Cataclysmic Climate Change

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Damn, I am pissed. I was supposed to be dead by now. Hell, we all were.

Baby-boomers weren’t supposed to live longer than their parents’ generation. Experts expected pesticides and other synthetic chemicals to kill us. We would be killed by the very technology meant to save us—hoisted with our own malathion petards.

Rachel Carson predicted dire cancer consequences from chemicals, primarily DDT, though it might have been ozone or acid rain or cooties. Who remembers? I mean if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there. Right? Anyway she said:

“`No longer are exposures to dangerous chemicals occupational alone; they have entered the environment of everyone-even of children as yet unborn. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we are now aware of an alarming increase in malignant disease.” [There wasn’t–other causes of death had dropped]  She expected “practically 100 per cent of the human population to be wiped out from a cancer epidemic in one generation.” [Editor’s note: It didn’t.]

Later on, doomster Paul Ehrlich hedged:

“the U.S. life expectancy will drop to forty-two years by 1980, due to cancer epidemics.”

If the cancer didn’t kill us, according to Ehrlich, the population bomb would by causing a worldwide famine.

But wait there’s more! Because we humans were so damned greedy (present company excepted, of course) forests were being decimated; acid rain falling on the forests would obliterate what forest remained, the earth was losing species at a spectacular rate—though no one could say by how much—deserts devoured fertile land by a mile or two a year each year. Oil was predicted to dry up within a decade making the Mad Max dystopian future look like a Sunday school picnic. And, for our grand finale, the earth was entering a new ice age due to the particulates we tossed into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, thus blocking the sun’s life-giving rays.

We knew that our parents and ancestors had ruined earth for us, and in the Church of What’s Happening Now, we recited our eco-litany:

“The water is polluted and the air is worse. We’re washing away topsoil from our farmland; and what we aren’t washing away, we’re paving over. The more technology we manufacture, the less livable becomes our world. Humans produce too many babies. Our exploding population increases poverty and misery and decreases habitat for every other living thing that we share this tiny and fragile world with.”

Thanks to our parents, we had an overcrowded planet, short on food, short on oil, and global cooling would finish us off (just look at the droughts, the signs are all around us). We were completely, absolutely, and irretrievably, boned.

That was more nearly fifty years ago and we Boomers are still here.

…Well, a lot of us anyway. Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, and Jimmy Hendrix bit it long ago. And Keith Richards may or may not be dead; who can tell?

Here is what I am getting at: Not only did humanity survive all of those apocalyptic prophecies; life is better than it has ever been.

“In general, life is better than it ever has been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: ‘dentistry’”

– P.J. O’Rourke, All the Trouble in the World

And yet, Apocalypticists keep tossing up more clay pigeons to be shot down by anyone willing to do minimal research. These pigeons are foisted in the name of ‘saving the earth’s environment for coming generations,’ always call for everyone, though not themselves (see examples of diCaprio and Gore, hereafter listed as exhibits A and B), to live frugal and simple lives of less.

Interestingly, they take us for pigeons. One need only get on the mailing list of the Sierra Club, Audubon, or Friends of the Earth, to see that money is their lifeblood and they will tell you the direst or worst-case scenarios to get a transfusion of cash. This tactic doesn’t work on everybody. For instance, if you tell P. J. O’Rourke “By the end of the century, New York City could be underwater,” he will say, “Your point is?”

Catastrophic climate change appears to be the latest pigeon du jour.

Its staying power has been amazing. ‘That’s because it’s Science,’ I hear you saying.‘ So for purposes of argument, let us stipulate that anthropogenic climate change has scientific bases. I agree. I hope you do.

I will further stipulate:

  • Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas,
  • The amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is increasing,
  • The primary reason for the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels,
  • On average, our world is warmer than it was 50 to 150 years ago,
  • Our burning of fossil fuels–thereby increasing CO2 in the atmosphere–has contributed to the warming of our atmosphere.

That, in a nutshell, is the 97% consensus. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising and we are putting most of it there and CO2 contributes to the warming of our planet (for a fascinating write-up on how we know of CO2’s rise, its fossil fuel origins, and the warming, see Brian Dunning’s explanation https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4549).

Easy peasy: throttle up CO2 in the atmosphere to make it warmer, throttle back on CO2 to cool. Kick back. Put your feet on the desk. it’s Miller Time.

Wait there’s more! There’s a whole theory on how global warming works.

Climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer has an understandable explanation at his website (http://www.drroyspencer.com/global-warming-101/). I’ll quote the parts I think are critical to this discussion.

