A refutation of the IFRT’s “10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs”

Today I will be taking a short look at the unscientific and extremely misleading Institute For Responsible Technology (aka Jeffrey Smith) page titled “10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs”, located here.

Each claim will be presented in italics, followed by a detailed refutation of it.

Many of these claims are very similar to the ones used in the Illinois bill SB 1666, so I’ll be reusing my refutations from there.

1. GMOs are unhealthy.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. QuackWatch lists it as a questionable organization, citing their promotion of the dubious concepts of clinical ecology and multiple chemical sensitivity. The AAEM opposes water fluoridation (and fluoride in general!), opposes mercury-containing vaccines, claims that WiFi is dangerous (seriously!), considers EMF/RF exposure to be a major risk, and opposes “smart meters”. When Science Based Medicine took a look at them they found that the AAEM is even more quackish when you dig deeper into the organization. With this in mind, it is quite safe to say that the AAEM is not qualified to be urging doctors to do anything. The studies they cite have been discredited time and time again by the scientific community. They, like the IFRT, reject the scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified crops and intentionally ignore the reams of material that clashes with their cherry-picked junk science.

One specific study mentioned indirectly here by Smith is a paper that examined gene transfer and survival in the human gut, titled “Assessing the Survival of Transgenic Plant DNA in the Human Gastrointestinal Tract“. It’s quite a useful study, but not for the reasons Smith seems to be using it for. He claims that the study showed gene transfer – but neglected to mention some key facts about the design of the study. Do you know what an ileostomy is? “An ileostomy is a surgical opening constructed by bringing the end or loop of small intestine (the ileum) out onto the surface of the skin.”[96] The reason you need to understand what this is is because the study Smith used was carried out in part on ileostomists. This is a very important thing to understand because the bowel system of ileostomists is not comparable to a normal human bowel system. The study found that both the non-transgenic and the transgenic DNA was detectable in the ileostomists. However, when the study was done on people with normal bowel function, they discovered that their waste was free of all genes – indicating that the large intestine destroys both transgenes and normal genes. Despite Smith’s claims about the transgene growing in the intestine, the study’s results indicated that while a small level of gene transfer was detected in the ileostomists, the transfer had not occurred during their experiment, and did not increase during the experiment. Furthermore the concentration of the transgene was extremely low and only contained a fragment of the EPSPS gene – the full gene was never detected. In the humans with intact digestive systems, the researchers were unable to detect any of the transgene – preexisting or not – and this did not change during the experiment. The authors additionally stated that “Our results from coculture experiments with transformed bacteria and Caco-2 cells suggest that gene transfer from GM plants to the intestinal epithelium is unlikely to occur.”

The authors concluded that:

    * A small portion of the transgenes AND native genes survive the small intestine.
    * Both the transgenes and native genes are fully degraded in the large intestine.
    * There was some evidence of preexisting gene transfer in the ileostomists, but it represented a very small portion of the microbial population, and the complete transgene had not been transferred.
    * It was highly unlikely for gene transfer to alter gastrointestinal function or pose a risk to human health.

So in summary, there is no evidence that humans with normal digestive systems are vulnerable to gene transfer, and some evidence that suggests very low rates of partial gene transfer may occur, but only in ileostomists. As such, unless you’re an ileostomist, Smith’s claims do not apply to you, and even if you are an ileostomist, there is no real reason to be worried.

The next claim was that Bt (an insecticide that, contrary to Smith’s claims, is barely classifiable as toxic) was detected in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses. This claim is based on the study “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada.” (PubMed link), but that study turned out to be completely useless, as demonstrated by refutations from the Food Standards agency for Australia and New Zealand and from Biofortified.

The next claim is a great example of confusing correlation with causation, which appears to be a disease that tends to infect science denialists. While Smith at least does admit that they lack “sufficient research to confirm that GMOs are a contributing factor”, he neglects to mention that this means there is zero supporting research and quite a bit of contradictory research. Whoops.

And, as I already mentioned, the AAEM is not a group that should be trusted, especially when it comes to health claims. Why children are at the most risk is not explained, probably due to the complete lack of evidence.

The IGF-1 cancer link relies on a lack of public knowledge of IGF-1 – a protein present in all milk at low levels, and in the human body at levels ranging from 14 to 102 times the levels present in milk. Smith never explicitly named the amount of IGF-1 that he believes rBST-treated milk contains, but there is no clear proof that an increase (if it exists) even has the potential to affect cancer rates. This is a moot point, as a study demonstrated that rBST-treated and non-rBST milk contain similar levels of IGF-1. Interestingly, the study also demonstrated that organic milk (but not rBST-free conventional milk) contained a slight amount less IGF-1, but there is no evidence that the decrease is anywhere near large enough to influence cancer chances (especially so when you consider how small it is relative to the amount present in the human body).

2. GMOs contaminate―forever.

Smith fails to recognize that gene flow is a natural part of agriculture. No crop is ever 100% pure, which is why USDA Organic guidelines allow for a certain amount of inadvertent contamination. Likewise in the EU, contamination of up to 1% is considered acceptable. This gene flow works both ways – the conventional farmers are also having their crops contaminated with inferior organic plants, and organic farmers are also getting contaminated with the conventional farmer’s plants, as well as other organic farms’ plants. It’s also not difficult to reduce contamination levels in the unlikely event that they are an actual problem for the farmer. Soybeans are one of the more popular transgenic crops, but their method of reproduction means that contamination is extremely low with only minor precautions. While the same is not true for all transgenic crops, proper isolation techniques can still easily result in contamination levels of under 0.5% for corn. Contamination isn’t a new issue either – it’s been a problem for farmers for a very long time. The only difference is that organic farmers may have to give up their premiums if they don’t take extremely basic precautions against contamination that are already recommended by USDA guidelines.

Smith (of course) assumes that the reader is gullible enough to play his “what if” game and too stupid to realize that “what if” is nowhere near reality. What if crops grown with organic production methods turned out to cause cancer? The potential impact is just as huge, and the lack of supporting evidence is no smaller than the lack of supporting evidence for GM crops causing cancer.

3. GMOs increase herbicide use.

Next up we’ve got Charles Benbrook’s “study“.

Andrew Kniss, Assistant Professor, Weed Biology & Ecology at the University of Wyoming, ruthlessly tore apart Benbrook’s work over at his blog. I’ll summarize his findings here.

