Roseanne’s Nuts about GMOs

roseannes-nutsLately, a lot has been going on in the crop biotechnology arena in Hawai’i. There’s Hawai’i Bill 79, and Kaua’i Bill 2491, and, well, Roseanne Barr. Following her showbiz career, she moved to Hawai’i and started up an organic macadamia nut farm. There was even a brief reality TV show about it, called Roseanne’s Nuts. What do you get when you combine a TV personality with an organic farm with a hotbed of political controversy over GMOs in Hawai’i? Oh yeah, lots of fun.

Roseanne testified in favor of Hawai’i Bill 79 last week, stressing her connection to the people pf Hawai’i, and, well, her burning desire to see genetically engineered crops gone. Her words were reprinted in a few news articles, and echoed by anti-genetic engineering groups.

But there was another statement of hers that started getting promoted – that she believed that the papaya variety that was genetically engineered to be resistant to the devastating Papaya Ringspot Virus wiping out farms in Hawai’i was actually the cause of the viral outbreak itself! Jon Entine wrote about it for the Genetic Literacy Project, amidst discussion about whether scientists should engage in debates with people who reject the conclusions of scientific research.

To be absolutely clear, this scenario isn’t even possible. The Papaya Ringspot Virus was first discovered on the Hawai’ian islands in the 1930s, and was a persistent problem for decades, progressively spreading and getting worse. The genetically engineered PRSV-resistant Rainbow papayas were developed in the 1990s and introduced in 1998. It cannot have caused the virus.

I was concerned, because Roseanne Barr is well known, and repeating such an obvious falsehood amplified by celebrity status could do much damage – not only to the public knowledge of this topic, but the dialog itself. When the debate becomes about bizarre time-traveling or sinister Dr. Evil-type conspiracies instead of the real science and its societal implications, then we’re all part of a grand farce.

caused

man-made tweet

So Monday I decided to send a tweet to Roseanne. The weird part is, on Tuesday she responded!

apologize

mason

Ok, well, that was not what I had hoped. But I persisted, and so did she. The twitter conversation lasted through much of the day, and some people took notice. You can read the whole thing here, on Storify, and see the many different claims that Roseanne made – each more problematic than the last. There was a mix of personal attacks and conspiracy theories, but I kept calm and brought it back to this particular issue at hand. She said that she got her information from someone else who gave testimony at the Hawai’i bill hearing, and I asked her for evidence that the claim was in any way true. She said that if she could not prove her claim, she would retract it.

retract

At the end of the day, we agreed to check our sources, and reconvene later in the week to see what the answer was.

comparenotes

If she cannot provide evidence for her claims, I’ll hold her to her word. Stay tuned!

plantare-semnibus

Is it any coincidence that this is on the back of the one dollar bill… which is also printed on GMO cotton? Maybe the Masons are behind it all!

And no, I’m not a Mormon, or a Mason! Last time I checked, I was mostly German, but the consensus on twitter was that I must be Canadian. If you buy me a beer, I’ll prove I’m not Mormon!

Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He currently works as a public research geneticist in Madison, WI. His favorite produce might just be squash.


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16 comments to Roseanne’s Nuts about GMOs

  • She also re-tweeted the hilarious satire piece about the cucumbers, being unable to tell the difference between fact and comedy. It’s very unfortunate when celebrities use their platforms so badly.

  • Didn’t you know Karl? Along with causing every ailment that is abbreviated with three letters or more letters, GMO’s are the prime cause of spacetime rips ! GMO’s add a hidden, “unnatural”, term in the lagrangian transform:

    1/Sqrt(1 – S^2 – GMO^2)

    What happens is a cosmic particle comes hurtling in at close to the speed of light, hits some GMO corn, thereby throwing in the GMO term above and, voila!, the mass of the particle goes imaginary and a spacetime rip forms !

    And, if any one actually believes that, i got a nice bridge in Brooklyn they may be interested in buying ! :)

  • This kind of reminds me of the time an anti-vaxxer tried to explain to me that vaccines cause the diseases they are supposed to prevent (which of course were no problem before the vaccines came out anyway). He too invoked ‘scientific fact’ which naturally involved ignoring most scientists. I hope the papaya farmers make some noise about how their papayas ‘aren’t decent’.

    Any thoughts on the ‘Hawai’i is ground zero against GMOs for the whole world’ claim?

    • I think the whole ‘ground zero’ claim stems from the fact that several biotech companies grow, test, and breed crops in Hawai’i. If they keep that from happening, the thought would be that it will slow down the development of GMOs.

      • Ah, that makes sense. I was thinking she was talking more of a changing the hearts & minds of the world on the concept of GMOs sort of thing rather than simply disrupting corporate operations.

      • Emar

        In reality, the seed companies will just relocate in another tropical area where there will not be the framework of the USDA in place to manage Regulated Traits. In that sense seed compnies would go the same way as Pineapple or Sugar in HI, expanding in Central America or similar and taking the jobs with them. I’m sure there are plenty of millionaire farmers ready to invest in that fallow land.

        • I think this is exactly right. They’ll just move to a place with less regulation worries.

          • theoldtechnite

            Unfortunately, the anti-gmo’ers have been working hard to ban GMO’s in third world nations, as evidenced by several African nations refusing to accept US GM corn during the 2002 famine and the long, long delay and still uncertain future of Golden Rice. We can’t keep cutting and running.

            • pdiff

              Yes, not a great strategy, but the one of least economic resistance which companies will follow. Money and jobs will eventually speak louder than activists and NGO claims. Many third world options would probably be out of sight and media attention too.

          • Ewan R

            I’m not convinced – it’d depend how hard it was to get seed back into the US (bouncing regulated seed across international borders is non-trivial from a paperwork stance) – Puerto Rico might be an option (depends how much space is available I guess, it has, if I recall correctly, a year round growing season), possibly it’d simply require a completely different strategy for bulking up seed etc (winter greenhouses and summer in the field perhaps)

    • Ben Edge

      Hawaii is used as a winter nursery by many seed companies. This helps them to get an extra breeding cycle each year, which reduces their product development time.

    • Just saw this. Turns out there were farmers out protesting the bill. I wonder what the people supporting the bill have to say about the farmer’s opposition?

  • kauai_proud

    I hope no one in their right mind took that woman’s testimony seriously. Is she for real?? Must be real nice for all these rich, famous celebrity actors (no matter how extremely washed-out they are) to know they can always come to Hawaii and start an organic farm when their prospects in Hollywood have come to an end.
    A few responses to her testimony:
    - She’s right, scientific fact IS the answer, so look to the facts PROVING that GMO is safe and necessary.
    - “…independent research”…?? Oh you mean like Google? Twitter?? Or Facebook? Is that what she means by “research”??!
    - She ran for President of the United States?? Uh. Okay. That’s it. I stopped the video after hearing that. Ridiculous.
    This is basically the type of claims/testimony the anti-GMO activists are giving. It is sad that so little of what they are spreading to people are based on fact; instead, they are using lies and fear to make people scared. Take your own advice, Roseanne, and listen to scientific fact.
    And P.S. Thanks for the invite but no thanks. My kids will NEVER attend your Halloween party.

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