Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vegetarian Conference Goes Looney

Seriously.  I've been following the announcement that Jeffrey Smith is appearing as the science expert at Veg Expo 2014 in Vancouver, BC.   I'm disappointed, but also blown away because I usually find the hardcore veg/vegans to be a more sophisticated bunch and generally in tune with science. Today I found out who else was part of this scientific extravaganza!

Jeepers Canada!  You're better than this and certainly yous vegans and vegetarians deserve better, eh?  This panel is taking on a subject it does not know much aboot.  You're about to get hosed!

Actually, veg/vegans-- you are being set up for manipulation.  Some local anti-GMO group (like Left Coast) is not sponsoring this to support your diet choices, they are using this to appeal to your dietary choices to infect you with anti-scientific nonsense.

How do GMOs affect Canadians?
Let's ask this esteemed group that know nothing about modern biotechnology. 

What a line up! 

1. Jeffrey Smith -  We'll someday soon look at his movies the same way we now look at "Reefer Madness".  It is baseless, alarmist propaganda, scientifically bankrupt and created to scare.  With the internet and science moving so rapidly we should be able to hold him accountable in the next decade. I feel bad for the guy, he's on the wrong side of science and will land squarely on the wrong side of history. 

2.  Rachel Parent -- As I've said before, I like Rachel for being an articulate young woman and standing up for what she believes.  However, a big part of her maturation into a strong and informed woman will be to learn to stand up for what she knows.   I hope she studies science and learns to think critically.  It is sad that she is being used to promote un-scientific nonsense.

3. Ian Walker -- The President of Hippie Foods and Left Coast Naturals has a strong anti-GMO record.  He is quoted on the Organic and Non-GMO Report as saying, “Our products are all about staying true to the way nature made them, GMOs stand for the opposite."  Clearly he's not a scholar in crop domestication or what "natural" really is.  Nature didn't make much that is in his product line.  Every single item was graced by human intervention in genetics. 

4. Thierry Vrain - A former scientist and leader of a Canadian biotech effort, he now speaks on the dangers of GM foods.  He has some cred from publishing good science in the 1980's. Today he's an island in the scientific community, and is one of the people that leads the rest of us to wonder what the heck happened to that guy... why did he bail out on his training and use of evidence to make a conclusion?  

5.  Samantha Shorkey-- Winning Vegan Fitness Competitor. An article of the top 10 foods for vegan athletes says, "Consuming GMOs (genetically modified organisms) can create health complications." Once again, a clear statement that another member of this expert Canuck-heavy panel has no idea what they are talking aboot. She looks like she has that fitness thing nailed down-- let's talk science sometime! 

6. The Vegan Project -- Seems like a nice idea built around a good site for veg/vegan, but they do have a few mentions of "the harmful effects of GMOs".

7. Adam Hart -- Not much about his expertise on GM issues, but certainly an author and snack-mix purveyor with something to gain by vilifying transgenic technology. 

8. Erin Cebula -- Entertainment reporter and producer.  No visible scientific training or public opinions easily found on the internet.

9.  Janna Webb -- Creator of Joga.  Sloppy typewriting and poor proofreading once left many wondering about the exciting new "Joga" Class at the local gym.   Actually, a little look at it and it sure seems better than yoga.  Again, not a big history on GMO science.

So there is their slate of presenters!  Seems like they all have a bone to pick or something to sell, but not a whole lot of hard science coming your way! 

That's too bad.  I think the veg/vegans do deserve better.  I applaud their efforts and choices, I'm just sad that they are destroying their scientific persuasion and credibility by sponsoring people that know nothing about science and farming, scare the hell out of them about science and farming. 

Bottom line vegetarians and vegans- you are being swindled. I'm betting it is anti-GMO groups behind this and nothing to do with veg/vegan at all.  I won't go into details because you are smart enough to figure this one out. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

VegExpo, Smith and Conference Credibility

Accidentally a Vegetarian

In March of 1994 I stood on the scale and it read 235 lbs.  I looked in the mirror after a shower and the Michellin Man was starring back at me. I was a grad student, worked 16 hour days, didn't eat right, no exercise, and lots of beer. Genetics were not on my side either, as everyone else in my family had weight problems and the issues that went with them.

It was time for a change.

