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A Pediatrician Inside Monsanto?

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stethoscope-23441288983461x1ZBy Daniel A. Goldstein, M.D. 

Yes, Monsanto has a pediatrician; I have been with Monsanto for 15 years, and it has been, at many levels, a gratifying experience. As a pediatrician and as a parent, I understand how deeply mothers and fathers care about the well-being of their children. In light of recent allegations about plant biotechnology and children’s health, I want to take a moment to talk about how I got here and what I do to everyday to protect the health and safety of those who may come into contact with our products, including children.

How does a pediatrician end up at Monsanto?  Following my training in pediatrics, I entered a fellowship training program in pediatric pharmacology – the study of drugs and drug treatment- and medical toxicology – the assessment and management of human exposures to materials in the environment.  For a dozen years afterwards I was in private practice, doing a mixture of emergency pediatrics, critical care toxicology and consulting for government and industry.

One afternoon, I spotted an advertisement in a toxicology journal- Monsanto was looking for a medical toxicologist to assist with a wide range of issues from product safety and labeling to employee training and public communications.  It was an interesting opportunity which only became more interesting when I visited St. Louis. I had never seen a greater depth of expertise in chemistry, toxicology, industrial hygiene, pharmacology (G.D. Searle was part of Monsanto then), nutrition and health collected in one place… and all accessible to me as a medical toxicologist thanks to Monsanto’s network approach.

Five weeks later, I was at Monsanto.

What do I do?  A lot of different things, some of which ended up surprising even me.  My big concern coming to Monsanto was that I would lose my connection to colleagues in pediatrics and medical toxicology. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Monsanto has encouraged me to maintain and grow these connections, and I find myself more involved in the communities of medical toxicology and children’s environmental health on a national and even international level.

My day-to-day focus, however, is on product safety.  On the chemical side, I see the information on every chemical that enters our manufacturing facilities and sign off on the “recipe” and material safety data sheet for every product we sell around the globe.  On the biotechnology side, I see and understand all of our commercial products from the ground up – starting with the selection of genetic material appropriate for food and feed use and following through to the extensive compositional and safety testing which assures that our genetically modified crops are as safe as their conventional equivalents.

That’s my conclusion on GM crops, but I am not alone – many other physicians, including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and even the European Union’s Chief Science Advisor (Prof. Anne Glover) agree.

I arrived here with two items that grace the walls of my office and that sometimes perplex my colleagues.  I consider them indispensible guideposts. One is a portrait of a gentleman who died of asbestosis. It is a reminder of the very human consequences that arise when we collectively “get it wrong.” The other is the Physician’s Oath of Maimonides – a reminder how to “get it right.”  It’s about maintaining your focus on what really matters: in the afflicted, let me see only the sufferer.

In the end, I’m a doctor. My first and foremost commitment is, and must always be, to public health –  most particularly as it related to the safety and health of those who make and use our chemical products as well as those who use and consume the crops that grow from our conventional and biotechnology seed.

As I’ve said, I’m a pediatrician and a parent; I understand how deeply mothers and fathers care about the well-being of their children. My instinct is to pay particular attention to the health and safety of children. It’s a responsibility that I take personally. I stand behind the safety of our products every day for every customer – big or small, young or old, every place they are sold.  Monsanto expects nothing less.

Dr. Goldstein is a Senior Science Fellow and Lead, Medical Sciences and Outreach. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Medical Toxicology, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Photograph by Kim Newberg via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

29 Responses to "A Pediatrician Inside Monsanto?"

  1. As a pediatrician I am curious what you think of the President’s Cancer Panel Report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk What We Can Do Now” – specifically it’s recommendation to individuals to eat food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and growth hormones. This was a Bush appointed panel, not an activist group by any stretch. How do you reconcile Monsanto’s past products of rBGH, and it’s long history of agricultural chemicals with a report that links such products to an increase in cancer?

