Recipes for GE eggplant

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Eggplants are found in many colors: green, white, purple, yellow, even striped. They are shaped like cucumbers or apples. They are eaten in Italy as melanzane alla parmigiana, in France as ratatouille, and in the Middle East as baba ghanoush.

My husband Raoul usually grows Imperial Black Beauty, Rosa Bianca, and the hybrids Beatrice and Nadia. We cook them shortly after harvest:

Spicy Eggplant

2 Eggplants, diced into 1/2″ cubes
3 tbsp Olive oil
1 Clove of garlic, smashed and chopped
1/2 tsp Chile flakes

1. Sauté smashed and chopped clove of garlic in the olive oil.
2. Add the chile flakes to the pan.
3. Add the eggplant to the pan, and sauté until the eggplant is very soft and
tender.
4. Add salt to taste.

Most of us love eggplant, but to find a true eggplant connoisseur, go to India.

In India, this fruit, closely related to tomato, is known as the “King of the vegetables”. For Indians, eggplant (called Brinjal) is second only to potato in importance in the diet. It can be cooked with tomato, and seasoned with cumin, turmeric garlic and ginger (Bhurtha) or with cauliflower and potatoes in a spicy sauce (Aloo Gobhi Masala) or hundreds of other ways.

And Indians don’t only eat eggplant, they grow it. A lot of it. Indians are second only to China in the amount of eggplant produced.

No wonder then, when the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), gave its go-ahead to the commercial cultivation of genetically engineered brinjal in October 2009, that the public took interest. After all, what would it mean for food and farming in India?

GE Brinjal is a transgenic eggplant that expresses gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. This variety was designed to give the plant resistance against insects like the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis). It was developed by Indian scientists at the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (MAHYCO).

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The Fruit and shoot borer larvae feed inside the shoots and fruits, retarding the vegetative growth. In high pest pressure years, over 90% of the fruits can be infected, and yield reductions up to 60% have been reported.

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Moderately infected fruits are often still marketed but are associated with significant price discounts.

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Pesticides to control this insect account for a significant share of the total amounts of pesitcides used in India. At least two of the insecticides used on eggplant in India are legally banned in many other countries. Twenty-five percent of eggplant farmers have suffered personally from acute pesticide poisonings. This number does not include poisonings that affect hired farm laborers.

In Mahyco sponsored trials of eight Bt eggplant hybrids, a 42% reduction in pesticide usage was observed. Field experiments on these hybrids were also carried out by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, as part of the regulatory evaluation process (as far as I can tell, though, these results have not yet been published). These studies suggest that Bt eggplant would significantly reduce insecticide applications, increase effective yields and likely to bring about significant benefits for farmers’ healths. Less spraying means fewer poisonings

Who benefits besides farmworkers? Simulations show that the aggregate economic surplus gains of Bt hybrids could be around US$108 million per year. Consumers and Mayhco will also capture a large share of these gains.

After vociferous public protests, the Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, imposed a moratorium on the cultivation of Bt Brinjal. Ramesh stated that the moratorium will last “for as long as it is needed to establish public trust and confidence”.

With such dramatic reductions in the use of insecticides and predicted clear benefits for farmers, consumers and the environment, why is there so much opposition?

For one thing, Mahyco is partly owned by the US multinational Monsanto. As far as I can tell from comments on my blog, noone seems to like multinational corporations unless they are run by Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

Secondly there is concern that the diversity of eggplant will be reduced if most farmers plant the BT-Brinjal. This is a valid concern. After all, there are currently as many as 2,500 varieties of brinjals cultivated in India. The National Gene Bank in New Dehli has accessions for nearly 3,550. If the Bt Brinjal reduces costs and pesticide poisonings, most higher income farmers that can afford the hybrids will almost certainly adopt the new seed.

To address this concern, there is an interesting public-private partnership in the making that will allow for development of low cost open-pollinated varieties. This would make the GE eggplant more accessible to resource-poor farmers, who are less likely to buy the hybrids.

Thirdly some consumers worry that BT eggplant is not safe to eat despite the fact there has not been a single case of harm to humans or the environment from GE crops in over 10 years of cultivation.

As Sid notes on his blog, food safety may not be the main issue.

“In my opinion the opposition to Bt-Brinjal has much more to do with ideology, and has very little to do with public safety. In general food safety in India is very poor. Every year in India some 400,000 children below the age of five die from diarrhea caused by contaminated food and water. It is surreal to see activists raise worries about the remote possibility of someone in the distant future getting allergies and rashes from eating Bt-Brinjal, while being totally unconcerned about thousands of people dying every day from ordinary food and water contamination”.

Former World Food Prize winner M.S. Swaminathan who has often advocated the use of biotechnology to address food shortages in the coming decades has said in an interview that the Indian government should use the extra time given by the moratorium to put in place a credible, effective, and transparent regulatory system for the benefit of India, and to conduct tests in a manner that earns the public trust.

This is a recipe we certainly need,

Comments

  1. #1 Ewan R
    March 5, 2010

    So essentially the gist is that no commercialized GM products are allergenic and the regulatory bodies in place have are stringent enough that “the possibility” that a protein may be a human allergen is enough to deny commercialization (and because of this internal policies of GM giants are likely such that any proposed product which has allergenic properties is slated or altered before it even makes it out of the lab notebook and into agrobacterium (or at least before it makes it into plant tissue))

    I also assume by ‘anecdotal’ you mean ‘peer reviewed’ when looking at *any* evidence of allergenicity (ie evidence against allergenicity – which is available in the scientific literature)- the anecdotal evidence you come across for allergenicity – yes, this is likely to be anecdotal, or where it isn’t will be for non-marketable products – which is exactly as it should be – there clearly is the potential to engineer allergens and human toxins into plants – what is required to protect people here (other than the fact a company that GM’d something that actually harmed people, rather than only harming people in the realms of fantasy would likely end up practically bankrupt due to litigation – which no doubt is a major driving force) is a regulatory framework which stops these sort of things – ie exactly what we have (although I’d agrue that something needs to be done to allow non-corporate research to add more to the area of GM crops through making the reg process somewhat more academia friendly – although I am not sure how one would go about this)

  2. #2 Juice
    March 4, 2010

    I’ll be damned. It is really difficult to look up papers on this topic. All I can find are editorials decrying papers and research whose findings raise issues with Bt toxins. When I try to find the papers or even their references, there are dead links.

    All I can seem to find are “reports” from government agencies (that can be untrustworthy) and opinion pieces.

    You’d think that there would be more publicly available research into the allergy thing.

    I think I found the reason why.
    http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/71/1/2

    Although testing strategies for allergens are still evolving and no single test is fully predictive of human responses, the approaches outlined above, when used in combination, allow scientists to address questions of potential allergenicity, and these will increase in precision and certainty with time. Considerations of this type led U.S. federal agencies to deny approval of StarLink corn for human consumption because of the possibility that its Bt protein, Cry9C, may be a human allergen. This protein had been modified to slow its digestion and prolong its effect in the insect gut and this change rendered the protein less digestible in the human gut as well. After the accidental introduction of StarLink corn into the human food chain, a limited number of illnesses among consumers were reported. These were investigated by the Centers for Disease Control, who found no evidence that the corn products were responsible (CDC, 2001Go). However, although this study is reassuring, methodological limitations make it less than conclusive (Kuiper et al., 2001Go), and it cannot eliminate the possibility that some adverse effects may have occurred that were not reported. Because of this incident, StarLink corn is no longer marketed. With the exception of Cry9C, none of the engineered proteins in foods so far evaluated through the FDA consultation process has had the characteristics of an allergen.

    The only documented case where a human allergen was introduced into a food component by genetic engineering occurred when attempts were made to improve the nutritional quality of soybeans using a brazil nut protein, the methionine-rich 2S albumin. Allergies to the brazil nut have been documented (Arshad et al., 1991Go), and while still in precommercial development, testing of these new soybeans for allergenicity was conducted in university and industrial laboratories. It was found that serum from people allergic to Brazil nuts also reacted to the new soybean (Nordlee et al., 1996Go). Once this was discovered, further development of the new soybean variety was halted and it was never marketed. This work led to the identification of the major protein associated with Brazil nut allergy, which was previously unknown (Nordlee et al., 1996Go).

