Greenpeace destroy genetically modified wheat experiment

The Conversation reports:

Scientists today said they were appalled and disappointed by Greenpeace protesters who whippersnippered a genetically modified wheat crop being grown as part of a CSIRO trial.

The trial crop was part of an investigation into altering wheat carbohydrate content to reduce glycaemic response and improve metabolic health. Planting began in 2009.

Greenpeace's justification?

"GM has never been proven safe to eat and once released in open experiments, it will contaminate. This is about the protection of our health, the protection of our environment and the protection of our daily bread."

How are scientists supposed to discover whether it is safe to eat if you destroy experiments that would address that question?

Update: John Quiggin "It will be a long time before Greenpeace can regain my support, if they ever do."

Update 2: Christopher Preston:

There is no evidence to support the claims of hazard about this trial made by Greenpeace.

I am left with the view that the destruction of this trial was unnecessary and wanton. That's why the destruction of this trial has left me completely appalled.

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Has anyone explained to Greenpeace that whipper-snippering plants is not guaranteed to prevent "contamination"? In some cases it could actually have the opposite effect.

I suspect that's part of the motivation. Prevent the data being generated, whether that is positive or negative, and they prevent the registration/licensing of the GMO.

Greenpeace will achieve their aims without actually proving whether the GMO was dangerous or not. That proof thing can be a little inconvenient, you know. Why bother having to do all that science, when you can just use guerrilla tactics instead.

> Greenpeace will achieve their aims without actually proving whether the GMO was dangerous or not.

I thought it was required that the agribusiness to prove GMOs are safe, not for Greenpeace to prove it unsafe.

Note too how the cries for complete and open access to data, papers and anything even vaguely pertinent to the research is absent when it's commercial businesses.

As to:

> How are scientists supposed to discover whether it is safe to eat if you destroy experiments that would address that question?

They aren't destroying all experiments that address the question: they're destroying SOME experiments that aren't controlled enough. You don't need an open field to grow GM foods to test this and an open field that seeds on a neighbors' land means their crop is now owned (because of patents on the discovery of pre-existing facts...).

Unfortunately Greenpeace have proven their real worth with this exercise - none.
attacking the work of scientist of one of the best science organisations in the world whose motto is to provided a better future for mankind with thorough and detailed research with all of the appropriate safety measures - versus a publicity stunt from an organisation trying create attention and emotion to keep their fund flow into their coffers.

@Wow(#4):
Check the cosmos article. Has a nice still from the film that Greenpeace shot while doing this. The entire place is covered in netting to prevent exactly your scenario from happening.

By Who Cares (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

They aren't destroying all experiments that address the question: they're destroying SOME experiments that aren't controlled enough. You don't need an open field to grow GM foods to test this and an open field that seeds on a neighbors' land means their crop is now owned (because of patents on the discovery of pre-existing facts...).

What scientific expertise do they bring to bear on the question of whether an experiment is "controlled enough"? Did they not think to communicate their concerns to the investigating scientists prior to acting like a bunch of thugs?

They apparently have so little respect for scientists, and the scientific process, that it never occurred to them that the scientists might actually pay attention to risks and ethical issues, and actually welcomed any well-founded advice on these.

Note too how the cries for complete and open access to data, papers and anything even vaguely pertinent to the research is absent when it's commercial businesses.

For goodness sake, this is CSIRO, not some monstrous multinational. (I do note that Greenpeace has a big scary block diagram of all the commercial links between CSIRO and big scary corporations, but without something more substantive this is just silly innuendo.)

I've typically argued that we need Greenpeace to counterbalance corporate rapacity. Doesn't mean I have to like it, and I certainly don't like this anti-science stunt from them which reminds me of their hysteria-based campaigning against nuclear power ... campaigning that helps the cause of the worst environmental threat to the planet - fossil fuel burning. Greenpeace is a cult like (Pfizer, Monsanto and other of) their corporate foes. It's a mad, mad world.

>and an open field that seeds on a neighbors' land means their crop is now owned (because of patents on the discovery of pre-existing facts...).

Crap. The farmer was convicted of selecting for the genetically modified trait appearing in his crop through contamination. He selected for this trait through several generations until he was effectively growing the GM crop without paying for it.

Firstly, please provide evidence of a successful prosecution or a seizure of a whole crop when there was only seeding in a neighbour's land. Just saying it happens doesn't make it happen.

Secondly, please show me how wheat (the crop destroyed in this case), which is not a wind-dispersed crop, can travel the distance to seed on a neighbour's land in any profusion.

Greenpeace is opposed to GM crops because it takes empowerment away from the farmer (a worthwhile reason IMO), but mostly because they don't understand biology and the concept of 'playing god' is convenient to scare people (who also don't understand it) with. We've been genetically modifying crops for millennia through hybridisation and natural selection, only doing so the slow way. Wheat itself is a hexaploid hybrid of at least four different grasses, including einkhorn, emmer, and two different Aegilops spp. If that is not genetic modification and a frankenfood then I don't know what is.

Is it okay to state that I have a semi-fanatical hatred of fanatics?

The idiots who carried out this attack on reason and science are fanatics. And, in this area, are as dangerous as the Taliban are in Afganistan. They both have the same basic approach to life; "We KNOW what is right, and we do NOT want any inconvenient facts to get in the way. So we will tell you what is right, and you will NOT question our holy writ. Because it is right! Because we said so!"

They are both strong in the purity of their belief, and they are both very sincere about it.

> And, in this area, are as dangerous as the Taliban are in Afganistan.

Really? Hyperbole should be kept for when it's warranted. You see, I don't think that Greenpeace have killed people, mutilated some and are teaching people to hate other humans.

> Greenpeace is opposed to GM crops because it takes empowerment away from the farmer

Snrk. Yeah. Have you talked to an impoverished (I.e. non-government-supported USian or EUian) farmer? Please, let me know how terminator gene GM crops that are patented to a corporation whose overwhelming aim is to improve shareholder value empowers the farmer? After all, the patent means that you have to LICENSE your crop. This means you give up rights to get the crop.

Just to pile on Wow a bit more: CSIRO stands for Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation - the Australian government's publicly-owned and -funded scientific body. While they do have a somewhat commercial focus, to accuse them of cover-ups the way Wow is doing is nothing short of paranoid conspiracy-mongering.

> What scientific expertise do they bring to bear on the question of whether an experiment is "controlled enough"?

They DO have brains, you know. They DO have people with degrees and so forth on such disciples as make them knowledgeable on the subject. Greenpeace don't refuse to accept anyone with science training to join, you know.

> Did they not think to communicate their concerns to the investigating scientists

Yes.

> prior to acting like a bunch of thugs?

Well, the corporations act like thugs. As ye sow, so shall ye reap and all that jazz.

> They apparently have so little respect for scientists, and the scientific process, that it never occurred to them that the scientists might actually pay attention to risks and ethical issues

Just like scientists such as Fred Singer and so forth actually pay attention to risks and ethical issues?

And do you think that if one of Monsato's scientists said "I don't think this is safe", do you think they'll be listened to, or shut up? Do you think that the scientists here:

[The Cigarette Papers](http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft8489p25j&chunk.i…)

are so very different from the ones working in Agribusiness?

> There's a name for his kind of theory.

Oooohhh, I just stepped in it!

I don't agree with the damage BUT. My parents have a farm in southern Ontario. The last few years we have had Roundup resistant weeds in the crops, like giant ragweed and pigweed. 8 ft tall and the only way is to get rid of them is by hand.

The Monsanto RoundUp GM crops have been planted continuously in the southern states for the last 15 yrs. Even though we don't use GM seeds, we now have to deal with the fallout.

Will Monsanto pay for our crop loses due to their product being misused? Don't think so.

By T.G. McCowan (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

> to accuse them of cover-ups the way Wow is doing is nothing short of paranoid conspiracy-mongering.

[Oh really?](http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/service229.htm)

[And the farmers are so empowered](http://www.i-sis.org.uk/farmersSuicidesBtCottonIndia.php)

[Whilst the genes are jumping ship](http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/antenna/futurefoods/debate/debateGM_CIP…)

[And Cotton isn't doing as well as they said](http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/Issue/pn44/pn44p6.htm)

[Whilst old-style farming is cheaper but doesn't have a lock-in](http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/~christos/articles/cv_organic_farming.html)

*Greenpeace is opposed to GM crops because it takes empowerment away from the farmer*

Whereas I do not condone the actions of Greenpeace, this statement is absolute nonsense. Take genetically modified herbicide resistant soybean - in this case farmers must effectively 'rent' seeds that are the intellectual property of the company that owns the patent. The farmers become more like assembly workers in an automobile manufacturing plant, and can hardly free themselves of this constraint. At the same time, thanks to the widespread use of GMOs, we are losing genetic diversity that is a pre-requisite for species to adapt to multiple stressors. In much of the south farmers have collected their own seeds for generations and thus many farmers each possessed seeds of certain crops that exhibited resistance to quite variable threats. The replacement of local seed collection for one genotype of genetically modified seed adapted to resist one threat is a frightening development in my opinion. And from a recent conference I attended in South Africa it is becoming clear that insects are fast becoming resistant to genetically modified plants containing insectidical toxins.

The CSIRO scientists concerned in this research were right to be appalled by Greenpeace's action. But at the same time, in complete contrast with what MFS said above, many genetically modified crops contain genetic combinations that could never occur in nature. For example, inserting the genes of insectidical bacteria into plants crosses phylogenetic barriers - and this is what many scientists (myself included) are very critical of. Moreover, the technology is hardly refined - muchy of it is based on the firing of genetic material from a 'donor' organism into the genome of the 'recipient' organism where it may end up anywhere and be expressed or not. There may be alos pleitrophic effects, if the function of some genes is linked with other genes. Finally, I consider putting the power of food production into the hads of a small coterie of powerful multinational corporations to be of profound concern.

Ultimately, GMOs require immense public relations propaganda fort their successful marketing. This is usually found by raising the specter of global hunger in advertising campaigns, when it should be obviouys that the technology is primarily profit-driven. In the end, it is high time that we realized our species will not be able to escape the bottleneck we are in through bioengineered grains and the like. Techno-fixes may temporarily delay the effects of human destruction of natural ecosystems, but in the end there must be economic and political solutions to the vast number of environmental and social problems (both are linked) that plague us.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

This is the CSIRO WOW, not Monsanto. It is possible to do agricultural science that has nothing to do with Monsanto you know. Look at what the Gates Foundation is currently pouring massive funding into.

Funny how these Greenpeace people with brains never duke it out in the peer-reviewed literature, just like their climate denialist brethren. Just selectively quote, misrepresent and generally make shit up. Sound familiar.

[And the farmers are so empowered](http://www.i-sis.org.uk/farmersSuicidesBtCottonIndia.php)

[And Cotton isn't doing as well as they said](http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/Issue/pn44/pn44p6.htm)

[Whilst old-style farming is cheaper but doesn't have a lock-in](http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/~christos/articles/cv_organic_farming.html)

If Agri-business were REALLY interested in feeding the world, they'd release the patents and set them free.

That, however, wouldn't be profitable.

> This is the CSIRO WOW, not Monsanto.

Yup. And? They'll work off work the owner of the patents gave out. They'll work within the constraints of what they consider.

> Look at what the Gates Foundation is currently pouring massive funding into.

Yah, the same foundation that gave millions to the third world for education to be spent on Microsoft products. The same foundation that killed off the OLPC because it wouldn't run Windows. The same foundation that is a huge tax break for Bill Gates (who is still richer than he was when he said he'd give all his money away by the time he dies).

> Funny how these Greenpeace people with brains never duke it out in the peer-reviewed literature,

Funny. They do. Remember the Greenpeace literature in the IPCC 4AR? Funny how the peer-reviewed literature includes only those papers that passed corporate PR.

Talk about making shit up...
[And the farmers are so empowered](http://www.i-sis.org.uk/farmersSuicidesBtCottonIndia.php)

[And Cotton isn't doing as well as they said](http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/Issue/pn44/pn44p6.htm)

[Whilst old-style farming is cheaper but doesn't have a lock-in](http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/~christos/articles/cv_organic_farming.html)

I have always been opposed to GM on environmental grounds (the risk of genes for, say, herbicide resistance or self-produced pesticide escaping into related native species) but it seems there are very good reasons for being concerned about (a) the effects of eating at least some GM foods and of using the "Round Up ready" strains and massively spraying Round Up (http://davidhortonsblog.com/2011/07/07/food-and-not-fine-words/).

I have always been a Greenpeace supporter, I think they have done good things.

This wasn't a good thing, it was grotesquely misguided, anti-science, and will ruin their own image and set back rational resistance to GM foods by years. Some idiot in the organisation should resign.

> "GM has never been proven safe to eat and once released in open experiments, it will contaminate."

It's already been fount to contaminate:[cross polination 31% up to 1km away](http://webs.chasque.net/~rapaluy1/transgenicos/Papa/GM_potatoes.html)

Because government guidelines require inadequate protection against contamination of neighboring plants and animals, the test is unsafe but government considers safe. [Or they used to](http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2011/apr/14/gm-bees). I guess some places haven't yet decided if safe is safe enough.

There is GM and then there is GM.... In this case the gene manipulation involved no insertion of outside material,but a manipulation of wheat sequences to create starches that are less rapidly digested. Rapidly digested starches are implicated in the rise of type 2 diabetes,increasing obesity and poorer bowel health. This manipulation would increase the amount of the starch fermented in the bowel with positive implications for bowel health.

Greenpeace have been needlessly,and ignorantly, destructive.

I think that settles it, Wow has gone off the deep end.

Like any conspiracy nut/denialist, all they do is try to fit any form of rationalization, reasonable or not, to their conspiracy. They then ignore information which might contradict them.

So far, all they have done is complain that corporations are evil and then try to claim that the government funded scientists are either working for them, or just as bad as them.

>that gave millions to the third world for education to be spent on Microsoft products

Your complaint is about the foundation is that the donations which helped third world countries went back to Microsoft, all the while ignoring the fact that it still helped increase education in third world countries.

Not to mention that it seems Wow's grasp on genetically modified agriculture is so narrow that they confuse the entirety of it with weed killer/pesticide resistant foods (which, as far as I can tell, this particular crop were not).

"Two directors of the biotech giant Nufarm â the distributor of Monsantoâs products in Australia â also sat on the CSIRO board at the time of the wheat experimentâs approval."

Greenpeace does nail a conflict at CSIRO, one wonders what commotion 2 oil execs would inspire.

I think GreenPeace should be 'wipper snippering' Petrol Stations, when one takes into account the melting Arctic and the Methane e.l.e below.

Ah, so you don't ACTUALLY have anything substantive other than maligning, Jasso.

Fair enough.

I guess that means we're at stage 2. Shall we cut to the chase: I win.

> So far, all they have done is complain that corporations are evil

I hope that isn't GM straw you're using.

I'm saying that corporations are run for the profit of the shareholders.

> and then try to claim that the government funded scientists are either working for them

Nope, the guidelines are written by politicians with input from lobbyists. Just like the green policies, you know, where Deep Sea Drilling is OK'd on the basis of....?

> all the while ignoring the fact that it still helped increase education in third world countries.

While you're trying to make out they're doing it because it;s right, rather than [profitable](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robber_baron_%28industrialist%29)

It would have bought MORE aid to those countries if the OLPC were purchased by that foundation. However, it wouldn't have locked them in to Western World corporation updates and service contracts.

> so narrow that they confuse the entirety of it with weed killer/pesticide resistant foods

Ah, I am Legion.

What's this "they" when you're talking about ME?

Do you have MPD and just assume it's widespread?

Why is it that the roundup ready products have been on sale for a decade and more, when a product that reduces the onset of type2 diabetes (though not being a lardass would do better, along with dropping HFCS, but you don't see that happening, do you... I wonder why?) took so long to bring out?

Would it be because the RR crop is highly profitable?

PS is this GMO also terminator gene? Have you checked? Is the answer "no"?

Wow sounds an awful lot like a conspiracy theorist of any other type. No credible science or rational analysis just 'corporations do bad things' Therefore 'Everything anyone ever associated with a corporation does is bad'.

Reminds me of a 9-11 denier.

I read of a GM modification which moved resistance to the herbicide Roundup into some wheat variety. Needless to say, Nature is wanton and soon spread the change into the environment at large. Funny? Not funny?

By Jeffrey Davis (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

The thing about patents is they do expire and many of the ones on GM crops are due to expire in the near future, including the ones on Roundup Ready soybeans (expires the end of 2014). So the GM crops do eventually wind up empowering the farmers.

The actions of Greenpeace benefited no one and in the long run hurt us all.

By Berbalang (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

>I'm saying that corporations are run for the profit of the shareholders.

And the method with which you say it has entirely been about how much harm that "for profit" policy has done, ie how being "for profit" (like a corporation) is evil.

>Nope, the guidelines are written by politicians with input from lobbyists.

Which the scientists conducting the experiment were neither. Do you accuse them of of "looking the other way" as well?

>It would have bought MORE aid to those countries if the OLPC were purchased by that foundation.

Possibly, but that still doesn't discount the fact that it was still helping. And since the money used essentially came from Microsoft in the first place, it could be seen as the foundation donating Microsoft products through a voucher system.

>What's this "they" when you're talking about ME?

I am using "they" as a gender neural singular pronoun. Look it up.

>Would it be because the RR crop is highly profitable?

Again, you seem to lump then entirety of the field into Roundup Ready. And again, this crop does not have.

>PS is this GMO also terminator gene? Have you checked? Is the answer "no"?

Have YOU checked? Is the answer "yes"? Do you know what effects would occur if it was?

> Have YOU checked? Is the answer "yes"?

Sorry, you're the one who says it's safe.

Or, rather, the one doing something dangerous without checking.

Nexus 6:
http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/blog/4523/the-sad-sad-demise-greenpeace

Thats why I stopped supporting Greenpeace years ago when i noticed, that they started to just make up stuff about various issues, just to make their points... a sincery and respectable organisation should resist such urges. A sign that they got more and more purely ideology-driven....sad but true.

>Sorry, you're the one who says it's safe.

I haven't said anything for or against it's safety. However, this experiment was designed to determine the safety of the food; which, conveniently enough, it was destroyed before it could give a yeah or nay.

In fact you have been given plenty of reasons why this crop was not a risky experiment, both in the literature and from the other commenters, yet you have ignored them.

And do you even know what a terminator gene is and what it does?

>Or, rather, the one doing something dangerous without checking.

And that dangerous thing I am doing is...responding to blog comments?

You really seem hell-bent on trying to convince everyone that Greenpeace can "do no evil" and on making people scared of anything related to genetically modified agriculture on mere assertion.

> I haven't said anything for or against it's safety.

No? What's the meaning of this then:

> Like any conspiracy nut/denialist,

When it's responding to my posts that include:

> I thought it was required that the agribusiness to prove GMOs are safe, not for Greenpeace to prove it unsafe.

So if you don't know it's safe, you are wrong to characterize it as a conspiracy.

"Oh, I didn't SAY that, I just MEAN that..." hmm?

If it's a conspiracy nut theory, then it's safe but I don't believe it because there's a conspiracy. But if it ISN'T safe, then it's not a conspiracy to say that the experiment is unsafe, is it.

> And that dangerous thing I am doing is...responding to blog comments?

Nope, testing GMOs.

You know, the CEO of Monsato isn't actually going out sowing seeds himself, you know. Yet he supports it, as do you.

And that support is dangerous unless you know what it is you're supporting.

Which you've just said you don't.

So is this because you're a flaming idiot, a knee-jerk corporatist or just a twat on the internet?

>No? What's the meaning of this then:

The meaning is exactly what it says. You are accusing the people behind this experiment of lies and distortions by comparing it to the cigarette industry and baseless assertions as well as employing the same tactics as 9-11 truthers, moon hoax believers, creationists, etc.

Nothing about calling you a conspiracy nut says anything about the safety of the experiment. It only says something about your actions.

>Nope, testing GMOs.

And I'm "testing GMOs" by ..... responding to blog comments?

>Yet he supports it, as do you.

I support scientific research, I couldn't care less who agrees with me. In particular, this experiment, if successful, was intended to help reduce type II diabetes, and I am all for that.

>And that support is dangerous unless you know what it is you're supporting.

Likewise, actions like what Greenpeace did are dangerous if they don't know what it is they are acting against.

>Which you've just said you don't.

Not knowing everything is not the same as not knowing anything. I said that the research was to test the effects of consumption. I do know that steps were taken to address risks of the wheat escaping to the wild. I also know that the actions of Greenpeace were possibly more likely to cause escape than leaving the experiment alone. I also know that you are taking an extreme stance without justification. You seem to automatically think that everyone behind this obfuscated and mislead to make an unsafe experiment.

>So is this because you're a flaming idiot, a knee-jerk corporatist or just a twat on the internet?

Take your pick, I don't really care what names you call me, since that does nothing to either contradict my position nor support yours.

> The meaning is exactly what it says.

Ah, English comprehension is NOT your forte. Meaning is what drove you to say what you said.

Apparently "a complete arsehole" is the reason why you're posting.

>Ah, English comprehension is NOT your forte

I don't think you quite understand the difference between me calling you a conspiracy nut and me saying that modified foods are absolutely safe.

When I call you a conspiracy nut, it means that I think you are a conspiracy nut, ie someone that thinks one or more people are conspiring to hide information from the public without reasonable justification or consideration. It does not mean anything beyond that.

I even emphasised this repeatedly, which you seem to ignore.

To imply that calling you a conspiracy nut says anything about the safety of the crop is just bad logic.

>Apparently "a complete arsehole" is the reason why you're posting.

Again, these insults do nothing to contradict me nor support you.

*The thing about patents is they do expire and many of the ones on GM crops are due to expire in the near future, including the ones on Roundup Ready soybeans (expires the end of 2014). So the GM crops do eventually wind up empowering the farmers*.

As I said above, nonsense. Many of these patents will be renewed. I agree with a lot of what WOW is saying. Corporations do not invest billions in R & D for GMOs and expect to get back a few rupees or dinars. They want hard cash - dollars - for their patents, and this is their prime directive. Those writing superficial sarcastic comments about 'evil corporations' here ought to read Joel Bakan's quitre excellent book, "Corporation", which is quite a shocking read. And besides, there are plenty of other reasons to be very concerned about this technology that I alluded to above. Farmers are never empowered by relying on bioengineered grains - this is pure poppycock.

The Nexus throws in this rather vacuous comment: *Funny how these Greenpeace people with brains never duke it out in the peer-reviewed literature, just like their climate denialist brethren. Just selectively quote, misrepresent and generally make shit up. Sound familiar*.

Again, not to defend environmental NGOs, but how much is the 'scientific data' provided by corporations to regulatory bodies to be trusted? My guess would be in many cases not at all. Given that most of these agencies in the US have been gutted by successive administrations or else government and corporate doors are revolving and intermixed, since when has 'corporate science' been a reliable source?

Still, I fully agree with Nick when he writes, *In this case the gene manipulation involved no insertion of outside material,but a manipulation of wheat sequences to create starches that are less rapidly digested. Rapidly digested starches are implicated in the rise of type 2 diabetes,increasing obesity and poorer bowel health. This manipulation would increase the amount of the starch fermented in the bowel with positive implications for bowel health*.

This is why Greenpeace screwed up big time in this instance. As Nick says there is cross-phylogeny GM (which rightfully concerns me) and there is within-species gene - 'tweaking' GM (in this case) which I support. Its important to separate the two.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

I'll admit that Monsato are in a bit of a heads-I-win/tails-you-lose with me but they've been banging on about how they'll put carotene in maize to make people healthier but the only thing they've pushed in that time are sales of RoundupReady seeds.

