Why it’s so easy to believe our food is toxic

toxic waste

Photo by Hans-Peter via Flickr. There are more photos in this creative and beautiful series.

Nutrition is a wonderful playground for people who want to manipulate fear. We need food to live, yet can be poisoned by eating the wrong things. Learning from others which foods are safe and which are dangerous was essential to our survival in the days before grocery stores. We are primed to react to scares about food.

We make 200 food-related decisions every day. Food choices are one of the few things we can control as individuals. Believe that the government and big corporations are poisoning you? Just shop a little differently. (Then bond with your friends on facebook about the conspiracies you’ve foiled.)

I teach nutrition at a community college, to students who are interested in the subject but have little to no scientific background. I like to think I’m helping them develop their baloney detectors, but there is a lot of, ahem, baloney out there. I even presented some in class: they voted to watch Hungry For Change and I said fine—but we’ll unpack it and, literally, do our homework on the “experts” featured.

Because, as this review clued me in, the film is a bait-and-switch: it draws in the viewer with a lengthy lament on how unhealthy the western diet is, then turns into an infomercial for juicing. One of the experts is introduced as a filmmaker, but oh by the way he sells juice extractors. Another is the Dr. Oz-endorsed author of books about juice-based “cleansing.” (He believes that the problem with “toxins” is that they cause our bodies to produce a spiritual mucus that makes us sluggish.) Not everyone is juice-centric: some are selling other things, like weight-loss meditation CDs.

The movie even gives a specific warning in its first half: beware anybody selling you food that’s supposed to be healthy, because they don’t make money from your health. They make money by making the product attractive enough that you buy it.

Ironically, this describes the tactics used by the peddlers in Hungry for Change. It’s true of the people behind Mercola and Natural News (both of whom were featured in the movie, and both of whom hard-sell conspiracy theories about food and medicine right next to dubious products like earthing mats.) And it’s true of my favorite purveyor of facebook-borne rumors, the Food Babe.

She sells meal plans and endorses superfood supplements, but positions herself as an “investigator” of the dangers in foods. The tactic, it seems, is to make people feel that the world is so full of dangerous foods that they better pay for her meal plans that specify what she believes is safe to eat.

But behind the unified front (all processed food is dangerous!) lies a tangled web of factoids. Some are clearly not true, like her claims about GMOs (for a good read on which GMO claims are myths and which are real, I highly recommend Grist’s series.) Others are true, but only scary if you don’t think about them too much – like when she makes a big deal about “wood pulp” in your food. When you extract cellulose from anything, wood or otherwise, what you get is not chunks of trees in your food, but simply cellulose itself, better known as one type of dietary fiber, the stuff that veggies and whole grains are full of.

Maureen Ogle sent the Food Babe’s list of “shocking” beer ingredients to several actual brewers. MSG? Nope. Fish swim bladders? Sort of, yeah, but they don’t actually make it into the finished beer. Corn syrup? Possibly, but most of it would be food for the yeast, so that means it’s turned into alcohol by the time you drink it.

Alcohol, by the way, is an actual toxin.


Photo by Andrew Kuznetsov, CC-BY

All this misinformation is a version of the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt tactic that’s been recognized as a marketing tool in other contexts. It operates on a guilt-by-association model: if bread contains a chemical that’s also used in yoga mats, you claim that yoga mats are in our food. Nevermind that TUMS contain the same chemical used in gravestones; that’s a great example from Joe Schwarcz’s critique of the Food Babe.

Countering this misinformation is, I think, an important but overlooked target for public health. Education helps: many of the misconceptions about GMOs can be overcome once you actually understand what genetic modification is—although it’s a tricky subject. I survey my students about GMOs, and most are usually suspicious of it. When I ask what’s wrong with GMOs, they respond with some serious, legitimate concerns: pesticide residues, Monsanto’s control over farmers, environmental effects of fertilizer runoff. The only problem with these concerns? They aren’t really about GMOs. Once they learn what GMOs can and can’t do, and how the other problems in modern agriculture would exist with or without GMOs, they’re better equipped to form opinions that, whether I agree or not, are based on something closer to fact.

