or our health isn’t just fear mongering, IMO. You don’t need an apocalypse to cause a lot of damage. Water hyacinth was bred as an ornamental plant; it’s a gigantic problem in Florida right now.

    And I am supposed to trust Monsanto when they say “all is well! You just don’t understand this?” I understand it reasonably well I think, for a non-expert whose spoken to geneticists, and I trust them not at all. And this is leaving aside the issues of ownership and intellectual property.

    Those property issues are salient, by the way. When you patent genes you can prevent anyone else from doing independent work; you can stop anyone from checking your results with the threat of a lawsuit. If I want to study rats I can do so; if I want to study Roundup I essentially have to get permission from Monsanto. If Monsanto doesn’t like the direction my research takes all they have to do is withdraw the license. That is sort of scary and Monsanto in particular has been happy to sic the lawyers on people.

    That doesn’t mean no fearmongering takes place, but the problem isn’t whether people understand science, it’s that people understand corporate behavior all too well.

  22. #22 Mary
    March 25, 2010

    Yeah, I saw the announcement for that elsewhere and I was really psyched. There are a lot of places around the web where I find myself in discussions and it will be a great place to link to facts.

    At Biofortified’s forum we were talking about how great it would be to have a Snopes for GE.

  23. #23 pdiff
    March 25, 2010

    This site certainly does offer a multitude of criticisms for the cases Smith lays out. Glad to see someone has taken him on in a formal way. Be careful of the watcher, however. Who is watching them. The site, in its attacks, is not without bias or error. Examples:

    Pusztai’s flawed research: They claim that ” … different groups of rats received different diets.” I found no evidence of this in the papers (see discussion on biofortified.com). They also describe Pusztai as “fear-mongering”, but he has consistently claimed he is not anti-gmo, just that he wants better testing. He published a paper on that topic suggesting the means to do so, many of which have been adopted by researchers. Pusztai certainly has his flaws, but I found some of this description misleading.

    GM Tomatoes Proven Safe: Academicsreview.com says “…regulators approved the tomato because their concerns had been fully satisfied that the GM tomato was not toxic” Not exactly. Three studies were done, each with conflicting results regarding gastric erosions in rats. The FDA sought answers about the inconsistencies, but from what FDA memos are available, it does not appear that their concerns were fully satisfied on this matter. They probably based the approval decision on other data showing the chemical and nutritional composition of the GM FLAVR-SAVR to be equivalent to other tomatoes.

    These aren’t even GM Potatoes: Academicsreview.com says “The researchers Smith refers to, Fares and El-Sayed, did not study GM potatoes!” This is flat out wrong. While the study does have problems, the researchers did use a GM potato treatment. In the paper they do ignore the non-significance of the GM results and, instead, concentrate on differences seen in potatoes spiked with Bt toxin (the toxin was present at much higher levels than that found in the GM line). It is incorrect, however, to state that they did not look at GM potatoes.

    Academicsreview.com has provided a great resource here and does hit the major points in these cases, but the authors should be more careful with the bias and accuracy in their arguments.

  24. #24 Ewan R
    March 25, 2010

    #2 & #3 Urban myths are about all the anti-GM side of the debate has when it comes to science backing their claims

    #1 – I’m pretty sure most peer reviewed articles do have a conflict of interest type requirement, although I’m not sure I agree with harsh legal penalties for non-disclosure I’m pretty sure that it’s within reason to assume that non-disclosure, or inventing data, is enough to ruin any academic career and leave a paper completely worthless in the eyes of the scientific world. (Generally the conflict of interest bit comes at the top of the paper as far as I am aware, just after where the list of insititutions involved) taking it to the level of family members seems a tad bizarre and over the top, and ‘the slightest conflict of interest’ may also be hard to qualify – what if unbeknownst to the researcher 10% of their 401(k) is currently invested in Monsanto stock or some other similar doodad – certainly that’d end up looking like a conflict of interest, but likely wouldn’t enter the mind of anyone involved in the research. Likewise if your lab once received funding from Monsanto, or another biotech company, is that a permanent red flag of conflict of interest? I’d guess the anti crowd would flag it as so (just as apparently it is evil for experts in their line of work to move between industry and government jobs rather than handing top jobs which require knowledge about the field to fresh graduates) but I’d assume anyone working in academia would laugh at the notion that they hold any loyalty to anyone who once paid for their research once the last of the money is gone (and also I’d assume that any loyalty they held while spending the money was probably only skin deep)

    Also, once a peer reviewed article is out there that doesn’t mean it is sacrosanct and now The Truth ™ – if a paper is found flawed, even with hidden special interests, this will come to light (as Putzai, Seralini and co. could attest to should honesty become a trait they display) and as such rejected from the scientific knowledge around the subject (although only in scientific circles, any pile of horse manure that suggests a danger which makes it past peer review becomes canonical to the anti-GM establishment, which also generally cosiders the Hindustan Times and other such venerable organs (possibly ones with correct names aswell…) as part of the peer reviewed literature.

