If you’ll permit me, I’d like to philosophize a bit about why I am here, why I keep coming back to science communication. Now that I have a young daughter, I often ask myself how I can best spend my time. Even more so as I read the heartbreaking news of refugees leaving war torn Syria, horrifying gun violence in the US, the dismal state of US politics… I have to tell you that talking about GMOs has seemed like a waste of time for a while now. The science is in, the technology is safe. We can talk about specific use of the technology but those details are so small compared to the huge problems in the world. Still, while these “food fights” feel meaningless compared to so many issues facing the world today, I think we do need to keep on talking.
I think science communication about GMOs and other issues in food and agriculture is necessary for one short term reason, one medium term reason, and one long term reason.
Short term, the more we share factual information, the more we can help reduce unnecessary fears of parents who are just trying to feed their kids.
We have marketers and activist groups spreading misinformation about perfectly safe and healthy foods, and not everyone has the time or access to do all the research to see if those claims are true. How many families are struggling to buy higher priced foods they maybe can’t afford because they have been told how scary conventional foods are? How many people choose a processed food with fancy labels over actual fruits and vegetables? How many schools are trying to serve speciality food when they could feed more healthy foods to more kids if they stick with conventional?
Maybe organic blueberries do have slightly more antioxidants, but even if they do, at half the price you can have two handfuls of conventional blueberries. Or even better, buy store brand frozen blueberries, which are often cheaper and just as nutritious. Either way, the USDA pesticide residue program tells us that we have nothing to fear. So just feed kids as many fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables as you can afford, and don’t worry about any special labels. And maybe donate that extra money you saved to a food pantry.
Medium term, the more we can help families make purchasing decisions based on facts instead of fear, then their purchasing decisions may help grocery stores and restaurants to not fall prey to the marketers and activist groups.
I rarely buy name brand foods. I don’t want to pay extra for marketing. For the most part, grocery store brands are just as if not more tasty than name brands, and are often much less expensive. But I have seen a very worrying trend. The more food fears become pervasive, the more stores are meeting that demand for more expensive labels.
More store brand items are being offered only as organic or non GMO. I’ve personally seen this at Safeway, Wegmans, Publix, and Target. Costco is the worst offender of all. There are many items for which they stopped carrying the “regular” kind. I understand the stores have to make money, but if I noticed that food is becoming more expensive and that non-speciality store brand items are disappearing, then I have to wonder how that is pinching families who spend a greater percentage of their incomes on food.
Choice is great. I want farmers to be able to farm how they want, within reasonable regulation. I want to see diversity in agriculture serving even people who choose things I’d never choose. But it’s getting to the point where options are decreasing, not increasing. Medium term, I hope we can keep reasonably priced food around while maintaining the expensive options for those who want them – both here in the US and all over the world.
Long term, food is a national security issue. People with enough food for themselves and their children are far less likely to make war. As a veteran and as a humanist, the issue of food security is very concerning to me.
Yes, it’s a trope when pro GMO people say we need GMOs to feed the world. I don’t disagree with the statement, as I think farmers all over the world need access to diverse methods (both high and low tech) so they can choose what works for them in order to produce the food that is so desperately needed. But whether we are growing GMOs in the US has little effect on the amount of food available in Africa and Asia. Plus, most of the GMOs grown in the US go to animal feed anyway.
How lack of science based information can affect food security and thus national security is twofold. First, anti GMO sentiment can lead to policies and regulations that keep needed technologies from being developed, and then keep those technologies away from farmers. Second, anti GMO sentiment can affect both export and domestic markets, so even when countries have policies that allow farmers to grow GMOs, the farmers would not have a market available to sell their products.
Long term, I hope that my small science communication efforts, in combination with many others, can mitigate misinformation and help get needed technologies to farmers and needed food to families. The possibilities of disease resistance and stress resistance in crops are too important to leave on the shelf.
Keep on keeping on
It still feels wrong to me to have so many people talking about what is effectively a non-issue, when we have so many real issues that should have our attention. But I have hope that sci comm can have short, medium, and long term impacts if we keep on keeping on. Thank you to all my fellow science communicators for working to share science based information about food and agriculture. And please let’s focus on the misinformation, and not blame farmers for the misdeeds of activist groups and marketing agencies.
Thanks, shared on FB. Where sometimes more than 3 people actually read things.
I still want to know what I am eating and feeding grandkids. Pesticide-resistent GMO crop residues of industrial chemicals are an important part of what I want to know. You may currently think that the science adequately accounts for all possible pathogenic potentials, and declares all such contamination to be entirely safe… but that does not mean that the science will remain unchanged as further medical research advances. Science is not static, and subject to change with new data streams in the future. Assuming science will not discover relevant risks because it is now declared adequate… does not seem consistent with good science.
Keep up your good work, Anastasia.
The challenge I see is finding ways to communicate science to the people that need it most. For example, the fund-raiser for our recent State GM labeling initiative had almost no grasp of the relevant science. (Ironically, this probably made him a better fund-raiser).
We do need GE crops to HELP feed the world. The technology is not a panacea nor is it the evil some would have us think. It is a technology that can and has helped produce more food more sustainably. With 9-10 billion coming to dinner in the next 35 years we will need the best of every ag system in order to feed the world more sustainably.
It’s very important to play the long game here if we expect to be able to have access to these tools for everyone: researchers, farmers, and people who need more and better food. Like all other ideological push-back movements such creationism, anti-abortion, anti-vaccine, there are well funded campaigns with misinformation. They are also playing Calvinball–they have no rules while science is still trying to tie its shoes. They are also managing to get everyone to follow the Calvinball, just like Jon Stewart described for the US media. Even many science supporters are falling for the misframing of the anti-GMO folks.
We have to get better at key aspects:
1) Rapid response to misinformation on social media. Kevin Folta has been amazing at this, and because of his success he’s being targeted as a means to stop him. But I think we need a lot more of that. Letting this FOIA distraction disrupt the work and chilling the conversation is letting Ruskin win. Unfortunately, many of the staid traditional science communication channels and theorists are not on board with these street fighting strategies and want to have boring meetings about defining advocacy vs outreach, which has zero value in the actual discussion because the other side doesn’t give a shit how you define them. It’s irrelevant.
2) We are facing unbelievable levels of lies and misinformation from fraudsters selling detox potions and their health-halo products. It’s not that scientists aren’t trying all sorts of strategies to provide the information. Every effort buried under tons of marketing BS from GMO haters. Until scicomm folks wake up to the fact that we are dealing with toxic marketers, shoveling volumes of lies, and stop pretending that if we just sing kumbayah with everybody’s values and that will sort it out, we will get nowhere. We have to take on the major liars, like the SciBabe did with the FoodBabe. We need to use tools like marketers do, which is very distasteful to pure academics.
We need a lot more of an offensive line moving the actual game ball, instead of just continually playing defense of Calvinball.
Neither of these strategies gets any real support from the science community. And unless we can clone Kevin Folta (and maybe we could, somebody we know might know how), and figure out how to undermine the well-supported liars network, we are going to keep being smothered under piles of manure no matter how many meetings we hold on outreach vs advocacy.
It sounds like you are more concerned with pesticides than with the crops themselves. Why aren’t you promoting tracking & labelling of pestcide applications? After all, there are far more used on non-gmo crops than on gmo.
As for your position on “good science”, you seem to be saying that we shouldn’t put any techno,got into use until everything possible to know is know about it. I doubt anyone (but maybe you) would say that this is consistent with “good science” either.
“Pesticide-resistent GMO crop residues of industrial chemicals are an important part of what I want to know.”
What about all the pesticide resistant Non GMOs? You do know that 100% of all crops are resistant to at least one pesticide, right?
I’m concerned about them in all foods and in the environment messing with wildlife as well. And, no I do not advocate all GE be avoided, it holds potential for safe and effective food production as it has so far in history, but the science needs to be VERY WELL DONE… and I disagree that enough science has been done… much more science needs to continually done so that we will be able to reap the advantages of GE and reduce unintended adverse consequences in our food supply future.
Certainly. I’m all for organic… the more organic the better! I’d advocate cutting pesticide use wherever we can find the science and best management practices can be developed to do so… we should just be able to know what we are eating as best we can, seems like a no brainer.
May I ask you what tests not already done you would like to see added to the evaluation of GE crops and why?
“the more organic the better! I’d advocate cutting pesticide use “
Why would you think that Organic uses less pesticides?
“cutting pesticide use wherever we can find the science and best management practices can be developed to do so.”
That is what all modern farmers and Ag researchers do, pesticides cost money and time. Remember most farmers live on the land with their families, they are extremely motivated to use the safest and most effective chemicals.
“we should just be able to know what we are eating as best we can”
A GMO label will not tell you anything other than the technology used to breed the plant, it will not give you any of the other info that you want.
Did you know about organic pesticide use like this:
Definitely something to think about.
I have noticed that you ask this question often. Has anyone ever replied with a good answer?
Without doubt, the most common response I have seen—but not a good answer—is:
“I’m just looking for one ONE Independent chronic toxicity study, done to deduce toxicology in humans, minimum of 3 mammalian species (rodents, pigs, dogs or monkeys) multi generational, that indicates safety in the long-term consumption of GMOs and their associated pesticides.”
This is from our friend who appears to have at least 7 Internet aliases, but speaks with one voice.
Yes Cletus says that alot.
I find it amusing that there is a strong correlation between commenters who declare that “…more science needs to be done…” and people who are unfamiliar with the science that has ALREADY been done.
