Effect Measure

Genetically modified cotton resistant to bollworm is a reality and five million Chinese cotton farmers have embraced it. It works, too, killing bollworm larvae that used to kill their cotton. IN the late 1990s it looked like a miracle. Pesticide use was cut by 70%. After seven years, though, the miracle is looking more like a curse because new pests called mirids have rushed into the pest vacuum and taken up shop.

“The farmers are very upset about it, because GM cotton was such a wonderful thing, and they don’t understand why it won’t work now,” says Shenghui Wang of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US, who interviewed 481 Chinese farmers in 2004 about their more recent experiences with the GM cotton. (New Scientist)

Wang and her advisor aren’t discouraged. No, not at all.

“GM cotton has helped more than five million Chinese farmers. Over that period, up till 2004, farmers have really been much better off, and the environment has benefited,” says Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Wang’s supervisor. “It was a tremendous success story. But over time, things developed that must be dealt with, just as with other technologies. It doesn’t mean farmers shouldn’t use it.”

Yes, funny what Nature does “over time.” But Wang and Pinstrup-Andersen have some possible solutions. Like planting attractant crops near the GM crops and then spraying the shit out of them with powerful insecticides. Not sure exactly how this works to keep the environment clean or reduce costs, but I’m not a farmer. There’s more where that came from, too:

Longer term alternatives include identifying and introducing natural predators of the mirids, or equipping GM cotton with new toxins that kill them as well.

Maybe this is why the tag line of Pete Seeger’s anti-war song, “Where have all the Flowers gone?” is “When will they ever learn?”

Comments

  1. #1 HP
    August 28, 2006

    Hmmm… The folk song I’m put to mind of is “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

  2. #2 william
    August 28, 2006

    Below you can read about an experiment in Russia, where some rats were fed genitically modified soy and others were not.
    The study is only one small indication of the damage GM food can do. Do you think corporate executives care, as long as they can increase corporate profits of the multinational corporations involved in the food industry. The answer is hell no.
    Reform of the system is impossible. And this neoliberal system will destroy all life. The best option now is to just relax and watch the destruction unfold. Just as the psychos like to set fires and watch buildings burn; you too can watch corporate executives pollute and poison humanity. It can be enjoyable to watch plants, animals, and humans die. How many people went to see the movie Titanic? Those who did paid money to watch people die and suffer, and they enjoyed it. Now it is your turn to watch and enjoy, and you do not even have to pay money for the priviledge.
    As those who voted for President Bush cheer as we kill in the Middle East to take control of the oil, so the rest of us can cheer as our constitutional rights are taken away, and we watch the pollution and poisons kill us.
    Reform of our putrid government is a joke. We are on the Titanic, and it will soon sink, and take us down with it.
    It is better to laugh then to cry. Outrage is useless. Enjoy it while you can.

    During the experiment, doctor Ermakova added GM soy flour to the food of female rats two weeks before conception, during conception and nursing. In the control group were the rat females that were not added anything to their food.

    “For the study, the scientists used GM soy flour in a diet for female rats two weeks before and during conception, and after birth.

    Three groups of rats were assigned a different diet each: a control group received no soy, the second group received GM soy flour, and the third group received conventional soy flour. The scientists counted birth and death after the offerings.

    Three weeks after birth, the death rate of the baby rats was counted for each group.

    It was found that both the conventional soy and the GM soy did not affect the number of baby rats each mother produced.

    However, the death rates of baby rats in three weeks after birth were drastically different.

    The death rates for the control, the group raised by mothers on a GM soy diet, and the group raised by mothers on a conventional soy diet were 6.8 percent, 55.6 percent and 9 percent respectively.

    The results indicate that conventional soy did not have a negative effect on the death rate, while a GM soy diet increased the death rate by a factor of eight.

    Also, 30 percent of the babies in the GM soy group had an abnormal weight of less than 20 grams.”

    “The morphology and biochemical structures of rats are very similar to those of humans, and this makes the results we obtained very disturbing,” Irina Ermakova told the NAGS press office.

    Aleksey Kulikov, NAGS Vice-president, said the results of the study justified the necessity of full scale testing of GM-products over all living creatures.

    In the US, the majority of soy crop is genetically modified.

    In the recent past, Russian scientists have warned about the dangers of genetically modified products in a letter to President Putin.

    Importing genetically modified foods is jeopardizing both Russia’s health and agriculture, they have been claiming.

    In one instance, Alexander Baranov, president of the National Association for Genetic Security, explained that genetically modified products are putting the health of the nation in serious danger, RIA News Agency reported. The letter to Vladimir Putin, signed by more than 30 key public, political, and scientific figures, read:

    “This address is imposed by the growing vulnerability of Russia’s biological security. There is a process of substituting environmentally friendly foods, which are typical for Russia, with imported genetically modified products. Russia is becoming a site for testing foreign biotechnology.”