“Global warming theory starts with the assumption that the Earth naturally maintains a constant average temperature, which is the result of a balance between (1) the amount of sunlight the Earth absorbs, and (2) the amount of emitted infrared (‘IR’) radiation that the Earth continuously emits to outer space. In other words, energy in equals energy out….As we add more CO2, more infrared energy is trapped, strengthening the Earth’s greenhouse effect. This causes a warming tendency in the lower atmosphere and at the surface….the lower atmosphere must then respond to this energy imbalance (less IR radiation being lost than solar energy being absorbed) by causing an increase in temperature (which causes an increase in the IR escaping to space) until the emitted IR radiation once again equals the amount of absorbed sunlight….”

Does CO2 control everything? No. It turns out that there are plenty more knobs and these control other stuff. In fact, according to the theory, doubling the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration causes less than one degree centigrade of surface warming (about 1 deg. F). So why the fuss? It’s all about the feedbacks, which are processes, which cool or warm the earth. For instance, evaporation occurs as the sun warms a surface of water. This water vapor may either hold heat or condense into clouds that cool the affected area by reflecting sunlight back into space. Feedbacks are the turbochargers of climate change theory. I had a turbocharged Volvo 240 GT once. It ate transmissions like Orson Welles ate Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.

Spencer points out that, “clouds, water vapor, and precipitation systems can all be expected to respond to the warming tendency in some way, which could either amplify or reduce the manmade warming….the sum of all the feedbacks in the climate system determines what is called ‘climate sensitivity’.”

It is this climate sensitivity that settled scientists are arguing about. How do the models (and there are more climate models that Zsa Zsa had husbands) test whether they are right or not? I, and others, like the Richard Feynman method:

“In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First, we guess it…Then we compute the consequences of the guess…to see what it would imply and then we compare the computation results to nature, or we…compare it directly with observations to see if it works.”

Has this been done with climate models? You bet your sweet bippy it has.

Here is a graph of 102 model runs for the tropics by Dr. John Christy. The red line is an average, and the blue circles and green squares are balloon and satellite readings. The tropics are “the key region in which climate models respond to greenhouse gas warming with a large and distinct signal.” Dr. Christy testified to congress in 2013. “The focus on the tropics is important because of the consistent and significant warming that climate models indicate should have already occurred as a result of the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases we have put into the atmosphere. It also represents a part of the global atmosphere in which the critical water vapor and cloud feedbacks have major influences. In addition, changes in this region were determined by the EPA [Ed note: EPA is the US Environmental Protection Agency] to be a key line of evidence of greenhouse gas caused climate change. Finally, the tropical atmosphere is also a huge and easy target for modeling projects to hit if the physics are well represented….The comparison shows that the very latest climate model simulations used in the IPCC Assessment released two months ago indicate that their response to CO2 on average is 2 to 5 times greater than reality.” (emphasis added)

The models are, as Bob Euchre said in Major League about Wild Thing’s first pitch, which missed the strike zone by about ten feet, “just a bit outside.”

Let’s go back to Feynman’s method: You guess. You make computations. You predict results. You compare your predictions to your observations. If the predictions do not match your observations, you are wrong. “If it disagrees with the experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is. If it disagrees with the experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

There is another method and it’s the one that is apparently in vogue (meaning it’s popular, not that it has a spread in the magazine Vogue). It relies on multiple runs of the models. Dr. Kerry Emanuel is a proponent, so he can explain it better than I can.

“[We] have built over the years a hierarchy of increasingly complex models that really are some of the most complicated pieces of software that the human race has ever constructed. They have their origins in models that were built for a much more pedestrian but important purpose, which is weather forecasting. And they are very complex. In the case of weather forecasting, arguably you can test them twice a day and see how well they are doing. With climate, it’s much more difficult to test them because we don’t have that many climate states….We try to hold certain variables constant, like sunlight. And vary another external factor, like carbon dioxide, to see how the system responds….[These] models are not just run once. They are run many times, to try to account for their own internal random variability. And you can find 15, 20, 25 year stretches in all of these projections where the temperature not only flattens out but it actually goes down a little bit. So, if you take the ensemble mean, then it’s correct that the last 30 years, the models have overpredicted the temperature. I might add that 30 years before that, they underpredicted it. And this is what happens when you superimpose natural variability on forced variability.” (http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2014/03/john_christy_an.html)

I encourage you to listen to the whole EconTalk podcast. I came away almost liking Kerry Emanuel. He came across as a decent guy. My take away message for his view that global warming was a threat was that it was a feeling and not one he could produce much evidence for.

