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Who’s afraid of the big bad GMO?

I don’t get it.

I really don’t get the opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We’re all genetically modified organisms — the only difference between us and the ‘objectionable’ ones is the mechanism, whether the molecular novelty was inserted by intent or inserted by chance. Much of the dissent with GMOs is based either on ignorance, or is misdirected.

From Biofortified, an excellent blog on agriculture, genetics, and molecular biology, here is a good video on the subject.

Watch Next Meal: Engineering Food on PBS. See more from QUEST.

Yet there is established policy in many countries and states to prohibit use of GMO crops. When a small patch of GMO wheat was found in Oregon, Japan responded by shutting down all wheat imports from Oregon. That’s nothing but fear based in ignorance. All of our crops, everyone’s crops, are heavily modified genetically. Wild strawberries are tiny little things. Corn is a hybrid monster shaped by centuries of selection, twisted from a seedy little grass into this weird elaborate conglomeration. Wheat and barley and rye are the product of thousands of years of genetic reshuffling and selection. Walk into the produce section of your grocery store — do you really think all those fruits and vegetables are unshaped by human hands?

This strange unfounded fear of GMOs is unfortunately most strongly expressed in the political left. It’s embarrassing that political progressives are being made to look bad by raging superstition and unscientific claims.

I was interested to see in the link above that this fear is traced back to the magic word “natural”, and specifically that awful website full of woo, Natural News. “Natural” is nonsense: everything is natural. “Natural” is a non-specific modifier attached to anything a crackpot things is good, in opposition to new-fangled technology that is different from what their grandparents did. If it helps, modern genetic modification techniques are simply directed versions of horizontal gene transfer, a process that happens “naturally”, without human assistance. We’re just doing it faster and more efficiently and selecting the genes we want to move around. The current controversial crop of genetically modified wheat simply takes a natural enzyme from a natural bacterium and transfers it to the genome of a natural grass. There’s nothing supernatural about any of it.

You want to complain about something, aim a little more accurately and target real problems in modern agribusiness.

  • The ongoing concentration of control of agricultural products into the hands of just a few corporations. These corporations lock up their products and are intent on retaining control…and this isn’t just GMOs. Hybrid seed produced by standard genetic techniques has also been a tool.

  • The corporatization of farms. The family farm is fading, it’s all giant conglomerates — and the economies of scale depend on ignoring the environmental costs of the megafarm.

  • The blandness of monocultures. Try driving through my part of the world — the old, biologically diverse prairie has been almost totally replaced by endless fields of corn and soybeans, nothing but corn and soybeans.

  • The industrialization of food. What’s being done with most of that corn? It’s being processed into high fructose corn syrup and ethanol. We take food which is rich and complex and process the heck out of it to reduce it to something more convenient for industry.

Sometimes I wonder if the GMO controversy isn’t just a giant red herring thrown into the debate about the future of agriculture just to distract us from what should be real concerns.

Comments

  1. says

    I have a couple problems with GMO foodstuff.

    First, GMOs are owned not by the farmer, but by the company that produced them. They can use legal means to extort and intimidate farmers.

    Second, many GMOs are designed specifically to withstand defoliants, and are used to push specific products. Our grains basically grow in poisoned dirt. I’m not sure that’s the best way of going about this.

    This has nothing to do with the GM part of it. It’s about the politics of it.

  2. Lofty says

    GMO fear is a significant influence on percieved value, so non GM foods can be sold at a premium in some markets. Taint it and their magic properties are destroyed. There’s money to be made from fear.

  3. Brandon says

    You want to complain about something, aim a little more accurately and target real problems in modern agribusiness.

    What follows are all really important points. I wish my social media feeds didn’t seem to have almost 100% overlap between people that post about these things and post bizarre anti-GMO screeds. I’m really not sure what to do to get people to care about the things that matter – arguing about GMOs inevitably leads to the anti-GMO individual shifting the discussion to Monsanto’s business practices, which I agree are pretty poor in many cases. They then head away satisfied that they’re justified in their anti-GMO sentiments. How do I talk to people about GMOs without them digging in and/or changing the topic?

  4. kome says

    My big worry about GM foods, apart from the extortionate business practices of the designers of them, is that it will result in a large degree of genetic homogeneity among the crops. I just don’t see that ending well.

  5. jasonnishiyama says

    “This strange unfounded fear of GMOs is unfortunately most strongly expressed in the political left. It’s embarrassing that political progressives are being made to look bad by raging superstition and unscientific claims.”

    Unfortunately the left is just as susceptible to this as the right. It’s just a different kind of superstition and unscientific claims. For the right it’s conservative religion and corporate greed that pushes myth and unscientific claims whereas on the left it’s new age claptrap and alt-med woo that does the pushing.

    Either way it’s an attack on science based on myth and ideology and it’s annoying no matter if it comes from the the left or the right.

  6. says

    Brandon:

    How do I talk to people about GMOs without them digging in and/or changing the topic?

    As one of those who really dislike the business end of GMO, I suggest just re-focusing the argument: “So, you’re against the business of GMO, and not against the actual genetic manipulation?”

    People can separate the two pieces. Me, I’m looking forward to a future in which we can manipulate organisms to fill all kinds of roles. I’m happy we’re at a point where we can help feed the entire world with the aid of genetics.

    I’m just not happy with the way it’s being done.

    But I have to admit, even grain that might give you cancer in 50 years (thanks to all the RoundUp in the environment) is better than starving today.

  7. Pyra says

    It is incredible ingnorance. Almost all my most progressive friends all posted the same “America, your food is banned in 10 countries, wake up” meme in the last two days. They believe the toxic pesticides are being bound to the genes, magically. And yes, question hard enough, and what you get at is the business practices that me and my friends can all agree are horrible. A couple people will just end discussion on, “They’re hiding what it is. They refuse to tell us what is going on. Without knowing, I don’t trust them.”

  8. Azuma Hazuki says

    The reasons to fear GMO are the ones you mentioned, plus the fact that they only entrench those reasons further.

    The industrial answer to farming is wrong. At this point, we’re steeped in monoculture and planting in near-sterile soils, which we “enrich” with caustic fertilizers and water with ever-shrinking output from aquifers, all in the name of squeezing out that last 1% and keeping profits at a record high. In everything we do, where the profit motive rules, everything else suffers.

    We need more farms, smaller farms, and more diverse farming. We need a major focus on aquaponics. Above all we need to let the soil rest; ideally we’d have 2/3 of any given parcel of arable land fallowing with nitrogen fixers and similar “healing” crops at any given time.

    With the soil degradation and water crises happening, and with much worse to come in the near future, we need to get aquaponics towers online, right the hell now. The people and the food supply reflect the soil: undernourished, weak, flabby, listless, and ill, propped up by artificial “solutions” to artificial problems stemming from greed.

    One thing we need to do is stop feeding food crops to meat animals. I think we should be switching large sectors of our meat and dairy industry from cattle to goats, as goats can eat things even Bessie would turn her nose up at, and produce leaner, healthier meat and milk. We should also be preparing to switch to more hardy, tolerant crops, especially in the southern part of the growing zone: sorghum, tepary beans, even Ethiopian teff and some types of millet.

    There is a lot we should and could be doing. We have the technology; we don’t have the political will. And if we continue to lack this will, large numbers of us will be killed of when mother nature gets tired of saying “don’t make me come down there!” and decides to do something about it. Unlike the angry, bearded old Jew in the sky, this has real consequences.

  9. darwinharmless says

    There’s nothing wrong with GMO in principle. But, and it’s a big but, modifying for size and flavour is one thing. Modifying to kill an insect pest is something else again. When a farmer pulls down the husk of an ear of corn and says, “See, it works,” because there are dead bugs in the kernels, and his friend and fellow farmer comments “Food isn’t supposed to kill things”, I have to agree with the GMO opposition.

    I’m still trying to track down the truth about squirrels preferring organic corn and avoiding GMO. There are so many ways to fake those results. But here’s a video that was quite compelling.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qqY11lviKY
    Maybe this guy is on the take from the organic food industry. Maybe he’s a liar. Maybe he sprayed one of the chips with WW40. But this is pretty impressive video.
    And here’s another shot that’s been going around FaceBook recently.
    http://cuttingfat.tumblr.com/post/48803005547/blkmaj1k-when-even-the-squirrels-avoid-gmo
    I have no problem with GMO, because like you say we’ve been doing it for centuries. But we’ve never before taken genes from a bacteria and inserted them into a carrot. That’s entirely new.

  10. spectator says

    I,for one, willl be forever grateful to science for what they’ve done for the tomato! Used to be anything that wasn’t grown in the backyard and ripened on the vine tasted like cardboard. Although nothing still beats the homegrown tomato, we can buy fairly tasty tomatoes at the grocery store. Thanks, GMO…sniff…

  11. says

    Regarding squirrels preferring organic. Isn’t the claim made that organic tastes better than non organic, even if it’s non GMO? You’d need corn where the only difference was that one was GMO and the other wasn’t.

  12. dianne says

    “Food isn’t supposed to kill things”

    While it’s true that most “natural” (that is, evolved without human intervention) isn’t confused enough to put sugar and poison in one part of the plant, quite a lot of plants do produce poisons. Plants that kill things are no novelty. We exploit quite a lot of plants for their ability to kill things. So I don’t see an intrinsic problem with corn that kills insects. Though I do wonder what they put in it that kills insects and whether we’re really sure it doesn’t do anything to mammals.

  13. David Marjanović says

    The people and the food supply reflect the soil: undernourished, weak, flabby, listless, and ill

    …You’re really exaggerating here.

    leaner, healthier

    Not the same thing.

    And I don’t want leaner milk. Skimmed milk is an abomination.

    when mother nature gets tired of saying “don’t make me come down there!” and decides to do something about it

    Please explain.

    But we’ve never before taken genes from a bacteri[um] and inserted them into a carrot. That’s entirely new.

    Well, we haven’t done it, but it does happen on rare occasions.

  14. David Marjanović says

    quite a lot of plants do produce poisons

    Or other substances like lectins that prevent vitamins from being taken up in the gut and cause constipation…

    Grass seeds simply aren’t food. That’s why such an elaborate process is required to make them edible.

    and whether we’re really sure it doesn’t do anything to mammals.

    Or earthworms. Or geophilomorph centipedes.

  15. Snoof says

    But we’ve never before taken genes from a bacteri[um] and inserted them into a carrot. That’s entirely new.

    Well, we haven’t done it, but it does happen on rare occasions.

    Like the slugs with genes for photosynthesis! They’re so cool.

    And there’s always ERVs. Viruses have been inserting bits of their genome into ours (and everyone else’s) for billions of years.

  16. Kimpatsu says

    When a small patch of GMO wheat was found in Oregon, Japan responded by shutting down all wheat imports from Oregon. That’s nothing but fear based in ignorance.
    Actually, it’s based on racism, because of the racist Japanese government’s insistence that Japanese schools ignorantly teach that the Japanese “race” (sic) is unique, and so if Americans eat “x”, by definition, it must be harmful to the people who “have longer intestines because they are more evolved”. (Yes!; look it up.)
    Doesn’t invalidate your robust criticisms, but I thought that you’d just thought you’d like to know.

  17. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Horror of horrors … Kirk Cameron’s banana is a GENETIC MUTATION.

    The sweet yellow “banana”, as opposed to the fibrous, starchy relatives we call plantains, was discovered in 1836 by a Jamaican, Jean Francois Poujot, who found one of the banana trees on his plantation was bearing yellow fruit rather than green or red.

    Upon tasting the new discovery, he found it to be sweet in its raw state, without the need for cooking. He quickly began cultivating this sweet variety.

  18. scottrobson says

    @9

    “Food isn’t supposed to kill things”

    Well actually plants do kill things all the time. Out of the biological kingdoms, Plantae probably bare the largest number of toxins for animals. Apart from spines how else would plants ward off predation by animals?

    But I will take your point this far: there needs to be a balance. A plant supercharged with killing ability could cause massive disruption to ecosystems. This has almost certainly happened before in evolutionary history but a balance was once again restored… eventually. If we are going to do GMO, we do have to do it intelligently so we don’t create our own massive disruptions. I think the best way to do this is outside a corporate structure.

  19. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    213

    If I had to guess? genes from bti. the pesticide is activated by the basic digestive tract of insects but not mammalian acidic tracts

  20. Marleen Roelofs says

    The presence of monocultures and GMO’s is one and the same problem. If you regret the enormous fields with everywhere the same crop you should also be against GMO’s. These monocultures are possible ‘thanks’ to transfer of genes that confer resistence to pests and erbicides. So even if the technique is not dangerous and there are no problems for the consumption of these crops you still have these awful ways of farming. That is a very important reason why many people are against GMO’s.

    GMO’s may also confer resistence against pests. There exist vegetables that are resistent against certain larve of moths. It may be that these vegetables are the only vehicle for the lifecycle of these moths. If they disappear then maybe the nightflowers they fertilize may also disappear, and so on.

    Moreover, I thought horizontal gene transfer in ‘nature’ is quite exceptional in larger (higher) organisms, so it is not as ‘normal’ as is written in this post.

  21. carlie says

    Depends on the modification being made and the crop it’s being put into. My biggest biological concern is with herbicide-resistant genes in crops with weedy relatives. For example. Plants will cross breed, and genes will get into weeds, and when they’re herbicide-resistant genes, there will be problems. Not problems of the earth, not problems of our health, but problems dealing with agriculture in general – if we can’t control weeds, the crop yields will go way down. It’s escalating the arms race in another way we can’t really keep a handle on.

  22. says

    @4

    My big worry about GM foods, apart from the extortionate business practices of the designers of them, is that it will result in a large degree of genetic homogeneity among the crops. I just don’t see that ending well.

    The problem of monocultures originated with the Green Revolution and it is not specific to GM crops. Thus, it is no more an argument against GM crops than conventional agriculture. There are ways to handle the problems with monocultures: seed banks, crop rotations, new hybrids, local hybrids etc.

  23. dianne says

    Ing @22: If that is the mechanism of action (and I have no idea whether it is or not), would the product be safe in people taking acid blocking medication? This is the sort of thing that someone-preferably both the company making it and the FDA-needs to think through before the product gets out on the market.

    I have no problem with GMO as a concept, but do worry about sloppy GMO from companies that aren’t interested in making sure that their products are safe. Just like any other product.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Yes!; look it up.

    Where?

    the pesticide is activated by the basic digestive tract of insects but not mammalian acidic tracts

    The stomach is acidic; the gut is basic.

  25. anteprepro says

    I think I know what “natural” means in this context: Without intent.
    Sure, the way we genetically modify things might involve natural processes, but it isn’t “natural” because it is done in a way that involves human manipulation toward a human goal. It involves human action. It involves human intent. And that doesn’t count as “natural”. Because Intent is Black Magic. Even if it seems good and noble, even if the people doing it seem to know what they are doing, they are actually making a pact with the Metaphorical Devil. They are getting good results, but it involves such a complex, magical process that there has to be an unforeseen cost down the line. They’re making wishes from a Cursed Monkey’s Paw, from a diabolical, scheming Genie in a lamp. They are playing God, fooling with life and death in Dr. Frankenstein’s castle. They are using Science at the opening of a dystopian Science Fiction story, so focused on progress that they do not see the invisible line that, when crossed, transforms “Yay Science, Improving Lives!” into “Oh Shit, Science, What Have You Done!?”.

    Basically, I half-seriously contend that opposition to GMOs is based on a combination of scientific illiteracy and taking fiction tropes too seriously.

  26. says

    I may be naive but every time I encounter resistance to GMO (and living in France I encounter a lot), it seems to always start with “Monsanto blahblahblah”… so people seem to agree with you (PZ) without really knowing it. Yes, there usually is a lot of ignorance about the process of GM too but people seem to be more opposed to everything you list than to GMO per se, even if that’s not what they think.

    I don’t know if I’m clear, sorry.

  27. says

    @22: Can’t find a handy reference, but that’s exactly my recollection — BTI is pH-sensitive, and can’t survive the acidity of vertebrate stomachs. Insects, apparently, lean more alkaline.

    Re the OP: As I said two hangouts ago: to my ear, there are elements of ritual purity vs. impurity to the whole natural/organic vs. artificial/chemical polarity. It’s a secularized version of a religious idea (except where it really does get tied into religious ideas, eg. some of Sojourner’s sillier issues).

  28. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Stomach not tract

    Bti is not supposed to harm vertebrates because they lack a basic stomach to activate it.

  29. anteprepro says

    These monocultures are possible ‘thanks’ to transfer of genes that confer resistence to pests and erbicides. So even if the technique is not dangerous and there are no problems for the consumption of these crops you still have these awful ways of farming. That is a very important reason why many people are against GMO’s.

    People are against GMOs because they cause monocultures? You can’t just, ya know, be against the monocultures specifically?

    X helps lead to Y (but isn’t the only factor that leads to Y).
    You can oppose X and mitigate some of Y.
    Or you can acknowledge that X is not inherently bad, is possibly beneficial, and just oppose Y instead.

    I mean, really. If this is really what these “many people” think, it’s like wanting to abolish highways to prevent car crashes.

  30. neuralobserver says

    In the opinion of this long-time (but matured and intellectually tempered) science/technology/art geek, there are so many pinholes in the thinking of the blogger, I could use it as a soaker hose for my organic garden.

    * If the safety issues concerning GMO’s is so well understood by the ‘Scientific-Industrial complex’, why the fear and opposition in merely labelingfor full disclosure and complete information for the consumer?
    *Corollary examples are the tens of thousands of chemical compounds that are introduced into the marketplace with little extensive testing, and resistance to it by the chemical industry.
    *Why the rush for agri-monsters like Monsanto to get these bio-products online? (Could it be,..oh, I dunno,… P-R-O-F-I-T?)
    *The idea that if a particular science/technology has a potential questionable or not-well-understood connections to human health that it gets ridiculed by the ‘science groupies’ with their blinders on –akin to the religious groupies with their own set of blinders– is at best, troubling to many of us.
    In fact, other countries of industrialized world (of which I hear so much bragging about their elevated rational thought by this blogger), i.e., Europe, have enough concern by their own scientific communities that they are willing to regulate, or at least label foods as such, in an effort to fully inform the public.
    *Have we not gone through the issues of premature confidence in products and actions coming out the the chemical, drug and petroleum industries (DDT, various other agri-chems, relatively recent drugs http://www.drugwatch.com/dangerous-drugs.php, enviro damage due to petrochemical industry fracking and petroleum sands excavation, etc., etc.) –mainly driven by strong profit incentive in recent decades, only to fail to gain a strong sense of caution about highly new products being brought to market in a capitalist economy?
    * And then there are the harmful legal issues for those who choose not to buy and grow GM seeds– you not only risk contamination of your non-GMO crop from pollination from GM crops, you can get sued by the agri-monsters for patent infringement! Sweet.
    Well, to turn an old commercial adage from the late 60′s/early 70′s, ‘You can’t control Mother Nature.’

    You may critic specific points about any of these, but you’ll miss the larger perspective. On this and occasional other specific issues, this blogger often misses the mark.

    As a thoughtful, cautious freethinking person, if there is error to be made, I prefer–and support– to err on on the side of caution within the framework of a relatively new technology that involves core processes of biology in the hands of profiteers. I’m sure the Pharyngula blogger does not agree, so I’ll be watching for a little more support and a little less criticism of the ‘Scientific-Industrial’ complex on other issues that we are assured by the S-I complex pose no worrisome aspects to the public health or good, like fracking, etc.

  31. ChasCPeterson says

    Acid-blocking meds would probably not be a problem. The pH of stomach juice is like 1 or 2 with acid pumps working, but without it would be close to neutral. The rest of the intestine is of similarly neutral pH. In contrast, insect midguts have pH of like 10 or 11.

    The legitimate concerns about large-scale use of GMO crops are ecological (as carlie and DM have noted above). Not human health.

  32. carlie says

    why the fear and opposition in merely labeling for full disclosure and complete information for the consumer?

    For one, because people are uniformed and misinformed, and would then avoid products for no good reason. But for a better reason, because there is fundamentally no difference between a gene that got there through breeding and one that got there through genetic engineering. I’ll agree to labeling gmos with every gene they’ve been modified with if it also comes with labeling every food with the genes they’ve gotten by cross-breeding with other relatives. That means, by the way, that every plant would have a whole list of genes not naturally found in them

  33. Pierce R. Butler says

    A healthy aghricultural system would use seeds developed in each bioregion by the local farmers, selecting a variety of strains shown to do well each year under their own unique conditions and sold or exchanged with knowledgeable discussion of their adaptive traits.

