When Our Friends Lie

Last night I woke up in a fog, face down on the couch, fully dressed with my work clothes on.  It was 3:44 AM and the artifacts around me described the scene.  A partially eaten salad, my glasses crooked on my head, a laptop with an exhausted battery and the television running an infomercial led me to the conclusion that I closed my eyes for a minute while eating dinner and drifted off to sleep.

Fumbling with the remote, I clicked through a few middle-of-the-night stations.  There’s a vibrating weight to firm womens’ arms.  Click. A guy with a tie on a news station says that climate change is a hoax. Click. A woman on the next channel lost fifty pounds in a month eating just cookies. Click. A former playboy playmate says that vaccines are dangerous. Another channel has a person claiming evidence that the terrorist attack on 9-11 was an inside job.

I turn off the television, put on my jammies and head off to bed, my dog Stinkie following behind.  The claims of kooks go in one ear, rattle around for a moment and then leave out the other.

We are bombarded with junk science, all the time, every day.  I don’t get mad, I consider the source and let it go.  They have an agenda, they have to appeal to viewers, and if subscribing to anti-science or abject untruth is their method then so be it.  Financial and political gains are there to be had if you can fool enough people.

Later that day I was writing in my blog and my eyes were attracted to an active link in the browser.  It said something about anti-GMO, and being an educator specializing in plant biotechnology I clicked the link.  It took me to the website of an organic farm, an organic farm that has substantial market share and products in every supermarket.  I’ll leave out the name because I don’t paint them in a favorable light from this point. What’s the anti-GMO link all about?

I was really disappointed. Reading along in their website reminds me that they too are just another brand of sales pitch, using lies, fear and deceit to sell a product.  Their website says:

“there is evidence that GM foods have an increased risk of causing allergic reactions, and uncontrollable cross-pollination depletes crop diversity which has resulted in resistant “super-weeds” and “super-pests.” It’s clear that the primary benefits of GM seeds are to the seed and pesticide companies, not to growers or consumers. And many risks are as of yet unknown.”

Wow. Scary huh?  Either someone drank the Kool-Aid (undoubtedly Organic Red flavor) or I missed a whole bunch of critical science reports.   The same website goes on to say that it is in the mission of the company to fight the use of GMO foods.  Just like the goofballs on mid-night television and syndicated radio, they resort to stretching and bending the truth to advance their cause.  Rather than rest on the merits of their product, they attack a proven science with bogus assertions to increase sales.

This makes me really sad.  I like organic farms and their mission to raise healthy food with fewer agricultural inputs.  I’m all about the environment and worker health.  No problem.  There’s a great place for that and its niche is growing. So why taint a good idea by perpetuating boldface lies, attacking science?

For contrast, White Wave, makers of Silk soy products simply states that their products are non-GMO and that they are rigorously screened to ensure NOP standards.  That’s fine.  They don’t attack the sound science of GMO crops, they just say that they don’t use them.  Sure, the implication is that GMO’s are evil and substandard, but they don’t come out and say it.  Like non-alcoholic beer or decaf, there is a market for products lacking certain ingredients and I think that it is fine to state it that way.

My objection is when a company that wants to do the right thing falls victim to using lies, distortion and hyperbole to sell their products.  They don’t want to inform the consumer, they want to scare the consumer.  It is like when someone doesn’t buy the extra ten minutes at the psychic and she says, “I can’t be responsible if anything bad happens because you left too soon”.  Those inclined to believe the psychic plunk down ten bucks.  The same with the people that don’t want to take that GMO chance because “many risks are yet unknown”.   Jenny McCarthy says the same thing about vaccines.

If I sat down with the owners of the organic farm that employs these methods, we’d likely find that we have more similarities than differences.  We’d probably listen to the same radio stations, vote in similar patterns and subscribe to similar social philosophies.  We’d share similar concerns about the environment and sustainable food production.  We’d probably trade some CD’s and compliment each other on our sandals.

So as their friend, shouldn’t I hold them extra accountable for their misgivings?  I think so.  I can write climate science letters to Glenn Beck all day and never get an answer, but will the kinder, gentler organic farmers want to start a real scientific dialogue? I decided to write a letter to the company.  I asked them to substantiate their claim with peer-reviewed science.

To their credit, I received a polite reply from their customer service person, but geez, was she ever duped.  She provided non-refereed opinions on the harm of GMO, links to the Huffington Post and at best non-replicated studies in poor-quality journals.  Anything she gave me from a legitimate journal was cherry picked and it  was clear that she never read the actual article.

We traded emails for a few days (me being gentle and scholarly always) before she stopped responding.  Clearly she had made up her mind and didn’t want to be bothered by evidence.  Certainly evidence stands counter to their non-scientific claims that pander to their consumer, and if they come clean and halt the anti-GMO rhetoric they can lose market share to someone that will.  Lies are a part of their advertising.

I’m going to continue to monitor websites, parse labels, and hold them accountable for facts.  I urge you to do so too.  These folks are on my side, I want to support them, and as their ally I owe them the input of my expertise. “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help”, it was once said.

Like the late night huckster that sees dollars when he spews half truth, this company too will probably defend their use of distorted facts and lies if it means scaring concerned people into buying their products. Funny, I just buy them because I appreciate their quality and like to support small farms and low-input ag.

You don’t have to be a dupe of the anti-GMO machine to share that opinion.

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Kevin is a public scientist that enjoys illuminating hot-button scientific issues for non-scientists using an evidence-based approach. Kevin is always uncomfortable referring to himself in the third person.


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109 comments to When Our Friends Lie

  • Eric Baumholder

    Kevin,

    A couple points. First, the headline: ‘When Our Friends Lie’. If they’re your friends, they don’t lie.

    Second, I’ll go out on a limb here. The US FDA is considering the approval of GE salmon, and also considering whether labeling for GE salmon will be mandatory.

    Let’s look at the balance of political and economic interests, assuming there is a difference.

    Those who license the GE-salmon technology will be able to put fish on the market in one-half the time, with a 20 percent reduction in feed costs. This means, GE salmon will out-compete everyone else in the salmon business.

    If GE salmon is not labeled, the activists will work overtime talking about the “unknown dangers” of GE salmon, and consumers could avoid salmon altogether — because they don’t know what’s GE and what is not. Which would damage the entire industry.

    What’s more, the ‘traditional’ salmon producers will fund the anti-GE brigate (mostly via the Tides Foundation) to incite anti-GE sentiment.

    Anyone who thinks this is a scientific issue doesn’t understand how pay-for-play works in the world of GE activists.

    • Eric, I think the point is that they could be our friends.

      Economic competition is no reason to make stuff up. Coke and Pepsi have happily co-existed for years and while the advertising can get a little heated there’s never been a “Coke will kill you” from Pepsi or vice versa.

      I completely agree with Kevin here. There’s many useful and beneficial things in organic farming. I think most of us want to reduce inputs, reduce dependance on fossil fuels, improve biodiversity on and off farm, and so on. Anyone who wants those things, I might call friend. But maybe they don’t call me friend because I’m more pragmatic about technology than they are. What to do, then? I don’t think calling them enemy helps anyone. Like Kevin, I think it’s far more useful to calmly and politely try to make friends, help people to understand the science a little better, and so on.

      Of course, there are people out there who aren’t being very calm or polite, those who would make things up to help their bottom line. They frustrate the heck out of me too. But I’m not going to stoop to their level. I won’t shout or lie or exaggerate. Every person I’ve sat down and talked to about biotechnology and other ag science topics has walked away with less fear, more understanding, and a greater appreciation for what science and technology can do. They might not have walked away embracing the idea of genetic engineering, but at least they better understood what it is and what the risks are in comparison to other techniques. It’s not easy, especially with science education and science journalism at abysmal low points, but it is the best we can do.

      • Eric Baumholder

        Anastasia,

        You have cast some light on the nature of competition, co-existence, and ‘making stuff up’ such as ‘Coke will kill you.’

        In developing nations, lying about a competitor’s product is rampant. Not in the US, however. In the US, there are federal trade disparagement laws which offer severe penalties.

        Members of the organic industry are not subject to trade disparagement laws, and therefore can lie freely. How can this be? Because producers of organic products don’t disparage competing brands; they merely disparage a technology, and everything else is behind the Aegis of commercial free speech.

        Thus, Whole Foods Market can say anything at all about Monsanto, because Whole Foods doesn’t compete against Monsanto. Organic Valley can disparage bovine somatotropin and antibiotics — it doesn’t sell similar products.

        Basically, we have a regulatory system which gives a free ride to anyone who makes anti-technology claims. In the case of organics, they’ve actually monetized the practice.

        In a system where it pays to lie, liars will show up.

    • Zach

      I disagree the friends don’t lie to you. Sometimes it is justified to lie even to friends. I agree that we should have an aversion to lying but i would say that aversion applies across the board not just to our friends.

  • Kevin Folta

    Eric,

    Good points as always. In my little opinion there are two kinds of anti-GE folks. The hard core ones you can’t reason with, any evidence is considered garbage and the science does not matter. There is nothing you can say that will ever change their minds. I don’t worry too much about them. There are 70% that you can reach and can win. They are concerned, but well fed, so food is just fine and does not need GE tampering. These are the people that can be won, or at least moved from anti-scientific views.

    You are right about the salmon issue. I don’t know how to fight that. What I can do is try to make GMO science relate-able. Education is not a 1 year solution, but maybe a ten year one, and science and evidence usually come out okay in the end.

    • Eric Baumholder

      Kevin,

      At this point it would be good to borrow a page from the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. [1]

      ‘The debate’ over GE crops is a major front in the culture war, which is being fought on insurgent/counterinsurgent terms. That is significant from a strategic perspective because victory means more than establishing military superiority; it also means winning the hearts and minds of the indigenous population, who represent the main strategic resource. To accomplish that requires establishing moral superiority through social engagement.

      This does not include tolerating the insurgents, who will not be persuaded; they must be rendered ineffective. In the context of military conflict, that means killed or captured. In the context of culture war, that means humiliated and disgraced.

      Accordingly, in ‘the debate’ over GE, there is nothing to be gained by being kind and attentive to opponents who cannot be persuaded. Those who are undecided will perceive that approach as concessionary, and indicative of a weak or questionable position.

      It is just as important to be kind and generous to those who are genuinely curious, as it is to be implacably harsh with those who are ineducable and, what is worse, willing to use nearly any means to achieve their goals.

      ———

      1. http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/coin/KC.asp

  • Matthew

    Karl, I can best explain “pimp hand” by commenting on another of Kevin’s propaganda pieces. My apologies, I assumed all you young college kids new the latest slang. I learned it from playing Grand Theft Auto with my 22 year old son (yes, I am a bad parent for not only allowing him access to these games as a teenager, but participating. I couldn’t resist a game in which I am allowed to run over competing drug dealers). Speaking of running over the competition, let’s talk about this post and Kevin’s attempt to call the folks at Organic Valley (Kevin, unless George Bush is reading your posts, I think we all know how to google quoted text) LIARS.

    Let’s assume that there is no truth in the allergen comment (I personally have not seen any hard science confirming that there are issues with GMOs and allergies) and no truth to”that the primary benefits of GM seeds are to the seed and pesticide companies” (which I do believe is true) – just for the sake of educating Karl on pimp hand let’s say that the statement on OVs page is completely false. Does OV using it make them liars??? I know these folks, know the CEO, know the vp of marketing….they fully and completely believe that statement and the reports and studies they have read that led them to write it. They are not liars. Kevin, if he really was a friend of OV and not a propagandist who should be blogging for Fox News, could have written “When Our Friends are Misinformed” – but no, he escalates this sentence on their web site into a full defamation of their ethical behavior.

    Now, you Karl, as editor – and as an editor who followed this post with one calling for a little more kindness – should have spoken to your blogger and asked if he had any factual evidence that Organic Valley knew that none of these things are true about GMOs, and knowing that, went ahead and used the statement for their own benefit. Did they or did they not knowingly print a self-serving lie? Because Kevin just called OV liars, without giving us one shred of evidence that they have done anything more than be misinformed, or perhaps lazy in fact finding, or not intelligent enough to understand science(I do not agree with these last two, just saying, he would have been on stronger ethical ground himself if he had written it as such). Editors need strong hands.

    And, by the way, White Wave is owned by Dean Foods (which are heavily invested in using GMOs), so of course they are going to keep a neutral stance – but Kevin also suggested that White Wave is implying that GMOs are evil. This guy has single handedly in a half dozen posts brought down the entire quality of this blog. This is not an ad hominem attack. He’s not a science writer – like Anastasia clearly is – he’s a propagandist.

    Take it down a noche indeed…Kevin writes, “Like the late night huckster that sees dollars when he spews half truth, this company too will probably defend their use of distorted facts and lies if it means scaring concerned people into buying their products”
    I know what I would do if someone called me a liar and it wasn’t founded in fact. I’d be calling my lawyers.