My experience is that models can be wonderful tools, but they always, always, always, have to be compared to the observed results. Without feedback from the real world, to refine their designs, the computer models are just mathematical magic eight balls: giving answers down to the ten thousandth decimal point but lacking any accuracy. The climate models are “just a bit outside.”

And to circle back to where I started, they are being used once again, to predict doom to the human race in the not too distant future. To scare us into giving up, repenting for our sins of hubris, thinking we could be like gods, and turning back.

Many [people, even those with digital watches,] were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Catastrophic Climate Change is another example of the Precautionary Principle—“don’t try anything new, it might be dangerous.” It’s just another clown in the Rodeo of the Apocalypse.

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Don’t Fear That GMO Ear (of corn)

Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy. – Paracelsus

I had a conversation on Twitter a while ago about genetically engineered crops. One of the last tweets said, “It’s not the genetically modified food that worries me … it’s the poisoning of crops.”

The zeitgeist on genetic engineering

This comes up frequently in discussions on Twitter, on this blog, on the radio, in the media, and with people in conversation. The tweet on the right shows this general feeling.

Science doesn’t just show that most genetically engineered food is safe, it shows that all genetically engineered food currently grown for the public is as safe as (and in some cases, safer than) non-GE food equivalents (that is, an apple to apple comparison). The National Research Council says, “Genetic engineering is one of the newer technologies available to produce desirable traits in plants and animals used for food, but it [GE] poses no unique health risks that cannot also arise from conventional breeding and other genetic alteration methods.” [my emphasis]

Herbicides in Food

Let’s look at the first worry listed in the tweet on the right side of the page: Herbicides introduced into foods.

There aren’t any.

No herbicides have been placed in any plant via genetic engineering. None. Zip. Nada. No GE plant has an herbicide inside it. But if an herbicide had been, that would not affect animals, such as you and me. We are not plants.

Plant scientists have made certain crops resistant to certain herbicides. Herbicide resistance is sometimes shortened to simply HR (or RR for RoundUp Ready). HR is not the same as placing herbicide in a plant.

Resistance is Natural

As any farmer will tell you, resistance to any herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, etc., occurs over time as some targeted pests will survive. Those survivors will be able to pass along their genes to their offspring

There are HR crops in the market that have been developed by standard breeding or genetic engineering techniques. Just because the plant is herbicide resistant does not mean it was genetically engineered.

The upshot is that glyphosate is a separate topic from HR crops altogether.

The most common herbicide resistance is to Monsanto’s RoundUp (active ingredient: glyphosate) which is now off patent and manufactured by several companies. Certain plants can have natural resistance to glyphosate. Conifers are not at all bothered by glyphosate. One of Monsanto’s early sales pitches was to foresters. RoundUp was much more benign than 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T.

To speed up the process, plant scientists found a glyphosate-resistant gene in another plant and put it into a plant they desired to have the glyphosate-resistant trait. The most common HR trait for crops on the market is to glyphosate-based herbicides, e.g., RoundUp, so-called RoundUp Ready (RR) crops.

So resistance to pesticides (herbicide is a pesticide) is a natural occurrence. It was possible that the crops could have been sprayed with herbicides and those plants showing some resistance to the spray could have been selected and bred to produce HR plants.

Insecticides in our Food

Bt Corn, Bt soy, Bt Sugar Beets, Bt Potatoes, and Bt Canola

When insecticide inside our food is mentioned (not counting the 99.99% which is produced naturally by the plant), Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis is what is meant.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil bacterium that forms spores during the stationary phase of its growth cycle. The spores contain crystals, predominantly comprising one or more Cry and/or Cyt proteins that have potent and specific insecticidal activity. Different strains of Bt produce different types of toxin, each of which affects a narrow taxonomic group of insects. (Sanahuja, et. al. 2011)

According to Ric Bessin, Extension Entomologist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, when the target insect eats a part of the plant that contains the Bt protein, “the protein binds to the gut wall and the insect stops feeding. Within hours, the gut wall breaks down and normal gut bacteria invade the body cavity. The insect dies of septicaemia as bacteria multiply in the blood.” This protein targets specific insects. Bessin points out that, “Even among Lepidoptera larvae, species differ in sensitivity to the Bt protein.”

