Weekend Diversion: My Love Letter to Winnie Cooper

"When you're a little kid you're a bit of everything; scientist, philosopher, artist. Sometimes it seems like growing up is giving these things up one at a time." -Kevin Arnold, The Wonder Years

Like many who grew up around the same time I did, The Wonder Years was one of my favorite shows, putting on display much of the awkwardness, anxiety, hope and powerlessness that comes along with being a pre-teen/teenager in this world. And like many, I had a secret crush on Winnie Cooper, played by Danica McKellar. To accompany this post, with a modern twist, here's the Easy Star All-Stars singing their uniquely interesting version of the Beatles' (and Joe Cocker's) classic,

With a Little Help from My Friends.

Unlike many child actors and actresses, the cast of The Wonder Years, from what I can tell, have all grown up to be well-adjusted, intelligent, educated adults, many who have done/are doing remarkable things with their lives. Danica is no exception, having majored in math at Stanford [apologies: UCLA] (and getting her research published), and written an excellent book called Math Doesn't Suck, a book whose philosophy is that pre-teen/teenage girls will be happier and better adjusted if they realize that cute and smart are not mutually exclusive traits, and in fact that it's universally superior to cute and dumb. It's a great message and it's presented extremely well, and it earned Danica great admiration from me.

Image credit: screenshot of the official website, http://www.mathdoesntsuck.com/.

But even the smartest and best-educated among us can very easily fall into the trap of believing a compelling-sounding story that is not grounded in science, and I felt like I had encountered just that when I saw Danica (whom I follow on twitter) tweet about genetically modified organisms being used for food. So -- as we can do in this modern, social world -- I asked her about it, and was surprised (and a little flattered!) to get a response:

Image credit: screenshot from twitter.

Here's the thing: there are many contentious, highly politicized and debated issues about our health, our environment, and about our nutrition that are very often much more about ideology than they are about what the science says on the issues. One of the issues that I'm not very well-informed about is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and how they compare to non-GMO foods in terms of nutrition and health benefits/hazards.

I also know that even though I'm a scientist, a very good, very smart scientist, and I can find information with the best of them, I am not qualified to make that determination. Just as a motivated layperson could cherry-pick quotes and papers to make one of many unsubstantiated points about physics or astrophysics, but I would be able to add nuance and separate a reasonable conclusion from an unreasonable one, I'd need to get someone who's an expert about biology and genetic engineering to provide that nuance on the issue of GMOs and their possible hazards to human health.

Image credit: retrieved from http://gardenfrugal.com/.

Thankfully, I found two: postdoc Corey Snelson from the University of Washington and professor Rajini Rao from Johns Hopkins. And I asked them both about the facts on GMOs and their impacts on human health. (And for those of you who don't know, GMOs are organisms that have had their genes modified by inserting/deleting/substituting in a particular genetic sequence from another organism's DNA.) Here are (some excerpts of) what they had to say.

CS: As a biologist, there's no evidence that your body will subsume DNA that doesn't belong to you, except over an extraordinarily long period of evolution (read: aerobic respiration and mitochondria)... Pesticides get into your body any number of ways, through breathing even. So there are a few studies that have tried to debunk using GMOs and their claims have all been unsubstantiated and debunked as junk. The study from France [linking cancer to GMOs] set out specifically to attack Monsanto and they failed miserably. In fact their data was SUPPORTIVE of using GMOs as their control group died earlier. They had low n's and tried too many conditions, and on top of that used a strain of rat known to develop tumors naturally.

RR: The problem with labeling GMO is that it places a burden on one specific technology while letting others go under the radar. If we are going to label our food, then we should apply it applied equally to crops that were modified by so-called conventional means, which can involve quite toxic methods, such as irradiation and mutagenizing whole plants. Yet, there is no labeling requirement for such methods, which are highly imprecise and amount to taking potshots in the dark. Who knows how many genes were damaged and mutagenized? All one knows is the apple is a better red, or sweeter or blight resistant. It could have many other alterations that are completely unknown and never be tested. In contrast, in GM techniques, a very precise genetic change is made in a predictable manner, and subjected to testing.
If one wants to know that a variety of corn expresses Bt toxin (perfectly legitimate), why not also ask if the corn field has been sprayed with Bt toxin? That is considered organic. Otherwise, it places an unfair burden on one technique, which plant biologists actually find to be more precise and controllable than these other conventional methods that go easily under the radar.

CS: There are a couple of things people get crazy about:

  1. Pesticides. GMOs do not have pesticides in them, they are engineered to be resistant to pesticides.
  2. Lateral gene transfer- not relevant. We have immune systems and those organisms that use this method of evolution are specifically designed to be receptive to this sort of thing.

RR: Most of [the anti-GMO] arguments are against Big Ag or Monsanto. They can't seem to separate the two.
In the case of the RoundUp Ready corn, confusion abounds. Many think that the corn actually has pesticide in it, when all it has is a variant of a natural plant enzyme that can no longer bind the pesticide, so it is tolerant. There's no rational reason why consuming an already abundant plant protein that is going to be digested into amino acids like everything else, is going to give us cancer.
We did a Hangout-On-Air addressing the debunked French study on GMO corn (Roundup Ready) here, and makes some general comments on GMO as well.

CS: The allergy issue is interesting because that would deal in gene expression, not simply genome modification, which is what GMO is. I'm not sure I really buy the allergy thing all that much either because scientists would be very careful to use only the DNA sequence of something that would be of value to a different organism. Of course early stuff that produced an allergic reaction would be banned now anyway, that's the whole basis of the scientific method.

RR: I wasn't able to find a GMO fruit with a shellfish gene. However, I did find a report of chitosan, made from shells of shrimps and crabs, being sprayed on whole bananas. This is not GMO. Maybe your celebrity Twitterer is confusing the two?

CS: What people often fail to realize is that GMO food is only adding or taking away a positive or deleterious DNA element. DNA itself does nothing to you.

Image credit: AP Photo / Sven Kaestner. GMO corn on the right, non-GMO on the left.

There's plenty more that these two (and other Ph.D. biologists) had to say about the issue of GMOs, but the summary I got from them is as follows:

  • GMOs are the safest, most scientifically understood way of inducing beneficial changes (with limited other, possibly harmful mutations) in the DNA of an organism.
  • GMOs can be used to do anything from improving crop yields to creating better-tasting, better-looking foods, although they're most frequently used to make foods more robust at surviving under harsher conditions.
  • All of the GMOs currently used for food have no known health risks above their non-GMO counterparts. This includes foods that have viral DNA in them, and no GMO product (fruit or otherwise) on the market today triggers allergies from the organism it was spliced from. On the contrary, GMOs hold the greatest hope of developing allergy-free peanuts, shellfish, etc.
  • There are abuses in the agricultural industry, unethical business practices and rampant corruption, but that does not make the process of genetic modification the villain, and quite to the contrary, one must separate the good science from the bad business of biology and agriculture.
  • GMOs should continue to be tested for long-term and short-term safety, and if a health risk is ever uncovered, that product should be pulled.
  • The original content of Danica's first tweet -- about GMO salmon -- is about a salmon that had an ocean pout gene spliced into it that makes it grow to adulthood in half the time, similar to the traits the non-GMO cornish cross chicken (the #1 chicken raised in the USA for food) has been bred for.

Image credit: AquaBounty Technologies, of this GMO salmon and a non-GMO Chinook.

In summary, GMO foods are not harmful to human health. If they were ever found to be harmful to human health, they would be pulled and/or recalled, and the very scientists that are often disparaged will be the ones working in the public interest who find that out.

There are plenty of issues that are just as politicized as GMO foods (or worse) where what we need to be doing is listening to the scientists who actually know: the veracity of the Big Bang, evolution, climate change, the benign nature of the LHC, the safety and importance of vaccines, fluoridated drinking water, and GMOs all fall into this category. Watching scientific facts play second fiddle to fears, misinformation and public opinion is absolutely heartbreaking for me, and incredibly deleterious to the public good.

Image credit: retrieved from Hemant Mehta.

And yet this is the very drawback of having a democratic society, where we vote on whether a lie can be taught alongside the truth in science classrooms, where preventable diseases become epidemics because of non-mandatory vaccinations (and the ruse of conscientious exemption), where the simple, cheap and safe dentifrice of fluoridated drinking water is subject to the propaganda of a political campaign, and where we fail to act on climate change because of political -- not scientific -- reasons.

Danica McKellar (and everyone else reading this), I have tremendous respect for all of our abilities to gather information, examine the evidence, and to separate reputable from disreputable sources of information. If we can do this successfully, then my great hope is that we can build a society that is better off because we drew conclusions and acted based on what is real, and worked towards serving the best interest of humanity. I don't expect that this article or the arguments herein will change everyone's mind, but I do hope it gets you thinking and challenging yourself on a number of controversial, politicized issues. And that at the end of the day, you find yourself compelled to be a voice and a leader for scientific truth, and strive to create a better world for all of us.


More like this

You cannot claim that all GMO's are safe any more than Winnie can claim they all cause tumors. However, you cherry-picked a couple of studies that suit your ends, while ignoring the vast majority of studies that do show that there is something to worry about. And GMO's are RADICALLY different than traditionally spliced plants. You show enough ignorance of the subject matter for anyone to listen to your arguments.

There are too many unanswered questions and too much at stake. GMO'S MUST be labeled.

By Eric Lorson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

I've read all of Danica McKellar's math books (four so far, if I didn't miss any), and unfortunately, although they are really good at teaching math, they contain several things which are at least questionable from a scientific perspective...

The worst was a horoscope in "Math doesn't suck". Even if that is intended as tongue-in-cheek (but it didn't look that way to me!), I think something like that simply has no place in a book on mathematics! (even if math does not belong to science in a strict sense)

I do remember watching that show with my daughter. When she was on the screen all I could think about was the mini Cooper.

By NorEastern (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

Scary viruses, eh? Does she think we should have the viruses removed from our own genomes?

I'll bet she doesn't know how much of the corn genome isn't corn: 85% is transposable elements. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19965430

Alas. It is additionally disappointing to see people who are supposedly champions of reason become unglued on this issue.

Nice job.

Interesting Fact: Fred Savage was created by Monsanto Corporation

Ethan, I am a tremendous admirer of your blog as you convey so well the awe you feel about the universe. So I am disappointed in this shallow post on a complex subject. It is especially sad that you imply that opponents of GMOs are "anti-science". While Danica is not completely correct on details, her message is at least worthy of consideration.

RR and CS talk like atomic-power apologists from the '50s. When, on this science website, RR debunks the idea that Round-up-resistant crops actually have herbicides in them, she creates a straw man. No serious student of the subject thinks that. Yet CS lies about and RR glosses over the fact that some GMOs have indeed been engineered to contain pesticides (bt, a toxin normally made by a bacterium), and in fact these are not regulated by the FDA and do not require labels. Danica's plea to label is justified. We can argue that the use of these crops greatly reduces total pesticide applications on crops and may therefore be a good thing for the local environment. Nevertheless the issue of food safety and labeling needs to be addressed.

RR's argument against labeling is weak. Even the form of the argument is wrong--she says we shouldn't do anything about this because we haven't done anything about other similar potential problems. Even if this were a valid form of argument, the other potential problems she mentions are quite minor compared to bt-modified crops. These crops produce bt toxin in all their tissues, so it cannot be washed off. You will definitely eat these substances or their breakdown products. How is that comparable to the purely external applications of conventional bt, where it can be washed off or eliminated by peeling, and where application can be avoided near harvest time?

Then there are all the potential ecological impacts of GMOs, again completely ignored by your two GMO boosters. Granted, your focus was on human health, but ecological impacts are important to consider. We now have evidence that genes for frost resistance, herbicide resistance, insect resistance, and others can leak from the GMOs into the environment and can be incorporated into the genomes of wild plants (to the point where now some common weeds are locally resistant to herbicides just like the crops). This creates the potential for irreversible ecological disasters. A frost-resistant version of kudzu or some other weed could effectively displace native ecosystems in large parts of the temperate zone.