    • Hi Matt, glad you chimed in. The folks you speak of have been informed and choose to maintain unfounded claims to support their product. That’s lying, IMHO. It is not ignorance, it is a choice to not tell the truth. I don’t supply proof because I didn’t name them on purpose and don’t think that I need to go there. I thought there customer service person was friendly and helpful, but discontinued the conversation when confronted with science. That telegraphs a little bit to me. All in my humble opinion of course. I could be wrong, and when I read of the proof of allergies (which they could not send to me) then I’ll be happy to stand corrected.

      You are correct. The primary benefits are to seed companies, that is, if you ignore the research community that learns a lot about how genes work by using transgenics. These efforts can and do inform traditional breeding that help us all.

      Matt, you missed my point on White Wave. They simply state facts and don’t need to resort to scientific distortion or hyperbole. I appreciate that. Many companies, not owned by Dean etc, follow the same approach. That’s fair.

      Again Matt, I’m sorry that you don’t appreciate my take on science and the way I choose to write it. And as far as getting lawyer… we live in America, at least I do. I can express my opinion, just like you do. Glad to have your thoughts.

      And I still would buy their products. Their important mission outweighs their errors. Time will correct that. They’ll come around.

      • I won’t buy their products as long as this is on their site. We all have a right to “vote with our pocketbook” and I won’t vote for fearmongering. I don’t buy anything specifically labeled GMO-Free although I do buy organic when it’s not more expensive and I’ll always choose items from small local farms when possible. I have to go to the Asian market for Chinese tofu that isn’t labeled non-GMO! I try to avoid products that say “HFCS free” as well – which is hard, because I want foods with little or no added sugar which are often labeled with silly labels!

        I will pay quite a bit extra for products that have truth in labeling, especially if there’s a little science in there! My favorite lately: Italica Olive Oil imported from Spain. The back label says:

        “Limited and not conclusive evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in the oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

        Isn’t that wonderful!? I also like the Wishbone ad campaign that mentions the excellent research of Iowa State’s own Wendy White on absorption of nutrients from salads with and without the addition of lipids. She’s shown that the vitamins are more bioavailable when eaten with some sort of oil. All the claims on the Wishbone site (at least the ones related to bioavailability) are backed up with sound science. Although, I’d rather use my Italia olive oil and some lemon juice than Wishbone – too much sugar in most of their dressings.

        I will also pay extra for produce that lists the variety. Some plant breeder worked hard on that variety and they deserve to have the name out there. I was so happy last week to find Slimcados, which I haven’t had since I left Florida. It must have taken forever to get those beautiful huge low-fat babies out of regular Haas avocados. Of course, we’ve got people freaking out that they might be GMOs because they’re a little different, just goes to show how little people understand plant breeding. Speaking of which, did you know some people think Grapples are GMOs too? Sheesh. It says right on the package that the flavor is added.

        Yes, grocery shopping with me is an adventure :D

        • Speaking of thinking Grapples are GE, heh, it could be worse. I mean, at least it’s possible to put grape genes into apples via GE, but seemingly some people think they’re grape x apple hybrids! Watch this at 34: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvpNDYpNqnk

          On a less funny note, I’m trying to avoid that sort of thing, the fearmongering, in looking for a source of nifty types of heirloom seed. The seller with all the really big nice selection that I got my last bit from also sells Seeds of Deception & Genetic Roulette and has various ‘GMO bad’ type soundbites scattered here and there. Kind of a bummer, they have such cool stuff. Many other good ones are part of this ‘Safe Seed Pledge’ thing, which seems like more of the same hooey Not sure what I’ll do when the time is ripe to pick out a few new varieties to try.

        • Kevin Folta

          Anastasia,

          The “Limited and not conclusive evidence suggests…” is awesome. At least they are honest!

          The same exact statement would make the quoted material in my post accurate.

          It does seem like the FDA is holding companies a little more accountable for their claims…Cheerios, etc. I’m seeing this more and more lately. Now if I could only figure out why anyone would want their immune system boosted…

        • Andre

          Anastasia, Italica Olive Oil imported from… Spain”? Quite odd.

  • Eric Baumholder

    Matthew,

    You might want to consider whether there is some flattery involved in calling someone a liar, under certain circumstances. Being a liar involves saying things which are false, and knowing that those things are false.

    Organic Valley makes evidentiary claims on its website which are demonstrably false. This gives us two choices: OV people are ignorant, but morally pure; or OV people know what they’re talking about, but are morally corrupt.

    It is difficult to say which is the true state of affairs, since it is financially advantageous for OV to make false claims, either way. However, as the #1 provider of organic milk in the US, it’s reasonable to assume that those running it are reasonably intelligent. This makes it more reasonable to consider that they are liars. In a market economy, those who are ignorant tend to go out of business.

    And it would be insulting to accuse intelligent persons of ignorance. It would be much more polite to call them liars. And likely, far more accurate as well.

    • I have to agree. There are only two options here: ignorance or lying. Often if it’s a small site or a personal blog or something I assume they are just ignorant, sometimes willfully ignorant. I always assume ignorance 1st but here that didn’t seem appropriate. In this case I also assumed that since the company is quite successful that the people they have writing for their website aren’t ignorant. I don’t know what else I could have thought.

  • W Milliot

    Wait? Who’s the liar? Can anyone here claim without a doubt that there are no long term negative effects to modern genetic engineering of foods? Anyone, with 100% certainty?

    Modern GE food science reminds me of the early stages of pesticide development and use. You know, back in the day when they would show farmers (or farm workers) out in their fields and orchards spraying what the industry claimed was safe, but what eventually turned out be be deadly chemicals? Will we ultimately find out the same about modern genetic engineered foods? Can anyone here assure me we won’t? If so, I’ll have to claim you to be the liar.

    As it is, it appears to me people here and in the GE field in general are displaying the same pompous and overconfident airs of their scientific predecessors that developed those pesticides and signed off on allowing people to use them as if they were no more harmful then purified water. Consequence: People died.

    What surprises me the most though is that such deep-thinking scientific minds can assume there won’t be long-term negative effects of some sort. There are always long-term effects to modifications in the natural order – both negative and positive. Is there any dispute about that? Assuming then we all agree there is, how can people here push GE foods without knowing what those effects will be? It seems to me to be completely counter to the scientific process and modeling.

    I don’t know, the inner grand-pa in me wants to wave a finger and say, shame on you! But rest assured, I won’t be eating any GE Salmon. And God help any restaurant that I find out served it to me after claiming it wasn’t. Yes, I’ll get lawyers involved.

    (And it’s not exactly comforting for Eric Baumholder to be pointing to counterinsurgency military manuals to forward his point.)

    • Eric Baumholder

      W Milliot,

      You have now proved your credentials as a master of speculation.

      I speculate that unknown waves emerging at light-speed from your computer monitor are having unknown effects which a growing number of concerned people believe may be having on you and your great-grandchildren.

      Dude, step away from the computer. Those unknown emissions are potentially like getting your brain possibly scrambled. With unintended consequences like posting odd things on websites on topics you don’t understand.

    • W, thanks for stopping by, it’s always nice to see a new face here at Biofortified. You are right. No one can claim anything with 100% certainty except for the fact that we can’t claim anything with 100% certainty. But we do have science to help guide our decisions. Please let me give a little background as to how I think things have changed and why I think our current regulatory system is a bit more reliable than it used to be.

      It is very unfortunate that unfounded faith in technology and perhaps hubris and narcissism led to a lack of safety testing which led to release of all sorts of very harmful pesticides being used with no safety equipment, no environmental regulation, and so on. That was obviously very very wrong. When I was in training as an Army DoD Pest Controller we were introduced to old pesticide applicators that had all sorts of health problems including with their nervous system, skin, eyes, and more. They’d stand before us, hands shaking and heads bobbing, and tell us how bad pesticides can be and how we all needed to take great care whenever we made the decision to use any pesticide. The military is very concerned about using minimal chemicals exactly because of the mistakes that were made in the past. For some details on how things are done, see this Integrated Pest Management manual.

      That’s just the military, but I think every US agency has seen the errors of the past when it comes to unregulated or barely regulated technology, in great part due to people like Rachel Carson who were whistleblowers about the health and environmental problems caused by pesticides. Those days are thankfully behind us, and I think the problems with pesticides guided regulation of genetic engineering.

      New pesticides, drugs, food additives, and genetically engineered crops all must undergo a rigorous regulation process. Everything could be improved upon, but the process is quite rigorous. By some estimates, it takes 10 years or more for a genetically engineered crop to complete the entire regulatory process. Is 10 years enough? Are the tests conducted enough? Perhaps not. But we can look at the regulatory documents and the studies of the genetically modified crops that exist, including a large number of studies that have no corporate financial interests, and see that no evidence of risk has arisen. Does that mean there is no risk? No, it does not. Anyone who tells you that there is no risk is simply wrong. But we do have evidence that the risk is minimal, especially when compared to all the other risks we face every day.

    • Hi W. Your points are well taken and I think I can help. First, nobody can ever say that anything is 100% safe, at least a legitimate scientist can’t. What we can say is that there is no evidence of harm.

      If long-term proof of safety was required for everything we did, you would not have surgery, drugs, vaccines, soup, and 99% of crop plants that have been improved by breeding. We probably would not be allowed to have water.

      The way we sort this out is with plausibility. Plausibility is the important word. What is the scientifically plausible harm of GE? There are no surprises, in fact the science is very predictable. Does it mean that there will ever be a problem? Absolutely not! There could be problems, just like there are with new drugs on occasion. It takes careful science to do the tests and find the harm, if it exists. So far, no evidence. Someone that finds it gets a Nobel Prize.

      But until there is evidence we have to trust the good science and quality data. I’ll eat the salmon! I trust science. I trust my training. I don’t believe the BS.

    • Zach

      I think the requirement for 100% certainty is a bit high. As one who has a high interest in philosophy i can tell you that very few things can be that high (some philosophers think its impossible for anything to be 100% certain and the consensus is that isn’t whats needed for knowledge anyway). For instance, you cannot prove to me with a 100% certainty that i am not the only mind or that objects exist outside of my mind but does that mean we can’t deal with that knowledge without that certain. It seems then that one can never show someone is lying.

  • The dumbest part is that they don’t have to say any of this. Their customers might want to know if they use GMOs. Ok. So all they had to say was our products are certified organic, and USDA organic standards say that GMOs can not be used. The end. No need for fearmongering or exaggerating.

  • You should really look to Jeffery Smith the foremost authority on GMOs and the pesticides that accompany them…There is a lot to fear…Have you ever thought if the soil has been sterilized and there is no life in it; except the resistant weeds and insects, (no worms) and the pesticide producing on it’s own in the plant – how will the sky draw up moisture from the soil if there is none cause it’s dead? How will clouds form? How will it rain?

    Check out my website http://fightforyourhealth.blogspot.com

    Google Jeffery Smith

    Go to the phone and call your senator and tell him in no uncertain terms Monsanto and their people who work in all the acronyms in Washington are not to be allowed or to continue in the manner they have.

    Michael Taylor google GMO and FDA with him. Find out about his work to make GMOs exist in our society. While working for Monsanto and the FDA…He is to be the Food Czar.
    Aspartame is a GMO and if take the time you can find out that this is so dangerous and wrong.

    No need to be scared just open the door and learn.

    Anyway telling people that we are using scare tactics is part of Monsanto’s propaganda action. And your beating up a young girl on the phone is even more scary.

    Editor’s note: All caps were converted to normal capitalization and single paragraph breaks were converted to full paragraph breaks for ease of reading. No other changes were made.

    • Kim, I think you might be a bit confused. While Jeffery Smith claims to be an expert on genetic engineering, he actually has no training in anything even related to biology or chemistry. Of course, it is totally possible to train yourself, and I don’t think we can discredit anyone just because of their background, but I am concerned with his ability to critically review a scientific journal article. Take anything he says with a grain of salt and look up his sources yourself.

      You are implying that GMOs are going to prevent rain from falling. This is surprising, because where I live in Iowa there are a lot of GMOs planted and it rains a lot. I don’t think there have been any reports of droughts due to GMOs and I think it’s more than a stretch to say that there’s any connection.

      That said, it is true that soils farmed with certain techniques have fewer microorganisms and less organic matter than soils farmed with other techniques. I’m a big proponent of sustainable agriculture, and I think “conventional” farms should be encouraged to use more sustainable methods, as I discuss in Toward a better agriculture for everyone.

      There is evidence that pesticide use causes a reduction of soil and farm biodiversity as well. Interestingly, Bt as a genetically engineered trait actually has been shown to reduce harmful insecticide use, which seems to me to be a huge benefit. Roundup Ready crops, while allowing greater amounts of Roundup to be used, also allow farmers to use a no-till system and they can cut back on more harmful herbicides. It’s not cut and dry.

      Who exactly is beating up young girls on the phone? How is an individual saying that another individual or company is using scare tactics “part of Monsanto’s propaganda action”? I’m not affiliated with Monsanto in any way, and I don’t think the author of this post is either.

      Just a little point of fact: aspartame is not a GMO. It is made with the assistance a genetically modified organism but there are no GMOs in the finished product.

