Sunday, October 4, 2015

Knee-Jerk Reactions To Monsanto Hurts GMO Advocacy.

While the science supporting the safety of GMO is all but settled(no credible, reproduceable studies showing harm exist), public opinion seems to be less open to the technological process.

I blame Monsanto...

Well, let me be more specific; I blame people's knee-jerk reaction to Monsanto, and in turn, our knee-jerk reaction to people's knee-jerk reaction to Monsanto.

I'm sure that, like myself, many science communicators find it odd that the same people who support science when it comes to climate change, and support science when it comes to evolution, put their fingers in their ears and go 'la la la, not listening... la la la, Monsanto' when it comes to #GMO.

I think anti-corporatism explains this.  Many people who haven't read the literature on Climate Change are all too happy to support it because it's an indictment against 'Big' fill-in-the-blank, namely, Big Oil.

They're not pro climate change(phrasing?) so much as they're anti big oil.

While religion isn't a corporation per se, it is structured like one, and organized religion is certainly not without its series of scandals.  So while many people are against evolution because they see it as an attack on their religious beliefs, I would argue there are at least as many people who support evolution because it disrupts religion, just as climate change disrupts big oil.

For years, when arguing in favor of GMO, I would preface the argument by divorcing the issue from Monsanto.  In hindsight, I was handing the anti-GMO activists a winning debate strategy.

For years, we never bothered to challenge claims that activists would make about Monsanto: they go after small farmers, their products have lead to suicides in India, they're the ones responsible for agent orange, et cetera.

So when anti GMO activists engage in a debate, they've been able to stake unchallenged claims FOR YEARS that we ceded to them in order to get to the meat of the argument, science.

The trouble is that we never got to the science because Monsanto was the Skip, Reverse, and Draw Four of their Uno deck.

Monsanto gets worked into every counter-argument, and we couldn't do anything about it, because we tacitly accepted the premise that Monsanto was some evil, corporate monster.

If we want to reach more people, eliminate the activist driven stigma against GMO, and as a result, eliminate the labeling efforts meant to silence that technology, then we need to fight back against all the anti Monsanto nonsense, which is really just anti-corporate nonsense.

When we neutralize that argument, the activists have nothing but discredited studies from anti Monsanto activists parading as anti GMO activists...

And we can beat them, every time.


I'm not paid by Monsanto, but I did solicit them, tongue-in-cheek, for a donation, so I could get a place to live.  Even if they give me money in the future, my views on GMO are already complimentary to theirs, so no COI would be possible.

That being said, I really am homeless, and would not turn down any donations that would help me get an apt.  I'm not trying to get a fancy downtown loft, just a decent place in a walkable neighborhood.  

I have zero savings and a new job, so it's going to take a while to save up money for an apartment.

If you would like donate, please visit the link on my Twitter profile page.

If you want to read more about my sad, strange misadventures in poverty and homelessness, check out my other blog, 
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Thursday, February 26, 2015

USRTK: Sneak Peek At How GMO Labels Will Be Used.

Hey everyone.  It's been a while, because I haven't really had much new to write about. if you are finding this blog for the 1st time, please go back and check out past posts where I discuss all the major food and ag issues.

A lot has already been written about the USRTK's Freedom Of Information Act requests aimed at 14 publicly employed academic researchers, and I'm not the news. For those not in the know, here are some links to read up on the story:

Discover Magazine - Keith Kloor
American Association for the Advancement of Science - Keith Kloor
Wired - Alan Levinovitz
Biofortified - Karl Haro von Mogel

In making these requests, the US Right To Know campaign has tipped their hand at how they would behave if #GMO labeling went into effect.  Allow me to explain...

The FOIA is widely acknowledged to be somewhat disingenuous in this case.  Despite what the USRTK claims, that researchers are doing the bidding of some corporate master, they know better.  If they had evidence strong enough to prove a direct pay off of(or veiled threat to) academic researchers by ag/food corps, then they would have blown the lid off that story long ago.

This isn't about that.

This is about guilt by association.  Food and ag scientists are employed all over the world in their area of expertise: food companies, ag companies, and public universities.  These researchers often communicate with each other about research, perhaps asking for guidance when something stretches beyond their very specific area of expertise, or to get help with experimental design, or to ask other scientists to elaborate further on recently published research findings.  If we had these methods of communication even 20 years earlier, we would be light years ahead in our understanding of food and ag science. 

Communication between scientists is a very good thing.  

Also, people doing this type of work tend to already cross pollinate the public/private divide through switching jobs.  Two scientists may have already been co-workers, students, or old advisers when the other was doing post grad work and are still keeping lines of communication open.

