Supreme Court hearing on GMO Alfalfa

Observers filing through to see a portion of the hearing. photo credit: Monsanto via Twitpic

There is certainly a lot of commotion about the first ever US Supreme Court hearing involving genetically engineered crops, which is being held today. The case is Monsanto Company v. Geertson Seed Farms, (SCOTUS Wiki) and depending on how this turns out, it could mean the end of genetically engineered alfalfa forever or the eventual destruction of all organic dairies, right? Well, no. So what is the court case about?

The court case is not actually about GE alfalfa, although this legal battle began with alfalfa. In 2006, several groups joined together led by the Center for Food Safety to sue the Secretary of Agriculture over the deregulation of roundup-ready alfalfa produced by Monsanto. The USDA had conducted an Environmental Assessment according to its GE crop approval policies and concluded that there were no big issues that they needed to investigate further. If they had found any in the assessment they would have moved on to the much more involved Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The court case over GE alfalfa was decided in 2007, with US District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer saying that the USDA should have done the full EIS, and placed an injunction on future plantings of GE alfalfa until such an EIS is conducted by the USDA. Farmers already growing the alfalfa could continue to grow it.

Since then, the case was appealed a couple times by Monsanto, leading up to the Supreme Court. The case is not about the specifics of alfalfa cross-pollination, organic farms, or export markets – it is actually just about the specific details of what is required to grant an injunction under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). At one point, an evidentiary hearing was part of the short list of issues, but that has been dropped and this is what we have left:

(1) Whether plaintiffs under the National Environmental Policy Act are specially exempt from the requirement of showing a likelihood of irreparable harm to obtain an injunction; (2) whether a district court may enter an injunction sought to remedy a NEPA violation without conducting an evidentiary hearing sought by a party to resolve genuinely disputed facts directly relevant to the appropriate scope of the requested injunction; and (3) whether the Ninth Circuit erred when it affirmed a nationwide injunction that sought to remedy a NEPA violation based on only a remote possibility of reparable harm.

So while this is a case involving GE alfalfa, in many ways it is not even about genetic engineering. I had an hour-long conversation with one of the lawyers that filed an amicus brief (in favor of the anti-GE side) and learned a bit about the process and the issues involved. Essentially, it is over whether a court can grant an injunction (based on the NEPA) without presenting evidence of future harm, or even relying on remote possibilities. I would like to point out a few interesting observations I have made about this case and what it will mean or how it is being presented by either side.

First, this will very likely not matter very much for GE alfalfa. The injunction that prevents planting new stands of Monsanto’s forage will be lifted when/if the USDA approves the new draft EIS, which was completed in November 2009. What did they find? Well, pretty much the same thing as the original Assessment, just 1476 pages long. If Monsanto loses the case, the EIS may go through and the alfalfa gets approved again. If Monsanto wins the case, the injunction is lifted and farmers can plant GE alfalfa again while waiting for the EIS. So while some people have framed the case in terms of “stopping GM Alfalfa” it will probably not ‘stop’ the alfalfa at all. One of these two paths to approval may just be slower than the other.

Second, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Monsanto, then that may have profound implications for the GE sugar beet situation. The same process of EA —> injunction —> EIS is playing out, and if I understand the legal issues involved, the greater effect of this case will probably be that it could allow GE sugar beet plantings to continue. (There was apparently a bentgrass field trial affected by something similar, too.)

Third, there is talk at the USDA about requiring all GE crops to undergo an EIS right from the start, and if that is the case, then it may not matter much for future GE crop regulation. I think there will be greater implications for other cases involving the NEPA, but I do not know enough about it to have any prediction of which result would be good or bad. The idea of requiring evidence before action is appealing, but I suppose I could find an example where we don’t have evidence and we would want to pause and conduct further research before continuing. How would the (near-zero) likelihood of the Large Hadron Collider causing a black hole fare under either outcome if someone wanted to stop its operation? (If it was in the US, that is.)

There has been a slough of amicus briefs filed in support of either side, and I think it is kind of funny that each side only mentions the briefs filed in their favor. The Center for Food Safety’s “full list of amici” has only their own supporters in the list. (The same with Monsanto’s press release) The SCOTUS Wiki has everything.

Interestingly, one of the amicus briefs written by the Union of Concerned Scientists clearly states that GE crops have increased yields (3-4% in corn), while the Center for Food Safety’s page states that the UCS report found they have not. I left a polite comment on this page last week pointing out that the report Failure to Yield did in fact estimate a yield increase, and while I could see that comment for several days pending moderation, I no longer see it. It may have been deleted. Does the UCS know that the CFS disregards their research findings – even when they put those findings in an amicus brief filed in favor of the CFS?

It is also interesting to note that the Consumers Union poll that was misrepresented by the CU itself has also made it into some of these briefs as evidence that organic consumers would reject “contaminated” organic foods and that farmers would lose their markets. In reality, the biased poll showed the opposite – that most organic consumers do not care or care little. The lawyer I talked to that filed one of the briefs, however, did not read the references used as evidence in the brief, and was only representing the interests of their clients (Also had no personal stake in the outcome). So take the statements about genetic engineering in these briefs with a grain of salty soil.

A lot has been written about alfalfa and markets and such in the amicus briefs, and it is possible that the justices could decide to rule on things that are more specific to GE crops, such as who has authority in deciding what is appropriate regulation of crop releases.

Finally, I would like to comment on one of the controversies surrounding the justices themselves. Justice Breyer has recused himself because the judge that issued the ruling in 2007 was his brother. That’s a pretty cut-and-dry conflict of interest. However many anti-GE individuals have been calling for Clarence Thomas to also recuse himself from the case because he used to work for Monsanto… 30 years ago.

I know of no case where working for an organization for a few years (1976-79) would be a conflict of interest after 30 years of time has passed (Now 31). My entire life isn’t even that long. I do not think that Thomas should have recused himself from the case (and he didn’t) because of the huge amount of time that has passed. It’s different people, a different company, and different issues.

The calls for his recusal instead stem from an analysis of Thomas’s politics and his assumed likelihood of ruling in favor of Monsanto. The court is split 5-4 on the conservative-liberal continuum, and Breyer was one of the liberal justices. With his recusal, that would make it 5-3, which worries the anti-GE folks. When I attended Zelig Golden’s talk at the MOSES Organic conference (former CFS lawyer whose name is still on the case), he talked about this worry as well, specifically mentioning the political split. However, genetic engineering in agriculture, despite their best efforts, is not a very politically polarizing topic. Predominantly liberal groups that oppose GE crops have been trying to link it to G.W. Bush and G. H.W. Bush policies, while Clinton and Obama do not appear to be very different. Heck, Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, is an advocate of GE crops. So to base demands for Thomas’s recusal on a political analysis is problematic.

