Organic Infighting over GE Alfalfa

The USDA announced recently that Roundup Ready® alfalfa is cleared to be planted anywhere in the US without restrictions. In contrast to previous GE crop approvals, this time the USDA listed three potential options, the first being no approval at all, the second, unrestricted approval, and the third, approval with certain geographic restrictions. (For some discussion on this, see Anastasia’s post on alfalfa and mine on our joint comment to the USDA.) So already, the political process with GE crop deregulation is getting more interesting, but one fascinating aspect of all this is the new and surprising level of infighting amongst opponents of genetic engineering, particularly in the Organic agriculture sector. All it took was proposing something between a blanket Yes or No – something that recognizes that all farmers have a reasonable right to grow crops as they see fit – and that the goal should be coexistence amongst all segments of agriculture.

As soon as the topic of coexistence came up. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association fired off a shot, with USDA Recommends “Coexistence” with Monsanto? We say Hell No!

The Agriculture Department is dutifully drafting a comprehensive “coexistence policy” that supposedly will diffuse tensions between conventional (chemical but non-GMO), biotech, and organic farmers. Earlier this week industry and Administration officials met in Washington, D.C. to talk about coexistence. Even though the Organic Consumers Association tried to get into the meeting, we were told we weren’t welcome. The powers that be claim that the OCA doesn’t meet their criteria of being “stakeholders.” The unifying theme in these closed-door meetings is apparently that Monsanto and the other biotech companies will set aside a “compensation” fund to reimburse organic farmers whose crops or fields get contaminated. That way we’ll all be happy. Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, and Dupont will continue planting their hazardous crops and force-feeding animals and consumers with GMOs. Organic farmers and companies willing to cooperate will get a little compensation or “hush money.” But of course our response to Monsanto and the USDA’s plan, as you might have guessed, is hell no!

There can be no such thing as “coexistence” with a reckless and monopolistic industry that harms human health, destroys biodiversity, damages the environment, tortures and poisons animals, destabilizes the climate, and economically devastates the world’s 1.5 billion seed-saving small farmers.  Enough talk of coexistence.

It is no small wonder to me why Ronnie was not invited. Even so, he gets the whole thing wrong about “hush money.” The USDA was not proposing a cross-pollination compensation fund, actually, the Organic Seed Alliance was, along with several other organizations.

The minutes of the USDA meeting in question are available online, and there is some good discussion there, worthy of its own post. Matthew Dillon from the OSA was on the phone talking about the hush money compensation fund idea, and Bill Freese was well, not talking about coexistence at all but instead weed resistance to glyphosate. Mark McCaslin from Forage Genetics was talking about what they’ve done to foster coexistence in the 4 years they’ve been waiting for the USDA’s shiny new EIS, and Doug Goehring from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture made the radical suggestion that if the proverbial “bull” gets out of its pen to tear up your neighbor, that “Maybe you’ve got to establish two fences on both sides.” (A much more workable situation with pollen flow, actually – it’s called incompatibility genes.) The USDA also explained the three deregulation options and how it might work to place geographic restrictions on alfalfa fields.

In the short time between this December meeting and the close of the comment period, while you heard some talk about End Times for Organic agriculture if GE alfalfa was approved, Whole Foods surprised me when it announced on its company blog that it supported the 3rd option, in favor of approving GE alfalfa with geographic restrictions. Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm opined similarly, in what would seem to be a coordinated fashion. When the USDA laid down its decision on the alfalfa in question, all hell broke loose in the organic community. (And I’m not talking about Michael Pollan deciding to reclassify alfalfa as a grass.)

The first to come out swinging was Ronnie Cummins, of course. He accused the “Organic Elite” of surrendering to Monsanto.

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation’s 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America’s organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it’s time to surrender to Monsanto.

To support this thesis, Cummins weaves together a surprising web of campaign contributions and tales of greenwashing and “Natural” fraud. Them’s fightin’ words. But the response did not come from those food companies first, instead, it came from the Non-GMO Project, which was also criticized. In Team Organic will Never Surrender to Monsanto, Director Megan Westgate corrected some of Cummins’ false claims, while calling for him to work together with them to fight genetic engineering. In her response, however, I would like to point out two very curious statements.

The first is her opening statement about the rush of radical activism. While trying to appeal to Cummins’ desire for a return to radicalism, this is instead adding to the legitimacy of such actions. While Megan only interrupted a inaugural ceremony, others thinking along the same lines have destroyed field stations and research in UC Davis in 1999 to uprooting GE grapes in France last year. While she is trying to convince Cummins’ that her organization is sincere about being totally-completely-non-negotiably anti-GE, there is a danger in promoting the direct action style of “combat” in what it can lead to. “Combat” was her choice of words, and it does not promote civil political dialog.

The second thing that stuck out was how Megan Westgate described herself “As a founding board member of the Non-GMO Project, and its first (and only) Executive Director”. This implies that she both founded the Non-GMO Project and directed it from the beginning. Neither is true. Nor is her description of its history in the following paragraph, where she says that the organization started in Tuscon, Arizona. It started in Berkeley, California, and it mimicked the approach initially going on in Tuscon (which Megan doubtlessly was involved in by her description) of contacting manufacturers to pressure them to not buy GE crops for use in their food. Later, when the food companies (Whole Foods, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farm and several others) took over the project, they made her the Executive Director even though there was someone else who ran it before her – they just didn’t have the title of “Executive Director.” How do I know all this? Robin Jane Roff, a geography researcher wrote half of her thesis on it, and what not only a volunteer for the project at one point, but also interviewed the then-organizer. The Non GMO Project’s history is briefly described in No Alternative, a peer-reviewed article. Suffice to say, both Cummins’ and Westgate’s descriptions of the history and purpose of the Non-GMO Project are wrong.

My take on the Non-GMO Project is that it is an organization  intended to create a niche market for non-GE foods. As such, it has even been saying that being certified organic is not enough to avoid genetic engineering – you have to get certified as such. Insofar as it verifies products of being below a certain amount of GE material, it is not a greenwashing effort. However, in the past year they have begun to market themselves by trying to raise doubts about the safety of GE foods, and presenting their verified products as being “safe” from those risks. As they are trying to build a brand name, they need people in their target demographic to want to pay more for the ‘verified’ food products, which is probably why the public response to Cummins and the OCA is not to condemn the accusations of “surrender” but to instead try to make peace. His audience is their niche market.

And I almost forgot one detail that makes the Cummins vs Westgate argument more interesting still – Ronnie Cummins is on the communications committee of the Non-GMO Project. Sounds like harmonious communication. (See note at bottom)

Publicly, the response from these food companies (and other anti-GE organizations) was all along the lines of “fighting the common enemy” – that being Monsanto, of course. Within a day of each other, Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farm said pretty much the same thing. Blogs and twitter accounts lit up with chatter. (In what was a smart move for their group, they are trying to rally around raising money to sue the USDA over the alfalfa decision and more.) In particular, I would like to mention Barth Anderson at Fair Food Fight, who gives an animated summary of other parts of this story that I have left out, and whose opinion I will come back to.

In private, however, Whole Foods circulated an email that went a little further. This was revealed by Cummins in his next tirade against Whole Foods and more, titled Monsanto Nation: Exposing Monsanto’s Minions.He took umbrage at the following passage from their no-longer-internal memo:

Why is the OCA spreading misinformation? That’s a hard question for us to answer. Perhaps because we don’t share their narrow view of what it means to support organics, or perhaps because we do not support them with donations. Either way, it’s a shame that an organization that claims to “campaign for health, justice and sustainability” can’t simply tell the truth. This just confuses consumers. Despite all their noise, no industry leaders listen to the OCA – but uninformed consumers might. Their fear-mongering tactics, combined with the OCA’s lack of transparency about its funding sources, underscore the fact that it is neither credible nor trustworthy. We can only assume their activities are intended for further fund-raising.

Ouch. Cummins’ response was less visceral, but still focused on trying to divert them from their current business practices, and trying to highlight how much this event has pushed these organizations to campaign harder against GE. He also considers campaigning against Whole Foods. (The full Whole Foods email is available here for context, courtesy of the OCA.)

While the chatter about this deregulation event is dying down, it has revealed something very interesting about the landscape of opinion about genetic engineering amongst its opponents in the organic community. Some are willing to pursue options for coexistence of GE and non-GE, while others are unwavering in their position and will accept nothing short of no-GE-whatsoever. In other words, that one farmer’s right not to grow trumps another’s right to grow. In response to Cummins and the Organic Consumers Association, the organizations that advocated for co-existence could have used this opportunity to call out the unilateral stance of the OCA and how it reveals the kind of thinking that leads to polarized debate and likely, a complete loss for their side. Ronnie Cummins is probably not the ally that they seek, and the next time they talk about anything smacking of co-existence this will come up again, and again.

