Oct 31 2016

The Times Gets it Wrong on GMOs

Bt BringalIt is unfortunate that so many journalists begin with a narrative and then back fill the facts and points necessary to tell their narrative. I have encountered this many times when being interviewed for an article or documentary – more often than not the reporter or producer is simply hunting for quotes to plug into a story they have already written. I am not giving them information so much as filling a role, which could be that of expert or of token skeptic.

We are all familiar with this phenomenon when reading about political topics in outlets that have a clear editorial policy. If the policy is clear, we don’t even expect objectivity. When reading about non-political topics, however, I do think there is a general expectation of objectivity, but the motivated reasoning can be just as pronounced.

A recent New York Times article, in my opinion, is a good example of what happens when a journalist writes about a complex and contentious topic and allows their narrative to overtake the facts. The article, Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops, declares the narrative in the headline (yes, I know journalists don’t write their own headlines, but they still may accurately reflect the tone of the article, as in this case).

The article begins with a false premise that sets up the narrative:

The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Wrong. This is a very common anti-GMO trope. Genetic modification is a tool, and is not inherently tied in any way to the two currently most common applications, herbicide resistance and pest resistance. Anti-GMO propaganda, however, frequently conflates the technology with these specific applications, because these particular traits carry no direct benefit for the consumer, and are tied to scary chemicals.

The promise of genetic modification, rather, is that it provides a tool for agricultural scientists to make more rapid and more specific changes to crop cultivars. The technology has completely fulfilled that promise. The technology works, it is safe with no demonstrable inherent risks beyond any other method of crop development.

The claim that the current applications of GM technology has not increased crop yield is also a red herring. None of the current applications were designed to increase yield. In fact, what herbicide resistant and pesticide producing GMOs are really for is increasing profits and convenience for farmers. Farmers are the customers of seed companies. They buy the seeds. Apparently the big seed companies decided that they needed to begin with the most profitable GM applications aimed at farmers.

Once the author, Danny Hakim, sets up his false premise, then he cherry picks data to demonstrate his preferred narrative. He throws in some token skepticism from the industry, knowing that most readers will just dismiss any comments from Monsanto, and he can still claim that his article was “balanced.”

The major data Hakim uses to support his narrative is an overall comparison of crop yields between Europe, that generally does not use GMOs, and North America, that has widely adopted GMOs in the last two decades. In both cases crop yields have continued to increase at a steady rate, without any discernible difference  between the two.

This is their own comparison using data from the UN. This is not a peer-reviewed study. Hakim does not even mention the 2014 meta-analysis published in PLOS One that concluded:

On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.

A 2015 review found:

This annual updated analysis shows that there continues to be very significant net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $20.5 billion in 2013 and $133.4 billion for the 18 years period (in nominal terms). These economic gains have been divided roughly 50% each to farmers in developed and developing countries. About 70% of the gains have derived from yield and production gains with the remaining 30% coming from cost savings. The technology have also made important contributions to increasing global production levels of the 4 main crops, having added 138 million tonnes and 273 million tonnes respectively, to the global production of soybeans and maize since the introduction of the technology in the mid 1990s.

Hakim did not even consider developing countries, where the benefit has arguably been the greatest. The increase in yield is really from a decrease in loss, mainly from pests.

Any meaningful analysis of GM technology has to consider each application unto itself. Further, the GM trait is only part of the picture – you also have to consider how it is being applied. For Bt trait crops, where a natural insecticide is produced by the plants, there is no question that this has reduced overall insecticide use, decreased crop loss due to pests, and increased profits and crop predictability for farmers. This particular application is a clear win.

Hakim reproduces a common anti-GMO trope to combine Bt crops with herbicide resistant crops – two completely different applications. Herbicide resistance, most notably glyphosate resistance, has been more complicated in its application. Farmers often love this trait because they can just spray their crops to reduce weeds. It is a huge convenience. There is also a benefit in that it can reduce tilling, which is bad for the soil and releases CO2 into the atmosphere.

However, this has clearly led to an increase in glyphosate usage. That was actually the point of the trait. The deception comes from combining herbicide resistant traits with pest resistant traits and then saying that overall pesticide (herbicide plus insecticide) use has not decreased. This is pointless, however. The fact that glyphosate use has increased takes nothing away from the fact that insecticide use has decreased. They are completely separate applications of GM technology.

Further, Hakim fails to point out that while glyphosate use has increased, it has replaced applications of much more toxic herbicides. If you measure only tons of herbicide you miss the point that overall herbicide toxicity has dramatically decreased, because glyphosate (despite claims of anti-GMO activists) is a very benign chemical.

As a minor point, but this demonstrates Hakim’s narrative, he emphasizes that Monsanto and other companies make the seeds that are paired with the chemicals they also make. But – Monsanto the chemical company is actually a different entity from Monsanto the seed company. Further, the patent has run out on glyphosate, and most of it is made by other companies, not Monsanto.

In any case, herbicide resistance is also a complicated example because how the trait is used by farmers is extremely important. Farming practice is perhaps a much larger issue than the trait itself when assessing outcome.

The Promise of Technology

I also reject the entire deeper premise of the article, that we should judge a technology by its current and early applications. This approach is fraught with bias and misdirection. Every new technology is likely to be oversold and overhyped by its major producers. The promises are also likely to take much longer to manifest than initial expectations. There are also going to be unforeseen downsides and hurdles.

All of that is true of most new technologies. It comes with the territory. This also creates the opportunity for anyone who wants to make a case against the new technology to argue that it has failed to deliver on its promises.

I was an early adopter of personal computers. I tried to use them and try them out for new applications. In the 1980s, for many of the applications I tried, they were more trouble than they were worth. They had not fulfilled their promise. It took another 10 to 20 years before they really came into their own for personal use. It also would have been foolish to judge computer technology based upon how a few software applications were working out.

