A random talk in a country Texas bar, with someone whose name I didn’t catch, who I probably won’t meet again.  Since I tend to eat more vegetarian these days, I had a meat-less, cheese-less burger and  the guy in the bar(GIB) made a comment that started  conversation about health, food and diet.   (I was in the bar for a social biscuit, since one of my  friends runs the bar poker league.  It was nice that the bar was kind enough to adjust to my odd diet.)

Had just read Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, and Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives  by Jeffrey M Smith whose site is dedicated to documenting safety issues with GMOs(Genetically Modified Organisms) .

So my head was buzzing with this information, so I brought up GMOs as a potential health risk.  So I repeated a story about  a GMO caused allergic reaction death and I thought I had a confirmatory site(warning fake newshttp://worldnewsdailyreport.com/doctors-confirm-first-human-death-officially-caused-by-gmos/.  For a few days it  returned a 404.   After the 404 did a search with “doctors confirm first human death officially caused by GMOs” and found this Snopes.com article  first confirmed human death from GMO.  Google caches sites and you can see the GMO death in Spain article in case it disappears again.

So when the GIB claimed to have studied a lot of health statistics and expected there would be a large number of deaths.  Caught me flat footed.  My knowledge seems fragile, see  Richard Feynman’s quotes on goodreads.com below.

I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding, they learn by some other way — by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!
― Richard Feynman

For me talking with other people too often turns into a QA(quality assurance) session, where I learn the hard way, what I really don’t know or understand  about a topic.

Anyway, before I tripped over the 404,  I started to do some search on death caused by allergic reactions(anaphylaxis),  found the NIH(National Institute of Health)  site indicated about 186-225 per year.  This is very small compared to the total deaths of about 2,626,418 from  CDC(Center for Disease Control) mortality data.  Not all of the allergic reaction deaths are related to food allergies.  I also drilled down through the food borne illness route and found some different reports.  Allergic reaction deaths are rather small in number.  So one death indicates a large percentage allergic reaction death.

Of course, I tried to duplicate this search on Spain’s reporting sites.  Didn’t get much further.

I’m not entirely neutral on GMOs.  I approach GMOs with a little bit of suspicion.   Personally, I would like to see more safety testing on GMOs.   My view is that genetic modification of a system is a lot more complicated than modification of spaghetti code.  Spaghetti code is notorious for sensitivity so that a change to one piece of the system may have unintended effects on other parts of the system.  The silver fox breeding experiments and the unexpected results seem to be a case in point.

 

Still a skeptical starting position on a topic may lead to a different ending conclusion.  Richard Muller started with a skeptical stance on climate change conclusions and methods, but arrived at a different stance  as a result of analysis.  Richard Muller shows his  data and methods at this site.

So I take a skeptical stance based on the following quote from a Stephen Jay Gould archival site.  Of course the problem is that the tests may take a very, very long time to accomplish.

Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness; rather, objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny—and also in a willingness to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail (as they usually do).

Didn’t get very far with my research on GMOs, because there is no data.  Don’t have facilities and  knowledge to conduct independent research.  You won’t find GMO as a cause of death anywhere.  You won’t find GMO correlates with death causing diseases.

Tobacco seems to be analogous to GMOs. The NIH and  CDC  sites have a lot of articles about tobacco and diseases caused by tobacco.  However if you look you will not find tobacco listed as a cause of death in mortality.  Instead you  will find the strong correlates of tobacco usage with the diseases that cause the deaths.

So while I was talking with the GIB , the director of the bar poker league came to settle up and he joined in the conversation.  The talk steered toward the  blood type diet, both seemed to feel this was a good diet on sound footing.

Read Eat Right 4 Your Type and the Eat right 4 Your Type Complete Encyclopedia by Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo.  The theory sounded plausible.  Did not find enough in the way of supporting research.  The debunking study  mentions that “Dietary intake was assessed by a one-month, Toronto-modified Willet 196-item semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire (FFQ)” , however I find that the diet is so irritatingly complicated to follow, that I am suspicious of the debunking article as well.   Walking the store with a food list and ingredient list was painful.  For example mustard was okay, vinegar was not, mustard without vinegar in the ingredient list was hard to find.  Need to find mustard powder and mix up your own condiment.   Found a kit on Amazon and tested my blood type.  Three times ouch, before I think I got it right.

When I worked at an environmental lab one of the researchers talked about observer error.   I heard that the researchers knew who the survey was from by the trees that they missed.

There are two basic stances on GMOs.  One stance is that the process of changing the genetics of the organism by inserting genes from another organism does not differ significantly from genetic changes induced by selective breeding that has already occurred.  The other stance is that there is something fundamentally different in the process of inserting foreign genes that causes unforeseen health effects.

I don’t know which stance is correct.  My suspicion is feed more by the lack of safety studies.  Here I take history as a guide.

The early studies linking tobacco and cancer were derailed by world war 2.  Tobacco had been around for centuries before anyone started looking systematically for problems.

Vioxx was around for a shorter time before the  doctor who prescribed it to me  told me to quit taking it.  The trajectory of the  NPR story on Vioxx is interesting.  The safety studies or lack of safety studies for GMOs is what leans me toward a skeptical view of GMO safety.

Still, no activity is risk free.   I can fall off a ladder, through no fault of the ladder maker and be injured or killed.  I could choke on something that is perfectly non-GMO.

It takes forever to drill down to the facts.  Not all the facts are available.  Not all the facts are easily understood.  Not all the facts are easily deducible.

Alas, I am my own science experiment.  I just hope:

I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb.
― Richard Feynman