Corn Commentary

MIT Calls Out Left on Scientific Illiteracy on GMOs

In an article delving into the scientific fallacies, or even anti-science sentiment, espoused by politicians today, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s The Tech online newspaper criticized pro-environment, pro-science forces on the political left who fail to champion GMOs. Directly addressing the issues with proposed state-level labeling initiatives, the piece comes down solidly on the side of science supporting the safety and importance of biotechnology.

“It is tremendously ironic that the political left, which frequently attacks the right’s denial of evolution, is much more likely to oppose one of the most promising scientific advances that we have achieved through the study of genetics: GMOs,” the article states. “Initiatives to mandate the labeling of GMO products have found varying degrees of success in blue states like Vermont, Oregon, Maine, Hawaii, and Washington. GMO labeling might make sense if modern genetic modification techniques produced foods that were substantially different from those produced by conventional methods, but the fact is that scientific studies have consistently and overwhelmingly shown GMOs to be safe for both humans and the environment. In fact, those concerned about the environment should praise GMOs, which allow us to produce the same amount of food while using less water and land, emitting less carbon dioxide, and applying fewer pesticides.”

To read the full article, click here.

Some in the public note distrust for government agencies and other bodies which endorse the safety of GMOs, but MIT remains a well-respected institution of higher learning considered credible by the vast majority of Americans. MIT knows science; MIT supports GMOs. Politicians should take a lesson.

Nutrients Are Pesticides: The Dose Makes the Poison

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Maryland volunteer and Foodie Farmer blogger Jennie Schmidt. To check out more posts from Jennie, click here.

Nutrients Are Pesticides: The Dose Makes the Poison

Most people find it odd that I am a Registered Dietitian who is licensed as a commercial pesticide applicator. I actually find it quite advantageous because what I studied in my nutrition degrees both undergrad and grad school, applies across multiple biological systems, not just human systems, but soil and plant systems too. Because I have a solid understanding of the science of nutrition, I therefore have a solid understanding of the science of pesticides. Many of the nutrients I studied as an RD, have applications as pesticides.

Paracelsus was correct when he coined the term “The dose makes the poison”.

First, let’s start with some definitions:

Nutrient: “Chemical substances obtained from food and used in the body to provide energy, structural materials, and regulating agents to support growth, maintenance and repair of teh body’s tissues. Nutrients may also reduce the risk of some diseases” Whitney & Rolfe, Understanding Nutrition, 9th edition (yes I know, my copy is dated. This is the one I used to tutor undergrads during grad school, not my copy as an undergrad!)

Pesticide: A pesticide is a chemical used to prevent, destroy, or repel pests. (EPA)

Any chemical can be toxic, whether its natural or synthetic, depending on how much you eat, drink or absorb. Nutrients are the chemicals make up of food.

Nutrients in high doses work as pesticides to control bacteria, fungi, molds and mildews, mainly in fruit and vegetable crops. Nutrients are typically used as protectant fungicides, meaning they are used proactively before disease appears to protect the foliage of the plant. Remember from high school biology how important photosynthesis is in the growth and development of a plant? Without foliage, or if foliage is damaged from mildews, a plant cannot photosynthesize efficiently. Photosynthesis is the process that converts sunlight into energy (carbohydrates). Photosynthesis is required for fruits and vegetables to ripen. Without sufficient foliage on the plant, grapes wouldn’t ripen and turn sweet, tomatoes wouldn’t turn red, watermelon wouldn’t get sweet and pink, strawberries wouldn’t turn red and sweet. Fungicides, in the form of nutrients like sulfur, copper, zinc, and manganese protect the plant in advance of any disease. They are not “treatments” and do not work after a plant has developed a disease, they only work to protect the plant from developing the disease.