I’m not often a fan of the deficit model; educating people doesn’t always change their mind. But you can’t spread rumors about Bt toxin in GM corn if you know what Bt toxin is – a bacterial product that has a long history in organic farming and is naturally abundant in soil. (If you boycott GMOs because of it, you have to boycott organic food too.) Ask critics what bothers them about the toxin, and they’ll start talking about RoundUp, a chemical herbicide that’s involved with a completely different GMO crop. (There’s a good explanation of these two GMOs here.)

So how can we baloney-proof people who are honestly trying to find the best information about how to be safe and healthy? I’ll keep teaching and writing about the real science behind what’s in our food, but in the meantime, maybe this message will appeal: when you hear somebody trying to scare you about food, ask what they’re selling. If you distrust Big Ag and Big Pharma, you won’t find any better treatment from Big Juice.

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72 Responses to Why it’s so easy to believe our food is toxic

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  7. Mike Kokot says:

    At last someone injecting some sense into food fads. Another problem us the “publish or perish” syndrome. It is so easy to “prove” virtually any point of view – if you leave out or choose to ignore counter arguments. “Carbs will kill you”, “low-fat is essential”, ” fat doesn’t make you fat”, etc. how about the “proof” by Andrew Wakefield that vaccination causes autism? Science MUST prevail.

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  11. LS says:

    I’m happy that you’re encouraging people to be skeptical about supposed food experts on both sides, but I think the argument that Food Babe and the like are just as bad as big processed food companies is ridiculous. Whether or not you believe the things that Food Babe/ Mercola/ the juice people say, if you switched from a diet of processed foods to a diet of whatever they’re recommending (usually some kind of whole foods diet whether clean eating or juice etc.) you’d still be a hell of a lot better off, even if it meant buying some useless supplements or someone else’s meal plan. I think it’s pretty silly to equate the two – who really believes that a packet of Doritos is no better or worse than a glass of green juice?

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      In terms of immediate dietary choices, maybe you’re right. A glass of green juice (while full of sugar and devoid of fiber) isn’t so bad for you. But if you choose that juice because you’re afraid of chemical bogeymen, and come to trust the natural health gurus, you’re buying into a lot of harmful beliefs. (For example, Mercola promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that could well contribute to children being unprotected from very real and deadly infectious diseases.) And then what happens when somebody realizes that their nutritional beliefs are based on a foundation that falls apart on examination? What dietary and health choices do they make then? I don’t think they’re better off than if they had used their BS detector from the beginning.

      • tanya says:

        I need to loudly criticize you for your emotional accusations of Mercola’s position on vaccines. From my reading and experience, your position subscribes to major marketing spin based on fraudulent study and no science whatsoever. So I think it is you that subscribe vaccine conspiracy theory when you support attacks on those who have delved into the actual studies.

        This is why your entire article falls flat on its face–too much emotional clap trap that is presented well but has little meaning. Again, who pays you to write this stuff?

        • Silence Dogood says:

          Vaccines, antibiotics and clean drinking water have saved more lives than all other medical and public health advances combined. By far. If you don’t vaccinate your kids, you are flat-earth creation science loony tunes. And furthermore, your bad choices aren’t only endangering your children, they’re endangering mine.

          There is a line where healthy skepticism becomes refusenik lunacy. You have crossed that line, Tanya.

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  13. Mark Burger says:

    “Nutrition is a wonderful playground for people who want to manipulate fear.”
    It’s also a wonderful playground for people who want you to be informed about nutrition because all health starts with it. Go to school. This is an uninformed (despite links references that support a small, insignificant point in this the discussion).
    GMO foods are ‘made’ by ‘infecting’ the plant with the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus. The virus is used to insert genetic material into the DNA of the plant and ALL it’s progeny. The plant, by the way, has a chronic, viral infection as do its progeny. We could stop right here and ask if you think eating SICK, VIRUS-INFECTED PLANTS is healthier than eating non-infected plants but, let’s go on … An infected plant tries to fight off the viral infection. To do this, it uses energy in the form of ATP. One of the reasons most of us eat plants is to harvest this energy. Obviously, a GMO plant won’t have as much. A GMO plant, also, has less MINERAL nutrition (again: since minerals are rocks and un-absorbable, it’s nice to get them through our food [plants & animals-fed-by-plants] in forms that we can utilize.
    Studies prove that there is anywhere from 17-37% LESS magnesium and other minerals in GE foods. Maybe it’s not so mysterious that 70-80% of US population is magnesium deficient.
    Lastly, one of the ways in which we can manipulate plants with GE is to insert genetic material that cause the plant to make MORE LECTINS. A lectin that most people are familiar with is GLUTEN or gliaden. But it’s not the only one. Plants and animals, naturally, contain lectins. They give PESTS a tummy ache and they go feast on the next crop (if there is another, non-GE crop). Since we have digestive tracts, too, LECTINS bind to our enterocytes, cause OUR intestinal villi to flatten out, cause DYSBIOSIS aka leaky gut and, as a result, can cause AUTO-IMMUNE diseases (like Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn’s disease, Lupus, Alopecia areata, rheumatoid arthritis, and many, many more).