And I'm not worried about rapid digestion of starches when HFCS is pushed and, frankly, is still only a problem when you have plenty of food (see above "we want to feed the world" schtick.).

Agribusiness could be doing something right, but they have an honesty problem as big as the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. It's a big barrier to climb.

I didn't put it there, though.

And this is why I can't rail against the act done here by Greenpeace. Nobody was harmed (unlike some ALF protests).

Plus if the wheat is terminator-gene-d, this is a terrible thing to put into the wild, even in a test.

I'm not sure if Greenpeace was doing the right thing here (am not a big Greenpeace-fan anyhow), but is it wrong to be against research for commercial use of GMO?

I'm with Wow on this one. People, watch some documentaires, do some research.

@Wow #41:

Plus if the wheat is terminator-gene-d, this is a terrible thing to put into the wild, even in a test.

Why?

By Robin Levett (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

What do plants do, Robin? They have baby plants. But they're done by the process of fertilisation.

However, fertilisation is NOT the only way of transferring genes.

Therefore terminator genes that stop plants being fertile can end up in plants that were not intended to be infertile.

You can google up on all this sort of stuff if you want to know.

@Wow #44:

However, fertilisation is NOT the only way of transferring genes.

Therefore terminator genes that stop plants being fertile can end up in plants that were not intended to be infertile.

How common is lateral gene transfer in grasses? My impression (admittedly without deep study - I'm a lawyer not a scientist dammit) is that it is far more significant among bacteria and between organisms in a parasitic relationship than among multicellular organisms generally.

Unless the rate of LGT is pretty high, even if the terminator gene got into the wild, it would be pretty self-limiting, wouldn't you say? The only method of further propagation would be LGT; and for LGT to create infertility, the gene would have to be spliced into the right place in the genome to cause infertility. So we've got one pretty small number - the chances of LGT happening at all; multiplied by another pretty small number - the chance of the transferred gene hitting the right spot on the genome; representing the chance of LGT causing infertility.

Where it is expressed, of course, evolution would take its course to eliminate what is a pretty significant evolutionary disadvantage.

So how realistic is the fear? Do you have any scientific literature to cite?

By Robin Levett (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

> How common is lateral gene transfer in grasses?

Not very.

But then again, that isn't what you asked for. You asked:

> > Plus if the wheat is terminator-gene-d, this is a terrible thing to put into the wild, even in a test.

> Why?

The answer to that is that running around with terminator genes means that the wheat isn't just "cross-phylogeny" or just about combating Type 2 Diabetes.

Disclaimer - I'm a Monsanto employee, employed in R&D, comments herein are my own and do not reflect the opinions of the company (etc etc)

Wow - on "terminator" technology - why exactly do you have a bug up your ass about this? The technology has never been used in a commercialized product and is merely a patent which Monsanto holds due to the acquisition of Delta&Pine - a technology they have said they won't use (due to perception issues) despite the fact that it would frankly put an end to many of the perceived issues with GMOs (gene flow, accidental presence etc) as a plant which is infertile leaves no progeny to cause these issues in the first place.

@Wow #46:

If (and I stress if) there is essentially no chance of any consequences of putting terminator genes into the wild, then why is it "a terrible thing" to put into the wild?

By Robin Levett (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ewan R: as someone with admitted experience in agribiz, would you care to respond to Jeff Harvey's first comment on this thread? I'm kinda leery of GM foods (the monoculture/lack-of-diversity issue concerns me); but I'm not really decided one way or the other. Your response would be appreciated.

By Raging Bee (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Raging Bee - sure, I'll give my take.

Take genetically modified herbicide resistant soybean - in this case farmers must effectively 'rent' seeds that are the intellectual property of the company that owns the patent.

Not really - farmers purchase the seed, not rent it, they sign an agreement that they will not save seed for use the next season etc which is really the only rent like aspect here - the trait in the seed is the intellectual property of the company, although PvP type intellectual proerty may also apply.

The farmers become more like assembly workers in an automobile manufacturing plant, and can hardly free themselves of this constraint.

This is pretty nonsensical and I'm not entirely sure how to approach it - the farmer can do whatever he wishes in terms of cultivation of the crop - if they're using RR they'll likely spray roundup for weed control, and if they're using Bt crops ten they may hold back on insecticidal sprays... but everything else they'll do exactly as they wish.

At the same time, thanks to the widespread use of GMOs, we are losing genetic diversity that is a pre-requisite for species to adapt to multiple stressors.

This assertion relies on the fallacy that a given GMO type is genetically homogenous as compared to varieties used previously - GM traits are not only used within wide germplasm within the companies who originated them, but licensed widely between seed companies both small and large - corn and soy variety numbers have seen a steady increase over the past decade if I remember the figures correctly. Introgression of traits into varieties suited to various conditions is a key part of the success of GMOs.

The replacement of local seed collection for one genotype of genetically modified seed adapted to resist one threat is a frightening development in my opinion.

See above. Also note that the utilization of hybrid seed and non-farmer saved seed is pretty much ubiquitous at least in North America, and that if farmers wish there is utterly nothing preventing them from saving seed (they jsut can't, at present, use GMOs - although when RR soy goes off patent in the next few years the capacity to save GM seed will arise (and then face the spectre of going off regulatory approval some time around 2020 or so, which is as far out as Monsanto has promised to provide regulatory approval support for this trait - hopefully the ag industry in general and governments globally can work together to make the transition to off-patent traits smooth as the current structure is set up such that they'll become all but unusable as soon as there isn't a vast amount of money supporting global regulatory approval maintainance)

many genetically modified crops contain genetic combinations that could never occur in nature.

For a given value of could. (logically with sequencing one could select for jsut about anything in a genome given a large enough population and relying entirely on random mutation to provide the variation - might take a while though) Although indeed most agricultural crops contain genetic combinations that could not survive in nature anyway (could occur, would be selected against) And why something being able to occur in nature is a good call on whether to use it or not is beyond me - I'm thinking insulin produced by bacteria isn't something that could occur in nature, but it certainly isn't something I'd argue is a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.

For example, inserting the genes of insectidical bacteria into plants crosses phylogenetic barriers

Mustn't cross arbitrarily assigned barriers right? One wonders why not exactly, but it sounds scary if you don't think about it too deeply.

muchy of it is based on the firing of genetic material from a 'donor' organism into the genome of the 'recipient' organism where it may end up anywhere and be expressed or not. There may be alos pleitrophic effects, if the function of some genes is linked with other genes.

This rather makes out that the whole process is done willy nilly and nobody checks anything.

For a GMO to be a commercial success it has to be pretty much as good as the best hybrids available (there was some intrinsic yield drag for the first generation of RR soy - but here there seems to be a modicom of confusion as to whether this had a real on farm impact - soy yields as reported by the USDA didn't appear to take a hit, and the tests which demonstrate the difference are generally in agronomically ideal situations which are rarely the case on production farms (the average yields were awesome compared to national averages)) so you can't have awful pleitropic effects etc, or non expression - this is one of the things which makes developing a commercially viable GMO so expensive - you have to generate a ton of events (individual insertions of the gene cassette of interest) screen through these to find those which are efficacious (in terms of RR and Bt this is as simple as spraying on roundup or making sure bugs die when they eat 'em) and then take your efficacious events to the field to make sure they yield in the same sort of ballpark as the non-GM version. You also have to, to get regulatory approval, demonstrate that what you inserted is actually what you think you inserted, show that it's in the genome, show you haven't inserted stuff you didn't want to, show you haven't interrupted other gene function etc etc - all of these things can happen when genetically modifying an organism using current techniques - but they are all checked for - events which fail any of these stages are tossed out until you are left with the result of a single insertion which went right, does what you want it to, and passes regulatory muster.

Ultimately, GMOs require immense public relations propaganda fort their successful marketing.

Not really - pro GM propaganda actually appears to be spectacularly underfunded, particularly to the general public, where opinions like your Jeff's and Wow's are probably more likely to be heard (although generally the feel I get is that people don't give a damn) - what GMOs require for success is to work. If they don't work farmers don't buy 'em - the reason for the massive adoption of GMO crops lies not in the crafty dealings of Monsanto PR, but in the fact that farmers like to have simplified weed management, they enjoy the extra time they get, they like not having to spray insecticides as much, they prefer higher profits - take away these boons and the whole GMO arguement goes away because nobody would use them - to think otherwise is to assume that all farmers are dirt stupid with the business savvy of igneous rock.

"ation into altering wheat carbohydrate content to reduce glycaemic response and improve metabolic health. Planting began in 2009."

what a bizarre justification. How about just eating less wheat? As in not putting it in every single food, eating wheat at every single meal? And eating only whoe wheat? How high is whole wheat's glycemic index? This whole story stinks to high heaven.

Altering the carbohydrate content? Sounds like that fat that you can't absorb so you can eat all the potato chips you want.

This is a stupid use of science - to increase some industry's profits.

Exactly what is going to substitute for the carbohydrates in this popular source of, uh, carbohydrates? What next, meat with less protein for people with kidney problems?

Go, Greenpeace.

Ewan, I'm genuinely interested and don't mean to be aggressive.

Given Monsanto's reputation, and the reputation of agribusiness in general (or at least that's the impression I received after watching many, many documentaries and doing research): how do you deal with that? Do you really feel that the development of GMO for profit is without risk?

Neven:-

Ewan, I'm genuinely interested and don't mean to be aggressive.

You don't come off as agressive at all, so no worries on that front (I'm relatively immune to agression anyway as I get wrapped up in teh sound of the clicky clack of my keyboard while I write spit flecked responses)

Given Monsanto's reputation, and the reputation of agribusiness in general (or at least that's the impression I received after watching many, many documentaries and doing research): how do you deal with that?

I honestly don't feel that I have anything to deal with on this front - I chose the bachelors degree I chose (molecular genetics - which frankly I'd have been better off doing crop science or something, but that's what happens when you let 17 year olds choose degrees) precisely because of the GMO work Monsanto was doing in the late 80's and early 90's - I was pretty unfamiliar with all the hoo-ha accompanying Monsanto at the time, and totally unaware of agriculture in general - working at the company now I don't see the same Monsanto that is portrayed in various documentaries etc - I could perhaps respond on a point by point basis rather than attempting to deal with anything - historical wossnames I tend to view as more indicative of the time in which they occured, and I guess I also compartmentalize a little with the justification that the Monsanto of the 50's through late 70's isn't the same company as that of the 2000's+ - I generally view the reputation of agribusiness in general (at least on the seeds side - I can't say quite the same for the downstream processors) as unwarranted, again if you require specifics you'd have to probe and I'll do as best I can as to provide an answer.

On documentaries etc I try to keep in mind that a documentary showing that something a global corporation did wasn't actually nefarious and evil at all likely wouldn't cover its costs (Food Inc is about the only one I have watched, and amusingly it was my wife (culinary trained, no real passion for GMOs either way) who spent more time shouting at the TV than I did)

Do I feel that the development of GMO for profit is without risk? Unfettered I have no doubt there are risks - the risks as I see them in the current regulatory and legislative environment however are miniscule enough to be discounted - the pre checks on everything we put in the field are laborious and at times stupid but all geared towards minimizing risk - any hint of risk is enough to have a project slated - management are incredibly risk averse when it comes to the impacts a product may have - the global regulatory environment is such that I simply cannot see how anything harmful would get through - GM crops require clearance not jsut in the US, but in all export markets - and that is no mean feat (at present Japan essentially is the gold standard as their requirements exceed everyone elses, down to having to actually perform the trials in Japan (I guess for oversight issues) despite the chance of crops being grown in Japan being negligible - they are however one of the world's most important import markets, so without approval you don't have a product generally)

What is kinda sad in terms of the research that Greenpeace jsut destroyed however is that it doesn't appear to have been driven by the awful corporate spectre which overshadows much of GM research - indeed it wouldn't would it, as we have our stealth helicopter gunships and the like to keep them off our plots - this approach, combined with the massive regulatory burden on any GM crop, essentially plays right into the hands of big corporations (if you're taking a conspiratorial viewpoint you may even suggest this is all on purpose - I don't think so personally) - you can't really complain that only big corps are involved in this work when you go out and destroy the work of anyone too small to smoosh you (in court) and work to ensure that the regulatory burden on GM crops is in the $100M range - big corps are, under these circumstances, the only ones with the wherewithall to get a product to market.

Apologies for tangential rambling here... thats what you get for lack of aggression

It's politics. Greenpeace are useful in some cases, but no one should be surprised when enthusiastic activists do something you weren't expecting or agree with.
In order to achieve a goal, you often have to get into bed with people you don't agree with 100%.
Personally I am not sure about GM, it depends on the motives of the people developing the product. Some seem to want to develop GM plants or crops to mask the polluting actions of other human activities, that seems pretty dumb when we should be tackling our bad habits rather than masking them.

In some respects, supporting GM is a sort of climate denialist thing. eg. as long as there are positive outcomes of employing science they are all for it. But if the science points to the fact that we have to stop doing something (climate science) then it is bad.

GM is probably always go to be a sticky subject. We'll have to get used to it. My preference is organic where possible even when I'm on a low budget. In any case some organic products are cheaper than conventional these days, well it can be if you look around. Certainly some organic products can be cheaper than popular brand name products.

> slower digestion of starches

No doubt they checked whether starches that are harder to digest would cause any problems for termites and fungi, because the precautionary principle ...

... oh, wait, Monsanto is a US corporation, isn't it? And they don't believe there could be any problems with genes spreading, and this stuff only matters for the time span of the patent anyhow, so they wouldn't have considered any of the the obvious consequences of changing starches to make them less digestible.

Hank - why would Monsanto give a flying frog either way about the consequences of this particular trial given that it... isn't their trial?

Do try and keep up.

Thanks for the answer, Ewan. It helps to make things less black and white, although it would take a lot for me to trust big corporations as Monsanto (as long as their bottom line is making shareholders happy).

On the other hand, of course, it would be strange for you not to be loyal. For you Monsanto is the people you work with. I have friends who work for big banks that invest in land mines and the coal industry. But all the colleagues are such great people!

Food Inc. wasn't exactly fantastic, but there are a couple of others, that - even if only 50% correct - do not paint such a great picture of Monsanto. Most of them have Percy Schmeiser in them.

But to truly assess the situation, I'd have to do more research. Either way, I always wonder how people rationalize working for multinational companies that are willing to go far for profit.

Most of them have Percy Schmeiser in them.

The facts of the Schmeiser case rather undermine his capacity to invoke pity. I'd suggest if the documentaries mentioned don't mesh with the facts of the case as presented below then the documentary is likely simply just making crap up, or at least promulgating crap that has been made up without doing the requisite research. I'm lazy at the moment so I'll simply copy and paste my schtick about Schmeiser in response to Wow over at erv:-

this is a guy who discovered the accidental presence of the gene (the general feel isn't that it arrived on pollen, but blew in off the back of a truck, not that how it got there is particularly pertinent) - at which point he was totally non-culpable as a patent infringer, he then selected for the RR canola by spraying ~3 acres with roundup and collecting the seed from the plants which survived (probably still not culpable, but this isn't exactly normal behaviour) - this seed was stored separately from the rest of his seed and subsequently used to plant ~1000 acres - at which point only an utter imbecile would claim that the presence of the transgene was accidental - it's all there in the court documents - 1000+ acres of saved seed with absolute foreknowledge that these seed contained the RR gene (which unless Percy was living in a box he'd know was patented material) certainly falls under the category of intentional presence - Schmeiser decided to fight this (perhaps for celebrity, who knows? Not sure what the green global lecture circuit pays these days - probably more than farming, I know I keep it in mind as a nice early retirement opportunity should I ever become disenfranchised) and lost hard, repeatedly.

Ewan: thanks for the lengthy response. I don't have time to respond at length, but re: my concerns about monoculture, I will quickly note this: you say that farmers can still use their own seeds, but you do acknowledge that monoculture is a serious problem, and implicitly admit that the farmers HAVE to use their own seeds to counter the problem that widespread use of one standard GM seed creates. And that, in my mind at least, raises doubts about how much of a net improvement GM crops really bring. The whole point of creating a new crop through technology seems to be that large numbers of people are expected to use it, because it's allegedly better than the old stuff, and that's where the benefit comes from. But if that results in monoculture, then the net benefit may not be nearly as great as expected.

Not really - pro GM propaganda actually appears to be spectacularly underfunded...

Forgive me for being rude, but HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW...

By Raging Bee (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ewan seriously undermines his case when he says this: *the risks as I see them in the current regulatory and legislative environment*

What environment? In the U.S. the regulatory and legislative environment is practically non-existant, particularly since the Reagan administration which helped to eviscerate regulations in the environmental arena. Since then, *substantial equivalence* has predominated, which is utterly meaningless is one considers that this ignores important intrinsic physiological traits that are impossible to verify visually. As I also said above, regulatory bodies are often occupied by people who used to work in the same corporations they are supposed to be policing. Its a classic case of the good-cop/bad-cop strategy.

Furthermore, a BS in Molecular genetics provides zilch in the way of qualifications to be able to assess the ecophysiological risks of GMOs in nature. I might just as well trust the opinions of a guy who works in a cardboard box factory. IMO the most terrifying development is that a small number of powerful corporations - including those which created toxins like agent orange and PCBs - have more recently ventured into other domains, and are now buying up seed companies in order to exert control the food supply. They aren't doing this out of any altruistic aim, but in order to maximize profit.

What strikes me about Ewan's emails is their striking naievete. Its is if he has not considered any of the many arguments that undermines his views. As I said above, my concern over GMOs would be slightly reduced if they were not hindered by that tidy little tag: intellectual property rights. Moreover, I will also reiterate that bioengineered grains require deep PR cover that manifests itself through the threat of poverty and hunger. But the devil is in the details: many farmers in the south are so poor that they can barely afford a hoe, let alone pay the staggering cost (or annual levies) for GMOs. Simply put, there is more than enough food the profoundly reduce starvation in the developing world, but there is a massive equity gap that maintains (or exacerbates) poverty whilst keeping the rich world in control of the planet's natural resources. Prominent economists like Patrick Bond, Tom Athanasiou and Samir Amin have made this point clear many times, but clearly people like Ewan have never heard of them.

The thrust of my argument is that IMHO most GMOs - at least in those examples where phylogenetic barriers are crossed - pose profound risks to the environment. IMO they are profit and not hunger driven, and that the technology is hardly ' advanced' but still very crude. Moreover, the widespread use of GMOs in cropping systems promises to reduce genetic diversity, making it that much easier for weeds or insect pests to evolve resistance to them (as is already happening with many examples evident in only a few years). Genetic diversity in natural populations is a pre-requisite for adaptation to multiple challenges, and in many genetically modified crops this is being lost through the mass production of one genotype. I work with wild brassicaceous plants and in wild cabbage plants, for instance, we can find enormous genetic variability in secondary plant compounds (phytotoxins) in populations growing naturally only a few kilometers from one another. These differences suggest that the plants are possibly adapted to a suite of biotic and abiotic constraints (e.g. micro-climate, moisture, temperature, pathogens, herbivores) that are local in scale. Single genotypes of GM plants may be resistant (at least temporarily) to one kind of threat but not to many others, and thus balancing selection is lost.

These and many other factors need to be considered in exploring this technology, but so far, in my view, this kind of rigorous scrutiny appears to be lacking.

Finally Ewan writes this disposable remark: *Not sure what the green global lecture circuit pays these days*

I will answer it: a lot less than the contrarian/anti environmental/pro corporate lecture circuit. There's a huge slush fund in that area, as one can see by the volumes of money flowing into think tanks, astroturf lobbying groups and PR firms. In "Trust Us, We're Experts" (2001) John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton showed that in 1998, agribusiness firms invested 29 million dollars in lobbying members of Congress. That same year, *all* NGOs - and that covers an enormously wide field including the environmental arena - spent a measly 4.7 million dollars lobbying Congressman. And recall that this is only lobbying money, and excludes other monies such as those donated for election campaigns. Its clear which 'side' has more money at their disposal.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Well, I was in a meeting with Percy Schmeiser where I live in Austria, and I don't buy that he tried to rip off Monsanto, was caught lying and then continued to lie because he's getting rich lying during lectures all over the world. But if he is, he and his wife are fantastic actors.

Either way: I really don't like the idea that DNA can be patented. And I don't like it especially if it is patented to make profits. I wouldn't want to be associated to that kind of set-up, so I take my hat off to you, Ewan. I couldn't do it.

@MFS

Greenpeace is opposed to GM crops because it takes empowerment away from the farmer

Sorry, I think this is just populist bunk. The overwhelming determinants of "empowerment" are the economic and social relationships under which GM or any other technology is, or is not deployed. It is not some intrinsic property of the science and technology itself. One could also observe that in developing countries, small farmers are already well and truly dis-empowered.

Following this sort of populist line promotes neither public understanding and informed discussion of the technology itself nor critical examination of the social, economic and legal framework under which it may be deployed. Buried in the political economy of the latter are the issues of social equity.

This same sort of stuff is also enlisted in some of the politics of the anti-nukes. Nuclear power is held to be the property of the Very Big Corporation or of the state and therefore not nice. Which kind of ignores the fact that if renewables are ever deployed on the scale needed then they will also be the property of the same sort of players and in many cases the same players. The social and economic relationships will have changed not a jot.

Some people sympathetic to Greenpeace may think this type of politics to be anti-capitalist, but it really isn't. It's just confused.

Sadly, this is a PR disaster for Greenpeace.

Imagine if climate sceptics had broken into CSIRO labs and destroyed computers in order to stop "modelling" of the climate?

We'd be outraged. I'm sorry - but while I've had some sympathy for Greenpeace over the years, anyone with a genuine respect for science and empirical evidence should be appalled by such luddite behaviour.

A war on science, whether waged by those on the "right" or "left" is still a war on science. It casts a shadow of fear over research.

We rightly condemn the death threats made against climate scientists.

Greenpeace claim they had "no choice":

â...We had no choice but to take action to bring an end to this experiment,â said Greenpeace Food campaigner Laura Kelly. âGM has never been proven safe to eat and once released in open experiments, it will contaminate. This is about the protection of our health, the protection of our environment and the protection of our daily bread.â

There is no empirical evidence backing these claims.

One cannot accept climate science and reject other empirical facts because they don't fit your world view.

This makes them no better than the climate sceptics.

By Watching the Deniers (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Just to back up my statements with evidence, the following bodies have stated at this point there is no risk from GM, and that millions of people have consumed GM food with not one case of harm reported:

@008 study by Royal Society of Medicine: Key S, Ma JK, Drake PM (2008). "Genetically modified plants and human health". J R Soc Med 101 (6): 290â8. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2008.070372. PMID 18515776

US National Academy: "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population." [http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10977#toc]

See also:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food#Health_risks

I note Greenpeace state that CSIRO is a "front" for big firms. How do these allegations differ from climate sceptics stating the CSIRO is a front for a world wide conspiracy:

"...The CSIRO is being used as a front for foreign biotech companies; this has compromised its research and put Australiaâs multi-billion dollar wheat industry at risk."

Are scientists the tools of high taxing socialists or evil capitalists?

By Watching the Deniers (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Watching the Deniers, if you want to discuss this on a conspiracy theory level, bear in mind one big difference: in one case science is opposed by Big Industry X. In the other case science is supported by Big Industry Y. Both Big Industries are lobbying very hard to protect their profits.

Now if everything in the food industry was hunky dory, I'd say: What a coincidence! But I'd rather be careful in adopting a view that can be transposed to whatever you like, or did you also believe that tobacco was good for you?