First, let’s look at the recommended dietary intake of nutrients for humans:

Nutrient RDA UL Major functions:
Zinc 8-11 mg/d 40 mg/d Cellular metabolism

Protein synthesis

Wound healing

Cell division

DNA synthesis

Manganese 1.8-2.3 mg/d 11 mg/d Activates many enzymes that are critical to metabolism, bone development, and wound healing.
Copper 700-900 µg/d 5000-10000 µg/d Critical in the function of enzymes that control energy production, connective tissue formation, and iron metabolism.
Sulfur No RDA-Metabolic

breakdown of the

recommended intake for

protein and sulfur amino

acids should provide

adequate inorganic sulfate

for synthesis of required sulfur-containing

compounds.

No UL The body does not use sulfur as a nutrient by itself. Contributes to protein structure. Acts as a bridge between amino acids in hormones like insulin.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.

Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.

Next, let’s look at the recommended application rates of these nutrients as pesticides as approved by EPA:

Pesticide Rate/Acre Oral LD50 Controls For:(grapes/tomatoes)
Zinc 3-4 lb/acre 1400 mg/kg Phomopsis, Black Rot, Botrytis, Downy Mildew
Manganese 1-4 lb/acre 5000 mg/kg Anthracnose, Early Blight, Late blight, Bunch rot, Downy mildew
Copper 0.75 – 1.75 lb/acre 1847 mg/kg Downy Mildew, bacterial spot, anthracnose,
Sulfur 3-20 lb/acre 2000 mg/kg Powdery Mildew, spotted mite, red spider mite.

For comparison purposes – Vitamin D is highly toxic with an LD50 of 10 mg/kg, whereas table salt (sodium chloride) has an LD50 of 3000 mg/kg.

What is LD50?

Oral LD50: An LD50 is a standard measurement of acute toxicity that is stated in milligrams (mg) of pesticide per kilogram (kg) of body weight. An LD50 represents the individual dose required to kill 50 percent of a population of test animals (e.g., rats, fish, mice, cockroaches). Because LD50 values are standard measurements, it is possible to compare relative toxicities among pesticides. The lower the LD50 dose, the more toxic the pesticide.

A pesticide with an LD50 value of 10 mg/kg is 10 times more toxic than a pesticide with an LD50 of 100 mg/kg.

We went from milligrams per day as a recommended dietary allowance to pounds per acre to control for disease. The vastly escalated dose converted these nutrients from dietary healthfulness into effective pesticides.

You can see, although these pesticides are “natural”, as in nutrients, they are still toxic. By definition, a pesticide must kill or control something.

There is no such thing as a nontoxic pesticide.

Click here to see a good graphic
that depicts the toxicity of natural versus synthetic pesticides:graphic

If this topic is of interest to you, I recommend these excellent additional readings:

The Dose Makes The Poison

Dietary Pesticides (99.9% all natural)

Are Synthetic Pesticides More Dangerous Than Natural Ones?

As an RD, I know these nutrients are essential for health and wellness in our diets.

As a pesticide applicator, I know these pesticides are essential for the health and wellness of my fruit and vegetable crops.

The nutrients in your multi-vitamin are not toxic but these nutrients are not edible at the pesticide dose.

The dose makes the poison.

Motor Club Finds No Ethanol-Related Claims

acmcAAA has been an outspoken critic of the move to 15% ethanol blended fuel but there are other motor clubs that don’t tow that line.

Gene Hammond with Association Motor Club Marketing and Travelers Motor Club, which represent 50 years in the business and over 20 million members, says they studied their claims over the past several years to see if there were any related to ethanol. “And what we discovered is that we have not had one ethanol-related claim where we’ve had to go out and tow,” said Hammond. “In fact, the opposite is true.”

Hammond explains that claims related to gasoline freeze used to be common in the northern part of the country, “but that’s gone away, we don’t have that anymore with ethanol.”

