The Internet and Mass Hysteria – A Disaster Waiting to Happen

We live in the age of information – a time where everything we know as a species, is available with a few clicks on the internet. We are able to not only share photos of our cats, but we can Google our symptoms when we get sick, research new medical techniques, and communicate with people from all over the world.

This sharing of information has wildly advanced developments in science and technology, but has had a rather unfortunate side effect.

12033744_10153670376136255_1406929881_n

The internet is providing an incubator for mass hysteria. What was once a few isolated individuals with delusions is now a massive network of people who distrust science and governments, who share personal anecdotes, and provide support for one another.

The majority of people in the network are scared. They are parents trying to do the best for their children, and they or their children may have physical or mental health problems. They often have a very limited understanding of the scientific method, and basic knowledge of science. With a few clicks on their phone, they can take a photo of their symptom (whether this is a rash, a faecal sample, etc) and immediately have it evaluated by non-professionals guessing at what they think it looks like, often discouraging people to go to a doctor.

It is common to see the people behind these networks pedalling a miracle cure or a book or a treatment. They are benefiting financially by preying on the vulnerable, the sick and the gullible, who feel betrayed by slow healthcare systems and apathetic doctors.

12042075_10153670375586255_198630249_n (1)
The Facebook Group ‘Rope Worms’ consists of hundreds of people convinced they are infected with a parasite that has no evidence that it exists, other than personal anecdotes , usually accompanied by photos of dodgy looking poop of what comes out after you shove coffee up your butt

There are also well meaning people, often driven by their own or by a loved ones illness, who give non-professional advice which is taken as gospel by the people reading their words.

The networks vary in their focus, and vary in their degrees of absurdity. Since vaccinations were first developed there have always been people who oppose them, but new trends of paranoia include communities of people trying to self-treat parasites with coffee and bleach enemas, people who attempt to ‘cure’ their children’s autism by forcing them to drink bleach or take an enema, and there are those who go as far as to purposely expose their child to disease to ‘build a natural immunity’.

Then there is the dairy-free, gluten-free, raw vegan and paleo dieters, people who treat illnesses with crystals, herbs, and tea. This latest fashion to be ‘natural’ is something quite boggling – water with swarms of cholera is natural, but I’d much rather my tap water, thanks.

Sometimes this starts out great. Yes! Avoid adding sugar or salt to your food! That’s great. Giving your kid carrot sticks for a snack rather than a packet of sweets, that’s brilliant! But giving your children raw milk that hasn’t been treated to prevent the spread of disease, fasting for 12 hours a day to help ‘detox’ or treating pain with an amber necklace is just insane, and shows to what extremes these networks become.12048729_10153670376011255_1718131801_n

For the people who follow these fads, it is out with the trained medical professionals, and in with the Mommy bloggers and the Google PhD. Once caught in ‘The Echo Chamber’ it is difficult to get out.

12033576_10153670376261255_424606465_nA new Mother worrying about her unborn baby not moving much in the womb, for example, may post in one of these communities after feeling ignored by her doctor. Her post is met with hundreds of replies, rarely from anyone with medical training, and mostly condemning the doctor for not listening to her concerns, perhaps sharing their own horror stories of a traumatic birth, and often recommending some herbal tea, or homeopathy, or chiropractic method to keep her unborn baby safe.

12029154_10153670375686255_1927993068_n

The Mother, now comforted by the support of the community, is likely to come back when she has fears about vaccines and is convinced she can’t talk to her doctor anymore, and she’ll then be exposed to all of the other anti-scientific nonsense that circulates the network. The community becomes her main source of health information, and however scientifically literate these people think they are, asking one type of person to link them information is not giving a well rounded understanding of the issue they are ‘researching’.

12112169_1180786218603445_172070481947121547_n
Seconds after I posted this blog, I found this screenshot on ‘Things Anti-Vaxxers Say’ and it perfectly illustrates the point of this blog post.

Worryingly, many of these people seem to be suffering from a form of hysterical contagion (an issue I will write about over the next few weeks). Often people who believe they can see parasites in their faeces are seeing normal samples, but genuinely believe that they are infected. Sometimes there are visible pieces of food like mushroom or sweetcorn and these are seen to be ‘parasite eggs’ or ‘liver flukes’. Other’s see ‘vaccine injury’ in a perfectly healthy child. Hysterical contagion is not new – cases seem to occur throughout human history. Google the French Meowing nuns that meowed for days in an ‘outbreak’, or the Pokemon Panic of 1997!

