Fraud, Misinformation, and the GMO Labeling Law in Vermont

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In May of this year, Vermont passed a GMO labeling bill that flooded the national news media. It was such a huge event since similar legislation had been defeated in places like Washington and California leading up to it. Those opposing the genetic modification of seeds, who have found quite a bit of support in Vermont, began to celebrate, while hinting at the backlash they knew would come. Of course, they pointed at Monsanto, their usual target of ire, regardless of whether it’s deserved.

The bill, H. 112, titled AN ACT RELATING TO THE LABELING OF FOOD PRODUCED WITH GENETIC ENGINEERING, has several glaring problems that should be looked at from the start. Let’s take a look at the “Findings” section, which sets the premise of the bill.

U.S. federal law does not provide for the necessary and satisfactory regulation of the safety and labeling of food that contains genetically engineered ingredients, as evidenced by the following:

This part alone is demonstrably false, even before they list their reasons for coming to this conclusion. The process itself takes years just to get a new GMO to be approved by the FDA.

U.S. federal labeling and food and drug laws do not require manufacturers of food produced with genetic engineering to label such food as genetically engineered. As indicated by the testimony of Dr. Robert Merker, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, theFDA has statutory authority to require labeling of food products, but does not consider genetically engineered foods to be materially different from their traditional counterparts to justify such labeling.

Alright, this is a very common argument used against GMOs, and it’s “not even wrong,” that is, it’s not based enough in reality to be wrong.

Currently, all seeds leaving the biotech firms to the farmers are clearly labeled. The FDA requires labeling on food only if the nutritional value of the food is changed. Since GMO is a process, and not an ingredient, no change in nutrition typically occurs. With the exception of Golden Rice and the new banana, most are engineered with traits to aid farmers in the growing process. They have no effect on the final product.

So, safety, again, is not at issue here.

No formal FDA policy on the labeling of genetically engineered foods has been adopted. Currently, the FDA only provides nonbinding guidance on the labeling of genetically engineered foods, including a 1992 draft guidance regarding the need for the FDA to regulate labeling of food produced from genetic engineering and a 2001 draft guidance for industry regarding voluntary labeling of food produced from genetic engineering.

The FDA regulates genetically engineered foods in the same way it regulates foods developed by traditional plant breeding. Under its regulatory framework, the FDA does not independently test the safety of genetically engineered foods. Instead, manufacturers may submit safety research and studies, the majority of which the manufacturers finance or conduct. The FDA reviews the manufacturers’ research and reports through a voluntary safety consultation, and issues a letter to the manufacturer acknowledging the manufacturer’s conclusion regarding the safety of the genetically engineered food product being tested.

The FDA does not use meta-studies or other forms of statistical analysis to verify that the studies it reviews are not biased by financial or professional conflicts of interest.

The FDA is not responsible for any safety testing. They rely on the science that has been done.  Currently, there are a substantial number of independent safety studies that have been done.

That said, this still represents a distinct lack of understand of how science works. Science self corrects for bias. When a study is done and submitted to a journal, it gets peer reviewed. This is an often brutal process, where any holes can and will be poked in your paper.

Even if a bad study somehow makes it through that and gets published, the scientific community continues to scrutinize the study, and other labs attempt to replicate it.

Whenever you look at making a scientific claim, you have to rely on a body of evidence, rather than a single study, for this very reason. In the end, the funding source makes no difference, because all of these safeguards are built into the process.

There is a lack of consensus regarding the validity of the research and science surrounding the safety of genetically engineered foods, as indicated by the fact that there are peer-reviewed studies published in international scientific literature showing negative, neutral, and positive health results.

There have been no long-term or epidemiologic studies in the United States that examine the safety of human consumption of genetically engineered foods.

The “long-term studies” assertion has been floating around for a long time. The studies done on genetically modified technologies are equivalent to those that have been done on other types of crops and have shown that they are just as safe as other types of agricultural goods.

As far as consensus, there are over 2000 studies thus far on GMOs. A massive review in 2013 showed the consensus clearly with the following: “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.”

Independent scientists are limited from conducting safety and risk-assessment research of genetically engineered materials used in food products due to industry restrictions on the use for research of those genetically engineered materials used in food products.

                This is another very common assertion. There IS a seed agreement that farmers sign when they purchase seeds. The question is, when determining the safety of a food product, what lab is going to grow it from scratch? They can freely purchase the food products to conduct the studies, and they do, as is evidence on the previously linked body of scientific work on the subject.

Genetically engineered foods are increasingly available for human consumption, as evidenced by the fact that: it is estimated that up to 80 percent of the processed foods sold in the United States are at least partially produced from genetic engineering; and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2012, genetically engineered soybeans accounted for 93 percent of U.S. soybean acreage, and genetically engineered corn accounted for 88 percent of U.S. corn acreage.

