Five essential reasons why Tom Colicchio, celebrity chef, is wrong about biotechnology

Yesterday, published an interview with celebrity chef Tom Colicchio about his petition to label foods that contain ingredients from crops grown from seeds, which are bred by a breeding method not approved for the organic industry. Colicchio is the co-founder of Food Policy Action, an organization run by a “who’s who” of people with a financial stake that depends on scaring people about our food supply. When Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farms, Joshua Brau of Chipotle, Marni Karlin of the Organic Trade Association, and Britt Lundgren of Stonyfield Farms are all involved, rest assured the demonization of science is not far behind. This head judge of Top Chef showed off his lack of critical thinking by simply regurgitating all of the typical anti-biotechnology talking points promoted by the primitive food movement.
“I don’t necessarily believe that GMOs are inherently dangerous. I think in some instances, GMOs can be very helpful. They do show a lot of promise, but I still believe that people have a right to know what’s in their food. If I choose to opt out of supporting these kinds of practices, I should have the ability to know and make my decision.”
Colicchio fails to recall that voluntary labels already serve this purpose. For many years now Jews and Muslims have had a similar desire to know what was in their food, and labels for their dietary restrictions are actually quite prevalent. If his customers are concerned about the breeding method of seed, the way Jews and Muslims are concerned about pork and shellfish, he can label his menus accordingly. Starting with the claim that he doesn’t think “GMOs are inherently dangerous” but thinks they deserve mandatory labels, he sounds similar to: an anti-vaxxer chanting “I am not anti-vax, I am just pro-vax safety”, a young earth creationist chanting about “micro versus macro evolution”, or a climate change denier chanting “sure we are emitting greenhouse gasses, they just aren’t actually contributing to a greenhouse effect.”
“Everyone from Big Ag to food companies are behind the DARK Act. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is supporting it and so are companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dow.”
This argument is extremely irrelevant. Colicchio actually doesn’t understand why biotechnology companies would fight to have warning labels that appears to be scaring people about their product, and which the people behind his own organization have been terrifying people about for almost 30 years? He isn’t going to mention the vested interest of those who oppose the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (in which he parrots the nickname given by organic marketing teams)? “Corporation” is not an argument for or against something. Big Pharma may screw up sometimes, but most people are quite happy with the way it has a habit of saving lives.  Nevertheless because people like celebrity chefs do not fear hunger, they can scare people about a technology that can be used as one tool to fight malnutrition.
“There are plenty of studies that show that organic farming can feed the world as well. There are plenty of other ways to boost yields. Listen, Monsanto also does regular breeding in addition to GE breeding and they are finding that a lot of these conventional methods offer better yields. It’s a tool that we should be using, but it’s not the only tool we should be using. Right now, we as a nation waste about 40 percent of what we produce. How about we waste less food if we want to talk about feeding the world?”
Nice straw man argument, Tom ! No one is saying that genetic engineering is the only tool we should be using.  It is quite the contradiction to say that, while also admitting that Monsanto uses other methods. In Genetically modified crops and agricultural development, Matin Qaim explains, “GM technologies will not replace conventional breeding, rather both approaches are highly complementary. Locally adapted varieties contain a large bundle of various characteristics that cannot easily be designed through genetic engineering. However, genetic engineering can be used to add individual traits of interest to such locally adapted varieties. Second, GM technologies can help to conserve varietal diversity. Previously, when a superior new variety was developed, farmers often adopted this new variety, abandoning a larger number of old varieties and landraces. Now new GM traits can be introgressed into many existing varieties.”