Like you, I am not an expert on these things, but I am an ecologist and geneticist, and I am disturbed by how quickly many science bloggers dismiss concerns about GMOs. Yes, many fears about GMOs appear to be groundless. However, many seem plausible, and those two biologists should know better. I would have liked to see some more honest discussion of these issues. It may well be that the benefits outweigh the risks, but the risks have to be honestly faced if we are to make wise decisions. I hope Danica learns a bit more about the issue and continues to help make the public aware of the potential problems.

@Lou Jost: It's possible you don't understand the problems with the recent label initiative in California--but I have yet to see any others that resolve the problem either. It was a fear and misinformation label, it was not a scientific label. (There were other legal issues unrelated to the science that also made it terrible law, but I'll focus on the science part.)

You will not "definitely" eat these gene products. How much Bt would be in refined corn oil? How much RR beet EPSPS would be in refined sugar? So indicating that the GMO gene product is in a food would be wrong.

In the ultimate irony, a virus-resistant papaya would have much less virus than an organic one.

But let's say your main issue is ecological impact of herbicides. You must know that there are plenty of non-GMO herbicide resistant crops (see Clearfield). There's even a RR potato on the way--but it will be "conventional" and the label would do nothing to indicate that. Of course, gene flow could exist from these too and wouldn't be any different. Might even be more of a problem. But fixating and freaking out on GMOness fogs the discussion, unfortunately.

If the labeling law wasn't so inconsistent, misleading, and unscientific it might have gained support from science folks. But it was really just flawed in many ways and would not have enabled sensible and informed decision making.

Ethan, I agree with the central premise of your post and agree that there are a host of issues for which pseudo-science has replaced reality for otherwise bright people.

I was curious, though, that the question of economics (admittedly a soft science) didn't factor more into the GMO discussion. My understanding is that the patents on GMOs are a large factor against them, and while intellectual property isn't really science, the larger implications of genetics and ownership could have an impact on scientific progress as well as cultural and socioeconomic development globally. I don't claim to have any conclusions about these implications, but they seem relevant or worth a mention.
Keep up the good work!


C'mon Lou. Do you really think I'm an atomic power apologist? Good grief. Here's the rub, and what I believe, and if you paid attention for even a fraction of a second you'd know: I am not Pro-GMO, I am not pro-Monsanto, I am not an apologist. I am, however, PRO-SCIENCE and anti-bad science. I have complex views on a number of topics. I am the first, FIRST, advocate that people follow the scientific method, that they look at all aspects of science and life and discuss it RATIONALLY. Laboratory evidence supported by non-partisan, independent research suggests that there is no risk, but THAT EXPERIMENTS TO PROVE THAT ARE ONGOING. As well they should be. No where does anyone make the unsubstantiated claim that GMOs are hands down better for you than what you would find in an organic grocery store. If they did, they'd be considered quacks, as they should be.

What needs to happen here: people MUST stop listening to people like Robyn O'Brien, the Jenny McCarthy of GMOs, who can speak passionately about something of which she has no scientific training, and people must come to conclusions for themselves based on rational thought, using the scientific method, and that those thoughts need to be constructed from evidence based on peer-reviewed journals. The scare tactics of people who aren't trained, whose observations come from their children, (and we all know parents are not rational when it comes to their children) are unsubstantiated, non-controlled observations, and they are DANGEROUS.

My personal thoughts on labeling things GMO or not GMO are multifaceted. I don't think that Big Ag needs to be protected, make more money, or have a greater influence on our current Capitalistic model, therefore I would be pro-labeling. On the other hand, I do a lot of volunteer work in my off time with people of extraordinarily low income. If you force labeling, you're going to artificially introduce barriers to "healthy" foods that poor folks are not going to be able to breach by inflating the price of organic foods. And isn't eating better than not eating? Without GMOs a lot of really poor people would starve. (Thanks to Michael Pollan for rational views on this subject - note he DOES NOT take a stance on whether or not GMO is healthy or not).

I don't expect you to agree with me, but you, of all people, a biologist, should understand that simple introduction of a DNA element into an organism, WITHOUT IT'S INTERACTING PARTNERS will do little to other organisms that ingest it. What I like to cite is human development. If you think about it, 1000's of genes have to come together, interact in an exquisitely precise manner at the right time and in the right place to make sure that a life is made, and with the malfunction of just one of those genes, disaster can happen. The introduction of one gene, from an exogenous source, in a place without the other genes it interacts with is going to do little in the short term. We have SO MANY other reasons that we are fat. Good, well substantiated studies are required to make conclusive arguments, and in this case we simply don't have those studies to conclude that GMO food are intrinsically bad for you.

I never claimed to be an expert on this subject, but I do know a few things about developmental biology, gene transfer, and scientific method. Let's have RATIONAL discourse. Our society is so irrational these days I find it physically painful.

Respectfully, do as you will. Eat as you will. Recognize that you as an educated person are in a place that not many others can be in due to your extraordinarily fortunate educational experiences. I encourage you and everyone else to be thoughtful about what you put in your body, but attacking people who do think about policy and have rational thoughts on these matters is judgmental and unfair.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

"I am, however, PRO-SCIENCE and anti-bad science"

You think that bad science is science that says "that technology is a bad idea"?

No, the bad science is all the apologetic post-hoc rationalisation insisting that it MUST be nuclear and it MUST be GMO. If only the market were allowed to profit off these, then we'd all be eating unicorn steaks and dating supermodels!!!

"Without GMOs a lot of really poor people would starve."


GMOs aren't feeding anyone.

"I don’t expect you to agree with me,"

Yup, someone talking complete shite would not expect someone rational to agree with their nutcase statements.

At least you retain some sense of normalcy, even if you decide sanity isn't for you.

There is more than enough food to feed people and absolutely no need of GMOs to do so, nor are GMOs staving off starvation. They're used to squeeze money out of farmers. That's all.

"I never claimed to be an expert on this subject,"

Then don't pretend to know better than subject experts.

The real issue I have with GMO is not that they are doing it. In fact, it's a brilliant idea, IF the impact of the GMO organism you are introducing is examined over the duration of one full generation of the species proposed to benefit from it. i.e. 25 years if it is meant to benefit the human race. if the GMO organism is not effectively tested for one generation of humans, there may be consequences we do not forsee that are not reversible.

In summary, a lack of testing is a failure. If the lack of testing creates an irreparable negative change, it is a tragedy. Possibly a global tragedy.

"It was a fear and misinformation label, it was not a scientific label."

Yeah, how can people be so misinformed by being told there are GMO products in something! All right, that information is true but that's just how misinforming it is! You can't have consumers knowing what's going in to their meal! THAT'S COMMUNISM!!!!

"We now have evidence that genes for frost resistance, herbicide resistance, insect resistance, and others can leak from the GMOs into the environment and can be incorporated into the genomes of wild plant"

Hell, Monsato have sued many farmers because their plants have been contaminated with GMO products.

GMO fluffers pouting on about "Oh, it's completely the same as breeding techniques" seem to neglect: you don't get a patent on breeding a new strain of whatever. So with one face calling it the same thing (i.e. safe) and with the other calling it completely new (i.e. patentable).

Wow - at least I have the bollocks to identify myself publicly. GMO crops are fed to stock animals, which are slaughtered for you and me to eat. They ARE feeding people. Ideologically bs aside, have a RATIONAL conversation and don't cherry pick your arguments.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

As I read this I understand why it's so incredibly painful and difficult for scientists to combat pseudoscience. It has to be one of the most thankless tasks out there, all it does it immediately open you up to an endless avalanche of stupidity and attacks.

@Wow: you have been reading low quality sources of information I'm afraid. You are wrong on pretty much every count, but I'll specifically take the last flawed piece:

Yes, there are plenty of patents on non-GMOs. Plants have been patented since the 1930s. Ever seen a pluot? Patented. Here's more detail on some patented plants that people have neglected to tell you about.


A major problem with the discussion in this arena is that people who think they are informed have such lousy information that they can't understand where the real issues are. It's really a swamp of misinformation out there on this topic. It creates a lot of people who are super confident, but colossally wrong.

Mary, I wasn't addressing the California initiative at all. I don't know enough about it. I was speaking of labeling in general.

You say we wouldn't eat bt when we eat refined crop derivatives like oils and sugar. That could well be true. I was referring to crops that people eat directly.

I agree with your point about viruses. I never said otherwise.

You wrote "Let's say your main issue is ecological impact of herbicides." Read my post again, please. That is not an issue I raised at all. I even said that use of GMOs can reduce pesticide use. My ecological concern was the escape of frost-resistant or insect-resistant genes into wild plants. I only mentioned herbicide-resistant weeds because they are evidence of gene escape. (Herbicide-resistant weeds have no ecological impact at all since herbicides are not applied to most natural areas.)

I'd be glad to continue this discussion if you want to argue about what I really wrote.

Mind you, it's proven by the sales figures that using RoundupReady(tm) GMOs increases the use of Roundup in farming.

"GMO crops are fed to stock animals,"

And absolutely no need to do so.

Nobody is arguing that GMOs are great. Just that the science is young, and emotions need to be removed from the arguments. RATIONALITY is rare commodity these days it appears. Thank you David, it's an ongoing battle, especially given that Jenny McCarthy and her ilk are loud and emotional. Dispassionate analysis of data is required in order to make rational decisions about health. And Wow seems to be employing the time-honored political tactic of taking statements out of context. A big problem when he/she/it is not also posting substance to back up his/her/it's claims.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

Corey, glad you are here to discuss this. You wrote "C’mon Lou. Do you really think I’m an atomic power apologist? Good grief. " I said you were talking like an atomic power apologist from the 50's, not that you actually ARE an atomic-power apologist. I said that because you were so dismissive of concerns about GMOs...that's what it reminded me of.

Your comment is more balanced than the original quotes from you, but you don't actually respond to most of the things I said, and like Mary, you spend most of your comment responding to things I didn't say.

Let me ask you this directly: why did you say "GMOs do not have pesticides in them"? You know that some of the most widespread GMOs do have pesticides engineered into them. Maybe Ethan misquoted you or maybe you were just so concentrated on the herbicide-resistance that you forgot about that. Shouldn't you admit that this thing that you accuse people of "getting crazy about" is in fact a valid concern?

I'm glad you are in favor of some kinds of labeling (which was what Danica was pushing).

"@Wow: you have been reading low quality sources of information I’m afraid"

No, I've been readong sources of information you are afraid of.

You know, avoiding the ones with GoodFact in them and going for some places that will have some RealFact.

"but I’ll specifically take the last flawed piece:

Yes, there are plenty of patents on non-GMOs."

OK, so the flaw was what? That there are patents on what?

Stuff? Things, ye ken?


Huh? What? What on satan's ballsack does a piece on "fruits of climate change" have to do with patented plants???

There is an australian bloke who had a patent on "Swinging on a swing" but, and here's the "innovation": With a side-to-side component!

Yes, you can get a patent number for any old shite because, frankly, the PTO is quite happy taking your money for a worthless bit of paper.

"Nobody is arguing that GMOs are great"

Nah, they aren't even needed.

They're pointless landgrabs to monetise eating.

Here's something.

For those complaining about the trial that showed rat cancers from RR crops complainig that the sample was so tiny as to be meaningless statistically: the number of rats was the SAME NUMBER as the ones used to "prove" it was safe for human consumption.

Moreover, the change is is that the one that displayed the problems was a LONGER TRIAL.

Gosh darn it, those rats didn't curl up and die in five minutes, the damn stuff MUST be safe!!!

