Over at ” Consider Icarus…” Cami Ryan had posted this on:
Genetic ID and its questionable connections…
By gathering information and data points through a review of publically available online information (journal articles and web pages), I generated a network on Genetic ID and the firm’s connections to a complexity of actors and institutions. The resulting network outlines what is clearly a convoluted network of bias – both politically and theologically – against GE and GMO. With the recent Triffid issue,Genetic ID has stood to reap significant financial benefits through testing revenues (I should qualify this – – – the company is “presumed” to have gained financially).
Please note, Jeffrey Smith of “Seeds of Deception” fame is at the centre of this network. Also, the Maharashi (Transcendental Meditation “TM” yogi) and his affiliated interests and institutions are also central. Most of the organizations and several of the individuals are from Fairfield, Iowa where the Maharashi University is centred. The Maharashi is a proponent of Vedic Science (look it up, weird stuff) and established the Natural Law Party whose platform revolves around the Vedic Science and TM. The Natural Law Party has branches in the US and in New Zealand.
This work is preliminary. What are your thoughts on this?
Update. 11/12/2010 1.02 PM Melbourne time
Cami has just posted an extra to this story of Maharishi goings-on with a celebrity kicker to the story line — Dr Oz is part of the network.
Here is a slab of that posting, (but why not go to Consider Icarus to get the full story):
The Wizardry of ‘Oz’ – a peek behind the curtain of the anti-GM movement
Consider Icarus blog post (11/12/2010)
Last year when the whole Triffid (flax) issue came to light, I did some research on Genetic ID, the lab/firm behind the discovery of Triffid in the EU food supply chain. The main question that I had was – what’s the incentive for this particular lab to sniff out GM? (in addition to generating rents, of course)
Earlier this year, I took the initiative to mine some publicly available information on the internet and uncovered some interesting linkages amongst Genetic ID, the Maharishi Institute, the Natural Law Party and other anti-GM/GE individuals, organizations and firms. See the network below. The connections illustrated within the network represent a variety of linkages from board positions, organizational memberships, funding connections, fiscal interests in firms/companies, attendance at common events or like-sponsorship activities. This data set, and the network, is – by no means – complete. But the graph certainly sheds an interesting light on the interconnectedness amongst actors in this anti-GM/GE context.
[See Network image above]
Genetic ID is at the centre of the network but I would like to draw your attention to another node: Jeffrey Smith. You will recall that Smith got the lion’s share of airtime and the accolades (relative to Dr. Pam Ronald) on the Dr. Oz episode earlier this week on Genetic Engineering and GM Food. Jeffrey Smith is the VP of Communications for Genetic ID. He also has close connections to the Natural Law Party and, although I was unable to find a documented or direct connection to it, the Maharishi Institute. The Maharishi – a Transcendental Meditation “TM” yogi – and his legacy of affiliated interests and institutions are also central. Most of the organizations and several of the individuals are from Fairfield, Iowa where the Maharishi University is centered. The Maharishi is a proponent of Vedic Science (look it up, weird stuff) who established the Natural Law Party. The NLP’s platform revolves around the Vedic Science and TM (Jeffrey Smith ran for US senate in 1998 in Iowa for the NLP). The Natural Law Party has branches in both the US and in New Zealand. (check out Smith practicing ‘yogic flying’ on: Academics Review).
Now, if that wasn’t peculiar enough, here’s the real kicker. I decided to check into celebrity links with the Maharishi Institute (why not?). There are numerous celebrities connected to the Maharishi Institute through fundraising events and sponsorship. These include Ringo Starr, Clint Eastwood, Russell Brand, Katy Perry…the list goes on and on. David Lynch is also one of them. He established the David Lynch Foundation to support the teaching of TM.
But, interestingly enough, guess who is also part of this celebrity network? Yep – Dr Oz. Apparently, Lynch, Oz and some other celebrities, including Clint Eastwood and George Lucas, got together for a fundraiser in late November in an effort to bring Transcendental Meditation to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And if you happen to be in NYC on Monday night, you might even want to take in the David Lynch Foundation “Change Begins Within” Benefit Event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dr. Oz will be there….
The Pundit’s Response
I’m sure we can add Australian examples to the connections between the Maharishi organisations and followers and opposition to genetic modification. In Australia the Natural Law Party participated in the several election campaigns of the late 90s and often campaigned on the basis of opposition to genetic modification in agriculture, and the links between the Natural Law Party and the Maharishi followers are numerous. For example, Adelaide businessman Peter Fenwick, and teacher-consultant Vladimir Lorentzon were candidates in those elections. Both Fenwick and Lorentz are involved in activities associated with the Maharishi cult.
The policy of the Natural Law Party of Australia (now apparently defunct) was to oppose the use of genetic engineering in agriculture but we can still read about these policies in the archived websites of the party at the National Library of Australia. Peter Fenwick has remained active in networking and lobbying against genetic modification for many year,s and several results of his lobbying appear on the public record in government agencies in Australia, accessible by Google searching.
Editor’s note: Some of the links in this post weren’t formatted correctly. They were fixed on 11 Dec 10.
Vedic businesses use clever advertising to implant beliefs about “Natural Law” in consumers psyches
Over at ” Consider Icarus…” Cami Ryan had posted this on:
First, it’s spelled “Maharishi.”
Second, Natural Law Party is defunct.
Third, Vedic Science is not weird. It’s the most highly developed and solidly established scientific theory of consciousness out there.
Fourth, GMO is gonna die.
This diagram reminds me of the diagram about seed industry consolidation created by Philip Howard a few months ago. For any subject, there’s likely to be behind the scenes connections that most people don’t know about. The difference between the seed industry connections and the connections shown here* is that with industry we know what their goal is – making money. With these connections, do they just want to help people, even if they are misguided, sort of like Christian missionaries and similar religious causes? Or is it really a money making venture with each organization feeding into the next?
*If the connections indeed exist – with no verifying information, I can not take this at face value.
Jim, you are partially right. The National Natural Law party is defunct but state groups still exist in the US. I don’t know the situation outside the US. In the 2010 midterm elections, we did have at least one Natural Law Party candidate: Alan Jacquemotte. His website doesn’t seem to say Natural Law (at least not anywhere obvious) but many other sites list him as Natural Law (such as this one).
As for whether Vedic “science” is weird – well, everything is relative.
Yes, genetically modified organisms are all going to die, because life is temporary. Unless you believe in reincarnation, I suppose.
I’m rather agnostic when it comes to religion, and I don’t really care if people meditate or choose to participate in rituals, or whatever. If it makes them happy and doesn’t hurt anyone, then who cares? What I do care about is when those beliefs lead to confusion about reality.
For example, some Christians believe that sexual intercourse is immoral except in special circumstances. Fine, whatever. The problem comes when that belief leads them to ignore the reality of STDs and teen pregnancy and demand abstinence only education.
When it comes to new age religions, the nature worship/whatever doesn’t bother me unless it comes up against established science and leads people to demand irrational things. In the case of biotechnology, the established science is that the process doesn’t have any dangers associated with it. Each individual product of biotechnology could potentially have problems but that’s why we have extensive testing. What we don’t test at all is mutagenesis, wide crosses, tissue culture, etc even though we know those can cause unintended changes. It just doesn’t make any sense. If biotech is considered dangerous then so is everything else. And then we have the same people who are scared of biotechnology who then do seriously dangerous things like drink raw milk. It’s baffling.
GMO Pundit here.
It turns out that Cami has posted another item on the same issue with a much better network diagram and a much better storyline which draws in — would you believe — Dr Oz.
The text will updates with the syndicated edition automatically I believe in an hour or so but until then you can check out the new items at these links:
Cami’s new kicker of a post:
The Wizardry of ‘Oz’ – a peek behind the curtain of the anti-GM movement
Wow, and you all complain when people link Monsanto to the USDA? I’m not saying Pamela got a fair shake, I didn’t see the edited footage – so I objectively can’t say – but this article by David, and Cami’s post, REEKS of bizarre conspiracy. Let me guess, ABC is also a part of this? Maybe the Jewish media conspiracy has tag-teamed with the Turkish Muslim Dr Oz to force organic brussel sprouts on all of us. And then to try and smear one of the oldest philosophical bodies of study – the Vedic system (WEIRD STUFF- wooo -like Mormonism?) – because of this? Vedic followers are an immense body of individuals, likely some of whom are pro-biotech, and the title and tone of this post smears them (“Muslim Businesses Support Terrorism!!”). Hmm, kind of like smearing all seed companies because Monsanto once tried to bribe Indonesian officials (Seed industry bribes governments!!!). I’m not defending Smith, nor advocating for Floaters (I am an avid follower of the Crawling Pasta Troll) but this post is really a low point for Biofortified in poor investigative science journalism – but thanks for letting me know that David Lynch is ONE OF THEM!!!! (why was that hyperlinked? Why was Clint Eastwood named? What did it have to do with the Oz show?) And thanks for the laugh. And damn that Ringo, I blame him for world hunger now.
Where does the work of Doug Gurian-Sherman and the Union of Concerned Scientists fit into the meta-network?
Other than like, all the other ones. It has no grounding whatseover in science.
On celebrity connections – who knew that celebs all went to the same fundraisers and might believe weird stuff (and while the whole Vedic science TM wossname certainly qualifies as weird it probably doesnt raise any eyebrows in celebrity circles (Scientology anyone?) – I have to wonder though why Kevin Bacon isn’t more central to the network.
You are right Jim, the Natural Law Parties are defunct, but the networks, individuals, and component organisations and activities continue to churn over at similar targets.
is not my story but mostly Cami’s, but since I’m responsible for the headline, perhaps it would help to mention that I see the term Vedic is merely an adjective.
I definitely wouldn’t read any generalisation into this that all believers of Vedic teachings are part of the network that Cami has documented.
But I can confirm myself that parts of this network of interactions do really exist, as I’ve seen them in action first-hand.
For example, Steven M Druker, of the Natural Law Party and Executive Director ALLIANCE FOR BIO-INTEGRITY
Preserving the Safety of Our Food, the Health of Our Environment, and the Harmony of Our Relationship with Nature
2040 Pearl Lane #2, Fairfield, Iowa 52556; See also
found the time and the money to visit my hometown Melbourne all the way from Fairfield Iowa a few years back, to talk and network with activists such as Bob Phelps , and businessman Doug Shears then involved with the large company Berri which markets natural fruit juices.
It is very same meeting that Mr Shears broached (to my complete surprise) the idea of a moratorium (ban) on GM crops in my state, and Mr Shears then proceeded to boast to me that “you’ll be amazed at what we achieve”. Mr Shears made it very clear to me that his opposition to GM crops being grown in my state, and in fact in all of Australia, was to do with preserving marketing advantages for his huge fruit juice business.
I learn’t about six weeks later that “they” had achieved a ban on GMO crops in most states of my country by scaring people, and by “we” and I could justly infer that Mr shears included activist Mr Phelps as part of his major effort.
So this is not a conspiracy theory— Cami is reporting the existence of activities that can be factually documented. Business connections are at the heart of the story of what’s happening. And business connections are at the heart of the explanation of why there can be so much easy travel from Fairfield Iowa to Melbourne Australia by anti-GM activists.
Since Cami started documenting this network long before the Dr Oz show, there is no reason to see all parts of this network as being connected with what was said and done on the Dr Oz show. But some parts are highly relevant.Dr Oz is for sure.
