Saturday, January 16, 2010

GMOs: To Eat or Not To Eat

Tip of the hat to Schmells for sending me this article describing "new" data that indicate GMOs (genetically modified organisms) might be bad for your health. Here's a link also to the 2009 International Journal of Biological Sciences paper (pdf format) upon which the news article is based. Schmells asked for my scientific opinion on the article's validity and, for what it's worth, sgwordy says...

So the first thing I'll say because I think it's the most important, pertinent, and relevant is that the last paragraph (unfortunately last as most people don't read to the bottom of an article) is the thing we need to be thinking about the most:
"...ecological effects are also in play. Ninety-nine percent of GMO crops either tolerate or produce insecticide. This may be the reason we see bee colony collapse disorder and massive butterfly deaths. If GMOs are wiping out Earth's pollinators, they are far more disastrous than the threat they pose to humans and other mammals."
This, to me, is way scarier than any implications for human health. I'm personally not that worried about the health effects of GMOs but I'm for damn sure worried about the collapse of ecosystems as I'm pretty sure that'd be pretty fucking bad for my health.

Second thing: I don't think the news article made clear that the researchers in the IJBS journal only RE-EVALUATED previous data. The opening of the article is pretty much straight-up bullshit:
"In what is being described as the first ever and most comprehensive study of the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers have linked organ damage with consumption of Monsanto’s GM maize."
Maybe it's being described that way but I would imagine only by someone that did not actually read the journal article. The 2009 article does NOT include raw data collected by the researchers. And the experimental design for the raw data under re-evaluation is terrible! I mean, awful! That shit would not fly if it was to be published in a high-impact, peer-reviewed science journal. (I'm not entirely surprised by this since I gather a lot of money can make up for bad data when one is trying to bring something new to the market, call me jaded but that's my opinion.)

So what does this mean? It means that the conclusions of both parties (Monsanto and the 2009 researchers in the journal) are pretty much useless. Monsanto could be right that there are no problems or the new researchers could be right (which they do admit in the 2009 journal article). The salient point being made by the 2009 journal article is that these data are shit and properly designed experiments need to be conducted. As in, they would like the three strains of maize to be taken off the market until proper experiments can be done.

Going back to the news article I think it would have been a much more effective strategy for it to point out how badly done the work was in the first place which shows that maize strains are making it into the market even if the research is not well done. And back to the 2009 journal article, I think they should have stressed that more as well, because they blasted the experimental design but then tried to convince me of alternate conclusions based on the same faulty data. Bizarre!

So based on this article I would say the jury continues to be out on GMOs as relates to human health. I can certainly see why someone would choose not to consume GMOs but, as I said, I'm not that worried about my health. The real tragedy here is monoculture. I think a lot of the importance of organic and diversity gets subsumed by the culture that can consume that type of food (well-to-do granola/yuppies for lack of a better categorical term - I place myself under this as well so I hope it doesn't seem crazy offensive). Because it's this small portion of the greater population that, let's face it, does not really illicit a lot of sympathy it's easy for it to be disregarded. Our small slice of the eating population can't bring about this huge change but let's think for a second if all the public schools (including universities) suddenly wouldn't buy anything with GMOs (ooh, and restaurants too would be so helpful) then voila! Big Ag really has to start re-thinking its business model. Again, I go back to the monoculture. It's self-defeating for our gov't to subsidize farming that practices the exact opposite of sustainability.

I'd say it's best to feel lucky that you can make a choice to eat organic. For the great majority of people this is not an option and that is the biggest problem.

And finally, I don't have a good answer to this problem. It's not enough to say "we need to go back to the way things were" as that is one of the stupidest solutions to problems I've ever heard (and conveniently used by the left and the right depending on the subject matter). There isn't any going back. The world is changing and we need to change with it. BUT there are a lot of smart people in the world who know a lot more about farming and toxicology trials than me and it's these people we need to start listening to so that we can learn how to bring smart, sustainable farming into our future. This will, of course, involve applying a lot of "the way things were" techniques in new and innovative ways.

What I wouldn't give to have a bevy of leaders with vision and the courage to be innovative! Is it just me or does it often feel like we have a bunch of jizzwads in charge?

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