Friday, February 20, 2015


Kevin Folta talking about GMOsThe truth according to Kevin Folta

February 15, 2105

The pro-GMO scientist Kevin Folta says he bases his statements on GMO safety on science – but some of his views look more like ideology. An expert in nutrition and public health weighs in with a commentary exclusive to GMWatch
Kevin Folta is a scientist and a pro-GMO activist who vigorously goes after anyone that disagrees with his ideology. Folta claims – as though he is the arbiter of truth – that GMO opponents are fearmongers who spread misinformation.

But let's take a look at Folta’s background and compare some of his claims to published research, the perspective of a prominent nutrition expert, and obvious fact.

Folta is a molecular biologist with no known health background. On GMOanswers, a website run by the GMO industry, it says, “Kevin Folta is a professor in and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, Gainesville. He got his PhD in Molecular Biology from University of Illinois at Chicago in 1998, and he has worked at University of Wisconsin before settling in at University of Florida. Dr Folta researches the functional genomics of small fruit crops, the plant transformation, the genetic basis of flavors, and studies at photomorphogenesis and flowering. He has also written many publications and edited books, most recently was the 2011 Genetics, Genomics, and Breeding of Berries. Dr Folta received the NSF CAREER Award, an HHMI Mentoring Award and was recognized as "University of Florida Foundation Research Professor" in 2010.”

If you want to know about the genetic basis of flavours or the functional genomics of small fruit crops, Folta is your man. But how likely is it that Folta, a professor in the horticultural sciences department, will know and understand the impact of diet on human health? Is he a doctor, dietitian or nutritionist? Nope. Does he have a master’s degree in public health or PhD in a related field? Nope. Does he understand how we determine if something is safe for humans? Nope. The bottom line is that he does not have the qualifications to weigh in on diet and human health. But does he? Yes, all the time.

In a recent blog post he implied that food additives are safe, saying, “Food additives need FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval, and that requires testing.”

However, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found that between 1997 and 2012 all of the members on panels to determine if a food additive was safe had ties to the industry that created them, either as an employee or consultant. Additionally, the FDA allowed companies that created food products to determine whether or not a food additive was generally recognized as safe, also known as GRAS. In some cases, these companies did not even notify the FDA of this determination!

Food politics guru Marion Nestle, PhD, who actually has a degree in nutrition, wrote a commentary on the study, saying, "How is it possible that the FDA permits manufacturers to decide for themselves whether their food additives are safe?" How indeed.

Folta says, “After 17 years no epidemiological trends have been established between GM and health concerns.” But this is clearly a reflection of his lack of scientific understanding. To date, there is not a single human epidemiological study. To say there are no epidemiological trends between GMOs and health is actually impossible to confirm since GMOs are not labeled. And as Consumer Reports says, “Saying there’s no evidence of harm isn’t the same as saying they’ve been proved safe.”

Folta also says that there is no “plausible mechanism” for harm from GMOs. When it comes to diet and health, we often have no idea why a particular substance causes harm, but that does not stop health professionals or health organizations from making recommendations. A case in point is sugar. NHANES  (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) recently published research that found a 38 per cent increased risk of heart disease for those who consumed 17 to 21 per cent of calories from sugar compared with those who consumed less. They also go on to say, “The biological mechanisms underlying the association between added sugar intake and CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk are not completely understood.” This highlights the well known fact that we often do not know the mechanism for harm for particular foods, such as sugar or red meat, but we do recommend limiting these foods since they are linked with negative health outcomes.

In response to the claim that organic produce is higher in vitamins and minerals, Folta says, “notsomuch”. Yet his views are clearly out of accord with research.

Organic fruits and vegetables are generally 5 to 15 per cent higher in nutrients, but they can be 30 to 100 per cent higher in some cases. And they are much higher in the health-enhancing phytochemicals that plants create to fight off pests. They also have a longer shelf life since they have more antibacterial phenolic acids under their skin, which helps prevent mold, bacterial growth, and thus spoilage. Additionally, organic foods have more microbial diversity, with plenty of healthy bacteria. So if unhealthy bacteria are introduced, they may not be as likely to multiply and cause health problems for us.

Organics also are lower in pesticides. Nestle says, “Research clearly demonstrates that pesticides harm farmworkers exposed to high doses. But recent studies report slightly lower IQ levels in children born to urban women with higher blood levels of pesticides. Although these studies did not control for socioeconomic and other variables that might influence IQ, they raise the possibility that even low levels might be harmful.”

