GMO's

Rainforest_ElfRainforest_Elf Portland, OregonPosts: 5
edited June 2014 in SciShow & SciShow Space

I know Hank and SciShow did an episode on GMO's that they later pulled because of criticism, but they made a promise to make a new one. That was over a year ago. GMO's are such a vast and highly controversial topic that I can understand their hesitation in making another video.

Now, I'm GMO free and am a practicing locavore, and I don't expect the locavore in me to ever go back, given the environmental impact of imported food, but I'm often told that I'm a anti-science lunatic because I don't support GMO's, GMO's are the only way to feed the starving population, GMO's use less pesticies, yada yada yada. These are clipits and inforgraphics from the pro GMO camp, just the same way that Monsanto is killing the bees is a quick clipit from the anti-GMO camp.

And I'm tired of being called anti-science, or ignorant, or crazy, because I look for that non-GMO verified sticker on my foods and only buy from local butchers and farmer's markets, and grow my own food.

Who's funded the hundreds of studies deeming GMO's safe? Who's funded the ones deeming them unsafe, and are there any left that haven't been retracted?

To be frank, I need someone much smarter than me to wade through all the bullshit in both camps and lay it plainly so I can make an informed decision.


by Rainforest_Elf

Comments

  • Sylvia3Sylvia3 PennsylvaniaPosts: 98 ✭✭✭
    I hear you. I feel like it's so hard to weed the bias out of science. My take on the issue is that I don't know if GMOs are bad for people's health, but that's not a big concern for me because I think they're probably much worse for the environment. There may have been studies on how GMOs interact with specific things, but there's no way that scientists could know the overall effect they have on the ecosystem if they escape and become uncontrollable, because ecosystems are so complex, and GMOs are so new. And since people have been trying to contain them so far, obviously there wouldn't have been a lot of research on how they interact with wild ecosystems. Whether or not GMOs are actually dangerous, I think the risk of them being dangerous is not worth growing them widely as food sources. 

    And I don't see that stance as being anti-science. Maybe partly because I have no problem with GMOs being tested in highly controlled environments. The problem is, the newer a scientific thing is, the more experimental it is, and the more risky. I'm in support of science being more thorough and cautious than it is now, before something in experimentation is being widely served to the general public. 

    I think it's weird how society often perceives the newest discoveries and inventions as the most scientific, but if you measure how scientific something is by how much it has been researched by experimentation, then the most scientific things are actually the things that have been around the longest. 
  • eventer79eventer79 The TARDISPosts: 20
    edited June 2014
    Sylvia3 said:
    I feel like it's so hard to weed the bias out of science.
    As a scientist (biologist), here's the thing:  GOOD science always does its best to be unbiased.  That is why we have and abide by the scientific method.  The conflicts arise as you introduce funding sources, study designs, lack of context and...human nature.

    We, the scientific community also have a HUGE communication problem (one of my career goals, sigh).  We know how to talk to each other.  We are lacking in members who know how to effectively share information and interact with the layperson.  We're getting better, but not fast enough.

    Every type of media butchers any "scientific" information they try to present, using poor sources, cherry-picking sentences, and leaving out, oh, 99% of the dataset/analysis/conclusion/anything important.  As a result, unless a person has the motivation, resource access, knows the right questions to ask, and knows how to interpret the answers, the public gets a cloud of misinformation which rains a construct of confusion and fear.  The source is EVERYTHING, because the average person is not going to read peer-reviewed journals and even if they do, will likely find them the same sort of mind-numbing torture that I do.

    "Science," if we use that as a name for a MASSIVELY complex network of interlaced fields and specializations, IS thorough, very slow, very careful, in fact, so much so, it often shoots itself in the foot.  We know and continue to model with increasing complexity and scale, the importance of intact ecosystems (see very very old and ongoing problem of invasive species and habitat loss/fragmentation due to development).  We are well-acquainted with the risk factors, as well as the unpredictability and individuality of human physiology.  If we narrow in on food science (although this can be extrapolated to almost any field), the problem lies not with the staff-level agronomist or geneticist or what-have-you actually DOING the work, or the farmer doing his best to maybe not lose money this year.  Instead, it's the multinational corporation with pockets lined with politicians (or in my case, a science-hating legislature with administrators under their heels), who yank the work out of the hands of staff and change a few (or many) sentences in the name of quick marketing and profit.  Which has nothing to do with "science."