Lou - it's my understanding that the gene in Roundup Ready crops make them resistant to Round up while the surrounding weeds are killed. Sorta like Ampicillin resistant bacteria - that's engineered and something I've taken a LOT of advantage of with my experiments. The gene prevents bacteria from dying in the presence of the Ampicillin drug on a plate. I'm NOT touching on gene transfer and such, since that appears to be one of the bigger problems, and probably far, far more problematic than addressing the food supply part of GMOs. There are certainly environmental concerns with these things, and I was trying to specify my arguments to whether or not GMOs are harmful for consumption, and so far the only studies that suggest they are are overwhelming flawed. From what I understand, there is no "pesticide" engineered into those plants, after all, pesticides are chemicals and not gene products. If you have credible support to prove that I'm wrong about pesticides being engineered into plants, I'll gladly look at it. But Bt toxin doesn't count here ;)

As far as labeling, I really haven't made up my mind. I'm not willing to stake any claims on whether it should or shouldn't be done, I simply don't know the answer to that. I can look at all things rationally, and accept that each side speaks some truth. I have yet to need to vote on such an issue - we'll see what happens when I do need to vote on it - I take voting quite seriously, and it takes me several hours to fill out my ballot (we're entirely write-in ballots in Washington).

I'm done trying to rationalize with the irrational. Sorry Wow, but that's all you get from me.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

" I was trying to specify my arguments to whether or not GMOs are harmful for consumption"

You cannot use one single GMO to make a claim about all GMOs.

Yet you are doing so by using RR GMOs having no pesticide in them to show how GMOs are not harmful to eat.

And the studies showing them safe are even more higly flawed.

Hell, they don't even let there be independent testing of the studies done and they can and have killed papers showing problems before (See Merchants of Doubt and the actions of the Tobacco industry in quashing negative internal reports and studies about smoking and cancer).

"I’m done trying to rationalize with the irrational"

Yeah, that works every time.

AIG uses the same trick for anyone who dares to say that Adam and Eve didn't go riding round on a vegetarian Tyrannosaur.

Lou - also noteworthy is that those quotes from me came from a facebook posting originally addressing the question, so they weren't *quite* as professional as if I actually sat down to specifically address them. The reason Ethan quoted me was because I have some understanding of how genes work and interact with their environment, especially from a plant and animal perspective - I've done postdocs in both plant and animal work, though most of my training is in animals.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

Ok, we have Dunning-Kruger in the wild, @Wow. Resistant to facts, much like plants can be resistant to herbicides. Not worth any more effort.

But @Lou Jost: it doesn't matter whether it's the herbicide resistance per se (which you did reference). I was merely picking one of the examples to focus on because it's the most common complaint about GMOs that I hear. Same would be true for any of the issues you list, though. But you are also claiming that was resistance is based on gene transfer, when in fact the herbicide resistance is not coming from gene transfer but from development of resistance by natural means, not gene flow.


Your issues with the label are exactly what I was trying to address--that it doesn't capture the complexities of the issue, such as there wouldn't be a molecule of EPSPS in an item and the label would not be informative. If it was washed off, or not present, then it doesn't get a label, right?

Can you source the frost resistance gene transfer please? I am not familiar with that.

No, Mary, you have been looking in a mirror.

Just because you don't know stuf doesn't mean that this stuff doesn't exise.

And it's amusing how you are resistant to any facts that aren't fluffing the GMOs.

You know, facts like the study for RR being safe was far less valid than the study that showed dangers in ingesting the GMO product.

Or that corporations are allowed to submit their own papers to the FDA to "prove" their product safe to eat yet aren't run indepentently and there's no need to declare a report BEFORE IT IS STARTED so that we know if a report is being quashed.

Like I said, it would be funny you complaining about "resistant to facts" if it weren't for the fact that this is fucking about with people's lives here.

Try less of the arselicking. The Corporation Is Not Your Friend.

Not even if you're working for them.

"in fact the herbicide resistance is not coming from gene transfer but from development of resistance by natural means, not gene flow."

In fact, BOTH mechanisms are taking place.


This is the same codswallop as the "Oh, it's the same thing as breeding programs!!!". With one mouth, it's all very very much the same thing. With the other mouth, all very very different.

HA! I learn something new everyday. Dunning-Kruger is going to become part of my vocabulary.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

Corey, thanks for the response. Again, my earlier comment was not saying there was any health risk from Roundup-Ready crops.

Thanks for recognizing the environmental dangers of gene transfers. That is my main worry about GMOs. This issue gets lost in most discussions on the subject (such as the discussion in Ethan's post).

You wrote "From what I understand, there is no “pesticide” engineered into those plants, after all, pesticides are chemicals and not gene products." Gene products are chemicals too, of course. I was referring to Bt (which was also mentioned by RR in the post). You say Bt doesn't count. Why not? The genetically engineered crop produces a toxin that kills bugs. That is a pesticide, by definition, and it could have health effects if eaten. I do not claim to know that it DOES have health effects. The point is that it could, and so could other new chemicals produced by GMOs, yet it seems the FDA does not test these or require labeling for them. That violates the basic principle of precaution that should prevail when staple foods (often eaten in large quantities) are being toyed with. It seems to me people have a legitimate right to be upset here, and it is not "anti-science" to demand thorough testing. Wouldn't you agree that food safety laws have not kept up with technology?

PS Corey, bad move linking to a Daily Hate Mail piece.

They have as reliable a history of posting accurate news stories as The Australian, Fox News or The Inquirer.

Dellingpole posts for them, ferchissakes!

PS that french study was MORE RIGOROUS than the Monsato study and data put forward to the FDA to show their product safe.

If the French study is flawed, then the product is not shown safe for sale.

"HA! I learn something new everyday. Dunning-Kruger"

My god.

I didn't know there were people who didn't know that.

PS DK doesn't occur because someone has a fact you don't like.

“From what I understand, there is no “pesticide” engineered into those plants, after all, pesticides are chemicals and not gene products."


Weird this guy goes on about DK and how brilliant they are but then goes ahead and makes that sort of statement.

Genes produce chemicals.

Hell, I only did Biology and Chemistry up to age 13, but I knew that!

Ummm... I didn't link to... anything?

Please read the French study before posting arguments that support it. It has been entirely debunked by the scientific community, independently of Monsanto. It was released under suspicious contractual agreements - no peer review was performed before it was handed over to uninformed journalists who could write positive articles about it before it was released, meaning that scientists independent of Monsanto had to scramble to counter those non-scientific arguments. If you looked at it you'd recognize that the major claim they tried to support, that of increased exposure to GMOs would have a directly proportional effect on the weight, longevity, and number of tumors in these rats, was not substantiated by their data.

Wow - You obviously have no training in science and are just here to irritate like a bad rash. Good day to you, he/she/it.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

"GMOs are the safest, most scientifically understood way of inducing beneficial changes (with limited other, possibly harmful mutations) in the DNA of an organism."


We're chucking darts at a board blindfolded.

Hell, go take a look at the "science" of metallurgy. It's the same deal there. We chuck stuff together knowing a little about the products and check to see if the combination works the way we want. If not, change the recipe a little and try again.

It's the same deal with high temperature superconductors too.

Just because we understand genes (or atoms) doesn't mean we understand what we're doing when gene splicing (or making new solid state materials).

" GMOs can be used to do anything from improving crop yields to creating better-tasting, better-looking foods"

Theoretically this may be true.

"although they’re most frequently used to make foods more robust at surviving under harsher conditions"

is wrong. It's being used for much the same reason as you get Viagra: it's a money making scheme so they make things they can get best ROI back on.

" All of the GMOs currently used for food have no known health risks above their non-GMO counterparts. "

Just like Nelson says: I see no ships.

Hell, tobacco was healthy for you! ALL the doctors took it and there were NO health problems shown up from smoking!

Until they looked.

Even then, the idea that you could get cancer was denied for 60 years.

"There are abuses in the agricultural industry, unethical business practices and rampant corruption, but that does not make the process of genetic modification the villain,"

Just like weapons-grade plutonium doesn't make the evil mastermind the villain.

It does help them a lot in doing the villain stuff, though.

Guns don't kill people!

"GMOs should continue to be tested for long-term and short-term safety, and if a health risk is ever uncovered, that product should be pulled."

Precisely what the French team wanted to do.

But what got pulled? The research showing a problem or the product?

"The original content of Danica’s first tweet — about GMO salmon — is about a salmon that had an ocean pout gene spliced into it that makes it grow to adulthood in half the time, similar to the traits the non-GMO cornish cross chicken (the #1 chicken raised in the USA for food) has been bred for."

So why not breed fish to grow quicker?

Because you can't patent that.

"Ummm… I didn’t link to… anything? "

Misreading Ethan's post. It was RR not you.

Look at the Above The Line thread.

Where it says:

"There’s no rational reason why consuming an already abundant plant protein that is going to be digested into amino acids like everything else, is going to give us cancer.
We did a Hangout-On-Air addressing the debunked French study on GMO corn"

The link on "French" goes to Daily Fail.

It'd be like linking to WUWT for some debunking of a paper showing that hurricane intensity has increased due to AGW or similar.

Mary, I am not sure why you said that your response, which dealt with a concern I did not have, also applied to my concerns.

I am no expert on the literature, but a quick look turned up studies showing that engineered glyphosate-resistant genes could easily spread from engineered Brassica to wild weedy Brassica, via pollen transfer, and the hybrid was viable and resistant. It seems obvious that this would happen, not just for glyphosate resistance but for bt, frost resistance, or any other novel gene. It is a potential problem, and not a concern to be lightly dismissed. There may be ways to minimize the likelihood of transfers (eg engineering recessiveness into the gene expression so it only is expressed when both male and female have the gene). But this should all be part of the public discussion, and not dismissed as anti-science.

Mary, your "superweeds" link leads to a very superficial, non-peer-reviewed blog post.

@Lou Jost: I am asking you to source this claim:

" We now have evidence that genes for frost resistance, herbicide resistance, insect resistance, and others can leak from the GMOs into the environment and can be incorporated into the genomes of wild plants (to the point where now some common weeds are locally resistant to herbicides just like the crops). "

Please source the evidence for this claim. With links.

You keep moving the goalposts around saying that you didn't say things you said. So I wanted to be clear. Provide the sources for this claim.

You want source for the claim that plants share genes by pollination???

Maybe you want to ask yourself this question:

If such cross polination was not possible, why did Monsato spend so much on getting a Terminator Gene for some products of GMO tampering?

Lou - I won't argue that politics plays a HUGE role here. It's been admitted by nearly everyone. The Bt thing, and why I say it doesn't count is because it engineers a chemical reaction of course, but it isn't a marketable chemical, it's the biological product of a reaction within the body of the insect. The reaction is contained and specific.

I got my information from here: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/crops/00708.html

University sanctioned extension offices tend to be pretty trustworthy.

The Roundup ready thing is different, and requires the application of a manufactured chemical to the crops and surrounding plants in order to have an effect. Your definition of "chemical" is of course subjective here. I disregarded the Bt stuff because it was a natural product, while roundup is not selective to a specific bug, it kills EVERYTHING that isn't roundup ready. It's semantics, but that's my distinction. Co-opting a natural process for betterment of crop food is a little different that spraying a potentially dangerous chemical all over the place and hoping for the best.

Ok, guys. I'm done here. I'm exhausted, and I was supposed to have a lovely, relaxing 4 day weekend where I did a lot of knitting and not much else, and that is quickly becoming a debacle. So, I'm off. Just remember, read everything with a grain of salt, and a little forethought and education is your best friend when it comes to thinking about issues with a scientific and/or political basis. If something sounds suspicious, be suspicious, but think about everything from all angles before coming to any drastic conclusions. We just had a baby die here because of the same ridiculous thought process that Wow is using in regards to vaccines. Be responsible with your voice. It's important to think, and think well. Make the right decisions for YOU, and don't jump off on some crazy soap box because a pretty celebrity made an observation about her kid.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

" The reaction is contained and specific."

