Why labeling of GMOs is actually bad for people and the environment « The Berkeley Blog.

 

This is a very balanced and knowledge-based post by the widely respected agricultural economist, David Zilberman. Thankfully, he brings some science to this hot topic. It is an important read for everyone in California who votes as we will soon have an initiative on GMO Labeling on our ballot.

 

One small point. Professor Zilberman  indicates “Now, what about emergence of resistance to GMOs? ‘

Actually, the resistance is to the herbicide that is sprayed on the GMO. The more people plant HT crops, the more likely they are to spray the herbicide glyphosate (Classified as “non-toxic” by the EPA). Too much of any herbicide increases the selection for resistance weeds. This can be a problem because if farmers start to observe too many weeds in their field that are resistant to glyphosate, they may return to more toxic chemicals such as atrazine. Still, the solution is not to ban all GMOs (many of which do not even contain the HT trait). The more sensible approach is to integrate GE crops into an integrated weed management system. Or if consumers really hate herbicides then they can buy organic produce. The organic approach to weed control also has problems. It is backbreaking work for poorly paid farmworkers and the organic farmer must pass his/her tractor through the field much more often to keep the weeds down. This disturbs the soil and contributes to carbon dioxide emissions.

He received many comments and posted a follow up post here:

http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2012/06/08/the-gmo-labeling-debate-continued-its-about-the-benchmark/

 

Comments

  1. #1 BP
    March 2, 2013

    David Zilberman is obviously a tool for monsanto and should be fired from the university, food shortage? Really? When was the last time he saw a man starve to death with 20 bucks in his pocket, the problem is poverty a shortage of funds not food! Besides gmo’s are doing nothing to reduce the price of food.

  2. #2 Ewan R
    October 10, 2012

    Disclaimer up front – I’m a Monsanto employee, the views contained herein are entirely my own and not those of my employer.

    GMO and hybrid plants are very different.

    Yes.

    Plants have been selected for their best qualities since the beginning of agriculture.and are called hybrid.

    No.

    Hybrids (and here I’m bound to mess it up somewhat, given that I’m condescendingly correcting someone, lets assume I’m saying the earth is spherical as opposed to flat, whereas it more approximates an oblate spheroid (or whatever geometric term is correct!)) do not include all plants selected for their best qualities since the beginning of agriculture. A hybrid is the result of a cross between two distinct varieties (generally highly inbred lines which have high levels of homogeneity) or even species (a mule, for instance, is a hybrid, generally however a horse is not (although I dunno horse breeding, or any animal breeding, I’d assume breeding hybrids from inbred lines might work there).

    In corn, for instance, hybrids have only really been utilized on a broad scale since approximately the 1940′s – prior to that you’d have OP varieties or inbred lines, now it is incredibly rare to see inbred corn in a production field. Soy, on the other hand, is highly inbred, and not considered a hybrid (making hybrid soy, while not impossible, is a massive pain, and one assumes not really worth the effort thus far – silly self pollinating flowers, corn at least has the good sense to keep its male bits and female bits nicely separated and amenable to mechanical removal), Cotton is generally utilized as a hybrid in India, but to date US cotton is predominantly inbred (one assumes this is either a cost thing, or the benefits of heterosis are not realized in the US environment – its a question that vexes me given the success of hybrid cotton in India)

    GMOs have genes of other organisms inserted in the DNA of the seeds

    This is bizarrely redundant, they have genes inserted in their DNA, this isn’t a tissue specific thing, and if it were the insertion happens to undifferentiated blobs of cells which then have to be carefully cultured back into normal patterns of growth, so mentioning seeds here makes no sense unless you’re just trying to tug heartstrings or something.

    Cows, pigs, chickens and people are not adapted to eating these new Frakenfoods so allergies, infertility and many other unexpected health problems arise.

    And off down the rabbit hole we go. You’ve gone from appearing genuinely confused about technical details to completely and utterly making stuff up (or promulgating completely and utterly made up stuff, which is a little more forgivable if a little incredulous).