    GMO crops are the exact opposite, a global monoculture manipulated for maximum profits by corporations with no interest in anything but the annual bottom line, producing gigantic vulnerabilities both agro- and eco-nomically.

    The opposition to GMOs includes a lot of woo, and also a lot of specific charges which our esteemed host shamefully neglects entirely. I’m in no position to say whether the accounts of lab rats having health problems contain any validity – but I do find the stories of, e.g., decimated monarch butterfly populations quite plausible, and feel very confident that evolution will soon produce bugs immune to bacillus thurengiensis, thus ruining a useful and safe biological pest control method forever which might, in prudent hands, have served farmers well for decades or centuries.

    Many of the anti-GM stories going around remind me of the popular photoshopped image of GW Bush holding an upside-down children’s book: false, but in a worthy cause, and better used as an opportunity for providing solid information than as a trigger for wholesale denunciation.

    Prof. Myers: the next time such subjects come up, why not shelve the woo-bashing for a moment and give us a post on the problems with mono-culture/poly of world agriculture?

  34. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    What I find amusing is the anti-GMO folks want safety. But take corn starch versus cassava starch. Both can be used to manufacture sugars used in the pharmaceutical industry. But cassava does have small amounts of cyanogenic glucosides linamarin and lotaustralin. These are degraded by thorough cooking, but manufacturing the sugars requires gentler treatment. Corn starch is probably GMO these days.

    Which source is really safer to manufacture the sugars for their drugs? And guess which one requires expensive testing to show that no cyanogenic glucosides are present. So the sugars are made from the less safe cassava. Paranoia run rampant.

  35. anteprepro says

    You may critic specific points about any of these, but you’ll miss the larger perspective. On this and occasional other specific issues, this blogger often misses the mark.

    The vast majority of your “specific points” were the same point: Don’t rush through safety testing a product.

    I’m not quite sure why you think this directly refutes anything PZ said. It is orthogonal at best. to the degree that I’m not even sure, based on this post, what PZ’s view on that particular issue even is.

  36. sherylyoung says

    I was born and raised in Northwest Ohio. Family farms and a few factories. Now it’s just factory farming. Soybeans mostly. Chasing coon dogs through soybean fields isn’t the same.

  37. dianne says

    @35: So a truly alkaline environment with a pH of 10-11 is required to activate the toxin? PPIs rarely get the stomach much above a pH of 4 (obviously still acid) and the intestines are buffered to around 7 so that shouldn’t be a problem then. What about cooking? Is there any situation where the product might be mixed in a strongly alkaline solution in cooking? I doubt, since I can’t think of any recipes that call for straight lye, but I’m not an expert on extreme cooking so could be wrong.

    I’d like this sort of issue considered before a new product comes on the market, whether it’s a GMO or an exotic new “natural” plant that someone has decided to market as food for the first time. In fact, I think GMOs, where usually only one or maybe a few genes are altered, are probably safer and easier to evaluate for safety, but it should be done in either case.

    OTOH, if we held food to drug safety standards, would we allow products like wheat and peanuts which a substantial proportion of the population is allergic to?

  38. WharGarbl says

    My view with modern GMO technique is similar to my view to nuclear energy.
    Both can be used for great benefit of humanities.
    Both can have catastrophic result when misused.
    Both are multi-billion dollar industries with lots and lots of lobbying power.

    One other way of analogizing is that modern GMO technique is like a brand ways of building skyscrappers. If someone who just built a 300+ floor skyscrapper using a brand new construction method/design that had never been used before, would you trust said someone at his word that the building is perfectly safe?

    Basically, like nuclear energy, GMO is a promising technique. I just don’t trust any major corporation handling it responsibly.

  39. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Ironically if they are usint bti genes then it is natural as its derived from bacteria

  40. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Aside: sugested pest management sop is to keep a portion of crops non modified so to krep the unresistant trait in the pest gene pool

  41. says

    A healthy aghricultural system would use seeds developed in each bioregion by the local farmers, selecting a variety of strains shown to do well each year under their own unique conditions and sold or exchanged with knowledgeable discussion of their adaptive traits.

    Who says? Citation needed. What’s the evidence that locally developed seeds (by what method) are better for the farmland, better for the farmer, and better for the consumer?

    All assertions packed tightly into an evidence-free post.

    You’ll have to do better than that, I’m afraid.

  42. dianne says

    If someone who just built a 300+ floor skyscrapper using a brand new construction method/design that had never been used before, would you trust said someone at his word that the building is perfectly safe?

    If someone built a 300+ floor skyscraper using established and proven construction methods, I wouldn’t take their word for it that it was safe either. I’d want inspectors going through the thing and evaluating the construction, electricity, plumbing, exits, fire safety, etc. to ensure a reasonable level of safety. No industry is capable of self-policing. They all need outside monitoring to ensure safety. I want ag inspectors on GMO, organic farms, and every other variant of food production.

  43. duce7999 says

    Can someone help me understand the difference between the objection raised by Ben Goldacre towards big pharma (and the registration of trials) and the GMO industry?

  44. Scr... Archivist says

    I wonder if the anti-GMO campaigners chose to bring attention to potential health effects because they thought most people wouldn’t care about the esoteric technical issues, such as patent law, monoculture, and pest adaptation.

  45. WharGarbl says

    @dianne
    #47
    And would you argue that modern GMO technique have been “inspected” to be safe? Or at least as safe as the older techniques?

  46. says

    They believe the toxic pesticides are being bound to the genes, magically.

    Magically? They’re sort of correct, this is happening with the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) pesticide. Corn and potatoes have been engineered to express the gene in their cells. Bt pesticide is popular among organic farmers because of its property of breaking down within a day into non-toxic components. This poses problems: having the bacterial toxin expressed constantly, rather than being sprayed only when there’s a specific need will no doubt speed up the evolution of Bt resistance in the pests affected by it, eventually making Bt useless, and depriving farmers of an effective but safe pesticide – one of Bt’s advantages is that it doesn’t persist in the environment in a toxic form. And it can harm non-pernicious insects such as monarch butterflies. The EPA is taking steps to correct for these.

    http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/pips/regofbtcrops.htm

    This is a good illustration of what PZ is talking about. There’s nothing inherently dangerous about the process of inserting the toxin-expressing gene from the Bt bacterium into potato or corn plants. It’s the application, which is in service of increasing monoculture and reaping short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability, which causes the problems.

  47. dianne says

    @Wharlgabl: Safe, no. As safe as older techniques, probably. I must admit to not knowing the details of how agriculture is monitored as well as I should.

  48. Pyra says

    (I said “magically” because no one, and none of the articles they linked to could tell me how. Plus, the use of “pesticide” makes my friends think of DDT. That we’re all eating DDT.)

  49. dianne says

    DDT is pretty safe in humans. The problem with it is that it damages the reproductive cycle of birds, particularly predatory birds, not that it was unsafe in humans.

  50. moarscienceplz says

    All this discussion reminds me of the unofficial motto of Steampunk culture, “Love the machine, hate the factory”. Or in this case, “love the science, hate Monsanto”.

    Oh, and one more thing: Corporations are NOT people, my friend!

  51. WharGarbl says

    @dianne
    #53
    Another analogy I like to think of is like driving a car.
    Old style genetic modification is like driving a bus on a highway (crossbreeding between similar organism), and we’re all passengers.
    Modern genetic modification technique is like driving a bus cross country (crossbreeding between organism that couldn’t breed with each other by any normal means, like insect DNA into plants).

    In the latter case, you can get to places that’s not possible to get to by just driving on highway (an inherently weed/pest resistant crop that’s nutritious and uses very little water!). But you can also get into serious accidents (crops that’s toxic, long term or short term, to human or ecology). We want drivers that want to get there as safe as possible (government funded researches?), not drivers who wants to get there as fast as possible due to profit (ag industries).

  52. WharGarbl says

    @moarscienceplz
    #56

    Oh, and one more thing: Corporations are NOT people, my friend!

    A bit more nuance here.
    Corporations do consist of people.
    Except those people (or the people making the decision for the corporation) tend not to be around the people their activities affects.

  53. says

    @48 duce:

    Goldacre’s big complaint seems to be that half of all clinical trials sponsored by pharma companies aren’t published in peer review journals. Somehow he equates nonpublication with “funny business”.

    Now, I’m not going to tell you that selective publishing doesn’t happen, or that companies don’t try to put the best face on their products as they’re going through the approval process. But it’s a FAR reach from there to “funny business”.

    If you try to look at any approved pharma product and do a “ground zero” research, you’ll find spotty at best publication of their data. Most especially the phase I and phase II clinical trials. Because peer-review journals — which are mainly in the business of selling reprints of articles — don’t like those studies. Why? Because nobody orders reprints of those studies.

    That doesn’t mean those data are hidden. For example, I’ve worked on several products where all of the phase I pharmacokinetic data in healthy volunteers were openly presented at a variety of medical conventions. Not one of those studies made it into a peer-review journal. Because the studies were normal and boring. Which means “no reprints”. But to Goldacre, that lack of publication equals “funny business”.

    And here’s the thing: all of that data was presented to the regulatory authorities. Nobody hid anything.

    So while — again — I’m not claiming that his complaints are totally wild-assed conspiracy theory nuttiness, the situation is far from dire, as he portrays it.

    Because one of the key things in place is post-marketing surveillance. Companies do NOT want to create the next Vioxx. Product liability litigation sucks. Big time. Putting a warning label on a product is WAY less expensive than defending billion dollar lawsuits.

  54. says

    @58. You mean the people at Monsanto don’t eat? They don’t have families that eat? Cousins, uncles, aunts, grandmas, neighbors?

    It’s conspiracy theory lunacy to think that Monsanto executives can somehow sequester themselves and their families against the putative harm their products allegedly cause.

    Do all Monsanto executives live on organic farms? Do they fertilize their veggies with their own poo?

  55. says

    It’s conspiracy theory lunacy to think that Monsanto executives can somehow sequester themselves and their families against the putative harm their products allegedly cause.

    this is also true for effects of oil spills and AGW on BP Executives. And yet…

    Seriously, are you going to require us to believe that corporate execs are actually reasonable actors? LOL

  56. says

    Anyway, yes, it’s not the execs of Monsanto that are going to be the ones immediately harmed by the rather predictable result of “roundup ready” weeds and pesticide-resistant pests; that would be the farmers who are both going to end up with very large doses of pesticide in their immediate environment, and/or going bankrupt because the superseeds don’t work as advertised anymore. They’re also not the ones affected by the failures of monoculture introduction into previously diverse agricultural areas. That would be the farmers who were convinced to switch to the new varieties.

  57. John Horstman says

    Context, PZ, context. In the present context, crops produced by direct genetic intervention result in every single one of those reality-based concerns you cite: they are patented, meaning corporate control; they’re clone seeds, which is about as mono as monoculture can get; they are ‘adapted’ to a single hypothetical environment that likely doesn’t exist outside the lab, meaning industrial farming techniques that alter (in some cases radically, in all cases using a lot of petroleum; most often what’s necessary are industrially-produced fertilizers and extensive irrigation) the growing environment are necessary to grow them. This last one is the greatest concern for me (though the others are also concerning), since it entirely undercuts the benefits claimed for GMOs – they’re only more efficient per acre, which is a pointless measure are growing area is rarely the limiting factor in agriculture – water is, and soil nutrition is a close second. Because they’re produced to thrive in a single, hypothetical environment, GMOs are typically far less efficient in terms of either of the two biggest limiting factors in farming, while selective breeding in situ means diversified crops that are adapted to the actual growing environment, traditionally right down to microclimate differences between e.g. the highest terrace versus the lowest on a single farm.

    GMOs are the result of an industrial approach to farming – a single, standardized (and ideally identical) product produced on a massive scale with no local or regional variation. There are magical/woo reasons people oppose GMOs, but it’s also the case that every problem with contemporary farming practices you cite also happens to be a problem with GMOs. These problems aren’t exclusive to GMOs by any means, but GMOs are always problematic in these ways.

  58. mudpuddles says

    I find this topic extremely frustrating. What vexes me most is that the key issues are rarely appreciated or understood, and I’m afraid, PZ, you miss the mark slightly with the “red-herring” label about the GM debate. I once thought so too, until I starting working closely with folks at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Those two organisations are very supportive of genetic modification across a wide range of food types. For example, they champion the use of GM to enhance the beta-carotene content of rice grown in South East Asia, which is a real breakthrough that promises to address a massive burden of nutrition insecurity. Likewise with the use of GM to reduce blight risk in major food crops such as plantains and various green leafy vegetables across Africa. (I grow potatoes here in Ireland, and I’m more than happy to say that I use several strains of GM blight-resistant spuds to try to secure my output each year.) But these and other related groups are also keenly aware of some significant risks associated with GM technology.
    For a start, the argument that “all modern food is based on genetic modification” is a red herring. Yes, of course it’s true for all of our food – every cabbage, pork chop, potato, oat flake, beetroot and blueberry on our plates derives from some wild relative somewhere, from which they may be almost unrecognisable (compare the humble carrot to its wild relative and you will hardly see a single shared characteristic). But the mechanism of modification sometimes really DOES matter, particularly when it comes to the use of microbial genes in plant and animal foods. Its worth noting that the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has a Protocol on Biosafety that was called for by governments and the food industry to try to avoid and mitigate against risks posed by certain GM techniques and the production of GM foods. In particular, the risk of genes from GM foods entering wild populations, and public health risks associated with potentially unforeseen consequences of altered biochemical pathways. Following many years of in-depth scientific review, and input from the food sector, that protocol has recently been significantly strengthened (2010) to include legal mechanisms to cover liability and redress for ecological and public health damage that may arise from the handling, use and transport of certain living modified organisms. The big food firms were heavily involved in the talks that led to that agreement – they understood and appreciated the risks, and agreed that they had to be addressed.
    I fully agree that knee-jerk anti-GMO sentiments are often irrational and ignorant, but so are knee-jerk dismissals of those concerns. A senior figure at CGIAR summed it up perfectly for me recently, when I asked him what the official CGIAR position was on GM technology. He said (and I paraphrase): “We support GM technology, with a caveat – it must be the right intervention, for the right reason, in the right place, by the right people, at the right time. If it cannot be scientifically verified that it does not pose a threat to biodiversity or public health, then its not the right intervention, at least not in the right place. If its sole or major motive is corporate profit, then its not the right reason and maybe not the right people. If it is claimed to combat the half-truth of food shortages, then again its the wrong reason and this is not the right time.”
    PZ, each one of your bullet points is spot on. But each one is also largely inseparable from the GM debate. There are also major societal issues relating to corporate governance, the control of food systems, land management, the use of agrichemicals which are often not environmentally sound (though like in the clip in your post, we are always told they are safe) and the patenting of whole organisms and / or their constituent genes.

  59. dianne says

    Companies do NOT want to create the next Vioxx.

    True. Actually, IMHO, Vioxx should have been a viable drug. There are certainly more dangerous drugs out there, just with a black box warning. The message that drug companies SHOULD get from the Vioxx story is “be honest about your data-bad stuff will come out and you don’t want to look like you’re hiding something.”

    But that’s not what drug companies, as a general class, seem to have gotten out of the Vioxx story. Instead, they seem to have gotten the message, “Don’t let your drug be tested for secondary indications because the researchers might discover a previously unknown* side effect that could screw up your primary market.” This is a foolish moral on several levels. First, side effects will be noted. They won’t go away on marketing and post-marketing surveys will notice them. Or doctors will gossip about how everyone they put on drug X seems to have side effect Y and drug X will fall out of favor. You can’t hide from reality. Second, it decreases the chances that a drug will be used to its fullest benefit (and profit).

    Nonrandom and biased example: I asked a drug company for permission to use their drug (currently in phase II testing for commonish disease A) in a study of its effectiveness in rare disease B. Disease A has several good treatment options, disease B has one single treatment option that at least 10-15% of people don’t tolerate. So the need is greater in B, but A is more common so potentially more profitable. Worse, people with B tend to be frail because B’s a nasty disease. The company refused because they didn’t want side effects that appear in B to mess up approval of their drug for A. Despite the fact that they’d have a nearly 100% market saturation for B (it’d work with the currently approved drug so most patients would likely take both), more good could be done by a new treatment for B than for A (though there is a clear need in A as well), and the second indication could extend their patent. But they got overly cautious because of vioxx and fear of side effects. Or bad publicity.

    So, no one is trying to create the next vioxx, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll behave rationally about it or draw the best conclusions about how to avoid creating the next vioxx.

    *Or suppressed. Merck actively suppressed the info in the case of Vioxx. Not catching the bad outcome I could understand. Simply lying about it makes me extremely cautious about this company’s other products.

  60. duce7999 says

    @59 Kevin:

    Thank you for responding to me. I would say that I am unable to place my trust into large corporations to police themselves, which appears to be what you are saying that they will do to avoid creating the next Vioxx. I think that we need to look no further than the current state of the American financial sector to see an example where companies are now able engage in known detrimental and illegal acts to only pay fines from their profits and still get ahead.

    I think I would be able to scrap my beef with them if they published fully and if we legislated clear mandatory penalties for people that hide, help hide, or fail to supervise (with a big robust safe harbor for whistleblowers). If I had those assurances, then I am good. If not, then I guess I will eat the stuff anyway because what the fuck else am I going to do :)?

  61. John Horstman says

    Arguing that GMOs aren’t the problem, it’s the inevitable consequences of using them in the contemporary context that are the problem (if that’s a distinction PZ is trying to draw – others in the comments are drawing this distinction) is exactly like arguing that guns don’t kill people, people do. It’s claiming that we shouldn’t criticize the means because of the ends that result – that’s just silly.

  62. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    My favourite anti-GM crop argument ever?

    “They give you cancer and stuff because the stuff they use to mutate the plant can also mutate you. Think about it!”

    Genuinely had me rolling on the floor, much to her disgust :)

  63. anteprepro says

    Arguing that GMOs aren’t the problem, it’s the inevitable consequences of using them in the contemporary context that are the problem

    The bolded is your problem. Slippery slopes, opposing a technique because of “context” when the technique itself is clearly not the problem and the “context” clearly is. The “inevitable” consequences brought up so far are not inherent to genetic modification. They are problems with industry, not with the technique. I don’t know whether the equivocation between the two is accidental or not, but it seems to crop up quite a bit.

  64. Tethys says

    The major problem I have with GMOs is the takeover of the family farm by agribusiness. It was a fait accompli back in the early eighties. Monsanto executives do not live on the same land that their crops are produced on, unlike the family farm, and as such do not have much of an incentive to be good stewards of the land. Their motivation is profit now, and they ignore good farming practices in favor of heavy chemical use to cultivate monocultures.

    Their products are implicated in the worldwide decline of bees.
    http://www.care2.com/causes/research-firm-blames-monsanto-for-bee-deaths-so-monsanto-buys-it.html

    I also note the rise in obesity, diabetes, autism, and food sensitivities that have happened since GMOs became common. Ignore the hyperbole in the first paragraph of this link, it lays out several more concerns and appears to be well referenced.
    http://www.hungerforhealth.com/?p=348

    ~~~

    Colorado State University has a good page on Bt.

    Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is an insecticide with unusual properties that make it useful for pest control in certain situations. Bt is a naturally occurring bacterium common in soils throughout the world. Several strains can infect and kill insects.
    Unlike typical nerve-poison insecticides, Bt acts by producing proteins (delta-endotoxin, the “toxic crystal”) that reacts with the cells of the gut lining of susceptible insects. These Bt proteins paralyze the digestive system, and the infected insect stops feeding within hours. Bt-affected insects generally die from starvation, which can take several days.

    Several species have already evolved resistance to it, as is inevitable when it gets engineered into all plants.

  65. dianne says

    @68: Particularly ironic given that one of the standard old school methods for producing new crop variants is to radiate the seeds or expose them to other mutagens and see what happens.

  66. Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I) says

    Welp, PZ, enjoy the shitstorm. You just kicked a sacred cow right square in it’s holiness. Enjoy the reactionary screeds from angy woosters and white people!

