I-522 Open Thread

Today, Americans will vote on a number of local political races and ballot measures. Among them is Washington initative I-522, which concerns mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods sold within the state. For those in Washington who remain undecided, we do have an analysis of the bill posted here, otherwise, this is an open thread for readers to post news about polling results, and aftermath of the election.
Check the election results as they come out here.
As of 9:04 Pacific Time on November 5 (election night), the vote tally is:
No: 536,272 (54.8%)
Yes: 442,127 (45.2%)
Total: 978,399
Update: As of 8:15 pm Pacific Time on November 6, the vote tally is:
No: 623,756 (54.3%)
Yes: 524,525 (45.7%)
Total: 1,148,281
It appears that I-522 has failed to pass by approximately a 9-point margin. Additional mail-in votes being counted does not appear to be moving the results significantly in any direction.

Hey people, BE CIVIL. Don’t come into a disagreement firing all cannons.

Save your cannons for the confetti!


  1. The tally can be followed here.
    As @r343l told me yesterday, Washington State is now a vote by mail state, hence results may be delayed some (they must be post marked by the 5th of Nov.).

  2. They will start posting results (I believe) around 8PM. The first “drop” will be fairly large (I think it’s usually all ballots received up till the previous Friday or Saturday). Then it’s dribbles daily with estimates about how many are still coming in (which lets them decide if a particular election is decided). Mail-in ballots are a funny thing. 🙂
    I’ve mostly avoided TV advertising (generally just watched ads once to see what the “sides” were saying). The stuff I got in the mail has been pretty awful and lacked nuance (shocking, I know.) The No campaign probably diluted their message a bit with laundry lists of problems with I-522 (we got two different mailings emphasizing this — one a few weeks ago, and one yesterday). I suspect a lot of voters understand that initiatives often have weird exceptions (and some of the “No” claims are silly to me), but money arguments again seem like their “winning” claim. The official stuff from the Yes campaign was largely free of fear-mongering or implied harm claims — that was left up to the associated groups.
    Whole Foods locally has been running (with very large banners in stores, etc.) a campaign with the slogan “Will Vote For Food” which I’ve found painful every time I see it. It’s just so tone deaf. For non-American-English speakers, “will X for food” is a common sign you see homeless or otherwise destitute people use where X is usually “work” or something similar. I was really shocked to see Whole Foods, which caters largely to a very wealthy demographic, using that slogan.

  3. I would be as shocked as I was for Prop37 if this fails. And then I predict it’s off to the courts.
    But I wish we could pin people down with their predictions. According to the labelers, this will end cancer, autism, allergy, obesity, herbicides, patents, and various types of tyranny. Honestly, I wish someone would hold them to their predictions.

  4. I predict a win will be challenged as unconstitutional. That’s a gamble industry would like to take since all these state (and some federal) proposals are all just clones, a defeat of one will kill all existing and future efforts that use this flawed P37 farmework. One ruling to kill them all. Hmmm, sounds a lot like a monoculture problem, doesn’t it?
    A loss, of course, will just lead to the next round of the cloned label wars in yet another state.

  5. Ah, right. I was predicting a court case, but it didn’t occur to me that they needed to make an example of one to quash the others too.
    You and your strategery.

  6. Karl, life is full of inconsistencies. When BT is fired with a Helios Gene Gun into the cells and seeds of an heirloom corn, the unpredictable proteins and toxins you trigger are inconsistent.
    If there’s a house on fire in your neighborhood, do you just let it catch fire to all the other homes so they’re consistent? No, you grab a hose and put out the fire.
    The recombinant argle bargle your clan has been toying with seems to have filled your head with a sense of impunity. Wake up.
    Brace yourself for the firehose.

  7. Agree, and there is polyculture to some extent, but probably not on the points that a constitutional challenge would be made (compelled speech).
    {Speculation on} It will be interesting if it occurs. In my view, industry is far more comfortable and practiced in the courtroom than the ballot box. That would be a battle on their turf. The perceived prize would be tempting for them. Unfortunately the public PR would almost certainly be all against them and probably make the long run acceptance issue even worse. Some industry members may see this as just the cost of doing business, but others may be getting tired of the battle and move to get a federal standard that they can deal with. That schism within the industry faction may occur between the seed producers and the food producers. We already saw hints of that where food companies tried to hide their No support behind the anonymous GMA while the big GM seed companies donated out in the open. {Speculation off}

  8. If the OSGATA v Monsanto and Bowman cases are any indication, the anti-gmo crowd grasps at legal straws without evaluating the legal leg they have to stand on. They litigate from emotion and not the strength of their legal argument.

  9. Just arm chair politics here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some industry players have had this big picture, Plan B in mind all along. Lose the battle, win the war type thing.

  10. I’m sorry, but a house burning down is nothing like a genetically engineered crop, that is just silly! Funny how with various proteomics studies we can’t seem to find these phantom new toxins that you speak of.

  11. We have labeling laws for Cholesterol which is essential for life. GMO isn’t essential for life, and is most probably harmful. Let’s label GMO and not label cholesterol.

  12. I don’t care what GMOs do or don’t do. I don’t want to eat them. And when I shop, I want to know what I am buying. I’ve lived long enough to see what is done in the name of science, even good science, like introduced mysis shrimp to Flathead Lake in Montana. The unexpected happened and none of the scientists saw it coming. I don’t trust people who play with life forms at all. Nor their motives for doing so.

  13. “unpredictable proteins and toxins”
    Please stop, and tell all your friends to stop too. That silly boogeyman has been exorcised repeatedly. If you are afraid of “unpredictable proteins and toxins,” then I hope you are on the bandwagon to ban macadamias!

  14. Paula,
    And _I_ want to know if any infidel has ever touched my food: I have a right to know, don’t I?

  15. There is evidence that dietary cholesterol can be harmful (weak, but it exists). Is there any evidence that this substance called “GMO” is harmful?

  16. Doesn’t anyone remember that a very similar thing occurred with Trans Fats labeling a few years back? All that shit is labeled now and not much has changed! Pit a damn label on GMOs already.

  17. It could be enough time for the consumer-benefit traits to become known and appealing. And that would change the dynamic too.

  18. If I provide you with the catalog of peer review studies, specific to plant toxin expression in GE strains, will you post it?

  19. If this does pass, I hope the first thing we see out of the Bio-tech companies and Food Manufacturers is a rush to lawsuits.
    If anything, this labeling initiative has proven how desperate they are to hide these ingredients in the food supply, at a time when consumer awareness is at an all time high. Their reputations are already at a low, and a rush to sue to prevent a successful voter initiative will completely tank any remaining consumer confidence they the have left (if any). Now that the Grocery Manufacturers Association was forced to reveal the food companies who were trying to hide their donations through the GMA slush fund, these companies will already be seeing a hit in their sales numbers as a growing number of consumers boycott their products and seek alternatives. To fall back on litigation as a last ditch effort to protect profits would be a PR catastrophe.
    Keep on digging that hole…

  20. Thank you very much for putting up this thread. When Monsanto spends millions trying to persuade us to vote one way, it’s a given they’re not doing it for our benefit, but for theirs. I voted YES on I-522. I eagerly await the returns and hope the voters of WA state are wise enough to give Monsanto a big fat black eye.
    Yes, we’re a vote-by-mail state.

  21. corn flour, corn masa, corn meal, corn oil, corn sugar, corn syrup, cornstarch, cottonseed oil, canola oil, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), modified food starch, monosodium glutamate (MSG), Nutrasweet, Phenylalanine, sorbitol, soy flour, soy lecithin, soy milk, soy oil, soy protein, sugar (sugar beets)
    Just to name a few, but then again you already knew that. Nice Distraction, but those aren’t working anymore.

  22. @OrchidGrowinMan: In numerous polls, 90% of Americans want GMO foods labeled. When you get 90% of the public to agree with your concern, then let’s talk. 64 countries label GMO foods, even those bastions of democracy, Russia and Saudia Arabia. If GMOs are so great, why not label them? The reason is because there is *zero* benefit to the consumer, only risk. Feel free to eat all the GMOs you want, but I want to avoid them. Just like the tobacco companies told us smoking was safe, biotech/chemical companies tell us GMOs are safe. There are no long term human safety studies proving they are safe. As a scientist and engineer, I am not taking that risk with GMOs. And don’t forget Monsanto told us DDT and Agent Orange was safe. Just follow the money, don’t trust someone when their pocketbook depends upon it.

  23. Living with/without science is not the issue. Would you prefer to eat corn that has pesticides as a permanent part of it’s DNA (pesticides that target hormones in insects that cause them to, among many other ailments, eat until they literally explode; or would you prefer a healthier CHOICE? The free market system is based on consumer choice. If we take this choice away we might as well let the big Chem companies spoon feed us all into early graves.
    If Monsanto (and the like) had done what they originally said they were doing, genetically modify food for higher production or drought tolerance, then they might not have as bad a reputation. But they decided to modify corn to resist their primary revenue stream, Roundup. Yet there are still arguments that we should trust that all GMO’s are harmless. Why, then won’t they let independent labs test for problems?

  24. I-522 quiz questions to follow.
    1. Under I-522, which of the following products must be labeled as “genetically engineered,” “partially produced with genetic engineering,” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering”? Check all that apply.
    A. cheese produced with a cow enzyme (protein) extracted from genetically engineered bacteria or fungi
    B. beer fermented with genetically engineered yeast
    C. genetically engineered salmon at a restaurant
    D. certified organic food containing genetically engineered contaminants
    E. a juice blend (bought at a grocery store) containing one-half percent strawberries genetically engineered with antifreeze genes from an antarctic fish
    F. a fruit smoothie (bought at a deli) containing fifty percent strawberries genetically engineered with antifreeze genes from an antarctic fish
    G. Milk made from cows injected with a genetically engineered vaccine made from virus DNA
    H. A fruit derived from cell fusion between the poisonous deadly nightshade and a tomato
    I. A fruit derived from cell fusion between a peach and a banana
    J. A seedless canteloupe made by bombarding embryos with fast neutrons from a nuclear reactor

  25. There is no scientific consensus that GMOs are safe, contrary to what biotech/chemical companies want you to believe.
    It is bad enough they are put into our food supply without adequate safety testing, it is even worse when they are not labeled. I am a scientist and an engineer and I do cost, risk, benefit analysis for a living. Monsanto gets the benefit, we the consumer get the risk and the costs.

  26. I have talked to several farmers firsthand having troubles feeding certain varieties of GMO corn to animals. One large hog farmer in Iowa went bankrupt before he figured out what was causing his sows to act pregnant and not give birth. It was found to be caused by a certain variety of GMO corn. Another farmer noticed his hogs having a much smaller vet bill after he switched to a variety of Non GMO corn for feed etc. Genes from a nut tree were inserted into a grain crop. People allergic to nuts became sick. This GMO was quietly taken off the market. One very large national hog grower contacted me to buy Non-GMO corn. They will advertise their pork as being healthier. A large chicken grower in South Dakota is looking to buying only non-GMO feed soon. The tide has already turned. When a food is labeled as non-GMO sales jump 15%. Companies that won’t use nonGMO grains will be left behind. Win or lose the tide has already turned. Whole Foods wants all its food labeled soon. Those who can’t label their products as GMO free will lose sales. Sorry Monsanto!

  27. No. They may be gmo but what exactly is a a gmo “ingredient?” GMO is not an ingredient, but a method. What exactly is it in those gmos that want to know?

  28. End cancer? Come on someone on the “labelers” side said it would end all those things? REALLY. Or is this interpretational license.

  29. @Jim
    But the real question was not asked. “Are you willing to pay more for your food to cover the costs of GE specific labels”? That is the real question and i bet the % would be verry different if it was asked.

  30. “Moreover, the AAAS Board said, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and “every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.” AAAS 2012
    Note: this comment edited to restore civility.

