Amazon.com Widgets

« Thomas Jefferson Pwns Sarah Palin & Her God | Main | South Park Death Threats »

Links With Your Coffee - Friday

coffee.gif


  • Heaven: A Fool's Paradise
    Heaven is constantly shifting shape because it is a history of subconscious human longings. Show me your heaven, and I'll show you what's lacking in your life. The desert-dwellers who wrote the Bible and the Koran lived in thirst – so their heavens were forever running with rivers and fountains and springs. African-American slaves believed they were headed for a heaven where "the first would be last, and the last would be first" – so they would be the free men dominating white slaves. Today's Islamist suicide-bombers live in a society starved of sex, so their heaven is a 72-virgin gang-bang. Emily Dickinson wrote: " 'Heaven' – is what I cannot Reach!/The Apple on the Tree/Provided it do hopeless – hang/That – 'Heaven' is – to Me!"

  • Demonizing “Big Pharma”
    It has become fashionable, however, to not only criticize the pharmaceutical industry but to demonize them – and the term “big pharma” has come to represent this demonization. Cynicism is a cheap imitation of skepticism – it is the assumption of the worst, without careful thought or any hint of fairness.
  • Let me add that Steven Novella's statement about "Big Pharma" applies equally well to GMO companies like Monsanto. In my continuing efforts to educate myself on the GMO topic I'm now reading.



  • Half the Work is Done!(Non Sequitur)

  • Weekly Ezine for Democrats



 

Comments

Heaven is constantly shifting shape

This, to me, has always been one of the most telling things about religion. This seems like it would be the easiest thing for God to describe. Its where he lives, yet where it is and what it is like and how to get there are the least well defined and most contradicting things in any religion and certainly in comparitive religions.

The simple truth smacks me in the face with every moment I spend thinking about it, It is a fantasy.

Its designed to enhance the most comforting words a human can here, "You are going to live."

Those of us that don't choose to accept this most convenient lie are those that find that the greatest things in life; love, exlporation, and understanding are all based in a very simple activity, the pursuit of truth.

“What I found in the early years I was involved in the regulation of biotechnology, there was a general feeling in agribusiness and inside our government in the US that if you weren’t marching lockstep forward in favor of rapid approvals of biotech products, rapid approvals of GMO crops, then, somehow, you were anti-science and anti-progress. Well, I think that, frankly, there were a lot of folks in industrial agriculture that didn’t want as much analysis as probably we should’ve had because they had made a huge amount of investments in the product. I mean, I think that – and certainly, when I became secretary, given the fact that I was in charge of the department regulating agriculture, I had a lot of pressure on me not to push the issue too far, so to speak. But I would say even when I opened my mouth in the Clinton administration, I got slapped around a little bit by not only the industry, but also some of the people even in the administration. In fact, I made a speech once where – saying that we needed to be – we needed to more thoughtfully think through the regulatory issues on GMOs, and I had some people within the Clinton administration, particularly in the US trade area, that were very upset with me. They said, ‘How could you and agriculture be questioning our regulatory regime?’”

--Dan Glickman, US Secretary of Agriculture, 1996-2000 From "The World According to Monsanto," a revealing documenatry produced for French television, which can be viewed here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6262083407501596844#

I haven't had a chance to watch the documentary yet, but I'm certainly not making an argument for no regulations in the GMO field. I just think that the pendulum has swung so far that some argue that we should ban GM foods. It is interesting that irradiation of seeds to generate mutations has gone on for decades with no regulation and yet as far as I've discovered there are no horror stories, and yet work on Golden Rice is scrutinized as if it may result in the end of civilization. Those who now argue against GM foods on the grounds that they are worth no risks at all are on the wrong side of the argument in my opinion as Steven Novella said as regards Big Pharma

Cynicism is a cheap imitation of skepticism – it is the assumption of the worst, without careful thought or any hint of fairness.

I'm just calling for some fairness.

I'm generally with your pro-science/anti woo-woo stance.

But Monsanto has repeatedly proved itself a bad actor.

Dig into this a bit -- particularly the Canadian crop-contamination case -- and see how Monsanto is misusing its monopoly power over the global soybean crop.

Monopolies seldom benefit society.

What's happening in India is particularly tragic.

How bad must it be that peasant farmers are committing suicide to escape their hopeless indebtedness?

The revolving door between companies like Monsanto and regulating agencies like the FDA prevents the necessary level of regulation.

