By Chris McDonald
This post examines why we are generally comfortable with non-GMO plants being released without safety testing, but have very different standards for plants developed with GMO methods.
Are hybrid fruits & vegetables safe? The short answer from this educated layperson is “yes, of course, generally.” I’m not terribly worried about the dangers of the limequat, or the ugli fruit or the plumquat.
But still. To the best of my knowledge, none of them has ever been tested — that is, subjected to the sorts of long-term safety assessment that would involve feeding these things to generations of, say, mice or rats. The sort of assessment that critics of GMOs typically insist ought to be done on, say, Roundup Ready soybean.
The question arises because, in a very plain sense, hybrids are genetically modified foods, crosses between plants from two different species. But when people worry about GMOs, almost no one is ever thereby worrying about hybrids.
There are quite a few online sources that attempt to reassure people about the safety of hybrids, while at the same time demonizing genetically modified foods (i.e., GMOs in the modern sense). All such sources that I’ve found so far are full of fallacious reasoning — faulty logic through and through. There are claims that hybrids are “natural” whereas GMOs are not. There is no more common error in online debates over food than the mistaken assumption that natural means “safe” and artificial means “dangerous.” (Is naturally-occurring cyanide safe?) Such defences of hybrids also tend to be factually misinformed (‘hybrids are more nutritious’ or ‘GMOs always combine DNA from different sources’). False, and false.
Consider this: when a scientist creates a new kind of apple by, say, deleting the gene known to code for some particular trait (say, its flesh browning when exposed to air), it has to go through a scientific assessment before it can be sold. But hybridize two apple varieties — or cross an apple with a plum — any number of genes get scrambled, and no scientific or regulatory scrutiny is required at all. If blind faith in hybrids isn’t based on pure emotion and prejudice, what is it based on?
By Chris MacDonald. Chris is a Toronto-based ethicist, professor, speaker and consultant. This post was originally published at The Food Ethics Blog and was republished with the author’s permission.
GE and hybridization are two different processes of development. Hybrids can also be GMOs. And although not true in every case, overall: hybridization doesn’t present the potential for as high a number of unintended and possibly deleterious changes as GMOs.
This isn’t to say that people don’t differentiate between them for the wrong reasons. It’s obvious that that happens. And it’s also true that some GMOs have a lower risk of undesirable changes than some hybrids. But it’s scientifically inaccurate to portray the differences in the way that the above author has. It’s another illustration of why we shouldn’t talk about gmoZZ in the context of what amounts to apologetics for a vast array of products.
“hybridization doesn’t present the potential for as high a number of unintended and possibly deleterious changes as GMOs”
Do you have any evidence to support this assertion?
Just spitballing, but a hybrid between two species introduces two completely evolutionarily distinct (for enough time to be recognized as different species) genomes together – there is no knowing what the transcription factors from one of the species will do to the gene expression of the genes from the other, or vise versa, or indeed what the interaction of transcription factors will do. Likewise divergent gene sequence and RNAi sequences – are there multi-protein structures involved that may have utterly different kinetics than those from either species due to the constituent proteins not having co-evolved?
You appear to simply have decided, without any real consideration of fact or biology, that there would generally be fewer unintended and possibly deleterious changes.
Heh. That reminds me of the Greenpeace person who testified at the NAS committee on the GMO stuff this past year. She made the same claims as Mlema, and was subsequently asked to consider the stuff Ewan is describing by one of the committee members. She had no clue what the question even was, because she had clearly never been in front of people who understood the topic. The questioners tried to even help by giving her a second chance by rephasing the question, and she still blew it. I enjoyed watching her discomfort, though.
Two questions for all the scientists with expertise in this technology.
1. What are the potential bad outcomes that might arise from this technology being applied on so much of our food?
2. What is your action plan in case one or more of these bad outcomes ever did arise?
You seem to have this backward.
The potential bad outcomes depend essentially entirely on the gene(s) being introduced. Having “this technology” applied to so much of our food would only be bad if the transgenes being expressed were harmful. Which is why that’s the key focus in deciding what level of regulatory scrutiny is appropriate for any given GMO, at least in the US.
The ironic thing is that our ability to predict possible bad outcomes is vastly *lower* with many conventional breeding techniques, such as hybridization or radiation, because they cause wholesale changes in the DNA that can’t be predicted. Yet we regulate those products much less than GMOs. And I guess you think that’s appropriate, but I encourage you to think carefully about that.
“This technology would only be bad if the transgenes being expressed were harmful” This statement does not take into account that ‘pesticide-ready’ crops are likely to have chemical residues within and on the surface, that could have adverse effects on biochemistry. Yes, this applies to other crop applications as well. Long term feeding studies need to be far better researched to make any statement like this accurate. IMHO
I know it’s not intuitive, but many biotech methods do result in much more controlled change than non-biotech methods. We are affecting only a few known genes vs an unknown number of unknown genes. This table summarizes some of the differences.
A tremendous amount of evidence already exists and supports the claim that the amounts of pesticide residues found in food does not cause harm. Furthermore, your statement does not take into account the fact that the dominant sentiment among anti-GMO activists is that ALL GMOs are dangerous. I think this is a good discussion on the topic: http://bit.ly/1WphKEH.
Alokin, why did industry have to go to the EPA to have the allowable amount of glyphosate food residue increased if glyphosate is not increasing in food residues? if about 85% of GMO crops involve ’roundup ready’ GE, are increased applications happening due to resistence? Are preharvest ‘conditioning’ applications adding to food residue quantification? If GMO development evolves trending more away from RR technology, then perhaps there would be a much better public acceptance of more GE (and GMO) technology.
That seems to suggest that other GMOs are being unfairly judged because people are worried about Round-Up. And even if your concerns about Round-Up are warranted, that’s still just an example if how safety of GMOs is really just about safety of the specific genes and traits, not the method of their introduction.
qetzal, Yes, I think that that is correct. But still leaves open the question of other GMOs as to safety IMHO.
Baesd on whether the other introduced genes are safe, or based only on the fact that they areGMO?
What’s counterintuitive is that adding a few new genes may be riskier than recombining 10,000.
What do you want people to learn from this graphic? What does it mean to say that genes are “affected”? Do you want us to surmise that the # of genes affected is pertinent to risk? If so, why and how? Genetic engineering relies on breeding as well as the addition of new genes, so shouldn’t “genes affected” in that case be 10,000+1 to 3 (or 5 to 7)?
Dr. Folta’s chart compares apples to oranges. Like the op on this page, it illustrates the problem of trying to make general and/or comparative statements about GMOzz.
This graphic is more relevant to the science:
Relative likelihood of unintended genetic effects associated with various methods of plant genetic modification.
hopefully posted chart
Can only moderators add graphics to their comments?
Ewan, It’s always about potential.
“It is unlikely that all methods of either genetic engineering, genetic
modification, or conventional breeding will have equal probability of
resulting in unintended changes. Therefore, it is the final product of a
given modification, rather than the modification method or process,
that is more likely to result in an unintended adverse effect.”
Doubtless, hybridization can create dangerous plants. And there are those who call for various kinds of testing on some hybrids as well. If you remember cows dying in Texas from an F1 hybrid grass that had high levels of Prussic acid, it might seem advisable. Is that what you’re suggesting? That we do more safety testing on hybrids? Or are you suggesting that we discontinue testing GMOs? I ask because this posts says that it:
“”…examines why we are generally comfortable with non-GMO plants being released without safety testing, but have very different standards for plants developed with GMO methods.”
Who is “we”? The government requires testing for GMOs, including safety testing in some cases – because many GMOs present higher risks than non-GMOs, including hybrids. Why do you think that new traits, like Cry9C, need to be tested? Why do you think back-crossing must repeatedly be done in the course of development? Why do you think scientific experts have suggested that various methods of analysis that have been developed since GMOs were first commercialized be recruited into regulatory tests?
It’s important to differentiate between all these various means of development, because not all GMOs are the same and neither are non-GMOs. That’s why I said GMOzz. Now you’re talking about GMOzz as if they were all the same. That’s why I made a criticism of the op, and that’s why I disagree that all hybrids are automatically riskier that all GMOs. It’s a mistake to generalize about either, and it’s a mistake to think anything is automatic based on the method of development. The safety of any particular technology is only as good as the regulations that govern it.
“I enjoyed watching her discomfort…”
Did you ever figure out why that manure study had you shaking?
No, it’s not just about the traits. It’s not just about the methods either. And concerns do include the environment. Please consider the comments I’ve made below to Ewan and Anastasia.
I think anyone could post an image, but I am not sure.
Thank you Anastasia.
The problem with that old NAS graphic is that there’s no x axis other than guesses. I stopped using that image in my presentations because it doesn’t actually show us anything. It was a fantastic book, but our understanding of plant breeding, including biotechnology, has improved in 11 years.
“Affected” means genes that can be moved, altered, rearranged, deleted, inserted, etc. We know that any breeding changes thousands of genes – it’s basic genetics. We don’t know what the exact changes are or what genes are involved unless we sequence the whole genome. Thankfully those unknown changes usually are just fine. But life is full of surprises and can react to selection pressure in unexpected ways. The NAS book you linked also has a section about unintended consequences from breeding.
Genetic engineering and gene editing affect only one or a few genes. We know exactly what the genes do, and where they are inserted into the genome. But life is full of surprises as I said, so then we do allergenicity testing and toxicity testing. Little if any testing is done on foods produced with other methods, despite the much larger potential for unknown changes.
Yes, technically the number of affected genes for any genetically engineered plants that are also under a breeding program would be 10,000+1 but why should we be so worried about the known 1 and ignore the unknown 10,000?
The take home message of this table is that humans manipulate genomes on a large scale. We literally do not know all the changes that are happening in our foods. But still, those changes have few examples of negative consequences. The changes due to genetic engineering are much, much smaller in scale and we know exactly what is happening. It’s not that breeding is scary – it’s that neither genetic engineering nor breeding is scary and we need to evaluate products based on their traits, not on how they were made.
Based on introduced genes.
If what you say is true, my guess is that the ag industry wanted to expand the label for glyphosate to account for use on glyphosate-resistant crops plants and perhaps new uses that have nothing to do with GMOs as well. However, that still does not mean that the glyphosate residues found in food are harmful. It is not unusual for pesticide manufacturers to petition the EPA in order to expand labels, and if expanding a label falls within the bounds of EPA’s risk cup calculations, it may be granted.
As far as GMOs that have nothing to do with pesticides being more acceptable, you can’t be serious. The Organic Trade Association and just about every other association and advocacy group that lobbies against GMOs and GE tech has done their best to convince consumers that there is no such thing as a safe GMO, and they have been quite successful in spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about GE tech in general.
Yes, they shoot themselves in the foot politically by their sweeping denigration of all GMOs and GE tech, they throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, that does not mean that they don’t have good intensions, good points, and a hope for a more sane future that we all have. Politics, not science, is the main driver, unfortunately, and they also have to play hardball since industrial AG is playing hardball.
“The changes due to genetic engineering are much, much smaller in scale and we know exactly what is happening.”
I doubt that we are taking in enough concern about how epigenetics can alter our understanding and at times produce unintended adverse consequences. We think we know damn near everything, but I doubt that.
Science happens to be on the side of “industrial agriculture” in this case. Basing one’s actions and advocacy on evidence and reason is “playing hardball”? And while we are at it, shouldn’t we be calling those behind the pseudoscience and fear mongering “industrial organic”? They and their allies are worth billions and billions of dollars, especially when you add in the supplement and and “natural” products industries that stand with them.
And industrial AG isn’t even far bigger???!!!
It may be bigger, but the organic-supplement-natural product industry is big. The latter is not the collection of small family farms just trying to make ends meet by working in harmony with nature that Big Organic would have you believe.
Small farms are getting hit hard and trending smaller, whether conventional (recent) or organic small farms,…the rich are getting richer… the poor getting poorer.. the middle is shrinking. And, ‘science’ often does not use all of the scientific method… to the degree that it does not, it is less than what it needs to be to guide us into a more sane future. IMHO
Why would insertion of a transgene be categorically different than a natural translocation, or a transposon insertion? Surely the epigenetics of one will be somewhat similar to the others. I’m not saying there are no unknowns – I am saying the unknowns are similar whether we are talking about biotech or breeding and that there are way more unknown changes in breeding than there is in biotech.
You’re speaking as if all that happens in cross breeding is that different alleles of the same gene are swapped. That’s not really crossing, it’s just sexual reproduction among the same species.
Crossing can leave you with a literal genetic mess of insertions and genes in new places in chromosomes, even new numbers of chromosomes.
I’d say that a single insertion, while it MAY have epigenetic effects is far less risky. Far. Like, humorous to even consider if theres a comparisons.
Insertion works in genetic engineering because its a thing that can happen in nature and not be destructive.
There’s just not a comparison here. I’m not sure how you could frame it any other way, and certainlhy not completely reversed from reality.
Business is changing, but that is not necessarily bad. Just the way it is. In my neck of the woods, there is lots of consolidation with the number of big farms and small farms increasing, but mid-size farms are decreasing. Big farms producing more with less due to economies of scale and small farms finding niche markets. Would be unwise to suggest that we artificially preserve a particular business model.
Still, after all is said and done, best evidence supports the claim that GMOs are not harmful and do not represent a risk to the environment that cannot be mitigated. Follow the evidence rather than the premise that anything that is not “natural” must be bad or dangerous.
So, your take is that anti GMO is anti-science??? I think that that is likely to prove out as anti-intelligent? There is a very important portion of skeptics of GMO tech that are very much science based. They question how much we really know about GMO/GE tech, and potential for unintended adverse consequences…. that does NOT seem ‘anti-science’, but does seem consistent with scientific method. To ‘doubt, without unbelief of things to be believed’
The ‘best evidence’ may be the ‘best evidence’ because the evidence may often be cherry-picked by the funder of the research. How many research papers have been ’round filed’ by industry because the studies were not ‘going in the right direction’? How many researchers have been marginalized and defunded because of valid data and results were not what was desired by the funder? The ‘best’ evidence is often only politically blessed, while other evidence is kept from view. IMHO
Trying to build a strawman? It is not anti-science to question, but it is anti-science to ignore evidence and suggest that one must prove a negative. It is also anti-science to say that unless a technology is proven to be 100% safe, it should not be allowed. Those sorts of absolutes do not exist in science. What we can say is that based on the preponderance of high quality studies on the subject, the evidence supports the claim that GMOs do not cause harm and do not represent a threat to the environment that cannot be mitigated. If you ignore those studies and instead, choose to focus on irrelevant or biased studies from advocacy groups or claim that that because we can’t know everything, we have to act as if we know nothing, then you are not following the evidence and no new technology would ever be adopted.
In science, there are standards for producing and evaluating evidence. The quality of a study and best evidence is not hard to determine for those trained in the appropriate fields of study. Now you have gone off the rails into conspiracy-theory land; the last resort of anti-GMO, anti-science folks. If the evidence does not support your claim, then someone must be suppressing or manipulating the truth, it can’t be because you are wrong.
Alokin, I can always be wrong! And, so can others… even current science.
But, it also can be because some of the evidence to evaluate is missing.
Sure, but the science-was-wrong-before argument is also a well-worn anti-GMO trope. Next you’ll be playing the Galileo gambit. The fact remains that the best, highest quality, most credible evidence we currently have supports the production and consumption of GMOs. If you want to go down the science-was-wrong-before, corporations-are-in-cahoots-with-government-to-hide-evidence rabbit hole, you are not doing science, you are just another anti-GMO advocate.
Perfectly plausible speculation, in my opinion.
Any evidence that it is true, in this particular case?
Of course we can’t know everything, and nothing can be totally safe… but we can trend all that further along the continuum.
…and based on the totality of scientific evidence, GMOs are clearly near the end of the continuum that supports their production and consumption.
Yes, and each GMO is probably in a somewhat different position on the continuum, hopefully bunched more to that end… I guess future science will provide better assurance of just where on the continuum that bunch resides in reality. And, how many outliers there are toward the other end. My point is that we need even better science, and more of it… and, LESS politics and greed driven curtailment of the complete science.
You sure took a long way around getting there, citing many tired anti-GMO tropes along the way. We should be making decisions based on the best scientific evidence we have now, not what we think (or hope) the science may show in the future. The latter is what opens the process up to politics and anti-science rhetoric. Science is a dynamic process and will continually add to our body of knowledge on this subject, that is the way science is supposed to work and the way it does work. After over 20 years of GMOs in the marketplace, there have been no outliers and nothing to indicate they cause harm. So far, so good.
Can you please tell me exactly what it is about the NAS chart that’s outdated? Every comparative study I’ve ever seen on changes in gene expression (as an example of unanticipated consequences) has proven the NAS “guesses” to be spot on. And when the publication was already 9 years old, Pamela Ronald featured it in a post right here on Biofortified, and linked specifically to that same chart in her #2 point.
The publication deals with broad, historical issues. It’s not hard to read, even for someone without a PhD. I highly recommend that everyone read it all the way through. But again, if you could tell me exactly what it is about the chart that’s been found to be wrong due to more recent information, I would appreciate that. Or if you just think it’s incomplete, as you seem to suggest – what is missing?
“”The changes due to genetic engineering are much, much smaller in scale and we know exactly what is happening.”
What does “smaller in scale” mean in the context of genetic engineering?
The scale of change depends upon which genes are affected and how they’re affected, not on the numbers of genes that are affected. Adding or editing a few genes affects many other genes and many processes throughout the cell. We rely on the mechanism of repeated backcrossing to remove mutations caused by the insertion. So, again, this isn’t about numbers of genes affected and Dr. Folta’s chart is not only inaccurate (GE doesn’t happen without breeding – affected 10,000+ genes) but it seems to be asking viewers to infer that the number of genes affected reflects somehow on the resultant products.
“We know exactly what the genes do, and where they are inserted into the genome. But life is full of surprises as I said, so then we do allergenicity testing and toxicity testing. Little if any testing is done on foods produced with other methods, despite the much larger potential for unknown changes.”
