About those industry funded GMO studies…

Let’s talk about those industry funded studies. You know the ones. The ones you hear about from anti-GMO folks in the comment section of any story about GMOs. According to those folks, the whole scientific consensus on GMO safety is based on industry funded studies. They say that the only studies that show that GMOs pose no different risks than conventionally bred crops were all bought and paid for by Monsanto. That makes the consensus suspicious right? It would if there weren’t many independently funded studies with similar results.

Complaints about industry funded studies show an ignorance of the literature and may indicate a lazy desire to dismiss inconvenient evidence in order to preserve predetermined ideological commitments. It’s plain old confirmation bias and motivated reasoning run amok.

Monsanto is a medium sized company ($57.43B). Is it really possible that they’ve manipulated tens of thousands of scientists performing thousands of studies for three decades with no whistleblowers? Could Monsanto’s power have resulted in a scientific consensus that has been bent completely to their will? In comparison, fossil fuel behemoths Exxon Mobil ($394.83B), Chevron ($215.45B) and BP ($150.07B) (total: $760.35B) have been completely stymied in their efforts to buy a scientific consensus on climate change. Let’s put aside the fact that this line of thinking just doesn’t make sense. Instead, let’s take a look at the evidence and unravel some of the pretzeled logic often employed to dismiss the weight of that evidence in support of the scientific consensus on GMOs.

Let’s start with the European Union (EU). Politicians in the EU are generally not friendly to GMOs and they wanted to be very careful about them. So they ponied up €200 million over a decade to look into the matter. The resulting studies are neatly summarized in A Decade of EU Funded GMO Research [pdf].

This new publication presents the results of 50 projects, involving more than 400 research groups and representing European research grants of some EUR 200 million. This figure brings the total Commission funding of research on GMO safety to more than EUR 300 million since its inception in 1982 in the Biomolecular Engineering programme.

…The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.

In addition to the EU studies, scientists around the world have been building on our knowledge of GMOs. Biofortified’s GENERA project (in progress) has amassed a list of over 1000 studies on the safety of biotechnology, about 1/3 of which have independent funding. Not all of the studies are supportive of the position that GMOs are no riskier than their conventionally bred counterparts, but the vast majority support that proposition.

Let’s look at a type of papers that are of particular value to non-scientists: literature reviews (video) and meta-analyses are a great way for getting a sense of the weight of the evidence on a given topic. They help us avoid single study syndrome and keep us from missing the forest for the trees. Here are four of these type of papers from the Biofortified list of studies with independent funding.

  1. Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review

The aim of this systematic review was to collect data concerning the effects of diets containing GM maize, potato, soybean, rice, or triticale on animal health. We examined 12 long-term studies (of more than 90 days, up to 2 years in duration) and 12 multigenerational studies (from 2 to 5 generations). We referenced the 90-day studies on GM feed for which long-term or multigenerational study data were available. Many parameters have been examined using biochemical analyses, histological examination of specific organs, hematology and the detection of transgenic DNA. The statistical findings and methods have been considered from each study. Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed.

  1. A Meta-Analysis of Effects of Bt Crops on Honey Bees

Honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) are the most important pollinators of many agricultural crops worldwide and are a key test species used in the tiered safety assessment of genetically engineered insect-resistant crops. There is concern that widespread planting of these transgenic crops could harm honey bee populations. We conducted a meta-analysis of 25 studies that independently assessed potential effects of Bt Cry proteins on honey bee survival (or mortality). Our results show that Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cry proteins used in genetically modified crops commercialized for control of lepidopteran and coleopteran pests do not negatively affect the survival of either honey bee larvae or adults in laboratory settings. Although the additional stresses that honey bees face in the field could, in principle, modify their susceptibility to Cry proteins or lead to indirect effects, our findings support safety assessments that have not detected any direct negative effects of Bt crops for this vital insect pollinator.

  1. A Meta-Analysis of Effects of Bt Cotton and Maize on Nontarget Invertebrates

Although scores of experiments have examined the ecological consequences of transgenic Bt crops, debates continue regarding the nontarget impacts of this technology. Quantitative reviews of existing studies are crucial for better gauging risks and improving future risk assessments. To encourage evidence-based risk analyses, we constructed a searchable database for nontarget effects of Bt crops. A meta-analysis of 42 field experiments indicates that nontarget invertebrates are generally more abundant in Bt cotton and Bt maize fields than in nontransgenic fields managed with insecticides. However, in comparison with insecticide-free control fields, certain nontarget taxa are less abundant in Bt fields.

There is one more literature review from the Biofortified list that I want to look at, but in the context of making an important point. There are lots of industry funded studies. The majority in fact. But there are also many independent studies. How can we judge if the industry funded studies are reliable? If the independent studies and the industry studies come to the same conclusions, then we can conclude that the industry studies are reliable. And that is exactly what we find.

Let’s parse out the findings of a 2007 literature review on human and animal toxicological/health risks studies for GM foods/plants and the 2011 follow up.

In is 2007 paper Toxicity studies of genetically modified plants: a review of the published literature, José Domingo found little to no evidence that genetically engineered crops posed significantly different risks than conventional crops, while sounding several cautious caveats and underlining that the body of literature seemed too scant for drawing confident conclusions. One statement of the abstract caught me eye. “Moreover, most published studies were not performed by the biotechnology companies that produce these products.”

The same author followed up in 2011 with a colleague and found a much larger number of studies, but also a shift in the proportion of industry funded studies. This wasn’t surprising since prior to 2006, companies hadn’t been publishing their test results (aside from in their patent applications) but an industry-wide push for transparency had changed that.

  1. A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants

The main goal of the present review was to assess the current state-of-the-art regarding the potential adverse effects/safety assessment of GM plants for human consumption. The number of citations found in databases (PubMed and Scopus) has dramatically increased since 2006. However, new information on products such as potatoes, cucumber, peas or tomatoes, among others was not available. Corn/maize, rice, and soybeans were included in the present review. An equilibrium in the number research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns, was currently observed. Nevertheless, it should be noted that most of these studies have been conducted by biotechnology companies responsible of commercializing these GM plants. These findings suggest a notable advance in comparison with the lack of studies published in recent years in scientific journals by those companies.

José Domingo and Jordi Giné Bordonaba are certainly no cheerleaders for biotech crops. Yet, despite the increase in industry funded studies between their reviews of the literature in 2007 and 2011, they still find plenty of evidence to affirm their cautious stance towards the technology.

An even more robust review of the total literature published in 2014 is more conclusive in their findings: “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.” In An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research, the authors collected and evaluated 1,783 research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports published between 2002 and 2012, a process that took over 12 months to complete. The review was published in Critical Reviews in Biotechnology and covered all aspects of GM crop safety, from how the crops interact with the environment to how they could potentially affect the humans and animals who consume them. And their conclusion?

The lead author, Alessandro Nicolia, an applied biologist at the University of Perugia in Italy, said in an interview: “Our goal was to create a single document where interested people of all levels of expertise can get an overview on what has been done by scientists regarding GE crop safety. We tried to give a balanced view informing about what has been debated, the conclusions reached so far, and emerging issues.”

Looking at the scientific literature about GMO safety, we find little difference between the results of independent and industry funded studies. What if we were a little more rigorous in our scrutiny? Johan Diels of led a team that did exactly that. The results were interesting, but not without some problems.

