Scientific Credibility and the Veggie Agenda

» May 1st, 2014

NOTE: I’ve been contacted by a speaker at Veg Expo and notified that not every invited speaker will be talking about GMOs. This information, which was not included in Folta’s post, and is belied by the Veg Expo’s ads (see here), is nonetheless critical to note.  Still, the guy above is speaking about GMOs.

 

Kevin M. Folta, who describes himself as “a scientist in a scientifically illiterate nation at a time when we need science the most,” has a blog post up that’s pretty snarky but makes an important point: vegans/vegetarians should ground themselves in scientific reality.

The bee in Folta’s bonnet is the anti-GMO focus dominating this year’s VegExpo in Vancouver (scheduled for June 8). Now, before I proceed, let it be said that there are serious problems with GMOs, many of them involving their ownership and application. But, for all their drawbacks, there’s no credible evidence that they are any more or less harmful to human health (or the environment) than conventional hybrids. Even the fear-mongering Mother Jones! agrees with me on this one (not to mention the National Academies of Science, World Health Organization, etc.).

It’s thus a shame that the Vancouver veg folks invited nine people (only one with a scientific background) who seem poised to spread misleading if not erroneous messages about the supposed negative health impacts of GMOs. Naturally, I don’t know exactly what these speakers will say in June, but they will all arrive with histories of opposing GMOs on health grounds, thereby illuminating the question of why anyone would (presumably) pay nine people to say the same wrong thing about the same topic at the same event.

Worse, not a single speaker has the proper qualifications to make authoritative claims about GMOs. What does it say about the Veg outlook on scientific credibility when, in an attempt to explain how Canadians are affected by GMOs, the organizers have invited a Joga instructor (yes, that’s Joga, not yoga), the owner of Hippie Foods (who has a financial interest in castigating GMOs), an entertainment reporter, a snack mix purveyor, a 14-year old, a vegan fitness expert, and, Jeffrey Smith, a former practitioner of “flying yoga” who now poses under the guise of the  Institute for Responsible Technology (and who has been called out by real scientists as an imposter)?

Every vegan and vegetarian is poorly represented by this agenda. Folta writes, “I think the veg/vegans do deserve better.  I applaud their efforts and choices, I’m just sad that they are destroying their scientific persuasion and credibility by sponsoring people that know nothing about science and farming.”

I think he’s right.

 

77 Responses to Scientific Credibility and the Veggie Agenda

  1. Instinctively, having roundup designed to destroy the stomach of pests who consume the crops inserted as part of the genetics of a plant I eat screams this is not healthy for me. No science? Really? Is this a case of “don’t look don’t find” perhaps? Is this a case of stifling studies with the findings that would implicate this? Is this a case of not attributing the health problems to the right cause, because a lot of really intelligent people don’t know what exactly is causing the myriads of diseases plaguing people. Cancer. Don’t know. IBS? Don’t know. MS? Don’t know. ALS? Don’t know. Parkinson’s? Don’t know.Autoimmune diseases? Don’t know. You get the point.
    But the Roundup stuff (in corn) did a hearty snuff on the butterflies (who fed from the pollen of GMO corn. Why is this scientifically meaningless?

    I’m sure the billions of gallons of 80,000+ chemicals we are pouring into the environment everyday have an impact, as does the billions of pills pissed out into waterways daily. Veganic farming would go A VERY LONG WAY to solving many of these dilemmas.

    I support your work, and I don’t buy the science argument when the fact is no one seems to know anything after 40 years of a war on cancer with billions invested in research. They all say diet doesn’t stop people from getting disease, which to an extent, is true. We do know it significantly impacts how many of what types you get though, but they don’t really empower people with that knowledge.

    • Ena Valikov says:

      Cancer isn’t one disease, unfortunately, so there is never going to be a cure for “cancer”. It is a disorder caused by a variety of different mutations, some inherited, some viral and some environmental. But there are multiple chronic illnesses whose prevalence rates have risen since introduction of GMOs and your sense that the science of GMOs is “don’t look don’t find” is right on the money.

      I am going to unwrap just one study for those harboring the illusion that there is robust scientific evidence that GMOs are harmless.

      This one is cited by ENSSER at the end of their statement on absence of consensus on safety of GMOs. http://www.ensser.org/increasing-public-information/no-scientific-consensus-on-gmo-safety/
      Citation #39 http://beachvethospital.blogspot.com/2014/01/dear-food-and-chemical-toxicology.html

      • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

        Ena Valikov said:
        “This one is cited by ENSSER at the end of their statement on absence of consensus on safety of GMOs.”

        And there’s no consensus on climate change or evolution either, so says the The Heritage Foundation and the Discovery Institute. We know this gambit of political pseudo-science. The honest thing to do, what scientists usually do under such circumstances, would be to acknowledge that theirs is a competing hypothesis in the scientific minority, but that their idea merits consideration based on presented evidence. Instead, the political move is Jedi Mind trick denialism, “there is no consensus here,” in an attempt to create public confusion and false balance.

        ENSSER is a perfect example of an organization that is granted undue weight as a source of unbiased information by anti-GMO advocates. Credible science organizations have been around for a while and engage in science policy on a wide range of topics. If you think The National Academy of Sciences or The Royal Society has been bought, it seems like a pattern of this sort of thing should be easy enough to point out in other contexts. Their reputation of science expertise would be tenuous if this were common. Also, theses organization don’t tend to be based on a cult of personality, a singular person as the public face of the group. Not just science organizations, but science reporting, the likes of Nature, and Scientific American and assorted science reporters.

        ENSSER is the opposite. It hasn’t been around long. All they do is combat genetic engineering (check their website), we can’t even be sure if they have been wrong about anything because they have only ever weighed in on one topic. It was formed by CRIIGEN, the organization that Séralini founded and that funded his own research. When you see the organizations ENSSER and CRIIGEN, just swap in Séralini’s name.

        I realize that many people consider Séralini an underdog and hero, but his concurrently documentary release and book lunch with his last study publication was highly unusual for a scientist. Unusual to the degree of never. There are scientists who win the Nobel Prize, their research is that groundbreaking, they may even know they’ve made a breakthrough as they make their discovery. But their books tend to be written long after the publication of their data, sometime after it’s been vetted not just by the publishing journal, but by the science community at large. The reasons scientists don’t typically produce a film documentary and book of their experiment while it’s being conducted is because they generally don’t know the outcome of the experiment in advance.

