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Oct 30 2013

Shock-horror: research fails to find Big Danger in GMO crops

GMO-phobes please note:

Massive Review Reveals Consensus on GMO Safety

“The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.”

That’s the conclusion from a team of Italian scientists, who just completed a thorough systematic review of the scientific research conducted on genetically modified (GM) crops in the past decade. Their work is published in the journal Critical Review of Biotechnology.

But but but the genes of GM crops will spread to wild plants, other crops, and microorganisms.

The review affirmed that this can indeed occur.

“The formation of hybrids between GE crops and wild relatives is possible and documented,” Nicolia said.

There is a caveat, however. According to Nicolia, this sort of thing happens naturally all the time with normal crops. Local plant genotypes get replaced. Wild plant populations mutate and become resistant to herbicides. Soil bacteria can niftily uptake genes. But this isn’t necessarily harmful. It’s just evolution.

Well yes but evolution is god’s nature’s way of doing it and GMO is ARTIFICIAL.

Opponents of GM crops are in the news. In Washington, they’re pushing to label all GM products. Nationwide, they’re viewing GMO OMG, a new documentary damning genetic modification. On the Internet, they’re cheering a just-released report announcing that non-GMO food sales will total $178 billion this year, and are predicted to rise substantially by 2017.

Sadly, much of their discourse is devoid of scientific evidence, leaving a vacuum that gets filled with emotionally persuasive anecdotes, accusations of corporate corruption, and often erroneous information. It remains to be seen whether or not there will be room for the evidence contained in this exhaustive review.

You have to start somewhere.

58 comments

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  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    I have no info about GMO crops being directly hazardous to any consumer’s health, but given that said crops exist mostly to increase use of herbicides, increase monoculture and monopoly in agriculture, and do exactly nothing about the major problems of water shortages, soil erosion, and the loss of family farming and cultural connection with food production, I still favor putting them under extraordinary testing and mandatory labelling (yes, so I can boycott them).

  2. 2
    Lofty

    In the same way a woman once told me, straight faced, that microwave radiation was dangerous and made food cancer-causing, at the same time as she was sucking on a cigarette. GMOs are bad because that’s what their woefully uneducated friends believe.

  3. 3
    chrislawson

    Pierce @1:

    The short version of your argument: The evidence is clear that vaccines do not cause autism. But vaccines are produced by large corporations with intellectual property rights, so they’re part of the corporate monopolist agenda and have nothing to do with public health. The major problem with autism is lack of understanding of its cause and lack of support to carers and teachers — so I’m going to demand legislative action against vaccines and boycott their use until the cause of autism is understood and social supports are put in place everywhere in the world.

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    @chrislawson #3 – Monsanto, the biggest player in GM crops, is a chemical company. Its products have included DDT, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and Agent Orange. It invented glyphosate, a very toxic herbicide that it sells as the weed killer Roundup and which kills beneficial insects, native plants, and most animals that feed on those insects and plants.

    They began developing crop plants that were resistant to glyphosate in order to increase sales. As a result, they now sell between 180 to 185 million pounds of this poison every year.

    I wish not to support companies like Monsanto, who strive to make as large a profit as possible before the environment is destroyed. I can exercise my rights as a consumer only if I have the information I need to make a choice not to use any of their products, directly or indirectly. That is why I voted yes on I-522, the proposed GM labeling law in Washington.

  5. 5
    zekehoskin

    Chris Lawson: equating GMO opponents with vaccine-causes-autism people is almost unbelievably condescending. Yes, many GMO opponents are ignorant Luddites, but a whole lot of us have a reasonable understanding of genetics and oppose the use of crops designed to kill pests, permit the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides, and eliminate the possibility of farmers’ growing their own seed.

  6. 6
    kraut

    “It invented glyphosate, a very toxic herbicide that it sells as the weed killer Roundup and which kills beneficial insects, native plants, and most animals that feed on those insects and plants.”

    What utter bullshit without any evidence whatever

    http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/dienochlor-glyphosate/glyphosate-ext.html
    “The acute oral LD50 in the rat is 5,600 mg/kg. Other oral LD50 values for glyphosate are 1,538 to greater than 10,000 mg/kg for mice, rabbits mg/kg, and goats”

    Do you even understand what that means? You can paste the shit on your bread and have no toxic effects.

    but no, because a big company produces it, it MUST be toxic. Just claim some bullshit and some will stick.

  7. 7
    Petteri Sulonen

    I would consider getting sued to bankruptcy by a massive corporation because patented genes had spread to my crop a pretty damn big danger. Or being pushed to suicide because I can no longer afford to buy seed that I’m not allowed to set aside from my own crop.

    IOW, I have nothing against GMO’s because they’re genetically modified. The business practices associated with them are vicious and toxic, and I want to be able to boycott any company engaging in them. If GMO’s are not marked on food products, I won’t be able to do that.

