Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Day I Paid to Have My Best Friend Killed



On May 31, 2013, I planned on writing this blog but I could not do it. I figured I'd give it a year. So now it is posted on May 31, 2014.  Every time I actually sat down to do it, emotions grabbed me and stopped me.  It was one of the worst days ever- but one of the best days ever.  Two extremes at one time and a harsh ride in between. I'll explain....

My dog Xeenah was exceptional.  Humans keep dogs, or they keep us, they are beasts in our home.  But Xeenah is a dog that became one of us.  She was sweet, strong, smart, funny.  She was with us through some of the worst of times and an ever present contributor to the best of times. The whole story of how I got her and my first farewell was posted on this blog a year ago, the day she died.  I couldn't write about what I'm preparing here- no way.  here it is 365 days later.

This is a story of putting a dog to sleep.  I was not "putting her to sleep".  She was not going to sleep, as she did 10,000 times before on my leg.  I was paying someone to mercifully kill a mammal that shared a home and a part of my life with me. I can candy coat it with sleeping, putting her down, etc. She was going to be gone from my life.

I witnessed her health declining, more accurately, crashing.  I knew for years her heart was slowing down, and for years I took her outside 2-5 times a night.  It was a complete loss of sleep, but I did it for her.  I did that for years.  She was an old dog, and had to get outside a lot. She still was a sweet as a companion could be.

Sometime in the spring late in her 13th year she developed huge salivary glands. I'd pet her head like I did every day and clearly there was something different, something wrong.  For years we knew that she had a bad heart, bad liver, bad everything.  But she just kept going, alive, sweet and tender. She was my girl.


Even in her last weeks she'd get fired up for a walk.  She'd start out just as fast as ever.  She had one speed-- on!  It just didn't last very long and I'd carry her home. 


After that she went into a rapid decline that seemed so fast. The night I knew she was done was when she walked across the floor and all four legs collapsed at once.  She was helpless.  I had to proceed forward.

The doctors at West End Animal Hospital were as good as you can get.  Dr. Stevens saw where it was going- the decline.  She suggested a last shot of a steroid that might limit pain and swelling, but after that she could recommend only going to the university for chemotherapy and treatment for pain. She gave the shot and things were better for a day or two.

But then that was it.  Roxy was out of town, I was home with Xeenah, and she was crashing.  Advanced chemotherapy was prescribed.

One night we somehow decided together that it was time. 


I declined.  I didn't want her fizzle out and suffer. I knew time was limited and asked about what happens, what a guy does to euthanize his dog.

The vet hands you a paper with a choice of cremation options and an array of vessels you can buy to store the ashes.  To me she was going to be gone.  No sense in keeping her powdered remains on a shelf. I took the price list and options, folded the paper neatly and put them into my pocket.  We went home.

That week I gave Xeenah her favorite food.  She went crazy for chicken. Chicken. Each day I'd prepare a chicken breast and cut it to pieces.  I'd include it with her special food and bathe the mess in chicken soup.  She'd dig in, the best meal she ever had in all her years.  I knew that I only had a short time before she'd be gone.

I'd watch her eat, loving every second of it.  She just loved it.


 That last week she enjoyed a special breakfast of chicken and veggies over her kibbles.  



*****

The day I had to take her for that last ride it was more about me.  She didn't know what was happening.  I put on my most comfortable clothes.  It was Addias sweat pants and a soft oversized sweatshirt I bought in Zurich, Switzerland.  I had on a baseball cap and comfortable shoes.

I carried her to the truck for her last ride.  We sat together on front seat like we did thousands of times before, but I would go home without her. I petted her little head on the passenger seat, rubs behind the ears and warm massages to her read legs that she always liked.  And a belly rub.  To end her suffering, and to begin my suffering, was the best thing I could do for her. I carried her into the animal hospital.

You never know who is going to be the last vet in her life. The door opened, and to my surprise, it was Dr. Cottrell.  She was Xeenah's first vet in Gainesville, someone I really liked who rarely saw her in her annual visits.

The procedure was simple.  They would give two injections. I signed a form that said I understood the process. The first would make her comfortable, the second would stop the heart.

