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I agree with Neil deGrasse Tyson

He’s been catching some flak for his comments on GMO foods, but I agree whole-heartedly with what he says here (except I don’t think “non-perennial” means what he seems to think it means…astronomers, geez).

Ten days ago, this brief clip of me was posted by somebody.

It contains my brief [2min 20sec] response to a question posed by a French journalist, after a talk I gave on the Universe. He found me at the post-talk book signing table. (Notice the half-dozen ready & willing pens.) The clip went mildly viral (rising through a half million right now) with people weighing in on whether they agree with me or not.

Some comments…

1) The journalist posted the question in French. I don’t speak French, so I have no memory of how I figured out that was asking me about GMOs. Actually I do know some French words like Bordeaux, and Bourgogne, and Champagne, etc.

2) Everything I said is factual. So there’s nothing to disagree with other than whether you should actually “chill out” as I requested of the viewer in my last two words of the clip.

3) Had I given a full talk on this subject, or if GMOs were the subject of a sit-down interview, then I would have raised many nuanced points, regarding labeling, patenting, agribusiness, monopolies, etc. I’ve noticed that almost all objections to my comments center on these other issues.

4) I offer my views on these nuanced issues here, if anybody is interested:

a- Patented Food Strains: In a free market capitalist society, which we have all “bought” into here in America, if somebody invents something that has market value, they ought to be able to make as much money as they can selling it, provided they do not infringe the rights of others. I see no reason why food should not be included in this concept.

b- Labeling: Since practically all food has been genetically altered from nature, if you wanted labeling I suppose you could demand it, but then it should be for all such foods. Perhaps there could be two different designations: GMO-Agriculture GMO-Laboratory.

c- Non-perennial Seed Strains: It’s surely legal to sell someone seeds that cannot reproduce themselves, requiring that the farmer buy seed stocks every year from the supplier. But when sold to developing country — one struggling to become self-sufficient — the practice is surely immoral. Corporations, even when they work within the law, should not be held immune from moral judgement on these matters.

d- Monopolies are generally bad things in a free market. To the extent that the production of GMOs are a monopoly, the government should do all it can to spread the baseline of this industry. (My favorite monopoly joke ever, told by Stephen Wright: “I think it’s wrong that the game Monopoly is sold by only one company”)

e- Safety: Of course new foods should be tested for health risks, regardless of their origin. That’s the job of the Food and Drug Administration (in the USA). Actually, humans have been testing food, even without the FDA ,since the dawn of agriculture. Whenever a berry or other ingested plant killed you, you knew not to serve it to you family.

f- Silk Worms: I partly mangled my comments on this. Put simply, commercial Silk Worms have been genetically modified by centuries of silk trade, such that they cannot survive in the wild. Silk Worms currently exist only to serve the textile industry. Just as Milk Cows are bred with the sole purpose of providing milk to humans. There are no herds of wild Milk Cows terrorizing the countryside.

5) If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing — and will continue to do — to nature so that it best serves our survival. That’s what all organisms do when they can, or would do, if they could. Those that didn’t, have gone extinct extinct.

In life, be cautious of how broad is the brush with which you paint the views of those you don’t agree with.

Respectfully Submitted

-NDTyson

Comments

  1. carlie says

    If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing — and will continue to do — to nature so that it best serves our survival.

    This, this, this. There are some truly reprehensible things being done with GMOs (like suing anyone whose fields suffer from pollen drift), and some predictable side effects that will cause us other problems in the near future (hybridization with wild weed relatives to pass along genes to herbicide resistance). But that is an issue with what we are doing with the technology, not with the technology itself.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The industry I work in is very paranoid about GMO material. But, if asked why are paranoid, the answers are essentially meaningless once the science is looked at. But, since appearance is everything, we obtain certificates where that batch of starch source wasn’t from GMO seed. Never mind that the negative of showing there is difference at reasonable levels of impurities (say >100 parts per million) between the two sources of starch prior to any chemical transformations, which purifies the product even further. Or that cross fertilization doesn’t happen in the field.
    Nothing but a feel-good paper-work cover-up of reality.
    [/cynic]

  3. Menyambal says

    I understand that corn (maize) and wheat were natural genetic mutations in the first place. For corn, it was something like the fruiting body and the pollen parts got switched, which sounds hella mutant. For wheat, it was, I think, that the seed husk went wonky and failed to split, so the wheat couldn’t even reproduce.

    I need to go look that up, but my point is that we started off with monster plants, and modified them even further.

  4. =8)-DX says

    @Menyambal #3

    my point is that we started off with monster plants, and modified them even further.

    Mutant food is the best. But then, we are all mutants…

  5. Jackson says

    There are some truly reprehensible things being done with GMOs (like suing anyone whose fields suffer from pollen drift)

    I keep hearing this charge leveled, but for the life of me I can’t track down any case where this has happened. Can you supply me with the name of a case or a link?

  6. ironchew says

    Anti-vax, anti-nuclear power, and anti-GMO are the hallmarks of left-wing denial and antiscience. I think there are legitimate concerns with GMO agribusiness and biopatents, but it saddens me that so many fellow progressives prefer to stop thinking and play the fear game with these subjects. History will not look back kindly on antiscience.

  7. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    I’m pretty sure Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a cosmetologist, not an astrologer. I could be wrong though.

  8. robro says

    throwaway: “Astrophysicist” per Wikipedia, but he’s also worked in cosmology among other areas. However, PZ called him an astronomer, not astrologer. Tyson is clearly not an astrologer.

  9. chigau (違う) says

    robro #8
    I’m pretty sure throwaway #7 was jesting.
    jocularity jocularity

  10. rossthompson says

    I keep hearing this charge leveled, but for the life of me I can’t track down any case where this has happened. Can you supply me with the name of a case or a link?

    The primary case is a farmer called Percy Schmeiser. His crop was 98% Roundup-Ready, and Monsanto provided solid evidence that he had deliberately cultivated it without paying for the seed.

    http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/percy-schmeiser.aspx (Yes, that’s a Monsanto link. Feel free to treat it as a starting point, filed with details that can be checked in other places)

    Monsanto has, despite much clutching of pearls, never sued a farmer for anything less than egregious patent infringement. They file an average of 11 cases per year, which is far fewer than people seem to think.

    http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/gm-seed-accidentally-in-farmers-fields.aspx

  11. Al Dente says

    I’m pretty sure Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a cosmetologist

    I should ask him about whether dying or bleaching is preferred.

  12. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    @Jackson I keep hearing this charge leveled, but for the life of me I can’t track down any case where this has happened. Can you supply me with the name of a case or a link?
    A single search on “monsanto patent infringement farmers” got me a page full of relevant results. Interestingly, the first two hits were screeds on Monsanto’s own website, attempting to justify their practice of suing their customers & their neighbours.

  13. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    I should ask him about whether dying or bleaching is preferred.

    I’m afraid to ask whither you would apply either.

    I thought the tagline on my nym was a dead giveaway. I suppose I could just blame autocorrect. Jocularity indeed!

  14. Becca Stareyes says

    I’d also add in to NGT’s point that one could be concerned about pesticide and herbicide use which ties into GMOs (developing herbicide resistant plants, plants that make their own insecticides, etc.), but, again, is another aspect of agribusiness that happens with our without inserting genes into a plant’s genome.

    I suppose it ties in with the ‘safety’ concern, but could also have environmental effects.

    But, again, that is more of a problem with agribusiness in general than specific to GMOs. If Monsato couldn’t insert the genes they needed, they’d just do it via the old methods of selective breeding and hybridization.

  15. Jackson says

    @13 God Emperor Lionel Lauer

    The first 2 links are from Monsanto, saying that they do not in fact sue farmers for pollination drift. I already knew this was Monsanto’s position and was looking for specific links or cases provided by people making the claim that Monsanto is lying about this. The reason I didn’t just want a LMGTFY response is that the first search result is about a case of farmers suing Monsanto.

    The next result is an article about the same case as the first one, where farmers sued Monsanto.

    The next one is just the wikipedia article on Monsanto.

    Are you actually aware of any court cases where Monsanto has sued a farmer for accidental contamination of their fields, and will you please provide that case?
    P.S. Is my inability to add paragraphs a problem with my html or a problem with wordpress?

  16. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    It’s a little odd that NDT is surprised at the fearmongering over GMOs. After all, he’s referred to “nuclear” as “the other ‘N-word,'” because the public frequently thinks with its gut instead of the brain when it comes to science, thus nuclear=Chernobyl/Fukushima/Blinky.

    Living in Los Angeles, I hear weird foodie beliefs nonstop, the sin of frankenfoods being a prominent one. But I think part of it is simply being anti-corporate as it is about health. Why else would organic food stores still sell junk food like “natural” soda or organic candy (never mind that nature doesn’t produce sugary carbonated water, the aluminum alloy in which it’s canned, or measured pieces of packaged chocolate), both of which aren’t magically healthier because there are a lot of green hues on the label or are higher priced.

  17. brucemartin says

    @15 made a key point here:
    “If Monsato couldn’t insert the genes they needed, they’d just do it via the old methods of selective breeding and hybridization.”

    I think the key GMO concern is that lab modifications are qualitatively different. Modern lab methods can let changes happen that are too big to do by breeding, apparently. Changes made by breeding are inherently minor enough that their safety is a low risk, and is tested on humans every generation. So nothing too bad can be developed by breeding, without people noticing. But with lab-GMOs, major changes can go on that might have unknown side effects, which might not get noticed in time. So the thought is that the power of modern lab methods lets people release things that might have unexpectedly big side effects, which might not be detectable by seeing if it is safe to eat now.
    For example,what if a new GMO-lab item is safe to eat, but could crossbreed in the wild with a different harmless thing, to create a hazardous hybrid? For example, the release and mixture in Brazil of African bees created a more dangerous hybrid that is now in the USA. This is a famous non-GMO example. So it should be possible for there to be new unknown risks with GMO-lab items even if they are safe to eat themselves.
    Personally, I think this risk is reduced when GMO-foods are unable to make their own new seeds. It is a form of safetly control. But that does not mean that all GMOs are as safe as those from gradual breeding.
    Of course, honesty requires seed sellers to be clear if their seeds can regenerate, or must be bought again each year. Some stories have claimed buyers were misled.
    The other issue is if a farmer of non-GMO crops gets his field contaminated with the GMO product and gets sued. The data above suggests this never happens, but there are rumors otherwise. I don’t know which is true.
    But both these issues seem legitimate to be concerned about. Fears could be calmed if these issues were treated seriously by those qualified to disprove them and unbiased enough to be trusted.
    I trust Tyson in his fields, but neither of us know the details here. But I acknowledge there might be a rational basis for concern here, while Tyson does not show awareness of these points.
    PZ, any comments on these? Thanks.

