Sunday, April 10, 2016

The organic industry's war on breastfeeding

Stephan Neidenbach -
Edited by Nandu Nandini

Breast is best. But those who have been following me on Facebook for a while may have noticed that I occasionally get upset with a certain group of people who attempt to shame formula feeding parents. Mom shaming is a horrendous tactic used by many people to try and take advantage of new mothers and the vulnerable emotional state many find themselves in. Breastfeeding may be preferred when everything is equal, but anyone with a child knows that seldom things are equal. My best friend and his husband clearly don't have the option, and many new mothers have a myriad of reasons why formula may be a better fit for their own family.

Moms Across America's
 leader Zen Honeycuttt.
Until recently I was under the impression that this guilt was directed unilaterally towards formula feeding parents. After witnessing the shaming directed towards breastfeeding moms, from the most unlikely of sources, I now stand corrected.

Two years ago Moms Across America, with Claire Robinson of Earth Open Source and GM Watch,  issued a press release that detailed a report they had created showing detectable levels of glyphosate in breast milk. Samples of breast milk were submitted to them from 10 mothers, and 3 supposedly contained glyphosate. No validation of the assay used was submitted, the source of the breast milk is unknown, and there was no independent verification of the results. It did, however, catch the attention of Professor Shelley McGuire of Washington State University.

Professor McGuire has a PHD in human nutrition from Cornell University, and her field of study is lactation physiology. There is no doubt that she supports the promotion of breastfeeding, and accepts, “The scientific evidence that breastfeeding provides optimal nutritional and immunological support”. The professor wanted to make sure breast milk was safe after hearing the results from Moms Across  America.

Professor McGuire now finds herself under attack by the multi billion dollar organic food industry. Why? Because she undertook her own peer reviewed research and concluded that breast milk was in fact safe. With results published that contradict the narrative the industry wished to spin, they mobilized quickly in an attempt to silence and discredit her.

Post card sent to Professor McGuire featuring the artwork
of ant-Semitic David Dees.
The harassment took many forms including threatening postcards in the mail, the hacking of her original Twitter account, and culminated in an organic industry funded freedom of information request similar to ones conducted by the tobacco industry when trying to silence their own critics.

Why would a movement that claims to love all things natural attack a public research professor for promoting breastfeeding? Some hints may very well come from a 2010 document called the “National Organic Action Plan". The plan describes some of the goals the organic industry feels it must reach in order to continue growing. Using language that is very similar to what is used when describing addictive drugs, the industry states that “organic dairy products serve as a gateway to organic food for new mothers, opening up the door for them to purchase additional organic products.“

It is clearly evident why the organic food industry is so intent on opposing biotechnology. Organic dairy farmers are having a supply problem because they can't feed their cows feed from GE crops. If GE crops are banned, they can increase the supply of their “gateway" product.
Anti-GMO NGOs are sending the message that breast feeding
should be feared in favor of "Non-GMO" formula.

"It makes sense when you consider some basic supply and demand principles," says blogger The Farmer's Daughter, ", and consider them in light of how the Plan depicts the current state of organic dairy. First, consider the realities of our agricultural commodities. Aside from maybe sugar beets, corn and soybeans are the most prevalent genetically modified crops in the marketplace today. In 2014, 93% of field corn produced in the United States contained a genetically modified trait, while 94% of all soybeans are genetically modified. Obviously, it’s fair to say that GMO corn and soybeans dominate the market place." 

Biology Fortified's Anastasia Bodnar
This attack on breastfeeding seems to me like a natural progression for them to boost sales of organic and "Non-GMO" formula. I spoke with Dr. Anastasia Bodnar of Biology Fortified, a biotechnology expert and mother who practices attachment parenting as well as extended breastfeeding:

“Will mothers-to-be choose non GMO formula instead of breastfeeding because…. Monsanto? I hope not, but the possibility is there. Breastfeeding isn't the end all - fed is best - but there are benefits to breastfeeding, and any articles claiming breast milk is dangerous are a problem.”

This is especially true if these fears are exported to developing nations that lack clean drinking water for mixing formula. It is an outrage for Professor McGuire to be treated this way merely for trying to reassure mothers that breast milk is safe. I hope parents everywhere will join me in demanding that US RTK end their FOIA harassment and Moms Across America (with their partner Earth Open Source/GM Watch) end their war on breastfeeding mothers.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kind Communication

"Science requires critical thinking, but it is also critical that we not be condescending when we communicate science."

