Why I’m not pro-GMO (in the way anti-GMO people think)

Science and technology have provided humans with many advances. Some have been very beneficial, some have been horribly destructive, with everything in between. Many advances have both positive and negative aspects, which can make discussing and implementing them really complicated. I’m not the first one to say that science is neutral, and humans are the ones that implement it in good or bad ways.

The various methods of generating electricity are a great example. Humans have become dependent on energy for so many things, some frivolous and some necessary (depending on your point of view). Unless we are all willing to forego electricity, we must find some way to power our lives. Current methods, including coal, have harmful unintended consequences that many of us would say outweigh the positives that we get from the electricity that is generated. Water power, once thought to be one of the cleanest methods of generating electricity, has been found to cause problems big and small. Nuclear has its own set of problems, as does wind.

Because each solution has positive and negative effects, the best we can do is examine each situation individually using the best science available and decide how to achieve the most positive effects while decreasing the negatives. Plant genetics is no different from power generation in this respect.

Every individual plant trait obtained with biotechnology, mutagensis, wide crosses, etc has its own set of positives and negatives. This means that sometimes a biotech solution will work well, sometimes a low-tech traditional solution is best, sometimes the necessary solution is totally out of the box. It makes no sense at all to be “pro-GMO” or “anti-hybrid” or anything like that because those stances don’t take into account the intricacies of individual situations. There might be times when using a hybrid is a bad idea and times when using a GMO is a good idea, but there will also be times when the opposite cases are true!

To complicate things further, plant traits can’t just be considered on their own merit. There will usually also be a complex set of factors including psychology in the form of tradition, fears, education, and so on. There’s economic factors from the individual level all the way up to local, national, and global levels. There’s environmental factors of course, since any agricultural methods can have an effect on ecosystems near and far. And that’s just a few of the many factors that might be involved. We also have to consider what our goals are and how they fit into the big picture.

Considering all of these factors isn’t easy, which I think is a big part of why some people like to sum things up and be anti this or pro that. Easy isn’t always right, though.

How about you? Are you pro-GMO? Anti-GMO? How about pro- or anti-mutagenesis or tissue culture or any of the other techniques out there? Does it make more sense to be pro- or anti- a specific technology or method or to consider an application of that method?

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Anastasia is a Board Member of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes! Learn more about Anastasia at about.me. Disclaimer: Anastasia's words are her own and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of her employer(s). She is not paid to blog or conduct any social media activities. Any mention of a specific company or product does not indicate endorsement of that company or product.


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71 comments to Why I’m not pro-GMO (in the way anti-GMO people think)

  • Emerson White

    I don;t think anyone who would call themselves pro-GMO would disagree with the notion that GMO’s aren’t the best solution to every problem, or that they won’t have drawbacks. Pro-GMO as opposed to anti-GMO means that you think that the technology should not be completely shut out and disused in all situations. I think you have made Pro-GMO into a straw man and then set your self up with the exact intellectual position that virtually all pro-GMO people take. Perhaps this will give you an in with the Anti-GMO people and help knock some sense into them, or perhaps it will convince them that their intellectual opposition has an “even more dangerous” opinion than previously thought and you will only serve to further muddy an already obfuscated issue.

    • Emerson, I appreciate your concerns, but I don’t know if you realize that many anti-GMO people seem to think that “pro” GMO people believe that GMOs are the answer to everything. Based on conversations I’ve had with anti-GMO people in person and online, there is a belief that anyone who thinks there might be a place for [insert technology] in some agricultural systems must also believe that any technology belongs in all systems everywhere forever.

      You might think I’m exaggerating, but it’s there. Just one example happened yesterday when a twitter user said to me “The disconnect between you & I is the perceived necessity for more poison – regardless of what it kills.” I never said the more poison the better! In fact, I’ve always been an advocate for Integrated Pest Management, where chemical control is the last resort. But in this person’s mind, if I see a valid use of pesticides in some situations then I must automatically think more pesticides are better all the time, screw the consequences.

      The problem, I think, is that people like me and Karl and perhaps you agree with some scientific points that are made by “the enemy”. While we don’t agree with everything Monsanto or the National Corn Growers Association says and does, we agree with at least some of the science they use in their statements. Despite the fact that we might call out groups when they do things we don’t agree with, we’re still lumped in as part of the global agenda to do whatever agribusiness is supposedly trying to do this week.

      I think more scientists and other people that see a role for technology in agriculture (when carefully planned, considered, etc) need to stand up and say “I’m not that person”. My goal with this short commentary was to bring some sense to the conversation, hopefully showing the anti-GMO people that their stereotypes are false. I don’t think careful consideration of a plant trait or other advance makes me more dangerous than if I was an ideologue, but you never know how people will interpret things.

      • Emerson White

        “Perhaps” me, no of course me. I am quite familiar with how the Anti-GMO crowd works, I’m actually pretty involved in the permaculture community and am one of the few pro-GMO people. I think that you’ve just told them exactly what they want to hear about Pro-GMO people.

  • Francesca

    I think the blog is right in drawing our attention to the multi facets that the issue has. I don’t think that there is a black v white and several aspects need to be pondered against all effects. What is dangerous is that malicious and private-purposed campaign that only increases fears in not-so-well informed consumers, with the risk (as others) of increasing costs and thus leaving the space to the few companies which can afford them.

  • Ewan R

    I’m pro-GMO. I also think that the description of your stance on GMOs pretty much matches my own. So I also agree with Emerson – the pro-GMO you’re avoiding being is essentially a straw man (even the man from Monsanto doesn’t fit it…) built by anti-GMOers which in shying away from you appear to be supporting.

    If people want to misinterpret what a pro-GMO position is then let them have at it – it’s not likely at all that they’re going to be persuaded by redefining your stance to be more platable to them – as soon as they see any support of GMOs whatsoever they’ll label you pro-GMO anyway and a liar to boot for pretending not to be.

    • I’m pro science. Which means I’m pro GMO, pro pesticides, pro fertilizers, and pro sustainable ag, pro low input farming, and so on… whatever the science says will work well in a given situation with the highest positive for the lowest negative.

      So I think saying that I’m pro-GMO period might confuse people or give them the wrong impression on what I’m actually advocating. I don’t say this because I think it’ll be more palatable to anti-GMO folks but because it’s really the way I think about the role of science and technology in agriculture.

  • Eric Baumholder

    If you listen to the anti-biotech activists, you hear lots of claims about people who are ‘pro-GMO’ and who believe that GMOs are a ‘magic bullet’ and ‘will feed the world’.

    If you look around in the real world, you will discover such people are very difficult to find, anywhere.

    If you listen to the anti-biotech activists, you hear things about people who want to ‘poison the planet’, ‘destroy biodiversity’ and ‘put the food supply in the hands of multinational corporations’. People who, by the way, are ‘being paid by (insert bad X here)’.

    Those people are very difficult to find, as well.

    One thing about these claims, which is markedly consistent, is that they appear to involve ad hominem attacks on straw men. It’s prima facie reasonable to frame things that way, but that’s missing the point.

    What’s ad hominem to you is for them completely reasonable. Their main interest is whether you are a member of their tribe. Their tribe assumes what it believes to be the ‘moral high ground’, and defines itself by being against X, Y and Z. If you personally are not against such things, you are a member of the ‘bad’ tribe.

    At that point, the only remaining relevant question is, for them, how truly bad and corrupt you are, in comparison to ‘they who are noble.’ And, since they are saving the planet, the farmers, the consumers, whoever, from Bad Things, they enjoy a wider moral latitude than the rest of us.

    When the Stakes Are So Great, everything from lying to arson is permissible. The ethics which apply are not those of civility, but of war, and they claim for themselves the prerogatives of the latter. And the worse they can make you appear to be, the more vicious the ad hominems they can manage to devise, the greater becomes their self-made excuse for ignoring fundamental moral precepts, and even, laws.

    So, while you are busy improving agriculture, they are busy fighting a ‘culture war’. See, ‘Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt’, Umberto Eco,
    http://libcom.org/library/eternal-fascism-fourteen-ways-looking-blackshirt

    • So, in your opinion, is it worth the bother to explain that to accept the potential usefulness of technology is not the same as being a technological ideologue? Is there any hope of moderate environmental activists accepting that some technology can in fact be useful to those they claim to want to protect? If not, then what? Can we remain true to a non-ideologcal pro-science stance while ideological non-science whirls around us?

      • Eric Baumholder

        Anastasia,

        It is *very* worth the bother to explain the value of a technology to those who are genuinely curious. The common term for that activity is called ‘education’.

