To regulate GMO we must define GMO

Some things we can easily categorize as GMO or as not GMO. But there's a whole group of things that have characteristics of both. And other things that don't fit in either circle, like some types of synthetic biology.
Some things we can easily categorize as GMO or as not GMO. But there’s a whole group of things that have characteristics of both. And other things that don’t fit in either circle, like some types of synthetic biology.

While the United States is starting the long road to changes in our biotech regulatory system, other countries are also working on their regulatory processes. Coincidentally, the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority (NZEPA) has an open call for comments closing on 11 Dec 2015 while the US White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has an open call for comments closing on 13 Nov 2015.

We’ve made it easy for everyone to provide comments to the White House, and you can learn more at our post: You can improve US biotechnology regulation

It seems that the biotech regulations in New Zealand accidentally included older breeding methods. Oops! So the proposed change will exclude from regulation any methods in use in New Zealand on or before 29 July 1998. US laws, while supposedly not process based, generally only apply to “newer” breeding methods such as recombinant DNA technology.

Learn more about the New Zealand biotech regulation update from Grant Jacobs, a computational biologist in New Zealand: Proposed changes to GMO regulation leave major problems unaddressed. In addition, the Science Media Centre in New Zealand collected some comments about the proposed change, and some of their comments could just as easily apply in the US.

There are a few problems with how we define biotechnology in the United States that could lead us down strange paths like what happened in New Zealand.

  1. Many different terms are used by different groups and agencies.
  2. There are no really good definitions that everyone can point to.
  3. Most definitions don’t mention synthetic biology. There’s an ongoing debate on whether synthetic biology really a separate thing or if it fits under the biotechnology umbrella.
  4. Likewise, most definitions don’t provide for newer technologies such as gene editing. Do they fit under the biotechnology umbrella?
  5. Lastly, what counts as a GMO is subjective. What if researchers used newer breeding methods but the only change in the final organism was a deletion that could have happened through radiation mutagenesis? What about crops with bacterial DNA that arrived there through natural processes? Or crops whose genomes have large amounts of ancient viral DNA? What about gene transfer that occurs along grafting sites? Genetic engineering that uses only genes from the same species, including RNAi? Biotechnologies are largely based on natural processes and nature doesn’t care about fitting things into neat little boxes for the purposes of regulation.
Would a GMO rose by any other name smell as sweet? GMO blue rose by Blue Rose Man via Wikipedia.
Would a GMO rose by any other name smell as sweet? GMO blue rose by Blue Rose Man via Wikipedia.

Biotech definitions in the US

To emphasize the desperate need for a cohesive definition of biotechnology and for some consistency in what terms are used, I’ve collected some of the definitions used by the agencies in the US regulatory system, plus a few others for comparison.

Many of these follow the model of a statement then a list of methods, a model recommended by the OECD. The problem of putting the lists in regulations, though, is that it’s notoriously difficult to change regulations, and we know that technologies are advancing all the time.

Share your comments with the White House on how we can develop better definitions and other improvements to biotech regulation and how the regulatory agencies talk about biotech.

  • Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology
    • Intergeneric Organism (New Organism). Those organisms deliberately formed to contain an intergeneric combination of genetic material; excluded are organisms that have resulted from the addition of intergeneric materials that is well characterized and contains only non-coding regulatory regions such as operators, promoters, origins of replication, terminators and ribosome binding regions.
    • “Well-characterized and contains only non-coding regulatory regions” means that the producer of the microorganism can document the following:
      • The exact nucleotide base sequence of the regulatory region and any inserted flanking nucleotides;
      • The regulatory region and any inserted flanking nucleotides do not code independently for a protein, peptide of functional RNA molecules;
      • The regulatory region solely controls the activity of other sequences that code for protein or peptide molecules or act as recognition sites for the initiation of nucleic acid or protein synthesis.
  • EPA regulations
    • Conventional breeding of plants means the creation of progeny through either: The union of gametes, i.e., syngamy, brought together through processes such as pollination, including bridging crosses between plants and wide crosses, or vegetative reproduction. It does not include use of any of the following technologies: Recombinant DNA; other techniques wherein the genetic material is extracted from an organism and introduced into the genome of the recipient plant through, for example, micro-injection, macro-injection, micro-encapsulation; or cell fusion.
    • Recombinant DNA means the genetic material has been manipulated in vitro through the use of restriction endonucleases and/or other enzymes that aid in modifying genetic material, and subsequently introduced into the genome of the plant. A plant-incorporated protectant is exempt if all of the following conditions are met: The genetic material that encodes the pesticidal substance or leads to the production of the pesticidal substance is from a plant that is sexually compatible with the recipient plant and the genetic material has never been derived from a source that is not sexually compatible with the recipient plant.
  • USDA APHIS regulations
    • Regulated article. Any organism which has been altered or produced through genetic engineering, if the donor organism, recipient organism, or vector or vector agent belongs to any genera or taxa designated in § 340.2 and meets the definition of plant pest, or is an unclassified organism and/or an organism whose classification is unknown, or any product which contains such an organism, or any other organism or product altered or produced through genetic engineering which the Administrator, determines is a plant pest or has reason to believe is a plant pest. Excluded are recipient microorganisms which are not plant pests and which have resulted from the addition of genetic material from a donor organism where the material is well characterized and contains only non-coding regulatory regions.
    • Genetic engineering. The genetic modification of organisms by recombinant DNA techniques.
  • FDA guidance
    • Bioengineered plant means a recombinant-DNA plant. As used by Codex Alimentarius, “recombinant-DNA plant” means a plant in which the genetic material has been changed through in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acids into cells or organelles. [Kudos to FDA for trying to use an already established definition!]
    • Bioengineered plants are also referred to as “biotechnology-derived plants” in the Office of Science and Technology Policy Federal Register notice (67 FR 50578, Aug. 2, 2002), and as “recombinant-DNA plants” by the Codex Alimentarius, in “Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants” (CAC/GL 45-2003).
  • Codex Alimentarius (United Nations) included here because it was mentioned by the FDA definition
    • Recombinant-DNA Plant. Means a plant in which the genetic material has been changed through in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles.
    • Conventional Counterpart. Means a related plant variety, its components and/or products for which there is experience of establishing safety based on common use as food.
  • NIH guidelines
    • In the context of the NIH Guidelines, recombinant and synthetic nucleic acids are defined as:
      • (i) molecules that a) are constructed by joining nucleic acid molecules and b) that can replicate in a living cell, i.e., recombinant nucleic acids;
      • (ii) nucleic acid molecules that are chemically or by other means synthesized or amplified, including those that are chemically or otherwise modified but can base pair with naturally occurring nucleic acid molecules, i.e., synthetic nucleic acids, or
      • (iii) molecules that result from the replication of those described in (i) or (ii) above.
  • USDA Organic regulations
    • Excluded methods. A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology). Such methods do not include the use of traditional breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture.
  • The Non-GMO Project’s definitions for comparison (this organization provides a voluntary non-GMO label for a fee)
    • Genetically Modified or Genetic Modification. A term referring to products or processes employing gene splicing, gene modification, recombinant DNA technology, or transgenic technology, and referring to products of the gene-splicing process, either as inputs or as process elements.
    • Non GMO. A plant, animal, or other organism or derivative of such an organism whose genetic structure has not been altered by gene splicing. A process or product that does not employ GM processes or inputs. Cloned animals and their progeny are considered GM, as are Synthetically Modified Organisms.
    • Synthetically Modified Organism or SMO. An organism with synthetically created genes that come from a process known as ‘synthetic biology’. Input from SMOs, when used as inputs or as process elements in the creation of substances or materials, is considered to be part of the SMO itself for the purpose of this Standard.
  • The Biotechnology Industry Organization (this is a trade group for biotech companies) paints a much broader definition
    • At its simplest, biotechnology is technology based on biology – biotechnology harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet. We have used the biological processes of microorganisms for more than 6,000 years to make useful food products, such as bread and cheese, and to preserve dairy products.
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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes! Disclaimer: Anastasia's words are her own and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of her employer. She is not paid to blog or conduct any social media activities. Mention of a company or product does not indicate endorsement.

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  • I wanted to keep the focus of this post on the mess of definitions for biotechnology, but I also wanted to point out that some of the expert comments for the New Zealand proposal as well as much of the comments made by Grant Jacobs in his blog post really could be transferred right over to the US issue. It’s not that surprising that scientists in the two countries would have similar concerns, but still interesting to see.

  • Tamas Gaal

    The answer is easy: if the genetic changes are planned that is GMO, if the changes arise from a random process, that is not GMO.
    Even if the end result is the same to the last nucleotide.
    They dance around this, because stating it plainly as I just did, would show to everyone, how empty and irrational the distinction between GMO and non-GMO.
    But this is the truth.

    • They say biotech regulation is product based but clearly it is processed based, considering that the exact same products might be considered GMO or non-GMO just based on intent.

      • calvin

        Why would anyone possibly think that a kernel of corn that has been chemically broken at the DNA level and had bacteria invasively introduced to its structure is somehow magically the same as something produced by selective breeding? Nature killed hundreds of millions of variants that were not viable. Monsanto sells everyone that doesn’t die inside of 90 days.

        • You’ll find people are more interested in conversation with you if you dial back the condescending tone.

        • Sterling Ericsson

          So, does that mean that all the times agrobacterium introduced its genes into plants in the wild, that made it a GMO? Per this study and others,

          http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/04/14/1419685112

          does that means all sweet potatoes, including organic sweet potatoes, are GMOs?

        • DrGreenThumb

          chemically broken at the DNA level and had bacteria invasively introduced to its structure
          This doesn’t make any sense. 1) Genetic engineering may involve a breakage of the DNA double helix, but that happens ALL THE TIME naturally during cellular division. 2) Bacteria are not introduced into “it’s structure”. That literally makes no sense. I think the issue here is that you don’t actually understand the science involved and have heard a bunch of poorly articulated statements that have caused a degree of fear or concern to foment.

          selective breeding? Nature killed hundreds of millions of variants that were not viable.

