French GMO Research on Health in Rats Debunked

The Scottish National Health Service provides an information service to the public on a range of health issues and recently commented in detail on the questionable research by the University of Caen which claimed that GMO corn in the diet of rats led to increased premature death. The Scots found three major flaws in these results.

• The control group of 20 rats in which there was lower mortality rate than the group fed GMO corn was much too small to provide any statistical rigor.
• The variety of rats used in the experiment are particularly tumor prone. Normal rats are usually involved in such experiments where the rate of mortality is the key factor to be measured in the study. It made no sense to purposely introduce an inherited condition that would doom the entire rat population of the experiment to an enhanced level of tumors that possibly lead to premature deaths.
• Gilles-Eric Sérialini, the project leader, is known in his writings to be against GMO technology and has just published a book on this theme. This leads to questionable objectivity.
There are two things about this paper by the Scottish National Health Service (see below) that are particularly relevant. First is that this organization is responsible for delivering the extensive array of government health services to the population of Scotland. Included is this web site dedicated to keeping the population informed of health issues, or in this case, non issues. The second is that Scotland has “no dog in the fight” regarding GMO foods having none of the GMO technology providers located in the jurisdiction and furthermore has a climate that is inhospitable for the production of the main GMO crops of corn, soybeans, and cotton. Thus there is no second agenda here – the peace of mind of their clients is their sole objective.
The anti GMO movement hailed the Caen study as solid science in countless postings. For those who were following this, the views expressed below may provide a useful balance on the matter.

As background the header for the blog reads:  “NHS inform is a new national health information service providing a co-ordinated approach and a single source of quality assured health information for the public in Scotland.”

Claims of GM foods ‘link to cancer’ disputed by other researchers
20 September 2012

