Golden rice now, everything else is noise.

Golden Rice grain in jar GN7_0475-22

Golden Rice in a jar with the Golden Rice plants in background. Photo credit: Part of the image collection of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Please spare me the anti-biotech crowd’s Argumentum ad Monsantum (the “Appeal to Monsanto” argument) over Genetically Engineered (GE) foods. I’m speaking, of course, of the push back in the Lake County Record-Bee to my “Golden rice, golden opportunity” column. Golden Rice is a genetically engineered crop created by borrowing the carotene-making gene from corn and placing that gene into rice, which does not produce carotene (at least not in the parts of the rice plant that we eat). Our bodies convert carotene into vitamin A and then use  that vitamin A in the development of bones and eyesight. Golden Rice will be given free of additional charges and free of restrictions to subsistence farmers, and can be replanted every year from saved harvests.

Still some people prefer to trust the ballroom-dancing teacher and Yogic flying instructor, Jeffrey Smith; Mike Adams, the self-proclaimed “Health Ranger”; Greenpeace; Vandana Shiva; the Organic Consumers Association; or Joseph Mercola over the word of the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization or… well, you get the idea.

In the U.S. average lifespan has increased from 76 years in 1996 to nearly 80 years today, and globally, lifespans have increased from 66.4 to 71.0 years in the same time period.

I’m not surprised, findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that 12% of Americans agreed with the statement: “The global dissemination of genetically modified foods by Monsanto, Inc. is part of a secret program, called Agenda 21, launched by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations to shrink the world’s population.” A whopping 37% agreed “The Food and Drug Administration is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies,” and 12% agreed that “Public water fluoridation is really just a secret way for chemical companies to dump dangerous byproducts of phosphate mines into the environment.”

Agenda 21 not withstanding, everyone is living longer. In the U.S., where about 70 percent of the food in our supermarkets contains ingredients from genetically engineered crops, life expectancy has increased from 76 years in 1996 (when large-scale cultivation of GE crops took off) to nearly 80 years today, and global life expectancy has increased from 66.4 to 71.0 years in the same time period. As one wag wrote, “If we’re less healthy, we sure are coping with it more effectively.” And compared with Europe, which has virtually banned GE crops, there is no discernible difference in cancer rates or lifespans.

Meanwhile, there is a need for what Golden Rice can deliver: vitamin A. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. “These are real deaths, real disability, real suffering, not the phantom fears… none of which have held up to objective scientific scrutiny,” risk-perception expert David Ropiek writes. Allowing Golden Rice to be eaten by populations prone to vitamin A Deficiency means that blindness could be prevented (it cannot be cured once it has happened). Less than a cup of cooked Golden Rice provides children 6 to 8-years-old with some 60% of their daily vitamin A needs, not 7 pounds as claimed in the letter to the editor.

Greenpeace, et alia throw up various smokescreens which boil down to suggesting that it is preferable to raise the needy’s standard of living and provide them with alternative diets and/or supplements: the “Let them eat kale” defense. Those might work, but if the poor could afford a more varied and fulfilling diet, don’t you think they would do so? Fortunately, we are becoming hip to anti-biotech ploys. “[I]ncreasingly the scientific community and journalists are becoming aware of the rhetorical two-steps and destructive strategies employed by organizations that are hostile to GMOs, while pretending that they cling to science,” Dr. Mary Mangan wrote. She has a PhD in Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology. Researcher at University of Florida, Dr. Kevin Folta challenges those who wish to stop Golden Rice and other bio-fortification, “If there are so many viable alternatives, what are ya’ll waiting for?…It is easy to stand against a technology with a full belly and 20/20 vision…Let’s give it away as intended and…Let it help people if it can.”