This is one interesting exchange, but it is part of a wider issue that appears to be troubling the non-GE sector of American agriculture: to be non-GE or anti-GE? To coexist or to impose? (To commit absolutely to a philosophy or do what makes money?) The USDA was considering an option that could have changed how GE crops would be regulated, something that would have been better, from their perspective, than the complete deregulation that did occur for alfalfa. If these organizations instead backed the coexistence proposal, would the outcome have been different? Strangely, I have heard many people complain that the USDA didn’t choose the third “coexistence” option, but when asked, none of them supported it when it was proposed. I guess agreeing to co-existence would mean giving up on the pure anti-GE campaign to just be non-GE. There is an identity crisis going on in the organic and non-GE community, and all it took was giving a third option to reveal it. The next step should be to explore the diversity of opinions and see what people actually think, not a handful of opinion-leaders. Those opinion leaders are saying that co-existence is not possible.

How about actual co-existence? Let me return to Barth Anderson:

But let’s face up to the cold, cruel reality on “coexistence,” organic activists and bloggers. Organic ag has been coexisting with Monsanto and GE crops — for years — and to believe otherwise is lunatic, crazypants denial. To claim that organics will never coexist with biotech when GE corn is popping up in Mexico of all places; to show the unmitigated gall of telling organic farmers that they shouldn’t receive compensation for damages or expect organic consumers to endorse such a thing; to believe that fighting for a ban is better than giving farmers the regulations they need to exist in the real world alongside biotech ag — it’s the absolute, astonishing height of absurdity.

Coexistence is not the death of organics, and compensation is not “hush money.”

While everyone seems to be talking about compensation and losing organics and political pressure, etc, there is a glimmer of good news about the prospect of getting disparate segments of agriculture to cooperate. For several years there has been an agreement in place in the Imperial Valley, CA, where most alfalfa seed is grown. The agreement states that none of their GE alfalfa is to be grown there, to protect the markets of the many non-GE alfalfa seed producers. Coexistence, without any lawsuits, grandstanding, or name-calling. You mean farmers talk to each other and figure out solutions between each other and companies like Forage Genetics? Amazing!

While rifts appear to have emerged between those who are happy with compromises and those who are not, for now these anti-GE organizations appear to be trying to get along again. Ronnie Cummins will be talking Thursday evening during a live internet broadcast about the issue of “coexistence” (in scare quotes) with genetic engineering, for those interested. It will likely be an attempt to bring wavering opinions back in line with their uncompromising viewpoint, which will ultimately only make it harder for them all.

Note: As of 10-18-2011 the Communications Committee page on the Non-GMO Project site is gone. The committee still exists, according to this document, however there is no information about who is on this committee on the site anymore. From the Google Cache of 10-08-2011, the committee consisted of these people:

Communications Committee Members:

Bob Gerner, The Natural Grocery Company
Brie Johnson, Straus Family Creamery
Corinne Shindelar, Independent Natural Food Retailers Association
Franklin A. Santana, Down to Earth ALL VEGETARIAN Organic & Natural
Jeffrey Smith, Institute for Responsible Technology
Ken Roseboro, The Organic and Non-GMO Report
Maria Emmer-Aanes, Nature’s Path Organic Foods
Mark Squire, Good Earth Natural and Organic Foods
Nona Evans, Whole Foods Market
Patrick Conner, The Big Carrot
Phil Bereano, Activist & Scholar on GMO Issues
Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association
Todd Kluger, Lundberg Family Farms
Tom Wright, Sustainable Business Practices
Trudy Bialic, PCC Natural Markets

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

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45 comments on “Organic Infighting over GE Alfalfa
  1. Eric Baumholder says:

    Karl,

    Your essay is absolutely brilliant. As a result, you can count on a backlash from the anti people.

  2. Jason says:

    Nicely done. As an organic farmer, I have been very uncomfortable with a lot of the rhetoric. And as somebody that thinks very broadly about food and society the GM thing, in the big picture, really just feels like a huge distraction.

    Wish all this energy was directed towards what really matters, e.g., weaning agriculture and the food system off fossil fuel dependent inputs, and building resilience and buffers into critical systems for food, water and energy globally.

  3. Bill says:

    Couple (or three) questions:

    Do you or do you not believe in the precautionary principle?

    Given Dr. Huber’s recent warning ( http://bit.ly/eCuzIA ) of the discovery of a new pathogen possibly related to the use or over use of Roundup, do you think the precautionary principle in the case of Roundup Ready Alfalfa should be exercised?

    Or is Dr. Huber one of the “anti people”?

    And given glyphosate’s discovered health risks ( http://bit.ly/dGFUxB – I know, this is a study done in a foreign country therefore illegitimate, right? ) I think the least someone in your position and level of education should be doing is advocating for precaution. Otherwise, you could be aiding and abetting the continuation and advancement of the poisoning of the human and animal populations of the world.

    BTW, why doesn’t Monsanto release its in-house studies on the effects and use of Roundup? Could it be they’re trying to avoid what happened to the tobacco industry?

    Finally, the divide and conquer nature of your post is disappointingly reminiscent of typical propagandist movements. Eric Baumholder – “brilliant” really?

    • Ewan R says:

      Given that Dr.Huber’s warning concerns an organism which cannot possibly exist (virus sized eukaryote) there really isn’t much to be said there – clearly Huber is one of the “anti-people” – you can generally tell them by the completely made up stuff.

      On the study – thanks for the link, as it’s one I havent seen yet – I shall digest it and return – I do so with some trepidation however as in the opening remarks Seralini is mentioned as someone useful – I’m going to assume, until I’ve read the paper, that it is either poorly controlled, discovers that surfactants are bad for developing embryos, or some combination thereof.

      BTW, why doesn’t Monsanto release its in-house studies on the effects and use of Roundup? Could it be they’re trying to avoid what happened to the tobacco industry?

      Source for non release of data? Seems to me there is an abundance of data on glyphosate and roundup in the scientific literature, both Monsanto generated and by academic labs – the conclusions far and away support the hypothesis that glyphosate is not harmful to humans and that formulations of roundup are in general more environmentally benign that other herbicides (some formulations, due to surfactant content, have shown toxicity in juvenile stage amphibians for instance – which is precisely the reason charlatains like Seralini choose to test them on cell lines known to be surfactant sensitive (given that larval amphibians are sensitive to surfactants it should come as very little surprise that injecting embryonic amphibians with surfactants may cause some issues – I don’t imagine many embryos would deal well with surfactants)

      • Jason says:

        I have been tracking the toxicity of pesticides a bit (not an expert) and find that recent studies show some new concerns.

        A review paper (Prenatal and Childhood Exposure to Pesticides and Neurobehavioral Development: Review of Epidemiological Studies. http://versita.metapress.com/content/g4470858487t28u4/ ) noted in the Abstract:

        ” Children exposed to organophosphate pesticides (OP), both prenatally and during childhood, may have difficulties performing tasks that involve short-term memory, and may show increased reaction time, impaired mental development or pervasive developmental problems. In newborns, the effects of OP exposure are manifested mainly by an increased number of abnormal reflexes, while in adolescents, by mental and emotional problems.”

        I have read a couple of the articles cited in this review. Some were done in Ecuador where they could monitor pre and post natal and exposed and unexposed populations quite well.

        • Ewan R says:

          Link borked

          Also on organophosphates – rather large and varied group there (given that it contains any C and P containing chemicals – which I think would slate DNA as an organophosphate) so what conclusions can be drawn on specific members from such a large grouping is rather vague. In terms of Glyphosate “it does not affect the nervous system in the same way as organophosphate insecticides, and is not a cholinesterase inhibitor (which is the toxic route for your traditional organophosphate pesticide)”

          • Jason says:

            I don’t know any of these details but do recall glyphosate as one of the OPs discussed in these papers.

            What I find interesting to follow in this line of research is that results differ between adults and developing organisms. From what I can gather, developmental biologists and epidemiologists have been finding that very low levels of chemicals can trigger developmental changes but be completely benign in maturity. It could be that hormone mimics only require parts per trillion to have an effect, rather than parts per million or billion otherwise.

            I only bring this up because I don’t think this sort of stuff has been studied all that well yet and so the whole notion that it is proven safe may be a bit premature. That is not to say that other herbicides aren’t worse or that some organic approved options aren’t just as bad, etc.

            • “Glyphosate is usually formulated as an isopropylamine salt. While it can be described as an organophosphorus compound, glyphosate is not an organophosphate ester but a phosphanoglycine, and it does not inhibit cholinesterase activity.”

              http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/dienochlor-glyphosate/glyphosate-ext.html

              This point might not be relevant, but what is the exposure rate of infant humans to herbicides, whether proper organophosphates or otherwise? Obviously pesticide applicators are the humans in greatest hazard because they could be potentially exposed to very high amounts of the chemicals, if not used properly. Infants, though, not so much, except in very unlikely situations such as a pesticide applicator not washing his/her hands and then caressing an infant for a long enough time for chemical to transfer to the infant’s skin. According to USDA data (when not twisted by CFS horrible excuse for data analysis), residues of pesticides on produce is very low, so neither infants nor adults are exposed to significant levels that way. Of course, that’s all for humans – we might also be concerned about baby animals that might be exposed in the field.

