I guess I haven’t missed much by not playing these games »« Fluffer to autocrats

Crusaders against GMOs

The New Yorker has a fascinating article on Vandana Shiva, a crusader against GMO crops. I’d never heard of her before, but apparently she has charisma and cult-like followers who hang on her every word, and her word is a rather religious opposition to scientific agriculture. Weirdly, I can agree with some of it.

At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive.

But that has nothing to do with GMOs. I agree that a lot of corporate agriculture is bad for us in the long run; I think the purely capitalistic drive of the major agricultural corporations is damaging. I live smack in the middle of Monsanto-land, and I see this all around me.

Shiva, along with a growing army of supporters, argues that the prevailing model of industrial agriculture, heavily reliant on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels, and a seemingly limitless supply of cheap water, places an unacceptable burden on the Earth’s resources. She promotes, as most knowledgeable farmers do, more diversity in crops, greater care for the soil, and more support for people who work the land every day. Shiva has particular contempt for farmers who plant monocultures—vast fields of a single crop. “They are ruining the planet,” she told me. “They are destroying this beautiful world.”

The rivers around here are thick with fertilizers and pesticides. I drove through endless fields of corn, corn, corn this weekend…well, they were corn. Now they’re plowed over, and the naked earth is left bare to receive the rain and snow and Minnesota topsoil will become Caribbean silt, because there is no incentive to maintain and preserve. And when the farmers plant, they will happily accept subsidies to plant nothing but corn, and corn tailored to produce ethanol, no less.

I have a lot of respect for the small family farmers who produce a variety of foods — the kind of folk who show up at our farmer’s market. But there’s also a lot of semi-industrial farming going on, land bought up by gigantic corporations that then lease it to farmers who raise what they’re told to raise, to maximize profits.

So I sympathize. But I think there’s a confusion of issues, of the problem with corporate domination of the agricultural sector with the scientific improvement of our crops. The latter is necessary. This is nonsense:

“We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers,” she said. “They want to take that away.”

The problem there is that with more than 7 billion people on the planet, we need to optimize production. Small traditional farms using traditional methods using genetically unmodified seed stock is a formula for starvation. She’s completely wrong there. The world would go hungry if we followed her recipe.

Again, this is not to say that there aren’t huge problems with the current model. A heck of a lot of the farmland in Minnesota is dedicated not to food, but to making alcohol, inefficiently. Or to producing high fructose corn syrup. But this is going too far:

For her part, Shiva insists that the only acceptable path is to return to the principles and practices of an earlier era. “Fertilizer should never have been allowed in agriculture,” she said in a 2011 speech. “I think it’s time to ban it. It’s a weapon of mass destruction. Its use is like war, because it came from war.”

Madness. No fertilizers equals billions of dead people. If your goal is to reduce the human footprint on the planet by any means necessary, that’s a good strategy — I’d rather do it with education and contraception, rather than starving people to death, though.

But Shiva is backed by two indisputable authorities: God and Prince Charles. How can you argue with that?

Like Gandhi, whom she reveres, Shiva questions many of the goals of contemporary civilization. Last year, Prince Charles, who keeps a bust of Shiva on display at Highgrove, his family house, visited her at the Navdanya farm, in Dehradun, about a hundred and fifty miles north of New Delhi. Charles, perhaps the world’s best-known critic of modern life, has for years denounced transgenic crops. “This kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God and God alone,” he wrote in the nineteen-nineties, when Monsanto tried to sell its genetically engineered seeds in Europe. Shiva, too, invokes religion in her assault on agricultural biotechnology. “G.M.O. stands for ‘God, Move Over,’ we are the creators now,” she said in a speech earlier this year. Navdanya does not report its contributions publicly, but, according to a recent Indian government report, foreign N.G.O.s have contributed significantly in the past decade to help the campaign against adoption of G.M.O.s in India. In June, the government banned most such contributions. Shiva, who was named in the report, called it “an attack on civil society,” and biased in favor of foreign corporations.

I thought this remark was particularly telling, though.

Shiva also says that Monsanto’s patents prevent poor people from saving seeds. That is not the case in India. The Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001 guarantees every person the right to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share, or sell” his seeds. Most farmers, though, even those with tiny fields, choose to buy newly bred seeds each year, whether genetically engineered or not, because they insure better yields and bigger profits.

Yes, exactly! GMO crops work better. Even without a corporate lock on their use, farmers prefer to use seed that produces a higher yield. That’s the bottom line: do you want more acreage dedicated to less efficient crops, or reduced acreage producing a surplus?

Furthermore, GMOs actually reduce the use of those “chemicals” so hated by the anti-GMO contingent. This excellent debunking of anti-GMO bias points out that extensive use of GMO crops leads to a significant reduction in the use of pesticides. That’s a good thing, right?

Insecticide-surprise-no-1

I just wish these arguments could dwell in the land of reason and evidence — too often they don’t.

Shiva and other opponents of agricultural biotechnology argue that the higher cost of patented seeds, produced by giant corporations, prevents poor farmers from sowing them in their fields. And they worry that pollen from genetically engineered crops will drift into the wild, altering plant ecosystems forever. Many people, however, raise an even more fundamental objection: crossing varieties and growing them in fields is one thing, but using a gene gun to fire a bacterium into seeds seems like a violation of the rules of life.

The first part, yes — let’s discuss strategies to break agriculture free of the tyranny of short-term capitalist gain. But the last is simply silly and irrelevant and not fit for consideration. Every crop plant we raise has been radically modified from its original, “natural” state by cruel domestication and mutation and selection. Modern techniques for making directed change to plant genetics are not a “violation of the rules of life”, as if there are such things.

Comments

  1. says

    Yes, as I’ve said before I believe there are legitimate controversies about actually existing GMO crops, but this thing about the Indian farmers committing suicide does appear to be bogus. However, it will be a problem when the bugs develop resistance to Bt, just as glyphosate resistant weeds are already causing big problems in the U.S. See the NYT on Palmer Amaranth.

  2. slatham says

    Shiva was one of the authors covered in the Eco-feminism component of an Environmental Ethics course I took in the mid-90s (a 4th year course, but I was able to take it without many philosophy prerequisites). A couple of her essays were quite compelling — the first time I ever became open to being a feminist.

  3. Gregory Greenwood says

    “We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers,” she said. “They want to take that away.”

    Because before the modern era, in the age of primarily agrarian societies, there were no such things as famines… err, hold on a minute, that’s not right…

    What completely ahistorical balderdash. I was going to sarcastically enquire of Shiva exactly which few billion members of humanity should be culled by hunger in order to make her delusionally luddite vision even vaguely workable, but the answer is self evident – it would be the poorer and less privileged, but of course. Without modern means of controlling pests, including genetic modification for pest resistance that minimises the need for pesticides, a single outbreak could destroy crop yields over vast tracts of the Earth, and with such a severe shortage of production, food commodity prices would hit the roof, and again it would the most vulnerable who would suffer most. The one percenters (shout out to Prince Charles here) would of course be all but uneffected. Well, until revolutions start over this issue, which they probably would. I wonder if the French still have any guillotines lying around. A little of the top, Charlie…?

    What Shiva is effectively advocating here is a quiet genocide through restricting the means of production of essential foodstuffs to such a degree that the less well off (and we are not talking about the very poorest here, the current system is already starving the most destitute in their millions – we are talking about anyone beneath the comfortable end of middle class at the very least) could no longer afford to live at all, only it would be anything but quiet when people start starving all over the world in vastly greater numbers than even the obscenely high rates prevalent today. Oddly enough, people faced with a slow, agonising death by starvation don’t tend to take the notion very well, and are unlikely to pay much heed to Shiva’s blather about an imaginary golden age of agricultural purity when it feels like their stomach its digesting its way through their spines. Indeed, getting in their way would be a great means of getting boot prints on her face, if that is her goal.

    Like Gandhi, whom she reveres, Shiva questions many of the goals of contemporary civilization. Last year, Prince Charles, who keeps a bust of Shiva on display at Highgrove, his family house, visited her at the Navdanya farm, in Dehradun, about a hundred and fifty miles north of New Delhi. Charles, perhaps the world’s best-known critic of modern life, has for years denounced transgenic crops. “This kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God and God alone,” he wrote in the nineteen-nineties, when Monsanto tried to sell its genetically engineered seeds in Europe. Shiva, too, invokes religion in her assault on agricultural biotechnology. “G.M.O. stands for ‘God, Move Over,’ we are the creators now,” she said in a speech earlier this year.

    So billions of people should starve to accomodate protecting the imagined status of her and Prince Charles’ fictional gods? What a truly spectacular lack of priorities. Still, it seems Charles has found a fellow wooist nitwit to play with. How nice for him.

    Many people, however, raise an even more fundamental objection: crossing varieties and growing them in fields is one thing, but using a gene gun to fire a bacterium into seeds seems like a violation of the rules of life.

    And who writes these supposed ‘rules of life’, I wonder? Do they even grasp how wide the variety of life really is, and how much those ‘rules’ have already shifted down the eons, both through evolutionary processes and that whole selective breeding thing humans have been dabbling with for the last few thousand years, including right throughout Shiva’s fondly imagined ‘pure’ period of pre industrial agriculture? Perhaps they should start by providing some kind of evidence their god exists before declaring whole fields of endeavour his exclusive preserve, especially when the consequences of their beliefs, if they were to be enacted, would be death on an unprecedented scale.

  4. slatham says

    compelling to me, I should say, without much philosophical background, I don’t really know how compelling her arguments were to an academic philosopher.

  5. otranreg says

    “We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers,”

    Hey, don’t they have this sort of agriculture in India mostly already? Any news on how the country is doing hunger-wise?

  6. Ewan R says

    Usual disclaimer upfront – I work for Monsanto, the views expressed herein are entirely the work of my own fevered imagination and not those of my corporate overlords and associated lizardfolk.

    I drove through endless fields of corn, corn, corn this weekend…well, they were corn. Now they’re plowed over

    Where exactly did you do this? Most corn isn’t harvested in the US until September time, the USDA puts the average start date for Minnesota corn harvest at Sept 27th.

    http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Minnesota/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/2014/MN_08_18_14.pdf

    Indicates that in Minnesota the corn crop hasn’t even started harvest yet. (You sure you aren’t looking at wheat?)

    Now they’re plowed over, and the naked earth is left bare to receive the rain and snow and Minnesota topsoil will become Caribbean silt

    about 45% of MN corn is non-conventional till. That is there is crop residue left in the ground *when the next crop is planted* – there is absolutely no reason that a farmer would plow when harvesting unless they’re planting a new crop immediately – a rotation that involved wheat may well see some plowing now, although winter wheat, I think, is planted somewhat later in the year, and thus one wouldn’t expect tillage until closer to planting time. When one harvests corn you’re going to leave roots and stalks in the ground until you plow prior to the next crop (assuming you do plow) firstly because there is no bloody point in plowing it all up (it costs time, and money) and secondly because corn residue combats soil erosion pretty damned well (a foot or so of stalk left above ground plus the root balls etc make for a pretty effective soil holder)

    It confuses me that you’re willing to rail on Shiva for failing to work on reason and evidence, when you fall into the same trap yourself – there is no reason a farmer would plow following corn harvest (unless they’re planting wheat next, which they may be, but then there is essentially no way that MN farmers are harvesting corn right now anyway (other than perhaps sweet corn, which has a totally different harvest schedule as you eat the immature ear) and all the evidence suggests that no-till is on the rise (made easier, in fact, by the advent of RR crops (and one hopes other herbicide resistances as they come along)

    land bought up by gigantic corporations that then lease it to farmers who raise what they’re told to raise, to maximize profits.

    I think you’re conflating a couple of different issues in Ag here.
    Large corporations dictating what farmers grow falls into the animal ag sphere – Tyson and the link contract chicken farmers etc and make demands like this – generally the land here isn’t leased from the company, but the farmer will supply to only one company.
    In terms of land lease the issues are different – absentee landlords (may be corporations or simply large landholders) will lease land to farm, but they do not dictate which crop is grown – whoever purchases the land then grows whatever they wish. Corn, soy and wheat just so happen to give better returns on a large scale than other crops, which is why they are grown (subsidies etc do, of course, play in to this – but you’re essentially, as far as I can see, making shit up, or repeating lies told to you, when you claim that large corporations are dictating to farmers what they should grow (unless one assumes that demand for a product dictates what farmers grow, which is true but not, I feel, what you meant))

    The first part, yes — let’s discuss strategies to break agriculture free of the tyranny of short-term capitalist gain.

    No. The first part No. The cost of seed doesn’t stop farmers using them. Most cotton farmers in India operate on a very small scale. 90%+ of Indian cotton is GMO, farmers on average see an increase in income. How, exactly, is the first part even remotely true? The first part, to remind you was

    the higher cost of patented seeds, produced by giant corporations, prevents poor farmers from sowing them in their fields.

  7. Matrim says

    Richardelguru, 1

    ” No fertilizers equals billions of dead people.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing…

    Um…it IS a bad thing. People starving to death is a Bad Thing® and should be avoided. Having a lower global population is a good thing, however that should be achieved through humane means (for example, the contraception and education mentioned by PZ), rather than by forcing an agonizing and slow death from malnutrition. You might as well be advocating the Purge. I don’t know if that was your intent, but your statement totally makes you sound like a horrible person.

  8. Nick Gotts says

    But that has nothing to do with GMOs.

    Yes, it does. GMOs are a major chosen instrument of agribusiness to increase their domination of global agriculture. True, there is a lot of unscientific bosh in anti-GMO material, but that shouldn’t blind you to a lot of the hogwash in pro-GMO propaganda such as:

    Small traditional farms using traditional methods using genetically unmodified seed stock is a formula for starvation.

    Actually, small farmers produce most of the world’s food, and small farms tend to be more efficient in terms of yield per area than big farms. Most of these small farmers are not using GMOs. What small farmers need in order to keep feeding most of the world – as they do – is security in possession of their land, better access to water, better storage, transport and finance facilities, better access to markets without predatory middlemen. Compared with these factors, any current or likely gains in yield from using GMOs are trivial.

    Yes, exactly! GMO crops work better. Even without a corporate lock on their use, farmers prefer to use seed that produces a higher yield.

    The only agricultural GMOs approved for commercial use in India are cottons. No GMO food crops are grown for sale. Moreover, there is a great deal of hype about GMOs increasing yield and reducing agrochemical use, see here.
    BTW, rich people eating less meat (particularly beef) and dairy could free up vast land areas currently producing animal feed.
    Really, PZ, when you talk about food and agriculture, it’s clear you often don’t know what you’re talking about; your disgust at the anti-science frequently evident in the anti-GMO camp leads you to swallow corporate propaganda about how GMOs are going to feed the world.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    cervantes @ # 2: … this thing about the Indian farmers committing suicide does appear to be bogus.

    Ya think?

    In 2012, the National Crime Records Bureau of India reported 13,754 farmer suicides. The farmers suicide rate in India has been in 1.4 to 1.8 per 100,000 range …

  10. yazikus says

    I saw Shiva for the first time in a documentary about food production, and I thought she seemed quite impressive. She spoke passionately as she gave a tour of her seed sharing facility, which seemed like a wonderful idea. I was saddened to later see some of the things that she was saying. I’ll be curious to see if Ewan R. will respond to Nick Gotts’ points @10.