Agricultural economist, Alexander Stein who has written peer-reviewed papers on Golden Rice says that even under the pessimistic scenarios, “biofortification is extremely cost-effective.” Why? Golden Rice supplies vitamin A with every bowl. “[T]here is a fairly intuitive argument why biofortified crops, such as Golden Rice (or other crops that were developed using ‘conventional’ breeding), can be even more cost-effective than supplementation or fortification: Economies of scale. In the case of vitamin A supplementation all children in at-risk households need to receive two mega-doses of vitamin A per year, year after year. The cost of one supplement may only be cents, but distribution and monitoring costs need to be added, too. And these costs need to be incurred over and over and over again.”

In the four minutes it took you to read this, two, three or four children lost their sight due to Vitamin A Deficiency, and, in the same four minutes at least one child died. Everything else is noise.

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[1] Dunning, Brian. Argumentum ad Monsantium. 2012.  Accessed 9 November 2012


[2] Goodman, Glenn. Biotech Bull. Lake County Record-Bee.  Accessed 31 March 2014


[3] Benson, Norm. Golden rice, golden opportunity. Lake County Record-Bee.  Accessed 31 March 2014


[4] A. J. Stein email to author


[5] “[Jeffrey] Smith’s background is limited to being a swing dance instructor, running for local office as a candidate with the Maharishi-linked Natural Law Party built around the powers of transcendental meditation and running marketing for a GMO testing company led by the Maharishi’s “raja for food purity, safety and health invincibility” responsible for the promotion of the Maharishi brand of “Vedic Organic” agriculture. Smith’s work is financially sponsored by a range of organic, natural product and alternative health companies who are better able to sell higher-priced products by fueling consumer fear and mistrust of well-regulated, more affordable products that may be produced using biotechnology or other conventional agriculture tools.” Accessed 5 April 2014


[6] Most ‘dangerous’ anti-science GMO critic? Meet Mike Adams–Conspiracy junkie runs alternative ‘health’ empire more influential than US government websites. Genetic Literacy Project


[7] ‘So, if introduced on a large scale, golden rice can exacerbate malnutrition and ultimately undermine food security.’ This statement by (Greenpeace, 2012: 3) is in strong contradiction to the reported impacts of vitamin A deficiency and the nutritional impacts of vitamin A enriched diets. More than 125 million children under five years of age suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Dietary VAD causes 250,000–500,000 children to go blind each year.


[8] Shiva tweeted after Mark Lynas’s Oxford speech that his saying that farmers should be free to use GMO crops was like giving rapists the freedom to rape.


[9] Further down in its press release, the Organic Consumers Association asserts: Recent studies have linked GMOs to human health issues, including kidney and liver failure, allergies and cancer.

Kloor, Keith. GMO Opponents Use Fear and Deception to Advance Their Cause – Collide-a-Scape |  accessed 30 March 2014


[11] Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.


[12] All evidence evaluated to date indicates that unexpected and unintended compositional changes arise with all forms of genetic modification, including genetic engineering. Whether such compositional changes result in unintended health effects is dependent upon the nature of the substances altered and the biological consequences of the compounds. To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.


[13] There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Indeed, a recent review of a dozen well-designed long-term animal feeding studies comparing GM and non-GM potatoes, soy, rice, corn and triticale found that the GM and their non-GM counterparts are nutritionally equivalent.


[14] Are foods from genetically engineered plants regulated by FDA? Yes. FDA regulates the safety of foods and food products from plant sources including food from genetically engineered plants. This includes animal feed, as under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, food is defined in relevant part as food for man and other animals.


[15] GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.  accessed 2 April 2014


[16] J. Eric Oliver, PhD1; Thomas Wood, MA1. Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States. Research Letter. JAMA Internal Medicine. March 17, 2014  accessed 1 April 2014


[17] Planes, Alex. Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? June, 2013.


[18] Planes, Alex. Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? June, 2013.


[19] Planes, Alex. Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? June, 2013.


[24] Ropiek, David. Golden Rice Opponents Should Be Held Accountable for Health Problems Linked to Vitamin A Deficiency. Accessed 2 April 2014


[25] A bowl of (100 to 150 g) cooked Golden Rice (50 g dry weight) can provide 60% of the Chinese Recommended Nutrient Intake of vitamin A for 6-8-year-old children.  Accessed 3 April 2014


[26] Goodman, Glenn. Biotech Bull. Lake County Record-Bee.  Accessed 31 March 2014


[28] From Lynas to Pollan, Agreement that Golden Rice Trials Should Proceed – accessed 3 April 2014


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The Straight Poop on GMO Labeling

During June, two items hit the news involving unsavory (to some) food options.

