Major Scientific Conference Convened to Review The Safety Of GMO Crops

A major international conference scientific meeting titled “Risk Assessment in Agricultural Biotechnology” was held at the University of California, Davis.  It was sponsored by the College of Agriculture, The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, and the USDA.  It included presentations by eminent scientists from around the world and covered a wide range of topics including potential effects on non-target organisms, potential health effects, ecological risks, and the potential for “gene flow” for various crops.  There was extensive discussion of how to best regulate this technology, and what monitoring methods were appropriate.  There was also a discussion of potential impacts on community function in agricultural areas.  Finally there was an analysis of how risk assessment affects public perceptions of biotechnology. If you are reading this now, chances are you just missed it – by more than two decades!

I was fortunate to be able to attend this event and was reminded of it the other day when I found a copy of the proceedings while clearing out some old paper files (remember those?, see yellowed document below).

This conference was held in August of 1988 – nearly twenty four years ago!   The meeting was held was eight years before any “biotech traits” were commercialized in Agriculture.  Even at that time, these topics had already been under consideration for a long time.  I first became aware of these discussions at Stanford in 1977 – 35 years ago.

This Does Not Fit With Widespread, False Narratives About This Technology

The reason a bring up this meeting is that I often hear or read assertions that plant biotechnology was something that was abruptly introduced without precautionary review.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’d be surprised if there has ever been a technology that received this much scrutiny from a broad range of independent experts (most of the people at the 1988 event were from academia, not industry).  Some say there is insufficient regulation of the technology, but in fact regulators at the USDA, EPA and FDA spent years figuring out what aspects of the technology each would regulate. That was a major topic of discussion at the 1988 meeting, and there were many other opportunities for public input.

Roads Not Taken

Looking back at the program from the 1988 meeting I was reminded that this risk assessment process was far from a rubber stamp.  There were several ideas that were never pursued commercially because the risks were deemed to be too significant.  For instance, it was decided that genetically engineered microbes should not be introduced live into the environment.  It was decided that GMO crops should not be introduced into areas where there have weedy relatives (e.g. sunflowers in the Midwestern US). There was the idea of improving the amino acid balance of corn (which is low in lysine) by incorporating the gene for the lysine-rich seed storage protein from Brazil nut.  Once the gene for the protein was isolated and expressed in a lab microbe, it was possible to test to see if that was the reason some people are allergic to Brazil nuts.  It turned out that it was the allergen, so the project was discontinued at that very early stage.  Some of the early examples of plant genetic engineering were done using something called the “gene gun.”  That method often lead to insertions of multiple copies of the gene and so virtually all the work shifted over to the Agrobacterium vector approach – an organism from nature that is good at inserting single copies of genes into plant cells.

Sixteen years and billions of acres into the biotech crop revolution, it seems that the prior years of risk assessment have paid off.

You are welcome to comment here and/or email me at savage.sd@gmail.com

Steve Savage is an agricultural scientist (plant pathology) with >30 years of experience in agricultural technology. He has worked for Colorado State University, DuPont (fungicide development), Mycogen (biocontrol development), and for the past 13 years as an independent. He also has a little vineyard in his back yard near San Diego. His speaking websiet is :"His blogging website is Applied Mythology. You can follow him on Twitter @grapedoc


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68 comments to Major Scientific Conference Convened to Review The Safety Of GMO Crops

  • One reader remembers the Brazil nut project as targeting Soy for methionine. I’m hoping a reader who was involved in the project can set us all straight

    • That’s right Steve,

      In the brazil nut project they tried to bring in a methionine rich protein into soybean to optimize the amino acid composition. Soybean is a excellent source of protein, but lacks essential sulfur containing amino acids such as methionine. Nowadays methionine is added to an animal soybean diet unless it contains a lot of cereal.

  • That’s a good point. Adam Rutherford just made a nice comment that offered some biotech history that I thought offered nice context for how things arose too: http://t.co/DQM7BDiV

    The article he’s responding to is pretty flawed. But that comment was worth it.

  • A Critic

    Sixteen years and billions of acres into the biotech crop revolution, it seems that the prior years of risk assessment have paid off.

    Sixteen years for the most significant advance in plant breeding in all of history means you are using the planet as a beta tester. We won’t know if the risk assessment paid off for maybe a century or two.

    And the key word in the above quote is “seems”. Yes, if you take a superficial fleeting view of things then it’s paid off. If you take the big picture long view…it’s way too soon to say, however the religious faith of GMO supporters is most disconcerting as it is at odds with the principles and methods of science.

    Some say there is insufficient regulation of the technology, but in fact regulators at the USDA, EPA and FDA spent years figuring out what aspects of the technology each would regulate.

    Years of bickering in an interagency power play doesn’t mean there is any substantial or meaningful or effective regulation. The history of food and drug regulation in this country shows that there has long been no shortage of regulatory agencies, regulations, and there has been vast amounts of time and effort and money spent on these agencies and their regulations – and there has consistently been a systemic failure to effectively regulate food and drugs for safety. Eat some USDA approved raw hamburger and see how effective those regulations and agencies are at regulating safety.

    • I think you misunderstand his argument. He’s not saying that there were only 16 years of risk analysis. He’s saying we’re 16 years into growing and eating GE crops. The risk analysis preceded it (and continues). This analysis is not superficial nor fleeting. Science often looks like a religion to people who doubt its usefulness.

      • A Critic

        The prior analysis was the alpha test. We are now 16 years into the beta test. All it takes is for 1 major bug to turn up and there will be a major problem. Since GMO currently is nothing but copy and paste programming it is only a matter of time before a major bug is introduced into the program.

        The analysis is biased and naive and ignorant of the fundamentals of agriculture.

        Science looks like a religion to those who doubt its blind faith and its adherence to dogma and its refusal to listen to serious criticism and its refusal to police itself.

        • Your analogy to programming is not valid. For software, a bug means a static program fails and cannot change or react. Software is brittle (there are exceptions but it’s pretty rare) and unless the people who built it expected that failure, then the software will generally fail spectacularly. This is why systems architecture is so important in software. For example, a good security engineer assumes that systems will fail and makes sure that important data (e.g. customer data) is protected in multiple ways.

          Organisms (transgenic or not) have to handle errors — during copying of DNA or RNA or during protein coding — all the time and the organism (largely) self-corrects any problems. Catastrophic “bugs” affecting the entire population are actually rare because the organism dies (or doesn’t reproduce). Less than catastrophic “bugs” have to provide an advantage (or at least have very low cost) over what already exists or they don’t survive (or exist only at low levels).

          The entire point of this post was to point out that scientists have been policing themselves. For genetic engineering they started doing so in the 1970s well before any commercialized produce existed — see MaryM’s link for a background but I’d read it before myself.

          • A Critic

            There are no species which have evolved the capacity to correct errors from other species or species from other kingdoms!!! Nor does any species mass manufacture and distribute seeds with a very narrow gene pool on a national or global scale.

            While catastrophic bugs effecting an entire species is rare in nature – it’s fairly common in mass manufactured products that are widely distributed. Once GMO quality control fails to catch a major error in a major crop there will be a major problems. This happens in every industry – but the stakes are never this high.

            The criticism from within the scientific community that is addressed is over relatively minor matters – few dare to address the fundamental errors – and those who do are ignored.

            • Charles M. Rader

              There are no species which have evolved the capacity to correct errors from other species or species from other kingdoms!!!

              OK, help me here. When a major mutation occurs in nature, a gene which was never in any species before becomes part of the gene pool of that species. How does GMO quality control then operate? Is the organism capable of coping with errors of gene structure for genes that never existed, but not for genes that exist in other species? That seems unlikely.

              Nor does any species mass manufacture and distribute seeds with a very narrow gene pool on a national or global scale.

              Of course, you don’t really mean that – in your mind, we are such a species.

              Once GMO quality control fails to catch a major error in a major crop there will be a major problems.

              I suppose this is possible, although far from inevitable. But the cause of the disaster you envision will not be the quality control. Other breeding methods can, and have, led to problems and that is almost entirely because they have not been managed with the same caution as GMOs.

              • A Critic

                When a major mutation occurs in nature, a gene which was never in any species before becomes part of the gene pool of that species. .

                In nature mistakes fail. They die. That’s quality control, brutal but very effective.

                Nature does not mass produce a mistake.

                How does GMO quality control then operate? Is the organism capable of coping with errors of gene structure for genes that never existed, but not for genes that exist in other species? That seems unlikely

                GMO QC operates by defeating the natural defenses cited by Rachell. http://www.acresusa.com/toolbox/reprints/Nov04_WanHo.pdf

                In order to get a tomato to accept and not reject fish DNA, you have to defeat the defense against DNA invasions.

                Of course, you don’t really mean that – in your mind, we are such a species.

                I apologize for the lack of clarity. No species mass produces it’s own seed and distributes it on a national or global scale.