    • http://www.academicsreview.org shows how every one of the 65 alleged harms from GE crops and food are false.
      cheers

  • Matthew

    Interesting that you all extoll the virtues of a company like Monsanto with a known track record of lies, bribery, etc… And then jump to the unfounded conclusion that OV is being duplicitous in stating their beliefs. Marvelous, really, a little like the priest who preaches of the damnation of sin while he’s abusing the alter boys in the other room.
    And please, Eric demonstrate what is “demonstrably false” in the OV statements – all of them, not just the allergen one. Demonstrate for us that cross-pollination is controllable, that there isn’t a build of tolerance in insects and weeds, that the primary beneficiaries of the currently commercialized GE technologies are not genetics-chemical companies. Please, take the floor and back up your counter claims with evidence.

    • Eric Baumholder

      Matthew,

      That’s a clever move for the peanut gallery, but it doesn’t work for me anymore. You come to me begging to do your homework. I won’t do your homework for you. You’re obviously connected to the internet and can find information on your own time. It is your fault, and your fault alone, that you’re not informed.

    • I’ll stay out of the insult tossing, which I really wish would stop already, we have important things to discuss, but I do have one comment.

      I think we can ask farmers who use genetically engineered traits if they are benefiting from them. They do keep buying them which indicates that they like them for some reason or another. Of course it’s not that simple – there is the problem of one farmer using a new technology (like, say, a tractor) which boosts her yield so that her neighbor feels like he has to get a tractor too so he can compete with her at the silo for good prices, when maybe he really didn’t want to buy a tractor at all – but I think the problem there is economics, not tractors.

      There are a lot of farmers on Twitter who are ready to talk about things like this, they can be easily reached at the hashtag #agchat which does unfortunately include some industry people but those are outnumbered by the actual farmers who really want to talk about their farm and farming in general.

    • Don’t forget the claim that the crops decrease crop diversity due to cross-pollination. I have heard this claim again and again, and it has never come with a reference to back it up. Cross-pollination from GE monocultures is no different from cross-pollination from non-GE monocultures. What is interesting is that people are now talking about GE crop populations with suites of different genes side by side. Take a look at this post by Matt DiLeo which discusses it:
      http://www.biofortified.org/2010/09/evolving-pesticide-resistance/

      What is fascinating is that the regulations for growing GE crops that are resistant to insects is that they require genetic diversity in the crops on the farm – you have to have a 5% (if you don’t spray, or 20% if you do) refuge of non-Bt corn for growing Bt corn. There is no other legal or statutory requirement for genetic diversity in the crop that a farmer grows for any other agricultural system – even Organic.

      • The claim that biotech would reduce genetic diversity baffles me. Monocultures reduce field genetic diversity whether the variety planted is GMO or not. If we’re talking about overall genetic diversity of a crop, biotech traits are irrelevant. Since transgenes can easily be inserted or bred into diverse germplasm, there are still plenty of seed diversity available even among biotech seed. From talking to farmers, field days with the Germplasm Enhancement of Maize program of the USDA and visiting seed companies with school, I’m convinced that there are plenty of options available, biotech and not biotech of ample genetic diversity. Even if we’re talking about field genetic diversity, farmers often buy multiple types of seed of the same crop. There are new lines all the time, and farmers try out the new ones a little at a time so they can see what works best on their farm. Some farmers they plant different types of seed on different types of land, such as in low areas that are prone to flooding or hills that are prone to erosion.

        Anyway, GEM is particularly awesome. They have a sort of “pay as you can” system where breeders and companies big and small can use the germplasm for breeding. Large companies are charged more, which helps out the little guys (just look at all their cooperators). Everyone is under strict confidentiality agreements so, for example, Monsanto wouldn’t know if Bob’s Breeding is working with hybrids of Panamanian and Mexican highland varieties. You should see the amazing diversity when GEM plants for their field day. Tiny corn plants, and corn plants that are 20 feet tall. All different colors, cob sizes, and more. GEM introgresses* these diverse plants into lines that are more adapted for US climate (they have to, because some of the varieties won’t even flower in Iowa because our days are too short) so breeders can use them more easily. I don’t know if anything similar exists for other crops, I just know about corn :) Can you tell I’m excited about GEM?

        *For any non-plant breeder types reading this, introgression means breeding a chunk of genome from one variety into another variety. The goal is to have a series of varieties that are mostly the same but have different chunks of genome from the other variety. This helps a lot when there’s just a few genes that you want to bring into a line.

        • Charles M. Rader

          Thanks Anastasia and Karl for taking on the charge that GMOs reduce biodiversity. Whenever I hear it, I’m absolutely baffled. How can anyone believe such a thing? By any reasonable definition of biodiversity, introducing a new gene into a species’ genome is an increase in biodiversity, not a decrease.

          Occasionally I talk about this with a reasonably intelligent GMO opponent who explains that the better GMO crop crowds out the inferior varieties, leading to everyone growing the same best variety. Note that I only said reasonably intelligent. Not intelligent enough to have realized that once a new gene is available, it’s crossbred into dozens of existing varieties, or to realize that before there were transgenic techniques, there were still always “best” varieties. Apparently never having heard about gene banks.

          And not intelligent to realize that they were arguing against themselves when they switched the subject to the other bugaboo, the accidental escape of transgenes into wild populations.

          Have any of these urban experts on farming ever looked at a catalog to see whether there is really only only one variety of RR soy, or Bt corn, or virus resistant papaya?

    • Zach

      I have read many articles on this site and i do not see them “extoll the virtues of a company like Monsanto with a known track record of lies, bribery, etc.” Can you provide examples?

  • Eric Baumholder

    Kim,

    You forgot to mention Morgellon’s, chemtrails, the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, and the Nephilim.

  • bernarda

    Kevin, “They are concerned, but well fed, so food is just fine and does not need GE tampering. These are the people that can be won, or at least moved from anti-scientific views.”

    This reminds me of Anastasia’s post on logical fallacies. You assume that people opposed to GMO’s at least hold “anti-scientific” views. So you try to discredit them beforehand.

    There are actually at least two issues: the scientific one on whether GMO’s are safe and for the moment at least in my view the more important one, the economic one about how some seem to think that they are a cure-all to the hunger problem.

    Certainly in the second case there is no definite proof. Come to think of it, there is no proof of the first either. Mostly the “information” we get is from the people who have an economic interest in promoting their products. As in the fifties when Monsanto had a tv ad that said “DDT is good for you.”

    • bernada, I agree that making generalizations rarely, if ever work. That’s why I worked to get the logical fallacies post put together. However, there is some truth to the claim that people opposed to GMOs hold some unscientific views. Of course, I’m sure this isn’t true of all people who are opposed to GMOs which is why I said “some truth” to the claim. Let me explain:

      The biggest argument you hear against GMOs is that there hasn’t been enough testing. Surely there could always be more tests, but there have been a lot of studies. At least 1/3 of the studies conducted on GMOs to date have been publicly funded, having no connection to industry. You can put information in quotes all you want, but that is a lot of science to dismiss. Ignoring that body of evidence is unscientific.

      It is also unscientific to hold to any sort of precautionary principle because it is impossible to prove that something will cause no harm and probably impossible that anything could be proven to cause no harm. Even totally innocuous compounds and things can cause great harm, yet we still use them. The scientific way of thinking is to determine some criteria of testing that will evaluate potential risks with the goal of determining what if any safe use is possible. This is what the biotechnology regulatory system is designed to do. It’s not designed perfectly, mind you, and could certainly be improved, but it seems to be working quite well. The potential negative effects of the current traits on the market, such as resistance of insects to Bt, have been determined, and steps to mitigate risks have been taken, like mandatory refuges or non-Bt crops to be planted alongside or among Bt plants. There are examples of genetically engineered traits that haven’t made it to market because they were found to be unsafe for some people, such as a brazil nut gene causing allergernicity in transgenic soy. I get the impression that many opponents of genetic engineering think it’s totally unregulated and is just tossed around willy nilly but that’s simply not true.

      Finally, people who are opposed to GMOs to my knowledge have never said what is enough testing. It’s not scientific or even realistic to say there isn’t enough without having any suggestions. Of course every single opponent of genetic engineering doesn’t have to have developed a whole regulatory system or appropriate testing protocols but why hasn’t Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, etc done anything? They have resources enough, especially if they band together to do it.

      Now on to the people who think GMOs are some sort of magic bullet to solve climate change, world hunger, blah blah blah. This is a minority. Just as the number of people who think GMOs are part of a New World Order plan to enslave humans is a minority. I have heard this magic bullet claim from some people, usually industry reps or from people making speeches who are trying to sound impressive. I have never heard this claim from a scientist. I haven’t talked to all scientists, obviously, but I have talked to a lot. I, and most of the scientists I’ve talked to, do think that some sort of scientifically proven techniques to improve agriculture will help though not solve a variety of problems including malnutrition. I think if you asked a ton of different scientists we’d all have a slightly different answer depending on what our personal expertise is. The whole “when you have a hammer” thing. I personally think that improved seed, be it hybrids, GMOs, carefully bred local varieties, whatever works will do the most good because once you have a seed you have it unlike inputs that need to be trucked in every year. But that doesn’t stop me from acknowledging that there might be other things that matter more in at least some situations.

    • Zach

      I don’t think he “assumed” that they hold anti-scientific viewpoints, at least some/most of them. I think he could provide a good argument for such a thing. You are basically claiming that he is committing the poisoning the well fallacy which he is not. To do so is to start out the conversation saying something like “they are idiots but you can listen to them anyway” he did not do that at least i didn’t see him do that. It seemed to me he showed how they had anti-scientific beliefs then after that claimed they did i could have misread and if i have i would welcome the correction.

    • Kevin Folta

      Hi Bernada,

      The other two cover this well, so I’ll be brief. Maintaining positions that are not backed by evidence, yet criticize science, is arguing from an anti-scientific viewpoint. I think that education can move some of those people from their anti-scientific views, exactly as stated.

      There’s not one scientist I know that believes that GMO technology is the solution to all the world’s problems. Can we contribute to environmental sustainability by lessening dependence on herbicides and pesticides? Yes, it has been well demonstrated. Can food be made more nutritious? Yes. In the future it will taste better, ship further and grow in places where it previously could not. I would like to think that many, especially in developing countries, will benefit from these advances.

      And finally, nobody ever says that GMO’s are safe. All we can say is that there is no evidence of harm (outside of petri dishes in a few labs in experiments independent researchers can’t repeat). Water can not be proven safe. Drownings, water overdoes, etc happen every day. All you can say is that if used correctly and carefully, the likelihood of harm is exceedingly low.

      Don’t forget, just about all plants produce compounds that are poisonous, carcinogenic, etc, just in tiny amounts. What if traditional breeding somehow increases these levels!??! Could happen- there’s just no evidence for it. It is highly unlikely. Your application of the precautionary principle, if applied fairly, would starve the planet.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  • bernarda

    I almost missed this one by Ken “You don’t have to be a dupe of the anti-GMO machine to share that opinion.”

    So, if you are anti-GMO, you are a dupe. Not only that, it is the “anti-GMO machine”. If anyone has a “machine” it is the GMO companies. Just ask corn and soy farmers in the U.S, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay.

    • W Milliot

      Indeed Bernarda,

      These more-intelligent-then-thou folks haven’t the least idea of the long-term effects bioengineering food will have on the food chain. Their entire scientific screed is based on tricks they can do in the lab and transplant to the fields and farms and soon to be oceans. What will occur after a few decades unleashed into the chaotic forces of nature they haven’t a clue. It’s all been very neat and tidy for them and that’s afforded them a sense of confidence often seen in the early stages of “great” discoveries.

      What some here don’t seem to grasp is that it’s not that people are being anti-scientific, but more like trying to ask scientists to be a lot more considerate of the potential harm they can cause.

      After all, it was science that bought us the concept of burning fossil fuel in combustible engines, DDT, aerosols, and split the atom. And look where we are today. All science isn’t all good. Especially in the early stages of discovery.

      How can the scientists posting here not know the history of their own profession and be at least a little humble?

      • Hi W, did you read my response to you? Perhaps you’ll disagree but I don’t think I was “more intelligent than thou”, I don’t think I downplayed the risks, and I don’t think I was arrogant. I can’t help but think you’re making assumptions about people you don’t even know. There are times when commenters here do say things that are “more intelligent than thou” and such, but I don’t think I can be held responsible for what anyone else says. Your generalizations don’t work any more than it works for someone to say “all anti GMO people are dupes*”.

        *I do think there are certain categories of anti GMO people who, while they might not be “dupes”, certainly don’t have a solid grasp on reality like the people who say GMOs are a plot to sterilize everyone. There’s extremes in every group.

        • W Milliot

          I am sorry Anastasia, yes, I did read your response to my earlier comment and I very much appreciate your having taken the time. And you are correct I shouldn’t generalize. It was rude of me to do so. My frustration gets the better of me.

          Perhaps it’s the stress of living in such “interesting times”.

