GMO Basics

By • January 16, 2015

Excerpt from publication originally posted at Sense About Science.

"Introduction: Why Make Sense of Uncertainty?

"Scientific uncertainty is prominent in research that has big implications for our society: could the Arctic be ice-free in summer by 2080? Will a new cancer drug be worth its side effects? Is this strain of ‘flu going to be a dangerous epidemic? 

"Uncertainty is normal currency in scientific research. Research goes on because we don’t know everything. Researchers then have to estimate how much of the picture is known and how confident we can all be that their findings tell us what’s happening or what’s going to happen. This is uncertainty. But in public discussion scientific uncertainty is presented as a deficiency of research. We want (even expect) certainty – safety, effective public policies, useful public expenditure. 

"Uncertainty is seen as worrying, and even a reason to be cynical about scientific research – particularly on subjects such as climate science, the threat of disease or the prediction of natural disasters. In some discussions, uncertainty is taken by commentators to mean that anything could be true, including things that are highly unlikely or discredited, or that nothing is known. This conflict frustrates us at Sense About Science, and we know that it frustrates researchers we work with and the public we hear from. Some clearer ideas about what researchers mean by scientific uncertainty – and where uncertainty can be measured and where it can’t – would help everyone with how to respond to the uncertainty in evidence. 

"This guide has brought together specialists in many areas – climate science, clinical research, natural hazard prediction, public health, biostatistics and epidemiology. We asked them for the reasons why they are not automatically so troubled by the presence of uncertainty in the most heated debates. We have looked at what uncertainty means and doesn’t mean in science, how it is measured, when it can’t be measured and how that might change through research into the big questions. Above all we asked how other people can grapple constructively with advances in knowledge and changes in thinking, instead of despairing at ‘those uncertain scientists’."

Read the full publication, "Making Sense of Uncertainty:Why uncertainty is part of science" here [PDF].


QWhat does gmo stand for

What does gmo stand for

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By • April 13, 2018

The following is an excerpt of an article at The Conversation that reports on the latest Food Literacy and Engagement Poll from Michigan State University’s [email protected] initiative, specifically looking at the difference between attitudes of wealthy Americans compared to lower income Americans. 

Socioeconomics play a significant role in attitudes about food – especially concerns about safety and purchasing behavior. And higher income doesn’t always correlate with informed choices. On the contrary, our research shows that affluent Americans tend to overestimate their knowledge about health and nutrition.

The latest Food Literacy and Engagement Poll from Michigan State University’s [email protected] initiative reveals that nearly half of Americans (49 percent) in households earning at least US$50,000 annually believe they know more than the average person about global food systems, while just 28 percent of those earning less are as confident. However, when we surveyed people on a variety of food topics, affluent respondents fared no better, and at times worse, than their lower-earning peers.

We sampled over 2,000 Americans age 18 and over online. Results were weighted to reflect U.S. census demographics for age, sex, race and ethnicity, education, region and household income to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

To read the conclusions of the poll, please visit The Conversation website

By • April 13, 2018

The following is an excerpt of a blog post by writer/reporter Joan Conrow at the Cornell Alliance for Science website about how she changed her mind about GMOs. 

As reasonable and thinking human beings, we can change our minds when confronted with compelling new evidence. It’s hard, but possible. And that’s a very good thing, especially for those of us who cherish Enlightenment values and critical thinking.

I’ve also come to learn that GMOs are a stand-in for many other gripes, like industrialization and corporatization. They’re viewed as the nemesis of a simpler, saner, slower way of life. For those who worship the god of organic, GMOs are nothing less than the devil himself. I understand all that, because I felt much the same way just four short years ago.

It’s OK to wax nostalgic for family farms and self-sufficiency. It’s great to want safe food, and a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem. It’s laudable to advocate for social justice and food security. But none of these concepts are antithetical to GMOs, which are simply a crop breeding technology.

To read the entire blog post, please visit the Cornell Alliance for Science website. 

