science facts and fallacies

Podcast: WHO was wrong about COVID; Pandemics make women cheat? Rampant fraud threatens organic farming

, | June 18, 2020
Cameron English: GLP Senior Agricultural Genetics Editor    More details
Kevin Folta: University of Florida plant geneticist    More details

Infectious disease experts have blasted the World Health Organization for telling the public that asymptomatic patients rarely spread COVID-19. Pandemics may encourage women to cheat on their partners. A new testing method could disprove bogus claims about the presence of glyphosate in food, and rampant fraud threatens the future of organic farming.

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP editor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

In early June, a World Health Organization official told the media that asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 is “rare.” The announcement sparked intense backlash from infectious disease experts, and WHO officials walked backed the statement the following day, explaining that it pertained solely to unpublished contact-tracing research. But contradictory commentary about the possibility of asymptomatic spread continues to proliferate across the internet. Who’s telling the truth?

A new study suggests pandemics can incentivize women to cheat on their partners. To ensure their children are capable of surviving exposure to infectious diseases, the study authors say, women may have sex with multiple partners in hopes of passing on genes that confer immunity. The research proposes a controversial hypothesis with potentially significant social implications. But one question remains: Is there any evidence to support it?

Related article:  Reporters bungle coverage of 'glyphosate probably causes cancer" determination

Anti-pesticide activists frequently claim the weedkiller glyphosate permeates our environments. It’s in the air and water, they say, as well as  food, wine and even tampons. Experts generally dismiss these concerns, pointing out that our exposure to trace amounts of glyphosate is unlikely to cause harm. A new testing method that can cheaply and quickly detect the herbicide in a variety of products may help dispel these activist-inspired stories.

The USDA is tasked with regulating organic farming, though recent evidence indicates the agency has done a poor job of ensuring the integrity of the organic food supply. Most of the grain fed to animals raised for organic meat originates in foreign countries, where companies that certify organic farming operations can simply fabricate certifications, which they’re incentivized to do because a ship loaded with organic soy is roughly twice as valuable as the same ship carrying conventional soy.

USDA could crack down on these fraudulent imports, but that would make organic production prohibitively expensive and severely limit the supply of organic food. However, the agency could destroy consumer trust in the “organic” label if it doesn’t sufficiently regulate the industry. Is there a workable solution to this rampant fraud?

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Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

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