    So apparently, there have been some cases of allergens being introduced through GM foods and they were discontinued. And, determining allergenecity is still hit and miss, so who knows what allergies may or may not be caused by GM foods. Any “evidence” you come across will likely be nothing but anecdotal.

  3. #3 Ewan R
    March 4, 2010

    Bah at p LESS THAN 0.05 (I hate HTML tags, you can apparently use them for style, or accidentally use them and cut your post into ribbons)

  4. #4 Ewan R
    March 4, 2010

    Hmm apparently I thought I’d finished that and hadn’t how odd… (doe response should = dose response also)

    anyway… at p<0.05 -

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_cheRMv1X2oI/SJolPNIwCeI/AAAAAAAAAFI/8nINbddFAP4/s1600-h/SeraliRatwtData2007FSANZ.JPG

    shows the raw data for kidney size – which gives an indication of what Seralini is calling a significant difference.

  5. #5 Ewan R
    March 4, 2010

    The articles in the literature cited were about immunological properties of Bt Cry1A (2 vasquez ones) which have no bearing on safety at all (and say nothing about safety in any of the vasquez articles I have access to – its all about immunological stuff and the possibility to use Bt Cry proteins to improve vaccines – which seems a tad weird to do if they are allergenic and toxic)

    The occular infection paper shows infection by Bt – which is possibly a good case against spraying Bt and Bt spores (which means oragnic farming is teh evil!) but is utterly utterly irrelevant to the safety of Bt toxin – you wouldn’t say milk was not safe because a cow standing on you has severe health implications.

    The public health paper shows that Bt (the bacteria again) was present in some people, in 95% of cases it was not the cause of any distress, and in 3 cases it could not be ruled out, but was not necessarily the cause of distress. Lock up your daughters. Again, milk, cow.

    The Swadner article states that delta endotoxins are harmful to mammals – however this appears at odds with the rest of the literature on Cry1a which doesnt show significant effects – it should be noted that the journal this appears in seems suspect to me at least as it clearly has an agenda to reform pesticide useage.

    The rest of the literature there is either not coming up in my search (I’m too lazy to use anything other than google scholar right now) or is by Putzai and therefore meaningless.

    The Seralini study you cite is his 2nd attempt to reanalyse Monsanto data (why he does this I’m unsure as the first half of his paper calls the data essentially worthless, which would surely make any analysis thereof completely worthless also) – what is interesting is that he sees absolutely no doe response, and essentially cherrypicks a few statistically “significant” changes and says these are cause for concern – when amongst 200+ readings one would expect a number of significant at p<0.05 just due to sheer chance – and when you actually look at the data (as I believe Prometheus has rather well, although I’m too lazy to link it… perhaps he’ll read this and link it himself – and there’s a good post on biofortified about it also) it is quite obvious that the variation seen even in Seralini’s slanted reevaluation is well within what one would see particularly if you look at other non-transgenic corn lines used in the study.

  6. #6 Juice
    March 4, 2010

    I don’t know anything about Mercola or Jeff Smith, but the article cited several papers in the literature.

    I couldn’t find a wiki entry on Jeff Smith. One article does reference him though:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_controversies

    A controversy arose around biotech company Monsanto’s data on a 90-Day Rat Feeding Study on the MON863 strain of GM corn.[68] In May 2005, critics of GM foods pointed to differences in kidney size and blood composition found in this study, suggesting that the observed differences raises questions about the regulatory concept of substantial equivalence. Anti-GM campaigner Jeffrey M. Smith, writing in Biophile Magazine, has stated that nutritional studies typically use young, fast-growing animals with starting weights not varying by more than 2% from the average whereas Monsanto’s research design used a mix of young and old animals with starting weights ranging from 198.4 to 259.8 grams.

    Cited:
    Séralini, G.E., Cellier, D., de Vendomois, J.,S., 2007. New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., 52, 596-602.

  7. #7 Ewan R
    March 4, 2010

    Erm, I’m not overly convinced that using Dr. Mercola, infamous homeopathy quack, is a particularly strong arguement. (or for that matter Jeff Smith, who is very much on the bat guano end of the sane/crazy spectrum)

    That Bt induces an immune response shouldnt really be a huge surprise – I’m pretty sure that any non-endogenous protein should induce an immune response – looking through the some of the later papers by Guerrero et al (didnt have access to the one linked in the article) seems to suggest that far from this beign a bad thing it’s great in terms of research into better vaccine adjuvants (which one would assume Mercola would be equally upset about as he’s an anti-vax quack also if memory serves)

    The statement that the GM toxin has properties of known allergens is somewhat misleading as when perusing peer reviewed literature (rather than anti-GM propaganda) what I find is that there is no history of any allergenic reaction to Bt products in their 40 year history, that Cry1,2 & 3 do not match known allergens in allergen sequence databases, and that the Cry proteins are rapidly degraded in gastric fluid (unlike allergenic proteins which persist)

    These crops have been commercially introduced.
    These crops have caused no problems.
    I reckon that an insecticide which is specific to midgut proteins of insects categorically will only cause problems to some people if your definition of some people includes insects. It honestly doesnt look like the Bt toxin is particularly nasty (again, unless you’re an insect) unless you only take the word of crackpots like Jeff Smith and peddlers of woo like Dr Mercola – but if you do it’s arguable you have bigger problems to deal with.

  8. #8 Juice
    March 4, 2010

    it’s equally silly to say you can guarantee safety when chemically or radioactively mutagenizing plants and then breeding from them to see what the various mutations do in terms of yield.

    I agree.

    although it’d be most enlightening to see an example of a commercially released GMO which has increased food allergies and reactions in some people due to increased or altered levels of endogenous proteins (or even introduction of novel proteins).

    I don’t know of any particular studies, I’d have to look that up.

    All I can bring up is the fact that the incidence of food allergies in children has risen dramatically. Once upon a time peanut allergies were rare. Now they’re much more common. But then again, I can’t explain why allergies of all sorts have exploded.

    I’m not saying it has anything to do with GMO foods. I’d have to search for papers on the subject, if they exist.

    Hmm, a quick google scan pulls up this post:

    http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Nutrition/genetically_engineered_corn_food_allergies_0303100641.html

    Mice fed natural Bt-toxin showed significant immune responses and caused them to become sensitive to other formerly harmless compounds. This suggests that Bt-toxin might make a person allergic to a wide range of substances.1,2,3

    The Bt-toxin produced in the GM plants is probably more dangerous than in its natural spray form. In the plants, the toxin is about 3,000-5,000 times more concentrated than the spray, it doesn’t wash off the plants like the spray does,1314 and it is designed to be more toxic than the natural version.15 In fact, the GM toxin has properties of known allergens and fails all three GM allergy tests recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and others.16

    Whether these crops have been commercially introduced, I don’t know, but I hope not.

    The Bt toxin has been commercially used and caused problems. I doubt you’ll ever be able to find an insecticide that doesn’t cause some problems with some people, but it looks like Bt toxin is particularly nasty and shouldn’t be used, much less be incorporated into the proteome of staple foods.

  9. #9 Ewan R
    March 4, 2010

    Juice – it’s equally silly to say you can guarantee safety when chemically or radioactively mutagenizing plants and then breeding from them to see what the various mutations do in terms of yield. Yet this is an accepted breeding methodology with none of the controversy and none of the safety testing. Using this method you change the way any number of genes are expressed, change protein sequences all manner of things – and have absolutely no bloody idea at all what you’ve done – if you happen to get a trait you like out of it however I’m pretty sure that there is no impedement to marketing the product of such an experiment.

    Whereas shooting genes into an organism with a gene gun (assuming we’ve travelled back in time and haven’t started using agrobacterium to transform plants) at least you know what gene you’ve shot in, and what it should do, and then you undergo about 10 years of showing that the end product is equivalent to the parental line you made it from, including massive amounts of work looking specifically at transcription profiles, metabolite profiles, checking the protein you stuck in their isn’t allergenic (and cursing if it is, because now regulatory will tell you you’ve wasted your time and there’s no way the thing is going to be a product) – although it’d be most enlightening to see an example of a commercially released GMO which has increased food allergies and reactions in some people due to increased or altered levels of endogenous proteins (or even introduction of novel proteins).

