The Conversation reports:

Scientists today said they were appalled and disappointed by Greenpeace protesters who whippersnippered a genetically modified wheat crop being grown as part of a CSIRO trial.

The trial crop was part of an investigation into altering wheat carbohydrate content to reduce glycaemic response and improve metabolic health. Planting began in 2009.

Greenpeace’s justification?

“GM has never been proven safe to eat and once released in open experiments, it will contaminate. This is about the protection of our health, the protection of our environment and the protection of our daily bread.”

How are scientists supposed to discover whether it is safe to eat if you destroy experiments that would address that question?

Update: John Quiggin “It will be a long time before Greenpeace can regain my support, if they ever do.”

Update 2: Christopher Preston:

There is no evidence to support the claims of hazard about this trial made by Greenpeace.

I am left with the view that the destruction of this trial was unnecessary and wanton. That’s why the destruction of this trial has left me completely appalled.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeff Harvey
    July 19, 2011

    ChrisS asks:

    *Jeff, is there a reason you’re continually referring us to books & newspaper articles rather than the primary literature?*

    That’s a rather dumb question, especially considering I have published over 100 articles in the peer-reviewed literature, so I know how important it is. The reason is that I don’t have time to do long literature searches whilst doing my day job as a scientist. If you are that frustrated about my comments that I need to cite literature, I will certainly get papers for you showing (1) negative effects of GMOs on non-target insects (e.g predators and parasitoids), and (2) the recently described resistance of insects (e.g. cotton bollworm) to Bt-containing crops. At the same time, I have several times mentioned on this thread that I recently attended an entomological congress in South Africa (where I was one of 3 Plenary Speakers) and listened to several speakers deliver seminars in which they were describing recently observed resistance to Bt crops in *Helicoverpa armigera*, *Heliothis virescens* and *Plutella xylostella*; or is this not good enough for you? In other words do you honestly think I am making this up? I am a professional population ecologist who works in studying insect-plant interactions and I had lengthy talks with people working with bioengineered plants in agriculture in South Africa and these people were very concerned about the short-medium term future because of what they were finding. I should point out that these researchers were not anti-GM (neither am I, for that matter), but, like any good scientist who should understand the fact that cause-and-effect relationships in nature are usually distinctly non-linear, they realize that there are inherent risks with this technology, irrespective as to what the reductionists and manufacturers are telling you.

    What you must understand is that there may be significant time lags in the manifestation of a process after an initial perturbation. The GM experiment has barely been running for more than a decade in many parts of the world, and many of the studies even being published now were based on data gathered 5-10 years ago (yes, there is that often that much of delay between data gathering, writing, submission and publication). I published an article in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment in 2008 on the effects of differences in plant species richness and traits on carabid beetles in a biodiversity plot here in Holland even though the experiment was carried out between 2000 and 2002. My point is that its early days yet. Its like the old maxim of the guy who jumps off a 100 story building, falls 50 floors, looks up and yells out, “Everything’s fine!”. Its the same story with climate change, habitat loss, the effects of invasive species etc, where the effects can take decades or even centuries to manifest themselves.

  2. #2 Ewan R
    July 19, 2011

    With respect to vitamin A-enhanced golden rice, vitamin A deficiency has never been a problem for people in the far east.

    The WHO would disagree with this statement I think.The document:- Global prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in populations at risk 1995–2005. WHO Global Database
    on Vitamin A Deficiency. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2009.

    Paints a somewhat less ideal picure than you

    Table 11 shows numbers of pre-school children aSoth East Asia estimated to have levels of retinol lower than 0.7umol/L at between 85.6 and 100 million. Although clearly this is not a problem in your eyes.

    Globally, which is more pertinent than just focusing (erroneously…) on the far east, of countries with a GDP lower than $15000 only 2 countries had no public health problems with retinol in preschool age children, 32 a mild problem, 49 moderate and 79 severe.

    the prevalence of serum retinol <0.70 μmol/l as a public health problem in both preschool-age children and pregnant women is categorized as follows:
    <2%, no public health problem;
    ≥2–<10%, mild public health problem;
    ≥10–<20%, moderate public health problem;
    ≥20%, severe public health problem.

    The billions invested into it would have been far better off encouraging people in the region to have a more nutritionally diverse, healthier and ecologically more sound diet.

    “let them eat cake” essentially (although a more nutritious version thereof)

    This rather ignores that in these areas rice is already a staple source of calories, grows well, and that while a diet deficient in vitamin A carries some risks a diet deficient in calories has far higher risks (I’d argue that in most cases in the countries under discussion the notion of empty calories is a laughable one) – fortifying the source of calories rather than expecting the population to shift to lower yielding crops (both in terms of absolute yield and calorific yield) would seem to me a far better approach.

    if new technologies were shared between the north and south. But of course this is not the case, nor is there any sign that it will ever be.

    Because Monsanto haven’t licensed their drought trait to the WEMA project sans fee for any producer making under $10,000 p/a (this figure is ballpark but essentially correct afaik)

    Nor do technologies ever go off patent allowing them to be used by whoever wherever.

    Plus of course, it will be rather difficult to get any of these technolgies shared if, to return to the gist of the original post rather than continue on this tangent, dubmasses like those who vandalized the CSIRO trial carry on what they are doing – keeping government run & academic run research out of the field is a sure fire way to make sure that only a tiny trickly of useful technology will make it out there sans cash tie in (obviously the regulatory burden, both in initial acceptance and maintenance globally poses problems too – as Pam Ronald discovered with her flood tolerant rice (which last I heard was doing great after the serendipitous discovery of the capacity to breed in the trait from a wild relative))

  3. #3 Ian Forrester
    July 19, 2011

    Ewan R is living in a dream world all right, unfortunately they are all night mares.