    Reply
    • James, I am familiar with the report. I find it interesting that you go to the politics first, not the science. I neither accept nor discount a report based on the administration that appointed the panel (check Monsanto on global warming some time…).

      The problem I have is that the report draws overly broad and thus poorly substantiated conclusions. If you say “animals kill people”, “bacteria make you sick”, or “drugs cause kidney failure” you are making a statement that is true for some members of a class. A lion may kill kill you, a sparrow won’t. Pesticides are a broad class of chemistry and vary widely in biological and chemical activity. Studies purporting to find associations between cancer pesticides as a category, or across large swaths of pesticide class (herbicides, insecticides, etc.) are, to me, fundamentally flawed in this regard as it is not biologically rational to expect widely disparate chemistry to have consistent biological effects. The relevant questions relate to specific agents (or closely related structures and mechanisms). Consistent with my own, position, I will not attempt to make a broad rebuttal (but would note that such a rebuttal can be made in large part on grounds of inconsequential dose) but will focus on some of the products I stand behind- specifically glyphosate and GM crops for purposes of this discussion. Without getting too deep into the woods (and ending up with a 30 page blog)- Glyphosate is classified as carcinogen class “E” by the EPA- meaning that evidence exists for NON-carcinogenicity. It is not significantly metabolized and is excreted unchanges in mammalian urine. Repeated animal studies by multiple registrants (makers of glyphosate) are negative. There as no reproducible or convincing studies relating glyphosate to cancer in humans (for a review of this topic see the following open access source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230012000943).

      There is no evidence that pesticidal (insect resistant) GM crops (DNA, RNA, inserted proteins) cause cancer and no biologically plausible reason to expect that DNA, RNA or digestible proteins (of which you eat thousands a day) cause cancer.

      As to rBST (rBGH), this molecule has no discernable biological activity in humans due to phylogenetic differences in growth hormone receptor, and while it works in the cow in part via insulin-like-growth-factor-1 (IGF1) I would note that organic (non rBST) and commercial unlabeled milk are indistinguishable in regards to both BST and IGF1, and that the levels of IGF1 normally present in human saliva are thousands of times higher than in milk. We no longer produce rBST (sold to Elanco) – but the allegations of adverse effects, including cancer, are epidemiologically unfounded and biologically nonsensical.

      The effort to address environmental causes of cancer is a laudible one, but broad generalizations are highly unlikely to result in appropriate and cost-effective (or even non-cost-prohibative) outcomes. Individuals wishing to adopt these recommendations can move in this direction via organic food (although organic systems do use pesticidal agents, including the Bt proteins used in GM crops), but at a cost. Globally, organic production appears to me to be effectively unsustainable (perhaps less impactful but not sufficiently productive) but I cannot engage in that debate as an expert and will leave it to the agronomists.

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  2. Proud to work with Dan. He is a great guy to be around and one of the smartest guy’s I’ve ever known. He is a real asset to Monsanto.

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  3. Thanks for a great post that helps us farmers answer some of the questions (and confrontations) we deal with from the public. I think that there are plenty of open-minded consumers who really do want facts, so if we have this kind of information, we can pass it along. Of course there are those who think that anyone who is ‘inside Monsanto’ is automatically prejudiced, but there isn’t much we can say or do to change their minds.

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  4. Dan, I find it comical that you said James used politics and not science but where is your science that it doesn’t cause harm to humans? oh that’s right there are NO studies done on humans. AND the only studies done were on rats no more than 3 months and thats because at 4months is when the tumors start. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeW5yUSqdhY. ALSO show me where someone OTHER than Monsanto the company pushing GMO’s onto the market has tested it for saftey? Keith Reding: “He’s one of the smartest guys you know”? You must not know many. How dare you write this blog you know ALL of it is horse manure! SHAME ON YOU!!

