Research 101: Mana Magazine Against the Grain

**Much of what was claimed in this Mana Magazine article was debunked in a recent article about Greggor Ilagan’s journey to dispelling the myths of biotech by Amy Harmon on the New York Time’s front page several days ago.  A’oles won’t like it but should read it before stating the popular claims.**

There was an article published in the July/August 2013 issue of Mana Magazine titled, “Against the Grain: Kamehameha Schools finds itself at the Center of Hawaii’s GMO Controversy.”

The author, Brittny Yap, attempts to make it sound like a balanced article by adding information from both sides of the issue which is seemingly fair.  However, when you delve closer into what written in there, one who has a skeptical eye can see that she is far from being balanced with what is presented on the anti side.  A member of the general public may just read portions of it and take it as fact.  That’s where problems lie when people don’t know how to research what they read.

A healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing to have that many should start to learn more about.  Just because you openly state that you love science doesn’t count for beans by the way.  Learn why your arguments learned from this article just don’t hold up.

Issue 1

What worries a lot of people in Hawai‘i is that many of those seeds were created using genetic engineering: Taking a gene from one plant and putting it into another plant to create a new variety. 

By putting this statement in this article, the writer clearly shows that she does not have an understanding of basic genetics.  All living things have shared genes with other species and DNA is not species specific.  When one does not have a clue about genetics, this is a very common statement that starts to freak people out.  What is important to know is that while we may share some genes with other species, how the genes function and turn on or off is what makes each organism unique.  Just because a plant’s genes are crossed, it doesn’t automatically make a completely new species.  GE doesn’t always mean crossing plants either as in the case of the seed industry.  Learn more about GE crops before sharing a that stupid meme with a skull and crossbones on it and freaking yourself and others out.

For a perspective of this, see the meme below and get an idea about why we can’t say that we only have human genes?  Better yet, take a free course and actually learn a thing or two about basic genetics!

From meme about how genes are not species specific.

Issue 2

But many consumers and activists are not convinced. They fear that unhealthy and dangerous products could enter the food supply via genetic engineering, that allergens could be transferred from one food to another and that GMO “super weeds” could overrun ecosystems.

So the same people who don’t understand basic genetics and the driving reason for GE are the very ones who are suspicious.  The black marketing scheme of the organic industry has a lot to do with this fear of the unknown.  There is a considerable amount of research and testing done to satisfy regulatory processes to get GE food into the market.  With the majority of the public having very little to no education on genetics and a basic science understanding, this kind of repeated statements turn into fact.  The terminology used in the writer’s statement also point towards fear mongering tactics too.

Issue 3

Foods containing GMOs are very common in America’s grocery stores today. The Center for Food Safety, an anti-GMO group, estimates that up to 85 percent of U.S. corn and 91 percent of soybeans are the products of GMO seeds. Biotech crops grown in the United States today also include cotton, canola, squash, papaya, alfalfa and sugar beet. “It has been estimated that upwards of 75 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves – from soda to soup, crackers to condiments – contain genetically engineered ingredients,” says the Center for Food Safety. But consumers rarely know if they are consuming GMO products or not.

It is interesting that the writer takes into consideration the Center for Food Safety as her source for GMO foods.  Bill Freese, who is the CFS science policy analyst, apparently lectures about biotech issues but really appears to be overstepping his bounds with his claims.  It is interesting that his BSc in Chemistry suddenly makes him an expert in biotechnology issues.  He does not have any ag background either.

This paragraph also conveniently forgets to mention the fact that when the GMO foods are processed in the case of sugar or oil, there is likely no have no DNA to be found.  Nor do they explain that DNA itself is a very fragile molecule that is likely broken down when digested and processed.  There is nary a mention either that the chemical composition of GE foods aren’t significantly different than conventional.

Issue 4

Pomai Emsley is concerned about the spread of GMO foods. The 2002 graduate of Kamehameha Schools-Kapālama first learned about the subject while completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and preparing to be a teacher. One of her professors set up a classroom debate about GMOs: half the students would argue for and half against. Emsley was among those assigned the pro argument. After weeks of researching the benefits of genetically modified crops, she decided to research the negatives to prepare for her rebuttal.

“I started to have more and more questions about the process and its safety,” she says. “At the time, I just had [daughter] Mele. She was a baby. Based on the research I did, it’s too new to tell if GMOs are safe for us to eat. And that’s my problem with it.”

Someone who is just completing a teaching degree’s opinion is in this article for what reason now?  Okay, so she’s concerned about GMO foods “spreading.”  How much education does she have to determine what is and isn’t black marketing strategies?  She obviously does not know how to determine what is and isn’t vetted information as indicated by her second statement.  Does someone being trained as a teacher have enough science to clearly figure out what is and isn’t factual?  Not always.  This is clearly an attempt to cast doubt of the unknown and target it with fear mongering.

