Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Montana Grain Growers Association on the topic of agricultural myths – specifically those relating to the wheat and barley industry. It was a whole new experience for me to replace calving rates with seeding rates; and crossbred cows with hybrid corn; but I was intrigued to see how many similarities existed between the grain industry and the beef industry in terms of the challenges we’re faced with in terms of misconceptions and bad science.
In the beef industry we’re often told that cattle are killing the planet by belching greenhouse gases; steak contains so many hormones that our kids are going to look like Pamela Anderson by the age of 5; and that we routinely mistreat our animals in the name of profitability – none of which are remotely true. However, many of the myths relating to the arable crop industry seem to revolve around genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) – the very mention of which appear to evoke rage, sanctimoniousness and downright insanity in many internet pundits.
Researching the GMO topic gave me so many examples of bad science that I could have spoken for three hours and still have had slides left over – so here, for your edification, is my quick cut-out-and-keep guide to writing like an angry internet GMO “expert”.*
1) Always use capital letters to emphasize the negative. The more capital letters you use, the more powerful your message BECAUSE YOU’RE OBVIOUSLY SHOUTING! Everybody knows that shrieking like a hyena on acid gets your point across, right?
2) Remember that science is the enemy. Yes, it brought us the polio vaccine, organ transplants and the iPhone that’s rapidly giving you repetitive strain injury of the thumbs, but when it comes to food, it’s pure evil. Anybody who has a PhD is less believable than your Great-Aunt Edna’s story about the day she met JFK in Walmart, whereas the opinion of a liberal arts major who cites Wikipedia, Deepak Choprah and Michael Pollan is worth more than rubies.
3) Make sure you use emotive language. Your food system of choice is entirely populated by fluffy animals that poop rainbows, fart glitter and graze happily upon plants that are identical to those grown by the pilgrim fathers. By contrast, the dark side has mega-herds of mutated hybrid creatures that snack on household pets unwary enough to wander into their pen; malevolent trees that fling apples at Judy Garland; and man-eating, trash-talking plants last seen in the Little Shop of Horrors.
4) Cause-effect statistics are only used by scientists (see #2) and thus poison the virtuous well of truth. Far better to make spurious claims based on nebulous associations. If the claims relate to children, the elderly or other vulnerable populations, so much the better. The Flavor-Savr GMO tomato was introduced in 1994 and childhood allergies have increased 400% since then? Excellent. Despite the fact that the World Health Association has stated that there is no link between GMOs and allergies, the two must (MUST!) be related. Since 1994, we’ve also seen the introduction of Obamacare, the death of Princess Diana, and the Green Bay Packers have won the Super Bowl three times. OMG! GMOs killed Princess Diana!
5) The only exception to #’s 2 and 4, are when a paper published in the Obscure Seattle-based Journal of Bad Science and Tomfoolery funded by the People’s Commission for Proving that GMO’s are Gonna Kill Ya Folks reports that if you force-feed three mice with 75x their body weight of pesticide-resistent plants, the resulting death by lab-worker hand (mouse head, meet bench-top) was caused by GMOs, and happens to agree with your views. Cite it as often as possible and gloss over the fact that the journal editors retracted it based on bad science three weeks after publication. They were obviously manipulated by Big Pharma (see #6).
6) Any food that contains GMOs is a Frankenfood, guaranteed to turn you into a Herman Munster lookalike riddled with tumors the size of cabbages and to result in certain death. The only reason why most death certificates cite cancer, stroke or heart attack as the cause of death is because the medical profession have been paid off by Big Pharma. Anybody who dies in a car accident was assassinated because they knew too much (see #4, Princess Diana).
