The Panic Virus: By doing nothing we are doing something

The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Wise words from George Santayana, US philosopher and poet (in Life of Reason, ‘Reason in Common Sense,’ ch. 12). William L. Shirer made these words the epigraph for his Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959).
Seth Mnookin’s just released The Panic Virus is about the autism – MMR vaccine controversy. But there are compelling reasons for all participants involved in the debate about genetically modified organisms to read it.
We should all strive to fully understand how we can avoid the mistakes of the past. We should all try and do no harm. And in Panic Virus there are instructive lessons for both sides of the vaccine and the GMO debates that can help us all avoid doing harm. To borrow Paul Offit‘s aphorism, we all need to remember that by doing nothing we are doing something. By attempting to stop remedies for great ills we can do enormous harm. Tragically, the anti-vaccine crusade, despite being undoubtedly driven by the best of intentions to do good, has caused the resurgence of measles and whooping cough and many unnecessary infant deaths. These are genuine and horrible consequences of not using vaccines which demand careful attention to the full scientific evidence by all involved in public communication on these issues, especially communication through the internet. In the GMO debate, this vaccine history should make us all pause to consider the harmful consequences of not using new crops such as Golden Rice, which also promise, like vaccines do, to save infant lives.

The numerous instructive parallels — between the history of vaccine misadventures as laid out in impressive full detail by Mnookin, and the ongoing and unfinished public controversy about newer agricultural technologies — are uncanny. In both cases, persistent myths circulate widely with the help of the Internet, aided by lazy and credulous journalism, and active disemination of the myths is driven by zealous coalitions of ordinary citizens who convinced about the existence of an alleged evil conspiracy between greedy scientists and corporations which according to them, does great harm.
In the vaccine debate, the “Public Health Community” and the Center for Disease Control take the place of Monsanto, the super-bad guy of the GMO debate.
Yes, dear reader, you read that right. The “Public Health Community” are EVIL in the eyes of the more-extreme anti-vaccine zealots.
And in the vaccine debates (as with GMOs), there are a small cadre of renegade scientists who put forward shoddy experiments, then read into them flawed, controversial and dangerous speculations. This low quality science then circulates endlessly in the echo-chambers of the closed communities of the internet which also give any dissenting voices fusilades of anonymous personal abuse. The small cadre renegrade scientists then move on to become heroes of the antitechnology coalitions, while at the same time providing no credible arguments that are accepted by their peers. There is even a Vaccine Roulette to go with Genetic Roulette.
A particularly good illustration of the similarities between the vaccine story and the big food fight  is provided by the actions of Andrew Wakefield, a disgraced medical scientist with a retracted publication from the Journal Lancet, and a central figure in the tragic story outlined in Panic Virus. Wakefield has written a book to defend himself called Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines: The Truth Behind a Tragedy. It has (thanks to his energetic supporters) fabulous reviews at Amazon.com, together with a scathing rebuttal which is reproduced below:
One star review at Amazon.com of Callous Disregard from May 28, 2010: An Unsuccessful Attempt at Damage Control by Harriet Hall

Dr. Andrew Wakefield was almost single-handedly responsible for frightening the public about a possible association between autism and the MMR vaccine. His alarmist recommendations directly led to lower vaccination rates and a resurgence of measles to endemic levels in the UK. His 1998 article in The Lancet was retracted by 10 of his 12 co-authors, and then was “fully retracted from the public record” by The Lancet. He lost his license to practice medicine for unethical behavior. Other scientists attempted to replicate his research findings and failed. The scientific community reached a clear consensus that Wakefield’s research was flawed and that the evidence shows no link between MMR vaccine and autism.
There was only one way left for him to fight back: to write a book. It boils down to self-serving apologetics and misleading rhetoric.
The book makes claims that are demonstrably untrue. It says anaphylaxis from the vaccine is a serious concern and that the mortality rate from MMR vaccines approaches the pre-vaccination mortality rates for measles. But in an Australian study of 1.7 million school children vaccinated with MMR, there was only one anaphylactic reaction and no deaths. And before the introduction of vaccines, measles used to kill 100 people in the UK every year, while there is no evidence that the MMR vaccine ever killed anyone.
He claims that the US vaccine court has been compensating for cases of vaccine-caused autism and secretly settling cases out of court. Not true. In reality, the vaccine court has evaluated the best test cases lawyers could come up with and has determined that there is no evidence for vaccines causing autism.
He says his findings of a new gastrointestinal syndrome related to measles virus and autism have been replicated around the world. They have not.
Wakefield does not recognize that he has done anything wrong. Instead, he throws wild accusations at everyone else. He still doesn’t understand what was wrong about paying children to let him draw blood samples at his son’s birthday party. He doesn’t even have the decency to apologize for making fun of the children in public, joking about them crying, fainting, and vomiting.
The book fails to address many items from the long list of criticisms that have been leveled against Wakefield, and his excuses for the items it does cover are unconvincing. In my opinion, it amounts to an embarrassing, tedious, puerile, and ultimately unsuccessful attempt at damage control. Wakefield has been thoroughly discredited in the scientific arena and this appeal to the public arena does nothing to rehabilitate him.

[Pundit’s Note: But it is reader comments to this review that exemplify the striking parallels between the vaccine debate and the GMO debate:]
Reader Comment on Harriet Hall’s review, written on May 31, 2010 by Clara Corbin:

Written like a true Merck representative. Why don’t you reveal yourself and the vested financial interest you have in protecting vaccines. Dr. Wakefield’s findings have indeed been replicated, by no fewer than five major studies around the world. You are the one telling big whoppers here, not Wakefield.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2010, J Donahue says:

Dr. Hall has revealed herself – that is her real name. You can read more about her and her lack of conflict of interst [sic] here: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?author=7 and http://www.skepdoc.info/.
What “five major studies around the world” have replicated Wakefield’s findings?