Indeed, as some of the interests that are against GE alfalfa are businesses themselves, the CFS might find Thomas deciding in their favor. Even some who call for his recusal point out that his vote is not automatic. And I’ll be the first to say that I have an immense distaste for Clarence Thomas’s politics, particularly his views on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, Abortion, etc. But these are not good reasons to justify his recusal from cases involving those issues, as much as I would want him to.

I am no legal scholar or historian, but it seems to me that if conflicts of interest are to stretch back to employment that is older than three decades, it will reduce the ability of the highest court in the land to do its job considering that each justice is a lawyer and has worked for lots of places, and know a lot of people. How many years since employment is too close for comfort, anyhow? Have Supreme Court Justices recused themselves for more years, or not recused themselves for fewer?

One of the important things that the court does is discuss and deliberate amongst themselves, and needlessly excluding voices from that discussion reduces the number of innovative legal solutions that the court can offer. While this case may set legal precedent for other NEPA cases in lower courts, this debate over 31 years since employment as a conflict of interest risks setting a social precedent that could harm other cases as well.

Mica at Monsanto has also commented on the case, and here is the first Associated Press article about the hearing. Scuttlebutt in Twitter is that the Supreme Court is “going down a disastrous path” by suggesting that the USDA should be in charge of GE crops. Outrageous! Let the dire predictions begin.

The case is expected to be decided in early June.

Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He currently works as a public research geneticist in Madison, WI. His favorite produce might just be squash.


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52 comments to Supreme Court hearing on GMO Alfalfa

  • Wow. Thanks for the rundown of this complicated subject, Karl. I find it especially interesting that each side is only providing access to amicus briefs that are favorable to their side. And even more interesting that some of the briefs contradict each other. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

    One question – don’t all GE crops require EIS? I totally thought they did.

  • I’m not sure about briefs contradicting each other. If you mean with regard to the yield claim, the CFS website is contradicting the UCS briefs. I didn’t find any of the other amicus briefs claiming no yield gain. I did a search for ‘yield’ in them and came up with nothing.

  • I think based on the ruling on alfalfa that currently all GE crops would require the EIS, however the arguement before the court is that the EIS wasn’t needed because the EA didn’t warrant it.

    At least that’s what I’ve got out of the whole thing… so before the Alfalfa ruling it was generally accepted, by those regulating the industry at least, that if the EA was neutral then no EIS was required.

    Part of me wonders that if this goes down a course where it becomes apparent that an EIS is fundamentally required whether or not there will be any recourse for growers and seed manufacturers who have been essentially stuck in a holding pattern for GM alfalfa due to ineptitude by the USDA (if the EIS was required, then they shoulda done it before anything was approved for release – all sides end up getting ‘hurt’ if the process isn’t run properly, one emotionally the other financially)

  • Farmer/Beekeeper

    One third of our food supply depends upon bees for pollination. Monsanto “requires” that growers must not allow the GM alfalfa to bloom! Bees need flowers for pollen and nectar to survive. Starve the bees and the people will starve! How can anyone claim that there would be no “likelihood if irreparable harm”? Alfalfa is the very first GM modified “perennial” plant to be considered for release into the environment. There is the misconsception by some that GM and conventional alfalfa can co-exist. With 60 years of experience in farming and in the commercial beekeeping business, I sincerely believe that the assumptions that these people have based these conclusions upon are flawed. The Supreme Court does have an issue to address. However, to avoid the “likelihood of irreparable harm”, APHIS and USDA must finally step up to the plate and “disapprove” the application by Monsanto. Bees are the Achilles Heel of a plentiful food supply. Albert Einstein is credited with the quote “If bees would be removed from the face of the earth mankind, as we know it, would only have about four years yet to live”. I pray that we do not try to put the validity of that quote to a test.

    • Other variables here that need to be considered – how reliant on alfalfa are bees? To what extent is alfalfa generally allowed to flower – I was under the impression, and I could be totally wrong here, that in farming Alfalfa you harvest before flowering (95%+ is used for forage according to monsanto website (better citation needed…?) – are all alfalfa growers part of a global anti-bee conspiracy? (if I remember right flowering etc greatly effects the quality of hay produced from alfalfa which is why it is harvested vegetatively rather than in reproductive stages)

      According to the monsanto website (citation needed I guess…) alfalfa is only pollinated by a few species of bees which are introduced deliberately – suggesting that regular bee populations either ignore alfalfa or are not really impacted by it at all (why introduce species of bees to pollinate if the locals will do it for free?)

      • pdiff

        We typically used to shoot for 1/3 bloom at harvest, but it probably varies by region. Quality of hay (protein) is affected by timing. Honey bees can pollinate alfalfa, but sweat bees, particularly alkali bees are better suited to the smaller blooms. In those cases they are often encouraged by growers by providing nest areas (alkali bees live in ground nests, other sweat bees can be accommodated by drilling rows of holes in boards mounted on posts). That, however, would only be done in the relatively rare cases where growers are raising alfalfa for seed, not forage.

        Bottom line: letting alfalfa completely bloom is not common practice unless you are in the rare circumstance of growing alfalfa seed, in which case Monsanto would be controlling the outcome for IP reasons.

  • Hi Farmer/Beekeeper,

    I had not heard that Monsanto ‘required’ farmers to harvest before flowering. I have heard that harvest often happens before flowering in the descriptions of typical harvest practices, however, after a couple cuttings they will eventually flower. If you could point me to where you got this information about this requirement I would appreciate it.

    Your Einstein quote is completely fabricated, which you should know as you say you are in the commercial beekeeping business. It was invented when the news of Colony Collapse Disorder hit, and was quickly debunked. By the way, I keep bees, and have bees on my wedding ring. :) What we need are good methods to fight bee pests and diseases, and increase the diversity of food available for them. The plight of the bees is not a sledgehammer for bashing genetic engineering, although there are several groups that try to use them as such.

    As for alfalfa being the first perennial GE crop approved, thanks for bringing that up. That is another false claim made by several groups. Virus resistant Papaya was the first perennial GE crop approved for commercial release, and it grows aplenty in Hawaii. In fact, some organic plantations surround their fields with the GE ones to protect them from the virus!