Issue 5

One reason Emsley and other anti-GMO advocates distrust Monsanto is its past. The 100-year-old company had been a leading producer of plastics, synthetic fabrics and dangerous chemicals such as DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, which killed or injured about 400,000 people and caused an estimated half-million birth defects, according to the Vietnamese government. After a series of mergers and spinoffs, the chemical company’s sole focus became biotechnology by 2002.

Now we know why Hawaii A’oles keep using these worn out old arguments about Monsanto’s past as a reason to distrust biotechnology.  Note how the writer uses “dangerous chemicals.”  She fails to do her own homework to know that DDT is still in use and has been approved for malaria control by the WHO.  Malaria causing mosquitos have become resistant to pyrethrins and the benefit definitely outweighs the risk.  Next argument she adds is the Agent Orange one and fails to mention the true toxin or the fact that the active ingredients are still sold today in hardware stores.  The problem was the contaminant dioxin that caused problems and note that Monsanto didn’t spray it in Vietnam, the US government did so.  As for PCB, it was made before Monsanto ever made it back in 1914.  They did make it commercially in 1929 and it was eventually banned in 1979.  The cancer links are inconclusive also at it is not listed as one of the causes of non-Hodgkin lymphomas.

Issue 6

Another complaint about Monsanto is that it sues farmers who it says save some of their harvested seeds and reuse them to plant the next crop; Monsanto and other seed companies require buyers to sign an agreement that they will not harvest seeds to reuse.

The writer is clearly not doing her homework when writing this.  If she were to simply do some research in patent law as to why the seeds were legally covered as such in a contract, this statement would not be in this article.  The seed is an innovation that is protected under patent law.  Farmers who want to use this innovation must agree to the owner’s terms as written in a contract.  If you understand basic genetics and want to ensure your crops, you wouldn’t want to save the seeds as the genetics change with each generation.  You many not get the qualities you want with saved seeds because of hybridization.  The seeds saved will not contain those hybrid qualities due to genetics.  Think about why each year the garden shops have new packets of seeds.  Even a gardener wants first generation of seeds with the best qualities in it to plant.

Issue 7

Monsanto’s website says it has filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States since 1997, mostly for patent infringement involving saved seed. Wood says this is a low number considering that Monsanto sells seed to more than 250,000 American farmers a year. Of those 145 it filed suit against, the company proceeded to trial against only 11 farmers, according to the company website. All cases have been found in Monsanto’s favor, including a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in May.

Another criticism of Monsanto is that it sues farmers whose non-Monsanto crops have been contaminated by pollen from neighboring Monsanto crops, or by seeds distributed by animals, winds or water.

Brittny Yap really hasn’t done her homework once again with this paragraph.  If you take a look at the actual court cases of the lawsuits against Monsanto, you can clearly see that this farmer wanted to use their technology without agreeing to a contract (see “Farming Practices” and “Testing of Fields” in the case).  The writer does not mention that this farmer who was sued had 95-98% of his canola as Roundup ready, which doesn’t sound like an accidental contamination that he claimed.  This guy admitted to using Roundup and knew that he had the technology, hence he got sued.  There are other court cases that follow the same reasoning for Monsanto bringing upon a lawsuit against those trying to skirt around the agreement.

Issue 8

Monsanto critics fear the company has too much power over the world’s food supply, with more and more farmers and consumers forced to pay Monsanto to grow food or eat it. They say the non-GMO seed options are diminishing every day and could eventually lead to a world in which Monsanto has control over who eats and who starves.

There goes the conspiracy theorists and their corporations rule the world argument.  This paragraph implies that farmers are “forced” to use Monsanto’s seeds which is blatantly false.  If they have a good technology, that is a great reason why farmers want to buy their seeds.  They do have choices as to what seeds they want to use in their crops.  The widespread use of GM crops may also be encouraging a return to non-GM crops because of decreased pest pressure.

Putting profits into perspective with Monsanto and Whole Foods.
Putting profits into perspective with Monsanto and Whole Foods.

If we really want to see which corporation is really making a lot of money, here’s an even better perspective that Monsanto isn’t as big as you think it is.

Which corporation is making the biggest profit and "ruling the world?"  It isn't what you'd think.
Which corporation is making the biggest profit and “ruling the world?” It isn’t what you’d think.

Moral of this story…

Just because you’ve read something that sounded like a fact, it doesn’t make it fact.  Even if it is repeated over and over, that does not turn something into a fact.  Research the claims being made and if you repeat them, especially the ones listed above, you’ll be ridiculed by someone reading your comments because it shows that you didn’t do your research on them.  Just because you’ve read it on the internet, heard it from Gary Hooser or Walter Ritte, and from the Babes Against Biotech, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cross check it.  Save face by researching!  (Then again, maybe you don’t care about saving face.)

Published by hawaiifarmersdaughter

A Hawaii farmer's daughter born and raised here. Grew up on a farm, witness to the wonders of science and research, and sharing a bit about farm life and speaking up for agriculture in our islands.

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