Association of financial or professional conflict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products

In a study involving 94 articles selected through objective criteria, it was found that the existence of either financial or professional conflict of interest was associated to study outcomes that cast genetically modified products in a favorable light (p = 0.005). While financial conflict of interest alone did not correlate with research results (p = 0.631), a strong association was found between author affiliation to industry (professional conflict of interest) and study outcome (p < 0.001).

No association was found between financial conflict of interest (COI) and article outcome. The authors did find a correlation between “industry affiliation” and favorable study outcome. But realize how far we have moved the goal posts. We started with the proposition that we couldn’t trust any of the research because it was it was all paid for by the industry. But we found that’s not true. Now we have researchers looking into the matter and they can’t find a relationship between industry funding and favorable study outcomes. And there’s no connection there. What’s left is griping about the industry ties of some of the researchers. Before looking a little closer at that, let’s get one thing out of the way. When a company pays for a study, they are paying because they want to find out something. Fudging the data does not help them in their business. Such data manipulation would be generally be counter productive. That’s why it didn’t show up in the data.

Now let’s focus on the association between professional COI and study outcome. There are a few things that might explain that correlation besides a lack of independence. Half the sample was undeclared regarding COIs, leaving a very small sample to examine. In the professional COI category nearly 10% of the sample size was categorized as undetermined. Moreover, while 43 authors had COIs, 28 of the studies were compositional studies. These are nearly always funded by the companies and they are close to always favorable since finding  substantial equivalence is very likely. Remove those 28 studies from the set of 43 with financial or professional COIs and the P values will shift towards insignificance.

Another thing to keep in mind, especially where compositional studies are concerned is that the company has already performed in-house studies. They are contracting independent scientists to confirm their findings. This is going to skew the results of the sample towards industry favorable study outcomes. This doesn’t mean the studies were suspect. They were just more likely to result in a favorable outcome to begin with. If the in-house study had an unfavorable outcome in compositional assessment or other tests, then that project would be stopped and it’s back to the drawing board for a new project. There is no need for follow up testing by outside independent researchers. That’s a big reason why so many studies in that sample will produce favorable results.

In written conversation, independent researcher and professor of horticultural sciences, Kevin Folta put it this way:

I think the other factor is that industry recruits independent experts to independently reproduce findings. They show in house that x+y=z. They then hand the test to a university, that finds x+y=z. If the test fails in-house, then it does not go for independent verification. That will skew statistics too, because the outcomes of the university-based tests have already been demonstrated. The reason the results frequently agree is because they are frequently correct.

On his blog, Folta looked at the question of industry funding at the University of Florida:

First, I went to an easy source at my university, the University of Florida. The Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) publishes their financials every year. You can find this online here.

ifasfunds

How much Big Corporation money did we spend? Not that much. It is buried somewhere in that “other sponsored funds” piece of the money pie.

Now wait, I can hear critics already screaming that “other sponsored funds” is almost 10% of the research dollars spent, and that’s a significant amount at a place like the University of Florida. So let’s use the record to break that down:

ifasother

Yikes. Corporate sponsorship is a pretty small sliver of that pie. So about two percent of our funds come from corporate interests. For the anti-scientific critics out there, that’s about two dollars out of every hundred.

If we are bought and paid for, we’re bought really cheap and not paid well.

Elsewhere in that conversation, Folta said,

The other important thing to remember is that almost no university researcher is going to commit career suicide by fudging data, especially for some damn company. That’s why companies come here. If the results don’t agree with what they found, it means that they are not reproducible. That’s the answer they NEED to know, and why they go independent in the first place!

…Even if a university gets a building, how does that make an individual researcher change research, essentially torpedo a career? Even if a company finances a lab (which is rare) they want the real answer, not some fabrication. To suggest that we’re all somehow sellouts is insane. Show me where my data do not hold up.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t pay attention to potential conflicts of interest or that we should take industry funded research at face value. What I am saying is that dismissing an entire body of research because it’s supposedly bought and paid for is foolish and lazy.

When you shout ‘Conflict of Interest’ before evaluating the evidence and analysis, it becomes an excuse for discounting inconvenient evidence. Asking about conflicts of interest should be a safeguard against getting snookered by weak evidence. Instead, it becomes an excuse for dismissing good evidence. Examining the soundness of the evidence must come first. Then you can decide whether questions of funding and loyalties are relevant. This is how you maintain a firm footing on solid ground. Use awareness of conflicts of interest to avoid motivated reasoning. Otherwise you are only fueling the fire of your own biases.

A previous version of this article appeared on REALFOOD.ORG on 13 February 2014.

Budding food writer with previous careers as a union organizer and chef.


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79 comments to About those industry funded GMO studies…

  • The most glaring example of Conflict of Interest comes of course from the anti-GMO organic activists. They run phony, tax-funded “research” schemes that are nothing more than marketing campaigns designed to “characterize” the organic movement. Yeah, real objective.

    I’m a huge supporter of the organic movement. But I wish it would drop the false indignation over GMOs and the companies that create them. In fact, it’s time for the organic movement to embrace GMOs as President Clinton wanted back in 1997!

    • Brandie

      Mishca do you not realize that GMO is not allowed to be certified organic? In the rules for organic growers they are not allowed to use GMO seeds and if they are contaminated they can no longer sell their crops as organic. In Australia Steve Marsh has lost his organic certification due to the contamination of his field by his neighbor. Your pipe dream of Organic growers “embracing” GMO’s would mean the end of organics. So to make that comment I am thinking you are not for organics the way you say you are.

      • Brandie, please read the standards. Yes, you’re correct that organic growers are not allowed to USE GMO seeds, exactly as they’re not allowed to use prohibited pesticides. But if prohibited pesticides drift onto an organic field, that field is not de-certified. Far from it. In fact, small amounts of spray drift are EXPECTED under organic standards. Likewise, small amounts of GMO pollen drift are also expected, and this does not prevent an organic farmer from selling a crop as organic. Never has, never will.