  • I am sort of shocked by vehemency against Justice Thomas for his supposed black past. Even if you assume everyone who works for Monsanto is somehow tainted (which I do not), he worked there for so little time so long ago! This has nothing to do with whether or not he is a good justice or whether he has opinions we agree with. With strict judgements like these from the public, is there even any hope for companies to ever be transparent enough for them? I don’t think so. Which, if I was a high up person in one of the companies, means there is no point in increased transparency. Sigh. Maybe that’s too pessimistic, I don’t know.

    hyperlocavore says:
    RT @RainforestMoon: @hyperlocavore @cookingupastory Clarence Thomas is former Monsanto legal honcho, declines to recuse himself. Confl …

    geneticmaize says:
    @hyperlocavore former = 30 yrs ago he worked for them for 3 yrs. Hardly cause for the “oh noes” :p

    hyperlocavore says:
    @geneticmaize Actually it does. I think working for an evil company like Monsanto permanently marks a person as untrustworthy.

    geneticmaize says:
    @hyperlocavore wow. Sorry but I think that’s really judgemental. Is eveyone who works for walmart tainted? McDonalds? Conv farmers?

    hyperlocavore says:
    @geneticmaize Nope. I am discriminating about who I think deserves judgement – and so are you if you are honest.

    geneticmaize says:
    @hyperlocavore I think a person can do something 30 yrs ago (or less, even) and then change. We all make mistakes.

    hyperlocavore says:
    @geneticmaize I think that is certainly true. I do not think he is one of those people.

    hyperlocavore says:
    @geneticmaize This court just gave corporations the same rights as citizens, Jefferson is spinning in his grave.

  • 30 years is more than enough time for most people to be forgiven for murder by society. Apparently working for Monsanto is worse than this.

    Awesome.

    Perhaps I should go out get a prison tat and a leather jacket or something.

    • Yeah. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

      What I don’t understand is how anyone could confuse regular employees with high level management. As a young lawyer, surely Justice Thomas had nothing to do with any company wide policies. It’s just ridiculous to think that lawyers, scientists, accountants, anyone starts work with the goal of being part of an evil global company. If there was a survey, I’m sure people would say “I just needed a job and they were hiring” and/or “I want to work with crop development to help people”. I even have a hard time calling upper management evil or whatever. They’re probably doing the best they can to work with restrictions in the world and their actions just get misunderstood like crazy (Schmeiser is just the tip of the iceberg), often on purpose. Arg.

  • If Liz McLellan was right, then Frodo should have killed Gollum when he had the chance… of course then Sauron would have won and captured The Ring at Mount Doom.

    “I think working for an evil company like Monsanto permanently marks a person as untrustworthy.”

    What a quote.

    I think she gives away the game by bringing up the ‘corporate citizenship’ part. As I mentioned in my post, this is political targeting, which we do NOT need done to the Supreme Court. Next he will be labeled as an “activist judge.”

    • I believe Liz’s opinions on this are not unique. There is a big anti-corporate undercurrent in the anti-GMO movement. While in reality there are non-corporate GMOs, it is very difficult for people to mentally separate the two. I’m not sure what to do about that.

  • It’d be nice if there were some mainstream non-corporate GMOs rather than either things which are just coming about, or things which are very speciailized to problems which don’t affect your average Joe weighing in on the debate – to be honest I do hear more ‘well I hate Monsanto but can see that GMOs might be awesome’ type comments these days than I have previously, so the tide may be changing slowly.

  • We do have one public project to point to, however, and that is the Papaya. I think there was some company involvement with regard to patents, but it was primarily a University of Hawaii and Cornell project methinks.

    It will be some time before other public projects come out. All eyes are on Golden Rice. I wish that so much didn’t have to depend on its performance – its kind of like the first woman to enter a military school. If she fails, women fail. But we can take heart in the fact that the ‘hyped’ yellow rice is doing well and holds a lot of promise. And the chief opponents of genetic engineering are largely in denial of how well it is doing. They still think it is a hoax or that it has already failed.

  • Oh yeah, there’s also China’s investment in genetic engineering.

    • Party Cactus

      Speaking of foreign GE projects, another country I always feel is worth mentioning is Iran. They were the first to develop Bt rice, right? I think Iranian biotech in particular is significant because I’ve seen some people claim that the reason so many people in relevant fields aren’t railing against GE is because Monsanto is bribing every botanist/horticulturist/agronomist/biochemist/zoologist/geneticist/ect., but here’s Iran, probably the last country in the world that would go along with an American company’s conspiracy, growing their own GMO, and according to this, which was apparently taken from Nature, the Iranian National Institute for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology has plans for more. Good for them I say.

  • Nathan Milligan

    Interesting article.
    My concern is that, as I hope to avoid GMO food, the possibility of that shrinks with every passing season.

    Further, the merits of GMO food echo the ‘merits’ of the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. Applying the logic of the factory to the farm with the creation of CAFOs, necessitated the use of antiobiotics not just as treatment but as prevention and thusly has led to “superbugs” such as MRSA that simply don’t respond to our antibiotic arsenal.

    Additionally, the notion that GMO seeds are firmly protected & labeled-as they are distinctly different from conventional seed and the intellectual ‘property’ of whatever company that developed them-while the crops that grow from GMO seed are deemed by our USDA to be ‘not substantially different’ and therefore not subject to labeling is, in my eyes, laughable. (And it’s laws like these that make people question the motivations of our justices, I believe.)

    Trusting our food-and indeed, our future food-to technologies that further insert Agribusiness companies between farmer & soil is, at best, a precarious place to sit at the supper table.

    • Nathan, I appreciate your concerns. I too don’t like the idea of massive factory farms, monocultures, or agribusiness controlling everything between farmer and soil (or soil and fork!).

      Happily, biotech doesn’t have to be any of those things.

      Unfortunately, in the US, GMOs do often go with one or many of these things. I personally think, in my semi-educated perspective, that this is due to a lack of public investment in ag research, coupled with a public that just isn’t interested in telling their representatives that more funds are needed for science. On the contrary, the public often demands that public research end in the US (an extreme but not that extreme example can be found in Sarah Palin’s derision of fruit fly research during the most recent presidential campaign. At least in the US, unlike in Europe, research is rarely actively destroyed. Thankfully, there are more public funds for ag research being spent in places like India, China, and Brazil and in the US, more and more public/NGO/private partnerships are being set up.

      Anyway (sorry for the tangent) biotech crops aka GMOs just like any other plant, can be useful on any size farm, combined with sustainable farming practices, and developed by public funds and non-profits. I know, this sounds crazy, but hear me out.

      Take Bt corn for example. The Bt trait is used very successfully in monocultures with lots of other inputs like synthetic fertilizer and herbicides. It is also used very successfully by small farmers who use few inputs. Nutritional traits and so-called climate change traits like drought tolerance (one they make it through decade long regulatory processes) can also be used by farmers of all types. Disease resistance traits can also be useful to any farmer with any farming practices.

      If you’d like to learn more about the possibilities, I urge you to read the excellent book Tomorrow’s Table”. Written by an organic farmer and a genetic engineer, the book explores possibilities for biotech to be used in conjunction with organic farming methods to move us to a far more sustainable agriculture than we have today.

