One more day to vote in the , which asks the question “Is Biotechnology compatible with sustainable agriculture?”

PZ Myers answers the question this way: “this is weird: agriculture is biotechnology, and just breaking ground with a sharp stick and throwing some seeds in is an example of an ‘unnatural’ human practice”

He also publishes the opposition’s “top secret email“, which has some gobbledy-gook about how farmers are turning against GE crops (um, name one?) and contaminating nature (massive reductions in insecticide use on BT cotton fields and enhanced biodiversity is destruction?). PZ also asks you to “notice who is backing up all their arguments with citations of the peer-reviewed literature.”

Don’t forget to vote.

My final statement:

Virtually every food we eat has been genetically altered. Unless you eat wild Alaskan salmon, chanterelles gathered from your local forest, Sierra Nevada yampah and wild blueberries, your diet consists entirely of foods that have been modified by humans and domesticated in artificial, fabulous ecosystems–called farms.

GE crops are the latest addition to our farms. Are Bt cotton and GE papaya different from conventionally bred cotton and papaya? Yes.

Scientists have introduced a bacterial gene into corn and a snippet of virus into papaya. These alterations are not feats that could have been carried out with conventional breeding technologies. But do these crops pose harm to human health in some entirely new way? No.

Bt toxins, produced by a common soil bacterium, cause little or no harm to most non-target organisms including beneficial insects, wildlife and people. For these reasons, sprayed formulations of Bt toxins are among the favoured insecticides of organic growers.

When you eat GE papaya, you ingest only trace amounts of viral nucleic acids, much less than when you bite into an organic papaya infected with vast amounts of the virus.

What about the environment–are there risks of unintended consequences with GE crops? Yes.

But the risk is similar whether or not the seed was developed using GE or non-GE approaches. And the likelihood of pollen from GE cotton causing harm to the environment in most regions of the world where it is grown is about as likely as one of our domesticated Ameraucana hens, a breed developed in the 1970s to incorporate the favored “blue” genes from a South American bird, mating with the red-tailed hawk circling our coop. Or, as Freeman Dyson once said, “about as likely as a poodle escaping into the wild”.

In addition to the clear benefits today, the future benefits of this technology are also considerable. Is the genetic engineering of rice for provitamin A, an essential nutrient woefully lacking from the diets of many small children, so different from adding iodine to salt, a process credited with drastically reducing iodine-deficiency disorders in infants? Probably not. Still, just as some people today view vitamin A-enriched rice with suspicion, in some nations, iodisation was thought by many to be a governmental plot to poison the salt. In a 2006 New York Times article, journalist Donald McNeil describes how iodised salt was blamed for AIDS, diabetes, seizures, impotence and peevishness. He wrote, “Iodised salt … will make pickled vegetables explode, ruin caviar or soften hard cheese.” In Kazakhstan, breaking down resistance to science-based evidence took both money and political leadership. But it eventually succeeded. Today 94% of households in Kazakhstan use iodised salt and the UN is expected to certify the country officially free of iodine-deficiency disorders. We can and should do the same for vitamin A deficiency by releasing Golden rice seed, which can be self-pollinated, saved and replanted to farmers and their families in poor regions of the world who rely on rice for nutrition.

In considering whether to embrace GE crops as a way to enhance the sustainability of our global agricultural systems, we must not disregard the well-documented impacts of production: reduced insecticide use, a shift from toxic to more benign herbicides, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, reduced soil erosion, increased profit to small- and large-holder farmers, and enhanced farm-worker safety.

These benefits are not restricted to large industrial farms in the west; the majority economic benefits from GE crops have gone to millions of poor farmers in China and India.

These conclusions were reached after 14 years of deliberative research, and the scientific consensus is robust. They are not based on polls of religious or political groups (or magazine readers).