Sometimes genetic engineering can create higher yields, sometimes it cannot. From time to time it can reduce pesticide usage, but sometimes it can’t. This disparity is based on countless factors. For example, the impacts of Bt crops will vary depending on the farming techniques used prior to their introduction. Australia, which was already using modern farming practices, did not see an increase in yield. What they did see was a 48% decrease in insecticide usage. The Philippines, which already was not using many insecticides compared to other countries, saw only a 5% decrease in insecticide use, but a staggering 34% increase in yield because their crops were not being consumed by pests as much.
Source – Matin Qaim:Genetically modified crops and agricultural development Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016, (ISBN: 978-1-137-40571-5)
What about food waste? Developed nations produce and consume a lot of food. So much so that a lot of it is wasted. This is a problem that we agree on. Climate change might be eased by a reduction in food waste, whereas malnutrition and famine would probably not. True famine is only occurring in countries where food aid is being prevented from entering areas where it is needed such as North Korea where food aid from the United States is turned down. The Famine Early Warning System is now in place saving lives around the globe. Better access to agricultural technology could actually help reduce food waste, rather than increase it. Better infrastructure in developing nations would help food get to the consumers faster and increase shelf life through refrigeration. Food waste campaigns often have little impact on the developing world because they are almost based on food waste happening in developed countries. A recent report from the Copenhagen Consensus Center estimates that for every $1 spent investing in developing world agriculture to reduce postharvest losses the return would be $13.
“They’re being politicians. They’re just protecting their funding stream, and I get that, it’s politics. I guarantee that on hundred other issues, Pompeo [who introduced the bill]  would be all for states’ rights. Now all of a sudden, it’s like ‘to hell with the states, we need a federal bill.’ We believe the same. We need a federal bill to label all transgenic GMO foods.”
This same argument goes both ways. Senator Jon Tester, who is fighting for mandatory labels based on just the one breeding method, just so happens to run a large organic farm. Senator Murkowski of Alaska wants to label transgenic salmon, because it might compete with the Alaska salmon industry.  Even Bernie Sanders is fighting against science because Vermont happens to be one of the top five states producing organic products. Even the argument about states’ rights can be used both ways. The organic industry fought hard in the 80s and 90s for a voluntary federal standard certification label in an attempt to prevent conflicting state standards that might confuse consumers. Sounds exactly like the argument the GMA is using now.
“It’s gotten far worse. The ag-gag laws in place are ridiculous. On the other hand, more and more we see people asking for more information about food supply. Look at what’s going on in Flint, Michigan with the water supply. These are basic things that we should be able to get right and who is it affecting? Largely poor people. We need to be more transparent and we need to look at the health of our population.”
Ag-gag laws are a complete red herring in this discussion. Animal welfare has nothing to do with whether or not one breeding method, out of many, needs to be labeled on food. Even PETA wants this technology to help animals, so there can be genetically engineered cows that don’t have horns.  Is Tom concerned about the welfare of pigs being bred with an extra set of ribs for the sole purpose of having an extra set of ribs on the dinner plate? Something completely unregulated because it was done with artificial selection. This has even led tomale turkeys with such large breasts, that the only way to breed them is through artificial insemination. Is that not information worth sharing with his customers? Flint, Michigan was the result of the government failing to use private industry to get the chemicals needed to treat the water (organophosphates, I might add). The breeding method of plant seeds does not give the consumer any information whatsoever on health or nutrition, and probably would serve as a distraction from information on things like calories and nutrition content, which matter most and also determine health and nutritional needs. Has anyone produced a correlation graph comparing organic food sales and adult obesity rates?
Democracy may be about making our voices heard, but as a republic we also have a duty to ensure that mob rule does not uphold. I agree with Mr. Colicchio when he says that everything in our kitchen is touched by policy, shouldn’t we make sure the policy is based on facts and not fear?