    There are at least two major law suits where GMO companies have been found liable for contamination.

    [Firstly](http://inewp.com/?p=8031) Bayer had to pay out a total of $750 million to over 11,000 farmers when Bayer was found responsible for contaminating rice.

    [Secondly](http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/techpolicy/business/2004-08-23-starlink-snafu_x.htm) there is the $110 million payment that Aventis had to make to farmers when Starlink corn (approved for animal use but not human use) was mixed in with human use corn.

    Now, can you tell me where that $860 million comes from? I doubt that it will come out of the back pockets of the CEO’s or the employees responsible for the problem. Will it be passed on to consumers, farmers and buyers of GMO’s?

    So in the future we will see one of two options. The first and best would be for GMO companies to be forced into bankruptcy with law suit after law suit. The second option is not so favourable to contemplate. The second option is that our basic food resources will just get more and more expensive to pay off all the lawsuits that will be forthcoming. The only people to benefit will be the lawyers on both sides.

    Once again Ewan R shows his lack of knowledge about the real world of farming and use of GM crops:

    My point is however that unlike corn and soy, wheat is already segregated by variety

    As I just pointed out above, GM crops must be segregated and failure to do so involves huge fines.

    Keep it up Ewan, you are doing a great job of showing just how much out of touch with the reality of farming you and your employers are. Is it any wonder why the average person is so against GMO’s when they read what you have to say on the topic?

  4. #4 Ewan R
    July 19, 2011

    There are at least two major law suits where GMO companies have been found liable for contamination.

    Both instances where unregulated (well, one totally unapproved and the otehr only approved for feed) traits contaminated and where the companies were punished – the money, I would guess, came at the expense of the shareholder – big fine payouts like that tend to.

    As I just pointed out above, GM crops must be segregated and failure to do so involves huge fines.

    GM crops which have not been granted regulatory approval must be segregated (I’m actually unsure why they’d be released in the first place, seems a gambit that came back and bit the company in the ass hard) – releasing GM material which isn’t granted regulatory approval is a big no-no and involves huge fines – once regulatory approval has been granted this financial risk goes away. This is why the vast majority of GM corn and GM soy are not segregated at any point past planting into the farmers field (obviously the farmer would do well to make sure if he is planting GM and non-GM to keep his seed segregated, as sparying glyphosate on a non-RR crop may prove a bit of an error) – it is this non-segregation which I was referring to, one would assume of course that wheat genetically modified for a low glycemic index would be approved for hyman consumption and therefore wouldn’t carry any of the risk you are assigning.

  5. #5 Chris S.
    July 20, 2011

    “That’s a rather dumb question, especially considering I have published over 100 articles in the peer-reviewed literature, so I know how important it is.”

    Jeff, that’s why I asked the question in the first place – you know how important the primary lit is but instead you suggest we read books & newspaper articles.

    “The reason is that I don’t have time to do long literature searches whilst doing my day job as a scientist.”

    And yet you have the time to write long screeds at Deltoid that go completely unreferenced. The searches don’t need to be long, just long enough to back-up the points you make. If you can find & link newspapers articles surely someone with your knowledge of the literature can find the papers that form the foundation for said articles?

    “I published an article in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment in 2008″

    And you don’t provide a link/citation for your own research even.

    Jeff, don’t get me wrong I respect your work in the field of ecology (even though I don’t agree with your paper on generalism – it’s good to see that Hugh retains his impish sense of humour but it can lead to flawed science, I look forward to talking to him and Nicola about soon). But, as I stated earlier in the thread, the apparent reliance of the anti-GM posters on this thread on grey lit and blog posts doesn’t do their case any favours, particularly when those who do have access to the literature (and have presumably read a representative sample of it) are apparently unwilling to provide peer-reviewed citations.

    “I will certainly get papers for you showing (1) negative effects of GMOs on non-target insects (e.g predators and parasitoids), and (2) the recently described resistance of insects (e.g. cotton bollworm) to Bt-containing crops.”

    Go for it. Bear in mind I’ve already provided links to the UK FSEs that cover (1). I try to provide peer-reviewed literature to bolster any argument that I make knowing full well that unreviewed books & articles often have an idealogical slant to them that peer-review should (but sometimes doesn’t) counter. I should hope that top scientists with many papers to their names could do the same – hence the question which you dismissed as dumb above. Hopefully I’ve elucidated here why I don’t agree with your assessment of it.

  6. #6 Jeff Harvey
    July 20, 2011

    ChrisS,

    Thanks for your post.

    Yes, I am guilty of writing long screeds here, but if you knew me you’d realize that I could write this up in minutes. And you are indeed correct that newspaper articles and press releases should be read with considerable skepticism. However, you did not address the point I made with respect to time lags in ecology and in the peer-reviewed literature. The thrust of what I am saying is that the potentially negative effects of GMOs on the environment may be yet to be manifested. And of course all of this relates once again to the precautionary principle: should the onus be on the scientific community to prove that a largely untested product is environmentally safe or the other way around? As with climate change and other aspects of anthropogenically mediated global change, the widespread use of GMOs reflects a largely unpredictable experiment that may tkae many years to manifest itself.

    With respect to my paper with Hugh, what I liked about our discussion was the fact that generalism IS indeed rare in natural systems – especially where insects are concerned (see Singer’s discussion of ‘composite specialization’) and that Hugh saw this in a similar way as the classical biologists of old would. I was happy to be on board, even if I agree with you that we might have oversimplified the question. Our aim to to stimulate discussion, and that is exactly what we did quite well, I think. My work with parasitoids suggests that there are indeed very few broad generalists, and this is especially true for endoparasitic koinobionts, but I digress.

