Tuesday, October 7, 2014

GMO junk science meets junk journalism

The debate about gmo safety is over! 

At the beginning of September, I met Kevin Folta, a plant scientist- who has taken an active role on the internet educating the public about  GMOs.. We talked about GMOS science over lunch and as the scientist was getting ready to leave  mentioned that a new study was about to be published on GMOs involving BILLIONS of animals. BILLIONS of animals!

-- I couldn't even imagine the reams of paper required to assess the health of BILLIONS.
 But....within a day the study popped up on Twitter and the charade began.

As it turned out the new data fit on just a few pages.

The author.
What happens when 100 billion animals, over 18 years, eat GMOs? http://t.co/GScfLlbhhc via @GeneticLiteracy

Looking under the hood of the billions of  animals  chickens  clunker  study

United States
Layer Hens

The fist thing to note is what the author actually means by "100 billion animals"

94.7% or  94,683,600,000 of the 100, 000,000,000  are broiler chickens, which the author doesn't disclose for 37 pages (Table 3) and neither does the media echo-chamber. 


This is poultry whose natural lifespan is about 5 years, slaughtered at less than 49 days of age. So, even if the study reported convincing health data, it would remain a very short term study. In other words, it is 19 years-worth of 49 day old chickens, which is quite different than 19 years of life-long animal studies.

The "study" is a hodgepodge of livestock production data  used to bolster the safety alleged from a literature review. The rest is  polemics on international harmonization, with a particular emphasis on Ukraine. The author is making a case for "harmonization" -- actually, code for take-over of Ukranian agriculture by international corporations- Monsanto, Dupont, Cargil 
--concomitant with  the relaxation of already outrageously unacceptable, crude and  inadequate safety testing standards.

The author recommends elimination of the 90-day rodent feeding trials- described  as "interference in risk assessment based on pseudoscience",  as well as  the long-term studies  " due to additional time, expense and animal experimentation." .

Health  Livestock production data on billions of chickens. 

What one expects to see in animal health studies

The "data" for nearly 95% of the "animals"  summarized in Table 4 and  Figure 2 reported by the Chicken Council- a poultry industry trade group- hardly a source of medical quality scholarship.

 here: http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/u-s-broiler-performance/

Unsurprisingly, what I actually found

  • days to market
  • feed efficiency (feed to grain ratio)
  • percent mortality
  • carcass weight

Poultry statistics are used to prove the following hypothesis:  " It would be reasonable to hypothesize that if animal feed derived from GE crops had deleterious effects on animals consuming GE feed, then animal performance and health attributes in these commercial livestock populations would have been negatively impacted" 

  •  Firstly, livestock performance is not a marker of health- because the goal of livestock production is minimizing inputs and maximizing production of meat, eggs or milk regardless of costs to the animal's health or longevity.  For the rest of us, who aren't slaughtered at 49 days, the goals are completely different.
  • Interestingly, if one were to literally assume that GMOs lead to improved feeding efficiency- as is seen  in poultry statistics- grossly extrapolating that hypothesis to humans and pets, we could attribute the obesity epidemic to GMOs.     But since the traits aren't segregated, if  a particular crop reduced feed efficiency it would go undetected.  
  • An example of this is high oleic GMO soybeans produced by Dupont  reported to  reduce feed efficiency  ( J. Heinemann, personal communication) Was it included in this data set?  -Who knows! So we can't say that GMOs improve feed efficiency as a category, because some traits actually reduce it, Each  needs to be evaluated individually- rather than be lumped into a giant category of GMOs as was done in this study which presumably compares livestock production data for the entire herd "before GMOs"  to "after GMOs", as articulated in the "hypothesis" below. 

  • Beyond wishful thinking, the author doesn't convincingly explain how  these exceptionally limited parameters encompass  health. Health is measurable with medical tests (bloodwork, microbiology, imaging such as X-rays,  biopsies/ histopathology), but no medical tests are cited in this "study" 
  •  Irrelevant, indirect data is missing for meager livestock parameters-- and there is no medical testing or medical data of any kind permitting assessment of overall animal health.

  • Joint disease is common in poultry, for example, because of selection for growth--but would be devastating for humans.
It should be  intuitively obvious by now that  even if  medical tests were reported--wholly absent from this study they are entirely meaningless to any animal other than a 49-day old  broiler chicken, never mind a human. And there are reasons chickens aren't EVEN used in preliminary testing of effects of substances on humans--they are a very poor model for human health.

The remaining 5% of the animals in the data set are dairy cattle and beef cattle. The authors cobbled  together arbitrary unrelated data -somatic cell counts, and  condemnation rates,  from  disparate sources,  and when data wasn't available-simply made it up.

Page 11 states " data on cattle condemnation rates were available for 1999-2002.

Data for 2003-2007 is based on FOIA.

Data for 1994 (before GMOs)  was collected  from National Non-Fed Beef Quality Audit--but these animals do not spend  time  in  feedlots and so are pasture raised and aren't fed GMO corn and soy.