I lumbered across the parking lot of my apartment complex in a slow jog that was physically taxing. I probably squeezed out 400 yards total, but I'll never forget that feeling.  Things had to change, and that first foray across the blacktop was a turning point.

The fact is that GMO technology could make plant products that fill gaps in the vegetarian/vegan diet, making it more attractive to those interested in the healthful benefits of a plant-based diet that are uncomfortable potential deficiencies. 

One of the other shifts was to an entirely plant-based diet. Meat cost too much, I had no money, and I thought if I could cut out processed food and meat, I could save a few bucks and maybe be healthier. How true it was. Within one year I was at 165 lbs and running 50 miles per week

Of course, that was neither healthy nor sustainable.  Eventually I'd end up between 190-200 lbs to this day, with some excursions upward that remind me to dial up the exercise or dial down the beer and junk food.

After losing the weight I never wanted to go back to an animal-based diet.  The food smelled greasy and unappealing.  It was a turn off to be eating muscle tissue.  I never was a militant vegetarian speaking out against meat, I never forced my decision on others.  I never asked for a special accommodations, and most people never knew I was not a meat eater.

I enjoyed an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet for 16 years.  In 2010 at the age of 43, I found myself suffering through recovery from competitive sports and workouts.  Fatigue, muscle soreness... the doctor suggested incorporating some fish or some meat to round out protein I was not getting from my normal diet.

It worked.  Long story short, my first meal off-the-wagon was a BBQ sliced pork. I got it down, and a few meals later was feeling well again, but enjoying meals less.

To this day I don't care for eating birds or beef.  Pork is okay, and ironically the more you disguise muscle, like grinding it into sausage, the more I like it. Probably 80% of my calories come from plants, 10% from dairy/eggs and 10% from meat.  Still, if I had one meal to pick it would be fresh vegetables from my garden or local farmstand in a big salad with dried cranberries and nuts. Hands down.

I get the vegetarian thing and wish we all did more of it.  That's why I was so happy to get the invitation from Vegan Chicago to come talk about GMO foods.  Here were some people concerned about science and diet, and realized they might have the "science" of GMO=bad wrong.  I have many vegan friends from this talk to this day that understand how GMO may actually help the issues around food, contributing toward more vegetarian/vegan choices.

Vegetarians Should Embrace Science, Not Fear Mongering

This is why I'm just shocked when I see Veg Expo 2014 and see they have a markedly anti-GMO agenda.  Worse yet, they invite Jeffrey Smith as a "world expert on GMO".  As I've discussed, if you want to see one movie that is based on fear and little science, watch "Genetic Roulette".  If you want to see a smear on science with no scientific base visit Smith's Institute for Responsible Technology.

Why would an important food movement with many outstanding facets to offer attach themselves to a non-scientific agenda inviting Smith as a "world expert on the health dangers of GMOs"?  

The general public still sees vegetarianism and veganism as crackpot fringe ideas with little scientific merit. Instead of inviting a scientist to talk about how technology can enhance veg/vegan options, now they can all get scared silly by silly Smith's non-science nonsense. It simply turns off the science minded in their cause, leaving on the malleable emotional folks that make any organization a drag.

They could invite an actual scientist that cares about vegan/vegetarian issues.  What if you could safely engineer plants to produce the nutrients missing in a veg/vegan diet?  What about plants that produced more vegan-needed amino acids (e.g. lysine, trypophan), vitamins (like B12) & trace elements (like iron)?  All of this can be done with metabolic engineering, it has been done!  What if plants could be developed from GM that were more amenable to processing in veg/vegan foods like garden/boca burgers, etc?  That's the tip of the iceberg!  Science can make your cause stronger, but instead you invite a non-scientific fear monger to address this conference.

The risk they run is alienating scientifically-minded individuals with similar health/food/ethics/environmental concerns. They trivialize a conference and lead people to question its scientific foundation. They also tie their commendable concept to a known activist hack that speaks from a place of fear and not science.

If it were me I'd move away from the fear-based nonsense of Smith and invite a forward-thinking scientist to speak instead.  Talk about he future of food, the future of vegetarianism and veganism and how GMOs might contribute to safely and effectively advancing these important ideals.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Was the Real Message in Last Night's Cosmos?