One might have argued (and many people did) even into the 1990s that computers did not improve productivity. They did not reduce use of paper (remember that one – the paperless office). Even today, the use of an electronic medical record (EMR) in most practices actually reduces physician productivity. EMRs have definitely not fulfilled their promise.

It is legitimate to analyze the impact of a new technology, and examine how it is being implemented. The notion, however, that early hype is not being fulfilled is just pointless. That is not a meaningful analysis, because it is almost universally true of all technologies. We have not seen the promise of the human genome project – where are all the cured diseases?

Technology is usually more complicated than that. Much depends upon how it is developed and implemented – on the specific applications.

Saying that GM technology has not fulfilled its promise is a ridiculous anti-GMO trope. In this case it is also demonstrably wrong.

The actual promise of the technology is to increase the speed and specificity of developing new cultivars, and it has delivered on that promise.

How we implement this technology is an entirely separate question, as separate as hardware and software. In terms of each application, there are some clear wins, like Bt crops, and some more ambiguous applications, like herbicide resistance.

But there are also many other applications that people generally don’t talk about, which promise to increase nutritional content, remove toxins, prolong shelf life (and thereby reduce food waste), and resist blight.

There are also many promising applications that might actually directly increase yield, such as improved photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation.

In my opinion Hakim’s article in the Times was a hack piece with a biased narrative that is nothing more than a rehash of tired anti-GMO tropes that have already been widely deconstructed. He is entering this conversation late, and isn’t up to speed.

62 responses so far

62 Responses to “The Times Gets it Wrong on GMOs”

  1. TsuDhoNimhon 31 Oct 2016 at 8:48 am

    By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers

    You can use a weedkiller sprayer instead of a plow … yes, more glyphosate, but he’s ignoring that less plowing means less erosion and topsoil loss. It’s as if the guy wasn’t an aggy journailist or something.

  2. entranceon 31 Oct 2016 at 9:44 am

    Since September 2016 Monsanto belongs to the German (Europe) company Bayer. And on October 2016 the EU (European Union) and Canada signed CETA. I really believe, that we will soon (within the next 8 years) have GM food in all EU countries and in all our superstore shelfes.

    By the way, since 1998 it is allowed to grow genetically modified corn in the EU. Spain is the EU’s top grower of GMOs.

    There are already a lot of countries all over the world, where you can find genetically modified foods. They wouldn’t take it, if they wouldn’t earn more money with it. Thus, you can suppose, that GM foods indeed produces a successfuller crop.

    The problem is, that there are already too many people on Earth, and the population is still growing: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3a/Human_population_growth_from_1800_to_2000.png From day to day we need more food. Unfortunately also gene manipulation has its limits. What’s next? “Soylent Green”?

    I believe, our goal should be, to reduce the world population. Then it would be unneccessary to discuss GMOs. And some other problems would be automatically solved, too. I am ready to help.

  3. FosterBoondoggleon 31 Oct 2016 at 10:35 am

    Totally agree with this rebuttal. The PC analogy had also occurred to me after my daughter emailed me a link to the story and I was thinking of what to say.

    There’s another large error smack dab in the center of the Hakim piece, which I’ve come to think of as the “dumb farmers” fallacy. Namely, the entire argument rests on the unstated assumption that farmers are too stupid to figure out whether these technologies improve their lives and livelihoods. It’s as though the 90+% uptake of these tools only happened because the farmers are dupes, were bamboozled by Monsanto et. al., and still can’t seem to understand that if only they adopted French practices they could achieve the same results with the same labor and inputs and without (horrors) genetic engineering.

    So much of this stuff gets written by people whose only interaction with agriculture happens at 70mph on the interstate.

  4. Lane Simonianon 31 Oct 2016 at 11:44 am

    The mistake both sides make is to assume that the genetic modification of organisms is inherently good or inherently evil.

    The increased use and ability to use glyphosate formulations is an example of a negative effect of GMO’s. It is not the glyphosate that is harmful, it is the adjuvants–especially polyethoxylated tallow amines. The latter increases the production of peroxynitrite which damages intestines (“leaky gut”).

    Int J Toxicol. 2014 Jan-Feb;33(1):29-38. doi: 10.1177/1091581813517906. Epub 2014 Jan 16.
    Glyphosate commercial formulation causes cytotoxicity, oxidative effects, and apoptosis on human cells: differences with its active ingredient.
    Chaufan G1, Coalova I, Ríos de Molina Mdel C.
    Author information
    Abstract
    In the present study, the effects on oxidative balance and cellular end points of glyphosate, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), and a glyphosate formulation (G formulation) were examined in HepG2 cell line, at dilution levels far below agricultural recommendations. Our results show that G formulation had toxic effects while no effects were found with acid glyphosate and AMPA treatments. Glyphosate formulation exposure produced an increase in reactive oxygen species, nitrotyrosine formation, superoxide dismutase activity, and glutathione (GSH) levels, while no effects were observed for catalase and GSH-S-transferase activities. Also, G formulation triggered caspase 3/7 activation and hence induced apoptosis pathway in this cell line. Aminomethylphosphonic acid exposure produced an increase in GSH levels while no differences were observed in other antioxidant parameters. No effects were observed when the cells were exposed to acid glyphosate. These results confirm that G formulations have adjuvants working together with the active ingredient and causing toxic effects that are not seen with acid glyphosate.

    The increased incidence of celiac disease is likely in part due to the increased use of Roundup on wheat. Wheat is a non-GMO crop but altering corn and soy to increase Roundup applications is not likely a good idea.

    But the problem does not end there: peroxynitrite is linked to a variety of other diseases including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (celiac disease increases its risk) and Alzheimer’s disease.

    “Expression of nitric oxide synthase isoforms and nitrotyrosine immunoreactivity by B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas and multiple myeloma”

    “Widespread Peroxynitrite-Mediated Damage in Alzheimer’s Disease”

    The great comedic actor Gene Wilder recently died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe a coincidence, but just as likely not a coincidence.