      Finally, biotech crops haven’t caused any problems like MRSA. There is a very real problem of weeds resistant to Roundup but that is due to overuse / misuse of a pesticide, not use of the Roundup Ready gene. Farmers who don’t use the gene do use the pesticide.

      • To be fair though it is a lot less likely that roundup resistant weeds would have arisen without the RR gene being used in crops – the pressure just wasn’t as high (it’s not impossible, but it’s a stretch) – I also don’t buy that resistance would only arise from overuse, or misuse of glyphosate – although that depends on how you classify each of these terms I guess – if overuse = using too much in a given spot, then I don’t for a minute think this would drive evolution of resistance any more than using just the right amount, if overuse = too many people using glyphosate over too much area – then fair enough (with the obvious link to increased area useage being a result of the RR gene) – misuse again needs to be defined in order to figure whether it’d drive resistance evolution – here I think you’re on somehwat firmer ground – underuse of glyphosate in a given area, in my opinion, is a lot more likely to set up the capacity to evolve resistance as it could be done stepwise rather than in a single jump (although as I dont know offhand whether glyphosate resistant weeds differ by a single mutation or muiltiple mutations this may or may not be a necessary requirement)

        Although all that said – glyphosate resistance is only a big problem for agriculture if RR crops are utilized, essentially meaning that if you truly see roundup resistance as a bad thing you de facto agree with the utilization of GM crops (or at least you do if you are logically cohesive) – otherwise a roundup resistant weed is just another weed, and I’d assume that it suffers some sort of minor penalty for being so (given that roundup resistance isn’t that massively widespread yet)

        On substantial difference – lets take a modern dekalb hybrid (sans genetic modification) and a 1940′s corn line. Seed for both of these lines would be labelled completely differently, farmers would pay a completely different premium for either line. Under modern conditions in a good field in the midwest one line would likely yield in excess of 200 Bu/Ac (and possibly up to 300Bu/ac) (that’s 14000-21000lbs of corn ears) whereas the other would likely yield somewhere in the region of 30-70Bu/Ac (2100-4900lbs of corn ears). One line is protected by intellectual property rights and thus cannot be saved (and it really wouldn’t make that much sense to save it, as its offspring wouldn’t be as productive – although they’d still beat the hell out of the 1940′s line) the other can be freely saved year on year (and if I’m not totally mistaken would generally fare about the same each year)

        All that said – these two lines are substantially equivalent when it comes to being foodstuff. I’d consider any situation where this wasn’t the case to be absolutely laughable, I’m going to guess that you would too (they’re both corn after all). The same arguement should therefore apply to genetically modified products – assuming that in testing they are substantially equivalent of course (within the bounds of what is considered corn, or soy, or whatever crop you’re testing)

      • I love the example of the Amish as low-input farms using GMOs:

        Amish farmers embrace GM crops

        • So weird seeing horse drawn pesticide application – guess you get a 2 for the price of 1 fertilizer/pesticide run, although possibly not as evenly spread as you’d like.

  • pdiff

    Ewan: “To be fair though it is a lot less likely that roundup resistant weeds would have arisen without the RR gene being used in crops – the pressure just wasn’t as high”

    Roundup resistant weeds were around long before RR crops. Resistance may be futile, but it is readily available in nature. In fact the first RR “crop” I ever saw was during an interview at Monsanto long ago in another lifetime (wow, guess that means I’ll never become a SCOTUS judge!). They were petunias that had been subjected to intensive selection pressure. GE was still science fiction at the time. The genes were there. They just pulled them out the hard way.

    That said, RR crops make the occurrence of resistant weeds much more likely because it’s easy to use repeatedly, and in many systems, RR’s are becoming available to use in all rotation stages. Not, IMO, the best use of the tech.

    Nathan: “Further, the merits of GMO food echo the ‘merits’ of the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. Applying the logic of the factory to the farm with the creation of CAFOs, necessitated the use of antiobiotics not just as treatment but as prevention and thusly has led to “superbugs” such as MRSA that simply don’t respond to our antibiotic arsenal.”

    So, the factory farm is the problem here, not the technology. Are you willing to throw out the technology because someone used it in a bad way? Should we stop using aircraft because the military uses the technology of flight to bomb people? Should we stop using the internet because the government could use it to track our movements?

    Sure, GMO’s could be, and probably have been, used in a bad way, but GMO tech can help move away from factory farms and foster a move to more localized production. See the book suggested by Anastasia above. See Stewart Brand to understand why crowing the same old “Green” environmental dogma is counter productive and harmful. Yes, there are issues with IP, large business practices, and the legal process. However, if there are problems with the system, then we should work to correct the system, not mindlessly attack some technology the system might use.

    • Ah.. didn’t know that… I’ll get back on track to just glorifying GMOs instead of attempting to show a little less bias!

      (although I’d guess that most the major RR weeds affecting farms now are a direct result of the use of the RR trait – with the caveat that having been utterly wrong once it may well be the case again)

      • pdiff

        Not sure on the RR weeds now coming from RR traits. Certainly is possible, but the effect is confounded by the fact that glyphosate has gone off patent and is now more readily available and cheaper (more home use now too). It can be used on conventional crops with control on placement and timing. For example with the crop considered here – alfalfa – we used to broadcast roundup early in the season when the alfalfa was still dormant, but the weeds were up. Either way, it’s clear it is more used today and will likely lead to higher rates of resistance.

  • Nathan Milligan

    First, I’d like to say that I very much appreciate the tone of this conversation.

    My point was primarily about the assumptions of science in order to move ‘forward.’

    Anastasia, I’m intrigued by the book you mentioned and will read that. I do think that regardless of the intentions, biotech does insert itself further between farmer & soil. By controlling the technology (which, obviously, a company would want to do), the farmer must continue to go back to the source to buy more seed rather than saving seeds from season to season…and back to that same source for the pesticide. Of course, it’s up to the farmer to choose who he/she may do business with, but it would seem that, as more and more of the soy crop is GMO, the choice to use anything but some companies’ technology dwindles.

    As for the Bt crops, it’s frustrating that companies have (it seems to me) usurped this natural technology (many organic farmers use a form of Bt to spray on the crops) by engineering it into the actual crop. As the potato beetle is especially marvelous at rapidly adapting, the organic method-used in moderation-becomes useless as Bt is sown with every GM seed.
    And that was my point about MRSA. That, as we’ve used antibiotics senselessly, nature responded and now we have new challenges-and in my opinion, either we can approach all our challenges with this same mentality (that we must control nature) or we can begin to realize how little we really do know and that we best not assume that testing for a long time in human terms (10+ years) is proof enough for safety.