We don’t necessarily know what inserted and edited genes do to the structure and function of the cell. We can make sure the trait is present, but we don’t test the GMO for allergenicity or toxicity. We test the trait itself, apart from the plant. And we may test the plant for toxins or allergens that are common to that plant. We don’t check for changes in proteins or metabolism (unless that is done without us knowing, since it’s apparently not required by regulations).
“why should we be so worried about the known 1 and ignore the unknown 10,000?”
Personally, I don’t think we should ignore the 10,000. Again, this isn’t about the numbers of genes (Dr. Folta should really fix that diagram), because that’s not how genetics works. Nor am I suggesting that unanticipated changes are always deleterious. But as we all know, it only takes one mutation to cause serious problems. GE can’t be compared to breeding, where there are many mechanisms which mitigate deleterious mutations.
“The take home message of this table…It’s not that breeding is scary – it’s that neither genetic engineering nor breeding is scary and we need to evaluate products based on their traits, not on how they were made.”
Unless you can explain how the comparative risks are limited to traits, I think that’s inaccurate. I hope you didn’t replace the NAS chart with Dr. Folta’s in your presentations. Dr. Folta’s chart says that only a few genes are affected in GE. That’s wrong, as we’ve agreed – as many genes as are affected by other forms of breeding are also affected by GE – plus the adding/editing and its own resultant effects on other genes and whatever else recombination of any kind does – since we’re still finding that out. I understand the purpose is to allay fears. But I don’t think you want to show something that’s inaccurate. Listing all the plant products as patented is too simple as well. The gene patents don’t work like hybrid patents, and saying all the products are patented is saying nothing. Why just draw equivalencies instead of educating about differences? Knowledge helps allay fear.
“Why would insertion of a transgene be categorically different than a natural translocation, or a transposon insertion?”
They would be categorically different because of the context in which they occur? Promoters? Antibiotic markers? additional mutations not able to be removed by back-crossing? Or they would be categorically different because of the transgene itself. For instance, I don’t think agrobacterium-mediated transfer of a disease-resistance gene would necessarily be categorically different from the appearance of transgenes in sweet potatoes. But I think the insertion of genes to cause a plant to continually express bacterial toxins is categorically different than natural translocation or transposon insertion. Plus, don’t transposon insertions often have mechanisms that “silence” them? And isn’t it thought that they can otherwise sometimes contribute to disease development? But overall, they can help with adaptation, right? The only way that man-made transgenes help the plant with adaptation is: humans are very committed to growing them.
Peter, my knowledge of the issues is much stronger on pesticides than with GE. Since GMOs are about 85% RR, and pesticide use is likely increasing due to resistance, I am concerned that much of the science is based on optimal applications assumed for regulatory approval, yet very often actual applications in the field do not conform to the label or regulatory requirements, often resulting in of site movement and unintended exposures that rarely are even monitored.
The instances of chemical trespass in applied best management practices of AG and forestry pesticide use are very common…. and the science does not adequately take this into account. Monitoring funding for real world pesticide assessment is totally inadequate … and this often biases what IS done toward the ’round file’. Though I do have concerns that similar inadequacies within the GE and GMO paradigms also happen, I have less personal knowledge of documentable abuses.
Relative likelihood of unintended genetic effects associated with various methods of plant genetic modification.
“Why do you think that new traits, like Cry9C, need to be tested?”
Because a terrified vocal subset of the public either doesn’t understand risk or pretends not to in order to make it more difficult to get GMOs to market.
“many GMOs present higher risks than non-GMOs, including hybrids.”
No, they don’t. What higher risks? There aren’t higher risks. You’re just making this up. To demonstrate that there are higher risks you actually have to show evidence of higher risks… and yet… no such evidence exists.
“Why do you think back-crossing must repeatedly be done in the course of development?”
Back-crossing must be done repeatedly first in order to get a homozygous transformant and second in order to introgress the gene of interest into diverse lines to make it commercially viable. Why do you think it must be done repeatedly? (lets keep in mind that I actually work in this field, so my ‘thoughts’ on why are actually, y’know, why it’s done.
” Is that what you’re suggesting? That we do more safety testing on hybrids? Or are you suggesting that we discontinue testing GMOs? ”
I would suggest that current testing of GMOs is ridiculously over the top, and that it could be scaled back such that there is a ruleset that basically covers wanton stupidity in terms of creating GMOs (there are clearly many GMOs one could create that would be horribly dangerous, but by design, not accident (engineering anthrax toxin into plants, for instance) and would absolutely say that testing of hybrids would be ridiculous (it’d basically halt all breeding efforts for one thing, given that no single hybrid is ever going to give enough value as to warrant the cost of getting it through the regulatory process)
Some GMOs have a higher risk of unintended consequences than hybrids based on the process. There’s a greater risk of changes in the plant that negatively impact the plant itself, or potentially change the structure or metabolism of the plant. And although none of that necessarily means we end up with a harmful plant, it means we have to examine the end-product carefully (especially venturing into nutritionally-altered plants). It’s really that simple. And the traits present a separate risk, depending upon what they are, and where they’re applied. Bt low lignin trees? Sterile trees? Pharming? Just because you work at Monsanto and say otherwise doesn’t change the science. This idea that it’s impossible to accidentally engineer a harmful plant is baloney.
WeGotta, I don’t think qetzal is a scientist with expertise in this technology. I don’t think your question is going to be answered. I think I can give an example of how a bad outcome has been dealt with in the past. Glyphosate-tolerant weeds are a serious problem in many areas. The solution has been to engineer crops to tolerate older and more toxic pesticides like 2,4D and dicamba. Something else to keep in mind: if there are no labels, and there is a bad outcome – we have deniability. See no evil, hear no evil… Is avoidance of responsibility an action plan?
Thanks. That’s what I thought.
I also thought they were here to educate but guess not.
This discussion is about (deliberate) hybridization
(possibly between different species), mutagenesis, and genetic modification (of
one or a few fully-characterized genes). Let us not ignore one of the most
disruptive genetic-scramblers of all! The common practice of Open Breeding
(Open Pollination in the case of plants) has demonstrated dangers that
dwarf anything I’ve seen concerning those others.
If your dog gets loose on holiday to Yellowstone, and subsequently
delivers pups, do you test them for wolf DNA? If your garden includes both squash
and gourds, do you test the progeny of the seeds you save for cucurbitacins? If
you save and plant bean seeds, what about concanavalin and other
There have been many bad outcomes from loosey-goosey
breeding practices, including specific ones pertinent to the examples above. There
are none for GM. Granted, introgression of undesireable traits from other
organisms requires their presence, but it does happen with enough regularity
that it is not-news, whereas a single event that could be pinned to hated ‘GMO’
would be sung from the rooftops.
Wheat, as a species, arose from open-pollination (and
subsequent selection), and many crops, especially semi-domesticated ones and
ones grown near their ancestral varieties, occasionally benefit from spontaneous
introgression, but they can also become dangerous. Quinoa, Andean potatoes, dates,
apples, grapes, and rice are in the first group, and quinoa, Andean potatoes,
beans in their several species, squash (and other cucurbits), and sorghum are
in the second.
Before we ban or regulate/curtail/suspect ‘GMOs’ we should
look into banning open pollination! It’s demonstrably more dangerous. Farmers
should not be allowed to save seeds unless they can demonstrate that they have prevented
potentially dangerous ‘natural’ introgression!
“Some GMOs have a higher risk of unintended consequences than hybrids based on the process. ”
Based on the process? Nope.
“There’s a greater risk of changes in the plant that negatively impact the plant itself”
Are there? Really? You fail to demonstrate this at all (I’ve worked in breeding and in biotech, new ‘hybrid’ corn is generally jsut fine, but often an admixture of two previously uncrossed lines creates seriously crappy corn, ‘negatively’ impacting the plant.
In biotech and in breeding plants are screened to look for this, the failures are tossed aside.
“Bt low lignin trees? Sterile trees? Pharming?”
Of the three here I see only one that would pose a need for the sort of regulatory framework in place at present – once one is producing pharmaceuticals in plants then yes, there should be tight regulation and control, but not because they’re GMO, because you absolutely know they’re producing pharmacologically active chemistry.
“This idea that it’s impossible to accidentally engineer a harmful plant is baloney.”
I don’t recall ever stating this or even eluding to it. We’ve ‘created’ plenty of ‘harmful’ plants through breeding (wheat, peanuts, soy – all have detrimental effects to some of society) – I maintain however that as the risk is vanishingly low across both techniques it is foolish to apply such ridiculous rigor to a technology where the risks are so vanishingly low.
So, an organic farm might be concerned when a nearby conventional farm introduces some new GMO crops, whose pollen might drift to contaminate the OG crops adversely?
Cattle owners across the south are well aware of the danger of prussic acid in several broad leaf grasses (including sorghum-sudan hybrid) that are grown primarily for hay. The fact that some cows died is not the fault of the grass, or because it was not “tested”. Loosing an animal to prussic acid poisoning is, unfortunately, something that happens occasionally to even the best cattle managers, because keeping all Johnson grass out of fields is not possible – the stuff is the bane of home owners across most of Texas and elsewhere in the south. When a poisoning happens it is not a news-worthy event, and absolutely not a reason to say that hybrids are “dangerous”. The report you apparently saw in the news was a typical case of the news media making something sensational that was not news worthy, new, surprising, or cause for alarm.
Genetic engineering is something that we do every day in biomedical and basic molecular biology research. There is nothing mysterious or problematic about it. If you screw up you get an organism that dies or exhibits some goofy trait so that you know you messed up. Its not like you do a modification and then have to wait 10 generations to find out you did not get it right. As I said, this genetic engineering thing is totally routine in nearly every biomedical and biology research lab in the world. We always verify the modification by methods that are appropriate for the modification we are doing.
Genetic engineering is the fastest, cheapest, most reliable way to get the trait you want into or out of any organism, including bacteria, yeast, worms, mice, and plants of all kinds. Genetic engineering does not induce some sort of weird “time bomb” into a plant, any more than does mutational breeding or old fashioned crossing.
When you think about each crop to which we would like to apply some genetic engineering, you see that each crop has its own challenges or areas that could be improved. There is no consistent modification that would be done to many crops. So there is no risk from some single trait being spread across a large percentage of our food crops.
Let’s look at each of the types of modifications we might want to make. The most important for food security are resistance to insects, resistance to pathogens, nutritional enhancement, soil condition tolerance, and drought tolerance. All of these traits improve the ability of the crop to produce food.
At present, there are very few crops that grow in uncultivated conditions, so they simply cannot be invasive. There is a remote possibility that by improving pest resistance and drought tolerance a crop could become capable of reliably reproducing in uncultivated conditions. If we ever got to the point that a crop was enhanced enough so that there were concerns about it being invasive, it could be engineered to require some specific seed treatment for germination, so that “wild” seeds would not grow. (Just a hypothetical example of control.)
It is almost guaranteed that someone, somewhere, will have an allergy to any plant you pick. But, again, that is a plant-by-plant situation – not something that will be common to all genetically engineered plants.
Viruses are constantly mutating. This means that we should expect new plant viruses to appear from time to time. In recent years, squash, oranges, and papaya have all been attacked by novel viruses. We can expect more viruses, more frequently, as we grow more and more food to feed the world’s population. We will need to continue to develop and rapidly deploy new genetically engineered varieties of plants as new viral challenges arise. The fact that we have a lot of engineered varieties planted is not going to change that – it will happen no matter what we do. Could you make a modification to a plant that would make it more susceptible to a pathogen? Yes, but that vulnerability would not extend to other plants, because every engineered modification is different.
I suspect that you are concerned that there will be some feature that will be introduced into every genetically engineered plant that will make all food crops vulnerable to some sort of disaster. Hopefully you now understand that there is not and will not be any commonality among a large number of crops. And, if we get a variety that does poorly, or has an off-taste, we will do with it what we do now with varieties we don’t like – we don’t plant them.
Roy, thank you for educating me. The episode I was thinking of was this:
“Tifton 85 grass”- a hybrid – possibly more cyanogenic when stressed by heat and drought. It was unexpected, but perhaps should have been?
Ewan, you’re just repeating yourself. If you don’t like what I’m saying take it up with the NAS. Your opinion is in lock-step with your employer’s, which told us: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” A statement it’s been trying to live down ever since. Especially since we know that the FDA really doesn’t assure safety, but instead tells Monsanto “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”
So, who exactly is assuring safety? We’re at the mercy of your good will sir. Are you sure you want that responsibility?
Oh sorry Ewan, this is where I meant to post the comment about you repeating yourself. So I guess now I’m repeating myself 🙂
My main problem with what you’re saying in this comment is:
“I maintain however that as the risk is vanishingly low across both
techniques it is foolish to apply such ridiculous rigor to a technology
where the risks are so vanishingly low.”
You’re simply pronouncing the risks to be vanishing low, but you have no scientific basis for that pronouncement, since we are venturing into engineering more complex aspects of plant metabolism, which we don’t fully understand even now. We’ve got a lot of bt and HT crops growing – but you can’t base the safety of future engineering on the track record there, which hasn’t been perfect anyway. It’s like saying, we’ve been safely to the moon and back, so we can guarantee safety to Mars. On top of that, you should be familiar with the criticisms of our regulatory system – which doesn’t guarantee that a problematic food plant won’t be commercialized.
So, you think pharming should be strictly regulated?
all organisms are producing biologically active chemistry. When you alter millions of acres of crops and trees to produce bt toxins, you are doing a major biology experiment, the results of which we’re not even monitoring.
Roy, you might be interested in this:
The Problem with Nutritionally Enhanced Plants, david R. Schubert
There’s a lot about the secondary metabolism of plants that we don’t understand. Engineering some kinds of traits isn’t as simple as engineering bacteria to produce a particular protein. And as you know, things can go wrong doing even that. In a plant, we’d have to analyze more than we currently require for regulatory purposes in order to learn whether or not we’ve created unwanted changes. I’d say we need to learn more about what we’re currently eating in order to make useful comparisons to engineered foods.
Thanks so much got the helpful information.
Your last sentence is cut off.
Instead of looking at the piles of literature showing that genetic engineering is a safe technology, you’re chasing what-if scenarios for which there is no evidence. And then you’re going to pick any response to death, ignoring anyone’s time or expertise. So no, don’t be surprised if you don’t get a lot of responses. Of course we are here to educate, what else would the point be? But we aren’t here to chase every rabbit down a hole.
Weed resistance to herbicides (or any pest resistance to any pest control measure) is not a genetic engineering problem. It is an evolution problem, and has existed since humans started trying to control pests. Any pest control strategy must be rotated to reduce resistance from arising. We need more herbicides like glyphosate that have lower toxicity that can be used in combination with glyphosate and non-chemical methods like cover crops and crop rotation. Calling this a genetic engineering problem just distracts from real solutions. Andrew Kniss has some really great posts on weed herbicide resistance: http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/category/herbicide-resistance-2/
In the US, all companies are responsible if their products cause harm. Think about food recalls. The FDA, CDC, and state agencies trace foods back and hold a company responsible if they are putting out harmful foods (there’s similar systems for drugs and other products – I just had to contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission due to a dangerous ceiling fan). Back to food, does every food label list the source of every ingredient? No! While companies are welcome to do that voluntarily, it’d be overkill to require it. Yet if there is a pattern of illness or other reactions, the authorities can trace it back. And they’d easily find out if it was a certain genetically engineered crop.
“The potential bad outcomes depend essentially entirely on the gene(s) being introduced.”
This is a great point. It is nonsensical to talk about “GMOs” as some monolithic thing. Each biotech trait has to be examined one-by-one. When we talk about all the scientific literature that shows biotechnology is safe – we mean the technology. The process of inserting genes using Agrobacterium or gene gun is established to be a safe process. But any tool can be used to produce something dangerous. So we look at each trait and see if there’s any unintended changes like increased toxins or allergens, and look to make sure the intended trait isn’t harmful itself.
As I commented below in response to quetzal, these questions don’t apply to “GMOs”. But they might apply to specific biotech traits. So if you have a trait you’d like to talk about, please bring it up and we can discuss. But talking about “GMOs” as a monolithic thing makes about as much as sense as talking about “all foods made in pots and pans”, or “all things made with screwdrivers”.
Mlema, Ewan may be being overly broad in his claims of safety, but you are being overly broad in your claims of harm. Let’s talk about specific traits, because all this talk about “GMOs” doesn’t make scientific sense.
It is not the volume of evidence, but the breadth and quality that are important. So called ‘long term studies’ are not often long at all. Test subjects are almost always selected as very healthy, strong, in their prime, individuals. How does that take into account safety for society as composed of a whole array of variably healthy individuals? How many people are compromised already by the pharma they are taking? What a crazy, complicated, drug interaction paradigm exists for a huge number of people in society. Healthy organisms in the lab setting are a very select set of ideal individuals best equipped to deal with any potential adverse effects of any possible pathogenic influence of the introduced chemical being tested. This is not a real world- relevant test scenario. Very little emphasis is on very young or old individuals that may be far more susceptible to any adverse effects showing up. This ‘tremendous amount of evidence’ is quite restricted (and cherry-picked) far too often to be an accurate risk assessment for society as a whole IMHO.
Let’s use glyphosate as an example. The best evidence available indicates that the amount of glyphosate found in our food does not cause harm. One can always say that more studies are needed, especially if they disagree with the evidence. One can also say, and anti-pesticide folks usually do, that we don’t know as much as we should about special case X, Y or Z so we have to assume the worse until we do. Mind you, those are the same folks who are willing to hang their hat on a single biased, poorly-done study if it advances their narrative. What you are calling cherry-picking is really quality control to filter out the bullshit studies that were done to produce a desired result, which are many. When one applies proper scientific standards, I know of no high quality studies that are being excluded from consideration because of the results, either negative or positive. In the absence of direct evidence, plausibility becomes important; is it plausible that the effect of glyphosate on the aged and infirm will be any different than on a healthy population? Based on what we know about the toxicity of glyphosate and the safety factor built into residue tolerances for food, the answer is no. Not absolutely no, but very very likely no, which is about the best science can ever do in drawing such a conclusion. It takes an extreme application of the precautionary principle or a predisposition for believing in junk science and conspiracy theories to argue the alternative based on existing evidence.