              • Jason says:

                Seems the most studied groups are pregnant women in the South American floriculture industry and in potentially high exposure jobs or locations in the US such as Salinas valley, CA. Womb exposure is supposedly a concern and the studies I have perused use urine samples and placental/umbilical cord blood for exposure levels. Apparently there’s a general background level in the US population via food supply that they need to control for too.

      • Eric Baumholder says:

        Ewan,

        You need to tread carefully when it comes to release of safety data from Monsanto. The vast majority of data are held as Confidential Business Information so that the test results can be licensed to other technology providers after the patents involved run out.

        Lawsuits have been launched in at least the UK, Germany, India and France, to compel disclosure of data supplied to regulators in support of commercial release, and as I recall, only one such lawsuit was successful. Which resulted in the CRIIGEN/Seralini rat study fiasco.

        Absent a cogent argument about this arrangement, which clearly violates the noble aspirations of patent law, I will remain very disturbed about this.

        Likely many scientists have similar sentiments; there’s a public comment period for new releases — what scientist would want to render an opinion when complete data are not accessible? Look at the comments, and you’ll find very few scientists want to go public with positive comments.

        This situation has obviously arisen because biotech providers are focused more on the competition than anything else, but this is a problem that urgently needs to be addressed. Trouble is, putting test data in the public domain would erase at least tens of million$ from the asset side of the balance sheet.

        • Ewan R says:

          Erm, no, I don’t need to tread carefully – if someone makes claims that Monsanto are hiding data on one of the most highly studied chemical compounds of the last 100 years I’ll ask for more than mere accusation – I’m also not convinced that Monsanto held data necessarily is an asset in the way you describe, it seems pretty contrived and doesn’t jive with my experience of how our IP lawyers tend to work (albeit I have limited contact) – I’d describe how I do think they work, only then I’d have to kill you. (Well that or I may lose my job – TMI and all that) – do you have any supporting evidence that keeping data inaccessible would be commercially valuable – cases where such data has been licensed, anything concrete? Particularly in the case of glyphosate testing – a chemical which is off patent and is manufactured and marketed by many others (at the cost of 100’s of millions of dollars to Monsanto and with revenue trickle from withheld data) – I also don’t forsee the soon to be off patent GM traits offering the same – I guess time will tell after Monsanto no longer supports the reg approval, but I’m guessing not.

          • Eric Baumholder says:

            Ewan,

            I know for a fact that this happens because when licensing deals are actually announced in company press releases. When Roundup was heading for off-patent status, Monsanto licensed the registration data widely. If memory serves, it goes for about $17 million. The point of the arrangement is that a glyphosate producer has two options: license the data, or replicate it.

            It’s further quite obvious from the database of US field trials. ‘CBI’ data abound — sometimes, even the identity of the entity conducting conducting a field trial is CBI!

            And then there’s the lawsuits I mentioned — lawsuits demanding public release of registration data. Why would there be a lawsuit if the data were publicly available? Why would courts toss out the lawsuits because of confidential registration data privilege if the information were already freely accessible?

            None of my claims rest on assumptions or secret knowledge. Put in a call to your legal department, or Google it. Either method will work.

            • Ewan R says:

              I can only find two instances – both occuring at or around patent expiry, with Dow and BASF – no money is mentioned. Googling finds nothing more than this (my google-fu is weak) and if I discuss it with legal I probably then won’t be able to discuss it here (what with legal being the way legal are)

              I guess the reregistration of RR1 soybeans will be revealing in this case – Monsanto are keeping them registered for quite some time, but if folk want to maintain registration it’ll be interesting to see how this works – will Monsanto follow your path and charge a fee for use of the info, or will the info be publicly provided somehow.

              I still don’t think it’s quite as cut and dry as you’re framing it (CBI on field trials should be quite obvious – nobody wants their competition to know what they’re testing, particularly if you have multiple years of testing, competitors could simply track which genes keep reappearing and which drop away after a year or two and conclude what does and doesn’t work)

              On the lawsuits – I haven’t claimed that all the information is public (it isn’t clear to me why the info on the rat trials wasn’t – given that it was in a published paper, but again I tend to go glassy eyed when confronted by legalese – both the language and the logic)

              From what brief data I could find out there it looks like certain registration information remains CBI only for a limited time (the document I read was in legalese, so I may be wrong here) – 5 or so years for some wossnames, so again the arguement that data is hidden for future profit isn’t particularly long lived if this is the case.

              My main contention is that the reason things are held as CBI is not just so they can be licensed – I stand by this although will concede that some profit may be gleaned from this practice – I still don’t think this is the prime motivation (you stand to lose way more than $17M if you leak strategy to competitors in public documents for instance)

    • Eric Baumholder says:

      “Do you or do you not believe in the precautionary principle?”

      Weird question. Belief in God, sure, fine. Belief in a political doctrine that’s never worked in practice and is well past its ‘sell-by’ date?

      “… the discovery of a new pathogen …”

      Okay, that’s an appropriate object of belief, since there’s no proof of any such discovery.

      “… the divide and conquer nature of your post …”

      The post is about the divide and conquer tactics employed by the deceptively-named Organic Consumers Association.

      I imagine it’s quite embarrassing to some to reveal that the organic radicals foul their own nests as well.

  4. Jon says:

    One of the biggest questions in my mind is what is the benefit to the end consumer? The ability to spray herbicide without consequence to the crop is not a benefit to me. In fact as an Iowan, I end up drinking the chemicals when it winds up in our waterways.

    So what is the benefit to me? Why should I want this technology in my food and where do I find the millions of consumers clamoring for GE foods?

    • Ewan R says:

      One of the biggest questions in my mind is what is the benefit to the end consumer?

      Does every technology utilized in the food chain require a benefit to the end consumer? What is the benefit to the end consumer of a GPS guided planter? Should John Deere have to justify their product down to the end consumer when it is specifically designed to assist the producer while having zero impact (real impact rather than imagined, perhaps there are enclaves of anti-tractor foodies out there who don’t want to eat no stinking food made using tractors.. I dunno) on the end consumer.

      The ability to spray herbicide without consequence to the crop is not a benefit to me.

      This rather simplifies and confuses what RR does – it doesn’t give the ability to spray without consequence (there are still quantity sprayed and time sprayed constraints – and roundup still costs money so farmers won’t just spray it willy nilly). It also ignores the real benefits that the RR system offers over previously used herbicide regimes – it is less environmentally damaging, and reduces the runoff of more dangerous chemicals into your waterways (there is published data on this but buggered if I can find it right now… perhaps Karl or Anastasia has it bookmarked?

      This paper details consumer impacts of HR crops and generally puts the impact in the -30% range – so there does appear to be a suggestion that despite the fact the end consumer isn’t the target beneficiary of HR and IR crops they do see some benefit (although I’d rather have a raw number – 30% is meaningless if the baseline from which your shifting has no impact)

      Why should I want this technology in my food and where do I find the millions of consumers clamoring for GE foods?

      Why want the technology? Because it helps farmers out. Bottom line. It doesn’t have to be about you. If a technology improves farmers lives, income, whatever, and has no impact on you, then I propose that you should support it. Where do you find folk clamouring for GE foods? They’re called farmers, some want the tech, and want better tech, and want it now (and cheaper) – others dont – the tech is so wanted in nations like India and Pakistan that lucrative black market operations spring up (selling both actually pirated material and fake pirated material, which sucks but is illustrative of a demand)

      So, at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be all about you.

      • Jon says:

        It’s true that’s not about me, personally. But I take your response to mean that you feel consumers don’t have the right to choose in this case. Just as farmers have the right to choose what they want to grow, so too consumers have the right to choose what they eat. And since this is technology that affects more than just a single user (as opposed to a farmer using GPS), there should be an examination of benefits throughout the supply chain.

        You say that I over simplify the RR trait. Could you please elaborate on what else it does?

        In regards to spraying without consequence, I can tell you that is exactly what happens relative to non RR crops. As I child I rode a bean bar and was sternly instructed not to spray anything but the weeds in the bean field as just a drop on the bean plants would harm them. Compare that today where sprayers make passes over entire fields spraying everything. It’s a basic comparison of having to be targeted in the application vs. not having to target specific plants but rather a whole field.

        I am very interested in reading the science on this so any links you can provide to the peer-reviewed papers would be greatly appreciated. Topics of particular interest would include:
        1. Testing for safety of human consumption
        2. Studies that examine overall chemical usage vs. other agricultural systems.
        3. Examination of yields vs. conventional breeding

        • Ewan R says:

          But I take your response to mean that you feel consumers don’t have the right to choose in this case.

          I don’t particularly understand why consumers should need to choose in this case any more than they should choose whether the farmer uses atrazine or paraquat, immigrant workers or robots, GPS guided tractors or horse and cart, Anhydrous Ammonia or UAN etc etc.

          And since this is technology that affects more than just a single user

          How does the RR trait effect anyone other than the farmer. Specifically? (fear of GMOs notwithstanding)

          You say that I over simplify the RR trait. Could you please elaborate on what else it does?

