Counting The Cost of the Anti-GMO Movement

Mark Lynas’s speech has had over a quarter of a million downloads

Last week, environmentalist Mark Lynas presented an articulate and painfully honest apology for his significant role in starting the anti-GMO movement in the 1990s.  He said that it was the most successful campaign in which he has ever been involved, but after finally looking into the science, he now deeply regrets what he and others accomplished.  While it is gratifying to have a figure like Lynas make such a turn-about, it does nothing to mitigate the damage of which this anti-science movement has perpetrated on humanity and the environment.  Ideally, such a dramatic reversal will induce others in the movement to rethink their positions. but this sort of openness to letting the science speak into bias is likely to be rare.

Lynas is right that anti-GMO campaigners have been extremely successful at blocking, delaying, or destroying potential crop improvements via biotechnology.  Lynas had a lot of ground to cover in his speech, so he only gave four examples of the ways that his previous movement has achieved its ends:

  • In Europe, politicians influenced by the anti-GMO movement ignored the input from their own scientists to adopt hyper-precautionary and obstructive regulatory barriers to the technology. They have thus limited the ability of their own farmers to satisfy more of the substantial demand that the region puts on global food supplies.
  • The European stance has greatly influenced the policies of many developing nations in Africa and Asia.  Such “rich world thinking” denies poor farmers the advances that could significantly improve their food security.  See Robert Paarlberg’s excellent summary of this phenomenon in his book “Starved for Science.”
  • The anti-GMO movement has intensified the regulatory environment so that the cost of biotech crop development now requires the resources of a large company. This reduces the potential contributions from smaller start-ups, academics or government sponsored programs.

Beyond what Lynas described, there are other mechanisms by which the anti-GMO movement has frustrated biotech crop progress.  The threat of controversy generated by anti-GMO campaigners leads to various forms of brand protectionism which can become a non-regulatory barrier to technology adoption:

  • The threat of protests has been most effective when applied to companies with major consumer brands and enough market leverage to dictate what happens for a given crop.  The classic case of this phenomenon was how MacDonalds, in three phone calls to major frozen French fry producers, put an end to biotech potatoes in the US and Canada.  Potatoes are an extraordinarily difficult crop to improve through breeding because of their complex genetics and vegetative propagation.  Biotechnology was a promising way to deliver traits for important pest issues as well as quality and health benefits, and the major potato buyers knew it.  However; the risk from brand-damaging protests drove the decision.
  • The specter of consumer backlash (fanned by anti-science propaganda) concerned major wheat importers/millers in Europe and Japan.  Their response was to threaten to boycott all North American wheat if a single acre of commercial GMO wheat was planted.  US and Canadian growers, faced with such a significant drop in export sales, reluctantly asked Syngenta and Monsanto to halt their biotech wheat programs.   For the future the US, Canadian and Australian wheat industries have all decided to block any future blackmail threats by doing a simultaneous launch of biotech wheat when and if it becomes available.  In the mean time there has been a multi-decade delay for positive technologies for one of the most important of global food crops.
  • Anti-GMO campaigning has made the entire topic of “GMOs” sufficiently toxic that the growers/marketers of many crops wish simply to avoid any impact on their crop’s “brand” in the consumer market place.  This is what we are seeing today in the US/Canadian apple industry where a small, grower-based company has developed an innovative, consumer oriented trait.  The nervous industry has reacted quite negatively because of concerns about the apple “brand”  even though those biotech apples would only reach the market advertised specifically as biotech-improved.  This sort of thinking has also effectively blocked the use of biotechnology to solve problems in grapes as well as in most other fruit and vegetable crops.

Opportunities Lost

There is a long and growing list of agricultural, environmental, and health improvement that “could have been” if the anti-GMO movement had not been so effective.  Some of these are only “nice to haves” like a fine wine.  Some of them are significant advances such as potatoes that ward off their major insect and virus pests.  Some of them are things like wheat which is less likely to have mycotoxin contamination.  Some of them are things that could enable poor farmers to produce more local food with less need for inputs or more resistance to environmental stresses.

What Mark Lynas realized is that it is just as detrimental to the future of humanity to ignore the scientific consensus on crop biotechnology as it is to ignore the scientific consensus on climate change.  The fact that there are groups successfully blocking rational action on both these fronts presents a synergistically dire threat to efforts to feed humanity.

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

GMO protest image from University of Washington

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 website is DrSteveSavage. His blogging website is Applied Mythology. You can follow him on Twitter @grapedoc


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43 comments to Counting The Cost of the Anti-GMO Movement

  • LauraNo

    This is very one sided. I wanted to keep an open mind about the subject but just calling something “anti-science” and complaining about the potential downside of an action doesn’t explain to me WHY we need to change apples, WHY changing wheat’s characteristics won’t lose important nutrients or WHY food may become intolerable for some or more fattening, etc. It doesn’t tell the story of farmers being sued/ ruined when GMO seeds blow onto their land or abut the ruination of their crops, it doesn’t give any reason at all why anyone might want to go slow with changing the basic traits of something everyone depends on for survival and with no assurances except from some profit-driven corporations and their defenders. This is much like the fracking industry keeping secret which chemicals they are blasting into our groundwater, people objecting to this secrecy and then being called anti-science. Where is the science proving GMO foods are safe? Maybe I can find another article called Counting The Cost Of Experimenting On GE foods We’ve Evolved To Eat Over Millennia elsewhere on this site? Saving the starving sounds like a worthy plan, making corps rich at humanity’s expense, not so much.

    • Ewan R

      I wanted to keep an open mind about the subject

      There is a difference between a mind that is open to new ideas, and a mind so open that everything sensible falls out.

      complaining about the potential downside of an action doesn’t explain to me WHY we need to change apples

      Do you apply the same question to breeders? Do you enjoy different varieties of apples, of different fruits etc – if so then your why is there.

      WHY changing wheat’s characteristics won’t lose important nutrients

      Because the characteristics of wheat are of vital importance to its sale value, changes to wheat may well alter these characteristics, but if they do what you have is a moderately interesting piece of academic work, not a commercial product.

      WHY food may become intolerable for some or more fattening

      Why would it? Can we simply invent whys willy nilly and expect answers? WHY may GM food turn black to white and white to black, and if it does should we all avoid zebra crossings?

      It doesn’t tell the story of farmers being sued/ ruined when GMO seeds blow onto their land or abut the ruination of their crops

      It also doesn’t tell the story of a chicken who mistakes an acorn falling for the end of a world, probably as both are equally fictitious.

      it doesn’t give any reason at all why anyone might want to go slow with changing the basic traits of something everyone depends on for survival

      well, predominantly one would assume because going too slow with such things is utterly counterproductive and silly.

      with no assurances except from some profit-driven corporations and their defenders

      Which is an interesting point of view, particularly as one assumes as soon as assurances come you’ll lump the assurers in with the defenders of profit-driven corporations.

      is much like the fracking industry

      Well, in that it is an industry, but beyond that, not so much.

      Where is the science proving GMO foods are safe?

