by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: GM(Genetically Modified)

Feb 21 2018

The ongoing debates over glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup)

What do we know about the carcinogenicity of glyphosate?

The International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) said it was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, the glyphosate herbicide used widely on genetically modified crops, was not happy with this decision and has been doing all it can to cast doubt on that research.

Some of its efforts are documented in this report:

Republicans on the House science committee have repeatedly tried to get IARC to admit its judgment was based on inadequate evidence.  The chair of the committee wrote IARC complaining about its report and asking for someone to come and testify about it.  IARC declined.  In yet another letter the committee said it would stop funding IARC, to which IARC asked that its immunity be respected.

How to understand all this?  A lot of money is at stake.  In this diagram, HT means herbicide tolerance (e.g., Roundup glyphosate):

 

 

Dec 11 2017

USDA’s case studies on front-of-package labeling

The FDA is responsible for food labeling but in the peculiar way things get done in federal agencies, the USDA governs front-of-package labeling for organics and also gets involved in labels for non-GMO, no-antibiotics and those for country-of-origin.

It has just published a report on all this:

The report is a good place to learn about the labeling laws passed in 1990, and it has an interesting case study on GMO labeling:

It has a lot to say about organic labeling:

Do such labels influence what the public buys?  Yes.  (That’s what the USDA is worried about)

Does the public understand what the labels mean?  Not really. (The USDA worries about this too)

The USDA derives many conclusions from this study, but boils them down to this statement:

There are fundamental tradeoffs in how information is presented to consumers. If it is presented simply, then important nuance or complexity may be missed. On the other hand, if standards and labels attempt to convey complexity, then consumers may just be confused. Policymakers and marketers will need to consider these tradeoffs in the future when developing new process-based labels.

What the USDA does not discuss is the fundamental issue behind fights over food labels.  They work well to discourage people from buying products that may not be good for them or do not meet their values.  That’s why the food industry opposes them so strongly.

Nov 28 2017

The glyphosate (“Roundup”) saga continues

Glyphosate (Roundup), the controversial herbicide used with crops genetically modified to resist it, has been in the news a lot lately.  I’ve been collecting items:

♦  An analysis from In These Times: How Monsanto Captured the EPA (And Twisted Science) To Keep Glyphosate on the Market.

Glyphosate is a clear case of “regulatory capture” by a corporation acting in its own financial interest while serious questions about public health remain in limbo.  The record suggests that in 44 years—through eight presidential administrations—EPA management has never attempted to correct the problem.

♦  Reuters has an article about the problems posed for Monsanto by dicamba drift.  Widespread use of glyphosate has created a crisis in weed resistance.  To overcome it, Monsanto has genetically engineered crops to resist a more powerful and longer-lasting herbicide, dicamba.  Unfortunately, dicamba is volatile and drifts onto neighboring crops.

♦  As the New York Times reports:

Because genetically modified crops allow dicamba to be sprayed later in the year, after crops emerge from the ground, and in hotter and more humid weather, the chemical is susceptible to what is known as “volatility”—it can turn into a gas and drift into whatever happens to be nearby.

♦  The New York Times also wrote about problems getting glyphosate approved in the European Union.  The EU’s actions are head spinning. First, the EU rejected a European Commission proposal to renew glyphosate’s license for five years:

Opposition from France and Italy doomed a European Union vote…to reauthorize the world’s most popular weedkiller, glyphosate, a decision that came hours after Arkansas regulators moved to ban an alternative weedkiller for much of 2018…Taken together, the decisions reflect an increasing political resistance to pesticides in Europe and parts of the United States, as well as the specific shortcomings of dicamba, whose tendency to drift has given pause even to the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, which has otherwise largely acceded to the wishes of the chemical industry.  Dicamba has damaged more than 3.6 million acres of soybean crops in 25 states, roughly 4 percent of all soybeans planted this year in the United States.

But now the EU’s food safety committee has approved the five-year license renewal.  Even so, this saga is not over yet.  France declared it would ban glyphosate “as soon as alternatives have been found,” and within three years. Italy says it will ban glyphosate by 2020.  The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution asking the European Commission to phase out glyphosate by 2022.