          No. Selective breeding is not “natural”. It is, by definition, directed by humans.

        • Ewan R

          Why would you possibly think anyone would take your opinion on biology remotely seriously when you are quite clearly completely ignorant on the topic?

          “chemically broken at the DNA level and had bacteria invasively introduced to its structure”

          meaningless ascientific bafflegab.

      • Mlema

        Who is “they”? What do you mean by intent? Do you mean the intent to patent the genes involved? (like herbicide tolerance, which can also be achieved with mutation breeding?) Maybe we should be looking to regulate such non-GMOs?

    • calvin

      I appreciate that you may think that these could be the same. But since science on this is obfuscated and hidden by the producers, I’d think that you would have a tough time proving anything is “like” anything at all. There hasn’t been any studies that show anything about anything, if you don’t count the thousands of studies cranked out by the producers themselves.Truth is that scientists are radically divided on the subject and your truth is biased.

      • qetzal

        Calvin,

        How much study do you think was done to show that it’s safe to use a computer?

        Obviously we won’t be hearing from you again, now that you realize that there have been no studies that show anything about anything for computer safety.

        We’ll do our best to struggle on in your absence.

      • DrGreenThumb

        science on this is obfuscated and hidden by the producers
        Yeah, it’s “hidden” in published peer-reviewed journal articles. Some are “hidden” behind paywalls, which I guess is that same as saying Universal Studios “hides” their movies in theaters.

        There hasn’t been any studies that show anything about anything
        Ah, the fallacy of ‘I don’t know about it, so it doesn’t exist’. Try looking.

        An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research
        Critical Reviews in Biotechnology Volume 34, Issue 1, 2014

        Truth is that scientists are radically divided on the subject
        Nonsense. There are a few scientists (at the most a couple hundred out of literally hundreds of thousands) who share your opinion. The vast majority do not. I say this as one such scientist.

      • Tamas Gaal

        I do make traditional mutants as well as GMO-s is the lab. [disclaimer: for resaerch purposes only, no commertial interest]. I do know, that the end product is the same.
        Scientists are not really divided on this issue, 95% or more are in agreement, that GMO-s and non GMO-s are essentially same, and ther is no particular danger associated with GMO-s.
        If anything, the non-GMO new variants carry more potential danger, since (1) we do not know the excat nature of the genetic change and (2) teher is no scrutiny, no reservation using a new variant.
        It happened, that a traditionally bred new potato variant had higher level of toxins than acceptable.

    • Mlema

      This is false. First of all. genetic changes can be accomplished using non-GMO methods and still be “planned”. Second, with GE we can engineer plants that would/could not appear otherwise.

      • Sterling Ericsson

        “would/could not appear otherwise”

        How? Any plant can create any gene through a random mutation. Furthermore, foreign, non-species genes are introduced in the wild and have been for millions of years through the processes of agrobacterium and other bacteria.

        • Mlema

          I suppose that under strange and miraculous conditions a plant gene could somehow mutate to produce a human protein like lactoferrin. But it seems more likely that the plant would somehow put the mutation out of commission, or would succumb to selection pressures. in fact, I don’t see how such a mutation could happen. What would cause it to happen? Yet GE can engineer such a plant. Not all plants can be transformed using agrobacterium, which typically causes disease, not beneficial traits – attacking wounded plants. Humans use “biolistic” methods for engineering those plants – something that can’t happen in nature. GE also introduces promoters along with the new genes. This ensures that genes are always “on” – which wouldn’t happen in a natural transfer where the gene would be incorporated into the regulation of the cell. Scientists are working to modulate this continual expression, but we’re still learning how these things work. Also, GE utilizes antibiotic markers to follow the transferred gene in development. So, bt crops or crops producing plastics or human proteins wouldn’t appear without GE. We have found “natural” transgenes in sweet potatoes. And undoubtedly gene transfer occurs in nature. But that’s categorically different from what we do with GE. Saying that “the end result is the same to the last nucleotide.” is false.

          • Sterling Ericsson

            And yet none of what you stated was relevant. First off, antibiotic promoters aren’t used anymore, other promoters are, and their usage or not is irrelevant, because a transferred gene in the wild could just as easily gt placed in after a promoter sequence. And we know plenty about how all of it works.

            It seems to me that you don’t actually care about the understanding of the technology, no amount of understanding would matter to you.

            • Mlema

              Tamas Gaal said” if the genetic changes are planned that is GMO, if the changes arise from a random process, that is not GMO.
              Even if the end result is the same to the last nucleotide.”

              I said that was false and you asked me how. I explained how it’s false and now you’re telling me that what I’m saying is irrelevant.

              What can I say? We plan lots of genetic changes that aren’t GMO. All breeding is planned genetic change. Plus I never said anything about antibiotic promoters. And I said we’re still learning how transgenesis can work because to date we haven’t modulated the transgene’s expression in the target plant, but we’re working on that. What is your problem? Can’t you accept that GE and natural transgenesis are different? Why not? Why is it so important to you to believe a falsity – that they can be the same down to the nucleotide? Perhaps one day we’ll accomplish such things. But the goal has been to achieve things that nature DOESN’T do – why complain when we accomplish it? What we do with GE are not things that would be likely to happen in nature, for the most part.

              • Ewan R

                All (traditional) breeding is planned phenotypic change, not necessarily genetic (it gets there by way of genetic changes, but these aren’t planned, simply exploited to reach a planned end point)

                • Mlema

                  Here’s what was said: “if the genetic changes are planned that is GMO, if the changes arise from a random process, that is not GMO. ..Even if the end result is the same to the last nucleotide.”

                  I am reading this a little differently now, thanks to your criticism. Frankly, I’m not sure what the writer meant to say.

                  We differentiate between GMO and non-GMO based on how either was created, not whether or not we planned to effect genetic changes. The genetic changes in either case are neither completely random nor completely planned.

                  Sorry, Ewan. Of course what you’re saying is correct. I just don’t necessarily think that’s what the writer was implying. Maybe I’m wrong.

              • Tamas Gaal

                You are wrong saying: “We plan lots of genetic changes that aren’t GMO. All breeding is planned genetic change.”
                The breeding does not plan the genetic change, does not even know what is the nature of the genetic change. The breeding introduces random genetic changes, and select the plant that is the best to the desired trait. They do not know and do not care about the underlying genetic change.

                “Second, with GE we can engineer plants that would/could not appear otherwise.” That is wrong also. We can not engineer anything that could not have appeared otherwise. We can speed up the process, direct the process, increase the probability of the desired change but we can not create anything that would not be possible (even if not probable) naturally.
                If you diagree, get an example of a GM product, any GM product, and I will show you how it can occur naturally. It would take more time, more trials and errors… but it can happen with absolute certainity.

                • Mlema

                  Thanks Tamas, I think I better understand what you’re saying now. I wasn’t thinking narrowly enough. When we do plant breeding, of course we are planning to change the genetics of the plant, but I understand now that you just meant that in a GMO we are planning to do something specific directly to the genetics. Sorry I misunderstood. But still, that’s not how we differentiate between GMO and non-GMO. We differentiate based on the process. For instance, we have both GMO and non-GMO herbicide tolerant crops. They are the same as far as their basic traits. However, we still differentiate because they were created differently. In fact, in many places developers are using mutation breeding more and more to achieve such traits because they don’t want to deal with the GMO regulations. Of course, they forfeit some profit that way, but regulation is really expensive too, so 6 of one half dozen of the other…?

                  But regarding the second part, no. We’re definitely able to engineer stuff that wouldn’t otherwise appear. One example would be a rice expressing lactoferrin. I just don’t see how that could happen in a million years. Is that what you mean by speeding things up? 😉 But maybe I’m wrong. you’ll tell me how. Or what about trees and many plants expressing bacterial toxins like Cry toxins in cotton? The thing there is, if it were ever to have happened, our entire ecosystem would be different. So if you can describe a pathway whereby something like that could happen, and still bring us to the point we’re at, then you will really have done something!

                  • Tamas Gaal

                    Mlema: The first part: we agree. Different processes can result is the very same trait.
                    let me elaborate on the second part. How did lactoferrin or Cry toxin evolved in nature? By starting with a piece of DNA (that is a string of four bases or letters G,A,T and C), and making changes to it, and inserting and deleting letters duplicating strings.
                    Id did happen once. We do have lacroferrin, we do have many types of Cry proteins.
                    We start with (let say) cotton plant. Is is possible that on base insert into its chomosome? Of course it is. it happens all he time. Is it possible, that a base changes to an other base. Of course, it happens. Can 2 bases change? Can 3 change?… the ansver is yes. Can 100 bases change? No proeblem. One thousand?… ten thousand? Is there a barrier, that one thousand changes are possible, but ten thousand is not? No.
                    But with ten thousand changes any gene can change into Cry toxin protein or ten thousand different changes it can turn ito lactoferrin.
                    Is it possible? Yes.
                    Is is probable? No.
                    But in evolution very improbable things did happen. We do have bacteria with Cry protein genes and mammals with lactoferrin genes. They evolved in that very same way I have just outlined.
                    It is possible to get the again. Or get something that has the very same effect.
                    Is is probable in our lifetime? No.
                    Just like a cave in the hillside. There are some caves. It took thousand or millions of years them to form. Can new cabes for. Yes. Will they form exactly wher we’d like to have them in our lifetime? Probably no. But we can dig one at our desing.
                    Are the caves we carved really different from the caves we found? Is the carved cave bad and the natural cave good? No. A cave is a cave. Shelter.
                    Same for traditional breeding vs. planned genetic modification.

                    Look at the diversity of life on Earth. All that evolved from some ancient unicellular ancestor. All what we have on Earth (and now we have a limited porver to re-combine) arised “naturally”. Given enought time it will again. All what GM does: speeds up, directs and controll the process.
                    Traditional breeding speedes up to, but does blindly, with no direction, and limited controll.
                    I would rather speed up things with a direction and with controll.