GE seed that are tolerant of stress or resistant to insects can be used in any farming system. Drought tolerance corn will be broadly beneficial across almost any non-irrigated agriculture situation and in any management system. As has been well-documented for Bt cotton in Arizona, the ability to combine innovations in farming practice with the planting of GE seed has had a huge positive benefit/cost ratio, far beyond what could be achieved by innovating farming practices or planting GE crops alone. The benefit/cost ratio of Bt crops is the highest for any agricultural innovations in the last 100 years.

Charles Benbrook and I agree that crops engineered to resist pest and disease can enhance sustainable agriculture when integrated with good management. We have seen that Bt cotton has dramatically reduced global reliance on synthetic insecticides, which are harmful to human health and the environment. For these reasons, GE crops have been adopted at unprecedented rates.

We also agree that each new technological advance must be considered on a case-by-case basis and that the evaluation must be science-based. Finally, we agree that developing-country farmers, scientists and other groups should continue to drive the process of application of GE technology in their own countries–and that priority needs to be a focus on the public good.

Still, Mr Benbrook and I disagree on important points. He argues for additional safety testing that goes beyond the conclusions of the leading scientific agencies and scientists around the world. This vague argument for “more testing”, despite the fact that GE crops are the most highly regulated crops on the market, stokes uncertainty and fear in consumers. As Slate journalist Daniel Engber aptly remarks:

“The ‘manufactured uncertainty‘ strategy has much in common with the approach of denialists of global climate change in their strategies to challenge scientific findings …The success of these programs shows how the public’s understanding of science has devolved into a perverse worship of uncertainty, a fanatical devotion to the god of the gaps. Nowhere is this more apparent than the debate over global warming, where the irresolute terms of responsible research have been a large liability: According to several major polls conducted last year, about 60 percent of Americans believe there’s no scientific consensus on climate change.”

Big tobacco used a similar approach for years, calling for more data in the face of clear evidence that smoking is toxic to humans.

Journalist Michael Specter argues that this tendency among consumers to trust anecdotes over peer-reviewed science, leads to disastrous results. Referring to the anti-vaccine movement, which manufactures uncertainty about the well-documented safety of lifesaving vaccines, he writes, “The US is now the only place in the world where vaccine rates for measles are going down.” If this such denialism continues, the consequence will almost certainly be an outbreak of measles among children in the US, a potentially deadly disease.

Similarly, 6,000 thousand children and young mothers to die every day from vitamin A deficiency-related problems while we continue to test Golden Rice for possible but highly improbable unexpected consequences that even in the worst case scenario are trivial in comparison with this ongoing loss of life.

It is now generally accepted that world food production needs to rise by 50% by 2030. We cannot go back to a time when arable land was abundant and there was little concern for natural ecosystems. Then, if we needed more food, we could simply open up more undeveloped land for cultivation. Such an approach is “flawed“, according to Sir David Baulcombe, regius professor of botany and Royal Society research professor at Cambridge University, and leader of the Royal Society’s study, “Reaping the Benefits“.

He explains, “It ignores issues associated with the suitability of land for agricultural production, like geography and the political importance of local food, particularly to poorer or developing nations that could become entirely dependent on others for their staple foodstuffs.”

The path towards a future sustainable agriculture lies in harnessing the best of biotechnology, including genetically engineered seed, within the framework of ecological farming.

Comments

  1. #1 Veronique
    November 14, 2010

    Wow, Tina. What a diatribe. Of course everything has a negative and positive side.

    If you are able to ‘prove’ anything safe, then you deserve a prize. Science doesn’t work that way. Everything is falsifiable; that is how science works.

    And ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is a legal term not an agricultural one.

    I think you should consider the fact that virtually everything humans have sought to do, done, overdone and undone is part of the nature of human beings.

    Now, I certainly don’t think that, as a species, we have much more than this current century in which to exist, which will make us the shortest lived species on this planet.

    But, while we are here, we follow a very naturally selfish road. It is called survival and because we only live 70 odd years, we have difficulty projecting beyond that except in the most wafty of terms.

    Governments have a 3 or 4 year currency and self serving isn’t quite the name I would use for their collective behaviour.

    However, governments are run by corporations big enough to swallow everyone whole and that is just the way of power, money and influence. We haven’t come very far in 10,000 years really.

