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Why Gene Editing Is the Next Food Revolution

A new technique has the potential to change the foods we eat every day, boosting flavor, disease resistance, and yields, and even tackling allergens like gluten—and scientists say they’re working only with nature’s own tools.


TUCKED INTO A suburban Long Island neighborhood, a 12-acre plot may be growing the future.

Under a blistering July sun, Zachary Lippman bends over a row of foot-high plum tomato plants to reveal budding yellow flowers that will each produce a tomato and ripen over the summer. Out here, on the grounds of a former dairy farm, it has all the appearance of age-old tradition.

But inside a nearby lab, Lippman advanced the selective breeding process with a little nip and tuck of the plant’s own DNA, and now the “edited” plant is about to bear fruit in the field.

“There’s a long way to go, but what we have able to do in the last four or five years is unbelievable,” says Lippman, a professor of genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “It’s science fiction.”

He created the plants using gene editing, a technology—based on a natural process—that allows researchers to cut out certain bits of DNA in order to control traits. The cell’s genetic structure then repairs itself automatically, minus the targeted gene. His tomatoes are now programmed to produce double the number of branches and, as a result, twice the tomatoes.

The Promise of Gene Editing

In medicine, gene editing could potentially cure inherited diseases, such as some forms of heart disease and cancer and a rare disorder that causes vision loss. In agriculture, the technique can create plants that not only produce higher yields, like Lippman’s tomatoes, but also ones that are more nutritious and more impervious to drought and pests, traits that may help crops endure more extreme weather patterns predicted in the coming years.

Today hundreds of research and development labs are at work testing the potential of Crispr—the technique’s acronym—to solve a range of food-related concerns for both consumers and growers: reduced-gluten wheat that could be tolerated by those with sensitivities, a mushroom that doesn’t brown when bruised or cut, soybeans lower in unhealthy fats, and even protecting the global chocolate supply—candymaker Mars is behind an effort to bolster cacao’s ability to fight off a virus that’s devastating the crop in West Africa.

The first of these new gene-edited crops—canola—went on the market this year, with more coming in 2019. U.S. federal regulators say that because these plants do not contain foreign DNA—that is, DNA from viruses or bacteria, both used to create the first genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs—they don’t need the strict regulation and years of testing required for GMOs. On July 25, however, the European Union’s high court ruled for regulating gene-edited plants the same as GMOs.

Agricultural scientists have been improving plants through biotechnology for 25 years by transferring genes from one plant (or bacteria) species into another. These GMOs have allowed farmers to spray more herbicides without damaging their crops, or to create disease-resistant papayas in Hawaii, for example.

Even though science has not shown any human health effects of eating GMOs, they have been the target of consumer boycotts and tough government regulations throughout Europe and some U.S. states, spurred by distrust of the big corporations that create GMOs and the ramifications of mixing genes from two species.

But newer gene-editing tools such as Crispr (and there are others) achieve the same effects without transferring new genes from one organism to another. Gene editing is also simpler, cheaper, and faster than creating GMOs.

Because gene editing is relatively easy for those with proper training and basic lab facilities and not tightly controlled by a few companies, some experts say that it might allow developing nations to grow drought-free corn or nutrient-fortified vegetables without buying expensive seeds from large multinational firms. It’s also faster than growers methodically crossing generations of plant species to eventually get the desired trait—Crispr shaves years from that process.

‘An Ace Up Your Sleeve’

“This is about finding more efficient ways to improve crop productivity,” says Lippman, 45, who has been at the forefront of gene-editing research for the past decade.

For generations, commercial tomato breeders preferred fewer rather than too many branches, because the plant would fall under the weight of fruit or be unable to convert those extra flowers into fruits, compromising yields. “We had to find the sweet spot,” he says.

After years of studying different genes, researchers were able to fine-tune branching by lowering the activity of certain genes, as well as making tomatoes easier to pick by ensuring that the green cap stays attached to the plant rather than the fruit.

“We are still working with everything that nature has provided. With traditional breeding, whatever traits nature has kicked out of the DNA, that’s the hand you have been played,” Lippman says. “With gene editing, now you are playing poker with aces up your sleeve.”

‘It’s Like Speeding on the Highway’

Still, not everyone is convinced that gene editing is an improvement over traditional breeding methods. Gene editing makes permanent changes in a plant’s genome that are passed on through seeds. Others say Crispr practitioners benefit from biotechnology regulations that haven’t kept pace with developments.

“This is the new kind of genetic engineering, whether you call it transgenic [GMO] or not,” says Jaydee Hanson, an analyst at the Center for Food Safety, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. “It should be adequately regulated. We’re not saying it should be stopped—we should know what has been done.”

Yet proposed federal labeling rules exclude foods that use Crispr and other gene-editing techniques from those requirements since the mutations haven’t introduced bits of the so-called foreign DNA.

Experts in the field suggest that the ultimate success of gene editing will not be decided by scientists, entrepreneurs, or activists, but by shoppers and farmers.

One researcher says he could produce a tastier tomato through gene editing by increasing flavor-enhancing lycopene, but he’s holding back.

“I don’t want to be the first, but I’d like to be the second,” says Harry Klee of the University of Florida. “It’s like speeding on the highway.”

Klee has a good market for his seeds of traditionally cross-bred tomato varieties; he’s hesitant to introduce Crispr-edited ones because of the wild card of public reception.

Evolving With the Times

A few miles outside Clark, South Dakota, Jason McHenry and his father run a 1,500-acre farm, growing wheat, corn, soybeans, and livestock. About 20 years ago, the McHenrys planted genetically-modified corn and soybeans that resist pests like nematode worms and weeds, allowing them to use fewer chemicals.

“It simplified life and helped us get ahead of the weeds,” says McHenry, 33, a third-generation farmer. It also saved the operation money and boosted production.

At the same time, he realizes that some consumers avoid GMOs, including his two sisters, who are raising families in the area. Soybeans have also been under pressure because soybean-based cooking oil is high in the trans fats that raise cholesterol levels and can contribute to heart disease. The FDA required food companies to remove them completely by June 2018.

But last year, at a meeting of South Dakota soybean producers, McHenry heard about a new kind of soybean plant that produces a healthier oil, high in oleic acid, found in olive oil and avocados.

Read More:

Sweet victory: FDA backs off added sugar labels for maple, honey

Times Argus

September 7th, 2018

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Friday they would not require the labels of 100 percent maple and honey products to include “contains added sugars” on their product labels.

“This is great news,” said Tom Morse, of the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks family of East Montpelier. “It made my day. It made no sense to me, no sense to anyone, the government stepping in to mess things up on a local level.”

Just after the 2018 sugaring season came to a close, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, spoke out against the regulation.

“We’re very thankful to our guys in Washington for helping us out with that,” Morse said. “We were all pretty upset about it, and they got it thrown right out the door.”

When the FDA proposed the “added sugar” label for those products, Attorney General T.J. Donovan welcomed Vermonters to submit comments to his office on the proposed amendments to the label.

Initially, public participation looked bleak — less than 300 people commented on “The Declaration of Added Sugar on Maple Syrup, Honey and Certain Cranberry Products,” online after the portal was launched in early March.

On June 4, Donovan rallied Vermonters during a news conference at a sugarbush in Richmond, calling on residents to fight for the purity of a product that is deeply ingrained in Vermont’s identity, and to urge the FDA to allow an exception to its regulation for single-ingredient products such as honey and maple syrup.

After the conference, 3,331 more comments were submitted to Donovan’s portal, with more than 1,280 of them coming from Vermont, and by the time the portal closed June 18, more than 3,500 comments had been submitted.

Ninety-eight percent of the voices heard were against the regulation.

“A lot of other people we know submitted comments,” said Jenna Baird, co-owner of the retail store at Baird Farm in North Chittenden, and the fourth generation to carry on her family’s century-old sugaring operation. “… To have to put that on your label doesn’t make any sense. It deceives the customer, and a lot of our customers come to our farm and want to make sure it’s a pure product because there’s the fake syrup with high fructose corn syrup in it.”

On June 19, the FDA announced that it “recognizes the complexity of this issue and is grateful for the feedback it has received, including more than 3,000 comments received during the comment period on the draft guidance that closed June 15. The agency plans to take these comments into consideration to swiftly formulate a revised approach that makes key information available to consumers in a workable way.”

On Sept. 6, victory was sweet. The FDA expressed gratitude to all who contributed their “guidance” through Donovan’s portal.

“This guidance will provide a path forward for pure, single-ingredient ‘packaged as such’ products that does not involve the standard ‘added sugars’ declaration on the Nutrition Facts label,” the FDA announced.

Which means single-ingredient products will keep single-ingredient labels and no added sugar.

“I think it’s an issue that shouldn’t have come up to begin with,” said Bob Hausslein, owner and operator of Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind based in Londonderry and Rutland. “Just based on Yankee common sense and science. We’re disheartened that the debate got as far as it did. It’s a sign of good intentions run amok in a bureaucracy.”

To be born and raised in the Green Mountain State means to have a heart-felt connection to the sweet sap that flows through the forests, according to locals.

“It’s our No. 1 in agriculture, and more than 90 percent of the industry is still mom and pop,” said Laura Goodrich, general manager of the Vermont Maple Museum in Pittsford. “It’s still the little guys. Quebec is No. 1 globally, but we rank right up there with them — little old Vermont.”

Morse said the market is only increasing for maple syrup, and he’s proud to carry on a tradition whose sweet results will remain untouched by federal regulations.

