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Our Biofuture

Life Sciences musings

Farm

Points to Consider: Biotech Improved Herbicide Tolerant Crops Have Improved Yields and Sustainability

Professional opponents of agricultural innovations have failed utterly to make their case that seeds improved through biotechnology impose novel risks.  Massive data and vast experience have refuted such claims in the eyes of all but the most fervent true believers.  Opponents have therefore lately tried to construct dubious linkages with time honored scapegoats of pesticides and herbicides.  A popular target is the world’s most widely used herbicide, glyphosate, which has ushered in a new area of improved sustainability for conventional farmers. We take a closer look at one of the recent misfires against glyphosate from a cadre of hard core biotech opponents.

ORIGINAL PAPER:   Bøhna, T.,  M. Cuhraa, T. Traavika, M. Sandenc, J. Fagan, & R. Primiceriob.  Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans. Food Chemistry Volume 153, 15 June 2014, Pages 207– 215. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613019201

PRIMARY CLAIMS OF THE ORIGINAL PAPER:

  • RoundupReady soybeans contain elevated residues of glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid).
  • Organic soybeans have a healthier nutritional profile than other soybeans.

SALIENT FACTS & CONTEXT:  

  • The experimental design, sampling and analytical methods, and literature citations described in this paper
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Cowboy pondering

About Censorship

For those of us who are curious, or maybe just in need of an occasional diversion from reality, the Internet is a rich and wondrous toy. With a click or two we can open a window to unexpected marvels or places we’d love to visit  but will likely never get to. But the path to unexpected marvels can just as quickly shunt you off into bad neighborhoods and dark places that no one needs to visit. Herewith a tale…

We all love somebody who beats the odds, a self-made success who overcomes a challenge and builds something significant; even better if there’s a “cowboy” angle of bucking current trends or speaking truth to power. On its surface, then, Mike Adams would seem to have a lot going for him.

Calling himself the “Health Ranger” and hosting a widely viewed website Adams offers up a steady stream of health related claims and comments through which he has become one of the Internet’s leading promoters of bogus health schemes, medical conspiracy theories and quack medicine. He often starts from a springboard of fact, but regularly careens off in some conspiratorial

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Kidney

Points to Consider: Unsubstantiated Claims that Glyphosate is Linked to Kidney Disease

A number of recent reports have attempted to link pesticides improved through biotechnology with negative health impacts. Unfortunately, most of these efforts have been proven to be ideological attacks on technology rather than considered, scientific reviews designed to enhance knowledge. We take a closer look at a recent paper claiming to show a correlation between the widely used herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) and kidney disease.

ORIGINAL PAPER: Glyphosate, Hard Water and Nephrotoxic Metals: Are They the Culprits Behind the Epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lanka? By Channa Jayasumana, Sarath Gunatilake, and Priyantha Senanayake. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014, 11(2), 2125-2147; doi:10.3390/ijerph110202125

PRIMARY CLAIMS:

  • Some journalists  and opposition groups  have suggested the paper shows chronic kidney disease is caused by exposure to glyphosate.
  •  The paper makes no such claims, but only advances a “hypothesis” unsupported by any data, for which there is no plausible causal mechanism, and which is inconsistent with published, peer-reviewed science on the safety of glyphosate, and the findings of regulatory authorities around the world.

SALIENT FACTS & CONTEXT:  

  • The journal in which this paper was
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Consumers Union Makes False Claims Against the Safety of Genetically Modified Foods Based On Ideology Not Science

The ideologically driven, anti-technology campaign to restrict access to safe, sustainable and affordable foods improved through biotechnology got a boost when Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin signed into law a new measure that mandates the labeling of foods modified through genetic engineering sold in Vermont.

This campaign in support of the law is based on financial self interest and fear, not on reasoned policy designed to inform and protect consumers. Since other states are considering similar laws based on the same faulty reasoning, a detailed consideration of the argument is timely. To test the misleading statements and mischaracterizations of the labling campaigners I present testimony below from Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist with the Consumers Union. This testimony was presented as part of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection’s Public Hearing on the Use of Biotechnology in Foods and the Effects on Consumers at Lehman College, on Tuesday, July 30, 2013. I include Hansen’s statements on GMOs and provide a factual analysis with documentation correcting his false and inaccurate claims.

The italicized portions below are statements by Assembly Members or by Michael Hansen. Some of

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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
  • Roundup the most toxic of herbicides
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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.
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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

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Medical Innovaiton

Investment in Medical Innovation Produces Immense Value for Patients, Economies

Earlier today, I participated in a panel discussion entitled “The Value of Medical Innovation to Patients, Economies and Societies”, which was a part of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association’s Annual Meeting. The discussion centered on one common theme – prioritizing medical innovation has far-reaching benefits for society.

In the U.S., public health problems take a toll not only on individual patients but also on society as a collective whole. The Milken Institute recently concluded that the most common chronic diseases cost the economy an estimated $1 trillion each year and that figure could rise to $6 trillion by 2050. More specifically, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Economic Forum found that cancer costs the economy about $250 billion in 2010 and anticipated that expense to rise to at least $458 billion by 2030. Promoting and investing in medical innovation could significantly reduce these economic costs and improve public health outcomes.

In addition, the U.S. economy benefits tremendously from expanded medical innovations and the industries it promotes. The field, which accounts for $69 billion of U.S. economic activity, produces highly-skilled jobs that pay,

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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,

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lab

The Potentially Deleterious Impacts of the President’s FY 2015 Budget on U.S. Life Sciences Industries

As ITIF notes in The President’s FY 2015 Budget Underinvests in U.S. Competitiveness and Innovation, while there are many things to like in the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, it still does not do enough to invest in innovation or to propose reforms to policies that hinder the competitiveness of key U.S. innovation industries. We see this particularly with regard to three issues impacting U.S. life sciences industries: flat funding for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the budget’s call to provide only seven years of data exclusivity protection for novel biologic medicines, and the budget’s failure to repeal the self-destructive medical device tax that is contributing to the decimation of the U.S. medical device industry.

First, the FY 2015 budget proposes just $30.2 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health, which actually represents a 3.6 percent decline over the Administration’s FY 2014 request. This would exacerbate a growing divide in critical investments in biomedical research between the United States and our global competitors. As a recent report from The New England Journal of Medicine, Asia’s Ascent—Global Trends in Biomedical R&D Expenditures

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