    You mention corn. Of course that has been selectively manipulated for thousands of years and on’t we love that corn. Excess consumption of any substance will produce abreactions. Extend that further to excess population and project out what will continue to happen to us. Oil is a problem – just wait until water is the biggest problem. The water wars will escalate beyond imagining.

    Capitalism is the parent of privatisation – try getting the water rights away from Nestle for example. I do hope you boycott Nestle products (amongst many others doing the same thing).

    So Monsanto is the ogre – let me say here that human greed is the ogre made manifest in Monsanto (and other corporations). And government greed wrote it all into legislation.

    Seed Savers started some years back and has a huge following. Heritage plants and the careful collection of viable seed is a booming business. There are many subscribers to seed saving enterprises.

    I note that allotment farming is taking off again in the UK. Excellent. More people learning to garden and take care of, at least, part of their food intake.

    This is not just about GM crops. We have been doing that for thousands of years. GM is a development from that and the imperative, believe it or not, is to feed all of us. It is a pity that we don’t seem to understand that we are over breeding and causing the problem to start with. Sheesh!!

    So I will keep saying well done to the scientists who actually research and produce peer reviewed data.

    I don’t discount the seriousness of our plight on this planet. I really do think that this is our last century but while ever there are people to feed, clothe and water, we have a duty of care to provide for them.

    Look at the way ‘organic’ foods marketed itself at twice or more the price as other foods and for less well grown produce. Now there is a rort worthy of investigating. Greed? We are full of it Tina. Don’t fool yourself.

    I suspect that a lot of the anger directed at GM foods is misplaced and has actually to do with profiteering by companies – a practice that has been going on since time immemorial. That is human nature; not a nice view, but there it is.

  2. #2 Karl Haro von Mogel
    November 13, 2010

    A Canadian farmer who had been developing his own seed lines got sued by Monsanto because, unbeknownst to him, some GM seeds blew in from a neighbor’s farm. Monsanto claimed ownership of all his crop for several years, including seed lines he had himself developed.

    I am continually fascinated by how Percy Schmeiser’s story keeps changing. He was not a seed developer, he grew 1000 acres of canola, and found, one way or another, GE roundup-ready canola plants. He incorporated those seeds into his planting, sprayed the plants, and collected the roundup-ready seeds from the surviving plants and used them to plant 1000 acres of it. And then he got caught, and had to come up with a reason why he didn’t want them, after purposefully selecting for them in his fields. He admitted in court that he purposefully selected and planted the resistant seeds, which is why he lost his case all the way up to the supreme court. He was a false martyr.

  3. #3 Tina Farlane
    November 13, 2010

    Well done? Ronald’s defense is an utter failure by the numbers cited. These self-serving “well dones” are straight out of elementary school – praise anything lest feelings are hurt. Her arguments above are not arguments in any sense -certainly not the scientific – and are basically in total simply saying “believe as I do” – seeing everything else as heresay or heresy. Clearly GE has replaced that white bearded fellow mentioned above as the eternally benevolent, all-powerful one Who Must Be Obeyed.

    I’d love to see the genuine concerns above struck down one by one – but the rebuttal seems to be limited to “it’s silly to think that way”. Seeing the massive problems at pharmaceutical companies – a close analog to GE cos – where dangerous drugs have been routinely developed and approved only to be jerked from the market later (something impossible to do if it were to happen with GE foods) shows that these “concerns” are not *automatically* unfounded. To dismiss them so cavalierly indicates a severe lack of emotional intelligence and an ignorance of marketplace forces… where perception can indeed be taken as reality, pro and con.

    Everything has a positive and negative side. Anything new has to be proven safe and suspected until it is so proved – beyond reasonable doubts, as may well happen with GE foods. Even unmodified corn, if eaten to extreme, leads to pellagra!

  4. #4 chris tam
    November 13, 2010

    Misinformation is always circulating. The motion was lost but I think Pamela won the argument. Well done, Pamela and PZ and others.