        I’m a fan of science popularization, some cult of personality and showmanship is necessary, but releasing a book and film at the publication of your paper with a press blackout on the details is political theater, not science. Add in Séralini’s ENSSER and CRIIGEN science organization fronts, and color me unimpressed.

        As James recently acknowledged with his recent commenting on the recent saturated fat review, studies of all sorts are out there and no single one should be given undue weight. The underlying assumption with your presentation is that so-and-so rat studies is a demonstration that the science is unsound or proves GE unsafe, but that’s probably the worst way to approach the overall subject.

        • Ena Valikov says:

          Please address the actual specific science. I don’t have the time nor the interest in unwrapping your absurd logical fallacies. Thanks

    • Chad says:

      You need to do some fact checking…you’re very first sentence is factually wrong.

      Roundup is a herbicide…meaning that it kills plants. It does not affect insects or destroy the stomachs of insects. That is Bt, a naturally derived protein which ironically is also sprayed on most organic foods and is considered “safe” and “natural” by organic standards.

      The rest of this post is just as erroneous as the first sentence. Try to understand the basics first before making such ill-informed comments.

    • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

      The Ardent Vegan Advocate said:
      “Veganic farming would go A VERY LONG WAY to solving many of these dilemmas.”

      The assumption here is that genetic engineering would have nothing of value to offer veganic farming. For what it’s worth, Amish farmers grow BTCorn now. In the near potential future Golden Rice will be for Asian farmer’s to decide how best to grow. The inception for its creation, is that no technology is required to grow it or benefit from its consumption. In a hypothetical distant future, perhaps viable B12 could be made in common edible plants quelling the admonishment that a plant-based diet cannot be achieved exclusively with whole-foods. There’s little reason why a hypothetical B12-producing kale couldn’t be grown veganically. The dichotomy between genetic engineering and organic and veganic practices is a false one.

      The Ardent Vegan Advocate said:
      “I don’t buy the science argument when the fact is no one seems to know anything after 40 years of a war on cancer with billions invested in research.”

      I’d offer that the scope of biotechnology as a topic is large enough without the necessity to project all of civilization’s ills onto it. Yet another reason to examine anti-GMO claims as the subject is more of a proxy for all fears and concerns rallying against corporations and negative perception of science that, more often than not, are in no way exclusive to genetic engineering.

      I’d also offer that it’s a little unfair to cite the inability for science to cure cancer as some sort of failure of its utility.

      Off topic, but the reason cancer isn’t easily curable is because it’s largely a natural process on par with aging. Getting older is one of the highest risk factors. I’ll agree with Ena that cancer also isn’t one disease, but a suite of phenomena; some natural, some unnatural, some strongly influenced by genetics, some strongly influenced by environment and lifestyle. It’s complex, and we know this from those 40 years of research.

      Where I’ll strongly differ from Ena’s claims is that there is any reasonable evidence that genetic engineering has anything to do with cancer. Rates may or may not have gone up, I’m not interested in contesting that. What’s off base is the assumption that GE crops are the best suspect for contributing to any such increase. If rates have increased, there would be far stronger correlates and more probable explanations that would merit investigation.

      When we make inquiries like that, we need to be far more systematic. Leaping to conclusions leads to derailing proper investigations. As an example, anti-GMO activists spoke with certainty that GMOs where causing bee colony-collapse based on nothing more than similar simplistic correlative speculation and their dislike of the technology. Protestors were on the streets shouting with raised banners insisting that GMOs should be banned to save the bees. More measured examinations have concluded that a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids are the likely culprit.

      This finding may serve to confirm suspicions that chemical agriculture is a problem, but I’d again ask that we don’t conflate synthetic chemicals with genetic engineering. There’s some overlap, but they are not one in the same. Also, it’s helpful to avoid fundamentalism by insisting that agricultural problems can be solved if only we did so-and-so, with every group having a different idea of what that so-and-so should be. Our agricultural systems and demands are massive and complex, and no silver bullet is going to solve everything overnight. We need to think holistically about where we are and what can be done and retain context when comparing methods that are better and feasible rather than ideal and unlikely to be adopted.

      • Ena Valikov says:

        You clearly didn’t bother to read anything I wrote. Please point out where exactly I made the claim that agricultural GMOs are associated with cancer.

  2. James says:

    Your concerns are, of course, valid. But the critical task, in light of your objections, is to demonstrate how conventional/non-GMO agriculture is any different. My take on agriculture is that it’s inherently destructive, and that our task as stewards of the land is to reduce that destruction as much as possible.

    Respectfully, your claims about roundup demonstrate a basic misunderstanding about agricultural biotechnology. Roundup attacks weeds, not the stomachs of insects. Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) attacks the stomachs of insects. Bt is a naturally occurring bacterium that , in powdered form, is deployed as a pesticide by organic farmers.

  3. Louisa Dell'Amico says:

    “There’s no credible evidence?” Really, James? Check out the last 3 pages of references cited in this article:
    http://www.unionccs.net/images/library/file/Agricultura_y_alimentacion/Health_Risks_GMOs.pdf…not to mention the horrific experiments they’re doing to genetically modify animals.

    • James says:

      Louisa,
      It’s a dead link in Spanish.
      jm

    • Dian Hardy says:

      Louisa, John, and the Ardent Vegan – I was troubled to read James’ post and your own posts resonate with me. Louisa, I keep getting a 404 error for that website. Though AV may be incorrect about one aspect of RoundUp, we do know of its effect in waterways. And James, I suggest your next post be on your problems with agriculture and your suggestions for reforming it.

  4. Dylan says:

    James, I appreciate you speaking about this. Hopefully more vegan spokespeople will do more to investigate in some of the anti-gmo factoids that are tossed about. At best this stuff is a distraction at worse it can prevent the use of a genuine useful technology. (Bt brinjal for example http://btbrinjal.tumblr.com/)

  5. John T. Maher says:

    Science and Technology Studies (STS) have demonstrated that science and research are highly politicized and used to support policy initiatives rather than the other way around. Jasanoff’s work is especially important on this point although she does not write on GMOs. If there a is a paucity of research critical of GMOs it is because it is no one’s financial interest to fund such research. I would also add that Canadians live under an even more repressive BigAg information whole than us Amis.