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      The virus was used as a vector when the gene was first inserted, to create the very first GMO seeds that others were then bred from; it wouldn’t make sense (economic or otherwise) to do this for plants in the field. (Perhaps you’re confusing this with gene therapy as used in humans?)

      Your other points are somewhat confused; gluten is not a lectin, we don’t eat plants for their ATP, etc.

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  15. Matt says:

    The issue here is engineering a plant that is resistant to weed killer. It’s about companies designing plants that are resistant to their own chemicals so they can sell more chemicals. Our food supply has been pirated by companies like Dow and Monsanto. Our agricultural policies have been written by these corporations that could care less about our health and more about their bottom lines. Now the weeds that they were trying to stop have grown more resistant to their chemicals, causing super weeds that require more/stronger herbicides that in turn ruin our land and negatively affect our ground water. Promoting this kind of behavior is a totally irresponsible and irrational. your pathetic attempt of rationalization makes me wonder who’s lining your pocket.

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      Everything until your last two sentences – I agree that these are important issues to have a conversation about. The trouble is that it’s hard to have such a conversation honestly when knee-jerk reactions about GMOs come into play, and my aim here was to explore the obstacles that turn these important discussions into partisan shouting matches.

      I neither promoted nor attacked GMOs here; I don’t really have a dog in that fight. And PLOS lines my pocket with a small stipend for blogging, but that’s all.

      • Silence Dogood says:

        I don’t have a dog in this fight either (I stumbled on this blog while looking for information on whether bt toxins have ever been found in beef), but your last paragraph is inaccurate, and it does make you sound like an industry apologist. There is a big difference between gm corn that makes its own bt, and bt that is sprayed on a crop. bt photodegrades within about a week, but only if it is on the _outside_ of the plant. The bt inside a corn kernel is heading straight for your gut. This is a non-trivial difference, and you either knew it, or should have. I think there is reason to suspicious of bt regardless of its source, but the amount of bt you end up consuming from gm grains is literally orders of magnitude higher than the amount you consume from crops that are sprayed with bt.

        Given the amount of bt floating around in the modern food supply, one would expect more science to have been done on its effects. I’ve been looking through pubmed though, and I have been disappointed and troubled by the dearth of work that has been done. Because bt has been around so long, it seems to have gotten a free pass, but we are now consuming so much of the stuff we really need to have look and see what it does.

  16. tanya says:

    Your point is well taken. Any used car salesman can sound reasonable while selling you a rotten lemon. And that is what you have done here despite sounding reasonable.

    First of all your criticism of people who ‘sell’ health is way out of context by not referencing the billions spent annually by Big Pharma and Big Chema to sell their toxic products.

    Second, your criticism of people like Mercola are void in the context of a capitalist system that demands that people become salesmen in order to survive. Running a huge national education system requires money and mercola has gotten into selling product in order to support his educational process. But you will criticize him and not the drug industry that literally buys the space in medical journals with defective research reports–and that is being mild mannered about their patent fraud.

    Third, I bet you pick and chose what you read and study and that most of it is articles supported by the very people who have chemical product to sell, and I include fabricated foods in this. Grist is not a well-balance set of articles on GMO and like Portside which portend to be progressive their health articles all sound like they have been written by the drug, chemical and big ag corporations.

    If you are concerned with transparency and communication then the message is the need to know who funds the research, and what their connection is to other money and politics. Mercola was very transparent in supporting the GMO labeling movement in Calif and Wash. The same is not true for the biotech industry and the large food conglomerates, some of which claimed support of ‘natural’ foods while fighting against labeling.

