Why plant breeding is incompatible with Organic Agriculture

This is part I of a three-part series on Orgenic* Backlash. How is the organic sector handling the argument in favor of integrating of genetically engineered crops into organic agricultural systems?

When I read the news a few weeks ago I was at first puzzled, and then inspired. Jim Riddle, Organic Outreach Coordinator for the University of Minnesota, wrote an article for the Rodale Institute outlining 10 reasons why genetic engineering is incompatible with organic agriculture. This is one of the issues that we tackle quite often here at Biofortified. So here are his ten reasons:

1. Basic science. Humans have a complex digestive system, populated with flora, fauna, and enzymes that have evolved over millennia to recognize and break down foods found in nature to make nutrients available to feed the human body. GMO crops and foods are comprised of novel genetic constructs which have never before been part of the human diet and may not be recognized by the intestinal system as digestible food, leading to the possible relationship between genetic engineering and a dramatic increase in food allergies, obesity, diabetes, and other food-related diseases, which have all dramatically increased correlated to the introduction of GMO crops and foods.
2. Ecological impact. Organic agriculture is based on the fundamental principle of building and maintaining healthy soil, aquatic, and terrestrial ecosystems. Since the introduction of GMOs, there has been a dramatic decline in the populations of Monarch butterflies, black swallowtails, lacewings, and caddisflies, and there may be a relationship between genetic engineering and colony collapse in honeybees. GMO crops, including toxic Bt corn residues, have been shown to persist in soils and negatively impact soil ecosystems. Genetically modified rBST (recombinant bovine somatrotropin, injected to enhance a cow’s milk output) has documented negative impacts on the health and well being of dairy cattle, which is a direct contradiction to organic livestock requirements.

3. Control vs harmony. Organic agriculture is based on the establishment of a harmonious relationship with the agricultural ecosystem by farming in harmony with nature. Genetic engineering is based on the exact opposite — an attempt to control nature at its most intimate level – the genetic code, creating organisms that have never previously existed in nature.

4. Unpredictable consequences. Organic ag is based on a precautionary approach – know the ecological and human health consequences, as best possible, before allowing the use of a practice or input in organic production. Since introduction, genetic modification of agricultural crops has been shown to have numerous unpredicted consequences, at the macro level, and at the genetic level. Altered genetic sequences have now been shown to be unstable, producing unpredicted and unknown outcomes.

5. Transparency. Organic is based on full disclosure, traceability, information sharing, seed saving and public engagement. Commercial genetic engineering is based on secrecy, absence of labeling, and proprietary genetic patents for corporate profits. The “substantial equivalence” regulatory framework has allowed the GMO industry to move forward without the benefit of rigorous, transparent scientific inquiry. The absence of labels has allowed genetically modified products into the U.S. food supply without the public’s knowledge or engagement., and without the ability to track public health benefits.

6. Accountability. Organic farmers must comply with NOP requirements and establish buffer zones to protect organic crops from contamination and from contact with prohibited substances, including genetically engineered seeds and pollen. Genetically engineered crops do not respect property lines and cause harm to organic and non-GMO producers through “genetic trespass,” with no required containment or accountability.

7. Unnecessary. It is well established that healthy soils produce healthy crops, healthy animals, and healthy people. Research and development should focus on agricultural methods, including organic, which recycle nutrients to build soil health, producing abundant yields of nutrient dense foods, while protecting environmental resources. To date, recombinant genetic modification has contributed to the development of herbicide-resistant weeds and an increase in the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, with associated increases in soil erosion and water contamination, while producing foods with lower nutritional content. Technologies, such as genetic engineering, which foster moncropping are not compatible with organic systems, where soil-building crop rotations are required.

8. Genetic diversity. Organic farmers are required to maintain or improve the biological and genetic diversity of their operations. Genetic modification has the exact opposite effect by narrowing the gene pool and is focused on mono-cropping GMO varieties.

9. Not profitable. According to the 2008 Organic Production Survey conducted by the USDA National Ag Statistics Service, organic farmers netted more than $20,000 per farm over expenses, compared to conventional farmers. Use of GMO varieties has lowered the net profit per acre for conventional producers, forcing them to farm more land in order to stay in business.

10. No consumer demand. Consumers are not calling for organic foods to be genetically engineered. In fact, over 275,000 people said “no GMOs in organic,” in response to the first proposed organic rule in 1997. “Organic” is the only federally regulated food label, which prohibits the use of genetic engineering. By genetically engineering organic foods, consumer choice would be eliminated, in the absence of mandatory labeling of all GMO foods.

Convinced? I considered that maybe he is right. Furthermore, as I continued to think about it, I could only conclude that plant breeding itself is incompatible with Organics as well. You know, rubbing two flowers together. I will now outline 10 good reasons why plant breeding is incompatible with Organic Agriculture. You might notice some similarities.

1. Basic science. Humans have a complex digestive system, populated with flora, fauna, and enzymes that have evolved over millennia to recognize and break down foods found in nature to make nutrients available to feed the human body. Bred crops and foods are comprised of novel mutations and combinations of genes which have never before been part of the human diet and may not be recognized by the intestinal system as digestible food.