“We’ve been making syrup for eight generations,” Morse said. “I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t sugaring. It’s in our blood”

Sweet victory: FDA backs off added sugar labels for maple, honey

History Space: 100 years of dairy farming in Swanton

Burlington Free Press

Jan. 20, 2018

How do you build a business that lasts 100 years? For dairy farmer Robert Manning, owner of the Manning Farm in Swanton, it’s about family support and playing an active role in the community too.

“Farmers have deep roots and are invested in the long-term vision of the town they live in,” said Robert Manning. “It means a lot to me to see 100 years of what we’ve accomplished, especially with how much it’s changed s

ince the farm was started.”

The Manning Farm celebrated their 100-year anniversary in November of last year. The farm has been a family operation ever since it began with Robert’s grandfather, Gerald Griswold in 1917. The Manning family has always been active in their community – Robert served for more than 20 years on the town zoning and regional planning boards – and he says those connections helped people better understand farming.

“Back in the old days people were once removed from a dairy farm – now it’s three or four generations removed and they may not understand farming,” Robert said. “We work seven days a week around the clock to make food so that other people don’t have to.”

When Robert was a kid, there were 17 farms on the same road. Today, there are two, including his own.

“We had 135 acres when we started and now it’s around 1,200 between what we own and rent,” Robert said. “When you look out over the land after you’ve tended to it – it’s rewarding.”

After Robert’s grandfather died in 1966, Robert and his wife Sandy bought the original farm, which was across the road from where they are now, and in 1971 they purchased what is now the current Manning Farm. Today, three generations of family members work alongside each other to keep the farm running smoothly, and the fourth generation, Robert’s great-grandkids, provide some comic relief.

Family members work on the farm

Many Vermont dairy farms, like the Manning Farm, have expanded to allow for additional family members to work on the farm. In 1980, Robert and Sandy’s son David returned after college and helped shape the future of the farm. David played a big role in transitioning the farm to a free stall barn in 1980, and putting an addition on the barn in 1997 and again in 2016.

“The barn is self-regulating and has fans and curtains that run automatically based on the temperature outside to keep it 50 – 60 degrees in the barn, which cows prefer,” David said. “For bedding, we use water beds with sawdust on top and rubber non-slip mats in the alleys. Cows generally are sleeping or lounging an average 12 to 14 hours per day. The barns are really comfortable for them.”

In the 1980s many Vermont farms made the switch from the use of tie stall barns where cows are kept in fixed milking stalls, to the free-stall barn where they can roam freely. The cows are moved to a milking parlor designed to milk many cows at the same time, greatly improving efficiency. When the farm started 100 years ago they had just five cows. Today the farm milks 500 cows three times a day. This is possible because three of David’s six children decided to work on the farm, too. David’s daughter Rebecca Howrigan manages the health of the cows.

“I’m proud of the advances we’ve made to ensure our cows are healthy and in turn provide high-quality dairy products,” Rebecca said. “My favorite technology we use is the pedometers that the cows wear on their ankles. I have a FitBit and I track my steps, but I also track the steps our cows take, among other things.”

Computer keeps track of cows

On average, the cows at the Manning Farm take about 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day. The data is sent to a computer and Rebecca monitors it constantly throughout the day. Like a person, if a cow isn’t feeling well she’ll be laying down more. The computer has an algorithm that alerts Rebecca so that she can be proactive to help the cow feel better.

“We take the health of our cows very seriously because their health is directly related to their ability to make high-quality milk,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca didn’t always know she would be a dairy farmer. She has an English degree from the University of Vermont and gained experience working for a heifer breeding service, before returning to the farm where she and her husband Patrick are raising their kids – Regan, 6 and Ryland, 3.

Rebeca’s younger brothers, Nick and Oliver Manning, ultimately decided that the farm was where they wanted to be as well. Nick manages maintenance on the farm, Oliver focuses on the calves, and they both manage the farm land that is used primarily to grow crops. Just like the barns, the way fields are managed have evolved too. The Manning Farm tractors are outfitted with GPS that allows them to drive themselves, leaving just the turning to the driver. It’s called precision agriculture and it allows farmers to keep a closer eye on their fields.

“It helps us get a better understanding of what the fields need, and it can eliminate human error. We put the GPS system on our corn chopper and so it records all the yield information, and we can see if we needed more fertilizer or less in other places – also what varieties of crops grow better in certain soils,” Oliver said. “In the past, you might put a set quantity of fertilizer or manure on a field – especially with runoff concerns – this technology helps us to make sure the right amount is applied in the right spots to help protect the environment and waterways.”

Farming for the next 100 years

The evolution of the Manning Farm is a familiar story in Franklin County, where there are 184 dairy farms out of the 868 total in the state according to 2014 updates by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The number of dairy farms in Vermont has steadily been decreasing, but according to USDA data, the milk being made has remained stable as individual farms have grown, consolidated and adopted new technology to become more efficient and sustainable.

Most recently, farms have been under increasing pressure to adopt sustainable farm practices to reduce the impact of manure on local watersheds. The Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) were introduced last year by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets, and are a set of requirements farmers must adopt to improve water quality.

“Required Agricultural Practices (RAP’s) are about assisting farmers in improving farm operations to support soil health and reduce erosion and run-off on their farms. Acre-per-acre, agricultural land has four times less phosphorus run-off as developed land; we want to support our farmers to reduce phosphorus pollution in our waterway’s and keep farm land open, rather than lose our farms and risk development that may increase phosphorus pollution. We are here to help continue to grow a culture that supports clean water practices in Vermont, on our farms and beyond,” said Secretary Anson Tebbetts of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets.

The iPhone app for farming

At Copper Hill Farm in Fairfax, dairy farmer Kurt Magnan uses a soil health app on his iPhone to monitor the manure and other fertilizer they put on fields. The app tracks weather conditions and makes recommendations on when to work in the fields, and how much nutrients the soil needs. Additionally, for the past four years, the farm has planted 450 acres of cover crops on their corn fields.

“Specialized equipment allows us, and many other farms, to plant cover crops that grow through the winter on the fields to prevent sediment and water from leaving the fields during the snow melts and spring rains through erosion,” Magnan said.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) data, Vermont farmers planted a record-setting 25,727 acres of cover crops in 2016 on approximately 25 percent of all annual cropland – a 58 percent increase in acres of cover crops planted in 2015. NRCS reported this has resulted in significant reductions in soil erosion and phosphorus in our waterways.

Manure turns into energy

Technology is leading the sustainability efforts in many other ways too. More than a dozen Vermont farms have installed methane digesters to turn manure into renewable energy. In 2015, Nelson Boys Dairy in St. Albans installed a Green Mountain Power ‘Cow Power’ methane digester. The farm generates four times the amount of power it consumes. That extra power is sent back into the grid and is used by local homes. The digester also turns manure into a liquid byproduct used as fertilizer on their fields, and the sterile, dried solids are used as a fluffy bedding for their cows.

“At the foundation of what we do is quality and health and comfort for our animals. Animal welfare and the environment are very important to us. We are, first and foremost stewards of the land, and we’re proud of that,” Dylan Nelson, of Nelson Boys Dairy said.

The milk from Nelson Boys Dairy, Copper Hill Farm, and the Manning Farm is processed at the St. Albans Co-op in St. Albans, along with the milk from more than 360 dairy farms. The three farms also participate in the Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy Program which helps farms that supply milk to Ben & Jerry’s continuously evaluate and improve their practices.

“It covers everything from our hiring practices to our land management to cow care, so it really keeps us on point with social responsibility,” Kurt said.

As the demand for sustainable, responsibly produced food increases researchers are exploring the impact of different types of diets on the available land base in the U.S. A 2016 study from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University found that a vegetarian diet that includes dairy products could feed the most people from the area of land available in the U.S. when compared to other diets, although diets with low to moderate amounts of meat also fared well in the study.

“Before we go about converting land to other uses, to develop sound agricultural policy, we have to understand the impact of dietary patterns on land use. We don’t want to short-change the equitable distribution of nutritious, life-sustaining foods to the whole population,” said author Gary Fick, Ph.D., professor in the School of Integrative Crop Science at Cornell University.

For the Manning family, this is good news as they look ahead to the next 100 years.

“There’s an opportunity with all the advancements in technology for us to gain efficiencies so we can feed more people on the same land base,” Rebecca said. “Farmers are continuously finding new ways to improve for the good of the environment and our communities.”

To learn more about Vermont dairy farm practices visit:

Laura Hardie is the Farmer Relations & Communications Manager for New England Dairy & Food Council and New England Dairy Promotion Board.

New Data Indicates Reduced Farm Phosphorus Runoff into Lake Champlain

Conservation Works

Colchester, Vermont, August 21, 2017—Just in time for Clean Water Week offsite link image     in Vermont, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has promising news to report about the positive impacts to water quality in Lake Champlain thanks to conservation efforts by farmers.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established new limits for how much phosphorus can enter Lake Champlain. USDA-NRCS is one of the agencies that has been working with farmers to implement conservation practices that protect and improve soil and water resources, and ultimately reduce phosphorus runoff.

NRCS reports that recent analysis utilizing models indicates a reduction of phosphorus runoff into the lake as a result of effective conservation efforts. NRCS State Conservationist Vicky Drew applauded farmers for their stewardship which is helping the state meet federal guidelines to clean up the lake. “This data is really a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the farmers in the Basin,” she said.

Phosphorus is a nutrient found in agricultural fertilizers, manure, sewage, and even some household cleaning products. It is a beneficial nutrient in agriculture because it is essential for plant growth. While phosphorus can increase crop production, it also serves as a threat to water quality once it reaches surface waters. Fertilizers, manure, and phosphorus bound sediments can runoff fields into nearby streams. If these streams are part of the Lake Champlain Basin, they eventually make their way through the watershed and into the lake. When high concentrations of phosphorus accumulate in a body of water, plant and algae growth accelerates, which consumes oxygen and creates “dead zones”. These “dead zones” cannot support life and as a result, fish and other aquatic life could die due to the lack of oxygen.