        • Brandie Harrop

          No offence Mischa but people who don’t want to consume GMO’s for what ever reason are depending on the organic label to not contain them and the organic industry knows that. If it becomes a regular thing they will lose business and people will just grow their own food. That is what I have done. And as for farmers embracing the technology I do not agree. I have spent the last year interviewing farmers because I wanted to get the story from them instead of the propaganda machine on the internet (both sides) I have heard from them things like “my field just keeps getting contaminated anyways so I gave in” “there are no other seeds available” “we can not get the man power on the farm to grow differently” “We can not find staff that wants to work so we have to grow in ways that doesn’t need staff” “with the subsidies we are making a fortune growing it” But interestingly enough there is one question I have asked of all the conventional and GMO farmers and all of them have the same reply.
          I ask what kind of food do you eat? Do you eat conventional and GMO? Please keep in mind this reply is their words not mine “I am not eating that poisonous s**t!! I eat organic! I mean come on I see what I spray on that crap” So now if you think I am a hysterical crazy lunatic because I only want to eat uncontaminated organic food you can see I have a very real reason for feeling that way. the farmers know the food the best and they know the chemicals. If THEY don’t consider the food that they are growing safe why would I? Right now I know of lots of farmers that are starting to slowly change over their fields because they not only don’t feel the food is safe but they don’t like the way they feel about serving that up to the rest of their fellow Canadians. Now this is not to say that there isn’t some farmers out there that really like them, Just this is the story that I have gotten from all the farmers that I have talked to.
          I have also talked to some really old school farmers that don’t call them self organic but grow that way just because that is the way they have always grown. They have taken the time to explain to me how they farm and how GMO is completely unnecessary. One farm family that has been farming for 160 years going on 5th generation explained to me how they handled all pests and weeds that these GMO’s were created around. And it honestly makes a lot of sense. The GMO’s are not needed at all. Another farmer whose family has been farming the land for 130 years told me he hates the way he is farming. They grow one GMO crop and 3 conventional crops. He said he would LOVE to switch but the soil is so damaged from all the chemicals that it is overwhelming. Our conversation was really interesting. He said that farmers don’t even need to know how to farm. The chemical companies give them a schedule to follow. Between this date and this date is fertilizer season, this date to this date is pesticide season, this date to this date is fungicide season etc and they list what they need to spray. He is one of the farmers that is going to changing over his land one section at a time and ditching the GMO’s all together. There is this super sweet old guy that hangs out at one of the farmers markets I go to. He is a retired farmer. I have sat and talked to him for hours. He is disgusted and horrified by the way people are farming now a days.
          Any ways I am sure you don’t want to hear me recount all my interviews as I am at over 50 of them now. I really don’t want to hear propaganda from either side any more. I have gone right to the farmers and no offence but I believe them, they are the one’s out in the field day after day year after year. They are the one’s growing the food and harvesting and dealing with the soil. If anyone is going to know the truth it is them.

          • Organic crops that come into contact in some way, shape or form with GMOs do not contain GMOs.

            It’s the same with pesticides that are prohibited in organic production. Just because the edge of a certified-organic crop is touched by spray drifting over the fence line, it does not follow that that organic crop now contains that pesticide.

            In any case, if the leadership of the organic industry thought that mere contact from neighboring GMO crops posed a risk to a certified-organic crop, they would have written a standard reflecting this. As it stands, organic farmers are merely prevented from USING GMOs themselves, and that is all.

            You could try to rewrite the organic standards.

            • Dawson Darling

              And indeed I’m surprised people don’t make more of a Hub-bub about the pesticide seepage than GMO pollen contamination. Seems the pesticides are far more likely to be harmful to people. But no, the reverse is true… >.<

              • Quite right Dawson! Anyone who subscribes to an organic philosophy should indeed be much, much, MUCH more concerned with pesticide contamination than the phony phantom-menace of GMO “contamination.” Sadly, the organic movement seems to have lost its way.

      • Brandie, a little history is in order. Organic farmers are not allowed to use GMO seeds because they (or their organizations) decided not to allow it. They could have decided that it was OK. In act, at one point the US government proposed a standard for what would be required to label a food product organic and it did not exclude GMO seeds, but the organic organizations orchestrated a huge outcry and forced the government to change.

        With that history, complaints that GMO seeds are contaminating organic crops is like the story of the man who murdered his parents and wanted leniency because he was an orphan.

        • “The man who murdered his parents and wanted leniency because he was an orphan.” That’s a good one c rader.

          Yes, it’s true, the self-appointed, mostly URBAN leadership of the organic movement did indeed orchestrate an outcry against the possibility of including GMO seed in organic production. They packed up their toys, one could say, and left the sandbox, convinced by their own propaganda that GMO crops would self-implode, forcing farmers to reject them.

          But now, almost 2 decades later, GMO crops have done nothing but grow in acceptance by farmers. So the self-appointed urban leadership have decided to start pretending GMO crops “contaminate” organic fields. Only one small problem; they forgot to write anything to that effect into their organic standards.

          And so it is that GMO pollen drift is no worse than a modicum of pesticide drift onto an organic field. Not ideal perhaps, but perfectly acceptable according to the activists’ own rules.

          How deliciously ironic. Pun intended.

      • Daryl

        Brandie, as additional support to Mischa and c radar, see the comments by Scott Mundell on the webpage http://gmoanswers.com/ask/i-am-unconvinced-gmo-crops-can-be-contained-when-it-comes-cross-pollination-surrounding-crops. Mr Mundell indicates that a low level of GM material in organic crops does not violate the Organics Standards. So, if the organic crop is being rejected due to GM contamination, it is because (as Mr Rader points out) of rejection by organic organizations rather than the standards.

        • Quite right Daryl. Any organic crop being rejected due to GM “contamination” is being rejected due to a misreading of organic standards, standards which the organic industry literally wrote for itself!

      • It’s an unfortunate bit of political history that GMOs were excluded from the Organic standards. There is nothing about Bt traited crops, Golden Rice or Rainbow Papaya that is inconsistent with the original principles and insights of organic founders like Howard and Rodale.

        • Quite right Marc! GMO Bt crops are a natural fit for the organic industry.
          In fact, I was within the “inner circle” of organic activists who decided to exclude GMOs from America’s organic standards back in 1997/98. And it was precisely BECAUSE GMOs achieve many, if not all, the goals of the organic movement that these activists decided they had to be excluded.
          Self preservation is always counterproductive to humankind’s larger goals.

        • Mlema

          Bt crops consistent with “original principles and insights of organic founders like Howard and Rodale”?

          You’ve got to be kidding. Organic is about the soil, preserving beneficial and other non-target insects, pesticides as last resort. There’s nothing about vast monocultures of bt crops that’s “organic”. I do think there are some organic farms that aren’t about organic either – however – selling bt crops to devoted organic farmers would be like selling beneficial insects to Monsanto. No need, no desire.

          • Ewan R

            “selling bt crops to devoted organic farmers would be like selling beneficial insects to Monsanto”

            Our automated greenhouses use IPM which includes beneficial insect presence as well as trap plants etc, your point is not well made.

            • Mlema

              OK. Disregard the comment about Monsanto. Tell me how “Bt crops are a natural fit for the organic industry.” – where IPM requires the use of pesticides as a last resort, not continual use day and night, throughout the plant, the soil, and the growing season? Because that was my point.

              • “IPM requires the use of pesticides as a last resort, not continual use day and night, throughout the plant, the soil, and the growing season” By this reasoning, any new pesticide gene in a crop, achieved through conventional breeding or genetic engineering would not be compatible with IPM. This is based on the flawed notion that IPM is about reducing the existence of and use of all things we classify as ‘pesticides.’ Instead, IPM is about increasing the effectiveness of inputs through more judicious use, and thus reducing their negative impacts and keeping them effective for longer.

                • Mlema

                  “IPM is about increasing the effectiveness of inputs through more judicious use, and thus reducing their negative impacts and keeping them effective for longer.”

                  That’s not a good definition. It may do those things, but that doesn’t mean bt fits into IPM. Even by your definition, bt sprays would fit IPM as opposed to bt crops. But continual application of bt sprays wouldn’t fit IPM either. It’s not “judicious use”. It increases the negative impact of the pesticide – on beneficial insects, on soil organisms, on preventing resistance through judicious use. Judicious use isn’t 24/7 – regardless of need. Judicious use requires prevention through extensive crop rotation, monitoring, targeted application. Bt crops are planted as insurance – and for ease and efficiency in the face of high demand. They’re not IPM, and they’re certainly not for organics, which was the original comment.