    This entire field misunderstands the various theories of risk in a manner with which I disagree. Cass Sunstein has written about this.

    I disagree as above concerning “credible evidence”.

  6. Dylan says:

    John, I don’t mean to be rude but have you considered that there is a paucity of research (and I would argue there is more research on the safety of GMOs than is logically justified) because the technology as it is being used now is essentially safe.

    • unethical_vegan says:

      Not only is inserting one gene of known function into a known locations safe but randomly scrambling thousands of genetic/epigenetic loci via forced hybridization is also generally viewed as safe. In fact, my “naturally” genetically-engineered hybrid tomato starts are growing very nicely.

      • First Officer says:

        Indeed, given that mutagenesis has been proven to be safe and it involves thousands of unintended DNA mutations along with the eventual one or two sought, and given that GE only inserts or deletes 1 to 3 or 4 genes, all whose functions are known and their placements in the genome are known, it is then mathematically impossible that GE tech carries an equal or more risk than mutagenesis. I.e.

        Risk(GE) < Risk(Mutagenesis) in all cases.

        It's simple set theory.

    • John T. Maher says:

      My point is that research funding has a political agenda and its goals are somewhat circumscribed if not predetermined. Who do you think funds studies of GMOs? Activists? GMO research funding is tightly controlled at the industry and grant application level.

      Your argument is essentially that since GMOs have not been found conclusively to be “unsafe” — an ill-defined term which has political, environmental, economic and animal welfare components or exclusions — that GMOs are in fact the only “safe” foods because they are the only ones which have been tested and all the un-GMO modified food that animals have eaten for billions of years — untested by industry — and are therefore unsafe. So by your logic we have all been eating poison non-GMO porridge, have we not, and must therefore switch or die? Sort of a reducio ad absurdum view that so many naive people accept as dogma. So please go and eat only GMO food as I would like to organize a data collection on your metabolic, immune and other responses. Double dare you?

      Seriously I have given talks of GMOs and free trade policies. To even begin to understand these issues you must not look first at conclusory data culls parsed into humanist conclusions as ‘science’: such as is are GMOs “safe” but read Ulrich Beck and understand what risk is and how far it extends and why the precautionary principle is insufficient to comprehend modification on a genomic level and everything in the ecosystem and human world to which that extends. I do not read Cass Sunstein as authoritative here but as an exemplar of an author who does not comprehend the full dimension of risk in contemporary society and yet makes policy based upon his assumptions (much as with his writings on animal instrumentality).

      A post it box for comments is too small for such a discussion. I hope all dissenting voices on Eating Plants will further contribute to a vigorous discussion because this is much bigger than animal rights and all animals and many plants will be irrevocably changed (and hurt) in response to GMO grains through epigenetic responses, genomic responses, bacterial gut macrobiome modification and environmental and complimentary species modification or extirpation. Sometimes the minds we must seek to change are our own.

      • Ena Valikov says:

        The reason it takes this much brainwashing is that industry understands from multiple different surveys that consumers in developed countries do not want to eat GE foods, and will pay a premium to avoid them. Takes circuitous arguments, a manufactured fictional consensus on safety, and an army of salespeople to convince them to buy these products, PRIMARILY by HIDING them.

        click on “entire report” pages 34-37
        http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err162.aspx#.UwuYDvl_uSo

        • Dylan says:

          Consumers already have significant access to non-GMO certified food that they can pay a premium for. We can look at their own preferences there.

          • Ena Valikov says:

            Not that I am surprised by your response, but given that consumers in survey after survey express rejection of GE foods (unless discounted), how can one look at efforts to prevent GE foods from being labeled, as anything other than keeping the consumer in the dark about what they are buying?

          • John T. Maher says:

            Non GMO food is being involuntarily contaminated with GMOs species by species (see US corn and soy and US and Japanese alfalfa and Aubergines in India). Under all the free trade agreements in draft or passed such as the TTP and TAFTA, GMO labeling will be banned much as COOL labeling is. Vermont’s local law on GMO labeling, if passed, will be overidden (oveerode?) by treaty. Preference is being removed in labeling and by contaminated GMO genomes in non GMO crops.

            Why are you shilling for GMOs?

          • First Officer says:

            @John, There is always a small amount of mixing between crops, yet we always manage to keep the strains separate. Like cabbage and broccoli, both cultivars of the same species.

          • John T. Maher says:

            @First Officer: Your statement offers two intractable posits. Rethink that one!

      • Louisa Dell'Amico says:

        Thank you John, for your informed and reasoned opinion.

      • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

        John T. Maher said:
        “Non GMO food is being involuntarily contaminated with GMOs species by species…”

        Assuming the premise of unique GMO contamination is a valid one. I don’t disagree that it’s a political idea, but it’s hardly a scientific. Crops “contaminate” each other all the time, yet, in the situation of GMOs, by focusing on it with tunnel-vision, it’s comes across as a unique problem. There doesn’t seem to be much concern about genes of chemical and radiation mutated crops “contaminating” other crops. That even the strictest organic standards permits those modern breeding techniques and not genetic engineering is it entirely arbitrary. Bombard seeds with radiation to create a species that never existed before, that’s organic and natural. GE, by organic standards, is not okay, and that’s fine, it’s their haphazard standard of “good” and “bad” that hopefully equates to mostly good. But then there’s push to exempt GE crops from being labeled as natural, which might be fine if it was consistent with other forms of “unnatural” breeding.

        John T. Maher said:
        “Under all the free trade agreements in draft or passed such as the TTP and TAFTA, GMO labeling will be banned much as COOL labeling is.”

        I wouldn’t mind seeing some information as to why you believe country of origin labels are banned. I get the notion that there’s some conflation going on or perhaps your wording isn’t precise. It’s doubtful that COOL or GMO labels can be banned. As long as information is factual, food producers can put what they want on their packaging. What I think you are describing are laws requiring certain labels for producers will not be enacted or rolled back. That’s different. It’s not that GMO labeling is being banned, it’s that companies are not being required by law to have labels, but they can always volunteer to do so.

        John T. Maher said:
        “Preference is being removed in labeling and by contaminated GMO genomes in non GMO crops.”

