Howdy How y’all, its your friendly neighborhood genetically modified organism, here, Frank N. Foode™. I greet each sunrise with my chloroplast grana revving up their photosystems with the incoming light. Before long I am splitting water and ready to greet the world. Then I check my twitter feed (as all plants should). This morning I was in for a bit of a shock – and I don’t mean from the cold morning air.
Andrew Kimbrell, the dude who runs the Center For Food Safety, just typed up some opinions about genetically engineered crops like me. In The GMO Reality Check, and it was published in Organic Connections Magazine. I must say that I was quite shocked at some of the things he said, especially about genetics:
“There’s a very good reason we haven’t seen these promises come about,” Kimbrell explained. “The theory behind genetic engineering, which is the understanding of what a gene is and what a gene is not, has changed dramatically over the last decade. The idea that DNA—and particularly the part of DNA that we call a gene, which is a little above 1.5 percent of DNA—somehow controls traits is now not scientifically valid. Today most major scientists realize that DNA is not an actor, but is acted upon. There are millions of what are called epigenetic markers—various proteins and chemicals—that control how DNA is expressed in the cell. This idea that the DNA contains a trait such as drought resistance, size or nutrition is naive—and it was wrong.
Whoa, Nellie! That’s an incredible expression of incredulity about the genetic origin of traits. Now, I know everyone will just love to jump on this one, but the interview touches on some other things that I would like to highlight to give you a flavor of what this lawyer thinks about lil’ ole me:
“I don’t think GMOs should be regulated at all; I think they should be eliminated,”
Now I don’t think Kimbrells should be eliminated, but maybe they ought to be regulated. 🙂 I think he tells us quite clearly what he (and his organization) are trying to do. But why?
“What exactly have these crops done for us?” Andrew Kimbrell, founder and executive director of the Center for Food Safety, posed to Organic Connections. “What has this technology really given anybody? There’s not a single human being on Earth who gets up in the morning wanting to buy genetically engineered food.”
Not being a human being, I thought I would ask some of my human twitter feed followers what they thought about this. Do any of them wake up in the morning and wish that they could buy a genetically engineered food?
Here are some of the answers I got so far:
@_Lucibee: @franknfoode I’d love to buy #GMO food or even grow it myself – but the EU won’t let me!
Uh oh, you mean they are denying your right to choose?? :-O
@w1ld3rn3ss: @franknfoode when can we get GMO blight-resistant potatoes?? And will they taste good with garlic mayo?
I bet they will. Wait, who puts mayo on a potato?
@szintri: @franknfoode I actually wake up lots of mornings wishing I could have a GFP banana for breakfast!
And that might have the added benefit of helping you find it in the dark – a win for energy efficiency! Can we get the DOE on it? Go tap on some of those Berkeley biofuel shoulders, James!
So you see, in a very short span of time, already three human beings on this planet say that they do wake up in the morning and want to buy a GMO. I know Andy Kimbrell loves big percentages, so that’s 200% more than is required to prove him wrong. But let’s pile it on, shall we?
And here’s why. Regular readers of Biofortified know that there aren’t many traits that directly benefit consumers right now. Maybe no one really wakes up in the morning and thinks, “Gee, I wish I could buy tofu made from Roundup Ready 2 soybeans,” it doesn’t benefit (or harm) you so why bother? Maybe you’d like to have sweet corn that is not worm-bitten (thankfully as a Bt corn I am relatively worm-free), but again, not too much to get in a stink about. But there are traits coming down the pipeline of these various companies and government agencies that people will want the benefits from. Folks were just talking about soybeans with a better oil profile here, and not to mention various biofortification projects as well. (And what about the surprising excitement over the non-browning apple?) Michael Pollan also told me, Anastasia, and Karl over dinner that these consumer-oriented traits will change public opinion. But Kimbrell is on a mission, you see, to eliminate everything genetically engineered before that has a chance to happen. Call it a husk, I mean hunch, but I think he might be afraid that when these traits become available and more common, that many more people might wake up in the morning and say, “I want to buy a GMO today.”
So how about it, do you wish that there was a particular GMO that you could buy? Do you actually wake up in the morning and think that you would like to buy something that has been genetically engineered? The trait doesn’t have to exist yet, or be commercialized for that matter. Tell us all about it!
(As for the genetics stuff, don’t worry we’ll have a post to discuss that stuff coming on the blog soon!)
Because it all has to impact ME ME ME.
Farmers the globe over want to purchase GE seed, but I guess farmers aren’t humans.
But this doesn’t matter. For Kimbrall the effect has to be something he wants or it should be illegal. Great. Forget making the lives of farmers better. Forget improving their livelihood. If it doesn’t positively impact his already peachy life then it matters not one jot how many Chinese kids die of insecticide poisoning in the next 10 years, doesn’t matter how many Indian kids forgo school because their parent’s income drops 50%+ and they need the kids to go in and spray, doesn’t matter if the kids of farmers in Iowa don’t see their parents for most of the summer as they head out to battle weeds and insects rather than having great measures in place to free up a lot of time.
You, Mr Kimbrell, are self absorbed.
Note: Comment edited for civility
Oh and as an addendum, who wakes up in the morning wanting to buy organic, or video games, or anything… I wake up in the morning and am more concerned with whether or not my coffee pot kicked in on time, hoping I make it to work before fully waking up to avoid the drudgery of the morning commute and suchlike.
Generally my desire to purchase GM produce only kicks in some time after lunch. I’d actually view with extreme suspicion anyone who upon waking up had purchasing GM produce at the forefront of their thinking (farmers notwithstanding…)
I think Glofish () (which i own and love) prove that not only do random people want to buy GMO, they commercially buy them! Of course I’m just waiting till I can get a Glo-puppy… But being a rather poor graduate student I love anything the brings down the cost of expensive fresh foods and GMO’s are right at the top of the list (organic food being at the top of the list of things driving up food prices)
Kimbrell is a professional charlatan who profits immensely from intentionally misunderstanding GE, and getting others to share his misunderstandings. It’s continually obvious that he knows better about the things he says.
As for wanting to buy foods derived from GMOs, I would certainly buy them preferentially. I’d like to know if the food supplier takes a scientific (vs. superstitious) approach to food production and safety.
Which means of course I would never eat anything that’s labeled ‘Organic’.
In fact, the case for mandatory labeling is far stronger for Organic foods than for GE food items.
There’s at least one activist who ate sushi made from GloFish out of a sense of quasi-artistic impulses. I will not post the link because it would likely mean my post is consigned to oblivion, but if you google “Patented Glo-fish Sushi? How One Activist Is Cooking with Experimental Frankenfoods to Raise Consciousness About GMOs” you should find it easily.
I knew this was the direction they were going after that “DNA Deniers” report appeared that was celebrated by Pollan and Nestle. Sigh.
Mary Carmichael did a great reply to this “environmental determinism”. I can see where they think they are going with this. But if genes are nothing to worry about because they are “not an actor”, why would gene flow in pollen flow be a problem–and why would it matter if you ate a piece of gene DNA?
Do they have a lair in which they think up new goofy and completely unsubstantiated science fictions to roll out every time the last one failed? Is this whole thing actually a creative writing exercise or something?
Well, I prefer GMOs for their reduced pesticide usage and their increased efficiency. And if I see organic on a label I usually choose something else. Often it’s a better value too. I also would like to have GMO salmon for my cat to reduce the pressure off wild stocks and the current farm system. I think tank salmon sounds fine.
I think both of these opinions are connected in their root, although I wouldn’t know if the folks at the CFS and the Bioscience Resource Project have much contact. The common thread is the belief that either the author knows more about genetics and biology than the field of genetics (and biology), and/or that biology is so much more complicated than the biologists have led everyone on to believe. For GE crops, I suppose they figure that the biology is way too complex to tinker around with. But as we can see, their understanding of the subject at hand is off. Of course DNA is not actually going and doing stuff, it is transcribed and translated into proteins that go do stuff. Compare his statement that genes don’t control traits to the thousands of mapped and described genes that we know about. Yes, there’s more to it than mere coding transcripts, there are microRNAs and transposons and all manner of neat things – but this does not change that genes still get transcribed and translated into proteins… that go do stuff.
