Sunday, September 30, 2012

Where Are We Going with GMO Food Labeling?

“The ‘Frankenfoods’ debate is coming to your dinner table. Just last month, a mini-war developed in Europe, when the European Union’s chief scientist, renowned biologist Anne Glover, said that foods made through genetic engineering, such as soy beans—about 80 percent of US grown soybeans have been genetically engineered —are as safe as organic or conventional foods. It’s a wholly uncontroversial comment—at least among scientists. But it set off the usual scare mongering from Friends of the Earth, and other like-minded advocacy groups that finds all genetically engineered (GE) foods and crops to be, in their words ‘stomach turning’.”Pamela Ronald, Rachel Carson’s dream of a science-based agriculture may come as a surprise to those who believe that sustainability and technology are incompatible.  

Humans have been breeding and propagating edible foods for a while, beginning with selecting seed from the plants with desired traits to plant subsequent crops. Traditional hybridization and breeding techniques have likewise long been used to modify plants and animals at a molecular level, resulting in plants and animals that have been genetically modified.

These days however, when people refer to GMOs they typically are referring to the use of relatively recent developments in biotechnology more properly defined as genetic engineering that have been employed to alter a plant or animal organism at a molecular level. According to the National Academy of Science “Genetic engineering is one type of genetic modification that involves the intention to introduce a targeted change in a plant, animal or microbial gene sequence to effect a specific result” (page IX)

Next month, Californians will be voting on a ballot measure requiring the labeling of all GMO foods. Notwithstanding what you might read in hysterical foodie blogs or other vaguely sourced material, other experts agree, and this should not be news. Before you vote on this measure, please do your homework. Here is mine.

In 2004, the National Academy of Science publication office, aka the prestigious National Academies Press, published a report entitled Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects authored by the Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health, Board on Life Sciences Food and Nutrition Board, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies of Science.  

The NAS report concluded, “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” (page 8). I should note that the report also identified the need “for a broad research and technology development agenda to improve methods for predicting, identifying, and assessing unintended health effects from the genetic modification of food. An additional benefit is that the tools and techniques developed can also be applied to safety assessment and monitoring of foods produced by all methods of genetic modification” (page 13).

In 2004 the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published the proceedings of a OECD Cooperative research program workshop on the challenges and Risks of GMOs in Maastricht, The Netherlands.  Biological Resource Management in Agriculture: Challenges and Risks of Genetically Engineered Organisms which included a presentation by a UK biotech expert Katherine Williams entitled “Challenges for the Media: Disseminating Information by Avoiding Hysteria” in which she observed that such challenges include “the audience that is targeted, selection of appropriate language, and finding a balance between points of view. Other challenges that face the media include identifying the stories that genuinely require attention and recognizing those based on hype or false claims” (page 203). She warned journalists reporting on the GMO food debates about the use of inflammatory and unscientific terminolology like “Frankenfoods” and “mutant”. Alas.

In 2003, the International Council for Science published New Genetics, Food and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries – Societal Dilemmas, which concluded: “Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat. Food safety assessments by national regulatory agencies in several countries have deemed currently available GM foods to be as safe to eat as their conventional counterparts and suitable for human consumption. This view is shared by several intergovernmental agencies, including the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission on food safety, which has 162 member countries, the European Commission (EC), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Further, there is no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.”

So, how about we heed the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations and follow their 2012 recommendation to support “a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO”. And while we wait the results of ongoing scientific research to assess safety of GMO foods on a case-by-case basis, I have concluded that I am more likely to be harmed by a crocodile in my backyard pond that I am by eating GMO foods currently available.

I recommend that you refer to established reputable scientific sources for your information on this controversial issue before you reach your own conclusions. Even if you are what you eat, you can still decide what you think.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Don't Worry About This Person, Mitt

"[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." -- Mitt Romney on the 47 percent he says don't pay taxes.

My 93-year-0ld mother-in-law lives in a nursing home because she's got dementia on top of her physical health problems. She hasn't paid taxes for years on her <$1,200/month income. To add insult to injury, her only income is Medicare - so not only doesn't she pay taxes, she's on the public dole.

Thanks Mitt, for pointing out she's an irresponsible old freeloader.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I Am Offended By Today

“I used to be offended, but now I’m just amused.” Elvis Costello, The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes

“Whatever you say, someone will take offense. And to that I say, offense is taken, not given. It’s up to you whether you’re offended. And I’ll add one more thing: Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right.” Ricky Gervais

What offends me today:

1. We elected as Vice President Spiro Agnew who once said, “With all it faults, the Unites States is still the greatest nation in the country.” - which doesn’t offend so much as dismay. What’s offensive is that it’s just now that the UN Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security  has noticed that the election system in the US “have left it struggling to restore the public's confidence in its elected officials to act in their interest
2. Local protestors, offended by a billboard recently forced its removal. The offending commercial message was from an eyeglass store, and it said, “We want to sit on your face”. So much for American respect for free speech. The billboard was replaced by one saying “Happiness is Coming”. So much for having the last laugh.

3. Some people cheat at Rubik's Cube by painting each face of the cube a solid color, and some people think that all mind-altering drugs are bad, although in fairness, probably not the same people.

4.  Idiots, e.g.: humorless people who confuse humor with insult; people who are as oblivious about the concept of cause and effect as a four-year-old sticking a fork in a toaster; people with the initiative of a pan of bacon grease left on the stove to congeal; people with the maturity of a powder blue prom tuxedo with 6” wide lapels; people with the mental clarity of a pan of bacon grease left on the stove to congeal; people who flush their pet alligators down the toilet; people who confuse election of the candidate they oppose with the end of the world as we know it 

5.  People who buy alligators as pets

6. If Science can accomplish wonders like curing restless leg syndrome, why can’t it make a banana peel tiny enough to trip angels in red shoes on the head of a pin? Or make a sense-of-humor pill? Or a pair of goggles to wear so you’d know whether people were laughing with your or at you? Or a get-over-it tonic for people so easily wounded by hurtful words? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I Am Worried About Today

"What has confession taught you about people?"
"...First of all, people are much more unhappy than one thinks... And then, the fundamental fact is that there's no such thing as a grown-up person..."
Andre Malraux, Anti-Memoirs 

1. Whether I am technically a cyborg because I have some surgical steel plates screwed into my spine. 

2. Weather (sic), when earth’s magnet field reverses, my moral compass will shift and everything good will become evil?

3. Whether, when the drums stop, and an ominous hush descends on the jungle, I’ll remember to say “It’s quiet. Too quiet”  

4. Whether I’m better off now than I was four years ago

5. Whether the percentage of my dwindling IRA that is invested in oil or big pharma makes me a capitalist stooge

6. Whether I will ever be able to provide jetpacks for all my friends