It has grown into a dangerous situation, and there are now many cases of people rejecting modern day treatments for things they have read on the internet. So, what’s the solution? Do we continue to ridicule these people because it’s not our duty to educate, or is it time we made ourselves approachable to questions and offer understanding and support for those who are questioning modern science?

Hitchhiking Europe – And What it Taught Me About Human Kindness

I’ve just finished hitch hiking over 2,000km across Europe. I’ve travelled by truck, by Tesla, by boat and by Norwegian military truck, with soldiers, angry cats, truckers, fishermen, and a pajama-clad young Mum. I’ve slept in lorries, on floors, mountains, couches, and a bunk bed.

It was a wonderful trip, and it has made me think a lot about human nature. It sounds like a dangerous thing to do – a single female, hanging around truck stops and getting into strangers cars, but there was no point where I was in any real danger.

DCIM102GOPROThere were plenty of times something could have gone wrong; I could have been assaulted, or robbed, or just stranded in the middle of nowhere. Instead, I was greeted warmly. Polish truck drivers shared their beer as they spoke fondly of their home country, a worker in a shop paid for my coffee, a man even insisted on taking me to the train station and paying for my ticket!

When people are generous the body has an amazing response. Almost immediately, serotonin (the “happy” neurotransmitter”) is released into the body – not only the person receiving a kind gesture, but also in the person giving, and anyone watching their exchange.

Oxytocin is also released. Oxytocin is brilliant. Seriously, you want this stuff in your body. There is even evidence that it contributes to wound healing! And that the molecule increases generosity! This becomes evident in the couch surfing community. I have been treated so well that I am inclined to do the same.

Out of all of the adventures of the last few weeks, perhaps the most profound moment of human kindness was in Norway. Together with a friend, I hiked up a mountain to see, and climb on, the infamous Trolltunga. To anyone with an adventurous spirit, I seriously recommend this hike. It is a torturous 22km to sit on the rock at a 2, 000ft elevation, but the constantly changing beautiful landscape keeps the pain in your feet distracted.

It was completely worth it. It felt great to be doing something so healthy. After all, exercise is known to be great for your self-esteem, relieves stress, lower blood pressure, and increase body temperature. I felt truly euphoric at times, thanks to the endorphins. Thanks to poor quality shoes and years of a relatively sedentary lifestyle, I also felt far from euphoric at times.

I was climbing with ‘Ana the human mountain goat’, who made the trek look easy, but my ex-smokers lungs struggled.  If you ever do this hike, don’t be under any illusion that ‘down’ is easier. Gravity is not on your side. Gravity hates you. So do your knees. DCIM102GOPRO

We arrived at the bottom of the mountain, and we celebrated. Half laughing, half crying, both exhausted, we hitch hiked into the next town down with a man who provided us with sugary biscuits with reindeer on. At the town, I asked Ana to check the time.

That was the moment we realised her phone was gone, along with hundreds and hundreds of photos of our once in a lifetime experience. Ana was inconsolable for several hours, but was eventually calmed down a little by some pizza.

The next day we received a phone call from the police; the phone had been handed in by the man who had driven us into town. We had the contact details of our new friends, our photos from our trip, everything.

The phone was worth a bit of money, he could have given it to his children or just not bothered to drive up to the station. At the very least, the police could have charged us for the postage to Estonia. Instead, he showed a massive about of human kindness, and went out of his way to return the phone to us.

DCIM102GOPRO

Do I believe humans are innately kind? Yes. It is evolutionary advantageous. And although when we are surrounded by the media who paint a constantly bad image of the world, the majority of us are good.

If you were wondering how kindness towards strangers can contribute to the survival of an individual, there is evidence that it often works out better to risk being selfless in the moment and risk getting nothing in return, because the potentially beneficial relationship which occurs from this action is more rewarding in the long term. Dr Andrew Delton, a co-author on a paper published on altruism in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has attributed human generosity to the uncertainty life brings. He said: ‘You can never know for certain whether an interaction you are having right now will be one-time only — like interacting with a server in a distant city — or continue on indefinitely — like interacting with a server at your favourite hometown diner.’

So there you have it 🙂 Our kindness defines our species; empathy, understanding, and caring for strangers is rare in other animals, but it means that we improve our chances of finding a mate, can be better integrated a social circle and therefore protected in a community.

