The Science of Sustainability

California's Prop. 37: Are GMO Labels a Scarlet Letter?

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Lettuce plants genetically engineered to withstand heat

Proposition 37 could make California the first state in the country to require labels on foods made with genetically-modified ingredients. It’s shaping up to be one of the most contentious — and certainly the most expensive — battles on the state’s November ballot.

On one side are organic food groups that have spent about $3 million in support of the labeling law. On the other are biotech firms like Monsanto, and food giants like Pepsi, Sara Lee, and General Mills, which have contributed upwards of $28 million to try and keep GMO labels off food packages.

If Proposition 37 passes, you’ll see a change in nearly every part of the grocery store.

Take the cereal aisle, where Stacy Malkan with the "Yes on 37" campaign recently picked up a box of granola and pointed to the ingredients panel.

“Many of these products have corn syrup, cornstarch, sugar beets, and soy products that are genetically engineered," she said.

In the United States, up to 90 percent of those foods are grown from seeds that have been genetically modified. Scientists made changes in the plants’ DNA to make the crop, for example, resist pests, or stay fresh longer.

Malkan thinks that's something consumers should know about.

Would labels inform people? Or scare them?

“It's not a warning sticker,” she says. “[it’s not] a skull and crossbones or anything. It's literally just a few words added to existing labels, just indicating [the food was] partially produced with genetic engineering.

But to the "No On 37" camp, there is nothing benign about a label.

Take, for instance, Kent Bradford, a professor of plant science at the University of California, Davis, and director of its Seed Biotechnology Center.

Bradford's team works with, among other plants, lettuce.

Kent Bradford directs UC Davis's Seed Biotechnology Center

California supplies 80 percent of the nation's lettuce. But growers here, he says, increasingly find themselves at odds with a fact of nature.

Lettuce, he says, evolved for a Mediterranean climate. Its seeds lay dormant when it’s hot, and germinate when it rains.

But it’s getting hotter here in California. And farmers want to be able to grow lettuce year-round, not just when it rains. So Bradford’s team is developing a new kind of lettuce seed.

He points to several strands of straggly, stringy lettuce. At this overgrown stage, it's not appetizing-looking produce. But Bradford says these plants could help farmers adapt to a changing climate.

"What we've identified here is if we turn off this one gene, it eliminates that mechanism of inability to germinate at high temperature," he says.

GM isn't an ingredient, it's a technology

Part of what bothers Bradford about Proposition 37 is that genetic modification isn’t an ingredient, like saturated fat. It's a technology, one capable of creating countless variations on nature, some of them potentially very useful.

Genetically-engineered lettuce can sprout in a hot, dry climate.

"You wouldn't want to label a screwdriver as dangerous just because someone might poke it through their hand or something."

Bradford fears that if Prop 37 passes, consumers will regard those GMO label as a scarlet letter, a signal that the entire technology is flawed and dangerous.

"Why would they be putting this on the label if it weren’t something I should be concerned about?"

Indeed, that's the question many consumers have about genetically modified foods: Are they safe?

Is GM safe? Grappling with a scarcity of science

Unfortunately, the body of peer-reviewed research on GM foods is tiny, consisting of a handful of small studies done on mice. Some of these studies suggest possible links to immune-system impairment and other problems. Compared to the amount of research done on, for instance, BPA, it's a drop in the bucket.

Both the American Medical Association and the FDA say that genetically-modified foods are safe to eat and do not need to be labeled.

But Prop. 37 advocates and critics of GM foods say the fact that the science is nascent only underscores the need for greater regulation and labeling.

They say the process of genetic engineering can be imprecise, and that plant scientists may not always know the full, long-term implications of the crops they develop.

"The jury is still out on the health effects," says Yes on 37's Stacy Malkan. "And in many ways, the evidence hasn’t even been presented."

Such concerns are widespread in Europe, where GM labeling is mandatory. But that's also increasingly the case in California, where a recent poll found 65 percent of voters planning to support Prop. 37.

Here in the states, at least, it wasn't always this way.

We've been here before: The lesson of the Flavr Savr tomato

Belinda Martineau was a plant scientist at the Davis-based biotech firm Calgene in the late 1980s and early 90s. She was part of the team that helped invent the Flavr Savr tomato, the world’s first commercially-available genetically modified whole food.

Martineau says she and others at Calgene weren't sure how the Flavr Savr was going to go over with the public.

"Jurassic Park came out while we were readying the tomato for the marketplace," she recalls. "We were worried about it. We were worried about the public’s perception."

Belinda Martineau helped develop the Flavr Savr tomato

So Calgene made a choice: total transparency. The Flavr Savr wasn’t just labeled, it came with a brochure shaped like a tomato.

"It actually explained the genetic engineering technology in lay terms that people could understand," "And it had a 1-800 number, in case people wanted to learn more."

No laws required that Calgene label the tomato. Martineau says the company wanted to label the Flavr Savr because they were proud of it.

"We wanted to be transparent"

"We believed in what we were doing. We thought if we were careful about it, and transparent, that we could convince the public that they should be as enthusiastic about it as we were."

And shoppers were enthusiastic. In Davis, where Martineau lives, Flavr Savrs flew off the shelves.

"They had a policy at the local IGA that you could only purchase two Flavr Savor tomatoes per person, per day," says Martineau. "How they kept track of that, I don't know."

What ultimately killed the Flavr Savr wasn't the public’s fear of genetic engineering. It was the technology itself. Flavr Savrs didn’t taste better than regular tomatoes and they were too difficult to transport.

For Martineau, there’s a lesson here. Not labeling, she says, makes the industry look like it has something to hide. She believes labeling is an opportunity.

"This is one of the best ways the industry can turn public opinion around, is to be honest, to be transparent. And to come out and be proud of their products."

If Proposition 37 passes on November 6, the question is whether the public will see those labels the same way Martineau does.

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Category: Biology, Engineering, Food, News, Radio, Sustainable Food

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About the Author ()

As a radio reporter for KQED Science, Amy's grappled with archaic maps, brain fitness exercises, albino redwood trees, and jet-lagged lab rats, as well as modeled a wide variety of hard hats and construction vests. Long before all that, she learned to cut actual tape interning for a Latin American news show at WBAI in New York, then took her first radio job as a producer for Pulse of the Planet. Since then, Amy has been an editor at Salon.com, the editor of Terrain Magazine, and has produced stories for NPR, Living on Earth, Philosophy Talk, and Pop Up Magazine. She's also a founding editor of Meatpaper Magazine.
  • Guest

    What a CRIME that people are motivated by GREED instead of HONESTY. Fortunately, I grow my own veggies and I don't LIE to myself or my neighbors. Good Luck trying to trust these GREEDY farmers who don't give a DAMN about anything but the almighty DOLLAR.
    May you burn…

    • Guest

      I totally agree. As an American consumer, I have a RIGHT TO KNOW WHAT IS IN MY FOOD! If it's genetically modified, then I should have a right to purchase it or reject it. If you are one of the GMO cheerleaders, enjoy! Eat as much as you want! No one is trying to stop you. But who are these "people" who think that because THEY believe GMOs are safe, that I have no right to know that I am consuming them???? There are no long term studies. Monsanto has admitted this. As a nation, aside from eating it ourselves, a large percentage of our population is unknowingly feeding this genetically modified "food" to their babies and children – our future. This is disgusting!

  • guest

    What??? KQED is altering the responses??? KQED supports this crime? I know you have altered everything that once made you great but this is selling your soul.

    Go ahead and eat this garbage and die younger. It doesn't bother me but I'll continue to eat organically grown veggies and feel better about what I am doing.

    Enjoy being ignorant. It doesn't hurt anyone but YOU.

  • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

    I've privately sent you a longer email, but the claim that there have only been a "handful" of studies is just plain wrong. There have been hundreds. All major food safety boards (the EU's EFSA, US's EPA, Australian Food Standards) have the position that current foods are safe to eat. There are numerous reviews that show little to no issues. One even came out a few months ago specifically reviewing 24 feeding studies (12 long-term and 12 multi-generational). That's more than a handful and aren't all that exist.