        One cannot escape being a technological ideologue, not even at the most reasonable level. That is because technology is value-neutral; there is nothing about it which urges, or requires, its use. Only ideology can carry technology into use. For instance, having genetic engineering at one’s disposal does not require that it be used. You have to have an ideology, such as feeding more people with fewer resources and a reduced environmental impact, to want to use the technology.

        If you value humanity and the environment, and find a technology which can serve those values, and then urge that the technology be used for those purposes, then you’re a technological ideologue. And what’s more, you can be proud of it, no excuses necessary. You don’t even need to destroy other people’s harvests, or their laboratories, to make your point.

        Believe it or not, there are thousands, even millions, of “moderate environmental activists” out there, who need no convincing of the value of engineered crops. These are the scientists who develop them, and the farmers who plant them.

        Which means that it’s not only easy, it’s popular, to “remain true to a … pro-science stance while ideological non-science whirls around us”.

        With a caveat. The opponents of engineered crops care nothing about human nutrition. The organic industry touts ‘healthy dirt’, while others proclaim humanity a blight upon the Earth, some even suggesting a decent plague would reduce us to ‘sustainable numbers’.

        These contemptible zealots must be opposed at every turn, if you are a true, decent ‘technological ideologue’ who knows, and can prove, that engineered crops can help humanity *and* the environment.

        The zealots cannot be appeased, because they have a different agenda. On the other hand, those who are genuinely curious will listen, and learn.

        • Katherine B

          I wouldn’t say GMO opponents don’t care about human nutrition, more that they don’t care about human welfare. (Organic food is often erroneously touted as being healthier.) Like you said, some opponents are mind-bogglingly anti-human.

          I also agree that there is nothing you can do to change the minds of the zealots. If you try, you’re a feeble-minded sheep at best and an Enemy working to uphold the conspiracy at worst. Better to focus on the people who are willing to think and to listen.

  • Charles M. Rader

    I’ve noticed that when people are opposed to GMOs for some actual reason, there’s usually some management approach that can deal with that reason, so that everyone is better off. For example, if the reason is the fear that the modified food will be allergenic, one takes precautions and performs tests and the problem goes away.

    But in my personal experience, a huge majority of the anti-GMO people I know are motivated by misinformation, and correcting that misinformation has a completely counter-intuitive result.

    For example, almost everyone seems to think that GMOs produce sterile seeds. We all know that this is just a concept, not a product in actual use. When I point this out to the anti-GMO zealots I know, they don’t get angry or annoyed at the liars who misinformed them. They defend the liars and get annoyed at me. It’s exactly the same when I point out that there are no tomatoes with fish genes, despite all the protest posters with tomatoes with fins.

    When an opinion is held strongly enough, it becomes a block to logical thinking. That’s why the same people who insist that GMOs are untested can complain about Starlink corn getting into the food supply without ever being approved for human consumption. Why wasn’t it approved for human consumption? Never mind. It’s why the same people who are sure that GMOs are sterile also believe that hordes of farmers have been sued for planting seeds set by accidental GMO cross-pollination.

    • It’s the misinformation that frustrates me most. I can respect some philosophical stances about agricultural practices and such, even if I don’t agree with them – but what do you do with people who refuse to accept reality? The internal contradictions (like being sterile while simultaneously contaminating the world) would be funny if they weren’t so maddening.

      • Eric Baumholder

        Anastasia,

        ‘philosophical stances about agricultural practices’ is the stuff embraced by the ‘foot soldiers’ of anti-biotech activism. In normal conditions, these ‘stances’ would be relegated to back-page status.

        What moves the issue to the front page is the simple fact that the ‘GMO public debate’ has been monetized. Local producers of crops, faced with cheaper imports of GM commodities, very easily generates headlines about ‘Frankenfoods’, etc. A few thousand US$ for the local Greenpeace chapter is a sound, solid investment.

        This has been going on for at least a decade.

    • Katherine B

      Agreed. Most people will cling to their beliefs no matter what evidence they’re provided with, and will defend them with religious zeal. This is one of the drawbacks of the Internet: anyone with a computer can “get informed,” yet few are taught how to distinguish between good and bad info. Sensationalism wins out in most cases. Compare this: http://www.mercola.com/ with this: http://www.fda.gov/Food/Biotechnology/default.htm

      Maybe the FDA/CDC/Health Canada etc. could take a page out of Mercola’s book! ;-)

    • I can agree with that. I have tried talking to people big on the heirloom thing about GMOs. Not at all a very productive use of time unfortunately, which I don’t understand, I would think people like that of all people would understand the benefits of genetic alteration, but wrong am I. Anyway, yeah, not only that, but it also seems like anyone knowledgeable in the field is attacked as well. There’s no study you can use, no scientific consensus you can point to, because everyone, every scientist here or abroad, be they governmental, university, NGO, or corporate, is, somehow, being paid to lie. The people who know the most are not to be trusted, seemingly leaving knowledge a vice and ignorance a virtue. And no matter how the technology is used, GE crops are bad simply because they are GE crops, end of story, and any disagreement with that premise means one is either wrong or quite possibly a shill of some kind.

      Of course, it’s to be expected when the conclusion comes first and the facts (real or otherwise) follow, which I have no doubt is the case here. Creepy things tend to generate misinformation to support the opposition of said creepy thing. Look at vaccines. Getting injected with some mix of dead stuff, that’s creepy, and what a surprise, they ’cause’ autism. Towers pumping out radiation, and then people suddenly get headaches (before the tower is even turned on). Mark my words, when vat grown meat comes out, it will be ‘proven’ to cause cancer or something. Same thing with GMOs. I think that misinformation can be countered in the general populace, but best of luck to anyone talking to anyone who’s already down the rabbit hole. I’ve tried. Doesn’t work. Any differing view is negated and ignored by way of (let’s call it what it is) conspiracy. Reminds my of a section from The Republic:

      “But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? he said.
      Certainly not, replied Glaucon.
      Then we are not going to listen; of that you may be assured. “

  • Here’s the way I see it…just like everything else, this is a spectrum. Although I’m not yet very familiar with anti-GMO organizations, I’d imagine there’s more than a few shades of gray; some folks urge more caution than others, while some anti-GMO activists are just as anti-GMO as Jenny McCarthy is antivaccine.

    I am pro-GMO to the point that I am pro pragmatism. If genetically modified organisms will help increase food production at a lower price and less ecological harm than conventional breeding techniques, why not pursue that technology?

  • Eric Baumholder

    Mr./Dr. Rader:

    Your observation is interesting: “When I point this out to the anti-GMO zealots I know, they don’t get angry or annoyed at the liars who misinformed them. They defend the liars and get annoyed at me.”

    This is the other side of the activist coin.

    The anti-biotech gang-greens achieve personal excuses for violating ethical norms by ‘being in favor of’ X, and by ‘combating’ Y and Z.

    So, when you challenge the factual basis of their position, they interpret that as an assault on moral superiority. After all, if their facts are wrong, their ‘moral superiority’ evaporates. Since you are assailing a morally superior position, it ‘is obvious’ that you are morally inferior, your facts are crooked/cooked, you are paid, corrupted, etc.

    It is always good to challenge the biotech opponents. Part of the reason is that their responses are entertaining and amusing. Normal people will appreciate the histrionics involved.

  • For fun and enlightenment, I suggest you read through this entire thread and count the number of times “straw men” are set up just to ridicule and destroy.

    btw, the Eco Umberto link is very helpful but only if read and applied to oneself as well as others.

    • I can only speak for myself, but I try very hard to avoid logical fallacies. Still, I’m sure some get in there, I know I have my own cognitive biases no matter how hard I try to remove them. If you see any fallacies in what I’ve said, please let me know. I sincerely want to know when I’m wrong.

  • Andre

    I think you were wrong when you wrote the title “Why I’m not pro-GMO”. You are in fact “pro-GMO”, the reasoned, reasonable and intelligent way.

    Secondly, in the debate, we must show understanding and empathy for those who doubt and fear, and firmness towards those who who are uncompromisingly “anti”. We should be pro-active rather than on the defensive. There are instances where “GMO”, as a breeding method, is the only solution. Resistance to the Papaya Ringspot Virus is an example, or Golden Rice (which must still be made operational).

  • Thanks for the criticism. Unfortunately this is just another example of why I need to practice writing a lot more. I’ve changed the title to reflect what I meant.

    When I wrote the post, I didn’t want to write about what anti-GMO people think about pro-GMO people because it could be taken as speculation. I have had many conversations and read enough sites to back up my statements here, but still I want to avoid saying “this person says this” or worse “this person thinks this”. I hope you’ll understand. I’ll go ahead and write what I was thinking about when this post was written.