I for one, would like to give a shout-out to cotton clothes – every time I buy cotton I consider the likelihood that it may be GE, and if given the choice, I would choose a GE Bt cotton shirt over a conventional one because I know the difference the Bt trait has made in the environmental impact of cotton growing. I couldn’t say that I wake up in the morning with the epiphany that I want to go buy something GE (seconding Ewan’s critique about the morning-time desire), however there are a bunch of traits that I would like to have in my food, GE or not. For instance, should the non-browning apple become available, I think I would actively seek it out, because my wife and I have taken to preparing cut fruit and veggies Sunday night to pack in our lunches during the week. I had some pears last week, and they browned up pretty quickly. (Arctic pears, anyone?) So I would like to add myself to Frank’s list of human beings who would want to buy a GMO.
And what have the Romans Ever Done For Us?
Oh, I forgot another GMO I’m waiting for: a non-allergenic peanut.
“Natural” or “organic” peanuts could kill me. I would love to have a peanut butter cup, made with non-allergenic GMO peanuts and biotech beet sugar that required less spraying and less backbreaking work for migrant workers.
Why ever would we consign such a link as that to oblivion? Eric is talking about the “Center For Genomic Gastronomy” making Glofish sushi as well as a few other things. They also have some videos of presentations. One of their posts on their blog proposed a way to “classify” GE organisms with dotted lines denoting where the gene came from and where it went into, which while creative also leaves out that this is going on all over the place due to horizontal gene transfer.
Yes, that is another good one! Preferrably by RNAi just in case those natural peanut allergens creep in from uncontrolled pollination. 🙂
I stopped everything I was doing (reformatting my CV) to watch this and I am enthralled. How did I not know about this before!? I don’t eat fish, though, so part of me wants to do this with my GFP corn but I might get in trouble, I don’t know. I have papers showing GFP to be safe, and my research shows the transgenic variety to not be significantly different from genetically similar non-transgenic variety at least when it comes to seed storage proteins…
Karl, I agree with your thoughts on the “new tree of life” idea. One gene does not a new species make.
Good point, Karl. RNAi would make short work of “contamination” from other peanut plants.
I’m so sorry you can not eat peanut, Mary. That has to be hard.
Omg, Karl, I just read your last line there. I bought that video a while back and it was quite amusing. Especially that part.
The utter lack of understanding of basic science on the part of Kimbrell et. al makes me wonder “what have the science deniers ever done for us?”
As for what GMOs I would like – as a vegetarian in the US with access to a varied diet including eggs and spinach I probably get enough B12 and iron. But it would be amazing to have vegetable crops with B12 and more bioavailable iron. I’m working on corn that expresses corn hemoglobin in the seeds but why not lettuce or other veggies? I’d gladly fork over a little more cash for broccoli biofortified with B12.
The social justice angle really doesn’t suit you GM advocates. I’m quite sure that poor farmers around the world would rather have a fair share of the resources that already exist, rather than be in debt to a corporation each season for a seed that may or may not improve crop yields on their ridiculously tiny plots.
hehe, yeah, I thought about explaining what I meant about that last line, but I figured most everyone would get it. 🙂
As a farmer I would gladly buy those GM seeds. I invest an entire year of my life into a crop. A crop loss often means that my kids cant get new cloths for school or other “essentials”. In other parts of the world it can mean starvation, for the farmer, his family and his neighbors. Those farmers would gladly plant GMO’s. For him its not a question of how well he eats, it’s if he eats. It is often not a question of improving yields, but making them more predictable.
Dawkins does however wonder, in The Greatest Show on Earth, whether our capacity to GM things left and right may frustrate future generations of molecular peleontologists.
Not exactly a reason not to do it, but an interesting thought – I’m pretty sure it’d be easy to spot (just as we spot horizontal gene transfer events in the past) but if it becomes more commonplace in coming centuries one could imagine our planet’s future cockroachian overlords rejecting the notion of evolution by natural selection after discovering high throughput sequencing and finding none of their trees making sense.
So because they’d rather have a fair share of resources that already exist we should deny them other methods of improving their lot in the hope that all of a sudden the world will completely and utterly change overnight? Right. Perhaps my employer should jsut stop paying me because I’d rather inherit a few million dollars from a long lost uncle.
Although bizarrely they go ahead and buy the seed (which incurs very little in the way of debt compared to the methods they’re using anyway) year on year and enjoy improved yields and improved incomes. Funny that.
The social justice angle works just fine when it is demonstrably true. Once you can demonstrate that you have a method for redistribution of the world’s resources that can be implemented, rather than pie in the sky thinking, then perhaps you’ll have a system that can work alongside measures currently being used to address inequality and the drudgery of subsistence farming.
Oh please. Justice is not achieved by giving the farmers a choice between destitution or “special” seeds that you claim will solve their problems. And if your long lost uncle robbed your college fund when you were a baby, you might be inclined to take some kind of action to retrieve what is rightly yours.
It’s easy to claim that science is the answer when you’re doing it for a living. But on the ground, there are stark social injustices which must be addressed if hunger and poverty are to be overcome. If a farmer’s yields go up 30% because she uses GM seeds, she is still desperately poor, subject to the whims of corrupt elites, and more or less powerless to change her own destiny. The argument that marginally “improving their lot” is administering justice is simply ill-informed. And for every anecdote you give me that claims otherwise, I will give you one that asserts the contrary.
I personally don’t have the answer, sorry… not sure what you were expecting there. However, I imagine it could come through popular mobilization lead by citizens of developing countries. And it would help if Western institutions stopped propping up extractive and oppressive economic systems in these countries while simultaneously claiming to be helping to alleviate poverty through misplaced aid and aggressively promoting GMOs. It is our responsibility in the Western world to support DEMOCRACY in developing countries, not claim that we are providing justice with highly contentious magic-bullet solutions.
On a side note, please send me the comprehensive evidence backing up your claims about GM crops in the developing world (hint–they don’t exist!)
Unless you look for them, unless you look for them.
GM maize impacting farmers in South Africa 10 % yield advantage + reduction in insecticide use
Bt economic impact in India Alas behind a paywall, but the abstract states “Bt cotton contributes to poverty reduction and rural development.”
Impact of unapproved Bt cotton in pakistan Quelle surprise, it’s positive!
Impact of Bt cotton in Burkina Faso
Impact of Bt cotton in India, globally, and some on Golden rice oh look it’s positive again
reduced insecticide use on Bt cotton in China
Now, this isn’t comprehensive evidence (I still, alas, have a day job) but a quick look through the literature available since 2010 on economic impacts of Bt. Considering this evidence doesn’t exist it is rather surprising that I could go on for probably a whole page of links before extending my search to include 2009.
The problem with your argument, Max, is that you are only seeing black and white. There’s lots of nuance and grey areas. In my opinion, aggressively promoting biotechnology as a silver bullet is wrong both scientifically and ethically. So is aggressively promoting organic as a silver bullet. Farmers and consumers deserve a lot more than that.
If we look at a trait like herbicide tolerance it makes sense to say: why the heck would a subsistence farmer need that? They have a surplus of labor so pulling weeds is far more cost effective than buying more costly seeds and herbicides. But other commercial traits aren’t quite so obvious. Bt cotton is one example that has shown benefits to small farmers in developing countries such that the cost is worth the benefits. Of course, since Bt isn’t a silver bullet, it doesn’t work for every situation perfectly.
Now, while these two examples are useful, we have to remember that commercial seed isn’t the only system out there. Biotech or bred, there are specialized traits that can help farmers in the developing world that don’t cost any more – thanks to philanthropic efforts. For example, orange sweet potato that has high levels of provitamin A is currently being distributed in Africa with no extra cost to the farmers. It was painstakingly bred using molecular markers to have qualities needed in African soils and climates and have higher vitamins. There are many other philanthropic crops already out there and currently in the works, including BioCassavaPlus with extra vitamins and drought tolerant maize.
Farming with expensive inputs is out of the reach of many farmers, and without decent crop insurance and inexpensive loans, using expensive inputs may very well do more harm than good. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore improved crops that don’t come with a price tag.