Data was unavailable for cattle before GMOs were introduced, so the authors fills in a 22 year gap with  regression analysis  -a projection- for 11 years (1983-1994) before GMOs were introduced, as well as for 11 years  (2000-2011) after. Since there was no data for cattle for 1983-1994 or 2000-2011, claims that this study examined parameters for 19 years is a lie.

The only definitive data was for 1999-2002, even if condemnation rates were associated with animal health, but they aren't. Speed of slaughter lines and the number of assigned federal meat inspectors whose numbers have been dwindling. affect condemnation rates which do not substitute for proper post-mortem analysis with histopathology.

Somatic Cell Counts  --indicator of mastitis-breast infection in dairy-are reported for a 1995-2011, thus, there is no data "before GMOs" and condemnation rates for 1998-2006, after the introduction of GMOs.  Moreover, SCC can't differentiate mastitis due to good/ poor animal health resulting from impacts of GMOs  on health from  hygiene,  milking equipment sanitation or antibiotic use. These confounding factors make the association of this test with GMOs spurious.

  •  Milk yield and SCC certainly  do not reflect the animal's overall health  indirectly indicated by longevity, since dairy is culled at 4-5years of the age of a 15-year normal lifespan. One most certainly can't use milk parameters for  males who don't produce milk at all.
  • The hypothesis that milk production encompasses health is unreasonable and  is not backed up by scientific evidence. Additionally, confounding factors weren't segregated out, so it's hard to attribute these limited livestock parameters to GMOs. Clearly, milk tests do not evaluate the function of the metabolic organs-kidneys, liver, pancreas, the endocrine system, GI tract, bone marrow, the musculoskeletal system  or the immune system any organ outside of mammary glands. 

Meanwhile, veterinary health data has been collected by the FSIS and it shows remarkably high rates of malignant lymphoma in livestock

But appropriate data was only collected for five years:  1998-2002. So there is no long-term data useful in analyzing long- term impacts of GMOs on livestock health. 


Most of the text focus is on  international trade rather than science- more appropriate for The Wall Street Journal or Forbes, rather than a peer-reviewed journal.

A Hypothesis is conventionally articulated in the abstract, expanded in the introduction, and the remainder of a journal article usually describes materials and methods  used to prove the hypothesis. Then, we expect to see results and an explanation of results in the discussion section.

None of these are found in this study- the Methods and Materials section doesn't exist, while the hypothesis itself is hidden on page 10 of the introduction: " It would be reasonable to hypothesize that if animal feed derived from GE crops had deleterious effects on animals consuming GE feed, then animal performance and health attributes in these commercial livestock populations would have been negatively impacted"

Given the glaring gross science  ineptitude,  promotion of  exceptionally poor scientific standards, the obvious bias and  explicit agenda to force GMOs into war-torn Ukraine & European Union, I felt reading the author's lengthy science illiterate opinion on GMO safety literature to be a  complete waste of  time.

Quite unsurprisingly- the body of solid work by Manuella Malatesta  demonstrative of hepatic and pancreatic harm by GMO soybeans, which were reversible on cross-over analysis,  were dismissed- while  flawed studies and a flawed review (Snell et al) that purport not to show harm were accepted.

 The Snell et al review cites  Monsanto's own  short-term studies  actually suggestive of  kidney and liver harm induced in rats in under 90 days, as well as other studies reporting kidney damage and other forms of medical harm caused by GMOs.

Livestock health has improved since the introduction of genetically engineered crops...TRILLIONS of meals show no harm to animals or humans!

There is no precedent for using  livestock production as a proxy for animal or human health--an outrageous claim--but so what--Tweeterverss explodes in a convulsion of GMO celebrations.

Livestock health has improved since the introduction of genetically engineered crops. http://t.co/zfGjzFcoXa #GMO

The hype circled the globe reaching Russia within ten days.

This study purported to show lack of harm from GMOs to billions of animals-  majority of whom were 49 day old chickens-- while the GMO propaganda machine wildly exaggerated this substandard pile of bovine manure to also mean lack of harm to people- even though he study doesn't cite any traditionally accepted medical tests employed to evaluate animal or human health.

The author bound arbitrary, incongruent  livestock production data with spit, bailing wire and zip-ties,  to arrive at a predetermined conclusion that GMOs do not cause harm bound with an explicit hypothesis on"harmonization" of Ukraine (with our embarrassing junk science standards) that are oh, just coincidentally  made possible by overthrowing a democratically elected sovereign government and installing friends of Western Corprations--Monsanto, Dupont, ConAgra grabbing prized black Ukranian Farm Land.

Ukraine has historically been Russia's bread basket. Russia criminalized the sale of  unlabeled GMOs imposing a ban on their cultivation. Meanwhile, the new Western-imposed junta government in Kiev hurriedly passed laws to ease entry of GMOs into Ukraine, as well as using it as a backdoor into Europe. While Ukraine is in the midst of a civil war, it is a perfect target for deregulation of GMOs, which the author expresses cloaked in the language of "harmonization".


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