Saturday, July 27, 2013

Monsanto Develops Kitten-Eating Cows

My first review request!! YAY!! So, someone sent me an article entitled "This Food Knowingly Causes Cancer in Rats - Are You Eating it?" It starts with a scathing review of Monsanto. A few people have asked me for my opinion on the company and whether "Monsanto is evil". Do I believe that Monsanto works out of the goodness of its heart to create food that will make puppies cuter? No. I think that Monsanto is the same as any other global corporation: Apple, Samsung, Toyota, McDonald's. Their motivation is money. That being said, I also believe that Monsanto adheres to the same principle that all these other conglomerates follow: that selling a bad product can be costly. Also, I don't think that there's a boardroom where a bunch of scientists are strumming their fingers a la Mr Burns-style saying "Excellent" when they hear of rats getting cancer. Monsanto scientists are probably just the same as me: they want to do something useful and productive, while making a lot of money. But of course, that's not the point of my blog. Let's get back to rats getting cancer :)

I'll go through all the health impacts listed on the page, where a study is cited and is not a result of an interview/opinion:
  • Bt toxin has appeared in maternal and fetal blood. The paper looked at levels of proteins and pesticides/herbicides associated with GMOs. They examined 30-40 pregnant and non-pregnant women. The only statistically significant difference between the two groups was the presence of the Bt toxin, meaning that pregnant women had more of the toxin than non-pregnant women. The authors don't draw any conclusions, but state that more studies are needed to determine what it means. I think it's a pretty interesting finding that needs to be replicated, and the proper controls need to be added. For example, we don't know that the Bt toxin came from GMOs. It could have come from household pesticides, as reviewed in previous blogs.
    • Will I stop feeding my family GMOs over this? Not yet. Here's why. Mammals lack the receptors for the Bt toxin. To explain this, let me give you an example: I did my 4th year honours thesis on a disease called Sitosterolemia, which is an extremely rare genetic disorder. You end up with uber-high cholesterol levels and ultimately heart failure, and your cholesterol spikes from eating plants. That's right. Not Big Macs or delicious recipes from The Pioneer Woman, but from plants. By definition, cholesterol is found in animal cells, however, plants have a very similar molecule called sitosterol. The vast majority of people on the planet don't absorb sitosterol because we don't have receptors for the molecule. However, patients with the disorder have mutations and their cells lose the ability to distinguish between plant and animal cholesterol-like molecules. I think of the Bt toxin in the same way as sitosterol: it's a toxin/molecule found in nature that I ingest, but my cells lack the receptors to do anything with it. I think that it's for this reason that the authors didn't come to any meaningful conclusions or a substantial discussion: they just made an observation.
    • That being said, it doesn't explain why the authors found higher levels of the toxin in pregnant vs non-pregnant women. I'll keep this one on my radar.
That's the only point on the page that has a citation and is related to health impacts of GMOs. Everything else links to opinion/interview pieces, the evils of Monsanto, or articles from the site or Institute for Responsible Technology (which I'm still in the process of reviewing...). As for the article's title, the only sentence I found was "GM potatoes may cause cancer in rats", linked to an article on the same website and is strangely behind a password. I did a pubmed search for "rat + cancer + potato", found 36 articles, but none of them were about GM potatoes. Even without reading the article, GM potatoes possibly causing cancer is a far cry from "knowningly causing cancer", don't you think? Seems like a bit of fear mongering.

If I give you two statements: "Monsanto is developing mutant cows that feed on kittens" and "Monsanto finds a cure for cancer", which are you more likely to believe? The answer should be "neither one", because you should look it up yourself. But I think that there's so much fear mongering today, that you'd likely believe statement #1 because we're so skeptical and biased against big corporations. Particularly if I include a picture of mutant cows. Look at that cow... Those poor kittens don't stand a chance.

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