The level of risk of these gene products to consumers and those involved in food production can be and is evaluated by standard toxicological methods. The toxicology testing for the Bt endotoxins typifies this approach and has been described in detail by the U.S. EPA (1998, U.S. EPA (2001). The safety of most Bt toxins is assured by their easy digestibility as well as by their lack of intrinsic activity in mammalian systems (Betz et al., 2000; Kuiper et al., 2001; Siegel, 2001). In this case, the good understanding of the mechanism of action of Bt toxins, and the selective nature of their biochemical effects on insect systems, increases the degree of certainty of the safety evaluations….The toxic properties of Bt endotoxins to both target and nontarget species of many kinds are well known (Betz et al., 2000). They show a narrow range of toxicity limited to specific groups of insects, primarily Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, or Diptera, depending on the Bt strain. Nevertheless, Bt-producing plants have been tested broadly to determine whether any alteration in this limited spectrum of toxicity has occurred, without the discovery of any unexpected results (see Gatehouse et al., 2002; Lozzia et al., 1998; Orr and Landis, 1997; and Pilcher et al., 1997 for examples of such studies). Exotoxins and enterotoxins, which are much more broadly toxic than the endotoxins, are also produced by some Bt strains, but these are not present in the transformed plant, because their genes are not transferred into the crop. (Toxicological Sciences. 2003) [Emphasis added]

The toxic properties of the Cry and/or Cyt proteins produced “show a narrow range of toxicity limited to specific groups of insects, primarily Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, or Diptera” and even this toxicity to those species is further limited by the Bt strain.

That boils down to the Bt proteins are just proteins to your gut and will be used as any other protein is by your body.

References

Bt-Corn: What It Is and How It Works | Entomology.” 2016. Accessed April 28. https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef130.

Sanahuja, Georgina, Raviraj Banakar, Richard M Twyman, Teresa Capell, and Paul Christou. 2011. “Bacillus Thuringiensis: A Century of Research, Development and Commercial Applications.” Plant Biotechnology Journal 9 (3): 283–300. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7652.2011.00595.x.

Toxicological Sciences . 2003. “The Safety of Genetically Modified Foods Produced through Biotechnology” 71 (1 ): 2–8. doi:10.1093/toxsci/71.1.2 .

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Look for the Non-GMO Seal of Approval on the Package; it’s Your Sign of Assurance That You are Getting Lower Nutrition at a Higher Price.

Many [people, even those with digital watches,] were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Twitter is a continuous cocktail party that I can attend without getting dressed. I listen to knowledgeable people talk about interesting things and I can pop in and out of conversations as I please (and I can avoid the nutters too as a rule). That was how I learned I knew more about the cost of the Non GMO Project (or GMO-Free) labels than a reporter for the New York Times.

Back in December 2015, Stephanie Strom, a New York Times reporter, wrote a story about Tropicana’s (and other PepsiCo products) decision to remove any genetically-engineered sourced ingredients (“Some Tropicana and Other PepsiCo Products to Carry Non-GMO Project Seal“) from a portion of their product line and they would have the third-party Non-GMO Project certify that they had.

I saw the headline as a tweet in my Twitter feed and commented that it would be interesting to see if Tropicana orange juice, once free of transgenically produced ingredients, would cost more per serving with less nutrition as a result. Such changes had coincided with other Non-GMO labels when compared with prior formulations. (Sidenote: This pledge by Tropicana to be GMO free is going to become increasingly hard to keep due to citrus regreening that very likely will wipe out all of the citrus production in the United States, where GE looks to be the only way to combat the disease.)

She challenged me for proof.

There was quite a bit evidence actually (go here for more examples).


She said she would contact the companies and investigate.

I commented that the higher price per serving must have something to do with the label. The placement of the Non-GMO seal had so far coincided with higher cost per serving and lower nutritional value per serving. While correlation does not necessarily mean causation, I thought to not even investigate that issue was to be, at best, incurious–not a good quality for a fact-finding journalist wanting to tell a complete story.

Still, I thought that was pretty much the end of our discussion. After all, National Public Radio had already run a story earlier on the topic: “Why Did Vitamins Disappear From Non-GMO Breakfast Cereal?”

