Tuesday, July 11, 2017

X is connected to Y which is connected to Monsanto. Therefore, I am a shill...

Hey everyone,

As some of my readers may know, I'm going to be featured in a movie called "Science Moms". It all started when I joined forces with a group of awesome women to write a letter to Sarah Michelle Gellar because she was against GMOs. Readers of this blog may also know that I'm a super Buffy fan, so SMG's ad about GMO labeling was like a stake through my heart. HAHAHA!!! GET IT?? BECAUSE BUFFY???

The letter was also written to a bunch of other people who were in the ad, but frankly, when I was writing/editing, I was doing it for Buffy/Sarah. Once we had written it, we sent it to some other awesome women who signed onto it and gave suggestions/edits. After that, we started getting requests from a bunch of people who wanted to sign it, so we just left it open so anyone could sign on.

I tagged SMG in a bunch of my tweets about the article. I wonder if she read it? Sigh...

One of the readers of the letter was an awesome woman named Natalie Newell. She thought that our story was pretty unique (I tend to agree :) ). She and her husband decided to make a movie about us, and gave us the name "Science Moms", which is infinitely better than #Moms4GMOs!! She took it upon herself to launch a Kickstarter for funding. It got fully funded and she traveled to our homes to do filming. They're currently working on final editing and it will premiere in October. It stars Kavin Senapathy, Alison Bernstein (Mommy PhD), Anastasia Bodnar, Jenny Splitter, and myself.

Since the movie is funded by normal people, we don't have a PR department or anything. So last week, we snagged a twitter account and have just started using it. We "premiered" the account to promote a letter we published on Medium. Immediately, the shill-cusations started coming in.

It seems that it is not sufficient that the movie was funded independently. It is not sufficient that Natalie is not paid for by the nebulous "big Ag". It is not sufficient that none of us receive funding from Monsanto/Syngenta/Dow Agro/Dupont. One dude seriously wanted to know if the people who chipped in for the Kickstarter worked for biotech.

I'm not sure what they're looking for. So we're going to play 6 degrees of separation to Monsanto. Because in the end, that's all it takes for a shill-cusation. Here we go:

  • As an infant and toddler, my dad worked for Corning. Corning makes labware. Monsanto probably buys labware, possibly from Corning. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • As a child and youth, my dad sold computers. Monsanto uses computers. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • As an undergraduate, I got a full scholarship. I have no idea where the scholarship money came from, but a lot of the buildings on my campus had industry names, so I'm assuming that there were industry donations there, particularly the Labatt brewing company. Monsanto employees in Canada probably drink Labatt's. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • As a graduate student, I received provincial and federal scholarships for all the years of my PhD. That money comes from taxes. Monsanto pays taxes. Therefore, I am a shill. 
  • During my PhD years, my husband worked for McDonald's for a few years, before he got laid off due to restructuring. McDonald's buys food from farmers. Farmers buy seeds, probably from Monsanto. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • Since my PhD ended, I have spent my time working in companies that develop DNA sequencing instruments and assays, and have changed jobs 3x since the inception of this blog. Most of this time has been spent developing assays for targeted analysis of the human genome. Plants have genomes. Monsanto probably sequences DNA from plants. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • In my 401K plan, we have invested in the total stock market (i.e all 4000+ stocks on the market). Monsanto is publicly traded on the stock market. Therefore, I am a shill.
There you have it folks. 

Moral of this tale: if someone wants to find a COI where there's no misbehaviour or misconduct, then they should check their biases. Because odds are that if you look into that person's background, you can also play 6 degrees of separation from Monsanto.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A GMO pineapple with a blush

A couple of months ago, I saw an article about a new "pink pineapple" that was being approved by the FDA and was a GMO. I've wanted to learn more about the variety, so in this blog post I'll be exploring the topic.

The pineapple was developed by Del Monte Fresh Produce (not to be confused with Del Monte Foods). The company plans to label it as "extra sweet pink flesh pineapple" and it will be grown in Costa Rica. In addition to pink flesh, it has a few other traits and we'll go through these one-by-one. Much of the information below came from the FDA submission documents.