Then we have a minority review on a professional vaccine text that’s typical of the internet abuse routinely seen meted out to any people who speak out positively about food GMOs.
This review is from Vaccines: Expert Consult by Stanley A. Plotkin MD, Walter Orenstein MD, and Paul A. Offit MD.
Comment titled “One sided Pro vaccines book, not a balanced” one on June 4, 2010 by “Truth Wins” of Charlotte, NC:

This one sided Pro vaccines book is co authored by Vaccine billionaire [sic] Paul Offit who has many conflicts of finalcial [sic] interests with Vaccine manufacturers. Totally waste of money to buy this book, waste of time to read this book.

The point about this excursion into vaccine controversies is, that if we are to gain wider community  understanding of GMO food crops, and make progress in the debates about them, we need first to learn from the existing lessons of history. In Panic Virus we do indeed have a rich history lesson. Besides that, Panic Virus is arguably the most significant readable and well researched book on scientific controversies published this century, a gripping and richly thoughtful saga that held my interest right to the end. It inspires great hope about the eventual outcome of both the tragic misadventures with vaccines, and food crop GMOs.

Book review by David Tribe Ph.D.

The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear, available as The Panic Virus: Fear, Myth, and the Vaccination Debate, from local Australian publisher Black Inc Inc, with a tragic and compelling Australian Preface.
“Seth Mnookin shows us just how dangerous it can be when emotion drives good people to abandon critical thought.” – Peter Doherty winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Other relevant literature

Stanley Plotkin, Jeffrey S. Gerber and Paul A. Offit (2009) Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses. Clinical Infectious Diseases Volume 48, Issue 4 P. 456-461

Although child vaccination rates remain high, some parental concern persists that vaccines might cause autism. Three specific hypotheses have been proposed: (1) the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism by damaging the intestinal lining, which allows the entrance of encephalopathic proteins; (2) thimerosal, an ethylmercury-containing preservative in some vaccines, is toxic to the central nervous system; and (3) the simultaneous administration of multiple vaccines overwhelms or weakens the immune system. We will discuss the genesis of each of these theories and review the relevant epidemiological evidence.

Dr. Paul Offit: Polarizing Figure Only On The Fringe
by Kim Wombles, 31 January 2011 on Science 2.0

Dr. Paul Offit is the Hillary Clinton of the autism world. Or is he? It seems really unfair that a well-respected pediatrician and infectious disease expert who has devoted his career to saving lives is the recipient of the vitriol that places like Age of Autism and people like its editors and followers heap on him, all because he has the courage to stand up to their intimidating tactics and speak out honestly about vaccines. He’s one of the first to admit that vaccines have caused damage; he writes openly and honestly about the live polio vaccine causing polio, about Cutter laboratories.
He writes eloquently of the role that concerned parents and consumers can have in calling for safer vaccines, in more vaccine research to minimize the unfortunately occasional severe side effect (like the Sabin polio vaccine had in infecting six to eight kids per year in the US with polio rather than preventing the disease (page 58 of Deadly Choices).

GMO Pundit Post: First Voodoo Science, Now Voodoo History

David Tribe

Written by David Tribe

David Tribe’s research career in academia and industry has covered molecular genetics, biochemistry, microbial evolution and biotechnology. He has over 60 publications and patents. Dr. Tribe's recent activities focus on agricultural policy and food risk management. He teaches graduate programs in food science and risk management as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, University of Melbourne.

58 comments

  1. You don’t need to go far to discover a lot of people linking vaccines to two plots: creating illness to help drive profits for the health care industry; and using the same as a method of population control — and even eugenics.

  2. “A swine flu vaccine which has been given to thousands of children in Britain may cause the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
    Symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness and nodding off suddenly without warning.
    All packets of the vaccine Pandemrix will have to carry a warning about the risk following a ruling by the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA).”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1379943/New-concerns-swine-flu-jab-children-given-hit-sudden-sleep-syndrome.html

  3. Seems to me that someone with a background in statistics could cut this down to size. With such a low number of cases the risk could be nine times greater and still not be truly significant.

  4. I came to the same conclusion about the vax stories, and it’s leaking over into human genomics by the same people now too. Same strategies, again. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad, with real consequences to public health.
    If you could see who was a new Wakefield, would you try to stop him? I would. http://blog.openhelix.eu/?p=7961
    But I’m part of the Totalitarian Science Oligarchy anyway.

  5. Mary M,
    You can probably rest assured that refusing vax for swine flu will have fewer public health implications than refusing MMR.
    MMR is highly specific and highly effective. The vax for swine flu merely represents ‘a good guess’ regarding what strain will be currently running around when the vax is ready.
    Last I saw, it takes like 4-6 months to develop a new flu vaccine (pretty darn fast) but flu tends to mutate faster and change population genetics than vax producers can come up with new stuff. As a result, the flu vaccine might not have been effective anyhow.

  6. Steven Novella at Science Based Medicine covered this story here: The Flu Vaccine and Narcolepsy. The commenters discuss the statistical issues, which I think is important for such a small number of cases of illness.
    While there may be a pattern here, there are some things that can tell us that the vaccine does not *cause* narcolepsy, notably (emphasis added):

    In Iceland (but not Sweden or Finland) the increase in narcolepsy was also seen in those who were not vaccinated. And further, other countries (47 in total) that also used the Pandemrix vaccine have seen no increase in narcolepsy, including Norway, the UK, Germany, and Canada.