    I think the threads here on GMO’s are some of my favorite, I always come away having learned something.

  11. says

    Yes. It’s unfortunate that the discussion of GMO crops has been polluted, as it were, by tendentious hogwash on the part of opponents as well as proponents. It makes it very difficult to have a reasoned discussion of the issues because if you take a critical stance on some particular, you get lumped in with the anti-GMO crazies, whereas if you have anything nice to say about any particular application of GM you get lumped in with the rapacious capitalists.

    I hope we can avoid that here. Every technology — every technology — has unintended ill effects. Take for example the automobile. It is a scientific fact that internal combustion engines work, and get you from point A to point B faster than horses. They can be made more or less safe, and more or less polluting, and there may be ways to make the other social externalities (e.g. urban sprawl and obesity and highways that slice through communities and all that stuff) less bad. But the costs and benefits of automobile-related policy and regulation are properly subject to debate, the possible costs now including the devastation of the planetary ecology and human civilization. And the automobile manufacturers obviously cannot be taken at face value when they make claims. The same goes for GMO crops and Monsanto.

  12. kreativekaos says

    Nick Gotts:
    Thanks for bringing some level headed reason, and facts to this issue in your attempting to edify the good professor.
    Just from the socio-political aspect alone, I find it interesting that the professor can rail against corporate greed/ oil industry for threatening environmental integrity and health via fracking, potential and actual oil spills from pipelines and tankers, etc., on one hand,…. then turn around and be a virtually critique-free cheerleader for GM crops via ‘Big Ag’.
    Apparently, out-of -box thinking is in low demand if one can only deal with the need to address the issue of increasing population and hunger via GM crops.

  13. David Marjanović says

    You say that like it’s a bad thing…

    You are a bad thing.

    For her part, Shiva insists that the only acceptable path is to return to the principles and practices of an earlier era. “Fertilizer should never have been allowed in agriculture,” she said in a 2011 speech. “I think it’s time to ban it. It’s a weapon of mass destruction. Its use is like war, because it came from war.”

    Madness. No fertilizers equals billions of dead people.

    I think that by “fertilizer” she didn’t mean “fertilizer”, but “artificial fertilizer”, the kinds of stuff made from air and water by burning petroleum. The Haber/Bosch process, which is where 2/3 of the nitrogen in our bodies come from, has a historical connection to the War To End All Wars – even though it’s still a logical fallacy to poison the fucking well.

    Does she explain, though, what she wants to use instead? If she wants to cover the fields in horseshit, where will the oats for all the horses be grown? Scary amounts of bullshit and pigshit are already available – and already being sprayed all over the fields, stinking up the countryside year-round where I come from. I’m not sure what happens to chickenshit these days.

  14. says

    Much chickenshit is used as fertilizer, it’s actually the best — but it has to be composted, it’s acidic and can burn the crops. Animal manure should be used as fertilizer. Sorry you don’t like the smell but the farms were there first. We don’t need to worry about growing extra animal feed because we’re already growing plenty, and raising more animals for slaughter than ever. Might as well use the excrement, but much of it goes to waste and even washes into streams.

    BTW organic fertilizer is more tightly bound to the soil than artificial fertilizer, and so reduces run-off, when it is properly applied. When it’s just stored in a lagoon, however, it’s a pollutant.

  15. nomadiq says

    …but using a gene gun to fire a bacterium into seeds seems like a violation of the rules of life

    Actually, life has been doing this all on its own for a very very long time.

    Like physicists talking biology or biologist talking physics, anti-GMO people sound funny when trying to talk science. I wish they would just stick to the politics, which in Shiva’s case, seems fairly sound from what I have seen.

  16. Ewan R says

    #16 kreativekaos

    then turn around and be a virtually critique-free cheerleader for GM crops via ‘Big Ag’

    crituque free? PZ’s commentary on Big Ag has been pretty run of the mill for a liberal commentator other than where it regards the science. Even in this piece we see

    I agree that a lot of corporate agriculture is bad for us in the long run

    Monsanto-land

    The rivers around here are thick with fertilizers and pesticides

    let’s discuss strategies to break agriculture free of the tyranny of short-term capitalist gain

    Critique free? Only by a massive redefinition of what it is to criticize.

  17. Ewan R says

    organic fertilizer is more tightly bound to the soil than artificial fertilizer, and so reduces run-off, when it is properly applied.

    I seem to recall that nitrogen runoff was similar between organic operations and conventional operations, I believe it was in Benbrook’s study of long term comparisons of organic vs conventional production methodologies – Benbrook compared regular conventional, manure only and cover crop fixation methods – all had pretty hefty runoff issues (nitrate really, really doesn’t like to stick around).

    The “properly applied” bit is probably key here though – similar is true in conventional Ag – there is pretty obvious need for some sort of control on N fertilizer use, because at present the cost of over application is worth it in order to insure that one gets optimal fertilization (farmers may apply as much as 10% more than that recommended by local university ag extention as optimal… just to make sure) – as N pricing increases and as states bring more regulation into the field it is thought this will change significantly (it is also at the whim of the price of corn… if corn costs $3.50 a bushel then there is little incentive to overfertilize, if it costs $8 a bushel then you’re going to throw on whatever you can to maximize production – which sucketh muchly in any timeframe beyond right now.

    One must also consider that at least in our current situation the bulk of animal based nitrogen (manure etc) is Haber Bosch generated anyway, but comes via the way of Soybeans, Corn and Wheat production – to produce enough manure to fertilize the crops to feed the US beef herd would infact require increasing the size of the US beef herd to produce more manure, which in turn would… well, you see why this didn’t really work and why Nick’s bit above about switching away from meat is really the best way (in theory, in practice getting it adopted is sadly a dream within a dream) to reduce the impact of Ag.

  18. says

    including genetic modification for pest resistance that minimises the need for pesticides, a single outbreak could destroy crop yields over vast tracts of the Earth

    My agrarian Irish ancestors could have commented on that, but they died in the potato blight, all but the orphan who took a coffin ship to America… She wants to go back to that?!?!

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    Nerd of Redhead… @ # 13: …it looks like farmers are less stressed than the general population.

    I don’t know where the discrepancy in our respective sources comes from, but it seems worth noting that a search for “farmer suicide” turns up mostly stories about India.

    Quoth the LA Times:

    Since 1995, the first year the government began keeping detailed records, about 300,000 farmers have taken their lives. The 2011 census found that the suicide rate for farmers was 47% higher than the national average.

  20. Ewan R says

    From memory the rate of farmer suicides in India is higher than average (I’ve seen it reported as lower recently, but the claim doesn’t even pass a basic “hmm does that make sense” test – farming in India is highly contingent on weather events and farmers essentially wind up putting all their eggs in very few baskets – gambling at the start of the season by taking out loans that they hope will be covered by their harvest – generally they are (plus all the other costs of living during the year) but given the unregulated state of loans and the opportunity for total crop failure if the rains don’t come, or don’t stop, or pests eat your crop etc…. it’d be astonishing if the suicide rate was lower.

    What is rather telling is that the rate remained steady throughout the adoption of Bt cotton (a hint of a drop off towards the end, but not so much that you’d bet it was real) – which absolutely makes sense. Bt cotton is just as susceptible to utter failure as anything else. It doesn’t grow without rain. It won’t survive a flood. The only thing it’s gonna survive that regular cotton won’t is an untreated infestation of bugs that it targets. Thus, farmers who don’t see catastrophic failure have no economic driver towards suicide, farmers who do see catastrophic failure have the same drive as their non-Bt adopting counterparts (because as it turns out the cost of seed amounts to somewhere around 5% of the total costs for the season, a piddlingly negligible amount that isn’t going to make the difference between financial ruin or not.

  21. yazikus says

    For a few years we only purchased the locally grown & ground wheat. We used it to make bread, etc. My roux never turned out right. One day I had a very specific need for all purpose flour (play-dough. I don’t recommend trying to make it with locally ground flour and kosher salt. My hands were angry), and so we had some in the house. I decided to make some mac-n-cheese. Omg. The silky texture, the creaminess, the lack of grit! I was in love, with the much dreaded all-purpose flour.

    Those are the kinds of challenges I think a lot of people face in developed nations. The choice to have only apples for twelve weeks, because that is the only available local fruit. To have gritty alfredo. To only eat meat once or twice a month (holy heck it is expensive at the local butcher -where they can tell you the cows name and what its favorite hobby was). To learn how to cook rutabagas. In short, mild inconveniences, and a little more work.

    I’m also glad I have access to citrus year round. I’m glad that I can buy avocados. These things are not local, by a long shot. So I compromise, and go local where I can, and am grateful for the things that I wouldn’t have access to other wise.

  22. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Pierce R. Butler #23

    I don’t know where the discrepancy in our respective sources comes from, but it seems worth noting that a search for “farmer suicide” turns up mostly stories about India.

    The Wiki article I cited above had a link to an article on the rate of farmer suicides in India that matched your quote. The link above to the Indian suicide rate for the country gave for 2010 these estimates

    Estimates for number of suicides in India vary. For example, one study projected 187,000 suicides in India in 2010,[6] while official data by the Government of India claims 134,600 suicides in 2010.[3]

    In other words, in one year, the whole of India had half the numbers of the for farmers for ten years. Talking about farmers without looking at the country as whole lacks context, which I am trying to supply.
    I think we are looking at the same numbers, just different sources for the numbers.

  23. Rob Grigjanis says

    Nick Gotts @10:

    What small farmers need in order to keep feeding most of the world – as they do – is security in possession of their land, better access to water, better storage, transport …

    Yeah, it’s sobering to learn that 30-50% of food produced is wasted, largely due to fixable problems.

    A [survey] in India showed that at least 40% of all its fruit and vegetables is lost between grower and consumer due to lack of refrigerated transport, poor roads, inclement weather and corruption.

    etc.

  24. says

    I’m not in favor of eating meat, just sayin’ that as long as it’s happening we’re better of using the manure than letting it go to waste. Plant waste should also be composted, as should kitchen waste. If we compost everything we can, that will displace a lot of synthetic fertilizer. And yes, of course, a lot of what is composted was nurtured by synthetic fertilizer in the first place, but that’s the point — compost it and you’ll need less synthetic fertilizer down the road.

    Of course, making fertilizer using renewable energy instead of fossil fuel would also help.

  25. lumen says

    Every time I see a conversation about “big ag” or GMOs and how they relate to our food supply I get a little more depressed. Because very very rarely do these conversations seem to involve people who know squat all about actual farming, and the proposed solutions are typically completely ignorant of basic economics as well. The entire online agricultural debate seems to be monopolized by armchair, half assed environmentalists with little grasp of the science, yes science, of farming. And I say that as a lifelong environmentalist. Fertilizer run off is a big problem. Monocultures are also a problem. But half the solutions I see proposed are easily poked full of holes, and many of them require massive sacrifices … by someone else. Usually farmers. Often also the poor, who will feel the pressure of increased food costs that the wealthy will not.

    When I read what actual farmers have to say I begin to understand their complete exasperation with the environmental movement, particularly online. A lot of specious statements about what “needs to be done”. Simultaneously accusing farmers of being too stupid to understand the Monsanto agreement they just signed, while romanticizing their “way of life” and “connection to the land” into the ground.

    I think it’s time for skepticism to start tackling these topics, yes, but I would like to see prominent skeptics invite experts onto their websites to start talking about these issues. Experts like actual farmers who are making a living off the land and who grow these crops. Many of these people have degrees in agriculture and are going to speak clearly about no-till farming, synthetic fertilizer, the economic pressures that are leading to monocultures etc. I think we would all benefit from some insider expertise on these topics.

    Here is one guy’s website that I’ve found interesting. I’m sure there are others out there if anyone want’s to share. http://thefarmerslife.com

  26. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Nick Gotts @10: a quick read of your link indicates that “small” is in reference to acreage (hectarage?). I wonder if the largest farms are primarily ranches….growing heterotrophic rather than autotrophic crops…while the smallest farms grow primarily plant crops. This might skew conclusions somewhat in that livestock produce very few calories per acre compared to plant crops.

  27. tomh says

    OP:
    GMO crops work better.

    It’s not GMO seeds that work better, it’s hybrid seeds, which have been around a long time. Farmers prefer hybrid seeds to old-fashioned open pollinated crops, because, hybrids are more vigorous, produce better, are more disease resistant, and just generally perform better. The problem is, it’s not worth saving the seeds, since, if planted, they seldom come true. Buying seed every year is not something that suddenly appeared with GMO crops, farmers have been doing it for years. Roundup ready crops may be able to be sprayed with Roundup, but it’s hybrid seeds that have so greatly improved agriculture, since the first hybrid corns were produced in the 1920’s.

  28. unclefrogy says

    if we (humans) were to approach the problem of long term survivability and sustainability and efficiency in an objective and cooperative way we would do much very differently.
    food production is only one example. We instead have different competing interests instead. What is good for the farmers may not be good for the suppliers of the products and services used by farmers nor good for the consumers of the crops grown.
    All are forced to measure everything by money cost and credit .
    Saving seed from year to year, developing seed that is tailored to the local conditions with higher yield, is not what we are doing chemical companies develop seed that is resistant to the chemicals they sell which they patent to insure sales of their seed and chemicals not just to grow more crops .
    If it is true that most animal manure needs to be composted before it can be used on crops and in the process of composting generate methane gas why do we just let it rot and spill from vast ponds instead of putting this rich resource into digestors to produce methane to supplement the methane we get from the earth by fracking and in the end still generate the fertilizer needed for the crops we grow?
    Is it money and vested interests that keep us doing things the way we are doing it now?

    uncle frogy

  29. Ewan R says

    #33 unclefrogy

    developing seed that is tailored to the local conditions with higher yield, is not what we are doing chemical companies develop seed that is resistant to the chemicals

    What a tremendously dichotomous world you live in. I work for Monsanto. I started my career in biotechnology developing traits to improve yield under limiting Nitrogen conditions in corn, I then moved to doing the same thing for Soy, and about a year ago moved from Biotechnology to breeding. Turns out that Monsanto breeds corn too, it isn’t an either or prospect. To get farmers to buy your hybrid as compared to Pioneer’s hybrid… it has to perform better, it has to yield more, resist more diseases, have stronger stalks, better roots, in short… it must be tailored to the local conditions. Within the US alone this subdivides the corn growing area into numerous different Relative maturity zones (RM ~75 through RM120 each further subdivided by their own “mega environment” (which can be characterized in terms of amount of rainfall, avg tems and extremes etc) which will, generally, by virtue of being similar in all environmental considerations, suffer the same sort of disease pressures etc (one may then subdivide further by soil type, as some hybrids will do better in some soil types) .

    So you’re utterly, completely, and totally wrong. “We” absolutely are developing seed that is tailored to local conditions, we’re just doing it on a scale that is utterly impossible if one has each farmer develop their own lines, or indeed each landgrant university develop their own lines. Biotechnology is an add in to this, not a competitor.

  30. Pierce R. Butler says

    Nerd of Redhead @ # 26: I think we are looking at the same numbers, just different sources for the numbers.

