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Podcast and video: ‘Industrial’ farming unsustainable? Junk science and academic freedom; Oxalate, the new dietary bogeyman

Are our current farming practices unsustainable? If so, how do we make them sustainable? Academic freedom enables researchers to pursue their work unencumbered by outside influence, but it’s also abused by activist academics who promote unscientific ideas. How do we protect well-meaning scientists without allowing fringe voices to promote nonsense? Alternative health proponents have a new villain in their sights: accompound naturally in plants called oxalate. Is it really as bad as they claim? Nope.

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP contributor Cameron English on episode 200 of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

In order to feed a growing global population, we need to increase crop yields while reducing inputs and the environmental footprint of agriculture, says risk assessment expert Dr. David Zaruk. The Brussels-based researcher has advanced a 10-point plan that he says will help policymakers avoid “an increasing number of famines, food insecurity, migration and social strife” that could result if leaders in the European Union and elsewhere continue to promote large- scale organic farming, which is embraced for the sake of virtue signaling, not science. One important question remains: will the plan actually work?

Here’s the dilemma: Academic freedom ensures that scientists can pursue their research wherever the data leads. Unfortunately, this concept has been abused by activists with university appointments, who use their institution’s credibility to promote outright harmful ideas. Paradoxically, some schools have refused to defend researchers who do good work while allowing fringe voices in the academy to vocally deny the benefits of vaccination and proclaim that innocuous pesticides cause autism, among other scientifically dubious assertions. Is there a way to preserve academic freedom and prevent activist academics from spreading nonsense?

Gluten, carbs, sugar, sucralose, fat, salt, dairy and so many more. The list of foods and nutrients in them that supposedly do us harm seems endless. Now alternative health gurus such as Joe Mercola want to add another dietary bogeyman into the mix: oxalate. A naturally occurring compound in plants, oxalate plays an important role in the formation of kidney stones. Patients prone to kidney stones are sometimes encouraged to avoid oxalate-rich foods as a result; however, there is very little evidence linking high-oxalate foods to the litany of health conditions it’s now blamed for causing.

Kevin M. Folta is a professor, keynote speaker and podcast host. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

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