  5. #5 Veronique
    November 13, 2010

    I have just noticed the motion was lost 38% to 62%. How very disappointing to realise that there is so much in the way of mis- and dis-information being circulated with scare-mongering tactics.

    It is so worrying in this day and age when information can be found at the click of a mouse, that so many people haven’t the critical skills to assess evidenced data from woo.

    There is something in the human brain that attaches itself almost instantly to conspiracy theories and big, bad and hidden-agenda-driven corporations that smacks so much of the same type of attachment to the big, white-bearded fella in the sky who watches over everything everyone does and punishes anyone but never seems to reward anyone – well, he has his own agenda too that he doesn’t tell anyone about.

    Smoke and mirrors. That’s all it is and humans fall for it again and again. Some fatal flaw in our reasoning capacity.

    Some people are smart and still rustle up reports to interpret to confirm! their confirmation bias. Pseudoscience is on the rise and decent research is suffering from less funding as a result.

    Just goes to show you that smarts do not common sense make and that common sense is in uncommonly short supply.

    Well done, Pamela and PZ and others. Lots more work to do yet though.

  6. #6 Joanna
    November 13, 2010

    Ronald’s use of the poodle image is very interesting from the Jungian viewpoint and its use in Goethe’s Faust as a symbol of unexpected and approaching evil.

    The Faust material is quoted:
    Faust: D’you see a jet-black dog now scampering wide
    Through corn and stubble?

    Wagner:
    Him I have espied
    Some time ago, but gave him not a thought.

    Faust
    Look closer now, with care, and say what sort
    Of beast you think he is.

    Wagner:
    Why, Sir, a hound
    Of poodle breed who snuffs his way around
    To find his master

    Faust:
    Mark the spiral trail
    With which he comes from far, yet ever nigher
    Encircling us: unless my senses fail
    His track is traced with little tongues of fire.

    Wagner:
    Some optical illusion, Sir, maybe:
    He’s nothing but a poodle-dog to me.

    Faust: It seems like magic tracing of a snare,
    Or meshes in our future pathway spread.

    Edinger goes on in his commentary to state that this “…black poodle is the first manifestation of Mephistopheles who follows Faust home…..”

    To paraphrase Freud, Sometimes a poodle is just a poodle. Sometimes, it’s something else.

    (121-122, Edward F. Edinger, The Mysterium Lectures: A journey through C.G. Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis. Inner City Books 1995, but any edition of Goethe’s Faust would also have the pertinent material)

  7. #7 Wrusssr
    November 12, 2010

    Forget the poodle. Genetically modified plants have already crossed into the wild. Why do you think the Wizards of Oz have built a bomb-proof vault for natural seeds in the arctic north of Norway? It’s called the doomsday seed vault. Google it. You have to know this. Which makes your entire article suspect.

    And GMO food is perfectly safe to eat? Well, you keep eating it. Shouldn’t be a problem. It’s in about 75% of America’s food.

    GMO seeds and subsequent food tested independently on lab animals have been found to cause sterilization (hold this thought) and to affect the organs and genes in mammals. Monsanto, the largest GM seed producer in the world, has blocked independent labs in the U.S. from testing and publishing their findings on their seeds in industry journals unless they approved the paper (read: findings); citing patents.

    So America and the world have been eating this stuff at least since the nineties with no labels or warnings.

    Independent European labs, however, have tested and published papers about the effects of GM food on mammals. It’s not pretty. One of the things they’ve found is that GMO food affects their reproduction as well as their body organs.

    Now think sterilization. The people pushing this stuff are the same people who tried to shove a “global warming” tax down humanity’s throat, saying human exhales and cow belches were contributing to “climate change” in our “. . . over-populated world.”

    They also rush tons of GM corn and grain to famine areas (to the poorest populations of the world; useless eaters as Kissinger once referred to them) in “humanitarian gestures,” yet are shocked when countries in Africa refuse to accept GM “food” and Haiti farmers symbolically burn GM seeds that Monsanto sent to “help” them following the earthquake.