      Genera on this site provides a whole bunch of it. More interestingly though is where is the science showing GMO foods cause harm? (as this is a question which can actually be addressed, with a null hypothesis of no harm – one cannot go in with a null hypothesis of harm and then prove non-harm, one can however prove harm and disprove safety – this hasn’t been done)

      Saving the starving sounds like a worthy plan, making corps rich at humanity’s expense, not so much.

      Good then that part the first is a possibility (albeit one vastly underutilized to date due to anti-GMO sentiments) and that part the second holds absolutely no basis in reality.

    • Laura,
      I’ll address a couple of your points. Consider wheat. There is a new strain of stem rust disease spreading around the world. Breeders have identified a resistance gene to counter it via conventional breeding, but now there is a need to introgress that gene into all the hundreds of wheat varieties adapted to specific regions around the world with their usually very specific quality standards. That challenge would be no different for a biotech trait – it is the sort of challenge that breeders have been dealing with for a very long time.

      As for wanting to slow down, a lot of that depends on your perspective. I first started hearing about the idea of engineering crops in 1977 and that was two years after the first big scientific meeting to consider if and how to proceed with genetic engineering. I then remember year after year hearing an update at scientific meetings on how the regulatory framework was being designed for the EPA, USDA and FDA. In 1988 I attended another major scientific meeting on risk assessment for biotechnology where a wide range of scientific disciplines were represented. Then in the early 90s there were closely monitored field trials. It wasn’t until 1995/6 that any commercial plantings happened. That certainly didn’t feel rushed. How is it that now, 38 years after the first biotech safety meeting, we are still debating this for places like Africa where traits could be offered to small farmers for free. Here is a quote from that continent you should consider: “You people in the developed world are certainly free to debate the merits of genetically modified foods, but can we please eat first” Florence Wambugu, 2003

    • I have good news Laura: the Arctic Apples actually retain more nutrients than control apples. You can read more about that here: http://www.biofortified.org/2012/07/okanagan-specialty-fruits/

      Yay science!

  • Robert Hotchkiss

    For me the most cogent argument against genetically modified crops is IP rights associated with the seed. We already have situations where people are starving in the middle of fertile farm land because importation of subsidized grain makes it unprofitable to farm. GM seed stock threatens to increase this situation dramatically. If you talk to those who want labeling of genetically modified products this is a big part of the conversation. It isn’t that genetically modified foods are somehow poisonous it is that the move to genetically modified seed stock prevents access to agriculture for the world’s poor.

    • Ewan R

      It isn’t that genetically modified foods are somehow poisonous it is that the move to genetically modified seed stock prevents access to agriculture for the world’s poor.

      This would explain why GM cotton, for example, has been such a resounding success in such vastly rich agricultural nations as India, Mali and China. Because poor farmers don’t have access to the seed. Yes. That must be it. All the poor farmers using this stuff are actually lying about their income vastly. Pam Ronald’s flood tolerant rice which was scuppered utterly by regulatory requirements inflated due to anti-GM sentiment and fear was specifically for poor farmers (thankfully they managed to breed the trait in succesfully and still helped folk, albeit on a rather later timeline than had they been able to get the GM varieties out there).

  • Robert,
    If there are importation issues, they don’t have any connection to GM crops. We are in a global grain market where demand is outstripping supply, but again, that has no connection to GM crops. GM actually offers a great deal for the world’s poor. The technology is being offered for poor farmers for free by many organizations and companies. The denial for the poor is mostly driven by the fear driven by rich regions like Europe who are themselves dependent on imports from the nations that use biotechnology to increase their productivity. The threat to the poor isn’t from technology, it is from anti-technology

  • Apartheid_DC

    Laura is astute and absolutely correct. Consumers overwhelmingly DO NOT WANT toxic chemicals, unnatural elements and poisons in their food supply or breeding anywhere in the natural environment.

    Consumer sentiment ALONE is enough to block the toxic, profit-driven gmo movement, and governments must listen to and respect the wishes of their constituents–not the wishes of an oligarchy of scientists and bureaucrats who have sold out to monopolies and corporations.

    There should be some respect for the sentiments of the religious community, as well. Pope Benedict placed promoting gmos high on the list of of new “sins” that will harm humanity.

    The lack of the ability to make informed decisions on the part of the consumer, secrecy involved in the development of these poisons, lack of labeling and knowledge of long-term health consequences, widespread contamination of acreage and lack of democracy involved with GMOs is alarming.

    • Ewan R

      Consumers overwhelmingly DO NOT WANT toxic chemicals, unnatural elements and poisons in their food supply or breeding anywhere in the natural environment.

      Consumers don’t want buzz words with no meaning in their food? That is nice. (really, unnatural elements? What on Earth does that even mean.

      Consumer sentiment ALONE is enough to block the toxic, profit-driven gmo movement

      Y’know, if it were toxic I’d be all for it being blocked, alas (for your whole spit flecked tirade at least) it isn’t, and thus you’re tilting at windmills.

      There should be some respect for the sentiments of the religious community, as well. Pope Benedict placed promoting gmos high on the list of of new “sins” that will harm humanity.

      I will, I think, pass on taking the word of a guy who spent vast swathes of his career sheltering pedophiles on what is, and is not, a sin.

      The lack of the ability to make informed decisions on the part of the consumer, secrecy involved in the development of these poisons, lack of labeling and knowledge of long-term health consequences, widespread contamination of acreage and lack of democracy involved with GMOs is alarming.
      ..

      The lack of education on these things is certainly alarming. Although I think we both mean completely different things when we say this.

    • pdiff

      Actually, the Catholic church has called for less regulation of GM and more availability to those in need..

      http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v29/n1/full/nbt0111-11.html

  • theoldtechnite

    GMO’s declared sinful by the Catholic Church? Are you really advocating to take scientific advice from the people that took 300+ years to pardon Galileo ? I guess your home orrery has a complete set of crystal spheres.

  • t. edmund hunt

    I am not part of a particular group, I want to say that at the outset.

    I also want to say that I have a background in science, having begun a pursuit of biology at Reed College years ago. I ended up not gong that direction as a career, but just to say I’m about as techie as they come. I love the study of nature. And am not “anti-science”.

    Having said this, I want to say that I find the pro-GMO writings, including the one that started this blog, loaded with name-calling.

    Personally, I am deeply suspicious of GM foods, and have eliminated them from my diet. The idea of having the pesticide IN the food, not just on the surface–and that the pesticide (the Cry proteins) destroys the intestinal tract of insects–frankly, I hate.

    It cannot be denied that a Monsanto employee, Paul Taylor, was the head of FDA at the time GM was approved by the FDA. It cannot be denied that the 44,000 pages of documents from the FDA approval reveal that FDA scientists warned of higher risk for GMO organisms.

    Finally, not to go on too long:

    828 scientists from around the world are calling for a complete moratorium on GMO’s. Their open letter is fully documented. Below is just an excerpt:

    “A university-based survey of 8200 field trials of the most widely grown GM crops, herbicide-tolerant soya beans – revealed that they yield 6.7% less and required two to five times more herbicides than non-GM varieties(3). This has been confirmed by a more recent study in the University of Nebraska(4). Yet other problems have been identified: erratic performance, disease susceptibility(5), fruit abortion(6) and poor economic returns to farmers(7).” http://www.i-sis.org.uk/list.php

    Now, maybe you disagree with their conclusions. But could we please stop the unfair rhetoric?