I REFUSE to live in a world as defined by PR firms and image consultants. I’ll call things what I want to call things. I don’t need permission from anyone, least of all a PR firm.
I live in the real world where a very tiny segment of the world’s population has taken it upon themselves to fundamentally change the food eaten by the rest of the world’s population without our consent.
Your “piles of literature” come from people who aren’t trustworthy.
It can be summarized as follows: People’s interpretation of the data collected shows that a very specific amount of the tested item seems to have no measurable effect on the few carefully chosen variables when eaten by animals over a short amount of time in a controlled laboratory setting.
This is not very reassuring to me. So I have questions.
1. Who, if anyone, is in charge of observing for potential negative outcomes in people over a long period of time in the real world where there are many other variables?
2. What might be some health indicators that would need to be monitored in order to show any potential harms?
3. What is the plan of action in case there is some bad outcome?
Will it be like tobacco, asbestos, and multiple medications that were once thought to be safe where things are settled by lawyers over a drawn out period of time with tax payer footing a lot of the bill?
Mlema, there is a lot about metabolism we don’t understand – that is why billions of dollars are spent every year in learning about specific metabolic pathways that lead to disease (including cancer).
Dr. Schubert is advocating that we must “understand” fully the system we are tinkering with. In the case of biological systems, that position insures that we will never introduce any new plant varieties, ever. If people would like to see progress in developing drought-tolerant crops, or enhanced nutrient crops, but are concerned about side effects, I suggest that we require that the complete genome of every new plant variety be produced, and compared to the complete genome of the plant variety from which it was derived. There is a whole army of scientists who specialize in doing that sort of “big data” analysis. That analysis will tell us if there are any “hidden” mutations in the modified plant, and it can assure us that there is or is not some particular issue with the way that the modified DNA might be utilized in the cell that we should investigate further. Not only would such a review put to rest the concerns of unknown DNA modification, but it would provide funding to obtain new knowledge about basic plant metabolism – and more basic research is always a good thing, even when it does not lead immediately to new commercial products.
How concerned you are with “unknowns” in genetically engineered plants depends, I think, on your perspective of the history of plant breeding. Some people take the position that the process is “not natural” and therefore automatically bad, or at least suspect. If you work in biomedical research or basic molecular biology research, you are familiar with and comfortable with genetic engineering, and you take the position that a modification to DNA is just a modification to DNA, and how the modification got done is completely immaterial to the function of the modification.
The long history of plant breeding suggests to me that whatever all those “unknown” metabolic pathways are, they have not been an issue in the past, through the introduction of hundreds of new plant varieties, including those produced by mutagenesis.
If you understand at the chemical (atomic) level how exposing a plant to intense radiation can produce a new plant variety by inducing DNA breaks, and if you know from experience just how infrequently you get a viable plant as the result of mutagenesis, then you probably really appreciate modern genetic engineering techniques. If you give me two plants: an “original” variety and a new variety produced by mutagenesis, odds are pretty good that I would be able to replicate most of the smaller genetic changes in the new variety using modern genetic engineering techniques. However, I would not be able to replicate any large-scale swapping of chromosomal fragments (as occurs during reproduction).
Over the years, research labs around the world have developed thousands of strains of genetically engineered mice, each strain has a slightly different (and very specific) chemical change that some research project needed. The people that work with mouse models know pretty much exactly what sort of modifications can be done and which modifications are not viable. The point is, we don’t see side effects of those mutations very often, and when we do, it is pretty obvious.
So, I’m OK with not knowing every possible side effect of, say, putting virus-resistance genes into a plant, because long experience with yeast, plants, worms, fish, and mice genetic engineering in the lab tells me that there is not likely to be a side effect, and if there is it will pretty obvious when we go thought the biochemical analysis to verify that our modification is working correctly.
You are talking about the behavior of ‘quacks’ on all sides. I’m talking about deficiencies of lab subject selection for studies. Quacks can try to do the studies, and responsible scientists can do the studies… and the quality of the outcomes likely would be very different. There is a LOT of that out there. But, what is needed to increase intellectual integrity is for the ‘responsible’ scientists to continually strive to improve the study designs to evolve a more societally accurate outcome for risk assessments to guide applied medical practices for a more sane future. We don’t seem to be there yet with current designs in the labs that don’t translate out into the real world. Your quantity (of research) is good as far as it goes, but is really not very comprehensive and avanced for the need.
It seems it’s ok to talk about GMOzz altogether if we want to say they’re safer and more precise – but if we want to talk about potential harm, it’s wrong to generalize?
Would a person with Parkinsons’ fare worse living next door to an agricultural field repeatedly sprayed by glyphosate, 2,4,d, and dicamba, than a more healthy individual? Who knows? Would 65% of such individuals, similarly exposed, have no adverse complications of their disease, or would 65% likely have adverse reactions? What about farmworks with asthma? We really do not know enough yet, and we need to know more. If we feed a great number of dairy cows from these fields, the crops sprayed with the herbicides, after three years.. would there be any detectable health declines in those cows that might be attributable to the chronic low dose exposures from food residues they were fed, or from herbicide drift into their areas? We really don’t know from the studies conducted so far. Longer term studies need to be done. IMHO
No, I am not talking about quacks, I am talking about poorly done, biased research designed to produce a predetermined outcome. You are using the common anti-pesticide advocacy ploy of suggesting that controlled studies be done on humans, which of course, is unethical, but antis continue to make that suggestion as a means of suggesting that the evidence we do have is not adequate.
And you continue your efforts to refute opposing conclusions by suggesting there is not enough evidence. Okay, so there may not be enough evidence for you, likely because you don’t like the conclusions based on current best evidence. That’s a typical approach by ideological antis; keep beating the not-enough-evidence drum to sow fear and uncertainty. Considering how long glyphosate has been in use and the total weight of evidence that indicates the amounts of glyphosate actually found in our food does not cause harm, it would appear that no amount of evidence will ever be satisfactory to you as long as it is inconsistent with your position.
I am not talking about human studies, but designing animal studies that try to get to those issues that relate to human toxicology and health. There is obviously not enough done that gets many of these questions clarified enough for any pronouncement of adequacy of testing. And, no I was not just talking about glyphosate. I’m also, NOT expecting to get to total safety, but I would like to get to where many of these human health issue questions can be answered better. You are not interested in that degree of research? Research needs to get to a more detailed understanding of chronic low dose multiple toxic chemical exposures on populations. We are Not there yet. that’s why I want to advocate for more and better science to guide our way to a better food supply future.
No. It’s ok to talk about the tools as a group, which are more precise.
Well, I don’t know what PR firm you are talking about. Regardless, that’s a non sequitur that is not helpful to the conversation. Read our comment policy before proceeding. https://biofortified.org/blog/comment-policy/
Repeating the same questions isn’t helpful. I already provided a response about lumping all the things together simply because they were made with the same tool.
If you think that thousands of independent scientists are in cahoots to mislead you, then there’s nothing I can say to help. You’ve got a lot of conjecture going on here, review our comment policy before proceeding. https://biofortified.org/blog/comment-policy/
Mlema — I cannot think of any human endeavor that has not resulted in some unexpected or undesired side effect. If we have to wait until we can predict all the possible consequences of an action, we will never do anything. However, inaction also has consequences, because it prevents or delays all the possible benefits of a technology.
I think that we need to embrace risk, while doing our best to estimate the most likely unintended consequences—especially focusing on those that might cause the greatest irreversible harm.
While basic gene-splicing technology presented an unknown risk in the early ’70, over time, we have gradually found that it poses no particular danger. We now have about 30 years of experience of applying this technology to plants, and I have yet to see any evidence where this has caused irreversible harm. From your frequent comments on the Internet, I find that you take a more absolutist position, but I ask you, can we ever have enough information to satisfy your concerns? Are there any specific tests that you think are missing in our evaluation of genetically engineered crops?
You aren’t listening. You don’t seem to understand. Maybe because you’re too involved and invested which is understandable.
I don’t doubt that thousands of scientists evaluated data and came to the same conclusions.
What I doubt is the ability of thousands of scientists to make decisions for billions of people based upon those conclusions.
You say that you are so sure it’s a good thing; maybe it looks that way in your lab.
I’m saying in the real world where it has been applied, it looks like a bad thing.
That’s because in the real world it’s not just about acute toxicity in a controlled environment.
Here in the real world there are overweight and undernourished people dying from terrible preventable diseases made more ubiquitous by this technology.
Here in the real world, this technology is being used as yet another instrument of control over people.
But go ahead and dismiss this as anti-science and paranoia. Go ahead and insist it’s all okay because it looks that way in your microscope.
Anastasia, I made no claims of harm, broad or otherwise. And it was I who spoke against generalizations about GMOs and hybrids both. All I did was make a statement based on the findings of the NAS – regarding the “Relative likelihood of unintended genetic effects associated with various methods of plant genetic modification” However, I specifically quoted from the caption:””It is unlikely that all methods of either genetic engineering, genetic modification, or conventional breeding will have equal probability of resulting in unintended changes. Therefore, it is the final product of a given modification, rather than the modification method or process, that is more likely to result in an unintended adverse effect.”
You and Ewan both are generalizing about GMOs and hybrids, when in reality, there’s a lot of overlap when it comes to potential for adverse effects. Here’s what I gather: that you and Ewan equate numbers of genes “affected” with potential for harm. And then, you say that fewer genes are affected in GMOs, therefore, less risk of harm. And – that it’s all about the trait and only the trait. I don’t see support for any of that. I do see serious problems with oversight though, as illustrated in the news article I linked to.
One can never have too much high-quality, unbiased research, but the question is whether or not we currently have enough information upon which to base a reasonable risk analysis, and I think we do.
Many short and long term studies have been done, but the problem with the anti-pesticide and anti-GMO crowd is that the amount of research is never enough as long as they disagree with the conclusions. And if there are tons of animal studies that show no harm, they will then argue that those animal studies are not relevant to humans. They are constantly moving the goalposts when it comes to studies they disagree with, but are willing to accept studies they agree with at the drop of a hat.
There have been many cohort studies done to evaluate the risks associated with living near agricultural lands as well as studies related to the occupational health and safety of farm workers. Recently, a study considered 19 years of animal feeding data and concluded that the performance and health of GMO-fed animals was comparable to that of non-GMO-fed animals. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25184846) But much of that seems to fall on deaf ears of those who are only looking for evidence that supports their anti-pesticide, anti-GMO bias. Based on the totality of your comments, my guess is that you are forming opinions that do not take into account the complete body of evidence that already exists as well as ignoring the role plausibility plays in doing a risk analysis.
Of course. But it’s not just organic farmers that aren’t happy with developments in the biotech industry. Here, we see that vegetable farmers, including conventional, don’t like the new dicamba/2,4D crops – because the pesticide drift kills their crops.
Looks like Dow is trying to work with them, Monsanto no (although this story is more than a year old) Since even before the new HT crops, we’ve seen farmers forget to protect their neighbors, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. I live in Indiana, and Dow is in Indianapolis. I have a feeling that the fact that the veggie farmers were here in Indiana too may have encouraged Dow to try to help protect the farmers’ profits.
Additionally – the story of ProdiGene is an interesting one (USDA don’t look too good here neither 🙁
For more on how Prodigene seems to have morphed into a still-active producer of Pharm crops, please find the link in my comment to Ewan – with “sfgate” in the address.
Oh, one more – I just read about this lawsuit against Syngenta for selling corn that wasn’t approved for import in China. When the corn was found in the system, China refused imports of corn, and lots of farmers lost money.
Really, I’m wondering: should the farmer have suspected this hybrid could kill his cows? I don’t know so I was hoping you might.
We are experiencing a most difficult time for science; some of the essential elements of scientific method are being omitted from many areas of research. Politics and funding process changes have created a climate for the degradation of the scientific method. Increasing reliance on corporate funding far too often leads scientific inquiry astray. The pressure to ‘prove’ theories and products ‘right’ feeds short term corporate gain. Another essential element of the method must not be forgotten; once great effort has been made together pertinent information, a theory has been put forward, and further information is gathered supporting the theory, there comes a point at which an even greater effort must be made to try, with integrity, to provide evidence to discount the theory. A loss of scientific integrity occurs when this step is omitted or minimized. Corporate-driven funding far too often omits or actively discourages this essential element of scientific integrity…. and science itself is harmed. A more sane food-supply future needs to evolve a more intelligent funding prioritization for comprehensive integrity within the agricultural, epidemiological, and public medicine paradigm. IMHO
I think that there must be a lot of us who need clarification on this. Above you say:
“Instead of looking at the piles of literature showing that genetic
engineering is a safe technology, you’re chasing what-if scenarios for
which there is no evidence.”
The only way to show that ge is a safe technology is by studying the products it creates. The literature that you say shows that the technology is safe is actually about the products, right? We can’t really say a technology is “safe”. We can only talk about the safety of the results. But we do see people generalize. They say “GMOs are safe”. Scientists like yourself don’t say this, because they know you can’t generalize in such a fashion.
But what does it mean to say the technology is safe? I think it’s akin to saying that the technology of deepwater drilling is safe. Lots of people said that even though the regulations that govern it were outdated. We ended up with the BP Gulf disaster. Now people don’t say deepwater drilling is safe. Or people say cars are safe. I’d say yeah, they’re pretty safe. But we still have lots of examples of unsafe cars that ended up killing people. Would we say “the internal combustion engine is safe”? But people don’t precisely say “cars are safe”. There are too many variables. We use them, we know there’s risk – but it’s one of those situations where we feel like we have a lot of control over the risk to ourselves – what car we own, how we maintain it, how we drive, etc. People have more reticence about planes, even though statistically they’re still “safe”r than cars (safer meaning less risk you’ll get hurt). I think this is like the technology of GE. There’s nothing about the technology itself that we would call unsafe. But we don’t care about that. We care about the applications and their safety for consumers and the environment. I don’t know what it means to say the technology is precise, unless you mean that it can make precise changes to genes. But why characterize it that way unless you’re hoping that people will infer that the food it creates is safer because the technology is more precise? I have actually seen people much smarter and more educated than myself say: “GMOs are more precise”. And sometimes those same people even say “GMOs are safer”. I think they’ve short-handed things somewhere along the way and that’s how it stuck in their brains. They end up believing something that’s not necessarily scientifically accurate, or is at least too generalized.
So, what does it mean to say that the technology is safe? I get the feeling that overall, based on your responses to all the questions on this page (thanks for doing that) you don’t believe it’s possible to engineer a harmful GMO apart from a harmful trait. Do I understand that right.
Thanks. Long comment I know.
You’re dismissing Dr. Schubert’s concerns out of hand and equating GE food crops to all plant breeding that has gone before, even though it’s fundamentally different and has no historical precedent. You’re also not differentiating between controlled and open environments.
Our current regulations don’t require new plants with old traits to be safety tested, even though every event is unique. In fact, the trait itself is tested apart from the plant. We compare for gross characteristics, find “substantial equivalence” and name the trait “generally recognized as safe”. We have to hope that problems get “caught”:
We need to proceed with caution in these more complex alterations, and start utilizing and REQUIRING the means of analysis we have available now. And this should all be transparent.
Peter, I’ve already answered your specific questions at length on GLP. I can’t respond to platitudes. You continue to try to characterize me in a negative way. Do you have any idea why you do this? I don’t.
The *process* by which genetic engineering is done is much more complex than what has gone before (in fact, in the lab it is quite tedious and time consuming). However, the *result* (modification of DNA) is *much simpler* than the modifications created by any other means. Genetic engineering alters just a few genes. Genetic engineering does *not* produce “complex alterations”. In biomedical research we do genetic engineering as a routine part of research, and the desired modifications are specific and simple. (If the modifications were complex, or did something we could not predict, genetic engineering would be of no use).
Whatever source told you that genetic engineering produces “complex alterations” was rather poorly informed, or was deliberately misleading you, or both.
The advances that have been made in cancer treatment and in treatment of life-threatening illnesses such as cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis have come about because of our ability to do precise genetic engineering. Hundreds of thousands of research projects have used genetic engineering. If Dr. Schubert’s concerns were justified, the trajectory of biomedical research over the last 30 years would be quite different, and not nearly as successful.
As far as the paper you linked to, here is another paper, much more recent, that found just the opposite result:
This paper carries the following statement: “This study was funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-3) under grant agreement no.211820 and independently of any commercial input, financial or otherwise. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. None of the personnel involved had a financial or personal conflict of interest with regard to the present study. ”
The results reported by the authors of this report are much more consistent with the current scientific knowledge of immunology generally.
In reading the paper you referenced, I noted some significant inconsistencies in their reported experimental procedure. Just because a paper is “peer reviewed” does not mean it reaches “correct” conclusions, or is reporting correctly done experiments. The broader scientific community is trying to address this problem, but no one has the money to verify that experiments are reproducible (meaning they were likely done and reported correctly). To determine if a paper is generally accepted as “correct”, you have to look at papers that reference that paper , and see where the thinking on the topic goes over time.
Engineering changes in nutrition can involve complex alterations. Look at the history of Golden Rice. If I can sum up your comments: GE in agriculture isn’t risky, because I do GE in the lab and nothing bad happens that I don’t know about right away.
You said: “There is no consistent modification that would be done to many crops. So
there is no risk from some single trait being spread across a large
percentage of our food crops…Let’s look at each of the types of
modifications we might want to make. The most important for food
security are resistance to insects, resistance to pathogens, nutritional
enhancement, soil condition tolerance, and drought tolerance”
Which overlooks the fact that the vast majority of GMOs we’re growing are herbicide-tolerant commodities. So, we have a single trait being spread across a large %age of our food crops. I 100% support the kinds of traits you’ve listed, but in many cases conventional crops can be developed more quickly – and don’t carry the cost of patented genes.