  7. Anastasia, the citation that you give states that no increase has been seen in the UK, but the reference that I gave is about the incidence in the UK.

  8. The official U.S. position on genetically-modified organisms is that there is no difference between them and natural organisms. The issue goes even further to suggest that no country should be able to require mandatory GMO labeling on food items, even though science shows that GMOs act differently in the body than do natural organisms and are a threat to health.

  9. Citing the Daily Fail as accurate about anything? I have a bridge I would like to sell you.

  10. I disagree. There is a substantial body of evidence, much of it conducted by independent labs, that shows that GE foods are treated as all other foods are in the diet. Some GE crops, such as soy, merely have an additional gene that codes for an enzyme that makes amino acids that the plant would otherwise already make. The difference is that this enzyme is not affected by glyphosate and the plant survives being sprayed with it. The plant is not fundamentally different nutritionally or compositionally. If GE crops were unsafe to eat, that would not be cause to label them but to pull them from the food supply.

  11. The following was stated:

    “There is a substantial body of evidence, much of it conducted by independent labs, that shows that GE foods are treated as all other foods are in the diet.”

    I would expect that each Genetically Modified “food” would have to be tested individually for equivalence. As an example, consider the following case:

    Title: Transgenic Expression of Bean r-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity

    Authors: VANESSA E. PRESCOTT, PETER M. CAMPBELL, ANDREW MOORE, JOERG MATTES, MARC E. ROTHENBERG, PAUL S. FOSTER, T. J. V. HIGGINS, AND SIMON P. HOGAN
    Authors affiliation: Division of Molecular Bioscience, The John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia, Division of Allergy and Immunology, Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229, and Divisions of Entomology and Plant Industry, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Canberra, ACT, Australia
    Published in: J. Agric. Food Chem. 2005, 53, pages 9023-9030
    Abstract: “The development of modern gene technologies allows for the expression of recombinant proteins in non-native hosts. Diversity in translational and post-translational modification pathways between species could potentially lead to discrete changes in the molecular architecture of the expressed protein and subsequent cellular function and antigenicity. Here, we show that transgenic expression of a plant protein (R-amylase inhibitor-1 from the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L. cv. Tendergreen)) in a non-native host (transgenic pea (Pisum sativum L.)) led to the synthesis of a structurally modified form of this inhibitor. Employing models of inflammation, we demonstrated in mice that consumption of the modified RAI and not the native form predisposed to antigen-specific CD4+ Th2-type inflammation. Furthermore, consumption of the modified RAI concurrently with other heterogeneous proteins promoted immunological cross priming, which then elicited specific immunoreactivity of these proteins. Thus, transgenic expression of non-native proteins in plants may lead to the synthesis of structural variants possessing altered immunogenicity.”
    See also the 2009 paper:
    “Unintended changes in protein expression revealed by proteomic analysis of seeds from transgenic pea expressing a bean -amylase inhibitor gene”

  12. The following was stated:

    ‘This is a non-issue. Transgenic crops are tested individually for substantial equivalence.’

    The question is not (in my mind) whether they are tested individually for substantial equivalence, but whether all of the correct/needed tests are done for each gm crop. Present science has limitations. The following “after the fact” analysis of the pea research should indicate how complex the science can be.
    http://www.bfn.de/fileadmin/MDB/documents/service/skript239.pdf
    Immunogenicity of GM peas. Review of immune effects in mice fed on genetically modified peas and wider impacts for GM risk assessment

  13. The question is not (in my mind) whether they are tested individually for substantial equivalence, but whether all of the correct/needed tests are done for each gm crop. Present science has limitations.

    Wow! Seriously Henry? Are you sure you want to stand by this? Maybe you mis-spoke.
    .
    If not, perhaps you can fill us in on how one is supposed to have your desired premonition on exactly what should be done. How can one KNOW the “correct/needed” test? How can one KNOW if and where the science is limited? Was every test you ever did in your long career was “the correct/needed” one? Did you know YOUR science limitations?
    .
    This is exactly why the precautionary principle is completely useless as a guide. No matter what you come up with, it will always be wrong for someone. It will never be enough. It assumes that those working in the field are complete idiots who never consider consequences. The attitude, Henry, grows tiresome.

  14. Pdiff,
    I completely agree. And there’s sort of a corollary. People are always talking about the “unknown side-effects” of GM crops. The only way to test for them is with the “unknown test”.
    What’s more, there exists an infinite number of “unknown side-effects” of GM crops, the vast majority of which will remain unknown for the rest of time, because they do not exist.

  15. Indeed, there are an infinite number of tests that could be done, and until they all are the precautionary principle stands as a monolith to stupidity blocking the road of progress.

  16. There are also an infinite number of known and unknown consequences of not growing GE crops. This is another problem with the “precautionary principle” as defined by opponents of GE – it is entirely one-sided. For instance, some advocates suggest that Golden Rice may be toxic due to some completely unknown consequence of the beta-carotene pathway, and that until it could be released one must be completely sure that there could be no possible side-effects. However, there is a very real and known consequence of delaying golden rice unreasonably – and that is the ongoing, rampant malnutrition that is harming people’s lives. If the precautionary principle is truly about protecting people from future harm, it must take this into account. It doesn’t.
    There could be other unknown risks of not releasing a particular GE crop that are not being considered. (Should we apply the unknown test?) This doesn’t mean that we must throw our hands up in the air and say that we can’t restrict any future innovations because there are unknown benefits that could be stopped, just like unknown risks that might occur shouldn’t in and of itself be a reason to restrict those innovations. What we must do is base our restrictions or releases on the most sensible, likely and know-able impacts of action and inaction that science can address.