Her advice?  “Buy organic. Pesticides, invisible and unlabeled as they are, constitute a good reason to do so.”

Folta does not support labeling of GMOs and says, “GMO labeling and GMO policy should be dictated strictly by science and evidence and not by manipulation of emotion.” Yet Nestle says, “Labeling GM foods should be a no-brainer.” But Folta and the biotech industry are afraid consumers will reject GMOs. Nestle continues, “If consumers distrust GM foods, the industry has nobody to blame but itself. It has done little to inspire trust. Labelling promotes trust. Not labelling is undemocratic; it does not allow choice.” In fact, the biotech industry has spent close to 100 million dollars to squelch GMO labeling. What are they trying to hide? And just think how many hungry mouths we could have fed or how much blindness from vitamin A deficiency we could have prevented with 100 million dollars.

Folta says that people often accuse him of working for or being funded by Monsanto. But he replies, “I have never received any financial compensation for my time,” implying that he does not have a conflict of interest with regards to his work around GMOs. However, he works for a university that receives funding from the GMO industry. So he stands to benefit if GMOs do well and could potentially lose his job if funding for GMO research wanes.

Folta believes he is science-based and says on GMOanswers, “My answers are 100% consistent with the peer-reviewed literature.” But the examples above cast doubt on these claims.

While Folta might be viewed as having a hard time getting his facts straight, he also misperceives his own behaviour. On his 25 October 2014 blog post, he said: “Some recognize me for unending patience and softness, even in the presence of insults and idiocy.”

Kevin Folta tweetsBut Folta’s perception of himself is far from reality, as these tweets (right), a few of many, demonstrate.

Hmm, so much for softness and patience.

Folta’s version of the truth appears to be a few notches short of reality. Please remember to take what he says with a very large grain of salt.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Chinese citizens sue ministry to force disclosure of secret glyphosate study

Ministry refused to publish glyphosate toxicology report to protect the company's "business secrets"
EXCERPT: The ministry … cited a test it did on the herbicide and said it was safe. However the plaintiffs think the test was bogus.

Residents sue ministry over herbicide report in GM food (China), 13 Feb 2015
A Beijing court has recently accepted a lawsuit application filed by three residents against China's Ministry of Agriculture for refusing to publish the test report of an herbicide used to treat genetically-modified (GM) soy beans.

"We have accepted the case and the specific date of the hearing has yet to be determined," an employee at the Beijing No.3 Intermediate People's Court confirmed with the Global Times on Thursday.

Yang Xiaolu, one of the three plaintiffs, told the Global Times that "after five months the court finally accepted our case, which was encouraging."

Yang said that they filed the lawsuit because the ministry refused to publish the toxicology report of Glyphosate, a herbicide named "Roundup," which was introduced in the market by the US-based agriculture company Monsanto, to protect the company's "business secrets." "Glyphosate on soy beans would affect women's fertility, cause cancer, deform crops and harm the environment," Yang said.

China has approved GM soy imports since 1997, with shipments reaching 58.38 million tons in 2012, the People's Daily reported in 2013.

The three have been asking the ministry to open the test report since February 2014, but the ministry said that Glyphosate has been registered in China since 1988 and that the company refuses to open the report for privacy and business reasons.

The ministry also cited a test it did on the herbicide and said it was safe. However the plaintiffs think the test was bogus.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Monsanto nears its ‘largest biotech trait launch’

Robert Holly, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting 5:02 p.m. CST February 13, 2015

To counter a “super weed” epidemic plaguing farmers, agribusiness giant Monsanto is steadily moving forward on the introduction of its next major wave of genetically engineered crops.
But — citing environmental and sustainability concerns — critics argue that step forward is actually a substantial leap back.
Similar to viruses that have adapted to frequently used antibiotics over time, super weeds have gained immunity to herbicides. Weed scientists estimate there are more than 400 different herbicide-resistant weeds around the world. Resistant weeds hurt crops by competing for sunlight and nutrients.
St. Louis-based Monsanto’s biotechnology team has been working on two new soybean and cotton varieties designed to withstand dicamba — an infrequently used herbicide that weeds have not caught up with yet — for nearly a decade.
“These new technologies will help farmers achieve better harvests, which will help meet the demand to nourish the growing population,” said Miriam Paris, Monsanto’s Xtend system launch manager.