That’s pretty accurate, as far as it goes, and only further reinforced the concept that we’ve been using GMO originated foods in abundance with no ill effects.

Genetically engineered foods pose potential risks to health, safety, agriculture, and the environment, as evidenced by the following:

Independent studies in laboratory animals indicate that the ingestion of genetically engineered foods may lead to health problems such as gastrointestinal damage, liver and kidney damage, reproductive problems, immune system interference, and allergic responses.

They do no such thing. No study that has not been retracted (Example: Seralini) has shown any such thing.

The genetic engineering of plants and animals may cause unintended consequences. The use of genetic engineering to manipulate genes by inserting them into organisms is an imprecise process. Mixing plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes through genetic engineering in combinations that cannot occur in nature may produce results that lead to adverse health or environmental consequences.

First, no animal genes are currently being used in the genetic modification of seeds.

Secondly, they’re making an interesting assertion here. Let me explain the difference between choosing a trait through genetic modification versus choosing it through other methods, such as selective breeding or radiation.

Other methods equate to cutting butter with a club. It’s messy, and there is a LOT of room for error, because you can’t precisely control what you’re selecting for. This was evidenced in the case of the poison potato, long before GMO.

Using genetic modification is like cutting butter with a surgical scalpel. It’s extremely precise, and there is very little room where error can occur in what you’re selecting for. This makes it exponentially more precise than traditional methods.

The use of genetically engineered crops is increasing in commodity agricultural production practices. Genetically engineered crops promote large-scale monoculture production, which contributes to genetic homogeneity, loss of biodiversity, and increased vulnerability of crops to pests, diseases, and variable climate conditions.

Genetically engineered crops that include pesticides may adversely affect populations of bees, butterflies, and other nontarget insects.

All crops use pesticides, even certified organic. Here’s a chart showing organic approved pesticides, and their toxicity to bees.

Organic Pesticides

As for butterflies, there hasn’t been an issue of toxicity towards them. The issue is the destruction of milkweed, which again, has nothing to do with GMO. It has to do with agriculture in general not wanting milkweed in their fields.

Cross-pollination of or cross-contamination by genetically engineered crops may contaminate organic crops and prevent organic farmers and organic food producers from qualifying for organic certification under federal law.

Cross-pollination from genetically engineered crops may have an adverse effect on native flora and fauna. The transfer of unnatural deoxyribonucleic acid to wild relatives can lead to displacement of those native plants, and in turn, displacement of the native fauna dependent on those wild varieties.

Cross pollination can happen, yes. That said, there are simple ways to solve the problem for organic farmers, as evidenced in a Plos One paper in 2013.

Even then, however, this has nothing to do with labeling GMO foods. This is the organic industry complaining about a challenge they “might” encounter while trying to the marketing advantage that is a certified organic label. It shouldn’t be part of this bill, since it’s not relevant to it.

For multiple health, personal, cultural, religious, environmental, and economic reasons, the State of Vermont finds that food produced from genetic engineering should be labeled as such, as evidenced by the following:

Public opinion polls conducted by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont indicate that a large majority of Vermonters want foods produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such.

Public opinion shouldn’t dictate scientific policy. Public opinion has zero bearing on scientific conclusions. Legislating science based on public opinion is poor policy.

Because genetic engineering, as regulated by this act, involves the direct injection of genes into cells, the fusion of cells, or the hybridization of genes that does not occur in nature, labeling foods produced with genetic engineering as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or other similar descriptors is inherently misleading, poses a risk of confusing or deceiving consumers, and conflicts with the general perception that “natural” foods are not genetically engineered.

GMO based foods are as “natural” as any other food we eat. We’ve been modifying our crops from how they would naturally occur since the invention of agriculture, about 12,000 years ago. Labeling anything we eat as “natural” is meaningless, because all of it “natural.”

Persons with certain religious beliefs object to producing foods using genetic engineering because of objections to tampering with the genetic makeup of life forms and the rapid introduction and proliferation of genetically engineered organisms and, therefore, need food to be labeled as genetically engineered in order to conform to religious beliefs and comply with dietary restrictions.

There is no religious doctrine in any established religion that dictates genetic modification. Even if there were, it would then require that its adherents eat none of the food of the modern world, as it has all been genetically altered from its original form.

Requiring that foods produced through genetic engineering be labeled as such will create additional market opportunities for those producers who are not certified as organic and whose products are not produced from genetic engineering. Such additional market opportunities will also contribute to vibrant and diversified agricultural communities.

This is key, right here. This states explicitly that they are legislating GMOs to aid competing parts of the industry in gaining a higher market share.

Labeling gives consumers information they can use to make informed decisions about what products they would prefer to purchase.

It gives them no information that is relevant to the health, safety, or content of a food. It only tells them that a specific process was used prior to the food being grown.

