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Bad science about GMOs: It reminds me of the antivaccine movement (revisited)

I never used to write much about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) before. I still don’t do it that often. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t been on my radar very much. That seems to be changing, however. It’s not because I went seeking this issue out (although I must admit that I first became interested in genetic engineering when I was in junior high and read a TIME Magazine cover article about it back in the 1970s), but rather because in my reading I keep seeing it more and more in the context of anti-GMO activists using bad science and bad reasoning to justify a campaign to demonize GMOs. Now, I don’t have a dog in this hunt (Forgive me, I have no idea why I like that expression, given that I don’t hunt.) I really don’t. I was, not too long ago, fairly agnostic on the issue of GMOs and their safety, although, truth be told, because I have PhD in a biomedical science and because my lab work has involved molecular biology and genetics since I was a graduate student in the early 1990s. I found the claims of horrific harm attributable to GMOs not particularly convincing, but hadn’t bothered to take that deep a look into them. It was not unlike my attitudes towards the the claims that cell phones cause cancer a few years ago, before I started finding dubious studies and looking into them and noted despite the utter lack of a remotely plausible mechanism and uniformly negative studies except for a group in Sweden with a definite ax to grind on the issue. None of this stops activists from likening cell phone companies to tobacco companies, the way antivaccine loons liken vaccine manufacturers to tobacco companies. Back then, I realized that there wasn’t really a plausible mechanism by which radio waves from cell phones could cause cancer in that the classic mechanisms by which ionizing radiation can break DNA molecular bonds and cause mutations don’t apply, but I didn’t rule out a tiny possibility that there might be an as yet unappreciated mechanism by which long term exposure to radio waves might contribute to cancer.

As was the case for the nonexistent cell phone-cancer link, there has now been a steady drip-drip-drip of bad studies touted by anti-GMO activists as “evidence” that GMOs are the work of Satan that will corrupt or kill us all (and make us fat, to boot). Not too long ago, I came across one such study, a truly execrable excuse for science by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen purporting to claim that Roundup-resistant genetically modified maize can cause horrific tumors in rats. I looked at the methods and conclusions and what I found was some of the worst science I had ever seen, every bit as bad as the quack “science” used by the antivaccine movement, as anti-GMO activists worry about GMOs sapping and impurifying their precious bodily fluids. Then, not too long ago, I discovered a truly quacktastic bit of fear mongering by Jack Heinemann about GMOs in which, or so it is claimed, GMOs produce silencing RNAs that not only survive transit through the gut, get into the bloodstream and thence into cells to inhibit the expression of specific genes, and even get passed down to the next generation to kill your children.

The GMO fear mongering can even reach ridiculous extremes, such as this little bit dug up by GMO Pundit:

gmoflu

In the comments, the stupid truly burns:

gmoflucomments

So it wasn’t for nothing that I made the comparison between the antivaccine movement and the anti-GMO, because the anti-GMO movement is very much like the antivaccine movement and the cranks who claim that cell phone radiation causes cancer. Indeed, there’s a lot of—shall we say?—cross pollination between the groups. As if to demonstrate that very point, last week I came across an article by the all-purpose crank to rule all cranks, Mike Adams, at NaturalNews.com entitled GMO feed turns pig stomachs to mush! Shocking photos reveal severe damage caused by GM soy and corn:

If you have stomach problems or gastrointestinal problems, a new study led by Dr. Judy Carman may help explain why: pigs fed a diet of genetically engineered soy and corn showed a 267% increase in severe stomach inflammation compared to those fed non-GMO diets. In males, the difference was even more pronounced: a 400% increase. (For the record, most autistic children are males, and nearly all of them have severe intestinal inflammation.)

The study was conducted on 168 young pigs on an authentic farm environment and was carried out over a 23-week period by eight researchers across Australia and the USA. The lead researcher, Dr. Judy Carman, is from the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Kensington Park, Australia. The study has now been published in the Journal of Organic Systems, a peer-reviewed science journal.

Judy Carman? that name certainly sounds familiar. Oh, I remember. She was quoted extensively supporting Jack Heinemann’s claims about GMOs. Here’s just one example:

We have not yet seen the worst damage that genetic engineering may do. Australia’s governmental agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is developing a wheat species that is engineered to turn off genes permanently.

Professor Jack Heinemann at the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety has studied the wheat’s potential. Digital Journal reports that he says1:

What we found is that the molecules created in this wheat, intended to silence wheat genes, can match human genes, and through ingestion, these molecules can enter human beings and potentially silence our genes. The findings are absolutely assured. There is no doubt that these matches exist.

The implications are clarified by Professor Judy Carman of Flinders University:

If this silences the same gene in us that it silences in the wheat—well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five.

Silencing the equivalent gene in humans that is silenced in this genetically modified wheat holds the potential of killing people. But it gets worse. Silenced genes are permanently silenced and can be passed down the generations.

That’s right. To Judy Carman, siRNA from GMOs has the potential to kill your future children before they turn five!

But back to Carman’s most recent study. As described by Mike Adams, it sounds pretty damning, doesn’t it? It sounds truly horrific, just as the Séralini study did. Adams is useful in that he takes the messages of anti-GMO activists (well, actually, he takes the messages of just about all cranks and quacks) and, as they said in This Is Spinal Tap, turns them up to 11. On the surface, it does, anyway. But what about the actual study. There was really only one thing for me to do, and that’s the same thing I did with the Séralini study: Go and see for myself. So I did.

Judy Carman’s study was, fortunately, published in an open access journal, and there was a direct link to the study itself. The first thing I did was to look at the journal. I had never heard of it before. The journal seems to cater to the organic crowd, being sponsored by groups like the Organic Federation of Australia and CSAFE, while the guidelines for authors state that “topics are to be consistent with current principles of organic farming and its associated industries, especially those in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and the Pacific Islands.” The journal itself appears not to be indexed on PubMed, which tends to indicate either that it’s a new journal or not a very good journal. On the other hand, to be fair, there are plenty of CAM journals indexed in PubMed, and many of them are pure pseudoscience; so I can no longer conclude that lack of indexing in PubMed automatically means a journal is dodgy. It is, however, often an indications that it is. Moreover, if you wander over to Judy Carman’s website, gmojudycarman.org, you’ll see that it’s chock full of anti-GMO activism.

After having seen this study, I think that the editors of this open access journal have made a massive mistake and have, either wittingly or unwittingly, allowed their journal to become a tool of anti-GMO activist groups, a couple fo which which gleefully announced the results of the study with press releases (for example here and here) calling the study “groundbreaking,” asserting that it was evidence of “adverse effects” due to GMO feed, and claiming that the results “clear evidence that regulators need to safety assess GM crops containing mixtures of GM genes, regardless of whether those genes occur in the one GM plant or in a mixture of GM plants eaten in the same meal, even if regulators have already assessed GM plants containing single GM genes in the mixture.”

Here’s a hint: It’s none of the above.