          You can’t just spray without consequence. You claim you can. There are specific time windows in which you can spray, there are specific quantities of glyphosate that you can spray, there are constraints on the economics of use (even if you could technically drench your crop in glyphosate (in the parlance of the anti-GM side of things) nobody would because the consequence of doing so is you’ll go bankrupt (and you technically can’t because you’d kill your crop)

          As I child I rode a bean bar and was sternly instructed not to spray anything but the weeds in the bean field as just a drop on the bean plants would harm them

          Is this the case with modern herbicidal treatments for corn and soy? Or with even most? From what I can find (and it’s pretty sparse) most post emergence herbicide regimes are cited on a ai/Ha type useage which strongly suggests that they’re spray and forget type approaches also.

          couple links (if there are too many I apologize in advance to Karl/Anastasia for the moderation requirement… make your site not lie to me about registration and moderation!)
          2007 review on impacts on pesticide use of transgenics

          Science article describing differential yield between Bt and non-Bt cotton in India

          More to maybe come later, dependant on whether these are remotely what you’re looking for (1st is a review which broadly shows transgenic crops have an impact on pesticide useage so should fit, second directly compares yield of Bt and non-Bt hybrids in India, so should also fit – although it’s a single paper rather than a conglomeration – I have more studies but not more time (as I always forget what is what and have to at least scan the papers before sticking them out there)

        • Lisa says:

          Jon,
          Ewan will likely tell you that glyphospate binds to the soil and isnt likely to contaminate water. What he wont tell you is that glyphospate becomes unbound with phosphate and then leaches into the water. He wont tell you that glyphospate is a chelator and strips soil of metals like iron, zinc and nikel which are neccesary beneficial nutrients.
          http://www.i-sis.org.uk/glyphosateTolerantCrops.php

          You will be told many things by GMO advocates such as:

          GMO crops are less labor intensive.

          WEll, this is true, you no longer have to spray only weeds, you can spray the whole kaboodle. However, as I said before when you consolidate and make everything easier there will actually be LESS jobs to go around.

          GMO crops will help to feed the world.

          WELL, any crop will help to feed the world. Do you want your crop to be artificial (I will get to this in a minute) doused in chemicals and capital intensive? or.. do you want your crop to be natural, not sprayed with synthetic chemicals and less capital intensive?
          http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1091304

          GMO crops are no till and better for the soil.

          WELL, guess what? Organic has a no till plan as well called Nitrogen fixing cover crops.

          Ewan,

          Yes, lets talk about horizontal gene transfer which you pointed out to me happens all the time naturally in nature.

          Point of fact, HGT happens prolifically with bateria, parasites..etc.. etc. Has it happened with plants and mammals? yes it has. However it happens as a natural species adaption to propagate the species involved. Simply put.. evole or die. Natural HGT will either kill or incorporate into the other species and evolve with its new trait, which is beneficial to that species evolution. AND HGT does not happen so frequently in plants and mammals, as it does with bacteria, parasites.

          What happens with GMO crops? WELL, the plant must be infected,or given a disease in order to make HGT work. So you make plants sick with viruses and bacteria and then whichever plants survive get a new trait that would never EVER have been possible in nature. Now these new plants can tolerate a man-made chemical that would other wise kill them. These plants were artificially manipulated to accept artifical chemical compounds. SO therefore I consider them to be artificial. These plants had an evolutionary process FORCED on them. A process which never could have happened in nature. (this is where the contamination/biodiversity issue comes into play. ALOT of us dont want our natural plants contaminated with the artificial plant.)

          Now, I know science is exciting and can help in untold numerous ways. It can also do just the opposite.

          Now lets talk about corruption. I dont even have to say anything. This has been going on since the nineties.
          http://www.monsantosucks.com/Newsnviews/revolvedoor.htm
          AND it still continues….
          http://www.franklinmodems.org/2011/02/14/michael-taylor-monsanto-and-the-revolving-door/

          CURRENTLYY ITS EVEN WORSE THAN YOU KNOW
          Clarence Thomas and Donald Rumsfeld also worked for Monsanto.

          Im running out of time, I dont mean to disregard anyone or any questions, I will post later if needed.

          Anastasia and Ewan,

          I looked online at Universites all over America, I see a huge offering of Biotech classes and a small offering of traditional breeding courses. I think this is a big mistake.
          Also, Anastasia, I have boycotted Pepsi and coke. I drink soda maybe 3 times a year.

          To finish I just want to say that we can sit here and argue opinions and facts till the cow jumps over the moon. What it boils down to is this.
          This isnt communism USA. I cant tell you to stop GMO. You cant tell us to stop organic. WHY?

          This is the land of the “free” We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to entrepeneur, and the right to own property.

          Along with these rights comes protection. If your GMO superweed is spreading all over my property, I can take action for compensation.
          If your GMO seed is contaminating my natural seed, I can take action for compensation. If your GMO is harming my property or my business I have a right for compensation. This is the law. Karl was right in saying its not HUSH money, its compensation money is what it is.

          There is a growing demand for natural,food. People realize these chemicals are dangerous. Alot of these chemicals DO cause cancer, they are endocrine disrupters, they also disrupt reproduction and growth. More and more scientists and Doctors are finding these chemicals in our blood, in the water, well, Everywhere.

          Meanwhile, you guys keep telling yourselves this is the right thing, after all you are allowed its the land of the “free” just dont expect everyone to jump on your band wagon.

          I also take that advice to heart and I do ask for buffer zones and incompatibilty genes to be utilized to further all of our rights to freedom and to help with “co – existance.”

          • Lisa says:

            karl? not posting my comment? if u want you have my permssion to take the link monsantosucks out of my comment. I did pick it to be facetious, but the rest of the comment should be ok.

            • Your comment had so many links that it was automatically held in moderation by the anti spam software. You might want to consider posting comments in smaller chunks. It would prevent them from being help in moderation and would make it MUCH easier to have and follow a conversation. And it would spare Ewan from feeling the need to respond with similarly lengthy comments.

              • Ewan R says:

                And it would spare Ewan from feeling the need to respond with similarly lengthy comments.

                Meh, not so much – I actually find mutliple broken apart comments following the same line of thought to be far more difficult to follow than a big ole chunk of text (so long as it has line breaks etc) – but then I’m a big ole reading nerd I guess – the twitterization of conversations on complex matters makes me sick. Everyone involved in the current conversation is, I believe, intelligent enough to follow a lengthy post (even those I disagree with – my tone may not suggest it at times, but that is because I come across as an utter ass – something my wife berates me for constantly and which I therefore refuse to work on)

                Now to get into a lengthy response! (I believe a mwu-ha-ha would be appropriate here)

                • Meh. It’s ok to have lengthy posts that are about a single subject of groups of related subjects but the “I’m going to talk about 10 only tangentially related things in one page long comment” type of comment is not easy for me to follow.

                  • Ewan R says:

                    The Gish Gallop wouldn’t work if it was easy to follow!

                    (multipage Gish response pending approval… and with only 2 links! Tsk)

          • Ewan R says:

            Jon,
            Ewan will likely tell you that glyphospate binds to the soil and isnt likely to contaminate water. What he wont tell you is that glyphospate becomes unbound with phosphate and then leaches into the water. He wont tell you that glyphospate is a chelator and strips soil of metals like iron, zinc and nikel which are neccesary beneficial nutrients.
            http://www.i-sis.org.uk/glyphosateTolerantCrops.php

            Really? i-sis? Currently giving credance to Huber’s claims on their main page? Anastasia covers these rather silly claims here

            GMO crops are less labor intensive.

            WEll, this is true, you no longer have to spray only weeds, you can spray the whole kaboodle. However, as I said before when you consolidate and make everything easier there will actually be LESS jobs to go around.

            Yes, American farmers harken for the day when they had to spend countless hours away from family scouting fields repeatedly and taking care of weeds as and when they appeared – we should categorically make their jobs harder rather than easier – back to a 14+ hour work day for you – no respite (we’re not talking about reducing number of people in work, we’re talking about making the lives of farmers easier)

            WELL, any crop will help to feed the world. Do you want your crop to be artificial (I will get to this in a minute) doused in chemicals and capital intensive? or.. do you want your crop to be natural, not sprayed with synthetic chemicals and less capital intensive?

            So you’re fine sacrificing some jobs then right? (also “doused in chemicals” is an inaccurate portrayal of how HT crops operate (dousing is far too emotive a word and suggests that the plants are literally soaked repeatedly – which is utterly wrong) and if you’re really going to play that angle then shurely you’d have to at least concede that GM crops have led to a decrease in chemical “dousing” and that the organic techniques you’re pushing actually come far closer to “dousing” for some insecticidal treatments particularly than conventional ag practices (see Mary M’s link elsewhere)

            WELL, guess what? Organic has a no till plan as well called Nitrogen fixing cover crops.

            I may be mistaken (I don’t think I am…) but N fixing cover crops aren’t a no-till doodad – they may be utilized in no till, but tillage is utilized as a weed control method, N fixing cover crops are used to replenish N in the soil – you still have to prep your field for planting of your main crop – I don’t see (and perhaps someone can edumacate me here if I’m utterly off the mark) that N cover crops would necessarily facilitate this (given that for a starter you’d have to get rid of the cover crop to plant the main crop, presumably by tilling it)

            Yes, lets talk about horizontal gene transfer which you pointed out to me happens all the time naturally in nature.