  67. David Marjanović says

    In fact, other countries of industrialized world (of which I hear so much bragging about their elevated rational thought by this blogger), i.e., Europe, have enough concern by their own scientific communities that they are willing to regulate, or at least label foods as such, in an effort to fully inform the public.

    Don’t overestimate the concern by the scientific communities, though. They contain glowing proponents. The concern by the general public is much, much higher.

    In contrast, insect midguts have pH of like 10 or 11.

    Wow.

    bacillus thurengiensis

    It’s Bacillus thuringiensis.

    What about cooking? Is there any situation where the product might be mixed in a strongly alkaline solution in cooking?

    That’s not called “cooking”, that’s called “making soap”.

    OK, there’s this kind of thing, but that involves dipping dough into alkaline solutions for a few seconds before baking it.

    And would you argue that modern GMO technique have been “inspected” to be safe? Or at least as safe as the older techniques?

    Techniques? This is about the genes that are introduced. Each of them needs to be tested separately.

    Their products are implicated in the worldwide decline of bees.

    What, in addition to neonicotinoid pesticides?

    I also note the rise in obesity, diabetes, autism, and food sensitivities that have happened since GMOs became common.

    From your source it looks like mice get an allergy to Bt.

  68. Tethys says

    standard old school methods for producing new crop variants is to radiate the seed

    I love mutant pink grapefruit!

  69. Steve LaBonne says

    While I completely agree with PZ’s post, I have to say that I am really not down at all with opposition to labeling. Let people have information and choices- yes, even the people swayed by silly propaganda. In terms of public acceptance of GM crops, not doing so is counterproductive as well as being unjustifiable.

  70. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @dianne

    I did not know that :) it does indeed add a delicious layer of irony.

    I probably should have mentioned, by the way, that her anti-GM screed began with her tucking into an organic banana :)

  71. Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I) says

    Steve LaBonne@75,

    So what is the reasonable standard for labelling? Are we talking only genetically engineered products, i.e. Corn with foreign Glyphosate resistance spiced in? Or ‘naturally’ crossed glyphosate resistance? Or long-term breeding for such? Where do we draw the line?

  72. Steve LaBonne says

    So what is the reasonable standard for labelling? Are we talking only genetically engineered products, i.e. Corn with foreign Glyphosate resistance spiced in? Or ‘naturally’ crossed glyphosate resistance? Or long-term breeding for such? Where do we draw the line?

    Pitiful excuse. Regulations have been successfully written for much more complicated matters. It’s not my job to write them in 5 minutes for a blog comment.

  73. Pierce R. Butler says

    Kevin the corporate apologist @ # 46: What’s the evidence that locally developed seeds (by what method) are better …

    The fact that biomes, all around the world, operate by the same principle: local adaptation = resiliency and survival. Our present system of giant agribusinesses depends entirely on an increasingly shaky fossil-fuel industry, massive subsidies, and dishonest commodities markets manipulated by the criminal ilk of Goldman Sachs et al.

    This gives us problems from famine in Ethiopia while that nation’s best fields grow luxury produce for Europeans, to waves of desperate Mexicans sneaking into the US in hopes of finding backbreaking field labor because their own farms and food networks have been bulldozed by latifundias and taxpayer-underwritten US exports. The business schools call this “externalized costs”, meaning that one sector profits and society – as a whole, but some much more than others – gets gouged.

    Localized agriculture works better for regional economies, bioregions, and human security – but all of those are undermined and overwhelmed by sociopathic elites blithely manipulating populations and markets for their own short-term gains (for whom GMOs are just another prybar used to extract dollars from our common heritage and future regardless of material costs to all the rest of us).

  74. Tethys says

    DM

    From your source it looks like mice get an allergy to Bt.

    Rats too. I wish the actual study was linked.

    My nephew is currently completing his degree in bioengineering, and we have had many discussions on this subject. It is currently under research as to what exactly is causing the symptoms seen in the mice and rats.
    So far it seems that the mechanisms by which the genes are delivered into the cell are not quite as biologically inactive as had been presumed.

  75. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    Shorter Steve LaBonne: “Someone should do something about this; just not me”.

  76. eveningchaos says

    I agree with PZ that the concerns over GMOs is misplaced. The idea that our food will become some Frankenstein monster because of some genetic manipulation is absurd.

    The concern should be over the type of modifications that are generally applied to organisms to make them resistant to pesticides and herbicides. This creates a plant that can be planted and then sprayed with chemicals indiscriminately over the entire crop. Of course, the seed is property of the company that developed the modification and the trademark pesticides and herbicides. A farmer cannot save some of his crop for seed as this violates intellectual property rights. It’s a system that has created a lopsided power dynamic in the food system. That is the real issue. Now food is not a right but a privilege that we are granted by the industrial food complex.

  77. MrFancyPants says

    My opposition to labeling is that none of the labeling proposals that I’ve seen have been anything more than appeals to fear. Show me a study indicating that the GMO variant of corn variety X can have a negative impact on human health, and sure, let’s label away. But merely stating “CONTAINS GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN” is nothing more than a way to help people be afraid, it provides no useful information.

  78. Steve LaBonne says

    Shorter Steve LaBonne: “Someone should do something about this; just not me”.

    Someone being the good folks in the Agriculture Department who would actually be paid to write the regulations after the usual public comment period (during which you or I or anyone could make their views known, and Monsanto most certainly will). Surely you’re not really this stupid.

  79. Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I) says

    Pitiful excuse. Regulations have been successfully written for much more complicated matters. It’s not my job to write them in 5 minutes for a blog comment.
    Steve LaBonne@78

    I didn’t ask you to write a regulation, nor a treatise, nor even a sentence. I asked where the line is drawn? At what point does a consumer require information about deliberate genetic modification? There are worlds of difference between selective breeding programs and the newer direct splicing techniques for crops. EU Standards are based off use of Gentically engineered (defined as direct splicing of extraspecies genomes into another organism) food OR feed, and any use within the production chain will require labeling. So cattle fed from Glyphosate resistant forages would be classified as GE food.

  80. Steve LaBonne says

    But merely stating “CONTAINS GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN” is nothing more than a way to help people be afraid, it provides no useful information.

    Who appointed you to decide what information consumers should or shouldn’t have? If people want- be the reasons ever so stupid- to avoid GM foods, they have every right to do so. Preventing them from having the ability to make that choice merely gives a boost to irrational fears.

  81. Steve LaBonne says

    So cattle fed from Glyphosate resistant forages would be classified as GE food.

    As they should be. See my #86.

  82. MrFancyPants says

    Who appointed you to decide what information consumers should or shouldn’t have?

    When it’s my tax dollars being wasted on a useless endeavor, then I think I should have a say in the matter. Who appointed you to be the keeper of the key to the treasury?

  83. madtom1999 says

    Can GM create better food production?
    Possibly yes. But as industry is run by immoral moneymakers GM merely becomes the standard bearer for the four bullet points you put up.
    I live on a bit of land that, according to the Doomesday book, was the centre of 1200 acres of ploughland. I can grow some old varieties of barley and wheat but the modern varieties drop dead from the weather here. If the likes of Monsanto get their way I wont be able to get grain that will grow here.

  84. Steve LaBonne says

    When it’s my tax dollars being wasted on a useless endeavor, then I think I should have a say in the matter. Who appointed you to be the keeper of the key to the treasury?

    An even more transparently imbecilic argument, worthy of a lobbyist for Monsanto.

  85. MrFancyPants says

    An even more transparently imbecilic argument, worthy of a lobbyist for Monsanto.

    Charming. Is this how you go about convincing all of your critics of the validity of your arguments?

  86. Steve LaBonne says

    What makes you think I’m trying to convince you? That’s clearly neither possible nor worth my time.

  87. David Marjanović says

    So far it seems that the mechanisms by which the genes are delivered into the cell are not quite as biologically inactive as had been presumed.

    …Those mechanisms aren’t present in the corn. They’re present in the lab. ~:-| If mice and rats react to something in Bt corn but not in normal corn, it must be the Bt.

    But merely stating “CONTAINS GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN” is nothing more than a way to help people be afraid, it provides no useful information.

    That’s because it doesn’t say what the modification is.

  88. Steve LaBonne says

    The effect of arglebargle like Fancypants’s on the ignorant general public is merely to give them another “reason” to think the industry has something to hide. GM foods that have real advantages to the consumer will find plenty of customers even if some avoid them for silly reasons.

  89. Steve LaBonne says

    That’s because it doesn’t say what the modification is.

    I for one would be very much down with providing that information in some concise form on the label. My prediction though is that Monsanto would fight that tooth and nail.

  90. Ichthyic says

    When it’s my tax dollars being wasted on a useless endeavor, then I think I should have a say in the matter. Who appointed you to be the keeper of the key to the treasury?

    this is the line given out by every science denialist I have ever met.

    every.

    one.

    if you ran things, we never would have gone to the moon, medicine would still involve phrenology as a primary diagnostic, and astrology would be what you would be using to figure out what your work for the day should be.

    I’m sure you don’t look at it this way, but it’s a fact.

  91. Ichthyic says

    My prediction though is that Monsanto would fight that tooth and nail.

    the question you should be asking yourself is whether the reasons they would indeed fight that, and have been, are in any way legitimate ones.

    do you really think there aren’t any legitimate reasons a business might fight such a labeling law?

    you better do some homework if you can’t come up with any.

  92. Ichthyic says

    Who appointed you to decide what information consumers should or shouldn’t have?

    you’re ignorance is ruling your thinking here. Seriously.

    you’re proving PZ’s point, in spades.

    at least some tiny part of you must realize this?

  93. MrFancyPants says

    That’s because it doesn’t say what the modification is.

    *Exactly*. THAT is the objection. I’m not opposed to labeling, I just want the label to convey something useful.

    “WARNING: CONTAINS DIHYDROGEN MONOXIDE” might as well be the next label that we slap on all juice bottles. I mean, let’s allow the people to decide for themselves, right? H2O is known to be lethal, after all.

  94. MrFancyPants says

    this is the line given out by every science denialist I have ever met.

    Fair enough, Ichthyic. I think my point of wanting the labels to convey information based upon science is also a fair one, though, and that was my primary point.

  95. Steve LaBonne says

    you’re ignorance is ruling your thinking here.

    Oh fuck off. Democracy is what’s ruling my thinking. People have a right to make even choices you and I consider stupid. What are you afraid of? Politically there is no chance of European-style GM regulatory overkill in the US. As I already said, there will be plenty of customers who don’t let the labels deter them. You’re only feeding the flames by opposing labeling.

  96. Steve LaBonne says

    I will say again that I am all in favor of informative labeling. But just watch Monsanto fight it to the last ditch during the rule-writing process even if a labeling law were to pass.

  97. Ichthyic says

    I think my point of wanting the labels to convey information based upon science is also a fair one, though, and that was my primary point.

    think about what you’re asking for.

    99% of people reading a detailed label describing a specific genetic modification wouldn’t have a clue what it even means.

    it’s why we have substituted “friendly” sounding names for chemicals commonly found in things like soap even.

    IMO, ALL companies should have publicly available detailed information on their products for those that want to look, and have some kind of idea what it even means.

    but to force a company to put that kind of shit on a product label? naw. PZ is right… it would just scare the vast majority of people for no good reason. I know a lot about genetically modified crops having studied the subject a bit back when I was doing ecology, but even I would have a few difficulties in parsing what some of these things are on a label. The general public would be vastly clueless.

    aside from that, there are other reasons that labeling is the way it is. Ever wonder why they can never even get a decent “nutrition information” label on any food product more complicated that salt, even though they have monkeyed with the idea for decades?

    It’s got nothing to do with things your twinkie maker was trying to hide from you.

  98. Tethys says

    …Those mechanisms aren’t present in the corn. They’re present in the lab. ~:-| If mice and rats react to something in Bt corn but not in normal corn, it must be the Bt.

    They aren’t supposed to be in the corn, but they are being found in the corn. (and the mice IIRC.)

    I will ask my nephew if he has access to the research, his current research subject is barley.

  99. Steve LaBonne says

    By the way, icthyic. I’m a fucking Ph.D. molecular biologist, so take your condescension about my “ignorance” and shove it. I already said I completely agree with PZ’s post.

  100. Ichthyic says

    People have a right to make even choices you and I consider stupid

    so people should have the right to choose what your kids are taught in public schools?

    based on what?

    your personal thinking?

    the majority rules?

    can you not see how you are thinking JUST like a creationist here?

  101. Ichthyic says

    I’m a fucking Ph.D. molecular biologist, so take your condescension about my “ignorance” and shove it.

    didn’t say you were stupid, but seeing you confuse ignorance and stupidity is starting to make me change my mind.

  102. Ichthyic says

    I’m a fucking Ph.D. molecular biologist

    you took biochem then.

    Imagine if you wanted detailed labels on every product based on what you learned in biochem.

    label might be readable to you. Not to someone who didn’t have a serious background in chemistry.

  103. Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I) says

    diane @ 89

    Actually, that would be a great way of handling the situation. It’s explicit, calls out exactly what and where, and provides a structure for further education. I could get behind that. The issues with the EU standards are pretty much that they’re vague as hell, and generally poorly thought out.

    Steve LaBonne @ 102

    I don’t seem to grok where you’re coming from at this point. You seem to be saying that GMO will be fine if they perform because, essentially, “free market,” and that any opposition to labeling is going to be seen as “the innocent have nothing to hide”. You also seem extremely… something… about this issue.

  104. Steve LaBonne says

    so people should have the right to choose what your kids are taught in public schools?

    Individuals can take or leave a particular food purchase. Is your analogy fail here stupid or dishonest?

  105. MrFancyPants says

    Ichthyic @105:

    think about what you’re asking for

    I may not have conveyed well what it is I am asking for. To start, I don’t like the idea of labeling in general. But obviously some people want such labels. If we’re going to clamor for labels and must have them, then I want them to convey useful information based upon science. This doesn’t have to be complicated–look at the labels we require on tobacco, for example: “Known to cause cancer.” That’s a simple label, based upon science. Unless we can convey a similarly simple message with a basis in established scientific results, I am against labeling.

  106. Steve LaBonne says

    You also seem extremely… something… about this issue.

    The “something” is not at all mysterious. I’m opposed to Monsanto deciding what information consumers”need” to have. It’s not a difficult concept, and one I feel you’d have no difficulty understanding in other contexts..

  107. Ichthyic says

    Individuals can take or leave a particular food purchase. Is your analogy fail here stupid or dishonest?

    it’s not the choice of what food to buy that was the issue, so instead I would ask you why you are deflecting?

    again, I responded to you saying this:

    People have a right to make even choices you and I consider stupid

    which is not true, and even you wouldn’t want it to be so.

  108. Steve LaBonne says

    it’s not the choice of what food to buy that was the issue

    Ah, that answers my question- dishonest it is. That’s exactly what it’s about. People should have the right to make that choice, however misguided, in the case of GM foods.

  109. Steve LaBonne says

    which is not true, and even you wouldn’t want it to be so.

    More ridiculous analogies on the way then? No, not every choice is like the choices one makes in the supermarket. Duh.

  110. Ichthyic says

    I’m opposed to Monsanto deciding what information consumers”need” to have.

    are you opposed to the new owners of Twinkies deciding you don’t need to know what specific chemicals are used for the yellow food dye used to make Twinkies yellow by putting the chemical dye composition on the label?

    my point stands. you ARE ignorant of what goes into product labelling. Most of us are.

    You know, if you really cared about this issue, maybe you would have written to Monsanto and ASKED them why they oppose specific labelling laws.

    or hell, ask any food product manufacturer why they have opposed similar labelling laws for their own products.

  111. Ichthyic says

    Ah, that answers my question- dishonest it is.

    you saying it doesn’t make it so. I quoted you directly.

    you’re the one being dishonest.

  112. Ichthyic says

    More ridiculous analogies on the way then?

    so, IOW, you concede the point, since it has fuckall to do with analogies.

  113. David Marjanović says

    Tell it to the EPA.

    The EPA gets that kind of thing wrong!?!?!

    That’s really scary.

  114. Steve LaBonne says

    are you opposed to the new owners of Twinkies deciding you don’t need to know what specific chemicals are used for the yellow food dye used to make Twinkies yellow by putting the chemical dye composition on the label?

    No. Because there is adequate information there now, and it would in fact be a decent model for how to do GM labeling right. Next stupid question?

    I’m starting to wonder where your paycheck comes from. A lot of people’s high-minded principles suddenly go missing when their own ox is getting gored.

  115. Steve LaBonne says

    so, IOW, you concede the point, since it has fuckall to do with analogies.

    No I don’t concede any point, but I do agree with your second clause. So why did you think you were advancing the discussion by offering a particularly lame one? I haven’t argued by analogy.

  116. Steve LaBonne says

    I have work to do, so feel free to wank on without me. I’ve made my position clear, and to say the least I’m not impressed by the rationales proffered for opposing it.

  117. Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I) says

    Steve LaBonne @124

    Well, you seem to be in agreement on the fact that GECs are probably not going to do terribly much, but like PZ said, you just fucking hate Monsanto et al (as most people should. They’re assholes for the most part). I guess I’m intrigued by your investment in the issue. You must be a riot at conferences.

  118. MrFancyPants says

    Xaivius:
    I know that when I present a paper at a conference, if someone raises an objection to something I say, I usually accuse them of being an imbecile, or intellectually dishonest, or maybe both.

  119. Amphiox says

    I’m a fucking Ph.D. molecular biologist, so take your condescension about my “ignorance” and shove it.

    Well then, I guess that settles it once and for all, doesn’t it?

    It would appear that even fucking Ph.D. molecular biologists aren’t immune to resorted to the fallacy from authority, particularly if emotionally provoked.

  120. unclefrogy says

    nigelTheBold beat me to it
    many GMOs are designed specifically to withstand defoliants, and are used to push specific products. Our grains basically grow in poisoned dirt. I’m not sure that’s the best way of going about this.

    this is what bothers me the most I do my simple best to try and avoid or minimize my exposure to industrial chemicals not easy I know. So by making our food crops immune from weed killers they will bused more not less and that will have to increase exposure how can that be good?

    uncle frogy

  121. Tethys says

    DM

    Nephew’s fellow student is trying to replicate the results this growing season with additional control procedures to rule out cross contamination in his corn crop. He did however direct me to an interesting study on the subject.

    Changes in fitness-associated traits due to the stacking of transgenic glyphosate resistance and insect resistance in Brassica napus L.

    Increasingly, genetically modified crops are being developed to express multiple ‘stacked’ traits for different types of transgenes, for example, herbicide resistance, insect resistance, crop quality and tolerance to environmental stresses. The release of crops that express multiple traits could result in ecological changes in weedy environments if feral crop plants or hybrids formed with compatible weeds results in more competitive plants outside of agriculture. To examine the effects of combining transgenes, we developed a stacked line of canola (Brassica napus L.) from a segregating F2 population that expresses both transgenic glyphosate resistance (CP4 EPSPS) and lepidopteran insect resistance (Cry1Ac). Fitness-associated traits were evaluated between this stacked genotype and five other Brassica genotypes in constructed mesocosm plant communities exposed to insect herbivores (Plutella xylostella L.) or glyphosate-drift. Vegetative biomass, seed production and relative fecundity were all reduced in stacked trait plants when compared with non-transgenic plants in control treatments, indicating potential costs of expressing multiple transgenes without selection pressure. Although costs of the transgenes were offset by selective treatment, the stacked genotype continued to produce fewer seeds than either single transgenic line. However, the increase in fitness of the stacked genotype under selective pressure contributed to an increased number of seeds within the mesocosm community carrying unselected, hitchhiking transgenes. These results demonstrate that the stacking of these transgenes in canola results in fitness costs and benefits that are dependent on the type and strength of selection pressure, and could also contribute to changes in plant communities through hitchhiking of unselected traits.

    When GMOs first appeared, it was expected that the engineered traits would not be heritable to other plants. It turns out that they are heritable, and I personally find the potential ramifications of unselected hitchhiking transgenes in the food supply and environment to warrant caution.

  122. MrFancyPants says

    Tehys @130:

    When GMOs first appeared, it was expected that the engineered traits would not be heritable to other plants

    Really? I’m not a biologist, so I don’t know why this would be the expectation. My layman’s assumption is that it should be possible for such traits to be passed on/down. I don’t understand what the mechanism would be for preventing engineered changes from being passed on or crossed with similar cultivars.