  17. Pdif stated:

    “Wow! Seriously Henry? Are you sure you want to stand by this? Maybe you mis-spoke.”

    H.Kuska reply. Did you read the example that I posted (which you left out of your quote)? Please cite what in my example you feel supports you making your above statement.
    —————————————–
    Pdif also stated:

    “If not, perhaps you can fill us in on how one is supposed to have your desired premonition on exactly what should be done. How can one KNOW the “correct/needed” test? How can one KNOW if and where the science is limited? Was every test you ever did in your long career was “the correct/needed” one? Did you know YOUR science limitations?
    .
    This is exactly why the precautionary principle is completely useless as a guide. No matter what you come up with, it will always be wrong for someone. It will never be enough. It assumes that those working in the field are complete idiots who never consider consequences. The attitude, Henry, grows tiresome.”

    H. Kuska comment. I do not expect scientific discussions to include “straw men”
    ————————————————————-
    In another thread I had posted links to the following 2 papers.
    Inventory of observed unexpected environmental effects of genetically modified crops, a non peer reviewed report that was commissioned by a group that advises the Netherlands government about the environmental concerns of genetic engineering (PDF).
    AND

    “A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants”

    Only the abstract of the second article is available to the public. I will have to utilize quotes from the actual article. I prefer not doing this bescause this opens me up to a charge of “cherry picking”, but there is no other way. The last time I posted this I offered to send a limited copies for educational purposes, but no one requested a copy.
    In the “Final Remarks section, the following appeared:

    “Moreover, it is worth mentioning that most of the studies demonstrating that GM foods are as nutritional and safe as those obtained by conventional breeding, have been performed by biotechnology companies or associates, which are also responsible of commercializing these GM plants.”

    (A similar statement is made in the abstract, but there the exact meaning does not appear to be clear.)

    “In the period here revised,October 2006–August 2010, a few reviews on health risks of GMfoods/plants have been also published (Dona and Arvanitoyannis, 2009; Magaña-Gómez and de la Barca, 2009; Key et al., 2008). In general terms, all these authors agree in remarking that more scientific efforts are clearly necessary in order to build confidence in the evaluation and acceptance of GM foods/plant by both the scientific community and the general public. Especially critical is the recent review by Dona and Arvanitoyannis (2009), who remarked that results of most studies with GMfoods would indicate that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects, and might alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters. These authors also concluded that the use of recombinant GH or its expression in animals should be re-examined since it has been shown that it increases IGF-1 which, in turn, may promote cancer. A harsh response to that reviewwas recently published in the same journal (Rickard, 2010). This is indeed only an example on the controversial debate on GMOs,which remains completely open at all levels.”

    The following is a “news report” about a 168 page 2010 report.

  18. Sorry, wrong answer. I am concerned that the researchers in every article you’ve ever posted here have carried out incorrect tests. The science has limitations, you know, and it is not clear to me that they know them any better than others in the field.

  19. pdiff stated:

    “I am concerned that the researchers in every article you’ve ever posted here have carried out incorrect tests. The science has limitations, you know, and it is not clear to me that they know them any better than others in the field.”

    H.Kuska reply. I am sorry that is what you have interpreted from my statement:

    “The question is not (in my mind) whether they are tested individually for substantial equivalence, but whether all of the correct/needed tests are done for each gm crop. Present science has limitations.”

    I can only hope that I (and the references that I have cited) have planted a seed(s) that someday you will recognize as having some merit.

  20. Especially critical is the recent review by Dona and Arvanitoyannis (2009), who remarked that results of most studies with GMfoods would indicate that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects, and might alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters. These authors also concluded that the use of recombinant GH or its expression in animals should be re-examined since it has been shown that it increases IGF-1 which, in turn, may promote cancer. A harsh response to that reviewwas recently published in the same journal (Rickard, 2010). This is indeed only an example on the controversial debate on GMOs,which remains completely open at all levels.

    Have you read the Dona and Arvanitoyannis (2009) review Henry?. There are numerous problems about it, including ethical ones. There appears to be plagiarism, and the authors don’t seem to be particularly qualified. It seemingly is a student doing a review to which the senior author puts his name.The senior author (from his incredible diverse publication record) is an expert in ALL aspects of food technology and in this case has not tuned into the details needed for a sound review. I doubt whether they understand what they are saying about IGF-1. The critical response to it in the same journal does not even scratch the surface of the poor quality of the review.

  21. The articles you mention and their defects are familiar ones to many readers of this site, and it’s good to see them highlighted yet again. The statements that are made are often very ambiguous and almost meaningless. Better to say for instance, that more than 25% of all research on GMO food safety is done by non-biotech company researchers.(see GMO Pundit website http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2007/06/150-published-safety-assessments-on-gm.html)
    You say that nature is complicated, and we need to have an open mind about our opinions. The same qualifications apply to every opinion,and to every technology alternative, including yours Henry. Your proposals can cause harm, and you are probably not aware of all the defects and adverse consequences of your opinions.
    But isn’t there a really big problem with all this doubt. To solve real problems we have to make some decisions. We can’t keep putting of decisions when problems of food security, climate change and world poverty take so long (decades)to solve.
    The old adage, “lead, follow, or get out of the way” is very relevant I think.