Matthew, you have to admit that there is an interesting pattern with regard to Fairfield, Iowa and anti-GE people and organizations. Genetic ID, Smith, and many others seem to come from or have moved to Fairfield. Why? What do “ancient” philosophical bodies of study have to do with this? Are we looking at a belief about GE that is as based in religion as the Catholic Church’s stance against abortion?
John Fagan, for instance, has said that through Transcendental Meditation, or as he called it “Vedic Engineering” that crops can be improved, even so far as saying that Fairfield yields more due to such meditation. So yes, weird stuff.
It is also a fair question to ask what financial incentives someone has for pursuing a particular political effort. While I believe that Smith is a True Believer that genetic engineering is bad/evil/dangerous, he also boasts about traveling most of the year, and having been to many countries. Where does the money for that come from? He gets paid by several organizations that stand to make money off of fear of GE, from Genetic ID to food companies. Doesn’t it set up a conflict of interest that should be disclosed when appearing on TV shows?
Of course the networks exist, did you think Smith operated in a vacuum? Just like a revolving door exists between biotech and USDA, just like Monsanto grants large sums of money to public universities (and hey, I like those universities and most of the ag researchers who live there – I am only pointing out the obvious). What’s your point? That Smith and Fagan make a few bucks and pay their bills off of being anti-GE, and also both happen to be Vedic adherents? To tie it to Vedic is madness. It’s like linking biotech to Baptists (hmm, how many of those St Louis folks are Baptist?) Vedics are a huge diverse group, like Baptists.
But your Vedic messiness aside…
As far as the money trails and who’s making money of this – I think you are woefully ignorant of how poor the NGOs are that are fighting against biotech. I don’t know, maybe Smith is making a fortune of the book, but I doubt it. When he came to our town on tour – a very pro-organic and hippish town – I heard he had less than 20 people in the audience (no, I didn’t attend). Flying around the country does not make you rich, it makes you tired (and gives you a helluva carbon footprint). Maybe he gains in fame, and that’s his currency – I don’t know, but I do not see a big money trail in the graphic David posted. I see a few tiny herb and other odd companies, and 1 genetic testing firm. I do find it interesting that Cami didn’t take this all the way to Whole Foods. I mean Whole Foods is a partner in the NonGMO Project, and the Genetic ID people are co-founders of that, so why not link Whole Foods in there too? And from there I know some Christian Libertarians in Texas that are huge investors in Whole Foods (I’m serious here). A few of them have business links to the Bush family. The web of intrigue grows!
“Business connections are at the heart of the story” – you mean like bribing Indonesian govts? You mean like Beachy at the USDA? You mean like Vilsack flown on biotech industry jets to weekend vacations as governor of Iowa?
Or did Smith get some free aura cleansing from a fellow Floater? Shame on him.
(Speaking of religious cults, maybe you should read Matthew 7:3
My point is you are making much ado about nothing – some spooky connected network that isn’t hidden, that isn’t illuminati, that isn’t big money. I don’t consider you all adversaries, as much as different perspective, interpretations and values around mostly agreed upon facts. Boo, I say to this post. Goes back to the level of junk posts that the guy from Florida was hashing out. I expect better than this from Karl and Co.
first up, the bribing of Indonesian officials by a person in management at Monsanto was a serious mistake, a strategic business mistake which Monsanto themselves recognise as a serious mistake. It was also ethically wrong.
When I am asked as I occasionally a what things Monsanto have done wrong, it is the Indonesian mistake that I think of.
But I don’t think your supposition that all the people involved in the anti-biotech business amount to a few hours spent by volunteers and is not of any significance in terms of influence is close to the mark. It is rather like saying that the newspaper business has no influence and that Rupert Murdoch is two bit player. The NGO influence industry approaches $1 trillion a year in turnover and the budgets of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth add up to tens of millions of dollars if not hundreds of millions of dollars per year. We have organisations with hundreds of people in paid positions. They network furiously and are in constant contact by e-mail and e-mail lists. But you are perfectly entitled to your own viewpoint that this Post is unimportant.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think it is useful to see what sorts of financial and philosophical connections exist between organizations. Here, we see some financial (as you say, the specific financial links at least for now are not high in the dollar amounts) and philosophical connections that may link anti-biotechnology groups to specific religious beliefs. As I said in my earlier comment, I could care less what sorts of religion people choose to follow, as long as 1) it doesn’t hurt anyone and 2) they don’t try to force their beliefs on anyone else.
We can talk about whether TM is hurting anyone* but if much of the anti-biotech movement is based on Vedic philosophy, then we might wonder if these people are pushing their religion on others. If it’s ok for people to call out the Catholic church for being anti-condom and to call out evangelistic Protestants for attempting to convert Afghans, and if it’s ok to call out the USDA for being too agribusiness friendly… then if the evidence is there (I’m reserving judgement on whether the evidence is there or not at this time) then why can’t Cami call out the TMers for their efforts to spread misinformation about biotech? I don’t know who this Lynch person is, but Dr. Oz is someone with a lot of influence on the American public (well, at least housewives and the unemployed). Is he pushing ideas based on his religion? If so, he has a right to do so, but I sort of think people have a right to know.
There does seem to be a connection between TM and anti-biotech sentiment, including some not mentioned in this chart. For example Rodale/Prevention/Women’s Health/etc has anti-biotech articles and pushes meditation. I don’t know if practicing TM predisposes someone to a naturalistic philosophy that excludes human interference with nature. I don’t know if people who are anti-biotech are just more likely to follow new age type religions. I don’t know if the leaders of the anti-biotech movement just happen to be TMers or if that came later… whatever the nature of the connection, there is a connection. I think it could be useful to understand what the nature of the connection actually is.
Why do I think it would be useful to understand the connection? I think we might find similarities between the anti-biotech and anti-choice movements if indeed anti-biotech is based on religious beliefs. Some people who hold specific religious beliefs that humans have souls and that a human embryo also has a soul. I could spend all day talking about the science of embryonic development, how an embryo is just a bundle of cells, how a fetus can’t feel pain until sometime in the 3rd trimester, etc but none of the science matters because for them it is a religious issue. Because it is a religious issue, people who hold these ideas aren’t limited by facts in their literature, and they don’t have any qualms about stretching reality to convince people to their side. Oh, and let’s not forget the way anti-chiocers demonize anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe. Just look at any anti-choice website and you’ll see what I mean. The anti- and pro- choice debate can not be decided with science, so has to be discussed in terms of rights – the right of an embryo to develop into a fetus and be born vs the right of a woman to not carry a fetus to term.
The anti-biotech movement definitely has some similarities. There’s the willingness to stretch the truth and even make things up. There’s the demonization of anyone who dares think differently. Is this religiously motivated, or can people who are anti-biotech enter into a discussion based on science? For example, is it possible to enter into a real discussion about, say, nematode resistant grape rootstock, without it quickly devolving into a philosophical/religious discussion? Of course there is wide wide variation from person to person, but if there was a religious connection I would like to know because then perhaps I could frame my posts differently.
* Living in Iowa, I know a few people who grew up in Fairfield who tell stories of children bought (that’s not a misspelling) from poor families in India and forced to live in small rooms or trailers where all they are allowed to do is meditate in some misguided effort to bring about world peace – is that harm? Well, the kids are fed and kept indoors, so they’re at least as well treated as sacred cows. Of course, this is hearsay, I unsurprisingly haven’t been able to find an online source to verify. I am also intrigued by the whole “buy your salvation” schtick that even the Catholic church has left behind.
“To tie it to Vedic is madness.” Fagan explicitly ties it to Vedic in his book. I agree on the madness part, but not in the way you mean it. It is something I have recently become curious about this year, how so many anti-GE organizations are based in or connected to Fairfield and the prevalent beliefs of the area. No one is saying they aren’t diverse in their beliefs, in fact depending on the specific Christian beliefs someone may have, they may be for or against abortion rights. But to deny that religion plays a role in these things is, well, madness.
Yes, Smith is affiliated with the non-GMO project, and is also partnered with the Center for Food safety with his ad-filled shopping guides. There are more financial connections that can be added.
Actually Whole Foods is more than a partner in the Non GMO Project, they participated in a corporate takeover of the project to direct it toward advertising for them and other companies. You should read Robin Jane Roff, who was a part of the project, is very anti-GMO and put their true history in print: http://www.springerlink.com/content/j862128216772502/
Genetic ID was not a founder of the NGMOP, but it did rescue the project from near oblivion when they approached them with an idea to have people hire Genetic ID to test their foods and get certified. It doesn’t have to be big money to be money. I agree about conflicts of interest with regard to Vilsack et al. But given that you are not afraid to bring up $$ in arguments over genetic engineering, I am not sure what you are trying to argue here. Is it that there’s money all around so it should be ignored? Or that the only money that matters is money that supports genetic engineering? Only big money? How big is big enough? It is true that it takes money to make change happen, but it can also entrench interests and make them work against ideological change. If you live off of an idea, it becomes very difficult to change your mind about it even when all the science in the world says otherwise.
Another thought related to my (really long, sorry) comment about why it would be useful to know if the anti-biotech movement is religiously motivated –
Karl and I have talked before about the “moving goalposts” referring to the way that people who express concern about biotech never actually say what sorts of testing they think would be sufficient. Instead they just say that whatever testing has been done is “not enough” or that it was done by the wrong people. I’ve been under the (probably hopelessly naive) impression that it would be possible to negotiate a science-based biotech regulatory system that would be acceptable both to industry and to environmentalists/sus aggies/etc. If a majority of anti-biotech sentiment is religiously motivated, though, then there’s never going to be a level of testing that is enough just like with anti-choice people there is never going to be any accepted framework that allows abortions even for special cases like health of the mother or rape.
All along I’ve been thinking that I really want to go into public policy, with my background in both genetics and sustainable agriculture, and work to develop that regulatory system that allows for innovation while meeting both public concerns and real science based concerns on safety. I need to know if I’m just dreaming here or not.
I have to say the first thing I thought of when I saw the references to celebrities was Scientology. Imagine that proponents of scientology were trying to push some unscientific agenda on their fans. Oh wait, they did. The whole psychology is bad, audits are good thing. And since the public saw that the anti-psychology ideas were religion connected I don’t think many people who weren’t already converted to Scientology accepted those ideas.
David – I don’t see Greenpeace anywhere in Cami’s web. How is it connected to Smith financially? To this post? What kind of dollars are we talking about in this web? What are the facts Cami has other than some vague linkage? (and how does this compare to above board facts of millions invested by biotech in lobbying efforts. Lobbying $ are available through public disclosure, do an article comparing pro and anti biotech lobbying interests. That would be a useful objective, scientific article -what you all are suppose to be about)
Karl – I am not saying ignore the money. I am saying whatever few dollars that might be flowing back and forth in this bizarre chart is a non-story. None of these are big companies, big NGOs, big players in food. And to say that Fairfield TM folks are representative of all of meditation movement IS like saying that terrorists are representative of Islam (I am not calling Fairfielders terrorists by making this analogy, just making an analogy). Make it a real story and I am interested. Put the dollars up on both sides with lobbying and activism and let us come up with perspectives based on these facts.
Anastasia – this anecdotal “I heard from a friend of a friend” insinuating that people who are anti-biotech also buy children? What? Yes, it’s hearsay, so why did you spread it? I know you have had your feelings hurt with accusations at other sites, but is this really the objective scientific approach you are now taking to dealing with differences in perspective on biotech?
Have you all been drinking from the same Kool-Aid today?