          • Kevin Folta

            Hi W,

            Did you see this?

            http://www.magdahavas.com/tag/cfl/

            What’s your take? Just curious. Dr. Havas believes that compact fluorescent bulbs cause a unique form of diabetes. She also blames WiFi for numerous problems. Should we cease use of CFL’s or WiFi until we have done more complete studies?

            The plausibility of harm is about equal to that of GE. The evidence of GE harm is on-par with Dr. Havas’ studies. To be intellectually consistent, do you think that they should be discontinued?

            Just to think about this further, and maybe expose some of the flaws of the precautionary principle. Thanks.

      • Kevin Folta

        Hi W,

        “Dupe” is appropriate when someone is easily deceived. It sort of falls into the theme of the piece… without evidence, they make very bold statements. A lot of folks opposed to GE are interested, engaged, scientific and wonderful to talk to. I’d say most that I interact with reject the science, scientific thinking and associated approaches. That’s what I mean by a “dupe”.

        You are correct, we all can think of excellent examples where science, especially corporate science, makes deleterious decisions and claims. As you say, fossil fuels, DDT, certainly smoking- these are all good examples.

        But what about the computer you type on, the internet it communicates through, the drugs that allow AIDS patients to live for decades from what was previously a death sentence? The bath of RF energy we all live in, the preservatives in food, vitamins, supplements, etc. Nobody knows the long-term effects of any of these things. Yet these do not raise the same concerns for some reason.

        We do live in interesting times, but these times are better than any previously experienced by humans. The future plans to be better. Science and technology drive these trends. GE is part of that technology, and its careful implementation may solve or at least partially mitigate many significant human and environmental problems.

  • Andre

    So we have had lying and ignorance as reasons for a highly debatable webpage by Organic Valley. There is a third hypothesis: laziness and sloppiness. Web pages, once written and uploaded, tend to remain as is or are updated only marginally. And a fourth: misplaced pride forbids to change something that is utterly wrong for fear of loosing face (for instance, allergy claims were, once upon a time, very topical, although they have never been followed up by evidence). And a fifth: a combination of all factors.

    Now consider the whole page. To start with, I have not found the six reasons to choose foods announced in the title. Then, in the first para: “In crops, the technology has generally been used to incorporate genes that enhance resistance to insecticides…” To what? The technology has been used to “encourage higher yields” with, almost next to that statement, a box on “Failure to yield” Funny! Actually, the first three paragraphs could have been written by a staunch supporter of GMOs. I am particularly flabbergasted by: “ GM sugar beets were introduced in 2008, and already in the first year, 90% of the sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically modified.” And the author did not wonder why? Fourth para: “…uncontrollable cross-pollination depletes crop diversity which has resulted in resistant ‘super-weeds’ and ‘super-pests’.” Surely sloppy thinking and uncontrolled drafting.

    We can confidently take it down a notch on the lying v. ignorance issue… but the people at OV won’t look better. Nor is the problem identified by Kevin any smaller. Ignorance, if it were ignorance, is no excuse.

    But we can also ratchet it up. Some people may not like the criticism levelled against OV based upon their statements about GMOs. But OV are not only disparaging a technology, but also the FDA by taking a sentence of an assessment report out of context and suggesting that the FDA would primarily consider the benefits to agri-business rather than consumers. I find this even more shocking. In sum, Kevin has offered us a great post.

    And, by the way, I cannot agree with the concession that the GMO technology benefits primarily seed companies. There are economic studies out there which show that, for the GMOs we now have (there are many other types in the pipeline) the primary beneficiaries in the USA in monetary terms are the farmers. To think otherwise, by the way, is to assume that farmers are stupid, a fair assumption for urban experts, but not for country boys.

    GMOs also benefit consumers and the environment. This statement, like any other on GMOs, has to be supported on a case-by-case basis (and there will be cases where it will not be true). Bt corn for example is demonstrably less infected by mycotoxins, a very serious health hazard. Herbicide-tolerant crops enable the farmer to use a herbicide that is much more environment-friendly than those used heretofore (and as a matter of fact also in smaller quantities than heretofore); they also contribute significantly to no-till farming with great benefits for the soils in terms of both pedofauna and soil erosion.

    There has been some discussion about biodiversity (whatever that means…). A badly managed field full of weeds is no doubt biodiverse, but the ambition of farmers is to not have this, but a clean field. The question that may be raised is thus whether a clean field with a herbicide-tolerant crop is more, or less, biodiverse than a clean field with a conventional crop. A study undertaken in the United Kingdom shows that the winner is, for two crops out of three, the first. The reason? With a herbicide-tolerant crop you can wait until the weeds become a nuisance before spraying, whereas a conventional crop has to be cleaned already before sowing.

    As a final point for the time being, the mission of organic farms is not to “raise healthy food with fewer agricultural inputs”. This is what they do like to project on consumers, but it is a fallacy. Organic food has qualities which conventional food does not always have (the “always” is important here: for instance, the majority of conventional food does not contain any pesticide residue). And organic farming also uses agricultural inputs, different ones, but not automatically fewer.

    • Good point about laziness. But on closer inspection, some of the phrasing is quite purposeful. The way they describe the “Failure to Yield” study (which found an increase in yield due to Bt corn) suggests that they may have known that this was true and instead crafted a way to suggest that there was no such increase:

      A Union of Concerned Scientists study shows that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

      The subjective term “significantly” is the key word. It was significant, statistically, and IMO pretty significant for two Bt genes. Looking at the numbers, those two genes accounted for about 1/5 to 1/6 of the total yield gain in corn for the years studied. That’s significant.

      Their claim about allergic reactions are also a bit of a weasel-phrase. Jeffrey Smith uses these ways of describing things too. Instead of saying that there is evidence of increase allergic reactions (false), they say there is evidence of increased risk of allergic reactions, which is contentious. (and I would regard as false given the allergen screening that occurs int he process of development and regulation.) You can alter the allergenicity of plants through breeding, and there are not tests required for approval of classically bred crops to test their allergenicity. Apples are known to have genetic variability for allergenicity, for instance.

      But there is evidence of laziness/sloppiness. There are no GE crops that are designed to resist insecticides. And although they list tolerance to herbicides, they also use the catch-all word of ‘pesticides’ as well. They just turned one ‘cide tolerance into three.

      Cross-pollination has nothing to do with super-weeds or super-pests, it seems they were just trying to tie several different issues together.

      As for who the primary beneficiary is, it would be difficult to tell. Seed companies price their transgenic traits according to a proportion of what they estimate as the added value of the trait, which can vary region by region. Bt traits cost higher in regions of high corn-borer and rootworm beetle problems than the same trait in regions where they are not as much of an issue. Naturally, it is worth more to a farmer in terms of reduced sprays or increased yields. But without knowing whether the farmers are getting more $ or Monsanto is getting more $ on a per-license basis (what about the cost of development?) it would be impossible to tell without looking at some actual numbers. So the last point is wishful thinking.

      OV also has a vested interest in presenting this information in this fashion. Although they are looking to fill a certain market niche by taking a stand against GE crops, they also therefore stand to gain by disparaging the technology. It is in their interest to exaggerate the negative claims. They also said that they will “never” use GE crops, which is an admittance that no evidence will change their opinion.

      What is strange about this is that most of their customers probably already agree with them, and so this marketing strategy does not do too much to bring more people to the brand. As they are involved in the Non GMO Project (and actually control it in part http://www.nongmoproject.org/about/governance/board-of-directors/george-siemon/ ) they are giving themselves extra costs to test their products to prove to already loyal customers something that won’t make them buy any more than they already do. for more info on that, check out this poll by the Consumers Union that found that only a small subset of consumers (and organic consumers) care a lot about cross-pollination between GE and organic crops:
      http://www.biofortified.org/2010/03/organic-consumers-not-very-concerned-about-ge/

  • bernarda

    Admittedly the following articles were printed a few years ago and maybe some things have changed.

    First, on the supposed economic benefits to farmers, “A new report is challenging the biotech industry line that GM crops will benefit farmers. Seeds of Doubt, published by the Soil Association, says that increased yields and profits and reduced agrochemical use have not materialised for farmers in the US, one of only four countries where GM crops are grown commercially.”

    http://www.mindfully.org/GE/GE4/Yields-Profits-Down-GMOs17sep02.htm

    Be SURE to click on the link on the page for a more detailed report.

    Second, the biological effects.

    Now deceased, Ian Pryme with others did a review of research done on GMO’s. They concluded, “In conclusion we feel that much more scientific effort and investigation is necessary before we can be satisfied that eating foods containing GM material in the long term is not likely to provoke any form of health problems. It will be essential to adequately test in a transparent manner each individual GM product before its introduction into the market.”

    “IN VIVO STUDIES ON POSSIBLE HEALTH
    CONSEQUENCES OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED
    FOOD AND FEED—WITH PARTICULAR REGARD TO
    INGREDIENTS CONSISTING OF GENETICALLY
    MODIFIED PLANT MATERIALS”

    http://www.saynotogmos.org/ud2004/docs/GENutrition.pdf

    They often regret that histological studies were not done in some of the tests. For the moment, most GMO’s are only consumed by people indirectly, i.e. the crops are used for animal feed. Other crops like bt cotton of course are not consumed. BTW, there is also a non-related problem of feeding cows corn and soy since they haven’t evolved to eat it and farmers have to be careful not to give them too high a percentage or it will cause health problems.

    • Regarding the Seeds of Doubt report, why do people think farmers are so stupid? Do you think farmers have lower IQs than the rest of the population because of inbreeding, or maybe it’s the pesticides? I’m not usually so flippant, but it really upsets me that anyone would assume that farmers are so clueless. Most farmers have a BS in agronomy, business, or other useful field for their career. They have the training and intelligence to use only methods that pay off in yield or in reduction of inputs. Please, go talk to some farmers. If you’re on Twitter, use the tag #agchat. Some of the people who’ll answer are industry reps but most are just regular people who are willing to open up and talk about their profession. You might also check out some of the agriculture related blogs listed here. Again, some are industry but it’s really easy to tell which ones.

      I did read the review and I have one major point to make. Did you notice that the majority of the studies deemed to be legitimate by the author are by one person? It is possible but highly unlikely that there is a global conspiracy and only this one person is brave enough to publish results that counter the majority of other studies. Far more likely is that this person’s studies are either biased or flawed to some degree in experimental design, statistical analysis, conclusions drawn, etc.

      As I’ve said many times before, science isn’t based on one paper or even a few. To really find out what’s happening on a subject, we must look at the body of literature. The body of literature on the safety of genetically modified crops shows that they are no more harmful than their non-genetically engineered counterparts. We have a list of studies funded by non-corporate entities (mostly governments) on the safety and efficacy of genetic engineering. It is not a complete list by any means but it will give you an idea of what’s out there.

      Whether cows should be eating grain isn’t a question of genetic engineering. Farmers fed grain to cattle and other animals long before genetic engineering showed up. Also, wild cattle may have not evolved to eat grain, but cows didn’t evolve at all. They were selectively bred, so saying cows didn’t evolve to eat grain doesn’t really make much sense. Grain can be a nutritious part of feed, adding needed protein. What a lot of farmers do is feed the animals the entire corn plant, so the amount of grain compared to silage is relatively small. As far as I know it is only in feedlots that cattle are fed exclusively grain for any amount of time, and even those cattle are typically pastured before going to the feedlot. Problems, but unrelated problems.

      As for what the effects of genetically modified feed might be on meat and milk, the studies I’ve seen have found no effect. For example, a very well done recent study: Effects of long-term feeding of genetically modified corn (event MON810) on the performance of lactating dairy cows.

      Thanks for getting my brain going this morning. I’ll let someone else take it from here, as I need to work :)

  • bernarda

    Roundup, I think, is the most widely used herbicide. Here is some recent research on it I just found.

    Notice that it has the label of the National Institutes of Health.

    “Glyphosate formulations induce apoptosis and necrosis in human umbilical, embryonic, and placental cells.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19105591?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    “This work clearly confirms that the adjuvants in Roundup formulations are not inert. Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from R formulation-treated crops.”

    As I mentioned in a previous thread, there is the revolving door between Washington and the private sector. Guess who the new FDA director of food safety is? A former vice president of Monsanto, Michael Taylor. I am sure we can all sleep quietly now.

    • This post is about truth in advertising and whether it is appropriate for a company to make claims that are a) knowingly false or b) made from ignorance followed by refusal to change them after being confronted with the data.

      Whether so-called inert ingredients in Roundup are safe or not isn’t really on topic… maybe it would have been better to post this in the forum, which is where anyone can start a conversation about anything. Still, it’s here now, so here goes.

      First of all, if you took a poll of every “pro-GMO” author and commenter here you’d likely find a wide range of thought about pesticides in general and about Roundup specifically. Personally, I would like to see a reduction of use of all pesticides, including Roundup, through biological methods such as cover crops and rotations. It’s not easy, though, to control weeds through biological methods, unless you’re willing to accept underpaid backbreaking manual labor as an alternative to herbicides (I am not). I’m also not willing to accept huge losses of yield because lower yields means more land needs to be farmed. So, being pragmatic, and basing my opinion on the science, I see Roundup as a non-ideal solution to weeds that is at least preferable to other herbicides that are far more dangerous due to their specific biological mechanism.

