Chipotle and GMOs

Recently, Chipotle decided to remove genetically modified organisms from their food.  Often, I think, those of us who support genetic modification are too harsh on these companies.  Don’t get me wrong, Chipotle is making a poor decision based on no evidence and public perception.  But at the end of the day, they are making a business decision without appropriate evidence.  My perception of this decision is fear based and an attempt to bring in a crowd.

First off, GMOs are safe or better stated as “as safe as conventional crops” because we scientists are not a group of absolutes.  There is always a chance this technology might cause some unforeseen problems which is why those in the field are constantly running tests.  Of course, there is also the chance that other breeding techniques or radiation might also cause similar problems.

Cite: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111629

http://ec.europa.eu/research/biosociety/pdf/a_decade_of_eu-funded_gmo_research.pdf

So, why did Chipotle decide to remove GMOs?

1 SCIENTISTS ARE STILL STUDYING THE LONG TERM IMPLICATIONS OF GMOS.

Yep. Scientists are also still studying the long term implications of evolution, medicine, and, everybody’s favorite subject, sex.

” For example, in October 2013 a group of about 300 scientists from around the world signed a statement rejecting the claim that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption” – Chipotle

As far as I can find, this is from the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) which if their website says anything they are staunchly anti-GMO which is not something a scientist should be – staunch, that is.  Bringing your preconceived notions into the argument is something scientists are trained to avoid.  Also, 300 scientists is an incredibly small minority as demonstrated by Project Steve which sits at over 1300 scientists named Steve, or some mutation thereof (pun intended), that support evolution.  But if you want to play the numbers game, the two above citations mark over 500 studies (actual, fully conducted, scientific studies; not scientists) that come to one conclusion: the safety and efficacy of genetic modification.

2 THE CULTIVATION OF GMOS CAN DAMAGE THE ENVIRONMENT.

“One recent study by researchers at Washington State University estimated that between 1996 and 2011, pesticide and herbicide use increased by more than 400 million pounds as a result of GMO cultivation. This and other evidence suggests that GMO crops are fueling an escalating arms race with weeds and insects.” – Chipotle

I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say that this study concluded this because of the increases in farming and we have seen an overall decrease in pesticide use as the first meta analysis above found.  Also, don’t worry about properly citing your sources.  I’ll do the leg work.  No problem.

Never mind, I was wrong.  Allow me to directly quote the article that I believe they are citing.

“Herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011, while Bt crops have reduced insecticide applications by 56 million kilograms (123 million pounds). Overall, pesticide use increased by an estimated 183 million kgs (404 million pounds), or about 7%.” – http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24

Of course, no study goes without scrutiny.  And this increase in use pesticide is not factored with overall yield which also increased which does indicate a decrease in use.  http://www.bigpictureagriculture.com/2012/10/an-evaluation-of-benbrooks-pesticide-use-study-super-weeds.html

Weed resistance is a growing issue (such pun).  Here’s where industry and science find issues.  Glyphosate is extremely good at doing what it does.  However, so is nature and nature is better.  Eventually, all forms of resistance will eventually be selected for by evolution.  This is where we need to realize that glyphosate is not a universal permanent solution.  GMO can provide a solution but it is not an all encompassing solution.  There is no golden goose.  We need to treat technology as just a piece of the solution.  Genetic modification is an amazing technology and we need to respect it just as we respect the nuclear technology, medical technology, and information technology. Any new technology will introduce complex issues into our society which we will have to solve.  Those same thing that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki can provide a efficient energy.  It’s all about how it is used.

3 CHIPOTLE SHOULD BE A PLACE WHERE PEOPLE CAN EAT FOOD MADE WITH NON-GMO INGREDIENTS.

Well… that’s not really a reason.  That’s a conclusion.  If you’re going to reason in circles, I suppose you’re more than welcome to.  However, I’ve lost a modicum of respect for you for doing so.

“The World Health Organization recently designated Glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. The use of glyphosate is extremely widespread. More than 9% of the landmass of the continental United States is planted with crops genetically modified for glyphosate resistance. Given the concerns surrounding these types of GMOs and the chemicals associated with them, we felt it was particularly important to seek out non-GMO ingredients when possible.”