                I suppose this is possible, although far from inevitable. But the cause of the disaster you envision will not be the quality control. Other breeding methods can, and have, led to problems and that is almost entirely because they have not been managed with the same caution as GMOs.

                To be human is to err. Errors are inevitable.

                One of my chief complaints of GMO is scale. A major error has the potential to cause a widespread famine. I’m currently developing a bean – if I make a major error I will lose a couple of dozen plants and it won’t even effect my own diet. If Monsanto makes a major error (such as the South African corn debacle but on a larger scale) the consequences will be catastrophic.

                The claims made by GMO companies and the advocates of GMO sound exactly like the claims made by pharmaceutical companies and their advocates…or the radium companies and the radium advocates back in the day. One of the many red flags, but an especially important one, is the denial that a major error is probable or even possible. As with computer programs – sincere and substantial efforts at testing will not prevent major bugs from being in the finished product, and it is only when the product used in mass scale that the bug becomes evident. As GMO grows more complex, bugs are more likely, and as confidence grows, bugs are more likely.

                • Charles M. Rader

                  Critic, I need to warn you that for anything you state about the natural world, nature has a way of contradicting you. So let’s again take your claim that

                  No species mass produces it’s own seed and distributes it on a national or global scale.

                  Well, some of them sure try. In my backyard, every spring, the dandelions appear. Although they reproduce sexually and make seeds, they are all clones. Not just in my backyard, but all over the town and all over the county, the dandelions’ seeds are genetically identical. I admit that dandelions are probably not identical worldwide or even over the entire United States, but the dandelion reproduction strategy does result in a mass production of identical seeds. And, trust me, the dandelion strategy has been quite successful.

                • A Critic– your points are all easily addressed. Is there a better real-time forum where a few of us can get together, like a Google+ hangout? We can clear up your concerns in a few minutes rather than in pages of replies to a non-argument.

                • Just a reply to Critic’s claims.

                  1.) Many animals reproduce clonally on a near global scale. Many scale insects, for instance, do exactly this.

                  2.) Nature reproduces mistakes on a routine basis. We cannot produce vitamin C because the gene which encodes this enzyme is broken in primates.

                  3.) Depending on how we define ‘error’, the idea that we are the only animals who manipulate the physiology of our foodstuffs is simply not true.

                  Braconid and Ichneumonid wasps have been genetically modifying their hosts using viral gene vectors for 140 million years to make their hosts more conducive to their development.

                  Mosquitoes inject proteins into their hosts that defeat the inflammation response.

                  Gall wasps and gall forming flies hijack the endocrine system of plants to create a growth where their larvae live and feed.

                  …I could go on and on and on, but genetic modification and modification of foodstuffs is just as ‘natural’ as selective breeding.

                • Furthermore, your comparison to computer software is not valid for many reasons which have been discussed but from what I can tell nobody has mentioned the independence of various projects.

                  GMO corn contains an insecticidal protein, and as far as I know this is the most common genetic modification in place today. However, this is not the only way we can genetically modify plants.

                  If we were to introduce a mutation which influences root morphology of tomatoes in such a way that allows them to more efficiently take up water, neither of these projects would have any influence on the other.

                  Separate projects, separate modifications. Each has to be taken on an individual basis.

          • I’m not sure what your exact worry is. Are you expecting that unexpectedly a transgene (e.g. for a Cry protein or glyphosate tolerance) will start coding for something either deadly to humans or something that will cause the plant to die? If so, why would you expect this to happen to all varieties with the trait at the same time, despite being bred at different types and places? If so, why?

            Note that there are literally dozens of different maize lines that have the Bt toxin producing traits bred into them — you won’t get similar performance from a hybrid intended to be grown in, e.g., Arizona as one intended for Iowa. Have a look at the list provided by the National Corn Growers Association.

        • There needs to be a statue-of-limitations on saying the sky is falling

  • A Critic

    Karl, if you want to understand my views better, I suggest “Life Is A Miracle” by Wendell Berry. I don’t believe he touches on GMO, but he presents a wonderful argument against reductionist science and that is applicable to GMO and a wide variety of other sciences. And you should want to understand my views better – when someone keeps tells you that you are going to drive off a cliff very shortly it’s best to ascertain the veracity of their claim.

    • Ah, the old scientism canard. Berry makes the same mistake here that religious proponents make when they call atheism a religion. It may make for a good Buck Rogers villan scenario in a Hollywood flic, but it has no basis in reality. The very nature of scientific pursuit denies this outcome. See, for example, the article here. On the other side, see also the outright rejection in America of evolution and climate change. Interestingly enough, the last two come from the rejection of science, not blind acceptance of it.

      Berry suggests we use technologies and science as needed, where they help the community at large. Like its cousin, the precautionary principle, it sounds reasonable and wise. The problem comes when the rubber meets the road, so to speak. How are you going to apply this? Who will decide what is good and what is bad? It would seem that you and Berry object to the scientists themselves. Likewise, politicians and business leaders seem out. Should the public at large decide? Given the last few Americal elections and the aforementioned rejection of basic biological theory and global warming, that would be my last choice.

      The precautionary principle you elude to with the incorrect analogy to alpha or beta testing has similar problems. What is good enough for you? 16 years? 20? 100, 1000, 10000? And who decides that? And on what basis? It’s the one job science can’t do – prove a negative. Yet you seem to require it.

      • A Critic

        Atheism is a religion. It is a set of unprovable beliefs. That’s religion.

        The very nature of scientific pursuit denies this outcome.

        That would be true if scientists consistently upheld scientific principles. Alas, they are human and they often stray far from science.

        Who will decide what is good and what is bad?

        Each person.

        Should the public at large decide?

        No, each person should decide. If you want to make, sell, grow, process, eat GMOs or steroids or crack – go for it.

        It would seem that you and Berry object to the scientists themselves. Likewise, politicians and business leaders seem out.

        Scientists and business leaders work for the politicians. That is what I object to. It’s one of the primary reasons why scientists are so unscientific.

        Given the last few Americal elections and the aforementioned rejection of basic biological theory and global warming, that would be my last choice.

        So you would prefer to give them no choice?

        The precautionary principle you elude to with the incorrect analogy to alpha or beta testing has similar problems. What is good enough for you? 16 years? 20? 100, 1000, 10000? And who decides that? And on what basis? It’s the one job science can’t do – prove a negative. Yet you seem to require it.

        I would suggest an absolute bare minimum of ten years, a bare minimum of twenty. Fifty would be smart, a hundred would be wise. Zero is down right stupid.

        Note that we are probably not discussing the same thing here. What do I want a waiting period for? I want to wait at least 10-20 generations. If you can stick fish DNA in a tomato, and you can grow ten generations of that tomato and 1) the fish DNA sticks around doing it’s intended job and 2) no unintended consequences turn up then I think that would be a sufficient margin of safety to put it on the market. As of now if I’m not mistaken zero GMO crops can pass even a five year test. No traditional or hybrid plant breeder worth their salt would ever introduce a new variety without making sure the changes are stable and desirable. This is why I don’t respect GMO companies – they don’t even properly test their product.

        Who should decide that? Each individual. If you want to literally bet your life on an unproven technology which shows major fundamental problems…go for it. But who decides it currently? The politicians (commonly respected for their honesty, lack of corruption, and intelligent wise far sighted decisions…hahaha) and their minions.

        • Do you have any evidence for any of your claims? Preferably a reputable source, such as a peer reviewed journal, university extension, or government website, not a conspiracy theory site.

          Specifically, I am interested in: “As of now if I’m not mistaken zero GMO crops can pass even a five year test… GMO companies – they don’t even properly test their product.”

          There are a variety of problems with this claim.

          First, stability of genes is very relative. Transposons and other mobile elements move pieces of genes around almost randomly. Mutagens in the environment from sunlight to natural compounds in plants we eat cause a variety of mutations. DNA replication itself during cell division can result in a variety of genetic changes, from loss of an entire chromosome to swapping of material between chromosomes. So, is DNA stable? No, and if it was, life as we know it would not be able to respond to change in our environments – evolution would not exist.

          Geneticists working on biotechnology know that there may be unintended genetic changes as a result of insertion, regardless of whether Agrobacterium or gene gun is used. The location of the inserted gene is well characterized to ensure that it is in a high expressing area and that it has been inserted between genes. The way unintended changes are assessed and/or removed is by backcrossing into a desired line. Any extraneous mutations are gone within 5 to 7 backcrosses, and only plants with the gene of interest are advanced in the breeding program, so gene stability is selected for. You can find discussion of backcross breeding in Using mutations in corn breeding programs. I’d be happy to explain this in more detail if you wish.

          In addition to the backcross process there are generations of field testing to determine whether the gene preforms as intended. Note that this whole process is done with tens to hundreds of insertions (known as events) and only one or a few remain. And of course there’s comparison with the isogenic line that doesn’t contain the gene and a variety of safety tests preformed.