How much do you know about gene expression?

Did you know that the presence of some proteins or temperatures or other stresses can cause a gene sequence to produce something different?

Now imaging instead of just changing the external environment of the cell creating the chemical but you change the entire DNA surrounding that section for another entire library.

We know in insects who have this how it works in so far as "it will produce a toxin".

However, like for example the elements of the "irreducible" flagellum, we don't know what role it played in earlier organisms (from which it may have deviated along a different genetic path than, for example, to potatoes).

So we stick it in a potatoe and the gene that got chopped up to something else in the insect didn't need to get chopped up in the potatoe line (and may appear to be "junk" DNA of no actual use without this fragment that survived intact in the insect) and the potatoe now expresses something completely different.

We knew what it did to an extent in insects.

We don't know feck all about how it does it when it isn't in an insect.

A lot of the technophilia for "fixes" falls foul of the maxim: hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Florida leveees? Planned for the best. New Orleans flooded.
Fukishima? Planned for the best. Melty melty melty...
GMO's? Planning for the best. Stick fingers in ears for the worst...

Wow - you are an insane person hiding behind anonymity. My PhD is in genetics and developmental biology. I KNOW A LOT ABOUT GENE EXPRESSION, I STUDIED IT FOR YEARS!!!!! I certainly know more than someone with a 6th grade science education. I know what I'm talking about. Stop being an asshole.

BTW it's *potato*, not *potatoe*.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

Just in case anyone else stumbles across this discussion--let's also be clear on another issue: there has never been a seed or plant sold to any farmer anywhere with the "terminator" technology.

This is a massive lie, spread by many people. Some are merely ignorant about it and believe what others have told them, some people should (and do) know better but continue to lie anyway. It's good for driving donation dollars to activist organizations.

Nah, corey, despite your desperate need to paint me as insane, I aint.

Here's a fun fact for you.

Jason Lisle, Ph.D.:

"Few are willing to accept what the Creator Himself has said about the beginning of all things as recorded in the pages of Scripture, and as confirmed by scientific evidence. Dr. Jason Lisle is one of those few astrophysicists that stand on the authority of the Word of God."

Meanwhile you:

"after all, pesticides are chemicals and not gene products.”

And apparently you consider

” The reaction is contained and specific.”

when transplanting genes from one organism that has a ton of "junk DNA" into another organism that has a ton of "junk DNA" in a place that you only check to find out two things:

1) does it survive?
2) does it produce the toxin you're looking for?

is somehow "we know what's going on"?

Maybe, Mary, your problem is you're hallucinating?

” there has never been a seed or plant sold to any farmer anywhere "

is a hallucination.

My proposition was, and I quote:

"why did Monsato spend so much on getting a Terminator Gene for some products of GMO tampering?"

Where is "selling" or "farmers" in there?

Corey, apologies for derailing your evening; but this is important and it derailed mine too. You wrote "the Bt thing,... why I say it doesn’t count is because it engineers a chemical reaction of course, but it isn’t a marketable chemical, it’s the biological product of a reaction within the body of the insect. The reaction is contained and specific."
I used Bt today, and yesterday too, to kill fungus gnat larvae; a bacteria produces this toxin, which is toxic to a very wide range of bugs. It is a chemical just like any other pesticide. The fact that it is a biological product has no bearing on its toxicity to non-target organisms. Peach pits produce cyanide compounds, some mushrooms produce deadly chemicals, salmonella bacteria produce severely toxic chemicals. Nobody can say bt is safe without extensive long-term testing.

The link you provided goes to an agricultural extension office and the fact sheet is aimed entirely at corn farmers and tries to convince them that they should grow GMO corn. It does not cover human toxicity in any depth, and is completely without citations backing up their rather lukewarm statement that the principle toxin is "considered relatively harmless to humans and most non pest species". What does "relatively harmless" mean? Especially in the context of a staple crop that is eaten in large quantities? Why shouldn't such additions to our food be regulated by the FDA?

"Why shouldn’t such additions to our food be regulated by the FDA?"

Or labelled like "may contain nuts" or "produce of more than one country"?

It's like the producers of GMO don't want people to be informed as is required in a free market where your only allowed response is to "vote with your wallet".

Given all the claims of how "people want this" from the companies, they don't seem to want you, the customer, to actually demonstrate this desire in a knowing fashion.


I note you didn't say whether you knew how genes expression changes based on what else is going on at the time.

Is this because no such thing happens?

Is it because you forgot?

Beause your assertions of "contained" insist that knowing about such modification of gene sequence expression can't be the answer, else you'd know it isn't contained or well understood when moving a gene fragment from one organism to another.

Corey and Ethan, time for me to go too. I want to end by quoting this line from this article http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10937400306469
in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health:
"...because of potential for exposure of a large segment of human population to genetically modified foods, more research is needed to ensure that the genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption." That is my only point about the potential impact of GMOs on human health; it is NOT unscientific to be concerned and to want more research.

I also want to note that my concerns about potential ecological impacts of escaped genes are widespread in the scientific literature, and experiments (eg on Brassica) prove that the genes can escape.


This conversation is AMAZING. WOW: Your name is eponymous. It truly takes a dazzling intellect to present the arguments you do and take down a PHD using a traffic array of information while invoking an astrophysicist who is backed by God for which he has proof. Well done sir. I wish more people had the inside track like you. But as everyone knows, the University system in the US is paid for by Big Ag/Pharma/lobbyists. You are a beacon of light in the darkness of ignorance.

By Scott Johnston (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

Lou- I stand corrected.

However I feel my purpose here has been wildly misconstrued and people are backing me into a corner. My point, the only thing I think is important is that the scientific method be employed at the expense of overtly emotional responses. That's all.

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 30 Dec 2012 #permalink

I certainly agree with you on that.

"My point, the only thing I think is important is that the scientific method be employed at the expense of overtly emotional responses. That’s all."

I agree that it should.

But this MUST be applied to the position that GMOs are unwelcome, dangerous or ill-proposed.


See for example Mary's "resistant to facts" or your "insane person hiding behind a pseudonym".

It seems that for those fluffing the technology, the definition of "scientific method" is "says GMOs are great" and "emotional response" is "says GMOs are bad".

We as a society are incompetent to market GMOs and sell them as if they were normal plants.

Mostly because capitalism sucks at doing the right thing if there's money to be made.

Look at the AGW denial industry as to the magnitude of the problem humanity faces when trying to do something right in the face of economic "progress".

When it is safe to sell anthrax and other germs over the counter to the general public because people are sensible enough to use them carefully and safely, then we may be grown up enough to play god with food.

Until then, GMOs could still be great but have to be controlled like anthrax or smallpox and limited to closed labs for production of useful chemical products.

Similarly nuclear power isn't a panacea for the same reasons and that too will only be a solution to our power problems when we are as able to buy a home nuclear power station as we are a solar power panel for our roofs.

When nuclear power is safe enough to sell to the retailer like solar panels and people responsible enough to be trusted to run them, THEN nuclear will be a solution to our power.

Until then, it's a useful minor producer that we need to control and regulate against greed-led accidents.

If anyone gets down this far, you'll probably be wondering what to do next. As you can see, once you start asking for evidence of claims, it turns out that the claims don't actually match the facts.

Or you'll find that what is offered as evidence comes from conspiracy cranks around the internet. Look around at those sites and quickly you'll see more about the New World Order, Chemtrails, and a whole lot of other fiction. It will become obvious pretty quickly what you are dealing with.

As I said earlier, the misinformation on this topic is a swamp and it's confusing for people who don't understand the actual research and data.

And some of the people discussion this topic will never be reached, they are just too delusional. If someone says you can only patent GMOs, and you show evidence that's not true, and they completely deny the fact--you can't consider they are offering information in good faith.

Your best bet is to look at the major scientific organizations. This is what you'd do on climate, for example. So have a look at a major report from Europe--25 years of research:

"According to the projects' results, there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms."

If I add more links I'll get put into purgatory, but you can seek out similar work published by the National Academy in the US. Search for "Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods" and National Academy Press.

So look hard at the claims and look for quality sources. That's the only way to make good decisions.

"As you can see, once you start asking for evidence of claims, it turns out that the claims don’t actually match the facts."

As Lou found out.

Links saying other than what you claim they did?

Mind you, since you seem incapable of seeing what is there rather than what you want to be there, there's not a huge amount to do to fix your problems.

The press release is out of date.

There is evidence that GMOs are causing problems and are a potential danger to national health that needs to be looked into.

Remember, Thalidomide was supposed to be a miracle medicine. No evidence of ANY problems.

Wasn't actually that safe, was it.

About that justly-maligned study:

First: I'm not trying to claim perfect expertise in this. That said, and from what I can tell from reading the above, I think I might have something worthwhile to add here.
Second: My qualifications, so far as they're relevant, are that I'm about a hop and skip from a PhD in toxicology. Rodent carcinogenesis studies aren't my particular area, but they're a big enough part of toxicology that I have at least a passing familiarity.

Some of the major problems with the study, as I understand them are:
1. The treatment groups had a rate of tumor formation that was well within expectations for the strain of rat used. The control group was oddly, maybe suspiciously *healthy* for two-year-old rats of this strain. The most charitable hypothesis though, and here's where the small groups come in, is that it's just a statistical fluke. Luck of the draw. Smaller treatment groups are going to be more vulnerable to random noise.

2. There was no dose response. The treatment groups showed no trends or differences based on what dose they received of GMO, roundup, or GMO+roundup, This fits perfectly well with the "normal number of tumors" hypothesis, and very poorly with the GMOs *and* Roundup have been shown to cause cancer at the same time" hypothesis.

3. All the multiple comparisons going on every which way. Nine treatment groups, separately evaluated as ten males, ten females each, means *eighteen* separate comparisons. This would have mattered more if they were trying to argue for one or a few stand-out effects, of course. As theirs looked pretty much normal across the board, aside from the controls, this (real) design flaw probably doesn't into play. It's overwhelmed by the other problems.

4. I don't know whether it's true that they used the same number of animals and treatment groups that ostensibly "showed these things were safe" or whatever. Actually, I sincerely doubt it. But, for the sake of argument, I'll go with it. The massive multiple-comparisons problem is a very different problem for someone who is trying to establish safety than for someone who is trying to override it. The multiple comparisons problem would be expected to increase the *false positive* (Type I) error rate. Not the false-negative (type-II) rate. Unless the original study (no, I haven't seen any references to it) used a conservative multiple-comparisons adjustment (which would have been weird and sketchy, for what they were doing) this sample design would have worked *against* their hypothetical bias, just as it works *for* that of the french researchers.

"About that justly-maligned study:

First: I’m not trying to claim perfect expertise in this"

So how do you know it's justly maligned?

It's more rigorous than the study "proving" the modification safe.

Malign one and you malign the safety study too and the product is still unsafe and needs to be withdrawn.

"1. The treatment groups had a rate of tumor formation that was well within expectations for the strain of rat used. "

Did you actually read the study?

A doubled tumour rate for inclusion of the GMO product and more than that when it was combined with the product having been treated with the product that the GMO was intended to make useful.

"The control group was oddly, maybe suspiciously *healthy* for two-year-old rats of this strain."

Was this within the range of variation? You seemed to consider a doubled rate as "normal".

Are you SURE you've read the paper or just someone talking about the paper?

"2. There was no dose response."

Yes there was.

"The treatment groups showed no trends or differences based on what dose they received of GMO, roundup, or GMO+roundup,"

They showed a differing response.

Which paper did you read?

"3. All the multiple comparisons going on every which way. Nine treatment groups, separately evaluated as ten males, ten females each, means *eighteen* separate comparisons."

You mean THIS study is flawed because they tried to account for confounding effects?!?!?!

Bugger me.

"4. I don’t know whether it’s true that they used the same number of animals and treatment groups that ostensibly"

That would require you read the Monsato-produced FDA paper "proving" the product safe and this paper too.