In an effort to help the state meet the EPA phosphorus limits, USDA-NRCS in Vermont developed a Strategic Watershed Planning Approach. This five year plan, initiated in 2015, targets the most impaired watersheds (those known to contribute heavy concentrations of agricultural phosphorus runoff to the lake). These watersheds include St. Albans Bay, Pike River, Rock River, and McKenzie Brook in Addison County. NRCS is working with state and local partners to allocate financial and technical assistance to these areas through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This Farm Bill program helps farmers install conservation practices that protect and improve soil and water quality including reduced tillage, nutrient management, cover crops, permanent seeding, buffers, and prescribed grazing. “The conservation practices installed in the Lake Champlain Basin over the last few years are already making a positive impact on soil and water health,” says Drew. “Our goal was to show measurable water quality improvement, and we are.”

The phosphorus limits set by the EPA helped guide phosphorus reduction goals set for the four targeted watersheds. Using tools developed by EPA, NRCS estimated total phosphorus reductions for the first year of the five year project. The estimated reductions can be viewed at:


washington post

Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high

You’ve heard the news about honeybees. “Beepocalypse,” they’ve called it. Beemageddon. America’s honeybees are dying, putting honey production and $15 billion worth of pollinated food crops in jeopardy.

The situation has become so dire that earlier this year the White House put forth the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a 64-page policy framework for saving the nation’s bees, butterflies and other pollinating animals.

The trouble all began in 2006 or so, when beekeepers first began noticing mysterious die-offs. It was soon christened “colony collapse disorder,” and has been responsible for the loss of 20 to 40 percent of managed honeybee colonies each winter over the past decade.

The math says that if you lose 30 percent of your bee colonies every year for a few years, you rapidly end up with close to 0 colonies left. But get a load of this data on the number of active bee colonies in the U.S. since 1987. Pay particular attention to the period after 2006, when CCD was first documented.

As you can see, the number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006, from 2.4 million to 2.7 million in 2014, according to data tracked by the USDA. The 2014 numbers, which came out earlier this year, show that the number of managed colonies — that is, commercial honey-producing bee colonies managed by human beekeepers — is now the highest it’s been in 20 years.

So if CCD is wiping out close to a third of all honeybee colonies a year, how are their numbers rising? One word: Beekeepers.

2012 working paper by Randal R. Tucker and Walter N. Thurman, a pair of agricultural economists, explains that seasonal die-offs have always been a part of beekeeping: they report that before CCD, American beekeepers would typically lose 14 percent of their colonies a year, on average.

So beekeepers have devised two main ways to replenish their stock. The first method involves splitting one healthy colony into two separate colonies: put half the bees into a new beehive, order them a new queen online (retail price: $25 or so), and voila: two healthy hives.

The other method involves simply buying a bunch of bees to replace the ones you lost. You can buy 3 pounds of “packaged” bees, plus a queen, for about $100 or so.

Beekeepers have been doing this sort of thing since the advent of commercial beekeeping. When CCD came along, it roughly doubled the usual annual rate of bee die-offs. But this doesn’t mean that bees are going extinct, just that beekeepers need to work a little harder to keep production up.

The price of some of that extra work will get passed on to the consumer. The average retail price of honey has roughly doubled since 2006, for instance. And Kim Kaplan, a researcher with the USDA, points out that pollination fees — the amount beekeepers charge to cart their bees around to farms and pollinate fruit and nut trees — has approximately doubled over the same period.

“It’s not the honey bees that are in danger of going extinct,” Kaplan wrote in an email, “it is the beekeepers providing pollination services because of the growing economic and management pressures. The alternative is that pollination contracts per colony have to continue to climb to make it economically sustainable for beekeepers to stay in business and provide pollination to the country’s fruit, vegetable, nut and berry crops.” We have also been importing more honey from overseas lately.

But rising prices for fruit and nuts hardly constitute the “beepocalypse” that we’ve all been worried about. Tucker and Thurman, the economists, call this a victory for the free market: “Not only was there not a failure of bee-related markets,” they conclude in their paper, “but they adapted quickly and effectively to the changes induced by the appearance of Colony Collapse Disorder.”


Bees, Pesticides and the Activist Hive

A European court has a chance to weigh whether biased science can justify a costly chemical ban.


Feb. 15, 2017

A pesticides ban in Europe could soon be overturned on the grounds that it was based on unreliable data. Meanwhile, revelations that one of the scientists behind the ban was also involved with a nongovernmental organization that campaigns against pesticides continue to undermine the ban’s integrity.

Two European chemical companies, Bayer and Syngenta, appeared before the European Court of Justice this week to argue that the European Union should revoke a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. “Neonics,” as these sprays are known, were introduced in the 1990s as a safer, greener alternative.


One of the advantages of neonics is that they can be used as a seed “dressing,” so that crop plants are protected from birth and need less or no spraying later. They only affect those insects that eat the crop, not innocent bystanders.

Though green activist groups claim neonics devastate bee populations, there remains much debate over how much neonic residue gets into the pollen that bees consume. But the fact remains that there has been no “bee-pocalypse.” In Europe and North America, honeybee numbers are higher today than they were two decades ago when neonics were first introduced.

As for wild bees, a 2015 study in Nature found that only a tiny fraction of wild-bee species pollinate crops. These bees, which come into the most-direct contact with neonics, are thriving.

The real danger lurks elsewhere. The French Ministry of Agriculture recently concluded that diseases, bad beekeeping and famine are the main causes of bee mortality. Pesticides play only a minor part. France’s final court of appeals in civil and criminal matters would agree. In a ruling last month, the Court of Cassation found that no causal connection has been established between the neonic Imidacloprid and bee mortality.

Such findings are in stark contrast to the recommendations in the draft Bee Guidance Document (BGD), a paper prepared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the scientific basis of the 2013 neonic ban. But the BGD’s methodology also raises many questions. It ruled out large-scale field studies and forced regulators to rely on lab studies mostly using unrealistically high doses of neonics. Acceptable field studies had to demonstrate with 95% statistical confidence that a neonic would have no more than a 7% effect on the number of bees within a hive, even though bee numbers can fluctuate by twice as much just from cold weather. Field studies were also required to cover 448 square kilometers to meet the BGD’s conditions. Each test field had to be 2 kilometers from every other test field, other crops, orchards and even wildflowers.

No one has figured out how to meet these specifications. Meanwhile, some 18 major field studies and nine review articles published over the past 10 years have overwhelmingly showed that under realistic conditions, neonics have no effect on bees at the hive level.

It’s as if the EFSA’s standard of evidence was purposely set so high as to preclude evidence of neonic safety.

David Zaruk, an investigative journalist who blogs as the Risk Monger, may have discovered how this happened. He noticed that although the EFSA working group that prepared the BGD had removed all scientists affiliated with industry-funded research during the preparatory work, it retained several activists among its five final members. One of them was Gérard Arnold, at the time also listed as the scientific coordinator at Apimondia, a beekeeper lobbying group.

When Mr. Zaruk asked the EFSA about this, he writes that the head of EFSA’s legal department agreed that if Mr. Arnold had been working with Apimondia at the same time, this would have been a serious breach of ethics. But Mr. Arnold had assured them that he was not, so the EFSA was willing to overlook an accusation that he was chairing an antipesticide working group for an NGO.

What this doesn’t explain, however, is why, after Mr. Zaruk started making his inquiries, every reference to Mr. Arnold’s work with Apimondia during his EFSA years started disappearing from the internet. When I asked Mr. Arnold about this, he said his work with Apimondia had ended before he started working with EFSA and the Apimondia website had simply been out of date. But given Mr. Arnold’s known antipesticide activism, there was still at best a conflict of interest.

Brussels entrusted a known antipesticide activist with the task of preparing what was supposed to be an objective report on the testing procedures of pesticides. Instead, the EFSA working group, which included Mr. Arnold, resulted in a ban that contradicts scientific evidence and has devastated European farmers. The total cost of the neonic ban has been estimated at some €900 million ($954.1 million) a year for oilseed rape alone. It would seem incumbent on the EFSA to at least perform a thorough investigation.

The EFSA has so far resisted calls for a review and re-examination of the deeply flawed process that resulted in the ban, but the exclusion of evidence under the BGD is one of the central arguments presented to the European Court of Justice this week. The judges there may well take a more objective and science-based view.

Mr. Ridley is a columnist for the Times (U.K.), a member of the House of Lords and the author of “The Evolution of Everything.”




Editor’s note: This commentary is by Leon Berthiaume, the CEO of St. Albans Cooperative Creamery.

As a Vermont dairy industry leader for several decades, I have witnessed the challenges that dairy farmers face. Here in Vermont we have experienced wildly fluctuating milk prices that often don’t correspond to rising costs of production.

Investments have been made to support the dairy sector. Some have been disappointing because the longevity of these investments were much shorter than anticipated.

Similarly, I have seen new opportunities and investments occur that benefit this sector. The presence and growth of Ben & Jerry’s and the arrival of Commonwealth Dairy and Swan Valley have been an advantage to our economy. To ensure future investments that our valued customers may make in the state of Vermont, we must continue our milk volume growth to meet their needs. There must be success at the farm for these great companies to flourish.

We are proud that the membership of St. Albans Cooperative Creamery includes both. We believe strongly that we should not take their choice away.