They delivered the first shot, suggesting that she might seem sort of, "out of it" while they left the room. It was a final time for the two of us. She sat in my arms like she always did, and the drugs crept in.. I rubbed her little neck and belly like I did a million times before.  She was tired and at rest, and obviously in retreat.

But then suddenly a surprise.  The drug was kicking in, and she must have felt some relief.  Life sprang to her eyes.  She sat up strong and certain.  She looked at me and panted, alive, alive, alive! It was my puppy again, the young dog that captured my heart 14 years before.  It was her again.  She had no pain, no problems, just a release from the shackles of age and pain and wanted to tell me she was okay.  It was my dog again, a friend I hadn't seen in years, back again to tell me it was okay.  Her mouth was breathing heavy but fast, she had a smile on her face and love in her eyes. It was my dog again. It was her.

Those moments were priceless.  Forever grateful.  She showed me that she was still there, but could not live within the broken frame.

After probably sixty seconds she slowly drifted back to sleep in my arms.  It was okay.  Minutes later Dr. Cotrell entered the room and asked if I was ready.  I was.

She laid Xeenah on a soft, olive colored blanket. The doctor looked at me, and inserted the syringe's needle into Xeenah's tiny little arm, pressed the plunger, and then placed the stethoscope on her heart. She listened for a few seconds.

"She's gone", Dr Cottrell said, her voice wavering.  She knew my little dog with the mohowak. Her voice quivered not for Xeenah, but for me.

I tried to not react, but sorrow exploded inside of me until I just did a massive exhale and burst to tears at once.

My dog, my little friend, was gone.

 I still rubbed her little head and gave her, and me, what would be the next chapter and a new time without each other.

The doctor and her assistant left the room and offered me time.  "Stay as long as you need to" they said.

I rubbed Xeenah behind the ears with no tears.  This time it was not for her, it was for me.  She was gone.  She laid there on that olive-green blanket, motionless and still.  She was really gone.

***********

Probably five years before Dr. Cottrell said that Xeenah had a heart problem and might have another year and half.  Those extra years were golden. Xeenah was always so sweet, so gentle, so loving, with everyone.

I built up to that last day, figuring it was the best thing I could do for her, not me.  The last trip to the vet was natural, like I owed my dog a soft and simple exit, painless and happy.  She got that.

Those last minutes with her were so priceless. When the drugs relaxed her to where the little pup inside sprang out and told me all was well, that she was happy and okay, that she was glad to be there with me... I'll remember that forever.

****

A year later I struggle daily with the loss.  Every night she pushed up against me, every morning she got up with me.  She greeted me at the door when I got home and sat on my lap or at my feet while I went through my day.  She was a special creature.  I'm stuck between the joy of knowing her and the pain of not having her here.

I recently put on that same Switzerland sweatshirt and found the cremation vessel choices in my pocket. Looking more carefully the sweatshirt had her little white hairs on it.  When I think of the day that I rode home alone I just need to grab on to the minute or so that I got to share with her when the first shot kicked in and the pain left her body.  Silver linings.

There's no way to end this that makes sense.  One year ago I paid someone to kill my best friend.  While it was one of the worst days of my life, it gave me a few shiny, perfect memories that will be with me forever.








Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Three Hot Tweets

Since the dawn of the internet I've been blown away by the beautiful writing, wonderful pictures, and more photos of monkeys smoking than I can browse in a good afternoon.


Over the last few weeks I think the crazy people have dialed it up.
Can't believe the junk I'm reading!


But on the other hand, I've been so excited to read the poignant, concise and beautiful words on Twitter.  The last week was awesome. Thanks Hank, Kellie and Sanjay for these gems...

 "Arrogance is the full-bellied 'protecting' the starving from ." @KellieRyanB

"The anti-GMO folks just hate corporations more than they love people." @HankCampbell


"anti-GMO come across as privileged urbanites who show startling lack of compassion for the poor and rural." @Sanjaybhatikar

"Full belly, full wallet, empty skull=bad food science decisions." @ (well, me)









Monday, May 26, 2014

Thank Goodness? How to Smear a Scientist

Here's a story that starts with a simple comment on a website.  It ends with insults, anger, and delusional defiance.