2. Ecological impact. Organic agriculture is based on the fundamental principle of building and maintaining healthy soil, aquatic, and terrestrial ecosystems. Since the introduction of genetics-based plant breeding, there has been a dramatic decline in the populations of Monarch butterflies, black swallowtails, lacewings, and caddisflies, and there may be a relationship between monocultures and colony collapse in honeybees. Crop residues have been shown to persist in soils and negatively impact soil ecosystems.

3. Control vs harmony. Organic agriculture is based on the establishment of a harmonious relationship with the agricultural ecosystem by farming in harmony with nature. Plant breeding is based on the exact opposite — an attempt to control nature at its most intimate level – the genetic code, creating organisms that have never previously existed in nature. Every time a breeder makes a cross between two plants he or she is creating an organism that has never before existed.

4. Unpredictable consequences. Organic ag is based on a precautionary approach – know the ecological and human health consequences, as best possible, before allowing the use of a practice or input in organic production. Since introduction, breeding of agricultural crops has been shown to have numerous unpredicted consequences, at the macro level, and at the genetic level. Potatoes and celery touched by the hands of plant breeders have caused documented skin and health problems in consumers and farm workers.

5. Transparency. Organic is based on full disclosure, traceability, information sharing, seed saving and public engagement. Commercial breeding is based on secrecy, absence of labeling, and proprietary breeders rights for corporate profits. The almost complete absence of a regulatory framework has allowed the breeding industry to move forward without the benefit of rigorous, transparent scientific inquiry. The absence of “artificial selection” labels has allowed genetically modified products into the U.S. food supply without the public’s knowledge or engagement., and without the ability to track public health benefits.

6. Accountability. Organic farmers must comply with NOP requirements and establish buffer zones to protect organic crops from contamination and from contact with prohibited substances. When a plant breeder creates an organism that has not existed before and releases it into the environment, its genes know no boundaries and can contaminate organic crops. Novel or untested (and unknown) genes in wild relatives can infiltrate organic fields by “genetic trespass” and no one – absolutely no one is accountable for this genetic drift.

7. Unnecessary. It is well established that healthy soils produce healthy crops, healthy animals, and healthy people. Research and development should focus on agricultural methods, including organic, which recycle nutrients to build soil health, producing abundant yields of nutrient dense foods, while protecting environmental resources. To date, plant breeding has contributed to the development of herbicide-resistant weeds and an increase in the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, with associated increases in soil erosion and water contamination, while producing foods with lower nutritional content. Technologies, such as breeding, which foster moncropping are not compatible with organic systems, where soil-building crop rotations are required.

8. Genetic diversity. Organic farmers are required to maintain or improve the biological and genetic diversity of their operations. Plant breeding has the exact opposite effect by narrowing the gene pool and is focused on mono-cropping varieties. Although plant breeders may start with more diverse stock, the breeder purposefully selects only the genetics that they “want” to see in the field. By selecting beneficial traits they are reducing genetic diversity and thus plant breeding should not be allowed to happen in organic agriculture.

9. Not profitable. According to the 2008 Organic Production Survey conducted by the USDA National Ag Statistics Service, organic farmers netted more than $20,000 per farm over expenses, compared to conventional farmers. Use of conventionally bred varieties has lowered the net profit per acre for conventional producers, forcing them to farm more land in order to stay in business.

10. No consumer demand. Consumers are not calling for organic foods to be subjected to breeding. In fact, there is a growing demand for “wild” foods that have not had their genetics altered by fallible human beings. By incorporating conventionally bred crops into organic agriculture, we would be further eliminating the consumer’s ability to choose these more “natural” foods. There is no public poll which indicates that consumers of organic (or conventional for that matter) foods desire to have the genetics of their crops altered by plant breeding.

It is entirely clear that “conventional breeding” is just that – breeding for conventional agriculture and not for Organic systems. There can be no compromise on this issue, and this is not a drill.

Okay this is a drill.

Evaluating Jim’s Riddle

If you’ve made it this far, you will no doubt notice that it is virtually identical to mine. Yep, a lot of cutting and pasting was involved. Actually, no, not a lot. I added some more information to some of them, some more depth and historical examples in one case. What is accomplished by rewriting his arguments in this fashion is that if they make sense, then the logic transfers over and you must either accept the new conclusion – or – reject the first one.  But banning plant breeding from organic agriculture is absurd, and I’m sure that Jim Riddle would agree. Therefore, his article presents a riddle: how can these characteristics apply to both breeding and genetic engineering while one is compatible and the other is not?

Discuss, and stay tuned for part II – wherein I take a hard look at Riddle’s arguments.

*Orgenic (Or-gene-ick) refers to the idea of combining Organic agriculture with Genetic Engineering.

Share
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.


Commentary   , , , ,  


Want to write for The Biofortified Blog? Click here to find out more!

57 comments to Why plant breeding is incompatible with Organic Agriculture

  • Party Cactus

    It seems that, among plenty of other problems that can be mentioned, if you stop and think about it, he really is also attacking some of the organic movement’s more cherished things here, things that I myself also like: diverse crops and heirlooms.