                    • Mlema

                      Tamas, the species are too differentiated to begin evolving the proteins of divergent species. What advantage would lactoferrin have to rice outside the fact that humans want to grow it? Certainly anything that humans do can be called natural. We are denizens of the earth, everything that exists can be termed natural in that way. But no, the claim that anything we can engineer can happen in nature given enough time, is false because there’s no means or cause.
                      You can’t breed a human and a rice without GE. And please understand, I’m not saying it’s wrong to do this development. I’m just trying to point out the actuality here. It’s inaccurate to draw equivalencies between what we’re doing with GE and what’s happened in evolution. That’s not to say there aren’t instances – like in the sweet potato – where we can see agrobacterium-mediated transfer in “nature”. But this doesn’t really say too much about most human-mediated GE. At best I would say it reflects on something like the GE papaya, if you add a few more genetic tools.

                    • Tamas Gaal

                      Dear Mlema: when people think of evolution, they over emphesize the selection/advantage part of it. I’s like to point out the rendom part. Anything that is not harmful has even chanche to evolve.
                      I invite you to explore these pages, the Insect World: https://www.facebook.com/The-insect-world-377104319100571/
                      You will see incredible array of shapes and colors, and while in some cases they have obvious selective advantages, other cases, most cases they exist, just because of random development. As if nature were drunk. 😉
                      I fully agree with you, that there is very little chance that a plant will evlope exactly one of the Cry toxin genes. But a plant DNA can have a single base change, two, three.. etc… can it have 3,432 basepair changes? If so, then in theory it can have Cry (B.th toxin gene). There is nothing to prevent it. No boundary. The chances are low. Way less than hitting jackpot on the lottery. On the other hand the number of cells even in a single plant are very high, and the number of generations are countless. It is like playing the lottery with millions of tickets simultenously.
                      GM is also playing the lottery, but with knowlegde of the winning numbers in advance.
                      I remind you, that there are many-many plants that produce a vide variety of toxins. They evolved, and survived, because they confer selective advantage to the plants. Cry toxin evolved in the same way in a bacterium. It happened.
                      You have a reason to think that there is a limit to prevent any DNA sequence arising from random changes? Particularly if it confers some advantage to the host?
                      I repeat: I am not talking about probabilities, I agree, it is very unprobable that any specific gene would evolve. But there are millions and millions of genes that has evolved by that random process.
                      I think any specific DNS sequence has a chance to develop randomly.

                    • Mlema

                      Thanks for the facebook link. I can’t engage further on the debate. It’s all too theoretical and I can’t really contribute anything further. Thanks for your comments.

                    • Tamas Gaal

                      Thanks for the discussion.

                • Jackson

                  I really like your definition, but quibble with part of it. Marker assisted breeding does care about the underlying genetics, but I wouldn’t classify it as GMO.

                  • hyperzombie

                    Just a thought experiment, In the future we will be able to just print the genome that we want, will that be GMO?

                    • Jackson

                      It would make no sense from the literal definitions within the phrase, but I think it makes sense in what people mean when they say “GMO.” I am more of a linguistic descriptionist, so I would say the definition is whatever people mean when they use the phrase.

                      Craig Venter (the big shot who gets credited for the human genome) has a company called Synthetic Genomics that works on creating whole organisms from scratch.

                    • hyperzombie

                      Wow, way not to answer the question. Once again, do you think that if humans printed a genome they would call it GMO? I am not giving you a hard time I just want to know your opinion without the scientific speak.

                    • Jackson

                      I guess I wasn’t clear. Yes, I think people would call it GMO because I think when they say GMO they mean engineered.

                    • Tamas Gaal

                      Well, it could be Genetically MODIFIED Organisms, it they “print” someting different than the existing template, if will NOT be Modified, it the print one that exact copy of an existing one.
                      FYI: it will never be printed, the DNA, the genome will be (is) chemically synthetised.

                  • Tamas Gaal

                    Jackson, that is a good pont, in marker assisted breeding the marker is associated (with certain probability) with the desired trait and threrefore helps to identify the offspring that carries that trait.
                    But you are crossing two lines that differ in many-many genes. While the marker helps to find faster the offsprings with the desired trait, you are still in complete darkness about the distribution of all the other differences between the parental lines.
                    Therefore I hold to my point. 😉

    • WeGotta

      Simple, easy to understand, concise. Perfect!

  • calvin

    i think it might be more useful to have an actual independent study to prove if these should even be allowed to be sold before we go trying to see how we can position them for sale. Don’t you?

  • Eco-Sustainable

    “GMO” as a term has lost its scientific value. It’s been abused by activists for many years. Only legislators and activists would give a definition to such a misused word. Scientists better abandon that term.

  • Ray E.

    Adding this link to the Japanese regulatory scheme that recently came to my attention via E. Aasen:

    >>All GMOs have been tested through approval processes under three national laws and the implementation of an international treaty, namely the Food Safety Basic Act (FSBA); the Food Sanitation Act (FSA); the Animal Feed Sanitation Act (AFSA, officially known as the Act on Safety Assurance and Quality Improvement of Feeds); and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Council of Biotechnology Information Japan, 2013; MAFF, 2007b). <<

  • In hopes of directing discussion back to the topic at hand – do you think US biotech regulatory agencies should have consistent (and perhaps even unified) definitions for biotechnology? Any ideas on how this problem should be solved?

    What does it tell us that there are so many different definitions?

    • I think that biotechnology is so diverse and is so similar to so many natural processes that it is difficult to untangle the natural from the artificial, thus defining the artificial only is very difficult.

    • Riccardo

      Moving forward it will be important, but perhaps not necessary, to have a unified definition for biotechnology. For example, the FDA considers all approved genetically engineered crops to be equivalent to their conventional counterparts but because BT crops produce a pesticide, they are regulated by the EPA. Obviously these crops are in use today so the current system has to work. Whether or not that system is efficient is a different question. Bringing a genetically engineered crop to market can be a bureaucratic challenge for producers and is further complicated by the lack of homology among the language in varying regulating bodies. Having a streamlined processes for bringing genetically engineered crops to market could potentially have a major impact on the food system as it would allow smaller businesses and researchers access to the market. This would require standard definitions and for regulatory bodies to align their policies or perhaps the creation of a regulatory body for this specific purpose.

      Understanding where to draw the line as to what is a “GMO” and what is not is arbitrary and up to debate. There is no standard definition because there is only opinion as to where the line is. It was relatively easy to create the FDA and USDA definitions for a bioengineered plant since at the time the only commercial crops being developed by any type of targeted genetic engineering were created through recombinant DNA technologies. However, in the many years since there have been significant discoveries leading to the development of improved methods initially with the invention of gene guns and later RNAi and now CRISPR. This significantly adds to the complexity for the regulation and thus definitions for these technologies. With the fast-paced advances in science, it will be extremely difficult for the government to keep up. For example, the use of CRISPR as a gene editing technology was first published in 2012 and there are now nearly 1,500 published articles on the technology.

      If we use these technologies to simply cause a targeted nonsense mutation, leading to a non-functional protein, you are clearly not adding new DNA and creating a transgenic organism and would not fall within the current regulation. Further, there is now a push for “rewilding” which is the introduction of genes from one variety of a crop into another variety of the same crop. An example of this would be the addition of a blight resistance gene from a traditional Peruvian variety of potato into a russet potato. Basically, you’re picking a beneficial gene from a different variety of the same plant and introducing it into a variety that is already of economic value. Doing so through engineering methods versus traditional crop breeding could take of years of crop development and limit the amount of off-target changes to the genome. Depending on the technology you use, it could very well not fall within the current regulations as well. To me this is less “invasive” as some here have put it than the introduction of agrobacterium genes into the genome of crops such as the sweet potato.

  • WeGotta

    To Whom it May Concern:

    You didn’t get consent from us first
    You control the research money.
    You “tested it for safety”
    You patented it
    You make lots of money from it
    You advertise it
    You pay media for favorable news
    You pay off our government for favorable regulations
    You pay PR firms to hire scientists to lie about science
    You hide it in our food
    Now you want to decide what everyone calls it.

    What a surprise! Your naming scheme is complicated with lots of potential loopholes and requires detailed knowledge that only people like you have.

    Why should we trust you again?
    Is it because you are smarter than us?
    Is it because the current application of your pet science projects is bringing us such great things?
    Is it because you are so ethical and moral?
    Is it because there is no other solution available other than this technology?
    Is it because any new technology is automatically a “good” technology?
    Is it because any “good” technology could never be applied incorrectly?

    • Who are you targeting here? If you have a comment for the regulatory agencies, you can make a comment on the form we have helpfully provided. But this just looks like a rant to “them” and isn’t helpful to the conversation.

    • Cool, thanks. I really like the convo above so far, just now reading through it. Looks really relevant and gets deep into the issues at hand.

      • WeGotta

        You’re welcome.
        I apologize for being a blowhard jerk sometimes (or maybe all the time if that’s what you think). I don’t mean any disrespect to you personally or professionally. You seem sincere.
        Feel free to reign me in anytime. I understand that I am only able to express my opinion here by your privilege!

        • I like being challenged by new ideas, and I think you are too, or you wouldn’t be here. So thank you for coming back and contributing to the conversation.

          It’s people like you and Mlema that make the Biofortified Blog interesting and different from most other places online. Without you, it’d be an echo chamber and no one would learn anything. It’s a credit to everyone that we rarely have to moderate here.

  • WeGotta

    Just keep it simple and more representative of those affected rather than those affecting.

    “GMO: any and all novel biological organisms that could not otherwise be created in ambient temperatures and pressures with only those tools available before humans discovered DNA.”

    The regulatory process should begin with an application where the proposed “product” was unveiled to the public with an opportunity for public debate ending with a vote on whether or not the proposed project should proceed.

    Each project should be evaluated to determine its effectiveness in meeting predetermined societal goals and should be compared with tools and tequniques already available.