Into the belly of the beast. My day at an integrative health conference.

“You here? Smells like woo and essential oils.”

“It smells like kombucha or something.”

Those were the texts I received from my two fellow science communicators as we all arrived separately at HealthFest 2016, an integrative health conference in Washington, DC. As I first entered the vendor room, I immediately realized that I was surrounded by pseudoscience. Acupuncture, reiki, chiropractic, healing stones, holistic dentistry, and also college recruiters for bachelors and masters degrees in pseudoscience. That pseudoscience stuff you read about online and think that people surely cannot believe in this, turns out they really do. The event was also graced by the transcendental meditation cult recruiters in the back corner.DSC05509

As I collected the obligatory free pens, I noticed something odd about many of the vendors selling wares. I was expecting this would be like an arts and crafts festival I suppose, with homemade chakra stones and other merchandise. What I saw was a room full of victims of multi level marketing schemes. Essential oils, magic rub-on pain relievers, and organic versions of Herbalife. These were people suckered into buying products enabling a pharaoh somewhere to become richer regardless of whether or not any of these products ended up with a consumer.

But I was not there to engage the vendors, I was there to listen to the speakers. Specifically I was intrigued by the history of Charles Gant, a medical doctor and naturopath who was there to capitalize off of the Flint water crisis.

DSC05523The workshop he held there was called, “Flint’s Lead Poisoned Residents CAN Heal”. I walked into the room and was fairly surprised to see that attendance was sparse, maybe about five people including myself. QuackWatchreports that Gant left New York for having his license suspended because he, “practiced the profession with negligence on more than one occasion, practiced his profession fraudulently, engaged in conduct which evidences moral unfitness, filed false reports, received consideration from a third party for patient referrals and failed to maintain accurate records.” He now practices the pseudoscience of naturopathy in Washington, DC.
I purposefully sat in the front row so that there would be no doubt I was recording video of the entire session. In front of the “audience” was an elderly man who was so out of shape that he seemed out of breath just leaning onto a counter. If this is what worrying about chemicals instead of counting calories does to you, grab me a calculator. His lecture started late because of the lack of people in attendance. He kept waiting and made comments about how if everyone in the vendor room realized that 1/3, 1/4, 20% (the amount kept changing) of them were lead poisoned, there would be a stampede to get in.
Like many woo practitioners, he relied on blending fact with fiction. He explained why lead is a problem – Old infrastructures, especially in inner city areas, combined with some poor government decision making. But then he ventured into more familiar pseudoscience territory; the idea that even minute amounts of any substance is dangerously high, that even the amount of lead exposure deemed safe by every major scientific organization on the planet was giving children autism, depression, ADHD, and learning disabilities.  “I assume there is a connection, even if there is not,” he states in a way that essentially sums up every crank out there. His solution to this lead poisoning epidemic appears to be some type of natural genetic modification. He believes that alternative medicine will be found soon to turn genetic switches on and off to prevent lead contamination in the body. His 10-day detox therapy includes colloidal silver (for turning into Papa Smurf), IV therapies (because vaccines needles are bad, but pumping your blood full of vitamin C is good), and oxygen therapy (for when the risk of death is worth getting rid of “toxins”).
I would say that my favorite moment was this quote, “For thousands of years it was thought that…. the good spirits from the volcanic water would take the evil spirits out of the body. And in fact even though they had the terminology a little wrong, they were right! The hot sulfur water causes us to sweat, and sulfur penetrates the surface of our bodies and binds to toxins and out they come.” Somehow he managed to actually prove the skeptics were correct. We have been saying that toxins are the new spirits for years!

Next up to speak was a holistic dentist. Dr. Terry Victor offers services for patients who fear chemicals in the DC area. Profiting off of fluoride fear-mongering, Dr. Victor told us with a straight face that he is proud of a certain chart in his office. He apparently explains to his patients with this visual how meridians from ancient Chinese medicine relate to their teeth. The meridians he is talking about comes from acupuncture, allowing “chi” to flow through the body. I get nervous enough as it is thinking about dentists and needles, the last thing I want is one who practices acupuncture. Especially one who says that a patient with prostate cancer has a tooth connected to it through these meridians. I promise you, I was sober when I wrote that sentence.

Unlike Gant, Victor opened up to questions from potential patients. One young lady who was prescribed specific things by her legitimate dentist, was basically told to stop what she was doing by Victor. Victor compared the minute amounts of fluoride we get for our teeth to the high levels detected naturally in Chinese groundwater.Steven Novella explains the problem. “Fluoridated water in the US has the same level of fluoride as the control or low fluoride groups in the China studies reviewed in the recent article, and the negative association with IQ was only found where fluoride levels were much higher – generally above EPA limits.”
244 Prism Caption Winner!

Of course one of the biggest problems with pseudoscience dentists are filling removals. Like mercury in vaccines, they incite fear about mercury in amalgam fillings. Patients seek out these doctors to have their fillings removed, and new ones placed in. “But composite fillings have their own problems. They cost more than amalgam and often are not covered by insurance. Numerous studies have shown that amalgam significantly outlasts composite, while composite causes more secondary cavities and may contribute to plaque formation.” This might be a nice circle of profit for these dentists, as this one spoke at length on tooth removal and what he uses to replace them. I wish I had access to data comparing cavity rates between holistic dentists and good dentists. He credits the Internet for allowing people to “do their research” and seek him out for filling removal.