    It is misleading your readers to claim otherwise.

    • Amy

      Given the current rethinking of "junk" DNA (see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/science/far-from-junk-dna-dark-matter-proves-crucial-to-health.html?pagewanted=all), we shouldn't think that random insertion of DNA is GRAS. Also, if you're willing to shift your paradigms at all, consider reading "Trust Us, We're Experts! How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future," By Sheldon Rampton. Many of the above study authors do not disclose the sources of their funding (only about 15% of scientists do, even though most scientific journals mandate funding disclosures), and scientists who do have findings that are counter to industry and publish risk loss of tenure, violation of non-disclosure agreeements, etc. You'd be surprised.

      • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

        I'm not sure how the ENCODE project changes safety studies. They don't look at the DNA and say "okay, we know that won't do anything bad". They feed the resulting crop to animals and *see* what happens. That we might understand genetics a bit better doesn't throw out all those studies.

        Anyway, I'm fine with mostly trusting scientists and think it's pretty absurd to paint them as either willing minions of "industry" or too scared to contradict industry.

        • Dr. Ena

          I've read the safety studies, including Monsanto's own Safety assurance study on Bt corn on rats in 90 days. As a medical practitioner, I am here to tell you that the safety studies are an absolute Joke! A recent review in France, shows the multiple inconsistencies and deficiencies. If you were a scientist, rather than a marketer– you would be embarrassed.

          • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

            Fortunately, I'm not a scientist or a marketer, as you would know if you bothered to look at the link given with my name.

            Why didn't you link to that safety study if it's so poor? Or look at the hundreds given in the link I gave previously?

          • Claire Robinson

            Industry doesn't publish its safety studies as a rule–i suspect this was the Monsanto study that Greenpeace forced into the open via a court case in Germany. So Dr Ena won't be able to provide a link to the study unless someone has put it online. Seralini has, though, analysed this Monsanto study, so you can read his study about it…

        • Claire Robinson

          Maybe you are not aware of the numerous scientific reviews showing that there is a strong connection between funding source and study outcome/conclusion? Such reviews exist in the field of mobile phone technology, pharmaceuticals, medical products, chemicals, tobacco, and GM crops. In such a context, there is little supporting evidence for simply "trusting scientists".

          • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

            I'm aware that sometimes science is skewed, but I don't think it happens so often as you think or for the reasons that you think. Seralini himself, for example, was funded partially by environmental groups opposed to GMOs. How is that any different? Everyone is biased. The most important thing to look at is what questions an experiment is asking, how the study was done and so on.

            And, actually, at least in the US, all the regulatory-related studies *are* public. Monsanto and other agribusiness companies publish many studies in peer-reviewed journals as well. You can dismiss the results from those studies, of course, but it would be far more scientific to examine them specifically and point out what was done wrong. Methods, statistics, etc.

          • Karl Haro von Mogel

            Rachael is right – declaring that something comes from a source with a vested interest is not a reason to dismiss it out of hand – merely it is something to be aware of. The "Myths and Truths" paper employs this fallacious reasoning, while also not being mindful of interests that run in the other direction.

        • http://www.facebook.com/tedicrawford Theodora Crawford

          You're either naive or a corporate shill. The 1998 Novartis grant to UC Berkeley that controlled research topics, project findings, and range of information released only one example that scientists are not influenced by corporate will. With financial desperation on many campuses, the golden corporate grant is tempting, even if it means a loss of integrity. This is just one early example showing how money controls our lives, from research to government policy, with the individual consumer's well-being ignored.

      • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

        Heh. Larry Moran predicted the media misinformation on this would cause problems because of creationists. Guess who else will misuse second-hand misinterpretations of the science to make a point?

        http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2012/09/encode-leader-says-that-80-of-our.html

        • Dr. Ena

          You need to quit with the typical logical fallacies…. if you advocating for genetically engineered organisms– You are the creationist and the media spinner who stands to benefit at other people's expense with your blatant misinformation campaign. Show me the safety studies–there aren't ANY with all the necessary data shown.

    • Peter

       Sorry Rachael but your thoughts are not universal see this|
      Independent research on GM foods is suppressed
      “Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers… Research on genetically modified seeds is still published, of course. But only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering… It would be chilling enough if any other type of company were able to prevent independent researchers from testing its wares and reporting what they find… But when scientists are prevented from examining the raw ingredients in our nation’s food supply or from testing the plant material that covers a large portion of the country’s agricultural land, the restrictions on free inquiry become dangerous.”
      – Editorial, Scientific American62

      • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

        That doesn't explain the studies in GENERA that are independent. Or are you saying because they generally show no safety issues that the agribusiness companies are suppressing the rest?

        • Peter

          Good point Rachael except for a readers comment re this site to it's independence with the following reply: (Peter isnt me by the way)
          "Hi Peter, thanks for pointing that out. We are actually in the process of starting a systematic review and summary-writing process for all of these papers, and this will involve contacting the authors for more detailed descriptions of funding sources. The paper you point out only mentions the funding of one individual, and that it comes from the EPA, although they point out that two authors work for Monsanto. We initially classified it as independent because of the stated funding source, and if it turns out that Monsanto also provided financial support for this research project then we will add that in as well".
          It always the same Rachael – dig a bit and you find it is not quiet as it seems…

          • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

            So a couple studies in a big list didn't correctly have their funding sources pointed out and you dismiss the entire set? The people who run that site aren't paid to run it and when a mistake is pointed out they correct it. I'm not sure this is an issue.

          • Peter

            Dear Rachael, it is either your easy going dismissal or it is endemic. The general state of affairs doesnt seem to support you though:
            “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”
            – Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications1 (the FDA is the US government’s Food and Drug Administration, responsible for food safety)
            “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”
            – US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)2
            “It is not foreseen that EFSA carry out such [safety] studies as the onus is on the [GM industry] applicant to demonstrate the safety of the GM product in question.”
            – European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)3
            Industry and some government sources claim that GM foods are strictly regulated.4 But GM food regulatory systems worldwide vary from voluntary industry self-regulation (in the US) to weak (in Europe). None are adequate to protect consumers’ health.
            So keep questioning Rachael – we have seen what happened to the banks…

          • Karl Haro von Mogel

            Finding one study that was not completely independent does not implicate the rest. Indeed, when we go through them systematically we will likely find some studies that we missed as being independent when first building the list.
            But pointing out that a study was funded by a company with a financial interest does not give you a "throw out the science free" card. It is good to keep in mind the bias of all researchers (such as those funded by Greenpeace, for instance), but you still have hundreds of studies to contend with. Ignoring it because you are worried about a potential bias is not very scholarly.

    • Claire Robinson

      Ah yes, the famous Snell review. You'll find it lists some studies that found adverse effects from GM foods but claim the effects are not biologically relevant/significant! Without defining the term. And without following the test animals over a longer term to find out what happens to the changes.

  • Peter

    Dear Rachael, it is just not true that there have been numerous studies. The fact is that where serious studies have been done they have found problems. The scientists who have done them have been ostracised and many told they will lose their jobs if they continue. GMO has nothing to do with producing better crops – it is to do with creating patents on seeds and future income streams. This is creating monopolies in food supplies. Have you seen the consolidation of seed and chemical suppliers – it is huge issue of lack of competition and prices will rise..
    Most of us are very ignorant of what is really happening with agriculture. Farmers are on treadmills – they have to continually grow more and that lowers prices so they have to grow even more. To do that they have to use more chemicals so the seed companies who are mostly owned by the chemical companies win both ways.
    Let's be smart consumers – lets no be taken for a ride.

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      If you want to dismiss the hundreds of studies not showing issues in favor of a handful that you deem "serious", that's your perogative. It's not very scientifically minded though.

      I don't disagree that many people are ignorant about farming. That is pretty clear.