    • Regarding that list of 828 “scientists” – who are they? I’ve started browsing it and I’m finding a significant amount of people without academic titles as well as many with “only” BSc’s and MSc’s. Examples (I started from the bottom of the list):

      754 Najeeba Naja Ph.D THE QURAN IS TRUE MANKIND ARE U DEAF DUMB BIND WERE U OR WERE U NOT A DROP OF SPERN ISNT THE ONE WHO GIV E LIFE able to GIVE LIFE TO THE dead THE HUMAN RACE I ISLAM IS TRUE USA
      755 Elaine Needham illustrator researcher writer speaker none USA
      758 Panatey Nice To See Your Site Is Being Updated Company inc USA [scientist?]
      762 Trina Paulus food issues sculpture writing Hope For the Flowers USA
      768 William Pizer Many years as an organic farmer Schoharie Certified Organic Hydroponic Greenhouses USA
      772 Linda Prout M.Sc nutrition writer speaker consultant Lifehift USA
      777 Claudia Riumallo Mother concerned about her children future health Mother USA [!!!!!]
      778 John Robb permaculture USA
      781 James Rose Ceptual Institute USA
      788 Thomas J. Saunders Student Environmental Science Humboldt State Univ. Arcata USA
      797 Colleen Sheppard Wholistic Energy Therapist USA
      803 Kim Smith I consume only organic food and desire to see a ban put on GM as soon as possible USA

      It kind of goes on like that.

    • Some familiar names:

      211 Prof. Gilles-Eric Seralini Laboratoire de Biochimie& Moleculaire Univ. Caen France
      292 Dr. Vandana Shiva Research Institute for Science and Ecology India
      418 Prof. Terje Traavik Virologist University of Tromso Norway
      576 Dr. Mae-Wan Ho Geneticist and Biophysicist Open University UK
      813 Prof. John Vandermeer Biologist Univ. Michigan Ann Arbor USA

    • MikeB

      First you say you have “background in science,” then you say this:

      “The idea of having the pesticide IN the food, not just on the surface–and that the pesticide (the Cry proteins) destroys the intestinal tract of insects–frankly, I hate.”

      I do not have science “as a background,” and yet I know that all foods contain pesticides in one form or another, and that the pesticide you cite, the Cry proteins, are only activation by enzymes in specific insects’ guts.

      Finally, at the end, you cite a quack organization as a source. Scroll here:

      http://www.quackwatch.com/04ConsumerEducation/nonrecorg.html

      Keep taking those biology courses.

  • the bug guy

    Our plant-based foods naturally contain many pesticides that evolved to protect them from insects and other consumers. Some, like capsaicin, we specifically breed for greater concentration.

    Here is a good starter article on natural pesticides in our food:
    http://www.pnas.org/content/87/19/7777.full.pdf

    Yes, the Bt protein works in the digestive tract of insects, but an alkaline pH (usually >8) is required to fold the protein to its active state. This is very different from the human gut pH of about 1.

  • Mr. Hunt, I agree wholeheartedly that it would be best to stop the unfair rhetoric . But how about you being the first to do that.

    I mean, for example, you may suspect a possible conflict of interest because Michael Taylor of the FDA has previous connections to Monsanto, but considering that you got his name wrong and also incorrectly stated that he was the head of FDA at the time GM was approved, the words “it cannot be denied” seem to be rather exaggerated.

    And what does it mean for herbicide tolerant soybeans to need two to five times more herbicides than soybeans that are killed by herbicides? Isn’t that like saying that cars need two to five times more gasoline than bicycles?

  • shawn

    Among people I know, myself included, concerns about GMO foods revolve around things like a lack of government funded studies on the long-term effects of GMO’s on both people and environment, lack of corporate regulation, etc.

    Demanding strict oversight and long-term meta-analyses for an industrial practice that effects our most direct connection to the planet (growing and eating food) and could potentially alter the course of human agriculture forever makes sense, doesn’t it?

    Where long-term, non-corporate meta-analyses for proposed GMO’s be acquired? Where would you direct someone interested in learning about GMO’s?

    Thanks

    • Hi Shawn, I agree that we need to base our decisions on all the information available. We’re actually gathering all the research we can, pro, con, neutral, independent, industry-funded, and competing industry-funded together in one database we call the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas, or GENERA. Click the GENERA tab on the top to learn more about the project.

    • Shawn,
      Government funded studies have not been the standard for almost anything that is regulated (drugs, pesticides, biotech crops) because the assumption is that the burden of that cost should be borne by the entity that would benefit. That does not at all mean that the data can’t be trusted. The labs (often contractors) have to maintain scrupulous records and are audited by the regulators. If they ever got caught falsifying data it would be the end of their business. That said, in the case of GM crops some governments have funded research (the EU in particular) and it has ended up confirming the rest. As Karl says, see their GENERA tab.

      As for human studies, it has been a relatively long-term policy of EPA in particular that human studies are not ethical. Animal models are used. Drugs are a bit different, but there they can test relevant doses and have the possibility of seeing + or – effects. If one fed pesticides or GM crop components to people at relevant rates, the study size would have to be gigantic to have any hope of detecting any effect because the doses of any substance of interest would be so small.

      “Demanding strict oversight” seems to be your concern, but in fact GMO foods have the strictest oversight of any food in history. Foods that have been much more massively altered in much less understood ways have never been subject to any sort of oversight. That is what is ironic about this entire debate. Long before biotech crops were commercialized, a three agency regulatory framework was devised. Conferences on risk assessment were held many years earlier. I doubt that there has been any technology in history launched with nearly as much effort to anticipate any possible issue.

      Your concern is that something here “could potentially alter the course of human agriculture forever.” Lots of very thoughtful people spent a great deal of time an effort considering such possibilities starting as early as 1975. I attended a major conference on that question in 1988. I think that what stands out about this technology is how people who decided they were against it in a 1996 time-frame have continued to “say the sky is falling” for all of these years without a reasonable, testable hypothesis for how such harm would happen and without any evidence of an unanticipated issue over 16 years of commercialization on a massive basis. As Mark Lynas, an early organizer of the anti-GMO movement has since admitted, they didn’t have any good scientific logic for what they were saying then, and other than Mark, few if any have ever bothered to see what the science actually says.

  • Daniel

    Corporate-driven genetic engineering science is pseudo-science. The technology is still in its infancy and the methods used are very unelaborate. At this stage, genetic engineering should not be used anywhere outside the laboratory. However, greedy corporations lie to the consumers telling them: “Hey guys, with GMOs farmers will need less pesticides and herbicides.” How could that be? The same companies are producing pesticides and herbicides such as Roundup. Which company wants to ruin its business? The advertisement of biotech companies induce into error. The goal is to sell a new farming method that uses more chemicals, not less.
    The agenda is about controlling the global food supply and make all farmers dependent on corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta and the like. By the way, the majority of studies show that GMO crops need more chemicals than conventional crops. So where is the benefit to the farmer and the consumer?
    I totally avoid any GMO products and inform all people in my vicinity about the health hazards of GMO. I was one of the people that committed their time and finances to contribute to Switzerland’s adoption of a ten year ban on GMO products in the agricultural and food sector, which now has been prolonged by the Government.
    I will forever boycott GMO products, since they are the biggest threat to humanity’s survival and its ability to feed itself!

