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).