    What is mostly interesting about what I’ve gone through so far in the takedown of Smith linked above is that a lot of it is directly about the articles smith claims are saying what he believes/wants them to say – utterly demolishing his arguement at every turn – making the “conflict of interest” arguement here essentially a non-issue

  25. #25 Sharon Astyk
    March 25, 2010

    I think fear has been used to sell on both sides of the issue – I routinely read overstated claims from advocates of GM feeding, and accusations that people don’t care about hunger or poverty, overstated and unsubstantiated claims like “a worm free world” were used even here, where I think rational discourse is more normal, etc… I agree that unfair and unscientific techniques have been used to bias people against GMOs, but that’s not the whole story.

    One of the central difficulties is that the case for GMO is being brought to us largely (note, I’m not claiming most food researchers fall in this category, but the primary public advocacy for GMOs has been done by these corporations) by the exact same people who brought you the hundred-cow burger, who claimed that all pesticide use was good and safe and that organic food was dirty, that have been involved in things that are not uniformly good for you. It is not mere fearmongering for people to take the source of this advocacy into consideration.

    IMHO, the demonization of either side doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m not uniformly opposed to GM foods, but fundamentally, I think that the alliances many very good and deeply concerned scientists have made with industrial food corporations who have often demonstrated they don’t have the larger well being of the public at heart hurts you – quite seriously. It isn’t just a matter of fearmongering.


  26. #26 Daniel Tait
    March 25, 2010

    Sorry, I forgot to mention in my earlier post that the gene in the transgenic tobacco produced which OTA which Smith claimed was toxic (just to clarify).

    This lie has taken on urban myth status within the anti-GM movement. It was mentioned in an article by prominent GM critic Dr Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pathology, London. Who said…
    A number of oil seed crops (especially oilseed rape), are being engineered to have an altered oil composition for either “enhanced nutritional value” or industrial use. GE oilseed rape, for example, with a high lauric acid content is being grown in North America and is currently being reviewed by the EU for cultivation in Europe. Oil from this crop will end up in a diverse range of products such as soap and confectionery. In a research study where a bacterial gene (?6-desaturase) had been inserted into tobacco plants, not only was the desired and nutritionally important gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) produced but also octadecatetraenoic acid (OTA). Although OTA is useful in a number of industrial processes (e.g. wax and plastic manufacture), it is highly toxic.

    But it’s not toxic at all! In fact OTA is even in spirulina which people take for good health! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stearidonic_acid

  27. #27 Daniel Tait
    March 25, 2010

    Thanks for the link to the Academmics review. This is the website I have been looking for! After reading Jeffrey Smith’s first book on GM food seeds of deception I was convinced GM was dangerous and it got me interested in investigating the claims of the book and GM food safety in general. Now I would quite happily eat GM food. Here’s an example of a lie I found in his book ‘Seeds of Deception’
    he says…
    “This was early example in a long line of experiments with unpredicted results. Infact, the single most common outcome of genetic engineering has been surprise. Scientists engineered tobacco to produce a particular acid. That’s all they wanted: the acid and nothing else. But the plant also created a toxic compound not normally found in tobacco.”

    Referencing at the back of the book the paper – A.S Reddy and T.L. Thomas, “Modification of plant lipid composition: Expression of a cyanbacterial D6- desaturase gene in transgenic plants,” Nature Biotechnology, vol. 14, 1996, pp. 639-642.

    But when I researched octadecatetraenoic acid (OTA) on the Internet I failed to find any evidence that it was toxic. I even emailed co-author of the cited paper Terry Thomas who wrote back saying that to his knowledge octadecatetraenoic acid was not a toxic compound.
    I also contacted lipid expert Dr William W. Christie who informed me that 6,9,12,15-Octadecatetraenoic acid is stearidonic acid. The only other octadecatetraenoic acid found in nature is 8,11,14,17-octadecatetraenoic acid, which (together with stearidonic acid) is a minor component of fish oils. He also said “I would be astonished if stearidonic acid had any toxic properties whatsoever.”

    I emailed Jeffrey Smith about this and I’m still waiting for a reply.

  28. #28 Paul Harris
    March 25, 2010

    This sounds quite interesting but for it to be truly meaningful there must be absolute transparency. That includes following the money. Which researches are getting research grants from which companies (Whole Foods? Monsanto? Archer-Daniels-Midland?, etc.)

    Also are any family members of the researcher or peer review board employed in any way by any company that might have the slightest conflict of interest? I suggest that this be a prerequisite at the bottom of every peer reviewed journal article, and if anyone is caught lying about this they lose their tenure and are subject to civil suits.

    Paul Harris
    Former UC Davis student and Author, “Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina”