Most of you are familiar with Monsanto the seed giant. All of you are familiar with the cruciferous vegetable, broccoli. Some of you may know that Monsanto released a variety of broccoli last year purported to be better for you, called “Beneforté.” One year later, an article by a newly-registered dietitian named Andy Bellatti appeared on Grist to bust Monsanto’s ‘better’ broccoli, which some of you may have noticed. But none of you who finish reading this post will believe that Bellatti “busted” the Beneforté broccoli at all. The only thing he busted was his own research, journalistic, and dietetic integrity.
There has been considerable interest in investigating the composition of foods to determine what parts of them can contribute to our health. (And what detracts from it too.) Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables have garnered considerable attention for their effects on the development of cancer. Research has revealed an important class of compounds called Glucosinolates, particularly one known as Glucoraphanin. When this sulfur-containing compound is metabolized by a plant enzyme called Myrosinase, it becomes one of two different compounds: Sulforaphane and Sulforaphane Nitrile. These two Isothiocyanates have been found to have preventative effects against cancer, and Sulforaphane is by far the more potent of the two. And this year, an important paper found that even the precursor, Glucoraphanin, also has important effects.
I apologize for the dizzying array of chemical names. So let me see if I can make them easier to understand. Glucosinolates include many similar kinds of compounds, and Glucoraphanin at the top of the picture here is one example. It gets the Gluco- from having a glucose sugar molecule bonded to it, which is that ring on the right hand side. Isothiocyanates are another class of compounds, and the main example is Sulforaphane. You can distinguish them by that N=C=S group on the Sulforaphane above. There are many Glucosinolates and Isothiocyanates important for this topic, so rather than bring up so many names I’ll only talk about the groups (end in -ates) and the two specific ones I mentioned (Glucoraphanin and Sulforaphane both have -raph- in them).
How do they work? Well, there is a huge amount of research on this topic, and while I could send you on a journey through a google or PubMed search, there are a few clear things that we know. Broadly speaking, cancer is uncontrolled cell growth that usually happens with DNA is damaged, but there are other causes as well (such as cervical cancer being caused by papillomaviruses). Chemicals that damage DNA are known as mutagens, as they can alter the string of letters in the DNA to read differently, and since the mutations they cause can also cause cancer, they are also called carcinogens. We encounter carcinogens in our everyday lives, from artificial chemicals we’ve produced for one reason or another, to the oxidative stress caused by normal cellular respiration, to the UV light naturally emitted by the Sun. Carcinogens are also found in our food.
Yes, our food produces carcinogens. More specifically, there are chemicals naturally present in our food, that when eaten, can become carcinogens. Since plants cannot run away from their predators, they have evolved to defend themselves using chemical and biological weapons, while animals have evolved enzymes and other ways to protect against those defenses. We produce a host of enzymes in our livers that detoxify chemicals that we eat in our food every day, and they are classified as Phase I and Phase II ‘xenobiotic’ metabolizing enzymes (there are also Phase III but we won’t get into that). Phase I enzymes take a foreign chemical and add or expose a functional group that Phase II enzymes can then add a molecule to, which allows the modified chemical to be excreted from the body. However, sometimes the chemicals produced by Phase I enzymes turn out to be carcinogens, which can cause damage before the Phase II enzyme is able to safely destroy it. Some chemicals that are known to have carcinogenic activity are among the Coumarins, Flavonoids, Glucosinolates, Isothiocyanates, and Phenols found in many plants – including broccoli.
Some of these compounds can also affect the activity of Phase I and Phase II xenobiotic enzymes, and often both. A chemical that induces the first class might cause more carcinogens to be produced, while one that induces the second class would more quickly eliminate them from the body before they can cause damage. Sulforaphane was discovered in 1992 to selectively induce the second, and not the first. And the more Sulforaphane you consume, the more it induces this activity. What this means is that consuming Sulforaphane will increase your body’s ability to protect itself against many forms of cancer. Indeed, and although some early research on Glucoraphanin suggested it might be harmful because it induces Phase-I enzymes, the new 2011 paper indicates that it upregulates cytochrome p450 along with Phase-II enzymes and therefore also contributes to the anti-cancer properties of broccoli itself.
You may have noticed that since Sulforaphane is an Isothiocyanate, and Glucoraphanin is a Glucosinolate, that they are members of two of the classes of compounds I mentioned above that have known carcinogens among them. Breeding for enhanced levels of one could affect the levels of others, so there is a great deal more complexity to this issue than I have described here. In addition, some Phase-I enzymes eliminate carcinogens, and some Phase-II enzymes create carcinogens as well. There are other compounds present in cruciferous and other vegetables that contribute in other ways as well. But on the whole it is true that these compounds have a beneficial effect, despite these complexities. And since Sulforaphane is produced from Glucoraphanin in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli – then eating broccoli that is higher in Glucoraphanin will protect against cancer even more.
To top it off, a paper published this year found that Sulforaphane also inhibits the activity of two enzymes in cancer cells, leading to cell death. So its benefits may not be limited to preventing, but perhaps fighting certain kinds of cancers.
Breeding Better Broccoli
Now the question becomes, how can we get broccoli on our dinner plates that has more of these beneficial compounds? There is considerable variation in the amounts of Glucoraphanin and other Glucosinolates in broccoli, and this review paper by E.H. Jeffrey et al discusses what is known about this variation. They show that Glucoraphanin and other Glucosinolates can vary from as little as one tenth to as much as three times the amount found in your average broccoli. Not all broccoli is bred the same.
Differences in the levels of these compounds can be caused by genetics, environment, interactions between the two, and post-harvest storage and processing. It turns out that in one study for Glucoraphanin and other similar aliphatic Glucosinolates, 60% of this variation is genetic, while only 5% is environmental. 10% is due to an interaction between genetics and the environment, which is like saying that one variety makes more in one environment, while another variety makes more in another environment. Genetics comes out as a clear winner if you want to improve the anti-cancer properties of broccoli, and where there is genetic variation for a trait like this, a plant breeder can select for plants that have that trait and improve it over generations.
Plant breeders at the John Innes Center in Norwich, England, and Monsanto’s vegetable seeds division used the genetic variation for Glucoraphanin levels in wild broccoli to breed for higher levels in a modern, commercial broccoli. This is accomplished by crossing cultivated and wild plants, and in successive generations selecting for plants that have higher levels of Glucoraphanin as well as the traits you want in a modern broccoli. They report that by testing in 23 locations against other leading commercial broccoli varieties, that their new Beneforté broccoli variety contains an average of about 2.7 times as much Glucoraphanin as your average broccoli. Since the effects increase with dosage, this means that you would be expected to gain more cancer-protective benefits by eating it. How much benefit, however, is not clear.
The environment it is grown in and what happens to the broccoli after it is harvested still matters, however. As Glucosinolates contain sulfur, fertilizing the soil with sulfur can quite understandably boost their levels. And while organic growing methods can affect some minor Glucosinolates both positively and negatively, Glucoraphanin is unchanged by this practice. How the broccoli is stored and processed also affects what levels remain in the vegetable, and finally, how you prepare it also matters. The enzyme Myrosinase that converts Glucoraphanin into Sulforaphane does this when the broccoli is chopped and chewed, but only if the broccoli is uncooked. Cooking destroys the enzyme’s activity, and also reduces the levels of Glucosinolates. Either eat them raw, or blanch them briefly! And since Myrosinase activity can be affected by the climate and season, there can still be an important environmental factor to this trait.
And one final note about breeding. While Glucoraphanin is the most abundant Glucosinolate in broccoli, it is part of a complex pathway and a complex trait, so breeding for the levels of one compound may affect levels of the others. The best breeding program will look at a broader array of Glucosinolates and other effects that breeding, environment, storage and packaging will have on the final product. Indeed, since some genotypes will do better in particular environments than others, and some may hold onto their chemicals during storage better than others, these downstream effects can inform the breeding process significantly.
Other genetic tools are helping to develop traits such as these, as this paper demonstrates that you can predict levels of Glucosinolates you will get when you made hybrid broccoli.
The Beneforté website indicates that this particular variety of broccoli is grown in a particular location in California, rather than in many places around the country. While you may not like the idea of produce shipped thousands of miles, this does mean that they have essentially fixed the Genotype by Environment interaction. In non-breeder terms, this means that they picked the best environment for the best variety of broccoli to get the highest levels of Glucoraphanin, amongst other traits. This suggests that they also took the environmental contributions into account when developing the Beneforté. The entire process took them about ten years.
While the exact amount of benefit to be had by eating the Beneforté broccoli is unclear, it does appear that it is likely to help in the area of cancer prevention. Keep in mind I am no dietitian, nutrition researcher, nor doctor, however the prevailing scientific literature indicates that it should. It would be nice to see some data published on this and other broccoli varieties, more information about other Glucosinolates in this variety, and perhaps a feeding model as well, but if I saw the Beneforté and I had the cash to get it, I probably would. The story of its breeding is almost reason enough besides the Sulforaphane!
Back to Bellatti
Now that you know all you ever wanted to know about Broccoli and what we know about how its chemical composition prevents cancer, it is time to return to Andy Bellatti’s ill-informed piece purporting to “Bust” the Beneforté Broccoli.
The first point that Bellatti takes issue with is with regard to growing conditions.
“Similar growing conditions” — there’s an interesting tidbit. For all we know, then, Beneforté’s glucopharanin content could pale in comparison to that of organic broccoli.(sic)
Actually, if Bellatti did his research, he would know that organic growing methods do not significantly affect the levels of Glucoraphanin (which he misspells as glucopharanin), as I indicated above. The growing methods described on the Beneforté website appear to be describing climatic factors rather than the organic-conventional dimension. And it is quite odd that he takes issue with a straightforward and scientific manner of studying and reporting differences under similar growing conditions, which is necessary for comparison. But rather than try to find out the facts and report an analysis of them, he goes off the organic health halo to make what is an empty quip.
Next, he criticizes the focus on Glucoraphanin.
Of course, this obsession with glucoraphanin is a silly and myopic distraction. Broccoli, by virtue of being a vegetable, is healthful and does not need to be improved upon. None of the myriad of chronic health issues affecting millions of Americans are due to “faulty broccoli” with low levels of glucoraphanin.
Again, proper research would have prevented him from making a categorical double-error such as this. Being a vegetable does not automatically make something healthy. What is a vegetable but an edible non-reproductive part of a plant? Being healthy is not part of its definition. But more importantly, his ignorance of plant genetics betrays the second error. There is genetic variation for healthful aspects of vegetables, which means that you can have vegetables that are more or less healthy than each other, all on account of genetics. As I put it above, no two broccoli’s are the same. He is enjoying vegetables that are the result of a long plant breeding process of genetic improvement, and his suggestion that ‘This is as good as it gets’ is way off. In the case of broccoli – given that it is the same species as cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts which vary widely in their content of Glucoraphanin, that means that the very broccoli trait in question is likely the result of human improvement already. Plant breeding is a continual process of constant improvement that should not stop.
