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Quotation

21 November 2010

In which I feed the trolls...

Cross-posted from the Winnipeg Skeptics Blog.

About a week and a half ago, I posted a letter from Simon Singh, which urged interested parties to sign a petition for British libel reform.

A commenter by the name of "betty" had something to add:

Genetically modified food is our future. Actually, we already eat a lot of it. Is it safe?

"- Media are invited to join Monsanto and other industry stakeholders for the official Grand Opening of the new, state-of-the-art Monsanto Canada Breeding Centre, located adjacent to Monsanto’s existing Canadian Head Office at the University of Manitoba’s Smartpark.Tues, November 23, 201010:30 am to 1:00 pm (lunch provided)"
http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Monsanto-Canada-Breeding-Centre-Grand-Opening-1354370.htm

Um… I’d skip the lunch.

GMO crops are the main contributing factor in Colony Collapse Disorder which is decimating bee populations worldwide. We’re in for a future of eating gruel if we don’t do something fast. The mainstream media, big business and governments must stop whitewashing GMO science. http://www.energygrid.com/ecology/2010/03po-colonycollapse.html

Somebody from the media needs to crash this party and ask the tough questions!

Need motivation? Check these out:

American Academy of Environmental Medicine calls for immediate moratorium: http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html

The World According to Monsanto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8hFuuDAZjk

David vs. Monsanto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E42ndfjnP1g&feature=fvst

The Future of Food: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9Y_QH_c70s

Food, Inc.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0&feature=fvw

Vanishing of the Bees: http://www.vanishingbees.com/

RoundUp causes cancer: http://www.organicconsumers.org/Monsanto/glyphocancer.cfm

Join the protest outside the event.

Please tell a friend.

This comment was flagged for moderation, and I duly marked it as spam because it didn't actually address anything in the post to which it was appended. Either WordPress made an error or one of my fellow Winnipeg Skeptics bloggers disagreed, approving it for publication. Although the comment wouldn't pass muster on my blog (it is in violation of several sections of the comment policy), far be it from me to start a fight over something so trivial.

So if you were hoping for a post on the subject of the Winnipeg Skeptics' recent trip to Winnipeg's Creation Museum, then I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. You have "betty" to blame for derailing me, because I'm going to briefly address a few of the points that she makes in her comment.

Genetically modified food is our future. Actually, we already eat a lot of it. Is it safe?

It certainly seems to be. Are you asserting that it is not? Oh, goody!

“- Media are invited to join Monsanto and other industry stakeholders for the official Grand Opening of the new, state-of-the-art Monsanto Canada Breeding Centre, located adjacent to Monsanto’s existing Canadian Head Office at the University of Manitoba’s Smartpark.Tues, November 23, 201010:30 am to 1:00 pm (lunch provided)”
http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Monsanto-Canada-Breeding-Centre-Grand-Opening-1354370.htm

Um… I’d skip the lunch.

That is, of course, your prerogative. I work just across the street: if I had a media pass, I'd stop by for a bite.

To be clear, I'm no huge fan of Monsanto. Based on some of the actions that they've taken in the past, I'm of the very tentative view that they're a bunch of bastards. But that is irrelevant to the question of whether or not genetically engineered foodstuffs are safe.

GMO crops are the main contributing factor in Colony Collapse Disorder which is decimating bee populations worldwide. We’re in for a future of eating gruel if we don’t do something fast. The mainstream media, big business and governments must stop whitewashing GMO science. http://www.energygrid.com/ecology/2010/03po-colonycollapse.html

FAIL.

This was at one time thought to be a potential cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, however no credible research has demonstrated such a link.

From The Status of Pollinators in North America, pages 80–81, published by The National Academies Press:

For honey bees, the concerns involved the potential lethality of insecticidal transgenic proteins, the sublethal effects of these proteins on insect behavior, physiology, and reproduction and the economic effects of transgenic pollen as a contaminant of honey. Malone and Pham-Del├Ęgue (2001) reviewed the small literature on this topic and concluded that, in some cases, there are negative but sublethal effects attributable to consumption of transgenic pollens. These effects varied with the identity of the transgene and the amount of its expression but in no case have any effects of transgenic crops on honey bee populations been documented. [Emphasis added.]

Honey bees are not a target species for Bt toxin, however it is not implausible that they may be affected in some way. The alternative to Bt strains would be to revert to using traditional pesticides in larger doses, which could pose similar problems—especially if those pesticides were organic, in which case they could pose additional risks.

