Ignorant celebrities lobby U.S. Congress against GMOs

August 5, 2015 • 11:30 am

One thing I despise: ignorant celebrities having undue influence on the conduct of American science and technology by virtue of their fame alone. Here’s a tw**t, with the meeting described below confirmed by the Washington Post (Blythe Danner is Paltrow’s mother):

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.28.53 AM

The movie stars will also lobby other legislators and then hold a press conference.

And, as the Post notes:

In an e-mail, [Claire] Parker offered a litany of Paltrow’s most famous quotes often trotted out as evidence of the “Iron Man” actress’s status as Not A Regular Human, including “I would rather die than let my kid eat Cup-a-Soup” and “I’d rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin.”

Seriously, she’d rather die than let her kids eat “Cup-a-Soup”? That’s one dumb woman, but of course Paltrow has been spouting woo, including “cleansing regimes” of the colon, for years.

Both Paltrow and actor/screenwriter Lena Dunham have made many statements in favor of putting warning labels on GMO foods, despite the lack of evidence that any GMO food poses a danger. Their statements have one aim: to get people to stop buying and eating genetically modified foodstuffs. Geneticist Layla Katairee of the Genetics Literacy Project addresses Dunham and Paltrow’s misapprehensions, making several good points:

To date, there is no solid research that has demonstrated that eating GMOs cause harm. I’ve read a few of the studies that are held up by anti-GMO activists as evidence of harm and the vast majority have been very poorly designed. Scientific organizations around the world have stated that GMOs pose no more of a risk than crops bred using other methods.

Many anti-GMO advocates fight for labeling based on the opinion that labeling is not about food safety: rather it is about their “right to know”. As I’ve followed this story, the editorial boards for major news publications across the country, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, have questioned the arguments behind “right to know” campaigns based on the fact that it simply does not offer any important information.

Labeling foods containing GMOs does not tell you if pesticides or herbicides were used. It does not tell you if fair-labor wages were paid. It does not tell you if the crop was produced by large agricultural companies. It does not tell you if the ingredients came from a large or small farm. Each one of these arguments applies to other forms of crop breeding: traditionally bred organic crops can be safely treated with pesticides, large farms that use seeds derived through mutagenesis can pay their workers poor wages, Monsanto produces seeds used by organic farmers, and GMOs can be grown in smaller family farms.

The diagram below shows that there are in fact at least six commonly used ways to genetically modify crops, but only one (“transgenesis”) bothers no-nothings like Dunham and Paltrow. Hybridization (“cross-breeding”) and polyploidy, for instance, are forms of genetic modification that has been pivotal in developing many of our foods, like wheat, as well as ornamental plants and animals. If you’re going to lobby for GMO labeling, then lobby for labeling based on wage fairness, farm size, or what pesticides were used.


Frankly, I’m tired of science being influenced by ignorant celebrities like Dunham and Paltrow, who have unwarranted influence on legislators only because they’re famous. I know at least as much about GMOs as either of these women, but I wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting with legislators about it, much less holding a press conference. Paltrow (and Dunham) deserve severe criticism and mockery for what they’re trying to do. GMOs hold great promise for human welfare, as in golden rice, and Organic Gwyneth, in her ignorance, is impeding that progress. Catiraee has a suggestion for these women:

So, here’s my request. The two of you have been blessed with being in a position where you can impact a lot of people. Your voices are heard and the ridiculous paparazzi write about your every move. At the beginning of this article, I wrote that I was crest-fallen that you’d taken up this cause, and it’s because I really wish you had dedicated your valuable time and effort to something that could really change things in our society, like reducing gun-violence or getting more girls involved in STEM. But since it would be incredibly impertinent of me to decide what you do with your time, this is my request: I’d like to ask that you chat with a few respected scientists about this. Not me. Hellz no. I’m a human geneticist writing about this stuff as a hobby. Go to whatever respected university is closest to where you live, and chat with a professor of agronomy or plant genetics. And not somebody who is recommended by GMO-Free USA or Food Democracy Now. Ask a normal everyday specialist in crop breeding. Ask her what she feeds her family. Ask him if he’s worried about GMO labeling.

151 thoughts on “Ignorant celebrities lobby U.S. Congress against GMOs

  1. My information is that there has been no testing of GMO foods to find out of they are harmful or not.

    1. It turns out that even pesticides such as glyphosate are very poorly monitored:

      “Glyphosate is not included in the U.S. government’s testing of food for pesticide residues or the monitoring of chemicals in human blood and tissues. As a result, there is no information on how much people are exposed to from using it in their yards, living near farms or eating foods from treated fields.”


  2. I’m not so worried by GMO foods as I am about GMO industrialized agriculture. Why not label the packages and let people buy what they want. I’m tired of the industry saying ‘eat what’s on your plate, and shut up.’

    1. Industrialized may be a concern, but it’s not related to GMO.

      The government requires labels for things a consumer needs to know about. There’s no evidence, or even a reason to suspect that GMO poses any health concerns, so labeling is not required.

      A company that growns non-GMO foods is, of course, free to label it that way.

      1. Since when did the People give goverment the right to determine what citizens do and do not need to know about? And who is to say that health issues are the only ones that qualified for the public’s right-to-know? If in doubt, I’d say let people vote on it. But we can’t, quite probably because GMO lobbies won’t allow it.
        Where I live, foods containing GMO products have, by law, from public outcry, a yellow “T” printed on the outside. It hurts no one, except perhaps the feelings of food-fascists.