  7. #7 Wow
    July 20, 2011

    > As I just pointed out above, GM crops must be segregated and failure to do so involves huge fines.

    Especially for the European Union and any other country that decides to inform their customers that GM products are in the food they eat so they can make a choice.

    Also remember that the ROI for patents for First World corporations are made at the rate at which the first world wants payment. Whereas the ability to pay in the developing world is set at the rate of pay in the third world.

    This discrepancy is another problem with patents being loaded out onto the market: they may be fine in the first world where the wages are set such that the money is available to be paid, but a dollar in Africa is a lot of money, whereas in the USA, it’s not even pocket money.

  8. #8 Ewan R
    July 20, 2011

    Also remember that the ROI for patents for First World corporations are made at the rate at which the first world wants payment. Whereas the ability to pay in the developing world is set at the rate of pay in the third world.

    Trait pricing varies globally, it varies even within the US market – where the trait is deemed to add more value the charge is higher, where less valuable the charge lower – in India the pricing of Bt cotton seed is subject to a governmentally mandated ceiling on a per trait basis – your assertion is incorrect – prices in third world markets are dictated by value of that trait within that market, for projects such as golden rice and WEMA this falls by the wayside as the patented material has been licensed free so long as farmers are under a certain income level.

    Jeff Harvey – question regarding the evolution of resistance to Bt (which I would see as an inevitability in the mid to long term, albeit one that can be prolonged by stacked traits, refuge, one would hope in time for new traits down the line) – why would this particularly matter? I mean clearly it’s something you have to be aware of, you have to know it’s gonna happen, and you should have a contingency plan for when/if it does – but what exactly would you predict the major downside is to this resistance, and how persistent would you guess it to be in a population when it has definite negative fitness effects once Bt is no longer in play.

    The only major downside I can see is that the technology itself is rather self defeating in the mid to long term (although I guess it could be argued that if used cyclically it could see a resurgence every decade or so(depending largely on the magnitude of the fitness penalty and length of time for resistance alleles to die off), be used until resistance is an issue, replaced and come back online once natural selection against the resistance alleles brings their frequency down to a certain threshold)

    Also, what weight do you give to the potential ecological effects of not utilizing the technology – I’m assuming that for IR products you do not dispute that they go hand in hand with reductions in insecticide useage (not elimination of, but large reductions nontheless) – one wonders what the ecological effects would have been had the initial spraying conditions been kept and no IR products had hit the markets – while it is only possible to speculate on this I’m of the opinion that this would have caused real, measurable in the current time scale, negative effects (its apparent in human populations that the reduction in insecticide use had positive health benefits in China for instance) on ecosystems not just within farm (which for reasons I’ve alluded to above I think are a restrictive and almost silly set to look at – because any methodology which reduces insect predation of the crop, or weed populations will obviously have a knock on effect which essentially leads to an arguement against agriculture in general rather than any individual process) but on a broader scale (production, transportation, spraying, drift etc of insecticides vs simply being produced in planta – plus different toxicity profiles for insecticides used)

    For HT products the story is a little different – while there has not been a reduction in quantities utilized there has been a reduction in the environmental impact of the products used (and, if I remember the literature right, glufosinate tolerance offers an even lower environmental impact than glyphosate) so you are left with the same question – had the technology not been utilized would the environment be in a worse state? Again issues of weed resistance to glyphosate only really make sense if looked at in terms of utilization within a GR system – if you dont have GR plants then glyphosate resistant pigweed is just pigweed, there isn’t a thing that is super about it (and one would predict that it actually should fare worse than its non-GR colleagues outside of environments where glyphosate is widely used – although here the fitness differences will depend entirely on the mechanism of GR adopted) – so here one is looking at reduced impact of herbicides used, increased utilization of no-till and reduced till farming (HT traits aren’t a necessity for this, but it would be hard to argue that they haven’t been instrumental in the spread of the practice), reduced number of sprays etc (even with herbicide mixes now likely having a higher EI than glyphosate spray alone when you compare to the baseline of what was used prior to GR the impacts would still, I assume, be lower – particularly if you go to a Glyphosate/Glufosinate mix (given that glufosinate, from what I remember, has a lower EIQ than Glyphosate)

  9. #9 Jeff Harvey
    July 20, 2011

    Ewan,

    A point that I have tried to make here is that the onus should have been on the manufacturers to prove the technology is ecologically safe, rather than on scientists to ‘prove’ its benefits outweigh the risks over a longer time frame. I have witnessed, time and again, people try and downplay the effects of habitat destruction, acid rain, and climate change, arguing in effect what the GMO-advocates are saying, which is essentially that we should continue along the current path until 100% concrete proof comes in that these ‘experiments’ (for that is what they are, on open systems) are harmful. Certainly one can also claim that clear-cutting forests (in terms of profits from logging and using the land to grow crops), climate change (via the burning of fossil fuels) etc. have benefits as well in terms of short-term economic gains, and that there will of course be short-term economic costs in reducing the scale of the human enterprise in this regard.