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  5. I was wondering if you could make a comment on the recent study on Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. The full down load can be found here: http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416/pdf

    The western diet today consist mainly of genetically engineered food ingredients found in most processed foods which all contain small amounts glyphosate. All glyphosate tolerant crops contain a specific gene derived from a bacterium that is able to survive in the presence of glyphosate. We know that not all bacteria can survive in the presence of glyphosate, so we half assume or wonder what the are the long or short term effects glyphosate on the beneficial human gut bacteria which aid in the breakdown of food in the human gut? Glyphosate my not in itself alone be a primary source of cancer but secondary source which can help aid in the mechanisms that would promote cancer or other diseases.

    With the average persons diet in the US consisting of GMO food products, possibly up to three meals a day one has to wonder if he or she could be exceeding their daily limit of glyphosate residue exposure.

    Reply
    • With regard to daily intakes of glyphosate, even with very conservative assumptions, i.e.- that all allowable crops in the US are treated with glyphosate and carry the maximal allowable residues, we are only at 5% of the allowable daily intake. Actual intakes are well below this maximal estimate based on available data. The occurrence of low residue levels of glyphosate is permitted in food and does not indicate potential harm. It is not metabolized by the human body but is excreted into the urine and feces. All independent health assessments conducted by public authorities in Europe and internationally over the past 40 years have consistently concluded that glyphosate does not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment. [Further background material is available on Monsanto.com (http://www.monsanto.com/products/Pages/roundup‐safetybackground‐materials.aspx ) and the EU Glyphosate Website http://www.glyphosate.eu/) ]

      The paper you reference by Samsel and Seneff is an interesting exercise by individuals who seem to lack biological background, and is published in a Physics journal. This paper begins with often flawed assumptions (there is no evidence for cytochrome P-450 inhibition by glyphosate in mammalian systems at any relevant concentration) and spins a series of hypothetical associations based upon multiple assumptions. They provide no biological or epidemiological evidence that any of these relationships are in fact true, and Dr. Seneff has stated as much in follow-up interviews. I am not alone in regarding this paper as pseudoscientific gibberish- see: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2013/04/26/when-media-uncritically-cover-pseudoscience/#more-11062 and also the comments on the EU Glyphosate Website (http://www.glyphosate.eu/news/response-glyphosate-task-force-study-published-journal-entropy Monsanto is one sponsor of this website).

      Reply
  6. They pay you, maybe you believe you, I sir have read enough to make my own educated decision. We all ARE what we eat. The U.S. govt. Is one of the few left not to ban your G.M.O. products…as with your asbestos pic, look again. Do you “really” believe what you are saying,? I sir do not…. I expect you or your employer, to make this comment ” go away”. I pray I am wrong….my gut feeling, that is rarely wrong, agrees…may GOD help us if you are wrong.

    Reply
    • Please consider that many governments around the world permit the import of GM food and feed for human and animal consumption. This is true even in countries where GM cultivation is limited. Positive assessments on food safety include evaluations by nations or regions with highly sophisticated regulatory systems, including US, Japan, Korea, China, Argentina, Brazil, and the European Union where the European Food Safety Authority stands behind the safety of GM food and feed. Your statement that the US is one of the few who permit GM food and feed is simply incorrect.

      Reply
      • Sir, 3 years later, and this is becoming fact. GMO is being banned throughout Europe. If it is in fact “safe” , why does Monsanto and it’s lobby fight so hard to prevent states from.placing “GMO” warning GS on food packages? States like Vermont want a label. If it’s so safe, why is this a problem? I don’t understand. ..

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  7. Why do you keep deleting comments of the people who question you? That seems as if you have something to hide. Many know we are commenting. Just be aware you are only kidding yourself.

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  8. Why are so many comments missing? Aren’t all perspectives and polite comments welcome here even if not in total agreement?

    Reply
    • All comments are moderated. Yes, all comments and perspectives are welcome (as long as they’re polite or civil, don’t include profanity, don’t include personal attacks, and don’t threaten employees, farmers or the company).

