GMOs and me in 500 words

First published yesterday on GMO Skepti-Forum

Impermaculture

I left college 27 years ago with a fairly typical anti-establishment ideology.
Having flirted briefly with CND and the anti-nuclear movement in the early 1980s, I determined that there was no hope for modern civilisation- that it was unsustainable– and resolved to a back-to-the land life of self-sufficiency. I quickly got involved with permaculture which I still teach a version of to this day.
My first encounter with GMOs was at an Earth Day event in Maynooth around 1998. Vandana Shiva was there, and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, debating with a Monsanto executive. Many of my friends had been involved with direct action against Monsanto trials in Wexford, which put paid to GMOs in Ireland for a long time. I went along unquestioningly with the strongly held views of my tribe, but even then I was vaguely aware that I really didnt know anything about GMOs.
Some years later as I learned more about science and critical thinking I became disillusioned with the permaculture movement, with its New Age religious beliefs and superstitions. Slowly, painfully, I found an effective debunking for one environmentalist myth after another. The turning point on GMOs was reading Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline and Professor Pam Ronald and Raoul Adamchuk’s Tomorrow’s Table. I remember racing through the earlier chapters of Brand’s book to get to the bit on GMOs. It was a revelation- everything everyone I knew was saying turned out to be false.

I became fascinated by both the science and the sociology, politics and psychology. I went on holiday to the US and visited Pam and Raoul at their home in California, and got to see Pam’s lab where I met my first transgenes. I engaged in countless debates on Facebook, Twitter and blog threads. I lost many long-standing friends and to some extent have become estranged from my community. I have been constantly surprised by the viciousness and blatant dishonesty people I previously respected have been willing to engage in in order to defend their irrational beliefs. It turns out that the anti-science of the Greens is not progressive and “left-wing” but rather betrays a deeply conservative, traditionalist and reactionary mindset. GMOs are just a form of advanced plant breeding; historically, new methods of breeding have often been opposed by the status quo.
Activists can only see things in simplistic black-and-white terms and absurd conspiracy theories. Theirs is a darkly narcissistic and negative view of humanity which they seem to despise, in contrast to the assumed purity of Nature which they revere, oblivious to how Nature only seems sublime when you have a full belly.
On the other hand I have also been surprised and delighted at the more open-minded students on my course who have shown it is possible for people to shift their thinking, sometimes dramatically and quite quickly, just from having new information presented in an interesting and engaging fashion.
They are the ones who give me hope and make the battles seem all worthwhile.

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The Heretic’s Guide to Vegan Cookery

Update: Andy Murray has emailed me with glad tidings- he tells me “the book has just been picked up by a publisher last month so it’ll be coming out later this year as a updated, improved, more recipes and photos and a more cooky cookbook. Also on kindle too.”
Watch this space for updates!
***

More from the Zone5 Archives. This book is too tasty to resist!
Originally Posted on 12 November 2009 on the now-deceased Zone5 blog

Book Review: The Heretic’s Guide to Vegan Cookery
Modern animal-free recipes from around the world with added musings inspired by the Isle of Avalon According to Harmonically Challenged Cook-
Andy Murray
Warning! Not suitable for Breatharians
The Good Elf Press 2009
187pp

Heretics guide to Vegan cookery

Astrology is an amazing tool to run your life by, without having to waste time with the fraudulent pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo of Science. Astrology explains wars, thunderstorms and plagues. We can even use it historically. For example, if we know exactly when and where Queen Elizabeth was born, we can find out exactly who she was without having to waste time on fictitious history books. With it we can even discover why Einstein was so damn clever. Astrology is way better than sex.

You don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy Andy Murray’s brilliant Heretic’s Guide, which is packed with dozens of tasty simple recipes to satisfy even the most hardened omnivore at least some of the time, you don’t even need to have any great interest in cooking or even food. That is because for our amusement and philosophical delectation there are numerous passages in between the recipes giving us fascinating and hilarious perspectives from the Mecca of New Age beliefs in Britain, the town of Glastonbury near where the author lives.

While waiting for the pumpkin soup to cook or in between making preparations for the Hazelnut and Celery Risotto you will be able to work up an appetite by rolling around clutching your belly after reading the sure -to-become-classic passages “Reiki Reiki Rise and Shine” “Cooking with Astrology” or “Breeding Gurus for Profit”.

This book has it all really- great advice on cooking with fresh ingredients and all the usual good reasons to grow your own and buy local; loads of easy to follow recipes including a big choice of soups, salads and dips; and inspirational chapter on cooking in the great outdoors, including a useful guide to wild food; Posh Things to Do with Vegetables; Main Meals; Side Dishes and Extras; Desserts, and Cakes and Biscuits.

And then the alternative Contents covers everything else- Cults, Gurus, Satanism, Religion, Crop Circles, Homeopathy- nothing is sacred and nothing is spared the sharp rib-splitting egg-whisk of Murray’s irreverence.