    About the whole digestive tract thing, wouldn’t that also include ‘new’ and diverse crops? I can almost guarantee my ancestors didn’t eat things like oca, amaranth, nopales, lychees, or kangaroo. If we accept this claim here, that one gene makes a crop unrecognizable by the body, how would the body feel about the thousands of genetic differences you’d come across eating new species? Taking that to the logical limit, would not that be a call for limiting the diversity of the food supply, which organic proponents claim to support? And indeed, he later accuses genetic engineering to be synonymous with monoculture. To me, it seems like he’s trying to get the best of both worlds with a selective reasoning here. He talks about how the body can only recognize certain genes (whatever that means), then says organic means to promote genetic diversity, which would seem to be a direct contradiction. Which is it?

    About control, organic proponents seem to like to tout the superiority of heirloom crops, and while I’m certainty not about to diss heirlooms (they’re what I’ve got growing, can’t wait to try Ananas Noire tomato and Golden Treasure pepper) what are they if not control? Forcing a line to breed with itself again and again until the only plants it can produce are almost identical to the last generation, that’s not working with nature at all. Strapping nature down and forcing it to mate with itself, jeepers, if that isn’t control what is? And are we going to ponder what the long term results of that could possibly be? Yet, is that not what many proponents of organic prefer? Sticking a couple of genes in here and there isn’t even close. And heirlooms have all those weird mutations too (which goes back to the other thing). You need look no further than all the shapes, sizes, and colors present in heirloom melons, watermelons, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corns, beans, carrots, ect. Again, I doubt many would take the precautionary principle with, say, a cauliflower that has a mutation that causes it to produce some new chemical that turns the head purple, which I assume is the case with Purple of Sicily.

    I wonder what he thinks of things like the Rainnbow papaya or HoneySweet plum or other such things. No amount of organic mojo is going to stop a raging virus like a bit of genetic engineering can and has, and those, with undeniable necessity & clear profitability, with stand alone traits, not developed by corporations. Even if we go ahead and accept some of his other points, that still doesn’t merit genetic engineering being painted with such a wide brush.

  • I understand that people like Riddle are very passionate about organics, but that passion doesn’t translate so well into understanding the science. Sometimes I think passion for a subject specifically blinds people against the science, even when those people are perfectly capable of understanding it.

    The very first point is the one that gets me. Correlation without causation, much? Eating novel combinations of genes causes every food-connected problem known to man? We had all better stop eating just about everything, then.

    Riddle has Bachelors’ degrees in Biology and Political Science from Grinnell College in Iowa. Maybe the double major kept him from taking any classes in statistics or genetics? It can be hard to find time for all those classes.

    • OMG, that totally explains the strawberry allergy my grandmother developed around 1910. And my peanut allergy from 1970…it’s the GMOs…?

      All this time I thought it was my immune system screwing with its genes. Huh.

  • Robert

    What is your point? That GMO is no worse than plant breeding?

    If I listed 10 reasons to oppose human cloning, you could replace a few words to make 10 reasons to oppose arranged marriages. What would that prove? That human cloning is no worse than arranged marriages?

    • Robert

      P.S.

      I’m not opposed to GMO foods. I am opposed to bad logic.

      • Is the logic bad in each point here? I seriously doubt you could make a list of 10 oppositions to human cloning which when cloning was replaced with arranged marriage would still make perfect sense – although if you can see any of Karl’s points where the initial proposition isn’t true in terms of breeding perhaps you can knock the arguement down further.

      • Hi Robert. My point here is not that GE crops are “no worse” than conventionally bred crops, it is instead to demonstrate that the reasons given for excluding GE crops are inadequate and overly broad, so broad that they also include plant breeding.

        I would be very interested to hear how human cloning is analogous to arranged marriages…

        Also, the logic in some of these gets a little stretched and silly, but those are only as good as the original template.

        • Robert

          Seems to be you are backing off your original point. You originaly wrote: “What is accomplished by rewriting his arguments in this fashion is that if they make sense, then the logic transfers over and you must either accept the new conclusion – or – reject the first one.”

          Flawed arguments don’t say anything about the truth of its conclusion.

          • What original point am I backing off from? No such retreat took place.

            “Flawed arguments don’t say anything about the truth of its conclusion.”

            True – however it does mean that Riddle has failed to make a positive case that distinguishes between breeding and genetic engineering.

          • Flawed arguements admittedly don’t say anything about the truth of the conclusion.

            They don’t say anything.

            Therefore all we have is a conclusion, sans arguement.

            Which I think most people would agree is pretty worthless.

  • André

    This is the comment I just posted on Rodale Institute’s site.

    This is a very useful wrap up of the philosophy (not or only partially science) underpinning organic farming and consumption.

    I wonder though whether the philosophy has been carried through to its logical conclusion. As a matter of fact, conventional plant breeding – typically the artificial or forced mating of two plants followed by selection within the progeny, and also the creation of hybrid varieties through repeated crossings of inbred lines to produce commercial seed – does not meet many of your good reasons either.

    I’ll use ‘conventional’ here for want of a better word, and it is my understanding that organic farming does use varieties that are the product of such breeding (even if some of them are decades old).

    In particular, conventional breeding, exactly like genetic engineering, is based on “an attempt to control nature at its most intimate level – the genetic code, creating organisms that have never previously existed in nature” (good reason 3).