    Also nobody has said you can always guarantee safety – if you could then there would be no safety testing. It is abundantly clear that genetic modification could quite easily pose safety risks (engineer in increased production of cyanides, engineer in known allergens etc etc etc) which is precisely why GMOs are subject to regulatory approval.

    Painting such a massively simplistic view of how a GMO is made and subsequently commercialized is great fun and all, but it resides entirely in the land of fantasy.

    GURT tech may, or may not, be greed incarnate – however as it isn’t used the point is completely moot. Personally (ie not the view of Monsanto… (just to cover my back!)) I think it would be a great thing to add to the mix as it would completely negate fears of gene spread (its a tad hard for a sterile plant to spread its genes) and lawsuits over saved seeds (its a tad pointless to save sterile seeds) etc etc – patent law essentially covers your ‘oh you want a harvest next year? Pay up.’ point, with the added bonus of years in the legal system and potential bankrupcy for infringers

  10. #10 Juice
    March 4, 2010

    There is a huge difference between breeding/artificial selection and shooting genes into organisms using a gene gun. It’s silly to claim that you can always guarantee safety by just blasting engineered genes into cells and seeing what happens.

    Introducing a new gene this way can change the way other genes are expressed. You’ll see increases in the expression of some proteins that were innocuous at very low concentrations, but in higher concentrations could cause an increase in food allergies and other reactions in some people.

    And GURT technology is just plain greed incarnate. Oh, you want a harvest next year? Pay up.

  11. #11 SpicedScience
    March 2, 2010

    Great post on brinjals. I really liked the diversity in fruit shapes picture, but it is not likely that promoting transgenic brinjals will limit the diversity on the cutting boards in Indian kitchens? The variation extends beyond the fruit shapes, how about the taste?

    I don’t quite see the rationale of the statement “..400,000 children below the age of five die from diarrhea caused by contaminated food and water…” What does diarrhea resulting deaths have to do with the decision of allowing transgenic brinjals? Assuming the numbers are right, its not as if a single major source contaminates the food and water, its small pollutants and a series of poor decisions that add up leading to fatalities.

  12. #12 Prometheus
    March 1, 2010

    Whoops.

    Here is the one I do for spring parties and weddings

    Prep Tempura batter

    Stack and bamboo skewer:

    1/4 inch slices of the flesh of Thai eggplant crimini mushroom and bias cut Egyptian onion.

    Dip, fry golden and sprinkle with roasted paprika white pepper salt mix.

    You can use whatever sauce you like, I like Jiaozi dipping sauce but I’ve seen people use everything including the ranch for the crudite.

    My brain isn’t on eggplant because the morels are up in a couple of weeks.

    I stuff them with blue cheese then skewer batter and dip.

    Or make Provence sandwiches..hubba hubba.

    Is it lunch yet?

  13. #13 Prometheus
    March 1, 2010

    Pam makes announcement of an awesome thing.

    cue crap:

    1. Luddite/computer enthusiasts lalalalal Kaczynski lalalala…check

    2. First world fetishists of third world poverty…..check

    3. No-gmo anti-capitalist free trade cruelty free organic vegan frutarian consumer activist local commune bartering ding dong shut-ins shout “Monsanto made robot zombie Hitler!” ….check.

    4. Ewan R backs up a ten ton truckload of unbroken text rationally and thoughtfully addressing all concerns and viewpoints that 1. 2. & 3. will never read…..check.

    Meanwhile BT Eggplant sounds great and if James wants a five or less recipe, thin sliced round eggplant instead of bread, broiled with a swipe of olive oil and your best brushetta topping usually rocks.

    Speaking of rocks, Korean eggplant Gaji Namul!

    http://www.videojug.com/webvideo/how-to-make-eggplant-side-dish-gaji-namul

  14. #14 Ewan R
    March 1, 2010

    Playdoplato

    I agree, the ubiquity of a system in general may not be reflective of its value, but I guess that depends how exactly you define value – in looking at modern agriculture I’d define value as profitability (either in terms of absolute money gained, or possibly also in terms of slightly more hard to measure variable like time (which I guess can equate to money equally)) to the farmer – this is probably worlds apart from what some would define as value from ag – possibly in terms of biodiversity, ‘quality’ (however you decide to define that), minimum inputs etc etc (which may or may not equate to profitability – in general, no so much, unless you are in the 1-2% of Ag that caters to ‘organic’ (which doesnt even necessarily mean minimized inputs) – however it is I think hard to argue that in the systems where they are used GM crops offer the best value to the farmer in the sense of profitability/time – if it didn’t they wouldn’t buy it – to think otherwise is to assume all farmers are idiots who don’t know business. As anyone even remotely conencted to Ag knows generally a farmer who is bad at business is known by any number of names (teacher, laborer, IT specialist, fireman, sergeant-major etc etc – but generally not ‘farmer’ in any meaningful sense)

    Historically seeds may have been considered public domain by the layperson, but that is something which has been untrue for over 30 years now – 1930 marks the time when asexually propagated plants could be patented, 1975 marks the first seed patent, varietal protection extends back to 1970 on sexually reproducing plants with approximately patent like status (however seed saving on farm is allowed(within certain guidelines), as is selling to your neighbor – a brief search doesnt tell me to what extent other breeders can use the germplasm, I’d assume not at all – and there is open availability for research purposes) – although how necessary this is for hybrids isn’t clear to me as the offspring of a hybrid isn’t going to give you anywhere near the bang for the buck you’d expect, and recapturing that would be tough – whereas with a GMO it wouldnt be too hard to introgress the trait into another line given a few generations and a bit of know-how (hence GM traits being more highly protected)

    I’m not convinced that today’s atmosphere is all that more litigious – there was a big push to get PvP and plant patenting pushed through in the 60’s and 70’s – however I doubt there was any amount of public concern over hybrid varieties as compared to over GMOs today – people were likely more concerned with free love and bell bottoms, or whatever it is people were concerned about back then. The nature of the debate on GMOs however has inflated the litigious nature because everyone hates it when the big guy (big biotech) crushes the little guy (farmers) for something that isn’t their fault (spraying 3 acres of canola with glyphosate (on purpose), saving the seeds which survive seperate from your other seeds, planting them on 1000 acres and then being embarassed multiple times in Canadian courts when it is abundantly clear that you saved seeds on purpose) – the numbers available to me show that since 1997 there have been ~250,000 customers per year for Monsanto biotech traits, of these 141 suits have been filed, 9 of which went to trial – which means that even if you assume the same 250,000 customers year in year out (rather than extrapolating to >3 million, which may or may not be fair – choice of seed producer would certainly be affected by likelyhood of having your farm sued out from under you I’d guess) 0.05% of customers have had legal action taken against them, and 0.003% have actually been taken to court – these numbers really don’t look that massively scary to me.

    Is there any current evidence that non-patented varieties are dying out due to actual corporate interference (other than possibly the removal of non-patented/pvp varieties from their own catalogues – which kinda makes business sense) or is it just the case that newer varieties (ie those patented, or under pvp) are generally better (however the individual farmer defines better) and therefore are what is most used – new varieties are added all the time, can we expect that old varieties will/should survive forever simply because they aren’t protected – and if so, what is stopping those who want to keep them available from doing so? They aren’t protected, it’s all well and good to complain about the loss of this diversity, but if it is such a big issue then do something about it, particularly if you are a farmer who is so concerned – you’re essentially in the perfect position to maintain lines which you want.