  8. 8
    Ysanne

    I thought we’d been over this already.
    It’s not about “GMOs are bad because evil genes and highly poisonous”. It’s about what they’re being used for, and how, and by whom.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/08/guest-post-a-plant-evolutionary-biologist-on-gmos/

  9. 9
    Z

    *cough* churnalism *cough*

  10. 10
    alqpr

    The choice not to use GMO products does not put anyone else at direct risk. Therefore it should not be prevented. Rather it should be facilitated as much as reasonably feasible. We label products by country of origin for reasons other than safety and should do similarly with regard to any other information that a suitably large number of people want ready access to.

    Good reasons for avoiding products include disapproval of the ethics and business practices of the manufacturer, environmental impact, etc. Some GMOs are used so as to support the use of herbicides which may harm the crops of competitors, others may by crossbreeding introduce pesticide resistance into pests long before it might otherwise have happened, others may introduce unfamiliar proteins into foods which although widely tested without adverse effect happen to be highly allergenic in a very small fraction of the population.

    I might be willing to undertake these risks but others might with equal reason choose not to. The fact that manufacturers oppose labeling is the main reason that I suspect I may be underestimating the risk.

  11. 11
    Ysanne
    There is a caveat, however. According to Nicolia, this sort of thing happens naturally all the time with normal crops. Local plant genotypes get replaced. Wild plant populations mutate and become resistant to herbicides. Soil bacteria can niftily uptake genes. But this isn’t necessarily harmful. It’s just evolution.

    Well yes but evolution is god’s nature’s way of doing it and GMO is ARTIFICIAL.

    Really?
    After writing this post about how it’s not great that bacteria respond to the selective pressure of widespread antibiotics use by becoming resistant, you argue like this?
    Yes, weeds might have become resistant to herbicides someday all by themselves. Speeding up this process is not a good idea for anyone who wants to grow food.

  12. 12
    chrislawson

    No, zekehostein, it is not condescending to compare thoughtless anti-GMO agitation to anti-vaxxers. GMO crops have the potential for major public health benefits (look up Golden Rice), and Pierce’s comment included statements that are flat out wrong (GMOs DO NOT increase the use of herbicide, they decrease it, and it’s in the manufacturer’s interest to reduce herbicide use to prevent resistance evolving). I am also annoyed that we went through all this in August (http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/08/guest-post-a-plant-evolutionary-biologist-on-gmos/) as Ysane points out and yet the same thoughtless antagonism to GMOs is being trotted out again here. (I’ll give Pierce a pass in that he did not contribute to that comment thread and may not have been aware of it.)

    And then I see more thoughtless antagonism in the further comments, like complaining that Roundup is TOXIC OMG!!!! Of course it’s fucking toxic. That’s what herbicides and pesticides are. Including natural compounds like vinegar and pyrethrum used by organic gardeners. Seriously, this is on the same intellectual level as those people who complain about “chemicals” in things. It’s pathetic. And while I was polite about it back in August, I’m in a bad mood about it today.

  13. 13
    The Beautiful Void

    Personally I am thoroughly in favour of labelling. To me it’s not a matter of health (I’m a science geek, GM crops are something I am entirely a supporter of) but a matter of consumer information.

    In a perfect world, I would be able to look up the labels (via some form of scannable barcode which leads to a hypertext page) and trace every single ingredient back through factories and refineries all the way to the field or the lab or the oil well. I realise this isn’t possible yet, but it’s something to work towards.

    That said, I am constantly disappointed by people who have such a strong knee-jerk aversion to chemical agriculture that they would refuse to eat food grown via scientific principles. If you disagree with me on this, look up the Haber Process and try to imagine a world without it.

  14. 14
    The Beautiful Void

    Regarding the fact that Monsanto et al are for-profit companies: Of course they are. Farms themselves are for-profit companies, and often ones with dismal environmental records. Medicines are made by for-profit companies too; so are clothes, so are cars, so are computers. We live in a world where most of the things we encounter every day were made by for-profit companies. Where I live, in London, my very drinking water is supplied by a for-profit.

    If your position is that all for-profit is inherently deplorable, then while I might disagree, I can’t fault your consistency. However, to say that it’s fine for someone to make a profit on the electricity you use but not on the food you eat? That’s a meaningless distinction and a dishonest argument.

  15. 15
    Pierce R. Butler

    Thanks to Gregory in Seattle, zekehoskins, Ysanne & alqpr for adding depth to my quickie comment.

    chrislawson @ # 10: … GMOs DO NOT increase the use of herbicide, they decrease it…

    Citation urgently needed.

    When the company that makes and sells “RoundUp” creates a markets seed-lines called “RoundUp-ready” (distinguishing characteristic: less affected by higher doses of you-know-what), they have a goal to thereby sell less RoundUp???

    Nor have I yet to see any convincing answer to the question, why can’t the people supposedly in desperate need of “Golden Rice” just grow carrots &c for their Vitamin A shortage?

  16. 16
    brucegorton

    Pierce R. Butler

    Different growing conditions. Rice is basically a wetland crop, carrots require decent drainage.

  17. 17
    notsont

    Nor have I yet to see any convincing answer to the question, why can’t the people supposedly in desperate need of “Golden Rice” just grow carrots &c for their Vitamin A shortage?

    OMG your a genius! Why has no one thought of doing this before so many people could have been saved! Those poor blind children all we had to do was show them how to grow carrots and the problem could have been solved. Seriously?