    Self described anti-GMO people are usually 100% anti (not all of them, but certainly the loud ones). They don’t want to hear about the science, they don’t want to discuss how regulation might be changed to meet their concerns, they don’t want to talk about anything but banning the technology right now, as soon as possible, no matter what. They are the straw man except they’re real.

    Because their feelings on GMOs are so strong and so unchangeable I get the impression that they think pro-GMO people are as ideological as they are. They think people who are pro-GMO aren’t reasoned or intelligent. They think people who are pro-GMO want to deregulate the technology entirely and mandate that everyone use it, eliminate any safety testing, force it on every farmer in the world, let Monsanto take over the universe, and so on. There are differing degrees of what anti-GMO people assume pro-GMO people want, of course, but it gets into conspiracy really quick. It doesn’t help when we have people like the pro-business Avery’s who are closer to the stereotype and in the public eye while reasonable people are more quiet.

    I think we (as in the pro-GMO people) need to make a strong effort to show that we’re not what the anti-GMO people think we are. Even if the most adamant anti-GMO people won’t listen, I think we can make headway with the people who just don’t understand or who have legitimate fear and doubt, if only we can show that we’re reasonable. That’s what this post was supposed to be.

  • bbraulick

    in order to feed the damn world, farmer across america needs 300 bushel corn! in order to get them we need GMO traits so why dont you guys get out of your your corporate offices and listen to what starving countries need to live! GET REAL!!!!!

  • Lisa

    I am Stongly opposed to GMOs. I do not care if science proves that it has no neg. health effects or that is will provide a higher yield. My biggest concern over GMOs is the ecological damage to this Earth. Which includes major changes in soil composition due to the planting of GE crops using Bt. and crops utilizing RR resistance. (please correct me if I am wrong but I understood that levels of Bt in the soil are much higher and fungal levels are higher as well in some instances) my concerns also includes killing non-pest insects. It includes wiping out plant species with threat of instinction. I for one dont see GMO crops as sustainable over the long run. What I do see are super ragweeds, horseweed, etc. etc. Dying soil & Resistant pests. Which over the long run may cause more crop disease. I also must point out the fact that the BIG biotech corps. are for the most parts bullies. They go into other countries and push HARD a technology that most do not want to try. Monsanto admitted to hiring “blackwater” especially for anti gmo groups. A wikileaks proved that biotech giants would “inflict pain” in EU in order to promote GMOs. I despise the corporate control over the world concerning these GMOs. There is NO good reason why 90% of the corn, soy, canola, crops in America are GE. That is overkill. I am not a religious zealot, nor an uneducated ranting extremist. I realize we as a species use resources that damage the Earth. I am using electricity as we speak. I however, drive a 16 yr old honda, buy used clothes, live in an older home.. walk or ride my bike when I can, grow a small organic garden, and I wont even use a laptop because the wireless technology may interfere with migratory species. Overall I do not have a complete scientific understanding of the exact details of the process and final outcome of G>E. But I do know that when you do it you change dna, rna, delete, add, scramble genes and genome sequences. Some of which you really dont know what their purpose even entailed in whatever it was you just modified. Logically if you dont even know what the purpose was of what ever gene you just scrambled, or silenced or whatever, that does not bode well. Youre just going on the assumption that you know enough. Furthermore, whats really scary is when you start GE animals. Or using animal proteins in crops. There is some sort of a barrier between the transfer of plant proteins and mammals, but that barrier would be breached once you start using animals. I dont quite know how to explain myself in a scientific manner, I am only in my 1st semester of studies. But in general and for the most part I am against GMOs and dangerous chemicals as well. One of my fav. quotes is…. Just because you can doesnt mean you should.

    • Normal disclaimer – I’m a Monsanto employee, the views expressed herein are my own and not theirs, yadda yadda.

      Lisa:-

      I am Stongly opposed to GMOs. I do not care if science proves that it has no neg. health effects or that is will provide a higher yield. My biggest concern over GMOs is the ecological damage to this Earth.

      What about if science were to prove that the utilization of some GMOs was ecologically sound, and an improvement over current practices (as is the case with RR and Bt crops). Do you care about what science has to say on these issues or have you decided the answers for yourself without doing the legwork to see what the answers are?

      Which includes major changes in soil composition due to the planting of GE crops using Bt. and crops utilizing RR resistance. (please correct me if I am wrong but I understood that levels of Bt in the soil are much higher and fungal levels are higher as well in some instances)

      Adoption of no-till certainly leads to changes in soil composition (a good thing) and as far as I remember application of roundup leads to a short term reduction in soil biotic communities but that over the course of a season changes are negligible (some bacteria and fungi, if I remember right, utilize the same pathway to synthesize aromatic amino acids and are thus knocked for six by roundup application (interestingly if they weren’t there would be no RR, at least as far as I remember the story of the discovery of the resistant gene)- they do however recover)

      my concerns also includes killing non-pest insects

      So you support Bt for the reduction in accidental killing of non-pests due to pest specificity of Bt transgenics as compared to blanket insecticide spraying?

      It includes wiping out plant species with threat of instinction.

      I believe you mean extinction (we’re years away from modifying plants to have instincts – Triffids not withstanding) – which plants exactly do GMOs threaten with extinction which would not otherwise be threatened by agriculture anyway (ag is highly destructive regardless of whether it is transgenic, non-transgenic, organic or conventional)

      What I do see are super ragweeds, horseweed, etc. etc.

      Assuming you are against the use of herbicides please describe how super ragweed and horseweed are any different from regular ragweed and horseweed – I would actually guess that in comparison they are less fit than their non-super contemporaries as there is likely a fitness penalty to roundup tolerance in weed species. (anyone know if this has been studied?)

      Dying soil & Resistant pests.

      Dying soil isn’t particularly meaningful, resistant pests don’t matter if you don’t want the technology they’re resistant to to be used – infact one might argue that anti-GM folk would relish the prospect of all insects being Bt resistant and all weeds being resistant to all herbicides as it would do away with GM in one fell swoop (at least the IR and HT varieties)

      They go into other countries and push HARD a technology that most do not want to try.

      People not wanting to try the tech explains the massive amount of illicit smuggling of transgenics (ie from India to Pakistan) and the massive rates of adoption. Shorter version of your rant – farmers are all stupid. (they ain’t)

      Monsanto admitted to hiring “blackwater” especially for anti gmo groups.

      No, they didn’t. They hired a firm which does have links to blackwater, for the fee of ~$100k p/a, to supply security information globally – one would imagine tinfoil hat conspiracy theorizing would fall apart around this point as $100k probably isn’t going to get you much in the way of illicit activity.

      A wikileaks proved that biotech giants would “inflict pain” in EU in order to promote GMOs.

      Erm, I believe that was the US government that was going to do that, and that inflicting pain is a pretty standard terminology for ongoing trade disputes between various trading blocks.

      There is NO good reason why 90% of the corn, soy, canola, crops in America are GE.

      Well, either farmers are stupid (they ain’t) or it works. You do the math.

      But I do know that when you do it you change dna, rna, delete, add, scramble genes and genome sequences.

      So what you do know is either completely erroneous or utterly misleading. Don’t let that get in the way of your understanding though!

      , whats really scary is when you start GE animals.

      Y’know what’s really scary? Spiders. Spiders are really scary. I’d go with that, it’s fact based and will withstand the test of time. The rest of your screed not so much.

      There is some sort of a barrier between the transfer of plant proteins and mammals, but that barrier would be breached once you start using animals.

      Firstly nobody is advocating putting animal proteins in plants, secondly what on earth would it matter if they did (assuming regulatory wossnames were met – obviously a prion protein in a pineapple would prove pretty painful)?

      I dont quite know how to explain myself in a scientific manner, I am only in my 1st semester of studies.

      And yet you know that GM crops are bad etc etc. Hopefully subsequent semesters of study will teach a little more critical thinking (and possibly some paragraph insertion – I’m guilty of ridiculously long rants myself but I like to think I at least break them up enough to prevent occular bleed out)

      But in general and for the most part I am against GMOs and dangerous chemicals as well.

      In all instances or just some? (and if just some does this apply to the GMOs also) – There’s a 33% or so chance that your oncologist will need to know this at some point in life, I hope for your own sake that it’s case specific.

      One of my fav. quotes is…. Just because you can doesnt mean you should.

      One of mine is “Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, you’ll be a mile from them, and you’ll have their shoes.” (just as meaningful, but at least it may have raised a few smiles)

  • foodie

    Very interesting study, check this one out!
    http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

    • Very interesting study, check this one out!

      Wow – how did we miss that one!

      Oh wait. It’s Seralini. Again. Covered Ad Nauseum. Oddly enough another readthrough of the study makes it no more persuasive than any of the other times I’ve perused it.