    It might be time to start looking at the health effects of adjuvants in glyphosate formulations of Roundup and removing them as necessary.

  5. BBBlueon 31 Oct 2016 at 11:51 am

    Good companion post to this one by Andrew Kniss:

    http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2016/10/the-tiresome-discussion-of-initial-gmo-expectations/

  6. BBBlueon 31 Oct 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Lane-

    Seriously, that tired old chestnut exposing naked cells to adjuvants? You know, the experiment that would yield the same results if one used dish soap. Lane, repeat after me: “There is no evidence that the residues of commercial glyphosate formulations actually found on food cause harm.” Glyphosate is one of the most benign herbicides in use and reducing its use will increase risk of harm, not decrease it, because more toxic alternatives will be used.

  7. SteveAon 31 Oct 2016 at 12:05 pm

    FosterBoondoggle: “There’s another large error smack dab in the center of the Hakim piece, which I’ve come to think of as the “dumb farmers” fallacy.”

    Absolutely. Most of these commentators seem to regard farmers as slack-jawed yokels, without realising that it’s themselves who are speaking from ignorance.

    But hey, how hard can it be? You stick a seed in the ground, it grows, you cut it down and eat it. Any fool can do that, surely…

  8. Steven Novellaon 31 Oct 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Lane – you are inappropriately extrapolating from preliminary basic science. That is a no-no.

    There is no evidence that glyphosate has any health effects on consumers. You are making a massive leap to link it to celiac disease.

  9. Lane Simonianon 31 Oct 2016 at 1:15 pm

    BBBlue and Steve. To be clear, I did not say that there was any evidence that glyphosate poses any health threat. I said there is some evidence that adjuvants added to Roundup formulations are potentially dangerous to human health. More studies are needed to determine if these adjuvants should be removed from Roundup.

  10. SFinksteron 31 Oct 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Lane ‘knows’ he’s right – he feels it in his (leaky) gut.

  11. Banzai Otison 31 Oct 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Lane,

    It seems like you’re making an awful lot of assumptions – including the leap from a cell study to human health that others mentioned.

    Is there any good evidence that glyphosate is “likely” leading to increased rates of Celiac?
    Or, for that matter, is there even evidence that Celiac rates are actually increasing in the first place?

    Also, you said that Gene Wilder’s death was “just as likely not a coincidence” – meaning 50% chance his disease was caused by glyphosate. How on earth can you come to a conclusion like that?

  12. BBBlueon 31 Oct 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Lane-

    To be clear, I did not say that there was any evidence that glyphosate poses any health threat.

    No, you said glyphosate formulations represent a negative effect and that adjuvants in glyphosate formulations are harmful; a distinction without a difference. And then in support of your claim that adjuvants are harmful, you cite an effect that is not clinically significant in the context of humans consuming treated food. You have not cited any evidence which shows that humans are exposed to any peroxynitrite at all from herbicide-treated GMOs, let alone amounts that are greater than no-effect levels.

  13. TactfulCactuson 31 Oct 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Did you notice that the article appears to be the first in a series of similar articles? The description reads:
    “Uncertain Harvest

    Articles in this series examine the globe-spanning relationship of chemical companies, academics and regulators, and the powerful toxins and genetically modified seeds used to grow food in many parts of the world.”

    The use of the phrase “powerful toxins” is pretty Food-Babe-esque, as was this turn on pesticides in the article:

    “Pesticides are toxic by design — weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany — and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer.”

    Looks like we have more of this to look forward to from NYT.

  14. BBBlueon 31 Oct 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Lane- Correction: Should have said “polyethoxylated tallow amines”, not “peroxynitrite”. In other words, you have offered no evidence to show that humans are actually exposed to polyethoxylated tallow amines in amounts that may cause harm, as usual, you conflate hazard with risk.

  15. Lane Simonianon 31 Oct 2016 at 3:18 pm

    It is a distinction with a significance: glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid (a breakdown product of glyphosate) are different chemicals than polyethoxylated tallow amine. Glyphosate, itself, may not be harmful to human health but some of the adjuvants in glyphosate formulations may be. That is a very important distinction.

    What almost everyone agrees on is that rates of celiac disease have increased in the United States (and in some parts of Europe). No one agrees on the reasons why.

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/02/celiac-disease-becoming-more-common/?_r=0

    There is a link between polyethoxylated tallow amines and peroxynitrite and between peroxynitrite and celiac disease (and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Alzheimer’s disease]

    “To further investigate the mechanism of cytotoxicity the group sought to measure reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. They found that G formulation increased ROS production in HepG2 cells, but that glyphosate and AMPA did not. To identify whether nitrosative stress was involved the researchers measured peroxynitrite formation and found that G formulation resulted in a significant increase in nitrated proteins. Neither glyphosate or AMPA resulted in an increase in peroxynitrite formation. Finally the group showed that G formulation treatment lead to an increase in caspase 6/7 [caspase 3] activity, while glyphosate and AMPA treatment did not.”

    “Presence of inducible nitric oxide synthase, nitrotyrosine, CD68, and CD14 in the small intestine in celiac disease.”

    I am not in a position here nor is anyone else to determine if the levels of some of the adjuvants in glyphosate are high enough to cause this damage in humans. It may be just coincidence that the dramatic rise in celiac disease in recent decades correlates to the widespread use of Roundup. I am just suggesting (not proving) a possible link.

  16. praktikon 31 Oct 2016 at 3:20 pm

    entrance – I really liked your post and thanks for giving us some nuance in understanding EU ag practises.

    Just on this though:

    “I believe, our goal should be, to reduce the world population. Then it would be unneccessary to discuss GMOs. And some other problems would be automatically solved, too. I am ready to help.”

    Here I think you are just being a bit too narrow in all the potential applications of GMOs – let’s imagine that we reduced the world population by the necessary amount, could there be a pest affecting a crop like say – the orange – that could have a GE solution so a whole industry can still keep functioning?