  22. The question was asked:

    “Have you read the Dona and Arvanitoyannis (2009) review Henry?.”

    H.Kuska reply. The review that I read was the May 2011 review that I cited which referenced both the Dona and Arvanitoyannis review and the rebuttle. The May 2011 review appeared (to me) to be fair and unbiased.

  23. The following was stated:

    “Your proposals can cause harm, and you are probably not aware of all the defects and adverse consequences of your opinions.
    But isn’t there a really big problem with all this doubt. To solve real problems we have to make some decisions. We can’t keep putting of decisions when problems of food security, climate change and world poverty take so long (decades)to solve.
    The old adage, “lead, follow, or get out of the way” is very relevant I think.”

    H. Kuska comment. This is a forum, please state what proposals (interesting that you feel there are more than one) you are referring to. And please stick to the actual proposals that you feel that I have proposed, not some “straw man” extensions (as some others in this forum have a tendency to do).

  24. I agree that using Bt traits comes with some amount of risk. However, as Karl mentioned above, we need to look at the risk of not using it as well. If the alternatives are Bt and organophosphate insecticides, I hope you can guess which one I’ll pick.

  25. The following was stated:
    “If the alternatives are Bt and organophosphate insecticides,”
    H.Kuska comment. But are these 2 alternatives the only alternatives and is the Bt alternative a long range alternative or only a shorter term one that sooner or later will require an insecticide. See the following article for a possible example of a Bt cotton being only a short term solution as another insect is starting to move in:
    Beet armyworm moving from pigweed to cotton

  26. The following was stated:

    “I agree that using Bt traits comes with some amount of risk. However, as Karl mentioned above, we need to look at the risk of not using it as well.”

    H.Kuska comment. There is a published scientific paper that has attempted to look at: “Quantification of Changes in Chemical Pesticide
    Human Health Risk Following the Introduction of Bt
    Cotton and Herbicide-tolerant Soybean: A Case Study”
    The authors are at Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA.
    The full paper is not available to the public. Here is my “cherry picking”.
    In the section titled “approach” the following appears:

    “Glyphosate applications largely replaced the previous widespread use of herbicides, such as Imazethapyr and trifluralin. Glyphosate and trifluralin are listed as two of the top five herbicide active ingredients applied to soybean crops in 2000 (USDA 2001). For the years 2000–2003, glyphosate became the most widely used pesticide by volume in the United States, replacing atrazine (USDA 2005), which for many years had been the most widely used. Therefore, in this study, glyphosate and trifluralin can give us valuable insights regarding human health risks before and after herbicide use patterns change.”

    In the “SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS” section, the following appears:

    “The goal of this article was to present a framework for quantifying the change in synthetic chemical pesticide exposure and risk related to the introduction of GM crops. Four traditional synthetic chemical pesticides were chosen for this study based on their popularity and toxicity. The human health risks of these four pesticides to two target populations before and after the introduction of Bt cotton and HT soybean were compared. Monte Carlo simulations were used to illustrate and account for the effects of uncertainty and variability in fate, transport, exposure, and hence, risk. From the results of this study, we draw the following conclusions:”

    “1. The risks from pesticide exposures to the general public living outside the area where pesticides are applied may be higher than the risks to the population living in the area where the pesticides are applied. This occurs because exposure to pesticides is not only dependent on the geometric distance from the contaminated area, but also strongly dependent on the reaction half-lives in the environmental compartments, the fraction of water ingested from different sources, and the characteristic travel distances (related to persistence). Hence, Population 2 (general public) generally received a larger exposure to acephate, methyl parathion, and glyphosate compared to the population living in the area applied. For example, the population living in the area applied was more exposed to acephate through air ingestion intake, whereas the general public living outside of the area applied was more exposed to acephate through surface water ingestion intake. This is due to both a low characteristic travel distance in air and a high characteristic travel distance in water. Also, water sources for Population 2 (the population living in the area where the pesticides are applied) are mostly from ground water, not surface water. The concentration of Acephate in ground water is relatively smaller than that in surface water. Therefore, exposures from water consumption are mainly through surface water.”

    “2. A large amount of trifluralin is still used following the introduction of HT soybeans. In the case of Iowa and Minnesota, the total amounts of trifluralin used were increased 94 and 34.7%, respectively, during 1996 through 2000. The average total crop area planted were only increased 20.2 and 23.6% in Iowa and Minnesota, respectively, during this time period, which means that the concentrations of pesticides in local environmental compartments go up. As noted previously, the introduction of HT crops mainly changes herbicide use patterns. Glyphosate applications largely replaced the previous widespread use of herbicides, such as trifluralin. However, the data showed an increasing tendency of trifluralin use. A further investigation is needed.”

    “3. Large amounts of glyphosate have been used in the United States since the HT soybean was introduced. The data show that the human health risks are almost 5 to 10 times higher than those before the introduction of HT soybean in the three target U.S. states studied. Even though the non-cancer risks are relatively small (on the order of 10−6 to 10−4), the rapid and huge increases of risks associated with glyphosate should be monitored and not ignored.
    Non-cancer risks from methyl parathion are significantly reduced after the introduction of Bt cotton. However, the non-cancer risks are still on the order of 10−1. In this study, the source term was modeled as a continuous release into the appropriate compartments with a unit of mol per day, which may underestimate possible concentrations of pesticides in different media during spring, the period of heaviest use. Therefore, the health risks may need more serious attention.
    Further research should be conducted to forecast human health risks from pesticide exposure without the introduction of GM crops based on trends of pesticide use in the past several decades. These results should be compared with the results provided in this article. The comparison will be also very helpful in seeing whether or not the claims given by biotechnology industries are justified.”