            Care to twist my words a little less please? I said it occurs in nature as a direct response to your accusation that it was against the laws of nature (although a reread shows you were talking about breaking into the laws of nature, which conceptually makes no sense as a statement – but I guess I owe an apology for twisting your words here if that isn’t what you meant) – not that it happens “all the time” (although given the free love approach of many bacteria “all the time” probably isn’t actually too far off the mark, far out man)

            However it happens as a natural species adaption to propagate the species involved. Simply put.. evole or die.

            Evolution. You don’t get it.

            Natural HGT will either kill or incorporate into the other species and evolve with its new trait, which is beneficial to that species evolution.

            Ditto.

            What happens with GMO crops? WELL, the plant must be infected,or given a disease in order to make HGT work.

            Apparently evolution isn’t the only thing you don’t get. Just because the current vogue in plant transformation is to utilize a bacteria to insert DNA doesn’t mean the plant gets a disease – depending on your method (and there are many, from dipping to exposing callous to agro) there may not be what one would recognize as a plant involved at the transformational stage (if a plant callous cell is a plant then thousands of cancer researchers globally are guilty of killing Henrietta Lacks repeatedly) – this also isn’t the only method of transformation – shooting a plant with a gene gun doesn’t induce disease, transient application of RNAs to wounded tissue also doesn’t cause disease but can be used to transform (this is a mad cool method although not, I feel, fitted to the sort of high throughput transformation required by industry… it is very cool though. Very.) I’m wondering if perhaps you can point me to a transformation technique which induces disease – as off hand I can’t think of one.

            These plants were artificially manipulated

            Pretty much everything you eat was artificially manipulated to be as it is – perhaps there are a few nuts, berries and fungi that you consume that have not been heavily selected by humans, but I am confident they represent a paltry percentage of your diet.

            accept artifical chemical compounds.

            So would you have an issue if one of the artificials there was removed?

            A process which never could have happened in nature.

            So just like every major crop grown today?(if human selection is OK then you cannot possibly state that herbicide tolerant crops are an impossibility, not least because they have been produced by conventional breeding, but also because the emergence of roundup tolerant weeds is a glowing illustration of the power of natural selection)

            Now lets talk about corruption.

            You say you’re going to talk about corruption, but then, don’t.

            Are you honestly surprised that people who work within an industry and have knowledge of that industry are the sort of people who would go on to have wider reaching jobs concerned directly with that industry? Are we really to believe that once someone has worked for a company they are forever beholden unto that company – I seem to recall that you are jsut starting on your studies, so perhaps this isn’t necessarily applicable to you, but anyone who has spent more than 5 or 6 years in the workplace these days is almost bound to have changed jobs at least once – and I think it is pretty fair to say that once you’ve changed jobs (generally to another job which requires the experience from the previous) you hold no loyalty to the company from which you came – I know I have no abiding loyalty to the British education system, the national blood service, lenscrafters, the small biotech firm for which I previously worked etc etc.

            Who, precisely, do you think should be working in regulatory agencies overseeing GM crops etc if not people who have actual expertise in GM crops?

            Im running out of time, I dont mean to disregard anyone or any questions, I will post later if needed.

            Odd, because I don’t recall you actually answering any questions or responding directly to counterarguements much.
            I would rather like it if you did (I’ve asked so many, and at least feel like I’ve answered a lot, or at least counterargued a lot of your points – none of which then receives a further moments notice)

            I looked online at Universites all over America, I see a huge offering of Biotech classes and a small offering of traditional breeding courses. I think this is a big mistake.

            Well, biotech is a huge sprawling beast of a topic which actually includes traditional breeding, whereas traditional breeding is relatively small in scope and may well be artificially made moreso by focussing on the “traditional” rather than just breeding in general (plant breeding is far more likely to be a post-grad type course and may well be covered within various disciplines (agronomy, genetics, agricultural science etc etc) and is also more likely than biotech to concentrate to certain universities (those with easy access to actual farmland – all you need to do biotech is a bit of lab space, some dry ice and a centrifuge – to do plant breeding you need a couple acres and a bunch of folk who really know how to operate a farm)

            This isnt communism USA. I cant tell you to stop GMO. You cant tell us to stop organic.

            Sarah pops her head in again I see. Nobody on the GM side is asking that organic be stopped – your arguements do however seem to suggest that you feel that GM should be however (and the whole side of the debate which argues for zero coexistance and for legal blocks to the planting of GM crops categorically are telling people to stop using GMO)

            If your GMO superweed is spreading all over my property, I can take action for compensation.

            You’re mixing soundbites here. Superweeds aren’t GMO, and for an organic operation a superweed is just another weed – you can’t use the sprays which make it super – if anything it’s likely to be less weedy than its non-super compatriots on your land because of this.

            If your GMO is harming my property or my business I have a right for compensation

            Only, I feel, if you can demonstrate an actual harm, and not one that is imposed by stupid regulations based on nothing but fearmongering. If you believe otherwise how about if conventional farmers set up guidelines that to be certified for sale as “super awesome” their produce had to be 100% free of genes from heirloom varieties – not even a 0.01% presence would be tolerated, and any losses that may result from this presence had to be covered by the growers of heirloom varieties? Would you be for, or against this?

            People realize these chemicals are dangerous

            You need to be more specific. Which chemcials? Do people realize this, or are they jumping to conclusions not supported by the evidence? All dangerous chemicals are chemicals, but not all chemicals are dangerous chemicals – hence the need for specificity.

            Alot of these chemicals DO cause cancer, they are endocrine disrupters, they also disrupt reproduction and growth.

            Which ones? Are they present in concentrations that are actually a real concern, or are we fearmongering again?

            More and more scientists and Doctors are finding these chemicals in our blood, in the water, well, Everywhere.

            Citations needed.

          • I can’t really take the time at the moment to reply to this stream of conciousness, but I wanted to respond to this:

            I looked online at Universites all over America, I see a huge offering of Biotech classes and a small offering of traditional breeding courses.

            This does not represent Iowa State’s course offerings. At ISU we have an entire plant breeding program and the horticulture program includes breeding aspects as well. Sustainable ag students may take plant breeding if it meets their goals, as can other majors. Of course, one might not be able to identify the courses by their names alone. For example, I took “Principles of Cultivar Development” and “Population and Quantitative Genetics” which are both very much breeding courses, but the names might not say “breeding” to a layperson.

            Genetics and molecular biology courses aren’t just “Biotech classes”. These subjects have a wide range of applications that include ag biotech, medical biotech, studying diseases in plants, animals, and humans, just to name a few of the many applied purposes as well as more basic research of understanding how certain genes work and what they do. I took exactly one course in undergrad that was about recombinant DNA (a 1 credit lab elective) but that course had broad application to medicine, basic biology, genetic screening, etc. I took exactly one course in grad school that was specifically about plant transformation, (also a 1 credit lab elective) and that’s the closest I think a course can come to being about biotech, although the skills I learned could be used for a variety of purposes including understanding gene function.

  5. Lisa says:

    ANY scientist who finds anything wrong with any GE crop, or chemical or surfectant that is funded by a huge multi national corp. is always discredited, scoffed at, ignored, etcc…

    Btw, for any of you who think glyphospate is bad, just wait for the next gene revolution.

    Introducing Dicamba and 2,4 D tolerant plants.

    Dicamba is already classified as a known developmental and reproductive toxin and 2,4D is strongly suspected of being an endocrine disruptor.

    Sounds lovely does it not?

    I really dont have the time to go into the hundreds of thousands, even millions of people in developing countries that have been displaced and made poorer over the past 2 decades in the name of progress and money and globalization.

    I will throw in a couple of links if any one here has an emotional GPA above 2.0

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq6jpkDNxtI

    http://www.gmwatch.eu/gm-videos/26-gm-in-latin-america

    • I am a proponent of genetic engineering as a process, a process that has great potential to produce traits with positive impact. Bt is one such trait, where noticeable decreases of insecticide use have been shown. Nutritional enhancement, disease and stress resistance are other examples of possible beneficial traits that would help consumers and farmers.

      Herbicide resistance is a whole ‘nother animal. For one, these traits can often be produced with artificial selection and mutagenesis instead of with genetic engineering, although genetic engineering is faster so that is what is used. The problem isn’t genetic engineering but the use of this method to produce herbicide resistance.

      I agree that Dicamba and 2,4 D tolerant plants are a terrifying prospect. Not because I think there is that much health concern to consumers (because residues on food are very low based on USDA data) but because I am concerned about the effects on wildlife. I personally would like to see more biological based weed control and a general decrease in commodity grain production (with a corresponding decrease in meat consumption).

      The way to fight these new traits isn’t to discredit all of the science of genetic engineering. Instead we need to come up with realistic solutions that farmers can use to control their weeds and keep yields up without more expensive seeds and chemicals. This might sound strange, but farmers are some of the smartest people out there. They have to use critical thinking daily in decisions about what methods they will use and how they will respond to complex unpredictable pressures including weather and market forces. They will try a new method if it has promise. Why aren’t groups like OCA, Rodale, Greenpeace, and so many more doing anything to help steer all of conventional ag toward more chemical free methods? They are so focused on single issues (organic good, genetic engineering bad) that they are losing sight of the big picture which is very sad.