As "Seeds of Deception" author Jeffrey Smith notes, “The reason why GM crops are here is based on a deception that occurred in the FDA. They said that these foods are not different; they used the words “substantially equivalent,” they used the words “not meaningfully or uniformly different,” and what that turned into was a terminology called ‘generally recognized as safe’ or GRAS. Typically, if something is to be considered as ‘generally recognized as safe,’ it needs lots of peer-reviewed published studies, and overwhelming consensus among the scientific community. With GM crops, they had neither.”

As I pointed out before you have no peer reviewed studies of seeds that are irradiated to induce mutations with none of the testing you seem to want for GM modified foods. What is adequate testing should it be fundamentally different for the so called natural and GM foods. Nobody has to use genetically modified seeds.

On the contrary, many farmers are being forced to use GMO seeds. GMO corn is turning up all over Latin America against the wishes of farmers who prefer local varieties. And GMO varieties are cross polinating with local varieties.

Please provide links.

Ohio State University study:

Managing "Pollen Drift" to Minimize Contamination of Non-GMO Corn, AGF-153

UC Berkeley study (published in Nature Magazine):

Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico

Monsanto's PR Firm, The Bivings Group launched a campaign to discredit the Berkeley study after one of its authors, Ignacio Chapela, was first bribed, then threatened by the director of Mexico's bio-security commission, Dr. Fernando Ortiz Monasterio.

Purdue University study:

Minimizing Pollen Drift & Commingling of GMO and non-GMO Corn Grain

Southern Illinois University study:

Pollen Drift and Grain Segregation

And this guy thinks he has developed a method for preventing cross pollination of GMO & non-GMO crops.

Studies are also emerging that indicate that Roundup Ready crops are cross-pollinating with surrounding weeds, rendering the technology ineffective:

Farmers relying on Roundup lose some of its benefit

Attack of the Superweeds

I think anyone who thinks Jeffrey Smith is a good source of information on this debate should read [this post] (http://www.biofortified.org/2010/03/academics-reviews-meets-genetic-roulette/) and follow the links.

A quick perusal of the links in David Tribe's piece found this factual inaccuracy:

"4. Regulators weren’t pressured or bribed to approve rBST."

Monsanto Accused of Attempt to Bribe Health Canada for rBGH (Posilac) Approval

Not mentioned in Tribe's critique but worth mentioning here is that Monsanto was also busted for bribing Indonesian officials to approve Bt cotton.

Monsanto's PR firm, The Bivings Group also waged a deceptive e-mail campaign designed to coerce Nature magazine into retracting a story on how Mexican corn was being cross polinated with GM corn.

I don't know that much about Jeffrey Smith; I only heard of him for the first time today. It could very well be that he engaged in poor scholarship, but at least one of what Tribe calls Smith's 65 myths is true. I'll check some of the others.

The more I read on this topic, the more I hear the mantra of vitamin A-infused golden rice and drought resistant crops and so forth. Something that would lend the pro-GMO crowd a bit of credibility, however, would be for them to acknowledge the very real threat that Monsanto, et al. pose to the international farming community. Professor Chassy (late of the NIH, by the way) just barely mentions Monsanto in this Q&A, and he does it in the most dismissive possible way.

By the way, thanks for the link to Johann Hari's Heaven piece.

His incredible series on Dubai first caught my eye, and he's repeatedly impressed me ever since.

I hope his star rises in the journalistic firmament.

The Publishers Weekly review of "Food Inc.," by Peter Pringle sums up my view on GMOs nicely:

"Imagine a world where yellow beans are patented, aromatic basmati rice has lost its fragrance because of genetic tinkering and Canadian farmers are sued by multinational behemoths because pollen from GM (genetically modified) crops somehow got into their fields and fertilized their plants. You don't have to imagine it: this, says Pringle, is the world we live in today. A widely published journalist, Pringle (Those Are Real Bullets) paints a troubling picture of the world's food supply. Multinational corporations are able to patent genes from crops that have been cultivated by farmers for centuries; governments of starving African nations refuse GM food they fear is poisonous; scientists hastily publish research that is blown out of proportion by the news media; and "green" activists vandalize greenhouses and fields where scientists are conducting GM research. Pringle roundly castigates all sides. Scientists, he says, have been remarkably inventive in their endeavors to improve the food we eat, using a gene from daffodils, for example, in growing golden rice with high levels of vitamin A that can help prevent blindness in the undernourished. But large corporations, he asserts, have squandered the public's good will toward GM products as they rushed so-called "Frankenfoods" into stores without adequate testing or disclosure of what makes it different. Pringle gives some glimmer of hope for the future through time-honored methods of cross-pollination, but his main story is of an industry with great potential for feeding starving millions and reducing our reliance on chemical pesticides, but that has instead created a global mess."

Not sure if Publishers Weekly or Peter Pringle who used the phrase, but "FrankenFoods" is a good example of the lack of fairness that's happening in this debate. Either way, it's a great example of a question-begging epithet.