Because both the FDA and the U.S. Congress do not require the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, the State should require food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such in order to serve the interests of the State, notwithstanding limited exceptions, to prevent inadvertent consumer deception, prevent potential risks to human health, promote food safety, protect cultural and religious practices, protect the environment, and promote economic development.

This final statement just reiterates the points addressed above.

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So, we’ve established here that the premise of the bill is entirely faulty. There isn’t anything in it that is relevant to enforcing labeling. Given this fact, it’s no wonder that a lawsuit HAS in fact been filed against the state of Vermont over the constitutionality of this piece of legislation. Only…it wasn’t filed by Monsanto.

Let’s look, first, at the plaintiffs.

GMA – Grocery Manufacturers Association

The GMA is an organization representing the interests of the food and beverage companies of America. They have initiatives such as The Healthy Schools Partnership and Keeping the Industry Green.

Of course, since members of theirs aided in defeating the labeling initiative in Washington, they’ve already been demonized.

Mercola names then the “Most Evil Corporation on the Planet,” which, you know, isn’t hyperbole or anything. Occupy Monsanto asks you to boycott their entire membership list, which does include Monstano, as one of hundreds of companies.

 

NAM – National Association of Manufacturers

NAM is an organization that represents small and large manufacturers in America. They include a huge membership all over the country, in many industries. They’re a pretty active organization on the national stage, and are transparent to the point of publicly stating their positions on a myriad of issues.

 

IDFA – International Dairy Foods Association

The IDFA is comprised of the Milk Industry Foundation, National Cheese Institute, and the International Ice cream Association. They’re members are entirely dairy producing companies.

 

SFA – Snack Food Association

The SFA resents about 400 companies worldwide that are snack manufacturers and suppliers. They’re active in education and research globally, and reputable.

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So, looking at these four plaintiffs, aside from membership in one (amidst hundreds of other companies), Monsanto isn’t even an aspect. They are certainly not suing Vermont, as the headlines are continuously claiming.

This is pretty telling, actually, because a non-profit by the name of Sum of Us is currently raising money to fight against Monsanto. They’ve gotten over 21,000 donors so far, to help them fight the evil Monsanto.

Now, there are a couple of interesting things to this.

First, Monsanto is one of thousands of companies represented by the four plaintiff organizations, yet they are using Monsanto as the focus of their fundraising, but naming them as the company leading the charge. They’re essentially lying to their donors to raise money, which constitutes willful fraud.

Also, they are a non-profit actively raising money to aid in the legislative process. While a non-profit is allowed to lobby, they aren’t permitted to financially influence the legislative process.

OK, so let’s look at the lawsuit itself.

They’ve filed it based on the following.

Vermont passed Act 120 to require food manufacturers to change the way they label and advertise foods containing ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops. Plaintiffs represent manufacturers who are subject to the Act, who fundamentally disagree with the message it forces them to convey, and who must now take immediate steps to change their labeling and advertising to comply with the Act’s enforcement deadline. Plaintiffs bring this suit to declare invalid and enjoin Act 120 on the ground that it violates the United States Constitution.

That’s pretty pointed. Do they have justification for it?

                The operative provisions of Act 120 take effect July 1, 2016. That is a difficult, if not impossible, deadline for Plaintiffs’ members to meet. They must revise hundreds of thousands of product packages, from the small to the super-sized. Then, they must establish Vermont-only distribution channels to ensure that the speech Vermont is forcing them to say, or not say, is conveyed in that State. To comply by the deadline, some companies may have no choice but to revise labels for all of their products, no matter where they might be sold in the United States.

That’s pretty important. They’re requiring actions from out of state companies that may be forced to affect how those companies operate in other states.

The proscriptions in Act 120 are beyond Vermont’s power to enact. The State is compelling manufacturers to convey messages they do not want to convey, and prohibiting manufacturers from describing their products in terms of their choosing, without anything close to a sufficient justification. The State is forcing the costs of this experiment on out-of-state companies and citizens to which it is not politically accountable, and it is undermining and impeding the federal government’s interest in uniform, nationwide standards for food labeling prescribed by duly authorize expert federal agencies.

                In each of the above respects, the Act exceeds Vermont’s authority under the United States Constitution. The Act should be invalidated and enjoined in its entirety.

                That’s the key to it right there. You have the state government legislating companies and people in other states, affecting interstate commerce, and overriding the federal government’s authority. It’s feasible that this could even ripple internationally, with our exported goods from these companies as well. By all appearances, Vermont has well overstepped its authority.

As James Cooper points out aptly in his article on the subject, “since this is much the same law as was overturned in International Dairy Foods v Amestoy case, it is likely to be overturned as well.”

So, we’ll keep watch on this legislation and subsequent lawsuit, and for those of us that follow the science, we’ll hope that more rational minds will prevail, and the law will be summarily overturned.

