Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Tale of Frankenfish or Salmoning Thru the Gates

Eli has been known to have a cross word with journalists who spring for every science story trolled across their desks by the usual suspects but the truth is that editors demand a story and, well as Bernard J put it, lightly edited

Journalists are often given the facts about a range of subjects, but their capacity for understanding, retaining and objectively representing these facts would put teflon to shame. All that matters is the story.
aka the framing, which is why the majic wand of framing is without cease sought by Jason Journalist as the all purpose golden fleece which will make everything well and good (and guarantee a byline and a paycheck) if only it could be found.  The rub, of course, is there is a huge fleece sales force out there optimizing their wares to capture any wandering Jasons which oft leaves it to the Better Blogging Bureau (aka Rabett Run although Tamino and others have been doing the better job lately) to dig out the interesting parts.

That requires digging and thinking a bit and which, in turn requires the blather to rise to the level of certainly wrong based on track record, but maybe something interesting there. If anybunny noticed, that is the Weasel's default position, e.g. the answer to the question of why don't you take me seriously, being well, because you are a clown.  This annoys clowns no end (you got your answer kai, now go away)

So when friend Kloor started on his Lomborgian GMOhad, Eli was seriously unimpressed.  This was simply another one of those "if you really cared about x you would do this other thing" that no one outside of those who want to stop x  takes seriously.  After all if we really cared about anything important why would anyone pay good money to see Lionel Messi or LeBron James when that resource could be used to do a b or c.

Perhaps at this point the Rabett might state his position on GMO food:  He eats the shit, as does most everyone in the world today. Eli was involved in some chemical research sponsored by Monsanto Chemicals when they decided to get mostly out of that business and concentrate on agriculture via BST and Round Up Ready everything.  There were conversations with many high up in the research area which made clear to the Buuny that the move was strictly business, they spotted a hole and decided to risk the business and fill it.

Eli might also state his position on food:  He likes the stuff as anyone who has ever met him will testify. As a bunny and today, he can eat without end,  the combination of which is a problem that leads to Rabett's Law:  There are no calories to waste.  Now it is true, there are some, not Eli, for whom this is not a problem, but every tasteless piece of cardboard is an opportunity for enjoyment lost. Modern factory agriculture is the tasteless in pursuit of less taste, and, of course, there are huge problems with the overuse of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides which are accumulating in us and the environment.  These are delayed costs, much as climate change.

Which, finally, brings us to the frankenfish, aka AquaAdvantage salmon.  These are salmon that have been genetically modified to incorporate the ability to express an antifreeze protein and an additional growth hormone so that they will grow faster even in colder water.  The proposal is complex, only triploid (three copies of chromosomes) females would be sold for food.  Eggs would be produced on Prince Edward's Island Canada and shipped to a growth facility in Panama where they would be reared and eventually sold for food.  Full details can be found at the fda site.

Our friend Kloor wrote about how some foodie friends of his just about tossed him out the door when he went on about his anti-GMO hysteria thing about the salmon.

Yet, there are more twists and turns to this story than any fool looking for a quick headline can handle. For example it turns out that the major political opposition is not the foodies, but commercial fishermen in Alaska already threatened by lower salmon prices due to improved yields from fish farming.

Second, anyone who believes that AquaBounty can make a dime, or at least enough dimes to pay development costs, from the hybrid PEI/Panama Rube Goldberg scheme is a few pennies short of a dollar. Obviously this is an opening gambit which enabled the application to not deal with specific environmental issues that would have to be considered if the AquaAdvantage fish were raised in US waters.  The FDA Draft Environmental Assessment pretty well nails between the lines the reasons for this strategy
As the proposed action would only allow production and grow-out of AquAdvantage Salmon at facilities outside of the United States, the areas of the local surrounding environments that are most likely to be affected by the action lie largely within the sovereign authority of other countries (i.e., Canada and Panama). Because NEPA does not require an analysis of environmental effects in foreign sovereign countries, effects on the local environments of Canada and Panama have not been considered and evaluated in this draft EA except insofar as it was necessary to do so in order to determine whether there would be significant effects on the environment of the United States due to the origination of exposure pathways from the production and grow-out facilities in Canada and Panama.
Third, and this is the most interesting one, opposition to GMOs is not an political or an ideological issue along standard political divisions, although for some it may be ideological

A survey, quoted in Discover shows that there is no significant difference between liberals, moderates and conservatives on whether they would, prefer or would not eat GMOs.