    Did I mention Europe has banned GM seeds in the past and requires labeling of all GM food? (Which America does not, though the organic food industry has organized and begun labeling their foods in defiance of Washington and the FDA’s attempts to stonewall them.) Meanwhile, WTO confederates in the Hague continue to try and force the EU to accept GM food. Wonder why?

    Did you know South America and Asian nations are working on bans and/or labeling? Or that a key person at the FDA used to be Monsanto’s lawyer and lobbyist? Or that the WHO and “charitable billionaire foundations” benevolently pass out free vaccines to the “. . .eaters eaters?”

    Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

    S. 510, the so-called Food “Safety” bill, is America’s Codex Alimentarius.

    It is being purposely pushed onto Americans and the rest of the world.

    It is a travesty.

    Want to see how far along these lovely folks are? Take a look.
    http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/625294/revealed_how_seed_market_is_controlled_by_monsanto_syngenta_bayer_dow_dupont.html

    Want to know about genetically modified cotton? You could start with India’s farmers, the poster children for the rest of the world.
    http://www.mediaglobal.org/article/2010-09-01/farmers_in_india_pay_the_ultimate_price_for_their_debt

    Is this a world of opportunity or what?

  8. #8 Dale
    November 12, 2010

    Worst analogy evar! As others have pointed out, the idea of a feral poodle is not improbable in the least. Thus instead of allaying your readers’ fears you have provided grist for the mill of GM paranoia. Keep up the good work!

  9. #9 heteromeles
    November 12, 2010

    BT genes can also escape into the wild, whenever the breeders are stupid enough to put BT into a crop such as sorghum or mustard (e.g. rapeseed/canola), where the wild, weedy relatives are likely to be nearby. This is simply to cite two examples where horizontal transmission has already happened.

    There are bigger issues. For example, BT resistance is already spreading in various pest insects, and in the long run, BT will become an ineffective pesticide. This is a real problem, because BT is a pesticide used by organic farmers, so the side effect of widespread use of BT-producing plants will be decreased production of organically grown produce.

    The real problem in this case is how GM is used: top down, where the company controls the intellectual property, and the farmers are seen as little more than drones who do what the companies tell them.

    Anyone who knows anything about wild or agricultural reality knows that local conditions are far, far, far, too complicated for this simplistic, industrial approach.

    We pay for top-down with the massive inefficiencies of modern agriculture, where we have to move fuel, water, pesticides, fertilizers, people, and money, just to make a crop grow in a particular place, and to move the food from that place, stabilize it, and send it around the world. This is the essence of non-sustainability, and it depends on a large subsidy from non-renewable fossil fuel and fossil water. When these run out, so does the system.

    Sustainable systems depend on local adaptation, and that includes local adaptation of crops. If we’re going to go with GM crops, then I’ll be happier when small colleges are helping local farmers tweak their land races to deal with local pests on an open-source basis, rather than the unsustainable system we have now.

  10. #10 Drew
    November 12, 2010

    @Brian Wolfe #9

    There have been several documented instances of the alterations “mysteriously” making their way into neighbouring weeds.

    I assume here that you’re talking about the so called “super-weeds”. These are not a consequence of horizontal transmission of GM traits but instead are a consequence of selective pressure (i.e. evolution of the existing weeds) due to excessive and consistent round-up use**. True round-up use has ballooned as a consequence of round-up resistant crops. Prior planning by the seed companies and farmers could have seriously reduced the problem of resistant weeds (e.g. setting up rotation regimens to reduce the competitive advantage of resistant weeds), but anyone who knows anything about biology know that resistant weeds were inevitable.

    **I could be wrong here and you are actually are talking about horizontal transmission of GM material into weeds, in which case I’m not familiar with any of these “documented instances” so citation needed.

  11. #11 NJ
    November 12, 2010

    g724 @ 11:

    Tyler DiPietro #4 is pseudoscience and conspiracy theory.

    Tyler DiPietro @ 4:

    All the talk about “unintended consequences” is a false-face for population reductionism

    following Chris P @ 1:

    World food production MUST NOT rise.