Homeopathic Cookery Doubters of this form of cookery pour scorn on the fact that a diner might receive a drop of gravy and a shred of carrot on a plate. How can this be a meal, they ask? What they fail to understand is that carbon,the building block of all life, has a memory. A potentised meal maintains a complete carbon hologram, the information of the whole, even down to the smallest atomic sum of its parts.A homeopathic amount of food is of course more than sufficient to provide all the nutritional benefits that would be expected from a plateful of food, and puts paid to any shrill cries of fraud. Filthy skeptics who come to the homeopathic table having already made up their tiny minds will throw down their napkins and walk away still believing what they believe to be true, and little can be done to change their wrongness.

Even Murray’s own sacred Creed of Veganism is given the once-over. This is something I know a little about, because I once lived in a vegan community on the Welsh Borders. I was not especially into veganism per se and went there to learn to grow vegetables; I happily lived a vegan diet however, but was aware of an acute divide between some of my fellow communards, who seemed to be at each others throats all the time.

On one extreme there were the the vegans who were happy to eat anything so long as it was vegan, including skip food, vegan chocolate from Malaysia (or somewhere) and chip buttys. This group of vegans were also keen to give over some of the best land we had to rescued sheep and aging dogs, and generally turn the place into an animal sanctuary.

All this tended to jar somewhat with the second group who apart from being rather snobby in their choice of edibles- Vegan Organic Wholefoods only, no white flour allowed, lots of Miso- didn’t seem to like animals at all anywhere near them. Wild animals were OK in their own wild homes, but no pets, farm animals or incontinent retired donkeys of any kind permitted.

Murray gives a total of 7 Vegan groups, including the Fat Vegan, the Sensitive Vegan and the Style Vegan, but presumable fits into he first category of The Common Vegan:

The most widespread of all vegans, the common vegan has been quietly animal free for years and still hasn’t died. Usually healthy, fit and happy, they tend to be quite normal, although sometimes a little willowy to stand in a strong wind.

For Murray, veganism might well play a role in a sustainable future, but is mainly just about bloody good food. While no longer a Vegan myself, my animal-free taste buds have been re-awakened by the Heretics Guide and who knows, so have some of my Chakras.

And with that I think Ill go and make a quick Potato Rosti.

Seralini’s anti-GMO paper retracted

Remember those garish photos of rats puffed up with tumors supposedly as a result of eating GMO corn that were widely circulated last year? The paper those photos appeared in, by Gilles Seralni et al, has now been retracted by the journal it was originally published in, Food and Chemical Toxicology. The editor A. Wallace Hayes has sent a letter of to Seralini, telling him that it will be retracted if does not agree to withdraw it himself.

You can read Hayes’ letter here as reported by Retraction Watch.

Scientists’ reaction to the retraction can be read here.

The study was widely criticized at the time with many scientists condemning the journal for publishing such a questionable piece of work. In fact, the Seralini paper was transparently an act of propoganda:

Seralini is a quack, who consults for the homeopathic company Sevene Pharma. He published around the same time as the GMO rat study a book called (in French) “We are all Guinea-pigs!” Seralini’s organisation CRIIGEN has a homeopath as its current president. Seralini is also associated with the faith-healing New Age group Invitation to Life.

The study was fabricated by activist scientists with a political and commercial vested interest in undermining the public’s confidence in genetic engineering.

Claire Robinson, editor of Seralini’s anti-GMO website, attacked Hayes’ decision as “illicit, unscientific and unethical”, but according to Jon Entine writing today for Forbes, these conflicts of interest alone should have been sufficient reason to refuse publication:

Robinson’s rebuke highlights just how badly Hayes and Elsevier has mishandled this entire affair. The original research clearly violated numerous ethical guidelines for animal use, standard media protocol, guidelines for sample size in animal tests and a variety of other standards that should have prevented it from ever being published. Among his many ethical missteps, Séralini also failed to cite pertinent prior studies, claiming his research was original, which it was not, as even Robinson acknowledges. The studies he did not cite were relevant and contradicted his results. None employed such brazen cruelty to animals. Not citing the relevant literature is itself considered scientific misconduct.

Robinson argues that failure to deliver “conclusive” results is not sufficient reason to retract a paper; but in fact the study was so badly designed- trying to test several variables with insufficient sample sizes and inadequate controls- that it would not have been able to generate meaningful results in any case; however, neither the authors, nor the media, anti-GMO websites and prominent food writer Michael Pollen reported the study as “inconclusive” but rather, claimed it raised serious issues about the safety of crops developed using genetic engineering- flying in the face of the hundreds of studies that have proved GMOs to be safe.

I left comments to this effect under Robinson’s post; they were, predictably, deleted.

As it happens, the only meaningful correlation the study showed amongst all its confused groups of rats was that the males fed on water with Roundup lived longer! Funny how that was not the headline that went around the world.

Instead, the sickest part of this whole story is that the “scientists” deliberately left the cancered rats alive much longer than ethics or humanity would permit, until the tumors accounted for 25% of the rats’ body mass, just to get the shocking photos they wanted for maximum impact value. After all, pictures speak louder than words and most people are not going to look beyond to scrutinize methods or motives.

Such is the murky world where you find the nexus of Big Quacka, Big Organic and Big Green.