    Multinational corporations generate technologies aimed at maximizing short-term profits, irrespective as to their ecological soundness or longer term societal implications. The are programmed to focus on investor returns over the next fiscal quarter, half year or two years at the most. In the mind of the corporate manager, the environmental risks of GMOs does not even enter into the equation, and certainly not any ‘longer’ term risks, meaning those that may play themselves out even over only 5 years ahead and certainly not any longer than that. I am aware that some of the agro-biotech/pesticide firms in the United States fought bitterly against any measures suggested by scientists to impede the speed of evolving resistance in insect populations by increasing the amount of land under which genetically engineered crops would be grown. This was under the premise that predictable threats lead to the rapid evolution of resistance, whereas setting aside land next to crops with conventional varieties slows down the process by varying the exposure of different generations of the insects being targeted to the insecticidal plants. You’d think that the corporations would support any measure at resistance management, but alas, the government and the manufacturers had to reach a ‘compromise’ on the amount of land that should be set aside with conventional varieties. Why was this? To repeat myself, because the manufacturers do not think about long-term solutions, but only in terms of short-term profit maximization: at most they plan for the next year or two, but certainly anything beyond that is dismissed.

    As I have said above, I am not anti-GMO, but unlike the technophiles out there, I realize that most so-called ‘miracle’ technologies have nasty sting in their tail. The consequences of these technologies are not immediately apparent, but instead can manifest themselves after many years. Most importantly, multinational corporations do not plan very far ahead in evaluating the potential costs of their products. They are adept at hiring the best PR firms in order to ‘sell’ their wares to the public, and at downplaying any risks, no matter how evident they may be.

  10. #10 Ewan R
    July 20, 2011

    A point that I have tried to make here is that the onus should have been on the manufacturers to prove the technology is ecologically safe

    How does one do this, for any technology, on a timescale that is not prohibitive? What tests and what timescale would you have proposed (or did you propose)?

    Could you perhaps spend some time addressing the questions I raise directly – particularly:-
    1. Why is insect resistance to Bt a bad thing (other than for the tech itself)
    2. Why is weed resistance to glyphosate a bad thing (other than for the tech itself)
    3. Perhaps a comment on the ecological effects of having not adopted GM crops over the past 15 years.
    4. Can you define what you think the ecological consequences of IR and HT crops may be (you may have done this already in which case I apologise for missing it, however I don’t believe that you have) and comment on whether they are worse than the effects discussed in point 3 above.

    I also have a little difficulty fully agreeing with your no longterm view from big business – the group I work in hasn’t a chance of getting a product to market until well into next decade (I’m not 100% sure what the timeline is on the trait we recently advanced to phase II testing, but believe it is still 8 years out) – also considering the cost of actually getting a GM product to market, and the lag period between useful GM products, consideration of longevity of the profit life (or however business types classify it) of a product has some bearing – this also then has some bearing on future products – with absolutely zero planning then stacked products (such as smartstax, and the btxRR beans to be released in South America shortly) wouldn’t be a feature of long term strategy for biotech companies (and they are, and increasingly will be) would lose viability – I feel perhaps that rather than having no care about emergence of resistance there is simply less conservatism (in the value neutral sense, not the I’ve got mine f*** you sense – just to be clear) from agri-business driven by the profit motive – the desire here will be to delay resistance while maximizing utility for the farmer and profit for themselves (the two being intertwined to a degree) whereas from a purely academic stance having refuge areas larger than they absolutely must be so as to further delay resistance (or do it with more certaintly) – although on this ground I rather like the USDA (I believe) strategy of airdropping sterile bugs periodically onto Bt in an effort to swamp out resistant bugs – seems a good way to ameliorate emergent resistance should refuge fail.

  11. #11 Jeff Harvey
    July 20, 2011

    Ewan,

    Bt resistance is a bad thing is it destroys the viability of the insecticidal pathogen on its own. Bt has proven to be a very useful pathogen against chewing herbivores for many years, and resistance to it will render the pathogen as ineffective in future pest management.

    Resistance to herbicides alike Roundup Ready mean that farmers will spray more and more of the stuff on their crops to get the same results. This means that more RR will enter the food chain. Of course the agrobiotech firms care diddly squat about the effects of their products on the environment, which should be patently obvious as the case of RR shows (as it did with agent orange, PCBs and dioxin). Sure, they may plan their marketing strategies a few years ahead, but environmental expediency never enters in the equation. IMO most of the biggest firms in the industry have appalling environmental records anyway.

    Your defense of golden rice was pretty weak yesterday. My point is that there were many better ways of investing billions of dollars to deal with vitamin deficiency. Investing in helping people in the region grow a wider variety of crops, which would be ecologically sounder than growing one strain of rice, would generate a more balanced diet would be welcomed by the local populations, as Vandana Shiva has explained. The golden rice example was nothing more than a publicity stunt: how would you like it if you were told to eat GM-nutient enhanced potatoes morning, noon and night, especially when other more sustainable options were available? You’d tell those pushing the technology on you to take a hike, I am sure.

    I will say it again: GM technology has some utility but is certainly no cure to global hunger and poverty. There is already enough food to feed the planet’s population, but the real problems are based on social justice and inequity. In many parts of the south where farmers should be growing sustenance crops, they are instead growing cash crops in order to pay off crippling debts to western financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF (in effect, the US Treasury by proxy) and their structural adjustment programs. I saw emaciated villagers in Cameroon gathering cotton for export. Poverty is driven by huge inequities in wealth and in the chasm between the economic have’s and have not’s, and by the fact that western planners are well aware that the planet does not have enough resources to support people living like the average American or European. If you were to read declassified US and/or UK planning documents (I have) you’d realize that western foreign policy has little to do with alleviating poverty in the south and everything to with maintaining capital flows and wealth disparity between the first and third world’s. Influential planners and politicians like Kissinger, Brezinski, Kennan and Nitze have made this clear over the years. When Samir Amin, Africa’s leading economist, said a the World Social Forum in 2003 that western policy towards the third world was simply aimed at the ‘looting of resources’ rather than economic integration (a point reiterated by economists like Patrick Bond and Tom Athanasiou), he was pointing out what should be obvious. The reason that it isn’t is because we in the west like to believe that our leaders are truly interested in creating a sustainable world with social justice, in spite of the volumes of evidence to the contrary. I lecture students on this topic, one in which I have read a great deal of of literature.