        Preferences are intact. It’s not mandatory for the government to to demand that everyone cater to everyone’s preferences especially if those preferences aren’t grounded on sound reasons and as laws unduly burden businesses. Mandatory GMO labels or not, the preference to purchase non-GMO food exists as voluntary organic labeling and voluntary non-GMO labeling that existed before the Non-GMO Project. Nothing is being banned and no one’s freedom of preference is being taken away. Even without any labels, with the Internet in the palm of consumer’s hands, it’s trivial to determine which producers cater to their preferences, even for certain restaurants where staunch mandatory labelling proponents never seem interested in pushing for. That doesn’t make much sense considering how much food is consumed outside of the home.

        John T. Maher said:
        “Why are you shilling for GMOs?”

        This sort of rhetoric is very disappointing to see here. First of all, by insinuating that someone is a shill, you are only playing into the stereotype that anti-GMO proponents are driven by conspiratorial thinking.

        More important. As James McWilliams has challenged the poor food-mile math of locavores and the ethical miscalculations of small farm animal husbandry advocates, his analysis has been repeatedly dismissed by calling him a shill for big industry agriculture. This tactic played out recently and was documented on this blog a couple posts back when James pointed out that jumping to radical conclusions about butter application based on one flawed study was premature. Once again, the response was an attempt to shut down dialog by labeling James as “playing his usual role: reasonable-sounding defender of a highly profitable but dysfunctional industry,” without engaging his actual argument.

        • John Maher says:

          Quatsch!

          1. 1st para. Crops which have historically contaminate each other are not GMO organisms which have been modified with other species on a sub genomic level. The remainder of your para. 1 is incoherent..

          2. Your response to my “Under all the free trade agreements in draft or passed such as the TTP and TAFTA, GMO labeling will be banned much as COOL labeling is.” — Lesen Sie sich das Urteil im WTO Mexico Tuna oder das Urteil US Mexico beef. Also see the leaked portions of the TPP and TAFTA and what they mean.

          3. Your comment on my “Preference is being removed in labeling and by contaminated GMO genomes in non GMO crops.” which indignantly maintains “Preferences are intact. It’s not mandatory for the government to to demand that everyone cater to everyone’s preferences especially if those preferences aren’t grounded on sound reasons and as laws unduly burden businesses. Mandatory GMO labels or not, the preference to purchase non-GMO food exists as voluntary organic labeling and voluntary non-GMO labeling that existed before the Non-GMO Project. Nothing is being banned and no one’s freedom of preference is being taken away. Even without any labels, with the Internet in the palm of consumer’s hands, it’s trivial to determine which producers cater to their preferences, even for certain restaurants where staunch mandatory labelling proponents never seem interested in pushing for. That doesn’t make much sense considering how much food is consumed outside of the home.” is incomprehensible and typical of how neoliberals assume trade policy is designed because a) labeling will not be mandatory but prohibited when there is full Free Trade implementation; and b) Once almost everything is GMO contaminated there will be no ability to label or select preference. The Danes and Swiss are on this at Aarhus and and Uni St. Galens.

          4. Re: “Why are you shilling for GMOs?”I was talking about brainwashed acquiescence and complicity and the failure to think critically. If I have disappointed you that is the first step to getting you to think it through.

          5. Re: your “More important. As James McWilliams has challenged the poor food-mile math of locavores and the ethical miscalculations of small farm animal husbandry advocates, his analysis has been repeatedly dismissed by calling him a shill for big industry agriculture.” McW, an important historian of the food movement and its ideas and discontents, is someone I respect but completely disagree with on this point. I would do him disservice if I acquiesced to what I argue is an incompletely thought out position on the animal and enviro effects of GMOs. To hold him to a diminished standard would be wrong and he deserves better than your boosterism.

  7. Louisa Dell'Amico says:

    You have to wait about 5 seconds for it to open. It’s a live link in English. I just tried again myself to make sure.

    • Louisa Dell'Amico says:

      Strange, I just tried it a second time and now it is as you said – a dead link in Spanish.

  8. Louisa Dell'Amico says:

    Trying again
    http://www.unionccs.net/images/library/file/Agricultura_y_alimentacion/Health_Risks_GMOs.pdf

    If it doesn’t open for you, can you copy the link and paste it in your browser?

    • James says:

      Read it. “Possible,”"potential,” and “may” appear too often for this research summary to be convincing (at least to me). Plus, consider the source: UCS.

    • Louisa Dell'Amico says:

      Here’s another option for reading this article: Click on this link and scroll down to the link “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods”.
      On this page, Dr. Michael Greger offers research on both the pros and cons of GMO, and concludes by saying there’s not sufficient evidence to prove in favor of it or against. He’s SO reasonable! ;^)
      http://nutritionfacts.org/questions/gmos-and-decreased-nutrition-in-our-foods/

  9. Jerry Friedman says:

    The burden of proof is to prove GMO safe, not that they aren’t unsafe. There have not been any long-term human health studies on GMO. The skeptical position and the Precautionary Principle demand that they be considered unsafe until proven otherwise.

    This same debate happens with every industry, it seems. Plastics are now suspect and guilty of estrogenic activity after many decades on the market. (See Mother Jones’s reporting). Food preservatives are barely tested for long term impact to human health, which authors in the British Journal of Medicine just complained about. Why do GMOs get a free pass when plastics and food preservatives get the scrutiny they deserve.

    I worry that even if today’s GMOs are safe, that their safety will lull the public into thinking future GMOs are also safe. What regulations are in place to ensure all GMOs are safe? I can think of none. On the contrary, legislators (like one from Kansas) introduce laws banning the disclosure of GMO foods.

    Altogether, being grounded in science is good. It’s also good to be grounded in logic. Prove GMOs to be safe with meaningful epidemiological studies, then I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

    • Dylan says:

      Where does it stop? Do you have to prove safety on crops with traits generated by mutagenesis or even hybridization with wild subspecies? I doubt that proponents apply the precautionary principle equally and not based on their own unscientific principles or else we would have mandated warning signs on cell phones.

      Realistically there are unknown risks

      • Dylan says:

        (I should finish)

        … but the known risks in society have always been a lot higher.

        Also precautionary principle has been used several times against veganism.

      • Jerry Friedman says:

        Dylan, the issues are simple:

        1. The burden of proof is on the affirmative. It’s not up to the public to prove GMOs are unsafe, it’s up to the GMO industry to prove they are safe.