Every issue must be judged on its own merits. And I can help it, but as soon as there is some Big Industry involved that cares about one thing only: infinitely growing profits, I get a tad suspicious.

So, it's entirely possible to say: AGW is potentially dangerous, and GMO is potentially dangerous. I don't see how taking position on one thing, forces you to a certain position on some other thing. Because the scientists say so? Scientists can be very different across different disciplines.

Greenpeace has never had any useful traction or influence in the climate debate (at least in Australia), with their lobbying of govt possibly counterproductive, and their stunts and campaigning too polarising to be of net value.

It seems they are pretty much the same for other environmental issues, except maybe whaling and nuke testing.

I'd like to thank Jeff Harvey for injecting a bit of sanity into this thread. The misplaced trust of the GM-food-supporters is incredibly naive. Planting GM food releases genes into the environment which contaminates others' crops against their wishes. That's all there is to it.

And despite all the talk of GM crop to cure this and fix that, virtually all of it so far has been aimed at increasing their sales of pesticide.

The case of Percy Schmeiser seems quite polarising: here is a farmer whose land was contaminated by Monsanto - he tried to "empower himself" by doing exactly what farmers have been doing for 8,000 years and he was prosecuted for it.
You either support that situation or you don't. If you do support it, there is something wrong with you.

This particular action seems slightly misguided, but then with extremists like Monsanto on the loose, it is good to have balancing extremists whose motives are far less questionable.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

What environment? In the U.S. the regulatory and legislative environment is practically non-existant, particularly since the Reagan administration which helped to eviscerate regulations in the environmental arena.

The global regulatory environment - the one that costs ~$100M to get a GMO trait approved in - it wouldn't matter if the US regulatory environment didn't exist as you'd still be left with the Japanese and the Europeans to deal with - unless what you're suggesting is some sort of global conspiracy whereby a company that makes a couple billion a year net profit has the power to control all the world's governments or somesuch.

which is utterly meaningless is one considers that this ignores important intrinsic physiological traits that are impossible to verify visually

Although the literature shows substantial equivalence in metabolites, transcripts, reaction of test animals to feedstuffs - what magical physiological traits are you on about which cannot be verified?

Furthermore, a BS in Molecular genetics provides zilch in the way of qualifications to be able to assess the ecophysiological risks of GMOs in nature.

I don't believe that anyone asserted that it was - a capacity to read the literature, 10 years of following the subject with an interest capable to read the literature, and 3 years working in the industry however does allow me to speak with a little bit of knowledge on the subject (you may have noted my crack about crop science perhaps being a better subject to have taken was a little bit of self depracation for picking the wrong subject...)

IMO the most terrifying development is that a small number of powerful corporations - including those which created toxins like agent orange and PCBs

See even with my BS in molecular genetics I'm aware that agent orange was created by the US government, not by any powerful corporation.

my concern over GMOs would be slightly reduced if they were not hindered by that tidy little tag: intellectual property rights

This doesn't track - you make a song and dance about ecophysiological issues which are utterly unrelated to intellectual property rights - what the lack of IP rights would do is effectively kill the entire endeavor (if you can't make back the cost of regulatory approval then you don't make the GMO (or at least never release it) - perhaps this is what would assuage your fears?

The thrust of my argument is that IMHO most GMOs - at least in those examples where phylogenetic barriers are crossed - pose profound risks to the environment

Nebulous uncategorized and as yet undocumented risks - one would think that after 15 years these risks would have made themselves clear if they existed.

Moreover, the widespread use of GMOs in cropping systems promises to reduce genetic diversity

Only that it doesn't, as I made clear above - the traits are introgressed into many different varieties - you seem to be stuck on the erroneous assumption that all GMOs are the same basic genetic package - they ain't.

many farmers in the south are so poor that they can barely afford a hoe, let alone pay the staggering cost (or annual levies) for GMOs.

Staggering costs? Can you back this with any sort of evidence? The costs paid by cotton farmers in India, for instance, equate to less than 2% of the overall cost of growing the crop and lead to 50-150% increases in annual income - the pricing of GM seeds is based on a value share - farmers end up making more than they pay for the seeds (if not why would they buy the seed again - if a farmer doesn't buy again then wherein the profit?)

Genetic diversity in natural populations is a pre-requisite for adaptation to multiple challenges, and in many genetically modified crops this is being lost through the mass production of one genotype.

which GM crops have mass production of one genotype? It certainly isn't corn, it certainly isn't soy, it ain't cotton - perhaps alfalfa and sugar beets - I'm not actually sure here - but the trend for every GM trait introduced is initial release in a small number of germplasms followed by increasing germplasm offerings as the trait matures - this is increased by the cross licensing of traits across the whole industry (Monsanto's single biggest customer is probably pioneer - who license Monsanto traits and introgress them into their own diverse germplasm)

These differences suggest that the plants are possibly adapted to a suite of biotic and abiotic constraints (e.g. micro-climate, moisture, temperature, pathogens, herbivores) that are local in scale. Single genotypes of GM plants may be resistant (at least temporarily) to one kind of threat but not to many others, and thus balancing selection is lost.

Only that as stated, there is no single genotype - you need to stop being so dishonest around this.

I will answer it: a lot less than the contrarian/anti environmental/pro corporate lecture circuit.

But - more or less than a farmer makes... which is rather the pertinent question - the only qualification required to get on the green lecture theatre is a good sob story - veracity of the tale is clearly unimportant etc.

Well, I was in a meeting with Percy Schmeiser where I live in Austria, and I don't buy that he tried to rip off Monsanto, was caught lying and then continued to lie because he's getting rich lying during lectures all over the world.

He is however being whisked around the world to tell his tale to the credulous - the court documents are readily available for anyone to peruse and the story contained therein matches my above characterization - the additional conjecture on my part was mostly lighthearted - and has no evidencial backing whatsoever.

I really don't like the idea that DNA can be patented. And I don't like it especially if it is patented to make profits.

It technically isn't as simple as that - it's a specific configuration of DNA that would be none obvious (under the legal meaning) used for a specifc purpose in specific crops - the whole of which represents a ton of research and development effort plus the cost of regulatory approval - what would be your option for recouping this cost and cultivating innovation in the field? (Cost recouping, cultivating innovation, and sharing of knowledge are essentially what the patent system is built around)

And despite all the talk of GM crop to cure this and fix that, virtually all of it so far has been aimed at increasing their sales of pesticide.

Horseshit - profits this year from roundup sales have netted $900M (an increase on last year, but still well under the heydey of patented roundup), profits from seeds and traits were in the region of $2.9Bn (this sector has seen year on year increases)- the money comes from the seeds and traits - the pesticide sales quite clearly aren't the drivers here - makes a nice story though as pesticides are clearly teh ebil compared to just plants.

So 25% of their profits are from selling pesticides and that's not a driver?
Has anybody told their shareholders this?

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Would we even be having this discussion if Greenpeace hadn't done what they had done? They tried other tactics and they were ignored. They wrote to the companies to ask for more information on the testing and they were denied. People love to bash Greenpeace's actions before they know the full story, and the bullies they are up against.

Look up 'GM Genocide' in India. Presenting them with the exact promises they are presenting us with, healthier more effective grains. They went on to destroy hundreds of thousands of farmer's crops, which ultimately cost them their lives as 1000 people a month take their own lives after losing everything. These GM companies are con artists and we're falling for it. Meanwhile no other country in the world has allowed GM wheat testing, not hard to guess why.

So 25% of their profits are from selling pesticides and that's not a driver? Has anybody told their shareholders this?

25% of the profits are from pesticides, you claim this 25% is the reason that the other 75% is done, I was merely pointing out that this is a ludicrous stance - the other 75% is done because it is vastly profitable, that it may boost the sale of roundup is just a happy coincidence (particularly now that roundup is off patent meaning that the sales of both are not inextricably linked)

Look up 'GM Genocide' in India.

How about look it up honestly rather than looking up crank pieces. There is no link between GM release in India and increases in suicide. There is however a proven advantage to utilizers of GM cotton of increased yields and increased net incomes - if the technology was responsible for a "genocide" you are left in the rather sticky predicament of explaining precisely why adoption has increased every year in India in absolute lockstep with massively increased cotton production - these two facts simply don't mesh at all with any hypothesis that GM cotton is failing to the extent in India that it would be responsible for a wave of suicides (and indeed when one looks at the rate of suicide amongst Indian cotton farmers spanning the period of introduction of GM cotton what is abundantly clear is that the rate doesn't change at all)

@ Neven,

AGW is a little more than potentially dangerous - it's a risk, which the scientific evidence clearly shows. We can argue the particulars, the rate of temperature change etc. Sure, but we now that more CO2 in the atmosphere will raise surface temperatures.

Risk of GM foods? Where is the peer reviewed science supporting the claims made by Greenpeace?

I've been to their web site, and seen claims but no evidence. There is an [open letter from some scientists and GPs](http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/PageFiles/320004/Open_%20letter_%20…) (!) citing some [flawed studies](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food#Health_risks).

Wiki sums up the debate, I'm going through the papers.

>>"...In 1998 Rowett Research Institute scientist Ãrpád Pusztai reported that consumption of potatoes genetically modified to contain lectin had adverse intestinal effects on rats.[108] Pusztai eventually published a letter, co-authored by Stanley Ewen, in the journal, The Lancet. The letter claimed to show that rats fed on potatoes genetically modified with the snowdrop lectin had unusual changes to their gut tissue when compared with rats fed on non modified potatoes.[109] The experiment modified potatoes to add a toxin (snowdrop lectin), but the experiment failed to include a control for the toxin alone or a control for genetic modifications alone (without added toxin); therefore, no conclusion could be made about the safety of the genetic engineering. The experiment has been criticised by other scientists on the grounds that the unmodified potatoes were not a fair control diet and that all the rats may have been sick, due to them being fed a diet of only potatoes.[110]

And:

>>"...In 2009 three scientists (Vendômois et al.) published a statistical re-analysis of three feeding trials that had previously been published by others as establishing the safety of genetically modified corn.[111][112][113] The new article claimed that their statistics instead showed that the three patented crops (Mon 810, Mon 863, and NK 603) developed and owned by Monsanto cause liver, kidney, and heart damage in mammals.[114] A 2007 analysis of part of this data by the same group of scientists funded by Greenpeace[115] was assessed by a panel of independent toxicologists in a study funded by Monsanto and published in the journal Food and chemical toxicology. Some reviewers reported that the study was statistically flawed and providing no evidence of adverse effects.[116] The French High Council of Biotechnologies Scientific Committee reviewed the 2009 Vendômois et al. study and concluded that it "..presents no admissible scientific element likely to ascribe any haematological, hepatic or renal toxicity to the three re-analysed GMOs."[117][118] An evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority of the 2009 and 2007 studies noted that most of the results were within natural variation and they did not consider any of the effects reported biologically relevant.[119][120] A review by Food Standards Australia New Zealand of the 2009 Vendômois et al. study concluded that the results were due to chance alone.[121]"

I'm sorry, but we've all seen these tactics before:

>>"Independent" scientists questioning consensus science.

>>Arguments based on controversial, if not flawed research.

Again I ask - where is the evidence? An assertion of malevolent intent is not evidence.

I'd ask you, or anyone from Greenpeace the following quesions:

>>Do you accept the position of the US National Academy of Sciences, that do date there is no evidence of anyone suffering harm from GM foods? Y/N?

>>Is an attack on the work of scientists justified or not? Y/N?

>>Do the "ends justify the means"? Y/N?

These are the central questions.

No one gets a free pass on making claims on scientific matters without good, clear evidence supported by solid peer reviewed evidence.

The irony is that I've been accused of being a green-fascist-luddite by climate sceptics for accepting the science of climate change.

If there is a risk associated with GM foods, then it needs to be investigated. Greenpeace is effectively silencing scientists by such acts. Teh only way to determine the risks to agriculture, ecosystems and public health is through research.

As a member of the lay public I trust the scientific method and community. Yes, some get it wrong. Theories can change. But isn't that the nature of science?

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Here is a post I put up on Coby Beck's "How to talk to a climate sceptic" blog a few months ago.

................................

The four areas that I think are important are:

Environmental effects

Economic effects, especially wrt farmers

Potential health effects, both human and animal

Lack of proper regulatory control of GMO's

Iâll start with potential health effects.

When I first became aware of attempts to create herbicide resistant crops I was not worried about potential health effects. At that time (mid 1980âs) there were a number of groups working on creating herbicide resistant crops. One group in Calgary was using a modified mutagenic approach and other groups were using different but similar approaches.

However, the most successful appeared to be the use of genetic transfer. Genes for enzymes capable of breaking down the herbicide were introduced using what became known as recombinant DNA (r-DNA) technology. My initial views were that introducing one foreign gene product into a plant could have no harmful effects. So for the next few years I was more interested in following up on harmful environmental effects such as gene transfer (herbicide resistant weeds) and the harmful effects of excessive herbicide use.

As the years passed by some of the actual techniques used in the r-DNA technology became available. I became quite concerned when I discovered that it was just not one gene but several which were transferred into the host plant. Two genes in particular raised warnings. Firstly the whole technology required the addition of a promoter gene to get a decent level of enzyme production. Secondly, antibiotic resistance genes were introduced to enable researcher to select positive insertions of the genetic cassette. Both of these are not what one could call benign.

The promoter gene is obtained from a virus. Promoter genes raise concerns because they may induce other normally silent genes to become active in either the host or other organisms. One of the most worrisome cases is that the promoter gene may activate viruses which have their DNA incorporated in the mammalian genome. Such viruses are well known and some cause cancer. These virus genes can also be activated by chemical carcinogens. The problems with antibiotic resistance genes are well known.

These potential problems were raised when r-DNA technology was first used but the people involved said that they were confident that incorporated genes could not be transferred either from plant to plant or from plant to animal. Such predictions have been shown to be myths and the genes are very labile and have been found in many places where they are not supposed to be.

Another problem with r-DNA which may, and has in fact been shown to, cause health problems in animals and humans is that the gene product as expressed in the host organism is not the same as the initial protein which when isolated from its true host e.g the BT toxin is not the same when produced in Bacillus thuringiensis as when produced in BT corn. The reason for this is what is called post-translational modification (PTM). PTM can take a variety of forms but usually involves a shortening of the translated protein or modification such as glycolysation (addition of various sugar groups to the protein). The PTM is determined by enzymes from the new host thus the finished protein can be quite different from the original. It is the original that was tested, in isolation, for potential health effects.

This is exactly what Dr. Arpad Pusztai did. He was a pro GMO scientist who was picked by the UK Government to design protocols for testing GMOâs. He did some preliminary experiments on this and decided that one of the things he would check is to see if the GMO organism is more than the sum of its parts. He added all the ingredients in a GMO (he made his own GMO potato) separately and compared that to feeding the GMO. He found nothing when the ingredients were added separately but found many problems in the animals fed the GMO. Thus there is something in the procedure which is the culprit. Unfortunately, his work was immediately halted and he was fired when he presented the preliminary results.
There are many other cases of problems when feeding GMOâs to animals. There was a celebrated case when GMO maize was fed to dairy cows in an experiment in Hesse, Germany. A couple of the cows died. The experiment was immediately stopped and all of the cows disposed without proper autopsies. How about the experiment by the Russian scientist Dr. Irina Ermakova at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences

who fed GM food to the food of female rats, starting two weeks before they conceived, continuing through pregnancy, birth and nursing. Others were given non-GM soya and a third group was given no soya at all. She found that 36 per cent of the young of the rats fed the modified soya were severely underweight, compared to 6 per cent of the offspring of the other groups. More alarmingly, a staggering 55.6 per cent of those born to mothers on the GM diet perished within three weeks of birth, compared to 9 per cent of the offspring of those fed normal soya, and 6.8 per cent of the young of those given no soya at all.

Then there is the case of the results presented to the US Government for testing and approval. Eventually these results were released (in Germany) and the results mimicked the results found by Pusztai.

Why are these results found? First of all, in the US the GMOâs are not tested per se for toxicity or health effects. The groups producing them only have to show âequivalencyâ to the non GMO counterpart. That is only a very gross analysis and involves nutrient content, protein content and does it âlook likeâ the native organism. In the case of insecticidal proteins (BT) the original BT as produced by the bacterium (it was an approved microbial pesticide for many years and is approved for âorganic useâ) was used as the hall mark for the new BT incorporated into the new crop. This has been shown to be untrue in at least two properties. Firstly, the gene isolated from the bacterium and inserted is shorter than the native gene thus the protein will be different (possibly three dimensional structure). Secondly, the toxic protein is a highly glycolysated protein. The genes for this are in the bacterium not in the plant. The GM toxic protein will have completely different sugar molecules added. This will have a tremendous effect on the immunological response between native and genetically engineered proteins.

My own thoughts on the regulatory process for these products is if the results had been presented for a lifesaving drug they would not get past Phase Zero or Phase One clinical trials let alone be approved for use.

.............................

The science is good but the technology is dreadful showing that technology is not just scaled up science but involves a number of other disciplines, all of which have to be examined and a cost benefit analysis performed to determine the success, or lack of success, of any new technology.

I don't agree with what Greenpeace did but I also don't think that the research plan came anywhere close to stopping migration of genetic material from the test plot. Wheat and barely are wind pollinated and it has been shown that GM pollen can migrate long distances (many kilometers) from the test site. Check out the GM grasses recently tested in the States.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Watching the deniers quoted Wiki as follows:

The letter claimed to show that rats fed on potatoes genetically modified with the snowdrop lectin had unusual changes to their gut tissue when compared with rats fed on non modified potatoes.[109] The experiment modified potatoes to add a toxin (snowdrop lectin), but the experiment failed to include a control for the toxin alone or a control for genetic modifications alone (without added toxin); therefore, no conclusion could be made about the safety of the genetic engineering.

This is a completely wrong (dishonest?) description of the Lancet paper. Here is a quote from that paper:

We compared the histological indices of the gut of
rats fed potato diets containing GM potatoes, non-GM
potatoes, or non-GM potatoes supplemented with GNA, to
find out whether GNA [Galanthus nivalis agglutinin: snowdrop lectin] gene insertion had affected the
nutritional and physiological impact of potatoes on the
mammalian gut.

http://www.biosafety-info.net/file_dir/385548857c702dc83.pdf

I'm afraid there is as much misinformation spread by the GMO companies and their supporters as there is by the fossil fuel industry.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

I've donated to Greenpeace every month for a decade. This is the last straw. Despite their other good work, their anti-science and increasingly illogical approach to nuclear power and GM means I'm withdrawing my support. This from International Executive Director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo
:

A handful of GM chemical companies are working with government scientists on a type of white bread they say will cure bowel cancer. The reality however is that this magically modified white bread is no better for you than any number of safe, healthy, affordable foods already available in local grocery stores.

"Cure" bowel cancer?! How's that for denialist style mis-representation. As for "magically modified white bread"!? This is just scientifically illiterate fear mongering. These people used to be heroes - now they just sound like ignorant luddites. Very sad.

By Pete Bondurant (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

> âThey walked in wearing full hazmat gear and walked out
> without encountering a single security person...."
from the original article

Did Greenpeace mention whether they carefully removed all the pollen from their hazmat suits and tools? Somehow I doubt it.

I think reality is getting ahead of us rather quickly:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20694-e-colis-genetic-code-has-be…

How timely:

DNA is now DIY: OpenPCR ships worldwide 06 Jul 2011

http://openpcr.org/2011/07/dna-is-now-diy-openpcr-ships-worldwide/
"... OpenPCRs are on their way to users in 5 continents and 13 countries around the world. For $512, every OpenPCR kit includes all the parts, tools, and beautiful printed instructions â you ONLY need a set of screwdrivers.

A PCR machine is basically a copy machine for DNA. It is essential for most work with DNA ...."

Like Pete Bondurant, I've been supporting Greenpeace for years. I'll be withdrawing my support as well, and letting them know why.

While I'm dubious about the safety and benefits of GMO, I'm not a life scientist. Every credible scientist I've heard give an opinion on them (most prominently Lord Robert May) doesn't seem to be concerned.

I don't believe we're justified in cherry-picking which science we accept, and which we deny.

By David Irving (… (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

@ Ian Forrester

I know what the paper claimed: it is the methodology of the research methods that are in question, and it would seem to be flawed research.

That's the point, and I was very, very clear in stating that flawed research does not make the foundation of a rationale argument.

[Enserink, M. (1999). "TRANSGENIC FOOD DEBATE:The Lancet Scolded Over Pusztai Paper". Science 286 (5440): 656a. doi:10.1126/science.286.5440.656a](http://www.sciencemag.org/content/286/5440/656.1)

But you've not answered my direct questions:

>>Do you accept the position of the US National Academy of Sciences, that to date there is no evidence of anyone suffering harm from GM foods? Y/N?

>>Is an attack on the work of scientists justified or not? Y/N?

>>Do the "ends justify the means"? Y/N?

So, anyone arguing the anti-GM cause prepared to tackle these questions.

Imagine if religious extremists attacked a research facility developing a new form of birth control. Would we be outraged? Of course, they'd claim the moral high ground.

What do we need to help clarify the the risk of GM foods? More research. But we can't do research if extremists attack the work of scientists.

This is what frustrates me about some elements of the environment movement: it gives the likes of Andrew Bolt/News Corp/Alan Jones perfect fodder to tar scientists with the same brush.

A few activists feel they've "done something". Thanks guys. Good work. In the midst of the *very important* CO2 debate and what looks like a runaway greenhouse effect kicking into high gear, these stunts are nothing more than "own goals".

@ Tim Lambert - good to see John Quiggin coming out swinging. Those of us with a respect for science and the scientific method need to equally condemning of anyone waging a war on science.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

@ Hand Roberts

End of article notes;

>>There are other advantages. Genetically engineered organisms whose genomes are written in a brand new genetic code cannot mix promiscuously with other organisms if they escape into the wild. A new genetic code would also confer immunity on bacterial cells against viruses, which attack by incorporating themselves into the host cell's own DNA. That could help with applications like drug production: the bacteria we engineer to produce drugs like insulin are routinely attacked by viruses.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Back in the 1990s CSIRO senior scientist were lamenting the funding regression from pure science to Applied science. Then the move to more commercial partnerships.

Last I heard CSIRO where beginning to require more and more commercial partnerships in order to win internal funding allocation. This grant transmutation coincided with the rapid growth in for profit biotech and monopolisation of genomes.

[Maarten Stapper](http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/csiro-dumps-antigm-expert/2007/0…) believes that his GMO caution got in the way of this new commercial partnership funding paradigm. Though *assistant chief of plant industry, Dr Mark Peoples, said Dr Stapper's redundancy had nothing to do with his views on genetic engineering. A project on the management of irrigated wheat he had worked on was now finished.*

Howerver, what Mark Peoples asserts was a simply a case of Stapperâs work finishing, actually required a mediator in 2004 *to resolve a dispute between Dr Stapper and the then head of the plant industry division, Dr Jim Peacock*

[More recently]( http://www.crikey.com.au/2008/07/21/csiro-scientists-gm-letter-campaign…) CSIRO Plant Industry Deputy TJ Higgins has defended the safety of GMO crops by making an improper associations between regulatory tests required for current commercial GMO (such as Monsantoâs Roundup Ready Canola) , and with effectiveness of case-by-case evaluation of GM plants*â (such as was done with Higgins GM Field Pea, abandoned because toxicologists found it caused immune problems and lung damage in mice.*)

But Higgins' *claims are âsimply wrongâ says nutritional biochemist and epidemiologist Dr Judy Carman, whom the West Australian government commissioned to undertake independent studies into the safety of GM foods.*

>*Carman told Crikey: âTJ Higginsâ GM pea provides a clear example of the failings of our current GM food regulatory regime. The pea failed miserably on all the [independent health] tests conducted.â And despite Higginsâ claims, âthese tests are not required by our food regulatorâ.*

Watching the deniers said:

Do you accept the position of the US National Academy of Sciences, that to date there is no evidence of anyone suffering harm from GM foods? Y/N?

