Mutation Butts

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Bizarro is brought to you today by the Wonders of Science.

I really like this cartoon because it is simple and humorously depicts a serious subject. I’m not a person who is unduly frightened by scientific advances; I think stem cell research is the coolest thing since free porn on the Internet, for instance. But genetically modified food is one that scares the crap out of me. The biggest reason is that you can’t control it. Once it’s out there, it gets carried by wind, birds, and insects to who-knows-where and pretty soon, all crops are genetically modified. How do you control these mutations? You can’t. What if they begin to cause health issues for those who eat them? They are. Why did the FDA allow them to be grown and sold without labeling them as such, when their own scientists advised further tests? Because corporations run our society and, by definition, are about making money, not morality. Which of the two major political parties openly wants to give corporations more power and freedom? If you don’t know the answer, you shouldn’t be voting.

Our next cartoon today is about the games of children. Americans younger than 40 have likely never seen an ashtray full of sand with cigarette butts sticking out of it, but up until smoking was effectively outlawed in the U.S., you saw these near elevators and doorways everywhere. I’m a cigar smoker, as you may know, but I am fine with outlawing smoking inside public spaces. I do, however, think that it is ridiculous to outlaw smoking outdoors the way they do in California parks and beaches. I also think people should be allowed to smoke in personal spaces, like closed offices or break rooms, and that businesses such as bars should be able to allow smoking if they choose to.

Second-hand smoke isn’t nearly the health hazard we’ve been led to believe it is (diet-related illness kills far more people each year than lung cancer but nobody would dream of outlawing BBQ) and may not be a health risk at all––what we’re really doing is outlawing an odor that some people find offensive. Many will say that’s a good thing, but what if your community decided to outlaw perfumes, colognes, hair chemicals, etc.? The odor of perm solutions and bleach in beauty salons is hideous and likely as dangerous to your health as second-hand smoke (that’s just a guess as I am only an imaginary scientist) but nobody is on that bandwagon. Too many people want curly blonde hair to worry about the health of beauty salon workers, I guess.

A well-researched, detailed article about the scientific evidence of second-hand smoke risk can be found here.

And now, please go to my official FrontOfYourHeadBook page and “like” it so you’ll get all the latest news and information from Bizarro Headquarters.

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41 thoughts on “Mutation Butts

    • Yes. You don’t inhale cigars and since second-hand smoke has been shown to cause little or no health risk, it’s not a particularly dangerous activity. Less than not wearing sunscreen.

      • Hi, your tobacco? almost all GMO. Second-hand smoke is smoke, wherever it’s from, and bad: steam & excess co2 are causes of asthma & unburnt hydrocarbons, phenols (some toxic in parts per trillion), polonium, lead, etc… are much worse. Lots of ‘studies’ from doctors hired by the tobacco companies, breaking their Hippocratic oath. I have not.

        HOW TO STOP: buy a Feverfew plant & a bottle of Bacopa

        (Ayurvedic herb). take a little frond of Feverfew & a Bacopa capsule when feeling the withdrawal up to 4 times a day.

        this method has worked even for Greeks like my siblings.

        Good luck. Linus Hollis, ScD

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  2. I have only anecdotal evidence of the harm that can be caused by second-hand smoke. The germs on those big butts that one picks up out of the ashtrays when one is really jonesing…. terrible health risk. However, in the case of my grandmother and my own mother who have never smoked in their life, ( well my mother was once known to indulge in the “herbal” cigarettes) have spent their lives living with smokers. My grandmother had a wheeze for years, that disappeared a few years after my grandfather died, and she was no longer exposed to smoke all day long. My own mother currently likes with a 2+ pack-a-day smoker and she has a wonderful smokers cough. I gave up smoking a few years ago because I found that I had NO control when I was drinking and I would wake up broke, with three empty cigarette packs and the feeling on an elephant on my chest.