I think too many of us are conflating science with ethics. I do think there is an ethical component to the science behind GMOs (feeding the hungry, for instance), but we seem to be saying that because corporate patents, therefore GMOs are bad. I know the argument is more nuanced than that, but when the whole argument is cobbled together, that's the syllogism I see.

I have not yet read "Food Inc.," so I don't know if it's Pringle's word or Publishers Weekly's, but like many, you seem to be ignoring the thrust of the GMO criticism while zeroing in on one unfortunate word.

UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela puts it more concisely:

"Biotechnology is a series of genetic manipulations that hold great potential, of that there is no doubt. The problem is the potential effect on the massive scale release of transgenic organisms, which should not be allowed as long as the issue of their environmental safety is not clear, and as long as other cheaper and acceptable alternatives have not been evaluated."

Must disagree with the Heaven article.

Historically it's an accurate idea. Biblical times were dry. African slaves were... slaves. However, Muslims are not sex starved. How can they be? They are not living within a period where sex is not available to them. Their own religious doctrine may or may not encourage them to deny it themselves, but that is quite different to being starved.

The Bible did not encourage people not to drink, there was just no water. African slaves did not encourage each other to work themselves to the bone on masters behalf, they just had no choice.

Muslims have a choice and choose to do what they do. I consider it a very base, petty and stupid argument to say they are sex starved that displays little understanding. In fact it sounds like modern propoganda.

Besides which it isn't true. I've known muslims in the past as sexually active as anyone else, just generally with one partner. I can't honestly condemn that these days either.

I'm sure that Monsanto will act illegally if they think they can get away with it. The solution is not to ban GM foods or require standards that we don't apply to traditional methods like the irradiation of seeds to create mutations, but for governments to prosecute violations of the law. Instead we hear slogans like no GM or that Gm is too risky. In the healthcare debate we didn't say no government program because we didn't get everything we wanted, and we shouldn't say no to GM because the regulatory system is not perfect. There is a reason why farmers choose GM crops and it is not just because Monsanto is evil.

It's not just that the regulatory system is imperfect; it's that the regulatory system is completely dominated by one or two companies whose executives move back and forth between government regulating agencies and the private sector.

"There is a reason why farmers choose GM crops and it is not just because Monsanto is evil."

Oftentimes, farmers are pressured, either by market conditions or by lending agencies, to buy GMO seeds. So, in effect, it IS because Monsanto is evil. Of course that's not always the case, but more often that not, it is.

http://current.com/technology/89126856_south-africa-small-farmers-pushed-to-plant-gm-seed.htm

http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/sns-health-genetically-modified-foods,0,1183578.story

If we're going to discuss GMOs (or any other scientific application, for that matter) we need to discuss them within the framework of how they are most likely to be used, rather than in some theoretical manner that bears little resemblance to reality.

For example, laws and treaties addressing nukes should be written with the knowledge that Iran, Pakistan & Kerr-McGee, say, are demonstrably likely abuse the technology.

Okay so let's assume for a moment that all you say is true. What is your solution? I want something that will actually work, a practical solution.

Also If you are going to provide links I'd like to see some written by scientists and not the happy gourmet, and when studies are cited I'd like a link to those as well.

Oftentimes, farmers are pressured, either by market conditions or by lending agencies, to buy GMO seeds. So, in effect, it IS because Monsanto is evil. Of course that's not always the case, but more often that not, it is.

What evidence do you have for your statement that more often than not, it is?

It's not the Happy Gourmet, it's Dr. Gourmet, aka Dr. Tim Harlan, and he is a scientist. Here's his bio:

http://www.drgourmet.com/pr/index.shtml

Also, you may find this difficult to believe, but lots of mainstream news sources (presumably the ones you would trust as sources) are reluctant to run articles critical of Monsanto and/or various countries' departments of agriculture. I passed up lots of links to places like cropchoice.org because I assumed you would dismiss them. When I came across the Baltimore Sun article, I chose that one assuming it was mainstream enough for you. (Ironically, the link you provided "debunking" Jefrey Smith's claims is to a pretty obscure news source, but it's your blog so you're allowed this double standard, I guess.)