Rows of a Carrot Field

References

“A Built-In Strategy to Mitigate Transgene Spreading from Genetically Modified Corn.” PLOS One. 6 Dec. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.137&gt;.

“PDF: Lawsuit vs. Vermont GMO law.” Scribd. 12 Jun. 2014. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/229432405/PDF-Lawsuit-vs&gt;.

Vermont State House. State. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014<http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2014/bills/House/H-112.pdf&gt;.

Chaussee, Jennifer . “California GMO Labeling Push Fails A Second Time After Lawmakers Reject Bill.” Huff Post Food for Thought. 28 May. 2014.<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/29/californi&gt;.

Cooper, James . “Vermont sued for its GMO labeling law.” Examiner. 16 Jun. 2014. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.examiner.com/article/vermont-sued-for-i&gt;.

Entine, Jon . “After GMO Labeling Bill Defeat In Washington, Will Anti-GMO ‘Witch Hunts’ Escalate In Next Battlegro.” Forbes. 6 Nov. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2013/11/07/a&gt;.

Ford, Dana . “Vermont governor signs GMO food labeling into law.” CNN Health. 8 May. 2014. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/08/health/vermont-gmo-l&gt;.

Novella, Steven . “The Seralini GMO Study – Retraction and Response to Critics.” Science-Based Medicine. 4 Dec. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-seralini-g&gt;.

Pomeroy, Ross . “Massive Review Reveals Consensus on GMO Safety.” Real Clear Science. 1 Oct. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2013/10/massi&gt;.

Rebgetz, Louisa . “Genetically modified Queensland bananas to join fight against catastrophic results of vitamin A defi.” ABC News. 15 Jun. 2014. 17 Jun. 2014. <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-14/genetic-bana&gt;.

Stockstill, Ellen . “Agricultural Biotechnology.” Curiosity from Discovery. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/GM-crops-h&gt;.

Wendel, JoAnna . “With 2000+ global studies affirming safety, GM foods among most analyzed subjects in science.” Genetic Literacy Project. 8 Oct. 2013. 17 Jun. 2014. <http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/08/w&gt;.

 

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Bioethics and Ethical Philosophy student at Cleveland State University, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes. He writes about science, technology, politics, human rights, feminism, religion, and any other topic that catches his eye.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

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The Folly of GMO Field Mapping

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Well, Oregon is at it again. They’ve decided that it is their place to map out GMO test fields, in hopes of the entire country following suit. The claim is that it is to minimize cross-pollination potential between GMO and non-GMO fields. Cross pollination is really less of an issue than people try to make it out to be, however, there is that potential, and there are ways to avoid it. The major Biotech firms, as well as conventional farmers, are coming out against this, due to worries of sabotage.

A site called takepart, another one of those online resources that no rational person would ever cite as a source, is making some pretty fun accusations regarding this push-back. They’re claiming that the “evil corporations” are trying to avoid transparency. They claim it’s a matter of hiding their business practices.

So, all that said, let’s take a look at some fantastic reasons why no one should want test fields mapped out while the level of fear mongering and misinformation in the public is as high as it is.

Activists Destroy ‘Golden Rice’ Field Trial

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Germany: 5 gmo fields sabotaged in 3 weeks time

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GMO test field destroyed by protesters

Kartoffel, Potato field

These are just a few examples of a growing problem of violence and sabotage against conventional farmers and test fields. Any movement that claims that there isn’t enough testing, then destroys test fields, is inherently dishonest and destructive.

In the end, there are definite consequences to the fear based anti-GMO actions being taking around the world. I just wish the anti-GMO activists payed attention to them.

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

Pesticides in Organic and Conventional Farming

pesticide

If An Article Says “Study” It Must Be True! Collective Evolution, and other websites that no rational person would ever take seriously, are reporting with the headline of New Study Finds Organic Diet For One Week Drops Pesticide Levels By 90 Percent In Adults. Let’s break this down piece by piece.

I constantly come across individuals not knowing the difference between organic food and food that’s riddled with pesticides, that’s why awareness is so important. A recent study conducted by researchers from RMIT university, published in the journal Environmental Research found that an organic diet for just one week significantly reduced pesticide (commonly used in conventional food production) exposure in adults. (1)

Here they link a study from Environmental Research. They also make an interesting claim. They make a false dichotomy between organic food and food that’s “riddled with pesticides.” The irony is that they’re accusing others of not knowing the difference, when they themselves don’t seem to have a clue. Organic farming, like all farming, utilizes pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc, of varying degrees of toxicity. These are all organic approved substances.

Organic Pesticides

Note: Toxicity chart shows toxicity to bee population

Now, let’s look at some of their claims regarding the study, and the study itself.