GMO resistance to insects is basically bt crops, across several commodities, and although it confers insect resistance, it’s basically plants dispensing pesticides – a convenience and ecological question mark. In the context of IPM, insect resistance is a much more complicated undertaking.
There are only so many correlations you can draw between a lab and the great outdoors.
Herbicide resistance has been inserted into some staple crops that represent a large percentage of the total crop tonnage – but a very small fraction of the total number of different food crops in the U.S. In another 10 years, all that herbicide resistance is going to be worthless and largely irrelevant except in a few isolated places.
Plants dispense many pesticides – perhaps 50 or more. Bt-producing bacteria are applied to crops extensively in organic farming practices – have been for many years – the consensus is that Bt toxin (and the bacteria that produce it) are safe to eat. As far back as 1990, it was known that plants that are commonly consumed – many of them without cooking – which, among them, produced 15 compounds known to be carcinogenic to rodents. Fortunately there are over 100 different Bt toxins known to be produced by various bacteria, and each type is pretty specific as to what insects it kills. By one estimate, there is 1.8 grams of naturally-produced-by-plants insecticides in the average American daily diet. So there are a lot of compounds out there. I would say that if you want to ban Bt plants you would have to want to ban the use of Bt bacteria in organic farming – which would not be good for organic farming.
The Nature article you referenced is pointless – of course the conventional breeding has produced results faster, because no one is allowed to grow the genetically modified crops. If the same regulation was applied to hybrid crops as to genetically modified crops, the story would be different.
There have been so many claims and counter-claims about golden rice that I doubt that hardly anyone has all the facts. On what basis to you make the claim that “changes in nutrition can involve complex alterations”?
Roy I don’t get these people, scared of a gene or 2, slap in a whole new chromosome, not a peep.. Very strange indeed.
They are scared of GMO Bt but have no problem eating the 100s of crops raised by organic farmers that use way more Bt and they eat them raw. All the Bt crops are normally cooked deactivating the cry proteins. They complain about plant patents yet never complain about orchard crops, which have the most restrictive patent rules.
GMOs dont change anything, they are just plant traits. Corn is still corn.
Just for the sake of argument (one I use with people afraid of Bt “in every cell”), wouldn’t any ingested Bt be completely denatured in the 2.0-ish pH of the stomach, then further broken into a.a. components by catabolism further downstream? Structure ==> function, and denatured or snipped to bits just don’t cut it (no pun intended.) Not to mention that no mammal has receptors for Bt. So there’s that.
I always tell people that Bt is everywhere, it is a natural bacterium in the soils, and if it was harmful, we would have known about it 1000s of years ago? Don’t eat dirt, the evil Bt will get ya.
Don’t mention that that the government’s sprayed millions with Bt, They sprayed Vancouver Canada and the Seattle area to rid the region of gypsy moths about 7 years ago. What is that about 4 million people.
Not to mention, completely Natchrul.I mean, rlly, we’re not insects. And Roy’s point was well taken that we’re/ Nature is in a constant arms-race. We can only hope to postpone inevitable resistance (e.g., with border cropping? if that’s the right term). It’s antelopes and cheetahs, all the way down. Like turtles ;7)
Yes we seldom doubted that because that history is the witness of the safety of hybrid food. My father owns a orange garden, and every year he would hybrid the trees to introduce the advantages of other breeds, and now there is about 10 types of different oranges in the garden. And no health issue raised over the years. Besides the Chinese hybrid rice should be another powerful example for the safety of hybrid food.
-BOC Sciences http://www.bocsci.com
Mlema, After reading a few follow-up reports on the event, plus my knowledge gained from 20 years of handling cattle in central/east Texas, I would say that this was just another case of Johnson grass prussic acid poisoning, never mind what the news reports said, or what the cattle owner might have thought was happening. Yes, it is theoretically possible for Tifton 85 to cause prussic acid poisoning, but there are no reports of that actually occurring. It is way more likely that there were some fresh shoots of Johnson grass in the field, and the cows found it. One big bite of the stuff is enough to kill if it has prussic acid in it. Apparently the field had not been grazed for some length of time – Johnson grass will grow an inch or more a day. You don’t see any one day and a few days later it is taller than anything else in the field. I think the cattle owner’s mistake was not checking the field carefully before turning the cows onto it. You can put cows on the same field 100 times without a problem, and the 101st time it will be poison.
I think most of your concerns can be laid at the feet of science reporters, advocacy groups, and a complicit popular media, not objective scientists. Can science improve? Certainly. Is it improving? Certainly, learning from mistakes and following the evidence wherever it goes are standard features of good scientific inquiry. Unfortunately, there are those whose interests are best served by encouraging fear, uncertainty, and doubt, and they do that by criticising science because their conclusions and ideology are not based on evidence and reason. To them, science and evidence are the enemy.
High quality, objective studies are transparent and can be evaluated using appropropriate science-based techniques and standards. Just because a company may profit from the results of scientific research does not disqualify the research; if done correctly, the integrity of the research can be determined by other, impartial scientists who have no direct interest in the outcome.
In my opinion, it is the anti-pesticide and anti-GMO folks who deserve the greatest criticism for attempts to disguise the sources of funding for the primary research they support and for employing the efforts of obviously biased advocates of their multi-billion dollar industries. Benbrook is just the latest example, but he is not the only so-called scientist that has made a business out of giving the Organic Trade Association and their patrons what they want for their money.
what? this is funny.
How is distrusting the independent opinion of thousands of scientists not paranoia? how is it not agianst science?
how then is it not anti-science paranoia?
ok – thanks for your input
I’m not distrusting the opinion of thousands of scientists that interpret the data to conclude there is no evidence of measurable acute toxicity in animals who receive a specific amount of a specific thing as compared to a control.
But that’s all they can say scientifically. That’s it.
They can’t use this data to say:
It’s beneficial or “good”
It’s a “better” way than what exists already
It’s applied in “smart” ways
It should be accepted by all people
It’s the same as selective breeding
It shouldn’t be labeled
If you don’t like it you are “anti-science”
It’s perfectly rational to conclude that thus far, GMO has only served to increase the availability of junk food. The same foods that are causing our worst health problems.
It’s perfectly rational to see how greed and arrogance are polluting this technology.
It’s perfectly logical to advocate for alternative tools which are already freely available and arguable much better and without the risks and pollution.
Sorry, that is not all that science can or has said about GMO crops.
I hope greed plays a part. If you can’t make money on it, it’s not ever worth spending money to do. I hope you don’t believe that reducing tillage is a negative impact, or that reducing high impact herbicides and insecticides by using practically, or literally non-toxic ones is a pollution creator.
The subject can be spun by sociological arguments, but the reality on safety, safe and good application and equivalency are well established as fact.
Of course that’s not all science can or has said about GMO.
You are just elevating the science used to create them to some higher importance (even making claims this small part of science actually “is” the whole field of science).
What is the current science related to dietary health? What does science say about consuming artificial sweeteners such as HFCS? Which scientists would argue that Americans need to eat more of this type of thing?
What does science say about resilience of complicated systems?
What does the science say about science for that matter? Is it scientific fact that we can ever know something 100%?
Greed: intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.
If a scientists holds an opinion like yours (“I hope greed plays a part.”), then I seriously doubt this person and all opinions and conclusions reached by this person. This is a person who knows nothing.
Reducing tillage has nothing to do with GMO. It exists with or without.
Reducing poisons is admirable. The natural inference is that we should keep reducing them to zero. Guess what? There are already ways of growing food with zero.
Reducing unwanted outputs such as pollution is admirable. Guess what? There are already ways of growing food which reduces (and actually reverses) pollution.
It’s not “spin” to take into account sociological arguments. It’s in fact the whole point. Sociology is science too.
Sociology: the scientific study of social behavior, its origins, development, organization, and institutions. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, social disorder and social change.
What good is GE if there is no social order?
Ban gmo’s todya, and we still have the same ag system we did, just minus GMO’s. HFCS will still be used at the same amounts.
Create a new system, and the research and development will center around the new cash crops. It’s how it works.
If it was easy cheap and effective to use alternative methods, they’d just be called methods. Prove that an integrated system drives chemicals down to zero usage while actually providing good yield at competitive costs, and you’ll be rich and probably win more than one nobel prize.
“Ban gmo’s todya, and we still have the same ag system we did, just minus GMO’s. HFCS will still be used at the same amounts.”
It’s definitely not going to be in the same amounts if we were to get rid of GMO corn and sugar beets.
I think you are not quite understanding me. The “ag system” we have now is outdated and doesn’t meet the needs of our society right now. Forget the past and the future, they don’t really exist.
Right now, can we do things better? How?
I’m not interested in being financially rich or in accolades. Neither are many people being “called” to farm. Of course you have to cover your expenses, but what else do you really need after that?
Isn’t it enough to provide a great product or service to your neighbors at a fair price?
Can’t we change our culture so that we stop chasing false idols like money? Can you not see how destructive this mentality has become?
There are places that use zero poisons. There are other systems of food production. They deserve our consideration too.
Yes, weed resistance is not a genetic engineering problem, but the vast majority of GMOs now growing are pesticide-resistant or pesticide-producing commodities, and the companies that created them and marketed the heck out of them and the pesticides that are used with them – to “revolutionize” agriculture and make it safer and easier, and to make huge profits, and to continue to engineer more crops around the world (whichever crops are most grown in any given country) – have offered only to engineer more GMOs that are resistant to older and more toxic pesticides, and to stack the pesticides that their crops produce. So, since for the average person, GMO is pesticide-resistance, or pesticide-producing – we equate pest resistance with GMO. Saying we need more pesticides is just techno-fix thinking. It’s just more of the same. We need to re-incorporate the use of pest management systems used prior to GMOs, and incorporate the tools developed by hard-working bug, plant and soil scientists. And we need to provide support and incentives for farmers to use them. But that might take a bit of $ from the biotech industry, so I have my doubts that such will happen.
Trying to steer the GMO conversation away from the problems of pesticides, while simultaneously doing apologetics for pesticide products and GMOs won’t help any case being made for separating the GMO conversation from the pesticide conversation.
Regarding holding companies responsible for harm: we may try. But typically, for the average MNC, fines and punitive damages are such a tiny part of profits that they’re considered operational costs – the “cost of doing business”. No company has ever been made responsible to the extent they’ve caused harm. Look at Monsanto’s PCB contamination in Anniston, or dioxin in Nitro, or Bayer’s HIV-contaminated products overseas. These were knowing, intentional harms. If you want to talk about the industry’s “action plan” should it be that there was indeed a provable instance of harm – there is no action plan. The harm simply remains in the victim’s lives and in the environment. I acknowledge that the products involved in each case were of benefit to us all. But when it comes to the point of harm, production should cease and the companies involve should turn over whatever they have in the interest of making victims whole, instead of lying and defrauding the victims and the public at large – which is what has happened instead.
People aren’t sheep. Production is demand driven. Given, availability
Our ag system is based on meat. Because that’s what people want. Cash crops feed cattle. As a byproduct, we have farmers good at producing extra cash crops that we have learned how to use in other foods – i won’t say that it’s a good thing to use corn and soy products everywhere,.
Fix society by teaching people. People will determine what farmers grow. Don’t believe that top-down social engineering will be anything but a replay of 1920’s prohibition.
I hope covering costs is way less than any producer ever wants. Good enough is a deathblow to innovation. Please don’t forget the level of starvation that innovation has avoided.We eat well. True hunger is pretty scarce in our country. That couldn’t have been said before the ag revolution of last century. No way to argue it.
I’m for less chemical use. I’m for a future ag that incorporates all good ideas. I don’t think zero use is a reality. I have yet to see a system that keeps up at all that uses that philosophy, not out of a hobby garden at least.
I pretty much agree with this entire comment except the part where zero use is not a reality yet.
It is a reality.
I do not claim this is reproducible in every situation and location but it should be done in as many places as possible keeping in mind that each situation is unique.
I do think its best to keep things as local as possible and as small as possible for multiple reasons. Some reasons include food security, variety, democracy and building community with one another instead of doing business with faceless, nameless entities which view us as nothing more than a business exchange.
Of course this ignores the benefits of scale but what exactly are those benefits and what are the costs? We would need lots more farmers but it just so happens we have many people out of work right now. We would need more land but if we could expand on the regenerative techniques available right now it would actually be a positive thing to have land “under cultivation”. If we could find ways to combine functions with farming such as storm water management, wildlife conservation, energy production and animal husbandry then all the better.
Exactly. All proteins are broken into individual amino acid residues or very short peptides, none of which have any functional capability.
So are you saying that because some hybrids are safe we can just say they are all safe, even though we have examples of ones that are not safe? That’s a pretty cavalier attitude towards safety.
I didn’t mean that. I lifted examples that were common hybrid food. There is no absolute safety on any type of food, neither the hybrid one nor the non-hybrid one. Sorry for the ambiguity.
1) *Intentionally harmful traits* I definitely think it is possible to intentionally use the tools of biotechnology to create something harmful. Unfortunately this type would never come under regulation because it’d be done in hiding. I see this as similar to how someone might use otherwise safe tools like screwdrivers or pressure cookers to make something intended for harm. Think something like engineering a food crop to produce a known toxin or engineering a pathogen to be airborne.
2) *Unintentionally harmful traits* I think it is also very possible to use the tools of biotechnology to make something that seems safe at first glance yet could have unintended harms. This is where regulation is very useful and important. We might not be able to regulate the real bad guys (if they exist) but we can regulate people trying to make useful products. For example, if one tried to engineer a plant that grows faster but that made the plants weedier and hard to control. Or if one tried to use engineer an insect resistant plant that had wide non-target effects and killed beneficial insects like ladybugs. Depending on how the traits were created, these unintended harms would be caught in our current regulatory system by the USDA (both examples) or EPA (2nd example).
3) Then there’s another category that would be if biotechnology itself caused harms. Not the trait, but the methods. That’s where I say it’s incredibly unlikely you could cause unintentional harm. Impossible? Nothing’s impossible in biology. But pretty close to impossible. I can imagine some pretty crazy things like if the biotech method caused a lot of breaks in the DNA and they happened to have some homologous ends that resulted in a new strand of DNA that happened to be a toxin… but that type of incredibly unlikely scenario could also happen with other types of human-directed or natural mutagenesis. It’s slightly more likely in organisms that already have known toxin genes, such as nightshades, but again those already pose a higher risk with breeding. So perhaps species with known toxin genes should be scrutinized a little more. But totally novel toxins arising through random breaks? So very unlikely. And for many crop species, anything like this will go away during backcrossing. Ok, so what about epigenetics? Yes, an inserted gene could cause epigenetic changes near the site or even potentially distant from the site. But epigenetic changes are changes in how genes are expressed (when, where). It doesn’t result in new genes. So we are back to possibly needing to be careful of species with known toxin genes, and again this is a potential risk in both biotechnology and breeding.
In summary, biotechnology is a safe set of tools (at least as if not safer than other breeding methods). We need to look at the traits one-by-one though.
Some entirely plausible ideas, Ray, and I might agree with you.
Now, since you’re talking science, please offer what you consider to be the most compelling evidence. Otherwise, all you are doing is speculating. (Not boasting, but I have at least six speculations before breakfast every day).
BTW I have never seen anyone use the abbreviation IMHO humbly.
I’m no expert, but I thought “maximum residue limits” are based on whether a crop conforms with current approved agricultural practices, rather than being a measure of safety.
Some entirely plausible ideas, Ray.
Now, since you’re talking science, please offer what you consider to be the most compelling evidence. Otherwise, all you are doing is speculating. (Not boasting, but I have at least six speculations before breakfast every day).
BTW I have never seen anyone use the abbreviation IMHO humbly.
I use IMHO and mean it all the time!
Yes, the terms “Anti-Science” and “Pseudoscience” I have always found to be expressions used by people with no real argument, backed into a corner and use such terms as desperate default answers in an attempt to elevate themselves above their opponents in any debate, They convey the idea that they are somehow are on the superior side and their opponent is inferior and far below their level of intellect. The reality is that science is neutral. Science can only be good or bad depending on the people involved with science and utilizing the scientific method, which in reality itself is dying out. The scientific method is only as credible as the practicing researcher is able to distance him or her self along with their own personal biases, prejudices and worldviews out of the research. Unfortunately we do not live in such an idealistic world as that. Hence the fallback terms you referenced are used when one person has nothing of value to add to the discussion.
Alokin: ” . . but it is anti-science to ignore evidence . . ”
Unfortunately that is exactly the way most science is treated today and by the very ones doing the researching. There is too much at stake in the worldview department for many. For others it’s power, wealth, fame, glitter, glory, and the potential for prestige are just too important to allow themselves to “accept the evidence where it leads.” That’s just the realistic less than ideal imperfect world we live in.
getzal said: “The potential bad outcomes depend essentially entirely on the gene(s) being introduced. Having “this technology” applied to so much of our food would only be bad if the transgenes being expressed were harmful.”