Hammond was pleased to join ethanol supporters
in Washington last week for the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Fly-in to tell members of Congress and their staff his experiences with ethanol from both an automotive and a personal standpoint. “I’m from rural America and we told the story about how ethanol has really made a difference,” he said. Interview with Gene Hammond, AMCM and Travelers Motor Club

Washington Post Elucidates Unintended Consequences of Convoluted Food Labels

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), is gaining steam and supporters in this first week since its introduction. Sunday, the Washington Post wrote an eloquent editorial outlining why Americans should support this important legislation.

Pointing out that “mandated labeling would deter the purchase of genetically modified (GM) food when the evidence calls for no such caution,” the editorial backed Congress saying that it is “right to be moving toward a more sensible policy that allows companies to label products as free of GM ingredients but preempts states from requiring such labels.”

The argument, which was solidly based in science, explained how the mandatory labeling laws promoted by anti-GM activists at the state level would actually mislead consumers.

“Promoters of compulsory GM food labeling claim that consumers nevertheless deserve transparency about what they’re eating. But given the facts, mandatory labeling would be extremely misleading to consumers — who, the Pew polling shows, exaggerate the worries about “Frankenfood” — implying a strong government safety concern where one does not exist.”

Noting that those who distrust scientific assurances of the safety of GM food have the ability to buy products voluntarily labeled as non-GM, the authors explored the often-overlooked consequences stigmatizing this safe, proven technology would have for those without the political power and extraneous energy to argue on their own behalf.

Asserting that “this isn’t just a matter of saving consumers from a little unnecessary expense or anxiety,” the piece explains how, “if GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world’s poorest will pay the highest price. GM crops that flourish in challenging environments without the aid of expensive pesticides or equipment can play an important role in alleviating hunger and food stress in the developing world — if researchers in developed countries are allowed to continue advancing the field.”

For the full piece, click here.

The Washington Post hit the nail on the head with this editorial. A small, yet motivated, group of anti-science, anti-ag activists is pushing for labels which would not provide clarity for consumers but would stigmatize a safe, beneficial technology. These sorts of pandering policies have real repercussions that should not be overlooked or ignored.

Today, we enjoy an abundance of safe, nutritious foods that we can afford. Many others may get there too but not if we take away the tools that they need to do so.

If Farming Were Easy…

farmingThis little saying was in this week’s newsletter from Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) – “If farming were easy Congressmen would do it.”

Truly, if farming were easy, everyone would do it – and most of us either can’t or don’t want to. The same could be said for many professions, but most of them don’t have everyone from the president on down trying to tell them how to do their jobs.

If farming were easy, the bureaucrats on the federal to the local level would be doing it themselves instead of making up regulations that make it more difficult to produce food, fiber and fuel.

If farming were easy, the people who are against biotechnology innovations that help produce more food would all be self-sufficiently producing their own daily sustenance.

And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Pure Science: Lynas Advocates for GMOs

Many have heard that Mark Lynas, who once opposed GMOs, became an advocate after further exploring the science behind this technology. What motivated him? In short, climate change.

While pro-GMO climate change activists may not have gained as much press as some of their counterparts, for many like Lynas, climate change serves as an important motivation to advocate for GMOs. In an interview published in The Huffington Post, Lynas explained how his support for GMOs and biotechnology actually springs from his passion for reducing climate change.

“I strongly feel that we need biotech and GMOS are only a component — but an essential part of the bigger picture on how we can make agriculture more sustainable while we feed a growing population,” Lynas said in the interview.

“The longer-term agenda here is to make agriculture as intensive as possible on the smallest land area as possible while making that intensive agriculture environmentally friendly. So at the same time we’re sparing large acres of natural landscape from being plowed up. The ultimate goal is to allow a re-wilding across as much of the planetary surface as possible.

“I’m quite deep green about this, and that’s my real motivation for pushing the GMO case and you couldn’t abandon the climate change narrative.”

For the full article, click here.

Lynas acknowledges in the article that many farmers urge science-based consideration of GMOs and reject climate change science. He urges a greater acceptance but, in doing so, he shows how so many agricultural practices already in place actually benefit the environment.