    I think your article is so bad that I have to wonder who paid you write it.

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      Hm, maybe I’m missing an opportunity here.

      Dear Monsanto,

      I wrote a thing that was never intended to be pro-GMO (and actually I think you’re doing some very bad things for agriculture), but there are a bunch of anti-GMO people who don’t like it. Does this qualify me for your Piles of Cash for Writers program? If so, please send several million(?) dollars.


  17. Paul says:

    There are numerous stories about the sale of meats not as advertised. For example when we purchase ground beef it is my understanding from at least two butchers I know that ground beef is in there, some.

    Also they explained that they are not allowed to test the meat. If they do then the provider of the meat will stop delivering to them.

    How do we educate ourselves on these kinds of bad behaviors by food vendors. How do we create change so if we do purchase something we know what’s in it. And that we are protected by proper testing?

    I find it difficult to trust articles on the internet for many reasons, some you listed in your article.

  18. Brilliantly written article. With a great insight and understanding of how one might be fooled. I questioned your use of the word “why” in the title, which would imply that there was logic/reason behind peoples misconceptions, though I see that the author has a great deal of logic and reason.

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  22. mratrophy says:

    Alcohol is not a toxin its a poison. Toxicity is in the amount of something even water and oxygen can become toxic.

    if you are going to try to counter misinformation, you should at least make sure your correct in what you say.

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      I’m using a fairly conventional definition of the word. Merriam-webster, for example, defines it as “a poisonous substance and especially one produced by a living thing.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/toxin

      Toxicity is, as you say, a dose-dependent concept. For example, I’ll gladly have a beer because the dose of alcohol is small enough not to harm me. If I decide to have a few, it’s because I’ve weighed the risks against the benefits and decided I’m cool with it. Let’s bring that same logic when we talk about other toxins.

  23. dan steinberg says:

    This article is ignorant nonsense. Where are the studies showing that GMOs are safe to consume? There are none. Sure GMOs have been studied a lot, but they have never been studied for their affects on health of experimental animals. GMOs are simply assumed to be safe-thats the basis of the “substantial equivalence” doctrine promoted by the FDA and GMO food industry. It is the very opposite of scientific.

    GM organisms can produce unpredicted and unpredictable novel compounds and toxins. This is exactly what happened with the Showa Denko tryptophan disaster in the 1980s. A GM bacteria engineered to produce tryptophan began producing a powerful neurotoxin after its genome was altered. Dozens of people died and hundreds suffered permanent neurological damage.

    Today, no effort whatsoever is made to determine if novel toxins are produced by GMOs.

    And if damage is being done, since GMOs are ubiquitous and unlabeled, it will be nearly impossible to detect. The non-regulated manner of GMO introduction (slowly increasing over time, and completely unlabeled) maximizes the difficulty of making causal connections between GMOs and human health problems.

    Toxins are real and fundamental to biochemistry, health and nutrition. And yet the author ridicules the very concept? The author is profoundly ignorant and really is not qualified to be teaching the subject of nutrition.

    If the author has some evidence that GMOs are actually safe, then he should reference it. Since this article fails to reference any science, it amounts to mere rhetoric.

    Here is an article on GMOs that actually has some scientific references:

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      Here’s a good read on GM safety: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2013/10/14/2000-reasons-why-gmos-are-safe-to-eat-and-environmentally-sustainable/

      Toxins exist, but the nebulous idea of cleansing your body of unspecified “toxins” isn’t based on any actual biochemistry. (If you can find a counterexample, I’d love to see it – I’ve been looking.)

      PS. I’m not a “he”.

      • Dan says:

        That article was “co-written with a writer at the Genetic Literacy Project.” A little Googling later, and it turns out that’s run by one Jon Entine. Mother Jones had this flattering article on his agribusiness apologist proclivities: http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/02/atrazine-syngengta-tyrone-hayes-jon-entine

        And a single visit to the Genetic Literacy Project told me all I need to know about their objectivity — the whole site is pro-agribusiness on every front, nauseatingly so.

      • dan steinberg says:

        Here is a list of toxins that can be “cleansed” with nutrients and diet practices. Some are produced endogenously:
        polyaromatic hydrocarbons
        glycation produces (“AGEs”)

        All of these toxins can be “cleansed” (i.e. removed) from the body, with varying efficacy, using supplemental nutrients and diet practices.