As I read the study itself, the first thing that became apparent to me is that it’s a massive fishing expedition. What do I mean by that? I mean that there’s no clear hypothesis. Basically, the only seeming hypothesis was “GMOs bad,” and the study was designed to find bad things associated with GMOs. At first glance, the design seems simple enough. The investigators used 168 just-weaned pigs at a commercial piggery in the US. The pigs were fed a standard diet, but half the pigs were fed widely used varieties of GM soy and GM corn, while the control group fed an equivalent non-GM diet. Basically, one protein made the plant resistant to a herbicide and two proteins were insecticides. The specific GM varieties used were as follows:

The corn used in this study contained 90% DK 42-88 RR YG PL (a triple stack of NK603, MON863 and MON810 genes) with the remainder being equal quantities of Pannar 5E-900RR (containing NK603), Pannar 4E-705RR/Bt (a double stack of NK603 and MON810) and Producers 5152 RR (containing NK603). Therefore, the GM corn that was used was genetically modified to produce three new proteins. Two were Bt proteins that protected the plant against insect attack, while the third protein provided the plant with tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate (Testbiotech, 2012; Monsanto, 2012). Because Roundup ReadyTM (RR) soy is predominant in the GM soy market, this was used. This crop contains a gene that provides tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate. GM DNA analysis (Genetic ID, Fairfield, Iowa, US) confirmed that the GM corn contained a combination of NK603, MON863 and MON810 genes (expressing the CP4 EPSPS, Cry 3Bb1 and Cry 1Ab proteins respectively), that the RR soy was 100% RR soy (expressing the CP4 EPSPS protein), that the non-GM feed contained a median of 0.4% GM corn and that the non-GM soy contained a median of 1.6% GM soy. Such GM contamination of apparent non-GM material is common in the US.

So the investigators fed piglets a diet of GMO grain versus non-GMO grain, let the pigs mature according to the normal methodology, and then after slaughter looked at a variety of outcomes. Worse, the authors measured these variables without any sort of control for multiple comparisons. Of course they found differences! Actually, what surprised me is how few differences they found between the groups, not how many. I’m going to hone in on the main finding of the paper first. It’s the finding that seemed the most dramatic and was the most highly publicized, the one mentioned by Mike Adams in his breathless description of he results, as though they were slam-dunk evidence that GMOs are evil. I’m referring, of course, to the claim that more stomach inflammation was observed in the pigs fed a GMO diet, specifically a 267% increase in severe stomach inflammation in the GMO group, with a whopping 400% increase in male pigs. It’s the result that produced pictures like this one in the paper (and, not surprisingly the same picture posted to many an anti-GMO website):

GMO

These images certainly look striking, but what do they mean? Well, not much. First of all, as many have pointed out, the photos chosen are deceptive in that not enough of the groups are shown, nor can we be sure that these are representative. Also, as Mark Hoofnagle points out, the assay for inflammation in the gastric mucosa of the piglets was only based on gross pathology. Basically, there was no histological study and pathological examination of the tissue to detect and quantify actual inflammation. Basically, the assay was based just on a gross visual inspection of the the tissue by a veterinarian (not even a veterinary pathologist, even, as far as I can tell). Unfortunately, such inspections can be highly misleading, particularly after animals have been slaughtered in an abattoir, as described by Professor Robert Friendship, University of Guelph:

Dr. Robert Friendship, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph and a swine health management specialist, reviewed the paper [see reference below]. He concluded that “it was incorrect for the researchers to conclude that one group had more stomach inflammation than the other group because the researchers did not examine stomach inflammation. They did a visual scoring of the colour of the lining of the stomach of pigs at the abattoir and misinterpreted redness to indicate evidence of inflammation. It does not. They would have had to take a tissue sample and prepare histological slides and examine these samples for evidence of inflammatory response such as white blood cell infiltration and other changes to determine if there was inflammation. There is no relationship between the colour of the stomach in the dead, bled-out pig at a slaughter plant and inflammation. The researchers should have included a veterinary pathologist on their team and this mistake would not have happened. They found no difference between the two experimental groups in pathology that can be determined by gross inspection.”

What I found particularly suspicious was Table 3. Notice how the level of inflammation is divided into no inflammation, mild inflammation, moderate inflammation, severe inflammation, erosions, pin-point ulcers, frank ulcers, and bleeding ulcers. This is not really a standard way of scoring inflammation. I don’t know about pigs, but in humans there are a variety of scoring systems for the endoscopic assessment of inflammation (for example, this one), particularly chronic gastritis (which is what we’re talking about, although such redness as described would, if associated with gastritis, be more associated with acute gastritis). Worse, gross visual assessment of gastric mucosa is subject to high inter-observer variability, and, although the personnel caring for the pigs and doing the autopsies were blinded to the experimental group (which is good), I don’t see any attempt to control for inter-observer variability, and, again, no control for multiple comparisons.

I also note that the difference between pin-point ulcers, frank ulcers, and bleeding ulcers is rather arbitrarily defined and not entirely clear. Also notice how twice as many pigs had no inflammation in the non-GMO group and that there was actually a lower risk of mild and moderate inflammation, as well as erosions and pin-point ulcers. Of course, the p-values are all non-significant, except for one: that for severe inflammation. In fact, on the entire table, the only “statistically significant” result is for “severe inflammation.” In fact, as Mark Lynas points out, many more pigs fed non-GMO feed had stomach inflammation than those with GMO feed.

Lynas also points out that the data are all over the place with respect to reported levels of inflammation, asking the very apt question, “If GMO feed is causing the severe inflammation, why is the non-GMO feed causing far more mild to moderate inflammation?” One also can’t help but notice that for “moderate” inflammation, there was a difference favoring the non-GMO feed, and I echo the question, “Do Carman et al perform a test for statistical significance to see if GMO feed has a protective effect on pigs stomachs? Of course not – that’s not the result they are after.” Exactly. Even worse, they used the wrong statistical analysis to analyze categorical data. When the data are analyzed more appropriately, there appears to be no statistically significant difference between the groups, just as there was no real statistically significant difference in the tumor burden of the rats in the Séralini study. Come to think of it, Carman’s study resembles the Seralini study in that it basically looks at a whole lot of outcomes in a fairly arbitrary fashion and cherry picks the inevitable “positive” result. In fact, if you take all the groups together, there actually appears to be a non-statistically significant trend towards less stomach inflammation in the GMO group. Yes, less. As Karl Haro von Mogel put it, the authors appeared to be “trying to shoe-horn individual categories that aren’t binary data into a statistical test designed for binary data is the wrong approach.” Basically, however you look at it, there’s just no “there” there. Analyzed correctly, there is no statistically significant (or, no doubt, biologically significant) difference in stomach inflammation in this study. As for the reported increase in uterus weights, as Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge points out, “There are also 19 other reported statistical tests, which means we would expect one significant association just by chance: and so the apparent difference in uterus weight is likely to be a false positive.”

There’s another aspect of this paper that’s very troubling, and that these animals were all very sick. Indeed, I have to wonder how they were being cared for. Over half the animals are reported in Table 3 to have pneumonia, defined as “consolidating bronchopneumonia of the cranial ventral lung lobe(s) and/or caudal lobes.” That is just not normal, and it doesn’t sound like a minor pneumonia. True, this pneumonia wasn’t histologically verified, either, as far as I can tell, although pneumonia can be viewed grossly if it’s bad enough. It is, after all, basically puss mixed with mucous in the alveolae and bronchial passages. As has been pointed out in multiple discussions of this study, such a high percentage of animals with pneumonia is an indicator of very bad animal husbandry, indeed. The bottom line is that there are many, many problems with this study, the totality of which are more than enough to render its results meaningless. There is no dose-dependent mechanism for the effects reported, no rhyme or reason consistent with a mechanism that would explain why GMOs would affect just the stomach (and then only to cause severe inflammation) and and uterus size. The study was a fishing expedition and not hypothesis-driven. It’s not surprising that it found something. I’d be shocked if it hadn’t. In the end, this study abused a fairly large number of innocent pigs to produce no useful data. She might try to defend it against criticism, but she basically fails. In particular, one notes that she can’t seem to defend against the charge of a lack of hypothesis and that she didn’t even try to defend the criticism that she didn’t bother to look at stomach histology to verify that there really was inflammation in the gastric mucosa, despite Carman’s touting that the “authors have over 60 years of combined experience and expertise in medicine, animal husbandry, animal nutrition, animal health, veterinary science, biochemistry, toxicology, medical research, histology, risk assessment, epidemiology and statistics.” Sad that they didn’t use all that experience to produce a paper whose results are believable and useful.