      • Peter

        Where are the 100's of studies – name me which ones you are referring too?
        Is GM safe? Grappling with a scarcity of science
        Unfortunately, the body of peer-reviewed research on GM foods is tiny, consisting of a handful of small studies done on mice. Some of these studies suggest possible links to immune-system impairment and other problems. Compared to the amount of research done on, for instance, BPA, it's a drop in the bucket.

        • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

          I linked to them in my first comment. mem_somervilled has also noted some reports from major governmental bodies.

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Yeah, people are pretty ignorant about farming. They blame GMOs for a whole bucket of things that aren't GMO-specific. The problem with that is that their aim is terrible and they aren't addressing the actual problems–just their proxy bogey-man, which will get them nowhere.

      If you eliminated GMOs today, would monocultures go away? No.
      If you eliminated GMOs today, would herbicides vanish? No.
      If you eliminated GMOs today, would patents end? No.
      If you eliminated GMOs today, would insecticides end? No.

      It also causes them to not understand that many projects for improved plants are coming from academic and non-profit organizations. And preventing farmers from having access to those quality plants with desirable traits (like reducing chemical sprays, or improving nutrition) is a sad consequence of that misunderstanding as well.

  • Peter

    Dear Rachael, this from an Oxford scientist is worth adding because many say that GE is just like it is in nature – and when GMO was introduced the powers that be said that it was "Substantially Equivalent" to conventional breeding adding that they were using the same organisms as nature does. This is how they avoided real testing. So it is worth reminding ourselves of what those same organism can do in nature. Here goes:
    “Yes, the DNA of all living organisms is made up of just four nucleosides, and yes, virtually all proteins are made up from just 20 amino acids. But this does not imply that everything containing these basic building blocks is without risk to human beings. The same units, arranged in different ways, are contained in the smallpox virus, bubonic plague and influenza, deadly nightshade and other poisonous plants, creatures such as poisonous jellyfish, scorpions, deadly snakes, sharks- and people who talk about absolute nonsense.”
    So don't be a mislead – look at our website called GMeducation.org. It is the real deal – you won't be fobbed off with unscientific rubbish!

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Kevin Folta–a practicing academic plant scientist–has a terrific explainer that will help you to understand this issue better. The precision of GMOs is amazing compared to conventional breeding strategies–or to nuking plants–which is also perfectly acceptable for breeding and use in organic farming.

      http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2012/07/atomic-gardening-ultimate-frankenfoods.html

      Conventional breeding has developed toxic "heritage" potatoes (that go untested) and had to be pulled from the market. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10977&page=41

      • Dr. Ena

        I've discussed the issue with Kevin, whom I found to be a very nice and charismatic guy. It turns out, nevertheless, that plant experts have No scientific training in medicine and therefore lack qualifications to analyze safety studies or make credible statements on their safety.

        • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

          Do you discount his assessment of the changes to the plants? Because that's what that comment was about. I think he's quite correct on the changes to be made in the plants.

          And if he is correct (and he is), then you should be far more worried about the multiple and untested random things that he describes from conventional breeding. If you understood plant science better you would, at least.

          • Peter

            I have looked at his site but why don't you look at this? It tells you everything you need to know…
            http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58

            Myths are easy to come by – truth isn't….
            This technology is far from precise….

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    I was reading yesterday that the "Natural Products Association" came out against this proposition. How funny is that?

    http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/Processed-food-clause-in-Prop-37-would-kill-off-natural-category-in-California-warns-NPA

  • CharliePeters

    What would a judge do
    with AB 118 Nunez/Arnold?

    AAA said it would not pass a court test.

    GMO corn food will be
    considered for a label in November.

    GMO Corn in my food
    and gas stinks.

    Arnold ask the fed
    for a waiver and the Clinton EPA agreed

    Arnold-W EPA said NO
    and agrees with MITT.

    UN, World Bank, many
    Governors, Several Congressmen, Bill Clinton & Al Gore say GMO ethanol in
    the gas is bad policy.

  • Claire Robinson

    @Rachael Ludwick and others on this thread: the studies on GM food safety and otherwise are summarised in Earth Open Source's report, GMO Myths and Truths, available here: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/executive-summary
    Section 3 summarises the animal feeding trials on GM foods and comments on some "reviews" that have come out asserting that studies show GM foods are safe. The topic of the regulatory authorities' positions is also dealt with in this section and in section 2.
    A look at the science, and the state of the regulatory process, shows that GM foods are unsafe, and that regulators have deserted their role as guardians of public health and are far too close to the GM companies.
    Please don't take my word for it though–have a look at the original studies and documents and see whether you end up thinking GM foods are safe!

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      Oh, I totally encourage everyone to look at the actual studies. That report is–like they gray literature they complain about–slanted and cherry-picked. A great place to look at the studies was provided by Rachel above. You'll find a lot there that the "Myths" report seemed to have left out. You have to wonder why they cherry-picked, don't you?

      • Claire Robinson

        In our report, GMO Myths and Truths, we deal with the Snell "review" (which dismisses ill health effects from GM foods as not biologically relevant!) cited by Rachael L, and we deal with the Biofortified list of studies she cites too–most of which aren't GM safety/toxico studies to look at health effects at all, but nutritional studies on animals to see how GM food converts to meat/milk, or compositional studies looking at levels of basic constituents in the GM food.
        Many of the studies listed on Biofortified actually show GM foods are risky. But we document this fully in our report. So, I repeat, read our report but then look at the studies and don't take Snell's or Biofortified's word for what they contain.
        GMO Myths and Truths: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/executive-summary
        Rachael likes evidence, so perhaps she'd like to tell readers her take on these studies on this thread? I'm sure she can make her own points without others speaking for her.

        • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

          It would be great if you would go over to Biofortified and open a forum thread to discuss the ones you claim are risky. You may misunderstand them–because that report was full of misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the literature. The scientists there would help clarify the issues for you.

          In fact, one of the misrepresentations was work of Kevin Folta (mentioned above). Here's what he says: "Imagine my joy when I realized that I had been cited in the latest piece of anti-GMO propaganda."

          http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2012/07/cisgenics-and-tails-wagging-dogs.html

          Then your report goes on to misuse what Kevin said.

          Your report also relies on a lot of gray literature, blog posts, activist claims, and newspaper articles which are not the same as peer reviewed literature. And you cite fringe work by cranks including the homeopath here: http://www.criigen.org/SiteEn/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=60&Itemid=105 If you think homeopathy has any scientific credibility, your assessment of scientific facts should be soundly questioned. And I wouldn't trust a homeopath to evaluate data for a millisecond.

          Another good source for science-based assessment of the rehashed and misrepresented claims of the EOS report is Academics Review: http://academicsreview.org/ It covers a lot of the claims that EOS repackaged too.

          • Claire Robinson

            Rachael's gone very quiet–would like to hear her replies to our response to her. Fortunately we've made clear in all cases where the data we cite comes from, eg whether it's a peer-reviewed study, a press report, or the USDA. The animal feeding studies that show risks from GM foods are peer-reviewed–and if they aren't, Biofortified is guilty of citing them too. ( : But Biofortified and Snell claim they show safety! People are very welcome to disagree with our interpretation of the peer-reviewed papers and we encourage them to read them, as we say, ad nauseam.
            Re the credibility of Seralini's group that does some of the very few independent (non-industry) toxicological tests on GMOs and their associated pesticides, readers can look up the number of studies that group has published in well respected peer-reviewed journals. How many have you published? Actual toxicological tests, I mean, not reviews or opinion pieces.
            Unlike Snell's "review", Seralini's research involves actual tests that gather empirical data, as well as statistical re-analyses of Monsanto data, which showed risks from GM foods. Claiming all the group's papers are unreliable because one author is a homeopath (he's also a doctor) seems a bit like saying we should discount the work of Francis Collins on the Human Genome project because he has Christian fundamentalist beliefs which can't be scientifically proven!
            Very amusing.