        1. I’ve got no dog in this fight, as they say. But, dammnnn!. You might want to look in a mirror. Or at least reread your comment while keeping an eye out for irony.

    2. Why not label the packages and let people buy what they want.

      Why would we force vendors to put a label on a product that has been shown not to have any effect on health? You are talking about government-mandated speech, and have no justification tot offer for it.

      1. Government mandated speech? I am talking about citizen petitioned information concerning specific food production methods inspired by environmental (not health) concern. In the case of GMO soy beans, planters almost certainly use glyphosate (Roundup), a general purpose herbicide with a half-life of abt. 2 months which degrades to phosphorous in the soil and waterways. Glyphosate used habitually promotes herbicide resistance in target weeds and reduces field-edge plant and animal diversity. Weed resistance means increasing herbicide dosage levels.

        1. I am talking about citizen petitioned information

          I don’t know whether Gwyneth Paltrow is a US citizen, and I don’t see how citizenship matters here. You are just throwing words around wildly. Take a breath and get a grip on yourself.

          I also don’t care whether people, citizens or not, petition for something.
          White House petition to extradite lion-killing dentist Walter Palmer reaches threshold for response
          Instead, I want to know if there is a sound legal basis for it or not.

        2. Terrible stuff that phosphorus. You eat about a gram a day. If farmers were to use enough glyphosate for the amount of phosphorus to be significant (they don’t), they could save money by cutting back on their use of conventional phosphorus fertiliser.

    3. Because you don’t understand modern agriculture companies and farmers should spend billions to comply with your political beliefs?

      Industrialized farming is the reason why food security is an actual concept seen in the real world for most of the western world. Industrial farmers are insanely better for the planet than small plot farmers. They use less inputs while providing many many times the yields.

    1. They also omit grafting and cuttings. Those dreadful methods produce CLONES, you know. No-one should ever eat an apple, pear or plum again.

    1. Same here. I wrote quite a screed when I posted this to Facebook, so now I don’t feel like writing it all again.

      The “right to know” argument is one that annoys me too. It makes it look like there’s a problem, it would increase the costs for the distributor, thereby either reducing their income or increasing the price. It’s a bit like the ridiculous “food miles” campaign, which is NOT a good way of judging the environmental impact of a product.

      Personally, I’d rather know if child or slave labour was used, or whether the animals were treated and killed humanely. Those things would stop me buying a product, and imo, for far more valid reasons.

        1. Perhaps he/she/it had heard that DNA contains that awful poison phosphorus? (See the concern of W. Benson above.)

    2. I’m not. I expect that Sen. Tester will get some mileage out of being seen with her, and afterwards he’ll give Ms. Paltrow’s political requests all the consideration they are due.

      1. Here’s something that could go on a “Right to Know” label:

        “This organically produced carrot has been grown in fields where copious amounts of pig, chicken, and cow poopies have been spread. These carrots, and the soil have not been improved by any other method, so half of them are full of maggots.”

    1. “Given the limited oversight that is taking place on
      GMO introductions in the US, and the global impact
      of those introductions, we are precisely in the regime
      of the ruin problem. A rational consumer should say:
      We do not wish to pay—or have our descendants pay—
      for errors made by executives of Monsanto, who are
      financially incentivized to focus on quarterly profits
      rather than long term global impacts. We should exert
      the precautionary principle—our non-naive version—
      simply because we otherwise will discover errors with
      large impacts only after considerable damage.”

      Nope, no bias there. Lots of assumptions and whiz-bang maths though.

      The argument goes: Since GMO’s can destroy all of mankind, we shouldn’t use them.

      Response: Wait, wha? How do you know that?

      1. Pretty much everything has a non-zero probability of destroying humanity. GMO crops, the lack of GMO crops, nuclear power, the lack of nuclear power, gay marriage, the lack of gay marriage ……. etc.

      2. Given the limited oversight that is taking place on GMO introductions in the US

        Except for the EPA and FDA


        O Noez, teh daemon Mondanto! Scary scary. Run for your lives!

    2. Taleb’s position is really a kind of Pascal’s Wager. He’s essentially saying that the risk is far greater than any cost we incur in trying to avoid it. That’s not really knowable since we don’t know what risks, if any, there actually are. At this point there don’t seem to be any. In any case though the costs of avoidance are much greater than he seems to imply. Water and top soil are used in far greater amounts with organic farming, and those are clearly in limited supply. So while we might decide that the risk is too great to ignore, we have to acknowledge that by avoiding GM foods, we do so at the expense of resources that would otherwise be left to our grandchildren.

  3. Will Saletan at Slate wrote a very good article about GMOs and the misconceptions surrounding them. Well worth reading.

  4. Speaking of genetic engineering, I for one am glad that scientists in the field are taking a more cautionary approach to editing human DNA with CRISPR, and are openly airing their concerns about the unknown consequences of such genetic manipulations.

    “In March authors of a widely publicized editorial in Nature called for a moratorium on all human germ line modification, whether for research or clinical use, as did the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, Calif.


    The Chinese team used CRISPR on early-stage embryos that carried genetic material from two sperm instead of the usual one. Such embryos do not develop normally and are therefore discarded by fertility clinics. The investigators tried to repair a mutation in a gene that causes a potentially fatal blood disorder known as beta thalassemia. The results of their study, published in the journal Protein & Cell, showed that CRISPR failed to repair the targeted mutation in most of the embryos and caused unintended changes elsewhere in the genome.(Scientific American, Nature and Protein & Cell are part of Springer Nature.) The research demonstrated that the technology involves far too many unknowns at present to justify any risks to human life.