    It’s not paranoia when people are out to get you…

  12. #12 Valkyrie607
    November 12, 2010

    Yes, most of the criticisms of GMOs revolve around structural issues of our agricultural system, including monoculture, reliance on on a model that requires massive inputs of fossil fuels, and capitalistic monopolies by companies like Monsanto. So, theoretically speaking, looking only at the scientific potential, there’s no reason that GMO couldn’t be an important part of sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, sustainable agriculture simply isn’t a priority for the companies that have the resources and inclination to develop GMOs. With the exception of the Vitamin A enhanced rice, the single driving force behind the development of GMO crops has been profit. Until that systemic problem is addressed, I don’t look to the future with any anticipation that GMOs are going to contribute significantly to sustainable agriculture.

    I remember 6-7 years ago, when the controversy was heated, and we were reminded that someday GMOs would provide us with salt-resistant or drought-resistant strains of staple crops. At the time, it was a 10- 15-year-old goal that was held up as one of the reasons that we should give GMOs a chance. So far I’ve heard nothing about progress on that front.

  13. #13 Dunc
    November 12, 2010

    There was a time when I would have voted “no” in this poll. After reading here for quite some time, asking questions, and getting decent answers, I’ve voted “yes”.

    If we allow our food systems to become dependent on seeds whose distribution is controlled by a corporation

    Waaaaay too late to worry about that. Sure, I use mainly open-pollinated heirloom varieties in my garden and I’m glad that they’re still available, but as far as extensive commercial agriculture is concerned, the major seed companies have had a total lock for decades.

  14. #14 g724
    November 12, 2010

    The bottom line here is that Monsanto’s behavior has been sufficiently egregious in a number of instances, as to lead to the reasonable conclusion that Monsanto can’t be trusted. The traditional solution to bad behavior by large corporations has been effective government regulation. The pre/post test of that hypothesis was recently conducted on the financial industry, with results that are unmistakable.

    Tyler DiPietro #4 is pseudoscience and conspiracy theory.

    Any assertion that unlimited population growth is viable on a finite planet is logically equivalent to the claim that one can map an infinite plane onto a Euclidean solid. It’s bunk on the same level as claims for perpetual motion.

    And there’s no “false face” or other secretive conspiracy for “population reductionism.” We’re entirely in the open about this: the scientific consensus is that both population levels and consumption levels must come down in order to mitigate what will otherwise be severe ecological consequences.

    The root of population growthism is usually religious dogma of one kind or another, usually including opposition to the use of contraception and opposition to women’s rights. If people want to live according to religious dogma, they should start by putting their money where their mouths are and renouncing the germ theory of disease in favor of faith healing. (Yes, and that will help solve the overpopulation problem as well!)

  15. #15 Kerrick
    November 12, 2010

    There are other, rational reasons to be wary of becoming dependent on GE crops.

    Traditional breeding methods tend to result in either reliably-reproduceable hybrids or strains that breed true when open-pollinated. It is in a biotechnology corporation’s short-term best interest, however, to make sure plants from their seeds cannot reproduce; the farmers have to keep buying more seed every year.

    Which is fine while the biotechnology corporation is around. But biotechnology—we both know I’m talking about the kind that happens in a lab, not the kind we farmers and gardeners do in the field—is an enterprise dependent on abundant and cheap energy. It is becoming more and more widely accepted that the age of abundant and cheap energy is ending. When the corporations that provide us with the seed for the plants we are making our food systems dependent on succumb to the economic consequences of Hubbert’s Peak, we risk potentially devastating our food systems.