    ———————————————–
    H.Kuska comment. Unfortunately, there are no citations to this paper listed in Google Scholar.

  27. Anyone have any idea why the department of nuclear engineering at Berkley is doing agricultural research rather than say, nuclear engineering?
    On the article (which I have access too, but not time to disect) – can someone explain the risk numbers in a manner that is meaningful – a glance through the paper gave no indication of what 10-1 or 10-4 meant in real terms – I was amused somewhat that gourd water was utilized (shame on the editors) alongside surface water.

  28. Looking at the paper one wonders how exactly they come to the conclusion that there are any differences at all – the tables show a single difference at high level feeding in lactobacillus in males only with no dose response and with the min/max falling squarely in the range seen in other feeding regimes.
    When looking at relative levels there are two occasions where the non-GM diet causes quite large spikes in relative amounts of E.coli (for a single treatment) – for some reason the authors suggest this implicates a health impact of the GM – despite the GM within the same treatment having similar relative levels of E.coli to both GM and non-GM in the other two treatments. (I’d assume feeding a 70% rice diet to rats would induce a lot of variability which would likely explain the spikes at highest levels)
    You pretty much have to be pulling a Seralini to take home anything from this paper other than that there are no differences between the GM or non-GM diet for this particular transgenic.
    I await with trepidation the reminder that this has been peer reviewed along with no actual meaningful counter-arguement or explanation.

  29. Lets assume Bt cotton is a short term solution (I’d guess mid term, and also highlight that the technology isn’t static – Bollgard I –> Bollgard II –> Whatever the third and subsequent generation products are) – does this make it a bad thing, a neutral thing, or simply a less good thing as compared to a either a long term solution (I would argue that on a scale of multiple decades there is no single long term solution that will work – any time you grow a big ass field of potential food some pest will likely adapt to utilize the newly opened niche) or no change in the status quo – what are your views on this Henry?

  30. “3. Large amounts of glyphosate have been used in the United States since the HT soybean was introduced. The data show that the human health risks are almost 5 to 10 times higher than those before the introduction of HT soybean in the three target U.S. states studied.”
    This is very suspicious. Glyphosate is safer than the chemicals it replaces, so why would health risks go up five to ten times higher with more widespread use?
    Someone is pulling a statistical leg I think.

  31. Ewan what this uncertainly of lifetime does is make (I feel) it impossible to calculate the total costs (including the future) of various alternatives with any degree of certainty.
    This article may serve as a good introduction into some of the problems facing the agricultural chemistry industry:

    “But the more than a decade-long dominance of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, is finally fading because of the emergence of resistant weeds. Farmers who have depended on glyphosate almost exclusively will have to manage weed resistance by applying herbicides with different modes of action.”

  32. I’m not sure I get what you mean.
    Assume a 10 year lifespan for Bt cotton for instance (which would mean it was just about dead right now, which is hardly close to being true) – what costs are you on about? For a 10 year lifespan on the product you have massive reduction in insecticide use. The alternative would have been the status quo.
    Is using Bt for this 10 year period a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing.
    Likewise for roundup – lets assume 10 year product life for RR crops (again a silly number) – was this useage a good thing, bad thing, or neutral thing when the alternative was retention of the status quo?
    Given that the uncertainty of lifetime on any solution makes cost (and benefit) calculation impossible how can one incorporate the uncertainty of lifetime into a meaningful discussion on various technologies? Do we need to guarantee an infinite lifetime for a product to be useful (oops there goes all antibiotics ever used) or should we just throw the concept out of the window and simply see if X beats Y in a given year for a given parameter – if so X should replace Y even if after Z years it becomes worthless – as a switch back to Y is simply a return to business as usual with a period of Z years of increased productivity (or whatever your parameter of choice was) – isn’t this a better method? (and this all assumes that in the period Z while using X another better alternative to Y (or X and Y) isn’t developed – indeed arguements about limited lifespan of products hinge on the unrealistic view that no new advances will be made, whereas the commercial reality is that new advances pretty much have to be made or you end up losing your patent protection and having a bloody awesome product that anyone can produce, which Monsanto learned to their peril drastically effects the old return on investment for shareholders (ouch!))
    I also wonder to what extent one could rotate systems – if the RR system becomes untenable in coming years how long would it take before it is tenable again? Given the fitness penalty for being roundup resistant as a weed (or Bt resistant as a bug – and I’m pretty sure this is a pretty harsh penalty in the bug case) you’d have to assume that after a decade or so roundup resistance would simply drift out of existence (or as close to out of existence as to make little difference) – we simply havent been using these tools long enough to comprehensively answer these questions – I can’t help but feel however that both could well see a resurgence (and one that corporations have a hard time making money off of) before I draw my first pension check.

  33. Health risks from glyphosate in particular, not the combined health risks of everything.
    Hardly surprising – increase glyphosate use by 5 to 10 times (I assume) and see a concommitant increase in risk of 5 to 10 times – wording it in a way as to draw the attention of the easily scared? Priceless.

  34. That plays into my whole “unrealistic view” drivel further in the post – I know that multiple new approaches are being developed and will continue to be developed (every summer I’m thankful that measuring yield requires nearly infinitely less work than measuring and ensuring insect damage) – my assumption of 10 year lifespan can be assumed to mean for a single gene rather than for Bt as a family of genes.