Pink Flesh

To understand how the pineapple's flesh was made pink, we have to review how beta-carotene is made in plants. Beta-carotene is a pigment that has an orange color and is essential to us for vitamin A synthesis. We usually associate it with carrots. Its synthesized in plants in a multi-step process involving several enzymes. One of the intermediates in this pathway is lycopene, which is also a pigment but is bright red. Watermelon, tomatoes, and grapefruit are all fruits that are rich in lycopene. It is due to the accumulation of this pigment that the pineapple turns pink.

How was this accomplished? To make a pink pineapple, two things need to happen: a lot more lycopene needs to be made and its conversion to beta-carotene needs to be halted. To make more lycopene, the gene for phytoene synthase from a tangerine was added and was over-expressed (meaning that it was regulated in a such a way that the gene produced a lot of the phytoene synthase protein). This means that the crop can produce a lot more lycopene and beta-carotene.

However, the developers of the crop wanted lycopene accumulation without its conversion to beta-carotene. To achieve this, they silenced the lycopene β-cyclase (b-Lyc) and lycopene ε-cyclase (e-Lyc) genes in the pineapple using RNA interference. This is a naturally occurring defense mechanism that scientists have harnessed to silence genes by using the sequence of the gene itself. It triggers a pathway within the cell that chews up the RNA for the targeted gene. In this case, scientists added snippets of the b-Lyc and e-Lyc genes from the pineapple in a specific configuration. Once these snippets were turned on or expressed, it triggered the degradation of the lycopene-cyclase enzymes which are needed to convert lycopene into carotenes. Without this conversion, lycopene accumulates and the pineapple gets its beautiful pink colour.

File:Ghana pineapple field.jpg
Pineapple farm in Ghana
Image from Wikimedia Commons
By now you're probably wondering "Ok, pink pineapples are cool. But why?" Good question. The patent on the pineapple, which was published in 2013, claims "Carotenoids may contribute fundamentally to human health and in recent years there has been considerable interest in dietary carotenoids with respect to their potential in alleviating age-related diseases in humans." With a quick google search you can find tons of websites claiming that lycopene can do everything from preventing cancer to preserving bone health. Since lycopene is an antioxidant, there are a lot of websites that sell antioxidant supplements with information about the compound. However, there's little evidence supporting this.  The CDC states,"research studies have shown inconsistencies in the relation between carotenoid intake and protection from cancer." Regarding antioxidants, multiple studies have been conducted using dietary supplements and the NIH summarizes these findings by stating that "antioxidant supplements did not help to prevent disease."

Consequently, regarding this particular trait, I think that we should consider it as part of our diet rich in fruits and vegetables. As part of such a diet, it may help prevent disease. However, it's not a panacea that will cure you of your ailments. It's also a very stunning fruit from a visual perspective. Pineapple is a favorite in our house, so having a pink pineapple would be very nice to have on a fruit platter. And if that helps us eat more fruits, then why not have it as an option in our food supply? But if I'd had my choice in traits, I would have picked a pineapple that's easier to cut and handle :)

Alrighty, moving on to the next trait...

Controlled flowering

The second trait in the pineapple is controlled flowering. According to this paper: "A major limitation that afflicts pineapple growers is the phenomenon of natural flowering, which results in unscheduled fruiting. The percentage of natural induction is highly unpredictable and the incidence may vary from 0% to 100% in any given year (Kuan et al., 2005), which causes serious scheduling problems for growers and, in particular, fresh market growers".

Ethylene is a plant hormone that controls pineapple flowering, among many other things. According, to the same paper cited above, farmers currently use ethylene to "force" flowering which has been practiced for decades. This paper, which compared natural vs forced flowering, highlights that forced flowering "(a) advances flowering, (b) improves uniformity of flowering, (c) makes the harvest moment predictable, and (d) makes harvesting more uniform". The paper found that natural flowering was much more costly, but fruits produced by forced flowering were not as high quality as pineapples produced through natural flowering.