I stand by my disappointment on this bizarre post. If you want to write a post about money connections in the movement that are based on fact and research, do so, but that’s not how this post reads. I’d love to see one of you dig into the lobbying dollars. Let’s tally it up and see how much money is being thrown around by both sides, and who are the beneficiaries. Let’s look at who supported Vilsack’s gubernatorial campaigns. Do the scientific investigation and get back to us on that.
Signing off, as I know I am not likely to change any of your opinions on this being a non-story. So, you’re right, it’s a groundbreaking story about the anti-biotech boogie man Jeff Smith. Brings so much light to our understanding of the issues. Pulitzer!
“Boo, I say to this post. Goes back to the level of junk posts that the guy from Florida was hashing out. I expect better than this from Karl and Co.”
I want to respond to these kinds of comments in general from Matthew. Biofortifed is not a centralized corporation or organization with a top-down viewpoint. While Anastasia and I are executive editors, we make sure that the posts that come from contributors are factual as best we can, and would be interesting for our readers. Other editors, such as David and Pam can add things as they see fit, syndicated from their blogs. But when something appears on the blog for people to discuss, it does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the other authors, or the blog as a whole. This and other issues are ripe for discussion, as we seem to be talking about it. If you recall, the post you objected to by Kevin Folta generated a big discussion that was rather interesting and eye-opening.
So in this case, the issue of potential financial and philosophical influences in some of the anti-GE organizations and individuals has been raised, and we’ve put in our opinions. It could be as a result of this discussion that we all decide that there’s nothing going on there. Now where else on the internet is this discussion actually happening and where else would it be more appropriate to discuss it than Biofortified? Would the Organic Seed Alliance welcome discussing this topic on their blog? Monsanto?
that have said several times its Cami’s story and I’m sure she can speak for the accuracy of her network tracing.
But you asked why is it relevant for me to mention Greenpeace in my comment, and I can tell you that I have been tracking the activities of these groups in Australia for 20 years and there is abundant evidence that the interaction of Greenpeace with organisations like IHER in Adelaide who are connected with Natural Law party type networks, and there a very close collaboration between Greenpeace and other anti-GM networks which work together with people like Steven M Druker and Jeffrey Smith, both of whose connections to these networks are irrefutable. If you read the Australian edition of Jeffrey Smith’s book Genetic Roulette you will see he has written acknowledgements of involvement with these organisations. It’s actually documented in the hard copy of the book which I have sitting next to me and I could scan pages and send them to you if you wish.
I would suggest that if you don’t know of the active and extensive involvement of Greenpeace in this general anti-GM activity you are relatively poorly informed about the networks that operate in this space.
Yes I agree it is good for us to sign off now on this discussion as we don’t want to bore the other readers
It sounds like a frightening world-wide conspiracy to suck our brains dry. The seven European nations outlawing GMO foods must be part of this cult against “true” science. Should we wage war upon them and make them buy our corn, canola, soy and beet seeds?
PS – I’m from the evil cult town of Fairfield, Iowa. Help come deprogram me. Or at least come to one of our 1st Friday Art Walks. They’re lots of fun and we’d love to have you. http://www.fairfieldartwalk.org/
I would think OSA would be very open to this discussion – where pro/anti biotech funding comes from. Why wouldn’t they? What are you implying? Have any of your posts there not been allowed?
Paul, no one said that everyone from Fairfield or every TMer was part of a conspiracy or that Fairfield was an evil cult town. Actually, no one has said that there was a conspiracy, just that there were connections that most people didn’t know about between different organizations. No one has said that there should be a war or that anyone should be forced to do anything.
I’ve personally said that discussions of biotechnology should be science based. Rejection of biotech in Europe doesn’t seem to be science based at all, seeing how European public scientific organizations have deemed the technology to be safe. Similarly, arguments against biotechnology in the US are often based on anti-capitalistic sentiments (not that those aren’t at least somewhat valid) or on individual experiments that either haven’t been verified or that had bad experimental design or bad data analysis, and ignore the body of scientific data that doesn’t say what they want it to.
Thank you for the invitation to visit. I have to admit I am nervous to visit Fairfield, even though there are people I’d like to visit there. I’ve been to Salt Lake City, Scientology headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, and Vatican City. In all cases, there were beautiful things to see and very nice people to meet but the overall feeling is that a person isn’t welcome if they aren’t of the majority faith.
Matthew, I did not say that people who are anti-biotech also buy children. I brought it up when I said that I have no problems with religion unless they 1) cause harm or 2) force their beliefs on others. Buying children to force them to meditate continuously may constitute harm. I also didn’t say friend of a friend. The people I’ve spoken with had been part of the TM movement themselves and knew of these practices first hand. I wouldn’t have mentioned it if I didn’t have a reasonable amount of confidence that my sources were trustworthy.
I only brought it up because if it is true that even part of the anti-biotech sentiment in the US and Australia is motivated by this religion, then it is useful to understand more about the religion in general, same as understanding more about Christianity can be helpful in understanding their beliefs about sexuality.
You have evidence validating this, or are you referring to the practice of sponsoring children in India to learn to become vedic pundits?
Since only 10% of the community of Fairfield, IA is of “the majority faith [practices TM],” I suspect you’re either woefully ignorant, or have an agenda that you aren’t admitting to.
Er, what is the marketing budget of Mosanto, for example? And that $1 trillion includes the funding for pro-GMO groups as well, I suspect.
NGO just means “non-government organization.” A trade group supported by the GMO industry would certainly qualify. Are you being careless, or are you just doing the traditional thing that everyone does with statistics, according to Mark Twain?
Um “vedic science” may be “developed” but certainly is not “scientific.”
paul i noticed both paragraphs contained straw men arguments.
In relation to the seven countries who banned GMOs. Do you think bans are always based on science? or could it be purely due to fear of the populace?
I already explained where my evidence was from. It may be called sponsoring, but forcing a child to make a religious decision that requires them to meditate and not pursue other avenues of self development does sound like a problem to me.
Hang on, since when are kids allowed to decide which forms of “self development” they pursue? I have yet to meet a parent who lets their kids decide to join a religion or sport that they disapprove of.
I am very much so woefully ignorant, at least in part because there is little information about the inner workings of the Vedic/Maharishi movement in Fairfield available to outsiders. I do not have any agendas that I know of, perhaps you can elaborate as to what you suspect.
As for what the majority of Fairfield may be, I was comparing it to Scientology in Clearwater, Florida. Practitioners are by far the minority there, but they have influence in city government, business, etc, such that all but the most obtuse visitor knows what the city is about. However, I have just found that Fairfield is actually entirely separate from Maharishi – they have their own city as of 2001: Maharishi Vedic City. I apologize. It seems that Fairfield is entirely separate, except for one city council member in the 2nd ward that is also a professor at Maharishi. My apologies, I did not know about this fairly recent development.
@Lawson I have met plenty of parents who would allow their children to be in religions they domt approve of. Typically they are atheist parents.
You don’t see any difference between selling your child to be a meditator and being a parent that steers your child one way or another? Sure, parents can hope that their child pursues specific activities but most parents allow children some degree of choice. Being kept in a room to meditate seems more than a little extreme. But they are fed and clothed, so I suppose some people would say that’s acceptable. What happens to the little pundit children when they turn 18? Are they allowed to leave and pursue their own goals? Are they allowed an education of the outside world so they can even form their own goals?
I’ve done a little searching to see if there is any information about Indian children being sold to TM practitioners in the US. Perhaps I was naive to worry about the little “pundits”, it seems that children of the TMers don’t have such an easy time in India or the US. Much like Scientology, very few TMers have left their controlled society to discuss details with the public. Much like Scientology, most who leave simply try to forget. We have more information about Scientology than TM (perhaps because Scientology has more followers), but some info can be found here: Trance Net, including some shocking stories of abuse in Fairfield and in India. Another source of information is former guru(?) Geoffrey D. Falk. Falk claims that 1/4 of Fairfield residents are TMers. There’s also a site run by Mike Doughney, a former Fairfield meditator.
I do have to say that there is very little information about TM in Fairfield at all, especially very little on potential nastiness like buying children and child abuse. What I have found is not peer-reviewed (obviously) and individual stories are not verifiable. Who knows, Annie and Falk are making everything up. I don’t have evidence either way. There is evidence, however, that claims that meditating reduces crime and increases crop yields is made up, at least according to James Randi as described by Robert Todd Carroll.
Still, while the thought of widespread child abuse possibly happening just a few hours drive from where I sit now really bothers me, I must say that this is not the topic of the post. The sordid goings on of the religion are not really of importance here. You can see my previous comments in this thread to see what I am concerned about when it comes to TM and anti-biotech sentiment.
I dunno about a “strategic mistake” – that’d imply it was a strategy – as far as I am aware this was the case of someone within the company operating agaisnt policy and getting caught – if it was a strategy then Monsanto would never have reported the action and nobody would be discussing it.
I have to say I’m more in agreement with Matthew here than anything else – the connections, while interesting, aren’t really important, particularly once you get past a single link – is it really surprising that people who have the same social network or shared beliefs end up mapping to the same network? Is this really that comment worthy? Should we expect all the actors to be utterly independant?
I have the same issues with the conspiratorial networks drawn up around biotech connections (revolving doors and the like – where the expectation appears to be that people without the first clue about regulatory science should be the people getting the top jobs) or whatever – so I suppose this information is a useful counterarguement to that – although both, in my mind, are none arguements.
Karl – from what I’ve seen, if the topic was raised on the Monsanto blog the discussion would take place and be totally welcome (albeit a little slow and grinding due to the comment moderation) – although with the paucity of controvertial posts over there in past months you really have to go back to the inception of the blog to see any evidence whatsoever of allowing heated discussion to take place.
I’m with Dawkins – religious indoctrination or labelling of children is pretty much tantamount to child abuse anyway – regardless of whether it’s always been done that way (seriously, a plea to tradition?)
I’m only interested in the connections if it tells us something about philosophical motivations.
At what age and what degree? In the case of the pundit kids in India, ’twas a boarding school for kids of pundit families around 10 years old where they were trained to perform traditional vedic ceremonies as reinterpreted by the old guru (meaning, as far as I can tell, that they practiced TM before performing the ceremony for extra spiritual oomph).
This would be more like parents from a Catholic background sending their kids off to a Catholic boarding school designed to be a prep school for seminary.
Not something I would wish on MY kids, but I used to debate the 4th grade sunday school teacher at the Unitarian Universalist church about the divinity of JC (was his healing of the sick a sign of divinity or just a sign that he had some kind of mental powers that he used to heal people). Likewise, I’ve debated extreme True Believers in the TM organization about the supposed divinity of the old guru and his old teacher (hint: just as JC claimed that no-one was perfect, the old guru claimed that no-one could be perfectly enlightened until the rest of the world approached that state as well–something his followers, like JC’s, conveniently forget).
You are certainly (in my opinion) correct that there are motivations behind the TM organization’s participation in anti-GMO activity that goes beyond the science. The old guru was afraid that genetically modified food would eventually get intertwined in the world’s ecosystem in such a way as to dilute the effectiveness of all the old traditional (plant-based) medical practices from India and elsewhere in their most subtle and important use: promotion of enlightenment.
Conflict of interest goes both ways. Surely you can see that Mosanto, as with any other business, has a conflict of interest in how it will report the benefits of using its products. You implication seems to be that the Science is on Mosanto’s side, because virtually all the published research agrees with Mosanto’s narrative about the benefits of GMO’s.
As an aside, obviously biased rhetorical constructs notwithstanding, what inaccuracies are found here: http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805?currentPage=1 ?