    The degree of tinkering with nature is, of course, variable.

    Let me quote at the one end triticale, which European organic farming is quite found of: it is a cross between wheat and rye, something which Mother Nature has been unable to do; it is a man-made species. Most of our crops are man-made to some degree; to the least, Man has selected selected natural variants that would otherwise not have had any chance of surviving in Nature.

    At the other end, even the most ordinary cross(es) may fail to pass muster. Some thirty-forty years ago, oil from oilseed rape was accused, particularly in France, of provoking cardiovascular diseases, and the cause was identified as its high content in erucic acid. That fatty acid has been eliminated, particularly by Canadian breeders, and the change was so important that the Canadians invented the word ‘canola’. Then, the development of the crop was hampered by the fact that the cake (the residue after oil extraction) contained glucosinolates, which limited its use in animal feeding. Again, conventional plant breeders eliminated the glucosinolates, producing what was once known as “double-zero varieties”.

    Many breeding programmes do not have such wide-ranging effects. Yet, despite all the testing, it happens from time to time that they produce unpredicted and unknown outcomes… the hazard of genetic recombination sometimes beats Man’s care and cleverness.

    So the question becomes whether the gurus of organic farming should not reconsider their philosophy and adopt a more flexible approach, in fact an approach that also preserves the future of organic farming.

    Let me illustrate this with an example.

    But beforehand, let us overcome here the mantra of genetic engineering having only produced herbicide-resistant (more correctly: tolerant) and Bt varieties. This is by far not true, even today, and we are only at the beginning of these new techniques.

    If you go through the specialised literature, you will see that the resistance of wheat to a number of diseases has been improved through painstaking interspecific crossings and selection to restore a good-performing wheat genome. Thus, in 1976, the French INRA (National Agronomic Research Institute) released the variety Roazon with resistance genes to eyespot and yellow and brown rusts from Aegylops ventricosa. I would surmise that this kind manipulation and its outcome are not acceptable to the gurus of organic farming as contravening several of their principles, but never mind : organic farming is very happy to use their products, whether from the first or a later breeding generation. As a matter of fact, a careful choice of the variety to be grown is often the only means available to organic farmers to overcome disease problems.

    Now, in future, this kind of genes will be introduced into the genome of our crops through genetic engineering and, once introduced, passed on to other varieties. After a few generations, all or almost all varieties will be marked with the original sin of genetic engineering (in the same way as most current wheat varieties are descended in some way from an interspecific or even intergeneric cross). The current stance on GMOs thus implies that organic farmers are forced today into a straightjacked. For them, the clock of plant breeding and varietal improvement – that is, their crop husbandry options – will be stopped, and even wound back, to, say, 1990.

  • When my father was young, there was no such thing as fertilizer, or herbicides. It was organic farming at its most basic. Yields of 45 bushels per acre were big news. As we approach 300 bushels per acre for corn yields, we still face global hunger. The simple fact is that there is no way that organic farming will supply the food necessary to prevent the disaster of world wide famine.

    • eddie

      Why should poor people be denied the education, prosperity, self-determination, etc, that has been shown to lead to self-limiting of population growth. It’s almost as if you keep them poor to keep the profits flowing.

  • Asking if GMO is good or bad is a foolish question. It’s like asking if a word processor is better than a typewriter. You can write a great novel or a shitty novel on either; one is simply a far more efficient tool.

    • Good point – it sounds like one could argue that word processors are bad because it helps people like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity write crappy books. We should go back to typewriters so that only J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have the time and patience to write their stories!

  • Paul Kierstead

    Bacon is bad for your health. Smoking is bad for your health. Since I eat bacon, I might as well smoke?

    I don’t think GMO is necessarily anti-organic, but your argument is fallacious. I do look forward to a detailed analysis, but I hope is goes beyond a “your poison is no worse than my poison” argument.

    • Again, I’m not talking about which one is ‘worse’ than the other, this is merely an exercise in showing the absurdity of the arguments by analogy.

      • Paul Kierstead

        But it *doesn’t* show the absurdity. I assumes that plant breeding is good (or ok, or harmless) and since breeding is analogous to GMO (which we will let slide), then the argument is silly. But perhaps breeding has harmed the environment, or at least certain kinds of breeding or excessive reliance on a narrow range of bred crops. There is certainly interesting arguments and inspections to be made about modern breeding habits; all you prove is that both should be examined and, in fact, breeding should be examined as well.

        • Paul: “But it *doesn’t* show the absurdity. I assumes that plant breeding is good (or ok, or harmless) and since breeding is analogous to GMO (which we will let slide), then the argument is silly.”

          I think you’d be hard pressed to find “Organic” advocates who were anti-plant breeding. Hence, that plant breeding* is “good” is reasonably assumed to be a given. *see note below

          Paul: “But perhaps breeding has harmed the environment, or at least certain kinds of breeding or excessive reliance on a narrow range of bred crops. “

          Speculation and diversion. Evidence of environmental harm please. Excessive reliance on a narrow range of crops is an agronomic/economic/production issue. Plant breeding, and its newer subset of techniques, GMO, do not lead to and are not the cause of these issues. I can commit homicide or rob a bank with a car, but cars aren’t the problem.