Opposing alcohol based mouthwash and fluoride, what is left to put in your mouth? Oil pulling. This is where a person swishes something like sesame oil around in their mouth for 10 – 20 minutes. The term pulling is used to make it sound like “toxins” (evil spirits) are being pulled from your mouth. Swishing liquid around your mouth for that amount of time is probably going to remove some food particles from your mouth, and it may have a small role to play in oral hygiene in some developing parts of the world. People in developing parts of the world do swish water around in their mouth and spit it out after every meal, thus ensuring some food particles and sugars are washed off the teeth. But, again, as Steven Novella concludes, “Oil pulling for general health or any other indication is pure pseudoscience. Detox claims are based on nothing, as all detox claims are. There is no evidence or plausible rationale to recommend oil pulling for any indication other than as a poor substitute for oral care.”DSC05520
Victor ends the workshop with something that made my jaw hit the floor. He talked about a study that showed how the more teeth you have missing, the shorter your expected lifespan. Talk about a case of correlation vs. causation. Did he mean people with poor hygiene are very likely to live shorter lives and that is the only cause? Forget vaccines and other forms of modern medicine that can ensure longer lives. We just need to make sure those missing teeth get filled in everywhere. He went on some crazy rant about how the missing teeth causes you to not begin the digestion process properly leading to all sorts of health problems. Of course most people in the developed world with missing teeth are probably going to get fake ones placed in. The whole topic reeked of kombucha and essential oils.
Two people made that day worth it. The first was blogger Jenny Spitter who brought her son along with her. When her son asked her if everything Gant was saying was true, she didn’t immediately say it was all BS like many skeptics would. She insisted on going home and looking for science and evidence based sources of information so he could come to his own conclusion. Pretty open minded for the author of, “Stop Telling Me I’m Poisoning My Kids.”
IMG_1289The other was Ilana Seidel, an Integrative Medicine Family Medicine physician currently working at the Washington, D.C. Veteran Affairs Medical Center and the GW Center for Integrative Medicine, who approached my other science pal after the dentist’s office manager mentioned his recording of the talk. “As an undergraduate, she shared Reiki with HIV+ patients at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York.” With my We Love GMOs and Vaccines shirt I admitted I was a skeptic, but not that I was going to write about the event. At the time I wasn’t sure if I was going to or not. We don’t plan on actually distributing the audio and video at this point. But we had a very pleasant conversation, and she was not at all hostile about me not believing a word of any of the talk. I told her that in some cases placebos can be beneficial, and she tried to convince us that if we exercised or got massages we were already practicing integrative health. We left essentially agreeing to disagree, but on that day I came to a conclusion . These people are not lying. They are delusional. Vani Hari is not a liar. The dentist is not a liar. Gant is not a liar. Andrew Wakefield is not a liar. They actually believe all of this. You can be honest and wrong, which is something a lot of skeptics don’t get. If this was all some giant scam set up with the purpose to deceive, they would have been hostile to us being there. She wanted to “save us” like a missionary going door to door. I am sure she just believed we were full of evil spirits, I mean toxins, that needed to be pulled out.


Anti-biotech GM Watch’s connections to Maharishi TM cult, industry money

There is one organic industry “froScreen Shot 2016-02-25 at 6.06.43 PMnt group” I check in on more than any other, GM Watch. The organization regularly publishes up to date “news” and opinions about biotech crops. They always seem to be one of the first to publish articles about the latest crank studies that claim to show the benefits of eating like our ancestors did and to demonize modern agriculture. They also serve another purpose, to instantly smear any person or organization that seeks to debunk the myths spread by the primitive food movement, almost in real time.

 Plan on refuting a study that was designed to scare mothers into eating organic food? They will just call you unscientific. Are you a plant scientist studying the effects of different colored lights, but like to volunteer some of your own time debunking myths? They will accuse you of subterfuge and of running a network of hooded figures working for corporations. They are anti-vaccine and are quick to even call crops free of corporate control, vapor ware.

Their hatred of biotechnology knows no bounds. Recently they joined the trend of blaming the effects of the Zika virus on anything they could rather than the mosquitoes actually causing it, essentially because they oppose any type of solution that might come from biotech companies. Limit the population of the number one animal killer of humans? Encourage the production of a recombinant vaccine to immunize populations? No, they just want everyone to put fish in all standing water. A solution that may work in one small village in El Salvador, but can and has lead to fears of a new invasive species elsewhere. As typical anti technology extremists, it is all or nothing with GM Watch. Scientists call for a blend of methods but GM Watch highlights one method as an example and make it seem like that it is all the world needs.

 According to the GM Watch page, started in 1998, it is currently run by Jonathan Matthews and Claire Robinson. Claire Robinson is well known in the anti-biotechnology world. She is currently on the board of advisers of GMO Free USA, a “research” director at Earth Open Source, and part of a dangerous mind control cult called transcendental meditation. The connection with TM is most interesting, because John Fagan was “crowned Raja with Global Responsibility for Food Purity and Safety and for Healthy Invincibility”.   (Raja means Indian king or prince). In this capacity he is charged with creating a global network of labs to use scientific testing methods to verify food purity and quality of Maharishi Vedic Organic products.

John Fagan

Fagan also happens to be a founder of Genetic ID (though no longer affiliated), which has a vested interest in demonizing biotech crops to stay in business. According to the transcendental meditation belief system, the removal of biotech crops from the world food supply will bring about world peace and invincibility for all mankind. Fagan helped kickstart a large “grassroots” campaign against biotech crops when he traveled to England not long before GM Watch was started. Their political party, Natural Law, worked hard to connect all biotech crops with pesticides in the minds of the people there. Even though the first one on the market, a tomato, had no connection with pesticide traits. Their web page also describes how one of the editors, presumably Robinson or Matthews, received money for work done with the Institute for Responsible Technology, another NGO from the same cult.