He has also contradicted himself here – by suggesting that organic may be an improvement over conventional (which it is not in this aspect), he is suggesting that vegetables as most people eat them can and should be improved upon. If the mere virtue of being a vegetable was enough, then conventional non-organic broccoli should be enough for him.
Now I will address the more important point, and that is that focusing on Glucoraphanin “is a silly and myopic distraction.” Granted there are more complexities to the cancer-preventative effects of broccoli compounds as I described above, but Glucoraphanin is still the most important part of it. But, some people have food philosophies that focus more on changing what specific foods people eat rather than changing the composition of those foods. To understand his comment in context of his food philosophy, I took some time to read his blog.
He is a vegan, who in his own words “approaches nutrition from a whole-foods, plant-centric framework.” Still, I do not see how improving the genetics of broccoli does not fit into this philosophy. You are still eating a whole plant food. Perhaps, still, the specific composition of those foods does not matter to him?
However, his blog posts reveal a different story. He is in fact quite concerned with the specific composition of foods, ranging from listing the nutrients in each of his posted recipes, to complaining how he had to learn about how food service establishments work instead of the compositional differences of chia, hemp, and flax seeds. As a matter of fact these seeds show up an inordinate number of times in his recipes – and I daresay that “none of the myriad of chronic health issues affecting millions of Americans are due to not eating enough chia, hemp, and flax seeds.” Of course it would be silly to expect these seeds to be magic bullet cure-alls, but that is the standard that he held the broccoli to, so fair’s fair.
So it becomes very clear that Andy Bellatti is highly concerned with specific nutritional compositions of and differences between foods. In fact, the hypocrisy reaches levels that will bust everyone’s irony meters. While Bellatti tries to give enhanced levels of Glucoraphanin in the Beneforté broccoli a bad ‘raph, he is quite delighted to advertise such chemicals as important reasons to eat cruciferous vegetables in the first place!
In this blog post extolling the virtues of broccoli rabe, Bellatti says the following,
For example, it offers high amounts of isothiocyanates, compounds that fiercely battle carcinogens in the body. High isothiocyanate consumption has been shown to significantly reduce risk of developing breast, esophageal, lung, and prostate cancers.
Compare that to what he said about the Beneforté:
Of course, this obsession with glucoraphanin is a silly and myopic distraction.
Apparently Bellatti is quite familiar with silly and myopic distractions himself. He gives completely opposite opinions of these compounds depending upon the end goal of his argument. It is apparent from his blog that his food philosophy includes focusing in on these nutrients, and so by rejecting the nutrient-focus of this broccoli, he is also rejecting what seems to be his own nutritional philosophy.
Politics, Politics, Politics
He then proceeds to reveal what I think is the real reason for his distaste with the Beneforté, that it is made by Monsanto.
The biggest irony of this product lies in Monsanto’s claim that Beneforté “help[s] maintain your body’s defenses against the damage of environmental pollutants and free radicals.”
Environmental pollutants? As in, the ones that have have increased exponentially as a result of genetic engineering?
He cites The Organic Center’s 13-year report on pesticide use, which we have already discussed here and noted that it compared pesticides of wildly different impacts on human health and the environment as being equivalent by weight. In other words, one pound of a nasty herbicide such as atrazine equals one pound of roundup, which is far less nasty. Genetically engineered herbicide tolerant crops have caused a shift in herbicide use from sprays such as atrazine to safer ones such as glyphosate – which are physically heavier have a lower environmental impact quotient (EIQ) per pound, so The Organic Center reports it as an increase in herbicide by weight even though it is a safer one. The study’s author, Charles Benbrook, is well aware of this problem. The report also demonstrates that GE has reduced insecticide use, but minimizes the actual impact of this by subtracting the pounds from the total. His approach makes math easy, but misleads about the overall picture.
Andy Bellatti also cites the Environmental Working Group page on herbicides, which only reinforces this point. What examples of nasty herbicides do they use to talk about health effects? Why, atrazine! One of the one’s that genetic engineering has replaced with roundup on many farms. While he was trying to catch Monsanto in an irony, he fell into one himself.
And, above all, let’s not allow Monsanto to get away with gimmicky healthwashing.
The real reason that Andy Bellatti set out to criticize this broccoli variety was not because it was a bad idea, but was because it was an idea held by a company that he dislikes. Actually, considering that Monsanto only just bought Seminis Vegetable Seeds in 2005 to form the company’s vegetable seeds division, it was probably an idea already set in motion before Monsanto had anything to do with it.
That’s a ‘Raph
Rather than base an opinion of the Beneforté broccoli variety on a consistent nutritional philosophy, a consideration of the scientific evidence, or even basic research that both his degrees in Journalism and Dietetics should have prepared him for, Bellatti decides to instead base it on his opinion of the company that is marketing it. How much of his dietary advice follows the same pattern, I am left wondering? Are clients hiring a dietitian or a food policy activist?
He completely missed an opportunity to discuss what we know and don’t know about Glucoraphanin and the precise details about how it interacts with our bodies, and then express an opinion about the relative merits of this improvement. But he rejected even the idea of learning anything about it before uttering a cynical burp of bad sulfurous broccoli breath.