Basically, Benbrook did not have NASS data for cotton in the years 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2011; for soybeans he had nothing past 2006; and for corn he had nothing for the years 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, or 2011. Instead of contacting private companies that track this sort of data and purchasing their data, he decided to “forecast” the data for these years.

To his credit, his data for cotton appears to be fairly accurate, as you can see below.

For corn, Benbrook estimates that herbicide use is increasing, despite the data showing a decline.

Last but definitely not least is the soybean data, where Benbrook forecasted five years of data based on only 11 years of observed data. I’ll let the graph speak for itself.

But Kniss’s investigation is by no means the only one. Anastasia Bodnar criticized his previous 2009 study (almost identical to his 2012 one) for Biofortified, and found some rather interesting things.

Benbrook failed to distinguish between herbicide tolerant and insect resistant plants, lumping them together under the generalized and highly misleading label of “GE Crops”. Benbrook also used the term GE crops multiple times when he should have referred to herbicide resistant crops.

Benbrook also completely ignored the relative environmental toxicity of glyphosate, which is far lower than many alternatives.

Benbrook also ignored the non-biotech herbicide resistant crops, despite how they’re just as relevant to herbicide use with resistant crops.

PG Economics also released a report on the study, where the study was criticized for a variety of reasons, including for overstating herbicide use by 63.4 million pounds (not exactly a small error!). Further criticisms included the failure to acknowledge environmental benefits from the herbicide resistant crops, a weak approach, and the already mentioned misleading use of NASS usage data.

Last but definitely not least, claiming an increase of pounds without reporting the changing market share of herbicide resistant crops is extremely misleading.

4. Genetic engineering creates dangerous side effects.

There is no proof that this has ever or will ever occur unintentionally.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Botany investigated genetically modified soybeans and food allergies. It found that “Current GM crops, including soybean, have not been shown to add any additional allergenic risk beyond the intrinsic risks already present”, and additionally recognized that “Biotechnology can be used to characterize and eliminate allergens naturally present in crops”.

A 2005 study on the allergenicity of transgenic maize and soya found that “None of the individuals undergoing tests reacted differentially to the transgenic and nontransgenic samples under study. None of the volunteers tested presented detectable IgE antibodies against pure transgenic proteins”.

Another 2007 study on the allergenicity of transgenic soybeans compared to non-transgenic soybeans found that “Soybean endogenous allergen expression does not seem to be altered after genetic modification”.

This evidence suggests that current transgenic food does NOT increase levels of allergens.

But what about the toxins?

A 2012 review of 12 long-term studies (up to 2 years in duration) and 12 multigenerational studies (from 2 to 5 generations) found that “Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed”.

There are a huge amount of studies on these foods. Let’s take a look at a few more of them to evaluate the claims of toxin danger.

This 2005 study on MON863 Bt corn found that “Overall, performance was not negatively affected in the corn residue grazing or feedlot experiments, suggesting the corn rootworm-protected hybrid (event MON 863) is similar to conventional, nontransgenic corn grain and residues when utilized by beef cattle”.

This 2003 study on MON863 (Bt) and MON810 (Bt) + MON863 (Bt) in broilers. They concluded that “Broilers overall performed consistently and had similar carcass yields and meat compositions when fed diets containing MON863 corn or MON810 x MON863 corn as compared with their respective nontransgenic control and commercial diets, supporting a conclusion of similar feeding values among diets”.

This 2006 study on MON810 (Bt) corn in rats concluded that “Overall health, body weight, food consumption, clinical pathology parameters (hematology, blood chemistry, urinalysis), organ weights, and gross and microscopic appearance of tissues were comparable between groups fed diets containing MON 810 and conventional corn varieties”.

This 2005 study on Bt176 (Bt) corn and quails over ten generations found that “Feeding of diets containing genetically-modified corn did not significantly influence health and performance of quails nor did it affect DNA-transfer and quality of meat and eggs of quails compared with the isogenic counterpart”.

This 2003 study on Bt11 (Bt) corn in broilers concluded that “It was clear that the transgenic corn had no deleterious or unintended effects on production traits of broiler chickens in this study”.

Ironically, Bt actually reduces the amount of toxins present by reducing insect damage, which in turn reduces the amount of mycotoxins in said Bt corn. This paper estimates that Bt corn’s reduction of the mycotoxins fumonisin and aflatoxin in the US provides a benefit of 23 million dollars annually.

Still not convinced? Scientific American has an informative blog post on allergens in genetically engineered food. You can view it at http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2013/05/30/allergic-to-science-proteins-and-allergens-in-our-genetically-engineered-food/.

5. Government oversight is dangerously lax.

The first claim (that the FDA does not conduct safety studies) is indeed true.

However, the second is a misrepresentation of the truth. Responsibility for the safety and testing of genetically engineered foods is split between three federal agencies: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal AND Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), AND the Department OF Health AND Human Services Food and Drug Administration(FDA). Biotech companies are required to provide any safety studies that the FDA demands, done at the company’s expense, and they are required to turn over the raw data to the FDA for review. The process is lengthy and complicated.

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=BiotechnologyFAQs.xml&navid=AGRICULTURE

The above USDA FAQ has some very useful information about the approval process.

6. The biotech industry uses “tobacco science” to claim product safety.

If anything, the anti-GMO activists are acting like the tobacco industry acted. When overwhelming scientific evidence showed that tobacco use was harmful and addictive, the tobacco industry used every trick in the book to suppress this data and to confuse people. Likewise, both the tobacco industry and the anti-GMO activists have cherry picked data, ignored vast quantities of peer-reviewed research, published an endless stream of propaganda, lied constantly about the data, and did their best to suppress any research that contradicted or refuted their narrative.

In the end, biotechnology has science on its side, and the tobacco industry doesn’t. Opposition to biotechnology is thus inherently anti-scientific.

The independent scientist rhetoric is a favorite of the anti-GMO crowd. Too bad that many of the scientists aren’t actually independent (like Seralini), and that the independent scientists who don’t produce junk science are never cited by Smith and his fans.

7. Independent research and reporting is attacked and suppressed.

Biotechnology opponents are among the first to cry “oppression” when their lies are exposed by critics. This is merely a tactic used in an attempt to discredit criticism of flawed studies. Andrew Wakefield used the same tactic when his paper was ripped apart by the medical community.

8. GMOs harm the environment.

Once again, Smith relies on public ignorance to make a point. The herbicide glyphosate, considered by most people to be “the” GMO herbicide (probably due to widespread adoption of glyphosate resistant crops), has a LD50 similar to salt. It does a great job of killing weeds, but has great difficulty killing other things.