    Pdiff, frustrating that you seem to consider my opinions to be a ‘mindless attack’, but clearly you feel strongly about your side, so…okay. My position is not simply that ‘somebody used the tech in a bad way’. My position is simply this: here’s this relatively new technology that we’re now all eating with every meal. I suppose the argument could be made that nature would eventually produce a plant that would better resist pesticides and that, essentially, we’re just giving nature a leg up. Fair. But the big difference is that it would likely take nature thousands of years to do so and in that time, humans eating the evolving plants would either also evolve or find (unknowingly) that the plant now made them sick and should be avoided.
    I believe that the increasing number of food allergies is likely evidence of this very process.

    It’s fine if you want to eat GMO food. I’m not intending to argue that the technology should be ‘put back in the bottle’. That’s not gonna happen; I know that. But I do think that I should have the right to decide to avoid it. And with cross-pollination and without labeling, my decision will get further blurred by lack of controls. And I’m not okay with that.

    • Nathan, I’m glad you like the tone of the conversation. It’s what I strive for here at Biofortified. There’s so much to talk about and sites that let emotion overrun reason really prevent conversation, in my opinion. I’m glad you’re here!

      So, I have a question. What do you think about hybrid seed? Hybrid seed must be bought every year, if the farmer wants to have uniform plants that all have the traits in the hybrid. They hybrids can be protected by plant variety protection or similar intellectual property controls or not, but that doesn’t matter – the hybrids must be bought every year because of the specific biology of hybrids. Farmers may gripe about it (as we all like to gripe about things) but they keep buying them and they appreciate the high yields they provide.

      Biotech traits don’t have any biological reason why they can’t be used in open pollenated varieties, etc and planted each year without additional seed purchases (assuming that the trait is dominant, any recessive biotech traits that may exist in the future would complicate use in an open pollinated variety). A specific example is Bt brinjal (eggplant) in India. The Indian government solved the problem of IP by allowing companies to sell hybrid Bt brinjal but also making available open pollinated varieties that farmers can replant. This excellent compromise allows for seed companies to meet demand for hybrid seed while also allowing farmers who choose to (or can’t afford to) use hybrids to also take advantage of this trait that was developed in large part by the Indian government.

      In the US, there might be a shortage of non-biotech seed. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that rumors on this front are exaggerated. But if there really is a shortage, it sounds like a great opportunity for people to start seed companies to produce non-biotech seed. If there isn’t enough of a demand to warrant new start-ups, that’s simply market economics, right? To look at a non-seed example – what about DVD players vs VCRs (and shortly BluRay vs DVD)? One could argue that people have a right to buy VCR players if they choose, but there isn’t enough demand to warrant making them anymore. Should DVD player manufacturers be forced to continue to make VCRs? I don’t think so. But if someone wants to start up a VCR company, by all means, that person is free to do that! Should we be mad at the inventors of DVD players for displacing an older technology? Maybe, but I’m not.

      On to Bt and resistance. It is remarkable that we haven’t seen more incidence of resistance developing. I can’t give you a citation at the moment, but at the 51st Maize Genetics Conference, there was an intriguing poster suggesting that developing resistance to Bt caused the target pest (I think it was Coleoptera) to also have reduced fecundity. So there’s that, and then there’s refuges. As long as the specific version of Bt is appropriate for the target pest (which wasn’t the case with pink bollworm in India in cotton) and refuges are used appropriately (which is going to be much easier when Monsanto comes out with refuge in a bag (non-Bt seed mixed in with the Bt seed) then risk of resistance developing are at least as low as for proper use of Bt sprays. The other biotech trait that’s widely used (as we’ve already discussed in this thread) is Roundup Ready, but resistant weeds are due to use of the pesticide, not to use of biotech.

      “Natural” food isn’t quite as safe as we might think. The argument that we should only eat food that we “evolved” to eat isn’t really science based. There are so many examples of foods one might call “natural” that are quite new, evolutionarily speaking, but I don’t think anyone’s calling for bans of them. Examples include milk and wheat, both of which make large groups of humans sick, kiwi fruits which are very new in human diets (without any testing, I might add), hexaploid strawberries, triticale… there are many. Heck, humans have only been eating corn for 9,000 years out of our 200,000 year time as Homo sapiens. That doesn’t mean that biotech crops shouldn’t be tested, of course they should, but I just think the “trust mother nature” argument is silly from a scientific standpoint (not that I think you’re quite going that far, but you do seem to be hinting at it) since we eat many things that we haven’t evolved to eat, and most of us have no problems with them at all.

      As far as labeling (thus ability to avoid GMOs if one so chooses), I think it’s great – if voluntary and entirely factual. We’ve discussed labels in quite a few posts here at Biofortified, but the sum of the posts is that FDA is mandated to have labels for anything that’s a real, science based concern. Hence, “contains phenylalanine” because it is a specific and serious health risk for phenylketonurics. And, “may contain peanuts” because it is specific and serious health risk for people with peanut allergies (side note: genetic engineering may result in elimination of that risk). We don’t have any mandatory “may contain milk produced with rBST” labels because study after study has found there to be no difference in the milk. The courts have found that rBST un-labels are fine as long as the label states that there is no difference. Labeling GMOs should be exactly the same unless there is enough scientific evidence to show that there is a real risk (to date, there is not). Similarly, the FDA is not required to label for religious/spiritual/ethical reasons such as kosher, halal, or even vegetarian or vegan (or GMO free). I totally support efforts like those of the Non GMO Project, as long as they’re not spreading misinformation (and, unfortunately, they are – just look at some of the “stuff” they post on their Facebook Page). But I guess it’s harder to justify higher costs for certification if there isn’t any perceived risk, so increasing that perception of risk helps to sell. Oh well. That’s capitalism, or something.

      Whew. I’d better go work on my paper for class now :) Thanks again for the conversation, I hope you’ll stick around!

      • “Heck, humans have only been eating corn for 9,000 years out of our 200,000 year time as Homo sapiens”

        And frankly most human populations weren’t exposed to corn, and therefore hadn’t co-evolved even remotely with it, until the “discovery” of the Americas – same goes for Potatoes, Cassava, Tomatos and everything else exported/utilized from the new world – far from being things that have been part of the human diet for thousands, or even millions of years (bar a small subset of humans in isolation from everyone else since the domestication of corn) these have all been part of the diet for most humans for only what, 3-400 years?

  • pdiff

    “Pdiff, frustrating that you seem to consider my opinions to be a ‘mindless attack’, but clearly you feel strongly about your side, so…okay. “

    Bad term on my part. I believe I was trying to speak more generally, but I see I did not in the end. My apologies.