By NGOs I mean organisations like Consumers Union with a budget of US$200 million, PETA with a budget of US$30 million and The Centre for Science in the Public Interest with a budget of $18 million and Organic Consumers with a budget of $1.2 million , all these in the USA.
You can check these figures from their tax returns IRS 990.
My figure for total global NGO activity was conservative and my information puts it at about $2 trillion or more .
The point I’m making is that these public influence organisations have massive budgets and they are largely devoted towards trying to shape public opinion.
Lawson, thank you for joining the discussion. These are complex issues and I really appreciate your taking the time to increase my understanding and hope you get something out of the discussion too.
I agree that conflict of interest is a big problem, especially when it comes to non-peer reviewed reports that come from industry or NGOs. I wrote about this in Does the source matter? at a time when reports came out from 2 NGOs at about the same time, one from the National Corn Growers Association and one from the Organic Center. Both reports had serious scientific flaws, and I also have 2 separate posts describing those flaws (which are linked to from Does the source matter?).
Peer reviewed science isn’t perfect, but when we add up the body of literature, including studies funded by different governments all over the world, companies from all over the world, and even some by non-profits, we can start to see what is really happening. Yes, you are correct, virtually all the published research agrees with Monsanto’s research showing the processes of biotechnology to be safe while some specific instances of biotech have been shown to be unsafe*. I don’t know about the “narrative of benefits” but the science is pretty clear. Don’t take my word for it. Check out this list of studies. We’re working on getting them entered into a database to make them more accessible to people, but it’s a slow process.
As for the Vanity Fair article, I wrote about it back when it came out: Monsanto aims high. I have no idea what you are referring to with “obviously biased rhetorical constructs”. I’ll stick to gene constructs, thanks.
*Example, a Brazil nut gene in soy found in the lab to have allergenicity concerns so it was never brought to market. Of course, I have to mention that breeding can cause unintended consequences as well, including higher toxin levels.
That is interesting. And confirms my suspicions that we can’t use science alone to discuss the pros and cons of biotechnology. We must discuss how the biotech will be applied to improve human life. In this context, some biotech traits won’t make the cut. This isn’t a bad thing – it just means that the conversation will be far more nuanced, sort of as I describe in Can GE be sustainable?
300 studies… The TM organization can point to 300 studies.
So no GMO industry groups are counted in that $2 trillion? Assuming $50 million/group, that implies that you (or someone else) have gone through the IRS records of 40,000 groups. Are you saying none of those 40K groups are pro-industry?
I didn’t think we were talking about the effectiveness of TM here, but ok, I’ll bite. While I was looking for any evidence about how children foreign and domestic are treated in the movement, I did find a site that discusses some of those studies and presents others. As is true for all subjects of scientific inquiry, including biotechnology and meditation, it is important to consider multiple sources.
On the one hand, we have the TM movement claiming that there are more than 600 studies to back up their claims. On the other hand, we have (among others) John M. Knapp showing that not only is that claim of 600 studies bogus but that there has been research showing that TM causes harm. There’s also a collection of personal accounts by former meditators that show a not so nice picture.
I found this short article by Barry Markovsky (a sociologist formerly at U of Iowa, now at U of South Carolina) to be particularly useful: Problems with TM Research.
Just as we should be hesitant to accept research done by Monsanto on their own products, we should be hesitant to accept research on TM by TM proponents.
I’m guessing that depends how one defines science – if you’re going to talk about how something will improve human life then I’d posit that the only way to do this meaningfully is to do so scientifically – how else do you go about it?
I don’t see that this actually means anything, or is it a suspicion that somehow GMOs are going to make your acid go bad or ruin you cannabis?
As an aside – old traditional medical practices – would this mean made up stuff that doesnt actually work? (old traditional medical practices that work simply go by the name “medicine”)
I mean that we can’t expect people to accept biotechnology if we just talk about the science behind transformation, safety studies, etc. We also have to show value in the form of positive effects on human life. We’ll see what happens if Golden rice ever gets released.
Apparently “old traditional medical practices” means stuff that can poison you: Vedic City woman charges herbs caused lead poisoning; sues Maharishi corporations. This is not an isolated incident: Lead poisoning associated with ayurvedic medications–five states, 2000-2003. Note that the lead isn’t there on accident as is true for supplements, instead ayurvedic herbs are traditionally prepared with heavy metals on purpose.
I’ve known John Knapp for many years. Barry Markowsky and I had lunch together many years ago as well. And, I never claimed 600 studies, but only 300 and that is also exagerated somewhat, but my point was that 300 studies on ALL GMO’s isn’t very much. The TMO can point to 282 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez “transcendental meditation” mostly positive studies concerning research on TM alone.
Now,as to John’s list of studies, John used to be TM teacher and had a falling out with the TM organization some time ago. Since he felt he had been lied to, he had no qualms about grabbing the most distorted views of TM out there and presenting them as valid (the flip-side of the “600 scientific studies” claim).
Barry wrote a detailed analysis of one TM study (the Washington DC Maharishi Effect study on crime in DC) and mentioned in the footnotes that an example of the unethical behavior of TM researchers was that they had failed to obtain permission from their research subjects before performing the study (in this case, the research study was a statistical evaluation of the purported effect of mass meditation on crime in Washington DC, and Barry was essentially requiring that the scientists obtain permission from everyone in DC before evaluating the stats).
IOW, bias can be found on both sides of the question of TM safety (just as it can be found in the question of GMO safety).
The point I was making is that the global influence ( activist, PR, special interest, whatever) industry is extremely large, and I was was not trying to say it was composed only of certain types of noncorporate connected organisations. Far from it.
But in the agricultural biotechnology activist sector, the number of relevant noncorporate groups is a significant bunch, and when you add up their budgets you quickly exceed US$300 million and can reach $500 million or more in the US.
The same could be said in Europe for friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. Friends of the Earth are known to receive tens of millions of dollars of European union financial support. I have a newspaper report in the financial activities of Greenpeace in Australia for example of they spend $10 million a year on these activities in that country alone. We are starting to talk about numbers of around $1 billion a year in the agbio biotech sector without trying really hard.
But tying down this number precisely is rather tricky. There are no hard and fast boundaries separating groups into different types. PETA for instance is not overtly anti-GM in all its objectives but it certainly collaborates with the anti-GM focused interest groups.
Of course it would be absolutely wrong, in my opinion, to believe that these groups only interact for financial reasons, and suppose that financial reasons are the only driving force. They collaborate when it suits their mutual interests and objectives. And certainly there are industry friendly NGO groups such as for example Truth about Trade which obviously from its its name and activities has positive view about trade. The people in it are sincerely and genuinely convinced about the virtues of trade and therefore are quite naturally supportive of company activities connected with commodity trade.
I have to confess that I don’t fully understand what drives the various transcendental meditation flavoured groups such as Alliance for BioIntegrity and the other collaborators of Jeffrey Smith sketched out in Cami’s network diagram, but I would suppose it to be a combination of religious conviction that transgenes spoil or interfere with the natural spiritual influences they believe in, the experience of self importance from their power to influence large numbers of people and change society in ways they think are important, plus the business activities and income that they get access to from being involved in these activities. Money, power, and religious conviction – it’s a powerful cocktail.
You pushed me for for my opinion about the corporate sector. For what it’s worth, I would guess that the anti-GM budgets in total have added up for all the participating organisations to be much larger than the corporate public relations budgets in this area. They (the anti-GM) are certainly more effective in impact on public opinion. The Dr Oz episode is an example of this.
In short the anti-GM NGO budgets and numbers are very large and very effectively networked. Which is what makes Cami’s post relevant and interesting in my opinion. It helps to get a more accurate record of the full range of activity that is happening
The TMO claims that Maharishi Ayurveda products do not deliberately use heavy metals.
“Ayurvedic mineral preparations are called bhasmas, which means burning the minerals again and again with herbal decoctions, using specific methods and tools. These formulas take months, sometimes years to produce. Unlike many companies in India, Maharishi Ayurveda does not include heavy metals in their products. Maharishi Ayurveda’s products contain a combination of natural minerals and herbs that support assimilation. Each mineral requires a different delivery system. For example copper is well absorbed through water, so drinking water from a copper cup will deliver the mineral to the cells of the body.”
THere WAS a case where several MA products were found to contain levels of heavy metals higher than allowed by California regulations, but even those were within the WHO guidelines, according to my sources.
I agree. Bias is there, conscious or subconscious and that’s why we need to be careful. In case you didn’t click through to Does the source matter? , I wrote about how the only way to get the real picture of the science is to look at the entire body of evidence. Like a deck of cards scattered in a game of 52 card pickup, each peer-reviewed paper has some degree of overlap with other papers. It is only when we look at those overlapping areas that we can trust what the studies are telling us. Individual studies can have problems so we need to look at all of them en masse.
As for the relatively small number of studies on genetic engineering, we have the problem of companies and researchers not wanting to get scooped. For example, when I was researching my post Would you eat a brown apple? I was unable to find anything in the peer-reviewed literature on the exact details of the trait, safety studies, field trials, and so on. It’s not because these things haven’t been done, but because the company developing the apples didn’t want to have their ideas stolen.
Now, the list we have is by no means complete. It’s just not quite as easy to do a search for papers because mixed in with all the studies actually about genetically engineered crop plants are theoretical studies on model plants, medical research in animal models, social sciences research, and so on. We’re a couple of grad students and professors who aren’t paid to create such a database, no fancy TM website for us, this is all cobbled together with plugins and some code by Karl. Anyway, search for transgenic on PubMed and you’ll find 93,165 papers. Search for transgenic plants and get 20,540.
So, back to TM, I suppose. While you didn’t claim 600, the TM movement does, assuming that the “Maharishi Foundation USA” website is legitimate. I followed up on Barry Markovsky’s article Problems with TM Research and found that his statements are generally correct. Most of the studies on TM were conducted by people in the movement, which is surely a source of bias. Papers in respected journals made no extraordinary claims but extraordinary claims were made in lower tier journals. As for the particular “experiment” that took place in 1993 in DC, it is widely known that the murder rate actually increased during that time. Oops. I would be surprised if Dr. Markovsky’s critique rested solely on the need to get permission from human subjects in a study. I would also be very surprised if he meant that everyone in DC needed to sign a release form, instead I think he meant the meditators. If you have a link that would be useful.
The “600 papers published” thing refers to the papers listed here: http://www.mum.edu/pdf_msvs/v06/orme-johnson.pdf and any more subsequently published. I think it is more than a stretch to call them all scientific studies, and a bit of a stretch to even refer to them all as published papers since at least some (many?) only appear in TM movement publications, and many are merely theoretical discussions rehashing TM’s official theory.
I can’t find the full text of Barry’s paper. The reference to unethical behavior is buried deep in the footnotes, IIRC. A discussion of Barry’s paper and others can be found here: http://www.TruthAboutTM.org/truth/SocietalEffects/Critics-Rebuttals/index.cfm David Orme-Johnson is a True Believer of the highest calliber, so you can take what he says with however many bags of salt you feel are necessary.
Note: I don’t disagree with Barry’s main points, though I think his expectation that the theory have a firm theoretical basis is a bit much to ask. I’m not sure which claims are made in lower-tier journals that aren’t made in upper tier journals.
BTW, I’m well aware of how difficult it is to do a decent search for specific topics in online databases. In the case of “transcendental meditation,” there are several papers that appear in the pubmed search that appear to have nothing to do with TM as the researchers are using it as a catchall phrase for any kind of meditation.