Pictures of rats plagued with large tumours were published in the Daily Mail today, alongside the following headline: “Cancer row over GM foods as study says it did THIS to rats”. The accompanying article claimed that genetically modified (GM) foods “can cause organ damage and early death in humans”.
This controversial claim has met with fierce criticism from some members of the international scientific community, who raised concerns about how the trial was conducted.
This two-year animal research included 200 rats (100 of each sex) divided across 10 groups. Three groups each containing male and female rats were fed different concentrations of a GM maize crop. Another three groups were fed GM maize that had been treated with the herbicide “Roundup”. These six groups were then compared with one control group of rats fed untreated, non-GM maize.
The researchers also included another three groups of rats who were fed non-GM maize but were given varying concentrations of diluted Roundup in their drinking water.
Controversially, the control group only consisted of 20 rats (10 male and 10 female), which some scientists argue is a small number in a trial of this kind. Most researchers would have gone for a 50-50 split, which in this case would have meant 100 control group rats and 100 GM-fed rats.
Over the two-year study, the researchers found that rats given any GM feed died slightly earlier than the control rats, and were quicker to develop tumours. But the fact that the control group was so small means that this result could be due to chance.
Another criticism is that the choice of rat breed (virgin albino Sprague-Dawley rats) is known to have a high risk of developing tumours, which means that many of the rats in the GM group may have developed tumours anyway.
Therefore, the fact that this trial was conducted in such an unusual way makes it difficult to view its results as reliable.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Caen in France and the University of Verona in Italy. The authors reported no conflicts of interest. The researchers acknowledged support from the Association CERES, the “Charles Léopold Mayer pour le progrès de l’Homme” Foundation, the French Ministry of Research and the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering. This last source of funding has only added to the controversy as it is a non-profit organization with the stated aim of making “every effort towards the removal of the status of secrecy prevailing in genetic engineering experiments and concerning genetically modified crops (GMOs), both being likely to have an impact on the environment and/or on health”.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
The majority of the reporting on this study was accurate in acknowledging that the study findings had met with considerable criticism. However, the Mail’s headline was needlessly alarming, but this is not surprising, given that the paper has been running a campaign against so-called “Frankenstein foods”.
The authors of the study reported that they had no conflict of interests, but this claim is disputable. The lead researcher of the study, Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, is due to publish a book about the potential dangers of GM food at the end of September. While the publication of this paper could be coincidental, some bloggers have suggested it has been deliberately timed to help push up book sales.
What was the reception to the study?
The study has generated considerable controversy, both in France and worldwide.
Professor Seralini is a contentious figure in France, having published several books about the potential dangers of GM food. Many critics have argued that his research is driven by a political, anti-GM agenda.
The professor has denied the allegations and stated that he is not against GM in principle, but that he believes that inadequate safety checks have been carried out on currently available GM products.
Another issue that has generated some comment is that the trial was conducted under considerable secrecy. Unusually, early drafts of the trial were not distributed among the scientific community (with the exception of those involved in the peer-review process).
Furthermore, any journalists who wanted early access to the study had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which meant that they were unable to seek advice from independent experts about the study before the news story broke. Again, this is deeply unusual. Most high-profile studies are provided to journalists a few days in advance, so they can write up their stories before going to press. It is unclear why the researchers involved in the study felt the need for such high levels of secrecy.
Anthony Trewavas, professor of cell biology at Edinburgh University, is reported to have opposed the findings and questioned the way the research had been conducted, arguing that the number of rats involved in the study was too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. He was quoted as follows: “To be frank, it looks like random variation to me in a rodent line likely to develop tumours anyway.” He also highlighted the fact that the lead researcher of the study is a known critic of GM technology.
However, Mustafa Djamgoz, professor of cancer biology at Imperial College London, said in support of the findings: “We are what we eat. There is evidence what we eat affects our genetic make-up and turns genes on and off. We are not scaremongering here. More research is warranted.”
What kind of research was this?
This was animal research designed to see what happened when rats were fed for two years on:
• genetically modified (GM) maize that had been cultivated with the herbicide Roundup, or
• GM maize that had been cultivated without the herbicide Roundup, or
• Roundup alone, diluted in water
The researchers said that several previous studies fed rats for just 90 days, and these investigations have mostly involved either maize or soy that is genetically engineered to be tolerant to the herbicide Roundup (so that the herbicide would not actually kill the crop), or maize genetically engineered to produce an insecticide toxin itself. These shorter-term studies have demonstrated changes in rat kidney and liver function, suggesting toxic effects, which they speculated may be due to residues in the GM crops. The researchers also said that many other studies looking at the toxic effect of herbicides have only looked at the active ingredient – glyphosphate – when it is necessary to look at all the chemicals included in the total formulation.
Therefore, to try to address these gaps in knowledge, the researchers performed a detailed two-year rat-feeding study, looking at the effects of feeding rats GM maize, treated with or without Roundup, and also feeding other rats this herbicide diluted in water.
What did the research involve?
The researchers used a US maize crop that was genetically modified to be tolerant to Roundup. One field of this GM maize crop was treated with Roundup and one was not treated. They also used as a control its closest non-GM maize crop. The three corns were then harvested and dried rat feed was then made, with dry rat feed containing either:
• 11%, 22% or 33% GM maize, from the crop treated with Roundup
• 11%, 22% or 33% GM maize, from the crop not treated with Roundup
• untreated, non-GM maize
An additional test substance they looked at was Roundup diluted in drinking water at three different dilutions, starting from 0.1 parts per billion in water. In addition to the treated water, the rats in these groups were fed the control untreated, non-GM maize.
The research involved a total of 200 rats: 20 rats in each test group with 10 of each sex. Two rats were housed in each cage.
In total there were nine active intervention groups and one control group consisting of only 20 rats (10 male and 10 female).
Each group was given the feed daily for two years. Blood, urine samples and weight were taken and the animals were examined twice a week. Their behavior, eyesight and organs were also studied.
What were the basic results?
Males fed the control, untreated, non-GM feed survived on average for 624 days, while females survived on average for 701 days. In the control group, 30% of males (only three) and 20% of females (only two) died. This was compared with 50% of all males having any GM feed dying before the average lifespan, and 70% of females having GM feed. Therefore both males and females fed the GM diets died earlier, and mortality rates did not appear to be particularly affected by the concentration of GM maize in the diet. The researchers also noted that the first rats to die in the GM groups – both male and female – did so from tumours.
Female rats fed GM maize tended to develop large mammary tumours earlier than control animals, with tumours of the pituitary gland being the next most common. Males fed GM maize were more likely than control rats to have large, palpable tumours. They also observed that, compared with the control rats, kidney disease was more common in rats of both sexes fed GM, and liver disease was more common in males fed GM.
Females who drank the water containing Roundup were also observed to die earlier than controls, but there seemed to be less of an effect on male rats in this group.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers said that animal studies have previously observed that glyphosate (the active chemical in herbicides) consumption in water above authorized limits can have an effect on kidney and liver function. They said that their results clearly demonstrate that lower levels of the complete herbicide formulation, at concentrations well below official safety limits, have an effect on kidney and liver function and the mammary glands. They said that the observations in their study may be an effect of both the herbicide Roundup and the genetically modified maize.
This study is reported to involve the highest number of rats regularly studied in a GM-diet study. The research also benefits from testing three different dietary concentrations of GM maize over a two-year period, along with GM maize treated with and without Roundup and Roundup alone diluted in water. All the rats in these groups were compared with rats fed only untreated, non-GM feed. The researchers also said that the Roundup concentration in water started at a dose below the range of levels permitted by regulatory authorities.
Animal research such as this is highly valuable for looking at the possible toxic effects. However, claims that GM food may have a similar toxic effect in humans cannot be justified using the results of this study, which many experts argue was poorly conducted.
There are several significant limitations to the research, including the following:
• Although the study did include a large number of rats overall, there were only 10 males and 10 females in each group. All comparisons were made with just one control group of 10 male rats and 10 females, and a larger group of control rats may not have given identical average lifespan and health data. Such a small control group makes it more likely that the results are due to chance.
• Humans are biologically different from rats, and we may not have identical susceptibilities to disease and illness.
• One expert argument was that the rats in this study were a breed already susceptible to tumours, especially if they are given unlimited access to food. This seems plausible as the rats are described to have been virgin albino Sprague-Dawley rats; however, their tumour susceptibility is not discussed in the paper.
• The method of statistical analysis used to assess the results was described by the researchers as being a “robust method for modeling, analyzing and interpreting complex chemical and biological data”, but is complicated and fairly impenetrable, even to those with training in statistics.
• The rats were fed a regular, concentrated diet of the test substance, and how this dose relates to any human intake is unclear.
• This two-year period roughly equated to a rat’s lifetime. It is difficult to equate this directly to humans. Does it represent lifelong, daily consumption of GM foods treated with herbicides, and at what age adverse effects – if any – may be expected to be seen in humans?
The very unusual way in which the trial was conducted makes it hard to lend much weight to its conclusions. In any case, given the public hostility to GM foods in the UK, it is unlikely that supermarkets are going to start stocking GM foods on the shelf any time soon.
Research and debate into the safe levels of GM foods and herbicides in the diet is likely to continue.