This article comes from a small, lefty newspaper in Mendocino County, Calf. called the Anderson Valley Advertiser:

http://www.theava.com/04/0218-chapela.html

Perhaps you've heard of it. In any event, it details the ordeal that Prof. Chapela went through after his article ran in Nature Magazine. The story is corroborated here:

http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/chapelalab/Research/Transgenic/Transgenic_News.htm

As far as a solution goes, I admit I'm flummoxed. University departments are beholden to the corporations (Novartis, in Prof. Chapela's case) that provide research grants; newspapers -- now more desperate for advertising revenue than ever -- are reluctant to piss off a big advertiser like Roundup; scientific journals like "Nature" are reluctant to arouse the manufactured ire of PR agencies like the Bivings Group; and regulating agencies are populated by former and/or future executives from the companies they are attempting to regulate. And it's not just this issue that's affected. The easiest solution would be for people to have integrity, but that's not happening anytime soon.

As far as a solution goes, I admit I'm flummoxed.

When we started this discussion, correct me if I'm wrong, your position was that we don't need GM foods, because we have better alternatives. I'm not clear about what you wanted to do with the ones we already have, but what is your position now other than that Monsanto is evil? Would you ban all GM foods? Would you stop research on GM foods? Where exactly do you stand?

First of all the reason I was bothered by the Baltimore Sun article was in addition to the fact that But it was the alarmist tone of the article and without any links to critical information: He states:

There is clear evidence currently available indicating that the genes can transfer to other organisms. One study demonstrated horizontal transfer to the bacteria growing in human intestines. In a worst-case scenario, transfer of the BT gene that produces a natural pesticide could cause our own intestines to make that pesticide.

What is this clear evidence? How likely is it? What is the risk of the worst-case scenario? How about at least a reference to the study he cites. When I read alarmist statements like this I want more that the word of an internist with no specialized training in the field.

Here is an article that will shed some light on the subject, notice how much better this is at citing sources and explaining the science.

(Ironically, the link you provided "debunking" Jefrey Smith's claims is to a pretty obscure news source, but it's your blog so you're allowed this double standard, I guess.)

To your charge of double standards lets compare Dr. Gourmet's credentials with the credentials of those I cited in reference to Jeffrey Smith.

Dr. Gourmet: is not an expert in the field. He is an Internist with undergraduate degrees in Biology and Anthropology who writes cookbooks, diet books, appears on TV and writes alarmist articles for the Baltimore Sun.

The experts I referred to in reference to Jeffrey Smith are:

Dr. David Tribe
Dr. Bruce M. Chassy

Both with a Ph.D.s in the field.

Who do you consider the more reliable source Dr. Tribe and Chassy or Dr. Gourmet?

Who do you consider the more reliable source Dr. Tribe and Chassy or Dr. Gourmet?

Hard to say. Bruce Chassy receives research grants from big agribusiness firms.

Journal editor admits involvement in Ermakova "set-up"

2 Journals to Review Editorial Policies

And I'm not being snarky here. It really is hard to say. In Dr. Harlan's case, he has no vested interest in GMOs since he isn't receiving research grants from corporations that profit from GMOs. On the other hand, he probably doesn't have the same level of expertise as Dr. Chassy. But on the other other hand, Dr. Chassy does receive research grants from big agribusiness interests, so it's reasonable to be skeptical of his claims. And yes, skeptical, not cynical. Just because someone has PhD next to his name doesn't mean what that person writes or says is unimpeachable. The same can be said for someone who doesn't have PhD next to his name.

So there are two things to look at: the person's qualifications to speak on a given topic, and the vested interests that person might be harboring.

There is no easy answer. We want regulators to have expertise in the field without them representing moneyed interests, which is difficult to achieve.

"When we started this discussion, correct me if I'm wrong, your position was that we don't need GM foods, because we have better alternatives. I'm not clear about what you wanted to do with the ones we already have, but what is your position now other than that Monsanto is evil? Would you ban all GM foods? Would you stop research on GM foods?"

Well, we started this discussion because Michael Specter, in his TED talk that you posted, stated that he couldn't understand the opposition to GMOs, and he classified that opposition as anti-science. My rebuttal was -- and remains -- that real-world opposition to GMOs is entirely reasonable and not anti-science. Indeed, as I've demonstrated with the links I've provided, much of the concern about GMOs comes from science.

"Where exactly do you stand?"

I don't think it's necessary to declare my allegiance to one camp or the other. I prefer to make an assessment based on the available evidence, which in this case is difficult to do, given the obvious effort by Monsanto and others to co-opt the research process and bully objective scientific journals.

You're right one should be skeptical of claims of those with a financial interest, and I don't know if Dr. Tribe has similar interests, but to call Dr. Gourmet a scientist is stretching the definition, good scientists don't fear monger. It could be said that Dr. Gourmet's financial interests are closely tied to his writing about foods for profit, and articles like his fear-mongering in the Baltimore Sun is his way of building his reputation, and selling his books.