      Why must people insist on not even remotely engaging in the ongoing debate – given the amount of coverage Seralini has had on biofortified it is pointless in the extreme to bring up the study as if it is new information – anyone remotely aware of the debate has seen it, anyone with the vaguest understanding of science should be able to point out the flaws.

      The study was interesting when it was first published, it ceased being so after the first readthrough, it was never “very” interesting and is now dull as tepid dishwater, it is infact a non-study, an exercise in grasping at straws, an insult to statistics, a still-born turd of no worth destined to be immortalized by people too lazy to read the actual paper who instead rely on the commentary of idiots to tell them what it means and then decide to run around posting it as if it is newsworthy and groundbreaking. I’ve passed gas that has more groundbreaking capability than this paper.

      • Well, Ewan, tell us what you really think!

        What I don’t understand is how stuff like Seralini, Ermakova, and Pusztai all get repeated ad nauseum by anti-GMO people with no one within the anti-GMO people saying “um, hey guys, using poor science to support our points only weakens our stance.” Is there no one who is anti-GMO who has the ability to critically read a paper and see its weaknesses rather than blindly proclaiming things that the paper doesn’t actually support?

        As for a rebuttal of Seralini – see EFSA reaffirms its risk assessment of genetically modified maize MON 863. The EFSA redid the statistical analysis and found that Seralini’s claims were totally unsupported.

        A quick rebuttal can be found at Academics Review:

        1) Animal study experts have agreed with Monsanto’s analysis and rejected Séralini’s claims. The safety testing in laboratory experiments of MON 863 corn and particularly the concerns raised by Gilles-Erik Séralini quoted in Genetic Roulette have been re-examined by scientists and regulatory authorities worldwide. These experts reaffirmed in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that MON 863 corn is safe—Smith neglects to tell us that experts have rejected Séralini’s claims (Séralini and others 2007; Doull and others 2007; see also EFSA commentary)

        2) Genetic Roulette doesn’t tell us about other studies. Smith omits any mention of a of other published laboratory studies that demonstrate that MON 863 corn is safe (Taylor and others 2003 ; Grant and others 2003).

        3) Gilles-Erik Séralini’s report on this corn contains errors in statistical analysis. Biological systems always display variability. For example, the average weight of a group of animals may be 20 gm, but some animals may weigh 10 gms and some may weigh 30. We can use statistics to determine if a specific animal’s weight is within the range normally observed for its group, or if it is really different. Think of it this way, an archer will miss a small target much more often than a large target, so the statistician always has to specify the size of the target. Séralini selected a method that would make it appear that there were more differences—a smaller target, but it is not the method that most experts would use. Genetic Roulette neglects to tell us that Séralini actually confirmed Monsanto’s analysis.

        4) The claimed differences were not observed under all conditions and were not biologically significant. One way to test if an observed difference is real or coincidental—a false positive—is to feed animals two different amounts of the corn being tested, usually at 11 percent and 33 percent in the diet. In this study, effects seen at 11 percent were not seen at the higher dose. That’s a sure clue that they were false positives but Séralini counted them anyway. Perhaps more important, expert pathologists studied the differences and concluded that none of them were biologically significant and none would have any adverse effect on the animal. Séralini and Smith are therefore fear-mongering about differences that make no difference.

    • I just found another rebuttal, this time by FSANZ*: FSANZ response to de Vendomois et al. (2009), A comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health, Int. J. Biol. Sci. 5 (7): 706-726

      *”Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is an independent statutory agency established by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991. FSANZ is part of the Australian Government’s Health and Ageing portfolio.”

      I recall seeing that the French and Austrian governments both refuted the paper as well but I can’t seem to find links at the moment.

      Edit – while looking for the French rebuttal of that Seralini paper, I found a French rebuttal of another Seralini paper. Seeing a pattern here? de l’Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des aliments relatif au glyphosate et aux préparations phytopharmaceutiques à base de cette substance active

  • Lisa

    Ewan! You will have to forgive my last post, I was tired and was transmitting from my cell phone.

    “Assuming you are against the use of herbicides please describe how super ragweed and horseweed are any different from regular ragweed and horseweed – I would actually guess that in comparison they are less fit than their non-super contemporaries as there is likely a fitness penalty to roundup tolerance in weed species. (anyone know if this has been studied?)”

    When I say super I am referring to resistant weeds and pests. It is a well known fact that weeds and insects will become resistant to herbicides, pesticides over time.
    If you dont think too hard, the idea of GE BT crops at first seem like a great idea. Afterall, Bt is organic and I suppose what you would consider a “benign toxin” compared to hundreds of other dangerous toxins and chemicals. However lets think long term here. Since we are already seeing Bt resistant bugs, it wont be long before Bt is useless. Ruined for all .. large corp or small organic farmer alike. SO! What do we have left?? We have millions and millions of acres of useless GE crops left over as pollution spreading their novel genes and hastening extinction of many species of corn and putting other species in the threatened category. That is what I consider misuse and exploitation for monetary profit alone.

    “What about if science were to prove that the utilization of some GMOs was ecologically sound, and an improvement over current practices (as is the case with RR and Bt crops). Do you care about what science has to say on these issues or have you decided the answers for yourself without doing the legwork to see what the answers are?”

    The only thing I have seen are chemical companies Gengineering crops to work with their chemicals. I have seen little to nothing in the way of drought tolerance or enhanced nutrtion in GE crops.

    “Shorter version of your rant – farmers are all stupid. (they ain’t)”

    I never said farmers were stupid. What I do see is more privatization of agriculture and hence farmers and consumers pretty much have to comply or lose their livlihoods or starve.

  • Lisa

    Ewan! continued!

    “Erm, I believe that was the US government that was going to do that, and that inflicting pain is a pretty standard terminology for ongoing trade disputes between various trading blocks”

    Year after year it becomes more difficult for me to distinguish between large corps and Govt. since nowadays being a “serious candidate ” for office means to bow down before the wealthy organizations and accept their power and money that alone can provide the level of capital and media required. Which in turn puts govt. obligation to do the bidding of aforemetioned corp.

    “In all instances or just some? (and if just some does this apply to the GMOs also) – There’s a 33% or so chance that your oncologist will need to know this at some point in life, I hope for your own sake that it’s case specific”

    I am against the use of most chemicals except in the case for emergency purposes. In Biomedical engineering it is ALOT more contained than crops. Also you have the choice about your treatment. Furthermore why are my chances of getting cancer 30-40% anyhows? I believe the rates are going up largely due to chemicals.

    One of mine is “Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, you’ll be a mile from them, and you’ll have their shoes.” (just as meaningful, but at least it may have raised a few smiles)

    Walk in mine and millions of others shoes who are sensitive to chemicals. If I dont eat an organic diet I get migraines, heart palpitations, fatigue and a whole host of other things.

    I am going to school for conservation biology and enviornmentalisn. BTw have you read Confessions of an economic hitman or the secret history of the American Empire? You should.

  • Lisa – post formatting forgiven – kudos for posting anything from a phone (I occasionally do, but it’s entirely too frustrating to even attempt the normal novel length nonsense I spew out on a keyboard designed, apparently, for leprechauns)

    When I say super I am referring to resistant weeds and pests. It is a well known fact that weeds and insects will become resistant to herbicides, pesticides over time.

    This rather skirts the question – if you are against the use of herbicides why do you care that weeds become immune to them – wouldn’t a world where weeds were immune to herbicides be an ideal world for those opposed to the use of herbicides?

    If you dont think too hard, the idea of GE BT crops at first seem like a great idea.

    Regardless of how hard you think they’re a great idea. Every child not poisoned by insecticides due to their use is testimony to this.

    Since we are already seeing Bt resistant bugs, it wont be long before Bt is useless.

    Not quite – there are methods (some particularly awesome ones have been discussed here) for dealing with resistance, and your view entails a rather static view of R&D – lets say that it takes 25 years for a given insect population to become wholly resistant (figure pulled from journal of proctological entomology) to one Bt protein – that protein is then useless for the period of time that the population is resistant – however it has been noted (I think… perhaps that’s just conversational info tho – I’m thinking perhaps a lab-mate may be my source, so it isn’t concrete) that resistant insects are at a severe disadvantage evolutionarily – so once the pressure of the crop is removed then natural populations will revert back – in the meantime another protein is used, cycle back and forth between insecticide types and you have a decent ability to deal even without strictly enforced refuge and other interesting methods of dealing with pests (air drops of sterile males during peak breeding time for instance)

    have millions and millions of acres of useless GE crops left over as pollution spreading their novel genes

    Well, not quite – as soon as Bt is useless you don’t have any acres of it grown – farmers aren’t going to pay for a useless trait, companies aren’t going to maintain regulatory approval for traits that don’t sell.

    and hastening extinction of many species of corn and putting other species in the threatened category

    How exactly does transgene spread hasten the extinction of corn in a manner that a regular hybrid doesnt? It doesnt. At all. If the presence of varieties isn’t a threat then the presence of varieties which are transgenic isn’t a threat. This line of reasoning is nonsensical.

