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 – https://www.facebook.com/thechowbabe

Science advocates counter Anti-GMO protest at the US Capitol

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Noontime of October 17, several organizations opposed to genetically modified crops (GMOs) and biotechnology trooped in front of the US Capitol Building for a protest action dubbed “March against Monsanto.”

The protest was an attempt to further encourage the demonization of crops based on breeding method, rather than type or trait, with no less than a hundred protesters wearing scary costumes to evoke fear to people seeing them.

However DC science advocates led by Stephan Neidenbach were joined by Filipino and Bangladeshi members of the Cornell Alliance for Science to show Congress and the people of DC that there are people in favor of genetic engineering technology.

The science advocates were carrying placards bearing positive messages such as: “Facts not Fear,” “Biotechnology ensures global food security,” “Stand 4 Science,” “GMO saved our papaya,” “MAMyths,” and “I heart biotech.”

“Our hope is to separate the myth of this [genetic engineering] being a technology belonging to large corporations, and demonstrate its potential for helping the developing world,” said Neidenbach.

“Countries like the United States have known a surplus of food for many decades, and have the luxury of preventing further innovation in agriculture.”

The GMO/Non-GMO debate is a first world issue, and sadly the argument between two camps is affecting the advancement of technology adoption in third world countries where GMOs are needed most and would be most beneficial to the people.
Americans can choose whether they want GMOs or not, however majority of people in developing countries doesn’t enjoy the same luxury.

The people he had conversations with in Senate offices and with those at the rally were surprised to see him and the group from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York went a long way in showing how biotechnology should not be part of the discussion of fearing corporations.

Neidenbach looks forward to connect with other organizations and hopes they can help see the importance of outreach.

“With an investment promise from developed nations and organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I see no reason why all of humanity could not rise from poverty by the end of the century with the help of agricultural innovation such as biotech crops. The Green Revolution in India did not save billions of lives through corporate funding, but through public funding,” he added.
Since their introduction into commercial production over 20 years ago, GM crops have become the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in the history of mankind, precisely because they provide large benefits to consumers, farmers and the environment.
These crops have an exemplary safety record, making them the safest agricultural technology ever deployed. They have already helped to ameliorate many of the kinds of damage caused by traditional agriculture and reduce contamination of corn with fungal toxins.
Not a single one of the many claims of negative health or environmental effects uniquely made against GM crops has withstood scientific scrutiny.

Regulatory systems around the world mandate the thorough testing of new GM crops to ensure that there are no unintended, harmful effects either from their cultivation or their consumption.

New technologies often evoke fears that they are dangerous. Destroying a new technology based on such fears without testing its safety and efficacy can deprive humanity of a very valuable and much-needed advance.

No group, regardless of its intentions, has the right to condemn a technology without evidence, said Neidenbach.
At the same time Natalie Newell and her husband Brian were present at the (counter) protest to the March against Monsanto in DC.

The couple was in front of the Capitol Building over the weekend to show support for science, particularly biotechnology.
“We were there to show that average citizens, without ties to any corporations, support science, and the ways in which science is positively impacting the world’s food supply,” Natalie said.

Some at the rally claimed they were not necessarily protesting GMOs but rather Monsanto and large corporations in general, and yet if you listened to every single speaker it was clear that eliminating GMOs completely is indeed their goal.

They also seem blind or ignorant of the fact that organics are a multi-billion dollar industry involving many large corporations that lobby our government, she added.

Natalie and Brian are currently working on a documentary (working title: “Science Moms”) that aims to personalize and give a face to the pro-science, pro-biotech movement, from a parenting perspective.

Parenting is challenging enough, and to see, firsthand this weekend, the way that groups like Moms Against America inject fear into our culture is terribly disheartening.

“I appreciate the work done by the Cornell Alliance for Science, and others dedicated to bringing science communication into the mainstream,” said Natalie.

While there are lots of unfounded claims and fears about the downsides of biotechnological advancements, actual results about the positive effects have been seen, one of which is very simply saving millions of lives.

Natalie hopes that through continued dialogue about biotechnology, people’s fears will be alleviated and support for a technology that is changing and can continue to change the world in a positive way would be engendered.

Golden rice as a way to prevent blindness in children gains public support

WASHINGTON, D.C – On the evening of October 16 at 8pm, concerned Americans from various sectors of society and several international fellows from the Cornell Alliance for Science united at the Capitol Building for a candle light vigil in honor of children suffering from Vitamin A deficiency.