      The links you provided aren’t actually problems of genetic engineering, instead they show problems of globalization, economics, etc. To ignore those problems is to do a HUGE disservice to the people who are suffering. Yes, it’s sad, yes, we (as in globally) need to make changes so people will be in better conditions, but it’s even more sad when we focus on boogiemen instead of the real problems. I won’t go into any more detail on that right now, but we can delve into the details if you wish.

    • Ewan R says:

      Introducing Dicamba and 2,4 D tolerant plants.

      Afaik the main two HT traits in development are Dicamba and Glufosinate – neither of which to my knowledge are vastly awful (if I remember right Glufosinate rated lower in environmental impact rating that glyphosate – can’t seem to find the specific paper though)

      Dicamba info certainly doesn’t support your assertions of being a developmental or reproductive toxin

      Reproductive effects: In a three-generation study, dicamba did not affect the reproductive capacity of rats [1]. When rabbits were given doses of 0.5, 1, 3, 10, or 20 mg/kg/day of technical dicamba from days 6 through 18 of pregnancy, toxic effects on the mothers, slightly reduced fetal body weights, and increased loss of fetuses occurred at the 10 mg/kg dose [5,10]. These data suggest that dicamba is unlikely to cause reproductive effects in humans at expected exposure levels.

      PAN doesn’t agree, but then, PAN wouldn’t right?

      ANY scientist who finds anything wrong with any GE crop, or chemical or surfectant that is funded by a huge multi national corp. is always discredited, scoffed at, ignored, etcc

      No, they’re not, the ones who aren’t worth crediting, are worth scoffing or ignoring are – however it categorically isn’t true that any scientist who uncovers issues is tossed to the wayside – Rick Relyea springs immediately to mind – his initial work was, it is true, heavily criticized by Monsanto – however he remains employed, remains in science, and as far as I can tell his findings are robust and he doesn’t overstep the bounds of what they mean

      (and here I’ll reiterate for those who don’t have the best attention span that the views contained herein are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Monsanto – I don’t know off hand what official company position on Relyea is, but having read through his papers and similar in the literature I would have to agree with his findings (although not necessarily with the conclusions others draw))

  6. Lisa says:

    Eric,

    you said “Weird question. Belief in God, sure, fine. Belief in a political doctrine that’s never worked in practice and is well past its ‘sell-by’ date? ”

    WOW! so the old saying make new friends and keep the old must be way past its sell-by date.
    You must be a staunch believer in throwing caution to the wind. If I told you to jump off the Sears tower (Willis) I bet you would!

    you said ““… the discovery of a new pathogen …”

    Okay, that’s an appropriate object of belief, since there’s no proof of any such discovery”

    Hilarious! reminds me of the old saying ” Im rubber youre glue, what you say bounces off me and sticks to you”
    …as of yet there is no proof that this NEW pathogen does not exist either. So why are we fighting for?

    Sorry, Anastasia and Karl, I see you doing your best to come across as being fair for all, but I just cant resist the “saucy comments” on here usually by Ewan or Eric and must return in kind!

    I also know I dont always come on here unopinionated either, but that is what this discussion is for is it not?

    I think if we are going to look towards a future with fair trade for all and acceptance of the diverse array of cultures and beliefs, along with the idea of best stewardship practices for the earth we need to have some serious discussions and input.

    • “…as of yet there is no proof that this NEW pathogen does not exist either.”

      Extraordinary claims take extraordinary evidence. Have you ever heard of Russell’s Teapot? We can not prove that there is not a teapot orbiting the sun. It would be too small to be detected by our telescopes. Because we can not prove it is not there does that mean there is one there? No. Someone who wanted to say there was a teapot orbiting the sun would need to provide some impressive evidence for it or no one would believe them. Similarly, when someone claims things that go against biological theory, they need to provide some very impressive evidence.

      That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to change scientific theory.

      For example, Susan Lolle claimed to find some examples of non-Mendelian inheritance in the plants she was studying. It looked like the seeds were “remembering” what type of environment their parents were in, which seems impossible! Other scientists tore her papers up, and pretty much openly laughed at her. She persevered, kept doing more very well designed experiments, and eventually convinced other scientists she had something. Now we understand that epigenetics is a way that our DNA can “remember” environmental conditions. It’s a very exciting and still very strange field and in a lot of ways Lolle is the founder of a whole new field of genetics.

      Another example is Stanley Prusiner who claimed to have isolated the cause of mad cow disease, claiming it was a protein that was misfolded that caused other proteins to also misfold. Like Lolle, Prusiner sounded crazy. How could any of this be possible? Through perseverance and hard scientific evidence, Prusiner proved that he was right and eventually won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

      Any scientist who find something extraordinary can either give up or persevere. Why are these studies that find problems with some GMO or another always one shots, many of which aren’t even published? If they’re just giving up then maybe they didn’t think their own results were that compelling.

      If I found something that was unexpected in a preliminary experiment, I’d redo it first. If the same thing resulted, I’d talk to statisticians and experts in the field, make sure my experimental design was top notch. If I still got the strange result then I’d find a well respected scientist in the same field and ask their lab to redo the experiment or at least part of it to make sure it wasn’t just my lab coming up with the weird results. If it then was still happening, it’d be time to publish an impressive paper in Nature or Science with my well respected colleague as a co-author. Yes, funding is somewhat an issue for some subjects that aren’t commonly pursued, but there are many opportunities for grants from unusual sources as well as things like small university grants.

      Not following this sort of path is a major shortcoming for a lot of scientists who have found unusual things. The best example is Pusztai. Why didn’t he work on much better experimental designs before going to publish? Why didn’t he talk to some experts in plant studies so he could have had the proper controls? He took his preliminary results from some poorly designed studies and then ran with it and now people wonder why his work isn’t taken seriously. And his studies have since never been redone. It’s a shame, really. Similar issues have been found with other papers that claim unusual things about products of genetic engineering. Of course, it’s not that there aren’t problems with studies that say things that are in support of the status quo. Believe me, lots of those papers have issues too. Except they aren’t trying to go against known biological/chemical/etc theory.

      If Dr. Huber actually thinks there is some new organism that defies all that is known about biology, he needs to provide some very convincing evidence. Maybe he does have something, like Lolle and Pruisiner did. Maybe the microfungi things are from space, who knows. But he can’t just write a rambling letter with zero sources, zero evidence, zero studies, zero proof and expect anyone serious to take him seriously.

      Yeah, Ewan and Eric can get snarkier than I’d do personally but they often make valid points amongst the “sauce”. Just look at this conversation they started :)

      • Ewan R says:

        Huber’s particular Russels teapot would have to be a teapot which was too small to actually be a teapot, but still be one – I dunno, I guess by being so microsopically small (visible only under electron microscopy) that it could not contain a single molecule of water.

        Not only so small as to be as yet undetectable, but so small as to not be able to be what it is you are claiming it to be. It categorically is not possible for a eukaryote to be so small as to be only visible at 36,000x magnification given that the organelles of eukaryotes are easily visible at 36,000x – mitochondria, golgi apparatus, nucleus, vesicles, polyribosomes (polyribosomes for Darwin’s sake!!)

      • Meenu says:

        For example, Susan Lolle claimed to find some examples of non-Mendelian inheritance in the plants she was studying. It looked like the seeds were “remembering” what type of environment their parents were in, which seems impossible!

        Sorry to nit-pick, but I am not sure if Susan Lolle and her work on hothead mutants is the best example to use here. Two independent groups have shown that the reason her mutants showed reversion to wild-type was not because of non-mendelian inheritance but because they had a higher tendency to outcross with wild-type Arabidopsis ( which normally self fertilizes). Infact, when these plants were grown in total isolation, they did not show the reversion phenotypes.

        While Dr. Lolle’s results have been validated, her explanation for why she sees reversion ( the ‘RNA cache’ theory) is not widely accepted. A search on pubmed shows that Lolle herself has not published any further research substantiating her theory since the original Nature paper.

        Maybe Barbara Mcclintock and her work on transposons serves as a better example of scientific perseverance despite facing criticism from the scientific community.

        • This is a good point. If I use these sorts of examples again, I’ll use Barbara McClintok (another Nobel winner so she might even be better just for that). Lolle, Prusnier and one other I can’t recall came to ISU a few years back in a really neat talk series of “changing science”, in which I was pretty convinced she had something, but I haven’t read all of the rebuttals and rebuttals to the rebuttals.

  7. Lisa says:

    Anastasia,

    I am glad you brought up the epigentics example, that was the one I was going to use myself. Im just wondering why we were fighting about it until we find out the outcome and data from Dr Hubers letter. I am waiting for the outcome myself.

    I am not totally against GE. I believe it useful especially in medical settings. However, I do not like open field tests and would prefer if scientists used such things like yeast for example that could be kept in the lab.