In 2006, a paper was published outlining that by silencing an enzyme involved in the synthesis of ethylene, they could delay natural pineapple flowering. The same idea was carried out in the making of the pink pineapple: an enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of ethylene (1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid synthase) was silenced. This allows farmers to use ethylene to force flowering whenever they'd like so that all the pineapples can produce fruit at the same time.

I was left with a lot of questions about this trait, and I can only speculate on the answers. I imagine that the trait could reduce food waste on the farm. I do not know whether the need to apply ethylene increases the carbon footprint, if this is done mechanically. Ethylene ripens some fruits, however, the pineapple does not produce much ethylene to begin with, so I don't know what the silencing of ethylene synthesis does in this regards. 


The regulatory documents state that the GM pineapple is substantially equivalent to its control, with the exception of increased lycopene (which is expected) and decreased beta-carotene (which is also expected). The amount of lycopene present matched those of other fruits, such as watermelon. There were a couple of other metrics that were significantly different between the GM and the control, however, these were within the range of natural variation for the crop.

The crop will be labeled as "“Extra Sweet Pink Flesh Pineapple”. According to this article, the regular Del Monte pineapple is labeled as "extra sweet", so the pink one isn't any sweeter than "normal".


So, will I buy this pineapple? If I were to guess, I'd say that the company started working on this pineapple about 10 years ago when the antioxidant craze was at its peak. But 10 years later, that craze has fizzled away. I think the company has a pink pineapple that's visually beautiful, but has no real health benefit. I'd buy this pineapple if it doesn't cost more than usual. I'd like to know whether the controlled flowering trait reduces food waste, because if that's the case it would be worth paying a small premium. Otherwise... meh?

Man, I learned a crap ton about pineapples by writing this post... Let me know if you have any questions below.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Plants vs Zombies: The GMO Edition

I know. It's been a while... Things are a bit rough. I've written a few pieces over on Medium, if you want to check them out.

So, in this blog post, I wanted to write about "superweeds", what they are, how they're related to GMOs, and some misconceptions about them. The first thing to know is that "superweed" is not a scientific term. Searching through the NIH's database of scientific publications, I only found one paper with the term "superweed", and it's a commentary, not a research article. Yet "superweed" is a term used ALL the time on websites that lobby against GMOs, like this article entitled "Superweeds: A Frightening Reality" written by the "Just Label It" campaign. 

My understanding of the term and its use is that "superweed" describes weeds that don't get killed by herbicides. They don't grow faster or stronger than other weeds. They arise due to selective pressure from the herbicide. Spouse, don't freak out. I'm going to explain this to you in detail, using your favoritest of analogies: zombies.

Imagine that the zombie apocalypse takes places tomorrow and is caused by a virus. Imagine that 1% of the human population had some sort of mutation in their DNA that made them resistant to the virus. That means that only 1% of the human population would survive. It also means that 100% of surviving humans are resistant to the zombie virus. The surviving humans would mate with one another and from that point onward, all humans would have the mutation that makes them resistant to the zombie virus (assuming, of course, that humans wouldn't mate with zombies... That would make a crazy scifi movie...). You could say that the surviving humans are "superhumans". 

But did the zombie virus cause the mutation? No, it did not. The superhumans were there all along. The zombie virus placed pressure on the system, and the mutant humans were "selected" because they lived.

A mutation that's shared by 1% of humans is a relatively large number of people. Why would so many humans have it? Well, maybe it makes humans resist other viruses too and gives them some sort of advantage. Or maybe at some point throughout the course of our evolution, there was a similar virus that wiped out a good chunk of our population, and our ancestors (human or not) survived because of the mutation. But since there hasn't been a zombie virus since that ancient plague, we haven't really needed that mutation. With no selective pressure, it may be why most humans no longer have the mutation.

But let's assume that there has never been any pressure for this mutation to remain in our population. In that case, very, very, very few humans, if any at all, would have the mutation making them resistant to the zombie virus. It would be pure luck if a human had that particular mutation, since mutations happen randomly in our DNA.Given how our species reproduces, there would need to be two humans who won this genetic lottery at the same time in history and in close proximity of one another, so that they could mate and have superhuman offspring. Otherwise, humans would get wiped out.

