I know I haven’t given you a #KavinCantEven in a few weeks. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, “Kavin Can’t Even” is a regular-ish column in which I present my reaction to disturbing science gaffes from the vast internet quagmire of unscientific debris. I also delight or horrify my readers with pictures of me making various incredulous facial expressions.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) my ability to even is faltering right now, because GMO Inside either doesn’t understand how allergies work, or is making a conscious choice to fear monger. Either way, their misinformation is dangerous because anaphylaxis, a severe and sometimes fatal allergic reaction, is no joke. Check out this meme and corresponding commentary:
GMO Inside is a “coalition” steered and funded in large part by the organic and natural food industry, including many of the who’s who of food woo, like Moms Across America, GreenMedInfo.com, US Right to Know, and Food Babe. So it’s no surprise that the above meme is just totally wrong in all ways.
Allergies are caused by allergens, which are essentially substances that provoke an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is really just an immune reaction gone awry. Allergens themselves are no more or no less than specific proteins that can cause an Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody response in those with allergies. For example, there are a few proteins that cause the dreaded reaction in peanut allergy sufferers. The main ones are called Ara h1, Ara h2, and Ara h3.
Grounded Parents contributor Jenny Splitter writes,
“My daughter is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Unlike GMOs, these foods present a real danger…I’ve seen her skin break out in hives and her ear swell after eating a few bites of a piece of contaminated wheat bread.”
Allergens are what cause hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms. What matters is whether or not the allergen is present, not the method by which is got into the food. GMO Inside is either grossly misinformed about what allergies are, or they’re being irresponsible and exploiting an under-informed public. I’ll place my bets on the latter.
Genetically engineered foods don’t impart a unique allergy risk; in fact they are by far the most stringently-tested for allergenicity among all foods on the market. (I think the testing process is actually overly strict for GE varieties, but more on that another day.)
As my friend The Credible Hulk wrote in “Allergic to Bullshit: Why Genetically Engineered foods do not present a unique allergen threat”:
“[O]ne of the advantages of genetic engineering is that it permits scientists to isolate a specific gene and understand which proteins it produces before going on to test its interactive effects within a plant into which it is later inserted…What this means is that the potential for introducing previously-unknown allergens into new foods is actually much less likely to slip our notice in the case of GE than for other common methods, such as selective breeding, radiation mutagenesis and hybridization, all of which shuffle around hundreds or even thousands of alleles which are not tracked, and the end product of which is subjected to little or no scientific screening process at all, despite possessing a higher inherent likelihood of producing unintended consequences.”
It’s all about the fear, uncertainty, and doubt
Worst of all, this kind of messaging implies that organic or non-“GMO” foods are somehow safer. (I put GMO within quotes because the term is extremely arbitrary.) Again, anaphylaxis is no joke. Manipulating and twisting the public’s perception of what can cause allergies is highly misleading at best, and hazardous at worst.
When called out by a rational Facebook user for the meme myth mongering, GMO Inside blathered, “blah, blah, we’re just trying to scare people and allergies scare people aren’t we clever?” Just kidding. They wrote:
“We’re not saying that organic foods don’t cause allergies. We’re making the point that without proper labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering (which have not been tested long term), it would be difficult to trace an allergic reaction back to them. Labels bring accountability and traceability, and that’s why we need them.”
Folks, I just can’t. Trace an allergen back to them? Why? Please explain, GMO Inside. As I’ve said time and again to anti-biotech bigwigs, let’s have a public dialogue in any forum of your choosing. I’m game.
When I showed this meme to Jenny, she was enraged. “They couldn’t care less about the food allergy community,” she said. “They just prey on fears about the rising rates of food allergies (as well as celiac) without any regard for the facts to gain support for their cause.”
Pretty much. And in the long run the cause they promote is profit. Biotech opponents have to demonize genetic engineering and make it sound inherently risky in order to justify the hefty premium for organic and so-called “natural” foods. Personally, I find it despicable, albeit clever.
I’m headed back to the rational world now. Remember to use hashtag #KavinCantEven (without an apostrophe) if you share or tweet this.
Featured image © 2015 Kavin Senapathy
Editor’s note: This post was updated to include the allergen testing infographic. Used with permission.