7) There are only three types of farmers and ranchers. Large farmers (more than 100 cows or acres) sit in their money-pit all day, cackling and swimming in vaults of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. Everybody knows they have more money than all the European nations combined; force innocent immigrant workers to apply toxic pesticides whilst only clad in a loincloth made from a flour sack; and are singlehandedly responsible for every incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Midsize farmers (20-100 cows or acres) are utterly at the mercy of Big Pharma/Big Food and have become mindless zombies, planting whatever mutant seed the corporations tell them to. Small farmers (less than 20 cows or acres) are the salt of the earth and will inherit it come the revolution. End of story.
8) Corporations have billion dollar budgets and their CEOs spend all their time partying with tobacco-smoking lobbyists. Lobbying by small organizations is done by worthy volunteers who’re just trying to make the world a better place for your innocent children. For the love of God, won’t somebody think of the children?
9) If all else fails, invoke the name of the evil that must be named….ahem, Monsanto. If you say it three times into a mirror, an ancient agricultural god will appear and wreak vengeance upon the earth. Honestly, I saw it on Oprah.
*Note that being an “expert” does not involve education, higher degrees or being employed within the industry in question. Nowadays you can only be an expert if you are entirely impartial, third-party, and preferably know nothing whatsoever about the system in question. On that basis, I’m off to write a book about Zen Dentistry.
This is why I still have faith in humanity. Fantastic summary!
Thank you ma’am!
You are so funny. Can we get The Onion to write about GMO’s? This would be really sad if it were true. Oops. I think it is.
The Onion did poke fun at people thinking “organic” implies animal welfare and the random labels people slap on things: http://www.theonion.com/articles/we-raise-all-our-beef-humanely-on-open-pasture-and,30983/
Reblogged this on sheerheart photography and commented:
What a great read. Manipulation is the name of the game. How can the numbers be manipulated to say what I want them to say? Which photo can I use to speak volumes even if it is speaking fallacies?
You got it in one! Thanks for reblogging. 😀
You forgot one item, imply that anyone that disagrees with your view/belief is a paid employee of Monsanto/big Agra/big Pharma/big chemical/ the Illuminati/ Bill Gates/ the NWO/Blackwater. Even better, say that you know that they aren’t feeding their families that poison.
Too true! 😀
When all studies are ‘paid for by Big Pharma’, I wonder if there is any sort of evidence that could be brought up to change anti-GMO people’s minds.
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We have each and every character noted on here… Just read this article and you’ll find a match. http://www.civilbeat.com/voices/2013/12/11/20635-why-the-big-island-was-right-to-take-on-gmos-with-bill-113/
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What a great article! The anti-GMO people continue to amaze me on what they take to be ‘the truth’ or the amount of articles they share written by random people with no scientific background. I honestly believe that the anti-GMO movement is going to go down in history as one of the most major blunders of our time and those of us that know better need to all take action against it.
Thanks Angela! I’m not trying to suggest that I’m an expert on GMOs, but the tactics used by some of the scare-mongerers are simply play on fears and misconceptions – alas, that’s why they’re so effective! I am intrigued to see how Europe will feed itself (or not…) in 20 years time.
CLASSIC! Is that excited enough? My favorite thing is the ‘buzzword bingo’. You know, dropping cool sounding scientific stuff to make yourself look good: MONOCULTURE, SUSTAINABILITY, VANDANA SHIVA, ‘COROPORATE SHILL’, MIKE TAYLOR.
Oh yes. If all else fails, referring to anybody who disagrees as a “Nazi” is usually the conversation-ender too! Oh, and comparisons with Big Tobacco always go down well.
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So, you’re saying I’m a ‘large’ farmer!!! That must be why I have a full time job in town;)
Must be! 😉
I laughed! I cried! It’s All True! 😆
I don’t have the time to address the dozens of inaccuracies in this piece of propaganda, so I will merely point out one fact for all ur edumification.
Despite the fact that the World Health Association has stated that there is no link between GMOs and allergies, the two must (MUST!) be related.