That’s really an oversimplification – obviously there are heaps of issues and details to consider with international aid and improvement of farming in developing countries – but since your primary argument seems to be against corporate interests in farming or “corrupt elites” that’s what I’ve focused on in my comment here. I just don’t want anyone to be all “nuh uh, you didn’t mention blah so you’re wrong” – know that it’s simplified for targeting and brevity.
The problem with your argument, Anastasia, is that you ignore my primary claim: that promoting biotech in the developing world cannot be framed as an issue of addressing injustices perpetrated against small farmers.
Max, I think there is a piece of this puzzle that you are not considering. While you bring up the point that improving a crop will not magically rescue them from the poverty and inequality that is endemic to the area, there is a connection between the two.
I also agree that it is easy to say that inequity should be eliminated, and much harder to propose a way to do it that will work. But there are things that some scientists can do to help. (Including social scientists.)
One of the many problems that subsistence farmers have is of malnutrition. Basic calories are of course a problem, but the lack of essential vitamins and minerals in their impoverished diet is a huge problem for their health and longevity. Many people who are malnourished cannot contribute to their family’s well-being and instead become an economic (and social and psychological) drain on their families. As a result, their families have a much harder time pulling themselves out of poverty because of the resources diverted to those malnourished family members who cannot themselves contribute much. So if, let’s say, you were able to make a variety of staple foods such as the traditionally-bred sweet potato Anastasia mentions or the genetically engineered rice and cassava, you could provide some of these needed nutrients at no additional cost to these farmers and their families. Then, there may be fewer malnourished family members (a good thing in and of itself) but they would now have the health and strength to have a positive impact on the lives of their families. So while it would not solve every problem overnight (and it is dishonest for anyone to suggest that it will or that it is a failure if it doesn’t) it could indeed have a positive impact on the economic situations of those very subsistence farmers.
There is also the impact of Bt cotton on the labor within those farming families in India – do check out the second link that Ewan posted below because it is a fantastic finding. Families that grew Bt cotton had a labor shift occur where the men did not need to scout as much for pests, so they went indoors and helped with the traditionally ‘feminine’ labor in the home. Feel free to send us an email on the blog’s Contact page if you want the whole paper sent to you.
It is difficult to imagine what it is like in that situation when you come from a relatively privileged background. While we may debate the merits of different nutritional intervention strategies as to who they will reach and how much of an impact it will have, let me pose a different question. If it could help them in their situation – would it be ethical for someone who comes from a privileged background to try to prevent them from having access to it?
I’m not saying that you are, of course, but there are people that do want to stand in the way of this kind of aid. I’m curious to see what you think about that.
Max, see my comment below. Malnutrition of the impoverished is an injustice that I think would qualify.
Thanks for proving my point. Comprehensive evidence doesn’t exist, especially for the long-term. Yet it’s full speed ahead with planting and deregulation all over the world, to the delight of biotech execs and their friends in Congress. IMHO GMOs should still be in labs.
How about this for evidence:
‘”Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques over a period of 3 to 10 years… far more than any GM [genetically modified] crop has ever done.”
Other recent scientific assessments have shown that small farmers in 57 countries using agro-ecological techniques obtained average yield increases of 80 percent. Africans’ average increases were 116 percent.’
At first glance it appears my evidence is more comprehensive than yours.
So long as you’re utterly myopic then yes, yes it does.
A single, non-peer reviewed opinion piece on a multi-media website surely trumps peer-reviewed science looking at actual real world application of a technology.
From your post it appears you don’t understand what comprehensive even means – it isn’t about effect size (which appears to be your angle) it’s about the scope (comprehensive evidence would require that I provide essentially every peer reviewed piece on the impacts of GM crops on developing countries, something I have neither the time nor energy to do – of course comprehensive evidence on your behalf would require similar effort, so if your single website hit with no real informational content is comprehensive then you lose sir, you lose) – I admitted my response wasn’t comprehensive, as it details 6 sources (at least one of which isn’t peer reviewed) from an utter sea of information (I restricted my search to GM cotton papers in the past year after grabbing the first link from my personal stash of awesome links) – evidence which you implied did not exist.
However, let’s assume that your techniques do increase yield by 214%, or 80% or somewhere in between – which wouldn’t actually be outside the bounds of what one might expect upon the addition of proper nutrients to the soil and decent availability of water (through whatever methods) – there would still, within this system, be scope for utilization of GMOS (be they Bt to protect against insects, or improved nutrition GMOs to… improve nutrition) – it isn’t a case of “oh look, this system is better, scrap that system!” – what is needed is the best aspects of all systems to be utilized – and frankly this will vary from region to region, in some areas perhaps the use of Bt would be pointless, in some perhaps the use of increased nutrient crops would not work (I don’t know quite why this would be the case, perhaps an aversion to slightly odd coloured rice, or a yield drag or suchlike) – in some areas perhaps hybrid sorghum is a better prospect than GM maize, etc etc etc.
You have actually proved the contrary yourself. You have made an arguably false assertion, and then demonstrated you do not want to listen to and examine the merits evidence that it is wrong. That suggest further discussion will not be productive.
So where do we go from here if we really want to address social justice and believe Biotechnology can assist, as it does for Chinese and Indian cotton growers? I think it involves frank two-way exchange of relevant insights and facts. Lets start by going to the ISAAA website for the comprehensive evidence that you assert does not exist.
Comprehensive is a judgment call, but your “evidence” is anything but “long-term” (3-10 years according the actual UN report). Also from that report (Section III, Point 15, Page 7):
Two points here: 1) GM is a breeding technique (one many would consider compatible with these statements). 2) This is exactly what Anastasia has said. GM is but one tool of many to be considered in a larger system.
The relative statistics you provide here (and also found within the report) are, in and of themselves, meaningless. 216% increase from what? Given that many of these systems were, by self admission in the report, poor producing to begin with, I have to wonder what these values really mean. News Flash: My backyard increased vegetable production 200% last year because I a) planted a garden again, and b) doubled its size.
I’ve been following the non-allergenic peanut story for years, and one issue has perpetually remained elusive: Does a non-allergenic peanut taste like a peanut? It’s entirely possible that the allergenic protein confers the flavor, and that you can’t have flavor and safety at the same time.
Good question. I have talked to one peanut breeder who has some material being considered for making non-allergenic peanuts. They discovered a mutant variant of the big peanut seed storage protein (that is responsible for the allergic response) that does not cause a reaction in human serum that is normally sensitive to this protein. The idea was, as I heard it 4 years ago, to remove the native seed storage protein genes, and insert multiple copies of the mutated one to replace it. While RNAi could be used to just silence the native genes, perhaps if the plant is weak it may not fully express the dsRNAs, so I think a combination of removing the proteins and adding RNAi would be a pretty good safety net. I would imagine that this mutant protein would probably taste equivalent to the native ones, but you never know! (Maybe it will taste better?)
Good points, Karl.
To piggyback on those ideas, Max, if you are interested in learning how genetic engineering can be just one part of an overall strategy to reduce malnutrition, see my post Goals for nutrition. There are no silver bullets but in tandem different strategies can help be part of an overall goal to pull people out of poverty.
I thought of another GMO that I ♥: the one that enables Stonyfield Farms to generate bio-based plastics!
Our multipack cups are now made from plants
You know, I’m actually starting to feel sad for people who can’t appreciate all these things because they are so fearful. Some of the same people I talk to want to move off of oil-based polymers, and cannot tolerate the idea of Stonyfield relying on GMOs for this.
Farmers in the USA pick GE crops more often because they are heavily subsidized. Wheat, corn, cotton, oats, and soy if I am not mistaken are heavily subsidized here in the USA.
Notice 3 of the 5 are predominately GE crops. Soon to be 4 from what Ive been hearing about wheat.
This subsidizing is BS. We all know that big corps. give their donations to Govt. and then Govt. of course remembers the donation and in return hands out subsidies and de regulated status. Biotech Corps are not the only ones, so dont think for one minute I am seperating you out.
But, Ewan you sit there and have the nerve to say things such as…
“doesn’t matter how many Indian kids forgo school because their parent’s income drops 50%+ and they need the kids to go in and spray, doesn’t matter if the kids of farmers in Iowa don’t see their parents for most of the summer as they head out to battle weeds and insects rather than having great measures in place to free up a lot of time.”