  18. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    #16 Jackson
    Of course they don’t sue farmers for “pollination drift”, they sue them for what they claim is deliberate patent infringement.
    From Monsanto’s own website:
    “Since 1997, we have only filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States. This may sound like a lot, but when you consider that we sell seed to more than 250,000 American farmers a year, it’s really a small number. Of these, we’ve proceeded through trial with only eleven farmers. All eleven cases were found in Monsanto’s favor.”
    http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/saved-seed-farmer-lawsuits.aspx
    They make much of the fact only 11 of the 145 cases have proceeded to trial, as though that wasn’t a consequence of the massive asymmetry in legal resources, rather any actual merit in Monsanto’s suits. Note also that the 145 suits are just those in the USA; they say nothing about cases outside the USA.

  19. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    For example, the release and mixture in Brazil of African bees created a more dangerous hybrid that is now in the USA.

    You need to be more clear. The bees are more dangerous than the typical honeybee we are used to, but less dangerous than the unhybridized African bees. This is where you go wrong with what you say. If something isn’t dangerous now, why would it be more dangerous without extensive mutation???? One word, paranoia.

  20. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    @Jackson
    PS: In case it wasn’t obvious, the vast majority of those suits didn’t go to trial because Monsanto managed to beat heavy settlements out of the farmers concerned, rather than from any generosity on Monsanto’s part.

  21. moarscienceplz says

    My favorite seed company encourages seed saving. They even sell a booklet on how to grow, collect and save seeds, and they sell “heirloom” varieties (that breed true to type). They are very anti-GMO and even sell organically grown seed at a premium to seed grown with pesticides. I have a hard time imagining that a tiny seed could hold onto enough pesticide to hurt me after it has grown into a mature plant, so I usually buy the conventional seeds. They also sell many varieties of hybrid seed which of course makes growing your own seed impossible. One would think that a company like that would realize how hypocritical it is to be anti-GMO and still happily sell hybrids, but you sure can’t tell that from reading their company newsletter.

  22. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    @ 10 rossthompson “Monsanto has, despite much clutching of pearls, never sued a farmer for anything less than [what they claim is] egregious patent infringement.’
    But hey, if you can’t trust a giant multinational corporation to be completely ethical & forthright when making public comment on conflicts in which they have a massive stake, & their opposition has few resources to speak for themselves, who can you trust? /sarcasm

  23. carlie says

    Jackson – of course their lawsuit doesn’t say “we’re suing for accidental drift”, the point is that accidental drift happens but Monsanto (and other companies) assume that they’re cheating and stealing patented seed and sue for that. However, it’s pretty clear that cross-contamination is well within the realm of physical possibility, and most farmers can’t afford to fight a lawsuit by Monsanto.

    Since then [the mid-90s], 144 farmers have had lawsuits brought against them by Monsanto for alleged violations of their patented seed technology. Monsanto has brought charges against more than 700 additional farmers who have settled out-of-court rather than face Monsanto’s belligerent litigious actions.

    source

    M. D. Jones and J. S. Brooks reported (Oklahoma Agricultural Experimental Station, Bulletin T-38) in 1950 that outcrosses could occur at a distance of 503 meters from the pollen source. A more recent study published by S. V. Luna and others in 2001 (Crop Science 41: 1551-1557) indicated that cross pollination occurred at a distance of 200 meters. Variation in the distance of pollen movement among these studies is reflective of the different wind speeds that occurred during the times these experiments were conducted.

    Corn pollen drift info.

    Triple-resistant canola resulting from cross-pollination between crops confirmed, gene flow detected up to 800 meters.

  24. Raryn says

    @19
    Conventional breeding is much less explicitly controlled and can easily lead to unintended consequences, more frequently than actual laboratory GMO. Consider the case of the Lenape potato, conventionally bred to be pest resistant. They did a fine job, got a strain that worked quite well for that purpose, that also happened to be explicitly poisonous to people.

  25. Jackson says

    @carlie and God Emperor Lionel Lauer

    I’m sure that there is a legal a-symmetry between a massive company like Monsanto and an individual farmer. I’m having trouble parsing what either of your claims here are. Are you saying that Monsanto definitely sues farmers for accidental pollination, but there aren’t any court cases to document this?

    Are you saying that Monsanto shouldn’t be suing farmers who deliberately use their seeds without paying for them b/c patenting GMO crops is unethical?

  26. carlie says

    Also see the case of celery, conventionally bred to be hardy and resistant: caused photodermatitis in farm workers.

    PBS did a good special on GMOs very long ago (2001), but it was one of the more balanced treatments I’ve seen and most of the issues brought up then, frankly, have still not been properly wrapped up. companion page. It also has the full transcript.

  27. chigau (違う) says

    Raryn #27
    re: Lenape potato
    Now that is hilarious.
    (for certain values of ‘hilarious’)
    (the ones that involve smashing ones head onto the nearest hard surface)

  28. carlie says

    Are you saying that Monsanto definitely sues farmers for accidental pollination, but there aren’t any court cases to document this?
    Are you saying that Monsanto shouldn’t be suing farmers who deliberately use their seeds without paying for them b/c patenting GMO crops is unethical?

    I’m not sure how you’re missing the big thing in between those two. Farmers farm. Monsanto does spot tests and finds their gene markers in the farmer’s crop, so sues the farmer for using their seed without paying proper fees. Farmer has never planted Monsanto corn. If the farmer is not lying, then the only way that the Monsanto gene marker got in the farmer’s crop is through accidental cross-pollination.

    What you have are hundreds of situations in which there are definitely, factually, Monsanto genetic markers in the crop that farmer harvested. What you do not have is clear evidence as to whether the farmer did it on purpose. In a case where 100% of the crop has it, the likelihood is yes, but when 5% does? Then what? It is actually possible for accidental cross-pollination to take place; I linked to just a few actual proper journal publications demonstrating how possible it is. There are many, many cases where farmers themselves claim that it wasn’t any doing of theirs, but Monsanto came bearing down and they settled out of court. The null case isn’t “farmers are all lying”. That’s a positive claim about what the farmers are doing. What we’d need to see to satisfy you, I think, would be the raw data indicating how small a percentage of their markers in a crop that Monsanto is willing to threaten lawsuits over, and I haven’t seen where they’ve divulged that information. In the absence of that, I guess you have to decide whether you’re more likely to believe Monsanto that all suits are fully justified, or the farmers that not all of them are, but do NOT make the mistake of thinking that one of those sides is a null hypothesis. Each of them is taking sides.

  29. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    @28 Jackson: Are you saying that Monsanto definitely sues farmers for accidental pollination,
    Pretty much, yes. More specifically, I’m saying that while we – as random third parties – can’t exclude the possibility that every single case brought by Monsanto genuinely involved evil farmers plotting to pirate Monsanto’s intellectual property, as they claim, rather than over the inevitable biological contamination you’re going to get when the wind blows pollen about, I think that Occam’s Razor strongly favours the second interpretation.
    but there aren’t any court cases to document this?
    How the hell would you ‘document’ such a thing? It’s easily verifiable that Monsanto has sued at least* 145 American farmers, but unless the case is tried & judged, we only have Monsanto’s word for it that the farmers were intentionally pirating the GM plant.

    * And purportedly threatened suit against many times that number of farmers.

  30. Jackson says

    What we’d need to see to satisfy you, I think, would be the raw data indicating how small a percentage of their markers in a crop that Monsanto is willing to threaten lawsuits over

    I think what I was looking for was a court case I could check out to see what kind of evidence was used or presented. I have a rather large suspicion that the evidence presented was not “we found some genetic markers in some non-quantitative amount of product.” I don’t know what kind of evidence actually was used, hence the request for a case name in which the farmer was unjustly sued. I wanted to go check and see.

    So far the responses have only been vague hypotheticals and more assertions that it totes happens all the time. It’s not an issue of thinking the farmers are all lying, because I haven’t seen any claims from any farmers at all, because nobody seems to be able to point to a case where a farmer has been unjustly accused. I’m not saying it is impossible, I’m not even saying it’s not likely that there have been some number of farmers who got hosed and bullied through no fault of their own. I do find it highly suspicious that nobody can point to a single specific instance of this actually happening.

  31. says

    Has anyone else ever heard the urban legend that eating the green potato chips in a bag of Lays™ would make you sick?

    I have never heard of the Lenape Potato. I bet that is were that legend was born.

  32. sundoga says

    I’m with Jackson. Frankly, I haven’t seen any evidence that Monsanto has done anything wrong at all.

  33. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    @ 33 Jackson because nobody seems to be able to point to a case where a farmer has been unjustly accused
    You’re asking us to prove a negative. How can anyone possibly prove that any given farmer didn’t intend to grow any Monsanto crops in their fields?
    At this point, as someone with no insider knowledge about any of these cases, you’re taking a similar stance to that of the random assholes who show up in the comments on any news story about a sexual assault & argue that people shouldn’t be taking the victim’s word for it, because the perp hasn’t been convicted in a court of law.

  34. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I’m sure that there is a legal a-symmetry between a massive company like Monsanto and an individual farmer. I’m having trouble parsing what either of your claims here are. Are you saying that Monsanto definitely sues farmers for accidental pollination, but there aren’t any court cases to document this?

    We are saying of fucking course Monsanto won’t come out and tell the court to their faces that they’re suing farmers whose fields they’ve contaminated, and that the fact that people choose to settle rather than fight a notoriously vicious megacorporation in court, given that money talks, lawsuits are expensive, and even if you win you will only get your awarded fees far in arrears, doesn’t support Monsanto’s claims in and of itself.

    By the way, that man in the van outside? I’m sorry to tell you this, but he doesn’t actually have any candy. I know… I know *pats head, holds hand*. :(

    Are you saying that Monsanto shouldn’t be suing farmers who deliberately use their seeds without paying for them b/c patenting GMO crops is unethical?

    Monsanto certainly shouldn’t be suing farmers whose fields are contaminated, given that doing so loses the farmers their “GMO free” and possibly “organic” status, even if they decide to make lemonade out of the lemons thrown through their windows by making use of the abandoned fucking property Monsanto left in their fields due to their carelessness.

  35. sundoga says

    Azkyroth, I think we all would agree that cros-pollination happens and if someone just has their fields contaminated, Monsanto should not sue them. But do you have any evidence that this situation has ever actually happened?