Thirteen participants were randomly selected to consume a diet consisting of at least 80% organic or conventional food for precisely 7 days, afterwards crossing over to the alternative diet from which they started. Urinary levels were used for analysis. The study found that urinary dialkylphosphates (DAPs) measurements were 89% lower when they ate an organic diet for seven days compared to a conventional diet for the same amount of time. (1)

Did I just read that correctly? Does it says “thirteen participants?” How can any meaningful conclusions be determined by 13 participants? Now, this site, and the others, are reporting on and citing the abstract of the study, as the full text is behind a paywall. That being said, how do we know what the diets they even fed the 13 people were? Were they eating  specific foods that aren’t grown with the pesticides they were testing for to make organic come out on top? How biased in the study? None of this is reporting on or mentioned because the author of the article doesn’t know, and isn’t likely to care, since it’s all about confirming bias.

Let’s move on to the next bit.

The research was conducted by Dr. Liza Oates as part of her PhD project and supervised by Professor Marc Cohen from RMIT’s School of Health Sciences. It was supported in part by a donation to RMIT University from Bharat Mitra, co-founder of Organic India Pty Ltd..

So, it’s always ironic when the organic advocates say that all of the thousands of studies affirming GMO safety must be somehow biased, and then they put out stuff like this. The study was done on a donation from an organic company founder. It was  conducted by a researcher whose professional work consists of:

National Herbalists Association of Australia
Australasian Integrative Medicine Association
Australian Register of Naturopaths & Herbalists (Victorian Board Member)

So, this is a terrible source to come to any conclusions. It’s a tiny, biased study, with biased funding, and a biased researched, with no controls and no good, detailed information on the specific diets used in order to replicate or fact check it.

The rest of the article is just more fear mongering about pesticides and herbicides and some “OMG Monsatan!” type of rhetoric, while linking to other terrible articles on the same website. There’s nothing of substance there to even address.

Remember, a single study is NEVER a good resource to make definitive claims. You ALWAYS want a body of evidence. If you are, however, going to make a claim based on a single study, make sure it’s at least a decent one.

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

Organic Industry: Planting Seeds of Doubt to Gain Market Share – GMO Skepti-Forum

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I want you to imagine a scenario. You are reading the newspaper and see an article that talks about Xbox speaking out against Playstation. It discusses the new research that it has found that shows that parts made in Japan are harmful to your health, and since Playstation has its parts made in Japan, that you should no longer use Playstation. You should only buy Xbox, since it gets its wholesome parts from Malaysia.

As time goes on, protesters start organizing outside of the Playstation offices protesting their use of Japanese parts. The protesters have websites making claims that Xbox is causing Autism, Cancer, and ruining the environment. They’re even proposing legislation to label Playstation with “Japanese Parts: May be harmful to your health.”

This scenario would look like the greatest marketing scheme Xbox has ever pulled off.

The above situation is a bit of a caricature, but no less blatant than the current campaign of the organic industry against GMOs.

Read Full Article Here

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

Rant

The anti-GMO movement is an interesting marriage of the white suburbia faux green ideology (natural when it’s trendy, but I still want the SUV and internet) and the Occupy style anti-corporation stance, that all corporations are bad, whether they’ve done something worth criticizing or not.

It stems from the same neoliberalism mentality that is completely against oppression…except it’s OK for Israel to oppress Palestine. I’m completely against racism….but black people scare me. We need to address poverty…don’t look in his eyes, son, he just wants our money for booze.

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

GMOs: Profit Over Food Security? Not So Much

gmo

A blogger who goes by the handle Tex Shelters wrote up an argument against GMOs. This post can be found here: http://texshelters.hubpages.com/hub/Profit-over-Food-Security-The-Case-of-Monsanto-and-GMOs

He decided that his opinions listed here are more viable than the independent scientific studies done on the subject. A good list can be found here: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/

Now, I’m going to go ahead and take his post point by point, and we’ll see where it takes us.

Monsanto has a lot of propaganda on its website trying to sell the benefits of their GMO, Round-up Ready seeds. However, their statements most often don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. Moreover, if GMOs are safe and beneficial, why is Monsanto vigorously fighting to prevent GM food labeling? And why did Congress, who Monsanto lobbies and donates to in the millions, put language into a spending bill, signed by President Obama, to protect Monsanto from lawsuits?

Ok, we’ll begin here. First, given the title picture of the post and immediately jumping into a rant about Monsanto is ironic. Monsanto doesn’t product any brand of tomato. Well, we can put that aside for the moment. Let’s talk about this “Monsanto Protection Act” that he’s citing.

“…a rider slipped into a Congressional spending bill by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that circumvents judicial authority concerning the planting and development of genetically modified seeds deemed to be unhealthy for human consumption.“Essentially, what that Monsanto Protection Act rider said is that even if a court were to determine that a particular product might be harmful to human beings or harmful to the environment, the Department of Agriculture could not stop the production of that product once it is in the ground.”