If Transcendental Meditation sounds familiar, it is because it has made the headlines many times over the decades. The Beatles flirted with the movement a bit, until John and George finally got fed up when the cult founder was accused of making unwanted advances towards Mia Farrow. The organization would go on to be sued in the 80s by its ex members. Patricia Ryan, daughter of the late Senator Leo Ryan, even equated TM to cults like the one started by Rev. Jim Jones whose followers committed mass suicide in the 1970s and killed her father. More recently Fagan and Robinson’s cult would cost tax payers $142,000 when their unvaccinated adherents brought measles back from India. Accusations against the cult also includes the exacerbation of existing psychological problems, leading to a murder on their campus in Fairfield. 

 Not much is known about Jonathan Matthews himself. A resident of Norwich, England he is an administrator of an English language school there. A startling thought considering his willingness to maliciously attack fellow educators. After several people on Twitter mounted an organized attack on my own personal life, he offered them a pedestal on which to stand, so they could claim they were somehow the ones victimized. Matthews was largely responsible for a massive smear campaign against Mark Lynas for the simple crime of the latter changing his mind on biotechnology when presented with evidence, and insinuated that Lynas’ apology speech was but a PR ploy. I asked Mark about his experiences with GM Watch, and he had this to say, “GM Watch is at the extreme end even of the anti-GMO movement. They specialize in smear tactics, innuendo and character assassination. They’re not part of any conversation I want to be involved in. The whole site reeks of hatred.”

Hatred seems to be an accurate word to use. GM Watch is part of a large network of web pages that use similar techniques to push their agenda. Spin Watch, which Claire Robinson also writes for, seems to have “a keen interest in the Jews“, and is very anti immigration.

 For someone who seems to distrust any money that originates from corporations, and who goes as far as demonizing the wonderful Gates Foundation, he seems to have no problem accepting corporate money for his own organization. The web page proudly claims to have received funding from the JMG Foundation, created from the estate of the late billionaire tycoon James Goldsmith. It should come as no surprise to anyone then that Matthews hangs onto every word uttered by the son of James Goldsmith, millionaire Zac. Zac Goldmisth has served as editor of The Ecologist and has been promoting the primitive food movement campaigns for quite some time. Recently The Ecologist faced criticism for promoting myths about the zika virus and the transgenic mosquitoes set as a solution. This connection explains their lack of guilt.

Any further doubt about their industry ties are laid to rest considering they receive money from the Sheepdrove Trust. The Sheepdrove Organic Farm and Eco Conference Center was started in the 1990s, with the conference center opening in 2004 featuring anti GMO Prince Charles.

Matthews and Robinson have also received funding from the Isvara Foundation. Their web page was set up by The World Development Movement. Under their new name Global Justice Now, this is the organization that recently issued a report demonizing the Gates Foundation for promoting both vaccines and GMOs. The duo fail to state this conflict of interest whenever they criticize the Gates Foundation. The fact that Matthews and Robinson are connected to tractor companies,  the Isvara Foundation is a product of Ayman Jallad, is just the icing on the cake that alludes to vested interests. Herbicide and insect tolerant crops allow for the reduction of tilling the soil and chemical applications. Something Big Tractor might not be very happy with?

Is Jonathan Matthews another brainwashed victim of Transcendental Meditation? Is he being bankrolled by the billion dollar organic industry to help them sell fear? Does he just want to watch the developing world die of malnutrition from his home in well fed England? I sent him an email with some questions, but he has so far refused to comment. All said and done, he is probably like everyone in the anti biotechnology movement –  fighting against human development.

Zen Honeycutt is motivated by deception

Zen Honeycutt recently made a trip to DC to encourage Senators to vote against the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Spending the day there myself, I really think her group did far more harm than good. They were all dressed up and sponsored by the organic industry, while my small group of pro biotech parents were dressed in jeans and lugging around two kids speaking out against industry. They protested Roundup (an herbicide) at the EPA by holding a “bee die in” (at least a monarch butterfly die in would have had some logic to it), we protested in front of Greenpeace with the son of a developing world farmer directly harmed by first world labeling efforts.