By Nandu Nandini

Effective communication with the intent to inform and motivate to change requires much more than just excellent written or oral communication skills. It not only involves an understanding of our audience but also a basic recognition that this audience consists of human beings like us. Whether it is online or in person, at any point in time we are addressing a human being.

When we are communicating with people it is very important to understand that kindness and compassion towards others goes a long way in helping get your message across.

Take for example when science and its concepts are being discussed. Science is based on evidence and facts. It requires logical, rational thinking. The concepts that are being discussed are straight hard cold facts. It is the reality and the truth.

But we human beings are complex creatures, cold hard facts are boring, period. We are creatures of emotion, we have the capacity to feel, we have differing perceptions shaped by our lives, society, environment, education levels, and many other influences.

Keeping this in mind going into a discussion with a divisive mind is never a good idea. We want to find common ground. We want to share ideas, concepts, and facts.

How do we do this ?

Foremost is to always remember it doesn’t cost us anything to be nice. Our behavior is one thing we can control and that will set the tone for any discussion. It is never a good idea to go into a discussion assuming we are always right. Being open minded and ready to acknowledge that we may be wrong is a good move. Leading with our ethics in mind is a good move.

Some of the worst things one can do in a discussion among many others are.

  • Don't call people names
  • Don’t dump all the blame on others and somehow make it about their behavior.
  • Never use racist, sexist, derogatory language in any discussion.
  • Never display hubris, arrogance, and a holier than thou attitude.
  • Do not attack, mock or insult others.

When we do not follow these rules people shut down, they put up mental walls, and they are not going to listen to your rational and logical explanations. All of what we are saying becomes mere noise to others and this is how we lose our audience.

When we suspend our ego, our need to prove our intelligence and knowledge, and concentrate on exchanging ideas kindly we put the listener at ease. Then maybe they will not shut down, maybe they will listen, just maybe they will not feel the need to get defensive and resort to all the worst things aforementioned.

This area is where the anti science folks seem to have the upper hand, they know how to be nice to people while taking advantage of them. They charm people, they appeal to the emotion. Yes, it is a logical fallacy to appeal to emotion. But instead of committing this logical faux pas, why not recognize the inherent humanity in people we are trying to reach out to.

These people may be misled, they are afraid, they have been duped by charlatans who have taken advantage of their fears, they are confused. Some of them are suffering from severe cognitive dissonance. We need to attempt to breach these barriers to effectively communicate in discussions by first acknowledging that to ourselves.

No matter how intelligent we are, no matter how many degrees we possess, our attitude towards others makes us a better person.

When we treat others with kindness and compassion in any interaction even if it is science communication we build a bridge and this may very well lead the other person to be willing to meet us halfway, we teach them and they teach us.

Last but not least, even if the other person is belligerent and treats us badly, we always have the choice to not respond in the same manner. That restraint we show could quite possibly put the other person at ease, make them drop their defenses. They could be at a loss about how to continue. It may not always work, but it is well worth a try. We end up stopping in its tracks the vicious spiral of nastiness.

How effective we are surely depends not only on our methods but also the other person’s, but the key difference is we only have control of ourselves and our methods. When despite all our efforts to be nice fails, the best option would be to politely disengage from the discussion. When we take the high road, we may not win the argument, or we may feel like we have failed to communicate. But we will know we tried our best and did so in an ethical and compassionate manner.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Greenpeace: Twenty Years of Terror

By Stephan Neidenbach -
Edited by Nandu Nandini

October 1996

"The reason we're doing this is to demonstrate the hazard of genetically manipulated food products," Tzeporah Berman told reporters. At the time Berman was a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, and she was explaining why 30 biotechnology opponents from her organization trespassed onto a test plot in Iowa to destroy research and begin terrorizing scientists. An entire year of research was destroyed as the anti-science activists trampled crops and spray painted the plants to form a giant "X" with the words "Biohazard Monsanto". These people were neither locals from Iowa, nor even necessarily from the United States. Wolfgang Pekny was flown in from Austria. A month before, Greenpeace had made attacking this breeding method of seed one of their top three priorities. A press conference in Germany was held announcing an alliance of NGOs, including Friends of the Earth. "The campaign also spanned the Atlantic, as on 7th October 1996 Jeremy Rifkin's Foundation on Economic Trends and Greenpeace in the USA, launched an international alliance of more than 300 consumer, health, trade and agricultural organizations from 48 countries into a campaign for boycott of the Monsanto soya and Ciba-Giegy‟s maize." 