How can the US NAS make such a ridiculous assertion? There have been no feeding trials on humans, except for the huge unregulated one where GMO's have been added to the average diet without anyone's consent or knowledge.

In case you are unaware of it there is no labeling of GMO's in the States or anywhere else. Milk can be labelled as GMO free except in the US.

Therefore my answer to your question is I do not accept the NAS position since it is impossible for them to have reached that decision because we cannot connect illness to eating GMO's. There are a large number of peer reviewed papers which show that GMO's are harmful to animals, including the study which you do not seem to understand or are deliberately misinterpreting. Shades of AGW deniers here.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

It's no worse than the misrepresentation that has accompanied Monsanto's unrelenting PR.

The fact is that Greenpeace aren't trying to sell us anything, whereas Monsanto is pursuing profit by deliberately releasing something into the environment which will contaminate others' crops, whether they want it or not.

Think Cane Toads. But far, far worse.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

@ #81 - why bring wishful thinking into this? This isn't about organisms with a brand new code, but about organisms that *do* promiscuously share their Frankengenes with other organisms in *my* environment. No rational person should be happy about this incredibly poor way of implementing a supposed scientific advance.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

@ Ian Forrestor

Again, I know what the paper said. I'm not misrepresenting it. All the literature cited that "proves" GM foods may be harmful have been examined and shown to be flawed. Go back and read the quote I got from Wikipedia, and look at the follow up studies/research.

I think I'm really, really clear here. Look past that paper.

You say "How can the NAS make such a ridiculous statement..."

So - where is the evidecne of harm? Can you point to a fatality? An injury? No?

Do you accept their position on AGW?

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Tim asks:

>*How are scientists supposed to discover whether it is safe to eat if you destroy experiments that would address that question?*

Indeed, but how are scientists supposed to discover whether it is safe to eat long term if they limits tests to [28 day feeding trials](https://p3-admin.greenpeace.org/australia/PageFiles/321712/Greenpeace%2…)?

It can take months for some substanced to imbalace one's system or build to a level that produced toxic effects. I've recently suffered zinc toxicity which took 12 months to build up to a level high enough to produce pathalogical symptoms. Insulin resistance associated with diabeties can take decades of poor diet to produced its expression.

>there is currently no publicly available information on the parameters of these animal-feeding studies and the OGTR
does not require testing for potential toxic or allergic effects [...] Greenpeace has submitted a Freedom
of Information request to the CSIRO for both the health and safety parameters and the ethics clearance papers relating to the testing of GM wheat on humans. CSIRO has denied
this request [...] This removes the capacity for any
external review of the testing of potentially unstable, experimental GM products on Australians.

>The limited public information that is available indicates that CSIROâs tests on rats and pigs will run for just 28 days before GM wheat is tested on humans. The first two phases of human tests will go for just one day.

>Can you point to a fatality? An injury? No?

We'd also have trouble finding a fatality caused by smoking if we couldn't find who smoked and who didn't

>*Greenpeace has a big scary block diagram of all the commercial links between CSIRO and big scary corporations, but without something more substantive this is just silly innuendo.)*

[The text](https://p3-admin.greenpeace.org/australia/PageFiles/321712/Greenpeace%2…) accompanying that diagram reads:

>This yearâs GM wheat trials were proposed and approved while two directors of Nufarm were serving on the board of the CSIRO. Nufarm is the exclusive distributor of Monsantoâs
Roundup Ready products in Australia. Doug Rathbone has been Nufarmâs Chief Executive and Managing Director since 1982. During this time, he served on the board of CSIRO from 2007 until 2010.9 John Stocker joined Nufarmâs board in 1998. He served simultaneous appointments as CSIRO Chief Scientist
from 1996 to 1999 and returned to CSIRO as Chairman from 2007 until 2010.10

>The CSIROâs current GM wheat project was locked in during this time â a clear confl ict of interest. CSIRO policy requires that no board member of CSIRO should become entitled to receive a benefi t by reason of a contract made by CSIRO with a firm the board member represents.

>We've been genetically modifying crops for millennia through hybridisation and natural selection, only doing so the slow way

Our tried and tested hybridisation does not produce large random damage to the genome like a gene gun does (damage to genes can have significant and unpredicatable an effects).

Nor does our hybridiastion place the new the new gene is a random spot along the gene sequnce (like the gene gun, where changing place on in the gene sequence can have significant and unpredicatable an effects).

@ jakerman

>>"Can you point to a fatality? An injury? No?

>>We'd also have trouble finding a fatality caused by smoking if we couldn't find who smoked and who didn't>

Ah yes, but millions of people have been eating GM foods for over 15 years, again got the NAS report.

Again I ask: point me to a fatality or injury.

Unless like Ian you're going to dismiss it out of hand without reading it?

I mean, you wouldn't want to dismiss information based solely on gut feeling? Right?

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

>*but millions of people have been eating GM foods for over 15 years*

Yep, and millions smoked. After more than a century of not finding any fataltiy due to smoking, we were eventually able to conduct epidemilogical population studies. Key to such studies are the questions like:

* do you smoke?
* how long have you smoked?
* how much have you smoked?

The equivalent GMO questions are not answerable by most of the popution where GMO are avalible. Hence I take a conservative appraoch rather the Laissez-faire three monkey approach to public health. Especially when there is little gained but gene monopolisation the current by commercial GMO crops.

Are you suggesting that

>*Again I ask: point me to a fatality or injury.*

Same answer WTD, you count

Please ignore anything from *"Are you suggesting that"* in my post @92

>*It seems we're prodding an angry beast with a sharp stick in more ways than one.*

My understanding is this would have likely been GP's aim. To get the subject into the public eye, rather then hidden away.

As I said above, nonsense. Many of these patents will be renewed.

This is simply incorrect.

Except in extraordinary cases (undue approval delay at the PTO, or undue delay due to an interference proceeding), U.S. patents cannot be renewed. I'm not especially familiar with foreign patent law, but I know that European patents are also 20 years with no further renewal, and I think the same is true for most signatories to TRIPS (which mandates a minimum term of 20 years, but no maximum term).

Davis,

Your defense of GMOs is feeble. As I said earlier, there are many reasons - both socially, politically and environmentally - to be very concerned about the spread of some aspects of this technology. If your only defense is that some patents will not be renewed in several years then you've already lost.

WTD: in the U.S. most of the research on cross-phylogeny GMOs is done by the corporations themselves, who then hand their results to the regulatory agencies. Given that the FDA and EPA have been reduced to mute status, many of these results are accepted as valid and used in evaluating the safety criteria. My point is that inserting the gene of an insecticidal bacteria into a plant and then expecting it to be an important arsenal in pest control is very much mistaken... plants have evolved to respond to a myriad of threats in the environment, and yet here we are assuming that one genotype of a certain crop will enable pest damage to be reduced over an extended time period. As I witnessed at a conference I attended recently in Bloemfontein South Africa, talk after talk addressed rapid resistance of some serious pests to GMOs. The whole technology reeks with simplistic assumptions about nature whilst ignoring the fact that diffuse selection operates in natural selection, whereby optimality is evolved through compromise. Threats to fitness are dynamic and often unpredictable.

And to reiterate, much of the technology is not driven through anything other than short-term profit. Even if some of the patents were not renewed after 5 years, who cares? The horse has already bolted and the ecological questions remain.

Ewan, I am not being dishoest about genotypes. Let me ask you this: Is there more genetic diversity in Roundup ready resistant soybean or in the seeds that farmers have collected for years after harvest? In Bt-maize or in wild types of teosinte as well as in many different strains of maize that are grown by different cultures around the world? Don't be stupid! Your BS degree is certainly clouding any rational judgment you have on this issue.

The rest of Ewan's responses to my posts are useless bunk. Fifteen years is certainly not long enough to verify the many potential hidden dangers in this technology to the environment or to human health. He has never heard of the 'extinction debt', or of time lags in cause-and-effect relationships in global change scenarios. Besides, there is also evidence that many weeds are becoming resistant to herbicides as a result of increased spraying on crops, as well as insect resistance to Bt-crops. Hardly unexpected. When Ewan writes, * There is however a proven advantage to utilizers of GM cotton of increased yields and increased net incomes -* he is speaking more rubbish. GM cotton is not well adapted to very wet environments and soils, which are characteristic in cotton growing areas of India. The use of GM cotton in India, from all available evidence, has been an unmitigated disaster.

And the technology is not cheap. Its not aimed to benefit farmers in the south but investors in the north.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Let me ask the proponents of GMOs this: if the public really does want GMO food, why is it that they refuse to allow marking of food products with GMO products in it?

A free market REQUIRES a fully informed consumer.

Why then are you refusing to inform the consumer?

This excellent article in the GMO journal sums up some of the scientific concerns over the technology:

Loss of Biodiversity and Genetically Modified Crops
By Deniza Gertsberg | June 17th, 2011 |

It is a statistic that is hard to deny: industrial forms of agriculture, with emphasis on large-scale monoculture crop production, have a negative impact on biodiversity. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, referring to the scale of the loss as âextensive,â found that some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost since 1900 as farmers turn to genetically uniform, mass-produced crop varieties.

The term âbiodiversityâ was derived from âbiologicalâ and âdiversity,â and refers to the total diversity of all life in a given locale â one as small as a backyard (or smaller) or as large as the entire planet Earth.

Since genetically modified crops (a.k.a. GMOs) reinforce genetic homogeneity and promote large scale monocultures, they contribute to the decline in biodiversity and increase vulnerability of crops to climate change, pests and diseases.

Genetically modified crops grow in a dynamic environment and interact with other species of the agro-ecosystem and surrounding environment. As âbiological novelties to the ecosystems,â GM crops may potentially affect the âfitness of other species, population dynamics, ecological roles, and interactions, promoting local extinctions, population explosions, and changes in community structure and function inside and outside agroecosystems.â

The recent concerns raised by Dr. Don Huber, who noted a link between GM crops, engineered to withstand continued applications of glyphosate, plant diseases and spontaneous abortions and infertility in pigs, horses, cattle and other livestock, further underscore the troubling fact that GM crops may likely have a larger negative impact on the agroecosystem and the surrounding environment. More importantly, Huberâs revelations further point to the inaccurate assumptions made by this nationâs regulators. GM crops are not substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts, they interact in novel ways to impact the plant, the soil and the animals that consume them and government agencies should think twice before deregulating GMOs.

Independent scientists studying the affects of GMOs have also raised other concerns regarding the impact of GMOs on biodiversity. The spread of transgenes to wild or weedy relatives, the impact of GMOs on nontarget organisms (especially weeds or local varieties) through the acquisition of transgenic traits via hybridization, the evolution of resistance to pests (in case of Bt crops), accumulation of Bt toxins, which remain active in the soil after the crop is plowed under and bind tightly to clays and humic acids and the unanticipated effects of the Bt toxin on nontarget herbivorous insects, ((Garcia and Altieri.)) are areas of concern as are increasing concerns about the adverse impact of GMOs on insects (such as bees, for example), nematodes, and birds, all of whom either consume GMOs seeds or their by-products or are present in glyphosate saturated soils. â[T]he vast majority of soybeans and cotton, and 70% of our corn, is Roundup Ready, leading to over 230 million lbs of glyphosate being sprayed each year,â noted Bill Freese, the Science Policy Analyst at the Center For Food Safety.

Furthermore, the impact of GMOs on biodiversity is also seen in the development of superweeds and superbugs since over-reliance on and the abundant use of single herbicide and pesticide lead to resistance in the pest community. The âunregulated use of glyphosate-resistant crop systems has triggered an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds infesting 10 million acres or more,â in this country alone.

GMOs contribute to a decline in biodiversity in one other way. According to Bill Freese, the Science Policy Analyst with the Center For Food Safety, as biotech companies acquire conventional seed companies, conventional and organic seeds are pushed out. Freese states that:

When Monsanto buys up seed firms, it discontinues the conventional lines, and offers only biotech versions. ⦠So from Monsantoâs perspective, it makes no sense to sell a high-quality conventional variety when you can charge higher prices and make more money selling that exact same seed, only with a Roundup Ready or other biotech trait(s) stuck into it.

Itâs not just Monsanto. Bayer and other biotech firms donât want to sell conventional varieties anymore. [They are] [n]ot as profitable. And since the biotech trait is patented, you get the bonus of patent protection when you insert the trait into a seed. That allows the likes of Monsanto to sue farmers for the âcrimeâ (patent infringement) of saving seed, ⦠.

While additional studies are needed to gain a fuller understanding of the impact of GMOs on biodiversity, the currently available information begs the question of whether GMOs bring more harm than good, especially when small-scale farmers, using ecological methods, can address the pressing agricultural concerns.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Jakerman:

Our tried and tested hybridisation does not produce large random damage to the genome like a gene gun does (damage to genes can have significant and unpredicatable an effects).
Nor does our hybridiastion place the new the new gene is a random spot along the gene sequnce (like the gene gun, where changing place on in the gene sequence can have significant and unpredicatable an effects).

Do you realise that you're making exactly the same error made by creationists when they dismiss evolution: focusing on the "random" and completely failing to consider the all-important selection?

Let's look at what happens when plant cells are transfected with a new gene. First, out of the millions that are treated, only those that stably express the vector are selected for. Of those, the ones that have incorporated defective or empty vector are weeded out. Then, the ones that fail to form proper plants are of course discarded. Of the population left, the edible parts are thoroughly assayed against their wild-type counterparts to look for any nasty surprises. Then, after all the boxes have been ticked, a crop may be grown for safety trials in animals. It's only after years of testing that a new GM product goes to market.

Now, let's consider some numbers. An average cell, plant or human, undergoes between one and ten DNA damage events every second. All entirely random, most (but not all) repaired with high fidelity. In the time you've taken to read this, the DNA in your body has undergone some few hundred trillion double-stranded breaks. Obviously, since you're still with us, random DNA damage isn't really as scary as it sounds.

Now let's consider the techniques used in traditional plant breeding. In order to develop a wide range of variability to select for, the tried-and-true method used by plant breeders is to... expose plants to mutagens. Flush a greenhouse with mustard gas, expose the plants to a cobalt-60 gamma source, that sort of thing. Then collect the seeds, plant them and see what comes up.

The level of testing required need be no more than "Oooh, that's a BIG one!" - there is no safety testing required for plants developed in this manner. Most of the fruit and vegetables currently sold in supermarkets have at least one such event in their family tree.

So, if it's really the spectre of random genetic changes with inadequate safety testing that you're afraid of, I'd advise against eating... well, pretty much anything, really.

>*Funny how these Greenpeace people with brains never duke it out in the peer-reviewed literature.*

Nexus6, [here is](https://p3-admin.greenpeace.org/australia/PageFiles/321712/Greenpeace%2…) a key reason there are few independent studies in the peer review:

>In 2009, Scientiï¬c American and Nature Biotechnology reported that GM company contracts prohibit independent researchers from accessing the seed needed for environmental and health research.

>The independent research on GM that does exist consistently reports different results to GM company research on both the health risks and agronomic performance of GM crops

[...]

>Greenpeace has submitted a Freedom of Information request to the CSIRO for both the health and safety parameters and the ethics clearance papers relating to the testing of GM
wheat on humans. CSIRO has denied this request, declaring this information commercial in conï¬dence.

The Australian public fund the CSIRO, yet CSIRO's commercial partnerships forbid the disclosure of health and safety parameters of tests.

[Here are](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/07/greenpeace_destroy_genetically…) some of the commercial interests.

> focusing on the "random" and completely failing to consider the all-important selection?

But we don't know the consequence of the selection.

After all, I could SELECT you for vivisection to see if I can remember where the appendix goes.

So stop complaining about the randomness of my desires and consider the all-important SELECTION.

Gene splicing puts us in a situation where we have nothing to guide us: there are no natural insect/wheat hybrids. Cross breeding puts us in a nearby available genetic space, where our extrapolations can at least be vaguely trusted.

You're like the denialists who look at the projection of 2-3C warming and think "Well, that's only a little bit warmer" when forgetting that 2-3C warmer could take us into a new climate pattern, one where we don't know and can't reliably extrapolate our experience so far.

You're like the man falling off a tower block, thinking "I'm safe so far and I've fallen 10 floors. So another 10 won't do any harm". Whooshing past the second floor saying "So far, so good!".

*Of the population left, the edible parts are thoroughly assayed against their wild-type counterparts to look for any nasty surprises*

So much for Triustan's argument. He lost it right there. Thoroughly assayed by who? The patent owner? This kind of argument is made up on the spot. To reiterate again, interphylogenetic GMOs create organisms that could never have occurred in nature. Never. Period. As Jakerman said, the technology is very crude. Its not the same as traditional plant breeding, not by a long shot.

And not surprisingly Tristan has not addressed the myriad of other reasons to hold this technology in grave doubt. Let's say its safe to eat for argument's sake. That in no way makes it socially or environmentally sound technology.

Back to the drawing board for you, Tristan.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

Wow: what the fuck?

>*Let's look at what happens when plant cells are transfected with a new gene. First, out of the millions that are treated, only those that stably express the vector are selected for. Of those, the ones that have incorporated defective or empty vector are weeded out*

Only the cells that appear stable using limited screening are selected for, we don't know how stable they are due to the signification and unknown damage that occurs to the genome.

Rather than the conventions causes of mutations we have evolved to deal with, gene guns make are large disruption in the formation state on the new gene, these mutations are subsequently passed to every cell of the new organisation, multiplying billions of times. This is radically different to the rate of mutation normally dealt with by organisms.

@ Tim, sorry, for the first time since I've been lurking and commenting here, I just can't see what the fuss is all about. One CSIRO GMO experimental plot gets trashed, a few in the dotEDUdotAU community get snotty, and this is the downfall of Greenpeace? I mean, really??. For the life of me I can't see why this is worth more than a mention, let alone what some at The Conversation are getting their knickers in a knot about.

I'm with jakerman, Jeff Harvey and those who:

a) question the efficacy of the methods employed to insert genes in plant genomes;

b) have rational, reasonable grounds for significant unresolved doubts about the benefits accrued from these radically modified organisms vs. the potential effects of their release into "the wild" (and the consequent, significant [until proven otherwise] risk to naturally-occurring organisms, communities and ecosystems - i.e the Precautionary Principle);

c) wonder about the influence of the $ and significant global corporate influence on scientific establishments and endeavour; and

d) highlight the need for long-term studies to determine whether human intake of GMOs AND their release into the environment has, on balance, an undesirable effect.

And to those who've suddenly come over all conscience-stricken about their Greenpeace subscription over this (relatively) minor issue, I say you were Clayton's supporters in the first place - a few Greepeace bods slashing a CSIRO plot isn't exactly busting into Crick and Watson's lab and shutting off the power. It's probably a cock-up on the part of Greenpeace, and certainly a PR blunder, but the event itself is small beer people. Get a bloody grip.

[FTR I'm not a Greenpeace subscriber, but I do subscribe to several volunteer not-for-profit organisations. For those who can't see the wood for the trees, I support these organisations (like I would Greenpeace) for their general approach to the matters I give a shit about, and more often than not their take on specific matters. This does NOT mean I support EVERY SINGLE EDICT OR ACTION they take - indeed, if any one of these orgs acted in a way I wasn't happy with, I'd ping others' views and make damned bloody sure the organisation knew that a number of their supporters, members and subscribers had the right raving shits and wanted something done about it.]

PS Whether the majority of academics at The Conversation or the assorted commenters here crticise, castigate and calumnify Greenpeace or not, the plain fact is that without activist organisations like them (and FoTE, The Wilderness Society and the Victorian Forest Alliance), approaching sweet fucque-all would ever get on GetUp, let alone the MSM, and it certainly would not get stopped when it needed to be stopped (see the shit-fight that is Australian Regional Forestry Agreements). Before anyone jumps down my throat, I'm not saying that these organisations don't make mistakes and are not above criticism, but without them our planet would be a significantly worse place.

By all means let's have intelligent, informed debate about GMOs, and certainly let's debate effective methods of protest. But FFS people, getting all steamed up about one hiccup in a greater issue? Get some f**king persepctive.

Further more, stability of genes in not the only concern with significant random mutation. There are also toxic effects induced by exposure to products of stable but significantly altered novel genes.

SteveC, that comment was rather like Richard Dawkins one to the Skepchick complaints.

And you know what happened to HIM!

All I'm saying is take care out there...

Brilliant post by SteveC. Many thanks for it, and also to jakerman.

I am not a member of Greenpeace, but IMHO this incident is a blip of insignificant proportions. A stupid, irrational act and a PR blunder for sure, but not worthy of some of the invective I am reading on this thread.

My concern is certainly much more placed in the direction of a small number of essentially borderless, immensely powerful multinational corporations who appear to be trying to take over control of the human food chain. And of course there are many reasons for this concern as I have alluded to above, and which Ewan and his acolytes have failed to address at all successfully. Monique Robin addresses some of these concerns with great alacrity in her book, "The World According to Monsanto" (chilling read, I may say). "Redesigning Life", edited by Brian Tokar and with contributions from many scientists, also is worth a read.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

Intelligent and informed debate? Yes, that'd be nice indeed! Instead, we're stuck with word salad like this:

Rather than the conventions causes of mutations we have evolved to deal with, gene guns make are large disruption in the formation state on the new gene, these mutations are subsequently passed to every cell of the new organisation, multiplying billions of times.

and similar strings of sciencey sounding words from people who don't understand the basic science - heck, don't even understand the basics of what science is. But, they've got positions, and they're strong positions. Important positions, darn it. And being strong, important decisions, they have to be defended at all costs. If defending them requires the use of large quantities of bafflegab, lots of emotional buzzwords, ignoring counterpoints and outright lying - well, so be it. After all, these are strong, important positions we're talking about, so of course defending them is paramount, right? Right?

> and similar strings of sciencey sounding words from people who don't understand the basic science

Rather odd coming from someone who has dished out their own smorgasbord of greenstuffs themselves on this splendid picnic.

Again there's nothing here about what "science is" that is understood, instead just a tirade against people who don't agree with tristan.

Tristan I note your declination to address the arguemnt and instead your fall back on abuse. So be it.

I'd agree that GP's action wasn't all that clever.

But I'm also not so thrilled with the CSIRO experiment.

Our experiences with experimentation in the field of agronomy have been pretty disastrous (something like 4 useful pasture grasses for 60+ noxious weeds over the 20th C) . It seemed like a reasonable idea to grow a few feilds of some potential useful grasses and see how they went......except that some went quite well and, strange as it may seem, they just spread....and keep spreading.

Gamba grass is threatening the destruction of the tropical savannahs from one such failed experiment.

I'd like to think we've learned our lesson, but the controls on these experiments seem just a little lax.

If something like this were a medical experiment, I suggest it might have a snowflakes-chance-in-hell of getting ethics approval.

Actually Tristan makes a good point regarding word salad. The one he quoted reveals the person making the statement doesn't understand what they're talking about so an informed debate isn't possible. Every second rebuttal would be "Please crack open a first-year textbook".

We should listen though to find out what their concerns are. Maybe they're misinformed, or maybe they might have valid concerns but lack the background to articulate it, or lack the knowledge to know why that particular concern has already been addressed. If they choose to remain willfully ignorant so they can hold onto their opinions in the face of contrary fact, then they'll be no different from other deniers of all stripes.