The NHS and Homeopathy

Homeopathy is one of the oldest forms of medicine, and indeed, one of the most useless. It relies on the several scientifically weak principles including ‘like treats like’ and that water has ‘memory’. They are natural remedies diluted down so much that there are often no molecules of the original substance in the treatment.

Homeopathy has been available under the NHS since the health service was established in 1948 despite no evidence that this it performs better than placebo. The general consensus in the scientific community is clear – homeopathy is nonsense with no scientific backing.

It may seem obvious to the scientifically literate that onion juice cannot cure hay fever and swamp water mixed with mosquito larva can’t prevent malaria, and even if there was a shred of evidence that suggested it might work, it certainly wouldn’t if it was extremely diluted. To give you an idea of how highly diluted homeopathic remedies like this are, a 13C dilution (a standard dilution) is the equivalent of a 1/3 of a drop of original substance dissipated into all of Earths water.

Yet GPs can refer patients to be treated by an NHS funded homeopathic hospital in the UK or to a ‘GP’ homeopath! This is not only a waste of money, this NHS support suggests to patients that homeopathic medicine is somehow on par with conventional medicine; a damaging idea particularly to vulnerable patients. It is also not unheard of that some patients reject traditional medicine that has been proved to work against placebo and has successfully treated many people with the same condition, in favour of treatment that has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. It remains a mystery why the NHS is estimated to spend 4 million pounds of tax money on supporting homeopathy.

Perhaps it is because patients do see some improvement. Perhaps because it offers hope to patients who have tried every conventional route. Though this is not a reflection on the success of homeopathy, more a reflection of another failing of the NHS. Patients who seek homeopathic care are often comforted with the amount of time they spend with their practitioner. The atmosphere tends to be more positive and more patient focused. Individuals feel happier because they’re being truly listened. In conventional practice, doctors work towards targets and often only have a few minutes to talk to their patients. They have to prioritize serious cases and overlook minor complaints, often quickly prescribing something before ushering their patient out of the door. I’m sure that conventional doctors do not intend to make us feel rushed, but with more patients, and longer waiting times, it is difficult to treat us all with enough time.

The answer is not supporting homeopathy though. In an ideal world we’d build more hospitals, and cut down waiting times to allow doctors to spend more time with their patients. Until then surely these patients who require extra care and support through their condition would benefit more from talking therapies that has real evidence supporting its benefits. The NHS is a health service that millions of people trust with their lives and it has a duty to provide treatments that work. Real, peer-reviewed, trialled treatments.

Will the NHS come into the 21st Century? Or will parliament consider the reintroduction of alchemy? Or perhaps GPs should give their patients information regarding their blood pressure, glucose levels and star-sign.

Follow Me on Facebook: Out The Echo Chamber

Image Credit: Rodrigo Senna

Why We Need to Stop Shaming Non-Breastfeeding Mothers

It seems that every parent is now expected to raise their children in an organic non-GMO chemical-free natural-remedy natural-birthing additive-free breast-feeding kind of way. Individuals that stray from this complicated ‘mother earth’ style parenting are often shamed for their choices, even if their choices are scientific evidence based intelligent decisions.

Particularly victimized are mothers who choose not to breastfeed.

There are, of course, some great benefits to breast-feeding. For a start, it’s free and there is a virtually never-ending supply. It’s the right temperature and quickly available for your child when he/she needs it – no need to prepare the milk or wait for it too cool down. Breast-feeding can provide some quiet mother-child bonding time and give the baby warmth and comfort through skin to skin contact. It can pass on antibodies, protecting the baby from illnesses. Which is pretty awesome.

However, there are downsides. Breast-feeding is painful and often takes a long time for both mother and baby to be happy and comfortable. Some mothers can’t breastfeed – those with infectious diseases such as HIV or on medication that could harm their baby. Single fathers or gay male couples are not able to have their child breastfed. Some women can’t express enough milk and other breast-feeding mothers can suffer from thrush, blocked ducts, and mastitis. Not to mention that breast feeding every few hours is an exhausting and daunting tasks for new mothers so it comes as no surprise that cracked, bleeding nipples is not appealing to many. Some just prefer to formula feed.

And yet in the EU is remains law that bottle feeding must not be promoted. the NHS take a very strong ‘breast is best’ stance and the rest of society seems to follow suit. (Though despite this, breastfeeding in public is still considered somewhat controversial). You’re unable to claim loyalty points in Boots for infant milks up to 6 months. Tesco doesn’t allow you to collect points on formula milk either, meaning they’re discouraging it as much as they do tobacco products! It’s absurd. This company will allow you to collect loyalty points on alcohol, but not something to feed your newborn child with.