Nowhere in your link is there a statement that there is no link between allergies and GMOs. As a matter of fact the WHO regulations for allergy screening are not being followed at all and thus citing the WHO as endorsing safety is more than a little disingeneous. ,http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/en/ec_jan2001.pdf
The testing protocol established by the WHO is clear. Homology of 6 amino acid window or >35% of the sequence, should have triggered further testing. There is a window of homology of 7 amino acids between EPSPS and der p 7, and patients with dust mite allergies are exceedingly easy to find because dust mite allergies are incredibly common.
page 11: Typically, a screen with 25 individual serum samples with high levels of IgE to the selected group of airborne allergens and (if applicable) 25 with IgE to the selected group of food allergens would be used
There is seven amino acid homology between der p 7 and CP4 EPSPS
There is no a single inhibition ELISA on 25 samples from patients with high titers to dustmites, who are exceedingly easy to find. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1186%2F1472-6807-2-8/fulltext.html
There is six amino acid homology between cry1F and der p7.
It has not escaped the attention of this medical professional that biotech corporations get away with sample sizes too trivially small to ever find a thing, using techniques not design to find it. It is pretty obvious to any neutral independent scientists that when corporations don’t seek they don’t find, and they do that because they have something to hide.
Leaving the Cult of GMOs to preach sermons of unscientific NONSENSE now. Leaving you all to your sloppy junk science.
See this World Health Organization link: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/, where under question 5 it clearly states: “No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market.”
I appreciate that you may not agree with all the points in this post, but it would be great if we could keep comments civil. Thanks.
Oh, dearest Ena. You certainly make your rounds on the internet dont you, dogctor?
“It has not escaped the attention of this medical professional”
YOU ARE NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. YOU ARE A VETERINARIAN. PLEASE STOP MISREPRESENTING YOURSELF ON EVERY WEBSITE THAT YOU VISIT.
“It is pretty obvious to any neutral independent scientists that when corporations don’t seek they don’t find”
Which is the exact reason that independent scientists perform their own tests to verify that GMO technology is safe for consumption, such as the UK FSA, EFSA, and the NAS. Please refute their work or link your own.
One item it seemed to me that you missed is the call for “INDEPENDENT” research. Based on my observations of their postings, that seems to be a favored word in the anti-GMO crowd. It seems that if they could just get “INDEPENDENT” scientists to study these issues, naturally the truth of the anti-GMO crowd would be revealed.
Too true! “Independent” meaning “Approved by anti-GMO crowd and preferably with no knowledge of science and no previous funding from any agency whatsoever”. Because every scientist just publishes (or suppresses) whatever their funding agency wants them to publish *eye-roll*.
Ena the dog doctor can pretend that she has never seen these tactics used by the antis but we all know she is more than familiar with the tactcs.
Wonderful humorous essay. I’ve been following your work since 50-years of dairying impact on environment.
In the last decade, anti-GM advocates lost on Bt crops and Monarch butterfly, lost on Charles Benbrook’s advocacy, lost on the fact that we can’t do conservation minimum tillage without herbicides, lost on European Luddite small anti-technology is beautiful, and lost because GM crops do help the world’s poor more than privileged eaters. Read Zilberman from Berkeley.
Advocates have turned their attention to attacking GM crops for their purported negative impacts on animal health. Seems there are four groups I read about:
– Gilles Seralini of France and the whole controversy of the 2012 study.
– Carmen from Australia on Iowa swine gut inflammation
– Don Huber retired from Purdue speaking on Glyphosate induced manganese deficiency in animal nutrition
– Seneff, who is attacking Glyphosate for purported animal cell cytochrome P450 inhibition (after attacking other things in recent years).
Help out a non-livestock, non-animal professional like me. Dig into each of these, deconstruct each of their claims or findings in terms of animal science and nutrition, and blog here about your analyses!
I have no way to evaluate the quality of each of these 4 anti-GM advocacies. Huber and Seneff are all over YouTube, but don’t appear to have any data. Carmen and Seralini have data, but the quality is controversial.
