Greenpeace goes after Australian Wheat

Update: See post a week later– Greenpeace destroys Australian wheat trials
Last week, blogs and twitter feeds were lit up by news that a group of scientists had written a letter to CSIRO, in Australia, criticizing them for proposing a nutritional trial of genetically engineered wheat. It appeared with this article, Scientists reject human trials of GM Wheat, and is part of a new thrust of transparently poor public relations. And it foreshadows more to come. An excerpt:

A group of prominent scientists and researchers from around the world has urged Australia not to go ahead with human trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat.
The CSIRO is carrying out a study of feeding GM wheat grown in the ACT to rats and pigs and could extend the trial to humans.
The modified wheat has been altered to lower its glycaemic index in an attempt to see if the grain could have health benefits such as improving blood glucose control and lowering cholesterol levels.
But eight scientists and academics from Britain, the US, India, Argentina and Australia believe not enough studies have been done on the effects of GM wheat on animals to warrant human trials.

The trials in question appeared to be of the simple kind – the wheat has been altered in a way that should affect its glycemic index, how rapidly the sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream, and that CSIRO is interested in seeing if it has the desired effect when eaten by human beings. These kinds of studies have been done before, such as on calcium-biofortified carrots as described in this post. The letter appeared to be out of place.
While news about this letter was easy to find, the actual letter itself was not, nor were the names of the “prominent” scientists who signed it. The article mentioned only two: Dave Schubert, and Michael Antoniou. I have had contact with Schubert before, so I emailed him to find out what the text of the letter was, and who signed it. He responded promptly with a draft of the letter that he signed. However, when I asked if he knew who signed it (or who to contact), he had this to say:

If i [may] ask, what is your interest?-seems like a typical pro-GM scam to me because they will feed this to people for a few days-much too short of time to see anything happen-and then claim that it is proven safe in a clinical trial!  My belief is that a much better assay is a multigenerational feeding trial in rodents with good pathology.

I explained that I want to put up the letter on our blog for people to comment, and asked again about his co-signatories. It turns out, you see, the signers of the letter did not actually write the letter – it was written by Greenpeace and they sought anti-GE individuals to sign it as part of a larger campaign. He gave me his contacts at Greenpeace, who ignored my request for information. It is strange that it is so hard to find out this information from those who put together the letter and signed it – especially when it is an open letter.
So naturally, I contacted CSIRO, and they readily forwarded me the entire letter with its signers. I will now reproduce the full text of the letter here (PDF) for everyone to see and comment on.

Open letter from scientists and doctors around the world regarding human

feeding trials of genetically modified wheat in Australia

Dear Dr. Megan Clark, Chief Executive CSIRO,
We are writing to express our unequivocal denunciation of the experiments being conducted by your colleagues that involve feeding genetically modified (GM) wheat to human subjects. We are all senior scientists/academics with a professional interest in the health and environmental effects of GMOs. We refer to the trials described on the website of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR):
• DIR 093 – Limited and controlled release of wheat and barley genetically modified for altered grain starch composition
The biological and biochemical characterisation of the GM wheat being used in these experiments is inadequately described in the publicly available literature. Much of the information required to conduct adequate pre-clinical evaluation is withheld on the basis that it is ‘confidential commercial information’.
Genetically modified products have not been shown to be distinctive, uniform and stable over time. There is a large body of evidence that shows that GM crop / food production is highly prone to inadvertent and unpredictable pleiotropic effects, which can result in health damaging effects when GM food products are fed to animals (Pusztai and Bardocz, 2006; Schubert, 2008; Dona and Arvanitoyannis, 2009).
The feeding trials, as described in the documents from the OGTR, are completely inadequate to assess these risks. Feeding trials on rats, pigs and humans are proposed for a period of 1 to 28 days. The intention of these trials is to assess the altered grain starch composition of the wheat, but not to test for any unintended results. We have seen in the independent research conducted on consumption of GM plants to date that unintended effects may appear in later generations (Velimirov et al, 2008).
The use of human subjects for these GM feeding experiments is completely unacceptable. The experiments may be used to dispense with concerns about the health impacts of consuming GM plants, but will not in fact, address the health risks GM plants raise.
The feeding trials should not be conducted until long-term impact assessments have been undertaken and appropriate information released to enable the scientific community to determine the value of such research, as against the risks.
Yours sincerely,
The undersigned signatories:
Dr Michael Antoniou
Gene expression and Therapy Group
King’s College London School of Medicine
Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics
8th Floor, Tower Wing
Guy’s Hospital
Great Maze Pond
Dr Vandana Shiva Ph D
Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology
105 Rajpur Road
Dehra Dun, India
Dr George Crisp MBBS MRCGP
General Practitioner
Western Australia
Professor Andres Carrasco
Lab Molecular Embryology
School of Medicine UBA – CONICET
Professor Carlo Leifert
Res Dev Prof of Ecological Agriculture
Newcastle University School of Agriculture,
Food and Rural Development (SAFRD)
Nafferton Farm
Northumberland, NE43 7XD, UK
Professor David Schubert
Salk Institute for Biological Studies
10010 N. Torrey Pines Road,
La. Jolla, CA 92037
Dr Benjamin Ticehurst BSc(Med) MBBS MPH FRACGP
General medical practitioner & senior lecturer
School of Medicine, Sydney
University of Notre Dame Australia
John B. Fagan, Ph.D.
Professor of Molecular Biology
Maharishi University of Management
(Maharishi International University 1971 to 1995)
1000 North Fourth Street
Fairfield, Iowa, 52557-10


  1. Pusztai A. and Bardocz S. (2006). GMO in animal nutrition: potential benefits and risks. In: Biology of
    Nutrition in Growing Animals, eds. R. Mosenthin, J. Zentek and T. Zebrowska, Elsevier Limited, pp. 513-
  2. Schubert D.R. (2008) The problem with nutritionally enhanced plants. J Med Food. 11: 601-605.
  3. Dona A. and Arvanitoyannis I.S. (2009) Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods. Crit Rev Food Sci
    Nutr., 49: 164–175.
  4. Velimirov, A., Binter, C., and Zentek, J. (2008) “Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810
    fed in long term reproduction studies in mice” Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, Familie und Jugend
    Report, Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV Band 3/2008, Austria

So what do you think, should the trials be halted? My first comment is that this team of prominent scientists is not only small (8), but not very prominent outside of the debate over genetic engineering. Some are not scientists (such as Shiva, Crisp, and Ticehurst). Although the original article indicated that only 8 people signed it, Schubert seemed to think that a lot of people had. Contrast this to a previous, similar letter criticizing Golden Rice, that garnered 34 signatures. (And compared Golden Rice to Nazi experiments, I might add. Also, the letter said 22 signers so math was not one of their strengths).
You will not only see some overlap in the top signers, but the top 3 references are spot-in identical, even in precise punctuation. Was that letter also written by Greenpeace, or did they just copy the references? Indeed, the wheat letter appears to be plagiarized from the Golden Rice letter. To investigate this further, I put them both in a file and color-coded the language that was identical between the two, revealing that whoever wrote this letter for Greenpeace has indeed plagiarized the Golden Rice Letter to do so. Take a look at a comparison in this PDF.

This is on top of the fact that the letter does not indicate that Greenpeace had anything to do with it – when it was their letter to begin with.
It appears they just cut and pasted what they liked about the first one, copied the references, and added another reference (that seems to be a poorly conducted experiment that lost too many control mice and was not peer reviewed). So one way to take this is that they are scraping the bottom of the barrel on trying to drum up criticism of this genetically engineered wheat experiment. The letter also expressed the same sentiment that Dave Schubert also echoed – that the research must be stopped in order to prevent its results from being mis-used by someone else. So I asked Schubert if this was a valid reason for halting the research. This is what I sent.
I did want to ask, though, as you mentioned in this email to me that you believe that a 28-day human study like this would be mis-used to prove clinical safety. It sounded to me from what little I have read about this that their interest in a human study is primarily to determine if it has the desired glycemic index effects in people as they are expecting. There have been other human eating studies published, notably one on calcium bio-fortified carrots – and the purpose of that one was clearly to determine the bioavailability of the enhanced levels of calcium. A short study period is sufficient for determining effects such as that, although I am no expert on these matters.

