The Wizardry of ‘Oz’ – a peek behind the curtain of the anti-GM movement

UPDATE (October 17, 2012): Dr. Oz aired yet another episode warning of the dangers of GM foods on October 16, 2012.  I am not a fan of Dr. Oz.  And I haven’t been for years.  The airing of this episode is not a random event.  It comes on the heels of the Séralini study (more here), the publication of Séralini’s book, the release of Jeffrey Smith’s latest video (coincidentally, it is narrated by Lisa Oz) and the forthcoming food labeling referendum in California, Prop 37. Dr. Don Huber has been ‘on the road’, too, spinning his pathogenic tale in the EU.

Dr. Oz Show: Ratings + Bias = YEP.

“This episode of the Dr. Oz Show is brought to you by Séralini, Smith and the Say YES to Prop 37 initiative.”

ORIGINAL POST December 10, 2010: Last year when the whole Triffid (flax) issue came to light, I did some research on Genetic ID, the lab/firm behind the discovery of Triffid in the EU food supply chain. The main question that I had was – what’s the incentive for this particular lab to sniff out a de-registered, never commercially produced transgenic flax cultivar? (when the potential for rents would be limited (one would think, anyway))

Earlier this year, I took the initiative to mine some publicly available information on the internet and uncovered some interesting linkages amongst Genetic ID, the Maharishi Institute, the Natural Law Party and other anti-GM/GE individuals, organizations and firms.  See the network below.  The connections illustrated within the network represent a variety of linkages from board positions, organizational memberships, funding connections, fiscal interests in firms/companies, attendance at common events or like-sponsorship activiti
es.  This data set, and the network, is – by no means – complete.  But the graph certainly sheds an interesting light on the interconnectedness amongst actors in this anti-GM/GE context.

Genetic ID and its questionable connections...

Genetic ID is at the centre of the network but I would like to draw your attentionto another node: Jeffrey Smith.  You will recall that Smith got the lion’s share of airtime and the accolades (relative to Dr. Pam Ronald*) on the Dr. Oz episode earlier this week on Genetic Engineering and GM Food (- to view the episode, follow this link: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/genetically-modified-foods-pt-1).  Jeffrey Smith is the VP of Communications for Genetic ID.  He also has close connections to the Natural Law Party and, although I was unable to find a documented or direct connection to it, the Maharishi Institute.  The Maharishi – a Transcendental Meditation “TM” yogi – and his legacy of affiliated interests and institutions are also central. Most of the organizations and several of the individuals are from Fairfield, Iowa where the Maharishi University is centered.  The Maharishi (1914-2008) was a proponent of Vedic Science (look it up, weird stuff) who established the Natural Law Party.  The NLP’s platform revolves around the Vedic Science and TM (Jeffrey Smith ran for US senate in 1998 in Iowa for the NLP). The Natural Law Party has branches in both the US and in New Zealand. (check out Smith practicing ‘yogic flying’ on: http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-individuals/jeffrey-smith/)

Now, if that wasn’t peculiar enough, here’s the real kicker. I decided to check into celebrity links with the Maharishi Institute (why not?).  There are numerous celebrities connected to the Maharishi Institute through fundraising events and sponsorship.  These include Ringo Starr, Clint Eastwood, Russell Brand, Katy Perry…the list goes on and on.  David Lynch is also one of them.  He established the David Lynch Foundation to support the teaching of TM (http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/). For more on celebrities affiliated with TM see: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/fashion/20TM.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1328559372-/uV9YAjo1xkWg8IvtMe83g. Even Obama has “wowed” the TM-ers from Iowa by positioning himself in alignment with the rotation of the earth, in accordance with the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when he spoke to a crowd in Fairfield in 2007.

But, interestingly enough, guess who is also part of this celebrity network?  Yep – Dr Oz. Apparently, Lynch, Oz and some other celebrities, including Clint Eastwood and George Lucas, got together for a fundraiser in late November in an effort to bring Transcendental Meditation to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see http://maharishi.posterous.com/).  And if you happen to be in NYC on Monday night, you might even want to take in The David Lynch Foundation Benefit Evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/emailing/2010_09_met.html).  Dr. Oz will be there.

This is the crux of the problem.  Bias. This convoluted network that appears to begin with ‘TM’ and end with ‘OZ’ shows how good science and good science communication can be high-jacked and manipulated in entertainment media. 

I think that it is safe to say that our GE advocate, Dr. Pam Ronald, was screwed from the get-go on Dr. Oz’s Show.  In my opinion, the Show had no intention of representing the real, verifiable, documented side of this debate.  How could it?