    Dunno how you can conclude “… it looks like farmers are less stressed than the general population” while I get “the suicide rate for farmers was 47% higher than the national average”, then.

    As for those saying that financial predators constitute most of the problem for Indian farmers, while GMO seeds provide no direct causation – quite so. However, please note that the whole agribusiness model (from which GMOs cannot be separated) always creates a higher-overhead, higher-debt agricultural economy in which the predators and parasites flourish and the producers suffer.

    Those higher-yield strains produce larger harvests – if they make it that far – because they make more use of fertilizer, water, etc: they turn fossil fuels into food. The dynamics of short-term competition leave farmers no choice but to gamble every year with capital-intensive throughput-maximizers, but as a society we’d do better to promote locally-adapted crops and local markets and to disincentivize the unsustainable “Green Revolution” Monsanto Model™.

  31. Pierce R. Butler says

    Btw, for those who just can’t enough of these topics, Ophelia Benson now has a busy thread flogging away at the same Michael Specter/New Yorker article – with bonus Prince Charles bashing!

  32. Ewan R says

    but as a society we’d do better to promote locally-adapted crops and local markets and to disincentivize the unsustainable “Green Revolution” Monsanto Model™.

    Is there actual evidence of this though? Are we falling back on a noble savage type situation. Subsistence farming is a shitty solution but it appears to be all you’re offering really. What if there were a fair lending system, what if there were crop insurance programs like in the US? Why exactly is the green revolution being branded with Monsanto’s name (back when Borlaug was spearheading the green revolution Monsanto had but a fleeting interest in ag productivity). Do we have supporting data that farmers suffer more now post green revolution than they did previously?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famine_in_India

    suggests agriculture with locally adapted crops and local markets sucked, as did British rule, and that frankly being a farmer in India, at any point in history, was a bloody nightmare of really really hoping the environment didn’t screw you over.

  33. unclefrogy says

    while your motivation besides making a living may be to improve agriculture the main interest of the corporation is profit and is primarily judged by share price.
    Everything that you are assigned to do is motivated by corporate needs first (profits) as those needs mesh with the needs of farmers to generate a positive cash flow they succeed and the corporation succeeds.
    the needs of the corporation are not primarily efficiency nor sustainability of agriculture, it is the continued success of the corporation first.
    I think if our combined focus was on efficiency and long term sustainability we might be doing thing somewhat differently and might not have the same problems we see today.
    we wont be changing or focus any time soon however.
    uncle frogy

  34. Ewan R says

    #38 unclefrogy

    while your motisevation besides making a living may be to improve agriculture the main interest of the corporation is profit and is primarily judged by share price

    So? You specifically stated that seed manufacturers were not optimizing yield – this is completely untrue. It just so happens that doing so is something that will increase share price. Farmers want to use seed that maximizes their profit, they’ll pay for it, maximizing the profit of those who develop it. To the extent that Monsanto are willing to spend 50% of their R&D budget on breeding. Which is utterly, utterly at odds with your characterization of things originally. (it is neither impossible, not indeed surprising, that maximizing efficiency of agriculture would match well with goals of maximizing share price when a huge chunk of your business is in selling seed to farmers)

  35. unclefrogy says

    That is all true but you are only going to be doing things or pursuing research that in your judgment will increase your business.
    It is very much similar to drug companies corporate interests determining research and development. While there may be positive outcomes for humanity as a whole there is an inherent conflict of interest in the corporate model its primary interest is positive results for the corporation and its profitability. The corporation will tend not to pursue research and development that may well improve yield, efficiency, and long term sustainability but that will not increase corporate profitability.
    uncle frogy

  36. Holms says

    @33 unclefrogy
    …chemical companies develop seed that is resistant to the chemicals they sell which they patent to insure sales of their seed and chemicals not just to grow more crops .

    Yeesh, next you’ll be saying pharmaceutical manufacturers drugs that make us sick, down with Big Pharma!

  37. Holms says

    @41
    That is all true but you are only going to be doing things or pursuing research that in your judgment will increase your business.

    But if their business is ‘sell seeds to farmers’, and if the farmers are buying the seeds that give them the most crop production, then it follows that their share price is best served by developing seed that optimises crop efficiency.

  38. AstrySol says

    The indian farmer suicide lie has been rebutted by various sources, including Nature (see Figure 2 and quote below, emphasis mine).

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

    The claim, based on an increase in total suicide rates across the country in the late 1990s, has become an oft-repeated story of corporate exploitation since Monsanto began selling GM seed in India in 2002.

    But, says Glover, “it is nonsense to attribute farmer suicides solely to Bt cotton”. Although financial hardship is a driving factor in suicide among Indian farmers, there has been essentially no change in the suicide rate for farmers since the introduction of Bt cotton.

    And for people with a distaste for “Big Ag” or corporation in general, Vandana Shiva is a major opposing force to Golden Rice as well. And here is her “solution” to Vitamin A Deficiency.

    If rice was not polished, rice itself would provide Vitamin A. If herbicides were not sprayed on our wheat fields, we would have bathua, amaranth, mustard leaves as delicious and nutritious greens that provide Vitamin A.

    Yeah, unpolished rice has zero Vitamin A (google “brown rice nutrition” or ask USDA, it’s very handy) and eating weed (with much lower productivity due to competition) is supposed to be a good solution.

    The fact that there are people still believing her credential in science and agriculture is beyond my comprehension.

  39. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ewan R @ # 37: Subsistence farming is a shitty solution but it appears to be all you’re offering really.

    Nope, nope, and nope. Many people aspire to a life of self-sufficiency (“subsistence farming”) and many who live that life struggle to keep it. What “appears to be” to a Monsanto employee/flack has a bias no one – least of all the person(s) getting mischaracterized – need accept. And finally, while “all I’m offering” would take a book I have neither time nor inclination to write, you really should have noticed that I mentioned markets, plainly implying food production as a specialized economic endeavor in a larger society, not idealized homesteading.

    Do we have supporting data that farmers suffer more now post green revolution than they did previously?

    Perhaps you’ve somehow missed the major waves of bankruptcy and “consolidation” in US agriculture, and the emptying-out of farm-based towns across the US, over the last four decades since the Green Revolution® accelerated the oligopoly-capitalism takeover of our food production system? Protip: find some source(s0 other than your employer if you wish to look this up.

  40. chrislawson says

    richardelguru@1: It’s been a long time since I met someone as despicable as Stalin. Well done.

    Nick Gotts @10: Have you actually read that UCS report? Because I did and it looks to me like a grand exercise in explaining why a massive increase in productivity is not actually a massive increase in productivity. Seriously. According to their own data, yield per acre has increased by 50% since the 1980s. The way the UCS waves this away is by explaining that GM crops don’t have a higher intrinsic yield (that is, under ideal conditions without pests, drought, or other strains). But since most GM crops are specifically designed to help the crop flourish despite pests, drought, etc., of course they won’t have an increased yield when those stressors are removed. It’s like saying an umbrella doesn’t keep you dry if it’s not raining, therefore umbrellas don’t keep people dry. Then the report claims that GM crops don’t increase the operational yield either — despite the clear increase in operational yields in the US over that time period. How do they explain that? With obfuscation. Here’s a quote from their summary:

    Meanwhile, the report found that Bt corn likely provides a marginal operational yield advantage of 3 to 4 percent over typical conventional practices. Since Bt corn became commercially available in 1996, its yield advantage averages out to a 0.2 to 0.3 percent yield increase per year. To put that figure in context, overall U.S. corn yields over the last several decades have annually averaged an increase of approximately one percent, which is considerably more than what Bt traits have provided.

    So according to their own report, Bt corn provided an operational yield of both a static 3-4% and an exponential 0.2-0.3%. Also, Bt corn has provided 20-30% of the historical increase in yield and this is trivial. None of these figures add up. Bt corn can’t be providing operational yield increases of 0.2-0.3%, 3-4%, and 20-30% over the same time period. It looks to me like the sort of report where someone gathers every factoid they can, puts them through a blender, filters out the lumpy bits that they don’t like, and then serves up the result as an opinion smoothie.

  41. addicted44 says

    @2 – cerventes “but this thing about the Indian farmers committing suicide does appear to be bogus”

    Maybe I am misreading what you are saying, but Indian farmers DO commit suicide. In great numbers, and it is an absolute tragedy.

    Of course, GMO seeds have little to do with that. A combination of usurious money-lending, corruption preventing seeds and money provided by the govt. from actually reaching them, subsistence farming crops dependent on a monsoon which is becoming increasingly erratic due to climate change, are some of the major contributors to this.

    As PZ points out, GMO can actually be a solution to a lot of these problems. They do have a lot of political and economic baggage associated with them, which are not intrinsic to them, so I wish the anti-GMO crowd would focus on those issues directly rather than attacking them indirectly through GMOs.

  42. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Dunno how you can conclude “… it looks like farmers are less stressed than the general population” while I get “the suicide rate for farmers was 47% higher than the national average”, then.

    Whereas I see farmers at 1/5th the national rate. One of us isn’t reading the numbers properly.

  43. addicted44 says

    Btw, comparing farmer suicides to national averages in a country with ridiculously high levels of poverty (even after poverty was redefined down) and downright terrible living conditions is comparing apples and oranges. A better comparison would be with suicide amongst professionals and landowners.

    Unlike most people, farmers are employed, and should have good prospects. The whole point is that even farmers who started off owning land (few do anymore by the time money-lenders are done with them) are commiting suicide shows a ridiculous flaw in the system.

    Of course, as I mentioned above, GMOs are unlikely to have had anything to do with them, but Indian farming legitimately has problems (again, most have to do with issues with money lending, govt corruption, and dependence on monsoons).

  44. Ewan R says

    What “appears to be” to a Monsanto employee/flack has a bias no one – least of all the person(s) getting mischaracterized – need accept.

    How deliciously ad hominem of you.

    you really should have noticed that I mentioned markets, plainly implying food production as a specialized economic endeavor in a larger society, not idealized homesteading.

    But such production exists in India. Anti-GMO activists have blocked (with much aid from Shiva and her ilk (Seralini, for instance) commercialization of Bt Brinjal which would have been a major boon to food production as a specialized economic endeavor within a larger society. So rather than move to a model in which they can control insects more effectively and protect yield with reduced insecticide input, the anti-GM have infact more deeply entrenched farmers into a modality which is dependent on insecticides for any manner of utility within the marketplace for Brinjal (which is rejected by Indian consumers if it is all insect mangled)

  45. says

    Shiva and other opponents of agricultural biotechnology argue that the higher cost of patented seeds, produced by giant corporations, prevents poor farmers from sowing them in their fields.

    They’re complaining that seeds that they don’t think farmers should be using are too expensive? Should they be using them or not? Pick one.

  46. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ewan R @ # 49 – I really do appreciate you forthrightly identifying your position as part of the dialog, but that doesn’t stretch so far that we should consider that no further. What would it do to your employment should you actually concede here a point unfavorable to your company or its image, f’rinstance?

    … a model in which they can control insects more effectively and protect yield with reduced insecticide input…

    I call that a model practically guaranteed to select for genes resistant to BTi and suchlike geneswaps, thus eventually depriving the whole world of a safe and somewhat-effective if-used-carefully pest control modality forever (not to mention the monarch butterflies & other collateral damage). I further note that this net planetary loss financially benefits a certain small percentage of the population (whose other activities tend very much to the detriment of a rather larger percentage which includes me) much more than it does, say, a subcontinent of endangered small farmers (ditto, and whose standard of living could be massively improved from a fraction of their nation’s military budget – or a much smaller fraction of ours).

    … the marketplace for Brinjal (which is rejected by Indian consumers if it is all insect mangled)

    During my brief truck-farming career, we found restaurants quite happy to cut off a few bad spots so they could serve their customers salads and soups made from fresh veggies; a niche market of like-minded stall and pushcart food vendors seems practically inevitable in the enterprising “3rd World”.

    Glycophosphates aside, the chemical-exposure levels brought on by fetishizing appearances bode poorly for public health in Brinjal and environs. But don’t worry, folks: those tumors, liver failures, etc, will never be charged to major pesticide corporations, and so won’t appear on any cost-benefit calcs from any official agency or Major Think Tank.

  47. unclefrogy says

    nothing wrong with big pharma in principle it is just that there is a history we should not forget. That history is why we insist independent testing .
    The same should be true for agriculture we should have independent analysis of all the data. It is easy to cherry pick what data set is used. We need to know what all the effects are .
    You can get very high crop yield at the expense of water shed pollution and lose fish populations for example. Agriculture chemical companies have history also we should not forget it either.
    uncle frogy

  48. Pierce R. Butler says

    Nerd of Redhead @ # 47: One of us isn’t reading the numbers properly.

    Or one (or both) of us has incorrect numbers.

    Note that Shiva herself uses a lower number* for Indian-farmer suicides than that the LA Times reportedly derived from India’s census bureau: as with the US war on Iraq, we will never have a fully reliable count of total mortality or its causation.

    * More than 284000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide because of a debt trap, lack of government investment in smallholder farming and dependence on non-renewable, propriet[ar]y seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations.

    (Pls note, AstrySol @ # 43 – V. Shiva & Co do not “… attribute farmer suicides solely to Bt cotton”.)

  49. Paul says

    Everything I’ve read in the comments is mind numbingly inane. Everything that you eat has been modified in some way. Whether the method used is selective breeding or laboratory manipulation is irrelevant, your food has been genetically modified. Everybody gets so desperately hung up on the minutiae of desperately trying to prove that they are right that the end result is unreadable, pedantic dipshittery. The point is if you want to feed an overpopulation of humans you must change a food organism, how you do so is irrelevant to the end result. If you want to keep billions fed you must accept the fact that science, even science you don’t agree with, is the only answer.
    A plague would be nice, as golden ages tend to follow human die-offs, but that’s not the point and I don’t advocate for it.
    What gets me is the number of people who proudly, egotistically endorse science as long as it fits the proscribed outcome of their beliefs. If you want to feed 7 billion people, do it however you can. Solve the problems as they arise. I know that you (the commentators) think that you are advancing this cause, but you’re not. You’re being assholes on the internet.

  50. Paul says

    I know that I left out money, but that’s because I put no faith in it. Prior to little pieces of paper that we passed around we were forced to actually have something to trade for subsistence. Money is an illusion that we should do away with, even though it is the basis for human society as we know it…perhaps we should try again. “…were primarily concerned with the movements of small, green pieces of paper when, on the whole, it wasn’t the pieces of paper that were unhappy.” I think, as a species, we are in our adolescence…we have many good ideas, many horrible ideas, yet cling to the traditions of our forefathers because we don’t know what else to do.

  51. chigau (違う) says

    Paul

    the end result is unreadable, pedantic dipshittery

    .

    You’re being assholes on the internet.

    teehee

  52. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ 54

    Pls note, AstrySol @ # 43 – V. Shiva & Co do not “… attribute farmer suicides solely to Bt cotton”.

    Well that’s what V. Shiva said.

    “270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto entered the Indian seed market,” she said. “It’s a genocide.”

    English is not my native language so I would like to ask some native speakers to help interpreting what she said here. Does that mean GMO is not to blame? Notice that there has been essentially no change in the suicide rate for farmers since the introduction of Bt cotton, which is also shown in the figure. IMHO, either she loves speaking with little fact checking, or worse.