My question is, supposing that the purpose of this study is to test the effects of the GE wheat trait in question and not to give it an overall ‘clinical’ pass – is the idea that a short narrow study would be mis-used by someone (to say it was proven ‘clinically safe’ a valid reason to prevent the study from occurring?
I just received his response,

I was not aware of the stated reason for the short trial, but you are correct, to look at bioavailability, a short trial is all that is necessary.  In the FDA drug approval process, the phase 1 trial is something seminar, only much shorter-a few days.  That is what is odd about the 28 days, because if they only want to look at the effect on glycemic index, then one day would be sufficient.  I have not seen the details, but i would bet that they will eventually mention something about humans and safety down the line.

I asked if he still supported the letter, since he was not aware of the reason for the trial when he signed it. He responded,

I do believe that no GM crop should be fed to humans without proper safety testing in rodents-this would be unthinkable for a ‘real’ drug!  And with the advent of the new so called nutritionally enhanced plants, the distinction is not so great.

Note that he didn’t answer the question about whether his stated reasons were valid or not. But I think we can discern his opinion well enough from these comments. And in case there is any question, No, the idea that someone could misuse a study to mean something it doesn’t is NOT a valid reason for preventing the research from being done. I should also think that knowing the details of a study to be criticized should come before signatures are applied. Greenpeace only just filed a freedom of information request to find out information about it. I have to wonder if they really wanted more information about it, if there was a better way to go about it.
CSIRO has indicated that they are testing the wheat in rodents and pigs before conducting human trials, and who knows what the future holds for this particular trait. It may not work, but then again it may work really well – and we won’t know that until the results of this trial are analyzed and published. Greenpeace, however, has indicated that this is the first salvo in a war they plan to wage against genetically engineered wheat, with a particular focus on CSIRO. They have announced that they will be releasing a bombshell of a report on GE wheat on Thursday (which it will be in Australia in just a few hours), which promises to push back the tide of research on these horrible potential health-improving traits.
And this is already unraveling a bit, even before it has been published. According to The Land, (Australia), they carefully chose which reporters to give the report to in order to try to control media coverage.

Industry members have also questioned why Greenpeace sent the report, titled Australia’s wheat scandal: The biotech takeover of our daily bread, to selected reporters, suggesting they had cherry-picked “susceptible journalists” to increase the likelihood of favourable media coverage.
Rural Press journalists were not among those presented with the report.

Sounds like someone’s trying their hand at a concerted media campaign – let’s change the narrative to pointing out how Greenpeace can’t even write their own ghost-written letters. I thought they were supposed to be good at this stuff?


  1. The remarkable thing is they thought they’d get away with it. Sort of like the IPCC getting away with ~35 expert reviewers (including Greenpeace staffers) instead of the 2,000+ scientists alleged, or ~40 percent of the latest IPCC report based on non-peer-reviewed ‘grey literature’ like magazine travelogues and such.
    Takes a lot of arrogance and trust that people won’t read your stuff closely.

  2. New CSIRO wheat strains have been developed that potentially open up healthier food choices for everyone, as they contain a higher content of resistant-starch (amylose) and have give low GI values. This healthy potential is demonstrated by early research results in rats using laboratory strains of wheat, and successful human dietary trials already done in China with the rice versions of these health promoting traits.
    See earlier Pundit posts:
    Australian-French Partnership to Produce Healthier Wheat. PARTNERSHIP GIVES NEW WHEATS A HEALTHY FUTURE
    High-amylose [resistant starch] wheat generated by RNA interference improves indices of large-bowel health in rats
    GM rice can be healthier than non-GM rice Low-GI high amylose rice tested in people.
    This is the bright healthy food background story that makes a recent protest letter about new CSIRO GM wheat’s rather puzzling.
    But the new post from Karl von Mogel explains why the CSIRO wheat-related protest letters reported in the SMH recently take a much darker view about health new food choices. They threaten Greenpeace’s cash flow.

  3. Thanks for posting that. I thought it was going to be more substantial than that… That would be easy to micro-dissect. I can already tell that they didn’t read reference number 30, to say the least.

  4. A good thing about this fuss is that it brings attention to the fact that GM is being used to make healthier food. It is not herbicide resistance.

    GMO Pundit Post about the Rice version of the CSIRO wheat.
    It says in part:-
    Genetic engineering makes it relatively straightforward to produce rice, wheat, and other cereals in which the starch is relatively resistant to digestive enzymes (e.g. Regina et al. 2006). Non-resistant starch is more highly branched and by simply turning off the genes that create starch branching, the residual starch is non-branched and more resistant to digestion.
    In this new dietary and health study by Li M, Piao JH, Tian Y, Li WD, Li KJ, and Yang XG (2010), Chinese scientists compared rice that had been genetically engineered to have high levels of resistant starch with a conventional non-resistant rice variety in eating trials with human volunteers. They measured a number of blood parameters and indicators of rates of starch digestion, and confirmed that in these healthy human volunteers, genetically engineered rice was more slowly digested and over time gives more moderate rates of human uptake into the blood of starch-derived sugar, and gives more moderate peaks in insulin levels in the blood of the volunteers after meals. [Such encouraging blood chemistry results are relevant to many health problems– for instance diabetes.]…
    I wonder how far Greenpeace would get protesting in China?

  6. Dr. Tribe,
    Greenpeace is already well-entrenched in China and has gotten away with all number of things. Of course, that could change in an instant, since China is not hobbled by democracy.

  7. Hi Karl,
    Firstly, the letter itself claims that the signatories are “scientists/academics”, not all scientists. Secondly, I think you’ll find that medical doctors are indeed scientists, given they have degrees in medical science. Vandana Siva may not be a scientist, but she does have a Phd in the philosophy of science, is an academic, and works in the field of food security. So you’re claim that the signatories are not all scientists is moot.
    I think the letter should have been easier to access, but I don’t think that Greenpeace necessarily owes it to you to reply to your request for a copy as a priority. Perhaps the newspaper that published the article should also have published the letter – I doubt they didn’t have a copy.
    If certain parts of the letter bear similarities to the letter opposing Golden Rice then that is lazy at worst. But given the letter deals with opposition to a GM crop developed for an altered nutritional profile, it is natural that the force of the argument is similar.
    The misuse of science is a serious issue. If the signatories believe that human studies will be used to demonstrate safety when that is not how the trials were designed, then that is a legitimate scientific objection. I’m sure you will not claim that the human trials don’t have marketing value. We already know that high amylose gives certain metabolic outcomes because we test whole grains against processed grains – so the trials would not be especially revealing.
    As to the GM plant itself, CSIRO developed a conventional version of the wheat using MAS along side the GM version. You’ll find that confirmed in their older promotional material. Why would that not be used instead of the GM version? I think that’s probably the most important question here.
    Indeed CSIRO has already developed a barley and a maize with higher amylose (80 and 70 per cent respectively) than the wheat in development, again using advanced conventional breeding.
    The difference may be that the commercial partner for this trial – it is not true that CSIRO is purely a publicly funded research body – is biogemma, the GM arm of Group Limagrain. Limagrain is the world’s fourth largest seed company. Its MD said the high resistant starch (RS) GM wheat would help gain “acceptance of GM crops in Europe” – that’s marketing for you.
    Wholegrain wheat doesn’t have as much commercial value because you can’t patent it, but it does have higher RS. CSIRO, like all scientific bodies, knows that wholegrains are better for you than processed grains (indeed they don’t just have more RS, but more folate, calcium, vitamins etc).
    There are many other problems with GM, but I’m going to bed now.
    I’ll be happy to hear your response. I won’t argue with you on complex science, because I’m not a scientist – but I’d be interested to hear your motivations for supporting GM in plain English. My thinking is that it is a mistake to say that the world’s food problems are caused by plants not being good enough. The problems come from economics and culture. They are behavioural. We have high colon cancer in anglo saxon countries because we eat processed white bread among other things. Maybe we should address our pretty dumb dietary habits before we start making new, patented plant products.