Now, here he cites an article about Bernie Sanders fighting this piece of legislation. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bernie-sanders-pressure-monsanto-article-1.1357031#ixzz2UiHs1gCG

This, of course, is why it always pays to “Snopes” before posting something. http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/mpa.asp

You see, the legislation is a protection for farmers. It has nothing to do with the safety of the crops. It has to do with whether courts can order farmers to cease operations while a lawsuit is in progress, BEFORE a decision has been made. Why shouldn’t courts have the authority to do that before a case is completed? Well, in America, we have that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing, and, given that these cases involve science, the courts have NO standing to make a scientific decision before the science has even been brought to the table.

If these products are so healthy for us, or at least not harmful, there would be no need to have such legislative protections against agribusiness liability added to a spending bill.

This is always an argument I hear, and it amazes me how little people often know about business. Why would ANY business take an action to avoid unnecessary costs based on the misinformation of fear mongers? Probably because they’re in business to make a profit. I don’t care if someone comes out claiming that greeting cards are toxic. If they start fear mongering and getting a following, I can guarantee that Hallmark will do everything they can to stop the madness.

Ok, moving it. It just gets better from here.

vin

……there’s really nothing to respond to here. I’d suggest that the author learn how to use Venn Diagrams. Please see below “Venn Diagrams for first Graders”

The evidence on GM food safety is mixed, and we still don’t know the long term affects of eating them. However, the evidence of GMOs harm to our food supply is clear. GMOs dangerously reduce the genetic diversity of our food supply which puts us at risk of a pathogenic food disaster, as happened to the Irish during the potato famine in the 1840s.

For this, I’ll cite a review of the last 10 years of GMO safety research put out by the Genetic Literacy Project. http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Nicolia-20131.pdf

Companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and others in the seed producing business are doing their best to corner the market in seeds and thus control much the world’s food supply. They are also patenting the DNA of seeds to corner the market in food producing genes. If that happens, crop diversity will be reduced and will put our food supply in danger of being wiped out by evolved pathogens that target these crops.

In order to control the seed supply, Monsanto has used their vast propaganda apparatus, Congress, and the legal system, which they employ to harass farmers who don’t use their products. Moreover, they set strict rules for those who do use their seeds.

This bit is really just filler. It’s simply conjecture (and a deep misunderstanding of business again), but has no bearing on whether or not GMOs are safe or not. Come on, Tex, let’s stay on topic here!

Monsanto has, to date, sued 410 farmers and 56 small businesses for alleged patent violations. In 72 judgements in their favor, they have been awarded almost $24 million (ibid). Additionally, small farmers who could not afford legal representation to fight the multi-billion dollar seed company have settled out of court. Monsanto forces farmers to pay royalties for any seed that is descendant from their GMO seeds. So if a farmer accidentally uses the DNA from their seeds due to cross contamination, they can be sued by the agribusiness giant.

To protect their seeds, they have a staff dedicated to investigating patent violators. “As early as 2003, Monsanto had a department of 75 employees with a budget of $10 million for the sole purpose of pursuing farmers for patent infringement,” the Center for Food Safety stated in a new report, “Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers.” Agrichemical companies earn billions of dollars each year, andfarmers cannot possibly compete against such resources.”

Many of the lawsuits have been judgements against farmers whose non-GMO fields had been contaminated with GMO seeds from neighboring farms or seeds that came from community seed banks. Even if you don’t intend to use the GMO seeds, you can be sued.

Such was the case of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser. The Canadian Federal court ruled that the farmer infringed on the Monsanto seed patent for canola even though he was using conventional seed. Due to cross-pollination of his crop from GMO plants in his neighbor’s farm, he was found liable because he failed to inform Monsanto about the cross pollination. Apparently, Monsanto expects farmers to have genetic plant inspectors on the payroll to insure that cross-pollination doesn’t unlawfully spread the GMO genes. It’s ludicrous, but Monsanto is allowed to get away with these lawsuits in most cases.

Another case of legal harassment by Monsanto are the continued lawsuits against the Nelson family of North Dakota. A North Dakota arbitration panel has found in favor of the Nelsons, that there has been no patent infringement. However, the company has continued to take legal action against the family. “They (Monsanto) haven’t got any evidence,” says Mark Fraase, the attorney representing the Nelsons. “They can’t gather any, yet they persist.” (ibid)

Farmer Eugene Stratemeyer, however, did win his case against Monsanto. He was sued by Monsanto for saving his GMO seeds and selling some from his soybean crop. However, the company failed to get his signature on their techology agreement that made it illegal to save GMO seeds. Later, Monsanto was caught forging his signature on an agreement (idid). Monsanto was also caught forging signatures on contracts of other farmers. It is clear that this company will do anything for profit.