    I’ll spell it out for you, it has been and is being tried, it does not work.

    I am going to provide some citations I don’t know why I am bothering because anti-GMO people are no different than anti vaxxers or climate change deniers, you wont provide evidence for your claims and no amount of citations will change your mind.

    http://www.annualreviews.org/eprint/9Ntsbp8nBKFATMuPqVje/full/10.1146/annurev.arplant.58.032806.103840

    Answers pretty much every question you can ask with multiple references for each claim.

  18. 18
    Pieter B, FCD

    To put it more succinctly, carrots don’t grow underwater.

  19. 19
    Gregory in Seattle

    @The Beautiful Void #12 – You are distorting what I said. I have no problem with capitalism: I do have a problem with capitalism being used to tell extremely toxic substances. As a consumer, I should have a choice about which companies I support with my money. While GM labeling laws are not perfect, they provide me with far more information that I currently have now. I do not see that as a bad thing.

  20. 20
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Pierce R. Butler #13 – “Why can’t the people supposedly in desperate need of “Golden Rice” just grow carrots &c for their Vitamin A shortage?”

    Carrots require fine grained, rich soil to develop properly as a food crop, and they need a long, reasonably cool growing season with frequent watering. These conditions are pretty rare globally. Large scale cultivation is very difficult without mechanization, and carrots are a seasonal crop with a shelf life of only a few months at best.

    Rice can be grown in a much more diverse environment. It is a grass, and will grow happily in thin, stony soil unsuited for other crops. Rice can be planted during the rainy season, when the fields are too wet to plant other crops, and once established, becomes pretty drought resistant. These growing conditions are much more common. While rice is labor intensive, it is a much easier crop to manage without mechanization, and once it is harvested, a supply of rice can be kept on hand for years, making it an excellent staple for regions too poor and too small for heavy mechanization, and regions where water supplies or weather are unpredictable.

    Another issue is one of cuisine. Rice has formed the basis of southeast Asian food for millennia: for a large number of people on the planet, rice is the primary food, with vegetables and maybe meat added as condiments. Growing carrots will not make much nutritional headway unless you can convince people to eat them in sufficient quantities, and that is no small task.

    It should be noted that golden rice and similarly enriched crops were developed through international cooperation to improve the planet’s food supply, primarily as non-profit endeavors. These foodstuffs have been extensively tested by public institutions, with the results — some bad, mostly good — being put into the public domain. Seeds are typically sold at near the price of unmodified seeds, and farmers are encouraged to save seeds from harvest to planting. This is a very, very different thing from a for-profit chemical company producing crops designed to resist the poisons they sell, who does all of their testing privately in-house and keeps the results of those tests hidden under trade secret protections.

    Not all GM foods are equal.

  21. 21
    The Beautiful Void

    @17 Gregory in Seattle
    I think we’re talking at cross purposes. I agree entirely with you about consumer information being a good thing; voting with your wallet is part of good citizenship. On the other hand, I disagree that the toxicity of modern pesticides and herbicides is a unique issue which needs to be singled out for labelling any more clearly than, say, their water usage.

    I don’t want to concern troll here – if your position is that other issues related to agriculture (for example, exploitative labour practises, deforestation and indigenous land rights abuse) are things that should be equally labelled on food (and on other goods), then I think we agree entirely.

  22. 22
    mouse

    Re: “complaining that Roundup is TOXIC OMG!!!! Of course it’s fucking toxic. That’s what herbicides and pesticides are.” I would agree that is completely infuriating when people use the word “toxic” to imply that something is toxic to humans. For the same reason I think much of the push or labeling is based on misleading fear mongering, even if labeling would be a useful tool for well-founded boycotts. But there’s a legitimate problem when herbicides and pesticides are used to such an extent that they pollute soil and water and kill or harm aquatic life — which no one can seriously question that they do.

    Re: Golden Rice – all of the squillion gallons of herbicides and pesticides that have been or will be dumped on soil and in water cannot be justified by the potential represented by Golden Rice.

    Re: “it’s in the manufacturer’s interest to reduce herbicide use to prevent resistance evolving” — No, not really. Not when they also make the 2,4-D and other such more powerful and more toxic substances to address the resistant weeds. Not when they have untold numbers of chemists lined up to formulate new toxins to put out on the market.

  23. 23
    mouse

    Re: “On the other hand, I disagree that the toxicity of modern pesticides and herbicides is a unique issue which needs to be singled out for labelling any more clearly than, say, their water usage.” It’s a strange phenomenon that people are so much more fearful of GMOs than… all the commonplace and proven-lethal effects of eating foods. People die from heart disease and such ailments, and get sick from pathogens in packaged meat, at astonishing rates, yet we don’t hear a demand to label those facts onto animal food packages.

  24. 24
    freemage

    Labeling GMO foods in order to facilitate the boycott of Monsanto (who, yes, are about as evil a corporation as you can get out there, and are desperately need in a size-12 regulatory boot to their corporate ass) is still foolish. What I want is a label that says, “This product contains Monsanto sharecropping ingredients.”

    GMO is an arbitrary tool; target the users of that tool.