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            I am not sure why you use scare quotes on the word "review". Probably it scares you because it might have higher relevance than an activist "report" like you churned out. The IPCC had to put a stop to reliance on that kind of "report" because of the bias problems that were being demonstrated by "reports" like yours.

            It's possible for a person's private philosophical beliefs to not impact on their work. But if you are a homeopath that's a methodology, and that defines your approach to science–which is 100% quackish, I'm "afraid". It's not the same thing as being Jewish or Christian or Mormon or vegetarian or whatever your philosophy is.

            I also encourage folks to read the full scope of the literature–not just what gets cited by "activists". Consult with mainstream scientists on what the data really indicates. Again, Biofortified is a good place to ask specific questions about any papers. They have covered a lot of them over the years, and there are posts that may already help you to understand why claims from EOS are incorrect. Here's one example: http://www.biofortified.org/2011/04/nonsense/

          • Claire Robinson

            "It's possible for a person's private philosophical beliefs to not impact on their work" but Francis Collins does not fall into this category. He has actually written a book about how his Christian beliefs do impact on his scientific work. See his Wiki entry. I'd be interested to know how this is different from the doctor/homeopath in Seralini's group–whose private beliefs, however, unlike Dr Collins', we know absolutely nothing about! And what about the other authors on the paper de Vendomois co-authored? Do they also have beliefs that you object to? And how does this impact the empirical data that they gathered? Are you saying they didn't actually find what they say they found?
            I'd recommend that you also "consult with mainstream scientists on what the data really indicates"; the scientists who've actually done the original research on the effects of GMOs seems a good place to start. I've spoken with many of them about their work; have you? Plus, consulting with genetic engineers is useful too, which is how the report, GMO Myths and Truths, came about.

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            Perhaps you don't understand homeopathy. It's possible you don't, because it is so wacky it's hard to imagine anyone could conceive of it.

            But here's how it works: they think incredibly diluted portions of an item make that item incredibly strong. That's bollocks. So if you are working on something that assess levels of something–say, in an experiment or a sample–then your grasp of what that means would be 100% wrong if you were a homeopath. Hence, your evaluation of data would have zero trustworthiness.

            It's hard to believe that's what they think–but it's true. It's that crazy.

            Oh dear, and do you also think wiki entries are a good source of evidence? That explains a lot. But I've personally been in rooms with Francis Collins and have seen no evidence that his personal philosophy affects the science he is involved with.

            And yes, I am in contact with many researchers in this arena continuously. It's an awesome and exciting time in biotechnology. My current favorite project is the blight-resistant potato that could reduce chemical sprays in a big way.

          • Elisa Trimble

            You don't actually have to sit in a room with Francis Collins and listen out for "evidence" that his Christian beliefs inform his scientific work. His book's called The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Haven't read it, but the title is very clear.
            That's an interesting warning about the wacky homeopaths–it's just as well that Dr De Vendomois' paper had all those co-authors on there (including Seralini as the 'lead' author), and was accepted by the peer reviewers and the journal. Otherwise some wackiness might have ended up in print in a scientific journal! Yikes.
            Many of us share your excitement about the blight resistant spuds–the non-GM ones, that is, as, unlike the GM ones, they are here already, they work, and already commercially available to farmers. Fantastic!

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            It's too bad the current ones aren't suited for the commercial growers, I know. The new ones will have the traits that will best help us grow food for more people. That's so crucial.

            And if you want to go there on beliefs and influence, I guess we'll have to point out that Claire's co-author has been associated with Maharishi U. http://www.mumpress.com/health-maharishi-vedic-approach-to-health/e07.html Some people would think that might be an issue with his approach to science then too. It's odd how they left that tidbit off the report's section about the authors if that's so important about how one thinks about approaching science issues. You'd think they'd celebrate it.

          • Ian

            I'm a researcher who trawls through PubMed for a living. In my work I've found studies showing health risks from GM foods as well as studies claiming they're safe (interesting roundup of studies here: Diels, J., M. Cunha, et al. (2011). "Association of financial or professional conflict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products." Food Policy 36: 197–203.)
            I've also found quite a few academic studies on homeopathy in peer-reviewed science journals, some of which found benefits in certain health conditions, and one of which found a positive effect on tumor growth from homeopathy. I'd like to ask mem_somerville if I should discount those scientific journals for publishing wacky findings, if I should avoid any research coming out of the universities that hosted the homeopathy research, and if I should stop using PubMed because it seems to be the domain of wackiness?

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            It is true that there are journals that are nominally peer-reviewed, but not all of them have the same quality I'm afraid. Sometimes it's hard for outsiders in the field to recognize the difference. For example, there is an entire journal of homeopathy, which is a complete farce of course, but it does exist. Some publishers don't have the same standards as others. And if your peers are homeopaths, well, by definition there are peer quacks.

            Maybe you can help me though Ian if you are so good at PubMed. Or maybe Claire can get the info from her co-author. I'm watching this video of John Fagan as he talks about how Vedic pundits emit vibrations that affect plant growth so powerfully. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VND99f6h86c He claims that there's 20-30x the antioxidants in these foods, and much higher vitamin C. Have you seen any peer-reviewed papers that illustrate this?

            Because a lot of people might think that's just wacky. But I'm sure there's data somewhere, right? And of course he wouldn't have any bias on this as he pushes his personal philosophy.

          • Ian

            No these weren't homeopathic journals with the papers on homeopathy, they were average science journals. Not sure if the homeop journals make it into PubMed, probably not. But your explanation about the effects of highly diluted substances is interesting. How do these doses compare to the very low doses used in endocrine disruptor experiments described here (also there's an explanation of non-monotonic dose-response curves)? : http://edrv.endojournals.org/content/early/2012/03/14/er.2011-1050.abstract
            or with the dose of 10 ppb of clopyralid herbicide that damages plants? http://bit.ly/QdE9P6

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            Oops–tried to edit my comment and it went away. So just to repeat:

            No, it's orders of magnitude crazier Ian–I know it's mind boggling how nutty this is–but they are talking about a drop of substance in more than an ocean of water.

            A great place to read up on the claims is Orac's blog:
            http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/category/alternative_medicine/homeopathy-alternative_medicine/

            The only thing I've seen nuttier than that is Fagan's claims of Vedic pundit vibrations with quantum effects on the plants and nutrition. That's why I need you to help me find those papers. I don't see them at all.

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            Well, what a surprise. They pulled that video. Too bad–30x the antioxidants and more vitamin C should be shouted from the rooftops. Or at least published in the peer reviewed literature.

            I wonder why they pulled it. Things that make you go hmmmm…..

          • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

            I'm quiet because disqus only notifies me of replies to my own comments none of yours go into this. I don't load threads every day necessarily. :)

            Anyway, the problem with Seralini's research – or at the least the papers I've read because note I'm not an expert or a biologist – is that they just don't make sense. In one of his papers, they found some measurements that might indicate a problem in a particular group. Unfortunately, it was the group being fed the least amount of GM foods. The ones being fed *more* didn't show the same effect. That's an obvious sign that the results is just chance and isn't a sign that it's biologically significant. The paper I'm referring to is here. Have a look at Figures 1 & 2. There's also absolutely no biological mechanism proposed either. Considering the many studies that don't show consistent differences between animals that eat GM corn and those that don't, you have to have really convincing evidence. This just isn't it.

            Note the Australian Food Safety board reviews it and thinks it's showing only normal variation.

          • Claire Robinson

            Do you mean Tables 1 and 2 rather than Figures 1 and 2, as the latter are on sex-dependent effects only? Which parameters are you looking at when you say effects were found in the group "fed the least amount of GM foods"? Because a significant number of the ill effects found were dose-dependent, ie increased with dose of the GM food. Also, are you aware of endocrine disrupting effects, which can occur at a low dose but not at a higher dose? Vandenberg's recent paper is a useful summary. Vandenberg, L. N., T. Colborn, et al. (2012). "Hormones and endocrine-disrupting chemicals: Low-dose effects and nonmonotonic dose responses." Endocr Rev.
            You may be aware that evidence of mechanism is not required for toxicological research to be considered valid and to affect regulatory decisions, as it's well known that scientists can take decades to work out the mechanism of an effect that's well known to occur. cf DDT thinning birds' eggs and some toxic effects of tobacco, which are still not fully understood, but regulation has occurred anyway.

          • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

            Sorry, yes the tables not figures. I'm specifically referring to the effects that happen at the lower feeding amount but *not* the higher amount. Even the supposedly sex-dependent results just don't make sense. Why would only the female animals show enlarged kidneys and spleens? Toxicological results without biological mechanism can be used to justifiy regulatory action. But given the existence of other studies that *don't* show these effects, surely the result should be stronger?

          • Claire Robinson

            It's accepted in toxicology that sex-specific effects happen. This is especially the case with effects that involve the endocrine system, as male and female hormones are different. And it's also the case that toxic effects can happen at low doses but not at higher ones–again it's usually the endocrine system that's involved. Other studies that don't show such effects would only disprove a first study that did, if the exact same study design was followed but different results found. Usually this isn't the case, something about the 2nd study is different.

        • Karl Haro von Mogel

          Quite a discussion has emerged on this thread. I will respond to Claire's claims about our list of studies, because it really shows what is wrong with both her understanding of our project, and her understanding of how science works and the scientific literature.
          First, our GENERA project is more than just some list of citations that we think support the general safety of genetically engineered crops. It started as a list of citations like that, however the goal is not a list of studies that support one point of view, but a comprehensive collection of relevant studies covering basic genetics, to feeding studies, allergy research, environmental impacts, and soon also socioeconomic research. All the studies will be searchable, and categories based on a number of attributes, including the crop, event, location, funding source(s), and outcome. When complete, it will be the most comprehensive and user-friendly resource of its kind, and people will be able to search and analyze many studies at once and compare their outcomes, and can jump straight to the study itself if they have subscriptions that allow them access to it. It's ok that Claire does not understand the nature of our project because the politics of genetically engineered crops are ripe with assumptions and tribal thinking.
          As for whether or not Earth Open Source "dealt" with the list of studies – no it did not. In fact, they were quickly dismissed with hand-waving, on page 46:
          "Another tactic used by GM proponents is to point to lists of studies which they say show that GM foods are safe, but which actually show nothing of the sort."
          Not a single specific example was given on page 46 that demonstrated what was being argued, and the weight of a great number of studies was glossed over and ignored. In fact, you did not "deal with the Biofortified list" but referred to David Tribe's list, which ours was based on originally, but is different. In fact, our spreadsheet currently includes almost 600 studies.
          As for your interpretations of these studies, your tactic is to take any statistically significant difference measured among many variables and declare it an adverse effect, ignoring the analysis presented in the papers that discusses the biological relevance of those differences. In fact, Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch was announcing recently that a pig study found adverse effects without having even read it – and when I provided the study PDF that demonstrated that this was not true, Claire Robinson (also of GM Watch for those who are not familiar) writes in Jeffrey Smith's newsletter that the study found adverse effects – citing biologically meaningless differences as being adverse effects. This manipulation of scientific information to mean something it does not is called spin, and categorically excluding studies that do not support your opinion is called cherry-picking, and both are dishonest. This is a fundamental difference between what we're trying to do with our organization, and what you are trying to do with yours.
          We genuinely want people to read about the science and understand more about it, and don't wish to insult the intelligence of our readers by not giving them the opportunity to know what the entirety of the scientific literature says.
          Don't you think that they should be able to have the opportunity to know, for instance, that the test used by Aris and Leblanc, cited in your "Myths and Truths" paper was not capable of detecting levels as low as were reported? This was known by previous, validated research, which we have discussed extensively on our blog. Why did you exclude this critical information? As for putting scare quotes around the word "review" to try to disparage
          the Snell review- I think you may have peer review envy.
          I am glad that you are interested in having people read and review relevant studies – in fact I would love it if you would send us a stack of references to peer-reviewed studies that you believe demonstrate risk of any kind from genetically engineered crops that are not presently in our list – and if relevant they will be added.
          I also eagerly anticipate the "Open Source" aspect of your "Myths and Truths" paper (which is strangely copyrighted for being "open source"), do you have any information yet about when and what that will be?

        • Karl Haro von Mogel

          Note: This comment was posted 2 hours ago and apparently someone didn't want others to be able to read it, so it was flagged for "abuse" and was hidden from view. Well here it is so that people can have all the information:
          Quite a discussion has emerged on this thread. I will respond to
          Claire's claims about our list of studies, because it really shows what
          is wrong with both her understanding of our project, and her
          understanding of how science works and the scientific literature.
          First,
          our GENERA project is more than just some list of citations that we
          think support the general safety of genetically engineered crops. It
          started as a list of citations like that, however the goal is not a list
          of studies that support one point of view, but a comprehensive
          collection of relevant studies covering basic genetics, to feeding
          studies, allergy research, environmental impacts, and soon also
          socioeconomic research. All the studies will be searchable, and
          categories based on a number of attributes, including the crop, event,
          location, funding source(s), and outcome. When complete, it will be the
          most comprehensive and user-friendly resource of its kind, and people
          will be able to search and analyze many studies at once and compare
          their outcomes, and can jump straight to the study itself if they have
          subscriptions that allow them access to it. It's ok that Claire does not
          understand the nature of our project because the politics of
          genetically engineered crops are ripe with assumptions and tribal
          thinking.
          As for whether or not Earth Open Source "dealt" with the
          list of studies – no it did not. In fact, they were quickly dismissed
          with hand-waving, on page 46:
          "Another tactic used by GM proponents
          is to point to lists of studies which they say show that GM foods are
          safe, but which actually show nothing of the sort."
          Not a single
          specific example was given on page 46 that demonstrated what was being
          argued, and the weight of a great number of studies was glossed over and
          ignored. In fact, you did not "deal with the Biofortified list" but
          referred to David Tribe's list, which ours was based on originally, but
          is different. In fact, our spreadsheet currently includes almost 600
          studies.
          As for your interpretations of these studies, your tactic is
          to take any statistically significant difference measured among many
          variables and declare it an adverse effect, ignoring the analysis
          presented in the papers that discusses the biological relevance of those
          differences. In fact, Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch was announcing
          recently that a pig study found adverse effects without having even read
          it – and when I provided the study PDF that demonstrated that this was
          not true, Claire Robinson (also of GM Watch for those who are not
          familiar) writes in Jeffrey Smith's newsletter that the study found
          adverse effects – citing biologically meaningless differences as being
          adverse effects. This manipulation of scientific information to mean
          something it does not is called spin, and categorically excluding
          studies that do not support your opinion is called cherry-picking, and
          both are dishonest. This is a fundamental difference between what we're
          trying to do with our organization, and what you are trying to do with
          yours.
          We genuinely want people to read about the science and
          understand more about it, and don't wish to insult the intelligence of
          our readers by not giving them the opportunity to know what the entirety
          of the scientific literature says.
          Don't you think that they should
          be able to have the opportunity to know, for instance, that the test
          used by Aris and Leblanc, cited in your "Myths and Truths" paper was not
          capable of detecting levels as low as were reported? This was known by
          previous, validated research, which we have discussed extensively on our
          blog. Why did you exclude this critical information? As for putting
          scare quotes around the word "review" to try to disparage
          the Snell review- I think you may have peer review envy.
          I
          am glad that you are interested in having people read and review
          relevant studies – in fact I would love it if you would send us a stack
          of references to peer-reviewed studies that you believe demonstrate risk
          of any kind from genetically engineered crops that are not presently in
          our list – and if relevant they will be added.
          I
          also eagerly anticipate the "Open Source" aspect of your "Myths and
          Truths" paper (which is strangely copyrighted for being "open source"),
          do you have any information yet about when and what that will be?