    “My position is simply this: here’s this relatively new technology that we’re now all eating with every meal. I suppose the argument could be made that nature would eventually produce a plant that would better resist pesticides and that, essentially, we’re just giving nature a leg up. Fair. But the big difference is that it would likely take nature thousands of years to do so and in that time, humans eating the evolving plants would either also evolve or find (unknowingly) that the plant now made them sick and should be avoided.”

    I think Anastasia covered this pretty well. In addition, the modern hybrids she mentions are relatively newcomers to the ag party. Are we only supposed to consider technologies and their resultant products if we’ve evolved long enough with them? Note that this would likely eliminate all farm based agriculture and several staple crops (organic or not, GMO free or not). And how long is long enough? Also note that we already tend to avoid new plants that make us sick.

    “I believe that the increasing number of food allergies is likely evidence of this very process.”

    Interesting hypothesis. I too have wondered about this, but also realized that many other factors are possible as well. Consider, for example, that such things are now diagnosed and recognized at a high rate and accuracy, where they would have been overlooked or attributed to other factors before. People are also chronically exposed to many more allergens now than they have been in the past. Wheat and peanut products being two well known examples. Stress, possibly higher now in modern society, is also linked to allergenic and related auto-immune disorders. In contrast, known allergenic sources are avoided, or extensively tested, in GMO work. Genes from “nuts” are one example of this.

    “But I do think that I should have the right to decide to avoid it. And with cross-pollination and without labeling, my decision will get further blurred by lack of controls. And I’m not okay with that.”

    You do have the right. And you do have labeling. I can find virtually any number of products labeled “GMO Free” in the store. You can buy from local producers who grow in GMO free areas (cross pollination can be easily avoided by distance, timing, and isolation. Traditional breeders have used these techniques for many years). There is no “lack of control”. GMO crops are more extensively tested, regulated, and monitored than any other agricultural products in history. There are zero documented cases of adverse health effects due to GMO crops. Why should we require labeling on something that has never shown any problems (even with the intensive search to find them). If there were known dangers, as with, say, peanut products, I could see the argument, but that simply hasn’t been shown to be the case.

    Let’s do the opposite and let producers label products as GMO-Free voluntarily, just as we do now for organics. If they think it will give them a premium on price or provide some perceived advantage, then so be it. As with organics, the burden should be on those producers.

    • Some random thoughts…

      Along with allergies, how much of the cancer diagnoses are due to us simply being better at finding them rather than a true increase in incidence? Is there any way to know?

      You said that If increase in allergies could be due to increased exposure to allergens, but I’m not sure if that’s true. How long have humans been eating wheat? Since Sumeria? I could argue that our diet (for the most part) is more diverse and complex today than most civilizations that depended on wheat because we can choose wheat, rice, potatoes, and other starches along with a wide variety of other foods while those civilizations (I’m thinking Roman and general post-Roman pre-Modern European) ate mainly bread and meat*. Maybe it’s because we don’t eat it all the time?

      * I’m totally not qualified to make these generalizations. Where is the nutritional anthropologist from Good Eats when you need her?

      I found a super cool page about the history of bread made by Guglhupf Bakery.

      • Seem to have lost my response, so I’ll try again.

        “Along with allergies, how much of the cancer diagnoses are due to us simply being better at finding them rather than a true increase in incidence? Is there any way to know? “

        I believe this could be an important factor. In addition, with diseases such as cancer, longer lifespans can play a role too. Such diseases may not have been observed often before because people died of other causes before they could develop them. Any adjustments for these factors would be an educated guess at best.

        “You said that If increase in allergies could be due to increased exposure to allergens, but I’m not sure if that’s true. How long have humans been eating wheat?”

        It is true that humans have been eating wheat for a while, but the chronic low level exposure is probably higher than you imagine. I wasn’t aware of this either until a family member developed a wheat intolerance. This has nothing to do with bread either. Try going to a store and picking out some items at random. How about toothpaste? Chocolate? Vitamins? BBQ Sauce? Ice Cream? Soy Sauce? Etc Etc. It turns out that wheat and its by products make great stabilizers and fillers. That, and they are cheap. I bet there are few meals you eat that do not have wheat in them.

        “* I’m totally not qualified to make these generalizations. Where is the nutritional anthropologist from Good Eats when you need her?”

        Ha! Absolutely. I never understood why Alton was so unappreciative of her!

        “I found a super cool page about the history of bread made by Guglhupf Bakery.”

        Nice link. You hit a soft spot there as I bake artisan breads as a hobby (read: all consuming pass time!). In fact I just finished a bake in my wood fired oven! In know, a shameless plug below, but hey! Karl gets to have his bees (I’m jealous)!

        http://pdiff.com/images/bake.jpg

        Pdiff

      • Seem to have lost my response, so I’ll try again.

        “Along with allergies, how much of the cancer diagnoses are due to us simply being better at finding them rather than a true increase in incidence? Is there any way to know? “

        I believe this could be an important factor. In addition, with diseases such as cancer, longer lifespans can play a role too. Such diseases may not have been observed often before because people died of other causes before they could develop them. Any adjustments for these factors would be an educated guess at best.

        “You said that If increase in allergies could be due to increased exposure to allergens, but I’m not sure if that’s true. How long have humans been eating wheat?”

        It is true that humans have been eating wheat for a while, but the chronic low level exposure is probably higher than you imagine. I wasn’t aware of this either until a family member developed a wheat intolerance. This has nothing to do with bread either. Try going to a store and picking out some items at random. How about toothpaste? Chocolate? Vitamins? BBQ Sauce? Ice Cream? Soy Sauce? Etc Etc. It turns out that wheat and its by products make great stabilizers and fillers. That, and they are cheap. I bet there are few meals you eat that do not have wheat in them.

        “* I’m totally not qualified to make these generalizations. Where is the nutritional anthropologist from Good Eats when you need her?”

        Ha! Absolutely. I never understood why Alton was so unappreciative of her!

        “I found a super cool page about the history of bread made by Guglhupf Bakery.”

        Nice link. You hit a soft spot there as I bake artisan breads as a hobby (read: all consuming pass time!). In fact I just finished a bake in my wood fired oven! In know, a shameless plug, but hey! Karl gets to have his bees (I’m jealous)!

        Pdiff

      • I had kind of a variation on this discussion with a friend this week–someone who forced me to read Food Rules over this weekend. (Rule 3: Cellulose is scary…um…plant cell walls, anyone???…but I digress).

        So the premise of this book is that you should eat food your grandmother recognized. Ok. My grandmother lived to be 92. Sounds fine. But of her 12 siblings, only 50% of them made it to adulthood. What here her siblings eating?? Wanna guess?