  36. says

    Can someone explain to me the rationale behind suing for crop contamination? I don’t know too much about farms, and I’m having trouble figuring out how, exactly, a farmer goes about deliberately getting their crops cross-pollinated with GMOs? I mean, I can see pollen drifting due to carelessness on Monsanto’s part. What I can’t figure out is how anyone would go about deliberately channeling the pollen to their crops to intentionally cross-pollinate. And if that is possible, I would think that would be what Monsanto should use as evidence. The activity and or equipment that demonstrates intent. not the genetic markers that, to a layman like me, simply show poor pollen control on Monsanto’s part.

  37. shoeguy says

    I must have missed the meeting where the progressive wing of the human race decided to swallow the anti-GMO hysteria pill whole. I always thought the democratic left is different from the reactionary right is that the left is always willing to re examine doctrine and bend in the direction of truth, humanity and freedom. For complex reasons, the otherwise admirable greens in Europe seem to have gone way way out on a limb the GMO hate tree and can only explain their thinking in terms of visceral anti technology and anti science rhetoric. Roll out something other than “Monsanto is evil” and we can talk. As evil as they may or may not be there are hundreds if not thousands of gene geeks out there hacking DNA in their basement. That is where the danger lies.

  38. Jackson says

    @God Emperor Lionel Lauer

    You’re asking us to prove a negative. How can anyone possibly prove that any given farmer didn’t intend to grow any Monsanto crops in their fields?

    Granted I’m not a lawyer, but intent is argued all the time in court. I don’t know what evidence is used to support the argument that one did or did not intend to plant GMO seeds in a field, which is why I was asking for a court case. So I could go find out. Maybe the dispersal pattern of the plants? The percentage of the yield that is GMO? The proximity to other fields that are growing Monsanto brand seeds? I think there could be lots of evidence to support one side or the other.

    At this point, as someone with no insider knowledge about any of these cases, you’re taking a similar stance to that of the random assholes who show up in the comments on any news story about a sexual assault & argue that people shouldn’t be taking the victim’s word for it, because the perp hasn’t been convicted in a court of law.

    Asking for specific examples of bad acts that a company has been accused of is just like rape apolgetics? Yuck.

  39. Jackson says

    @37 Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    We are saying of fucking course Monsanto won’t come out and tell the court to their faces that they’re suing farmers whose fields they’ve contaminated

    I agree. However, I assume the other side of the lawsuit would make that exact claim. Which is what I wanted to look at. I agree that settlements can be a way of avoiding court costs and hassles that one might not be able to afford even if they are in the right. Are you saying that not even one farmer, ever, anywhere, has been unjustly accused and gone to court? Maybe. Where did you hear about this?

    Monsanto certainly shouldn’t be suing farmers whose fields are contaminated, given that doing so loses the farmers their “GMO free” and possibly “organic” status, even if they decide to make lemonade out of the lemons thrown through their windows by making use of the abandoned fucking property Monsanto left in their fields due to their carelessness.

    I also agree here; Monsanto should not be suing over accidental contamination (a possible suit against Monsanto would be more appropriate).

  40. weatherwax says

    Nathaniel: In the only case I’m aware of the farmer knew he was getting cross pollination from a neighboring farm, and deliberately separated out and used the resulting seeds for re-planting, so he was effectively using the Monsanto product without purchasing it.

  41. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Nathaniel: In the only case I’m aware of the farmer knew he was getting cross pollination from a neighboring farm, and deliberately separated out and used the resulting seeds for re-planting, so he was effectively using the Monsanto product without purchasing it.

    He was A) making productive use of abandoned property and B) recouping his losses from having his crops contaminated. What the fuck is he supposed to do, just throw away a portion of the crop?

  42. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Azkyroth, I think we all would agree that cros-pollination happens and if someone just has their fields contaminated, Monsanto should not sue them. But do you have any evidence that this situation has ever actually happened?

    A basic understanding of physics?

  43. Anri says

    Just as an aside, to answer one of the points raised in the OP, one major reason for not saving hybrid seeds is that they don’t breed true. If you have a hybrid seed for, let’s say, drought resistance or anti-corn-borer BT production, and you save seed and breed from it, a significant percentage of the crop will not breed that trait. Fewer still in the next generation. My casual understanding is that there is a loss of about 30% effectiveness per generation.
    This is, of course, in addition to the usual problems of weed infiltration in saved seeds and so forth.
    No evil plot here, just the real world being the way it is.

    As to the lawsuit business, correct me if I am wrong, but the way US patent law is set up, it’s very difficult to justify selectively enforcing a patent, yes? Either you are content with customers copying your product or you’re not, legally speaking, am I correct in this?
    As to the power differential between tech seed companies (yes, yes, Monsanto is an easy-to-remember target, but they’re not the only ones in the business) and farmers, yes it exists.
    Would you like to make the legal system friendlier to smaller concerns? Sounds excellent, I’m all for that. The fact that it’s not isn’t the seed company’s fault, of course.
    Would you like to see more GMO tech be done by smaller, presumably farmer-friendlier companies? Also, sounds good – but first, you’ll have to make GMO seed development less expensive and less risky. That would involve reducing regulation and improving public opinion of the product. Are you working towards that?
    If not, you’re helping to make certain that the only companies that can work on the product are those that can dump millions of dollars and a decade of work into something that might be DOA from a sales or regulatory point of view. Small companies can’t do that.

    An interesting side note is the apparent disconnect between the outrage* over ‘terminator’ seeds – which allow for a crop but not breeding (the technology has been developed but not implemented commercially) and the outrage over possible cross-contamination. When you see people simultaneously pissed about GMO seeds that can’t breed and GMO seeds that can breed, I’m really not sure what to say.
    (*Not on this blog, I’m speaking generally.)

  44. says

    A bit of logic for a second-

    WTF would the motivation of Monsanto be to use farmers for cross pollenization? Or ‘seeds being blown into the field’? The guy whom this claim originated with is clearly guilty, the plant was a match for Monsanto, a few blown seeds and cross pollenization isn’t going to lead to that.

    Monsanto most definitely has a vested interest in suing people who replant the seeds or resell the seeds. There is obvious motive for them to go after farmers for those reasons. I’m not seeing motive for going after people for things that, after reasonable investigation, appear to be cross pollenization related or ‘blown seeds’. All it would do is reinforce the narrative that they are evil.

  45. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Pollen. Fucking. Spreads. In. The. Fucking. Wind. You. Fucking. Chucklehead.

  46. monkeymagic says

    @19 brucemartin “I think the key GMO concern is that lab modifications are qualitatively different.”

    Yes! Thanks for clearly summarizing the argument. “It’s just like selective breeding” is the patronizing go-to argument used by GMO advocates to dismiss skeptics instead of debating the very real differences: the mixing of genes across species, the massive shortcuts the technology empowers, the removal of natural checks and balances inherent in selective breeding, the dangers of mono-crops and damage to biodiversity, the unimaginable financial interests driving the research, the conflict between sustainability and shareholders’ need for profit…

    But the larger problem seems to be philosophical. Fundamentally we believe that we can break things, figure out how they work, and put them back together. We’re operating under 19th century metaphors.

    The truth is we’re still in the *very* early stages of understanding complex emergent systems like genes and ecosystems. Unexpected consequences should be considered the rule, not the exception. Maybe some humility in the face of everything we don’t understand yet might be warranted? Instead we have scientific arrogance combined with unprecedented financial interests… really, what could go wrong!?

    Remember “DDT is good for me…”? Skepticism of a manifesto driven by massive financial interests is rational. Blindly signing up for the next in an endless line of big industry life-innovations is crazy!

  47. zenlike says

    monkeymagic

    “It’s just like selective breeding” is the patronizing go-to argument used by GMO advocates to dismiss skeptics instead of debating the very real differences: the mixing of genes across species

    Which is a problem because…

    the massive shortcuts the technology empowers

    Which is a problem because…

    the removal of natural checks and balances inherent in selective breeding

    You really don’t want anyone to take you seriously, do you?

    the dangers of mono-crops and damage to biodiversity

    Which is also a problem with 100% non-GMO farming methods. Have you even read the OP?

    the unimaginable financial interests driving the research

    Certainly not a concern when it is ‘natural’ selective breeding methods (rolls eyes).

    the conflict between sustainability and shareholders’ need for profit…

    The same.

    Really, if you have read the OP you would know that the big gripe is that anti-GMO folk mostly bring up issue that are not directly related to GMO at all but to general farming practises. Also, if you claim something is bad, don’t assume it is bad but actually point out how or why it is so.

  48. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    Gotta love the way all these people are joining the thread without bothering to read the prior posts, in which their questions are answered, & their misconceptions are addressed with citations & data.

  49. says

    Azkyroth, I think we all would agree that cros-pollination happens and if someone just has their fields contaminated, Monsanto should not sue them. But do you have any evidence that this situation has ever actually happened?

    A basic understanding of physics?

    I believe that the situation that you’re being asked about is the suing, not the cross-pollination.

    It strikes me as a completely fair question. We all agree that cross pollination can occur and likely does occur in fields in close proximity. The question is, once a farmer realizes that his crop has been cross-fertilized with GMO pollen, what does he do? And in response to his action, what does Monsanto do?

    If the farmer deliberately separates out the GMO seeds and grows them without a license, then that’s clearly a violation and a suit is entirely legitimate (under current laws, anyway). The case mentioned above is an example of this. On the other hand, if the farmer doesn’t specifically grow GMO seeds, but just has a low level of contamination, then he’s doing nothing wrong and a suit would be immoral. He can’t help if the pollen blows in from outside, so he’s not responsible for it.

    Since the claim is that Monsanto sues farmers for accidental contamination, you’re being asked to show a specific case where this has happened. That’s not unreasonable.

  50. says

    The truth is we’re still in the *very* early stages of understanding complex emergent systems like genes and ecosystems.

    Odd; I seem to recall hearing exactly this line, ad infinitum, from climate change deniers to completely dismiss all research showing climate change to be human caused. How appropriate that it transfers so well to attempts to completely dismiss all research showing GMOs to not pose a danger to human health. Good thing the left, unlike the right, doesn’t venerate its anti-science types (this is why I hate phrases like “anti-GMO is to the left as anti-climate change is to the right”).

    the dangers of mono-crops and damage to biodiversity, the unimaginable financial interests driving the research, the conflict between sustainability and shareholders’ need for profit…

    All of which are very real concerns, and all of which are completely irrelevant to the science of genetic modification. Like so many other things in modern science/engineering, the problem comes down to capitalism, not some kind of inherent danger to the scientific process used.

  51. wilsim says

    Any anti-GMO people reading this that have diabetes and take insulin?

