Top 5 Craziest Biotech Stories of 2019

Some seasonal snark from Team Science to help you usher in the new year

By A. S. Hill

The Impossible Success of the Impossible Burger

One of the biggest stories of 2019 has been the runaway success of the Impossible Burger. From being a niche product last year… now it’s everywhere. That should be fantastic news: meatless meat is far better for the environment than beef, to say nothing about animal welfare. So who could possibly object? The foodies, of course! Because it’s not, er, ‘natural’ or something, according to the CEO of Whole Foods (a.k.a. Whole Paycheck) and various overpaid chefs with columns in the New York Times. And unlike the eye-wateringly expensive upper-class products at Whole Foods, it’s ‘processed’. Their message? If you eat these kinds of things you might as well go and live in a trailer park and start saying “y’all”.

Who else might object? The greenies, of course, even though they are exactly the people who should see meat alternatives as a good thing because of the environmental benefits. But no…the heme in the Impossible Burger is GMO and therefore SCARY! Cue lots of predictable frothing at the mouth by the sadly misnamed Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth US. Our favorite bit: the loopy ladies at Moms Across America put out a press release in July saying the Impossible Burger contains glyphosate. GLYPHOSATE, I tell you! (In MAM’s world, everything contains glyphosate, and you really, really should buy their very competitively-priced detox products, yours for only $35.99, to save your children from a terrible fate).

Bye Bye Natural News

Wake up sheeple! Don’t you know that the giant Zionist lizards that run Monsanto also faked the Sandy Hook shootings? Mike Adams does — here’s the Health Ranger to the rescue! But Adam’s far-right/anti-GMO conspiracist website Natural News was too batshit crazy even for Facebook, which kicked him off in June — to cheers and applause from everyone in the world who isn’t a climate denialist lunatic prepper stockpiling guns somewhere in a remote forest in Montana. Watch your back — they’re coming!

In Brazil, T is for…

Brazilian legislators took time off from destroying the world’s greatest rainforest to consider the thorny problem of how to properly label genetically modified groceries. Tough one! Everyone knows they must be labeled, because GMOs are, like, scary and stuff. Up until now, products with GM ingredients in Brazil have been emblazoned with a big T in a yellow and black triangle — the same colors, not entirely coincidentally we suspect, as the biohazard symbol. But what does the T stand for? Terror? Tyrannosaurus? Twaddle? No — it stands for Transgenicos.

Now you know. Unfortunately, our brave Brazilian politicians were not able to decide on a suitable alternative, so the big T stays. Our suggestion for a replacement would be a syringe going into a tomato — you know, the same image that you see on every GMO newspaper story in Africa. (Who puts all those syringes into all that fruit? And why? Do tell!)

USRTK Strikes Back (or, The Return of USRTK)

Over at the truth Death Star that is US Right to Know, the black-clad lieutenants in the anti-science control room took time off from killing babies (we’re not joking — most of their money comes from anti-vaxxers) to ramp up their attacks on GM advocates. It’s all very flattering, though tiresomely repetitive — we’re really all just fronting for the agro-chemical industry, banking our shill bucks by pushing pesticides on the world’s poor (and we didn’t even know!). How do the geniuses at USRTK prove this?

Because they have top secret documents handily sent over from Russia showing that someone once visited someone’s uncle’s sister’s brother who once shared an apartment with the cousin of a bus-driver whose brother once went on a plane with a mid-level executive who worked at MONSANTO! Or something. We love a good game of Six Degrees of Monsanto — everyone’s a winner!

Anti-GMOers target Target Malaria

Speaking of killing babies, what better way to keep the world’s population down than to make sure that nothing is done to tackle malaria… or nothing that involves biotech anyway. Those pesky scientists have been releasing genetically-modified sterile mosquitoes in Burkina Faso in a silly effort to tackle malaria and save a few hundred thousand lives annually.

Not surprisingly, this sparked protests in Burkina Faso. “We are not going to allow Burkinabes to be used as guinea pigs,” Ali Tapsoba, a Burkinabe activist, told Reuters. “If we intoxicate one link in the food chain, we are going to intoxicate the next link.” (No, we have no idea what this means either. Perhaps something got lost in translation?)

Leading the fight against Target Malaria, which is trying to use genetic engineering to control the mosquitos that carry the malaria parasite, is the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa — a kind of umbrella group for anti-GMO outfits across Africa, all lavishly funded by European donors. AFSA even got a paper published in a journal called Development, which masquerades as a proper peer-reviewed journal but actually (according to the small print) exists to promote “activism and alternative thinking”. Good effort guys! We agree that with a child under 5 dying from malaria every two minutes there really isn’t any great rush to tackle this very natural disease.

Actually it’s difficult to stay snarky with this one — campaigning against efforts to control malaria, like spreading misinformation about vaccines, is just… evil. Happy New Year!

Note: This delightful take on the year in review was not my creation, it was handed to me in a dark alley with a bag of GMO blight-resistant potato chips and a request to post it. Published with permission of A.S. Hill. If I had written it, my top crazy story totally would have been the accused extortionist lawyer on the Roundup case who allegedly had an expensive taste for psychedelic cocaine and stealing client contact information.

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Mary Mangan PhD is a genomics scientist, with credentials in microbiology, immunology, plant cell biology, and and molecular biology.