    • DrGreenThumb

      1) How do you expect the public to offer informed opinions on a topic that requires a sophisticated knowledge-base? It’s like asking the public to offer their opinion on new surgical techniques before putting those techniques into practice. It’s not realistic.

      2) Each project should be evaluated to determine its effectiveness in meeting predetermined societal goals Why? We don’t evaluate each new smartphone to see if it meets “societal goals”? Did we ever determine if Viagra meets our “societal goals”? And exactly what are these “goals”? What group has decided on these “goals”?

      3) By your own definition, refined products from GM plants would not be “GMOs”, correct?

      • WeGotta

        1. There is no sophisticated knowledge needed to understand how a given technology is applied. I can plainly see how GM has been applied.
        Are you advocating a world where a very small number of people can create things that drastically affect the rest of the world’s population who don’t get a voice because they don’t have a “sophisticated knowledge-base”? That’s utterly ridiculous and scary.
        Before surgery the physician must obtain informed consent from the patient. If a person can be expected to understand the purpose and the pros and cons of triple bypass surgery I’m sure they can understand how GM technology will affect their lives.

        2. “New” smartphones are just different types of phones. It’s not some novel thing that never existed and their is no viable alternative for communication. There never was a phone before a human created it. If it were put up to a vote, I am certain it would “pass” just like Viagra would.

        No one has created any unified goals for a smart, efficient, science-based food system. Why is that?

        It’s just a free for all and it’s arguable not working very well. We need to have that national conversation first before we can make an informed decision about which tools we would like to use to accomplish those goals.
        Right now the only real goals seem to be the pursuit of money and status, aka greed and pride. That’s a stupid thing on which to base a nation’s food system.

        3. Correct, a refined product from a GM plant is not an organism. Thanks for that. I’ll update my proposal above to include “or product derived from”.

        • DrGreenThumb

          I don’t see why a regulatory system similar to that used for pharmaceuticals couldn’t be used for new GMOs. An expert group of publicly funded scientists (i.e. a regulatory agency) could evaluate the data presented and then determine whether additional testing is needed or not. Such a system isn’t perfect, but then no system is ever perfect.

          I do agree that current oversight of GMOs needs to be improved, especially with regards to transparency. But I think we can use the pharmaceutical regulatory system as model upon which to craft a new system, while improving the aspects that we already know are problematic.

          GMOs are here to stay. That’s a fact. We need to find ways to improve the regulation of GMOs, not pretend as though we’re going to get rid of them.

          • WeGotta

            I don’t have a problem with the technology itself, just it’s application. There’s nothing logical, scientific or revolutionary about how it’s been applied thus far.

            I’m not familiar with the regulatory process for pharmaceuticals but I’ll check it out.

            I still think it’s a good idea to get some kind of public approval or consent BEFORE if you are developing something that will affect the entire population in some way. This way money and time are not wasted on something that will just be a divisive battle later on.

            Again, haven’t we reached a level of national maturity where we can make system-based decisions rather than leaving everything piecemeal and dependent on the whims of the market? There is not even a “free” market anyway since those with the most money literally have greater rights than the majority who don’t.

            So what’s a reasonable “mission statement” for a national food system? What’s a reasonable mission statement for a pharmaceutical industry?

            • DrGreenThumb

              Genetic engineering is without a doubt revolutionary. If you disagree, well that’s your opinion. It’s not an opinion shared by those who understand the potential of this technology. The initial application of a new technology is rarely revolutionary in and of itself. The first mobile phones were large, bulky objects that few people used. Now look where we are a couple decades later. The first commercial GM crops are like those first cell phones; advanced for their time but not practical for most people (i.e. only farmers really benefit from the GE traits). If you want to see a glimpse of the future, Google “snorkel rice” or look up the “C4 rice project”.

              No, seeking public consent is not a good idea for two simple reasons. 1) You’ll never get the public to agree on anything. There will always be a group angry about the decision. 2) When people lack an understanding of an issue they base their decision on their personal ideologies and/or on fear. I don’t see any way in which the public would be able to make an informed decision about a new GMO. It’s simply not realistic. This is why we have regulatory bodies staffed by experts who oversee the regulation of different products and processes. What you’re suggesting does not exist in any field. Why should this one be treated differently?

              As an example of how difficult it would be to get the public to make informed decisions on this issue, can you please tell me how CRISPR or TALON can be used to produce new plant varieties that contain no artificially introduced sequences of DNA? And then please tell me whether such a plant would need to be regulated as a GMO. If it should be, how we would test for it? I am not trying to put you on the spot or showoff. I’m merely trying to demonstrate how complex this issue is as I don’t think you fully appreciate the level of knowledge required to understand the details.

              Again, haven’t we reached a level of national maturity where we can make system-based decisions rather than leaving everything piecemeal and dependent on the whims of the market?
              Have you watched any of the GOP debates? That tells you all you need to know about national maturity (assuming you’re speaking from an American perspective, correct me if I’m wrong).

              what’s a reasonable “mission statement” for a national food system?

              • WeGotta

                Again, I never said GE was not revolutionary. I wish people would not so much focus on the potential of new technology in some imaginary future and instead focus on the present moment where everything actually takes place.
                CRISPR and TALEN are ways of modifying genes/DNA (GMO) so it all is the same if you zoom out far enough.

                I think the revolutionary aspect of the mobile phone was the “mobile” part rather than the size. And there is no real alternative to these phones, nothing existed before that could accomplish the same thing in such a way.

                This is how I would put things to the public:
                ******
                There are faster ways to obtain certain plant characteristics, such as drought and pest resistance by altering DNA under laboratory conditions by either adding foreign DNA or by adding something else (such as portions of RNA or artificial enzymes (TALENs)) which then go on to alter the native DNA.
                With your consent, we would like to change corn so it produces a toxin against one of it’s main pests by adding genetic material from a certain bacteria.

                We believe this would be good because of x, y and z.
                The risks include x, y, and z.
                We will ensure safety by x, y, and z.
                ********

                I don’t think this is hard to understand. People always seem to get angry, yes. But much less so if you ask for permission. I believe anger goes hand in hand with feelings of loss of control.
                What a wonderful educational exercise this would be anyway. If people cared (like I do) we could learn, ask questions and voice concerns.

                I think it’s crucial to get consent first. There is no rational argument you can make to say that one statistically insignificant group of people should be allowed to change biological DNA, alter major food crops, and/or agricultural practices in ways that affect the rest of the world without some sort of explanation to the rest of us.

                Improvements in human interactions and cooperation (such as communication, respect and conflict resolution) are just as important, if not more important, to our survival and well-being than is some new technology.

                Yes, I am speaking from the American perspective and I agree that our political system is in a pathetic state. I wish I had an answer but the only thing I can think of is to accept what is and be grateful for all the wonderful things all around us. It’s enough for me.

                My “mission statement” for a national food system would be something like this:
                To ensure every citizen has enough healthy food. Healthy as defined by leading scientific consensus and constant monitoring of health indicators such as diet related diseases.
                To ensure that food is grown in regenerative ways which further enhance public health and decrease costs related to environmental degradation.
                To ensure all food is produced as close to the consumer as possible for food security and building of community.

                I would implement systems based upon permaculture principles.

                • DrGreenThumb

                  CRISPR and TALEN are ways of modifying genes/DNA (GMO) so it all is the same if you zoom out far enough.

                  It’s not that simple. You’re approaching this from an ideological perspective, not a scientific one. You haven’t explained the basis for the similarity. Mutagenic breeding alters DNA, but this isn’t consider genetic engineering. Even selective breeding modifies the genome. How can you differentiate between a variety produced by TALEN/CRISPR and one produced by selective breeding?

                  There is no rational argument you can make to say that one statistically insignificant group of people should be allowed to change biological DNA, alter major food crops, and/or agricultural practices in ways that affect the rest of the world without some sort of explanation to the rest of us.

                  This has been happening for millenia. It’s called agriculture. It has been a boon for humanity and is the basis of civilization. It is only recently, with the advent of molecular biology, that people have gotten the notion that if it’s done in a lab, we need to be concerned, whereas if it’s done on the farm, it’s perfectly safe. This is a false dichotomy. There is no inherent risk in the former. Yes, there is the potential for greater risk, but there is no inherent risk. The potential risk comes from what sort of modification is introduced, not the fact that there is a modification. E.g. introducing known allergens would be very risky whereas using RNAi to reduce the expression of a particular gene, like PPO in Arctic Apples, poses no inherent risk.

                  You’re mission for a food system includes goals that GE can be used to reach. In fact, in some ways GE has already been used to reach those goals. Bt corn and Bt cotton has reduced the amount of insecticide used.

                  • WeGotta

                    It is that simple. There is nothing ideological about taxonomy, or the grouping of similar things. That is science.
                    There are many ways of doing things that result in similar outcomes. No one doubts my belief in fishing if I prefer eating tuna caught in a way that does not harm dolphins.

                    I would argue that you are more ideological because you relate everything to a narrow slice of complicated science and want to dismiss all other information and opinions not filtered through this narrow lens.

                    I’m not interested in the past or the future more than how it can help us do things better right now.
                    Right now, it makes perfect sense that if you want to fundamentally change the diets of most people in the world (ie, “feed the world [GMO]”), you should get consent from those who eat.

                    I think people are getting alarmed about food for perfectly rational and understandable reasons. Namely, most people get sick, die and are bankrupt from diet related illnesses.
                    It may very well be that this technique can make safe healthy foods but you can’t expect trust from us unless you can understand us and see our point of view. I am the first to admit that many people who argue against GMO do so irrationally. But so do those who favor GMO.

                    I am less worried about the potential risks of GE than I am about the harmful outcomes which arise out of our poorly designed systems where the only thing that seems to matter is greed.
                    I’m sorry if this hampers you and the things that you are passionate about but I’d rather we all stop and take a breath, then look around and find more logical ways of doing things. This of course could include using GE.