    Your “”The actual deliverables and value of a new technology are inversely proportional to the grandiosity of the claims made at the launch of said technology.” may apply in some cases, but it can’t apply universally – GM crops have already showed that they have the capacity to live up to claims made – 50-150% increases in productivity for Bt cotton in India, massive reductions in insecticide use across Bt adopting species, massive reductions in carbon emissions across Bt and RR crops, reductions in environmental impact from herbicides as a result of RR crops, massive simplification of weed management as a result of RR crops – these are all things which have come to pass, not which have to come to pass. Will each and every technology dreamed up under the umbrella of GM come to pass? Probably not – nitrogen fixing crops is a dream product of mine – however it requires at least 10 genes, a chemical environment that may or may not exist in plants (and would liklely require 10’s if not 100’s of genes to create if it doesnt) and thus I may or may not see it come to fruition in my lifetime (I’m betting on yes, but I’m an optimist, and with a looming N crisis to go along with the depletion of fossil fuels it will become an increasingly important project) – I’m sure anyone could give a little thought to their ideal GM product and come up with a shopping list a mile long – some eminently doable, others silly hard – even with a ridiculously low success rate (and unsucesful GMOs aren’t going to hurt Ag because they won’t make it out of a test plot) I can’t see the tech being any less revolutionary than the widespread introduction of hybrids, or the green revolution.

    The vast majority of the current scientific literature supports the utilization of GM crops – there is a small body of highly questionable literature which raises some spectacularly minor health concerns (Seralini’s various papers for instance have seen a lot of press recently(and if I recall are predominantly about roundup use, which shouldnt matter in the grander scheme of things – if roundup is not safe this says nothing about GM, just that RR would have to be removed as a useable trait in situations where the roundup used posed a real heath threat), and are truly just bad) As Pam’s article states 10 years of cultivation with not a single case of GM crops causing harm to health – and this with our knowledge of epidemiology and health and safety (something we didnt have back when it was claimed smoking was safe, or when various industrial pollutants were irresponsibly dumped – making comparisons to these sort of things somewhat weak in my eyes)

  15. #15 Pareidolius
    March 1, 2010

    Playdo and Ewan,
    Thank you for a really informative, civil and well reasoned exchange in which I actually learned something.
    I love ScienceBlogs but I really learn the most from great exchanges like that in the comments.

  16. #16 Monado
    February 28, 2010

    I meant to say, “five will do.”

  17. #17 Monado, FCD
    February 28, 2010

    First, catch your eggplant?

    I like 4-ingredient recipes myself, but four will do.

  18. Nice article on GE/GM eggplants. Its funny how the GM crops have a weird stigma to them. People tend to be reserved when science and food get involved.

  19. #19 Luna_the_cat
    February 28, 2010

    OT, but —
    Playdo, I am just snagging your “Playdo’s Law” for use in IT. I can assure you, it applies.

    I’m just emailing it to my boss. He is very likely to send it to a few other people we know. I hope it catches on.

  20. #20 C-x C-c
    February 27, 2010

    a seemingly corporate-friendly/farmer hostile regulatory environment seems hell bent on forcing farmers to go GM or go out of business.

    Sorry, what exactly is all this “pressure” forcing farmers to go GM or go out of business you refer to? Is it nothing more than the fact that you can’t make money growing non-GM crops, so few want to grow them and few want to supply seeds because there’s no market? I mean, is this pressure any more than the usual hardship of being in a dying industry? I assume similar problems faced aficionados of e.g. horse buggies, manual typewriters, carbon paper, 8-track tapes, and betamax videocassettes.

    I mean, sad and all, but that’s life, but what’s with the tone that there’s something unfair or unjust or untoward in the process?

  21. #21 PlaydoPlado
    February 27, 2010

    Ewan R:

    the ubiquity of the system is predominantly a reflection of its utility (just in the way that the ubiquity of GM is a reflection of its utility)

    If I read you right, perhaps, but I’d argue that the ubiquity of the system and its utility are not always reflective of its value. The BetaMax video system, McDonald’s food, and yes, Microsoft are all far more ubiquitous than competing brands/technologies, but not necessarily superior.

    Your points regarding corporate control of seedlines are thought provoking. Sure, anyone can engineer their own lines, but as you note, increasing “corporate ownership may cause issues.” This is my concern. Historically, seeds have been considered, by the layperson, to be in the public domain. I realize that this was not always the case, but the atmosphere today seems to be far more litigious than it used to be.

    I’m not convinced on the lack of availability of non-GM seeds, although admittedly as more and more farms turn to GM it is inevitable that due to economies of scale the pricing of non-GM seeds will go up…

    This is a major concern of many farmers and an ever-growing number of consumers. Many would be content to live in a world where patented/open sourced seeds existed side by side, but they realize that the trend is more likely to skew toward the elimination of non-patented varieties. And why not? It’s the corporate way to monetize what was once free, or cheap… and if it can’t be monetized, then marginalize it out of existence.

    What history suggests that what I am suggesting (in terms of traits coming to market) will not come to be?

    What I meant here was what I call Playdo’s Law, which goes something like this: “The actual deliverables and value of a new technology are inversely proportional to the grandiosity of the claims made at the launch of said technology.

    I say this with some small measure of snark, but more seriously, there’s a long history of theoretically good ideas failing to meet expectations when those ideas are implemented in the wild.

    GM crops are an unavoidable component of our future and I believe they have a role, but will they live up to today’s hype? History says, probably not… but history has been wrong… and then there are those unintended consequences that accident theory tells us are inevitable.

    I agree that we have been good at growing food for the past 10-15k years, but I’d have to point out that our capacity to get better stems from the adoption of new techniques…

    Agreed, in some cases, but I worry that better may sometimes be defined as increased yields of lower quality crops. I mean lets face it, some produce found in the grocery store is unarguably inferior to what you or I could produce in our own back yard.

    I’ve avoided referencing some of the competing science and research that paints a less than rosy picture of GM tech, mostly because it’s not always easy to tell which parts constitute good science and which are simply propaganda and disinformation. To be perfectly honest, I have the same concerns about the pro-GMO argument.

    This reminds me of something a doctor told me at a conference. He said that when he was young, his mentor told him that half of what he would learn in medical school would turn out to be true, while the other half would turn out to be false. The problem is that, in the here and now, there’s no way to be sure which is which.

    I think this is where we’re at with GM tech right now, which makes these interesting times indeed.

    It’s been enjoyable and educational conversing with you Ewan.

  22. #22 Pam Ronald
    February 27, 2010

    Raoul likes imperial black beauty and rosa bianca. Neither of these are hybrids so you can save the seed and replant. Also if they are not hybrid, they are cheaper.

  23. #23 Party Cactus
    February 27, 2010

    I don’t feel like making an effort with the anti-GMO baloney right now, but what’s your favorite variety of eggplant? I’ve never actually tried it myself, but I really should so I’m thinking about picking up some seeds from Baker Creek or somewhere.

  24. #24 Ewan R
    February 27, 2010

    Playdoplato

    I agree – the mistakes of the past should be remembered lest we repeat them. I think to a large extent that is what the current regulatory structure and culture of health and safety in industry (at least so far as I have witnessed) stems from – there is an awareness now of health and safety that has not existed at any time during industrialization (or prior to it) and I’m all for this, and extensions of it, although preferably in a direction whereby smaller players also have access to the market – particularly non-profit research projects.

    I still think the windows analogy works, despite Microsofts hostility to open source – their presence does not stop open source development or spread, but you can’t just spread or develop using their programming – the ubiquity of the system is predominantly a reflection of its utility (just in the way that the ubiquity of GM is a reflection of its utility)

    On corporate control of seed lines etc – again, there is absolutely nothing stopping small companies/individual farmers developing their own seed lines, or maintaining those seed lines – Monsanto even goes so far (unlike their competitors initially) as licensing their traits to be put into diverse germplasms which maintains diversity – the option was always there to retain absolute control over all GM traits which potentially, if adoption had remained as widespread, would have given Monsanto the sort of level of control you are talking about, and would have led to the decrease in diversity. The corporate control of seedstock we see now I dont really see as a massive threat – if anything it offers breeding a far wider source of variation to select from, albeit within a single companies catalogue – when you have germplasms available on every continent, QTL mapping of same germplasms, and the capacity to then cross breed transcontinally – at the same time nobody is prevented from creating their own lines (although admittedly the removal of a lot of lines from the available pool due to corporate ownership may cause issues – but by and large these lines were already owned by someone, and therefore not exactly as widely available as being completely open source)

    I’m not convinced on the lack of availability of non-GM seeds, although admittedly as more and more farms turn to GM it is inevitable that due to economies of scale the pricing of non-GM seeds will go up – if I remember my figures correctly GM corn accounts for ~25-30% of acreage, with soy much higher, beets higher yet (barring ridiculous court injunctions which will hopefully be overthrown soon) so there is clearly still a market for non-GM seeds out there (which Monsanto also provides to)