So why all the pressure to breast feed?

Despite the hype about breast-feeding, the scientific consensus is that there are few medical benefits, if any. Any evidence suggesting ‘breast is best’ is scientifically weak. Papers published on breast feeding vs formula are constantly contradicting each other. Studies that suggest benefit are often redundant when other variables are taken into consideration. There is no evidence that breastfed children will be intellectually superior or healthier than their formula-fed peers.

There are a few small studies that are generally accepted as short-term benefits of breast-feeding; better digestion, less minor infections.

The largest study that seems to take other variables out of the equation compared discordant siblings; one who was breastfed and one who was formula fed.  This minimized any other factor that could sway the results, such as differences in socioeconomic status or educational background. The results showed no statistical difference between the siblings in BMI, asthma prevalence, hyperactivity or intelligence levels.

Nature doesn’t always get stuff right. It may be the natural option, but it’s not always the best. We need antibiotics, and formula milk, and cesarean sections, and blood transfusions. What happened all those years ago where we only had mother nature to rely on? People died a lot more often. We’re lucky enough that modern advancements mean we have suitable formula milk that is perfectly adequate in providing our newborns with everything they need.

I fully support breast-feeding mothers. I do believe that for some mothers, breast is certainly best. These mothers should be proud to breast-feed. They should be able to have the freedom to breast-feed their child anywhere they wish and they should not be shamed for our societies failings in forgetting breasts have a functional purpose and are not objects to be sexualised. But formula parents should also feed their babies just as proud. You’re doing the right thing for you and your child.

Whatever the scientific evidence says, one thing I know to be true is this.

A happy formula-feeding Mum is going to have a better relationship with her child, and will be at less risk of post-natal depression, and will be more likely to have a happier baby, than if she’d been a miserable breast-feeding Mum who felt the pressure to feed her child the ‘all natural’ way was too much.

So let’s stop creating miserable formula-feeding Mums who feel guilty, or embarrassed, or feel that their child is missing out. Mums, you do your thing, safe in the knowledge that the science says that there is little or no evidence that suggests one way of feeding is better than the other.

Follow my blog on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/otecblog
Or instagram: otec.blog
Or twitter: cevans131

Image Credit: Hamish Darby

Have You Seen What Happens to Your Body when You Switch to Organic Food?

organiceffect

This 90-second video is claimed to be a powerful and inspiring educational video. You’ve probably seen it posted on Facebook. In just three weeks the video has gained 3,963,029 views on YouTube, and people are loving it.

But does it actually tell us anything?

The three week study consisted of family of five who, before the study, ate primarily conventional non-organic food. During the study the family continued eating as usual for the first week, and eating organically for the remaining weeks. Urine samples were taken throughout the entire study and analyzed for 15 different pesticides, and the published results in the video showed a decline in the chemicals tested.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Flawed Research Question

The research question doesn’t seek to answer anything of value, and so the results tell us nothing of value.

“The results of the survey clearly show that some pesticides are absorbed into the body through diet.”

Well, duh. This fact does not classify as ground breaking. People on both sides of the organic debate are aware that conventionally grown fruit and vegetables contain traces of pesticides. This is not something that needed to be researched, we’re more concerned if these chemicals are harmful or not – rather than concerned with if they’re there or not.

Sample Size

Five people do not constitute as a study; it is too small to be considered representative of the population. The five people I sit with in this Reykjavik cafe all love white chocolate, but that’s certainly not representative of the worlds population.

Deceptive Displaying of Results

12 pesticides were tested for, but only the four with the most dramatic differences were displayed in the video. This gives a sensationalized and inaccurate results.

Ignoring Natural Pesticides

This study is only a comment on synthetic pesticides. As we know, natural is not always safer – think of cyanide, for example. The researchers failed to test for natural pesticides which are used on organic crops. It is likely that if they had then they would not have seen a decrease in pesticides, but simply a shift in which trace amounts are found in the urine.

The Lack of Comment on Safety

All of the results remained well below the levels considered even slightly dangerous for human health, so the amount found before or after doesn’t mean anything. There presence in such small amounts confirms safety, if anything, as they remain within pesticide regulation levels.