So began Greenpeace's war on science. Many people dislike the term anti-science, especially when used to describe Greenpeace, because of their stance on climate change. Their web page accurately states that, "There is, in fact, a broad and overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, is caused in large part by human activities...". But this is really just cherry picking on their part, because they oppose many viable solutions to climate change like nuclear power and genetic engineering.

July 1999

"I'm doing this for environmental reasons. The spray I use on my conventional crops is far less friendly than what I use on this crop. I wanted to trial these crops to see if there were any downsides," William Brigham, whose family has farmed the same land for 300 years near Norfolk in the United Kingdom, attempted to reason with Greenpeace when they came to destroy his crops. In prior years his herbicide of choice was atrazine, far more risky to the environment than the Liberty herbicide his test plot was resistant to. This attack was led by Peter Mond, executive director of Greenpeace UK from 1989 to 2002. The British judicial system later let this family farm down, as all 28 criminals were acquitted of their crimes. The quacks and practitioners of pseudoscience that Greenpeace managed to parade in front of the jury managed to convince them that Greenpeace's "good intentions" outweighed the rights of the Brigham family to feel safe on their own property.

"You know what slurry is? Well it comes from the back of a cow. Two thousand gallons we put on that and just two pints of Liberty [the herbicide made by AgrEvo of which the crops are engineered to be tolerant]. If that's not ****** organic, then what is?" Though Greenpeace got off the hook, the Brigham brothers at the very least got their licks in. During the vandalism Eddie Brigham got on his tractor with a bucket and began ramming the Greenpeace mowers, whacking as many raiders as he could with his bucket of choice. I am not one to romanticize the past, but this is one moment in time I wish I could visit.

April 2003

Germany was finally ready to allow trials of genetically modified wheat. Receiving approval, Syngenta made plans to plant their seeds, which were resistant to fungus in order to decrease the need for fungicide, in Thuringia. Greenpeace couldn't accept the idea and contaminated the land, making it unusable for the trial. Taking the idea of their own myths about contamination, they planted organic wheat seed all over the test fields so Syngenta would not be able to distinguish the biotech wheat from Greenpeace's.

July 2004

One of the greatest success stories involving biotech crops is the papaya. Widely adopted in Hawaii, this corporation free fruit saved the papaya industry there when the Papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) had hopped islands by 1995. Varieties of the disease resistant papaya have been developed for Brazil, Jamaica, Venezuela, Thailand, China, and The Philippines. First observed in 1975, PRSV is the single greatest barrier to widespread successful commercial papaya production in Thailand.  Two Thai scientists traveled to Cornell University in 1995 to develop their own disease resistant papaya.

"Between 2001 and 2004, six sets of experiments were conducted that showed no ecological effects of GE papaya on adjacent non-GE trees, microbial flora, beneficial insects, or the surrounding soil. No differences in nutritional quality were found, no allergenic proteins or toxic attributes were observed, and rats fed GE papaya did not show any abnormalities"
 The proven safety of the papaya was not enough to deter Greenpeace. Activists descended on a field in Northeast Thailand with the aim of destroying years of work by scientists. Proudly posing for photographs they ripped the fruit from the trees, throwing them into bins marked "biohazard." After winning courtroom battles, Greenpeace would later convince the government to end the trials and destroy all of the research.

September 2007

In many countries where biotech crops have yet to be approved, a black market was developed to meet the demands of the farmers. They want this technology, but it is being denied to them by NGOs like Greenpeace who put pressure on their government and spread fear in the cities where the decisions get made. One such black market was developed in Romania. Biotech seeds were being smuggled in, saved by farmers, and sold without any corporation receiving profits.

Testing Tractor at GE Decontamination Station
One would think that anti-globalization movements would approve of this. What better way to stick it to Monsanto other than to use their product without paying for it? Greenpeace decided to attack the farmers instead of the corporation. Thirty members of Greenpeace from all over Europe flocked to Braila Island, where they took control of the ferry harbor and set up their own "decontamination station" forcing residents to pass through their inspections.

February 2011

Greenpeace moves to decontaminate Bt eggplant field trial site in the PhilippinesOn the morning of February 17, technician Noel Lawas was getting ready for work at the University of the Philippines Institute for Plant Breeding, when a guard informed him that people had broken into the plantation. It would be estimated that Greenpeace members Daniel M. Ocampo, Aileen Camille Dimatatac, Adrian N. Dagondon, Benjean May Tolosa, Raymond Berongay, Don Florentino, Shivani Shah, Ali Abbas, Ricky Morales, Eyesha Endar and Rhoda Armoda caused more than $500,000 in damages and destroyed many years of research. This publicly funded project would then later see great success in Bangladesh where farmers are seeing dramatic decreases in insecticide usage.