Like all family-owned businesses, success in dairy farming comes in many forms. Vermont dairy farms vary in their land and animal size. Many dairy farmers are happy maintaining a small herd of cows while others seek to expand, which often leads to adding another generation on the farm to live and work in Vermont. Many choices face them including the size of their operation, how their livestock will be raised and what crops to plant. Market trends and factors such as the use of bovine growth hormones, meeting animal care standards and meeting environmental regulations are examples of other considerations they face.

The infrastructure for our industry is supported by the volume of the conventional and organic milk produced here in Vermont. Dairy farmers need to have the ability to choose which of type of milk they want to make on their farms. We are proud that the membership of St. Albans Cooperative Creamery includes both. We believe strongly that we should not take their choice away.

Some have argued that all Vermont dairy farms should transition to organic production. Flooding the market with organic milk would drive down the price that farmers receive. It would require extensive supply management and the need for new markets in the region that could challenge the financial stability of the entire farming infrastructure.

Organic producers have been successful in growing their volumes to meet customer demand. Pricing of organic products and generating necessary premiums have been and continue to be essential in supporting the higher costs of organic production. The consumers and markets will dictate the growth of this segment and we cannot move volumes of conventional milk to organic without assurance that these consumers and markets exist.

Since our inception in 1919, we have been committed to providing service, stable markets and the greatest achievable return to our members by delivering the highest quality milk, milk products and services to our customers. Regardless of whether a member is a conventional or organic farmer, this long-held philosophy will not change. In today’s world, there is room for both and we fully support them all.





Editor’s note: This commentary is by Leon Berthiaume, the CEO of St. Albans Cooperative Creamery.

As a Vermont dairy industry leader for several decades, I have witnessed the challenges that dairy farmers face. Here in Vermont we have experienced wildly fluctuating milk prices that often don’t correspond to rising costs of production.

Investments have been made to support the dairy sector. Some have been disappointing because the longevity of these investments were much shorter than anticipated.

Similarly, I have seen new opportunities and investments occur that benefit this sector. The presence and growth of Ben & Jerry’s and the arrival of Commonwealth Dairy and Swan Valley have been an advantage to our economy. To ensure future investments that our valued customers may make in the state of Vermont, we must continue our milk volume growth to meet their needs. There must be success at the farm for these great companies to flourish.

We are proud that the membership of St. Albans Cooperative Creamery includes both. We believe strongly that we should not take their choice away.

Like all family-owned businesses, success in dairy farming comes in many forms. Vermont dairy farms vary in their land and animal size. Many dairy farmers are happy maintaining a small herd of cows while others seek to expand, which often leads to adding another generation on the farm to live and work in Vermont. Many choices face them including the size of their operation, how their livestock will be raised and what crops to plant. Market trends and factors such as the use of bovine growth hormones, meeting animal care standards and meeting environmental regulations are examples of other considerations they face.

The infrastructure for our industry is supported by the volume of the conventional and organic milk produced here in Vermont. Dairy farmers need to have the ability to choose which of type of milk they want to make on their farms. We are proud that the membership of St. Albans Cooperative Creamery includes both. We believe strongly that we should not take their choice away.

Some have argued that all Vermont dairy farms should transition to organic production. Flooding the market with organic milk would drive down the price that farmers receive. It would require extensive supply management and the need for new markets in the region that could challenge the financial stability of the entire farming infrastructure.

Organic producers have been successful in growing their volumes to meet customer demand. Pricing of organic products and generating necessary premiums have been and continue to be essential in supporting the higher costs of organic production. The consumers and markets will dictate the growth of this segment and we cannot move volumes of conventional milk to organic without assurance that these consumers and markets exist.

Since our inception in 1919, we have been committed to providing service, stable markets and the greatest achievable return to our members by delivering the highest quality milk, milk products and services to our customers. Regardless of whether a member is a conventional or organic farmer, this long-held philosophy will not change. In today’s world, there is room for both and we fully support them all.



Editor’s note: This commentary is by Chuck Ross, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets since January 2011. He resides in Hinesburg.

Agriculture is critical to our communities, our economy, our landscape and our way of life here in Vermont. As Vermonters, we have grown accustomed to a vital and robust agricultural lifestyle. But when I leave our state, in my travels as secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, I am always reminded that our local agriculture here in Vermont is special, and serves as a model for others.

Take our Farm to School program, for example. Today, 83 percent of Vermont students are engaged in Farm to School curriculum in their classrooms, cafeterias, and communities, compared to 42 percent nationally. We are creating opportunity for local farmers by serving healthy, local foods in our schools, while also providing kids access to nutritious meals and building their agricultural literacy. Our statewide Farm to School network just set the ambitious goal of providing nourishing universal meals to all Vermont students within the next 10 years, purchasing at least 50 percent of that food from a socially just and environmentally and financially sustainable regional food system. Not only are we leading, but we are constantly pushing ourselves to do more, and do better.

Dairy is the backbone of our agricultural economy. It constitutes 70 percent of our agricultural sales, and 80 percent of total agricultural land. We are a small state, but we produce 63 percent of the total milk in New England. And yet the dairy industry is struggling because of persistent low prices, due to a complex and convoluted national pricing system, over which our hardworking dairy farmers have no control. Farmers must be paid a viable price for their milk. While the organic model is part of the solution, it is not the only solution. The recent proposed purchase of WhiteWave, the largest organic dairy brand in the country, by an international conglomerate, speaks to the fact that the organic market may not be immune from the consolidation we have seen plague the conventional processing market.

Despite challenging economic times for the industry, dairy in Vermont continues to be an important part of the fabric of Vermont. With over 15 percent of the total acres in Vermont dedicated to dairy farming, it is critical to our landscape. Our farms are growing more efficient and more sustainable, with a focus on stewardship and conservation, and producing quality products. Our cheesemakers are a force to be reckoned with nationally – this year Vermont took home 15 blue ribbons from the American Cheese Society, as well as nine second place and 10 third place finishes. We have more methane digesters per capita than any state in the country. Our dairy farmers are actively engaged in protecting water quality, soil building, energy production, nutrient removal, and marketing the Vermont brand. These are part of the path forward for Vermont dairy and Vermont agriculture writ large, and are good for our economy, environment, consumers and brand.

All food, farm and forestry businesses play a critical role in our economy and our working landscape. Since Gov. Shumlin took office, Vermont has added more than 5,100 new jobs in the farm and food sectors. Our agency has supported this growth through key initiatives, from working with institutional food purveyors to add local food to the menu at our colleges and in our correctional facilities, to furnishing technical assistance to dramatically increase the number of in-state meat and dairy processing facilities. We have provided grants and guidance to open new markets for local businesses, created networks for best practice sharing among producer organizations, and promoted the Vermont brand across the nation, and around the world. Everywhere we go, we are reminded, once again, that our reputation for quality food and farm products is unparalleled.

Today, too few people understand where our food comes from, how it’s produced, who produces it, and what the choices and actions are required to produce food.

We have much to be proud of, but there is still work to do. We must continue to address agriculture and food system illiteracy and expand access to healthy food. Today, too few people understand where our food comes from, how it’s produced, who produces it, and what the choices and actions are required to produce food. We need to shift our priorities so that all of agriculture is understood and recognized for the critical role it plays in community health. Vermont is a leader in this regard but we must do better and more, as food insecurity and food-related illnesses still haunt us here in Vermont, our region, and country.

We must also build upon, and continue to leverage, our great Vermont brand. There are millions of customers to our south who know and want Vermont products. We need to increase our efforts to connect these consumers with our outstanding farmers and food producers.

To that end, we must also support the current generation, and attract the next generation, of farmers, food entrepreneurs and innovators who understand that farming and food careers are exciting, rewarding and meaningful to our collective future. We need people who can make important contributions to our future challenges, ranging from nutrition, food security to climate change.

As I look toward the future, I have no doubt the future of agriculture in Vermont will be very bright. Vermont is on the cutting edge of community supported agriculture – we must maintain the momentum. Over the course of the past six years, I have been consistently impressed by the women and men engaged in Vermont’s food system. On our farms, in our schools, at our food hubs, here in Montpelier and across the state – some of Vermont’s best and brightest minds are at work advancing local agriculture and our role as a regional and national leader. There is tremendous opportunity for growth in this sector, and I truly believe we are poised to seize it. For our communities, for our economy, for our landscape, and for future generations, we must do all we can to support Vermont agriculture.

Why Industrial Farms Are Good for the Environment


Stillwater, Okla. — There is much to like about small, local farms and their influence on what we eat. But if we are to sustainably deal with problems presented by population growth and climate change, we need to look to the farmers who grow a majority of the country’s food and fiber.

Large farmers — who are responsible for 80 percent of the food sales in the United States, though they make up fewer than 8 percent of all farms, according to 2012 data from the Department of Agriculture — are among the most progressive, technologically savvy growers on the planet. Their technology has helped make them far gentler on the environment than at any time in history. And a new wave of innovation makes them more sustainable still.

A vast majority of the farms are family-owned. Very few, about 3 percent, are run by nonfamily corporations. Large farm owners (about 159,000) number fewer than the residents of a medium-size city like Springfield, Mo. Their wares, from milk, lettuce and beef to soy, are unlikely to be highlighted on the menus of farm-to-table restaurants, but they fill the shelves at your local grocery store.

There are legitimate fears about soil erosion, manure lagoons, animal welfare and nitrogen runoff at large farms — but it’s not just environmental groups that worry. Farmers are also concerned about fertilizer use and soil runoff.

That’s one reason they’re turning to high-tech solutions like precision agriculture. Using location-specific information about soil nutrients, moisture and productivity of the previous year, new tools, known as “variable rate applicators,” can put fertilizer only on those areas of the field that need it (which may reduce nitrogen runoff into waterways).

