All posts by L. Val Giddings

Pesticides

Points to Consider: Claims About Pesticide Toxicity are Based on Discredited Methods

Having failed to convince the public that biotech improved seeds present novel or unexamined risks, professional opponents are now working overtime to tar GMOs with the same brush they’ve used successfully to denigrate the use of synthetic chemistry in agriculture.  Papers that look scientific to the casual observer are frequently cited in these attempts. We take a closer look at one particularly good example of a bad example.

Original PaperRobin MesnageNicolas DefargeJoël Spiroux de VendômoisGilles-Eric Séralini.  2013.  Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles. BioMed Research International (Impact Factor: 2.88). 12/2013; 2014(Article ID 179691).  DOI:10.1155/2014/179691

Published Analysis:

ScienceInsider:  “Pesticide Study Sparks Backlash

ravingscientist: “Séralini Has Done it Again!

In the Pipeline: “Pesticide Toxicity?

European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) Statement: “Séralini Study Fails to Meet Basic Scientific Standards

Primary Claims of the Original Paper:

  • Pesticide formulations as sold and used are up to 1000 times more toxic than the isolated substance that is tested and evaluated for safety

GMO Labels

Points to Consider: Flawed and False Arguments for Mandatory GM Food Labels

Opponents of agricultural innovation are in the second year of a massive campaign aimed at stampeding state legislatures into imposing mandatory labels on foods derived from crops improved through biotechnology. They cite a litany of justifications, none of which survives critical scrutiny. We take a closer look.

Original Article: Shubert, David, Why we Need GMO Labels, CNN, February 3, 2014

Primary Claims of the Article:

  • The lack of labeling requirements for GM foods is because of money spent in opposition by seed companies.
  • There is no consensus that these foods are safe.
  • Labeling is required to ensure safety and enable consumer choice.
  • Genetic engineering has not created any new varieties with “with increased yields and resistant to flooding and salt” as promised “When GMOs were introduced nearly 20 years ago.”

Salient Facts: Virtually every claim made is abundantly contradicted by data, experience, and the published scientific literature.

Rebuttal:

  • The lack of State labeling requirements for GM foods is because of money spent in opposition by seed companies.
    • Significant amounts of money have been spent by organic interests in support of labeling that would help expand their market share.
  • Read the rest

organic-milk

Points to Consider: Organic and Conventional Milk are Nutritionally Indistinguishable

Points to Consider: Organic and Conventional Milk are Nutritionally Indistinguishable

Organic advocates often claim foods produced through organic methods are superior in one way or another to other foods. Time and again research has failed to corroborate these claims Yet the convictions of organic advocates remain undented, reinforced by uncritical reporting and/or misleading papers. A classic in this genre is a recent publication wrongly claiming the nutritional superiority of organic milk. We take a closer look.

Original Paper:  Charles M. Benbrook, Gillian Butler,  Maged A. Latif,  Carlo Leifert,  Donald R. Davis.  2013 (December 9). Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States–Wide, 18-Month Study.   PLoS ONE 8(12): e82429. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082429

Published Analysis: Tamar Haspel, A Paper Touting the Benefits of Organic Milk for Heart Health May be Overselling the Drink, Washington Post, January 27, 2014

Primary Claims of the Original Paper: Organic milk is nutritionally superior because of higher levels of ω-3 fatty acids.

Salient Facts: The study reaffirms something long known: that cows fed diets rich in pasture and forage have higher levels of ω-3 fatty acids than those fed … Read the rest

GM-Crop-Decline

Points to Consider: Alleged Decline in GM Crop Plantings Misses Forest for Trees

No innovation in the history of agriculture has been more rapidly adopted than seeds improved through biotechnology. Grown in negligible amounts starting in 1984, the first commercial plantings in 1996 led to explosive growth in the years since. The cumulative total area is expected to top 4 billion acres this year. Data confirming this remarkable success story compiled by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were released in February of 2014, but some of the stories got critical elements wrong. We take a closer look.

Original Article: Kaskey, Jack, Modified Crop Plantings Fall in Industrialized Nations, Bloomberg News, February 13, 2014

Published Analysis: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2013 International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, February 14, 2014

Primary Claims of the Original Article:

  • “Genetically modified crop plantings fell in industrialized nations for the first time since the technology was commercialized in 1996, an industry report said.”
  • “Plantings in those countries fell about 2 percent to 81 million hectares (200 million acres) last year as Canada sowed less modified canola and Australia cut back on cotton, the International Service for the
  • Read the rest

Crops

Reuters (Predictably) Gets It Wrong. Again.

One of the reasons the “controversy” over crops improved through biotechnology persists, is because it is manufactured and sustained by a well-organized, ongoing campaign, funded and sustained by vested interests. This astroturf campaign is fueled by credulous and disengaged journalists who recycle their press releases, and allow those biases to bleed over into other coverage.

We’ve written before about one repeat offender, Carey Gillam, of Reuters. She’s back with more of the same, in a story that ran on April 9 covering legislation introduced in Congress that would (redundantly)  preempt state legislation to mandate labels that would mislead consumers and abet fraudulent marketing campaigns. Gillam writes “But some scientific studies warn of potential human and animal health problems, and GMO crops have been tied to environmental problems, including rising weed resistance. Millions of acres of U.S. farmland have developed weed resistance due to heavy use of crops that have been genetically altered to withstand dousings of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.”

Hold the weed/herbicide resistance issue for a moment, and let’s look at the “scientific studies that warn of potential human and animal health problems…” This claim is false, … Read the rest

organic farm

Organic Farm Supporters Seek Special Treatment

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

agriculture

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

plato

Peer Review – Where you thought it ended? That’s just the beginning!

“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

USDA Headquarters

Observations on the President’s Budget in Agriculture

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

Salmon Preparation Board

Salmon: Not Out of the Woods Yet

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