Also, the crime-rate stat that the murder-rate went up during the study, is, as far as I know, a quote taken from a newspaper report, which pointed out that the murder-rate during one weekend of the study showed a doubling of the crime-rate (there was a gang war going on that weekend). The murder rate for the entire 8 weeks was barely above average with that weekend factored in. It might even have dropped slightly if you excluded it. Whatevah.
I’m a fan of an age old pair of recipes that go by the brandname “Maharishi Amrit Kalash.” The purported effects rival those of snake oil, and I’ve found a few extra uses that aren’t mentioned by anyone else (e.g. the fruit paste makes an excellent burn ointment):
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez “amrit kalash”. all the research is done by believers, as far as I know, and sponsored by the organization that sells them. Even so, it seems, from personal experience, to be potent stuff, though other companies claim that their versions are just as effective (they don’t pay for research on it or otherwise use it for fund-raising so it goes for 1/10 the price).
The more comments you make, Lawson, the more I like you. 🙂 I appreciate that you appreciate the nuances.
Meditation is a complicated area of research (and not just because I don’t know anything about it!). From the research I’ve seen, there is real positive impact of meditation, or really any kind of quiet relaxation type activities. I don’t think there’s any evidence that TM is better than any other type of meditation or relaxation techniques, certainly not enough to indicate that it’s worth it to take expensive TM courses unless for whatever reason that particular method works well for an individual person. I definitely don’t think there’s any evidence to support the Maharishi effect. I feel like they took a good thing and went way too far with it. Doing so sort of messes up the original message that meditation and relaxation are good for you and turning it into a religion makes it more unlikely that meditation will be accepted by outsiders, a net negative, I think.
To bring things back to biotechnology, I actually feel the same way about a lot of industry groups and some individual proponents of biotech. They make pretty outrageous claims about how if the world doesn’t accept biotech right now all sorts of bad things will happen which is ridiculous. There are some benefits provided by some biotech traits in some situations. Sometimes those benefits are pretty big but there’s no silver bullets. People see those claims and when the claims don’t pan out call all of biotech a failure, and reject new biotech traits, also a net negative.
I guess that I wish that in general people would try to think about the wider consequences of things they say and do.
There hasn’t been a problem with my comments showing up on the OSA website, no. What I meant by my question, which was more rhetorical than anything else, is that this is the ideal place to talk about these issues.
To clarify: most TMers live in Fairfield and there is a significant “town/gown” tension as well as a roo (‘guru’) vs non-roo tension, as well as big-city vs little-town tension. The mayor of Fairfield is also a long-time TMer.
However, the TM organization has always tried to be open about its activities, with the exception of the super-secret videos of Maharishi used in training TM teachers, which have been available from time to time on youtube.
There’s no Xenu-type secrets here, just the old guru rambling about his take on yogic theories of meditation and enlightenment and how to best impart a “techniqueless technique” to the masses. His stated belief is that if people attempt to read (or watch) a non-interactive medium to learn TM, that they will likely get the points out of order, which will reduce their chances of learning meditation properly (note I did NOT say “meditate properly” as there is no such thing) so the details of TM teacher training have always been kept private. Its a very jealously guarded “secret” –possibly the only official one in the TMO other than the “secret formula” used to select mantras (which is purely a marketing gimmick as they have always said that the method used is “purely mechanical” and based on the info in your application form, which includes: Name, age, sex, address, telephone number, and any comments you wish to add).
This post is completely off-topic for this forum, but its a good “insider” perspective on the inner TM secret society.
Hello: I apologize for not engaging sooner. I was made aware – only a couple of days ago – of the discussions that have ensued on this website based upon my blog post “The Wizardry of Oz”.
My interest in the network in question revolved earlier this year around the testing firm GeneticID (documented in more detail in my blog). The ‘Vedic’ / Maharishi connections were something I uncovered after digging a bit deeper into network connections. I found the political / theological connections to the anti-GM movement ‘interesting’ to say the least. Reintroducing the brief study of this network on my blog earlier this month was intended to highlight the political and theological bias at work behind the network and, of course, to generate dialogue. Based upon the many, many contributions posted to this website, I would have to say ‘mission accomplished’ on this latter bit!
I recognize that this network is ‘incomplete’. But I think that even in its current format, it speaks volumes. There are connections and overlaps amongst all nodes/actors – and these connections should not be overlooked.
I would, however, like to address one comment “…That Smith and Fagan make a few bucks and pay their bills off of being anti-GE, and also both happen to be Vedic adherents? To tie it to Vedic is madness.”
Is it madness? Please note this letter (posted on the Genetically Manipulated Food News (1997) website) from GeneticID head John Fagan to Richard Broome (representative of South Africa’s anti-GE Safe Food Coalition) (circa 1997) wherein Fagan thanks Broome for his continued efforts in the anti-GM movement in SA, outlines his own advocacy work on behalf of the NLP and then reviews work around GM testing activities by GeneticID. http://home.intekom.com/tm_info/rw70604.htm
Fagan closes his letter to Broome with:
“Again, it was great to hear from you and I wish you great success in all the work you do for the Maharishi.”
It appears that, in this instance, it is Fagan himself that draws a very clear line between his business interests, the anti-GM movement, the NLP and the Maharishi (and, of course, Vedic science).
Hi Camile, thanks for stopping by, and also for providing a link to Fagan’s Vedic-anti-GE connection. I wonder if when he says “I wish you great success in all the work you do for the MAharishi” could he mean the work that Broome does for the Maharishi University?
Could be… not aware of Broome’s “direct” connections to the U. And a quick search on Google doesn’t really reveal any.
The actual quote is “for Maharishi” not “for the Maharishi” and between two TM believers of that level (generally both would be graduates of TM teacher training) is definitely a reference to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (MMY).
My own impression of Fagan’s timeline of conversion from genetic research to anti-GMO person is that it was as the result of discussions between he and MMY that convinced BOTH of them that there were concerns about GMO. Fagan gave back and/or cancelled requests for all his research grants about the same time that MMY started warning of the dangers of GMO.
BTW, valid concerns or not, the worry about GMO and ayurveda is perfectly logical within their belief system:
The Hindu tradition says that the sages gathered together and prayed to the gods for insight into the nature of immortality and were granted knowledge of plants and animals that could be used to treat illness and prolong healthy life;
The TM reinterpretation is that the sages meditated together and via the synergy of their shared mental activity, were able to gain deeper insight into these issues than they were when meditating as individuals.
Either way, the knowledge gained would be valid only within the context of a very slowly evolving food-chain. GMO increases the rate of evolution a million-fold or so, so the sage’s knowledge of what combination of plants are medicinal and/or spiritually enhancing would no longer apply with GMOs.
Since there are no sages of this level currently alive (the old Golden Age perspective) it will be impossible to update the knowledge base to allow for the interactions between the new organisms when used in the traditional recipes.
Since Western science doesn’t yet understand the interactions at the levels that the sages intuited, it can’t yet be used as a substitute.
If you accept the assumptions behind the concerns, they make sense. If you don’t, then the assumptions are pure gobbletygook.
Well, if you don’t accept the assumptions, than obviously you think they are gobbletygook. Its the *concerns* that follow from the assumptions that I was referring to.
Put that last comment at the bottom of my most recent tirade. Apparently I either hit the wrong reply button or the forum software got confused.
Thanks for weighing in, Lawson… there is much I don’t know about ALL of this – particularly the history behind Maharishi and TM. I appreciate the input/information.
Anastasia — in reply to your comment, “people who express concern about biotech never actually say what sorts of testing they think would be sufficient. Instead they just say that whatever testing has been done is ‘not enough’ or that it was done by the wrong people. I’ve been under the (probably hopelessly naive) impression that it would be possible to negotiate a science-based biotech regulatory system that would be acceptable both to industry and to environmentalists/sus aggies/etc.”
I share your frustrations with the lack of a science-based regulatory system that would be acceptable to everyone. But others have tried to work on such a system, at huge cost to themselves and their careers. You may be too young to remember what happened to the scientist who was tasked by the British government in the late 1990s to come up with such a system. His name was Arpad Pusztai and he was given 1.6 million GBP of taxpayer money to design a possible methodology for testing the safety of GM foods. His study design was peer reviewed by a UK public funding body and chosen over 27 other design submissions. But he found results that even he didn’t expect—GM foods caused damage to multiple organ systems of experimental animals. His research was shut down, he was gagged, and no government has ever dared to try to institute a rigorous safety testing program on GM foods since.
If you believe that his experiments were flawed, then perhaps you could suggest how they should be re-designed and take this research forward.
Hello Elisa, thanks for stopping by. I agree that a more science-based regulatory system would be preferable to what any country has now. That doesn’t mean that “no government has ever dared to try to institute a rigorous safety testing program on GM foods”. I don’t know where you got that idea.
For example, India’s regulatory system is quite strict. Some people, myself included, think it is overly strict to the point of not being science-based. Any GM crops must be tested in rodents, poultry, goats, and cows (maybe more, these are the ones I remember) in addition to tests for substantial equivalence, toxicology, and more. Testing is conducted in government certified labs but paid for by the company or organization that developed the GM crop. Unfortunately I don’t have an online source for this, I got this information from talking with Arjula Reddy, Vice Chairman of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee in India.
As for the US, we have the Biotechnology Regulatory Service (a subdivision of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). Unfortunately, we don’t have a system of government certified labs as they do in India, but companies requesting deregulation of GM crops are required to provide information about the environmental and human health safety of the crop. You can find specific information about all of this in detail here: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/brs_main.shtml. BRS is only part of the US Federal Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology: http://usbiotechreg.nbii.gov/
I have to say that I don’t think Pusztai is a good example. The paper that ended up being published in the Lancet was more like a series of pre-experimental tests before a full scale experiment was started. I’ve done similar pre-testing in my lab before where I was checking to see which method variations would work best. Then I did the full scale experiment which is what I’d write up for publication. I don’t know if he rushed it or what. Can you provide a source for the claim that it was chosen over other experimental designs? I find that surprising, not least because the sub experiments were lacking in controls if I recall correctly.
Even if that was considered a good experimental design back then, it isn’t considered a good experimental design now. More recent experiments have shown that there is very large variability in many traits in non genetically engineered crops, so when we look at the traits of a genetically engineered crop we need to compare that to the natural range.
There have been hundreds of studies on GM crops, and only a few have shown harm. This leads me to believe that genetic engineering the process is safe but that there could be specific genes or events that could have negative impact such as allergenicity (also, some of the studies that have shown harm are not properly done or claim to show things that they do not, I can provide some examples if you would like). We’re working on a list of studies here at Biofortified, you can find them here: https://biofortified.org/genera/guide/.
Anastasia–India’s GM testing insufficient–says Dr Pushpa Bhargava, who has been called “the father of modern biotechnology” http://business.rediff.com/report/2010/jan/28/gm-crops-indias-testing-insufficient.htm
He also says “most GEAC members have overlooked the warnings of the research papers done in the last 8-9 years on GM crops”
So he knows of such papers.
The fact that Pusztai’s study was chosen over 27 or 28 others (I have seen both figures) has appeared in print many times, often as a quote from Pusztai himself but also in A Rowell’s book on GM, Don’t Worry, It’s Safe to Eat, and I have never seen it contested–in spite of the fact that just about every other factoid relating to Pusztai has been argued over. It’s also here
and here, in an article originally in The Guardian
The experiments did not lack proper controls and as a scientist with a reputation to consider, you have a duty to to research this properly before making such an allegation. The same study design had been used in Pusztai’s nutritional testing for the food industry for years and is still used, so if it is out of date, perhaps you should alert the food industry–and us consumers who eat their products.