    On the other hand, if it’s really “non-renewable, propriet[ar]y seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations” only, why against Golden Rice (non-proprietary for developing countries, farmers can keep seeds, and no chemicals involved) then?

  53. brett says

    @Pierce Butler

    What would it do to your employment should you actually concede here a point unfavorable to your company or its image, f’rinstance?

    You realize that we don’t even know if “Ewan R” is his or her real name, don’t you? Said person can say whatever they want unless they’re at real threat of being doxxed over this, which clearly isn’t the case so far.

    In response to the Nick Gotts point about small farmers way up-thread, one very big qualifier to that is that it requires a shit-ton of labor hours to make it work (it’s essentially gardening, which is very high productivity but also labor -intensive). That works in poor countries where farmers are willing to do that if they have clear rights to their land and incentives to do so (that profit motive), but it doesn’t work so well once you become a rich country where agriculture has to compete with higher wages in other areas. Look at Japan’s agriculture if you want to see how that can end up, and it’s not good.

  54. edrowland says

    Average bushels of wheat produced by an acre of unfertilized land in 1800: 6

    Average bushels of wheat produced by an acre of land today: 39.

  55. edrowland says

    Ooops. My figures where a bit stale. In the US the average is 46 bushels per acre last year. The Netherlands averages 142 bushels per acre.

  56. unclefrogy says

    Paul @ 55
    are you implying that we should go along with agribusiness without question because business will be good and there are too many of us?
    Should we just trust them and not try to look at the whole planet and its biosphere and decide what rationally can and should do.
    Would you suggest doing away with regulation and over sight because we are headed toward a population disaster?
    uncle frogy

  57. chrislawson says

    Pierce@51:

    … a model in which they can control insects more effectively and protect yield with reduced insecticide input…

    I call that a model practically guaranteed to select for genes resistant to BTi and suchlike geneswaps, thus eventually depriving the whole world of a safe and somewhat-effective if-used-carefully pest control modality forever…

    I know it looks intuitive, Pierce, but this is mostly wrong. There is no way of maintaining a control modality forever unless the modality is completely unresponsive to biochemical/physiological defence (e.g. sterilisation at high temperature and pressure — feasible for surgical instruments but not feasible for crops). If there is a biochemical pathway to resistance then it *will* happen. Penicillin resistance was described in the medical literature within a few years of penicillin being mass-produced — even though penicillin supply was extremely limited at the time.

    If you want to stop resistance developing, your only choice is to stop using the modality altogether. The best you can do if you want to use the modality, say to save people from dying of bacterial infections, is to *slow* the development of resistance, and the best way to slow resistance is to use high-dose, high-impact applications in a highly-targeted approach. Again, it sounds wrong, but it’s better to treat at high dose to kill as much of the pest/herb/bacterium as possible, and apply it infrequently. This is what infectious diseases specialists are trying to get general physicians and surgeons to do more of.

    If you look at Monsanto’s application strategy, it is (almost) perfectly in line with this. Herbicide-resistant crops mean you can use higher doses less frequently. And the result is that resistance is slowed and less herbicide/pesticide is used overall (which has other environmental benefits than just reducing resistance). There is very good evidence for this being what happens in practice, and not just from Monsanto/ag company PR departments. Remember that (i) glyphosate has been out of patent since 2000, (ii) Monsanto now makes a lot more money from Roundup Ready seeds than from glyphosate itself, and therefore (iii) it is in Monsanto’s best interest to slow glyphosate resistance in weeds — if every common weed becomes glyphosate resistant then the market benefit of Roundup Ready crops is precisely zero.

    There is still a problem in Monsanto’s system, though, and that is that while it recommends high-dose, infrequent application, it does not recommend highly-discriminate application, like the way restricted antibiotics can only be prescribed in some hospitals after consulting a microbiologist. This is a point where the Monsanto’s business model can’t really cope with long-term vs. short-term benefits.

    My feeling on this is that any solution requires a combination of legislative and executive government action. I don’t expect Monsanto to fix it out of the goodness of its heart (and frankly, in modern corporatist societies, any business that abandons a competitive advantage to do the right thing is only going to be bankrupted by its less scrupulous rivals).

  58. Pierce R. Butler says

    AstrySol @ # 58: Well that’s what V. Shiva said.

    No, that’s what your otherwise unknown source “Glover” said in your # 43. As I interpret the following quote via your same comment, she was pointing out that farmer suicides have continued at a high rate after Monsanto came along – so at minimum they have not helped Indian farmers. Shiva points out two things happening together but does not say one caused the other: this could be either clumsy phrasing or an accusation. English is obviously not the first language for any of the four people signing the statement I linked to, which needs some serious editing.

    … why against Golden Rice …

    That’s not mentioned in the press release I quoted, and I don’t have time to review all her published words for you. You yourself quoted her in # 43 as saying that use of pesticides prevents farm families from consuming “bathua, amaranth, mustard leaves” as sources for vitamin A; I also agree that home vegetable gardens would provide better supplemental nutrition than an augmented-rice monoculture.

    brett @ # 59 – Not seeing any evidence to make me doubt Ewan R’s personal claims, I prefer to accept same until given reason to challenge them. Do you see such reasons?

  59. Pierce R. Butler says

    chrislawson @ # 64 – You seem to have confused my criticisms of Monsanto’s two different pest control approaches.

    In my # 51, the “model” I discussed was that Ewan R brought up for Brinjal (“eggplant” on these western shores) with Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis genes spliced in to “control insects more effectively and protect yield with reduced insecticide input” – which I continue to say will result in pests rapidly developing resistance. You countered by describing the use of glyphosphate applications, which involves a significantly different evolutionary process – intermittently targeting weeds instead of continuously poisoning bugs, just for starters.

    I agree with your points about the limitations of corporate solutions, and with difficulty refrain from adding to them.

  60. says

    “by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property…”

    But that has nothing to do with GMOs.

    ___________

    You *do* know GMO stands for ‘genetically modified organisms’ and understand English well enough to realize ‘engineering, patenting, and transforming’ living things describes that pretty well.

    When you start your outburst with such a blatant strawman it doesn’t bode well for the rest. But it may be good enough for someone who is likewise described as being the leader of ‘cult-like followers’.

    The scare tactics of hand-wringing about billions of starving people is a nice tactic, but hardly a sensible way to proceed.

  61. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ 65

    No, that’s what your otherwise unknown source “Glover” said in your # 43.

    That “otherwise unknown source” is called Nature (well, maybe an unknown journal who also publishes some scientific research, I don’t know), not “Glover” (by the way, according to the article, Dominic Glover is a Dutch agricultural socioeconomist and he was just commenting on such claim).

    Even V. Shiva herself is saying GMO is responsible for suicides:

    Secondly, the suicides have further intensified after the introduction of GMO Bt cotton.

    However, the figure from Nature showed no such intensification. Have you read the figure at all? If that’s behind a paywall (I’m not sure, it’s in the News Feature section), Forbes has a non-paywalled copy here. Please tell me how GMO “intensified suicide” from that graph.

    As for Golden Rice, are you aware that her “solution” means weeds in wheat fields?
    1) Not all weeds are “bathua, amaranth, mustard leaves” while all weeds compete with wheat, and India is not some country without famine before the Green Revolution.
    2) When you consider per capita cost of “home vegetable gardens” (in terms of land, labor, environmental damage, etc), it is not as romantic as what people like V. Shiva claim to be. Large scale and intensified agriculture exists for a reason and no, it’s not just profit.
    3) While nobody is blocking her “solution” in any way, farmers are free to try but no one adopts that, because it doesn’t work. However, she and people like her are actively blocking Golden Rice by requesting “more field research” then disrupting said field research when it was actually underway in the Philippines.

  62. Ewan R says

    What would it do to your employment should you actually concede here a point unfavorable to your company or its image, f’rinstance?

    Nothing. If I were to concede a point it would be a fact based concession. There would be nothing done to my employment if I were to concede that a certain modality of agriculture beneficial to Monsanto, or companies like Monsanto, were less than optimal. Elsewhere on the intertube I’m a reasonably outspoken on veganism as pertains both to ethics of suffering and the arena of what is best for climate etc – if everyone were to switch to a vegan diet tomorrow then Monsanto stock would plummet quite significantly given that much of global crop production goes towards making meat (I fully realize that this leaves me sitting in a rather odd position in terms of cognitive dissonance, but I’ve resolved it in my own head to the extent I feel I need to, and simply accept that if I were to act perfectly on my ethics and morality I’d probably have to not work whatsoever in the row crop business (hey, I’ve always fancied a move to the Netherlands anyway… I’m sure they need molecular biologists turned data managers) – the impact this has had on my worklife is utterly zero. I conceded in lengthy drawn out debates (about 4 years ago) the endless thread that certain roundup formulations absolutely can impact larval development (the work of Rick Relyea, brought to my attention by SC within quite a heated debate) of various amphibians – my opinion was, infact, both turned upside down and indeed turned around, but alas I was not made the Prince of a damn thing. Neither, however, did it impact anything at work (although perhaps that’s why they didn’t impede my move from biotechnology to breeding… maybe if I badmouth one aspect of breeding I can get a promotion into manufacturing or commercial!) Finally, whether or not I am willing to concede a damned thing does nothing to the veracity of my arguments – they’re either sound, or unsound – the motivation behind them being put forwards is neither here nor there.

    call that a model practically guaranteed to select for genes resistant to BTi and suchlike geneswaps, thus eventually depriving the whole world of a safe and somewhat-effective if-used-carefully pest control modality forever (not to mention the monarch butterflies & other collateral damage).

    A few things here. Your forever statement is silly. If Bt is being used as a control method *at all* resistance can and will arise.

    http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/esa/jee/1990/00000083/00000005/art00004

    this 1990 article (thus predating GM bt) illustrates this perfectly.

    As well, also, that you do not mention Monarch butterflies (as use of Bt categorically doesn’t do jack to them in field conditions, or other collateral damage (as it is evident that the collateral damage of not using Bt is far greater than that of using it (given that in situations where Bt could be used, if it is not used then other insecticides, generally more toxic and broad spectrum, are used, killing far more insect species)

    further note that this net planetary loss financially benefits a certain small percentage of the population

    So on the one hand we have an imagined “net planetary loss” which would occur anyway if Bt is used at all as a control mechanism. On the other hand we have a small percentage of the population which actually includes the farmers of bt Brinjal (they spend less on insecticides, are less exposed to insecticides, and have more sellable product at the end of the day) – so that you are not impacted (how exactly you are impacted because Bt cannot be used to control pests of Brinjal in India leaves me somewhat confused however, but that might be me simply wrongly assuming that you’re not a Brinjal farmer)

    http://absfafrica.org/downloads/POTENTIAL%20IMPACTS%20OF%20BT%20EGGPLANT%20ON%20ECONOMIC.pdf

    covers the net benefits which include reduction in number of cases of pesticide poisoning. But yeah, lets just block that shit because farming methods that nobody uses might be better, because operating in cloud cuckoo land is great, why solve real world problems when a world that is unlikely to exist without a complete overhaul of both local and global politics, economics and to a certain extent nature actually operate.

    During my brief truck-farming career, we found restaurants quite happy to cut off a few bad spots so they could serve their customers salads and soups made from fresh veggies; a niche market of like-minded stall and pushcart food vendors seems practically inevitable in the enterprising “3rd World”.

    Well bully for you, I’m sure your experience trucking veggies around trumps on the ground experiences of loss of crop up to 50% due to insect damage. Your practical inevitability falls on its face when one looks at the reality of the situation (classing India as 3rd world isn’t really right even under the rather odd 1st/2nd/3rd world classification system).

    There is still a problem in Monsanto’s system, though, and that is that while it recommends high-dose, infrequent application, it does not recommend highly-discriminate application, like the way restricted antibiotics can only be prescribed in some hospitals after consulting a microbiologist. This is a point where the Monsanto’s business model can’t really cope with long-term vs. short-term benefits.

    Interestingly the technology to do this sort of thing is only really coming to fruition now – Monsanto recently released fieldscripts technology to farmers – it is still in its infancy (relatively) but this is technology which gives suggested planting rates on a micro scale based on multiple factors – historical yield of the field, water flow characteristics, soil characteristics – a whole slew of information. This can reduce (or increase I suppose, depending on what densities are better for a given field) the inputs in terms of seed to a given area of land – there is great hope that this technology can also be adapted to other needs – map out historical insect pressure in fields, apply only your traited seed to those areas that need it, map out nitrogen profiles of the soil and thus apply only where required – one could potentially see, as technology advances, precisely the sort of thing you’re talking about – automated herbicide application based on some sort of foliar analysis – ain’t no weeds, ain’t no spray (hell, in the next couple decades one could envision a situation where image analysis can differentiate between problematic weeds and non-problematic plants) – the highly prescriptive bit, however, requires the capacity to automate – once actual human labor is required you fall into the same trap of “too much work” which then costs to much which then doesn’t work in our current system (again, sure, if you can overthrow the whole system perhaps high intensity field labor is the best option, I for one am more than happy to avoid this however – working a couple summers doing sampling twice a week in production corn fields taught me well that anything one can do to not work in a crop field is a good thing)

  63. Ewan R says

    http://vandanashiva.com/?p=105

    Shiva has responded.

    Most amusing, to me, is her final quote.

    “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

    – Albert Einstein

    Which almost certainly is not something Einstein ever said. As ever, Shiva is not one to allow reality to get in the way of a compelling narrative.

  64. Pierce R. Butler says

    AstrySol @ # 68: That “otherwise unknown source” is called Nature …

    If you don’t bother to identify whoever is quoted in your source, kindly excuse me for not tracking them down – particularly when I’ve just shown you a quote, from the person under discussion, clearly contradicting the misstatement made in that quote.

    And stop trying to get me to justify the complete body of Vandana Shiva’s work just because I pointed out your example of her fallaciousness was made of straw.

    Large scale and intensified agriculture exists for a reason and no, it’s not just profit.

    Funny how much of a difference that makes, though. Especially when you don’t do a similar analysis regarding the benefits of home production in a largely peasant economy.

    I haven’t kept up with the “golden rice” controversy in much detail and haven’t the time to catch up with all that today. Note, however, that “g.r.” is a solution from and for a system of oligopolistic agricorporate exploitation, an arrangement I would prefer to see shredded and composted along with all the crooked financiers and bent politicians who sustain it.

  65. tomh says

    @ #68
    Large scale and intensified agriculture exists for a reason and no, it’s not just profit.

    Of course it is. There may be related results and effects, for instance, large scale agriculture may be able to feed more people, but the motivation for combining small farms into large ones is obviously profit. The reason small family farms have all but disappeared in the US is because they are not profitable. The only practical way to farm in the US is on a large scale. You can then take advantage of the large scale transportation systems, cut way down on labor costs, buy on a large scale – the benefits are endless. The drawback is that an individual farmer can’t suddenly begin to farm on a large scale. It takes big corporations and big bucks. To claim large scale agriculture exists for any reason other than profit makes no sense.

  66. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ewan R @ # 69 – Please then discuss the many crimes for which your employer is known, and the arrogant snottiness (scroll down to pull quote) and blatant corruption with which it defends itself.

