All posts by L. Val Giddings
A March 3, 2014 story from Reuters by Carey Gillam presents claims by organic farmers that the federal government needs to step in to prevent “contamination” of their fields. So what is the problem that has organic growers hunting for help?
According to the press release uncritically recycled by Reuters, “Growing crops free from contamination by genetically modified crops and the pesticides used on those biotech versions is getting more difficult and more costly for U.S. farmers, and new government rules to control contamination are needed, according to [sic] report… by an environmental organization and an organic food group.”
The first problem with the story is the use of the term “contamination.” What does it mean to “contaminate” something? According to Merriam-Webster, to “contaminate” means “to make something dangerous, dirty, or impure by adding something harmful or undesirable to it.” So is it the right word to use in this context?
Farming is not a sterile endeavor. Farmers literally work in the dirt, and try as they might, it can be a very messy business. Harvests invariably reflect this truth, and nobody who’s ever spent any time on … Read the rest
Ag Biotech Opponents Want the US to Emulate European Regulation of Biotechnology – They Should Think Again…
Anyone interested in food—that should capture most of us—who pays any attention at all to the news is likely to be at least vaguely aware of the controversies about so-called “GMOs” or “GM food” ginned up by professional propagandists and those who profit from fear-based marketing. There is, in fact, among competent scientists, no real controversy. These crops and the feed and foods they provide are every bit as safe, and sometimes safer than foods produced by other methods (e.g., organic) and this is acknowledged by a staggering preponderance of scientific opinion around the world (here’s a lovely graphic summarizing global scientific consensus, and another one). Indeed, the scientific support lined up behind the safety of GM crops and foods makes the support for anthropogenic global warming look weak by comparison.
But the professional opposition to agricultural biotechnology and the vested interests bankrolling it have succeeded in scaring enough scientifically illiterate politicians to lead to indefensible and prejudicial regulations (i.e. impediments to innovation and improvements in agricultural sustainability). There are many examples around the world, but the poster child for this unholy success is the European Union … Read the rest
“This is a peer-reviewed study!”
In the increasingly heated battles waged lately by crusaders against innovation in agriculture, such assertions are increasingly thrown down like a gauntlet. The intent is to negate findings by regulators and scientists around the world that crops and foods improved through biotechnology are safe. These advocates argue passionately that “paper X”, published in a scientific journal after being reviewed by anonymous scientists and an editor, is sufficient to overturn the findings of hundreds of previously published reports (see http://www.biofortified.org/genera/guide/) to say nothing of the vast experience accumulated through the consumption of trillions of meals derived from biotech improved crops since they first entered the marketplace in the mid 1990s. When these papers are criticized by scientists post-publication, cries of censorship and persecution inevitably arise, and are routinely coupled with claims that the critics are bought and paid for by vested corporate interests (see http://www.infiniteunknown.net/2012/12/17/smelling-a-corporate-rat-%E2%80%93-the-move-to-suppress-seralini-gmo-study/ and http://www.globalresearch.ca/gmo-researchers-attacked-evidence-denied-and-a-population-at-risk/5305324). But the noisemakers overlook something fundamental about the culture of science: where they thought peer review ended -is really where it gets going.
Peer Review – What is it?
Like so much of Western thought, the idea … Read the rest
Budget proposals – Presidential or Congressional – too often are more political Kabuki than serious policy, and the risk of smoke and mirrors is directly proportional to budget pressure. It is therefore a pleasant surprise to find in the President’s most recent budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Agriculture less theater than past experience would predict, as well as some genuinely sound policy.
ITIF has pointed out the sizeable discrepancy between present levels of support for agricultural research and development and those that would be commensurate to addressing the challenges facing agriculture over the next 40 years. We estimate that to meet the dual stresses of population growth and climate change on food production, existing agricultural research budgets should be tripled and focused on basic research and innovation that can drastically improve crop productivity and resiliency. This is the only way we will be able to meet food demand, which is expected to double by 2050.