        Is it possible one of them died of the peanut allergy that I also have? Is it possible that some of them were chronically ill with some undiagnosed food allergy, and was therefore more susceptible to the flu in 1918? These kinds of warm-fuzzy-grandma data points bemuse me. And my friend left my house laughing about my grandmother’s siblings, with a new take on the Pollan perspective at least.

        • Yeah… Food Rules. Generally a decent basis for choosing what to eat, but only in a really broad kind of way. On the other hand, I was glad to see some significant changes from Pollan’s previous writing, including the rule about not eating corn syrup where the text says “actually, cut back on all sugar”.

          Karl and I had a long conversation about Pollan’s push for people to cook more, because it sort of sounds to us like “woman, get back in the kitchen” – obviously not ok for me, and Karl’s spouse isn’t a housewife either. The whole stop eating processed foods and start cooking more thing is great except for the fact that most Americans can’t afford to be a single income household even if they don’t necessarily want to have a career. I think it would make more sense to suggest ways to use healthy processed foods sparingly to speed up cooking times but still prepare a good meal. Of course, that would take more than 139 tiny pages.

          • “Karl and I had a long conversation about Pollan’s push for people to cook more, because it sort of sounds to us like “woman, get back in the kitchen” – obviously not ok for me, and Karl’s spouse isn’t a housewife either. The whole stop eating processed foods and start cooking more thing is great except for the fact that most Americans can’t afford to be a single income household even if they don’t necessarily want to have a career.”

            Ha! You should have asked him about that. My impression was not that at all, but then I’m a guy who does all the cooking in a two income household. It’s not easy, but if you are motivated to do so, you can.

            I take Pollan as advocating a change in attitude. He encourages cooking because it puts you more in touch with what you eat and also helps diversify your intake away from over reliance on starches, sugars and fats. I think the medium you propose, using “healthier” processed foods, is practical, but not what Pollan is aiming at. He seems to be more concerned with the large percentage of Americans who don’t get that far.

            • There are times when pre-made spaghetti sauce (the kind with extra veggies and no sugar) and pre-made pasta (the kind with omega 3s from flax seed and egg protein added) are pretty large parts of my diet. There are other times when make things from scratch. Maybe it’s guilt but I feel kind of attacked when people are all “you must cook for yourself”. Well, sorry, but why don’t you (as in the person saying that) come over and cook dinner for me while I’m at the lab until 10pm, you know?

              • I understand. There are plenty of times when boxed mac-n-cheese becomes dinner (you eat better than I!). But I doubt that Pollan has this type of meal in mind. Rather, I believe he is thinking more of the people shoveling McNuggets and KFC into themselves and their children every meal.

    • Amy

      “A small group of people is manipulating the scientific perspective on food allergies, exaggerating the perception of risk, and profiting from the flood of sympathetic private and government money. It’s time to re-examine the statistics and question the media spin on food allergies. This time, we need to be hyperaware of potential bias and exaggeration. Food allergies deserve respect and awareness, sure—but we make unwise decisions when we’re guided by fear.”

      http://www.slate.com/id/2226785/pagenum/all/#p2

      • Interesting article, Amy. No doubt the issue is overblown. At times it certainly does seem like there is a lot of hype surrounding it. The line “A small group of people is manipulating the scientific perspective”, however, trips warning bells for me. Sounds suspiciously similar to claims that the scientific community is hiding/coerced into skewed results related to evolution/autism/GW/ or GMO. I doubt that a group like FAAN can control the NIH, peer reviewed journals, and any number of institutions and researchers doing work in the area.

        So I’ll agree with it in a Joe Jackson “Everything gives you cancer” kind of way, but remain skeptical about the degree of conspiracy they imply.

        • Amy

          yes, I should have left some of my own commentary along with the link, but it was early in the AM and I just wanted to get the comment out.

          The point I wanted to make we tend to take the phrase “food allergies are on the rise” at face value, but I’m not sure that has necessarily been established. Which allergies specifically? Are we counting absolute numbers of people with allergies, or are we counting each allergy a person has (i.e. is a person with allergies to 10 different foods counted once or counted 10 times)? Are we seeing emerging problems to new allergens?

          “I believe that the increasing number of food allergies is likely evidence of this very process”, makes a number of leaps: that food allergies are indeed on the rise (not just our awareness and diagnosis), that this rise correlates with the introduction of GMO plants, and that new genes introduced in crops encode for proteins that are allergenic enough that an effect is seen in a large (global) population. Food allergies (as defined as an IgE reaction) are straightforward to test for.

          Bascially, I agree with your original response to Nathan, I just wanted to add that part of the increase may be due to self-reporting and data collection.

          Although all this doesn’t even address food-related intolerance/autoimmune disease such as Celiac’s, whether we have accurate reporting for those problems, and if those seem to be on the rise.

          • I find it interesting that among the GMO-Allergy claims, Celiac’s disease often comes up. Even at a talk in Milwaukee, someone asked Michael Pollan what he thought about the rise in Celiac’s disease, and he said that people have suggested that GMOs are doing it. Then he caught himself and said, “Wait there is no GMO wheat…” Kind of hard to claim that allergies are being caused by something that does not exist!

            It is difficult to pin down exactly what allergy rise is supposed to be due to GE crops. The claim that soy allergies were exacerbated by GE soy in the UK, still promoted by Jeffrey Smith et al, was based on a single news story that has been denied by the very people it claimed had found a rise in such allergies. But when you look at the actual allergy rates in the UK, it was on a steady rise long before GE soy even showed up.

            Finally, it is hard to address the allergy claim in that strictly speaking there’s no proof that GE crops could not have possibly caused a rise in allergies. For those that are willing to believe it, a lack of evidence or mechanism does not convince. We see these kinds of communication issues in other areas of science. Is there any proof that vaccines could not have caused autism??

  • Nathan Milligan

    Hmm…I have a lot of reading to do. Thanks for that!

    Potentially outside of the science realm, let me speak for a moment about my personal experience. In the early to mid 90′s I’d get headaches every morning. My parents felt I might have a milk allergy (or at least it was considered amongst many other items). So, I cut out the milk and away went the headaches. Seems somewhat clear-I’d have milk again, headaches again. Then I began to have organic milk. A lot. No headaches, some minor responses, but no problems. Then I had grass fed cow’s milk. No headaches, no problems, nothing for years now. I hadn’t had a problem with milk until the introduction of RBGH. And since it didn’t have to be labeled, I had to limp through and try to discover things for myself.

    I’m perfectly able to recognize that there could be a hundred or more other possibilities and thousands of variables that further cloud my conclusion. But, to my mind, a lesson was learned. Though we’re taught and told that milk is milk is milk (setting aside the obvious whole, skim, etc. variations); I notice that for my body, this statement doesn’t appear to be true.