  31. For independent tests, look-up independent tests. See “Genera” in this site. “Argumentum ex Ignorantum” is unconvincing. As has been discussed before, and before that, and some more before that, and in other places, and in more places, and before those, the absurd roadblocks to the introduction of new traits have resulted in only very large companies being able to release only very profitable traits. Not-for-profits, efforts for the poor, for the starving, for the sick and dying, those have been blocked, lest the true value and virtue of this technology make the detractors risible. For pride, children are dying.

  32. Just every scientific study (must be done properly) has failed to find any such thing. Funny how farmers around the world continue to use GE feed and haven’t noticed that.
    You are apparently unaware of the reduced fumonisin B1 levels in Bt corn vs other corn. Perhaps you should look into what fumonisin B1 does to embryos.

  33. ““GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.” WHO 2013
    And from the members of every country in Europe’s national Academies of science , the EASAC
    “There is no validated evidence that GM crops have greater adverse impact on health and the environment than any other technology used in plant breeding. There is compelling evidence that GM crops can contribute to sustainable development goals with benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and the economy.” (2013)

  34. Toby your post made me think some on this. 85% of the world’s cheese uses GE rennin but is not labeled in Europe. Some beer and wine use GE yeast but not labeled in Europe because they are made “with” not made from GE ingredients or is it made “from” and not made with. It is hard to follow that logic.

  35. I think you are confused: Pioneer once had a project intended to enhance the protein quality of soy, but on further investigation, they found they had made a mistake, and the project was abandoned (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_controversies)
    Do you have a reference for the “Iowa farmer” or the “Another Farmer”?
    Can you tell me why the name “Monsanto? is being disparagingly invoked? Is it because of the “protocols of the elders of Zion”?

  36. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be a bit more positive and less aggressive in responding to each other? Maybe talk about what should be done better in the future? Or at least some friendly commentary on how different parts of the campaign ran their efforts rather than refighting the same old “this study X” vs “this respected body that?” 🙁

  37. How’s this? Here’s the new star of the anti-GMO drama:
    Washington ,Voting #YesOn522 is voting for food from farms Voting NO on 522 is Voting for PHARM Food making us sick,cancer diabetes,allerg
    Or perhaps
    Instead fight WA #YesOn522 labeling, Biotech #Monsanto DuPont Big Food GMA shda used $9mil& $23 mil 2 fight #GMO linked cancer &oth diseases
    How many examples do you want Steve De?

  38. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_controversies
    Genetic modification can also be used to remove allergens from foods, potentially reducing the risk of food allergies.[79] A hypo-allergenic strain of soybean was tested in 2003 and shown to lack the major allergen that is found in the beans.[80] A similar approach has been tried in ryegrass, which produces pollen that is a major cause of hay fever: here a fertile GM grass was produced that lacked the main pollen allergen, demonstrating that the production of hypoallergenic grass is also possible.[81]
    The development of GM products which have been found to cause allergic reactions have been halted by the companies developing them before they were brought to market. In the early 1990s, Pioneer Hi-Bred attempted to improve the nutrition content of soybeans intended for animal feed by adding a gene from the Brazil nut. Because they knew that people have allergies to nuts, Pioneer ran both in vitro tests for allergy, in which they tested whether serum from people with nut allergies reacted to the transgenic soy; they also did skin prick tests with protein from the transgenic soy. The tests showed that the transgenic soy was allergenic.[82] Pioneer Hi-Bred therefore discontinued further development.[83][

  39. Yes, any one shot is fairly unpredictable with that older tech. However, even then they were able to still sequence the genome. So, they would just inject the wanted sequence into the plant embryos until they got one where the injected sequence was in just he right place. Therefore the end result was still quite precise.

  40. The fruit made by cell fusion between a peach and a banana would have to be labeled (if bought in a grocery store), because the products of cell fusion between sexually incompatible species from different plant families (a completely arbitrary measure of genetic distance) are defined by I-522 as genetically engineered.
    The deadly nightshade-tomato cybrid would not have to be labeled, since both are from the Solanaceae.
    Starting in 2019, the juice blend (bought at a grocery store) containing one-half percent strawberries genetically engineered with antifreeze genes from an antarctic fish would have to be labeled, since the allowable GE content in non-exempt foods drops from 0.9% in 2015 to 0.0% in 2019.
    So much for I-522’s “right to know” claim.

  41. Yep. There’s a big difference between want and demand. Want is just liking to have something; demand is being willing and able to pay for it. I’m sure 90% of people would answer yes if asked if they want a Ferrari, but that doesn’t mean they have demand for it. If 90% of people really have demand for labeled foods (assuming that number is accurate), they will buy them, the market will adjust, and there will be no need for a law.

  42. If you don’t want genetically engineered crops, you don’t have to eat them. It is your choice, and you are free to learn how to avoid them if you so choose. Most of the genetically engineered crops on the market are agronomic crops: corn, soy, cotton, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, and a few horticultural ones, summer squash, papaya, and sweet corn too. You are free look at labels and to choose organic if an item contains any of those things. It requires education and effort on your part, but if that’s how you choose to live, more power to you.
    Your premise, however, makes me wonder: would you eat a HoneyCrisp apple, an OSU Blue tomato, or a pluot, all of which were created by people ‘playing with life?’

  43. Here is the Farmer-Jerry Rosman-from Harlan Iowa I was referring to: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Farmer+feeds+GMO+corn&qs=n&form=QBVR&pq=farmer+feeds+gmo+corn&sc=0-13&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&mid=9CF984B4E47A7B8BA6299CF984B4E47A7B8BA629 Farmers raising non-GMO grains are getting premiums prices and the yields are the same. I was in a field of organic white corn that yielded 260 bu/ac and was worth $16/bu while GMO corn is selling for only $4/bu and was yielding the same. An agronomist was in fields of Smartstax corn (GMO corn) that was flat on the ground because the BT gene for rootworm control failed. The Monsanto rep was dumbfounded when grilled by the agronomist. I have seen fields of roundup ready crops that were full of weeds-marestail and waterhemp because roundup failed. whether 522 passes or not the tide is turning. A large hog farm is planning to switch to non-GMO grains and was trying to source 2 million bushels of non-GMO corn to start. They had Spectrum Seeds (a non-GMO seed company) contacting farmers for grain. Demand for non-GMO grains and other food is growing. Just look at how many people are voting for 522. That is demand. A company can have an edge if it promotes its products as non-GMO. Sales have gone up 15% on some products after promoting them as non-GMO. You can argue all day long about GMO’s but in the end the consumer decides.

  44. I wake up astonished that the lead is still in place. I know this isn’t final, but I really expected this to win, or at least be much closer.
    Cue the vote fraud claims, the suppression of votes conspiracy theories, etc.
    I was hoping that after Prop37 there would be a real reflection on what’s going on here for the voters. Instead it was just whaaaaaaaaaaaa teh TV ads….. Yes, there’s no doubt those carry some influence. But there may be something else about the message that’s not really working. Newspaper boards aren’t all that stupid. Perhaps it’s the flat-out wild claims that people are realizing aren’t true. The health claims, the zero cost. Maybe you really can’t BS the people as much as GMO haters think they can.
    Actually, they probably don’t know it’s BS. They talk only to themselves and within their little circle everyone agrees with each other. I wonder if they are capable of the real reflection that’s needed.

  45. A company can have an edge if it promotes its products as non-GMO. Sales have gone up 15% on some products after promoting them as non-GMO. You can argue all day long about GMO’s but in the end the consumer decides.

    Sounds like the current voluntary system is working fine. So what’s the point of mandating GMO labeling?

  46. We have yet to vote on GMO labeling issues in Michigan.
    Help me out here. Lots of claims lots of finger pointing and LOTS of money being spent to stop the bill. Isn’t it about labeling? Do I, or do I not have the ability to choose my “FOOD” according to the ingredients or it’s makeup?

  47. You do have a right to choose based on ingredients. It’s just that there’s no appreciable difference between the current GMO’s and their “unmodified” counterparts. They’re substantially equivalent so a label isn’t required for now. In the future, if/when nutritional value of a product is enhanced by GM then it would require a label under current guidlines. But I would expect a corporation would want to draw attention to the fact that their product has more calcium or iron, for example, and would want to label that fact anyways.
    The GMO label may also imply a risk when there isn’t none. This is a point of view held by the FDA.
    Also, corporations have rights also. They have a right not to label if there’s no risk or health concerns. I remember debates over laws requiring labeling of rBST in milk products coming down to a violation of a corporation’s right to free speech.

  48. That’s for you guys to figure out. What is it about?
    If it’s about information, this label wasn’t it. This label was fear-mongering. It would add nothing actionable to the item except that some people would want to avoid it because of their fears and philosophical objections. And if that’s the case, voluntary labeling is a better strategy anyway.
    So, it wasn’t about real information if you think about it.
    Was it about marketing? If you want to drive people away from one product to another, this might have worked. Or did consumers see through that?
    People know they can choose their “FOOD” right now if they want to avoid GMOs. Maybe more people know there’s no point in doing that.
    Was it about food costs? Was it about patents? Was it about corporate control? Unneeded government regulations? Trade? Do people just not hate herbicides as much as you want them to? If the anti-GMO team was smart they’d find out. But they are just going to blame the TV ads while they move on to raising funds for their next showdown. Wait a minute…activists raising money…huh…could this been an activist full employment program? One wonders, if one is curious.
    The farming areas spoke loud and clear. Good luck in Michigan with that.

  49. Regardless of the outcome of I-522, and even if similar initiatives were defeated in every state, I am skeptical that the fight over labeling is over. I am not sure it will ever be settled unless/until Congress steps in. In fact, I anticipate that the labeling movement will soon simply change tactics. While I have no doubt that labeling was not the endgame for at least segments of the prolabeling constituency — that it would have been utilized as a platform for continual harrassment of makers of iconic brand products — I suspect that we will begin seeing harrassment campaigns proceed anyway. These segments will not simply say, “ah well, the public has spoken, we gave it a good try but time to move on.” They will look for new ways to demonstrate social and political potency. Probably a favorite tactic will be activist groups organizing vigalante labelling squads, entering stores and pasting labels on products. You’ll see one-by-one PR campaigns to taint labels like Kellogs, etc. and likely begin with food brands commonly consumed by children. Perhaps we’ll see new Seralini type studies that find Kelloggs corn flakes cause stomach lesions in rats.
    I think the questions about whether the process of genetic engineering somehow inserts new risks into food products are being, and will ultimately be, settled in favor of the conclusion that direct genetic manipulation of foodcrops does not inherently insert any fundamentally novel or increased risk into the food supply than any other less direct methods of genetic modification. Frankly, considering reports of serious illness and even deaths linked to e-coli, salmonella, and mycotoxin contaminants on organic foods, I am quite certain that if I chose between my next meal being derived entirely from foods grown under organic management or derived entirely from foods grown under conventional management incorporating biotech traits, my odds of not surviving the meal are much greater with the former than the latter.
    WHile I am pleased the I-522 version of labeling appears to have failed, I have reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that some manner of labeling will eventually happen. Science can and should inform public policy questions, but whether or not labeling is required will not be determined solely by science. The politically relevant issue is perception of risk, not the actual risk. By analogy, suppose you are at an amusement park and there are two identical roller coasters. Suppose that in one of the lines, there are armed guards that will not let you out of the line until you are strapped into your seat. Even though the risk is actually identical, people will percieve that there is something fishy about the one. Even if you showed them diagrams that the rides are exactly alike, even if you explained the physics of why the ride was safe, even if you had an army of inspectors who checked the ride hourly to confirm every bolt was secured and that there was no structural problems, people would still want out of the line.
    On the positive side, as politically influential as groups like Greenpeace and GMO Watch think they are are, most politicians recognize that these groups are not objective and sometimes dishonest brokers of information. And few want to be associated with or embarrased by buying into some of the more whacky, national enguirer types of conspiratoral scaremongering. But it does matter politically what average Joe and Judy mom and dad think.

