by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: GM(Genetically Modified)

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.

Jun 21 2017

GMO propaganda film: Food Evolution

I have asked repeatedly to have my short interview clip removed from this film.  The director refuses.  He believes his film is fair and balanced.  I do not.

I am often interviewed (see Media) and hardly ever quoted incorrectly or out of context.  This film is one of those rare exceptions.

In my 10-second clip, I say that I am unaware of convincing evidence that eating GM foods is unsafe—this is what I said, but it is hugely out of context.

Safety is the industry’s talking point.  In the view of the GMO industry and this film, if GMOs are safe, they ought to be fully acceptable and nothing else is relevant.

I disagree.  I think there are plenty of issues about GMOs in addition to safety that deserve thoughtful consideration:  monoculture; the effects of industrial agriculture on the environment and climate change; the possible carcinogenicity of glyphosate (Roundup); this herbicide’s well documented induction of weed resistance; and the how aggressively this industry protects its self-interest and attacks critics, as this film demonstrates.

Food Evolution focuses exclusively on the safety of GMOs; it dismisses environmental issues out of hand.  It extols the benefits of the virus-resistant Hawaiian papaya and African banana but says next to nothing about corn and soybean monoculture and the resulting weed resistance, and it denies the increase in use of toxic herbicides now needed to deal with resistant weeds.  It says nothing about how this industry spends fortunes on lobbying and in fighting labeling transparency.

Instead, this film hammers hard on three out-of-context points:

  1. GMOs are safe.
  2. Anyone who thinks otherwise is anti-science, ignorant, and stupid.
  3. Organic foods are bad and proponents of organic foods are deceitful.

Its biases are apparent throughout but the bias against organics is particularly striking.

For example, in arguing that proponents of organic agriculture are paid by the organic industry, the film refers to an article on the front page of  the New York Times.  But most of that article was about how the GMO industry recruits and pays academic researchers to front for it.  The film fails to mention that.

The obvious question: Who paid for this film?

The official answer: The Institute for Food Technologists (IFT).

IFT is a professional association for food scientists and technologists involved in the processed food industry.  I have been a member of it for years; its journal, Food Technology is useful for keeping up with what the food industry is doing.

I had no idea that IFT sponsored films, let alone one that must have been very expensive to produce (on location in Hawaii and Uganda, among other places.)

I can’t help but think Monsanto or the Biotechnology Innovation Organization must have given IFT a grant for this purpose, but IFT takes complete responsibility for commissioning the film (if you have any information about this, please let me know).

Food Evolution is opening in New York on Friday this week.  I view it as a slick piece of GMO industry propaganda.

If you want a thoughtful discussion of the real issues raised by food biotechnology, you will need to look elsewhere.

Full disclosure: half of my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety deals with GMO issues.  These have not changed much since the book appeared in 2003 and in a revised edition in 2010.  The GMO industry’s defenses and attacks are much the same, just louder and more expensively produced.

Jun 20 2017

The administration’s war on food: summary by the Environmental Working Group

Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group summarizes Trump’s Full-Scale War on Food.  Since taking office, he writes, Trump has:

  • Proposed to cut food safety funding for the Food and Drug Administration by $117 million.
  • Proposed to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by $193 billion – a 25 percent cut – and cut international food aid by $2 billion.
  • Delayed new labeling rules for menus and packaged foods that would give consumers more information about calories and added sugars, and so far failed to issue a draft rule to implement a new law on disclosing genetically modified ingredients in food.
  • Weakened new rules designed to drive junk food out of U.S. schools.
  • Proposed to eliminate several Department of Agriculture programs that helped farmers sell directly to local consumers.
  • Proposed to eliminate funding for an entire division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that works to reduce obesity.
  • Withdrawn new rules to protect drinking water supplies from polluters and proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent.
  • Proposed to suspended two of the largest farmland stewardship programs and mothball others.
  • Postponed new rules designed to strengthen animal welfare standards on organic farms and proposed to eliminate funding for programs that help farmers switch to organic farming.
  • Reversed a ban on a pesticide linked to brain damage in kids and proposed cutting EPA funding for pesticide review programs by 20 percent.
  • Punted on new rules to protect farmworkers from pesticides, and proposed to eliminate a program to train migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
  • Mothballed new voluntary sodium guidelines that would drive reformulation of foods.
  • Called for so-called regulatory “reforms” that would block agencies like the FDA and USDA from adopting new rules designed to keep food safe, update food labels or provide students healthier meal options in schools.