    • Well, saying that a science is in its infancy does not make it a pseudoscience. A pseudoscience is a nebulous collection of claims that is either ill-defined in terms of its logic or predictions, or impossible to verify for other reasons. Thus, something that is not falsifiable. Genetic engineering and any science involved in it does not meet the definition of a pseudoscience.
      It is an interesting question – why would a company that produces an insecticide create a product that would reduce or eliminate the use of theat insecticide? Why would a computer company make a faster computer that would make their previous line of computers obsolete? The simple answer is that if they don’t do it first, someone else will and that will put them out of business. I attended a presentation by a scientist from one seed company that pointed out that if their transgenic maize was successful, it would undermine their own insecticide sales. They’re fully aware of this. Where it seems to not make sense is when people claim that selling GMOs is all about selling more chemicals, so selling a GMO that would result in fewer chemical sales doesn’t match with that claim. The problem lies with the claim, not their economic strategy.
      I haven’t seen any evidence that the companies want to do something so extreme as to control the world’s food supply. They want to make products that will sell, and gain a significant market share. World domination is for movies.

      • Daniel

        What you claim corresponds not to the truth. During the first half of the twentieth century, seeds were mainly in the hands of farmers and public-sector plant breeders. In the decades since, biotechnology companies have used intellectual property laws to commodify the world seed supply — a strategy the goal of which is to control plant germplasm and generate maximum profits by eliminating farmers’ rights. In less than three decades, a handful of multinational corporations have engineered a speedy corporate seizure of the first link in the food chain.
        Proprietary seeds now account for 82 percent of the world’s commercial seed market. Monsanto controls 23 percent of the world’s seed sales by itself. Monsanto and the next two biggest seed companies, DuPont and Syngenta, sell almost half.
        Once a poor farmer contracts with a giant seed company, the unlucky farmer is trapped. Standard contracts with seed companies forbid farmers from saving seeds, requiring them to buy new genetically engineered seeds from the company every year and the herbicide to which the seed has been engineered to be resistant. Monsanto aggressively litigates against farmers to enforce this provision, dictates farming practices and requires its inspectors to be given access to all records and fields. The company has even sued neighboring farmers whose fields unwillingly became contaminated with Monsanto’s seeds.
        Monsanto has a dark past. How could possibly something good originate from such a company? At their shareholder’s gathering, Monsanto’s staff and management were talking how to eliminate nature and replace all natural seed by their genetically engineered seed. If this is not about controlling the world food supply, then what would be the definition of controlling the world food supply? Of course, once you control the seed (the first link in food production), you also control the whole food chain. I disagree with your statement “World domination is for movies”. Just look at Hitler, and the many would-like-to-be-Hitlers that live even in our time that are prevented from emulating their aspirations, because they didn’t make it into positions of power.
        If these companies haven’t extreme objectives, why the heck they use corruption on such a large scale (including controlling governments) to push their agendas?

        • An alternative view is that the seed companies are producing seed that farmers like. Any farmer is welcome to buy seed with no intellectual property restrictions, or they could breed their own seed. Farmers totally do have The Right to Save Seeds as long as they don’t start with germplasm that’s protected.
          I’d love to see some proof that Monsanto et al wants to “eliminate nature” or that they “use corruption on such a large scale (including controlling governments) ” or that they have “sued neighboring farmers whose fields unwillingly became contaminated”. The only example of a supposedly wrongful farmer suit that I know of is Percy Schmeiser but the courts found (and basic genetics supported) that he purposefully bred his canola to contain the protected trait. So he’s not exactly an innocent here.
          As for Hitler and other dictators, well, you know I guess it had to come to this, Godwin’s Law and all. No matter how powerful an international corporation gets, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to compare such a corporation to genocidal maniacs. Even if you believe a company can be “evil” it’s pretty bad business to want to kill your customers. Just sayin.

          • Daniel

            Killing your customers is not necessarily bad business, if you lack ethical conscience, such as is evidently the case with Monsanto. Because GMO’s kill slowly and safety tests are geared not to find any problems. The customers will not be able to make a conclusive link between their degenerative disease and the diet of GMO food that caused it, because of the lapse of several years. It’s not bad business for the pharmaceutical companies either, I am sure the pharmaceutical companies must be big supporters of GM0’s and the biotech companies behind it. The people with moderate income (still the majority) having to pay ever higher health insurance fees (in some countries such as Switzerland health insurance is obligatory) for treating diseases that may have been prevented if the food were healthier, will be less enthusiast… It’s ridicule how expensive the health system in industrialized countries has become…

        • TheOldTechnite

          Totally untrue. The farmer is not allowed to save those seeds but he is free to buy whatever unpatented seeds for the next season and start saving again. Funny, most don’t, not even when they aren’t patented. Farmers are not dumb. They do what hey do best, grow crops for food and let their seed suppliers do what they do best, provide consistent hybrid and GMO seed. Growing crops for food is different than for seed.

          • Daniel

            The farmers I know do everything to avoid buying hybrid and GMO seed. Some of them even rely purely on their own seed, they buy once suitable seed and thereafter reproduce them for decades. Of course, the set of farmers I tend to mingle with is a different set of farmers that are customers of biotech companies, but the farmers I know are not dumb either, even though they may be reluctant to pass the seed growing to specialized companies.
            I am not against professional seed suppliers, as long as they refuse to use genetically modified seed. Of course, if you do monoculture type of agriculture, then you need to have hybrid seed from a supplier. But then again, I think the future of agriculture lies not in monoculture, but in the opposite, in mixed-cropping and diversity farming, a far cry from what current mainstream agricultural practices are.
            Research should go into how to increase knowledge about natural farming. Once you really are into understanding nature, you will find out that scientists lack deep knowledge. Modern farming practices destroy the soil and are short-term oriented. Scientists should more focus on really understanding nature rather than to think how to shoot a gene from a species into an unrelated species thereby causing massive collateral damage. In my view, this is not serious science, this is gambling. Serious science will only really start the day when scientists come to appreciate that science has to go hand in hand with ethical considarations. Ethics is certainly alien to large segments of American culture, which is the cradle of the depravation of humanity (unbridled materialism, promiscuity, consumerism). In developing countries you can clearly see the ugly face of the consequences of Americanization. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that GMOs, another evil contraption, started from the US.

  • Ed

    Monsanto can stop seed farmers by infecting their corn with their patented bacteria genes. You will not see bacteria naturally breeding with plants in 10000 years. As for wheat, folks are gluten intolerant and siliac disease infected and it has something to do with our strains of grain. Now there is CRISPR and people can design their own genomes without even borrowing genes like spider genes in a goat.