  25. 25
    Leo Buzalsky

    @10 chrislawson

    it is not condescending to compare thoughtless anti-GMO agitation to anti-vaxxers.

    Agreed. The problem, though, is that what Pierce had said was not thoughtless, so this isn’t what you were doing. If it had been, zekehostein and others may not have taken issue with what you said. That Pierce may have said things that are factually incorrect makes his comments just that (factually incorrect), but they do not necessarily make them “thoughtless.” I note, too, that you only object to one of Pierce’s points as being factually incorrect.

    I’m in a bad mood about it today.

    That may be the crux of the problem. Your mood may very well be impacting your rationality.

    And I have to say I mostly agree with Pierce that herbicide resistant GMO’s would encourage more use of herbicides. It’s rather simple — if your crop is not herbicide resistant, then you can’t use herbicide on it because you will kill your own crop. If it is resistant, however, then you can.

    If there is any problem there, it is the implication that herbicides = TOXIC/BAD!!! because a lot of anti-GMO folks express that opinion. It’s not clear that Pierce shares that opinion, but, unfortunately for Pierce, we humans have a tendency to place guilt by association, which I suspect may be what you are doing here.

  26. 26
    M can help you with that.

    @22 –

    I rather wish that we had labeling for the hyper-patented seed-restricted GMOs in food; or yeah, like you say, the equivalent of “WARNING: this product contains ingredients produced based on technologies developed by supervillains to screw over whole farming economies and ecologies to increase profit.”

  27. 27
    Pierce R. Butler

    Uh, thanks for all the condescending crap about carrots to various know-it-alls above.

    Please note that numerous foods contain Vitamin A, including kale, spinach, canteloupes, and tropical fruits such as mangoes & papayas (hello, Vietnam? Philippines? India?).

    Also consider that not all of the land in rice-producing countries is constantly flooded: in fact, most paddies are set up with sophisticated (if low-tech) irrigation systems. Enabling local gardens would do more to improve life in such areas than glitzy high-tech megacorporate “solutions” that increase dependency on megacorporations.

    As for Gregory in Seattle @ # 18, thanks (no snark) for the only useful response. Does the abundant documentation you describe include (a) funding sources for the non-profits mentioned, (b) consideration of promoting local gardens and truck farms, and (c) economic analyses from a Schumacher/Berry/Lappé perspective of promoting local self-sufficiency as opposed to international trade systems?

  28. 28
    chrislawson

    Pierce@13:

    Here’s a recent reference from DAFF and the full 99-page PDF if you want it (the executive summary is good).

    In a survey conducted in 2001, 20 per cent of Canadian farmers reported increases in acreage, 81 per cent reported more effective weed control, and 26 per cent had introduced conservation tillage as a result of growing GM herbicide-tolerant canola…For 2006, the reduction in the amount of herbicide used was estimated to be 1.29 million kilograms, a reduction of 22.6 per cent. The estimated environmental impact of herbicides was also significantly lower by 32 per cent.

    And another one from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.

    So, for each year, the field EIQ value of all soybean herbicides per ha was assessed, a kind of environmental footprint of these herbicides (Figure 6). This impact indicator decreased from 1994–1996 (29.15) to 2001 (20.4), but tends to increase in 2002 (23.8) and 2006 (25.7). The toxicity of the herbicides used, considered overall, seems therefore to have decreased with the adoption of GM crops.

    And although this wasn’t part of the original question, it’s also worth pointing out that using GM crops has pushed farmers into using more sustainable practices, partly because they significantly improve the effectiveness of herbicide use:

    HT crops have had a rather beneficial effect by increasing the adoption of conservation tillage.

    Now it’s not all roses. The use of resistant crops is starting to show signs of diminishing returns, and the over-reliance on Roundup has pushed a sudden increase in glyphosphate resistant weeds — a phenomenon that Monsanto scientists, being idiots, considered impossible in the 1990s.

    But you have to be very careful when you read papers on sensitive topics like this. For instance, many news services reported on this paper that reported a massive increase in herbicide use based on USDA-NASS data. But when you look at what the author has done, you can see that he has a very blatant axe to grind. For a start, he acknowledges that the introduction of GM crops led to a reduction in herbicide use in 1996 but then he uses 1996 as his baseline, and he fails to mention any of the numbers from pre-1996 which would have shown that even with the increase from 1996-2010, the total US herbicide load is still 20% less than prior to GM crops being planted. He also shows his bias by noting increases in soybean herbicide use from 1.3 to 1.6 kg/ha without comment, while calling the much larger decrease in herbicide use on corn from 3.0 to 2.5 kg/ha “marginal”. He also shows no understanding that 1kg of glyphosphate is not the same as 1kg of pendimethalin or triflurilan. (It’s like saying that changing from a 300mg tablet of aspirin to a 500mg tablet of acetaminophen is a 67% increase in dose.) That’s why scientists should use EIQ as a measure of herbicide use rather than kg.