                    • DrGreenThumb

                      Apples and oranges. The way tuna is fished is more analogous to the way a crop is harvested. In keeping with this analogy, saying a variety produced using CRISPR is different from one produced by mutagenic breeding is like saying there is a difference in a crop that is harvested by hand versus by machine. Sure, there are differences in efficiency, costs, and materials used, but the product itself isn’t necessarily different in terms of physical properties, it’s only perceived to be different based on personal values.

                      fundamentally change the diets of most people in the world (ie, “feed the world [GMO]”), you should get consent from those who eat.
                      What does this have to do with GMOs? Our diets have profoundly changed over the last hundred years, and many times before that, all in the absence of genetic engineering. I don’t see how genetic engineering is causing any profound changes in our diet. Again, this sounds more like a value based perception, not physical change. Should I demand consent to eating food harvested on the Sabbath if I am Christian?

                      Namely, most people get sick, die and are bankrupt from diet related illnesses.
                      None of which has been linked in any way to genetic engineering. I challenge you to demonstrate otherwise. If it’s your belief that genetic engineering of plants has a influence in any of these areas, then you have a burden of proof to meet.

                      harmful outcomes which arise out of our poorly designed systems where the only thing that seems to matter is greed.
                      And herein lies the heart of the issue most people have when it comes to “anti-GMO” perceptions. It has absolutely nothing to do with genetic engineering. It’s about the modern agricultural system and the laws that govern it. So why don’t you skip the claims about skepticism of genetic engineering, since that isn’t really your concern?

                    • WeGotta

                      “So why don’t you skip the claims about skepticism of genetic engineering, since that isn’t really your concern?”
                      I am really trying to do this. However, those who support it most, and those who are in the field keep giving me reasons to doubt them. Not the least of which is their religious-like blind spots for real problems in the real world and lack of understanding about people’s real concerns related to applications of this technology.

                      ” it’s only perceived to be different based on personal values”

                      Of course it is. Any judgement is essentially false. Things just are, no matter what we think of them.
                      But as soon as you start using a value system such as “science is right”, you must be prepared to accept that other people may not come to the same conclusions and that there is no way you can be proven right or wrong. The best you can do is to explain why you think it’s “better” with examples which are real and present now.
                      It’s not helpful making to much of the past or believing in some potential benefit in some imaginary future.

                      You can demand that you only eat food harvested on the Sabbath. Just don’t demand that all of us must eat food harvested on the Sabbath and claim it’s because you have special knowledge that we could never understand.

                      If I can make the same product very cheaply using indentured slaves, it doesn’t mean that those who object are somehow stupid or wrong. It just means our current value system (most of ours) is currently “against” such a thing.

                      Yes our diets have changed. But just like the technology that enables faster changes in gene expression, the changes in our diet are now much more acute and generalized to more people at the same time. The recent changes mirror some of the novel diet-related diseases and conditions in our population.

                      The link between GMO and diet related changes is the fact that most GMO is used to make junk foods. Could it be made without GMO, of course. But you can’t claim something is so great and needs to be expanded if it’s just going to exacerbate a huge problem. I don’t care about the details if all you are going to do is make more junk food with it.

                      I am evaluating the system and determining which tools I would like to apply. I cannot do this without evaluating all aspects of the system including the anti-scientific incentives we have in place (greed).

                    • “Just don’t demand that all of us must eat food harvested on the Sabbath and claim it’s because you have special knowledge that we could never understand.” That is exactly what people who want to ban GMOs want to do.

                    • WeGotta

                      Explain.

                    • Mike W

                      I’ll take a stab.

                      “sabbath only” would be a voluntary dietary restriction. Nobody should try to force the world to make such a restriction universal, outlawing all non-sabbath food. If you want to observe the restriction, and are wiling to pay, there are probalby people wiling to produce the food you can eat. The rest of the food you can’t eat should NEVER be labeled as anything special.

                      “non-gmo” is the exact same. If you, for no scientific reason, want to observe a non-gmo diet, do so. Don’t demand all other food be marked as specifically unfit for your discretionary diet.

                      This is predicated on the established fact of safety, and the established fact of substantial equivalency of gmo crops.

                    • WeGotta

                      Thanks Mike.
                      I think you have it backwards though. The common baseline is non-GMO food and food harvested any day of the week.
                      What’s being imposed on the baseline is a new thing that a few people with “special knowledge” think is “better” based upon their own beliefs (GMO/science or food harvested on the sabbath/religion).

                      So a statistically insignificant number of the world’s people believe that their opinion, which is based upon special knowledge only obtainable through indoctrination into their belief system, is “ultimate infallible truth” and therefore should be forced onto everyone in the world.

                    • Mike W

                      Not so since a gmo is no different than any other new hybrid. So they fit “normal.” If you don’t agree, you are free to do so, but you are at odds with the evidence and preponderance of scientific evidence.

                      If you want to eliminate them, then you do so based on your belief system, not based on the type of evidence that our regulatory system makes labeling decision on.

                      “GMO science” is just science. It takes no special knowledge to believe that they are safe and equivalent to any new variety. It takes special beliefs to hold the opposite opinion.

                      Safety is not a popularity contest. Science is not a popularity contest. They don’t change based on the statistical relevancy of the number of those that embrace them.

                      i.e. kosher. It’s regulated, but completely voluntary to label.

                    • WeGotta

                      Science most definitely does change. That’s the whole point. Keep learning in order to understand.
                      Time and time again the science has had to change based on new information.

                      There’s two different claims you are making.

                      First, you are saying that because of the conclusions reached by some people after evaluating data it seems safe. That’s scientific and not contended by me.

                      What I do have doubts about include the design of the studies and their ability to truly detect a “significant” change given the novelty and complexity of this science as compared to how these types of studies have been used before, the ability to obtain “clean”, pertinent, and unbiased data in the first place given tremendous outside influences and bias, and the choice of application of this science outside the lab. My doubts about the latter are perfectly reasonable and based upon observable facts. To unquestionably trust that the studies are well designed in this situation, are unbiased and are correctly extrapolated is faith. Faith that your system of beliefs is correct.

                      Second, you are claiming that GMO is “no different”.
                      This is an extremely narrow definition and only serves to advance your belief system.
                      It’s obviously different. What you are actually saying is that what you can make in a lab is the same thing that theoretically could be made “in nature” and that it’s the same when evaluated with certain tools. Again, this is just extrapolation. Just faith in science. We can only get answers for the questions we think to ask. I am pretty sure everything we currently think we know about this will be different in 100, 500 or 1000 years.

                      To finish, I’m going to use your statements above and swap science for religion.

                      ***Food harvested on the sabbath is better. If you don’t agree, you are free to do so, but you are at odds with the preponderance of religious teachings.

                      “Sabbath diet” is just truth. It takes no special knowledge to believe that it’s better. It takes special beliefs to hold the opposite opinion.
                      ***
                      All of the priests have thoroughly evaluated the scriptures and agree. The scriptures are available for you to read. If you don’t understand them we can help educate you. It’s difficult so you can just trust those seminaries that have expertise in this matter. If you don’t agree then you are anti-truth.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      “Keep learning in order to understand.”

                      Can you show one example of where you’ve done that?

                    • WeGotta

                      Me?
                      Well, I once thought that my narrow view of the world was “correct”.
                      Then I learned how much things like culture, family, genetics, diet, unique experiences, education, and ego can distort your world view.
                      Now I know there is no “correct” view.
                      Things just are. The rest is just a story we make up.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      Just because you don’t understand science doesn’t mean tens of thousands of scientists are wrong.

                    • WeGotta

                      No it doesn’t.
                      I don’t really think that’s even one of the reasons why they could be wrong.

                      I understand it just fine according to objective testing in school (4.0 GPA).

  • Mlema

    Here’s the definition from one of the links:
    “As noted in the July 2, 2015 EO memorandum, ‘‘biotechnology products’’ refers to products developed through genetic engineering or the targeted or in vitro manipulation of genetic information of organisms, including plants, animals, and microbes. It also covers some of the products produced by such plants, animals, and microbes or their derived products as determined by existing statutes and regulations. Products such as human drugs and medical devices are not the focus of the activities described in the memorandum.”
    http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-10-06/pdf/2015-25325.pdf

    Which makes me wonder about regulating pharming. Thoughts?

    • DrGreenThumb

      Lumping products derived from GMOs into the same category is a mistake. A refined product may be chemically identical to the same product from a non-GMO, meaning there is no rational basis for defining the former as a GMO. The only argument one can make in this regard is an ideological one, i.e. someone who is against genetic engineering in general may want to boycott anything associated or derived from GMOs.

      • Mlema

        The quote I provided is from “Clarifying Current Roles and Responsibilities Described in the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology and Developing a Long-Term Strategy for the Regulation of the Products of Biotechnology” (see the link in the comment) — in the context of the publication, biotechnology products refers to, for instance, bt crops, or glyphosate-tolerant crops, or virus-resistant papaya, etc. It doesn’t refer to food products, like those you might purchase off the shelf in your local grocery store.
        Again, they’re talking about products manufactured by the biotechnology industry, not food products you might buy in the store. The quote gives you the current definition from the National Science and Technology Council, Science and Technology Policy Office.

        I would say it’s not that hard to define “GMO” – and that the regulatory agencies have already done it, and there you have it.

        • DrGreenThumb

          It sounds to me like the memorandum is defining, for example, corn syrup (something you would buy at a grocery store) from Bt or glyphosate resistant corn as a being a GM product. That is, in my view, a mistake. That definition is outdated as it fails to provide a clear way of identifying such a product as being “GM”. How exactly would one test corn syrup, for example, to determine if is from GM corn or not?

          Or am I misinterpreting it and it only means that the corn itself is defined as being GM?

          (For what it’s worth, I do research in the field of plant molecular biology and routine do genetic engineering).

          • Mlema

            GreenThumb, the document I linked to was attached to Anastasia’s post somehow. I don’t remember if it was a direct link or one I found through another link. It’s simply the notice of the regulatory re-vamp that Anastasia is telling us about in recent posts. The definition given in that document is the one used by the government to define what is a GMO. The document isn’t talking about products DERIVED from GMOs, but is instead talking about “the products of biotechnology”, which are GMOs (bt corn, HT crops, etc.) That’s all I can tell you. I was just offering the link because we were being asked for definitions.
            thank you

            • DrGreenThumb

              I see. Thanks. I was a bit confused by the wording.