There are more things to think about that I haven’t even gotten into. Would the promise of a greater benefit lead to more broccoli consumption, or perhaps less? Are there other interactions that this trait might have for better or for worse with people’s health? What standards ought there to be for health claims based on achievements in plant breeding? There is certainly room for discussion below, but I saw this as an opportunity for everyone to learn more about a health-oriented crop variety which is one of the first in many that are sure to come. The real facts about the biochemistry, genetics, breeding, and marketing are far more interesting to talk about.
I just noticed that there is a Green Cartoon making fun of the broccoli based on Bellatti’s article. Would they be interested in a cartoon of Bellatti arguing with himself over Isothiocyanates?
I’m not sure that is particularly meaningful… on what basis are we measuring what is and is not physically heavier? (atrazine is heavier than glyphosate if you consider molecular weight, for instance ~215 cf 169 – so on a molecule by molecule basis….) – for weed control you use less atrazine than glyphosate simply because it takes less atrazine to kill a plant than it takes glyphosate (different modes of action, different activities etc) – the relative toxicity per pound is much higher (or EIQ per pound I guess, as this is the most widely cited figure for the benefit of glyphosate based herbicides over other systems) to the extent that even for much less used in terms of weight you’re still better off using glyphosate – which needn’t necessarily be the case, but just happens to be so (I’m guessing for instance that if atrazine killed stuff effectively at 1/10th its current suggested application rate that you’d flip-flop the environmentally most awesome herbicide, although that’s a guess, it could be 1/100th or 1/5th, 1/xth perhaps is a better way to phrase it)
The cartoon isn’t even consistent – the church is quite clearly in the wrong spot.
Ewan, thanks for point that out. You are right, I was referring to the relative weight in terms of how much you need to be effective, and what the environmental and health impact is for those amounts. I made a change to the post to reflect that, with a link to more info about EIQ. Simply put, a pound of glyphosate is not equal to a pound of atrazine.
Where should the church be?
Evidently from my shot chat with the cartoonist, he’s not interested in either the ironies of Bellatti arguing against himself, nor the irony of calling broccoli ‘natural.’
Generally the problem is on the left and the “solution” on the right, it appears to be wrong in the church/strip club frame however.
Although perhaps I’m mistaken…
Pedantic to a fault.
An embarassing trait in one prone to constant lapses in thinking.
Haha, funnier than the cartoonist!
Thanks you SO much for hashing this all out! I was a fan of Andy Bellatti’s no-nonsense approach when he dissected the pseudoscience in Skinny Bitch but he has recently took a rather abrupt turn down the same road himself I’m afraid. You’re spot on with his dismissal of nutritional composition in spite of Monsanto while normally he’ll expound upon those in his nutrition posts.
It’s unfortunate to lose another RD when it’s hard enough for people to find a decent source of science-based nutrition information. Bellatti has jumped the shark in his “Busting Monsanto’s ‘better’ broccoli” post, too bad.
Nice article Karl. However, it doesn’t address the points that Mr. Bellatti was actually making in his article, and is written in a snarky tone. That in itself is a putoff.
Monsanto coming up with a “better broccoli” to combat environmental pollutants that they themselves are one of the primary manufacturers of is entirely ridiculous. Not the broccoli, the hypocrisy of Monsanto.
As for genetically modified anything, if I know it’s a Monsanto GM product – genetically modified to not die when it takes a dousing of Round Up – then I won’t buy it or eat it. My husband is a horticulturist, and he agrees. Don’t eat pesticides, or pesticide ready GMO crops.
Full disclosure, Monsanto employee here, comments contained herein and elsewhere (and over there) are entirely my own view and not that of Monsanto).
I assume then that you were equally put off by Bellatti’s piece?
Two quibbles with this, first Monsanto is not the primary manufacturer of any environmental pollutants which the improved broccoli would potentially combat (the only chemical which Monsanto really manufacturs in any bulk is roundup herbicide, which isn’t harmful to humans and thus requires absolutely nothing in the way of broccoli to combat it) – perhaps historically they have been major polluters (as has been any major chemical company, it comes with the territory, particularly when you delve far enough back in time to an era devoid of decent regulation or testing) but this is no longer the case (they’re a seed company first and foremost now) second why is it ridiculous, even if one works under the erroneous assumption that Monsanto is producing the very pollutants the broccoli combats, for Monsanto to do both? Clearly it doesn’t only work on Monsanto generated pollutants, clearly there are associated (I don’t know how tenuously or otherwise) health benefits with the phytochemicals under discussion, why then is it either ridiculous or hypocritical to be (hypothetically) the source of a pollutant and offer a solution to pollutants (assuming you ain’t doing the former to sell the latter, which rather than being ridiculous or hypocritical would instead be criminal)
What about the genetically modified products to not get eaten by insects and thus require less spraying with insecticides? What is your stance on those?
That’s all well and good, but being a horticulturalist is about as meaningful in making that statement as is being a plumber, a professional wrestler or a theoretical physicist – the scientific evidence is that eating vanishingly small levels of pesticides in the food has no health impact, and if you’re going to go down the road of suggesting that it does it is probably worth noting that RR crops are sprayed with less toxic (not that it matters as the residue levels are below those which have any effect in either case) herbicides than non RR-crops – and also noting that the mantra “don’t eat pesticides” is an utterly stupid one, particularly from a horticulturalist, as plants are veritable pesticide factories.
Ewar, you have obviously been brainwashed by Monsanto and I can see you’re working hard here to protect its reputation. But, as an employee of Monsanto I am sure you could not do otherwise and any reasonable and rational person would conclude that your claims are not objective, and overlook the big picture of social, economic, and environmental impacts.