  123. Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I) says

    Tethys@130

    Damn, that’s pretty interesting. Pulled the full paper to read at work. Should be some interesting lunch reading, might go talk to the forage guys to see if they know the folks behind the work.

  124. David Marjanović says

    Vegetative biomass, seed production and relative fecundity were all reduced in stacked trait plants when compared with non-transgenic plants in control treatments, indicating potential costs of expressing multiple transgenes without selection pressure. Although costs of the transgenes were offset by selective treatment, the stacked genotype continued to produce fewer seeds than either single transgenic line. However, the increase in fitness of the stacked genotype under selective pressure contributed to an increased number of seeds within the mesocosm community carrying unselected, hitchhiking transgenes. These results demonstrate that the stacking of these transgenes in canola results in fitness costs and benefits that are dependent on the type and strength of selection pressure, and could also contribute to changes in plant communities through hitchhiking of unselected traits.

    Unsurprising, but good to have confirmation.

    Really? I’m not a biologist, so I don’t know why this would be the expectation. My layman’s assumption is that it should be possible for such traits to be passed on/down. I don’t understand what the mechanism would be for preventing engineered changes from being passed on or crossed with similar cultivars.

    No, the idea was that the traits wouldn’t somehow spread to other species. Indeed they don’t – depending on your species concept. Some crops have very close wild relatives that are important weeds and with which they’re interfertile, see comment 50.

  125. David Marjanović says

    Tell that to dogs who eat chocolate.

    Or parrots who eat parsley.

    Sheep, BTW, are weirdly tolerant of cyanide.

  126. Ewan R says

    Disclaimer up front, I work for Monsanto, the views contained herein are entirely my own and not those of my corporate overlords. At least that’s what they tell me.

    My big worry about GM foods, apart from the extortionate business practices of the designers of them, is that it will result in a large degree of genetic homogeneity among the crops. I just don’t see that ending well.

    Why would GM techniques lead to heterogeneity in the crop? The current traits which are ubiquitous are herbicide tolerance and insect protection – these are pretty binary traits, either they work, or they don’t – they operate across genetic backgrounds, largely ignoring the context in which they find themselves (as they involve doing something utterly new, rather than tweaking existing pathways, or fixing issues which exist in a single germplasm) – sure, a given event is transformed only into a single genetic background, and, if this was as far as the story went, we’d have an issue of genetic uniformity (except that we wouldn’t, because such a product would be utterly worthless and never see the light of day) – this isn’t however what happens.

    You (or we, or they) find an agronomic trait that works, you characterize the living crap out of it, and then you introgress it into all the germplasm that you can. You do this because the trait by itself has no value, to sell seed you need the trait plus a genetic background which fits the needs of the farmer. It is no accident that Monsanto spends ~50% of its R&D budget on breeding and 50% on GMO – the combination of the two is what makes money, one or other by itself not so much. Beyond the diversity within a company’s breeding program (which is incredibly large) you also have diversity between the programs of different companies – the traits we’re discussing are widely licensed (such that Pioneer, while a mortal enemy of Monsanto in the marketplace (litigation between the two companies is commonplace), is also probably Monsanto’s biggest customer) and thus find themselves in far flung and exotic germplasm more often than not (Monsanto GM traits appear in 90%+ of corn/Soy planted, but Monsanto genetics ‘only’ in 20-30%). To make the genetic diversity argument here is to be wholly ignorant (which isn’t surprising given how little anyone hears about breeding) of much of the cool shit that goes down in agriculture – Soy for instance, which is to all intents and purposes all genetically modified, has 10 different maturity group zones in North America – you plant the wrong genetics (ie a group 3 in a group 10 zone) and you’re buggered – likewise within these groups there are different varieties specific to various pest pressures and geographic challenges (soil types etc, or good vs bad fields) – variation is key, a farmer may decide to plant a bog standard variety in his crappy fields so that they gets some income from the field, and invest in a super new high performance line for their super high performance field – the genetics of the plants will be startlingly different (particularly if one is Pioneer and the other Monsanto) as would be expected given the totally different performance. It is a similar story for Corn – breeders know that you don’t put all your eggs in one genetic basket, they know this would be an insane approach to agriculture, and thus literally hundreds of varieties exist – each one with the traits carefully introgressed by molecular breeding – the entire rest of the genome bar the GM trait of interest could, quite easily, be completely different on an allele by allele comparison (ish… assuming alleles exist for each gene) to the original transformed line (it is a near certainty that the original transformed lines for any of today’s main commercial traits are categorically not what is used in production Ag today)

    On Bt and resistance – a big deal is made about resistance arising from overuse of GMOs, and indeed, it appears that some resistance has arisen due to use of transgenic Bt expressing plants – but, and here’s the crux, resistance has also arisen through use of Bt spores (both in the lab and collected from the wild)– always on all the time isn’t the only issue (indeed always on all the time may be better than a haphazard spraying where dose may be sub-lethal allowing for slight resistance to be slected for rather than requiring whole hog resistance (might be, ain’t necessarily so however)) – http://mmbr.asm.org/content/62/3/775.full gives a rather spiffy rundown on Bt.

    A healthy aghricultural system would use seeds developed in each bioregion by the local farmers, selecting a variety of strains shown to do well each year under their own unique conditions and sold or exchanged with knowledgeable discussion of their adaptive traits.

    The resources that go into seed development are huge and the skillset of breeders highly specialized. Plant breeding for the “best” varieties is a full time job – why would it be better to farm (excuse the pun) this out to farmers rather than having specialists in the field do it?(another pun, again, excuse it) – Best here is in quotations because best need not necessarily mean highest yield under highest inputs… (various recent Monsanto releases such as beneforte broccoli and whatever the Onion that was released a year or two ago for instance (Eversomething if I recall)

    but I do find the stories of, e.g., decimated monarch butterfly populations quite plausible

    Which is telling given that it is well established in the literature that Bt has bugger all to do with monarch butterflies in the real world.

    thus ruining a useful and safe biological pest control method forever which might, in prudent hands, have served farmers well for decades or centuries.

    Why, one wonders, is it fine to use it non-GM, where documented cases of resistance are established, but not with GM, where resistance might arise?

    Anyway, yes, it’s not the execs of Monsanto that are going to be the ones immediately harmed by the rather predictable result of “roundup ready” weeds and pesticide-resistant pests; that would be the farmers who are both going to end up with very large doses of pesticide in their immediate environment, and/or going bankrupt because the superseeds don’t work as advertised anymore.

    This is rather a stretch. First, same farmers have, with RR, been saved the more toxic/environmentally impactful (unless we’re living in Candy land where everyone switched to low yielding no-input ag rather than staying with the status quo) herbicides for ~10 years similary with Bt – toxic insecticides have been largely eliminated both for adopters and non-adopters across the US (akin to vaccination, the economic benefits are felt even by those who have not participated, to the extent that it must be pretty tempting to go traitless in some areas because the need for the trait is massively reduced). Second in the case of RR not working you’re unlikely to lose your whole crop, you may have a hit to yield which will result in less, but not no, income (and then you’d say bugger the RR seeds anyway and switch to a method that worked), in the case of Bt – nobody was losing the whole crop, worm damage reduces but does not eliminate yield from the field.

    they’re clone seeds, which is about as mono as monoculture can get;

    1. I know I already covered this, but this remains as wrong as you can get – they’re not clone seeds at all, not even close, the only identical bit you can say for any two varieties of RR corn would be the RR gene itself and attendant expression elements, you have no guarantee that any other bit of the genome is the same (corn is bizarre, and if I recall correctly there is about 25% of the genome overall that may not occur in some varieties where it does in others (ie not even allelic differences, but simply “I have this whole stretch of genome, you don’t”)

    meaning industrial farming techniques that alter (in some cases radically, in all cases using a lot of petroleum; most often what’s necessary are industrially-produced fertilizers and extensive irrigation) the growing environment are necessary to grow them.

    Nonsensical. If the RR trait is introgressed into a line suited to non-industrial agriculture it’ll work just as well as a similar line without the trait – it just won’t be killed by glyphosate (what odd hypothetical system would use roundup but eschew the rest of modern ag is however debateable, which may explain why the two go hand in hand) – similarly Bt – it works regardless of the inputs, it just so happens that it is used hand in hand with extra inputs – which one can hardly blame the traits for, farmers, oddly, rather like getting more, rather than less, yield/income each year. That and systems which go the non-high input route will normally be Organic, and this system excludes the use of GM, thus one cannot use Bt in an operation and be certified Organic.

    because they’re produced to thrive in a single, hypothetical environment

    Again, as highlighted above, your weird hypothetical GMO failed two years after launch and those who pushed it forwards were unceremoniously fired for spending $150M getting a product deregulated which would only grow in ¼ of a single state (Iowa probably) with no prospect of ever making any money.

    Their motivation is profit now, and they ignore good farming practices in favor of heavy chemical use to cultivate monocultures.

    Except of course that the introduction in RR crops resulted in an approximate 30% drop in the environmental impact factor of growing said crops, and the introduction of Bt crops resulted in massive reduction of use of insecticides. Fucking reality and its corporate bias (I hear that reality spent 2 years interning at Monsanto back in the 70’s, which explains this unfortunate fact)

    Their products are implicated in the worldwide decline of bees.

    Vaccines are also implicated in autism. It ain’t so in either case – the beelogics acquisition is far better explained if one looks at intellectual property and Monsanto’s research portfolio. Makes for a slightly less sensational conclusion though.

    I also note the rise in obesity, diabetes, autism, and food sensitivities that have happened since GMOs became common

    I note the same rise going hand in hand with increasing market share of certified organic. The correlations are often at an R-squared value of ~.99. I think Garfield said something about correlation and causation not being the same thing. Well that or he dropkicked Odie into the middle of next week.

    Who appointed you to decide what information consumers should or shouldn’t have? If people want- be the reasons ever so stupid- to avoid GM foods, they have every right to do so.

    And they can. They can purchase Organic, they can purchase food which has been certified GM free – there is nothing stopping them from doing this. It seems however rather odd to impose a rather massive cost of segregation and bookkeeping across all commodity crops to cater to rather silly fears regardless of how many people have them.

    Shall we start labeling crops which haven’t been picked by immigrant labor? (with all the attendant human rights violations this at least has a basis in reality)

    Shall we label crops which have been greenhouse grown rather than field? (energy use issues)

    Do we label foods which use herbicides vs not? Shall we disclose every single different farming methodology used? (They all have far better reasons, in my mind, than GM to be labeled (till vs no till, for instance), and at the same time I’m of the opinion it’d be fucking stupid to label them for anything of the sort) Or, should we, rather sensibly, retain labeling for things that have real impact, like the presence of actual allergens, or chemicals which while safe for 99%+ of the population may be dangerous to those with say, PKU?) – The argument against labeling in this case is obvious – labels say something meaningful now (apart from COOL obviously, which imo is a crock of crap) and adding one simply confuses folk (as well as adding a huge cost to the whole system for no plausible reason) to believe that wow, hey, this may be a risk (the whole bloody gluten free bandwagon smacks of label reading gone awry to be honest)

  127. unclefrogy says

    here is a further thought.
    If the use of GMO’s to help in controlling agriculture pests ends up also creating pests that are immune to easy control and that causes very big problems for farmers first.
    As the farmers have trouble growing their Patented GMO crops those holding the patents and marketing the seed will suffer so it would seem that it may be short sighted on the GMO industry. Industries often behave in what turns out to be short sighted here in the US at least.
    the other thought is somewhat related. As farming is undergoing a relentless change from smaller family farms to huge Agribusiness corporate farms that may be more vulnerable to the negative side effects on monoculture farming.
    regardless of the politics of it I doubt we will get through this without trouble, the only real question is what magnitude they will be.

    uncle frogy

  128. Ewan R says

    If the use of GMO’s to help in controlling agriculture pests ends up also creating pests that are immune to easy control and that causes very big problems for farmers first.

    You may not use these easy control methods because we want these methods to work.

    Ok. So can we use them?

    No, if you use them they’ll stop working, that’d be a disaster.

    Ok, we’ll go ahead and use these other methods which are more damaging, expensive, and time consuming.

    Good. Go forth and do so. Your mother won’t mind at all if you do.

  129. MrFancyPants says

    David @ 134:

    No, the idea was that the traits wouldn’t somehow spread to other species. Indeed they don’t – depending on your species concept. Some crops have very close wild relatives that are important weeds and with which they’re interfertile, see comment 50.

    Okay, I was thrown by the use of the word “heritable”, then, which means transmission of traits to offspring.

    Even so, my understanding is that biologists have recognized horizontal gene transfer between animal species, e.g. snakes to cows. I guess it seems plausible to me that if there is a mechanism to do that in fauna, then it’s possible that one might exist for flora, too, and I’m surprised that plant biologists would automatically assume the opposite.

  130. ChasCPeterson says

    bacillus thurengiensis

    It’s Bacillus thuringiensis.

    Tell it to the EPA. I was just copy-pasting.

    The EPA (and therefore you) got it right. The mangled version was in Pierce Bulter’s comment up here.

  131. says

    Geez, an awful lot of people here seem to have mindlessly bought into the big-L Libertarian idea that “we don’t need to regulate industry because no company would want to have a bad reputation and thus bad behavior won’t happen from corporate actors” — but only if the industry in question is agribusiness. Oil companies. drug companies, technology companies — obviously, they’re all scum. But modify a few genes and you must be pure because Science(TM)!

    Seriously, PZ (and others), modifying genes directly is not the same as selective breeding; claiming that “everything is a modified crop” is like saying you shouldn’t worry about foreign chemicals in your food because “everything is made of chemicals” — it’s technically true, but deliberately misleading. Everything is made of chemicals, but your food usually does not contain arsenic or plutonium.

    GM crops may have long-term consequences which we cannot foresee; what happens if, two decades from now, it turns out that (say) GM corn causes cancer when consumed in the long term? (We’ll have to abandon corn as a food crop, since the modified genes have escaped and contaminated pretty nearly all corn everywhere. Oh, well, at least it will put an end to HFCS.) Or those insect-killing poisons which are supposed to be safe in mammals builds up in the blood very slowly and eventually start killing neurons? Or GM tomatoes release chemicals into the soil which, only after repeated plantings, poisons that soil for decades? Even if you assume that the laughably feeble testing being done would catch any major immediate problems, long term effects are not checked, and even the more stringent controls suggested would never prevent them.

    We know that crops produced by artificial selection are reasonably safe because the genetic sources were safe and there are no sudden, unpredictable moves being made. Cross safe wheat with safe wheat and you pretty nearly always get safe wheat. There is practically no real-world experience of what happens when you cross, say, safe wheat and puffer-fish, or safe corn and bacteria. The potential for unforeseen disaster is enormous and even the precautions which PZ (and co.) want to offer as a sop to the worried would be far short of sufficient to anyone who pays attention to the track record of agribusiness.

    Blog posts and articles like this one are extremely dangerous, because they paint a veneer of respectability over dangerous, questionable practices.

  132. carlie says

    We know that crops produced by artificial selection are reasonably safe because the genetic sources were safe and there are no sudden, unpredictable moves being made. Cross safe wheat with safe wheat and you pretty nearly always get safe wheat.

    Except when you do things like cross-breed celery with another celery and get one that causes phytophotodermatitis in the people picking it. Or breed a potato that has high levels of glycoalkyloids.

    There is practically no real-world experience of what happens when you cross, say, safe wheat and puffer-fish, or safe corn and bacteria.

    Except for 30 years of using them in huge quantities.

  133. dianne says

    what happens if, two decades from now, it turns out that (say) GM corn causes cancer when consumed in the long term?

    Depends…which cancer do you mean? Nothing, not even smoking, causes “cancer”. Lots of things, including a number of perfectly natural foods, cause various specific mutations that can lead to cancer.

  134. Amphiox says

    There is practically no real-world experience of what happens when you cross, say, safe wheat and puffer-fish, or safe corn and bacteria.

    It’s no different than if the lateral gene transfer occurred naturally via, say, retrovirus.

  135. Amphiox says

    Cross safe wheat with safe wheat

    The cross of safe European honeybees and safe African honeybees turned out real swell.

  136. Funny Diva says

    Thanks, PZ. Especially for pointing out how much of the fact-free fear is being peddled by the progressive left. It really is to head-desk. Otherwise completely intelligent acquaintances of mine actually believe that Monsanto GMO crops are sterilizing us all!!!1!!1!!OH NOES!!1!elebenty.

    No, I don’t believe Monsanto (or Cargill or ADM) is a force for good in agriculture or the world, either. But that’s not because of GMO wheat, corn, soybeans or anything other than their ruthless monopolistic business practices. And those were well developed waaaaaay before the first resistance gene was put into the germline of any food crop.

  137. dianne says

    Nothing, not even smoking, causes “cancer”.

    Not originally intended, but I just realized the irony of this comment: The first example I could come up with of something that caused lots of types of cancer was an unmodified natural plant that has been used by humans for generations.

  138. dianne says

    Otherwise completely intelligent acquaintances of mine actually believe that Monsanto GMO crops are sterilizing us all!!!1!!1!!OH NOES!!1!elebenty.

    Hmm…(Checks world population and fertility…checks US population and fertility.) That’s the most reassuring conspiracy theory I’ve heard in my life. If this is the best Monsanto can do for sterilizing us, they are surely the world’s most incompetent supervillains and we should be able to beat them with ease.

  139. Funny Diva says

    Sometimes I wonder if the GMO controversy isn’t just a giant red herring thrown into the debate about the future of agriculture just to distract us from what should be real concerns.

    No! A red herring? A distraction for the (usually) higher-information part of the populace? Is UNPOSSIBLE, I tells ya!

  140. changerofbits says

    You’ve obviously got some sort of emotional aversion to GMOs (not sure why), but I’ll try to sort through this:

    Geez, an awful lot of people here seem to have mindlessly bought into the big-L Libertarian idea that “we don’t need to regulate industry because no company would want to have a bad reputation and thus bad behavior won’t happen from corporate actors” — but only if the industry in question is agribusiness. Oil companies. drug companies, technology companies — obviously, they’re all scum. But modify a few genes and you must be pure because Science(TM)!

    Who is saying this? You’re punching at a straw-man here. I would love to see regulations regarding how GMOs (and any new “natural” hybrid) is developed and used.

    Seriously, PZ (and others), modifying genes directly is not the same as selective breeding; claiming that “everything is a modified crop” is like saying you shouldn’t worry about foreign chemicals in your food because “everything is made of chemicals” — it’s technically true, but deliberately misleading. Everything is made of chemicals, but your food usually does not contain arsenic or plutonium.

    I think the point is that GMOs are just an extension of genetic manipulation. The analogy fails because you’re equating all GMOs with poisonous chemicals. They simply are not.

    GM crops may have long-term consequences which we cannot foresee; what happens if, two decades from now, it turns out that (say) GM corn causes cancer when consumed in the long term? (We’ll have to abandon corn as a food crop, since the modified genes have escaped and contaminated pretty nearly all corn everywhere. Oh, well, at least it will put an end to HFCS.) Or those insect-killing poisons which are supposed to be safe in mammals builds up in the blood very slowly and eventually start killing neurons? Or GM tomatoes release chemicals into the soil which, only after repeated plantings, poisons that soil for decades? Even if you assume that the laughably feeble testing being done would catch any major immediate problems, long term effects are not checked, and even the more stringent controls suggested would never prevent them.

    I’ll agree that long term consequences are hard to know, hence my support of regulations concerning development and use of GMOs so we at least know and have a chance to stop the GMOs that have an unacceptable harm/good balance. I think you’re over blowing the potential of even a deliberately designed killer gene, though, almost to the point of hypochondria.

    We know that crops produced by artificial selection are reasonably safe because the genetic sources were safe and there are no sudden, unpredictable moves being made. Cross safe wheat with safe wheat and you pretty nearly always get safe wheat. There is practically no real-world experience of what happens when you cross, say, safe wheat and puffer-fish, or safe corn and bacteria. The potential for unforeseen disaster is enormous and even the precautions which PZ (and co.) want to offer as a sop to the worried would be far short of sufficient to anyone who pays attention to the track record of agribusiness.

    Puffer fish and bacteria are as natural as safe wheat, so your premise is false. You even admit “nearly always”, but why? Can safe wheat and safe wheat create unsafe wheat? Again, we aren’t your “don’t regulate GMOs” straw-man. We just think you’re basing your concern (which on agribusiness, we agree) on GMOs specifically with a great big naturalistic fallacy.