        2. Maximum transparency so people can decide for themselves.

        There is no reason to invoke the slippery slope, “Where does it stop?” The topic here is whether GMOs are safe and whether opposing GMOs now is anti-science.

        It feeds the GMO industry’s rhetoric to call anti-GMO “anti-science.” People wanting assurances that their food is safe should not be called anti-science. Let the GMO industry first prove safety, then let the consumers decide.

        • Mountain says:

          I don’t think industry needs to prove GMOs safe, but I do think they need to be labeled clearly, so that those who don’t want to be exposed to that risk– however remote or minute– can do so. There’s an argument that the burden should be on non-GMO food to label itself, but either way, we need clarity for customers.

          Why? For the same reason customers want labels for gluten-free or kosher or contains nuts or contains animal products. It isn’t industry’s job to decide if a food preference is serious or specious; it’s industry’s job to provide enough information to allow a consumer to make that decision for him/herself.

          • Dylan says:

            There are a number of processes that have some minute effect on food that one could make just as strong an argument for labeling. Realistically you have to have some criteria on what should and shouldn’t be labeled that wouldn’t be overly cumbersome.

          • VeganGMO says:

            There is already a voluntary labeling scheme called the Non-GMO Project. It’s a consumer preference exactly like kosher. Done.
            http://www.vegangmo.com/?p=1369

          • Mountain says:

            VeganGMO, that works for me. I’d like to see more education that consumers should assume GMO unless otherwise labeled. Done privately, though, not by the government.

          • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

            Mountain said:
            “Why? For the same reason customers want labels for gluten-free or kosher or contains nuts or contains animal products.”

            Foods with gluten can harm certain individuals. That’s a reasonable legal mandate for labelling.

            Foods with nuts, or processed in a facility with nuts can harm certain individuals. That’s a reasonable legal mandate for labelling.

            There is no credible evidence that genetically modified foods inherently harm anyone. It’s a preference to eschew these foods.

            Kosher labels are an example of a food preference, and there are no legal requirements to label foods as kosher or non-kosher.

            Vegan labels are an example of a food preference, and there are no legal requirement to label foods as vegan or non-vegan or even “may contain animal products.” Ingredient lists are mandatory, but even then, an animal product may not be clearly articulated.

            You are offering precedent as reasons for mandatory labeling and it supports the opposite conclusion. Known health or safety concerns warrants a mandatory label. Consumer preferences? That’s up to producers to cater to as they wish.

            As GMO avoidance is a preference, either health, environmental, or social, the precedent is that we allow the market to resolve these preferences. Organic labels exists. Non-GMO labels exists. And there is no law prohibiting food producers from labeling their food as genetically modified; labeling there is voluntary as well.

            But, the GMO labeling initiative in the US is motivated by those who seek outright bans on genetically modified crops. The strategy is to mandate a scarlet letter to facilitate consumer boycotts.

            If your argument is that the government should mandate labels based on consumer whim I’d respond by saying that we should hold the discussion under the acceptance of governance and legal precedent we have, not some proposed ideal that doesn’t exist.

            Mountain said:
            ”It isn’t industry’s job to decide if a food preference is serious or specious”

            It’s prudent governance, with the aid of sound science. Industry is more than welcome to cater to consumers’ whims so long as the claims aren’t deceptive. But if the government is going to require regulation, ideally it should be for good reasons, not everyone’s preferences. I said ideally, but this ideal exists now, and I agree with it. As an aside, I’ll also note that it’s irrelevant how many other countries have mandatory GMO labels. If their reasons for doing so are politically motivated or simply irrational, there’s no impetus for the US to copy them.

            I’ve had many discussion with anti-GMO proponents who believe that any consumer preferences, regardless of the evidence that supports them, should be made into law if popular enough. I disagree. Law by popularity contest is a bad idea and arguments citing poles of how many consumers are said to want this-or-that aren’t very meaningful if they don’t articulate good arguments. Requiring sound reasons backed by good evidence in order to establish prudent law protects us all from the tyranny of the majority.

            It’s an interesting discussion worth having, but an overarching idea that is tangential to genetic engineering, which I notice most anti-GE advocacy tend to devolve into. Ideas like, “it’s wrong to patent life” or “it’s wrong to profit from selling food” or “capitalism is evil” and that sort of thing. (I’m not saying you went to those topics Mountain, just pointing out a general trend I’ve noticed.)

          • Mountain says:

            Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten,

            You wrote:

            “You are offering precedent as reasons for mandatory labeling…”

            But I’m not. If I were, I wouldn’t have written:

            “There’s an argument that the burden should be on non-GMO food to label itself, but either way, we need clarity for customers.”

            That’s not a call for mandatory labeling. It’s a call for labeling clarity. Either GMO foods should label themselves as such, or non-GMO foods should label themselves as such & consumers should assume anything that isn’t labeled is GMO.

            The kosher and vegan examples were offered specifically because those are not mandatory labels. Consumers want to know that information, and whether they want it for rational or irrational reasons, they have a right to know. That right is expressed not by forcing obligations on food producers, but by choosing foods that provide the information they want.

          • VeganGMO says:

            Mountain says:
            “Consumers want to know that information, and whether they want it for rational or irrational reasons, they have a right to know. That right is expressed not by forcing obligations on food producers, but by choosing foods that provide the information they want.”

            That is not what a right is. That’s called a preference. It’s an important distinction particularly when vegans often talk of “animal rights”. Having the “right to know” infers obligation and and one is obligated to disclose when that may have a deleterious effect on an otherwise unknowing individual.
            >The Right to Know What I’m Eating | The Food Ethics Blog http://ow.ly/wuV6u

            That’s another insidious aspect of anti-GMO and veganism. I fear the way it brandishes an appeal to rights as a means to an end of their agenda waters down or corrupts the idea of rights. What does that do for our our case of animal rights? Who would take us seriously on animal rights if we make erroneous arguments as the “right to know”?

          • Mountain says:

            “That is not what a right is.”

            Actually, it is. The right to know is a negative right, just like most of the rights documented in the Bill of Rights. It doesn’t create an obligation to disclose. The only obligation it creates is the obligation not to interfere with my pursuit of that knowledge. For example, a government would violate my right to know by banning companies from labeling their food non-GMO. A company could violate my right to know by providing false or misleading information. But other than that, it does not create an obligation.