Pretty unlikely, right? Still, the zombie virus did not cause the mutation. 

Now, if the zombie apocalypse were part of a plan of some evil mastermind, the villain's best chance of success would be to release two viruses into the environment at the same time: let's say a zombie virus and a flesh-eating virus. The odds of a single individual or population being resistant to both viruses would be extremely, extremely, rare. 

So, that's probably as far as I can take the zombie apocalypse analogy.

Weeds that are resistant to herbicides are bound to arise, even with the best of herbicides. The same is true of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Given enough time, they'll be found. If a herbicide is well designed, no existing weeds will be resistant to it (i.e, in our analogy, a good herbicide wouldn't leave 1% of weeds behind). This is tricky, because there are so many different weeds to combat. But, the herbicides don't cause the resistance. Neither do antibiotics. Resistant bugs and resistant weeds win the genetic lottery and thrive. Since bacteria don't need to mate, it's even easier for an antibiotic resistant bug to spread.

Weeds that evolve to become resistant to herbicides have existed WAY before GMOs, because we've been using herbicides in agriculture before GMOs were commercialized. There are even weeds that have evolved to look like crops, so that they can evade hand-weeding. It is for these reasons that farmers are encouraged to practice good management to control weeds. This means that they're encouraged to rotate crops, to use herbicides that impact the plant in different ways, and to use mechanical methods to kill weeds, too. And although we may not like it, using two different herbicides makes sense and ag companies are starting to introduce GMOs with the ability to resist two herbicides. The odds of getting a weed that is resistant to both herbicides is much less, but again, it's only a matter of time before one arises.

Glyphosate has been a pretty good herbicide in terms of the development of herbicide resistant weeds. But because it was used on so many acres of land, the odds of finding a weed that "won the genetic lottery" increased. Consequently, glyphosate-resistant weeds have been identified in many areas and are a problem for some farmers. 

The term "superweed", when used in the context of the GMO debate, evokes imagery of a weed that's about to take over the planet. As I highlighted at the beginning of this piece, you'll see references to superweeds all over anti-GMO websites. Herbicide resistant weeds are a problem in agriculture, but it's far from being unique to GMO crops. So ask yourself why such language is being used, and be aware if its because the website in question is trying to manipulate your emotions.

For more on this topic, I encourage you to read this 2-page summary on superweeds or to look at this website. And follow @wyoweeds and @LynnSosnoskie on twitter (can't stress this enough).

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Future of FrankenFoodFacts

To my spouse and all my readers,

The past couple of days have been interesting, to say the least. I'm writing this blog a few days after the US elections, where in an incredible upset, a candidate that believes vaccine cause autism and does not believe in climate change was elected into office. There's a lot of other things about the president elect that concern me, but for the sake of this blog post, I'm going to keep it science focused. 

I write this article, genuinely struggling to figure out how to move forward as a science communicator. That people are in echo chambers, that experts are ignored, and that narratives have a strong appeal are things that I have long known, but now more than ever I struggle to figure out how to break through all that. And I'm fairly certain that it's not in the writing of this blog. Because if anyone wants to find out about GMO safety, all the information is already available to them. There is little that I can say that hasn't already been said.

In my draft blogs, I currently have a post entitled "Brexit and Organic Consumers Association". In the post, I was outlining the elements that these two movements have in common: appealing to people's fears and shunning expertise. I had written: "So it surprises me to no end that the public feels that expertise in certain topics is no longer relevant. And I don't know what to do about it, because in the opinion pieces I've written outlining the importance of experts and consultants, and the irony of having taxpayers fund their work and ultimately reject the suggestions that these experts make, I get comments from individuals accusing scientists of being "know-it-alls" or of being arrogant. Here's an example:
To some extent, I understand. An individual has an opinion and wants that opinion to be heard and respected. But we aren't all well versed in everything. I don't believe to know the solution to economic problems any more than I know how to build a deck for my back yard. I feel comfortable deferring to experts on both topics, not just the latter.