There is clear evidence currently available indicating that the genes can transfer to other organisms. One study demonstrated horizontal transfer to the bacteria growing in human intestines. In a worst-case scenario, transfer of the BT gene that produces a natural pesticide could cause our own intestines to make that pesticide.

http://www.biofortified.org/2010/03/gmos-antibiotics/

I don't think it's necessary to declare my allegiance to one camp or the other.

I didn't ask you to declare your allegiance to one camp or the other I asked if you would ban all GM foods? I asked if you would stop research on GM foods? All I hear from you is that you don't like the way the world is, and I share that concern, but to date I've heard nothing from you in favor of anything GM. If your position is you haven't made up your mind, fine, perhaps it would be better to wait before weighing in against GM simply because you don't like one of the players. I don't like big pharma, but I'm not anti pharmaceuticals, so far your position seems to be that you don't like big agri-business so you're anti-GM. I'm simply asking if that's your position?

I think I've made my position clear. Scroll through this thread. On Friday, I wrote:

The Publishers Weekly review of "Food Inc.," by Peter Pringle sums up my view on GMOs nicely:

"Imagine a world where yellow beans are patented, aromatic basmati rice has lost its fragrance because of genetic tinkering and Canadian farmers are sued by multinational behemoths because pollen from GM (genetically modified) crops somehow got into their fields and fertilized their plants. You don't have to imagine it: this, says Pringle, is the world we live in today. A widely published journalist, Pringle (Those Are Real Bullets) paints a troubling picture of the world's food supply. Multinational corporations are able to patent genes from crops that have been cultivated by farmers for centuries; governments of starving African nations refuse GM food they fear is poisonous; scientists hastily publish research that is blown out of proportion by the news media; and "green" activists vandalize greenhouses and fields where scientists are conducting GM research. Pringle roundly castigates all sides. Scientists, he says, have been remarkably inventive in their endeavors to improve the food we eat, using a gene from daffodils, for example, in growing golden rice with high levels of vitamin A that can help prevent blindness in the undernourished. But large corporations, he asserts, have squandered the public's good will toward GM products as they rushed so-called "Frankenfoods" into stores without adequate testing or disclosure of what makes it different. Pringle gives some glimmer of hope for the future through time-honored methods of cross-pollination, but his main story is of an industry with great potential for feeding starving millions and reducing our reliance on chemical pesticides, but that has instead created a global mess."

And yesterday, I wrote:

UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela puts it more concisely:

"Biotechnology is a series of genetic manipulations that hold great potential, of that there is no doubt. The problem is the potential effect on the massive scale release of transgenic organisms, which should not be allowed as long as the issue of their environmental safety is not clear, and as long as other cheaper and acceptable alternatives have not been evaluated."

The big pharma analogy is not quite valid, since big pharma has given us smallpox, diptheria, tetanus, polio, malaria, flu and other vaccines, which have greatly improved logevity and quality of life for millions. So far, such benefits with regard to GMOs are only theoretical. A better example would be if big pharma had only given us viagra, prozac, vioxx, etc.

The arguments about Monsanto and similar corporations is becoming increasingly irrelevant. What once took a very large investment now can be practically done in a very small laboratory indeed. This presents both opportunities and perils. Personally I see genetic modification as our future salvation. There will one day be an end to the availability of petrochemicals and this technology will prove the the one to provide sustainable replacements.

I think it's pretty clear that no rational discussion of GM foods can occur when the word "Monsanto" is brought into the mix. It's reasonable to have an argument over whether the "new" Monsanto is culpable for the nightmarish, willful pollution carried about by its former chemical arm (I trust you won't need links for this); it's reasonable to have a debate over whether Monsanto's practices in the GM arena are anti-competitive, monopolistic , what-have-you. But happening to mention their name in your two sentence explanation for wanting to learn more about the science behind GM foods...

Let me add that Steven Novella's statement about "Big Pharma" applies equally well to GMO companies like Monsanto. In my continuing efforts to educate myself on the GMO topic I'm now reading[ Mendel in the Kitchen]

...just seems uselessly provocative. Big Pharma is certainly not entirely comprised of unethical companies, but one probably wouldn't pick out a particularly bad apple from that group to make the case that the label "Big Pharma", as a derogatory label, is undeserved. And in the world of "Big Food", it would be tough to find a company with a bigger black eye than Monsanto. You may not have intended that the discussion surrounding this post proceed in this direction, but certainly you can't be surprised.

Navigation

Support this site

Google Ads


Powered by Movable Type Pro

Copyright © 2002-2017 Norman Jenson

Contact


Commenting Policy

note: non-authenticated comments are moderated, you can avoid the delay by registering.

Random Quotation

Individual Archives

Monthly Archives