  8. Hi Nat, thanks for stopping by.
    Doctors are not scientists – although they are practitioners in a highly skilled field. Shiva is neither a scientist nor an academic – she said she left academia, as I mentioned in my post. Besides, I was responding to how the article mis-characterized the letter. The letter itself did say that it was scientists and doctors in its title. The point is, the media frame being advanced is one of authority, but it is a thin one at that.

    If certain parts of the letter bear similarities to the letter opposing Golden Rice then that is lazy at worst. But given the letter deals with opposition to a GM crop developed for an altered nutritional profile, it is natural that the force of the argument is similar.

    “force of the argument is similar?” That is silly and dishonest. It is quite clear from the text of both the letters that the “force of the argument” is not “similar” – it was cut-and-pasted. Look at the PDF file. (I also now have evidence that they referred to the Golden Rice letter in other communications about the wheat objection.)
    “If the signatories believe that human studies will be used to demonstrate safety when that is not how the trials were designed, then that is a legitimate scientific objection.”
    No, that is not a legitimate objection to the research being conducted. It is pretty clear from news, statements, and interviews from CSIRO that they are interested in testing the glycemic index alterations of this wheat. It someone was to misuse such a study to argue for overall safety by itself, that would be abuse and the signers could call it out when that happens. But preventing the research because someone might mis-use its conclusions down the road is way off, and is not a scientific objection whatsoever. Moreover, as was revealed in the post, the one signatory I talked to didn’t even know what the purpose of the study really was, but signed it anyway.
    Please do share with us the link to non-GE barley with high amylose content as you describe, I would be interested to read about it. As for maize, I’m familiar with the major genes that control this trait, as this is what I study for my thesis. Note that barley and maize are different species, so if you can breed them to have high levels of amylose, that does not mean you can breed wheat to have the same, unless the genetic variation exists in wheat varieties and wild relatives.

  9. It may well be that history will view China as the first ‘sustainable dictatorship’. Their economy is far better of than ours, at least for now.
    They have a substantial agro biotech program, and if Greenpeace endangers it at all, they’ll be in prison or ejected as personae non grata.
    Perhaps sent to North Korea, wouldn’t that be fun and educational. They could learn about living closer to Nature.

  10. Nat,
    “My thinking is that it is a mistake to say that the world’s food problems are caused by plants not being good enough. The problems come from economics and culture. They are behavioural. We have high colon cancer in anglo saxon countries because we eat processed white bread among other things. Maybe we should address our pretty dumb dietary habits before we start making new, patented plant products.”
    You seem to be saying that we shouldn’t use ge crops because they won’t solve all the problems around food production and distribution. Not only have these existed since the dawn of agriculture, but we now have the best food production and distribution system in human history, it has never ever been better. Small improvements to plant performance are part how we got here, and will continue to better our collective lot in the future. I hear this argument all the time, it’s a bad argument because it can be applied to anything. Why should people be promoting ‘heirloom’, ‘artisan’, organically grown tomatoes free of ‘toxins’ and genetic meddling when those issues have nothing to do with feeding hungry people and are of concern only to rich, white, city dwellers?
    Letters like this, where the authors are clearly using their (sometimes meager) scientific credentials as a cudgel, really annoys me. How many letters are out there claiming climate change is a myth signed by x number of nobel laureate physicists? Their great from a PR perspective, but from a scientific perspective they only muddy the waters.

  11. isaacschumann
    “they only muddy the waters.” You are unnecessarily kind.

  12. I often note that people accuse science of being ‘too reductionistic’ – by focusing on changing certain variables such as the starch composition of wheat, as we’re discussing here. But few scientists would dare claim that plants not being good enough cause all our problems – but many would agree that plants are not good enough for what we need. One put it really bluntly to me 5 years ago by saying that his job is ‘to fix nature’s mistakes.’ I agree that plants are not good enough – that why plant breeders are constantly breeding them to be resistant to this disease or that blight, droughts, floods, and cold weather in the spring. As the problems that plants face constantly change, we have to continue to change the plants to suit.
    As for reductionism, Nat did say that “the problems come from economics and culture,” not some of the problems. That sounds a little reductionistic to this scientist.
    This argument ends up in the realm of debating which will work better: techno-fixes or socio-fixes? I’d like to see some data (and field trials) on proposed social fixes and how that will work. Then we can compare notes. Should the precautionary principle be applied to any social fixes as well? How do we know that there will be absolutely no unintended consequences of those solutions?

  13. “I’ll be happy to hear your response. I won’t argue with you on complex science, because I’m not a scientist – but I’d be interested to hear your motivations for supporting GM in plain English. My thinking is that it is a mistake to say that the world’s food problems are caused by plants not being good enough. The problems come from economics and culture. They are behavioural. We have high colon cancer in anglo saxon countries because we eat processed white bread among other things. Maybe we should address our pretty dumb dietary habits before we start making new, patented plant products.”
    It is not argued by any of the enthusiasts for agricultural biotechnology that the problems are caused by plants being not good enough. That is a strawman invented by those who have a simple minded objective of stopping biotech without finding out whether it is useful. (Most of the views of enthusiasts for using innovation in agriculture are being misrepresented by opponents.) If we had done that to penicillin , medical biotech, vaccinations, and milk pasteurisation we would be in a mess. The same stance that’s applied now to agricultural biotech was previously applied to medical biotech, vaccination,and milk pasteurisation.
    The problems we face with [food security and malnutrition] have multi-factor causes, but they are so challenging that they require multiple approaches.
    The simple argument that we have enough food is wrong, because there is a growing demand for food over [timescales of years], and its a long slow process to make more without expanding farms into existing nature reserves and forests. If we stay put at current food output, in 15 years time, because of predicable increased global food demand, the environmental effects on forest loss will be disastrous.
    In the past 70 years plant breeding has been essential to ensure mass famines did not happen, but old plant breeding methods are proving less effective and better ones are needed. Although culture and economics are important, without adequate food supply, and adequate technology, culture and economics cannot conjure up enough food out of thin air. The point about breeding different wheat with low-GI grain is that it will give us better choices. People like white bread and cakes, and if it were lower-GI it would be healthier and they are likely to eat it. Barley isn’t used to make these foods, as it isn’t the same as wheat, and bread from barley wont be eaten much. Cultural habits are not always easy to change.
    Agricultural biotech enthusiasts are happy to encourage any changes in dietary habits, and farming methods that improve health. Unfortunately, some groups (Permaculture for example) although advocating good ideas, want to ban things that compete with their own ideas. This is harmful and besides that, undemocratic. Greenpeace want to ban biofortified rice that could save times, and healthy wheat right at the start-without finding out about there merits, and that’s wrong. We now know that have engineered deceptive and false PR campaigns to try and stop both. That’s plain immoral. The consequences of their campaign against vitamin enriched rice in developing countries are thousands of unnecessary infant deaths from diarrhoea. Do you realise that?. What’s your opinion on that kind of health outcome coming from Greenpeace? It dwarfs the totally fantasised consequences of GM foods. Think about that.
    Of course Greenpeace don’t want people to realise they have bought about these horrible consequences.

    Farmers Support GM Wheat Research
    Australian farmers know that GM crops released so far are safe for humans and the environment. Overwhelmingly, reports and studies from around the world show that to be true.
    This has led the Producers Forum to question the motive for Greenpeace releasing a report on GM crops which is highly critical and contrary to the experience of farmers worldwide who actually grow GM crops.
    “This is also why, once given the chance, so many Australian farmers have opted to incorporate GM varieties of cotton and canola into their farming systems,” says Heather Baldock, Producers Forum National Convenor.
    On a global basis, wheat yields have not increased at the same rate as yields in maize, so farmers are promoting the need for more R&D into wheat production as well as use of the GM tools that have made maize production so popular overseas.
    Australian farmers who have grown GM crops have found that it is a boon to the sustainability of both their own farming systems and the environment.
    “All my neighbours have supported my switch to GM cotton varieties,” says Jeff Bidstrup who has 16 years experience growing GM cotton in Queensland.
    “With GM technology we achieved an 85% reduction in pesticide use and improved water use efficiency setting the industry on a path to a secure future which benefited everyone – farmers, communities, the environment and consumers,” he said.
    Rod Birch grew GM canola in WA for the first time in 2010 and was so impressed by the weed control and the yields that he increased the acreage sown to GM canola in 2011.
    “GM canola is a good news story,” he said.
    “It has widened our management options and also helps reduce our carbon footprint.”
    Mrs Baldock said that there are wheat varieties in the R&D pipeline which have nutritional, health, environmental and production benefits.
    “Such developments can contribute to a more viable farming sector, help in the management of our environmental responsibilities including the production of less greenhouse gases and enable a larger contribution to global food security,” Mrs Baldock said.