What USRTK will do with the information retrieved on the tax payer's dime is run a simple keyword search, then publish those emails, regardless of how innocent they are, and try to say that big food/ag is in cahoots with university researchers.  Do not expect anything to be published in context. The USRTK will exploit the highly conspiratorial mindset of the Food Hysterics that follow them. 

Let's say they find an email where Kevin Folta contacts a former student of his who now works for Monsanto about going biking, perhaps their vacation times line up or they both are participating in the same biking event.  In reality, this is nothing... just two people riding bikes, but to a suspicious and cynical food activist, this could be some sort of smoking gun they will show to everyone they are trying to turn against food and ag science.

That brings me to the issue of labeling #GMO.

Labels will be used in the same way the emails obtained through the FOIA will be abused. Watch how USRTK handles the benign, routine communications between scientists and see whether they try to make mountains out of mole hills.  My guess is that they will and this is the same type of strategy that would be employed if #GMO labeling becomes law.  It doesn't matter what the label is, it only matters that it's a label, Just like it doesn't matter what the emails say... only that there are emails.

Please keep in mind that labeling isn't the end of USRTK's strategy, only the very beginning; after which, you will see a massive and very product specific campaign aimed at strong arming companies into dropping ingredients developed using a genetic modification.  Ultimately, they want to end #GMO


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Added Stupidity

This still needs to be confirmed by the FDA, but NPR has released a first look at the updated nutrition facts panel.

In a jaw-dropping example of knee-jerk Food Hysteric capitulation, the FDA has added added sugars as an added row under sugars. Of course, these are proposed changes which may go in effect after a 90 day public comment period.

Expect many comments, especially from the food industry.

Not because the industry has some sort of shame about the amount of sugar in foods, but about the impossibility of validating added sugars for the nutrition facts panel. You see, food companies know what amounts of what ingredients go into a formulation, and therefore, are able to calculate the amounts of sugar added; that's not the problem. The problem is that food companies have to send samples out to be validated every year to make sure the amounts on the NFP are accurate.

How could you possibly test for added sugars, though? You can't. You can only test for total sugars.  This means that if these changes are codified into regulation, the FDA would have no choice but to take each food company's word as to the amount of added sugars in foods.  Sure, they may be able to estimate the amount and check that against the amount of sugars in the formula; the difference would be added sugars. 

But those estimates, like the amount of sugar naturally occurring in concentrated orange juice used in Mnt Dew, could vary by several grams. The FDA, therefore, would have to spot PepsiCo those grams of sugar, giving them the benefit of the doubt. I wonder if the Food Hysterics thought of that when they peddled this nonsense.

They claim added sugars lead to increased fatality from cardiovascular diseases, cited in only one JAMA study.  What's more troubling is that the study only shows a coorelation, not a causation.  The study refers to increases in mortality as sugar intake exceeds 10% of total caloric intake. The study's authors claim they were able to isolate added sugars from total sugars and weed out other conflicting sources of mortality.

Of course, there are a couple problems with this...

First of all, there is only one study, and one study proves nothing.  The second issue is with the data, which was gathered using a survey... I'll give you a moment to sit and think about that....



Yeah. The study's authors depend on surveys from patients who remembered what they ate and how much, so the data is unreliable. Even if the data is accurate, we still have a correlation and not a causation. Scientists would still need to explain how consuming a specific amount of sugar - above what is naturally found in a food - can cause cardiovascular diseases. This is not likely.  The likely explanation is that people eating excessive sugar also were more sedentary, carried higher body fat, et cetera.

The science is not strong and there is little science involved in the proposed changes to the NFP.

There were changes I did like though, like the addition of potassium and vitamin D.  Currently, these are only voluntary, but Americans don't get enough potassium and that may even be a cause of some heart trouble.  They should have also added phosphorous to the list, which is something people with renal diets have to watch very carefully. 

They proposed reducing the amount of sodium, which can be good or bad or pointless, depending on whom you ask and what time of day it is.

I guess the other big thing was the reshuffling of serving sizes, which I have no problem with.

All in all, this may prove to be a cautionary tale in how we need to make changes such as these based upon science and reason, not Food Hysteria.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Misinformed & Disingenuous.

I once heard the winning strategy of debate competition explained as quickly taking the other side's argument to an outrageous extreme that shows how flawed it is; usually by tying the viewpoint to nuclear war or the Nazis. Of course, this is a horrible method for making an argument in the real world, and often leads to a much more polarized debate, because both sides quickly drift further away from reason.

This is exactly what Chipotle has achieved in their latest marketing vehicle entitled, 'Farmed & Dangerous'. In this Chipotle sponsored video series, a marketing firm is hired to help clean up the image of a Big Ag company.  The company has a new form of feed called a 'PetroPellet', which is somehow a petroleum based feed. One of the cows eating the pellets is caught on security video exploding, and a massive effort to cover up the deleterious effects of PetroPellet is put into place.