          You seem to think that genetic engineers are just shooting genes into seeds willy nilly but the reality is far more methodical. Another error that you’re making is thinking that genetic engineers work alone. They either are breeders themselves or work with teams of breeders (in addition to toxicologists, entomologists, ecologists, and a host of other scientists). Inserting a gene is just one tiny part of the process.

          As for who desires biotechnology – ask a farmer. Either they pay more for biotech traits because they’re stupid or because they have determined through their own field tests that the traits are useful.

          • A Critic

            Do you have any evidence for any of your claims? Preferably a reputable source, such as a peer reviewed journal, university extension, or government website, not a conspiracy theory site.

            I had a source, Monsanto, which apparently is no longer available and I unfortunately did not save a screenshot. Monsanto had a page responding to criticism. They said gene pollution is not a problem because the genes are not stable or strong and that the GMO is so weak that it will not survive a few generations of reproduction.

            I’m no expert – but isn’t this the case with all GMO products, aren’t they all inherently unstable?

            And by unstable I mean “doomed in the short term”. You can’t buy some GMO corn and your grand kids will be growing the same GMO corn, correct?

            So, is DNA stable? No, and if it was, life as we know it would not be able to respond to change in our environments – evolution would not exist.

            I grew this year’s seed corn last year. This variety is 122 years old. Is the corn exactly the same as it was 122 years ago? No, but if there were samples available of the original to compare it would be recognizable as the same variety. Can you grow the same type of GMO corn for 122 years?

            I’d be happy to explain this in more detail if you wish.

            Perhaps at some future point. I’m too busy to study a formal science.

            You seem to think that genetic engineers are just shooting genes into seeds willy nilly but the reality is far more methodical.

            Pharmacutical companies and doctors are methodical. Very methodical. The FDA is methodical. And yet they still give speed, crystal meth, and poor man’s coke to very young children in large quantities.

            Cops, prosecutors, and judges are all very methodical. Yet there are countless stories that make the papers and far more than don’t make the paper that demonstrate that all of their methods are still willy nilly. i.e. honor student working 2 jobs and being the sole support of her younger sister being fined and jailed for truancy, and a father being convicted of murdering his child by throwing it on the ground when there was zero evidence of physical trauma and 100 percent evidence of infection. No lack of being methodical there – plenty of procedures and safeguards – all for nought.

            Teachers and principals and schools have many educational methods. The result? Many college students need remedial math and English classes to bring them up to elementary school levels. Very methodical…very poor outcomes.

            There are countless other examples in our society. We have many methods in the USA to prevent unconstitutional laws from being enacted or enforced…yet most of the laws currently enacted and enforced are unconstitutional. I could go on and on and on.

            “Never confuse movement with action.” – Ernest Hemingway

            or in other words – “Never confuse methods with results”. Just because you have a safety method or mechanism doesn’t mean that it is actually improving safety. It may very well be a feel good empty gesture that comes with the opportunity cost of giving up the chance to actually do something for safety. It might even be something that decreases safety overall – such as bicycle helmets.

            Inserting a gene is just one tiny part of the process.

            It’s not the inserting of the gene that I am object to. Inserting a gene makes for a fine experiment. It’s using the ignorance of the fundamentals of agriculture and life as a basis for sustaining the global population that I object to.

            As for who desires biotechnology – ask a farmer. Either they pay more for biotech traits because they’re stupid or because they have determined through their own field tests that the traits are useful.

            Many consumers also prefer biotech.

            My only GMO regulation that I would favor at a federal level would be mandatory labeling, and not even a big warning label, just on the ingredient list it should be noted. I think people should think and choose for themselves….if they choose to do so.

        • pdiff

          Atheism is a religion. It is a set of unprovable beliefs. That’s religion.

          Well, this tells me pretty much everything I need to know about your mindset. Admittedly, my assertion was off topic for this forum, but the gist of your comments here and various common religious arguments are too similar to pass un-noted. I will desist from this particular topic by simply stating that your logic (if it can even be called that) is severely flawed. Suffice to say the obvious: non-belief is, in fact, not a belief.

          That would be true if scientists consistently upheld scientific principles. Alas, they are human and they often stray far from science.

          So the scientists, i.e. the ones who are the most familiar and knowledgeable about the subjects at hand, are to be distrusted, as they are corrupted. Note that this quality comes from simply being “human”. This is perverse thinking and, at best, insulting. I also note that you have little idea about the true nature of scientific endeavors. You evidently see it as some kind of conspiratorial collusion between scientists and their masters. In actuality, the entire process is designed to be truth seeking and self correcting, taking advantage of those, oh so human, qualities of competitiveness and desire for acknowledgement from ones peers. This has been shown to work well repeatedly through history, even tumbling the biggest of theories, which is why most of us have a strong trust in the scientific process itself. We apply that through skepticism and evidence in hand. In brief, it’s put up or shut up. At this time the evidence at hand (and it is a considerable amount and scope of evidence) overwhelmingly supports the notion that current GMO practices are safe for humans, non-target organisms, and the environment. If you doubt this, and I’m feeling that you do, I suggest you read through the many posts here, in the resources and on the forum. Biofortified has done a remarkable job in collecting and noting all these arguments.

          As of now if I’m not mistaken zero GMO crops can pass even a five year test. No traditional or hybrid plant breeder worth their salt would ever introduce a new variety without making sure the changes are stable and desirable. This is why I don’t respect GMO companies – they don’t even properly test their product.

          I can tell you now that zero GMO crops have ever been marketed without first making sure the changes are stable and desirable. To do otherwise would be commercial suicide. Further, I see no rationale for your “five year” test. That is completely arbitrary. You said above that the choice should be personal. So I say 2 and Karl says 20. This is no answer. By your method, no advancements are made. Again, it is the failure of the precautionary principle in practice.

          As another note, what about “traditional hybrids”. More than once, such “natural” crops have gone out the door and caused real harm to real humans. No GMO here. Why don’t your rules apply to these?

          Through out the comments in this thread you show a weak knowledge of science, and specifically, biology, botany, genetics and the roll they play in GMO technologies. Since you suggested a reading, I’ll counter that. Try looking into Stewart Brand’s book “Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto” or his foundation the Long Now (longnow.org). Particularly some recent talks there by Peter Kareiva, Mark Lynas and Charles Mann. Ask yourself why such environmental luminaries such as Brand, Kareiva, Lynas and others including the every so popular Michael Pollan are hedging their bets and distancing themselves from the reactionary dogma of modern environmentalism.

        • A Critic: Atheism is a religion. It is a set of unprovable beliefs. That’s religion.

          Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby. — Penn Jillette

          • Malcolm Berg

            Do non-stamp collectors ever talk about stamps incessantly?

          • To bring this back to a plant-related topic, “do Vegans talk about not eating meat incessantly?”

            • No, they don’t! (just some of the time, and hardly surprisingly – non-stamp collectors may well devote a significant amount of time to discussion of stamp collecting if it were ubiquitously practiced in the mainstream and not being part of the in-group was enough to get you ostracized (which I assume vegans experience to a certain extent and know that even an agnostic does in the US)

              This however is besides the point. Atheism isn’t a set of unprovable beliefs, it is mere acceptance that the null hypothesis stands vis-a-vis god (taking the various standard definitions of god) – unless one claims that not believing in fairies and unicorns is equally a religious viewpoint, which is mind numbingly stupid. (defining religion as a set of unprovable beliefs is odd also though in my view, theoretically they are provable (unlike non-existence of something, which isn’t) and generally something wouldn’t be considered religious without a certain amount of surrounding superstition, supernaturalness and a fair degree of ritual behind it – if I believed that a miniature invisible nun followed me around whispering Madonna’s “like a virgin” on Wednesdays this wouldn’t make me religious, just nuts (perhaps if 30% of the population believed it, and took a day off to be happy about it, and persecuted those who don’t like Madonna then it could be considered religion rather than insanity)

              Bugger, totally lost track of parentheseses there. Oh well, I believe that the ones you can’t see exist somewhere. The nun probably has them.

    • MikeB

      “Life Is a Miracle?” Really. How do you (or Wendell Berry)know that?

      As a lay person, I don’t believe in miracles, and neither do most scientists.

      As a former advocate of “organic” farming, I’m embarrassed by my previous stance against recombinant DNA technologies, which is part and parcel of “organic” dogma. I decided to go read about it on my own and changed my mind.

      You say “reductionist science” as if it were intended as a pejorative.

      The root of the problem for many anti-GMO types is that the process that has come to be called “genetic modification” pretty much proves that life is a materialistic process, and many people simply can’t stand that idea.

      • A Critic

        “Life Is a Miracle?” Really. How do you (or Wendell Berry)know that?

        Well, if you consider the meaning of the word “miracle”, and then compare that to the nature of life…it’s a pretty simple conclusion.

        As a lay person, I don’t believe in miracles, and neither do most scientists.

        That’s one of my chief criticisms of scientists. They deny the obvious. Saying life is not a miracle is like saying the sun ain’t bright – how can you not see it?