      Second, the problems or lack thereof with Roundup are a problem of pesticides not a problem of genetic engineering. It is true that Roundup has become more widely used because of the Roundup resistance trait, but Roundup was being used even before the trait came out and I am confident that even without genetic engineering someone would have come up with a Roundup resistance gene anyway through natural mutation under selection pressure or through induced mutations. There are multiple herbicide resistance traits on the market that are not genetically engineered. Whether or not Roundup has health implications isn’t really germane to a discussion of genetic engineering, although it should certainly be in a discussion of pesticides and industrial agriculture.

      Finally, the study you posted brings up at least one large question. I’m not an animal cell biologist, but I do know that cells are readily affected by soap/detergents. The detergent breaks up their lipid membranes and has a variety of other negative effects. The adjuvants in Roundup are surfactants, chemicals that reduce the surface tension of a liquid. Basically, the surfactants help the Roundup stick to the plant. Frankly it is no big surprise that the surfactants would have a negative effect on mammalian cells, be they liver, brain, placenta, or whatever. The question is: who cares? Is there any possibility of you putting Roundup directly on your cells (other than skin which has specific water-proofing properties)? No, of course not. By the time a crop sprayed with Roundup gets to you, the great majority of the glyphosate and the adjuvants have degraded, leaving only trace residues that can barely be detected. This paper seems specifically designed to get people all upset for no good reason.

      Rather than testing different formulations of Roundup on cells that will never be touched by Roundup in the real world, why not do some experiments that would be of some use? For example, how do the different formulations affect earthworms? Recent research shows that, while glyphosate is better for earthworms than 2-4,D, it’s still pretty harmful: Effects of glyphosate and 2,4-D on earthworms (Eisenia foetida) in laboratory tests. Do the adjuvants worsen the effect on earthworms? Another useful test would be what is the effect, if any, of different rates of consumption of foods with typical Roundup residues.

    • Eric Baumholder

      Bernarda,
       
      I read that study when it first came out. Its central message is stark, unambiguous, and unassailable: pregnant women should not inject herbicides into their uteri.
       
      I doubt this is a big problem, though.

  • John Doe

    Who is Eric Baumholder? Who does he work for? What’s his agenda in spending so much time bashing organic food and organic food companies? No record of such a human except for comments on blog posts. How about some transparency Eric?

    http://organicfreefood.blog.com/2010/03/11/avoid-the-horrors-of-organic-food/

  • John Doe, I followed your link. I think it should be obvious that it is satire. It reads just like some of the stuff we read about on other sites that are bashing GMO food.

  • bernarda

    I have previously mentioned some questionable logic in Kevin’s article, but even the general tone is disappointing, particularly from a serious academic. He likes to use charged adjectives and metaphors “kool aid” for one. Another of his statements.

    “My objection is when a company that wants to do the right thing falls victim to using lies, distortion and hyperbole to sell their products. They don’t want to inform the consumer, they want to scare the consumer.”

    His article itself is full of hyperbole and maybe distortion to sell his point of view. There is guilt by association, “The same with the people that don’t want to take that GMO chance because “many risks are yet unknown”. Jenny McCarthy says the same thing about vaccines.” Some of those people may have serious reasons for doubt, unlike anti-vaxer McCarthy.

    He continues, “Sure, the implication is that GMO’s are evil and substandard, but they don’t come out and say it.” He uses implication that anti-GMO’ers are sort of luddites. Why “evil”, wouldn’t “substandard” be enough or maybe “doubtful”?

    Even in his biography you find exaggeration, but he appears to be trying to be humorous. Unfortunately he fails and he hardly uses “velveteen rhetoric”, but more the sledge hammer.

    BTW, nobody, including Kevin, seems interested in my link to the paper by UniVersity of Caen, Laboratory Estrogens and Reproduction, UPRES EA 2608, Institute of Biology, Caen 14032, France, which would seem to be at least as serious as the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida.

    Frankly, I expect better from a serious researcher at a serious university.

    • Kevin Folta

      Hi Bernada,

      I’m sorry I haven’t been able to more immediately address your posts, I’ve been extremely busy with some big issues in academia.

      First, this is a blog. The idea is to communicate and stimulate discussion. I think I’ve achieved that. Some object to the rhetorical flourishes, others find them effective. In my mind the analogy between anti-GE and Jenny McCarthy/vaccines is right on.

      The difference is that I’m promoting ideas, having fun, and trying to teach science. A little license with language should not be discouraged. I’m sorry that you don’t find it humorous as intended.

      I never said “luddites”. That’s your word, and I think you missed my point. There is an implied meaning to their statement, at least to me.

      I’ll look at the UniVersity of Caen article. You seem to be quite convinced that this is important, so I’ll give it careful consideration before making a statement.

      You are correct, I am a serious researcher at a serious university, but I try something that not many others spend time on- communicating science to YOU. Whether you agree with me or not, at least I’m trying, and I’m sorry that you find my efforts are disappointing.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Kevin Folta

      Bernarda,

      I’ve looked at the article from Caen. The journal is not a bad one, has some good impact, so we’d expect quality stuff here.

      Briefly, the researchers take human cell lines, treat them with glyphosate (or roundup, includes adjuvants) and assess physiology after various time points. The cell lines used are derived from fresh umbilical cord, are embryonic or placental, and represent very sensitive systems to study the effects of toxic compounds. Results- glyphosate kills all of these super sensitive cells within 24 hours through rather predictable mechanisms (in abstract, no need to enumerate).

      Okay. My guess is that you now believe that these results are concrete proof that glyphosate harms organisms beyond their weedy targets. Let’s think about that.

      First, HR plants are doused in 100x more glyphosate then the study used. They survive. They do not exhibit any of the symptoms (resulting in “total cell death” within 24 h) because they survive. The anti-GM folks like to point out correctly that there are at least ten weed species now resistant to glyphosate. Clearly the researchers’ findings are not applying to these living systems, as the toxicity does not manifest in vivo.

      And that’s the point. Umbilical cells in a dish are an artificial and isolated system. Salt, sugars, even enough water will kill them. They live in a finely balanced broth of controlled nutrients, and I’d be surprised if glyphosate left them perfectly normal.

      Does it mean it it a bad study? Not at all. Clearly glyphosate and its adjuvants have specific cellular effects in this system. It does mean that our interpretations need to be tempered, and not exceed the limitations of the system. Glyphosate kills cells in a dish. That’s it.

      Humans are much more complex. We have systems that sequester, mobilize and detoxify tens of thousands of toxins (including many trace chemicals derived from even the most organic of organic food)we take in. We have elaborate means to do this.

      Does it mean that we should stop testing for glyphosate effects? Absolutely not. We need to keep looking for any evidence of harm in living systems, and studies in cells are a good place to start. You just can’t overstep the data or the system.

      I’d like to see an effect of glyphosate on the same cell lines compared to other conventional herbicides/pesticides or even rotenone/Bt and other compounds favored by organic farming. In such a case you’d be able to “pick your poison”. My feeling is that glyphosate and Bt would come out the winners in such studies.

      I hope this helps Bernarda, thanks for the citation. kf

  • bernarda

    I forgot mention that you can reach the researchers at the links in the following article. http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_16348.cfm

    “These effects are greatly underestimated by the legislation, which does not take these phenomena into account, but instead simply sets arbitrary contaminant thresholds in food or feed. The rules apply to glyphosate whatever its formulation may be, this is wrong.

    The authorizations for using these Roundup herbicides must now clearly be revised, since their toxic effects depend on, and are multiplied by, other compounds used in the mixtures placed on the market; and glyphosate is only one of them. The detailed blood analyses of each mammal which has received this herbicide during regulatory tests before commercial release must be published immediately, since our research points to undesirable effects which are currently masked or hidden from scientific scrutiny.”

    • W Milliot

      bernarda, no one here seems to want to engage you. Perhaps they’re afraid they might actually have to admit they and their career paths are a danger to the food system and are responsible for poisoning people and other species.

      Notice the rates of cancer and other forms of illness since ‘science’ had gotten into the food business. GM will prove no different. To date what have we seen from it? Corn plants that emit poisons to kill pests but also kill butterflies? Plants resistant to Roundup so farmers can drench their fields in it assuring people will be ingesting it?

      But some here will probably say things like, “only a small fraction of butterfly larvae are actually killed each year from the toxic corn”, and “there’s no proof Roundup is harmful to humans”.

      Except Monarch butterflies are already endangered and struggling to survive as a species. Their breeding habitats are being deforested in the south, and poisoned in the north. And Roundup is already showing to be extremely harmful. But ‘studies are inconclusive(!)’ because not enough of us have been poisoned sufficiently enough for long enough to show the conclusive evidence that it is deadly and should be banned. Or worse, as you suggest, is deceptively being kept from us. Such actions always come long after the great discoveries of science have been hoisted on the world and it’s harms well dispersed. Greed always trumps caution, profit engenders corruption.

      And thus the dangers of the rush to expose the world to GMOs.

      Ultimately though, what I’ve gathered so far from this site is that there’s a wonderful group here. Too proud of what they can do in their labs to even bother with the potential dangers. Too excited about what they’ve achieved to hold back from exposing the rest of us to it. And, some no doubt, too greedy to care one way or the other so long as their investment, be it in a chosen career path, or direct dollar amount, pays off.

      Meanwhile, the rest of humanity and the natural environment will be but their lab rats.

      • pdiff

        Oh, Please W! This is pathetic!

        No one replies because a) they have jobs to do, b) your arguments are either uninformed or amply counter argued with evidence in multiple places on the “tubes” with just a minor bit of Googling.

        W: “Notice the rates of cancer and other forms of illness since ‘science’ had gotten into the food business. GM will prove no different.”

        Can you even remotely back this up? …. No!

        W:”Corn plants that emit poisons to kill pests but also kill butterflies? “

        An oft repeated meme that has been repeatedly refuted and shown to be patently false. BTW, the “poison” being emitted is the same one used by countless “Organic” farmers and home gardeners…

        W:”Plants resistant to Roundup so farmers can drench their fields in it assuring people will be ingesting it?”

        Are you serious! Good God man! All these farmers conspiring to poison and kill off their costumers. How can we possibly counter this “logic”!?

        • W Milliot

          So rates of cancer and aren’t going up? Seriously?

          You, as an American woman, have a one in three chance of getting cancer in your life. Higher then at any time in human history. Life expectancy for the average American, for the first time, is decreasing. All this at a time when it’s been documented that GM crops have increased the use of carcinogenic pesticides.


          In short, over the last eight years, HT crops have increased pesticide use an estimated 70.2 million pounds, while Bt transgenic varieties have reduced pesticide use an estimated 19.6 million pounds. Thus, total pesticide use has risen some 50.6 million pounds over the eight-year period.

          The increase in pesticide use, largely due to increased use in HT crops, especially HT soybean, is of no surprise, given that scientists had warned that heavy reliance on HT crops and a single herbicide (in this case, glyphosate) for weed management might lead to changes in weed communities and resistance. This triggers the need to apply additional herbicides and/or increase application rates to achieve the same level of weed control.

          Many farmers have had to spray more herbicides on GM acres in order to keep up with shifts in weeds toward tougher-to-control species, coupled with the emergence of genetic resistance in certain weed populations.

          And to suggest large scale farms run by “farmers” aren’t subject to the same trappings of greed as those in your field or the executives footing the bill, or the investors reaping the rewards is either naivety or dishonesty. Sheesh. I live in a farming community, I know farmers trapped in the GM cycle because they can’t figure a way out and still be economically competitive, and no, they don’t feel very good about it. And still others driven off the farms by some pretty ruthless other farmers colluding with big Ag.

          And at such a critical juncture in the history of modern species at a time when we should be doing all we can to aide their survival, all you can do to justify your chosen career is say in essence “Others are killing them too.”

          Sorry, you are on the wrong, harmful side of this debate. But I’m sure you really, really wanted to do good by humanity.

          • “But I’m sure you really, really wanted to do good by humanity.”

            Hey buddy, I’m not an agricultural scientist, but an electrical engineer. But I have done some stuff that benefited humanity. When you watch television, talk on a telephone, get an ultrasound scan, and a few other things in modern life, you’re using my inventions. I’ve been lucky, though, to work in a field that didn’t attract the attention of Luddites.

            Tell us, please, what you have done for the benefit of humanity, besides insulting decent scientists on an internet site.

            And, my experience with farmers is that they are appreciative of the GMO technology. They think it’s nice to spend less on gasoline and pesticides and to not have to worry as much about what the family dog might get into in the barn. Not one farmer I know feels “trapped in the GM cycle” and I know a few who resent the urban yuppies who are so sure that they know what is best for farmers.

          • pdiff

            W: “So rates of cancer and aren’t going up? Seriously?”