        The Forbes article asserts “2000 reasons” GMOs are safe. Thats a GISH GALLOP If I ever saw one!http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop

        And the paper it references says very little about safety studies or the risk of novel toxic compounds being produced in GMOs. The paper does not assert what the Forbes article says it does. In fact, the paper mentions a few areas of safety concern:

        “Recently, Podevin & Jardin (2012) pointed out that the viral promoter P35S, isolated from the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) and used in several GE crops to achieve strong and constitutive expression of the transgene/s, partially overlaps with the CaMV viral gene VI. In some long variants of the P35S promoter this could potentially lead to the production of a residual viral protein. The use of the short version of the promoter is therefore recommended, even if the
        Critical Reviews in Biotechnology Downloaded from informahealthcare.com by SLU Library – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences on 09/23/13 For personal use only.
        8 A. Nicolia et al.
        Crit Rev Biotechnol, Early Online: 1–12
        bioinformatics analysis of the viral protein has not revealed any relevant similarity with known allergens (Podevin & Jardin, 2012).
        An issue emerged about whether the combination of more GE traits in a single crop (GE stacks) may introduce changes that require additional safety assessment. Once safety of the single traits has been established independently, their com- bination should be evaluated in terms of stability, expression and possible interactions (EFSA, 2011). Weber et al. (2012) pointed out that GE stacks do not impose any additional risks in terms of transgene stability and expression, whereas attention should be focused only on the possible interactions between different traits.”

        This paper is not a resounding endorsement of GMO safety.

        And of course, many of the so-called industry-controlled safety studies are done by the industry for the industry. Its tobacco/asbestos/leaded gasoline science all over again. The industry produces fraudulent science to protect its market share. Simple as that. Meanwhile. independent researchers continue to find indications of harm.

        • Aaron says:

          Your assertion that diet can have any effect on removal of the chemicals you mentioned would be a lot easier to swallow with empirical evidence.

        • Moriarty says:

          Still waiting on that counterexample, Dan. Please cite your sources on the ‘toxins,’ their production in the body, and their ‘cleansing.’

          And don’t assume that all research saying GMO’s are terrible for you is bad research, just because a few receive funding from companies you dislike.
          Association Fallacy

          And who are these ‘independent researchers’ you stand behind? Once again, give the citation. Argumentum Ad Populum

          And please try not to call anyone ignorant this time.
          Ad Hominem

          Also, and Ms. Skwarecki may correct me on this, the point of the main article isn’t ‘All GMO are Healthy,’ it’s that we need to be better educated about the science behind our food. It sound like you agree, Dan. If you do reply, let’s stay away from that straw man you’ve built.
          Straw Man

          Can’t we all just agree to eat locally and learn what’s in our food so that we can make our own, personal, informed decisions?

        • Beth Skwarecki says:

          A profusion of silly arguments collected for rhetorical purposes is a Gish Gallop. A profusion of data collected for statistical evaluation is a meta-analysis:


          Your quotes from the studies got formatted weirdly, but I get what you’re saying, and I think it’s great to talk about specific (omg actual science-based) problems and their solutions. But to use those quotes as an argument against GMOs in general would be like finding an engineering paper showing that certain aspects of bridge design have minor problems, and using it to trumpet that all bridges everywhere are deadly. Genetic engineering is, after all, a type of engineering.

          As for the toxins, can you share your references about how temporary diet changes can remove them from the body?

          • dan steinberg says:

            2000 reasons is a gish gallop-one of the biggest I have ever seen.

            Re: toxins, here is an example, relating to silica and aluminum:


            Methyl donors like trimethylglycine, methyl B12 and methyl folate and choline remove homocysteine. Vitamin B6 removes glycation products.

          • dan steinberg says:

            A credible independent researcher in this area is Seralini.


            I do not trust industry-funded science on GMOs. The politics are exactly like the past controversies of tobacco, asbestos and leaded gasoline. So its rather disturbing to me to see nutritionists such as yourself signing on with this unscientific, faith-based belief in GMO safety. Where is the evidence? What is the reasoning for assuming that no novel toxins are created? Why is there ZERO post-marketing surveillance?