    I am of course absolutely serious about choice, I’ve never really seen heirloom varieties in stores until well after the advent of GM crops and the explosion of the organic market, there is an arguement to be made that the polarizing nature of GMOs as compared to conventionally bred varieties (which in my opinion is more what you are opposed to here – I can fully see the arguement that high yield, lower ‘quality’ hybrids would potentially push lower yielding higher quality varieties up in price in terms of seed cost etc, and other varieties completely out of the market – I don’t however think it is remotely fair to lay this blame at the hand of GM – particularly as GM tech can (and in my opinion should where there is an obvious benefit – such as with the Bt Brinjal under discussion) be introgressed into any variety of a species which has been modified – in terms of what I, as a consumer see, in variety, there categorically is more – I can’t argue for the variety a farmer may see when purchasing seed (although I do know there is a huge variety to choose from, just perhaps different, particularly in terms of the crops which have been GM’d (a spectacularly small subset of all crops grown))

    On IP – Monsanto has quite clearly stated that when RR soy goes off patent they are allowing seed companies who licensed the trait to just carry on with it – I don’t recall the full statement but it appears to be a completely transparent handing off of the technology with no strings attached (counter to claims from the competition that all companies are going to be told to destroy seed stock).

    On regulatory control – I agree, a tight regulatory structure is important, and each trait certainly needs to be evaluated individually, I can’t help but feel however that there should be some way for the non-profit sector to get through regulatory without quite the same expense – Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta, Pioneer – all can easily afford the $100M pricetag to bring a GM trait to market, and all can reap the benefits thereafter due to patent protection – but smaller projects are left floundering with potentially awesome traits which they can’t get anywhere with, and which dont offer the commercial kick to break even fast enough (if at all) to warrant the price of regulatory approval – I dont think any big firms should be let off the hook, just that to enhance the capacity of the tech to do good something different needs to be done for smaller players (even if my 401k suffers for it)

    What history suggests that what I am suggesting (in terms of traits coming to market) will not come to be? Drought tolerance is a late pipeline trait (phase 4 I believe) for instance in Monsanto – slated for release in the not too distant future (by 2012 I think), other herbicide tolerance traits are developed and in development, disease tolerance traits have been engineered and will continue to be, nitrogen use efficiency and intrinsic yield traits are perhaps a tad further out, but I fully expect to see them in my lifetime (there are transgenic studies in arabidopsis where through bypassing C3 photorespiratory nonsense plant masses were increased >25% – bypassing this wasteful bit of C3 metabolism has previously been something completely out of the reach of breeders afaik)

    I agree that we have been good at growing food for the past 10-15k years, but I’d have to point out that our capacity to get better stems from the adoption of new techniques, and GM tech is simply just another technique (and if you look at the yields of corn, soy and wheat globally over the past 20-30 years one telling difference is that while two crops have maintained a steady upwards trajectory the other has largely levelled off – strangely this levelling off coincides relatively well with the advent and widespread adoption of GM tech) to utilize in becoming better at growing food – something we need to do at a pace far in excess of anyhting we’ve previously done.

  25. #25 PlaydoPlato
    February 27, 2010

    Ewan R
    Thanks for the clarification on your role as an employee of Monsanto. It helps me to see your position in a clearer light. My background is in working primarily with grass farmers (traditional sustainable agriculture, rotational grazing, etc), organic producers and consumers. You might say, we occupy positions toward the opposite ends of the spectrum.

    I agree that there’s a long and checkered history of corporate malfeasance that existed before either of us was born. I don’t, however, think we can ignore this history, as if we’ve entered some magical realm where people and the corporations they run no longer make decisions outside the public’s best interest. And I wouldn’t call the consideration of this history “tainting the debate,” so much as it informs it. After all, what is it they say, “Those who fail to remember the mistakes of the past, are doomed to repeat them,” or something like that.

    It is interesting that you use Microsoft as an illustrative example of how the presence of GM tech does not threaten open source agriculture, any more than Microsoft threatens open source software. An curious analogy, to be sure, as Microsoft has been openly hostile to the open source software community, and for good reason. Open source threatens Microsoft’s long term market position. In fact, it would be accurate to append their former “embrace and extend” tag line with the word “devour.”

    Likewise, it seems to me, that the end goal of GM crops is to improve the market position of companies like Monsanto, at the expense of many small farmers who are viewed as competitors. It’s really quite simple. Reduce and replace open source ag. Profit.

    Now I don’t begrudge Monsanto their right to do business, it is their methods that I and others question. And while people and companies have been pursuing these same goals for years with non-GM varieties, a seemingly corporate-friendly/farmer hostile regulatory environment seems hell bent on forcing farmers to go GM or go out of business. The claim that this is not what we are witnessing is what I call “pure fantasy.”

    To quote Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

    Of course you are correct that without IP laws, there would be little incentive for companies to invest in GM tech if they could not be reasonably assured of a return on their investment. I get that. The point you’re missing is that what we’re talking about here is food, not automobile tires, nor televisions, but food — a basic necessity for life. I’m really happy that Monsanto is a great place to work, but I don’t trust Monsanto enough, or any company for that matter, to allow them to have so much control over the food supply (and even more in the future) that I and my family depend on to live. This is a foundational point where we differ. You seem to be comfortable with increased corporate control of available affordable seed stock. I’m not, and for the historical reasons you want to leave out of this conversation.

    As for the claim that no one has “‘given up’ their inalienable right to produce food,” I agree. People don’t generally give it up so much as have it taken away from them. Your reference to lawns and your focus on consumers is somewhat odd, as I think you’re well aware that I’m talking about farmers, not urban/suburban dwelling consumers — many of whom, couldn’t care less where their food comes from and have been trained to accept industrial mediocrity as the standard for quality.

    There remains the capacity to select their own lines should they so wish. I don’t even begin to see how GM crops, or even the use of elite hybrids, even remotely threatens this capacity to grow food if you want – it merely removes a certain subset of available seed from what you can use for commercial means.

    It doesn’t for the backyard gardener… yet, but it does for the small commercial grower. Your last sentence is the key. What happens as industry pressure continues to reduce the availability and affordability of non-GMO seeds? These farmers will be left with two options: Go GM or go out of business. Really, this isn’t that difficult.

    I vaguely recall an article recently which suggested there is more genetic variety in corn than there is in the human species.

    Yeah, I seem to recall something similar, but how much of that variety will actually be feasible for farmers to grow as pressure to grow GM crops increases?

    As for reduced choice at the checkout counter I can only presume you don’t shop, I’ve only been around for a mere three decades, but in that time I’ve seen a vast improvement of choice at the checkout

    You’re not serious are you? Have you never perused an heirlom seed catalog? Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, etc… what’s available in the US represents a tiny fraction of the available seed stock. And much of it is rather mediocre in taste and texture — but, hey, it sure looks good.

    Something to consider about the IP issues surrounding GM crops is that nothing yet has come ‘off patent’ – we’re still essentially at the birth of this technology, in about a year RR soy comes off patent, after that patents are going to be dropping at an ever increasing rate, the GM tech that was fully under the control of its inventors (as is right if you think about it) will be public use…

    We’ll see. If the pharmaceutical industry and the evolution of copyright laws are any example, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for those patents to go public.

    Can we keep the science of GM without bastardization etc? Well, given that golden rice is currently slated for 2012-2014 releases I’d say we already have – flood tolerant GM rice was only (I think) ‘defeated’ by the expense and general painful experience that is regulatory clearance (but thankfully was saved by breeding in the gene – which is awesome if you can actually find the gene in a species/variety closely related enough) which again shows that the science and the business are not linked at the hip.

    Here we differ again, as I think a stringent regulatory environment is crucial to the success of GM crops. I’d like to see more regulation. Note also that I think GM tech is very impressive and I never said the science and the business were “joined at the hip.” What I did say, or at least imply, was that we need to look at GM crops from both perspectives. Doing so would, I think, reveal the marvel that is genetic modification, while inoculating us from the disease of unethical business practices and corporate greed.

