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March 8, 2000


Each side has its myths


I appreciated reading again the debunking of EMS/L-tryptophan linkage myth. However, in today's Agnet I saw an article by Henry Miller that included the following statements, "Worse still, Gerber has
announced that it will use mostly organic corn, which is especially prone
to insect and bacterial infestations. Therefore, it will likely have
greater amounts of fumonisin, and, according to recent data compiled by the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control, people who eat organic foods are eight
times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly
new strain of E. coli bacteria (O157:H7)."

Every time I have seen this claim (usually in articles by Miller or by Dennis Avery) made about CDC studies of E. coli food poisoning, someone comes up with a quote from a CDC official saying they have never looked at organic food in relation to its contribution to E. coli (O157:H7) outbreaks.

Is this, then, another myth -- this time dragged out and repeated by folks who want to undermine organic proponents as a backdoor way to bolster support for alternative technologies? I'm not a particular fan (and certainly not a devotee) of organic production methods, but I see promulgation of these myths detrimental to the credibility of those who wish to provide rational defense of GE technology or conventional agriculture. I would think that, ultimately, this debate will come down to one of credibility.

As it is now, scientists cannot say unequivocally, "this technology is safe" or, even, "this product is safe". Science doesn't work that way. Worse, many of the scare stories about the potential harmful effects of GMOs are biologically possible -- even if often farfetched or remotely-possible, at best. So, scientists trying to refute these claims sound wishy-washy -- saying, on the one hand, that GMOs aren't known to be unsafe, and, on the other hand, that harmful effects haven't yet been proven --> pretty weak, and not particularly reassuring, statements to an alarmed consuming public. It doesn't make things any better to pass on erroneous claims; it undermines the rest of the message.

Does anyone on this list have connections with CDC that could authoritatively validate or refute Miller's claim about CDC data on a link between E. coli(O157:H7) and organic foods? If it is not true, I would like to see it expunged from these arguments in future.

R.D. Macgregor