Propelled by recent U.S. Department of Agriculture deregulation, Monsanto anticipates the seeds will help fight the super weeds and lead what a January first-quarter earnings report labeled the “largest biotech trait launch in its history.”

The varieties were fully deregulated by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Jan. 15. They will be part of the company’s Roundup Ready Xtend package and are scheduled for a 2016 launch. The USDA deregulation followed a profitable year for Monsanto, as the company’s annual report shows it posted $2.74 billion in net income for 2014.
While small-scale farmers and industry officials have welcomed the deregulation, critics worry it will prompt a greater dependence on the toxic chemicals that caused the super weed problem in the first place.

“I think APHIS is being entirely irresponsible in terms of its obligations to the public and to the environment,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist and director of the sustainable agriculture program for the Center for Food Safety, a national nonprofit advocacy group that supports organic and sustainable agriculture.

Currently, 1 percent of all soybean acres are treated with the 1960s’ herbicide dicamba.
If farmers planted the new Monsanto crops, USDA assessments warn dicamba use would increase by about 88-fold in soybeans and about 14-fold in cotton.

“In the medium to longer run, commercializing these crops without any real mandatory controls on how they’re used is going to lead to a lot of environmental and potentially human health problems,” said Gurian-Sherman, a plant pathologist by trade who has also worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. “They are going to just exacerbate what we’re already seeing.”

Although the company’s soybean and cotton varieties cleared one required hurdle by earning USDA approval, the varieties still cannot enter market until EPA approves their related use of dicamba. The USDA, the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration share the responsibility of commercializing all new genetically engineered crops.
The FDA has already supported deregulation.
The EPA will finalize its assessment later this year.

Foreign countries will need to approve the cotton and soybean before Monsanto could export the varieties, as well.

USDA deregulation marks next generation of crops
Monsanto, founded in 1901, made a lasting impact in the agriculture industry during the 1990s with the introduction of its genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops created to resist glyphosate, the herbicide of choice for many farmers.

With the introduction, farmers were able to plant Roundup Ready seeds knowing they could safely use glyphosate to efficiently kill any weeds that popped up in their fields. The products saved farmers time and energy, while also allowing them to till their fields less frequently.
Herbicide-resistant soybeans were so effective that U.S. farmers planted varieties on nearly every acre. In 2011, roughly 90 percent of soybean acres were planted with genetically engineered seeds, according to USDA data.

The technology helped make the U.S. soybean and cotton industries the multi-billion-dollar sectors they are today.

In 2013, U.S. farmers planted more than 10.4 million acres of cotton worth more than $5 billion. The same year, farmers planted more than 76.8 million acres of soybean worth slightly less than $42 billion.

But the weeds adapted.
“Too much of one thing is probably not good,” said Jeff Bunting, crop protection division manager for the agriculture cooperative Growmark, headquartered in Bloomington, Ill. He grew up on a family farm in east central Illinois and has been pulling weeds from soybean fields since he could barely see over the plants.

As weeds adapted, Monsanto started to experiment with new technology with oversight from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. In 2006, the company began testing dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton — which were also still resistant to glyphosate — in 19 states and Puerto Rico. Combined, the tests were distributed throughout more than 180,000 acres.

USDA agency balances deregulation and ‘protecting plants’
Monsanto routinely spends more than $1 billion annually on research and development. Its annual report shows the company spent more than $1.73 billion in 2014 and more than $1.53 billion the previous two years.

“Our crops and technologies undergo a rigorous and in-depth review by third-party scientists and government agencies and have a proven safety record with no adverse effects to people, wildlife or the environment,” Paris said.

Other companies have followed suit.
Each year, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service receives 10,000 to 11,000 requests for testing authorization, according to Michael Firko, the agency’s deputy administrator and head of its biotechnology regulatory team.

Since 2006, the agency, armed with inspectors throughout the country, monitored Monsanto’s results and ensured the genetically engineered cotton and soybeans were not planted too close to already approved crops. During the testing period, the agency also issued permits to select farmers who sought to grow the soybean and cotton.
“We’re in the business of protecting plants,” Firko said.
Then, Monsanto submitted a request for deregulation in 2012.

“After a developer has been field testing a plant for a number of years,” Firko said. “They may come to us and say, ‘Ok, we’ve got something that we’ve been working on, and we don’t think it represents any plant pest risk.’”