The truth of the matter is since the introduction of these GE crops and the globalization that has been taking place for the past 10-20 yrs because of these GE multi national corps. that more people have starved, more people have lost their homes, their farms, their lands and their livlihoods.
You see, in India, and Paraguay, Africa, they dont have subsidies for crops, or they have very little. So when rich countries get millions or billions in crop subsidies, the rich countries are actually making the price of said crops go way down.
So now the poor farmers from India, Africa, Paraguay, cant sell their crops and make any type of profit at all. They get poorer.
To make matters worse your CEOs or bigwigs or whoever from the GE corps go into other countries, and lobby their govt. on how great GE crops are and yada yadda blah blah blah.
And of course half these guys are gonna believe you. Look they are here from the USA! The USA is rich!.. OOOOO goodie lets try this new GE crop! And then the GOvt says yes, and starts illegally taking over land grabs from its citizens, starts tearing down savannahs and rain forests.
For what? Its all in the name of money. AND if you really truly cared, you would take a trip to India, or Paraguay, or Africa and find out the truth for yourself.
forgot to mention, that I would rather spend time gardening and weeding with my son. I dont think sitting around eating doritos, twinkies, and playing vid games (which is a norm for many) gives any kid or family any type of ‘Quality time”
I for one am not fearful. I am pissed. Pissed at how big money trumps over a majority of civilization.
Pissed that plant life and animal life is being manipulated in ways which would never happen naturally. And they have no say whatsoever in the matter.
Tell me what is you success rate after you infect a cell, put in the reads and then regenerate the plant or animal?
Tell me how many laboratory freaks of nature you really have?
How many mutated, dead, failed or useless experiments?
How many Millions and millions of dollars do you spend until you get something right? (what you guys consider right)
So really? How many lives could you all have saved with all that millions of govt donation money?
How many lives with all that millions of shot in the dark research and attempts to create the GMO crop?
You should keep GE in Medicine and in crime fighting.
BUT KEEP IT OUT OF THE FOOD
All these NEW NOVEL pathogens being found infecting crops and bees and bats, I bet some of them are an indirect consequence of putting these GMO out into the world.
when you get a GE no allergenic peanut, I want to be there to watch you eat it.
I would be delighted to volunteer for testing. And I would be delighted for you to see the outcome.
Wow! Ewan, did you leave that dang bag of monkeys around here?
Lisa. Please, please read some actual scientific literature, not the spoon fed drivel you’re obviously getting now. There is so much wrong in your post one doesn’t even know where to start!
Seconded. I just don’t even know where to start. Basic understanding of how science works is the biggest one that sticks out but to be honest I don’t even know if there’s a point in responding to an ideologue. 🙁
Many of the anti people subscribe to the notion that “strong feelings” about a position on an issue makes the position legitimate. By extension, that makes disagreeing with them mean and heartless because you’re deliberately hurting their feelings. Since you can’t reason with them, it’s better to keep a tiny violin handy.
I’m trying to figure out the logic of saying that GE in food is “unnatural” and should be kept out of our bodies, but that GE in medicine is good and should be used in our bodies.
List – I’m going to respond to all your tirades here, rather than one by one, as I’d rather you not miss anything (and I don’t want to tire out Karl’s wundergadget)
GE crops are heavily subsidized? I think not. Row crops in general are subsidized, to an extent, but this is regardless of whether they are GM or not, as to heavily subsidized, I dunno – subsidies paid in 2008 (most recent year with complete data) were in the region of $4.1Bn, which amounts to 38c per bushel of corn (less than 10% of the price of a bushel in general) – It seems actually that the whole subsidy maze is incredibly difficult to find any concrete information on – there seems to be an awful lot of shouting going on and not much in the way of hard facts (other than big grand nubmers that mean nothing when you can’t divide them by numbers of recipients, % of income as subsidy, impact on the national economy etc – perhaps Karl or Anastasia know someone who knows subsidies who could actually spell out exactly what goes where in such a manner?)
Yes, it’s all the fault of big companies. Nothing to do with systems set up after the great depression. Nothing to do with providing security to the nation (after seeing what military blockades etc could do to a nation with low food security – my grandparents, and my dad, all had to live on food rationing – they have an understanding as to why maintaining a viable agricultural system in times of plenty is important that I don’t think is obvious to those of us who’ve never experienced such)
You are a monumental liar with an inability to click links it appears – each of the links in my responses to Max (which as that’s the portion of what you’re criticizing me for I would have hoped you’d have the decency to actually look at) details real world positive economic impacts for poor farmers of GE technology – there are countless more.
I see you’ve moved from the farmers are stupid trope to brown people are stupid. Bit of a dick move to be fair.
You keep ranting on about the tearing down of rainforests for soy production – amusingly if you look at a map of Brazil, its agriculture, and its rainforest you’ll note that infact the soy production is in a completely different part of the country (and arguably increasing grain production to feed cattle and keep prices down is a method to stop the encroachment of huge cattle ranches on the rainforest – you’ll note, no doubt, that this is the form of agriculture that is encroaching on the rainforest in Brazil – what with the soils being too poor for production ag) – I’ve yet to figure how one tears down a savannah.
What the merry hell does that have to do with anything? Are you equating your pottering about in a miniscule garden for kicks with survival agriculture in the developing world? You think kids pulled out of education because without their backbreaking labour in the field the family might not eat in any way equates with your pottering about avoiding video games? You think these kids finish a day in the fields and go off to play Final Fantasy on their playstation or sit infront of the wiggles learning the unsavory lesson that Australians smile incessantly and have scary eyes?
Or with parents who have to go out and work scouting fields and spraying acres and thus miss any time at all with their kids (unless you’re advocating that 6 year olds should be out in a tractor cab until 11pm on a daily basis).
You clearly have no concept of the hardship of doing weed and insect control in a sizable production setting where your performance is intimately tied to your livelihood and the decisions being made aren’t “should little Johnny play Wolfenstein or should he come play in the dirt for 30 minutes” but “Should little Cindy-Lou attend school or should she be out spraying category 2 toxicity insecticides so that we can repay loans at the end of the season” (who-ville, despite all attempts to paint itself otherwise, is very much a subsistence farmign type of an environment)
So you’re upset about breeding then? Are you equally incensed about ants who farm? Do your carrots have much of a say either way in what is done with them? Can you share any links where wild Atlantic Salmon have been polled as to their opinion on various fishing methodologies? Have you taken time today to ask an earthworm whether the mulch you’ve put down on your flower beds is to her liking?
How are you defining success rate? Actual commercially viable improvement or just living organism (the answers here would be super slim, and pretty good, as far as I’ve seen – generally problems with transformation occur in getting a viable plant to grow from the callous – it isn’t that common, as far as I know (and perhaps someone who works day to day with transformed cell lines can correct me), to get a succesful transformation that then fails utterly – we test literally thousands of different transgenics every year and I’ve yet to hear one complain, or really see stark differences in the field.
I can’t disclose the size of my team, sorry. Corporate confidentiality and all that.
$100M for a commercialized trait.
Although I do recall Pam Ronald putting the figure at ~$500 to create a transformed plant, so there’s a pretty big set of error bars for you right there.
Where would that money have gone, how would you ensure it was saving lives? What if the money had gone to researching erectile dysfunction, or new ways to make cheese, or prettier roses?
How many lives what? This particular question makes no sense. You could perhaps look at the papers I linked above and realise that tens of thousands of lives have been improved by GM crops globally, or you could go on pulling your facts out of the air and figure that billions of people are now growing third nipples because of GM soy.
Crime fighting? Get back in the sack.
(DNA fingerprinting != GE)
Which ones. Name them. It’s a bet I’d happily take. $5000 says you don’t have evidence to back this claim by the end of 2015. Take the bet?
I would only vouch for the long term viability of agro-ecological methods because the crops in question have been feeding people for thousands of years. I would say the onus is on GM advocates to prove long term sustainability, which, thus far, has not been done despite rapid and extensive introduction of these plants into ecosystems all over the world.
I don’t think I have demonstrated anything of the sort. In fact, I’ve been looking at the merits of these arguments for years, on both sides of the debate, and probably seem so unreceptive because I have seen first hand how organizations like ISAAA make it seem like biotech is making incredible gains when in reality, the figures are far from impressive.
