Why I Avoid GMO’s, Sugar, and Processed Foods

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Worship is typically a word associated with religion. So is faith. In the absence of proof, to believe in something requires faith. So it is ironic to apply the same warning to what many consider to be the anecdote to faith and religion: science.

The mission of science is noble. An objective process (ideally peer reviewed) to uncover truths and dispel myths.

Indeed, there have been many great scientific discoveries in a variety of academic fields that have been to the benefit of humankind. In no way is the purpose of this blog to diminish the very important role science plays in advancing medicine, health and many other disciplines.

However, the scientific process doesn’t equal perfection. In addition, the application of the scientific method is not without flaws and limitations.  When we see extremism, dogma and lack of inclusion (prejudice) in religion, we call it by its name. So too must we not follow (worship) science to the point where we are blind to its shortcomings and the fact that it is endeavored by subjective individuals capable of bias.

What is “proven” by science today can be disproved tomorrow, and then proven again the day after. From caffeine, to cholesterol, meat, vegetarianism, gluten, medicines, supplements, exercise, and on and on, science is inexact. Yet, its prophets and devotees sometimes speak with an arrogance as if they or their deity is infallible.

I exaggerate to make a point but an inference I have gleaned from blogs and message boards too often is:

“If science says it is so it must be true. And if science doesn’t say it is so, or merely hasn’t said it yet, it cannot be true”.

And for those who use science as the be-all end all, when science says what they don’t want it to, they “debunk” and “myth bust” using “better” science. And so it goes, back and forth on a multitude of issues including the genetic modification of food (GMO’s).

Perish my unenlightened thought, but there have been times when I have tried things based on anecdotal evidence. Sometimes it has worked and others it hasn’t.  Science simply cannot prove or disapprove everything I will need or want to act on in my lifetime or when I may need to make a decision about something. Further, there have also been times when I have followed scientific advice only to be disappointed.  But I digress…

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Let’s look at pharmaceutical drugs. Some are put on the market, they’re effective, and then they’re not effective. And in some cases they are taken off the market because they are dangerous.  In addition, big pharma has had to pay big money due to criminal or civil liability. To my science is infallible friends: How is this possible with almighty science? Because even if science is perfect, (which it is not) the purveyors are not.

How many passes does science (or scientists) get as far as being wrong, betraying us, or simply not having a satisfactory answer to a pressing need, before we simple folk can look elsewhere for answers and or at least inclusion in the conversation?  (Especially since many things are not scientifically studied due to their lack or patent and or revenue potential.) And before there is some humility to the scientific process and their results?

This brings me to GMO’s, sugar and processed foods. A facebook friend tagged me when he posted this video.The headline is, Neil deGrasse Tyson Annihilates Anti-GMO Argument.”  Um, not even close. Tyson, an astrophysicist and scientific speaker, talks about how the fear of GMO’s is typical of an emerging science and that us common folk don’t understand it so we reject it. He then uses artificial selection  and farming cultivation to assert that genetic modification has always gone on and is nothing new.

PENSACOLA, FL - 25 MAY: Protesters in Pensacola, FL gather on Ma

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Agricultural modifying and biotech modifying are not the same nor as time-tested when it comes to the application to food. For someone like Tyson to equivocate them and to say “oh well you’ve been eating GMO’s for centuries” and to “chill out” is kind of insulting and not very, dare I say, scientific. Today’s GMing is not your father’s GMing. Another inference in Tyson’s “chill out” moment is because we didn’t know about older forms of modification (or foods weren’t labeled in the past as GMO) Tyson and the smart people presume we have abdicated our right to know now. Really?

That logic is flawed. However if diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and acid reflux weren’t trending in the wrong direction, they may have a point, but they are not. They have increased by staggering numbers. So whether it is restaurants now listing calories, fat, sugar, and sodium information on their menus and websites, or GMO labels on food; with these health conditions out of control, we are entitled to and should demand more information. The status quo clearly is not working.

Both sides of the GMO argument can roll out studies and scientists to make their case. In addition to GMO’s, sugar and processed foods are also being called on the carpet for their contribution to ill-health and disease. With billions of dollars at stake, you do not have to search too far or too hard to find a conflicting article about what these items can do and contribute to. And once again you will hear how the scientific evidence doesn’t support… yada yada yada.

As a comparison, Tyson and others can correctly point out that organic food becomes processed food when we stick it in the freezer. But common sense tells us (as I’m sure scientists like Tyson know) that frozen organic broccoli is not the processed food we are speaking of when we raise concerns about processed food and health. More specifically, it is those frozen, canned or boxed goods with the paragraphs of preservatives, sugar, artificial colors, sweeteners, etc., that are getting our attention.

But here is the rub. If we go back to 1900, prior to frankenfood, prior to MODERN DAY GMO techniques, prior to the mega processing of food, and when people were consuming an average of 90 pounds of sugar a year instead of the 168 pounds being consumed as of 2012, we see much, much, MUCH lower incidents of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, acid reflux and so on than we do today.

So the smart people can scream no (or not enough) scientific evidence till they’re blue in the face, and call me a “Quack” or whatever, but I choose to do my best to gravitate towards the lifestyle that lends itself to less mind numbing painful, traumatic, and oftentimes deadly, and financially crushing, disease.

