A Few Things Ill Considered

Why GM crops again?

So, why do we want genetically modified crops? I thought it was supposed to be part of a new Green Revolution.

Apparently not…

Via CommonDreams, it seems that another major study has found that GM crops are actually worse in terms of total production than conventional crops.

So, besides ensuring global dependence on patented genomes, special pesticides and corporations like Monsanto…what is the point?

(What’s that? That is the point…? I’m so naive)

[–original article from the Independent here–]

Comments

  1. #1 Shiritai
    April 23, 2008

    That article had a major fallacy, and your commentary continues it. Determining that one GM crop is less productive than its counterpart does not mean that all GM crops are less productive. In fact, from a genetics standpoint, that would make no sense, unless the gene significantly changes the plant’s nutritional requirements or growth or something like that. I don’t like Monsanto and its business plan either, but saying that genetic modification of crops will always lead to decreased productivity is an outright lie.

  2. #2 Tex
    April 23, 2008

    Dude, the plants in the study were not engineered for increased yield. They were engineered to require less toxic herbicides. It was stupid and/or misleading to compare them for a trait they were never designed to have.

    This post is also terribly insulting to farmers, who you and the study seem to imply are too dumb to notice a 10% yield decrease. Most farmers operate on very thin margins, and they pay very close attention to ‘details’ like this.

    I expected the anti-scientific, idiotic, and irrational comments at the Common Dreams page, but I really expected more rational analysis from a Science Blog post.

    Oh yeah, I just noticed your title. I guess A few Things Ill Considered seems about right.

  3. #3 D
    April 23, 2008

    Are you suggesting that selecting crops for traits can only work if you do it blindly? Darwin would do quite a double-take on that one.

  4. #4 coby
    April 23, 2008

    Tex: “engineered to require less toxic herbicides”

    …I think they were engineered to be resistant to otherwise very toxic herbicides, no?

    Sharita: “saying that genetic modification of crops will always lead to decreased productivity is an outright lie”

    …perhaps, but no one said that. But your point is well taken, one (well several apparently) study about one kind of crop does not mean all crops will be the same. So do you have some scientific evidence showing the contrary?

  5. #5 outeast
    April 24, 2008

    The finding that Monsanto roundup-ready soya requires additional manganese to match yields from non-GM soya (which is the actual key finding) really has nothing to do with the potential for GM crops to help relieve the impending food crisis. For a start, roundup-ready is what is needed by Monsanto, not by the world: what we really want to see is crops engineered to resist blights, thrive better in adverse conditions, and so on. Personally, I’d like to see more govenment investment in those kinds of developments – I’m sceptical that free markets will deliver on their own. But either way, that’s not a problem with GM but with our priorities…

  6. #6 Tex
    April 24, 2008

    …I think they were engineered to be resistant to otherwise very toxic herbicides, no?

    If you mean toxic to humans and other animals, then no, this is flat out wrong. Glyphosate (the active chemical in Round Up) is far less toxic to animals than alternative herbicides, and it breaks down in the environment much quicker. If farmers have to use herbicides (and there is no way to come close to the yields you want without them), then we (farmers, consumers, and everyone else) are all better off with Round Up than the other choices.

  7. #7 Crosius
    April 24, 2008

    It’s not had to get the “conspiracy” bump all a-tingle with this article.

    After all, if it makes sense for Monsanto to sterilize their seed stock to generate annual sales, it makes sense for them to decrease yield to sell 10% more seed every year.

    It’s exactly the kind of “incremental suck” the DRM/music community sees when a distributer creates a de-facto monopoly.

    The product does something good at first to get customers. After the company achieves lock-in, they start to turn the screws and shift all the margins into their bank accounts, until their customers leave for the “next big thing.”

    So what’s the agricultural equivalent of P2P-swapping MP3s?

  8. #9 coby
    April 24, 2008

    outeast said: “But either way, that’s not a problem with GM but with our priorities”

    I heartily agree with this, that is really my main concern with GM. That and the way patent laws have been rewritten in recent decades with regard to this issue.

    Tex: I meant toxic to plants. Round up kills regular crops, right? Roundup Ready was engineered so you could spray otherwise toxic chemicals all over your crops and they would survive where weeds would not.

    Considering the results of these studies, it would seem that this is not an effective strategy in terms of increasing yeilds, which would seem to me to be the right goal given the world’s food situation. As for why intelligent farmers would chose this method despite descreasing yields, it is probably because what GM soy + Round up does is decrease the cost per bushel of growing soy. Lower yields at higher profit must still allow for greater profit.

    This is a case in point for why the “Free Market” is not always the best regulator of all human activities.

  9. #10 Shiritai
    April 24, 2008

    “Shiritai: “saying that genetic modification of crops will always lead to decreased productivity is an outright lie”
    …perhaps, but no one said that. But your point is well taken, one (well several apparently) study about one kind of crop does not mean all crops will be the same. So do you have some scientific evidence showing the contrary?”

    Ahem. You said, “another major study has found that GM crops are actually worse in terms of total production than conventional crops.” You did not specify Monsanto GM soya; you used the blanket statement “GM crops.” Granted, the article makes the same mistake.

    Anyways, my point was that it makes no sense that a change in genotype will result in decreased production. While it is entirely possible that adding herbicide resistance results in lower production, and it’s even possible that Monsanto purposefully lowered the yield, implying that genetic modification can’t increase yield is just silly. Do you think that corn naturally produces so many kernels? That was the product of centuries of artificial selection. All GM does is save us from waiting for the desired mutation. Stuff like golden rice has incredible potential.

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