GM crops actually tend to increase overall regional biodiversity. Even with this in mind, biodiversity isn’t what feeds people, high yielding crops are. You can plant 500 different species of corn in one field if you’re extremely concerned about specific crop biodiversity, but if overall regional biodiversity is poor and your yields even poorer, what’s the advantage?

As for eliminating Monarch habitat, GM crops are not at fault, agriculture is. Milkweed is a weed, and herbicide resistant crops just happen to be designed so that weeds are easier to eliminate. They are by no means the only way to eliminate milkweed, as many other crops are sprayed with herbicides that also kill milkweed. Additionally, the science is a bit flimsy.

Roundup has quite a bit of junk research on it, but the research being (indirectly) cited here by Seralini appears to be research done with extremely high doses of Roundup (or glyphosate), not realistic doses. A very comprehensive risk assessment on Roundup specifically concluded that it does not pose a realistic health risk to humans.

To put dosage in perspective, the average human in the US probably consumes less than 0.1mg of glyphosate in their food every day. That is a ridiculously tiny amount of glyphosate!

The canola example isn’t useful either. Canola as a vector for herbicide resistant genes is overthinking the issue – it’s easier for weeds to just evolve resistance to the herbicide (although that will change when multiple herbicide resistant crops are commercialized). Sure, canola itself can be a weed, but is that really proof that GMOs “harm the environment”? Herbicide resistance is a problem that by no means is unique to genetically modified crops.

9. GMOs do not increase yields, and work against feeding a hungry world.

On Failure to Yield – See below sources for a detailed rebuttal.

http://www.biofortified.org/2009/04/union-of-concerned-scientists-ge-crops-have-not-decreased-yields/

http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/UCSresponseapr2009.pdf

http://files.vkk.me/text/1e67a14f199469727f709f59dd46d9f35f69802b.pdf

On the IAASTD report – see below:

The IAASTD report is ridiculously flawed piece of unscientific propaganda that downplayed biotechnology, despite how the evidence contradicted virtually every claim made in the report. Several authors dropped out before the report was completed, leaving a small group of writers with little experience of biotech, and at least one of the writers has a history of producing anti-biotech propaganda. The report contained very little scientific information, and had basically become a soapbox for the organic industry’s supporters. It was a complete failure, and has been criticized by numerous credible sources, including a Nature article.

When you take a look at the scientific literature, the depth of the IAASTD report’s lies becomes very obvious. Organic yields are up to 34% lower, but the average yield gap is around 20% – and increasing!

10. By avoiding GMOs, you contribute to the coming tipping point of consumer rejection, forcing them out of our food supply.

Perhaps if there wasn’t such fierce opposition to the technology the biotech companies would be interested in investing in improvements that improve the food directly. The strict regulatory process and limited consumer acceptance isn’t helping either, no thanks to scare media like Smith’s website. There are some crops in the approval pipeline that fit this criteria – Simplot’s Innate potato (nonbrowning, reduced asparagine content) and the Arctic apples (nonbrowning). Golden Rice also deserves a mention, as it will directly benefit people in impoverished nations.

Refuting the Organic Consumer Association’s “13 Lies GMO Labeling Opponents are Recycling in Washington State”

The Organic Consumers Association recently published an article containing a list of “13 Lies GMO Labeling Opponents are Recycling in Washington State”.

This post will investigate each of the thirteen “lies” for accuracy.

#1 – The OCA claims that labeling does not increase food prices. As evidence they cite an “empirical study” from a Joanna M. Shepherd Bailey. This report gave a rather optimistic figure of a one-time $1.27 cost for food labeling, but the report is flawed to a certain degree. The report assumes that sellers are unwilling to raise prices, and that administrative time to raise prices would cost too much to raise the prices in the first place. Yet the very same report also assumes that the administrative time to implement labeling is negligible.

The report also turns a blind eye to how food producers would be forced to use a far greater amount of non-GM or organic ingredients in order to avoid the stigma associated with the label.

Here’s a good source on what substitution costs would look like: http://files.vkk.me/text/8a39e65d3fc7f5738937bc889c2523a1ef1cb776.pdf

Another crucial point is that the OCA ignores how factual reporting of GM content would require detailed tracking and isolation of bulk food, something which the industry is not equipped to do. Their arguments suggest labeling could help consumers avoid GM products, but the actual labeling does not guarantee any GM content will be present in the product. The proposed labels are not required to specify what ingredients may be GM, nor the extent to which they may be present. In addition, the law does not require testing for the presence of GM components. So this isn’t a “GM labeling bill”, it’s a “might contain GM labeling bill”.

The EU is brought up, but again, crucial information is omitted – like how GM foods mostly vanished from the EU after labeling was put into effect.

The OCA then digs their grave deeper by claiming that companies hawking non-GM products label them as GMO-free for “free” – but of course how these companies don’t offer you any choice and charge you more for the privilege of eating their “premium” food isn’t mentioned either!

#2 – Americans are estimated to eat out an average of 5 times a week and spend as much as $142 billion on fast food alone. Yet this industry is completely exempt? Has the OCA already forgotten their tired old propaganda taglines about how consumers deserve the “right to know” what’s in their food?

#3 – This is literally the definition of a straw man argument. The OCA spent their entire paragraph attacking something completely unrelated to the point supposably being refuted. The marketing term “natural” has absolutely nothing to do with the USDA certification known as “organic”, something which this organization has in its NAME.

#4 – Connecticut and Maine’s laws both have minimum thresholds before the laws go into effect, and Alaska’s laws are severely limited to only a tiny segment of the food industry. If I-522 was passed, Washington would become the first state to have mandatory GM labeling on supermarket-sold food. So yes, it is actually the first and the only.

#5 – From I-522:

( 3) An action to enjoin a violation of this chapter may be brought in any court of competent jurisdiction by any person in the public interest if the action is commenced more than sixty days after the person has given notice of the alleged violation to the department, the attorney general, and to the alleged violator.

(4) The court may award to prevailing plaintiff reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in investigating and prosecuting an action to enforce this chapter.

By allowing lawsuits from the general public, I-522 has made it possible for anyone to sue any company considered to be in violation. These types of lawsuits are frivolous and unnecessary. Why is this language in the bill in the first place? Why does the general public need to sue companies when the state is already supposed to deal with violators?

#6 – As mentioned in #1, their arguments suggest labeling could help consumers avoid GM products, but the actual labeling does not guarantee any GM content will be present in the product, and they have ignored how the most viable route of action for the companies will be switching to non-GM ingredients solely because of the stigma attached to this label.