July 2011

Scientists in Australia developed a new strain of wheat with a lower glycemic index and increased fiber content to improve bowel health. With human trials only six months away, three Greenpeace activists destroyed the entire crop. Jessica Latona and Heather McCabe, two of the vandals, later issued a joint statement after their sentencing. "GM is not proven safe to eat. The only thing we are sure about is that it’s a major threat to our environment.” This was simply another attempt by Greenpeace to destroy testing so they can continue to claim a lack of testing.

Summer 2012

“24 children used as guinea pigs in genetically engineered ‘Golden Rice’ trial," screamed the press release put out by Greenpeace. Four years preceding this date 25 families in China had agreed to be part of a trial and allowed their children to consume what was described as a nutritionally enhanced rice. The study showed that 60% of the vitamin A that children require could be supplied by this rice. After reading a summary of the published study showing the success of the research, Greenpeace immediately launched a fear campaign. Tufts University, which initially approved the informed consent form, went back and decided that the breeding method was not properly explained to the parents. Why would it be? Scientists are not used to thinking in those terms. If any other breeding method had been used it would have been irrelevant. The study ended up being retracted, even though the results were confirmed by the Tufts review board. According to the World Health Organization, "An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their eyesight."

Moving Forward

Greenpeace has made it clear that the science is irrelevant, and in their war against food the ends justify the means. When asked if his opposition to biotechnology was "absolute and definite", rather than one that could be changed based on science, Lord Melchett responded that, "It is a permanent and definite and complete opposition." Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace, is on record stating that the group no longer operates, "wholly in the scientific domain." As recently as this week, Greenpeace has vowed to continue taking further action against biotech crops. Similar to how Monsanto acts based upon the whim of their shareholders, Greenpeace acts based upon the whim of its members and donors. Perhaps, the best way to fight them is by bringing them under more public scrutiny. October 10th, 2016  will be the 20th year anniversary of their first attack on food on which date I will lead a protest in front of their office in Washington, DC, calling on them to end their war against humanity. Greenpeace has offices around the world, I invite you to do the same everywhere. If you can, come to DC, join me here. If you are willing to protest at one of their offices elsewhere, send me details of the event planned and I will help promote it. All it takes for pseudoscience to win, is for science communicators to do nothing.

How a Boston Globe journalist secretly allowed herself to be used for an organic industry-led attack on a professor.

By Stephan Neidenbach -
Edited by Nandu Nandini

I have never quite read anything in such an esteemed paper as The Boston Globe as this piece on Professor Juma at Harvard. The article was clearly meant to tarnish his reputation, as there is zero evidence of any kind of wrongdoing on his part.

In 2014 the professor wrote a blog entry for Genetic Literacy. An opinion piece. The Globe article makes it sound like it was some sort of research paper led by Monsanto. By emphasizing "biotechnology" in quotes it is quite demeaning to an entire technology. 
Clearly their writer Ms. Laura Krantz has an agenda here. After a quick Google search, I found a blog wherein she discusses learning all about organic farming and her future plans to live that kind of lifestyle. Since the organic industry has a vested interest in demonizing biotech crops I called her out on it via Twitter. Within 10 minutes of calling her out on it, she deleted her organic blog, clearly demonstrating that she had something to hide. I find it extremely unethical that a journalist complains about a writer not disclosing something, and then tries to hide her own past. Her page was saved in the Google cache and can be accessed here.

I also question her honesty by which she obtained this information. The Boston Globe received the 4,600 emails from the University of Florida. One does not simply sort through nearly 5,000 emails to find one email from a Harvard professor. So I decided to do something a little unorthodox, I submitted a FOIA request on the FOIA requests. It turns out that she received the documents on September 30th, just one day before the article was published. Ms. Krantz would like us to believe that in no less than 24 hours she went through 4,600 emails, wrote the article, submitted it to her editor, and had it approved? In my opinion, she already had the email about Professor Juma in her possession from Gary Ruskin at US RTK, and the Globe's own FOIA request was a way to cover her tracks.