    Regarding your last paragraph, again, I never said that we should remove the science of GMO from business, but that we should consider the science and the business practices separately. If GM tech can deliver on all you’ve listed there, bravo. But like you said, “we’re still essentially at the birth of this technology.”

    History suggests that much of what you’re claiming there will likely not come to pass in our lifetime, and perhaps not in our children’s. And make no mistake, there will be unintended consequences. What those consequences will be, remains to be seen, but that is why I urge caution, but why I suspect the greed need to “get there first” will supercede caution.

    As for agriculture being set back, I think the last fifteen thousand years, or so, suggests that humans have proven that we are really quite good at growing food, even before GM tech.

  26. #26 Ewan R
    February 27, 2010

    PlaydoPlato –

    I agree the debate is highly polarizing – or perhaps appears to be – I think any discussion on just about any matter on the internet ends up looking more polarized than it really is – those who don’t particularly care either way disappear from the equation – generally when I tell people I work for Monsanto and explain what they do I don’t face accusations of working for a criminal cartel, or any number of the frequently thrown about anti-Monsanto accusations which are so familiar online, perhaps it’s because Monsanto are based here, perhaps it’s because most people in the area know it’s a great place to work (if not morally or ethically at least in terms of being a great employer) or perhaps it is because they are ambivalent about GMO crops in general and monsanto business practices. Or maybe they stop listening to me because of massive run on sentances.

    Do I believe biotech companies can do no wrong? No. I’m pretty convinced that essentially every major manufacturing company that existed through the past 100 years is likely guilty of what would now be considered criminal negligence against both the environment and against human health, however I don’t think this should taint the debate, particularly when most of the actions were so widespread (pretty sure PCB contamination for instance was pretty widespread amongst any manufacturer utilizing similar manufacturing techniques) and done generally well before I was born.

    I don’t think the truth necessarily lies somewhere in the middle (I’d concede it lies somewhere to the less positive side of the light I may be painting stuff in, but that is to suggest that in terms of where in the atlantic the new york coastline lies in reference to new Jersey is somewhere in the middle) the business of GMOs is not so different from the business of seed companies pre the invention of GMOs – there is no threat to remove open-source crops from the environment, any more than the introduction of microsoft windows removed open-source programming from the environment of computing, ‘rental’ crops as you term them encompass the majority of elite hybrid lines (non-GM) – and not only because a hybrid won’t produce seed with the same genetics, and accusations that farmers who are unlucky enough to have GM seed (or pollen) blown on their land are all well and good so long as you recognize that they are pure fantasy.

    Seed saving (of GMOs, and hybrids etc) is illegal because that’s how the west has set up its intellectual property laws so as to foster and reward innovation while maximizing public knowledge. Without patent protection where is the incentive to innovate in the field? For what reason would any company or individual invest hundreds of millions of dollars if the end product of their investment was completely open source? (academics notwithstanding – and the investments in this area don’t even approach what large agribusiness can do, which is perhaps an issue for a different conversation) Short of selling your first batch of seeds for $50,000 a bag there’s no incentive – effectively removing biotech from agriculture in any meaningful sense as development of biotech traits is wildly expensive, particularly in the current regulatory climate – it wouldnt necessarily be impossible for individuals to engineer in various traits, but it is, and would be, next to impossible for them to prove efficacy in a meaningful way, get regulatory clearance in all their markets, and prove any level of safety – and come out even close to breaking even. Not to mention that modern breeding methods are so far removed from the seed saving ideal you espouse – no farmer is likely to have the time, technical expertise, or spare land to conduct QTL studies, to analyse genomes of each line to figure out down to 0.1cM where his yield is coming from, or to model the potential impact of various QTL combinations – considering that such projects are outside the realms of even an individual plant breeder but require teams of people each highly specialized in their own area (this is the sort of thing that ~50% of the monsanto R&D budget goes into, completely seperate from transgenics)

    I don’t think anyone has ‘given up’ their inalienable right to produce food. I look outside and see lawn after lawn after lawn – each which gets bathed in exactly the same midwest sun and heat every summer that spits out bumper crops of corn and soy – anyone in my area hs not given up their right to grow, they have chosen not to. Should they chose to there is the capacity to go out and purchase seeds and grow their own food. There remains the capacity to select their own lines should they so wish. I don’t even begin to see how GM crops, or even the use of elite hybrids, even remotely threatens this capacity to grow food if you want – it merely removes a certain subset of available seed from what you can use for commercial means.

    I’m not sure about crop diversity issues either – at least as regards GM crops – if you look at the number of commercially available lines available to farmers in the US today the mind boggles – Bt or RR corn is not some single monolithic type of corn. Bt and RR traits get introgressed into various lines (technically doubling the variety if you choose to look at it that way…. each hybrid potentially has GM and non-GM varieties) – I vaguely recall an article recently which suggested there is more genetic variety in corn than there is in the human species. As for reduced choice at the checkout counter I can only presume you dont shop, I’ve only been around for a mere three decades, but in that time I’ve seen a vast improvement of choice at the checkout – perhaps things were different in the US and choice has actually reduced, but based on my last trip to the UK choice has vastly increased in the 6 years I’ve been gone – and choice in the US makes the UK long not unlike some sort of stereotyped vision of Russia under communist rule.

    Something to consider about the IP issues surrounding GM crops is that nothing yet has come ‘off patent’ – we’re still essentially at the birth of this technology, in about a year RR soy comes off patent, after that patents are going to be dropping at an ever increasing rate, the GM tech that was fully under the control of its inventors (as is right if you think about it) will be public use – the only issue that then remains is how does the regulatory framework work around these now public owned traits – hopefully in a manner that allows them to be utilized without problems, although the vast politicization of GM may well play into corporate greed here by preventing useage without meeting all regulatory hurdles, which in turn will make the technology out of reach of most people.

    Can we keep the science of GM without bastardization etc? Well, given that golden rice is currently slated for 2012-2014 releases I’d say we already have – flood tolerant GM rice was only (I think) ‘defeated’ by the expense and general painful experience that is regulatory clearance (but thankfully was saved by breeding in the gene – which is awesome if you can actually find the gene in a species/variety closely related enough) which again shows that the science and the business are not linked at the hip.

    However – should we want to completely remove the science of GMO from business? I’d argue no – without it we wouldnt have RR crops (and the subsequent massive reductions in impact of herbicides together with time saved for farmers who use the system), we wouldnt have Bt crops (insecticide reductions, massive yield increases and social benefit in adopting developing countries), we wouldnt have the soon to be released drought tolerance trait (and subsequently its use in WEMA, which is clearly not an unethical or immoral business practice), investment into nitrogen efficient, intrinsic yield, insect protection, disease resistance, nematode resistance, herbicide resistance etc research projects would be hundreds of millions of dollars worse off
    likely setting agriculture back by decades.

  27. #27 Pam Ronald
    February 27, 2010

    #10. Google it? If you are concerned about multinational corporations that are out for their own interests and the interests of their shareholders and who have a lot of control of seed or information, then Google and Monsanto are excellent case studies.

  28. #28 PlaydoPlato
    February 27, 2010

    One of the problems I’ve seen with this subject is the highly polarized nature of the discussion. On one side, you’ve got the GMO haters who consider GMO crops evil, despite the fact that we humans have been “engineering” our food for thousands of years.

    On the other side, you have the GMO evangelists who believe that GMO crops and the companies which develop them can do no wrong. They get so turned on by the science, that they are driven to make excuses for the bad business that some companies engage in.

    As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. To find it, it’s important to separate the science from the business of GMO. The science is laudable, but the business? Not so much.

    Traditionally, food production has mostly been an open source free market project. The GMO business model threatens to change that by removing open source crops from the marketplace and replacing them with ‘rental’ crops, intellectual property legalese and lawsuits for farmers unlucky enough to have wind-blown GMO seeds sprout on their land.

    it goes without saying, that seed saving in this environment is illegal because companies like Monsanto are, not surprisingly, in the business to make money. I find it curious that while we recognize the value of the right to free speech and the freedom to assemble, so many of us are perfectly willing to give up our inalienable right to produce our own food.

