Occam’s Razor rarely includes conspiracy theories

Proponents of genetically engineered crops (often called GMOs) often decry the anti-GMO movement for promoting implausible conspiracy theories. I’ve been blocked on Twitter by people claiming the Department of Agriculture and Supreme Court of the United States were simply pawns of Monsanto and the pesticide industry. I’ve pushed back against those saying that pesticides are the cause of microcephaly (instead of the Zika virus). I’ve written blog posts explaining the evidence that debunks some of these improbable stories. Spreading these …

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GMOs, Herbicides, and the New England Journal of Medicine

An opinion piece was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, written by Dr. Philip Landrigan (an M.D.) and Dr. Charles Benbrook (PhD) titled “GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health”. I was asked to review the piece this week, and I can only assume it will eventually make the rounds on social media. So I thought it was worth commenting here since it is related to herbicides and herbicide-resistant GMO crops. The “Perspective” piece is basically a plea from Dr. Landrigan and Dr. …

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The “failure” of biotechnology to increase crop yield

For some reason, over the last few days I’ve heard a lot of people criticizing GMOs for not increasing crop yields. This criticism certainly isn’t new. I don’t really understand the reason for the sudden resurgence of this claim, but it does provide an excuse to address the topic with some actual data. GMOs can claim some successes, but a widespread quantum leap in the yield of important food crops is not one of them. – Jonathan Foley If you take a …

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Does the debate about genetically modified food matter?

Over at Grist, Nathanael Johnson has been writing an excellent series of pieces on genetically engineered crops, called “Panic-free GMOs.” The series as a whole has been excellent, and that is not just my opinion. Keith Kloor, another journalist who has often waded in to the GMO debate, said of Johnson’s Grist series: The overwhelming consensus judgement of science journalists is that Johnson has done a spectacular job of sifting through all the claims and counterclaims and the technical density of …

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Large-scale impacts of herbicide-resistant weeds

As I was updating information on herbicide resistant weeds for class this week, I wanted to find some hard numbers on the large-scale impact herbicide-resistance can have. Obviously, my first thought was to find information on cotton production in the South. Glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth has been something of a poster child for the potentially devastating impacts of herbicide resistant weeds in the last few years. It has been dubbed a “superweed” by many, including Nature News, the New York Times, …

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The evidence of GMO harm in pig study is pretty flimsy

The latest really scary paper regarding GMOs has been circulated widely on Twitter today, primarily by the usual suspects (Bittman, Pollan, and many others). The paper (available here, on the blog of the primary author Judy Carman) is titled “A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet.”  The study has already been criticized for various reasons by David Tribe and Mark Lynas. The authors of the study fed pigs for nearly 2 years 22.7 weeks with either …

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Supreme Court sides with Monsanto about seed patents

This wasn’t really a surprise to anyone, but the Supreme Court released their decision and opinion in the Bowman v. Monsanto Co. case. The case revolved around a farmer purchasing soybean seed from a local elevator, planting the seed, spraying it with Roundup, then harvesting the seed to plant the following season. He did this for several seasons in a row. The supreme court ruled unanimously (9-0) that what the farmer did violated patent law. The supreme court decision (authored by …

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Where are the super weeds?

In a recent issue of Nature, Natasha Gilbert took “A hard look at GM crops.” Ms. Gilbert states: “it can be hard to see where scientific evidence ends and dogma and speculation begin.”   “Researchers, farmers, activists and GM seed companies all stridently promote their views, but the scientific data are often inconclusive or contradictory. Complicated truths have long been obscured by the fierce rhetoric.” I agree wholeheartedly. Especially when browsing the internet, there is a lot of misinformation, half-truths, and …

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Social benefits of biotech crops

Ask any sugarbeet grower in the US how their lives have changed since the commercialization of Roundup Ready beets. Really. Ask them. Before you rail against the technology, or denounce the evil corporations for creating them. Before you argue on twitter or Facebook about how good or bad the technology is for society. Before you write your next post for the New York Times or Grist. Ask a farmer who uses the technology. And then think about what they say. Don Lilleboe at …

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EIS for Roundup Ready sugarbeet released

In 2012, at least 95% of sugarbeet acres in the U.S. were planted to Roundup Ready varieties, meaning they are resistant to glyphosate. Growers have overwhelmingly adopted this technology for a variety of reasons. Due to some recent litigation, however, sugarbeet growers have been required to follow some very strict guidelines on how these varieties can be grown and handled. These requirements stem from the USDA’s decision to “partially deregulate” Roundup Ready sugarbeet while a full environmental impact statement (EIS) …

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