  35. The following was stated:

    “I would argue that on a scale of multiple decades there is no single long term solution that will work – any time you grow a big ass field of potential food some pest will likely adapt to utilize the newly opened niche) or no change in the status quo –”

    H. Kuska comment. You may find the following very recent (in press) reviewed scientific paper of interest.
    Effects of integrated pest management, biological control and prophylactic use of insecticides on the management and sustainability of soybean

  36. GMO Pundit April 27, 2011 at 6:19 pm made a statement that I challenged.

    “H. Kuska comment. This is a forum, please state what proposals (interesting that you feel there are more than one) you are referring to. And please stick to the actual proposals that you feel that I have proposed, not some “straw man” extensions (as some others in this forum have a tendency to do).”

    He has not documented the challenged statement

    “Your proposals can cause harm, and you are probably not aware of all the defects and adverse consequences of your opinions.”

    nor has he withdrawn the statement.
    I am therefore requesting that the forum “proctor” withdraw that post since I expect that the following “Comment Policy” will be enforced:

    “Attacks: You may question or argue any ideas but comments that include personal attacks will be removed,…..”

  37. You say that nature is complicated, and we need to have an open mind about our opinions. The same qualifications apply to every opinion,and to every technology alternative, including yours Henry. Your proposals can cause harm, and you are probably not aware of all the defects and adverse consequences of your opinions.

    Perhaps that could be rephrased as:
    You say that nature is complicated, and we need to have an open mind about our opinions. The same qualifications apply to every opinion,and to every technology alternative, including yours Henry. Your, or anyone else’s proposals can cause harm, and you (or anyone) are probably not aware of all the defects and adverse consequences of your opinions
    For example Henry’s previous comments:

    The question is not (in my mind) whether they are tested individually for substantial equivalence, but whether all of the correct/needed tests are done for each gm crop.

    I would expect that each Genetically Modified “food” would have to be tested individually for equivalence

    can both be harmful if by being pushed repeatedly to excess, they delay access of poor people to more nutritious food such as vitamin enhanced maize, cassava, and rice. The unneeded extra 5-year delay on vitamin A biofortified GM rice has caused already 10s (if not 100s) of thousands of deaths. That is another examplies of how policy ideas are complicated.

  38. The statement: ” if by being pushed repeatedly to excess” is another example of what is commonly called setting up a “straw man”.
    In the review that I cited on April 27, 2011 at 2:43 pm the following was stated:

    “In general terms, all these authors agree in remarking that more scientific efforts are clearly necessary in order to build confidence in the evaluation and acceptance of GM foods/plant by both the scientific community and the general public.”

    Please notice the use of the word “all”. I feel that I could go through the literature and find many additional references to support my challenged statements (repeated below), but I already gave one example that no one has commented on.

    “The question is not (in my mind) whether they are tested individually for substantial equivalence, but whether all of the correct/needed tests are done for each gm crop. Present science has limitations. The following “after the fact” analysis of the pea research should indicate how complex the science can be. Immunogenicity of GM peas. Review of immune effects in mice fed on genetically modified peas and wider impacts for GM risk assessment

    The above is a 65 page report, I feel that there are a number of passages that support my position. Here is one on page 6:

    “In this context the Prescott study indicates a strong need for reconsidering the current approach to GM allergenicity assessment.”

    —————————————————
    Concerning the second statement challenged: “I would expect that each Genetically Modified “food” would have to be tested individually for equivalence”.
    The following was posted by Anastasia Bodnar on April 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm ·

    “This is a non-issue. Transgenic crops are tested individually for substantial equivalence.”

  39. Henry,
    As far as allergy assessment, substantial changes in the science have occured in recent years with the latest being:
    Suggested Improvements for the Allergenicity Assessment
    of Genetically Modified Plants Used in Foods
    Richard E. Goodman & Afua O. Tetteh
    2011. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
    Curr Allergy Asthma Rep DOI 10.1007/s11882-011-0195-6
    It has as this to say about the pea inhibitor
    A few potential GM products have been described in the
    literature that present matches of greater than 35% identity
    over 80 amino acids to allergens. Those products should be
    tested by specific serum IgE binding if they were intended
    for commercial use [13••]. The gene of α-amylase inhibitor
    from common bean was introduced into field peas to
    protect against the storage beetle, which often causes a high
    percentage of loss [39]. The protein sequence of α-amylase
    inhibitor is slightly more than 40% identical to peanut
    agglutinin, a minor allergen of peanut. Serum IgE-binding
    studies are in progress in our laboratory to test for crossreactivity,
    but to date, only 1 serum from 34 peanut-allergic
    individuals had clear and specific IgE binding to peanut
    agglutinin, and that serum did not bind to α-amylase
    inhibitor (unpublished results). Serum IgE from a few
    patients with high IgE binding to cross-reactive carbohydrate
    determinants (CCDs) on phytohemagglutinin and
    other glycoproteins bound to the α-amylase inhibitor due
    to CCDs. The IgE binding was inhibited by preincubating
    the sera with nonhomologous CCD proteins. Additional
    tests are being performed to evaluate the ability of
    α-amylase inhibitor to activate basophils that are sensitized
    with IgE from peanut-allergic individuals or those
    with CCD binding, but thus far, results are negative
    (unpublished).
    NOTE Ref 13 is
    •• Goodman RE, Vieths S, Sampson HA, et al. Allergenicity
    assessment of genetically modified crops—what makes sense?
    Nat Biotechnol. 2008;26(1):73–81. This is a critical review of
    regulatory development for GM crops, risks of food allergy, and
    the essential details of specific assays (bioinformatics, serum IgE, stability) and hypothetical tests (animal model, targeted serum tests, inappropriate bioinformatics). It was an important update on allergen assessment
    In other words, the now standard (Codex Alimentarius listed) newer bioinformatics tools — explained in thse articles — FLAG the pea inhibitor for scrutiny.
    As far as a straw man argument Henry, you are entitled to your opinion (which I don’t share) , but “straw men” are still doing a lot of harm if they delay vitamin A enriched food to children who need it, costing lives.