Case in point: few years ago Monsanto attempted to release Terminator seeds for production that would force farmers to buy seed from Monsanto every year. How is this fair or natural? Do YOU see it as a money saving practice? I don’t.
Secondly, farmers in India year after year keep losing cotton harvest because GMO cotton continues to fail them. Of course, it is not widely publicized by your perfect little company Monsanto, but the info and facts are out there – search for them yourself. The bottom line is that Monsanto is not good for everyone as you’d like to purport in your flawed and tainted reasoning. People will be suffering NOT because of GMO seeds, but of Monsanto and the like who hold all the power and other pay the price, and their livelihoods, for the mistakes that Monsanto makes.
Many people like living their lives traditionally, and what Monsanto would like to do is privatize all the food in the world, put it under lock and key, patent EVERYTHING, and control people’s lives through food. You have to honest with yourself, Ewan, because what you’ve commented above about the safety and convenience of GMO is a lie. Monsanto is a criminal, one of the biggest GMO giants and perpetrators at the same time, in the world. I do not need to go into details of criminal cases that Monsanto has been convicted on. You need to open your eyes and look at the situation, because let’s be honest – governments are weary of GMOs for the right reasons: their safety has not been proven and the corporations like Monsanto keep pushing governments to make the wrong choices by saying “give us the market and monopoly and we’ll cut you in on it.” Just look at the FDA, it’s Monsanto’s bitch.
But most importantly, much of the evidence you stated in your post is unreliable, and ambiguous at best. As I said, you’re blind to Monsanto’s crimes because you work there. Out of curiosity, how much do they pay you to promote Monsanto on here?
I don’t know where you get your information, but before Monsanto even had part ownership of the “Terminator” gene patent, they stated publicly that they would not use such a thing unless it was widely supported. When they bought the company that owned it, Delta and Pine Land, to get into the business of breeding cotton, they never used it – and to my knowledge, never advocated that it be used.
Farmers in India have been producing massive amounts of cotton, despite what you are saying. Their production and exports are way up. It has been so successful that when there was a shortage of Bt cotton seeds, the farmers were lining up in the streets to get them. No one forced them to do that.
Maybe before you start calling people “brainwashed” and “not objective” you could get your facts straight?
Perhaps you could look up Ad hominem and then address my arguements rather than commiting a logical fallacy.
You could also take a little time to explain why I’ve been pro-GM since age 16 (Monsanto’s work was part of what inspired me to go into genetics) but have only worked for Monsanto since I was 29. Unless brainwashing is a retroactive work this simply doesn’t jive.
… not bring up terminator seeds as if Monsanto developed them or were on the brink of releasing them. (Or frankly see them as a bad thing, but then most people aren’t reasonable or rational, which explains Rick Perry)
… not allege that farmers in India are suffering because of GM crops. At least before first explaining the concurrent massive rise in cotton productivity with release of GM crops, or the adoption rates of GM cotton and retention rates thereof. It’d also behoove them to take a stab at explaining the demand generated, as a result of GM cotton grown in India, for GM cotton in Pakistan.
If my reasoning is flawed then show me where. Calling it tainted because of who I work for is a neat sidestep and a logical fallacy.
Did you compose the above on your traditional laptop, or your traditional tower? Or perhaps a traditional I-pad or next generation cell phone? Was your device powered by traditional electricity? Or are you just a massive hypocrite happy to use technological advances when they suit you but unwilling to allow the same for technologies which disagree with your ideology?
I think the latter is abundantly obvious.
Really? Patent everything? Can you support this evidentially? Also to what extent is control of lives through owning a few traits even possible? Farmers can stop using traits whenever they want, other companies can develop ’em, they’ll eventually drop off patent – and I’m pretty sure that you’d be hard pressed to offer up anything concrete correlating patent ownership and attempts to control peoples lives. Patent ownership starts and ends at making a profit – postulating ridiculous arguements about attempting to control lives is entirely tin foil hat territory.
A succinct arguement scuppered only by its absolute lack of content.
Yes, the evidence I present, like peer reviewed journal articles etc. Obviously far more unreliable and ambiguous than what you’ve provided which I’ll summarize below between two quotation marks for anyone who doesn’t want to read through your drivel again.
You want to play the quote game? Let’s play it. You seem to think you’re pretty smart when taking my words out of the context and building on the fact that they carry no meaning on isolation.
First things first: there are no capital letters in “ad hominem.” First time using it, you poor guy? You should probably look it up yourself, in a legitimate dictionary and no Wikipedia.
Now, let’s get right into you arguments:
“I’ve been pro-GM since age 16 (Monsanto’s work was part of what inspired me to go into genetics) but have only worked for Monsanto since I was 29”
This statement is a hearsay and there is no manner in which you can provide evidence to support it. I guess I’ll have to take you at your word, Monsanto spokesman. Moreover, your GMO fantasies have become nothing short of a self-fulfilling prophecy since you’ve joined Monsanto. You should probably crawl out of your proverbial cave and look it up. Given that your critical thinking facilities have safely been put to rest by virtue of being employed by Monsanto, I am not holding against you the fact that you can’t see the bigger picture.
“At least before first explaining the concurrent massive rise in cotton productivity with release of GM crops”
I am not certain about where you’re getting your facts from. Your comments are quite laughable, considering that more than 100,000 Indian farmers committed suicide due to Monsanto’s GNO cotton failure. As for Pakistan, it’s now too early to tell whether the situation there will be any different. I presume, based on India’s outcome, it will not be any better. I’d share some links with you here if I were allowed – there is enough evidence out there to refute your “superior yield” claims effectively.