    • Genetic engineers use a bacterium called Agrobacterium that naturally injects its DNA into plants. So yes, you will see bacteria “breed” with plants – and it is happening every day. The claims about wheat gluten intolerance are not true – not only was there no evidence for this to begin with, a study specifically looked at modern versus ancient varieties of wheat and found no difference in that regard. (Also, none of the wheat we eat is genetically engineered.)

    • Ed,
      Farmers around the world really like to be able to grow biotech crops. This is true both in developed countries and in places with vary small-scale farmers. CRISPR is a very interesting tool, but I think you overestimate it. All of these are options that can be used well and are also quite well regulated to take into account all associated risks. This really isn’t the scary thing that you are imagining.

  • Daniel

    Dear friends, please allow me to advance irrefutable and ultimate arguments AGAINST the use of GMOs in agriculture.
    I suggest that we first turn our attention to our animal friends. Wild animals (and, for that matter, domestic animals if given the choice) don’t touch GMOs. How innumerous the indivduals who observed that GMO feedstuff or food is left untouched for weeks in nature, but the organic or conventional (non genetically modified) food doesn’t survive even one night without being eaten by wild animals. Now, let us ponder a little bit on wild animals. Do they have health insurance to treat their cancers and a huge array of other degenerative diseases? No, of course they don’t, they have to remain healthy until the end of their life or spend their existence in misery. Therefore, the sole fact that animals categorically refuse to eat any GMO (if given the choice) should already motivate us to become cautious. Why do animals have the capacity to distinguish non GMO food/plants from GMO food/plants? The only answer is that GMO/non GMO is intrinsically and inherently different. So, how can the FDA claim that there is no inherent or substantial difference between GMOs and non GMOs? The FDA is deceiving all the people. Of course, GMOs and non GMOs are substantially different. The genome of non GMOs does not contain genes from other species…
    I ask you, why is it that the US has the highest average incidence of cancer and degenerative diseases in the world? Why is it, that this morbidity curve took off like a vertical take-off just shortly after the introduction of GMOs? Is this really only a pure coincidence?
    Now, let me debunk a few of the hollow arguments advanced by proponents of GMOs, the soldiers of negation. According to them, GMOs help in combating world famine. It is the opposite, GMO crops failed in India when hit by drought. Organic plants are much more able to cope with extreme weather, but they don’t bring money to industrial lobbies.
    Another argument I would like to debunk here is that GMOs help small farmers. That’s an insolent proposition. GMO technology relies on patented seed with terminator technology (you can’t reproduce them like organic or conventional seed). It is expensive. But that is not all. GMOs rely for their survival on massive use of pesticides and herbicides (by the way, is it not funny to note that the same companies which commercialize GMOs are also in the business of producing pesticides/herbicides/fungicides/growth hormones?). GMOs have been engineered to resist huge quantities of chemicals, the worst ones being systemic ones, those that wander into all cells of a plant and are persistent. Small farmers go into debts to buy the seed, the fertilizers, the pesticides and the herbicides. Afterwards, if the climate is not clement, the harvest is not good and they can’t pay back their loans. That’s when most kill themselves. In India, hundred of thousands of farmers have committed suicide, but no country in the world is totally immune of this phenomenon. In each country, farmers are more likely to commit suicide than the general population, for divers reasons, one of which is the dependence created by GMOs. In reality, companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Dow, BASF and Syngenta are mortal enemies of small farmers, irrespective of whether they practice organic/non-chemical or conventional farming. There are no bigger oppressors of the small-hold farmer than the biotech/GMO/agrichemical companies (which in reality are almost one and the same).
    Every argument that is put forth by proponents of GMOs lacks good faith. If we analyze it and ponder and reflect the matter more in depth, we will come to see that all the pro-GMO lobby’s arguments are hollow and deceptive. They are only a travesty to hide the dark agenda behind GMOs. This should be clear to anyone endowed with a seeing eye and a discerning mind.
    Industrial chemical farming, and especially (to a much higher degree) GMO farming practices are in conflict with the laws of nature, such as the need for the largest diversity possible, the law of interconnection and interdependence, the law of natural balance (each pest has its natural enemy in an intact environment), the principle of beauty instead of monotony (monoculture).
    The GMO lobby is grounded in an aspiration for world domination. If you control the whole food chain, you also control each and every human being on this planet. Or, as French-speaking people would call it: “la mainmise totale sur le vivant”.
    I ask you, you, the majority of human beings all over the world, do you want to became the guinea pigs and the socio-economic slaves of a tiny minority who more often than not refuses to eat GMOs? Do you want to have less and less diversity to choose from? Do you like emptied, monotonous landscapes? Do you enjoy to see the world’s ecosystem collapse? Do you like your lifespan to be dramatically shortened by the effects of GMO products on your body just to fill the pockets of a restricted circle of greedy and power-hungry people with oversized egos?
    To the proponents of GMOs that claim GMOs are completely safe: If GMOs are so safe, why do you put up ferocious resistance against mandatory labeling of GMOs? Why did you have to spend countless millions of dollars in California just to get victory by a tiny margin? Why is it that a figurehead among your ranks has admitted that labeling GMOs would be equivalent to putting a big warning sign with a skull and bones on each GMO product?
    I ask each of you: Doesn’t every human being on this planet enjoy the sacred basic human right to decide what he/she wants to eat? Is it not the right of every human being to be informed about the real nature of GMOs and the detrimental effects that sound independent scientific studies have, irrefutably, shown, but that are being discredited by the pro-GMO lobby that only admits the studies financed by it, where the conclusion is already determined before the study even begins? Why is mandatory labeling frightening the hell out of biotech companies, if their food is as safe as they claim?
    Why do so many human rights have to be trampled on just to further the agenda of private interests? As a fair-minded individual, do we not have the responsibilty to admit that GMOs in agriculture are devoid of common sense and ethics? As for me, I have already investigated all these questions and many more almost two decades before and given the only possible answer: GMOs are scientifically unsound, socially destructive, environmentally unsustainable and one of the biggest transgression against humanity. That’s why I put all my weight behind banning GMOs in Switzerland and together with untiring efforts of countless other souls was successful to get them banned. Isn’t it ironic that Syngenta, a Swiss biotech company and a leading player in its field, is prevented from selling its GMO products in Switzerland? Should not people and politicians all over the world heed what happened in Switzerland, one of the few (albeit not perfect) relatively real democracies in this world, where people can freely voice their opinions and information be freely shared. In a country, where people have one of the highest education level and where science is kept in high esteem, a large majority supports not only mandatory labeling of GMOs, but the total ban? What does this say about GMOs?
    By now, I am sure that most fellow human beings, having taken time to read my comment, agree with me. It is likely that many already agreed with me before reading this comment… And those who are not of good faith, namely the proponents of GMO, will continue their meaningless attempts at brainwashing people into believing GMOs are safe.
    In the long term, the GMO scourge will be overcome, as more and more people become aware of the frightening dangers associated with as well as the evil motives behind its drive for world domination and arise, in a collective effort, to get rid of this scam. We, the vast majority of peoples of the world, are one and stand united on this subject and shall prevail against the forces of darkness. Darkness is frightened by light, the same is true with the GMO lobby, it is frightened by the light of truth.