Liberal Moderate Conservative
Humans developed from animals 69 52 39
Humans developed from animals (non-Hispanic white) 77 55 38
Humans developed from animals (college educated) 86 66 47
Strongly favor nuke power 16 13 12
Favor nuke power 49 50 64
Oppose nuke power 28 27 16
Strongly oppose nuke power 7 9 8
Don’t care whether or not food has been genetically modified 15 20 18
Willing to eat but would prefer unmodified foods 56 53 55
Will not eat genetically modified food 29 27 27

Eli has been doing some reading.  Among the drivel he found a survey by Stephen Ceccoli and William Hixon on "Explaining attitudes toward genetically modified food in the European Union" International Political Science Review 2012 33:301, in other words the latest stuff.  So this is logistic regression modeling.of a survey, for good or ill.  A weak point is that for the regression they coded 1 for those who favor GMO food  and 0 for those who oppose.  A three or five point scale would have, in the Bunny's view, been much better, but you work with what you got.

To go through the results (incomplete table here to limit eye crossing)

Coeff Std Error Sig Leve
Scientific literacy 0.264 0.062 0.000
Understand GM food 0.239 0.072 0.001
Internet exposure 0.071 0.020 0.000
Reading science frequency 0.436 0.064 0.000
Exposure to newspapers/magazines -0.038 0.023 0.095
Agricultural policy competitiveness -0.108 0.084 0.201
Promote organic food -0.284 0.083 0.001
EU consumer protection -0.390 0.085 0.000
Ideology (conservative is +) 0.053 0.015 0.001
Female -0.459 0.062 0.000

There are thing that bunnies expect in this table and huge surprises.  The chalk is that in general those who have some scientific interest favor GM foods or don't reject them out of hand.  In the words of the authors
frequent reading about science and the importance of the Internet as a source of information about science are positively associated with support for GM food.  The importance of television is not statistically related to supprot for GM foods and the importance of newspapers and magazines  has a surprising negative effect.
Second, political ideology is not a strong predictor, in Europe and not in the US either as shown by first table from Discover. 

So what is the source of negative feeling on GM foods.

The distrust of people for consumer protection in Europe is reflected in the survey, undoubtedly associated with the mad cow disease debacle, the ~700 deaths from adulterated cooking oil in Spain, the glycol sweetners added to Austrian wine, etc.  Acceptance of GM foods in the US owes much to faith in the regulatory agencies, specifically the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture.  Attempts by industry to weaken regulation could (as in the early part of the twentieth century when there was none) backfire badly as people lose faith in the producers and their products.

Women are, as a group, strongly opposed to GM foods.  Those who favor organic agriculture are opposed to GM foods.   In most families (not Eli's) the women are the ones who buy and prepare the food. Some, and maybe even Eli, might call this the those who Cook and Chew Caucus, not the lefties, not the environmental crew.  People who are into food want taste.  GM foods are associated with factory farming, inexpensive but tasteless stuff and those who get their affirmation and pleasure from food want no part of it.

(UPDATE:  Ms. Rabett points out that women tend care about what they shove into their mouths, while guys, well guys are guys, and that the ladies would be much more concerned about the regulatory failures mentioned above)

So, moral of the story is that the GM folks need to think much more about taste.  A better tasting fish tomato is more vital to their success than a cheaper one.  Molecular cooking is in, but also traditional tastes must be catered to.