Uhhhh, …. But apparently there is a problem because these crops are not feeding the people sufficiently anymore. That pretty much calls into question your assertion of viability for that part of the system. And the onus, in fact, is on the opposite end to show that GM could or could not function well in an agro-ecological system.
While I find the term “agro-ecological” ridiculous (it’s an oxymoron), I think the approach outlined in the report rational, reasonable, and a desirable goal. I fail to see, however, why GMO, or even traditional hybrids, bred for specific conditions are not applicable as components in such systems. Evidently the UN has no problem there either, as neither GM or hybrid options are explicitly excluded from the recommendations.
Ok, I’ll make an effort to reduce the snarkiness in my response here.
You all seem like well-meaning individuals. And I can only say I wish it was you all making decisions about the course of the biotech industry. But alas, it isn’t. It is state department officials and biotechnology execs who, on the face of it, are concerned ultimately with bottom lines and promoting our national interest. That said, the case for GM crops is well overstated. Yes, you provide some figures which suggest initial yield increases. But for all of these, evidence exists which suggests yields are not so impressive, and indeed, that figures are often inflated to promote further marketing of these technologies.
Furthermore, developing infrastructure which provides biotech seeds and equipment sets up countries for the long-term use of biotech crops on a large scale. Without this economy of scale, biotech is extremely cost-ineffective.
Although this discussion would very much benefit from a frank assessment of data and a broad based examination about the feasibility of this technology, we are getting nothing of the sort. Instead, we have one side that has immense financial resources, government support, and very real profit incentives, versus a rag-tag bunch of activists and small farmers who have no real clout or ability to have their voices heard. Research and development is overwhelmingly biased in favor of developing new biotech varieties and disseminating them on a mass scale, rather than examining the safety of this technology and investing in alternative technologies–such as agro-ecology– which are far less contentious.
In my mind, the overwhelming success of agro-ecological methods despite extreme lack of funding demonstrates their incredible potential and the dysfunctional nature of corporations and governments in addressing hunger and poverty. The IAASTD report was funded by agribusiness and the World Bank, but was shelved and dismissed when it demonstrated the limited applicability of agricultural technologies in addressing hunger and poverty.
Give poor farmers land, give them knowledge, and they are perfectly capable of taking care of everything else on their own. Profit-driven solutions to poverty will never accept the realities on the ground.
As I mentioned below, biotech is extremely cost-ineffective unless it is developed on a large scale. Bottom lines of biotech companies will never accept the fact that technology may be useful in some places and not in others.
Traditional crops only failed to feed people after the mass appropriation of land for export purposes.
Biotech crops are not applicable because they require massive infrastructure and set the stage for aggressive promotion and marketing when it is not appropriate.
I really don’t see how agro-ecological is an oxymoron.
agro-ecologcial = agriculture which supports healthy functioning of surrounding ecosystems
Reference Ewan’s first comment and I think you’ll see there are strong feelings on both sides.
I would also add that’s its probably more difficult to reason with people who are getting paid from one side of the debate.
Getting paid from one side of the debate has different aspects. For instance, getting paid by a technology provider is quite a bit different from getting paid to debate. The former has an actual product to sell that actually performs on the farm precisely as advertised, which establishes a strong motivation for honesty. The latter produces only debates, and has no motivation for honesty.
Ha, Ha!! That got me laughing, Max. When I get an organization worth 200 million Euros, 2500 staff, and 2-3 million supporters (aka GreenPeace), rest assured I’ll remember to label it as a “rag-tag bunch” 🙂 Give me a break! It’s getting deep in here and I’m wearing my good shoes today!
Did it ever occur to you that having your “rag-tag” group(s), and a bunch of UN foreigners tell these people what they should do, what they should think, what they should use, is no different, dare I say, in the long term, than having some mega-Monsanto subject them to the evil of the corporate world? What if they use that land and knowledge to decide that “Hey! I want the benefits of this technology too. I want less labor on the farm so I can go to the city and do something else beside subsist.” Read Stewart Brand. He knows far more about this aspect than I.
Okay…I’ll bite. I’ve been working in this industry since before Agrobacterium. I’ll quote a professor from the University of Nebraska I heard speak some years back about the criticism he took because he was conducting experiments that were, in part, funded by industry.
“They don’t pay me enough to lie.”
This whole line of criticism is personal and its getting tiresome. If you have ANY evidence of wrongdoing, other than mere association, bring it!
And given that the OTHER side of the debate (Greenpeace, FOE, Sierra Club, OCA) exist because of donations from those in your camp, I wouldn’t be too loose with this kind of criticism.
Mass appropriation of land for export purposes is a political problem, not an agricultural or ecological one. And no, I think there are other reasons such as failure to adapt to climatic changes and over population.
Well, since biotech can only be used with massive infrastructure and only is aimed at promotion and marketing, please pass the Kleenex to researchers like Dr. Ronald who are no doubt crying buckets of tears, only now realizing they could not do what they apparently thought they already had.
Agriculture is, by definition, a disruption of a naturally occurring ecology. I find the terms conflicting in the name, however, this, as my opionion, is irrelevant to the discussion.
‘The debate’ is so suffused with ad hominem tactics that taking the high road simply means you’re not taking part in the debate. While you’re talking about agriculture and biotechnology, and how it works, the anti people are primarily interested in who is naughty and who is nice. Those with a taste for conspiracy will tend to approach the naughty/nice determination based on association.
I would add that the big Green organizations are accustomed to be paid for their services, as protesting and public relations are increasingly indistinguishable. Since the Greens are used to being on the corporate payroll, they tend to think that everyone works that way.
Wouldnt it be wonderful if we could live in an ideal world?
But we cant. Soo the points I have been trying to make here are that for every farmer Ewan says GE crops have helped, Im saying there is another farmer who was hurt.
For as much as you see me looking thru rose colored glasses biased to thought processes, I can say the same for you.
I personally am against the use of herbicides/pesticides unless in case of emergency. Do I farm large scale? NO. I have had my squash not harvest for the last 2 seasons. I am frustrated, but I will figure it out without chemicals. Or I will eat something else.
Part of the problem as I see it is an over reliance on huge scale farming. Huge scale farming brings about a whole host myriad of problems. I believe there should be more small farmers. The teeter totter is not balanced. I am part of a call for equality. I have stated before that while I am in the Naturalist camp per se, I can see that GE crops are not going anywhere and therefore measures against contamination should be taken.
Amusingly Karl stated somewhere in all of this that if a peanut were made that allergic people could eat w/o harm and the natural genes spread to the GE peanut we could accuse contamination! However, I dont see that happening since what has happened with gE is Breaking into the phyla, the double helix. Bullying in until a plant has little say … so the contamination part comes from man made transfering into natural and not vice versa.
I would also be very surprised it the above mentioned peanut ever comes into being considering the majority of Ge crops are for pests. NOT for health. But if it ever does, dont worry Mary, I will bring the Epi pen.
Ewan, I read an article somewhere that some genetic engineering was done in crime labs helping with the analysis of crime samples. I may have spoken too soon, as I know little on that particular subject, however.
I cant believe bugman doesnt get how I could be for GE in medical field and not in foodstuffs. Obviously all minds are not alike.
Its easy, first off, just for an example, you would not take a GE form of insulin and give it to just anyone. But in the case of GE food, you do just that. Some people are sensitive to chemicals, foodstuffs, and noise and color and who knows what. The point is, what fits one is not going to fit all.
IF so many farmers are so happy with the technology as many claim here, then why the protests all around the world? Perhaps Ewan thinks all farmers and people who dont think like him are ignorant. OOops, sorry I was taught never to assume, the old saying about how it just makes an ass outta you and me
If that was the case then the statistics wouldn’t be on my side – if every farmer helped was counterbalanced by one who was hurt then the statistics would say just this – average incomes would not go up by 80%+ – they’d stay the same and the variance would increase. This isn’t what happens.
I’m guessing you don’t farm. You garden.
Farmers don’t get to operate like this. Their harvest fails they are screwed – imagine you worked the year through waiting for your paycheck and then, 2 weeks before your check was to come through, oops, sorry, bugs – no harvest for you. In developed nations there is generally crop insurance (sometimes government backed – hurrah socialism (said in all honesty) sometimes farmer funded) so things may not be quite so bad – in developing nations – well, I think we all know how that goes.
