Monday, January 6, 2014

GMO consensus.

Politics, science & pastafarians

SNAP! Spaghetti monster broke blogger!
-- sticking comments in the middle of the text. 

Please scroll waaay down below to continue reading!

We recently had a conversation on Twitter about the alleged consensus on safety of GMOs.  Jesus, who hangs out on Twitter,  in case you are seeking him, challenged the legitimacy of said consensus.  He pointed out  a break-away group of non-adherents of the consensus named  ENSSER. You really should click on  the ENSSER statement, linked below Jesus' tweet-it's worth it. 


Keep Scrolling :)

A schism among legitimate scientists is inconvenient as hell.  Thus impugning the credibility of heretical scientists is rather a rational response. I happen to agree with Jesus on this one- I think a consensus on GMOs is as real as the Spaghetti monster.

As a general rule, those who believe in the consensus reject labeling GMOs and those who don't believe in it want them labeled.
I mentioned that a pioneering genetic engineer, Dr. Belinda Martineau, of Calgene's Flavr Savr tomato fame, is one of 200-something signatories to the ENSSER's non-consensus statement and  followed that up with thousands of veterinarians and internists  represented by two science based organizations  which reached opposite conclusions. It is useful to contrast the two: the American Veterinary Medical Association ( AVMA) representing approximately 80,000 Doctors of veterinary medicine and the American College of Physicians (ACP) with 130,000+ internal medicine specialist members.

So here is American College of Physicians' Resolution on GMOs.

Resolution 6-S10. Supporting Legislation and/or Regulation that Requires Clearly Labeling Food with Genetically Engineered Ingredients (pages 8-9) WHEREAS, ACP has as a strategic theme “to promote the highest professional and ethical standards for our members and organization; and WHEREAS, the Physicians Charter of Professionalism calls on physicians to provide “expert advice to society on matters of health”; and
WHEREAS, lack of labeling denies health professionals the ability to trace potential toxic [1] or
allergic reactions [2] [3] [4] to, and other adverse health effects [5] [6] [7] from, genetically engineered food;
and WHEREAS, the World Health Organization issued warnings on the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in genetically engineered food [8];
and WHEREAS, in order to make informed decisions, the public needs to be made aware of the contents of their food just as patients need to be aware of the risks, benefits and alternatives to their medical and surgical treatments;
and WHEREAS, crop scientists complain that they must ask biotechnology corporations for permission before conducting orpublishing independent research on genetically engineered crops [9] [10];
and WHEREAS, 40 countries require labeling of genetically engineered food, including the European Union, Australia, Japan, Russia, China, New Zealand, Brazil and South Africa [11];
and WHEREAS, the American Public Health Association [12], American Nurses Association [13], the British Medical Association[14] and the Irish Medical Organization [15] support the labeling of genetically engineered food products;
and WHEREAS, Catholic Healthcare West (a network of 41 hospitals and 10,000 physicians) avoids genetically engineered food and advocates for public policies that include the labeling of genetically engineered food [16];
and WHEREAS, 304 U.S. hospitals and medical centers have signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, encouraging vendors to supply food that is produced without genetic modification [17];
and WHEREAS, surveys of the U.S. public consistently show overwhelming support for the labeling of genetically engineered food [18] [19]; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the Board of Regents supports legislation and/or federal regulatory action which requires all foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be clearly labeled.
And if you click on the actual link you will find an entire page of shiny citations, like ENSSER's. Funny that

Wiki definition of a consensus offered by Jesus.
Agreement Seeking: A consensus decision making process attempts to help everyone get what they need.
CollaborativeCooperative Egalitarian  Inclusive: As many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process. Participatory: The consensus process should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers


Firstly, having been a member of the AVMA for a couple of decades, I've never known it to operate by any of the above guidelines cited by Wiki. Secondly, there has not been a single journal article on GMOs in veterinary literature.  There has been no mention of GMOs in written form in veterinary literature nor has it ever been brought up at any veterinary continuing education meeting I've ever attended. I venture to say that the majority of veterinarians have not heard of genetic modification of food or have a vague awareness gleaned from popular media coverage of the recent labeling California and Washington. Thus they, the approximately 80,000 AVMA members, couldn't actively formulate the consensus on this issue by virtue of ignorance alone. And ignorance might be the main ingredient in cooking up a bowl of pastafarian GMO consensus by a couple of key chefs in positions of leadership. This is the reason I don't place much stock in position statements of any organization--they sometimes/ often(?) do not represent their members.

The AVMA on GMOs

Federal Issue Brief
H.R. 3553, Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act
AVMA Position:
The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and the Poultry Products Inspection Act to deem a food misbranded if it contains or was produced with a genetically engineered material unless its labeling contains statements meeting specified requirements. The legislation also requires the periodic testing of such foods transferred along a chain of distribution to assure accuracy of labels, subject to specified exceptions.
Key Points in Opposition:
While the AVMA recognizes the public’s right to be informed about the content of food, the AVMA has policy supporting truthful and non-misleading human food labeling and believes that the labeling of genetically engineered food or food that is produced with genetically engineered material as it is defined within the legislation could mislead the general public to perceive an unrealistic food safety hazard. At the same time, the FDA is prohibited from requiring labeling that is not truthful and misleading.
The legislation specifically includes food from which the animal “has been fed genetically engineered material,” which will prove to be extremely challenging logistically, if not impossible, to discern for most animal-derived products. And should food and food products from genetically engineered material require labeling, it would create a precedent for labeling hundreds, if not thousands, of food products from GE plants (e.g. corn, soy) that have been safely consumed for many decades.
The legislation is also inconsistent with the AVMA policy on use of biotechnology in veterinary medicine and animal agriculture.
Current Status:
H.R. 3553 was introduced on 12/09/2011 by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH-10th) and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, and the Agriculture Committee.


I do understand the reservations AVMA expressed about labeling livestock fed GMOs, a standard even Europe seems to find onerous. But the glaring political motive of this statement, crafted by a conservative leadership of the AVMA in response to a bill introduced by a progressive democrat is extraordinary. It is highly anomalous for the AVMA to express opposition to a bill  introduced many times with little risk of passing--one of thousands of pieces of legislation, which hasn't made it out of one committee and likely wont. It has little to do with the veterinary industry. So, the statement is less about opposition to the bill itself, but rather about the AVMA establishing a record against labeling GMOs without the knowledge or  input of its members.

And this is why there is little reason to believe that organization position statement represent opinions of the membership.
 80,000 veterinarians can't come to a consensual agreement on GMOs. Most don't know they exist!

If you recall my last post on the genetically silenced apple I outlined another simple guideline to differentiate between scientists and GMO politicians, for those not familiar with how science works. The former will have scientific citations, like ACP and ENSSER do, and it is a point worth repeating. Politically motivated opinions have little use for science and citations, my non-scientist friends.

The really awful news, though, is that Jesus occupied the same space & time with the Spaghetti monster! We had a perfect opportunity to produce empirical evidence proving that Jesus is not Spaghetti monster's son and collect $1,000,000 in "Intelligently Designed currency" and blew it. Darn!