  15. Hi David, cultural change is difficult, granted. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try it. Certainly CSIRO recognizes that consumption of processed foods contributes significantly to the health problems that the new wheat is designed to remedy. It seems that to go on to promote a food product that will further entrench this dietary pattern is irresponsible. CSIRO has in the past weighed in when it comes to promoting dietary change.
    And, the very important question remains: why go for the GM version of the high resistant starch wheat when a conventional version is in development as well? No one has answered that yet. It would have less restrictive patents attached, the same as any hybrid and would also face less regulatory burden. I should think that would be better for farmers and for the public good.
    And finally, I am not opposed to biotechnology – that’s a straw man of your own. I am sceptical of GM, which is just one form of biotechnology. I think this GM wheat is for the purpose that Biogemma described, gaining “acceptance of GM in Europe”. I also think that having it GM paves the way to trait-stacking that will lead to herbicide resistance or pesticidal traits being inserted.

  16. The high RS lo Gi barley is developed by the same CSIRO. It is commercially available as BarlyMax in major supermarkets in Australia. I had to hold off buying till a version of breakfast cereal without honey in it came out as I am sensitive to the high salycylate content of honey. But a non-honey version is now available.

  17. Nat,
    I ask you to document the conventional wheat alternative, that would be better for the discussion; we have only talked about maize and barley versions which are useless for bread.
    But when it comes to solutions that are yet to be tested and proven, why delay for years when a range of options started now gives more chance of a good outcome? It’s not certain that a conventional version of low GI wheat will arrive soon or that it will arrive at all or be agronomically practical. HQM (high protein quality maize)took decades to develop by conventional breeding that can be very slow.
    I never meant to imply that you were opposed to all biotechnology. That’s your straw man I’m afraid. [My comments about vaccines, pasteurisation and medical biotech were to explain many beneficial technologies have irrational detractors– it’s quite a common phenomenon. In Australia the main organisation opposing GM in agriculture was opposed to GM in medicine. I remember around 1990 when they were saying things like– “GM cures for cancer will never work. The whole idea of a medical biotechnology is a false fantasy of the greedy lying biotechnologists”. They stopped saying these things when medical biotechnology became a really big industry and produced treatments for some cancers, only because they were making fools of themselves. The same people, as soon as drought resistant crops reached the scene – said they were impossible. Well now they will find out. They have been saying false for years that agbiotech is only two traits, and ignoring the wider range of traits (nutritional improvement, virus resistance, fungus pest resistance). Well the good thing about this protest about health promoting wheat is that the anti-GM crowd have to face up to the fact that agbiotech is about better nutrition, less fungal toxins, alternatives to threatened fish stocks for healthy oils, as well as less synthetic chemical spraying for pests, and reduced CO2 emissions from no till farming]
    As far as being for gaining “acceptance of GM in Europe”, introduction of products that actually improve nutrition and improve GM acceptance in Europe is a win, win, win situation. Unless the Europeans continue to sabotage the development of products like Golden Rice, which damages poor people in other regions and where the EU policies are a lose, lose, lose situation. Of course Greenpeace don’t like products wheat and vitamin enhanced rice that demonstrate they have been lying for years.
    Lets put it directly– the development of nutritionally enhanced crops is exactly that. It’s not a ploy. It’s what plant scientists in their hundreds, if not thousands, have been working on hard for years. It’s extremely demanding research for a good human welfare outcome. It is designed to create benefits for consumers. If Europeans choose to avoid them — that’s their problem. But in doing so they will get higher food costs and cause greater environmental damage from less efficient agriculture. Already by ignoring rootworm (Diabrotica) GM resistant corn they are damaging the environment with unnecessary synthetic chemical spraying and wasting food.That’s plain environmental vandalism justified by stupid ideology in my view. How do you see it?
    I has seen this comment that healthy wheat is a ploy a few places on the internet now. It sounds to me like a mental mechanism to protect the self-image of people who have been deluding themselves about what agbiotech research is about for years. When agbiotech turns up something that is obviously good to any fair-minded person, these deluded types have to invent an argument as why it was bad. We saw this when Golden rice first emerged. Greenpeace and their fellow travellers invented all sorts of reasons why nutritionally enhanced rice was bad, would never work, is a Trojan horse, a corporate fraud and so on. Now it is starting with healthy wheat. The problem for Greenpeace is the story of the boy who cried wolf. They have cried wolf three times. When fair-minded people realise that, Greenpeace are dead as a credible force. That’s why I predict they will scream as hard as they can about healthy wheat, but they will be finished unless they completely reform themselves. Reform of the corrupt environmental lobby groups is what the real environmental leaders (like Stewart Brand and Charles Secrett) are starting to call for, and in my opinion is desperately needed. Any organisation — an Greenpeace is one —that continues to promote and never correct statement about GM vitamin A enriched rice that are in error by 1800 percent are morally unfit to be involved in public life. Such statements cause unnecessary infant deaths from disease.
    Although I disagree with what you say, I recognise that you are openly and fairly explaining your position, and welcome the opportunity to continuing dialogue with you in the hope that you get to better understand my position.

  18. Media reports in 2007? including from Csiro’s own press, refer to the MAS wheat. Mark Morrell of CSIRO states they will go ahead with it if regulation obstructs the GM version. That might even be referenced in the greenpeace report. So why not ? Is there a good reason to utilise GM when conventional will work, assuming it has the same nutritional profile?
    And my mistake, you didn’t say I was opposed to biotechnology in this instance. However, it is the line commonly used to misrepresent opponents of GM.
    And himaize is used in Australia currently in commercial white breads.
    Golden rice is another story. And I don’t have time. But i think it’s naive to say greenpeace has the power to prevent its introduction. Golden rice doesn’t/won’t work because malnutrition is more complex than vit A deficiency and vit A cannot be absorbed by the malnourished as I understand it.

  19. Hi Nat,
    The TechNyou post above mentions the conventional wheat, and explains why they would prefer the GE version to the conventional one, and it makes perfect sense. Wheat is an allo-hexaploid, with two copies of each chromosome from each of 3 ancestors. This means that your average gene has about six copies in 3 slightly different places. The way this high-amylose wheat works is through losing the function of its Starch Branching Enzymes (SBE), which add branches to amylose to make it into amylopectin. Mutations in these genes are recessive, so in order to accomplish this through breeding, you would have to get nonfunctional alleles in all 3 genomes to knock out the function of these enzymes, which is exceedingly hard to do through breeding. (It appears that wheat may have only four copies of the important genes for this trait, but I am currently finding out more about it and plan to write a detailed post.)
    In contrast, gene silencing can silence all copies of the target gene, in each genome, without any complicated breeding strategies. Rather than trying to breed 4-6 recessive alleles into a commercially competitive wheat variety, you can just take one successful variety and knock out the function of all of them in one fell swoop. There is another advantage to gene silencing, and that is that if you get cross-pollination with wheat with non-resistant starch, the RNAi gene will still knock out the function of those alleles as well. In contrast, every outcross with a neighbor’s conventional wheat would destroy the resistant starch trait had it been developed through conventional means.
    I work with maize, which is easy by comparison – with only one diploid genome to worry about. In some ways, I envy wheat breeders by doing something really challenging, in other ways, I’m glad I’m not because of how hard it is to work around 3 genomes. (But I might end up on something like that…)
    Anyway, you are convinced that the reasons for preferring the GE wheat have only to do with commercial patenting and IP reasons. This is an automatic accusation that people make – that genetic engineering only has to do with money. I’d like you to consider that maybe it has something to do with the science involved.
    Reasons given for why GR cannot possibly help are interesting, because they also apply to all the alternatives proposed by opponents of GR, along with non-GE crops that do the same thing, like Orange Maize and Sweet Potato. But Greenpeace is not trying to stop those. I certainly hope that Greenpeace doesn’t have the power to prevent subsistence farmers from being able to grow and eat Golden Rice. But they are trying.