Scientific failures are seldom so spectacular.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

123 replies on “Bad science about GMOs: It reminds me of the antivaccine movement (revisited)”

When one of my friends posted a link to the pig study on Facebook, this was my response:

“[friend], there’s some serious bias here. This was an attempt to reproduce the rat study, but remove the feeding problem, and thus prove the point. Unfortunately, the results really don’t prove out.

http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf

The introduction spends FAR too much time trying to correlate pigs directly to humans and to convince the reader that a 22.7 week study is “long term” because that time equals the time for pigs to go to slaughter. 22.7 weeks is not a long term study, and shouldn’t be considered one. (Pigs can live for years.)

The problems don’t end there. The abstract tries to point a finger claiming only damages caused by GMOs, but it ignores the full results of the study.

Pg. 47 Is where you need to look to see the errors.

First, take a look at the “dramatic” differences in weight of the ovaries.
0.0040 – 0.019 for non-GMO vs.
0.0047 – 0.014 for GMO

The mean reported was
0.0085 for non-GMO vs.
0.0086 for GMO

The only reason that there’s such a difference in weight is that they opted to comment on the tiniest of the organs tested. Had they volunteered information about the Standard Deviation, you would have seen that the overall mean weight for the ovaries of the tested groups was equal!

Then we can talk about the “bloated stomachs”. What these researchers failed to note is that for the hearts, livers, and spleens – abnormalities were seen in MORE non-GMO than GMO pigs. (This result was not acknowledged in their abstract – even though other results were stated.) Even in the stomachs, more erosion and more moderate inflammation was noted in non-GMO.

This was NOT a successful study.”

Here’s the “Occupy Monsanto” link that provided his original source. I followed it to find the study results, and it provided the source link I used.
http://occupymonsanto360.org/blog/new-study-proves-gmos-cause-severe-inflammation-of-the-stomach-and-abnormally-enlarged-uteri-in-pigs/

The reason I kept my discussion so short (believe me, I saw other problems) was that I was responding in a Facebook comment thread! Fortunately, the post was received well, and all information about the study – including the flaws – was left available on my friend’s page.

It gets worse than the statistical fishing trip and lack of correct pathology data collection. The various authors of the study are failing to agree on what was done.

Here is Howard Vlieger being interviewed about the study:

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/06/study-says-gmo-feed-may-harm-pigs/

Vlieger told Food Safety News that while the study could not include any anecdotal behavioral observations of the pigs, the researchers did notice a marked difference in temperament between the two groups. When recording the pigs’ weights each week, researchers say that the non-GM pigs were easy-going and generally cooperative, while the GM pigs were noticeably more irritable.

“For whatever reason, as soon as you brought them into confined quarters, they were fighting and biting each other,” Vlieger said. “Every time we did a weighing, the same scenario presented itself.”

However, the study itself stated:

Individual weights were recorded weekly and animals were monitored daily by observers who were blinded to a pig’s dietary group.

FSM only knows what was going on.

As Orac notes, it is very poor science to look at redness in an autopsy stomach and conclude that it must relate to inflammation (there are other causes of erythema, including nonspecific postmortem changes, vascular dilatation for a variety of reasons etc.). You need to look at microscopic levels of inflammation AND correlate them to significant health outcomes (the authors of this crappy study admit that such outcomes did not differ significantly between the GM-fed and non-GM-fed pigs).

It is noteworthy that a co-author of the study, Howard Vlieger has a glaring conflict of interest that doesn’t get mentioned in the publication:

“Vlieger is president and co-founder of Verity Farms, a US ‘natural foods’ outfit which markets non-GMO grain. Despite this, the paper declares that the authors have no conflicts of interest, although it seems to me that he would have a very clear commercial interest in scaring people about GMOs in order to drum up business of his GMO-free offerings.”

http://www.marklynas.org/2013/06/gmo-pigs-study-more-junk-science/#sthash.37C63vqt.dpuf

Typically the Mike Adamses and anti-GM shouters of the world trumpet conflicts of interest in science, real and imaginary (at least when they disagree with what’s found), but they are curiously silent about the huge conflict of interest inherent in the pig inflammation study.

Followup note: despite my username, I declare that I have no commercial swine investments that would constitute a conflict of interest, though I love a good pulled pork sandwich.

I am a pathologist. It is true that, in the best of hands, gross examination will be wrong about 30% of the time. You all can figure out what happens when gross examination is not in the best of hands. That’s why we spend so much time looking at slides.

Looking at the gross images from that paper raises a number of issues for me. First of all, I think that I can produce similar appearances by manipulating fixation artifact. From what I can tell of the material and methods presented in the paper, the examination by the veterinarians was done fresh, but were the pictures taken fresh? There seems to be fresh blood on the examination table in the photos, which by itself is an indication of sloppiness (it’s not that difficult to spend an extra 10 seconds cleaning up the table so your pictures are presentable), but the paper doesn’t really say what was done. Formalin will take much of the color out of the tissue, leaving an appearance much like that in the top left (nil) image. I find it hard to draw any conclusions here without seeing the full resolution images, but I am suspicious that we are being manipulated.

The images in the PDF are low resolution, so it is really hard to tell what the stomachs really look like. I think I should be able to tell a fixed stomach from a fresh stomach, but it’s really hard to do so here.

Judging from the way the images are lighted (note the reflection from the light around the edges of the specimens), there should be significant specular reflections on the stomachs themselves if the specimens are fresh and much less so if they are fixed. I do not see the reflections that I would expect from a fresh specimen, but perhaps that has more to do with the poor quality of the reproductions.

Taking the images at face value, the image marked moderate (lower left) looks much worse to me than the image labelled severe (lower right). I have to ask what is really going on here.

One other thing is that autopsies are a messy business, and I expect that veterinary autopsies performed in a slaughterhouse would be much messier than the autopsies that I perform in a hospital setting. So how is it that the blood on the examining table in all four images is identical even though one of the stomachs is touching the blood, and there are no smears of blood immediately adjacent to the stomachs? Is it reasonable to think that they cleaned up the blood right around the specimens but not in the rest of the field? Also note that the labels are immaculate even though two of the stomachs appear to be touching them. It is very difficult to clean up all of the blood around this sort of fresh specimen.

The more I look, the more questions I have.

In my (limited) experience, telling people who are against GMOs that the studies they cite are faulty is every bit as effective as telling alties that the studies they cite are faulty. They assume bias because they assume a war — a battle between different ways of thinking and being.

On one side you’ve got the Good Guys who care about living with Nature, harmony, and love. On the other side you have the Bad Guys who care about acquiring Power, money, and control.

You don’t have to know any science to realize it’s just common sense that the second group can’t be trusted. Science on one side cancels out the science on the other and puts everyone on even footing. So forget the actual details of the issue: choose your side. Make a decision for the kind of person you want to be.