    Whether you’re talking potatoes, tomatoes, apples, corn, or any number of food crops, the industrialization of food production has led to a steady decrease in crop diversity in the field, and choice at the checkout counter. That’s why we need to maintain our right to produce our own food and to save our own seeds without having to pay a premium to a corporate master. At the same time, we can still leverage the power of GMO science, but manage that power so that unintended consequences don’t come back and bite us in the ass, 50 years down the road.

    The question then is this: Can we keep the science of GMO without allowing it to be bastardized by unethical and immoral business interests? I hope that we can, but I’m afraid that we can’t.

  29. #29 Sid Shome
    February 27, 2010

    Thank you for this wonderful post. And thank you especially for linking to my blog post.

    Regarding the “huge controversy over Bt Cotton”, I find it rather amusing that the performance of Bt Cotton in India seems controversial everywhere except among cotton farmers in India. Indian farmers appear to have embraced this technology fully. Their actions speak louder than words. In less than ten years, more than 80% of cotton acreage in India is under Bt Cotton (probably more than 90% if unauthorized seeds are taken into account). Output has doubled, while chemical pesticide usage has halved.

  30. #30 Eric
    February 26, 2010

    Brinjal does well here in our garden in the hot NC summers.
    Great post. Thank you. And for the recipe :)

  31. #31 kevin folta
    February 26, 2010

    Tom L,

    Can you please tell me about this “branch of hard science”? Which one is it and where can I read their scholarly peer-reviewed reports? If anything, GMO’s greatest promise is to limit environmental impact by producing more food on few acres with less agricultural input. Sustainability. Sure, containment is important, but you sure don’t mind introducing superior hybrids- the same criticism can be said about any of them. The eggplant article is beautiful and reminds us how it is the influence of people in countries that have enough making decisions for those that don’t, and could potentially benefit from the technology.

  32. #32 Tom L
    February 26, 2010

    Those that belittle GMO critics should be aware that there is a branch of hard science that calls into question the safety claims for modified organisms. Ecologists would deny that there is no harm being done to the natural environment from the introductions of GMOs. The truth is, we do not know what the long term repercussions of these introductions will be. Environmentally speaking, the introduction of novel species into an ecosystem is usually cause for concern. And change is not always for the best.

  33. #33 Ewan R
    February 26, 2010

    The huge controversy over Bt cotton is largely derived from the ridiculous claims of those opposed to the technology rather than anything actually grounded in truth.

    The bribery I believe is in reference to Indonesian dealings which if you read further into the story than simply that officials were bribed you’d come to the stark realization that the shady company actually reported the bribes themselves, which is hardly in line with shady underhand dealings – it is infact exactly what you’d hope for from any company which discovered it’s employees were engaged in such activities (whereas an ‘international criminal syndicate’ would either endorse such activity with a promotion, or leave you sleeping with the fishes surely).

    The disappointing crop yields you mention are an invention right? Or possibly refer to a single season when improper hybrids were used? Because the facts, rather than those small handful of facts that support an anti-Monsanto stance on the issue (which I’m assuming you’re calling uncontested, which is a new useage of the word as far as I’ve seen), speak rather differently – yields in Bt cotton compared to non-Bt cotton in India are significantly higher (50-150% is the general range), incomes for farmers using Bt cotton are significantly higher (similar range), pesticide useage is signficantly reduced (although not eliminated, which is a shame). This data is from peer reviewed studies on the impacts of Bt cotton in India, rather than from anecdotal evidence cherry picked or invented to support a given view. It also shows how things work out on average, I fully admit that it is completely possible that given a couple of bad years an individual adopter of GM technology could have had failed crops and been driven into poverty – the big picture however is completely the opposite (which I guess would explain why rather than producing less cotton than ever before India now produces more, and rather than declining trends in Bt cotton utilization it becomes more widespread every year)

  34. #34 Chris Whitman
    February 26, 2010

    Man, every time I say or write anything critical of Monsanto all I get is a list of all the amazing things they’ve done.

    I know Monsanto has done some good in the world. They’ve also done a lot of terrible, terrible things. I’m not suggesting they’re cartoon villains who only do evil, but due to their prior criminal behavior I simply don’t trust them to behave ethically. They’re out for their own interests and the interests of their shareholders.

    As for business involvement in the expansion of the middle class in India, obviously that’s great. But it doesn’t obviate the need for concern over the continuing oppression of those who are deeply in poverty.

    And as for concerns over Bt-cotton, there’s been a huge controversy over it for some time now: accusations of a lack of transparency in government dealings with Monsanto — I’ll repeat the part about the bribing of government officials — and of course the disappointing crop yields have driven many further into poverty.

    I just think you’re being very unrealistic about the actual conditions of the poor in India. I never suggested that everything is terrible for everyone in India, nor did I suggest that Monsanto murders puppies and is building a machine to destroy all rainbows; I simply pointed to the largely uncontested facts of their poor prior performance in India, as well as legitimate concerns over IP, and said that might explain why people there do not trust them. If you don’t believe me, Google it. There’re tons of news reports about their activities and controversies easily available.

  35. #35 Ewan R
    February 26, 2010

    #2 – Monsanto sponsored journals? Really? I assume you’re just paraphrasing the wikipedia article on roundup which gives a dead link to a journal’s sponsor page as the reference to the accusation – given that roundup studies have been published widely across many journals (with safety results that show no significant risk – which is different to no risk) this accusation doesnt hold much water. Neither does the accusation of “monsanto hired scientists” fabricating results – to be fair it does appear that results were fabricated (by scientists hired by companies that were paid by Monsanto, and other companies, to test herbicide safety) but it also is quite clear that the safety studies which were falsified are not part of the body of evidence that goes towards having Roundup certified as safe to use by any regulatory agency. Studies categorically have not shown a “significant health and environmental risk” for low exposure, the majority of studies show no significant health risks, and environmental benefits (when compared to other herbicide systems)

    How many occasions of untrustworthiness are we talking about, and over what timescale? I would imagine that absolutely any major chemical/manufacturing company that had been in existence for over 100 years (ie spanning the transition from society not giving one hoot about health & safety and the environment to the current situation in which H&S and environmental issues generally take the fore) has a similar amount of misdeeds in the past (and I think a certain amount of care must be taken in comparing deeds of the past to current ethical thinking – not to make excuses but to at least mitigate the severity of the charges laid) which doesn’t necessarily mean that all companies today are hotbeds of evil intent.

    How would you feel about putting your food supply (or your part of it) in the hands of a company with a 15+ year track record of improving the lot of farmers in general, a 10+ year record of putting your country into a top spot regarding production of cotton, and a 10+ year record of reducing pesticide useage (with no qualms about potentially increasing your profitability up to 150% and allowing you to send your kids to school rather than into a field to spray for bugs?)

    When it comes to the IP issues – to what extent have IP issues in GM cotton caused harm to Indian farmers? Keeping in mind a 10 year history of GM cotton in India. More to the point to what extent has the IP issue actually caused problems globally? Argueably not at all. Given the massive economic benefits to farmers globally what is the preferable system – one in which investment is valued and protected and all can benefit, or one in which those who don’t wish to play by the same rules as everyone else get a free ride thus stifling any innovation? A handful of farmers (or those who would trick them into breaking the law for personal gain) have fallen foul of IP laws in the US and been taken to task for it – the vast majority play by the rules, may grumble on seed pricing (and why not?), but benefit hugely from the technology used.

    Does adopting GM crops (of the exact same nature) increase productivity and self sufficiency of the farmers who use it? Absolutely – look at the 10 year history of Bt cotton in India which categorically increased yields, increased income, decreased poor working conditions (assuming you accept that spraying the most toxic pesticides is poor working conditions) and decreased child labor.