    Citrus greening has *prospective* solutions that involve GE techniques but there is similar work happening with Cassava, Banana and in farmers fields in Hawaii the rainbow papaya was what saved a whole industry, and acres of verdant forest from certain destruction (the solution prior to a GE papaya was to slash and burn more forest and outrun the pest).

    Beyond this there are fortification applications – and were we to have more efficient crops? We could turn more land to nature or use it for other things entirely. So even with a reduced population its always a good thing to grow more with less.

    And even if we managed to reduce the population, maybe it would be reduced much further than we wanted since we have so much heat increase baked into the next few centuries there will certainly be a need for heat-resistant cultivars unless we want the reductions to be a bit drastic!

  17. Steven Novellaon 31 Oct 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Lane – that study was from 1997. I could find no follow up in the published literature. That means it led nowhere.

    To those familiar with medical science, we recognize what a thing and speculative line of evidence that is, to the point that the probability of there actually being a causal link is tiny indeed. At most this might have justified some follow up research, but nothing else, and it apparently led to nothing useful.

    Further, regardless of putative mechanism, there is no correlation between Roundup and celiac. Just because both were increase in the last 20 that means next to nothing. There are millions of things that were increasing in the last 20 years.

    The bottom line is that there is nothing here but an outdated improbable chain of speculation that does not rise to the level that it deserves any concern or public attention. This is purely at the level where scientists involved in this very narrow area of research might find it interesting, but that’s it.

  18. DrNickon 31 Oct 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Lane is a classic concern troll. His very first sentence sets up a straw man of false equivalence:

    “The mistake both sides make is to assume that the genetic modification of organisms is inherently good or inherently evil.”

    Where in Dr. Novella’s piece does he ever say anything about genetic modification being inherently good? His point, quite clearly made, is that genetic modification is merely a useful tool, and like any tool, has significant potential when used appropriately. I don’t know a single skeptic who believes that genetic modification is inherently good. As Dr. Novella has argued repeatedly, each and every new GMO cultivar should be evaluated on its own merits.

  19. praktikon 31 Oct 2016 at 3:56 pm

    There’s a particular troll of Kevin Folta, goes by “beachvetlbc”who follows just such a chain to theorize that there’s an epidemic of kidney stones in animals in the wild.

    Its a similar chain of leaps between single-studies and into broad conclusions not supported by those data points.

    Check it out here with some questions about her methods and conclusions in the comments that are a hoot to read – you may notice how Beach Vet is unable to really “grok” the questions and never really tangles with their substance.

    http://beachvetlbc.blogspot.ca/2014/04/stubborn-stones.html

  20. Lane Simonianon 31 Oct 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Time is not an indication of relevance. I can add several studies after 2000 indicating that nitro-oxidative stress plays a role in Celiac disease. That neither adds to nor subtracts from the argument.

    I am afraid some skeptics are working so hard to defend genetic modifications from critiques coming from all corners, that it is difficult for them to acknowledge that some modifications may do harm. I have no problem with genetic modifications as long as they are safe.

    If there is a putative link between adjuvants in Roundup and peroxynitrite formation and from there to the etiology of several disease that is information that should be pursued. If at the end of that investigation no link is found I have no problem with that. But to cut off such an investigation before it almost starts–that is not good public health policy.

  21. BillyJoe7on 31 Oct 2016 at 4:39 pm

    entrance,

    “I believe, our goal should be, to reduce the world population…I am ready to help”

    Be careful what you wish for. 😉

  22. steve12on 31 Oct 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Lane:

    “I am afraid some skeptics are working so hard to defend genetic modifications from critiques coming from all corners, that it is difficult for them to acknowledge that some modifications may do harm. ”

    I think the problem is that there’s no data backing up what you’re saying. Leaping to explanations about motives, etc, seems a little premature when you have no data showing that directly modifying genes is fundamentally more dangerous than other breeding techniques.

    Instead of data, you’ve strung together findings that on the surface make sense. That’s not data. A lot of things make sense at some level – the vast majority of them are not true.

    As for testing your ideas, well, sure. But if I had to give $ to test the hypotheses of a trained scientist in the field vs. a hobbyist whose made the (frequently made) lay mistakes of over-extrapolating / misapplying basic science findings, I’m going with the former.

    You can always try and recruit your own scientists / raise your own money. But the fact that those very same people don’t think your ideas are likely to bear fruit should give you some reason to reflect on those ideas, right?

    Either way, we’re way premature to say that the issue is some psychological issue on our part…

  23. steve12on 31 Oct 2016 at 5:13 pm

    “…when you have no data showing that directly modifying genes is fundamentally more dangerous than other breeding techniques.”

    I meant to add to this other claims that you’ve made that are not tested. There are several.

  24. CowCookieon 31 Oct 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Steve’s scientific analysis is entirely correct, as is his assessment of the potential of GM crops. But it’s not entirely fair to write off the claims about yields and herbicide and pesticide resistance as an “anti-GMO trope” since many of the big companies have been making this same argument.

    All of the big four ag companies have made this claim at one point or another. ADM and Cargill both have sections on their websites saying GMOs are a vital part of feeding a growing population. If we’re looking at seed companies, Monsanto and Syngenta both have sections on their websites making this argument. This is an extremely common talking point in the food industry even if it’s a different biotechnology than GMOs. Elanco, which does veterinary pharmaceuticals, has a whole campaign organized around feeding 9 billion people by 2050.

    The thing to understand is that the big ag companies have three stakeholders to address:
    — They want to sell inputs (seeds, fertilizer and the like) to farmers and ensure those farmers are producing sufficient amounts of the kind of crops food manufacturers want to buy.
    — They want to sell crops to food manufacturers who will go on to produce finished goods for consumers.
    — They want to ensure consumers are willing to buy food manufacturers’ products because that ensures steady demand for the raw ingredients.