    Blog posts and articles like this one are extremely dangerous, because they paint a veneer of respectability over dangerous, questionable practices.

    You’re equating the danger of unregulated agribusiness with GMOs again. It’s not the fucking GMOs, it how we as a society want to protect ourselves from the dangers that centralized, GMO enabled agribusiness presents us. I think what YOU’RE doing is dangerous. Your arguments are providing big agribusiness with a big defeater to increased regulation: “Those anti-GMOers basing everything on a naturalistic fallacy, so we can just dismiss their concerns about regulating agribusiness.”

  141. Pierce R. Butler says

    ChasCPeterson @ # 141 – I plead guilty to a sloppy typo.

    Will you do the same?

  142. says

    My prediction though is that Monsanto would fight that tooth and nail.

    the question you should be asking yourself is whether the reasons they would indeed fight that, and have been, are in any way legitimate ones.

    You mean like Coke, way back, when they where denied the right to sell in the UK, because they refused to abide by the local law, and provide a clear list of what was in the soda (as the law required)? Point of fact, labeling in general, in the US is just plain worthless in most cases. You *might* get some information on general nutritional content, and some vague details on obvious contents, but then you get the, “random list of funny words, followed by ‘natural and artificial flavors’”, BS. Half the stuff on the shelf I won’t even try, because, frankly, I would kind of like to have some idea if its more likely to taste like bean sprouts, than oranges, but nothing on the entire damn label tells me jack as to what the “flavors” are (or much of anything else). The absurd “Gluten free” labeling is just as bad too – labels on shit that confuse people, since it implies they somehow “removed”, or “didn’t add” gluten to the special “rice cakes” :head->desk:, or blanket assumptions that all wheat sensitivity is linked, solely, to siliacs (never mind that they find a large percentage of people with observable sensitivity, but no genetic disorder. And, that is using blind testing, not “do you feel better after eating the one labelled gluten free?”).

    Do you honestly think that anything they come up with for GMO labeling in the US would be any less than just as completely bloody useless?

  143. alkaloid says

    @Kagehi, #154

    Isn’t that more of an argument against terribly designed labeling (and the failings in the regulatory system that allows it to come about) as compared to an argument against labeling in its entirety, though?

  144. Michael says

    Aside from the scare tactics of Frankenfood, there are some legitimate questions about GMO’s that would definitely make some people concerned. Recombinant DNA is a relatively new technology. Like any new technology, there may be side effects or risks that weren’t anticipated when it was developed. Examples of this in other fields include DDT (advertised as a miracle pesticide before biomagnification was recognized), and plastics (pseudoestrogens like BPA in baby bottles).

    Some of the suggested risks of GMO’s include:

    - potential allergens. This has occurred in some GMO potatoes, although that was recognized in development and never made it to market. I am not aware of whether Bt is a potential allergen, but since there is no labeling of GM foods, there is no way to track whether a given product is causing problems.

    - insertion site. Since the inserted genes may integrate into the genome in random places, it is possible that they will insert into an existing gene and alter or negate it’s function. If this happens, it could lead to several outcomes including toxicity, allergens, or even mutagens. This point is more of a scare tactic than actual science, but it illustrates why some people have (legitimate?) concerns.

    - cross-pollination with related species. Perhaps someone could respond regarding whether the ‘terminator’ gene in some GMO crops like cotton could be passed on to regular strains? This could cause havoc if it was accidentally bred into wild varieties so that large fractions of the seeds would not germinate. There has also been the suggestion of ‘superweeds’, that acquire the gene for resistance to Roundup. I am not aware that this has ever happened, but again it is a concern.

    - control of product. While some varieties of GMO’s are classed as fit or unfit for human consumption, that doesn’t mean that the farmers growing them are as careful as they should be. We have already had at least one case of GMO corn classed as unfit for humans (potential allergen) getting into supermarkets (eg. taco shells).

    - corporations vs farmers. In India in particular, Monsanto has trapped many cotton farmers into a cycle of debt, after promising wealth. The farmers were promised high yields of cotton, but were not warned that Bt cotton needs a specific watering and pesticide schedule that many farmers can’t do or afford, and consequently they have low yields, are unable to pay their debts which include having to buy more seeds from Monsanto since they can’t buy non-terminator seeds easily.

    One final thought is that in many or most cases, GMO’s aren’t required. The benefits they offer can be obtained through other methods, eg. Mixing carrots in with rice will give the same benefits as golden rice. GMO’s are in many cases just a money grab by large corporations like Monsanto, particularly when you consider the vulnerability of monocultures to pests and disease.

  145. ChasCPeterson says

    Will you do the same?

    Yes, Mr. Bulter, I will.
    (I didn’t post that comment to point the finger at you, but rather to refute SallyStrange’s blamiong the EPA, which David, for one, believed.)

  146. says

    I’ve mentioned this before. It has nothing to do with the relative scientific ignorance of the anti-gmo advocates. This is about not trusting agribusiness, for very good reasons, particularly when the cool-headed science people don’t seem all that bothered about the complete lack of any government oversight let alone regulation that you’re going to let conscious-less immortal corporations have carte blanche with, just because you can’t personally envision anything harmful ever actually happening.
    It would be fine if you just “didn’t get it”. You’re an evolutionary scientist; it is an obvious blind-spot. But repeatedly proclaiming your cluelessness doesn’t help either the skeptic or anti-gmo community. So could you just “get it” already? People don’t trust corporations with that powerful a toolbox, period, and you shouldn’t either.It doesn’t matter if the bad science gobbledy-gook they spout to try to support their fears come straight out of a bad Dr. Who episode, that doesn’t diminish their arguments all that much.

    Did the villagers have to know biology to know that Dr. Frankenstein’s monster was a bad idea? Are you honestly saying you have personal knowledge that any gmo could ever cause unintended consequences? Do we have to know exactly what those consequences are before we know that allowing them would be a bad idea?

  147. says

    Oh fuck off. Democracy is what’s ruling my thinking. People have a right to make even choices you and I consider stupid. What are you afraid of?

    So.. You would be perfectly happy with a right wing president, and more Tea Party people in congress, since all that matter is that people “wanted” it? I mean, where, if any place, do you think a line should be drawn?

  148. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    ’ve mentioned this before.

    Gee please quit acting like you are the smartest bulb around, and we care enough about what you say to remember bullshit. Dial down your attitude to civil.

  149. says

    Individuals can take or leave a particular food purchase.

    Actually, no they can’t, at least not in the most general sense, the stores decide. What do I mean – well, there are loads of products now, even of store brand, for “homeopathic” crap, not because it works, but purely because people will buy it. On the flip side of the coin, I have had dozens of products vanish off the shelves, for reasons ranging from the company going under, because it couldn’t remain profitable, to just, “local consumption of product A was higher than B, and we don’t have the shelf space for both.”, and, it doesn’t matter if A is total crap by comparison. Bad labeling, especially in a climate of rampant paranoia, and people trusting bloody fashion magazines over their own doctors, in way too many cases, or listening to the Dr. Phils of the world, instead of understanding why his full of shit, etc., doesn’t provide “choice”, unless you mean, “The choice to give into paranoia, misinformation, and fear.” When every single item gets pulled from the shelf, not because there is valid cause, but because the company is scared to death that they will lose customers, or the purchases of said product collapse, who exactly is making a “personal choice” at that point?

    This is a horrible combination of both “majority rule”, where the product because unavailable out of shear ignorance, or fear, and, “minority rule”, when some companies all decide to pull the crap of refusing to sell it, thus robbing someone of the choice in the first place. And, its part and parcel to one of the biggest things I hate about libertarian thinking, btw, the idea that shortages, limited resources, and more to the point ***entirely artificially created*** forms of both, have no effect at all on choice in the market.

    What we have here, by using very bad labeling, or, given the current climate, even doing so at all, is the potential for, “exclusion of choice”, as a direct, completely predictable, but, entirely unintended, consequence of, supposedly, trying to increase the same. It has the potential to be the equivalent of the notorious “Dasani” incident in the UK, where they claimed it “contained spunk”, and this was interpreted to mean, based on local colloquialisms, as “sperm”. And, that is just a hilarious case of this sort of thing. There are many less hilarious versions, ranging from the medical sciences, to political decisions, all driven by a false choice between a presumed known factor, and something else, which is being actively misunderstood, misrepresented, and/or intentionally undermined. Sometimes, more information is worthless, when it a) doesn’t help anyone to make a choice in the first place, and b) it can only have the effect of feeding into a mass of misinformation, instead of correcting it.

    The end result, in such cases, since its a limited resource, and someone has to decide if they are willing to provide it at all, is a “reduction” in choices.

  150. Steve LaBonne says

    Having caught up with the thread, nope, still not a single good, or even good-faith, argument for not enabling consumers to avoid GM foods if they so desire, however misguidedly. And to remind you, I’m no more a fan of ignorant anti GM fear mongering than any of you. Some of you need to slow down and listen to what you’re really saying.You’re verging on the same kind of self-righteous chest-thumping “rationalism” espoused by the less savory variety of “skeptic”.

  151. David Marjanović says

    Even so, my understanding is that biologists have recognized horizontal gene transfer between animal species, e.g. snakes to cows.

    That’s extremely rare, and no more common in plants; viruses can do it, as can some bacteria in special cases.

    siliacs

    Coeliacs.

  152. says

    Isn’t that more of an argument against terribly designed labeling (and the failings in the regulatory system that allows it to come about) as compared to an argument against labeling in its entirety, though?

    I think that is pretty much the point, actually. Bad labeling is worse than “no” labeling, especially if there is no way, via the label, to reverse the existing trend to misrepresent the actual facts in the first place. It wouldn’t be the first time that a good product, or even a whole line of products, where effectively undermined/erased, not as a result of actual facts, but pure FUD, and an inability of anyone to counter it, before someone else managed to campaign for “disclosure of what is in it!”, though.. it might end up being the single biggest one (at least since the ban on pesticides on Europe, when the science is suggesting that bee decline may not be connected at all, but is in fact a combination of both a single specific virus, and a single specific fungus, neither of which seems to, so far, be linked at all to the presence of any pesticides). Mine, its possible one or both might “somehow” still be connected, but the decision has been made to act now, without clear cause and effect, rather than find a clear connection, which is a damn good way to either be 100% right, or horribly, horribly, wrong (and, wasting resources to fix a non-existent problem, instead of finding the real one).

    But, this is the modern era. Where, two years after, for example, the same man who came up with the anti-oxidant theory has concluded that they function as breaks on the bodies “cellular repair” functions, and we might, with a few caveats, actually live longer without even making natural versions of them, you find 20 new items of the store shelves, and 50 articles in dozens of magazines, praising anti-oxidants as a fountain of youth. Everyone wants to jump on the flimsiest, most recently available, bit of ‘science’, even if its published in a magazine, as an article, written by someone who understood less than 1% of what he wrote about, and if its environmental, or might impact their business model, or goes against their politics, new information doesn’t mean anything, unless it proves that the first article they read, on the magical properties of gafigly fruit, or what ever the hell it is this week, still claims that there is magical property to the things.

    Its like… everyone is trying to guess at the last chapter of the book, and figure out who done it, because they can’t stand having to actually wait for the next season of, “Diseases of Bees”, to find out if the butler really did it. It might interfere with watching next weeks episode of Survivor…. Obviously, if anyone really knew anything, there would be previews, and spoilers, and someone would have already posted the whole thing on facebook.

  153. MrFancyPants says

    On a practical note, there is an initiative here in Washington (I-522) that might make it to the november ballot, for requiring labeling of GMO. And it’s a pretty awful piece of proposed legislation that illustrates in a variety of ways why these labeling initiatives have failed so far (like California’s Prop 37).

    For one, I-522 doesn’t require labeling everything. So maybe you’re going to avoid that GMO-labeled corn, but did you know that that unlabeled-vodka & tonic that you’re drinking was made from GMO potatoes? Because it might have been. You won’t know, because labeling of alcohol isn’t required. (Nor, for that matter, is labeling of animal products that were fed genetically engineered feed.)

    For another, I-522 allows any private citizen to pursue lawsuits and allows for awarding costs and attorney’s fees for “investigation and prosecuting” the suit against manufacturers that don’t label.

    Yet another failure of the proposal is that it provides for a “maybe” label. Perhaps you don’t know exactly if the food that you made, as a food producer, was made with GMO raw materials. So considering the above point, you’re allowed to put a sticker that says “this food *may* contain GMO materials” and thereby protect yourself legally. It’s obvious what will happen: every single package will have the “maybe” sticker on it. So what bloody use is the labeling then?

    Those are just three of many things wrong with the proposal, and with just those three things we already have a situation where the “choice” you think you’re making by selecting “not GE” over “GE” isn’t even there, and where you even have a label, it’s meaningless.

  154. MrFancyPants says

    David Marjanović @ 165:

    That’s extremely rare, and no more common in plants; viruses can do it, as can some bacteria in special cases.

    Yes, I would imagine it would be very rare. Still, rare does not equal impossible. That’s why I was surprised when the statement was made that the scientists involved didn’t think that it might happen. The probability of being killed by fireworks is low enough to be called “rare”, but we don’t affirm that it’s impossible, for example.

    It just seemed like an incautious assumption to me, and still does.

  155. flyonwall says

    Genetically modifying food is different from hybridization in that 1. on average it’s faster and 2. you tend to be able to insert far more extremely diverse genes into the the food ( I’m calling it food rather than crops, even though technically the potential problems extend beyond just food).

    What does this mean?

    By introducing changes faster, we the population of consumers are likely to be harmed because foods we “know” are safe because we’ve eaten them our whole lives, now are in fact different. They have different chemisty that will in a percentage of us cause irritation, allergies and other adverse reactions. Don’t think me, think populations.

    By introducing genes of a more extreme nature you compound the above effects.

    Take drugs as a parallel example. Many drugs are chemicals that were originally found in plants. Even so we test them for effectiveness and safety before we allow them to be sold as drugs. These chemicals are “Good” if they are safe and effective, “Bad” if not and generally are neither good nor bad but fall somewhere in between and react differently in different individuals.

    Somehow if you change the chemistry of food and sell it to the population everyone assumes it’s safe. An assumption we don’t make with drugs, why does food get a pass?

    Here’s where we’ll all fail to grasp the whole picture though. This issue is about a continuum of possible outcomes and we’re all going to treat it as black and white; people in general are terrible at analyzing continuums; I really hope we as pharyngula trolls/lovers :) are different in this regard.

    On the one extreme genetically modifying food with the genes of other food is likely very safe and not worth worrying about. On the other extreme, making franken foods that harm a percentage of us or take over local ecosystems. Chances are that GMO will cover the entirety of the spectrum with responsible producers saying look our foods are feeding the world safely, and the irresponsible producers saying “Look at the responsible producers… see how safe it is?”

    As with all technologies, we humans have used and abused them. The solution to making this stuff safe is to NOT label it all bad on the one hand and NOT assume it’s all safe on the other. We’ve solved this problem in many industries already; regulation.

  156. lettucedance says

    Genetically Modified Organisms are produced by Genetic Engineering. But it’s not precise engineering like inserting DNA with a tweezers. It’s more like a shotgun blast into the genetic material of the cell. As a result there is collateral damage to chromosomes and the organism will likely produce novel and potentially harmful and allergenic proteins that never existed in the original organism nor in the donor organism. Other proteins will no longer be produced.

    This is nothing like selective breeding. I’m not as informed about mutations, but I would think most mutations result in non-viability of the organism, or at least the inability to reproduce.

    A good footnoted summary article:
    http://www.mindbodyhealth.com/GMO-HealthDisaster.htm

  157. says

    But it’s not precise engineering like inserting DNA with a tweezers. It’s more like a shotgun blast into the genetic material of the cell.

    Well, no, more like firing a bullet, not a shotgun. The insert isn’t always in a precise location, and you could get errors, as a result of disruption of another gene, but, that is detectable, since the plant will fail to exhibit the trait of the “broken” gene. Actually inserting a gene sequence into a position, randomly, in most cases won’t have a negative impact. In fact, the only time/reason to worry about it is in cases where you want to target a “known” defect, like a genetic disorder. The problem with such non-targeted fixes is that you are not removing the damaged copy, just inserting another, working one. So, for example, if the problem is caused by a malformation of a specific protein, the cell starts making both the defective, and the working copy.

    However, in the case of gene insertion, which GMO uses, actually breaking something by doing so is exceedingly rare, and, usually obvious. You are not doing a replacement, so you don’t particularly care if the original genes are still there. Interestingly, some viruses use a sort of marker code, which can target the specific sequences they want to entirely replace. While this is a recent discovery, it means that, eventually, even gene therapy will be able to specifically target not just an insertion of a gene, but a deletion of the faulty copy. However, again, this is not the method in use with GMO, though.. in time, its likely that it might get used, in cases where, say, a crop has all of the traits you want, but also has one single faulty/altered copy of a gene, which you want to replace, to stabilize certain traits, or fix an actual mistake. Currently, all you can do is, in effect, detect something that broke, by checking the plants properties, including how it grows, and just destroy all of the defective plants.

    So, no, its not tweezers, not yet. However, since the point isn’t to change one specific thing, but, instead, to add something, you only care where it ends up *if* it actually breaks something. A bit like adding a page to a book, where it may be obvious that it should have ended up in the appendix, but instead ended up between pages 45 and 46. It might be jarring, from the perspective of someone looking for the page, or running into it while reading, but it doesn’t, in fact, change the page numbering, or the contents of the correct pages. (Now, if something goes really wrong, and it gets pasted in the “middle” of page 45, between two paragraphs, that.. might be a bit different, depending on context, and content, but, again, this is a) rarer, and b) causes changes that are serious enough you are unlikely to miss them.)

    In any case, this is, again, the questionable assertion, on the part of those apposed, that inserting information fundamentally changes, always breaks, and does so invisibly, the genetics of a plant, and, in the process, makes it toxic. If that where true, then everything from silk worms, used to manufacture certain drugs, to goats, used to produce human insulin in their milk, **all** got modified the same way, and presumable have the same risk, and thus, should be just as dangerous. Only… how long have we been using those, to do such things, and people are worried, instead, about whether or not their corn on the cob is going to kill them? lol

  158. mirror says

    One thing I do know is that the GMO lobby doesn’t want to allow me to know whether my food is or isn’t made with GMO food. Now, here we have PZ saying I’m too stupid to be allowed to know if my food is or isn’t made with GMO food because I might make a stupid choice and choose better safe than sorry. Honestly, what is the overwhelming social benefit that I should have my choice to choose for myself taken away?

    California did not have a vote on banning GMO, but PZ’s discussion here is as if they did. As to the Japanese and the Europeans, why does PZ want to force them to take these crops? Why should they not be allowed a choice?

    The core of PZ’s argument is right there, an authoritarian top down argument, that the uneducated proles are too stupid to be allowed to choose how they will and won’t live, or in this case the stupid Japanese shouldn’t be refusing whatever America wants to shove into their food market.

    I any case, some things I’ve read suggest the Japanese markets may be cajoled and twisted to be open on the wheat. We’ll see. I know the wheat farmers here in WA haven’t wanted GMO wheat in WA because they are afraid of exactly what just happened. I’m guessing they don’t want to be more Ag serfs than they already are either.

  159. says

    Not sure “too stupid to make a choice” is the right word Mirror, but.. lets use a real world example of what I find to be a problem with any and all “labeling” ideas proposed so far, or likely to be proposed, by comparing it to something similar:

    My city has one hospital. Its outdated, equipment is broken, and we often end up having to fly people hundreds of miles, to deal with some problems, which are time critical. A few years back, someone proposed opening a new hospital. What we got was wide spread slandering of many of the doctors, some of whom ended up ending their practices, a lot of false claims about the adequacy of the existing facilities, even more lies about what the new facility was, would do, or how it would actually make things worse, etc. The public, and more to the point, the city council, opted to believe the people running the existing hospital. Result – less doctors, continually degrading equipment, even less services, and a whole host of other problems, and.. no new hospital. The same thing has happened, on multiple occasions, with varied levels of success, with businesses that wanted to open, the new mall, which ended up being built 8 miles outside of town, for no reason, a refusal to upgrade the local airport, a refusal to revamp, restructure, or even build different facilities, near the famous London Bridge, and so on. There is an active effort on the part of a small number of people to derail any and all things that don’t “fit” their vision of the city, and the result has been no new businesses, no new attractions for the tourism that the city depends on, no new industry, and no new jobs. And yet, every fraking day, I hear some idiot saying to people that are working for shit wages, at shit jobs, “Well, you have a choice, go work someplace else.”, or who need medical help, “Oh, well, just got to one of the urgent care facilities, or the emergency room.”, and a long list of other complete idiocies. There is no “choices” here, other than, “Use what we have, or don’t use anything.” And, that is exactly what labeling, without a clear, and distinct campaign, along side it, to confront the confusion, distortions, misinformation, and other issues around GMO would do too. It would give those who don’t want “anyone” to have the option the means to remove the option, via public pressure, and their own self interests.

