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 websiet is :"His blogging website is Applied Mythology. You can follow him on Twitter @grapedoc

Posted in Commentary Tagged with: , , , , , ,
30 comments on “Counting The Cost of the Anti-GMO Movement
  1. LauraNo says:

    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 says:

      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.

    • Steve Savage says:

      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

    • MaryM says:

      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!

  2. Robert Hotchkiss says:

    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 says:

      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).

  3. Steve Savage says:

    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

  4. Apartheid_DC says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

      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

  5. theoldtechnite says:

    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.

  6. t. edmund hunt says:

    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?

    • Tom says:

      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.

    • Tom says:

      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 says:

      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.

  7. the bug guy says:

    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.

  8. c_rader says:

    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?

  9. shawn says:

    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.

    • Steve Savage says:

      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.

  10. Daniel says:

    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 says:

        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 says:

            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 says:

          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 says:

            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.

  11. Ed says:

    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.)

    • Steve Savage says:

      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.

Leave a Reply

Biology Fortified, Inc. is an independent, non-profit organization devoted to providing factual information and fostering discussion about issues in biology, with a particular emphasis on plant genetics and genetic engineering in agriculture. Find out more on our About page.

Join us as we learn about agriculture and biology with Frank N. Foode™, your friendly neighborhood genetically modified organism.

Support Biology Fortified