      Reply
    • We had some delays and de-synchronization of comments over the holiday weekend. I believe all comments are now posted, subject to limits on profanity and personal attacks, etc.

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  9. Dear Doctor Goldstein,
    My daughter, Emily, throws up undigested food that was either made with GMO altered crops or fed by GMO altered crops. If however, she eats the same vegetable or animal fed with non GMO she is fine. How would you explain this difference? This took my wife and I over a year to figure out as most doctors didn’t even know what to look for. My own physician thought she needed a physiatrist and she was bringing it on herself. We have tested without her knowledge what food she was eating. She is only eight. My wife and I are both asking that vegetables grown from or fed with GMO altered foods are labeled as such. Why? So our daughter can eat. Simple isn’t it. Why is Monsanto fighting ever law that comes across the different state’s legislature? I am in the wine business, and every bottle I sell comes with a government warning regarding operating machinery and not drinking if you are pregnant. ( I, sir, believe that is quite obvious to most people, yet the Federal government decided that people must be warned) The other statement that must be on all wine bottles is “Contains Sulfites” .
    This occurs naturally during the wine making process, and people who are allergic to sulfur are advised to avoid wine ( yet the Federal Goverment decided it was necessary to “advise the world”) So why can’t you stop fighting the “Made with GMO grown products ” . If it is as good as you seem to think it is, I believe you would want to shout it from the rooftops.

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  10. Dear Dr. Goldstein,

    I respectfully request that you read our daughter Emily’s story at https://www.facebook.com/momsagainstgmos. Perhaps you can pinpoint what exactly in the “recipe” you sign off on makes her so sick? Doctors don’t know what they should be looking for but by your own admission you do. She is 8 years old and as a Pediatrician I would think that you would want to find the source of her illness.

    Reply
    • I certainly can understand your concern and your difficulties in dealing with what appears to be multiple food allergy or intolerance. Before we touch on the food allergies, I would make a few comments on the broader issues. First, at this time there are essentially no GM vegetables, the few exceptions being certain virus resistant squash varieties; there is also some GM papaya and some GM sweet corn for the fresh market. The gene in viral resistant squash is from a virus that commonly infects commercial squash and people are already exposed to the putative protein in any event, but in fact the squash expresses no detectable GM protein (proteins trigger allergy, genes DNA/RNA do not). I may need more information your statement on vegetables “fed” GM. Do you mean vegetables fertilized with GMO containing compost material? If so, plants do not take up protein from the environment and thus I do not see how this can be relevant to the discussion of allergy. Animals can of course be fed GM feed. DNA, RNA and intact protein from GM crops is not detectable in meat, milk, or eggs of animals fed in this way.

      I cannot comment on the history of alcohol labeling, but I am inclined to agree with you that the label describes a hazard which is generally well recognized, and it is far from clear to me that the label drives much of a change in behavior. The point is there is an established hazard which drives the warning label. The same can be said for sulfites and other major food allergens- we label them due to an established hazard. People who are allergic to soy are allergic to GM soy- but that is because we have not removed any of the allergenic soy proteins in the GM process. To date there has not been an established case of allergy to an inserted GM protein. It is also worth noting that while major food allergens are labeled in the US, minor food allergens are not (beyond the ingredient label if relevant). Monsanto does not sell food products directly, and hence food labels are not “our” labels to control, but our position (http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/food-labeling.aspx) has been clear and is consistent with FDA guidance (http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm059098.htm) – lacking any demonstrated health hazard or nutritional difference, there is no scientific basis for GM labeling. The AMA (http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/PolicyFinder/policyfiles/HnE/H-480.958.HTM) agrees with this position. In addition, there are already choices in the marketplace, labeled as organic or as non-GM, to assist consumers in selecting such products; we support these approaches.