    Anyways, the point is that herbicide use and pesticide use and their environmental loads have dropped with uptake of GM crops. This is not reason to be complacent, though, because bad farming practices (and Monsanto has more to blame for this than farmers) have already pushed glyphosphate resistance through the roof — but that’s an argument for regulating for better farming practices (note that glyphosphate resistance is nowhere near as big a problem in Australia and Canada than the US, with its almost evangelical abhorrence for government regulation), not for shutting down glyphosphate-resistant seeds…and certainly not for panicky legislation against the entire technology of GMOs.

    And I know this wasn’t part of your question, but this article from Nature Biotechnology looked at the economic impact of GM crops on small farms in developing countries.

    Several surveys address the question of whether GM crops are benefitting small farmers in developing countries through direct comparisons of outcomes for farmers with different-sized land holdings or by documenting the impacts on small farms. Four surveys from China, Colombia and South Africa make direct comparisons of yields, gross margins or both for farmers with different-sized operations. The surveys indicate that the smallest farmers benefitted most in South Africa and China. Results from Colombia were mixed. Five studies have shown improvements in economic performance for farmers with <10 ha in China, Colombia, Mexico, India and South Africa.

    One explanation of the favorable outcomes for smallholders is the risk-reducing nature of the technology, whereas non-adopters with comparably sized land holdings are particularly vulnerable as yields fluctuate from year to year.

  29. 29
    Pierce R. Butler

    Oops, hadn’t seen Leo Buzalsky @ # 23 when I posted # 25 – genuine thanks to you too!

  30. 30
    chrislawson

    Pierce, I’ve just written a long post with several links to references. Those links have knocked the comment into the moderation bucket, but I’m sure Ophelia will let it through when she gets to it.

  31. 31
    Ophelia Benson

    Yup, it’s out now.

  32. 32
    doubtthat

    Talked to an entomologist from the local University. He’s quite progressive in his politics and does a lot of work with GMO’s.

    To keep it brief, he thinks the strongest argument in favor of GMO’s (other than the current lack of serious harm at this point) is that it eliminates use of pesticides.

    The fact that Monsanto and other big corporations spend massive sums of money opposing labeling and other efforts at simply increasing information to consumers troubling, but GMO’s are a massive improvement over other alternatives, and much of the opposition at this point is a sort of blind fear — as others have described.

  33. 33
    chrislawson

    Leo,

    Firstly, I thought I made it clear that it was subsequent commenters, not Pierce, who said TOXIC=BAD. Secondly, while I am still happy to discuss this with Pierce, his original comment contained several errors, some of which had already been addressed in the thread in August.

    One of the errors is that herbicide resistant crops lead to massive increases in herbicide use. If you understand the evolution of resistance, then you will understand that overuse of herbicides will promote resistant weeds, which will kill the economic value of both the herbicide and the herbicide-resistant crop. That is, it is in Monsanto’s best interest to reduce Roundup use. And the data shows that Monsanto DOES understand this. Their sales of Roundup are plummeting but their profits overall are increasing dramatically on the back of selling Roundup-resistant seeds.

    This is not to say that Monsanto can be trusted to understand it indefinitely, especially if some retiring CEO figures he can boost profits for the next 10 years, skim off some nice performance bonuses, and leave his successor to deal with the inevitable financial collapse/shareholder rage, but the idea that herbicide-resistant crops = herbicide apocalypse is just plain wrong.

  34. 34
    chrislawson

    Thanks, Ophelia.

  35. 35
    chrislawson

    Last comment from me tonight:

    Pierce, all those citations are open access except the last one, which is behind a paywall (grumble, grumble, I hates paywalls..especially for scientific papers paid for by the public purse). Let me know if you want a pdf copy of the paper.

  36. 36
    Ophelia Benson

    Ysanne @ 6 – some of it IS about “GMOs are bad because evil genes and highly poisonous.” There’s a ballot initiative in my state right now about disclosure on labels, and the advertising for the pro side is full of that kind of stupid.

  37. 37
    Pieter B, FCD

    The reason for opposing labeling is quite simple: up until now, “This product contains _______” has been a warning label. Contains peanuts, contains phenylalanine, blah blah blah. These labels are essential to people who have medical problems which require them to avoid things that will hurt them.

    There is no evidence that genetically engineered foods have or will hurt anyone, but the panic and paranoia about GMOs is pervasive, and it’s not rocket surgery to conclude that a certain percentage of consumers will avoid products labeled as containing GMOs. This will have certain economic effects which are likely to hurt people financially, and not just Monsanto.

    Farmers make decisions every year that have many thousands of dollars riding on them, and are not inclined to make decisions that will hurt their bottom line. Go look up what farm equipment costs; for the price of a mid-range combine you can buy a car that none of the lads from Top Gear would be ashamed to drive.

  38. 38
    monad

    So what if you did a label that wasn’t like a warning label? Ingredients: water, wheat (Agrobacterium genes), potassium citrate. That lets the customer know it’s GMO and allow them make their own decisions, without implying it is any more dangerous than the citrate, so would it be a reasonable compromise?

  39. 39
    alqpr

    The reason for demanding labeling is quite simple: up until now product labels have frequently included things like nutritional information and product origin which are NOT warnings but are considered by useful by consumers in their decision making.
    It makes me quite irate to be denied my right to choose products on whatever basis I want, and the more companies try to limit my access to information the more I will demand it.