    Clearly, we need a moratorium on genome modification of germ line cells intended for establishing pregnancy. Scientists have much to learn about how CRISPR works. More fundamentally, they still know very little about how genes interact with one another and with the environment to cause disease.


  5. GMO’s are not about feeding people, they are intended to sell more and more round up.

    There are studies, not in this country of course, that show damage from glyphosate and even have shown it in mother and her newborn baby.

    I am shocked you buy into this nonsense, there is nothing healthy about chemicals in our food, and there is no doubt now that the chemicals do indeed reach our bodies through consuming.

    There is a reason that so many countries either ban GMO’s outright or at least require labels. They are not living in an oligarchy that lets companies dictate the science and the laws.


    1. If you go to Monsanto’s site you’ll find that they actually do sell GMO crops that aren’t part of their Roundup Ready line. Like crops that are pest resistant and drought and cold tolerant. That’s in addition to the traditional seeds they sell. Even a quick Google search on GMO coffee turned up research into traits that aren’t herbicide resistance. Two of them were cold tolerance and lower caffeine content.

    2. Did you also read the comment to that report on that same page you linked to … where it’s explained how flawed that study is and why?

    3. Didn’t read the comments on that paper huh?

      “This comment focuses on the claim by Aris and Leblanc that CryAb1 toxin was detected. In short, they used an incorrect method and an incorrect standard.
      The ELISA kit used by Aris and Leblanc to detect Bt was made by a company called Agdia (as described in section 2.4. of the paper). The kit was created and tested to detect Bt in plant tissues (Agdia doesn’t make any kits for animal tissues). This is potentially a problem because a kit that is not tested on mammalian tissues might cross-react with proteins found in mammals that aren’t found in plants, giving a false positive result. ELISA methods have been developed for Cry proteins in mammalian blood, but these methods have had varying success.”

      What does Monsanto have to do wth Golden Rice BTW? Or are they just an easy monster to rail against.

    4. there is nothing healthy about chemicals in our food

      Lol yeah, you gotta watch out for that dihydrogen oxide. It’s a killer.

    5. I am shocked you buy into this nonsense, there is nothing healthy about chemicals in our food

      Chemophobia. Name one food that does not contain chemicals. Just one.

      1. I hear even “air eaters” (there is some sectarian behavior of woo to the effect that they try, or think they try) consume – and exude – chemicals. (O2 vs CO2.)

    6. Chemicals!? I am 100 % chemicals, you are 100 % chemicals, and if our food and air exchange isn’t 100 % chemicals, we – die.

      I am tired of people who doesn’t know first things about nature making claims on it. Sigh.

        1. If she did, then she’s gone from wrong to not even wrong, because genetically modifying the DNA of a plant is not putting a toxic chemical in it.

          1. There are two ways you can put a toxic chemical onto a GMO plant. The first is to modify its genome so that the organism starts to produce a toxic chemical itself. And the second is indirect, as through engineering crops to withstand spraying with multiple herbicides, you likely increase the use of the latter.

            Monsanto’s Newest GM Crops May Create More Problems Than They Solve


    7. Yeah I am shocked that a working scientist knows that all food is made up of chemicals.

      Serious question, if you cant even get this right why do you think you have an opinion worth listening to on the subject? Its just that basic of knowledge to even enter the discussion.

    8. “there is nothing healthy about chemicals in our food”

      OOOOHHH it’s the chemicals.

      Really? This statement and others like it are the first and to me at least, the most obvious indication of a person with little understanding of science, let alone agriculture. You do realize that chemicals are what the entire universe and your own body are made of right?

  6. I was so relieved when I heard that Gwynnie had turned down the role of Galadriel.

    More seriously, at least a tiny bit, she has always caused me to have spontaneous, involuntary eye rolling fits for some reason. It amuses me that she takes herself seriously, but it disgusts me that some other people do.

  7. And this is why I feel squicky buying a bag of coffee labeled organic and non-GMO. It’s the notice on the back that it’s Fair Trade or better pricing and anything about farmer relations that I’m interested in.

    1. I get like that too – if I buy something with a GMO-free label I’m a bit embarrassed about it because I don’t want anyone to think I’ve been sucked in by the rhetoric.

  8. Paltrow’s most famous quotes […] and “I’d rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin.”

    She’d probably join a large proportion of the French population lining up for a toke on the pipe. The very idea of putting a living breathing product full of writhing masses of bacteria (and the occasional cheese mite – subject of early food movie censorship) and killing it and putting it into a can before eating it … revolting.
    Next thing you know, she’ll be objecting to pasturisation of milk to stop people catching bovine TB.
    I feel the need – the need for Brie!

  9. American culture is a victim of its own success. Wealthy liberals are so completely comfortable and care free they fail to realize how important things like vaccines and GMOs are. They are so concerned that their turnips are grown organically by a local farmer they fail to realize large swathes of the world are diseased and starving. It is a “let them eat cake” attitude. Starving children? Why not just send them ten dollar organic turnips? They are much better for you.

    GMOs drastically increase crop yield, and vaccines drastically reduce disease. But I’m sure the tens of millions of people dying of starvation and preventable diseases every year are very happy to hear that rich celebrities are making sure their children can buy organic cup-o-noodles because maybe there are unknown dangers to stuff and things, and besides corporations are evil you know. That’s what’s important.

