Watch the Bodnar vs Hansen Debate in New Hampshire

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Anastasia Bodnar, Michael Hansen, and Frank N. Foode with their host, Henry Ahern, President of the Grafton County Farm Bureau. Credit: ALB

People like to debate. Lately, there have been many debates and public discussions about genetically engineered crops, particularly as several states are considering legislation or ballot measures that address the question of mandatory GMO labeling. New Hampshire, which is no stranger to the National spotlight each election season, is also weighing the pros and cons of such laws, along with its neighboring states. Naturally, as the public considers laws about GMOs, they want to understand the science behind these crops, so why not set up a debate between scientists?
I can think of a few reasons. Debates tend to entrench views, rather than educate. They can also perpetuate an adversarial approach to comparing opposing views rather than an open search for knowledge. Debates can also be difficult for audience members when debaters bring up many claims without adequate time to address them, which can give the perception that their opponent is unable to respond to them – a strategy called the Gish Gallop. Sometimes, certain personalities can contribute to the problems with debates, while people interested in other, more congenial approaches can make good use of the format. So what happens when you one of each kind of person in a debate on GMOs? Our own co-Director Anastasia Bodnar, was invited to engage Michael Hansen from the Consumer’s Union at the Grafton County Farm Bureau Meeting on October 19 in New Hampshire, and I daresay she held her own. Why don’t you watch their panel discussion and see for yourself?

(Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes. It runs twice in this YouTube video, the second time without sound.)
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Michael Hansen and Frank N. Foode, Credit: ALB

In the discussion, a few interesting things happened that I wanted to note. Michael Hansen revealed that he believes that the companies and/or regulators are hiding something – which is conspiratorial thinking. He also brought up unsubstantiated claims of hair growing out of the mouths of GMO-fed hamsters (there are zero studies showing this), while also clearly criticizing documentaries and activists who try to link every illness under the sun with GMOs. He emphatically agreed with Anastasia Bodnar that correlation is not causation. What other things did you notice in this discussion? Let us know in the comments!
Definitely do not miss what happened at 46:10 in the video! Start watching from about 41:00 if you want to see the full context.
You can also see photos of New Hampshire farms and countryside in the photo album here. Kudos for Michael being brave anough to get his photo taken with a GMO corn And give Anastasia some props for taking part in this debate and doing so well to help people understand the science and the issues involved! Let’s hope we see more of this.

Written by Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication.

10 comments

  1. this is study cited:
    “This study was just routine,” said Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov, in what could end up as the understatement of this century. Surov and his colleagues set out to discover if Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) soy, grown on 91% of US soybean fields, leads to problems in growth or reproduction.
    Hair Growing in the Mouth
    Earlier this year, Surov co-authored a paper in Doklady Biological Sciences showing that in rare instances, hair grows inside recessed pouches in the mouths of hamsters.
    “Some of these pouches contained single hairs; others, thick bundles of colorless or pigmented hairs reaching as high as the chewing surface of the teeth. Sometimes, the tooth row was surrounded with a regular brush of hair bundles on both sides. The hairs grew vertically and had sharp ends, often covered with lumps of a mucous.”
    At the conclusion of the study, the authors surmise that such an astounding defect may be due to the diet of hamsters raised in the laboratory. They write,
    “This pathology may be exacerbated by elements of the food that are absent in natural food, such as genetically modified (GM) ingredients (GM soybean or maize meal) or contaminants (pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, etc.).”
    Indeed, the number of hairy mouthed hamsters was much higher among the third generation of GM soy fed animals than anywhere Surov had seen before.
    http://www.sott.net/article/233726-Genetically-Modified-Soy-Linked-to-Sterility-Infant-Mortality-in-Hamsters