A few things...

What Chipotle is attempting to get away with is constructing an allegory to show how evil Big Food and Ag corporations are, but since the truth is fairly benign, they have to resort to wild hyperbole. The Petroleum tie in is meant to associate agriculture and big oil, obviously.  More subtly, the series aims to tie Big Ag to Big Tobacco - an inaccurate comparison that many activists have already tried to make. The problem with this comparison is that Big Tobacco tried covering up science that showed the ill effects of tobacco, while the vast consensus of all available research regarding food & ag supports the technologies and processes that are currently on the market.

Tobacco was the tobacco industry's only commodity, and there was an irresistible urge to protect that commodity.  The Food Industry and the Ag Industry as a whole has many more commodities and thousands more products made by individual food and ag companies. My point is that they can make money from anything, therefore there's no incentive to fool anyone about the safety of any one product or commodity. Also, food and ag scientists eat the end products and many have their own farms, so their incentive is towards safety. Food and ag scientists are also incentivized to conduct research that will stand up to peer review, since it's the scientist's name on the research and scientists typically work for more than one company or university in their life. A scientist proven to be dishonest will see their career cut very short.  Lastly, the individual food and ag companies have a major incentive to produce safe food and ingredients. If one of these companies fails or is dishonest about it's products, their very existence may be at stake.

This all may sound incredibly naive to someone who isn't involved in food and ag, and that cynicism is owed to tactics from groups like the CSPI and companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle. If Chipotle is right and all of us in food and ag are evil co-conspirators out to poison humanity,then why all the hyperbole? Wouldn't the truth be more than enough?  Of course, that's assuming that the truth is on the activists side. It isn't, and that's why you see Chipotle's Chief Marketing and Development Officer, Mark Crumpacker, Executive Producing non-sense, non-science, fact free propaganda.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Debate Prep.

Those of us eagerly awaiting the Bill Nye vs Ken Ham debate on Creationism need to manage our expectations.

First off, it's a debate, not a dry reading of facts.  Ken Ham is much more studied expert of Creationism than Nye is an expert on Evolution.

Ham doesn't have to be right to win a debate.  I see this all the time getting into online flame wars with food hysterics. They concentrate much more on small or even anecdotal evidence rather than the big picture or scientific consensus.  This works in the activists favor in a debate because they will continually ask for immediate evidence that contradicts the study/anecdote they just cited.  The actual expert didn't prepare to rebut specific examples other than the most obvious, so to the audience, it would appear that the expert was stumped by the activist.  This is what is so hard about debating on social media.

Activism and debates are more about emotional appeals than they are about what is actually true.

All of this puts Bill Nye at a disadvantage.

For Bill Nye to win, he must have already anticipated every bit of evidence and anecdote brought forth by Ham, and be able to cite a source refuting it from memory.  If they have the benefit of visual aids, then Bill Nye would count on an assistant bringing these sources to the screen as he mentions them.

But in the end, Bill Nye is unlikely to convince anyone that believes in Creationism that they are wrong, just as Ken Ham is as unlikely to convince anyone who believes Evolution is true, that they are wrong.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fat Shame.

We've all heard the saying that kids are cruel, but adults aren't much better.  One of the worst things that happens when we grow up is that most of us forget what it was like to be a kid.  If we remembered what it was like, then maybe we would treat each other a little better.

When kids are cruel, it seems to me they are doing 2 things. First, they are experimenting in methods of verbal communication. Second, they are learning how to deal with emotions and emotional arguments.  They learn what language or inflection is threatening, coercive, or hurtful to others.  We learn to be mindful of other people's feeling, but as kids, we hurt a lot of feelings in the process.

Calling someone fat or ugly, or saying someone is ugly or stupid because they are fat is a part of kids figuring out boundaries.  What we are seeing now is adults engaging in the same hurtful rhetoric that they should have gotten over as children.

Adults are cruel.

The way I see it, fat shaming among adults stem from 2 things. Some adults engage in this as a push-back against what they see as political correctness run amuck. 'You can't make fun of anybody anymore!' Adults also see Fat Shaming as some sort of tough love for all of us fatties out there. Fit or even just average people can't wrap their heads around fatness and tend to oversimplify the causes of fatness.

If you think being thin is only as simple as, 'not eating so much' or 'putting the fork down', then you may logically conclude that fat people are just lazy or unaware of how fat they've become.

There is also some dubious health information out there that enable these attacks on people of heft.  We see many stories online where every conceivable ill in society is 'linked' to obesity.  So adults may feel they are fulfilling some duty as a citizen to make you understand that you or myself are just lazy and gross.