Actually that is not true. It’s not simply just the gene introduced, but the informational content of the foreign genome it is introduced into. There have been clearly documented cases of things going wrong and projects being scrapped because they had no clue what was causing the toxicity. There was the example down in Australia, where scientists scrapped plans to genetically modify field peas to kill pests after tests showed that the GM peas caused allergic damage to mice. Scientists took the gene from the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) which contained an alpha-amylase inhibitor-1 from a protein capable of killing pea weevil pests from the common bean and transferred into the pea. When extracted from the bean, this protein does not cause an allergic reaction in mice. But the researchers found that when the protein producing gene is expressed in the pea using genetic engineering, its structure changed from the way it had been in the bean and caused allergic reactions. This is identical to the infamous Potato Study conducted b Dr Árpád Pusztai, a Hungarian-born biochemist and nutritionist who spent 36 years at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, who bucked the Scientific Religious Orthodoxy and came out against GMO Potatoes as a result of his own developmental research on them. He discovered through identical experimentation as in the Australian Pea study that when he isolated the protein lectin from the Snow Drop plant which was to kill Aphids on potatoes, that no harm at all came from animals eating the purer natural form of the lectin toxin. However, once inserted into the potato’s genetic informational context, structural changes clearly took place within the gene’s newer genetic context because it caused allergic reactions in the animals tested. The biggest problem here is the gross lack of respect for the true informational content within DNA, which despite their blowing a trumpet ahead of themselves as to how much they all know about DNA, they are actually light years away from knowing most everything. But you cannot tell them this because it’s not part of the Biotech scientific animal to admit ignorance on anything regarding genetics. A big part of this ignorance is the religious dogma of “Junk DNA” which if a gene doesn’t code for a protein, it much be evolutionary baggage with no function. How much good health science has been held back because of such flawed faith commitments ?
This is exactly why the stupid argument justifying this technology, “Genes are just Genes and DNA is just DNA”is so asinine. It’s always been about genes working in a context with other genes, not some lone wandering maverick. And both Robb Fraley and Alison van Eenennaam chanted this at those ridiculous sham Intelligence Squared Debates back in Dec 2014, where even the Organic side were as silly as the Team Monsanto.
Actually I believe both the gene gun and agrobacterium offer a one in a trillion chance of a single gene being inserted into the same exact location within the foreign host genome over and over. Actually I believe it’s worse mathematically than that, but I’d have to look it up. The other potential that is never discussed, but has been written about is wild agrobacterium transferring a transgene into completely different lifeforms. The contamination doesn’t have to come from pollen within the same family of plants anymore, but no one wishes to discuss the potential dangers. There is too much business loss at stake which proves it’s NOT about the SCIENCE, it’s about the BUSINESS.
Actually it is a problem when specific outside foreign gene traits which allow a plant resistance to various cocktails of pesticides are engineered into a crop plant for the express purpose of dousing the environment with totally unnecessary synthetic chemicals and eventually poisoning the ground over and over making each pass more and more toxic than before. The accumulation of these kills the microbiome which closes off soil pores, preventing breathing of the soils and horrible water percolation issues which is why there is so much runoff and erosion and chemicals being washed into aquatic environments. That’s why we have dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.
BTW, historically speaking, what do anyone here reading suppose the toxic build up is here on this map of increased usage of Roundup (Glyphosate) in the USA between 1992 to 2012 ? Now image three years later to the present ?
As I said in a recent reply to another commenter, when science is done properly, it is transparent and subject to well-established standards for review and evaluation. There is a lot of good science being done that satisfies those standards and also a lot of junk science that should be ignored. It is wrong to paint with too broad a brush and condemn or cast doubt on all science because some research is poorly done or biased. The scientific method is still a sound foundation for inquiry, one just needs to understand it and be more discriminating than many in the popular media currently are.
No, In the US, MRLs or pesticide residue “tolerances” are established by the EPA (and enforced by the FDA) based on a risk analysis that includes toxicological information, consideration of aggregate exposure and cumulative effects, effects on infants, children and other potentially sensitive subpopulations, etc. Once that is done, a significant safety factor is applied. For instance, if 500 ppm is indicated to be acceptable based on a comprehensive risk analysis, then a tolerance of 5 ppm may be established. http://www2.epa.gov/pesticide-tolerances
In writing use labels, manufacturers do field trials to establish the rates, application methods and use patterns that are necessary to ensure that residues do not exceed established tolerances. So you are correct is a way: If a pesticide is not used according to the label, for instance, if it is applied at a higher rate or more times within a season than the label allows, it may result in a residue greater than the allowable tolerance, so in that respect, it is an indication of whether or not the use conformed to the label, however, the tolerance itself is established through EPA’s risk analysis process before final use labels are written.
Unlike most people, I do not view “Science” as an infallible religion. The problems that exist with science are the motives and leanings of researchers involved with doing science for whatever purpose or intent. I have run across numerous examples where ideology and worldview will always trump evidence. More often than not, many scientific findings are actually immune to evidence against them. Take this subject for example. And unfortunately as perfect as that scientific method is supposed to be, most people, includes many scientists, view it as a myth. The sad state of affairs regarding the health of this planet is proof the method is flawed because of those involved in it
“What we can say is that based on the preponderance of high quality
studies on the subject, the evidence supports the claim that GMOs do not
No scientist would ever say that. Pro-GMO scientists advocate by saying things like “…we have no evidence that GMOs currently on the market have caused harm to health…(etc.)”
It sounds like a claim of safety, but it’s really just saying – there’s no evidence on anything growing right now. Which doesn’t mean much if you just have a couple of handfuls of feeding trials – all on different GMOs, different animals, with different and often irrelevant parameters. And if you plan to engineer GMOs that might carry a higher risk of unintended consequences. The past doesn’t determine the future, and claims of no evidence don’t mean much if you ain’t got a whole lot of evidence anyway – or if you ignore or blast the evidence you’ve got.
Owen, I have posted that map only to have been told that since glyphosate biodegrades so very quickly, it means nothing that it’s use is increasing. We’ll continue to see increases throughout the country with glyphosate-resistant alfalfa and sugar beets expanding use. I live in Indiana, and frankly I’m angry. Although I have worse pesticides than glyphosate in my water.
Here’s a little bit of good news:
But this does little to help the soil and non-target organisms, including those harmed by glyphosate.
Thanks for your comment.
Saying that a particular set of evidence supports a claim is not a safety claim or proof of anything, it is saying that such a claim is supported by a preponderance of the current, high-quality evidence on the subject. In other words, I can support (not prove) that claim with lots of high-quality evidence.
“I have run across numerous examples…”
Fortunately, there are science-based standard one can use to tell the difference between good research and bad.
Claiming that most consider science to be an infallible religion is to project onto science and scientific methods the misconceptions of ignorant people.
Alokin; “Fortunately, there are science-based standards one can use to tell the difference between good research and bad.”
And this is why huge corporate entities who claim to cloak themselves with “Settled Science” have a full time staff on hand to act as Damage Control Public Relations employees. It’s all they do, because the corporate heads understand that in a rush to satisfy share holders, they had to fudge the truth a bit to get the product to market and that certain embarrassing details will probably come to light and if they can stall investigation long enough, just maybe they’ll get lucky and find a way out of the dilemma, all they while denying any wrong doing.
Alokin: “Claiming that most consider science to be an infallible religion is to project onto science and scientific methods the misconceptions of ignorant people”
Well there you go, you said it. Except that they know they are not ignorant and that wasting time and further fudging the truth of a matter buys time, or so they fell. Good job Alokin.
Anastasia: “, , , many biotech methods do result in much more controlled change than non-biotech methods. We are affecting only a few known genes vs an unknown number of unknown genes. This table summarizes some of the differences.”
Controlled ??? Are you really serious ??? They take liberty with shortcuts not considering long term consequences. Here’s a question. Why is the subject of mycorrhizal fungi such a dirty topic for most all biotechs ??? I’m not talking genetic manipulation of micro-organisms genomes for those precious Patents. Did you know that certain specific species of mycorrhizal fungi depending on what host they colonize can create epigenetic gene expression to trigger a response to an enemy invader ??? Did you know they can trigger huge lateral root development, given the correct Fungi species to the correct species hist ??? Seriously, no one wishes to talk about this and the main reason is profit. Dumping high recommended concentrations of chemicals on crops where conventional farming methods restrict root area absorption is more profitable than working the land as if it’s an amazing sophisticated complex ecosystem. The bottom line here is not convenience and quicker results, but mostly easier profits.
As far as the comment, ” . . effecting only a few known genes . . ” , seriously this is far from what is really going on here. A single gene does not work alone, it works in a context with other genes. You know, genes that guide, instruct, regulate, etc etc etc ???
“an unknown number of unknown genes.” – Now you are talking Junk DNA. This religious faith commitment doctrine has done more to ruin the pursuit and strict discipline of genetics more than any other metaphysical argument. The concept of nature being badly designed, inherently flawed and imperfectly put together through a random bundle of compromises has once again done more to hurt scientific understanding and progress more than anything else, but of course there is no other way to to make fast money.
Actually this argument of breakdown and degradation is bogus. In the old days of 1996, they had to take that stupid lying claim of “biodegradable” off their labels because it was found to be a lie. The New York Attorney General got that off their Roundup labels, along with safer than table salt, safer than coffee, safe to drink. Seriously, research the crap they used to advertise and understand why the ignoramus arguments are still being used by the blind faith believers on these boards. The opening documentary of “The World According to Monsanto” even bares this out. Out in the western parts of North America where conditions are far more drier, breakdown is almost zilch. Why ??? Because there is less moisture for microbes to work and only certain specific microbes do this. There are also the problem of weeds Roundup has killed why glyphosate is stored in the dead tissue taproots of those weeds. There are a plethora of unforeseen consequences which they do not want to deal with.
I don’t see support for making any claims at all about GMOs as a group. Every GMO is a unique new organism. Difference processes, different traits, different circumstance of transfer and different results and effects on the cell. I don’t see any reason to promote the safety or harm of GMOs as a group, except to promote or denigrate the products of GM. It’s a bait and switch. We talk about the “technology” being safe (which seems meaningless outside what we do with it), and then somehow technology becomes the products of the technology, about which we really shouldn’t be making broad claims.
I’d love to learn more, Owen.
Which “huge corporate entity”, and how many staff? Exactly what “fudging” took place?
Your claim is totally plausible, but if you want to do an expose, rather than just speculating, a specific example would really help. And no, don’t bring up the tobacco industry: this thread is about biotechnology.
“We need to re-incorporate the use of pest management systems used prior to GMOs”
That is not possible, as the begged-question’s answer is incompatible.
“HFCS” appears to be a manipulative “manufacturoversy,” a publicity campaign. Do you have anything otherwise? What does that have to do with “GMOs”?
Herbicide tolerance promotes reduced tillage: that’s the main point.
There is no such thing as “zero toxins.” Plants make many many toxins “naturally.” Domestication, breeding, and, indeed, biotechnology, has made many that are harmful to us or our interests less.
What a strange link, Owen. It focuses on debunking the idea of the “scientific method”. This is a complete straw-man argument: in almost 50 years in science, I have NEVER heard an actual scientist use this term! Instead, this term is used by non-scientists to opine ABOUT science (rather like me trying to say clever things about golf or archery—neither of which I have ever tried).
I agree that science is highly fallible, and individuals over-interpret their own findings, but the strength of the process is that it is crowd-sourced, and the insights and interpretations of the community overcome the limitations of the individual. For example, there is a common myth about the sanctity of the “peer-review” process, but in reality, the real peer-review takes place when scientists shred the latest paper over coffee or beer at their research institutions or at conferences. Unfortunately, this process is generally hidden from the public—with the occasional exception, such as the public shredding of Seralini 2012 by the scientific community.
So, it’s impossible to incorporate cover crops, rotation, biological controls, etc.? In areas where glyphosate-resistant weeds has made no-till impossible, you would instead recommend using even more pesticides? Two steps forward and one step back. but if we go forward with more pesticide-resistant commodities, we will be running backwards.
Hi Mlema — I was surprised by your use of David Schubert to illustrate your point. I had read this article (which I’d be glad to discuss, even though it’s more politics than science). However, I’m glad that you posted it, because it provoked me to explore what else he might be saying to the general public—without the constraints of the pesky peer-review process.
In a Feb. 3, 2014 article on CNN.com, Schubert laid out his case for why GMO labeling is needed.
The key links that he used to support his argument were a rogue’s gallery of pseudoscience and activism. Predictably, there was the Carman paper on pigs, and the Seralini 2012 paper on rats. But why did he fail to mention that the Seralini paper was retracted the previous year? Was he honestly unaware of this?
A few examples of the activist sites he cited were Mae-Wan Ho’s ISIS, gmofreecymru and ENSSER, which all rely heavily on Carman and Seralini 2012. And let’s not forget the Aris paper on fetal blood.
What’s worse, he even played the scary “Agent Orange” innuendo as a way of demonizing herbicides. It is unconscionable for an academic scientist to resort to such shoddy fear-mongering to justify his position.
There is a spectrum of honesty, ranging from ignorance, naivete, and disingenuousness, all the way to outright dishonesty. Schubert’s statements suggest that he is moving perilously far down this spectrum.
Mlema, I have truly enjoyed our previous interactions, since you are a rare example of someone who strives to base his opinions on a critical review of science. I do not mean to be rude, but if this is the kind of authority that you rely on to inform your perspective on GMOs, I fear that you are falling into the trap of the anti-technology extremists.
Now, if you still stand by Schubert’s authority (after my admittedly shameless ad hominem tirade about him), please offer a specific example from his paper to discuss—preferably one that is relevant to the original piece by Chris MacDonald.
(BTW I sadly cannot review your earlier comments on GLP, since you have made your Disqus account private).
I totally agree with your point that crude over-simplification is used by both “pro” and “anti” folks, and that each GM crop is unique—posing different potential risks and uncertainties. However, I think that Chris MacDonald’s point is that these exact arguments apply equally to to the thousands of hybrids already in use. Since it would be totally unpractical to subject EVERY current crop to detailed safety scrutiny, I think the main issue is whether there is sufficient scientific rational to single out a tiny fraction of crop plants for inordinately lengthy and costly scrutiny.
Are you making a Straw-Man?
That’s a rather silly game that I don’t like to play.
OF COURSE cover-crops are compatible with
herbicide-assisted reduced-till. Why would you think otherwise? It’s a normal
practice that is actually facilitated, and is used widely.
OF COURSE reduced-till is possible where there are
glyphosate-resistant weeds: just till when necessary. Why would you think
otherwise? It’s a normal practice that is actually facilitated, and is used
OF COURSE pest management systems used prior to
GMOs are still used. Why would you think otherwise? It’s a normal practice that
is actually facilitated, and is used widely, but less, because it is needed
less. That’s good.
OF COURSE the tools developed by hard-working bug,
plant and soil scientists are incorporated in agriculture, whether or not
“GMOs” are involved. And those scientists, extension agents,
applicators, tractor repairmen, and all the rest, are still employed, still
valuable, still innovating. Why would you think otherwise? It’s a normal
practice that is actually facilitated.
It seems you are getting some inaccurate information.
Hi Orchard Growing Man. The point is: what we’ve been doing with HT crops has created glyphosate-resistance. You can deny that it’s because the tools haven’t been used carefully, because the markets push it – but the facts are that it’s happened. bt refuges (for example) have been violated for years. Engineering resistance to older, more toxic pesticides isn’t an answer – it’s just ratcheting up the pesticide treadmill. The benefits of no-till with glyphosate were a plus until they weren’t. But you want to go backwards and just do the same think all over again with worse pesticides. There are plenty of farmers who don’t want that – their crops will be killed by drift. And no. lots of farmers aren’t able to utilize predator insects or intercropping with plants that deter target pests. It’s simply not economically supported.
Peter, it’s an excellent question. If you visit the biofortified page that we’re conversing on right now, and read the comments I’ve made regarding the comparative risks of various kinds of breeding, those will explain where I’m coming from with regard to GMOs. I don’t think they all deserve the same level of scrutiny. But the current level of scrutiny is insufficient in some cases too, IMO. Risk is relative, and appears to be a function of several elements (illustrated in the chart I provided on this same page) Engineering a change in the amount of a specific protein in the human food supply would need more scrutiny than engineering an herbicide tolerant crop for animals/biofuel. If you look at examples of our efforts in those areas hopefully you’ll see why I hold that opinion. It only takes a small amount of one wacky molecule to have serious consequences to human physiology, and that kind of outcome becomes more likely in certain engineering. Hybridization can and has produced problems – even totally unexpected ones, but doesn’t present the unique opportunities of some GE. Of course, I don’t need to tell you I’m not an expert in this, but have formed my opinions based on recommendations made by scientists.
What specifically do you find onerous about our current regulatory system? What specifically would you like to see changed? Anastasia has provided lots of info that will help you to have some input (if you do it fast – deadline is tomorrow)
So do you think herbicide-resistant plants are also resistant to tilling? Do you think that tilling to control weeds is somehow forbidden by someone?
What would be the difference between if herbicides are abandoned because ALL weeds suddenly becoming herbicide-tolerant, and herbicides are abandoned for another reason, say a panic that weeds might become resistant?
This really doesn’t make any sense: you, as an opponent of using herbicides, should be applauding weeds that become resistant and force going-back to other methods, even if they have demonstrably greater environmental and economic costs!
Peter Olins said,
focuses on debunking the idea of the “scientific method”. This is a complete straw-man argument: in almost 50 years in science, I have NEVER heard an actual scientist use this term!
Seriously?, you’ve never ever heard a scientist use the term “scientific method” before? I used to live in Burnley in Lancashire, not that far away from Liverpool and we always used it.
Instead, this term is used by non-scientists to opine ABOUT science (rather like me trying to say clever things about golf or archery—neither of which I have ever tried).”
Well there you go, this would go a long way in explaining the poor unhealthy state we find our Earth in presently.
The article was discussing the truth about how the scientific method has in reality been treated by those claiming to be the keepers of knowledge. It’s been disrespected, abused and misused. Often times we find the ruling scientific orthodoxy (those claiming to speak for science) are immune to any evidence contrary to their personal worldview of things and it is exactly that which infects the rest of science and how it is manipulated.
“It is a common myth about the sanctity of the “peer-review” process, but in reality, the real peer-review takes place when scientists shred the latest paper over coffee or beer at their research institutions or at conferences.”
Here is my viewpoint on peer-review, because ultimately it is not something I truly trust in this world. Guess I’ve been alive to long and seen too much. Here is an experience I years ago in 2009 on a subject, said nothing at the time, simply shook my head, but later found the need to expose the stupidity by those claiming only science-based and peer-review establish a truth. These hubristic Professors were demonizing and name calling the intelligent people at Harvard Yard who have the challenging assignment of maintaining the university’s landscaping, especially those beloved lawns. They made a choice to not purchase any more synthetic agro-chemicals for landscape maintenance which have vastly improved the health and vigor of the grounds. Rather than applaud such a success for treating the landscape as an ecosystem, these people were put down as Voodoo pseudoscience practicing Luddites. Now does anyone believe there are so-called anti-science people at Harvard of all places ?