  50. I’d like to throw out that an ironic outcome of labelling is that it would in the long run hurt organic sales. Just labeling, even if food manufacturers decide to continue sourcing biotech traits and putting the disclosure, would erode the market distinction that organic enjoys. That market distinction is eroded even further if makers of major brands succumb to pressure and actually require sourcing non biotech foodstuffs, so that similar organic or conventional products do not contain gmos. Thus, it is not surprising some organic labels contributed to the no on I-522.
    Additionaly, there is an assumption apparent in many of the posts here and elsewhere by pro-labelling commentor or biotech critics, that agriculture husbandry choices are limited to biotech intensive or organic — that if agriculture is denied use of biotechnology, then its only alternative is to go organic. Actually, conventional agriculture will continue, just without the use of biotech traits.

  51. You have two choices for avoiding GMO if you want: the USDA organic label and the Non-GMO Project label. Why aren’t those good enough to give you the choice you seek?

  52. I get that you don’t mind eating GMOs, and don’t believe it is different enough to concern yourself. Also that they are, in your mind, substantially equivalent . This is where all the confusion is. You see I don’t care what you think. I am asking about having the ability, not the right, to choose what I eat according to the ingredients. GM corn is not corn. It is very close we agree on that, but it is not corn. It is GM corn. By the way I am not implying there is anything wrong with that.

  53. More distractions. I didn’t ask what is it about. Or your views on people wanting to know. I am asking what is so complicated.
    SHOULD I OR SHOULD I NOT HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE WHAT I EAT BASED ON IT’S CONTENT? This is something that should be left up to an individual.

  54. Steve De, First I’m simply answering your question. You wanted help to figure out the issues in regards to labeling and I gave you a fairly basic answer. You were also concerned about this affecting your food choices and I tried to reassure you that your choices weren’t effected.
    To address a few of your points.

    Also that they are, in your mind, substantially equivalent .

    Generally speaking, if a new food or material’s properties and characteristics fall within normal variation of existing foods or materials, then logically, the risk is the same. This is what is meant by “substantial equivalent”. Do you object to this line of reasoning? Why?
    So it’s not just substantially equivalent in my mind. It is based on a scientific and quantitative assessment. This isn’t based on a popularity contest. Factual information is what it is.

    I am asking about having the ability, not the right, to choose what I eat according to the ingredients.

    You already have this ability and right to choose what you eat based on ingredients. Ingredients are listed on labels near the nutritional information. If you want to avoid GMO ingredients then buy Organic and GMO-Free products which are labeled accordingly already. But this means you pay the premiums if they are important to you.

    GM corn is not corn. It is very close we agree on that, but it is not corn. It is GM corn. By the way I am not implying there is anything wrong with that.

    Wow! Biologists have asked before about how many genes must change or be added for an organism to be considered a different species. Usually, it’s thousands of genes and not just one or two in the case of GM. Only one or two genes different in corn and it is no longer corn according to you? How do you reconcile this with other genetic variation in other organisms? Is somebody with a different eye color than yours no longer human? What about somebody with Down’s Syndrome where an entire chromosome has been added?

  55. I personally think we just need to educate people. If you don’t want to eat gmos you have to buy organic. Pretty much everything else has gmo. So that alternative is easy too – except for the educating people part. But people who want to know can find out.

  56. OGM, that comment is a bunch of pro-industry clap trap. Your “argumentum look-at-all-these-studyums” is an attempt to don science like a shield against the sword of truth (hows that for a ridiculous reply to your ridiculous “For pride, children are dying.”
    “there are, in fact, no data comparing the food safety profiles of GM versus conventional breeding, and the ubiquitous argument that since there is no evidence that GM products make people sick, they are safe (see, for example, McHughen and Smyth, Bradford et al., and Miller et al) is both illogical and false. There are, again, simply no data or even valid assays to support this contention.” -David Schubert, Salk Institute – who works with this technology every day and points out that it’s not regulated in a way appropriate to it’s risks
    “Not-for-profits, efforts for the poor, for the starving, for the sick and dying, those have been blocked, lest the true value and virtue of this technology make the detractors risible.”
    Where did you come up with that? Can you give one example where a not-for-profit effort to develop a transgenic plant to feed the poor, the starving, help the sick and dying blah blah blah has been blocked? People who want to help the poor, sick, dying, starving know that spending their money on transgenic plants isn’t the best way to do so. Sorry, but your comment is so far out and dramatic that I just had to reply.

  57. “an attempt to don science like a shield against the sword of truth” You are right, that is ridiculous. Science discovers truth through empirical methods. If you think that truth is at odds with science then the truth you cling to is not the kind that can be falsified empirically.
    David Schubert is incorrect, as he has been on many occasions when it comes to this topic. He actually does not work with GMO plants at all. He’s done no original research on this topic. He is arguing against the simplistic “gee no one around me is dying” argument and avoiding the data on food safety, which is published and he has access to.

  58. Keith, “substantially equivalent” isn’t a measure of safety. And as we get into new nutritionally enhanced plants – we have many new questions due to the nature of secondary metabolism in plants. The safety issues are far from satisfactorily answered. We really don’t know if there are long-term chronic problems from eating these plants. It’s not about the number of genes added or changed. For example, there are indications that gmos contain fewer flavinoids. Those are beneficial micronutrients. What else is generated or missing that was or wasn’t a component that co-evolved over thousands of years of favored eating? It’s true, we need to test conventionally bred foods for unexpected toxins and allergens. But gmos create a whole new set of different risks just because of the way they’re created. In fact, the technology in some cases is used BECAUSE of its mutagenic properties. GMo corn and conventionally bred corn are different. The risks involved in eating GMO corn long term are unknown. Nothing to be scared about – but not something to deny. We should be doing epidemiological research, But that’s impossible without labels.

  59. If you are concerned about mutagenesis, then what about foods derived through induced mutageneis, which are common and widespread? The way that GE plants are created doesn’t give them a new class of risk. Classes of risk come from effects, which research has shown is due to the traits themselves and not the way they are introduced.

  60. Karl, yes. I said it was ridiculous, just like saying that children are dying for lack of gmos.
    David Schubert works extensively with transgenic technology and I consider his opinion on these matters very well informed. He’s a highly respected scientist at the Salk Institute. It’s surprising to me that you’d simply dismiss his concerns when his motivation seems to be protection of public health and yours is supposedly public education and information.
    Are you saying that “gee, no one around me is dying” actually IS a scientific proof of safety? How do you answer the questions he raises about regulation based on risk in the following:
    Sensible regulations for GE food crops

  61. This opinion piece explains how the methodology carries risk:
    A different perspective on GM food
    and one of the reasons I know these concerns are legitimate is because many pro-industry scientists were in an uproar when this piece appeared. Some wrote as a group to the journal which published the piece in an attempt to discredit Schubert, without declaring their conflicts of interest.
    This article talks about the kinds of risks involved in GE plants for nutritional enhancement.
    The problem with nutritionally enhanced plants

  62. I don’t simply dismiss his concerns, I’ve looked into them in depth in the past. They don’t hold up. He makes claims like Golden Rice could have teratogens related to beta-carotene (yet carrots would not), etc. You’re providing a quote and saying it is right based on his authority, but that’s an argument from authority and I dispute that authority. Instead, I suggest that evidence be used to form conclusions.
    Here’s an exchange I had with Schubert about a plagiarized Greenpeace letter he signed without thinking: https://biofortified.org/2011/07/greenpeace-goes-after-australian-wheat/ He was misrepresenting the stated intent of the research he was objecting to, and said that rodent studies were needed, but they were already done. It’s in the literature, but he never looked. One paper:
    That’s not well-informed. His signature helped Greenpeace justify breaking in and vandalizing CSIRO’s experiment. To his credit, he distanced himself from their actions.
    No I’m not saying that quote is scientific evidence of safety (no such thing as proof), which is why I called it simplistic.

  63. I’m not basing the “rightness” of the quote on any authority. I’m just saying that if David Schubert says something and you contradict it, I’m more likely to believe he’s correct because of his qualifications and experience. We do have evidence that genetically engineered organisms can create unpredictable and unwanted changes in ways that traditionally bred organisms don’t.
    I linked to a paper in response to one of your later comments on this page that explains why Golden Rice could create teratogens but carrots would not. It’s due to the nature of secondary metabolism in plants and the way that betacarotene is utilized.
    Schubert asked for multi-generational feeding trials in rodents with good pathology in order to help assure safety on the low-glycemic wheat. Is that unreasonable? The research you linked to was only for the effectiveness of the intended trait of the wheat – the same as the human study you referred to on the greenpeace page.
    Schubert was wrong to carelessly sign on to any letter as he did. But that doesn’t change the reason he said what he did. Where are the multi-generational feeding trials for GM food? I don’t support break-ins and vandals, ever. But you’re twisting an inexcusable mistake into criminal action.
    If you “suggest that evidence be used to form conclusions”, and I agree with that by the way, then we have to gather evidence. How do we do that without the necessary research?
    you’re contradicting yourself on the quote
    “gee no one around me is dying” as evidence of safety.
    I’m going to put the quote here again:
    “there are, in fact, no data comparing the food safety profiles of GM versus conventional breeding, and the ubiquitous argument that since there is no evidence that GM products make people sick, they are safe (see, for example, McHughen and Smyth, Bradford et al., and Miller et al) is both illogical and false. There are, again, simply no data or even valid assays to support this contention.”
    He says this because (maybe you don’t know this) lots of people say “we’ve been eating it for years and nothing bad has happened”
    In order to contradict what Dr. Schubert is saying here, you would have to show the multi-generational feeding studies that give evidence of safety. Since i don’t believe they exist, I contend that the safety of these particular gm foods remains unknown. And that’s important as we move into nutritionally enhanced plants, which have a complicated and mostly still mysterious secondary metabolism.
    And on a personal note, I don’t believe it’s a good idea to create something like calcium enriched carrots. Especially if they’re not labelled. There are people who must restrict calcium in their diets (those on dialysis for example) Carrots are a food they can eat fairly liberally for nutrition and bulk in their diets without overloading on calcium. There are other foods, and even vegetables, that provide calcium. Also, calcium like other nutrients, needs accompanying elements to be utilized. Are those considered?
    Likewise, wheat has a lower glycemic index if eaten whole. If we would start using whole-grain products exclusively, we’d not only reduce the glycemic index, but we wouldn’t need to fortify so much because the vitamins and minerals we fortify the wheat with exist in the the hull. In other words, why are we removing the things which would make the wheat healthier? I think it’s for convenience, and I suggest that maybe we need to rethink that a little since it’s affecting our health.

  64. my above comment isn’t clear. A group of pro-industry scientists wrote to the journal in which Schubert’s piece appeared. Those scientists were attempting to discredit Schubert and what he was saying. The scientists didn’t declare their ties to the biotech industry.
    The Center for Science in the Public Interest called out the journal for not disclosing the scientists’ industry ties.

  65. What do we test for in equivalency? We test for the desired trait to be expressed in a healthy and vigorous plant. We don’t test whether the loss of genetic integrity that happens in GE has affected the nutritional profile of the food (to the extent that we even understand how that works in human nutrition/physiology) and we don’t test for new components as problematic with regards to long-term consumption. We don’t put dangerous foods on the market knowingly. But we restrict what we know.

  66. But gmos create a whole new set of different risks just because of the way they’re created. In fact, the technology in some cases is used BECAUSE of its mutagenic properties.

    I think that you’re confusing two different processes. Mutagenic plants are derived from plant tissue that’s been exposed to mutagenic chemicals or ionizing radiation, which doesn’t go through as rigorous of a safety evaluation as transgenic modification (the process that has created the GMO’s). We’ve been eating foods from Mutagenic breeding for a while now. Would this qualify as a long term safety evaluation to you?