Apparently you have done neither.

And indeed are happy with this.

Yet still you wish to proclaim on it.

Don't you think it would be better to ACTUALLY READ STUFF FIRST?

It's worth taking a look at the authors rules on commenting. You're an Internet troll and Ethan is asking that you don't ruin the fun for everyone, which you are doing by being a collosal jerk. There are ways to interact with people that get your point across in a reasonable, constructive way. I've not read any of your screeds here because I know they are fools errands.


By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 31 Dec 2012 #permalink

"It’s worth taking a look at the authors rules on commenting. "

It';s worth wondering why you associate troll with "refused to agree with me".

I looked over all of Comments of Ethan's posts for the last 6 months and you are quite the fixture here! Agreeing with no one and being in no way informative or contributing to rational discourse, but extracting some 4th grade glee by disrupting the free exchange of ideas that is meant by Ethans work. Tell me, since you've left this easily traceable path of lunacy, WHY should I agree with you when you follow all the descriptors of an Internet troll? Where is your credibility? You really are ruining the fun and the spirit of these discussions, it's very sad that you need to get attention this way.

Please read:

By Corey Snelson (not verified) on 31 Dec 2012 #permalink

Corey, you need to read up on the science.

You insist you know, but you're wilfully ignoring anything that isn't "on message" and when refused this refuge of false authority descend into assinine projection.

You ignored how genetic expression changes from environmental and co-genetic activities because that wasn't a message you wanted people to hear.

You sit there going "no, no, there isn't any risk because the benefits of something really beneficial could be far far greater!".

Well, instead of AIDS cures we get Viagra and "Super Cold Remedy Double Plus" when the patent on their "Super Cold Remedy Plus" formula expires.

Innit odd how the gap between each "new and improved" (and the adverts tellng you how crap the previous version was) happens to be pretty close to the lifetime of a patent.

Tinkering with the formula is cheap. A lot cheaper than finding a cure.

And you don't want cures if you're running a business because that removes your customer base. Treatments ensure that you get a continuing revenue stream.

Here in the UK there was a big law case forcing use of Herceptin (a late-breast cancer treatment with side effects and long term and very high costs) by the NHS.

What didn't get nosed about much was how the woman managed to afford the expensive legal case (when she was unable to afford it herself).

The company making Herceptin was paying for the case.

I won't say it is immoral but it definitely IS NOT moral.

And that is what commercialism demands.

Hence we are unfit as a society to handle GMOs.

"I looked over all of Comments of Ethan’s posts for the last 6 months and you are quite the fixture here!"

Why thank you!

" Agreeing with no one "

One would have hoped you would have understood "confirmation bias".

Your assertion is entirely incorrect.

Ha. In order:

1. I am getting the feeling you're way over your head in all of this. You aren't actually making sense. But I'll try anyway. Here's a very simple, though incomplete response to the "doubled tumors" claim. It's been very well established that, after two years, this strain of rats has over a 70% rate of tumor occurence. It would *not be possible* to measure a doubling relative to the known background rates of the strain. The only way they could claim this at all would be to claim a doubling vs. their tiny control group (whichever of the huge number of ways they could slice up the data). And this would only be possible if their control group had an abnormally low rate of tumor formation. (Though, given the small sample size, you have massive propagations of uncertainty going on there anyway).

2. From the paper itself: " However, the rate of mortality was not proportional to the treatment dose, reaching a threshold at the lowest (11%) or intermediate (22%) amounts of GM maize in the equilibrated diet, with or without the R application on the plant."

There was no discernable pattern of dose-response for the massive multiplicity of other possible endpoints either.

3. Did I say anything about confounding effects? I was talking about multiple comparisons. If you don't know what that means, and why it's important, that's okay. But I, and many, many thousands of others do.

4. I had indeed looked at this article, and some of the excellent critiques of it. No, I haven't looked at the Monsanto article. I don't need to look at any Monsanto articles, because this isn't a contest. This paper lives or dies on its own merit. Also, you seemed to ignore the reasoning, which was already there in my first post, as to why the multiple comparisons problem is likely to discover lots of false indications of toxicity, not hide real ones. That's what type I and type II errors are. Rather than demanding I read a paper that is only peripherally relevant to this case at all before I'm allowed to talk about it, maybe you need to do some homework on at least the very basics of statistics and study design.

Addendum to 1, above: In a study like this, one might find a *particular kind* of tumor to be doubled, of course, But there, again, we run squarely into both the problem of multiple comparisons, and (very, very squarely) into the tiny size of the treatment groups for this type and length of study.

Also, just as an aside, the original paper was of a subchronic study. It was designed as a subchronic study. The number of animals per treatment group was selectedd according to the expectations of a subchronic study. The paper we're studying here was not at all a subchronic study. It was a combination of a chronic rodent tox study and a two-year carcinogenesis study. A chronic study is expected to have at least twenty animals *of each sex* in each treatment group. A two-year carcinogenesis study is expected to have at least fifty of each. One of the reasons they're damned expensive to run.

And if you run one, and your control group looks significantly "weird" in any way at all, you have a serious problem on your hands..

McKellar graduated summa cum laude from UCLA, not Stanford.

As for GMOs, almost everything we eat is genetically modified. It is just a question of how and how fast. Artificial selection by human growers over thousands of years has changed teosinte into corn and grasses into wheat.

Before genetic engineering, people would expose seeds to ionizing radiation to create lots of mutations, then plant them and see if anything good turned up. Doesn't sound too appetizing but it did work. Now genetic engineering offers much more control, but the speed with which new products can be introduced can lead to problems with side effects, and the patenting of genetic engineering products has led to unsavory business practices.

By Ned Wright (not verified) on 31 Dec 2012 #permalink

Hi Mary,
That statement on the Europa page is impossible to reconcile with the peer-reviewed literature on the escape of transgenes into wild plant species. Above I mentioned the experimental proof that transgenes can escape from cultivated Brassica GMOs into wild weedy Brassica species. The hybrids were fertile and they expressed the transgene. Here is another recent article that looks at transgene escape:
It says this:
"In the past few years, reports of transgene migration from
agricultural to wild populations have begun to emerge. For
example, transgenic canola (Brassica napus) in Quebec has
been reported to hybridize with weedy Brassica rapa (Warwick
et al. 2003); and more recently, in Oregon, transgene escape
has been reported from field trials of creeping bentgrass
(Agrostis stolonifera) into natural populations of three com-
patible Agrostis species (Watrud et al. 2004, Reichman et al.
While the focus of most of these studies is on escape of herbicide-resistance genes, as I explained earlier the possibility of escape of frost resistance or bt genes pose more serious threats to natural ecosystems. These kinds of threats are not present in non-GMOs. So the statement you quote seems to be wrong.

That study found a couple of examples of plants that had transgenes from two different species.

"As for GMOs, almost everything we eat is genetically modified."


Not unless you stretch the meaning of GMO to meaningless.

But that is a very common bullshit statement made by those who don't want anyone deciding GMOs aren't THE BEST THING EVAR!

If GMO can be done by normal crossbreeding then why isn't it being done like that?


I've already read that, corey dear.

Why don't you try something actually RELEVANT hmm?

You know, admit that you're talking happy-la-la-land bollocks about how it's all known and safe and that anyone saying otherwise IS AN INSANE TROLL!!!!

You know, you're usual crap.

"1. I am getting the feeling you’re way over your head in all of this. "

You're talking to corey, right?

You know, the dude who doesn't know or neglects to say about how transplanting gene segments from one organism may not do the same thing in another because the genes aren't "blueprints" for "only one thing".

Or are you just hoping like hell here?

"In a study like this, one might find a *particular kind* of tumor to be doubled, of course,"

That's a huge difference from what you earlier said about the paper you insisted you had read.

I call bullshit on your claim.

Thank you Ethan for hosting this topic.

Thank you Corey Snelson for debating the topic in more depth in the comments, and especially for sticking around after WOW showed his head to provide some very useful information.

By Tim Crane (not verified) on 31 Dec 2012 #permalink

No, Lou, you continue to be wrong. First, the canola on NPR is not a wild relative--it's something that falls off trucks during transport. It is a crop plant. Canola has been escaping from farms since long before it was RR.

Second, here's a pro tip: in science the phrase "We now have evidence..." means that you actually have evidence. Your statement went far beyond the evidence you actually have. You did not have evidence that frost genes had affected wild plants.

But a further point is that the same exact thing is possible with conventional breeding, despite this new claim: "These kinds of threats are not present in non-GMOs."

It is entirely BS that this would not be an issue with convention frost resistance. There is no barrier to conventional frost resistance, or some other herbicide, doing the same thing. And that's the problem with this bizarre fixation with GMOness.

Please see see this herbicide resistant sorghum--*conventional* sorghum: http://www.biofortified.org/2012/02/herbicide-resistant-johnsongrass-co…

In short: it is not anything specific about GMO that matters for gene flow. It can be any variation. So this continues to be correct:

“According to the projects’ results, there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”

There is no scientific evidence of higher risks. There is only risk of higher fearmongering.

"In short: it is not anything specific about GMO that matters for gene flow. It can be any variation."

Except unconventional gene transfer happens randomly and infrequently.

Whereas deliberate fucking about with GMOs introduces these changes on a commercial scale.

It's a little like the difference between dumping your soil trap into the river and the entire city doing it.

The short of it is that we don't need GMOs. They are unnecessary.

They are pushed because they are a way to monetise food and causes suck-up economics where the poor farmer pays the middle man who pays the multinational. Each layer up getting their cut plus profit.

And, since the multinational at least is on the stock exchange, they demand increasing profit.

GMOs aren't needed and they are inimical to a fair society.

Mary, you continue to distort much of what I said, though I do deserve part of the blame if my writing confused you. The evidence I referred to was evidence that transgenes can escape. That evidence includes the Brassica experiments I mentioned early on, and citation I gave you just above my NPR post. This evidence that transgenes escape is not dependent on the kind of transgene, as long as it confers some selective advantage to the weed. Genes which would confer a selective advantage include frost resistance and insect resistance.

You just keep dancing around this issue. You earlier argued that transgenes do not escape, by quoting a non-peer-reviewed blog of some random student. That was wrong. Now you seem to accept that, but you say OK, they escape but no more than regular genes. But as with your other points, you make categorical statements favoring GMOs without backing them up. You are right that gene flow happens just as much whether the gene is a normal gene or a transgene. The point you miss is that many transgenes are not closely related to any existing gene in the host, and would not evolve naturally in any reasonable timeframe. For example, to my knowledge, no US weed has evolved the Bt toxin. (I could be wrong and if so, I am sure you will correct me!) Plants that acquire the bt toxin, or a powerful frost resistant gene, get a sudden huge boost compared to their competitors. This is much like introducing a new invasive alien species into the environment. We have seen that the ecological impacts of such introductions can be severe.

You are right that the canola in the NPR report is the cultivated species, but these seem to be feral progeny that had been breeding in the wild for several generations, according to the article. You ignore my main point, that some individuals contained transgenes gathered from multiple varieties, indicating escape of multiple transgenes into the feral population. Taken together with the experimental demonstration that the transgenes can enter wild canola (Brassica) relatives, this is evidence supporting my concerns.

To summarize: Transgenes escape, they can enter wild relatives, and this could cause big ecological problems.

You also continue to ignore the problems I actually mention.

It's become clearly impossible to proceed past a certain point, because you lack the necessary understanding to competently engage the data. I don't think that's your fault, and I'm not claiming it's a deficiency you must necessarily fix. It's the cliche dilemma of expertise, at least in topics of controversy. Even to someone with an admittedly limited expertise in this, like me, it's clear there are insurmountable educational barriers to explaining to you what is clear to me, and most other scientists with roughly similar expertise. To get past those barriers would require that you either 1. accept the authority of expertise, knowing that you may well not even be expert enough to tell a real expert from a fake, or 2. develop enough of an expertise yourself to make a truly informed decision.