Your comment is a good illustration of why communicators such as Anastasia are so important.
BTW there are always “unintended consequences” of any technology—just ask the guy/gal who invented the wheel. What is mentioned less often is the unintended consequences of inaction, which is the flip-side of the “precautionary principle”.
Nothing’s wrong with having concerns, but without hard evidence that the concerns are legit then that’s really all they are.
I guess in more inclined to take the opinion of virtually every major scientific organization on the issue of safety.
Anastasia, I hope you know how much us lay-folk appreciate the personal time that you and the whole “Biofortified Army” spend teaching us. And how effective you are when you are able to make contact with the Big Organic Army.
I didn’t appreciate that organic was metastasizing from an option for the uninformed wealthy to “no choice”.
For sure. What were you thinking as an offensive strategy?
Trial balloon: the big lie of Big Organic and Big Quacka is that
We know there is a financial empire that benefits from every mom who buys into the Big Lie. A spiderweb of corporations and self-interested individuals (ex Joe Mercola) that are funding and orchestrating the PR firms and the political operators like Gary Ruskin.
But not many people realize Whole Foods is as big as Monsanto (and growing faster?) And they don’t appreciate that “Big Food” has already moved in to cash in on the surging organic wave.
Do I have that right? Is that the true story? If it is right, is it a story that could be told credibly in the NYT?
GMO fanboys are here.
Well, one burning research question I have, that I would very much like to be clarified by multiple labs that are as independently funded as possible, is… what adverse effects, if any, are happening in human digestive tracts when pesticide food residues from heavily sprayed crops, especially those that are sprayed multiple times and close to harvest? Do shikamate pathway- utilizing bacteria in the gut become affected by glyphosate food residues? Are gut bacterial assemblages altered by AG chemical residues in our foods?
Exactly, we all have existential responsibility and goals of reducing unintended adverse consequences, both action and inaction included. The AG chemical practices are extremely (IMHO) messy and prone to unintended exposures (application drift, off site movement of contaminated water, and residues both on and in foods). Unintended consequenses are common, and we are all working to reduce them … but, not enough. We should have better results by now. It is a no-brainer that more research is needed to help us clean up unintended exposures.Too much ‘profit’ is taken before we have developed better results, costs are externalized onto the public far too often.
As someone relatively new to this fight and without a science background, I’d like to weigh in. You can talk all you want about science and it certainly helps when you need to address specific issues related to GMOs. But this is a consumer issue and should be approached as such. Moms are ground zero in this debate and most moms are now convinced that buying organic, non-GMO food is the best way to feed their children. I’ve talked to otherwise reasonable, educated moms who lament exploding bugs’ stomachs on corn, pesticides that cause cancer and how Monsanto is evil. It has very little to do with science. They have been snookered to believe that danger lurks in every bite of food and organic products are the only solution to their kids allergies, ADHD, lack of sports skills, generally bad attitude, etc.
We need to be more aggressive and start to take down the companies, executives and organizations promoting this bs. We need to make moms start to feel foolish – like they’ve been had – for buying non-GMO products. We need to out grocers and restaurants who pander to the fear; what’s happening with Chipotle is a good example that it can be done.
We need to portray folks like Gary Hirshberg as the smug, sanctimonious self-promoter he is, only looking to boost his bottom line and his public profile by scaring/snookering moms. We need to equate organic food corporations with Big Food, using the same marketing tactics and behind-the-scenes lobbying those corporations employ.
I am often surprised and frustrated at the genteel manner of our side. There is an opening now, between the Chipotle mess and even the NYT article exposing the organic industry for doing the “same thing” as biotech (I know we can debate the merits of the article all day, I’m only saying this is the FIRST time a major media outlet has had the balls to out the organic execs and equate them to evil biotech companies). It’s time to go for the jugular.
I have a political background and I do view this a political, ideological issue. It’s a political fight and a political campaign. I have no qualms saying it and encouraging others to approach it in this manner. There’s no détente, it’s either they win or we do. And right now, they’re winning big.
So the “white hats” are nice and necessary, but the movement needs a major re-tooling of its communication outreach and strategy. Time to fight back.
I have yet to see any solid evidence of any biologically significant effect on gut microbiome from trace amounts of any pesticide including glyphosate. If that changes then many scientists will pay attention to the new information.
That’s great Julie. What are your thoughts on getting accurate info to the moms?
My shorthand for how moms have been taught to fear food is the Big Lie. There are a number of quality volunteer communication efforts, such as: Biofortified, GenenticLiteracy, newcomer project Common Ground. These are “pull” rather than “push” channels. A mom has to be curious and motivated to find these channels. Meanwhile, mom is plastered with Push messaging selling the Big Lie. Solutions?
Another vector is to reveal lay bare slimy way the Big Lie is constructed. “Who benefits” from every fear story? Pulling the threads of this story is what journalists are supposed to do. Eric Lipton is a competent journo who has invested in learning a bit about the food industry. Could we show him where to look?
Ray, in reading over my previous response, I hope it didn’t come over as a criticism of you, personally, but more of a criticism of the common idea that we do not have enough information to act.
Much more science DOES need to be done, especially in the face of the substantial resources being expended by activist groups to stifle this work. In fact, I’m a strong advocate for a 50-fold increase in public funding of GM science and technology, as it relates to agriculture and the environment. Only then will we learn—from experience—the actual potential benefits and pitfalls of this approach. The population and climate time-bombs are still ticking, but we are doing remarkably little to train our bomb-disposal squad.
I am probably totally naive, but since fear is clearly such a strong motivator, perhaps these time-bombs could serve as a motivation for our public and politicians to accelerate the development of GM technology?
Ray, I think you are conflating GM technology with the “chemicals” used in agriculture. Just as it’s unwise to generalize about ALL GM technology, it makes no sense to make blanket statements about Ag chemicals: in fact, it’s these generalizations that are so often used to thwart a rational dialog about technology. I think that the best way advance the dialog is to discuss them on a case-by-case basis. The various GM-labeling initiatives in the U.S. are a perfect example of the naive—or dishonest—attempt to lump all similar-sounding technologies together.
“pesticide food residues from heavily sprayed crops, especially those that are sprayed multiple times and close to harvest?”
Are you referring to Organic pesticides, they are the ones that are normally applied to crops multiple times and some are approved to be sprayed right up to the day of harvest.
Pesticide use really has nothing to do with GMOs, the same herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are used in conventional farming.
“why you have made 68 Pro GMO “
Funny, so not only do you know nothing about farming, genetics, you also can’t count. I have made 28 comments in the past 24 hrs, 10 on fat shaming (hardly a GMO issue) one on climate change. Learn to count, and after learn to read.
My comment history is open, read away if you can.
I am Anti fat shaming.
It is “You’re a joke” Idiot.
And it keeps getting funnier.
I’m pretty sure that a very large percentage of GMO crops are RR and do get sprayed. Now, with the additional pressure to increase use because of pesticide resistence, together with circa harvest applications to defoliate and prep the crop for processing… that the EPA upped the allowabe residue levels in foods. I would say that that does have a lot to do with GMOs. And, now with glyphosate fading, there is the likelyhood that 2,4d and perhaps dicamba are being readied for crops along with the glyphosate. Seems like a pretty direct connection with GMOs.
Totally plausible, in my opinion. However, I have three questions, 1) how could you measure such an effect, 2) what would the significance be if you saw a change, and 3) are we talking about an effect when exposed to the normal traces of thousands of substances, or an effect when given large amounts of a substance (as in typical toxicology studies)?
We all have unique gut microbiomes, and the composition can change dramatically within a few hours, simply as a result of change of diet. In other words, everyone’s gut microbiome is different and is the result of a dynamic process, constantly changing in response to the environment, including the influence of the human host.
There is accumulating evidence that the “dialog” between the human microbiome and the human host is important in health, and I have no doubt that this field will develop radically over the next few decades. I would also be willing to bet that consuming large amounts of many things that we consume (food, vitamins, supplements, pesticides, red wine) would have an effect, both on the population, and on the behavior of these microbes. However, I think the science of the human microbiome is only in its infancy, and it’s too early to try to draw solid conclusions.
Sorry about the fat shaming and general name calling. That person slipped through the new moderation system but has now been removed.
Ray, you have been making lots of accusations without giving much information. Pesticide resistance is nothing new. Agriculture has been dealing with this since man started using pesticides. Which resistance challenge are you talking about? Also which defoliation practice are you talking about? Additionally, 2,4-D and dicamba are among the oldest synthetic herbicides. 2,4-D has been in widespread use since the late 1940s. I have pictures of, and memories of, my dad spraying it in the 1950s. I’ve been using dicamba since the 1970s. What is your point about them?
Glyphosate has long been touted as being the least toxic herbicide to humans, by the AG chem industry, and by most researchers. There must have been reasons that those claims were made. This would mean that the perceived toxicity to humans is likely going to be moving more in the wrong direction. Why not use more of the ‘profit’ to figure out better solutions, to move AG into less toxicity instead? Stockholders would rather have the ‘profit’????
Ray, pre harvest spraying of glyphosate is more of a European thing, very little is done here in North America, less than 10%. The weather here in NA is mostly dry in the autumn so dry down is not needed in most cases. Sime wheat farmers in Northern US States and Canada use because of the short growing season.
Re: 2-4-d, it has been the number one wheat, barley, rice, rye, and other grain herbicide for over 70 years now, it was the world’s most popular herbicide until glyphosate came off patent and became affordable.