    Keith, “substantially equivalent” isn’t a measure of safety.

    To be more precise, substantially equivalent refers to a something new having the same characteristics as something established and therefore the same risks.
    If something has been found to have the same properties as something with a known safety history, then we can logically infer that they have the same risks or safety.

    And as we get into new nutritionally enhanced plants – we have many new questions due to the nature of secondary metabolism in plants.

    Everybody that works in GE, without exception, knows about this risk. And once we get to nutritional enhancement of food, we are no longer dealing with substantial equivalence, so I will agree to a more detailed risk analysis. But after we test for and evaluate those risks and find no concerns, then we’re golden.

    The safety issues are far from satisfactorily answered.

    It takes a significant state of denial to make this statement. Do you think that regulatory authorities are just rubber stamping the submissions? Then why does it take nearly a decade to approve one measly trait?
    And I suppose that nearly 100 scientific authorities from dozens of countries believe the safety issues have been addressed is some type of conspiracy?
    We really don’t know if there are long-term chronic problems from eating these plants.
    It’s been 15 years already. If that’s not long term then what is?

    What else is generated or missing that was or wasn’t a component that co-evolved over thousands of years of favored eating?

    I don’t know what this even means.

    GMo corn and conventionally bred corn are different. The risks involved in eating GMO corn long term are unknown. Nothing to be scared about – but not something to deny. We should be doing epidemiological research, But that’s impossible without labels.

    Labels have nothing to do with epidemiological research.
    One of the principles of epidemiology suggests that if something is in widespread use for a prolonged period of time, and nobody has gotten sick or died from it, then it’s probably okay. GMO food seems to fit this criteria.
    Or you compare populations where GMO is widespread such as the US and where they are not such as the EU. Are there any health differences between these two populations? There doesn’t appear to be.
    The CDC tracks stuff like this and I see no warnings from them.

  67. Mlema,
    Some responses to your statements:
    “I’m just saying that if David Schubert says something and you contradict it, I’m more likely to believe he’s correct because of his qualifications and experience.”
    Except I backed up my statement in the example given. You’re still making an argument from authority even though facts have been demonstrated that he was not being a reliable authority on the matter. Also, this Science article indicates that a pig feeding trial had already taken place as well, which I mentioned in the post about the letter. http://news.sciencemag.org/2011/07/vandals-attack-transgenic-wheat-test-plot
    “Golden Rice could create teratogens but carrots would not. It’s due to the nature of secondary metabolism in plants and the way that betacarotene is utilized.”
    No, the beta-carotene pathway is the same pathway in carrots and in Golden Rice. In fact, you may not realize that carrots never used to be orange, and represent a novel mutation at 2+ loci that result in accumulation of the same nutritionally-important compound in a tissue that didn’t accumulate it before. It will be metabolized by people the same way. Schubert never adequately justifies treating the two of them differently. If you are confident that he is correct, please explain to me what the metabolic difference is between the two plants that gives rise to the difference in teratogenic capacity?
    “you’re contradicting yourself on the quote
    “gee no one around me is dying” as evidence of safety.””
    No I’m not! I said he was responding to that argument, and avoiding addressing the data by doing so. You have not demonstrated in any way how I have contradicted myself.
    So you are also saying that no multi-generational feeding trials of GE crops exist?
    “And on a personal note, I don’t believe it’s a good idea to create something like calcium enriched carrots. Especially if they’re not labelled.” The FDA has said that nutritionally different foods would need to be labeled. As I indicated in my post, there are people who are sensitive to calcium oxalate.
    “Also, calcium like other nutrients, needs accompanying elements to be utilized. Are those considered?”
    You are talking about Vitamin D. The study I described in that post showed that without changing vitamin intake, the bioavilability of calcium in carrots was increased.
    Nutritionally enhanced plants do need careful consideration of their potential side-effects, but that doesn’t justify the kinds of claims being made. Each change must be understood in the context of the food it is in, and the other changes that have happened with food over time through plant breeding. Do you think that orange carrots, and the breeding efforts that have been made to enhance their beta-carotene content, were a bad idea? You’ve been eating biofortified carrots all along, genetically altered, and unlabeled.

  68. Well, DESPITE YOUR CAPITAL LETTERS, I really don’t understand what this label would do to help you. You’ll have to explain to me. Let’s say we have this product (and I’m taking the ingredient list right from their web site now).
    So here’s the label proposed for the front of the package:
    Partially produced with genetic engineering
    Back of package:
    I really don’t understand what’s different and what you need, and how this WA label helps you.

  69. I think a comparison to Kosher foods is helpful here.
    Do people of Jewish faith have the ability to choose only kosher foods? Yes, and there are labels that help them do just that. We don’t require all food manufacturers to clarify whether something is kosher because the consumer choice is met by labeling only the kosher foods.
    Likewise the USDA organic and Non-GMO Project labels solve the issue of consumer choice with respect to GMO foods. You have not one but two labels as a guide in making your choice.
    This is where the labeling movement falls apart in my opinion. If it were only about choice, there wouldn’t be an issue I-522 because consumers already have these two labels as guides in making an informed choice. Why aren’t they enough for you?
    The real aim of labeling is to taint GMO as needing a “warning” and drive it from the marketplace. There’s a paternalistic view of the masses as sheeple who need warning labels put in front of them that accompanies this strategy, and it is apparently a losing one.

  70. “What do we test for in equivalency? We test for the desired trait to be expressed in a healthy and vigorous plant. We don’t test whether the loss of genetic integrity that happens in GE has affected the nutritional profile of the food (to the extent that we even understand how that works in human nutrition/physiology) and we don’t test for new components as problematic with regards to long-term consumption”
    Therein lies a fundamental difference in perception. Not meaning to be confrontational or disrespectful (actually, I’ve appreciated your posts as you tend to state your arguments with a refreshing air of respect and with reference to supporting information) but I think your description above is an articulation of a lay perception of what is meant by substantial equivalency. You suggest that well if it appears to look like corn and if there are no obvious detrimental effects on the plant’s growth and health, then it is substantially equivalent. That seems to contradict FDAs explanation (http://www.annualreviews.org/eprint/9Ntsbp8nBKFATMuPqVje/full/10.1146/annurev.arplant.58.032806.103840)that food products derived from plants whose genetic endowment may include genes inserted by recombinant methods are deemed “substantially equivalent” only if it is shown through nutritional profiling of the food product is not materially different from non ge isogentic counterparts. We do indeed assess whether the end product differs substantially in nutritional content from what we would expect to be the normal range of nutritional composition associated with that food. We also look for whether the genetic manipulation has caused any natural toxins to be expressed in higher amounts, levels of anti-nutrients, etc. Developers also identify and characterize any novel proteins, and we have means of assessing whether they resemble allergens, toxins or carcinogens. If there is reason to believe such proteins may have allergic, toxic or carcinogenic properties, they are then not substantially equivalent unless testing indicates they are not. In fact, there are examples of development of a ge plant is abandoned for the very reason that analysis of the nutritional profile and assessment of proteins suggests that there may be toxic or allergenic potential.
    Actually, it appears to me that we know way more about food products derived from genetically engineered source organisms than any other food source. Certainly, as you have competently pointed out, experts in the field have identified potential pathways that the process of recombinant methods could result in unintended changes in the food derived from organisms undergoing ge genetic modification. But I am not sure it is accurate to say that mainstream scientists or those working directly in the development of ge crops are not aware of or ignore these issues or that we just approve crops without even attempting to know if adverse effects that critics have poionted to have indeed occurred. There is a lot of time and effort and money spent between the time the recominant event is accomplished and the point a decision is made to go ahead and market the variety to assess for whether injurious changes have actually occurred. One thing to also keep in mind is that it is in the developers commercial self interest not to put a product on the market that differs substantially in nutritional content, toxic, allergenic or carcinogenic potential.
    I would invite the comment of someone with more expertise than I have on whether we could place a percentage on the likelihood that even with the ge development and regulatory process in place that a product could be placed on the market with an undetected component with the potential for adverse health consequence short or long term. Are we 99% confident. How would that percentage compare to food products derived from non-regulated breeding methods. If we are at a high degree of confidence, would a long term human clinical trial, on the theory that there is a chance some nasty change went by unnoticed that we can only rule out after a long period of consumption, appreciably increase our confidence level?

  71. Also Pam Ronald’s flooding tolerant rice – luckily they managed to introgress the gene from a wild relative, but had this option not been available the solution would have been…..
    *dons sunglasses*
    ….dead in the water


  72. Actually, we do test for the nutritional content in equivalency studies. I’m going through the studies in our GENERA database and this is frequently done. If there was all of a sudden a difference in the nutritional composition, it would be noticed. Indeed, even unknown compounds would be noticed because there would be a drop in the percentage of known compounds, indicating that something else is there. The levels of nutrients are compared to databases of crop nutritional ranges to make sure that they are within that range, and thus “substantially equivalent.”

  73. Karl,
    I don’t understand how an equivalency can be drawn between conventional and transgenic breeding when they affect the dna and its regulation in completely different ways. In engineering for things like vitamins, we encounter the plants secondary metabolism – much of which we haven’t figured out. This is evidenced by the surprises developers get when they tinker with it.
    Golden Rice has increased levels of synthetic intermediates to beta-carotene, which have the potential to make many potentially harmful retinoid-like compounds. Since we haven’t tested Golden Rice in the target population (chronically malnourished with the rice comprising most of their diet) we really don’t know what problems might occur.
    here is Schubert’s discussion of his concerns regarding Golden Rice (under Retinoids and Plant Secondary Metabolism)
    here’s the Schubert quote about safety testing again:
    “there are, in fact, no data comparing the food safety profiles of GM versus conventional breeding, and the ubiquitous argument that since there is no evidence that GM products make people sick, they are safe (see, for example, McHughen and Smyth, Bradford et al., and Miller et al) is both illogical and false. There are, again, simply no data or even valid assays to support this contention.” -David Schubert, Salk Institute
    You said Dr. Schubert is incorrect – so I guess I was hoping that you’d offer some reference to valid assays that show these foods are assessed appropriate to the risk.
    The article you linked to mentions a pig study but has no link or detail – so how do I know it’s a safety study and not just another study on whether or not the GM wheat trait works?

  74. OrchardGrowinMan, I think it would be inappropriate for me to get into a discussion about this book by Robert Paarlberg. It’s a broad ideological work, not supported by scientific evidence. The situation in Africa is extremely complicated, and agricultural scientists are working very hard to help the people there improve their food supply and nutrition.
    I was hoping you could maybe just point out something that was done that actually blocked the development of Golden Rice (for example). The rice took a very long time to develop. We’re still working on appropriate cultivars, and that’s going slowly too. But I’m unaware of anything that anyone did that actually blocked development.

  75. Hi Ewan, i thought Pam Ronald’s flood tolerant rice was MAS?
    Did someone try to block that?

  76. Pam Ronald’s work was initially transgenic, after it became clear that getting the transgenic rice deregulated would be essentially impossible they were lucky enough that a sexually compatible wild rice had a gene that did the same thing, and so backcrossed it in – If I recall with a pretty significant extra chunk of surrounding DNA (not that this means anything unless you’re ascar’t of unknown things getting in your food and messing with the proteomic profile, or the metabolic profile, or introducing unknown unknowns…) – this was a lot of pointless (albeit highly skilled and, under the framework in which they were operating, awesome) work given that they’d already fixed the problem.