  2. There are statements that Surov’s work is taken out of context. This could be. My research continues. What *is* clear is that scientific findings are *not* clear, which warrants further research & supports public demand for labeling.
    8. Conclusions
    The debate on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used for food and feed is still very lively throughout the world, more than 15 years after their first commercial release. Huge social, economical, and political issues have been raised. Unfortunately, although some stakeholders claim that a history of safe use of GMOs can be upheld, there are no human or animal epidemiological studies to support such a claim as yet, in particular because of the lack of labeling and traceability in GMO-producing countries. As a matter of fact, 97% of edible GMOs among cultivated GMOs (soy, corn and oilseed rape or canola, excluding cotton) are grown in South and North America, where GMOs are not labeled. All these plants have been modified to tolerate
    and/or produce one or more pesticides, and contain therefore such residues at various levels. Most are Roundup residues (it is a major herbicide used worldwide and tolerated by about 80% of GMOs).
    As stated by the EFSA (2008), several aspects have to be investigated when considering
    whether or not recombinant DNA from GM plants, or the derived proteins can end up in animal tissues and products. These include (i) the fate of the recombinant DNA and protein
    during feed processing and ensiling; (ii) the fate of the recombinant DNA and protein in the
    gastrointestinal tract of animals fed with GM feed; (iii) the potential absorption of the
    digested pieces of DNA or protein into animal tissues/products and (iv) the potential of
    biological functionality of absorbed DNA and protein fragments.
    The mere detection of recombinant DNA fragments in animal organs and tissues could not justify, by itself, public concerns regarding human consumption of products from farm animals fed transgenic crops. However, the persistence of DNA after dietary exposure is one aspect of risk assessment for novel food. Indeed, as concerns the hypothetical horizontal gene transfer of recombinant DNA from GM crop-derived feeds to animal and human gut microflora, Netherwood et al. (2004), found that a small proportion of feed DNA survives passage through the human upper gastrointestinal tract and a very small proportion of the small intestinal microflora containing transgenic
    feed. According to the authors, even if this result does not indicate a complete transgenic
    transfer to the prokaryotes, the survival of transgenic DNA during the passage through the small intestine should be considered in future safety assessments of GM foods. In addition, any alteration in cell metabolism should be taken into account in this field. For instance, the modification in LDH synthesis suggests an increase in cell metabolism. Therefore, possible long-term effects of such an alteration need to be elucidated. In conclusion, taking into account the potential risks related to GMP impact, further researches are needed in this area, including studies to determine DNA transport or entry mechanisms/processes across the epithelial layer of the gastro-intestinal tract into the bloodstream, as well as degradation or accumulation of foreign DNA in blood or other organs of animal species. In any case, the traceability of products from animals fed on GMOs is crucial.
    http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/23493/InTech-Genetically_modified_soybean_in_animal_nutrition.pdf

  3. I have found statements that Voice of Russia report is “nonsense”. However, I am unclear as to how this qualifies as “nonsense” since “scientists who carried out the experiment say that it’s too early to make far-reaching conclusions about the health hazards of the GMO (and they) insist that there is a need to carry out comprehensive research.” It may be correct that this report may overstate the research results. However, there are clearly mutations occurring & that fact is alarming. The disclaimer within the research presented is that clear causal relation is not known. However, a hypothesis cannot be proven true, only untrue. It may be correct that this report overstates the research results. However, there are clearly mutations occurring & that fact is alarming. Until greater body evidence supports human ability to process these GE foodstuffs, there should be wider reconsideration of statements that these foods are safe. Even *should* there become significant body of evidence to support safety for human consumption, the public Right to Know *demands* labelling of these foods — just like food dyes and other additives.
    Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/2010/04/16/6524765/

  4. All of these postings are in response to the statements “claims of hair growing out of the mouths of GMO-fed hamsters” are “unsubstantiated”, following by statement that “there are zero studies showing this”. The results appear to be real, whether or not one-to-one correlation can established between those results and the intake of GMO foods.

  5. Hi Dropdeadphred,
    Yes, I am aware of the claims made by Jeffrey Smith, and of Alexei Surov. The claims surfaced three years ago, and in the time since then have not been backed up by evidence published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal – or anywhere for that matter. It amounts to mere hypothetical speculation, which is irresponsible for Michael Hansen to be promoting in a science-based discussion of GE crops. There are still zero studies that demonstrate this claim.

  6. The results appear to be real

    This requires some torturous redefinition of either the word “appear” or “real”, possibly both.
    Although as you appear happy to totally redefine peer reviewed science as something some guy said they studied but never got published because it was utter crap… This may not be overly surprising.

  7. So the fact that every research animal in the US (and most of the world probably) has eaten GMO chow for over a decade is probably irrelevant to you, right? Open any journal, look at the control animals. It’s all there for you to see. Not a single report of hairy-mouthness yet. We would have noticed, I assure you. Animal technicians are highly-trained professionals and are going to observe these things.
    Now, these may not have the quality you expect of HuffPo or Voice of Russia, I know. But maybe you should broaden your scope of what you consider to be quality work.

  8. I hope everyone is aware that hamsters _normally_ have hair in their “mouths,” specifically in fur-lined pouches on both sides of their heads which extend to their
    shoulders. It makes them cute.

  9. Thank you for follow up to my postings. Since I am a technical editor for environmental consulting firm with background in technical translations & translated publications, rather than a scientist, I am liable to follow a general logic train as opposed to point-by-point details. My business partner frequently calls me on this tendency. 😉
    As a proponent of R2K legislation who is *also* concerned by the chronic lapse into hyperbole — both in my own arguments as well as those of my fellow campaign members — as an element that weakens the overall nature of this debate, I welcome corrections to my postings & look forward to continuing to follow this dialogue in the future.
    I strongly believe that there is common ground between both sides of the argument & feel duty-bound — as a “fellow traveler” within the scientific community although not a scientist myself *as well as* an active member of GMO Free Oregon & organizer for MAM PDX — to work towards strengthening the ability for rational discourse on this issue. There is no way, IMHO, that an increase in rational communication & a decrease in the amount of “invective-based” dialogue cannot work to the betterment of us all. 🙂
    Due to travel to support monitoring field operations in the coming week, I will be unable to post follow up commentary. However, I will follow postings closely until the time that I am able to again enter the conversation with commentary is adequately researched, summarized & sourced until *at least* after Veteran’s Day Holiday.
    Warmest regards to all members of this community. I look forward to “speaking” with you all again.

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