The WHO did add that.  However, also on that list is “frying, emissions from high temperatures.”  Will you also be eliminating frying  and high temperature emissions from your cooking process?  Those also might cause cancer on the same probability as glyphosate – unlikely but possible.

Also, glyphosate is approved for non-GMO (conventional, not organic) use.  It may still be used on the products you serve.

It is unfortunate that you would give into pressures which are unfounded scientifically.  Also, if you wish to support your decisions scientifically, you should base them on meta-analysis, not on single studies.  Single studies are subject to bias, and type-1 error making but meta analysis reviews a majority of the available data.  This is how we know that Vitamin C does not reduce cold times (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15495002)

I would also like it noted that GMOs are not strictly used for herbicide resistance or to produce pesticides.  Golden rice is a wonderful example of how genetic modification can be used to help those in need as it produces the precursor for Vitamin A and will be open source meaning anyone can grow it.  Arctic apples are another example of genetically engineered (cisgenic rather than transgenic) to reduce browning.

Overall, genetic modification is safe, it is effective, and it is wonderful.  I hope you will reverse your decision.  Until then I will not be purchasing your product which is unfortunate, since I do so enjoy it.  C’est la vie.

TL;DR – A decade of EU-funded GMO Research – Part 1

TL;DR is an expression for Too Long; Didn’t Read.  Hopefully, I can adequately summarize this article for you.  If any errors are found, please point them out and I will quickly correct them

http://ec.europa.eu/research/biosociety/pdf/a_decade_of_eu-funded_gmo_research.pdf

This meta-analysis synthesizes results from a decade of research from 50 projects, involving over 400 research groups specifically on environmental impacts, safety, biomaterials and biofuels, and risk assessment (p 15-16).

The short story: GMOs pose no more risk than conventional crops (p 16).

The long story

1. Environmental Impacts

In general public policy has taken the precautionary principle – even a remote risk of damage overrides possible benefits.  Science does not work in absolutes and cannot prove 100% safety.  Rather science can only identify possible risks.  The overwhelming evidence shows that risk is no greater than any other crop for GMOs (p 20-23).

European rice was made resistant to fungal infection through genetic modification with no adverse effects on consumption and low risk for contamination (p 24-27).  Nematodes are a difficult pest to control as there exists no targeted pesticide for them.  Potatoes were altered to disallow initial entry and reproduction for nematodes with no risk to humans or other animals (p 28-33).  Modified potatoes in the Andes did not pose any more risk to wildlife than conventional potato farming.  In fact, because of species specific pesticides for invasive nematodes risk of damage from nonspecific pesticides is reduced.  There is little risk for cross pollination with local non-GM potato and there is low risk for nematode resistance development due to the two factor resistance in the GM potato (p 34-37)

Genetic engineering is a possible alternative which takes advantage of preexisting DNA and optimizing it for a desired outcome (p 40-43).  Genetically engineered plants increased microbial communication in soil to increase plant growth and reduce the need for heavy nitrogen soil (p 44-47).

The primary concern is biodiversity.  These and all other studies take into account the effects on wild life flora and fauna.  It is impossible to know exactly what might happen given the chaos of the universe but risk assessment shows there is probably low impact on the environment especially when comparing to current farming techniques (p 112-123).

 

 

The Lasting Impact of Dr. Thomas Szasz

This discussion came about as part of my job in retail in which I made the mistake of informing a customer of my scholastic prospects in Psychology. He shot back “Have you heard of Thomas Szasz?” Now, I am not that kind of psychologist. I would characterize myself as a Cognitive scientist with a focus on Embodied Cognition (however given the realm of knowledge, this is probably a stretch like a puppy calling himself a wolf). So, after being berated for what seemed an eternity (a quarter past an hour with this gentleman), I did some “research” on Professor Szasz.