    If Bt is being used as a control method *at all* resistance can and will arise.

    Yeah, and if I keep swatting mosquitoes eventually they will evolve forms too fast/small/tough for that, right? By saturating the plantscape with BTi-making crops, your corporation will accelerate the development of resistance from a limited phenomenon over hundreds of human lifespans to a global problem in hundreds of insect lifetimes. A few humans, mostly who have no real need for more money, will profit; hundreds of future generations who will really need the food, will suffer.

    … Monarch butterflies (as use of Bt categorically doesn’t do jack to them in field conditions, or other collateral damage …

    Uh-huh. Sure. Pull the other one… But first note the first factor behind the Monarch population crash reported by MonarchWatch.org:

    1) The loss of milkweeds in row crops (corn and soybeans) due to the adoption of seed varieties genetically modified to tolerate treatment with herbicides. The utilization of these herbicide tolerant crops has all but eliminated milkweeds from these fields.

    … an imagined “net planetary loss” which would occur anyway if Bt is used at all as a control mechanism.

    If you really consider the selective pressure from occasional ad hoc use of a pest control agent as equivalent to that from chronic exposure from every plant in a field throughout the growing cycle – then please recuse yourself from any discussion involving biology anywhere ever.

    … how exactly you are impacted …

    When I – and all the farmers from whom I buy vegetables – are unable to control pest insects by a method which had been reliable (if imperfect) before your well-tailored corporate overlords destroyed that method’s effectiveness by gross and short-sighted overkill, then I (& everybody else) will pay the price in terms of higher costs and greater exposure to more toxic chemicals. Do I literally have to help you hold the crayon to connect the dots?

    … loss of crop up to 50% due to insect damage.

    Funny, in your previous comment this was all about minimizing cosmetic damage to satisfy a picky yuppified market. I hope you have a nice cushy air-conditioned forklift to help move those goalposts around.

  67. says

    (Lurker here, avidly reading Pharyngula daily since around 2006.) I am sorry I didn’t (yet!) read all the comments, and not even the OP twice and as calmly as I want to. But I want to tell this right now, something that I’ve been wanting to blurt out (and, hopefully, later flesh up) everytime P.Z. talks about G.M.O.s:

    I was a Biology major in Lisbon, Portugal (toiled there in 1990-1996 with a bunch of other people who actually got their degrees — I managed to learn some Biology myself, too). Everybody here is against G.M.O.s (except one guy). The lead “crusader” agaist G.M.O.s in Portugal is one of our professors, and all arguments we use, all the reasons that inform our opinion and activism, are scientific. (These include worries about Bacillus thuringiensis losing its micro-dosage edge, or about the drastic lack of agrodiversity G.M.O. agriculture precludes — not concerns over making Gaia weep.)

    I understand that in some countries opposition against G.M.O.s is mainly pseudo-scientific, and as such it should be exposed and challenged, and that it surely is pretty annoying, but it should not be a reason to see as a friend my enemy’s enemy. After all if some religions oppose killing over some bogus concerns with afterlife or reincarnation, that doesn’t mean atheists should favour death penalty!

    (Sorry for the hasty comment, probably redundant within the thread. I’ll go read it all now, with some coffee.)

  68. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ # 71:

    And stop trying to get me to justify the complete body of Vandana Shiva’s work just because I pointed out your example of her fallaciousness was made of straw.

    You are trying to use one specific V. Shiva said to deny that she made some other ridiculous (and bogus) claims. Let’s see the three claims then.

    According to you, V. Shiva made this claim:

    More than 284000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide because of a debt trap, lack of government investment in smallholder farming and dependence on non-renewable, propriet[ar]y seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations.

    Well this appears OK to me (whether it’s valid is another question). But what does that have with GMOs? Debt traps, lack of government investment are both before GMOs (no later than 1990s, the first GMO, Bt cotton was introduced to India in 2002). Non-renewable, propriet[ar]y seeds and chemicals are much older (more than half century). Again, why say this in an article against GMO then?

    However, my problem with V. Shiva is that she appears to have made all other claims, which directly (as is quoted in Nature, author is Natasha Gilbert, a Nature reporter, if you insist who quoted that gem) or indirectly (as is linked in my post # 68) blaming GMO for committing “genocide” or “intensifying” suicide, which is completely false.

    Providing one quote from V. Shiva without blaming GMOs for the suicides can not prove that she was not doing it, especially when people can find plenty of her other quotes exactly doing so. You know she could have said all those things right?

    Also, for the Golden Rice issue.

    I haven’t kept up with the “golden rice” controversy in much detail and haven’t the time to catch up with all that today.

    but it seems that this lack of detail or time doesn’t hinder you from accusing that

    “g.r.” is a solution from and for a system of oligopolistic agricorporate exploitation, an arrangement I would prefer to see shredded and composted along with all the crooked financiers and bent politicians who sustain it.

    Hmm. Interesting. Could you please at least name the biggest “agricorporate” involved in Golden Rice project? (Hint, it doesn’t start with an “M”.)

  69. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Pierce R. Butler, 73
    Anyone who cites Schmeiser as innocent victim of big business (your organic consumers link) is full of shit, as was explained several times in the last GMO thread. When he noticed some RR canola around his property, he deliberately sprayed ~3 acres of his nearby crop to kill all the non-RR canola and stored those survivors’ seeds to plant ~1000 acres the next year. According to the Monsanto employee, when his neighbors noticed RR canola in/near their properties, they reported this to Monsanto which then paid to have the RR canola contamination removed.

    Tuválkin, 74
    ‘A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research’ – Read it, even if only the 4-page Introduction of Chapter 1 (Environmental Impacts of GMO).

    Also, do any of you like oranges? When we went on vacations to south Florida in the 1990s~2000s, much of the trip was spent staring at mile after mile of orange groves along I-75. Due to destruction from citrus greening since it reached Florida in 2005 (it reached California in 2012), those seemingly endless groves along I-75 have largely been replaced with grazing cattle. Those cattle now produce significant amounts of methane that contribute to the climate change that will eventually drown most of Florida.

  70. says

    So we should continue using far more energy to produce food than we get from eating the food, and save the mass starvation for future generations? Yay for technology!

  71. Pierce R. Butler says

    AstrySol @ # 75: According to you, V. Shiva made this claim:

    Not just “according to me”, since I provided a link. The claim came as part of a press release signed by four people, of whom Shiva was the second-named.

    But what does that have with GMOs?

    Note that I used that particular quotation for two purposes: (1) to illustrate that the numbers of Indian farmers’ suicides aren’t too firm, and that others (in this case, the LA Times) came up with higher totals; and (2) to show that she did not, in spite of your citation of Glover, ” attribute farmer suicides solely to Bt cotton”.

    As for your larger point, I stand by mine: that the whole short-sighted and exploitative global agricorporate complex does have a lot to do with farmer suicides and many other social and ecological problems, and that GMOs emerge from and reinforce that harmful and unsustainable system.

    Ftr, I do not take an absolute Luddite position on genetic modification – I simply think that a technology that powerful must be used sparingly, only for the general good of humanity and planet, and with a sharp eye for unintended and long-term consequences. The megacorporate approach tends to the diametric opposite of each of these criteria.

  72. Pierce R. Butler says

    MattP… @ # 76 – Schmeiser aside (and I’m USAnian enough to hold suspicions about a court verdict from any case with one small farmer opposing a multinational megacorp), note that I pointed specifically to the pull quote from that link:

    “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food,” said Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications. “Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”

    Deep concern for the public interest there, yup. Do you claim this statement was falsely attributed?

  73. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ # 78: May I kindly ask you read more before commenting? V. Shiva might not attribute farmer suicides solely to Bt cotton in your quote, but she made false claim that Indian farmer suicide “intensified” after Bt cotton in her other claims.

    Also, I’ve said it twice, the source is Nature, a top-tier scientific journal (which is not extremely friendly towards GMO like Science is), not my “citation of Glover” (this reminds me of “People with little letters behind their name” story. Really, you need me to clarify what Nature is?). I also gave you another link with V. Shiva’s name on it, where she made the same false claim.

    Oh, just a reminder, you haven’t shown why Golden Rice is “a solution from and for a system of oligopolistic agricorporate exploitation”, or a “megacorporate approach” yet.

  74. Ewan R says

    Ewan R @ # 69 – Please then discuss the many crimes for which your employer is known

    Consider my Gish well and truly galloped! I’ll go ahead and decline a point by point knockdown of the article and leave you to scour the interwebs looking for instances where I already have, alas I have not saved any responses (a trick I’ve only recently made a habit of as the questions are boringly repetitive in general)

    Yeah, and if I keep swatting mosquitoes eventually they will evolve forms too fast/small/tough for that, right?

    Perhaps you missed the link I provided which documents resistance to Bt occurring before the advent of GM crops? Through judicious use in agriculture only when required…

    But first note the first factor behind the Monarch population crash reported by MonarchWatch.org:

    It amuses me that you offer a forklift to me, later, to assist in my goalpost moving when we were, infact, discussing very specifically the impacts of Bt when you brought up the impacts on Monarchs. I’m perfectly willing to concede that better weed control within fields absolutely has the capacity to reduce the available habitat for species which utilize those weeds – my expectation with roundup removing milkweed from farmers field would be that certainly one would see a large reduction in population size due to reduced habitat (damnit, look right there I’ve ceded something that paints Monsanto in a less than perfect light, I suppose I should now pack up my desk) but that this would not drive the population to zero as there are still sizable areas upon which milkweed grows throughout the normal habitat of the Monarch butterfly. This however, as stated, has bugger all to do with Bt, which was the topic under discussion at the time.

    If you really consider the selective pressure from occasional ad hoc use of a pest control agent as equivalent to that from chronic exposure from every plant in a field throughout the growing cycle – then please recuse yourself from any discussion involving biology anywhere ever.

    I did no such thing however. I provided documented evidence that ad hoc use of the pest control agent under discussion absolutely has already selected for resistance. Your own wording suggests perhaps you should recuse yourself as you described it as a modality that could be used “forever”.

    Do I literally have to help you hold the crayon to connect the dots?

    Your judicious use of this approach has already resulted in resistance arising. Your judicious use of this approach is not available to the farmers we’re discussing when talking of Brinjal farmers in India, they’re already applying toxic insecticides on a near daily basis to grow their food. Do you perhaps need assistance with a crayon to figure out that using Bt, even if it were only for a decade, would massively reduce exposure to these pesticides, for that decade, and that by denying the use of this you are quite literally maintaining the status quo for these farmers and denying them a method which would reduce their exposure to and subsequent poisoning by toxic insecticides.

    Funny, in your previous comment this was all about minimizing cosmetic damage to satisfy a picky yuppified market.

    No, it was not, one does not have to be a yuppy to reject insect damaged produce. It’s about minimizing damage to provide more marketable fruit.

    http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/35/

    The linked isaaa report details the changes in marketable fruit from Bt Brinjal compared to non-Bt, both OP varieties and side by side comparisons with similar hybrids (as switching to hybrid Brinjal alone offers benefits)

    #74 Tuválkin

    r about the drastic lack of agrodiversity G.M.O. agriculture precludes

    GM agriculture offers no change in the agrodiversity as compared to its non-GM counterpart, so you may claim that your arguments are scientific, they are not, however, grounded in reality at all.

    Deep concern for the public interest there, yup. Do you claim this statement was falsely attributed?

    Probably not falsely attributed, but wonderfully quotemined. Hey, if one guy once said this then this must mean that Monsanto does nothing to look at safety (frankly the USDA and FDA should be the final arbiters on what is or is not safe, but part of that arbitration should be saying to companies “prove it”) which is utterly untrue – we have, or at least it appears so to someone working at the very start of development, machiavellian measures in place to ensure safety (a cynic might point out that such measures, while ensuring safety, are actually there to save money, because it’d suck to get something through 10 years of testing to then find out it wasn’t safe enough to bring to market – millions of dollars down the drain and all because someone didn’t do a bioinformatics search for potential allergenicity)

  75. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Pierce R. Butler, 79

    MattP… @ # 76 – Schmeiser aside (and I’m USAnian enough to hold suspicions about a court verdict from any case with one small farmer opposing a multinational megacorp), note that I pointed specifically to the pull quote from that link:

    Upheld by all levels of the Canadian judiciary; one of only nine suits by Monsanto about seeds to ever go to trial; no award for ‘account of profit’ to Monsanto since they could not show Schmeiser sprayed glyphosate in 1998 that would mean he profited additionally from RR canola over non-RR canola.
    From the Supreme Court judgement, ‘the essentially undisputed facts of this case’ at Section II: Salient Facts (paragraph 6):

    Schmeiser never purchased Roundup Ready Canola nor did he obtain a licence to plant it. Yet, in 1998, tests revealed that 95 to 98 percent of his 1,000 acres of canola crop was made up of Roundup Ready plants. The origin of the plants is unclear. They may have been derived from Roundup Ready seed that blew onto or near Schmeiser’s land, and was then collected from plants that survived after sprayed Roundup herbicide around the power poles and in the ditches along the roadway bordering four of his fields. The fact that these plants survived the spraying indicated that they contained the patented gene and cell. The trial judge found that “none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality” ultimately present in Schmeiser’s crop ((2001), 202 F.T.R. 78, at para. 118).

    Or paragraph 87:

    However, the appellants in this case actively cultivated canola containing the patented invention as part of their business operations. Mr. Schmeiser complained that the original plants came onto his land without his intervention. However, he did not at all explain why he sprayed Roundup to isolate the Roundup Ready plants he found on his land; why he then harvested the plants and segregated the seeds, saved them, and kept them for seed; why he next planted them; and why, through this husbandry, he ended up with 1030 acres of Roundup Ready Canola which would otherwise have cost him $15,000. In these circumstances, the presumption of use flowing from possession stands unrebutted.

    The remedy at paragraph 104

    Their [appellant/Schmeiser] profits were precisely what they would have been had they planted and harvested ordinary canola. They sold the Roundup Ready Canola they grew in 1998 for feed, and thus obtained no premium for the fact that it was Roundup Ready Canola. Nor did they gain any agricultural advantage from the herbicide resistant nature of the canola, since no finding was made that they sprayed with Roundup herbicide to reduce weeds. The appellants’ profits arose solely from qualities of their crop that cannot be attributed to the invention.

    and the conclusion at paragraph 106

    We would allow the appeal in part, setting aside the award for account of profit. In all other respects we would confirm the order of the trial judge. In view of this mixed result, we would order that each party bear its own costs throughout.

    Moving on…

    “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food,” said Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications. “Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”

    Deep concern for the public interest there, yup. Do you claim this statement was falsely attributed?