2-4-d is just a synthetic plant hormone, and one of the safest herbicides known to man.
A parody piece in a UK newspaper a while back had an article about a cavemen discussion, and came to the conclusion that if the precautionary principle had been in place at that time, fire would still be waiting for council approval.
The same can be said for the organic/anti-GMO crowd. The problem is that they have been much better at pushing the woo than the other side has been at pushing the science. There have been dozens of studies that show that organic is no better for you than conventional, yet the stories that grab headlines are the ones with Really Bad Science that make claims that organic is better.
I very much agree, research should be done much more extensively given that the gut train influence is becoming much better recognized.
Ray, I think you missed my point: just because something is plausible does not necessarily mean that it is readily testable, or that the result will be significant to human health.
Let me give an example: if you are a vegetarian and then eat some meat, the composition of your gut microbiome will shift within a few hours. (Yes, this is an extreme example). What would you do with the answer? Does this mean we shouldn’t eat meat?
Human clinical trials are hard, lengthy and very expensive to do. There needs to be a compelling rationale, and even then, it’s not practical to test most interesting hypotheses in humans. Now, if there was already evidence (epidemiological or in animals) that glyphosate was highly toxic, and this toxicity could plausibly be linked to an effect on the gut microbiome, then PERHAPS a researcher might consider such a clinical trial. The reality is that scientists only have time and resources to pursue a tiny fraction of the hypotheses that they come up with.
A more feasible first-step might be to examine the effect of glyphosate on pure cultures of gut microbes. This has already been done with a few bacteria, and growth inhibition was only seen at glyphosate concentrations much higher than we are normally exposed to.
Glyphosate is the least toxic herbicide to humans, this is true. Glyphosate is about as toxic as table salt and 2-4-d is about half as toxic as Capsaicin the stuff in chilli peppers. But the application rate for 2-4-d is lower and it breaks down in the environment faster, so 2-4-D has a slightly lower EIQ (environmental Impact Quotient) than Glyphosate. Both 2-4D and Glyphosate have very low EIQ`s, both very similar to horticultural vinegar (herbicide).
This is what I don’t get about you folks, of the 100s of herbicides on the market, you are against the 2 safest ones. This is akin to fighting climate change by demanding Government ban all mopeds, because Honda makes more money than local power plant.
Hey no problem.
I’m against all of them, if we can find something better. And, better long term chronic low dose effects studies need to be done before claiming near lack of any toxic effect. More money for increased research is a no-brainer.
“I’m against all of them”
Well of course you are, because you don’t know anything about farming toxicology, or how horrible the alternatives are for mankind, consumers and the environment.
“if we can find something better.”
2-4-d and glyphosate are the better ones, compared to the alternatives.
“And, better long term chronic low dose effects studies need to be done before claiming near lack of any toxic effect.”
How long is long? 2-4-d has been around and tested since the mid 40s, 50s for dicamba and 70s for glyphosate, is this not long enough?
I agree that we can’t just be all science all the time. Communication is about trust and trust starts with a connection. In a big way it has to be moms talking to moms, I think. That’s one reason I teamed up with other science moms to write this letter to celebrity moms: http://groundedparents.com/2015/08/19/scientist-and-advocate-moms-to-celeb-on-gmo-food/
Thank you for the kind words.
The reduction in choices, especially for vegetarian proteins like tofu and veggie burgers, is getting really frustrating. In some cases it’s just some text on a label with no added cost. But that Non GMO Project verified logo costs money which is passed to consumers. Organic costs more as well. To be blunt, it’s not fair that the desires of the rich are making things more expensive for everyone.
Ray, sorry to not get back to you sooner. We are getting ready to plant and today was very busy. It appears that several other people have answered you so I won’t belabor those answers. I do have another point for you to ponder. Americans have become obsessed with their health and increasingly are questioning their food supply as being “toxic.” However, in my time of watching the objections and tactics of this portion of the population (I’m 67), the rhetoric never changes. So, the objections haven’t changed in the last 50 or so years. In that time period agricultural technology has surged forward. It had to because in that time period U.S. Life Expectancy has increased from just over 70 years to just under 79 years and continues to rise at a rate of just over one month per year. Beside that, world population has doubled in the same time period. That to me seems to be the ultimate long term study with the results being that we are indeed NOT “poisoning” ourselves.
Jim, thanks. With the staggering costs of world agricultural production, It seems to my nieve mind that a very tiny percentage of all that money moving around, if it were put to more research, would undoubtedy point the way to even better agricultural practices and better toxicologic knowledge with which to guide food production while offering even better safety of the products we eat. It is opportunity for advancement if we can find innovative alternatives to reduce chemical inputs along with our food intake. I’m concerned that chemical sales profit is becoming too much of a regressive factor in that essential innovation.
Ray, you would garner a little more respect if you did not include misleading terminology. You are part of the problem. “industrial chemicals” No, tested pesticides. “all possible” no one ever said that. There is risk in life and always will be. “all such contamination to be perfectly safe” No , ever heard of MRLs?
And TZ as well as Ted, and this is in every argument where “they” show up.
There you go again. “heavily sprayed” Do you even have a definition for that?
I agree, EIQ is a great concept that needs to get much greater visibility.
Personally, I think that it’s a mistake to put too much faith in the typical high-dose, acute animal toxicity studies. Admittedly, they may be the best that we have available at the moment, and I know that they are considered to be the gold-standard, but I’m not aware that there is strong evidence that they are predictive of human effects.
Great closing analogy. Keep it up.
I would agree that we need more, and safer, pesticides. However, discovering such molecules is MUCH harder than you might think. There is only a finite number of ways to configure an organic molecule—even setting aside any consideration of whether it is safe for us, while being toxic to the pest. It is uncanny that a small molecule like glyphosate has such potency and specificity for the active site of the enzyme that it targets. It’s really no exaggeration to call it “A once-in-a-century herbicide”:
I agree that “chronic, low-dose” safety studies would be valuable, in theory, but the challenge is to design a study that is actually feasible, in the absence of a specific hypothesis to test.
Your Grounded Parents letter was very effective (I thought). I predicted there would be no responses. True?
Thanks for continuing the dialog, Ray.
Nothing can ever be proven to be “safe”. The closest we can get to this goal is that we currently have no evidence or rationale that “A” is more or less safe than “B”.
A big part of the problem with food crops is that they have been bred to reduce their content of natural pesticides: this makes them more palatable to eat, but also more vulnerable to pests. Modern agriculture tries to compensate for this deficiency by deliberately introducing designed pesticides. Whether these are more or less safe than the natural ones is open to debate. The (natural) pesticide load in our foods is still huge, and we know remarkably little about the effect on our health, but I suspect that there are plenty of “natural” pesticides that would probably never be approved by the EPA if they were introduced as commercial products. One simple example is the phytoestrogens (endocrine disrupting chemicals) present in many plants, including soy and corn.
Ironically, one recent hypothesis is that the “toxins” present in plant foods may actually be part of the health benefits of fruits and veggies (rather than vitamins or antioxidants).
You bring up some important points Ray. Please know that there is lots and lots of research going on every day. There are USDA-ARS (Ag. Research Service) scientists, state university scientists, private company scientists, and farmers that are involved along with billions of dollars. That is only in this country. Scientists in other countries are making strides as well. There is a vast amount of toxicological information as well. Did you know that it is estimated (by Dr. Bruce Ames) that 99.9% of the “toxins” in our food supply are naturally occurring. That is because plants naturally produce chemicals to protect themselves from pests. Solanine in tomatoes and potatoes and capsacin in pepper are examples. The EPA, in this country, does a good job of regulating agricultural chemicals. There have always been a small number of people who have a heightened concern about pesticides. Combine that with the general mistrust of government and/or big business, and conspiracy theories are born. The truth is there are a lot of people (farmers, like me, scientists, seedsmen, bureaucrats, and etc.) who are giving their careers, their very lives, to deliver consumers (which they are themselves) the most abundant, varied, and inexpensive food supply of any time in history.
True. What do you think it would it take to galvanize our politicians to support an expansion of ag research?
Wow, you must live in the city. There is Ag research going on all the time everywhere. Even in my small community (far less population than a LA beach in the autumn) There are government test plots and commercial test plots as well. Ag research is going on all over, you just need to get out of the city more often,
What EXACTLY do you want to know? Ask a specific question. Chances are that someone reading this thread could respond to your question.
Given that there have been several cases of vandalism of Ag research (i.e. terrorism by activist groups), chances are that researchers will try very hard to keep a low profile.
You make a very important point about relationships.
There is an old sales mantra of “know me; like me; trust me; buy my product”. This may sound cynical, but for most people, “buying” someone’s argument cannot start with data and logic. We now have a number of prominent, well-known, anti-science figures that many people have come to trust (Drs. Mercola or Oz comes to mind, but the list is substantial). Right now, I can’t think of any other “trustworthy” pro-science public figure that the general population would listen to. What is missing is a sympathetic or charismatic figure that can grab people’s attention and lead the conversation. The challenge may be how such an individual could survive financially, in contrast to all the folks making money by promoting doom and gloom.
Well you have to know what to look for and the signs don’t say “GMO wheat testing”, there are just small signs that says xxx-1axxx test plot and the name of the company or the University doing the test.
Some Government and University fields do have chain link fences and keep out signs, but I am sure that is where they grow the Black ops crops, you know the crops with lasers and machine guns… kidding.