  77. Thank you for the legwork. I appreciate your patience. The smiles part is cute and I doubt it’s the #1 ingredient. Just kidding! I’m afraid this is something I wouldn’t buy either way unless I was in a bind for stomach filler. I avoid what I can according to circumstances. Enriched wheat flour is not my kind of nourishment nor is MSG (Autolyzed yeast) or soy of any kind except fermented yeast products like soy sauce. I make meals from things like fresh corn, cheese, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, peas, dried beans, beef, poultry, pork. I really like so many kinds of sausages, cabbage… Did you get that our food supply is so sorry I have to educate myself on what to avoid. Now, all this being said, I understand now why you don’t understand why why labeling helps me. I am passionate about what I use to nourish myself. I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. We still haven’t gotten past my original question. You know, the all caps up above. It is a good example for me to ask, how will that caption cost processors and farmers so much money? What I need is the ability to choose what I put in my body based on the only thing I know right now, just as anyone would ask if a plate of stuff was put in front of them and told to eat it. What is it? We are no longer living in a place where sight or smell or taste is enough. A laboratory can make dog crap smell and taste good. If I get to say what I eat then I get to know what it is. If you don’t think it matters then that’s fine. I don’t care what you eat. What I do everyday is physically and mentally demanding and I notice my performance suffers when I can’t replenish my body with nutrient dense food. Does that mean anything to you? Who cares You’ll never walk in my shoes. Ours is a good system relatively speaking, However when we have large groups of people making choices for individuals, people they don’t even know or love it breaks down. A lot of commentary. Still it boils down to, I want to say what I eat. You should get to say also. I promise I won’t judge your food unless you ask me. My ability to choose is not determined by your ability to understand.

  78. These are interesting points Keith and unfortunately I have too many deadlines pressing me right now. I hope I can still respond to this when things cool down a little for me. I’ve never been on a blog before. I am learning a lot.

  79. Ok, let’s review. Your question was:


    We can agree on that’s the question, right? And you are saying that the current label example I showed gives you sufficient information to choose now–correct? And you would avoid it.
    Now–I have shown you the WA label example should this law pass. I need to know how that affects your choice of food based on its content, and why it’s different with this new label.
    Tell me what new information on the CONTENT this label offers you. With molecular details please.
    If as you said you refuse to go into any more detail, that’s fine. But then accept that you have a philosophical issue and not a CONTENT issue, and consider that a label like Kosher is a better strategy for you.
    Otherwise, deliver the CONTENT specifics that you need to help me understand.

  80. I think you’re mischaracterising not only the development of an MAS plant vs. transgenic, but the final product – with regards to stability and economy.

  81. Nope, that was essentially how it was developed. Proof that they had the right gene with transgenic approach, and then used Marked Assisted Selection (MAS) to breed it in over years to make sure that they could release it without the burdens of regulation or the “GMO” stigma. There was additional DNA introgressed in, which is what happens during breeding.
    One thing that people who say “No GMOs, but Yes MAS” is that you need to have a marker that reliably detects the right gene or allele so you can track it during breeding. This often requires making a GMO to confirm that you have the right gene. The end result is not “GMO” but a GMO was required for the process. So many MAS successes today owe that success to genetic engineering.

  82. Rick, thanks for your thoughtful and thorough response. I really didn’t describe my understanding of equivalence very well, and what I wrote isn’t right. Thank you for pointing that out. Here’s what I know about substantial equivalence:
    We test for key compounds, such as macro- and micro-nutrients and anti-nutrients
    we check for “sizeable differences”
    we test for plant specific toxins
    But doesn’t this mean that we must already know what unwanted changes we’re looking for? This is a new species in which gene regulation has been altered to be unlike the parent. So, while a trait like bt poses one kind of problem, related to the trait itself, nutritionally enhanced plants present a different and more complex problem. (I guess you’ve said that yourself)
    We have no a priori knowledge of the possible unwanted species, so unpredicted toxins or allergens may not be detected.
    Therefore, equivalency isn’t a measure of safety.
    We do have a number of other tools available to us which would improve safety testing, but the research employing those tools is not widely done
    Also, as I’m sure you’re aware, there are critics who say that current safety testing of the new trait is inadequate – since it rarely employs any long-term feeding trials. The main point of what I’m saying is: it’s not scientific to say that the fact that people have been eating a certain gm food for years and “nothing’s happened”. You’re not saying that, but many people do – which was the point of my original reply to Keith Hayes.
    I’m starting to see that most readers here feel that what I’m saying is absurd because we’re adding something very specific to the cell and measuring it’s effects. However, the kinds of changes introduced in transgenic organisms aren’t limited to the new trait. We’ve created a new organism which no longer holds the composition of a plant that we’ve co-evolved to eat. That in itself is immaterial – the point being that the composition is dissimilar to anything that we’ve ever eaten. We are still learning the relative value of these macro-, micro-nutrients. The physiology of the eater is as important as the nature of the food. There’s evidence, for instance, that flavonoids are reduced in gm foods. Since flavonoids are valuable to good health, that may be something to consider.
    Thanks for the link to the FDA article. It was interesting, but didn’t talk about the technology itself as far as it’s comparative ability to create unwanted changes compared to conventional breeding. Interestingly, it did talk about organic food commonly being more nutritious than conventional.

  83. “We’ve created a new organism which no longer holds the composition of a plant that we’ve co-evolved to eat.”
    Remember the carrot example that I gave you in our other conversation? The nutritional profile is VERY different from its wild ancestor, and this has been in our diet for only a few hundred years. We have not co-evolved to eat carrots, any more than we have co-evolved to eat modern wheat or corn. This is nutritional darwinism, and I don’t subscribe to it because there’s no factual basis for the “co-evolution” claim as applied to all foods. There are some people who have increased their tolerance to lactose through a mutation, but unless you can tell me where the Orange Carrot co-evolution allele is, this perspective is rooted in false assumptions.
    The problem with this debate is that while it is true that genetic changes of any kind can lead to unintended nutritional consequences, scrutiny is only being applied to one kind of genetic change, which has so far shown to be less disruptive to the composition of foods than breeding itself has historically been.

  84. I said “an” MAS plant. I don’t have familiarity with the specifics of Ms. Ronald’s work with the flood-resistant rice. I just think it’s disingenuous to continually be trying to equate these various breeding technologies with regards to comparative stability and economy. Using our current knowledge of genetics to improve breeding is essential – agricultural transgenics are not. I’m tired of this mantra that “this plant cannot be saved, this problem cannot be solved (etc.) without a GMO” along with “we’ve been eating GM foods for thousands of years!” It doesn’t do anything to illuminate the science for the public – it’s disingenuous.

  85. I’m not stating myself clearly.
    I’m not talking about nutritional profile in the case of co-evolution. I’m talking about the essential integrity of the species with regards to humans eating it. Transgenics create a new organism with a fundamentally different substance. Our knowledge of essential nutrition is still incomplete. What we have is a good understanding of basic needs.
    And it depends on what’s being disrupted in either case if you want to compare the relative importance as far as composition.
    Translocations, scrambling of transgene and genomic DNA, large scale deletions of over a dozen genes and frequent random insertions of plasmid DNA, activation of dormant retrotransposons (mutagenic), can all be caused by the procedures used to make GM plants. As long as additional breeding selects for the transgene itself, mutations linked to the insertion site can’t be removed.
    So in this case it’s not about nutritional changes (although we must remember that we may not really know if any given change is nutritionally significant in the new species.) – it’s about eating something dissimilar to what we’ve eaten. We’ve eaten corn long enough to know that it’s good to eat. Not all by itself by any stretch. But it provides calories and nutrients. But animals have never eaten bt corn before it suddenly appeared via GM.
    I hope you’ll read the following suggestions on testing and regulation. It really explains better than i can the types of questions we should investigate. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that the kinds of problems that can crop up when using GM breeding techniques be tested for:

  86. Mlema

    The main point of what I’m saying is: it’s not scientific to say that the fact that people have been eating a certain gm food for years and “nothing’s happened”. You’re not saying that, but many people do – which was the point of my original reply to Keith Hayes.

    There a whole scientific field about making such conclusions: epidemiology.
    You mentioned that the labeling would help such studies so I assumed you knew what epidemiology was. You might want to read up on it. Because the conclusion that “nothing’s happened” is scientifically valid.
    It makes you wonder if the critics fears are a little overblown?
    It’s gotten to such a point now that critics would need to prove harm for any authority to recognize any novel risks to GM and revise their regulatory standards accordingly. The burden of proof is on the critics now. Personally, I think it’s a long shot. Every month journals publish more and more studies documenting various test designs when evaluating GM foods and nobody has found any significant differences. Frankly, if the critics were right and we missed something, it would have been discovered by now. I know absence of evidence isn’t proof of absence, but we can get pretty darn close!
    I also don’t understand your hang-up on “substantial equivalence”. It’s used in a lot of industries to evaluate risk, not just food or ag. Have you ever eaten a seedless watermelon or a banana? Those crops have had entire sets of chromosomes added by human intervention. Seems like a substantial change to me. But everybody seems fine after eating these crops for many years. So why are you hung up on a few extra genes added via GM if adding whole chromosomes seems to turn out fine.
    And just to add one more thing. Critics sometimes speak as if the genetically modified plant is changed in the lab and sown directly into the fields. No, this isn’t the case. The modified plant gets bred into existing cultivars with known performance histories unique to various regions in the world. The GM plant gets backcrossed into a cultivar about 5-6 times until there’s virtually no difference between the cultivar and the modified plant except for the transgene. This wouldn’t even be possible unless the transgenic plant’s genome was stable and functioning the way we would expect. So critics arguments about unstable genomes or unanticipated effects on the genetic level are pretty much bunk. Any dangerous or sickly plants tend to get discovered fairy quickly in the breeding process and culled from selection. This process seems to be good enough to launch a cultivar that has been created with conventional breeding techniques, but if there’s a transgene, it gets tested and characterized even further to satisfy regulatory requirements.
    So I would ask those critics why this isn’t considered enough safety testing and what unknown risks they might be thinking of? Unless they can specify specific risks, they aren’t adding anything to the discussion.

  87. “Translocations, scrambling of transgene and genomic DNA, large scale deletions of over a dozen genes and frequent random insertions of plasmid DNA, activation of dormant retrotransposons (mutagenic), can all be caused by the procedures used to make GM plants.”
    Did you also know that these are known to happen quite frequently in conventional breeding? (with the exception of, probably, plasmid DNA insertion.) Even without induced mutagenesis, it happens all the time. Does that change your perspective on the artificial line you draw between the different techniques?
    Also, these changes do not create a “new species.”
    Finally, the stripes in “Indian Corn” are actually transposable elements, also known as “jumping genes.” These are mobile genes that “engineer” themselves in and out of the maize genome at random, turning genes on and off in the process. This is far less predictable than genetic engineering, and completely uncontrolled. If mutations and rearrangements in the genome concern you, are you therefore concerned about naturally-occurring transposable elements?
    There is a whole world of fascinating stuff going on with genetics, and to be rational we have to put genetically engineered crops in context.

  88. Keith, there would be no way for us to know if subclinical health problems were being caused due to GM food consumption. The CDC doesn’t monitor this and all we have is anecdotal information – useless. The number of genes, chromosomes, etc. changed in breeding is irrelevant. The methodology is mutagenic in a way unlike conventional breeding as I’ve described above. We don’t evaluate the plant for some of the kinds of changes that are eventually seen to exist. We don’t know the ramifications of those changes with regard to health. For the sorts of GM plants we’ve already created, we should be utilizing some additional tools to evaluate possible problems. And for new nutritionally-enhanced GM plants – we need to be even more cautious.
    The theory behind something like bt corn is good – no doubt. And extremely beneficial. But the actuality has to be tested the way nature would test it, contracted as best we can so that we don’t have to wait years to find out. Despite the volume of research, that which addresses these questions is inappropriately scarce.
    If you will read the link above I’ve addressed to Karl, it does expand on the kinds of changes that can and have occurred as a result of the KIND of breeding.
    Also, in an earlier conversation on this page:
    “substantial equivalence” is discussed further
    thanks for your questions

  89. In addition to organic and Non-GMO Project, I’ve seen lots of other companies claim they are non-GMO. Lots of options out there for consumers looking to avoid GMOs for whatever reason. Just look on the box and in the ingredients section. Other companies post their GMO status on their website.
    As a vegetarian, I have to read the box and visit websites all the time, and I’m not calling for a mandatory meat label. It’s my body, my choice to not eat meat. And the free market has responded by voluntary labeling. Actually, I’ve seen WAY more non GMO voluntary labels than vegetarian or vegan! So to say there is no choice may just mean you need to pay attention and do a little homework. It’s easy and can be fun, too! learning about your food is great!