    So companies adjust their message depending on the audience they’re talking to:
    — For farmers, they tout convenience and margins.
    — For food manufacturers, they tout price, consumer demand, etc.
    — For consumers, they tout safety, health benefits, sustainability, etc.

    This leads to a both/and approach when these companies discuss GMOs. Yes, they talk to farmers about convenience and yields. Yes, the initial GM traits are primarily aimed at serving farmers. But big ag companies are nonetheless still trying to persuade consumers by talking about the part GMOs will play in feeding a growing population. We see it in their corporate communications.

    Don’t get me wrong: I agree that GM crops offer many more opportunities than just herbicide and pesticide resistance. I actually work for a big ag company. But to a certain extent, the companies’ own messaging invites this kind of comparison. I don’t know that there’s any way around that. Yield increases are probably the easiest hypothetical for the average person to understand, and GMO critics would attack biotechnology regardless of what the companies claimed.

  25. a_haworthrobertson 31 Oct 2016 at 10:36 pm

    I’m flagging your post HERE (I’ve not read the New York Times article but I do think there is a lot of scare-mongering about GM going on – especially in Europe):
    http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2016/10/false-promise-o.html#comments

  26. BillyJoe7on 31 Oct 2016 at 10:57 pm

    SN: “Monsanto the chemical company is actually a different entity from Monsanto the seed company”

    Just a question or three…
    Do you mean that they are totally different companies, owned and run by different people with no shared financial interests? If so, how did this come about? Did Monsanto sell off part of its business to another company but agree to letting that company retain the name?

  27. SuperMarioGameron 31 Oct 2016 at 11:14 pm

    @Steven Novella: What is a little crybaby like you doing posting blogs? Shouldn’t you do something more productive? I don’t know, like staying in your room and playing with your toys? Does mommy need to pamper you again?

  28. BillyJoe7on 01 Nov 2016 at 12:40 am

    SN: I know you don’t do this often but I think the above poster needs to be “moderated”.

  29. SuperMarioGameron 01 Nov 2016 at 1:36 am

    @Steven Novella: If you dare moderate me, then I will throw a bunch of brains in your face! That is what you get since you are such a brain bitch! You study the brain and you are a bitch. Therefore, that makes you a brain bitch worthy of brains being thrown in your face.

  30. lagaya1on 01 Nov 2016 at 2:04 am

    Well, someone here certainly needs their brain examined. I don’t think it’s Steve, though.

  31. SuperMarioGameron 01 Nov 2016 at 3:47 am

    @lagaya1: There is nothing wrong with my brain at all. I am just your average internet troll who is 28 years old.

  32. Kabboron 01 Nov 2016 at 8:36 am

    The standard for trolls on this site is to present incorrect opinions about the state of science. Do your research and come back with something more fitting the forum.

  33. MaryMon 01 Nov 2016 at 9:00 am

    So now for France (the compared country). Besides being only one tiny number of the countries in the EU where pesticide (supposedly) dropped–they have terrible problems because of their monocultures. Wine grapes are doused with fungicide. http://modernfarmer.com/2013/05/wine-with-a-side-of-pesticide/ That’s France’s own data.

    But besides that, Andrew Kniss also got this paper on French pesticide data: https://twitter.com/WyoWeeds/status/793308127550509056

    The article is based on a foundation of sand. It’s very unfortunate it made it past the editors. NYT has done some quality coverage of this issue in the past (Amy Harmon’s work).

  34. MaryMon 01 Nov 2016 at 9:00 am

    Oops, my prior comment got stuck in moderation hell–that’s why the second one looks like a continuation. Sorry.

  35. BBBlueon 01 Nov 2016 at 11:52 am

    Lane-

    Glyphosate, itself, may not be harmful to human health but some of the adjuvants in glyphosate formulations may be. That is a very important distinction.

    My point is that since glyphosate is always applied with adjuvants, and those adjuvants usually include POEA, as a practical matter, that distinction doesn’t mean much, especially since you have not even established the fact that POEA survives environmental degradation and persists in the foods we eat.

  36. Lane Simonianon 01 Nov 2016 at 1:24 pm

    BBBlue, I see your point now.

    I had not seen this development until this morning:

    July 11, 2016

    EU agrees ban on glyphosate co-formulant

    “Member states yesterday (11 July) backed a proposal by the European Commission to put limits on the use of the weed-killer glyphosate in the 28-nation bloc, including a ban on one co-formulant called POE-tallowamine, EurActiv.com has learned.

    National representatives sitting on the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, supported with a qualified majority the Commission-backed proposal, an EU spokesperson told EurActiv.com.

    Conditions include banning POE-tallowamine, a co-formulant, from all glyphosate-based herbicides, including Monsanto’s Roundup.”

    Now many here would likely see this as a very premature decision based on very limited data (some of which the decision was based on is listed below).

    “The hypothesis of a possible synergistic toxicity between glyphosate and tallowamine co-formulant could not be verified. Dose additivity may be expected, at least regarding the irritation potential of the mixture to eyes and possibly mucosal tissues as both compounds share these irritation properties. Considering the low oral toxicity of glyphosate after single or repeated administrations, a likely explanation for the poisoning occurrences observed in humans is that it is mostly driven by the POE-tallowamine component of the formulation.

    The genotoxicity, long-term toxicity and carcinogenicity, reproductive/developmental toxicity and endocrine disrupting potential of POE-tallowamine should be further clarified. There is no information regarding the residues in plants and livestock. Therefore, the available data are insufficient to perform a risk assessment in the area of human and animal health for the co-formulant POE-tallowamine.”

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4303/epdf

    Insufficent evidence means just that–insufficient. It does not mean that polyethoxylated tallow amines are proven to be safe. The preliminary evidence suggests but does not prove that the adjuvant poses some health dangers, at the very least to those applying the formulation. So in my opinion, the European Commission made the right decision.