US RTK received funding from the Organic Consumer's Association, which in turn receives funding from many companies in the organic industry such as; Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Joseph Mercola, Nutiva, and Eden Organic. After losing the GMO labeling battle in California, Ruskin formed US RTK, through which has been submitting FOIA requests in the hopes of connecting scientists that defend science to the biotech industry.
Professor Juma did nothing wrong. He did not take any money from Monsanto and merely offered his opinion on a blog. Now he is receiving threats and calls to land him in jail by celebrity husbands. Professor Folta clearly made a mistake in not mentioning the grant his outreach program received. Professor Juma did not even make a mistake. Who discloses on brief emails when writing a blog posting? If Ms. Krantz has nothing to hide or disclose herself, why is she trying to delete her past?

10 Amazing GMOs!

Dr. Carol Lynn Curchoe

Most people are familiar with just three types of “GMOs” corn, soy beans, and beets (usually they can even cite glyphosate resistance or the Bt trait!). But dozens of GMOs exist and they have been used to benefit human health, animal welfare and to safeguard the environment for over 30 years! Here are some GMOs you may have never heard about, or realized why they were created in the first place!!!
1) Do you eat cheese?! Who doesn’t!? Once upon a time, the veal calf industry was booming, and we used calf stomach rennet (enzymes that coagulate milk into curd) to make cheese with. But as our concern for animal welfare grew, and our use of veal calves fell, we needed to find an alternate source of cheese making enzymes. We now use bioengineered chymosin to protect the welfare of veal calves and to have a cheap and virtually limitless supply of enzymes, responsible for over 90% of cheese consumed today.
2) Insulin — For 60 years after the discovery that injected insulin could treat diabetes, diabetics relied on insulin purified from animals, primarily cattle and pigs. Animal insulin works well on the whole, but is not an exact match with the human hormone and sometimes causes adverse reactions, for example, skin rashes. In 1978 insulin became the first human protein to be manufactured through biotechnology. Today all insulin for human use is manufactured from GMO bacteria.
3) Vaccines- indisputably life saving, vaccines are produced in chicken eggs, human cell lines or bacteria all genetically modified to produce the antigen of choice!
4) Golden Rice- a great example of improving a non-nutrient dense, staple food source that is heavily consumed in very poor countries. 190 million children and 19 million pregnant women are at risk for vitamin A deficiency. The genes to make vitamin A in Golden Rice were transferred from daffodils, a bacterium, and maize.
5) Papaya — the entire papaya industry in the US was nearly decimated by the papaya ringspot virus. GMOs saved the entire industry!!
6) Potatoes- GMO potatoes were approved by the FDA last year. Potatoes naturally contain a precursor to acrylamide, a cancer causing chemical that is produced when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures (just like we enjoy them, fried!!) the gene was modified so the potatoes will produce less if the chemicals. Nothing was added!!
7) Interferon- a protein used to treat multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, and in some cancer treatments. As a society we rely on drugs produced by GMO bacteria!!!
8) Blood clotting treatments — for stokes, blood clots and blood clotting disorders — example, the drug, ATryn, is an anticoagulant which reduces the probability of blood clots during surgery or childbirth. It is extracted from genetically modified goat’s milk.
9) Cotton- 50% more cotton is produced worldwide today on the same amount of land as compared to 40 some years ago. Some countries have reduced their cotton insecticide use by up to 90%!!!
10) Salmon- it’s no secret that wild salmon populations have been overfished and stressed by climate change. Commercial fishing, and human-caused habitat destruction have caused the lowest salmon population observed since the 1970s. A new genetically engineered Atlantic salmon variety contains a gene from Pacific Salmon to increase the growth rate from the usual 3 years to 18 months. This and other technological advances, enables the fish to be grown on land, which could help us to build a US based salmon industry (95% of our salmon is imported) and also help us to protect our oceans from over fishing.
GMOs in Development
Some of my favorite GMOs currently underdevelopment include;
A “polled” (hornless) version of dairy cattle, a stunning 9 million of which are currently deformed with hot irons, clippers or caustic paste causing much animal suffering (farmers hate doing it too!). Hornless cows are lousy milk producers and traditional breeding has not been able to cross breed a great milking AND hornless variety. This technology works by disabling a gene, instead of adding one from another species. There are many other genetic modifications in development currently to reduce animal suffering!!
The Florida Orange crop is currently being decimated by blight, a “citrus greening” plague sweeping through Florida. More than 80% of Florida’s orange trees are infected. A gene from spinach has been inserted into citrus trees to prevent this disease, and the citrus industry is only a few years away from complete collapse, however, approvals for new GMOs take a long time.
Spider silk from goats milk- spider silk is tougher than Kevlar, incredibly light and resilient! But spider silk, as useful as it may be to industry, is very hard to farm from spiders (they cannibalize each other..) !!
Some Persistent GMO myths
While we are at it, let’s also talk about some stuff I hate, m’kay?
“Genetic modifications are genes that are not found in nature.” False!!! These genes (every gene….) is found somewhere in nature, for example, when a gene from spinach is put into citrus trees. Synthetic biology and the de novocreation of genes or proteins has not quite made it out of the lab yet :). Watch out for it though. It’s coming for you!
“Genetically modified wheat caused the rise of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance”. The fact is, there is no such thing as “GMO wheat”. Wheat has been modified by human hands since the dawn of agriculture. The only modifications that have been made have occurred through NATURAL breeding. Not through bioengineering-i.e. the insertion or deletion of genes.
“Monsanto is making billions of dollars off the backs of poor farmers” False!!! Golden rice is distributed for free to subsistence farmers. Monsanto Company was one of the first companies to grant free licenses for golden rice. The cutoff is ten thousand dollars in profit- if farmers make more than $10,000 per year, then they are expected to buy the seeds.
I greatly dislike and object to the demonization of Monsanto. Why do you think it is that “Monsanto”, “RoundUp”, “glyphosate” and ‘Bt Corn’ are household names- while the examples below are not while Syngenta and DuPont are not? Exhibit A: ‘Syngenta’ is a huge biotech seed and agri-chemical company- they manufacture ‘Agrisure’ GM corn and triazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in US and Australian agriculture. The Agrisure brand corn has the Viptera trait, to be resistant to triazine.
Exhibit B: ‘DuPont “Pioneer”’, a huge company (a subsidiary of DuPont) that shares the GMO corn market with Monsanto. They each own around 36 percent of it.
Genes engineered into DuPont Pioneer products include the LibertyLink gene, which provides resistance to Bayer’s Ignite/Liberty herbicides; the Herculex I Insect Protection gene which provides protection against various insects; the Herculex RW insect protection trait which provides protection against other insects; the YieldGard Corn Borer gene, which provides resistance to another set of insects;and the Roundup Ready Corn 2 trait that provides crop resistance against glyphosate herbicides.
(Not only that, but DuPont has manufactured its share of dangerous pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, including coatings like C8. By the way, DuPont also manufactured Agent Orange, DDT, and PCBs … just like ‘Monsanto’ did (the OLD Monsanto chemical company- not the new seed company).
In conclusion, I LOVE GMOs and Biotechnology. We do this to help SOLVE The world’s problems. If you are interested in GMOs check out a guest blog post I wrote on GMO basics, where you can find out what happens to DNA after we eat it, or you can watch me on You Tube (how embarrassing) or for more advanced info- check out another post I wrote on what types of technologies Monsanto is developing next
This article originally appeared on Medium here and was reposted with permission of the author.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Five essential reasons why Tom Colicchio, celebrity chef, is wrong about biotechnology