Misleading Graphs

The bar charts displayed give the impression that the amount of pesticides found were huge, when in reality they were negligible. It appears that the residues were off the charts when eating organic food but the results are in μg/gcrt. In laymen’s terms, really really tiny amounts – far too small to harm any consumer.

Study Could Prove the Opposite of What it Intended

The justification for natural pesticides and why they’re better than synthetic pesticides is because our body quickly gets rid of them and therefore they don’t harm us. This study provides some evidence suggesting that synthetic pesticides do this. In just two weeks of abstaining from synthetic pesticides the small amounts of pesticides are smaller, showing they are also quickly passing through the body.

In conclusion, this study provided a small amount of evidence for something that we already knew.  All this shows is if you eat pesticides then you also excrete them quite quickly. It means nothing in terms of safety, it shows no changes in the body, and is too small to be significantly significant. A much less groundbreaking, much less viral, and much less inspiring message, but at least a scientifically sound answer.

GMO Food Labeling – And Why It’s Useless.

GMO labeling is something that many anti-GMO and even GMO supporters are campaigning to have introduced into legislation. Despite no scientific evidence that genetically modified organisms pose any threat to our health, individuals like Vani Hari and Rachel Parent are trying to have a system introduced that would mean that both crops cultivated using genetic modification technique and animal produce fed these crops would be forced to be labelled as such. At best this legislation would be useless.

At worse, it furthers the false belief that GMOs are dangerous and slows progress to improve the methods, all the while furthering increasing the misplaced distrust in science. The argument usually looks something like this; “We have a right to know what we’re eating”. This argument can be heard on both sides of the GMO debate, but it’s a ridiculous battle cry. It would be similar to campaigning for cyanide content of fruit to be labelled. It doesn’t mean anything as a large number of fruits naturally contain an amount of cyanide. IMG_7714-1300x866

Cyandide content will vary, but approximately these are the amounts in some fruit.

Apricot 4 mg/g
Peach 2.6 mg/g
Apple 0.6 mg/g

Or perhaps we should also label by formaldehyde content.

Pear 60 mg/kg
Banana 16.3 mg/kg
Potato 19.5 mg/kg

It looks scary, but it’s estimated that you’d have to eat over 21,000 apples in a short space of time for this to harm you. However, I’m sure many people faced with the choice of apples or apricots with a cyanide content label plastered over the front would opt for the harmless apple instead of the equally harmless apricot. This means that to label by cyanide content would be useless and cultivate needless fear – just like GMO labelling.

All this would achieve is giving anti-GMO activists a new mantra; “If they’re not dangerous, why are they labelled?” And I’d lose count of the amount of times I would explain “Because YOU applied pressure on the government to pander to YOUR pseudoscience”. Individuals would be under the impression they were making healthier choices, when in reality they’d just be making a more expensive choice. And where would we stop? If we’re labeling GMOs, are we also going to list every amino acid and every sugar on the basis that we ‘have the right to know what we’re eating’? How long before fruit labels look like this? (Credit: James Kennedy). banana GMO crops produce bigger yields in harsher environments, and can be modified to have a longer shelf life. On a larger scale, however, there are plenty of real-word applications of genetic modification that saves lives. We can create insulin using genetically modified bacteria. There is research attempting to modify the DNA of mosquitoes in a way that would mean they could not infect human hosts with the parasite that causes malaria. And by creating modified crops that are resistant to diseases we are giving rural farmers in developing countries access to more food to sustain their communities. We do not need GMO labeling.

We need more support and more funding to continue the advancements and provide this vital biotechnology to those around the world who need it, by not pandering to misinformation and fear mongering. For more information: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153292/ http://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/whatsnew/whatsnew_fa/files/formaldehyde.pdf

How to Spot a ‘Bad Science’ Paper in 8 Easy Steps

Before you believe anything that you read in the media, it is important that you critically evaluate how likely the information is to be accurate. Sometimes, in reputable newspapers, you can find out this information in the actual report. Other times you will find you have to visit the original source. Scientific papers can be difficult to digest. Ever done that thing where you ‘read’ a few sentences then realise you weren’t really reading you were just looking at it, and you have to go back and try again? Reading scientific papers is like that. Except you’ll find you do that with every sentence in a paper. They’re usually quite complex and repetitive and don’t expect a plot twist. However, there are some things you can look for that will give you an idea of how reliable the information is.