    Single PR douchebag there for less than two years making a horribly worded and easily quotemined statement over 16 years ago. Although greedy jackasses will be greedy jackasses, plenty of shit has changed since then (such as that asshole’s employment, multiple times). It is up to Congress to ensure the EPA, USDA, and FDA have the power to enforce standards. The FDA is there to ensure that modified organism, pharmaceutical, and other biomedical device producers abide by safety rules and provide sufficient evidence that their product is not harmful. It is up to the USDA and EPA to ensure agricultural entities abide by safety rules and provide sufficient evidence that their products/activities are not harmful. It is up to those agencies to ensure their standards reflect the best knowledge/practices of the time and that the evidence presented to them by manufacturers is adequate. After sufficient evidence is accepted and approval is granted, – this still being a shitty capitalist country – the company has little reason to not try to sell as much product as they can to recoup development costs and hopefully fund future research/development. Being in robotics with a special interest in agricultural monitoring and intervention (fully automated hydroponic/aquaponic greenhouses; UAVs using UV-Vis-NIR imaging to monitor plant health in fields; rovers searching under leaves for parasites to remove with grippers/brushes; rovers searching the ground for invasive plants to kill with lasers/filament-heaters/grippers; etc.), I’m all for drastically increasing government funding for all sorts of research in many different areas and having all the results released into the public domain.

    Another thing about that quote is that it came from an article about Bt potatoes with quite a bit of anti-GMO fear-mongering. Bt Cry proteins are not significantly harmful to humans and have been in use (even in organic farming) since the 1920s. I definitely do not like the extensive adoption of intensive chemical fertilizer and pesticide applications to giant monoculture farms (especially when those farms are invading old growth forest) and hate much of the industrial meat/poultry/fish industry something fierce, but I’d much rather eat transgenic Bt potatoes and corn than traditionally bred Lenape potatoes. Hell, I’d be willing to eat a bowl of Golden Rice and a cob of Bt corn every day for at least two years if it will shut you fuckers up about GMOs causing cancer or being otherwise harmful (already have family history of diabetes, hypoglycemia, high cholesterol, and colorectal, breast, and lung cancers; also several questionable moles I should get excised/analyzed, assuming poorly controlled anxiety+depression don’t leave me a cadaver).

  76. Pierce R. Butler says

    AstrySol @ # 80 – I don’t know why you’ve appointed me defender of all things Vandana Shiva, but I have neither interest in nor qualifications for that position. Your continued insistence that I fulfill your fantasy about this has not only gotten rather tedious, it seriously undermines your credibility on GMOnsanto issues all the way around.

    Bugger. OFF.

    I have a busy day lined up, so can’t say just when I’ll get around to replies to Ewan R & MattP… – but at least I must acknowledge they debate points I made rather than claims they fantasized.

  77. says

    #82 Ewan R says: «you may claim that your arguments are scientific, they are not, however, grounded in reality at al» I didn’t claim anything, I just stated that G.M.O. agriculture precludes a drastic lack of agrodiversity — which you seem to be unable to dismiss. You claim that non-GM agriculture is likewise enemical of agrodiversity, but that’s the issue right there:

    Agriculture needs become environmentally sustainable and to change its dependency on “cheap” water, on fuel for a globalized mass market, on stereotyped consumption of less varieties of less species, and on a culture of waste (to mention only a few of the problems affecting agriculture for direct human consumption — forestry, forrage, and pasture add to complex portrait).

    Such new/old agriculture the world needs is very different from the industrialized monocultures you refer to as both «GM agriculture» and its «non-GM counterpart» (and it is telling that you bother to mention none other — so much for being ground in reality). Is there a place for genetic engeneering in environmentally sustainable agriculture? Surely so! Is it (or will it be) the kind of hackjob ideas behind things like Roundup-Ready plants? No, I don’t think so.

  78. says

    #74 MattP says: «Read it, even if only the 4-page Introduction of Chapter 1» (I love the witty way you implied I may suffer from reading inability or general laziness, Kemosabe.)

    I read the whole chapter so far, and gave special attention to the section on B.t., always a favourite if you care for the ecological (nor just environmental) aspects of agriculture and how G.M.O. farming impacts it (pages 40-41, numbered 38-39 — they cannot do no PDF?).

    It is flimsy, insatisfactory, incomplete, probably partial and cherry-picked,leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and for the most part it makes me go «So what?». I’m supposed to magically stop worrying about B.t. now?

  79. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ewan R @ # 82 – Nice evasion of your corporation’s massive unsavory record.

    Considering the state of the US Supreme Court, I retain the right to skepticism regarding the Canadian one. In any case, my point had nothing to do with Schmeiser, and you attempting to make the argument all about him indicates a lack of confidence in other points.

    Single PR douchebag …

    Just one rotten apple, nothing to see here folks, move along please…

    This however, as stated, has bugger all to do with Bt…

    Indeed. I realized a second after clicking the “Post Comment” button that I’d conflated one Monsanto eco-crime with another Monsanto eco-crime. They all run together after a while…

    Bt Cry proteins are not significantly harmful to humans … if it will shut you fuckers up about GMOs causing cancer …

    An(other) argument I did not make, but if you need to fill out a checklist for some reason, go ahead. (I retract my earlier hasty & inaccurate “acknowledgement” in # 84.)

    See also Tuválkin’s comments @ #s 85 & 86.

  80. Pierce R. Butler says

    MattP @ # 83 – Oops, some of my reply to Ewan R @ # 87 actually should have gone to addressing your prolonged rants about Schmeiser and others from the standard Monsanto bag of red herrings.

    You and Ewan R are invited to use this error to dismiss all criticisms made by me or anybody else, from now until the sun roasts every molecule that ever passed through any of our bodies.

  81. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Tuválkin, 86
    Well, in your 74 you mentioned you had not bothered to read the thread before commenting, so I assumed your time was valuable to you and reading 200+ pages summarizing 10 years (a sequel to a 15 year summary in 2001) and 200 million euros of research on GMOs at >400 research groups would not be worth it. There are lots of anti-GMO (just like anti-vax, animal liberation, climate change denial, YEC, etc.) assholes out there that will not even read a full paragraph before responding with questions answered elsewhere in that paragraph or later in a comment/post, so I have a strong tendency to automatically assume the worst when one dismisses the scientific consensus without presenting evidence.
    What exactly are ‘flimsy, insatisfactory, incomplete, probably partial and cherry-picked,leaves a lot of questions unanswered’ about the studies? You claim your anti-GMO stance is supported by science, so please be specific, preferably with peer-reviewed citations that have not been torn apart elsewhere.

  82. Ewan R says

    I didn’t claim anything, I just stated that G.M.O. agriculture precludes a drastic lack of agrodiversity

    Well no, you claim that GMO agriculture precludes agrodiversity. This claim is false. If conventional agriculture precludes agrodiversity (and it does, to an extent, as the system is built to maximize output – and has been since essentially the dawn of agriculture – monocultures outperform polycultures in terms of productivity, and any system of agriculture by definition is going to reduce species and varietal diversity on a very local scale in order to do just this) then laying the blame on GMOs is utterly odd, there would be nothing preventing a polyculture of say, corn, squash and beans from utilizing GM insect control in one or more of the species (perhaps a different mode of action per species) or indeed herbicide tolerance. You’re blaming the wrong thing here, like getting all antsy about socket wrenches because they’re used to manufacture tanks and that they thus preclude world peace.

    it is telling that you bother to mention none other

    There is very little point discussing statistical outliers. When discussing how GMOs are used one discusses the systems in which they are predominantly found – these, in the West, are large scale production environments – particularly row crops such as corn and soy – a fact driven utterly by the inane demands of regulatory burden.

    Is it (or will it be) the kind of hackjob ideas behind things like Roundup-Ready plants? No, I don’t think so.

    And why not? I don’t see why, within any agricultural system, having a spectacularly convenient weed control method would be frowned upon, nor do I see exactly why one would characterize roundup ready plants as a ‘hackjob’ – even if one were not to utilize RR plants (perhaps a total eschewing of applied chemistry is your thing, because you really rather enjoy picking weeds or whatnot) then insect control, nematode control and a bunch of other things that’d fit perfectly into conventional Ag as practiced now would still fit into any model – because these issues don’t simply go away (as anyone who has attempted to grow veggies on a small scale can no doubt attest – insects, fungi and nature in general really really don’t appear to want you to grow much of anything without putting in a lot of rather unpleasant hard work)

    Nice evasion of your corporation’s massive unsavory record

    Nice gish gallop. None of it particularly dwells on claims made by Shiva, or pertains to the topic of conversation above, but it is rather convenient that one has the 100+ year history of one of the largest chemical companies of the 20th century to fall back on as a means to be against anything they, or their spin offs, do at any future point in history.

    Quickly looking through the vanity fair piece (because your baiting worked, and because I’m, avoiding actual real work)…

    page the first deal with Gary Rinehart, who appears to have been erroneously accused of seed saving. Although as it turns out there was seed saving going on on land he owned, it just wasn’t him doing it, but his nephew. I’m unconvinced that the manner in which the investigators are said to have acted is actually true (particularly as Rinehart isn’t quoting verbatim, but saying what he recalls, and we all know recall is perfect and in no way influenced by ones perception of events – Rinehart would be right to be pissed that someone accused him of something he had no idea about.

    The idea that there is some sort of shadow army out creating fear throughout the land is fucking insane though. Monsanto rely upon farmer good will in order to maximize profit. If farmers hate Monsanto then farmers buy Pioneer seed. Sure, Monsanto still get the kickback from selling traits through Pioneer – but seed itself is a multibillion dollar business, and one you’d lose utterly if you actually went around inspiring fear in your customer base.

    The next bit covers the fact that any farmer who grows any GM seed at all will face Monsanto’s seed cops. This is frankly silly, farmers are only going to face legal action if the presence of GM traits is clearly non-accidental – the Schmeiser case is a good example of this, as not only was Schmeiser guilty, but neighbors of Schmeiser contacted Monsanto, concerned about possible presence of GM traited plants on their land – and Monsanto, rather than suing them, came and cleared it up (indeed Schmeiser himself, after the whole debacle, had Monsanto come do the same to his land for accidental presence, although he worked it in a manner that he could subsequently portray as a victory so as to support his brand)

    “It’s estimated that Monsanto seeds now account for 90 percent of the U.S. production of soybeans” This quote from the article is utterly false. Traits exist in approximately 90% of soy, for sure, but Monsanto seeds have never accounted for more than 40% of Soy seed sales – the trait is licensed widely, Pioneer is, as far as I am aware, still the big green giant of the Soy world.

    “Whoever provides the world’s seeds controls the world’s food supply.”

    one would have to demonstrate how exactly this plays out. Because if *I* controlled the world’s food supply, and were one touch as sociopathic as your average corporation… well, I’d be making more than $14Bn a year, I’d make oil companies and Wal-Mart look like bit players, rather than being but a minor player in the food realm (ADM etc are waaaay bigger than Monsanto, processing food appears to be far more lucrative than processing seeds, and from what I can make out gives one far more power over farmers, who are no longer your customers but become your suppliers, having to kowtow to your every whim)

    Then some more on Rinehart, from which it turns out that once Monsanto discovered that the investigator hired (ie external…) had provided bad information (it was not Gary, but a different related Rinehart who was the issue) dropped the case (it would appear to me that a more savvy PR approach would have been to apologize and to compensate for legal costs incurred, but this doesn’t appear to have happened, which frankly sucks both on a human level and a PR level)

    Then there is some on Pilot grove… who were cleaning and resellign seed, thus violating patent. Evil Monsanto enforces patent.. right? Alas that’s what one must do if one has a patent.

    There follows a whole sordid history bit, much of which follows the sort of pattern one would see from any major manufacturing industry in the 20th century. Alas Monsanto didn’t switch names in their last incorporation, how much guilt of our fathers we could have avoided. I will, however, not bother to dignify the idea that I should be tarred by misdeeds committed before I was even toilet trained with much of a response beyond petty references to my toilet training.

    The next vaguely pertinent bit brought up is rBST, where Monsanto essentially pled for labelling requirements that anyone stating they didn’t use rBST have a disclaimer thatwhile they don’t use it it doesn’t actually make any difference. (Oddly as a company we appear to have shifted considerably on this, as the non-GMO prject verification has not faced a similar challenge…) Personally I don’t see the issue with this. I’m not overly inclined any more to argue for the positives of rBST though, as I’ve been vegan for over a year now and would be totally fine to see dairy slowly phased out rather than see productivity increased.

    So there, a quick potted response to an enormous gish gallop of an article. Sorry for attempting to evade in the fist place I guess, it’s just all such old hat arguments that one rather tires of recycling the same tired old responses.

  83. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Pierce R. Butler, 88

    Pierce R. Butler, 51
    Glycophosphates aside, the chemical-exposure levels brought on by fetishizing appearances bode poorly for public health in Brinjal and environs. But don’t worry, folks: those tumors, liver failures, etc, will never be charged to major pesticide corporations, and so won’t appear on any cost-benefit calcs from any official agency or Major Think Tank.

    Sorry for the GMO cancer thing instead of a pesticide cancer thing, apparently I got anti-GMO comment threads a bit confused.

    Also, sorry for harping on Schmeiser so much, but that organic consumers link was full of shitty, easily debunked examples and arguments, so if you don’t want me beating on those shitty sources then don’t link to them. I’m not saying Monsanto has not done – and probably continues to do, just like many other corporations and individuals – some seriously shitty things, especially when they were focused primarily on being a gigantic chemical producer instead of gigantic chemical and seed producer, but not absolutely everything they do now must be horrible because of past sins.

  84. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Just realized that first bit in 91 is rather poorly worded and can be construed to mean I don’t think pesticides cause cancer, which is not the case. There are several safer pesticides, but every pest control method carries some risk of harm to field workers and/or local environment (even hand pulling weeds risks insect/animal bites and various allergic reactions). I’d much rather have lightweight, solar powered rovers patrolling polyculture farms to physically remove larger pests than even selective spraying of fields with most chemical pesticides, but we have not reached that level of image processing and plant/insect recognition (or cost for durable and weather-resistant autonomous rovers) and there is not much they could do to counter microorganism infestations other than spray or burn crops.

  85. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ # 84

    I don’t know why you’ve appointed me defender of all things Vandana Shiva, but I have neither interest in nor qualifications for that position. Your continued insistence that I fulfill your fantasy about this…

    Because you ARE defending Shiva by calling Nature “otherwise unknown source” and my “citation of Glover”. Heck, it’s Nature, not NaturalNews. And anything you don’t like, such as Shiva blaming suicides on GMO (she said crazier things than that), is a fantasy?

    it seriously undermines your credibility on GMOnsanto issues all the way around.

    “GMOnsanto”? Really? What a nice example of Argumentum ad Monsantum (what the inventor of this phrase has done outside the GMO debate is not part of this discussion).

    I have a busy day lined up, so can’t say just when I’ll get around to replies to Ewan R & MattP… – but at least I must acknowledge they debate points I made rather than claims they fantasized.

    I tried to debate points you made but you just keep defending your quote of Shiva (No, I’m not interested in your quote. I’m saying Shiva said many other crazy stuff besides your quote on the same topic.) and ignoring everything else. Now I will just try again.

    Pierce @ # 71

    Note, however, that “g.r.” is a solution from and for a system of oligopolistic agricorporate exploitation, an arrangement I would prefer to see shredded and composted along with all the crooked financiers and bent politicians who sustain it.

    [citation needed]. I said this twice.

    Ftr, I do not take an absolute Luddite position on genetic modification – I simply think that a technology that powerful must be used sparingly, only for the general good of humanity and planet, and with a sharp eye for unintended and long-term consequences. The megacorporate approach tends to the diametric opposite of each of these criteria.