I probably don’t need to add that in my (limited) experience the anti-GMOs and the alternative medicine proponents happen to be the same group. And they are very, very emotionally attached to the spiritual implications of the Naturalistic Fallacy. They think I am going along with the Bad Guys because I’m the sort of person who decided to be an atheist and thus it’s ultimately my core values which are screwed up. They honestly can’t tell the difference between good science and bad … so they go with what they’re comfortable with.

Obviously, alt med/ natural health advocates have a conflict of interest and usually mis-represent research because:
their creed indulges reverence for natural plant products as therapeutic and necessary for maintaining life and health.
Phyto-nutrients are superior to pharmaceuticals and tampering with Nature may destroy their pristine essences- which, of course, could heal all of our ills ( especially if given in supplement form).

GMOs often are involved with pesticide use- which is already taboo to organic food producers/ users. These manipulations and torture of ‘natural medicines’ ( i.e. vegetables and fruits) resemble the horrors that vaccines have wrought upon innocent children – and the research cited in support is just as awful.

Natural News and PRN have gone whole hog as anti-GMO advocates, writing articles, encouraging political action and creating films:
( @ Gary Null’s You Tube channel) you may view his entire documentaries, ” Seeds of Death”** and “GMOs: Ticking TIme Bombs” which incorporate the wisdom of Mike Adams, Jeffery Smith, RIma, Laibow, Dr Mercola and many other well-known rabble rousers whose careers rely upon the myth that “natural is better”.

No COIs here we’re told.

** I’ve actually viewed the entire claptrap fiesta- what I do for scepticism.

I’m sympathetic to the view that Monsanto is a Giant Evil Corporation–I’d include them on my list of Top Ten Evil Corporations myself. But that’s more because of how Monsanto tries to control the supply chain: making farmers buy seeds from them, rather than planting seeds from previous crops as has been done since humans invented agriculture. In at least one case, Monsanto successfully sued a farmer for growing one of their products from seeds that had blown onto his property.

The GMO strain(s) we have heard the most about are the Roundup Ready products, in which the inserted gene(s) allow the crop to survive spraying with the weed killer Roundup (conveniently, a Monsanto product). This is basically a biological arms race, in that the weeds will eventually (either by natural selection or cross-species genetic transfer) develop resistance to Roundup. But there isn’t any evidence that the crop itself (as opposed to pesticide residues) is harmful to people. And I don’t think Monsanto is intentionally trying to harm consumers’ health (at least directly), because that would be bad for business.

Sixty cumulative years of experience over 8 people averages out to a little over 7 years. Is that considered a lot in a scientific research context? Or am I right in thinking she used the cumulative figure so it would look better?

In at least one case, Monsanto successfully sued a farmer for growing one of their products from seeds that had blown onto his property.

This is inaccurate. The farmer was sued for replanting seeds that he knew (because there is record of him getting them tested) came from Monsanto. If he had simply harvested the grain that grew from the seed that allegedly blew onto his property and sold it on the market, he would have faced no penalty. It’s the fact that he knowingly replanted GMO seed that brought the lawsuit.

What I’d like to see Monsanto do is have a replanting option in their licensing scheme. This would work as follows: for the standard price, you get to buy seed, but can’t replant it after harvest. For a higher price, you get to replant seed, but the license covers the acreage per year you can replant. This could even be split into a multi-year license and an indefinite license.

This is the same arguments from vaccines just with the words GMO instead. In the words of another man who explained it very well “for centuries people kept going ‘My crops keep being destroyed by bugs, Help us Science!’ and ‘my crops struggle to survive drought, help us science’ and science did and suddenly they all turned around and went ‘YOU MONSTERS. You altered life and put chemicals on our crops!'” The whole reason there is GMO is because people wanted and it is beneficial in the first place. If they didn’t no one would have invested in it and we would not be here today.

@Jericho — no kidding!

I have said this before, but if anyone really wants to see the difference between “pure” corn and modern hybrids, go to the 19th century farm at Greenfield Village near Detroit and look at their cornfield. There’s no consistency in stalk height, ear size, or row yield (I’m not a farmer so this is possibly not the correct agricultural description).

Kevin,
Monsanto don’t make anyone buy their seeds. It seems reasonable to me that they require people who buy their products to sign an agreement that they will not sow seeds for a next crop, since they need a return on their considerable investment in this biotechnology. There is nothing to stop farmers from buying traditional non-GM seeds if they don’t want to sign such a contract. They were initially going to introduce terminator seeds that would only produce crops with sterile seeds, but were dissuaded from this, but the widespread pirating of their technologies, in India for example, is making them reconsider this.

As W. Kevin Vicklund pointed out, it isn’t true that any farmers who have accidentally grown their GM seeds have been prosecuted – it’s a myth spread by anti-GMOers. all the cases I have seen have been where farmers have quite deliberately and knowingly grown their seeds.

As for Roundup Ready crops, I don’t see how these make it more likely that weeds will develop resistance and more than they do to regular, and very much more toxic, weedkillers. Glyphosate has remarkably low toxicity – the detergent they add to it is more toxic, which I think is pretty good, when you compare it to earlier weedkillers.

About the “pneumonia” that the pigs had. I would bet money that all they were seeing was blood pooling the lungs from the slaughter process. Not everyone may want to hear about this, so quit reading if you are squeamish. When pigs are slaughtered, first they are stunned, usually with a mechanical stunner applied to the head, carbon dioxide, or an electrical stunner. Then they are shackled by the rear legs and raised off the floor, and their carotid arteries and jugular veins are severed. So, at slaughter, blood in their lungs would be cranial. Unless they actually saw pus in the lungs, they can’t diagnose pneumonia. Oh, and BTW, slaughter weight for most pigs is 220 pounds, about 4-6 months of age. And, as a vet with a PhD in pathology, no, you can’t diagnose inflammation on gross exam. In fact, the first stomach from the non-GMO feed looks more anemic than non-inflamed to me. Iron deficient anemia is pretty common in young pigs, so much so that most piglets get an iron injection right after birth. And the alleged differences in how the two groups of pigs behaved–most likely handling differences, from the blinded (HAH!) animal workers.

@Krebiozen

I don’t see how these make it more likely that weeds will develop resistance and more than they do to regular, and very much more toxic, weedkillers.

A number of years ago, I recall (from memory, so grain o’ salt) reading about this problem occurring in Canada. A resistant variety of flax was developed, but it cross-polinated with some wild plants that were closely related, resulting in resistant weeds. I forget the details, but that’s the gist of it.

Todd W.,
That makes sense, though weeds seem quite capable of developing resistance without any assistance from cross-pollination.

@Krebiozen

True. The more they dominate a niche, the more opportunities they have to develop resistance.

Monsanto don’t make anyone buy their seeds. It seems reasonable to me that they require people who buy their products to sign an agreement that they will not sow seeds for a next crop, since they need a return on their considerable investment in this biotechnology. There is nothing to stop farmers from buying traditional non-GM seeds if they don’t want to sign such a contract. They were initially going to introduce terminator seeds that would only produce crops with sterile seeds, but were dissuaded from this, but the widespread pirating of their technologies, in India for example, is making them reconsider this.

Oh, I understand why their licensing is the way it is, and agree there’s nothing illegal about it. I was merely expressing a preference.

Monsanto don’t make anyone buy their seeds.

Oh, but then they can’t experience the wonders of RoundUp ready. The non-GMO people bitch and moan about Monsanto, while at the same time wanting the technology to increase their yields while not using harsh herbicides. They just don’t want to pay for it. boggle

Sorry Kevin, that was supposed to be directed to Eric Lund, not you. Mea culpa.