Dr. Thomas Szasz, M.D. (April 15, 1920 – September 8, 2012) was a Psychiatrist and Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York. He is best known for his work “The Myth of Mental Illness” (1961) of which I have read the essay but not the book. In this work, Dr. Szasz lays the foundation for why mental illnesses are a facade of sorts to create control by the industry. While he does not necessarily oppose Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology, he does lay a foundation in which these two are limited to patient-seeking rather than forced-admittance (that is, an individual should seek help and not be coerced into help). This seems like a lovely pretext, as many psychologists would adore the idea of patients who want to be there. However, these tend to be more social claims by Szasz to enforce his libertarian ideals in which persons have full control over their faculties (based on the philosophy of the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of property, and the pursuit of happiness). Thus we should not force people into counselling. It seems fair enough.

However, the greater threat Dr. Szasz poses is the idea that mental illnesses which do not have a clear biological bases (as defined by him) are not real. Akin to the claim if you can’t see it, smell it, or feel it, it must not exist. This idea has been criticized by authors much more skilled than myself, specifically, Kendell, Shorter, and Clarke.

While I do not fear the ideas extolled by Dr. Szasz, per se, it does frighten me that a gentleman of the general public would be privy and so enlightened by Dr. Szasz as to call Psychiatry “an institution of death.” Sure Dr. Szasz’s ideas are laughable but only to those of us considered within group as elite. But this leads to a larger problem which the world of evolutionary biology and physics are currently tackling, public perception.

That, it seems, is the goal for people like Dr. Szasz. It is not to revolutionize medicine or reinvent the wheel. Rather it is gain public favor and remove those seen as enemies. Dr. Szasz threw his weight behind the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). This Scientology front group is dedicated to eradicating Psychiatry and Psychology believing them to be destructive to an otherwise normal functioning person. This group and Scientology at large, have created a great amount of friction between Psychiatry and the public. It’s easy enough to dismiss a group which we find ridiculous for their views but they do hold some public sway. Often, critics find themselves on the legal ass-end of an ass whoopin’. While I do not necessarily want this message to be about the evils of Scientology (it is evil but that’s not my point), it is a force with which to be reckoned.

In response, Psychiatrists and Psychologists need to take seriously the threats posed by mass misinformation. What’s ironic about this is we have the tools and techniques to understand and tackle such issues, sociology and social psychology, specifically. Yet, we hide behind our walls and focus on the in-group. We seek to grow our knowledge, a noble pursuit indeed. Yet in my humble opinion, we should readily reveal the hypotheses and theories Psychology and Psychiatry engage i.e., the study of the mind and brain, and the way in which these are engaged. We do not use intuition or appeals to authority. We gain our knowledge systematically, scientifically, and responsibly. There is a haze surrounding Psychology as one of voodoo, mysticism, and pseudoscience. But nothing is further from the truth. We seek to falsify our knowledge just as any other science. We seek public verification just as any other science. We seek critical engagement just as any other science. This is because Psychology is a science.

So, this is my call to all Psychologists whether specializing in clinical or research. Do not allow this misinformation to spread. Your livelihood is based in testable, knowable, and verifiable science just as physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and all other sciences. There are no hard or soft sciences. There are no dry or wet sciences. These are divisive sub-classes meant to differentiate those of us who engage in different types of phenomena. We are scientists, period.

References

Clarke, L. (2007). “Sacred radical of psychiatry”. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing (Blackwell Publishing) 14 (5): 446–453. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2007.01103.x.

Schaler, J. A. (2014). Intro, and Szasz Materials. Szasz.com http://www.szasz.com/

Schaler, J. A., ed. (2005). “The Myth of Mental Illness”. Szasz under fire: The Psychiatric abolitionist faces his critics. chapter by R.E. Kendell (1st ed.). Illinois: Open Court. pp. 29–48. ISBN 0812695682.

Stewart, K. (2005). Scientology’s political presence on the rise. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved from: http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/ci_2836269

Shorter, E. (2011). “Still tilting at windmills: Commentary on… The myth of mental illness”. The Psychiatrist 35 (5): 183–4. doi:10.1192/pb.bp.111.034108.

Szasz, T. S. (1960). The myth of mental illness. The American Psychologist, 15(2). Retrieved from: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/psychology/terrace/w1001/readings/szasz.pdf

Disclaimer

Reproduced with the permission of Jeffrey A. Schaler. All rights reserved.