    • grapedoc

      Daniel, prefacing your comment with “this is irrefutable” is perhaps not the most engaging strategy? I’m guessing you don’t really have any interest in feedback here? Am I right?

    • Wild animals (and, for that matter, domestic animals if given the choice) don’t touch GMOs.

      Citation needed for sure. Assuming that wild animals will have nothing to do with GMOs rather prompts one to wonder why there would be concern that the success of Bt cotton in China and India comes with an inherent downside of secondary pests becoming more of a problem due to lack of competition. What are these wild animals eating, if not the Bt cotton? If not the Bt cotton, then why the concern? I’m pretty sure I’ve encountered a number of anecdotes about deer, raccoons etc (particularly in northern states) being problematic to various field trials, is it perhaps only those animals that are ambivalent or unfriendly to us that aren’t eating GMOs? Is there something about our animal friends that makes them avoid GMOs?

      I ask you, why is it that the US has the highest average incidence of cancer and degenerative diseases in the world?

      http://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-cancer-frequency-country

      The USA is sixth for cancer. After Denmark, France, Australia, Belgium and Norway – 4 countries which don’t grow a great deal of GMOs and one which does….

      It is the opposite, GMO crops failed in India when hit by drought

      High performance hybrids will tend to do worse in drought conditions than poorer varieties. You’re conflating hybrids and GMOs here. A severe enough drought will kill GM or non GM crops – higher performing varieties will tend to have less residual water in the soil (as they’ve used it all up growing big, leaving them more prone to drought from both the angle of available soil moisture and water requirements)

      GMO technology relies on patented seed with terminator technology

      GMO technology no more relies on patents than automobile or lightbulb technology does. Spurious argument is spurious. Terminator technology has never been deployed, so you’re looking, if I may be charitable for a moment, desperately out of touch with reality.

      GMOs rely for their survival on massive use of pesticides and herbicides

      This is a patent (b’dum, and indeed tish) lie. a roundup ready soy plant, and a non-roundup ready soy plant (otherwise isogenic) will fare essentially exactly the same if roundup and other pesticides are not applied. Only upon the application of roundup will one see a difference. That a GMO can be used in conjunction with a pesticide does not mean that its survival depends upon said application.

      Arctic apples and golden rice also spring to mind as GMOs which expose either your ignorance or your gross dishonesty – neither of these are designed for use with pesticides, nor would they require any more, or less, than their non-GM counterparts.

      GMOs have been engineered to resist huge quantities of chemicals

      Huge quantities? at my last calculation somewhere in the region of 60ul per plant would be the approximate quantity of roundup (2 quarts of roundup per acre(1892ml), 28,000 plants per acre = 1892/28,0000 = 0.06ml = 60ul) applied per plant. Which is smaller than an average raindrop. But sure, huge quantities, lets pretend that’s a thing.

      Small farmers go into debts to buy the seed, the fertilizers, the pesticides and the herbicides.

      True, but also true for non GM farmers. GM seeds cost more for certain, but the savings in pesticides tend to make up for this.

      Afterwards, if the climate is not clement, the harvest is not good and they can’t pay back their loans.

      Same applies to any crop, GM or not, if the climate doesn’t behave you’re buggered. You may scrape by if you’ve planted something that barely grows anyway (soil water retention will be improved early season because the plant isn’t using it). The issue here however is shitty financing and a lack of government support (crop insurance programs in the EU and US exist for reasons)

      In India, hundred of thousands of farmers have committed suicide

      Indeed, a very sad fact, it’s a shame you appear to be yet another despicable vulture willing to piggyback on the deaths of hundreds of thousands to make your spurious case against a technology. Suicide rates amongst farmers in India remain unchanged before and after the adoption of Bt cotton, how one can tie the two together without either honesty or simple respect kicking in is beyond me.

      there are no bigger oppressors of the small-hold farmer than the biotech/GMO/agrichemical companies

      I’d hazard a guess that loan sharks would figure higher, as would poverty fetishizing pseudo-environmentalists like Vandana Shiva.

      Every argument that is put forth by proponents of GMOs lacks good faith. If we analyze it and ponder and reflect the matter more in depth, we will come to see that all the pro-GMO lobby’s arguments are hollow and deceptive. They are only a travesty to hide the dark agenda behind GMOs. This should be clear to anyone endowed with a seeing eye and a discerning mind.

      My irony meter literally just exploded. For real. There are chunks of irony meter embedded in my cubicle walls, I think I got some in my coffee too.

      the laws of nature, such as the need for the largest diversity possible

      No such ‘law’ exists. Are you, perchance, high?

      The GMO lobby is grounded in an aspiration for world domination.

      And a terrible job they’re doing at it. What good is world domination if you only pull in as much revenue as Whole foods?

      If GMOs are so safe, why do you put up ferocious resistance against mandatory labeling of GMOs?

      These two things aren’t logically connected. If it is so safe to have food packaged by black people why would anyone be resistant against mandatory labeling of same? If food grown on a slope is so safe why would the farming lobby resist labeling? If the ‘cides used in organic farming are so safe why is there no mandatory labeling of each and every input used in the growing of each and every item that is at the grocery store?

      Why is it that a figurehead among your ranks has admitted that labeling GMOs would be equivalent to putting a big warning sign with a skull and bones on each GMO product?

      It would appear you’ve answered your own question. The well is so poisoned with terrible thinking such as you have displayed here that this is precisely what it would be like. Odd that an industry would be opposed to the addition of a label which would cause people to avoid it simply because of misinformation rather than hard facts (if there were actual real health issues connected to GMOs or the pesticides used then pushing for labelling would be bloody silly, one should be for getting them removed from the food supply, something I would be 100% behind if the evidence existed)

      detrimental effects that sound independent scientific studies have, irrefutably, shown

      citations? (as no such studies exist I assume these occupy the same reality space as the terminator seeds you waffled about earlier)

      Why do so many human rights have to be trampled on

      Knowing exactly what methods were used to produce your food is not a human right. It has never been considered one, and never will be. Considering it so dilutes the very meaning of human rights to a goddamned joke. Unsurprising coming from one so willing to use the tragic deaths of thousands to further their own agenda.

      do we not have the responsibilty to admit that GMOs in agriculture are devoid of common sense and ethics

      Wait, are you expecting that we have corn plants capable of discussing ethics? Should P19T01R be eviscerating Sam Harris for juvenile assertions about retaliatory missile strikes against pharmaceutical factories? Should DKC 62-08 be aware that it shouldn’t pull a cookie pan out of the oven with bare hands?

      As for me, I have already investigated all these questions and many more almost two decades

      It astonishes me that you can claim to have investigated these questions for two decades and still spew forth drivel about terminator seeds. That’d be like claiming to have studied embryogenesis for thirty years and then launch into a discussion on the nature of the homunculus.

      In a country, where people have one of the highest education level and where science is kept in high esteem, a large majority supports not only mandatory labeling of GMOs, but the total ban? What does this say about GMOs?