            Yes, seriously. Rates since when? Have rates gone up, or has detection and awareness just improved? Cancer rates are strongly correlated with increases in age. Life expectancy has gone up drastically since the beginning of the Twentieth Century. More old people, more cancer found. Better technology and education, more cancer found. There are several confounding factors that make singling out “GM” or “science” impossible. BTW, How would you explain similar increases in rates in countries which BAN GMO’s? Perhaps the same way similar attacks on GMO blame the “decline” in honey bees in non-GMO countries on GM: They can’t.

            It is projected that life expectancy in the US will decrease in upcoming years due to obesity, not cancer (A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century; http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsr043743 ).

            Changes in pesticide use from GM have lead to LESS toxic material being applied. You can’t measure pesticide use by “total lbs” used. It makes no sense without knowing their relative toxicity. This is well documented here and around the internet, particularly after the anti-GMO institute in Sandpoint Idaho ( Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center) released the core of the quote you provide in one of their reports (As an aside, please provide references when quoting). Using the bogus poundage argument tack, I could say that increases in organic farming have greatly increased the total tonnage of Bt, an active bacterial agent, into the environment (a completely unnatural event, BTW). This agent indiscriminately attacks various species of butterflies and moths. Oh horrors!

            W:”And at such a critical juncture in the history of modern species at a time when we should be doing all we can to aide their survival, all you can do to justify your chosen career is say in essence “Others are killing them too.””

            I’ll ask you kindly, once, to not put your bogus, biased words into my mouth. Don’t do it again. If you believe that modern agriculture does not aide in the survival of humanity, then I have little hope you can rationally examine the topic, for the evidence is indisputable. Your objections to corporate influence are understood, and you would find, if you bothered to look, those here, as well as many in the field have similar issues. This site alone has extensive discussions on the topic, including potential solutions. But in the end, this again is unrelated to the issue of the safety of the technology. Can it be used stupidly? Without a doubt. Should we completely abandon it because of that? That would be absurdity.

            W:”Sorry, you are on the wrong, harmful side of this debate. But I’m sure you really, really wanted to do good by humanity.”

            Sorry, but you have exactly ZERO evidence to support your argument. No, … I repeat, … NO evidence exists of documented “harmfulness” of the technology to humans or the environment. My wants are immaterial. The reality is, you, I, and most others here would, with high probability, not exist now without the advantages supplied to us by modern Ag.

          • Kevin Folta

            It is also notable that has the earth’s temperature is inversely correlated with the number of pirates, therefore, fewer pirates means hotter planet.

            In a nutshell, when you don’t die from infections, smallpox, polio, flu or heart attacks, the rate of cancer will increase. Once we get cancer figured out you’ll see an increase in alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.

            Something is always gonna git ya. You have to be careful to not draw incorrect cause-effect relationships.

      • I have to say, Mr. Milliot, that you have crossed the line. Not just genetic engineers, but all scientists are now on your firing line.

        Well here’s some defense.

        First, since science has come along and made changes in how people live, lifespans have gone up, not down. They have gone up the most in that parts of the world where the science has changed lives the most. This phenomenon is not some flaky statistical fluke. It can be observed over more than a hundred fifty years, and related specifically to identifiable scientific innovations like vaccination, antibiotics, and simple things like detergents and plastics. You will certainly be able to identify scientific innovations that have not made life better, but for each of those, I give you two or three non-scientific innovations that are worse. Endless religiously-inspired violence doesn’t come from science. Banking failures don’t come from science. Science isn’t what gets people to abuse drugs, or discriminate based on race or ethnicity. Etc.

        Your attack on the genetic engineers falls apart when the claims are subjected to comparison with actual facts. Monarch butterfly populations are higher than they were before there was GMO corn. It’s not certain whether the reduction in corn pesticide use helps protect the monarchs, but no data supports your claim that it harms them. Fields drenched with glyphosate is hyperbolic languange. The amounts used are way too small to support the term drenched . Plus you are ignoring the benefits. One alternative weed control is deep ploughing, a very violent attack on the earth’s surface with documented bad effects. Another alternative is to use other herbicides which are much more toxic than glyphosate. Do you blame the genetic engineers for giving farmers an opportunity to use less destructive weed control alternatives? A fair person would praise them for this.

        Your argument that evidence of harm can come along later is an argument for never doing anything. And it’s not even a good argument for that, because harm can come, indeed certainly will come, from perpetuating the bad practices now current. Do you accept the proposal that excessive burning of coal is adversely affecting the earth’s climate? If you do, then each proposed alternate source of energy is potentially blocked by a prospect of future harm.

        • W Milliot

          I did not mean to imply all science is bad if that is what you take from my comments. On the contrary, I think good science is imperative to the survival of life on this planet. And I’m not even adverse to the genetic modification of food or animals providing it is done with the utmost precaution and the deepest respect for what can go wrong on a genetic level. And with the willingness of those involved to admit we still know too little. I even have high hopes for gene therapy as a treatment of illness in the (possibly) near future.

          I am not anti-science, I do not mean to defame science as a whole.

          What I’m opposed to is the rash, greed driven, imperially excused, vastly ununderstood discoveries being foisted on humanity and nature simply because ‘one can’ and brash scientists thinking they know enough to come out and state unequivocally “This latest technology/discovery is almost completely safe!”

          Heard it all before. The damage of such rash action can be seen throughout history. Lost too many loved ones to cancer to simply trust and keep my mouth shut (haven’t we all?).

          So while there are plenty of wonderful scientific advances to point to, I’ll contend that if just a little more time had be taken to understand the potential ramifications of introducing the products of some discoveries into the stream of the capitalist system, we wouldn’t have to be trying to counter the harmful, and even planet threatening effects of many of those discoveries today.

  • John Doe

    I know it was satire. My point is that Eric spends an inordinate amount of time bashing organic. What’s his agenda? To what personal benefit?

    • What’s your agenda, John? You’re here, spending time to bash Eric. Whatever, but these are odd claims to make. Why do any of the people posting comments on any website do it? Do you go on to HuffPo or Yahoo News and ask frequent commenters what their agenda is? I do think “inordinate amount of time” is a bit of an exaggeration. That website can’t have taken more than a few hours total to put up. Now, Biofortified does take an inordinate amount of time, but I hope it is at least of some use to someone :p

    • Zach

      I do a lot of things without any direct personal benefit. Do you only do things that directly benefit yourself?

      Maybe Eric wants to educate others? Maybe he wants consumers to be more able to make good choices in the food they eat? Maybe he wants a populace that is educated because a liberal democracy that has an educated populace runs better? Maybe he just finds it fun? For instance, I will probably bash organic whenever i can but thats because a)i don’t see the evidence for the philopohy of organic (some specfic practices yes but thats a different can of worms see anastasias post for my views on that.

  • John Doe

    It’s not only that website, do a google search for his name and you’ll see the trend. And yes, my agenda is to question what his agenda is – thus my moniker, an obvious pseudonym, to point out that there is no Eric Baumholder but for the commenter. No other web records for him come up when doing a search – no company affiliation, facebook page, alumni listing, phone, etc. I believe he’s a gun for hire. It is obvious from his posts that he is very familiar with biotech industry. Why not just post your affiliation Eric? Or, like GMO products that don’t want a label on them, do you have something to hide?

    • It is very problematic to accuse someone of being “a gun for hire” without actual evidence of that. It seems that you have uncovered evidence of Eric’s political leanings, but not a financial link. The editors of this site are often accused of being hired guns by opponents of genetic engineering, even when we are very open about who we are and our (lack of) financial ties.

  • John Doe

    And I think he wants to blur the satire lines. Here is a comment from him on another web site, The Secret Revolution:

    Eric Baumholder, on May 9, 2010 at 16:39 Said:
    “You should also look at the nexus between radical environmentalism and the organic industry. Environmentalists are top of the agenda on the FBI’s domestic terrorism watch — and these radicals almost uniformly support organic farming.
    Should we be surprised that Michelle Obama backs organic food, too? Nope. Yet another embarrassment for the White House and ‘domestic’ policy. Go and look at what’s happening at http://organicfreefood.blog.com/
    One soldier is moving his family back to base because of possible reprisals from the organic/environmental enforcers. This is getting bad.”

    He also insights conspiracy theories to attack environmentalists, suggesting that eco-terrorists caused the gulf oil rig blo up, from website The Atheist Conservative:

    “In State of Fear, Michael Crichton put forth a scenario where global warming activists engineered an environmental catastrophe in order to make their case. Is this odd or self-contradictory? No. Anti-vaccination people are not abashed to see children sicken and die from preventable disease. Opponents of genetic engineering are not abashed to see people die from preventable malnutrition. There are, indeed, a great number of people out there who are willing to cause all manner of mayhem and misery “on behalf of the planet”. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to call the oil rig failure an instance of sabotage, because it doesn’t take a conspiracy. It only takes a few ‘green’ whackos with a perceived ‘mission’.”

    Is this satire? Or is this a lie used to promote an agenda? Is there one shred of evidence of terrorism from the gulf rig?? How can you trust anything he comments on when he makes comments like this?

    Counterinsurgency tactics? I’d say so, but they include all of the lies, misinformation, and anti-science approach that he rails against. If you want to see his anti-science tactics google his name with climate change.

  • Well, Mr. Milliot, I guess that’s some progress.

    It still leaves me asking, though, why you are directing your attention to genetic engineering. In the whole history of technology, I can’t think of an example in which the scientists have been more responsible and cautious. Perhaps you can make a case that they have not been cautious enough, but you can hardly make a case that they have been reckless.

    To start with, there was the 1975 year-long moratorium on research while protocols for safety were developed. There was the use of test species, E. coli, disabled so that they couldn’t survive outside the laboratory. Moving on to GMO crops, there are a whole list of precautions, and I can’t even begin to get through the list. No gene transfers from species with known allergens. Refuges to prevent evolution of Bt resistant insects. Even the voluntary submission of safety test data and consultation before release is something that only genetic engineers, among plant breeders, do.

    When crops are developed using colchicine, which promotes violent distortions of the genome, none of the luddites pay any attention. When gamma rays are used to promote completely random changes in the genome, none of the luddites pay any attention. When embryo rescue techniques were used to create a wheat/rye combination none of the luddites paid any attention. When herbicide resistant plants were developed by drenching (yes here the word drenching is appropriate) tons of seeds with a herbicide and breeding from the survivors, none of them paid attention. Frankly, I think the luddites only began paying atten tion to GMOs because they thought “Great, the scientists themselves are acting as if this is dangerous. We can exploit that.”

    Vitamin A enriched rice was developed fifteen years ago. None of the usual complaints against GMOs applied. There was no corporate greed to rage against, no lack of safety testing, no remote possibility of increasing use of pesticides or herbicides, etc. but fifteen years later we still have the cry of “More testing needed.” and the ugly rumors about how it will cause new diseases, spread by vile propagandists. That’s who you should be criticizing.

    • C_rader,
      I find it quite interesting and informative to post under an assumed name. One of the first things the practice highlights is how deeply the opponents of GM crops are involved in matters of ad hominem. Whatever passing familiarity they might have of crop genetics and transgenesis, they are far more interested in who is doing the talking. As I pointed out in a post elsewhere under the topic of logical fallacies, such persons initially want merely to know if you’re ‘on their side’. If you are not, their sole remaining concern becomes how to explain your moral inferiority, and, by contrast, their moral superiority.
      Throughout the process, I get to more thoroughly investigate the dynamics and motivations of the anti-GMO mindset. At the same time, others get to witness the behaviors and arguments of anti-GM persons and to perhaps draw similar conclusions. It is at the very least apparent that the consistent pattern of behavior and argumentation of GMO opponents is such that they can be treated as phenomena. And actually have been so treated, in a growing number of articles in the peer-reviewed literature.
      Remaining pseudonymous is the best way to highlight these phenomena.
      In this ‘climate’, it’s also security-minded. Opponents of GM crops repeatedly demonstrate a belief that they are somehow ‘above’ morals fundamental to civil society. This is as much ‘moral self-licensing’ as it is ‘ethical narcissism’, both of which have been well-described.

  • bernarda

    c_rader claims “Vitamin A enriched rice was developed fifteen years ago. None of the usual complaints against GMOs applied.” Well not exactly.

    Here is a report from some of those “vile propagandists”:

    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/goldenRiceScandal.php

    Just a small example from the much longer article.

    “In addition, the unbalanced enhancement of single nutrients in GM crops may do more harm than good [27] (GM Crops and Microbes for Health or Public Health Hazards? SiS 32). As David Schubert at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences La Jolla, California, in the United States points out [28], plants possess the ability to synthesize between 90 000 and 200 000 nonessential small molecules, with up to 500 in one species. The enormous repertoire is due in part to enzymes with very low substrate specificity, which are unpredictably altered by mutations and pleiotropic effects associated with GM technology. Furthermore, overdose of many single nutrients are known to be toxic, vitamin A being a case in point. Schubert highlights the toxic effects of retinoic acid and other metabolites of b-carotene, only a few of them can be identified and measured in the current state of technology.”