They grow some crops (veggies) behind chainlink to keep the wildlife and garden raiders out. There are test fields everywhere here in Canada, but I have never noticed them in the states.
Yes, good points. My thoughts about innovative thinking for these pesticide problems has been encouraged by a similar ‘outside the box’
bit of research by an Emory ethnobotanist studying folk medicines in southern Italy, who tested the folk use of European chestnut leaf topical applications on bacterial lesions. She seems to have discovered a whole new way to potentially treat such bacteria as mersa. The treatment does not kill the bacteria but does have great power to limit an toxin deployment by the bacteria. Great if the Emory work proves up! Outside the box thinking can sometimes lead to great advantage.
Well, of course I’m part of the problem.. we all are. But, so are ‘industrial chemicals’ to the tune of about 85K that were not much around before industry created them (granted for our benefit) with really very little adequate toxicity testing. Yes, of course, ‘natural pesticides’ exist in many crops and wild foods, but most of those we have had a longish time being exposed to for adaptation to tolerating them. I don’t ever have illusions of attaining total safety… just wanting to increase the trend.
No, We all are is incorrect. You are the one that used the misleading terminoIogy I cited. And now are trying to weasel out of.
Peter, well, what it would take is for all of us who argue about these issues all the time, mostly opposing each other on many of the points of contention… to come together in the common ground of realizing that we mostly all would want to see more funding for more research, just because that is what ultimately informs our intelligence and ability to adapt to the future. We do have common ground, and that gives us power, if we can just agree on that. Politicians would respond more than they do now.
Doesn’t this apply to everything? Perhaps a paper linking kale to cancer will be published next year. On the basis of this worry should you and your grandchildren stop eating kale?
All one can do is make the best possible decision on the best current evidence.
Exactly, and to keep on trying to improve the current knowledge in order to improve decisions about what to eat and what to avoid eating and feeding the great grandkids.
Eric, if we were not all out there procreating all the time, our population could stabilize at a level of needed food production that could easily be done with all organic production and the commercial pesticide tail would not have to keep wagging the dog. Or, I should say: ‘wagging the weasel’
Yes, we would be smarter to increase the chronic low dose accumulative adverse effects research in order to increase our knowledge and have a better ability of reducing pathogenicity. The medical system concentrates on symptom abatement and not enough on causation determination because they have a short term hangup hooked on the huge profits of the drug sales. IMHO more research funding needs to be on the longer term goal of causation determination and subsequent knowledge for prevention.
If you are not looking, you won’t find… unless you just stumble over it. There is a lot of ‘stumbling’. The testing has not been adequate for intelligence in decision-making IMHO.
Eric, yes… it means if you spray more than you need to!
Peter, well, one of the things I deserately want to know: If the pesticide active and ‘inert ingredients’ in all of the forestry use sprays…. and all of the degradates of those chemicals that get into the salmon streams that I’m working in, contribute in a substatial way to have adverse toxic effect on young rearing salmon, such that abilities of the fish are at all compromised and contributing to the 95 to 95% mortality of coho salmon smolt seen during their freshwater developmental phase before they move out to the ocean phase of their life cycles. Does this non point pollution reduce salmon survival?
I have not seen anyone here who disagrees with this. But then I agree wtih Peter Olins. What exactly do you want to know? This puzzles Mr. Olins and it puzzles me too.
Ray, by your own definition. You are saying that farmers waste time, chemicals and thus money. While there is the human error factor as in any business. Farmers try hard to avoid spraying more than they need to. It is too expensive and can cause an inability to pay bills and thus lose the farm. So, no, there is not a lot of “heavily sprayed” going on.
“we were not all out there procreating” Wrong, I have no kids. how many kids other folks decide to have is not something you can control. So, that is not worth discussing in this forum No, organic could not be easily done to feed the world as there are not near enough organic inputs available to use and prices would rise leading to more food shortages in poor areas. Are you so draconian and heartless as to advocate starvation as a method of birth control. Quit grasping at the first straw that comes to mind when replying, please.
Ray, correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect that you may be operating from the absolutist position that ANY spraying is too much unless safety is “proven”. Is that accurate? If so, then we have moved beyond a technical discussion of any specific technology to a moral debate, which I feel will be fruitless.
There is remarkably little solid evidence about the safety of most of the chemicals we are exposed to. In the case of ag. chemicals, any conclusions are confounded by a number of critical factors: the level of exposure, the duration of exposure, and the fact that farmers are typically exposed to multiple substances over their lifetime. In addition, farmers — other than a few sitting typing at computers ;~) — are often involved in a high level of physical activity, so it’s hard to find a realistic “control” population. Epidemiological studies struggle mightily to tease apart these different factors, but in my opinion, the problem is almost always intractable, and any cause-and-effect interpretations are very suspect.
I should stress that NEGATIVE interpretations are equally suspect, since any TRUE effects are also likely to get lost in the statistical noise of most studies.
One promising sign is the recent initiative of the EPA to systematically test for “endocrine-disrupting” activity of environmental chemical we’re exposed to.
Good question. I suspect that there are many people knowledgeable enough to respond.
One question I would have is, what is “normal”. While declining salmon populations are definitely a concern, aquatic animals seem to be designed to produce massive excesses of eggs.
In the mean time, you might want to consider posting your question on the gmoanswers website. What are the most commonly used forestry sprays?
I have a hunch that if the irritant glucosinolates present in most crop brassicas were introduced today as pesticides, they would not be approved, due to their potential for toxicity.
Perhaps the common childhood aversion to brussels sprouts and broccoli may not be such a bad thing?
Kale is a particularly bad example. It’s disgusting and should be banned IMHO.
As a kid, drinking raw milk, it was always obvious when the farmer was feeding his cows kale.
Peter, no that is not my position, just that we make concerted effort to find ways to reduce spraying while improving food quality and quantity. I know the safety can never be ‘proven’ in any case, but we can, and must trend it more in that direction.
Best management practices can always be improved. Sure, farmers try hard to avoid the increased expenses of spray, but is the advice of the chemical companies always in the farmer interest, or in competition with stockholder demand for profits?
Glyphosate, 2,4,d, atrazine, dicamba, etc…. many AG chemicals. To eliminate competing vegetation with the crop of fir trees.
The ‘excesses of egg production’only allows 2 to 3% survival, even while our runs are only 1 to 10% of historic. Pesticide pollution in the water is only one form of pollution here, but how much effects might it have? we live in a forested watershed, with not very much population or polluting from many other sources.Perhaps it has little effect, but it makes sense to try to figure it out. Nobody wants to fund it, largely because they don’t want to know, which seems potentially to be fiscally and scientifically irresponsible while we spend many millions to improve habitat but avoid water quality assessment with integrity.
Oh yes, I am such a draconian heartless weasel. QED.
“As a kid, drinking raw milk, it was always obvious when the farmer was feeding his cows kale.”
OMG … Yetch!
Peter, good point, generalizations are odious most of the time, and there is far too much of it in much of the discourse over GMOs and also, within the issues of pesticide use on crops. I think that GE has wide potential to do a lot of good in the world, but any tool can be misused, and I do cringe knowing the technology will sometimes be misused. The GMO labeling effort unfortunately often take the approach of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I believe it would be an improvement if GMOs were labeled because it would move the bar more toward knowing just what we are eating, but far from defining that with clarity. When GMOs use more pesticides than necessary, and non-GMO crops used more pesticides than necessary, I don’t want to eat them.
Eric, “how many kids other folks decide to have is not something you can control.” Very true, but we could help provide education and technology to help folks no have kids until they actually decide to have the next one.
Yes, I feel much the same. as the climate noose tightens, There will be rapid scrambling of politicians to call for more and better research … yet they will convieniently forget that they did not listen very well to scientists calling for the need for many decades. Of course, too much time will have passed to maximize effectiveness of adaptation…. we are in deep doo doo on a lot of fronts because scientists who have a handle on these things don’t generally have the personality traits conducive to more forcefully express their best assessments of the data and predicted outcomes, in any language that politicians have the attention spans for.
No, Ray. We can not teach folks where ISIS and mugabe types rule. This is not LaLa land. Besides that you spend all your time opposing new technology.
No, I want us to get the new technologies right.
That stuff was mild compared to what he usually has to deal with.
Since when do farmers always follow the advice of chemicals.
We are, and that is what folks have been telling you for months. Now, if you really want to be a skeptical watchdog. Great. Just don’t blow your credibility crying wolf.
I agree that the non GMO project is irritating. I try not to buy stuff that says non-GMO. But a lot of products I used to buy are popping up with that label. I try to buy organic because I want to support organic farming – in general. I understand that a lot of organic farming isn’t really true to mission. But it is true that eating organic will help to limit pesticide exposure.
Moms are concerned about this because small children are the most vulnerable to the negative effects (they eat the most for their body weight and are developing). Pediatricians recommend limiting children’s exposure as much as possible, noting that diet is perhaps the main route of exposure.
They even go so far as to suggest that IPM be supported:
“increase economic incentives for growers who adopt IPM, including less toxic pesticides.
Support research to expand and improve IPM in agriculture and nonagricultural pest control.”
I think that the differences in cost between organic and conventional are largely artificial. Food prices are affected by a number of things, including politics. In general, in the US, the least healthy food is the cheapest. We have a co-op in my town which is currently struggling to survive. Apparently a Whole foods store is coming into town, and also the local chain has started offering its own organic and other organic brands. The co-op has a lot of local stuff and you’ll find things labelled “local, raised w/o pesticides” – which is a refreshing relief from big organic and big conventional.