    And, assuming you give a damn about “choice” for real, the climate and circumstances of any such labeling has to be taken into account. If they had decided to do this before, and properly police companies like Monsanto, this wouldn’t be an issue. If any sort of attempt to curtail the wild speculation and absurd nonsense around it was being done, I might have been objections. If they waited until the dust settled some, then implemented a “functional” labeling system, with real information, instead of just vague references to stuff people won’t comprehend, I would be even happier. But, unfortunately, the reality, it seems to me, is rather like fluoridation, and the “choice” we will end up with is either wide spread use, or something like the complete and total, idiocy induced, ban on it, in some parts of the world, on completely unscientific, and paranoia induced, grounds.

    I for one, would just as soon we fix the misinformation, if possible, before taking that sort of risk. I suspect that PZ’s position is much the same – right now, the result of such haphazard, incomplete, and unintentionally misleading, labels can only be *bad* for everyone.

  160. randay says

    Starting with the first post, the main reasons for opposing GMO’s are political and economic and environmental. The problem is the patenting of foodstuffs and allowing a monopoly trust for a few huge multinational corporations who offer a very reduced range of varieties. One example is that in Peru there are hundreds of different potatoes, but in Idaho and Washington only one is used because big buyers like McDo want uniformity. So the farmers there have increasing problems with pests and have to buy more pesticides from same big corporations.

    The sad thing is that GMO sites often confound my political/economic/environmental opposition to GMO’s with opposition to the science. That probably happens to the many others here who share my point of view. However there may also be a science issue, for instance the disappearance of bees in “colony collapse”. There isn’t yet a definitive response as to the cause, but there is some evidence that “terminator seed” in modified plants may be at least partially responsible as well as the use of new, patented pesticides primarily for the new modified plants.

  161. militantagnostic says

    @lettucedance

    Your evidence comes from supplement peddling con artist woo site – do you expect it to be taken seriously? Those people are in the business of creating FUD to sell their useless nostrums to the worried well. Is Monsanto paying you to make GMO opponents look stupid.?

    Pierce R Butler

    an increasingly shaky fossil fuel industry

    What planet are you living on – with advent of multi-fracing horizontal wells and the development of the tarsands the fossil fuel industry is doing just fine. From a climate perspective this is not a good thing, but we are not facing a shortage of fossil fuel – quite the opposite – we need to make the hard decision to leave much of our reserves in the ground.

  162. Ewan R says

    corporations vs farmers. In India in particular, Monsanto has trapped many cotton farmers into a cycle of debt, after promising wealth. The farmers were promised high yields of cotton, but were not warned that Bt cotton needs a specific watering and pesticide schedule that many farmers can’t do or afford, and consequently they have low yields, are unable to pay their debts which include having to buy more seeds from Monsanto since they can’t buy non-terminator seeds easily.

    The myth that will not die.
    Two infact.
    First, Bt cotton is catergorically not linked (other than by liars, or those tricked by liars – I’ll assume you’re the latter) to suicides in India – suicide rates amongst Indian cotton farmers are horrifically high, but have been steady before, during and after the introduction of Bt cotton to India. Bt cotton introduction has seen enormous yield and profit increases (30-150%) with concurrent reductions in insecticide use. Seed costs are higher (in the region of 300%) but wind up being approximately 3-5% of total grower costs for a season. This ties nobody in a cycle of debt – what traps people is the punitive interest rates charged by loan sharks which spirals out of control should a crop fail (Bt cotton, like any cotton, will still fail if the conditions are horrible – it kills a subset of bugs, it doesn’t remove all risk from farming).

    Also… terminator seeds categorically don’t exist in a commercial setting, they exist as a patent that Monsanto owns by virtue of buying a cotton seed company who had patented a method for making terminator seeds – if you’re reading a source that claims terminator seeds are in use you can be sure they’re either lying, or grossly misinformed.

    Genetically Modified Organisms are produced by Genetic Engineering. But it’s not precise engineering like inserting DNA with a tweezers. It’s more like a shotgun blast into the genetic material of the cell. As a result there is collateral damage to chromosomes and the organism will likely produce novel and potentially harmful and allergenic proteins that never existed in the original organism nor in the donor organism. Other proteins will no longer be produced

    The bullet analogy above is better – each insertion goes somewhere pretty much at random (at least at present, there are technologies which promise to allow for site specific iintegration, which’d be a huge boon not only in not generating events which sit in the middle of a gene, but also for making multi-trait introgression easier (its not exactly easy to make sure that 8 genes sitting all over the genome get into different varieties without carrying along baggage – if you had them all strung out nicely together with appropriate spacing to avoid expression element interference introgression between varieties would be much faster (and, more importantly for those doing it, cheaper) – however this isn’t the end of the story – I work in the early phases of testing (in Yield and Stress) and before anything even hits a test field it is looked at multiple times to make sure there are no issues with gene insertion (do you see horrible offtypes in the nursery? Did you get a single copy insertion etc) – plants produced will then go through multiple years of testing (mostly for efficacy, but a big part of efficacy is yield, and believe it or not if you seriously screw with the proteome of a crop plant there is a tendency for the yield to tank, at which point that particular transformation event is dead in the water) – following successful efficacy the gene will move to later stages of the pipeline where in depth molecular characterization is required – here you have to be able to say exactly where in the genome the insert lies (which really sucks if you land in a repetitive repeat (which isn’t unusual given how dully repetitive the average genome is) meaning you have no idea (again, dead in the water)) after a single event (from anywhere between 8 and 100+) is selected for being efficacious and characterizable further testing is done for regulatory submission (feed equivalence and toxicity studies etc) – there is no “likely” production of novel proteins – anything that lands in a coding region is thrown aside, it is vastly unlikely that anything that makes it through the pipeline does anything other than what it says it does – at least for commercialized stuff – if you were just agro transforming tomatoes in your garage perhaps you’d have a point.

  163. randay says

    Steve LaBonne seems to have MrFancyPants rightly pegged as a shill for Monsanto. There are quite likely others that the criminal multinationals employ for this dirty work on this subject. Talking about “my tax dollars” is sure sign, especially when his “tax dollars” are not involved as the labeling is a cost to the producer.

  164. lettucedance says

    @militantagnostic

    Your evidence comes from supplement peddling con artist woo site – do you expect it to be taken seriously? Those people are in the business of creating FUD to sell their useless nostrums to the worried well. Is Monsanto paying you to make GMO opponents look stupid.?

    The article is by Jeffrey M. Smith, who has nothing to do with these snake oil sellers. Please comment on the content of the article, or not.

  165. shoeguy says

    One of the biggest asshole rednecks I ever met is a gene hacker. Does anyone really think a couple of guys with a couple of thousand dollars worth of used equipment and nothing to lose aren’t going to get into a pile of trouble? I trust Monsanto to at least have some oversight at their labs.

    I must have been out of the room when the left voted that GMOs are the work of satan.

  166. Pierce R. Butler says

    militantagnostic @ # 176: … with advent of multi-fracing horizontal wells and the development of the tarsands the fossil fuel industry is doing just fine.

    The fracking and tar sands sub-industries both depend on the weakness of climate-protection groups – who are gaining in public support – and on the fact that so far most of the damage they do to aquifers has gone undetected/covered-up. That latter in particular cannot help but change, and the likelihood of a major, and effective, backlash by people-who-drink-water grows daily.

  167. changerofbits says

    Having caught up with the thread, nope, still not a single good, or even good-faith, argument for not enabling consumers to avoid GM foods if they so desire, however misguidedly.

    You’re right, I can’t think of any good-faith arguments against labeling those aluminum foils that are certified for proper woo-hat making or even the creationist labels on biology text books. I think we just trying to sort out why it’s misguided (or not if there are valid arguments, evidence, data to back up the concerns). I suppose we should pass laws for any label anyone wants until we can prove that each label isn’t needed.

    And to remind you, I’m no more a fan of ignorant anti GM fear mongering than any of you. Some of you need to slow down and listen to what you’re really saying.You’re verging on the same kind of self-righteous chest-thumping “rationalism” espoused by the less savory variety of “skeptic”.

    *takes gently patting paternal hand of my head*

    Yes, because we should just let people be irrational. It’s not our fault that the “less savory” variety of skeptics are using the word “rationalism” to push anti-feminist hogwash. I’d like the government to regulate GMOs so we actually have some data to see if GMOs are more dangerous that than the artificially selected hybrids being used already. I’m generally as skeptical of any “invisible hand, trust us we know what’s good for you, we have money so you’re not right, GMOs are Jesus” arguments from big agribusiness to the same degree I’m skeptical of the “but, but, but NATURE!, doomsday, bogey man, killer mutant zombie corn, everyone’s dead in 20 years from cancer/toxins, uncontrolled allergies, it’s the new A-Bomb” anti-GMO crowd. I’m not an expert on the subject, but until there is data and some consensus (like there is on human caused global warming), I think firm rejection of bad arguments is the only sound approach to learning what’s real. I’m not trying to equate the two positions and I think it’s fair to say that GMOs is a new level of power our brains have over biology. We, as a society, should take action to make sure it’s used for good (more food, less water/*icides/land) and not to an evil end (human health concerns, bio-sphere/diversity/etc impact).

  168. David Marjanović says

    Ewan R, you need an editor. The entire last paragraph of your comment 178 is one single sentence, probably by far the longest I’ve ever seen. There are important things hidden in it, but it’s not easy to tease them out.

    at least since the ban on [neonicotinoid] pesticides on Europe, when the science is suggesting that bee decline may not be connected at all, but is in fact a combination of both a single specific virus, and a single specific fungus, neither of which seems to, so far, be linked at all to the presence of any pesticides

    [citation needed]

    Yes, I would imagine it would be very rare. Still, rare does not equal impossible. That’s why I was surprised when the statement was made that the scientists involved didn’t think that it might happen.

    “Extremely rare” here means “once in ten million years” or so. And indeed, it hasn’t happened. The cases where genes have spread to populations of weeds involve good old pollination.

    I’m not as informed about mutations, but I would think most mutations result in non-viability of the organism, or at least the inability to reproduce.

    Most mutations result in nothing at all.

    Of the rest, most result in almost nothing at all.

    That’s pretty basic biology, actually.

    why does PZ want to force them to take these crops?

    What? He’s trying to convince them!

    He’s just not polite about it! Did that confuse you so much?

    the disappearance of bees in “colony collapse”. There isn’t yet a definitive response as to the cause, but there is some evidence that “terminator seed” in modified plants may be at least partially responsible

    [citation needed]

  169. Ewan R says

    DDMFM – I blame the patriarchy, I’m utterly horrified by periods.

    Although surely the nested parenthesese make everything clearer?

  170. MrFancyPants says

    lol @ randay @179. “Shill for Monsanto”. Yes, Monsanto pays me by the hour to search out GMO blog posts and point out the faulty reasoning and real problems in the comment sections.

    On a serious note, you might want to research the objections to prop 37, and why it failed. I outlined some of them @167, randay. (I-522′s language is largely lifted verbatim from prop 37.) One of the bigger objections was/is the use of public funds (i.e., taxes) for regulatory enforcement of labeling requirements. That being said, my primary objections have much less to do with the use of taxes for enforcing regulations (which I’m all for, let’s regulate the crap out of agribusiness), but rather much more to do with the absolutely horrible way the labeling proposals have been written, viz. intended to scare, not to inform.

    Also, for everyone saying that you don’t have a choice in whether or not you eat GMO food unless there is a label on it: of course you do. Buy “organic”. That’s a label right there. Just assume that anything not labeled “organic” is GMO (which is a safe bet, since it’s estimated that 70-80% of food not so-labeled is or contains GMO).

    “Shill for Monsanto”. I’m still chuckling at that!

  171. Tethys says

    Ewan R

    Their motivation is profit now, and they ignore good farming practices in favor of heavy chemical use to cultivate monocultures. ~ Ewan quoting me

    Except of course that the introduction in RR crops resulted in an approximate 30% drop in the environmental impact factor of growing said crops, and the introduction of Bt crops resulted in massive reduction of use of insecticides. Fucking reality and its corporate bias (I hear that reality spent 2 years interning at Monsanto back in the 70’s, which explains this unfortunate fact)

    You didn’t quote the sentence that said “stewards of the land”. While a drop in insecticide use is a worthy goal, it is only one prong in proper land management practices. Perma-culture native plant refugia to serve as habitat for pollinating/ predator insects is far better from the viewpoint of environmental health.

    Species diversity, and the concept of foodchains are other factors that you seem to be over-looking.
    How many non-target insects have been affected by making Bt corn and soybeans the most abundant food source? (pollen and nectar contains Bt) What effect will that have on the various birds, bats, amphibians, etc that are insectivores?

    Good land management builds topsoil, and provides food and habitat for native species in addition to the people and livestock.

    Their products are implicated in the worldwide decline of bees. ~me

    Vaccines are also implicated in autism. It ain’t so in either case – the beelogics acquisition is far better explained if one looks at intellectual property and Monsanto’s research portfolio. Makes for a slightly less sensational conclusion though.

    I specifically said to ignore the hyperbole and focus on the links. Why do you keep ignoring the content in favor of whining about tone, and making subtle insults to my intelligence?

    Vaccines have been conclusively shown to have no link to autism, nice red herring though.

    My link pointed to two studies that show bees (crucial pollinators) being malnourished and succumbing to illness after foraging on your product. As for the idea that living creatures that were contaminated by your totes harmless GMO somehow became your intellectual property? I spit on it. Bah! Fie!

    I also note the rise in obesity, diabetes, autism, and food sensitivities that have happened since GMOs became common ~ me

    I note the same rise going hand in hand with increasing market share of certified organic. The correlations are often at an R-squared value of ~.99. I think Garfield said something about correlation and causation not being the same thing. Well that or he dropkicked Odie into the middle of next week.

    I didn’t mention organic food, and I have been very specific with my criticisms of GMOs. (complete with citations)

    Organic is in response to the rise of GMOs and factory farming. Show me a study that documents bees, mice, rats, or people developing allergies, or malnutrition leading to death, due to eating organic food.

    Bt is fine and dandy, but I do not want to eat it. I most especially do not want to eat a soil bacterium that alters gut chemistry in the relatively massive amounts that are in your product. It is harmless in the tiny doses that we are exposed to in the soil, as it must be eaten to have an effect, and humans generally do not eat soil.

  172. Ewan R says

    How many non-target insects have been affected by making Bt corn and soybeans the most abundant food source?

    Hundreds I imagine, positively. Why? Because prior to Bt corn, rather than permaculture diversified utopian farmland we had…. corn which wasn’t Bt and was sprayed with broad spectrum insecticides (or cotton, with the same), the impact of Bt then is a positive one.

    I specifically said to ignore the hyperbole and focus on the links.

    So focus on links then. The link you provided is bugger all to do with GMOs. The pesticides associated with colony collapse aren’t manufactured by Monsanto, there is no evidence that GMOs have anything to do with colony collapse disorder at all

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001415

    http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1051/apido%3A2007022# (This one is interesting as it shows that Bt has no effect but usual control methods have an effect on bees, so, assuming insecticide use plays a role in CCD it’d be a logical conclusion that Bt acts to ameliorate this effect by removing insecticides which impact bees)

    Vaccines have been conclusively shown to have no link to autism, nice red herring though.

    Ditto Bt. So no red herring, it is an exactly analogous statement.

    I didn’t mention organic food, and I have been very specific with my criticisms of GMOs. (complete with citations)

    The mention of organic food was merely illustrative of the stupidity of the correlation you’re highlighting. I’m not using it to critique organic. I don’t expect any studies will show mice, bees, rats or people developing allergies, malnutrition leading to death etc from organic. However I counter that equally there are no sound studies out there that show similar for GMOs – your citations are nonsensical at best – non-replicated, discredited horse manure.

    I most especially do not want to eat a soil bacterium that alters gut chemistry in the relatively massive amounts that are in your product.

    Bt crops don’t contain a soil bacterium. They contain a single gene from a soil bacterium. You must be getting confused with organic again – organic crops can be, and frequently are, sprayed with sporulated Bacillus – containing not only the Cry protein required to kill insects, but also all the other proteins required to be a succesful little Bacillus (not that this actually matters whatsoever because Bt use, be it sprayed on, or engineered in, is safe – there are studies where humans ingested 1000mg of Bt toxin a day for 3 or 5 days with no adverse effects (which I would guess is more than you’d get in a lifetime eating Bt corn on the cob – at 300ng/g you’d have to consume about 3000kg of corn to consume close to this – rat studies over 2 years fed rats 8.4mg/kg a day (so for an 80kg human this’d be the equivalent of eating somewhere in the region of 2 million kg corn a day, which, I’d imagine, would have deleterious effects notwithstanding the presence of Cry proteins)

    It is harmless in the tiny doses that we are exposed to in the soil

    True, but it is also completely harmless in the miniscule doses we are exposed to in GMOs also, so it is rather meaningless to point out every case in which it is harmless – it would, as described above, be harmless if we took thousands of kg of GMOs, extracted the Cry proteins, and ate that.

  173. yazikus says

    Popped back in to read more thread today, and I must say, this is a fascinating conversation! I am way more well informed about this issue than I was two days ago. So thanks to everyone with their various expertise weighing in.

  174. Ewan R says

    randay #189 – your citation is rather silly, it would appear from the outset that it relies on the presence of “terminator genes” and their activity to somehow produce pollen with low nutritional quality.

    First, and indeed foremost, terminator genes aren’t used in commercialized GMOs. So the arguement rather falls flat there.

    Second, for shit and giggles, the means by which the terminator gene operates is to (as far as I understand it) produce a protein which stops the embryo of the developing seed from being viable. It has bugger all to do with pollen nutrient levels – it simply means that the seed that develops is incapable of germination.

    So not only is the hypothesis wrong because terminator genes cannot be to blame due to… not being used… even were they used it’d still be a spurious accusation as pollen quality is not impacted by terminator genes.

  175. David Marjanović says

    I blame the patriarchy, I’m utterly horrified by periods.

    Day saved. :-D

    Although surely the nested parenthesese make everything clearer?

    They’re unambiguous. They’re just hard to keep track of. :-)

  176. randay says

    MrFancyPants #186 Of course you would deny that you are a shill for Monsanto. Maybe I’m wrong and you are a shill for some other GMO company or some pretend independent organization that they control. I said nothing about Prop. 37. It is your “taxpayer” garbage that gives you away.

  177. David Marjanović says

    David Marjonovic [sic!] #184 I am not Ewan R, but the last part of your comment refers to my post. Here is your citation. http://www.globalresearch.ca/death-of-the-bees-genetically-modified-crops-and-the-decline-of-bee-colonies-in-north-america/25950

    That’s not exactly a peer-reviewed paper, and it’s 5 years old. The citations are all, as far as I’ve seen, to other popular websites and newspaper articles, not to scientific papers. It doesn’t do anything to refute comments 188 and 191 or the references therein.

    (Also, there’s a lot of conspiracy theories on globalresearch.ca. I’d take everything that appears there with a huge chunk of salt.)

  178. David Marjanović says

    Of course you would deny that you are a shill for Monsanto.

    Just like, you know, Ewan R does.

    *crickets chirping*

    It is your “taxpayer” garbage that gives you away.

    How so?

  179. yazikus says

    So not only is the hypothesis wrong because terminator genes cannot be to blame due to… not being used

    My only problem with this is that I have been telling people for ages that there isn’t any gm wheat growing in the PNW, whenever they started complaining about it. Now, with this, I’m having to be all, “whoops! I guess there was some growing there”… And it sucks. Because there is already so much misinformation out there.
    -
    I guess the farmer in this case self-reported by calling his fieldsman, who then called the university. I do wonder how it got in with his wheat though.