    The only thing I have seen are chemical companies Gengineering crops to work with their chemicals. I have seen little to nothing in the way of drought tolerance or enhanced nutrtion in GE crops.

    Then you are blinkered. Of the two big commercial traits (RR and Bt) only one is engineered to work with chemicals, the other is specifically engineered to work with less chemicals. The RR trait allows for utilization of a more environmentally benign herbicide than those that were previously the mainstay of conventional agriculture.

    On drought tolerance – it isn’t commercial yet, but it likely will be next year (or the one after)
    On improved nutrition – you seriously haven’t heard of the golden rice project?

    I never said farmers were stupid. What I do see is more privatization of agriculture and hence farmers and consumers pretty much have to comply or lose their livlihoods or starve.

    No – you said that farmers are using stuff they don’t want to use, this categorically isn’t the case, they’re using stuff they want – if they don’t want to use it they don’t (explain otherwise why GM traits do not have 100% market penetrance, or at least 100% once you exclude organic, which is a tiny share of the market), if it doesn’t offer a benefit it doesn’t get used, if they try it and don’t like it they switch back to what they like. Your suggestion was that farmers are using stuff they don’t want to and that does them no good – this would only occur if farmers were drivelling morons.

    Year after year it becomes more difficult for me to distinguish between large corps and Govt. since nowadays being a “serious candidate ” for office means to bow down before the wealthy organizations and accept their power and money that alone can provide the level of capital and media required. Which in turn puts govt. obligation to do the bidding of aforemetioned corp.

    your initial quote was “A wikileaks proved that biotech giants would “inflict pain” in EU in order to promote GMOs.

    Biotech giants != the US government, regardless of how much you want them to. The current political situation is not ideal but lets not conflate actions of the US government potentially brought about by pressure from lobbyists with actual actions of said corporations – particularly not when you’re throwing around words like “proved” – and particularly when you’re taking phrases out of their context.

    I am against the use of most chemicals except in the case for emergency purposes.

    I bet you’re not.

    Furthermore why are my chances of getting cancer 30-40% anyhows? I believe the rates are going up largely due to chemicals.

    I’m thinking it’s predominantly due to an ever aging population and the accumulation of mutations.

    If I dont eat an organic diet I get migraines, heart palpitations, fatigue and a whole host of other things.

    Switching from non-organic to an organic diet includes so many changes that there is absolutely no way you can conclusively point to “chemicals” being the issue. As you have knowledge of what is in the diet in the first place it may not even be the dietary change itself but simply the placebo effect of switching – you’d need to do a blinded test first to see if organic vs conventional induced changes, then change things piece by piece to actually uncover the underlying problem.

    • At a Maize Genetics conference 2 years ago I saw an awesome poster that found insects that were resistant to Bt had reduced reproduction rates. Unfortunately I can’t recall the authors at the moment. I do recall that it was a well designed study.

      I have a friend who gets ill when she eats organic produce, but not non-organic. She says she can tell the difference between different plant varieties because some give her a rash and such while others of the same species do not. I hypothesize that the difference is the increases phytochemicals in the stressed out plants grown organically and that are naturally higher in some varieties that produce rashiness and other reactions. Not really related but pretty interesting, I think :)

  • Lisa

    I have heard of golden rice but was not aware of it being commercialized.

    Bt engineered crops do (did) produce a new protein. I gather it was assumed safe since Bt was not known to affect mammals. However, to be quite frank, my symptoms of heart palps. and fatigue and headaches and sob started in 1998 and were eliminated by 80% in 2009 when I switched over to organic foods. I do not think it was a mind over matter principle. Over that period of ten, eleven years, I had tried all sorts of medicines with little relief. It is plausible to think that some of the population could be sensitive to gmos.

    Anastasia and Ewan:

    Anastasia you stated you were pro science and pro Ipm.

    Ewan you said you were an employee of Monsanto and I take it you are pro science as well.

    I have a question for you then.

    Considering that only 7% Alfalfa grown in the USA utilizes spraying, I want to know what is the science behind Monsanto corp applying for deregulated commercial planting of RR alfalfa and the USDA (Tom Vilsack) approval of the crop.?

  • the bug guy

    Lisa, if you are sensitive to one of the B.t. proteins, then you should have a reaction to residues on organic produce that have been treated with the various B.t. surface applications.

    As for your question to Anastasia and Ewan, capturing upwards of 7% of the alfalfa market would be of economic benefit for Monsanto and for those 7% of alfalfa farmers that currently spray, having the glycosphate-resistant trait available gives them more options for planting that can potentially reduce spraying more toxic materials like atrazine and also enhance their profit margin.

    • having the glycosphate-resistant trait available gives them more options for planting that can potentially reduce spraying more toxic materials like atrazine and also enhance their profit margin.

      This arguement doesn’t work so much for Alfalfa – in general most farmers wouldn’t be replacing older herbicides with the newer (although they would for that 7%…) but simply adopting a different weed management system – it could probably be argued that in terms of chemical application this methodology is not going to be as benign as whatever was being used previously which is rather a pain in the behind for arguing pro-GM from an environmental stance, but if that’s the way it is that’s the way it is.

  • Lisa

    The bug guy

    “if you are sensitive to one of the B.t. proteins, then you should have a reaction to residues on organic produce that have been treated with the various B.t. surface applications.”

    I have thought about that, and I have noticed that I do get the same symptoms occasionally when eating organic corn. It is very difficult to pinpoint the exact culprit in ones diet, but I am attempting to do so. I also buy alot of “beyond organic”.. things that have not been sprayed with anything.. from my own garden and from farmers markets. That helps quite a bit.

    • the bug guy

      But ask, why just corn? B.t. products are used to control a wide range of insects on many different crops. Granted, different subspecies produce slightly different toxin proteins, that is what helps make them so specific, but the B.t. kurstaki found in GMO plants is one of the most commonly applied products, also.

      Considering that in some instances, organic farming uses more toxic and environmentally hazardous materials than conventional agriculture to treat the same problem, I am always wary of blanket claims about organic being safer.

      Being a person who has a food sensitivity, I understand the frustration of trying to track down the trigger what what is causing your symptoms.

  • However, to be quite frank, my symptoms of heart palps. and fatigue and headaches and sob started in 1998 and were eliminated by 80% in 2009 when I switched over to organic foods.

    A switch from non-organic to organic foods involves sweeping dietary changes – you could perhaps infer that Bt was involved if this was the only change, however given that Bt sprays are allowed in organic agriculture it isn’t even clear that you can make this inference.

    I do not think it was a mind over matter principle.

    People never do. That’s why homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar global endeavor.

    Over that period of ten, eleven years, I had tried all sorts of medicines with little relief.

    If you don’t know the source of the illness than finding relief could be hard – if you cut all soy and corn from your diet then GMOs are eliminated – if you aren’t then better then they clearly aren’t causative agents – I have colleagues who are allergic to both soy and corn and therefore know this is entirely possible as a course of action.

    It is plausible to think that some of the population could be sensitive to gmos.

    No, it isn’t.

    Considering that only 7% Alfalfa grown in the USA utilizes spraying, I want to know what is the science behind Monsanto corp applying for deregulated commercial planting of RR alfalfa and the USDA (Tom Vilsack) approval of the crop.?

    This isn’t a scientific question, it’s a business question.

    Assuming your figures are correct that 7% of alfalfa represents 7% of a ~$60M per year market or $4.2M p/a which while not a mind bogglingly large sum is certainly a healthy chunk of change (and lets keep in mind that Monsanto is licensing the trait to Forage genetics who are the company likely to benefit – my guess is that $4.2M is more meaningful to Forage than it is to Monsanto.
    You do however have to work under the assumption that only this 7% who do already spray will utilize the trait – Eric mentioned on another thread that his personal (and apparently a widely used method) of 1st year weed control was to grow oats and alfalfa together and to rely on the oats to choke out weeds – he mentioned this wasn’t very good economically, but apparently beat out other available weed control methods – and there’s the punch – RR revolutionized weed control in other crops – what if the ~99% of alfalfa farmers who don’t do organic alfalfa (USDA figures suggest ~1% of alfalfa acreage is organic – perhaps you’d like to comment on why it’d be fair to shut 7% of acres off because of what 1% of acres want?) contain a higher number than 7% who would actually utilize a weed control system which would allow them to get a meaningful harvest in their first year of production? The 7% figure then becomes meaningless – there may be 50% of farmers who wish to utilize the technology – making it a $30M p/a prospect rather than a $4.2M p/a prospect.