A graduate student funded by NSF (the same folks that have funded my work over the years) libeled me in a harsh way.  Complete lies and nonsense.  I got nowhere with her kindly through private correspondence, and therefore just want to make the conversation public. I didn't want it to come to this.

There is a level of professionalism that is lost and an unacceptable breech of ethics for an academic.  She overstepped many lines, refuses to correct her falsehoods, and I feel it necessary to tell my story to protect myself from libelous accusations that are simply not true.  I never wanted her to experience any harm or negative effects from her indiscretions.  She refuses to correct her libelous statements, she stands by them, so I'm happy to post my interactions with Valerie Goodness here for all to enjoy.

I also contacted her Dean.  His response was limp at best, turning me over the the Office of Equity, Diversification and Inclusion, which found they have no jurisdiction of her actions.  Duh.  I feel that the university does have jurisdiction over the quality of scholars they produce, and if this is acceptable behavior for someone in the their program, it leaves a lot to be desired.

A Quick Note on Mother Jones 

About a month ago COSMOS aired the story of a public scientist that blew the whistle on a corporate influence scam.  Of course, Mother Jones didn't see it that way.  They portrayed it as corporate influence buying off scientists, playing into the far-out-liberal and far-out-conservative concept that academic scientists are just paid stooges for whatever corporations want to say.

I was the first to post, and posted a thoughtful retort that simply stated that it was about an independent academic scientist bravely standing up to corporate influence.

Then the poopstorm rained upon me in the comments section. I"m only posting a few gems in this blog.  The whole thing can be viewed here. Within the hour a vicious thread assembled, telling me about the bought-off scientists and fake results.  Of course, being a non-bought-off scientist that only publishes highly reproducible results (like the rest of the scientists I know) I had to respond, and did so throughout the thread.


Nativegrl59 claims I'm a "paid subversive who receives his funding for his doublespeak... and pro-corporate science"


One commentor was particularly awful.  It was not just her bankrupt opinions.  Those I can deal with.  It was what she was saying about me.  Awful, mean, personal stuff. I didn't know her.  It was just a chance to smear me by making up false associations.

She went by the handle Nativegrl59.  Even in the sample above you can see that she's really blown a gasket.  She then goes on...

She's really going after me with no evidence.  Pretty mean.

I do take this rather personally because she claims that I have harmed the careers of "ethical scientists, fellows, and grad students".  That breaks my heart.  I have been recognized with highly competitive awards for my undergraduate teaching and my outreach.  I also received a wonderful award for postdoctoral mentoring and serve on a university-wide committee to enrich their experiences. 

Moreover, all of my former students contact me, send me baby pictures, and just about all of them found great careers.  A few of them give me big cred for helping them get to where they are today. 

She claims I have "Monsanto bedfellows" when I don't have any associations with them other than knowing people that work there.  And they moved there after I knew them from academic science.

She claims my funding comes from places-- well, that just are not true.  My record is all public.  I have no money from Jon Entine or Searle or Monsanto, or whoever she says.  It is her way of trying to hurt my reputation as an independent academic scientist, all which is public record.

It continues...

"I know Folta's work, I know the cyber bullies he hangs out with, I get threats from them on a daily basis, so do my children"

She's has crossed a line.  At the time I had no idea who she was, I certainly never threatened her or her children.   This is a horrible thing to put on the internet, no matter how much you disagree with someone- why try to harm him/her personally?   

Here in Gainesville I teach special science classes for children at the Alachua Public Schools.  I teach there, voluntarily, a few times a year (used to be more when I didn't have administrative work).  I judge science fairs, run programs for kids and coordinate grad student efforts in teaching at the schools.  At night I teach karate classes- don't get paid to do it- but do it because it helps kids and the organization. 

In today's world background checks are commonplace, and as a potential teacher you are guilty until proven innocent.  Having this information on the internet is truly harmful, and I can lose opportunities to help others. 

Again, more false smear.  No words can describe how this makes me feel- a complete blend of anger, disappointment and empathy for this deluded soul.  I'm disappointed that an NSF-sponsored fellow would do this.