Look At The Source.  This is the first warning sign you can usually spot straight away. Natural News, The Sun, and Vani Hari have a bad track record for reporting bad science. PubMed, The Guardian and The New Scientist are much better sources for scientific articles.

See If The Title Exaggerated. Especially in news articles the title is usually the first warning that you’re about to read something unreliable. Is it sensationalised? If the title is “Bacon Cures Cancer” or any other such exaggeration, you’re probably in for a rollercoaster of ‘Bad Science’ techniques because science doesn’t really work like that. There are rarely huge ‘eureka moments’. There are usually lots of tiny eureka moments – a modified protein injected into the cells of a mouse have shown a tiny decrease in cancer rates among that population, for example. This is more just a stepping stone on the way to eureka, which although it maybe considered breakthrough in the field is far from a cure.

badScience

Analyse The Statistics.  Okay, this bit is boring and I’m far from a statistician. Data can be manipulated in many complex ways. So here’s the easy way out with just a few things to consider. Is the sample size representative of the entire population? That is to say, did Andrew Wakefield’s study of 12 children with autism really represent the entire community of children with autism. A good sample will be a large size and the experiment will be repeated more than once with variables controlled. It’s also important to view statistics from a different angle. Do correlations actually match as well as they appear to or could another factor contribute? It could be argued that developing countries have less instances of cancer due to their non-GMO diet. However it could also be argued, with more credibility, that their are simply less reported cases due to lower detection rates due to lack of hospital resources.

Is It Peer Reviewed? Peer reviewing is a method that means other experts in the field have reviewed the paper and have deemed it scientifically sound. It does not guarantee that the paper is perfect, so critical thinking should still be applied, but it does make journals a more reputable source of scientific information.

Is It A Metaanalysis or A Single Study? Single studies are the reason that the Daily Mail has reported almost everything we love to seemingly both causes and cures cancer – coffee, bacon, alcohol. This contradictory nature is due to single studies being reported on. You’ve heard the phrase ‘It’s not an exact science”, right? Well science isn’t an exact science. Biology is the worse for this. Mistakes are made in physics and chemistry; theories disproved, data misinterpreted, and so on. But trying to repeat a biological experiment to yield the same results as the first experiment is often hit and miss. Biology is not an exact science. Metaanalysis data is much more reliable than single studies. If the paper you are reading is a compilation of different studies and is giving an overview of the results then it is going to give a better understanding of the topic.

Are There Reliable Citations? Anyone can make a claim in a paper, but looking at how the article has been cited and referenced gives you an idea of if the claims are reliable.

Is There A Conflict of Interest? This is an interesting one as it is required to be declared on the paper but occasionally there are cases where it isn’t. Whether you research it deeper than this or not, keep in mind this person could be acting on ulterior motives. This will be more rare in credible journals than it will be on Natural nnNews. Any article stating the harmful side effects of HIV treatment before touting a homeopathic miracle cure is likely to have somebody making a profit somewhere behind the scenes.

What Do The Conclusions Look Like? Finally, are the conclusions sound? A credible scientific paper or newspaper report will come to realistic conclusions rather than optimistic over-ambitious deductions.

So, although these are not foolproof ways to detect bad science, knowing these warning signs will better equip individuals to read scientific papers. Ultimately getting to the source of the facts and determining conclusions from the data and not through sensationalised. For more information I recommend reading Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’.

The Privilege of Being Anti-GMO

There are millions of people around the world suffering needlessly because of opposition to GMO advancements.

Let’s first clarify one thing. There have now been over 2,000 studies on GMO crops which have shown that there are no significant hazards. No increased risk of cancer, no increased risk of allergies. (I have covered this in more detail in a previous blog post here if you’re interested.) Despite this there is a significant amount of resistance to their introduction from the Western world.

Percentage_population_living_on_less_than_$2_per_day_2009 The West has the privilege to chose. We’re able to look on labels, choose organic and choose GMO-free, if we wish. We can usually find a supermarket within 100 meters of our homes, and we have contingencies in the case of drought, flood, or disease. We’re able to use pesticides, greenhouses, and hydroponics to keep our crops protected.

While we have this, the majority of the global population rely on their own crops without access to these resources and often in areas where drought and flood are common. As a result 21,000 people die every day because of starvation and globally 50% of deaths of children under the age of five has been caused by starvation.

This is a much more alarming statistic than any of the small, anecdotal, non-peer-reviewed papers that have surfaced from anti-GMO campaigners who are ignoring the needs of majority countries and focusing on inciting fear and spreading misinformation.