By Stephan Neidenbach -
Edited by Nandu Nandini

Yesterday, published an interview with celebrity chef Tom Colicchio about his petition to label foods that contain ingredients from crops grown from seeds, which are bred by a breeding method not approved for the organic industry. Colicchio is the co-founder of Food Policy Action, an organization run by a "who's who" of people with a financial stake that depends on scaring people about our food supply. When Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farms, Joshua Brau of Chipotle, Marni Karlin of the Organic Trade Association, and Britt Lundgren of Stonyfield Farms are all involved, rest assured the demonization of science is not far behind. This head judge of Top Chef showed off his lack of critical thinking by simply regurgitating all of the typical anti-biotechnology talking points promoted by the primitive food movement.

"I don’t necessarily believe that GMOs are inherently dangerous. I think in some instances, GMOs can be very helpful. They do show a lot of promise, but I still believe that people have a right to know what’s in their food. If I choose to opt out of supporting these kinds of practices, I should have the ability to know and make my decision."

Colicchio fails to recall that voluntary labels already serve this purpose. For many years now Jews and Muslims have had a similar desire to know what was in their food, and labels for their dietary restrictions are actually quite prevalent. If his customers are concerned about the breeding method of seed, the way Jews and Muslims are concerned about pork and shellfish, he can label his menus accordingly. Starting with the claim that he doesn't think "GMOs are inherently dangerous" but thinks they deserve mandatory labels, he sounds similar to: an anti-vaxxer chanting "I am not anti-vax, I am just pro-vax safety", a young earth creationist chanting about "micro versus macro evolution", or a climate change denier chanting "sure we are emitting greenhouse gasses, they just aren't actually contributing to a greenhouse effect."