GPS signals drive many of today’s tractors, and new planters are allowing farmers to distribute seed varieties to diverse spots of a field to produce more food from each unit of land. They also modulate the amount and type of seed on each part of a field — in some places, leaving none at all.

Many food shoppers have difficulty comprehending the scale and complexity facing modern farmers, especially those who compete in a global marketplace. For example, the median lettuce field is managed by a farmer who has 1,373 football fields of that plant to oversee.

For tomatoes, the figure is 620 football fields; for wheat, 688 football fields; for corn, 453 football fields.

How are farmers able to manage growing crops on this daunting scale? Decades ago, they dreamed about tools to make their jobs easier, more efficient and better for the land: soil sensors to measure water content, drones, satellite images, alternative management techniques like low- and no-till farming, efficient irrigation and mechanical harvesters.

Today, that technology is a regular part of operations at large farms. Farmers watch the evolution of crop prices and track thunderstorms on their smartphones. They use livestock waste to create electricity using anaerobic digesters, which convert manure to methane. Drones monitor crop yields, insect infestations and the location and health of cattle. Innovators are moving high-value crops indoors to better control water use and pests.

Before “factory farming” became a pejorative, agricultural scholars of the mid-20th century were calling for farmers to do just that — become more factorylike and businesslike. From that time, farm sizes have risen significantly. It is precisely this large size that is often criticized today in the belief that large farms put profit ahead of soil and animal health.

But increased size has advantages, especially better opportunities to invest in new technologies and to benefit from economies of scale. Buying a $400,000 combine that gives farmers detailed information on the variations in crop yield in different parts of the field would never pay on just five acres of land; at 5,000 acres, it is a different story.

These technologies reduce the use of water and fertilizer and harm to the environment. Modern seed varieties, some of which were brought about by biotechnology, have allowed farmers to convert to low- and no-till cropping systems, and can encourage the adoption of nitrogen-fixing cover crops such as clover or alfalfa to promote soil health.

Herbicide-resistant crops let farmers control weeds without plowing, and the same technology allows growers to kill off cover crops if they interfere with the planting of cash crops. The herbicide-resistant crops have some downsides: They can lead to farmers’ using more herbicide (though the type of herbicide is important, and the new crops have often led to the use of safer, less toxic ones).

But in most cases, it’s a trade-off worth making, because they enable no-till farming methods, which help prevent soil erosion.

These practices are one reason soil erosion has declined more than 40 percent since the 1980s.

Improvements in agricultural technologies and production practices have significantly lowered the use of energy and water, and greenhouse-gas emissions of food production per unit of output over time. United States crop production now is twice what it was in 1970.

That would not be a good change if more land, water, pesticides and labor were being used. But that is not what happened: Agriculture is using nearly half the labor and 16 percent less land than it did in 1970.

Instead, farmers increased production through innovation. Wheat breeders, for example, using traditional techniques assisted by the latest genetic tools and information, have created varieties that resist disease without numerous applications of insecticides and fungicides. Nearly all corn and soybean farmers practice crop rotation, giving soil a chance to recover. Research is moving beyond simple measures of nitrogen and phosphorus content to look at the microbes in the soil.

New industrywide initiatives are focused on quantifying and measuring soil health. The goal is to provide measurements of factors affecting the long-term value of the soil and to identify which practices — organic, conventional or otherwise — will ensure that farmers can responsibly produce plenty of food for our grandchildren.

Over the past century, there has been a notable shift in Americans’ connection with food production. In 1900, about 40 percent of the United States population was on the farm, and 60 percent lived in rural areas. Today the respective figures are only about 1 percent and 20 percent. From the 1940s to the 1980s, the number of farms fell by more than half, and average farm size tripled. A result is that romantic, pastoral images of farming from yesteryear are far from representing reality.

Big problems face farmers and consumers. Climate change, food waste, growing world population, drought and water quality are just a few.

There are no easy answers, but innovation, entrepreneurship and technology have important roles to play. So, too, do the real-life large farmers who grow the bulk of our food.

107 Nobel laureates sign letter blasting Greenpeace over GMOs


More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world.

“We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular,” the letter states.

The letter campaign was organized by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and, with Phillip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences known as introns. The campaign has a website,, that includes a running list of the signatories, and the group plans to hold a news conference Thursday morning at the National Press Club in Washington.

“We’re scientists. We understand the logic of science. It’s easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science,” Roberts told The Washington Post. “Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause.”

Roberts said he endorses many other activities of Greenpeace, and said he hopes the group, after reading the letter, would “admit that this is an issue that they got wrong and focus on the stuff that they do well.”

Greenpeace has not yet responded to requests for comment on the letter. [Update: Greenpeace responded early Thursday — see statement below.]  It is hardly the only group that opposes GMOs, but it has a robust global presence, and the laureates in their letter contend that Greenpeace has led the effort to block Golden Rice.

The list of signatories had risen to 107 names by Wednesday morning. Roberts said that, by his count, there are 296 living laureates.

Nobel laureate Randy Schekman, a cell biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, told The Post, “I find it surprising that groups that are very supportive of science when it comes to global climate change, or even, for the most part, in the appreciation of the value of vaccination in preventing human disease, yet can be so dismissive of the general views of scientists when it comes to something as important as the world’s agricultural future.”

The letter states:

Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.

Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million people, suffer from VAD, including 40 percent of the children under five in the developing world.  Based on UNICEF statistics, a total of one to two million preventable deaths occur annually as a result of VAD, because it compromises the immune system, putting babies and children at great risk.  VAD itself is the leading cause of childhood blindness globally affecting 250,000 – 500,000 children each year. Half die within 12 months of losing their eyesight.

The scientific consensus is that that gene editing in a laboratory is not more hazardous than modifications through traditional breeding, and that engineered plants potentially have environmental or health benefits, such as cutting down on the need for pesticides. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released in May, said there is no substantiated evidence that GMO crops have sickened people or harmed the environment, but also cautioned that such crops are relatively new and that it is premature to make broad generalizations, positive or negative, about their safety.

Opponents of GMOs have said these crops may not be safe for human or animal consumption, have not been shown to improve crop yields, have led to excessive use of herbicides and can potentially spread engineered genes beyond the boundaries of farms.

Greenpeace International’s website states that the release of GMOs into the natural world is a form of “genetic pollution.” The site states:

Genetic engineering enables scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes in a way that does not occur naturally.

These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating non ‘GE’ environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way.

Virtually all crops and livestock have been genetically engineered in the broadest sense; there are no wild cows, and the cornfields of the United States reflect many centuries of plant modification through traditional breeding. Genetically modified crops started to become common in the mid-1990s; today, most of the corn, soybeans and cotton in the country have been modified to be resistant to insects or tolerant of herbicide, according to government statistics.

Opponents of GMOs have focused a great deal on the economic and social repercussions of the introduction of lab-modified crops. Greenpeace has warned of the corporate domination of the food supply, saying that small farmers will suffer. A Greenpeace spokesman Wednesday referred a reporter to a Greenpeace publication titled “Twenty Years of Failure: Why GM crops have failed to deliver on their promises.”

This debate between mainstream scientists and environmental activists isn’t new, and there is little reason to suspect that the letter signed by the Nobel laureates will persuade GMO opponents to stand down.

But Columbia University’s Martin Chalfie, who shared the 2008 Nobel in chemistry for research on green fluorescent protein, said he thinks laureates can be influential on the GMO issue.

“Is there something special about Nobel laureates? I’m not so sure we’re any more special than other scientists who have looked at the evidence involved, but we have considerably more visibility because of the prize. I think that this behooves us, that when we feel that science is not being listened to, that we speak out.”

Roberts said he has worked on previous campaigns that sought to leverage the influence of Nobel laureates. In 2012, for example, he organized a campaign to persuade Chinese authorities to release from house arrest the human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Roberts said he decided to take on the GMO issue after hearing from scientific colleagues their research was being impeded by anti-GMO activism from Greenpeace and other organizations. He said he has no financial interest in GMO research.

Update: Here is Greenpeace’s response, datelined Manila, June 30, from Wilhelmina Pelegrina, Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia:

“Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered ‘Golden’ rice are false. ‘Golden’ rice has failed as a solution and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research. As admitted by the International Rice Research Institute, it has not been proven to actually address Vitamin A Deficiency. So to be clear, we are talking about something that doesn’t even exist.

“Corporations are overhyping ‘Golden’ Rice to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops. This costly experiment has failed to produce results for the last 20 years and diverted attention from methods that already work. Rather than invest in this overpriced public relations exercise, we need to address malnutrition through a more diverse diet, equitable access to food and eco-agriculture.”

On alternative solutions:

“The only guaranteed solution to fix malnutrition is a diverse healthy diet. Providing people with real food based on ecological agriculture not only addresses malnutrition, but is also a scaleable solution to adapt to climate change. We’ve documented communities across the Philippines that continue to express concerns about using GE golden rice as a solution. It is irresponsible to impose GE golden rice as a quick remedy to people on the front lines and who do not welcome it, particularly when there are safe and effective options already available.

“Greenpeace Philippines is already working with NGO partners and farmers in the Philippines to boost climate resiliency (4). There’s a real chance here for governments and the philanthropic community to support these endeavours by investing in climate-resilient ecological agriculture and empowering farmers to access a balanced and nutritious diet, rather than pouring money down the drain for GE ‘Golden’ rice.”

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GMO panic is bad policy

America’s foremost nutritional problem may well be the sheer quantity of food it consumes, but the nation is increasingly haunted by a much more arcane question about its diet: Did someone at some point tinker with its DNA?