Dr. Ronald recently blogged her ‘Oz’ experience:

“I  had a chance to plug some great science-based, academic, non-profit sites (bioforitifed,org, ucbiotech.org and academicsreview.org) but all of my case-specific examples (reduced insecticide use in GE cotton fieldsenhanced biodiversitydisease resistant papaya, Golden rice) were cut from the TV version. I guess the producers did not want to mix too much scientific evidence in there with the fantastical stuff.” (http://scienceblogs.com/tomorrowstable/2010/12/dr_oz_prescribes_non-gmo_diets.php)

At least Dr. Ronald still has her sense of humour.

Someone is going to ‘get all up in my grill’ if I say that the Dr. Oz Show is responsible for intentionally spreading false information.  So, I won’t say that.  But based upon the network that I outline here – one which Oz appears to be strongly embedded in and linked to – I think that it is fair to say that the “good” Doctor (I use this term loosely) represents the interests of the anti-GM/GE movement. He has certainly demonstrated an anti-science bias against GM crops and food.

Check out my blog entry on the Genetic ID network that I posted earlier this year.

Here are two other related blog entries that I wrote earlier this week in follow up to the Dr. Oz Show. One is an article by Wager and McHughen addressing some of the misconceptions around GM and the other shines a light on the lack of accountability by some extremists in the anti-GE movement.

*Dr Ronald is Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the role that genes play in a plant’s response to its environment. She is the co-author of Tomorrow’s Table. And by the way, Dr. Ronald’s husband (and co-author of the book) – Raoul Adamchuk – is the Market Garden Coordinator at the UC Davis Student Farm and has expertise in organics/production). Check out my blog entry on their book.

EPILOGUE (January 2011):  This blog generated quite a bit of interest and, subsequently, an interesting dialogue on the Biofortified website.  David Tribe initiated the discourse around “Vedic businesses” and “Natural Law” Check out the over 60 comments at: “http://www.biofortified.org/2010/12/vedic-businesses-use-clever-advertising/  Additionally, Why Evolution is True posted another interesting piece on on the campaign “Rock Stars of Science” and Dr. Oz’s involvement in it (posted December 17, 2010): http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/rock-star-of-science-hurts-science/.

Frightening people… simply irresponsible!

December 10, 2010 (see follow up related blog entry on the ‘Wizardry of Oz‘)

The episode of the Dr. Oz show the other day on “GM / GE foods and technology” has further perpetuated common misconceptions about GE and GMOs.  Scientists and tech/science advocates all over the world are shaking their heads and sighing.  Popular media and celebrity carries so much power with consumers and this type of irresponsible reporting and misrepresentation of facts is problematic for society at large.

In Newton’s words “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”… this may not be an ‘equal’ reaction, but the efforts of the science community to come forth and respond to Dr Oz and the show’s producers through letters/emails is a step in the right direction.

I draw your attention to Dr. Terry Etherton, a Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition and Head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University.  Today’s entry “GMOs and the Dr. Oz Show – A Stampede over Science”  in his blog entitled “Blog on Biotechnology” challenges the Dr Oz show and its producers for scripting, editing and content (http://blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/2010/12/ )

“My initial thought about the show was that it provided a great opportunity to present the facts about the efficacy and safety of GMOs to a large audience.  Unfortunately, what “played out” was way past disappointing.  There was unbelievable bias in how the segment was edited to produce the “final” version that overshadowed the sound scientific facts about GMOs.  I found it remarkable that much of what Dr. Ronald presented during the filming of the segment was edited “out” of the final version of the show!” 

Dr. Etherton wrote to the producer of the show, Rosalyn Menon.  His letter is also included in his blog entry.  Here is, in my opinion, a great excerpt!

“Unfortunately, the undertone of this segment was that the American people are the victim of some sinister plot by the conventional agriculture industry (and the scientific community) to feed them unsafe and unhealthy food, and that niche market food products, such as organic or “non-GMO verified” labeled foods are somehow safer or healthier.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  The men and women who farm in America as well as agricultural/food scientists involved in developing new technologies to feed the growing World’s population care about the safety of food and food products sold to consumers (I know because I grew up on a farm in Illinois).  To imply otherwise, simply to frighten people into purchasing alternative products that are no safer or more nutritious, is simply irresponsible.”