It was Sunday night and I nestled into position.  The television flickered in a darkened room and the swelling music of the Cosmos remake primed me for another trip with Neil deGrasse Tyson flying in his hybrid toe nail clipper / kazoo.

The story was about Dr. Clair Patterson, the University of Chicago (later California Institute of Tech) scientist that sought to identify the age of the earth by measuring lead levels in a meteorite fragment.  Lead is the end product of radioactive uranium decay, so if you can detect and quantify lead in a sample from the beginning of the universe, you can estimate the age of the universe. 

The problem was that his readings were crazy because there was lead everywhere. Why?

Turns out, all of the experimental noise he was detecting came from residues of leaded gasoline. Exhaust and lead dust was prevalent everywhere before the preparation was banned in the 1970's. 

The story tells of Robert Kehoe, a scientist from the auto industry who championed elaborate studies designed to diffuse fears of lead being dangerous. He clearly was promoting a bogus agenda that insulated the auto and oil industries from culpability and kept profits flowing. And THIS is what Mother Jones grabs on to.  See, scientists are all corporate-owned weenies.  EOM. 

I hope Tyson is simply dressing for the clean room and  not (mildly humorous 1980's hair joke removed because it was clearly going to be purposely misrepresented by those trying to hang me on something).  That (period-specific hair style worn among some men, including African-Americans) died shortly after leaded gas! Ironically, Mother Jones points out the evils of corporate financial sponsorship, but then urges you to shop Best Buy on the same page.

Kehoe being a stooge for Big Oil was not the story here.  The real story was that Patterson used tools of science to identify the problem-- that lead was in the environment and that cars and humans were the cause. He warned of the problems, stood up to corporate goons and let his integrity and honesty shine.  He stood up for the truth, for science, and followed what the data said.  Period. 

That is the real message of Cosmos last night.  Science won, corporations lost, mostly because of the efforts of a scientist that saw the data, stood by it, and fought for the truth. 

I was a little disappointed with that interpretation by MJ-- then I see it was written by Chris Mooney, a guy that has his head screwed on right... 

My guess is that he was referring to the reality, that anti-climate change science is supported by those with an interest in fossil fuels.  Anti-biotech science is funded by Greenpeace and others that don't want this technology to reach those that need it.  I'm guessing that's how he intended the slant. 

Unfortunately, it will be interpreted by the masses as another key piece of evidence that deGrasse Tyson, one of our science heroes of our time, admits to corporate collusion and scientific misconduct defining the outcomes of scientific discovery.  

And of course, you know how this is going to end... 

Monday, April 14, 2014

GMO Labeling: I'll Agree When...

As a scientist, I cannot understand how anyone can think GMO labeling makes sense.  To be fair, I have identified a standard for when I'll accept GMO labeling. 

I'll fully support labeling when someone can answer the question at the end of this blog entry.

This is sucrose, table sugar.  From a conventional sugar beet.

This sucrose from an organically grown sugar beet.

This is sucrose from a glyphosate-resistant sugar beet.

You are at the store buying table sugar.  What is the difference?
Why are you afraid of the last one?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Jenny I Got Your Number...

I have to admit, I've always been oddly intrigued with Jenny McCarthy.  She was very attractive yet an idiot, hot but raw, a booger-eating, cross-eyed, glamour model.  It was that curious mix of unsophisticated trash meets easy on the eyes...

She was from the South Side of Chicago and about my age, so it was no surprise that I made extra money in grad school tutoring her younger sister, an athlete at the place I found my Ph.D.  It only heightened my intrigue. I was getting genetically closer, an odd kind of inadvertent stalking.

Time would tell that she was a semi-talented writer and actress. More time would tell that she was an adamant anti-scientist, arguing against vaccination for children and eventually honing her argument the vaccine schedule. Her claims of toxic compounds in vaccines and their direct implications in autism didn't match the science, but her appeal to the mommy factor made her a household name.  She gained credibility in medical advice that eclipsed that of many "Big Pharma owned" pediatricians.

She's a complete paradox.  Beautiful, yet gross, clever, yet stupid.

Last night I was watching Tosh.0 and spit my Buzz Aldrin across the room.  Jenny McCarthy is on a commercial.  The champion of exposing children's exposure to 'toxins', is promoting e-cigarettes.  