  20. “which add branches to amylose to make it into amylopectin”
    Europe has two GM potatoes for production of amylopectin. Naturally they are under siege from the neo-barbs. The amylopectin potatoes are strictly for the production of glossy paper in publications.
    Europe also has a ‘non-GM’ (tillering) amylopectin potato, and its supporters boast of it producing higher-quality food products.
    Go figure.

  21. How far have we come since 2004?
    “The present Luddism over genetic engineering may die a natural death as the computer-illiterate generation is superseded…. I fear that, if the green movement’s high-amplitude warnings over GMOs turn out to be empty, people will be dangerously disinclined to listen to other and more serious warnings.”
    — Richard Dawkins, from “Science, Genetics and Ethics,” in The Devil’s Chaplain (2004)
    It appears to me that the computer illiterate generation has been superseded but unfortunately only by computer literate but scientifically illiterate promulgators of missinformation and a disturbing number of willfully ignorant “believers”.
    I think that Dawkins and David Tribe have both hit the nail on the head regarding the likes of greenpeace crying wolf too many times but i do not have so much faith to think that the general populous is aware enonough for there to be a backlash.
    A major emerging problem is the inability of many to undrstand the difference between scientific consensus and Jo blow’s opinion. The only hope is that governments make evidence based policies rather than apealig to the masses.

  22. Every argument Greenpeace uses seems to be more or less a rehash of each other so I can’t really express much shock that their letters are almost identical. They use the same general fear tactics for most things. You could probably pretty easily swap a few words here and there and make their argument against practically anything.
    “We are writing to express our unequivocal denunciation of the [actions] being conducted by [people] that involve [subject]. We are all senior scientists/academics with a professional interest in the health and environmental effects of [noun]. We refer to the trials described on the website of the [organization]….The [adjectives/description] of the [noun] being used in these experiments is inadequately described in the publicly available literature. Much of the information required to conduct [adjectives/description] evaluation is withheld on the basis that [reason]. [Noun] have not been shown to be [adjectives/description related to safety]. There is a large body of evidence that shows that [noun] is highly prone to [accusations of questionable veracity), which can result in health damaging effects when [noun] are [usage]. [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]
    If you saw that, what do you think it would be about? GMOs? Nuclear power? Vaccines? Fluoride? Wi-fi? Could be anything, and the style fits the MO so I don’t really see it as a shock that the letters are so similar. Fill whatever floats your boat in the template and you’ve got a letter. Fill it in good enough and maybe you’ll get some more donation money coming in. Ten years from now they’ll still be using the same rhetoric against whatever GMOs we have then. Always selling the same thing, just with slightly different words.

  23. Indeed Greg. They have even been caught issuing their proforma template with the words INSERT FEAR ITEM HERE or equivalent left in accidently. Ill find my blog post on this shortly. Meanwhile here is a post on their other more recent immoral fear mongering
    Greenpeace sabotage food security in time of famine in the Horn of Africa.
    There is now a desparate food crisis in the East of Africa. At least 400,000 famine refugees from famine have entered Kenya. So what is Geenpeace’s response: they attempt sabotage measures that can allow better food productivity reach Kenyan farmers.
    There has been a deluge of news in the recent days on the drought that is ravaging east Africa especially Ethiopia. There has been a huge refugee influx into Kenya which has its own challenges feeding its people, and thus is looking into accepting imports of biotech maize which is being challenged both in parliament and by anti-technology activists such as Greenpeace. Zambia has seen its share of drought all too well, and again its ability to cope with it is being hampered.
    Coming on top of Greenpeace’s despicable deceptiness about vitamin enriched, disease preventing rice for Asian farmers, and disgraceful recent actions against healthier wheat varieties, it’s time their influence on world food-politics came to a halt…continues

    ….Posted on Mon, May. 29, 2006
    Greenpeace’s fill-in-the-blank public relations meltdown
    Before President Bush touched down in Pennsylvania Wednesday to promote his nuclear energy policy, the environmental group Greenpeace was mobilizing.
    “This volatile and dangerous source of energy” is no answer to the country’s energy needs, shouted a Greenpeace fact sheet decrying the “threat” posed by the Limerick reactors Bush visited.
    But a factoid or two later, the Greenpeace authors were stumped while searching for the ideal menacing metaphor.
    We present it here exactly as it was written, capital letters and all: “In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world’s worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE].”
    Had Greenpeace been hacked by a nuke-loving Bush fan? Or was this proof of Greenpeace fear-mongering?
    The aghast Greenpeace spokesman who issued the memo, Steve Smith, said a colleague was making a joke by inserting the language in a draft that was then mistakenly released.
    “Given the seriousness of the issue at hand, I don’t even think it’s funny,” Smith said.
    The final version did not mention Armageddon. It just warned of plane crashes and reactor meltdowns….

  25. LOL if the honey were GMO, the salycylate content would make it illegal.

  26. The essential problem here is that the trals are unnecessary. Simply making sourdough bread with regular wheat lowers the GI to acceptable (for diabetics even) levels. Its a case of the Scientists not having any knowledge of the cultural context of foods and wasting vast amounts of money on this research. To think sourdough bread is a foodies thing also would betray a lack of contextual knowledge. Bread was always made this way until taken over by the nutritional-industrial complex who have transformed it into a disfunctional food made only for the profits of a few. The only people who will profit from this study are the corporates who will market it. Further, any trials which are not multi-generational and examine the epigenetic impact cannot produce useful information. To think greenpeace are the only ones who pursue this sort of agenda coldly ignores the daily outwitting of the public by the sort of science underlying this study.

  27. I don’t know the cultural history of sourdough vs French, Italian, or other breads. Can you please provide evidence that all bread was sourdough before the “nutritional-industrial complex” took bread over? i would like to learn more.
    Scientists have studied the glycemic index of sourdough vs other breads (although not that much), the search terms sourdough glycemic index provide 6 results on NCBI and 510 on Google Scholar. Looking at the PubMed studies, one study did find that the glycemic index of sourdough was less than a non-sourdough bread but a study that ranked a lot of different bread types found that sourdough wasn’t that great compared to whole grain breads. I’d hardly say it’s conclusive that sourdough is the answer to producing low-gi bread, and we still have to consider pasta for which, to my knowledge, there is no sourdough counterpart.
    Do you know if there have been multi-generational studies on sourdough bread? This is not a “natural” food, and for that matter, bread isn’t “natural” either.
    Just some things to consider.

  28. Greenpeace has been ‘called out’ on its Australian misinformation campaign over GM wheat.
    “Greenpeace Wheat Propaganda – Nothing More Than Fiction”, CropLife Australia, Thursday 7 July, 2011,
    First para:
    “Greenpeace have today proven they are nothing more than a deceiving multinational propaganda machine with the release of their pamphlet attempting to demonise the Australian wheat industry. This is the start of a shameless and inappropriate attack against Australian food producers and scientists.”
    Gotta love it. Used to be, a Greenpeace attack was considered to be so frightful that nobody would consider a public response. Looks like those days are coming to an end.
    It’s about time. Late is better than never. And a neat thing about it is, Greenpeace as an institution understands attack and laying siege. They have no notion of how to conduct a defense, because they’ve seldom been forced into that position. Currently, they’re being assailed on a number of fronts.
    It’s looking a lot like the ‘Arab Spring’. Long live the revolution!