    I do work in a bar, and I must say that the lack of smoke stench on my clothes when I get home is nice, however, I can deal with it by simply washing my clothes and showering.

    I am not one to advocate the taking away of personal freedoms, but I do advocate responsible exercise of those freedoms. When I was younger I thought the ATF had the greatest jobs, but then I found out they were taking away Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and I realized they were, quite literally, the Fun Police!!

    I’m not sure if I made a point or just rambled, but I haven’t commented in a while and felt like saying something! Great work lately Dan, you and your collaborators make me smile.

  3. Dan, You always provide great art and ideas. I just want to reply to your comments about the “Cigarette Butts” cartoon. I often hear people say things like if we ban smoking, should we also ban perfumes? and I say no. Perfume is not a major cause of illness and doctors don’t tell patients to cut back on the perfume after having a heart attack. And BBQ is fine in moderation but it’s impossible to know how much charred food is safe for every individual so go easy on the carcinogens. What ever second hand smoke does or doesn’t do it still smells, really really bad. It also makes clothing smell and senses dull. A few smokers I know don’t smell or taste as well as they used to. The thing that really bothers me is seeing an adult holding a cig between their fingers and pushing a baby stroller. I guess they don’t realize that children need fresh air for their little lungs. Quality of life matters just as much as length of life. If anyone disagrees with my opinion talk to my mother about it. She’s a breast cancer survivor of 30 years. She’ll tell you all about cigarettes while she adjusts her wig and she may show you scars from her double mastectomy.

    Peace out.

    • You’re right, of course. Those reason I quit cigarettes many years ago. My only objection is the treatment of second-hand smoke––even outdoors––as though it were cyanide gas.

  4. Just so you know, almost any fruit or vegetable you buy is already hybridized. Organic or not. There are very few heirloom varieties available, and they are not commercially grown. Most heirloom seeds are purchased and grown in home gardens. If gmo food causes cancer, EVERYONE would have it. And, quite frankly, gmo food has increased yield and saved lives. I’ll take my chances.

    frankly, gmo wheat, corn, and soy

  5. I get you point about outlawing smoking outside. I do have to admit that I have sinus problems and when I walk past people smoking I feel like I have snorted some sort of corrosive substance up my nose. It burns. When I pass these smoking people while covering my burning nose they glare at me like I have no right to severe nose pain. I wish there was some middle ground.

    • As a person who despises the smell of most cigarettes, I love those glass cubes! They tend to work really well. I wish they would make more of them for bus stops, and near office buildings… I don’t care if people smoke, I just hate getting that disgusted look when I hold by breath to pass them…

  6. Pardon the rant, but you touched one of my nerves here:

    Actually, I’d be all for the outlawing of excessive use of airborne contaminants like hairspray and bleach. How they’d enforce that I don’t know, though.

    As for diet-related illness vs. secondhand smoke, what I eat is a matter of my own choosing. I put it in my body by my own hand, that’s on me. However, second-hand smoke is something that the guy next to me has chosen to do but I have deliberately NOT chosen it but it affects MY health. Now I agree that people should be allowed to smoke in their own homes, provided it doesn’t affect their kids (they could still smoke in their backyard). I’ll admit I’m on the fence about outdoor smoking in metro areas. The point being allowing one person their freedom to damage their own health stops at the point of harming another person’s health against their will.

    • Your point is well taken. But my point is that studies have shown that second-hand smoke does NOT pose a health hazard to anyone who isn’t trapped in a room with it for several decades. I don’t argue that smelling smoke is annoying. I object to lawmakers outlawing it under the guise of public health. Just call it what it is: a ban on an unpleasant odor.

  7. Dan, it’s sad to see you spreading more misinformation about GMOs. You’re just as bad as the anti-vaccine nuts, pushing fear that will drive people away from supporting beneficial scientific advancements. Educate yourself better, man.

  8. The sad thing about studies is that they are the have to be funded. Which always leads to a slanted study to keep the funding beast happy. When ever I read a study, I try and find out who funded the report and what their motivations are regarding the subject.