    1. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. If humanitarianism was the name of the game and relied on quantity of yield, then GMOs are superfluous because we are capable of meeting that requirement now. The problem is that most of the starving people can’t get at, much less afford, the much-needed food that’s wasted in the wealthier countries. GMOs will sooner be applied for commercial purposes – to sell more food to already overfed but richer western nations – rather than for ensuring children in Africa get their much-needed nutrients.

      And I regard commercial GMOs in the same way I regard commercial drugs; some are good, some are harmless, too many have problems that companies are willing to fudge or ignore if it means interfering with their profit margins.

      1. When I hear the argument that the main goal of GM companies is to feed the hungry of the world, I have to wonder why the GMO companies want so badly to enter the EU market. As far as I know, not a single person died in the EU because there’s just not enough food in the region.

          1. BTW, do you know how the “huge amounts” of GMOs imported by the EU relate to the total consumption of GMOs in the US?

          2. Like I said elsewhere people don’t really consumer GMOs. The GM corn and soy are broken down to base compounds like sugar to be used in other products which have no DNA so no gmo cooties or used for animal feed.

            The EU imports GM corn and soy for animal feed.

          3. Oh yeah, you don’t consume GMO, only the glyphosate and 2,4-D herbicides that were sprayed on the herbicide-tolerant GMO.

            And BTW, just to give folks a complete view of the European food market. Yes, the EU is the largest importer of food in the world, but it’s also the largest exporter:

            “The EU remains the top exporter and importer of agri-food products. In 2014, total export and import values reached €122 billion and €104 billion respectively, resulting in a positive trade balance of €18 billion.”


    2. I don’t think that is an accurate characterization of wealthy US liberals. I think most of them want the large swathes of diseased and starving around the world to be saved from their brutal existence, unlike the typical European nobel of the 17th and 18th centuries as commonly portrayed in histories. But I completely agree that they are out of touch with reality and often very ignorant. An ignorance perhaps spawned by their ego, fueled by their celebrity.

    3. I would bet that many of those pseudo-liberals are the same people breaking down in tears over the death of a lion on a continent full of starving families and child soldiers. Not that trophy hunting isn’t disgusting, but the fact that the life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 46 years old in 2013 (last year data was available) is far more troubling.
      Sadly, those wealthy pseudo-liberals have changed progressive politics from a policy position into a lifestyle choice.

  10. Provide for me a food that will help me live longer and healthier and can feed more people. How on earth is that supposed to be bad for me?

    Education and scientifically engineered foods March in step.

  11. I don’t like the GMO hysteria as well. I certainly would welcome fruits and vegetables that don’t go bad as quickly. However, I am completely in favor of putting labels on food products. If there are people don’t want to eat GM foods they shouldn’t have to – even if I think most of their concerns are stupid.

    1. You are talking about government-mandated speech. I should think for a violation of freedom like that, you should have a compelling justification. You offer none.

        1. “Food labels are a “violation of freedom”?!?”

          If they are mandated by the government. Also, given that labeling, beyond nutritional information, when mandated by the government, implies there is something about the product which is dangerous, and could amount to restraint of trade given that it would likely damage business.

          1. […] and could amount to restraint of trade given that it would likely damage business.

            And this is exactly the problem: They fear that it could actually damage business interests if people had a way of finding out what their food is made of. That shows that the corporations are acutely aware that many people would choose non GM food, given a choice. So they actively seek to deny them that choice by keeping them ignorant about the contents of their food.

            Regardless whether the fears are justified or not, this should not be allowed to happen.

          2. Then we should also post “WARNING: This product was sprayed with pesticide at one point.” Should we put EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION on a label, whether or not that’s relevant to the consumer’s well being.

            We’d also have to label watermelons, bread (WARNING: This product was made with wheat that involved hybridization between three species!!”) and so on.

          3. “Then we should also post “WARNING: This product was sprayed with pesticide at one point.” Should we put EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION on a label, whether or not that’s relevant to the consumer’s well being.”

            Putting information on food about the pesticides and herbicides used during its production is not a bad idea at all, given that glyphosate and 2,4-D for instance are currently classified as, respectively, probably and possibly carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

            By the way, Dow’s new generation Enlist corn and soybean varieties are designed for spraying with both glyphosate and the 2,4-D herbicide.

          4. The international agency for research on cancer also has Coffee as a known carcinogenic and shift work as a probably.

            Fine you want to get rid of glyphosate and 2,4-D* what Herbicide do you want to go back to using?

          5. I think that the best solution would be if food producers moved to vertical farming which holds the promise of totally forgoing herbicide use. But in the interim I would want them to move away from herbicides which have already been reviewed by the IARC and classified as probably carcinogenic.

          6. +1
            I saw a recent organic farming video on YouTube in which an American was being shown how the Cubans do so well, ever since Cuba lost USSR support and the fertilizers and pesticides that went with it. Even more recently, I watched a farming video which showed many naturalistic layers of plants, from trees on down, in height, chosen and interwoven to provide for each other’s nutritional needs, draw pollinators, deflect pests, and let nature work. Humans planting acres and acres of single crops tend to create an environment that requires chemicals, but it’s done for the easy use of farm machinery.

          7. The strategy of introducing new multi-herbicide resistant GMOs may prove counterproductive, if our goal is to decrease the herbicide use.

