Last Friday, Carol Joy of ConnFACT gave a presentation at the Westport Library titled Planting and Eating without GMOs. Joy, like most members of ConnFACT, is a sincere “health coach” with no scientific training who, she says, “educates consumers and health care professionals about GMOs and other toxins.” One might guess that a group named “Connecticut Families Against Chemical Trespass” might be a little off the wall.
I have a great deal of difficulty writing about a group that takes no questions but spends an hour saying one thing after another that just plain isn’t true. What do you do? Should you interrupt and point out every canard they inflict on the audience? Should you bring your own counter presentation? Attempting to ask questions at the end only leads to being shouted down by Joy and her associated Carol Perringer as being “pro-Monsanto,” when in fact the only thing I represent is science. And ConnFact meticulously avoids any mention of science to back up their absurd statements, because no such science exists.
In this talk, Joy complained that
- Farmers can’t save and reuse their seeds, even though farmers have not done this in many years, since many seeds are hybrids and don’t breed true.
- Monsanto sues farmers for accidental contamination from pollen drift or seed blowover, despite the fact that no such court case exists and Monsanto has pledged in court not to file such lawsuits.
- Referred to plants resistant to two herbicides (Enlist duo) as being resistant to Agent Orange and Roundup. Later in the text she corrected this to “2,4-D” but the slide that remained projected said “Agent Orange.” In fact, Agent Orange was a US Army designed defoliant made up of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. The manufacturing process led to dioxin contamination. It has never been used in agriculture.
- Roundup herbicide “kills guts bacteria and soil bacteria.” This has been thoroughly debunked by Skeptoid.
- Superweeds are invincible and taking over. Weeds will evolve resistance to any new herbicide over time. This is why farmers rotate crops and herbicides . It has nothing to do with GMOs or Roundup.
- Have never proved ingredients are safe. You cannot prove that anything is absolutely safe. However you can show that a wide variety of test show very low risk, and this is done with both crops and herbicides.
- Dr Patrick Moore refused to drink Roundup in an ambush interview. Dr Moore was asked to drink Roundup but refused, because while Roundup is very safe, it does include surfactants (soaps) which would act as emetics.
- GM soybean oil and sugar beets are dangerous. There is no evidence of any danger from any GM crop. Each new crop undergoes over 10 years of testing. In addition, there are nearly 2000 peer-reviewed papers attesting to GM safety, as well as Professor van Eenennaam’s one hundred billion animal historical study show conclusively that no harm has been found. Further, neither soybean oil nor sugar contains any DNA, so even if harm were observed at some future time, it cannot be found in the sugar or oil.
- There are few human studies. We do not carry out long term feeding studies on humans, because humans are not lab rats and could not tolerate a long term diet of a single food as rats do. Nonetheless, it has been shown that such rat studies are very good predictors for human safety.
- GMOs may cause a host of dread diseases such as cancer, pneumonia, celiac disease, gastritis. Autism, asthma, diabetes, cirrhosis, pancreatitis and decreased fertility. How utterly ridiculous, asserting that a single agent could be the cause of all these maladies, especially since they cited not a single scientific paper of any kind!
- All research is funded by the manufacturers. Actually, this isn’t true. Workers compiling the GENERA database of relevant research at Biofortified have found that about half of the papers have independent funding. However, the speakers have little concept of how the peer-review process prevents such fraud and misrepresentation. Papers with corporate funding are scrutinized even more carefully by the reviewers.
- The WHO says glyphosate probably causes cancer. Actually the WHO has made no statement on this. One of its committees, the IARC said Glyphosate was in the same class of probably carcinogens as sunlight and coffee. They did no research, an after only a week or two’s consideration somehow reached this conclusion regardless of the massive contradictory evidence. Meanwhile the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment completed a 4-year assessment for the EU, considering 150 new toxicological studies, all available existing toxicological studies (more than 300) and nearly 900 peer-reviewed publications, concluding that the available data do not show carcinogenic properties. Further, there are 3 other units of the WHO that did not reach this conclusion.
- Sugar beets are used to make High Fructose Corn Syrup. That is absurd on the face of it. If that were true, it wouldn’t be corn syrup.
- HFCS is horrible for you, way more dangerous than sugar. The speaker seemed completely unaware that HFCS is 55% fructose and 45% glucose and that sugar is 50-50 fructose/glucose. This was just scientific ignorance.
- GMOs wiped out butterflies. There is no evidence that GMOs are harmful to any animal. This is simply wrong. And if you suggest that farmers use Roundup to kill milkweed in their fields, that has nothing to do with GMOs, and farmers have been killing weeds with Roundup for many more years than GMOs have existed. The drop in Monarchs may be partly due agriculture, but not to biotechnology.
- ·GMOs killed millions of bees. There is no credible evidence to suggest that GMOs have killed bees or anything else. While there has been a theory that neonicotinoids (which are made by Syngenta) have affected bees, this not the current theory. The USDA believes that bee colony collapse is due to pathogens like the Israeli acute paralysis virus, parasites like the varroa destructor mite, and hive management issues such bees being transported thousands of miles.
- She praised Vani Hari, a food alarmist who has been roundly denounced for having no training in chemistry, biology or nutrition.
- She praised Chipotle for claiming to remove GMO ingredients. Chipotle is a great example of GMO opportunism, since there are no health benefits in removing GMOs, and in fact they are only switching their corn and cooking oil, and leaving their meats and fountain drinks untouched. They have been roundly ridiculed by everyone.
- She praised the Environmental Working Group for their Dirty Dozen List, when in fact scientists have pointed out that any traces of pesticides are all below the allowed tolerance. And further, Bruce Ames reported years ago that the pesticides generated by the plants themselves generate 10,000 as much pesticide for self-protection.
- She repeated the foolish mantra: if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. A better suggestion is “If you can’t pronounce it, you didn’t study phonics.” Or maybe “study a little chemistry.” Either way, it is absurd to say that you shouldn’t seek to find out what that word means. And most people can use the Internet for that quite simply.
She also talk a bit about container gardening, square foot gardening and tower gardening, and these were actually interesting and helpful.
She suggested the weed killer mixture that is going around the Internet that is made up for vinegar, soap, and Epsom salts. Actually, this herbicide has been extensively tested, and you can leave out the Epsom salts: it is actually a minor nutrient. Vinegar will kill the leaves and if this is a shallow rooted annual weed, it may kill it entirely. For deep rooted perennial weeds, you would do better with Roundup, or if the weed is in your lawn, use 2,4-D, which does not kill grasses.
The question, then, remains, how to deal with a talk which a continuous flow of derp, a South Park inspired word that even Paul Krugman is now using to described repetition of discredited ideas. Should audience member stand up and challenge this utterly wrong information? Should the library even have sponsored it? Libraries certainly should have the freedom to present any talks they want, but when the talk is so wrong-headed and politically inspired by the organic-industrial complex, they probably should affix a warning label. This is harmful pseudoscience at its worst.
Another possibility is to introduce the speaker to Frank-N-Food, a cute corn-shaped plushie produced as a fund raiser for the Biofortified web site. This site was started by post-doctoral students at the University of Wisconsin to provide a place for clear scientific explanation of issues in biotechnology. The speaker is shown above meeting Frank.
And of course the other thing I could do is complain to the library. And that I have just done.