Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Another Dose of Chemophobia -- This Time Orange Juice!

Is your orange juice full of weed killer? No. Who is making that claim, and should you be concerned?
Five years ago we all were treated to data claiming that corn was not corn. More precisely, genetically engineered corn was actually a concoction of chemistry that it could not be remotely biological. According to the source, it was lacking carbon, but was packed full of glyphosate and formaldehyde (which are carbon based). It also had a substantially lower “cation exchange capacity” than its non-GMO equivalent, which is odd, because that’s a soil test, and not one done on corn. But it sure had it. Whatever it was.
The data seemed weird because they were. They were fake. Manufactured. Pure bullshit.


From the people that make up data or don’t publish in real journals, more chemophobia.

The table was a soil test template festooned with made-up values by Moms Across America, a twisted group of food fearmongers that used the falsified data to stoke alarm among consumers. I debunked it here.
The bogus data come from the quaint era of manufactured fear when formaldehyde was the key chemical culprit, and about two years before glyphosate would hang as food activists’ favorite pinata.
Glyphosate “Detected” in Everything
Since 2013 the science communication community and wacky food activists learned something important — you can fill a table with creepy numbers, ignite a great media scare, and the facts simply don’t matter.
Over the next few years we’d be treated to reports of glyphosate showing up everywhere from beer, to pretzels to organic wine, to breakfast cereal. According to these results, the stuff is everywhere, including in places it could not possibly be. The reports receive wide media visibility, tainting public perception and convincing the average consumer that their food is killing them.
It is brilliantly devious. Most of these claims have been made by Moms Across America, an organization that knows that people will pay attention to numbers in a chart, and don’t really care where they came from. Charts look quite official and sciencey.
Orange Juice?
Now the Moms Across America claims that orange juice is full of high levels of glyphosate, which is odd, because oranges are not genetically engineered to withstand it. Glyphosate is used in some citrus operations to control weeds, but it is not applied to trees. If it was, it would kill them. The glyphosate applied to row middles degrades in the soil and is not taken up well by roots.
So where did the probably not a probable carcinogen come from?
The lab that did the detection is not an independent operation. It is run by John Fagan, a guy connected with the Maharishi cult and a staunch opponent of biotechnology. He apparently runs a lab in Fairfield, IA, the buckle in the corn belt, surrounded by fields sprayed with glyphosate. If there’s a guy that would want to find it, it would be Fagan. And guess what? He reports to find it.
Shortcomings in Analysis
First, let’s start with the positives. The measurement was performed using LC-MS/MS, a technique that very well could detect glyposate and accurately quantify it. The tested for glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA .
What’s not to like?
No negative control. The compound is detected in everything, so there’s no way to discriminate between a signal caused from glyphosate and a signal caused by some other compound that behaves in the same way during the chemical separation.
No specific extraction method for orange juiceDetecting these compounds using these techniques first means developing a “method” to extract the compound. Every starting material behaves differently and chemistries break down depending on the solvents used and timing. The data provided were obtained from treating orange juice with a protocol developed for breast milk (where legitimate expert scientists failed to detect the compound when Moms Across America claimed to find it). This is important because the detection method looks for a signal with certain chemical properties, those of glyphosate. It is possible that orange juice contains something else that could mimic that signal. There is no way to know that without a negative control.
Single replicates. While the numbers are well within the range of quantitation for LC-MS/MS, there is no way to tell if these were double blinded and randomized, or if there were multiple tests for each sample. There’s no way to know what kind of variation there is within the test or between samples.
Work not published. All of these factors explain why the work appeared on a website and not in a peer-reviewed journal. It is not reliable, rigorous work.
Claimed Levels are Low — Really Low! Even if the detection was real, which it likely isn’t, the alleged amounts are remarkably irrelevant to human physiology. The claim is parts per billion. That’s seconds in 32 years. These levels would have zero effect on human physiology.
Conclusion
Enjoy OJ. Orange juice, not the ex-NFL great. The fact that glyphosate is not used on the trees, coupled to no evidence of reliable detection, coupled to the fact that the organization that commissioned it is known for promoting false information, makes this report destined for the dumpster like the rest of them.
It is curious that they did the same report last year at this time. It didn’t get much traction.
But 2018 is a great time to generate chemophobia around glyphosate. You don’t need sound methods, you don’t need good science, you just need a chart from a cronie’s lab that can be pumped through willing media networks.
It all is part of the elaborate plan where ideology trumps science, and a scary chart is more influential than the entire scientific consensus.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Dr. Don Huber - Time to Recant

Huber's Mystery Organism

In January of 2011 Dr. Don M. Huber, formerly of Purdue University, wrote a warning letter to US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  He wrote of a dangerous organism, new to science, that had invaded U.S. agriculture.  It destroyed crops, killed livestock, and caused tremendous harm to human health. It was directly linked to genetically engineered crops and the herbicide Roundup.