    What is extremely disheartening to me is the loss of biodiversity. To be quite honest I think GE crops and animals put out into the environment are speeding up this biodiversity loss process quite a bit. This is why I am a strong advocate against or at least mark my vote for buffer zones and other regulations.

    I feel as if soon everything that remains from biodiversity will become “museumized” if thats not a word, then I just made it up myself! That may be one reason GE is attacked more so than conventional, I dont know.

    Anastasia,
    yes, those links have to do with globalization, but more specifically the subject matter within them is about globalization victims due to GE crops. I think things like that need to be looked at and considered so existing indigenous or foreign cultures end up with less of an impact in the future.

    Ewan, you said
    “Does every technology utilized in the food chain require a benefit to the end consumer? What is the benefit to the end consumer of a GPS guided planter? Should John Deere have to justify their product down to the end consumer when it is specifically designed to assist the producer while having zero impact (real impact rather than imagined, perhaps there are enclaves of anti-tractor foodies out there who don’t want to eat no stinking food made using tractors.. I dunno) on the end consumer”

    JEEZ, you sound like some socialist dictator!

    • GregH says:

      I truly dislike that biodiversity trope. Biodiversity is what you grow, genetic engineering is a way of improving a plant. They’re completely different things, and they really have little to do with each other, except that perhaps improved varieties of crop A may encourage adoption of crop A over crop B, and even that may be a stretch. Compare apples and jujubes. Maybe you could make the claim that all the improvement work in apples have made jujubes comparatively less desirable. Unlikely, but lets assume it’s true. Where is the GE in that case? It’s not there, just regular breeding is. Yet the reason we don’t see great fields of quinoa is because of GMO corn? Huh? Lack of biodiversity has been around a lot longer than GMOs, blaming them for this is like suddenly blaming a new model of car for drunk driving. You’re taking an old problem and blaming something relatively new. That makes no logical sense.

      Whoever started that soundbite clearly didn’t know what biodiversity even means. Are GMOs the reason I can’t go down to my local super market and pick up biodiverse species like pawpaw fruits or mashua roots or pili nuts or teff grain? Are GMOs the reason I don’t see biodiverse varieties like Romanesco broccoli or Dragon Tongue beans or Ananas Noire tomatoes or Adirondack Red potatoes or Cream of Saskatchewan watermelons or Blue Jade corn? No, they’re clearly not. This ‘GMOs destroy biodiversity’ thing is an exceptionally wrong claim. I hate seeing pro-biodiversity associated with anti-GMO.

      Loss of biodiversity is bad, I don’t think that’s ever been in question, but blaming it on genetic engineering is just silly.

      • Eric Baumholder says:

        Greg,

        That ‘biodiversity trope’ is invented and backed by producers of conventional seed. They tout that the ‘biodiversity’ of their product is maintained by numerous small independent seed companies, with subsistence farmers coming along for the ride.

        Since farmers turn to GM seeds in droves, wherever they are given the opportunity, this threatens the rest of the seed market. They know they can’t compete against a superior product, and thus, rail against it.

        This is also the source of the ‘patents on life’ trope. If there were no intellectual property in seed, these small seed companies could breed their own Roundup Ready stuff into their germplasm and compete on a level playing field.

        I suspect that there is, for some, a related Marxist trope: ‘Property is theft’.

    • Ewan R says:

      JEEZ, you sound like some socialist dictator!

      I can’t tell if this is meant sarcastically or not, bloody internet. If not I’ll take the socialist bit as a compliment – the dictator bit not so much.

      I’ll second Greg H’s biodiversity bit – unless you can provide compelling evidence that GMOs, and not agriculture in general and the demands made on it by a burdgeoning human population with ever increasing dietary demands (more calories, more meat) of which it just so happens that GMOs are a part (again, as well blame GPS planters on loss of biodiversity) – and a part which can justifiably be said to be slowing down biodiversity losses (increased yields meet demand sooner and require less land be turned over to agriculture – land turned over to agriculture –> loss of biodiversity)

      I also must say that I get kinda tired seeing biodiversity used to mean crop diversity – crops tank biodiversity simply by nature of being agricultural – I really couldn’t give a damn about obscure varieties of wheat or falafal tree (thats how they grow right?!) – the biodiversity I’d rather see comes from land unfettered by the demands of agriculture, rather than argue for a handful of varieties of a handful of species I prefer thousands of species (which we don’t like, eat) – the only way I can see to maximize this is to minimize the geographic footprint of modern Ag, and I see GMOs as an integral part of doing this.

  8. GregH says:

    I like how the guy decides to talk to Mike Adams about it, cause nothing says integrity like buddying up with one of the biggest anti-science whackjobs on the internet. Crank magnetism never fails to amaze. If I legitimately thought I had a real science based point to make, Mike Adams is the absolute last person I’d talk to it about. This OCA guy talks to Adams, the Non-GMO Project promotes it on their Facebook page, Jeffrey Smith’s site links to Mercola’s, jeez, are there any anti-GMO groups even pretending that they’re trying to prove an actual legitimate scientific point and not just appeal to their target demographic? And they wonder why no one takes them seriously.

    Anyway, I’ve decided that acorn type squash are evil and will give you cancer (you can’t prove they don’t!), and demand that everyone stop growing them out of precaution because they will inevitably cross pollinate my pure, true, real squash (bagging the blossoms would mildly inconvenience me). That’s why there aren’t hundreds of varieties of squash out there. Zero tolerance! No coexistence! Ban things I don’t like!

  9. jmbsol says:

    “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” –Albert Einstein.

    The question is: what exactly did he mean by ‘religion?’ Clearly he did not mean organized religion as it is known today; for he was far too intelligent to place much value in such a thing.

    Which leaves us wondering. But one thing im sure of; whether you call in intuition, or conscience, the Holy Spirit, the Buddha nature..or something else; he meant something inner. The same thing Jesus referred to when he said: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”

    I think Einstein was saying this: Without being in touch with this (inner) guide or spirit, science can become quite arrogant and presumptuous..going so far as to think it is somehow ‘superior’ to nature herself! Imagine it!!! superior! Superior to the very force that created you!

    I say that with tremendous respect for all the scientifically minded people posting here, whose intelligence in that regard far surpasses mine. But indeed, where the intellect is not balanced with spirit, it grows cold and wanting.

  10. Lisa says:

    Dear Greg,

    I stated that I felt Genetic engineered crops or animals put out into nature are speeding up the process of “loss of biodiversity” I do not think the technology is the only cause. Far from it. Agriculture in itself is a cause period, amongst many other causes.

    There are several reasons I feel this way. One reason is due to contamination. Karl mentioned something in this piece about non compatability genes. I think that may be something to look into.

    Another example that comes to mind is the displacement of over 100k people in S. America and the loss of hundreds of thousands (if not more) of hectares of rain forest. I know your argument…. that our popoulation is growing.. etc… but again I will state this was overkill and not completely of neccessity. ( you were talking about using less land were you not????)

    Additionally I find it disturbing that all our eggs are being placed into one basket. Take a look at what Delta Pine or Asgrow seed has to offer…its probably around 98% Genetically modified seed. The hard years of painstaking work in traditional breeding that produced drought resistant seed, or disease resistant seed are being lost. In my opinion this is a huge mistake. Monsanto,took all of the hard work of traditional breeding, bought out seed companies and then picked the best of the bunch, put in a trait or two or three and then sells them. Who stole from who? Farmers now exlusively choose GE over traditional for a variety of reasons and only one of them is because its a so called superior technology.

    GE seed is heavily subsidized. Traditional seed is barely offered. All of this falls back to a money/power monopoly grab created none other than for/by Monsanto seed. As we have seen with the revolving door between Monsanto and Govt. employees.

    I am not a big supporter/believer in what “corporatocracy” has to offer. One reason the economy has been so bad and the unemployment rate has been up for years is due to loss of Ma and Pa businesses. Small companies can barely survive. Its “Get big or Get out”. Cant you see that when things are consolidated and made easier that there will be LESS jobs?? While that mentality is good for an Empire type mentality, or a communist mentality, it is not good for the public in the long run.

    Furthermore you all keep stating better yields! First of all I dont think there are any better yields. Of course youve heard of DR. Gurian-Sherman! He stated about a 10% decreased yield in soybeans since RR soya was introduced. He stated a .01% increase in corn. He also said traditional breeding out performs GE handsdown.

    What Jmbsol wrote above make complete sense to me.

    I cannot put my finger on it but the phrase “evolutionary nightmare” (for whats left on the planet now) just keeps repeating in my thoughts. Perhaps its due to the fact that youve broken into the laws of nature with your technology and have accomplised horizontal DNA transfer.

    It would be wise to remember that “nature” is more inconceivable than you could ever hope to imagine. (yes.. even with your education)

    • Lisa, I understand your concern about the environment. I too am concerned about how the humans currently on the planet will be able to grow enough food and materials to meet current demand let alone projected demand as population increases. However, I think we need to consider the world around us very carefully, using hard evidence whenever possible. We need to find evidence then come to a conclusion, not start with a conclusion and make the evidence fit with whatever we already believe.