“Or are you just a massive hypocrite happy to use technological advances when they suit you but unwilling to allow the same for technologies which disagree with your ideology?”
Whoa, whoa, easy with the big words there, kiddo. I was merely referring to agricultural practices and not in technology in general. Yet another one of your attempts to derail my argument and you, sir, failed miserably. What I was writing about what the basic right of the people to cultivate crops in a traditional, culturally appropriate manner and with Monsanto driving small farmers out of business (again, look this up yourself), it is becoming an increasingly difficult practice to sustain.
But even if you discount the above argument, you still haven’t replied to my comments about Monsanto’s criminal and civil culpability, and convictions that have resulted from its reckless actions. It has recently been fined $1.5 million for false advertising and bribing government officials. $700 million fine was imposed for poisoning the residents of Anniston. Monsanto was slapped with a $2.5 million for illegally distributing seeds to farmers and deliberately mislabeling them. Not exactly a clean track record, is it now? I’m merely stating the facts, something you can’t even begin to wrap your pretty little head around.
“Patent ownership starts and ends at making a profit – postulating ridiculous arguements about attempting to control lives is entirely tin foil hat territory.”
Really? That’s your argument? You should really stick to what you know and that’s how to sugar coat the truth and omit the facts, without using even a little bit of foresight. Monsanto used to be just a chemical company, that is true. There are good reasons why in many countries GMOs are illegal, because you are basically patenting life, which in my view should not be used for profits by crooks like Monsanto and the like. I know you hold a different view, and even though I think it’s not correct, I respect your opinion. There really is no need to be offensive, because the moral debate about patenting plants has been alive and well for ages.
“Obviously far more unreliable and ambiguous than what you’ve provided which I’ll summarize below between two quotation marks for anyone who doesn’t want to read through your drivel ”
A bit angry that I’ve stirred up an argument and burst your bubble about GMOs? Understandably so, but that does not give you the right to make outrageous conclusions such as that. To strengthen your argument, you should probably limit your use of generalizations and stick with critiquing the facts and not make it a personal argument. There is no need for that and you as an exemplary Monsanto employee should know this.
OTOH, it might be like George Bernard Shaw’s “wrestling a pig,” but I need some practice.
Please refrain from semantic quibbling: it cannot win your case, and looks silly when you misspelled the name of the person you were …correcting…. Likewise with where you call the first-hand report of someone “hearsay.” Look it up. And calling someone a “Monsanto Spokesman” when they have just explicitly stated
just looks juvenile.
On to more substantive things: Cotton productivity in India has been extensively discussed and analysed on these pages. Your extraordinary positions need some background, some extraordinary evidence, if you expect them to be afforded credibility. In fact, claims like “Monsanto driving small farmers out of business” and the implicit one that the “basic right of the people to cultivate crops in a traditional, culturally appropriate manner” is somehow jeopardized are so incredible that you really should expound on them more, lest you just look silly. Maybe the origin of the argument is that farmers who adopt new technologies are so much more successful that their less innovative competitors are at a disadvantage in the market? Would you propose imposing a regulatory limit on the productivity or wealth of the farmers, making them into a sort of involuntary “cultural preserve”?
I’ll pass over the comments you make about fines levied and the like: I have no information or expertise there, and you present none.
You said “GMOs are illegal, because you are basically patenting life….” You DO realize you are conflating two different things here, don’t you? “GMO” and “Patent” are not the same thing; either can exist without the other. And let me add that patents and genetic engineering are not even mostly Monsanto things. And, I’m not sure you realize this, there are different kinds of genetic engineering and different kinds of patents, or even things that are NOT patented. Look into the licensing proposed for “Golden Rice.” Are you using a “Straw Man” argument here?
As an aside, you lose credibility when you use casual hypocricy like “There really is no need to be offensive” right after “crooks like Monsanto and the like.” Be offensive if you like, but expect people to respond in kind, especially to statements like this.
The remainder of your last post doesn’t make much sense to me (maybe you could explain?), but appears to be an (another) attempt to be offensive and insulting, patronizing, and refers to “the facts” and some “outrageous conclusion” you believe was based on them. It looks like you are objecting to a statement that your failure to provide (pertinent and verifiable) facts can result in no conclusions (or at best, an empty one). Is this true?
Konstantin: “I am not certain about where you’re getting your facts from.”
Konstantin, someone who wishes to comment so effusively should actually do some research first. Your ad hominems are quite furious, but in this context, so ritual as to be boring.
What I found very precious is your referring to Ewan’s statements about himself as ‘hearsay’. Oops, total category mistake. Hearsay is when you quote another person and that person isn’t available for cross-examination.
Everyone familiar with the situation on the ground in India re Bt cotton knows that the wave of suicides stems from predatory lending practices, and that the suicide rate now is the same as before the introduction of Bt cotton. Surely someone like yourself who enjoys pontification would wish to rest their claims on something remotely respectable.
And seriously, why would you come here to spout ineffitudes without the courtesy of the slightest footnote? Claims as remarkable as yours require remarkable evidence. Is your belly not full? Do you huddle from the cold at night, or burn dung to heat your vegetables?
You are *not* a stakeholder. You’re not informed. Go away.
