by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: GMOs

Sep 9 2020

Dietetic Association lets Bayer, owner of glyphosate, educate its members about pesticides (but see correction below)

A reader, Betsy Keller, forwarded a message she received because she belongs to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, (formerly the American Dietetic Association), the professional association for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists.

From: “Today’s Dietitian” <todays_dietitian@gvpublishing.com>

Subject: Questions about pesticides and food? We have answers.

The message originates from Bayer, the German drug company that bought Monsanto a few years ago.

Monsanto invented the herbicide glyphosate, which is used to kill backyard weeds as well as those that occur in fields of GMO corn and soybeans,.

Glyphosate has been linked to cancer risk, particularly non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Tens of thousands of people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are suing Bayer for glyphosate-related damages.  The courts have ruled in favor of several such plaintiffs.

Bayer has agreed to pay $10 billion (!) to settle these lawsuits.

In the message to dietitians, Bayer says:

Pesticides enable farmers to produce safe, quality foods at affordable prices.They also help farmers provide an abundance of nutritious, all-year-round foods, which are necessary for human health. Crop quantity and quality rely on crop protection. For example, a U.S. study estimated that without fungicides, yields of most fruit and vegetables would fall by 50-90 percent. Moreover, pesticides decrease exposure to food contaminated with harmful micro-organisms and naturally occurring toxins, preventing food-related illnesses.

Oddly, the Bayer message says not one word about glyphosate, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or the lawsuits.

Bayer must want dietitians to reassure their clients that pesticides like glyphosate are safe.  Bayer must not want dietitians to link glyphosate to cancer risk.

I can’t help thinking that Bayer must have paid Today’s Dietitian to send this message to the AND membership.

I can’t think of any other reason why this association would allow a message like this to be sent to its members.

Correction

Several readers wrote to point out that the Bayer message comes from Today’s Dietitian, not from the Academy.

For example, Nancy Teeter, RDN, gave me permission to quote her:

Thank you for all you do to keep the public informed.  As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I was appalled that Bayer sponsored an educational program for us. I believe you are correct when you say follow the money. Today’s Dietitian is a private company and appears to accept advertising dollars from anyone. AND charges organizations for the use [of] the mailing lists, so everyone wins financially. At the same time, the reputation of our organization is diminished.

She points out: “They also sell their email lists to advertisers.”

Mary Purdy, MS, RDN, who also gave permission, writes:

Thank you for spreading the word about this.  A group of dietitians (myself included) are formulating a letter in response to this and I have already been in touch personally with Today’s Dietitian about this issue which I find extremely concerning.

It is very important to clarify that this message came from Today’s Dietitian, (https://www.todaysdietitian.com/) which is a totally separate entity from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  https://www.eatright.org/

The Academy has its own set of issues, but I wanted you to be sure that your readers understand that the pesticide info from Bayer came from an eblast from the publisher and business ” Today’s Dietitian”.  This org definitely needs to be held accountable  for this kind of irresponsible corporate sponsorship that spreads erroneous and harmful information so thank you for your efforts here.

She adds: “I also let Today’s Dietitian know that I would be unsubscribing from their eblasts and have encouraged others to do so as well.”

She also adds: “And yes, you are right.  Bayer is an official sponsor of Today’s Dietitian and pays them. They were also one of the sponsors of their recent symposium (At which I spoke… ironically about environmental chemicals and supporting detoxification and elimination organs with diet!).  Here is the website:  you can go to “Sponsors” and see Bayer there among others. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/ss20/

And she forwarded the letter she received from a rep from Today’s Dietitian.  Here are the relevant excerpts:

Thank you for reaching out and expressing your thoughts and concerns regarding the Bayer ad and Today’s Dietitian….Having been a friend of TD  for so long, I’m sure you are aware that the primary support for the publication comes from advertising revenue. Without advertisements, TD does not exist. That said, as with other advertising-driven business models, TD does not endorse or support any product, service, or entity advertised in the magazine or its brand extensions. TD simply offers vehicles for advertisers to reach the brand’s audience.

While you may not agree with the advertisement in question, the advertiser obviously finds value in reaching registered dietitians. Otherwise, they would not be interested in promoting to this professional audience. Just as any other audience that consumes advertising can use its own judgement to decide whether or not to explore an advertised item, so too can the TD readership decide whether or not to pursue any further engagement with the advertiser.