This is another long bit that has absolutely nothing to do with GMO safety, however, it’s used so often in the greater discourse on the subject that I think it’s worth addressing. There’s this myth that Monsanto waits for GMO seeds to blow into someone’s field and then has their lawyers pounce on the poor, unfortunate farmer. This is demonstrably false.

NPR covers this and several other myths pretty well. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/10/18/163034053/top-five-myths-of-genetically-modified-seeds-busted

Monsanto makes many claims about its patented “Round-up Ready” seeds that don’t hold up under scientific scrutiny. They argue that the use of their seeds will reduce the need to use herbicides. That argument flies in the face of accepted biological theory and has been proven false.

study by Washington State University agriculture professor Chuck Benbrookfound that use of GMO seeds drove up herbicide use by 527 million pounds, about 11 percent between 1996 and 2011. At first the Round-up Ready crops did reduce herbicide use, but as the weeds became resistant to the herbicides used, more herbicides were needed. Of course weeds that survive herbicide use will reproduce and herbicide resistant strains of invasive plants will crop up. The study just verified accepted scientific theory.

There’s a great article in Discover that breaks down the poor science reporting and poorly conducted study that Tex has cited here. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2012/10/03/when-bad-news-stories-help-bad-science-go-viral/#.UsnfXouzKpg

Also, here’s a good study that shows the exactly opposite of his claim. https://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/24459/

Crop yields also didn’t increase as Monsanto and other seed purveyors promised. One comprehensive study of the research into yields for GMO crops by the Union of Concerned Scientists found no overall increase in crop yield for GMO plants. In addition, a University of Kansas study found that soybeans using GMO seed produced 10% less output compared to conventionally grown crops. (ibid) The extra cost for the seeds, herbicides and fertilizer needed to use go GMO is unwarranted.

recent report from India has shown a record crop yield in rice and potatoes without using GMOs. What’s more, Round-up Ready cotton seems to have reduced yields.

We’ve well gone away from any safety discussion again, but let’s look at yield. The “study” that he cites for lower yield, the “comprehensive study” is a white paper, or a non-peer-reviewed paper. This means it hasn’t been vetted by any other scientists for accuracy, methodology, etc. There’s a good study that shows a mixed result of yields. Some is better, some is worse. http://www.skepticalraptor.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/maize_prod_nat-biotech_2013.pdf

This has no bearing on safety, but on sustainability. When you take in the environmental factors of each area, you tend to see a bit of a better yield all around. The better the technology gets, the better these numbers will become, which is one of the primary goals of GM foods.

Studies on the harm of GMOs to human cells are so far inconclusive. “Some of the health concerns of food-safety advocates are warranted. There is plenty of scientific evidence to recommend caution with respect to certain kinds of genetic modification, especially if there are genes involved that confer antibiotic resistance. But some of the studies that portray the most dramatic health effects of GM crops have been called out by other scientists as deeply flawed.”

I’ll reiterate this list of over a hundred INDEPENDENT studies on GMO safety. http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/

However, GM foods have been around less than a generation, around 16 years. That is clearly not long enough to see the affects of GM foods on humans and not enough testing has been done to determine the long term affects of GM foods on our health and environment.

I’ll let National Geographic answer this. They put it nicely.

Genetic modification is not novel. Humans have been altering the genetic makeup of plants for millennia, keeping seeds from the best crops and planting them in following years, breeding and crossbreeding varieties to make them taste sweeter, grow bigger, last longer. In this way we’ve transformed the wild tomato, Lycopersicon, from a fruit the size of a marble to today’s giant, juicy beefsteaks. From a weedy plant called teosinte with an “ear” barely an inch long has come our foot-long (0.3-meter-long) ears of sweet white and yellow corn. In just the past few decades plant breeders have used traditional techniques to produce varieties of wheat and rice plants with higher grain yields. They have also created hundreds of new crop variants using irradiation and mutagenic chemicals.

Monsanto and other seed companies will do whatever it takes to sell their seed. That is capitalism, and as long they can influence Congress and hide behind their hand-picked scientists, they will get lawmakers to protect and promote their their seed-selling without the technology being fully investigated. In 2012, Monsanto spent $654,325 on political campaigns. They also spent nearly $6 million dollars lobbyingCongress last year and this year have already spent over $1.5 million.

The claims of companies like Monsanto that GMOs increase crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides have been refuted by the scientific evidence. Despite the lack of science supporting the use of GMOs, they will continue to be used until there is enough pressure put behind boycotts and on Congress. Until then, support local growers and non-GMO farms, and buy GM-free foods when possible. 

And finally, more about Monsanto.

So, all in all, his post on GMOs amounts to “I don’t understand them and hate big companies, therefore they are bad.” Well, I’m glad we cleared that up.