I’m glad that the GMO supporters are pointing out that pesticide resistance isn’t limited to GMOs. Maybe people will start to differentiate between these various concerns and find some common ground. But I can’t relate to the whole military analogy and ‘making moms feel foolish’ – us vs them, etc. No winners in that war.
Can you give an example of how a GMO has been developed to deal with each of the pressures you list?
I’d like to see us step away from this generalized conversation and start talking about specifics. I think people will benefit from bringing the conversation to a “reality” level and away from hypotheticals and grandiose claims.
Are gene drive systems being developed in agricultural research?
Yes, good points. Just walking down the food isles looking at isle after isle of a food desert of dry cereal/ mac and cheese/sugar big-gulp drinks with arm length chemical names that are incomprehensable to the vast majority of moms (and dads) is bound to continue causing consumers to one by one… drift away from those isles and into local organic farmers markets and more discerning grocery stores. And, a whole more hip population segment within many AG research universities (well educated) are moving rapidly to organic too. Many children of researchers are fed only organic foods. Why is that? Are they only the ‘bottom of the class’ one third? The expensive local organic food stores in many research institution communities are thriving, and there are some very intelligent customers there shelling out premium prices to feed themselves and their young families. Kind if makes one wonder what these researchers are thinking IMHO. Maybe they are not ‘real’ scientists.
Yes, ‘helping feed the world’ is rather broad, but since you ask for specifics, off the top of my head, a few relevant GM crops are:
fungus-resistant potato and wheat
virus-resistant papaya, squash and wheat
lipid profile of oil seeds
maize producing phytase
Some current and potential nutritional improvements are reviewed here:
Hi Peter. Golden Rice doesn’t yet exist in a cultivar that farmers will adopt due to inferior yield. I read the article you linked to, although I had to do it rather quickly. It seems to be one of those advocacy pieces that blurs the lines between various forms of development, calling it all “biotechnology”. If you’d care to pull out the GMOs from that article – we can discuss it more.
Please give your example of each of the various stress-resistant GMOs that Mr. Wagner listed. As far as I know there is one drought-resistant trait for corn (that the USDA has admitted doesn’t work any better than drought-resistant non-GMO hybrid) – so, please continue..drought, flood, salination would be of main interest. Also the fungus resistant potato. What is it? The disease-resistant traits have been developed by conventional means as well. Also, we have a number of “biotech” development tools that aren’t all really transgenic. This is why I’m asking for specifics in how GMOs are dealing with these stressors. A conversation that includes specifics will help people to appreciate the differences – and then we can talk about who owns the technology that brings the beneficial applications to the farmers that need them.
I thought my list was quite specific, including 9 examples.
Your question was, “Can you give an example of how a GMO has been developed to deal with each of the pressures you list?”. My list included both approved crops and crops in development.
Are you asking me to present a comprehensive review of ALL plant biotechnology? If so, I’m not the best person to ask (unless you are willing to pay me!).
I share your interest in how plant biotechnology could be applied to drought, flood and salinity: hopefully someone else might add to the thread. I suspect that stress-related traits may require a combination of multiple genes, which would be much harder to address with the current ‘one-at-a-time’ engineering technology. But as I pointed earlier, I’m not an expert.
I get the impression that you are operating from a paradigm of either/or. If so, I disagree: if there is a tool that works most effectively right now, let’s use it. If the tool doesn’t exist, let’s develop it, preferably with the most effective technology. Chances are, we won’t know what’s best until we try.
The industry has encouraged a meme: GMOs are necessary to feed the world. We don’t have any examples of how GMOs are necessary to feed the world. And if they continue to largely be money-makers for Multi-national corporations, they will do little to solve the hunger problem. If the technology can be used to improve agriculture for the farmers who provide sustenance for themselves and their communities, then they will be helping to feed the world. So far, they’re providing the biotech industry a cut of the profits on commodities in the US and South America.
So, again, if you want to provide examples of GMOs that Mr. Wagner has alluded to, that’s what I asked about in my comment to him. I think if we can get start getting into specifics on this conversation, all of us, myself included, will move towards agreement on many issues related to GMOs. Talking about “science communication” doesn’t have much substance.
“I get the impression that you are operating from a paradigm of either/or.”
As far as I know there have been no responses from the celebrities. But we expected that. Here’s hoping some of the people who read the celebrity opinions also read ours.
Thankfully pesticide residues in the US are very low, well within the levels found to be safe by the EPA. http://www.ams.usda.gov/datasets/pdp I prefer the actual data of what is on the food rather than calculated guesses as in the atherosclerosis paper you cited.
A reasonably varied diet will provide good nutrition and reduce risk of exposure from both human applied pesticides and the many pesticides that plants produce on their own.
The traits in development for stress resistance and increased nutrition are unlikely to worsen the hunger problem so why not try? Unfortunately, right now the regulatory system is stacked against these low-profit solutions so it is no surprise we don’t have examples to point to on the ground, more’s the pity.
Everyone should have a choice, and everyone should have access to the information they need to make an educated choice. The publication you linked to helps to provide information. But one would still need to calculate exposure based on the information provided. Medical science has shown that replacing conventional foods with organics reduces the exposure to some pesticides that can negatively affect children’s development, so choosing organic in some cases may be of interest to parents.
“A reasonably varied diet will provide good nutrition and reduce risk of
exposure from both human applied pesticides and the many pesticides that
plants produce on their own.”
How does a varied diet reduce the risk of exposure? Do you mean it reduces the risk of negative effects from exposure?
“unlikely to worsen the hunger problem” isn’t the same as “feeding the world”.
How is the regulatory system stacked against low-profit solutions? Lack of profit isn’t an excuse for not commercializing a solution to a serious problem in food production. Many millions are spent in political lobbying – why not divert a fraction of that into getting some of these life-savers in the hands of people who could use them?
Again, it’s hard to talk about this without specifics.
It costs upwards of $80 million just to cover the regulatory costs I f each event.
Someone has to pay for that. If it is not going to be covered by profit, there will be no private investors in development. That leads foundations or governments to pick up the bill.
Even if there is willingness to pick up the tab, such as Golden Rice, activist groups work hard to put additional barriers in the way, increaing costs further.
Mlema — I think you will agree that population is increasing, land area is limited, environments are degrading. I am confident that progress in feeding the world will require a combination of social, economic, political and technological components—each with its own substantial challenges. It’s hard to imagine that there is a ‘magic bullet’. No. Huge progress is needed in all these areas.
We won’t know if “GMOs are necessary to feed the world”, until we try, but there is little doubt that they are already making a big contribution in a few commodity crops. I’m having a hard time understanding your point: are you proposing that we stop trying to develop one approach? That would be like stopping HIV vaccine research and only seeking drug therapies. I say that vaccines AND drugs will be necessary to rid the world of AIDS, and I think that crop development is no different. Now, if you truly have a solution to the challenges of world hunger that would make GMOs superfluous, don’t hold back: tell us.
I offered you three broad classes of plant improvements (fungal, bacterial and viral resistance). Together, these microbial pests place a huge drain on our food supply, regardless of the size of farm, or location. As we have seen with human drug development, progress in treating one disease provides a vital technical step to the development of drugs for unrelated diseases. I have no doubt that generic strategies for dealing with microbial pests of plants will emerge, and that these can then be applied to specific crops suited to different environments.
Yes, of course, drought, flooding, salinity and mineral uptake are also major challenges, and likely to increase. But should we stop addressing pathogens because we don’t have a current solution for salinity? In any case, I suspect that environmental stresses will also make plants more susceptible to pathogens and animal pests, so pesticides may indirectly be part of the solution.
You raise the important point that agriculture is critical both for nutritional and economic subsistence, especially in the developing world. I cannot think of a way to separate economic profit from food production. Can you? At the moment, a large fraction of plant engineering research is done in companies with deep pockets—largely because of the very onerous hurdles presented by regulatory bodies and environmental activists. This also has a very chilling effect on publicly funded academic research, even though there are probably hundreds of bright academic scientists who could come up with important technological developments.
Mlema, from our numerous exchanges over the months, I think we both have similar long-term goals, but with all due respect, I think that your repeated focus on reasons not to do things is ultimately counterproductive. The courage to take risks is a critical part of human progress—with the full knowledge that there will inevitably be major setbacks and crises.
“Lack of profit isn’t an excuse for not commercializing a solution to a serious problem in food production”
I think almost every person who advocates for for the use of genetic engineering agrees with this statement however the reality of the situation is that the immense costs of the current deregulation framework keep many of these solutions from being developed and deployed on a commercial scale. That’s just the way the current framework is.
For instance I know that they’ve developed protocols for fungal resistant transgenic cacao by inserting a gene that bolsters the plants endogenous defense system. I also just read a paper on inserting a gene that produces an attenuated fungal derived enzyme that induces the production of host cell defense compounds, essentially “vaccinating” the plant.
But it’s unlikely that such developments will be further explored or commercialized. The current regulatory framework is simply too onerous and costly for anything but commodity crops to be developed by the larger private entities engaging in biotech. And strong public support of these solutions is a political gamble given the rancor that a vociferous minority of fervent anti-biotech activist have raised over the last 2 decades.