  180. MrFancyPants says

    I’m an academic computer scientist, randay. I design randomized algorithms. As an academic, I’m interested in arriving at sensible solutions to problems. I have reasonable objections to GMO labeling, which I have pointed you towards, but about which you seem to have nothing to say. The fact that one thing that I wrote was at some time in the past said by someone else does not — SURPRISE! — make me affiliated with that person or persons.

    Do you have any response to my comment @ 167 wrt several reasons why I think the current labeling proposals are bad, or is the sum total of your contribution to this discussion to indulge your emotional distaste for Monsanto? If it’s the latter, perhaps you would find more satisfaction with engaging Ewan, as he has stated outright that he’s employed by Monsanto.

    If, on the other hand, you want to have a reasoned debate about the pros and cons of labeling, then I’m all for it. I’m not going to get into a mud-flinging contest with you, regardless.

  181. says

    Hey, randay: If I deny being a shill for Monsanto, can I also get to be a shill for some other Evil Agricorp? ‘Cuz I hear it pays well, and that would be totally awesome…..

  182. Obamalover20122 says

    I’m honored to be mentioned in your blog. Alas I was banned from the DKos. I genuinely believed my fellow Progressives would be swayed by the scientific one-sidedness of this issue. When they weren’t I was both shocked and angry and went on an angry rant, which resulted in my banning.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/

    I came to the realization that Progressives really don’t care as much about the facts as they say they do. As both a science lover and a Leftist I am both angry and disappointed by this realization.

  183. says

    at least since the ban on [neonicotinoid] pesticides on Europe, when the science is suggesting that bee decline may not be connected at all, but is in fact a combination of both a single specific virus, and a single specific fungus, neither of which seems to, so far, be linked at all to the presence of any pesticides

    [citation needed]

    Specific article was in a science magazine, I think, but I did find this, with a quick google search:

    http://theartfulamoeba.com/2010/10/17/the-fungus-and-virus-that-rot-bee-brains/

  184. Tethys says

    Because prior to Bt corn, rather than permaculture diversified utopian farmland we had…. corn which wasn’t Bt and was sprayed with broad spectrum insecticides (or cotton, with the same), the impact of Bt then is a positive one.

    Planting crops other than corn or cotton is a far easier strategy, which has the added benefit of reducing or eliminating the need for the pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Where is the soil building rotation of clover, or alfalfa and mixed grasses?

    The link you provided is bugger all to do with GMOs. The pesticides associated with colony collapse aren’t manufactured by Monsanto, there is no evidence that GMOs have anything to do with colony collapse disorder

    I did not link to the article on colony collapse. I linked to one on bee stress, diet, and disease.

    Has Monsanto continued this research since buying the bee research facility?

    Reading your first link, it seems that sample sizes were small, survival is the only metric measured, and all research was in lab conditions except the one noted study.
    From your own link

    Although only laboratory data are synthesized here, the overall finding of no effect is consistent with the data available from a recent, well-replicated field study [15]. Additionally, the fact that laboratory studies typically expose honey bees to doses of Cry proteins that are ten or more times those encountered in the field provides additional reassurance that toxicity in the field is unlikely. However, the need for additional studies in the field may be warranted if stressors such as heat, pesticides, pathogens, and so on are suspected to alter the susceptibility of honey bees to Cry protein toxicity.

    It is silly to think that bees in the wild will not be significantly affected by environmental stressors compared to lab bees.

    Bt crops don’t contain a soil bacterium. They contain a single gene from a soil bacterium

    Which causes the plant to express the toxin in its tissues, which kills corn borers and corn rootworms if the plant is Bt corn. I would think that you could engineer it so that the toxin is not expressed in the pollen or the seed of the plant. That would allay many of my safety and environmental concerns.

    there are studies where humans ingested 1000mg of Bt toxin a day for 3 or 5 days with no adverse effects

    Really!! 3 to 5 whole days? Consider me underwhelmed with proof.

    How about a study on the long term health effects of constant small doses of Bt?
    Or an epidemiological study that compares populations based on GMO consumption?

    We don’t have any data like that, and I think it is short sighted and fool hardy to assume safety based on the small amount of data we have to date. Considering the sheer amount of global acreage that is being planted to GMO crops, it is only a matter of time before some unlikely combination of gene transfer events releases your intellectual property into the wild.

  185. Tethys says

    Here is a link showing negative effects for a broad range of beneficial insects and parasitoids. I can’t get past the paywall, but the abstract and list of references make for some fascinating reading.

    Transgenic Insecticidal Crops and Natural Enemies: A Detailed Review of Laboratory Studies

    This review uses a data-driven, quantitative method to summarize the published, peer-reviewed literature about the impact of genetically modified (GM) plants on arthropod natural enemies in laboratory experiments. The method is similar to meta-analysis, and, in contrast to a simple author-vote counting method used by several earlier reviews, gives an objective, data-driven summary of existing knowledge about these effects. Significantly more non-neutral responses were observed than expected at random in 75% of the comparisons of natural enemy groups and response classes. These observations indicate that Cry toxins and proteinase inhibitors often have non-neutral effects on natural enemies. This synthesis identifies a continued bias toward studies on a few predator species, especially the green lacewing, Chrysoperla cornea Stephens, which may be more sensitive to GM insecticidal plants (16.8% of the quantified parameter responses were significantly negative) than predators in general (10.9% significantly negative effects without C. cornea). Parasitoids were more susceptible than predators to the effects of both Cry toxins and proteinase inhibitors, with fewer positive effects (18.0%, significant and nonsignificant positive effects combined) than negative ones (66.1%, significant and nonsignificant negative effects combined). GM plants can have a positive effect on natural enemies (4.8% of responses were significantly positive), although significant negative (21.2%) effects were more common. Although there are data on 48 natural enemy species, the database is still far from adequate to predict the effect of a Bt toxin or proteinase inhibitor on natural enemies.

    The small benefit from GM plants is clearly outweighed by the negative effects overall.

  186. militantagnostic says

    lettucedance

    The article is by Jeffrey M. Smith, who has nothing to do with these snake oil sellers. Please comment on the content of the article, or not.

    The article is typical pseudo scientific scaremongering – it reads like an anti-vaccination or anti-fluoridation screed with hyperbolic references to poisons. Jeffrey M Smith proudly posts endorsements from snake oil sellers Dr. Mercola and Mike Adams (The Health Ranger) on his website. He is a member of the Natural Law Party (the political wing of the TM cult) and is a yogic flying instructor. In short, he is a full throttle, underpants on the head crackpot.

  187. randay says

    David Marjonovic, I explained earlier that his tax dollars would not be used for labeling, but the companies would pay for. Furthermore, his tax dollars might be better spent on financing independent studies. One of the few I know of is by Profs Ian Pryme and Rolf Lembcke IN VIVO STUDIES ON POSSIBLE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD AND FEED

    http://www.saynotogmos.org/ud2004/docs/GENutrition.pdf

    You will say it is old so here is something newer about it.

    “In 2010, I contacted Dr. Pryme via email and asked him what, if anything, had changed from 2003. Here is part of his 2010 reply: “It is crystal clear that GM companies have completely failed to produce convincing data – i.e. peer-reviewed studies regarding safety. I see three possible reasons for this:
    1) There are no convincing results to put forward.
    2) The companies do have results but these represent bad reading and are therefore being kept secret. Perhaps a historical similarity here with tobacco companies? Had data not been kept hidden millions of lives could have been saved.
    3) Although the companies do have results, they now understand that the methodologies they used were insufficient, meaning that the observations would not stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.”

    Pryme continues: “That GM companies have completely failed to produce necessary scientific evidence of the claim that their products are safe has been clearly demonstrated by statements such as ‘after over 10 years of consumption of GM food, there is no indication of any associated health risk.’ Where is the actual documentation that this is indeed correct? The answer simply is that there is none! We know for example that it takes maybe 20-30 years before a cancer develops. Unfortunately, we have to conclude that a major section of the world’s population is currently being subjected to a massive field trial.”

    http://hpr1.com/opinion/article/gmo_realities/

  188. randay says

    MrFancyPants “If, on the other hand, you want to have a reasoned debate about the pros and cons of labeling, then I’m all for it.” I have not taken a stand on the labeling issue nor on Prop.37. I only made a casual reference to labeling as related to using supposed use of tax dollars. So I am not interested that debate as there are, for me, more serious things to conserve my time to.

  189. randay says

    David Marjonivic — Here is another more recent controversy.
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=rat-study-sparks-furor-over-genetically-modified-foods&page=2

    “But Séralini says he won’t release his data until the raw data underpinning the authorization of NK603 in Europe are also made public. And he wants all the data to be assessed by an independent international committee, arguing that experts involved in the authorization of the maize should not be involved.”

    That seems a fair deal: You show me your junk and I’ll show you mine.

  190. Ewan R says

    Tethys :-

    1.

    Planting crops other than corn or cotton is a far easier strategy, which has the added benefit of reducing or eliminating the need for the pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Where is the soil building rotation of clover, or alfalfa and mixed grasses?

    My point however was that this was an improvement over what was done, not the best possible thing that could be done. While corn on corn is increasingly common due to the high price of corn it is still relatively common in the corn belt to see a corn/soy rotation often with winter wheat added at some point. In Texas it is commonto rotate cotton with corn, sorghum, wheat (a recent arrival), sunflowers etc – so to act as if rotation isn’t happening in areas where Bt is utilized to large benefits is ignorant of what goes on in agriculture (quelle surprise).

    I did not link to the article on colony collapse.

    That’s rather at odds with reality, given that your post #70 says

    Their products are implicated in the worldwide decline of bees.

    Which *is* CCD and the link you subsequently provide contains the line “Beginning in 2007, Beeologics has researched two critical bee issues: colony collapse disorder and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. “ which of the two things discussed are you claiming the article is blaming on Monsanto? I assume not Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. Would you care to reiterate how exactly you didn’t link to an article of colony collapse? Or perhaps you simply didn’t read it. That’d explain much.

    The small benefit from GM plants is clearly outweighed by the negative effects overall.

    The article shows negative impacts on predators and parasites of target species, which is hardly surprising (if one got rid of the target species through crop rotation one assumes the same result would be apparent – remove the food, by whatever means, and predators and parasites of said food will obviously suffer). The piece however does not have a comparison on the overall insect population in a Bt controlled vs a conventionally sprayed field, which is clearly the correct comparison to make in this case. Odd that you didn’t find the following in your search (although I presume if you did an actual search yourself you decided against it because it didn’t support your conclusions despite, y’know, having meaningful comparisons within)

    http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1603/0046-225X(2005)034%5B1193:LAOTEO%5D2.0.CO%3B2

    Randay :-

    David Marjonivic — Here is another more recent controversy.

    The only controversy around Seralini is how the hell his “study” got published in the first place. It, like the bulk of his work, is scientifically and statistically flawed. It has been widely trashed in the scientific community, with many scientists requesting that it be retracted from the literature. Seralini is, if anything, the Wakefield of the GMO debate.

  191. randay says

    Ewan R, please give some citations for your crap. Why don’t the gangsters at Monsanto reveal their studies? That is all Seralini is asking. I don’t know how his study got published, but I don’t know of any study of its methods that Monsanto has revealed to other scientists. The probable problem is that most and probably all of Monsanto’s are “statisically flawed”. But they have bought off enough legislators that they are not thoroughly examined.

  192. alwayscurious says

    Randay, you forget that government action requires money to seriously undertake anything. See text of measure:
    http://sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/FinalText_285.pdf

    Washington Department of Health, in sections 4 & 5, would be authorized to write administrative rules for GMO labeling & to enforce said rules. This will require money–whether its new money or existing money diverted from some other function they already do. Rule writing requires time, research, and then publication. This would be a one time cost with a continuous trickle ever after for small updates. Enforcement would require a relatively constant stream of money to do the requisite testing and pursue legal action against offenders.

    OTOH, they could just write the rules and trust that corporations will follow them. This option could cost taxpayers nearly nothing. Enforcement may not be necessary for much anyways. Non-organic certified growers will label their food “genetically engineered” and processed food producers will simply write “may be partially produced with genetic engineering”.

    One glimmer of hope for this law: there may be a backlash against GMOs at the store level (assuming most people read the labels & care). If so, companies may be under sufficient pressure to disclose what they did & why–hoping that an informed public will take a kinder view based of their GM product based on the rationale for doing it in the first place. It’s hard to predict what people will actually do until it all happens.

  193. Ewan R says

    Why don’t the gangsters at Monsanto reveal their studies?

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691505001985

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691508001804

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691504000547

    I don’t know, it’s despicable of them to simply put them out there hidden in the peer reviewed literature (The above is not an exhaustive list, simply an indication that you are, once again, simply pulling nonsense out of the air) with their methods sections laid out and everything. Bastards. They even have proper statistics in the reports and comply with OECD guidelines for studies of their type. Unspeakable.

    The probable problem is that most and probably all of Monsanto’s are “statisically flawed”. But they have bought off enough legislators that they are not thoroughly examined.

    Far more probable is that you have no idea of the data that is out there and are perfectly content with the fabrications fed to you as they fit your worldview neatly. One rather wonders how much it costs to buy off a single legislator, what, I wonder, is the cost of buying off the regulatory agencies of every major region on the globe (even if Monsanto owned the US government, as is laughably often put forth, it would matter not one jot – you’d still have to own the Japanese (and given that Japan jumped straight away and stopped wheat import I would assume even the most be-tinfoiled of conspiracy theorists may doubt this particular hypothesis) the Europeans and the Chinese – although it makes a certain amount of sense, there must be some reason they stopped having pizza at journal club…. For a transgenic crop to be succesful, particularly a commodity grain, global regulatory approvals are required for import at least, which means everyone has to accept your submissions, which is why it costs so much (you’d think, if Monsanto had such influence that it could submit next to nothing, that the regulatory process would cost somewhat less and that the regulatory science division would be one person who spent most of their day playing minesweeper, rather than being one of the largest parts of the biotech organization.) Hell, the Japanese agencies require you to do your growouts and testing *in Japan* so they can watch you, even for import stuff, precisely because they don’t trust – now this isn’t a bad thing per-se (outside the general level of lunacy surrounding the deregulation of GM traits) but it doesn’t particularly fit this odd worldview that Monsanto says jump and the regulatory agencies ask “how high?”.

  194. David Marjanović says

    Specific article was in a science magazine, I think, but I did find this, with a quick google search:

    That link cites an article in the New York Times from October 2010 which cites PLoS but is too stupid to cite or link to the actual paper – it links to the homepage of the journal instead. However, Google found me a much more recent PLoS paper on Nosema ceranae, this one from March 2013. It calls N. ceranae “a factor” and cites two references for saying: “Mite pests, pathogens, pesticides, and nutritional deficiencies create a combination of circumstances that can interact negatively to jeopardize colony health”.

    David Marjonivic

    The spelling is going random. If you can’t read my name, just copy & paste it!

  195. Tethys says

    My point however was that this was an improvement over what was done

    At this point it is clear that we fundamentally disagree on what constitutes an improvement. I asked you to show proof that your product was not harming the foodchain, not to imagine that it wasn’t.
    I have repeatedly cited environmental concerns, food chains, concern for the critters that depend on pollen and insects and I don’t really give a single fuck if the damage is a direct or an indirect effect of GMOs.

    I cite a meta-analysis of a metric fucktonne of studies showing net negative effects for a broad range of insects, you claim that this is unimportant, I didn’t read it, blah, blah, blah..

    I suggest ways in which the negative effects could be mitigated through further more precise genetic engeneering, you counter that I am clearly ignorant on the subject of agriculture.

    I shall alert the family at once that the farm is a figment of our imagination. I suppose this means I should stop identifying insects under the microscope too, and stop with the IPM program? Silly me to not just trust agribusiness to tell me what’s good for me. History is not littered with examples of completely unexpected net-negative effects from new technologies.

    DDT is completely harmless! You can sprinkle it right on your skin, and it won’t hurt you one bit!

    And this classic;

    “My only regret is that everyone couldn’t be here at ground zero with us.”

  196. Bubba Bubba says

    I see Jeffrey Smith is being quoted above. For anyone that isn’t familiar with this quackpot, think “Kirk Cameron of the GMO Movement”. Then again, just about all the anti-GMO leaders could fit that description because virtually all of them are quacks and liars. Here is an excellent take-down of Jeffrey Smith. It’s long, but it’s a good watch, and a good example of how the anti-GMO folks lies.

  197. says

    Google found me a much more recent PLoS paper on Nosema ceranae, this one from March 2013. It calls N. ceranae “a factor”

    Mea Culpa. I didn’t look at the date on the article. The one I actual read went into a bit more detail than the one I actually cited, and yeah, listed as a “factor” is about right. Its complicated, and no one is quite sure which “factors” are the biggest ones, just that some are way more likely than others. Frankly, I challenge someone to come up with one on the use of pesticides that doesn’t also call it a “factor”, or even a “possible factor”, which doesn’t, itself, link to a mess of stuff from 3 years ago, or, worse, just list all the countries that have decided it is the prime factor, and banned stuff, without actually having all the facts. And, frankly, its almost embarrassing that they will jump, whole hog, into banning one single factor in something like Bee deaths, without knowing the facts, but, most of them, including the US, won’t do a damn thing about climate change, when the only new facts that keep coming in are all, “Its real, we are causing it, and its probably going to be, at best, as bad as we predicted.”

  198. randay says

    Ewan R — “One rather wonders how much it costs to buy off a single legislator…” Well, the “Monsanto Protection Act” aka Section 735 from the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013. Sen. Roy Blunt told Politco that he co-authored the amendment along with Monsanto. Blunt received $74,000 from Monsanto–individuals and its PAC’s– in campaign contributions.

    It was slipped in a big bill with most Senators not knowing about it. No hearings were held on it. So the cost was not much for a firm like Monsanto. 16 out of 22 Monsanto lobbyists have previously held government jobs. The amendment also seems to be unconstitutional by interfering with separation of powers by limiting the action of the judicial system.
    _____

    David Marjanovic, do you have nothing better than a quibble over a couple of typing errors? I can type short and medium sentences faster than copy/paste. So of the many times I have mentioned your name, I got it wrong once. Since it is a proper noun, a spell checker only tells me it isn’t in its dictionary.

  199. Ewan R says

    At this point it is clear that we fundamentally disagree on what constitutes an improvement. I asked you to show proof that your product was not harming the foodchain, not to imagine that it wasn’t.

    I didn’t “imagine that it wasn’t” I provided peer reviewed science which showed that in the context of how modern agriculture is done Bt is an improvement over the predominantly used methodology. There is no comparison in there to IPM, and thus comparing the two systems can’t be done. However there is also no comparison to IPM in your linked paper (it investigates Bt in a vacuum) – any succesful pest management method will, I have no doubt, impact predators of the pest and species which parisitize the pest – I’m not sure an experiment need even be done, it can be induced logically. Even IPM (which is a practice that Monsanto encourages (we even use IPM in our automated greenhouse to enormous success)) will have these adverse effects on non-target species which use the target species as a source of food – if it doesn’t then clearly it isn’t working as there is enough of a pest population to provide sustenance to predators and parasites which must be coming from your crop. Bt can, infact, be used as part of an IPM program (in precisely the same way that elite cultivars with particular resistances can be)

    I cite a meta-analysis of a metric fucktonne of studies showing net negative effects for a broad range of insects, you claim that this is unimportant, I didn’t read it, blah, blah, blah..

    http://fbae.org/2009/FBAE/website/images/pdf/imporatant-publication/impacts-of-bt-crops-on-non-target-invertebrates-and-insecticide-use-patterns.pdf

    Discusses the meta-analysis you provide (it isn’t overly kind to it (particularly given that nearly a third of the datapoints therein pertain to non-Bt control method, which seems a tadly bit unfair when assessing the impacts of Bt) as well as a couple of better studies and clearly indicates that Bt is considered an effective tool in the IPM toolbox – rather than being, as you seem to be indicating, incompatible with IPM.

    DDT is completely harmless! You can sprinkle it right on your skin, and it won’t hurt you one bit!

    Your herring has been out in the sun too long, may I suggest you give it some sunscreen next time?

    randay:-

    Ewan R — “One rather wonders how much it costs to buy off a single legislator…” Well, the “Monsanto Protection Act” aka Section 735 from the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013. Sen. Roy Blunt told Politco that he co-authored the amendment along with Monsanto. Blunt received $74,000 from Monsanto–individuals and its PAC’s– in campaign contributions.