    If we allow our food systems to become dependent on seeds whose distribution is controlled by a corporation, food prices are at the whim of that corporation. If our food systems depend on plants with GE-provided resistances, as our soil ecology gets more and more out of whack we may not be able to go back to open-pollinated plants even if we can’t get the GE plants we’ve come to depend on. If the plants we depend on can’t live without the application of more and more petroleum-based fertilizer, herbicide, and/or pesticide, as oil prices continue to grow more volatile, food prices will fluctuate even more dramatically. Bt cotton is one example of a GE crop offering the potential to reduce the dependence on synthetic chemicals, but many GE crops are actually more dependent. Herbicide resistant crops come to mind: their benefits exist only if farmers plan to spray their fields with herbicides year after year to kill weeds so as to grow their crop in a soil-depleting monoculture.

    Our social systems are set up to reward long-term sacrifice for short-term gain. In such a culture, allowing corporations to take control of our food systems is dangerous. It may not be feral genes we have to worry about, but feral profit-seekers.

  16. #16 Brian Wolfe
    November 11, 2010

    The rejection of GM crops isn’t about whether or not we should use them to solve our food issues. The rejection is over the methods used to directly alter the genes of the crops. There have been several documented instances of the alterations “mysteriously” making their way into neighbouring weeds. When Monsanto’s scientists can improve then prove that their new use of microbes to splice in the genes can’t jump across to wild plants THEN we’ll accept GM crops.

    Traditional breeding efforts don’t run the risks that directly tinkering with the genes the way Monsanto do. That’s why I’m all for engineering our way into sufficient and more nutritious foods. I just want us to not cause grave harm to the world in doing so.

  17. #17 Rob
    November 11, 2010

    Let’s imagine that poodle “escaping into the wild” or more likely, running down the street, and humping my neighbors pomeranian. According to the GE corporations, those offspring belong to them whether or not my neighbor asked for the poodle or wanted the poodle-pom hybrids.
    That is a VERY different system from you grow your crop, I grow mine, and if some of our pollen cross-pollinates, no big deal.
    More importantly, there seems to be research that demonstrates that some of these foods are in fact dangerous.
    A study (http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706) recently published demonstrates damage to the liver and kidneys of mice fed three strains of Monsanto corn.
    I don’t believe cotton holds the same danger, clearly, but if the cotton case breezes through, this might set precedent for other crops being allowed as well.

  18. #18 Pam Ronald
    November 11, 2010

    Timberwoof, you have got this story wrong. You need to read the court case not activist websites.

    http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2004/2004scc34/2004scc34.html

    The farmer sprayed the plants with herbicide, collected the seed, and then planted 1000 acres to sell. Clearly no innocent guy.

    The trial judge found that “none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality” ultimately present in Schmeiser’s crop ((2001), 202 F.T.R. 78, at para. 118).

    In any case, the large corporations want to own their seed no matter how it is developed (GE or non-GE).

    The issue of seed ownership is not the technology- it is a dept of justice issue

  19. #19 Timberwoof
    November 11, 2010

    A poodle released into the wild, with teeth:

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_17108.cfm

    A Canadian farmer who had been developing his own seed lines got sued by Monsanto because, unbeknownst to him, some GM seeds blew in from a neighbor’s farm. Monsanto claimed ownership of all his crop for several years, including seed lines he had himself developed.

    Admittedly the situation here is not a biological argument but a legal and economic one. Monsanto are being assholes in this case. Their inflated claim of ownership of a breed—seed stock and all its descendants—is not helping the case for GM foods.

    If someone uses traditional methods of genetic engineering (breeding), do they get to make copyright claims on their new breed and claim ownership of all descendants? No. If gene-based GM is “just like” the traditional methods in its biological effects, then let’s pull the teeth out of corporations like Monsanto and prohibit them from pulling this kind of stunt.

  20. #20 Fred Magyar
    November 11, 2010

    The likelihood of pollen from GE cotton causing harm to the environment is about as likely as a poodle escaping into the wild

    To be clear, I do not have an irrational fear of GE cotton but natural selection doesn’t stop acting on any organism and it will continue to be subject to natural mutatations, and all the influences of natural selection..

    So if the intent behind making that statement is to reassure people that the probability is very low and the consequences nil, then I think you might want to read up on feral dogs. While poodles may look quite harmless when they have been shorn to display pom poms, they are still perfectly capable of shreding you to bits and very quickly revert to pack behavior much like their already wild bretheren such as wolves and coyotes.