          Paul: “all you prove is that both should be examined and, in fact, breeding should be examined as well. “

          “Teach the controversy”?. Experience with plant breeding has shown minimal negative effects and any associated risks have been deemed to be acceptable on a societal level. Given this, and, as argued, an equivalence of GMO techniques, more intensive examination would not be not warranted.

          Karl
          Perhaps you are planning to do this, but it would help to specify the terms being used here. For example:

          Plant Breeding – This is pretty broad and could cover simple selection, crossing, or full blown F1 Hybrid creation. Proponents of Organic Ag (Big “O” ?) may vary in their acceptance of these techniques. To which are we comparing GMO?

          Organic – Is this the legal, colloquial, or purist “Deep Organic” definition? Again, differing definitions will lead people to differing conclusions. In my experience, the “Organic” crowd is somewhat like the Tea Party: They all know how to shout the message in unison, but no one can agree on what the message means.

      • eddie

        With a false analogy. Not because it is not analogous, it clearly is, but because it’s not what anyone is advocating. In short, it’s bullshit.

        • And that is a complete misunderstanding of what an analogy is. Of course it is not what anyone is advocating, which is why the analogy is an argument against what some are advocating.

        • Just a hint: Here at Biofortified, and on many other websites, whenever someone swears or adds insults to their comments, they are immediately disregarded by others in the conversation. If you’re actually interested in discussion, that’s great, your input is welcome! But that means contributing coherent thoughts, not slinging insults.

    • I don’t think it’s a case of ‘your poison is no worse than my poison’ – it’s more like ‘dude, this isn’t poison’ – as Karl states – the arguements made are absurd. To take a half arsed stab at them while awaiting my next meeting…

      1) Basic science. Humans have a complex digestive system, populated with flora, fauna, and enzymes that have evolved over millennia to recognize and break down foods found in nature to make nutrients available to feed the human body. GMO crops and foods are comprised of novel genetic constructs which have never before been part of the human diet and may not be recognized by the intestinal system as digestible food, leading to the possible relationship between genetic engineering and a dramatic increase in food allergies, obesity, diabetes, and other food-related diseases, which have all dramatically increased correlated to the introduction of GMO crops and foods.

      Wrong. The flora and fauna of the human gut categorically have not evolved ‘to make nutrients available to the human body’ – they take advantage of the human digestive tract and make nutrients available to themselves – GMO crops and foods are no more ‘comprised of’ novel genetic constructs than my lab bench is when it has a tube or two of novel genetic constructs on it. A novel genetic construct is just an arrangement of DNA, there is no mechanism by which the human digestive tract reads out lengths of DNA and figures out whether it has seen them at some prior time in evolutionary history before digesting them – digestive enzymes cleave bonds between nucleic acids not based on anything like the sequence of a gene (my knowledge of the exact mechanism is somewhat foggy, but I’d guess at a non-specific nucleotide cleavage)

      Now, if you’re talking about novel peptides, then perhaps you’d be on somewhat firmer ground – it is the case that some peptides cause issues (gluten as a for instance, introduced by the awful practice of selective breeding) however where your arguement then faces issues is that any novel protein may cause issues, and whereas GMOs undergo rigorous testing, particularly for the protein of interest, breeding can jsut as easily add one, ten or a hundred variant proteins without any of them being tested (or even known about).

      I believe the whole correlation/causation thing has been discussed already, so the last part doesnt really have to be covered too much. I must admit I am somewhat dubious because I’ve noticed a definite correlation between the amount of responsibility I personally have, and the release of GMOs (before GMOs were commercially available I didn’t even have to buy my own food, now, with multi-stacked genes hitting the market in larger numbers I’m faced with having to look after a child – coincidence? I think not)

      2. Ecological impact. Organic agriculture is based on the fundamental principle of building and maintaining healthy soil, aquatic, and terrestrial ecosystems. Since the introduction of GMOs, there has been a dramatic decline in the populations of Monarch butterflies, black swallowtails, lacewings, and caddisflies, and there may be a relationship between genetic engineering and colony collapse in honeybees. GMO crops, including toxic Bt corn residues, have been shown to persist in soils and negatively impact soil ecosystems. Genetically modified rBST (recombinant bovine somatrotropin, injected to enhance a cow’s milk output) has documented negative impacts on the health and well being of dairy cattle, which is a direct contradiction to organic livestock requirements.

      First up I doubt this applies to all organic – I’d guess that most organic ag now is industrial organic, which follows the letter of the law rather than the spirit. Then we have a nice piece of further causation/correlation confusion (price of gas has also gone up in lockstep with GMOs, as has the world population – again, am I alone in thinking perhaps there is a link??!) – also see how ‘may be a link’ here is actually code for ‘shown not to be a link’ – awesomeness.

      afaik rBST has not been genetically modified. The bacteria were genetically modified, the end protein is exactly the same as BGH – as anyone who’s taken hormones can attest they have pretty drastic effects. GM isn’t bad in this case, injecting hormones is (where bad = not organic) – would organic be opposed to utlizing Bt toxin which comes from genetically modified bacteria rather than from straight up spraying Bt spores on their crop? (if so… why? And, on that note – does anyone know whether the Bt used ever has been modified, one would think there’d be good cause to increase the production of the right toxins to make it more effective)

      3. Control vs harmony. Organic agriculture is based on the establishment of a harmonious relationship with the agricultural ecosystem by farming in harmony with nature. Genetic engineering is based on the exact opposite — an attempt to control nature at its most intimate level – the genetic code, creating organisms that have never previously existed in nature.