  40. 40
    Pieter B, FCD

    If you want it in the nutritional-information panel, I don’t have much of a problem with it. Washington’s proposed labeling law, according to the wiki, requires this:

    For non-exempt foods, it would require “on the front of the package” the words “genetically engineered,” “produced with genetic engineering,” “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering” stated “clearly and conspicuously.”

    [emphasis mine]
    If that wouldn’t look like a warning label, I’m the Queen of Rumania.

  41. 41
    Pierce R. Butler

    chrislawson @ # 28 et seq – Thanks for taking the time to make a well-supported and much more reasonable case.

    Though I still feel the more-sustainable/less-industrialized model, half-developed though it may be, would solve more problems better, you’ve shown me that not all of the issues I raised in # 1 have been wholly neglected or bulldozed by the current trends.

  42. 42
    alqpr

    @Pieter#40: It may be too late for reason to prevail. At this point there has been so much obstruction from the manufacturers that if they don’t propose a sensible alternative which tells me what I want to know then I’ll support ANY labeling proposal even if it says “If you buy this evil stuff it will turn you into a zombie!”

  43. 43
    doubtthat

    I understand fully why Monsanto et al oppose the labeling. It’s the most banal, obvious reason – profit – but it does get conspiracy minded folks in a tizzy.

    Monstanto’s argument is essentially that labeling something as a GMO would hurt their sales because people would refuse to buy the product out of an ignorant fear of a totally safe alternative to pesticides.

    To which I would reply: if you dedicated your “evil corporate manipulation of the democratic process funds” to advocacy of a better school system, instead of just vying for the ability to hide how food was made, you’d have a populace smart enough to realize that something with a GMO label was safe.

  44. 44
    Pieter B, FCD

    I would argue that a lot of people besides Monsanto would be collateral damage, but hey, what do I know.

    We had quite the discussion about this back in August. Well worth reading.

    There’s a lot of stuff that people “know” about GMOs in general and Monsanto* in particular that simply is not so. Top Five Myths of GM Seed Busted. I think the author is a bit more sympathetic to Percy Schmeiser than he should be, but that’s life. The level of misinformation about the subject is such that the comparison to anti-vax, global-warming denialism and creationism isn’t far off the mark.

    * Monsanto is not the only player in the GMO game, for openers

  45. 45
    alqpr

    Yes there *will* be lots of collateral damage. For a short term protection from something that would only marginally affect their sales these anti-labeling idiots have poisoned the well of public opinion and thereby substantially diminished the long term prospects for widespread use of GMOs.

  46. 46
    Pieter B, FCD

    Conventional methods of developing new strains of food crops make much greater changes in the genome than genetic engineering, but safety studies are not required for them. Acceptable methods of creating new strains include not just crossbreeding, but treating seed with ionizing radiation or mutagenic chemicals. Foods thus created can be labeled “organic” under current regulations. Use the traditional sledghammer, no problem, but if you use the scalpel of gene splicing, it’s “Oh no, GMO!!!”

    Traditional development of new strains has produced actually—not just potentially—harmful results. Behold the case of the poison potato.

  47. 47
    Pieter B, FCD

    these anti-labeling idiots have poisoned the well of public opinion

    She was asking for it, Your Honor. Look at how she was dressed.

  48. 48
    Brian Wolfe

    So despite the confirmation that plants will cross breed and have cross bred GMOs into the wild we still want to go ahead with allowing companies to sue over these genes getting into other crops and spreading herbicide resistance to wild plants (weeds) ?

    GMO is far more than just “will it kill me”. By distilling the debate down to just that one question we ignore the other factors that opponents of GMO food have made.

    FYI, I’ve never doubted the edibility of these foods. Only the legal aspect of genetic patents, unintended consequences of herbicide resistance migration, and over-reliance on pesticides and herbicides vs natural resistances.

  49. 49
    notsont

    So despite the confirmation that plants will cross breed and have cross bred GMOs into the wild we still want to go ahead with allowing companies to sue over these genes getting into other crops and spreading herbicide resistance to wild plants

    The person who told you people were sued because GMO crops spread to their fields lied to you.

    GMO is far more than just “will it kill me”. By distilling the debate down to just that one question we ignore the other factors that opponents of GMO food have made.

    How about you list some of these factors with some evidence for those claims. Please note that any mention of a conspiracy to hide the evidence against GMOs put you firmly in the anti-vaxxer camp.

    There have been multiple citations to studies on GMO from only one side in this thread GMO’s have been around a long long time and yet without citing studies so poorly done they border on fraud, GMO critics can’t cite any.

  50. 50
    brucegorton

    I am generally pro-GMO, but I also think genetic patents should not be allowed. It risks creating monopolies.