    If I had a couple a million to blow, I could fund two studies about a single topic and, through my financial influence, get two conflicting results.

    Awhile back we were looking to build on some land in Western Washington, we were told by our realtor who the “building favorable” environmental engineering firms for us to hire to assist ing getting our building permits. And once we were finished building our home, which firms to hire to prevent further building in our area. You would think it was black-and-white, but it’s not….

    • You’re right, that happens a lot. But the studies sited in the article I linked to were peer reviewed and published in major medical journals. Not ALL studies are slanted by funding concerns.

  9. A couple of notes about “GMO”. First, let’s look at the linked article. Right off the bat, you can see it’s not a scientifically rigorous article. It doesn’t cite its sources properly and it makes all sorts of large claims. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it makes it hard to verify that it’s right. What sources it does cite look like they reference the toxicity of Round Up. I don’t think it surprises anybody that an herbicide may have negative health consequences. But there is nothing specifically about genetically monkeyed-with food itself that is singled out as dangerous, even from this heavily biased source.

    The article cites “FDA scientists” as experts on food safety. But the FDA has a built-in conflict of interest that makes its scientific opinion on this topic highly questionable. They are a regulatory agency, which means that they have to be conservative. If you ask them whether it’s okay to eat an orange that’s gone a little soft, they’ll have to voice concern and say that they want more tests because that’s their job. So, whatever scientific opinion that comes out of the agency will be more conservative than the actual truth.

    Second, it seems like there is poor understanding in general of what GMO means. In the case of Monsanto, they cultured a RoundUp resistant bacteria that injected its own DNA into the plants. How did they get the bacteria to do this? They didn’t have to do anything. This type of bacteria already exists and has been causing tumors in plants for a long time. In other words, this type of “GMO” also happens naturally. They just focused the process for their greedy goals. Somehow, this scares people because there’s the possibility of unforeseen interactions.

    Maybe some deep and dormant gene gets turned on, but think about it. If that evil gene existed, it would already be on! After all, its existence would be evidence that toxicity can be naturally desirable for plants. Compare this with eating something that is not “genetically modified”. Many plants have evolved to be toxic to animals. When you eat a tomato, you’re eating a plant from the nightshade family. You could flip on some genes in a tomato plant, and it would become poisonous again.

    To sum up, the people who are worried about GMO are generally insinuating that Monsanto can do something with its childish understanding of genetic manipulation that natural selection couldn’t do in hundreds of millions of years of trying.

    Now, I personally think that everybody who’s ever worked for Monsanto should be tried for crimes against rationality, and then put in stockades and pelted with rotten soybeans, but the GMO scare is way way overblown. We should be focusing on the things that we know are bad: In this case, RoundUp.

    I’ve no doubt that at some time in the future, we’ll be smart enough to program DNA from scratch by typing traits into a computer, which busts out nucleotide sequences, and at that point, we’ll really really need to be sure that everything is well tested. But today’s GMO crops? There’s simply no reason to think that they could have a negative side effect when compared to any other crops.

      • Here are some reasons to believe that GMO crops have a negative side effect, and that they are completely different from natural crops:

        -The safety debate has been repeatedly suppressed by bad science. One of the unscientific strategies used to extinguish the safety discussion is to tautologically define a novel organism or novel food created through genetic engineering as ‘substantially equivalent’ to conventional organisms and foods. However, genetically engineered crop or food is different because it has genes from unrelated organisms – it cannot, therefore, be treated as equivalent to a non- genetically engineered crop or food. In fact, the biotechnology industry itself gives up the claim of ‘substantial equivalence’ when it claims patents on GMOs on grounds of novelty.

        -Despite claims that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will lower the levels of chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) used, this has not been the case. This is of great concern both because

        of the negative impacts of these chemicals on ecosystems and humans, and because there is the danger that increased chemical use will cause pests and weeds to develop resistance, requiring even more chemicals in order to manage them.