    If it isn’t hyperbole to declare that Monsanto is “international criminal syndicate” then I’d put it to you it equally isn’t hyperbole to declare that Monsanto is an international humanitarian and environmental champion as they are involved in agricultural outreach (particularly in India), human rights promotion (particularly in India), reduction in pesticide useage, reduction in environmental impact of herbicide useage, promoter of no-till agriculture, participants in WEMA, massively active in local charity work wherever they have facilities

    (it is however hyperbole in both cases by the way)

    I also wonder exactly how the introduction of Bt Brinjal (or any GM product) “compromises their autonomy and places them under the control of a clearly amoral organization” which appears to be raising a compeltely different false dichotomy – either you reject Bt Brinjal (or whatever GM tech) or put yourself under the thumb of an “amoral organization” – which is clearly ludicrous as there is choice in whether you utilize the technology or not, absolutely no evidence to suggest that bad things will happen if you do, or that doing so in any way whatsoever puts you ‘under control’ of the company that owns the technology – nobody in US agriculture is ‘under control’ of Monsanto, unless by ‘under control’ you mean ‘not free to break patent law without risk of punishment’ – Monsanto has to fight for customers every time they buy new seed for their farm, there is no ‘lock in’ – once you buy monsanto there is nothing preventing you from buying pioneer next year, syngenta the year after – farmers make a yearly choice of seed and base this on historical performance, experience of neighbors/competitors, upcoming seed traits (not just transgenic) – to suggest anyone is ‘under control’ us just ludicrous – the reason Monsanto transgenic traits predominate is because they made them first and still hold patents, and of course because they offer such immense value to farmers that not using them would cause them to suffer financially – in which case nobody should ever make any innovation that may become ubiquitous for fear of ‘controlling’ the population of those who use it – I know I hate the local water board and electric company for their vicious insistence on controlling my life.

    Douglas – you clearly arent much for looking at propaganda if you think that this is the most biased or slanted piece of propaganda you’ve seen. The article could be massively rewritten to be far more biased and slanted – you could cut the biodiversity concern out (or at least point out that since the introduction of GM crops there has not been a significant decrease in available varieties in any of the main GM’d crop – quite the opposite infact), you could resort to name calling, you could inflate the economic impacts, there could be pictures of Indian kids with faces burnt off due to pesticide useage – as far as propaganda goes the piece is actually pretty weak. I think the issue is that when presenting a truly balanced piece on this technology in particular it is hard to not come out with the tech in a particularly positive light (just as it would be hard to write a truly balanced piece on climate change without the conclusion being that it is real).

  36. #36 Onkel Bob
    February 26, 2010

    I agree with Mike @7; it is funny how this subject is approached. It’s perfectly OK to “genetically engineer” at the macro level (cross or selectively breed plants and animals to yield a product more in tune with our needs) but once you get down to the micro level, we’re suddenly creating freaks of nature. The arguments against GMO foods are so poorly constructed they’re not even wrong. It’s the Dunning Kruger brigade to the rescue.
    Tangentially, insects aren’t all that bad. The Jains are infamously selective eaters, adhering to a “strict” vegetarian diet. However, vitamin B12 does not appear in plant foods, and its lack leads to reproductive nervous system disorders. Unknown to the Jains, their diet was supplemented, and vitally so, by insect contamination. Otherwise nature would have selected them out and their belief system withered with their diminishing population.

  37. #37 Mike
    February 26, 2010

    The Food science deniers (organic, “natural” anti GMO people) are just like the climate science deniers. They have created this fantasy version of the world. they reject and wage war on all science that does not fit into their vision of the world in which humans are corrupting agents on nature and that the less we touch something, the better it is.

    Just as the climate science deniers can not be reached with reason, not can the food science deniers.

  38. #38 Cynic View
    February 26, 2010

    Good article. I await the day where I can plant a tree that will give me potatoes at the root and apples at the branches. Also, if it could produce ready-to-eat bacon I’d be in haven!

    I don’t get why people get so worked up and paranoid over MNCs. This whole trite by Whitman about post-colonial oppression and low wages etc… is not discussed in India as such. Globalisation and liberal trade was adopted by India, and that contributed significantly to the development and expansion of the Indian middle-class, which would have otherwise remain stagnant.

    No doubt, there are many still in poverty and working condition there is not as good as in the western world – but compare India today to 60 years ago, you cannot argue correctly that globalisation had an impact more negative than positive.

    As for Monsanto, I think they’re at the mercy of the market as any other company. They’ve tarnished their brand in the past by adopting really sneaky policy and from what I read, they’re trying to turn their image around now. Consumers get to vote with their wallets and Monsanto has to comply to stay afloat.

  39. #39 Douglas Watts
    February 26, 2010

    Pamela, this is one of the most obviously biased and slanted pieces of propaganda I have ever seen. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  40. #40 Douglas Watts
    February 26, 2010

    India can have its Monsanto-freak food. Please keep it out of Maine, thank you very much.

  41. #41 Chris Whitman
    February 26, 2010

    If you want to know my honest opinion, I think we’ve got a really bad history of offering to help the world in such a way that we continually increase our influence over it. We wonder why people are willing to persist in risking disease or death rather than turn control of their livelihoods, culture and health over to us to because it happens to suit us financially.

    We can blame the woo bloc or “ideology” or whatever straw man suits our fancy, but we have already seen the gross mismanagement that has resulted from turning responsibility for our own food and nutrition over to companies which are now rapidly expanding into the developing world. I think it’s sheer wishful thinking to assume they won’t perform even greater atrocities in a climate where they are granted power even more liberally.

    It is very admirable to want to help people who are suffering, but it is a false dichotomy to suggest that the only possible choices are to abandon others or to “help” them in a way which compromises their autonomy and places them under the control of a clearly amoral organization. And it is unfair to use any proposed benefit to obfuscate the political ramifications.

  42. #42 Chris Whitman
    February 26, 2010

    I’ve definitely heard people call for a ban on GMO crops because they are “unnatural” and, I guess, contain bad magic that will kill you.

    But almost everyone I know who’s active in this area seems to feel that the major concern is large corporate ownership over the food supply. Monsanto has, in the past, been responsible for dumping toxic waste, bribing environmental officials, falsifying scientific results and for a number of shady lawsuits against small farmers.

    An example: articles in Monsanto-sponsored journals have declared that their Roundup herbicide poses no health risk, but it has been confirmed that Monsanto-hired scientists have falsified test results on numerous occasions as to the safety of Roundup, and subsequent studies have revealed that even low concentrations may pose a significant health and environmental risk. Obviously this hasn’t stopped them from selling and actively promoting it, despite charges of false advertising regarding their safety claims.

    Personally, I don’t feel comfortable giving Monsanto control over a short length of string, much less over the world’s food supply. They’ve indicated on many, many occasions that they are untrustworthy, and will bend or break laws in any way that suits their economic interests. It sounds genuinely like the interests of Monsanto are also in line with the interests of local farmers *this time*, but if you didn’t have all the facts, or (like many small-scale farmers in India, I’m sure) didn’t have the necessary educational background to be able to evaluate their claims, how would you feel about putting your food supply in the hands of a company that had displayed repeatedly that it has no qualms about putting a considerable number of human lives at serious risk?

    Beyond trust, the ownership raises some serious concerns about intellectual property and ownership. What rights can Monsanto exert over local farmers growing its GMO crops? Given their track record, I would be reluctant to yield anything to them that would give them even the *capability* to further suppress already impoverished farmers. There’s an element of the post-colonial here that is legitimately frightening. Regardless of whether you consider Western business or political interests partially responsible for the political and economic climate in India (and I think it’s difficult not to when they’ve set all the standards for modern international business, but that’s another discussion), they are certainly responsible for the active mistreatment of Indian workers to produce products intended for consumption in our part of the world, including poor working conditions, low wages and child labour. I would want to know that adopting this GMO crop does not enable further human exploitation, or in fact increases not only the productivity but also the self-sufficiency of local farmers (since clearly we have the capability to do so).

    I’m not anti-GMO per se, but it is not hyperbole to state that Monsanto is, itself, an international criminal syndicate (or, at least, they’re an organization that has been found guilty of crimes in a number of different countries; I’m not sure if there’s a “PR-friendly” word for that). Concerns over evil magic in GMO crops are ludicrous, but concerns over a company in which Monsanto has some measure of ownership are validated by any number of examples.

  43. #43 James
    February 25, 2010

    A ha! A recipe for eggplant that falls within my (experimentally determined) five or less ingredients limit for recipes I’m actually likely to try.

    One thing I haven’t been able to figure out has been if the bt-eggplant trait, once approved, would be for a specific variety, or whether Mayhco would license the trait to lots of small breeders who could introgress it into their own favorite local varieties (hybrid or open pollinated).