  37. Teaseron 01 Nov 2016 at 2:52 pm

    What about these scientists?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-gillam/iarc-scientists-defend-gl_b_12720306.html

    It’s all a bit overwhelming for the members of the IARC working group, who are not accustomed to assaults on their expertise. After all, these scientists that assembled for the glyphosate review were among the elite, routinely seen as independent experts, pulled from top institutions around the world. Frank Le Curieux, senior scientific officer at the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki, Finland, and an expert in toxicology, was part of the team. So was French scientist Isabelle Baldi, who holds a Ph.D in epidemiology with a research specialty in environmental toxicology, and works as assistant professor in occupational epidemiology and public health at Bordeaux University. Experts also came from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The Netherlands, and Nicaragua. Several came from the United States, including Matthew Martin, a biologist with the EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology who received awards for his work with toxicity data. Aaron Blair, a scientist emeritus at the National Cancer Institute, served as chairman of the IARC team. Blair has specialty knowledge in research that focused on evaluating cancer and other disease risks associated with agricultural exposures, as well as chemicals in the workplace and the general environment. He has received numerous awards over his career and has served on many national and international scientific review groups, including for the EPA. He has also authored more than 450 publications on occupational and environmental causes of cancer.

    The fact that Monsanto and the agrichemical industry are coming after them has left them stunned. IARC issued a statement last week saying some also felt “intimidated” by the industry actions.

  38. praktikon 01 Nov 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Interested to know Teaser what your opinion about the activist role Portier played on IARC?

    https://risk-monger.com/2016/04/13/iarcs-unprofessional-and-unethical-behaviour-time-to-retract-their-glyphosate-monograph/

    “Let’s start with a blog I had published last year in reaction to the IARC glyphosate publication. It showed that:
    *Christopher Portier was employed by the anti-pesticide American NGO, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
    *In 2014 Portier chaired the IARC expert advisory committee on priorities for the coming years (including glyphosate). IARC did not declare his employment with the activist NGO EDF.
    *In 2015, Portier served as the only external representative on the IARC glyphosate team with the role of technical adviser, even though he was working for an anti-pesticides NGO, had published many articles against Monsanto and was not even a toxicologist.
    *The IARC study rejected thousands of documents on glyphosate that had industry involvement and based their decision on carcinogenicity on the basis of eight studies (rejecting a further six because they did not like their conclusions).”

    Maybe this explains why they are an outlier on Roundup:

    https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2016/10/13/australian-chemical-agency-joins-epa-canada-europe-rejecting-iarcs-glyphosate-cancer-claim/

    http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/09/17/494301343/epa-weighs-in-on-glyphosate-says-it-doesnt-cause-cancer?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=health&utm_medium=social&utm_term=nprnews

  39. praktikon 01 Nov 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Oh I should have known Teaser – you got duped, just like the HuffPoo did, by the activist group USRTK – the HuffPoo has been an empty vessel for them and the Organic Consumer Organization, essentially publishing them unfiltered as if they were conveying accurate information.

    It would be akin to the NYT allowing for creation scientists to comment on the most recent fossil discoveries, and just hand over column inches to them as if they had the best view of the relevant science.

    More on USRTK here – who are following a pretty odious and disturbing playbook:

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/09/gm-opponents-are-science-deniers

    http://www.marklynas.org/2016/08/anti-gmo-group-usrtk-attacks-uc-davis-scientists-refusing-answer-questions-anti-vaccination-links/

    http://welovegv.blogspot.ca/2016/03/the-organic-industry-has-employed.html

  40. Lane Simonianon 01 Nov 2016 at 9:25 pm

    From the Huffington Post article posted by Teaser:

    “The team was not charged with doing new research, but rather with reviewing research already conducted, trying to determine how the various findings added up. The members analyzed older research as well as more recent studies, weighed the methods used, the consistency of results and the levels of adherence to research standards. There were numerous animal studies to pore over, but fewer looking at glyphosate connections to health problems in humans. The evidence with respect to cancer in humans came from studies of exposures, mostly in agricultural settings. The group determined that the best research showed a distinct association between non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and glyphosate. The team also noted that there were ties linking glyphosate to multiple myeloma, but the evidence for that disease was not as strong as the evidence tying glyphosate to NHL, the group determined.”

    From the studies that I posted above:

    “Expression of nitric oxide synthase isoforms and nitrotyrosine immunoreactivity by B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas and multiple myeloma.”

    “Glyphosate formulation exposure produced an increase in reactive oxygen species, nitrotyrosine formation,superoxide dismutase activity, and glutathione (GSH) levels…”

    People can believe this a grand conspiracy against the producers of Roundup based on terrible science, but the truth may well verge on the opposite.

  41. praktikon 02 Nov 2016 at 12:03 am

    That wasn’t an “article”, it was activist misinformation from a committed partisan on the issues masquerading as news.

    The narrative they spin on the reaction to IARC is them attempting to poison the well on any negative reaction to the one outlier position they cherry pick in the IARC monograph. No acknowledgement of how the monograph was corrupted in process by another activist, no recognition the IARC monograph is not really a cause for concern even were it not flawed, no situating the IARC monograph against all the other regulatory and scientific bodies that have weighed in and found it even less risky than IARC did, which is to say not much.

    The HuffPoo was an empty vessel for activist propaganda.

  42. praktikon 02 Nov 2016 at 12:08 am

    Lane – give this a blog a try and endeavour to diversify your sources. You are being mislead by luddite propagandandists who want to freeze farming to the techniques of 1957 and abhor any improvement that comes through technology.

    https://thoughtscapism.com/2016/09/07/2-3-glyphosate-and-health-effects-a-z/#more-28191

    I worry that you are helping spread more fear about something that people need not worry about. So many thousands die every year from burning coal, for instance.

    Why not worry about that?

  43. BBBlueon 02 Nov 2016 at 1:02 am

    Lane-

    Insufficent evidence means just that–insufficient. It does not mean that polyethoxylated tallow amines are proven to be safe.