“Precision agriculture by and large is a step forward from throwing granular fertilizers all over the place. And your productivity of labor is the most important thing. Back in the day farm laborers were doing everything by hand. Having 80 percent of the population working the land like in some African countries is much worse from a food security standpoint.

“While it is true that only 1-2 percent of Americans are directly engaged in farming, it is probably too small of a number. Because you have all sorts of issues with people are so disconnected from farming and how their food is produced and then we have this silly fight over GMOs.”

Politics can make strange bedfellows. Lynas came to support GMO through climate change. Maybe, if farming looks closely, opportunities lie in finding mutual interest with others supportive of science off the farm.

Sing Agriculture’s Praises

agdayIf there ever was an American success story, it is agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is fond of talking about how today’s farmers and ranchers make it possible for people like him to be a lawyer, or for any of us to pursue any career, because we don’t have to worry about the production of our own food. Just think about that for a minute. The progress of civilization has meant that less and less people have to produce their own food. But there are some people who look at farmers as “Old McDonalds” who have become “Big Ag” and care nothing for the environment or the people they feed.

A video published recently to YouTube by a group called Only Organic attacks the good farmers and ranchers of this country in a most repugnant way, using children to basically accuse them of crimes against nature. Singing the Old McDonald kids song with lyrics about pesticides and GMOs and hormones and antibiotics, these children were fed a diet of fear and hate by agenda-driven adults. It’s scary and sad.

In response to the video, a diverse group of farmers representing all types of production practices responded with one voice during an Only Organic Twitter party last week to “celebrate the video”. According to U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance CEO Randy Krotz, what happened was that both conventional and organic producers criticized the video for being misleading and unfair. And they used dialogue to share what happens on their individual farms and called for an end of “farmer bashing”.

“We have farmers that grow both organic and conventional crops,” said Krotz. “It’s concerning to see people trying to demonize today’s agriculture and promote only their type of food production.”

Krotz says they are reaching out to Only Organic and food companies that support the organization to engage in dialogue rather than attacks. “Farmers and ranchers have the tools to tell their stories, even in hostile environments,” he said. “And organic and conventional farmers who respect each other are beginning to work together to make sure that truthful information gets to consumers.”

It’s hard to believe that such a successful American industry which literally feeds the world can be so constantly and relentlessly attacked by critics who think they can do it better. Ironically, it is because of the success of our food production system that they have the time to sit around and complain about how their food is produced.

National Ag Day and everyday we should sing the praises of farmers and ranchers to drown out the noise of those attacking them with mouths full of hate and fear.

Putting Agriculture in the Political Spotlight

iowa-summitNine potential Republican presidential candidates were asked their opinions on various agricultural issues at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines on Saturday.

Comments made by at the event by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are still generating stories from major national news sources.

Over 270 journalists who attended the event, representing most if not all of the major news outlets nationwide, heard about some of the top issues for agriculture including trade, regulations, conservation, food safety, biotechnology, renewable fuels, and immigration as each taking candidate sat down on a stage with agribusiness entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter for about 20 minutes.

The main focus of the event was to get the potential candidates to take a stand on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Six of the nine expressed at least conditional support, including Wisconsin Governor Walker who recently had been criticized by biofuel producers in his state for not taking a stand on the law. Three of the candidates – Cruz, Pataki, and Perry – came out firmly against the RFS, while at the same time saying they supported ethanol and other renewable fuels.

couser-cruzThe summit was organized with the support of America’s Renewable Future, a quasi-political campaign for the RFS introduced earlier this year. Co-chair Bill Couser, pictured here with Sen. Cruz, says their goal is to educate potential presidential candidates.

“Show them why we do this, how we do this, and say what do you think?” said Couser, an Iowa cattle producer and ethanol advocate. “I can say, let’s go look at a corn field, let’s go look at a feedlot, let’s go look at some windmills, let’s go look at Lincolnway Energy, and then let’s go to the DuPont plant right next door and I’ll show you what we’re doing with the whole plant and being sustainable.”