            “Monsanto expects Xtend will eventually account for half of all US cotton planting and 40 percent of soybeans. Dicamba [herbicide] application would increase 14-fold on cotton in comparison to current use rates, and 88-fold on soybeans. For the latter crop, Freese estimates that farmers will use an additional 20 million pounds of herbicides every year.

            Those figures may even be conservative: as weeds gradually become harder to kill with dicamba and glufosinate, farmers could respond by using more of those herbicides. ”


          8. thejimisawesome,

            The use of Roundup Ready crops led to the development of super-weeds. If you’re assuming that making the crops 2,4-D resistant won’t lead to a similar outcome, it’s you who are not being serious, not me.

          9. “Regardless whether the fears are justified or not” worries me.

            Imagine a scenario in which the FBI foils a plot by terrorists to contaminate the food supply. Extreme right-wing news outlets get hold of the story and call for mandatory labeling of food products processed by Muslim workers, invoking the public’s right to make informed choices about what they’re eating.

            I hope we can agree that this sort of labeling would be unjustified and damaging, and should be strenuously resisted for that reason.

            So where should we draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable food labeling? To me the most sensible place is at the point where justifiable fears end. If the labeling serves no public health purpose, but merely reinforces popular misconceptions about food safety, then don’t require it.

          1. I agree.

            There can be harm done in even neutrally-parsed labeling if the public interprets the message as implying there’s some risk associated with it.

            To see this, maybe compuholio should consider the suggestion that we label all non-GM food with the label “genetic code not refined.” And it would give consumers the exact same identification information as labeling all GM food, but puts the implication on the other side. If that sounds like a really bad idea to you compu, realize that it’s not any better or worse an idea than labeling GM food.

        2. Yes they are. The courts have routinely ruled that compelling speech is a violation of the 1st amendment without a compelling public interest. In the case of food the compelling interest is nutritional value and ingredients as they have a public health role.

          1. In the case of food the compelling interest is nutritional value and ingredients as they have a public health role.

            Also point of origin can be useful in tracking outbreaks.

            So once again, Gingerbaker, what is the compelling governmental interest in the compulsion of GMO information?

          2. Not even close to a majority of the public wants it. In the most hippy friendly states have voted against labeling measures. If you are talking about that 93 percent poll its nonsense with basically no one caring. You can get that result for labeling DNA in food. Most just don’t care and have extremely soft views. You can win a few small population counties.

        3. Food labels are a “violation of freedom”?!?

          Yes. When the government forces a person (or corporation) to do something, that is a violation of freedom. Which gets us back to whether there is a compelling governmental interest in doing so. Still waiting.

    2. We have labels on food products. The question is what sort of information those labels should contain. Should they list the complete pedigree of every ingredient in the product? After all, there might be some company somewhere in the supply chain whose policies I might not like. Concerned consumers are entitled to know!

      Why restrict such labeling to food? Maybe toilet paper should be labeled according to whether its manufacturers contribute to the campaigns of Republican climate-change deniers. Surely that’s a matter of public concern at least as great as GMO food safety or abusive agribusiness practices.

    1. Yeah I too want one of those chestnut trees after talking with someone at work about them. Also a walnut.

  12. It would be interesting to do a study comparing the more rational concern over DDT to the less rational one over GMOs. One anti-GMO friend of mine quips that I should remember DDT, but translates this into a generic distrust of scientists.

    One has to admire actor Harrison Ford who for a while said he has definite political views but was reluctant to discuss them in interviews because he believed being a successful actor should not be a boost to his political credibility. (This seems to have changed in the Bush years when he became more outspoken.)

    I think “no-nothing” needs to be corrected to “know-nothing” in this post.

  13. So, tell me folks, do you think do you think GMO foods, which may contain active genetic modifiers, should be tested for human safety as rigorously as an over-the-counter pain reliever?

    Guess what? They are not. They are considered a food product, despite being possibly biochemically and pharmacologically active. The FDA basically stopped thinking about them in 1992 once they were seen to be nutritionally similar to nonGMO equivalent foodstuff. Nutritionally similar.

    These agents, as far as I can see, have not been properly characterized in humans as far as routes of metabolism, absorption, and biochemical effect.

    They have , as far as I can tell, never been characterized in combination with other mutagenic or pharmacologically active agents (say, for instance, plasticizers or pesticides)in humans.

    You may think that there is no need to do this – I have had self-proclaimed very knowledgeable folks tell me very confidently that these genetic modifiers can not survive the GI tract. Not true – they have been found happily active in human bloodstreams after food ingestion.

    Is this important? I don’t know. But,as I say, I do not believe it has been studied. Which is shocking.

    1. GMO foods, which may contain active genetic modifiers,

      Mutagens? They do not. So the rest of your comment is unwise.

      In fact, GMO is a more precise, less riskier version of the artificial selection we have practiced on foods for ~ 10 kyrs and on ourselves as long as we have been a species (~ 200 kyrs). The latter method is like comparing an axe with a scalpel, moving 1000s of alleles vs moving one allele or gene.

      This is the best demonstration of when we do GMO daily on our own skin bacteria I know of: we use soap for washing. If I understand correctly some cells will lyse and release DNA that other cells will be infused with.

      If you don’t like GMO, don’t wash or shower.

      1. Is mutagen the wrong word? It is my understanding that some of these GMO’s have three components, including DNA modifiers designed to allow new sequences to take hold.

        That seems to me to be a perfect example of a “mutagen”.