The first was a letter to the Record-Bee from a local organic grower taking me to task for my column, “Something Fishy This Way Comes.” The grower accused me of being against “choice.” She contended, if genetically modified (GM) food is not labeled, how can people choose not to eat it?

The second was a story about Japanese scientists developing a technique to make food from poop. You can imagine that a number of news outlets, including Fox News, were all over this story like stink on…well…you know what. According to the reports, human excrement is supposedly packed with protein and carbohydrates. All the Japanese scientists need do is combine poop with a “reaction enhancer,” then put it in a “magical machine…and artificial steak comes out the other end.”[i] Okaaaay, that sounds really appetizing.

Even though the second story is actually just a resilient urban legend,[ii] let’s run a thought experiment and pretend it is true. (“Thought experiment” sounds so much brainier than daydreaming, doesn’t it?). Let’s pretend a fast food chain has entered into an agreement with the nearby community sewage treatment plant to harness the culinary potential of its solid waste. Our (of course) fictitious fast food chain uses the magical Japanese machine and voila, s**t sandwiches, turd tacos, s**t burritos and even s**t on a stick.

Should the fast food’s products be labeled to say that they came directly out of someone’s colon? The argument to require labeling says yes. It goes something like this: We do not want to eat that stuff, and we have a representative government, so our government (federal, state, or local) should require such unappetizing food to be labeled for what it is.

You might think you want the source to be labeled, but I don’t think you do.

But, you may be saying, without labeling we might eat s**t! That’s true, but if you do not properly prepare organic produce, you also might eat s**it. According to the conservative think tank Center for Global Food Issues, using 1999 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, while only one percent of the United States food supply is organic, it accounts for eight percent of food related disease in the U.S. primarily due to a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (O157:H7)”[iii] found in cow excrement which may be used as organic fertilizer.

At present, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires labeling for specific reasons. If a food is significantly different than its name, the food’s name must be changed to describe the difference. If it has a significantly different nutritional property from its counterpart, its label must reflect the difference.[iv] And, if a food has a potential safety issue, there must be a statement on the label describing the issue; such as if a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present based on the name of the food, the presence of that allergen must be disclosed on the label.[v]

The inconvenient truth is that GM products are as safe as any other food products; whether poop meat would be we might never know. The World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and food agencies in the United States and Europe say GM foods currently on the market pose no health risk.

The reasons for a government to require special labeling should be for safety issues, not lifestyle choices. In areas of simple choice, it is not the government’s responsibility to require labeling of the provenance of a food’s origin.

Let’s be clear: the eating of GM food is not a safety issue. GM food falls into the same category as Jewish Kosher or Moslem Sharia law food: that is, that labeling is important to the followers of that ethic. Producers of non-GM, just as producers of Kosher or Sharia food, are free to label their food as such. But, if you really feel that you want to avoid GM, you can eat organic food exclusively.

The call for labeling implies that GM food should be avoided because the food is “unnatural.” This is the “ick” factor that happens with new technology; a 1969 Harris poll found a majority of Americans believed in vitro fertilization (“test tube babies”) was “against God’s will.” In less than a decade, those against had dropped to 28 percent with 60 percent pro-IVF.[vi] Because beliefs evolve, the FDA requires labels on food to safeguard our health, not our beliefs. That is the straight poop.

Here is the bottom line: you are free to follow your beliefs; that is your choice.


[i] Japanese Scientists Create Meat From Poop – (accessed July 17, 2011)

[ii] It appears to be one of those urban legends that crop up from time to time that sound crazy and, given our accelerating pace of technological advance, plausible at the same time. See: The mystery of the Japanese “poop burger” story. (accessed July 17, 2011)

[v] Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether … (n.d.). Retrieved from


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