      It tells us that the level of misinformation is such, and the political environment such, that even intelligent people can be hoodwinked by lies (see terminator seeds…) into believing anything one might wish.

      http://m.thelearningcurve.pearson.com/index/index-ranking

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_Index

      both show Switzerland as ranked lower than the US, Australia and Canada, all of which grow and consume GMOs… if you’re going to make an argument based on educational level one might expect that you actually check you aren’t shooting yourself in the foot first (although your feet are, by this point, sadly bullet ridden patches of pulverized meat sitting where the bottoms of your legs used to be – you appear to have taken a semi-automatic weapon to yourself rather than the standard hand gun employed by an amateur autopedosaggiteur)

      By now, I am sure that most fellow human beings, having taken time to read my comment, agree with me.

      Your certainty, no doubt, bears as much in common with reality as the rest of your rant. Only those who already agreed are likely to agree further, most have probably been made sick by your abuse both of reality and paragraphs (I’m frequently guilty of the latter, which probably explains why I got this far in response….)

      Darkness is frightened by light, the same is true with the GMO lobby, it is frightened by the light of truth

      From someone who rather than curse the darkness would prefer to simply call it lightness while running around blowing out the candles of others.

      • Daniel

        Dear Ewan R, all the comments you made are unfounded. How much do you get from the GMO/biotechnology lobby for your ridiculous claims and why let yourself be corrupted by a cause that is unworthy? I will just debunk one of your hollow statements, but I could (however I don’t want to spend time for fools like you) show the lies in each of your counter arguments.

        You seem to underestimate Switzerland and overstate the US.
        In a few areas, it is true that the US ranks higher than Switzerland, such as the number of homicides and all kinds of other crimes committed. People are almost 8 times more likely to be murdered in the US than in Switzerland. But then, that’s understandable, since the IQ of the average American (yours is below average) is just 98, whereas the Swiss people score higher, namely 101. Switzerland does better than the US (which is only good in destructive areas such as invading weaker countries and imposing GMOs on people that don’t want them) in all constructive and humanitarian areas. Admittedly, Switzerland doesn’t have such a ridiculously bloated military-industrial complex, that’s one of the few industrial area where the Swiss can’t compete with the Americans, but then again, there are so many areas where Swiss quality products have no American competition…

        The life expectancy of Swiss people, according to the WHO (2012), is three years superior to that of the US. But then again, Switzerland is superior in any area. The Human Development Index (UN Development Programme) ranks Switzerland 3rd, the US comes at the 5th place. Swiss students are better at mathematics than American students according to the PISA survey Mathematics (2012). Switzerland: 9th position, the US only 27th… According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015, Switzerland has the world’s most competitive economy: NUMBER ONE. USA: number 3. OECD countries by wealth in USD: Switzerland 512’562, USA 301140.

        By now, every unbiased observer will admit that it is really foolish to compare the US with Switzerland. It is like comparing a rat (US) with a tiger (Switzerland). Who is stronger? Also, why do you foolishly attack a country (Switzerland), instead of limiting your attack to my commentary?
        But be that as it may, for your enlightenment, I will share a few information about Switzerland’s achievement that will change (or so I hope) your ignorant view on Switzerland and that will show you that Switzerland plays in a different league than the US:

        Switzerland is the land of superlatives, leading the world in science, Nobel Prizes, patents, publications, citations, quality of life, competitiveness, happiness, many sports, you name it. The Swiss are too modest to boast about this, but for Prof. Schmidhuber it’s ok to say that, since he is not Swiss.

        Switzerland – Best Country in the World?
        Quality of Life. 2 of the world’s top 3 most livable cities and 3 of the top 9 are located in Switzerland (Mercer survey 2010).

        Competitiveness. As of 2009-2013, Switzerland tops again the overall ranking in the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum.

        Science. Switzerland is the world’s leading science nation.

        Patents. Switzerland has the highest number of patents per capita, and is world leader in per capita R&D expenditure (2000 World Competitiveness Report of the IMD).

        Publications. Switzerland boasts the world’s highest number of scientific publications per capita, as well as the most citations per capita (Thomson-Reuters 2009). Here are the numbers for physics: Switzerland 40.5, Israel 21.0, Sweden 16.4, Germany 13.3, UK 9.5, US 8.8, Italy 7.6, Japan 7.0. It also has the most publications per scientist (in this ranking the runners-up are closer, due to fewer scientists per capita): Switzerland 14.3, UK 12.2, US 11.2, Holland 10.6. Similarly for citations per scientist: Switzerland 196.4, US 146.0, UK 140.7, Holland 130.3 (Reckling 2007, UNESCO database). In particular, a Swiss boasts the most cited single-author paper ever (200,000+ cites).

        Economy. In business Switzerland is also punching far above its weight. For many decades it had the world’s highest GDP per capita; it still has the world’s largest wealth per capita (Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2010). When the two Swiss pharma companies Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy merged to become Novartis in the 1990s, this was the biggest merger in industrial history so far, quite remarkable for a country of only 7.5m, or 0.001 of the world’s population. Today 2 of the world’s top 6 pharma companies are Swiss. So is the world’s largest food company. Banking does play a role, but is not the most important industry. Much of Swiss GDP is contributed by small companies with at most a few 100 employees, many of them world leaders in their particular niche markets. Many CEOs and >50% of the professors are foreigners. A record 50% of all Swiss students visit a top 200 university (compare US: 18%, Germany: 20%). Excellent industry-oriented professional education yields high social mobility. Multilingualism is the norm.

        Switzerland is surrounded by the European Union (a new kind of empire?), which in many ways is like a giant version of Switzerland, whose individual states (cantons) retain a lot of power, with mutually competing tax systems, lots of local direct democracy & referendums, and a consensus-based federal government whose largely unknown leaders frequently change on a routine basis.

        Happiness. Switzerland got the highest ranking in the list of happiest countries (1990s average), according to the Happiness Foundation.

        Nobel Prizes. Switzerland boasts far more Nobel Prizes per capita than any other nation that collects Nobels on a regular basis, even when we do not consider all the foreign laureates living here. Ignoring statistical outliers St. Lucia and Iceland (each with a single laureate, according to the Nobel Foundation), Switzerland is the only country with nearly 3 Nobel Prizes per million capita (properly taking into account that most laureates get only 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 of the prize). The large science nations all have values below 1 (so do most small nations). In the above graphics on the evolution of national shares of all Nobel Prizes 1901-2006, the vertical width of a nation’s colored band at each year measures its percentage of all Nobel Prizes up to that year. Switzerland is the prominent red band. Note how many of the prizes it got, although it is now 40 times smaller than the US, and 10 times smaller than Germany, which led the absolute Nobel Prize count until 1956 (until 1965 if we consider only the laureates’ countries of birth; until 1975 if we consider only the sciences). Below we list some of the greatest breakthroughs that took place in Switzerland.

        Albert Einstein, perhaps the most famous scientist ever, had his “miraculous year” 1905 at a patent office in Berne, Switzerland, and published his master work on general relativity theory 1915 in Berlin. Back then he was both German and Swiss, and in fact he had Swiss citizenship longer than any other. Leading physicists voted him greatest physicist ever (poll for Physics World magazine; source: BBC News, 29 Nov 1999); he also became TIME magazine’s person of the century. Today his theories have innumerable practical applications.