I doubt that Seralini had as bad in experimental methodology like Wakefield was in publishing false data linking vaccination to autism in the Lancet in the 1990s. That has spawned a whole folklore conspiracy culture.
Deconstructing these would be helpful to answering for those of us who sell GM crops into animal feed markets.
I’ll do my best! Only so much time free, but I’ll definitely look into the names that you provided – these guys drive me crazy with their scare-mongering.
Try reading the Biofortified Blog at http://www.biofortified.org/blog/. They cover all of these names. You might have to do some digging into older posts, but I’m sure you can find it.
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If you are interested in reviewing/discussing GMO related topics and are on Facebook, GMO Skepti-Forum is a great page for respectful and focused interactions.
I just stumbled this on Facebook. Wonderful article! The “debate” over genetically modified foods is so twisted by emotion, and unfortunately science is now taking a backseat to an obsession with “unknown unknowns” and exaggerated fears based on doomsday scenarios. I’ve witnessed more than a few “activists” tell well-meaning academic and government scientists that they are not scientists at all, but instead are paid stooges on a corporate payroll. So sad.
Thank you! Totally agree. Saddens me to see that in many cases, scientists are being ignored in favor of opinions from activists, as per recent ban on GMO plantings in Hawaii (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/us/on-hawaii-a-lonely-quest-for-facts-about-gmos.html?_r=0). Amazes me that anyone with even a tenuous link to so-called “big ag” or “big pharma” is accused of being a corporate mouthpiece, yet anybody associated with an NGO is automatically considered impartial.
This post saddens me. Marginalization of either side does nothing to promote true science. It only furthers the divide.
I understand your point Lindsay, yet this is not intended as marginalization of the actual science (whether pro or anti-GMO) but of the tactics used to spread misinformation. When papers that are subsequently revoked from journals due to flawed science are used to “prove” that GMO’s (or any other technology) are bad/good, or when so-called experts (often with no scientific training whatsoever) play on consumer fears or knowingly skew the data (e.g. correlations vs. causation), that does not help the argument – on either side. If these tactics did not exist, the divide would be considerably smaller.
I hear your point, and I become equally dismayed at the rhetoric, but both sides of the debate are guilty of spewing such rhetorical junk. The notion found in your final paragraph, however, that one cannot become educated on a topic without a scientific degree is elitist, at best, and misinformed, at worst. I can’t imagine anyone who is suspicious of GMOs stumbling onto this post and being encouraged to listen to the argument for GMOs. You have an excellent blog post earlier on this site that talks about the importance of initiating these conversations (“Do Moms Have Instant Beef Credibility?), but this post, I have to say, seems to fly in the face of what you said there.
Please note my wording in that final paragraph – in my opinion, there is a clear difference between being educated and being an expert (whether so-called or actual). Given the amount of reading I’ve done over the past 38 weeks, can I say that I’m educated about pregnancy? I’d say yes. Can I suggest that I’m an expert? Heck no! I leave that to the obstetricians and will trust that they have the expertise to suggest what is right from a scientific perspective. In every other branch of science, whether it’s medicine, dentistry or nuclear physics we accept that scientists and PhDs have expertise and have opinions that are worth noting – the vast majority of us would go to a cardiologist for advice if we had a heart problem rather than relying on the opinion of our next-door neighbor who happened to have read some articles on the internet. Yet when it comes to food, particularly GMOs, it seems that scientists and PhDs are too often considered to be paid shills for corporate agriculture (check out some of the GMO groups on social media to see this accusation being repeated ad infinitum) and only those with no scientific background can be trusted – the old “follow the money” fallacy. The previous blog post noted that I have more credibility as a pregnant woman – note that I do NOT suggest that this means I am any more educated than any other person. In fact it both amuses and saddens me that this credibility improvement exists – just shows how far we have moved away from trusting science and towards emotional knee-jerk responses.
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