  29. John, thanks for commenting. According to, Sourdough bread is indeed in the low glycemic index range, however just barely. Low GI foods have a rating of 55 or below, whereas according to this source, Sourdough bread is at 54. I have seen others that say 52 in google searches, but this is the best referenced one I can find. One peer-reviewed study that Anastasia points to shows a whopping 82! That is high GI. Perhaps the disagreements between mid-50 and 80 GI values has to do with other properties of the source wheat, or sourdough yeast varieties, baking and prep, etc.
    One of the pervasive myths out there held true by many who criticize scientists is that they just don’t think about the larger implications of their work. You said “Its a case of the Scientists not having any knowledge of the cultural context of foods and wasting vast amounts of money on this research.” However, your sole solution proposed to the desires of people who are diabetic (and not) is “let them eat sourdough” which completely ignores the complexities of diets, psychology, cuisines, etc. Not everyone likes sourdough (I love it), and there are other wheat-based foods to consider such as noodles (across cultures from Italian Penne to Japanese Udon), crackers, cakes, quickbreads, cream of wheat breakfast cereal, and all manner of other breakfast cereals. And it’s not just for diabetics. Would normal kids and adults benefit by their morning carbohydrates taking longer to digest and get absorbed?
    I might humbly suggest that before you announce that scientists haven’t thought something through, that perhaps you might do the same yourself.

  30. Nice diagrams with dotted lines aside, any idea what the actual percentage of R&D funding was for public vs private? I’m also wondering how if at all Australia will be compensated via royalties or other for their financial support of the project or if the product will be made available royalty free… these are important details!

  31. I feel sorry for the Australian farmer, still having to use a rake. Does he use the pail to carry the harvest to his wagon? Could someone from Australia explain the role of a rake in the wheat harvest?

  32. “Golden rice is another story. And I don’t have time. But i think it’s naive to say greenpeace has the power to prevent its introduction. Golden rice doesn’t/won’t work because malnutrition is more complex than vit A deficiency and vit A cannot be absorbed by the malnourished as I understand it.”
    Nat, I would submit that you misunderstand vitamin A nutrition. Lets look at how the effect of TAKING VITAMIN A CAPSULES on actual village death rates in Aceh Indonesia was discovered. It was with people who had poor nutrition. The effect was not theory in action: it was an observed effect of adding pure vitamin A to real diets. It was a surprise finding.
    Lancet. 1986 May 24;1(8491):1169-73.
    Impact of vitamin A supplementation on childhood mortality. A randomised controlled community trial.
    Sommer A, Tarwotjo I, Djunaedi E, West KP Jr, Loeden AA, Tilden R, Mele L.
    450 villages in northern Sumatra were randomly assigned to either participate in a vitamin A supplementation scheme (n = 229) or serve for 1 year as a control (n = 221). 25 939 preschool children were examined at baseline and again 11 to 13 months later. Capsules containing 200 000 IU vitamin A were distributed to preschool children aged over 1 year by local volunteers 1 to 3 months after baseline enumeration and again 6 months later. Among children aged 12-71 months at baseline, mortality in control villages (75/10 231, 7.3 per 1000) was 49% greater than in those where supplements were given (53/10 919, 4.9 per 1000) (p less than 0.05). The impact of vitamin A supplementation seemed to be greater in boys than in girls. These results support earlier observations linking mild vitamin A deficiency to increased mortality and suggest that supplements given to vitamin A deficient populations may decrease mortality by as much as 34%.
    PMID: 2871418 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  33. Wow that new Greenpeace graphic is just so illuminating. I never new that an industry was made up of multiple industrial contributors who either collaborate or don’t and some people who know about that industry and have spent their lives living and working in that industry. That’s a real eye opener.
    Instead it should show just the farmer (the silhouette chap with the silly hat and a rake) and some wheat grain and a dotted line between the two with an arrowhead on each end. That would represent the way things were before GM technology was invented.
    Greenpeace’s obsession with this sort of diagram (they’ve produced a few over the years) actually just betrays the fact that all their policies are based on anti-Capitalism and nothing to do with science or the environment. Hence the violently pro-AGW and anti-GM stances.

  34. This is good information to know. Although Vitamin A is fat soluble (along with beta carotene), it will still be absorbed in people with poor diets. Which means that golden rice can certainly work even in people who may eat little more than rice on some days.

  35. Richard,
    The rake and pail are sustainable and organic. That’s Greenpeace’s hope for the future of farming.

  36. “Instead it should show just the farmer (the silhouette chap with the silly hat and a rake) and some wheat grain and a dotted line between the two with an arrowhead on each end. That would represent the way things were before GM technology was invented.”
    …and it was paradise for all, where no one ever went hungry or died of dysentery;)

  37. Thr essential question here (dogs barking at greenpeace aside) is really about GI, because thats why the wheat is modified.Why should wheat have a lower GI? Because we have an alarming increase in all types of diabetes,and thats what these low GI foods are for, in an attempt to halt or reduce the diabetes plauge, and to be preventative.
    That we have the license to say we find it an impostiton to eat something like sourdough bread when we want wonder bread and want to feed it to our children, is why diabetes is rampant. Once everybody ate such foods especially fermented breads, and im not dredging up a mythic arcadia, but diabetes was not at all common. Many agree that the current supply of excessively refined foods is the root cause of diabetes….you dont catch it! (ask the CSIRO dept of nutrition for example).
    That we allow excessively refined, (especially carbohydrate) foods is an interesting conundrum, because we know,they cause pathologies.
    Because everybody once ate fermented breads, its no penanace and the desire for wonder bread is just a whim really, based on culinary dissonance rather than anything intrinsic, and the desire not to be affected by diabetes would appear to be rational.
    I cant really re-tell dietary or bread history in a forum like this. Even cursory research will show you that all wheat stuffs in the past were largely fermented by a lactic method which is now called sourdough , as will travelling in non-westernised areas today or even exploring food stuffs in non-European cultures, but also more traditional parts of Europe ( and now the most exclusive as well). Underlined of course by the fact that modern bread yeast wasnt available at all until 1890 through factories near Vienna.
    Proir to that, yeast was harvested in some areas from ale brewing, but wasnt widespread and was always a polyculture accompanied by the development of lactic bacteria through lengthy fermentation.
    Variations in the GI of sourdough bread appear because there are many fake sourdough breads today, and as there is no legislation, anyone can make this false claim..which is actually evidenced by the GI variations shown…genuine sourdough always has a much lower GI than wonder bread or sourdough simulacra.
    The epigenetic effect of sourdough and other fermented breads is that diseases like diabetes were rare,but also the increase in it was noticed, its not a case of it not being reported…history isnt like that, we have been intelligently conscious and observant, and recording it for far longer than most modern people realise.
    What must also be remembered is that bread was a staple food, it formed as much as 50% of food in many cases. Wheat didnt have to be modified then and it doesnt now.
    The real context is the Industrial food suppy and to isolate wheat or salt is an example of the singularity of much scientific thinking….which provided the methods to refine the foods in the first place.
    Is it evolutionary for us to opt for pathogenic food, or is junk food a selection pressure?
    Or is it more important to set the dogs on greenpeace for playing by the rules already set by corporate (and government) anyway?

  38. So your arguement is that we should restrict the choices people have rather than retain the level of choice while reducing the risk (or increasing the choice so you can decide whether to take the risk or not, I don’t doubt that some people would prefer to stick to good old fashioned wonderbread rather than the newfangled low GI version)?
    Or is it perhaps that people who make bad food choices deserve the diseases with which they get lumbered?
    Or perhaps that if you have diabetes you shouldn’t have an expansive choice of foods – just eat those that are proven safer for you and quit your whining – choice is for people who are healthy amiright?
    One would think that in a society where poor choices are made based on taste that altering the composition of the poor choices such that they aren’t so poor would be a better idea than simply telling folk to eat healthily – as frankly it is abundantly clear that this approach doesn’t remotely work.

    That we allow excessively refined, (especially carbohydrate) foods is an interesting conundrum, because we know,they cause pathologies.

    Is your suggestion a totalitarian approach whereby dietary choice is controlled by some sort of central health agency? I don’t see this going down well anywhere.

  39. John Downs,
    “but diabetes was not at all common”
    Actually it was quite common in ancient Greece. The term ‘diabetes mellitus’ comes from Latin, the ‘mellitus’ meaning ‘honey’. This is because back then, doctors diagnosed the condition by drinking the patient’s urine. The urine of those with diabetes had a distinctive sweet flavor. OK, TMI, move along, folks.