          • Claire Robinson

            My reply is at the top of this thread–for some reason the page wouldn't let me reply here.

          • Claire Robinson

            As a PS, Aris and Leblanc's study that found Bt toxin in the blood of pregnant women and the blood supply to their fetuses has not been rebutted in the peer-reviewed literature, where it is still cited as valid. I suspect the reasons are similar to those rehearsed here by a scientist:
            http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/13450
            By the way, a GM proponent wrote to GMWatch claiming that the company that made the test was going to publish a statement saying its test couldn't possibly detect Bt toxin in blood at these levels. We never received this statement; did the company ever publish it?

          • Karl Haro von Mogel

            I don't know about any company statements from Agdia, but we have had employees who work with and develop these tests confirm this fact. Again, if you read the extensive discussion on our blog, the limit of decision for the test when used on blood serum is 1.5 ng/mL, and the limit of detection is much higher. The data in Aris and Leblanc are all below these thresholds – meaning that it is indistinguishable from zero. The anonymous scientist quoted on GM Watch is frankly uninformed about the relevant literature, and the caveats of performing ELISA. I have an unfinished rebuttal to that rebuttal, but I am waiting until I have the time to verify certain facts about the paper and others before finishing it. Suffice to say, the scientist does not know what he is talking about.
            Unfortunately, you seem to misunderstand how the peer-reviewed literature works. A study is not automatically valid because it was published, that is the first step toward results being accepted in the scientific community. In fact, your statement works in the reverse – because the previous (and far more thorough) research has not been rebutted in the peer-reviewed literature, then it is still cited as valid – again, why are you leaving this information out?
            (See how that works?)
            Perhaps I could ask the question a different way – will you state a categorical opinion about whether or not you deem the Aris and Leblanc paper to have been conducted properly to make the conclusion that Bt protein is or is not found in the blood of pregnant women and their fetuses?

          • Claire Robinson

            You're the one who's misunderstanding what these papers actually say. The first study you quote in this case does not disprove Aris and Leblanc because it was testing a different medium and the authors did not conclude that such detection couldn't be done, just that they could not do it. I've already said this via the link I gave to the scientist's comment. It is absurd to expect anyone to state "categorically" whether a scientific paper has been conducted properly and I see very little such behavior among honest scientists; science is an evolving field and the glory of the peer reviewed publication system is that the weak studies get filtered out over time and the stronger ones get built on.
            As I've now spent far too much time repeating what I've already said here, or what we've said clearly in our report (e.g. discussion of "adverse" effects), I regretfully close this discussion from my side.

          • Karl Haro von Mogel

            That's pretty much what I thought would happen – I don't think you want to say the study was done properly because you know it was not. Nor do you want to admit that it was done improperly. You mention a "different medium" which is actually another problem with the study – ELISA controls have to be in the same medium (serum) as the unknowns you are testing, and Aris and Leblanc used a different medium for their controls. The result is an invalid comparison.
            I have no regrets about you closing the discussion after this question, because it kind of proves my point. When you "dig a bit it is not as quiet as it seems."

  • Peter

    Dear Rachael,
    Most of the safety is based on Substantial Equivalence
    Claims of Substantial Equivalence for GM foods are widely criticised as unscientific by independent researchers – a useful analogy is a BSE infected cow and a healthy cow – they are substantially equivalent to one another. The only difference is the shape of a minor component of a protein that would not be picked up by a substantially equivalence assessment. Yet few would claim they are equal in safety

  • Barry

    Scarlet letter is the perfect analogy. As I point out in my latest blog here on Quest, 49% of respondents in a 2008 survey thought that GM tomatoes had genes whereas regular tomatoes do not. Are these folks helped by this sort of labeling? What if a GM product comes to market with huge health (think golden rice) or environmental benefits and people are scared off because they misunderstand GM foods? Who is helped in that situation?

    Now having said that, I was surprised the piece didn't bring up allergies. For now, this is the only known health danger from eating GM foods (besides perhaps extra herbicides) and given the explosion of allergies in this country, this is where labeling might help. Of course, they could just be required to say things like, "May contain soy products" or some such thing if the GM crop contains a soy protein. That way consumers are safe from the real dangers of GM foods without being scared off from potentially beneficial ones.

    • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

      You know though, I keep asking proponents of this if they have data from all the countries that label that this has any impact on allergies. Nobody has any data. You'd think they'd know….

      • Barry

        Impact how? Do you mean do GM foods cause an allergic reaction? Or are there fewer allergic reactions in countries with labeling?

        • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

          Either way. I would welcome any data that shows evidence of any effect on allergy incidence or reaction.

          • Barry

            I know a study back in 1996 looked at a GM soybean in which a Brazil nut gene had been inserted. The results looked like people allergic to Brazil nuts would be allergic to this soybean too. This is predicted to be rare because not every Brazil nut gene would make someone allergic to Brazil nuts have an allergic reaction to this soybean, these researchers just got incredibly unlucky. And it should be noted that the researchers tested for this and found out before this soybean ever made it to market.

            http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199603143341103

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            Yeah, the testing for allergenicity works. That's why it's so hard to believe that rampant allergies have been unleashed. Some evidence of that claim would be nice. Or evidence that the labels really do affect it as proponents claim this will do.

            The only thing people ever cite is that silly press release from a company that tests the worried-well for allergies called York Labs. It was a marketing gimmick and all the worried-well fell for it.

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Oh, yes, Claire and I discuss that report below–didn't you see? I think their bias, misrepresentations, and cherry-picking are sad, but typical of activist literature.

    But the best part is John Fagan her co-author. Watch that video I added. Yeah, their standards for scientific evidence are seriously questionable. But hilarious.

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Oh, yes, Claire and I discuss that report below–didn't you see? I think their bias, misrepresentations, and cherry-picking are sad, but typical of activist literature.

    But the best part is John Fagan her co-author. Watch that video I added. Yeah, their standards for scientific evidence are seriously questionable. But hilarious.

  • Claire Robinson

    Reply to Karl: Thanks for pointing out that the
    Biofortified list differs from David Tribe’s list. I am, as you say, unaware of
    your GENERA project. A comprehensive list of studies on all aspects of GMOs is
    badly needed but beyond our means to gather together. Our report, GMO Myths and
    Truths, nowhere claims to present the entirety of the literature on GMOs (as
    I’ve said, that’s way beyond our means), but to present some studies that show
    risks and hazards of GMOs that have not been properly addressed – and which are
    often claimed not to exist! We got fed up with biotech proponents claiming
    there was “no evidence” of such risks and hazards, and that “science” was in
    favor of GM foods, and our report is our attempt to answer such claims and to
    redress the spin. On p46 of our report, what you call our “hand waving”
    “dismissal” of David Tribe’s list is nothing of the sort. We merely point out
    that this list is often claimed by GM proponents to show GM foods are much
    tested and safe when in fact it contains studies that show risk. David Tribe
    himself introduces his list with a claim that the studies “document the general
    safety and nutritional wholesomeness of GM foods and feeds”. You complain that
    we give no examples of studies to prove our point. The reason is that such a
    list would be boring in a report for the public, and our aim was to alert
    people to the tactic rather than go over studies we already summarise
    elsewhere. Continued…

  • Claire Robinson

    Reply to Karl 2 (sorry it won't let me post in one go): Also, we elsewhere go into detail about
    certain European research studies, which are often cited as showing safety of
    GM foods, whereas in fact they show nothing of the sort and point to risks.
    However, you ask for examples from Tribe’s list of studies that he claims show
    safety and we claim show risk, so here are some: 1. Ewen SW, Pusztai A (1999)
    Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus
    nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. 2. Malatesta M, Biggiogera M, et al
    (2003) Fine structural analyses of pancreatic acinar cell nuclei from mice fed
    on genetically modified soybean. 3. Malatesta M, Caporaloni C, et al (2002)
    Ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte
    nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. 4. Schrøder, M., Poulsen,
    M., et al (2007) A 90-day safety study of genetically modified rice expressing
    Cry1Ab protein (Bacillus thuringiensis toxin) in Wistar rats. Food Chem.
    Toxicol. I will not go on, as this exercise is boring for me and for readers of
    this thread. Continued…

  • Claire Robinson

    Reply to Karl3: As to whether statistically
    significant effects seen in animals fed GM foods are adverse, this is a matter
    that takes some debate to solve. Some effects are clearly adverse, whereas
    others are less clear. What is patently obviously not acceptable is for biotech
    proponents to claim that statistically significant effects found in GMO feeding
    trials are biologically meaningless without defining the term in the context of
    that particular case and doing further investigations. You simply cannot know
    that a change found in a short or medium-term test is biologically meaningless
    unless you extend the test and find out how the initial changes develop:
    whether they disappear or develop into disease or early death. This is exactly
    why long-term tests are required on drugs and even pesticides, but strangely
    they are not required for GMOs, which routinely are only tested in short- and
    medium-term trials.