    I have a friend who owns Portugues Water dogs, part of the poodles ancestral lineage, trust me, you don’t want to mess with these dogs, though perhaps you were talking about Toy Poodles of lap dog size…

    http://www.igorilla.com/gorilla/animal/feral_dogs_rule_detroit.htmlhttp://www.igorilla.com/gorilla/animal/feral_dogs_rule_detroit.html

    And it’s not just in Detroit.

    In March, an Illinois farmer received $1,300 from the state, compensation for 26 pigs killed in 1993 by a pack of wild dogs. Dogs killed two ostriches in Oregon, fatally attacked a $15,000 horse in Tennessee and joined coyotes in killing livestock and pets in Colorado.

    In the past year, a small pack of stray dogs attacked and injured a Massachusetts boy on his way to a school bus stop. In Oklahoma City,front-porch mail delivery in some neighborhoods was halted after dogs attacked several carriers.

    Poodles at least, easily revert to their wild ways in a very short time span.

    Cheers!

  21. #21 Tyler DiPietro
    November 11, 2010

    The anti-GMO crowd is basically anti-human and anti-civilization. All the talk about “unintended consequences” is a false-face for population reductionism.

  22. #22 Rose Colored Glasses
    November 11, 2010

    The problems with GM crops are legal ones that affect health. It is the gene that gets patented, so if I buy the CM cottonseeds and plant my crop, pollen from my plants will stray into your cotton field, bringing the patented gene into your plants. When your plants are tested and found to contain the patented gene, the government will burn your entire crop. No cotton for you this year, or for any of my other neighbors, so all of you go broke, starve, and die.

    I won’t go broke, starve, and die until I have a bad year and reap too little cotton to make ends meet. I cannot legally plant old seeds and cannot afford new ones, so it’s curtains for me.

    Monsanto has been busy for decades handing out money overseas to get their patent protection written into other countries laws, and the offense is always criminal, so it is not a civil matter: the government will enforce Monsanto’s will free of charge.

    This is I think the cruelest consequence of allowing a gene to be patented.

  23. #23 Spence
    November 11, 2010

    Irrational fear of GM foods is quite widespread. People seem to have this strange belief that there is some constraint in nature that limits changes of DNA that is somehow being bypassed through GM. If only they spent a bit of time at Abby’s ERV, they would learn exactly how messed up nature can be playing with our genome.

    Based on (what I hope is) a rational understanding of GM, I voted “yes” on the poll. My biggest criticism of the motion is that while GM biotech is scientific and well defined, the concept “sustainable” is far from scientific or well-defined, and tends to be twisted by different people to mean whatever suits their argument best. Kinda like “organic food”, which was adopted by the likes of homeopaths, resulting in organic livestock being denied proper veterinary care through farmers fear of losing their “organic” label. The lack of a clear definition of sustainability makes the exercise a bit of a scientific dead end.

    Nice quote of Freeman Dyson BTW. I would have preferred it if you had not only used the poodle quote, but also when it came to climate change. Dyson speaks more sense on that subject than Engber.

  24. #24 Chris P
    November 11, 2010

    What you are saying amounts to little more than “hand waving”. You do not discuss all possible failure modes and results and certainly not quantitively.

    People are tired of unexpected side effects. Like cell phones are really great but people use them while driving and then they are quite dangerous.

    Once you let the genie out of the bottle it is hard to put it back in. Invasive species cause all sorts of problems be they plants or animals.

    And the “it will save thousands of lives” routine doesn’t wash when you consider that there are many ways this country could save thousands of lives but doesn’t simply by insisting on smaller vehicles, the elimination of guns and immunisation. The crazy churches spend a fortune exacerbating the problem by preaching against birth control.

    World food production MUST NOT rise. We waste a portion many times larger than the required increase. In California they throw away thousands of tons of perfectly good food.

    Less population and less waste is the solution, not coming up with modified anything which may have unintended consequences.