    The scientific reasoning behind deregulation has nothing to do with numbers of potential adopters or potential acreage – it has everything to do with the substantial equivalence and safety status of the crop – best not to conflate the science (where arguements against the crop are weak) and the business (where arguements against the crop are also weak – but possibly could have made sense if arbitrary cutoffs were allowed for the release of products based on the number of people who were going to use them – which would kill Macs in one fell swoop unfortunately)

  • Interestingly the 7% figure for sprayed alfalfa acreage doesn’t hold water.

    The USDA document on dergulation

    States that 16.6% of fields and 22% of acreage was sprayed with herbicides (page 68 of the report) while mechanical (tillage) and cultural (co-cropping) were used on ~80% of alfalfa – so the potential market is way in excess of 7% (oddly the 7% figure pops up within a few paragraphs as the % of seed used for sprouting – is this where this erroneous figure came from or is that just the 1/100 chance that the figures coincide?)

    Roundup stands to replace ~16 different herbicides (or at least reduce the use of – one would hope herbicide rotation would be used) in the 20% of acres which spray.

    • Eric Baumholder

      Ewan,

      There is a strong likelihood that RR alfalfa will gain 95 percent of the market, in short order, similar to RR beets.

      BTW, please tell the folks at your end that a combination glyphosate/dicamba trait + glyphosate/dicamba treatment for alfalfa deserves some priority. We have enough problems with glyphosate-tolerant weeds, and if things don’t turn around, we’re looking at going back to mechanical weed control, or at best, much less effective herbicides.

      • Eric brings up a good point about relying too much on glyphosate. When I attended the BIO convention in Atlanta, there was a Peanut-Corn-Soy farmer who said “No Roundup Ready Peanuts, please” because then he couldn’t control his volunteers from the previous part of the rotation. Same would also be true for controlling weeds. (Volunteers would be weeds I guess in this context.) I’ve been thinking lately that the only way to sustain herbicide-tolerant crops in the long term is to have several options, and to have some way to make sure that farmers are rotating between those options and not relying on one exclusively. This would also matter for herbicide-tolerant non-GE crops, too.

        • Ideally, there’d be better extension to help farmers use non-chemical weed control methods in addition to herbicides/herbicide resistance traits. The seed and chemical companies do a great job of sharing info on what their products can do, but methods that don’t use products get left behind. If we had real IPM going on the weed resistance problems could be really minimized.

          Edit – I just noticed that I was talking about IPM at the beginning of this comment thread months ago. lol

        • Karl – if you check the Monsanto pipeline you’ll notice that a number of new herbicide tolerance traits are being developed (dicamba & glufosinate resistance(corn, cotton, soy(dicamba only), canola (dicamba only)), FOPS resistance(corn), next gen herbicide resistance(corn), wheat “herbicide tolerance” (blurb says 2-3 modes of action)-one of the few new RR wossnames in development is sugarcane – so now whether you like HFCS or despise it your money is still lining Monsanto pockets… awesome!(for me…)) roundup resistance is an issue even for a farmer using a soy/corn rotation (I’m assuming you’ve seen fields of soy with the odd corn plant dotted around looking rather lonesome, hopefully Frank hasn’t) – not so much as corn doesn’t go volunteer quite as easily, and will outcompete soy no problem – but as rotation crops are added to those with transgenes clearly multiple modes of action will be required or volunteers will be the new weeds and won’t be controllable (at least by simple methods) – my guess would be that other seed companies are racing to do the same.

    • Ewan, thanks for catching the 22% figure being correct rather than the 7% figure. It’s on page 68 of the EIS in case anyone wants to check. I guess the anti-GE organizations can’t be bothered to read what they criticize. (Surprise!)

      Pages 132-134 have some money quotes about how the non-GE and organic communities did not provide any quantitative data about market rejection due to adventitious presence of GE given current GE alfalfa farms or other GE operations. I am beginning to wonder if the critics of these and other EIS’s are serious about their concerns with the analysis, or if it is just about achieving a specific goal and not the process.

  • Lisa

    Bug guy!

    Sorry it takes me so long to reply, I must go to the library currently to use the computer.

    As far as my sensitivity to the novel Bt protein, It isnt mind over matter. I suffered these symptoms for a decade and each and every time I got a medication I was hopeful this time would be the answer.( which could give the placebo effect) It took me 11 years to narrow it down.

    From what I understand however, this is a novel protein. It was produced thru the transgenetic process. The protein may or may not be similar to one existing previously in corn or bt strains, but it is new. Also I gather the level of Bt expressed in each and every cell of a bt crop is much, much higher than what is expressed if you were just to spray it. Also, bt spray dissipates within days due to sun and water. Not so in the case of the gmo plant.

    Karl! You and I have tussled before! The sources I read stated 7 %. I did not read the EIS.. I scanned it however. The Eis was compiled by the producing company, so conflict of interest could be at play. btw, I am not completely against GE.

    Ewan! Lets talk about this farmer angle you have brought up to me. Almost anyone will try something new if told that it will produce bigger and better and make you more money for less work. (DUH!) But I would reckon most of these farmers do not have a total grasp on what this technology entails. Furthermore it also depends on what farmer you talk to. I have heard some farmers say they had to switch due to drift. Others have lost their organic certification due to drift and contamination. Others have done the gmo and wanted to stop utilizing them and found that little to nothing would grow in their fields after RR gmo crops.

    Once again I must emphasize that a monopoly of the size of Monsanto cannot be good. Some Ge crops are designed for good purposes. But most are designed to help the sales of chemicals. Biodiversity is being lost and our soil is forever being compromised to a poorer state.

    Therefore, I would beseech any of you if faced with a decision or vocalizing your vote to allow Gmo crops but with clearly defined buffer areas and seperate grain towers for processing.

    • the bug guy

      Your replies have me a little confused since they seem contradictory, so I will attempt to answer as I understand.

      The protein used in GMO corn is one of the toxin proteins from B. t. kurstaki that was inserted into the plant genome. It was used because that subspecies toxin is specific to the common caterpillars that attack corn. That is one of the strengths of the various B. t. products, their specificity. Why create a new protein when you can insert an already effective one?

      Second, in the post I replied to, you stated that you had reactions to organic corn, but then in the current post, you state that you don’t think it could be sprayed B. t. because of the rapid breakdown of the product.

      So, if you are reacting to what you think is a B. t. toxin on organic corn, then again, I have to ask why only corn? The toxins are used on other vegetables to control caterpillars. Why don’t you react then? If it is not the B. t. toxin, then it must be something else in the corn not related, which means that GMO corn probably wouldn’t have much of a different effect.

    • Hi Lisa,

      The EIS was produced by the USDA, not the company making the product, FYI. I am busy at the moment but I will respond more later.

    • Karl! You and I have tussled before! The sources I read stated 7 %. I did not read the EIS.

      Neither did whoever brought up the 7% figure. The EIS is produced by the USDA – if anyone is going to have a good handle on the acreage being sprayed for any given crop it’s the USDA. The 7% figure is wrong. I’m happy to accept that this isn’t your mistake, but it’s someone’s mistake (although given my prior comment it doesn’t really matter 7% sprayed still could make *business* sense to commercialize the trait – science can’t answer the question of when to commercialize)

      Ewan! Lets talk about this farmer angle you have brought up to me. Almost anyone will try something new if told that it will produce bigger and better and make you more money for less work.

      They’ll try it on a scale that isn’t economically punitive and reject it if it doesnt work.

      But I would reckon most of these farmers do not have a total grasp on what this technology entails.

      I reckon you misunderestimate farmers. Falling back to the old “but farmers are stupid” trope when all else fails.

      I have heard some farmers say they had to switch due to drift.

      O Rly? Given that if roundup drift damaged your crop you’d be reaping an insurance payment and your insurance company’d be going after your neighbour I doubt this.

      Others have lost their organic certification due to drift and contamination.

      The only verified instance I’ve seen of this is the one farmer in Australia who lost his certification because the rules are stupid. It would be wholly unfair to restrict a technology because a group of idiots set up rules that made it impossible to operate near the technology despite it having no actual impact.

      Others have done the gmo and wanted to stop utilizing them and found that little to nothing would grow in their fields after RR gmo crops.

      I’m almost convinced that even Sarah Palin couldn’t spout out a lie like this while keeping a straight face, this is absolutely nonsensical.

      Once again I must emphasize that a monopoly of the size of Monsanto cannot be good.

