Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Tag Archives: glyphosate

The Perils of Anti-Pesticide Hysteria

Pests and pesticides

Pesticides have brought humans breathtaking benefits. They help to protect plants from the adverse impact of weeds, parasites and microscopic pathogens that is a constant threat to their existence. Pesticides were vital for the Green Revolution (occurring between the 1930s to 1960s). This was a powerful transformation that doubled to tripled agricultural output and is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of millions of people from starvation. If pests were allowed to reign free, an estimated 50% to 80% of all crops (ranging from wheat to cotton) would be lost (Oerke, 2006), although pesticides are not the only form of crop protection available. Pesticides can also suppress insect vectors for important human diseases and reduce the amount of exhausting manual labor used to clear weeds.

Yet, there is a much darker side to pesticides that cannot be ignored. Large, chronic occupational exposure to pesticides can make people sick or even kill them. Pesticides are typically very broad in their specificity, so they do not just harm the target pest, but many non-target organisms that benefit both the crops and the environment. They can also contaminate surface water, ground water and soil and thus have much more far-reaching effects on organisms outside the field. Excessive agricultural use can also make pests resistant to the pesticides, which can substantially reduce their effectiveness in managing insect vectors for human diseases. Many pesticide apologists ignore or downplay many of these problems.

Developing newer and safer pesticides, replacing older and more harmful pesticides, and deploying biotechnology to help plants resist pests should be a global agricultural priority. Yet in a cruel twist, these crucial solutions are often opposed by many anti-pesticide activists and other extreme environmentalists who push fear and misinformation about “chemicals” and genetically modified crops. This apparent paradoxical situation might be called the perils of anti-pesticide hysteria.

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Are There Any Risks With GM Crops Not Found With Conventional Crops?

Corn

One of the best strategies used by scientific skeptics against anti-GMO activists on the Internet is to ask them to cite one risk that exists with genetically modified crops, but does not occur with any conventional breeding method. This is best done after presenting evidence of the safety and efficacy of GM crops and other GM applications. That way, the anti-GMO activist has to both respond to the published evidence, but also figure out unique risks with GM crops. Because it is very hard to find these supposed unique risks, the anti-GMO activists finds themselves in a very difficult position.

Far from being stumped, anti-GMO activists often try to come up with alleged unique risks, but they are often mistaken: the same risks occur with traditional breeding methods such as cross-breeding, marker-assisted breeding, radiation breeding or breeding that uses mutagenic substances such as EMS. This post repels many of the most common retorts given by anti-GMO activists when asked to cite a unique risk with genetic modification compared with conventional breeding methods.

What about allergens?

GM crops are required to go through stringent toxicological and ecological testing by regulatory authorities. This includes testing for the presence of allergens. If GM crops are found to contain allergens, they are not approved. In contrast, there is nothing that prevents a farmer from developing a new form of food item that we know contain allergens, such as peanuts, or crossing plants that cause the mixing of thousands of genes that could potentially cause an allergen.

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Unraveling Five Popular Anti-GMO Claims

Corn

The mainstream scientific community, specific science organizations and the scientific literature converge on the conclusion that genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption (European Commission, 2010; National Research Council, 2004; AAAS Board of Directors, 2012; WHO, 2013; Ronald, 2011). However, anti-GMO zealots oppose genetically modified foods for a variety of ideological reasons. They attempt to prop up their pseudoscientific beliefs by dressing up their assertions and make them appear scientifically credible. However, most of these anti-GMO arguments are either based on flawed research or relate to things that are not specifically related to GMOs. Sometimes the assertions consists of little more than fear-mongering based on myths.

There is a popular anti-GMO message that is making its way across the Internet in various forms. It contains five claims that allegedly support the notion that GMOs are “a recipe for global famine”. This post critically investigates these five claims.

As we shall see, they turn out to not be scientifically accurate. Farmers do not have to use seeds from GM crops, they can buy seeds from companies that deal in traditional plant breeding, they can save their own seeds and they can trade seeds between themselves. GM crops require less harmful chemicals than conventional agriculture and is therefore safer for humans and the environment. Monoculture originated on a large-scale in the Green Revolution and is not specific for GM crops. Scientists are currently developing plants that are more resistant to pathogens and there are large seeds banks with hundreds of thousands of different seed samples that ensures that we maintain biodiversity. Terminator technology was originally used for self-fertilizing plants (thus make it impossible to “spread sterility”), was abandoned in the late 1990s and replaced by legal contracts. GM crops does not entail the dependence on a centralized food system (golden rice is going to be distributed to individual farmers) and centralized food system helps to avoid harmful effects of crop failure. In the end, GM agriculture is probably necessary for future food security and environmental Read more of this post

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