My website states no such thing, and I never got anything from Jon Entine.


Who is Nativegrl59? 

The threads went on forever, others came on to discuss and defend my position.  Awful things were said about me and I do take it way too personally.  I didn't even consider to figure out who Nativegrl59 was.  Didn't care. Clearly someone that had it in for me.  But others did care, and in the middle of the night  I got an email from one internet sleuth that in a google search connected the dots. 

She's Valerie Goodness, a graduate student at SUNY- Buffalo.  Public information says that she's an NSF-IGERT fellow, so essentially the same people that fund my outreach activities, also fund her to trash me so I can't do outreach activities.

There's no question about it. I"m not publishing the screenshots that make the connection, but it is clear. Even her facebook page has the same "Non-GMO" icon. 


Corrective Actions? 

Now that I knew who she was, could I get her to kindly correct the content, especially about daily threats to her children?   I sent her a professional letter by email asking for correction and compliance. 





The letter was pretty soft and asked for her cooperation.  The overarching spirit was to simply make it go away, lesson learned, false information corrected.  But she had a different interpretation.  My simple request for an apology was taken as a threat.  This is the email I received from her. 


 I was kind of hoping for, "I'm really sorry and will fix it"


There was no action, no news for several days.  I prepared another letter, again, soft, kind, and just asking her to remove the horrible falsehoods she put into a public forum with great authority. 


My 4/28/2014 letter.


Maybe progress?  She seems to be getting reasonable, and backs away from the "threatening". 


Then, ****crickets**** crickets ***** crickets *****


Last Correspondence

It was something like three weeks since she decided to put vicious lies about me into a public forum and she clearly was not going to make any attempts to remedy them.  At this point I'm assuming she's standing by them as factual content.   I try one more time with a simple email...


One more try.  Can I appeal to her sensibilities?  Please?  


Apparently not.  Again, the blistering accusations of "threats" which appears to be a front-and-center claim in her arsenal.  Her response:



She's obsessed with being the victim of threats. I've continually said that I have no intention to be difficult and please just fix it.  That's a threat ?


Where it Stands

First off, it was simple to figure out who she was and I thank those that took the time to do it.  However, I request that nobody harass or even contact Valerie Goodness.  In a situation where unethical behavior is the central criticism, we must not adopt those behaviors.

I have been advised to go after her legally and have even been put in touch with attorneys that say that this is actionable-- slam dunk.  I just don't see how spending the time and money to go after a grad-school mother makes sense.  I don't want her to have personal hardship, I just want her to fix the website and apologize.  Hell, I'll even take fix the website.

This has had damages. How do you quantify cost to my career and reputation, especially over time?  In a way, it is nothing.  Most know me and what I do, who I am.  But that information could cost me opportunities, both professionally and personally.   

The easy solution is for her to fix it.  She won't do that.  I acted 100% in good faith and wished to keep this private.  I wanted her to realize her mistake and fix it.  Unfortunately that false information remains in the public domain from Valerie Goodness' doing, and this is my only realistic recourse. Valerie Goodness clearly stands by her statements that I'm at least associated with people that daily threaten her children and get my funding from big business.  She stands by her statements of my collusion with companies and journalists.  She even claimed that I show proof of this sponsorship on my website- which is false. This is not about affecting Valerie Goodness, it is about correcting her false statements about me.  I want the truth to be out there, as that is how I operate.  She could learn a lot by spending a semester in my lab, and I'd be glad to mentor her in professionalism and ethics.

Note her twisting my request for truth- into being a victim of threats.  Note that she has broadcast horrible falsehoods about a public scientist that works hard in independent scholarly research, community outreach, student/postdoc mentoring, and many other aspects of academic interactions.

In Closing

Science is not just about data and hypotheses.  It is a pursuit for the Truth. It is about trusting students and postdocs, trusting other scientists to live by tight ethical standards. If someone can say outright false information about a public academic scientist, then that person may not be trustworthy.  I would absolutely question any results, claims, or conclusions in any manuscript, grant proposal or professional interactions coming from someone that could manufacture false information, and then dig in their heels when asked for validation.