    Your insulin has been grown via GMO e-coli bacteria or GMO yeast since 1982. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin#Synthesis_2

    So, stay true to your principles and stop taking your insulin, risking your own unnecessary death? Or swallow the facts and educate yourselves on the science?

    Be a good rationalist and think about it.

  52. madtom1999 says

    You have to try and not conflate science and engineering.
    GM science is good. GM crops are engineering with politics and accountancy – never a great combination.
    My objections to GM are it is generally the wrong solution to the the wrong problem.
    A friend worked on roundup resistance trials in the UK ( many years after weed resistance in Canada was public knowledge) and the crops were much poorer than their non-gm counterparts until they applied roundup. The weeds could largely be disposed of mechanically resulting in much larger yields (remember Jethro Tull?) and modern technology can (given some small investment) produce autonomous mechanical weeders that would be able to weed hundreds of acres a year for the price of a few acres of roundup.
    Anyone who grows their own food knows that they can produce far more on the same land than industrial farming can – it just needs a bit more human input and given the problem we are supposedly trying to solve is feeding increasing populations there seems to be some synergy there.

  53. carlie says

    If the farmer deliberately separates out the GMO seeds

    I honestly don’t see how that is possible. They don’t look any different from “regular” seeds. It’s not like they’re purple or anything. (as a side note, see all of the problems related to Golden Rice for a case study on how good ideas, difficult science, and cultural expectations can create a clusterfuck of a result) And have you ever seen how harvesting works? How on earth could a farmer separate even purple seeds from the rest, if they were accidental and therefore scattered in the field? It’s simply not possible. Even on a single ear of corn, if it’s coming from cross-pollination, some kernels could be GMO and some not.

    Has anyone else ever heard the urban legend that eating the green potato chips in a bag of Lays™ would make you sick?

    Well, eating green parts of a potato could make you sick because a green potato is actively producing toxins, so I guess that’s where it comes from. Fun fact: that brown ring you see on some potato chips? That’s the stele, the vascular bundles of the tuber (xylem and phloem), and it’s in a ring because the potato is a stem and a dicot, and dicot stems always have their vascular bundles arranged in a ring (in a root, it’s a solid cluster in the middle).

  54. says

    carlie:

    I honestly don’t see how that is possible.

    The case mentioned in the link in comment #10 explains exactly how:

    In the first trial, Schmeiser claimed in 1997 he sprayed Roundup on three acres of his canola field because he was suspicious it might be Roundup tolerant. If his story were true, this would kill any canola plants other than those tolerant to Roundup. After killing more than half his crop, he then harvested the remaining plants that did not die and segregated this seed. The next year (1998) he had this seed treated and used this seed to plant 1,030 acres on his farm.

    It’s possible that there could be an issue if a field is, year after year, subjected to pollen from GMO plants. Possibly this could result in an accumulation of GMO plants without any intent by the farmer to violate the patent. However, I think it should be fairly simple to distinguish between accidental contamination and deliberate violation. For one, just check if the farmer sprayed with roundup.

  55. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    @carlie #56: Every time I hear that claim by Monsanto, I wonder the same thing. How the hell would a farmer go about “deliberately separating out the GM seeds”, exactly? Perhaps I’m mistaken, & the Monsanto GM seeds are blue or something, but short of DNA testing, I have no idea how a farmer could spot the seeds contaminated by a neighbour’s GM crop from the regular seeds. In fact, I thought that was the major issue that the ‘organic’ farmers were upset about when they sued Monsanto.

  56. says

    I can certainly get behind #5. Blanket paranoia about GMOs is silly, it would be much better to articulate what exactly one finds problematic about the whole business.

    But then: In a free market capitalist society, which we have all “bought” into here in America,

    Whoa, stop right there. Now I am not in America but I guess the same applies to all capitalist countries: how do I “buy” out? Am I not allowed to consider the way things are done suboptimal just because I am unwilling to emigrate?

    if somebody invents something that has market value, they ought to be able to make as much money as they can selling it, provided they do not infringe the rights of others.

    “As much as they can?” Seriously? I assume that the background of this is the strange assumption that profits from patents are the only incentive for innovation. As counter-evidence I present: the entire scientific community. Neither I nor any other scientist I know is motivated by money. Admittedly I am not working in GMO research myself but the people I know who do won’t get rich either. They do it for the same reasons everybody else does science: the excitement of finding out new things and the respect of their peers.

    So basically, give a bunch of people with the right personality profiles equipment and a regular salary and innovations will happen. They could be generated for the public domain if so desired. The idea that patents are needed for innovation is not supported by empirical evidence.

    I see no reason why food should not be included in this concept.

    And I can see how people might advance a few reasons for that, starting with the fact that people need food to survive, as opposed to an iPhone for example. Just saying.

  57. says

    I see no reason why food should not be included in this concept.

    And I can see how people might advance a few reasons for that, starting with the fact that people need food to survive, as opposed to an iPhone for example. Just saying.

    That one struck me too. A market economy makes sense in many areas, but I think there are good reasons to exclude certain essentials from the pure market forces, for one simple reason: They’re already excluded from pure market forces.

    The idea of the free market relies on buyers and sellers having a choice in whether to do business. When we’re dealing with things like food and water, that’s not true. As such, normal market mechanics will not necessarily work to regulate price and quality. You can in fact offer a poor, overpriced product and have people buy it, because they need it. If they’re starving, they may not have the freedom to shop around for a better deal.

    Not all interventions reduce freedom. Sometimes an intervention is needed to preserve freedom.

  58. rossthompson says

    Monsanto certainly shouldn’t be suing farmers whose fields are contaminated, given that doing so loses the farmers their “GMO free” and possibly “organic” status, even if they decide to make lemonade out of the lemons thrown through their windows by making use of the abandoned fucking property Monsanto left in their fields due to their carelessness.

    So, if a farmer’s fields are contaminated with GMO crops, and the farmer realises this and deliberately cultivates them, Monsanto shouldn’t sue because then he won’t be able to fraudulently sell them as “GMO Free”? That actually seems like something the consumers would want to know, surely?

    If the farmer deliberately separates out the GMO seeds

    I honestly don’t see how that is possible.

    As in the case of Percy Schmeiser: Spray massively with Roundup.The plants that survive are Roundup-Ready (blown into his farm accidentally). Burn the rest of your crop, and re-seed exclusively from the Roundup-Ready plants. Result: 98% of your crop is Roundup-Ready without paying Monsanto a penny. Until the law suit, anyway.

    Oh, and for those of you that are interested, there was the time a group of farmers sued Monsanto to stop Monsanto from suing them for exactly this reason. And the case was dismissed on the grounds that they presented no evidence that Monsanto had ever done that, or was planning to. So, yeah, I’m still on the side of them not having actually done this, unless someone can point to a specific case.

    http://www.osgata.org/osgata-et-al-v-monsanto/ (All documents relating to the case)
    http://www.osgata.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/OSGATA-v-Monsanto-MTD-Decision.pdf (Ruling)

  59. carlie says

    LykeX – ah, I see. But just spraying Roundup doesn’t mean using Roundup-Ready plants; farmers have been using it for weed control since it was made in 1970 (Roundup-ready just means less damage to the crop and ability to apply more of it more often). It’s also used as a dessicant to get crops ready for harvest.

  60. says

    carlie:
    I wasn’t suggesting it as a one-size-fits-all criterion, just that this could be part of determining whether the farmer intended to violate the pattern or not. Obviously, this would have to be evaluated on an individual basis. The idea is simply to try to distinguish between a farmer who is deliberately selecting for GMO crops in order to avoid paying the license, and one who just happens to have some accidental contamination, with no intention of violating the patent.

    The claim is that Monsanto is suing both kinds of farmers, but I’ve only heard of cases of the first type, where I think Monsanto is entirely in the right. If there are cases of the latter type, I’d very much like to hear about it, since that would obviously be out of line.

  61. methuseus says

    Even if a farmer sprays Roundup and then collects the seed from those plants, I don’t completely see how he’s infringing a patent he wasn’t trying to use anyway. If he didn’t isolate the Roundup Ready contaminated plants, and still saved seed, each year he’d have more and more Roundup Ready plants. After 5 years or so, they could make up a decent amount of his crop, and he never sprayed Roundup.

    I think the individual who did that with saving the seeds that survived the Roundup was trying to prove a point, that his crop was getting contaminated without his approval. I’m not saying he’s right, just that it’s not completely clear-cut that spraying Roundup (or another herbicide with a similar chemical profile) necessarily means he’s trying to infringe on a patent.

  62. weatherwax says

    Me: “Nathaniel: In the only case I’m aware of the farmer knew he was getting cross pollination from a neighboring farm, and deliberately separated out and used the resulting seeds for re-planting, so he was effectively using the Monsanto product without purchasing it.”

    Azkyroth: “He was A) making productive use of abandoned property and B) recouping his losses from having his crops contaminated. What the fuck is he supposed to do, just throw away a portion of the crop?”

    A, he was intentionally using a copyrighted product without paying for it.
    B, He’s supposed to process it like he normally would. Nothing in the conversation said he was taking a loss.

  63. witlesschum says

    For what it’s worth, the Skeptic’s guide podcast did an episode where Steven Novella looked into the various claims of lawsuits by Monsanto and concluded basically what was being argued there, that the charges they’re harassing innocent farmers are trumped up.

  64. God Emperor Lionel Lauer says

    @67 Weatherwax: Patented, not copyrighted – the difference is kind of important. And really? I’m pretty disappointed that some 2/3rds of the commenters in this thread are so invested in in the notion that corporate profits trump every other consideration. I had no idea that Libertardianism was so strong in this blog. I guess I’ll leave y’all to continue jacking each other off, while complaining about those scumbag farmers who dare to imagine that they have a ‘right’ to farm without signing up for the corporate GMO merry go round.

  65. rossthompson says

    I’m pretty disappointed that some 2/3rds of the commenters in this thread are so invested in in the notion that corporate profits trump every other consideration. I had no idea that Libertardianism was so strong in this blog.

    Perrsonally, I think that if Monsanto is suing people who aren’t deliberately infringing their patents, then that’s bad. But no-one, including the Organic Seed Growers And Trade Association has yet managed to demonstrate that that’s happening. I find it entirely plausible that a few hundred farmers have deliberately cultivated crops that they hadn’t paid for, and been sued for it; and that tens of thousands of farmers have had patented pollen drift into their fields and not been sued for it. Feel free to prove me wrong, and I will join the crowd of people angrily shouting about Monsanto’s crimes.