"Everyone from Big Ag to food companies are behind the DARK Act. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is supporting it and so are companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dow."
This argument is extremely irrelevant. Colicchio actually doesn't understand why biotechnology companies would fight to have warning labels that appears to be scaring people about their product, and which the people behind his own organization have been terrifying people about for almost 30 years? He isn't going to mention the vested interest of those who oppose the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (in which he parrots the nickname given by organic marketing teams)? "Corporation" is not an argument for or against something. Big Pharma may screw up sometimes, but most people are quite happy with the way it has a habit of saving lives.  Nevertheless because people like celebrity chefs do not fear hunger, they can scare people about a technology that can be used as one tool to fight malnutrition.

"There are plenty of studies that show that organic farming can feed the world as well. There are plenty of other ways to boost yields. Listen, Monsanto also does regular breeding in addition to GE breeding and they are finding that a lot of these conventional methods offer better yields. It’s a tool that we should be using, but it’s not the only tool we should be using. Right now, we as a nation waste about 40 percent of what we produce. How about we waste less food if we want to talk about feeding the world?"
Nice straw man argument, Tom ! No one is saying that genetic engineering is the only tool we should be using.  It is quite the contradiction to say that, while also admitting that Monsanto uses other methods. In Genetically modified crops and agricultural development, Matin Qaim explains, "GM technologies will not replace conventional breeding, rather both approaches are highly complementary. Locally adapted varieties contain a large bundle of various characteristics that cannot easily be designed through genetic engineering. However, genetic engineering can be used to add individual traits of interest to such locally adapted varieties. Second, GM technologies can help to conserve varietal diversity. Previously, when a superior new variety was developed, farmers often adopted this new variety, abandoning a larger number of old varieties and landraces. Now new GM traits can be introgressed into many existing varieties."

Sometimes genetic engineering can create higher yields, sometimes it cannot. From time to time it can reduce pesticide usage, but sometimes it can't. This disparity is based on countless factors. For example, the impacts of Bt crops will vary depending on the farming techniques used prior to their introduction. Australia, which was already using modern farming practices, did not see an increase in yield. What they did see was a 48% decrease in insecticide usage. The Philippines, which already was not using many insecticides compared to other countries, saw only a 5% decrease in insecticide use, but a staggering 34% increase in yield because their crops were not being consumed by pests as much.
Source - Matin Qaim:Genetically modified crops and agricultural development Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016, (ISBN: 978-1-137-40571-5)
What about food waste? Developed nations produce and consume a lot of food. So much so that a lot of it is wasted. This is a problem that we agree on. Climate change might be eased by a reduction in food waste, whereas malnutrition and famine would probably not. True famine is only occurring in countries where food aid is being prevented from entering areas where it is needed such as North Korea where food aid from the United States is turned down. The Famine Early Warning System is now in place saving lives around the globe. Better access to agricultural technology could actually help reduce food waste, rather than increase it. Better infrastructure in developing nations would help food get to the consumers faster and increase shelf life through refrigeration. Food waste campaigns often have little impact on the developing world because they are almost based on food waste happening in developed countries. A recent report from the Copenhagen Consensus Center estimates that for every $1 spent investing in developing world agriculture to reduce postharvest losses the return would be $13.
"They’re being politicians. They’re just protecting their funding stream, and I get that, it’s politics. I guarantee that on hundred other issues, Pompeo [who introduced the bill]  would be all for states’ rights. Now all of a sudden, it’s like 'to hell with the states, we need a federal bill.' We believe the same. We need a federal bill to label all transgenic GMO foods."
This same argument goes both ways. Senator Jon Tester, who is fighting for mandatory labels based on just the one breeding method, just so happens to run a large organic farm. Senator Murkowski of Alaska wants to label transgenic salmon, because it might compete with the Alaska salmon industry.  Even Bernie Sanders is fighting against science because Vermont happens to be one of the top five states producing organic products. Even the argument about states' rights can be used both ways. The organic industry fought hard in the 80s and 90s for a voluntary federal standard certification label in an attempt to prevent conflicting state standards that might confuse consumers. Sounds exactly like the argument the GMA is using now.