        As a former advocate of “organic” farming, I’m embarrassed by my previous stance against recombinant DNA technologies, which is part and parcel of “organic” dogma. I decided to go read about it on my own and changed my mind.

        I’m not in favor of organic (the standard is far too weak for me) and I’m not against the technology. I’m against the current application of the technology. I’m not against drugs as medicine either – but I am against the current application of drugs as medicine.

        And let me emphasize that – I’m not against GMO per se. I’m not against GMO. I am against the current GMO corporatists, academics, and statists. It’s not the technology I am criticizing here – it is the people and their mistakes.

        You say “reductionist science” as if it were intended as a pejorative.

        Correct. Replace that phrase with “simpletons pretend science” and you’ll see how I view it. I worked for a decade in restaurants – restaurant owners suffer from what Anthony Bourdain termed “Restaurant Owner Insanity Syndrome”. They run restaurants the same way I played “Restaurant” when I was 8 – with a grossly oversimplified model that includes a few variables and that ignores all of the other variables and that ignores the essential processes to managing all of those variables and yet still insists on the outcome being the desired one. This is reductionist science – it’s just playing pretend. You can pretend that the model is representational of reality – but even if you manage to break even, or even turn a small profit for a couple of decades, it’s only a matter of time before you go under.

        The root of the problem for many anti-GMO types is that the process that has come to be called “genetic modification” pretty much proves that life is a materialistic process, and many people simply can’t stand that idea.

        The incontrovertible fact that genetic modification completely fails at the fundamental purpose of genetic modification (lasting changes for improved survivability) pretty much proves that life is NOT a materialistic process, and many people simply can’t stand that idea.

        When GMOs can reproduce for five years, I’ll be intrigued. When they can reproduce for ten years, I’ll be interested. When they can reproduce for twenty years, I’ll seriously consider purchasing some. So long as they are failures at life I won’t seriously consider them as a viable means for sustaining life. This is what reductionist science is missing – it doesn’t make any sense to try to support life with life that can’t live. All the expertise, degrees, credentials, experience, money, connections, and other resources and scientists still don’t grasp the basic concept of life.

        • Richard R

          “When GMOs can reproduce for five years, I’ll be intrigued. When they can reproduce for ten years, I’ll be interested. When they can reproduce for twenty years, I’ll seriously consider purchasing some. So long as they are failures at life I won’t seriously consider them as a viable means for sustaining life.”

          Considering that I am sitting about 200ft away from a breeding program where GMOs have been reproducing for, oh, a good 15-16 years now I guess you must be interested.

          That is, unless you have some other definition of “reproducing” a domesticated plant.

          • A Critic

            Considering that I am sitting about 200ft away from a breeding program where GMOs have been reproducing for, oh, a good 15-16 years now I guess you must be interested.

            So you can take those GMO seeds and grow them, save those seeds and grow them, and repeat the saving and growing for 15+ years and still have the GMO crop? Really? Source please.

            That is, unless you have some other definition of “reproducing” a domesticated plant.

            Each generation produces the next generation. That is reproduction. This really exists? Everything I have read from GMO companies and supporters and opponents say that the changes are not lasting.

            • Some of the most common GM crops are not ones people tned to save seed, but this is not because they are GM but because they are hybrids. Most modern corn varieties, for example, are hybrids which are crosses that produce vigorously, but the resulting seeds are not as good as the original hybrid parent. You can actually save the seed from corn grwon from hybrid seed, but it won’t produce quite as well as that you can buy from the seed company. You could also manage your own hybrid parent lines and cross them yourself and then plant your own hybrid … but as you might imagine it’s usually more resource efficient for a farmer to just buy the hybrid seed from a company that does that all the time.

              Other GM crops are definitely intended to be used with seed saving agriculture (see Golden Rice) and as far as I know it isn’t expected the desired GM trait would disappear. There’s no reason to think it would unless the plant is under an evolutionary pressure that would make the GM trait harmful. All crop plants are (essentially) coddled by their human growers, so at worst, humans would just be watching to make sure the trait is still in next year’s crop.

            • Richard R

              Here is a source where they were still growing after about 9 years (approx. 1997 through to 2005).

              http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/percy-schmeiser-settles-small-claims-court-issue-with-monsanto-canada-834359.htm

              They probably would’ve kept growing if he didn’t get rid of them.(That is, unless he chose to spray his chem fallow field with something other than glyphosate).

        • Richard R

          And..

          “it doesn’t make any sense to try to support life with life that can’t live”

          Well, isn’t that farming? Corn couldn’t “live on its own” if it weren’t for farming. It would still be teosinte. And where would cows be today if not for a farmer supporting the animals?

          • A Critic

            Well, isn’t that farming? Corn couldn’t “live on its own” if it weren’t for farming. It would still be teosinte. And where would cows be today if not for a farmer supporting the animals?

            I didn’t say “live on its own” – I said “live”. Big difference. You can take baby cows and make more baby cows from them. You can take corn and make more corn from it. Can you take GMO corn and make more GMO corn from it?

    • “Critic”, you’ve made a lot of claims here that have limited usefulness. I’ll let others address those claims, but your point about reductionism does warrant additional discussion.

      In some ways I can understand the concerns that some people have with so-called “reductionist science”. The very nature of experimentation requires isolation of a single variable (or a few at most) while the others remain constant. Too many variables, and comparisons between treatments become statistically complex at best. This does reduce the ability to explain complex phenomena in a single experiment.

      However, the beauty of the scientific process is that we can learn a lot about a single variable in one experiment, and another variable in another experiment, and another variable in another. A body of literature that tests different variables in different situations are what provides the big picture. To put it another way, a single paper is only valuable in the context of the rest of the literature. That’s one reason why papers typically have long lists of references.

      That’s all rather abstract, though. Let’s consider an example.

      I didn’t have the pleasure of working on the experiments myself, but some of my colleagues at Iowa State were conducting a breeding program to develop maize lines specifically for organic farming. The premise is that most corn is bred under conditions with synthetic fertilizer and at least some synthetic pest control methods. It is possible that corn bred under those conditions is best suited for conventional farming, and that corn bred under organic methods would be better suited for organic farming.

      The researchers were working with local organic farmers in a participatory breeding program. Unfortunately, the research never went anywhere because there was absolutely no standardization. The farmers were not interested in keeping any of their methods consistent from year to year or from farm to farm. Unfortunately, in that sort of ever changing situation, making any genetic gain is extremely slow if not impossible. One has to have some sort of stability so one can make genetic improvement, then the resulting varieties can be tested in different environments.

      There is a less “reductionist” way of breeding that I researched for my thesis: evolutionary breeding. This breeding method, studied in the 1970s, results in a resilient population of genetically diverse individuals such that in any given condition at least some of the plants will do well. However, in any given condition, some of the plants will do poorly. Most of the plant will be somewhere in the middle, producing decent but not great yields. So, while the idea is really cool, guess how many people are doing evolutionary breeding today?

      Unfortunately farmers do need to make a living and that means they need to maximize the amount of their crop that they can harvest from a unit of land. So, at least for corn, few farmers choose to grow seed from genetically diverse individuals. Even open pollinated varieties are fairly genetically similar from plant to plant. Instead, they choose seed that has been bred to produce well in the typical range of conditions expected on their farm.

      Reductionism in science isn’t perfect, but it does allow us to control situations so we can best understand what is happening. Without standard ways of testing variables we’re left just guessing.

      • A Critic

        Thank you for the response.

        However, the beauty of the scientific process is that we can learn a lot about a single variable in one experiment, and another variable in another experiment, and another variable in another. A body of literature that tests different variables in different situations are what provides the big picture.

        It sounds good but that doesn’t make any sense if you consider the big picture.

        There are many variables beyond quantification or study at this time (and some of them may or will always be that way). Just that alone means your big picture might be very incomplete and very wrong. There are even many variables not yet discovered and then there are those that are not considered or studied. These are further gaps in the big picture.

        The complexity of the relationship between the known quantified variables that have been studied and are considered means that the part of the big picture that is known is beyond our comprehension.

        The best possible model of the science of the life of plants is far from complete and far from being understood. Yet scientists insist that this model is an accurate representation of reality and that they understand it. I’m not buying that. If you had a complete accurate model you wouldn’t need to splice genes from other species into plants – you could assemble a brand new DNA from scratch to your exact specifications. That isn’t even close to happening now is it?

        So, while the idea is really cool, guess how many people are doing evolutionary breeding today?

        Many millions of people in their back field or back yard? Granted it might not be scientific…but the results sure are tasty – far more so than any GMO crop I ever tried.

        Unfortunately farmers do need to make a living and that means they need to maximize the amount of their crop that they can harvest from a unit of land.