Overreaction to Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

Growing up on the farm, my father had a few hives so when I recently watched the documentary “What Are the Bees Telling Us?”, it brought back fond childhood memories. For those who want an introduction to beekeeping, it does a fine job on many fronts. However, based largely on opinions of those interviewed, it presents the colony collapse disorder (CCD) as a disaster for the honey industry and indeed for our entire food supply and also lays most of the blame for this phenomenon on monoculture crops, genetically modified food plants, and pesticides. A little research has uncovered some interesting facts that are quite the opposite to many of the claims made in the film.

As background, CCD was first detected late 2006 in the eastern US and then identified elsewhere in the nation and indeed globally soon thereafter. According to the USDA, historically 17-20% of all hives normally suffer serious population reductions to the point of non viability for a variety of reasons but mostly overwintering and parasites. In these instances the dead and still living bees remain in or near the hives. With CCD, the beekeeper might have a normal robust hive and then on her or his next visit find that the whole colony has “buzzed” off and the hive is devoid of living or dead bees. Where they disappear to is a mystery.

During the period from 2006 to 2008 (USDA Statistics) the level of non viable colonies increased to 30% which means that at least one hive out of ten suffered from CCD over this period. In more recent years, the incidence of CCD has been somewhat in decline but nevertheless it still poses a serious problem for the honey industry and is too short a period to yet signal a positive trend.

However, in spite of this very real problem, reports of the death of the honey industry are greatly exaggerated. According to the latest USDA statistics, the average number of hives nationally for the CCD impacted period from 2006 to 2010 was 2.47 million as reported by beekeepers while for the five normal years previous to this, the average number of hives was a near identical 2.52 million. Indeed, the year with the most hives over the entire decade was 2010 with 2.69 million. The yield per hive did drop from an average of 71.0 pounds for the earlier part of the decade to 63.9 pounds from 2006 to 2010. While a decline of 10% is certainly a significant loss in production, it is far from an industry collapse.

Then will humans starve if honey bees are not out there for our food crops? While honey bees are considered to be great pollinators because they are domesticated and can be easily transported by the billions from all over the country to where they are needed for seasonal pollination, there are hundreds of native wild bee populations and other insect species that get the job done as well. Indeed, many do not realize that honey bees are not native to North America – just like cattle, sheep, horses, goats, chickens etc. they were introduced from Europe so they are not a natural part of the native population of insects. There is a written record of honey bees being shipped to Jamestown in 1621.