                  “By this reasoning, any new pesticide gene in a crop, achieved through conventional breeding or genetic engineering would not be compatible with IPM.”

                  Do you have an example in mind other than bt? It is true that sometimes when we engineer pest resistance into a plant (by whatever means) we increase susceptibility to other diseases. But the value of that trait might outweigh the drawbacks. These things have to be calculated. However, bt toxins don’t fall into that category.

                  • Mlema

                    my first reply posted at the bottom of the page – so you can remove that one. I reposted it because I’m tired of leaving notes to direct people to where the comment posted. I always refresh the page before I post, hit “reply” to the comment” – enter my test and then hit “p

                • Mlema

                  Karl, I decided to look into this some more. The reason we’re not agreeing on this is because there are a hundred definitions of IPM, and they go from using more than one pesticide (“Integrated Pesticide Management” – a sort of joke to IPM experts) to fully integrated use of all IPM tools in an appropriate hierarchy (something that probably doesn’t currently exist in reality).
                  Compendium of IPM Definitions (CID)
                  http://www.ipmnet.org/ipmdefinitions/index.pdf

                  But in the majority: “…pesticides are only applied if the epidemiologically relevant infestation levels or economic thresholds are exceeded.”

                  Bt crops manufacture Cry toxins (the pesticide) throughout the plant and throughout the growing season – regardless of level of pest. So, you can’t call Bt farming IPM unless you use the most liberal and least meaningful interpretation of what IPM is. IPM is labor intensive and requires planning, monitoring, and continued development tailored to specific ecosystems. Bt traits have been engineered into several commodities, regardless of the particular ecosystem of those plants. And Bt crops were adopted in regions where the additional cost wasn’t justified – the crop was planted as insurance. Pesticides aren’t used as insurance in IPM. These pesticides are safer than those we’ve used in the past (although bt toxins have been used as pesticides for a long time) – but using them in this way is counter to IPM.

                  Interesting commentary on IPM in the US:
                  The Delicate Balance: Environment, Economics, Development
                  http://www.issues.org/16.3/ehler.htm

                  So, people can desire to move our agriculture towards IPM, as seemed to be the goal a few decades ago, or they can deny that it’s worthwhile. But they can’t say that what we’re doing with the bulk of GMO right now is IPM. When the planting revolves around the pesticide, you’ve started at the wrong end.

                  • By this argument you’d be non-IPM if you decided to blight resistant potatoes, or nematode resistant soybeans though.

                  • Mlema – thank you for sharing your thought processes as well as your conclusion, and for being open to discussion. I agree with you that IPM involves being responsive and taking action as a consequence of observed pests, and specifically does not involve constant prophylactic use of a chemical pesticide. This approach both reduces undesired effects of pesticide use and slows the development of resistance. I do think that use of biological approaches CAN be a separate case. For example, a GMO rice that can withstand flooding for a longer period of time is consistent with IPM principles because the flooding acts as weed and pest control without the use of synthetic chemicals. Similarly, an RNAi approach to reduce susceptibility to a virus doesn’t need to be only used in response to detection of the virus; a GMO like the Rainbow Papaya can be used to eliminate/reduce the need for insecticides (to control insect vector of virus), and the constant presence of the RNAi is not likely to have undesired effects or increase development of resistance. The constant presence of Bt doesn’t seem to fit this exception because there might be unintended target organisms and its constant use will contribute to the development of resistance; perhaps an inducible Bt gene that could be turned on when necessary would better follow the tenets of IPM. However, for the use of Bt crops to truly violate IPM principles, they would have to be used when the target pest wasn’t present; i.e. Bt cotton when bollworm wasn’t present or Bt corn when corn root worm wasn’t present. My understanding is that these pests are always present, which is why farmers pay the premium for the Bt traits, so it may be that due to the constant presence of these pests the use of Bt crops is consistent with IPM principles.

                    This interchange started with a discussion of whether GMO crops were consistent with organic production principles. Because GMOs can be made that produce more nutrients, are more salt-tolerant, flood-resistant, lower in concentration of a toxin or allergen, etc., it seems to me that exclusion of GMOs is inconsistent with organic production values. I think the central issue is that biotechnology is considered ‘unnatural’ – while plowing with diesel tractors using hardened steel blades, planting seeds from non-native highly specialized varieties, harvesting phosphorus and shipping it across the globe, etc., are considered ‘natural’. As someone that has been a practicing geneticist for a long time, biotechnology seems very natural to me.

              • Ewan R

                Would you posit that organic breeding programs (which may or may not exist, I assume not) should push to remove natural plant ‘cides in an effort to only use pesticides as a last resort rather than continually throughout the plant, the soil and the growing season?

                https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/v1-511.html

                highlights a number of potential targets of breeding for better IPM in that case.

                Would Bt be a good fir? Sure, if you’re having issues controlling the insects that Bt controls, and resort to either Bt application or other insecticidal methods which wind up being more costly… yes, it’d be a good idea. Much as using a nematode resistant variety (produced by conventional breeding) would be a good idea if your farm suffers high nematode pressure – despite the nematicidal agent being ever present.

                • Mlema

                  I just re-read what I wrote there, and I had every right to expect a reply like the one you gave because my comment doesn’t even make sense. So I won’t question the facetious nature of your reply. But no, of course what you’re saying is ridiculous. We might want to reduce plant pesticides in the case where they pose a danger to humans who would like to eat those plants – it depends on the pesticide. And if all of your insect control is applied pesticides, then it wouldn’t be a concern. But in IPM or organic, you’d want to make use of the plant’s pesticides if you could. But bt isn’t a plant pesticide just because we’ve engineered various plants to manufacture it – just like engineering rice to produce lactoferrin doesn’t make lactoferrin a plant protein.

                  I think it makes sense to continue to study how to develop pesticides from what we know about plants (as per your link) – in order to then use those pesticides in ways that are in keeping with IPM. Sometimes plant pesticides are safer for use and the environment, sometimes they’re more harmful than synthetics. It just depends on the chemistry. But if we’re developing plant-inspired pesticides just to use them in the same way we use other pesticides in pesticide-driven agriculture, that’s not IPM.

                  • I’d argue that engineering a plant to produce a protein absolutely makes it a plant protein, it’s a protein produced in a plant. There is no magical essence of being attached to proteins, genetic sequences or suchlike.

                    “But if we’re developing plant-inspired pesticides just to use them in the same way we use other pesticides in pesticide-driven agriculture, that’s not IPM.”

                    Part of breeding though, is to introduce resistance traits (to diseases, insects, nematodes etc) into non-resistant lines. This absolutely is part of IPM, and is precisely what is done with Bt, simply without the transgenic element. You move a ‘cide into the plant to deal with the pest directly.

                    You can beg the question by simply defining IPM in a manner inconsistent with this methodology, but that would then simply be your own version of IPM, rather than IPM as practiced in agriculture.

                    • Mlema

                      By your reasoning, if we engineer a plant to produce ddt, that plant is just producing a pesticide for its own defense, and it’s now insect-resistant and should be acceptable in organic or IPM. The problem is, ddt is still a pesticide. And to have it continually expressed throughout the plant, and throughout its growth, would be counter to organic and IPM, which seeks to minimize pesticide use.