    I'm sorry I missed the previously released video before it was pulled -- I never thought anything would bother me more than the "all-natural" labels (erm, arsenic is natural, mercury is natural, lead is natural, potent neurotoxins are natural, bubonic plague is natural...that doesn't make them particularly healthy), but I was wrong --

    Every product of any type of agriculture is genetically modified (a GMO).  Humans have spent centuries carefully cultivating, cross-pollinating, grafting, and selectively breeding plants and animals to bring out desired traits.  Both before and after the discovery of the double helix.  Whether it's done in a greenhouse or done in a lab does not inherently bestow up the product a quality of "good" or "bad."  The saying goes, "all things in moderation."  Should new cultivars and developments be studied?  Absolutely.  But to label ANY grain or domestic meat or dairy or plant "not genetically modified" is very simply 100% false.  They rely on the consumers' unconscious associations, confused trust, and assumptions to translate this misleading acronym into "in our recent knowledge, dudes with pipettes didn't mechanically splice these particular genes in a lab, therefore it is safer/healthier/yummier because that guy across town grew it and here's his smiley picture (even though we don't generally know exactly what his business practices were or whether he had any QA/QC (Quality Assurance/Quality Control) protocol in place)."

    I am not advocating that either case is better or worse, but that the entire argument is a construct built upon a basic misunderstanding of the science.  Which leads me back to communication.  However, the responsible consumer ALSO has a responsibility to educate themselves on the issue at hand, which is only made more difficult by a thousand different voices yelling "GMO BAD!  MINE GOOD!"  (Which by the way is VERY new, and by that nature, VERY trendy, sigh)  But that's what critical thinking and asking questions is all about, which, if I'm not totally mistaken is one of the underlying principles of this community -- ask your own questions, don't accept labels just because they are handed out, and shrug off the mainstream status quo, thereby decreasing world suck.

    Stopping treatise.  :-)  PSA endeth.
    by eventer79
    *******************************
    The Blog:  We Are Flying Solo
    Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. -Gandhi
  • Sylvia3Sylvia3 PennsylvaniaPosts: 98 ✭✭✭
    eventer79 said:
    But that's what critical thinking and asking questions is all about, which, if I'm not totally mistaken is one of the underlying principles of this community -- ask your own questions, don't accept labels just because they are handed out, and shrug off the mainstream status quo, thereby decreasing world suck.
    Yes, I agree. I strive to look at things from a nuanced perspective, not just put things into black and white categories, so thank you for that insight about GMOs. I admit, when it comes to agriculture there's a lot I don't know about it, I'm just concerned about the environment because I know that humans have done damage to it in the past without realizing what they were doing. And I see plant breeding practices as being more potentially dangerous the more people interfere with them, if people don't know exactly how it will affect the environment. 
  • Rainforest_ElfRainforest_Elf Portland, OregonPosts: 5
    edited June 2014
    eventer79 said:
     
    Every product of any type of agriculture is genetically modified (a GMO).  Humans have spent centuries carefully cultivating, cross-pollinating, grafting, and selectively breeding plants and animals to bring out desired traits.  Both before and after the discovery of the double helix.  Whether it's done in a greenhouse or done in a lab does not inherently bestow up the product a quality of "good" or "bad."  The saying goes, "all things in moderation."  Should new cultivars and developments be studied?  Absolutely.  But to label ANY grain or domestic meat or dairy or plant "not genetically modified" is very simply 100% false.  They rely on the consumers' unconscious associations, confused trust, and assumptions to translate this misleading acronym into "in our recent knowledge, dudes with pipettes didn't mechanically splice these particular genes in a lab, therefore it is safer/healthier/yummier because that guy across town grew it and here's his smiley picture (even though we don't generally know exactly what his business practices were or whether he had any QA/QC (Quality Assurance/Quality Control) protocol in place)."