The fear of consuming genetically modified organisms – “GMOs” to their enemies – is largely detached from science and reason. It has nonetheless become pervasive in certain generally left-leaning circles, so much so that three New England states have moved to require disclosure of genetically modified ingredients. Similar measures have been introduced in many other states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

But the U.S. House recently responded with the legislative equivalent of a genetically altered tomato hurled in the activists’ direction, passing a bill to outlaw labeling mandates.

The anti-GMO movement has a superficially appealing argument: Food manufacturers already have to disclose ingredients, caloric content, and more. So even if the dangers of genetic modification are an article of faith rather than fact, why not disclose it and let the people decide?

The trouble is that unlike the rest of the information the federal government requires labels to include, genetic modification is not an ingredient or a nutrient, but a technology – a means rather than an end. Requiring food makers to tell us whether the corn they used was genetically manipulated is like forcing them to disclose whether it was cultivated in the presence of a scarecrow. Sure, plenty of people might find this information interesting, but it has no demonstrable relationship to anyone’s health.

And no one, by the way, is or should be preventing voluntary labeling of foods as GMO-free. Indeed, with corporations such as Whole Foods and Chipotle pandering to unfounded anxieties, anyone who is determined to avoid genetically modified foods should have no trouble doing so.

But government-mandated labeling would wrongly elevate the issue by suggesting that genetic modification has proven health implications. That’s why the Senate should join the House in acting to head off such labeling requirements.

While the techniques have grown much more sophisticated with scientific advances, the fact is that genetic manipulation has long made most of what we know as agriculture possible. And its modern uses are so varied as to make generalizations inherently misleading. Genetically altered crops are often criticized as facilitating herbicide use, for example, but they can just as easily obviate the need for pesticides.

Nor is there any shortage of work left to do on scientifically sound labeling. Consider, for example, how much prepared food is sold and served without so much as a calorie count attached – a fact with unimpeachable relevance to a nation of overeaters. Governments and corporations intent on improving public health should focus on providing useful information instead of legitimizing misinformation.


House passes Pompeo bill that would prevent state-mandated GMO labeling

The US House of Representatives has passed the industry-backed voluntary GMO labeling bill – The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act 2015 – by 275 votes to 150, and rejected all four amendments it was asked to consider.

H.R. 1599 – which anti-GMO activists have dubbed the DARK Act (‘Denying Americans the Right-to-Know’) – would pre-empt state laws that mandate GMO labeling (such as Act 120 in Vermont) and set up a federal voluntary ‘non-GMO’ labeling system run by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Under the proposed federal legislation, which was introduced by Mike Pompeo (R-KS), firms would also be allowed to make ‘natural’ claims on foods made with ingredients from genetically engineered (GE) crops – which supporters hope will stop civil litigation over this issue from clogging up the court system.

Labeling of a food made with GE ingredients would only be required if two conditions are met:

1. There is “a meaningful difference in the functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity, or other attributes between the food so produced and its comparable food”;

2. The labeling is “necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading”.

Meanwhile, food manufacturers will be permitted to claim that a food is non-GMO if the ingredients are subject to certain supply chain process controls, and cannot state or imply that non-GMO foods are safer than GMO foods.

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Science, not fear, should guide food labeling laws

CONGRESS CREATED MANDATORY nationwide food labels, and it is Congress that has a responsibility to ensure they don’t stray from their original purpose of providing valid health and safety information to consumers. With that goal in mind, the Senate should approve controversial legislation that would prevent states from requiring food makers to add misleading and superfluous data to labels.

The legislation comes as a response to states like Vermont and Maine that have required food makers to disclose whether ingredients come from genetically modified food. “Genetically modified” is a slippery term — virtually all crops have been genetically modified by humans over the last 10,000 years — but has become a fashionable concern among some consumers.
Unlike calorie counts or allergen warnings, though, whether or not a food has come from a genetically modified source has no relationship to its health or safety. States that have mandated its inclusion next to legitimate health information are piggybacking on the credibility of food labels to imply that genetically modified foods are also a health or nutrition factor — which study after study has shown is not the case.

Other critics of genetically modified foods admit they’re safe to eat, but fall back on a political argument to justify the mandatory labeling laws. They say it’s really about the economics, and that consumers want to know whether their food comes from the big corporations that develop and profit from genetically modified seeds.

But that’s an even more pernicious reason to mandate labeling, one that would inappropriately redefine the purpose of food-labeling laws. Just because some consumers may have a political or superstitious interest in some bit of information about food has never meant that it would get the official sanction that comes with inclusion in labeling law. For instance, the government doesn’t require produce companies to say whether their berries were picked by Democrats or Republicans, or whether they were packaged by a Capricorn. Yes, it’s just information, and companies can provide it voluntarily if they wish, but requiring it would open a Pandora’s box.
It’s alarming that Congress could soon pass a bill that aims to keep consumers in the dark.

States that have tried to add content about genetically modified ingredients to food labels are undermining the credibility of the labeling system, which consumers will ignore if they lose trust that it’s based on science. Indeed, the labeling legislation is the rare issue where the scientific community has aligned with Republicans, who’ve led the effort to preempt the state laws. The House has passed its version of the legislation to safeguard the integrity of food labeling laws, and the Senate should follow suit. Republicans have a great chance to disprove critics who’ve long accused them of anti-scientific bias, and they should take it.


Unhealthy Fixation

The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fearmongering, errors, and fraud. Labeling them will not make you safer.

Is genetically engineered food dangerous? Many people seem to think it is. In the past five years, companies have submitted more than 27,000 products to the Non-GMO Project, which certifies goods that are free of genetically modified organisms. Last year, sales of such products nearly tripled. Whole Foods will soon require labels on all GMOs in its stores. Abbott, the company that makes Similac baby formula, has created a non-GMO version to give parents “peace of mind.” Trader Joe’s has sworn off GMOs. So has Chipotle.

Some environmentalists and public interest groups want to go further. Hundreds of organizations, including Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Center for Food Safety, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are demanding “mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.” Since 2013, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have passed laws to require GMO labels. Massachusetts could be next.

 The central premise of these laws—and the main source of consumer anxiety, which has sparked corporate interest in GMO-free food—is concern about health. Last year, in a survey by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans said it’s generally “unsafe to eat genetically modified foods.” Vermont says the primary purpose of its labeling law is to help people “avoid potential health risks of food produced from genetic engineering.” Chipotle notes that 300 scientists have “signed a statement rejecting the claim that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption.” Until more studies are conducted, Chipotle says, “We believe it is prudent to take a cautious approach toward GMOs.”

The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all declared that there’s no good evidence GMOs are unsafeHundreds of studies back up that conclusion. But many of us don’t trust these assurances. We’re drawn to skeptics who say that there’s more to the story, that some studies have found risks associated with GMOs, and that Monsanto is covering it up.

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes.



Astrue: Pols push unsound science on food

Bill would require GMO labeling, forcing prices up

Many of my friends praise Whole Foods Market but add, “Their prices are high.” Many market factors drive those prices. For instance, selling diverse and extremely fresh produce, particularly seafood, is expensive.

The prices at Whole Foods also tend to be more expensive than prices at other grocery stores because Whole Foods offers products to consumers who are willing to pay more for local and organic food as well as for food that is free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Given the difficulty of tracking food and identifying which ingredients include GMOs and which do not, Whole Foods cannot fully meet its own GMO goals until 2018.

But 2018 is not fast enough for state Reps. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) and Todd Smola (R-Warren), who introduced H. 3242, which would mandate GMO labeling of most foods, beverages, and animal feed sold in Massachusetts by 2017. Their bill relies on tired scare tactics, not sound science.

When addressing similar initiatives, an opinion writer in The New York Times aptly declared, “Nearly every respected scientific association — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Medical Association and American Society of Plant Biologists — has attested to the safety of GMO crops for one simple reason: scientific evidence indicates that the consumption of genetically modified crops is not harmful or nutritionally inferior.”

However, one cannot persuade anti-GMO advocates with science because, like the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, in the absence of data showing any harm from GMOs, they rely on an ideology in an almost religious way; their faith cannot be shaken no matter how often science proves them wrong.

Vermont, which specializes in early adoption of bad ideas, is the only state that requires GMO labeling, and its law does not take effect until next year; two other New England states have passed laws conditioned on neighboring states passing similar bills. If Massachusetts follows Vermont, it will generate a cascade of problems, including problems for key constituencies of the bill’s sponsors.

Zealots argue that there are no costs associated with these regulatory burdens, but, if GMO labelling were easy and cheap, Whole Foods could complete the task before 2018. If the Story-Smola bill passes, prices for steak, tofu, arugula and Doritos will increase. Pet food prices will increase. The price of a six-pack will increase. More importantly for some consumers, many national suppliers of food, beverages and pet food will withdraw products from the Massachusetts market just as auto insurance companies did when Massachusetts adopted uniquely burdensome regulatory rules.

True environmentalists should worry about this legislation because its regulatory burdens would break fragile Massachusetts farms serving consumers who want “locavore” (locally grown) food. When these farms can no longer make their small profits, the land that once provided food for our tables will almost surely be gobbled up by urban sprawl.

Congress assigned responsibility for food labeling to the Food and Drug Administration, which trumps inconsistent state laws. While lawyers litigate, our farmers, brewers, bakers and others should not be stampeded into gathering volumes of highly technical information that is difficult—if not impossible—to compile. The free market is working just fine as it is — those who insist on paying more for food that fits their ideology can buy it. Why force the vast majority of consumers to shop for food as if the only option were a Cambridge Whole Foods?