  40. ——————————-
    GMO Pundit’s reference

    “Suggested Improvements for the Allergenicity Assessment of Genetically Modified Plants Used in Foods”

    Contains statements like:

    “Some uncertainties still exist based on imperfectly predictable testing.”

    which I feel is consistent with what I wrote

    “The question is not (in my mind) whether they are tested individually for substantial equivalence, but whether all of the correct/needed tests are done for each gm crop. Present science has limitations.”

    ——————————-
    They also state:

    “In our opinion, most current allergenicity assessment
    procedures for GM food crops are based on the best available science.”

    Please notice their use of the word “most”. I do not dispute “most”, the fact that there are some that are not is why I stated that I am concerned “whether all of the correct/needed tests are done for each gm crop.” Please notice that I used the word “each”.
    —————————-
    They also state:

    “However, the allergenicity assessment by most countries should be updated to emphasize the priorities of hazard identification, risk characterization, and exposure.”

    Please notice the words “should be updated”.
    ——————————
    They also state:

    “Evaluation of de novo sensitization should be improved after further study to optimize and integrate
    information on the stability of the protein in pepsin and the
    abundance of the protein in food.”

    Please notice the words “should be improved after further study”.
    ——————————–
    My original statements were based on my reading of the literature. I feel this 2011 paper that GMO Pundit introduced “Suggested Improvements” paper supports my interpretation of the present state of “…. Assessment of Genetically Modified Plants Used in Foods”.

  41. At some point, the literature regarding the environmental and food safety of GM crops will be so complete that even the wildest imaginations will be unable to hypothesize a potential risk.
    That point was probably reached about four years ago.

  42. Eric Baumholder stated:

    “That point was probably reached about four years ago.”

    H.Kuska comment. Please document.

  43. How is this “after the fact”? Sure, the tests were conducted after the transgenic peas were developed (I don’t know how it could be otherwise) but they were done well before release to consumers, and now that issues with allergenicity, these peas won’t be released and similar projects will be halted or continue with more caution now that this effect is known.

  44. I (H.Kuska) stated:

    “The following “after the fact” analysis of the pea research should indicate how complex the science can be.”

    ” I am referring to the follow up article. I did not intend in any way that the analysis paper that I was referring to was sub standard. There may have been a better set of words to use. At the time I did not think it would cause confusion. Perhaps The following would be better:

    “The following analysis of the earlier published pea research should indicate how complex the science can be.”

  45. I still don’t see your point. The research found allergenicity issues so those peas will never be on the market. It would be “after the fact” if the peas were already on the market and then someone found a legitimate problem with allergenicity.
    Should we not do things simply because they are complex? What’s the definition of complexity? The laptop I’m writing on is a marvel of complexity. Marker assisted breeding is terribly complex. Suspension bridges are very complex. Should we stop all that and more?
    The current system of evaluating genetically engineered crops to establish substantial equivalence is sound. Could there be improvements? Of course, but I see no evidence that there are major problems with the current system – it is adequate to evaluate risk.

  46. The following was stated:

    “Should we not do things simply because they are complex? What’s the definition of complexity? The laptop I’m writing on is a marvel of complexity. Marker assisted breeding is terribly complex. Suspension bridges are very complex. Should we stop all that and more?”

    H.Kuska comment. Where did I state that? Please do not argue “straw men”.
    The “follow up” paper looked at:

    “This report investigates three main questions. First, are the conclusions in the Prescott paper fully supported by the presented experimental results? Second, is the animal model applied relevant for GM food risk assessment? Third, would the GM pea have alerted risk assessors if undergoing the ‘standard’ risk assessment procedure?”

    Again my revised statement is: “The following analysis of the earlier published pea research should indicate how complex the science can be.”
    I would think that graduate students in this area would find this paper of interest if they had an impression that GM safety analysis was always straight forward.
    —————————————-
    There are so many interesting points in this “follow up” paper that I would prefer to not single out just a few but since there appears to be a problem grasping the meaning of my referring to this paper, here is one from the conclusion section:

    “Whether the pea aAI would have alerted the risk assessors in any case is difficult to tell as digestibility tests and homology comparisons along with data from literature lead to contradicting conclusions.”

    AND one from the “recomendations for Further Research Section.

    “The difficulties to find and agree on suitable models could be settled by consensus meetings of experts and launching of research programs addressing the suitability and feasibility of the various models.”

  47. Henry, you use the term straw man so often, and so wrongly. Anastasia isn’t arguing a straw man, she’s asking a question. Something you seem particularly averse to responding to without either screaming straw man or demanding posts be deleted.
    I’m going to have to go ahead and second (Eric I think…) and voice that this is getting increasingly tiresome.

  48. Thank you for the link to the article published in the entity that you cofounded.
    A sugestion – a date of last revision on each article would be useful (to me).
    I assume that no claim is being made that this article was subject to independent review before being presented.
    Also no authors are identified. As a “traditional” scientist, I am very concerned about this.

Comments are closed.

Scroll Up