Before the vigil started, the group of Golden rice supporters marched from the Greenpeace Headquarters at 702 H St. NW going to the north side of the Capitol Building (following 7th St. —>  Pennsylvania St.).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Vitamin A deficiency or VAD is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections.

VAD is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, hitting hardest young children and pregnant women in low-income countries.

An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight, said the WHO report.

VAD is a preventable condition that can be remedied by fortifying Vitamin A in food.

Golden rice is a genetically engineered type of rice that contains beta carotene, a source of vitamin A. It is being developed by the International Rice Research Institute (a not for profit research organization based in the Philippines) as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A status.

The concerned citizens group led by Stephen Neidenbach is mobilizing a signature campaign through an online petition (click on link to sign: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/support-the-bangladeshi)   asking the United States Senate to condemn the destruction of Golden Rice trial plots as well as offer full support of the Bangladeshi Golden Rice trials currently under way.

As of this writing, 1,373 people from all over the world and all walks of life – scientists, lawyers, bloggers, journalists, mothers, and ordinary citizens, none of them from the biotech industry have signed the online petition.

The petition says that GM crops are a critical resource in accelerating increases in crop productivity in general, as well as in enhancing their nutritional value to treat malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. In that context, Golden Rice is a critical resource in fighting the devastating consequences of widespread vitamin A deficiency in developing nations.

Neidenbach said that the petitioners are trying to get the US senators to acknowledge the damage done to the Golden rice field trials in the Philippines several years ago and hope that the Senate will denounce any future attempts with the ongoing field trials in Bangladesh.

Cornell Alliance for Science fellows from Philippines and Bangladesh signed the petition and were present in the vigil to support the ongoing Bangladeshi Golden rice trials and to condemn destruction of field trials in the Philippines.
New technologies often evoke fears that they are dangerous. Destroying a new technology based on such fears without testing its safety and efficacy can deprive humanity of a very valuable and much-needed advance.

In this case, many more millions will needlessly suffer blindness and death because Golden Rice was not available to them. No group, regardless of its intentions, has the right to condemn a technology without evidence. It is an unconscionable criminal act to destroy a field trial conducted in accordance to international safety norms, stated in the petition.

“Ultimately the petitioners want the fear-mongering regarding the genetic engineering technology to end. Anti-GMO groups are rising up against multinational companies like Monsanto while completely ignoring the benefits and valuable uses the technology could offer,” said Neidenbach.

Golden rice could help prevent blindness of children in developing countries due to Vitamin A deficiency, however those opposing GMOs are protesting issues such as pesticides which doesn’t have anything to do with the technology and are lumping issues together especially the labeling bills that Vermont passed.

One way ordinary citizens can help children with blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency is by supporting technologies used to fight it whether it’s by traditional breeding, through genetic modification, or whether some new technology coming up that we don’t even know yet, he added.

Neidenbach is seeking Democrat senators to co-sponsor safe and accurate Food Labeling Act, hopefully getting public support through petition signing in Indiana and his home state Maryland.

“We need to fight fear and the best way to do that is with facts and more effective science communication, share more of the positive stories in media, and ignore the myths,” he added.

Meanwhile a married couple from Maryland, Natalie Newell and her husband Brian, attended the candlelight vigil for Children Blinded by VAD (Vitamin A deficiency) to show support for science particularly biotechnology.

“We were there to show that average citizens, without ties to any corporations, support science, and the ways in which science is positively impacting the world’s food supply.”

Newell said that there is a simple and available solution to the problem of VAD which is golden rice, and it would be a shame to see misinformation about biotechnology get in the way of helping so many children.

“I don’t think that many people in this country realize that there are problems elsewhere in the world that can be positively impacted by biotech. I actually wonder how many people know about golden rice,” she added.

Newell agrees that the GMO/non GMO debate is a first world issue and unfortunately, people in developing nations like the Philippines and Bangladesh are affected by this debate. Those opposing GMOs are depriving children from developing countries the benefits of the technology.

Newell is a mother of two boys (a 2 ½  year old and a 10 month old) and principal of a small private school in Bethesda, MD. Having started the Science Moms project a couple months ago, she already has a couple hundred Facebook followers and she hope to continue to create an online community of science-minded moms (and dads, and other appreciators of science).

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.