I also think we should listen because their concerns may initially be more about marketing, market domination and monopolies, economics, onerous restrictions on farmers/growers, etc. That is a whole other area of debate, and I think we should first learn what a person's main objection is--economic/free market or the actual science, or both strongly intertwined--you can explain the science all you want and not change a person's mind** if their objections are based on past abuses by large companies. And in economics, opinion is often just as valid as any other knowledge.

**I know, often you can explain science all you want and still not change a person's mind even if their objection is strictly based on their misinformed science.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

"Planting GM food releases genes into the environment which contaminates others' crops against their wishes. That's all there is to it."

Exactly. And to repeat, this GM experiment is totally unnecessary. Try eating less wheat or stick to complex carbs (in moderation) for the exact same results. Or better, since we already know that that alternative works.

Why this experiment? just because it is "science" all us scientists must defend it?

So why not look into other posts, Daniel? E.g. Ian Forrester above. Or Jeff Harvey. Or any post by anyone where the posters position is articulated to your satisfaction?

In short, rather than look for posts you don't understand, look for posts you do. If there aren't any THEN articulate your problem with the counter proposal posts.

Watching the deniers claims that Dr. Pusztai's research protocol was wrong and badly designed. Too bad that wtd did not show some sceptism and actually read what others have found out about the correctness of Dr. Pusztai's research.

For those not cognizant of the Royal Society's biased and completely wrong assessment of GMO's I will point out that they have been shown to act like the AGW deniers in their biased and compromised support of the GMO promoters.

[Here](http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/12411-biotech-propag…) is a summary of the conclusions reached by independent scientists on the quality and validity of Dr. Pusztai's research findings:

Dr. Pusztai's research design had already been used in over 50 peer-reviewed published studies conducted at the Rowett Institute, the most prestigious nutritional institute in the UK. Furthermore, the design was explicitly approved in advance by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)âthe UK government's main funding body for the biological sciences.

The validity of the work was also confirmed by an independent team of 23 top scientists from around the world who reviewed the research, as well as The Lancet, that published it.

But Chassy and Tribe instead reference their partners-in-spin from the Royal Society. As indicated in Part 1, at the Society there are plenty of scientists with close ties to the biotech industry who came in quite handy during the Pusztai affair. They staged a so-called peer-reviewâthe first in the Society's 350-year historyâbut it was more of a hatchet job. The reviewers didn't even bother to look at all the research data. Dr. Pusztai told me he had offered to provide the complete findings and to meet with them to answer questions, but they refused.

The editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, denounced the Royal Society's unprecedented condemnation of Dr. Pusztai as "a gesture of breathtaking impertinence to the Rowett Institute scientists who should be judged only on the full and final publication of their work." He called it a "reckless decision" that abandoned "the principles of due process".

I urge readers to read the whole report as it confirms the government and institutional bias and dishonesty in approaching the GMO debate.

A very good web site for info on GMO's is GMwatch which is on a par with Realclimate in giving an honest description of what is happening with GMO's.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

I want to thank some of you guys, Jeff Harvey, jakerman, Wow, Ian Forrester, for your passionate and informed rebuttal. I know I should be researching it more myself and form my own opinion (which I will do some more, climate science takes up all of my reading time), but you confirm my suspicion that something is very rotten in the state of Monsanto.

I still wonder how people like Ewan R manage to stay working in this industry. If even 25% of the charges against Monsanto are true, that means you are complicit in all the misery that is being caused. I couldn't live with that. I mean, I'm just a measly translator who feels his conscience gnawing when he has translated some horrible reality-show so that the format can be sold in other countries.

If Monsanto is the monster it seems to be (like so many other multinationals and banks out there), it is people like Ewan R who make it possible. What a horrible and saddening thought. So many smart people who could be so much more useful in a positive way. But that what's you get in a brainwashing culture.

I trust greenpeace more than the so-called skeptics who are market fundies to a man.

The contamination has not been by design of neighbors - that's simply paid propaganda.

Until the so-called skeptical movement becomes anything other than a mouthpiece for the corporations, no one will, or should, trust it. The amount of bad faith out there is enormous.

we have very real issues - theft of the commons, strangulation of the poor by intellectual property, the loss of species diversity, the violation of the rights of smaller farmers by larger ones and by the artificial agriculture giants, the very short term of the unsustainable "green revolution" - all of which get swept under the rug by a corps of people uncritically parroting a line that to address them is "unscientific."

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

You shouldn't sabotage testing, agreed - that's how you gather evidence to regulate things.

But I think honestly the reaction is mostly bullshit. Fake balance. Look at the narrowest possible safety considerations, period, because it's corporate friendly - put the burden of proof on the unfunded public and volunteers. It's precisely that corporate-friendly, artificially narrowed focus that leads to things like climate change.

It reminds me of chris mooney's guest on point of inquiry - to show a fake balance, he said, while cons didn't get the NAS view right on A, B, C, D ... liberals didn't get the NAS view right on the safety (to people) of disposing of radioactive waste in deep ocean ridges. Without breaking it down by education (liberals are at the 2 ends). Not asking about what was in the media - disposing of it at a place like Yucca Flats.

Oh, and where are the people, I ask again for, what? the 100th time? taking the lying bastards at "Brave New Climate" to task for their public-endangering proven lying about Fukushima? It's easy to pile on a public-interest group, but not so easy to take on people who shill for powerful corporate interests, is it?

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

Really disappointed by this thread and many of those who've proven so capable in other venues. Special tip of the hat to Vince Whirlwind in that regard for his 'balancing extremists' contribution. Might be worth his googling Northern Ireland or the Occupied Territories to see how that works in practice. Alternatively googling 'reap the whirlwind' will probably do.

More generally, it would be nice if the anti-GMO jihadists refrained from conflating the distinct issues here regarding the case for GMO and the case for blowing up science experiments whose findings you might not like. The latter not the former, fyi, is the subject of the post.
I was only able to find one genuine defense of Greenpeace's actions in this thread, which was that it 'wasn't a big deal' (and fyi, justification by attack on CSIRO, let alone via guilt by association innuendo, is fallacy). This assertion ignores the fact that institutions, like people, reveal important things in small ways.

The Reign of Terror was in many ways foreshadowed by the self-indulgent fanaticism by which budding French Revolutionaries loathed the aristocrasy. A former business colleague's shabby treatment of his secretary would predict subsequent and more consequential asshattery, and on and on etc. ad nauseum.

The point is not the magnitude of the impact of Greenpeace's dabbling here in scientific terrorism, but what that says about the character of the organization. And that is something I for one could never justify associating myself with.

By Majorajam (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

Your defense of GMOs is feeble.

Defensive much?

I made no defense of GMOs. Your understanding of the patent system was flawed, and you were repeating one of the most common misunderstandings of how the system works. Especially in the context of this discussion, I consider it important to actually get these sorts of facts correct.

[John Qiggin](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/07/greenpeace_destroy_genetically…)

Australia's largest GMO crops are round up ready canola and cotton. And GMO canola oil and cotton seed oil are excepted from labeling by the Food Standards Authority of Australia. Children are already eating GMO oil is Australia, with no human feeding trails and no way of determining the effects is population studies.

Similarly sugars from GMO crops are exempt from labelling.

For Wow and all those that are defending the actions of GP.
There is little use using rational argument with you people. Like Climate Change deniers you just make up your own facts and push conspiracy theories to drum up fear in a effort to gain support for your position. The point here is that GP vandalisied a scientific experiment being performed by govt scientists. There were no secrets surrounding the experiment that was being performed as CSIRO and OGTR have pointed out. How would GP react if a bunch of Climate Change deniers smashed a Solar Panel experiment or wind turbine experiment? The surprising thing here is that none of the climate change denier loonies have done such a thing, where does this leave GP!

If GP took the time to engage with the scientists from CSIRO they would realise that this piece of work is just one small part of a larger research direction that is also looking into nonGMO options. The reasons for using GMO is because its a quick way to gain proof of concept before going down the track of traditional breeding and other avenues that take considerably longer. But it seems GP has little interest in the facts and its main drive is to gain media attention.

The tobacco analogy made by jakerman has some problems. It took time for the link to be investigated, partly because epidemiology was much less developed in the first half of C20, partly because there were other suspects like air pollution and partly because of the disruptions caused by WWII (which meant that early German research wasn't followed up).

But as soon as researchers started looking at the possibility of a link between smoking and lung cancer, the data showed it clearly. And animal experiments rapidly confirmed the link/

By contrast, in the GM case, Americans have been consuming GM foods for years, while Europeans have not. It ought to be easy to see any substantial risk in epidemiological data pretty soon. At this stage, the only plausible candidate for a large effect would appear to be obesity, but there are better explanations available for that. On top of that there is the failure of animal experiments to yield significan results.

It is entirely possible that some GM foods may have health risks - that's one reason for the CSIRO experiments. But returning to the original post, that's precisely why this action was so destructive.

By John Quiggin (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

D.J Andrews;
>Tristan makes a good point regarding word salad. The one he quoted reveals the person making the statement doesn't understand what they're talking about so an informed debate isn't possible.

Sorry my response was not up to standard. Let me state it another way. The disruption caused by inserting gene with a gun is on a different scale to that of the mutations organisms deal with day to day.

So too the genetic mutation resulting from the combination of gene insertion and tissue culture, which can change 2-4% of the DNA (Bao, Granata et al 1996; and Labra, Savini et al 2001).

Gene insertion has significant effects on gene expression through the organism. Srivastava et al (1999) found that 5% of the hostâs genes changed their level of expression after a single gene is inserted.

It is difficult or impossible to assess the safety of such complex changed to hundreds of thousands of interacting proteins and enzymes without long term comprehensive feeding studies. These have not been done.

>*in the GM case, Americans have been consuming GM foods for years, while Europeans have not. It ought to be easy to see any substantial risk in epidemiological data pretty soon.*

On the surface you'd think so, but reading from an epidemiological perspective its not so simple. [Judy Carman](http://www.gefreeaustralia.org/images/JUDY-download.pdf) writes:

>letâs assume for a moment that GM food is making people ill and see how easy it would be to find the proof that GM food is causing the illness. The first problem is to recognise that there is a new health problem in the community.

>Without full animal testing, we donât even know which diseases to look for in people. If the resultant disease is an existing disease, for example, cancer, that has a registry or effective surveillance system established for it, we will be alerted to an increase in that disease if people are paid to look for it. If the disease has no effective surveillance system, either because it is a new disease and therefore cannot be under surveillance, or because it is an existing disease without a surveillance system, the problem may go completely unnoticed. Most diseases have no surveillance system, including diseases that kill many Australians each year, such as asthma.

>Consequently, we are likely to be unaware of any problem until a critical mass of clinicians begins to individually recognise that they have been seeing a lot of syndrome X, start asking their colleagues if they have seen the same, and push for an investigation. If this does not happen, we may never know there is a problem. The HIV/AIDS epidemic went unnoticed for decades, even though it created memorable secondary infections, such as those obtained from cats, and had a focus in young gay men who tended to cluster geographically and see the same doctors. It was largely picked-up by chance, because record-keeping of one pharmaceutical drug, pentamidine, indicated an unusually high number of patients with a rare pneumonia, even though there were by then thousands of HIV/AIDS cases worldwide. We still do not know how many people are infected, even in Australia, which has one of the best surveillance systems in the world. It is also important to note that, by the time some surveillance data are collected and made available for analysis, several years can elapse. This can lead to a lag of several years between the cases occurring and appearing in a surveillance system. [cont...]

Naomi Oreskis points out that tobacco companies in the 1950 or 1960s argued that cancer varied from country to country and state to state in the US even where smoking rates were similar. But Oreskies points out that other population factors confounded such comparisons.

What you say is true jakerman and is widely accepted by scientists in the field. In fact alot of transgenic cereal plants grow poorly when compared to plants that aren't transgenic. BUT transgenic plants are a useful tool when trying to understand a trait compared with other more traditional methods that would otherwise take ALOT longer. Like I said previously the work that was destroyed is a small part of a larger research direction that will more than likely result in a nonGMO product. But that doesn't seem to concern GP they just seem hellbent on whipping up fear and misinformation.

By the way this has all been outlined by CSIRO before. The debate just seems to have been hijacked by people who don't really understand the complexities of the field.

Why do GM supporters who also claim to be against AGW deniers accept the lack of transparency shown by GM companies and their supporters such as the Royal Society and many Governments yet get their knickers in a knot over the lack of transparency by AGW deniers? This is hypocrisy.

It took years for people to get access to the "scientific" reports submitted to the USDA to support the regularity acceptance of GM products. When the reports were eventually disclosed they were shown to be both scientifically shoddy and actually showed many of the same metabolic abnormalities found by Dr. Pusztai's original Lancet paper.

Since then there are many peer reviewed papers showing similar abnormalities in experimental animals. Yet the USDA (and other regulatory agencies) keep all industry reports under wraps.

This is deplorable and is the exact opposite of open and correct science. Why do you support such lack of transparency?

Will the supporters of GM who have commented on this thread please explain their lack of support for honesty and transparency?

The comment by AaronG:

Like Climate Change deniers you just make up your own facts and push conspiracy theories to drum up fear in a effort to gain support for your position.

is an insult to those intelligent and honest people who have taken the time to study exactly what is going on in the dishonest world of GM crops and their biased supporters. Please be more sceptical and actually try and read up on the many dishonest tactics used by Monsanto et al.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

AaronG said:

The debate just seems to have been hijacked by people who don't really understand the complexities of the field.

Please stop insulting people who know a lot more about the GM mess than you seem to have.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

Jakerman, in addition to the lack of transparency in the feeding trials there is currently no transparency or information on exactly what they are doing from a biochemical point of view. To claim that "starch enzyme" will be added is an insult to the intelligence of independent people who can give an honest appraisal on any possible problems in the metabolism of the modified plants. Without knowing exactly what is being added, manipulated and messed around with we are completely in the dark as to possible and probable problems arising.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

Two things

Jakerman
The reason there is no information on feeding tials is because it hasn't been decided if it will go ahead. Something which has already been clearly outlined by CSIRO.

Ian Forrester
What did I say that was wrong or insulting? The fact remains that the trial that was destroyed was not solely for the purpose for feeding trials. Again something that has been either overlooked or simply ignored by people beating the drum for both sides of the debate.
I'll point it out again...the use of transgenic or GMO's in this project is but one small part of a larger research focus that will most likely lead to the generation of a nonGMO product. Something that has been pointed out by CSIRO before.

And Ian I suspect your keeness play to the man and not the ball is a sign of the weaknesses of your own arguments.

Ian

Just so this is straight in your head. Their not adding a starch enzyme. Their silencing a gene that encodes a starch enzyme. And the work that they are doing was supposed to address these questions of biochemical changes.

>*Jakerman The reason there is no information on feeding tials is because it hasn't been decided if it will go ahead. Something which has already been clearly outlined by CSIRO.*

CSIRO declined the FOIR declaring this information
[commercial in conï¬dence](https://p3-admin.greenpeace.org/australia/PageFiles/321712/Greenpeace%2…):

>Greenpeace has submitted a Freedom of Information request to the CSIRO for both the health and safety parameters and the ethics clearance papers relating to the testing of GM wheat on humans. CSIRO has denied this request, declaring this information commercial in conï¬dence

Jakerman
I'm symphatic to your concerns but I think its missing the point. What GP did was to destroy an experiment that may or may not have answered your questions. The chances that GM cereal crops will become a reality in Australia is small. This is not because GP will stop it, but because its too expensive and difficult. Its very difficult to transform wheat...for instance for every 100 plants you try to transform about 5 might come through the process and even then the results of the transformation are mixed. Add this to the ongoing improvements in breeding technology and GMO becames impractical. So I think worrying about GM wheat entering the foodchain is premature. Using GM is a useful tool, it helps understand how genes control certain traits and will continue to be one that will help improve breeding programs.

Aaron, As you've gathered I'm not against GM trials and studies per se. I am open to the possibility that GM could be useful under careful control, supported by appropriate safety trials.

What I'm skeptical about is the approval process and safety protocol for the current GMO commercial crops. CSIROs with holding safety protocols of trials under the declaration of commercial in-confidence relationships strips me of any confidence that their planned tests will be open and transparent. The conflict of interest in CSIRO makes me more skeptical.

I have no evidence that this planned trial will be more than the previous inappropriate 28 day feeding trials, using mature rather than developing test animals.

If GP's goal was to get this protocol under some scrutiny and into the public awareness then I don't know how else they would have achieved this.

Jakerman
I think were arguing for different things. I can understand you wanting more transperancy but I think there are better ways of arguing your point than simply destroying someone elses work. I was very upset to hear of this vandalism as I know how hard it is to get your research to this stage of development.

Again I think the fears of many here are premature. There is little evidence to suggest that GM wheat is a viable commerical crop. However it is very good for being able to understand the role of genes that are linked to useful traits. Like I said before its very difficult and expensive to transform wheat, which is why it upsets me to see that when an experiment reaches maturity like this that it is so needlessly destroyed. For me GP acted recklessly and should apoligise

Aaron, yes I think we arguing for different things. One's personal assessment of GM wheat viablility is a not the key issue for me. The vandalism of the crop is not the key issue for me (except that it altered me to the trial). The key issue for me is a proper feeding trial protocol for any GMO. The right time to establish this is immediately, not waiting until there is a crop one thinks might be more viable.

(except that it altered [alerted] me to the trial)

AaronG is using the same tactics as AGW deniers, the use of ad hominem attacks:

And Ian I suspect your keeness play to the man and not the ball is a sign of the weaknesses of your own arguments.

For your information I know a lot more than I suspect you know about genes and genetic regulation. I worked for a number of years in cancer research studying the activity and expression of cancer genes (onco-fetal genes to be precise). I know what promoter genes are and how dangerous they can be. There are many potentially nasty genes which are silent after a certain period in embryonic development. These genes are turned off by unknown mechanisms but can be turned on by external agents such as viruses and chemicals (carcinogens) resulting in cancer. The promiscuous insertion of promoter genes in the wrong place can turn on these "silent" genes. You may be prepared to take such a risk but I am not. Genes added during GM are now known to move from one organism into another.

The potential for harm if these promoter genes are incorporated into mammalian genes is not nice to contemplate. Most genetic modifications use the cauliflower mosaic virus promoter which is a powerful promoter. No one can say that it will not induce unwanted "silent" genes from becoming active especially when most "safety" tests are performed for only 28 days and are not tested over at least one complete generation.

Most molecular biologists are just "gene jockeys" and have very little understanding of the complex metabolism of plants and animals.

As I said in an earlier post, stop insulting and using ad hominem attacks on people who disagree with you, it makes you look like an AGW denier.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ian if you took the time to read my arguments then I think you would find that you are being rather silly

"Most molecular biologists are just "gene jockeys" and have very little understanding of the complex metabolism of plants and animals."

I detect a whiff of bullshit here. Ian stop insulting and using ad hominem attacks on people who disagree with you, it makes you look like an AGW denier.

Furthermore Ian many of the claims you outlined re gene transfer, are in the realm of pseduo science. If genes from plants could transfer to mammals then why isn't there any evidence of this happening already? Thats because it doesn't happen.

Plus the amount of DNA in bread is so small and damaged that it could never be re intergrated. Not to mention what the digestive tract does to it.

Also just out of curiosity, does your objection to GMO extend to the production of insulin or clotting factors that diabetics and others with chronic illnesses rely on? Or is it selective?

This is besides the point though GP destroyed research something that was not necessary.

>The potential for harm if these promoter genes are incorporated into mammalian genes is not nice to contemplate. Most genetic modifications use the cauliflower mosaic virus promoter which is a powerful promoter. No one can say that it will not induce unwanted "silent" genes from becoming active especially when most "safety" tests are performed for only 28 days and are not tested over at least one complete generation.

Aaron, [this study](http://www.springerlink.com/content/k1314216v854qr56/) might interest you.

Ian I've read that paper and all it shows is that the CaMV promoter is active in the selected cell lines when they are treated with transfection agents that enable the transient transfection. I would guess that the same experiments have a control system where the cells aren't treated with the chemicals to calculate transfection efficiency. That is the promoter isn't active when you don't use chemicals that enable the transient expression. So in simplier terms the promoter / bit of DNA does not work unless you treat the cell lines (anueploidy cells, in simplier terms they aren't normal cells) with chemicals that enable the DNA to intergrate with the host cells DNA. So unless you drink a whole lot of these chemicals and then shock yourself with electricity or a freezing cold bath to enable the Promoter DNA to enter your body I would say that the CaMV promoter stands little chance of entering your cells and being active.
Plus the promoter used in these plants is usually a maize ubiqitin promoter...a promoter from a plant that we as humans have been eating for 1000's of years without sprouting corn shoots from our heads

*scientific terrorism*

Majorajam,

What about economic, financial and corporate ' terrorism'? Where does that rank on your list is ' isms'?

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

@ Ian Forrester

So Ian.

You wave away the US National Academy of Sciences, claim the Royal Society is in on the "GM" thing and state:

"...I urge readers to read the whole report as it confirms the government and institutional bias and dishonesty in approaching the GMO debate."

Wait, haven't we heard these claims before?

Wait.. I hear the echo of a conspiracy. You know, the supposed institutional/guv-a-ment/science establishment *bias" against climate sceptics.

Your counter? A post to a link to a partisan website (GM Watch), which is not peer-reviewed research? I could write that report in a matter of hours.

This is crank science. Science by blogging. And yes, as an active blogger I know the difference between research and an opinion piece.

GM Watch offers opinion pieces.

- Point to one fatality or injury or incident of harm
- Point to one valid piece of science, without claiming everyone is against you/anti-GM

Where is your science?

When you are presented with counter evidence to your beliefs, you claim "massive institutional bias".

Ian - I'm sorry mate, but I'm going with orthodox science with this like so many other things. I'll ignore the GM Watch as an anti-GM equivalent to "Watts up with that!"

I expect better from Greenpeace.

All I can see is a "the ends justifies the means" argument and reliance on shoddy/flawed science.

Poor play, poor play indeed.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

Some have questioned why we should highlight, or condemn the actions of Greenpeace. Haven't they done enough "good" to deserve a free pass, or just a mild rebuke?

Are they not fellow travellers, useful in the fight against the climate sceptics? Well, they don't get a free pass in my books.

The reason I'm bitterly disappointed is because "we" - the progressive, pro-science, reality based community - are better than that.

We are *better* than the climate sceptics.

We are *better* than the creationists.

And we are better than those that send death threats to scientists, the anti-vaxers and other armies of the night that threaten Enlightenment traditions.

We expect the climate sceptics et.al to play by the rules of science, and despair at how they fudge data, rely on faulty reasoning and junk science.

Deltoid is up to over 60+ posts on the Australian's war on science. And that is only a timy % of the crap emenating from the Murdoch press. Then there is the swill produced by Anthony Watts, Marc Morano, Monckton...

Their entire campaign is based on manipulation, publicity stunts and playing to people's fears.

Greenpeace have been fierce in taking the fight to them.

Good.

But Greenpeace use the imprimatur of science to argue action on climate change is needed, and that the "sceptics" abuse science.

To then turn around and attack the work of scientists and base their hostility to one branch of science for *ideological reasons* is more reason to condemn them.

We are better than that.

We should aspire to be the best.

Greenpeace should aspire to be better than that.

What separates "us" from those that would attack science is our respect for not only the methodology of science, but for reason. For evidence. For the belief that we can know the universe.

*Sapere aude*

Dare to know.