The problem with 1, is that you have to trust somebody else. We're all in that boat, to some extent, but not equally so. The problem with 2 is that nobody can be expert in everything, and expecting a significant fraction of the public to be expert in any particular scientific understanding is futile. Expecting them not to have opinions on it anyway is futile too. The best option we can hope for is that, if dueling experts are to be one's evidence (and that's about the best one can hope, outside her expertise), then one should probably go with the weight of evidence. And the weight of evidence here, within the broadest scope of the scientific community, says this study is crap.

And the fact is, this study is crap. You can console yourself, maybe, with the idea that, with such small treatment groups, their statistical power to find anything that actually *was* there would be miniscule. Especially for rare tumors, or other effects. With your particular bias (yes, we all have one) maybe the best we can hope is that you accept that, while this study really didn't demonstrate anything, the truth is that it didn't have sufficient power for us to draw strong conclusions from it at all, positive or negative. It isn't a vindication of GMOs either. It's just a dud.

"You also continue to ignore the problems I actually mention."

That's what they do, I'm afraid.

Then when you come along with the downsides, cavets and risks, they can then accuse you of only ever disagreeing with everyone.

The bare fact is we don't need GMOs.

Agribusiness do, but they aren't us, they're a fiction.

Firstly, Danica's main point was that she wanted proper "labelling" on foods; this is a perfectly reasonable thing for the product to carry more information for the consumer.

Secondly, its very awkward that in so many of Ethan's posts he has to say "I am a very very good scientist, and I am very very smart". Its kind of embarrassing. Top scientists just do their work, and let their work speak for itself, they don't need to go around telling everyone: "listen to me, i'm super smart, trust me i am". Instead, its normally pseudo-scientists who say such things. So is Ethan actually employed as a scientist? I don't think he is. I think he tried to make a career in science but was unsuccessful and moved into another career, right?

Anyone willing to take the time and energy to review the evidence, will find that pro-fluoridation falls under the description of pseudoscience.


Kindly take your amateur, anonymous and badly-written rantings elsewhere. The grown-ups are trying to have a conversation.

By Mark McAndrew (not verified) on 01 Jan 2013 #permalink

Mark, kindly prove your assertion or kindle, with all due respect, piss of.

thank you.

GMO's are the method being used by people worse than Rupert Murdoch to control our consumption of something more vital than mass-media.

If you support GMO's, you've fallen for the spin and PR. The vast majority are aimed at selling more pesticides.

In any case, we're talking about *labelling* - if GMO-spruikers are so rabidly anti-labelling, how can you believe anything they say is honest? Clearly they want to be secertive and dishonest about the crud they are trying to introduce into our food chain. Why would you trust that?

I think the comparison between GMO and the nuclear industry is apt: it is a technology with disastrous side-effects, controlled by secretive and abysmally dishonest corporations, and not particularly viable without government support.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 01 Jan 2013 #permalink

Well it is hard to know what is best to eat. And the food industry is a big lobby. And when big companies do not publish NEGATIVE pharmaceutical tests; we cannot expect them to publish NEGATIVE food tests on GMO food.

So without honesty, the integrity to publish all research, the big companies are guilty of pseudoscience. And so too us consumers.

But I still want labels that contain information, even imperfect information; because without the information we can't even try to have an informed discussion.

And I still want pharmaceutical companies and food companies to be required to publish their research; rather than refuse to publish research that they don't like.

So US fruit label rules are only a start:
"Fruit label PLU code (U.S.):
-Conventionally grown fruit: PLU code consists of 4 numbers (e.g. 4012).
-Organically grown fruit: PLU code consists of 5 numbers and begins with 9 (e.g. 94012)
-Genetically engineered fruit: PLU code consists of 5 numbers and begins with 8 (e.g. 84012). Genetically modified food usually does not have this PLU code because most consumers have a negative view about genetically modified food. "

Consumers have the right to know. So look at the sticker on your apples, etc., and I'd like my corn meal and my potatoes chips and my milk and canned olives and my frozen edamame labeled too.

As to then deciding whether organic or inorganic, whole food or pink slime, GMO or not, high sugar or no sugar added, high cholesterol or none, high percentage of fat or low, etc... Well that's for me to decide.

Yes imperfectly; but my imperfect decisions are much healthier than the food industry lobbiests recommendations are.

Food industry lobbiests whether for beef, chicken, salted nuts, liquer or brussel sprouts are no more scientific and reliable than the National Rifle Associations recommendations about assault weapons!!! If it was up to the NRA we'd be able to buy grenade launchers and shoulder held anti-aircraft missles.

So, when we talk about psuedoscience regarding GMO food; we start with the food industry. Because they suppress research just like their sister industry the pharmaceutical industry suppresses research. And the food industry suppresses and misrepresents just like the NRA misrepresents.

Heart attacks and strokes are the biggest killers in the US. Why not put a big warning label on any food that contains high mounts of cholesterol???

Well aw shucks, I'm just an old country boy that's been eating eggs and cheese and bacon all my life.

" After accidents (such as car crashes), heart disease is the most common killer of men between the ages of 35 and 44. In men 45 to 54 years old, it's No. 1.
In fact, you're never too young to start thinking about this stuff. The American Heart Association now recommends that people start heart disease prevention at the tender age of 20"

But don't expect the food industry to give you good advise on how to live healthy. No their is better healthy living advise from most food quacks than from the food industry.


And scientists who earn their integrity.
Like T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study is a 2004
And yes the food industry assaults the honest work of scientist like T. Colin Campbell

Sad to come back after my final day off and see the swamp filling up here as well. Sigh.

The PLU myth pops up with regularity, and it gets debunked even by label advocates. Here's the latest attempt I saw to beat that zombie down. http://www.thepacker.com/opinion/fresh-produce-opinion/Decoding-PLU-myt… You can also search Snopes. Just more evidence that this arena is rife with misinformation.

Lou Jost: The reason I asked you about your claim of evidence for the frost tolerance is because each trait, and each plant, and each scenario matters. You cannot make wide claims about any case as you are doing. The specific case could consist of trees that are male sterile. Some crops grow as clones. Some strategies could require a specific inducer.

It is not the necessarily the case that off the farm a trait would convey a benefit and spread in the wild. The studies with the squash showed that.

And here's the thing: for GMOs these aspects are examined. Are there nearby wild relatives? What would be the risk? Does this plant self pollinate? What is the appropriate size of the buffer refuge area? All of this is part of the regulatory examination.

For a conventional product that might have the same outcome--there's no requirement to explore any of this. Which is why I said this could be worse.

It is not different if you release conventional resistant crops or GMO crops to the nearby plants. This has not evolved in that environment, it is newly placed there. Conventional breeding of a new frost-resistant plant could do exactly the same thing as a similar GMO plant. Your claim:
"These kinds of threats are not present in non-GMOs." is false.

Do you have evidence that Bt has spread to wild relatives and caused havoc? And like before, when I ask that, I mean evidence = data. What we do know is that Bt resistance developed to conventional Bt, before there was any GMO.

The other point I made was that the case of the resistance of "common weeds" is not coming from gene transfer. Despite your dislike of that peer-reviewed evidence, that is the case.

In short: the fixation with the GMOness clouds the issues, because resistance is not necessarily a feature of gene transfer. Nor are the issues unique to GMOs, which is what all the scientific bodies keep telling us.

In the meantime, please enjoy this study of the snake genome contributions to cows: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/01/how-a-quarter-of-the… Damn those unregulated horizontal transfers.

"Sad to come back after my final day off and see the swamp filling up here as well"

Ah, so any contrary opinion to "GMOs are BRILLIANT" is "swamp".

I'm so glad you're using solid science rather than emotive language to support you, otherwise we'd be wondering if you're being anti-scientific...

PS Mary, you may not have noticed this, but cows and snakes both had a common ancestor.

This is all covered in school biology classes under "Evolution".

Read up about this new theory.

PPS GMOs are manufactured wholesale.

Natural cross species (if it happens, see below) is a random event that starts in one animal and is bred into others just as any other mutation in species is done. Not 100,000 at a time. Nor is the change done in bulk, unlike the smorgasbord change that GMOs can institute.

Note that you haven't seen any of these snakes giving their genes to cows. You're assuming it happens after the cows separated from the snakes.

But if you want to continue with "GMOs have been the normal farming practice for thousands of years" show me a corn ear whose daddy was a weevil and I'll give you that point.

Interesting post. I have a question. What happens if they engineer something out that turns out to be important (but we don't know that it is right now) or if a modified salmon and non modified salmon create amother salmon that needs the thing that is engineered out of it in order to live/thrive?

I read a while back that some companies engineered seeds that made plants sterile and that these sterile plants could crosspollinate with regular seeds making them sterile. Is there any truth to that? Thatr seems more scary to me than 100,ooo year from now mutation of DNA.

Clearly I am no scientist and maybe these are silly questions, but it is hard to find reliable answers for them.

Thank you!

An addendum to my post above for clarification/example's sake.

Some things we think are detimental in nature turn out to be good things. Like fire in a forest or freezing orange tree crops... We might think that making a sturdier plant that can withstand freeze would be a good thing, but later we find out that the crop needs to freeze to kill a bug that could potentially kill trees massively and widely. We then say "Oh well then, good thing we left that alone!" So when we screw with nature not understanding the full breadth of consequence for that change - the unintended consequences... I wonder if they might come back to bite us on the behind.

OK enough of me.

Hi again Mary. I'd like to break our disagreements into bite-sized pieces and come to agreement (or agree to disagree) on them, one at a time. Otherwise this just snowballs until neither of us has time to answer (and we are probably close to that point).

I'll start by saying of course I agree with you that every crop is different. If you want, we can stick with canola, and discuss that. Agree?

Leif brings up another good one: pollen from sterile GMO crops affecting non-GMO neighbours. In fact, pollen from any GMO is allowed to pollute the environment in a virtually unregulated way. This is perfectly objectionable.

When advocates for a particular technology are forced to resort to something as shaky as Mary's Cow/Snake nonsense, or the idiotic argument that attempts to confuse GMO with regular human-directed breeding programs, that always tends to indicate that technology itself is pretty shaky.

If you can't see the media "discussion" about the French rat-study was entirely manufactured by GMO corporate PR, then you aren't being sceptical enough.
That rat study was no worse than the crap GMO "research" we're fed by these corporations.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 02 Jan 2013 #permalink

As far as food labelling goes - I went to buy a pot of yoghurt the other day and thanks to the requirement that yoghurt be labelled with what it contains, I was able to determine that of the 10-or-so brands of "Yoghurt" on the supermarket shelf, only one of those was actually yoghurt, the other 9 were a concoction of vegetable gum, corn starch, and other crud.

Thanks to food labelling, I can choose to avoid the franken-science that's infecting our food.

But the GMO lobby wants no labelling in order to remove that choice from the consumer.

Surely it's obvious where truth and honesty sit in this argument?

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 02 Jan 2013 #permalink

Who Cares?

Danica is still Smok'n Hot!

I just have a question - how many people here can tell me HOW the actual science works. I really don't know. How is the DNA inserted into the genome, and why do we think GMOs are so bad? Alternatively, does anyone have clear cut evidence that GMOs lead to allergies? I'm looking for an honest answer based on the science, not stuff from anyone trying to sell a product or someone who has a bias for or against GMOs.

By 76trombones (not verified) on 02 Jan 2013 #permalink

Oh, and thanks!

By 76trombones (not verified) on 02 Jan 2013 #permalink

@ Wow

"Note that you haven’t seen any of these snakes giving their genes to cows. You’re assuming it happens after the cows separated from the snakes.

... show me a corn ear whose daddy was a weevil and I’ll give you that point."