    Internet is powerful, probably more than any genetic modification technology. Yet it is NOT used sparingly (how did you post here?), NOT only for the general good of humanity and planet (need any examples? Google “online harassment”), and almost nobody gives a damn about “unintended and long-term consequences”. By the way, unless you live in a very small number of countries, a big chunk of Internet is controlled by private megacorporates.
    Cars are powerful. Yet it is NOT used sparingly (I guess you probably used one within 24 hours), NOT only for the general good of humanity and planet (too many examples). Well, there are quite a few people watching for “unintended and long-term consequences”, but almost none of them think “getting rid of all cars” a good solution. And megacorporates? Come on, you know the names.
    Heck, almost every modern technology you used within 24 hours are very powerful but almost none is used sparingly or only for the general good of humanity and planet, and most of them are dominated by corporations. You are free to say your criteria are not from an “absolute” Luddite position, but they appear Luddite enough to me already.

    On a side note, Golden Rice is trying to do something “for the general good of humanity and planet”, but you are just happy to accuse it being “from and for a system of oligopolistic agricorporate exploitation” without any evidences.

  86. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ewan R @ # 90 – Though I lack enough background info to make a reliable assessment, that does sound like a reasonable response to the Vanity Fair article. Digging through “Monsanto” search results, very few articles take a just-the-facts approach – nearly everything I saw had enough spin (one way or the other) to power a substantial generator.

    MattP… @ # 91 – Trying to find a neutral piece about Schmeiser was even harder. The wikipffft article, for example, is so short and bare-bones that I suspect it reflects the compromise of heated factions. Your vision of a robot-tended polyculture sounds intriguing – almost utopian – but the technical problems you mention pale in comparison to the already-extent econo-political issues.

    AstrySol @ # 93: … calling Nature “otherwise unknown source” …

    I called Glover an unknown source, and called him out for an accusation very easily disproved by going to vandanashiva.com.

    “GMOnsanto” is hardly an unreasonable pun. If somebody else thought of it first (seems likely), I decline responsibility for whatever else they may have said.

    As for “Golden Rice”, I still see it as a bandaid on a cancer, albeit one with much better PR potential.

    Your comparison of the internet with genetic modification is a stretch worthy of Reed Richards. The basis of all life does outrank yet another mode of telecommunication in terms of potential impact, and leaving all the doors open to a frenetically competitive corporate culture with neither understanding of nor interest in long-term consequences invites disaster. For a slightly-less-awry comparison, look at nuclear power: extremely overdeveloped with massive negative consequences (just a few decades in, with millennia to go). Capitalism simply does not exercise caution: allowing quick-buck artists to alter whatever they want, with the usual externalize-costs-to-future-generations tactics, when science has only dabbled a toe in the ocean of what we need to know, is blatant social foolishness. Call that Luddism if you wish – but remember that the fears of the Luddites came true as the Industrial Revolution rolled along (and much more that they didn’t anticipate).

  87. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ # 94

    I called Glover an unknown source, and called him out for an accusation very easily disproved by going to vandanashiva.com.

    Come on, will you go to monsanto.com to disprove other attacks on Monsanto? Really? Nature has way better credibility than V. Shiva’s own web site and it seems that you are the one in fantasy.

    “GMOnsanto” is hardly an unreasonable pun. If somebody else thought of it first (seems likely), I decline responsibility for whatever else they may have said.

    This Argumentum ad Monsantum (which means “appeal to Monsanto”) fallacy indicates that you know little about GMOs, even the names of corporations involved. Try this: name five companies developing GM food other than Monsanto (Ewan R gave you a free one and I’ll take that, but you still need four).

    The basis of all life does outrank yet another mode of telecommunication in terms of potential impact

    What is “the basis of all life”? We have been messing with “the basis of all life” well enough by selective breeding, hybriding, mutation by radiation or chemicals, etc. Neil deGrasse Tyson said enough about this.
    As for nuclear power, the average casualty or serious ailments for nuclear power per kilowatt is much lower than coal or oil. It’s pretty much shameful that Fukushima (remember, this happened after an M9.0 earthquake followed immediately by a 14m tsunami and the rescue efforts were in chaos due to government incompetence) scared people away from nuclear so that we are currently dumping a huge amount of extra carbon into the atmosphere.

  88. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Pierce R. Butler, 94
    Cut the hyper-skeptical bullshit. You cannot get much more neutral than that Canadian Supreme Court ruling. It was a 5-4 split in favor of Monsanto with the majority barely upholding Monsanto’s patent, awarding legal fees to Monsanto, and refusing to award any damages because Schmeiser did not profit anymore than if he had saved the legally acquired non-RR canola (no evidence he sold the seeds from the ~1000 acres of RR canola as anything but feed at the same price as non-RR canola; no evidence he actually sprayed the ~1000 acres with Roundup). This means that even though they retained the right to sue to protect their patent, they will not be able to get anything except legal fees unless they provide definitive evidence that the infringer profited from the use of the trait any more than if they had grown crops without the trait (prove the farmer sprayed RR crop with Roundup; prove a Bt crop had been attacked by pests not resistant to Bt and crop was not sprayed with any pesticide for those pests; prove the farmer sold saved seeds to other farmers as the patented seed; prove the farmer sold the crop at a premium after informing buyer it was from patented seed). Or not provide evidence of profit and take it back to the Supreme Court, where there would either be a refusal to review the case or a less favorable ruling than last time for being litigious douchebags. The dissent would have completely nullified Monsanto’s patent claim and awarded Schmeiser legal fees, yet even they did not attack ‘the essentially undisputed facts of this case’ quoted again:

    Schmeiser never purchased Roundup Ready Canola nor did he obtain a licence to plant it. Yet, in 1998, tests revealed that 95 to 98 percent of his 1,000 acres of canola crop was made up of Roundup Ready plants. The origin of the plants is unclear. They may have been derived from Roundup Ready seed that blew onto or near Schmeiser’s land, and was then collected from plants that survived after sprayed Roundup herbicide around the power poles and in the ditches along the roadway bordering four of his fields. The fact that these plants survived the spraying indicated that they contained the patented gene and cell. The trial judge found that “none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality” ultimately present in Schmeiser’s crop ((2001), 202 F.T.R. 78, at para. 118).

    You do not get 95~98 percent RR canola in ~1000 acres unless you are intentionally collecting seeds from RR canola or from non-RR canola in the immediate vicinity that was known to be insect/human pollinated with RR canola pollen.

  89. says

    Small farmer suicides?

    It’s quite simple. India’s population is the problem. Okay… The USA and UK and most of the Western world had incidents that lead to the fall in rural population. Most importantly? Industrial Revolution. Basically? Farm Boys Became City Slickers.

    India’s problem is a huge gulf between Cities and VIllages. Cities have progress while many villages are still very much behind. And it is a herculean task because one major issue hammered the rural sector. Population. Cities got the sex ed, villages didn’t get as much so MOST of India’s population is in the village.

    The cities are already saturated. Most are giant. India’s “small” cities are big by most standards. Chicago’s big right? It’s half the size of Chennai. Delhi’s bigger than New York. Mumbai? Nearly 12 million people live there.

    But that pales in comparison with the 70% of India involved in rural life. The “Millions” of India live in tiny villages rather than the cities. Now thee are two solutions. China’s which is “build more cities” which in itself has a problem since unemployment is a major issue. Or reduce the population of the villages through things like sex education and one child policies.

    Many of these farmers have plots of land that can be charitably called a “garden”. Agriculture has changed. Vandana Shiva is unaware that without “fertiliser and pesticides” crop yields would be low. What magic world does she think where apples don’t get wormy? Nearly 30% of rice is lost each year to pests and Vandana wants that to be higher with lower overall yields because “dumbass who knows precious little about farming makes grandiose statements about poverty and famine”. Shiva is unaware that famine was a normal state prior to this period.

    The thing with GMO and high yield seeds is that they do require “input”. A lot of farmers don’t get that the seeds need guaranteed water and good soil. So “poor soil, no water + seeds = failed crop”. Banks don’t fund such bad ideas and the Indian distributors of seeds often don’t mention the infrastructure needed to make this work. So the farmers take out loans with traditional lenders (AKA Loan Sharks) have their crop fail and be unable to pay back.

    We do need to start explicitly stating which crops available in India are high yield and have a independent and scientific approach to matching crop to land.

    In addition? Farmers need to be told to “stop”. As in all the subsistence grade farmers in India have to be told the harsh truth. That they are inefficient and ineffective and are just scraping by. It may not happen THIS generation but at some point you can’t live on that land anymore and be a subsistence farmer.

    But no one wants to do that because “they are a lot of votes”. No one wants to be the man who put farmers out of a job…

  90. says

    Curious as to a link or some background on why GMO is leading to less pesticide use? Last I read (and I’ve read a lot over the years) crops were being modified to withstand more abuse and thereby getting way more pesticides dumped on them. ?
    -Thanks

  91. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Ki Brosius, 98
    Read the link above the graphic. Roundup-Ready crops means farmers can use the relatively safe herbicide glyphosate for most weed control (and no till farming which prevents massive dumps of carbon into the atmosphere, preserves soil quality, and lessens soil erosion) and then use the much more dangerous herbicides far more sparingly. Bt crops mean fewer applications of the rather horrible, indiscriminate insecticides heavily used prior to the introduction of Bt crops.

    And then there is the bit about the work of Ames, et al.

    By the way, lots of plant produce their own insecticides. The idea for Bt crops came from nature. In fact, 99.99% of pesticide ‘residues’ in your diet were produced by the plants themselves, naturally.

  92. Pierce R. Butler says

    AstrySol @ # 95 – Damn, with all the errors I’ve made and admitted in this thread, you want to keep harping on me calling out Glover for Glover’s obvious misrepresentation of Shiva? And a passing wisecrack about a corporate name? Jesus Christ and his mariachi band!

    Yes, I consider DNA as the basis of all life (on this planet, if that qualification makes you feel any better about it). And I consider that allowing unrestrained greedheads free rein to that on a nucleotide level, as compared to traditional breeding methods, as equivalent to contemporary global warming from fossil fuels vs climate change on geological time scales. When you just barely begin to understand something that your whole life/civilization/ecosystem depends on, you need to learn a whole lot more before you start tinkering with it, and that tinkering should not be done by irresponsible elements focused on short-term profit.

    Your excuses for the Fukushima Daiichi disaster-still-unfolding only weaken your case. For one thing, earthquakes, tsunamis, and governmental ineptitude were all known risk factors before the first plan to build a reactor in Japan was sketched on paper; for another, the fatal error of putting the emergency backup generators in the basement (and leaving them there for years) was made by TEPCO engineers.

    Got another meatspace situation coming up soon, so my MattP… reply may have to wait a while.

  93. Ewan R says

    allowing unrestrained greedheads free rein to that on a nucleotide level, as compared to traditional breeding methods

    Why the big difference between what can be done by inserting/editing what you know, rather than moving about elements which you really do not know (although we are now starting to know at a nucleotide level – is breeding using MAS at the nucleotide level a bad thing as compared to using MAS at the level of 10kb stretches of genome as compared to looking at a plant and saying “oh, I rather like this” – does ones lack of knowledge of what one is doing actually improve ones impact on ecosystems and the like?)? Pam Ronald’s flood tolerant rice springs to mind – the transgenic approach stuck in a gene that confered an ability to survive being submerged. Turns out that getting this deregulated was too costly, luckily enough however the same gene was available in a wild relative of rice, so they introgressed it and got essentially the same result… only with a bunch overhang either side of the gene that one wouldn’t get from a transgenic approach. I’ve yet to hear any sort of explanation as to why the former is a bad idea that should be stomped, whereas the latter is utterly fine and dandy and requires no regulatory oversight whatsoever.

    If the roundup ready trait had been brought about through traditional breeding rather than by a transgenic approach why, specifically, would this be a better approach than doing it transgenically?

    Likewise, if I were to have infinite resources (hey, my company, according to certain elements of the anti-GM movement, clearly has more resources than big oil and gas combined, as they can sway the scientific consensus – a feat that big energy hasn’t managed despite having far fewer scientists to actually pay off – so we can assume I have near infinite resources if only I can manage a few strategic promotions…) it’d be a simple matter of time to breed in the Bt trait given that I know its sequence (methinks it is like unto a weasel, only on a somewhat larger scale)

  94. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ # 100

    you want to keep harping on me calling out Glover for Glover’s obvious misrepresentation of Shiva?

    Let me set things straight for you:

    1. Shiva said the “genocide” gem in an interview;
    2. This gem was quoted by Nature (and a whole bunch of other sources, if you want to search);
    3. Nature then asks Dominic Clover, Dutch agricultural socioeconomist to comment on this gem, he gave statistics to show that it’s completely wrong;
    4. Instead of saying “oops, I got the numbers wrong.” Shiva denies she had ever said such gem on her website, despite the fact that Internet clearly archived what she said, even with video (Luckily that US doesn’t have “right to forget” thing on Internet yet);
    5. And now you just keep saying that Shiva didn’t say that because it was “an accusation very easily disproved by going to vandanashiva.com”. It seems that the PR machine for Shiva is working.

    By the way, that gem happened at 56:38 in the video. Heck, I even watched her pouring out all kind of bulls**t with almost no fact checking at all: seeds were not invented? Come on. You know what wild “corn” looks like? To say seeds are not invented is a huge desecration on the extraordinary efforts of ancient people.

    Yes, I consider DNA as the basis of all life (on this planet, if that qualification makes you feel any better about it).

    When you just barely begin to understand something that your whole life/civilization/ecosystem depends on, you need to learn a whole lot more before you start tinkering with it, and that tinkering should not be done by irresponsible elements focused on short-term profit.

    Every breeding method alters DNA. Mutation breeding is just bombarding DNA with radiation and/or chemicals and hoping to get something useful. In the early times people didn’t even know why the results were useful because the genome of the crop had not been sequenced. But still, nobody gave a damn and the results could even be certified “Organic”.

    Yes, biologists are still struggling to learn exactly how life works, but unlike what some people (like Shiva) claim, we know much enough to ensure that the product will not be more dangerous than what we are already using, and we know well enough to detect an unacceptable probability of actual harm should one appear.

    On the other hand. Do people understand why electromagnetic radiation works? Decades ago we didn’t even have the basic idea of why they work (my knowledge on quantum mechanics is old so I don’t know if we have a better idea now), yet we still used radio to the extent that our “whole life/civilization/ecosystem depends on” it.

    As for Fukushima Daiichi, it’s off topic already. But just try this: name one human construction that after being hit by an M9.0 earthquake and a 14m tsunami, can still function as designed for 8 hours. In my opinion, this nuclear plant has already performed well enough (although it could have been better), the government was actually what was failing (and the result is actually not that disastrous comparing to others). And if the government fails, no technology is safe at all.

  95. Pierce R. Butler says

    MattP… @ # 96 – Sorry, I have a strong aversion to taking anybody’s Supreme Court findings as impartial. So far I haven’t found any detailed account of the Schmeiser case without an obvious bias; this worries me here to the extent to which I have relied on it, namely not at all.

    Ewan R @ # 101: … does ones lack of knowledge of what one is doing actually improve ones impact on ecosystems and the like?