@ Michael Finfer, MD (#5)

Excellent comment overall, but a couple of points of possible correction. First, the legend to Fig. 1 says the stomachs are arranged in clockwise order from upper left: nil, mild, moderate, and severe. So the lower left is indeed severe.

Second, the reddish area in the lower right, that I assume you’re calling blood, looks more like an upside down logo to me. In particular, the upper left image appears to show some lettering, including the word “INC”. It also looks to me like they have covered the table, and probably also the labels and scales, with plastic wrap prior to placing & photographing each stomach. So I think your concerns about those particular issues can probably be discounted.

That is NOT meant to suggest that I think this study is sound – I don’t.

From the piggy tummy study:

There were no statistically significant differences in food intake, feed conversion ratios,
number or nature of illnesses, number or nature of veterinary interventions, veterinary
costs or mortality between the non-GM-fed and GM-fed groups of pigs. Mortalities were
13% and 14% for the non-GM-fed and GM-fed groups respectively, which are within
expected rates for US commercial piggeries. All dead pigs were autopsied by blinded
veterinarians and deaths were assessed as due to usual commercial piggery-related
matters and not to their diets. There was also no difference in body weights between the
two dietary groups, initially, during, or at the end of the experiment. Initial weights in kg
were : non-GM-fed group: 6.71 + 1.05 (mean + standard deviation); GM-fed group: 6.87 +
0.97. Final weights were: non-GM-fed group: 100.42 + 22.84; GM-fed group: 101.75 +
21.92.

Sounds like both groups were equally healthy to me, which makes the claims of “inflammation” on the gross examination rather suspect.

If red = inflammation, then I guess my arteries are just full o’ that stuff….

Frankly, if they blinded the veterinarians for the purposes of this one study, that is cruel and certainly detrimental to the veterinarians’ continued livelihood.

If the veterinarians were previously blinded for some unrelated reason, then that would be different.

Yes, given that GMOs are no problem, you wonder why Monsanto spends millions of dollars fighting any labeling law rather than using the same money to educated people.

Since the introduction of the first genetically modified food crop – a tomato – in the early 1990s, genetically modified foods have been in the middle of controversy.

Consumers are confused about GMOs due to conflicting reports about their benefits and risks; many don’t know who to trust.

We hear reports of GMOs leading to pesticide-resistant insects and weeds, yet some say gene technology may be a solution to world hunger via drought resistant plants. In the news we see things about the demise of the honey bees and we hear that Monsanto’s chemicals are responsible. We, ourselves or our families or friends have increased food allergies and poor health.

U.S. agribusiness see substantial economic benefits, and yet the farmers are suffering from the single grow seed cycle and the dependence on single source fertilizer and pesticides.

Few issues touch every human being on the planet as much as food. And, as technology has opened new doors in producing enough food for our ever-growing world population, it has raised troubling new questions.

The U.S. government has established a rigorous approval process for biotech products that includes the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Moreover, since the first biotech crop hit the market in 1996, about 1 billion acres of U.S. farmland have been planted to biotech crops and trillions of pounds of U.S. soybeans and corn have been consumed worldwide, all with no credible reports of harm to human health. However, the EU won’t grow GM foods and there is suspicious secrecy around the food industry that makes consumers mistrust this process. Furthermore, it is difficult to know who to trust when many, many of the former employees of agribusiness are now in our U.S. government and agribusiness are major contributors to our governments political processes.

There are many problems with GMOs and it isn’t just the scientific research. We really need some transparency in reporting, we need some honesty from our government, and we need some accountability from agribusiness.

Now the research!
In the research to date, I don’t see replication and I don’t see peer review. Replication involves the process of repeating a study using the same methods, different subjects, and different experimenters. It can also involve applying the theory to new situations in an attempt to determine the generalizability to different situations. Replication, therefore, is important for a number of reasons, including (1) assurance that results are valid and reliable; (2) determination of generalizability or the role of extraneous variables; (3) application of results to real world situations; and (4) inspiration of new research combining previous findings from related studies.

It seems that we are just at the beginning of understanding the full implications of GMOs and all the spin that has been happening in order to confuse and confound. I don’t think we need to fight with each other, I think we need to work alongside each other to figure out what is safe and what is not so we can protect our planet and the abundance of human life.

I do find it odd that opponents of GMOs seem to be so determined to lay health risks to consumers at the door of GMO products. I suppose it’s because this plays better with the twitchy anti-science section of the population.

I do have some concerns about GMOs cross-fertilising with wild species and spreading their genes with the eventual effect that the selective advantage given to crops by the process of genetic modification is lost- see also antibiotics. I think this is a rational reason for some concern about use of GMOs but the anti-GMO campaigners do their cause no good at all with me my pushing bad science down my throat.

The farmer was sued for replanting seeds that he knew (because there is record of him getting them tested) came from Monsanto.

We’re talking about Bowman? What he did was buy silo seed, spray the plants with Roundup, and harvest the seed from the survivors.

Sailor,

Yes, given that GMOs are no problem, you wonder why Monsanto spends millions of dollars fighting any labeling law rather than using the same money to educated people.

Not to defend the folks at Monsanto (who I’m sure are motivated by self interest like many of us) but why would someone willing accept labeling requirements that a) you know will drive off some of your customers, b) will cost you a substantial amount of money to implement; and c) will be the source of unending lawsuits when someone detects (real or imagined) that what is labelled one thing contains something else? Particularly when that product is sold in bulk and mixed and re-portioned at various times before getting to the consumer? Particularly if some stock person at the local store can mess it up?

you wonder why Monsanto spends millions of dollars fighting any labeling law

It’s not really that odd…mandated labeling would hurt Monsanto financially, as many uninformed consumers would be turned off simply by the sight of a GMO label. That’s why I disagree with the pro-labeling side of things…why should Monsanto have to incur financial penalties because of the public’s unfounded fears?

Imagine there’s a new movement out there that claims that only plants grown from seeds sown between 1 and 3PM are suitable for consumption, and all other plants are unsafe. Should corporations be required to label products with the time of day they were grown? What if this movement included millions of people?

The point is that for mandated labeling laws, you need to have evidence that the labeling is appropriate and useful. There’s no evidence that a GMO label would do anything but continue to sow fear in an already undereducated public.

I don’t want to ban GMO at this time―just Label it on food. Sure there’ll be some that avoid it, so what, if it’s safe, the stigma will fade, and scaremongers will soon be laughed at. If it’s not harmful, as some $cientists claim, it’ll all work out in the end.

Narad, I think the reference was to percy Schmeiser who claimed the 1000 acres of Roundup Ready canola blew on to his farm. He elsewhere claimed it fell off a truck going past his farm.

His worker, in his evidence in the court case, states that Percy Schmeiser had him spary “a good 3 acres of canola” with Roundup, harvest it separately and store it separately. This seed was then used to plant the next year.

Since the introduction of the first genetically modified food crop – a tomato – in the early 1990s, genetically modified foods have been in the middle of controversy.

Consumers are confused about GMOs due to conflicting reports about their benefits and risks; many don’t know who to trust.

Tina, plagiarism is generally frowned upon.

Narad, I think the reference was to percy Schmeiser who claimed the 1000 acres of Roundup Ready canola blew on to his farm.

Oh, right, he initially found it growing on the perimeter, right?

Yes. He sprayed 3 acres of canola on the side of one field and found most of the plants survived.

It is perfectly normal that, farmers spraying acres of their crops with herbicides that will kill them, just on the off chance there will be a survivor.