Professor Galen Dively, Pest Management Specialist in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland summarised the current state of the research very well:

First, the endotoxins currently expressed in Bt corn (Cry 1 types against caterpillars; Cry 3 types against beetles) are not active against hymenopteran insects such as the honey bee, nor do the CCD symptoms resemble those expected in Bt intoxicated organisms. Yes, the increase in bee loss has somewhat paralleled the increase in Bt crops in the U.S., but severe bee losses have occurred in Europe and in areas of Canada where Bt crops were not grown.

It seems very likely that this is a case of correlation (and weak correlation, at that) rather than causation. Wikipedia has a fairly excellent and well-referenced entry on Colony Collapse Disorder, including suggested causes.

But back to "betty":

Somebody from the media needs to crash this party and ask the tough questions!

Sure. By all means. The press release indicates that several key spokespeople will be available to take questions from the media. That's why they have these events.

Now that you have the science, let's take at look at the link that "betty" provided. And I quote:

Forword [sic] by Dan Winter from FractalField

We know that fractality is medically defined as the quality in your heart (HRV) which statistically predicts how long you will survive.

We now know this principle of measuring HARMONIC INCLUSIVENESS — is the way fractality can be measured in EVERY LIVING THING — TO PREDICT ITS SURVIVAL:

  • applies to forests ( Bioacoustic Habitat Theory)
  • voice analysis (Signature Sound Works, Biosonica, Biowaves.com etc)
  • AND BY EXTENSION — it follows that harmonic inclusiveness — measuring FRACTALITY — can be used accurately, scientifically — to predict the viability / survival of EVERY LIVING THING ( atoms, babies, galaxies, .. the Dodeca — Universe etc etc..)

SO — now lets apply that to DNA.

Do you know what would be the DEATHLY OPPOSITE of harmonic inclusiveness or FRACTALITY in DNA?

THAT… would be… MONOCULTURE — A PHILOSOPHY OF DEATH FOR SELF-ORGANIZATION in all of DNA.

Winter then goes on to prove that Monsanto is evil by searching Google for "monsanto+evil" and reporting the hit count. He uses the same technique to prove that aspartame is poison (I think that there should be a Godwin-style internet law about this one). I appreciate that among the four or five items that fit into the category of "EVERY LIVING THING", only one is actually alive. Also, what the hell is a dodeca-universe? A universe with twelve sides? The crazy is strong with this one.

To be fair, that's just the foreword. The actual article is written by someone who could actually rub two words together to make a fire. (What? What does that even mean?)

Unfortunately, the actual arguments that he uses to state his case are tenuous hypotheticals (which are, in my opinion, adequately addressed by the papers that I quoted above), bolstered by claims that some scientists have incorrectly characterised the uses or efficacy of genetically engineered foods (which is not relevant).

Need motivation? Check these out:

American Academy of Environmental Medicine calls for immediate moratorium: http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html

The World According to Monsanto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8hFuuDAZjk

David vs. Monsanto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E42ndfjnP1g&feature=fvst

The Future of Food: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9Y_QH_c70s

Food, Inc.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0&feature=fvw

No.

I have a long-standing policy of not wasting my time on YouTube videos: although the rhetoric can be persuasive, video presentations are notorious for not citing their sources, making them incredibily difficult and time-consuming to fact-check. They're also a lot harder to quote! I'll take a scientific paper over a video any day.

RoundUp causes cancer: http://www.organicconsumers.org/Monsanto/glyphocancer.cfm

The article in question quotes a 1999 study which purportedly "revealed clear links" between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I managed to track down what appears to be that very study on PubMed. Although I have access only to the abstract, the conclusion stresses that among herbicides MCPA was most strongly associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma—RoundUp (glyphosate), a completely different chemical compound, was not listed at all.

However, when pooled with a second Swedish study, exposure to glyphosate was associated with a significant increase in risk of NHL.

The picture is muddied further by a more recent and significantly larger study:

Although there has been little consistent evidence of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity from in vitro and animal studies, a few epidemiologic reports have indicated potential health effects of glyphosate.

...

Glyphosate exposure was not associated with cancer incidence overall or with most of the cancer subtypes we studied. There was a suggested association with multiple myeloma incidence that should be followed up as more cases occur in the AHS.

This prospective cohort study had 57,311 participants (roughly 30 times as many as the Swedish studies). So it looks like there may be an effect here. Then again, there may not. But it's important to remember that the (potential) increase in cancer risk is only seen in people who handle the raw herbicides directly, and not in consumers of the foodstuffs.

Also, this is a gigantic tangent with little to do with genetically engineered agricultural products. Sigh.

Join the protest outside the event.

Please tell a friend.

No.

Go away now.

For more "organic" skepticism, please refer to my other posts on organic versus genetically engineered foodstuffs.

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