                    • It’s almost as if one should assess what is being produced rather than how it is being produced right?

                      One could breed any number of plants to produce highly deadly systemic chemicals which are already produced by plants (cyanogens, digitonin, etc) which could potentially be used in IPM under your own defintions (undoubtedly some of the resistances bred into plants produce not dissimilar effects).

                      This has infact already been done, the lenape potato – totally acceptable in terms of integrated pest (in this case blight) management. Totally not acceptable because it was toxic. So, one assesses the toxicity of the approach, not the source of the protein.

                      Pesticidal compounds are pesticidal. Whether you’d classify them as plant or not make utterly no difference. Toxicity cannot be predicted based on source of gene or genes that lead to the production of the pesticidal substance (many many plants contain all the genes required to produce cyanogens, it’d be relatively trivial although somewhat psychopathic to select for massively increased levels of same – they’d be very pesticidal indeed (which is why they exist in the first place after all)) and, by your rather odd ‘plant or not plant’ method of defining what is and isn’t IPM ready, be perfectly acceptable in your system.

                    • Mlema

                      It;s not about plant vs non-plant. I made a reply to you here Ewan, and once again, it dropped to the bottom of the page. Please look there for my comment that begins by quoting you:

                      “It’s almost as if…”

              • The Bt crops are effectively the same as host plant resistance since most of that resistance is a result of the plants producing phytochemicals that deter or kill insect pests. Host plant resistance is fairly high up on the IPM scale of preferred practices.

                • Mlema

                  Resistant plants in IPM refers to disease resistance, not herbicide tolerance or engineered pesticide expression – which doesn’t occur in response to the insect, but instead rallies the resources of the plant to continually manufacture the protein which serves as a pesticide. Although pathogens are pests, and gmos engineered for disease resistance can play a role in IPM (there are many things to weigh) – bt toxins produced by current GE crops don’t fit IPM.

                  • Ewan R

                    Resistant plants would refer to resistance to anything. Nematode resistant plants, disease resistant plants, insect resistant plants.

                    I’m pretty sure that while some plant responses to pathogens and predators are situational (ie they don’t respond until required) others are always on, in exactly the same manner that Bt is in transgenic plants (linamarin in cassava for instance)

                  • IPM does include insect resistant plants produced by biotechnology. The effect is no different, phytochemicals produced by the plant that deter insects, whether introduced by breeding, mutagenesis or transgenics. Here is a book chapter that specifically includes Bt crops in IPM programs:
                    http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4020-8373-0_1#page-1
                    An article on the Australian experience with Bt crops in IPM:
                    http://www.bugwood.org/arthropod2005/vol1/7f.pdf
                    An OECD presentation on how biotechnology can be used in IPM/Sustainable Ag:
                    http://www.oecd.org/agriculture/crp/42582878.pdf

                    That’s a good start.

                  • OrchidGrowinMan

                    Mlema,
                    Actually, most, probably all, plants continuously produce one or several or many insecticidal or otherwise pesticidal chemicals continuously. Otherwise, the rather slow response-time of a plant would make them useless. Just because we haven’t traditionally ballyhooed those chemicals does not make them any-the-less pesticides.

                    I’m too lazy to look it up, but I believe reading about some introduced plants that produce pesticides that kill desirable species that are fooled into eating them because of their similarity to their normal host plant. It’s a good thing this has not happened with any “GMO” traits, or yet another sky would fall.

                  • Mlema

                    Actually, this was my comment that didn’t make sense. So I appreciate the replies. Please read my replies to Karl and Ewan earlier above.

                    Bug guy: The paper on cotton illustrates how GMOs can reduce toxicity in a cotton field. Glyphosate and bt toxins have replaced more toxic pesticides in cotton (although we’ve got serious problems with glyphosate resistance in cotton). If you want to call “reduction of harm” one tiny incremental step towards IPM, then I would concede that point. But even though the bt trait confers insect resistance, it’s not what’s meant in IPM by insect resistant. We’ve essentially engineered crops to replace the job of applying Cry toxins as pesticides. And not just when needed, but all the time and everywhere. Bt toxins aren’t phytochemicals just because a plant is making them.
                    Plant Resistance to Insects: A Fundamental Component of IPM
                    http://ipmworld.umn.edu/chapters/teetes.htm
                    Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not the king of the world who wishes to determine how we grow cotton or anything else. But the way we’re doing it isn’t IPM, unless you stretch the definition so far as to make it virtually meaningless.

                    OGM, the industry denies that bt has negatively impacted lacewings and ladybugs. You may find this an interesting read. Some studies are linked at the bottom.
                    Underlying reasons of the controversy over adverse effects of Bt toxins on lady beetle and lacewing larvae
                    http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/9#

      • Ewan R

        It is worth noting here, I think, that the Australian standards that Marsh was decertified from, and USDA organic standards, are entirely different (if somewhat overlapping) sets of standards.

        From what I have heard (and I haven’t perused the court documents on the matter yet) in the Marsh case an inspector for the organization which certified Marsh overstepped the bounds when decertifying Marsh (reading their guidelines (something I have done!) rather paints a picture that some presence of GMO plants on an operators fields wouldn’t necessarily be a problem so long as the operator was not responsible for them being there and had personally done enough to keep them away (the wording is horribly vague, likely part of what led to removal of certification))

        In my opinion the certifying authority got things wrong (likely both in training employees and in poorly wording their requirements), the certifying agent got things wrong, Marsh got things wrong by taking legal action against his neighbor… but we can’t then turn around and use USDA requirements to argue for or against anything… the Australian requirements are far more vague, it is nigh on impossible to read into them exactly what would constitute allowable co-mingling of GM and non-GM (although I’d have to imagine that even the nuttiest of nuts would find something off in decertifying someone due to the presence of a handful of plants of a species which weren’t certified on that farm in the first place)

        • I’m not holding Mr. Marsh to America’s organic standards. According to Australia’s organic standards – which are not vague – there was no basis whatsoever to de-certify Mr. Marsh’s fields. Australia’s standards are clear, pollen drifting from a GMO crop is NOT a basis to decertify a crop or a field.

          • Ewan R

            Pollen drift had nothing to do with it though.

            Perhaps we read different documents, or perhaps I’m missing something but…

            http://www.nasaa.com.au/data/pdfs/AAAA%20NASAA%20Organic%20Standard%2006-02-2012.pdf

            Section 3.2.1

            “The deliberate use and or the negligent introduction of genetically engineered organisms
            or their derivatives to organic farming systems or products are prohibited. This includes,
            but is not limited to:
            • seed
            • feed
            • propagation material
            • farm inputs such as fertilisers and compost
            • vaccines
            • crop protection materials”

            Could quite easily pertain to pollen drift *if the inspector wanted it to* because it does not limit the list.

            3.2.3 could have been applied (very badly) to Marsh, as GMO plants were growing on his farm (arguably they were not a crop, as they were there by accident and not actually a crop he was growing)

            3.2.5 could have applied against him in terms of pollen drift, accidental presence etc if he knew but didn’t make sufficient (vague!) effort to prevent exposure.