        – Monsanto has been claiming that through genetic engineering it can breed crops for drought tolerance and other climate-resilient traits. This is a false promise. As the U.S. Department

        of Agriculture (USDA) has said in its draft environmental assessment of the new drought- resistant GE corn, “Equally comparable varieties produced through conventional breeding techniques are readily available in irrigated corn production reviews.” (“USDA Looks to Approve Monsanto’s Draught-Tolerant Corn,” The New York Times, May 11, 2011.)

        – Among the false claims made by Monsanto and the Biotechnology industry is that GE foods are safe. However, there are enough independent studies to show that GE foods can cause health damage.

        For example, Dr. Arpad Pusztai’s research has shown that rats fed with GE potatoes had enlarged pancreases, their brains had shrunk, and their immunity had been damaged. Dr. Eric Seralini’s research demonstrated that organ damage can occur.

        The Committee of Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) and universities at Caen and Rouen were able to get raw data of Monsanto’s 2002 feeding trials on rats at the European Council order and made it public in 2005. The researchers found that rats fed with three approved corn varieties of GE corn—Mon 863, insecticide products, Mon 810, and Roundup Ready herbicide —suffered organ damage. The data “clearly underlines adverse impacts on kidneys and liver, the dietary, detoxifying organs as well as different levels of damages to the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic systems,” according to Dr. Gilles Eric Seralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen. (“A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health,” Joel Spiroux de Veu de Mois, Francois Roullier, Dominique Cellise, Gilles Eric Serelini, International Journal of Biological Sciences, 2009, 5: 706-726).

        The Biotechnology Industry attacked Dr. Pusztai and Dr. Seralini and every scientist who has done independent research on GMOs.

        – genetic Contamination is Inevitable, Co-existence is not possible

        In addition to causing harm to public health and ecosystems, GE seeds and crops provide a pathway for corporations to “own” seeds through patents and intellectual property rights (IPRs). Patents provide royalties for the patent holder and corporate monopolies. This translates into super profits for Monsanto. For the farmers this means debt. For example, more than 250,000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide in the last decade and a half. Most of the suicides are in the cotton belt where Monsanto has established a seed monopoly through Bt cotton.

        – GMOs are intimately linked to seed patents. In fact, patenting of seeds is the real reason why industry is promoting GMOs.

        Monopolies over seeds are being established through patents, mergers and cross licensing arrangement.

        Recently, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, brought together 400 scientists, UN agencies, governments, non-governmental organisations, industry and farmer associations across the globe for a four-year scientific project. This is the equivalent for agriculture as is the IPCC report for climate change. The Synthesis Report(Synthesis Report Executive Summary: http://www.agassessment.org/), endorsed by 60 governments, concludes that genetically modified crops are not a solution for poverty, hunger or climate change.

  10. You know I think you’re the bees’ knees of cartoonists, but….smoking… or passive smoking? Gross. But it’s your blog, so I’m not even going to go there, except to say that I am thankful for smokefree pubs and restaurants since New Zealand brought in legislation to ban smoking from all workplaces. :p :p :p

  11. I completely agree that it’s a person’s own choice what they wish to do with their life in their own house. But when your cigarette smoke enters the air I breathe, you’ve crossed the line and are interfering with my right to pursue health. Are you simply going to ignore the numerous hazardous chemicals present in second-hand smoke? Many scientists and doctors would beg to differ.

    • If you read the article I linked to, you’ll see that all of the major studies done about second-hand smoke find that there it represents no health hazard unless you’re trapped in a roomful of it for decades. Bartenders in bars where smoking is allowed were found to have breathed the equivalent of 6 cigarettes per year. That’s not a health hazard. As I said, call it what it is: a ban on an unpleasant odor.