          • VeganGMO says:

            Mountain says:
            “The right to know is a negative right, just like most of the rights documented in the Bill of Rights.”
            Which amendment guarantees the Right to Know? Funny, can’t seem to find that one and neither it seems can the labeling proponents. Would be a slam dunk of a case otherwise, eh?

            “For example, a government would violate my right to know by banning companies from labeling their food non-GMO.”
            Actually, that’s a violation of the negative right of compelled speech like the ban of rBST-free labeling. With GMOs though, nobody is even arguing for a ban on voluntary labeling. Maybe we should though with all these hucksters poisoning the food well. I certainly feel it’s consumer deception but we’ve become so complacent in accepting that as standard practice.

            “A company could violate my right to know by providing false or misleading information.”
            And labeling something GMO does just that, thanks.

          • Mountain says:

            Where did I say the right to know is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights? I can’t seem to find that anywhere in my comment, and neither can anyone who has achieved a basic level of reading comprehension. Since you haven’t, let me walk through it slowly for you.

            I wrote:”The right to know is a negative right…” Do you understand the difference between a positive right and a negative right? I can only teach you so much at once. At any rate, the point of the sentence was that it is a negative right.

            The sentence continues: “just like most of the rights documented in the Bill of Rights.” How is the right to know “just like” those other rights? It’s just like them in that it is a negative right. At no point in the sentence did I claim that it was one of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

            So, then, should I take your comment to mean that you have no coherent answer to my argument, and resorted to slaying strawmen instead? Or did you just fail utterly to understand the argument, and mistakenly thought your comment was in some way responsive? Either way, you’re making our side (opposition to mandatory labeling) look bad.

          • VeganGMO says:

            Mountain says:

            “Either way, you’re making our side (opposition to mandatory labeling) look bad.”

            I know I know, I’m a big dummy, thanks for publicly shaming me on that.
            In either case at least you agree mandatory labeling should be opposed… and that, is the salient message here!

        • First Officer says:

          They have been proven as least as safe as any other breeding method and, in many cases, safer, as wit Bt corn and its reduction of mycotoxins.

          http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/08/with-2000-global-studies-confirming-safety-gm-foods-among-most-analyzed-subject-in-science/

        • unethical_vegan says:

          The burden of proof needs to be applied equally. If one is going to argue that single gene transgenics (of known function) need to be tested then hybrids and radiation mutants should also be tested. In fact, one could argue that many conventional crops should be subjected to more testing than transgenics because the potential for deletrious genetic/epigenetic changes is higher. (There is a good evidence that hybridization can induce allergens, for example.)

          • Jerry Friedman says:

            Fortunately or not, hybrids have been tested on the public for a century-or-so. It seems moot to require them to be tested now, but if that satisfies your concerns with hybrids, I support your caution in principle if not in practice.

            It’s OK with me if all foods are accurately labeled and if the GMO industry promotes accurate and informative labeling.

            But GMO testing is important in addition to labeling. Mother Jones just reported a corporate cover-up of estrogenically active plastics–plastic that can trigger breast cancer. Why is our food policy to test on the public first, then if a problem is discovered, cover it up until the media reports it? Such a policy is corporate welfare, not consumer advocacy. The burden must be on the corporations to prove their products safe with sufficient oversight (peer review) to ensure corporations are honest.

          • Ena Valikov says:

            Citation please to the good evidence of hybridization yielding a clinically relevant common allergen, as well as a link to a data base showing alignment between DNA and amino acid sequences of truncated cry proteins and BT, proper ELISA inhibition assays on twenty five sera samples from patients with high titers to allergens with homology to CP4EPSPS and Cry1F, and recall from the market of Mon 810 with a newly expressed known allergen: 50KDa gamma zein.

          • unethical_vegan says:

            http://www.bobsredmill.com/triticale-flour.html

            And…yes…I know my example is ridiculously trivial. That’s my entire point!

          • unethical_vegan says:

            And what about new franken-hybrids?

            For example, I would be a bit miffed if these lovely dark *PURPLE* hybrid tomatoes were taken off the market for further safety testing:

            http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/purple-tomato-debuts-%E2%80%98indigo-rose%E2%80%99

        • VeganGMO says:

          1. Please explain how to prove something safe.
          2. Please explain how one provides “maximum transparency”.

        • Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

          1. It’s not up to the public nor industry, it’s a scientific question and more than enough credible scientific organizations have weighed in. Yes, you will always have scientists that disagree with the consensus, even credible scientists. That’s normal. Although, there aren’t many scientists in the field who do. None of one of the anti-GMO panelists invited to VegExpo are qualified scientists. More importantly, it’s not much of a matter of proving anything. It’s anti-GMO advocates that are establishing litmus tests of provability in a vacuum as if no one has any idea one way or another about the risk concerns. But the scientific community does have plenty of knowledge on agriculture and biology that informs us that inserting genes into crops holds little intrinsic health risk.

          2. In a discussion on the health of biotechnology application, insistence of mandatory labeling gets tacted on as if, safe or not, isn’t it obvious to require it? That doesn’t necessarily follow. I understand the desire to proceed to that topic. The logic is, if something is risky, then it should be labelled as such. But there’s the rub, if it’s not risky, it seems odd to require mandatory labels for everything some people may have a preference to avoid. If genetic engineering was as dangerous a health risk as is often stated, I would be the first to agree that should be banned. Not labeled, banned or regulated for adult markets. Putting aside cultural consumables that carry certain health risk that some adults derive pleasure, burdening consumers to “choose” allegedly poisonous corn over nonpoisonous corn is no choice the government should allow. It’s deceptive that so many vocal anti-GMO advocates who seek mandatory labeling for the sake of consumer choice simultaneously declare how deadly GMOs are.

          If the science and procedures of GMO safety is sound, (which it is), the statement of “Maximum transparency so people can decide for themselves,” is a fancy rephrasing of “teach the controversy.”

  10. Louisa Dell'Amico says:

    Thank you, Jerry.