            3.2.7 however clearly puts the onus on the certifyee to have sufficient buffers (something Marsh then went to court over to have his neighbor increase their buffers)

            3.2.9 could well include pollen drift, or accidental presence of Canola, but only, one feels when at liberty to take advantage of the vague wording of the piece. (what is an unacceptable risk of contamination – this is vague, regardless of your statement that it isn’t)

            Nowhere in all of 3.2 can I see support for either of the following:-

            Organic standards not being vague.

            The standards are clear that pollen is not basis to decertify. (If you can point me to anything in the standard that makes this clear I’d appreciate it, from my reading the following suggest that dependent on how one decides to read it presence of even pollen (which wasn’t the issue with Marsh anyway) would indeed be sufficient):-

            Quote above (emphasis on non-exhaustive nature of list)

            “The certification of organic crops will be withdrawn where genetically engineered crops
            are grown on the same farm.”

            This was Marsh’s issue, he had GMO plants on his farm (arguably they aren’t crops however)

            “Operators must not knowingly permit exposure or fail to take action against the application of or exposure to GMOs.”

            Based on non exhaustive list knowing exposure to GM pollen, or GM material at all (seeds, in marsh’s case – although one assumes also the swathed canola that could blow over from neighboring farms) would warrant decertification.

            all of 3.2.7

            3.2.9 in the case where pollen is considered part of the non-exhaustive list in 3.2.1

            3.2.11 absolutely allows for decertification if contamination (level not mentioned anywhere, thus both vague and applicable to pollen) occurs even where the applicant has no control.

            3.2.12 would totally decertify products which cross pollinated during drift – no special cases are made.

            All this, of course, applies only to the listed document, if I’m erroneously narrowing my search to a non exhaustive rules list then mea culpa.

            • It’s very simple Ewan.

              Australia’s organic standards prevent organic farmers from USING prohibited substances like GMOs and synthetic chemicals. To wit:

              3.1.5 The use of products comprised of or derived from genetic engineering is prohibited.
              3.1.6 The use of pesticides produced from synthetic chemicals is prohibited.

              Source:
              http://www.daff.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/126261/national-standard-2013.pdf

              But Australia’s organic standards do not pass judgment on organic farmers whose crops might come into contact with prohibited substances.

              If the mere presence of GMOs – whether resulting from pollen drift, seed drift, or GMO plant-material entering an organic field by any means – was enough to decertify an organic crop or field, then you can see by the two adjacent clauses quoted above that organic certifiers in Australia would also have to decertify every organic farm in the land that was touched by synthetic chemical drift.

              Thankfully this is not the case. And there’s nothing ambiguous or vague about it.

              To repeat, organic farmers are not allowed to USE GMOs, and the mere presence of GMOs is not grounds for decertification.

              These standards were written BY the organic industry FOR the organic industry in Australia. They were not written by anyone in the biotech or synthetic chemical sectors.

  • April Reeves

    The health effects of GM are pale in comparison to the environmental hazards and the corporate control of the food supply. Not everyone is concerned about their health, but everyone is concerned about their freedoms.

    It doesn’t matter what science does. What matters is that more and more people are moving into GE free foods, for many reasons. You can call them crazy or beat them up all you want, but the end result for YOU is more and more will move over to GMO free, because even the simplest of minds can realize that if you have to defend your product with bullying and antagonistic means, there is something systemically wrong with what you are doing. Good luck….

  • Cristine

    If gmos are great and you are proud label them

    • The are proudly labeled for the farmers who buy those seeds.

      • Again, great point Marc! (Geez, people are going to think we’re friends or something.) GMOs are indeed clearly labelled for the people who matter most: farmers!
        For everyone else, there’s already a perfectly effective label on the market that guarantees the GMO-free status of your food: it’s the certified-organic label.
        Creating a THIRD label in between regular food and certified-organic food will only serve to dilute the certified-organic label.
        Leave well enough alone!

        • Destiny Richardson

          “…clearly labelled for the people who matter most: farmers!” Well, this sums up the attitude perfectly – thank you very much for clarifying. The people who have to eat it don’t matter and shouldn’t matter; they should have no choice about what foods they are eating and, even more importantly, should have no means by which to access the knowledge necessary for making that choice. The consumer should not matter at all because, after all, he or she is the one consuming the food – it’s only important that the farmer, the one profiting from these foods, be informed. Because the money is what matters, not the possible consequences of consumption. I’m so glad to have been set straight on this issue.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Bottom line Destiny is that you have failed to comprehend the main point. Which is that the oft used claim that industry funded studies are highly biased is a lot of bohunkadahoolia. Also no where did Mischa’s post indicate that consumers do not matter or that they should be kept in ignorance. And, heavens to murgatroyd, farmers sometimes actually profit enough to earn a living. I know it’s just hideous, but profit by farmers makes it possible for you to eat.

    • HI Christine, if you would like to talk about labels, please start a conversation in the Forum. This post is about bias and funding in science.

  • Moderation note: A few comments went off the beaten path and ventured into a discussion of personal theological views that was not being constructive for anyone involved, and so this short thread has been removed. Please keep in mind how people’s perspectives on these issues differ, and if you want to start an independent and focused discussion about religious issues, please do so in the forum. Thank you, and please continue to discuss the post!

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    I have often wondered if some of the organic standards folks are attempting to ban G.E. farms by use of unreasonable standards. Opinions please. Also, I fail to see any logic in decertifying Marsh’s oats because of canola weeds. Safety was clearly not an issue with this. Also I read the preliminary hearing post and, if I remember correctly, Marsh decided to go organic after neighbors had already been using G.E. crops. Thus he is contending that his neighbors must behave in a manner that may raise their expenses. I see no reason why Baxter should be able to demand this.

    • That is precisely what anti-GMO organic activists are trying to do Eric.

      They had the opportunity to unite with the fledgling biotech industry – on a case-by-case basis – back in 1997/98, but chose to go on the attack instead. The only problem is, they failed to write organic standards that actually make it a “crime” (so to speak) for an organic crop to become contaminated by GMOs. There is, in other words, no such thing as “contamination” of an organic crop by a GMO crop in Australia, the United States or Canada.

      So yes, Marsh’s case in Australia against his GMO neighbor is completely without basis, and he and his certifier know it.

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Mischa, be careful, by agreeing with me you are in effect disagreeing with the many in the sustainable ag “discussion group” They consider me to be evil incarnate and I may hold the record for most variations of the “coporate shill” accusation. They attempt to use the all industry studies must be biased argument all the time. And because I’m not quite as dumb as I look, contended a while back that it would be foolish from an efficiency and P.R. standpoint for biotech companies to publish biased studies. I was not cheered. When I posted this blog. The silence was deafening. These people have refused to disclaim the criminal activities such as the crop destruction of golden rice plots in P.I. Try googling ‘war on gmos’ and look at the stuff you will find. When I went into this group. I was slightly against gmos because I could not comprehend that so many of my fellow farmers, colleagues, and intelligent friends could be so wrong. Now I know that some just don’t have the guts to speak up. Some have little or no integrity and some have no clue and don’t want any. This whole thing is a mess.

    • Yes Eric, the war on GMOs provides an amazing case study in psychology for future generations. What’s most amazing is the destruction of GMO test plots which takes place at the same time as anti-GMO organic activists claim there hasn’t been enough testing of GMOs to ensure they’re safe.