Wow, your comments on matters of Physics are generally knowledgeable even if a little opinionated, you are starting to sound like Ken Ham on this one. Mary is assuming nothing. She is inferring when it happened in the same way you might infer that a copy of Principia with footnotes detailing exceptions due to relativistic effects was some sort of 20th century facsimile. The chances of even a single transposon inserting itself into the same place in the genome of two separate evolutionary branches and becoming fixed in both populations are so vanishingly small that a Creator is the only possible explanation for his happening. But transposons might make up a third of a mammalian genome, and every transposon will mutate at a similar rate to the rest of the genome. But unless it has (or eventually develops) a necessary function it will not be conserved by selection, so it will slowly develop copying errors in random locations. Matching errors very strongly imply a common ancestor, and the number of differences a good indication of how distant that ancestor was. Try the Wiki entry on Pseudogene as a starting point for a bit of background.

"Mary is assuming nothing."

If she's assuming nothing as you say, what is she saying?

"She is inferring when it happened in the same way..."

So she is assuming. You just used a homonym.


We humans have IIRC 78% of our genes in common with A CABBAGE.


I note you've done nothing but ASSUME only part of my post was written, though.

Check it out, I've put it down here again. See if you can see it.

Natural cross species (if it happens, see below) is a random event that starts in one animal and is bred into others just as any other mutation in species is done. Not 100,000 at a time. Nor is the change done in bulk, unlike the smorgasbord change that GMOs can institute.

Now, the "if it happens" bit is a very small part of that, isn't it.

And the rest of the "see below" bit is still smaller than that section.

Why did you concentrate on the small bit you did?

Why not deal with the larger section.

And remember, because any cross species gene transposition (which was most likely bacterially carried) will be tested against a background ALSO evolving at the same rate.

Wild deviations from the norm in the species happens very slowly and the system has a chance to adapt.

See Cane Toads in Australia and Nile Perch in Africa for what happens when a change is brought on quickly.

The way most discussions of GMOs evolve is quite fascinating. It's hard to have a productive debate because they are more like discussions on religion than anything else. One side is absolutely sure they have truth on their side - everyone else must be heretics. Trying to have a fruitful back and forth based on logic and evidence is useless, since it a question of faith on one side, not rationality. I applaud those fighting the good fight, though.

I think the problem is that those who support GMOs support what they are *supposed* to be.

Those against are against GMOs *as they are*.

If you had "truth" on your side, why support the deceptive opposition to truthful labelling?

The pro-GMO lobby, like the pro-nuke lobby, consists of people paid to pollute discussion forums with concocted propaganda and relies on those who swallow that propaganda.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 04 Jan 2013 #permalink

I hope the one or two troll like characters in the comment sectiondid not chase away the scientists who were kind enough to reply early on.

Some people reading the article are actually curious, not just running around with our pants down and dukes up.

OK Leif, so referring to the Science/Pseudoscience table in the article above, on the first point, "Willingness to change with new ides/Fixed Ideas", describe the GMO lobby's response to the french cancer rat study?

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 04 Jan 2013 #permalink

Leif, was your post anything other than trolling?


Absolutely zero content.

Bugger all to add.

Except snite slams at unmentioned "others" (which is well cowardly).

Amusingly, the Monsato study showing the product "save" also falls under the "No peer review" option.

Not to mention GMO fluffers engage in "Claims of widespread usefulness".

"Takes account of new discoveries", anyone?
Or, "Selects only favourable discoveries"?

"Invites criticism", ...?

GMO may not be pseudoscience, but its chief application being a tool for making money from people who are in some way vulnerable, its proponents seem to use all the tricks from the pseudoscience handbook.

And what are the benefits? 5% improvement in crop yield (an example of the PR resting on the selected favourable results that make it into the public domain documentation - massive crop failures that have resulted from the adoption of this crud are of course swept under the carpet).
Hardly anything to write home about, especially when a good proportion of your extra profits have been spent on additional pesticides, or on future work remediating the pesticide-resistant inadvertantly improved superweeds that are infesting your land.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 04 Jan 2013 #permalink

Modern chemistry agriculture has not increased yields much. Changing how we grow things not what we grow them with has been far more effective.

You get a spike in yields for the first few years (which is coincidenttally and I mean that accurately not sarcastically) just long enough to prove effective in a trial, but yields then fall because the ground needs replenishing. This is why organic culture is showing increases in yields: not because the organic culture is better than the original historic agriculture but because the ground was exhausted by the aggressive agriculture and dropped yields that chemical agribusiness applied for decades will do.

And in places in the developing world, the mechanisation that DOES have benefit is ill suited to the local economy.

Tractors given as part of aid have no mechanics to fix them and the farmers don't make enough to buy the imported spare parts. And so eventually the mechanisms stop working and become ornately sculpted rubbish.

In on Indian trial, using local knowledge of what mechanical procedures work best and allying it to the methodologies learnt over a century in the west that improve agricultural output works far better.

It doesn't open up a reveneue stream for first world companies, though, so gets short shrift.

The companies though seem resistant to the fact that the developing world needs to be paid a hell of a lot more before they can afford the stuff the companies want to sell to this new market. Worse, these companies are the ones buying the products and are refusing to pay first-world labour prices for the produce, ensuring that there is no money in the third world to buy the first world exports.

Henry Ford knew better.

Accountants have absolutely no clue.


I hope the one or two troll like characters in the comment sectiondid not chase away the scientists who were kind enough to reply early on.

Some people reading the article are actually curious, not just running around with our pants down and dukes up.

It looks like they're running around with underwear on their heads on this end. What browser are you using?

But seriously, it's unfortunate to have this serial nonsense distract from an otherwise engaging discussion.

I agree Nibi, the trolls infesting should stop pissing about and get a life.

"It doesn’t open up a reveneue stream for first world companies, though, so gets short shrift."

And that's the nub of it.

GMO isn't about making more food. It's not about helping farmers or about helping the 3rd-world. And it's definitely not about making healthier food.
It's about making food more profitable for Monsanto without regard to the consequences for everybody else involved.

I must say I'm not very tempted by any of this "you disagree with my beliefs therefore you're a troll" Kool-Aid some around here appear to be on.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 06 Jan 2013 #permalink

Or the "You say bad things about GMOs therefore it's serial nonsense" trope they try.

You know, so they don't have to find out whether there's a problem with GMOs or not.

Wow- you seem to know a lot about GMOs, what do you do for a living? Can you tell me how the science works? I fear the scientists who wrote earlier have indeed been chased off. I really want to know the answer to this, and no one is answering. I may change my eating habits if its really as bad as you say it is, but before I go crazy I want to know the science behind the claims.

By 76trombones (not verified) on 07 Jan 2013 #permalink

76trombones, I am not certain if there isn’t a hint of sarcasm in your post, so apologies if I am spoiling your fun. I think Wow is a Physicist and he has in the past spent much time banging his head against the wall trying to explain Physics to a now banned poster going by the name Chelle, who had crackpot theories about almost everything. She was concerned that the Mad Physicists operating the Large Hadron Collider would not listen to her concerns that they were meddling with things they did not understand, operating at energies large enough to trigger the destruction of the entire universe. Swap Mad Geneticists for Mad Physicists and Wow’s arguments against at least the science of GMOs seem qualitatively similar, even though we may be in much closer agreement about some of the commercial aspects.

There are potential unintended consequences for any new technology. There is obviously a non-zero risk that leakage of GM into the biosphere could occur with detrimental effects. It is not my area of expertise, but I have seen no scientific evidence that this risk is even of the same order of magnitude as the risks from other aspects of human activity, at least until the technology becomes advanced enough to become a potential weapon. But the idea that cooking your Fries in GM corn oil is inherently more risky than cooking them in “natural” corn oil is about as scientifically sustainable as the idea that by eating your enemy’s brain you benefit from his intelligence. In my experience those who most strongly argue against GM would be the first in the queue to stuff themselves with some newly discovered WonderFood, with no concerns at all for the potential negative effects of its totally unknown biochemistry because it is “natural”. And this despite the fact that nature has produced far more powerful toxins than biochemists have yet managed to.

"Swap Mad Geneticists for Mad Physicists and Wow’s arguments against at least the science of GMOs seem qualitatively similar"

Do you want to point out an argument (your choice) of a "qualitatively similar" message?

"but I have seen no scientific evidence that this risk is even of the same order of magnitude as the risks from other aspects of human activity"

GMOs are, like medicine, supposed to show evidence of their safety.

Not that it must be shown to be dangerous.

And what the hell does "the risks from other aspects of human activity" have to do with anything? It's another "Unless you go after all the murderers and paedos, don't jail me for fraud!".

"But the idea that cooking your Fries in GM corn oil is inherently more risky than cooking them in “natural” corn oil"

Is said where, exactly?

Do you know what MOST of the corn is used for in the USA?

Go have a look.

"In my experience those who most strongly argue against GM would be the first in the queue to stuff themselves with some newly discovered WonderFood"

Ah, the same argument as faithiests use to denigrate atheists: "there are no atheists in foxholes".

In your experience? Well, there's no way for us to quantify or verify that, so it's a non-science claim.

The "official" GMO fluffers have time and again called out against the use of emotional and non-scientific claims.

Yet you are doing it here.

"And this despite the fact that nature has produced far more powerful toxins than biochemists have yet managed to."



You know nothing about toxicology.

"Can you tell me how the science works?"

That's a bit like saying "You seem to be a chemist. Can you tell me how medicine works?".

Define what you want to know into something at least vaguely answerable without having to be a Complete Compendium Of All The World's Knowledge.

But I'll give you a starter for 10.

If, as Corby claims, we know what the genes are doing, what is all the Junk DNA there for?

The answer is not that "it does nothing". It is that it *used* to do something.

Genes produce differently based on other chemicals (produced by other genes, for example) and different concentrations or admixtures of those chemicals.

Therefore though we can say "Bt toxin from weevils is not toxic to humans", we DON'T know that the gene producing Bt toxin in weevils when spliced at an actionable position randomly in the genome of some other critter will ONLY cause the production of Bt toxins.

I have gone through this before, if you really are interested.

It got ignored by the fluffer extraordinare because it is

a) right
b) devastating to his claims (at least of "we know what it does")

"I may change my eating habits if its really as bad as you say it is"

If you're in the USA, you can't. Until they label GMO containing products like they do with "may contain nuts", you will be unable to change your eating habits.

But even then, or if you're in Europe and importing for yourself GMO'd food products, you already acknowledge that you don't need the GMOs to eat.

Given that the guilt trip the fluffers try to lay on people against the privatisation of food is "GMOs are feeding starving people! If you label GMO foods, you will be starving poor little kiddies!!!!", that fact that you aren't starving only because of GMO products rather gives the lie to that. Doesn't it.

Let me put my 2 cents into this debate, since couple of weeks ago I had a very heated debate on the same topic with my friend who is very anti GMO.

The sad thing that I found out, is that anti GMO groups have very little to none knowledge about biology and what GMO really is. They are more against Monsanto and the rest than they are against GMO. They don't even know what makes M in GMO.

And I wouldn't be surprised that Danica and rest don't really understand genetics that much. If one wants to be really picky, everything is GMO. Even before we learned genetics, we were doing GM but by hand. Any domesticated animal or plant has been genetically modified. Not trough laboratory, but trough selective breeding. Our pig is a GMO of wild boar, yet no one has a problem with that.

My 2 cents is this. GMO in itself is neither good nor bad. As any scientific research it could be used for either. If you use GMO to produce crops that can grow in dry places, that's good. If you use GMO to find cures for certain illness, great. If you use GMO to i.e. create algae that can absorb oil spills, even better.

But I also agree with Wow that in case of Monsanto it's all about profits. They don't really care about humanity.

So in the end, it's on us. What we do with what we have. The problem that can arise from GM is some unforseen effect in the future organism. I.e. changing one sequence may result in changes of something else, which doesn't show immediately in studies.