      Bull. Agriculture first and foremost is decoupled from harmony with nature – agriculture from the getgo has been mans attempt to control nature, at best genetic engineering is a minor addition to a major shift in the human interaction with the environment. Nobody is (yet… depending on how Ventner is getting on) creating organisms that have never previously existed in nature – a single additional gene categorically does not equate to a new organism, unless you’re an idiot.

      4. Unpredictable consequences. Organic ag is based on a precautionary approach – know the ecological and human health consequences, as best possible, before allowing the use of a practice or input in organic production. Since introduction, genetic modification of agricultural crops has been shown to have numerous unpredicted consequences, at the macro level, and at the genetic level. Altered genetic sequences have now been shown to be unstable, producing unpredicted and unknown outcomes.

      Key phrase here “as best possible” – ie how genetic engineering works. Unless organic has utterly ceased to use newly developed hybrids and ceased breeding – at least not without multi-generational studies on every newly developed doodad, and on every newly developed agronomic technique – then this is also a downright lie.

      5. Transparency. Organic is based on full disclosure, traceability, information sharing, seed saving and public engagement. Commercial genetic engineering is based on secrecy, absence of labeling, and proprietary genetic patents for corporate profits. The “substantial equivalence” regulatory framework has allowed the GMO industry to move forward without the benefit of rigorous, transparent scientific inquiry. The absence of labels has allowed genetically modified products into the U.S. food supply without the public’s knowledge or engagement., and without the ability to track public health benefits

      There is absolutely nothing stopping an organic producer from labelling their GMO containing foods as containing GMOs, nothing preventing the sharing or seed saving of GMOs produced for use in organic ag assuming they are developed specifically for this – nothing preventing organic ag utilizing previously patented genes once they go off patent.

      6. Accountability. Organic farmers must comply with NOP requirements and establish buffer zones to protect organic crops from contamination and from contact with prohibited substances, including genetically engineered seeds and pollen. Genetically engineered crops do not respect property lines and cause harm to organic and non-GMO producers through “genetic trespass,” with no required containment or accountability

      Wouldnt this infact make organic farmers the perfect people to be growing GMOs as then the genetically engineered crops would be within established buffer zones etc etc etc – although these zones are to prevent inward movement of prohibited substances rather than outward flow, so the arguement doesn’t really make any sense – GMO producers don’t have these restrictions in exactly the same way that someone growing sweet corn is not (at least afaik) required to prevent the pollen wnadering off and pollinating commodity corn (or vice versa) – essentially the arguement makes no sense.

      7. Unnecessary. It is well established that healthy soils produce healthy crops, healthy animals, and healthy people. Research and development should focus on agricultural methods, including organic, which recycle nutrients to build soil health, producing abundant yields of nutrient dense foods, while protecting environmental resources. To date, recombinant genetic modification has contributed to the development of herbicide-resistant weeds and an increase in the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, with associated increases in soil erosion and water contamination, while producing foods with lower nutritional content. Technologies, such as genetic engineering, which foster moncropping are not compatible with organic systems, where soil-building crop rotations are required.

      First cases of Bt resistance in the US, as far as I recall, were due to the use of non-GM Bt – which is utilized in organic ag. What causes more environmental damage, a plant producing Bt in situ, or driving a tractor/flying a plane over your crop to spray Bt?
      The introduction of GMOs has meant that thousands of acres have not had to be utilized in farming (regurgitating a Monsanto arguement here, so there may be sourcing issues for this one for those sitting on the fence, or on the wrong side of the fence) – which afaik = less environmental damage, less fertilizer application (lets assume the land would use at least the average fertilizer application/Ac) – the pesticide application arguement is a weak one, Bt has massively reduced insecticide use, and while there is an arguement that RR has increased the amount of AI used this is easily countered by stating that a) the environmental impact is down and b) Nobody would seriously suggest using RR in organic systems even if they accepted the use of GMOs as they are clearly only useful in a system where man-made herbicides can be used.
      Finally genetic engineering doesn’t foster monocropping – it just happens to be predominantly used in a system which preferentially mono(or duo) crops – to use this fact to argue that it can only be used in a monocrop system is idiotic.

      8. Genetic diversity. Organic farmers are required to maintain or improve the biological and genetic diversity of their operations. Genetic modification has the exact opposite effect by narrowing the gene pool and is focused on mono-cropping GMO varieties.

      Really? In what way? I guess here we assume you GM only a single variety and then utilize only this variety, rather than breeding the GM trait into multiple different varieties thus maintaining genetic diversity – this would easily fit into the organic farming being described here, particularly if the GM method was relatively open source. I also find the genetic diversity arguement pretty fun considering the number of times organic and heirloom are used in conjunction – given that heirloom varieties are generally massively inbred having all the genetic diversity that goes along with this (and the increased susceptibility to various diseases which caused a colleague to scoff at me for attempting to grow heirloom tomatoes – although rabbits/birds scuppered that whole venture rather than disease…)

      9. Not profitable. According to the 2008 Organic Production Survey conducted by the USDA National Ag Statistics Service, organic farmers netted more than $20,000 per farm over expenses, compared to conventional farmers. Use of GMO varieties has lowered the net profit per acre for conventional producers, forcing them to farm more land in order to stay in business.