Government oversight is part of I-522. The government will have to foot the enforcement bill.

#7 – The claim that genetically modified crops haven’t been proven safe is a blatant lie. Over six hundred studies have been conducted on GM crops, and the scientific consensus is that GM crops are safe and no more dangerous than conventionally-grown crops.

Pre-market safety studies are quite definitely required! In addition to the FDA, the EPA and USDA frequently review new biotech crops. A very high level of testing is required for each new biotech crop – something that is not required of any other type of crops.

The next claim is false on two fronts. First of all, that was not the only long-term animal feeding study involving GM crops (more on this in a minute). Secondly, the study cited here (“Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize”) is an excellent example of junk science being used to push an agenda. You can read a full write-up on the issues with the study, Seralini’s connections to activist groups and the natural/organic foods industry, and other interesting details over at RationalWiki.

As for those other long-term feeding studies – here’s a meta-review of 24 long-term and multigenerational feeding studies.

The OCA then cites an except from the heavily biased report “GMO Myths and Truths”, which does a fine job of cherry-picking junk science from academic journals, but means very little in reality. I could waste time linking to refutation for every study in that list, but it would not be productive to do so. The simple lack of a biological mechanism for genetically engineered foods to cause many of these claimed effects is a major red flag.

#8 – The OCA as we noticed previously, the OCA is good at cherry-picking junk science. If you take their results at face value, you might think that organic food is more nutritious. But a meta-review of two hundred and forty assorted studies on organic food and nutritional content concluded that “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods”.

The “De Dell” report actually came from the marketing material of a company called “ProfitPro Ag”. It’s not from a scientific journal, and would likely never manage to make it into one, since the data is bogus. When the seed company got called out for this they pulled the marketing material PDF from their site and refused to reveal the source of their data.

#9 – Once again, the OCA fails to understand the pre-market testing mechanism used in the United States. This isn’t exactly a surprise, considering their willingness to pretend marketing material is a reputable source. What is surprising is that they ignored how the NAP report is based on hypothetical concerns and stressed that “greater scrutiny should be given to foods containing new compounds or unusual amounts of naturally occurring substances, regardless of the method used to create them.”

The linked list is composed mainly of political, quack, and environmental groups. There are only a few actually reputable/notable organizations in the linked list/mentioned in the article, and none of the reputable organizations appear to have the stance that GE foods are dangerous (which is supposably the point of this “lie”).

#10 – The Union of Concerned Scientist’ report on yield has many major flaws, detailed in the below refutations:

http://www.biofortified.org/2009/04/union-of-concerned-scientists-ge-crops-have-not-decreased-yields/
http://files.vkk.me/text/44be51cbe7487b62d837c9dfb7a20028160734d4.pdf
http://files.vkk.me/text/1e67a14f199469727f709f59dd46d9f35f69802b.pdf

The article “Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest” has similar issues, but for slightly different reasons. Heinemann appears to have intentionally obscured the data by using misleading years in the report, and misrepresents the data in at least one other major way. Various other criticisms of his paper include his decision to cite the advocacy scientist Benbrook’s flawed paper (and rely heavily on this flawed data for his paper), differing environments in Europe vs the US, and complete omission of any discussion of the beneficial yield variability effects caused by GM crops.

#11 – Ironically, transgenic crops are anything but unnatural. Here’s some examples of this happening in “nature”: A quarter of the cow genome came from snakes, a segment of SPIN genes is present in seven different animal genomes, a virus infiltrates DNA, a fruit fly had the entire genome of a bacteria in it, aphids stole genes from fungi, sheep’s fescue borrowed a gene from a meadow grass, wasps use genes stolen from ancient viruses to make biological weapons, and gonorrhea borrowed human DNA.

Of course, horizontal gene transfer isn’t the only option. Have you ever heard of triticale? It’s an interesting grain frequently marketed as “natural” when in fact it’s quite the opposite. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye – something that, unlike HGT, actually wouldn’t happen in nature. The first triticale hybrids were sterile, and it took breeders quite some time to figure out how to allow this plant to breed. And yet for some reason there’s no massive outrage over this.

And what could be more natural than spraying a plant with sodium azide in order to induce completely random mutations in the plant’s genome? If you get bored of that you can always switch to the other popular option, which is putting your plants next to a gamma ray source (such as cobalt-60). Over 3200 crops have been produced via these mutagenic breeding methods, yet none of these crops have had any safety testing or environmental testing performed on them (unlike GM crops, which have to pass a battery of tests before being approved).

Why exactly is GM considered unnatural when HGT is a rare but normal part of nature? And why is there no concern over crops produced by bombarding them with radiation or soaking them in toxic chemicals? Perhaps the basic issue is one of scientific literacy – which explains why prominent anti-biotech “scientist” Seralini is attempting to dumb down high school biology classes in France.

#12 – Food and Water watch is not a scientific source. The PDF is mostly fluff (graphics, useless text), and seems to mainly be rehashing Benbrook’s flawed data (addressed below). The usual junk science is cited, as well as the typical scare piece about “superweeds”. A good article on glyphosate use, weed resistance, and why the term “superweed” is so misleading can be found here: http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2013/05/superweed/

Next up we’ve got Charles Benbrook’s “study“.

Andrew Kniss, Assistant Professor, Weed Biology & Ecology at the University of Wyoming, ruthlessly tore apart Benbrook’s work over at his blog. I’ll summarize his findings here.

Basically, Benbrook did not have NASS data for cotton in the years 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2011; for soybeans he had nothing past 2006; and for corn he had nothing for the years 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, or 2011. Instead of contacting private companies that track this sort of data and purchasing their data, he decided to “forecast” the data for these years.

To his credit, his data for cotton appears to be fairly accurate, as you can see below.

For corn, Benbrook estimates that herbicide use is increasing, despite the data showing a decline.

Last but definitely not least is the soybean data, where Benbrook forecasted five years of data based on only 11 years of observed data. I’ll let the graph speak for itself.

But Kniss’s investigation is by no means the only one. Anastasia Bodnar criticized his previous 2009 study (almost identical to his 2012 one) for Biofortified, and found some rather interesting things.

Benbrook failed to distinguish between herbicide tolerant and insect resistant plants, lumping them together under the generalized and highly misleading label of “GE Crops”. Benbrook also used the term GE crops multiple times when he should have referred to herbicide resistant crops.

Benbrook also completely ignored the relative environmental toxicity of glyphosate, which is far lower than many alternatives.