This is not allowed in academia.  When someone is willing to fabricate information to meet their needs, or harm others' careers if they stand in the way of ideology-- that's is unacceptable.

I really wish that my simple comment to add to a public discussion did not have to come to this.  However, gentle interaction and discussion failed, and it was a last resort to get the real information into the public domain. As always, I'm happy to answer any questions,   kevinfolta@gmail.com.


Special thank you to everyone who has given me such kind thoughts in light of her comments,

Kevin







Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Right to Know, An Invitation to Know Less

Why is labeling GMOs a bad idea?  Here's why!  It actually makes us less informed.


Labels can be used deceptively to imply danger where none exists, forcing competitors to play defense against false notions. 

The creator of this sign at a local Ace Hardware (thanks Dr. Dave Clark!) states clearly that their herb and veggie starts are "NON-GMO".  This implies that there are herb and veggie starts that are GMO, when there are not.

I like, "remineralized with 70 trace minerals"... I'm guessing that 65 of these trace minerals are more toxic than any pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, or certainly a transgene!

And "open pollinated" ensures that you have no guarantee of the genetic integrity of the "heirloom" you are purchasing- so it is not necessarily an heirloom.

Chances are that these plants are the typical garden tomato, pepper, cucumber starts sold everywhere. They are not GMO, they never have been GMO. It is really slow planting a corn or soy field one seed at a time. 

The point is that here's someone looking to gain market share by creating the illusion that their product has greater value, less risk, and "No Poison of Any Kind Period".  To the unsophisticated gardener, they might opt for this alternative over other unlabeled, yet comparable products. 

It is deceptive marketing. It says that the competition presents risk not found in their products, but that just not accurate.

Again, are they ignorant or deceptive?  Do they just not know that there are no GMO garden plants, or do they know that and make the implication because they see a way to steer purchases? 

This is the danger of the label.  The comparable products are not transgenic, and even if they were there's no risk above any other plant.  The label is used to make false assertions about a perfectly fine product, in this case, one that is not even GMO.  It spreads a false notion that there are GM garden plants.

Therefore, the label actually makes us less informed. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Crowdsourcing Advice- How to Deal with a Hostile Web Commentor?

Last month I commented on an article on Mother Jones.  It was a good point, so good that the comment thread erupted in the usual mudslide of lies, hoping to discredit reasonable criticisms and the person that levied them.

One commentor was especially vicious. She continually made claims about me, my funding and other personal statements.  For instance, she claimed that my science is funded by Monsanto, Jon Entine and the Genetic Literacy Project and that it says so right on my website.  It isn't true, and my website doesn't mention Entine or GLP.

The woman graduate student posting false and harmful information about me refuses to correct it after gentle requests.  What is the correct next step? 


The most hurtful words were that I harass her children.  As a guy that volunteers in schools and teaches karate to kids at night (for no pay), this is a serious problem.

Thanks to the help of others and some of my own sleuthing we were able to dissect her anonymity and figure out who she is. She's a graduate student at a university in New York and is studying aspects of social science.  She is funded by a rather prestigious and highly competitive NSF fellowship.

I've asked her nicely several times to take it down, she says she will, but doesn't do anything.

What should I do? 

Sue Her for Libel?  She crossed a line and her statements have been evaluated by an attorney.  It is actionable. But I would feel really bad to have to go after her legally.  It is expensive, takes forever, and isn't going to end reasonably for anyone.

Contact her program?  As a former graduate coordinator I'd really like to know if one of our students acted in such a manner.  I'd force them into ethics training, notify their committee and advisor.  I'd also put them on probation in the program, pending that they made appropriate apologies and corrections.

Contact her funding agency?   Does NSF need to know about who they are investing in?   Do they need to know that this is the kind of person they are supporting?

Keep asking nicely?    It is getting old.

Assemble the true story on a website?  I could build a website with the screencaps of her comments and the information of who she is and how we figured it out. This approach is an honest, factual and permanent statement into the public domain about who she is, how she operates and displays her ethics.  I think this would be valuable information for any employer or other institution considering her for a position.

Do nothing?  I have better things to do than to waste my time on some unethical grad student who appears to be marginally unhinged.