Are pollinators needed for all our food crops? Surprisingly many of the major food source which are grass family plants such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley and rye are pollinated by the breezes and are not attractive to pollinator insects. Then there are the root crops of carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes etc. which are only really edible when harvested immature before they get to the flowering stage when pollination takes place. Yes, for next years crop a pollinator is needed for seed production but this harvest is only a tiny proportion of the overall dedicated acreage of these vegetables. The same applies for above ground food plants such as lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, celery etc. where we consume the plant in its early phases of growth with only a very small proportion of the total planting needed for pollinated seed production. Potatoes are another food crop that does not rely on the intervention of insects. Yes, tree fruits, nuts, tomatoes, peppers, soy beans, canola, and a host of other plants require pollination from honey bees or other insects and would suffer if the honey bee population were to disappear. However, given the reasonably viable honey bee industry that does remain plus all those wild pollinators, the food system does not seem about to collapse as the documentary seemed to indicate.

Surprisingly in recent years since 2006, in spite of the presence of CCD, apples and almonds, the two crops most dependant on honey bee pollination, based in the number of hives rented for this purpose, have shown dramatic increases in yields per acre. According to USDA statistics; for almonds the yield average per acre was 1691 pounds for the period 2000 to 2005 and an impressive 2330 pounds for the later years up to and including estimates for 2012 – an increase of close to 33%. Of note is that every year in the later period, yields exceed all previous annual records. Similarly for apples, the early period had a yield of 24,100 pounds per acre while for the 2006 and later time frame, the yield was up by 12% to 2700 pounds. While advanced farming technology made the increased yields possible; all pollinators, and in particular honey bees, stepped up to the plate and delivered their traditional part of the bargain. This fact is totally counterintuitive to the doomsday crowd’s concern that our food supply in jeopardy.

Then what causes the bee colonies to collapse? As stated previously, the documentary blamed monocultures, farm chemicals and genetically modified food plants. Without getting too technical, scientists have listed about ten possible causes including these three. Many of these researchers are of the opinion that perhaps several of these factors are at play at the same time, depending on the location of the hives and conditions particular to that time and place. Thus before the knee jerk reaction of blaming conventional agriculture, there are a few fundamental facts that do not make these farming practices the “smoking gun” causing CCD.

On monocultures, they have been around for a century – in the 1930s, there were 20 million more acres of corn planted than in recent years. The peak number of acres farmed for all crops was in 1950 – while today the total acreage in crops is about 85% of the level of the middle of the last century. Furthermore for every acre of cropland in the US there are four others free from cultivation with a great variety of natural habitats, many of which are extremely attractive to honey bees. Post 2006, there has been no significant negative change in the landscape.

Regarding GMO crops, pollen from corn which is resistant to certain insect pests is considered to be a potential culprit. However, in a peer reviewed study conducted by the University of Maryland scientist working with normal healthy populations both in the open field and in the labs demonstrated that exposed to GM corn pollen had no negative impact on honey bees. Other published peer reviewed studies report similar results with few, if any, serious research projects having demonstrated the opposite. However, for non GMO corn requiring insecticide treatment including pyrethrins used in organic farming, the bees were seriously impacted.

On insecticides, in a 2007 survey of beekeepers by Bee Alert Technology Inc, only 4% of serious colony issues were caused by pesticides so this claim in the documentary does not seem to be fully justified if the actual practitioners caring for the bees do not think it to be a serious issue. In any event, as honey bees like to forage within only a one mile radius or less of the hive (they can go greater distances but honey gathering becomes inefficient), beekeepers with the above mentioned option to seek out all sorts of suitable natural habitat can avoid intensive agriculture if they wish unless they are involved with dedicated crop pollination efforts. Yes, insecticides definitely kill bees, but good beekeepers know how to keep their portable hives out of harm’s way and if they have concerns about GMO corn, usually there is no need or purpose to place colonies near a cornfield.

Bottom line: CCD is a significant challenge facing the honey industry and for some individual producers, the impact is devastating. However, contrary to popular opinion, while hives collapse, the industry remains largely intact, food production does not seem to be threatened, and advanced farming practices do not appear to play a significant role as the culprit. Perhaps there is a bit of overreaction to the issue.


Women Farmers – Breaking Through the “Grass Ceiling”

A little-appreciated phenomenon is underway as the roles women play in farming continue to increase. Between the 2002 and 2007 U.S. Census on Agriculture, the number of farms owned and operated by females increased by 29 percent to reach a total of 14 percent of all farms. For the 10-year period from 1997 to 2007, the increase was an astounding 46 percent. Arguably, there is no other traditionally male-dominated vocation that is experiencing such a rapid increase in participation by women. In absolute terms, the number of female principal farm operators stood at 305,000 in 2007. Interestingly, over these 10 years the number of male farm operator actually fell by 5 percent, meaning that a woman now manages one of every seven farms.