    I’ll ignore the flawed logic that suggests something can be proven safe, and instead focus on the fact that you haven’t established the existence of POEA due to glyphosate application on food. How do you square your claims with such a profound lack of evidence?

  44. rskuraton 02 Nov 2016 at 1:46 am

    “unfortunate that so many journalists begin with a narrative and then back fill the facts”

    Unfortunate isn’t the word I would use – it’s unethical, immoral, and a number of phrases that start with the letter “F” – I stopped reading the Times years ago, they never get anything right, it’s hopeless.

    It might be instructive to look into Hakim’s background. IARC has been infiltrated by people with clear & documented ties to anti-biotech pressure groups, and the NYT’s clearly biased on other topics. It could be more a case of a freelancer pitching a slanted story to clueless editors than editorial bias per se.

  45. BillyJoe7on 02 Nov 2016 at 5:47 am

    “one would use these on all roofs except north facing ones”

    …in the northern hemisphere.
    Down here you’d be an idiot. 😉

  46. Kabboron 02 Nov 2016 at 8:13 am

    The above comment appears to apply to the post Tesla’s Solar Shingles.

  47. Lane Simonianon 02 Nov 2016 at 11:13 am

    Glyphosate residue has been found on food, but to the best of my knowledge no tests have been done to determine levels of polyethoxylated tallow amines. So at this point we are left with assumptions.

    “In coming to conclusions from our own findings, it has to be acknowledged
    that the formulas of glyphosate applied in the fields are always a mixture.
    Especially additives such as Polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA) are a matter
    of concern: These tallow amines are supposed to be much more toxic than
    glyphosate alone (see below). POEA are added to many mixtures of glyphosate
    to enhance the efficacy of the herbicide. It can be added in concentrations of
    up to 20 percent and more (see Then, 2011). Consequently, the mixtures
    applied in the fields have a much higher toxicity than glyphosate alone. It has
    to be assumed that a high level of residues from glyphosate is also an
    indication of high dosages of toxic additives such as tallow amines being
    applied in the fields.”

    https://www.testbiotech.org/sites/default/files/TBT_Background_Glyphosate_Argentina_0.pdf

    Without the tests, one would have to show that polyethoxylated tallow amine is degraded and all that is left is the glyphosate. The only hint as to whether this occurs that I can find involves slow degradation in soils.

    “POEA was also detected on soil samples collected between February and early March from corn and soybean fields from ten different sites in five other states (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi). This is the first study to characterize the adsorption of POEA to soil, the potential widespread occurrence of POEA on agricultural soils, and the persistence of the POEA homologues on agricultural soils into the following growing season.”

  48. Teaseron 02 Nov 2016 at 11:41 am

    @praktik – The only propaganda here is what you are pushing.

    Tell me all about the US State department pushing GMO products onto nations of the EU. If nations did not comply they were threatened with monetary and trade sanctions. Poland told the US the to take a hike despite such threats. In this real world scenario, agencies like IARC can be seen in a different light. The IARC is not a tool of the World Wide Organic Cabal pushing their anti-science agenda. They are an organization bringing some sanity to the hegemonic pressure of the US State Department doing business on behalf of its agricultural corporations.

    Here in the good old United States we didn’t get the choice to say yes or no to GMO. We didn’t get access to independent scientific analysis. We didn’t get a independent vetting of the sweeping agricultural impact such products would have. I feel more comfortable accepting the analysis of a European based group such as IARC as opposed to any governmental or corporate entity in the US.

    Europeans (still) have access to information that is not biased by industry or government. They have political and scientific leadership that dares to say no to the extreme pressure to adopt the GMO paradigm.

    Your response is little more than a parroting of the corporate line. You repeat the meme’s expected of a pro-GMO troll. There is no information that you could offer or link to that would sway me. What you offer is tainted.

    NOBODY on this blog has ever had a good explanation why the European scientific community that has not capitulated to US pressure via EFSA\EU opposes GMO technology. Telling me they are anti-GMO propagandists/pro Organic minions is ridiculous. The scientists of IARC are not lackeys. They are conducting the scientific inquiry that cannot happen here in the US.

    You say Portier I say Folta.

  49. Kabboron 02 Nov 2016 at 12:02 pm

    “There is no information that you could offer or link to that would sway me.”

    This seems to be the natural state for both sides of any comment section.

    To me, opposition to a specific GMO for whatever reason CAN make sense on a case by case basis, as Dr. Novella openly acknowledges. Opposing GMO altogether does not make sense. It is like asking if you are for or against taking pills. A blanket “pills are good or pills are bad” conversation doesn’t make sense even if you have examples of good or bad pills. Sources and links are not particularly important or even relevant to such an argument.

  50. praktikon 04 Nov 2016 at 10:05 am

    “There is no information that you could offer or link to that would sway me.”

    Amazing admission of epistemic closure. Teaser, read this again – its irrational to say that no evidence would ever convince you otherwise. I don’t think I could *ever* say the same thing on any topic!

    That said Teaser, kind of cute of you to think I harbored any idea of convincing you of anything. You posted activist misinformation and I posted, from a variety of different sources, good scientific information.

    Lurkers can read both our links and decide for themselves, my public service here is to post counterpoints.

    And I’m actually online friends with Kevin Folta, who I respect highly, and I urge anyone who wants to learn about Biotech to listen to his amazing podcast, Talking Biotech. He is an outstanding science communicator.

  51. Teaseron 04 Nov 2016 at 11:44 am

    @praktik – Let me clarify, there is no information that YOU specifically @praktik, could offer or link to, that would sway me. You are the arbiter of nothing.

    However, Jesus thanks you for keeping the internet safe from illogical, anti-science trolls like myself. You have punched your ticket to Science Heaven.

    In conclusion, congratulations for being an online friend of Kevin Folta. Good job promoting his “amazing” podcast in your comment. Give my regards to the widow Blazek.