***

I never wanted this to be punitive.  I wanted this to blossom into an ethics lesson for her and get the content corrected and receive a correction and an apology.  It would be horrible if her actions led to losing professional or personal opportunities.

But that is exactly what she's doing to me by lying about me and posting false information.

What should I do?




Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Six Months Later- Still No Evidence

Back on November 12, 2013 I patiently sat through a talk by Dr. Don Huber.  Huber is a former professor at Purdue with a really good record.  He was recognized by many as an expert in plant mineral nutrition and disease.

Now he travels from audience to audience extolling the perils of glyphosate and GMO crops.  He states, in no unclear way, that even just the process of adding the gene makes the plants dangerous.  (I actually recorded his whole talk, will post it someday).  You can find it anywhere on YouTube.

During his presentation he talked about this new virus-fungus, an unknown life form that invades GMO crops.  The organism causes abortions in cattle and infects humans, causing a suite of diseases from autism to cancer.  When he talks about it he shows graphic images of dead calves.  Audiences are visibly shaken and viscerally moved by his presentation.


The list of diseases caused by GMOs and glyphosate from Don Huber. 
The same list caused by chemtrails, vaccines and fluoride! 


I've heard this tired scam for eight years and never believed this for a second.  First, there's no evidence presented.  Next, the claims are all based on top secret work by unnamed figures in other countries, and his home institution, Purdue University, and the Centers for Disease Control know nothing about this deadly threat to all humans.



After his talk I asked him if he'd share his cultures.  I told him I could have it sequenced and understood by Jan 1, 2014.   We'd have the sequence for this deadly pathogen for five months now.

But Huber declined.  In a rambling cloud of no direction, Huber spent 10 minutes telling the audience why it could not be done.  Eventually he got defensive when the crowd turned on him and asked him to share so we could solve the "emergency".  Read the whole story here. 

Huber responds!  Afterwords he sent a libelous letter to my boss, saying that I was "disrespectful and disparaging" and that I "need to seek professional anger management counseling".  He said I interrupted the whole talk.  He didn't know I recorded it, and upon playback we see that he's lying to discredit me and conceal his fake pathogen.  I'll post this all someday when I have time.  Plus I've been advised to keep it in my pocket.

But shame.  For a credentialed scientist to get in front of a public audience and lie to them without evidence, THEN to try to harm the career of another scientist for requesting evidence.  That gets no lower. 

Some things have changed.

1.  He's distancing himself from the organism, recently claiming that he didn't discover it and that he does not have much to do with it.

2.  It is all in the hands of "the Chinese"

3.  He does not answer questions after the talk, maybe answers a few safe ones.

4.  I heard that at his last talk he didn't even talk about the deadly GMO organism.


So Dr. Huber, how about an update?  Where is the deadly organism now?  Is it being published?  Where is the sequence, protein or DNA?

The offer stands, I can tell you what it is in a few weeks if you share your cultures, the cultures you claim obey Koch's postulates and are easy to grow.

I'll do the work, you get the Nobel Prize.   I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Rebuttal to Dalyn Houser's Orlando Sentinel Opinion

When I was asked to do a point-counterpoint for the Orlando Sentinel I was hesitant. Why give an activist's non-scientific opinions the illusion of equal weight to my facts and science? 

In anticipation of the other writer preparing a poorly-researched anti-GM rant, I wrote my counterpoint to address the vacant arguments, and Dalyn Houser's anti-GM piece fell right into it.  Houser is a representative of Florida PIRG (Public Interest Research Group- ironically not doing much research, especially in science for the public interest).  Every single point is an argument from ignorance or a typical trot down non-scientific thinking.  Sadly, there is outright false information that further fuels misunderstanding of this topic. I don't know if she's outright lying or just misinformed, but neither adds good science to the public understanding.

To further illuminate that point, I've copied it here and go through each point, providing the scientific perspective in bold. 


Americans deserve to know what they're eating: Front Burner
By Dalyn Houser Guest columnist
12:00 AM EDT, May 9, 2014
HOUSER: The use of genetically engineered crops has greatly increased in frequency over the past several years. Biotechnology giants like Monsanto and DuPont have quickly gained a dominant share of the market by supplying farmers with genetically engineered soybean, corn, cotton and other seeds.