  40. Hi John,
    There is also a low-GI variety of rice out there (at least one), which I have seen in a local Indian store. Why should someone have made a low-GI rice at all? It is as worthy of a question as why make a low-GI wheat, but the key difference is that the complaints against low-GI wheat are being made because it was achieved through genetic engineering. No one complains about the low-GI rice because it was conventionally bred. Wheat and rice have different genetics, and conventional breeding was more appropriate for rice, while it presents more challenges for wheat. Are you prepared to criticize the low-GI rice as well?
    Speaking of singularity of thinking – what about all the non-bread examples of foods derived from wheat that I brought up? (Won’t someone think of the children’s breakfast cereal!) Bread (sourdough or otherwise) was not the only thing people ate. I think the Wonder Bread comment was a joke, but even so, I don’t think people need to decide between Sourdough and Wonder Bread.
    I find it interesting that you seem to be blaming science for coming up with something that people desire. Kind of a strange thing – criticizing a method of deriving knowledge, an external force, before the internal force of the desire itself. Yes, questioning our modern propensity to over-consume simple sugars is appropriate, and that’s something I would certainly join in on. But I think that we need to seek practical ways to help with these problems – and the reality is that people are not going to all switch to sourdough no matter how well-funded a promotion campaign is that backs this particular bread. Wheat that is slower to digest and release glucose may provide an option that helps those unwilling or unable to change their diets significantly.

  41. “Is your suggestion a totalitarian approach whereby dietary choice is controlled by some sort of central health agency?”
    The Raw Milk foodies think we’re already there.

  42. Hi Karl, thanks for your thought-provoking comments. Do people actually desire these foods, or have they been lured to desire them?… there are no mass demonstrations demanding wonder bread(for eg,I take the lol) to be put on the shelves, or any other of the patho-foods that abound, they are created purely for profit by the corporates…theres no money in food unless its refined and value added. It just doesnt appear ethical or desireable that what i call patho-foods can simply be created with no regulation, and the result is the well known diseases of industrial eating.
    Its not at all “totalitarian”…these foods were never available,and as I say, the desire for them has been created. Is it really free choice? Is it freedom or license?
    Seems to me that the gold standard of science is the double blind trial. As far as human populations are concerned, and the whole question of GM, these trials must be multi-generational or we cant accurately assess the effect of GM food…for example epigenetically. It would seem that those who are saying “trust us we are scientists” arent actually following their own purported evaluative methods? Scientists behaving like priests is what I fine troubling. Science isnt the problem, its scientism.
    By the way, low GI wheat is called Rye! , and the low GI strains of rice occur naturally as Oryza Indica. But again its curious that diabetes was virtually unknown in countries who traditionally ate (lots of) Oryza Japonica, which now has to be made low GI. Theres so much more to the picture and its got little to do with the GI of either wheat or rice.

  43. re other examples, eg pasta:
    Thats why im saying is junk food a selection pressure? I agree those who have been seduced into eating white death (etc) are attached and wont change. Trouble is, they are also becoming infertile, as we know the anglo-celtic population of Australia isnt replacing itself.Those who produce most offspring are from cultures which simply put, eat properly and havent been lured into eating white death…yet.

  44. Diabetes was known in ancient times,well before the Greek ascendancy, but for you to say it was “quite common” is something else. It was actually quite rare….or did the Greeks limp thirstily to cultural ascendancy?
    “time to move on” is too cynical, and gives weight to the unproductive sniping…I think the debate could look at the actual issue that the barking is about, and if we are going to focus on false reporting or contriving information, well who will cast the first stone?…Murdoch for example?….
    …and as the raw milk debate has been mentioned, has anyone actually checked out the “science” behind the regulations overtaking us about low-fat dairy…talk about false information and contriving results!

  45. Murdoch? What has he got to do with this discussion at all? It kind of sounds like you are bringing in all kinds of prior frustrations related to food and politics into this discussion. “White Death?” Talk to Bill Marler about the people who get sick all too often from raw milk. They aren’t contrived.
    It is rather ironic that people who are advocates of things like raw milk despite safety issues from pathogens, are in turn opponents of genetic engineering for safety concerns. If ‘food freedom’ is a principle, then should it not apply to genetic engineering as well? Something to think about.
    (Note: I’m not saying that John is an advocate of raw milk, as he has not indicated such)

  46. No one can doubt the influence of a sweet bakery item luring someone to buy it – but those have been around long before wonder bread. Corporations did not put desires for sugar, fat and salt in us, but they do play off of such desires. No money in food unless it is refined? You haven’t seen $7.00/lb organic artichokes in California – that’s some serious cash for a flower.
    Low-GI wheat is not rye. They are rather distinct grains. Rye has heat-stable amylases that break down the starch and prevent it from rising, the gluten that holds it together is paltry, and it has a different flavor and darker color. Breads must be made differently, and come out very different. That’s like saying drought-tolerant corn is sorghum!
    To say that the low-GI rice occurs naturally is not an argument that it is the right thing to do. If you think it is, then you are committing the naturalistic fallacy – that what is ‘natural’ is right and ok. In fact, your statement didn’t add any new information because I indicated that it can be achieved through breeding (aka naturally occurring). So besides lamenting about the incidence of diabetes today, is it wrong to develop low-GI rice through breeding as you consider it to be wrong to do for wheat through genetic engineering.
    After bringing up scientist stereotypes about thinking about other issues, now you trot out Scientism? Can you actually support this label from what people have been saying? Try not to take pages from the creationist playbook.

  47. As a historical reference, in Anglo-Saxon England, white bread was a highly prized commodity and a show of wealth. So yes, these kinds of less healthy items have been desired for quite some time.

  48. Pasta is already lowGI so you don’t need a sourdough equivalent. As a non-scientist I can’t recall the reason why but it’s listed as low GI in diet books, including the ones by GI expert Dr Jennie Brand-Miller.

  49. Barely in the low range is still within the low range. White flour isinglass the high range and there is a whole middle range to separate them.

  50. This was a fascinating insight so thank you to the author for doing some digging on the matter. However, I must say that I found the reasoning of Dave Schubert to be fairly convincing, yes he should have known the purpose of the study before commenting but he stood by it once he did and made some good points that have been unanswered here.
    I found the comment thread to be very frustrating. There was some good debate but comments from the likes of Eric Baumholder with glib put-downs and wistful asides about China (I guess dictatorship is good as long as you agree with the dictates?) did nothing to persuade me if the reasonableness of the GM lobby.
    My issue with GM is not so much with the science. Clearly I believe that needs to be rigorous and human and environmental safety must be firmly established. My bigger issue is about the business and legal side – the complexities of the whole patent issue, the fact that so many GM crops are developed to promote increased pesticide usage, genuine consumer and farmer choice, and so on. Ag biotech needs a watchdog – it’s a shame Greenoeace seems wholly unequal to the task.
    The concerns about land usage and forest clearing to feed the world’s growing population are valid. But I wish that we had our smartest people working on the task of peacefully stabilizing and reversing the world’s population instead. But I guess there’s no money to be made there.

  51. Caitlin, I hope you’l visit Biofortified again. There are a lot of different viewpoints in the comments, and I hope you’ll see that many of us are conscientious scientists who are concerned about things like land use, reducing ag inputs, and helping those who most need help.
    If you’re interested, I hope you’ll check out my two posts Toward a better agriculture… for everyone and Goals for nutrition which explain the reasons why I am invested in the issues of science communication, genetic engineering, and agriculture in general as well as some of the ways I think ag could be improved.
    Unfortunately, I haven’t written much of late as I’ve been working on my thesis but hopefully in a few weeks I will be an active participant and contributor again! I’d like to see you there 🙂 Please feel free to start a conversation in the forum, such as about the business and legal side of genetic engineering, for example. A thoughtful voice is always welcome.

  52. Well yes it was called Manchet and prized by the wealthy. It was however made with ale barm yeast which is a polyculture of saccaromyces types and lactic acid generating bacteria which make it highly digestible. But also these were the classes who suffered the most degenerative type conditions.
    It was not the commonly eaten bread “maslin” which was exclusively sourdough. All of the wealthy ate these sorts of breads where the wholemeal was sifted to produce “white” flour. This in no way equates to “wonder bread” (chorleywood process), the recipe and process for which is more like a chemical formula than a recipe.