    Erm, no. I respectfully have to disagree with your first sentence. What you're talking about is cross hybridization, not changing the DNA of a seed at the molecular level. People throw around the term GMO to describe cross hybridization because then it downplays the seriousness of lab generated GMO's. Cross hybridization has been done for thousands of years, yes. That's not the type of "GMO" people are worried about.

    What people are concerned about is taking something at the molecular level and changing it by mixing the DNA of two species that never would mingle in the natural world. Taking a bacteria from the gut of moths and mixing it with the DNA of corn in hopes of warding off caterpillars when the plant sprouts is entirely different than selecting one variety of corn for its taste and hardiness in the coming season.  

    I think there's a huge difference between smashing the DNA of a plant with herbicides compared to crossing a pineapple with a strawberry in a greenhouse. Huge, huge difference.  

    by Rainforest_Elf
  • eventer79eventer79 The TARDISPosts: 20
    Sylvia, I heart you for your love and environmental ethic!!!

    The tough part about all issues is that everyone wants a black & white picture:  good or bad.  Unfortunately, in the world there is very little, if any, black or white, but rather a continuum of grey. 

    Stepping away from the "GMO" discussion for a minute, look objectively at the "locally sourced foods" trend.  From a community standpoint, supporting long-standing family farms and local businesses is awesome and is something I personally try to do whenever I can.  However, from an ecosystem/watershed standpoint, it becomes problematic when everyone wants to establish new farms -- small "hobby" farms are actually worse in terms of habitat fragmentation and change in stormwater patterns than dense, clustered development.  It is far better for the watershed to put all the people in dense nodes and leave the rest of the area as connected habitat which performs a myriad of functions for wildlife and for YOU. 

    On an even larger scale, in regards to fuel consumption and emissions, it is a gazillion times less efficient for a million Farmer Joe's to take ten trips to the farmer's market in his truck to sell his local produce than it is for one very large agribusiness to pack a bunch of stuff in a cargo plane and make one flight to a distribution center.  We're talking objectively here, I'm hardly a lover of factory farming, but my point is that there is a compromise to be made on every level and the "good" or "bad" is subjective depending on your goals and priorities.  It kills me watching Monsanto homogenize the world's seed supply; I 100% support efforts to preserve as much crop diversity as possible and holding on to heirloom varieties, to avoid another potato famine or the like.  But that's a whole separate issue, LOL.

    And Rainforest_Elf, you have just illustrated perfectly my point about consumer assumptions.  What you have described is what the marketer WANTS the "GMO" label to say to you.  And I have to salute those marketers for being very very good at their jobs.  As I stated earlier, I am not in any way advocating anyone's methods, but -- yes, hybridization, cross-pollination, grafting, CAN and do change the DNA sequence itself.  In every generation, replication errors occur, random mutations can occur.  The only difference is that in those cases, the change is not 100% known.  I am not "throwing around" or minimizing any case -- simply trying to share a more objective scientific viewpoint based on my knowledge and experience in order to increase understanding (see paragraph sylvia quoted).

    Many assume that this process is "less harmful/less likely to produce ill effects" than laboratory-based gene splicing.  My only point is that, actually, no, we have no way of knowing.  There is a long history of very disastrous natural gene mutations in humans and in other fauna and flora, including those initiated by human intervention, as well as viruses and bacteria.  We screw up in lots of ways!  That goes back to my original statement that, just because it's "natural" or "we've done it for a long time," it is not automatically "good."

    So I'm just trying to encourage folks to take a step back.  Yes, there is far greater power in laboratory gene-splicing than other, "macro-methods," but we simply don't have (or at least don't have good access to) a body of testing data that paints a clear picture and we have a massive chasm in regulation of practices.  Most likely scenario:  some of it is great, some of it is horrific, most lies somewhere on the bell-curve in between.

    Personal choices are just that, PERSONAL choices.  But I'd like to help, where I can, provide clarification so folks can make informed decisions instead of just following the flock.  The best summary I can think of is this:  "GMO" is an empty term, only given whatever meaning the reader implies based on their unconscious associations/assumptions.  Eating food that is healthy is a great thing (although I generally can't afford it!), but let good data drive you on what your determination of good for a balanced diet is, not a marketer laughing all the way to the bank. 