Based on a first reading, Ewan is accurately characterizing your statements, you are quite laughably being hypocritical. You launched a personal attack against him and then said “stick with critiquing the facts and not make it a personal argument.” Please stop insulting the intelligence of everyone reading this. You fixated on him and made all kinds of assumptions and generalizations and false statements – all to get a rise out of him. In fact, you start your response with quite a level of excitement and delight at supposedly making him “a bit angry.” Based on his behavior on this blog, I would say that he does not sound angry, but rather bemused at the emptiness of your comments, and personal assaults based on your estimation of his entire person, based on a difference in – One – opinion.
You really need to cite where you come up with these cotton suicide figures, and how they are reliable and not cultural mythology. For starters, I recommend reading this paper by the IFPRI on Bt cotton and suicides, it is quite readable and has great information. My suggestion is that if you want to have a substantive discussion about some of these issues, please read up on it, feel free to ask questions, and discuss in a manner that is compatible with our comment policy. But if you seek to focus all your emotions about what is wrong in this world on other people, then you are being a troll and there’s really only one thing to do. It’s your choice.
At no point in my response do I take anything out of context, unless you would like to specifically identify where I do this – I’m merely breaking down your text and responding to individual pieces, the quotations are there to serve a few purposes – first to allow readers to know what I’m ranting about, second to remind me what I’m ranting about without having to scroll back to your diatribe, finally to break up the mammoth block of text I generally wind up constructing after attempting to be all composed and whatnot.
Alrighty then, we’re going to play the grammar nazi game are we? I apologize to regular readers for this break in normal services but if that’s where Konstantin wants to go, that’s where we’ll take him. I generally don’t play this stupid game because I’m as prone to random acts of capitalization, spelling errors and inserted words as the next guy – and as we all know it doesn’t subtract from an argument to have the odd error here and there – but apparently Konstantir is operating at a level of grammatical precision unbeknownst to us mere mortals, and therefore the threefold law of return is most surely in effect.
Let’s refer back to your original post then.
It’s Ewan. You moron.
This doesn’t make sense.
I have to honest with myself? How does one honest with oneself? Moron. Congratulations however on getting my name right at the second attempt. I suppose the N and R keys are practically adjacent on the keyboard – assuming you’re a ham fisted idiot.
Weary or wary? They mean different things, and while I did give you the benefit of the doubt on the first pass you apparently wanted to get into the game, so perhaps you’d like to restate this in a less moronic fashion?
Out of context. Not out of the context.
I assume you mean not, rather than no. Idiot.
Is hearsay. Not is a hearsay. Also, as brought up by others – this isn’t hearsay, it is a first hand report of my own convictions (I had hoped to google out a near illegible copy of some first draft of a rambling essay I had published (with clearly no editorial oversight as alluded previously it was unreadable but undeniably pro-GM) in my university news/magazine thing when I was in second year, alas however my google-fu is weak (which is a bit of a blessing because if memory serves it is an horrific word salad even by comparison to my usual blog posting))
Not in technology in general? Aight.
I may have belaboured the point a little there (hopefully for comic effect to some, probably to the dismay of many) for which I’d apologize if I weren’t such a corporate whore. Lets hope that grammar nazism doesn’t have to raise its contemptuous head again – I’ll be sure to litter my comment with absolute howlers just to make sure you can keep yourself in check.
Let us then, return to my rebuttal such as it is. We’ll return to ad hominem (which I believe I probably ended up capitalizing as I was italicizing it… blame Linnaeus I guess, and possibly the time (check the timestamp on my post and weep) – I enjoy that you spend so much time being a grammar nazi and conveniently sidestep the fact that you are indulging in a massive ad hominem, one which you scurrilously continue with despite having been called out on it. Rather bad form – although in following with the general underlying themes in your piece.
Care to elaborate on this? As it stands it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – in what way has anything been self fulfilling? Did GM traits achieve massive market penetration simply because I joined Monsanto (indeed did they do so retroactively in the knowledge that I would one day join Monsanto? I’ve been here 3 years and am pretty sure that any self fulfilling prophecy was already fulfilled before even my first interview here, most of them before I even moved to the USA – your universe certainly behaves in mysterious ways)
Alas the last part of this statement is utterly contradicted by the first. Nice continuation of the ad hominem though, I’m glad to see you’re focused on limiting your use of generalizations and are sticking with critiquing the facts and not making it a personal argument. Wouldn’t want to be a giant flaming hypocrite now would we?
It’s called the real world. You might like to visit it some time.
If only links were allowed I could link to a report on cotton yields in India … (I can’t link to multiples without being held up in moderation, but a link or two here or there is fine)
You incipient badger turd – you accuse me of utilizing hearsay when describing my own personal convictions and then drop this steaming pile into the thread? This is unevidenced hearsay which has been countered multiple times and only perpetuates in the community of reality immune imbeciles with an axe to grind. Congratulations on your continued membership of this elite clade.
If you’re afraid of linky links simply paste your citations into the reply box – anyone here can use PubMed or Google Scholar to verify your claims. (a quick perusal of 2011 papers pulled by the search “cotton yields in India” returns the rather common occurance of phrases along the lines of “since the introduction of GM cotton Indian cotton yields have doubled/increased/yadda yadda” which seems in direct contradiction to your waffling)
The quoted section wasn’t even particularly verbose. For comic effect you could have at the minimum picked one of my more pretentious bits – I’m pretty good at sounding the pompous ass and you’ve utterly failed at highlighting this to any effect.
So you admit that you’re prefectly happy denying folk technology which will help them out when it is in a field completely unrelated to anything you do? Noted.