GE farming demonstably has the largest impact on peoples lives in small scale agriculture (so long as you don’t count 2 cows as large scale, which one of the linked studies above does) – it makes large scale farming easier and more profitable also, but it works across the board (in a trait dependant manner)
Although in seriousness – why? And how are they going to pay for themselves given the rock bottom pricing on foodstuffs these days – consumers demand cheap food, the conglomerates sitting on top of farmers in the supply chain demand cheap food – how do you expect farmers to make any sort of acceptable income if everyone pares down and becomes “small farmers” (I’d be interested to know what size farm you’d define as small, and how long you’ve been farming your small farm to make this dream a reality – neither of these are rhetorical questions, just incase you deign to actually respond to something put forward)
So now there are two myopics in the thread – how can you possibly see that a technology as succesful and as young as GE agriculture is not going anywhere? It’s revolutionized agriculture in the past couple of decades and promises to continue to do so in coming decades. Did you maybe also predict that the internet was a fad, mobile phones were stupid, there’d maybe be demand for 4, maybe 5 computers tops in the US, and that the wheel was a flash in the pan?
Breaking into the phyla? Care to explain? (I think I get it, but I do rather wonder if you do, particularly as current GE techniques go way beyond phyla and are cross kingdom)
So the presence of a gene which encodes a protein which has no effect whatsoever on end consumers is anathema, but the presence of a protein which full on kills people is just dandy? Wow.
That and agriculture are apparently in the same bucket. Molecular biological techniques, have, of course, revolutionized forensic criminology (or whatever the kids are calling it these days with their fancy single sample centrifuges a la CSI) but they certainly ain’t genetic engineering.
Well, no, but then you wouldn’t give non-GE insulin to just anyone either, whereas you’re hardly going to kill anyone giving them an eggplant (allergies notwithstanding)
So I’m assuming you’re also dead against breeding for weird coloured fruits – what with people being sensitive to colour.
If it’s farmers doing all the protesting then why the 90%+ penetrance of GE traits in markets to which they’re introduced.
No, just people who are impervious to facts.
You know what they say about assuming right? Without it our whole epistemology would fall apart as we’d have to start from first principles every time.
Am I the only one dismayed by my constant shifting between English English spelling and American English spelling?
Also more Hobbits!
So, you’d protect me from the “natural” peanut? You’re swell, Lisa. Do you have any grasp of the irony of that? My guess is not.
I am so glad that you care about what a plant thinks in these matters! Too often people talk about what they want and not what the plants want.
Perhaps you could ask a few plants to see what their opinions are. Would a plant want to be crossed with itself? Or how about breeding with a wild relative? Getting zapped with radiation or made sterile like a seedless watermelon? Or chopped into pieces and stuck on top of the roots of other plants? There’s a whole world of crazy things we plants go through and if only someone would just ask us what WE want!
I can’t speak for all my photosynthesizing brethren, but here’s my take on it. If it helps me to survive stresses, reproduce, compete against weeds, defend myself against pests and disease, and help people feed and clothe themselves, I’m willing to give it a shot. What I definitely don’t like is when folks rip me out of the ground like I’m a second-class citizen. Or forget to water me – that’s not fun either.
Pdiff, please, save your offhand remarks. They don’t make your arguments any more effective.
The discussion I thought we having was pertaining to GMOs as a solution for hunger and poverty. In Africa, where I have experience (and I presume most other developing countries), forces opposed to GMOs are most certainly a bunch of ragtag activists who have little to no political clout and often operate under oppressive political conditions. Most don’t know what Greenpeace is. In this context, GMOs are deregulated behind closed doors with little to no public debate, despite often high levels of public opposition (as is generally the case with any Western-led development effort). Hence, you get this:
Agro-ecological methods, in contrast, are often initiated and run solely by local actors, such as the Tumaini Women’s Group in Northern Kenya:
The difference is that these methods don’t ensure profit to anyone other than farmers themselves.
And you might also consider the fact that simple agrarian lives are perfectly compatible with happiness– dare I say more so than to the hectic and increasingly financially uncertain lifestyles of the developed world. It’s the destitution and hunger that causes misery. Besides, encouraging the developing world to live resource intensive lifestyles is a terrible idea for a number of obvious reasons.
Sorry, I didn’t think it was a particularly strong line of criticism in the first place. I’m just making the point that people who work to develop GMOs for a living will probably never come to the conclusion that GMOs are overall not useful and may be causing more harm than good. Not saying other people won’t reach that conclusion anyway. You all just have that extra bit of incentive.
I would say that I have more negative feelings towards power-hungry individuals because I think they give your perspectives an unfair advantage and stifle healthy debate like we’re having here.
Actually, that is exactly what they do with GE-produced insulin. It is prescribed to basically any diabetic that needs to use insulin. Just like the older mammal-extracted insulins.
As for your “people are different” plea, well, yes they are, but not as much as many try to claim. If they were so different as you imply, then the creation of new traits by conventional breeding should’ve caused all kinds of problems too, because of the introduction of so many novel proteins to the food supply.
So again, I find it odd that you would complain about GE used for food production, but have no problem with GE used for medical reasons. We are using our knowledge of genetics and biochemistry to precisely manipulate organisms to produced desired gene products either for direct use or to help the host organism. It really is the same thing.
Frank – you are such an altruist!!
Cute comments, but really – how can one take you seriously if on the one hand you want us to care about what plants want, and then you look for help from us to compete against weeds? Are weeds not plants too? I’m guessing that the next time I see a Roundup resistant pigweed I’ll have to stop and introduce myself… get to know the little fellow… inquire about the kids… offer a glass of water…
I’d add that
a) Eric’s point was that people equate strong feelings with legitimacy – I like to at least think I don’t do this – I have strong feelings for sure, but then I don’t really understand people who fail to have strong feelings about people portraying reality contrary to how it actually is – which apparently is Kimbrell’s line of work (and a hobby I guess for Lisa and your fine self)
b) At least in my case you’re putting the cart before the horse – I came to conclusions about the potential for GMOs long before I was in the pay of the producers of GMOs, my enthusiasm was a big part of what drove me to actually apply for a position at Monsanto (well that and the fact that working for a small businesses with no prospects of decent advancement, intellectual fulfillment, alongside a “supervisor” who was proudly creationist and lazier than a monkey emerging, bleary eyed, from a sack, was utterly demoralizing.
EWAN! “hobbit?” LOl. ok. I seem to recall a movie here that had a bunch of hobbits. I also remember how the movies ended.
“English English spelling, and American English spelling?”
Why it does not bother me one iota. I like to mix it up.
Also, you misunderstood, when I said GE foods aren’t going anywhere. I meant that they were not just going to up and disappear. Therefore, I feel contamination measures should be taken. I, unlike KImbrell have given the reality of the situation some contemplation.
For instance, in the case of Marys peanut allergy, if a noncompatability gene were inserted somehow, wouldnt it go both ways? SO it could benefit Mary who wants the GE peanut as well as benefitting those who dont want the GE food.
FRANK N FOODE..
Well you wrote this post with the basis of a veggie or whatever taking a human personhood, so I figured I would do just the same! Besides, plants actually do cry, complain, scream, when killed or stressed,(ethylene gas) we just dont hear it. (shh, dont tell the vegetarians)
Im not trying to pick on you, really! its just if you want compassion yourself, you should show it to others, for example: I myself have food and chemical insensitivities. I do not have life threatening allergic reactions,(so far, thanks god) I can eat all the nuts I want to, but the more nuts I consume the worse headache I will get. I am also intolerant of MSG, nutrasweet, some yeasts, sulfites, HFCS and who knows what else. When I switched over to “organic”
or even beyond to “all natural” the worst of my symptoms disappear. Although I still get them sometimes.
This is what I was trying to convey to bugman when saying GE should pretty much stay in medicine. You would give a diabetic GE insulin, but in the same token would you give someone who might be intolerant to GE foods or definately intolerant to alot of chemicals that type of food?