        Switzerland is birth place of the World Wide Web, created in 1989 by British scientist Berners-Lee at the European particle collider CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. Within two decades the WWW changed the lives of billions, for example, yours. CERN itself boasts the biggest and most expensive scientific machine ever, designed to figure out how the world works.

        More Breakthroughs. Swiss inventions & discoveries & heroic deeds with world-wide impact include those of Euler (18th century, among the greatest scientists ever, discoverer of math’s “most beautiful formula” eiπ+1=0), logarithm tables (Bürgi, 1588-1610), the first technical journal (Scheuchzer, 1705), variation calculus & probability theory (Bernoulli, 1713), the electrostatic telegraph (Lesage, 1774), photosynthesis analysis (Senebier, 1788), the internal combustion engine (de Rivaz, 1807) which eventually led to the second industrial revolution (driven by the more practical but later engines of Otto & Benz & Diesel), the first multinational enterprise (Fischer, 1833), cough pills (Wybert, 1846), the Red Cross (Dunant, 1864), the copying machine Schapirograph (Fuerrer, 1902), the origins of intelligence in children (Piaget, 1936), the drug LSD (Hofmann, 1938), artificial hip joints (Müller, 1960), electronic watches (Accutron, 1959), the electric toothbrush (Tavaro, 1960), nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (Ernst, 1966), the quartz watch (Centre Electronique Horologer, 1967), the Pascal programming language (Wirth, 1968), high temperature superconductors (Müller & Germany’s Bednorz, 1986), the first planet orbiting another star (Mayor & Queloz, 1995), Tamiflu (Roche, 1999), Gleevec (the first wildly successful cancer drug, Novartis, 1990s), the first human stratosphere flight (A. Piccard, 1931), the first and only trip ever to the ocean’s deepest point (J. Piccard, 1960), the first balloon trip around the world (B. Piccard, 1999), and many, many more.

        Sports. Switzerland is among the world’s most sportive nations, collecting many more Olympic medals per capita than almost all other countries. The plot above refers to the most recent Summer & Winter Olympics (2008 & 2010), where 7.5m Swiss won 8 golds – more than 1.0 golds per million capita (gpmc). This puts them in an exclusive club with Jamaica (6 golds / 3m people = 2.0 gpmc), Norway (12 golds / 5m = 2.4 gpmc), and East Germany (1976: 47 golds / 16m = 2.9 gpmc; 1980: 3.5 gpmc; the number of golds per Games has grown by 64% since 1976 though). The values of the large nations are clearly below 0.5 gpmc; most small nations have 0.0 gpmc. Switzerland also has the lowest obesity rate (7.7%) of the Western world (compare: US 30%, UK 23%, Germany 13%, Norway 8.3% – OECD Health Data 2005). Japan has only 3.2% though.

        Architecture. TIME magazine’s millennium issue (1999) called the Swiss-born LeCorbusier the most influential architect of the 20th century. Today’s top architects are the Swiss Herzog & de Meuron (e.g., Olympic stadion of Beijing). Two of the 30 Pritzker Prizes so far (dubbed the architecture Nobels) went to the little country with just one thousandth of the world’s population (most recent laureate: Zumthor, 2009). Swiss also dig the world’s longest tunnel (57km – BBC 2007).

        Oldest Democracy? Democracy was invented by the Ancient Greeks. By some definitions of the concept, Switzerland is the oldest still existing democracy (since 1291).

        Copyright notice (2010): Jürgen Schmidhuber http://people.idsia.ch/~juergen/switzerland.html

        • Daniel, it’s true that Ewan R does tend to use ridicule, which may offend you – but your two replies are so offensive that, in my opinion, they really should be deleted.

          By the way, Switzerland has much to be proud of, and I would count Dr. Ingo Potrykus as one of the world’s leading humanitarian scientists.

        • Daniel, please read our comment policy before commenting further. You have made several unfounded personal attacks, played the shill card, and made accusations about the mental health of others. Your worst comment has been deleted. If you wish to be a part of our community please abide by the rules, and there will be no debate here about this issue.

  • OrchidGrowinMan

    Citation Needed

  • Ewan R

    Why do you need the analogy of me having bullet-ridden feet?

    Why would someone who grew up in an English speaking western country use a spectacularly common idiom to describe someone making a total fool of themselves? I don’t know, maybe Derek Bickerton would care to comment on this (I don’t believe idiom use is his specialty, but linguistics is at least his sport…)

    Your whole Swiss exceptionalism piece would be very meaningful if I’d made any statement about the US being better, rather than simply countered one statement you made (if Switzerland produces the finest cheesemakers the world has ever seen this gives no validity to your statements on education, where the documents I provided clearly show that there is near parity between most western nations with the US coming out ahead of Switzerland, which is the only point of yours I was refuting) – national exceptionalism upsets me greatly, and as a British citizen I care not one jot that you can go off on a tangential anti-US rant. It’s rather cute really. – I was literally responding to the statement

    In a country, where people have one of the highest education level

    I made this perfectly clear…

    I will just debunk one of your hollow statements, but I could (however I don’t want to spend time for fools like you) show the lies in each of your counter arguments.

    So, given that you failed to debunk my statement (you may have demonstrated many ways in which Switzerland is superior to the US, that’s fine, but given that I was specifically talking education (in general, rather than getting down to minutiae)) with a spectacularly long double rant for someone who hasn’t the time…. I’ll throw you a bone (again, an idiom, lest you get all tangential again)….

    debunk just this one –

    Terminator technology has never been deployed

    Given that it actually has pertinence to the debate and isn’t a tangential intercontinental genital measurement contest in which I have literally zero stake.

    To clarify:-

    1) Terminator technology would be a transgenic technology which prevents seed saving by causing sterility of the seed.
    2) Deployment would mean use in a commercial/farm setting, rather than in a research lab.

  • Editor’s note: Daniel’s comment has been removed for violating our community guidelines.

  • Daniel

    Dear Ewan R, I appreciate some of your comments made in your last contribution that I find less offensive and I hope I have not been too offensive in return to your comments. In my imagination, British people have a thick skin…
    I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I never stated that Switzerland has THE highest educational level. I only said “where people have ONE OF THE highest education level”. I would also like to point out that Switzerland is not an English-speaking country. The mother tongues of Switzerland are German, French, Italian and Romansh; English is not part of the official languages of Switzerland. The Swiss have to learn it in school, like the pupils all over the world. Of course my English is not perfect, but can you say that you are proficient in German (mother tongue), French (mother tongue), Spanish, Italian, English, Dutch and read and write Chinese, as well as speak it fluently?

  • Switzerland certainly does contain some good things, that is for sure.

    http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/pages/switzerland.aspx

  • Daniel

    Ewan R, you are right. I would also like to add another good thing of Switzerland, namely the announcement of a long-term test on the effects of GMOs and the associated use of glyphosate:
    http://panswiss.org/newsroom/unprecedented-gmo-and-glyphosate-study/

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