The above statistics tell only part of the story as the U.S. census data collection allows for one name to be put forward as the principle operator. In the case of co-management with a husband, it is normally the male’s name that enters the statistics. In Canada, where the question is asked differently to capture all those engaged in the ownership and management of a farm, the number of females as farm operators nearly doubles to 26 percent. Given similar social and general farming dynamics in both countries, it is generally thought that a similar pattern of co-operators exists in the U.S.

While the above is encouraging, a closer look at the statistics show that women farmers face a “grass ceiling.” Like grass that is mowed and thus unable to reach its growth potential, females in agriculture are handicapped compared to their male counterparts when it comes to accessing government support programs and loans through financial institutions. Hence, female farmers, in many instances, cannot reach their growth potential as producers of food. For example, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct) estimates that 43,000 women farmers have been denied more than $4.6 billion in farm loans and loan servicing from USDA. To rectify this situation, Ms. DeLauro introduced the 2009 “Equity for Women Farmer’s Act,” which unfortunately died before it became law.

The above situation is reflected in the 2007 census data, which had the average male-dominated farm sized at 410 acres with sales of $152,000 per year. By comparison, the average size of female operated farm was 210 acres with sales of only $36,000 annually. Also telling is the fact that the states with the lowest number of female farmers, all with less than 10 percent of the total, were North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa. Farming in these states tends to be dominated by capital intensive grain and oilseed production with extensive property holdings and costly machinery.

The USDA recognizes this inequality and has established the Women Outreach Program under the Farm Service Agency. Even more impressive is the effort by practicing women farmers to take matters into their own hands. Many, if not most states, have a women’s farmer movement, such as the Women’s Agricultural Network, a collaborative effort with the University of Vermont, or the Michigan-based Women’s Agricultural Community. Not only is the movement concerned about food production, but such factors as conservation, sustainability, and community are also top issues.

However, the fundamental underlying feature of this movement is to produce food. Given that the average female-operated farm has about one quarter the revenue of their male counterparts, an analysis using the above statistics would indicate that about 4 percent of the food produced in the U.S. comes from farms with a designated female as operator. However, as stated above, there is evidence that there are many farms where co-management with a spouse is the norm. In these instances, half of food produced would arguably be the result of female input. Given the increased management and labor resources in such farms, expectations are that these farms would be every bit as productive, in fact probably more so, than the average male-dominated unit. Following this logic, the 15 percent of farms with joint male/female operators would mean that more than 7 percent of the food produced nationally on such enterprises would be the fruit of a woman’s input. All told, this means that women can take credit for more than 10 percent of the food produced in the US.

Compared to the overall picture this may not seem impressive, but when one considers that according to the USDA, corporate farms (aka factory farms) account for a surprisingly low 15 percent of total food output, the role of women takes on an interesting dimension. It is particularly noteworthy that over the ten years between the 1997 and 2007 census, the number of corporate farms grew by only 1.6 percent per year, while female-operated outfits grew at nearly triple this annual pace (4.6 percent). It is therefore conceivable that with increased access to government programs and finance, females who are already producing close to 75 percent as much food as the giants in the industry will someday very soon be producing more food for the nation than all the factory farms out there.

Bottom line, without much fanfare, women are making an increasingly significant impact on U.S agriculture.


BBC Report on Organic Foods – Are they Better?

Organic food ‘not any healthier’
Eating organic food will not make you healthier, according to researchers at Stanford University, although it could cut your exposure to pesticides.

They looked at more than 200 studies of the content and associated health gains of organic and non-organic foods.

Overall, there was no discernible difference between the nutritional content, although the organic food was 30% less likely to contain pesticides.

For the full BBC report:



Demystifying the Book “Wheat Belly”