      • Destiny Richardson

        The so-called “war on GMOs” could be effectively ended if the industry would stop pouring millions into blocking labeling efforts. If you don’t understand the psychology behind people wanting to be informed as to what they put in their bodies, then it may be best for you to stay off the topic of psychology altogether.

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          Another way to end the war on gmos would be for folks like Destiny to learn the truth, read the comment that specifically mentioned a way for those who are ignorant of the safety to avoid the gmo foods. Again rewarding the spread of lies and disinformation by allowing labelling,Which would be manipulated into a “warning” is to reward dishonesty. Wake up Destinuy and give up the double dealing hypocrisy when what you really are is anticapitalist. See the money and profit remarks in her other comment.

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Translation?

  • Mark Wilson

    Regarding the Diels et al 2011 paper, in which they allege a conflict of interest. The table that is cited by anti-GMO folks is Table 2. In Table 2, they state that in 51 papers from authors with no industry affiliation, the papers found unfavorable results in 12 cases, but in 41 papers from authors with industry affiliation, there were no unfavorable results. When Hansen presented this (at Humboldt State University, Sept. 2014), he claimed that the 12 papers showed evidence of harm. But that’s not what the authors say. The authors say ‘unfavorable’ is
    (a) Absence of expected beneficial health effects.
    (b) Adverse health effects.
    (c) Lower nutritional value of the GM product when compared
    to the non-GM reference line.
    (d) Equal nutritional value of the GM product, when compared
    to the non-GM reference line, if the GM product was developed
    with the aim to increase nutritional value.
    Thus, some of these papers, or all of the papers, might be as benign as ‘a’ or ‘d’, in which ‘unfavorable’ means identical to isogenic. I wanted to figure out which of these the twelve papers were, but I was surprised that there was no list of the papers in a supplement.

    **I emailed the corresponding author – and got a reply that the list of papers had been lost and was unrecoverable, and there was no way of regenerating it.**

    For all we know that group of twelve papers contains papers that were retracted…or that found results identical to isogenic, or identical to isogenic in some ways but superior in others.

    • John Sikes

      **I emailed the corresponding author – and got a reply that the list of papers had been lost and was unrecoverable, and there was no way of regenerating it.** – WOW! HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN SO FREQUENTLY and consistently. Publish to the cloud and there’s pretty much no way to eliminate the studies once they’ve been picked up or backed up somewhere. The Nixon’s tape syndrome happens way to often, yet another way to “cherry pick” results by withdrawing a study possibly purposely. I haven’t read the entire paper yet to see if this was addressed, but good observation.
      The equal to nutritional should be a negative, in my opinion, with all other things being equal. Why risk, at any even small level, a GMO over a non-GMO, that is overall equivalent or near equivalent? Virtually all of the natural genetic evolutionary mutations either do relatively nothing, are harmful, or don’t pass the natural selection test and are just carried forward, but not actively selected for. I do agree that a and d are quite benign, though, and almost a no issue if the GMO addresses a serious current problem. The real issue, as others have stated, is being aware as a consumer to the positive and negative effects on the environment, humans, pollinators, and other beneficial insects of any particular GMO and making an intelligent and personal decision to partake or pass, and the main article assists me greatly in that endeavour.

      • Ewan R

        Why risk, at any even small level, a GMO over a non-GMO, that is overall equivalent or near equivalent?

        Because the nutritional aspects aren’t what you were targeting at all? Nope, sorry, can’t have insect resistant plants, this is nutritionally equivalent to the non-resistant variety. Nope, increased yield under drought? Can’t do that unless it’s more nutritious! (etc etc for any number of traits which could impact production but not nutritional profile)

        • John Sikes

          I’m not sure whether you are agreeing or disagreeing, and maybe I was unclear, but what I meant was ALL aspects being nearly equal, not any one of them, why risk an unknown over a known. That’s pretty sound logic. I wasn’t saying that any one parameter being equal or maybe even slightly inferior should negate a overall beneficial strain (although insect resistance specifically, if you’re talking about making the plant a pesticide, or round-up ready, I’ve got big problems with sustainability and health wise UNLESS you can’t grow the food any other way). As I see it, it’s always a give and take on the equation, looking for OVERALL benefits vs. OVERALL detriments, but we’re getting off topic, so I’ll end it here.

          • Ewan R

            Nobody would ever release a GMO that didn’t offer substantial benefits though, it wouldn’t sell, how would one even begin to recoup the costs of development?

      • I agree that the big picture is “what’s best for people and the environment”? And I agree that it’s important to understand biases of ‘experts’ when we are trying to decide what’s best. And I agree that industry affiliation may be a red flag as to possible bias. In tracking down that Diels paper, I was also interested in the bias at the opposite end of the spectrum – for example, affiliation with Greenpeace or another activist organization. It appears to me, for example, that Seralini’s biases greatly affect his interpretation of the data that he generated. Similarly, Charles Benbrook’s interpretations seem to me to be greatly influenced by his affiliation with The Organic Center (the Wikipedia entry on him discusses this under the heading ‘Research’). One of the things I wanted to know was how many of the twelve supposed ‘bad finding’ papers came from Seralini and Benbrook. That the author ‘lost’ the list means we’ll never know, which makes it essentially impossible to understand the meaning of the paper. Ironically, da Silva, the corresponding author of the Diel’s paper which purports to study bias, is herself an anti-GMO activist.

        • John Sikes

          In reply to Mark Wilson 4_29_15 12:37pm : Agreed, always there are biases due to an agenda from either side of any discussion/argument/all-out-war as this seems to verge on at times ;-), and very difficult or impossible frequently to try to sort all these biases to some semblance of “truth” even if you have all the data. Without it, as you unfortunately found, my best guess you just have to either try to apply some “fudge factor” for the unknowns you pointed out, or throw out that study entirely, since it obviously is now unknowable. It really would have been interesting to know who generated what, and for which reasons. More mud in the equation, so “a miracle occurs here” is applied ;(.

  • Sue

    Just curious, Marc, did you read the actual studies, or are you simply going off of the Abstracts? I know you’re no scientist, and I haven’t read the studies myself; but have known individuals who base their entire argument on an abstract. An abstract that doesn’t go into details about what is meant by “no statistically significant differences within the parameters observed.” That statement can have a lot of different meanings, and is not evidence of GMO crops being harmless. What about the parameters that weren’t observed? Or the statistically INsignificant differences? Just curious, is all..

    • Sue, in any piece of writing that I do I read all the papers that I reference. I read all the literature reviews referenced here, with the exception of the collection of EU research projects. I scanned a number of those to make sure that the body of research matched the characterization in the intro.

      As to the findings summarized in the Snell review that you reference, they did say that no hazards had been detected in the 24 papers that they reviewed and that on the parameters measured, there was no statistically significant differences from non-biotech crops, meaning that any differences were small enough to be statistical noise.

  • Mlema

    “IPM is about increasing the effectiveness of inputs through more judicious use, and thus reducing their negative impacts and keeping them effective for longer.”