            • yes, I think “biotechnology products” is likely analogous to “GMO” as long as the product is an organism. If the product isn’t an organism then GMO wouldn’t make sense. So I think we can say some GMOs are biotechnology products but not all biotechnology products are GMOs.

              Here, biotechnology is “genetic engineering or the targeted or in vitro manipulation of genetic information of organisms” which is a decent enough definition – though it is very broad. It would definitely include gene editing. I think it may also include marker assisted selection.

      • WeGotta

        First, ideology is defined as: a set of ideas and beliefs of a group or political party.

        Everyone is an ideologue.

        Your belief that a molecule is just a molecule no matter how it was created or from where it came is your set belief. Its not that this belief is “right” or “wrong” because no person can claim to “know” this, least of all a person who understands science. The most you can say is that it seems this is true when evaluated with our available tools and understanding of such things at this moment.

        We can say that this belief probably serves you very well in your line of work.

        But you can’t take this belief (everything in the universe is reducible to small molecules which are all identical) and apply it out of context or you are the ideologue.

        The belief that ‘the process by which something is created is important, no matter if the end result is the same’ is also not “right” or “wrong”. But it can be an extremely helpful concept in many situations.

        So if a person decides that they don’t want to support a certain process, it’s no different than if they say they don’t want to support a certain end product. A judgement about the logic or merit of such a belief can only be made once you know why someone has chosen this belief and how this belief affects that person and other people.

        • DrGreenThumb

          Your belief that a molecule is just a molecule no matter how it was created or from where it came is your set belief.
          No, that’s not just my “belief”. That’s a demonstrably fact. It is a physical attribute that exists independent of my perspective, meaning that another observer who has never communicated with me in any way can reach the exact same conclusion by using the appropriate tests.

          The most you can say is that it seems this is true when evaluated with our available tools and understanding of such things at this moment.
          It sounds like you’re getting into hard solipsism, ‘can we really ever know anything’. Are you familiar with the current methodology for evaluating isolated chemical compounds and proteins? They’re very good. If you are not familiar with it, I suggest you have a look at what mass spectrometry can do. For example, ion trap machines can literally predict chemical formulas of unknown compounds. We can determine the individual sugars that get attached to proteins. With x-ray crystallography the exact position of amino acids can be determined within a 3-D protein structure.

          But you can’t take this belief (everything in the universe is reducible to small molecules which are all identical)
          That’s not at all what I said.

          The belief that ‘the process by which something is created is important, no matter if the end result is the same, is also not “right” or “wrong”.
          I disagree. We can objectively determine if a process is “right” or “wrong” based on the efficiency of a process and potential byproducts. There is also a third option; a process can be “neutral” in that it is not substantially different than what is widely accepted (based on objective metrics) as the best process.

          A judgement about the logic or merit of such a belief can only be made once you know why someone has chosen this belief and how this belief affects that person and other people.
          Nonsense. It is absolutely possible to judge a person’s reasons for accepting something, be it a process or a product, as being based on empirical evidence or personal belief. However, I am not saying that a person doesn’t have the right to hold an incorrect belief. People have the right to believe all kinds of objectively false things, but that right doesn’t give merit to the belief.

          • WeGotta

            Feel free to ignore this comment below as it’s just fun mental gymnastics for me. Who cares what I think anyway.

            “It is a physical attribute that exists independent of my perspective, meaning that another observer who has never communicated with me in any way can reach the exact same conclusion by using the appropriate tests.”
            Exactly; using “appropriate” tests as perceived through similar sense organs. In other words, under certain conditions.

            The communication between you and that observer is not a direct communication but it’s a communication all the same. Both observers must have the same set belief system (the one we call science) which must be acquired through indoctrination. You can’t give an electron microscope to a farmer in New Delhi and expect that person would see what you see. Modern science as belief system has not been around for very long and will continue to evolve with time. So what’s accepted as “truth” today will likely change.

            So its better phrased as this: “a physical attribute is dependent on my perspective, and if another observer has reached the same conclusion, they must have the same perspective as me”.

            Quite the opposite of Solipsism. It’s not that the brain is the center of the universe. It’s more that the universe just is and any observation of it is inherently filtered through some type of lens or
            made up belief system.

            This is “nonsense” to you just like your belief that GM corn is “the same” as non-GM corn is nonsense to me. So where does this leave us? In the same place as we were, of course. Both of us can have a nice happy life believing polar opposite things.

            The only potential conflict arises if and when someone believes that their belief system trumps another’s. There is no way to resolve such a conflict by offering further “proof” that yours is the correct view if such proof is just more of your particular belief system. Of course you don’t like it because you are invested in your beliefs. But so is the other.

            You then have a choice to ignore it, to compromise or to fight. People often choose the latter. Especially if such a belief system is held so tightly that it is inseparable from one’s identity/ego.
            This often results in violence; even if the belief system contains strong teachings against violence (as with religious extremists).

            So I choose no particular belief system unless it makes sense to use one at this moment.

            The best part of this is that I feel no strong or lasting anger or agitation when confronted by a different belief system. I personally believe that this is what’s needed most in the world at this time; even more so than any new technology. I also believe that true innovators in science are always open to new ideas and ways of thinking.

            • DrGreenThumb

              Well, clearly it appears I do care what you think 🙂
              Both observers must have the same set belief system (the one we call science) which must be acquired through indoctrination.
              I couldn’t disagree more. Science is not a “belief system” as it has no defining tenets of faith or conviction. Science cannot tell you what to believe. Science can only offer explanations of natural phenomena.

              Modern science as belief system has not been around for very long and will continue to evolve with time. So what’s accepted as “truth” today will likely change.
              All due respect (and I do mean this as you have been respectful in our conversation), but this is wrong. Science does not change based on evolving “beliefs”. It changes based on new evidence. People’s views change as our knowledge improves. Science is not a “belief system” as it does not tell people what to believe.

              “a physical attribute is dependent on my perspective, and if another observer has reached the same conclusion, they must have the same perspective as me”

              If a tree falls in the forest and not one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s effectively what you’re saying, isn’t it? I.e. the physical attribute, in this case sound, is dependent on the observer. This is incorrect as physically attributes exist in an objective sense. I.e. the “sound” of a tree falling is the result of compressed air waves produced by the movement of the tree through the atmosphere. If a deaf person and I are both standing in the vicinity of the falling tree, the sound is not a product of my “perspective”, I merely have the capability of detecting the phenomenon. Similarly, you’re farmer in New Delhi lacks the capability of using an electron microscope (I’m assuming), but that doesn’t change the objectivity natural of the observations that can be produced using the instrument. With the right instruction, the farmer could use the microscope. This instruction is not “indoctrination”, in the same why that teaching someone to tie their shoes is not indoctrination. It’s a learned skill, not a belief.

              The only potential conflict arises if and when someone believes that their belief system trumps another’s. There is no way to resolve such a conflict by offering further “proof” that yours is the correct view if such proof is just more of your particular belief system.

              Reconciling competing beliefs can be difficult but a necessary part of our reality. There are lots of different opinions and beliefs on how we should organize our lives collectively. We need a way to come to agreement. Science is that way. It allows us to set aside beliefs and determine what is objectively the best way to do something or what is objectively accurate.

              I think the issue here is that you’re definition of a “belief system” incorrectly lumps science in with things like religion (“Especially if such a belief system is held so tightly that it is inseparable from one’s identity/ego. This often results in violence; even if the belief system contains strong teachings against violence (as with religious extremists”). Science does not tell you what I believe. It may appear that way to someone who is a relative novice (i.e. your farmer in New Delhi), but this is not the case. Science is a tool and employing it, like any tool, requires skill. Once sufficiently skilled, a person can use science to determine what is objectively accurate, entirely independent of beliefs.

              • WeGotta

                Thanks. I have respect for those who can thoughtfully get a point across without insults and lazy arguments. You have mine. That you disagree with me doesn’t change that or else I would be the one who was being dogmatic and hypocritical since my whole belief system basically consists of not having one.
                So I’m not trying to convince you I’m right or make you feel that you are wrong. I just think we shouldn’t ever limit our boundless imagination. There is something more to learn always. If you like, call it some science we have yet to learn that will drastically change what we think is scientific fact today.
                Is a scientific breakthrough always the result of following the established thinking or are there times when new ideas have come from outside these mainstream conceptions?

                Personally, I don’t see much difference between things like art, philosophy, religion and science. Each has its merits and limitations. Each or all can be applied to a specific situation in order to achieve some preferred outcome. What it all comes down to is the definition of “preferred”.
                This is what interests me the most. The judgements behind such claims.

                I also don’t see a point in even trying to make the claim that science or religion is “correct”. These are just concepts and tools. A hammer is not inherently “correct” but it can be extremely useful or dangerous depending on the situation.
                There is something “bigger” than our tools and concepts. I say show me in each specific situation how your belief system can help.

                Let’s take your example about a tree falling and only assess the impact of the tree and the ground. Wouldn’t it be more scientifically correct to say that, in our ambient atmosphere and gravity conditions, the force from a particular mass of a particular density of a particular arrangement of molecules impacting a particular mass of a particular density of a particular arrangement of molecules will result in (among other things) pressure waves which are perceived by some organisms as a particular sound which is created by the pressure waves interacting with the tympanic membrane which moves the ossicles which moves fluid in the cochlea which bends hairs which triggers a cellular response that’s interpreted as sound. I’m still leaving out many many steps in this cascade.
                The point is that the tree doesn’t just make a sound that can be tested and reproduced and independently verified. That’s just what we know based upon many variables and our particular point of view.
                You can’t say that the only thing a falling tree produces is sound waves detectable to our hearing anatomy. There are way too many variables to say that is some kind of “ultimate truth”.