Russell Seitz said...

A survey, quoted in Discover shows that there is no significant difference between liberals, moderates and conservatives on whether they would, prefer or would not eat GMOs.

Free range cyanobacteria may be the only genetically unmodified organisms left around , but I recommend against eating them.

Hank Roberts said...

Hey, what could possibly go wrong?
Overthinking Apocalypse

Anonymous said...

Dr. Lumpus Spookytooth, phd.

I have no problem with fish farms, in fact I would think if they take good care of the fish and feed them the correct food, they would taste quite delicious.

willard said...

> Free range cyanobacteria may be the only genetically unmodified organisms left around , but I recommend against eating them.

Find the consequent. Look how it has been affirmed.

Russell Seitz said...

As a representative of the archaen order, has L. spookytoothys any good cyanobacteria recipes to share?

Holly Stick said...

Fish farms have problems and cause problems:

"...Several studies have shown sea lice can kill small juvenile salmon. Parasite outbreaks from salmon farms have been linked to the collapse of wild sea trout and Atlantic salmon populations in Norway, Scotland and Ireland. The lice attach themselves to the exterior of the salmon and feed on surface tissues like skin, blood and muscle and can cause stress, viral or bacterial infection and ultimately death..."

Holly Stick said...

That is to say, even without any GMO involvement, fish farms have problems.

Concerns about the PEI scheme from Oct 2011:

And it's Prince Edward Island, no "'s" needed.

Anonymous said...

The source of my unease about genetically modified corn: the modifications are to control pesty insects by inserting insecticide. Which are nothing like people, so it can't possibly hurt people. Okay,maybe so, but where did this get tested? Fair warming, this is an ignorant rant and I can't google any info.

Monsanto works to put organic or non-GM farmers out of business on charges of stealing Monsanto's precious genes. Organic farmers regard these genes as a contamination. Pollen drifts. Monsanto is ugly.

Recently I read that although the desired gene change is harmless, about 20 genes changes are needed to get the desired gene in. And some are suspicious.

Corn is not natural: it is so heavily modified during the last 10,000 years that scientists hunted for the natural ancestor in the wild for some time. Wheat was also heavily modified by traditional techniques over the century.

Celiac disease -- inability to eat wheat -- has increased greatly in recent years. Some people are wondering if the GM grain should be blamed.

I do not know why grains are recommended as the 'base' of the food pyramid anyway. These foods are cheap and easy to store, but are they the best of the nutrition?

from Snow Bunny

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny adds:

Personally, I aim to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, which avoids grains and seed oils and seeks to balance 3-omega and 6-omega fats. This cleared up an arthritis pain.

EliRabett said...

Round Up Ready is actually more indirect. It inserts a gene which makes the corn impervious to a herbicide (Round Up). This means that Round up can be strewn across the fields, to kill off weeds without affecting the crop.

The net effect has been to increase the amount of herbicide (Round Up) that is being strewn, so we get the DDT effect that Carson was talking about, the more you use the less effective it is, etc. as the weeds become increasingly Round Up Ready themselves.

John said...

Monsanto finally admitted that new herbicides would be required due to the intended use of its Round Up ready crops.

True to their word, they've developed a series of crops resistant to 2,4 D, half the cocktail of Agent Orange, our exciting experiment in chemical terrorism in Viet Nam.

John Puma

Ian Forrester said...

Recent research has found even more problems with glyphosate. It seems that when it is present in animal feed it is toxic to beneficial gut micro-flora but is harmless towards pathogenic microorganism. The beneficial microbes offer protection and if they are killed this allows the pathogenic organisms to flourish.

This is bad for both the animals eating the feed and for people consuming the meat from these animals.

Alex said...

Humans developed from animals...Humans developed from animals (non-Hispanic white)...Humans developed from animals (college educated)

I know we evolved from animals but I didn't know any of them were college-educated animals.