♦  While all this is going on, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute had good news for Monsanto.  It published a study finding no increase in cancer risk among people whose work involves glyphosate applications.  But nothing is simple:

However, among applicators in the highest exposure quartile, there was an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) compared with never users (RR = 2.44, 95% CI = 0.94 to 6.32, Ptrend = .11), though this association was not statistically significant.

Finally, Just Label It has been collecting articles about glyphosate.  Examples:

♦  Medical Journals: Monsanto Glyphosate in Pee, Bad for Health: New research in the prestigious medical journal JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) reports on the startling evidence that glyphosate—the main ingredient in Monsanto’s weed-killer, Roundup—is not only getting into our bodies but has been doing so at increasing levels for decades.

♦  Ben & Jerry’s to launch glyphosate-free ice-cream after tests find traces of weed killer: Company pledges products will be free from ingredients tainted with controversial herbicide after the survey found traces in its European ice-creams. The company also pledges to source only organic dairy for a new line. 

♦  Glyphosate persists – and European topsoils are contaminated with it: A new research study from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and two Dutch laboratories shows that 45% of Europe’s topsoil contains glyphosate residues, demonstrating the over-reliance of the EU agricultural model on this harmful herbicide. Contrary to manufacturers’ claims, glyphosate persists in soils, not only affecting soil fertility and crop quality but also posing risks to human and environmental health. 

How to make sense of all this?

The health issues are confusing, not least because of this industry’s efforts to cast doubt on the science.  The issues are unlikely to be sorted out soon.

The weed resistance problem is so serious that glyphosate is becoming unusable, only to be replaced by herbicides that are much worse.  Dicamba drift is killing conventional crops, organic crops, and home gardens.

The remedy? Sustainable agricultural methods for all crops, and the sooner the better.

Addition:  Gary Ruskin of US Right to Know reminds me of these documents.

♦  Carey Gillem’s article on Monsanto’s manipulation of glyphosate science

♦  The Monsanto Papers archive on glyphosate

 

Sep 22 2017

Weekend reading: Carey Gilliam’s Whitewash

Carey Gilliam.  Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.  Island Press, 2017.

Image result for whitewash story weed killer

I did a blurb for this book (only the last sentence is on the back cover):

Whitewash, says Carey Gilliam, is what Monsanto, Monsanto-paid scientists, and the Monsanto-influenced EPA are trying to do for the herbicide glyphosate (“Roundup”)—make it  appear benign in the face of evidence that glyphosate may be carcinogenic,  strongly promotes weed resistance, and causes genetically modified crops to require even greater use of toxic chemicals.

Gilliam’s deep dive into this industry’s manipulation of science gives us even more reasons to advocate for organic and sustainable agricultural systems.

Aug 17 2017

Cane versus beet sugar–A difference?

As a result of yesterday’s post, readers asked questions about sugar.  Here’s one:

Q: Is there a difference between cane and beet sugar?

A: It depends.

Both are 99.95% sucrose.

But the plants are different.  Sugar cane is grassy; sugar beets are a root vegetable.

The sucrose is extracted and refined by different methods.

And that remaining 0.05%: chefs say it makes a difference in cooking properties.

The San Francisco Chronicle did some comparative baking and then ran blind taste tests.

These showed big differences, with cane sugar a clear winner.

Who knew?

Just for fun, here’s another difference: sugar beets are about 95% GMO; sugar cane is non-GMO.

Related image

Also for fun, here’s cane-plus-beet versus high fructose corn syrup:

You know the drill.  Everyone would be healthier eating less sugar—no matter whether it comes from cane, beets, or corn.

Jul 11 2017

How the GMO industry gets journalists to buy its messages

Monsanto’s corporate behavior has been so counterproductive that it has damaged the reputation of the entire food biotechnology industry (I document this in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).

What to do?

How about convincing journalists that food biotechnology is the solution to the world’s food problems and that any criticism of it is a critique of science in the same category as climate-change denial (as I told Thacker).

The journalist Paul Thacker explains that strategy in an article in today’s Progressive.