Furthermore, as far as developing countries go, it isnt always feasible to have capital intensive crops. I just dont think they will help the starvation issue at all. I see it making it worse. I see a few getting wealthy, maybe the Govt. or the country making an economic rising, but the most of the citizens just dont benefit. Alot of their lives are just not focused on capital. And bringing that type of a huge change in such a short period of time just displaces peoples and aggravates the starvation issue.
Lastly, I just cannot completely disregard such people as Dr Don Huber, Dr. Charles Benbrook, Dr Doug Sherman Gurian,
Dr Vandana Shiva, Dr. Arpad Pusztai, Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Lappes, Dr. Seralini, Dr mae wan ho, Dr Carrasco, and a whole bunch of others. I cannot disregard farmers who say their livestock died, or had spontaneous abortions after eating GE crops OR that soil flora is seeing increases in disease organisms. I can’t ignore the fact that while BIG AG farming may be somewhat useful to feed TONS of people, it has also been stated and peer reviewed that Organic farming could do the same.
My opinion is currently this GE /chemical treadmill just propagates the weedy/pesty species you are trying to control. Who knows, maybe sometime in the future our great grand kids will just have to eat weeds. 😉
Lisa, it is a common courtesy to use a person’s correct name, or username, in this case. I am asking you to please do so.
You seem to be saying that GE used in medicine is magically okay and that used in agriculture is automatically suspect. Just like the GE insulin mentioned, we know a lot about the gene traits inserted into plants and we learn a a lot more during the testing afterwards. It is not like we are going into either situation without good information.
There is no evidence that GE agriculture is any more likely to generate an allergic or other reactions in people than traits introduced into a plant via current breeding methods like mutagensis.
As someone with a PhD myself, don’t get overimpressed by the title and don’t rely too much on anecdote and post hoc, ergo prompter hoc situations.
I currently run a hazardous waste program and have to deal with a lot of crop control chemicals, including seriously outdated materials like Paris green. Therefore, I appreciate biotech traits that really are helping to reduce chemical usage in agriculture.
sorry bugman, bugguy, ?? my bad.. wow
I’m having a tough time with this one:
[is it within the realm of common courtesy to correct spelling within a block quote?]
I will immediately admit I don’t have a reference to cite here, but lets look at the current commercial GE events in corn and soybean and then imagine what a mutagenesis program would have to “create” in order to be comparable. Its my understanding that all the herbicide resistance and insect resistance traits in both corn and soybean result from the expression of a new (novel) protein (new in corn and soybean anyway). Am I wrong?
It is also my impression that most allergenic reactions are due to foreign proteins (am not an allergist, so I could be all wrong). Allergic reaction to a DNA sequence is very rare.
If a mutagenesis project were to create the existence of a whole new protein that would be a pretty special accomplishment. I don’t know how to even estimate how unlikely this would be. Now mutagenesis will frequently cause nulls – that is turn off particular proteins – but this would more likely reduce the chance of allergic reaction. It is also possible that a given protein might be modified slightly by an amino acid substitution at one point. This substitution might be sufficient to change an epitope so that allergy could result.. and there may be some who could begin to estimate how likely such an even might be.
Apart from mutation breeding, regular A x B type crossing of two different cultivars could possibly lead to the creation of a new or novel protein epitope that might cause some allergic reaction. It is at least theoretically possible. I don’t know of a case where this has happened.
There was a case where a Brazil nut protein sequence was introduced into soybean
The introduced protein turned out to be an allergen. That particular event was scrapped [BTW this does at least demonstrate that the creator of this particular GMO was very responsible in their approach with this technology].
Finally then, I’m not persuaded that your suggestion above is essentially correct.
Not trying to demonize GE… so long as we check what we’re doing…
Wow. My thoughts exactly after reading through the GreenPeace site the other day …
More seriously: Please explain what is the difference between “organic” and “all natural”?
On disregarding these people: We’ve discussed many on the list above before and, it’s the quality of what they say that leads to them being credible or not. We’ve looked at the evidence they’ve put forth (if they have done so, which isn’t a given). If their arguments don’t hold up in a scientific manner, our acceptance of them goes down. Science isn’t an opinion game, it’s an evidence game. The evidence needs to be grounded in sound methodology. For many on the list, for example Shiva, Pusztai, Seralini, they have simply executed poorly designed studies that have limited value scientifically. In some cases, they have failed to repeat the studies in a more rigorous manner, raising further doubts about the quality of their claims. This isn’t just a few posters here making judgments on them. Their peers and experts in their fields have roundly criticized them as well. If you want someone to believe that GE corn causes stomach ulcers, then do a better designed study with more than 4 rats. And back that up with documented medical evidence of an increase in ulcer rates within the general population (that has been consuming said corn for over a decade). Go further and point to the biological mechanism(s) behind the problem. In short, provide a logical line of evidence. Without that, it’s just noise.
It is unfortunate that in the age of the internet, mis-information is more powerful than information. However, knowing that is half the battle. Learning how to judge the quality of what you’re being told will take you the rest of the way.
but you can call me Ray. I don’t care 😉
“Their peers and experts in their fields have roundly criticized them as well.”
And got sued as a result. Marc Fellous criticized Seralini’s stuff and was sued in France for libel. Seralini won the case. But that’s France; when activists show up to destroy a field trial, or an actual approved GM crop, the police stand by to make sure nobody gets hurt in the midst of the criminal enterprise. And the courts let the few whackos arrested back out onto the street.
Used to be, France was considered a highly civilized country. Then again, maybe France thinks GMO vandalism is ‘civilized’ in its own way.
The experiment with the Brazil nut is actually a major triumph in crop engineering. The scientists predicted that inserting the gene of interest into soybean would result in an allergenic soybean. The inserted the gene, and got the allergenic protein as a result.
Naturally the physical results were destroyed, but the research itself proves that scientists know within a remarkable degree of assurance what they’re up to when it comes to allergens.
Next, I imagine you’ll bring up StarLink maize and allergic reactions. All such events were discovered to be spurious.
Relax, dude, people who know way more than you are in charge, and they’re doing a darn good job at it.
Let’s see a show of hands: who wants to see Jeff Smith in charge of a GE lab? Gack. They’d probably put in a gene that controls the production of cow poop so that the plants produce their own manure, or some such horrendous thing.
On second thought, he’d sell the lab, fire the scientists, and use the proceeds to remain amongst the jet-setting Greens. Self-admiration is unfortunately rampant amongst the environuts.
Dear Mr./Dr. Frank N. Foode™:
I gather from your portrait with the apple that you are as promiscuous amongst species as the anti-people would have us believe when it comes to GM genes.
Or, is this a Platonic relationship?
“I, unlike KImbrell have given the reality of the situation some contemplation.”
One of the great things about the discussion we have on this blog, is that the unique positions of each person can come out. Here is someone who is critical of GE crops saying that the “point man” of anti-GE legal action hasn’t given the reality of the situation much thought. (!) We also see statements from those in favor of GE criticizing particular projects or policies. Great stuff!
But, you got to love Seralini’s ballsy moves. The guy loves to use the label “Independent Researcher”, but then blazenly posts at the bottom of his 2005 paper:
“We thank … the CRIIGEN scientific and administrative councils for expertise …”
“This work was supported by Greenpeace Germany …”
That’s objectivity there for you! 🙂
Sadly, people like Mae Wan Ho have been claiming that genetic engineering will create entirely novel proteins from mutations but that is frankly due to confusion about biology, similar to Kimbrell’s confusion as described in this post.
There have been a decent number of “omics” studies to show that this claim is simply not true. If there were changes due to the process of genetic engineering overall, we would know by now. David has a recent post here that describes some of those studies as they appeared in a review article.
It’s really easy to see cause and effect. It seems to be something humans are hard wired to do. We like to see patterns and have things fit into nice little boxes. Back before science was commonplace humans went to some extraordinary lengths to explain how they thought things worked (think a god in a chariot pulling the sun because no one had figured out gravity or inertia yet). Now that everyone has at least a little understanding of science we as humans continue with that urge to explain things. If we eat something new and get sick we assume it was the new thing that made us sick, nevermind that it might have been the boring old potato salad that actually caused the illness. Food allergies are one of the most misunderstood things about human health today. Without real test-based and confirmed diagnosis, it’s just hearsay, a hypothesis, if you will.