Ok! So far so good?

HOUSER: So, what's the problem with this rapid acceleration of genetically modified food?

Here it comes!

HOUSER: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, better than 90 percent of the top U.S. crops — such as corn, cotton and soybeans — are genetically engineered. That's a major jump since the turn of the decade.

Ok!  Still correct.

HOUSER: With that, comes the concomitant rise of pesticide and herbicide use in the United States. Conventional pesticides and herbicides used on farms more than doubled from 400 million pounds in the mid-1960s to 850 million pounds in 1980. Agricultural pesticide use jumped again in 1994 — up 11 percent from the previous year.

I'm not sure exactly where this statistic comes from, but basically there's more farmland, and yields have also doubled since then. Also, pesticide? She's lumping herbicides, fungicides, insecticides into one group probably.  The fact is that PER ACRE herbicide use is up slightly because the number of kg/acre due to the use of glyphosate. Glyphosate' increase precisely offsets other herbicides (Duke et al., 2012).  Yet glyphosate has a vastly lower toxicity and environmental impact quotient- more compound still means fewer effects and impacts on the environment.  Insecticide use has been cut in half on corn and cotton according to the NAS 2010 assessment (figs 2-7 and 2-3). 
HOUSER: This escalation poses a potentially harmful impact on our health and local ecosystems due to the fact that most GM crops already are engineered to produce their own pesticides.

Ms. Houser swings and misses and shows her absolute ignorance on the topic she is trying to discuss.  The protein in GM crops that is toxic to earworms has no effect on non-targets (Wolfenbarger et al., 2008) including humans (Betz et al, 2000). Ecological effects are nothing compared to those of broad-spectrum conventional or organic pesticides.

HOUSER: Genetically modified crops also are resistant to chemicals, which include Roundup. This allows farmers to kill weeds with this chemical, glyphosate, without harming their crops. The ability of the plant to be unaffected by chemicals has resulted in the increased use of glyphosate.

I covered this earlier.  Glyphosate works well and has low impact on the environment (e.g. Kleter et al., 2008, Duket et al 2008). 

HOUSER: Some studies suggest the increased use of glyphosate, patented by Monsanto in 1970, may be linked to a number of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson's disease, infertility and cancers. However, longitudinal research on the topic is lacking.

Yes, patented by Monsanto in 1970, and patent run out in 2000 or so.  Again, the mention of disorders to bring fear with no evidence.  The work she refers to is unpublished, in vitro, or other cherry-picked articles noting spurious connection.  Research is not lacking.  Read the MSDS, or any of the thousands of papers on the topic. 

HOUSER: The main point here is that we are unaware of the impact of these chemicals on our bodies, which are being increasingly added to our body burden (the aggregate volume of toxic chemicals existing in the human body at a given time) as they entrench and blanket our environment.

No, the main point is that she is unaware. Is it again an argument from ignorance. Glyphosate is well understood.  There is no "body burden" as we understand how the compound is metabolized and removed from the body. Upon ingestion of this compound that "does not pose a risk to humans" (Williams et al 2000),  95% is gone in urine and stools within hours, the rest is metabolized by specific cytochromes in the liver (Williams et al, 2012). 

HOUSER: The amount of herbicides and pesticides used on farms for agricultural purposes will only increase with the current state of political affairs. 

Not sure where she's going. 

HOUSER: Most commodity crops are not eaten as-is, but are made into additives like high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils that go into the wide array of junk foods present on grocery-store shelves across America. Corn, soy, wheat, rice and cotton are some of the most heavily subsidized commodity crops turned into artificial syrups and sweeteners.

No, most commodity crops are eaten as-is.  They are used for animal feed (70%) with a significant amount going to renewable fuel. Probably 10-15% are used in human food.  Wheat and rice are not GMO.

HOUSER: So, not only are we subsidizing junk food, but also the majority of crops are becoming GMOs — of which we are unsure of the biological and ecological consequences.

Again, the argument from ignorance. Junk food is a problem, but that's because of consumer demand, not because of transgenic crops. 