Benbrook also ignored the non-biotech herbicide resistant crops, despite how they’re just as relevant to herbicide use with resistant crops.

PG Economics also released a report on the study, where the study was criticized for a variety of reasons, including for overstating herbicide use by 63.4 million pounds (not exactly a small error!). Further criticisms included the failure to acknowledge environmental benefits from the herbicide resistant crops, a weak approach, and the already mentioned misleading use of NASS usage data.

Last but definitely not least, claiming an increase of pounds without reporting the changing market share of herbicide resistant crops is extremely misleading.

#13 – Biodiversity is a bit of a red herring in that it’s not unique to GM crops. You might as well be railing against conventional or even organic crops for reducing field diversity. Is it an issue? To some extent maybe, but it’s not a looming apocalypse, and GM crops are no more at fault than any other type of crop.

Super bugs are merely pesticide resistant insects. Pesticide resistance, like herbicide resistance, is unavoidable. However, good management practices can delay resistance for quite some time. The main tactic in place to slow or stop resistance is refuge areas – areas within a field filled with non-Bt seed, which makes resistance more difficult to develop. Only a few cases of resistant bugs have ever been reported. A good article on this subject can be found here.

An article on why superweeds aren’t so scary can be found here: http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2013/05/superweed/

The honey bee point is (yet another) straw man since neonicotinoids are not related to GM crops. The evidence that they’re at fault for CCD is also a bit flimsy, but this isn’t the article for that discussion.

Likewise, the frogs point is also a strawman – atrazine isn’t related to GM crops. The EPA concluded that conclusions could not be drawn from Hayes’ data, as well as the data from numerous other studies. The EPA then had Syngenta conduct a rigorous study on Atrazine, which was scrutinized by the EPA and declared sound. The study concluded that “long-term exposure of larval X. laevis to atrazine at concentrations ranging from 0.01 to 100 microg/l does not affect growth, larval development, or sexual differentiation”. Following their review of Syngenta’s study, the EPA concluded that atrazine does not adversely affect amphibian gonadal development, and no longer requires additional testing of atrazine on amphibians. Syngenta also released an extensive archive of emails from Tyrone Hayes received from a period going back to 2002, which contained obscene and ridiculous content. Here’s an article, as well as the emails, and a formal ethics complaint sent to UC Berkeley. Hayes appears to have also refused to share his data with the EPA, which is (obviously) a red flag. Independent research on Atrazine and amphibians had similar conclusions.

Birds and fish seem to be similar in that they’re straw man arguments. The OCA is holding up examples of various pesticides and pretending they apply to GM crops.

The Monarch point is actually relevant, but the science is flimsy and the loss of milkweed is a byproduct of agriculture.

The last point about Hawaii seems to be more fear than fact. Additionally, “theorganicprepper.ca” isn’t a reliable source.

Perhaps this article should be renamed “13 Truths GMO Labeling Opponents are Recycling in Washington State”. At least then it’d be accurate.

A look at Illinois bill SB1666 (the Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Act)

Today I’m going to take a hard look at the recent bill for GMO labeling in Illinois. This follows the theme set by my previous post on the subject of biotechnology.

You can find the full text of SB1666 here: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=&SessionId=85&GA=98&DocTypeId=SB&DocNum=1666&GAID=12&LegID=&SpecSess=&Session=

And in PDF form: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/98/SB/PDF/09800SB1666lv.pdf

I’ll be quoting the bill in italics. Formatting may be a bit odd as the source does not use text wrapping.


(1) Illinois consumers have the right to know whether the
foods they purchase were produced with genetic engineering so
they can make informed purchasing decisions. Labeling is
necessary to ensure that consumers are fully and reliably
informed about the products they purchase and consume.

This section is a bit odd. Generally speaking, food labeling is supposed to serve a useful purpose. The term “produced with genetic engineering” tells us nothing about the trait used, what the trait does, etc. Furthermore, as these foods are both just as safe as (and sometimes safer than in the case of Bt) conventional food, there is no reason to distinguish them based merely on the general technology used to create them. It’s like demanding a label that says “produced with hybridization”.

(2) Consumers overwhelmingly favor knowing whether the
food they purchase and consume is produced with genetic
engineering for a variety of reasons, including health,
economic, environmental, religious, and ethical reasons. Polls
consistently show that the vast majority of the public, more
than 90%, wants to know if its food was produced with genetic
engineering.

This is an exceedingly poor justification for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Genetic engineering is a technique for modifying the organism. This label would tell consumers very little about their food. Speaking in theoretical terms, this could mean anything from the product being resistant to a herbicide to the product being fortified with vitamins by itself.

Furthermore, it is already possible for consumers to obtain non-genetically-engineered foods. Any product with the USDA Organic label cannot contain genetically engineered food, and the independent Non GMO Project certifies products as GM-free.

Thus not only does the consumer already have an easy way of accessing foods that meet any possible personal preference, the existing process is completely voluntary and has resulted in a wide variety of products being sold that meet these requirements. Labeling the products that do not comply makes little sense, and making that labeling mandatory has no reasonable justification.

(3) There is currently no federal or State requirement that
genetically engineered (GE) foods be labeled. In contrast, 61
countries, including Japan, South Korea, China, Australia,
Russia, Malaysia, the European Union member states, and other
key U.S. trading partners, already have laws mandating the
disclosure of GE foods on food labels. In 2011, Codex
Alimentarius, the food standards organization of the United
Nations, stated that governments are free to decide on whether
and how to label foods produced with genetic engineering.

This is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad populum. Argumentum ad populum is an appeal to the people/masses, where a proposition is said to be true because many or most people believe in it.

In reality, the countries that have labeling laws do so mostly for political reasons, not safety reasons. As evidenced by the widespread bans against homosexual activity in many nations, popularity is not a good indicator of right or wrong.

(4) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not
require or conduct safety studies of GE foods. Instead, any
safety consultations are voluntary, and GE food developers may
decide what information to provide to the agency.

The first claim (that the FDA does not conduct safety studies) is indeed true.

However, the second is a misrepresentation of the truth. Responsibility for the safety and testing of genetically engineered foods is split between three federal agencies: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal AND Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), AND the Department OF Health AND Human Services Food and Drug Administration(FDA). Biotech companies are required to provide any safety studies that the FDA demands, done at the company’s expense, and they are required to turn over the raw data to the FDA for review. The process is lengthy and complicated.

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=BiotechnologyFAQs.xml&navid=AGRICULTURE

The above USDA FAQ has some very useful information about the approval process.