Dr, William Davis, has authored the diet book “Wheat Belly” in which he concludes that the excessive consumption of dwarf wheat is not only the primary cause of the obesity epidemic but also enlarged men’s breasts, breast cancer in women, irritable bowels, thunder thighs, leg nerve damage, aching joints, diabetes, leaky intestines, an unhealthy Ph balance, excessive blood sugars, hair loss, cataracts, wrinkly skin, dowager’s hump, accelerated aging, addiction, uncontrollable appetite, schizophrenia, hallucinations, suicidal desires, delusions, detachment from reality, destruction of brain tissue, pimples, rashes, mouth sores, and many more ailments such as Behcet’s disease (ulcers of the genitalia) that I learned about for the first time when reading the book. ( I am not making this up – all the above are listed as being caused by wheat!!) It is possible that for some readers the scenarios presented are so unpleasant that even thinking about wheat will result in add yet another infliction to the list.
The book does provide credible evidence that celiac disease which is severely aggravated by the consumption of wheat gluten, is on the rise. However, the claim by Dr Davis that wheat causes the disease seems not to be supported by others. For example, the Mayo Clinic has the following comment: “While the exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, doctors have discovered that it often runs in families”. Meanwhile the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse makes the following comment. “Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning it runs in families”.
It should be noted that there is an increase in most autoimmune diseases in the US so celiac should not be singled out as unique in this regard. Indeed while no hard evidence exists on why this group of diseases is on the rise, there are well documented studies that demonstrate that their incidence in lesser developed countries is substantially lower than in more prosperous nations. The theory that is evolving is that along with the high levels of sanitation associated with the prosperous, the immune system is unchallenged when it comes to fending off disease and infection that are a part of life in many societies of the Third World. Thus it would appear that Americans might just be too squeaky clean and fail to provide their immune systems with the occasional rigorous workout and thus causing it to misbehave. The point here is that to jump at the conclusion that wheat causes celiac disease just because it seriously impacts on the symptoms is incomplete science.
Also, the author’s claim that bread from wheat has a high glycemic index and turns to sugar in the bloodstream too quickly with negative health consequences is quite correct. This is presumably because bread is easy to digest. However, the highly respected International Table of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values as prepared by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, provides unprocessed wheat or even bread with cracked wheat with an acceptable score. Also included in the table that lists hundreds of wheat based food products that are also in the healthy range. No need to panic here.
Fortunately the glycemic index challenge for bread was conveniently resolved almost exactly 250 years ago in 1762 by the British Statesman, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, Postmaster General, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Secretary of State for the Northern Department. Outside his day job he was apparently an ardent gambler who did not want to waste time away from his game so he ordered his servants to bring him slices of meat between pieces of bread. His fellow gamblers did not want to be outdone by the creative Earl and asked for “what Sandwich is having.” The rest is history that comes full circle with the publication of the above mentioned glycemic index. Interestingly, the index lists several different “sandwich” combinations that exhibit modest glycemic indexes. Thus unless a person is disposed to eating bread without butter or any other condiments, the glycemic index issue seems to be of no great consequence.
Moving on from the medical claims, there are other fundamental facts that fly in the face of Dr. Davis’s findings.
The first is that wheat consumption has fallen dramatically over the last century. According to the USDA the per capita consumption in the US fell from 225 pounds in the 1880s and stood at 134 pounds in 2005. Also according to the USDA, the per capita caloric intake for all types of food and beverages over the period from 1990 to 2008 increased by 10%. The following chart illustrates where these additional calories have crept into diets.
Per Capita Annual Consumption of Selected Foods (USDA), 1990 and 2005
Food (in pounds) 1990 2005
Red meats and poultry 171.4 183.6
All dairy products 568.9 600.5
Fats and oils 65.3 85.5
Fruits and vegetables 660.2 688.6
Wheat flour 135.9 134.1
Flours from oats, barley, rice, rye and cereals 181.0 192.3
Sugar and corn sweeteners 132.4 141.6

Wheat flour, and by extension bread, stands out as the only significant food group that actually saw a decrease in consumption. Thus to blame wheat for the obesity epidemic makes no sense whatsoever. However, to be realistic, a book entitled “Calorie Belly” would never get on the New York Times bestseller list. But as every reader knows, every good yarn needs a villain and “Wheat Belly” provides one in spades.
As an agriculturalist, I find it rather amazing that Dr. Davis has been able to single out dwarf wheat alone as having a flawed genetic composition and thus the culprit for so many ailments. He seems to overlook the fact there are thousands of plants that contribute to providing the array of food products listed above and that all are, to one degree or another, genetically quite different than their wild ancestors. Wheat breeding is by no means unique.
While “dwarf” wheat may sound a bit odious to those unfamiliar with the concept; all that is involved is cross breeding of a short straw Japanese wheat type with longer stem North American varieties to prevent the grain from falling down when crops are bountiful and thus avoid a challenged and reduced harvest. This breeding program was concluded in the 1950s and by 1960 wheat growers were already well on the way to adopting this new wheat variety. This begs the question that with billions around the world having consumed the product for approaching two generations, why it was not until 2011 that one doctor alone raised so many alarms?
Dr. Davis is clearly dedicated to his cause as is evident in his book by introducing the probability that the FDA will duplicate the tobacco example and issue the following: “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Wheat Consumption in all forms poses potentially serious threats to health.” He goes even further in an open letter to the Grains Food Foundation with the statement: “I propose that you or your organization, as well as the wheat industry and its supporters, are at risk for legal liability on a scale not seen since the tobacco industry was brought to task to pay countless millions who died at their product’s hands.” These suggestions by just one man could lead to grave unintended circumstances on a global scale given that 20 per cent of the calorie intake of humans comes from wheat.
In this regard I recall that when I studied agriculture at university, wheat was admired as “the crop of last resort’ given the fact that it would flourish in dryer, colder and even hotter conditions than corn, soybeans, or a host of other crops. Imagine the disruption to the global food supply if wheat was driven from the human diet. As the options for producing other crops than wheat in much of its range are limited, food output to feed the world’s seven billion inhabitants could be in serious jeopardy. While the intent of Dr. Davis is to facilitate weight loss, such a scenario could easily lead to millions shedding pounds on an involuntary basis (aka starvation). I suggest that there is too much at stake to take the mostly anecdotal claims of the good doctor seriously without vigorous peer reviewed scientific evidence.
Finally, on a personal and closing note of disclosure, I enjoy my customary whole wheat toast, butter, and jam most mornings. In spite of this supposedly reckless behavior, I am pleased to advise that as a result of regular inspections of the relevant part of my anatomy, I remain completely free of any symptoms of Behcet’s disease.