You should also be aware that these arrogant snobs are card carrying members of the GLP website and demonize anyone who does not accept the orthodoxy’s taken on agro-chemicals and gmos. Hence the demonization by means of the usual derogatory put downs. As far as Seralini, I couldn’t care less, but I certainly don’t doubt that damage can and does come from the misuse and abuse of agro-chemicals. Plus the fact that anything that stands in the way of American Corporate business interests globally is more than likely going to be taken down. My interest has always been in strict replication of how nature actually works and making a success with that without throwing money away all the while improving system health. While I’m all for free choice for folks to do as they please, the majority on board with the so-called science-based practices are bringing unintended consequences to other’s health, including the natural world. While I don’t follow or support any radical movements out there, I do understand that this is what happens when people are backed into a corner with little or no choices.
Wait, Let’s take a vote by ALL scientists in the world, Not just the ‘good’ ones, about all of these issues, perhaps we could get some consensus. Maybe those ‘thousands of scientists’ are just a subset of ‘real scientists’. An interdisciplinary survey might clarify this discussion of ‘real science’?
“So do you think herbicide-resistant plants are also resistant to
“Do you think that tilling to control weeds is somehow forbidden
“What would be the difference between if herbicides are abandoned because
ALL weeds suddenly becoming herbicide-tolerant, and herbicides are
abandoned for another reason, say a panic that weeds might become
“…you, as an opponent of using
herbicides, should be applauding weeds that become resistant and force
going-back to other methods, even if they have demonstrably greater
environmental and economic costs!”
It’s pretty obvious that you either haven’t read what I wrote or you’re violently misinterpreting it. I’m not an opponent of herbicides, I would never applaud resistant weeds, and the whole point of what I’m saying is that if we don’t re-incorporate OTHER means of pest control, we will be forced to go back to those with greater environmental and economic costs. THAT is what is happening even though we’re NOT being forced – we are being encouraged by the engineering of new GMOS that are resistant to older, more toxic pesticides to continue to utilize weed-control methods that increase the use of herbicides and resistance – just like what happened with glyphosate.
I’m frustrated that you don’t understand what I’m saying. Please ask more questions, perhaps we will get there. Are you saying that pest resistance has become so great that we CAN’T do anything at this point except use more toxic herbicides?
Or perhaps you’re just saying that the new GMOs should/will be used differently than the glyphosate-resistant GMOs have been? Maybe we’re disagreeing on what the cause of the problem of weed resistance is? I feel like you’re starting right in trying to pick a fight with me. But I don’t think you’re getting what I’m saying, or maybe I dont’ get what you’re saying?
I thought I was being clear, but you ask “Are you saying that pest resistance has become so great that we CAN’T do anything at this point except use more toxic herbicides?” But did I not previously and repeatedly point-out that tilling is a a normal practice that is used widely? That is a “thing.”
You are deliberately or inadvertently employing the “excluded middle” fallacy: that there only two possibilities, one extreme or another, with nothing in-between. Using herbicides to reduce weeds, knock-down cover crops, destroy a blighted crop to reduce disease spread, synchronize and accelerate dry-down, or anything else, does not somehow mean that tilling, cover-cropping, mowing, crop-rotation, manuring, grazing, fallowing, or anything else, is somehow not permitted or possible.
Your question above “Are you saying…” is peculiar too in that I never mentioned “more toxic herbicides.” I didn’t “disagree on the cause of the problem of weed resistance” or even mention the topic. I think maybe you have conflated me with someone else who is talking about something else.
Did I say that the evidence supports the claim that any and all possible uses of GE tech are absolutely safe? No, I didn’t. However, the preponderance of current high-quality evidence does support the claim GMOs that have made it through the present system of development, evaluation and approval to commercial production are safe. Does one really need to be that long-winded, or don’t you think the latter is what people mean when they say that the evidence supports the claim that GMOs do not cause harm? If you read my comments, I think it is clear I am talking about the evidence for those GMOs currently approved for use. If not, then I take your point and you are hereby placed on notice that that is what I meant.
Furthermore, I think you are constructing a strawman when you say: “We talk about the ‘technology’ being safe (which seems meaningless outside what we do with it), and then somehow technology becomes the products of the technology, about which we really shouldn’t be making broad claims.” Who is we? I never characterized the technology itself in this thread other than to note it is broadly condemned by anti-GMO folks who think there is no such thing as a safe GMO. Me thinks you are projecting. Every technology I can think of can be misused and abused; that is a trivial statement.
In terms or risks to the consumer or the environment, both GMOs and the products of conventional plant breeding carry with them some level of risk (allergens or carcinogenic compounds, for instance) if not properly screened. Currently, that process is robust for GMOs; not so much for conventional breeding processes.
The folks who have been most guilty of painting with a broad brush are the anti-GMO folks who don’t distinguish among different types of GMOs in terms of risk analysis, for instance, those who try to link all GMOs with pesticides and Monsanto. Same goes for pesticides. As I am sure you are aware, many among the opposition to GMOs and pesticide use believe that there is no safe use for GMOs and no such thing as an acceptable pesticide residue.
Owen – Again, your perception of science and what is real seems to be disproportionately influenced by factors outside of science. Science education may be suffering, science journalism is sketchy at best, and corporate abusers abound, but the scientific method is alive and well, thank you very much.
Anti-science and pseudoscience are apt descriptions for processes and opinions that are not objective, which do not adhere to sound scientific methods and principles, and which force the facts to fit their conclusions rather than the other way around. Before you generalize about the use of those expressions, perhaps you should first determine if they are apt descriptions for a particular circumstance or person.
You’re making a lot of generalizations about people and what they do. Also, I think the case could be made that young children who have already started consuming glyphosate (in baby food carrots for example) could end up with kidney problems or cancer – especially if the trends of increasing residues continues. The EPA marks three year olds as at highest risk, although pointing out that current estimated exposures are still well below concern. However, the means by which they estimate exposure is a survey of eating habits done between 2003-2008, and certainly there would be a broad variance in the population at large. Also, this site did a post on glyphosate, and used only industry-studies to back their safety claims.
It’s true. Tolerance increased – greatly. Also has non-target affects:
“Science happens to be on the side of “industrial agriculture” in this case.” opinion
“Unfortunately, there are those whose interests are best served by
encouraging fear, uncertainty, and doubt, and they do that by
criticising science because their conclusions and ideology are not based
on evidence and reason. To them, science and evidence are the enemy.”
“…I can support (not prove) that claim with lots of high-quality evidence.”
What’s your best example of high-quality evidence?
When I said “we” I was talking about all of us – not you. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen someone say the “technology” is safe, and imply that the products are safe. What does it mean to say the technology is safe? I know you didn’t say that, but that’s what’s being said on this site because people don’t want to make blanket statements like “GMOs are safe” (Even though that’s what they hope people will imply) It’s really not different from saying “GMOs are dangerous”.
Forgive me if I projected on to you. I hadn’t read all your comments. Even so, You seem to be generalizing. For instance, equating risks between hybrids and GMOs. There are many levels of risks dependent upon many different factors. If you’ll read my other comment on this page and the NAS chart I’ve linked to, you can see an illustration of what I’m saying. In some GMOs there are higher risks of unanticipated changes that we don’t look for at all in our current regulatory requirements.
It’s not about the technology being abused or misused, it’s about not being adequately regulated due to industry influence – part of which is the rhetoric that there’s tons of high-quality studies that reflect on safety for human consumption.
If you already knew your comment was one big ad hominem, why did you make it?
If you find you’d like to comment on the article I linked to, please do so and we’ll discuss your criticisms – after which point I’ll consider responding to all the stuff you’ve just said.
The reason I’m not inclined to reply in any other fashion is: the GLP comments i referred to were to you directly – every time you asked me rhetorical questions like “is there any amount of research that would satisfy you?” I even took the time to explain, very broadly, how GMOs are regulated in the US, and how I’d like to see that improved. But you ask me the same questions again. Look back through your history before you ask me to write more dissertations for you. Most irritating is your characterization of people who voice concerns as being “risk-averse” – in other words, people who want better GMO regulation are cowards.
So now, again, a question to you: since you’ve repeated ad nauseum that regulations are too “onerous” – what is so onerous about them? How would you change them and why?
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25184846 – it just had a ) at the end of the link
citation for tolerance increase would be helpful. what is the current tolerance and what was it before? did epa give any justification for the increase?
If you think biotechnology is not adequately regulated, what do you think would be adequate? Did you submit a public comment?
There are tons of high quality studies that reflect on safety. How many would be enough for you?
Monsanto applied for new use: “Add wiper applicator use over the top to carrot and sweet potato, and add pre-harvest use to oil seed crop group 20.” and was approved.
Monsanto petitioned for increased tolerances:http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2012-0132-0009
Tolerances went soybean, flax and sesame went from 20ppm to 40ppm. Carrots and sweet potatoes from .2ppm to 5 and 3ppm.
The EPA just considers/replies to the petition, i don’t think it justifies anything.
We ought to test the whole food, not the trait separate from the food. We ought to start utilizing proteonomic and metabolomic analysis. Just testing for toxins common to the parent plant is inadequate if some change in metabolism has caused novel molecules to appear. I first brought this up here:
but there was no answer to my concerns
Any new GE food (with some exceptions, depending on the trait and method of transfer) that we’re expected to eat ought to undergo feeding trials. Analysis and trials should be done independently with isogenic comparisons and results should be public. I support independent scientists determining what kind of analysis ought to be done in each case – including medical researchers, and I think what they decide should be mandatory. And I don’t think an approved trait should get a pass in every subsequent event – each new plant is unique.
Saying there are lots of studies that reflect on safety doesn’t really mean anything. If we’re going to be eating a particular food, we want to be sure that particular food safe to eat. For instance – there are no feeding trials on bt sweet corn. Make no mistake, I’m not saying bt sweet corn is unsafe, but I think it would have been right to do at least one independent feeding trial on a food that humans are going to eat in the way they eat sweet corn.
As I said in the link I just provided:
“I’d like to see a critical assessment of the nature of the research with
regards to: what’s important to research, and how does the current body
of research break down as far as how it addresses those areas.”
“There are tons of high quality studies that reflect on safety”
This statement can be made with impunity because no one can pin down exactly what you’re saying. Most of the studies I think you’re referring to were conducted to establish that it was ok to feed the GMO feed to animals. They don’t reflect on human safety with regard to any given GMO you might want us to eat.
Oh yes – the big list of broiler weights and such. *sigh*
“Unfortunately, there are those whose interests are best served by
encouraging fear, uncertainty, and doubt, and they do that by
criticising science because their conclusions and ideology are not based
on evidence and reason. To them, science and evidence are the enemy.”
We may agree or disagree about your numerous generalizations. However, if they were true, what would be the most useful specific action that corporations or governments should take now? Secondly, how would we measure if your approach working?
I’m reminded of the saying, “Everyone complains about the weather, but no-one does anything about it”.
I disagree, Ray. Some of the finest scientists I have known worked in industry. There is a portion of scientists who not only want to make discoveries, but also to translate them into products of value to society. The imperative to generate the most definitive results in industrial research is high because the financial and social consequences of getting it wrong can be so great. (And yes, there will always be exceptions, but in my experience scientists have the same level of integrity whether they work in industry or academia.)
…which is relevant and accurate.
Resistance and off-target consequences are nothing new for these herbicides. When it comes to resistance, over-using a single mode of action is always a concern and there are lots of examples of this that have nothing to do with GMO as well as lots of situations where glyphosate resistance is occurring in cropping systems where GMOs do not exist. Should we quit using all pesticides because resistance to them may occur? Of course not. Nor should that be a reason not to grow GMOs. Farmers in cooperation with pesticide manufacturers have developed strategies to mitigate the risks posed by pest resistance.
In regards to off-target concerns, use restrictions and modifying formulations can address many concerns. For instance, before GMOs were ever in commercial production there were two general formulations of 2.4-D, the ester formulation was far more volatile than the amine formulation. One could control the risk to off-target plants to a certain extent by selecting the appropriate formulation. In addition, legal use restrictions were and are in place that require advance notice of an application so that situations can be evaluated and which limit when and where 2,4-D can be applied.
Point is that pest resistance and off-target risks are not limited to GMO crops and they can be mitigated (Farmers were doing that long before GMOs came on the scene); they are not an adequate reason to stop the development and production of herbicide-resistant GMOs.
No, full link still good. Try the bitly version: http://1.usa.gov/1NycAfq
Consider my comments in context please. If a “case could be made” then make it by citing evidence not just conjecture.
Certainly many fine scientists work for industry! What I’m saying is that the funding prioritization inherent within the corporate system is strongly biased toward profit disproportionately to full scientific inquiry. These ‘excellent scientists’ do their work in spite of this pressure, and are inhibited by this pressure… and have to expend a lot of extra energy countering that bias.However there are a LOT of industry ‘scientists’ that work without adequate resistance to that bias… and degrade science and social wellbeing by lack of ability to maintain that existential responsibility of effort.
I guess I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Answer this for me: does the use of herbicide-tolerant commodity crops increase the use of the herbicide to which those crops are tolerant?
The EPA’s estimations of exposure, and the fact that glyphosate is a probable carcinogenic and can cause renal problems with chronic exposure – those are the evidences for the case I’m making – which is that 3 year olds who are already consuming glyphosate will suffer a greater exposure over time than anyone who only started ingesting it as an older child or adult.
It would not have been developed if it was not intended to increase pesticide sales IMHO.
Peter, I don’t think that every little crop ought to get extensive costly testing, BUT, the very major crops across the food spectrum SHOULD get much greater testing and much more detailed study than is the current practice. Those consumed on a grand scale as a major worldwide food should be scrutinized intently for potential chronic low dose accumulative adverse effects on populations consistent in the real world environment.
What would be ‘news to agriculture’ would be far better monitoring documentation of off site drift and chemical trespass as a comprehensive best mmanagement practice in a future food paradigm.
So the purpose is “dousing the environment with totally unnecessary synthetic chemicals and eventually poisoning the ground over and over making each pass more and more toxic than before”? It’s curious so many people would adopt that as a Cause.
Not really; if the technique doesn’t work the technique is not pursued: Stop accusing farmers of being stupid. If the technique works, including all factors, including side-factors, then to employ it is rational.
So you are Right-Out opposed to allowing Experiments where a huge fraction (up to 50%) of a manipulated plant’s genome is disupted/unknown?
Umm, you need to read a basic book on genetics, like Issac Asimov’s “The Genetic Code” from 1963. After that, there’s a whole lot of 21st-century stuff to add.
Yes, it is curious. So why do they ? Let me guess, short term profiteering goals ?
My wife’s daughter was speaking with an older woman over here in Europe on this subject among others regarding what our world will look like in 15 years if humans don’t change their methods of management. She asked this grandmother what kind of world would her grandchildren inherit in those 15 years ? The woman’s reply was, “What the hell do I care, I’ll be gone in 15 years and that’ll be their problem”
Gotta love what Progressive Secularism has done to northern Europe.
Hmmm, is that right down there with “Stuff Happens Theory” ??? Nice non-answer as usual
Translate = Anyone seeing a perverted pattern developing here these days with our world ???
Local regulatory agencies are already on the job. Have been for a very long time. Rather than just pulling comments like that out of your arse, why don’t you cite specific cases?
Evidently, you do not understand the difference between hazard and risk. Glyphosate is one item among many on the WHO IARC Group 2A list of probable carcinogens (http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/). That is a list of hazards as determined by the IARC (which is not an infallible organization). Being a hazard does not address the actual risk of harm due to glyphosate, that requires a consideration of actual exposure. A hazard may exist, but if one is never exposed to a dose that is sufficient to cause harm, then the risks associated with that hazard are negligible. Until you can make a cogent argument about actual risk, your claim is still just conjecture.
Science shows that the use of glyphosate-tolerant crops and no-till has exponentially increased the use of glyphosate in agriculture.
Why are you accusing me of accusing farmers of being stupid? take it back
You’re relying on the fact that we’re not monitoring exposure to make the claim that there’s neither hazard nor risk.
It was a package deal at the start: seeds and pesticides working in harmony to improve production. But consumers never saw a price break.
…if you do say so yourself! 🙂
The way glyphosate has been used in conjunction with resistant crops has fundamentally changed the equation. Continual and increasing use of the herbicide has accelerated weed resistance and negatively impacted a number of non-target species, including soil organisms upon which the health of the plant itself relies. Milkweed, necessary for Monarch butterflies, has disappeared from where it used to grow along edges and even between crops. If we decide the loss is worth the ease of and increase of production – then so be it. But just saying it’s the same old problem we’ve always had with pesticides and resistance is BS. And yes, it’s not about GMOs – but it is about herbicide-tolerance whether it’s created using mutagenesis or GE.
“Farmers in cooperation with pesticide manufacturers have developed strategies to mitigate the risks posed by pest resistance.”
Baloney. Extension scientists have been trying to work with farmers to mitigate the problem. Monsanto has never been a part of the solution, other than to engineer plants resistant to older more toxic pesticides – which only escalates the problem.
The EPA risk analyses for glyphosate and FDA regulated tolerances account for new uses. Pesticide use often does affect soil organisms, nothing new in that, and you offer no evidence that current use patterns have changed that equation. Perhaps it is improving. Habitat modification and destruction is a land use issue. Butterfly habitat has diminished, in part, because of agriculture in general, not glyphosate in particular.
Glyphosate-resistance crops exponentially increased the use of glyphosate. It also increased the occurrence of all concomitant issues, including weed resistance and effects on non-target species.
“Monsanto has never been a part of the solution”
Well, other than their agronomists being you know, part of the solution.