(5) The genetic engineering of plants and animals often
causes unintended consequences. Manipulating genes via genetic
engineering and inserting them into organisms is an imprecise
process. The results are not always predictable or
controllable. Mixing plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes
through genetic engineering in combinations that cannot occur
in nature may produce results that lead to adverse health or
environmental consequences.

Biofortified did an excellent job refuting this point in their Analysis of Washington’s I-522 bill, so I’m just going to repost it here. All credit for the following two paragraphs goes to Biology Fortified, Inc and Bill Price.

The “right to know” has been a debatable topic in GE labeling, dependent on perceived costs, benefits and risks. The implication here, however, is that consumers have this right because the process of genetic modification is dangerous and uncontrollable. All crop breeding techniques, including those used prior to GE, can lead to unintended results. Relative to these traditional crop breeding techniques, however, GE methods are more precise and controlled. Genetic engineering processes are very specific in the changes made, typically involving only one or two genes. [EDIT 3/19/2-13: Methods are now poised to become even more precise.] Because specific genes are targeted, the functional changes are anticipated ahead of time. Traditional techniques, however, may use processes such as outcrossing of varieties or mutagenesis through irradiation and chemicals. These methods induce simultaneous multiple changes in the genetic structure that are random in nature with unknown and unpredictable outcomes. Traditional breeding programs on crop plants such as potato, celery and kiwi, for example, have resulted in unintended and harmful effects in the past. [Edit 3/21/2013: New crops are regularly introduced to new markets with out testing and with unknown consequences. See the cucamelon, for example]. Admittedly, GE methodologies, like all breeding methods, may occasionally produce undesirable traits, however, they are unlikely to reach the marketplace because they are heavily scrutinized and tested for adverse effects prior to release. [Edit 3/23/2013: Kevin Folta has a nice comparison of plant improvement methods and their characteristics].

The mixing of plant, animal or viral/bacterial genes is actually quite common in nature. The complete genome of a bacterium (Wolbachia), for example, has been found nested within the chromosomes of the common fruit fly, drosophila. Viral components (endogenous retroviruses or ERVs) are commonly found in many vertebrates and can encompass a large proportion of their genetic code. Pea aphids have been shown to have acquired fungal genes for coloration. Snake genomic features have also been recently observed in cattle. Such examples of horizontal transfer of genetic material across phylogenetic categories are numerous and considered by some to be an important mechanism in the natural process of evolution. There is no reason to expect or suspect that this process would necessarily create adverse health or environmental consequences more than any other type of genetic transfer processes.

(6) United States government scientists have stated that
the artificial insertion of genetic material into plants via
genetic engineering can cause a variety of significant problems
with plant foods. Such genetic engineering can increase the
levels of known toxicants or allergens in foods and create new
toxicants or allergens with consequent health concerns.

There is no proof that this has ever or will ever occur unintentionally.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Botany investigated genetically modified soybeans and food allergies. It found that “Current GM crops, including soybean, have not been shown to add any additional allergenic risk beyond the intrinsic risks already present”, and additionally recognized that “Biotechnology can be used to characterize and eliminate allergens naturally present in crops”.

A 2005 study on the allergenicity of transgenic maize and soya found that “None of the individuals undergoing tests reacted differentially to the transgenic and nontransgenic samples under study. None of the volunteers tested presented detectable IgE antibodies against pure transgenic proteins”.

Another 2007 study on the allergenicity of transgenic soybeans compared to non-transgenic soybeans found that “Soybean endogenous allergen expression does not seem to be altered after genetic modification”.

This evidence suggests that current transgenic food does NOT increase levels of allergens.

But what about the toxicants?

A 2012 review of 12 long-term studies (up to 2 years in duration) and 12 multigenerational studies (from 2 to 5 generations) found that “Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed”.

There are a huge amount of studies on these foods. Let’s take a look at a few more of them to evaluate the claims of toxicant danger.

This 2005 study on MON863 Bt corn found that “Overall, performance was not negatively affected in the corn residue grazing or feedlot experiments, suggesting the corn rootworm-protected hybrid (event MON 863) is similar to conventional, nontransgenic corn grain and residues when utilized by beef cattle”.

This 2003 study on MON863 (Bt) and MON810 (Bt) + MON863 (Bt) in broilers. They concluded that “Broilers overall performed consistently and had similar carcass yields and meat compositions when fed diets containing MON863 corn or MON810 x MON863 corn as compared with their respective nontransgenic control and commercial diets, supporting a conclusion of similar feeding values among diets”.

This 2006 study on MON810 (Bt) corn in rats concluded that “Overall health, body weight, food consumption, clinical pathology parameters (hematology, blood chemistry, urinalysis), organ weights, and gross and microscopic appearance of tissues were comparable between groups fed diets containing MON 810 and conventional corn varieties”.

This 2005 study on Bt176 (Bt) corn and quails over ten generations found that “Feeding of diets containing genetically-modified corn did not significantly influence health and performance of quails nor did it affect DNA-transfer and quality of meat and eggs of quails compared with the isogenic counterpart”.

This 2003 study on Bt11 (Bt) corn in broilers concluded that “It was clear that the transgenic corn had no deleterious or unintended effects on production traits of broiler chickens in this study”.

Ironically, Bt actually reduces the amount of toxins present by reducing insect damage, which in turn reduces the amount of mycotoxins in said Bt corn. This paper estimates that Bt corn’s reduction of the mycotoxins fumonisin and aflatoxin in the US provides a benefit of 23 million dollars annually.

Still not convinced? Scientific American has an informative blog post on allergens in genetically engineered food. You can view it at http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2013/05/30/allergic-to-science-proteins-and-allergens-in-our-genetically-engineered-food/.

(7) Mandatory identification of foods produced with
genetic engineering can provide a method for detecting, at a
large epidemiological scale, the potential health effects of
consuming such foods.

I can say the exact same thing about hybrid foods, but that isn’t justification to label them. How about mutated plants? Those have a fairly high likelihood of producing unwanted effects, but I haven’t seen anyone attempt to have those labeled!

8) Without mandatory disclosure, consumers of GE foods may
unknowingly violate their dietary and religious beliefs.

Without mandatory disclosure, vegans may unknowingly consume meat.

This is why vegans buy vegan food, and why consumers who do not wish to purchase GE food should purchase organic or non-GM certified food.