  3. #3 marquer
    August 28, 2006


    “The farmers are very upset about it, because GM cotton was such a wonderful thing, and they don’t understand why it won’t work now,”

    An otherwise wonderful grandfather of mine used to tell me what a great boon DDT had been, for people working in open-air dairies plagued by flies.

    And he noted — quite missing the point that it had been wild birds who had been hit hardest by DDT — that “environmentalists” were fools for having opposed it on “health grounds”. After all, he had been repeatedly exposed and was still in fine condition in his late eighties, so, QED, there must have been nothing to worry about.

    He would conclude by saying, “But one year, it just stopped working so well. And the next year, the flies were back just as thick as ever.”

    No, I did not try to explain this to an elderly Georgia Baptist with no scientific education as it having been a case of natural selection at work. I do repeat that story to younger family members, though, and I do underscore the evolutionary lesson contained therein about acquired insecticide resistance.

  4. #4 caia
    August 28, 2006

    William, do you have a link for that Russian study?

    Here’s one you might enjoy: Big Ag, Oil, and Tobacco Will Kill You for a Profit by Jane Smiley (author of A Thousand Acres. You might also enjoy the books of Vandana Shiva (a radical eco-feminist and scientist who details the lies of Monsanto and the abuses perpetrated for “free trade”).

    Personally, I am not quite so pessimistic as you. As Shiva, Arundhati Roy, and others describe, there are growing people’s movements against GM crops, giant dams, etc., in India. Many counties/provinces/countries of Europe are now GM-free zones, and they’ve refused to import our GM food, including recently rice contaminated by GM. Despite the power big Ag wields with force (pushing through trade agreements, suing farmers whose fields are contaminated with their crops for copyright infringment), every year I see a greater proliferation of organic foods on the grocery shelves, and with that proliferation comes some reduction in price, so it’s no longer always necessary to pay half again as much for organic foods. All this gives me some hope that the march of GM crops isn’t inexorable.

  5. #5 william
    August 28, 2006

    Caia,
    I apologize for loosing the source for the Russian study on GM foods. You are very special for me. Despite my pessimism and bitterness, you give me hope. You are a supreme relection of the good in this world, and without people like you, life would be miserable.

  6. #6 Ian Forrester
    August 28, 2006

    Caia,

    Dr.Irina Ermakova’s paper can be found in “Epigenetics, Transgenic Plants and Risk Asessment”, Moch, Katja, (Ed.) 2006. Proceedings of a Conference held on December 1st 2005, at Literaturhaus, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Dr. Ermakova’s paper starts on page 41 of the proceedings.

    The conference proccedings can be found at:

    http://www.oeko.de/oekodoc/277/2006-002-en.pdf

    Note: this is a pdf file.

    Ian Forrester

  7. #7 Marissa
    August 29, 2006

    Nature abhors a vacuum. Reminds me of a recent paper looking at the results of child vaccines. Yes, incidence of many childhood diseases are down, but the less common and more exotic diseases are up.

  8. #8 caia
    August 29, 2006

    William – I am hardly that. I just find that fatalism, while its own sort of comfort, is a gift to those in power and the status quo. Plus it lets ourselves off the hook. Some things really are completely beyond our control, but a lot of things aren’t.

    Ian – thank you for that link, I’m going to go read it now. (I’m happy to see it’s in English, because that means I stand at least a 50-50 shot at following it for the most part. *g*)

  9. #9 Dizzy
    August 30, 2006

    As a gardener I appreciate why farmers use chemicals. Caterpillars turn brassicas into lace. Black and green flies attack legumes. Slugs chomp everything. It’s my opinion that one well-targeted dose of a systemic pesticide that grows out of the plant within 4 weeks is better than repeated coatings of organic knockdown sprays like derris, which I believe can also build up to very toxic levels in the body. Good organic methods go some way to improving yields but crop loss is still up to 50% (so I’m told by local farmers). GM frankencrops are a different story though, as they have the potential to cross-pollinate with traditional crops. Like a killer fart, once it’s out there there’s no undoing it.

    I buy organic food, and it’s more common now and cheaper than it used to be. However I’m spoiled with a good income and good food is a priority for me. Joe Public doesn’t want to and may not be able to pay more for food. With our world population as it stands we need to stop the pests from eating the crops. As much as I’d love to see the world embrace free-range, organic, non-GM food production we’d struggle to feed everyone that way.

    It is indeed funny what Nature does over time. It won’t let us grow enough food to sustain overpopulation or it will let us poison ourselves trying.

  10. #10 pelin karahan
    March 26, 2008

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