I agree that money spent on lobbying by both sides of this issue could be better spent on deployment of these kinds of technologies, but we can’t really compel private actors to do that. So in my estimation there are only 2 good options, stronger publicly funded plant breeding programs to deploy these technologies or the the regulatory framework needs to be altered to encourage this technology in non-commodity crops.
I would only contend that’s there is nothing about organic practices the guarantees “cutting pesticide use”, it’s simply which pesticides are used. And there is no guarentee that organic pesticides are less harmful or less persistent.
I think that’s a very persistent misunderstanding that people tend to have towards organic management practices.
“Many children of researchers are fed only organic foods.” citation needed.
If you eat the same thing every day then you increase your exposure from any risks that food type and source might have. The risk could be from natural toxins, like that woman who was in a coma from eating too much bok choy. Or the risk could be from pesticides if you happen to have a food source that has the unlikelihood of having higher than the EPA-established tolerance, then you wouldn’t want to eat from the same source all the time. So, yes a varied diet reduces the potential risk of exposure from both natural and human-applied toxins.
If you would replace “Researchers” by “well educated” I would agree with you on all Points. Once you have ingredient lists the names can be used to scare people into believing something is bad. You’re also right about the power of class thinking which can lead to some weird and potentially unhealthy decissions like at my old university were students considered smoking “a symbol of individuality, and belief in personal freedom (always wanted to use that Quote). And then there’s science vs. feelings, science says my daughter’s a puber, I tell you she’s a pain.
I don’t see that it reduces the risk of exposure – only the risk of negative effects from exposure. If a person eats a food that has pesticides in/on it, they will be exposed to those pesticides. If they eat other foods that have other kinds of pesticides, they will reduce the chance that they’ll get enough of any one pesticide to cause negative effects.
But since conventional food is more likely to have pesticide residues, and more likely to have greater numbers of different pesticides, and have more toxic pesticides when there is residue, and is less likely to have no pesticides at all – then in this game of chance, you’re reducing the risk of negative consequences more by eating a varied organic diet than you are of eating a varied conventional diet. Although the studies aren’t extensive at this point, it has been shown that switching to an organic diet over conventional reduces pesticide metabolites in the body.
Well this is WAAAYY off topic from the original post but I’ll try to explain a different way. I feel like we may not be using the same definition for the word exposure.
Risk is often described as an equation. Risk = toxicity x exposure where exposure is how much of something you come into contact with.
Consider the bok choy example. The glucosinolates in bok choy are perfectly safe (i.e. low toxicity) but with a high enough exposure then the risk becomes high.
For pesticides, toxicity varies depending on the particular pesticide, but safe exposure levels vary accordingly. Safe exposure levels are the EPA tolerances, which you can find (at least for the US) in the Global MRL Database.
So to get back to my comment, the USDA pesticide residue testing program shows that US produce is safe. But there are always outliers. Let’s assume that you are unlucky enough to have a particular item of produce from a particular farm that has higher residues of a pesticide. By including many different foods in a varied diet, you reduce exposure to those residues and avoid risk.
Thanks Anastasia. I understood what you meant. But I don’t think you’re using the phrase “risk of exposure” correctly.
risk of exposure – the probability of being exposed to (an infectious agent, pesticide, etc.)
“If you eat the same thing every day then you increase your exposure from any risks that food type and source might have. ”
You’re identifying the pesticide as the risk, but what we’re talking about is risk of exposure to pesticides. It’s a measure of the chance that you’ll be exposed, not of the chance that something bad will happen because of that exposure.
Here’s how I think people might better understand what you’re saying:
‘If you eat the same thing every day, you increase your exposure to the specific plant and synthetic pesticides that are most common to that food.’
This holds true for organic and conventional. The point I was making is that even in varying the diet, your risk of exposure is less from an organic diet than from a conventional diet. A varied organic diet will reduce your risk of exposure to pesticides as well as the risk that you’ll be negatively impacted by the pesticides that you’re exposed to – including natural pesticides. A varied conventional diet will reduce your risk of ingesting too much of any one kind of pesticide.
My original point (from my comment) was:
“eating organic will help to limit pesticide exposure.” and
“Pediatricians recommend limiting children’s exposure
as much as possible, noting that diet is perhaps the main route of
are concerned about this because small children are the most vulnerable
to the negative effects (they eat the most for their body weight and
I offered my viewpoint on this as a counterpoint to some of the combative comments that were made earlier. I think parents ought to be able to make an informed choice. And I don’t think anyone ought to be belittled, no matter what their choice.
I appreciate you taking the time to make sure I understood what you were saying. Please let me know if what I’m saying is unclear.
Mlema, “GMOs are necessary to feed the world.” is a gross oversimplification and anyone who says that is engaging in propaganda, not education. It would be more reasonable to say “The GMO technology can help to feed the world” or even “Without GMO technology it will be more challenging to meet the world’s food requirements.” More generally, it would be much better if the whole relationship between GMOs and food security was discussed in detail, with specifics, and with the right balance between pros and cons. I don’t have any use for propaganda.
That being said, the general tendency of your comments on Biofortified has been very critical or skeptical of GMO technology. As long as your comments are based on honesty, which I think is the case, they are valuable and welcome. But there is, out there, a much much larger body of anti-GMO propaganda, some of it so dishonest and even hate-provoking that I find it very strange that you seem to think that such mild propaganda as “GMOs are necessary to feed the world.” deserves so much of your attention.
Dominick, I know a lot of organic farmers that minimize any use of pesticides at all. Yes, some companion planting techniques employ growing plants that contain chemical compounds that were developed by the plant to repel certain insects, interspersing these resent plants within the desired crop species, but I doubt that this results in any significant amount of chemical residues in the desired crop that could be considered as any pathogenic threat. Yes, some of these farmers might occasionally employ ‘safer-soap’ or nicotine tea to repel or kill aphids and such pest infestations, but those are rarely used by any of the farmers that I know. I have heard of a few times where BT has been used only very reluctantly by a couple of these farmers… but that was two or three times in fifteen years, and only for a particularly nasty episodic infestation of a particular pest. None of these treatments by organic farmers I know have been anywhere of the scale of massive preventive chemical dispersals commonly seen when driving through heavy agricultural areas heavily sprayed with pesticides on a regular basis. IPM is primary to organic farmers as a rule IMHO. This results in a very significant difference in local breastmilk pesticide residue contaminant difference between each of these different agricultural ‘best management practices’ types of treatment. I’ll gladly take my chances living in predominantly organic production areas as opposed to the general AG industry farm areas. Just my personal belief.
Hi Ray, I’d be very interested in seeing more detail about the breastmilk pesticide data that you refer to.
Ray, IPM is standard practice with virtually all farmers, organic or otherwise.
” I know a lot of organic farmers that minimize any use of pesticides at all.”
All farmers do this, no one wants to use pesticides.
“Yes, some companion planting techniques employ growing plants that contain chemical compounds”
Excelente Idea, that is why scientists are now using GE technology to engineer plant to do this far better.
“Yes, some of these farmers might occasionally employ ‘safer-soap’ or nicotine tea to repel or kill aphids and such pest infestations”
What the heck is safer soap? Nicotine based insecticides are BANNED.
“I have heard of a few times where BT has been used only very reluctantly by a couple of these farmers”
Bt is the number one insecticde by weight for organic farming followed by pyrethrin.
“IPM is primary to organic farmers as a rule IMHO.”
Pesticide use is part of a good IPM.
Yes, but it is pretty subjective in determination of when, where, how much, etc. to use pesticides. My point is that many organic farmers I am familiar with are very reluctant to employ any pesticides at all. This is probably because they are a subset of organic farmers that are small scale, local, and have clients that are familiar with operations at the farms. A good reason to buy local for organic produce, rather than from the larger distribution networks of larger organic farms that do not necessarily have the latitude to risk erring on the side of using too little pesticide management. IPM is a concept that has a lot of subjective latitude as to best management determination… often it is too easily misused IMHO. I’ll stick to buying from small farms locally as much as possible.
‘Organic farming’ is a broad spectrum of best management practices. One end of the scale is minimal use of allowed pesticides, and the other end of the spectrum is use that is much more intensive use, even including preventive applications. Large scale organic operations might have to reduce risk more than smaller scale farms. IPM is a very important concept, but even within that concept ‘the devil hides’ in the details.
Peter, Yes, I want to find my notes from seeing some studies of OPs in breastmilk from some time ago, and lit search more recent studies. One study was concerning latitudinal concentration of OPs migrating northward to show up more concentrated in northerly populations. This is now on my to do list.
Certainly feel free to buy from whoever you like. I just wanted to point out that the spectrum to describe is exactly the same for conventional farmers. The only difference are the pesticides that are approved for use.
There are farmers that use conventional pesticides only as an absolute last resort and there are farmer’s who’s threshold of when they decide to apply a pesticide is far lower. Yes, there are situations in which scouting for a pest isn’t really an option, the likelihood of damage is high and the potential loss of crop is great enough that a preemptive application is the best bet. Rootworm insecticide on a corn crop is a good example of this. The adoption of Bt corn has largely eliminated this but at one time, some areas of the country regarded this as a necessity.
Human breastmilk pesticide residue epidemiology studies across the landscape and through time, would be a good start. Very little epidemiology is funded compared to the need IMHO. And, why is that? Epidemiology should be a MAJOR tool yet is only poorly funded. Twin studies of contaminant differential life exposures is another very badly needed area of research. Yes, this is concerning pesticides, however current GMO development is very heavily weighted toward pesticide resistant crop development that fully intends to sell a LOT of pesticide, that makes it a central GMO issue. When GE gets less focussed on pesticide reliance, perhaps the discussion can be less focussed on pesticide issues.