    So where does GM fit into this? Well, my cynicism of this technology is based on political realities. The technology is controlled by the rich states, requires deep PR cover, and will play only a very minor role (if any) in alleviating hunger. The fat cats promoting the technology of course sell it that way, but the reality is that the answer to poverty lies in the equity dilemma. So long as 16% of the world consumes and monopolizes > 80% of the world’s resources, then things are going to go from bad to worse. The planet’s natural systems are in terminal decline, and GM technology is not going to stop that. We are forever being led to believe that there are no limits to growth: every time a theoretical limit is approached, that we will pull some technological rabbit out of a hat and forever increase our carrying capacity. Well by now it should be patently obvious that the planet already has a reduced capacity to support man. Instead of dealing with symptoms of the human assault, we ought to be dealing with the disease which is the very scale of the human enterprise. New technologies may temporarily slow the delayed effects of human actions, but they will not stop them. Thus IMO the billions of dollars being thrown at transgenic technology would be far better off spent elsewhere.

  12. #12 Ewan R
    July 20, 2011

    Bt resistance is a bad thing is it destroys the viability of the insecticidal pathogen on its own.

    So we shouldn’t use Bt in transgenics so that we can spray Bt instead? Yes? This seems an odd approach. Don’t use something so that in the future using it will be effective – how does one pick when and where to use?

    Resistance to herbicides alike Roundup Ready mean that farmers will spray more and more of the stuff on their crops to get the same results.

    Well no, resistance to roundup in weeds effectively invalidates roundup as a herbicide option – if you are afraid of roundup then you should be gleeful about the rise of resistant weeds

    Your defense of golden rice was pretty weak yesterday

    My defense may have been weak – you however outright lied about vitamin A deficiency in Asia – and calling my defense weak isn’t a counterarguement against the points raised.

    . My point is that there were many better ways of investing billions of dollars to deal with vitamin deficiency.

    I’m pretty sure that golden rice has cost nowhere near billions, and once in place it is, not unlike the jelly of the month club, the gift that keeps on giving

    as Vandana Shiva has explained

    Vandana Shiva, reknowned liar and arson supporter – incapable apparently of telling a field of rice from a field of weeds. She rather illustrates that to be a figurehead in the anti-GM movement all that is required is the capacity to keep a straight face while spewing lies, overinflated claims of ones own scientific prowess (the blurb on one of her books claims she is one of India’s leading physicists – this is unsupported, much like most of her claims) – I guess at least she isn’t a yoga instructor, but for all the difference it makes she might aswell be.

    I will say it again: GM technology has some utility

    I’ll bite – what, given your general scathing approach, do you feel is the utility of GM technology – specifically within agriculture (as the uses of GM tech are wide and varied and this discussion revolves largely around Ag)

    but is certainly no cure to global hunger and poverty

    Not by itself, and nobody claims it is – just as a nail gun isn’t going to build you a house – it is certainly a useful tool in the process however. Increased yields and reduced insecticide use of Bt crops in developing world countries illustrate this point (as do reduced insecticide poisonings in India (recent paper Kouser & Qaim)).

    I lecture students on this topic, one in which I have read a great deal of of literature.

    One wonders then why you have to stoop to outright lies about Vitamin A deficiency.

    I’d still like some input on your thoughts on the ecological impacts of not having utilized either HT or IR (individually, or paired, your choice) GM tech in the past 15 years – possibly the IR thing takes on a new light to some extent – if as the above mentioned paper states several million cases of pesticide poisoning have been avoided in India presumably this is a negative as there are all those pesky extra humans out there impacting the ecosystem.

  13. #13 Vince whirlwind
    July 20, 2011

    The GM-supporter castigates an opponent:

    “…she illustrates that to be a figurehead in the anti-GM movement all that is required is the capacity to keep a straight face while spewing lies, overinflated claims…”

    Ooh, the irony.

    The anti-GM movement has *some* way to go to catch up with the lies and over-inflated claims of the GM corporations who clothe their planet-raping antics with mock-concern for the world’s poor.

  14. #14 jakerman
    July 21, 2011

    Jeff writes:

    >*the point I made with respect to time lags in ecology and in the peer-reviewed literature. The thrust of what I am saying is that the potentially negative effects of GMOs on the environment may be yet to be manifested.*

    Not to mention that at this initial phase biotech corporations [block access to seed for independent trials](http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/13/opinion/la-oe-guriansherman-seeds-20110213)

    >Companies have broad power over the use of any patented product, including who can study it and how.

  15. #15 Chris S.
    July 21, 2011

    “the blurb on one of her books claims she is one of India’s leading physicists – this is unsupported, much like most of her claims”

    Does she claim to be a member of the House of Lords too?

  16. #16 Chris S.
    July 21, 2011

    Jeff #305. I refer you to my earlier post (#234) and repeat my query as to your thoughts on the use of GM tech to improve the nutrition quality of foodstuffs.

    Hugh has a talent for producing papers that invoke discussion – his “Do aphids migrate?” paper was a classic of the art. But this is digression & I’ll leave it there. Now, where are those papers on non-target insects and Bt resistance?

  17. #17 Holly Stick
    July 21, 2011

    I’d like to see if Ewan has backup for his libellous-appearing smear of Vandama Shiva, whom he calls: “reknowned liar and arson supporter”.