          • dan steinberg says:

            Thats not what i used that reference for. The Forbes article made it sound like that reference was one-sided, a complete vindication of consensus of GMO safety. But thats wrong. The reference mentioned a few areas of risk, of concern.

            And if there is risk or concern based on the science, then why is there almost zero regulation and no post-marketing surveillance for safety?

            the answer, obviously, is because the FDA is an agency captured by the food/pharma industry, and safety concerns are not good for profits.

      • Bernadine Young says:

        Hi Beth, Just because some folks who push for GMO acceptance, does not make GMO food safe; nor does the fact some folks who oppose GMO food push things that are not good, accurate. So be careful about getting on the bandwagon with people who make gargantuan profits off of us accepting their products as safe.. Below is new research just out for you to check out which shows how GMO food can ruin the enzymes in our gut necessary to digest and stay alive. Things that are designed to kill insects can kill live things in us that we need to be healthy. B.
        Article: Monsanto’s RoundUp Chemicals Found to Damage Enzyme Pathways
        Christina Sarich
        Natural Society / News Report
        Published: Sunday 4 May 2014
        A new study from scientists in Denmark points to the damaging effect of Monsanto’s RoundUp chemicals on enzyme activity in mammals.

        Enzymes are essential to proper gastrointestinal health. Some enzymes are responsible for breaking down larger molecules into smaller ones, such as in the process of digestion, and other enzymes are responsible for building DNA. Without them, important chemical reactions cannot take place in the body, leading to disease, organ failure, and even death. Well a new study from scientists in Denmark points to the damaging effect of Monsanto’s RoundUp chemicals on enzyme activity in mammals.
        The killer of weeds, RoundUp causes absolute havoc on the enzymes in the body. The chemical brew meant to boost GMO crop production is exceedingly dangerous to animals in some of their most sensitive life stages.
        Glyphosate has been linked to several other health problems, as well, but in this particular study, scientists found that specific enzyme pathways necessary for proper functioning were inhibited. In this case, the enzymes in the gut which allow the body to detoxify itself were adversely affected. While the study looked at the guts of animals dining on GMO, glyphosate-ridden soy, the results can be translated to the human form just as easily.

        NationofChange fights back with one simple but powerful weapon: the truth. Can you donate $5 to help us?
        Researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University investigated various farmer reports at the request of the Danish farm minister. Martin Tang Sorensen reviewed multiple studies previously conducted that identified the risks that glyphosate posed to livestock health. Evidence suggested that glyphosate impacted livestock the most during sensitive phases of the animal’s life. From these studies, two hypotheses were then tested. The first investigated glyphosate’s detrimental effect on the microorganisms in an animal’s gastrointestinal system. The second studied an animal’s mineral status as a secondary effect of glyphosate exposure. In both studies, it was found that glyphosate disrupted the life cycle of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, depleting the animals’ immunity and making them more prone to disease. There was an increased incidence, for example, of an infection called Clostridium botulinum in cattle.These infections have increased significantly in Germany, but it is not the only type of infection that the livestock were subject to on a GMO diet. Salmonella and clostridium were also found to be highly resistant to glyphosate.
        What’s worse is that good bacteria like Enterococcus, Bacillus, and Lactobacillus were found to be the most susceptible, and destroyed in the presence of glyphosate. Without enough good bacteria, the gut of the livestock becomes a breeding ground for diseases to replicate.
        The Denmark study also found that glyphosate inhibits an enzyme called cytochrome P450 in humans which helps the body detoxify harmful chemicals. This means that the very toxic brew that causes chemical overload in the body also causes the body to be congested with more chemicals – whether they are glyphosate or aluminum, lead, arsenic, or any other toxic substance in the body. This is yet another study showing the uncanny level of harm that glyphosate can assert on the mammalian system.

        • Beth Skwarecki says:

          Looks like you’ve just pasted an article here. Would you mind telling us what you’d like to say about it and how it informs this discussion?

    • Dan says:

      Great, thorough, and responsible post. I didn’t know about the Showa Denko debacle. Appreciate it.

    • Zagadee says:

      Actually, considering that there are no qualifications needed to call yourself a nutritionist and that technically anyone (you, me, your 4 year old niece) is free to call themselves a nutritionist, I would say that he does have the qualifications needed to teach on this subject .