    Growing your own food, awesome, would love to do it if I had five spare minutes...or a gardener.  Engineering things such as "roundup ready" crops, aside from being a fast-track to building pesticide resistance (think MRSA for corn and what that would do for world food supply), heck yes, this should be questioned, tested, regulated, and IMO, soundly rejected just based on decades of ALREADY IN-HAND scientific data on related topics.

     
    *******************************
    The Blog:  We Are Flying Solo
    Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. -Gandhi
  • ScrappyDooScrappyDoo Annapolis, MDPosts: 1,067 ✭✭✭
    Wow @eventer79 thanks so much for your insight and willingness to share I really appreciate the opportunity to expand my knowledge. 
    Have any suggested action points? What can we as nerdfighters do to help ensure safer practices and help preserve genetic diversity in our food sources?
  • eventer79eventer79 The TARDISPosts: 20
    I didn't forget about you!!  Things have just been crazy in life and this topic is a lot like my job, so it takes brainpower to answer!

    Supporting good, local established family farms, particularly multi-generational ones, is an excellent thing to do, as this not only helps keep yet another family from losing their legacy, but it also preserves the land by allowing it to retain its current use instead of being sold off and developed.

    Looking into good science is also a really important thing that more people should do.  This doesn't mean you have to go out and read journal articles, but talking to people who actually work in the field, like your local extension agents and departments at land grant universities.  Extension services usually have a website, do some Googling.

    Misinformation really has become a plague in our culture and one thing I noticed when I was much younger and studied in Australia for a year in college was that our education system in the US does not really push students to think critically and ask questions until...graduate school!!!  Whereas in Australia's undergrad and secondary school system, that method of approaching all information with questions was already present.  It was such a subtle difference, but caught me like a 2 x 4 to the head and it took some scrambling for me to catch up and I was always a very good student.

    Point being, we as the public need to ask better questions and NOT accept the first thing we hear, even if it is preceeded by the words "studies show" or includes a percentage!  Always, always consider the source.

    In fact, here is a great article from Popular Science to get you started: 
    http://www.popsci.com/article/science/core-truths-10-common-gmo-claims-debunked?src=SOC&dom=fb
    (Funnily, I have a friend who did research on the harm caused by Bt)

    Aside from sharing good information, another very frustrating thing I observe is that the hyper-reactivity is in all the wrong places.  Things people SHOULD be concerned about and be speaking up about very very loudly --

    -Pharmaceuticals which are now ubiquitous in the US water-supply, including endocrine disrupting compounds.  They are unregulated in wastewater, untreated, and extensive research underway at our own NCSU Toxicology and Fisheries departments are showing dramatic responses in aquatic life.  Some of this could be reduced simply with proper disposal!!

    -Chlorine:  nasty stuff.  UV treatment of water is safer, healthier, and more effective.  However, municipalities don't want to install it because of the high up-front cost.  Even though it saves massive amount of money in the long run.

    -Natural gas & hydraulic fracturing/fracking:  bad bad stuff with huge environmental and human health impacts.  The energy production numbers are grossly exaggerated by politicians, lobbyists, and corporations -- we need to focus on REDUCTION of energy consumption in our households and businesses, not poison ourselves for little or no benefit.

    -Rapid loss of tributary streams and riparian buffer habitat due to fill, culverting, development, poor logging practices, lack of enforcement of BMPs.  Ecosystem wide effects with high costs to communities including increased flooding, erosion (loss of property), drastic reductions in water quality, and loss of native species.

    -Water consumption and quality regulation.  Water is too cheap and enforcement of the Clean Water Act is often so lax, it's laughable.  Our state and local water quality agencies need to STEP. UP.

    Ok, I'm going to stop now, this could be a very long list, LOL.  "Food" for thought!

    *******************************
    The Blog:  We Are Flying Solo
    Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. -Gandhi
  • qog314qog314 Posts: 77 ✭✭
    edited August 2014
    Thanks for the information!