      Deforestation in South America has everything to do with demand for commodity grain to feed animals to produce meat. This would be happening if the plants had biotech traits or not. Just like the suicides in India, if we start harping on biotech as the supposed cause then we are ignoring the actual causes and the situation will never get better.

      You are making the false assumption that companies that develop biotech traits aren’t also conducting conventional breeding. Monsanto, Pioneer, and all the others are very much involved in developing new hybrids and improving existing ones using state of the art breeding technologies like marker assisted selection. Think of a biotech trait like icing on the cake that is breeding. While there might only be a few flavors of icing (Roundup Ready and a few types of Bt) there are many many flavors of cake (all the different varieties and hybrids). The big seed companies bought up smaller ones in order to obtain elite germplasm for breeding because it is the breeding that has caused the enhancement in yields over the years. Breeding is the cake. Side note – the small seed companies didn’t have to sell and it’s not stealing if the seller agrees to the sale.

      The biotech traits currently on the market aren’t expected to increase yield. Instead, they are yield protection. They allow a high yielding variety to not loose yield to insects or weeds. As for yield reductions seen in some older biotech varieties, that is easily explainable as well. I won’t go into all the genetics details but long story short if the transgene is inserted in a part of the genome that has yield decreasing genes then all resulting varieties that have the transgene will also have those yield decreasing genes. That’s one reason why Roundup Ready soy yields less. Roundup Ready 2 Yield soy was specially bred using marker assisted selection among other things to make sure the transgene was in a part of the genome with genes associated with high yield. So, RR2 has higher yield potential than RR1. One other reason for “yield drag” is that the company has to breed the transgene into their elite varieties, which may take a few years. During that time, other varieties are being selected for still higher yield. So by the time the transgenic variety is released, the non-transgenic varieties released in the same year are better in yield potential (although may not actually yield as much depending on insect and weed pressure). If you actually read Doug Gurian-Sherman’s report Failure to Yield you’ll see that he actually said biotech has increased yields in some cases and in no cases has it decreased yields (despite the strangely inaccurate report title).

      Farmers never put all their eggs in one basket. They continually try out new varieties as they come out, planting many different varieties of the same crop in a given year in case one preforms better than the other. If in their own trials it looks like a biotech variety is going to work well then they’ll plant more of it the next year. In some places, farmers are rejecting biotech varieties because they’ve found that non-biotech varieties work just as well for them when the price premium is factored in. For example, in Ohio many farmers are no longer buying Bt corn varieties because the pressure from the insects that Bt controls just aren’t that harmful in their area of the US. So, in Ohio, seed companies are offering a greater selection of non Bt varieties. It’s supply and demand. If you’re selling anything, whether it’s seed or cars or homemade jam, you’re going to make more of what people want. If you don’t then you’re wasting time and money and you’ll go out of business. As for subsidies – seed companies don’t get any, whether they are small or big, biotech or not.

      I do not like large multinational companies as big as small countries at all. It is too much power resting in one place with the goal of making money and their power has been allowed to take over the democratic process in a lot of ways which very much disturbs me. How do companies get so large? Companies get large by being good at selling things that people want. Monsanto makes seeds that farmers keep buying year after year, even though they could buy seeds from another company or start using open pollinated varieties or other options. Coca Cola and Pepsi keep making products that people keep buying year after year. The funny thing is, Monsanto isn’t even that big of a company. If our main concern is that big companies are getting too big then perhaps we should be concerned with the biggest, no? CNN Money’s 2010 ranking of the 500 largest companies in the world doesn’t even have Monsanto on the list. Coke and Pepsi both are, along with Nestle. Perhaps we should spend a little more time looking at how these truly big companies get so big and how regulation can be used to keep them at a reasonable size. Perhaps we should take a step back and realize that what we think is the boogieman really isn’t at all.

    • Ewan R says:

      Lisa –

      There are several reasons I feel this way. One reason is due to contamination.

      Is a variety “polluted” by a GM variety really any more or less polluted than a variety “polluted” by another variety?

      Or, to look at it another way, if every species in the world were to obtain the roundup ready gene (thought experiment, so the utter impossibility factor can go out the window) would the planet be any less biodiverse?

      S. America … you were talking about using less land were you not?

      So assume the same demand for commodities and no GE crops – no GM crops –> more land used to supply the same amount of food –> More deforestation. Unless you can demonstrate that GE crops are the reason for increased agriculture in South American countries rather than a tool used in agriculture in South American countries then your arguement doesn’t hold.

      Additionally I find it disturbing that all our eggs are being placed into one basket

      That’s odd, because they’re not – Monsanto spends as much money on R&D in breeding as it does in biotech, having awesome biotech traits in useless germplasm isn’t a big money maker.

      The hard years of painstaking work in traditional breeding that produced drought resistant seed, or disease resistant seed are being lost.

      No, that’s like arguing that the hard years of painstaking work in developing CPU architecture is lost because of proprietary operating systems or somesuch – it’s a nonsensical arguement – traits get inserted into elite lines, elite lines continue to be bred (I think the current replacement cycle is around 10 years) breeding traits continue to be an important part of what goes into a succesful seed.

      bought out seed companies and then picked the best of the bunch, put in a trait or two or three and then sells them

      Monsanto bought seed companies because they wanted the best germplasm and people to work with – starting from scratch in any given sector of the seed industry is a non-starter for a company that big – there is no picking the best of the bunch – if all you did was pick the best of the bunch and stick traits in em you’d make no money at all – there is constant improvement of the germplasm bought and constant work to introgress traits into new lines.

      Also traits aren’t entered into the marketplace this way only – if traits was where the money was, and seeds were just a vehicle for getting traits out there, then all Monsanto would invest in is R&D – they’d leave the non-profitable side of things to the poor schmucks licensing the traits. Not the case however – seeds are huge business, providing the best seeds on the market is a worthwhile goal whether you are the trait provider or the trait licensee.

      GE seed is heavily subsidized.

      It is? Citation?

      Traditional seed is barely offered.

      I think that every time I do a search for heirloom seeds, or look through any of my seed catalogues.

      Oh you mean for use on production farms? Know what else isn’t offered anymore? Horse drawn carts. Dunno why, I’m sure it can’t be a supply and demand thing, that’d be silly.

      If traditional seed (ie non-GM) was a viable commercial option please explain why Syngenta and Pioneer aren’t all over it? Why instead do they license Monsanto traits? Does it really make sense to line the pockets of the competition unless what they’re offering is what farmers want?

      Furthermore you all keep stating better yields! First of all I dont think there are any better yields.

      Yeah, that’d be why the recent nature paper on Bt in the US shows yield gains for adopters and non-adopters alike purely down to the trait.

      That’d be why Indian cotton yields are up hugely. It’d explain why yields in South American countries show significant improvement. And why Gurian-Sherman’s non-peer reviewed “failure to yield” even had to concede that GM crops have improved yields and not decreased them (your numbers may appear in the journal of proctological agronomy, but nowhere else, at least not in the context you provide them)

      Perhaps its due to the fact that youve broken into the laws of nature with your technology and have accomplised horizontal DNA transfer.

      Which nature does anyway – apparently nature is a proponent of do as I don’t say because I’m not actually an entity but not as I do.

      It would be wise to remember that “nature” is more inconceivable than you could ever hope to imagine.

      And you base this on what exactly? What an utterly defeatist way of looking at the universe, borderline magical thinking to be fair – our understanding of the workings of nature increases by the day, there are areas we can comfortably say we pretty much fully understand, and there are areas where we have a lot of work to do (these are the cool bits) – whereas your approach would seem to be “wow this is complified, I’m going to pull facts out of the air instead and use smoke and mirrors to suggest that scientists don’t know what they’re doing”

      jmbsol, on Einstein

      But one thing im sure of; whether you call in intuition, or conscience, the Holy Spirit, the Buddha nature..or something else; he meant something inner.

      I’m pretty sure he meant the sense of wonder and awe that accompanies good science, not some hocus pocus nonsense – without science to fulfill our sense of wonder and awe it is blind and pointless, without a sense of wonder and awe to drive our science it is lame. No more, no less. Given that Einstein viewed religion as childish superstition this explanation seems to cover all the bases without twisting his words to mean something utterly outside of his view.

      Yadda yadda spirit

      Fluffy undefinable idea that gets thrown out there when you have nothing concrete to offer – sure, you may be intelligent (or just understand the subject), but I have *waves hands vaguely in air* magic, so hear me out too.

  11. LGM Amo says:

    You are about to get a rude shock, All of the discussion and hyperbole of the last 20 years was not the answer. You’re too late.

    Genetic engineering now defines the biology of your food and your relationship to natural laws of agriculture. Your world and natures diversity is systematically being destroyed as you “the people” sit and allow new standards to threaten basic rights of life, rights as citizens, commercial rights and possibly the next 1000 years of all species.

    The fundamental rights of the people and of the private farmer have been determined. War was begun in the court room, now its spilling into your food source and eventually into all plant, animal and human gene pools.

    You have but one choice left. With all your will and intelligence, stand up, use non-violence, start a world- wide hunger strike project, rebel against those whom threaten life, take up the pen and arm the world with facts, Protect your land, your life and your family, live strong. Its up to you.

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