Dr. Robert Wager, of Vancouver Island University, co-authored the timely article “Popular misconceptions: agricultural biotechnology” in December’s issue of New Biotechnology, also wrote a letter to the Show’s producers (see my blog entry of December 9th for a link to the McHughen/Wager article. With Dr. Wager’s permission, I include his letter below:

Dear Producer

It is truly a mark of our time that facts are irrelevant in TV programming.  Perhaps I am wrong to think the Dr. Oz show was about the real science of health.  The episode on GM food was an excellent example of pseudo-science and yellow journalism.  For Dr. Oz (and I now use that title with reservation) to claim to be a supporter of science and then to absolutely block any attempts to present the real science on GM crops and food is unforgivable.  Every single example of alleged harm the other guests claimed has been refuted by real scientific organizations from around the world.  A typical example of pseudo-science had Jeff Smith state the American Academy of Environmental Medicine claim GM foods cause all manners of harm to humans. 

 Does Dr. Oz now support homeopathy as the AAEM does? 

Has Dr. Oz actually read the AMA report on GM crops and food which states :

 “Genetically modified foods raise many issues–scientific, technological, environmental, social, ethical, economic, and political.”132 Controversy over GM food exposes larger issues about public trust in science and the role of science in policymaking. In an increasingly complex world, trust functions as a substitute for knowledge. Interference with our systems of food production has always aroused public concern, occasionally with justification. Attempts to introduce GM foods have stimulated not a reasoned debate, but a potent negative campaign by people with other agendas. Opponents ignore common farming practices and well investigated facts about plants, or inaccurately present general problems as being unique to GM plants.”

http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/no-index/about-ama/13595.shtml 

Imagine my surprise when Dr. Oz chose to slander GM food by siding with those who believe homeopathy is ‘real medicine’ over the American Medical Association position.

I suspect no one at your show is aware of the 15 years and 81 separate research projects by the European Commission that found:

[GM food]  has not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make then even safer than conventional plants and food’

Kessler, C. and Economidis, I. (2001) EC Sponsored Research on the Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms – A Review of Results. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities

I could list the many biases the show used to pump the fear, but I suspect you are fully aware of them.  The real science of GM foods is very clear and there is not a single food safety body in the world that has found safety concerns for GM food beyond those of conventional bred food crops.  There is not a national food safety body in the world that has recorded a documented case of harm from consuming GM food.  Every claim to the contrary has been demonstrated to be false.

Credibility is a strange thing.  It often takes years to gain but mere seconds to lose.  At this point the position put forward by Dr. Oz is exactly what can destroy his credibility.  There are a great many real science organizations and real scientists willing to help Dr. Oz present the real story about GM crops and food.  It would definitely be in his and your best interest to take advantage of these sources and present a show that will address the damage the episode did to the  “public trust in science” and specifically the trust in the real science of GM crops and food.  Anything less will be a clear demonstration to many that the Dr. Oz show does not care about real science.  I seriously doubt that is what you want.

Robert Wager

Robert.wager@viu.ca

http://web.viu.ca/wager

I encourage you to take up the torch here… write Dr Oz and share your opinions, insights, concerns and ideas:

Ms. Rosalyn Menon
Producer
The Dr. Oz Show
30 Rockefeller Plaza – 43rd floor
New York, NY  10112

McHughen and Wager address misconceptions around ag biotech

December 9, 2010

Here is a great article to follow up from what transpired on the Dr. Oz  show this week.  Alan McHughen and Robert Wager co-author an article in the December 2010 issue of New Biotechnology entitled “Popular misconceptions: agricultural biotechnology”.  I have attached the article here and I think that the Open Source Gods will shine favourably down on me for that (even if the journal doesn’t).  Without going into detail, the article explains and refutes some of the most popular misconceptions around agricultural biotechnology.

Dr. Pam Ronald was a guest on the Oz episode which covered the issue of GE tech and food earlier this week.  Dr. Ronald did a fantastic job of representing the science of biotechnology but unfortunately she had difficulty competing with the sexy soundbytes of anti-GE sentiments parlayed by “Seeds of Deception” author J. Smith.  If that wasn’t enough, I was frustrated by Dr. Oz’s apparent bias against GE technology and GMO food – and I quote:

“…and this organic cereal contains no genetically modified seeds or products so that is an advantage…”

??!!!

Back to the McHughen/Wager article…. the authors state:

“Popular misconceptions might be considered amusing if they are held only by a small ‘fringe’ group. But sometimes the misinformation and fear can become infectious and pathogenic, instigating bad public policy, with substantial negative consequences to everyone.”

I think that Dr. Oz should have a read, don’t you? (see article attached below)

I refer to some other online sources relating to the Dr. Oz show and Dr. Ronald’s appearance on it:

Dr.Ronald’s follow up to her appearance on the show: http://scienceblogs.com/tomorrowstable/

Want some GOOD, BALANCED information? Here are some sources: bioforitifed,org, ucbiotech.org and academicsreview.org

mchughen_etal_popular_misconceptions_about_ag_biotech.pdf
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