This law would actually fail to address this concern. Let’s say I’m morally opposed to consuming anything with fish proteins in it. And let’s pretend that one of the biotech corps finally found a useful gene from a fish (the tomatoes weren’t very useful), and put it in a product (let’s use corn as an example), then brought it to market. If I wanted to avoid that product (corn), if SB1666 had passed, I’d have to do exactly the same thing as if SB1666 hadn’t passed — avoid all corn that is labeled as genetically modified. SB1666 would at best give me a very small variety of corn that’s not organic and also not genetically engineered. The benefit to the consumer is minimal in that the label “genetically engineered” tells me absolutely nothing useful about the product.

(11) Organic food sales are increasing. While total U.S.
food sales are virtually unchanged, growing less than one
percent yearly, the organic food industry grew at a rate of
9.5% in 2011, and, for the first time, surpassed the $30
billion mark. Sales of organic fruits and vegetables are up
11.8%, accounting for approximately 12% of all U.S. fruit and
vegetable sales. Organic dairy is growing at 9% per year and
comprises nearly 6% of the total U.S. dairy market. Trade
industry data shows that over the long term organic farming is
more profitable and economically secure than conventional
farming. Organic farmers are prohibited from using GE seeds.
Nonetheless, organic crops are routinely threatened with
contamination from neighboring fields of GE crops. The risk of
contamination can erode public confidence in organic products,
significantly undermining the job-creating, economy-boosting
growth of the organic market.

Destroying the biotech market to support an inefficient food production method hardly seems like a smart move to make. Genetic drift is a normal part of farming. If you want your corn to be completely pure, grow it in an isolated greenhouse, or use proper spacing between your fields and your biotech-corn-growing neighbors.

(12) Foods identified as non-GE constitute the fastest
growing market segment in agriculture, with annual sales
increases in 2011 between 20% and 27%. However, only a small
portion of the food industry participates in voluntary labeling
of foods claimed not to be the product of genetic engineering.
There are no consistent standards for such labeling or for
enforcement of voluntary labels. Because of this, voluntary
labels are insufficient to provide consumers with adequate
information on whether or not the food they are purchasing was
produced with genetic engineering, and in some cases these
labels may be misleading.

Err, what happened to USDA Organic and the Non GMO Project? I’d quite certainly consider those to be consistent standards! And how exactly is it more efficient to label all genetically engineered foods instead of just labeling all non genetically engineered foods? Did someone go rewrite the laws of physics?

(13) The cultivation of GE crops can have serious effects
on the environment. For example, in 2012, 93% of all soy grown
in the U.S. was engineered to be herbicide resistant. In fact,
the vast majority of GE crops are designed to withstand
herbicides, and they therefore promote indiscriminate
herbicide use. As a result, GE crops have caused 527 million
pounds of additional herbicides to be applied to the nation’s
farmland. These toxic herbicides damage the vitality and
quality of our soil, contaminate our drinking water, and pose
health risks to consumers and farmworkers. Further, because of
the consequent massive increase in use of herbicides,
herbicide-resistant weeds have developed and flourished,
infesting farm fields and roadsides, complicating weed control
for farmers, and causing farmers to resort to more and
increasingly toxic herbicides.

Ah, Charles Benbrook’s “study“.

Andrew Kniss, Assistant Professor, Weed Biology & Ecology at the University of Wyoming, ruthlessly tore apart Benbrook’s work over at his blog. I’ll summarize his findings here.

Basically, Benbrook did not have NASS data for cotton in the years 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2011; for soybeans he had nothing past 2006; and for corn he had nothing for the years 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, or 2011. Instead of contacting private companies that track this sort of data and purchasing their data, he decided to “forecast” the data for these years.

To his credit, his data for cotton appears to be fairly accurate, as you can see below.

For corn, Benbrook estimates that herbicide use is increasing, despite the data showing a decline.

Last but definitely not least is the soybean data, where Benbrook forecasted five years of data based on only 11 years of observed data. I’ll let the graph speak for itself.

But Kniss’s investigation is by no means the only one. Anastasia Bodnar criticized his previous 2009 study (almost identical to his 2012 one) for Biofortified, and found some rather interesting things.

Benbrook failed to distinguish between herbicide tolerant and insect resistant plants, lumping them together under the generalized and highly misleading label of “GE Crops”. Benbrook also used the term GE crops multiple times when he should have referred to herbicide resistant crops.

Benbrook also completely ignored the relative environmental toxicity of glyphosate, which is far lower than many alternatives.

Benbrook also ignored the non-biotech herbicide resistant crops, despite how they’re just as relevant to herbicide use with resistant crops.

PG Economics also released a report on the study, where the study was criticized for a variety of reasons, including for overstating herbicide use by 63.4 million pounds (not exactly a small error!). Further criticisms included the failure to acknowledge environmental benefits from the herbicide resistant crops, a weak approach, and the already mentioned misleading use of NASS usage data.

Last but definitely not least, claiming an increase of pounds without reporting the changing market share of herbicide resistant crops is extremely misleading.

14) The people of Illinois should have the choice to avoid
purchasing foods produced in ways that can lead to such
environmental harm.

…yet this report just endorsed organic farming, which isn’t exactly good for the environment.

If you want an environmental impact label, make a bill for an environmental impact label.

Moving on to the labeling guidelines…

2) In the case of processed food containing some
products of genetic engineering, the manufacturer must
label the product, in clear and conspicuous language on the
front or back of the package of such food, with the words
“Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced
with Genetic Engineering”.

This is very disappointing. This label is not informative. There is no information about the specific trait, and the label is not located in the ingredients list (where it would belong), but instead it has to be displayed on the main packaging. Remind me, how exactly does this inform consumers? Or is this entire bill just a carefully-concealed attempt to drive sales towards the organic industry?

This bill is disappointing. Contact your representative(s) and tell them to vote NO on SB1666.

An investigation into the latest study on transgenic food and pigs

This article appeared yesterday morning on reddit, and swiftly started the process of being reposted all over the internet. But what exactly is this article about? Are the claims valid? Who’s funding this study? Let’s take a look.

Here’s a link to the study (“A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet”): http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf

The first thing I noticed was the journal this study was published in – the “Journal of Organic Systems”. It isn’t listed in PubMed, and doesn’t appear to be a very popular journal, with no more than a mere handful of studies published in the seven years it’s been around for. While the title alone isn’t indicative of bias, it does seem a bit suspicious how a study like this would be published in such an obscure journal – after all, even Seralini managed to get published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. On another worrying note, an Australian Organic Industry lobbying group is one of the six major sponsors of this journal.