Somehow Zen must have made friends with someone who let her write a piece for The Hill’s Congress blog, a popular non-partisan political newspaper published in Washington, DC. At first I was shocked to see her named attached to this paper, and then I just laughed. Many Senators read this paper, and she just told them what kind of person tends to favor mandatory “GMO” labeling. Even outspoken critics of biotech crops, like the lawyer T. Matthew Phillips, are now questioning her motivations.

via Kevin Folta

Mrs. Honeycutt describes an experience she had at the Borlaug Dialog, an international symposium on global food security first held in 2014. Zen begins her piece by describing a “symposium of GMO chemical company CTOs” that Norman Borlaug founded 101 years ago. Norman Borlaug was born 101 years ago, and biotech crops were not even on the drawing board until the 1970s and 1980s. Her article even borders on libel, calling all of the speakers at the event liars. She even confronted Julie Borlaug with a report titled “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late” about how the UN thinks small organic farming is the future. She missed the part where the report states very clearly that it is an opinion piece and should not be attributed to the UN. As Professor Folta’s graphic perfectly demonstrates, sometimes corporations get the science right, so when college students appear to be saying the same thing as Monsanto it doesn’t mean they are shills.

Our representative of first world problems then proceeds to describe her encounter with Erostus Nsubuga from Uganda. Uganda is the largest per capita consumer of bananas in the world. Independent researchers in Uganda are using public funding to create a “super banana”. The banana is being designed to contain additional vitamin A, iron, and to be resistant to a parasite that sometimes causes crop loss of up to 60%. While Zen claims to not like biotech crops because of concerns about corporations and pesticides, she says Uganda should just give up and stop eating bananas. She thinks Uganda should give up researching a banana that could save the lives of thousands of their citizens, because she has concerns about health in the United States.

Honeycutt’s agenda to promote the American organic food industry does not trump the reality that the myths and misinformation she is spreading is causing real harm in countries that cannot afford to fear seed. She thinks African farmers should not have the choice to use farming techniques that best suits their own land. It is almost like she wants to keep them poor, poorly fed, and reliant on developed nations for aid.

I am stunned by the audacity of any person who thinks other countries should not try to be self-sufficient and feed themselves.  We must be aware that the same organic industry that she is promoting imports much of its food from the countries it is trying to scare, a perfect profit circle for them. There are many solutions that can be used to boost food security in the developing world, and no tools should be demonized. We need to remind farmers that agricultural innovation has been increasing yields for thousands of years. This is a crucial time in history, and the global community must choose between deceptive organic corporate marketing, and protecting our families and prosperity for generations to come.

via Kevin Folta

Why is US tax money being used to help Chipotle get organic rice?

According to the USDA organic survey acres of land growing organic rice is down from 2008 to 2014 by 6.5%, with total farms growing it down to 85 from 101. This shouldn’t be surprising. The 2008 survey also found that organic rice yields are 41% lower than conventional rice. Similar yield gaps can be found in other organic crops, but rice seems to offer its own unique set of challenges. Rice acreage fell for conventional farmers in the US during this time period as well with a combination of severe weather, competition from overseas, and better prices from other crops. Rice in the United States faces threats from disease, weeds, and even shrimp. California appears hardest hit with organic rice farms down to 46 from 73. This, again, makes sense considering the severe drought there. With modern technology, however, some conventional rice farmers there appear to be thriving.

GMO Free USA recently featured an organic farmer growing rice for Chipotle that can’t quite keep up to the demand and is trying to convince other farmers to grow it as well. Chipotle has even taken to calling Steve McKaskle the rice whisperer. This unsustainable method of growing rice destined to be marketed to customers seeking an elitist lifestyle is being made profitable with our tax dollars. While I applaud Mr. McKaskle’s entrepreneurship and ability to adapt to changing markets (a wink to Rob Walbridge), I question the politics behind giving his farm hundreds of thousands of dollars from federal and state governments.

More recently a $1 million USDA grant was announced to study organic rice farming. Dr. Xin-Gen Zhou is leading the study, who wants to help organic rice producers develop better methods of weed and disease control. Dr. Zhou explains that, “Rice is important to the world, and the acreage devoted to rice is really too small in the U.S. compared to the rice acreage in other countries. That’s why the potential impact of this project is so important.”

The organic industry appears to be in a panic over rice. A large portion of it comes from Cambodia, and Cambodia seems to want to keep it for themselves now. But instead of using public funding to support the tastes of Americans that can afford higher prices for unnecessary goods, maybe we should be taxing it instead. Terry Anderson and Henry Miller recently wrote an intriguing piece about how organic food should be taxed to help solve real problems. If the problem is too much of a demand for a product that just can’t keep up, taxing it to lower demand seems like a no brainer. The money could be used to fund drought resistant and biofortified varieties that could help rise developing nations out of poverty, rather than help Chipotle’s customers and investors. Even some organic proponents don’t see the value in buying organic rice.