Regardless of the reasons, there really isn't a pathology ascribed to fatness where you can pinpoint the exact weight or body fat percentage where heart disease or diabetes starts.  Keep in mind that all the literature talks of 'links', not a causation.

You can't tell someone's health just by looking at them.  Rubenesque Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, was given a clean bill of health that runs contrary to conventional wisdom concerning his large frame. He made a joke at himself by coming onto a late night talk show and eating a donut.  

But notice that despite being healthy, Chris Christie quietly had bariatric surgery done.  Why? Because being fat means you are not taken seriously.  This is a stigma aided by misinformation from public health advocates and fueled by a push back of what some perceive as an overwhelming amount of political correctness.

Here, you see Joe Rogan reacting to fat advocate's reaction to a picture posted by a fit mom with the phrase, 'What's your excuse'.  

Listen to the inflection in Joe's voice and how he talks over his guest who tries to tell Joe that it isn't quite as easy as they think to lose weight.  Unfortunately, his guest is a 'biohacker' with some pretty interesting and unproven theories about weight loss and supplements.

Joe Rogan was a national Tae Kwan Do champion in his youth and working out has been so normalized that he feels ill if he misses a workout.  So from his perspective, anyone can do what he does because he does it.  His guest tried to make a point that certain exercises are probably too hard on large people's joints, but was talked over by Joe's tirade.

So you have this sort of unempathetic 'bro' attitude toward fat people as well as a lashing out against fat people if they speak up about being marginalized.  Athletes get a high from exercise, and fat people feel run over by a truck.  Do these guys think that their tough love really motivated people to go out in public and run/walk/lift weights?

'It's so great to be associated with people feeling good about themselves'

So is Adam Richman saying that fat people feel bad about themselves?  Some do, sure, but our body size is a lot more complex than some mental issue.  The trouble with this statement is that success and confidence are associated with a body shape, and nothing else.  Does Adam Richman really think that he got so big during Man Vs. Food because he lacked self esteem?

We can't all afford to have a dietician design a diet for us and we all don't have the time to break our day's eating down to a 150 calorie mini meal every 2 hours like Adam did to try to recharge his metabolism.

Metabolism is often the answer, too.

I can safely say that I eat much less than I did when I weighed 100 lbs less.  This doesn't seem possible until you account for metabolism.  I used to eat way more, and this, added lots of weight.  At a certain point, I started eating less with only brief moments of hero eating mixed in.  It didn't work.  My metabolism slowed.  Eating doesn't energize me, it makes me fall asleep.  To lose weight is arbitrary, but if I make an effort to weigh a lower number, then the best bet is to do it slowly and incorporate exercise and surround myself with people who won't snicker at me in a gym or make fun of my bike with the oversized seat.

People who have their pictures mocked online aren't motivated by the abuse, they are withdrawn further... depressed, not really wanting to join the cruel world that waits to mock them in person.

In the end, this debate on fat shaming has nothing to do with what people look like, it's about treating people with kindness and dignity.  Don't laugh at a big person trying to lift weights or ride a bike or run...or just go for a walk.  Befriend them.  Introduce them to your girlfriend's single friend.  Let them know it's ok to be a person and exist in the world.

This sums up the feelings many normal sized people have, unfortunately.

I'll leave you with an image of what is in all of our best interests to fight against.  This is Hollywood actor, Nick Searcy.  He plays the Chief on Justified.  Patton Oswalt guested on this show... How would he feel about working with Nick Searcy, knowing how vile he is?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


This is a perfect example of the problem with the food industry...

The problem is not that this is a formed pork patty that is individually quick frozen in a spiral freezer, packaged, shipped to a distribution center, then trucked to individual McDonald locations... those are all monuments to the advancement of modern food technology.

The problem is that people seemed genuinely surprised at the appearance of the uncooked patty.  It shows the genuine disconnect that people have with their food.

What did they think, anyway?  Did they think that we have ribless hogs?  Did they think that raw pork would be shipped great distances while ONLY being refrigerated?

How do I think the McRib is made?  I could be a little off... but I'll give it a shot:

1. Lean pork w/ trim(skin, fat) is boxed in 40 lb blocks, frozen, and shipped to a further processing facility.
2. That frozen pork is put into large grinder mixers w/ various other seasonings and ground in to a frozen mixture.
3. That frozen mixture is put into stainless steel tubs and those tubs are loaded into a Formax or similar type machine that presses the patties into the familiar McRib shape.
4.  Those patties are individually quick frozen in a spiral freezer, packaged, shipped to a distribution center, then trucked to individual McDonald locations.

It's really no big deal and not at all shocking.