  12. “Throughout history there’s never been an abundance of food. All food is the product of technology; apples, corn, tomatoes, all modified. Every food has been changed through selective breeding or grafting. For ten thousand years each attempt at improvement has changed the DNA of the plant. Now some people are up-in-arms about changes in DNA. You know what? If you’re able to get up and have food you should celebrate. We should all dance about how much food we have. Why is anyone fighting food advance? A very small percentage of the world’s population is fortunate enough to have the luxury of turning down food. The rest of the world spends most of its time trying to get any food. You know why? Technological problems. They got dirt, they got water, they got sun. They lack the technical ability to till or enrich the soil. They lack the machines to plant enough to feed their families. They lack the hybrid plants that produce more food per acre. We need to spread all the technology all we can, so all people everywhere can deal with the problem of too much food. We can’t start getting picky because we’ve got enough food- that’s just self-centered and racist. Unless you and yours are starving, you need to SHUT THE FUCK UP!” – Penn Jillette

    • Since my previous post, I read more on the subject and have recanted my accusations about GMO foods in today’s blog post.

      In the larger picture: If you really want to support feeding the poor in other countries, adopt a vegan diet. Animal agriculture uses 12 to 16 times the plants and water for each meal that it takes to feed a person with a plant-based diet. Every time you eat a hamburger or pork chop, you could have fed 16 people with the plants and water it took to grow it. Our addiction to meat at absurdly cheap prices is causing more environmental damage and starvation worldwide than any rant from Penn could defend against.

      • Dan, this is the best reason to be vegan that I’ve read. IMO, this is THE reason to be vegan. The animal rights angle is simply not intellectually compelling to me (although it is emotionally compelling). I think if I was perfectly rational, I’d start being a vegan today.

      • So you think that changing to a vegan diet here in Boston will somehow put food in the mouths of children in the middle of India somewhere? Magical thinking.

        • It’s a philosophical argument, primarily. The figures about plants and water per hamburger vs. per vegan meal are essentially correct, but to have an affect, most people would have to stop eating meat, thus changing the market place. So no, if you stop eating meat in Boston, it won’t immediately affect anyone. But for me, it’s like asking if I don’t buy a pair of shoes manufactured by slave children in Indonesia, will it save a child? No, but I still won’t buy it.

  13. Dan,

    Actually, the scientific consensus on GMO is that it’s safe. This will be an important tool for agriculture and particularly for vegans.

    We had a talk with Dr. Kevin Folta on the subject and it was enlightening:

    Vegan Chicago Podcasts

    Further reading:

    Science20 with Dr. Kevin Folta >> Atomic Gardening – The Ultimate Frankenfoods

    Skeptical Vegan >> Frankenfood Fears

    Pythagorean Crank >> You Say Tomahto, I Say Flavr Savr

    Native Foods Blog >> Vegans Who Support GMO’s (Say What?)

    Thanks!

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  15. Wow! I thought there’d be more comments about your stance on second hand smoke. Ah well, just putting in my 2 cents worth: I am astounded that there are still people who think that second hand smoke is not very bad and couldn’t possibly be very harmful. To me, that thought is completely absurd. (especially coming from you as I agree with a lot of your other opinions). http://www.smoke-free.ca/heathercrowe/heathers-story.htm …although I do agree that outlawing it in open air is a little ridiculous…you are outside after all and it should be free public space.

    Regardless, I still love your comics and will always be a dedicated Jazz Pickle. What else would I use to wallpaper my cubicle walls?

  16. While I agree with you, that second hand smoke is not a deadly danger for most people, it is a problem for some. My wife and several friends have asthma, and in their case, smoke often triggers an asthma attack. That can be a serious issue. I don’t know all the data, but from a personal point of view it can be a very serious issue.

    • Certainly true and I back banning smoking inside public spaces for that reason. My contention is with the banning of it on beaches (notoriously windy), public parks, ALL bars and restaurants, as opposed to ones who want to ban it, etc. Thanks for your input, Chris.