Maurice Hladik, author of “Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork”.


Advanced Food Production Technologies Keeps the Drought of 2012 at Bay

The theme of my article that Food Logistics placed on their blog is a comparison of the yields during two comparable droughts in the past half century and the immense improvements in yields this year in spite of similar adverse growing conditions. The same land and essentially the same family farmers. Advanced technology has made the difference.


Hey You Cornhuskers – Do You Really Know What you are Doing?

I am amazed that in this age of “local is best because it is fresh” that so many consumers cheerfully husk their corn in the grocery store or market before purchase. This makes about as much sense as peeling bananas in the supermarket before bringing them home. Nature has provided a cob of corn with a wonderful one hundred percent biodegradable packing material called the husk. It keeps the corn slightly cool and from being exposed to the air which dries it and accelerates maturing which means the sugar in the sweetcorn deteriorates rather rapidly converts to less tasty starch. Also the “silk” that extends from the cob are the channels through which the pollen travels to the individual kernel for fertilization. These are fully intact and part of the husk but when removed the kernels have no more reason to live and have another reason to start to deteriorate rather rapidly .Thus unless shoppers are planning to cook their corn immediately upon return from the grocery store, husking before purchase is not a wise move for those who cherish fresh food. Sure it is a bit of a mess in the kitchen but certainly worth the inconvenience. For those who are uncertain about the quality of the corn, a slight tear in the husk will expose a few kernels which will be identical to the rest of the cob. If you think about it, few consumers would peel part of an orange to test the quality so it may be a worthwhile exercise to learn to judge the quality of the corn by the plumpness of the cob and the density and maturity of the silk. Chocolate brown ends and golden green in colour where they enter the cob is what I look for when choosing a quality
Also it should be pointed out that husking corn at a farmers market is taboo. Recently at a local market a vendor of sweet corn was livid. One of her customers has shucked the recently purchased corn in front of her booth which she was busy cleaning up when we came along. She knew the loss of quality thing which was what she was trying to deliver but worse than that, market vendors are obligated to keep the vicinity of their stands tidy. The stand operator probably lost a couple customers while she was distracted with the unnecessary effort of cleaning up someone else’s mess.
Maurice Hladik
Author of , “Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork


Urban Farmers and Their Frightening Ideas

“U.S. urban agriculture communities need to support a massive program of land redistribution in urban and rural areas in the U.S. and abroad. Stolen land must be reoccupied and farmed or restored to habitat; indeed, we must practice the principle that farms can be re-made as habitat.”

The above is a quote from a response to an article that I wrote basically questioning the urban farming movement’s claim that they were an alternative to conventional farming.  My argument was that there was not the urban land base capable of producing the quantities of food that the movement claimed. I also went out of my way to praise the movement for the food that they do produce and the benefits of gardeming – just that they seemed to be over promising and underdelivering. The abuse I received for even questioning the movement was astounding.

First, here is the link to my article:–163861346.html?ref=346

Now the link to the response (one of many that can be read on the Ag. Professional website) that included the above quote.

And finally my response to the above.

Dr. Peña,

Thanks for the time you spent reviewing my article which was drawn from my book, “Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork”.  I seem to have insights that are new to you.

My article was a challenge to your movement to go beyond describing the very real enthusiasm and dedication of those involved in what I agree is a wonderful initiative and to move on and demonstrate with clarity how you can realistically provide significant quantities of food.