The same goes for other problems too. A farmer might have a lot of his animals miscarry, which is pretty tragic. The mother animals might be weak for a while and the farmer looses money. So it’s easy to look for what to blame. But as I explained in my recent post about Dr. Huber’s claims about “micro viruses”, miscarriages can be caused by many things. Without a vet (and perhaps also a vet epidemiologist) to investigate the true cause of the problem, it’s just hearsay.
Genes are expressed as proteins. Therefore, any new gene, regardless of source of the genetic change or insertion, will produce a new protein.
One thing to keep in mind is that genes inserted into most GM crops are not really new genes, they are existing genes for that trait transferred from another species. Genes that produce proteins that we well understand. New genetic traits produced by mutation, by definition, will produce new, untested proteins. If anything, I could see that these might have a slightly higher chance to be an allergen.
We need to test (and do test / have tested) the allergenicity of the proteins being expressed by the transgene because those proteins (even though normally expressed by soil bacteria, for example) aren’t normally found in the food supply. Mutations (whether produced by transgene insertion, mutagen, or “natural” mutagen) will not produce a novel protein but will result in an altered version of an existing protein. Since that altered protein might fold differently perhaps it will cause different reactions with the human immune system than the unchanged protein (maybe). But people like Ho argue that the introduction of a transgene will result in entirely novel proteins, which frankly doesn’t make any sense.
Thanks for the clarification.
Sorry I wasn’t more clear before. The weekend has started, dontcha’ know.
Oh, it’s Mr. if you must be formal, but Frank will do!
I have lots of friends outside my own species, some more serious than others. But alas, we cannot set seed, if you will, without some technical intervention. I once fell in love with an Indian Brinjal, but a greater power than we can contradict Hath thwarted our intents.
Is Platonic like Polyploidic? 🙂
Billion. Dollar. Product. (self fertilizing plants, kill the haber bosch process in one fell swoop – although one wonders what they’re eating to produce the poop – so long as it self fertilizes too then it’s probably fine… right?)
I think the ‘novel’ protein might stem from the fact that over time, genes will translocate and recombine via exon shuffling to create new genes with parts of the previous ones. It’s how evolution makes new out of the old. But there is no evidence to suggest that a transgene is more likely to do this, or would be a bigger risk than genes already present in the plants. I should dig it up and write about it, but I remember finding out that wheat has half of a gene similar to the really toxic gene in castor beans, but lacks the ability to get it into cells. Why aren’t we worried about wheat spontaneously producing a novel toxin if this gene hooks up with another that can get it inside and poison our cells?
The answer is that this kind of stuff takes a long time to happen. The likelihood is very low.
Particularly as current commercial transgenic approaches (at least those I’m familiar with) dont use exon-intron sequences, they use bacterial genes (no exon-intron system in bacteria right?) or they use cDNA, which again, is exon-intron free.
On allergenicity – industry is actually spectacularly scared of introducing allergens – any gene has to pass bioinformatic analysis and if it hits as a potential allergen it doesn’t get to go anywhere – I’ve seen some odd things rejected (although if I told you what I’d probably have to kill you)
We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”
In known history, nobody has had such capacity for altering the universe than the people of the United States of America. And nobody has gone about it in such an aggressive way.
“It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.
Technology is destructive in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe. ”
“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”
“You will never get to the irreducible definition of anything because you will never be able to explain why you want to explain, and so on. The system will gobble itself up.”
The myths underlying our culture and underlying our common sense have not taught us to feel identical with the universe, but only parts of it, only in it, only confronting it – aliens
“More seriously: Please explain what is the difference between “organic” and “all natural”?”
All natural is what I consider mostly raw foods, fruits, nuts, veggies, not pasteruized, irradiated, or treated with any chemical at all. NONE, not even what is accepted in the USDA organics list. Just plain natural. Like my garden.
I just saw this sentence that you posted and I have a question here..
“On allergenicity – industry is actually spectacularly scared of introducing allergens – any gene has to pass bioinformatic analysis and if it hits as a potential allergen it doesn’t get to go anywhere – I’ve seen some odd things rejected (although if I told you what I’d probably have to kill you)
I read some article or book somewhere… LOL… it said that you dont test the entire protein sequence or whatever the correct sci-tech term is. That you just match up the first few or check that the new protein is similar to one that is already known and has been studied????
Id like to know what ODD things have been rejected. Grrr. that just brings me back to all the capital being spent and the man induced mutations.. creepy.. I dont know about you but for me all the facts in the world just dont sit right with my spiritualiity about certain matters and this is just one of them.
well, its Friday I have a date with another book. haha
Do you consider “all natural” to be better than, say organic. I’m assuming that you would already consider it better than something conventional. What is “better” in your mind? Nutrition? Safety? What qualities are you looking for and how do you make that judgment? Sorry for the grilling. I’m just trying to see where you’re coming from.
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
That is the big difference between us.
Science relies on facts and evidence because things like spirtuality are so inconsistant between different people.
As far as I am aware, and I am only peripherally involved in the process – being informed wether or not a given idea has passed or failed the screen, the entire protein sequence is taken (the arrangement of amino acids), compared to known allergenic sequences (pentamers, or heptamers or somethingmers (5 amino acid sequences, 7 amino acid squences or something amino acid sequences) in an overlapping manner (ie you compare amino acids 1,2,3,4,5 then you compare 2,3,4,5,6 then 3,… you get the picture – along the entire length of the protein.
All this before you even have a protein expressed in plants (at this stage it’s all before you even have DNA cloned in E.coli waiting to go into agrobacterium) so whatever you read was wrong.
On the odd things that get rejected – it’s actually the fact they get rejected that’s odd, not the things – various proteins that you really wouldn’t expect to hit in an allergenicity screen just based on what they are and where you’d find them (I really would like to be able to explain further, but alas that’d get into areas that I am not allowed to discuss for pure reasons of not divulging strategy etc)
“Organic” is food that complies with regulations regarding organic food.
“All natural” is what you find in forests or prairies that keeps you from starving. Of course, cooking it makes it unnatural.
This is probably true. Happily, commercial efforts are not the only way that biotech traits are developed and farmers still have the freedom to buy or not buy products.
Lisa, I was just wondering, how do you know you have food insensitivities specifically to genetically engineered ingredients? Have you tried a blind challenge test? For example, have you, on two days with identical conditions, ingested organic HFCS on one day and non-organic HFCS another day without knowing which is which? You may be sensitive to all HFCS or it could be another ingredient in foods that also contain HFCS. The likelihood of you having a reaction to regular but not organic HFCS is incredibly small since it does not contain any protein or DNA.
There is no evidence that MSG causes any symptoms. There are anecdotes, but any controlled studies have found there to be no problem. Perhaps it is something else that is in foods that contain MSG, maybe even high sodium or something.
I only say these things because food allergies and intolerance is no joke. If you really do have a problem it’s important to get diagnosed because without a diagnosis you won’t know what is actually causing your headaches.
A challenge is really the only way to know if you have an allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance.
WebMD isn’t always the best source, but their article on Food Allergies: 5 Myths Debunked is pretty good, and echos a lot of the information in the Quackwatch article Allergies: Dubious Diagnosis and Treatment.
Much of what we know about allergenicity and GM crops/food was learned during the StarLink debacle.
StarLink was approved for animal feed, and not for human food, because it was found to express a protein which resisted digestion in models of the human gut.
It turns out, the protein is *not* allergenic, and the split registration was out of an excess of caution. Even so, it put the industry into overdrive on how to test for novel allergens. I.e., not a Brazil nut gene in soybeans, that’s dead simple. Rather, allergens which have never been encountered before. As far as I know, the jury is still out on whether it’s possible to test for an ‘unknown allergen’.
Bottom line, take-home message: GM crops and the foods made from them are the safest in the world, in light of the excruciatingly elaborate tests which nothing else in the world is asked to survive to the point of approval.
Pharmaceuticals might be an exception, but that’s outside my expertise. I have the strong, very strong, impression that far more pharmaceuticals are rejected, than are GM crops. This would suggest that plant/crop biotech is inherently safer than pharma biotech — but that’s something Ewan would likely have a better handle on.
For some more info on allergen databases and industry/academic efforts to stay current, please see the following sites. These are run out of the University of Nebraska.
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