Why Chipotle thinks you shouldn’t eat at Chipotle

Much has been written on Chipotle’s decision to remove ingredients from their menu that originated from biotech crops (GMOs). In the end of course this is their business, and they certainly have the right to cater to any faith based diet they see fit. The problem that arises in their attempt to explain themselves is that they are essentially telling people not to eat at their own restaurants.

Artificial selection alters the genetic makeup of plants and animals to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs, involving the selection of traits that are beneficial to humans and not what helps the organism survive in nature. Mutagenesis involves the application of chemicals and/or radiation to speed up this process. Neither of these breeding methods results in an organism that would have occurred naturally. Both artificial selection and mutagenesis are used to create herbicide resistance in crops and crops with increased insecticide traits.  Transfer of DNA from bacteria can even occur naturally, as is the case of the sweet potato.

Biotech crops are simply the most studied food in all of human history. There are countless studies confirming their safety, and many of them are from independent scientists. Biofortified keeps a large database of them here. New crops developed through artificial selection and mutagenesis are not studied to this extent because they do not face the same regulatory hurdles, even though they can create similar traits. Unlike biotech crops, artificial selection leads to undesired and harmful outcomes such as rapist roosters, toxic organic zucchini, and the loss of nutrition


The sunflower oil used by Chipotle comes from herbicide tolerant sunflowers created to work with BASF’s  herbicide containing imazamox. A farmer in Kansas noticed that wild sunflowers had grown resistant to the imazamox being sprayed in a soybean field. Samples were collected by a Kansas University scientist, and the benefit to sunflower farmers quickly became apparent. Mutagenesis was used to speed up the process in domesticated sunflowers. Cross pollination with wild weed species is a much larger concern because these sunflowers have a lot more in common with their wild relatives than corn and soy. Imazamox has led to the development of more “super weeds” than glyphosate. It assumed that the insect populations Chipotle mentions is the monarch butterfly because glyphosate kills milkweed, which the monarch relies on. What Chipotle fails to realize is that no farmer is going to just let milkweed grow and kill their crops. Glyphosate kills milkweed. Imazamox kills milkweed. Organic herbicides kill milkweed. Hand pulling and flame weeding kill milkweed. Pesticide use in the United States has remained level over the past two decades even while yield has skyrocketed.

The anti-biotechnology movement jumped for joy when International Agency for Research on Cancer, one part of the World Health Organization, announced that glyphosate would be ranked as a level 2A carcinogen. A lot has been written on the topic since then. The only people who should be concerned are the farmers using the product, and they don’t seem to be. That still didn’t stop Chipotle from jumping on the anti biotechnology bandwagon to scream about how the barely detectable residue that may remain on some crops are somehow more dangerous than the emissions from high-temperature frying actually done at the restaurant, and have the same ranking. Even more troubling for Chipotle customers reading their web site is the fact that pork and beef have also recently been given the same ranking. Unlike glyphosate, these ingredients are actually consumed.

Chipotle seems to truly believe that artificial selection, pesticide traits, bacterial DNA, a lack of safety studies, the creation of super-weeds, the killing of milkweed, and anything ranked as a probable carcinogen by the IARC in food production should be avoided. Any customer who agrees with Chipotle should clearly not be eating at Chipotle where all of those things still occur.

In the meantime, join Americans For Science in asking Chipotle to be consistent in their marketing and ingredient choices. Sign our petition and tell Steve Ellis to remove pork and beef from their menu.

Via Chow Babe –

Is Nicholas Taleb lying or deluded?

Nicky still appears to be trying to throw misinformation at the wall to see what sticks. It appears that he is in the process of writing a new paper about the precautionary principle being applied to biotech crops, and recently posted a summary sheet on his Facebook page. With a complete lack of citations it is fairly easy to debunk the lies and misinformation within the document.