      That’s a bloody stupid arguement too. You cater to a sector which is willing to pay silly high prices for your goods then yes, you may well profit more than those who cater to the other 95% of the market – this has bugger all to do with GMOs though – the fair comparison here would be between users of GMOs and non-adopters with similar inputs, which I think shows completely the opposite trend (it’d have to really, otherwise why would anyone use GMOs? Hey I’ve got an idea, let’s pay more per bag of seed, sign tech agreements, and make less money – I guess the message here is that conventional farmers are dumber than the arguements being put forward here (which would put them at about the level of earthworms I think)

      10. No consumer demand. Consumers are not calling for organic foods to be genetically engineered. In fact, over 275,000 people said “no GMOs in organic,” in response to the first proposed organic rule in 1997. “Organic” is the only federally regulated food label, which prohibits the use of genetic engineering. By genetically engineering organic foods, consumer choice would be eliminated, in the absence of mandatory labeling of all GMO foods.

      I’m a consumer. I would love organic foods to be genetically engineered. I’m going to guess Pam Ronald is also a consumer, and hell, she wrote a book about it. If demand for non-GMO as opposed to simply organic food is that high then all you need to do is create a tiered system. Organic food. Non-GMO food, and even Organic-nonGMO food (as non-GMO could technically be produced using pesticides etc) – consumer choice saved. Huzzah.

      There goes my lunchbreak.

      • Ewan, I have Just a little quibble with your comments on Riddle’s #2. Using rBST to increase milk production isn’t all bad. As far as I can tell, the problem isn’t the hormone, it’s cows producing too much milk, more than their bodies can handle, that causes increased incidence of health problems like mastitis. This can happen with rBST or without it, depending on the cow, environment, and tons of other factors. The only objection that I might have to rBST use is if it’s causing health or welfare problems for the animals, because the milk from rBST and non-rBST treated cows has been found again and again to be the same (for example, same IGF. The benefits of rBST include increased feed efficiency so that fewer cows can produce more milk, resulting in a smaller environmental footprint. As far as I can tell, rBST could work equally well in organic, grass-fed, conventional, grain-fed, whatever systems. You can find a summary of rBST’s effects (or lack thereof) on animal health and human health by the American and Canadian Dairy Science Associations here (note: the report was sponsored by a company that makes rBST but it does include lots of non-industry citations to peruse).

        I do wonder what does the effects of rBST on cattle have to do with genetically engineered crops? And, what does potential health and welfare concerns for cows have to do with ecological impact? Especially considering that research shows rBST reduces environmental impact of dairies. I don’t know why Riddle put that there at all.

        I’m a consumer and I’d love to see GMOs in more sustainable farming systems. We need to figure out a better way to encourage farmers to switch to organic practices while keeping yields high, and I think some sort of orgenic or integrated farming is going to be it. Now, we just need to keep the focus on science and not wive’s tales.

        • I did mention that rBST was bad, in terms of being organic – I think injection of hormones etc to increase productivity is a different battle to fight (if you want to go that route) than GMOs so was simply conceding the point that in terms of Organic we can consider hormones bad – I guess I should have termed it “Bad” to make it clear I don’t necessarily disagree with rBST use per-se.

          There is evidence that there is some effect of rBST on animal health – even the monsanto safety info highlights this (although I can only access the abstract from here) – looks like generally only at the higher doses – so given that there may be a general opposition to anything which causes discomfort (even if it does overall reduce environmental impact, and in reducing the size of the dairy herd I’d guess reduces overall animal suffering to some extent)

          I agree that the link between GMO bacteria to produce hormones etc has utterly nothing to do with GMO crops – unless the technique is somehow to blame – and also wonder that if in turn proponents of Organic Ag, particularly those who see this as a good arguement, are equally opposed to say, recombinant insulin.

          • Sorry I misunderstood your intent.

            I might be totally wrong on this (as I am definitely not an animal biologist) but as far as I can tell, negative health impacts on the cows (from producing too much milk, not from the rBST directly) can be mediated by spacing out the treatments and by keeping does low as you say. This does reduce total production a bit but is worth it to have a healthy cow – if not for any other reason than to prevent having to apply antibiotics because milk from cows on antibiotics and for a period after antibiotics is prohibited from entering the food supply. I get the impression that most farmers are pretty smart about how they manage their animals, and it just doesn’t make sense to treat with so much rBST that milk production levels make the animals sick. Sick cows = lower profits.

            I really want to know if rBST can boost milk production of grass fed cows. Because if it can, that would be awesome.

            • Thinking on it a little also – I’d assume that breeding for more productive cows also increases mastitis, and probably involves increases in all kinds of hormone levels – I’d also guess that future breeding of more productive cows is likely to do more of the same (at least until they manage to bio-engineer cow free udders which derive nutrients from a central supply line in a factory rather than the rather messy solution of building a whole cow to do the same job…) which at least to me weakens the arguement somewhat of injecting the hormones over increasing them through selection.