Pusztai was indeed tasked with establishing a methodology for testing the safety of GM foods, and this was the purpose of his research. Over a decade later, there is no proper GM safety testing system in place anywhere. The US FDA does not require safety testing of GM foods. The process of getting a GM food onto the market is voluntary for industry and the FDA writes the company a letter basically telling the company that if anything goes wrong, the company (not the FDA) is liable. As the US has no GM labelling, there’s no way of tracing any problems. Is this rigorous?
That’s interesting that Anastasia says India has a strict regulatory system for GM. Is that why the Indian government recently blocked the commercialisation of GM Bt brinjal/aubergine? I heard there was a lot of debate and submissions against this GM food from international scientists, ending in the government saying no to the GM food.
There’s harm and there’s harm. I may be wrong, but I recall a study on GMO oranges that found that the Vitamin C content per orange was roughly 50% of that found in normal oranges. The GMO variety was of the “giant” type and since oranges are sold by the pound, people basically pay twice the price for the same nutritional value. No warning label required “warning: you are getting ripped off when you buy these”.
Given that there aren’t any GMO oranges on the market I’m not sure how much water that arguement holds (nevermind that nobody I know buys oranges to get a set quantity of vitamin C – I would imagine that in traditional breeding for larger fruit you often see a dilution of nutritional wossnames like vitamins as it’s a lot easier (or at least I’d imagine it would be) to expand cells out with more water etc than to have them increase nutrient uptake and allocation to fruits in a linear proportion to the increase in fruit size. (a cursory literature search finds very little about GM oranges out there – one risk assessment paper about journalists writing on them (paywalled) and another vaguely mentioning that Alellex was working on pathogen resistant citrus trees (scientific American, so not exactly “the literature”)
I’m not too young to remember the fuss about Arpad Pusztai, and have followed his story very closely. I have written about it several times at my blog GMO Pundit
(e.g.Rats fed bad diets have lots of changes in their guts,and Analysis of Pusztai Study on GM Potatoes and their effect on Rats By Dr. Nina V. Fedoroff, [then] Willaman Professor of Life Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Pennsylvania State University.
I have also responded jointly with Professor Bruce Chassy to Jeffrey Smith’s version of the Pusztai story at Academics Review with 1.1—Pusztai’s Flawed Claims.
Perhaps your memory is playing tricks with you, or you have not been told all parts of the story Elisa, but I would question very many aspects of the story as you tell it here.
First Pusztai did not really develop a procedure for testing genetically modified food.
The potatoes he investigated were not intended to be a food and the people who actually developed them for research purposes only (Pusztai did not make them) are very critical of using his study results as if they are about a product developed for food use.
Also there is enormous amount criticism of the design of his study from both nutrition, toxicology and statistical point of view. It is not a model for how to conduct safety tests on genetically modified food, but a model for how not to do them. He did not find the GM foods cause damage to multiple organisms systems in experimental animals.
It is simply not true to say that no government has ever dared to try and institute’s rigourous safety testing program for GM food sense. Just this last week or so for instance, the European Union summarised results of their massive programme of research in this effort (as reported at Biofortified as 15 years, 81 projects, 400 teams and €70 million all about GMOs and GMO safety– thank you European Union taxpayers .
Fortunately there is abundant discussion in the scientific literature of how to do safety analysis of GM food.
As far as redesigning, Pusztai’s experiments are so badly done they should be thrown out and a completely different design, as discussed in the scientific literature used.
If you want really get into this discussion we could perhaps start with my posts at GMO Pundit and the numerous articles mentioned:
Safety, safety, safety, and more GM food safety. The Food and Chemical Toxicology Sextet.
320+ published safety assessments on GM foods and feeds
I am sure could have a really long conversation just about this topic of how to test GM food safety, but since there are lots and lots of other risks in food apart from genetic modification that are much more serious, for example the millions cases of foodborne illness caused by infectious organisms, it’s distracting — not to say bad public health policy — to put high priority on issues for which there is no evidence of a problem, when others which actually cause harm to millions of people are not being properly addressed.I say let’s put our effort into real problems that save lives.
To David Tribe: Prof John Gatehouse co-developed the GM potatoes with Axis Genetics at Rothamsted and passed them to Pusztai. Gatehouse was a part-owner of the patent on the GM potatoes with Axis and they were most certainly intended for commercialisation in the food chain. Thus a lectin was chosen that was known to be non-toxic to mammals. Your claim about the protein content of the rats’ diets being insufficient is false. The protein content was standard for those types of nutritional/toxicological tests and the same protein content of diets had been used many times before by Pusztai in industry food testing, without any complaint from anyone! You seem to be repeating long-discredited points–why?
Well here is one reason for my comments, contradicting some of your assumptions, from Professor Gatehouse himself:
The Editor, The Lancet. 7th Oct. 1999
As a former collaborator of Drs. Ewen and Pusztai, in a programme funded by the Scottish Office which generated the transgenic potato material at the centre of the controversy which seems to have raged for a long time now, I was very interested to see a page proof of a forthcoming paper those gentlemen will publish in “The Lancet”. This paper is based on the very same transgenic potato material which had been originally supplied to Dr. Pusztai, as part of that collaborative programme, though this is neither credited in the page proof, nor is the material properly described.
Dr. Pusztai, in publicising his work, has consistently failed to properly describe the material on which he has based his various claims. The transgenic potato plants and plant tissues supplied to Dr. Pusztai were experimental material. They were not intended for consumption by animals except as part of the feeding trials in the programme, and were certainly not intended for human consumption, or for release as an agricultural or food product. This being the case, essentially no selection or testing had been carried out on the plant material, apart from confirmation that the transgene was being expressed. Because of the difficulties of propagating potato in any other way, each “set” of experimental plant material was generated from a single individual primary transformant plant, as regenerated from the transformation/tissue culture process. This means that the transgenic plant material would have a high probability of showing differences from the parental line, because of variability introduced by tissue culture; for other plant species this variation would be largely eliminated by passage through seed generations, but this was impractical for this potato material.
Two points thus follow on from the technicalities of producing the potato material Dr. Pusztai tested.
1. There is a high probability that the transgenic material differs from the parental line due to factors that have nothing to do with the introduced gene, and thus the parental line may not be an adequate control;
2. Unless a number of different “sets” of transgenic potato material, derived from different primary transformant plants, were tested, there is no way of establishing a causal relationship between an effect, and the fact that the potatoes contain an inserted gene. Since only a limited amount of material was supplied to Dr. Pusztai, this extended testing could not have been done.
As a consequence of failing to consider these issues, the article describes data that lack proper controls, and the results presented are essentially anecdotal. I cannot comment on the validity or otherwise of the results that are presented, but the version of the paper I have seen does not make any clear statement about any biological consequences of the observations made, and makes a large number of unsupported assertions or assumptions. In any case, there is a basic failure as (pointed out above) to demonstrate causal relationships between any effects observed and the presence/expression of the transgene. There has also been a total failure to take the established US FDA safety assessment protocols for transgenic
crops into account in either designing the experiments, or evaluating the data.
A key question which the article leaves unanswered is:
“Are the effects observed any different from what would be expected from natural variation between potato tubers of different varieties, grown and stored under different conditions?”
There are numerous reports of other components (principally glycoalkaloids) in potato which can affect body tissues in higher animals (1) and levels of these components are known to be altered by stress, etc.
(2). Asserting that there is some undefined problem with transgenic plants in general on the basis of the data presented by Ewen and Pusztai (which, even if it is accepted at face value, cannot be shown to be due to the transgenic nature of the material) is simply unscientific; it is the attitude of the medieval witchcraft trials.
There is, of course, the strong possibility that the popular press will have another field day with this article, and to an extent the process has already started. I regret very much that what was set up as a serious scientific project has been hijacked by a scientist who has betrayed the trust of his former colleagues. No scientific evidence has ever been produced to support views reported as being those of Dr. Pusztai, saying that “GM food will stunt your growth” or “GM food will damage your immune system”; and yet the present rather modest contribution is being reported to vindicate Dr. Pusztai’s claims. To be blunt, no-one is saying that it would not be possible to produce transgenic plants that would be harmful to higher animals if eaten – there are plenty of naturally occurring plants that are poisonous already. What needs to be said, loud and clear, is that there is not the slightest shred of evidence that GM crops being used currently are harmful to higher animals (as shown by the experience of the USA), nor is there any reason to suppose that crops that were harmful will be introduced. The scientific programme I was involved in set out to investigate various testing procedures for transgenic plant material; what has subsequently resulted has been a travesty of the original aims.
In some ways it’s a shame “The Lancet” has chosen to perpetuate the silliness generated by the Pusztai affair, but on the other hand, perhaps it is better to get it out in the open. There has been an atmosphere of hysteria about this whole affair from the beginning, carefully fostered by a number of pressure groups. Let’s at least not lose sight of the fact that science is about finding out the truth.
Dr. John A. Gatehouse
Reader, Crop Protection Group
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Durham
Unpublished Letter to The Lancet
With respect to our comments about inadequacy of protein content in the diets used by Arpad Pusztai for testing potatoes at Academics Review, they were based on the following peer-reviewed commentary that appeared in the Lancet as a companion piece to the Ewen and Pusztai paper , in the same issue of the journal (The Lancet volume 354 October 16, 1999 page 1315)
The authors of this article were:
Harry A Kuiper, Hub P J M Noteborn ,and A C M Peijnenburg
R I K I LT (National Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products),
Wageningen University and Research Centre, W a g e n i n g e n , NL-6700 AE,
N e t h e rl a n d s
In their article on Adequacy of methods for testing the safety of genetically modified foods they made the comments that appear below. These workers are experts on nutritional evaluation of food components and were selected by the Lancet editor to comment specifically on the quality of Pusztai’s report .
Start of quotation:
An issue that has been prominent in the current debat e on the health risks of genetically modified (GM) foods is whether there are adequate methods of testing for the safety of these foods. One view is that the safety assessments of these foods are not as rigorous as those for new chemicals or drugs. Today’s Lancet carries two Research Letters reporting work on the potential risks to human health of the lectin Galanthus nivalis agglutinin ( G N A ) , a compound that may be useful in protecting food plants from attacks by insects. These letters raise issues about the design of studies on safety.
Stanley Ewen and Arpad Pusztai report that , when fed to rats , GM potatoes containing the GNA lectin have prolifer ative and antiproliferative effects on the gut. They suggest that several of these effects are due to alterations in the composition of the transgenic potatoes , r at h e r than to the newly expressed gene product. However,data on the composition of the different diets are not reported in the letter. Pusztai has released some of these details on the internet (http://www.rri.sari.ac.uk/g mo/ajp.h t m ) .
These details indicate that the content of starch, glucose polymers, lectin, and trypsin and chymotrypsin inhibitors in GM potatoes differed from that of the parental line. Unfortunately, these differences have not been examined further by analysis of an extended range of lines, for evidence on whether these differences are attributable to the genetic modification or to natural variat ions. Another shortcoming of the study is that the diets were protein deficient; they contained only 6% protein by weight . There is convincing evidence that short-term protein stress and starvation impair the growth rate, development, hepatic metabolism, and immune function of rat s.1 , 2
[Refs 1, 2 are
1 Konno A,Utsuyama M, Kurashima C, Kasai M, Kimura S,
H i r o k awa K. Effects of a protein-free diet or food restriction on the immune system of Wistar and Buffalo rats at different ages. M e c h Ageing Dev 1 9 9 3 ; 7 2 : 1 8 3 – 9 7 .