Under the Plant Protection Act passed in 2000, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service evaluates whether a genetically engineered crop would pose a “plant pest” once deregulated. Another piece of legislation, the National Environmental Policy Act, requires the agency to publish its findings, typically in a smaller environmental assessment or a larger environmental impact statement.

In its review of Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds, the agency compiled an impact statement, which Firko said is the “most complete environmental analysis that can be done.”

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service published a draft statement in August. It published its final statement in December, which was then subject to a 30-day public viewing window before completion.

Both versions recommended “full deregulation,” concluding the Monsanto soybean and cotton would be “widely used” by growers.
“It is clear there is high demand in the market from farmers,” Paris said. “Farmers will ultimately determine the value based on on-farm use.

Critics question regulatory oversight
Gurian-Sherman said the regulatory process that shepherded the Monsanto soybean and cotton toward deregulation is “limited” and “in shambles.”

The main problem is a “loophole” in jurisdiction, he said.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determined in its impact statement that the deregulation of new genetically engineered crops would likely result in an increased development of weeds resistant to dicamba. The agency found that the soybean and cotton do not pose a direct plant pest risk alone, but that their overuse would repeat the same problem that happened with glyphosate and the early Roundup Ready crops.

But since it is tasked with identifying direct plant pests and not indirect consequences, the agency settled on deregulation.

“The USDA, APHIS, has very limited authority to really regulate the risks from these crops,” Gurian-Sherman said.

Others were also critical. Between Monsanto’s initial filing and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s final environmental impact statement, the agency provided more than 180 days for the public to comment on the petition. 

Individuals and groups posted more than 4,700 comments during that time.

“Increased use of genetically engineered crops such as dicamba cotton is not the answer to super weed problems — do not approve it,” commenter Roslyn Fedberg wrote.
“Please work to move farming away from an over-reliance on chemical agriculture,” another commenter, Tom Bellamy, wrote.

Gurian-Sherman said the petition received so many public comments because agriculture is connected to important topics that people care about, such as food safety and environmental stewardship.

“The way we do agriculture has huge impacts on people’s lives,” he said.
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting is an independent, nonprofit newsroom devoted to educating the public about crucial issues in the Midwest with a special focus on agribusiness and related topics such as government programs, environment and energy.



GM food opponents, like these in Los Angeles, are adopting new strategies that put academics on the spot.Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/Corbis
GM food opponents, like these in Los Angeles, are adopting new strategies that put academics on the spot.

Updated: Agricultural researchers rattled by demands for documents from group opposed to GM foods

Keith Kloor is a freelance journalist living in New York City.

The fierce public relations war over genetically modified (GM) food has a new front. A nonprofit group opposed to GM products filed a flurry of freedom of information requests late last month with at least four U.S. universities, asking administrators to turn over any correspondence between a dozen academic researchers and a handful of agricultural companies, trade groups, and PR firms. The scientists—many of whom have publicly supported agricultural biotechnologies—are debating how best to respond, and at least one university has already rejected the request.
“It seems like a fishing expedition to me,” says geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam of the University of California (UC), Davis, one of six UC researchers targeted by the requests. “I am very worried [the correspondence] is going to be used to sully the reputations of scientists.” The tactic is familiar in another controversial area, climate science, where researchers have faced an avalanche of document requests from climate change skeptics.

The group, U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) of Oakland, California, says it has no vendetta. It has targeted only researchers who have written articles posted on GMO Answers, a website backed by food and biotechnology firms, and work in states with laws that require public institutions to share many internal documents on request, says Executive Director Gary Ruskin. USRTK is interested in documenting links between universities and business, he says, and is “especially looking to learn how these faculty members have been appropriated into the PR machine for the chemical-agro industry.”

(After this article was published, ScienceInsider learned that a number of the scientists receiving freedom of information requests from USRTK have no involvement with GMO Answers. In an e-mail, Ruskin writes that he was incorrect on this point and apologized for the error. He says he requested documents from the scientists with no connection to GMO Answers as a result of their public statements pertaining to California's 2012 GM food labeling proposition, which was defeated.)

Ruskin is no stranger to the GM food debate. He helped manage an unsuccessful 2012 effort to pass a California ballot initiative requiring the labeling of food products containing GM ingredients. Late last year, he helped found USRTK, which works “to expose what the food industry doesn’t want us to know. … We stand up for the right to know what is in our food and how it affects our health.” The group’s three board members include Juliet Schor, a prominent economist at Boston College. USRTK’s website says its sole major donor (more than $5000) is the Organic Consumers Association, a nonprofit group based in Finland, Minnesota, which has donated $47,500.