But other than being part of the solution it is absolutely true that they aren’t part of the solution.
Ha! Ewan, you weren’t supposed to see that! 🙂
Seriously, what did Monsanto ever do to curtail the weed resistance spurred by the expansion of glyphosate resistance and the increasing use of glyphosate?
Have agronomists and seed suppliers actively work with farmers to utilize best practices on farm to avoid issues of resistance.
Even if you think of it from a pure corporate greed stance it makes sense – delaying or avoiding as much resistance as possible means that more acres use your trait and potentially your product.
Sitting back and doing nothing will speed up the demise of your product.
While it is commonplace to imagine companies focusing solely on the next quarter or year end sales this simply isn’t the case – there is, indeed, a great deal of focus on that, but share pricing and such, particularly in an organization with a 10% revenue to R&D approach, is also contingent upon long term profitability. Thus, even if Monsanto gives not one flying monkey about anything other than the bottom line, it would still make sense for them to be involved (and lo, they are, regardless of whether people who have absolutely no connection whatsoever to the industry say)
“Have agronomists and seed suppliers actively work with farmers to utilize best practices on farm to avoid issues of resistance.”
Like what? All I see is expanded use of the same crops/herbicide, and continually adding in new crops with the same trait: alfalfa, sugar beets. Once the patent expires, there’s no benefit to Monsanto for any supposed delay in resistance. Resistance creates a new market for a new product.
Anyway, I might be over-reacting. Maybe you have some of the literature that Monsanto distributed to educate farmers on best practices to avoid weed resistance.
“All I see”
How many units of corn, soy or cotton seed did you plant last season?
“Once the patent expires, there’s no benefit to Monsanto for any supposed delay in resistance.”
The patent on glyphosate expired in 2000.
Taking a look at the 2014 Monsanto annual report and jumping down to the ag productivity net sales –
2012 – $3,7Bn (gross profit ~$1Bn)
2013 – $4.5Bn (Gross profit ~ $1.5Bn)
2014 – $5.1Bn (gross profit ~$2bn)
I see a clear and obvious reason to delay resistance there. Billions of reasons infact. (lack of exclusivity does not equal lack of profit)
That is like saying more Fords get into accidents than Ferraris. When the patent came off glyphosate and the price dropped significantly, more glyphosate was used as well; when you use more of something, there will be more incidents involving that something. The more important question is what are the actual risks and consequences and are they really risks and consequence due to glyphosate use or are they due to the inherent nature of modern agriculture.
Pest resistance and non-target effects are a fact of life in agriculture and need to be responsibly managed for all pesticides. Exactly how do the consequences of glyphosate use differ from the use of pesticides in general?
Way to dodge, Ewan.
Blah blah blah.
Glyphosate-resistance crops exponentially increased the use of
glyphosate. It also increased the occurrence of all concomitant issues,
including weed resistance and effects on non-target species.
Simple facts! Why deny them? Defend your stance some other way. But don’t deny the facts!
Of course we don’t monitor exposures, that would be too telling. If regulatory agencies try to do anything but the most rudimentary monitoring, the funding gets cut off by the politicians. This scares the hell out the agencies, forcing them to worry about having to cut their staffs, or having punitive funding cuts mandated by legislators. As a result, only the most innocuous monitoring [busy work] gets done to try to pass it off as ‘effectiveness monitoring’. Pointedly investigative monitoring with scientific integrity does not get funded except in the rare cases whee there is political forcing.
Without equate monitoring, there can be deniability due to lack of sufficient data!!! Regulatory agencies are staffed with many very well-intentioned people, but the political arms of agencies have a stranglehold over what is allowed to get monitored…. and that ain’t good for social wellbeing.
Regulatory agencies do NOT monitor well for these problems, because they couldn’t even if they wanted to because they are regulated by their regulators the politicians who cut off funding to their agencies if the agency tries to do adequate monitoring… and then that agency has to downsize, firing staff that they need. Monitoring is not funded, except where it will show what the politic wants to show, or rare cases where the politic is forced to show something they really would rather resist showing. ‘Monitoring’ for these issues has become a joke, and society takes the hit of having to pay for almost all of the resultant costs externalized by corporations that continue profiting without adequate monitoring.
Thanks for the link, Mlema.
While there are probably a variety of reasons for this change, the EPA stated that these changes help to harmonize the U.S. with the international Codex standards. I suspect that this would simplify international trade of these crops. I believe that pre-harvest application of herbicides is not unique to glyphosate: whether this is justified is open to discussion.
See section IVb of:
Mlema — You are correct that this technology was adopted rapidly (even if not quite “exponentially”). Is this fundamentally any different from the rise in smartphone use and the concomitant problem of texting while driving? (Most problems arise from solutions to previous problems.)
That’s true. Glyphosate-resistant crops were seen as a way to increase yield and improve ease of production. Also to reduce toxicity, since glyphosate isn’t as toxic as herbicides that were used just prior. But the technology of herbicide-resistance spurred the use of glyphosate, and the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds. Is our answer to re-incorporate weed management that reduces herbicide use? Yes – farmers have had to do that. However, engineering tolerance to 2,4D and dicamba without supporting those more labor intensive and sometimes yield-reducing management systems will only serve to cause a repeat of what’s occurred with glyphosate – but with even greater environmental consequences.
I guess you’re pointing out that the EPA is justifying the increases in that way? I’m sure it’s absolutely ok to have a lower tolerance – but other countries might not like it. We have trade agreements with countries in South America, and they want to be able to sell us soybeans with glyphosate residues, so I do get that.
I didn’t dodge anything (I appear to have missed the last statement on your post, initially I thought it must have been an edit, but my thinking tends to the uncharitable at times, so I’m sure it’s just me failing to read to the end (sometimes the irony burns…)
covers a general approach – as to literature, I have none on hand – I know that our agronomists and seed sales people do, however, offer guidance to farmers on best practices for weed control (to curtail resistance there has been a heavy push towards mixed chemistries/tank mixes etc from Monsanto as well as a move towards developing more transgenic approaches to deal with the issue in the mid to long term.
So not nothing, as you initially stated, just things that aren’t necessarily totally transparent to people who aren’t actually familiar with the industry.
“However, engineering tolerance to 2,4D and dicamba without supporting those more labor intensive and sometimes yield-reducing management systems will only serve to cause a repeat of what’s occurred with glyphosate – but with even greater environmental consequences.”
Those more labor intensive and yield reducing management systems are the herbicides that were used prior.
Are you suggesting that farmers should engage in far less productive and more damaging practices immediately so that methods put in place now don’t force them to become far less productive and more damanging on a small subset of acres in 10-15 years?
Fact = What Mlema says? Where is your evidence that glyphosate-resistant crops have caused an exponential increase in the use of glyphosate? How about pesticide use and associated risks overall? How about evidence of actual consequences due to glyphosate as apart from agriculture in general? How about evidence that current glyphosate use patterns have actually increased exposure and risk for consumers? How can I deny facts that are not in evidence?
I work with our County Agricultural Commissioner and Farm Advisors on these issues, what is your frame of reference?
I posted a USDA graph in a reply to myself so you’re probably not seeing it. If you check the site perhaps you will. Sorry. As to your many other questions, if we don’t gather evidence, there is none. The facts I’ve stated are just these: “Glyphosate-resistance crops exponentially increased the use of glyphosate. It also increased the occurrence of all concomitant issues, including weed resistance and effects on non-target species.”
I’m confused by your question. I’m just saying we ought not to replace glyphosate-tolerant crops with 2,4D and dicamba resistant crops.
OK. Thanks Ewan. I see dicamba and 2,4D tolerant crops as a step
backwards. I can’t help that. Monsanto, as a corporation, works within a society – and
isn’t 100% responsible for everything that’s a problem in our agriculture today. I’m trying to be more active in groups that are fighting for political changes that will give farmers more options to implement the kind of management that Monsanto actually talks about very briefly on that page. I don’t feel that farmers currently have that freedom because of economic restrictions. This is also about what consumers support with their choices. I’m troubled when manufacturers seek to influence consumers rather than being influenced by what consumers seek. I hope I don’t regret sharing these opinions with you. I’m not interested in defending my opinions when I admit that they’re just opinions. Thanks for taking the time to post the info in your last two comments.
Using new herbicide resistant traits will still be environmentally and economically better than the systems that came before, that is, at least, my premise.
Perhaps 2,4D and Dicamba aren’t as good a system as glyphosate, but if glyphosate were to fail (it still hasn’t universally, just locally) then in my mind it is better to move to something that still has an edge over older more harmful practices than simply move back to where one started. (glufosinate doesn’t tend to get much mention, if I recall it is actually environmentally an improvement over glyphosate).
So I guess what I’m asking is – are you suggesting that in order to not have to move to older systems (that which came before glyphosate) in 10-15 years (guesstimated timeline for dicamba/24D resistance to be an issue) farmers should simply move to those systems now and simply not use the dicamba/24D resistant strains that become available (possibly in rotation or stack with glyphosate resistance in order to, if needed, use mixes which will further delay resistance (in much the same way that drug cocktails vs HIV are a far better approach than single drug approaches vis a vis resistance evolution)
Sounds like the seamless integration of iOS and the iPhone. Looking at the overwhelming adoption of this package over several years, I guess the consumers (farmers) were pleased.
Mlema, I have been very impressed by your knowledge and critique of GMO and pesticide technology on various Internet forums, and have learnt a lot from you. However, with all due respect, I think it may be a mistake for you to get distracted by speculation about the motives of technology companies. While we may disagree on a number of topics, you are one of the rare individuals who elevates the conversation, rather than reducing it to a crude slanging match.
They did: reduced costs to farmers; farmers are consumers too. Reduced farming costs surely pass-on. Reduced farmer unemployment saves taxes. Reduced environmental damage is a saving.
Glyphosate’s patent is long-expired. Competition has driven prices down. Sale of seed is still profitable. Sale of seed of other traits is still profitable.
“We need to re-incorporate the use of pest management systems used prior to GMOs”
It would be stupid for farmers to disincorporate them. You believe farmers have disincorporated them, implying that you believe farmers are stupid.
What non-target organisms are harmed by glyphosate?
I don’t consider myself an expert, but have worked in elected positions for twenty three years on Soil and Water Conservation Districts and watershed councils on water quality assessment and mitigation of pollution. We try to increase ag and forestry management practices for non point source pollution problems while increasing local ag production. We are working with regulatory agencies of the state and with federal agencies responsible for salmon recovery efforts. We have won international, national, and state awards for the work we do. We sit on many advisory panels to regulatory agencies. As individuals retire from these agencies, I have asked many of them what they see as some of the biggest and most beneficial advances have been made during their careers, and what are the most progress-limiting practices that have restrained progress. Many of these retired pros have said that the regulatory agency process is very adversely affected by the political limitations described above in my previous posts. Fear of lose of job and career was keeping them from openly criticizing the whole process, and if they were me they would advise me to push ahead with strong effort to try to educate and influence the legislators toward seeing that adequate environmental monitoring SAVES money by allowing us to discover our mistakes so they can be corrected more quickly and not have us paying over and over for those mistakes into the future. Monitoring is essential to inform science, and science is essential to guide funding prioritization for projects supporting environmental health that we need for our great grandchildren to have a better future. Currently adequate monitoring is suppressed.
The famous label change was apparently an attempt to avoid controversy when the attorney general of an American city ordered it; the manufacturer complied, but there has been no formal vetting of the original label. That you are now alluding to that event as somehow proving something is an excellent reason to resist any mandatory labeling not based on Science.
Soil too dry for organisms to break-down so simple and nutrient-dense a molecule as phosphonomethyl glycine would not seem to be usable for agriculture, except maybe cacti.
The glyphosate soil half-life has been reported as between 3 and 130d, with a mean of 44-60d. Of course, the substance is rapidly demobilized (adsorbed) in normal soil, and has negligible effect on plants then. That also applies to it being incorporated in dead organic matter. But chemistry can be complex. If a soil has minimal residual phosphate-binding capacity (say a natural phosphate deposit, or extremely high phosphate fertilizer application or a pure silica soil, glyphosate may not be adsorbed. Extreme pH might also reduce adsorption, but in all these cases, we are not talking about an agricultural scenario.
I cannot find any indication that glyphosate degradation is due to any specialized microbes. If anything, I would expect that such a simple substance would be accessible to many different biologies, which is attested to by the fact that it degrades about equally in both aerobic and anaerobic environments. The big problem is that the acid moiety is very attractive for its easy assimilation, leaving aminomethylphosphonic acid, which, besides not being herbicidal, and being a rich source of both fixed nitrogen and phosphate, is awfully “sticky” when it comes to adsorption, and may be less easily absorbed by microorganisms.
If you have evidence contrary to any of this, I sure would appreciate a citation!
Here are mine:
Franz, J.E., M.K. Mao and J.A. Sikorski. 1997. Glyphosate: A Unique Global Herbicide.
American Chemical Society. Chap. 4 pp. 65-97
Eriksson, K.E., 1975. Roundup. Weeds and Weed Control. 16:J5-6
U.S. EPA. 1990. Pesticide Fact Handbook. Vol. 2. p. 301-312. Noyes Data
Corporation. Park Ridge, New Jersey.
U.S.D.A., Forest Service. 1984. Pesticide background statements. p. G1-G72. In
Agriculture Handbook No. 633. Vol. 1. Herbicides. Part 2.
Kollman, W., and R. Segawa. 1995. Interim report of the pesticide chemistry
database. Environmental hazards Assessment Program. Department of Pesticide
Weed Science Society of America (Ed.). 1989. Glyphosate. Herbicide Handbook of
the Weed Science Society of America. 6th ed. p. 146-149. Champaign, Illinois.
Jeff Schuette, Environmental Monitoring & Pest Management
Department of Pesticide Regulation. Revised 1998. Environmental Fate of Glyphosate. Sacramento, CA.
I hate the milkweed canard.
If you take-away a farmer’s herbicides, and replace them with adequate free labour, he might use that labour to hand-pull milkweed, with the same result to the butterflies. It’s the same old problem. It is not FAIR to force a farmer to forego the productivity his neighbors, his competitors, enjoy. That would be confiscatory. You might pay him to farm milkweed, or make every farmer devote an equal fraction of their capacity to cultivating milkweed, but that seems unlikely.
A more practical way to help those butterflies would be for YOU to grow milkweed (it’s rather a nice plant, fragrant too), or for municipalities and others to tolerate it as a roadside plant. But Asclepias syriaca, the “best” one for the butterflies, and the one farmers hate so much, is awfully tall and invasive, and is probably prohibited in some areas (since American colonization, it has apparently greatly extended its range [along with the butterflies] and continues to do so). See the Xerces society for more information on growing Asclepias, Passiflora, Aristolochia, and Zamia for butterflies.
You seem to be presupposing that the Worst Thing is increased use of glyphosate, _I_ say, that where it replaces more ecologically-harmful practices, including reducing the incentive to bring more land into agriculture, it is an obvious net Good.
“people who aren’t trustworthy”
Does that apply to all researchers?
“Who, if anyone, is in charge of observing for potential negative outcomes in people over a long period of time in the real world where there are many other variables?”
In the US, it’s the American Center for Disease Control in this case. Agricultural and Environmental effects have their own agencies, and yes, they do communicate and coöperate.
Independent sources, like Ralph Nader, Rachel Carson, Drs Wakefield, Seralini, etc., can trigger focused investigations too, but sometimes they are wrong.
I don’t have time to read the books to you; I’ll have to ask you to do that for yourself.
Since you forgot to include extraordinary references for your extraordinary assertions, let me help you:
What you are apparently referring-to:
Oh, and BTW, the term “Junk DNA” is not current in Science. We know about SINEs, LINEs, endogenous retroviruses, and all sorts of other things, but nobody I know maintains a concept of some sort of trash-can category.
In my experience it’s the same for most professions/groups of people.
There’s some honest ones, some dishonest ones and a bunch who don’t really care one way or another.
It’s just amazing to me that we have so much preventable disease in our country and yet not even the first lady is allowed to talk about the obvious causes.
It’s amazing that everyone thinks it’s okay to market junk food so much and to children.
But I’ve always sort of felt I didn’t belong in this bizarro world. Most people seem okay with all this nonsense happening all around us.
Yes, science often takes a back seat to politics, but what you are talking about are policy makers and agencies that are not directly involved in the daily process of monitoring and regulating pesticide use. It would be wrong to suggest that those on the front lines, like Agricultural Commissioners and their staff, are not doing an adequate job of enforcing existing regulations. I agree that farming near rivers is a thorny issue, but not all of those issues are broadly applicable to agriculture in general.
Interesting idea, Owen.
Can you tell us exactly which pesticides you think are responsible for increased runoff and erosion? Are you referring to glyphosate, or something else?
That map would be very informative if it were played next to maps showing level of use of other herbicides, rather than as a stand alone.
Yes, glyphosate use has increased, that’s a mindblowingly obvious thing. It transitioned from something you cannot spray onto 160 ish million acres of crop into something that you can, if you choose, spray onto that 160 million acres.
What about the decline in chemistries being sprayed though? To get the full picture you really need to show both.
Alokin, Unfortunately, it is my experience that most often state agricultural departments very regularly avoid any monitoring that might demonstrate that any pesticide laws were broken by applications drifting onto other property where the public can be impacted. There are laws and label restrictions for applications that become chemical trespass, yet most often no monitoring nor enforcement of any kind result. The system has evolved to most often obfuscate any mitigation. Every once in awhile some action is taken to try to demonstrate due diligence that can be cited and touted as a well-functioning system of regulatory oversight… but a very high percentage of cases go very poorly treated. Chemical trespass is very common, and monitoring for it is almost always non-existent or far too minimal for any scientifically valid assessment. So, no, I do not agree with your assessment, and I do see that there remains a LOT of injustice and societal harm because of inadequacies in this system,
And, I Am not speaking for any of the boards of directors that I sit on, or have sat on, but I speak as a resident water quality advocate in my watershed home.