    As someone with many food allergies(wheat, soy, eggs), I'm concerned with how we are changing our food.
    On the one hand, we've been messing around with this stuff forever, but not to this scale. I wonder if we are changing our food faster than evolution can keep up with it - like those of us who still don't have the lactose enzyme.

    It seems like the rise in people having food allergies - especially wheat, which you can't find un-genetically modified anymore, that is, the DNA was messed with in the lab - has something to do with how we changed our food. I just don't understand why we think it's a good idea to put something in our food that kills other creatures. Some people can most likely digest the new wheat easier than others; maybe they already have the necessary enzymes to break it down. BTW, I am not talking about a "true" allergy where you could, like, die when you eat something. I'm talking about sensitivities like the symptoms lactose intolerent people get - stomach ache, gas, bloating, etc. 

    I would certainly like to see studies done that can support or refute my hypothesis but it seems like the funding is held up by people who might not like what they find. 
    by qog314
  • eventer79eventer79 The TARDISPosts: 20
    I totally get your concerns!  This is where it gets complicated -- not sure if you had a chance to read the PopSci article I linked or not, but one of the good things about the lab work is that it does give scientists the ability to be far more precise than historical cross-pollination, grafting, and other "natural" crop selection and modification methods could ever be.  There is close to 0% control when modifying crops (as we have always done) outside the lab and natural mutations and replication errors occur every time cells divide and organisms reproduce.

    I also see a lot of evidence that part of the rise in food sensitivities and other "allergies" (totally not saying these are not legit to varying degrees, but as you correctly noted, most often they are not allergies in the true sense of the word is due to the increasing "indoorification" of people's lives and the ridiculous overuse of "antibacterial" products.  Many bacteria are GOOD and indeed very important.  Even USDA had to grudgingly admit about a year or so ago that "antibacterial" soaps/hand sanitizers were indeed a terrible idea and have created very large problems -- of which MRSA is just one example.  There is a stack of literature probably as tall as I am showing plain soap and water are just as, & more, effective -- it is the mechanical action of scrubbing that cleans your skin or surfaces and the laws of nature simply make it impossible for a chemical like triclosan (the active anti-bacterial ingredient) to be 100% effective. 

    There is a reason I won't let these products through my front door, as killing 99% of any bacteria or organism leaves you with the immune 1% who will happily reproduce and become founding stock to millions more which we now cannot kill.  My own grandmother lost her life because of this -- recovery perfectly after a routine knee replacement, she contracted a resistant bacterial infection in the hospital and was dead in 24 hours.

    That may seem dramatic, but it happens every. day.  More people die from these infections than fall victim to AIDS (I checked the science, so sadly true):  http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/resistance-antibiotics-now-kills-more-people-aids.html 

    More info:
    BBC has a nice summary, including the unfortunate fact that USDA's requirement from manufacturers for valid data doesn't go into effect until 2016, sigh.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-25405037

    Even the Mayo Clinic (can't find a much more reputable source than that -- they saved my fiance's life after two brain tumours and he had a less than 20% chance of survival) warns against use of these products:  http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/hand-washing/art-20046253

    I have a good friend who is lactose intolerant, I know that is certainly sucky!  That is a different ball of wax, as you note, so I won't go into that here. 

    Another factor that many have interpreted as "intolerance" to different food items is the trend of "remove everything from your diet and then reintroduce things and see when you feel funny."  This is actually not a legitimate blank slate test; any time you don't eat a certain category of foods (say complex carbohydrates or caffeine or...take your pick) and then suddenly reintroduce it, most of the time your body will "react" simply because it needs to readjust itself and this is a completely natural process.

    The same with dietary "cleansing;" a completely false construct.  Your body has built-in cleansers, they are called kidneys and livers and unless they stop working, they are what removes toxins from your body and they are the only things that will effectively do so.

    Hope this helps!!  Again, I'm a wildlife biologist, so I ABSOLUTELY agree that pointless killing of things just because they are there is ludicrous.  However, the general public understanding of what is and is not happening is sadly far off the mark, in part due to the communication issues I noted in my first post, in part due to staggering amounts of misinformation, in part due to people simply forgetting or not knowing how to ask questions. 