The problem is that when we turn to the wrong people for advice, they often provide incorrect information. Team Brexit said that the opinion of experts were not relevant. Bernie Sanders recently spoke about the dangers of GMOs and featured Jeffrey Smith from the so-called "Institute of Responsible Technology", whose lack of scientific knowledge has been highlighted in the past. Donald Trump has said that vaccines cause autism even though they don't." 

Rather than listening to experts, be they farmers speaking about agriculture, economic experts warning us about tax policies, scientists yelling at us about climate change, or military experts writing about a candidate's rhetoric, what ends up happening is that we believe in opinions that validate the biases we already hold.

The individuals who read this blog are already inclined to believe its content. I started this blog to document my journey as I learned about transgenic crops. With time, as I felt more certain about the safety of these crops, the tone and focus of the blog changed and I considered myself more of an advocate for GMOs. I will continue using this space to document my learning, but I don't think I'll continue promoting it. The people who don't believe in GMO safety aren't going to read it and I don't have the resources or the time to promote this blog so that it enters their sphere.

I'm not quitting science communication. Far from it (although a HUGE part of me does want to quit, to focus on my career so that I can further increase my income and my kid's success, and I'm working very hard on quieting that voice). Here's what I think I'll be doing going forward:

  • Focus on educating kids before their minds need to be changed. 
    • To this end, I'll be working more closely with Biology Fortified to create resources and tools for educators
  • Work with Moms4GMOs to try to get our message into new outlets and publications, so that we can decrease our reliance on social media as the primary method to broaden reach.
    • Social media bubbles don't pop very easily. The more we rely on social media, the more we're just preaching to the choir. 
    • The stark reality that social media has contributed extensively to the decline in factual information, and that speaking to kids and educators wouldn't necessarily rely on social media makes this option even more appealing.
I'm more than happy to answer questions and review papers, so if you have any, please send them my way. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

I Expose My Family to Carcinogens Everyday And So Do You

Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate, a common herbicide, as a probable carcinogen. I've been asked how it is that I can ingest "a known carcinogen",
"The Globally Harmonized System sign for carcinogens,
 mutagens, teratogens, respiratory sensitizers
and substances which have target organ toxicity." Wikipedia
so I'm going to take the time to outline what the IARC does, the difference between the IARC's ranking and risk, and why I expose myself and my child to known carcinogens everyday (a shout out to @mommyphd for editing this post).

First, it's important to note that the IARC's categorization of glyphosate contradicts statements from many other organizations including the European Food and Safety Authority. Second, the IARC's ranking has been controversial due to potential conflicts of interest. Third, to explore the data behind the IARC’s categorization, I highly recommend this blog post by Dr. Andrew Kniss. For the sake of simplicity, I'm writing this piece assuming that the IARC's ranking is correct and ethical.

What is the IARC?

The IARC is an agency of the World Health Organization and it reviews data regarding a substance's carcinogenicity to identify hazards. Their job is to answer these questions: Is there any evidence that substance X causes cancer? How much evidence is there? Based on the strength of data, not the likelihood of harm (the actual risk), it categorizes substances as "probably not a carcinogen", "not classifiable", "possibly a carcinogen", "probably a carcinogen", and "a known carcinogen". The IARC has only ever classified one substance as "probably not a carcinogen". If you’re not sure about the difference between hazard and risk, here’s an extreme example: is a meteor striking me a hazard? Yes… It is. I’d probably die or get injured if it struck me. Is it a risk? No. Apparently, there’s only a 1 in 1,600,000 chance that I’d get hit by a meteor in my lifetime and die.

That is the extent of the IARC's role: to determine the level of evidence for whether a substance has the potential to cause cancer. It doesn't tell you the level of risk or what you can do about it. That's why the IARC's classification is so confusing: it lumps processed meat in the same category as smoking. But does that mean that your risk of getting cancer from smoking two packs a day is the same as your risk of getting cancer by eating a pastrami sandwich? No, it doesn't. Does it tell you if your risk is the same if you smoke a cigarette once in your lifetime or if you eat 3 pastrami sandwiches a day? No, it doesn't. For that, we need to assess the risk of the substance and that is often done by public health organizations.