    So…that’s some of where I’m coming from.

    I’m fine with hybrid crops. As far as I understand them (and I’m certainly willing to admit the limitations of my knowledge), this process has been used for, minimally, hundreds of years and that’s proof enough for me.

    And as for the farmer having to continually buy the hybrid seeds because of the sterility…I think I’d have to say that I’m not in favor of using them. But only because it continues that process of requiring something outside the farm to continue the farm and therefore makes the modern farmer incredibly dependent. But…we as consumers demand certain things, so everybody is, in theory, voting with their dollar and so far…it continues.

    Again, I’d like to say that I appreciate all the references to books I should read, etc. It’s quite clear that many of you are coming from realms where my own learning process hasn’t yet taken me. I’m happy to learn more, so I appreciate that.

    I still can’t help but think -as of now- that all of the science that appears to soundly back GMO’s is in the same line of thinking that thought we had food figured out as ‘proteins, carbohydrates and fat’. Or that all that was needed for healthy plants was nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It’s the constant assumption that NOW we’ve got it all figured out.

    I read about how the introduction of GM corn ultimately cross pollinated with a variety of milk thistle to cause the deaths of monarch butterflies in 1999. Whoops.

    I do understand that in order to move forward, we must suffer setbacks. I’m just not sure that I want to be one of the setbacks.

    (And I’m well aware that my position has been echoed by many in times past-whether it be opposed to inoculations, vaccines, etc. And sometimes, they were right.)

    • Nathan – correlation isn’t necessarily causation.

      Given that there really is no difference in the milk produced (BGH levels the same (and deactivated by pasteurization), IGF-1 levels somewhat elevated but not in a biologically significant way) without a proper double blind test (drink milk A and B, one of which is organic, the other which is not – with no knowledge of which is which and display the symptoms at a very bare minimum) you cannot draw the conclusion that the milk is what is doing it. (I’ve been guilty of exactly the same reasoning, and stand by the decision if not the logic because I don’t see the point in taking the risk if what I suspect causes a gastrointestinal flare up (tea) actually does, or if my consumption just happened to coincide (also it’s somewhat harder to do a double blind test on tea given that it tastes like tea…) – I can avoid it incase, but accept that this experience is purely anecdotal and not really based on fact.

      As far as I’m aware hybrid crops generally only became popular in the past ~60 years, at least that’s when their use exploded. You don’t have to buy hybrid seeds year on year because of sterility, you do it because hybrids outperform their offspring – they have ‘perfect’ genetics (well not perfect, but moreso than an inbred line or the offspring of the hybrid) whereas the offspring will all be diluted to a certain extent (and will create a variable population whereas hybrid seed generally produce a pretty homogenous population)

      Nobody assumes we have it all figured out (afaik nobody seriously believed all plants need is NPK or that all food consisted of was proteins carbs and fats – other than in seriously watered down versions of teaching what is what) however if we never do anything because we don’t have it all figured out, then we’ll never do anything because you can’t have things all figured out.

      You read a lie in terms of corn, milk thistles and monarch butterflies. First up it seems nigh on impossible that corn would pollinate milk thistle given that milk thistle is a dicot and corn a monocot (which is a pretty significantly ancient evolutionary split) – secondly there is no evidence that Monarch butterflies in the wild are impacted by GM crops – just the sort of sources which would claim at the same time that two massively divergent species cross pollinated (rather than zebra/horse we’re talking somewhat more along the lines of cat/pigeon hybrids here(someone with a more intimate grasp of both animal and plant evolutionary divergence may be able to toss out a better example hybrid)

    • Amy

      Nathan –

      If you are interested in more reading, Steve Savage wrote up a nice history of the seed business, from farmer saved seed to hybrids to GMOs. It was a two part post for Sustainablog (he’s apparently now writing for http://eatdrinkbetter.com/ )

      http://blog.sustainablog.org/the-ethics-of-selling-crop-seed-part-1/
      http://blog.sustainablog.org/the-ethics-of-selling-crop-seed-part-2-gmo-seed/

  • “You read a lie in terms of corn, milk thistles and monarch butterflies. First up it seems nigh on impossible that corn would pollinate milk thistle given that milk thistle is a dicot and corn a monocot (which is a pretty significantly ancient evolutionary split) – secondly there is no evidence that Monarch butterflies in the wild are impacted by GM crops “

    Yeah, the monarch case is very interesting to me. It starts with a seemingly reasonable premise, that Monarch larvae will eat GM Bt pollen that has fallen on milkweed leaves. Since Bt is active against lepidoptera larvae (butterflies and moths), it was conceivable that this could harm Monarchs. Initial investigation, however, found the original study was not up to par (where have we heard that before). Several independent labs immediately jumped on the idea, but none found harmful effects of pollen. In fact, the only way they could get effects was to literally have the larvae swimming “ass” deep in pollen where the effect was more physical (abrasive) than biological. It was also pointed out that the timing was off for pollen release and larval presence. Of course, now many years with Bt crops have passed without affects on Monarchs. Their problems (and they do have them) are arising from habitat destruction and die off.

    The case is a good example of how thoroughly GM is tested. Someone raised a legitimate question regarding GM, scientists subsequently tested it, and results showed no problems. Unfortunately, some people only got to step one …

    This case also demonstrates why the conspiracy theories about scientists are so ill formed. When this story broke, every one and their grandmother in science was out to test it, because in science, glory comes from discovery, not a corporate master paying you under the table. Investigators would have been elated to be “the one” who definitively showed that Bt Corn was killing Monarchs. Unfortunately, when things didn’t pan out that way, it was not a big headline.

    Nathan: I’m glad you are encouraged to read some. Tomorrow’s Table is a nice read and informative. Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline is also an interesting take on things from an environmentalists viewpoint. Let us know what you think of them. And I, for one, would be interested in any material you believe would be good to read.

  • Rick

    http://www.thefutureoffood.com/

    Have you reviewed the information in this documentary?

    Your attempt at a neutral stance seems hardly informed.

  • jdh

    Roundup Ready alfalfa is already planted in 3500 counties in 48 states “the cat is already out of the bag”

  • I am a bit late to this post but I wish the ruling would have meant the end of genetically engineered alfalfa forever

  • [...] hurdles, which often… And then there’s this one, I wonder if they will talk about the Supreme Court Case? Legal Barriers & Sustainability Opportunities for Food, Feed and Energy Feedstocks Session [...]

  • [...] Ready Alfalfa page – USDA Supreme Court hearing on GMO Alfalfa – Biofortified.org Roundup Ready Alfalfa: An EmergingTechnology – University of [...]

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