    Others have a different opinion of her and she has received many awards:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandana_Shiva#Recognition

    Probably Ewan hates her because she founded this organization:

    “Navdanya means “nine seeds” (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also the “new gift” (for seed as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds In today’s context of biological and ecological destruction, seed savers are the true givers of seed. This gift or “dana” of Navadhanyas (nine seeds) is the ultimate gift – it is a gift of life, of heritage and continuity. Conserving seed is conserving biodiversity, conserving knowledge of the seed and its utilization, conserving culture, conserving sustainability…”

    http://www.navdanya.org/

    http://www.ucalgary.ca/peacestudies/2011_PeacePrize

  18. #18 Jeff Harvey
    July 21, 2011

    ChrisS,

    A few studies:

    Fitness Cost of Resistance to Bt Cotton Linked with Increased Gossypol Content in Pink Bollworm Larvae
    PLOS ONE Volume: 6 Issue: 6 Article Number: e21863

    Reduced Levels of Membrane-Bound Alkaline Phosphatase Are Common to Lepidopteran Strains Resistant to Cry Toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis PLOS ONE Volume: 6 Issue: 3 Article Number: e17606

    Survival and reproduction of natural populations of Helicoverpa armigera on Bt-cotton hybrids in Raichur, India
    CURRENT SCIENCE Volume: 99 Issue: 11 Pages: 1602-1606

    Effects of infection with Nosema pyrausta on survival and development of offspring of laboratory selected Bt-resistant and Bt-susceptible European corn borers
    JOURNAL OF INVERTEBRATE PATHOLOGY Volume: 105 Issue: 3 Pages: 248-253

    Cotton bollworm resistance to Bt transgenic cotton: A case analysis SCIENCE CHINA-LIFE SCIENCES Volume: 53 Issue: 8 Pages: 934-941

    Chris, I am sure that you are able to search for more papers in this area. Why do I have to do it for you? Is this some kind of exercise? Furthermore, I must point out that I never mentioned non-target insects and resistance. I was referring to the pests themselves – my concern is more based on the results of studies like Losey’s which suggested that Bt pollen could contaminate non-crop food plants and harm non-target herbivores.

    Your still have not addressed my points with respect to (1) time lags in the evolution of resistance, (2) why you apparently disregard the talks I attended in Sotuh Africa and (3) the precuationary principle. I’d also be interested in knowing what you think about the economic and political aspects of the technology. Ewan’s responses in this regard have been dismissive and superficial (as expected of someone who clearly doesn’t know a whole lot about foreign policy agendas and economic programs that have more to do with wealth concentration that poverty elimination). As I said yesterday, this technology will hardly dent the vast social, wealth and economic divisions in the world – in fact, it will more liekly exacerbate them by making poor nations more beholden to the whim of the elites than ever. Transgenic technology has nix to do in my opinion with creating food security for the poor but everything to do with profit maximization for the rich. The reason that 1 in 8 people are malnourished is not a technological problem but a political one. Trust Ewan to have a large memory hole where this is concerned. The global economy has grown by a factor of 15 since 1950, yet extreme poverty has not been reduced but has increased since then. In 1983 Africa contributed to 4% of the global economy – by 2000 this had shrunk to a miniscule 1.3%. In 1970 for every 1 dollar that went from the rich north to the poor south, 3 dollars went the other way. By 1997 this had increased to a ratio of 7:1. This is the Washington Consensus folks, and trangenic technology is very much a part of it because it is a multi-billion dollar industry. And it explains why the US maintains ~1,000 military bases in 140 foreign nations (gunboat diplomacy), and why it has recently expanded Afri-com, SouthCom, Centcom etc. The whole ‘Grand Chessboard’ (to coin a term first coined by Zbignieuw Brezinski) is about control of resource-rich areas and about outright expansionism, subjegation of other countires assets and nullification of alternatives to the ‘Washington Consensus’ and its attendant nakedly predatory capitalism. The resource wars in Africa and the middle east are all part of the mix, and in there tucked nicely away is the technology Ewan claims will be a ‘useful tool’ in reducing hunger. But of course that’s pure nonsense.

  19. #19 Ian Forrester
    July 21, 2011

    Holly and Jeff, thank you for ensuring that honesty and integrity are active in this thread. I just don’t understand how certain people who can see through the dishonest tactics used by the AGW deniers to support their multi-national friends cannot see that very similar tactics are being used by the GMO promoters.

    Chris S, you keep hounding Jeff to produce “peer reviewed” literature and scold him when he produces honest information which is not peer reviewed. Why do you not complain about the “peer reviewed papers” listed by Ewan R?

    Many of his cites come from “Agbioforum” which is just a tarted up piece of PR propaganda made to look like a real journal. It is financed and supported by the Biotechnology Industries. It is neither peer reviewed in the normal sense or real science. It serves the same function as wattsup blog, to spread disinformation and cherry picked information to naive readers.

    For anyone to try and smear Dr. Vandama Shiva just shows how low the GMO promoters will go to try and keep their dysfunctional technology alive. If anyone really wants to see a real nasty piece of work in GM PR and promotion just check out C. S. Prakash. He is the Antony Watts figure for the GMO industry.

  20. #20 Ewan R
    July 21, 2011

    As I said yesterday, this technology will hardly dent the vast social, wealth and economic divisions in the world

    It demonstrably increases the income of Indian cotton farmers. It demonstrably increases the income of farmers in Africa who use the technology. Does it address all the many global political issues which also keep developing nations in poverty? No, but then nobody has claimed that it will – personally I’m happy if farmer incomes are raised and less toxic insecticides are sprayed because this is a real tangible benefit – whereas all the hand wringing in the world about the awful political scenario essentially equates to sitting on your hands not doing a bloody thing – which helps absolutely nobody.

    and in there tucked nicely away is the technology Ewan claims will be a ‘useful tool’ in reducing hunger. But of course that’s pure nonsense.