If Greenpeace want the respect of the reality based community, then - damn it - play by the same rules.

If you want to put it into purely political terms, descending to the same level of the climate sceptics et.al damages us all.

It is the reason the public have embraced epistemological relativism and are confused by debates around science: if "they" do it and "we do it" who is right?

No, Greenpeace was wrong.

They are wrong on the science.

Their actions were wrong.

"We" are better than that.

And yes, I will say it.

We are better than Greenpeace.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

WTD:

You have lost the plot. You singularly fail, for instance, to argue any of the many points which raises serious doubts about the social, economic and political ideologies underlying the ' gene revolution' , and how these are likely to reduce food security rather than to increase it. I think that the concept of intellectual property and patent rights owned by giant for profit corporations on staple foods is a form of economic terrorism. I explained this in an earlier posting (#100) and elsewhere, and you for some reason keep digging at Ian on the basis of one - just one - aspect, ' human health'. The same goes for John Quiggin. Your trick is to focus on one small area and to run with that, irgnoring a vast wealth of other concerns. It seems to me that the climate change denial lobby is quite good at doing that too - attacking Mann et al's 'hockey stick' whilst ignoring all of the other evidence showing that humans are forcing climate. You know the truth is that your defense of transgenic technology is a lot closer to the climate change deniers than you clearly realize. Your strategy is to defend the technology using but one incomplete example (effects on human health) and to ignore many other important concerns. Even if transgenic organisms are not a serious threat to human health in no way justifies the technology as currently defined. The huge environmental risks aside, the very fact that a small coterie of immensely powerful multinational corporations are slowly taking over the human food chain should be of profound concern to everyone. And the fact that they focus on only the most profitable seeds - meaning transgenic over conventional - should at least raise serious warning signs as to their real agendas.

And, most importantly, we need to address the question as to the huge number of environmental concerns. For instance the fact that more glyphosate has been used since the use of so-called herbicide resistant crops? And the clear scientific evidence that this has led to rapid herbicide resistance in a number of noxious, outbreaking (or invasive) weeds? Ot the fact that gene transfer between GMOs and wild types will certainly give some wild relatives a competitive edge over natural wild types? Or the fact that the reliance on GMOs erodes genetic diversity as more and more farmers converge towards a single type of GMO? That genetic diversity is a pre-requisite for adaptation to multiple biotic and abiotic threats in nature? Or the fact that the technology will never be affordable to farmers in the developing world, and that once 'roped in', governments who subsidize the use of this technology will forever be beholden to it and to the companies that hold the patents? Or the fact that many insects are developing resistance to transgenic crops in only a few years?

You want scientific evidence? There's lots of it in these areas, even if in the human health arena we are admittedly working on conjecture. But my advice to you as a scientist is to take off those blinkers and to expand your vision as to the effects of this technology on humanity and the environment in the longer term.

The ecological risks and consequences

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Jeff Harvey:

Itâs not just Monsanto. Bayer and other biotech firms donât want to sell conventional varieties anymore. [They are] [n]ot as profitable. And since the biotech trait is patented, you get the bonus of patent protection when you insert the trait into a seed. That allows the likes of Monsanto to sue farmers for the âcrimeâ (patent infringement) of saving seed, ⦠.

Sounds like a restrictive trade practice is being suggested. Farmers would well know if they have to pay GM firms everytime they sow GM seeds and would be able to decide if it's worth it. If GM firms decide they don't want to sell conventional seeds anymore there's nothing to stop farmers saving their own conventional seeds or indeed setting up their own conventional seed supply businesses.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Anti science is throwing out testing protocol when it finds health risks. Its anti-science to block access to GMO seed to conduct safety trials.

We need a proper feeding trial protocol for GMOs. That is a pro-science position.

Where is your science.

Give me evidence of harm or a fatality.

Waiting.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

@jeff harvey
Your concerns whilst based in some sense of reality are a little late and misguided. The food chain is largely already taken over by large companies (and not that is all bad). The lack of genetic diversty shouldn't be blamed on transgenics but the sucess of breeding programs and the distribution of the elite modern varities throughout the developing world (largely because of well meaning Aid workers).

The problem I think people have with your arguments is that the Green movement delibrately ignores all the benefits of GMO's and tend to exaggerate the risks. For instance, the use of GMO cotton in China has had massive health benefits as farmers aren't exposed to as many carcinogenic pesticides as they dont need to spray as much. And speculating that the DNA in plants could reintergrate with human DNA is just silly.
However, I agree there are problems with GMO's re: resistance and gene transfer to close relatives. But the world isn't perfect so instead of insisting on wild fantasies about organic farming being able to feed the world, maybe the green movement should take a more measured and pragmatic approach to food.

But I think what annoys most people here is that what GP did was anti-science and none of the arguments presented above have or could justify their actions. The ends does not justify the means!

My *small point* is asking for evidence. Any evidence. The rest of what you say are assertions and speculation.

I'm not arguing for or against GM.

I'm asking you to back up your claims with good, solid science. I've not seen it yet.

Answer these two questions, as I have asked many times:

>> Point me to one example of harm or a fatality caused by GMO that supports you concerns about health.

GM foods where [first put on the market in the early 1990's](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food#Health_risks) so we've had close to two decades for evidence of their harm to amass.

Where is it?

Is this not the whole crux of your concerns? Human health?

Where is your evidence of harm?

Secondly:

>> Point me to peer-reviewed literature that backs up your claims that GMO represnets a substantial risk

To [quote Wiki](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food#Future_developme…):

>> Plant scientists, backed by results of modern comprehensive profiling of crop composition, point out that crops modified using GM techniques are less likely to have unintended changes than are conventionally bred crops.

See:

[Catchpole, G. S. (2005). "Hierarchical metabolomics demonstrates substantial compositional similarity between genetically modified and conventional potato crops". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102: 14458.](http://www.pnas.org/content/102/40/14458)

>>There is current debate whether genetically modified (GM) plants might contain unexpected, potentially undesirable changes in overall metabolite composition. However, appropriate analytical technology and acceptable metrics of compositional similarity require development. We describe a comprehensive comparison of total metabolites in field-grown GM and conventional potato tubers using a hierarchical approach initiating with rapid metabolome âfingerprintingâ to guide more detailed profiling of metabolites where significant differences are suspected. Central to this strategy are data analysis procedures able to generate validated, reproducible metrics of comparison from complex metabolome data. *We show that, apart from targeted changes, these GM potatoes in this study appear substantially equivalent to traditional cultivars*.

Come on guys, I'm happy to play.

Where is your evidence?

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

@ Ian, Jaker etc.

[British Medical Association 2003 statement on GM Foods](http://www.isaaa.org/kc/Publications/pdfs/ksheets/K%20Sheet%20%28BMA%29…)

Opening:

>>The need for further research - Despite the great deal of research conducted on the genetic modification of food, many
unanswered questions remain, particularly with regards to the potential long-term impact of GM foods on human health and the environment. Few studies on the effects of GM food on human health have been short-term and specific. There is still a lack of evidence-based research with regards to the medium and long-term effects on health and the environment â which is presently the focus of public debates. *Thus, it is crucial for research sponsors and the government that the publicâs concerns are taken into account from the earliest stage of the research process.*

And:

>>*The BMA believes that the potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects is very small, and many of the concerns expressed pertaining to risk also apply to conventionally derived foods.* However, safety concerns must still be addressed.

Conclusions regarding GM foods and health:

>>BMA believes that *there is no substantial evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe however*, the
organization calls for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit.

>>Epidemiological health surveillance will remain impractical in the UK while so few of the population are
exposed to GM foods.. The BMA still considers that with adequate risk assessment procedures, independent
and rigorous testing of novel foods, adequate post marketing surveillance and proper regulation, GM food
has potential benefits for both the developed and developing world in the long-term.

>>Continuing sound scientific research will also provide the only means of eliminating the uncertainty that still surrounds the environmental and health impact of GM crops.

So - no known health risks,

BMA calls for more research.

*How can we research when the research is destroyed?*

As stated, this is what has angered and disappointed many. It's not about the GM debate, but the actions of Greenpeace: stopping research.

You do know [Queensland have been growing GM crops (cotton)](http://www2.dpi.qld.gov.au/fieldcrops/9548.html) since mid 1990s right?

And that it has led to a [90% decrease in pesticide use?](http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/media-releases/gm_australia):

>>GM cotton was released in 1996, as part of the fight back against Helicoverpa â arguably the most destructive agricultural pest in the world. Bollgard II varieties now make up 90% of the Australian cotton industry. What difference have they made?

>>*Gary Fitt from CSIRO Entomology in Queensland will report that farmers have reduced pesticide use by up to 90% providing on-farm benefits and greatly reducing environmental disruption.*

>>But he will also say that the best results come from good integrated management. Long term success will require mobilization of the whole farm environment and greater understanding of the flows of impacts and services between intensive cropping systems and the surrounding landscape.

I mean, if you [want to read the research](http://www.icac.org/cotton_info/tis/biotech/documents/recorderdocs/dece…):

>>In 1998/99 it is estimated that the reduction in spraying across 125,000 ha of Ingard® crops resulted in 1.75 million liters less pesticide entering the environment. Despite the variable performance, the average 56% reduction in pesticide applications for Helicoverpa represents a spectacular impact for an IPM product...

And that:

>>The most consistent âwinnerâ from Ingard® technology has
been the environment, with reduced pesticide loads, while the cotton industry has gained long term sustainability through the progressive adoption of more integrated pest management approaches using Ingard® cotton as a foundation.

Concluding:

>>Ingard cotton, as the first commercial introduction of
biotechnology to the Australian cotton industry, has shown
the potential of transgenic pest tolerant crops to significantly reduce pesticide use, providing major environmental benefits. After an initial period of negligible economic benefits, Ingard varieties are now returning significant economic benefits.

So farmers are using less pesticide. Bad GMO! Bad!

CSIRO must be docturing those figures right?

Hiding the decline in pesticide use?

Right?

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Bt is nice piece of gmo tech and it's great to see how much it has reduced the amount of spraying needed for cotton (which was astronomical, now it's just a fair bit).

I think there's neglible risk in the consumption of gmo's, but I still have significant concerns over the release of some gmo plants into the 'wild' given our abysmal record in managing non-gmo plants outside of their origins.

We are better than the climate sceptics.

We are better than the creationists.

And we are better than those that send death threats to scientists, the anti-vaxers and other armies of the night that threaten Enlightenment traditions.

We are better than Greenpeace.

Obviously it is about being better than others for some. Newsflash: this isn't about ego or identity.

Science isn't a homogeneous monolith to be worshipped unquestioningly and at all times. In fact, science isn't called 'the sciences' for nothing.

Imagine all climate scientists all of a sudden get millions from Big Fossil and start saying that there is no problem with the climate whatsoever. What does the progressive, pro-science, reality based community do then?

Imagine all climate scientists all of a sudden get millions from Big Fossil and start saying that there is no problem with the climate whatsoever. What does the progressive, pro-science, reality based community do then?

Break into their offices and smash their computers, apparently.

Aaron, please elaborate why it is not such a bad thing that borderless, largely unaccountable MNCs aree gaining increasing control of the human food chain. You make the quite irrational claim that "The food chain is largely already taken over by large companies (and not that is all bad)".

It certainly is bad for poor farmers in the south who cannot afford the technology. Its also alarming when one considers that society can be held to ransom with respect to this technology.

WTD: pesticide use drops only insofar as insects remain susceptible to Bt-containing GMOs. You must seriously need your brain examined if you think that insects will not respond to such a simple challenge. In fact, many species already have. And once they are resistant o Bt containing crops, then this renders Bt useless as a biological control agent in future. Its much the same story as occurred with the overuse of DDT. So in effect, your argument is utterly useless, and shows that you understand not one iota of evolutionary biology. You appear to think that, once used, Bt-containing crops will forever be useful in combatting lepidopterous pests. I explained earlier that many of the most serious pests - including chewing herbivores like Helicoverpa armigera and Heliothis virescens - are already becoming fully resistant to Bt-containing crops. I spoke with many entomologists recently in South Africa and they came back with a number of similar scenarios. You appear not to want to read what you do not like to read, much like the climate change deniers whom you claim fall into the same category as those (like me, a scientist as it turns out) who have a lot of misgivings about an expensive technology that appears to primarily benefit well-fed people in the developed world whilst bypassing most in the south.

And of course many of the big chemical-agro biotech firms are just delighted to see the landscape sprayed in huge quantities of herbicides so long as this is profitable. Weed resistance? Who cares so long as the investors benefit.

What I see here from some posters is a blind acceptance of a technology fraught with a huge number of social, political and economic risks that are conveniently ignored. Chris: as you are well aware, many of the seed companies have been bought out by the big agro-biotech firms. Its not as easy to remain independent as you might think.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

"Bt is nice piece of gmo tech and it's great to see how much it has reduced the amount of spraying needed for cotton (which was astronomical, now it's just a fair bit)."

Of course, we *could* have just planted hemp....

Neven:

> > We are better than the climate sceptics. We are better than the creationists. And we are better than those that send death threats to scientists, the anti-vaxers and other armies of the night that threaten Enlightenment traditions. We are better than Greenpeace.

> Obviously it is about being better than others for some. Newsflash: this isn't about ego or identity.

No, it's about remembering that there's a difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, and that it's not OK to do bad things 'in the name of' doing something which may, perhaps happen to be sort of good.

If we go around trashing anything we don't like, regardless of the facts, regardless of the evidence, then how are we different from ideological thugs?

-- frank

Jeff
Of course there are benefits, the first thing that comes to mind is economies of scale cheaper production costs. Another is the fact that many large companies invest significant amounts of money into R&D.
But I suspect you will ignore the benefits or twist them to fit your own ideology. I notice you didn't address my points about the obvious benefits of certain GMO's. Would you prefer that farmers like those in China that are reaping the health benefits of GMO cotton revert back to using nonGMO. Or would you prefer they not farm cotton at all and slip further into poverty. The problem with your arguments is that they come from the perspective of a middle class westerner that has probably never experienced or witnessed real poverty. Spouting your ideological points of view about the evils of MNCs while ignoring the benefits is a sure fire way of becoming irrelavant in this debate.

Also as I addressed your point could you address mine...how do you justify the destruction of the experiment by GP...was it a means to an end? In that case how would you feel if a bunch of climate change deniers went out and smashed a sloar power experiment? Some thing different ideology.

Frank exactly my point! GP destroyed something they didn't like regardless of the fact that it was approved by the government regulator. So how do you justify GPs actions...ideological thugs maybe?

Sorry about the friendly fire frank

I keep asking for evidence that would support the claims of Ian, Jaker et.al.

I've asked at least half a dozen times now.

@ Jeff, surely your not about to claim science is my religion? I'm asking you guys to give me evidence, reports and research that supports your case. I've brought examples of research and statements by the NAS, BMA and Royal Society. I've given PNAS research.

And still nothing?

You keep dodging and weaving.

@ Ian, insects develop resistance/defences to GM crops, pesticides or "natural" predators. I think evolution is well understood by now. The red queen hypothesis is a given. Same with drug resistant bugs. Do we throw out antibiotics because of the well understood interaction between drugs and bugs?

Organic pesticides would cause the same evolutionary arms race. So, what's your solution?

Again, evidence!

Come on guys, give me something? Anything?

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Watching the deniers is showing is lack of ability in knowing anything about human studies. Of course we can't show people dying from eating GMO's. Stop being so stupid.
You are just acting like an AGW denier throwing out strawmen.

However, if animal experiments show harmful effects, and they do, don't deny it then we can fairly confidently predict that there will probably be problems to humans too.

As a scientist who has worked with animal models in the past I can be confident in extrapolating effects from animals to humans. But I can't prove it and it is very unlikely that proof will ever be provided.

Do you have to be reminded that science never proves anything only disproves something.

There is no evidence to disprove that GMO's are bad for animals.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

AaronG said:

Would you prefer that farmers like those in China that are reaping the health benefits of GMO cotton revert back to using nonGMO

Well I suggest you read up on what is actually happening today, not five or ten years ago when BT cotton was first introduced.

I suggest you read up on how the Mirid bug is reaping havoc in BT cotton fields.

This always happens when you put all your eggs in one basket.

India is faring even worse than China with it's BT cotton fields.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

WT Denier,

If you are so sure that GMO are intrinsically safe why not support a proper transparent independent protocol for feeding trials?

If proper feeding trials found GM pea damages mice, we need a high level of testing in an open transparent protocol for all GMO, including current commercial crops (that were approved without such). This finding proved GMO can not be assumed to be equivalent to normal food.

We've pointed you to [evidence of the risks](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/07/greenpeace_destroy_genetically…) of GMO, but you seem to be denying this.

You also appear to be denying that we [cannot expect](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/07/greenpeace_destroy_genetically…) to find damage caused to humans without proper feeding trials.

So Jaker, if GP destroy research how can we conduct trials?

That is the point.

I'm not arguing GM, I'm arguing for research.

I'm also asking to back your claims.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

If we go around trashing anything we don't like, regardless of the facts, regardless of the evidence, then how are we different from ideological thugs?

This. So much this.

Ian you say your a scientist but your fanciful proposition of DNA from food being able to reintergrate with our own DNA and be able to be actively expressed makes me seriously question your credentials. I notice you haven't responded to my rebuttal....

Being a technician in a lab doesnt make you a scientist or an expert on GMO plants Ian. Especially when that lab you worked in dealt with mammalian models and not plants.

And AGAIN...no argument has adequately addressed the rational behind the needless destruction of the CSIRO experiment by GP...I'm beginning to think you guys don't have one and all the arguments presented are just deflections to somehow reconcile this gross act of vandalism with your own conscience.

And as for the Chinese cotton farmers...take another look there are new varieties of cotton that don't suffer from resistance...plus again you failed to address my question about GMO clotting factors and insulin as well as other medications that are being brought onto the market...are the too dangerous...well are they?

AaronG is an other GMO supporter who seems to like strawmen. Do you use GMO straw, is it better?

If you had actually read what I posted and followed it up by doing a little bit of research you would have seen that resistance is not the problem with BT cotton in China. The problem is that other bugs have found cotton plants to be very tasty and safe haven without the normal use of pesticides. Thus farmers experience a double economic whammy since they are paying much higher prices for GM seed then they have to use chemical pesticides anyways.

The problem in India is different. The seeds being sold there are resistant to a pest which is not really a problem there and the farmers once again pay for expensive seeds then have to spray anyway. The strain being pushed in India is also not suited to the climate conditions in many parts of the cotton growing areas.

I wont go into the super-weed problems encountered in the USA.

I will ignore your ad hominem and insulting comments. I think that the people who are criticizing GMO's know where knowledge and expertise lie.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Well, if you google 'india gmo suicide' you find many hits, though most do not look too credible. These two articles weigh some of the arguments, the first in 2009:

http://www.columbiacitypaper.com/2009/11/10/the-suicide-belt/

This one from May 2011 has some interesting conclusions:

"...Look at the AP line in the chart and consider that Bt cotton wasnât even adopted on a significant scale until 2005. Thereâs a ten year surge in cotton yields, and six years of it happened before Bt started to spread. Ag hands can ponder the various factors affecting these trends, but one thing is for sure: most of the cotton boom cannot be attributed to Bt seed.

In fact Bt seed also appears to be exacerbating a key problem underlying the suicides: technology treadmills..."

http://fieldquestions.com/2011/05/13/do-not-read-gm-cotton-and-indian-f…

By Holly Stick (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

@Ian
Are you against GMO insulin and other meds...simple question?

AaronG asks:

plus again you failed to address my question about GMO clotting factors and insulin as well as other medications that are being brought onto the market...are the too dangerous...well are they?

That is not a simple question to answer since I have no knowledge of the conditions for production and we don't know if the products are identical to their natural counterparts or not.

Any production of pharmaceutically active products should adhere to the following guidelines:

The facility must be enclosed, waste streams should be sterilized before disposal to the environment.

Pathogenic or human colonizing micro-organisms should not be used. This apples to E. coli in particular.

The products should be identical to their natural counterparts. If they are not e.g. lack of proper post translational modification then they should undergo rigorous testing and they should not be assumed to be "equivalent".

I am completely against pharmaceuticals genetically engineered into plants since they cannot be controlled no matter what the promoting companies say.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ian like I have said previously the world isn't perfect and neither are GMO plants. The difference is I believe we can work to make the technology better, whereas you will never concede that there is a place for it under any circumstances...it would'nt matter if there were a thousand trials showing no adverse impacts you would cling to one or two trials that fit your ideology and come up with bizarre claims like that of reintergration of GMO dna with our own and continue to advocate the senseless vandalism that GP commited.

Ian
Its funny how you have never considered this.
Guess what all those conditions you outlined are used for transgenic plants

And guess what the insulin and other therapeutics are not identical to the 'natural' form, and they do use bacteria that can potentially colonize human...and unlike your crazy theory about plant-human gene transfer gene transfer between bacteria is real and therefore the chance of crazy frankenstein bacteria infecting humans is much likely than your wacky proposition.

So unless you want to apply double standards I suggest you and those like you should probably explain to those that suffer from diabetes and other illnesses that if we want a pure society free of GMOs tht they will have to do without or starting slaughtering pigs for there insulin.

Like i said the world isn't perfect so deal with it.

More strawmen from AaronG, he cannot focus on one particular argument but jumps around and around (hey there were some promiscuous genes which at one time were called "jumping genes", maybe you have been infected by some of these from GM jumping beans).

One of the first things I learned when I got into applied research as opposed to pure basic research is the concept of cost/benefit analysis. With pharmaceuticals there is an obvious benefit so it is prudent to look at their production. However, one should still consider potential problems.

With GMO crops the benefit is only to the producer of the seeds of the plants or associated products required for the plants to grow. All the so-called benefits to consumers and farmers have just not materialized. In fact there are lots of problems both economic and environmental with the majority of the GM crops. That is why I am against them. Why can't you see that?

I know why. Please answer this question, is it possible to identify AGW deniers and GMO supporters using facial recognition technology?

Answer, NO, since both groups have their heads in the sand. Is that why you cannot see all of the problems associated with the products you are supporting?

As for this comment:

Guess what all those conditions you outlined are used for transgenic plants

in reference to the suggestions I made for the necessary conditions for a facility to produce GMO's that is so ridiculous that it is not worthy of comment. No wonder you are so blind to the effects of GMO's if you consider an open field with netting as sufficient to contain any GMO release is just nonsense.

As for your comments on insulin and other pharmaceuticals, if you have been keeping up with the science you would be aware researchers are looking at other hosts for the genes such as yeasts.

There are also methods to produce natural human insulin. Have you ever heard of mammalian cell culture? In fact,the future for treatment of type 1 diabetes will be the use of immobilized islet cells either external or hopefully internal to the body. There are rapid advances in this technology being made.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ian this will be my last post here before I go on living in the real world and leave you to your naysaying and pessimism where nothing is ever good enough and corporations are evil.

Yes I have heard of mammalian cell culture, having done a PhD in molecular biology I am very familiar with many of the techniques used for transformation and in vitro protein production and purification. And yes I'm aware that yeast has in the past been used and is still used for various applications. But guess what yeast and mammalian cells can be tricky to grow and therefore more expensive to use in the production of drugs like these. So big bad corporations use the cheap alternative E.coli to ensure people can afford there drugs... Those evil corporations. So these supposed alternative techniques that researchers are investigating aren't a reality yet are they and probably wont be because there is a cheap way to do it that works alread...better get your GP buddies to go down to the pharma labs and trash them.