    We make this argument in our report in
    detail.

    You mention specifically the pig feeding
    trial with GM maize and claim that it did not find adverse effects. In fact
    this trial and its extension trial – a short one of 31 days and a mid-term one
    of 110 days – showed that the GM-fed pigs had disturbed immune response,
    presence of the transgene and Bt toxin protein in the gastrointestinal tract,
    increased kidney weights, disturbed histology of the intestine (slight), and
    disruption of urea, creatinine and blood aspartate aminotransferase and protein
    in serum. The authors’ claim that the GM maize had no effect because
    disturbances were not seen at biochemical, functional and histological level,
    and your claim that the changes are “biologically meaningless”, cannot be
    scientifically justified, since these changes seen in short and medium-term
    experiments could well be the signs of the onset of disease. Much as I am no
    uncritical fan of the way pharmaceuticals are regulated, this kind of practice
    would never be allowed to pass in the field of drug regulation. Long-term tests
    would be carried out and the findings examined to see how these changes
    developed.
    Regarding the copyrighting of our report, the fact that something
    is copyrighted doesn’t mean others can’t use it or even re-publish it. As I
    write, this is happening in several different countries. The copyright symbol
    simply means people have to ask permission, which we have thus far given.
    Jeffrey Smith writes Jeffrey Smith’s newsletter. GMWatch has provided
    editorial input.

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      Thanks Claire for responding. I have only a moment so I will only leave a fairly brief comment. First, if as you say the studies were not long enough to determine whether or not a difference was an "adverse effect" or not, then you also cannot say that they were in fact adverse effects. You are trying to have it both ways. Seralini also tried to have it both ways by saying that Monsanto's data was too crude to form any conclusions… and then he formed conclusions based on it. It is an inconsistent approach and is certainly not an academically-sound one. If you believe that with further study that they could be determined to be adverse effects, then say that. You are acting as if it is already solved, but when pressed you say it is not, and that debate will solve it.

      In the comment I replied to, you said "@Rachael Ludwick and others on this thread: the studies on GM food
      safety and otherwise are summarised in Earth Open Source's report, GMO
      Myths and Truths" This implies that it summarizes all the relevant research, which it does not. I think now you really just meant that it summarized some of the research. You haven't mentioned why you excluded information that you knew existed which undermine your thesis, so I'm still waiting on that. You say that you were trying to redress the "spin" and instead spun it way the other direction. That doesn't move the debate forward at all.

      As for the copyright – I was noting the irony that your organization is promoting the idea of Open Source – however if people have to ask permission then what you are producing is not open source. In your manifesto, it states "Earth Open Source also advocates "open sourcing," which can be achieved through making knowledge of our food chain open to all. " I was thinking to ask about that a little while ago, but here is as good as anywhere to point it out. I would recommend a Creative Commons License, which is what we use – because we also believe in open sharing of knowledge, and no one needs to ask permission.

      As for Jeffrey Smith's newsletter, I am still quite surprised at the mental gymnastics over that financial connection that you and Jonathan engage in. "GM Watch" claimed on twitter that there was no financial connection, later admitting that there was but that the editor was compensated directly. (However, the newsletter announced that it was teaming up with GM Watch and not an editor by name.) By email, Jonathan identified you, Claire, as the editor who was directly paid. However, whenever you are asked about it, you say 'no – it was GM Watch that provided editorial input, not me.' For all the time that you and Jonathan spend trying to personally attack scientists for financial connections both real and imagined, you would think that you would be consistent and transparent about financial issues with your organizations. Sadly that is not the case.
      So I will amend my statement about the newsletter to read thus:
      Claire Robinson provided "editorial support" for Jeffrey Smith's newsletter, which stated that the study found adverse effects – citing biologically meaningless differences as being adverse effects.

      • Claire Robinson

        In fact you will find that our use of the word "adverse" is extremely conservative in our report, though we take others to task for using it without defining it, in the context of denying that significant effects were "adverse". I do not share your interpretation that I or we have ever claimed to summarise all the relevant research; and we've made very clear in media interviews, as well as in our report, that we do not do this. We do analyse some studies, however, which claim or are claimed to show safety but do not, and point that out.
        You seem to be very emotional about the collaboration between GMW and IRT; we have never hidden the link. GMW provided editorial support for IRT, as is stated on IRT's newsletter. Jeffrey writes it; GMW news gathering and output is done by several people, not just me, though only I was paid for my editorial input; thus it is GMW and not just I who provided editorial support. All this is very boring but it is hardly an attempt to mislead or hide financial links. I am not sure why you are so upset about such matters, or indeed our practices regarding copyright, especially when everyone who's using and reprinting our report is very happy with our copyright arrangements!

        • Karl Haro von Mogel

          Claire, I am not emotional about your collaboration with IRT. I wrote it with a straight face – if that makes any sense? But it is comical enough to be deemed hilarious – so laughter is the closest emotion I feel over it. :) I am being nothing except straight-forward and logical in what I am saying. It is you who is interpreting emotions that I'm not feeling nor expressing. Some people misinterpret this approach as being angry or aggressive.

          I see you now draw a distinction between "editorial support" and "editorial input." That's fine, however, the result is that readers of GM Watch don't know who has a financial link, and readers of Earth Open Source don't know that that link was you. I don't know what to call that except not entirely transparent. Think about it for a while, and imagine if Biofortified "teamed up" with the industry association BIO to give editorial "support" for their newsletter, and Anastasia started telling you that Biofortified is not being paid – but that I am for my "editorial input". And then I tell you that I don't need to disclose that I'm getting paid on my profile because it is Biofortified that is providing the "support." I am totally sure you would not find that boring, and would be making a page about this for your Powerbase site. Am I wrong? Bottom line, if it isn't a big deal and is so boring, then disclose it clearly. It would shut me up and I would give you props.

          Nor am I upset about your copyright contradiction. I note both of these as interesting ironies and inconsistencies. Like I said I was thinking to ask about the "open source" aspect before – and I noted the copyright contradiction because I had planned, when I have time, to respond to large pieces of the paper and I wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to run into copyright issues. However, we have a nice thing known as Fair Use in the U.S. but I wanted to be sure. On top of that I was also just curious about would be involved in the "open source collaboration" you had announced would be coming for this paper, but after much time I haven't seen anything yet. I thought I heard a month or two ago that it would be happening in a couple weeks.

          • Claire Robinson

            You can't get any more "transparent" than this statement, which has been on the GMW website for a very long time: http://www.gmwatch.org/about
            And we also told you that the editor who got paid was me. What more could we say?
            No contradiction about people's use of copyrighted publications, either. There is a lot of open source collaboration that's going on with this report, as I told you previously. And our past reports have used collaborations with many scientists. Again, it's hard for me to see a mystery where there obviously isn't one.