    Corporate profits are an interesting diversion, but the question that has been asked is “is there any evidence that Monsanto sues farmers for accidental drift?”, and the only answer anyone’s attempted to give to that are hand waving and conspiracy theories (“Of course pollen can blow in the wind!” “Probably some of the people they sued are innocent!” “Monsanto wouldn’t tell people why they’re suing!”). So please, once again: Name a farmer who got sued because a trivial amount of pollen blew into his farm, and he took no steps to deliberately select for and cultivate it.

    complaining about those scumbag farmers who dare to imagine that they have a ‘right’ to farm without signing up for the corporate GMO merry go round.

    Sure, of course farmers can farm without buying patented seeds from Monsanto. The question is whether they can cultivate patented seeds without first buying the rights to do so. International law (rightly or wrongly) says “no”. While I can see a case for that being changed, in the meantime if a farmer doesn’t want to pay for patented seeds, they shouldn’t cultivate them.

  66. Ewan R says

    Tl;dr ahead.
    Normal disclaimer. I work for Monsanto. My musings here are utterly my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, they probably don’t publicly say fuck quite so much.

    In a free market capitalist society, which we have all “bought” into here in America, if somebody invents something that has market value, they ought to be able to make as much money as they can selling it

    I’m not convinced I agree with this. I think that one should be allowed to make money on inventions, but I’m not entirely convinced that things such as the seed pricing controls in say, India, are actually a bad thing – enforcing a value share rather than having a company dictate what it will be seems a pretty good thing all round.

    It’s surely legal to sell someone seeds that cannot reproduce themselves

    There are no GMOs that do this. Even hybrids can reproduce, the offspring simply aren’t as uniform or useful as the parents.

    But when sold to developing country — one struggling to become self-sufficient — the practice is surely immoral.

    Depends, I think, on how the practice is implemented – I don’t particularly find it immoral that one would sell cotton seed 300 Rupees per hectare as opposed to 50 Rupees per hectare on a year on year basis to a farmer if the same farmer nets 20,000 Rupees from that same hectare rather than 10,000 Rupees, that’s a spectacularly small value share going on there and hardly a burden (This is the sort of use case that actually occurs in the real world…)

    To the extent that the production of GMOs are a monopoly

    30% market share of seed != a monopoly, some people have issues with it for sure, but the only place there has ever been close to a monopoly has been on traits, and here Monsanto could have been real dicks about things and *not* licensed their trait to the competition – this could very well have led to a monopoly (although more likely it would have backfired horribly, killed GM as a commercially viable venture, and left Monsanto high and dry in terms of market)

    And on to the comments
    #1 carlie

    There are some truly reprehensible things being done with GMOs (like suing anyone whose fields suffer from pollen drift)

    Which doesn’t happen. But why let reality get in the way of a good narrative?

    some predictable side effects that will cause us other problems in the near future (hybridization with wild weed relatives to pass along genes to herbicide resistance)

    Afaik there has been no hybridization with wild weed relatives (Corn and Soy have no wild weed relatives to breed with in the areas they are grown. Resistance has arisen amongst weeds (by other and very interesting routes, yay evolution) but this is going to occur with literally any weed control system one implements (including tillage)

    #19 Bruce Martin

    Changes made by breeding are inherently minor enough that their safety is a low risk, and is tested on humans every generation. So nothing too bad can be developed by breeding, without people noticing.

    There is no reason to expect that minor changes in breeding have any different risk than minor changes in GE techniques (one *could* purposefully create quite catastrophic changes in GE, but everything I’ve seen (proprietary information, so yay for that) suggests that transgenic modification has way less of an impact on plant metabolomics/transcriptome etc than literally anything else you can do to a plant. Biggest impact? Breeding (with changes in growing conditions being an intermediate change – I’m far more likely to be able to predict what hybrid you were using than what conditions you grew it in (although I believe I could do both) and by and large it’d be almost impossible to tell if I was looking at a GM or non GM plant through metabolomics or transcriptome alone. (and when I say I, I mean a guy I know who does this sort of thing routinely and is constantly exasperated by claims that GE techniques induce major changes)

    #25 carlie

    the point is that accidental drift happens but Monsanto (and other companies) assume that they’re cheating and stealing patented seed and sue for that.

    Except that once there is evidence of presence of a transgene in the field one must look and see at what level that transgene is present. Accidental drift presence would be spectacularly obvious. You’d have a random distribution and a low number of transgenic plants in the field. Any farmer who could use this in their defence would and Monsanto would lose the case (which is why they’d never sue in these cases – interesting fact in the Schmeiser case – neighbors of schmeiser found volunteer canola in/around their fields and contacted Monsanto who… rather than suing them, paid to have it removed. Bastards that they are.

    #31 carlie

    Monsanto does spot tests and finds their gene markers in the farmer’s crop, so sues the farmer for using their seed without paying proper fees.

    Except you miss the bit where they follow up and check to see whether or not the presence is accidental or not.

    If the farmer is not lying, then the only way that the Monsanto gene marker got in the farmer’s crop is through accidental cross-pollination.

    That isn’t the only way – in the case of Schmeiser it is suspected that the original canola fell off a truck. Similar could happen with corn.

    What you do not have is clear evidence as to whether the farmer did it on purpose.

    Odd then that in every case that has gone to trial it has been clear that the farmer did it on purpose. Are we really going to accept that the hero of the anti-GM movement, Schmeiser, wouldn’t be dropped like a steaming handful of turd if one could demonstrate that there was actually someone out there who was sued for accidental contamination? It’d be massive. It would, infact, pay to be that person (Schmeiser does pretty well despite being a consummate liar on the matter)

    There are many, many cases where farmers themselves claim that it wasn’t any doing of theirs, but Monsanto came bearing down and they settled out of court.

    Where?

    As a brief aside, having talked with some legal folk, the general consensus is that when these things are brought up farmers tend to simply say ‘yup, you caught me’ and accept the minor slap on the wrist that accompanies getting caught – and then by and large they go on and continue purchasing traited seed – other commentors hyperbolae that this is a case of painting the farmers as evil is a bit much I think – they’re not really doing much more than trying to save themselves some money, they take the risk that they will not get caught, when they do, oh well, gamble didn’t pay off.

    #39 Nathaniel Frein (and others who have commented in a similar vein)

    I mean, I can see pollen drifting due to carelessness on Monsanto’s part.

    Why would this be Monsanto carelessness? 75%+ of the corn crop in the US contains traited material – is there an expectation that Monsanto track all this pollen and, I dunno, catch it in a net or something if it happens to move into a seed production area?

    There appears to be some major misconception about how breeding or line preservation would be done. Anyone making seed for production is going to do so in a very controlled manner, otherwise your results will just be ridiculous. So you wouldn’t, for instance, grow corn for seed manufacture up against another field (or within reasonable pollen drift limits anyway – although a small amount of contamination would be relatively meaningless) – you’d probably talk to your neighbor and figure out what they were growing (oh, so you expect pollen shed this week, well, I’ll delay my planting 6 days and we shouldn’t overlap…) you’ll have some buffer zone incorporated (plant your male line 6 rows deep around the edges of the field – it’ll catch most drifting pollen and will produce so much of its own that it will drown out any inconming signal.

    What I can’t figure out is how anyone would go about deliberately channeling the pollen to their crops to intentionally cross-pollinate.

    This generally isn’t what lawsuits are over – seed saving is generally from a prior traited crop – stuff like soybean is inbred and thus the seed from the crop is genetically the same as the seed you planted – so if you get it cleaned and replant… well, here you’re bypassing the need to repurchase. However one could, if one were breeding ones own corn, try and piggyback on the success of the traits by having pollen drift in and then using the resulting seeds as a traited starter (you could do this by simply detasseling a bunch of corn plants adjacent to a field you know is traited – although frankly that seems like way too much trouble which likely explains why it has never happened)

    The activity and or equipment that demonstrates intent.

    Indeed, and this is precisely what was used in evidence against schmeiser. Although by sheer statistics alone a 90%+ presence of transgene in a crop is nigh on impossible to explain without the farmer having some knowledge of what is going on (or their seed supplier, I guess)

    #44 azkyroth

    He was A) making productive use of abandoned property and B) recouping his losses from having his crops contaminated. What the fuck is he supposed to do, just throw away a portion of the crop?

    The case in question is Schmeiser no doubt. So…

    A) Is false.
    B) Is false
    In the Schmeiser case the guy found some canola on the border of his field (not, as stated already, through cross pollinion, but most likely from seed spilled from a truck) that didn’t die when he sprayed it with roundup. He then went and sprayed 3 acres of his actual crop with roundup (throwing away a rather sizable portion of his crop along with it. The plants that survived he harvested, and kept the seeds separate from the rest of his harvest. He then used these seeds, and these seeds alone, to plant ~1000 acres of canola the following year. There were no losses to recoup, there was no abandoned property to consider. Percy’s neighbors had had similar issues and Monsanto had come in and paid for removal of the transgenic stuff at no expense or loss of crop to them (because oddly enough fostering goodwill with farmers is a good business model when your competition is all too happy to take your custom) (I believe actually that subsequently Percy had Monsanto do similar for him, which he claimed as a victory although nobody quite knows why, he does like to claim victory where none exists)

    #48 Azkyroth

    Pollen. Fucking. Spreads. In. The. Fucking. Wind. You. Fucking. Chucklehead.

    Pollen spread wouldn’t impart transgenes to the vegetative tissue of a plant. Most farmers do not save seed, any farmer saving seed would do so sensibly in a manner that prevented cross pollination from undesirable plants. In some cases… pollen actually doesn’t spread (Soy, for instance, is a total bugger in this respect, as is cotton but less so) – if I am not mistaken most of the patent infringement cases have actually been soy, not corn (because saving seed in soy makes sense)
    If some pollen spreads to your field of corn and say, 0.05% of the kernels you produce contain a trait you didn’t pay for… nobody cares (except perhaps the most ludicrous of non-gmo labeling schemes). You would never be sued, you would never be expected to pay for it, your grain would still meet USDA organic requirements, your grain would not, infact, be remotely fucking different.

    #55 madtom1999

    A friend worked on roundup resistance trials in the UK ( many years after weed resistance in Canada was public knowledge) and the crops were much poorer than their non-gm counterparts until they applied roundup.

    This isn’t true for all versions of the roundup trait. The original RR soybeans suffered some yield drag (but were still popular because the removal of the need for elaborate weed control methods made up for lost income on seed produced at the end (if it saves you $30 per acre in control and costs you $15 per acre in end yield… you’re probably going to do it anyway)) but one simply cannot differentiate between RR2 and non traited in terms of yield.

    modern technology can (given some small investment) produce autonomous mechanical weeders that would be able to weed hundreds of acres a year for the price of a few acres of roundup.