I’m kind of p!ssed about anti-GMO propaganda, as I swallowed a lot of it without much thought, and was only disabused of my misconceptions by some comments here, as I recall. Though my sympathies have always tended towards environmentalism, I don’t like being lied to by anyone, and I’m always annoyed (mostly with myself) when I am fooled by misinformation.

The knee-jerk anti-technology tendencies I often see among those concerned about the environment both worry and scare me. I’m a technophile, and I like to think that technology will be the answer to a lot of the problems humans face, as insurmountable as they may seem right now.

Organic farms, companion plants, natural pest predators and hand-weeding, as laudable as they may be, are not going to feed 10 billion people.

He elsewhere claimed it fell off a truck going past his farm.

Funny thing, that’s how I got my new wide-screen TV.

if it’s safe, the stigma will fade

Why is this necessarily true? In fact, I think it’s likely the opposite. Just look at what happened to MSG.

Regarding the Monsanto farmers- wasn’ t the problem that the judge in one case agreed the farmer took the seeds deliberately but seemed to rule that even if the seeds blew onto the farm accidentally, Monsanto could sue the farmer?

@sailor

Yes, given that GMOs are no problem, you wonder why Monsanto spends millions of dollars fighting any labeling law rather than using the same money to educated people.

What, exactly, is implied by this question?

1) If the foods were labeled, then third parties would be able to do experiments on GMO food safety. (Except that third parties are already doing such experiments)

2) If the foods were labeled, then people who avoided eating GMO food would not only be healthier than those who ate GMO food, but would healthier to such a large degree that it would be obvious that GMO food is unhealthy.

3) Something else.

[Off-topic: no comment preview? blah!]

There are more problems with the experimental design. the experimental unit in this experiment is not the pig, it is the pen of pigs. The treatment was not given to individual pigs, it was provided to each pen. At the end of the study, there were 4 pens total, 2 for each treatment. yet, the authors were claiming N values of almost 40. That is wrong and is horribly overstating their statistical power. The individual pig can only be the experimental unit if the individual pig is directly fed the diet. If the diet or treatment is given to the pen, then pen is the experimental unit. This is the standard methodology for research in animals sciences.

So Orac is saying that evolution is bad science since anti-GMO folks point out that GM crops produce bt resistant weeds and pests?

Orac’s post is just another example of the horrible arguments in favor of GMOs. Anti-vaxxers are kooks, therefore let’s lump the anti-GMOs in with them and take a couple examples of bad science (ignoring the bad science from the GMO crowd), and voila, anti-gmo folks are debunked.

Rather lame. But when you don’t have the science on your side I guess folks like Orac have to resort to emotional appeals, like the people he criticizes.

Michael, the Judge ruled in the Canadian case that the farmer involved knew, or should have known, these were Roundup Ready canola and planted them deliberately without a license. How they got on the farm was deemed not relevant, because it was what happened next that mattered. Had the farmer just left the plants, not harvested the seed off them and not planted his whole farm to that seed, the judgement would not have gone against him.

The recent US Supreme Court ruling in the case brought by the organic industry has clarified the level below which Monsanto cannot make a claim. That is about 1%.

Doug, do you have anything other than strawmen to present?

This post was very specifically about some bad science that was published and pointed out why it was bad. Orac didn’t state or imply that evolution was bad or that all statements made by anti-GMO people are wrong.

What is your scientific field Doug? Are you trained to read studies? Please provide us some citations to high-quality studies and we’ll all have a look. But I imagine you’re a drive-by, your high-dudgeon pearl-clutching is revealing . . .

Really, Doug?

Horrible arguments?

You mean, expecting people who wish to perform science to do it properly, and without an axe to grind, like the anti-gmo, anti-vax folks do?

I mean, learning how to control your experiment is junior high science. Why is it so difficult for folks performing studies like this one, or Tomlijenovic and Shaw, Goldman and Miller, etc to pay attention to one of the basic tenets of scientific experimentation?

#13 “They were initially going to introduce terminator seeds that would only produce crops with sterile seeds…”

OMG teh corn is trying to kill us!1!!!! GMOs are lik so bad!

#12 Shay – if you want to see natural ‘corn’ you need to look at teosinte grass. Any form of corn or maize is an unnatural mutant created by and dependent upon farmers – ears have been selected to the point where they cannot release their seeds naturally and self sow.

I love the irony of anti-GMO activists getting bent out of shape about corn. An unnatural food that only exists because it was was genetically modified thousands of years ago. I think it qualifies as a long term experiment, as do orange carrots, zucchinis, tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, and all the rest of them.

Qetzal,

I did misread the caption, sorry.

I looked at the image again, upside down this time, and I still don’t see anything that I recognize as a logo. Logos on autopsy tables are usually on the sides, not on the working surface, where they would make the table hard to clean if they introduced any relief at all. I don’t think that’s a logo even in retrospect, but I would be willing to admit I was wrong if enough people agreed with you.

@ Natural News, yesterday:

Mike Adams, as a follow-up to the ‘successful’ global protest he rankled about recently ( “March on Monsanto”), now is helping to publicise the “Monsanto Video Revolt” which will commence in a few weeks: people are to make videos with those three words in the title and put them on video sites on the ‘net thus causing HAVOC and CONFUSION and getting media attention.

( Isn’t that what woo-meisters have been doing for the past several years- creating videos that lead to confusion?)

I’m sure the entire world will stand up and take notice and the powers-that-be will quake in their boots**.

** Do you wear still boots, Vladimir? David? Barry?

Haven’t plants evolved to resist various pests and/or create symbiotic relationships with other plants to provide mutual benefits? Not to say that plants would have evolved to incorporate the Bt gene Monsanto put in to make them RoundUp Ready by themselves, but I suppose it.could be possible if someone were to work on developing a hybrid. (I am not a biologist, although I have lots of farming relatives, and DeKalb Ag used to hire high school students to do corn tasseling during summer vacation.)

Doug:

So Orac is saying that evolution is bad science since anti-GMO folks point out that GM crops produce bt resistant weeds and pests?

No, he said nothing even close to that. I don’t think he even mentioned evolution of bt resistance.

Rather lame. But when you don’t have the science on your side I guess folks like Orac have to resort to emotional appeals, like the people he criticizes.

You’re not really big in self awareness are you Doug?

I love the irony of anti-GMO activists getting bent out of shape about corn. An unnatural food that only exists because it was was genetically modified thousands of years ago. I think it qualifies as a long term experiment, as do orange carrots, zucchinis, tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, and all the rest of them.

Exactly. My GMO alarmist acquaintances get very huffy when I point this out to them and start sputtering things like “but now we’re changing the actual MOLECULES!! BLAERGGH!”

Yet these same people laugh uproariously at things like Ray Comfort’s display of total ignorance about selective breeding in the “bananas are evidence for creationism” video. It never occurs to them that their own viewpoint is just as biased.

#50+55: The argument that conventional breeding and selection also gets you new genes in the population is fine, but don’t twist the conventional meaning of genetically modified when you do it. Cause having a phrase for that is useful.

drksky – I assumed Dew wanted to avoid confusion with 5cientsts, so put a line through the S. But I cannot be sure.

#50+55: The argument that conventional breeding and selection also gets you new genes in the population is fine, but don’t twist the conventional meaning of genetically modified when you do it. Cause having a phrase for that is useful.

The problem I have is the vagueness about so many anti-GMO complaints. They tend not to be specific about what’s so much worse about doing it deliberately versus the old fashioned approach taking advantage of new traits that form from random mutation (natural or deliberately induced by irradiation). To me, it’s just a matter of increased control, not something fundamentally different.