"The majority of crops are becoming GMOs" -- majority?  You mean, six?  Corn, cotton, soy, canola, sugar beet, papaya.  Maybe some minor, minor acreage of squash... okay seven. 

HOUSER: Since it is clear that legislative reform is slow in coming regarding Big Agribusiness, Florida PIRG, a statewide advocacy organization, has campaigned to promote corporate accountability by putting pressure on grocery-store chains to label GMOs. Doing so will set the stage for broader enforcement of these policies in the future, through regulation.

Think about this.  Here is a woman that has no idea what she is talking about that is working with a group to go after companies by "putting pressure on grocery store chains to label GMOs".

This means that they are using lies and bad information to force companies to adopt their political policies.  It is more food terrorism.

She states that her goal is to "set the stage for broader enforcement of these policies"...   What policies?  Regulation?  These are among the most tightly regulated organisms on the planet. 

HOUSER: It is the consumer's right to know what our food contains.

It is a consumer's obligation to learn, and a guest author's obligation to check facts.  The ingredients are on the side of the box or on the back of the can.  That is what your food contains.  The process it took to get there does not matter. Whether it comes from GM, conventional or organic, sucrose is sucrose, soybean oil is soybean oil.  

HOUSER: Since late 2013, China has rejected shipments of American corn. The reason: China doesn't endorse genetic modifications to food products.

FALSE.  China has been growing GM crops for over a decade.  80% of Brazil's GM soybeans, and significant corn supplies to go China (see Reuters article 2013).  25% of US GM corn goes to China.  To say that China "doesn't endorse genetic modifications to food products" shows her thin knowledge and/or intent to manipulate the reader.

China rejected some shipments that contained corn from the US, Brazil or Argentina when a line called Agrusure Viptera was detected.  This Syngenta product has genes against corn borer that have not yet been approved in China, and the application for approval has been in consideration since 2010.  They do not reject GM, just this one product that has not yet negotiated China's regulatory process. 

HOUSER: The Wall Street Journal recently reported rejection of GM foods by foreign nations has so far cost grain companies $427 million in sales. 

Probably true.  Is that a compelling statistic?  I'm guessing that the 275,000 farmers that use GM in the USA probably saved $427 million in fuel costs by using glyphosate instead of tilling to control weeds this month alone!  Remember, farmers use the technology because it saves them money and allows fewer inputs that cost money and end up in the environment. Lost sales? What a lame argument. It is a drop in the bucket compared to what the gains are in the field. 

HOUSER: Polls consistently show more than 90 percent of the public supports labeling in the United States, and now American companies are losing business to other nations that have outlawed GMO consumption.

There is no country that has "outlawed GMO consumption".  There are three countries (Peru, Kenya and Saudi Arabia) that I know ban growing them and importing products. Certainly not the EU or Japan, etc. Again, most of the GM shipped and used there is in the form of animal feed. Even places that label GM food (like Europe and China) accept imports no problem.  90% of the public wants labeling only means that the fear mongers like Ms. Houser have inspired their fears rather than educate them.   We know that is true, and the 90% comes from fear due to bad science and opinion pieces like this.  

HOUSER: It's just smart business sense for companies to give their customers what they want.

Then label food as non-GMO and those that fear science can go make their decisions.  Don't expect the taxpayer to finance a new bureaucracy because people don't understand science. 

HOUSER: I would say let us have some accountability in our food and have proper testing conducted of the food we are consuming, and the damage we are accountable for in the environment.

Wow.  I'd say let's have more personal accountability to actually research a topic before writing an opinion piece about it.  This just perpetuates the nonsense. 

Get this straight-- here's someone with limited knowledge of the subject that was compelled to craft a poorly-written and erroneous opinon from fear and ignorance.  It is the perfect set up for my associated article that says there is no debate, not two sides.

I welcome Florida PIRG and Ms. Houser to contact me at any time.  We can talk about the science, talk about the facts, and maybe they can focus on real issues in our state and on our planet.  PIRG claims a mission toward a 'more vibrant democracy'.  That starts with education, especially in science.  


A Response to Carey Gillam