    That’s not a good definition. It may do those things, but that doesn’t mean bt fits into IPM. Even by your definition, bt sprays would fit IPM as opposed to bt crops. But continual application of bt sprays wouldn’t fit IPM either. It’s not “judicious use”. It increases the negative impact of the pesticide – on beneficial insects, on soil organisms, on preventing resistance through judicious use. Judicious use isn’t 24/7 – regardless of need. Judicious use requires prevention through extensive crop rotation, monitoring, targeted application. Bt crops are planted as insurance – and for ease and efficiency in the face of high demand. They’re not IPM, and they’re certainly not for organics, which was the original comment.

    “By this reasoning, any new pesticide gene in a crop, achieved through conventional breeding or genetic engineering would not be compatible with IPM.”

    Do you have an example in mind other than bt? It is true that sometimes when we engineer pest resistance into a plant (by whatever means) we increase susceptibility to other diseases. But the value of that trait might outweigh the drawbacks. These things have to be calculated. However, bt toxins don’t fall into that category.

  • Mlema

    Actually, this was my comment that didn’t make sense. So I appreciate the replies. Please read my replies to Karl and Ewan earlier above.

    Bug guy: The paper on cotton illustrates how GMOs can reduce toxicity in a cotton field. Glyphosate and bt toxins have replaced more toxic pesticides in cotton (although we’ve got serious problems with glyphosate resistance in cotton). If you want to call “reduction of harm” one tiny incremental step towards IPM, then I would concede that point. But even though the bt trait confers insect resistance, it’s not what’s meant in IPM by insect resistant. We’ve essentially engineered crops to replace the job of applying Cry toxins as pesticides. And not just when needed, but all the time and everywhere. Bt toxins aren’t phytochemicals just because a plant is making them.
    Plant Resistance to Insects: A Fundamental Component of IPM
    http://ipmworld.umn.edu/chapters/teetes.htm
    Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not the king of the world who wishes to determine how we grow cotton or anything else. But the way we’re doing it isn’t IPM, unless you stretch the definition so far as to make it virtually meaningless.

    OGM, the industry denies that bt has negatively impacted lacewings and ladybugs. You may find this an interesting read. Some studies are linked at the bottom.
    Underlying reasons of the controversy over adverse effects of Bt toxins on lady beetle and lacewing larvae
    http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/9#

    • This is probably going to sound drastically ad hom, and perhaps it is, but I’ll take Angela Hilbeck seriously on any GMO topic at about the same time that (she is author or coauthor of probably 50% of the articles in the enveurope look at GM crops, which is illustrative of a rather shallow pool of authors)

      Bt toxins aren’t phytochemicals just because a plant is making them

      Rather depends on the definition of phytochemical you use. If it’s a chemical made by a plant I’m happy calling it a phytochemical. Some definitions of phytochemical require that there be some human nutritional aspect to the thing. A lovely fluffy word with no distinct meaning that can be used however one wishes.

      Odd that people actually involved in IPM (bug guy, from what I recall) would consider plant expressed Bt as just fine, and that people utterly not involved in IPM (Mlema, for instance) appear to think otherwise.

      Reading your link on insect resistance… Bt fits exactly, I don’t see anywhere in the teetes chapter where Bt wouldn’t be considered, unless you’re just going to flat out keep denying that one could possibly consider Bt a plant protein despite the fact that it is now encoded in the plant genome, transcribed and translated by the plant etc. The final couple paragraphs infact briefly touch on rDNA technology and its exciting prospects… hardly indicative that these approaches are not compatible with IPM.

      • Mlema

        I used the word “phytochemicals” to reply to another person’s use of the word to characterize bt toxins. The argument over what to call bacterial toxins produced by GE plants is irrelevant. We’ve engineered plants to produce human proteins. That doesn’t make the human proteins into plant proteins. Don’t confuse people. Cry toxins aren’t plant proteins. And engineering plants to produce them doesn’t mean they’re not pesticides just like the ones used in bt spray pesticides. If we engineer a plant to produce ddt, does that make the plant acceptable in IPM because now, by your definition, ddt is a plant pesticide?

        If we were to conventionally breed bt crops, they still wouldn’t be acceptable in IPM – for a number of reasons, including harm to needed soil organisms and beneficial insects. This doesn’t preclude the use of rDNA in development of crops that could fit IPM. The main reason not to call bt crops IPM is the pesticide.

        • including harm to needed soil organisms and beneficial insects

          Both news to me. Beneficial insects… don’t eat your plant. Bt targets specific insects, and thus I’m also unclear on the soil organisms side of things.

          That doesn’t make the human proteins into plant proteins.

          To you. I don’t associate any sort of magical quality of thingness with a protein. Calling out as human X or plant X in the context we are discussing is really meaningless other than for attempting to rules lawyer on definitions rather than outcomes, which is precisely what you’re doing.

          • Mlema

            In some cases Bt crops encourage secondary pests by affecting production of the plants own “pesticides”. This isn’t necessarily more detrimental than the damage from the pests the bt targets. But bt crops also negatively impact lacewings, ladybugs and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal colonization.

            You’re insinuating that I’m engaging in magical thinking? But you’re the one who thinks that lactoferrin becomes a plant protein when it’s produced by a plant. :) If the laws and definitions aren’t important to you, why is it so important that you be able to say that bt crops are IPM?

        • “If we were to conventionally breed bt crops, they still wouldn’t be acceptable in IPM” This is not consistent with any reasonable definition of IPM. Plants produce pesticides to defend themselves, and breeding can introduce new ones. You are excluding plant breeding for new resistance traits from your definition of IPM which no expert in IPM would do.

          • Mlema

            “You are excluding plant breeding for new resistance traits from your definition of IPM which no expert in IPM would do.”

            How so? I did no such thing.

  • Mlema

    “It’s almost as if one should assess what is being produced rather than how it is being produced right?”

    I think we’re creeping towards a mutual understanding. Some pesticides produced by plants (whether they come from breeding or engineering) can serve a role in IPM. This is all depending on how the level of disruption they bring to the ecosystem is balanced by other elements of that same system – which is one component of the kind of equation IPM writes when managing pests in a given environment. The continual production of bacterial toxins by bt crops has the same effect as continual application 24/7 of bt sprays – or worse. Bt toxins are a relatively safe pesticide. But any pesticide that’s continually or extensively applied is being used counter to IPM principles.

    It seems that a number of commenters are insisting that since the bt toxins are being produced by the plant, they are now considered to be “insect resistance”, and, since insect resistance in plants is foundational to IPM, then bt crops are IPM. I don’t think this holds up because it’s skipping exactly what you’re saying, which is: “one should assess what is being produced rather than how it is being produced”

    • Ewan R

      You’d have to explain why constantly produced bt is different to constantly produced substance x. Claiming it is the same as constant spraying is utterly false (in terms of labor, environmental impact, potential to hit non targets, cost. – essentially every important measure that would be of concern in ion)

  • […] tuloksiin ja niiden itsenäisyyden vaarantumiseen. Biofortifiedin kirjoittaja Marc Brazeau näkee tilanteen hieman laajempana: tutkimuksen otoskoko pienenee kun tarkastellaan ainoastaan relevantteja ammattieturistiriitoja. […]

  • […] Biofortified.org is a good web site to reference. 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. They list GMO research studies, including independent studies. And let me just state that not all the studies are positive to GMO, although the majority are. Here is a good synopsis article about these studies. […]

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