  52. mumadaddon 04 Nov 2016 at 12:03 pm

    ” there is no information that YOU specifically @praktik, could offer or link to, that would sway me. You are the arbiter of nothing.”

    Hehe, a real life ad hominem fallacy – don’t see many of those out in the wild.

  53. Teaseron 04 Nov 2016 at 2:07 pm

    @mumadadd What I said is not an attack. It’s the truth. I am under zero obligation to accept any information from @praktik. It is my privilege to reject it’s assertions.

    (I am unsure of the appropriate pronoun for @praktik. I don’t want to be insulting and make an assumption about it’s sex. For the rest of my comment I will refer to @praktik as ‘It’.)

    Additionally, according to It, I am:
    “irrational”(for rejecting it’s “facts”)
    “cute” (I am not, I am massively ugly)
    “activist” (evidently It provided non-activist truth that I must unconditionally accept)

    Then It declares an online friendship with Kevin Folta? What freaking fallacy is that? Is that a False Checkmate fallacy? The Erroneous Coup De Grace fallacy?

    “Oh shit, online friends with Kevin Folta, well in that case I totally agree Praktik! My bad!”

  54. mumadaddon 04 Nov 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Teaser — “What I said is not an attack. ”

    I know, but it was a fallacy. You know that though, I think. You’re disregarding all possible evidence because of its source, and it’s not like we’re dealing with an embellished personal account — these are urls.

    And fair enough on the other points, online friendships don’t increase validity of evidence presented etc., but that’s beside the point, innit?

  55. BillyJoe7on 04 Nov 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Teazer: ““cute” (I am not, I am massively ugly)”

    Well, considering your input, I would have gone for “cute” but, from now on, I’m going to have “massively ugly” in my head whenever I read your comments. 🙁

  56. Teaseron 04 Nov 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Ok @mumadadd, I looked at the links.

    @praktik’s linked evidence is nothing more than the typical articles from that spew forth from the GMO industry. These articles are pushing the idea that there is a malicious and servile pro-organic cabal harming the world with its arrogant and misguided attempts to suck the life out of science and the GMO industry. So I was correct, @praktik provided zero information.

    To counter @praktik’s article I would offer up this little gem hot off the press.

    We can play dueling links ad infinitum and prove nothing. The articles only serve as data points with varying veracity.

    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/11/02/us/ap-us-gmo-campaign-finance.html

    Hirsch wrote Wednesday that she didn’t find credible the testimony of GMA executives that the group did not intend to violate Washington campaign finance law.

    Nestle SA, PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. were among those that contributed to the account and about $11 million was spent from that account to defeat the ballot measure.

    Cue @ccbowers to shut this crap down……….

  57. ccbowerson 04 Nov 2016 at 11:02 pm

    “Cue @ccbowers to shut this crap down…”

    Hmm. I don’t know what that means or implies. I haven’t checked this blog in a couple of days, but it is nice to see that I’m being thought of. I’m in the mood for a big picture view of this topic. I am glad that attitudes towards and understanding about GMOs are generally becoming more in line with the evidence and informed opinions, albeit slowly and inconsistently.

    There is still a lot of misinformation being pushed. Teaser is very motivated to be as suspicious as possible about GMOs, and judging by his/he words, is apparently fueled by anticorporate sentiment and adherence to the “appeal to nature” fallacy.

    Pointing to the actions of specific executives says nothing about the science of the issues. Conflating the science of GMOs and the business and politics of agriculture just confuses the issues.

    “Europeans (still) have access to information that is not biased by industry or government.

    What does this mean? That there are European facts and United States facts? We all have the same facts. And the countries you speak of have various interests, politics, ideologies and biases that cause them to tend in different directions. Your framing is off here.

    “Your response is little more than a parroting of the corporate line. You repeat the meme’s expected of a pro-GMO troll. There is no information that you could offer or link to that would sway me. ”

    Just looking at this quote at face value- It is an anti-intellectual stance. It is not engaging an argument, but a dismissal out of hand and a closing of the ears. Now perhaps you just don’t like praktik’s comments or approach. I don’t know. But being an advocate for a position can blind you to be reactionary, rather than trying to understand.

  58. BBBlueon 06 Nov 2016 at 11:31 am

    Lane- Your citation is not an original source for information related POEA, the authors just repeated comments from others that under some circumstances, circumstances that are not relevant to the discussion here, there are concerns about environmental effects of POEA. Your argument is based entirely on assumptions and conjecture. Any wonder why you are not taken seriously?

  59. MaryMon 07 Nov 2016 at 1:11 pm

    And now Massimo Pigliucci gets it wrong as well. https://platofootnote.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/gmos-and-the-skeptic-movement/

    I do agree with him, though, that there is a divide in the skeptic community. I’ve spent a lot of time talking down “skeptics” from the wrong information they have. Many of them have a lot off the foodie misconceptions and have just assumed anything to do with Monsanto is the devil.

    At least–for the most part–skeptics will hear out the evidence. And some of them realize how badly they were misled by the professional anti-GMO activist machine.

  60. MaryMon 07 Nov 2016 at 3:19 pm

    I have collected other responses to the NYT piece here, if anyone needs other examples: https://storify.com/mem_somerville/nyt-fail

  61. praktikon 07 Nov 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Teaser – my sole motive in mentioning my online friendship with Folta was to speak up for him as a person and to state in this thread that I find him a credible and honourable person. You mentioned him with a venom and intent to malign his character – while we are not close by any means we have shared correspondence a few times and he has always been a responsive person ready to share his love and knowledge of the relevant science – and of course the related challenges of successful science communication.

    Im sure there’s plenty of people that know him far better than me – I just wanted any lurkers reading this thread to know other people reading this article have a very different opinion of Kevin Folta than you – and to stand up for him after your mud slinging.

  62. BillyJoe7on 07 Nov 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Apparently SN has a reply in the pipeline to MP’s reply to SN’s reply on the NYT article.

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