In November of 2013 I watched him speak to an audience of concerned people that audibly gasped when he showed pictures of the organism's devastating effects. People shook their heads in disgust. 

At the same meeting I offered to sequence the DNA of the new organism he had isolated, only to have him say that it was already being done by collaborators in China and that it would be published shortly.  Then he said that it had no genetic material. 

He was not counting on someone to be in the audience that could call him on his bullshit. 




Almost eight years after his warning letter and claims of a mystery organism with zero evidence, Dr. Huber is still held up as an authority because he has (had) credibility and tells the credulous exactly what they want to hear. Once again, it proves that you can fool some of the people all of the time. 


Eight Years Later

As of today there is no evidence of the mystery organism.  That's because there is no mystery organism.  

Still he is trusted by the anti-biotech movement, and travels the nation giving talks about the dangers of genetically engineered crops and associated products. 

He also wrote a nasty letter, filled with false allegations about me, to my boss. He lied there too, and I proved it with a recording. 

Why does the anti-GMO movement trust someone that lied to them, wrote warning letters to the US Ag Secretary, and never produced any evidence backing his claims?   

The websites still hold tight to Huber's claims.  He's still a darling of a scientifically bankrupt movement because he has credentials says what they want to hear. 


He Can Be a Hero

The sad part of this is that he'll be remembered as a crazy old loon that had a beef with a biotech industry and decided to fabricate a story to torpedo technology.  He was a decorated veteran, a recognized professor, and an expert in his field.  Why he'd trade that for a grudge and some plane tickets to talk to folks hostile to science and farming is beyond me. 

All he needs to do is recant.  He can say he made it all up, he was angry, and now he realizes the damage he's done.  

He'd be a hero again.  We forgive those that realize the errors of their ways. 

I truly hope that Dr. Huber recants his bogus assertions, publicly and loudly.  Even though he wrote a letter to my boss seeking public censure and punishment, I'd be the first to congratulate him. 

It has been five years since I kindly asked to help him and almost eight since he sent the letter to Vilsack.  

It is time to come clean. 


  

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

3 Must-Do Tips for an Effective Doodle Poll

Misuse of scheduling tools leads to profound inefficiencies
The first time I told a female co-worker that I needed her to respond to my Doodle Poll I was reported for harassment. Time would reveal that this hazardous homophone was simply an attempt at efficient time management.
If I had a dollar for every Doodle Poll that I receive I’d probably get about six bucks a week. The email arrives inquiring about my availability, and then I click the link and hold my breath — will it be an efficient way of synchronizing a group meeting, or will I spend the next 30 minutes gazing at calendars and clicking on boxes?

For those of us that want to do our jobs, meetings can be a chore. Don’t use scheduling tools to make it a chore to schedule a chore.

The following are my tips for constructing an efficient Doodle Poll:
  1. Provide Just a Few Options. It is a nightmare to have to stare at a jillion poll options, scrolling from day to day, cross referencing against my calendar, and clicking the appropriate box. Eventually I just click the ones where others have indicated availability rather than waste my time, which skews results. Don’t list fifty open time slots. Give me five. My formula is five, plus one for every person in the meeting over three, but no more than ten.
  2. Block Realistic Time Slots. Busy people rarely have half a day free. Pick a time that’s realistic and make it happen.
  3. Close the Poll Quickly. Nobody is waiting for your poll to close before other business is scheduled. The information I put into a Doodle Poll is immediately expiring with a half-life of hours. Many times I have scheduled an open time slot only to have it close a few days later, and then a few days later received Doodle Poll notice of the final meeting time for something I could not possibly attend. Don’t publish a poll to populate and then close it two weeks later. Close it in 24 hours, and let participants know about that in the email. Tell them to “DO IT NOW!” Follow up and get it closed fast.
Adherence to these three simple rules makes for efficient scheduling. It shows respect for participants’ time and ensures that the meeting will likely be scheduled without conflicts.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Response from Bertolli

After sending a complaint to Bertolli after putting their Non-GMO Olive Oil (all olive oil is non-GMO) back on the shelf, my friends at Bertolli kindly returned a message. 



It is all a marketing decision.  It is pandering to the lowest common intellectual denominator and driving sales with fear-based advertising.  

I won't be playing along.  Selling out honesty and ethics to take advantage of the chronically misinformed is not something I support, and not a company I will support with my dollars. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Bertolli and the Non-GMO Project

I ran out of olive oil.  I buy the stuff by the gallon usually, but my local grocery store had some 500 ml bottles on sale for $9.89, but buy-one-get-one-free, so 1 liter of olive oil for about ten bucks. Not too bad.

It was Bertolli brand.  I put it in my cart and then I saw it-- the Non-GMO Project label, the label that certified that no GMO olives were used in the preparation of the oil.  They are telling the truth because there are no genetically engineered olives, so all olive oil is "non-GMO"


So I put back the Bertolli product and instead got a liter of Colavita olive oil for about forty cents more. Neither features the butterfly of credulity. 