This is an impressive list, calling for serious resistance.

How?  That’s the question….

 

Mar 16 2017

Does Monsanto collude with EPA to cast doubt on the carcinogenicity of Roundup?

Yesterday’s New York Times reports about how the agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto is trying to cast doubt on evidence that its herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) is carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to human health.

The Times based its analysis on documents unsealed by a federal court in a case in which people are claiming that glyphosate caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined a couple of years ago.

The documents indicate collusion between EPA officials and Monsanto over the IARC finding:

Court records show that Monsanto was tipped off to the determination by a deputy division director at the E.P.A., Jess Rowland, months beforehand. That led the company to prepare a public relations assault on the finding well in advance of its publication. Monsanto executives, in their internal email traffic, also said Mr. Rowland had promised to beat back an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct its own review.

The documents confirm previous disclosures of Monsanto’s attempts to manipulate academic research.

The disclosures are the latest to raise concerns about the integrity of academic research financed by agrochemical companies. Last year, a review by The New York Times showed how the industry can manipulate academic research or misstate findings. Declarations of interest included in a Monsanto-financed paper on glyphosate that appeared in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology said panel members were recruited by a consulting firm. Email traffic made public shows that Monsanto officials discussed and debated scientists who should be considered, and shaped the project.

The Times article does not link to the actual documents, but these are posted on the Website of US Right to Know.

They make interesting reading.  Here, for example, is a quote from the first document, Jess Rowland unsealed, (page 4, lines 19-24):

Monsanto has made it clear throughout this litigation that it intends to rely on EPA’s conclusions in the defense of this case, particularly in this first phase of general causation. Based on these documents alone, it is clear that Monsanto enjoyed considerable influence within the EPA’s OPP, and was close with Mr. Rowland, who promised to try to “kill” the glyphosate issue for them; coincidentally, a report authored chiefly by him was “accidentally leaked” just at the time of his planned retirement.

Posted on

Court documents:

Jess Rowland documents unsealed (115 pages) (3.14.17)
— Documents unsealed (227 pages) (3.14.17)
— Judge Vince Chhabria’s ruling to unseal documents (3.13.17)
Plaintiffs Reply In Support of Motion to Compel Deposition of Jess Rowland (see especially Marion Copley letter on p. 11) (2.27.17)

Reporting & analysis:

Unsealed Documents Raise Questions on Monsanto Weed Killer, by Danny Hakim (New York Times) (3.15.17)
— Court Documents Reveal Ghostwritten Studies, Questions On Monsanto Weed Killer’s Safety, by Katrina Pascual (Tech Times) (3.15.17)
EPA Official Accused of Helping Monsanto “Kill” Cancer Study, by Joel Rosenblatt, Lydia Mulvany and Peter Waldman (Bloomberg) (3.14.17)
Monsanto Accused of Ghostwriting Papers on Roundup Cancer Risk, by Joel Rosenblatt (Bloomberg) (3.14.17)
Plaintiffs in U.S. Lawsuit Say Monsanto Ghostwrote Roundup Studies, by Brendan Pierson (Reuters) (3.14.17)
— Judge Threatens to Sanction Monsanto for Secrecy in Roundup Cancer Litigation, by Carey Gillam (Huffington Post/USRTK)) (3.10.17)
Monsanto Cancer Suits Turn to EPA Deputy’s “Suspicious” Role, by Joel Rosenblatt (Bloomberg) (2.27.17)
Questions Raised About EPA-Monsanto Collusion Raised in Cancer Lawsuits, by Carey Gillam (Huffington Post/USRTK) (2.13.17)
Monsanto, EPA Seek to Keep Talks About Glyphosate Cancer Review a Secret, by Carey Gillam (Huffington Post/USRTK) (1.18.17)

Other related documents and articles:

Glyphosate: discorde à l’agence de protection de l’environnement américaine, by Stéphane Foucart (Le Monde) (3.14.17)
Summary of ORD comments on OPP’s glyphosate cancer assessment (12.14.15)

Addition: The New York Times reports that a European Chemical agency says Roundup is not carcinogenic.

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