  17. Your linked ‘article’ is not a scientific source.

    The literature makes it pretty clear that second hand smoke is an issue.

    http://journals.lww.com/epidem/Abstract/2010/03000/Second_hand_Smoke,_Cotinine_Levels,_and_Risk_of.8.aspx

    large epidemiological study showing clear increaed risks for non-smokers exposed to second hand smoke (with a dose dependant response even)

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0004244

    study showing positive impact of a full ban on hospitality workers

    http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org/content/11/8/945.short

    study showing that COPD is made worse by exposure to SHS.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169500207006794

    Second hand smoke increases risk of lung cancer. Published in 2008.

    Just three of many.

    Blogs and opinion pieces shouldn’t be what decides issues. The science is clear, it repeats across studies, across populations, there are dose dependant responses, there are age related responses (exposure in childhood is more risky than as an adult, although risk is involved in both situations)

    Apparently you can change your mind on GMOs, one rather hopes you extend this further. Although if you’re down with increasing the risk of all and sundry who you expose to your noxious fumes more power to you, I have no doubt you can find countless blogs, opinion pieces and other information sparse pieces which will keep you happily blinkered and doing exactly what you want to do.

  18. There is a problem with GMO. It’s concrete, easily demonstrable, and founded in greed. The problem is twofold: 1) terminator genes and 2) licensing.

    1) Plants with terminator genes will produce viable seeds for only one generation. After that they’re stunted or sterile. The upshot is that farmers are thus required to buy new seed every year instead of saving some for next year as has been done for millenia. This is very ethically questionable and risks ruining the gene pools of crops for farmers who may want nothing to do with such seeds. Consider a farmer who plants a field with wheat that his family bred for that region over a hundred years or more. Now suppose another farmer plants a field with terminator seeds nearby. Pollen will inevitably get into the first farmer’s field and pass on its terminator genes. It’s already known that this situation often results in the first farmer’s crop producing damaged or unviable seeds. Terminator genes contaminate the gene pool with detrimental genes that threaten to create monocultures. Do I have to remind anyone about the danger of monocultures? Remember the Irish Potato Famine? Do we really want to go anywhere near the situation where only a few companies have the ability to produce viable seeds?

    2) This goes hand-in-hand with out-of-control patent laws and meshes with my first objection. While it’s fine to license a copyrighted work or patented process to some company, it doesn’t really work that way with organisms. Seed companies sell seeds with the stipulation that the farmer doesn’t save seed. They’re licensed to produce one crop per purchase. The companies liken saving seeds and giving them to others to copyright and patent infringement. Organisms don’t care about laws. They seek to reproduce by any means possible. It is entirely unreasonable to tell a farmer that he must pay fines for allowing his crops to be pollinated by pollen from his neighbor’s fields.

    • Dave,

      your part 1 is an unfounded fear as terminator genes aren’t used.

      Your part 2 is in stark contradiction to your part 1 (how can one save seeds if they won’t grow? One rather wonders how this bizarrely contradictory set of beliefs at how the world operates manages to survive in your head). The second part is entirely fair – while organisms do reproduce it takes a conscious effort by farmers to have the kind of transgenic presence which would lead to a lawsuit – accidental flow from pollen simply won’t do it.

      So – ” It’s concrete, easily demonstrable, and founded in greed.”?

      Ephemeral, not demonstrated, founded in fantasy seems to be more the order of the day.

  19. Pingback: World’s Strangest | Larry, Curly and GMO

  20. I worked for a company that was later bought by a very large ag chemical company. My company was working on adding B.t. toxin genes to major crop plants. The target species were corn earworm and rootworm, aphids, and tobacco hornworm.

    I can’t speak about the health implications of GMO’s but I did notice a glaring lack of concern for non-target species mortality and creating resistance in target species. Not having a doctorate, just a bachelor’s in ecology (which meant I still knew more about the subject than they did), I was usually ignored. If I was granted a response, it was either “But, it’s natural!” or “We’re gonna make a bunch of money!”

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