  11. VeganGMO says:

    If you question the safety of GMO then you are denying the consensus of science. It’s as simple as that.
    http://www.vegangmo.com/?page_id=1091

    Also please note:
    •One particular GMO trait does not indict GM technology as a whole. If you think Roundup (glyphosate) is the most poisonous substance on earth then leave your gripe at the door. Did you know traditionally bred crops can be made glyphosate-resistant as well?
    http://www.capitalpress.com/content/JO-Canola-070512

    •Please think critically. One study, scientist or activist group does not overturn the current scientific consensus based upon a tremendous body of evidence on GMO safety. Extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence. It’s gonna take more than one French scientist torturing rats in a lab to provide that.
    http://www.vegangmo.com/?p=1426

    Your only recourse in order to continue to question the safety of GM is to summon up a conspiracy so absurd it makes 911 Truthers seem reasonable.

    AntiGMO is co-opting veganism and this is just the latest egregious example of that. It’s time to smarten up our movement and make gains for the animals instead of being the butt of jokes by the way of these charlatans.

    http://www.vegangmo.com/?p=1795

    • Jerry Friedman says:

      You are conflating issues. Questioning food safety is never denying the consensus of science. It is always good to question, and mocking people who question chills free speech.

      I think what you mean is that denying GMO safety is denying the consensus of science. That’s fair.

      However the consensus of science, rather scientists, sometimes rely on vivisection to determine GMO safety. I am not assured of GMO safety when GMO food is fed to rats, pigs, lambs, or other victims of vivisection. Further, the consensus of scientists do not have long-term human health studies to base their opinions on. I have consulted with Dr. Alan Gould, a pioneer of GMO corn, and he has not yet produced a long-term human health study. I have not found one on my own searching. This may be because GMO technology is still fairly new. What happens, for example, to a woman who eats GMO, and the GMO DNA passes through to her fetus via blood or to her baby via milk? Where are these studies?

      GMO might very well be safe and I hope it is. Whether it’s safe or not, no one can say it is safe because we do not know. And talking down to people because they question GMO safety is both playing the part of the thought police and very much against free speech.

      • unethical_vegan says:

        The food Jerry Friedman eats might very well be safe and I hope it is. Whether it’s safe or not, no one can say it is safe because we do not know. And talking down to people because they question Jerry Friedman’s food safety is both playing the part of the thought police and very much against free speech.

  12. VeganGMO says:

    BTW James, thanks for highlighting this troublesome episode.

    Hopefully in some future post you will go over the claimed serious problems with GMOs. If there’s something wrong with GMO in particular we would surely like to know!

  13. We’ve been speaking with vegans on the ground in Vancouver and none of them know anything about who’s organizing this thing. If anybody here knows more, please let us know here or on Twitter @Vegan_Chicago. Thanks!

    FYI Dr. Folta generously came out to talk to our Vegan Chicago group about GMOs and it was quite illuminating. We recorded it and posted as a podcast in fact:
    http://www.podcast.veganchicago.com

    • Dylan says:

      Hey I thought Vegan Chicago = VeganGMO = Dave Dandelion = PythagoreanCrank B.B. Cooper

      Or is VeganGMO someone else.

      • Hey Dylan,

        Sorta! Off topic really (please mod James, if you see fit) but in the spirit of full disclosure I will briefly illuminate:

        Vegan Chicago is a group I (Dave Dandelion, here) organize, along with a team of excellent organizers. We have been providing community and support for our local vegan members since 2002. We sometimes host talks with scientific experts for the members of our community. Something which is sorely lacking, obviously.
        http://www.theveganrd.com/2012/02/vegan-diets-critical-thinking-and-9-blogs-you-need-to-read.html

        VeganGMO is a project I started to focus specifically on the intersections of veganism and biotech and fight for the integrity of the movement. We have several vegan activists who contribute.
        http://www.vegangmo.com/?page_id=310

        I also started and administered Vegan Represent forums (that’s where the “Dandelion” handle comes from) with the help of a friendly team of moderators. It since became PlantBasedPeople which is now shuttered.
        http://www.plantbasedpeople.com

        Pythagorean Crank was a project started with a good friend from Vegan Represent. He eventually lost interest and I inherited it, for which it limps along to this day.
        http://pythagoreancrank.com/?page_id=14

        I dunno who B.B. Cooper is though and I never hijacked no aeroplane or wrote no music. :)

  14. Bridget says:

    Hello James,

    As a speaker at VegExpo this year, I’d just like you to know that not all of us are speaking about GMO’s nor do we claim to claim to have the knowledge to do so. My partner Sam Shorkey will be talking about fitness and a plant-based diet, and myself and another colleague Zoe will be doing a food demo and talking about easy ways to transition to a vegan diet. I have no plans to speak about genetically modified food whatsoever.

    The purpose of VegExpo is to create interest in vegan/vegetarian food and to showcase all the amazing businesses and products that make is so easy these days for people to give it a try. There also happens to be a theme of ‘GMO’ for this inaugural event, to create a discussion about what it means, and giving people more info on the topic.

    If you are interested in sharing your ideas surrounding GMOs, perhaps we could get you up there to speak? Let me know.

    That is all.

    Bridget

    • James says:

      Good to know, Bridget. Wouldn’t you agree that this is misleading–see the ad in this link:
      http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2014/04/vegetarian-conference-goes-looney.html

    • VeganGMO says:

      Bridget,

      The goal you state here is in conflict with what they’ve said on Twitter: “the goal of #vegexpo2014 is to educate the masses about dangers of #gmo and support the movement for our future.”
      https://twitter.com/VegExpo/status/455483831760326656

      I believe you are being suckered. Happens to the best of us.

      No offense to Dr. McWilliams but an offer was also made to bring in scientists in the particular field:
      “But if you want an open-minded #GMO FAQ-type talk, we know lots of scientist spkrs”
      https://twitter.com/kjhvm/status/455516600473751552
      If you would like to help facilitate that we would certainly appreciate it!

    • Hi there Bridget, I’m very happy to see that finally someone is reaching out for some dialogue. I’ve been trying to get in touch with VegExpo to inform them that they have shady speakers such as Smith and to see if they would be willing to have actual experts speak. Others have also offered to help them get speakers.

      Unfortunately, they have not yet responded with any answer. When we’ve tried to find out who to speak to, they beat around the bush.

      Perhaps you could inquire further and ask them to speak to us to work something out.