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

Rational Vegan Research: Water

Choosing a Vegan lifestyle is not something to be done lightly. It should be a well researched and well reasoned decisions. There is a lot of misinformation from both Vegans and those who are against the Vegan ideology. Here you’ll find evidence based research about Veganism and the impact it can have, as well as some fantastic plant based recipes.

blue_wave_of_water-wide

 One of the common talking points in favor of a Vegan lifestyle is in regards to the water requirements of producing beef.  Let’s look at the facts and see if this argument holds up.

First, let’s get a good idea of how much water it takes to produce beef. To make our calculations easy, and set a good baseline for figuring this out, we’re going to work based on a 1000 lb. steer. Now, most of the Vegan sources I can find claim 7 lbs of feed are required per lb of beef, but they don’t break it down much further, so we’re discard those figures for the moment. I’m going to work on a per day basis first.

Over the course of 1 day, a steer of this size will require 5-60 gallons of water, depending on the temperature. The most common average people use is about 25 gallons across the board. We’ll work with that.

Now, let’s look at feed. This varies based on the type of feed used. If you’re using a higher protein grain, you’ll only need about 5 lbs per day. If you’re using the lower protein forage, you’ll need around 27 lbs per day. 1 gallon of water per day is required to produce 1 day worth of forage feed, however, it only takes 30 days to grow. So, 1 day of feed requires 30 gallons of water. 1 gallon of water per day is required to produce 3 days worth of grain feed, however, it takes 103 days to grow. So, it takes about 34 gallons of water per day to product the grain feed. We’re pretty close here on water requirements per feed type, so we’ll use 32 gallons of water per day for food.

Between food and water requirements, a 1000 lb steer requires around 57 gallons of water each day. The FDA reports that the average time to slaughter a steer is at around 45 months. That will be roughly 1,350 days that you will need to feed and water the steer. So, to bring a steer up to the point of slaughter, we’re looking at a requirement of 76,950 gallons of water.

Ok, that’s a lot of water. How much beef does that produce? Well, since we’re really looking at the commercial farming use here, let’s look at retail cuts. For a 1000 lb steer, that amount to about 430 lbs of beef in retail cuts. That amounts to about 178 gallons of water per lb of beef produced. Wow, that’s even worse than the conservative numbers being used on most Vegan information sites, and I only used mid-range averages.

How does this translate on a national scale? In 2013, there were 29.3 million head of beef cattle in the US. That amounts to about 5.2 billion gallons of water required in 2013 to raise beef cattle.

There are, however, initiatives around the country to reuse wastewater. The tend to yield around 40% reuse for agricultural water. Of the 5.2 billion gallons, let’s be generous and say 3 billion are used for agriculture and we can reuse 40% of that for the next planting. That will leave us with about 4 billion gallons of water required for the year for beef cattle.

The question is, what does this mean? Yes, it sounds like a lot of water, but what effect does that have on anything?

Currently, meat production worldwide consists of 22% of the the world’s water use. At our current rate, we’ll be looking at serious problems with freshwater availability by around 2050.

In the end, the water used for meat production is huge, but it’s not the end all problem. It is, however, something that can be very detrimental to humans in the future, and is worth investigating. Will the solution involve people moving more away from a meat based diet? Will it involve more efficient water filtration techniques? That’s for the scientists that are hard at work on this problem. For me, I’ll simply do my part.

Sources

Animal Nutrition Handbook http://www.ag.auburn.edu/~chibale/an14beefcattlefeeding.pdf

University of Nebraska – Lincoln http://beef.unl.edu/web/cattleproduction/forageconsumed-day

UoN – Lincoln NebGuide http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/g331/build/g331.pdf

Noble Foundation http://www.noble.org/ag/livestock/waterconcerns/

Futurebeef http://futurebeef.com.au/topics/nutrition/water-requirements-for-cattle/

Mississippi State University http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p2490.pdf

Victoria Department of Environment and Primary Industries http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farming-management/soil-water/water/solutions/how-much-water-do-i-need and http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farming-management/recycling-and-waste-management/reclaimed-water-use-in-cattle-production

University of Georgia http://www.caes.uga.edu/commodities/fieldcrops/forages/Ga_Cat_Arc/2002/july02.pdf

Texas A&M http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/publications/E-273.pdf

University of Idaho http://www.extension.uidaho.edu/drought/irrigatingalfalfa.pdf

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, & Forestry http://www.ok.gov/~okag/food/fs-cowweight.pdf

United States Department of Agriculture http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3062519

Montana State University http://waterquality.montana.edu/docs/irrigation/100bushel.shtml

Washington State University http://css.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Schillinger_WGY.pdf

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/scales/bushels.html

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association http://www.beefusa.org/beefindustrystatistics.aspx

Virginia Tech http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/452/452-014/452-014.html

United States Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/region9/water/recycling/ and http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/sustain/

USGS http://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/rt

National Resources Defense Council http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/watersustainability/

AAAS http://news.sciencemag.org/2012/02/agriculture-sucking-fresh-water-dry

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.