  90. Hi Eric, we are in the process of collecting a database of studies about GMO safety – including any studies that showed potential harm. If you have peer reviewed studies that aren’t on our list, please submit them. We certainly don’t want to miss anything.
    Here’s a partial list of what we have so far (there are more in our database): https://biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/
    Here’s the link where you can submit studies so we can include them: https://biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/submit-a-study/
    And please visit this post to learn more about the project: https://biofortified.org/2013/10/making-sense-of-lists-of-studies/
    Thanks! I’m looking forward to adding the studies you find to our database!

  91. …all we have is anecdotal information – useless.

    After all this time? Perhaps there’s nothing to worry about then.

    The number of genes, chromosomes, etc. changed in breeding is irrelevant.

    You wish. If we can manipulate, mutate, and duplicate entire genomes within a species (and even cross species) to produce our food , then inserting a few genes transgenically shouldn’t be much of a concern as far as methods are concerned.

    The methodology is mutagenic in a way unlike conventional breeding as I’ve described above.

    This word “mutagenic” doesn’t mean what you think it means. I mean it’s not like we’ve ever fired ionizing radiation at seeds or use chemicals on plant tissues to create new genes (actually we have!)

    We don’t know the ramifications of those changes with regard to health. For the sorts of GM plants we’ve already created, we should be utilizing some additional tools to evaluate possible problems.

    Not only have I seen no evidence of unknown negative ramifications, it’s hard for me to even think of a plausible mechanism for one. How would a Bt protein from BT corn cause harm to a human being, or even livestock, for example? Based on it’s mode of action and its decades history of safe use there should be no problems. Why would you think there would be?

    And for new nutritionally-enhanced GM plants – we need to be even more cautious.

    I’ll agree with that sentiment, but once the due diligence is done, then I see no rational reason why such a crop couldn’t enter full scale production. And for such nutritionally enhanced products, I’d expect producers would eagerly advertise the nutritional enhancement so the labeling controversy ends up being a non issue.

    The theory behind something like bt corn is good – no doubt. And extremely beneficial. But the actuality has to be tested the way nature would test it, contracted as best we can so that we don’t have to wait years to find out.

    Is there a risk that hasn’t been identified or we have scarce information on? Yes or no? What do you mean testing it “the way nature would test it”?

  92. ” The number of genes, chromosomes, etc. changed in breeding is irrelevant.” I didn’t notice that line. Mlema, your questions and comments have been thoughtful and sincere, so I’m hoping that this continues into this next part of the discussion. Earlier you identified these same changes as problems with genetically engineered plants. You specifically highlighted deletions, which are a change in the number of genes. As I mentioned, these things happen in breeding and genetic engineering alike, however, you are now suggesting that these kinds of changes are irrelevant when it comes to breeding.
    You have three logical choices now to reconcile this contradiction. The first is to change your mind about the relative risk of these changes when genetic engineering is involved. Whether that means believing that they are both dangerous or both relatively safe (the latter being the science-based position) is up to you.
    Second, you can explain why these changes in breeding are not risky, but risky for genetic engineering alone. So far, you haven’t.
    Third, you can acknowledge that there is a contradiction, but that you can’t resolve it.

  93. Karl, there’s no contradiction. As you know, not all genetic changes in breeding are equal when it comes to unwanted effects . It’s not the number of changes, but the nature of those changes which are important because of the role they play in affecting the functioning of other genes – and the resultant structure and functioning of the organism.
    Biolistic techniques, used to insert genetically modified genes into the plants DNA, may be used to manipulate just a couple of genes, but give rise to multiple changes in the organism. The disruption of the genome is mutagenic as compared to that which happens in conventional breeding. The resultant functioning and structure of the inserted genes interact with the functioning of other genes. When we then breed to remove unwanted characteristics, we can’t ever get rid of those which are a part of the inserted genes and the technology used to insert them, as long as we wish to keep the trait. Nor can we breed out those which we don’t recognize because we are comparing to the parent, and have no a priori knowledge of what may now occur in the GM plant.
    For example, i just grabbed this off GENERA (thank you again for your work in compiling this list)
    “Analysis of one-fifth of the regulated sequences showed that around 35% of the unintended effects could be attributed to the process used to produce GM plants, based on in vitro tissue culture techniques. A further ∼15% were event specific, and their regulation was attributed to host gene disruption and genome rearrangements at the insertion site, and effects on proximal sequences. Thus, only around half the transcriptional unintended effects could be associated to the transgene itself.”
    meaning: we have the change we want from the transgene, and many other changes we don’t necessarily want, from the modification technique and tools themselves.
    As I said, this is better described in the articles I’ve linked to earlier on nutritionally enhanced plants and suggestions for regulation. Including, as I said above, why the beta carotene in Golden Rice may be a problem where it’s not a problem in carrots. I’m not saying it MUST be a problem, I’m just pointing out why it’s not as simple as you’re saying.
    “Unlike primary metabolism, which is similar in plants and animals, plants possess the ability to synthesize between 90,000 and 200,000 nonessential, small molecules, with up to 5,000 in one species.” Much of this is still poorly understood and may play a role in human nutrition that hasn’t yet been mapped out.
    I feel like you’re mischaracterizing this technology in an attempt to portray it as precise, limited in scope, and even safer than conventional breeding. Regulations require substantial equivalence and that the new plant is “generally recognized as safe”. But they aren’t required to employ many of the tools which researchers are suggesting improve safety and nutritional evaluation. Again, GM technology is valuable to us. But I personally feel that if you want to inform the public, it’s good to start with explaining the basics and not just say things like “You’ve been eating biofortified carrots all along, genetically altered, and unlabeled.” which is very misleading.

  94. Responding to Mlema (Nov 10, 2014 4:33am) above as the threading appears to have reached a max (hurrah for threading)

    As you know, not all genetic changes in breeding are equal when it comes to unwanted effects .

    And as you apparently do not know – effects can be, and are, screened for – and infact can be utterly avoided unless one believes in magic.
    I work in Biotech (for the next 2 weeks even… I shall at that point go work in breeding (although that is rather besides the point)) – in yield and stress, we test somewhere in the 100’s to 1000’s of genes per year – we take a real close look for unintended insertional effects – we, infact, have a whole multiyear screening program the bulk of which gets rid of anything that has adverse effects on the plant. Our test germplasm also isn’t commercial (how could it be… it takes 8-14 years to commercialize a product, but the breeding cycle is on a 5-10 year cycle (approximately) thus any gene I throw into testing today will, assuming one transforms an elite germplasm right this very second, at the very best only be viable for 2 years within that exact germplasm (assuming 8 years to commercial and a happy overlap with the 10 year cycle) which would likely by that point only represent a minor portion of seed sales anyway (and certainly wouldn’t be out licensed, further cutting the commercial utility of the invention) – so within the transformation germplasm I select any gene is already a commercial non-entity.
    How the world of commercial transgenics works is that after you’ve shown efficacy in a single germplasm (which, let’s just assume becomes plagued with all manner of problems during insertion… invisible to anyone but lets assume fatal to anyone who ingests in for 50 years…) you check for efficacy in more than one germplasm – at this point you have to introgress the gene from germplasm A to germplasm B…. using marker assisted breeding… hopefully you can see why, at this point, any effects of transformation become utterly meaningless. Just incase I’ll spell it out.
    Once in germplasm B you will, ideally, only have moved the transgene from A to B, even if every 3rd gene in germplasm A was mutated during transformation this won’t matter a bit – none of A should exist in B other than the transgene – it is an expensive, time consuming process, but it underpins the success of modern transgenics – the capacity to move, through breeding, transgenes from transformable lines into elite lines (across breeding programs even) means that a gene transformed into one variety of corn can, relatively easily, be moved to any other variety of corn, largely by itself – a happy by product of this process (albeit an unnecessary one) is that any changes to the genome induced by transformation will be lost during this process, and thus, by and large, the argument of unintended changes outside of transformation (while interesting in itself, although not particularly from a safety stance) is a non issue. In cases where one assumes it is an issue… introgress your gene somewhere else, it goes away (I find it rather hard to believe that GR would stand on a single variety, I’d assume that given the brilliant minds at work the trait would be introgressed into varieties suited to multiple different environments… alas the less than brilliant minds who come up with poor arguments against GMOs tend to fail to consider this aspect of the whole process – but that really isn’t overly surprising)

  95. Ewan, I think that I followed what you’ve written. An illustrated/animated guide (like RSA Animate or the Story of Stuff have done) of this whole process might prove even more educational and persuasive for us layfolk.
    Introgression is a fairly technical topic that most non-experts probably know next to nothing about. I noticed that the introgression wikipedia page needs some cleanup, in case anyone reading this has an account there and feels up to it.

  96. I am an awful communicator of this stuff, that is sure….
    One comment from an incredibly learned friend on a similar screed was… wow… that is the longest run on sentence I have ever seen in my life. I’m sure it was very educational but I couldn’t get past the 250th word…
    I do not, however, learn…

  97. (luckily SQL and most basic programming languages punish you more severely than just not getting it when you waffle on… so I’m forced in certain situations to be less verbose and more precise) (Also… python has like, no sense of humor at all)

  98. Ewan — You have finally hit upon a concept that I’ve been trying to get my brain around. I think the popular perception is that biotech traits are added to each variety in the lab by some type of risky gene manipulation technique, the altered DNA is grown out in petri dishes in the lab, and once these are mature enough, they are propgated in fields until there is enuff seed for commercial quantity. In other words, we take variety X, insert a transgene by whatever process, which results in an altered version of B called GMO X but along with the desired insertion, GMO X may have several undesirable and perhaps undetected, (whether we call them mutations or something else) changes in the genetic code and expression, but GMO X is what is eventually submitted for approval and released.
    If I understand what you are saying correctly, we arrive at a variety having a biotech trait i.e. V+ only after intermediary steps. Each company, even each public or private breeding program, will have several varieties of a cro they have developed, say the varieties of one commmercial breeding program are varieties A, B, C, D, E, F and so forth. Now, suppose we want to add a trait via recombinant techniques. Essentially, we select a host plant (H) and insert the trait into the Host DNA so that it become H++++ (whereby the first + represent the desired genetic change and the extra +’s represent any additional unintended or undesirable material changes. We then cross H++++ with varieties A, B, C, D, E and F, using good old fashioned crossbreeding, retrogression and backcrossing that we do with any other breeding program absent genetic engineering, to arrive at A+, B+, C+, D+, E+ and F+. We can then analyse the genome of A+ to see what change has occurred between it and A, same for B+ and B, and so forth. The difference between H and H++++ is largely irrellilvant because we don’t commercialize and release H++++, what is released is A+, B+. etc.
    Also, I think the common perception is that we have end up with one GMO X that essentially replaces varieties A, B, C, D, E and F, so that before genetic engineering we had hundreds of varieties, and now we only have 1. Actually, we conceivably and essentially have all the same varieties, the change being that there are now commercially available versions of those varieties that contain the biotech trait, even though you could still conceivably obtain the variety without the biotech trait if you wanted to. I understand what will be available and actually supplied to the marketplace will depend somewhat on commercial viability of supplying the demand. But theoretically, if farmers decided that they no longer want the biotech trait for whatever reason, even though they still want the underlying variety, seed companies could fairly quickly ramp up production of the non biotech version of the variety to supply that demand.