      Kindness,
      Knigel

  15. Taylor says:

    While it is good that the movement for animal liberation be appreciated as intersecting environmental, health, and other issues, there’s the danger of becoming entangled with all sorts of scientifically questionable, faddish New Age myths. I don’t doubt that there are sound political and ecological reasons for opposing corporations like Monsanto, but it doesn’t follow that all GMO technology is evil. We need to keep open minds and follow the science.

    It seems that gluten will soon be right up there in the public mind with GMO. I recently bought some Seventh Generation laundry detergent. On the back of the container, right next to the Leaping Bunny symbol, it says “Gluten Free”. Is it common for people to take a sip of the liquid as they’re doing their laundry? What’s next: “Gluten Free” motor oil?

  16. The vegan “agenda” is seriously tainted by Alex Jones’ type conspiracy theories as well, which really troubles me as a skeptic. I deliberately downplay my diet/philosophy because I work in a scientific capacity and I’m embarrassed by the rhetoric on chemtrails, and anti-vaxx scientific denialism.

    • Mountain says:

      Just remember that there are conspiracy theorists in every movement; it seems to be a trait of the human mind, rather that any particular culture. Liberals had 9/11 truthers, conservatives had birthers, and vegans have anti-GMOers. At least in your own mind, try not to let the beliefs of a few taint your view of the many.

      • GMOs are not the only “conspiracy.” How about vaccines, new world order, chemtrails, illuminati, and homeopathy, to name a few. It’s not a trait of the human mind, it’s a characteristic of people who constantly live in fear and want everyone else to fear the same shit that scares them.

  17. Nalani says:

    I’m concerned about GMO’s, namely in that my dad IS actually allergic to genetically modified soy (he gets a rash, and he doesn’t when he eats soy from elsewhere that is known not to be genetically modified) I’m concerned about what allergies cann arise from that.

    Also, there’s as you mentioned the issue of ownership. GMO’s are patented and heavily controlled by corporations which causes problems for farmers. However – I would worry about what would happen if the genetically modified crops were allowed to reproduce naturally and the genepool would be released. I’m more inclined to trust mutations within a species own genepool than mutations involving genes from an entirely different species – I have no idea what kind of allergies or other health issues that might cause.

    • VeganGMO says:

      Nalani,

      There hasn’t been a single case that I’m aware of where a GMO triggered an immune response. Doesn’t mean there isn’t or never will be but why single out GMO? There’s more evidence that this happens with conventional methods:
      >The case of the poison potato – Boing Boing http://ow.ly/wuMZ8

      In fact we can reduce allergenicity with the precision this technology offers!
      >A New Twist on Transgenes and Allergies « Biology Fortified, Inc. http://ow.ly/wuKO1

      I haven’t been able to find any GMO soy foods, and I’ve actually tried! Can you please tell me what food/brand it is he ate? In fact, if this is true it would be VERY helpful to science and public health. I’d go further to say it’s your duty to report this. Public scientist Dr. Kevin Folta would be a good scientific ally.
      >Illumination: Independent GMO Research Challenge! http://ow.ly/wuSVC

      GMOs aren’t the only seed patented FYI. Read more about that here:
      >A Defense Of Plant And Crop Related Patents « Biology Fortified, Inc. http://ow.ly/wuK9X

      But what do farmers say?
      >Farmers Speak Out | Vegan GMO http://ow.ly/wuNug

      Gene flow between crops and flora also (surprise surprise) not inherent to GE.
      >Those naughty plants! « Biology Fortified, Inc. http://ow.ly/wuO5C

      If this is something you truly fear, I urge you to learn more about it from reputable sources. You’ll notice I referred to the Biology Fortified site many times. They are an independent group of volunteer scientists dedicated to illuminating this issue. Check out their site, it’s a treasure trove of information to nearly an particular topic on this GMO subject.

      I think what’s going on here is that through this issue of GMO people are getting just a peak at a huge and complex subject. Context makes all the difference (as illustrated here by Tim Minchin).
      ?[VIDEO] Tim Minchin – Cont YouTube http://ow.ly/wuQTf

  18. Heather,

    I’m both sorry and heartened that you feel this way. Please check out Vegan Chicago’s website to see some of the work we’re doing to try to combat this unfortunate aspect of our culture. We hope to foster a more rational movement and connect those who might similarly be sulking away lonely and embarrassed…for now, at least locally. We’re out here!

  19. Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

    I agree with James and Kevin that the anti-GMO panel invited to VegExpo is comprised of pseudo-science.

    James is going to get a lot of push-back on this because the mingling of the anti-GMO advocacy and plant-based health faddism runs deep. It’s unsurprising though. Such leanings have always been a part of the vegetarian movement and in some respects is a necessary quality for a group that questions the cultural status quo; a great strength that can become our great flaw.

    But it is still disappointing to vegans like myself who attempt to ground our worldview within the tangible. I seek to demonstrate to others that our choices are not established in ethereal metaphysics when the vegetarian community submerges itself in fear and misinformation.

    When I visited The Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, the premiere school of healthy plant-based cuisine, the book store had stacks of anti-GMO propaganda for sale and no books on the subject that are moored to sound science.

    As a weak defense, vegetarians aren’t the only food-conscious group spooked by GMOs. There’s also the locavores, (and we can nclude followers of Pollan, Philpott, Bittman, Nestle), even prominent figures in the Paleo and Low-Carb crowd reblog the usual anti-GMO narratives and offer words of caution to their followers. The Paleo crowd is less reactive because those diets mean they shouldn’t be consuming current commercial GMOs anyway. Also, they are far less motivated by dietary environmental and social concerns. But GMO fear is less of a unique vegetarian/vegan problem, but more of an issue for food conscious types, or more likely, those who adhere to specious food trends, which is a lot of people.

    It’s often said that anti-GMO fears is an example of science denialism of the political left, a mirror image of the political right’s rejection of climate science. But there’s good evidence that mistrust of science and conspiratorial thinking on biotechnology is across the ideological political spectrum.

    I’m hopeful that James will take on the anti-GMO misinformation a bit more. He has the background in agricultural history, so while not a scientist, he has ample understanding of the realities and risks of farming and the ability to communicate it evenhandedly. He also has a good eye for shifting fact from bunk. It’s a plus that he’s a representative of a vegan viewpoint which helps break this template that vegetarians are all anti-GMO.

    Again, thanks for your attention to the topic James. Sorry about the vitriol and hate mail that will come your way, but hopefully, your skin has been thickened enough by now.

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