Personally, I like the idea behind GM technology because we can use it to know what’s in our food, rather than blindly trust in the benevolence and subservience of Mother Nature like many anti-GMO people seem to advocate.

@Bronze Dog
To avoid vagueness and be specific:-
Modern methods of genetic modification, unlike conventional breeding, involve the splicing of distantly related or completely unrelated genes into a gene sequence of a given species.
This involves a ‘breaking’ of the species barrier, something that does not normally occur naturally except occasionally when a pathogen attacks a host. Indeed, it is this ability of pathogenic microbes that insures their use as ‘gene canons’ in the splicing process, a process which is crude and unpredictable to say the least.
For every desired outcome achieved there are many unexpected traits that are expressed in the resulted progeny including toxic principles in many of the genetically modified plants produced to date and horrific mutations in the work on cloned sheep and salmon to name just a couple of examples in the animal work.
The pathogenic gene material has been shown to recombine with microbes in the human gut in the work of Pro. Terje Traavik at the University of Oslo creating super bugs, and the antibiotic marker genes widely used in splicing have contributed greatly to the spread of antibiotic resistance
Unleashing such a shoddily imprecise and unpredictable technology on the general population is what I call ‘bad science’
Good science on the other hand will always have a ‘duty of care’ with the precautionary principle at it’s very core.
I guess most of the comments here prove that modern science has sold it’s soul to the highest bidder.To avoid vagueness and be specific:-
Modern methods of genetic modification, unlike conventional breeding, involve the splicing of distantly related or completely unrelated genes into a gene sequence of a given species.
This involves a ‘breaking’ of the species barrier, something that does not normally occur naturally except occasionally when a pathogen attacks a host. Indeed, it is this ability of pathogenic microbes that insures their use as ‘gene canons’ in the splicing process, a process which is crude and unpredictable to say the least.
For every desired outcome achieved there are many unexpected traits that are expressed in the resulted progeny including toxic principles in many of the genetically modified plants produced to date and horrific mutations in the work on cloned sheep and salmon to name just a couple of examples in the animal work.
The pathogenic gene material has been shown to recombine with microbes in the human gut in the work of Pro. Terje Traavik at the University of Oslo creating super bugs, and the antibiotic marker genes widely used in splicing have contributed greatly to the spread of antibiotic resistance
Unleashing such a shoddily imprecise and unpredictable technology on the general population is what I call ‘bad science’
Good science on the other hand will always have a ‘duty of care’ with the precautionary principle at it’s very core.
I guess most of the comments here prove that modern science has sold it’s soul to the highest bidder.

Modern methods of genetic modification, unlike conventional breeding, involve the splicing of distantly related or completely unrelated genes into a gene sequence of a given species.
This involves a ‘breaking’ of the species barrier, something that does not normally occur naturally except occasionally when a pathogen attacks a host. Indeed, it is this ability of pathogenic microbes that insures their use as ‘gene canons’ in the splicing process, a process which is crude and unpredictable to say the least.

To me, this mention of a species barrier sounds like Platonism or a declaration of sacred ground via the naturalistic fallacy. Genes are genes. How a new gene gets into the genome doesn’t really matter all that much in how it behaves. Inserting a gene and having the same gene mutate from a spare copy or a “junk” sequence doesn’t affect the result.

For every desired outcome achieved there are many unexpected traits that are expressed in the resulted progeny including toxic principles in many of the genetically modified plants produced to date and horrific mutations in the work on cloned sheep and salmon to name just a couple of examples in the animal work.

  1. You’ll have to get more specific about how the insertion of individual genes relates to cloning animals.
  2. Nature and breeders are constantly doing the same thing on a random or semi-random basis and no one complains.

The pathogenic gene material has been shown to recombine with microbes in the human gut in the work of Pro. Terje Traavik at the University of Oslo creating super bugs, and the antibiotic marker genes widely used in splicing have contributed greatly to the spread of antibiotic resistance

A link would be nice. Why wouldn’t this also be a risk with conventionally bred plants? What’s so fundamentally different about GM genes once they’re inside the crop’s genome?

Unleashing such a shoddily imprecise and unpredictable technology on the general population is what I call ‘bad science’
Good science on the other hand will always have a ‘duty of care’ with the precautionary principle at it’s very core.

From what I see so far, the same argument applies for conventionally bred plants as well. The double standard I see is that conventional breeding allowed us to get similar results while being blissfully ignorant of the details. It gets grandfathered in because it’s easier to not think about it. If there’s a problem with a GM crop, I’d think it’d be easier to track down and shut down the dangerous strain.

I guess most of the comments here prove that modern science has sold it’s soul to the highest bidder.

You’re rather casual with that sort of accusation, which doesn’t speak well of your critical thinking abilities or your desire to approach the topic seriously. Myself, I’m just a skeptic/atheist blogger who tries to pay attention to science and pseudoscience. My degree is in spatial science, so if anyone puts a lot of money in my pocket, it’ll be because I drew an informative map.

“I guess most of the comments here prove that modern science has sold it’s soul to the highest bidder.”

So where’s my check?

This involves a ‘breaking’ of the species barrier

Breaking? “Species barrier”? Human-made abstractions. Nature doesn’t care about our rules.

My opinion on GMO has generally been that the genetic modification itself is in all likelihood harmless. Although a plant that self produces pesticide could be worrisome, if it occurred on the edible parts.

What one does because they have genetically modified plants seems more likely to create problems. Spraying extra herbicide because your crop is resistant to it does not seem good. A tendency to even less genetic diversity in critical food crops could be very bad if a disease or pest decided it liked the GMO crop. Cross pollination of herbicide resistance to pest species. The actions taken by GMO patent holders against farmers (in some cases), And, other side effects.

On the other hand drought resistance or better yields with less fertilizer and less water could have huge positive impacts in the areas of water and energy conservation. So, I guess I am not a GMO bad or GMO good person, but more of a GMO “it depends” person.

sailor
June 17, 2013
“Yes, given that GMOs are no problem, you wonder
why Monsanto spends millions of dollars fighting
any labeling law rather than using the same money
to educated people.”

I don’t like the court ruling which prevents a competing dairy from stating a fact on their label (“no artificial growth hormones” or something like that). It seems politically wrong.

However, from a practical point of view, I am not surprised that Monsanto would focus on lawsuits rather than education. Generic staple crops need to be sold to the entire population, and people are don’t respond well to education. Besides, a few million bucks pays for a lot of lawyers and long-term court rulings, but it doesn’t pay for much temporary TV time. Right or wrong, their approach makes sense for them.

herr doktor bimler
June 19, 2013
“‘This involves a ‘breaking’ of the species barrier’
Breaking? “Species barrier”? Human-made
abstractions. Nature doesn’t care about our rules”

I think Texas has a law about “breaking the species barrier” on a farm, but it doesn’t have anything to do with farming.

Narad
June 17, 2013
“We’re talking about Bowman? What he did
was buy silo seed, spray the plants with
Roundup, and harvest the seed from the survivors.”

No, we are talking about Percy Schmeiser. He is the origin of a lot of the “sued because Monsanto seeds blew onto your property” claims.

It is true that some seeds blew onto the edge of his property and some grew. He took seeds from the plants which appeared to be herbicide resistant, planted them on a section of his farm as a test to confirm that they were indeed Roundup seeds. Upon the positive results, he then took seeds from the test batch and planted them.

In both cases, it seems obvious that the people being sued knew what they were doing, and did so because they wanted to use Monsanto’s product without paying for it. They consciously challenged the licensing system and lost. They were not victims of circumstance.

