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Monday, May 4, 2015

Diluting the Truth

I recently came across a blog post by a woman married to a farmer - Nurse Loves Farmer - which sets out to debunk people using adjectives like 'drenched' or 'doused' when describing the amount of herbicide applied to GMO crops.

Nurse claims through a set of mathematical equations and this infographic that the amount of glyphosate containing herbicide applied to their crops is so tiny that using the words 'doused' or 'drenched' is just silly talk for dumbasses who don't understand farming.

Please read this before complaining at me (again) about 'stolen' content, Sarah.

This is claiming that the amount of herbicide used is equal to just a soda can per acre. But is that accurate? She mentions a little further down in the post that "these results will vary on the brand of glyphosate a farmer uses, its concentration and the method in which it’s used for." Wait - concentration? Whatever could she mean?

I went over to the website at Purdue University and this is what I found regarding formulations for agricultural use: 

"Water-Soluble Concentrate (WSC): Water-soluble concentrates from a true solution when added to water and are applied with water as the carrier. ... There are usually 2 to 6 pounds of active ingredient per gallon of formulation. Example: Arsenal, Formula 40, Garlon 3A, Krenite, Roundup Pro, Tordon K,  Vanquish, Veteran 720."

*link and emphasis mine

The brand Farmer uses is by Syngenta, called Traxion.

It is a liquid concentrate. That soda can amount is being mixed with several gallons of water, and that solution of herbicide is being applied with an agricultural sprayer that puts out a spray somewhat similar to the water misters in the grocery store that keep your lettuce crisp. So whether or not 'drenched' is a correct adjective to use, I can't say - I'm not going to argue over semantics. But if you are mixing concentrate with water to reconstitute it, (forming a true solution) it is incredibly misleading to tell people you're only using an eye dropper's worth per square foot. You're out there with a sprayer, not an eye dropper - let's get real.

This is akin to me telling people that this pitcher of juice only contains 12 oz of juice.

I'm guessing you wouldn't believe me because obviously, it's 48 oz of juice from concentrate. If I diluted it further I could say that it was just 48 oz. of juice cut with however much water I used. But to say that it is diluted, when it's really a reconstituted product is flat out lying. There really is no getting around that.

Nurse is distorting the truth, and misleading the public in order to make a defense of her husbands agricultural practices. After all, Nurse loves Farmer.  She further commits another blunder at the end of her blog post when she uses a favorite phrase of the chemical industry (one which they base their safety testing on) and Skeptics alike.

"A really important thing to remember is: the dose makes the poison. This goes for anything—not just pesticides used in agriculture!"

Anything? Really? Anything at all? She links to another blog with another infographic to back up this statement, which got some of its information from 'various Wikipedia entries' to make a list of things that follow a linear dose response. Now while it's very true that there are things that this applies to, it does NOT in fact, apply to 'anything'. 

What Nurse is either unaware of, or purposefully ignoring is the field of endocrine disruption science. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, glyphosate based herbicides have been shown to have hormone disrupting effects. From Endocrine Review:

"For decades, studies of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have challenged traditional concepts in toxicology, in particular the dogma of “the dose makes the poison,” because EDCs can have effects at low doses that are not predicted by effects at higher doses. Here, we review two major concepts in EDC studies: low dose and nonmonotonicity. Low-dose effects were defined by the National Toxicology Program as those that occur in the range of human exposures or effects observed at doses below those used for traditional toxicological studies. We review the mechanistic data for low-dose effects and use a weight-of-evidence approach to analyze five examples from the EDC literature. Additionally, we explore nonmonotonic dose-response curves, defined as a nonlinear relationship between dose and effect where the slope of the curve changes sign somewhere within the range of doses examined. We provide a detailed discussion of the mechanisms responsible for generating these phenomena, plus hundreds of examples from the cell culture, animal, and epidemiology literature. We illustrate that nonmonotonic responses and low-dose effects are remarkably common in studies of natural hormones and EDCs. Whether low doses of EDCs influence certain human disorders is no longer conjecture, because epidemiological studies show that environmental exposures to EDCs are associated with human diseases and disabilities. We conclude that when nonmonotonic dose-response curves occur, the effects of low doses cannot be predicted by the effects observed at high doses. Thus, fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health."

Nurse had better get herself a fact checker. Her Skeptic friends are doing a really lousy job.

For more reading on endocrine disruption see The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX).

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