Who is this Judy Carman? She’s apparently an anti-GM activist, judging by her criticisms of Bt Brinjal, her co-presentations with Seralini, her membership in an organization that appears to be fond of criticizing GM food, her fearmongering over the CSIRO wheat, more fearmongering over GM food safety in general, and her memberships in several other anti-biotech organizations. It’s also interesting to note that the last link there claims that she’s sponsored by Seralini/CRIIGEN, an organization/group that pushes pseudoscience and lies unashamedly. I suggest reading the second sponsor link – the front page alone is filled with bad studies and outright lies (such as the oft-repeated claims about Indian farmer suicides, which has been proven to be false by in-depth reviews of the data). They also have the amusingly flawed report from Benbrook linked on their front page, along with the recent Bt mice study.

So we have a suspicious journal, and a biased author… I wonder who’s funding the study? According to the study itself, there’s no bias to declare. Yet in the very next section, they state that they were funded in part by Verity Farms, a natural farming company that appears to grow and sell non-GM products. And guess who the other sponsor is? The Institute of Health and Environmental Research – the very same organization that Carman is a member of, an organization with an extremist anti-GM stance.

The study also acknowledges 38 other people for “their assistance”. Some notable names on this list include John Fagan (notorious anti-GM activist with a monetary interest in creating controversy), Jack Heinemann (he’s behind the hilarious scare piece on siRNA supposably silencing human genes), Arpad Pusztai, Jeffrey Smith, and a few other notable people such as Irena Zdziarski (only notable because she’s worked with Judy Carman before).

Why am I mentioning all these people? Because they all have ties to the anti-GM movement to some extent. Why are they thanked here? Why would Carman want to affiliate herself with people like Pusztai and Heinemann? Perhaps it’s because she’s worked with Heinemann before on creating anti-CSIRO-wheat propaganda, but nobody knows why she’d want to thank Pusztai for producing horribly flawed research.

Now that we’ve learned some valuable information about the study’s background, let’s start digging into the study itself.

On page 2, the authors claim that Snell’s meta-review of 24 long-term and multigenerational studies is deficient due to the types of animals used. Of the twenty-four listed, a fairly wide variety of animals are represented — Rats (7 studies), mice (10 studies), dairy cows (2 studies), salmon (1 study), macaques (1 study), broiler chickens (2 studies), goats (1 study), pigs/quail/sheep (1 study, also incl several other species accounted for in the other counts). There appears to be quite a wide variety of animals tested in the studies used by Snell, one of which also reviewed pigs. The authors brush off this variety of animals with the dismissive claim that “most of the studies reviewed used animals that were either not physiologically comparable to humans, or used only small numbers of animals”.

Oddly enough, the authors use 13 and 6 year dated studies as evidence that the literature is lacking, yet they ignore the massive amount of published research on the subject, much of which has been published recently.

They also cite a paper that “found that most of the more recent studies concentrate on only a few GM crops (soy, corn and rice), ignoring many other GM crops such as potatoes, peas and tomatoes”. However, soy and corn are among the most popular transgenic crops currently being grown, so it would make sense to concentrate testing on commercial crops that actually exist instead of on crops that never caught on or were never introduced in the first place. In an ironic twist, this study uses transgenic soy and corn as the feed for their pigs.

The study also cites two of Seralini’s studies. I won’t even bother pointing out the issues with citing Seralini, instead I recommend reading this article, especially the sections that discuss his many conflicts of interest, the EFSA evaluations of his 2007, 2009, and 2012 studies, and it can’t hurt to read this article and this collection of information on CRIIGEN.

Oddly enough, the study cites a Daily Mail scare piece article right next to Seralini’s 2012 study, despite both of them covering the exact same content.

This study seems to hinge on severe stomach inflammation being higher in the GM-fed pigs than in the non-GM-fed pigs. While GM fed pigs had the most severe inflammation, the non-GM-fed pigs beat out the GM-fed pigs in the mild and moderate categories. The statistics are a bit confusing too — 22.2% of GM-fed male pigs had “severe” inflammation (compared to 5.6%), yet 41.7% of GM-fed female pigs had “severe” inflammation (compared to 18.9%). This research seems to suggest that for “mild” and “moderate” inflammation, eating the GM feed is actually a good idea.

In a striking resemblance to Seralini’s 2012 paper, the included image of the pig stomachs uses examples from the GM pigs for moderate and severe inflammation, yet uses examples from the non-GM pigs for nil and mild inflammation. Without looking at the statistics, this image gives the false impression that only the GM pigs get the moderate and severe inflammation.

Professor Andrew Kniss did some statistical analysis on the results over at his blog, and concluded that “there was no statistical difference in stomach inflammation between the pigs fed the two different diets. To analyze these data the way the authors did makes it seem like they’re trying to find a difference, where none really exist”.

The only remaining claim is that the median uterus weight of GM-fed pigs was 25% higher than the weight from the non-GM pigs. The authors proposed that this was due to the GM feed, but David Tribe proposed another theory over at his blog:

A crucial missing piece of information is analysis for soybean isoflavone content. Soybean isoflavones are known compounds with female animal hormone activity, and as some differences were seen in ovary size in these animals, whether or not they have been exposed to different levels of isoflavones in formulating the two test diets is a most obvious question that does not appear to be considered by these investigators.

Isoflavone intake has been shown to directly increase uterine weight in rats, and the isoflavone genistein is linked to excessive fluid accumulation in the uterus. Since the authors appear to have neglected to test for isoflavone content, it seems plausible that the increased weight and fluid accumulation was caused by isoflavones, not the transgenes themselves.

In short, this study is a mini Seralini – and considering how closely Carman is linked to Seralini, it’s quite possible that he helped with this trainwreck of a study.

Update 6/12/13 18:30: According to David Tribe, the levels of mycotoxin in the GM grain were high enough to have toxic effects on the pigs

Update 6/13/13 21:30: Judy responded to Kniss’s post, but both Kniss and a commenter addressed her ad hominem based attack in detail.

It’s quite obvious at this point that Seralini and Carman have a very close working relationship, which explains why their responses sound so similar and why they’re both part of the “Sustainable Pulse” network of sites with identical layouts. Whoever runs her site appears to have slipped up — on the home page there is a section labeled “Scientists support Carman”, which links to this page: http://gmojudycarman.org/category/scientists-support-seralini/. Not only did they use the same theme, they didn’t even bother to modify the template, and doubtlessly will soon be publishing a list of scientists who support Carman.

This is quite clearly, as Mark Lynas puts it, “Seralini 2.0″.