For example, according to the Seattle Department of Neighborhood’s website (chosen because you live there) there are 75 community gardens, totaling 23 acres, serving 4,400 gardeners who each spent an average of four hours per year growing food.  The city budget for the program is $2 million annually. For illustrative purposes let us assume that the yield in Seattle matches that of the rather famous Dervaes family in Pasadena, CA. (As an aside, too bad that they hijacked the term Urban Homesteader moniker which nicely captures what your movement is all about.)  They maintain that they produce three tons of food per year from 1/5 of an acre. This would mean a yield of a total of 345 tons (700,000 pounds) from the 23 acres.  Seattle proper has a population of slightly over 600,000 so this amounts to an average of a little over a pound per citizen per year at a cost to the taxpayer of about a $3.00 per pound. By comparison, using the same analysis, New York City comes up with less than a half pound of produce per inhabitant per year from their community gardens. Given that a typical combination of vegetables averages 200 calories per pound, the community gardens in Seattle would feed the overall population for about two hours total.

 My challenge to you is that I doubt if your movement can even supply one percent of the nation’s food. For Seattle, this means that to provide the calories to feed 600 thousand people for 3.6 days (1% of the year) you would require about 43 times the amount dedicated to community gardens or almost 1000 acres (1.6 square miles). Furthermore, the area of Seattle proper is 84 square miles so even if it was all one big productive field it would feed the inhabitants only for 51 days.

The above mentioned Dervaes family gets by on 1/5 of an acre (8712 square feet) so this would require perhaps up to 5,000 urban farmers to plant, care for, and harvest an area equal a thousand football fields in Seattle proper.  For the greater metropolitan area with five times the population, the requirement would be 5000 football fields (eight square miles) and perhaps 25,000 participants to produce only 1% of the community’s caloric requirements.

Moving on to the national scale, greater Seattle has almost exactly one percent of the Nation’s population,  so the US as a whole would require 2.5 million urban farmers to produce one percent of the food while the remaining 99% would be from the efforts of  the 2 million folks currently engaged in conventional farming.

North Americans are notorious for shirking farm work, particularly when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables which often cannot be fully mechanized. Unlike Cuba or Russia, we require legions of foreign workers so I maintain that the human element of your movement is even more of a challenge than the lack of viable land in the urban setting.

I fully agree that urban farmers have developed all sorts of nifty approaches to producing food. However, are they relevant in the larger arena of conventional agriculture where any technology that requires more foreign workers or increases the cost of producing food will be a challenge to introduce? Your followers seem willing to toil for the love of growing things which is highly admirable but commercial farming is a business and unless there is a reasonable return on labor and capital, the system becomes dysfunctional as is so evident in North Korea where they reap more famine than food.

I stand by my statement that urban farming is a myth that does not have the available land or human involvement to produce more than what amounts to a rounding error in the nation’s overall food production statistics.  I invite you to prove me wrong.

You may be asking why I am taking the trouble to “rain on your parade” when I fully agree that those such as myself who are engaged with raising food in cities provide so many benefits including improving the dynamics of our urban communities.  It is the likes of the following from your essay disagreeing with my article that gives me concern.

 “U.S. urban agriculture communities need to support a massive program of land redistribution in urban and rural areas in the U.S. and abroad. Stolen land must be reoccupied and farmed or restored to habitat; indeed, we must practice the principle that farms can be re-made as habitat.”

Yes, conventional farming has a lot of best practices that are waiting to be adopted but nevertheless North America not only produces ample food for their own populations but has lots left over to feed the world. Land redistribution has been attempted in the Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, and elsewhere with disastrous results resulting outright famine.  Any movement that wishes to influence the dynamics of farming on a national and international sale should at least demonstrate that they actually have the wherewithal to reliably produce significant quantities of food.

 Maurice Hladik

Author of “Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork”


Stow High in Transit (S.H.I.T)

Manure… An interesting fact

Manure : In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship and it was also before the invention of commercial fertilizers, so large shipments of manure were quite common.

It was shipped dry, because in dry form it weighed a lot less than when wet, but once water (at sea) hit it, not only did it become heavier, but the process of fermentation began again, of which a by-product is methane gas, of course. As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could (and did) happen.
Methane began to build up below decks and the first time someone came below at night with a lantern, BOOOOM!

Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was determined just what was happening

After that, the bundles of manure were always stamped with the instruction ‘ Stow high in transit’ on them, which meant for the sailors to stow it high enough off the lower decks so that any water that came into the hold would not touch this volatile cargo and start the production of methane.

Thus evolved the term ‘ S.H.I.T ‘, (Stow High In Transit) which has come down through the centuries and is in use to this very day.

You probably did not know the true history of this word.


“Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork” – Book TV Ad

The following are three different formats for my 60 second TV book ad. (Note: All three have identical content)