    This would be pertinent if the “Monsanto protection act” did anything to actually, y’know, protect Monsanto. It doesn’t however, it protects farmers.

  200. randay says

    Ewan R, at least now you know how much a Senator costs Monsanto. The protection of farmers only applies to those dumb enough to use Monsanto’s or similar products. But perhaps they are just victims of Monsanto’s propaganda. Without this stipulation in the act, farmers may well be more hesitant to buy junk from Monsanto. Thus it is written to protect Monsanto which doesn’t give a damn about the welfare of farmers, but only its bottom line.

  201. Ewan R says

    Ewan R, at least now you know how much a Senator costs Monsanto.

    Not really, as you haven’t provided any solid evidence for Monsanto influencing Blunt at all, the act you are citing as evidence doesn’t protect Monsanto at all, it protects farmers. Although if you can point to the specific parts of the act that protect Monsanto, rather than simply using the ridiculous name that crackpots gave the act perhaps you can persuade me otherwise.

    The protection of farmers only applies to those dumb enough to use Monsanto’s or similar products

    It is refreshing to see someone be so open about the fact that their arguement essentially boils down to “farmers are stupid” – normally this is veiled. It is however inherent in all arguments that the products are crappy, don’t work, or are not worth it.

    But perhaps they are just victims of Monsanto’s propaganda.

    This would explain the success of Monsanto traits for a year, maybe two – if it was propaganda then after this length of time farmers would realize the stuff don’t work and would buy other stuff. Adoption of traits however increases over time and tends to plataeu at pretty high rates – which suggests something other than propaganda is at play. Trick me once and all that.

  202. randay says

    Ewan R, I know you try your best as a spin doctor. However, Senator Blunt himself said he co-authored the amendment with Monsanto. What business is it of Monsanto to write national legislation? We also know the price Monsanto paid. “It is however inherent in all arguments that the products are crappy, don’t work, or are not worth it.” Yes, that applies to Monsanto products. You are right for once.

    When, not if, Monsanto’s stuff doesn’t work, their legal department sues farmers for residual Monsanto seeds found on their property. They also sue neighboring farmers who have never used Monsanto’s junk products because wind blown traces are found on their property. I don’t see why Monsanto should not be charged with racketeering under RICO law.

  203. randay says

    I didn’t invent the name, but it does accurately describe the amendment in the law. Only Monsanto and its friends wouldn’t like it. You just took a couple of sound or should say, written, bites from the gawdawful site you linked. I need not go there again.

    You don’t even bother make a response to the points I made, but with bullshit and nonsense.

    Now we have the case where Monsanto GM wheat has sprung up in Oregon though it has never been approved and Monsanto says it stopped development in 2005 and says it is “mystified” as to how it got there. This may cost Oregon growers millions as Japan and Korea have suspended imports from the region. If Monsanto can’t even keep track of its experimental stuff, how can we have confidence in it?

  204. randay says

    TerranRich, just to let you know, the chickenshits at badskeptic refused to publish my refutation of their position. You know, your post is being moderated type of thing. So, unless my post suddenly appears–and it is not much different than what I have here–badskeptic is a useless dishonest cowardly site.

  205. AstrySol says

    @randay, I found this (and lots of other similar comments) on badskeptic,

    David, it’s very likely the author works or gets kickbacks from Monsanto. “This thing isn’t to protect Monsanto, that’s just sensationalist nonsense, it is to protect farmers.” Only the ones without fully developed brain would believe that nonsense!

    So I guess either you didn’t read any of the comments at all while rushing out your “useless dishonest cowardly site” saying, or you based that only on your post being moderated (which appears more likely to be the case, so maybe you’d remember this. And I guess free speech doesn’t entitle you to call someone else “useless dishonest cowardly” without being criticized simply because your comment needs to be moderated, either.)

    By the way, what does comment moderation have to do with “useless”ness of a site? Is some kind of ad hominem going on here?

  206. randay says

    At the site badskeptic, I referred to the corruption of Sen. Roy Blunt and the text:
    “which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner” meaning that growers could continue to sell potentially dangerous products.

    If you had read my first comment, you would know that I am primarily concerned with the political, economic, and environmental aspects of GMO’s. But badskeptic and other supporters of Monsanto immediately associate my position as being anti-science. That is why I detest GMO fundamentalisst. They can’t read and think. Just read the pro-GMO posts at badskeptic. But he was too cowardly to permit my post about corruption. In addition, I wrote that this reminds me of the 60′s when the nuclear industry told us that all was for the better and nothing could go wrong. I’m not just talking about the known accidents, but the tons of radioactive material that has gone missing.

    I also mentioned that Monsanto GM wheat, which has never had approval, has been found in Oregon. Monsanto said that it stopped development in 2005 and was “mystified” as to how it got there. If Monsanto can’t even keep track of its experimental products, how can we trust it?

    You quote someone who has nothing to do with me. So you don’t like free speech, I get that. At the site, I did not call them a“useless dishonest cowardly site” for the simple reason that he refused to post my reasoned argument. So he would certainly not permit an insult, which I never posted there.

  207. AstrySol says

    TerranRich, just to let you know, the chickenshits at badskeptic refused to publish my refutation of their position. You know, your post is being moderated type of thing. So, unless my post suddenly appears–and it is not much different than what I have here–badskeptic is a useless dishonest cowardly site.

    That’s the first time here you referred to “badskeptic” and stuck the “useless dishonest coward” label to the site. If you have any backstory to tell, please do that before sticking the label, otherwise it appears very similar to ad hominem.

    If you had read my first comment, you would know that I am primarily concerned with the political, economic, and environmental aspects of GMO’s.

    If you cannot get the fact right, or need to “read between the lines” to present your idea. Then your concerns with “the political, economic, and environmental aspects” are not based on fact. See this on Nature Biotechnology (based in Europe, Nature series is often on the “cautious” side about GM issue, but still, anti-GMO groups are way too overboard here):

    Critics of the ruling have declared that the new law could potentially allow the planting of crops harmful to human health. This too is unlikely, according to Greg Jaffe, director of Biotechnology at Washington, DC’s Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We’re talking about only the situation where the decision is dealing with a procedural violation [failure to conduct an appropriate environmental assessment],” says Jaffe, adding that when there’s a substantive safety issue about whether the plant is a pest, no temporary permits are issued.


    Also it is very strange to associate GMO with Monsanto, as Monsanto does not produce GMO products only (also non-GMO hybrids), nor is Monsanto the only entity producing GMOs (DuPont, Dow Agrosciences, Syngenta, together with a full bunch of public sector and/or humanitarian entities as well), so even if the act does protect GM seed providers, calling it “Monsanto Protection Act” is somewhat ridiculous (but sensational enough for people who claims to be able to “read and think”, I have to admit).

    So you don’t like free speech, I get that.

    That’s very nice of you to say that, thinking of joining the slymepit?


    By the way, since you claimed to be concerned with “the political, economic, and environmental aspects”, how do you think of humanitarian GM project such as Golden Rice, GM projects from small start-ups (for example, AquAdvantage)? If you really hate big corporations (which does have quite reasonable basis by themselves), please improve your firing accuracy. A blanket anti-GMO campaign will only raise the entrance barrier so that, in the end, only big corporations can profit from GMO products. (AquaBounty, the start-up making AquAdvantage, almost go bankrupt due to high regulation cost; Golden Rice is also incurred with high extra cost despite its humanitarian nature.)

  208. AstrySol says

    In addition, I wrote that this reminds me of the 60′s when the nuclear industry told us that all was for the better and nothing could go wrong. I’m not just talking about the known accidents, but the tons of radioactive material that has gone missing.

    I didn’t live in the 60′s so I don’t know if the nuclear industry really promised that “nothing could go wrong” (which, on the other hand, is not said by GMO industry or regulatory administrations), but if you check data (like here or here) instead of anecdotes, nuclear industry appears to do more good to societies overall, instead of being a disaster.

    I’m no nuclear expert but I tried to read and think, and I guess since you claimed so, you probably will, too.

    (Also, hospitals can also lose radioactive materials and cause great casualties, and I would really like to know the source of that missing “tons of radioactive material”.)

  209. randay says

    I gave the background for my opinion of badskeptic. The site puts up weaker posts by Anti-GMO’ers to make them look bad. They apparently don’t put up more reasoned posts like mine. In an earlier post here, I mentioned Monsanto and others. There are good Pro-GMo sites like biofortified mentioned in the above article. In fact, a couple years ago I received an award from them(under a different pseudo) for the best loyal opposition poster and they sent me a gift.”Congrats on winning the second contest on Biofortified!”–part of an email from Karl Haro von Mogel of the Site.

    For criticism of “Golden Rice” and other “improvements” look up Vandana Shiva. Here’s a video “The Future of Food”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi1FTCzDSck and a lecture, “Poverty & Globalization”, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2000/lecture5.shtml

  210. randay says

    Here are a couple of old nuclear propaganda films: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5JGA3KmOYE
    see after the 10 min mark. Another one, and this features a priest!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DKDE4Vv1yI In three parts. They both mention Hanford, Washinton, the most radioactive polluted site in the U.S. God is often mentioned. “Atomic energy, a God-given help to mankind.”

    Look up various links there and you will find God mentioned often. Here is another “The magic of the atom”, but I am worried because sites don’t allow 3 or more links.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1UP5v1IQ-U This is about how easy it is to dispose of nuclear wastes.

    As to lost or stolen nuclear material, just do a little googling.

  211. says

    Pretty sure “poverty” isn’t something all that new, that “globalization” isn’t causing it, and that you need to look at your own governments failures (just as our own is failing us in the US, out of similar greed and stupidity), before griping about seed purchases being the leading cause of farmer suicides. How many of those people are even buying the seed you are complaining about? None of which, frankly, either a) addresses the reason why they needed to produce a better seed in the first place, using methods that you can’t simply cross breed into them, or b) the utter failure of states that have anything like traditional “caste systems” to even care about, never mind actually do anything about, people dying, nor does it deny that, yes, once again, the damn problem isn’t the genetics, its the policies of the companies selling them. The global economy is in the shit at the moment. Its not going to change until the people at the top change, or get deposed.

    And.. Well, the former isn’t likely to happen. I just started reading a book on the subject of irrationality and when it is both a benefit, and a failure, called “The Upside of Irrationality”. The entire section I have read so far is about research on compensation, some of it conducted in India (since it was cheaper to hand out large masses of money to people, as a bonus, in the experiments), and the result was – a curve. People given small bonuses don’t try hard. People given medium sized ones, try to achieve them. People given huge assed, idiotic, levels of bonuses/compensation, spend so much time trying to avoid losing it that they make more stupid choices, do worse at everything, and do so more often, than either of the other categories. They, in fact, only succeed, in most cases, it seems, by screwing up so often that, statistically, they kind of have to succeed once in a while (or, well, that seems to be a good interpretation of the results of the experiments). I think you can guess what investment bankers, and other rich people think about this applying to themselves – “We are special, and smarter, and better, because we got rich, so, somehow, we are not prone to the same flaw. But, its nice to know this, when dealing with all the lesser beings around us.” :head->desk:

    Its pretty damn hard to fix a problem when the people causing it, by pretty much definition, refuse to see themselves as part of the damn problem. The more you have to loose, whether it be money, social status, a cushy government job, etc… the more likely you are going to burn your own house down, trying to succeed, and the more likely you are to then blame someone else, while standing in the ashes. And, yeah, pretty sure “seed” sales are not the primary issue in places where farmers are going broke. Its pretty much bloody the only damned industry you can’t **not** have, so.. if you can’t make money from it, something is very, very, wrong, and “globalization” is a very strange theory for what that problem really is (though, a damn easy scape goat, if you refuse to look closer to home.)

  212. AstrySol says

    There are good Pro-GMo sites like biofortified mentioned in the above article. In fact, a couple years ago I received an award from them(under a different pseudo) for the best loyal opposition poster and they sent me a gift.”Congrats on winning the second contest on Biofortified!”–part of an email from Karl Haro von Mogel of the Site.

    Oh my, maybe PZ need to consider this to any long-term creationists here. I guess there may be someone who deserves this gift.
    Website have different policies towards comments (pre-moderation, slow-moderation, not allow comments at all, etc.) and that alone doesn’t make them “coward” or something. Although you didn’t invent the ridiculous “Monsanto Protection Act” name, repeating that bulls*** from someone else didn’t make your posts more reasonable (as has been discussed in Nature Biotechnology and others) than some FUD strategy. There are reasonable arguments against GMO (but not insolvable so anti-GMO campaigns probably won’t use those), while using sentimental and ridiculous names are not.

    For criticism of “Golden Rice” and other “improvements” look up Vandana Shiva. Here’s a video “The Future of Food”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi1FTCzDSck and a lecture, “Poverty & Globalization”, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2000/lecture5.shtml

    Really, that’s the best you can come up with? Vandana Shiva? Who has ALMOST NO IDEA of how genetics works? Are you kidding me?

    She may be established in some other fields (perhaps physics or feminism, I’m not exactly sure), but with regarding to genetics, agriculture and maybe economics, she appears almost the same as Ken Ham to evolution. Using her opinion as argument against FAO (which, on the other hand, has way many specialists in genetics, agriculture and economics) about Golden Rice is a textbook fallacious argumentum ad auctoritatem.

    If you want an example why I said all that, read a news feature in Nature:http://www.nature.com/news/case-studies-a-hard-look-at-gm-crops-1.12907

    During an interview in March, Vandana Shiva, an environmental and feminist activist from India, repeated an alarming statistic: “270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto entered the Indian seed market,” she said. “It’s a genocide.”

    That was shown by researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington DC, who scoured government data, academic articles and media reports about Bt cotton and suicide in India. Their findings, published in 2008 (ref. 4) and updated in 2011 (ref. 5), show that the total number of suicides per year in the Indian population rose from just under 100,000 in 1997 to more than 120,000 in 2007. But the number of suicides among farmers hovered at around 20,000 per year over the same period.

    Now tell me how that is different from Ken Ham’s “opinion” to evolution.

    And her suggestion to solving Vitamin A deficiency? From your BBC link:

    However, nature gives us abundant and diverse sources of vitamin A. If rice was not polished, rice itself would provide Vitamin A. If herbicides were not sprayed on our wheat fields, we would have bathua, amaranth, mustard leaves as delicious and nutritious greens that provide Vitamin A.

    Unpolished rice (brown rice) has ZERO Vitamin A. You see it right. ZERO. Also if you don’t spray herbicides on fields, you end up with more weeds than “delicious and nutritious greens”, more human input (farmer suicide, huh?), and less yield (again, farmer suicide). Her “solution” is essentially what we were doing before the Green Revolution and you know how many famines were there in India before that? Well, it is true that if you starve to death, you don’t have Vitamin A deficiency (anymore), so technically that is a “solution”, although I guess few people would want to use it on themselves.

    If everyone can live like first-world (or at least second-world) countries, there will be no Vitamin A deficiency, but that’s a huge IF nobody is able to achieve. What scientists are trying to do is solve Vitamin A deficiency before the inefficient bureaucrats do their job about the harder social issues, and what anti-GMO groups are doing here is just to screw the scientists (and the poor) up. If they really think GMO is not a good way, they can develop a way themselves and compete with GMO, (AFAIK, Greenpeace has lots of money).

  213. Steve Olsen says

    You try to say that GMO’s are the same as any “natural” horizontal gene transfer, only we do it faster. This cannot be further from the truth. maybe dousing millions of plants with roundup will eventually find a plant that can take it, but for certain, you cannot transfer Bt from a bacillus to a plant, cannot happen ever! GMO’s are wrought with numerous problems. Genetic modification is a clumsy process, not precise as is claimed. There is no control of how many genes are transferred, in any order or location where they are inserted. Fragments or copies of genes have been proven to affect the operation of various other genes which has large implications for the plant composition. Blood and gut gene transfer has been proven, so the complications are even greater for consumers of the products, or those who consume animal products fed GMO feed. Basic safety or equivalence testing by GMO producers has been shown to be misleading in the best case and fraudulent in the worst. GMO products have the possibility of completely eliminating species on our planet, including humans or part of the human food supply chain because of their nonsensical, incompetence with their products and testing. Once released, GMO’s and genetic bits contaminate the biosphere and cannot be recalled. Bits of genes transfer to many places, even in the ground or streams. So there is no way to recall a catastrophic result, meaning that any catastrophic result ever unleashed will inevitably run its course, in days or decades! After years on the market, Monsanto revealed that no one knew what genes were in their roundup ready soy. 534 bases of extra DNA were identified that were not part of the roundup or natural soy genetics! Monsanto’s response to this was that it was the same material that would have been there during their safety assessment studies.
    WHAT SAFETY STUDIES?
    do you want to know the rest? Their safety studies would be laughable if they were not so incompetent.

    Basically we have GMO’s because our leaders want America to lead in this technology, so it has been forced upon us using smoke and mirrors and non-labeling. In the EU and elsewhere they have real scientists perform real experiments and lo and behold they find BIG problems and BAN it. If you want to study it for real, you need Jeffrey Smith’s book, seeds of deception. otherwise anything you say makes you look really ignorant and you are eating massive pounds of insecticide and roundup and telling everyone that this is good for you??? I think not.

  214. AstrySol says

    Here are a couple of old nuclear propaganda films: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5JGA3KmOYE
    see after the 10 min mark.

    Except for the not-so-accurate description of atoms (electrons don’t run that way, but anyway, it takes a bit of quantum physics to know), most of the scientific facts in the “propaganda” are true. Isotope tracing is an massively useful tool in medical application and various research fields and you cannot even imagine what biology / medicine would have become without them. (You may ask PZ. He knows much better.) Other radioactive materials are also widely used (check the smoke detector in your home). So I think the things after 10 min was not an overstatement at all.

    The only issue is that it didn’t say a lot about the risk, but it’s not “nothing could go wrong” either. Over-optimism is the worst word I can think about the film, but propaganda? You must not have seen “real” propaganda before (hint, look outside US and Europe).

    Another one, and this features a priest!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DKDE4Vv1yI In three parts. They both mention Hanford, Washinton, the most radioactive polluted site in the U.S. God is often mentioned. “Atomic energy, a God-given help to mankind.”
    Look up various links there and you will find God mentioned often.

    Except for that god bulls***, most scientific facts there are true, again. Actually I’m quite impressed at how religious people can somehow tell others to “respect” science in this way (liberal xtian maybe?), and not twisting the facts.

    As to Hanford Site, when I googled to study, a large proportion of waste was generated to produce weapons. Meanwhile, the site created or helped to spread lots of breakthroughs that people have been enjoying a lot today. And there will always be a “most radioactive polluted site in the U.S.” (Do you know that coal plants generate more radiation than nuclear plants? Check the EPA radiation calculator.), the only problem is how it damages the environment, whether or how fast it get cleaned up, and how much it takes to do so. If the benefit of nuclear technology weighs much heavier than that cost, I will say it’s probably worth it. (It still helps to reduce the potential damage / risk / clean up cost though.) Simply saying “the most radioactive polluted site in the U.S.” is not helping in any way.

    Here is another “The magic of the atom”, but I am worried because sites don’t allow 3 or more links.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1UP5v1IQ-U This is about how easy it is to dispose of nuclear wastes.

    Most of the facts also appear to be true, even the one saying “nuclear workers are the safest jobs in US”. Someone jokes that even candle kills more than nuclear power in US. (They have data sources on the page to back up their claim, not like Vandana Shiva)

    Waste disposal may be a problem (the film just showed how to “separate”, not exactly “disposal”, that’s quite lame, but again, they are just saying “how we keep nuclear wastes not affecting surrounding people”, not like what you said, “how easy it is to dispose of nuclear wastes”). And people are really working on that.

    … tons of radioactive material that has gone missing.

    As to lost or stolen nuclear material, just do a little googling.

    “Tons of radioactive material that has gone missing” is a really strong claim (in Goiânia accident the amount is only 93 grams, that is 0.000093 ton) and I would like you to back up your claim by providing direct links to credible sources (as I have done). “Just do a little googling” means “I don’t have any sources” to me.

  215. says

    And… another paranoid shows up, with no facts, a lot of fear, and a complete and total lack of comprehension of genetics… Its always amazing how the ones that know jack all about a subject think everyone else is “ignorant”.