  51. 51
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    *cough* churnalism *cough*

    On the source, by the way: RealClearScience is a sister site of RealClearPolitics. From the Wikipedia page:

    In an interview with the conservative magazine Human Events, McIntyre described the philosophy behind the Web site as based on “freedom” and “common-sense values”. Said Bevan, “We think debate on the issues is a very important thing. We post a variety of opinions”. He further stated, “we have a frustration all conservatives have”, which is “the bias in media against conservatives, religious conservatives, [and] Christian conservatives”

    …Forbes Media announced on November 7, 2007, that it had acquired a 51% stake in RealClearPolitics.com. The founders will remain owners and management.[8] In November, 2008, Forbes President and CEO Steve Forbes sent a memo directing that the company’s online brands, including Forbes.com, Investopedia, and RealClearPolitics.com be combined.

    ***

    Something of which many people might not be aware that there was a recent “three-year collaborative effort (2005–2007) that assessed AKST with respect to meeting development and sustainability goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability” (from Wikipedia; google “IAASTD report” for the report and more information).*

    The IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development), similar to the IPCC, was “an intergovernmental process, with a multi-stakeholder Bureau, under the co-sponsorship of the FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO.” It involved 400+ researchers reviewing thousands of scientific papers. Their conclusions in general and particularly concerning biotechnology were not acceptable to the chemical and biotech corporations, whose representatives walked out on the process when they grasped that things weren’t going their way. Here’s a description from one of the authors of the Synthesis Report on biotechnology. The scientific consensus didn’t support their corporate interests, so they took their ball and went home. (I don’t believe they should ever have had representatives involved in the process in the first place. Corporations aren’t stakeholders in this issue in anything resembling the same sense “governmental and non-governmental organizations,…, producers, consumers, the science community and multiple international agencies” are, and they already have enough influence over some of the most powerful international agencies.)

    They seem to have been pretty successful at discouraging public awareness of this assessment and its conclusions, which is unfortunate.

    ***

    Regarding the fact that Monsanto et al are for-profit companies: Of course they are. Farms themselves are for-profit companies, and often ones with dismal environmental records. Medicines are made by for-profit companies too; so are clothes, so are cars, so are computers. We live in a world where most of the things we encounter every day were made by for-profit companies. Where I live, in London, my very drinking water is supplied by a for-profit.

    If your position is that all for-profit is inherently deplorable, then while I might disagree, I can’t fault your consistency. However, to say that it’s fine for someone to make a profit on the electricity you use but not on the food you eat? That’s a meaningless distinction and a dishonest argument.

    This is mistaken in at least two important aspects. First, people can certainly believe with consistency that some products and services are OK to leave in the hands of private for-profit companies while seeing others as public functions. For example, many people think education (at least elementary and secondary) and fire departments are public goods, but don’t object to cars being made by private corporations. There are many aspects of an “industry” that are relevant to whether or to what extent people accept private control – the use of natural “resources,” the importance to well-being and health, the threat of monopolizing political power due to control of a resource or function, the threat of political propaganda, and so on. Surely you can recognize that there’s a relevant difference between health care and, say, pens?

    I’m an anarchist, so I reject private, for-profit control and support self-governance in economic life in the same way as – and inextricably linked to – the way I do in political life. I also see the various areas as being so interconnected that the privatization of one affects many others. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the greatest problems and dangers as being related to goods that most directly affect health and well-being, environmental destruction, and political power. These include health care, food and agriculture, water and other natural “resources,” the media and communications, and education.

    That these vital goods and functions are increasingly in the hands of corporations is not written in the stars. It’s a recent development, a perverse and destructive situation created through laws and often through violent dispossession. It can change, and will have to. I don’t understand what your argument is when you say “Regarding the fact that Monsanto et al are for-profit companies: Of course they are,” or whether that’s even supposed to be an argument. You seem to be implying that whatever arrangements exist are natural and inevitable and beyond question, or that there are no alternatives. But that’s not so.

    You mentioned medicine, which is the area about which I have the most knowledge. Again, the corporate control of medicine is a very recent development. Here’s some of what the corporate drugmakers do:

    • Corrupt the research process in any number of ways
    • Control the dissemination of scientific research by suppressing or selectively releasing results
    • Corrupt journal publishing
    • Corrupt doctors, medical education, and the field of medical ethics, turning health professionals into salespeople and corporate propagandists
    • Lie about scientific results (including to government agencies), including about harms to human health and effects on children
    • Encourage the (often off-label) use of drugs on vulnerable populations
    • Corrupt government agencies to do their bidding
    • Impose secrecy and fight efforts to make research/data publicly available
    • Shape IP and other laws (national laws and international treaties) in their favor
    • Use these laws, and deceit, in the service of biopiracy
    • Patent living entities and body parts
    • Attempt to dilute or eliminate protections for research subjects
    • Use vulnerable populations of humans (and nonhuman animals) harmfully in research and fight legal compensation efforts
    • Control the work of university researchers and threaten them when they rebel
    • Corrupt the mission of universities by twisting it to corporate ends
    • Co-opt publicly-funded research for their own profit
    • Corrupt media coverage of health and medicine
    • Invent diseases and disorders that don’t exist and spend billions in campaigns to convince people that they do
    • Shape the priorities of research to focus not on the greatest needs but on the most profitable areas
    • Shape the priorities of health care away from public health measures and towards drug use
    • Fight to criminalize investigative journalism and the exposure of their practices, and seek to silence and criminalize public protest
    • Spend billions to extend their patents as long as possible (including through “me-too” and “me-again” drugs) and make access difficult for drugs on which they hold a patent

    That’s just a small sample. Some books that provide information: Harriet Washington’s Deadly Monopolies, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Bad Pharma, Robert Whitaker’s Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic, Irving Kirsch’s The Emperor’s New Drugs, Joanna Moncrieff’s The Bitterest Pills, various works by Marcia Angell and Alison Bass, Sonia Shah’s The Body Hunters, Jennifer Washburn’s University, Inc., and many others.