        I’m a critic, I don’t know how to sugarcoat or spin this, but that is small minded and short sighted. They don’t NEED to maximize yields. They NEED to maximize fertility. This gets to the fundamental problem with GMO and with conventional farming (and now organic farming). The focus is on ends, not means. When one focuses on ends one gets the ends much sooner, but that means one spends ones resources on obtaining the ends, and in time the resources are depleted and then the ends are no longer obtainable. When one focuses on the means, obtaining the ends may take much longer, but the resources are invested in the means, and the ends are obtained for a longer period and if done right with agriculture then forever.

        This is why GMO and conventional farming is doomed – the concern is yields this year, maybe next year in some cases. I’ve never seen a GMO advocate or conventional farmer talk about how they and their descendants will be improving the fertility of the soil.

        Reductionism in science isn’t perfect, but it does allow us to control situations so we can best understand what is happening.

        You aren’t in control. Life can not be controlled in a meaningful and productive way. It can only be controlled in a destructive way.

        Nor do you obtain a best understanding. You obtain a very limited very skewed understanding and you celebrate this as being the big picture.

        Without standard ways of testing variables we’re left just guessing.

        True. Guessing is how I farm. I haven’t had any soil tests done. I have no scientific data. My experience is very limited. I guess on everything. The advantage to this is that I have an expansionist model, not a reductionist model. I know what I know (not much), but I’m guessing at all the rest too, and so while I am only guessing, ALL of the other variables are included, even the ones that I know nothing about.

        As a result of reductionist thinking, most folks worry about adding NPK to their soil. Three things. I worry about adding 95+ (couldn’t list them for you) that I know of and many more that I don’t know of. Which model will work for ten thousand years – the very incomplete model that ignores the vast majority of critical factors but has accurate data and complete control over three of them – or the very incomplete model that is predicted on all of the factors and has no data and no control but that provides all of the critical factors?

        • Let me put it another way. Reductionism in the scientific method has limits but it does provide information that can accumulate into greater understanding. Without it, we are literally just guessing, as you say. Very nice for backyard gardeners, but for most people trying to make a living in agriculture, something with a bit smaller margin of error is desired.

          Let’s look at medicine. In medical research, we also can’t know all of the variables and all of the ways the variable interact. Yet, I’d really rather have medicine developed through imperfect reductionist science than through… well, I really don’t know what the non-reductionist alternative is. I suppose it involves humors – no thanks.

          The scientific method works, it has worked for hundreds of years for many different subjects. You want to talk about testing and how many years before we know something works – one would hope hundred of years is enough.

          • A Critic

            Let’s look at medicine. In medical research, we also can’t know all of the variables and all of the ways the variable interact. Yet, I’d really rather have medicine developed through imperfect reductionist science than through… well, I really don’t know what the non-reductionist alternative is. I suppose it involves humors – no thanks.

            Let’s consider a real life medical science example: the troublesome pattern of children with excessive energy and the inability to pay attention. The reductionist model reduces this problem to:

            children have too much energy and can’t pay attention

            the chemicals in the children’s brains are not at the correct levels

            adding chemicals called stimulants reduce the excessive energy and make the child focus

            problem solved!

            Now, does giving children large doses of speed really solve their problem? Not at all!!!

            Does it seem to? Yes, if you take a superficial short term view.

            An expansionist model looks at the big picture and searches for complex causes of the problems. Many of the children have a poor diet, many are consuming huge amounts of sugar, some are consuming caffeine. The children are not getting sufficient exercise. And they are displaying the behavioral problems in an environment that is alien and contrary to the nature of a child. Solution: proper diet and exercise and environment.

            The scientific method works, it has worked for hundreds of years for many different subjects. You want to talk about testing and how many years before we know something works – one would hope hundred of years is enough.

            It has also failed many times. The above example is a great one. Turn on the TV and you can see many more – i.e. acne drugs that might kill you. In consideration of the many failures of reductionist science – I know it doesn’t work except in limited circumstances. Life is not nearly as limited as the circumstances in which reductionist science is useful. When it comes to solving the problems of life it doesn’t and can not work. You can’t reduce life to something you can understand. You can only reduce your own capacity to understand life.

            • I knew you would bring up one example of medicine taking a while to find the best solution to a condition, I just didn’t know which one. :)

              As I said before, the scientific method is an imperfect process. It does result in mistakes as we accumulate knowledge. Just look at the eggs good vs bad for you saga. Yet, at least we are accumulating knowledge.

              What is the alternative system? We’re left to find patterns in the chaos, developing superstitious behaviors like Skinner’s pigeons. We end up with < ahref="http://drinkwhatyoulike.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/cow-horns-manure-mysticism-planetary-alignment-and-biodynamic-viticulture-in-virginia-and-other-eastern-wine-regions/">cow horns filled with dung hoping to capture magic and homeopathy for cows.

  • Critic says: “I’ve never seen a GMO advocate or conventional farmer talk about how they and their descendants will be improving the fertility of the soil.”

    Perhaps you should look into the very large groups of farmers and technology suppliers that are involved in the promotion of no-till farming and cover crops. That combination is a far more natural way to build soil quality (fertility buffering, improved rain capture and retention, increased aeration and beneficial organisms…). Far more like nature than the importation of tons of organic matter followed by mechanical tillage which has been how organic growers build soil quality. The major seed companies also do a good deal of conventional and marker assisted breeding to develop lines which are better adapted to emergence from the colder, untilled soils.

    Also, I’m wondering if you have ever actually met geneticists or other agricultural scientists. You seem to have a very negative impression of this entire group of people and I wonder what informs that opinion? I’ve been working with these sorts of people for 35 years and I have not met anyone who is like your description.

  • Wow, I hate it when all this crazy goes down and I’m stuck at home wrangling a toddler. Shame I have to get *some* work done today so I can’t get round to everything. I’ll start at the beginning and apologize for any toes which are stepped on (I’ve skimmed the responses, but the desire to hulk smash is simply too strong so I’ve mostly jumped from inanity to insanity and back again while avoiding anything said cogently).

    Usual disclaimer – I’m a Monsanto employee, anything I say here is my own opinion and not that of my corporate overlords.

    Obviously this is predominantly in response to “A Critic”.

    There are no species which have evolved the capacity to correct errors from other species or species from other kingdoms!!!

    Depends entirely what errors you’re talking about here – mismatched bases will look the same whether the source DNA is from Arabidopsis thaliana or Felis leo – the repair of these will be exactly the same, for stuff that goes catastrophically wrong (in terms of the health of the organism) then there is a pretty obvious barrier to ever getting anywhere – the plant won’t grow right, it won’t make it out of the nurseries nevermind onto the farm – insertions which cause deleterious effects are routinely found and discarded (whether this is the action of the gene, or simply a by-product of its site of insertion) – the whole modern science of molecular genetics is essentially founded on the principle of randomly inserting crap into the genome of plants and seeing what breaks. These aren’t simply unknowns that may raise their heads at some time in the future, these are things which are spectacularly easy to catch and which would never make it into a commercial product other than in the bizarre conspiratorial world where somehow the action of the gene only becomes apparent 15 generations later. You’

    While catastrophic bugs effecting an entire species is rare in nature – it’s fairly common in mass manufactured products that are widely distributed.

    citation needed specific to agriculture – hybrid seeds are mass manufactured products widely distributed – when was the last time they all failed?

    Once GMO quality control fails to catch a major error in a major crop there will be a major problems. This happens in every industry – but the stakes are never this high.

    A major error like what exactly? At present you’re just handwaving and warning us of the Boogeyman under the bed – the one who hides every time we look, he’s there though I tell you, he is! (please leave on a nightlight, it scares him)

    The criticism from within the scientific community that is addressed is over relatively minor matters – few dare to address the fundamental errors – and those who do are ignored.

    Who exactly? The scientific community has gone over and over this for the past couple of decades with all but a hardcore cadre of cranks and non-scientists persisting in the lunatic belief that the technology itself, or its current uses, pose any major threat.

    Nature does not mass produce a mistake.

    It does however mass produce some pretty bizarre stupidities. It is nice to know however that the naturalistic fallacy will do away with your fuzzy thinking in a generation or two.

    GMO QC operates by defeating the natural defenses cited by Rachell.

    Mae Wan Ho is weapons grade nuts. The kinda lunacy that there ought to be UN conventions against.

    To be human is to err. Errors are inevitable.

    See, for example, your entire tirade here.

    One of my chief complaints of GMO is scale. A major error has the potential to cause a widespread famine.

    What sort of major error do you posit? To cause widespread famine it’d have to work both across germplasm (which is unlikely) and across species (even more unlikely) while at the same time evading detection in the 10+ years of pre commercialization plus the whole seed bulk up process (multiple nurseries prior to selling the actual seed)

    I’m currently developing a bean – if I make a major error I will lose a couple of dozen plants and it won’t even effect my own diet.

    unless you make a major error of unknown size and wind up with Triffids, just because no scientist has ever seen this occur and there is no plausible mechanism doesn’t mean it can’t right? You should probably stop right now to be on the safe side, being torn apart by angry plants is no way to go.