      Regarding allergy test materials, my understanding is that no effort is made to exclude (or include) material from GM crops. Given that much of the corn and soybean in the US is GM, it is likely that test material is derived at least in part from GM materials. Soy sauce is extensively fermented, and is often well tolerated by soy allergic individuals- so I can’t make much of the fact that Non-GMO soy sauce was tolerated. My impression (and it is only an impression, I have not seen or assessed your daughter) is that Emily may well be allergic to soy- but this is likely to pertain to both GM and non-GM soy products when protein is present (generally absent in oils and extensively fermented products).

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  11. “As I’ve said, I’m a pediatrician and a parent; I understand how deeply mothers and fathers care about the well-being of their children.”

    Do you have the ability in your mind to respect the choice of people who do not want to take the risk (yet) or by personal reasons to eat GM food?

    One point is that because of non labeling the indiscernibility and the dependence of attributes for both pro and anti GM arguments are not sorted out yet:

    http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/5939/InTech-Rough_set_theory_151_fundamental_concepts_principals_data_extraction_and_applications.pdf

    http://secs.ceas.uc.edu/~mazlack/dbm.w2011/Komorowski.RoughSets.tutor.pdf

    Reply
    • I work with a variety of stakeholders on many different issues and have respect for many different points of view. There are people who would like to know many different things about their food- issues from rainforest friendly and fair wage to union labor, country of origin, etc. These are all legitimate issues and I respect those who hold them dear… BUT- should they drive mandatory food labeling? Food labels have finite space and focus has been on necessary and important differences in nutritional value or food safety. Programs can (and do) exist to help with many other food related issues via label or internet resources- but these are non-mandatory. Monsanto agrees with the FDA science-based approach that states food labeling is not indicated for substantially equivalent GM crops- see Labeling and FDA links on Monsanto.com. (http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/food-labeling.aspx) When we change nutrient composition, labeling is expected- for example SDA omega-3 soybean oil is not equivalent to ordinary soybean oil and will have a specific ingredient name on the label.

      I will not try to debate within the framework of Information Theory as it is not my expertise. Foods today are not labeled today for individual genes and proteins. The National Academies of Science concluded that the risks of unintended effects of GM technologies do not lie outside the risks of conventional breeding technologies. Given these facts, all dietary genes and proteins share the precise limitations you identify- indiscernibility and undefined dependence of attributes (i.e.- we can’t tell them apart externally and we don’t know what outcome effects may be attributable to them).

      I would note that GM foods are clearly not acutely toxic- we would know this by now- so the debate is about hypothetical long term effects. Thus, implicit in your argument is the assumption that, given labeling, it would be possible to clearly define dependence of attributes for long term effects. This is an extraordinarily difficult task, and would be, in my opinion, functionally unachievable for the broad set of dietary genes and gene products.

      In fact, this is precisely why food safety in the US is based on history of safe use and upon pre-market safety assessment, not on the post-market or in-market assessment of health outcomes. Long term safety studies in humans are virtually non-existent for whole foods and food ingredients with a few exceptions- for example, saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease. The reality is that there is no plausible means by which a digestible dietary protein- GM or otherwise- can induce long term health effects. We eat thousand of proteins every day, not one has had any kind of safety assessment (except the GM ones!) and there is no evidence of adverse effect.

      Reply
  12. Probalby for a Master program by Cornell for the formation of managers who spend costs/resources/personel on blogging/facebook/PR/lobbying…

    …but are not able to manage a graphic designer already doing projects more complex to add a simple label on a box.

    Cost reduction and economy, integrity, stewardship for your local MBA diplome: reallocation of the blogging resources spent on writing about broccoli to a graphic designer to add label or a small QR code to track patented products before they go through the CNC press machine.

    That would be a leadership action that speaks louder than words…

    Reply
  13. Being in this industry, commitment is the key factor to do your work well. I am very amazed on how you commit yourself with the children in Monsanto. Aside from this place, you can also find other dedicated experts like you with Dallas pediatrician.

    Reply

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