    How tiresome.

  3. #3 Katharine Kierek-Pearson
    October 5, 2012

    I am a scientist and have just to shake my head for this misunderstanding of the difference between GMO and hybrid organism. Really?

  4. #4 Pete
    USA
    August 19, 2012

    GMO and hybrid plants are very different. Plants have been selected for their best qualities since the beginning of agriculture.and are called hybrid. GMOs have genes of other organisms inserted in the DNA of the seeds. This can be genes of creatures such as crabs or whatever the scientist finds will make the plant able to survive when sprayed with toxic pesticides. Cows, pigs, chickens and people are not adapted to eating these new Frakenfoods so allergies, infertility and many other unexpected health problems arise. Also the herbicides absorbed into the plant can’t be washed off and are toxic for us and other animals that eat them. Check Joel Salatin’s website for the way to raise healthy plants, animals and people.

  5. #5 Phil
    United States
    June 19, 2012

    I have not read the proposition yet, but what would qualify as GMO? Seeing as how every single crop grown for human consumption has been “engineered”. Would bananas have to be labeled since they are sterile triploid ?What about beef and chicken fed GM feed? Seeing as how the vast majority of corn and soybean has been engineered what about every product which contains GMO? What about a broccoflower?

  6. #6 pyst
    June 12, 2012

    gmos are an ip grab, nothing else

    can i plant your seed without paying a fee ?
    will you try to stop me from saving my own seed?

    what genetic engineering is about is a model that we should depend on a centralized high tech technology for our seeds and food rather than our neighbor with some land.

  7. #7 Cal Gal
    June 11, 2012

    I first found out about the GMO Labeling Initiative from a girl who was passing out heirloom tomato seeds promoting the measure. I wanted to plant tomatoes, so I accepted the seeds, but I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from arguing with her about how heirloom tomatoes are genetically modified organisms.

    There was never any science behind the GMO Labeling Initiative. Only ignorance and fear. Unfortunately, opposing the initiative parallels opposing antivaccinationists — reason gets drowned out in emotional pleas. Science, once again, comes off as some evil overlord who wants to hurt babies.

    If the labeling goes into effect, it only turns the PR tide further against all genetic modifications. Remember what happened when companies took thimerosal out of vaccines to placate the antivaccine crowd? Despite evidence not linking it to autism or Hg-poisoning, the anti-vaccinationists took it as proof that thimerosal was indeed harmful.

    Slap a label on a GMO, and suddenly it’s proof that all GMOs are going to destroy the Earth.

  8. #8 jane
    June 11, 2012

    Some of Zilberman’s claims are questionable. For example, he says that more GMOs in Africa would have made food cheaper and prevented hunger, and that GMOs in India saved lives due to reduced pesticide exposure. Maybe so. But many farmers in India have ended up killing themselves (sometimes with pesticides) because the GMO seeds, and the greater inputs they require, turn out to be so much more expensive than old-fashioned landraces that they can never escape debt. Some have also reported that GMO crops did not even produce the yield advantages claimed by the manufacturers. (There are actually legal impediments to the organized conduct of independent studies of the matter.)

    Where health is concerned, to the extent that I buy processed foods I don’t care if they have GMOs in them. But GMOs also have externalities, both positive and negative, and people have the right to decide whether they wish to support those things. Remember when the dairy industry wanted to make it illegal for milk produced without rBGH to label itself as such? They said that there was no proof of human health damage from rBGH; however, there was proof of damage to the cows’ health, and some people care about that. Zilberman says the good from GMOs outweighs the harm, period; unless he wants to publish an analysis making the weighting transparent, I can only conclude that this is based on his own personal value judgements about what impacts are most worthy of concern.

    One of the fictions that “The Free Market” is based on is the idea that everyone in a market has similar access to information. Of course it’s never been true, and agribusinesses are using ever more aggressive means (e.g., making filming of animal facilities a felony) to ensure that we don’t know what they know about how our food is produced. I’m not going to shed any tears for them if the consumer hits back for a change.