Tag Archive: organic


The latest news is that this French study found that rats fed a diet containing Monsanto’s genetically-modified corn consistently developed tumors and had overall worse health compared to other rats. The paper, available here, includes grotesque images of the large tumors the rats developed.

This study is clearly the most comprehensive yet performed in assessing the safety of a GMO food, as even critics acknowledge. However, the study has been criticized for having a small sample size, only 10 rats in the various experimental groups and another 10 in the one and only control group. That’s too small a number of rats in the control group, according to the critics, to tell for certain that it’s the GMO that caused the adverse health effects, since perhaps if there had been a comparable number in the control more of them might have had health problems too.

What mitigates against this criticism is that the rats in the experimental groups all did worse than the control group in almost every meaningful health measure tested. This clearly suggests that something other than chance is going on. But we don’t need to rely on this one study alone. This previous study is a meta-analysis of 19 studies testing the safety of GMOs, and their conclusion is that “Several convergent data appear to indicate liver and kidney problems as end points of GMO diet effects… This was confirmed by our meta-analysis of all the in vivo studies published, which revealed that the kidneys were particularly affected, concentrating 43.5% of all disrupted parameters in males, whereas the liver was more specifically disrupted in females (30.8% of all disrupted parameters).”

You can also find a detailed description of the health problems that have been found to occur with GMOs in this paper, which lists, among other things: liver damage (including structural changes and atrophy), damage to DNA, kidney damage, enlarged pancreas, fewer digestive enzymes, double the normal death rate, alterations in sperm function, reduced fertility and infertility in the next generation, increased infant mortality and lower birth weight, increased rates of sterility and premature death in livestock fed GMOs, and evidence of the GMOs being or producing allergens.

Whether or not all this evidence is proof that all or most GMOs are unsafe is still open to some debate. But we mustn’t forget the important question that we should be asking: if I have a choice between two options, one of which is known to be safe and the other whose safety is in question, isn’t it prudent to choose the first option? That’s the Precautionary Principle, that I mentioned in my earlier post about organic food. With respect to GMOs, I’m going to be erring on the side of caution: since there’s no required labeling of GMOs (yet) I’m going to be choosing organic whenever I can (you hear that, Stanford?) 🙂 A little bit of inconvenience at the grocery store beats liver and kidney damage and becoming infertile, IMHO.

Interestingly, Monsanto was found guilty of chemically poisoning a French farmer, and an ingredient in its Roundup pesticide has been linked to birth defects (see this article). Monsanto doesn’t exactly have a great track record on health.

What do you think? I look forward to hearing from you!

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So a recent study by a group of researchers from Stanford University published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that organic food is no better than that conventionally grown. As is often the case with the mainstream media, coverage of the study has been sensationalized and misleading. In fact, it’s almost developed into a media war between the corporate media and the public, some even accusing the media of doing a “psyop” on people. What’s the truth about organic food? Is it really never any better than conventional food, as the Stanford study (a metanalysis) suggests?

Well, the study appears to have several problems. First, Robyn O’Brien points out that the study only compared the amount of vitamins and minerals in organic vs. conventional foods, and ignores one of the central reasons people prefer organic: they don’t want to eat the pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and other types of chemicals used in conventional farming. But even on that yardstick, the Stanford study ignores that in fact, organic food often does contain more nutrients than conventional food (even if it doesn’t always, which is what the Stanford paper emphasizes), surely an important factor we’d like to consider when making our food purchasing decisions.

The Stanford authors did address the amount of pesticide exposure in organic produce vs. conventionally grown, and conclude that although there is a 30% lower risk difference in organic foods, this isn’t enough to mean anything significant. However, this is misleading; researcher Chuck Benbrook (at Washington State) points out that a better figure based on the Stanford paper’s own sources is 81% lower risk, partly because the authors didn’t distinguish between the number of different kinds of pesticide traces and their extent. Benbrook argues that with respect to pesticide residues:

a) most residues in organic food occur at much lower levels than in conventional food,
b) residues are not as likely in organic foods,
c) multiple residues in a single sample are rare in organic food but common in conventional produce, and
d) high- risk pesticides rarely appear as residues in organic food, and when they do, the levels are usually much lower than those found in conventional food (especially the levels in imported produce).
(from the Mother Jones article linked above)

While the Stanford authors would argue that these things don’t matter because the amount of pesticide residue is too low to cause any biological effects in humans, on the face of it this is a suspect claim; the amount of certain biologically important chemicals, like hormones, occur at very low concentrations in the blood but have profound biological effects. And indeed there is a fair amount of research that shows that even low amounts of some pesticides can cause problems, especially in pregnant women. If you’re pregnant or have young children, this might be information you’d like to know, I’m thinking 🙂

Furthermore, there’s a basic principle that the Stanford authors ignore, namely the Precautionary principle. Even if something hasn’t been proven to cause harm (such as there being a synergistic effect caused by a cocktail of pesticides that increases the risk of biological damage), if there’s an alternative that doesn’t carry that theoretical risk then you should prefer the alternative. Especially, it seems to me, if you’re responsible for someone else’s health, like that of your children.

Do I think organic is always better? Not necessarily, I do think Michael Pollan has some sensible advice on the issue. But what troubles me most is the conflict of interest created by the ties of the Stanford authors to corporations that have a direct financial interest in competing with organic foods, in particular Cargill (a proponent of genetically modified food crops) and Philip Morris, the tobacco giant. So I have to conclude that the Stanford paper is basically a piece of junk science, a hatchet job bought and paid for by corporations with a financial motive to make organics look bad.

Do you disagree? Am I being too harsh? I’d love to hear from you!