If resources are available at the Department of Public Health to enforce this legislation, then most of us would agree they would be better spent reducing opiate addiction or educating the public about actual health risks, such as obesity, smoking or dangerous sexual behavior. Enforcing a right to GMO-free cat food for aspiring YouTube stars would be a sad statement of our priorities.

Michael Astrue is a former commissioner of Social Security and a former general counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Talk back at


Fears, Not Facts, Support G.M.O.-Free Food

Despite myriad assurances from scientists that foods containing genetically modified ingredients are safe to eat, consumers are likely to see more and more products labeled “G.M.O.-free” in the not-too-distant future. As happened with the explosion of gluten-free products, food companies are quick to cash in on what they believe consumers want regardless of whether it is scientifically justified.

Responding to consumer concerns about genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s, in foods, as well as individual company and state actions on G.M.O. labeling, the Department of Agriculture last month announced a voluntary certification program that food companies would pay for to have their products labeled G.M.O.-free.

By the end of the month, Abbott, the maker of Similac Advance, began selling a G.M.O.-free version of the nation’s leading commercial baby formula (it already has such a product, sold as Similac Organic) to give consumers “peace of mind”.

In April, Chipotle Mexican Grill announced it would start preparing foods with no G.M.O.s, although the restaurant will not be free of such ingredients.

Last year, Vermont passed a law requiring the labeling of foods that contain G.M.O.s (Connecticut and Maine have labeling laws that will go into effect only when surrounding states also pass them). And Whole Foods Market, with 410 stores in 42 states, Canada and Britain, announced that it would require all foods they sell with G.M.O.s to be so labeled by 2018.

G.M.O. labeling is already required in 64 countries, including those of the European Union; Russia; Japan; China; Australia; Brazil; and a number of countries in Africa, where despite rampant food scarcity and malnutrition, American exports that could save millions of lives have been rejected because the crops contained G.M.O.s.

However, a review of the pros and cons of G.M.O.s strongly suggests that the issue reflects a poor public understanding of the science behind them, along with a rebellion against the dominance of food and agricultural conglomerates. The anti-G.M.O. movement, I’m afraid, risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What is needed is a dispassionate look at what G.M.O.s mean and their actual and potential good, not just a fear of harmful possibilities.

Let’s start with the facts. Humans have been genetically modifying food and feed plants and animals for millenniums, until recently only by repeatedly crossing existing ones with relatives that have more desirable characteristics. It can take many years, even decades, to achieve a commercially viable product this way because unwanted traits can come in the resulting hybrids. While it may be nice to have a tomato that can withstand long-distance travel, the fruit also has to ripen evenly and, most important, taste good.

Genetic engineering makes it possible to achieve a desired outcome in one generation. It introduces only a single known gene or small group of genes that dictate production of desired proteins into a plant, imparting characteristics such as tolerance of frost, drought or salt, or resistance to disease or weed killer. The technique can also be used to enhance a plant’s growth or content of an essential nutrient, or, in the case of animals, reduce the feed they need.

Thus, Golden Rice, genetically enhanced to be rich in beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, can counter blindness in rice-dependent populations; another gene inserted into rice increases its iron content to fight iron-deficiency anemia; a gene from ocean poutspeeds the growth of farmed salmon, reducing its dependence on wild fish feed; and a bacterial gene inserted into the DNA of cornenables it to better withstand drought.

The often-voiced concern that introducing genes from different species is unnatural and potentially dangerous ignores the fact that all living organisms, including humans, share thousands, even millions of genes with other species (we share 84 percent of our genes with dogs!).

As for safety, every G.M.O. must be evaluated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency before it can be marketed. Developers must test the product for toxicity and allergenicity as well as assure that its nutrient content is at least as good as its non-G.M.O. counterpart.

Yes, this depends on the developer’s honesty, but note: There is no such testing required for traditionally bred foods, any number of which are known to cause life-threatening reactions in some people.Many popular non-G.M.O. foods, including broccoli, mushrooms and carrots, contain natural toxins, though the foods are not harmful to people when consumed in normal amounts. Kiwis, with hundreds of novel proteins, many of which have allergic potential, were never tested for allergenicity before they were marketed.

Peanuts, shellfish, celery and strawberries have not been banned despite some people being allergic to them. It may even be possible to use genetic engineering to get rid of the allergenic proteins in such foods.

Other actual and potential applications of the technique include using bacteria outfitted with the human insulin gene to produce insulin to treat diabetes; using a yeast with a gene for chymosin from the stomach lining of calves to churn out a vegetarian version of the enzyme needed to produce cheese; and employing various genetically modified organisms to produce vast quantities of vaccines, antibodies or drugs rapidly and inexpensively.

Safety testing of G.M.O.s often goes beyond their intended use. In an effort to enrich soybeans used for animal feed with the amino acid methionine, a gene from Brazil nuts was used. But when testing showed that people allergic to Brazil nuts produced antibodies to the protein in engineered soybeans, research on the modified beans was abandoned.

A legitimate safety concern involves possible delayed deleterious effects of genetically modified products on consumers, the environment or the “balance” of nature. As with an organism’s natural genes, introduced ones can mutate or disrupt the function of neighboring genes. Thus, continued monitoring of their effects is essential and, as with defective cars, malfunctioning products may have to be recalled.

Are there risks to G.M.O.s that scientists have yet to consider or discover? Of course there are. Nothing in this life is risk-free, but that is not enough reason to reject valuable scientific advances.

Another objection to G.M.O.s, however, could jeopardize the government’s ability to certify products as G.M.O.-free: G.M.O. seeds can sometimes escape where they’re grown and contaminate fields of non-G.M.O. crops, and scores of minor ingredients in food products, like cornstarch, may be derived from a G.M.O. crop. While there are no guarantees, the best way for concerned consumers to avoid G.M.O. products is to choose those certified as organic, which the U.S.D.A. requires to be G.M.O.-free.

USDA develops government label for GMO-free products


WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department has developed a new government certification and labeling for foods that are free of genetically modified ingredients.

The USDA’s move comes as consumer groups push for mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Several states, including Vermont, are moving to require labeling of food containing GMOs in the face of industry opposition.

The federal certification is the first of its kind and would be voluntary — and companies would have to pay for it. If approved, the foods would be able to carry a “USDA Process Verified” label along with a statement that they are free of GMOs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined the department’s plan in a May 1 letter to employees, saying the certification was being done at the request of a “leading global company,” which he did not identify. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

Right now, there are no government labels that only certify a food as GMO-free. Many companies use a private label developed by a nonprofit called the Non-GMO Project. The USDA organic label also certifies that foods are free of genetically modified ingredients, but many non-GMO foods aren’t organic.

Vilsack said the USDA certification is being created through the department’s Agriculture Marketing Service, which works with interested companies to certify the accuracy of the claims they are making on food packages — think “humanely raised” or “no antibiotics ever.” Companies pay the Agricultural Marketing Service to verify a claim, and if approved, they can market the foods with the USDA process verified label.

“Recently, a leading global company asked AMS to help verify that the corn and soybeans it uses in its products are not genetically engineered so that the company could label the products as such,” Vilsack wrote in the letter. “AMS worked with the company to develop testing and verification processes to verify the non-GE claim.”

A USDA spokesman confirmed that Vilsack sent the letter but declined to comment on the certification program. Vilsack said in the letter that the certification “will be announced soon, and other companies are already lining up to take advantage of this service.”

Genetically modified foods come from seeds that are originally engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. GMO corn and soybeans are also made into common processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

The government says GMOs on the market now are safe and that mandatory labels aren’t needed. Consumer advocates pushing for mandatory labeling say shoppers still have a right to know what is in their food, arguing that not enough is known about the effects of the technology. They have supported several state efforts to require labeling, with the eventual goal of having a federal standard.

The USDA label is similar to what is proposed in a GOP House bill introduced earlier this year that is designed to block those mandatory GMO labeling efforts around the country. The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., provides for USDA certification but would not make it mandatory. The bill also would override any state laws that require the labeling.

The food industry, which backs Pompeo’s bill, has strongly opposed individual state efforts to require labeling, saying labels would be misleading because GMOs are safe.

Vermont became the first state to require the labeling in 2014, and that law will go into effect next year if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry.

A spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the major food industry trade group that challenged the Vermont law, said, “We are interested in this development and look forward to engaging with the department” on the labels.

Corporate irresponsibility over GMOs

washington post

Pass any Chipotle these days — and it is my gastronomic preference to pass rather than enter — and you will see signs claiming credit for removing ingredients that contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from the menu. It is the first big chain to do so, and probably not the last. The business press has pronounced it “a savvy move to impress millennials” and a “bet on the younger generations in America.”

This milestone in the history of fast-food scruples (and of advertising) is also a noteworthy cultural development: the systematic incorporation of anti-scientific attitudes into corporate branding strategies. There is no credible evidence that ingesting a plant that has been swiftly genetically modified in a lab has a different health outcome than ingesting a plant that has been slowly genetically modified through selective breeding. The National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization have concluded that GMOs are safe to eat. This scientific consensus is at least as strong as the one on human-caused climate change.

Yet Whole Foods promises “full GMO transparency” by 2018. Its Web site emphasizes “your right to know.” But you will search the site in vain for any explanation of how or why GMOs are harmful, because an actual assertion would not withstand scrutiny. Evidently your right to know does not include serious scientific arguments. Chipotle co-chief executive Steve Ells set out his rationale this way: “They say these ingredients are safe, but I think we all know we’d rather have food that doesn’t contain them.”