Yes, Jim, I know that there is a huge amount of research getting done, but when I think of all the questions I have that do not yet have answers, I am driven to see the need for so much more research. Often the research that does get funded is seemingly strongly biased toward generation of profit, yet, important public health questions get slighted more than they should. If research funding does not address many of these questions, we will remain less than what we should be as a society.IMHO
Another question that burns in my mind is concerning the latitudinal concentration gradient of chemical residues in biota moving geographically north. Especially lipophilic contaminants originating in pesticide use. This migration and concentration in top predators posses a risk that is apparently ongoing, yet does not get adequate funding. Sure local research may show lesser degrees of chemical contamination in biota, but if much of this migrates and concentrates elsewhere to become more of an acute problem over time… we are not being well prepared for best management descisions currently in AG regions.
More funding should go to twin studies of geographic exposure variability of AG chemical usage and biologic samples across landscapes to determine better environmental fate and effects on health.
I recall from many years ago there was a study that found consuming broccoli to be a risk factor for cancer.
“It costs upwards of $80 million just to cover the regulatory costs of each event.”
Lu et al. (2008) showed that several OP pesticide metabolites in suburban children declined to undetectable concentrations during several days of eating organic food. These findings were consistent with an earlier observational study, which suggested that children consuming primarily organic food in non-agricultural households with no residential pesticide use have minimal or no pesticide exposures (Curl et al. 2003).
No… What it suggests is that organophosphate insecticides aren’t approved for use in organic agriculture. Seems pretty reasonable to expect that if you test for a specific pesticide that’s not used, you’ll find less of it… Right?
Citation not needed, just do a bit of research by interviewing customers of First Alternative Coop in Corvallis, OR and noting those that are AG researchers at OSU. Note the foods in their carts.
Funny how when you run a test for something you know isn’t there, you confirm that it isn’t there. I wonder why they didn’t test for any of the pesticides that are approved for organic use?
Or maybe more importantly, what does this have to do with this thread on IPM what so ever?
As of last Monday, farmworkers have a better chance for less exposure to pesticides because EPA has improved monitoring and regulatory oversight.
Since when do chemicals give advice?
This article gives $35.1 million for the direct regulatory costs. However, other components are also done in part to meet regulatory requirements e.g. construct selection, construct optimization and wide area testing.
Ray, I believe you. but it’s anecdotal on this page because we don’t live in Corvallis. 🙂
That’s utterly terrible survey design.
Somewhere a Statistician just started crying.
Definitely. Problem is that nobody will do such a survey, even if desinged well… there will be no funding. If you don’t look you won’t find. That’s the problem with the funding prioritization process. If researchers, and industry, don’t want tolnow something….. it will never get funded to ask the good questions that are needed to be answered… this greatly detracts from the ‘science’ claimed to be so prominent on this site by AG research in general. Yes, there are a lot of good scientists working but the funding biases are often detracting from the science.
No problem. Simply interview customers from the non-Alternative Coop, as a control group.
I don’t think the term IPM has any meaning as it’s used in these online debates. People want to identify with sustainability, so they claim “IPM” for whatever they want to defend as sustainable. In reality, very few farms are using real IPM. Otherwise, we’re just calling all farming “IPM”. So what? You can’t claim that a huge uninterrupted planting of neonicotinoid coated, bt, herbicide-resistant seeds is IPM. Whereas much organic produce has no pesticide residue at all. I’m not saying that one is wrong and the other is right – they’re two different segments of agriculture. One is mostly to feed meat, poultry, fish – and provide ingredients for processed foods. The other is fruits and vegetables and a growing # of grains mostly for direct human consumption. Although, again, many packaged organic foods are appearing, and many big organic suppliers don’t follow the spirit in which USDA organic was formed. This isn’t black and white.
Excellent link. Thank you. However, construct selection and optimization, along with “wide area testing” are all part of R&D. It looks like it costs anywhere from 50 to over 200 million to go from concept to commercialization.
There seems to be an implication that the analysis listed under “regulatory science” is unnecessarily costly and hinders development. It reads like a checklist that the developer would have to do anyway in order to ensure that the product is everything it’s supposed to be and nothing that it’s not. What would you omit and why?
If it costs 40-50 million dollars or more to do R&D, how do we hope that public seed development can use this methodology?
I think I remember that you’re an Australian living in Australia – how does Australia compare? do you think the US tax structure should be changed to swing back towards a pre-Reagan corporate tax and increased public funding of scientific research – or are you unfamiliar with the US’s economic history of the last 30 years or so?
How do I know you’re not trying to undermine US markets in Asia? 😉
I disagree with a couple assertions. I think that planting Bt and neonic coated seeds are certainly one method of integrated pest management. The guiding principles of IPM are to keep pests below economic thresholds and to cause the least disruption to the surrounding ecosystem as possible. Scouting and applying controls when pest populations are high is standard, but many pests are nearly impossible to scout for. Root worms (controlled by bt) or early season pests like wire worms (controlled by neonics) are prime examples because they are soil insects.. Because economic thresholds are low, preventive applications make sense. Bt and neonic controls are more targeted and less impactful on non-target species than previous methods which is exactly the goal of IPM. I realize that neonics may prove to be more impactful in the ecosystem than originally thought but certainly, when first introduced, an insecticide that was low dose and only impacted insects that fed on the crop seemed ideal.
Anytime a pesticide used in a blanket, prophylactic and repeated way – it’s being used counter to the principles of IPM. Again, I’m not saying that in a crop like cotton, for instance, it doesn’t make sense to reduce historical toxicity by using bt and glyphosate resistance. Nevertheless, it’s not IPM.
““Adoption of neonicotinoid insecticides by seed companies and farmers has been very rapid and does not appear to relate well to a corresponding risk from insect pests,” said John Tooker, associate professor of entomology. “This pattern suggests that neonicotinoids are often being used as an ‘insurance policy’ against uncertain insect attack, rather than in response to a documented pest threat.”
EPA: “”This analysis provides evidence that U.S. soybean growers derive limited to no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments in most instances.”
Likewise, bt was adopted in many regions where the higher cost wasn’t justified by any yield gain – the pests weren’t relevant in those areas. (according to USDA, but I’m sorry – I don’t have the citation) Bt reduced the use of more toxic pesticides and increased predator species in comparison to non-bt conventional fields – but no similar comparison has been made to fields managed with IPM that don’t include bt.
You can say it’s on a continuum – but I don’t think there’s any point in using the term IPM if it’s going to be used in this way. If all crops use IPM – then the term is meaningless. True IPM doesn’t use pesticides in the fashion of herbicide-resistance, bt, and neonic seed coatings – this is jokingly referred to as “integrated pesticide management”. If the economic threshold is set at: zero loss, then we can’t talk about IPM, which is about balance. Also: it’s difficult to get at cost because it’s hard to make a clear comparison between input costs, crop loss, and market prices – there are too many artificial influences. As we start to factor in the cost of environmental damage, then we can evaluate whether or not we’re setting appropriate thresholds for pesticide use.
In some ways, I agree with Mlema that neonicotinoid coated, Bt, herbicide-resistant seeds is not IPM, but I also agree with Jason below. It seems to be a philosophy difference about IPM.
Herbicide tolerance is compatible with IPM because you don’t actually have to apply the herbicide. A farmer could definitely do cover cropping along with mulch, companion planting, etc to prevent weeds but still retain that option of using a herbicide if weeds got beyond a certain threshold. The problem is that herbicide tolerance traits make it so easy to just apply herbicide and not do the other things. I don’t know what percentage of farmers do use other non-chemical weed strategies but as far as I’ve seen (I could try to find a citation but it’s late on a Saturday…) cover cropping isn’t that widespread yet. I think one big issue here is the defunding of extension offices to help farmers find local-relevant solutions. Instead they have advice from seed and chemical companies and consultants who are all trying to sell products. That doesn’t mean that herbicide tolerance is not a good tool, but it does mean that farmers need better support.
Bt is a great trait but I think it could be used in more sophisticated ways. Instead of always-on promoters, could use promoters associated with insect response. So the first insects to bite wouldn’t get any but if more insects come along they would encounter Bt. Also could use tissue specific promoters so only insects that bite silks or roots, for example, would be exposed to the Bt proteins. Using a suite of different Bt proteins (and potentially other methods like RNAi or other insect-specific toxins) is a good IPM-friendly method because it will slow development of insects becoming resistant to the insecticides.
Anastasia, you have alluded to regulations being stacked against development before, but you’ve never explained how that is the case. What regulations are you talking about that are stacked against low-profit solutions? How should they be changed?
“If all crops use IPM – then the term is meaningless. True IPM doesn’t use pesticides in the fashion of herbicide-resistance, bt, and neonic seed coatings – this is jokingly referred to as “integrated pesticide management”. If the economic threshold is set at: zero loss, then we can’t talk about IPM, which is about balance. “
No one is suggesting that thresholds are at zero loss. And no one is suggesting that all crops use good IPM strategies at all times. But suggesting that IPM is solely something use in organic agriculture is a total misrepresentation. Most farmers (in my experience) are using IPM strategies to control their pests. In cases where there is no feasible rescue solution, (rootworm for example), the preventative measures are the best approach.