                Do bacteria hear this sound like us? No, but they may perceive the tree fell in a different way. Who is right and why? It all depends on our point of view and thus it has to be based on our own belief systems. I’m not diminishing the importance of this belief system. Not at all. In fact, I think when you are open to the possibility that everything you think you know is wrong, it more likely will result in conditions where more knowledge is obtained instead of less. It enhances science to be open minded.

                As 38 Special once put it in song:
                “Just hold on loosely

                But don’t let go

                If you cling too tightly

                You’re gonna lose control”

                • DrGreenThumb

                  I don’t see much difference between things like art, philosophy, religion and science….I also don’t see a point in even trying to make the claim that science or religion is “correct”.
                  This is a can of worms I’m not interested in opening. I don’t agree, but I’m not interested in debating this subject as it is probably the most discussed topic on earth and we’re (collectively) no closer to a resolution now than when it began with the development of the scientific method.

                  Do bacteria hear this sound like us? No, but they may perceive the tree fell in a different way. Who is right and why? It all depends on our point of view and thus it has to be based on our own belief systems.

                  This is a matter of definitions, both specific to the example and more broadly to this discussion. With respect to this example, “hear” implies the anatomy to involved in the perception of sound. Since bacteria lack this anatomy bacteria can’t “hear”. More broadly, we need to carefully define what we’re talking about and what we mean when talking about the frameworks of our beliefs. I like science in this regard because it offers and objective framework for understanding the world, which is independent of the observer.

                  FYI I’ve enjoyed our conversation so far. You conduct yourself with integrity and treat people with dignity (well at least you have towards me). Sadly, not a common thing on the internet.

                  • WeGotta

                    “More broadly, we need to carefully define what we’re talking about and
                    what we mean when talking about the frameworks of our beliefs. I like
                    science in this regard because it offers and objective framework for
                    understanding the world, which is independent of the observer.”

                    Yes! I agree completely. Things get muddled when any judgement is made about a phenomenon because it will always be biased by the observer. The slit lamp experiment still blows my mind.

                    I’ve spent much time contemplating a reality which is truly “independent of the observer”. It’s also known as a meditation practice. One that is scientifically proven to bring many benefits to those who practice. It’s also very practical for me because I interact with many people who believe many different things, sometimes in difficult situations. Most people don’t want a lecture, they just want to be heard and understood. It’s my bias.

                    To sort of bring things back to the topic; I think smart regulation would be as unbiased as possible and work to bring about some agreed upon result. Everyone should be able to weigh in as to what that system would look like and all tools should be used with value given to those tools that work the best in a given situation. I have a bias towards uncomplicated things that work well and require very little maintenance.

                    But this is where I think we could actually use more technology. We are more connected than ever and we can get almost instantaneous feedback from huge numbers of the population. So why not use this system for a modern version of the “fireside chat” or something? Let’s all have the discussion about what we want from our food systems and then apply all of our skills to make it a reality? There’s really nothing we couldn’t accomplish I think but we must not ignore those truly universal truths such as love, compassion and reason. Those are what’s needed most today in my opinion.

                    • DrGreenThumb

                      when any judgement is made about a phenomenon because it will always be biased by the observer

                      Which is why the best scientific methods remove the observer from the equation either by allowing machines to do the measurement or through experimental designs, such as double blinding.

                      The slit lamp experiment still blows my mind
                      The “observer” effect in this experiment relates to the impact equipment can have on an experiment in which it is involved, not the idea that the experiment “knows” it’s being watched. At least that’s my take on it. I’m a layperson when it comes to physics.

                      I think smart regulation would be as unbiased as possible and work to bring about some agreed upon result.
                      In principal, we agree. But the devil is in the details.

                      So why not use this system for a modern version of the “fireside chat” or something?

                      Isn’t that kind of what you and I are doing? It’s unfortunate that we have to wade through so much nonsense though to find someone willing/able to hold a rational conversation.

                    • WeGotta

                      “It’s unfortunate that we have to wade through so much nonsense though to find someone willing/able to hold a rational conversation.”

                      Very true. But why would anyone expect that people who were raised in our current culture/society could ever develop such capacities? Specifically in the US, what policies/infrastructure/incentives/values are in place to ensure such an outcome (ie, the production of an engaged, thoughtful and rational citizen)?
                      I can’t think of many that are near as strong as those that ensure the exact opposite would be true.

                      This illustrates some of my frustrations with people who speak so strongly for a belief system such as religion, patriotism or technophilia (I’m going to acquiesce that science is not a “belief system” but something pure and without bias to honor your civility and rationality).

                      What’s the point of believing in something if the actual end results of such a belief are substandard? I say stop telling me why you think your beliefs are “better” than mine and show me how your life is “better” as a result of your strong beliefs. I want proof.

                      Can we be factually correct but still “wrong”?

                      For example, your spouse may say to you “you never send me flowers anymore”. If you are someone who thinks that the only important thing is observable fact and proof you might go ahead and try to argue that in fact you have sent flowers twice in the last few months and in fact this is much more than the average person does. See how that works out for you.

                      So the error in thinking can be an error of omission. You failed to see the big picture. Your spouse wasn’t really telling you that you need to send flowers more often but that he/she feels a lack of affection or attention. A “better” response would have been an embrace and a statement such as “You are so right.” Is this a lie?
                      Even worse for the relationship (assuming this is what you both want) would be to get defensive and angry. Then the factual information becomes more like a weapon. “I did send you flowers last month and you didn’t even thank me!”

                      So in some respects, facts are useless. Or rather, specific facts taken out of context can be useless. Further still, you can assume you may never have all the facts about something complex so it would be prudent to reserve some space for healthy doubt.

                      Yes, I think more people talking rationally with each other is helpful. Could even be a popular reality TV show or social media event or something like that. I am not very good with those sorts of things but I see the power of them. Should be lots of drama so I’m sure it would be popular. You could even debate things like which ads if any should be used to support such a thing and why.
                      We could all pick ideal goals of an organized society of people and publicly debate them until we get a top 10 or something. Then at least we can have a framework where we can judge people’s thoughts, actions, words, technology, religious teachings, etc. Then we can frame our regulatory systems to ensure these goals are being met.

                      I feel we can do so much better but I’ve always “had stars in my eyes” according to my family.

                    • “We could all pick ideal goals of an organized society of people and publicly debate them until we get a top 10 or something. Then at least we can have a framework where we can judge people’s thoughts, actions, words, technology, religious teachings, etc. Then we can frame our regulatory systems to ensure these goals are being met.”

                      Perhaps that is an idea for an advisory committee 😉

                    • WeGotta

                      I would call that progress!
                      Just a screen that the regulators can see which displays the top 10 things we want to see as decided by number of “likes”.

                    • actually this is very similar to a strategy of decisionmaking used by the Army Corps of Engineers. I’ll try to find the links and post them tomorrow. It’s fascinating.

                    • This actually reminds me a lot of “multi criteria decision analysis” -a way to find out what is most important to a diverse group of people. the Army Corps of Engineers used this method to decide what to do with sludge dredged from Long Island Sound. Here is an abstract of that work:

                      “Sediment management and remediation projects are often performed in complicated political environments where stakeholders are sensitive to different decision paths and actively engaged in championing for or against specific project alternatives. Inviting the participation of relevant stakeholder groups from the forefront of the decision process can avoid later conflict, but only if all parties feel that their views are being accurately and meaningfully incorporated in the process and if all groups feel they have an equal say in the final recommendation. Transparent and quantitative decision-analytic tools can help streamline sediment-management decisions and add rigor to the decision process while fairly and transparently incorporating divergent stakeholder views. In Long Island Sound, a working-group of representatives from stakeholder organizations is being consulted to aid in the prioritization of sediment disposal sites/types for the region’s updated Dredged Materials Management Plan. Through interviews and surveys, each representative has been able to contribute his or her view of the relative value/utility of different environmental impacts, species, habitats, health risks, social benefits, economic costs, and other high-level criteria. Collectively, average decision weights are derived for a Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis prioritizing sediment placement sites (including various no action, upland placement, open water, innovative treatment technologies, and beneficial use alternatives). Separately, district and local experts are providing numerical data on the performance of each site alternative against the identified and stakeholder-weighted criteria. The final result is anticipated to fairly and transparently integrate divergent stakeholder views to identify the average preferred alternative(s) and note areas of strong relative agreement and disagreement. This project is being performed in coordination with and funded by the USACE New England District and results will be incorporated into the updated Long Island Sound Dredged Materials Management Plan.”

                      The Corps followed the procedure above, and the stakeholder rankings were incorporated into a multi criteria decision analysis.A little more info can be found in the Dredging Award Submission. Unfortunately, the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan Working Group website is no longer active, but we can view it thanks to Wayback Machine.

                      This method has been used by other groups as well. I’m pretty sure the World Wildlife Foundation has used it. I think it would be amazing to try this method with diverse biotechnology stakeholders. Know anyone who might be interested in funding such an endeavor?

                    • This actually reminds me a lot of “multi criteria decision analysis” -a way to find out what is most important to a diverse group of people. the Army Corps of Engineers used this method to decide what to do with sludge dredged from Long Island Sound.

                      Here is an abstract of that work:

                      “Sediment management and remediation projects are often performed in complicated political environments where stakeholders are sensitive to different decision paths and actively engaged in championing for or against specific project alternatives. Inviting the participation of relevant stakeholder groups from the forefront of the decision process can avoid later conflict, but only if all parties feel that their views are being accurately and meaningfully incorporated in the process and if all groups feel they have an equal say in the final recommendation. Transparent and quantitative decision-analytic tools can help streamline sediment-management decisions and add rigor to the decision process while fairly and transparently incorporating divergent stakeholder views. In Long Island Sound, a working-group of representatives from stakeholder organizations is being consulted to aid in the prioritization of sediment disposal sites/types for the region’s updated Dredged Materials Management Plan. Through interviews and surveys, each representative has been able to contribute his or her view of the relative value/utility of different environmental impacts, species, habitats, health risks, social benefits, economic costs, and other high-level criteria. Collectively, average decision weights are derived for a Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis prioritizing sediment placement sites (including various no action, upland placement, open water, innovative treatment technologies, and beneficial use alternatives). Separately, district and local experts are providing numerical data on the performance of each site alternative against the identified and stakeholder-weighted criteria. The final result is anticipated to fairly and transparently integrate divergent stakeholder views to identify the average preferred alternative(s) and note areas of strong relative agreement and disagreement. This project is being performed in coordination with and funded by the USACE New England District and results will be incorporated into the updated Long Island Sound Dredged Materials Management Plan.”

