Monday, June 18, 2012

When it's just not true

The article I read yesterday in the Washington Post featured a widespread rumor and exposed falsehood about the EPA spying with predator drones. 

We are always shocked at hearing that lies have entered mainstream media and conversation, although it happens frightfully easily. When we even take the time to think critically and ask questions of what information we’re soaking in, we rarely find an expert or witness that can give us answers. I faced a similar situation recently, but fortunately I found some experts. A friend of mine, a nurse actually, told me about a doctor that writes public nutrition reports and runs a business selling herbal supplements. His name is Dr. Mercola, and you may have heard of him. 

Dr. Mercola wrote an article called “Eating this Common Food CouldDamage Your Kidneys” about GMO corn. He attempted to reveal potential damaging effects of Bt which is the bio-pesticide the plants carry. He defends his thesis with a Journal of Applied Toxicology article Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidaltoxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide that demonstrates human kidney cells in a vial dying off as they are exposed to Bt. Additionally, Dr. Mercola describes the rapid evolution of Bt-resistant pests as prompted by genetically modified corn. Having great respect for my friend who showed me this article and wanting to answer questions we both produced, I took Dr. Mercola’s article to the U. S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Food Dialogues training session. I was hoping to find an expert in the area of genetically engineered (GE) crops, as I am not one!

At the USFRA meeting, I found Lisa Lunz of the Nebraska Soybean Board who answered a few of my questions. We generated more questions together which she would relay to a specialist. Just as promised, I received several documents in the mail composed by scientist teams that spoke (and cited an overwhelming heap of evidence) contrary to Dr. Mercola’s inferences. 

Dr. Tom Hunt was the entomologist Lisa recruited to provide an expert’s perspective on the Mercola matter. First, he explained that the Bt resistance developed by the corn rootworm is not a pandemic as Dr. Mercola describes. In fact, Bt resistant corn rootworms have developed in plots of corn only where a specific protein type of Bt (Cry3Bb1) corn is grown. Not just any GMO corn, but a specific kind, was planted over and over for more than 3 years. The majority of farmers, being educated career people, know not to do this. The farmers that follow recommendations for pest control can also reduce their risk from any of their neighbors’ mistakes because they rotate crops and vary their GMO corn variety. The second sentence in Dr. Mercola’s article is false: “Twenty-two of the top experts on corn pests are urging the US Environmental Protection Agency to take action to halt the use of such GE crops.” Dr. Hunt explained that the letter did not ask to halt their use, but to the contrary made recommendations as to the responsible continuation of GE crops. 

Dr. Hunt believes that the study Dr. Mercola references was pretty weak because of the extremely high dosage and also the exposure method in the lab. The dosage was equal to what a human diet of pure corn leaves would be, but even if a desperate vegetarian became lost and hungry in an earless cornfield, that dosage of Bt would never reach the kidneys. Dr. Hunt questioned why the response of kidney cells and not intestinal cells was observed. In vivo, human kidneys are unlikely to come into contact with Bt proteins. This was discussed in the last post “The Real ‘Dirty Dozen’ Deal”, but again, humans do not have Bt receptors in their gut, simply because humans are not insects. I hope you have attained enlightening by that one fact alone. 

To continue on, glyphosate (the main component of RoundUp herbicide) has never produced any temporarily or longitudinally (over a lifetime) problems in humans that have ingested it. The glyphosate allegations in Mesnage et al. (2011) were based on a mathematical model, not a real time observation. Many farmers joke about being able to drink it and be fine. The thing is, scientists think they’re right.   

Finally, here are two online sources that speak of Dr. Mercola’s many conflicts of interest: “FDA Orders Dr. Joseph Mercola to StopIllegal Claims” and “9 Reasons to Completely Ignore Joseph Mercola”.  His claims span from discouraging vaccinations in young children, to denouncing mammograms, all the way to curing or totally preventing cancer with his herbal products. 

What do you Think?