2 Le Moullac B, Gouache P, Bleiberg DF. R e g u l ation of hepat i c t r a n s t hyretin messenger RNA levels during moderate protein and food restriction in rat s. J Nutr 1 9 9 2 ; 1 2 2 : 8 6 4 – 7 0 ]
E wen and Pusztai say that the significant differences between diet groups in variables such as mucosal thickness or crypt length are evidence of the biological effects of the GM foods. Such a claim is easy to make but difficult to prove , because no consistent pat t e rns of changes were observed in the study. Ingestion of potatoes may be associated with several adaptive changes in the gut because of the low digestibility of raw or partly refined potato starch. In rats caecal hypertrophy is a common response to short-t e rm feeding of various poorly digestible carbohydrates, such as raw potato
s t a r c h .3 , 4 A physiological response of this nature is probably of little toxicological significance. Dose -response studies would have helped in the assessment of consistency of response.
The experiments done by Ewen and Pusztai were incomplete , included too few animals per diet gr o u p,5 and lacked controls such as a standard rodent diet containing about 15% protein (lactalbumin) as a balanced source of aminoacids6 and a test diet with potatoes containing an “ empty ” vector. Therefore the results are difficult to interpret and do not allow the conclusion that the genetic modification of potatoes accounts for adve rse effects in animals. Similar criticisms of this work have been made by the Royal Society ( http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/st_pol54.htm )….
End of quotation.
So to get round to answering your questions about how the Pusztai experiment should be redesigned, first of all all the criticisms made by the companion paper and the issues raised by Prof Gatehouse should be addressed. Secondly it is most important to ensure that variation that occurs in potato tuber culture, often called somaclonal variation, is controlled fall by doing deliberate repeated backcrossing between the experimental transforms line and parental line is that lacked a transgene so that you have a companion variety for comparison that is identical in all other features except the transgene as far as can be achieved by conventional breeding. This is a very lengthy procedure and very costly but is a necessary way of carrying out the experiments. It is provided for the feeding tests that are done in the genetically modified food crops that are registered for food use.
I could elaborate more on how it could be redesigned and that’s enough to start with several years of extra work.
Typical protein contents on GM crop feeding trials with rats are published information.
B Hammond and others, Results of a 90 day safety assurance study with rats fed grain from corn rootworm-protected corn Food and Chemical Toxicology Volume 44 Page 147 2006 is a representative feeding trial done on genetically modified corn. There are many other that have been published
The diet used in this study is based on certified rodent diet number 5002. http://Www.labdiet.com gives its composition as containing 20.7% protein.
It does seem your statements about 6% protein in the diet as used by Pusztai being adequate and common are just plain wrong. They are in error by a factor of about three
Yeah, I tried to find the reference to what I thought was a study, and the only thing I could find was something dated from 2005, which I’m assuming I either misheard or misremembered or it was misrepresented when I first heard it:
For example, at one point the panel gave the hypothetical case of a government not approving genetically modified oranges because they had greatly reduced levels of vitamin C. The panel said they would not see this as a health protection measure because the “nutritional disadvantage could be rectified through the consumption of another source of Vitamin C.” The average person, though, would probably not be so nonchalant about the introduction of genetically modified oranges depleted of vitamin C.
I’m not so sure – you’d really have to assay a wide range of available varieties of oranges and assess the amount of vitamin C in each variety as an average and then see how far (if at all) the GM variety fell outside this range – the assumption of uniform levels of vitamin C across all oranges which would need to be made to reject (or even label) a GM orange as significantly different from other oranges isn’t necessarily sound.
That might be. I was quoting from the website’s commentary. However, the rule of thumb on the web seems to be that a 6 oz glass of OJ should provide all your daily needs for Vitamin C. If Some GMO variety were somehow to provide less than this, it would invalidate the folk wisdom on the web. BTW< when I was trying to track down where I heard this story, I found pubmed references to studies on GMO varieties of oranges, though it wasn't immediately obvious if these were available commercially or not.
Hammond’s study has been heavily criticised by Pryme et al for its lack of independence from Monsanto and its poor methodology. Even so, Hammond found significant differences but chose to dismiss them!!!
I cut and paste below.
re protein, it is well known that in toxicological/nutritional studies such as Pusztai’s you feed low levels of protein (NOT to starvation levels–the Home Office prevents this) in order that toxic effects show up clearly. The protein levels fed in his expmt were consistent with other studies of this type that he’d performed for industry for years. Please do your homework rather than expect me to do it for you.
Pryme et al:
Hammond et al (1996) utilised Monsanto’s commercial RR soybeans, of the two lines 40-3-2 and 61-67-1, both with a gene that makes them RoundUp tolerant. A commercial rodent diet (with indicated chemical profile) and the same diet reformulated to contain 25% soy meat (from either of the two GMlines, or the unmodified parent) were fed to male and female rats eight weeks of age for one month. The GM and parental line soybeans were grown from the same field test sites. The soybeans were all processed (dehulled, defatted,
toasted) and ground to meal. The feed contained 25% protein. Terminal body weights and relative organ weights (liver, kidneys, testes) did not show significant differences (no data given). There were no gross pathologic findings related to genetic modification (no information about which organs were examined). From the (rather poor) bar diagrams in the paper there was a significant difference in the growth rate of rats and catfish with the two different GM lines, even at the dietary protein levels which were artificially too
high (close to 25%). This very high protein content of the diet would almost certainly mask, or at least effectively reduce, any possible effect of the transgene, particularly when the inclusion level of the GM soya in any case was low. It is therefore highly likely that all GM effects would have been diluted out. No data were given for most of the parameters but the authors give a bland assurance that there were no differences. In the unprocessed soy study the inclusion level of the GM soy was too low and would probably ensure that any possible undesirable GM effects did not occur.
Re Gatehouse’s letter, I wonder why the Lancet did not publish it? Evidence for the intended commercialisation in the food chain of the GM potato may well be in the patent. But meanwhile, here is a statement from Jeffrey Smith’s book showing that there was definitely an intention to commercialise the GM potato — I suspect it would not have escaped the notice of the Rowett Institute’s lawyers or Smith’s scientific reviewers had it been wrong: “Researchers anticipated that the potato… would… be harmless. In fact, the UK government and the Rowett Institute were planning to commercialize the GNA potato and had contracts specifying how the royalties were to be divided.”
while we are on the subject of protein content of the diets in Pusztai’s study, I am reminded that the GM potato was found for unknown reasons to have a much lower protein content than the non-GM parent line, so the researchers had to supplement the GM diet with added protein! another case of non-substantial equivalence.
Elisa – even if it were intended that the GM potato be commericalized you’d have to prove that it was the specific event tested by Putzai that was intended to be commercialized before you could draw any solid conclusions – from reading the letter you can’t infer that the specific transgene inserted into potatoes was never intended for commercialization however it is obvious that the specific material provided was experimental proof of concept work and therefore not at all likely to be commercialized (in commercializing a transgenic line you don’t just willy nilly pick the first stable insert of the gene you get – you have to generate multiple different insertions and then pick the best thereof – the one that has the desired effect, doesn’t deleteriously effect the plant, and is present in single copy form without backbone and in a known position in the genome (although this final requirement is probably one that was added after the whole Putzai debacle given the pace at which genome sequencing has advanced since them)
A quote from Dr Suess would be equally compelling (probably moreso as he’s a doctor!)
If this was the case then there are two caveats here
1) if it ain’t substantially equivalent then it ain’t likely to be the version going to be commercialized
2) is it just not the same as the parent line (and reasons for this have been explained ad nauseum in David’s withering resposnes) or is it completely outside variation one would see amongst potatoes in general? Only if the latter is there a coherent arguement against substantial equivalence (which is meaningless in this context as the material studied was proof of concept and not commercial)
whatever you think about Smith, his book used documented evidence. are you saying that he lied about the existence of the contracts about commercialisation of the potato? remember, his book has been in print long enough for the Roett to object to any falsehoods. You can’t use the argument of natural variation to explain away the significant diffs found in Pusztai’s study. They were… significant!!! Re the different results from diff insertions, this is true–one of Pusztai’s points was that each transgenic event of the GM potato creation turned out to be different from every other event. So he concluded that if safety tests were designed for GMOs, they would have to be applied to each different event to have any meaning. no wonder his research was shut down.
is not immediately clear which one of the Pryme et al papers in the peer-reviewed literature you are referring, to so I cannot check it easily. Maybe it is one of these listed just below but the titles are not totally relevant. I’m puzzled as to why you haven’t given the full citation.
A mistletoe lectin (ML-1)-containing diet reduces the viability of a murine non-Hodgkin lymphoma tumor.Pryme IF, Bardocz S, Pusztai A, Ewen SW, Pfüller U. Cancer Detect Prev. 2004;28(1):52-6.PMID: 15041078
Dietary mistletoe lectin supplementation and reduced growth of a murine non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Pryme IF, Bardocz S, Pusztai A, Ewen SW. Histol Histopathol. 2002 Jan;17(1):261-71. Review.PMID: 11820217
The growth of an established murine non-Hodgkin lymphoma tumour is limited by switching to a phytohaemagglutinin-containing diet. Pryme IF, Bardocz S, Pusztai A, Ewen SW.Cancer Lett. 1999 Nov 1;146(1):87-91.
A combination of dietary protein depletion and PHA-induced gut growth reduce the mass of a murine non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Pryme IF, Pusztai A, Bardocz S, Ewen SW. Cancer Lett. 1999 May 24;139(2):145-52
Given that the paper you quoted is most likely from Pusztai you seem to be saying that Pusztai favours low proteins in the diet to make them sensitive to effects of toxic components, but there a contradiction between Pusztai’s opinion and standard practice in well-designed trials, and the opinion of experts who are both independent of Pusztai and Monsanto who criticise his study design. Other organisations to the one doing the Hammond study used a standard certified rodent lab diet number 5002 (PMI) with the protein content near 21%. One example is the paper by Susan MacKenzie and others on transgenic maize grain published in Food and Chemical Toxicology volume 45 2007, page 551.
Malene Schrøder and others in A 90-day safety study of genetically modified rice expressing Cry1Ab protein (Bacillus thuringiensis toxin) in Wistar rats Food and Chemical Toxicology Volume 45 2007 Page 339 and another example of an organisation consortium who are distinct from the Hammond study.
They use a diet containing 20% protein. It is based on Philip G Reeves and others Committee Report in the Journal of Nutrition
Reeves, P.G., Nielsen, F.H., Fahey Jr., G.C., 1993. AIN-93 purified dietsfor laboratory rodents: final report of the American Institute of Nutrition ad hoc writing committee on the reformulation of the AIN-76A rodent diet. Journal of Nutrition 123, 1939–1951, which is a standard dietary formulation for rodent diets. It specifically mentions 20% protein is a dietary standard and it a document from a committee of the American Society for nutrition. It’s a consensus expert opinion on how to formulate standard rodent trial feeds.
Thus there are numerous different reports about testing of GM food safety in 90 day trial is where 20% protein is a standard. It seems that the approach of Pusztai is not accepted as a valid way of formulating protein content for the testing of food safety. This mistake is quite understandable given the strong 1999 criticisms of Pusztai published as a companion to his Lancet paper that I cited to you in an earlier comment.
In short, Pusztai is wrong about diet design.
Your other comments about the Hammond paper are off topic in this part of the thread but I will respond briefly to them.
