Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

The phrase lies, damned lies and statistics describes the power of numbers and the use of statistics to beef up weak arguments. In a recent Mother Jones piece, Kevin Drum bares to light the ‘statistics’ that the New York Times used in last weeks damning of GMO crops. It turns out that the statistic used to compare France’s rate of increase/decrease in pesticides glossed over the fact that overall use in France is much higher (although decreasing at a faster rate). Continue reading “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”

Can you tell the difference?

Here is a quiz, testing to see whether you can tell the differentiate GMO vs non-GMO organic food by just looking at them. I went looking for the photo below on the net after seeing it used on a site bashing Monsanto and found the quiz. Take it and report back here how well you did. Of course, I’ve already given you the answer to question 2 below. I was surprised to see the difference in these tomatoes.

gmo vs non-gmo


You be the judge…

Here are links to 2 sites, one pro-GMO (from a government agency), the other con-GMO. I’m sure that the devil lies in the details here, and a thorough reading on both sites would behoove us all.

gmo answers
Beyond Labels: 10 Things You Should Know About GMOs
gmo fact check
ANH USA – Biotech companies claim their products are safe, but won’t allow independent studies of their seeds.

GMOs: All or Nothing?

See the video here.

“Farmers everywhere, whether they’re organic or conventional or using GMOs, they’re all trying to do the same thing: They’re trying to produce successful harvests, they’re trying to manage pests, they’re trying to do the right thing in the environment, and they’re trying to create a viable business model, so that they can hand it down to the next generation.”

-Mike Frank, senior VP
and chief commercial officer of Monsanto

The problem with an all or nothing approach to gmo foods

Testing for GMOs

Preserving IP product Purity

See this article from the Organic and Non-GMO report about testing in this new post-labeling law world. With all the new focus on identity-preserved grains and organic food, there is an increased need for testing at all facilities in the IP grain chain; in addition to the farmers themselves, this includes transporters and elevator operators. At each step of the process it is important to have procedures in place to ensure the purity of the product. See this article about combine cleaning. In addition to physical changes and cleanliness, testing is also paramount. The two main types of testing available are test strips and PCR testing.

Test Strips vs PCR Testing

Protein-based lateral flow strip tests are used to detect the presence of a particular GMO. The test is fast (a few minutes), but does not provide results concerning the level of impurity. On the other hand, DNA-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests do provide quantitative analysis, but cost much more and can take up to three days to complete.

The non-gmo project maintains a list of recommended testing facilities for GMOs. There are also some new products on the horizon in the PCR realm, including DNAble from Envirologix (not a lab, per se, but a testing kit manufacturer) which gives results similar to PCR (high sensitivity with high specificity) on-site in much less time (presently, for soybeans).

Organic Farmland in Short Supply

Enter “Certified Transitional”

By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The growing demand for organic produce in the U.S. is outpacing supply. Since it takes a minimum of three years to certify a field as being ‘Organic’, there are many fields in transition to that coveted status. In the interim, the crops from that field (at least in the past) sold at commodity pricing. The USDA and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) have allowed farmland in transition to be labeled as such, allowing the farmer to sell such an identity-preserved crop as ‘transitional’, thereby getting a higher price for the harvest. One can read the details of the OTA’s recommendations in this report. This is not intended as an opportunity to categorize a field as perpetually in transition; the intent is for the categorization to last for the 2nd and 3rd years of the transition to organic status. Clarkson is an example of one farm that is embracing the ‘transitional’ designation. I’m sure there will be an uptick in its use, given the increase in demand for organic, identity-preserved crops.