    RR trait costs say, $10-$15 per acre.
    Roundup costs say $6 per acre.
    Aplication of roundup probably another $6 per acre

    So about $20-$30 per acre… so you are claiming that autonomous mechanical weeders (which would be a spectacularly high tech robot capable of weed recognition and navigating fields of crops without damaging the crop or falling into a hole…) will be available in the near future for under $100.
    Wow. Is this going to occur pre, or post singularity?

    #56 carlie

    I honestly don’t see how that is possible.

    In cases where seed have been saved it has been by spraying the offspring with roundup and then collecting seed from self pollinated offspring of the survivors. Not hard at all. The rest of #56 as pertains to harvesting doesn’t really make sense in the context of saving seed to replant… unless you follow the fallacious line of thinking that *any* contamination in seed planted would equal a lawsuit (if this were the case one can guarantee that the number of lawsuits brought would be far, far larger than it is – and that Monsanto would have had its ass handed to it in court multiple hundreds of times for being bugshit crazy)

    #66 methuseus

    Even if a farmer sprays Roundup and then collects the seed from those plants, I don’t completely see how he’s infringing a patent he wasn’t trying to use anyway. If he didn’t isolate the Roundup Ready contaminated plants, and still saved seed, each year he’d have more and more Roundup Ready plants. After 5 years or so, they could make up a decent amount of his crop, and he never sprayed Roundup.

    Would he though? Why would the trait increase rather than stay at whatever the original contamination level was? Do all the other plants magically stop self pollinating and producing their own pollen?

  67. monkeymagic says

    @53 “Like so many other things in modern science/engineering, the problem comes down to capitalism, not some kind of inherent danger to the scientific process used.”

    I’m sorry, that is a cop-out. Sure corporations are inherently amoral – they exist to make profit for their shareholders. But they operate within rules and regulations set by society. Science has to inform business about the risks and consequences of their actions. Big industry doesn’t need cheerleaders and advocates – they already have all the power! They need push-back. Businesses naturally see how far they can push before something pushes back – how much can I take before someone complains. It’s nothing personal, it’s “just business”. But it’s society’s job to push back.

    I often ask climate change deniers “what if you’re wrong?” The stakes are so high. It’s the same question I ask GMO advocates. Who goes to jail if (for the sake of argument) GMOs kill all the bees? Does “Capitalism” go to jail? Naughty capitalism, bad boy, go stand in the corner and think about what you did to the planet! LOL!

    Listen, I’m a software engineer. Every engineer who’s been doing it long enough has the story about the “tiny change” they made that was “completely safe” that ended up breaking something big. Every piece of software ever shipped has thousands of known bugs and many more unknown bugs. We live with it. Sometimes a web form doesn’t work, sometimes your cable tv goes down, sometimes a plane crashes… it’s a risk we’re willing to live with. We have safeguards: unit tests, code review, version control databases – worst case we can roll back changes if we break something. But make no mistake, software engineering, working with complex emergent systems, is a primitive field. Most software is bad, but luckily most of the time it doesn’t matter that much. But now we’re working with nature’s source code… It’s okay, make that “tiny change”, it’s “completely safe”… and we have a deadline, lots of money on the line!

    This is not a debate about the “scientific process” it’s about real life applied science. Where science and business intersect.

    Maybe the burden of proof should be on the scientists releasing GMOs into the environment. Maybe we would like to see them acknowledge the risks. Instead we get “it’s just like selective breeding” (it’s not) “we’ve been doing this forever” (we haven’t) “we know what we’re doing” (famous last words)

  68. Ewan R says

    t’s “completely safe”… and we have a deadline, lots of money on the line!

    Software engineers work with what, 3-6 month deadlines per project if they’re lucky? It takes approximately a decade to get a trait to market, during which time tens of thousands of plants containing the gene will be created and tens of millions of dollars spent looking for issues.

    I often ask climate change deniers “what if you’re wrong?”

    A similar question could be asked of those fundamentally opposed to the use of GMOs. What if we hadn’t?

    If we’d said, hey, what if we’re wrong, about RR crops, for instance – we’d have just gone through a decade where the weed control systems in place prior to RR crops were used. Weed control methods which are more costly to farmers and more harmful to the environment. What if we hadn’t adopted Bt cotton so wholeheartedly? We’d have gone through a decade where cotton farmers in India had to use way more toxic insecticides to grow their cotton. Where thousands would have been poisoned by same insecticides in order that we have cheap T-shirts (working assumption in both cases, which I don’t think is unreasonable, is that the status quo remains (not because it is right, but because it simply would have)). Where the same farmers make less money for working harder.

    There are costs associated with non adoption.

    What if GMOs kill all the bees? Similar question to “what if when you open your door you spark a tornado which kills the next Einstein!!” – except we know that testing is done to ascertain whether or not GMOs are toxic to various insects etc and can be certain that unless they’re actually designed to be they’d not make it to market on grounds of unintended toxic effects.

    Maybe the burden of proof should be on the scientists releasing GMOs into the environment.

    It currently is. Alas however you can spend tens of millions of dollars and 5+ years testing stuff and simply be told that “well of course you say it is safe, you profit from it” (which rather makes me wonder why we have quite so many regulatory scientists in our employ and why they keep telling us not to do things which make scientific sense because testing them would be too hard – if we just say everything is cool in the end then we should just employ one person to say things are safe, bit of makeup and a handful of name badges and it’d totally look like there was a regulatory component to what we do)

  69. hyphenman says

    @ Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) No. 17

    Caffeine is a natural pesticide “developed” (I know that’s not the right word, but I’m on the run here) by the coffee, and other, plants.

    Jeff

  70. says

    God Emperor Lionel Lauer #67

    I’m pretty disappointed that some 2/3rds of the commenters in this thread are so invested in in the notion that corporate profits trump every other consideration.

    Oh, what a load of toss. Nobody here is arguing that profits trump all. That’s simply a strawman and a pretty obvious one at that. Fact is this: You’ve made claims that you can’t back up and now you’re whining that other people have the nerve to point it out.

    It’s entirely possible that Monsanto would do something like this. It wouldn’t be the first time a big corporation acted unethically. I haven’t looked deeply into the history, so I wouldn’t by any means rule out that there are some questionable cases lurking in the shadows. However, its very conspicuous how nobody can seem to actually point to a case that demonstrates the accusation.

  71. monkeymagic says

    @Ewan R Hi, it’s always interesting to hear from an expert in a field…

    “Software engineers work with what, 3-6 month deadlines per project if they’re lucky?”

    It’s not the deadlines, more the nature of working with complex emergent systems. To elaborate a little on the software analogy:

    – Software ships with “acceptable” bugs. Business interests often dictate what’s “acceptable.”
    – Other bugs are only discovered when the software is “released to the wild” where it now lives in a more complex ecosystem that can be simulated in-house. IOW, the software experiences new pressures and breaks.
    – Software “in the wild” has dependencies that are not under the creators’ control (infrastructure, libraries, drivers…). Any of these dependencies can change and introduce new bugs.
    – Mission critical software is not released to the wild. It lives in a controlled ecosystem with all dependencies carefully maintained.
    – Companies go out of business and software is abandoned. This effects any other software dependent on that software.
    – Bugs are found after something has already gone wrong!
    – Fixing bugs causes other bugs.
    – Critical bug fixes are often hurried (because the damage is ongoing) and often cause other critical bugs.
    – Software is often abandoned when it’s too costly to keep fixing bugs.

    Software engineering has no systemic methodology that can predict emergent properties of complex systems. It’s largely reactive. You can sit in a room with the smartest people on the planet, planning on a white board and within five minutes of applying the plan it breaks because of a missed assumption, or unpredictable side effect. So you react in an iterative loop until it’s “good enough” and it handles the use cases you can imagine (spoiler: your imagination is never good enough).

    Genetic engineering is an even younger field working with vastly more complex systems with far higher stakes. How do you predict the behaviour of GMOs created outside of normal ecosystem constraints and then released into the wild? How do you predict it’s interactions with other GMOs created by other companies? A pharmacist will admit he can’t predict the interactions of more than 3 or 4 medications in your body, but somehow we have complete confidence in the interaction of GMOs in the wild? How do you “recall” a defective product? How do you patch bugs quickly?

    What worries me is the tendency of GE advocates to dismiss concerns and steamroll over objections. E.g., we can’t label GMO foods because uninformed, superstitious consumers will avoid it – sorry it’s your job to educate those consumers!

    “what if when you open your door you spark a tornado which kills the next Einstein!!”

    Sure if I had any reason to believe that might happen…? But there are plenty of cautionary examples of science+business screwing up! It’s disconcerting to hear scientists’ level of surprise at “unexpected” discoveries. Really, you’ve discovered another thing in breast milk missing from baby formula, who’d have thunk it? Really, that experimental stem cell treatment had unexpected side effect, what a shocker! There seems to be a willful disregard for the idea that we’re working with complex systems that we don’t fully understand…. the physical sciences have had such success with deconstructionist approaches that we want to believe we can master complex emergent systems with the same tools. But we probably need some new tools…

  72. Ewan R says

    You can sit in a room with the smartest people on the planet, planning on a white board and within five minutes of applying the plan it breaks because of a missed assumption, or unpredictable side effect.

    So your analogy falls on its arse here somewhat. When doing a transgenic crop you aren’t creating a whole new piece of software, in terms of a software analogy you’re inserting a single function into an already functional piece of software, you’re changing the font of the menu screen, adding a single bonus weapon, or giving the ability to divide by negative 1. You also have far better screening capacity in biotech than any software engineer has. If I’m implementing a new trait for insect resistance for instance (or something that rhymes less if the fancy takes you) do I slap it right into a corn plant and say to the world “This works! We talked about it in an office!”. No. First I’ve gone through an iterative process to make sure it does work in vitro (I feed the protein itself to insects and watch how well they grow, if they all die I say, hey, lets put this into a plant). Then I have to go through a process to make sure my protein doesn’t run afoul of any epitope hits in databases of known allergens. Then I stick it into plants and grow those. When I do this I make sure they grow just right. First in greenhouses, then in the field. Not just one field either. Lots of fields. Fields in Iowa, fields in Illinois, fields in the Dakotas and all manner of places where my corn might grow. I do this for a number of years and I measure things. Lots of things. When all that looks fine and dandy I say “Hey, folks in regulatory, this all looks fine and dandy!” and they look at me rather sternly and say “Yeah, we’ll decide that” and I give them my material and they spend another 3 years doing all manner of testing, purification and so on such that they can persuade regulatory bodies all over the world that everything is, indeed, fine and dandy.

