Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sometimes a Pink Pineapple is Just a Pink Pineapple

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I've reviewed a few GMO crops where I've questioned the health benefits that are being touted by crop developers. The few that stand out are the claim that decreasing the amount of acrylamide when frying the Innate potato is beneficial and the claim that increasing the amount of antioxidants in crops is healthier (such as the pink pineapple). The links that I've provided above are to previous posts where I reviewed these crops, how the traits work, and the benefits of the crops.

To sum up what I wrote before, there's little evidence to support the idea that increasing antioxidants in your diet is healthier. Undoubtedly, there are benefits to increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables that we eat, but there's not much evidence to support the idea that eating fruits and vegetables that are more "colorful" and therefore richer in antioxidants is better. Additionally, there's little evidence to support the idea that the acrylamide that is created when potatoes are fried is harmful. Acrylamide in large amounts is known to be harmful. One can easily argue that the fat/calories that you'd have to eat in order to be harmed by the acrylamide in the potatoes will kill you first.

Yet I see GMO supporters using the argument that these GMOs are beneficial time and time again. Not only is it unnecessary, but it's poor science.

The fact of the matter is that if a company wants to make orange brussel sprouts or black watermelons, they have the right to do so. Once the crop goes through the regulatory process, they'll have the right to grow and sell them. Some GMO crops will have environmental benefits, health benefits, or benefits to farmers. But not all of them have to.

My perspective is that these crops were developed at a time when the science suggested that these traits were necessary. Think about the antioxidant craze 5-10 years ago. But with time, science has advanced and the body of evidence suggests that increased antioxidants don't necessarily prevent disease. 5-10 years ago, we also thought that acrylamide in potatoes might be harmful. But today? Not so much.

If a crop is more sustainable or healthier, then the importance of the trait should be stressed. The Innate potato, for example, will have a non-browning trait in addition to the reduced-acrylamide trait, so there's good reason to purchase it in terms of decreasing food waste. But if a GM crop doesn't have a beneficial trait, if the trait introduced is purely cosmetic in nature, then that's OK too. Because sometimes a pink pineapple is just a pink pineapple. And you know what? Maybe a bunch of kids will eat more pineapples because they'll get a kick out of it. Or maybe some fancy chef will win the final challenge in Chopped because they'll make pink pineapple ice cream. You have to assume that whatever company is making the pink pineapple has done sufficient market analysis to know that people are interested in and want their crop.

These crops are not less safe than their non-GMO counterparts. They make our food supply more diverse and more interesting. To those of us who take the time to correct misinformation on GMOs: using weak science to support these crops is not only unnecessary, but also a tactic used by those who claim GMOs cause harm. I think we can do better :)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

BioChica Update

Hi Everyone,

It's been a while since I've written here, so I thought I'd give you all an update on what I've been doing/writing.

First off, I'm going to continue using this space for scientific papers. I'll continue taking requests so if anyone has any papers on risks of GMOs or any trait they'd like to know more about, let me know and I'd be happy to review (you can email me at biochica.gmo at gmail dot com). I just haven't come across any topics lately that I've really wanted to investigate. Most anti-GMO claims seem to be the same ones recycled over and over again.

Second, the makers of the movie Science Moms launched the film and it's available to download. About a year ago, when filming was wrapping up, the moms featured in the film started discussing what to do next. We had seen the raw footage from the film and were excited. We decided to start a non-profit spin-off named SciMoms, geared towards parents. Our goal is to tackle a wide variety of topics ranging from vaccines and GMOs to bouncy castles and skincare. As parents, we get so much contrary information, that it's difficult to know what's right and we plan to dig into the science and contact experts to get the correct information. Our very first blog post outlines our mission and vision for the site.

About a year ago, I wrote about the importance of breaking information bubbles and silos that we find ourselves in. I really hope that this new website can reach new audiences. We have a bunch of different projects including a comic that I've been making!!

So, if you wouldn't mind telling friends/family/relatives/coworkers about this new project, I'd appreciate it. In learning about websites, marketing, and audience reach, I've learned that mailing lists are important :) So please sign up for our mailing list here to receive monthly updates.

Third, I've been writing for broader audiences on Medium, which is a blogging website. Since I don't promote or do ads for my writing, I thought that Medium might be a good way to reach more people. It's that whole "breaking bubbles" thing again. So, if you want to follow me on Medium and read articles that I've written recently, you can do so here.

Finally, on a more personal note, I'm going to start a Masters certificate in bioinformatics! I don't know how I'll find the time to juggle everything with my day job and the kid, so we'll see what happens.