    There are many other articles that are related there.

    • bernarda, thank you for posting that article, which supports my claim very nicely. In the view of Joe Cummings and Mae-Wan Ho, the researchers at Tufts are like Nazi war criminals.

      I depart briefly from valid logic to express a little anger.

      Monsters like Joseph Mengele were not anything like nutrition researchers!

    • Also, David Schubert is giving a poor argument. Beta-carotene is not a toxic form of vitamin A, in fact you can eat almost limitless amounts and you will only turn orange if anything. But his argument against golden rice on the basis that it could alter (And increase) the production of some potentially bad carotenoids also applies to ANY enhancement of carotenoid content no matter how it was achieved. So Golden Maize produced by breeding, orange sweet potatoes, and orange cauliflower (mutant discovered in Geneva, NY) would all potentially carry the same risk of that happening as golden rice. But the argument is only being used against one type of biofortified crop, which makes you wonder if the argument is being made with intellectual honesty.
      Thanks for linking to it, as I didn’t know that Schubert made that argument as well, lately I have seen only Doug Gurian-Sherman making the argument.

    • Kevin Folta

      Hi Bernarda. Thanks for the note.

      Can you please clarify some things for me? Your post has you very convinced of the correctness of its content, but I’m not sold just yet. Can you please enforce the following?

      1. The enormous repertoire is due in part to enzymes with very low substrate specificity, which are unpredictably altered by mutations and pleiotropic effects associated with GM technology.

      Can you please tell me one enzyme from that repertoire that has been unpredictably altered? Just one?

      2. Furthermore, overdose of many single nutrients are known to be toxic, vitamin A being a case in point. Schubert highlights the toxic effects of retinoic acid and other metabolites of b-carotene, only a few of them can be identified and measured in the current state of technology.

      Do you think that we should discourage people from eating sweet potatoes, cantaloupes or papaya- also rich sources of vitamin A and other b-carotene derivatives?

      Breeding programs worldwide are searching for high-pigment tomatoes, sweet potatoes and many other crops so that people can have more nutritious food. Do you think this is dangerous? Should it be stopped?

      3. …few of them can be identified and measured in the current state of technology

      Which ones? Because of their requirements in cellular signaling and vision in animals retinoids are very well understood- including their detection. It is also pretty well known that plants don’t make/retain retinoids. My lab and others have searched pretty carefully. There’s one report in Phytochemistry (mid 90′s) that found all-trans retinal. That’s it.

      Your claims sound very impressive and I’d love to learn something new here, so please expound on the information presented. Thank you for your comments.

  • bernarda

    As I am not an expert in the field, there are some questions I would like to ask. They are just questions, not any attempted trap.

    - Daffodils have been replaced by maize in the the “golden rice”. If GM maize is used, which is/or will be likely, can that have a complicating effect from addition?

    - I have read that it is difficult to put the exogene always in the same place, is that true and if so is it a problem?

    -I have also read that there is a problem of stability in DNA strains with the gene added and they break more often, is that true?

    - There is also the idea of adding genes to increase iron and zinc to the rice. Does the accumulation of these cause more stability problems.

    As I said, I would simply like to know so I can evaluate what is published more accurately. I know I may be betraying my ignorance.

    • Bernarda, let me start trying to answer some of your questions from the top.
      1. As the number of cloned and characterized genes increases, the options for genetic engineering also increase. I don’t know how exactly the daffodil gene was discovered and why they decided that it would be a good fit for Golden Rice, but later on they discovered that a gene from maize worked better. Some varieties of maize can make lots of carotenoids, if you keep refreshing this site you’ll see an image of Golden Maize pop up, along with Golden Rice 1 & 2. I’m not sure what you mean by “a complicating effect from addition” as my understanding is that they replaced the daffodil gene with the maize gene. Maize is very closely related to rice, close enough that I use the better-characterized rice genome when trying to figure out functions for maize genes. Consequently due to the close relatedness, all other things being equal, the likelihood for an unintended consequence to occur is lower the more closely related the two species are. Their genes are likely to be more similar to each other the less time there is since divergence. But that would not always be the case, as even regular breeding in the same species can have really weird unexpected effects, while going from bacteria to plant can change little. I would think that a maize gene would be less likely to cause complications than a daffodil gene, on average. If my understanding of Golden Rice 2 is incorrect and that they have both the daffodil and maize gene in it, then I still don’t foresee a problematic interaction. It would be like having a family of similar genes doing the same function, as is often the case in higher organisms.

      2. It is true that currently, genetic engineering puts genes in random unpredictable locations in the genome. This is often cited as a risky part of GE, but all you need to do is add replications to the equation. By transforming a large number of cultured plants, you can screen out the ones that do not work, or put the gene in place that disrupts other genes. Before GE, biologists used transformation with Tobacco Mosaic Virus among other things to purposefully screen for the disruption of genes in a plant, and you can also do the reverse. With enough transformations, you could conceivably put a gene in the same or near-same location several times. Monsanto has said that their “Roundup Ready 2 Yield” event was made by identifying regions of DNA that have good genes that they want to keep in their breeding programs, and picking a transformation event that put the transgene in that good area. (They say that the problems with yield drag in previous generations of roundup ready soybeans have to do with inserting the transgene next to bad genes in the soy that they would be unable to breed out easily) In my opinion, the random insertion location is not a problem if you can transform enough plants to choose a good transformation event that doesn’t get in the way of the plant’s functions. There are labs working on streamlining directed insertion, so eventually it will become easy to insert transgenes in specific locations.

      I think this would be a good start to answering your questions, and I hope it helps.

    • You never betray ignorance by asking a question!

      The source of the maize gene used in GRII, as between GM maize or a conventional variety, wouldn’t make any difference. But in fact, it’s a gene that evolved.

      When doing a gene transfer, the genetic engineer has no control where the exogene will go. It might end up within another gene, ruining both, or in a region where it affects the control of another gene, which is a source of unanticipated effects. But after the transformation, the engineers know exactly where the exogene has ended up. If it didn’t end up in a safe location, the specimen is discarded and they try again. Fortunately, most genomes are full of safe insertion places so it doesn’t take many tries to get it right.

      There is always an issue of stability when any new variety is bred, not just a GMO variety. But before GMO varieties are marketed, they are bred through several generations to assure that they’re stable. I’ve seen the claim that the cauliflower mosaic virus promotor, widely used in genetic engineering, is subject to breaking. The only scientist I know who makes that claim is Dr. Mae-Wan Ho. Given that this viral promoter has been a part of the genome of the cabbage family for at least millenia, and that cabbage genomes seem to be pretty stable, I doubt that she is correct.

      On your question about zinc and iron, I have to punt.

    • Bernarda,

      Let me make an attempt at your other two questions. I know it has been claimed that transgenes, once inserted and stably expressed, are more genomically unstable than endogenous genes in subsequent generations. That is, that it is more likely to break up and find itself elsewhere in the genome in whole or in part. However, in order to make this claim someone would have to systematically compare a random sampling of endogenous genes to a sampling of transgenes. One of the ways that you can find out if the transgene went somewhere else is by looking at copy number or a change in size of the protein it produces. There have been several studies on this, here are a couple, including a 12-year experiment with apples.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20525262
      (Open-Access PDF: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1472-6750-10-41.pdf)
      Check references 7-10 for more information.

      And one in mice that went up to 20 generations:
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12112317

      Now I have heard of one transgenic plant where the downstream end of the gene was truncated, or cut off. This was used as support for the notion that transgenes are particularly prone to breakage, however it is one example among many transgenic plants that continue to be bred and grown. The question in this case is what is the relative chance of this happening to transgenes vs genes already in the plant? Mutations do occur all the time, and I bet if we sequenced and re-sequenced some of them some similar changes would come up, but I wouldn’t be able to say how the likelihoods compare.

      There is an issue with the stability of expression of some transgenes, which can sometimes go down after many generations. This is not very well understood, although well-described. It may be that certain insertion sites lead to gene expression that stays constant over time, while other sites are prone to being methylated by the cell. The genes are still there in that case, just silenced epi-genetically. I do know that the background genetics of the plant also play a role in how easily the plant is to transform and get stable expression. Some friends of mine in my lab (since graduated and moved on) worked on that in a couple species, and it appears that you can breed plants to be better at getting transformed.

      (It’s kind of funny that some people describe genetic engineering as “forcing” genes into a plant. Some plants probably don’t care for the new DNA, but others are ok with it. Does this mean that some plants “want” to get transformed? Heh.)

      As for the fourth question about Iron and Zinc, I haven’t heard any issues with that causing problems, but I have also not heard that question even come up before. I don’t think that those ions play a determining role in the stability or expression of transgenes any more than they might somehow affect any gene.

  • Matthew

    Now this post could be titled “When Our Friends Lie”:

    Experts admit GM brinjal report fault
    G.S. MUDUR
    New Delhi, Sept. 26: The heads of India’s science academies today conceded that they had unknowingly used a plagiarised report to declare that genetically-modified (GM) brinjal is safe and said that they would correct the mistake.

    Six Indian science academies had earlier this week approved the limited release of GM brinjal for cultivation in a joint report that contained 60 lines of plagiarised text, a near verbatim reproduction of an article in a biotechnology advocacy newsletter which itself had lines extracted from an industry-supported publication.

    “This is unfortunate — we are devastated. This should not have happened,” said M. Vijayan, the president of the Indian National Science Academy, and a senior faculty member at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

    The academies will now examine the report again, introduce references for all text extracted from earlier publications, and release the names of all the scientists who contributed to the report, Vijayan told The Telegraph. But, he said, the main recommendations are unlikely to change.

    The report had recommended limited release of GM brinjal for cultivation to be followed by surveillance to look for effects, if any, on the health of people.

    In preparing the report, the academies had relied on oral, written, and documentary information provided by fellows of the academy, and the error appeared to have occurred in this process, another head of an academy said.

    “There is absolutely no justification for what has happened,” said Ajay Sood, president of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore and a professor of physics at the IISc, Bangalore. “But many scientists are involved in the consultations — we cannot police each other.”

    A coalition of environmental groups has said the cut-and-paste job in the report suggests that instead of pursuing an independent and rigorous evaluation of GM crop science, the academies appeared to have relied on scientists known to be leaning towards GM crops.

    “Where is the independent, non-biased scientific review?” the coalition said in a statement today.

    The coalition had yesterday shown that a section of the academies’ report contained text from an article written by P. Ananda Kumar, director of the National Centre for Plant Biotechnology, New Delhi, who has himself been involved in developing GM brinjal since the mid-1990s.

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100927/jsp/nation/story_12986605.jsp

    • Yeah this news sucks especially because it will be used to try to make people ignore the weight of their decision. Maybe it was left out intentionally, or maybe it is a bad example of failing to use a good citation manager. (parallel to the discussion of lie vs ignorance vs laziness above)

      I’m glad that you brought this up, because there is a very crucial difference between what is going on with this scientific society and the food manufacturer discussed above. While the food company dug their heels and ignored emails, the scientific society is busy correcting the problem.

      I have already read several articles about this story – but nowhere have I heard anyone say exactly how much text was copied. Anyone know the answer to this? It makes a difference if we’re talking about a couple sentences, a paragraph, or several pages.

  • Matthew

    60 lines of plagiarised text – is what the article says

    I’m curious Karl if you have ever written a response, or read one you like, to the letter that crop scientists submitted to EPA in which there were complaints that patents on biotech restricted their ability to conduct research. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/business/20crop.html

    One reason I ask – don’t know if you recall but two summers ago the RR trait failed in a bunch of northern corn belt varieties (from Syngenta). They all had the same male parent, all did fine in greenhouse testing for activation of RR trait, but there was a big cold spell in June, and the guys I talked to at ASTA conference from Syngenta felt that the cold was such that it possibly created environmental conditions that didn’t allow for trait expression (this was a seed executive, not a breeder, nor am I, so perhaps not accurate scientific explanation of traits turning on and off). In any case, I know a breeder from an LGU who was interested in testing this – but says he can’t get permission from Monsanto to test the trait for extreme enviro conditions and key times in crop’s life. It seems like such valuable basic basic research that LGU faculty should be able to conduct and that would HELP the overall understanding of how transgenes interact with host genome. Is this an area that you do see that needs to be changed? Ability to conduct non-competitive (in the sense of product development) research on patented traits?

    Would love to see you blog on that topic if you haven’t.

    • Kevin Folta

      Matthew,

      Yes, the plagarism is awful. I hope they sort this out and establish a convention where such things are unacceptable.

      In terms of the independent testing- I’m with you. I think they should exploit the resources of scientists willing to do these tests. I’ve made such overtures to industry too.

      Unfortunately they don’t want to work with us. They know we have to publish results and make materials available. They can’t take that step. It costs too much for them to commercialize a plant line.

      This is viewed as obstructionist, but try to get the formula for Coke or the recipe for “special sauce”. All of these companies keep their cards close.

      I’d love to see more partnerships, especially with critics. Maybe industry would do it if the cost and regulation was not so stringent.