                      The Corps followed the procedure above, and the stakeholder rankings were incorporated into a multi criteria decision analysis.

                      A little more info can be found in the Dredging Award Submission.

                      Unfortunately, the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan Working Group website is no longer active, but we can view it thanks to Wayback Machine.

                      This method has been used by other groups as well. I’m pretty sure the World Wildlife Foundation has used it.

                      I think it would be amazing to try multi criteria decision analysis with diverse biotechnology stakeholders. Know anyone who might be interested in funding such an endeavor?

                    • WeGotta

                      That sounds like it would produce more lasting and less controversial consensus.
                      I personally wouldn’t even know where to begin with such a thing though.

                      Maybe the problem is the solution (as they say in permaculture). Specifically, maybe we could use our culture’s obsession with mass media like those singing and dancing reality TV shows.
                      We could get Netflix or one of the networks to create a reality show that would follow people who represent varying points of view. That would be entertaining in and of itself given the theatrical nature of how some of this stuff is presented nowadays. Certain people could be “voted out” of the discussion by the viewers for example.
                      There’s nothing like public scrutiny to sort out those beliefs that are purely fictional and not worthy of serious consideration from those that hold merit. In compartmentalized forms of communication this becomes more difficult as each has its “nest” to regroup and gather strength.

                      The finale would be the “vetted” participants sitting around a table creating a system which could itself be “vetted” by the viewers. Technical questions that arise along the way could be answered by varying participants, experts in the field and/or crowd sourced.

                      I’ll keep this on the back burner for sure. Thanks for that information!!

                    • I don’t think having it on tv would work. People need 1) to communicate with their body language and 2) to have some investment (like time to go to a meeting in person) for this process to be effective. In the dredging example, the people participating in the multi criteria decision analysis were mostly representatives of various groups so each individual would bring the opinions of the people they represented. Doing something like this on tv or the internet where people have no investment I think would mean few people would try to learn from each other and would just vote with their gut. Part of the awesomeness of multi criteria decision analysis is getting people together to learn from each other.

          • Mlema

            I think you and WeGotta are talking past each other. I think WeGotta is trying to say something like: you could have two sources of drinking water, one in a plastic bottle and the other coming out of a spring. They could be chemically identical, but WeGotta is saying that there’s no right or wrong in which one someone chooses to drink, and a person might choose one over the other for any number of reasons other than “science”.

            • DrGreenThumb

              I know. It seems like I’m not doing a very good job of making my point clear.

              I am not saying that a person’s reasoning is “right” or “wrong” in terms of their personal beliefs. What I mean is that when you want to extrapolate beliefs to public policy, then we have to make objective assessments of what is accurate based on empirical evidence versus what is only a personal opinion. I am very hesitant to support public policy decisions that are based on opinion and not on empirical evidence.

              In keeping with your water example, if someone wants to drink only spring water and avoid plastic bottles, that’s fine. But to then demand that we start regulating water in plastic bottles differently based on this personal preference is an entirely different thing.

              Does that make sense?

              • Mlema

                yes

              • Rickinreallife

                Let me propose an alternative to Mlema’s water analogy. Suppose this were a discussion about the merits of using fuel injectors instead of carborators to achieve the desired fuel / air mixture in an engine. You are approaching the question from the perspective of the internal vehicle mechanics and assuming WG is doing the same. You are interpreting WG as arguing that because fuel injection is a fundamentally different process than carborator mixing for achieving the optimal fuel air mixture, then the properties of fuel injected fuel air mixture must by definition and necessity be different. You also interpret him as saying what is an optimal fuel air mixture is subjective and thus whether that subjective optimal is better achieved with fuel injectors is also subjective, and whether there is some mechanical benefit in using fuel injectors instead of carborators is further subjective . In response to this, you are trying to explain that what is an optimal fuel air mixture is an objective standard that can be determined by objective criteria, such as which mixture achieves the most power when ignited, and that the objective would be to achieve this identical optimal regardless of whether we use fuel injection or carborator mixing, that we can verify that the fuel air mixture is substantially equivalent and that it has not undergone some unintended transformation, i.e. the fuel injection process did not transform the gas into methane, or ethanol, or soda pop). You would defend computer control fuel injectors as an improvement over carborators because they achieve the desired fuel air mixture precisely and reliably, and eliminate some chances for error that occur with using carborators for the same purpose.

                WG seems to me to be arguing an ethical dimension. He is not necessarily saying that fuel injectors change the properties of the fuel-air mixture, and may even be willing to concede that the process works as intended and has mechanical advantages. Rather, he is asking is society better off by replacing carborators with fuel injectors. We have replaced a fairly low tech, easily understandable method that can be understood and manipulated by any shadetree mechanic with this high-tech computer controlled device that we have to rely on and pay a mechanic to assure it is in working order. Also, why use fuel injectors if it is only to achieve the goal of achieving the optimal power of the combustion, when perhaps society would benefit more by the goal being improving the fuel efficiency of the combustion. And perhaps the effort and investment put into developing fuel injectors could have been better put to use to develop other transportation strategies other than marginally improving the performance of internal combustion engines which is a hopelessly polluting and resource demanding technology. Perhaps perfecting electrical engine technology for mass transit systems would have been a better use of the time and resources that went into developing fuel injector technology.

                • DrGreenThumb

                  While I appreciate the time you took to craft your analogy, I find it a bit too obtuse to be honest and don’t really follow. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what you’re saying is that I’m arguing about scientific details and WG is talking about more ethics and policy? Yes. I know that. Perhaps what I haven’t made clear is that WG’s arguments would carry more weight if they clearly accounted for the scientific evidence. For example, if someone believes that we should allow corporations to patent seeds, don’t make arguments targeting GMOs. The argument should be focused on legislation. I find most arguments that appear to be anti-GMO on the surface are really about public policy or business practices, not biology.

      • WeGotta

        Second, the products derived from plants should also be evaluated as a separate and unique thing.
        So I believe an artificial sweetener derived from a plant (GMO or otherwise) should be evaluated completely. This is not being done adequately in my opinion.

        The science is clear that we eat too much of this kind of thing. The effects of added sugars in our diet is known.
        So why is it that it’s somehow “okay” to keep adding this to our foods?
        Wouldn’t a robust regulatory system have a mechanism to catch a situation like this where a certain product (safe as it may be as tested under accepted scientific conditions), is deemed not so safe after all? The least such a system would do would be to stop subsidizing such a product with tax dollars.

        • DrGreenThumb

          So I believe an artificial sweetener derived from a plant (GMO or otherwise) should be evaluated completely.
          How is it “artificial” if it is derived from a plant? What would you consider to be “natural”?

          The science is clear that we eat too much of this kind of thing. The effects of added sugars in our diet is known.
          Sure. I agree. But what does this have to do with GMOs or even with agriculture in general?

          Wouldn’t a robust regulatory system have a mechanism to catch a situation like this where a certain product (safe as it may be as tested under accepted scientific conditions), is deemed not so safe after all?
          Sugar is not inherently dangerous. It’s one of those examples of ‘the dosing making the poison’.

          The least such a system would do would be to stop subsidizing such a product with tax dollars.

          Sure. But now you’re talking about public policy, not the science behind GMOs. Forgive me, but you seem to be all over the road with your argument. I’m having trouble deciphering what you’re point is.

          • WeGotta

            Sorry. “Artificial” was the wrong choice. Thanks.

            My point is that regulations would be incomplete if we just focused too narrowly on the current definitions of “safe”.
            Added sugars in the diet are most definitely not safe. Yet we subsidize them with tax dollars and use advanced technology to create more of them.

            • DrGreenThumb

              Added sugar is not inherently dangerous either. It’s a matter of diet. I can eat a chocolate bar once a week without any significant risk. Eating a chocolate bar everyday however may increase my likelihood of experiencing negative health effects.

              Subsidization is a different issue and one that I agree needs to be rebalanced. If we are to subsidize food, we should do it for healthier options. But I won’t pretend to know the answers to this issue.

  • Edgar Haro

    What about a definition such as “An organism with human-induced genome alteration that is eligible for a patent”? Its interesting how GMO corporations chant to the public about how their practices occur naturally and that their GM variants are really the same as organic counterparts but then manage to convince the patent office that their products are unique and deserve protection as industrial property. I think maybe the ability to patent an organism gets us closer to defining GMO because GMOs likely wouldn’t exist if they couldn’t be patented. Its all about the money not necessarily alleviating world hunger and malnutrition.

    • Ewan R

      Plants produced through breeding are patentable. Even ones used in organic production. Your definition thus really doesn’t help.

      • Ewan R

        http://www.google.com/patents/US8766035

        Also you can patent methods for discovery of and introgression of native traits.

      • Edgar Haro

        Hmm. Do those patents only pertain to products that are a result of crossing two separate species? I know traditional breeding methods between the same species can produce marketable changes in the offspring such as size, but don’t see how that would be patent-eligible.

        • Ewan R

          Linked patent below is for crosses within corn, so I’m pretty confident that this extends to single species crosses.

          • Edgar Haro

            Interesting, ill have to look into this more. Thanks

        • Rickinreallife

          You should look up J.E.M. Ag Supply v. Pioneer Seed Co.. This was the Supreme Court case in 1991 that first recognized utility patents could be obtained for seed propogated varities provided it satisfied the constitutional standards for patentability – novel, not obvious, etc. The variety at issue was a conventionally bred variety of the same species. Utility patent is not confined to biotech.