Nobody has taken that right away. Please do make an effort and provide some sort of citation – I’m predicting you drop an S bomb on us, please make at least a little effort and avoid this as it is tediously familiar to all and sundry.
Yes. Please to counter it with something other than incredulity, your subsequent paragraph makes absolutely no ground in terms of establishing that what big mean ole M is doing is trying to control lives.
Excuse me for not responding to every last point in your Gish gallop, what a terrible person I am. And at 6:30 in the morning too, unacceptable I know, particularly given your abject failure to vaguely respond to a damn thing I said.
The false advertising claims were, I believe, a civil suit – and if I recall correctly revolved around rules stating that herbicides cannot be called safe in advertising (working on memory here, so may be off), the bribery piece is especially funny given that Monsanto self reported the issue – which is exactly what one would expect of a nefarious criminal organization. The $2.5 Million settlement? Another self reporting issue which was down to the grower guide not having the correct wording which was required – essentially to inform growers that in 10 Texas counties the traits concerned were not allowed (they were subsequently approved in these counties, although that is somewhat besides the point)
On Anniston – a legacy of the horrific mismanagement of the chemical industry endemic in our society. Monsanto were rightly, in my opinion, heavily fined for this – my stance remains that this was in the past, and that the company today is utterly different (as is the regulatory framework behind chemical manufacturing etc)
You’re a liar, not one piece of anything else you have said remotely suggests that you respect my opinion, or even my right to have a differing opinion. (just to be on the record on this – I utterly respect your right to hold whatever opinion you hold, but on current evidence I respect your opinion almost as much as I respect Ryan Seacrest’s influence on society)
Irritated that you’re peddling nonsense and pulling a big Ad Hom. You’d have to do a lot more than you have to inspire anger – I enjoy the sound of my keyboard clacking so frankly I’m borderline happy that you’ve at least inspired a bit more of that and a bit less messing about with vast datasets and or feeding waffles to a 13 month old (which is the difference between what I am doing while typing this post, and what I was doing during the last, for anyone who’s keeping track of these things)
Merely responding in kind, perhaps you should attend to the beam in thy own eye?
(Apologies to Karl and Anastasia, I realize the above likely falls foul of the code of conduct or whatever, I’d rather like Henry back however, so do request that given this is a response in kind it not be overly heavily edited – apologies to other readers for the vast unreadable block of text to which this is the post script, regulars should have known to avoid it when they saw the poster name)
Awww, that’s so MEAN:
I never get to go first; even when I think I finally typed fast enough, it’s just that the better take-downs are delayed in moderatation, eventually to bury my best efforts. This blog needs a Schott Rule (http://ron.outcrop.org/blog/?p=1337)….
Of course, if there were enough challenges posted, there would be no reason to ration access….
You appear to have been first to the punch – Karl and I merely responded to the comment rather than the whole thread, thus placing us directly after rather than at the bottom of the pile.
Any references I make to 6:30AM refer to my initial response, rather than the 2nd one – got to have something to do while attempting to persuade a 13 month old that the floor isn’t where breakfast belongs.
Apologies to Karl and Anastasia, I realize the above likely falls foul of the code of conduct or whatever, I’d rather like Henry back however
Well this thread has gone to hell in a handbasket, and I think it is partly my fault for the tone I set at the beginning, right down to the spelling police. (Which I regret because Andy Bellati has closed off my ability to respond to him on his blog as a result.)
I was going to make sure it never saw the light of day, but I can’t stop laughing because I find your delivery utterly hilarious. I only barely lightened it up. I looked up the meaning of “incipient” just to make sure that my mental image correctly matched it. If there are any tattered remains of either of you when this thread is complete, we can get back to the collegial atmosphere in the other 99% of the posts…
By the way, Ewan, if you are logged into your account (made easy by the new handy-dandy link buttons on the top right) your comments will not be held for moderation, no matter how many links you put in. Try not to abuse these new powers. I swear it will work! I had to wrestle with the WordPress Code Demons which lie to me all the time, but I found a plugin that banished them and will now allow registered users to bring infinite light to our discussions.
That rather assumes however that I’ll remember to log in, or remember that I am logged in, or that whatever archaic version of explorer Monsanto is using will keep me logged in.
Too many variables, with the result that it is highly probable that whenever I include more than one link I’ll not be logged in, and if I take the time to log in I’ll forget whatever it is I wanted to link to.
I’m happy to return to the collegial atmosphere whenever you wish. Just the other day I was telling a colleague just where he could sti… nevermind… probably am not allowed to disclose that due to corporate secretiveness etc.
You can tell us. You’re just not allowed to identify the material involved, the method used, and the result.
Sadly, sometimes I think that is exactly the point.
I have in the past seen arguments that can be boiled down to a patronizing view that poor farmers should be forced to obey the edicts of an NGO or idealogue, whether they would choose to or not.
In particular, I’m thinking of a case where the argument was that farmers in a particular area needed to protected from foreign germplasm, hybrids (not GMOs) intended to increase yield, but that could have (shudder) impaired the purity of their
precious bodily fluidserr… local varieties (in that case, maize, and by definition, low-productivity strains). It was demanded that the choice to plant non-traditional varieties or hybrids be withheld from the farmers.
To my mind, preserving traditional methods, land races and varieties is all well and good, but subsidiary to the rights to survival, food security, health, self-determination, and prosperity.
Potentially patentable insult, therefore I’d have to discuss with a patent scientist before disclosing it to the public!
Can anyone tell me how, as a backyard gardener, I could try growing this broccoli? Seminis web site says nothing about it that I could find.
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