Your comment that Hammond found significant differences depends on what you mean by significant but what you don’t mention is that the papers by Seralini and others who make much play of differences are contested very heavily by the European food safety authority, and Doull etal. ( see eg.
Hello, Peter. Unfortunately, the ban on Bt brinjal was political. The main “study” used to say that Bt brinjal was too dangerous to approve was by Seralini. His group re-did a statistical analysis of Monsanto data, and his results have been shown by many others to be flawed and to have conclusions that were not based on the results. The European Food Safety Authority analyzed Seralini’s work and deemed that it did not show any difference between genetically engineered corn and its isolines: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/events/event/gmo100127-m.pdf (Annex 1). And of course you can find more info on Seralini here: http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-content/genetic-roulette/section-1/1-3-bt-corn-is-safe/
Activists opposing Bt brinjal didn’t have any science to back up their claims of harm, but they shouted loudly over the calm voices of scientists. If you were an elected official in that situation, would you have gone with the large screaming mob or the few scientists? If you want to be reelected the choice is clear.
As for whether or not there is a consensus on the safety of the process of genetic engineering*, it’s a situation very similar to the consensus on climate change. In climate change, we see a majority of scientists that actually have relevant expertise agreeing that anthropogenic climate change exists, though they may disagree on the details. There are some legitimate scientists with relevant expertise that aren’t part of the consensus, and the concerns of those scientists need to be seriously addressed in the peer-reviewed literature with further studies, but many opposing scientists aren’t actually scientists at all or work in some unrelated or only tangentially related field.
Anyway, the Indian biotech regulatory process is here: http://moef.gov.in/divisions/csurv/geac/annex-6.htm.
Specific regulatory process details for Bt brinjal is very clearly laid out here: http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/isaaa-brief-38-2009.pdf starting on page 50. Details from specific tests can be found here: http://www.envfor.nic.in/divisions/csurv/geac/macho.pdf and more details from specific tests here: http://www.envfor.nic.in/divisions/csurv/geac/bt_brinjal.html both documents show where the tests were done and who did them.
* Which is not the same as saying that every GE event will be safe. That is a false claim.
Elisa, you presume that any scientist (besides the morbidly curious or those actively seeking to separate myth from science) has actually read Smith’s books.
Oh, and each event is tested individually in the US and in India. I would be very surprised if other countries don’t also do event specific testing. It is well known and accepted that event specific differences exist.
The significant differences are due to differences between the tested samples and the negative controls that aren’t due to genetic engineering but to tissue culture or other genetic differences. I don’t know how to explain things any better than David has.
To Tribe: full ref: Pryme, I. F. and R. Lembcke (2003). “In vivo studies on possible health consequences of genetically modified food and feed–with particular regard to ingredients consisting of genetically modified plant materials.” Nutr Health 17: 1–8.
you are obviously unaware of the criticisms in the published literature complaining that industry-linked studies on GM use artificially high protein levels in experimental diets (higher than is the norm in such studies). Here is a very important distinction that you appear to be unable to grasp: what is the norm for a healthy rodent diet is NOT the same as the norm for nutritional/toxicological testing designed to find ill effects from novel foods. You underfeed protein so that toxic effects show up. The protein levels fed in Pusztai’s experiments were peer reviewed and passed by the BBSRC and Scottish Office prior to the experiments taking place. Also–and here’s the interesting bit–while all diets has identical protein levels, the GM-fed rats “had significantly lower organ weights. . . . Lymphocyte responsiveness was depressed in the animals fed the transgenic potatoes expressing GNA”–as compared with non-GM fed rats, which had the same lowish protein levels. that is the point.
Anastasia–the FDA does not require testing of GM food in the US, so it’s up to GM companies what they do. the system is voluntary.
I would definately like to see more funding put towards all sorts of safety with regard to food, from bacterial and other contamination to biotechnology to novel products of mutagenesis and breeding. There is one major barrier, though. Money. Who pays? The current system in the US puts the onus on the company to show their product is safe, which might not be the best way to do it, but it does mean that taxpayers don’t have to pay for testing (at least not directly through taxes).
I would like to see the US have a system more similar to that of India, where companies pay for testing but the tests take place in independent labs, and I plan to work towards such a system in the course of my career in any way that I can (although any restrictions on business in the US are hard to gain support for). In the mean time, while I freely admit that the US regulatory system isn’t ideal, I think it is a gross exaggeration to say that products of biotechnology aren’t adequately regulated in the US.
It is true, there isn’t a specific set of tests that are required by FDA, APHIS, or EPA. There are pros and cons to having a specific set of tests – a major con being that each specific trait will require different tests so in some cases a standard set of tests wouldn’t be enough and in some cases it would be too much. A pro to having standardized testing might be higher consumer confidence.
One big change that I would like to see is release of all test data. Right now, companies can keep some things in confidence, only showing them to a small number of regulatory agents, supposedly in order to protect their intellectual property. I understand the desire to protect IP, but I think this information should be public anyway, perhaps with additional legal protections added.
Anyway, biotech crops in the US fall under the “Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology”. Here’s a little factsheet on it: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/biotechnology/content/printable_version/BRS_CoordFrameBro.pdf
The major regulator for products of biotechnology in the US is the USDA, subagency APHIS, subagency BRS or Biotechnology Regulatory Service. More about the BRS processes can be found here: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/index.shtml
The FDA has a “voluntary consultation process”. I understand that the thought that this is voluntary seems scary, but all biotech crops on the market today have gone through the process. There is no reason for a company to avoid the process, and lots of reasons for them to do it – not least of which because they want to cover themselves – if anything wrong happens then they can blame the government. Here you can find details of the process: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/Biotechnology/ucm096126.htm
The EPA only regulates plants that contain pesticidal substances such as the Bt protein: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/pips/index.htm. Any other potential environmental issues are handled by the BRS.
On the subject of specific papers that have shown harm to human or environmental health from products of biotechnology, we must face the fact that the studies showing harm are far fewer in number than studies showing no harm. Studies showing no harm have come from labs across the planet, funded by companies, governments, and non-profits. I hope you will check out these lists of studies: https://biofortified.org/genera/guide/
Elisa, if you know of things in the literature that would be useful to conversation, it would be greatly helpful to post a link or citation. Simply saying that a paper exists isn’t really enough. It’s just that many people like to check out papers for themselves.
Anastasia I am curious if there any rigorous metanalysis of the studies on safety. The reason I ask is everyone here is throwing around individual studies we know that individual studies can have widely varying results. We need to look at the literature as a whole for this very reason. has there been any metastudies down about company based research vs say university research? I know in the medical field it has been done and it has shown that on average the effects in medical trials is pretty significant.
I saw earlier that you want data to be open to the public. We kind of have that with clinical trails. If a company wants to do a clinical trial they have to submit something to a website prior to doing the trial though i am not sure about the data. I agree with Steven Novella (shocker I know) that we should force all studies to be published online at least to help get rid of the file drawer effect
Do you mean a meta analysis on specific protocols or a meta analysis on products of biotechnology? I think a protocol analysis would be useful, except that protocols are tweaked for lots of experiments so it would probably be very difficult.
A meta analysis on safety tests that have been done would be harder – we’d have to ask which traits we were interested in and figure out how we were going to categorize the traits, for example, only Bt, stress resistance, RNAi? Are we looking at method, specific gene product? And then there’s the problem of event, how many generations have passed since transformation (because tissue culture causes problems), and other details. GENERA is supposed to help ask those questions but it’s near impossible for Karl and I to fill it up and meet all of our other responsibilities.
There are some meta analyses on more specific topics. For example: A meta analysis of effects of Bt cotton and maize on nontarget invertebrates, Marvier, 2007 in Science http://www.sciencemag.org/content/316/5830/1475.abstract. There’s a nifty meta analysis of consumer acceptance studies: A Meta Analysis of Genetically Modified Food Valuation Studies, Lusk 2005 in J of Ag and Resource Econ, full text here http://www.agecon.purdue.edu/staff/jlusk/meta%20analysis.pdf. Anything more broad than these, I’d be hesitant to accept unless their conclusions were really vague.
so cite the evidence rather than Smith who is an unmitigated crank who feels that anecdotal evidence about an undocumented experiment a teenager performed with GM potatoes from said teenagers mother qualifies as scientific evidence.
It isn’t impossible that you’d get good science from Dr Suess – however you’d look rather foolish referencing Suess rather than the source.
Statistics – you’re doing it wrong.
There is a difference between that which is statistically significant and that which is biologically significant or indeed relevant. Once you measure more than a few parameters you’d prbably be surprised not to see statistically significant differences appearing now and again – at a p value cutoff of 0.1 you’d expect by sheer chance to see significance one time in 10, at 0.05 one time in twenty, etc etc – even in an otherwise perfectly designed experiment.
This makes absolutely no sense – that is how GMOs *are* safety tested – on an event by event basis – which is why the original roundup-ready regulatory approval does not cover the roundup ready 2 yield regulatory approval (they’re different events) – you’re claiming his research was shut down because he agreed with the status quo? I guess it’d have nothing to do with science by press release and unsubstantiated claims.
thank you for supplying the citation. Because it is usual in scientific practice to use the abbreviation el al only when there are three or more authors, and in this case the citation has two authors I had assumed it was not one you were referring to.
Basically the disagreement on this issue is about the design of experiments for testing of food safety. Standard experiments that are accepted by safety authorities and meet the design of feeding trials contain adequate amount of protein. Standard rat chow rat contains this recommended level of protein near 20%. It is a common diet used in toxicology testing. I gave you the websites where this diet is described and I gave you papers where it is used, and I could find you more.
You say nothing about this aspect of the evidence — that is the numerous papers suggesting this level 20% of protein and that it is a standard practice. Neither do you address the Kuiper et al critique of this practice that I have cited but merely assert that low amounts of protein is a good experimental design. To sustain a contrary opinion you must explain why all of these other practices are inadequate. You also have to face up to the problems of having a badly designed diets low protein diet in that you get lots of false signals in the test. The statistical behaviour of the results found by Pusztai on potatoes are an example of unpredictable variation when you design diets this way. The data do not have any consistent pattern which might enable a cause and effect to be discerned.
So why don’t we get onto talking about the design of diets from this point of view rather than throwing in gratuitous assertions about the other person. In science we talk about the facts and avoid as much as possible personal character assessments.
Here are the data, lets talk about them in the light of the Lancet critisism published with the Pusztai paper:
This is another reason why the Rowett Institute should not have sued. It’s basically scientifically unethical to use legal threats to try and establish scientific issues.
In this debate we currently have at several examples where the anti-GM activists scientist start throwing legal threats or even legal action against people they disagree with. One example is Ernesto Bustamante, another is a French scientist against whom Greenpeace appear to be funding action in the Paris courts, and I am familiar with several examples of legal threats against scientists made by the anti-GM scientists in Australia.I have been threatened at least three times in an apparent attempt to silence me. Such threats are scientifically unethical.
Such an approach to settling issues of scientific fact is contrary to free discussion and free expression of scientific opinion and criticism of hypotheses that is integral to good scientific practice.
In any case there is abundant other aspects of Smith’s work which we described at Academics Review showing the numerous errors of fact and many logical blunders, and many omissions of evidence.
In my own case I have informed Jeffrey Smith directly years ago about his errors about tryptophan. To my knowledge in several years he has never addressed the points on this issue that I made to him. He does not reply to my correspondence about them.
I have fully explain the issues about tryptophan in which Smith is wrong on my websites at Academics Review and GMO Pundit.
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