          • Karl Haro von Mogel

            Yes, you have obviously responded to my requests for information, and that's a good thing for everyone, and I thank you for that. The information there was not put up until I asked about it, however, and even then no names are given. I have already explained how it is not entirely transparent, and don't feel the need to do so again. I'm not saying people need to start putting amounts and hours and all that stuff – but if you are going to spend a large part of your time detailing financial links of scientists in order to discredit them – you should probably be exactly as thorough with your own financial connections, which are written in vague terms.

          • Claire Robinson

            When it comes to public interest (and I am not talking about any specific individual here–just the general trend), there's a bit of a difference between people who are pushing a risky technology into our entire food supply, with the backing of massive billion-dollar multinationals, through dubious use of science and dishonest marketing to farmers; and campaigning groups who are trying to scrape together pennies to publish their next report–often out of their own pockets–not to make a profit, but to get their message out. Here's a good quote from a US labelling activist: "They
            fear that your informed choices will reduce their profits. They will
            saturate TV and billboards and newspapers, and they'll be slick and
            glib. So it comes down to — who are you going to believe? I have
            four children, 11 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren. I work for
            them, and Monsanto's gun-hands work for a paycheck. Our opponents show
            up in limousines; our Butte County speakers take time off from jobs in
            our communities and from grandchildren and gardening, and our younger
            volunteers babysit and hold bake sales for gas money to get to your
            meetings. Who are you going to believe?"

          • Karl Haro von Mogel

            This is a good comment, because it lets me know where you are coming from on the emotional side. You must feel like you are up against a hugely powerful enemy who can do what they want at their convenience, and respond to whomever they want to without worrying about the cost.
            Let me tell you a bit about my perspective as a scientist-communicator who has no limousines or money for billboards and who has to scrape together money to put together accurate educational resources in his vanishingly small spare time. Then I see organizations playing fast and loose with the facts, cherry-picking evidence, recycling disproven claims, and attacking other scientists whenever they come out of the lab to express their opinions about what they are studying. It doesn't take a big billboard to spread disinformation – various organizations seem to do that quite well with social media these days, using fear instead of money to grease the rss feeds. It is a daunting challenge to correct the misinformation, and get civil discussions going about genetically engineered crops and get at the real risks and benefits when there are organizations that raise money and devote 100% of their time to trying to promote flimsy fringe claims, raising money from a competing industry, and attacking others because they think they are "gun hands" just working for a paycheck.
            As a rule, we (the Biofortified Blog) do not touch industry money – from either side. We disclose all financial and other affiliations about the organization and require it of our contributors. If I thought differently, however, I suppose I could justify seeking out industry money and concealing the details about it with vague terms on our about page. It would certainly make it easier to reach more people with even a modest sum of money, and begin to address the many myths being perpetuated by groups using the grey literature to distract people from the scientific literature. But I don't think like that. No matter how much money other organizations raise from industry or industry-connected sources, that will not change my perspective on what I think is the best way to be independent and transparent.
            So I understand where you are coming from, however, I don't see it as a reason to obfuscate about financial ties. When I mentioned you helping out IRT, you corrected me and said that GM Watch did, when GM Watch corrected me and said that you did by name. That's obfuscation, and it looks bad. It is as if you have something to hide. I'm not saying that you do, or that you are trying to – but that is how it looks from the outside. It could be $10, or $100,000 – it doesn't matter to me and its fantastic that you can scrape things together to pursue what you believe in, however, it doesn't change anything.
            Who to trust? That is a very good question, worthy of an essay unto itself. But in brief, since this comment is already long. I trust to methods, results, reporting of data, and inclusion of all available information. In short, I trust to the scientific process, which is not the same as trusting all scientists. It does not matter to me whether a scientist or a corporate executive wears fancy suits and drives expensive cars, or if they have to hold bake sales to get published in the peer-reviewed literature. These details do not determine how the world works. I do not automatically distrust the source based on details like that. I am concerned with – first and foremost – whether the weight of properly and diligently conducted experiments reach one conclusion or another (or not at all). It doesn't ultimately matter whether Monsanto funded one study, or Greenpeace funded another – I look at the science and evaluate that, while keeping financial, professional, and philosophical interests in mind. It seems that you judge a book by its cover, or author, for that matter. But I do not determine what science I will accept for social reasons.
            This is another mistake that the "Myths and Truths" paper makes – it dismissed studies merely because of the funding source (on only one side) and not because of any problem with the science itself.
            If your primary concern is the truth, you have to be willing to accept the conclusions of corporate scientists driving Hummers or Greenpeace activists driving old Volkswagen buses – when they are right.

  • J Morlo

    Good when they are labeled you can eat them all for us. Or do you do your shopping at WF?

  • J Morlo

    WE do not wish to eat gmo foods. This country is a democracy and we have the right to consumer choice. If you did what the public did not want…who's problem is that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/tedicrawford Theodora Crawford

    We can thank Dan Quayle for the judgment that GE foods are substantially the same as organic, thus they need no testing. To strengthen this opportunity to avoid testing on humans, Michael Taylor as legal counsel to Monsanto claimed privacy of patent, which testing would challenge. Mr. Taylor now USDA food safety advisor. Don't know about "hundreds of studies" available…I do know the companies producing the GE products are the same folks who produce the studies…chickens in hen houses? There are animal studies showing negative effects and outside Canada and the US there are many more since labeling is required almost globally.

    Bottom line: do your own research as to available information. This scientifically based debate is fraught with opportunity to misrepresent the truth; Stanford University's recent "analysis" claiming no difference in nutritional value was a subtle hoax. Organics do not claim superior nutritional value. Organics avoid pesticide and herbicide exposure and farming techniques improve the soil, Indeed, grass is one of the most effect means of carbon sequestration!

    Finally, all California's Prop 37 asks is simple label identification that foods contain genetically modified ingredients…Our right to know and our freedom to make our own choices!

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      You're trying to have it both ways here. On one side you agree testing is needed, but when a company brings it to market — and tests it — you're saying that those tests can't count as evidence of safety. Who is going to fund or do the studies? Of course it's misleading to say only the companies producing GE products have done safety and other studies — plenty of independent scientists have as well (the GENERA list above tries to tag ones that are independent). The studies that show problems are the actual handful and no biological mechanisms have been proposed that could explain their results.

      Bringing the Stanford organic study as an example of scientific misrepresentation is unfair. The Stanford study was considering a very narrow set of questions. The media reporting on it was really poor but the study itself is reasonable within the confines of how it limited the question. This isn't done to mislead but to make it reasonable to study a large problem using a large body of work. Just because it didn't study what you wanted it to doesn't make it a "hoax". It just reminds us that one study — even a meta-analysis looking a hundreds of other studies — can't tell us everything we need to know.

    • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

      And because I'm sick of hearing this claim, some organic companies do claim greater nutrition for their products. This might explain why over 50% of people believe they are. I don't think it's absurd that we find out if that is true.

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    If anyone is looking for the details about that video with her co-author John Fagan that Claire seems to have gotten pulled, there's more about Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture here:
    http://www.mvoai.org/ and http://maharishi-programmes.globalgoodnews.com/vedic-agriculture/programmes.html They aren't hugely informative, but should give you the flavor of the methods. It was way better when Fagan was describing the quantum-somethings that pandits emit.

    I still don't see any publications that support his claims about the huge increases in nutrients in the vegetables though. I'd love it if Claire could get those for me still.

  • Brenda Gaines

    If GMOs are essentially the same as non-GMOs (therefore no testing is necessary) why do they have a patent (something new and different)? Why not label something you're proud of? Does anyone really think Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, DuPont (makers of DDT, Agent Orange and other weapons of mass destruction) care about public health and the environment? Why does China and Russia require labeling of GMOs? Why are chemical and junk food companies spending $millions to keep people in the dark about what they are eating? I don't like lack of transparency (for consumers) and lack of choice (for farmers); an intensifying rain of pesticides on ever-expanding monocultures; and the monopolization of seeds, the genetic resources on which we all depend.