Hope you all have a great 2018!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

X is connected to Y which is connected to Monsanto. Therefore, I am a shill...

Hey everyone,

As some of my readers may know, I'm going to be featured in a movie called "Science Moms". It all started when I joined forces with a group of awesome women to write a letter to Sarah Michelle Gellar because she was against GMOs. Readers of this blog may also know that I'm a super Buffy fan, so SMG's ad about GMO labeling was like a stake through my heart. HAHAHA!!! GET IT?? BECAUSE BUFFY???

The letter was also written to a bunch of other people who were in the ad, but frankly, when I was writing/editing, I was doing it for Buffy/Sarah. Once we had written it, we sent it to some other awesome women who signed onto it and gave suggestions/edits. After that, we started getting requests from a bunch of people who wanted to sign it, so we just left it open so anyone could sign on.

I tagged SMG in a bunch of my tweets about the article. I wonder if she read it? Sigh...

One of the readers of the letter was an awesome woman named Natalie Newell. She thought that our story was pretty unique (I tend to agree :) ). She and her husband decided to make a movie about us, and gave us the name "Science Moms", which is infinitely better than #Moms4GMOs!! She took it upon herself to launch a Kickstarter for funding. It got fully funded and she traveled to our homes to do filming. They're currently working on final editing and it will premiere in October. It stars Kavin Senapathy, Alison Bernstein (Mommy PhD), Anastasia Bodnar, Jenny Splitter, and myself.

Since the movie is funded by normal people, we don't have a PR department or anything. So last week, we snagged a twitter account and have just started using it. We "premiered" the account to promote a letter we published on Medium. Immediately, the shill-cusations started coming in.

It seems that it is not sufficient that the movie was funded independently. It is not sufficient that Natalie is not paid for by the nebulous "big Ag". It is not sufficient that none of us receive funding from Monsanto/Syngenta/Dow Agro/Dupont. One dude seriously wanted to know if the people who chipped in for the Kickstarter worked for biotech.

I'm not sure what they're looking for. So we're going to play 6 degrees of separation to Monsanto. Because in the end, that's all it takes for a shill-cusation. Here we go:

  • As an infant and toddler, my dad worked for Corning. Corning makes labware. Monsanto probably buys labware, possibly from Corning. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • As a child and youth, my dad sold computers. Monsanto uses computers. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • As an undergraduate, I got a full scholarship. I have no idea where the scholarship money came from, but a lot of the buildings on my campus had industry names, so I'm assuming that there were industry donations there, particularly the Labatt brewing company. Monsanto employees in Canada probably drink Labatt's. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • As a graduate student, I received provincial and federal scholarships for all the years of my PhD. That money comes from taxes. Monsanto pays taxes. Therefore, I am a shill. 
  • During my PhD years, my husband worked for McDonald's for a few years, before he got laid off due to restructuring. McDonald's buys food from farmers. Farmers buy seeds, probably from Monsanto. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • Since my PhD ended, I have spent my time working in companies that develop DNA sequencing instruments and assays, and have changed jobs 3x since the inception of this blog. Most of this time has been spent developing assays for targeted analysis of the human genome. Plants have genomes. Monsanto probably sequences DNA from plants. Therefore, I am a shill.
  • In my 401K plan, we have invested in the total stock market (i.e all 4000+ stocks on the market). Monsanto is publicly traded on the stock market. Therefore, I am a shill.
There you have it folks. 

Moral of this tale: if someone wants to find a COI where there's no misbehaviour or misconduct, then they should check their biases. Because odds are that if you look into that person's background, you can also play 6 degrees of separation from Monsanto.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A GMO pineapple with a blush

A couple of months ago, I saw an article about a new "pink pineapple" that was being approved by the FDA and was a GMO. I've wanted to learn more about the variety, so in this blog post I'll be exploring the topic.

The pineapple was developed by Del Monte Fresh Produce (not to be confused with Del Monte Foods). The company plans to label it as "extra sweet pink flesh pineapple" and it will be grown in Costa Rica. In addition to pink flesh, it has a few other traits and we'll go through these one-by-one. Much of the information below came from the FDA submission documents.

Pink Flesh

To understand how the pineapple's flesh was made pink, we have to review how beta-carotene is made in plants. Beta-carotene is a pigment that has an orange color and is essential to us for vitamin A synthesis. We usually associate it with carrots. Its synthesized in plants in a multi-step process involving several enzymes. One of the intermediates in this pathway is lycopene, which is also a pigment but is bright red. Watermelon, tomatoes, and grapefruit are all fruits that are rich in lycopene. It is due to the accumulation of this pigment that the pineapple turns pink.