Instead of a product that sports fear-based marketing to science-hostile interests, I bought a liter of general purpose olive oil for cooking and a liter of a higher quality oil for special applications.


It gets much worse.  The Bertolli website features six products under "olive oils". 



But wait!  Some of these must contain oil from genetically engineered olives.  I never knew such things existed (because they don't) but you can filter products by "Non-GMO" options. 


And how many dropped out of the search?   ZERO!  All olive oil is comes from non-genetically-engineered olives, every last drop.  So the filter removes nothing. 

It is a useless bauble, a deliberate means to misinform the consumer that simply has concerns about their food. Bertolli plays right into the deception of food misinformation. 


Now I can add Bertolli to my list of companies to not support.  I will not let my dollars be used to fund an organization that misinforms the public, fights against farmer choice, and harms technology from reaching those in food insecure regions of the world where it is desperately needed.

Avoid the label.  Don't buy the products.  Remember who exploited fear-based marketing long after this dangerous trend has passed. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

CHEMOPHOBIA FILES: LaCroix Water & Insecticide

In a campaign that The Food Babe would be proud of, a group of attorneys have filed a class action lawsuit against LaCroix.  The claim is that the ingredients are not natural and that they are components of roach killer. 

It is the 2018 equivalent to Vani Hari's misrepresentation that Subway's bread was made up of yoga mat chemicals. Remember that one?  Ah, simpler times. 

The ever-credulous media was quick to amplify the story. 



Without any critical analysis, the internet amplifies the sensational report. 

The attorneys claim that LaCroix contains linalool and limonene, two components of "cockroach insecticide".   It does, and it is. 

But was is linalool?   It sounds like a medical tool on the Three Stooges, but it really is the characteristic flavor of Froot Loops cereal.  It is a naturally-occurring volatile compound in fruits that imparts a fruity, floral note in fruit aroma.  

What is Limonene?   It is abundant in citrus peel and is a component of citrus aroma. 

These two natural compounds found in fruits are used to flavor fruit-flavored beverages.  Stop the freakin' presses. 

As for insecticidal properties?   Certain aromatics are known to be insect repellents.  Others bother birds.  My lab has shown that linalool and other compounds suppress microbial growth. That does not mean that they are dangerous to consume.

But in interest of a splashy headline and a lawsuit, there are those out there that will spin the truth to serve their own ignorance and greed. Linalool and limonene are not a health risk at the levels used, they are consumed when you eat many fruits and vegetables.  It is classic chemophobia, now weaponized to make a buck from a frivolous lawsuit. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Schadenfreude Burrito

A few years ago Chipotle Mexican Grill used fear-based marketing to sell products.  They embarked on a "No GMOs in Our Food" policy that fueled a nationwide discussion, and delivered waves of customers wishing to trade their dollars for Americanized Mexican mediocrity. 

Back then the only thing Chipotle really had to change was corn tortillas and chips, sourcing them from non-GE sources.  Soy oil used in frying was replaced with non-GE equivalents.  Everything else in their menu was not GE.  Sort of.

The high fructose corn syrup or sugar in their sodas most certainly came from a GE plant, and the cheese was made enzymes obtained from GE microbes.  But the stuff with high margins was somehow okay. 


Chipotle's vapid campaign backfires as consumers and attorneys realize that there is money to be made in pointing out the inherent dishonesty in Chipotle's claims. 

Now Chipotle face a class action lawsuit because the stupid campaign failed to be completely honest, at least in the eyes of some extreme anti-GMO burritophiles.  

A set of plaintiffs argued in court that Chipotle did not source non-GMO meat or dairy products, and the judge agreed, allowing the compliant to proceed to trial.  Ha ha. 

Chipotle should have called me as a witness on this one.  There are no genetically engineered animals to make meat or milk, so consumers never actually consumed any GE anything.   They argue that the animals ate GE crops, and that imparts a magical science essence that somehow offends the palate. 

But while I feel that the judge is wrong and the lawsuit is frivolous, I'll smile and watch it unfold with my schadenfreude cup overflowing. 

Chipotle had major food safety issues and harmed many people.  Instead of focusing on careful standards and practices, they instead focused on vilifying a plant genetic improvement technique that has had sound consequences for farmers and the environment, especially in developing nations.  They contributed to the rhetoric of "technology bad" and indirectly limited the spread of good technology to the desperate people that face critical food insecurity. 

So while I disdain such lawsuits I'll make an exception here.  Yes, their campaign was stupid and they made money from it.  But nobody was harmed outside of overpaying for a big tortilla full of rice, beans and substandard burrito stuffins.

I am pleased that this is going forward, as it reminds us that you reap what you sow... if you make money with a campaign based on misguided fear, you will lose that money by people that are misguidedly afraid.