Herbicide Resistance and Bt controls can be valuable tools in a good IPM strategy. Why not? The key is to rotate or use multiple modes of action to delay resistance developement. Notice, I said “delay”. Resistance will always happen at some point. Again, in some areas of the country, these are known pests. Without a control you will have economic loss virtually every year. And the only way to know if you won’t is to wait & see. Farmers rotate crops as a control and also use multiple Bt events as well as refuge crops to help slow resistance development. If the pest calls for this type of approach, then there’s no reason why it couldn’t be part of a good IPM strategy.
As for neonictonoid coatings on soybeans, I suppose there are some farmers that use it as insurance. It’s not common at all in my area because of the very reason they stated. It doesn’t pay. Fungicide coatings on our soy seeds does however because our springs tend to be cool & wet and fungicidal rots or blights are too common and there is no rescue treatment.
Not exactly. These activities are partly driven by regulatory requirements. One component of the regulatory requirement is to show that the construct is stable, is only inserted in once, that the location of the insertion point is known, and the construct operates the same way under different environments.
Indeed. And this is a major reason why only large corporations can afford to market GM crops. It is clearly a problem that keeps small players out of the market place.
Costs would be roughly the same as the biggest components of the regulatory costs are the requirements for sale into various markets. The EU (and some other markets) require whole food feeding studies despite the poor scientific justification for such studies. Also China for some aspects of the package does not allow work done in other countries and insists the work is repeated in China.
“Many children of researchers are fed only organic foods. Why is that?”
That sounds like something Dr Oz would say. I loathe the organic industry and its propaganda machine but I sometimes buy organic food from the local farmers market because I enjoy talking to the farmers who sell it. I enjoy talking to all types of farmers.
In the universe I live in he anti-gm organic and alt health industries are worth tens of billions of dollars and anti-GM NGOs like Greenpeace have budgets that rival Big Ag companies. Characters like the Food Babe and Mike Adams would break a leg if they fell off their wallets. I see a massive funding pool and a small army of scientific guns-for-hire, like Chuck Benbrook.
You must live in some parallel universe.
I don’t live in any universe where those organizations have budgets that ‘rival Big Ag companies budgets’ IMHO
Hmmm, maybe Dr. Oz is right after all!?? Or, maybe he just has uncited opinions like mine… hearless weasle that I am. I’m glad you are so openminded as to talk with organic farmers, that might help our mutual understanding ‘within GMO science communication’…..
, where loathing might fail to do so.
Yes, and if we all would chip in, perhaps we could scrape up enough to send Eric to Corvallis to design a good study to clarify the issue.
Peter, FYI here is an interesting read you might be interested in: http://www.episona.com/3-examples-transgenerational-epigenetic-inheritance/
In my universe, the US federal government climate change research budget is US two billion dollars per year with universities, NGOs and so on chipping in more and doing plenty of advocacy. This dwarfs the climate change denialist funding provided by the Koch’s etc by at least 100 to 1 yet it has successfully raised doubt and paralyzed effective action on climate change.
Stoking doubt and fear is much easier than building trust and it is visibly obvious that the organic industry and its allies have done this successfully with funding that runs in to the tens of millions of dollars annually.
Chris, please explain:
The steps in development that the industry says are part of development – you are saying that they’re actually regulatory requirements? Why do you think that the industry could/would skip testing the stability of the construct, the location, etc.? These are all part of ensuring that the organism is stable and hasn’t unduly developed changes that would negatively impact it’s overall hardiness and equivalence. You seem to be suggesting that but for regulations we wouldn’t be able to expect even the guarantee of a good product. That’s NOT what the industry is saying, and that’s why these tests are done — and that’s why the industry lists them under development costs.
And regarding cost – now that we see that it’s prohibitive regardless of regulatory costs, and that regulations are mostly a kind of quality control – how, again, would you change regulations to lower that cost? Regulations are not the biggest part of cost. How would YOU make this technology viable for applications that would benefit poor farmers who you say need it the most? Which regulations or, more importantly, development steps would you omit? Or maybe a better question: how would you make them less expensive?
Also, there’s no consensus that there is “poor scientific justification” for feeding studies. Especially on new gmo foods like bt eggplant – which people are expected to eat as a staple in a whole form.
Charles, I guess I think any sort of propaganda is not so good. I wouldn’t enjoy interacting with someone who was ideologically opposed to GMOs and who had little concern for the science. If there is dishonesty and hate, it’s not a place I want to be. And I’m not so critical of the technology as I am critical of uncritical support for every one of its applications.
The activist (quasi-terrorist?) group, Greenpeace, has an annual budget of over a quarter $billion.
(Just think what Biofortified could do with a budget like this).
I was speaking of BIG AG budgets, not those of Biology Fortified. A quarter of a billion pales in comparison to BIG AG money.
What I am saying is that some of the things that are done in the development phase are done because that data will be needed for regulation. It makes much more sense for the companies to do this work early on rather than having to go back and do it at the regulatory phase and risk having to through the event out. One example is the work done to identify where in the genome the construct has gone, how many copies have inserted, etc. For the early GM crops, there was no regulatory requirement to address this. In some jurisdictions there now is, so it gets done as part of the early development for that event. This is particularly true of multiple copies, despite there being no risk arising from them. Yet as there is a risk of a multi-copy event failing a regulatory hurdle, companies are now going out of their way to ensure that only single copy events go forward. This adds to the development costs.
This means that the actual costs driven by the regulatory requirements are higher than the costs that can be easily placed against regulation (such as feeding studies).
Some of this testing is not necessary to determine whether the product is effective or safe. Some of it is better described as pandering to fear-mongering (particularly the location information and number of copies).
Actually, such studies don’t address these questions at all.
It is not necessary to know these things in order to have a product that works as stated on the box. You simply need to be able to measure the outcome.
Well for a start, I would not requite every event of the same gene to have to go through the full set of regulatory tests. If the protein produced by the CP4 EPSPS gene is not toxic when made in canola, it is not going to be toxic in corn, or alfalfa or any other crop. I would also get rid of requirements for whole food feeding studies.
Among those who deal with this issue there is a consensus that such studies have poor scientific justification. This is largely because of the complexity of whole foods, the low likelihood of being able to identify any effects from compounds in low concentrations or with low toxicity profiles and the requirement to feed very large amounts (typically up to a third of the diet) that risks causing nutritional issues that would confound the trial.
“Among those who deal with this issue there is a consensus…”
Ah, got it.
“Well for a start, I would not requite every event of the same gene to
have to go through the full set of regulatory tests. If the protein
produced by the CP4 EPSPS gene is not toxic when made in canola, it is not going to be toxic in corn, or alfalfa or any other crop.”
A new GMO with an already approved trait does NOT have to go through the “full set” of of regulatory tests, so that will be something pleasant for you to learn.
Sorry, i don’t mean to be so dismissive of your explanation for why you feel the way you do – but believing that “if you’ve seen one GMO with a certain gene, you’ve seen them all” or – engineering a plant that people will eat in its whole form as a staple of their diet shouldn’t undergo feeding trials – makes me think that you don’t understand how the plant can be affected by the engineering, and that the organism can affect the organism that eats it. If you don’t want to do feeding trials when expecting humans to eat a bt crop (for example) then don’t add bt to the food.
Sorry Chris – I’m glad I got back here to reply again before you read the first reply I made to your above comment. I HATE it when someone says to me “you don’t understand x, y, z…” I think: “well then why don’t you just explain it to me instead of just telling me I don’t understand?” So, I’m sorry for that. And interestingly, I find that usually when some says “you don’t understand (whatever) – it’s usually the case that THEY don’t understand, and that’s why they won’t just explain it to me.
so – I admit it. I’m more ignorant than knowledgeable about most of this stuff. What I do recognize is that the issues are multifaceted and can’t be completely teased apart. Since you are knowledgeable, and also have good references on hand – maybe we can go through some of this and I will learn something. I have a lot of questions for you.
First – multiple insertions. I would like to read about the change in regulations from allowing multiple insertions to only allowing a single instance, and what reasoning was given for this change (I know that regulatory bodies didn’t say “we’re pandering to fear-mongering” – why do you characterize it as such? Every insertion is disruptive to the regulatory function of the cell. Is it possible that limiting the insertion sites helps to minimize this disruption? What about diverting resources from other production because the inserted gene is always “on”? (I’m probably not using the right terminology here, but hopefully you know what I mean)
So, that’s enough for now. Thank you so much!
Well, no, what one could do is interview say, a sizable group of researchers, one need not head to a coop – design a questionaire to probe their shopping habits, number of kids, etc and then one could very easily make statistical inferences as to proportions of kids of researchers who eat only organic foods.
Taking a fantastically biased sample and making any sort of extrapolation (even on the individuals doing the shopping… just because Joe shops at the coop doesn’t mean he feeds his kids only organic – I shop at Whole Foods on occasion, but I have absolutely no qualms feeding my kid food that is not labeled as USDA organic etc, I just happen to really like some of the deli options that Whole Foods has (their faux meat chicken salad is awesome)) is a futile exercise in confirmation bias in this case.
Ray’s constant rambling about prioritization and funding is more of the same futility – this isn’t even remotely an interesting scientific question, it would be a complete waste of time to be involved in such a study, it is boring high school banality, the sort of nonsensical non-argument that one might expect from the C-string debate team of an all llama vocational college, that’s why it doesn’t get funding, not because it’s a good question that industry doesn’t want followed.
Ewan, I should have ended my attempt at sarcasm with a ;~)
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