How was this accomplished? To make a pink pineapple, two things need to happen: a lot more lycopene needs to be made and its conversion to beta-carotene needs to be halted. To make more lycopene, the gene for phytoene synthase from a tangerine was added and was over-expressed (meaning that it was regulated in a such a way that the gene produced a lot of the phytoene synthase protein). This means that the crop can produce a lot more lycopene and beta-carotene.

However, the developers of the crop wanted lycopene accumulation without its conversion to beta-carotene. To achieve this, they silenced the lycopene β-cyclase (b-Lyc) and lycopene ε-cyclase (e-Lyc) genes in the pineapple using RNA interference. This is a naturally occurring defense mechanism that scientists have harnessed to silence genes by using the sequence of the gene itself. It triggers a pathway within the cell that chews up the RNA for the targeted gene. In this case, scientists added snippets of the b-Lyc and e-Lyc genes from the pineapple in a specific configuration. Once these snippets were turned on or expressed, it triggered the degradation of the lycopene-cyclase enzymes which are needed to convert lycopene into carotenes. Without this conversion, lycopene accumulates and the pineapple gets its beautiful pink colour.

File:Ghana pineapple field.jpg
Pineapple farm in Ghana
Image from Wikimedia Commons
By now you're probably wondering "Ok, pink pineapples are cool. But why?" Good question. The patent on the pineapple, which was published in 2013, claims "Carotenoids may contribute fundamentally to human health and in recent years there has been considerable interest in dietary carotenoids with respect to their potential in alleviating age-related diseases in humans." With a quick google search you can find tons of websites claiming that lycopene can do everything from preventing cancer to preserving bone health. Since lycopene is an antioxidant, there are a lot of websites that sell antioxidant supplements with information about the compound. However, there's little evidence supporting this.  The CDC states,"research studies have shown inconsistencies in the relation between carotenoid intake and protection from cancer." Regarding antioxidants, multiple studies have been conducted using dietary supplements and the NIH summarizes these findings by stating that "antioxidant supplements did not help to prevent disease."

Consequently, regarding this particular trait, I think that we should consider it as part of our diet rich in fruits and vegetables. As part of such a diet, it may help prevent disease. However, it's not a panacea that will cure you of your ailments. It's also a very stunning fruit from a visual perspective. Pineapple is a favorite in our house, so having a pink pineapple would be very nice to have on a fruit platter. And if that helps us eat more fruits, then why not have it as an option in our food supply? But if I'd had my choice in traits, I would have picked a pineapple that's easier to cut and handle :)

Alrighty, moving on to the next trait...

Controlled flowering

The second trait in the pineapple is controlled flowering. According to this paper: "A major limitation that afflicts pineapple growers is the phenomenon of natural flowering, which results in unscheduled fruiting. The percentage of natural induction is highly unpredictable and the incidence may vary from 0% to 100% in any given year (Kuan et al., 2005), which causes serious scheduling problems for growers and, in particular, fresh market growers".

Ethylene is a plant hormone that controls pineapple flowering, among many other things. According, to the same paper cited above, farmers currently use ethylene to "force" flowering which has been practiced for decades. This paper, which compared natural vs forced flowering, highlights that forced flowering "(a) advances flowering, (b) improves uniformity of flowering, (c) makes the harvest moment predictable, and (d) makes harvesting more uniform". The paper found that natural flowering was much more costly, but fruits produced by forced flowering were not as high quality as pineapples produced through natural flowering.

In 2006, a paper was published outlining that by silencing an enzyme involved in the synthesis of ethylene, they could delay natural pineapple flowering. The same idea was carried out in the making of the pink pineapple: an enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of ethylene (1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid synthase) was silenced. This allows farmers to use ethylene to force flowering whenever they'd like so that all the pineapples can produce fruit at the same time.

I was left with a lot of questions about this trait, and I can only speculate on the answers. I imagine that the trait could reduce food waste on the farm. I do not know whether the need to apply ethylene increases the carbon footprint, if this is done mechanically. Ethylene ripens some fruits, however, the pineapple does not produce much ethylene to begin with, so I don't know what the silencing of ethylene synthesis does in this regards. 


The regulatory documents state that the GM pineapple is substantially equivalent to its control, with the exception of increased lycopene (which is expected) and decreased beta-carotene (which is also expected). The amount of lycopene present matched those of other fruits, such as watermelon. There were a couple of other metrics that were significantly different between the GM and the control, however, these were within the range of natural variation for the crop.