As for your stupid remarks about netting and so on about the containment of the trial that was destroyed by GP. Did you know that wheat pollen is enclosed within the flower and that outcrossing to other species is almost impossible...why because wheat is from the fertile cresent and has no wild relatives in Australia and secondly, wheat is so inbred from thousands of years of human selection that it doesn't cross with anything. Its hard enough to cross it with its wild relatives let alone an unrelated species. But im wasting my breath because all this was clearly outlined in the OGTR risk assessment...something which have chosen to clearly ignore.

My advice to you Ian is to chill out a bit and stop being such an alarmist. If not leave the problem solving to those of us that are willing to accept the world isn't perfect and come up with real solutions not some fantasy about organic farming. Seeya and have a nice life

Jeff Harvey:

as you are well aware, many of the seed companies have been bought out by the big agro-biotech firms. Its not as easy to remain independent as you might think.

At the very least, the big agro-biotech firms would not be able to charge more for seed than it would cost farmers to supply themselves. It is possible that a cartel arrangement would enable them to do this but it would then attract the attention of competition commissions, especially when they are notified by farmers lobby groups which in Australia at least, are very influential.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Anyone else notice the similarities between AGW deniers and GMO supporters? One is they both use the same language

stop being such an alarmist

I guess that AaronG is going to go back to his GMO corporate environment where he will be patted on the back for standing up to an alarmist and putting him in his place.

Well, I live in the real world, I spend lots of time out in the country and have talked to many farmers about the corporate takeover of their industry. Many are not at all happy.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

AaronG's knowledge of wheat seems to be very low.

If anyone wants to read about wheat pollen and gene transfer to both other what strains and other plants they should read [this article](http://www.npsas.org/newsletters/wheatPollen.html).

It does not agree with what AaronG claims. Why am I not surprised?

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

#182
Ian Forrester
Are you aware that it would be impossible to produce _any_ protein based pharmaceutical product without "pathogenic or human colonizing micro-organisms"? There is no shortage of chemical pharmaceuticals made with biotransformations either.

An antibody-producing hybridoma cell line is a cancer cell.

"... waste streams should be sterilized ..." (!) Gee, why didn't anyone think of that? I hope the Powers That Be read these comments.

And no, the products should not be "identical to their natural counterparts". The products should be the most effective possible taking into account toxicity, immunogenicity, potency, pharmacokinetics, shelf-life, etc, etc, etc. Lucentis, Victoza, Pegasys spring to mind without too much effort.

You can live in the dark ages without the option of safe and effective medicines if you like; don't force your nonsense on my children and me.

By Blattafrax (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ian,

AaronG's knowledge of wheat seems to be very low.
If anyone wants to read about wheat pollen and gene transfer to both other what strains and other plants they should read this article.
It does not agree with what AaronG claims. Why am I not surprised?

Your ability to read and comprehend information seems to be very low. (BUUUURN! AaronG's analysis seems to be spot-on; the article you linked to was about the possibility of out-crossing with jointed goatgrass, a very close relative to wheat that does not exist in Australia.

I doubt I'll post any more on this topic, since the signal-to-noise ratio is depressingly low, but I'll leave with this parting statement: Anyone calling themselves "anti-GMO" is being frickin' dumb. There exist valid concerns about gene copyrighting, testing procedures for new GMOs, etc, but I suppose those are too nuanced for the luddites and nature-worshipers in Greenpeace and other organizations. Demonizing GMOs but being fine with artificial selection is akin to praising the art of painting but calling digital art an abomination. (Drawing without paper?! How unnatural!)

No, it's about remembering that there's a difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, and that it's not OK to do bad things 'in the name of' doing something which may, perhaps happen to be sort of good.

If we go around trashing anything we don't like, regardless of the facts, regardless of the evidence, then how are we different from ideological thugs?

-- frank

Frank, I'm not condoning what those Greenpeace activists did. I don't have enough details anyhow. But that's why I also don't condemn it, cry about own goal this, own goal that, and how we, the reality-based progressive smart ones, are so much better than the anti-science, anti-GMO luddites who are really just like AGW deniers.

How do we judge the Greenpeace activists that scaled that chimney at Kingsnorth power station?

Nsib writes, *Demonizing GMOs but being fine with artificial selection is akin to praising the art of painting but calling digital art an abomination*

What a vacuous remark. Two points. First, artificial selection works with genes already present in an organism. It does not create inter-phylogenetic crosses that would not occur in a billion years. I work with cultivated plants and their wild relatives in my research. In many instances, cultivars have lost the ability to defend themselves through the process of domestication and its attendant effects on secondary plant chemistry - usually meaning that the plants have lower concentrations of defensive phytotoxins that the wild types. Research is ongoing to determine if it is possible to breed other forms of defense - such a morphology - into plants using artificial selection via plant breeding using genetic in formation already stored in genomes of different plant strains. However, once we begin randomly inserting genetic material from completely unrelated donor organisms into new recipient organisms, we are entering an uncertain new world where there are all kinds of unanticipated consequences. Its just another example where humans think that they can fix any kind of limitations placed on us by nature with technology, whilst failing to draw back the scale of the human enterprise. We now have drought resistant crops, saline tolerant crops and the like, which are fine but do not deal with the problems wrought by burgeoning human numbers and per capita impacts on the environment through widespread destruction of our ecological base. Many of these techno-fixes deal only with symptoms of the human enterprise but not the underlying causes, such as climate change, habitat destruction and the overconsumption of natural capital.

Second, many of us here are not 'demonizing' GMOs, but raise a number of concerns about the technology. These concerns cover a broad swathe of disciplines and fields of endeavor. I agree with WTD that we need more research, but certainly this should be the domain of independent bodies such as non-corporate funded universities and institutes and we should not at all depend on results 'handed' willy-nilly to us by the same companies who manufacture GMOs for profit. Working alongside and in collaboration with molecular biologists, I would also say that this research must be multidisciplinary, involving researchers with expertise in genomes, organisms and right up to experts in the study of communities and ecosystems. Like it or not, much of the efficacy of the research IMHO has relied on molecular biologists, who like it or not lack much in the way of any expertise on larger scale ecology.

Finally, I would argue that the those with the financial means to conduct this technology must share it with their poorer counterparts in the south. I would think more highly about this research if it were aimed at sharing technology rather than seeing genetic diversity in terms of 'intellectual property' and 'patent rights'. The very fact that bioprospectors are paid by the big firms to look for plants and animals in the topics that they can collect, bring back to northern labs, and look for certain properties (e.g. medicinal traits) that they can extract, refine and patent, suggests to me that the technology is not at all driven by any altruistic agenda but simply for profit. As I said earlier, who in the end benefits from it? The African farmer who can barely afford a new hoe or the industrial farmers in the north with farms covering many thousands of acres?

I have already addressed the other areas of concern about this technology and will not reiterate it here, except to say that (unsurprisingly) none of the strong defenders of inter-phylogenetic bioengineering have responded to them.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

What concerns me most about GMOs is the risk assessment process, particularly the time factor.

A plants that is now posing the biggest threats in North Australia since mimosa was initially released in the 1930's and has only recently been delared a noxious weed. Remember too, that mimosa was judged to not have 'weedy' charateristics before it went totally feral.

I wonder just how much thought has gone into assessing the risk not just in 5 years, but over 50 or more.

And chance of them steering those whipper snippers towards the climate research division?

Oh no, that's right.... they're on YOUR side!

By SkepticalSteve (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

Its just another example where humans think that they can fix any kind of limitations placed on us by nature with technology, whilst failing to draw back the scale of the human enterprise. We now have drought resistant crops, saline tolerant crops and the like, which are fine but do not deal with the problems wrought by burgeoning human numbers and per capita impacts on the environment through widespread destruction of our ecological base. Many of these techno-fixes deal only with symptoms of the human enterprise but not the underlying causes, such as climate change, habitat destruction and the overconsumption of natural capital.

Amen...

Jeff Harvey,

I think you're holding too tightly to your initial assessment of GMOs, and your argument is suffering for that. In your response @195, you've bent and broken the truth in many places, apparently solely for the purpose of rhetorical strength. For example, no one is "randomly inserting genetic material" into anything, and to suggest otherwise is quite dishonest. If you feel that the existing protocols and regulations for testing GMOs are lacking, please focus on that rather than tilting at windmills. Honestly, I too have concerns about the regulation and especially the legal status of GMOs.

Secondly, you've brought up what I view as a false dilemma; the idea that we have to choose between research on GMOs OR working on environmental improvements. Your insinuation that I think GMOs are a cure-all is puzzling, since I said nothing about that in my first response, nor do I hold that belief.

Lastly,

Second, many of us here are not 'demonizing' GMOs, but raise a number of concerns about the technology.

my initial post was in response to Ian Forrester, who, judging from his posts, would have no problem with being called "anti-GMO." I thought I made it clear that there are a lot of concerns about GMOs that are worthy of discussion; I was just sick of arguments that boiled down to: GMOs are unnatural and evil! That's an argument born of fear and ignorance, and I've seen that same view way too often from anti-government types in the US.

Jaker wrote:

>.Here are some of the observations we should studying openly to either increase confidence in the safety of GMOs or improve understand so that GMO can safety problems can be confronted.

You've given me a link to a blog! (Seed of Deception it's called).

I've asked you guys repeatedly for *peer reviewed science.*

Actual research.

It's like refuting AGW by sending me to Watts up with that!

You posted this stuff over at John Quiggin's site, and he dismissed it as well.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

@ Jaker, Ian, Jeff etc.

It comes down to this: should we attack the work of scientists if we don't agree with it based on our *beliefs* and *values*? GP have committed an act on par with the Climategate hack.

I note over at the Conversation that [John Cook of Skeptical Science writes](http://theconversation.edu.au/greenpeaces-gm-vandalism-bad-for-farmers-…);

>>I once supported Greenpeace but discontinued because I became fed up with its arrogant know-all claims in areas where I suspected the world was at the frontiers of knowledge. At least we can support genuine efforts to discover the truth - so far as it can be ascertained.

Greenpeace are shedding support and allies over this stunt.

Really is time for them to reconsider their attitude to science and their tactics.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

nsib said:

For example, no one is "randomly inserting genetic material" into anything, and to suggest otherwise is quite dishonest.

That is a completely dishonest statement. The "shotgun" method (using gold rather than lead) is a completely random process. No one knows where the genes especially the nasty promoter gene will be located.

Promoter genes in the wrong place can have very nasty results.

I suggest you actually read up on the various methods involved.

Using AT is just as random but maybe a bit more reproducible from insertion to insertion.

Good grief, you GMO promoters are as lacking in your science knowledge as the AGW deniers.

By Ian Forrest er (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ian,

Nah, I'm not falling for tag-team tactics. You misrepresented AaronG's argument and this article. Do you have anything to say in your defense?

Jeff Harvey,

I see I probably misread your statement about "randomly inserting genetic material". I took it as saying the genetic material was random, rather than the location. Sorry about that. Still, I don't understand the divide you see between technology and, well, whatever you think we should be using to solve our environmental problems. After all, aren't things like crop rotation still a technological innovation?

nsib wrote:

>>Still, I don't understand the divide you see between technology and, well, whatever you think we should be using to solve our environmental problems. After all, aren't things like crop rotation still a technological innovation?

Agree 100%!

*I'm NOT advocating GMOs are a cure all, and should not be treated without caution.*

Properly researched and regulated they *may* be part of a mix of solutions to help feed the growing global population.

Just as importantly, climate change is going to put our food producing capability to the test: we're going to need a very large toolbox of adaptation strategies and technologies at our disposal.

And no, I don't science/technology is a panacea for it all.

Adaptation/our response will come down to government policy, market driven solutions, industry solutions and by individuals willing to make changes to their lifestyle.

I'm planning to install solar, water tanks and grow my own food (I'm buying a new place to facilitate this). I'll never get 100% "off the grid" but plan to reduce my reliance on fossil fuels, reduce my CO2 foot print and learn a bit of self sufficiency.

But all those lovely solar panels I want, the hybrid car I'm planning to buy are "technology driven" solutions.

Heck, a push bike is a piece of technology.

So, there seems to be agreement on my first question that GM foods pose a low risk to human health.

Should we have concerns about the implementation and regulation of the technology? Of course!

But we don't break into labs and destroy research.

That is the work of thugs, and places GP on the same level of other anti-science movements.

By Watching the deneirs (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

WtD,

I don't think technology per se is the issue at all. As ever, it's the use that technology is put to.

And equating crop rotation with genetic engineering is avoiding the issue of the huge difference between things like breeding selction.

@ Michael who said:

>>I don't think technology per se is the issue at all. As ever, it's the use that technology is put to.

I agree!

This debate is an important one. It must be had, and if it has to be vigorous, then good. I'm not arguing GM=good.

I'm saying we have to play by the same "rules" and respect the value of the *scientific evidence.*

It's why I've asked Jaket et.al to give me science to back their claims. To date, I've been given blogs and partisan websites (such as "Seeds of deception", neutral much?). As a blogger - but I understand the difference between my opinions at that of actual research.

GP are making assertions of a scientific nature. Thus their evidence has to be credible.

You can't claim the imprimatur of science and then trash research claiming "it had to be done".

However, if you opposition to technology is based on flawed/incorrect assumptions and beliefs, then yes. If it is about stoking people's fear of bio-tech, then that is of concern to me.

To me it's a romantic reaction to technology, stemming back to Huxley's "Brave New World"... heck even Shelly's Frankenstein - note how GM food is often called "Frankenfood"?

It's an irrational fear.

A lot of what I see coming from the "anti" GM crowd is a mixture of:

>A) mistrust of technology (hence the continual reference to the "unnatural" qualities of GM and referencing flawed studies

>B) mistrust of corporations and governments/scienctists unable to properly regulate this technology - or the regulators and scientists are in the thrall of the likes of Monsanto.

I've been to the GP site and the message is:

>A) GM has "never been proven to be safe"

>B) CSIRO/Monsanto are in bed together, therefore cannot be trusted

Therefore, because GP does trust CSIRO or the work of these scientists, they can have the "right" to attack research.

I'd ask if Jaker, Jeff and Ian are comfortable with that precedent.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

nsib said:

Nah, I'm not falling for tag-team tactics. You misrepresented AaronG's argument and this article. Do you have anything to say in your defense?

Just what part of that report are you claiming I misrepresented?

Was it the part where they said:

Mallory-Smith studied wheat pollen flow last summer using blue seeded winter wheat, along with white wheat cultivars to identify the potential for gene transfer to nonresistant wheat varieties. Working with a graduate student, Brad Hansen, to do wheat-to-wheat studies, they verified that pollen traveled 145 ft. according to a recent Farm Journal report [mid-February 2002]. Mallory-Smith told Farm Journal, "It's safe to assume the same would be true for pollen from herbicide-resistant varieties." The research is ongoing.

According to Martin Entz at the University of Manitoba, Pierre Hucl's research at the University of Saskatoon has shown that wheat pollen can move up to 800m [2,624 ft or about 1/2 mile].

or was it this bit:

Hucl (1990; cf Anon 1999b) found that the frequency of outcrossing for 10 Canadian spring wheat cultivars varied according to the genotype, where the frequency was always lower than 9%. [Research results were compiled by National Pollen Research Unit, at the University College, Worcester, UK.]

I don't consider 9% to be negligible as stated in the paper submitted for approval of the tests.

In fact, the term "negligible" is mentioned frequently. As a scientist that is meaningless but I'm sure that lots of non-scientists will equate "negligible" with "zero".

From my reading of the submission I'm sure it was probably not prepared by scientists but by the various hangers on who spin scientific information to fool the lay person.

To get back to your comments by AaronG, he said :

wheat pollen does not go very far (well 1/2 mile is pretty far to me)

and that wheat strains do not cross pollinate. This report claims that wheat does in fact do that so any farmer planting non GMO wheat has a "non negligible" chance of his crop being contaminated and a subsequent drop in price.

Don't say that hasn't happened with other crops because it certainly did. When RR canola was introduced into Canada the price of RR canola was aprox 50% of non GMO varieties. Within a few years non GMO canola was contaminated (from seed contamination) and suffered the same drop in price.

Of course the companies selling the GMO's and their promoters said the chances of this happening were "negligible".

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

WT Denier, you are in denial of the evidence I've presented. Genetic Roulette cites multiple peer reviewed studies.

http://www.seedsofdeception.com/documentFiles/274.pdf

It doesn't help your argument to exhibit such denial. Further more, what evidence would you expect when Biotech companies block access to their product for independent testing?

JQ, fallaciously dismissed the site, its up to you if you want to repeat the same fallacy. But you are exposing yourself when you ignore the evidence.

WT Denier, let me ask a very simple yet fundamental question:

Do you accept the evidence that GMOs have been found to increase damage (e.g. gut, liver, or other organ damage) to rats and mice compared to controls, even in limited feeding trials? And consequently we cannot assume that GMO do not differ from other foods in "any meaningful" way?

And following from this, do you not think it sensible and rational to require proper transparent verifiable feeding studies for GMO food before said GMOs are comercialised?

@ Jakerman

Your link is a bibliography, full of citations to blogs, websites, company web sites, press statements and some research (?).

There are hundreds, and hundreds of sources listed here but it tells me nothing.

It includes references to those studies that have been flawed or found wanting. It includes references to the Monsanto website. It has references to government agencies.

*There is no context, nothing to indicate the content of the references. So which of these hundreds of references are you referring me too?*

The Monsanto references?

So in fairness, I decided to play ball and look at one piece of research that would seem to support you case: yes I picked it randomly.

I chose:

>>âGenetically modified soy affects posterity: Results of Russian scientistsâ studies,â REGNUM, October 12, 2005; http://
www.regnum.ru/english/526651.html

Which took me too... what I don't know. Some random Russian website?

So I decided to look into the study of rats in more detail.. I looked for the author and further references of this study.

The results of this study where presented at Terra Madre: a food conference!

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

The aim of this biannual conference is to:

>>Terra Madre is a network of food communities, each committed to producing quality food in a responsible, sustainable way. Terra Madre also refers to a major bi-annual conference held in Torino, Italy intended to foster discussion and introduce innovative concepts in the field of food, gastronomy, globalization, economics. Terra Madre is coordinated by the Slow Food organization.

What th..?

So, the research was presented at a slow food conference?

I mean... what th...?

OK... maybe this research is somewhere else? So again I looked and found it on this site: http://www.iatp.org/

This is the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy.. which sounds impressive, until you read it's tag line "Progressive Politics. Practical Solutions."

Apart from GM, [they don't like nanotechnology either!](http://www.iatp.org/documents/racing-ahead-us-agri-nanotechnology-in-th…)

Jeez... I'm in the rabbit hole here.

So I tried another reference to this piece of *ground breaking research*:

>>âGenetically modified soy leads to the decrease of weight and high mortality of rat pups of the first
generation. Preliminary studies,â Ecosinform 1 (2006): 4â9.

This must be the original research? Right? I mean it looks "sci-ency"? Right?

So I try and find it, but it leads me to the same rabbit hole of the SAME websites, saying the same things! It's all self referential. It's a bloody hall of mirrors!

I found the "journal" Ecosinform on a Russian website

http://ecosinform.ru/

Now... I spent some time on that site. It appears to belong to a Russian environmental group as best I can tell. How do I know? I'm not fluent in Russian but I can read cyrillic characters and can do some on the fly translation with the help of a dictionary.

The citation refers to a magazine article, not peer reviewed literature.

Here is edition the "research" appears in:

http://www.ecosinform.ru/userfiles/file/1-64_Ec_inf_1_06.pdf

Now the "research" itself has not actualy been published in any peer reviewed science journals.

Nada.

None.

There are some [vauge conspiratorial musings that the authors were "stopped".](http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Winter2008…). Apparently the author of the paper was hushed up in some big conspiracy... uh oh.

Ecosinform a supplment to another glossy Russian enviromental nournal called Echoes. Now, I'm all for Russian enviromentalism - goodness but don't they need it.

BUT...

I've seen this *crap* before with the climate sceptics.

It's a Potemkin village of science, it all looks impressive, and full of "sci-ency" references. But seriously Jaker.

I mean seriously!

It's a Gish Gallop, nothing more. Seriously, it was like being back writing "Watching the deniers" following up Monckton's/Bolt/IPA etc. claims.

I mean, if I'm going to present an argument I at least back it up with credible evidence.

*This GM-soy-kills-rats "research" was presented at a slow food conference and published in supplement to a Russian glossy enviromental magazine?*

Do you know how freakin long it took me to untangle that garbage?

Farrrrrrrrrrrrrrk....

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink
For example, no one is "randomly inserting genetic material" into anything, and to suggest otherwise is quite dishonest.

That is a completely dishonest statement. The "shotgun" method (using gold rather than lead) is a completely random process. No one knows where the genes especially the nasty promoter gene will be located.

Oh my - it's as if you have this picture in your head of a gold bullet blasting into a nucleus, randomly shattering the genome and then the parts coming back together with the new DNA somewhere in them.

This isn't how it works at all. The "gene gun" approach is simply a brute force physical method of getting your plasmid past the cell wall, rather than having to take the trouble to develop a complete vector that'll infiltrate the cell of interest. Once in the cytoplasm, the approach to getting the DNA actually into the genome is the same as in any other transfection technique - hijacking viral machinery. You include the DNA coding for viral integrases in your plasmid. Cell transcription/translation machinery makes integrases, integrases splice your gene into the genome.

Yes, it's random - but the processes involved are (a)physical trauma, and (b) viral processes. Far from being unprecedented, these are exactly the sorts of processes plants have been dealing with throughout their history.

Seriously - I don't have a problem with you disliking GM. My problem with you is the same as my problem with climate change deniers, creationists etc. - you've very obviously decided you don't like it, you've arrogantly decided you know enough about it to not need to learn more, and you're very, very obviously simply making up ad hoc arguments to defend your position rather than trying to use the facts to decide what your position should be.

The one thing you're not doing is skepticism.

Tristan,
I'll fully support GM product testing that is done in a way that guarantees zero contamination of existing crops.

I'm not being ignorant, arrogant, or dismissive of the facts. The facts are that these products -
- are often of dubious economic value
- force people into a "locked-in" relationship with Monsanto (etc.)
- reduce biodiversity
- create superweeds
- contaminate other people's crops willy-nilly
- are surrounded by a slick and dishonest PR machine's efforts - pretty much the same PR machine that gives us the anti-climate change bull and gave us the Iraq war and the nonexistent WMDs.

*That*'s scepticism.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

Oh, and by the way, there is no such thing as a "promoter gene". A promoter is a sequence of DNA at the start of a gene that basically says "start transcribing this gene here". There are many different ones: some "always on", most condition-dependent. GM can use either.

Tristan said:

Oh my - it's as if you have this picture in your head of a gold bullet blasting into a nucleus, randomly shattering the genome and then the parts coming back together with the new DNA somewhere in them.

My, my more strawmen. Are your strawmen made from GMO straw too?

And thanks for confirming my comment:

The "shotgun" method (using gold rather than lead) is a completely random process.

by saying:

Yes, it's random

It seems like Tristan doesn't know where the DNA in plants is located. The DNA is located in the nucleus, not the cytoplasm.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

It seems like Tristan doesn't know where the DNA in plants is located. The DNA is located in the nucleus, not the cytoplasm.

Oh, for crying out loud. In order to transfect a cell, the most challenging step is getting your plasmid from the outside of the cell, to the inside of the cell (the cytoplasm). If you've designed the plasmid properly, the cell itself handles the rest - which of course includes transporting the construct into the nucleus.

See, this kind of utterly moronic "gotcha" is exactly what I was talking about.