    2. So, tell me folks, do you think do you think GMO foods, which may contain active genetic modifiers, should be tested for human safety as rigorously as an over-the-counter pain reliever?

      In a perfect world everything would be tested for human safety. Since we don’t live in that world, we should allocate testing resources where we have good scientific reasons to think there’s a risk. If we understand a sequence and know what it does in the original organism, and we have no scientific reason to suspect a heath risk, then it should not be a high priority to test it.

      The reverse is true too, of course. If you change a plant or animal in a way that you have good reason to believe will impact its digestibility, you should test it.

      In both cases, the rational thing to do is not bias your choice of what to test based on the method of hybridization. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing cross-breeding, polyploidy, or trangsgenesis. That’s largely irrelevant to the question of what to test. What’s relevant is what change you think you’re making.

      So yes, test the nutritional value of things you intentionally modify for a change in nutritional value. And do that regardless of whether you’re breeding two pigs together or sticking a vitamin-producing sequence in a genome. But don’t go around testing everything that uses the transgenesis method merely because it uses that method. That’s a waste of resources and, in the worst case scenario, it means some risky change you made via some other method is going untested because you chose to allocate your testing resources on your irrational fear of transgenesis.

      1. we should allocate testing resources where we have good scientific reasons to think there’s a risk

        There is no way to tell what the risk might be. GMO foods may contain not just a different sequence – they can have genetic operators – active agents.

        My question is that as far as I can see (and I may have missed it) these agents have simply not been characterized in human systems.

        Agents that can have an effect o n DNA – and we don’t know where they survive in the human body, what effect they have on individual cell types, what effects they may have in conjunction with other pollutants, pesticides, estrogenic agents, etc.

        And you think there is no reason to test this?!?

        1. There is no way to tell what the risk might be.

          Of course there is; the whole point of sticking a sequence in a genome is that you’ve studied that sequence and have evidence it creates some effect you want. You don’t think agricultural scientists are transferring sequences they know nothing about, do you?

          Can we be absolutely certain? No, of course not. There is always risk. But the point is you evaluate the risk based on your scientific understanding of what you’re doing, you don’t say “OMG, gene modification! Let’s set aside everything we think we know about the impact of the change we’re making it and rigorously test everything, because you never know, that polyploidy may cause our seedless orange to start producing cyanide.”

  14. There’s definitely an anti-science, anti-progress fad these days (the flip side of the pro-progress wackiness of the 1950s). Go paleo (baby)!

    What these people don’t seem to realize is that everything they eat (unless they are hunting and gathering in wild places) has been genetically modified: By human selection. As has been pointed out above. (Excepting wild-caught fish.) Look at what has been selectively bred from the ancestral cabbage plant!

    But, somehow, as soon as technology is involved, it becomes evil! Evil!

    The anti-grain people claim that the green-revolution grains are somehow harmful. Ask them: Exactly what is different and exactly what does that difference do to people. Oh, don’t bother me with details, it’s different. [Well, yeah, it feeds millions more people than the old strains.]

      1. And pollution, sedementation, damage to other species in the ecosystem, etc., etc. but it’s the nearest thing anyone can have (short of going out and hunting/gathering wild food) that is anything like what the humans in the paleolithic ate.

        As I say about the fad “Paleo” diets: The diet where you eat only things that didn’t exist during the paleolithic period.

  15. I agree with respondent Benson that there is a link between GMOs and the continued industrialization of agriculture but like all things agricultural and ecological this is complicated.

    I don’t have the knowledge (I’ve far too much too learn about ecology, economics, farm history, agricultural policy, etc.) at my fingertips (or time)to attempt a case for making this point-of-view (but think Monarch Butterflys).

    Jon Tester, the third person mentioned in the Tweet is, I think, the only organic farmer in the U. S. Senate (Montana). He is an interesting person as is the Montana organic farm scene, which is colorful, fascinating and amazing. These farmers, a diverse bunch in terms of education, politics, experiences and dreams, pay attention to the ecological conditions given for farming in Montana which are severe (droughty) and to building soils.

    Earlier this year Mr. Tester was a member of a group which introduced a bill “to amend the Federal Food, Drug…Act to require that genetically engineered food and foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients be labeled accordingly”.

    These are the signers: Mrs. BOXER (for herself, Mr. LEAHY, Mr. SANDERS, Mr. BLUMENTHAL, Mrs. F
    , Mr. REED, Mrs. SHAHEEN, Mr. HEINRICH, Ms. W
    ARREN, Mr. TESTER, and Mr. BOOKER.

    And the Taleb et al essay, one I’ve known about but not read carefully–not sure I ever will, is a great read but is demanding!

  16. In Paltrow’s defence, I feel similarly about cheese in a tin. (Not with her at all on GMOs, though.)

    1. LOL. I agree that tinned cheese is odious, but would you rather smoke crack (assuming you don’t!) than eat tinned cheese.

      Until I left college, I thought that Velveeta was what cheese was. Thank G*d I lived in France for a while!

      1. I would rather smoke marijuana than eat tinned cheese. But having smoked it, the tinned cheese might not look so bad after all.

    2. Does she mean cheese that you spray from a tin because you got to admit that’s a fun product.

    3. Can someone please provide a link to this purported “tinned cheese”? I’ve never seen such a thing. I’ve seen plenty of soft French cheese in little beechwood boxes. (Well, I saw them for a very brief period before I ate them.) But, no tins.