    The technology demonstrably increases yields in developing nations, for subsistence farmers how would this not be a useful tool in reducing hunger – don’t farmers who can produce more of their own food have less likelihood of, I dunno, going hungry? Won’t farmers who utilize GM cotton and make 50-150% more per season have reduced levels of poverty?

    I’d like to see if Ewan has backup for his libellous-appearing smear of Vandama Shiva, whom he calls: “reknowned liar and arson supporter”.

    http://www.houstonpress.com/2000-11-23/news/ricetec-paddy-whack/ – Vandana incapable of distinguishing field of rice from field of weeds

    http://www.amazon.com/Vandana-Shiva/e/B001JO49BM – Vandana (or a representative, I don’t believe however that she’s recanted this claim) claims to have been a leading Indian physicist – google scholar turns up 2 references – one is her pHD thesis http://search.proquest.com/docview/302922089 which interestingly is philosophy, not physics (perhaps someone could chime in on the level of dishonesty required to claim to be a leading Indian physicist when infact you are a philosopher of science, and not an actual, y’know, physicist?)

    Shiva repeatedly claims that there is a link between Bt cotton and increased suicides amongst Indian farmers – such a link is not present (suicide amongst Indian farmers is largely unaltered since the adoption of Bt cotton – the rate has neither gone up nor down – the focus on Bt is erroneous and takes the focus away from the real issues of predatory loan interest, lack of social safety net for a risky profession etc)

    She makes other insane claims about Bt cotton killing 1000′s of cows – something which you’d think would have been spotted

    http://vimeo.com/23099099 link to Shiva endorsing Arson of university property as a means of protesting GM crops (far more serious than weed-whacking a GM wheat trial) and going so far as to claim that the legal action taken against the arsonist is itself criminal.

  21. #21 Jeff Harvey
    July 21, 2011

    I repeat what I said yesterday: transgenic technology will hardly dent the vast social, wealth and economic divisions in the world. It is not aimed at doing so – it is solely aimed at maximizing short-term profits for investors in the north.

    Ewan, if you knew one iota about US foreign policy agendas towards Africa, Asia and South America you’d finally get it through your head that poverty eradication is nowhere on the agenda. I can only smile when I read the snippets you respond to – its the larger volume of political material that you rotuinely ignore that is significant. Again, your brain has a large hole in it where this is concerned. Try reading Tom Athanasiou’s or Patrick Bond’s books, or Greg Grandin’s ‘Empire’s Workshop’. Pepe Escobar’s ‘Globalistan’ might also wake your up out of your current stupor. But as I said its impossible to separate policy agendas of the wealthy governments from the agendas of corporate elites. As I also said yesterday, I have read a lot of declassified planning documents (one benefit of living in a superficially democratic environment) and western planners are essentially unconcerned about poverty and hunger eradication, but are terrified of indigeonous nationalism – that countries worth the trouble will embrace nationalistic governments that will attempt to redirect the benefits of their own resources and raw materials towards internal development. Why are our government planners opposed to this? Because it will conflict with the business interests of western corporations. So they do all they can to maintain influence in the internal decision making processes in these countries. With all that I have read, this is as clear to me as the difference between day and night.

    So in the end the alleged benefits of GMOs are going to be rammed down the throats of people here because our governments are promoting the interests of the corporate elites that get them into power in the first place and sustain them thereafter. It doesn’t mean a jot whether this is good for society or not, its just the way that it is. Farmers in many countries in the south should not be growing cotton anyway, given the grinding poverty and starvation, but would be far better off growing sustenance food crops. In Argentina, crop diversity has been greatly reduced since the advent of transgenic soybean, which has certainly not been good to the health of the people in the nation as a whole.

    With respect to Ewan, I might as well be debating a brick wall when it comes to the real policy agendas of the agro-biotech industry and its backers in government. His arguments appear to mimic those of Bjorn Lomborg, in that he thinks that the aim of his ‘wonder technology’ and of those promoting it is to help those poverty stricken farmers in the south, whilst ignoring all of the other evidence suggesting that our leaders and their corporate paymasters couldn’t give a rat’s ass about eliminating poverty and hunger. It’s about the money, stupid (to partially paraphrase Bill Clinton), and about expanding another form of economic imperialism through what we grow and eat.

  22. #22 Ewan R
    July 21, 2011

    Jeff – you state you may as well be debating a brick wall, I feel the same – I’ve asked questions abotu specific applications, what your experimental plan around demonstrating ecological effects or lack thereof, your assessment of the ecological effects of not utilizing the technology – real tangible stuff.

    You come back, repeatedly, with the same rants about economic imperialism and such – I acknowledge fully that there are numerous political problems which need to be solved – I don’t buy fully into your whole schtick that because Western governments are dicks, and have been dicks, that every action by every Western company, government, NGO and scientist must therefore also be an act of dickitude. I have no expertise in the area of foreign policy, but you repeatedly fail to demonstrate why on the specifics of increased incomes (which one would assume would counter grinding poverty to an extent for the effected group at least, although not for society as a whole) this can’t be part of a wider fix, or how, with technologies donated freely (golden rice, WEMA maize, potentially the Pioneer N efficient corn if it is actually efficacious) any sort of monetary gain is to be had from the developing world. Less broad generalization and more specifics is what I’m asking for (rather than simply grandstanding I asked specific questions the bulk of which you avoided, and those you answered you failed to do so with anything near clarity), but each time you trot out broad generalizations and the oft repeated phrase “I’ve read declassified documents”

  23. #23 Jeff Harvey
    July 21, 2011

    Ewan,

    My point is that, as much as you try, you cannot separate politics, economics and technology. Its the nature of the beast that needs examination, not some superficial idealistic idea of a technology stripped of its economic and political components. Technology cannot address social inequalities – it never has and never will. The solutions to poverty and starvation do not lie in the science but in the political economy. Until you get that through your head we are done talking. You apparently do not understand much about the horrific realities of the world except for the little utopian bubble in which you live. Since you cannot connect the dots, you doggedly stay in your own little corner and thrash it out from there. Its hardly surprising that people whose ignorance is exposed in crucial areas resort to calling the arguments of their opponents, ‘rants’.