The crop will be labeled as "“Extra Sweet Pink Flesh Pineapple”. According to this article, the regular Del Monte pineapple is labeled as "extra sweet", so the pink one isn't any sweeter than "normal".


So, will I buy this pineapple? If I were to guess, I'd say that the company started working on this pineapple about 10 years ago when the antioxidant craze was at its peak. But 10 years later, that craze has fizzled away. I think the company has a pink pineapple that's visually beautiful, but has no real health benefit. I'd buy this pineapple if it doesn't cost more than usual. I'd like to know whether the controlled flowering trait reduces food waste, because if that's the case it would be worth paying a small premium. Otherwise... meh?

Man, I learned a crap ton about pineapples by writing this post... Let me know if you have any questions below.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Plants vs Zombies: The GMO Edition

I know. It's been a while... Things are a bit rough. I've written a few pieces over on Medium, if you want to check them out.

So, in this blog post, I wanted to write about "superweeds", what they are, how they're related to GMOs, and some misconceptions about them. The first thing to know is that "superweed" is not a scientific term. Searching through the NIH's database of scientific publications, I only found one paper with the term "superweed", and it's a commentary, not a research article. Yet "superweed" is a term used ALL the time on websites that lobby against GMOs, like this article entitled "Superweeds: A Frightening Reality" written by the "Just Label It" campaign. 

My understanding of the term and its use is that "superweed" describes weeds that don't get killed by herbicides. They don't grow faster or stronger than other weeds. They arise due to selective pressure from the herbicide. Spouse, don't freak out. I'm going to explain this to you in detail, using your favoritest of analogies: zombies.

Imagine that the zombie apocalypse takes places tomorrow and is caused by a virus. Imagine that 1% of the human population had some sort of mutation in their DNA that made them resistant to the virus. That means that only 1% of the human population would survive. It also means that 100% of surviving humans are resistant to the zombie virus. The surviving humans would mate with one another and from that point onward, all humans would have the mutation that makes them resistant to the zombie virus (assuming, of course, that humans wouldn't mate with zombies... That would make a crazy scifi movie...). You could say that the surviving humans are "superhumans". 

But did the zombie virus cause the mutation? No, it did not. The superhumans were there all along. The zombie virus placed pressure on the system, and the mutant humans were "selected" because they lived.

A mutation that's shared by 1% of humans is a relatively large number of people. Why would so many humans have it? Well, maybe it makes humans resist other viruses too and gives them some sort of advantage. Or maybe at some point throughout the course of our evolution, there was a similar virus that wiped out a good chunk of our population, and our ancestors (human or not) survived because of the mutation. But since there hasn't been a zombie virus since that ancient plague, we haven't really needed that mutation. With no selective pressure, it may be why most humans no longer have the mutation.

But let's assume that there has never been any pressure for this mutation to remain in our population. In that case, very, very, very few humans, if any at all, would have the mutation making them resistant to the zombie virus. It would be pure luck if a human had that particular mutation, since mutations happen randomly in our DNA.Given how our species reproduces, there would need to be two humans who won this genetic lottery at the same time in history and in close proximity of one another, so that they could mate and have superhuman offspring. Otherwise, humans would get wiped out.

Pretty unlikely, right? Still, the zombie virus did not cause the mutation. 

Now, if the zombie apocalypse were part of a plan of some evil mastermind, the villain's best chance of success would be to release two viruses into the environment at the same time: let's say a zombie virus and a flesh-eating virus. The odds of a single individual or population being resistant to both viruses would be extremely, extremely, rare. 

So, that's probably as far as I can take the zombie apocalypse analogy.

Weeds that are resistant to herbicides are bound to arise, even with the best of herbicides. The same is true of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Given enough time, they'll be found. If a herbicide is well designed, no existing weeds will be resistant to it (i.e, in our analogy, a good herbicide wouldn't leave 1% of weeds behind). This is tricky, because there are so many different weeds to combat. But, the herbicides don't cause the resistance. Neither do antibiotics. Resistant bugs and resistant weeds win the genetic lottery and thrive. Since bacteria don't need to mate, it's even easier for an antibiotic resistant bug to spread.

