I recently attended the SHAKA Movement's "GMO moratorium drive" launch at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, featuring Don Huber, retired professor of plant pathology at Purdue University, as keynote speaker. Popular on the anti-GMO circuit, Dr. Huber was the perfect choice to lead off the drive as a representative of an anti-agricultural movement based on fear, imaginary threats and a lack of credible evidence,
Dr. Huber says he has discovered a mysterious organism that lives in GM crops sprayed with glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide). He also claims this organism causes severe health problems in plants, farm animals and humans.
Any researcher who makes a discovery like that is morally and professionally obligated to share their data and the new disease organism with other scientific and medical experts who can help confirm the discovery, and more importantly, work towards saving lives and finding a solution to a seemingly horrific problem. Yet, after several years, he will not share his findings or the organism with the broader research community. This is not how science works.
Dr. Huber's unsubstantiated claims have been refuted by numerous scientists who have rightfully criticized his lack of transparency, including the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, The Ohio State University Extension Service, Biofortified, the Purdue University Extension Service and the Iowa State University Extension Service. University of Florida scientist Dr. Kevin Folta has even launched a petition at Change.org to demand that Dr. Huber either release his study material to the scientific community or stop the misinformation.
In the brief Q&A session at the end of his talk, I was next in line to ask questions when Dr. Huber announced he had to get to the airport. So, here are those questions that I'm sure the organizers will forward to him and then submit his answers back to the Maui Weekly soon:
1. After more than eight years of study, where is the data, the evidence, the peer-reviewed publication to substantiate your claims regarding this new, menacing life form?
2. Why haven't you provided the new life form to other scientists for study and verification? The offer of Dr. Kevin Folta at the University of Florida to do this at no cost to you still stands.
3. Given the serious implications to civilization of your claims, surely you provided the new life form to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--what did they find?
4. If a credentialed scientist were to make up a story of a fake pathogen and use it to scare kind, concerned audiences about their food, what sanctions or penalties do you think would be appropriate? What level of criticism would you think is fair?
If you are serious, Dr. Huber, then your answers should be as well.
The SHAKA Movement is backing a proposed moratorium on GM crops in our county. Similar to the featured speaker, it asserts that modern agriculture is guilty until proven innocent, but provides no actual evidence of guilt. The moratorium document reflects breathtaking naivet about agriculture and what is natural.
In addition to targeting GM crops, the proposed bill vilifies pesticides, because not all possible combinations have been tested and proven safe (hardly anything can be proven completely safe). Apparently the petitioners can find no evidence of real harm, so conjuring up possible harm will have to do.
Given this line of reasoning, should we stop using chlorine/hypochlorites to make our drinking water safe? The EPA says these compounds account for 51 percent of all pesticides used in the country, and that chlorine reacts with naturally occurring organic compounds found in the water supply to produce compounds known for health hazards. Clearly, not all possible combinations of all organic compounds and chlorine have been tested and proven safe. Yet, we drink treated water with confidence because risks to health of those by-products are extremely small in comparison with the risks associated with inadequate disinfection.
As much as genetics and plant breeding have advanced in recent decades, pesticides have also changed for the better. Today, most modern pesticides are applied at much smaller rates than older compounds, and are extremely low in hazard to us or to the environment. Pesticides are an essential tool for our food production and security.
Adoption of SHAKA's moratorium would be harmful by denying the gains made so far and by preventing further advances in agriculture in our county. It would needlessly eliminate jobs in our county. Is this a wise thing to do? Certainly the precautionary principle warns us it is not wise to adopt actions that are harmful.
The existing federal and state regulations for GM crops and pesticides have served us well, and we enjoy safe, abundant and inexpensive food. We also have strong diversified agriculture sectors that coexist in Maui County. The proposed moratorium would drastically change this harmony based on claims of harm; scientific evidence of that harm is not irrelevant and needs to be provided.