    I never said that evert scientist or NGO in the west are ‘dicks’ – those are your words, not mine. Heck, I am a scientist who for sure has published a lot more in the empirical literature than you ever will. Whether you like it or not, a huge number of scientists have strong misgivings about GMOs. You seem to be referring to molecular biologists when you refer to scientists, and even many in this field are skeptical. Moreover, I am not against new technologies but believe that they should be strongly regulated, something that appears to be lacking in the case of many GMOs. Since the cat is already out of the bag, so to speak, we are not going to be able to do anything until problems arise, as they are likely to in the future. Previous ‘miracle’ technologies – CFCs, pesticides, fossil fuels, and others have all been proven in time to have seriously deleterious effects on the environment. Will it be any different with GMOs? Time will tell. But it certainly is likely.

    Finally, golden rice was ‘donated freely’ as a public relations ploy. People in the region need a balanced diet, not Vitamin A enhanced rice on its own. If you seriously think that its been a boon to people in the far east, then you need to do open up your eyes a little bit more than you do.

    And for you to bitterly criticize an esteemed scientist and humanitarian like Dr. Vandana Shiva, given the wretched environmental record of your employer, takes remarkable hubris. Talk about blind devotion to duty.

  24. #24 Ewan R
    July 21, 2011

    And for you to bitterly criticize an esteemed scientist and humanitarian like Dr. Vandana Shiva

    Shiva is no more a scientist than she is a Triceratops. As detailed above.

    Technology cannot address social inequalities

    Have I claimed that it can in a vacuum? (one might argue that given the recent social media based revolutions around and about that claiming technology cannot at least help to address social inequalities is bunk, although that’s entirely tangential to the present discussion) Would you deny that a farmer making 50-150% more net profit per season is better off than had they not used the tech that brought them to this level. Is there a certain level of social equalizing attached to preventing pesticide deaths as a result of global economics having farmers spray cotton 12+ times a season (or the freeing of their kids to go to school rather than backpack up and spray class Is to control bugs so that the loan sharks can be paid at the end of the year?)

    I never said that evert scientist or NGO in the west are ‘dicks’ – those are your words, not mine.

    Just the ones trying to implement changes you don’t like

    Heck, I am a scientist who for sure has published a lot more in the empirical literature than you ever will.

    Congratulations, I guess. I make no claim to being a scientist, nor do I have aspirations to publish (thankfully I guess given that getting anything into the literature is nigh on impossible given the lovely folk at legal here!) One still wonders when you’ll address your reasons for flat out lying about vitamin A deficiencies in the far East then – one hopes reviewers caught similar howlers in your published work.

    Will it be any different with GMOs? Time will tell. But it certainly is likely.

    Likely how – again a question I’ve repeatedly asked of you and one you haven’t addressed. I’m not asking for peer reviewed data here, I’m simply asking how, exactly do you forsee GMO technology itself will have deleterious effects – what mechanism do you propose, lets skip away from the nebulous unnamed threat and get specific.

    People in the region need a balanced diet, not Vitamin A enhanced rice on its own.

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that they don’t – but when people aren’t getting a balanced diet and are instead being supplemented with pills etc at yearly cost (and threat of discontinuation, and perpetually being therefore under the thumb of the west who supplies the pills – at least where they aren’t being flat out ignored) are you seriously arguing that it is better to maintain the status quo rather than to supplement the diet that they have? Do I think it’s been a boon to people? No… because it hasnt been released yet. Do I think it will be? Yes… because Vitamin A deficiency is a serious problem which kills people. Do I think it is a replacement for a balanced diet? Not at all – but given the choice between the status quo, and an improvement in the right direction, I know which side I’ll choose. (I can’t help but think your whole “but people should just get a balanced diet” bit is a little (probably not enough to warrant mention, for which I anticipate some flak that I likely have no defence of) along the lines of abstinence only education – great in theory but given that it ain’t happening rather pointless – it’d work great if it had a good chance of being implemented, but given the massive social inequality, the shitty state of infrastructure, corrupt governments and the whole shebang it appears about as useful a piece of advice as telling bored teenagers to not bump uglies.

  25. #25 Holly Stick
    July 21, 2011

    Again I post a link from the blog of a scientist who studies agriculture in India, and says India has 30 million ton of buffer stocks of wheat and grain:

    “…So who is it who keeps telling us that India’s problem is an imbalance between population and agriculture? Mostly 2 groups, I believe: 1) those who don’t really follow Indian agriculture, and 2) those who have a vested interest in selling things to Indian agriculturalists (biotechnology interests spring to mind).

    For group 1, give them this blog and suggest they follow some of the links.

    For group 2, ask them a simple question: Just exactly how are their technologies going to feed hungry Indians when over 30 million tons of excess grain can’t?”

    http://fieldquestions.com/2011/06/16/feeding-hungry-indians/