  99. That’s pretty much it. Lemme see if I can construct a terrible graphical representation of genetic crossover….
    AAAAAAAAAAXAAAAAAAAAAAAA – Chromosome from variety transformed (X is the gene)
    BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB – Chromosome from variety to introgress.
    First useful Cross…. look for a crossover that looks like:-
    Then use this to create
    All one requires is large populations, and great genetic maps.
    Make sure all the other chromosomes are from the B variety with no crossing over… and your gene is now succesfully introgressed (exactly how breeders move traits from one variety to another infact) – the method that people tend to believe is the truth would be non-viable in the current regulatory environment – it is not a specific gene that is deregulated, but a specific event – where an event is an occurance of insertion, it makes zero commercial sense to spend $100M+ to deregulate an event if it is only viable in a single genetic background, thus you introgress, (which is costly, but not $100M+ costly) and spread the regulatory burden across enough germplasm to make a couple hundred million dollars.

  100. I see what you are getting at. Thanks for the explanation, though you are starting to get well beyond my expertise. But I do understand that you are pointing out that the process has the potential for mutagenic consequences that we may currently not look for in our regulatory assessment protocols, and that even if nutrtional profiling suggests the food products are substantially equivalent, there may be other issues lurking there as a result of the genetic manipulation.
    I always find your posts stimulating and useful. Even if some arguments are eventually shown to be wrong, in a forum like this and in the overall process of scientific inquiry, that the point was raised probably enables us to arrive a better end product than if the point hadn’t been raised at all.

  101. Ewan — Thanks for indulging me. I think the popular perception, one amplified by the anti-GMO literature, is that we take AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA and through some type of unnatural, sinister laboratory trick plaster the X but the result is something chaotic like AAAµAaA¥AXAAzAAA§AaAȂ♫♀A,and that is what is sold to farmers and what we are eating.

  102. Also… the genetic overhang at either side can be minimized by increasing population size and/or marker density (or by simply doing sequencing off the ends of the gene I’d guess) – if I recall a lot of academic introgression carries relatively large overhang, whereas when done commercially the overhang is far lower (because academics have maps all zoomed out and with crazy spacing, whereas industry tends to have ludicrously high resolution genetic mapping… the evils of money at work) – population increases the chance you’ll get the crossover you want, marker density lets you really know how close to your GOI you’re crossing over (ideally at the start and end base, but realistically somewhere close will do)

  103. OK, this is good. What we have now is an elementary illustration of the theory of transgenics. But we need to go a bit further to illustrate the reality. It’s simply not possible to get to BBBBBBBBB-BBBBBBBBBBB. That’s the mistake of “one gene, one protein”. (and we don’t end up with “one gene” anyway) Breeding out mutations doesn’t address those that are inevitable as long as we select for the trait. But further, the disruption of gene regulation causes changes that, in the context of the plant’s structure and metabolism, we have yet to understand very well. And in the context of human nutrition and health, and the environment, those further changes create myriad issues to investigate.
    here are a few articles that talk about different aspects of this issue:
    Only half the transcriptomic differences between resistant genetically modified and conventional rice are associated with the transgene
    Enhanced accumulation of toxic compound in yeast cells having high glycolytic activity: a case study on the safety of genetically engineered yeast
    The problem with nutritionally enhanced plants
    Sensible Regulations for GE Food Crops
    If we want to talk about whether or not substantial equivalence and GRAS are good measures of the healthfulness and safety of GM food, we need to ask ourselves if the sort of testing that those standards entail are adequate to the risks posed by the technology. If you read the above, you’ll see that scientists have suggested how they might be improved. I find no evidence that the industry is responding.

  104. “It’s simply not possible to get to BBBBBBBBB-BBBBBBBBBBB.”
    Sure you can – that is the genotype of the plant you are introgressing the gene into. The dash stands for the absence of the transgene. The hybrid would have only one copy, and thus would be considered hemizygous. It might be hard to make declarations about genetics if you are not familiar with the way it works. Ewan is right about weeding out potential changes elsewhere in the genome based on marker-assisted selection.
    For the comments about one-gene-one-protein – think about that for a second. It is a claim that floats around the internet, and it sounds like a criticism of genetic engineers – that they are unaware of the basic details about genetics and biology, which is taught in introductory courses. Given that every genetic engineer and plant breeder has learned these basic facts, does it not seem odd that some people are claiming that these highly-educated individuals are not aware of this? It is in fact a straw man argument. Let me give you an example of why it is a bogus argument. The exception to the one-gene-one-protein hypothesis of long ago was the discovery of alternative splicing, where different introns and exons are spliced out of mRNA molecules when they are expressed in different tissues. In muscle, you may have exons 1,2,3,4, & 5 in the protein, but in brain tissue, you may have exons 1,2,5, & 6. Thus, you can get multiple slightly different proteins produced in different tissues from one gene. But in order to have this happen, you need to have splicing occurring with introns present in those genes. To prevent alternative splicing, genetic engineers use cDNA molecules, which are DNA molecules made by reverse transcription from mature mRNA – in other words, the introns are completely removed. Also, bacterial genes have no introns to begin with, so alternative splicing is not an option for them either.
    Now, any introduction of a new gene can change the level of expression of other genes (note: this has nothing to do with the alternative splicing issue above), whether it be mutagenesis or genetic engineering. On the topic of transcriptomic changes, it is a demonstrated fact that the unintended changes to the function of other genes cause by inserting a gene GMO-style are far fewer than the changes that other techniques in traditional breeding cause. If you believe that changes that are not fully known in their potential impact are a cause for concern, then you should be concerned about traditional breeding. All of this needs to remain in context. Some selected citations from our GENERA library:
    Transgenesis has less impact on the transcriptome of wheat grain than conventional breeding
    Transcriptome and metabolome profiling of field-grown transgenic barley lack induced differences but show cultivar-specific variances
    Integrated metabolomic and transcriptomic analyses of high-tryptophan rice expressing a mutant anthranilate synthase alpha subunit
    Lack of repeatable differential expression patterns between MON810 and comparable commercial varieties of maize
    Natural variation explains most transcriptomic changes among maize plants of MON810 and comparable non-GM varieties subjected to two N-fertilization farming practices
    Also, the paper you linked to at the top, if you read it, emphasizes in the discussion that the changes are minor and that this is established in the literature. They were focusing on how to evaluate transgenic events to further minimize unintended effects.

  105. Karl appears to have addressed most of this, but I’ll attempt to clarify also.

    . It’s simply not possible to get to BBBBBBBBB-BBBBBBBBBBB

    BBBBBBBBB-BBBBBBBBBBB is absolutely possible to get. In the example described above it merely represents the chromosome from a different variety of corn with the – representative of the area where the transgene has been inserted (each letter here represents some arbitrary length of chromosome, not necessarily a gene, not necessarily a base, could be either, or, or neither, the distinction in this illustration is meaningless)
    The objection I was addressing was that of transformation, as an event, (ie insertion of the gene) causing all manner of genomic changes which represent an unknown.
    Thus when
    is transformed one gets not
    where A represents areas of no change, * represents some mutation (genetic or epigenetic) and X represents the insertion of the transgene.
    The work around to the objection is thus that you introgress the trait to a different variety
    due to crossing over you literally get rid of every instance of *
    first becomes
    and then becomes
    all other chromosomes would be selected to be exclusively of the B type, and thus, in the finished product you are assured to have no genome level differences caused by transformation other than the insertion of the transgene itself.

    That’s the mistake of “one gene, one protein”.

    My example had nothing to do with one gene, one protein. So no such mistake was made.
    The mistake of “one gene, one protein” thinking is… that nobody thinks that way. But…. likewise nobody thinks that it is automatically “one gene, many proteins” – this is likewise as foolish an idea given the current state of knowledge as the “one gene, one protein” model, sometimes you get one gene, one protein. Sometimes you get one gene, three proteins. Etc etc. More often than not, with transgenics, what you get is exactly one gene, one protein. We look for this. We get terribly frustrated when our single gene goes ahead and has multiple transcripts (not least because should said gene be a success it will cost a whole lot more to get through regulatory) but luckily this isn’t overly common.
    Essentially the whole schtick around the apparent controversy of “one gene, one protein” is that the lack of biological knowledge of the general public is being played in order to make them mistrust people who frankly do know better. Ha, these high falutin’ types in their white coats don’t even know the basics of their own field. Totally likely. Thousands of specialists who have persued molecular biology as a career and have 10+ years of post-secondary education are all actually unaware of something that is taught in first year undergrad and hammered into them again and again throughout their career. Much as most scholars of Shakesperian literature are completely unaware that MacBeth is not actually an historical description of events which transpired in Scotland no doubt. Or much as most medical doctors are not aware of the placebo effect. It’s a bloody stupid and quite frankly insulting framing of the situation (and I only have a BSc, I would assume it leaves pHD’s and post-docs positively fuming (PI’s and above likely don’t care, because their world is all fast cars and boring grant applications (without the cars)).
    On transcriptomics, and to a large degree metabolomics… this amuses me. I’ve worked with a lot of transcriptomic and metabolomic data. Here’s the main thing one sees. Sure, you’ll see some changes in the transcriptome and metabolome when you insert a gene. More often than not you can’t repeat these (because you’re measuring noise), even when you can repeat them you’ll note that they are infinitessimally small when compared to say, genotype differences or environmental differences. More transcriptional and metabolomic change is induced by the passing of a cloud over the field during sampling than by most transgenic insertions. Far more differences yet are induced when examining two different (albeit closely related) varieties. Far more differences again are induced when growing in different soil types, nutrient levels, or temperatures.
    In this scheme of things the transcriptional and metabolomic changes we see (or think we see, statistics being what it is you’d see similar levels of changes when you compared control to control… but nobody tends to waste money doing that, more’s the pity) are so miniscule as to be meaningless. Which is what is so frustrating about the whole arguement about ahaha unintended changes. Ok, sure fine, miniscule differences exist. I demand massive expensive testing before growing a variety of corn in a slightly different geography because I can guarantee that the transcriptional and metabolomic differences will utterly swamp anything that your average transgene might look like it is doing.

  106. It is a late addition to this thread, but here is a link [Evaluation of Genetically Engineered Crops Using Transcriptomic, Proteomic, and Metabolomic Profiling Techniques — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3091128/%5D to a 2010 review article in Plant Physiology of a number of “omics” comparisons between ge crops and comparible non-ge varieties. As the article points out, there is a need for the scientific community to agree to standardized protocols for omics analysis, but the papers reviewed in the article appear to me to generally point toward a conclusion that recombinant techniques do not show any greater propensity for pleiotropic effects than other methods of genetic manipulation.

  107. Rickinreallife,
    Thanks for that link, which is really the crux of what I’ve been attempting to communicate. I do think that the type of transgenics widely planted now pose more environmental questions than health problems for humans (what humans eat of them is highly processed and extracted). But they illustrate to me the general lack of precaution in regulatory approval. One example is increased lignin in bt corn. There are a number of effects: some maybe good, some maybe bad. The point is the corn was widely planted with this trait and scientists are left to sort out the aftermath.
    This paper covers the issue in depth and includes a discussion of regulatory oversight:

  108. Hi Karl, can you address the yeast article? We currently allow the use of GM yeast in the US in wine production. Do we know that the wine doesn’t contain toxins?

  109. Do we know that the wine doesn’t contain toxins?

    You mean besides the ethanol and methanol?

