Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Hampshire Lawmaker Cites 'Onion'-Style Satire Site for GMO Labeling Bill

Stuart K. Hayashi

In the Newbury Port News, New Hampshire lawmaker Max Abramson has a letter to the editor stating,

A 31-year-old Spanish man, Juan Pedro Ramos, died at Madrid hospital from anaphylaxis after eating some recently developed tomatoes containing fish genes, which provoked a violent and lethal allergic reaction in January of last year. Because these genetically engineered foods are not labeled in the U.S., there is no way of knowing why so many Americans suddenly become sick, end up paralyzed, or even die without any known cause. . . . 
In Concord, I have sponsored House Bill 1674 that would require that these products be labeled in order to guarantee that consumers are able to avoid products that have been genetically altered to produce proteins that are not part of the normal human diet. Readers in New Hampshire are asked to email their legislators and ask them to support this important bill.

That sounds serious.  But as Joanna Lidback and the scientist mem_somerville informed me on Twitter (here and here), the story is fake.  It is from a satirical "fake news" website similar to The Onion and Weekly World News, called World News Daily Report.  It has a disclaimer saying,
All characters appearing in the articles in this website – even those based on real people –  are entirely fictional and any resemblance between them and any persons, living, dead, or undead is purely a miracle.

You can see the fake article here.   It begins, "Doctors of the Carlos III hospital confirmed this morning in a press conference, the first case of human death caused by the ingestion of genetically modified food. Juan Pedro Ramos died from anaphylaxis after eating some recently developed tomatoes containing fish genes, which provoked a violent and lethal allergic reaction."

Snopes confirms the story is fake over here (I learned about that from "intrepid wanders.")

That same World News Daily Report  published "David Rockefeller's Sixth Heart Transplant Successful at Age 99," complete with a spooky/goofy picture of the actually-deceased billionaire. Maybe that can be the inspiration for a health care-related bill?

UPDATE from February 15, 2016.  On State Rep. Max Abramson's Facebook page, the scientist Karl J. Haro von Mogel informed the state representative of his error: "So you are saying that the justification for this bill is 1) A fake news story about fishy tomatoes, and 2) an online forum posting that you cannot find?"

State Rep. Abramson replied directly to Haro von Mogel's comment, but did not directly address the erroneous citation of the fake news story: "No. A lot of people have contacted us personally or by email saying that their health--or their patients' health--has been adversely affected by GMO's."

As I type this update, this is the closest that State Rep. Abramson has come to acknowledging the error: "Correction: The initial story was supposed to be about the woman who was hospitalized for three weeks because of exposure to GMO corn."

WHAT?!!!!!  That's it???????

Then State Rep. Abramson's Facebook page started deriding Rick Berman, a lobbyist for the fast-food and beverage industries and someone involved with the Center for the Consumer Freedom, implying that Rick Berman's circle is trying to discredit him.  To my knowledge, Rick Berman's organizations are not related to State Rep. Abramson's letter to the editor citing a satirical, fake news story.

By the way, State Rep. Abramson's official Facebook page says the man is a "libertarian" for "smaller government" and "local control." How "small government" is it to force vendors that sell GMO foods to have labels? If there is such high demand for foods that are non-GMO that people are willing to choose non-GMO foods over GMO foods, then food vendors can voluntarily choose to label their own products as "non-GMO" or "organic."

UPDATE from February 17, 2016 (since this particular post is generating much more traffic than what this blog usually gets):  This particular blog post relates to biology; another important science is abnormal psychology.  If you are interested in the latter, you can read a spine-chilling memoir relating to abnormal psychology, "Photoshopped to Resemble a Corpse" (the true story comes with a "trigger warning":  it makes reference to childhood abuse and other harrowing, traumatic phenomena).

LATER UPDATE from February 17, 2016 (10:17 p.m. Hawaii Time):  Time magazine published an article on a GMO-related technology, the chemical herbicide glyphosate, without disclosing that the article's author is the research director of the anti-GMO pressure group U.S. Right to Know.  When the weed management specialist Andrew Kniss pointed out that this potential conflict of interest was not disclosed by Time, the author gave a reply conveying that she did not think this was such a big deal.  Does this mean an employee of a group that demands that GMOs be labeled does not want her potential conflict of interest to be . . . labeled?  Readers have a right to know!  I have a separate blog post about that here.