  53. Artichokes are expensive anywhere, even Italy,but dont really bring in the money that mars bars do as only a tiny proportion of people eat artichokes.
    Just watch the new enzyme bread tech being developed through gene splicing bacteria, it will enable wonder bread from rye, even sorghum as wheat prices soar due to futures trading.
    “creationist playbook”? Scientism (NOT science as I said) is what is generating such heat over GM. Its as I said, scientists behaving like priests with a “trust us” attitude rather than appropriate multi-generational trials which would seem to be the requirement of real science, apart from being reasonable, as effects on human populations through our basic foods really cant be assessed in a petrie dish. Epigenetics has revealed quite unexpected (by then current science) resonances through the generations.
    Why isnt it reasonable to exercise caution with these GM foods?
    The arguments about GM solving world hunger are fatuous at best, as can be shown from the outwitting of the GM wheats by newly evolved rusts much as antibiotics have caused with bacteria; the loss of biodiversity, not to mention that the locals hated the green revolution Rice for example because it tasted awful, something which the science didnt even consider.
    The context of these items as food keeps getting lost, which was my original point about sourdough bread…the fermentation performs the same function on regular wheat as does all that expensive and clever GM tech,…and is a food, within the context of food, not some object to be tossed about a laboratory.
    Sorry, yes the piece was overtly about vitamin enhancement, I meant it to be illustrative of the role of fermentation. Ive little doubt that it would have lowered the GI of the pasta as well, but that wasnt tested.
    But again, within the context of a proper (pre-industrial type) diet(food),regular pasta isnt a problem. Its not only me who is critical of the Industrial diet as a cause of numerous pathologies which are costing billions in health care, mostly enabled by corporates inventing new foods for profit regardless of the consequences.Just seems wrong.

  54. Hi John, I don’t think you understand what “Scientism” is. Here is the wikipedia page on it:
    I’m not saying “trust me” or “trust us”, I am giving you explanations ans reasons – so you are way off base on that accusation. There is a lot of literature (which I plan to put into a post) on this topic if you would care to read it rather than accusing scientists of what they aren’t doing.
    “effects on human populations through our basic foods really cant be assessed in a petrie dish.”
    That is exactly why they have tested (and are continuing to test) this wheat in animals, and then to verify their effects on glycemic index in humans. So you are arguing for CSIRO to continue with their research here, contra Greenpeace. Since they just vandalized the trial, they are trying to prevent such cautionary research from taking place.
    “Sorry, yes the piece was overtly about vitamin enhancement, I meant it to be illustrative of the role of fermentation.”
    But making vitamins is a completely different biological process, and there is no reason to suspect that if something makes vitamins that it lowers glycemic indices. Just because it makes something healthy in one way doesn’t mean it affects all other properties in the same direction.
    “The arguments about GM solving world hunger are fatuous at best, as can be shown from the outwitting of the GM wheats by newly evolved rusts”
    Show me the evidence that rusts have evolved resistance to GE wheat – because I think you are making this up, honestly. Why? Because there is no GE wheat commercialized anywhere.

  55. Hi Karl,…1.It is used to criticize a totalizing view of science as if it were capable of describing all reality and knowledge, or as if it were the only true way to acquire knowledge about reality and the nature of things;
    From the same article…exactly what im saying…you sure you understand it?
    The green Revolution wheats were created using molecular genetics to create the clones…admitted, its not GM, you are correct, but…..
    “frustrations” is an interesting way to describe my questioning, which may be too value laden to facilitate good debate, and is often a technique used by those trained in the sciences who fail to understand the cultural context.
    All of these matters im bringing up are inter-related on many levels, which science training doesnt equip one to fully appreciate….which is widely observed, and is part of the problem .
    “petrie dishes” is a joke.
    well you may think im way off base by my “accusations” which are more descriptions actually, but a lot of people agree with me, which those obsessed with science just dont see….its why “regular” peolple make jokes about scientists, but humour doesnt seem to get through often.
    Its almost as if those proposing for example human trials of GM foods are indignant that they should be questioned….after all, they are scientists, they “know” and who are we mere mortals to question them….which is Scientism. There are other modes of knowing which may have more relevance to questions of food than a scientific view.

  56. “There are other modes of knowing which may have more relevance to questions of food than a scientific view.”
    When scientific facts are not at issue, but rather, other modes of knowing, it is impossible to determine what has relative relevance.
    The scientific enterprise, such as is found in the field of producing and distributing food, is to supply the factual underpinnings of what is being discussed. If those facts are ignored, further discussion becomes pointless; my mode of knowing has nothing to do with yours, and vice versa; disagreement between different modes of knowing is not only pointless, it’s incoherent.
    As the adage goes: ‘Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts.’

  57. Eric,
    What I say to people who use the “other ways of knowing [than scientific]” phrase is that they should therefore stop using Science words. Let them get their own words: “Proof,” “Evidence,” “Theory,” “Cause,” “Quantum,” “Energy,” “Field,” “Relativity,” and many others have well-defined universally-understood meanings among the scientifically literate that really don’t make sense when randomly strung together “homeopathic quantum-energy field that proves the existence of personal auras that are evidence of trans-relativity astral projection (with latent maniacal tendencies).”

  58. OrchidGrowinMan,
    I have to wonder about that approach. Lots of people use those words when describing ‘other ways of knowing’. ‘Quantum’ is an all-time favorite, since it involves a branch of physics that is not completely understood, and a matter of debate, and supposedly involves philosophy and arcane religions.
    ‘Evidence’? They use that, too. Half the time it’s ‘lack of evidence’, which results in not even trying to locate journal articles.
    ‘Theory’? An old chestnut, all scientists can do is advance theories, which means they’re ‘not proven’, so everything is up for grabs, regardless of research results. Results that they don’t need to read, because it’s only a theory anyhow.
    ‘Energy’ and ‘Field’: Review the works of Mae Wan-Ho. Energy and fields exert subtle influences which are disrupted by ‘foreign DNA’.
    And so forth. Charlatans in the field are masters of the dark arts of media manipulation and misinformation.

  59. I am not a scientist, and i don’t agree with Greenpeace’s actions. I do however want to be free to have a GM free diet if I so choose. My understanding is that as more GM crops get released this becomes impossible through cross-pollination/contamination.

  60. GE/GM has to date not brought any health benefits that surpass conventional foods and a balanced diet cannot provide. In fact the gene is already expressed in the non GE parent line. Traditionally bred weather adapted plants have been selected and grown by farmers for many centuries. (My father grew and saved selected wheat seed in Kenya)
    Also, some of the GE wheat trialled is herbicide tolerant, its just the media promotional spin that is focusing on the mirage of commercial manufacturing benefits not health ones.

  61. Hi Claire, thanks for stopping by. When you say “GE/GM has to date not brought any health benefits…” that is pretty much correct, ignoring the reduced levels of mycotoxins and less harsh pesticide residues that Bt and glyphosate-tolerant GE crops have brought about. But here is the problem – we’re talking about a trait that could indeed improve the diet of some people, and genetic engineering is being used to generate this trait. Because it hasn’t been done before with GE doesn’t mean that GE is unsuitable for doing it. You are trying to suggest that GE is unfit for making healthier food because it hasn’t done so yet in the past, and the logic does not follow. Especially when there are many existing traits with published results that suggest that you can indeed alter a food in a healthful direction with GE.
    When you say that the gene is already expressed in the non GE parent line, that’s the point. This trait works by silencing the genes of interest, which are starch branching enzymes (SBEs). In other words, you want the gene not to be expressed in your wheat in order to get the low-glycemic index properties.
    I could respond to your herbicide tolerance point with the same sort of argument – that you are just trying to put an anti-promotional spin on this wheat by diverting attention away from low-GI trait and toward one that is less desirable.

  62. Laura Kelly the public voice of the Greenpeace Australia Pacific anti-GM sideshow will be holding a live Q&A session online tonight at 7pm AEST. As a lobbyist with a political degree i’m sure she would love to hear some in depth questions on biotechnology.
    You can join in on this link.

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