Dietitians: here’s your chance.  Act now.

  • Unsubscribe to Today’s Dietitian
  • Tell AND you do not want your contact information sold to advertisers.
Jan 29 2019

My latest honor: “Crankster!”

I don’t usually pay attention to what the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH) says or does, mainly because it is a long-standing front group for the food and chemical industries, and it predictably supports the interests of those industries over public health (see US Right to Know’s analysis).

But then I read this from the Center on Media and Democracy: Corporate Front Group, American Council on Science and Health, Smears List of Its Enemies as “Deniers for Hire.”

Smeared by the site are scientists Tyrone Hayes, Stephanie Seneff, and Gilles-Éric Séralini; New York Times reporter Danny Hakim and columnist Mark Bittman; well-known food and science writer Michael Pollan; nutrition and food studies professor Marion Nestle; public interest groups like U.S. Right to Know, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, the Environmental Working Group, and Union of Concerned Scientists; past and present CMD staff, and many other individuals ACSH does not like.

Clearly, I’m in good company.  But what, exactly, have I—a “Crankster,” apparently—done to deserve this honor?  It seems that I:

What can I say?  Read my work and decide for yourself if such concerns are justified.

Jan 8 2019

Goodbye GMO, Hello Bioengineered: USDA publishes labeling rules

Trump’s USDA has issued final rules for labeling food products of biotechnology, commonly known to all of us as GMOs.

Since GMOs have taken on a pejorative—Frankenfood—connotation, the USDA wanted to fix that.  And did it ever.

It drops GMOs, and substitutes “Bioengineered.”

Its logo depicts food biotechnology as sun shining on agriculture.Image result for bioengineering logo usdaAnd the rules have a loophole big enough to exclude lots of products from having to carry this logo: those made with highly refined GMO sugars, starches and oils made from GMO soybeans and sugar beets.

If the products do not contain detectable levels of DNA, they are exempt.  Never mind that GMO/bioengineered is a production issue.

When Just Label It was advocating for informing the public about GMOs, this was hardly what it had in mind.

Count this as a win for the GMO industry.

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Aug 13 2018

Jury rules Roundup carcinogenic, Monsanto malicious: awards $289 million to plaintiff

The Guardian’s account of the verdict: Monsanto ordered to pay $289m as jury rules weedkiller caused man’s cancer

Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a huge victory in the landmark case on Friday, with the jury determining that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused his cancer and that the corporation failed to warn him of the health hazards from exposure. The jury further found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression”…Johnson’s case was particularly significant because a judge allowed his team to present scientific arguments. The dispute centered on glyphosate, which is the world’s most widely used herbicide…During the lengthy trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys brought forward internal emails from Monsanto executives that they said demonstrated how the corporation repeatedly ignored experts’ warnings, sought favorable scientific analyses and helped to “ghostwrite” research that encouraged continued usage.

Here’s what this is about:

(1)  The carcinogenicity of Roundup (glyphosate)

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) ruled that glyphosate, the weed killer used with genetically modified crops, is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  Glyphosate’s maker, Monsanto (now merged with Bayer) did not like this decision and went to work casting doubt on the science.  As IARC explains and documents:

Following the classification of glyphosate in March 2015 as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A) by the IARC Monographs Programme, IARC has been the target of an unprecedented number of orchestrated actions by stakeholders seeking to undermine its credibility. In the interest of transparency, IARC has documented some of these instances, and our responses can be found on the Agency′s Governance website.

(2) What’s at stake for Monsanto

Glyphosate is used in incomprehensibly huge amounts.  The organic advocate, Charles Benbrook, published statistics on its use in 2016.  Monsanto’s published a rebuttal to Benbrook’s paper, but did not dispute his figures; instead, it argued only glyphosate is safe.  Benbrook’s data show that 250 million pounds of glyphosate were applied to US crops in 2014 (by another source, worldwide use was 825,804,000 kilograms, or more than 1.8 billion pounds that year).

(3) What’s at stake for the plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s account explains:

Johnson was a groundskeeper and pest-control manager for Benicia schools from 2012 until May 2016. His job included spraying glyphosate, in the high-concentration brand called Ranger Pro, from 50-gallon drums 20 to 30 times a year for two to three hours a day.