      That’d be a great point if you actually backed it with anything or even illustrated that Monsanto were a monopoly. Alas you didn’t and they ain’t (other than very specifically for the patented traits they hold and only for the lifespan of these patents – which would be a big point if they didn’t license widely throughout the entire seed industry)

      Some Ge crops are designed for good purposes. But most are designed to help the sales of chemicals.

      Erm, pretty sure that the bulk of GM sales are actually eroding chemical useage (Bt)rather than promoting the sales of chemicals – and in the case of the major trait that does go hand in hand with chemical sales the environmental impact of the chemical is lower than what would be used on the untraited crop. Is there a reason you keep repeating the same falsehoods like some sort of mantra rather than addressing the corrections to your points?

      Biodiversity is being lost

      As a result of GM? Is this due to the reduced use of broad spectrum insecticides, the requirement for less land in agriculture, or the lower environmental impact of the RR system as compared to the conventional alternative?

      our soil is forever being compromised to a poorer state.

      Notwithstanding the fact that GM doesn’t have a tremendous long term impact on soil (microbial biota recover within weeks of a roundup spray, and Bt doesn’t impact them one bit afaik) forever is a rather long time – I think that once again you’re making stuff up.

  • Lisa

    Karl! I was talking to you on Grist. You had mentioned stem cell research was privatized. I agree that it is not a good thing. Privatizing anything puts severe restrictions on consumers and also on any other fruitful research.

    I am more tolerant of biomedical engineering simply because it is more confined and there is more choice. ( I mean you can accept or deny any treatment legally)

    Another thing we were talking about was counties that were gmo free. I believe you posted a link to an article on Imperial county in Calif. (nice link ty) I had stated I read an article but didnt have it bookmarked so I couldnt share the link. I had said some counties/towns had tried to go gmo free but were told it was illegal. I am not sure the word used was illegal, it was probably denied. However the article I read didnt extrapolate on whether there was a democratic vote on the issue or if the town/county leaders just flat out denied the citizens. anyhow. thanks for that link.

  • Lisa

    Ewan,
    “Notwithstanding the fact that GM doesn’t have a tremendous long term impact on soil (microbial biota recover within weeks of a roundup spray,”

    Tell me what the half life is for RR please?

    Also I never said farmers were stupid, you are assuming from what I have posted. Perhaps I should clarify. MOST farmers are not microbiologists or soil scientists. They simply do not understand. Period. The bootlegging of GE and RR is because the farmer sees with his eyes that he doesnt have to weed his field and his plants look great. HE does not understand what he cannot see.

    It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed.

    http://www.lavidalocavore.org/diary/4523

    “As a result of GM? Is this due to the reduced use of broad spectrum insecticides, the requirement for less land in agriculture, or the lower environmental impact of the RR system as compared to the conventional alternative?”

    Ewan, do you know how much rain forest in South America has been destroyed and planted with RR soy? Or savannah in Africa? Have you heard of the holocene extinction? Its been well cited. Corn species in Mexico are threatened or extinct. Furthermore there does exist NO till organic farming.

    Perhaps less insecticides due to Bt crops, but certainly not Less RR. case in point in our previous discussion. Whether only 7% or 22% of alfalfa is sprayed, within a few years it is expected to be 90% RR.

    Do you know Monsanto history? pcb? Agent orange? still in the soil. And when they finally admit RR is toxic and in the soil ( and that will most likely only come when RR has lost almost all effectiveness) all Monsanto will do is switch to another chemical, another ge plant and the merry go round ride from hell persists. Monsanto has never been altruistic and not even close. They use their great money to guide what education is allowed to be taught at universities who accept the money.

    • Ewan R

      “Notwithstanding the fact that GM doesn’t have a tremendous long term impact on soil (microbial biota recover within weeks of a roundup spray,”

      Tell me what the half life is for RR please?

      I believe the half-life varies by soil type, anywhere from a few weeks to months – although this really isn’t an important factor to be perfectly honest – glyphosate has to be present at concentrations which inhibit amino acid synthesis – this doesn’t appear to be the case, as a matter of fact a quick look appears to nullify my cautionary approach above – 5 papers looked at this morning on the effects of roundup on soil microbes shows very little in way of effect –

      Glyphosate toxicity and the effects of long-term vegetation control on soil microbial communities – Matt D. Busse, Alice W. Ratcliff, Carol J. Shestak and Robert F. Powers – Soil Biology and Biochemistry Volume 33, Issues 12-13, October 2001, Pages 1777-1789

      suggests no effects, other than increased respiration at 10x to 100x application rate (not the case in soil free media, but in soil no effects)

      Glyphosate effects on microbial biomass in a coniferous forest soil – Glenn W. Stratton, K. Elaine Stewart -Environmental Toxicology and Water Quality Volume 7, Issue 3, pages 223–236, August 1992

      Showed exactly the same as the above article

      Effects of genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant crops and their management on soil food web properties and crop litter decomposition – Jeff R. Powell et al – Journal of Applied Ecology Volume 46, Issue 2, pages 388–396, April 2009

      Shows some minor effects but states “The lack of observed permanent negative effects on soil biota in this study is heartening” in the abstract (alas it’s behind a paywall for me so cant get at the full article)

      Effects of glyphosate on rhizosphere soil microbial communities under two different plant compositions by cultivation-dependent and -independent methodologies
      Iker Mijangosa, José M. Becerrilb, Isabel Albizua, Lur Epeldea and Carlos Garbisu – Soil Biology & Biochemistry 41 (2009) 505–513

      was an in pot study which found that microbial activity increased due when glyphosate was applied – microbes utilized roundup as a nutrient source

      So the soil is neither “being compromised” nevermind “to a poorer state” unless you categorically define these two statements post-hoc based on the limited effects of glyphosate on soil microorganism communities. I’m fine to admit in this instance that it appears my initial take was wrong – there doesn’t appear to be a cull of microbes followed by recolonization – I will however attempt to remember where I got that idea from, because I’m pretty certain I didn’t make it up myself.

      Also I never said farmers were stupid, you are assuming from what I have posted. Perhaps I should clarify. MOST farmers are not microbiologists or soil scientists. They simply do not understand. Period. The bootlegging of GE and RR is because the farmer sees with his eyes that he doesnt have to weed his field and his plants look great. HE does not understand what he cannot see.

      So what exactly is it the farmer doesn’t understand?

      As far as I can see you’re shifting the goalposts on what you’re saying about farmers so that it doesn’t appear that you’re assuming they’re stupid – let’s nail down exactly what it is you’re saying and then assess if farmers have to be stupid for your statement to hold water.

      Your first statement on the matter was

      There is NO good reason why 90% of the corn, soy, canola, crops in America are GE.

      Which does require farmers to be stupid to be true. As you are apparently not calling farmers stupid can we therefore take this statement as redacted?

      Next instance was

      They go into other countries and push HARD a technology that most do not want to try

      Which again, paints farmers as stupid – farmers can get out of using GMOs whenever they want (just look at the literature on economic impacts of Bt cotton in the early years – there are figures for farmers who tried, then gave up on, then re-adopted GM crops (my assumption is they had a bad hybrid, or a bad year the first time, and so, like any sensible farmer went back to something that worked for them – and then, upon seeing the continued success of their neighbours, decided to give it another shot (possibly once hybrid diversity was enough that they could get hold of something that’d work in their particular environment)

      So please clarify

      They simply do not understand. Period.

      To tell me exactly what it is they don’t understand (that apparently you do – and given that you’re neither a microbiologist or a soil scientists please also explain how this doesn’t equate to them being stupid – if you get it, and have no training, surely stupidity is all that is holding them back?)

      The bootlegging of GE and RR is because the farmer sees with his eyes that he doesnt have to weed his field and his plants look great. HE does not understand what he cannot see.

      You don’t see it and you don’t understand it. RR isn’t bootlegged (at least as far as I am aware) – Bt is – Bt doesn’t effect having to weed your field or not, it reduces insect damage by certain types of insect, it reduces the need to spray insceticides – what is it that you see here that the Pakistani farmer doesn’t? Why do you think she is dumber than you (despite the fact that she knows what the technology does whereas you’re blustering about confusing one with the other)

      Ewan, do you know how much rain forest in South America has been destroyed and planted with RR soy? Or savannah in Africa?

      No, please enlighten me showing that the destruction is actually due to the presence of the transgene rather than the economics of growing soy or corn coupled with increasing food demand. I’d prefer links to peer-reviewed literature rather than clearly biased sites (I do try and steer clear of direct links to Monsanto sourced stuff unless I’m trying to illustrate what Monsanto’s stance is on something)

      Have you heard of the holocene extinction? Its been well cited.

      I have, but I don’t know why this has any bearing on GE crops – unless your assertion is that the whole holocene extinction (an event which has been occuring over the past 10,000 years) is caused by GE crops and glyphosate (things used over the past decade and ~50 years(give or take, too lazy to be accurate on a pithy point) – is that your contention or are you just tossing out scary phrases for the hell of it?