However she contacted me in early January 2016 through my beer blog, Batch-22. She told me had contacted the cereal companies and they had said there were no suppliers of non-GMO vitamins, as for the higher cost, one of the companies that answered claimed it had nothing to do with the higher cost of ingredients or the cost of the voluntary label but was due to other things (that bit of PR obfuscation does not pass my sniff test). She had several questions for me, would I be interested in an interview? Her questions and my answers are below. This is the email I sent to her on January 5, 2015 (I am indebted to journalist Robert Bryce–when he was speaking about energy, not GMOs–for the crazy people comment):

 


Contrary to the meme that nature provides us with healthy food, and all our species need do is pluck it and eat it, we have been struggling for 10,000 years using agricultural technology to make food that is healthy and plentiful. Now, in genetic engineering (GE), we have the ability to do so and we are refusing to use it for the worry that it is ‘unnatural’. This boggles my mind. I’d call it insane but that would be an insult to crazy people.

What do you think about the company’s explanations?

It sounds plausible. I understand the deficiency in vitamins is due to their means of manufacture. In a similar way that companies use modified bacteria or yeast to produce fermentation-produced chymosin for cheese or human insulin, vitamins are manufactured.(1)

Do you think they should have stayed GMO until non-GMO supplies of the vitamins and minerals they add for fortification of the products were available?

I don’t think they should have changed. I believe the movement for non-GE food is based on fear rather than science. GE is a tool used to provide a benefit and poses no health threat to consumers. This change to Non-GE sourced ingredients resulted from a calculated marketing campaign by the organic industry in order to drive market share to their products.(2)

The backstory no one knows is that the nutritional value of non-GMO food is lower, package sizes decreased, and prices raised. That’s not a win-win; it’s a lose-lose for us. So far, mainstream companies that have tried to placate the call for “transparency” have not heard shouts of joy but something closer to the boos that accompanied the introduction of New Coke. Consumers have been underwhelmed.

Are you a consumer of these cereal products?

Yes but this isn’t about whether I eat them or not. This is about informing people about the downside to going GMO-free. The bottom line is most folks don’t know that common ingredients like vitamins, nutrients and even cheese coagulants are genetically engineered. We have been eating them for decades with no ill effects.

If so, did you stop buying them when you realized they had lower Vitamin A and riboflavin?

Again, this isn’t about my personal shopping habits. This is about full disclosure to the consumer. It’s about the label. These companies are compromising people’s health for an ideology and, an unlikely, short-term marketing gain.

Why does what some might consider a minor change make a difference to you?

This “minor change,” as you put it, is a step backwards. Any time I see a company voluntarily taking a step backward into the past rather than forward into the future, I look more closely to see if there is science behind their decision, or if it is just an attempt to pander to those consumers who believe that ‘natural’ equates to ‘better’. In this case, the step backward is simply to appeal to that segment of the market.

Technology makes our lives better; if it didn’t we wouldn’t buy it. Furthermore, this is a time when our country is facing health issues like obesity and inadequate nutrition. Removing any amount of nutritional fortification – particularly in foods like cereal consumed by kids and the elderly – is exactly what we don’t need right now. So even though the amount may seem inconsequential, the point is that there is no justification for removing nutrients. You are trading out something with real value – vitamins and nutrients – for something of no value. Lose-lose.

Technology, contra foodie agony aunts, has improved human lives over the past 100 years.

Between 1933 and 1935, more than 5,000 children in the United States alone died from diarrhea and enteritis, due primarily caused by food-borne pathogens. Today, the rate is 1/2 of 1% of that for Americans of all ages.

Due to pasteurization, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, and diphtheria are no longer regularly transmitted through milk.

Goiters were common in the U.S. and in serious cases, mental disability, before iodine fortification of salt.

As for B-12 , according to the National Institutes for Health, “Periconceptional intake of folic acid is known to reduce a woman’s risk of having an infant affected by a neural tube birth defect (NTD)…fortification of wheat flour with folic acid” has “shown decreases of 19%–32% in the prevalence of NTDs overall since the implementation of folic acid fortification in 1998.” I have a little granddaughter whose life might have been marred had it not been for B-12 fortification. [Editor’s Note: a correction was sent to Ms. Strom on February 7, 2016: “Folic acid is actually vitamin B-9 not B-12. Folic acid vanished in non-GMO Kashi Heart to Heart and significantly was reduced in non-GMO Post Great Grain.”]

Lastly the removal of Vitamin A: In 2013, a blind girl lurched toward me across the parking lot at Tirta Empul temple in Bali, mewling. I guessed she was ten to thirteen years of age, and shorter than she should have been. A whitish haze coated her eyes, each looking upward in a different direction. She moved herky-jerky due to poorly formed bones. I did not speak Indonesian; she did not speak English, yet there was no doubt what she wanted. Money. I gave her what I had in my pocket: a 5000 Rupiah note, about 42 cents. According to the World Health Organization, “Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections.”