This begs the question where should the burden the proof reside when it comes to scientific evidence? In this era where cancer is approaching pandemic proportions, I don’t want to hear there is no scientific evidence that X causes (or contributes) to cancer. If you’re going to change something from what we are reasonably assured DOESN’T cause or contribute to cancer, to something new, than that new thing better be scientifically proven beyond a reasonable doubt to not cause cancer or contribute to it in any way at a higher rate than what it is replacing.

MonsantoGovtGiven that drugs are put on and off the market and so-called scientific fact or thought is reversed, my choice is to proceed slowly and skeptically when the FDA approves something. In addition, there are so many conflict of interest connections between GMO giant Monsanto and the U.S. government (see illustration above), my choice is to not be a guinea pig or what comparably amounts to being an involuntary member of a massive clinical trial.

I’m not a scientist but it turns out science has already addressed this burden of proof issue, and it is called the precautionary principle (PP).

One noted scholar and distinguished professor of risk engineering at New York University is Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb emphatically thinks the PP applies to GMO’s. Not for GMO’s danger as a food, but for their effect on the environment and ability to wipeout life on earth. You can read a description of his paper here. You can read the unedited PDF here.

Others will criticize Taleb or debate what the standards should be when applying PP. With regard to GMO’s and their effect as a food, I look at the PP in two ways:

  1. As a means to determine what forms of genetic engineering (they are not all the same) are allowed to be unleashed on the public (and the earth).
  2. For the engineering that is allowed, does the public have the right to make an informed choice and apply, if they choose to, the PP to food that has been genetically modified?

Other countries are banning GMO’s altogether, but in America, land of the free and of supposed transparency, apparently you’re a radical, a loon, or a quack if you want to know what food products are GMO and what are not.

One argument I have heard against labeling is that it will scare people off from an otherwise harmless product. This, in part, is why big food producers have spent millions to fight labeling requirements.

All one has to do is look at the good old surgeon general’s warning on a pack of cigarettes to see the lunacy of this. This warning first appeared in 1965 as “cigarettes may be hazardous to your health”. In 1967 it was changed to: “are dangerous to your health”. This warning didn’t exactly put the kibosh on the tobacco industry when it came out, and it was an actual WARNING.

However, the desire for labeling is neutral. Just because something says GMO or NonGMO doesn’t say anything good or bad about it otherwise. But it let’s consumers know what is what. The longer Monsanto and the Grocery Manufactures Associate (GMA) fight it, the more negative attention they bring to their own cause. The more they give off the impression they have something to hide.

But let’s expand the discussion to those other countries I alluded to. The blogger who posted the video with Tyson is quick to take a shot at the “Food Babe”. The FB is a health blogger on the rise in popularity. So is NaturalNews.com, run by “The Health Ranger”. These sites are popular and anti-GMO. They are easy targets for the pro GMO crowd as they lack scientific credentials. However, I do not think that Russia is consulting the Food Babe over its GMO policy. Nor is the European Union dialing up The Health Ranger. Many countries either ban or have far stricter policies for GMO’s than the U.S.. And countries like Russia and China are not exactly noted for caving into public sentiment to formulate policy.

So rather then mock the Food Babe, Mrs. IFL Science blogger, explain how these other countries and scientists are all either quacks or have zero valid reasoning to either question, ban, partially ban or require labeling of GMO’s.

So, what is my agenda in all of this?  After all that is one of the first places people look to discredit when they lack reason.  Well, I am not selling anything or have any motive other than I would like to see the end of cancer and these other major health issues. If that leads me to be a little a too cautious in certain actions or beliefs so be it.  Of course this motive in and of itself doesn’t make me right, but it should be one less fallacy for someone with an opposition opinion on GMO’s to distract you with.

Further, my mind isn’t closed to a future of GMO’s. I do see its potential and something to be studied so long as it can be done safely and responsibly. But for now I choose to avoid them. Currently, enough foods are labeled NonGMO or are organic that if a food is not labeled I assume it is modified.

For your consideration, science, or evidence based information, is important when examining a topic. Some matters will be more black and white than others.  Many areas will be various shades of gray.  It is here where when considering how to evaluate scientific “facts” or research into your life I suggest:

  • Looking beyond the headlines and remember that the devil is in the details.  You must also consider the source of the material and what is their angle/ what do they have to gain?
  • Getting opinions, or referrals and doing research on multiple sites.
  • As in politics, looking beyond ad hominem attacks such as “Quack”…
  • Considering anecdotal evidence if it comes from a trusted source and there is no danger in trying it.
  • Don’t marry yourself to one idea or way of thinking, one day the other side might ultimately be proven right.

Even when done correctly, as powerful as science can be, it offers statistics, probabilities and general results, you are a unique individual with at times too many variables for a general study to factor in.  So the more meaningful question is not what is the evidence, it is how does the evidence apply to you?

Respect science.  Absolutely.  But if you want to worship something.  If you want to be loyal to something.  Worship and be loyal to truth.  The rest will fall in to place.  I guess that last sentence requires a leap of faith.  Given our limited knowledge… Most things do.

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