      I just spent 3 weeks in the UK and saw no tinned cheeses — even at various Sainsbury’s or Tescos.

  17. In Ireland Teagasc did a cisgenic transformation of the potato, taking a gene that imbued blight resistance from a wild type potato to a cultivar version. The poor guy got it from both the anti gmo crowd and the potato farmers. He pointed how much chemicals are currently used in Irish production so pissed off farmers and then because he used cisgenic techniques his work was threatened by the anti gmo crowd.

    Was at an interesting lecture by Professor R. Ford Denison on his book Darwinian agriculture. Basically showing how we can use knowledge of evolution to help with new ways of crop production. Also why you need to use all tools in the toolbox to solve problems.


    Although the Q and A is a little painful.
    Also creationist outside gave me a laugh handing pamphlets to myself, the retired head of Trinity botany department and 3 other biologists.

  18. While I believe GM foods can be assumed safe (except food plants modified to actually produce their own pesticide, which should be regularly tested for safety given the possibility of selective pressure for more effective poisons and increased production of them), there don’t seem to be any compelling arguments against labeling, given that the majority of Americans want it.

    The argument given in the article is strange. We shouldn’t label GM foods because the label wouldn’t also tell you the size of the farm, the size of the company, and how much they paid their workers? So what? That’s irrelevant. And if the majority of the public voted to require companies to disclose how well they pay their workers or something, I’d support that too.

    You know, democracy.

    I also think the majority of the public would not agree that food labeling regulations applied to businesses are a violation of free speech.

    1. If the majority of the public voted to require companies to disclose their trade secrets, would you support that too? How about the number of registered Republicans they employ? The CEO’s home phone number? Where does “democracy’s” right to impose arbitrary, pointless, and potentially harmful disclosure requirements end, in your view?

      1. I assume your questions are rhetorical. I may not always like specific laws, but I still support the idea of society as a whole deciding what’s best for it and passing laws to effect it.

        In cases where some deem a law grossly unjust, those who disagree with it can try to get it changed, including through civil disobedience (i.e. breaking it). I support that too, in general.

        But when there’s no really compelling argument against a law, as seems to be the case here, then I’m inclined to defer to the judgment of society. So if people want labels, I think they should have them.

        I don’t care much about GMOs, but I care when the desires of the public are being overruled not for any principled reason – there is certainly no precedent in this country that requires laws to be scientifically justified – but primarily to protect corporate profit or powerful actors. When corporations sent lobbyists to bribe congressmen to ban states from implementing labeling laws, they weren’t operating on any except one of protecting their expected future profit. The will of the people isn’t the highest justification for a law in my mind, but it’s a lot higher than protecting wealthy corporations. So when they come into conflict I want to see the people win.

        1. So your problem isn’t with GMOs, it’s with lobbyists and the wealthy corporations who employ them. In which case your campaign ought to be targeted directly at those abuses of power, rather than at food producers whose supply chain happens to include GMO ingredients somewhere along the line.

          That’s the compelling argument against GMO labeling: that it negatively affects good actors as well as bad, small producers as well as giant conglomerates. Your division of the world into “the people” v. “wealthy corporations” is too simplistic. Business owners are people too, and most of them aren’t wealthy. But you’re apparently OK with burdening them with pointless bookkeeping and disclosure requirements simply because “the people” say so.

          In a constitutional democracy, the burden of proof is supposed to be the other way round: you don’t require something unless there’s a good reason for it. The whim of the people isn’t a good enough reason.

          1. Your last paragraph, regarding “The burden of proof…” is what should apply to the government’s requiresment for proof against its citizens, not what the citizens are limited to requiring in any case.

          2. I find it difficult to state clearly exactly what I am trying to say. You might respond that government requirement of GMO labeling is exactly what I said shouldn’t be required, but what is going on, as I understand it, is federal regulation specifically aimed at blocking those corporations and even state regulations allowing GMO labeling.

            When the citizenry wants to know, and the government blocks the knowledge, and the bottom line is corporate profits above all else, there’s a problem.

            BTW, what percentage of worthily published science on GMO produce is completely free of corporate support, i.e., risk of financial bias?

          3. “The knowledge” you claim is being blocked amounts to at most a single bit of information: did or did not some unidentified GMO play some unspecified role somewhere in the supply chain of this food product?

            If you want real, substantive information, read the Saletan article linked at comment #6 (if you haven’t already). He shows pretty convincingly that GMO labeling has almost nothing to do with food safety or informing the public, and quite a lot to do with politics, misdirection, entrenched anti-science dogma, and protecting the profits of pesticide manufacturers whose business model is threatened by GM crops. (Yes, there are corporate interests at stake on both sides of this debate.)

    2. You know, democracy.

      There are different forms of democracy. The form of government in the USA is a constitutional republican democracy. The kind you apparently advocate is mob rule.

      1. The “mob rule” you suggest is ruled out by our Constitution, which provides for individual rights, civil rights, etc., to prevent the absurd bullying of “might is right.”

      2. No, I’d advocate that they go through the usual channels of writing a proposal, gathering signatures, and holding a vote. If anyone in this argument can be said to be against the current system of government, it’d probably be the corporations who are bribing congressmen to pass a federal law that prohibits states from implementing the proposals.

  19. Setting aside both science and constitutional law, I think it was a strategic mistake on the part of the GMO side to fight against labelling. Nothing says something is fishy like resistance to labelling.