      • Eric Baumholder

        Kevin,
        The plagiarized text was written by one of the co-authors, who neglected to cite himself. He quipped that it showed at least that he had not changed his position, and would have said the same thing again anyhow.

    • I haven’t blogged on the topic in published form yet, but I have several half-written drafts discussing this. It is an issue that I think is important and multi-faceted. For one thing, while they may want to avoid having critics put together half-baked studies claiming problems with the trait that aren’t real, they are also missing out on opportunities for public researchers to explore possibilities that haven’t been thought of by industry. I also know a LGU professor that has specifically said that they would like to screen for enhancers and suppressors of certain GE traits. As genes, they behave like genes do, which have interactions, environmental variables, etc.

      There are also other issues to consider. There are a good number of people who argue that any presence of a GE trait in non-GE or organic crops are the responsibility of the company that generated the trait. However, if a public researcher decides to study a GE trait in various test plots and makes a mistake and the trait crosses into a nearby organic farm – under the rule desired by some to hold the biotech company accountable under strict liability they would be in essence held responsible for the actions of an independent researcher. They would not want to allow anyone and everyone to study their traits without signed agreements that protect the company from liability. This is not an argument against the use of GE traits by public researchers, but instead an argument against strict liability because it would make independent public research less likely to succeed. Another way in which these issues rub up against each other.

      When the issue came up last year, Raoul wrote a guest opinion published here. Guess who stopped by to comment?

      • Karl,
         
        When you get around to blogging about the recent situation in India regarding Bt brinjals, you may want to take into consideration a ‘counter-paper’ published in response to the reports by six of India’s scientific academies. It is written by David Andow of the University of Minnesota.
         
        A good starting point is the text at this link: http://www.gmwatch.eu/reports/12511-david-andow-book There, you will find a link to the Andow report (pdf., 80 pp.) You can find more about Andow at http://www.entomology.umn.edu/People/GradFaculty/Andow/index.htm
         
        You will see he’s a lead author of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) 2007 report — totally discredited — and has even associated himself with Angelika Hilbeck and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Quite a bit less than stellar company, unless you’re affiliated with the greens.
         
        Even so, Jairam Ramesh has indicated a preference for such groups and their ‘gray literature’ in the past, and he’s relying on a footnote malfunction to make his dubious preferences credible amongst the Europe-funded PGOs (paragovernmental organizations).
         
        I’d note in passing that Ramesh prides himself in canceling more public works projects in India than any other government official in India’s history. The full story on this latest business is as complicated, and as sordid, as you want to make it — it will vary in direct proportion with the number of facts you are willing to muster.

  • Andre

    Flabbergasting!

    Back in February 2007, a technical expert group set up by the Indian Government to examine two points of patent law in terms of compatibility with the (WTO) TRIPs Agreement was also accused of plagiarism. Their report comprised a fairly short paragraph of a dozen lines, if my memory serves me well, from a law professor’s report.

    The expert group chairman resigned, and the report was withdrawn, much to the satisfaction of all those who were fiercely opposed to its propositions.

    Mind you, the ‘victim’ of the alleged plagiarism amply explained that there was none…

    The report was resubmitted in March 2009, with textual but no substantive changes, and accepted by Government in August 2009.

    To ‘plagiarise’ one commentator on the Mashelkar saga, the public can understand plagiarism better than intricate biotechnology issues.

    And an allegation of plagiarism is a convenient weapon for circles which find the conclusions of the report inconvenient, but are-hard pressed to adduce cogent arguments against them.

    • I do wonder if this is a cultural issue. Is plagiarism historically more accepted in India than in Western countries?

      I agree that, while plagiarism is a problem, it isn’t a good reason to discredit a report. This smells like a fallacy to me.

      • Kevin Folta

        Anastasia,
        Every year we wrestle with new students and the concept of plagiarism.  It is certainly more prevalent from students that originate from certain countries, and it is not that they are trying to cheat.  One student, solid as can be, thought honestly that it was the best way to cite the work.
        Sometimes plagiarism happens and does so without an attempt to short the system or be dishonest.  I think that it is a culturally-determined boundary.  Some honestly see using the direct language as the most accurate and appropriate way to say what they mean.  I see that point.  Heck, if the authors say it right in the first place, rearranging the words in paraphrasing sure does not make immediate sense!
        That’s my guess. It is likely a different standard and was not meant to deceive.

        • Kevin,
           
          I personally believe that plagiarism has more to do with citation than anything else. For instance, systems used by scientific journals strongly discourage direct quotation from cited texts — but still demand a citation where a finding, etc. is borrowed from someone else.
           
          In contrast, citation formats common in US jurisprudence encourage direct quotations from outside sources — but still demand a citation where a finding, etc. is borrowed from someone else.
           
          It’s the failure to cite, rather than direct quotation, that justifies the charge of plagiarism.
           
          I personally favor the use of direct quotation, because the alternative is to reinterpret what someone else said. If it’s a bad reinterpretation, the reader may not be able spontaneously to spot the flaw. Reinterpretation also invites other problems, which may well be even worse than plagiarism.

      • Anastasia,
         
        The issue of this type of plagiarism is not unique to India. It is, on the other hand, quite acceptable among reviewers and staff of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
         
        Anthony McMichael, the person who headed the Health chapter in the 1995 edition of the IPCC report, lifted vast quantities of text from his book, Planetary Overload, and pasted them into the IPCC report. Without citing his book, not even once, among the 182 references in that chapter.
         
        Remember the howls of dismay when this was revealed?  Most people don’t. Gotta wonder why…
         
        http://nofrakkingconsensus.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/the-book-the-ipcc-plagiarized/

      • “This smells like a fallacy to me.”(1)

        I think it is being used as much as possible to discredit the opinions of the society that didn’t cite their source in order to ignore the rest of the body of the opinion and its supporting evidence. I think Eric bringing up the IPCC report is a great example of when the hat’s on the other foot, politically. As he is no doubt suggesting that there’s something wrong with the IPCC report (with the implication that there must be other things wrong with it as well), this is what the anti-GE folks are running with in the case of the Bt Brinjal issue. Not citing yourself as a source is happening in both places – as I believe in one of these Indian science society reports the person who was ‘plagiarized’ was also one of the authors. While I agree that they should have cited their source for a direct quote, it does raise an interesting question:

        Let’s say I write a blog post on a topic, and I cite several sources in support of the paragraphs in that blog post. Then later, I write an article somewhere else, and I am going to make the same argument that I made before, citing the same original sources, and I like the way I wrote it before, but let’s say I make a few modifications to the sentences. Is it strictly necessary to cite my blog post in the new article, and not just the original sources I used for the original blog post? I am not actually stealing anyone else’s ideas – they are my own although written down before. (In actuality I would cite myself, so I’m just playing devil’s advocate)

        Note that in on sense the “plagiarism” charge is working. Here we are discussing the plagiarism part, and not anything else about the reports. Hmmm…

        References:
        1. Bodnar, Anastasia. Comment on “When our Friends Lie”, Biofortified.org. September 30, 2010. Retrieved on 9-30-2010. http://www.biofortified.org/2010/09/when-our-friends-lie/#comment-11300

  • Matthew

    The liability piece is understandable, as would research that might give info to competitors, but I would think MTAs could be developed to handle these issues. I understand their fear of half-baked studies, but every technology goes through this – there have been good cell phone radiation studies and bad (and none that stop me from talking on one). So to hide behind fear of muckrakers isn’t much of an argument. While biofortified lists independent research, you have to admit, it’s a small list given the spectrum and breadth of the technology. What if they only allowed LGU and ARS researchers to have access to the material. One would assume such researchers have little to gain by doing faulty half-baked research? It’s that these companies don’t allow public researchers access that is one of my biggest questions with the technology as a whole. Have yet to read a response to this that is satisfying.

  • bernarda

    Thank you Karl and c_rader for taking the trouble to answer. I think it has been helpful. Cheers.

  • andre

    This is a somewhat belated reaction to the reference by Bernarda (September 25, 2010 at 3:55 am) to an “ISIS Report” which itself refers to an open letter sent to Tufts University regarding a Golden Rice experiment.

    The carrot is known in certain parts of the German-speaking world as “Gelbrübe”, and “gulerod” in Danish, a yellow root vegetable, a description which conforms to what the carrot was some two or three centuries ago. Through conventional breeding, we have made it orange, and then red, increasing the beta carotene content. And now we have “22 senior scientists” effectively telling us that all nutritionists who recommend us (and Bugs Bunny) to eat plenty of carrots are wrong?

    Agreed, they have other concerns. But how can they claim that the subject of the tests “has not been shown to be distinctive, uniform and stable over time”, and then call it a “strain”, except through ignorance and/or bad faith?

    Who are these 22 scientists any way? I noticed among them the discredited Arpad Pusztai, whose research on GM potatoes is generally recognised as flawed and invalid. And even “Dr” Vandana Shiva, who is anything but a scientist.

    And what happened to their letter, which is now one and a half year old? And since they level such great concerns, and dig out the Nuremberg code, why did they only write to the Professor Robert Russell, Professor Emeritus, at Tufts University School of Medicine (requesting from him, with unbelievable audacity, that he “forward (the letter) to the relevant authorities at USDA, FDA, NIDDK, NIH and the US State Department”)?

    The open letter was posted on the website of GM-Free Cymru, “the community pressure group campaigning to keep Wales free of genetically-modified crops, which is already an indication. Its content speaks volume on the nature of the arguments and tactics used to oppose, or obstruct, the development of genetically modified varieties. This is very sad because these people indirectly discredit the work and arguments of the good scientists calling for prudence.

  • andre

    This is a reply to the issue of academic research, or perhaps better lack of enthusiasm or even outright (though veiled) opposition from private companies.

    Matthew (September 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm) referred to a paper in the New York Times of 20 February 2009.

    There have been developments since. ASTA produced a statement in September 2009 on Research with Commercially Available Seed Products. For what Monsanto has to say on this, see here.

    There is still dissatisfaction as shown by this piece. It is however difficult to say how serious this is, whether it is based on lack of information and routine, or even whether it reflects the difficulties experienced (or simply adduced, or also anticipated) by people such as Charles Benbrook or Doug Gurian-Sherman, who no doubt score very low with the companies. As a matter of fact, you need to go way into the second part of the paper to learn that:

    “At a meeting in December 2009, the companies said that while they would not agree to remove the bag-tag restrictions on research ‘for reasons of competitiveness in the marketplace,’ they would agree to enter into blanket research agreements called Academic Research Licenses (ARLs) with public institutions. These ARLs would make it unnecessary for scientists to apply to do research on a case-by-case basis. The language in these agreements — approved by the companies, ASTA, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization — would supersede that of the bag-tag.”

    As the paper says:

    “What is not included in the agreement with ASTA and the companies are studies related to the patent-protected genetics of the plant itself, such as breeding, reverse gene engineering, and modifications to the genetic traits.”

    This is to a large extent the result of the fact that, unlike its counterparts in the rest of the world, the US patent law has no research exemption. I think in Europe the restrictions put on research would be illegal.

    I happen to broadly agree (except for the points marked with an asterisk) with Charles Benbrook when he says that:

    “What’s happened, is that with no independent voice on either the positive* aspects of genetic studies or the negative, the public gets PR from the companies or spin from activist groups. As a result the issues around GM crops become more complicated and divisive than necessary. The companies, in their paranoia, have created a vacuum of expertise and it’s the farmers who will ultimately be the victims*.”

    But Benbrook failed to refer to the paranoia of activists which has created a considerable amount of junk science fuelling propaganda and that it’s the citizen who is definitely the victim.

    • Andre, you can reply directly to comments by clicking on the reply link on the comment itself, and also your links to the comments just lead to the post. The date of the comment contains the link to the actual comment, if you are interested to link to them directly.

  • This and that, but against Gods ;aw…rationalize all that you want…but when you all fall off the edge of the to earth.
    Bless your grants for saving your next meal…. Support farmers or starve….We the real people and we are taking names and plan on taking all of you so called scientist to task…THIS IS NOT A MENTAL GAME, this is  real life….Wake up and support the truth.

  • Pretty funny there Karl…LOL
    Are you saying it’s true and you agree?
    Since, you haven’t been to my site lately try checking it out and see that the GOV. has made a statement, about the situation. Of course I posted it.
    Sorry my blog is so different…A spider web of con’s Piracy is very hard to document.

    Happy Thanksgiving All.

  • Geraldine

    I am not a scientist but do not understand anyone who would take a chance of changing the genetic diversity of existing plants to something known as genetically engineered. Is everything I have read about a lie? Has not genetically engineered corn DNA transferred to non-GMO corn. Excuse my ignorance but this is what I have read. I hear organic growers crops are being infected with GMO DNA. This would eventually make everything a GMO over time. This is my main concern with GMO crops. If this is true then how can anyone say there is little environmental effects? Help me to know the truth. I dont want organic gardening to go extinct.

  • Ted

    Really excellent information can be found on website .

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