The Carcinogens We Encounter Every Day
Whether you're aware of it or not, every day you're choosing to expose yourself to at least one known carcinogen. That's because UV rays from sunlight are carcinogens. One of my son's favorite lunches is a sliced ham sandwich. And that's a carcinogen. There are many other possible and probable carcinogens that we knowingly expose ourselves to: my husband and I have cell phones, we eat red meat and french fries (the latter have acrylamide), and some of our lotions have aloe vera extract. Even hot beverages that we drink were recently classified as “probably a carcinogen”.

But thanks to public health officials that have assessed the risk and provided guidelines on mitigating risks in my life, my kid uses sunscreen when he's out in the sun and we try to stay in the shade. We don't eat red meat every day, and there are no public health guidelines on avoiding aloe vera extract because the evidence for actual risk of carcinogenicity is weak.

What About Glyphosate? What Should I do?

In the case of glyphosate, the World Health Organization has stated that the amount of glyphosate residues found in our food is unlikely to be carcinogenic. In other words, the risk to my family is negligible. The risk to pesticide appliers may be higher and worker safety organizations may provide recommendations specific to pesticide application for such individuals to mitigate their risks.

So many things around us are potential hazards and could possibly kill us some way or another. However, it’s more important to understand the level of risk that something poses in making decisions about how to keep ourselves and our families safe. It’s also important to note that we cannot avoid hazards: even something as simple as eating a salad, be it organic or conventional, has the risk of a foodborne illness. What’s important is that we make informed decisions based on genuine risk, otherwise we live our lives unnecessarily fearing our environment and our food. We could live cooped up inside our houses, in a "chemical-free" bubble with UV-reducing windows or shut-out curtains, but that's not what our public health officials recommend. Following their recommendations ensures that we reduce the risk for the things that can harm us by using sunscreen, eating plenty of properly washed fruits and veggies, getting our vaccinations on schedule, using seat belts and having car seats installed properly, etc. We should focus our efforts on following guidelines put forth by our public health officials and medical institutions, rather than creating boogie-men out of low-risk items in our environment.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Farmers and Scientists Are People, Too

Last month was the spouse's 20th high school reunion in his home town of Plainview, Texas. I'd been to Plainview a few times to visit his family and friends, but never over the summer. He had always said that I wouldn't enjoy the heat, so we had always visited in December.

So it was my first time visiting the state in temperatures above 100ºF (for all you awesome metric people, that's about 40ºC). It was also my first time at a reunion. Before flying out, the spouse encouraged me a few times to try to organize interviews for my "Better Know a Farmer" series, however, it was not possible given the duration of my trip.

Needless to say, Plainview, Texas is very different from any place I've lived. There used to be a very large meat processing plant for Cargill, which shut down in recent years due to the difficulty of maintaining cattle in the increasingly dry climate. Currently, one of the largest employers is a Walmart distribution center. But agriculture is at the heart of the area: the ads in the airport were for field irrigation systems and for agricultural technologies. The dust bowl is more than just a chapter in history books.

View from our plane when landing in Lubbock, TX
I got to chat with people between the various events for the reunion. Many them held jobs associated with ag, ranging from farmers working the land to individuals repairing equipment on ranches. They shared their challenges and aspirations. They spoke about biotech crops and how these have helped them. They told me about the drought, how it has impacted them and what they've lost. It made me think a lot about how stress resistant crops could help such regions in the not-too-distant future, and how such crops will become increasingly more important.

To most of us, farming is a concept in a text book. It's the lyrics to Jason Aldean's "Amarillo Sky". But to the people I met, it's their livelihood and it's their day-to-day. It's a source of pride and a legacy that has been handed down to them and they hope to pass on to their children.

I was recently reminded of Mommy, PhD's "#ScientistsArePeople" campaign, which launched to highlight that we scientists are diverse, everyday people: we aren't drones intent on taking over the world, motivated exclusively by money. Sweeping statements that paint scientists as a uniform group of evil individuals couldn't be farther from the truth. Similarly, painting farmers as a group of individuals who are intent on poisoning the earth and dousing crops in pesticides couldn't be more inaccurate.