    If Monsanto makes a major error (such as the South African corn debacle but on a larger scale)

    an error in seed manufacturing not caused by GMO at all, so is your argument against hybrids?

    the
    consequences will be catastrophic

    there will be an investigation and farmers will be given compensation for the failed crop. No doubt this will lead to dogs marrying cats and all manner of shenanigans.

    The claims made by GMO companies and the advocates of GMO sound exactly like the claims made by pharmaceutical companies and their advocates

    How so exactly? (although I wouldn’t particularly mind that particular approach, I’m only alive today because of the phine work of pharmaceutical companies)

    One of the many red flags, but an especially important one, is the denial that a major error is probable or even possible

    No such error has been found – people look for errors for years – the sort of catastrophic failures you’re postulating would be blindingly obvious in the first year out of transformation, nevermind 10 years down the bloody line. No. Such. Error. Has. Been. Found.

    As with computer programs

    you’re being spectacularly foolish here – how many computer programs go through a 10+ year testing regime before release? How many computer programs cost $120M to get to market primarily due to the regulatory hurdles they have to pass?

    and it is only when the product used in mass scale that the bug becomes evident.

    maybe because computer programs go out largely untested due to their massive complexity and potential ways of being used whereas GMOs go out hugely tested and massively simple (1, 2, 8 genes? Cf millions of lines of code)

    As GMO grows more complex, bugs are more likely, and as confidence grows, bugs are more likely.

    And the testing will still catch the issues.

    Atheism is a religion. It is a set of unprovable beliefs. That’s religion.

    Atheism is a religion much in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.

    Scientists and business leaders work for the politicians. That is what I object to. It’s one of the primary reasons why scientists are so unscientific.

    You’re getting your conspiracy theory wrong here, scientists and government work for business. Any bench scientist can tell you that the pull of all that big money is what drives them to put out spurious research – hell, a pHD student pulls in what, $20k in stipends a year? Postdocs make what $35k starting to ~$50k with 6+ years experience? I can see all the kids lining up now to sell themselves into a life of making shit up so long as they get to make significantly less than the US median wage after well over 15 years of post-secondary education.

    I would suggest an absolute bare minimum of ten years, a bare minimum of twenty. Fifty would be smart, a hundred would be wise. Zero is down right stupid.

    You’re not awfully clear on what a bare minimum is are you? Transgenics see ~10 years of testing prior to release, the majority of current transgenics have ~16 years of data on top of this, fifty would clearly be idiotic and 100 moronic in the extreme (other than as rhetorical figures designed to give the illusion of being cautious but reasonable with full knowledge that such timelines are equivalent to slating the technology entirely)

    want to wait at least 10-20 generations. If you can stick fish DNA in a tomato, and you can grow ten generations of that tomato and 1) the fish DNA sticks around doing it’s intended job and 2) no unintended consequences turn up then I think that would be a sufficient margin of safety to put it on the market.

    So you’re fine with GM crops as is, why the wittering on?

    As of now if I’m not mistaken zero GMO crops can pass even a five year test.

    You are mistaken. This comes as no surprise.

    No traditional or hybrid plant breeder worth their salt would ever introduce a new variety without making sure the changes are stable and desirable. This is why I don’t respect GMO companies – they don’t even properly test their product.

    You’ve one upped the entire history of bad debating. You’ve spent countless time in your own head developing one straw man after another until you’ve populated a whole company. You’ve got a straw CEO, straw board of directors, a whole straw accounting department, a research building full of straw scientists, straw research associates, straw janitorial staff – everything, and now you’re just gonna put them all to the torch? For shame!
    Stable desirable changes are precisely what we look for. We work alongside plant breeders and use very similar methodology to do so, the big biotech companies also run breeding programs, there is close interaction at all stages of development – plant breeders have no interest whatsoever in adding a transgene unless it works well and doesn’t have offtypes.
    That alas is it for the moment, I must go resubmerge myself in the machinery which “A Critic” is insisting does not exist, perhaps over lunchtime I’ll have more to add.

    • Ewan,
      I too am doing some toddler wrangling these days (my wife and I are taking care of my grand daughter a good bit for a season). I’m impressed that you could do so much responding to the “Critic.”

      I think that one of the best things about the Biofortified site is that it is a place where people with extremely different world views actually interact. It isn’t always with rational arguments, but the fact that the discussion actually goes back and forth many times is sort of remarkable in an age of anonymous, “howler” speech.

      I don’t know whether you or I or anyone can effect what the “Critic” thinks, but the dialog is of value to others. I don’t know about you, but it is that audience I am hoping to speak to in a thread like this.

      • Toddler wrangling prevents any sort of capacity to respond outside of work (which rather helps out folk who want to assume I’m a PR type, what with the bulk of my rambling spitting out between 8AM and 5PM) however it beats trying to figure out how to parse FASTA formatted DNA sequence in javascript…

        On your final point, I tend to assume an audience on the fence – personally I’ve been swayed in the past by someone being an enormous jerk to me, but I realize this isn’t exactly a likely outcome, more likely you’ll sway someone by being a giant jerk to someone else (not everyone’s style, but it takes all sorts) – if I can provoke a giggle or two in the process then maybe our PR people will buy me a T-shirt or something (assuming that the association of paren wranglers doesn’t hang me from the rafters first for cruel and unusual use of parentheses)

  • Part the second, predominantly because I require more than +10. Again I’m pretty much ignoring the responses (and failing to attribute quotes correctly, but it appears others are on that) so lets pile in again approximately where I left off.

    They said gene pollution is not a problem because the genes are not stable or strong and that the GMO is so weak that it will not survive a few generations of reproduction.

    Who said this and when? I’m guessing the argument was more along the lines of any crop/weed hybrid is likely to be vastly unsuccessful and therefore won’t reproduce very well – there is nothing inherent to a GMO that’d make it less successful than its non-GM counterpart.

    I’m no expert – but isn’t this the case with all GMO products, aren’t they all inherently unstable?

    For the first part, you needn’t have bothered, we can tell. For the second part – no, there is not an inherent instability, you’ve invented that and run with it to the extent that Pheidippides would be impressed.

    And by unstable I mean “doomed in the short term”. You can’t buy some GMO corn and your grand kids will be growing the same GMO corn, correct?

    Here is where it gets a little complex – you can’t technically do that with any of the hybrids available on the market, but that is down to the nature of hybrids – if we look at soy instead (which is inherently inbred and therefore all progeny contain the transgene) then yes, you absolutely can, you’d be flouting all kinds of legal contracts one enters in to when purchasing the seed initially (at least at the time of writing, as RR1 goes off patent it will become absolutely possible to save soy indefinitely and retain the varietal characteristics plus the transgene for as long as you can maintain a population of soy.
    Your argument inherently falls apart when you consider the entire process of regulated transgenic material. Transgenes are regulated (and deregulated) at the level of the event. An event is (basically) a specific instance when the gene of interest was transformed into the crop of interest (or a close enough relative that it could be moved about through breeding) thus the event for the first roundup (whose name evades me at the moment, lets call him Bob (and make sure you pronounce it as Rowan Atkinson would, otherwise you lose the humour)) can be traced back to a single insertional event (which is where the name comes from) of either agro or bio-ballistic nature – from that point on this event has been propagated through a sequence of parent to progeny generations – as many as 3 (possibly more, but 3 is pretty impressive) generations per year since the event was created – all these variations of Bob can trace themselves back to the original Bob, Bob has been moved from variety to variety (with numerous backcross generation between to retain varietal differences) within a species while all the time retaining function and so on. There is no reason this could not hold for the next thousand years if someone so wished to do so. Your horseshit about GMOs being inherently unstable is just that, horseshit, unmitigated, steaming, invented horseshit (the best kind) – if that’s how GMOs worked then… GMOs wouldn’t work, not in the current regulatory environment,

    Can you grow the same type of GMO corn for 122 years?

    you could manage this with the same inbred for 122 years if you so wished, why you’d wish to though is beyond me.

    Perhaps at some future point. I’m too busy to study a formal science.

    But sadly have enough time to fill your head with half remembered nonsenses and misinformation, perhaps give up on both rather than just the science.

    Well, if you consider the meaning of the word “miracle”, and then compare that to the nature of life…it’s a pretty simple conclusion.

    Depends which definition you are going by – only 2 of the four at dictionary.com fit – the supernatural/god ones fall away immediately, my assumption would be that this is the aspect being rejected – life, while miraculous in the sense of being a wonder or marvel is utterly explicable in terms of natural causes without having to resort to the supernatural.

    That’s one of my chief criticisms of strawscientists. They deny the obvious. Saying life is not a miracle is like saying the sun ain’t bright – how can you not see it?

    Fixed that for you

    And let me emphasize that – I’m not against GMO per se. I’m not against GMO. I am against the current GMO corporatists, academics, and statists. It’s not the technology I am criticizing here – it is the people and their mistakes.