“They” say. “We” know. It brought to mind an argument made by Dan Kahanof Yale in the journal Nature concerning global warming. If you are, say, a Republican in the Deep South, your capacity to confront global climate disruption directly is vanishingly small (assuming that you think it is a problem). And the cost of bucking your neighbors on the issue may be considerable. They are likely to view you as an oddity or a turncoat, and to question your judgment on other matters. So the decision to conform to the views of your cultural group or team, while not heroic, is not irrational. (The same argument could be made about the team composed of enlightened corporate chief executives.)

“The trouble starts,” says Kahan, “when this communication environment fills up with toxic partisan meanings — ones that effectively announce that ‘if you are one of us, believe this; otherwise, we’ll know you are one of them.’ ” This use of scientific opinion as a cultural signifier is evident in the vaccination debate. A certain kind of trendy parent believes that everything natural is preferable, forgetting that natural levels of mortality from childhood diseases are high. It is the same ideological impulse — the belief that nature is pure and artifice is unwholesome — that causes corporate leaders to spout pseudoscientific nonsense about GMOs, while employing the issue as a cultural marker.

Although it may be rational for people to conform to the views of their team, the problem comes when those individual decisions are tallied up. As opinions on climate have become a cultural identifier, the prospects of legislative action on the issue have faded. When it comes to vaccines, herd ideology can disrupt herd immunity, leaving kids with dangerous and preventable diseases.

What is being lost as GMOs become a trendy identifier? Directly, probably not much. Genetically altered plants — which resist drought and disease, control pests without the spraying and runoff of chemicals, allow no-till farming, prevent soil erosion and limit greenhouse gas emissions — are too wildly popular with farmers to be stigmatized out of existence. About 90 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are GMOs.

But Chipotle, Whole Foods and those who follow their examples are doing real social harm. They are polluting public discourse on scientific matters. They are legitimizing an approach to science that elevates Internet medical diagnosis, social media technological consensus and discredited studies in obscure journals. They are contributing to a political atmosphere in which people pick their scientific views to fit their ideologies, predispositions and obsessions. And they are undermining public trust in legitimate scientific authority, which undermines the possibility of rational public policy on a range of issues.

Whatever the intention of those involved, embracing pseudoscience as the centerpiece of an advertising and branding effort is an act of corporate irresponsibility.


Junk Science Has Infiltrated the GMO Debate in Maine


In 2014, Maine became the second state to adopt a law requiring labels identifying all products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.  Like Connecticut’s law, which was the first of its kind in the nation, Maine’s GMO labeling law will only go into effect if four other states adopt a similar requirement.  Some Maine activists, however, are pushing to abolish the four state requirement and implement mandatory labeling immediately.

Proponents of labeling claim that there is something inherently dangerous about GMOs.  The scientific consensus on GMO foods, however, is that they are as safe to consume as “traditional” foods.  Why then, do so many Mainers sincerely believe that GMOs are inherently dangerous?

Anti-GMO Activists Engage in Parallel Science

The last several years has seen an increase in what Marcel Kuntz, Director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, calls “parallel science.”

“Political ecologists–commentators in the media and among NGO advocacy groups–like science…when it confirms their views. When it contradicts them, rather than changing their minds, they often prefer to change the science to fit their ideology. They have thus created a “parallel science.”

In parallel science, activists dismiss political opponents as having conflicted interests, having ties to the industry, or being biased.  They then label the research backing their own views as “independent.”  In this way, activists can disregard the mainstream scientific consensus in favor of fringe scientists and research that backs their own particular ideology.  In order to maintain their ideology, activists must disengage from the scientific process while creating a separate, parallel work of scientific research that appears to justify their viewpoint.

In Maine, parallel science has reared its ugly head in the debate over GMO labeling.  Advocates push junk science, while refusing to look at the vast collection of research affirming the safety of products containing GMOs.

Anti-GMO activists like to claim that there are only a few studies on GMOs that can really be trusted–the ones that agree with their ideological viewpoint.  For example, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardiners Association (MOFGA) states on its website, “The few unbiased studies conducted outside the aegis of the biotech manufacturers have indicated that various GE organisms may threaten human health[.]”  Here, MOFGA is engaging in parallel science by claiming (1) all mainstream research on GMOs is biased, and (2) there are only a few independent studies that can really be trusted.

The truth is, GMOs have been the subject of a vast collection of research.  In a survey, Italian researchers cataloged over 1700 studies showing that GMOs had no significant health risks.  “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops,” the researchers concluded.

As of January, only 300 scientists have signed a petition claiming that there is no consensus on GMO safety.  Compare that to the tens of thousands of scientists who have signed petitions opposing the scientific consensus on man-made global warming.  Yet in popular culture, man-made global warming is treated as scientific fact, whereas GMO safety is treated as a conspiracy propagated by corporations like Monsanto.

Anti-GMO Advocates Push Junk Science

Perhaps the most widely used, and seemingly most damning, case cited in these debates is a study by Gilles-Eric Séralini purporting to prove that rats who had been fed pesticide resistant corn developed mammary tumors and liver disease and died shortly thereafter.

That study was, and still is, widely publicized by activists even as mainstream scientists have denounced it.  The study was retracted by the journal it was published in, with the editor stating that the study didn’t hold up to the necessary research standards.  No study since then has been able to replicate Séralini’s results.  Even with this almost universal backlash among mainstream scientists, activists continue to submit the study as proof that GMOs are dangerous.

In Maine, the retracted study continues to be passed around carelessly.  In a recent blog post, former Senate candidate Cynthia Dill wrote, “There isn’t any research that says genetically modified food is dangerous? Have you fallen off your horse? There’s plenty!”  The website she links to cites the retracted rat study as one of 10 studies “proving” that GMOs are unhealthy.  The retracted study also shows up in testimonies submitted on GMO labeling legislation, and was referenced by Maine State Rep. Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) in a floor speech on LD 718, the original GMO labeling bill.

The Path Forward

The fact is, most reputable organizations and scientists agree that GMOs are not dangerous, and the almost hysterical fight for GMO labeling laws is steeped in junk science.  People and organizations across Maine are waking up to the truth about GMOs even as activists push their parallel science.

In an editorial last month, the Portland Press Herald walked back a 2013 statement that the science on GMOs was “unclear.”  Now the newspaper admits that there is a strong scientific consensus supporting consumption of GMOs.  “Critics of GMOs say the FDA does not properly enforce its rules, or that the research upholding the safety of genetically modified food is supported by GMO producers themselves,” states the editorial. “But, again, those claims do not hold up.”

As Maine citizens and legislators look into GMOs, they’re finding that the available data and research isn’t as limited as anti-GMO activists claim.  As Mainers come in line with the scientific consensus on GMOs, parallel science and hyperbolic claims will fall by the wayside.

How I Got Converted to G.M.O. Food

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Proposed Federal Legislation Would Create Label For GMO-Free Foods

U.S. House Republicans are proposing a new government certification for foods free of genetically modified ingredients. The idea is part of an attempt to block mandatory labeling of foods that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The certification would be voluntary, says Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican who is including the idea in legislation he plans to introduce Wednesday.

Pompeo says a government-certified label would allow companies that want to advertise their foods as GMO-free to do so, but it would not be mandatory for others. The food industry, which backs Pompeo’s bill, has strongly opposed individual state efforts to require labeling, saying labels would be misleading because GMOs are safe. The bill would also override any state laws that require the labeling.

Under the legislation, the Agriculture Department would oversee the certification, as it does with organics. But while organic foods must be USDA-certified to carry any organic label on a package, the USDA non-GMO certification would not be required for every food that bills itself as non-GMO. The idea is that the USDA-certified non-GMO foods would have a special government label that companies could use to market their foods. The bill also steps up FDA review of genetically modified foods.

Pompeo says inconsistent state laws would be confusing and costly for consumers and for companies. Vermont became the first state to require the labeling in 2014, and that will go into effect next year if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry.

He said he is working with his party’s leadership and also the Senate to try to pass the bill this year.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. They are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

The FDA says GMOs on the market now are safe, but consumer advocates pushing for the labeling say shoppers have a right to know what is in their food, arguing that not enough is known about the effects of the technology.

Proof he’s the Science Guy: Bill Nye is changing his mind about GMOs

washington post

Backstage after an appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Nye said an upcoming revision to his book would contain a rewritten chapter on GMOs. “I went to Monsanto,” Nye said, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.”

How Scare Tactics on GMO Foods Hurt Everybody


If Vermont had honestly assessed genetically engineered crops, the bill would have indicated that there is not a single credible report of dangerous health effects from GMOs and that there is no science-based reason to single out the resulting foods for mandatory labeling. It would have mentioned that the technology has been used safely in food and medicine for 30 years. It would have stated that farmers’ use of GMO crops has reduced by a factor of 10 the amount of insecticides sprayed on corn over the last 15 years, reduced food costs, decreased carbondioxide emissions, and enhanced biological diversity.

GMOs are a key tool to addressing global hunger


EACH YEAR several million children either die or suffer irreparable developmental defects because of vitamin A deficiency. Countless others are harmed by malnutrition and starvation. Yet many of these deaths would be preventable if we addressed them head on and used the tools that exist to stop them.

One of the key tools is the use of genetically modified organisms, known better as GMOs. Modern genetic engineering makes producing GMO food products relatively easy. GMOs can improve crop yield and greatly enhance the nutritional value of those same crops.



But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends. To make Arctic apples, biologists took genes from Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, modified them to suppress the enzyme that causes browning, and reinserted them in the leaf tissue. It’s a lot more accurate than traditional methods, which involve breeders hand-pollinating blossoms in hopes of producing fruit with the desired trait. Biologists also introduce genes to make plants pest- and herbicide-resistant; those traits dominate the more than 430 million acres of GMO crops that have already been planted globally. Scientists are working on varieties that survive disease, drought, and flood.

So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.