Weeds that evolve to become resistant to herbicides have existed WAY before GMOs, because we've been using herbicides in agriculture before GMOs were commercialized. There are even weeds that have evolved to look like crops, so that they can evade hand-weeding. It is for these reasons that farmers are encouraged to practice good management to control weeds. This means that they're encouraged to rotate crops, to use herbicides that impact the plant in different ways, and to use mechanical methods to kill weeds, too. And although we may not like it, using two different herbicides makes sense and ag companies are starting to introduce GMOs with the ability to resist two herbicides. The odds of getting a weed that is resistant to both herbicides is much less, but again, it's only a matter of time before one arises.

Glyphosate has been a pretty good herbicide in terms of the development of herbicide resistant weeds. But because it was used on so many acres of land, the odds of finding a weed that "won the genetic lottery" increased. Consequently, glyphosate-resistant weeds have been identified in many areas and are a problem for some farmers. 

The term "superweed", when used in the context of the GMO debate, evokes imagery of a weed that's about to take over the planet. As I highlighted at the beginning of this piece, you'll see references to superweeds all over anti-GMO websites. Herbicide resistant weeds are a problem in agriculture, but it's far from being unique to GMO crops. So ask yourself why such language is being used, and be aware if its because the website in question is trying to manipulate your emotions.

For more on this topic, I encourage you to read this 2-page summary on superweeds or to look at this website. And follow @wyoweeds and @LynnSosnoskie on twitter (can't stress this enough).

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Future of FrankenFoodFacts

To my spouse and all my readers,

The past couple of days have been interesting, to say the least. I'm writing this blog a few days after the US elections, where in an incredible upset, a candidate that believes vaccine cause autism and does not believe in climate change was elected into office. There's a lot of other things about the president elect that concern me, but for the sake of this blog post, I'm going to keep it science focused. 

I write this article, genuinely struggling to figure out how to move forward as a science communicator. That people are in echo chambers, that experts are ignored, and that narratives have a strong appeal are things that I have long known, but now more than ever I struggle to figure out how to break through all that. And I'm fairly certain that it's not in the writing of this blog. Because if anyone wants to find out about GMO safety, all the information is already available to them. There is little that I can say that hasn't already been said.

In my draft blogs, I currently have a post entitled "Brexit and Organic Consumers Association". In the post, I was outlining the elements that these two movements have in common: appealing to people's fears and shunning expertise. I had written: "So it surprises me to no end that the public feels that expertise in certain topics is no longer relevant. And I don't know what to do about it, because in the opinion pieces I've written outlining the importance of experts and consultants, and the irony of having taxpayers fund their work and ultimately reject the suggestions that these experts make, I get comments from individuals accusing scientists of being "know-it-alls" or of being arrogant. Here's an example:
To some extent, I understand. An individual has an opinion and wants that opinion to be heard and respected. But we aren't all well versed in everything. I don't believe to know the solution to economic problems any more than I know how to build a deck for my back yard. I feel comfortable deferring to experts on both topics, not just the latter.

The problem is that when we turn to the wrong people for advice, they often provide incorrect information. Team Brexit said that the opinion of experts were not relevant. Bernie Sanders recently spoke about the dangers of GMOs and featured Jeffrey Smith from the so-called "Institute of Responsible Technology", whose lack of scientific knowledge has been highlighted in the past. Donald Trump has said that vaccines cause autism even though they don't." 

Rather than listening to experts, be they farmers speaking about agriculture, economic experts warning us about tax policies, scientists yelling at us about climate change, or military experts writing about a candidate's rhetoric, what ends up happening is that we believe in opinions that validate the biases we already hold.

The individuals who read this blog are already inclined to believe its content. I started this blog to document my journey as I learned about transgenic crops. With time, as I felt more certain about the safety of these crops, the tone and focus of the blog changed and I considered myself more of an advocate for GMOs. I will continue using this space to document my learning, but I don't think I'll continue promoting it. The people who don't believe in GMO safety aren't going to read it and I don't have the resources or the time to promote this blog so that it enters their sphere.

I'm not quitting science communication. Far from it (although a HUGE part of me does want to quit, to focus on my career so that I can further increase my income and my kid's success, and I'm working very hard on quieting that voice). Here's what I think I'll be doing going forward:

  • Focus on educating kids before their minds need to be changed. 
    • To this end, I'll be working more closely with Biology Fortified to create resources and tools for educators
  • Work with Moms4GMOs to try to get our message into new outlets and publications, so that we can decrease our reliance on social media as the primary method to broaden reach.
    • Social media bubbles don't pop very easily. The more we rely on social media, the more we're just preaching to the choir. 
    • The stark reality that social media has contributed extensively to the decline in factual information, and that speaking to kids and educators wouldn't necessarily rely on social media makes this option even more appealing.
I'm more than happy to answer questions and review papers, so if you have any, please send them my way. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

I Expose My Family to Carcinogens Everyday And So Do You

Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate, a common herbicide, as a probable carcinogen. I've been asked how it is that I can ingest "a known carcinogen",
"The Globally Harmonized System sign for carcinogens,
 mutagens, teratogens, respiratory sensitizers
and substances which have target organ toxicity." Wikipedia
so I'm going to take the time to outline what the IARC does, the difference between the IARC's ranking and risk, and why I expose myself and my child to known carcinogens everyday (a shout out to @mommyphd for editing this post).