    This covers, I think

    “How do you predict the behaviour of GMOs created outside of normal ecosystem constraints and then released into the wild?”

    as to

    How do you predict it’s interactions with other GMOs created by other companies?

    Why would you expect something like this to occur? How do I predict the reaction of DK403-32 corn grown next to Pioneer brand corn… I don’t, because what the hell am I even predicting? If we’re stacking traits they go through much of the same process as above (although if the traits are both deregulated events then there is no requirement for further safety testing). Corn events don’t interact with memory address and the registry etc because we don’t live in the matrix.

    but somehow we have complete confidence in the interaction of GMOs in the wild?

    Who claims complete confidence? I’m confident enough that it’d be silly to hold things back because there are infinitesimal doubts about say, whether the trait still works if it undergoes temperatures of 100F for 12 days in a row or such.

    How do you “recall” a defective product?

    Starlink corn was recalled successfully. There is precedent for recalling “defective” products.

    “How do you patch bugs quickly?”

    You recall and suffer the loss. Given that the bugs you speak of are all rather nebulous and imagined however this isn’t really a great concern.

    we can’t label GMO foods because uninformed, superstitious consumers will avoid it – sorry it’s your job to educate those consumers!

    No. It really isn’t. Mandatory labeling is by and large (outside of COOL which is stupidity enshrined) about safety and is driven by current scientific knowledge. If there were a sizable minority of people who demanded the right to know that atheists hadn’t handled their food at any point in the supply chain it would not be up to atheists to educate these consumers that they were no more dangerous food handlers than anyone else. Sans evidence for danger lets stick to a sensible labeling scheme – if you demand a label for reasons unsupported by real safety concerns… you get to pay for it. (pro tip, if the safety concerns were real you wouldn’t have to ask for a label, the product wouldn’t exist)

    There seems to be a willful disregard for the idea that we’re working with complex systems that we don’t fully understand

    Given your apparent stance can you comment on your apparent willful disregard for the adverse effects that would have occurred had your stance been followed from the getgo? (covered upthread I believe, but to summarize – more environmental impact due to non-utilization of RR system, reduced farmer incomes due to same. More insecticide use due to non adoption of Bt system, more poisonings due to same, billions of dollars in US corn productivity taken away due to same – all measured against nebulous unrealized threats based entirely in the imaginations of people who enjoy the idea that because shit is complex we shouldn’t touch it – how much suffering should we endure because you’re afraid of the boogeyman under the bed?)

  73. Ewan R says

    also

    But we probably need some new tools…

    We’re developing new tools all the time. By your logic however we can never actually use them because complexity.

  74. zenlike says

    God Emperor Lionel Lauer @69

    I’m pretty disappointed that some 2/3rds of the commenters in this thread are so invested in in the notion that corporate profits trump every other consideration.

    GMO = corporate profits, so non-GMO is the opposite? Jesus fuck, but you are stupid.

    I had no idea that Libertardianism was so strong in this blog.

    First of all, not cool. Second of all, most of the folk here arguing with you are definitely not-libertarian. I myself am a strong opponent. But I guess this is what thinking gets you when your thought patterns come up with this nonsensical world in which non-GMO is all small-scale family farmers not interested in profits.

    I guess I’ll leave y’all to continue jacking each other off

    Yawn.

    , while complaining about those scumbag farmers who dare to imagine that they have a ‘right’ to farm without signing up for the corporate GMO merry go round.

    Yawn again. Is that organic non-GMO straw you are burning down?

  75. says

    Changes made by breeding are inherently minor enough that their safety is a low risk, and is tested on humans every generation. So nothing too bad can be developed by breeding, without people noticing.

    Why the hell would anyone think that? You really don’t think that any one of thousands of naturally occurring plant toxins could accidentally be bred up to harmful levels, or result from hybridization of highly divergent strains?

  76. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    Menyambal (comment 3), corn such as we have now is the result of 1,000 years of selective breeding, from a small, possibly 6-rowed ear to the large ears with 12 or more rows (as documented by images and models of corn in Central America). A developmental mutation in teosinte was involved at some point. There’s a simplified explanation here and there’s more information here.

  77. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    My second link mentions that corn’s wild ancestor, teosinte. has 5 – 12 kernels, not rows; but the cultivated corn has also changed as I said above.

  78. monkeymagic says

    “If there were a sizable minority of people who demanded the right to know that atheists hadn’t handled their food at any point in the supply chain it would not be up to atheists to educate these consumers that they were no more dangerous food handlers than anyone else. ”

    Except labeling GMOs is not an outlandish scenario. 64 countries currently require it, including 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and even China. The Just Label It campaign raised over a million signatures in the US. The fact that the US resists labeling appears to speak more to the influence of powerful lobbies and a corrupt system than the overwhelming scientific case made by the industry (IOW, steamrolling). Indeed many countries are banning GMOs (including Monsanto products) and almost 20 states in the US have GMO legislation in the works, including moratorium bills.

    So it appears that you might still benefit from making a stronger case for your products…? Unless you have the FDA in your pocket I guess…

    Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, famously stated: “Monsanto shouldn’t have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”
    FDA “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”
    http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_27143.cfm

    Just pass the buck back and forth, the money train is moving too fast to stop it now…

    “Starlink corn was recalled successfully.”

    Interesting case. Also interesting that it was recalled in 2000 and cropped up again in 2005 and 2013. Point being that stuff released into the wild isn’t so easily “un-released.”

    “How do I predict the reaction of DK403-32 corn grown next to Pioneer brand corn… I don’t, because what the hell am I even predicting? If we’re stacking traits they go through much of the same process as above (although if the traits are both deregulated events then there is no requirement for further safety testing). Corn events don’t interact with memory address and the registry etc because we don’t live in the matrix.”

    Interesting, what are “deregulated events”? Something to do with this?
    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2011/07/usda-deregulate-roundup-gmo-tom-philpott

    I love the use of jargon to paint the picture of a precise predictable science, like genes are just little dip-switches on a circuit board. That they don’t interact with each other and the environment in unpredictable ways:
    http://connecticut.sierraclub.org/concerns-with-gmos—what-is-the-science

    “how much suffering should we endure because you’re afraid of the boogeyman under the bed?”

    So GMOs are a humanitarian effort? I thought they were a massive power grab to control the worlds food supply and sell pesticides (because trillions of dollars).

    GMO advocates like to paint a simplistic picture of benefits. Turns out they’re largely imaginary: A pre-eminent U.N. and World Bank assessment concluded that GE crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304527504579167700690265822

    The more you dig into the benefits, it appears Monsanto and co. are the winners. Which should absolutely be their priority. They are obligated to make a profit for their shareholders, nothing more. But at what cost? The warnings are not hard to find, just google it…

    I understand the science is sexy and interesting, but so is sustainability and passing on a better world to our children. In 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned that the loss of biodiversity will have “major impact on the ability of humankind to feed itself in the future.”

    People don’t get upset about the “scientific method” they’re upset about Monsanto driving us into a future we don’t much like the look of.

  79. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    monkeymagic, 83
    How many US states have anti-‘abortion and reproductive choice’, anti-‘gun control’, anti-‘clean/alternative energy’, and anti-‘affordable health care’ legislation recently passed or in the works? Legislatures suck something fierce in actually basing laws on evidence instead of feelings.

  80. says

    The fact that the US resists labeling appears to speak more to the influence of powerful lobbies and a corrupt system than the overwhelming scientific case made by the industry (IOW, steamrolling).

    That the anti-science wing of other political parties is more interested in GMOs than climate change in other countries doesn’t suggest that they have a point at all, especially not when the actual 1000+ studies on GMOs that indicate no danger are available.

    People don’t get upset about the “scientific method”

    I’ve been to enough March Against Monsanto type meetups to know that’s a lie (or perhaps just ignorance of the larger anti-GMO movement). Most anti-GMO advocates know nothing about genetics, and think that genetic engineering somehow completely, fundamentally changes the entire makeup of a plant, to the point where it isn’t even the same substance (coupled with the assumption that hybridization induces no genetic change because it’s “natural”). I’m a socialist and am drawn to anti-corporate demonstrations and activist groups, which has included anti-GMO groups in the past. I can count on one hand the number of anti-GMO advocates I’ve met that actually understand that the problem isn’t the science itself.

    A pre-eminent U.N. and World Bank assessment concluded that GE crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger:

    Do you have one that isn’t paywalled? Oh, and does this study assess only the current application of GMOs as they exist now, or is the claim that the technology itself is inherently of little to no potential (which seems fundamentally absurd)?

    In 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned that the loss of biodiversity will have “major impact on the ability of humankind to feed itself in the future.”

    Yes, monocultures are bad. Do you have any evidence that they’re completely inseperable from GMOs?

    I’m sorry, that is a cop-out. Sure corporations are inherently amoral – they exist to make profit for their shareholders. But they operate within rules and regulations set by society.

    Cop out? So the concept of focusing on the malignant effects of corporate profit on a particular application of the scientific process, instead of focusing on some inherent bad in the scientific process is a cop out?

    Science has to inform business about the risks and consequences of their actions. Big industry doesn’t need cheerleaders and advocates – they already have all the power! They need push-back. Businesses naturally see how far they can push before something pushes back – how much can I take before someone complains. It’s nothing personal, it’s “just business”. But it’s society’s job to push back.

    Science already has informed on the risks and consequences of the issue. Thus far, the consensus is “miniscule risk”. Unless you’re honestly going to argue for a conspiracy of science just as large as the one required for anthropogenic climate change to be false, this is nonsense. Corporations need push-back, but if the scientific risk assessment returns, as it has, “extremely low risk”, does that make them cheerleaders and advocates just for the result? Should we manufacture risks have been shown to be baseless just for the sake of opposing corporations?

    I often ask climate change deniers “what if you’re wrong?” The stakes are so high. It’s the same question I ask GMO advocates.

    Did you ask CERN “what if you’re wrong?” on the possibility of the LHC creating a black hole and destroying the Earth? Sure they said there was no risk, but then, they would say there was no risk. Being this incredibly risk averse for incredibly remote things is a trait I normally see in LessWrong type Singularity cultists, not in rational people.

    They [Monsanto] are obligated to make a profit for their shareholders, nothing more.

    You don’t see anything completely wrong about that entire approach?