These are my personal opinions.
The methods of weed management that you’ve told me are promoted by Monsanto were the only means available prior to the advent of HT crops – along with pesticides like dicamba, 2.4D, etc. Glyphosate and RR allowed for easier use of no-till, and, along with continued improvement in hybrids, gave us increased yields.
Because it was relatively non-toxic, this was a beneficial development. But it increased the volume of herbicide used. If we transfer this GE no-till methodology to more toxic herbicides, we’ll transfer the increases in volume from glyphosate, and we will be worse off than we were before RR. Increased volume and toxicity of pesticides has long-term consequences. Now is always the best time to deal. I don’t expect farmers to do that without more support than they get now. I don’t have the answer, but the new HT crops will only make the problems worse. Some people don’t see the problems – that’s a different debate. I grew up with some weeds in the corn. If you managed your field well, the weeds always lost. But now you can’t get your toe between the stalks. This has been a big win. But there are serious questions about sustainability, and the effects of the intensification in the midwest is having widespread consequences. So, I guess I basically disagree with your premise, to a certain point. It just depends which “systems that came before” you’re talking about. RR allowed us to kick the can down the road, but now the chickens are coming home to roost (wow, sorry)
I won’t be able to respond to any subsequent comments for a couple of weeks at least – so last word is yours.
Well, I don’t know why I’m asking you this, since I won’t be able to come back for your answer for a while, but, what do you mean my “speculation about the motives of technology companies”?
And, whatever analogies you might draw between herbicide-tolerant crops and iPhones – I fail to see the relevance.
But thanks for the compliment (I think?) I’ve enjoyed talking to you in the past, but have become increasingly bothered that you always try to address my motivations and character instead of talking about the issues.
If you’re in the US, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
There’s been no economic benefit to food eaters down the line. The problems of farmers losing their farms has little to do with which seeds they’re planting – other than the necessity of always staying competitive and trying to stay one step ahead of the suppliers and the buyers. Reduced environmental damage isn’t something you can talk about in such a flippant way.
Have a good Thanksgiving.
Pretzel talk. Take it back OrchidGrowinMan.
We’re just beginning to learn the environmental consequences of roundup. We’re looking what happens in the soil over time and how that effects the water. Lots of interesting reading. Hope you’re serious about wanting to know.
I’m sorry that referencing the Monarch angers you. It’s just an example that’s familiar to many who wouldn’t otherwise have any way to relate to the issue of off-target effects.
Your comment is just a bunch of presumptuous tripe. I’m not going to dignify it with a response.
Sorry OGM. Not interested in defending the facts against presuppositions.
PS – have a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy the bounty of the land! (sincerely)
I’m pretty sure all the people working so diligently to solve the problem you brought up would disagree that their efforts are not tripe.
“Pretzel-talk” huh? I should add that neologism to Urban Dictionary, with your permission, of course.
“We need to re-incorporate the use of pest management systems used prior to GMOs”
how far do you twist to dodge the obvious two-part corollary that
1) the use of pest management systems used prior to GMOs has been disincorporated,
2) there therefore is a need to re-incorporate the use of pest management systems used prior to GMOs
Since the first part is demonstrably incorrect, the dependent second part is also.
Farmers don’t eat.
Calling the comment is “presumptuous tripe” is not helpful.
It is definitely true that any effective weed control method would result in a reduction in milkweed, and definitely true that planting milkweed in medians and yards and other locations would have a great positive effect on Monarchs.
‘Read these short articles. No smoking-guns.
The effects on earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi are pretty much what you’d expect: glyphosate kills plants, which itself produces effects; tilling is still more disruptive.
Water contamination is a problem not particular to glyphosate, but users ARE admonished to avoid contaminating water. Siltation/turbidity is a bigger problem, and again, tilling is a significantly bigger problem.
Neither report appears to address effects on amphibians, except in references.
Sorry, I called it presumptuous because it assumed that I’m not already doing that, and that I didn’t grow up where milkweed grew wild and it was easy to find monarch chrysalis. And that where I live now we don’t have a substantial refuge amidst the fields of GMO corn and soy – where I was able to enjoy monarchs this year. I think it’s pathetic that people have to plant weeds in order to try to save the bugs that used to be plentiful, that fed birds, and that they don’t get to enjoy the frogs, toads, salamanders and abundant and varied wildlife that used to thrive in agricultural areas. And for what? McDonalds? cheap cookies? Sad.
Well, I really got sucked into this one with you OGM. You’d think I’d learn just to let your little jibes lie where they fall. Happy Thanksgiving anyway, again. Hope you have a good one.
The only implication I’m tempted to make in response to your comments is one I don’t feel inclined to voice.
Again, you ask a simple question and I make the mistake of trying to answer as if an answer is what you wanted – when all you really wanted was something to argue over. If you are serious about wanting to know what’s happening with increasing use of glyphosate/AMPA, you can find out. There’s lots of information and it’s easily available.
That’s great that you have planted milkweed. I didn’t get any planting done this year, unfortunately. I’m hoping next year my daughter will be big enough to “help” plant a little. She was born in May so planting just wasn’t really an option this past year! I only have a tiny yard but I do plant pollinator friendly plants when I am able. I think larger scale plantings of native plants are the way to increase habitat – roadsides are a great opportunity for this, and can reduce costs to do mowing and such. Here is an example that I hope other states will follow: http://www.iowadot.gov/lrtf/
Broken link. See here: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/latest_classif.php
Cat 2A includes all the usual suspects, but also some surprizes: “Red Meat” (‘glad I prefer black and crusty like me!), “Shiftwork that involves circadian disruption,” “Biomass fuel (primarily wood), indoor emissions from household combustion of” (smoke?), “Frying, emissions from high-temperature,” and “Hairdresser or barber (occupational exposure as a).” I think I’ll dig a little on these! And I thought obesity was on the list.
Glufosinate is OK: it’s even a naturally-occurring chemical!
What “gets” me are the persistent herbicides that necessitate expensive testing of commercial and home-made compost; there have been several “incidents.” The use-guidelines have been updated, but I still worry. I’d much rather encourage glyphosate or any of the other short-lived alternatives.
Incidentally, juglone, from trees in the juglandaceae including Carya and especially Juglans, similarly contaminates compost/mulch, much to my dismay. Fruits, chips and even leaves can be the source.
Random sites that describe the problems well:
Peter, One of the most specific ways the system could be improved by corporations would be if all of them put half their PR money into a fund for independent (as independent as we could come up with) scientific testing and assessment. But wait, that is what the system of regulatory checks and balances and corporate taxation is supposed to be doing in theory already… But Isn’t. The regulatory system is far from ‘independent’, as corporations do their own research and only submit what they want to for regulatory assessment, often by their own people who have rotated into top management positions of the regulatory agencies. The real catch is that the regulators of the regulators (the politicians) are bought off by the industry (lobby) to rig the system NOT to be independent.
I guess the system does work for the managers and stockholders, at least for short term monetary gain, but it is not working for longer term societal benefit as well as it needs to be.
The problems you face in your watershed do not apply to all of agriculture. There are many ecosystems where the environmental risks of farming are far less, unless, of course, one takes the position that the only acceptable impact of farming on an ecosystem is zero impact.
I remember exploring the Klamath River for steelhead in the 1970s and seeing the consequences of the logging industry. At the time, I couldn’t image how the logging industry could coexist with a healthy river ecosystem. In some places, perhaps farming and a healthy fishery are not compatible and maybe agriculture will have to be phased out rather than changed. Depends on the sacrifices people are willing to make.
However, I don’t think it is reasonable to argue that we can return all of our lands back to their natural state. In order to produce food and fiber, sacrifices and accepting a certain level of environmental risk are necessary. The question in my mind is what can we do to mitigate those risks and make sure they strike a proper balance between our needs and our desires.
In a recent meta-analysis, overall, GMOs were said to be responsible for a 21% increase in yields and 37% reduction in pesticide quantity applied. (http://bit.ly/1NK7Aob) Looking at the big picture, isn’t that a good thing? If farmers can remain profitable while producing more on less land with less pesticide, isn’t that moving the needle in the right direction? Won’t that help weaken the argument that we need to farm as much arable land as possible in order to keep up with demand and thereby strengthen the argument that we can retire ag lands in certain highly sensitive areas?
While some may have ideological issues with government and certain business models or argue specific cases about specific GMOs, based on the best evidence we have, as a technology, GE has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. I would encourage you to set aside the litany of anti-GMO tropes you exhibited here and consider the possibility that GE can help achieve your goals.
I agree with the bulk of what you are saying, just that i see a need for more carefulness in the process than I see is the way that it is progressing. Basically… more science.
“There’s a lot about the secondary metabolism of plants that we don’t understand.”
This is an argument against ALL attempts to breed novel crops, not just those done through biotech.
“Reducing tillage has nothing to do with GMO. It exists with or without.”
The logic is flawed here. Some reduction in tillage exists with or without herbicide resistant crops. but lots of the reduction in tillage is very much due to the adoption of herbicide resistant crops.
Reducing tillage has nothing to do with GMO. It exists with or without.
Absolutely not true for farmers in my region, and in my experience.
I will be far more aggressive with tillage when raising conventional crops, because nearly all conventional herbicide has a more negative effect on conventional crops than glyphosate has on RR crops.
In addition, we will also forgo tillage for an application of glyphosate when following a conventional crop with a RR crop.
GMO production is an great tool when reducing tillage.
I would have to say you are correct in regards to my statement above.
But, “no-till” farming has been around for centuries and was common before western agriculture. So one could argue that this is just a small correction back towards the “better” method of agriculture which is to prevent soil disturbance as much as possible.
I would have to say you are correct in regards to my statement above.
I once heard someone speaking about the origins of tilling the soil and he attributed it to the time of the old testament and Abraham. He also claimed that when westernized civilizations “discovered” new areas (where people already lived), they claimed these indigenous people were not fit to farm because they did it in a different way (ie, no-till).
To me, I really don’t care when it started and who gets credit. But to claim that it’s “due to GMO” is a little misleading in my opinion.
But if it helps reduce tilling as compared to the recent past, this is definitely a good thing in my book. Let’s not stop and pat ourselves on the back for too long though. Let’s keep doing smart things and not get stuck arguing with each other.
I wish “best practice” was one of the main goals of agriculture so that a farmer could be eligible for assistance if he or she wanted to adopt such things. As it is, it seems like it would be very difficult to transition given the current paradigm of profit and debt.
Regardless, thanks for your hard work!
In some places, but ironically, it’s still a big challenge for organic growers. We’ve been tilling our selves into ruin since the Middle Ages, so I wouldn’t downplay any technology that enables or nudges farmers to move millions of acres into conservation tillage.
Agreed. I will try and remember that.
Then I encourage you to become more familiar with the science that supports GE and GMOs. The Credible Hulk has assembled a decent list of highlights: http://bit.ly/1I8wdyn
The International Scientific Consensus on Genetically Engineered Food Safety, Credible Hulk: http://bit.ly/1I8wdyn
100 billion animals, trillions of data points representing 29 years of GMO feed “…did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed.” Seems relevant to me. Not proof of anything in itself, but certainly supports the claim that there is no evidence of harm. A sigh is not a very compelling argument to the contrary.
Yup, farming practices have changed. Now we have a more complete understanding of the negative consequences associated with native vegetation bordering ag zones including providing a harborage for insect pests, acting as a reservoir for plant diseases, and concerns about vertebrate pests, human pathogens and food safety. Many farmers are also more adverse to allowing native vegetation to compete for water and profits than they were before. I’m glad you have such wonderful childhood memories, but times have changed and so has farming. Rather than farming “dirty”, I think planned refuges make more sense. You know, like the projects Monsanto is engaged in. http://www.monsanto.com/improvingagriculture/pages/monarch-butterfly.aspx
Of course, i have not read all of the possible research, but what I have read leads me to believe that there may not be enough consideration of the importance of epigenetics on genetic expression… this gives me pause. Now, I think that ‘pause’ is not a virtue known to be particularly expressed by most corporate research funding processes. This bias hides a lot of potential bias within the applied use of the scientific methodology within corporate AG…. unfortunately. IMHO
Yes, and better care should be taken in all of it, however, with the intensity og GE Ag dispersal around the globe so quickly and pervasively via corporate forcing… there remains the increased concern from this technology.
The ‘og’ above should read ‘of’.
“intensity of GE Ag dispersal around the globe so quickly and pervasively
via corporate forcing… there remains the increased concern from this
A. This is also equally applicable to contemporary breeding ( who do you think is doing the breeding if not the major seed companies?).
B. What do you mean by “corporate forcing” ? (hint: do a fact check on yourself ex ante, instead of having the community doing it for you post hoc)
I mean: corporate pressure for profit-taking for stockholders and management ‘golden parachutes’.( that is not a ‘bad thing’ by itself entirely), however, to the extent that additional externalized costs are put onto society… it becomes a ripoff. If the quality of the science declines because of this pressure, it certainly tends to offset the benefits. IMHO
I see, you are not familiar with the body of current research and evidence, yet you want more science. My guess is that you will always want more science as long as you disagree with the evidence. Then you are go down the anti-GMO rabbit hole of epigenetics. There is no plausible mechanism for the DNA of plants that we eat altering our DNA. If there was, everything we eat would have that effect, not just GMO. Epigenetics and GMO are just another way anti-GMO folks attempt to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt among a credulous, misinformed public. Finally, it’s off to the conspiracy theory races again. For a second there, I almost thought you were not just another anti-GMO crank.
It is my undrestanding that it isn’t ALL about DNA and genes, but ALSO very much about the emerging knowledge about what affects the turning off and on of the genetic expression.
So you seem to be discounting any epigenetic effects potential at all. That does not sound very scientific from the get go. Are you seriously saying that epigenetics has no validity at all?? Or, not even enough valid questioning to pay any attention to toward funding any research to clarify what validity there may be? If so, that does not sound like my idea of science, scientific method, nor intelligence in process… nor does it indicate public confidence in the current level of research so far. An attitude adjustment might be needed by the system.. not just by me. IMHO
I think that EVERYBODY should place great importance on questioning the completeness of their own work, period.That IS science. A lot of language choices on this forum seem to be counter to this questioning attitude. Why is that??
I agree – pl,anned refuges are the best solution. How do we make these economically possible? And you’re wrong regarding farmers – they will do what is ecologically sustainable if it can be economically sustainable, and of course depending upon any one’s individual propensities.
Also, no need to be condescending.
And yet, I can only sigh, because this is “science by big list”. yes, we know that we can feed HT corn and soy to chickens, pigs, fish, etc and they won’t die before it’s time to kill them. But actual appropriately designed, executed and interpreted feeding trials do raise concerns that remain unexplored. A hundred billion animals? Good grief! Now that’s science! 🙂
No, it’s an argument in support of more careful regulations with regard to engineering some kinds of genetic changes, and possibly some non-GE modifications as well.
There’s no need to try to create absolutes.
Hi Mlema, can you be more specific when you say that
“…actual appropriately designed, executed and interpreted feeding trials do raise concerns that remain unexplored.”?
There is an almost limitless number of things that remain unexplored: the challenge is to make wise choices about what is most likely to yield valuable results.
“Also, no need to be condescending.”
Just pointing out what seems to be the common thread running through your arguments. I get it, you miss your sunny, barefoot youth in rural America, but that is no excuse for your mischaracterization of evidence (“science by big list”) or your willful ignorance of what has become a scientific consensus on the subject.
Peter, the big list doesn’t include studies that would reflect on the safety of GMOs as a group for safety for human consumption. It’s a collection of studies on feeding animals for meat – with parameters like weight gain (which can actually sometimes be an indicator of unhealthy affect). Industry advocates use this list to make claims about GMO safety, without pointing out that it only shows the results of some GMOs on some animals for some parameters, and without discussing whether or not any of those things are relevant for the safety of any one GMO for human consumption.
The results are valuable in showing that these animals can be fed some various HT and bt crops without any obvious deleterious effects. It’s not useful for determining whether any one GMO is safe for any human to eat in any particular way.
You have a right to your opinions, but there’s no need to be rude or sarcastic. You’re way off about me. Stick to the science (as you see it at least) and leave my personal self out of it. Show how the big list supports your claim of safety for humans. Talk about the studies’ parameters and how they relate to human safety. Your quote from the study shows that humans are probably not negatively impacted by eating the animals that eat GMOs. How does that reflect on the safety of eating any new GMO, perhaps one that’s been engineered to produce a higher level of some particular nutrient, and has only undergone the same regulatory evaluation that every previous GMO has undergone?
“Stick to the science.” What a hypocrite!
As long as you understand that risks come from traits and not from techniques. But it’s advocates of biotech that are the ones advocating for regulation based on risks rather than techniques.
There are varying techniques used in GE, and they carry relative risks. I’ve linked to more information on that on this page if you care to look at the rest of the discussion. And biotech advocates have long been fighting for reduced regulations. Bruce Chassy, David Tribe, etc.
Did Owen request that all of his comments be deleted from this discussion?
What you’re not including is the fact that there were plenty of people who were negatively impacted by that spraying and who didn’t want it. There was little discrimination about where and how the sprays were used. Are you using the fact that the government did bt spraying to say that people ought not be concerned about other bt spraying or bt crops? And why do you characterize those who criticize these applications as being “scared”? Do you think you’re being “brave” by advocating increased use of pesticides?
“there were plenty of people who were negatively impacted by that spraying “
“There was little discrimination about where and how the sprays were used.”
Nope again, they sprayed it where the gypsy moth was.
“Are you using the fact that the government did bt spraying to say that people ought not be concerned about other bt spraying or bt crops”
Bt is the number one insecticide used by Organic farmers, they use it on almost everything. Not that it matters it is harmless to everything but caterpillars and grubs.
“Do you think you’re being “brave” by advocating increased use of pesticides?”
Nope, just realistic. The gypsy moth is a very serious problem and it needs to be dealt with. Same with agricultural pests.
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