Their continuing demonization of science is slowing advancements and means that those in developing countries that are in real need of the utilization of this biotechnology are being deprived of something that could save lives.

And they’re not just campaigning against crops! “GMO” covers a wide range of things, including modified insects that would mean disease outbreaks would be reduced and the production of complex pharmaceuticals using genetically modified bacteria.

These people are slowing all of this progress, and these people are also the ones who have the loudest voices in the debate. A quick search on YouTube or Google for ‘GMO Safety’ will leave you inundated with biased, unreliable, poorly sourced arguments from people like Vani Hari, Dr Mercola, and Rachel Parent.  These people are holding back scientific advancements due to fear just how society once feared that trains would tear apart the human body – which they didn’t. Much like telephones weren’t actually a way to communicate with the devil and Jenner’s cow-pox derived smallpox vaccines didn’t morph humans into cows.

map-v5
A map showing the distribution of GMO crops from ‘GMO Answers’

Yet governments are pandering to these individuals. Despite the general worldwide acceptance of GMOs, 64 countries have now introduced compulsory labeling of them, and several, including Kenya, have outright banned them.

If this anti-GMO campaigning continues and is taken as seriously as the real science behind creating modified organisms then other countries are going to follow suit at their own detriment.

These countries face struggles individuals who live in the Western world would not have to consider – leaving them free to ponder the dangers of GMOs rather than how they’re going to protect their newborn from malaria.

The movement to resist the introduction of GMOs come from the Western world, yet the worldwide impact GMOs could have on improving human health is virtually limitless. Genetically modified mosquitoes could prevent the spread of the malarial parasites, modified rice could prevent vitamin deficiency, and preliminary research is underway to create corn that would be able to vaccinate the consumers. And yet we continue to allow anti-science campaigners to fear-monger and control legislation ultimately holding back advancements that would save millions of lives.

More information can be found here:

http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf010343w
http://geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/01/10-studies-proving-gmos-are-harmful-not-if-science-matters/

The Truth About GMO’s – No, Really.

gmo

GMOs are toxic, cancer-causing, allergy-developing, organisms of evil that are being secretly injected into our food.

Well, no. Actually, after 18 years of genetically modified crops there remains no compelling evidence that suggests GMOs are harmful. Despite over 95% of animals in the United States feeding on genetically engineered ingredients, we’re not seeing millions of animals across the world expiring due to their GMO diet. Additionally, almost 2,000 peer-reviewed studies on safety have been published coming to the conclusion that GMOs are equal to conventional crops in terms of risk.

Simply, a GMO is an organism that has had genes extracted from another species introduced into its own genes. Essentially it is an artificial version of the same technique we have been using for centuries – producing offspring from genetically desirable generations.

gmo1b
Illustration showing the genetic modification of a bacterial plasmid to produce insulin.

And there are no more risks to the artificial method than the traditional method! Can these pieces of DNA integrate with ours? No. Though people supporting the anti-GMO movement often claim this, there is nothing to suggest it. Whole genes from GMO food can be found in our blood plasma.. just like any other food we eat, meaning that they behave the same as any other conventional food.

The most comprehensive study of GMO’ was carried out by Alison Van Eenennaam University of California-David Department of Animal Science featured data from 100 billion animals from before and after the introduction of genetically modified animal feed. The study analysed data spanning 26 years from 1996, including pre and post mortem records for the live stock. This study came to the same conclusion as the rest – that there is no difference in safety between GMO and conventional crops.

It’s also important to note that anti-GMO campaigners are quick to say that these are funded private studies, and therefore biased, but recently it has been announced that 50% of GMO studies are independent.

GMO techniques have meant we can create things like ‘Arctic Apples’ that do not brown, by extracting genes from Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, modified them in a way to suppress the enzyme responsible for browning, and reinserting them into the tissue.

The worldwide impact GMOs could have on improving human health is virtually limitless. Genetically modified mosquitoes could prevent the spread of the malarial parasites, modified rice could prevent vitamin deficiency, and preliminary research is underway to create corn that would be able to vaccinate the consumers.

And yet we continue to allow anti-science campaigners to fear-monger and control legislation, ultimately holding back advancements that would save millions of lives.

More information can be found on this subject on the following links:

http://genera.biofortified.org/wp/genera-announces-beta-test-launch
http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/genetically-modified-organisms-gmos-transgenic-crops-and-732)