Nicky fails to actually mention any of the major scientific organizations that all agree biotech crops currently on the market are safe. He uses the ad hominem fallacy to allude to some vast conspiracy of Monsanto paid scientists and journalists, relying completely on one New York Times piece announcing Monsanto gave a grant to a university to help cover travel expenses for an outreach program. He tries to prevent anyone from calling out the organic industry for giving money to scientists because of how much more biotechnology companies spend. Again, his whole argument relies on a logical fallacy, and he is just trying to attack the people rather than the facts. There really is a scientific consensus that biotech crops currently on the market are safe.
He then backpedals and states that even if there is a consensus, any potential risk is enough to warrant not using biotech crops. This is the genetic fallacy. He is speaking of demonizing an entire technology, regardless of how it is used. He doesn’t mention which traits he perceives as having the potential for risk, he just alludes to all biotech crops having the same risk. How could herbicide tolerant corn and disease resistant papaya possibly carry the same risk? He proceeds to call for large scale studies at “organismal and ecological scales”. Why would this be performed for one type of breeding process but not another? Novel traits are created through many different methods, and artificial selection has actually proven dangerous with toxins being produced and the introduction of invasive species which have actually severely damaged entire ecosystems.
Nicky continues to ramble on about how we don’t “need” biotech crops to feed the world. This isn’t even a claim that biotech companies or scientists make. The technology is one of many tools that can aid in the process and potentially help deal with “black swans” we haven’t even considered yet. He is correct that there is currently enough food being produced to feed the world, and that distribution is a major problem. Unfortunately this urban elitist view is about giving a man a fish rather than teaching him to fish. The transportation costs to ship food into the developing world for this cause would be astronomical, and would also make the developing country dependent on the developed world. How very colonial of him. It almost makes me wonder how much Big Shipping is paying him to write this nonsense. Yields in developing countries have actually been proven to increase more so than developed ones with the introduction of biotech crops, allowing these countries to produce food on their own. Investing in agriculture to help reduce post harvest losses in the developing world would return $13 to those countries for every $1 spent.
Calling for the use of supplements or alternative crops to combat malnutrition is yet another first world view only someone so far removed from reality as Nicky could have. He complains about novel crops replacing local varieties, and then says they should replace local varieties with alternative crops and supplements. Crops like golden rice being investigated would allow cultures to maintain their staple diets while making money by growing their own nutrition rather than relying on expensive supplements.
Reading his claim that biotech crops are based on pseudo-science because of “snake-oil” lobbying, and that science is based on skepticism and dissent actually made me throw up in my mouth a little. This is the same coward that has told his “cult” to refuse to engage anyone pro-biotechnology, and to call them all “shills”, refusing to listen to any skepticism or dissent in regards to his own faith based views. The whole passage reeks of cult brainwashing, even holding himself up as some divine authority on risk. I actually agree with him that being anti biotech-crop does not make someone anti-biotechnology in medicine. It is a shame that he can differentiate between traits in this regard, but not for individual crops.
Nicky then proceeds to explain how in popular debate “GMOs” refer to transgenic crops specifically. This, and calling biotech crops a “top-down” intervention, are more examples of his cult like behavior. Loading the language is an example of thought reform where vocabulary and meanings are invented to make people conform to his way of thinking. Top-down and bottom-up design has simply never been used to describe the breeding of crops. He is just attempting to use a phrase in a new way that the outside world does not understand. He claims that biotech crops some how require a different risk assessment than mutagenesis or artificial selection, but fails to explain why. The truth is there is not a single risk that can be applied to biotech crops that cannot also be applied to other breeding methods.
Nicky appears to think that because the current most prevalent biotech crop traits relate to pesticides, that they are intrinsically linked. Again, using the genetic fallacy in this way completely ignores disease resistance (which solves a problem with mono-cropping that artificial selection created), and traits designed to reduce food waste (something that contradicts his idea about having enough food being a reason not to use biotech crops). The fact is mutagenesis and artificial selection have both brought us herbicide tolerant crops, and we even have glyphosate tolerant flax due out in 2019 that qualifies for the NONGMO verification seal.
While claiming that pesticide use has increased with the introduction of biotech crops, without providing evidence, this couldn’t be further from the truth. An independent meta-analyis from Germany (where there is no biotech crop cultivation) shows how insecticide use has been drastically reduced due to biotech crops. While glyphosate use has gone up, chemical inputs over all have remained steady even while production has sky rocketed in the United States. There is an anti-biotech assumption that increased biotech crops have increased pesticide usage because glyphosate usage has gone up, but they choose to ignore that glyphosate simply replaced other herbicides. One almost wonders if BASF is paying him to post such things, as their imazamox herbicide has been seeing a resurgence since the primitive food movement went crazy over biotech crops a few years back.
Nicky finishes his document with the “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” argument. Fine, then that would apply to all breeding methods equally. There is not one single risk that applies to biotech crops but not to other crops. It is pure hypocrisy to complain about a generalization that all biotech crops are dangerous, and then say all biotech crops are inherently risky. Saying all biotech crops are inherently risky because you don’t like herbicide tolerance would be like saying all medicine is risky because you don’t like Vioxx.

I challenge anyone to give me a risk that applies to biotech crops on the market now that does not apply to other breeding methods.