              Although obviously thats all just conjecture until someone proves it.

  • Paul Kierstead

    err “It assumes …”

  • Pam Ronald

    Ewan, only your lunch break? sounds like you spend your whole day blogging!

    Karl et al, just so you know, in our book, Raoul and I do not advocate changing the NOP (I think it doubtful this would happen anytime soon now that large corporations have invested in the label). I know that the organic consumers association wrote a long post about how we are fighting to change the rules but they must not have read our book.

    No, we are advocating moving global agriculture to enhanced sustainability using the best tools and practices possible. Often this will be a combination of GE crops and ecologically-based farming practices.

    • That’s such an important distinction. I knew that’s what you were advocating, but it’s necessary to keep restating it to make sure others understand it. However, it makes this whole thing even more confusing, since we are all advocating that conventional farmers move to using techniques that are used in organic farming, which you’d think organic proponents would like.

    • That one was just my lunchbreak… keep in mind about 70% of it is copy pasted =p

    • Pam,
      If that is the case, then what does it mean to say GE is compatible with organic production? Does this require a new standard, as in the “Orgenics” above? Or do we just forget about the “Organic” label and morph conventional production into lower or non-synthetic inputs. I seem to remember in your book, Raoul bemoaning the fact he didn’t have GE solutions available to him, i.e. he desired GE to be considered organic. It’s been a while since I read the book, so I may be remembering that wrong. My apologies, if I have :-)

      I just see no need to bother claiming compatibility if there is no need/desire to change the NOP standard.

  • Ok, not entirely related, but I don’t have any place else to attach this right now–did y’all catch this article?

    Doubt Is Cast on Many Reports of Food Allergies

    ….A new report, commissioned by the federal government, finds the field is rife with poorly done studies, misdiagnoses and tests that can give misleading results….

    Ahem.

    Less than 8% of children and 5% of adults have real food allergies. 30% of people think they do.

    I’m going to go read the paper and see what other nuggets it has.

    http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/303/18/1848

    • I think one important point in the NY Times article is that a lot of people who have allergies actually have an intolerance. They aren’t quite the same thing. Many of the comments on the article make me sad.

  • eddie

    Of course, no farmer, organic or otherwise (only the genetic engineers) are forcing plants to do other than the natural population variation they do anyway. This highlights how your post title is particularly dishonest.

    You seem to be demanding some sort of dogmatic purity whereby farmers cannot be allowed to keep the best naturally adapted plants for their future seed stock.

    I suppose this is a bit of a concession on your part as your own dogmatic purity would demand no seed stock can be used that’s not under a usurious license to you paymasters.

    • Eddie, of course, that is entirely false. Plant breeders “force” plants to do more than the natural population variation does all the time. Mutagenesis is one way, along with crosses with wild relatives.
      I have made no demands on farmers to not save the best naturally adapted plants for their seed stock – you are making this up.
      Finally, if you check on the About page, we have no vested paymasters to please. Next time you accuse someone of dishonesty please take the time to check your facts.

      • eddie

        Are plant breeders organic farmers? The point I was making was that they are not. I’d be happy to accept evidence that I’m wrong. I was going on a definition of ‘plant breeding’ that is similar to Andre’s in the comment near the top. Does the practice of “keep[ing] the best naturally adapted plants for their future seed stock” sound like what Andre described?

        Fair enough if we’re going on a different definition of ‘organic farming’. It happens. Look at the difference between US and EU definitions of ‘extra virgin olive oil’.

        Oh, and as to your other reply, about what is and is not an analogy; If you cannot say that plant breeding is no different to what organic farmers and advocates are arguing for, then the whole argument is pointless. You have said openly that that is not what you are claiming. So, what is the point?

        This comment got caught by the spam filter, but I am restoring it to the blog as a further example of what happens when you don’t actually read and understand what you are arguing about. -KJHvM

  • what evidence, data , or reasons do you have to support this argument? plzz replay me back today

  • [...] save the best for last this morning: Why plant breeding is incompatible with organic agriculture demonstrates that the arguments most commonly leveled against genetically modified plants in [...]

  • [...] Previously, I showed how Jim Riddle’s 10 reasons why genetic engineering is incompatible with organic agriculture apply equally well to plant breeding. But many plant breeding techniques are allowed in organic agriculture. So how can these characteristics apply to both breeding and genetic engineering while one is compatible and the other is not? The answer lies in a tangled web of invalid logic and unsound argumentation. It requires not only misrepresenting genetic engineering, it also misrepresents organic agriculture. Let’s go through point by point. (You might need a cup of coffee or a stiff drink) 1. Basic science. Humans have a complex digestive system, populated with flora, fauna, and enzymes that have evolved over millennia to recognize and break down foods found in nature to make nutrients available to feed the human body. GMO crops and foods are comprised of novel genetic constructs which have never before been part of the human diet and may not be recognized by the intestinal system as digestible food, leading to the possible relationship between genetic engineering and a dramatic increase in food allergies, obesity, diabetes, and other food-related diseases, which have all dramatically increased correlated to the introduction of GMO crops and foods. [...]

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>