The President’s budget proposal takes a significant step in the right direction by increasing funds for competitive grants in agricultural research by 45% over 2012 levels. In a time when the overall budget … Read the rest
On December 21, 2012, the Food and Drug Administration published a draft environmental assessment for a new variety of salmon that promises to benefit the health and wallets of consumers, reduce dramatically the environmental impacts some have linked to conventionally farmed salmon, and reduce over-fishing pressure on wild salmon stocks. The publication of this EA is noteworthy because it marks at least a temporary elevation of facts, reason, and innovation-friendly policy over ignorance, mendacity, and what appears to have been ill-considered political interference with science-based and pro-innovation policies with a long history of strong, bipartisan support.
The document should have been published more than a year ago. But as is often the case with pathbreaking innovations, its road has been marked by unexpected bumps and potholes. It finally looked as if the path to publication was clear last April, when movement suddenly stopped without explanation. The story is well told in SLATE , by Jon Entine, who has ferreted out indications that it was put on hold out of fears its publication might anger a portion of President Obama’s most fervent base, a calculation of elevated political significance in an … Read the rest
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” (Rev. Charles Dodgson, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)
Recent news brings one of those items that causes palms to smack foreheads:
“ConAgra Foods is facing two class action lawsuits that claim the marketing of its Wesson cooking oils as “100% natural” and “pure” is misleading because the oil is extracted from plants that have been genetically modified (GM).
“The two lawsuits, one filed in Los Angeles and the other in Brooklyn, seek millions of dollars’ worth of refunds for consumers who bought products in ConAgra’s Wesson range of cooking oils, as well as a court order preventing the company from labelling the oils as natural. The oils concerned include Wesson-brand corn oil, canola oil, Best Blend and vegetable oil.
“According to the complaint, labelling the oils “100% natural” is misleading because GM plants are “unnatural”, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO says: “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material … Read the rest
Two new reports released last week provide some of the most compelling evidence yet for the importance of federal investments in science and technology innovation. Amid the bitter and protracted negotiations over this fiscal year’s federal budget, U.S. investments in science and innovation were largely spared from the deepest cuts some federal programs faced. But they may not be safe for long as Congress considers making further spending cuts in the fiscal year 2012 budget beginning in October against the backdrop of debate this summer over raising the national debt ceiling.
That’s why it is critically important that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle distinguish between federal “spending” and “investments.” What many fiscally conservative lawmakers omit in their zeal to slash spending is that many federal programs actually have positive rates of return, meaning they bring in more revenue—to the government, economy, or both—than they cost the taxpayer. To put it another way, some federal investments are profitable to the public balance sheet and save the taxpayers money in the long run.
Read the rest
Every so often a “news” item appears that gets the most important facts so upside down one is reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s comment that “… nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle” (Thomas Jefferson, June 11 1807, letter to John Norvell). The May 20 article in the Washington Post gives us a contemporary example that once again reaffirms the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.
The occasion is the imminent “threat” of increased availability of a nutritious, healthy, safe food with a lower carbon footprint and reduced environmental impact compared to competing products. It’s difficult to make that out from the article, but we’re talking about transgenic, or “genetically modified (GM)” salmon.
The offending piece in the Washington Post opens with an assertion that does violence to reality stating, “In the absence of a federal law requiring labels for genetically modified food…”. What’s wrong with this statement?
Read the rest
ITIF expands its portfolio to move into biotechnology. With all the money being invested in biotechnologies around the world by governments and the private sector, and with all the attention paid by NGOs, this may appear superfluous to some. We see this as all the more reason. We propose to attack some of the fundamental policy issues, some of the thorniest problems, and to follow the facts wherever they may lead. We propose to show that Joshua Reynolds was not 100% correct when he stated “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the true labor of thinking.”
Why is important to bring critical eyes to bear on challenges associated with biotechnology?
Read the rest