I'm not naive enough to believe that everyone follows the rules or that everything is rainbows and unicorns. I've worked with people that have been genuine douchebags and whose car tires I dreamed of slashing. But such individuals are far from being the majority. Most people I have worked with want a job where they can make a contribution to society and earn fair pay. I believe scientists and farmers are generally no different.

I want you to think carefully about your home: how you want to keep it safe, how you want to pay off your mortgage or your lease, and how you want to have a healthy environment for you and your kids/pets/friends. Would it make any sense for you to use chemicals that are not designated for household-use in this space or use more than instructed? Would it make any sense for you to introduce compounds that would knowingly damage the building you're handing down to your kids? Then why on earth would you believe that a farmer would do this to the lands where they work and live? As kids ran around at the roller-skating rink at the family event for the reunion, I wondered why anyone would believe that a farmer is any different than themselves.

There are different fora where you can engage with farmers and ask questions. I recommend Food and Farm Discussion Lab and Ask The Farmers (both are on Twitter). I encourage you to ask questions, rather than making assumptions about their practices and work.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sources of Information about GMOs

Oftentimes when I start a discussion about GMOs with someone online, it turns into a discussion about sources. The person that I'm having the discussion with doesn't trust my sources. I, in turn, don't trust theirs. Last week, I finally sat down to outline why I don't trust some of the most popular anti-GMO sites.

The basis of my argument is this: if a site regularly provides incorrect information on other topics, why would you believe that the information they provide on GMOs is correct? If the site does not accept the scientific consensus on vaccines, why would you believe its editors/authors when they say that there's no consensus on GMOs? Of course, if you believe that vaccines are not safe and are full of toxins, then that's a whole other story. If you believe that the CDC is set out to reduce our population, then there's a lot more that we'd have to discuss.

So here are some of the sites that I covered. I made the graphics for my Facebook page and you can find them there, too.

1) Natural News

Natural News' coverage of the Zika virus highlights the "click-bait" nature and fear-driven basis of their content. The headlines below are from January 29th through February 11th, yet in that short period of time, the theories provided are all over the place and even contradict one another, as if the editors were trying to figure out which generated traction: vaccines, GMOs, government conspiracy, and finally, Monsanto. This last story trended for several days on Facebook. To make matters even worse, Natural News sells organic insect repellent that can protect you from the GMO-mosquitoes-that-have-been-vaccinated-with-Monsanto-pesticides-in-a-government-funded-study for the mere cost of $14.95

2) The Organic Consumers Association

The OCA frequently writes about the alleged dangers of GMOs. However, they also have many articles about the "dangers" of vaccines, including the thoroughly debunked myth that vaccines are linked to autism. The OCA also touts the benefits of homeopathy, although its efficacy has also been debunked.

The OCA's support of such ideas highlights the fact that they are not a reliable source of information on scientific arguments.

3) March Against Monsanto

The March Against Monsanto organization has some noble goals: decreasing the influence that companies have in our political system, fighting to do what's best for our planet, and others. In the past, I've outlined how I share many of these perspectives. However, when it comes to the actual science, March Against Monsanto is truly lacking. Not only does the organization fight against vaccinations, but it shares content about "chemtrails" and the dangerous notion that HIV is a man-made virus. These ideas, which can be classified as nothing but conspiracy theories, highlight that the organization's articles about science are not evidence-based.

4) Dr Mercola

Dr Mercola is an osteopath whose website is one of the more popular sources of information about alternative medicine. He also sells a lot of supplements. In fact, most of his articles tie in to a product that he sells on his website. However, many of the claims in his articles are untested, and the FDA has issued several warnings. Most recently, he settled with the FTC for up to 5.3 million dollars for claiming that his tanning beds reduced the risk of cancer. PLEASE read this news article, which highlights the dangerous nature of some of his claims. It also points out the vast resources that Dr Mercola has accumulated with his untested, unproven, online empire.

In summary, if a website:

  • shares conspiracy theories
  • posts articles with conflicting information about popular topics with no explanation on why the information conflicts
  • claims that the only item that will help you is the item that it sells
  • shares information contrary to what the major health and scientific organizations believe to be true
then why would you believe such a website?