  24. tedd says:

    Thank you. Very sensible and diplomatic. The food fear mongers of social networks often chap my hide (including Food Bade and Food Inc.).
    As I have a keen interest in this, I am often feeling blown away at all the sheep looking for a shepherd. People just want to be told what is right, and what is wrong without making bonafide decisions for themselves. Kinda sad actually.
    I guess it’s an easy bandwagon to get rolling, then, in come the promotional items to attach affiliate links to. Bam….you are a food expert! (sarcasm).

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      I don’t think it’s sad that people want guidance on a complex issue.

  25. xml says:

    Interesting topic. I’m no expert on food and I’m far from being a scientist. I’d just like to add, that nowadays, I find difficult to believe anything I read, on wither side, and I usually go by my common sense. It’s really intersting when someone points at scientific evidence, but then, I’m totally uncapable of contrasting that information, I don’t know whether the conditions on which the experiment is carried on are somehow biased. I trully believe that science is still a matter of faith, because most of us, can only believe that scientists are trustworthy people who would never lie to the rest of the world and would never makes mistakes.

  26. Rebecca says:

    There are some extremely legitimate concerns about GMO’s. Every country in Europe regulates their use and some even out-right ban it from their borders. GMO’s often result in grains that are much higher in gluten and other compounds that humans are not equipped to digest, or metabolize properly. What most of us do not realize is that GMO’s are in a lot of our food, it is very difficult to know what they are in and what they aren’t. As someone who has a family member with gluten intolerance I know what these products can do. My relative wasn’t always gluten intolerant, she developed it as a result of the changing grains in her diet. Wheat as we knew it isn’t the worlds best food ever, but it has been proven to lead to less health problems than genetically modified grain. I appreciate that you wish to approach this from a scientific point of view, just don’t discount something because it sounds like a fad, GMO’s are not a fad, as I said before many are banned altogether in Europe. Not only are they not good for our bodies, the politics and behavior surrounding those products are worse than the product themselves. Lets face it; pesticides are not good for us or the environment. I think we can all agree on that.

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      Pesticides are used on GMO and non-GMO crops. Gluten is present in GMO and non-GMO grains.

      Your claims that we can’t digest what’s in GMOs, that they are unhealthy, and that “changing grains” are causing gluten intolerance, have been addressed elsewhere; they don’t stand up to examination.

      As for the “politics and behavior” surrounding GMOs – I agree, there’s room for criticism. But let’s keep our issues straight.

      • Mike O. says:

        If GMOs are supposedly safe, then it shouldn’t be hard for food companies to label their products and let the consumer know what they’re eating, right?

        • Beth Skwarecki says:

          Transparency is good. I’m not against labeling, but I can’t really stand behind it either: focusing on whether a food contains GMOs or not clouds the issues that both pro and anti-GMO folks are concerned about, like pesticide residues and so on.

          By the way, everything with the USDA Organic label is GMO-free.

          • Binky Bear says:

            By the way, everything with the USDA Organic label is GMO-free.

            I don’t think that such a statement is empirically verifiable without some kind of testing regime. One can assert that such a crop was non-GMO seed derived; but the fact that pollen can travel between fields means that seed can be “contaminated” by neighboring fields which may be GMO. If these seeds are saved, they may express the GMO traits in the offspring.

          • Beth Skwarecki says:

            What I mean by that is: People who want GMO labels can use the USDA Organic seal as a stopgap.

            Pollen drift (good point!) complicates the issue, but that’s true for both GMO labeling and Organic labeling.

  27. stan says:

    Good article. Very sensible. Exposes marketing tactics which are basically misleading.

  28. Do you think something like this:

    would help assuage people’s concerns about the food they eat? It probably won’t be able to detect things like RoundUp residue, but at least it will show whether a tomato is a tomato. :-)

  29. Chris H. says:

    Dwarf wheat may predate modern genetic engineering methods, but even selective breeding techniques are a way for humans to effectively modify an organism’s genes. Granted GE can have much more powerful results and do so more quickly. While you are correct to point out the distinction between selective breeding and GMOs, the former still has a place in the dialogue.