Don't vaccinate kids because risks are just too high.
Nicotine's risks must be mild in comparison. 

The dusting of aluminum adjuvants and other trace bits of formaldehyde and viral coat proteins were the basis of Jenny's crusade for a decade.  She claimed, with no reservation, that vaccination caused her son's autism.  She later claimed to have cured it with diet and vitamins, the typical Hollywood cure all. 

One of her claims is that there are no long-term studies on vaccines.  I wonder how long those e-cigs have been carefully studied in controlled trails?

Her scientific acumen leaves a lot to be desired, but the true irony is that she now promotes use of a nicotine delivery device.  Nicotine is one of the most plant toxins. It causes horrible addiction and is linked to many health problems. 

Furthermore, e-cigs appeal to young smokers that want all of the buzz-n-cool-factor without the smell of smoke and a place to flick the ashes.  Today they are becoming a problem, as a product designed to help smokers quit now is becoming a new drug of choice.  Today, 40 percent of poison center calls are related to e-cigs. 

As per form, Jenny McCarthy engages an opportunity for self promotion and fails to realize the irony.  Here she promotes a non-necessary product with proven health effects-- while maintaining that the safe and necessary public health activity of vaccination is harming children. 

Jenny, Jenny, who can I turn to?

Friday, April 4, 2014

D'oh! I Didn't Know He Said That!

You know that sinking feeling you have when you go to a friend's wedding and you and someone else there are wearing the same dress and shoes?  I don't, but friends of mine say it is pretty awful.  When there's an effort for clever forethought and pizzazz, it is heartbreaking to realize is is unoriginal.

My heart sank like a Malaysian jetliner the other day, on Norman Borlaug's birthday.  I was reading about him and reading his most inspiring quotations.  "Don’t tell me what can’t be done. Tell me what needs to be done – and let me do it."

Certainly inspirational, and defining well the attitude of a midwestern farmer, scientist and humanitarian. 

With all respect, I apologize to Dr. B for inadvertently stealing his concept... 
But I can explain! 

Now imagine the pukey sensation in the guts of a scientist that claims Borlaug as a hero, who has on his own signature line his (?) quotation, "Don't tell me it can't be done, tell me how you are going to help me do it!"

Yes, I said that, and it has been on my signature line for many years. It happened sporadically and organically, and when I said it, I loved it so much I wrote it down so I would not forget it. Seriously.

Okay, don't believe me?  Here's how it happened. 

I was on the phone trying desperately to find an industry match for the first USDA SCRI grant competition.  All proposals required equal matches from other sources.  Despite what anti-GM and others will tell you, it is next to impossible to get any corporate sponsorship, even for the best ideas. 

I was on the phone with a major horticultural crop company, a company known for breeding and marketing small fruits.  This is a billion-plus dollar corporation, and our work fit well with their objectives.  I was asking for 1/3 of a graduate student cost per year, for three years.  That's $11,000 per year, probably what they spend on their Purell budget.

All I got was resistance.  The amount would not even fully fund a four-year degree, but I was willing to take that chance.  They declined.  I offered for them to help shape the project.  They declined.  I offered for them to serve on committees.  They declined.   

It was not just that they told me "no".  Every proposal came back with some insane and backwards justification that made me madder and madder.  Here was an opportunity I needed to jump on and the companies that could benefit were standing in the way over literally a few big corporation bucks. 

It was literally 50 minutes into the call.  After hearing every stupid reason, excuse and deflection I said, "Don't tell me it can't be done, tell me how you are going to help me do it!"

The words flowed in a stream of crankiness from my lips.  It was pure gold.  I wrote it down.

And they didn't support our proposal. 

Now I feel like kind of a loser because my words in anger matched well with a quotation of one of my favorite scientists, and I put them on every email I've sent for the last five years. 

I must look like a complete weenie.  

It was complete coincidence, but coincidence maybe born out of my respect for the way that Dr. Borlaug got the job done.  Maybe it is that we share a similar motor and both don't like lazy approaches to critical problems.  I hope that's it. 

But in a world where perception is king, I'm going to remove my version from now on and just put his in its place.  It basically said the same thing, but means a lot more coming from one of the world's all-time greatest scientists and humanitarians. 

Glyphosate and School Lunches