By • April 13, 2018

The following is an excerpt of an article at the Genetic Literacy Project that explains how many of the foods we eat have been modified and changed. 

Opponents of GMOs have been unceasing in their campaign to vilify genetically modified foods by describing them as “Frankenfoods,” thus implying they are not natural and are potentially harmful.

“The practice of introducing new DNA and chemicals to seeds or animals (Aqua Advantage has developed a GMO fish) is similar to how Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein created his monster–—through piecing together lots of different organisms,” wrote the Organic Authority on its website—a common allusion in the anti-GMO world. “We all know what happened when the monster turned on Frankenstein, and many critics of genetic engineering have likened the inevitable backlash of GMO technology to the destruction and murderous rampage of Frankenstein’s monster.”

Many anti-GMO articles that warn of the dangers GM crops are often accompanied by an image of a [tomato]  fruit or vegetable with syringes sticking out of them. Very often it is a fruit or vegetable for which there is no current GM equivalent such as a tomato. This depiction is used to reinforce the notion that GM foods are created in laboratories and not by nature and therefore are dangerous to consume.

With the constant barrage of scare-based imagery, it is not surprising that there is widespread public suspicion that GMOs are dangerous to human health. But there is little controversy surrounding GMOs within the scientific community with 88 percent of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science believing GMOs are “generally safe.” The safety of GMOs were once again reinforced by the May 2016 report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which concluded, there was “reasonable evidence that animals were not harmed by eating food derived from genetically engineered crops”, and epidemiological data indicated there was no increase in cancer or other health related problems associated with these crops entering our food supply.

To read the rest of this article, please visit the Genetic Literacy Project website

By • April 13, 2018

The following is a video from the Cornell Alliance for Science featuring researcher Dr. Ochieng of the University of Nairobi (Kenya) explaining what a GMO is, and what it isn't. 


By • April 12, 2018

The following is an excerpt of a blog post on the website SciMoms discussing various aspects of food labels, focusing on the cost organic and non-GMO labelled food. 

If you’re like me, grocery shopping is both a pleasure and a struggle. I love to see which fresh produce and fancy cheeses are available! But meal planning is a challenge when your household contains one adventurous vegetarian (that’s me!) and two choosy eaters. Our grocery budget can get a bit out of control as I’m trying to meet each person’s needs and wants. Still, things could be a lot worse. I could be buying foods with organic or non-GMO labels.

What do organic and non-GMO labels even mean?

Farmers and manufacturers can gain organic certification if they follow certain processes related to how they grow crops and process foods. Organic is commonly touted as pesticide-free, but organic farmers have a list of pesticides they may choose from. Conventional agriculture may use any registered pesticide, and may use any approved genetically engineered crops (commonly called genetically modified organisms or GMOs). Whether you choose organic or conventional, there is no need for concern about pesticide residues, particularly for products grown in the United States.

While academics and government agencies debate the definition of GMO, for many people the meaning is simple. GMO signifies all they want to avoid about modern agriculture. That’s an unfortunate point of view, because biotechnology is simply a breeding process that can be used in any farming system. Decades of research have found the process of genetic engineering to be safe, and consumer concerns about GMOs are largely unfounded.

To read the entire blog post, please visit the SciMoms website

By • April 12, 2018

The following is an excerpt of an article in California Ag Today discussing way in which GMOs can help to prevent hunger and starvation in developing countries. 

Needed GMO technology to help citizens in Third World countries is being thwarted by activist groups in First World countries who are anti-GMO, said Alison Van Eenennaam, a UCANR Cooperative Extension Specialist focused on Animal Genomics at UC Davis.

“If the African people choose to use this to develop better bananas, they should have the right to use that and not be dictated to by activist groups in the First World promoting fear around this technology," she said.

GMO technology could greatly benefit those in the developing world, especially those who struggle with starvation on a daily basis.

To read the entire article, please visit the California Ag Today website

QIs it true that each person is a GMO of their parents? I hope so.

Is it true that each person is a GMO of their parents? I hope so.

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