    If GMO were great, the food companies would be plastering “New and improved! Now with safer, more nutritious GMO corn!” on their cereal boxes and bags of tortilla chips. They aren’t doing that. They are trying to keep mum about it. That doesn’t look good.

    It’s too bad, really, since there is so much potential in it. Maybe it will still happen, but it is going to take time to win over the general public and gain their confidence. So far, they are not doing a good job of that.

    1. The problem is there really is not much ebil GMO cooties in finished products. You will hear stuff like 75 percent of products in a grocery store have corn or GMO or what ever like that but that is not near the whole story.

      If a product just has say HFCS should that be labeled as being GMO? It has 0 traces of DNA its just base chemistry no different then if they used a crop that has no GMO traits for the sugars.

      Most of the corn or gmo that is used in food processing is no longer corn its base chemistry that has no DNA so no possible gmo cooties.

  20. (1) I want the right to know. Then, the choice is mine. If, as an average American citizen, I am too uninformed to choose well, then the problem isn’t with GMOs, it’s with public school science education.

    (2) Monsanto owns the rights to crops even where those crops were not specifically planted but happened to result from cross-polination. Innocents farmers, growing fields from heirloom seeds, have been sued and haven’t the money for a fair fight.

    (3) Third world countries’ farmers, offered the promise of a bright, productive future, must, after starting, continue to buy Monsanto year after year, despite the rising prices for that corporation’s huge profits. It becomes a sort of enslavement.

    (4) When one corporation owns the rights to so many major-crop seeds, and creates their version so that their seed products must be bought over and over, year after year, that corporation becomes like a bank that’s “too big to fail.”

    “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

    GMO seeds are critically unlike heirloom seeds in this regard: Monsanto makes sure their GMO seeds cannot produce plants that produce more seeds. Farmers cannot save part of their yield, one year, to plant their crops the following year.

    We must protect heirloom species and their availability. Otherwise, if unforseen events happen to either the GMO species or to Monsanto, and there are no seeds from one year’s crop to the next, no heirloom seeds to fall back on, the situation will become dire.

    1. If your beef is with Monsanto’s predatory business practices, then your strategy ought to be narrowly targeted at them, while encouraging better-behaved competitors to flourish. I don’t see how broad-brush GMO labeling accomplishes that.

      It’s as if Microsoft haters were to demand labeling requirements so broad they applied to iPhones as well (“This product contains an operating system”). What’s the point, if it fails to provide the information you need for an effective boycott of a specific bad actor?

      1. You conflate two separate points, deliberately numbered as separate points, and then jump to conclusion. Over the past 40 years, I’ve watched the CDC and FDA change their minds suddenly and drastically on several issues they previously presented as well-studied. These were human issues, human studies, presented with great confidence and then suddenly, dramatically overturned. Apparently, they hadn’t been so well studied, beforehand, after all.

        Considering that those were studies directly related to human health, they provide good reason to have less faith in studies directly related to plants and inferred over fewer decades regarding human health.

        I do not want the government so overly paternalistic that it can decide even the risk of GMOs for me. Labels can easily print those three simple letters, so consumers are empowered to make their own health choices. I think the same, regarding irradiated foods.

        If we can handle what’s already on the nutritional label, we should be able to handle these two, also.

        1. You mentioned Monsanto in every paragraph except the first, the gist of which is “I want the right to know.” It seemed a reasonable inference that what you want to know somehow relates to Monsanto, since you gave no other reason for wanting to know.

          1. I want the right to know, because I want the right to choose, based on science, validity of the sources of the scientific research, recognizable unknowns left uncovered by the research, and my personal consideration for my personal health. Any more questions?

    2. 1- Already been discussed above

      2- This has never ever happened. Its a straight up lie from the anti science movement.

      3- What 3rd world farmers? India is basically the only 3rd world country that allows large scale GMO growing. Monsanto does not sell seeds in India. And Bt Cotton has made farmers there wealthier, allowed their children to stay in school longer, and they have a larger diet.

      4- Monsanto is not the largest Seed Company. They are not even close to being the largest ag chemical company. And this will hold true even with the potential merger. They do not have 50 percent market share in any market including glyphosate (round UP) their signature product.

      Terminator genes do not exist in the commercial market.

      Heirloom grains are not in danger from Monsanto they are in danger because basically no one grows them. You are talking fractions of percent of planted acres.

      Farmers don’t save seed. Its more expensive then buying new seeds. Never mind the cases where hybrid exist and replanting will not produce true.

      1. Not sure where you got your data, but I heard from real farmers in North Dakota and noticed the same information shared in a Vlog Brothers (Crash Course?) video staring Hank Green, who himself has a degree in chemistry and has been researching and posting educational videos for about 8 years, now (along with his brother, the reknowned author and history buff, John Green).

    3. GMO seeds cannot produce plants that produce more seeds”

      This is not sound reasoning. Most non-GMO crops are hybrids, which also do not breed true. So if you were logically consistent, you would oppose all hybrid crops, along with seedless watermelon and navel oranges.

  21. Regardless of the food fight about GMOs, I find the tendency of politicians who know nothing at all about science to pay attention to celebrities who know nothing at all about science somewhat scary.

    1. Even worse is when they pay attention to corporate lobbyists, trained to influence legislators and make the behavior they’re trying to induce worth the legislator’s while, financially or in terms of other influences.

    2. Yeah, why don’t they (politicians) stick with something they know–like football, or baseball, or…


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