For those of us the sidelines, it’s no surprise the anti-GMO movement and Team Organic are trying to downplay the loss of vitamins like Vitamin A in children’s cereal. They have worked for years to stop Golden Rice, biofortified rice that could prevent VAD in millions of malnourished children around the world, such as the blind girl I met in Bali. If they don’t care about hungry, malnourished children in the developing world, why would they care about a few vitamins here or there for American kids? At least they are consistent in their fear of fear itself.

These are hardly small things.

Do you rely on cereal products like these to get the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A and riboflavin?

Cereal has long been a source of daily fiber, vitamins and nutrients for lots of people, particularly children and the elderly. It’s hard to find another food that’s quick to eat that has traditionally offered the kind of health benefits that most cereals do. And cereals like Cheerios and Grape Nuts have long been viewed as healthy choices. Now, they are not as healthy as they used to be. I have difficulty understanding how this is a benefit to consumers to lose vitamins, while paying more for less product.

The pro-labeling groups claim GMO labels are needed because consumers “have a right to know.” Then they also have a right to know that these new non-GMO varieties are lower in vitamins and nutrients. It should accompany the label so consumers are able to make fully informed decisions when purchasing.

Are you paid in any way by anyone or any company, trade or advocacy group to speak about GMO labeling and its consequences?

No one pays me to write, speak, or advocate for or against GE labeling. For me, it is a passion.

When I worked for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection I was trained to be a peace officer. The training is certified by the California Peace Officers’ Standards Training (POST); it is the same training all police officers receive throughout the state. We were taught not to accept free donuts or meals, and if the shop would not take our money then we would tip the server the amount of the meal. Once, when I was part of the Cal Fire Academy, the president of the firefighters’ union offered to buy all our meals. I was the only one to refuse. I am now a retired forester who receives a government pension.

I am now and always have been interested in the environment. So I began to write about forests, which expanded to writing about issues affecting the environment. Given that agriculture uses nearly 40% of earths’ 13 billion ha of land, anything that lowers that amount means more room for nature (I won’t try to define that anymore than simply less affected by humans than farming).

In order to provide full disclosure, after five years of writing (see footnotes (3), (4), (5), (6) for examples), Monsanto invited me to see their Davis facility, which is about two hours drive from my home; I jumped at the chance. As part of their welcome they provided attendees with a $100 gift card, hats, coffee, fruit, and pastries. They also bought our lunches. You cannot buy off someone who is already in agreement with the goals of lowering the footprint of agriculture by making farmers more productive. I also have taken home brewing swag given away at the National Homebrewers’ Conference which included beer, tote bags, and malted barley. Would this mean I am a shill for Big Malt?

    Where do I think we should be putting our efforts?

I find the GE food wars to be a distraction from making our world a better place for people and nature. That being said, it doesn’t appear there will be a ceasefire anytime soon. So it’s incumbent upon people like me to make sure the full story about genetically enhanced food is being told. This technology has the potential to address some of the problems in the world’s food system, from easing food waste to the promoting the humane treatment of animals to reducing pesticide use to eliminating dangerous crop diseases. It’s really disheartening to see the same people who advocate these goals object to the use of any modern technology to achieve success.

Here’s where our time and energy ought to be going:

1. Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc) to combat malnutrition
2. Enact the Doha development agenda to promote free trade
3. Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization) to combat malnutrition
4. Expand immunization coverage for children
5. Biofortification to combat malnutrition
6. Deworming and other nutrition programs at school to combat malnutrition and improve education
7. Lowering the price of schooling
8. Increase and improve girls’ schooling
9. Community-based nutrition promotion to combat malnutrition
10. Provide support for women’s reproductive role
(source: Copenhagen Consensus Center)

 

Footnotes:

  1. According to an NPR article, “Some companies are most likely making vitamin B-12 and riboflavin using genetically modified microbes; they have, at least, published scientific papers showing how this can be done.”
  2. “The burning question for us all then becomes how – and how quickly – can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming? The first step is to change our labeling laws.” – Ronnie Cummings
  3. http://normbenson.com/timberati/2014/03/10/golden-rice-golden-opportunity/
  4. http://normbenson.com/timberati/2014/04/06/golden-rice-now-everything-else-is-noise/
  5. http://normbenson.com/timberati/2012/08/28/proposition-37…-go-far-enough/
  6. http://normbenson.com/timberati/2010/12/02/are-you-eating-genetically-modified-foods-relax-weve-been-eating-gmos-for-many-many-years/

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