  30. Dan Cooper says:

    Superweeds are a direct result of applying glyphosate a lot more often than other herbicides, leading farmers to go back to traditional methods such as crop rotation, cover crops, and physically pulling the weeds, yet they still have to pay 6x as much for Monsanto’s seeds. Worse, if they try to switch, and their crops become contaminated with Monsanto’s corn, they will be sued. So what is the advantage in this case of GM over traditional farming for the farmer?

    I can envision a case of cat and mouse where Monsanto is constantly coming up with new tech, and nature is overcoming it. And actually, that perfectly suits a capitalist company: get them hooked, then force them to upgrade. How is that better than conventional farming? My baloney detectors go off when anyone suggests a reason for using Monsanto besides being strong-armed into it or lied to about its benefits.

    And none of this mentions the glyphosate issues, which are a direct result of using the crop. At just 5ppm, recent research show glyphosate kills good gut bacteria in poultry and preserves the bad gut bacteria.

    None of it adds up. GMO isn’t necessarily evil, but it’s not harmless either, and it’s not being done for noble purposes (and I see nothing that suggests that’s going to change anytime soon).

    • CB says:

      Well said! I agree completely with this article saying to be aware of what you’re being sold–now if only she’d extended that to GMOs. She said that her students’ concerns weren’t technically about GMOs themselves, but more about how they’re used in our broader food system. That’s good discussion! Building a diverse, equitable food system is very important to all our health.

      • Beth Skwarecki says:

        I agree! I encourage students to take a critical look at the science & policy issues surrounding our food system.

    • Michael says:

      Super weeds are just those weeds that survive. There were plants that survived glyphosate before it was even developed. It has never killed all plants and many treated with a small amount actually survived, thus those super weeds were there all along.
      Weeds also survive other methods of weed control. Try pulling a dandelion. Leaving even a part of the root allows it to come back again. Mechanical methods of weed control are not the end all to weed control, nor was glyphosate.
      You place a lot of emphasis on Monsanto, but they are not the only player in the game. Companies like Dupont, BASF and Bayer are also in the weed control game. Monsanto just happens to be the evil of the day on the internet. If you really check it, out you will find that most of the stuff on the internet about Monsanto is baloney.
      You need to check out the lethal dose of glyphosate, it turns out that both chocolate and caffeine are more toxic. If you are going to be trashing one, you need to trash the other.
      As far as why anyone would use Monsanto products I invite you to read my comments on that subject here http://minnesotafarm.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/why-i-use-monsanto-products/

    • Dave Miller says:

      Superweeds — why use a prejudicial term. They are glyphosate resistant, not super weeds. And like any pest or weed persistently exposed to the same chemical – resistance will develop. So change the chemical. Change the mode of action. But that does not make the original chemical or product nefarious. I, for one, change up my herbicide program and just because I CAN use glyphosate on my corn does not mean I do. And claims of paying 6x for Monsanto seeds. Where? I farm and I buy Monsanto seeds because I get value for what I buy. And Monsanto’s seeds are priced competitively with those of Pioneer, Syngenta, etc. I have the choice of planting nonGMO corn varieties or even public varieties of soybeans, but the “cost” of those seeds is often seen in higher costs of insecticides, higher priced herbicides, etc.

  31. Pingback: PLOS: Why it’s so easy to believe our food is toxic « Omniopticon

  32. nick says:

    The problem with GMOs is the magnified problem of extreme hybridization. Dwarf wheat makes people ill. Yet it cobtains as much as twice the calories per pound as einkorn wheat. Looks good on paper. Even moreso, the food resulting from genetic engineering is not food we’ve evolved to metabolize. But it looks good from a macrobiotic (limited) understanding of nutrition. This is the problem.

    • Beth Skwarecki says:

      Dwarf wheat was produced by traditional breeding methods in the 1960s; it predates GMOs. Not to pick on you, but that’s a great example of an anti-GMO argument that isn’t actually related to GMOs.

      As for the rest of your comment, there are other places on the internet where you can argue about what “the problem” with GMOs is; I’d like to keep the comments here on the topic of communication, education, and the psychology of risk.

  33. No says:

    ADA has not been thoroughly tested to assess its toxicity on humans, the EU and Australia ban it, and yet you seem to be fine with allowing this completely unnecessary additive to continue to be used in the name of making food attractive and therefore more profitable. Questions of toxicity aside, what are you selling?