      Perhaps less insecticides due to Bt crops, but certainly not Less RR.

      Pedantically that should be less Roundup, not less RR (RR is the roundup ready trait, roundup is the brand name chemical sprayed onto RR crops) – infact I think you should be saying less herbicides rather than less roundup.

      While it is true that by and large more roundup has to be sprayed than other herbicides on a pound for pound basis it is also true that by and large the environmental impact of the herbicide regime is reduced due to roundup’s lower environmental impact – generally to the tune of about 30%.

      Whether only 7% or 22% of alfalfa is sprayed, within a few years it is expected to be 90% RR.

      is rather contradictory to your earlier

      Considering that only 7% Alfalfa grown in the USA utilizes spraying, I want to know what is the science behind Monsanto corp applying for deregulated commercial planting of RR alfalfa and the USDA (Tom Vilsack) approval of the crop.?

      Which seems to assume adoption would remain at 7%.

      I would however agree – utilization of RR alfalfa on 90%+ of the alfalfa crop would increase herbicide use by whatever method you look at (not on the 22% already utilizing, but on the rest) – here I can only say that the impact of roundup is slight, and the benefits enjoyed by farmers outweigh the impacts in my opinion – playing the “more environmentally friendly” card only works when it works – for RR Alfalfa acreage which doesn’t utilize herbicidal control of weeds I categorically am not playing this card.

      Do you know Monsanto history? pcb? Agent orange? still in the soil.

      Carpets and asprin too! Keep in mind we’re talking about an industrial giant which existed from circa 1900 through to the present day (although there was a total change in the company structure which imo separates Monsanto at least from PCBs, not so much from AO which is a herbicide – I would say that though) spanning a period of time in which all industry was heavily polluting and nobody really understood what in the hell they were doing (also interestingly AO was developed by the US military, and the US military were informed, by Monsanto, about the dioxin in AO – this didn’t stop the purchase or spraying of AO however – and frankly anyone who thinks it would have made sense for any company to refuse to act as a supplier for the US government during the Vietnam war is off their rocker)

      And when they finally admit RR is toxic and in the soil

      Sure, because 2 chemicals which were found to be toxic and pulled in an era when toxicity testing was not done and there was no registration of chemicals for use as herbicide it logically follows that one of the most highly tested and succesful chemicals of the 20th century is bound to also be discovered to be unsafe – all the tests are lies, it’s a global conspiracy, sure.

      Monsanto has never been altruistic and not even close.

      WEMA

      (I don’t particularly buy into the “it’s not altruistic, it’s PR/making money” – by the same arguement nothing anyone does is altruistic (you do it because it makes you feel good/superior) and nothing any corporation does can be evil (they did it for money – if this excludes all moral acts on one side of the spectrum then surely it should exclude those on the other))

      They use their great money to guide what education is allowed to be taught at universities who accept the money.

      This is yet another Palinesque lie. Absolutely outrageous.

  • Lisa

    …continued…

    Monsanto takes the power and money and takes scientists, such as Seralini, and Pusztai, and now probably Huber, and many others.. who were, prominent, important, credible scientists and turns them into laughing stocks.

    Karl,
    The article I read stated this…

    Voters in Mendocino and Marin Counties in California passed ballot initiative to ban GM crops. Officials in Trinity County and Arcata, California have passed ordinances banning the outdoor cultivation of GM crops as well. But since then, a California law was passed prohibiting this type of local initiatives…

    although I have not done any research to see if this is correct and still standing at this point.

    • Monsanto turned Seralini into a laughing stock?

      They forced him to publish bad science and then what, hypnotized him so that he announced to the world that rather than doing practical work students in high school should spend more time being taught science?

      There was no turning involved.

      (I’ll get back to the rest when I get time)

  • Lisa

    oh, just thought I would post a nice link for you all in case you havent heard this…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGK84Poeynk

    I enjoyed it.

  • Maureen

    Anti? Pro? I am against giant corporations, hand in hand with our government, owning patents on our seeds, cross contaminating good crops with GMO’s, and then “owning” them. I am against the giants using scare tactics and duress to have documents signed and people kept from speaking out! I’m for labeling GMO food at the very least, so consumers will have a right to chose what they eat. I’m against the agressive nature in which GMO plants take over, and I am against the damage they do to the land. I am against our farmers having to buy seeds every year because the GMO plants are sterile. What about you Anastasia?

  • Anastasia, this article had a big influence on me in the early years of my GMO advocacy efforts. It’s good and honest point to try to delineate the technology from the implementation. For that I tried to stand upon this nuanced view of anti-anti-GMO. But instead I had people trying to corner me into admitting that indeed I am “pro-GMO”. By me not admitting that they tried to paint a scarlet letter on me and associating shame with being pro. But it was ‏@SciTechJunkie’s tweet that was the final straw and made me finally accept “pro-GMO”:
    https://twitter.com/SciTechJunkie/status/391586864584355841
    I’m not anti-anti vaccination but pro-vaccination much the same way! I think being pro-GMO is not something I should continue to shy away from.

    What are your thoughts now, 3 years later?

    • That’s an interesting comparison, but not quite equivalent, I think.

      With vaccinations, there really isn’t a viable alternative. There is no cure for polio and it is a terrible disease – only prevention via vaccination can prevent it. Same goes for most other vaccinations (even chicken pox which seems like a mild disease can kill). Avoiding human suffering and death far outweighs the extremely rare adverse reactions to vaccines.

      With biotech traits, there generally are alternatives, although the alternatives vary in sustainability, practicality, etc. So it really has to be taken on a case by case basis. I accept your challenge to revisit the subject, and plan to write a blog post on this – just as soon as I finish writing up my experience in New Hampshire and then a post on labeling! :D

  • Mlema

    I see this as one more attempt to blur the lines between forms of breeding which scientists do not really consider essentially different from traditional breeding (mutagenesis) and those that they DO consider essentially different (transgenics or GMO)

    Transgenics technology create new genomes by inserting other species genes willy-nilly until we get the trait we desire. To date we don’t know exactly how the new genetics affect protein expression in each case. We do know that there are unexpected, unpredictable and undesirable changes. These can be something like reduced nutrition, or even toxicity or allergens. Effects have never been epidemiologically evaluated, or even proteonomically evaluated. This says nothing about their effects on the environment either.

    It’s part of the pro-GMO talking points to suggest that transgenic crops aren’t substantially different from other bred crops. It’s also untrue that they’re exhaustively studied for safety. They are tested for “equivalence” – which is not a scientific standard.

    • Mlema

      hmm – I meant to say marker-assisted selection, not mutagenesis.
      here’s an interesting chart on the relative risks of different types of breeding

      http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10977&page=4

      So, I am “anti-” those technologies which pose the highest risk – if and until we understand more about how food components and physiology interact, and, until we institute and enforce appropriate regulations on these riskier technologies. How can scientists still use “we’ve been eating them for years and nothing’s happened” and pretend to be practicing good scientific thinking?

    • Mlema

      Also, I am against the type of transgenic technology that appears to be contaminating environmental microbes with synthetic plasmid vector-sourced antibiotic resistance genes – thereby increasing antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

      A survey of drug resistance bla genes originating from synthetic plasmid vectors in six Chinese rivers.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23215020

      Maybe it would be helpful, if the goal is to educate the public, to explain in understandable terms exactly what the differences are between on the one hand: traditional breeding and hybridization, marker assisted selection, and other low-risk breeding, and on the other hand: transgenic, mutagenesis and other high-risk breeding?

      • Mlema

        Anastasia – I think I remember reading that you are vegetarian, and i really want to know if you eat transgenic soy, corn, beets, papaya, etc. What percentage of your diet do you think is transgenic food? thanks again.

  • Ron

    Great article and I fully agree. I have spoken with many “pro-GMO” people and even pro-science people that are pro-gmo but don’t like to be called “pro-GMO”. More often than not, they are defensive about anything GMO and even Monsanto and the FDA. You are right, it is easier to pick a side and just insist you are right. Both sides even give advice on how to “win” a GMO argument. When someone has a blanket decision about one side and cannot just inspect new information without immediately trying to discount it because it threatens their rightness, than I would say they are no longer really “pro-science”. Misdirection, slander, and mockery are some of the easier tell-tale signs. Your attitude of wanting to find the best solution for any given situation is the one that makes the most sense. And I assume that would include inspecting all the information available without bias.

  • [...] it fair to be “anti-GMO” or even “pro-GMO”? Can such a swath be cut from the field of scientific endeavor? I think when the subject of GMO [...]

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