    Just look into the status of our native honeybees (essential to global food production) -- they are GONE from NC, the only bees we have are thanks to bee keepers building and maintaining hives, but the species are imported.  And that is pretty  much the state across the US.

    ADD brain wandering reining in now, LOL...

     
    *******************************
    The Blog:  We Are Flying Solo
    Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. -Gandhi
  • qog314qog314 Posts: 77 ✭✭
    I did and the article was very informative! 
    I would really like to read the actual scientific papers of what they do, how they do it, and what the results are. I'll have to look into that.

    I get what you're saying about it being more controlled and thats a good point. However, you would never be able to combine a pesticide into wheat through non-lab work. Now we have the ability to...Before we never really knew what we were doing, but with this we are literally combining something that kills one thing with something that feeds another. That just seems dumb to me. Perhaps it will be proven that it doesn't actually do harm to humans, but at the moment I am very skeptical. 

    People who use anti-bacterial stuff are so dumb. Like, how they did they EVER think that was a good idea. 
    That is awful about your grandmother :( 
    And I'm sorry to hear about your fiance, but I'm glad she's doing okay now. 

    Coming from my anecdotal evidence (so take it as you will lol), the food elimination diet is actually the best way to test for allergies. Now, I'm not saying it's a great way, but I have gotten pretty much every single allergy test there is and nothing compared to me just testing the foods. 

    You're completely right though, if you stay away from foods too long your body doesn't know how to deal with it. Like when vegetarians try meat again; it's not that they're intolerant to it. 

    When I did it, I went off milk, wheat, eggs, soy, corn, and a few other things for one week. Just long enough to get it out of my system, but not to forget about it completely. 
    I also tried to still make sure I was eating carbs, fat, etc. to limit how much that affected the testing. 

    I don't really know how accurate I was, but when I introduced foods, I found that I had zero reaction to milk and corn, a VERY large reaction to wheat, and a medium reaction to eggs/soy. 
    I have tried soy and eggs in other instances because I was thinking, man I bet I can have this my body's just not used to it. But even after eating small quantities for days, I was still in pain. 

    What frustrates me is when people who have no scientific knowledge and no desire to understand are like "well I'm listening to my body". I have a very hard time not saying "Oh shut up you have no idea what your body is telling you". 
    For example, I went off ALL sugar for a month. When I reintroduced carbs, milk, and even fruit back  into my diet, I felt a little off for a couple of days, but then it went back to normal. 

    Or God forbid the people who are like "well wheat is unhealthy because it makes you fat so I just stopped eating it all together" *facepalm*

    On the other hand, the not-eating-wheat trend has helped create a market for foods I can eat, so I guess I can't be too mad at them xD
  • eventer79eventer79 The TARDISPosts: 20
    Just a quick FYI, at least specifically regarding the "Round-Up Ready" crops:  they do not actually have RoundUp IN them, a gene has been altered so the plant itself will not be killed by RoundUp.  This allows the farmer to spray his field & kill everything EXCEPT his cash crop.

    I agree there are issues there, overuse of pesticides/herbicides and associated runoff, resistance, & harm to beneficial insects and other wildlife are big things.  Just wanted the clarify the former detail in case there was confusion there.
    *******************************
    The Blog:  We Are Flying Solo
    Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. -Gandhi
  • qog314qog314 Posts: 77 ✭✭
    Oh okay, good to know!

    That seems less harmful to me, although I still don't like pesticides (I used to get very sick when I ate fruits and veggies that were sprayed). 
  • eventer79eventer79 The TARDISPosts: 20
    I don't like them either -- not all bugs are bad and the majority are very beneficial.  RoundUp, though, is an herbicide, so targeted towards plants.  LOL, yes, semantics, but just wanted to clarify.  And don't feel bad, the vast majority of people are confused about the RoundUp Ready thing, that wrong-way-runaway train left the station long ago!
    *******************************
    The Blog:  We Are Flying Solo
    Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. -Gandhi
  • qog314qog314 Posts: 77 ✭✭
    Yeah, like you said about the bees, we are killing off important species :/ 
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