    A masterful inversion of what I was saying – are you sure you don’t have a PR flack whispering in your ear as you type? The fact that we don’t know the possible full impacts of what might happen when releasing a genetically modified organism into the environment is exactly why I say we shouldn’t be doing that (no matter how much money it may make for some mogul). The clearest case I can think of at present is the change in the gene pool of Atlantic salmon due to escaped GM fish; this may (further) endanger a key species, with unknown ripple effects throughout the oceanic (and land) ecosystem.

    Which brings us to the nature of our ignorance, which is decreasing rapidly as to the effects of specific genes and their manipulation, but holding steady as to the planetary genetic environment. Even without genetic tinkering, we’ve produced a lot of ecological disasters by moving things out of their “proper” places – here in the US southeast, I’ve had a lot of trouble with kudzu, johnson grass, and air potatoes, just to name the first three that come to mind. Shuffling some genes that confer frost resistance from fish to nightshades, for one (probably oversimplified) example, might enable all sorts of tropical weeds most of us temperate-zoners have never heard of (and which present only minor trouble in their home environments) to explode in major ways. As now implemented (close to willy-nilly), GMOs accelerate such trends, providing a universal threat but only privatized benefits.

  96. Pierce R. Butler says

    AstrySol @ # 102 – Shiva does often speak in hyperbole (and judging by her website, in very poorly edited hyperbole, at least as rendered into English). You found a quote in which she implies (by correlation) a connection between farmer suicides and Monsanto (not necessarily just to genetic engineering, but to all the megacorp arsenal of tactics); I found a quote in which she explicitly cites an array of factors. What does she “really” mean, then?

    Do you actually expect a pro-grassroots activist, doing a live interview, to craft every sentence so as to describe every factor affecting the situation at hand in exact proportion to each other factor, phrased to stand up in court, in the laboratory and from attack by corporate PR weasels? If so – congratulations, you will lead a life of continuous hey-I’m-right-they’re wrong gratification (at least so long as you take the corporate side).

    Every breeding method alters DNA.

    Y’know, I’m starting to take this excuse with the same patience I give the “carbon dioxide is natural!!!1! schtick from climate-change deniers. Yeah, and kids on rollers stakes and heavy traffic on LA freeways both rely on wheel technology, so we can stroll with equal comfort and safety in both environments, right? See my # 103, last ‘graf.

    … and the results could even be certified “Organic”.

    A not-very-rigorous definition even before the agricorp chiselers started in, and one shot full of loopholes since Clinton’s corrupt Ag Dept went to work on (against) it.

    … we know much enough to ensure that the product will not be more dangerous than what we are already using, and we know well enough to detect an unacceptable probability of actual harm should one appear.

    If you really believed the first part of that, would you have bothered to write the second part?

    Nor does your attempt to refute my Fukushima parallel work a damn. When a failure can have effects lasting for hundreds of centuries, eight hours of stopgap functioning (while aware of but unable to prevent impending even-worse disaster) just doesn’t count for much in terms of actual consequences. The principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty works beneficially for persons – even corporate ones – but should never apply to technologies.

  97. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ # 104

    Shiva does often speak in hyperbole (and judging by her website, in very poorly edited hyperbole, at least as rendered into English). You found a quote in which she implies (by correlation) a connection between farmer suicides and Monsanto (not necessarily just to genetic engineering, but to all the megacorp arsenal of tactics); I found a quote in which she explicitly cites an array of factors. What does she “really” mean, then?

    Is it so hard to admit something you said is hyperbole? And also, I found the quote factually wrong, OK? The farmer suicide situation in India is NO WORSE after Monsanto entered, no matter what source of data you are citing. I don’t care what she “really” meant in this case, what I care is that she said something ridiculously wrong, then denied having said so, and still had you defending her.

    Do you actually expect a pro-grassroots activist, doing a live interview, to craft every sentence so as to describe every factor affecting the situation at hand in exact proportion to each other factor, phrased to stand up in court, in the laboratory and from attack by corporate PR weasels? If so – congratulations, you will lead a life of continuous hey-I’m-right-they’re wrong gratification (at least so long as you take the corporate side).

    I don’t expect everything you said during a live interview can stand up in court (impossible), but please do not blatantly lie, or at least, have the decency to admit that you said something wrong when others slap your face with data and facts. The fact that you think such ridiculous lie/error is OK troubles me since I think it “seriously undermines her credibility on GMO issues all the way around”.

    By the way, the PR machine Shiva used is no better than corporates’. For example, was she a physicist?

    Every breeding method alters DNA.

    Y’know, I’m starting to take this excuse with the same patience I give the “carbon dioxide is natural!!!1! schtick from climate-change deniers. Yeah, and kids on rollers stakes and heavy traffic on LA freeways both rely on wheel technology, so we can stroll with equal comfort and safety in both environments, right? See my # 103, last ‘graf.

    READ THE WHOLE PARAGRAPH PLEASE. GMO is the method alters the least amount of DNA among all breeding methods. Mutation breeding alters a lot more DNA in a much less precise way, hybrid even worse, but people don’t have any objections to them. If you really like the “carbon dioxide is natural” analogy that much, this is like crying “Priuses produce carbon dioxide so they are bad”, but turning a blind eye to all other gas-burning cars. Satisfied?

    And it’s also interesting that you are linking pro-GMO people to climate change deniers, while we feel exactly opposite.

    As to your last paragraph in #103, no it won’t happen unless someone deliberately do so (if that’s the case, banning GMO won’t help a slightly bit). Actually, if such things will happen in nature, most genetics textbook would need a major revision. Please don’t bring contents from apocalyptic Sci-Fi works into reality.

    Also, if we hadn’t moved anything from their “proper” places, we would be still on trees in Africa now. People are moving things all the time: wheat was moved from Fertile Crescent to the world, rice from China or India, corn and pepper from Mexico, and many other species (tomato, banana, …). The solution to invasive species should never be that “so we don’t move stuff from their ‘proper’ places” at all, and using invasive species as an example against GMO is even more far-fetched.

    … we know much enough to ensure that the product will not be more dangerous than what we are already using, and we know well enough to detect an unacceptable probability of actual harm should one appear.

    If you really believed the first part of that, would you have bothered to write the second part?

    Because there are always people like you who would just ask: “What if something gets wrong? Gotcha!” – just kidding. Being able to detect potential risk if anything goes wrong is part of the ensuring process. I hope that concept Is not that hard to understand.

    principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty works beneficially for persons – even corporate ones – but should never apply to technologies

    I feel lucky that our ancestors didn’t act according to that. Oh, and that’s very Luddite because you cannot “prove” a technology not guilty (all technologies can be guilty, do you have any counter-examples?).

  98. AstrySol says

    Minor correction: it seems that the plural for “Prius” is “Prii”, not “Priuses”.

  99. Pierce R. Butler says

    AstrySol @ # 105: The farmer suicide situation in India is NO WORSE after Monsanto entered, no matter what source of data you are citing.

    Not, it seems, any better. Please review all promises made circa 2002, see how many have materialized and to what degree, and estimate odds for current promises based on that success rate.

    One of my other projects these days involves helping local opposition to a plan to build a small city in a Florida wetland. We live in a hustle-rich environment – keep up your defenses.

    … “seriously undermines her credibility on GMO issues all the way around”.

    Not necessarily all the way. As an activist, Shiva knows more than most of us on this thread how Indian political/economic systems exploit the poor there. I don’t think she’s wrong in finding Monsanto and GM crops significant parts of the problem. Read her for an introduction to the politics of this issue within India (Parliamentary Reports, court judgments, agencies unknown to me…); go to agronomy and genetics journals for the science.

    Also consider Shiva’s track record as a feminist and water-politics/rights campaigner. When the individual independent pro-Monsantoists can show comparable expertise in subcontinental class sociopolitics and lab cred, maybe I’ll take the techno-nitpicks more seriously.

    Okay, arguably that overstates the case. Still, if we posit a spectrum of politi-scientific activism from, say, Al Gore to RFK Jr to Wm Jennings Bryan to Trofim D. Lysenko, her errors still leave her in the upper quintile.

    … the PR machine Shiva used is no better than corporates’.

    No, it’s much worse. Follow that link – at least Monsanto’s lowliest hacks can use paragraph breaks.

    … GMO is the method alters the least amount of DNA among all breeding methods.

    Believe it or not, I don’t fetishize or hold sacred wild DNA. I worry about consequences, in this cases the consequences of accelerating the process of genetic manipulation by multiple orders of magnitude in an economic system focused primarily on short-term gain by ruthless yet incompetent oligarchs already overdoing monoculture.

    … linking pro-GMO people to climate change deniers, while we feel exactly opposite.

    Try to separate the people and the issues. Lots of people who accept valid climate-change scenarios, evolution, relativity, or efficacy of vaccines couldn’t give a technically sound description of those mechanisms either; should we tell them to go blow too?

    … no it won’t happen unless someone deliberately do so …

    Pls review, e.g., histories of kudzu in US, starlings in Central Park, rabbits in Australia, pythons in the Everglades. Or maybe just Aum Shinrikyo.

    Being able to detect potential risk if anything goes wrong is part of the ensuring process. I hope that concept Is not that hard to understand.

    The hard part for me to understand is how so many people say such things while denying existence/extent of already-visible risk.

    I feel lucky that our ancestors didn’t act according to that.

    Lucky to get a big chunk of the yummies during the onset of the 6th Great Extinction, yes. Hey, lucky not to be trying to support a family on much less than an acre of a heavily exploited and overpopulated poor nation, too.

    Finally for tonight: only if the “Prius” coinage comes from Latin, which if derived from “prime” etc it probably does.

  100. AstrySol says

    Pierce @ # 105

    The farmer suicide situation in India is NO WORSE after Monsanto entered, no matter what source of data you are citing.

    Not, it seems, any better. Please review all promises made circa 2002, see how many have materialized and to what degree, and estimate odds for current promises based on that success rate.
    One of my other projects these days involves helping local opposition to a plan to build a small city in a Florida wetland. We live in a hustle-rich environment – keep up your defenses.

    Nice job moving the goalpost. Even this moved goalpost is quite easy to refute, I’m not doing it for you because it seems that you’ll just move it again, quote-mine my response, and/or spew more Gish Gallop.

    Not necessarily all the way. As an activist, Shiva knows more than most of us on this thread how Indian political/economic systems exploit the poor there.
    ……
    Okay, arguably that overstates the case. Still, if we posit a spectrum of politi-scientific activism from, say, Al Gore to RFK Jr to Wm Jennings Bryan to Trofim D. Lysenko, her errors still leave her in the upper quintile.

    I don’t care if you are holding an extremely low bar for credibility of activists. If “the upper quintile” is like that, I would say the whole activism thing is doomed. AGW is not doomed because we have IPCC and advocates who knew/know science well, like Carl Sagan and NDT, Al Gore did help but not that much. Wm Jennings Bryan objected evolution. And Trofim Lysenko is a scammer and con-artist. Come on, your bar is much lower than what I could possibly imagine.

    By the way, given all those crazy stuff V. Shiva has spoken everywhere (including the ones in this very post which PZ commented as “madness” and “nonsense”, I would never take any stuff from her website as very credible. Just to add another example: on her website, there is this gem: “Dr. Vandana Shiva trained as a Physicist at the University of Punjab, and completed her Ph.D. on the ‘Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory’ from the University of Western Ontario, Canada”. Care to guess what subject was her Ph.D in? Hint, it’s NOT physics at all. You may have a low bar for credibility, fact-checking and scientific accuracy so this probably won’t bother you a bit, though.

    Believe it or not, I don’t fetishize or hold sacred wild DNA. I worry about consequences, in this cases the consequences of accelerating the process of genetic manipulation by multiple orders of magnitude in an economic system focused primarily on short-term gain by ruthless yet incompetent oligarchs already overdoing monoculture.

    Believe it or not, the technology is already there and there are already start-ups making fluorescent GM Xmas trees. What V. Shiva is doing is blocking good and legitimate use of such technology, denying people from benefiting from it, while doing almost nothing to prevent any potential abuse (well, she did receive nice payment for touring around the world saying crazy things though).

    When the individual independent pro-Monsantoists can show …

    Try to separate the people and the issues.

    Do you have a mirror on hand?

    Pls review, e.g., histories of kudzu in US, starlings in Central Park, rabbits in Australia, pythons in the Everglades. Or maybe just Aum Shinrikyo.

    So IS(IS/L) uses Internet and social media, why are you still posting here?

    Being able to detect potential risk if anything goes wrong is part of the ensuring process. I hope that concept Is not that hard to understand.

    The hard part for me to understand is how so many people say such things while denying existence/extent of already-visible risk.

    The hard part is to understand that if your “risk” is not backed by reason, or has been refuted by clear evidence and/or research, it’s not “risk” and people are not denying by saying “no, you are wrong”. By the way, most pro-GMO people never deny some risks like Bt-resistance or glyphosate-resistance (we don’t call it hyperbole names like “superweeds” because it’s not super or immortal at all, just glyphosate-resistant). They just say that they are inevitable (unless you know nothing about evolution), delayable by proper management (refuge, anyone?), and not as serious as some activists imagine (and claims) to be (it turns out that the situation for these are actually both better than what scientists had expected).

    Also, Monsanto may have denied glyphosate-resistance before but they appear to be not saying that anymore, you can blame on Monsanto for that if you want, but again, blame it on the company, not the technology. There may be a minority whose fact-checking is as poor as Shiva, and no, I won’t defend them at all.

    By the way, you still haven’t provided any evidence why Golden Rice is “from and for a system of oligopolistic agricorporate exploitation”, although “a bandaid on a cancer, albeit one with much better PR potential” is slightly softer (again, [citation needed]). Care to know what a huge problem VAD is? Even pessimistically speaking, Golden Rice should be compared as a scalpel, it probably won’t cure the cancer (neither can V. Shiva’s famine proposal), but at least it is able to remove the biggest tumors and reduce a lot of suffering at a reasonable cost.

  101. Pierce R. Butler says

    AstrySol @ # 108 – Y’know, in between the evasions, cheap rhetorical tricks, non-sequiturs, and general gas in your comment, you have a couple of decent points worth discussing.

    But we seem to have driven off all the other commenters, the fact/fart ratio has gotten quite low, and I have to do a lot of other, more productive things with a tight deadline, so it looks like they will go neglected here.

    Please try not to break too many arms patting yourself on the back.

  102. Brian Scott says

    Thanks to Lumen way back on comment 30 for linking to my blog http://thefarmerslife.com. Shiva is way off base on a lot of things and I wish people would seek out actual farmers like myself when it comes to these issues. Not everything we do is going to be perfect, but it is good to talk with people who are literally getting their hands dirty out there. To that end, farmers need to be reaching out as well and finding people to have a dialogue with about food, fuel, fiber, etc.

    One point in the article I’d like to hit on is “land bought up by gigantic corporations that then lease it to farmers who raise what they’re told to raise, to maximize profits.” I would just like to say that 95% or more of farms in the US are owned by farm families. Some may be large and some small, but most of the farms are owned by families. We farm 2,100 acres in Indiana. I farm with my father and grandfather everyday on our land. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions people might have about what we do. We raise corn, popcorn, soybeans, and wheat.

Leave a Reply