But even for Monsanto and the rest of coorporate machinery. They have agendas, but it's not their agenda to kill half of worlds populations by poisoning their food. That's not good for business.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 08 Jan 2013 #permalink

"... is about as scientifically sustainable as the idea that by eating your enemy’s brain you benefit from his intelligence"

and yet...humanity had CJD long before piss-poor agricultural practices brought it to the 1st-world...

"Monsanto and the rest of corporate machinery. They have agendas, but it’s not their agenda to kill half of worlds populations by poisoning their food. That’s not good for business."

I'm sure Union Carbide didn't have an agenda to poison 500,000 people as a result of their corner-cutting and fraud. And it wasn't good for their business.
But they did it anyway.

Same with Monsanto. They truly do not give a flying fuck about what they are doing to the planet and our food supplies. American corporations just don't have that sort of thing on their corporate radar. It's all 100% short-term objectives (just look at Exxon(etc..) sponsorship of the Heartland-dishonest-PR-machine), and that is a very good reason to buck against what they are doing.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 08 Jan 2013 #permalink

I agree that Monsanto's reasons might not be the best ones out there. And I'm fine with people calling attention to Monsanto. But Monsanto is not the same as saying all GMO is bad. Just because food in McDonalds is bad for your health doesn't mean that all restaurants are bad for you.

Yet it seems that it's precisely this line of reasoning anti-GMO guys have.

Genetically modified corn is only a small part of GM science. And there is one other point that many seem to neglect. And that is the farmer. No one is forcing any farmer to buy Monsanto's corn. It's their own choice.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 08 Jan 2013 #permalink

And nobody ever forced anybody to buy Thalidomide. It was their own choice.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 08 Jan 2013 #permalink

If you don't believe "all GMO is bad" then you wouldn't object to food labelling.

But the people who are responsible for GMO believe in the right to selling their product without the benefit of any labelling to inform consumer choice.

So it seems those responsible for trying to make us accept GMO don't believe in choice at all.

They specifically are pushing for a policy whereby we *inadvertantly* consume their product because they would like its origins to remain obscure.

If that is the confidence the people selling this shit have in their own product, then it is pretty much a no-brainer that the consumer should seek to avoid consuming it.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 08 Jan 2013 #permalink

Heck, who says "all GMO is bad" here?

Apart from the ones using up the winter feedstocks for ruminants...

"Yet it seems that it’s precisely this line of reasoning anti-GMO guys have."

That is because you're making up what the reasoning is. Not saying "All GMO is bad".

But it seems the pro-GMO crowd seem to have a need to make those not toeing the corporate message on this have to make SOMETHING up so they don't have to respond to any of the criticisms brought forward.

Instead of making claims about the reasoning (as you imagine it to be), how about answering the claims made that you feel are incorrect.

You know, try the scientific method instead of emotional unscientific "appearance".

"The sad thing that I found out, is that anti GMO groups have very little to none knowledge about biology "

Go on, read up my posts. If you think I have something wrong about biology, then let me know and we can debate it.

But don't go assuming what you're EXPECTING to be there is what is there, OK?

Wow you ask "Heck, who says “all GMO is bad” here?" Well if not you, then you either you are backtracking or you have previously not been making yourself clear. On Jan 1st you said "GMOs aren’t needed and they are inimical to a fair society." Sounds universally negative to me, but perhaps a few examples of what you consider "good" GMOs might help in establishing what we agree on.

No, David, you're reading that to see what you want to see.

Lets take the first part:“GMOs aren’t needed".

Where does that say that GMOs are bad?


How about the second: "and they are inimical to a fair society.”

GMOs allow the privatisation of food.

Hell, even the most freemarketing marketers insist that you have a problem when you have a monopoly.

You are a lying shitbag because you missed out the ENTIRELY of that post that explains the two sections:

"They are pushed because they are a way to monetise food and causes suck-up economics where the poor farmer pays the middle man who pays the multinational. Each layer up getting their cut plus profit.

And, since the multinational at least is on the stock exchange, they demand increasing profit."

Do you know how to write? Here's a little standard writing pattern.

Tell someone the conclusion.

Tell someone the evidence for it.

Tell them the conclusion.

Now, since none of you whiners have managed to find any rebuttal to the evident facts in biology wrt gene expression, can we lay to rest the "anti-GMO know nothing about biology" and "we only want non-emotional, SCIENTIFIC discussion" because so far those two canards have been a flat bust right throughout this debacle.

"Sounds universally negative to me"

See, this is why you GMO fluffers fail epically when you try to talk.

Negative == anti-biology science

Now maybe you didn't MEAN "bad" as in "the organisms produced by GMOs are pathological" but bad as "this is a bad idea".

However, you need to be a hell of a lot more accurate in your assertions, otherwise you're flailing badly.

Especially when, in contrast the majority of those against the privatisation of food have managed to be pretty exact in what they mean by not merely stating "you're bad" but by putting evidence that they see as for the conclusion, ensuring that, except by the willfully ignorant, the context of "you're bad" can be seen.

Try letting some evidence enter into your live and conversation.

Wow, so no example of a good GMO then?

Apart from that you are losing me. I only used the word "bad" when quoting you, and I have no idea what you mean by "privatisation of food" or how GMOs suddenly allow it in a way that a century of the Bosch-Haber process hasn't. The three most obvious examples in the last century of what I would think could possibly be described as "non-privatised food" resulted in mass famines in Russia and China, and wine lakes and grain mountains from EU overproduction in the 70's and 80's

"Wow, so no example of a good GMO then?"

No, it would appear you don't have an example of a good GMO.

Another example of how you aren't using evidence to support your puffery.

"I have no idea what you mean by “privatisation of food” "

Well, I'm afraid your idiocy may be terminal, but here are a few examples of what that means:

Licensing costs.
Licensing agreements.

If you don't know what privatisation means, though, I'm afraid there's little that can be done to educate the terminally dense like you, however.

I get it - if you hate on Monsanto, that means you're a communist.

Nice one, David.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 08 Jan 2013 #permalink

Well I can imagine that having an argument with a crazy person seems like it would be frustrating - per Wow. I'm certainly sure that I would've given up at some point because not everyone (especially honestly crazy people and gun nuts) can be convinced they are wrong. Ok Wow, the answer seems good, however what do you think the likelihood is that GMOs can honestly do bad things to people, setting aside the anti-Monsanto arguments (honestly they don't pertain to the discussion at hand), and the economics of GMOs, what are the odds that a gene from corn could actually splice into some place in the human genome, and that it would be in such a place as to be expressed, then passed on genetically into the human population? I argue those odds would be quite high. (sidenote: I have a great friend who does this sort of thing for a living (in academia, not Monsanto) and we've had discussions, I myself am a physician).

By 76trombones (not verified) on 09 Jan 2013 #permalink

"however what do you think the likelihood is that GMOs can honestly do bad things to people"

With the system we have now: 100% chance.

And I can say that not because of the GMOs but of the system which would produce them.

It's no more anti-monsato than it's anti-government to say that a dictatorship is bad if the dictator is not benevolent.

Find me a GMO producer that is benevolent, let me know what they're producing.

Then we've got something to talk about.

"I argue those odds would be quite high"

You need to test the product to show it is safe.

"Arguing" doesn't cut it.

Why do you argue the odds would be high? What data do you have to support your assertion?

This gets right back to the table at the top (and the whine of corby).


Pseudoscience: No peer review. Ballpark figures (in your case, NO figures).

Science: Verifiable results, accurate measurement (you have not even posited a product!).

Try some science.

“however what do you think the likelihood is that GMOs can honestly do bad things to people”

Maybe I can put the problem with that in perspective with an analogy. One culled from David L's statements.

What do you think the likelihood is that use of modern chemistry will honestly do bad things to the environment?

What do you think the likelihood of FDA-approved pharmaceuticals will honestly do bad things to the human body?

"...setting aside the anti-Monsanto arguments (honestly they don’t pertain to the discussion at hand)"
Ah, but they very much do pertain: when the purveyers of infant formula targeted Africa for the sale of their products after the Western market became saturated, the product itself was usually mostly safe (as far as processed junk-food can be), but irresponsible and greedy marketing led to this stuff causing the deaths of a million infants per annum until UNICEF, the UN, and some other organisations got on the case.

Unbelievably, in the USA, marketing of infant formula in maternity hospitals with free give-aways, etc.., is *still* allowed. It mainly affects poor people of course, people whose lack of education makes them ripe for exploitation - the same kind of people who will blithely consume food-science concoctions of pink slime, trans-fats, and GMO crud thinking they don't have any better choices, and the education and regulation to facilitate these choices is opposed at every turn by the same sleazy and dishonest sociopathic lobbyists who are working their magic to protect Monsanto (etc...) from the need to label their products.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 09 Jan 2013 #permalink

To note: the reason why the baby formula was killing babies in Africa is because it needed water adding before it could be consumed.

Africa already had a water quality problem.

Feeding it to babies was a bad idea.

But something that the western company marketing didn't even consider, if only because they had clean water and thought everyone did.

Even if it's not attributable to "evil" "self interested ingnorance" is entirely able to look exactly the same.

What's that old canard?

Never ascribe to malice what can be put down to incompetence?

I'm confused by what information you would want from Monsanto that isn't already out there? A quick search of Pubmed using only the term "Monsanto" brings up 1300 papers. Obviously these are not all by Monsanto, (I can't look through them all), but Monsanto is listed right under the author list.
Putting in a search for "GMO unsafe" yields this:
"GMO health effects" brings up this:
Which cites the discredited Seralini paper and other papers by conspiracy theory groups.

So, I agree that Monsanto may not be 100% transparent, but how is this different than any other paper where authors leave out all the negative results and publish only positive results and good looking pictures? (This is a major bugaboo for my friend).

Thank you Wow- for discrediting Vince's baby formula rant. Those are the comments if a conspiracy theorist, and I'm not looking to get into that discussion.

By 76trombones (not verified) on 10 Jan 2013 #permalink

Over the Christmas break I read your fellow science blogger's book Tomorrow's Table, and found it a pithy introduction to the subject with some very interesting observations (i.e. GMO crops can reduce the amout of pesticides you are exposed to). I wish I could link to my review on Google Books, but don't know how.

Interesting link to the above allusion to experts outside their fields - one of the criticisms I made about the book was the inclusion of considerable personal narrative, in particular the decision to give birth at home. A lyrical praising of a decision to make an already dangerous act (giving birth) even more dangerous. It really is astonishing how knowledge and expertise doesn't generally translate outside one's field.

You've got spam!

I really liked Wonder Years, too.

This article was a little disappointing because it addressed only the weak arguments against GMOs.

Combining "If they were ever found to be harmful to human health, they would be pulled and/or recalled" with human overindulgence leads to what I understand to be a larger concern: is there a going back? E.g., if you plan Round Up Ready soybean and I, your neighbor, plant non-GMO soybean, what's the chance my crop will not get contaminated, over the natural course of biology? The fact that you're a very smart scientist underpins the concern: if you didn't realize something so simple as the main concern, how likely is it that others haven't fully grasped how hard it will be to close this Pandora's Box?

I might have to get Winnie's book for my niece - thanks for the pointer! :-)


Even if GMO veg are safe in themselves, and that's a big 'IF' that hasn't been proven by a long shot, they still are 'designed' to be doused with tons of pesticides! AND even IF some strange counter-intuitive science showed that pesticides are not harmful to humans, they still are to the environment. And so are the massive amounts of synthetic fertilizers they use with GMOs.

So telling people that GMOs are ok (whether true or not) is misleading and doesn't address the core issue of why GMOs are bad, which is that is the whole system revolving around GMO science is 'unsustainable'.

And that's really the point.

" (i.e. GMO crops can reduce the amour of pesticides you are exposed to). "
Correct WLU, Ronald Bailey points that out in his book "The End Of Doom"

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 13 Aug 2015 #permalink