I have a lot of sympathy for their legal arguments, and I am not sure if the courts are correct in rejecting patent exhaustion (essentially ruling that 2nd-generation seeds are not inherently part of the intended use for which the 1st-generation planting was licensed). It seems to me that Monsanto would have to engineer seeds which don’t produce a 2nd generation with so little help.

Charles Clearwater

Modern methods of genetic modification, unlike conventional breeding, involve the splicing of distantly related or completely unrelated genes into a gene sequence of a given species.
This involves a ‘breaking’ of the species barrier, something that does not normally occur naturally except occasionally when a pathogen attacks a host. Indeed, it is this ability of pathogenic microbes that insures their use as ‘gene canons’ in the splicing process, a process which is crude and unpredictable to say the least.

“Breaking the species barrier” occurs all the time. In fact a good percentage of your genome is nucleic acid acquired from viruses. Most of the wheat grown in the world has genes recently moved across from wild grasses, deliberately so to provide things like rust resistance.

For every desired outcome achieved there are many unexpected traits that are expressed in the resulted progeny including toxic principles in many of the genetically modified plants produced to date and horrific mutations in the work on cloned sheep and salmon to name just a couple of examples in the animal work.

Cloning and genetic modification are two different things. Many of the genetically modified plants don’t have “toxic principles” at least not more so than the parental plant. This is tested for.

The pathogenic gene material has been shown to recombine with microbes in the human gut in the work of Pro. Terje Traavik at the University of Oslo creating super bugs, and the antibiotic marker genes widely used in splicing have contributed greatly to the spread of antibiotic resistance

Traavik has shown no such thing. He has speculated about it, but without evidence. In the same way that he once claimed Bt corn in the Philippines caused allergies. Nine years later, no evidence of this happening has been presented.

Good science on the other hand will always have a ‘duty of care’ with the precautionary principle at it’s very core.

The precautionary principle is a political construct. It has no place in science.

I guess most of the comments here prove that modern science has sold it’s soul to the highest bidder.

The ‘when you can’t win on evidence accuse others of being shills’ gambit.

Let’s see now. The standard plasmid cloning vectors typically contain an ampicillin resistance gene, and some are also designed to carry a neomycin resistance gene. The amp resistance marker allows us to select for plasmid uptake into the bacteria, and the neomycin resistance marker allows us to select for mammalian cells that have received a dose of the plasmid DNA. There are also a few plasmids engineered to have kanamycin resistance.

In other words, the cloning vectors used in the laboratory do not contain scary killer multiple antibiotic resistance genes, but rather some commonplace and limited selection markers.

None of this has anything to do with the evolution of multiple antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria. The control over the use of antibiotic resistance markers in the lab goes back to the Asilomar meeting in the mid 1970s. The discovery of multiple antibiotic resistance in human pathogens came long before then, and long before genetic engineering — in fact, it was a clue that plasmids are passed back and forth routinely among bacteria, and this led to discoveries that ultimately led to the introduction of genetic engineering and cloning.

As for all the rest of the discussion about “breaking the species barrier” and so forth, perhaps we ought to remind ourselves that DNA is DNA, and it exists in everything from ancient microbes to modern microbes to all the modern plants and animals. Only a few viruses use RNA as a genetic carrier, and they can only do this because they take advantage of the cells they infect to make DNA as the intermediate. There is no species barrier in terms of the makeup of the genetic material, and we know that our own DNA is the product of lots of mixing and churning. Within this context of DNA getting moved around within our own genomes over the course of evolution, it is also true that the sequences that code for the workhorse proteins that run the cells are themselves very similar from one species to another. One journal not too long ago pointed out that we humans share the genetic information in a banana at about the fifty percent level. That suggests pretty strongly that the organisms that predated the split between plants and animals already carried the modern complement of biochemical pathways to a great extent.

What should this mean to the consumer, who is, most of the time, not a practicing molecular biologist? Mostly, we should remind people that the DNA within our cells is derived from our younger cells, going back to the fertilized egg, and that protection of our genomes is something that our cells do aggressively and fairly efficiently. Replication of our DNA occurs via synthetic processes in the cells, and has to happen via the very long chromosomal DNA strands, each one being hundreds of millions of nucleotides long. It’s true that we eat lots of DNA because it’s a component of food. Our digestive systems are built to break down DNA in food into nutritional components which we recycle as biological building blocks. It doesn’t much matter whether that DNA came from a chicken or a tomato, it’s all food to our system.

In brief, adding a few nucleotides to part of the plant genome so that it carries out one single solitary extra enzymatic reaction, namely the one that cuts Roundup into 2 ordinary biological molecules, and does so using an enzyme that is made in plenty of other species, does not seem that scary to me. As we discussed on this board long ago, you already get that same enzyme and the DNA that codes for it in the normally occurring bacteria that come along with the produce you buy at the grocery store.

Conspicuous Carl,

I don’t like the court ruling which prevents a competing dairy from stating a fact on their label (“no artificial growth hormones” or something like that). It seems politically wrong.

I tend to agree with you, but we have to bear in mind that are very similar hormone levels (BST and IGF1) in milk from untreated and rBST-treated cows, and no significant nutritional differences. The labeling isn’t really very useful unless you want to boycott milk from rBST cows because of the animal welfare issues, which are what concern me. It might be worth mentioning that rBST use reduces the amount of greenhouse gases produced.

Personally I refuse to buy milk from dairies that use homeopathy to treat their cows (Yeo Valley in the UK, I’m looking at you).

Conspicuous Carl,

It seems to me that Monsanto would have to engineer seeds which don’t produce a 2nd generation with so little help.

They already have, but were persuaded not to develop them commercially.

That suggests pretty strongly that the organisms that predated the split between plants and animals already carried the modern complement of biochemical pathways to a great extent.
The way that we can eat most other life-forms suggests the same thing.

@Charles Clearwater, June 19, 2013 (#60)

“Modern methods of genetic modification, unlike conventional breeding, involve the splicing of distantly related or completely unrelated genes into a gene sequence of a given species.”

They could do. They could also involve genes in the same genus or even use more copies of a gene already present in the original plant. In some case the GE isn’t in the final product at all, just used for testing aspects. Like all techniques/tools, GE can be used a wide range of ways.

“This involves a ‘breaking’ of the species barrier,”

Genes don’t really have a ‘species barrier’ in that way.

“something that does not normally occur naturally except occasionally when a pathogen attacks a host.”

Actually it also occurs in symbiotic relationships too, where two different species both benefit from eachother. There’s some evidence that it occurs as part of normal development, too.

“Indeed, it is this ability of pathogenic microbes that insures their use as ‘gene canons’ in the splicing process, a process which is crude and unpredictable to say the least.”

This is hand-waving.

“For every desired outcome achieved there are many unexpected traits that are expressed in the resulted progeny including toxic principles in many of the genetically modified plants produced to date”

Evidence wanted.

“and horrific mutations in the work on cloned sheep and salmon to name just a couple of examples in the animal work.”

Cloning animals hasn’t much to do with GMOs per se, let alone plant GMOs.

And so on.

“I guess most of the comments here prove that modern science has sold it’s soul to the highest bidder.”

Straw-man. You’d find most academic research scientists aren’t paid that way—in fact, aren’t paid especially well at all—and mostly care for accuracy. (There will always be a few exceptions, as is the case for any type of career.)

The “species barrier” nonsense is still gnawing at me. It stinks of the idea of genetic purity. There is no such thing.

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