  81. says

    A pre-eminent U.N. and World Bank assessment concluded that GE crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger…

    I think it’s kind of obvious that farmers use GMO crops because it’s helping them produce food at lower cost. No one is putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to buy Monsanto’s products or those of any other biotech company. There are thousands of seed companies to choose from, and they can always produce their own seed. Maybe they’re all stupid, but the idea that they are using GMOs for no reason at all is nonsensical. They’re in the business of making money, and the way they make money is by producing more crop at lower cost.

    To the extent that GMOs lower production costs, then the cheaper food that results will definitely have a positive impact on hunger. The extent to which this has or will happen may be debatable, but it is not debatable that cheaper food is, all things being equal, better for the poor. And if you don’t think that GMOs are improving food production, then what exactly is anyone worried about? Farmers either wouldn’t have used them or will soon stop.

  82. Jackson says

    @83 monkeymagic

    So GMOs are a humanitarian effort? I thought they were a massive power grab to control the worlds food supply and sell pesticides (because trillions of dollars).

    Well, then you’d be very, very wrong. There are people doing great work for non-profit organizations developing GMOs to improve the nutritional content and disease resistance in crops grown by very poor farmers in very poor areas.

    http://danforthcenter.org/scientists-research/research-institutes/institute-for-international-crop-improvement

    Turns out they’re largely imaginary: A pre-eminent U.N. and World Bank assessment concluded that GE crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger

    After a little bit of searching (you linked to a Wallstreet Journal letter to the editor, not the actual study) this statement seems to be highly dishonest.

    That study says that GMOs so far have been very beneficial to large scale farmers and less so to small scale farmers. It gives no assessment to the potential for future benefits that I could find (which is good, because saying that GMOs have little potential to alleviate hunger is preposterous).

    Some choice quotes from the study:

    An analysis of the global impact of biotech crops from 1996 to 2006 showed substantial net economic benefits at the farm level; reduced pesticide spraying, decreased environmental impact associated with pesticide use and reduced release of greenhouse gas emission.

    The only thing I could find that if you mangled the meaning could support your statement is:

    Other studies have concluded that GM technologies have contributed very little to increased food production, nutrition, or the income of farmers in less-developed countries

    Which is saying that so far small scale farmers have not directly benefited much from GMOs, but says nothing about hunger in general or for potential of the technology.

  83. Ewan R says

    #83 Monkeymagic

    Except labeling GMOs is not an outlandish scenario. 64 countries currently require it

    That indicates that it can be done, not that it should be done. Many countries outlaw homosexuality. Many countries censor internet use.

    Indeed many countries are banning GMOs

    Which ones?

    almost 20 states in the US have GMO legislation in the works

    Having legislation in the works is a pretty meaningless metric – many states have had anti-evolutionary biology legislation in the works, many states have had anti-gay rights legislation in the works, expanded gun rights legislation, expanded farmers rights legislation (last two are a couple of scary examples from MO today) – even if legistlation is passed this doesn’t mean it is enforceable because it may well be illegal under federal law (current challenges to Vermont bill for example)

    So it appears that you might still benefit from making a stronger case for your products…?

    The general consensus within the industry at the moment is that the ball was utterly utterly dropped in regards to public perception – the focus was entirely on the customer and not voters.

    Unless you have the FDA in your pocket I guess…

    This would certainly save a lot of money, but alas isn’t the case. (although it really wouldn’t save *that* much money, because not only would one require the USDA and FDA to be in your pocket, but also every regulatory agency in every major world market – the size of the conspiracy required to manage this simply becomes untenable.

    Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, famously stated:

    What someone did or did not state matters not one bit to me. If Monsanto were not vouchsafing the safety of the traits they release then I’m left wondering what the hell our regulatory folk spend all their money on. I haven’t actually visited them up at Creve Couer – perhaps it’s all video games and expensive spa days – there are a lot of them, and the cost of a trait is mostly in their hands what with all their testing and whatnot.

    nteresting, what are “deregulated events”? Something to do with this?

    Any GM event which is currently under development is a “regulated” event – it has to have permits and the like from the USDA to be moved across state borders, or grown anywhere. A deregulated trait is an event which has been approved by regulatory agencies and can now be grown and transported freely (the nomenclature is a bit ass backwards, but there you have it). As to the crackpot article… the Scotts request for deregulation of RR Kentucky grass has, as far as I can tell, had zero impact on regulatory approval or not of anything Monsanto works on – permits and the like are still required.

    love the use of jargon to paint the picture of a precise predictable science

    I’m sorry that you’re not well versed enough in agriculture to understand common terminology. One might, if being uncharitable, suggest that your lack of knowledge in the area might dampen the import one might give to your opinions.

    “how much suffering should we endure because you’re afraid of the boogeyman under the bed?”
    So GMOs are a humanitarian effort? I thought they were a massive power grab to control the worlds food supply and sell pesticides (because trillions of dollars).

    I don’t claim they are a humanitarian effort. If you removed the commercial, money making, roundup ready GMO entirely from use in agriculture there would be a net detrimental effect to the environment (it is well documented in the literature that the RR system is an improvement over the methods that were previously used, and indeed methods used if resistant weeds are present (same methods as starting)). Removing Bt likewise would have a detrimental effect both in the US and abroad – in India for instance the use of Bt cotton hybrids has increased yield (and more importantly incomes) and decreased the use of toxic insecticides. Happy circumstance can be invoked for the environmental benefits – RR may well have been released simply to sell more roundup and make for an easier weed protection system, Bt may well have simply been released to grab some of that sweet insecticide market money… but the end results include positives for all regardless of whether this was intended or not (intent, after all, is not magic)

    GMO advocates like to paint a simplistic picture of benefits. Turns out they’re largely imaginary

    Other than benefits being very real you’re utterly correct. The scientific literature is replete with studies demonstrating the financial benefits of Bt crops in India for instance (there is also a paper in nature demonstrating the financial and insecticide reduction benefits of Bt crops in the US). The benefits of the RR system are equally non-imaginary, both in terms of the reduction in environmental impact, the enabling of no-till agriculture, and in the time savings, complexity reduction and financial benefits to farmers who adopt the system.

    The more you dig into the benefits, it appears Monsanto and co. are the winners.

    Just because Monsanto makes a profit on current commercial GMOs doesn’t mean they are not beneficial, this is a rather odd line of reasoning really. Monsanto operates under a value share costing system – they calculate what value a trait (or a hybrid, they do regular breeding too, or at least I hope they do as that is where my job is at present) will bring to the farmer (which explains differential trait/hybrid pricing in different regions) and cost the trait/hybrid/product at a percentage of this benefit (I believe this is in the 20-30% region although am not sure – thus if a trait brings in $1Bn for Monsanto it should be bringing in somewhere between $3Bn and $5Bn overall benefit (ie $2Bn to $4Bn benefit direct to customers over the lifetime of the trait/product))

  84. ck says

    Re: Monsanto suing farmers
    I’m not sure the existence of these lawsuits really proves either side is evil. Maybe Monsanto is ruling with an iron fist, or maybe these farmers are just more Cliven Bundys. I’ve known plenty of farmers who regularly (and often boastfully) failed to pay their debts and were well known for it in their communities, but ran to cry to the media when the banks foreclosed on their farms, and people would flock to their cause because banks are always evil.

    I have no love for Monsanto: The fact they spent so much money, time and effort on researching the so-called “Terminator” gene is quite telling about the company, even if they did back down from the plan. However, the idea that they’re moustache-twirling evil villains is just too much.

  85. rossthompson says

    The fact they spent so much money, time and effort on researching the so-called “Terminator” gene is quite telling about the company, even if they did back down from the plan.

    They spent $0 developing the terminator gene. They bought the company that did develop it. At the time, they said they had no interest in that particular technology, and were buying the company for other products they’d developed; and thay they had no plans to put it into consumer products.

    It’s possible they were lying about that, and they really did want the terminator gene, but they seem to have been telling the truth about not using it.

  86. Ewan R says

    hey spent $0 developing the terminator gene. They bought the company that did develop it.

    Indeed. That particular ‘evil’ (I’ve never quite been able to figure out what exactly is evil about it, but it has been called such so it must be true) was developed by Delta Land & Pine in conjunction with the USDA.

    Monsanto bought DL&P because they wanted a presence in the cotton seed market in the US – it is better business sense, if breaking into an established market, to buy ones way in than to attempt to establish your own brand from scratch (setting up a breeding program etc is not exactly quick or fast, nor is establishing a base of expertise to actually succesfully run a breeding program in a given crop).

    It’s possible they were lying about that, and they really did want the terminator gene,

    It’s a bad business move to buy a company because you want one technology they have. If Monsanto had wanted the terminator gene one presumes they would have licensed it from DL&P (DuPont didn’t buy Monsanto when they wanted RR for their seeds, they licensed the trait, Monsanto don’t purchase Duke university when they want to use patented technologies developed by Duke, they license the technology)

  87. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Ewan R, 93

    Indeed. That particular ‘evil’ (I’ve never quite been able to figure out what exactly is evil about it, but it has been called such so it must be true) was developed by Delta Land & Pine in conjunction with the USDA.

    Best I can tell, the terminator gene is ebil because it prevents farmers saving seed thereby making them slaves of the seed companies. It’s a lovely little catch-22 they’ve constructed: prevent GMOs from successfully reproducing and you are enslaving farmers; allow GMOs to reproduce and you are horribly polluting the environment with dangerous and/or unpredictable transgenes.

    Also, not sure how I missed that the frenchman got his crap paper republished just over a month ago in an open-access with very few modifications and no new experimental data or any photos of the control animals. It says nothing good about his research community that an ethics committee somehow had no qualms about a researcher – not working on cancer treatments – waiting weeks or months for lab animals to die of complications instead of euthanizing them after obvious tumor formation.

  88. damien75 says

    Listen, there is just no way that guy is French. He even doesn’t sound like a native speaker of French who would have an impossible accent. His accent is typical anglophone, believe it or not.

  89. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    damien75 @ 95
    Please, read for comprehension. Tyson is an astrophysicist, not a biology researcher, so there is no reason he would be using animals, and thus the comment was not about him. The frenchman is a certain french anti-GMO biologist that I will not name, who got his crap paper retracted by the original journal and had recently gotten it republished by an open-access without any additional peer-review or major corrections.

  90. damien75 says

    @MattP (must mock his crappy brain), #96

    I do not understand why you mention animals. All I’m saying is that the person asking the question doesn’t have the accent of a native french speaker. He has a distinct anglophone accent.

    By the way, if the person you have in mind is Gilles-Eric Seralini, he does not speak like that.

  91. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Ah. Been too long since reading the rest of this thread, and forgot it was asked in french. Sorry for my stupidity and confusion thinking you were responding to my ‘frenchman’ comment @94 instead of the video. My apologies.