In recent months, media outlets have reported on a disturbing trend of corporate-sponsored journalism. The British Medical Journal exposed a multiyear campaign by Coca-Cola to influence reporters covering obesity by secretly funding journalism conferences at the University of Colorado. The watchdog group Health News Review reported that two journalism professors at the University of Kansas asked more than 1,100 health-care reporters about their views on opioids in a survey that was funded, in part, by the Center for Practical Bioethics, a group the U.S. Senate Finance Committee investigated for its ties to opioid manufacturers…Hints of the biotech industry’s media tactics have leaked from court cases filed against Monsanto alleging glyphosate causes cancer. Several filings reference internal Monsanto documents that describe the company’s social media strategy called “Let Nothing Go”—a program in which individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry rapidly respond to negative social media posts regarding Monsanto, GMOs, and agrichemicals.

His article describes the fierce industry pushback against anyone who raises questions about food biotechnology.

I know about that pushback firsthand.  That’s why this site no longer accepts comments.

We need open discussion about issues related to food biotechnology.  This article is a good place to begin.

Jun 28 2017

Weed resistance to glyphosate on GMO crops: EPA needs to do better

The EPA is not doing enough to prevent weed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) says a new report from the EPA’s Inspector General’s Office (OIG) ,which draws in part on a report from the agbiotech company, Pioneer: Weed Management in the Era of Glyphosate Resistance

The EPA OIG report explains that glyphosate (Roundup) is used on crops modified to tolerate this herbicide, which kills surrounding weeds but leaves the GMO crop intact.

If you use enough of it long enough, weeds develop resistance.

US farmers are planting more herbicide-resistant GMO corn and soybeans (this figure is from the Pioneer report):

Here’s how much glyphosate US farmers are using:

  • 2002: 110 million pounds
  • 2012: 283.5 million pounds

Weeds resistant to herbicides were first reported in 1968.  Weed resistance is now increasing rapidly (this figure is from the OIG report).

Weeds resistant to glyphosate are spreading rapidly throughout the US (this figure is in both reports).

What should government do to stop this?  A quick lesson on GMO regulation:

  • USDA regulates these crops.
  • EPA regulates herbicides used on these crops.
  • FDA regulates their safety.

The EPA Inspector General says EPA is not doing enough to mitigate herbicide resistance:

  • It is not communicating with farmers or other stakeholders about managing resistance.
  • It is not collecting data on herbicide resistance through its adverse incident reporting database.
  • It is not dealing with the need to develop alternatives.
  • It is not tracking progress in addressing weed resistance.
  • It needs to do better.

What should be done?  Pioneer says:

A truly integrated strategy should incorporate non-chemical control tactics as well. Mechanical weed control and crop rotation are examples of two such tactics available to growers, but the feasibility of their implementation will vary depending on the characteristics of a cropping system.

Non-chemical control tactics?  Sounds like sustainable agriculture, no?

Weed resistance is a big reason not to use glyphosate.

Another is its suspected carcinogenicity, but I will save that for another time.

Jun 26 2017

A win for GMO trolls: this blog no longer accepts comments

With regret, I asked my site managers at Cre8d to block all future comments to this site.

The GMO trolls—people who post deliberately hostile comments—have defeated me.

Would you believe 870 comments?  These were filed in response to my post of last week  about the GMO propaganda film.

I realize that this sort of thing is a deliberate, if shameful, strategy of the agbiotech industry: “Let Nothing Go.”

As described in a document filed in a lawsuit by US Right to Know:  [Correction: see below at **]

Monsanto even started the aptly-named “Let Nothing Go” program to leave nothing, not even facebook comments, unanswered; through a series of third parties, it employs individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry, who in turn post positive comments on news articles and Facebook posts, defending Monsanto, its chemicals, and GMOs.

This is not about thoughtful discussion of the scientific, social, and political issues raised by GMOs.  This about personal attacks to discredit anyone who raises questions about those issues, as i did.

Trolling is not appropriate on this site.  Hence: no more comments.

I will continue to write about GMOs as new developments occur.

In the meantime, I commend the first chapter of Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety to your attention.  It does much to explain why opinions of GMOs are so polarized and why the science of GMOs has become so politicized.

**Correction: The document discussing “Let Nothing Go” was not filed by US Right to Know.  Instead, it was filed by attorneys for plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Monsanto alleging that glyphosate is responsible for cases of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.    US Right to Know is only posting the documents and analyzing them.

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