He testified he wore protective clothing, including a sturdy jacket, goggles and a face mask, but said he couldn’t fully protect his face from wind-blown spray. And twice, he told the jury, he got drenched with the herbicide, once when a spray hose became detached from a truck that was hauling it, and another time when a backpack container he was carrying leaked.

After the first drenching in 2014, he said, he got rashes on his skin that did not respond to treatment. Welts and lesions soon appeared on his legs, arms, face and eyelids. His first cancer diagnoses came soon afterward.

(4)  The evidence for the jury’s decision

Through discovery during the trial, documents came to light exposing Monsanto’s efforts to discredit the science linking glyphosate to cancer.

U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has performed an extraordinary public service by posting the key documents in the case on its website.  There, you can find links to an astonishing number of federal court and discovery documents, exhibits, news reports, and commentary.

Also worth reading: Stacy Malkin’s Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists (July 12)

Monsanto was its own ghostwriter for some safety reviews,” Bloomberg reported, and an EPA official reportedly helped Monsanto “kill” another agency’s cancer study. An investigation in Le Monde details Monsanto’s effort “to destroy the United Nations’ cancer agency by any means possible” to save glyphosate.

(5) What this means: Comment from USRTK’s Carey Gillam

Monsanto and its chemical industry allies have spent decades actively working to confuse and deceive consumers, farmers, regulators and lawmakers about the risks associated with glyphosate-based herbicides. As they’ve suppressed the risks, they’ve trumpeted the rewards and pushed use of this weed killer to historically high levels. The evidence that has come to light from Monsanto’s own internal documents, combined with data and documents from regulatory agencies, could not be more clear: It is time for public officials across the globe to act to protect public health and not corporate profits.

(6) What happens next?

Monsanto will appeal, of course; its owner, Bayer, continues to insist that glyphosate is safe.  Press accounts say that hundreds, if not thousands, of more such cases are in the pipeline, a situation similar to that faced by the tobacco industry before that industry gave up and settled.  Will Bayer do so as well?  I’m guessing not without a fight.

Oct 17 2017

Glyphosate: a roundup (sorry, couldn’t resist)

I’ve been tracking recent reports and commentary about the herbicide glyphosate (a.k.a. Roundup) used with genetically modified crops.  Glyphosate has been linked to cancer, a connection firmly denied by its maker, Monsanto.

Now, FERN (Food and Environment Reporting Network) and The Nation ask:  Did Monsanto ignore evidence linking its weed killer to cancer?

Monsanto also hired an outside consulting firm, the Intertek Group, to orchestrate a so-called “independent” review of glyphosate’s health effects to refute the IARC’s cancer assessment. A disclosure accompanying the review, which was published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, reported that Intertek was paid by Monsanto but claimed that “neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.” In fact, internal e-mails indicate that Heydens and other Monsanto employees reviewed and edited drafts before the report was published. “I have gone through the entire document and indicated what I think should stay, what can go, and in a couple spots I did a little editing,” wrote Heydens [William Heydens, Monsanto product-safety strategist] in a February 2016 e-mail to Ashley Roberts, senior vice president in Intertek’s food and nutrition division. Partridge [Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy] defended the review’s independence: “It did not amount to substantial contributions, editing [or] commenting—nothing substantive to alter the scientists’ conclusions.”

This is pretty much the same story told by the journalist Paul Thacker, a few months ago.

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.  Lawyers in one case told a judge that documents show Monsanto funnels money to the Genetic Literacy Project and the American Council on Science and Health in order to “shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.”

Six countries in the Middle East vote for glyphosate as a carcinogen.

Oman’s Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that six Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman have banned the use of glyphosate herbicides since last year, after reviewing IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a ‘probable human carcinogen’.

Researchers at Cornell find that glyphosate kills healthy bacteria in soil.

“Beneficial Pseudomonas in the soil can help crops thrive. They can produce plant-stimulating hormones to promote plant growth and antifungals to defeat problematic fungi – such as Pythium and Fusarium – found in agricultural soil, but previous studies reported that the abundance of beneficial bacteria decreased when the herbicide glyphosate seeps underground,” said Ludmilla Aristilde, assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering. “Our study seeks to understand why this happens.”

And, the European Commission is considering voting on whether to renew approval of glyphosate at its October 25 meeting.

Comment: We use a lot of glyphosate in the U.S. (an understatement).   Hence: So much, that widespread weed resistance.

Maybe it’s time to start phasing it out—and soon?

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