Food labels. In their Ask Well blog, The New York Times addressed an issue that our own researcher Roni Neff has been tackling for some time: the confusion that surrounds food labels. All those “best by” and “sell by” dates may be contributing to unnecessary food waste, and misleading consumers. The Times story is here. For more on Roni’s research, read this story, published by Johns Hopkins Public Health magazine.
Good news for the Bay. This week, the U.S. Third Court of Appeals upheld a Chesapeake Read More >
Monsanto conducted studies to evaluate the toxicity of genetically modified (GM) corn on rats as part of European regulatory registry of GM food and feed, prior to commercialization. To our knowledge, only a summary of the findings were made available to the public (for examples see European Food Safety Authority reports NK603, MON863). Greenpeace sued Monsanto to access the original study data, which it then passed along to French investigator Dr. Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, who published a reanalysis of the Monsanto study.
Flickr Creative Commons
Unlike what was concluded in the Monsanto study, Vendomois’ group’s reanalysis found consumption of GM corn to be associated with rat kidney and liver toxicity. The strains of GM corn evaluated in the study (NK 603, MON 810 and MON 863) contained residues of chemicals that allow the plants to tolerate herbicides or insecticides, such as Round-up.
Online sources were quick to cite the GM corn article as evidence of the ills of GM crops. At the time of this writing, social bookmarking sites Reddit and Digg had a combined total of 4,341 tags/votes for a single Huffington Post article about GM corn study.
It is useful that the Huffington Post is raising awareness of GM foods debate; what is concerning is that the media coverage of the study appears to muddle the study conclusions.
Dr. Vendômois and colleagues are quick to say their findings are merely “signs of toxicity rather than proofs of toxicity”; no mention of organ failure in rats is made in the article. This is in contrast with the Huffington Post story that uses organ failure in the title, Monsanto’s GMO Corn Linked To Organ Failure, Study Reveals, and the follow-up story, Monsanto GM Corn Causing Organ Failure In Rats Study: Everything You Need To Know, which further exaggerated study findings to imply a causal link between GM corn consumption and organ failure. Link and causation are distinct concepts and are not interchangeable. Overextending the study’s findings is unwarranted, especially given the study authors’ reservation regarding the quality (and quantity) of the Monsanto data. A similar opinion was expressed from another online source. Read More >
Monsanto brand corn used all over the world; courtesy of Flickr
In recent weeks some 280 South African corn farmers went to harvest their corn and discovered that although the exterior of the plants looked lush the interior was bare. An article by the Digital Journal reports that millions of dollars were lost to farmers when their three varieties of Monsanto brand corn seeds failed to produce. Monsanto’s “on the record” statement that 75,000 hectares, or 25 percent of the total planted hectares were damaged while other sources choose to emphasize an 80 percent reduction in crop yield for some farmers. Many activists are taking this opportunity to criticize genetically modified (GM) seeds and food in efforts to ban their use in South Africa. Monsanto insists that there was no error in the production technology, rather in the fertilization process and has offered to compensate affected farmers in this instance.
My criticism is focused not at the broad category that is GM but at the single company that has come to control the world’s agricultural production and transitively the fates of many countries. The problem is that Monsanto is a monopoly in global GM seed production and sales. When their seeds prove as unreliable as they have been, the world’s (or at least the countries that depend on Monsanto products, primarily India, Brazil and South Africa) ability to feed itself and all the economic and political complications that follow famine are at the mercy of one company. And that is what it comes down to, Monsanto is a company and its goal is ultimately profit, not the welfare of the people who rely on them. Read More >