In the requests, Ruskin seeks any letters and e-mails exchanged after 2012 between the scientists and 14 companies and groups. The list includes Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow, major biotech and grocery trade groups, and communications firms including FleishmanHillard and Ogilvy & Mather. “The records disclosed … will be used in preparation of articles for dissemination to the public,” states one request obtained by ScienceInsider.

Many researchers are awaiting advice from university lawyers on how to respond. Kevin Folta, a biologist and biotech researcher at the University of Florida in Gainesville, would like to comply. But he anticipates trouble. “Unfortunately, when you skim through the 70,000 e-mails I have … [USRTK] will find opportunities to pull out a sentence and use it against me,” he predicts. “They will show I have 200 e-mails from big ag companies. While it is former students … or chitchat about someone’s kids, it won’t matter. They’ll report, ‘Kevin Folta had 200 emails with Monsanto and Syngenta,’ as a way to smear me.”
USRTK has asked food allergy researcher Richard Goodman, a former Monsanto employee who has been at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, since 2004, for any correspondence with his old firm related to a controversial study led by biologist Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen in France. The study, which claimed that GM foods caused health problems in rats, was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2012 but was withdrawn in 2013, the same year Goodman became an associate editor of the journal.

Toxicologist Bruce Chassy, who retired in 2012 from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, understands why he is a target. “I suspect a disclosure would make me look bad,” he says, noting he regularly interacts with firms that produce GM products and has urged them to do more to answer the technology’s critics. But the school’s lawyers rejected USRTK’s request on 4 February, noting Chassy no longer works at the university.
USRTK says its requests are designed to promote transparency in a controversial research arena. But some researchers worry they will also have a chilling effect on academic freedom. “Your first inclination … is to stop talking about the subject,” Van Eenennaam says. “But that’s what they want. And I don’t want to be intimidated.”
*Update, 13 February, 3:10 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify that a number of the researchers receiving freedom of information requests have no connection to the GMO Answers website.
Science| DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa7846


Vandana Shiva: 'All Life Depends on Soil'

EcoWatch - ‎4 hours ago‎
vshiva 2015 is the year of soil. Bringing the soil to the center of our consciousness and our planning is vital for the life of the soil, but also for the future of our society.

US Approves Genetically Engineered Non-Browning Apples

International Business Times AU - ‎2 hours ago‎
Genetically engineered apples that wouldn't turn brown on cutting are approved to be planted in the US. The non-browning feature of the apples would appeal both to the consumers and the food service companies, said Okanagan Speciality Fruits, the ...

USDA approves new line of genetically engineered apples

The Hill - ‎Feb 13, 2015‎
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans on Friday to de-regulate two varieties of apples that are genetically engineered to resist browning when bruised, sliced or bitten into. In a letter to stakeholders on Friday, the USDA's Animal Plant ...

US Approves First Genetically Engineered Apples

Environment News Service - ‎Feb 13, 2015‎
WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2015 (ENS) - The first genetically engineered apples were today approved for planting and sale in the United States by the U.S.

GMO labeling needed

Albany Times Union - ‎8 hours ago‎
Walking through the grocery store, you can find out quite a bit about the food you're buying and sharing with your family. By reading the labels, you can learn just how much sugar is in that box of cereal, if a can of soda has caffeine, or if orange ...

Lawmakers Reintroduce Bill to Label Genetically Engineered Food

Food Safety News - ‎Feb 12, 2015‎
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) reintroduced legislation Thursday to label genetically engineered (GE) food. The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act would require the U.S. Food and ...

Chef Tom Colicchio Stands With Federal Lawmakers as GE Food Labeling Bill Is ...

EcoWatch - ‎Feb 12, 2015‎
Concerned consumers have been pushing for the right to know what's in the food they buy for many years. And companies like Monsanto have been pushing back with their money and political influence to make sure that doesn't happen.

How Food Babe mobilized an army against GMOs and chemicals

Genetic Literacy Project - ‎Feb 13, 2015‎
It is the issue of GMOs where Hari's messages come into clearest conflict with Folta's work. The lab next to his at the University of Florida, he tells me, for example, has produced a tomato seed that will yield a fruit that is loaded with folic acid ...