    Except you can’t highlight any actual mistakes and don’t even remotely understand the process. You also really do appear to be against GMOs, claiming otherwise doesn’t really alter that.

    Correct. Replace that phrase with “simpletons pretend science” and you’ll see how I view it. I worked for a decade in restaurants – restaurant owners suffer from what Anthony Bourdain termed “Restaurant Owner Insanity Syndrome”. They run restaurants the same way I played “Restaurant” when I was 8 – with a grossly oversimplified model that includes a few variables and that ignores all of the other variables and that ignores the essential processes to managing all of those variables and yet still insists on the outcome being the desired one. This is reductionist science – it’s just playing pretend. You can pretend that the model is representational of reality – but even if you manage to break even, or even turn a small profit for a couple of decades, it’s only a matter of time before you go under.

    Science. It works. (omitting the usual end to that as it is laden with all sorts of negativity)
    Y’all come back when you have a viable alternative y’hear?

    The incontrovertible fact that genetic modification completely fails at the fundamental purpose of genetic modification (lasting changes for improved survivability) pretty much proves that life is NOT a materialistic process, and many people simply can’t stand that idea.

    But it doesn’t, so you remain a fecund fountain of feces in this arena.

    When GMOs can reproduce for five years, I’ll be intrigued

    Congratulations on being intruiged!

    When they can reproduce for ten years, I’ll be interested.

    Likewise congrats on your new found interest.

    When they can reproduce for twenty years, I’ll seriously consider purchasing some.

    Would you like me to find a number for your local Asgrow or Dekalb sales person? Or would you rather go with Pioneer?

    So long as they are failures at life I won’t seriously consider them as a viable means for sustaining life.

    Luckily for all of us they demonstrably aren’t!

    This is what reductionist science is missing – it doesn’t make any sense to try to support life with life that can’t live.

    I’m going to be accused of necrophilia beastiality and bondage at some point soon, but you remain wrong on this issue.

    All the expertise, degrees, credentials, experience, money, connections, and other resources and scientists still don’t grasp the basic concept of life.

    And yet here you are, with apparently no idea whatsoever what you’re talking about and… err.. I forget, I think I was just pointing out that you are wittering cluelessly.

    If you had a complete accurate model you wouldn’t need to splice genes from other species into plants – you could assemble a brand new DNA from scratch to your exact specifications. That isn’t even close to happening now is it?

    Nobody claims to have a complete accurate model (predicting protein function and structure from sequence was pretty much in its infancy a decade ago, and as far as I know we can’t do much from scratch now, however we’re getting closer every day to a model along those lines – at least one of the Bt proteins is modified from the original to have better functionality in plants, we routinely alter the codon useage etc.

    Many millions of people in their back field or back yard? Granted it might not be scientific…but the results sure are tasty – far more so than any GMO crop I ever tried.

    Which GMO crops have you tried to eat for taste alone? About the only one out there that’d be viable in such a test is Bt sweetcorn, all the rest are in commodity crops not designed for direct consumption, so you’d be a moron to even attempt the taste test, or extrapolate anything from the results.

    This is why GMO and conventional farming is doomed – the concern is yields this year, maybe next year in some cases. I’ve never seen a GMO advocate or conventional farmer talk about how they and their descendants will be improving the fertility of the soil.

    I’m imagining this is because you don’t actually listen to any farmers.

    True. Guessing is how I farm.

    It also appears to be how you approach facts etc, it’s not working by the way.

    I guess on everything. The advantage to this is that I have an expansionist model, not a reductionist model. I know what I know (not much), but I’m guessing at all the rest too, and so while I am only guessing, ALL of the other variables are included, even the ones that I know nothing about.

    I bet you do super well also, none of which you can prove, or we can disprove, therefore debate won right?

    As a result of reductionist thinking, most folks worry about adding NPK to their soil. Three things.

    Because a straw farmer is a bad farmer. Luckily very flammable.

    Let’s consider a real life medical science example:

    Let me get this perfectly straight here. You’ve spent a number of posts railing against reductionist thinking, and you’re making a point about reductionism in general. So, best approach – reduce all of medical science to a single straw example which exactly fits your point. You reductionist you! If I were a little more skeptical I’d think you were (again) just making up nonsense to support your views. (This is exactly what I do think)

  • I wrote to the two UC Davis faculty members who actually compiled the proceedings of this meeting to see if they had the full document. One is retired and didn’t have any physical copies in what he had retained from his office. One has long since moved to another state and university and also has no copies. It is hard to imagine in the internet age, but in 1988-1990 there was no web storage of information on any major scale. It all relied on paper, physical documents.

    I only point this out to say how long ago this meeting happened. That does not mean that scientists were not asking good questions or not engaging in significant dialog at that time. It just means that the process occurred a long time ago.

  • Zissou

    The problem with religious people is that they see atheist as mirrors of themselves. This is wrong. But the capacity to actually understand this require a somewhat enhanced analytic sense, if this is lacking there is just no point in arguing with logic and intelligence, you need brute rhetoric strength. For those reasons, I miss Hitchens, in a deep personal way.

  • Fan of the Critic

    A critic, where are you? I really want to see the rest of this entertaining show. Please respond!

  • GM-Soy linked to health damage in pigs – Danish Dossier:
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-news/192-gm-soy-linked-to-health-damage-in-pigs-danish-dossier

    GMO eggplant confirmed to be toxic:
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-news/173-gmo-eggplant-confirmed-to-be-toxic

    GMO Risk Assessments Based on Bad Science – You the Guinea Pig:
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-videos/190-gmo-risk-assessments-based-on-bad-science-you-the-guinea-pig

    Risk Assessments for the previous and current GMOs are just an illusion. How can we take these risk assessments seriously when the data which the very same risk assessments are based on is bad science?

    To me, it looks like the scientist are cutting off the branch they are sitting on. Time for the scientific community to really think about what the heck they are doing.

    The genes that are taken out of some organisms and forced into e.g. genetically modified food-plants are highly unstable, and it is impossible for the scientist to predict how the transgenes will affect the organism at the time of insertion. Now add the fact that the pacakges of transgenes gets reallocated and truncated when the organism reproduce. A fact that the PRO-GMO-scientist choose to look away from.

    Genome Scrambling – Myth or Reality?
    http://www.econexus.info/publication/genome-scrambling-%E2%80%93-myth-or-reality

    GMOs are not based on technology. It is based on bad science, and the illusion that the GM-plants is just like conventional plants. These frankenstein GMOs should currently not be allowed outside closed laboratories.

    • Still recycling the same tired old nonsense huh Tore? It’s almost like you don’t read the constant rebuttals.

      Boring, very boring.

    • Hello Tore, thanks for joining the conversation. I would like to refer you to our comment policy. Your last comment was stuck in our spam filter because it contained too many links. Also, the links that you provide lack references to the peer-reviewed literature or other reputable sources such as government or academic entities.

      While we strive for inclusiveness of all ideas (hence your comments being posted), we can’t really have a useful discussion if we aren’t working from at least somewhat similar playbooks. To be convincing, you’ll need reputable sources and you’ll need to to check your sources before assuming they are correct. Anecdotes and heartfelt videos can seem convincing but if they are unsupported by peer reviewed literature (preferably more than one experiment, preferably from more than one researcher at different institutions) then they are far less useful than than seem.

      For example, while I certainly empathize with the Danish farmer and for the terribly, sadly deformed pigs, this is but one anecdote. It does not stand up to the peer-reviewed literature where feeding studies (both corporate and independently funded) with various species, including pigs, have shown not found biologically significant differences between GM and non GM feed*. We have lists of publications here at Biofortified, or you can find other lists elsewhere, such as the one provided by the Federation of Animal Science Societies.

      Without a controlled experiment, we can not isolate the cause of these deformities. This story reminds me of the claims of spontaneous cattle abortions by Don Huber and others, but the claims do not stand up to examination.

      Note that I’m not saying it isn’t possible that the cause of the deformities is something in the feed. It could even be the biotech traits. But it is irresponsible to state definitively that the cause is x or y without solid evidence in the form of hypothesis driven testing.

      I look forward to seeing any evidence that you have, I’m always interested in expanding my knowledge.

      * Many of these studies do go longer than 3 months. The longest study that I know of is 10 generations of quail, and there is a 3 year study in sheep. Many of the other studies go 6 months or longer.

  • Ewan R (the Monsanto employee) said:
    “Still recycling the same tired old nonsense huh Tore? It’s almost like you don’t read the constant rebuttals.”

    Really?
    Since you say that, you did not read my post … did you? You probably just saw my name… and figured out that you had to post some mambo jambo nonsence again huhhh.

    The following link (story) has not been published by me here earlier… and guess what… it is as fresh as it could be… from this very year. I find it interesting that a Monsanto employee states that this is old news. If that is the case, why have your company not stopped selling the Roundup … Glyphosate poison a long time ago?