  110. I have read that paper and in my admittedly layman understanding, I felt it was a relatively responsible critique of the current regulatory process that made some reasoned arguments for some upgrades to the regulatory approval process. I note that the paper was written in 2004, so I am not certain how much the authors views might have evolved since then.
    This is the area where I believe responsible, legitimate questions can be raised. “Has the gene insertion event or other direct tinkering with the genome made possible through genetic engineering caused collateral effects on gene expression and regulation elsewhere in the plant?” is a valid question. As omics tools become more perfected, this perhaps gives us a means to answer that question, or at least greatly reduce the area of uncertainty. I perceive it to be a much more useful and meaningful assessment than exploratory whole food rat feeding trials, which are prone to error and in the end can only suggest there might be something bad in there, not what it is. It would be more efficient and meaningful if through omics analysis we are able to identify specific components of concern and then do rat feeding studies only of extracts of that substance.
    One final point, there may have been some efforts by plant breeders to reduce corn’s susceptibility to greensnap (the propensity to break in high winds). I suppose this has always been a concern, but it was about 10-12 years ago when there were some widespread failures due to greensnap and it was a hot topic among producers. My father sold Pioneer seed corn at the time. I recall one of the strategies being looked at was to increase lignen content in the stalks to improve resiliency to wind. I don’t know if that has any relationship or not. However, I do know farmers sometimes today complain that the stalks of current corn varieties are much tougher than previously and that they sometimes worry that the stubs might puncture their tires. Corn plant residues also don’t decompose as rapidly due to the higher lignen content.

  111. Karl, not all transgenics are created equal. bt corn is much simpler than golden rice, for example. even though bt shows that a simple change can have pleiotropic effects like increased lignin. The problem in the case of the “pesticide crops” (bt and rr) has more to do with the continual expression of a toxin which would otherwise be manufactured in a responsive way, or resistance. We don’t know what the long-term effects are of having so much acreage planted with bt crops. We do know that resistance develops much more quickly than it does with indigenous bt. Also, bt becomes less useful as a “natural” pesticide – judiciously applied.
    But again, this has little to do with the kinds of changes that occur as we attempt to modify the nutritional content of plants, or speed up growth, or any number of other ambitious undertakings that aren’t currently well-regulated – except in pharmaceutical labs.

  112. Rick, thank you for your comments. I especially enjoyed reading about your Dad, and the farmers fearing they may puncture their tires on corn stubs. 🙂 (not fun)
    Lignin is indigestable. So I really don’t know at this point, with so much of the gmo crops serving as animal feed, how that has played out. It is possible to breed for increased lignin, since it’s present in the plant naturally.
    Monsanto’s also had a problem with their glyphosate-resistant soy – being susceptible to “split stem” – also possibly from increased lignin. They made the soy resistant to another pesticide and didn’t have the same problem. The point being: because these plants aren’t tested in such a way as to reveal these pleiotropic changes, we must deal with unforeseen consequences. When we start altering the human food plants that are a major part of our diet – how will we prevent such consequences? Especially since the metabolism of plants is exponentially more complicated than animals. We certainly don’t understand it very well. The development of Golden Rice yielded some surprises, for example. We still don’t know how it will affect the target population (people with very little fat in their diets – fat is essential for the utilization of vit a precursors). But that is an entirely different discussion. I’m happy to report that Helen Keller international is having very good luck with fortifying oils with vit a to help against blindness in Africa (where rice isn’t widely able to be grown)
    There is so much more to say on this topic. I would love for people to be more aware of the questions that I think many independent scientists are saying need to be answered before we put various “biofortified” foods on our tables. I think the issue is so muddled that people end up basing their opinions on many things besides the science.
    But it’s hard to think about these problems right now.
    Happy Holidays to you.

  113. Just illustrating your lack of perspective while answering your question. Ethanol is a nervous system depressant, highly flammable, toxic and responsible for thousands of American deaths each year. Methanol in high enough concentrations would be even worse.
    Who died from GMO’s?

  114. It is possible to die from GMOs – maybe just a bit more slowly.
    So the fact that nobody has died from GMOs yet means they are “dying more slowly”.
    Oddly, no long term feeding studies or multigenerational studies have documented this risk.
    I suppose if somebody engineered a trait known to be harmful such as increased arsenic content in corn, you could be right, but why would anyone do such a thing?

  115. “The cellular level of methylglyoxal (MG), a highly toxic 2-oxoaldehyde, in Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells transformed with genes for some of the glycolytic enzymes was determined as an index of the safety of genetically engineered yeast and the level was compared with that in non-transformed control cells. the phosphoglucose isomerase (PGI), phosphofructokinase (PFK) and triosephosphate isomerase (TPI) activities significantly increased in the transformants and were approximately five-, three- and sevenfold higher, respectively, than those in the control. When these transformed cells were used for alcohol fermentation from glucose, they accumulated MG in cells at a level sufficient to induce mutagenicity. These results illustrate that careful thought should be given to the potential metabolic products and their safety when a genetically engineered yeast is applied to food-related fermentation processes.”

  116. Keith, can you link me to a long-term or multi-generational feeding study which compares a gmo food to its isogenic parent in a species appropriate for human comparison?
    Remember, we’re really just getting into the importance of such studies now that biotech wants to engineer the food we’re eating directly, instead of through highly processed or extracted food. The industry is really relying on this non-scientific idea that “we’ve been eating it for years and nothing’s happened”. We really HAVEN’T been eating it for years – the animals we eat have. Or, we’ve only eaten extracts like high-fructose corn syrup, or oils – none of which would contain proteins, or be relied upon for a specific nutritional profile.

  117. Mlema, I think that you are correct to say that most GMO food has been fed to animals. Your post implies that humans have not directly consumed protein or DNA from GMO plants, which, although not precisely correct (papaya, some squash, soy textured proteins, etc.), still contains an element of truth.
    To the extent that you believe that, can you explain the demand for labeling GMO content? Specifically, the proposals for GMO labeling laws (Calif prop 37, Wash I522, Sen 809, Connecticut, etc. all specifically exempt a labeling requirement for animals fed GMO food, and none of them contains any exemption for foods whose GMO component is chemically identical to a non-GMO equivalent.

  118. Before we get into gish gallop, let me ask you this question a second time:

    Who died?

    Good science and scholarship needs to accurately reflect reality. So if a paper suggests that a GMO causes harm, and yet we don’t observe this in real life, it begs the question, why? Perhaps the experiment was conducted improperly or the design was lacking in some way. Even if we can determine that nothing is wrong with the paper and the design was top notch (hypothetically) we still have a result standing in isolation that tells us very little.
    Seriously, the anti-GMO crowd would have us believe that GMO’s are wrecking havoc with our health and the environment. This simply isn’t being observed among millions of humans, lab animals and live stock.
    Does it prove safety? In a strict and absolute sense, no; nothing can be. But it does suggest that the current regulatory and development system has been adequate in reducing the risks to a very low level that we normally expect to experience when eating our food.

  119. The results here, however, aren’t surprising and are within the capacity of yeasty folk to circumvent.
    If you massively increase glycolysis then you wind up with accumulation of a product of glycolysis… who’d have thunk it? (anyone with any knowledge of glycolysis you’d imagine)
    Subsequently you look for ways around this… and find them surprisingly easily…
    One would also assume that you could overexpress the proteins (Glo-I and Glo-II or MGR and LALDH) which deal with MG and cause the pathway to flow better rather than shunting direct to pyruvate by essentially knocking out the MGS pathway.
    So essentially, what the results of the first paper show is precisely what they say… careful thought should be given to metabolic products… oddly enough… careful thought is given to metabolic products (metabolomics, it’s a thing y’know) both in industry (alas you shall have to take my word for this, I have been and academia (as evidenced by the paper I link above – oh, you found a problem? FTFY!)
    None of this should be surprising though. I’m totally sure any half way competent scientist could generate any number of wildly toxic GMOs if they so wished, and someone with a little more knowledge could, I am convinced, add apparently unrelated genes to accumulate toxic byproducts (all one would need here is knowledge of pathways, choke points and kinetics) or indeed about any byproduct. This is hardly an arguement against GMOs though, it simply highlights the power of the approach.
    Relatedly (more to other posts than above) while humans may not have been directly consuming GMO in vast quantities (not totally convinced of this to be honest, sure, much is highly processed, but much isn’t) animals most certainly have been, and were the feed highly toxic we have a highly commercially valuable population of billions which have been exposed to the effects with nothing being shown regarding toxic/adverse effects.

  120. In the greensnap situation I had mentioned, Pioneer had a variety that was apparently more susceptible. Actually, it had been introduced for western corn belt markets and growing conditions and had been fairly popular with my fathers customers. About the third year after its introduction, a very strong wind came through at just the right time, causing widespread greensnap in our area but some varieties proved to be more susceptible, this variety in particular, (also, some varieties may have suffered less damage because they were at less vulnerable stages of development). I don’t believe that the greensnap susceptibility was necessarily a consequence of genetics, ge or otherwise, i.e. I just think that as the weather has become more extreme more frequently, its just more apparent that greensnap resiliency is a trait that has not been selected for in the past.
    Also, I don’t want to give the impression that the seemingly more resilient cornstalk as they are driven over is causing all sorts of problems. As you drive across a cornfield, the practical consequence is that it may be more bumpy than you remember in the past due to the stalks not giving way as readily. The speculation by farmers that they might puncture tires is mostly tongue-in-cheek hyperbole on their part, I’m not aware of it actually happening. I don’t want to contribute to some headline “Cornfarmers unhappy that GMO corn causing massive tire damage across Midwest.” Potentially, if the higher lignen reduces susceptibility to greensnap, putting up with a little bumpier ride driving over a cornfield might be a tradeoff farmers are willing to make.

  121. From what I can tell the increased lignin result is anomalous (particularly in magnitude, one other paper I came across suggested a modest increase in Bt hybrids, but in the 10-20% rang) and non-repeatable in the literature.
    (among quite a few) fail to see anything approaching a consistent effect – which rather raises questions (in my mind) about why it is the Saxena study found such stark effects when nobody else can find anything approaching that level of effect, and it would appear that predominantly no effect on lignin concentration is found.
    Alas a false positive is far more interesting than a true negative, particularly when it allows one to wave ones hands and say “ahah, unintended consequences!”.

  122. Charles, I haven’t been following the labeling battle. I am indifferent. I would rather see an educated public that could make their choices based on science. If producers want to voluntarily label, I support that. And of course we already have USDA organic, which limits GMO under that label (as well as some pesticides and sewer sludge). I’d rather see foods labeled as to how they were produced: factory style with prophylactic antibiotics and inhumane treatment? I wouldn’t like to eat that. Sorry I can’t give you any info on the labeling claims either for/against.
    One thing that’s happening is there is a growing cry from biotech that we need to loosen regulation. This is happening concurrent to the development of “biofortified” foods – GMO foods like carrots with more calcium. This is a silly, expensive ploy to include more of our food supply under patents. Not only is it unnecessary, but it messes up our long-established nutritional profiles upon which we’ve built “balanced diets” for a long time. It does nothing to improve our health or agriculture. We still have the same amount of calcium available to us. Industry will probably say it is for the survival of the third world, which is just feel-good rhetoric. This technology messes with the secondary metabolism of plants in ways more profound than something like bt corn or RR soy. Bad combo IMHO.

  123. One note about the long-established nutritional profiles that you describe is that for carrots, their nutritional profile has already been drastically modified from its ancestor. The secondary metabolism of carrots has been mutated so that it now provides massive quantities of beta-carotene, via mechanisms that we’ve been blind to until now. A good question to ask is, would the same biochemical modifications be more, less, or just as risky if done using genetic engineering?
    This thread has gone all over the place, and I consider that a success. I wonder if it would be best to create a new open thread? If so, is there a specific new topic that y’all think it should move to? Let me know and I shall create it so the conversation can continue into new realms!

  124. Rick, thank you for the explanation. It’s hard to imagine any plant material puncturing the tractor tires I’m familiar with 🙂 The issue of increased lignin certainly isn’t about punctured tires. It’s more a question of digestibility and biodegradability. And these are subjects to be studied for all these crops which contain lignin.

  125. Rick, I’m sorry! My reply to your comment here posted above my own comment that you replied to! 😛

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