First, it's important to note that the IARC's categorization of glyphosate contradicts statements from many other organizations including the European Food and Safety Authority. Second, the IARC's ranking has been controversial due to potential conflicts of interest. Third, to explore the data behind the IARC’s categorization, I highly recommend this blog post by Dr. Andrew Kniss. For the sake of simplicity, I'm writing this piece assuming that the IARC's ranking is correct and ethical.

What is the IARC?

The IARC is an agency of the World Health Organization and it reviews data regarding a substance's carcinogenicity to identify hazards. Their job is to answer these questions: Is there any evidence that substance X causes cancer? How much evidence is there? Based on the strength of data, not the likelihood of harm (the actual risk), it categorizes substances as "probably not a carcinogen", "not classifiable", "possibly a carcinogen", "probably a carcinogen", and "a known carcinogen". The IARC has only ever classified one substance as "probably not a carcinogen". If you’re not sure about the difference between hazard and risk, here’s an extreme example: is a meteor striking me a hazard? Yes… It is. I’d probably die or get injured if it struck me. Is it a risk? No. Apparently, there’s only a 1 in 1,600,000 chance that I’d get hit by a meteor in my lifetime and die.

That is the extent of the IARC's role: to determine the level of evidence for whether a substance has the potential to cause cancer. It doesn't tell you the level of risk or what you can do about it. That's why the IARC's classification is so confusing: it lumps processed meat in the same category as smoking. But does that mean that your risk of getting cancer from smoking two packs a day is the same as your risk of getting cancer by eating a pastrami sandwich? No, it doesn't. Does it tell you if your risk is the same if you smoke a cigarette once in your lifetime or if you eat 3 pastrami sandwiches a day? No, it doesn't. For that, we need to assess the risk of the substance and that is often done by public health organizations.

The Carcinogens We Encounter Every Day
Whether you're aware of it or not, every day you're choosing to expose yourself to at least one known carcinogen. That's because UV rays from sunlight are carcinogens. One of my son's favorite lunches is a sliced ham sandwich. And that's a carcinogen. There are many other possible and probable carcinogens that we knowingly expose ourselves to: my husband and I have cell phones, we eat red meat and french fries (the latter have acrylamide), and some of our lotions have aloe vera extract. Even hot beverages that we drink were recently classified as “probably a carcinogen”.

But thanks to public health officials that have assessed the risk and provided guidelines on mitigating risks in my life, my kid uses sunscreen when he's out in the sun and we try to stay in the shade. We don't eat red meat every day, and there are no public health guidelines on avoiding aloe vera extract because the evidence for actual risk of carcinogenicity is weak.

What About Glyphosate? What Should I do?

In the case of glyphosate, the World Health Organization has stated that the amount of glyphosate residues found in our food is unlikely to be carcinogenic. In other words, the risk to my family is negligible. The risk to pesticide appliers may be higher and worker safety organizations may provide recommendations specific to pesticide application for such individuals to mitigate their risks.

So many things around us are potential hazards and could possibly kill us some way or another. However, it’s more important to understand the level of risk that something poses in making decisions about how to keep ourselves and our families safe. It’s also important to note that we cannot avoid hazards: even something as simple as eating a salad, be it organic or conventional, has the risk of a foodborne illness. What’s important is that we make informed decisions based on genuine risk, otherwise we live our lives unnecessarily fearing our environment and our food. We could live cooped up inside our houses, in a "chemical-free" bubble with UV-reducing windows or shut-out curtains, but that's not what our public health officials recommend. Following their recommendations ensures that we reduce the risk for the things that can harm us by using sunscreen, eating plenty of properly washed fruits and veggies, getting our vaccinations on schedule, using seat belts and having car seats installed properly, etc. We should focus our efforts on following guidelines put forth by our public health officials and medical institutions, rather than creating boogie-men out of low-risk items in our environment.