"It’s gotten far worse. The ag-gag laws in place are ridiculous. On the other hand, more and more we see people asking for more information about food supply. Look at what’s going on in Flint, Michigan with the water supply. These are basic things that we should be able to get right and who is it affecting? Largely poor people. We need to be more transparent and we need to look at the health of our population."
Ag-gag laws are a complete red herring in this discussion. Animal welfare has nothing to do with whether or not one breeding method, out of many, needs to be labeled on food. Even PETA wants this technology to help animals, so there can be genetically engineered cows that don't have horns.  Is Tom concerned about the welfare of pigs being bred with an extra set of ribs for the sole purpose of having an extra set of ribs on the dinner plate? Something completely unregulated because it was done with artificial selection. This has even led to male turkeys with such large breasts, that the only way to breed them is through artificial insemination. Is that not information worth sharing with his customers? Flint, Michigan was the result of the government failing to use private industry to get the chemicals needed to treat the water (organophosphates, I might add). The breeding method of plant seeds does not give the consumer any information whatsoever on health or nutrition, and probably would serve as a distraction from information on things like calories and nutrition content, which matter most and also determine health and nutritional needs. Has anyone produced a correlation graph comparing organic food sales and adult obesity rates?

Democracy may be about making our voices heard, but as a republic we also have a duty to ensure that mob rule does not uphold. I agree with Mr. Colicchio when he says that everything in our kitchen is touched by policy, shouldn't we make sure the policy is based on facts and not fear? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The organic industry has employed repugnant PR tactics

By Stephan Neidenbach -
Edited by Nandu Nandini

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Joseph Mercola, Nutiva, and Eden Organic are multi-million dollar corporate entities that are known for their attacks against critics. They are also large contributors to the Organic Consumer's Association, who funded the "attack NGO" US Right To Know (US RTK).

Writing for Examiner, James Cooper recounted the story of US RTK’s unusually forceful attacks against Kevin Folta, a professor of Plant Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Florida (as well as the hideously nefarious class Fruit For Fun and Profit). In his spare time Folta runs an outreach program on the subject of biotechnology, and was a very vocal critic online of the anti-GMO movement. In response, US RTK launched a multi-pronged effort to, in the words of Dr. David Gorski (surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute), “discredit Folta.” Among other tactics the oraganic PR machine deployed against Folta, Cooper reports that:

"...the personal attacks on Folta had gotten completely out of hand, all claiming he was a lying Monsanto shill and the like. To see how bad it became, take a look at Mike Adam’s Natural News post calling him “the most discredited scientist in America,” and a “discredited Monsanto puppet.’ Mike Adams is, of course, not a scientist nor even a reporter. His Natural News site is recognized as a collection of completely made up conspiracies and other fantasies.
About this time, an advertisement appeared in the Gainesville Craigslist repeating these accusations and calling him “a lying Monsanto puppet.” It also published his home address, which made Folta fear for his young family."

In its efforts to intimidate unbiased journalists, US RTK also investigated the journalists Keith Kloor, Amy Harmon, and Tamar Haspel. Kloor compared US RTK to another anti-science movement, "The tactic is familiar in another controversial area, climate science, where researchers have faced an avalanche of document requests from climate change skeptics."

Brainwashing children

In 2015, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, a large textbook publisher, revised a 6th grade textbook, to deliver organic industry PR to children. A massive campaign by many of the industry's astro-turf groups led to many calls to their customer service number. If this had been young earth creationists calling to encourage a false balance on the topic of evolution, there would have been a huge media outrage. But because the organic industry has such a strong hold over the mainstream media, nothing was said or done.

Attacking and intimidating scientists

The organic industry and its PR minions have a history of harsh and career-threatening attacks against their scientific critics, including Kevin Folta, Shelley McGuire, Bruce ChassySir David Baulcombe, Professor Jonathan Jones, Lord Sainsbury, Professor Jim Dunwell, Anthony TrewavasChris Leaver, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, Val Giddings, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, Erio Barale-Thomas, Marc Fellous, Bill Nye, and even Neil deGrasse Tyson.

How do these attacks affect what is known about the public perception of biotechnology? No one really knows. But given this history, any scientist who publishes findings that are contrary to the interests of the organic industry can reasonably expect a sharp attack, or perhaps even a career-ending one. Of course there are scientists who are courageous enough to publish despite such prospects. But surely worries about how the industry might respond, and its effects on career prospects, has a deterrent effect on scientists’ initiation and publication of research that is adverse to the organic industry.