    Since you missed the important news in my previous post… here it is again:

    GM-Soy linked to health damage in pigs – Danish Dossier:
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-news/192-gm-soy-linked-to-health-damage-in-pigs-danish-dossier

    • I browsed it, it appeared to be exactly the same tripe spewed about the effects of GM-soy on pigs I have seen previously – non evidence, invented, and clearly counter to reality – if GM crops caused that kind of damage during rearing of animals it’d be obvious enough that the industry would demand non-GM.

      You’re supplying non-peer reviewed fluff pieces in lieu of evidence, which if I recall is pretty much your MO, fluff pieces so extraordinary in their claims that nothing more than a perfunctory glance is required to dismiss them. As with anything sourced from GM free Cymru, nonsense from start to finish, so similar to the rest of your nonsense that I guess it blended in (not helped by the fact that your other pieces are mindless repetition of oft-rebutted old familiars)

  • Mike

    You cite your own website as an authority.

    It’s full of Percy Schmeiser, Deepak Chopra, and Jeffrey Smith.

    Fatuous.

    But I download the “Danish Dossier” anyway and it says, “The file is damaged and could not be repaired,” and my computer just about crashed.

  • Mike said:
    “You cite your own website as an authority.”

    Do I really… and can a website be an authority by itself?
    What I do, is post interesting and revealing publications about GMO. The most of the source on http://www.monsanto.no is not based on some illusions invented by the GMO-industry, but on what independent scientists has found…. And in this last case it is about a danish pig farmer found that the GM-soy resulted in his pigs getting sick when eating the soy. I find that very interesting… but I’m not surprised if several of the die-hard PRO-GMO veterans here will try to discredit this farmer and his findings.

    And when you say this:
    “But I download the “Danish Dossier” anyway and it says, “The file is damaged and could not be repaired,” and my computer just about crashed.”

    Ha ha ha… do you want me to believe that? And if it really did happen… am I to be blamed for you having crappy software installed on your computer?
    The file has been downloaded many times… I tested it just a few seconds after your ‘funny’ comment here. And I have tested it many times earlier… NO PROBLEM AT ALL.

    And by the way: Did you try these URL’s… or do your computer crash if you try to download it from there as well.

    GM-Soy linked to health damage in pigs – Danish Dossier:
    http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/13882

    Or here:
    Danish Whistleblowers reveal links between GM soy, Roundup and health damage in pig herds:

    Or here (Be warned … it is a PDF.. huu huu):
    GM-Soy linked to health damage in pigs – Danish Dossier:
    http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/danish_dossier.html

    Nice try, but regardless of that: All the best, and I hope you get sorted out your computer problems :)

  • Ewan R said among other things:
    “I browsed it, it appeared to be exactly the same tripe spewed about the effects of GM-soy on pigs I have seen previously – non evidence, invented, and clearly counter to reality – if GM crops caused that kind of damage during rearing of animals it’d be obvious enough that the industry would demand non-GM.”

    He he… you know what … you are a funny guy. Do you believe in your own words? I highly doubt it. How does it feel to get payed to post this kind of bullshit? As an employee of Monsanto I would thought that it would be in the interest of both you and Monsanto to investigate the findings published by this farmer. Instead you are just closing your eyes and ears… do-not-want-to-hear-any-problems-realted-to-gmo… Okay… if that is the way you involve in a farmers honest report of what he experienced… then I cannot really see what good you can do for your employer… not interested in finding the reason that made pigs deformed, dead-born… pigs that stopped eating… reproductive issues…. serious diarrhea issues NOT INTERESTED … Hmmm… is this a new kind of responsibility? Corporate responsibility perhaps….

    Lets cut the crap and focus on the real problems here, shall we:

    What are the current status of the risk assessments of the GM-plants? Are they being risk assessed properly? Monsanto’s longest feeding studies with those GM-plants does not last longer than 3 months. Not long enough, not even close to detect potential chronical and/or reproductive issues. And there is a lot more to this as well. All you have to do is to listen to the excellent lecture by professor Gilles-Eric Seralini in the URL below:

    And make sure you do not miss part 4 of the 5 videos (last only 10 minutes or so)… it is not possible to be more clear and revealing than that… is it?

    GMO Risk Assessments Based on Bad Science – You the Guinea Pig
    http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-videos/190-gmo-risk-assessments-based-on-bad-science-you-the-guinea-pig

    • Richard R

      “Instead you are just closing your eyes and ears… do-not-want-to-hear-any-problems-realted-to-gmo”

      Wow, take a look in the mirror there Tore. Everything you said about Ewan could equally apply to you. The point is that one anecdote does not make your case. It is just an anecdote, not evidence. You know what, whenever I drink 2 Litres of organic sunflower oil with supper I get diarrhea. I switched to stir frying with GM canola oil and no more symptoms. Call the newspaper with this ground breaking story…organic oils cause diarrhea, switch to GM.

      Seriously though, the guy was performing an uncontrolled experiment that had more variables in the food than just GM soy and non GM soy (for example: “we switched to fishmeal and non-GMO soya in the weaning house, instead of GMO HP 200 (purified GMO soya) and GMO soya” from gm watch website). This farmers observations are mere anecdotes.

      Here is how it should be done:
      http://jas.fass.org/content/80/3/708.short
      Near isogenic lines. Control for all aspects of nutrition.

      Let’s look at the conclusion…
      “The results indicate that Roundup Ready soybean meal is essentially equivalent in composition and nutritional value to conventional soybean meal for growing-finishing pigs”

    • Tore, it’s a shame when among all your poorly performed studies which you cite the only argument you have against all the evidence to the contrary is that ‘Monsanto’s longest feeding studies with those GM-plants does not last longer than 3 months.’ That might be true, but guess what? That was just Monsanto, not only are they only required to perform regulation preliminary studies before marketing but they are not the only ones studying this.
      This review: Chelsea, S., et al. Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review. Food Chem. Toxicol. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.fct.2011.11.048,
      as well as many others like it demonstrate the effects (or lack thereof) of GM feed on farm animals over not only short term but multigenerational trials. And guess what else? Not a penny from the biotech industry in any of these studies. You can come up with any conspiracy theory about financial backing you like, but the data speak for themselves- shall we discredit evolution because some research may have been funded by external companies?

    • He he… you know what … you are a funny guy.

      So I’ve been told.

      Do you believe in your own words? I highly doubt it.

      This isn’t surprising, it appears the only thing you wont be skeptical about is the insane.

      How does it feel to get payed to post this kind of bullshit?

      I don’t get paid to post anything, more’s the pity (c’mon PR folk, I know you read this, and I have a lexus all selected for you to buy me at any time!)

      I would thought that it would be in the interest of both you and Monsanto to investigate the findings published by this farmer

      Why on earth would you think that? It isn’t in the interest of anyone to spend money chasing fairies.

      blah blah, pig malformations, blah, not interested, blah, corporate responsibility, blah

      See earlier piece about chasing fairies, the scientific evidence shows that claims that Roundup or GMOs are doing this are utterly spurious. Basic economics says the same. The science has been done (and according to the GM Free Cymru document you linked is being done by an independant lab again in Denmark, although they only cover this in the Danish side of the website so I’ll have to trust google translate to have the details right)

      What are the current status of the risk assessments of the GM-plants? Are they being risk assessed properly? Monsanto’s longest feeding studies with those GM-plants does not last longer than 3 months. Not long enough, not even close to detect potential chronical and/or reproductive issues. And there is a lot more to this as well.

      This has been gone over time and time again, GM plants have had risk assessment done out of the wahoo, they’ve been studied extensively, there are no issues found (even in 7(if I remember correctly) generations of quail (some number >5 on some bird the size of a quail) no issues found in pig feeding trials (which is rather telling, because you’re basically using an unscientificly created anecdata point to suggest there is an impact when well designed scientific studies find nothing… which is the hallmark of an idiot) no issues found in any of the feeding trials on multiple species, no plausible mechanism of issues, no issues reliably demonstrated in the real world.

      All you have to do is to listen to the excellent lecture by professor Gilles-Eric Seralini in the URL below:

      Seralini is an utter fraud, so it doesn’t really matter what the guy has to say, his work is a cesspit of misused statistics, hyperbolae and cowardice (suing those who point out you’re a liar is cowardly) – he has also been covered ad nauseum here, as well you know. (infact it would appear that he is using his quite awful paper (y’know the one that for the first half tells us how we can’t draw conclusions from the Monsanto data and then in the second half goes on to draw conclusions from the Monsanto data – erroneous conclusions based on misuse of statistics) in the video, which rather backs up the point that he shares a common feature with you – neither of you have anything useful to bring to the discussion, just lies, hyperbolae and nonsense.

  • [...] on May 25, 2012 10:47 am There’s a great post from Steve Savage at the Biofortified site, Major Scientific Conference Convened to Review The Safety of GMO Crops.  Savage shines some much-needed perspective on the number of years and amount of scrutiny that [...]

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