    There are also books and films about the corporatization of agriculture (Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved, for example) and water (Blue Gold, for example) and the general film The Corporation. Both Blue Gold and The Corporation can be watched for free on YouTube.

    As I said, the corporatization of these areas isn’t an inevitable fact of life. It’s come about recently through the efforts of powerful people and organizations, at a tremendous cost. Part of that cost has been in lost opportunities. There are real alternatives, and the existing system is not only seen as bizarre and unacceptable to many people today but would be unimaginable to the vast majority of humans who’ve lived. Medicine and public health can and should be understood as public goods, subject to democratic control and built around real needs rather than sales, profits, shareholder values, and corporate power.

    * I’m not going to talk about eating animals here, and I don’t recall what the report says about it, though it needs to stop not only out of moral consideration for the animals (reason enough) but also because a sustainable food system virtually requires it.

  52. 52
    freemage

    notsont: It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that Monsanto’s never sued over crop contamination. While the Schmeiser case is, admittedly, more complex than partisans lay out, Monsanto very clearly was asserting that it has the right control subsequent generations of seed resulting from contamination. the courts didn’t go so far as to make that ruling, but they didn’t rule it out, either, simply stating that such an ‘intermediate’ case hasn’t been presented yet.

    And this is problematic, for a simple reason.

    Let’s say you have a crop, and one year, 10% of that crop gets contaminated. You’re a traditional farmer, using seed-saving techniques for the next year’s crop.

    Now, the GMO crop happens to be one that does well in your area; thus, over several generations, the percentage of contaminated seeds grows. (This is the complication of the Schmeiser case–they ruled that he very deliberately had targeted the patented seeds for re-use. I’m proposing a more neutral scenario.)

    By Monsanto’s position, they can sue to force you to sign the licensing agreement (and pay the associated fees).

  53. 53
    notsont

    @SC I like your post and agree with pretty much all of it, however it does not seem to have anything to do with whether or not GMO products are safe or not.

  54. 54
    notsont

    @freemage So you are saying in essence that they might so something like that in the future so its OK to accuse them of doing it now?

  55. 55
    freemage

    notsont: Since they resisted a lawsuit that attempted to shut down that course of action, and since that is the position they took in the Schmeiser case (the court just didn’t rule on it, instead relying on different elements of the case), I think it IS okay to assume they want to, and will as soon as they have an opportunity. I also think clarifying the patent laws on genetech before then would be an excellent idea.

  56. 56
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    @SC I like your post and agree with pretty much all of it, however it does not seem to have anything to do with whether or not GMO products are safe or not.

    It had to do with the relationship between corporations and science (including the literature). The example I discussed in more detail – pharmaceutical manufacturers – was one case of a general problem with the corporate twisting of and interference with scientific research and its dissemination. These are the regular practices of chemical and biotech corporations as well. I also provided a specific example of a global research consensus which these corporations rejected because it didn’t suit their interests, after they’d failed to make their case scientifically. Here’s another example of their attempts to control scientific research. In this situation, it’s reasonable to pay attention to these practices and to how corporations try to shape public discussion,* to be skeptical about the research promoted by corporations, and to be wary of uniformly dismissing critics as anti-science.

    My discussion of the IAASTD was also meant to respond to some of the typical rhetoric about GMOs being necessary to feeding the world and how the opponents of this model must want poor people around the world to starve. That’s not the global scientific consensus. When examining the evidence to determine the best course for feeding people justly and sustainably, the experts rejected that model. As people here have been saying, the safety and desirability of these crops and their inputs doesn’t just concern consumption and human health; there are many other aspects that would lead people to want to know whether their food purchases are supporting these corporations and this model, and a conversation about their desirability or acceptability needs to include them.

    * Years ago, when I brought up POEA and the work of Rick Relyea, Ewan R, whose hobby is being a M*nsanto mouthpiece, claimed ignorance (I can’t remember if of POEA or just Relyea). It serves his purposes to limit the discussion to glyphosate, so that’s the way he’ll steer it. More generally, you’ll find a reluctance on their part to address most of the environmental and resistance issues and pretty much all of the economic and political issues.

  57. 57
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Looking at Relyea’s site I found a new study from last year. Here’s an article about it:

    http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/04/study-monsantos-roundup-herbicide-has-weird-effect-frogs

  58. 58
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Aaaaaand I just discovered POEA is derived from animals (as the full name, Polyethoxylated tallow amine, should have suggested to me earlier). I just…sigh.

  1. 59
    Guest post by Salty Current: Not written in the stars » Butterflies and Wheels

    […] the second part of a comment by Salty Current on Shock-horror: research fails to find Big Danger in GMO […]

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