Couser says they plan to approach all potential presidential candidates individually and invite them to visit and learn more about agriculture and renewable energy, including Hillary Clinton. “Wouldn’t that be something if she showed up?” he said.

Listen to my interview with Bill at the recent National Ethanol Conference here: Interview with Bill Couser, America's Renewable Future Co-Chair

Leno Anti-Ethanol Rant Smells Like BO

leno-e85-corvetteThis picture from an April 2008 Popular Mechanics article written by former Tonight Show host Jay Leno shows him with a 2006 Corvette Z06 that he said “has a top speed of 208 mph and runs on a homegrown alternative to gasoline – cleaner burning E85 ethanol.”

In this interview with DomesticFuel in 2007, Leno talks about biodiesel specifically but all renewable fuels in general about being good for America and agriculture. “We try to support companies that make products here in America,” he said. “To me, it’s a great thing to see people no longer losing their farms because they can’t make a crop that’s viable anymore …you support the farmers, they watch my TV show, I buy their products.” 2007 Interview with Jay Leno on Renewable Fuels

Leno is a car enthusiast who has always supported renewable fuels, so his full-out attack monologue on ethanol this week in AutoWeek has to leave one wondering what inspired him to write it, since it has the distinctive smell of B.O. – that would be Big Oil.

Leno’s attack is not only blatantly false, but mean-spirited.

I just don’t see the need for ethanol. I understand the theory—these giant agri-business companies can process corn, add the resulting blend to gasoline and we’ll be using and importing less gasoline. But they say this diversion of the corn supply is negatively affecting food prices, and the ethanol-spiked gas we’re forced to buy is really awful.

The big growers of corn have sold us a bill of goods. Some people are making a lot of money because of ethanol. But as they divert production from food to fuel, food prices inevitably will rise. Now, if you don’t mind paying $10 for a tortilla …

Say it ain’t so, Leno. You seem like a basically nice guy we wouldn’t normally think would stoop to criticizing farmers. So, what gives?

Since the thrust of the article is contacting Congress to reform or eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard, it’s a good guess that there is some big money behind it.

Syndicated car show host and technician Bobby Likis also thinks Leno’s article seems uncharacteristic. “I cannot believe “what Jay said” is “what Jay really believes.” His words smack of otherwise invested horse-whisperers who use personal agendas to sway vulnerable-for-whatever-reason people towards their way,” says Likis in an editorial for the E-xchange Blog refuting all of Leno’s claims.

I love the title to Bobby’s counter article. With Leno’s article titled “Can’t we Just Get Rid of Ethanol,” Bobby responded, “Can’t We Just Get Rid of Ethanol Ignorance?” Can’t we?

Bill Nye Proves Why He Really Is a Science Guy

Science, at its heart, values the ability to examine issues, consider evidence and change one’s opinion when proof supports another theory. Science Guy Bill Nye illustrated the importance of re-evaluation this week by announcing that he has come to embrace GMOs.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported Nye, once publicly against GMOs, has come to embrace this important technology. The article explained:

“Backstage after an appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Nye said an upcoming revision to his book would contain a rewritten chapter on GMOs. “I went to Monsanto,” Nye said, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.”

To read the story in full, click here.

While the change in Nye’s position does have some nuance, his overall shift opens a public conversation about the staggering science supporting the safety of GMOs.

“Debating GMOs’ benefits and risks is healthy,” the article concludes. “But making GMOs the bogeyman while giving other crops a pass isn’t.”

Scientific advancement has shown the world is not flat, the earth is not the center of the universe and many tenets once considered sacred should actually be reconsidered. While society often embraces these shifts of thought slowly, true scientist lead the way in advocating for thoughtful consideration of the evidence subsequent changes to popular opinion. So kudos, Bill Nye, on being a real science guy and supporting the science that shows the safety of GMOs.



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