As for your response to "Yes, it's random" - I said that mainly in response to jakerman's earlier suggestion that the random damage from this approach is somehow magically different from the sort of random damage that every single cell goes through every single day:

Rather than the conventions causes of mutations we have evolved to deal with, gene guns make are large disruption in the formation state on the new gene, these mutations are subsequently passed to every cell of the new organisation, multiplying billions of times. This is radically different to the rate of mutation normally dealt with by organisms.

Anyway, you know what's not random? The selection step, where you go through the collection of cells you transfected, to find the one(s) where the gene inserted properly, in a suitable location where it is expressed well and does not markedly disrupt the expression of other genes.

WT Denier,

Like other deniers you engage in the fallacy of cherry picking, so I'm forced to be boring and start you with a small fraction of the the list you are denying:

http://www.seedsofdeception.com/documentFiles/274.pdf

* J. R. Latham, et al., âhe Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation,â he Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology
2006, Article ID 25376: 1-7;
* Allison Wilson, et. al., âTransformation-induced mutations in transgenic plants: Analysis and biosafety implications,â Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews â Vol. 23, December 2006.

*âElements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada; An Expert Panel Report on the Future of Food Biotechnology prepared by he Royal Society of Canada at the request of Health Canada
Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Environment Canadaâ he Royal Society of Canada, January 2001.

* Allison Wilson, et al., âRegulatory Regimes for Transgenic Crops,â Nature Biotechnology 23 (2005): 785; citing the following: M. Hernandez, et al., Transgenic Res. 12 (2003): 179â189; P. Windels, I. Tavernier, A. Depicker, E. Van Bockstaele, and M. De Loose, M. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 213 (2001): 107â112; W. Freese and D. Schubert, Biotechnol. Genet. Eng. Rev. 21 (2004)

* A. Forsbach, D. Shubert, B. Lechtenberg, M. Gils, R. Schmidt. âA Comprehensive Characterisation of Single-Copy TDNA Insertions in the Arabidopsis thaliana Genome,â Plant Mol Biol 52 (2003): 161â176.

* F. E.Tax, D. M. Vernon, âT-DNA-Associated Duplication/Translocations in Arabidopsis: Implications for mutant analysis and functional genomics,â Plant Physiol 126 (2001): 1527â1538.

* H. Kaya, S. Sato, S. Tabata, Y. Kobayashi, M. Iwabuchi, T. Araki, âHosoba toge toge, a syndrome caused by a large chromosomal deletion associated with a T-DNA insertion in Arabidopsis,â Plant Cell Physiol 41, no. 9 (2000): 1055â1066.

* Wilson, et. al., âTransformation-induced mutations in transgenic plants: Analysis and biosafety implications.â

* S. K. Svitashev, W. P. Pawlowski, I. Makarevitch, D. W. Plank, D. A. Somers, âComplex Transgene Locus Structures
Implicate Multiple Mechanisms for Plant Transgene Rearrangement,â Plant Journal 32 (2002): 433â445.

*Allison Wilson, PhD, Jonathan Latham, PhD, and Ricarda Steinbrecher, PhD, âGenome ScramblingâMyth or Reality?
Transformation-Induced Mutations in Transgenic Crop Plants Technical ReportâOctober 2004, http://www.econexus.info;
see also J. R. Latham, et al., âhe Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation,â he Journal of Biomedicine and
Biotechnology 2006, Article ID 25376: 1â7.

* I. Makarevitch, S. K. Svitashev and D. A.Somers, âComplete sequence analysis of transgene loci from plants transformed
via microprojectile bombardment,â Plant Mol Biol 52 (2003): 421â432.
* Latham, et al., âhe Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation,â 1â7; see also John Innes Centre, âStudy
G02002âMethods for the analysis of GM wheat and barley seed for unexpected consequences of the transgene insertion,â
September 2001 to January 2005.

* S. M. Jain, âTissue culture-derived variation in crop improvement,â Euphytica 118 (2001): 153â166.

So WT Denier, instead of being such a bore, anser my [simple fundamental question](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/07/greenpeace_destroy_genetically…).

>I said that mainly in response to jakerman's earlier suggestion that the random damage from this approach is somehow magically different from the sort of random damage that every single cell goes through every single day.

[Evidence shows](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/07/greenpeace_destroy_genetically…), the damage from gene insertion (especial with massive gene gun damage) is on a diffident scale to the sort of random damage that every single cell goes through every single day. The effects on genes and gene expression are massive.

5% of genes differentially expressed, is I think what you said. You know what other things will cause differential expression in 5% or more of genes?

Lack of sunlight.
Excess of sunlight.
Lack of water.
Excess of water.
Cold.
Heat.
Time of day.
Time of year.
Lack of minerals.
Salt.

Pretty much everything, really.

Differential expression of genes means sweet F. A. in and of itself. More data is needed to know whether it's a good or a bad thing.

Oh, wait...

>I'm not being ignorant, arrogant, or dismissive of the facts. The facts are that these products - - are often of dubious economic value - force people into a "locked-in" relationship with Monsanto (etc.) - reduce biodiversity - create superweeds - contaminate other people's crops willy-nilly - are surrounded by a slick and dishonest PR machine's efforts - pretty much the same PR machine that gives us the anti-climate change bull and gave us the Iraq war and the nonexistent WMDs.

What a lot of criticism of GMOs seems to fail to address is that farmers only grow them because they are more profitable for the farmer. Case in point: an acquaintance grows opium poppies. Due to a moratorium on GMOs in the state he lives in, he cannot get RoundUp Ready poppies. As a result of this he has to spray his poppy crop six times with different cocktails of herbicides that every time manage to almost, but not quite, kill the poppies, as well as killing everything else (hopefully). It costs an arm and a leg, significantly reduces the yield, and if it rains at the wrong time, at best he has to re-spray the same crap, ot worst he loses the crop to weeds. His friends elsewhere who grow RoundUp Ready poppies only have to spray twice with glyphosate, which is not only much, much cheaper, but significantly less harmful to the environment.

Nobody is forcing him to lock into a supplier with a company. He can choose to go back to growing the less profitable traditional varieties any day. It's just not good money for him and not good for the farm. As to a reduction of biodiversity, that is called a monoculture, and has little to do with GM. Virtually every plant strain of hybrid origin being grown today is the same, and open pollinated commercial crops in many plant families have been rare as hens teeth since long before GM came along.

As to superweeds, they arise the same by being hit continually with herbicides (i.e. through an artificial selection process). Hybridisation of GM plants with wild weeds has only proven a problem with very few families, and AFAIK is pretty much restricted to the Brassicas. What is the solution to this problem? Terminator technology, of course. Again, a farmer is not obliged to purchase a seed lot with terminator technology from a supplier, they can keep on growing the same variety they have been. There is no market for them unless they're significantly more profitable for the farmer to grow than traditional varieties, enough to overcome the fact that the farmer cannot save seed from one generation to the next.

As for mutations, it's been known for rather a long time that that's a consequence of plant tissue culture, not of transfection per se.

Plants regenerated from relatively undifferentiated callus cultures possess a vast array of genetic changes. Such variations can result in useful agricultural and horticultural products. For other purposes, however, variations in traits other than those of interest may be undesirable--for example, using cultured cells for genetic engineering. Any steps made toward understanding the basis of tissue culture-induced genetic variation should be helpful in developing a more stable and manipulatable somatic cell system. This review provides a glimpse at the specific kinds of genetic changes encountered among regenerated plants and their progeny. Included among these variations are cytosine methylation alterations of the genome. The repeat-induced point mutation (RIP) phenomenon, reported for filamentous fungi, is invoked to provide a framework to consider the origin of variation in plant tissue cultures.

My bold. You know who really like and take advantage of that fact? Traditional plant breeders. For GM engineers it's actually a problem, because what they really want is a plant that's identical to the original apart from their inserted gene.

Let me re-state that very clearly: it's not the gene insertion that causes most of the mutations. It's the very high background mutation rate that occurs in any plant tissue culture, which plant breeders have been taking advantage of since well before GM ever existed.

Tristan is ignoring a 2-4% change in DNA and acting like the insertion of single gene producing a 5% change is expression of genes is nothing of interest, and raises no questions or concerns or indicates.

I suppose next Tristan will argue that this scale and quality of DNA change is the same as the disruption caused by DNA breakage in each cell every day? Oh, wait...

Because of this discussion I have watched a documentary that has been sitting on my hard drive for quite a while: The World According to Monsanto. This documentary was co-produced by Arte France, the National Film Board of Canada, WDR, which in my opinion are quite serious broadcasters (no Channel 4). It has some great material on the role the FDA played/plays in the approval of GMO for the market, the influence of revolving-door-lobbyists, the suppression of scientists who said 'wait a minute'.

The pro-GMO people are basically telling me I should trust Monsanto. It's like asking me to trust Exxon, BP, Goldman Sachs and Tepco. The thing that is driving AGW is the same thing driving GMO research. How people don't see that is beyond me.

Ewan R, if you're still reading: quit your job asap, plan for it, step out, you don't want to be part of this criminal organisation, no matter how friendly your colleagues and bosses are. You're smart, you can do something more useful. Please, it is people like you who are making all of this possible.

Neven, you say it perfectly when you write, "The pro-GMO people are basically telling me I should trust Monsanto. It's like asking me to trust Exxon, BP, Goldman Sachs and Tepco. The thing that is driving AGW is the same thing driving GMO research. How people don't see that is beyond me."

Many of the same people endlessly promoting GMOs as a 'wonder technology' are the same people denying AGW. Philip Stott comes to mind, but there are others. In both camps, we are endlessly told that 'human ingenuity' and 'technology' will deal with any limitations imposed on us by nature, and especially those caused by human simplification and/or alteration of natural systems across the biosphere. Its the ugly head of neoclassical economics raising itself again.

I have expressed my concerns about the technology in several posts on this thread. These concerns cover a wide array of quite different fields: social, economic, political and scientific. Several people here - WTD most prominently amongst them - argue that it is up to scientists like myself to *prove* that GMOs pose a threat to human health of the environment. This is exactly what the climate change denialists are saying. Throw the 'precautionary principle' out the window and that the onus is on critical scientists like myself and many colleagues to prove that the outcome of these two experiments - one through climate change, the other through genetically engineered organisms - may have serious consequences down the road. Until this is proven, we should plough ahead with this technology as well as to keep belching out those greenhouse gases. As far as I am concerned this is a 'bastardized' reversal of what the PP is all about.

To repeat myself for the umpteenth time, inserting genetic material from insecticidal bacteria or goats or rabbits or whatever into the genomes of plants pushes science and humanity into a new and unpredictable direction. For many molecular biologists, IMO the genome has become a 'plaything' in which the consequences of the technology end at the level of the organism. Consequences beyond that - with the environment, for example - are seldom factored in. Therein lies the rub. Certainly many GMOs have been placed into the environment with little or no concern or study as to their potential effects on native flora and fauna or on large-scale ecological communities. This is probably because a lot of money and profit is at stake. I am not an anti-technology luddite but a cautious scientist with profound concerns. Again, IMO its just a shame that in this area amny scientists have abondoned the notion of caution and have opted instead for a reckless devil-amy-care attitude that downplays all of the potential risks whilst focussing only on the perceived benefits.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

Reading comprehension. It's a dying art.

I am not "ignoring 2-4% change in DNA" - I'm pointing out that this isn't primarily due to the genetic modification, but simply due to the very high background mutation rate in plant tissue culture - something that non-GM breeders take advantage of to generate random variability from which they can select new traits.

Similarly, I'm not ignoring changes in expression in 5% of genes - just pointing out that, in isolation, such an observation is meaningless. To understand whether or not it's a bad thing, you have to look much deeper, at what those differentially expressed genes do. What pathways they represent, what enzymes are produced, what metabolites are affected.

Or, you could just do what most breeders do: look at how well the plant grows, look at its yields, look at the composition of the edible portion, perform feeding trials etc.

Now, a question for you. Should be a trifle, since you're so knowledgable about GM and, of course, haven't dismissed anything without understanding it first.

In your own words, describe in a few sentences:
A. How roundup (glyphosate) works, and why it's so toxic to plants and not to animals;
B. How a Roundup Ready plant is resistant to glyphosate; and
C. Why this makes RR plants so scary?

Pretty straightforward questions. I could answer A and B in 2-3 sentences, but I must admit I'm stumped on C.

@ Jaker

Ok thanks for your references! Now we getting somewhere. I'll read.

At the very least, I've been forced to review a greater variety of materials and consider the issue.

More like it mate.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

@ Neven you say:

>>The pro-GMO people are basically telling me I should trust Monsanto. It's like asking me to trust Exxon, BP, Goldman Sachs and Tepco. The thing that is driving AGW is the same thing driving GMO research. How people don't see that is beyond me.

No, I'm not asking you to trust Monsanto.

I've asked for evidence to back claims. Heck, I wouldn't trust them - what we've all been saying is "don't destroy the work of scientists".

Remember, it was the work of CSIRO scientists destroyed *not* a Monsanto facility that was broken into.

It is the supposssed terrible nature of GM and the collusion of CSIRO with evil corporations that lead Greenpeace to think they had license to do what they did.

The logic of of some seems to be:

GM/Monsanto bad > CSIRO bad > destroying "corrupt" research good.

Now, Jakerman asked me if I supported proper trials of GMO - 100% agree.

And I've asked for evidence, which he has and I can now review.

This is how it should be conducted.. not with a whipper snipper but words and debate.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

WTD, in response to Frank I wrote:

"I'm not condoning what those Greenpeace activists did. I don't have enough details anyhow. But that's why I also don't condemn it, cry about own goal this, own goal that, and how we, the reality-based progressive smart ones, are so much better than the anti-science, anti-GMO luddites who are really just like AGW deniers.

How do we judge the Greenpeace activists that scaled that chimney at Kingsnorth power station?"

"I've asked for evidence to back claims"

Which claims? The claim is that GMOs are both safe and necessary.

Both claims are unproven and the production of GMOs is proven to be a disaster for the actual farmers in developing worlds.

Tristan I'm glad it seems we agree that GM techniques including combinations of gene gun and tissue culture cause genetic disruption of a scale and quality that can not simply be assumed equivalent to normal day to day DNA breakage.

>*To understand whether or not it's a bad thing, you have to look much deeper, at what those differentially expressed genes do. What pathways they represent, what enzymes are produced, what metabolites are affected. [...] look at the composition of the edible portion, *perform feeding trials etc*.

My beef is that such feeding trials are not required. And those done typically are short term and/or have other serious flaws. A protocol for high quality trials(which includes transparent trials and are repeatable by independent parties) are what I've been arguing for.

"What a lot of criticism of GMOs seems to fail to address is that farmers only grow them because they are more profitable for the farmer"

[FALSE.](http://www.i-sis.org.uk/farmersSuicidesBtCottonIndia.php)

It may be true in the first world and then only in America where you were put on GMOs before you were told about them. Europe has asked for labelling and segregation so that the consumer can choose for themselves. And in the developing world its cheaper to avoid big agribusiness products, but often aid is given as GMO products. Just like Bill Gates pushes Microsoft products "to aid the third world".

@ Jakerman

I've started reading and reviewing your citations. A few things to note.

Ok this one:

>>>[Allison Wilson, et al., âRegulatory Regimes for Transgenic Crops,â Nature Biotechnology 23 (2005): 785; citing the following: M. Hernandez, et al., Transgenic Res. 12 (2003): 179â189; P. Windels, I. Tavernier, A. Depicker, E. Van Bockstaele, and M. De Loose, M. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 213 (2001): 107â112; W. Freese and D. Schubert, Biotechnol. Genet. Eng. Rev. 21 (2004)](http://sbc.ucdavis.edu/files2/20501.pdf)

Is a letter to Nature Biotechnology(Correspondence section)

Does not constitute research, but opinion.

Now, this one which is cited multiple times;

>>[J. R. Latham, et al., â[T]he Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation,â [T]he Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology 2006, Article ID 25376: 1-7](http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jbb/2006/025376/abs/)

So I got to article, I start reading... but I note something. The journal is published by Hindawi Publishers.

Who?

Who or what is Hindawi? They are an "open access peer review" publisher based in Cairo.

Under the Hindawi model authors pay to have their article published processed and published... OK then.

Their business model is interesting and the company has been in operation since 1997 and lets say they're... semi-legit?

It's not a scam, but they're kinda borderline.

Now, I manage the information services department for a large professional firm and I have some guidelines on selecting and purchasing information.

This is my profession: to assess the accuracy, authority and legitimacy of publishers and sources.

I negotiate with publishers pretty much every day, some of them the largest in the world.

I get spammed/mailed/cold called and marketed to every day, so I have a good feel for the legitimacy of published resources. While they seem to be (kinda sorta) legit, they are well.. a little bottom-feederish.

Here's a good discussion on the open text/Hindawi model which is [regarded as controversal and almost a scam by some](http://blog.pokristensson.com/2010/11/04/academic-spam-and-open-access-…):

>>Another open access publisher that likes to send spam is Hindawi. However, news to me was that Hindawi now spams on behalf of EURASIP, an organization I thought was reputable (until now)

Now I could ask my peers at the university libraries their opinion on the status of their publications, who holds this journal in their collections (a good marker of a journals legitimacy).

But having searched a few collections, I can tell you:

> It is not held at the National Library of Australia

> Monash Uni has a [link to it via their catalogue](http://library.monash.edu.au/vwebv/holdingsInfo?searchId=5294&recCount=…), but no physical holdings (I mean it's free, why bother?)

So.. what about the paper itself?

I've read the article and well... It's now wowing me. Don't know much about the Hindawi quality control.

The authors of the paper are associated with:

>>Bioscience Resource Project - an "independent" and pretty partisan group.

>>Econexus - another independent think tanky thing.

The three authors have degrees, which seem legit, though none appear to be currently associated with any academic institutions.

The Bioscience Resource Project don't like nanotech either looking at their website.

I'm seeing a pattern on all these sites now: invisible, tiny stuff like DNA and "nano-tech" is kinda of scary to them. They really don't like teeny-tiny stuff science looks at. I mean, if you can't see it how can you trust it?

Now, you may think I'm not being fair or nit-picking.

But this is my job. To question the legitimacy of sources, determine their value and assess materials as trusted information sources.

This paper is kinda failing on that front.

It makes some very broad and sweeping generalisations, and is about public policy - it does not actually present any original research, but refers to other research... Which means I'd have to go to those sources as well..

In short it argues: WE DONT KNOW ENOUGH SO DO NOTHING.

That's the paper's argument: it's too dangerous. We don't know! So just stop! Ok enough with the research!

It's an Op-Ed with footnotes.

You can see my dilemma here mate, can't you?

It's looking a bit thin, and I'm only two papers in.

I will continue through your list though, that's only fair.

By Watching the deniers (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

I've been very reluctant to comment on this thread, because it is so fraught with political (and probably with scientific) complexity that it makes the physics of climate change seem plain sailing by comparison. However I've reached a point where I feel compelled to repeat a few points and to add several more. And I say this as a person who worked with one of the first PCR machines in Australia, the clicking, hissing thing that it was...

My first concern with the non-contained use of genetically modified organisms is that their ecological effects are mostly unknown, and are largely unknowable, until they have been released and have completely equilibrated with the environments that they colonise. Even years of controlled testing cannot predict all of the effects that a released GMO might exhibit, as no controlled experimental environment can really replicate the intricacies of a functioning ecosystem.

One of the problems is that genetic engineering is not the same as random mutation in a genome, nor is it the same as hydridisation between species capable of natural interbreeding - protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Reflecting its very raison d'être, GE involves the wholesale transference of large and (often complexly) functional pieces of genetic information, and as Jeff Harvey points out these transferred inserts are usually foreign to the taxa receiving them.

The upshot is not only that humans might release weedy species novel to a particular ecosystem, as is commonly discussed, but that a GMO may have other, unforeseeable impacts. One such impact is exemplified by [Bob Seamark's work with mouse poxvirus](http://www.csiro.au/files/mediarelease/mr2001/Prmousefox.htm) (pretty illustrations [here](http://www.bioresearchonline.com/article.mvc/Australians-create-killer-…)), where a predicted response did not occur, and a severe consequence was instead evidenced.

The CSIRO poxvirus incident is a notable example, and many engineerings would not be so spectacular, but to repeat - the problem is that synergies and emergences resulting from transferred genetic material interacting with its new milieu cannot be easily forecast in all cases. And this applies not just to the engineered host organism itself, but to the ecosystem(s) in which GMOs may be released. If genetic exotics follow the pattern of action of more traditional translocated exotic species, then it is quite possible for a GMO to lie as a 'sleeper' in its new milieu, and ony manifest a negative action when density, interaction with other species, or other conjunctions of factors reach a critical threshold.

My second reservation reflects Isobel's observations above, to the effect that a lot of genetic engineering is a case of having a hammer and seeing everything as a nail. This really is the case - often the 'problem' being 'addressed' could be more cheaply and simply solved merely by switching the organisms, or even the varieties, being used, or by altering other techniques and processes.

You want vitamin A? Plant a crop that produces it naturally - there are already plenty available. You want a sweeter tomato (as was being engineered in a lab I used to work in)? Try some of the almost extinct heritage varieties - or just put sugar on the ones that aren't sweet enough for the poor diddums you're marketing to. You want something that can grow in salinated soil? Don't salinate it in the first place, or if you do, consider action to rehabilitate it...

My third issue with much GE is that in many cases it presupposes that the laws of thermodynamics don't act in the 'real world'. Increasing productivity, improving nutritional content, increasing hardiness - all of these modifications are asymptotic to the natural thermodynamic limits of metabolism, and many projects seem to ignore that there are only so many benefits that can be squeezed into a 'useful' organism.

And harking back to my previous point, it is often easier (if not as profitable for corporations) to employ an alternative agricultural/horticultural/forestry (or whatever) strategy to optimise yield (or other desired performance) in a particular context.

My fourth objection to some GE centres on the fact that in many cases it does not deliver cost-benefit to the farmer for example (in the case of agricultural use). The loss of seed-saving cultures, the need for accompanying fertilisers and/or herbicides and/or other sundries, and the cost of the GM seeds or other organisms themselves, all have the potential (and in some cases the demonstrable consequence) to greatly erode the short-term benefits of the GMO - where such benefits might actually exist.

And even if there is a cost-benefit to the farmer, there is the potential for the more general cost-benefit to be less evident, when 'external' costs (point 2) become apparent.

My fifth problem with some GE is that the frequently inevitable spread into 'the wild' (whether that 'wild' is the crops of traditionally-grown produce, or the ecosystems of the planet) cannot be controlled. This is an abrogation of the rights of people who do not wish to be impacted by GE, to be so un-impacted. I have yet to hear of an argument that can justify the removal of the rights of present and future generations to have their own choice for or against GE. I can imagine some, but most GE projects don't seem to have the lofty goals that I can come up with - instead they are simple, commercial enterprises.

Having said all of this, I am not opposed to all GE. The modification of micro-organisms for the production of biological actives is trivially justifiable, as are other modifications where the GMO or its products are easily containable. The problem seems to be the perenial one where, as with many other fields of human endeavour, genetic engineering seems oblivious of the fact that we live in a global ecosystem where everything is interconnected, and where our actions sooner or later have consequences, but vested interest doesn't acknowledge this until Pandora's jar has been well and truly opened.

And expecting a nebulous hope to triumph over the release of all of the other contents of Pandora's jar is a long bow to draw indeed.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

*Why this makes RR plants so scary?*

This is an easy one to answer. The introduction of herbicide tolerant RR crops has encouraged farmers to spray more and more glyphosate (roundup) herbicide into their crops and field margins, on the understanding that it won't harm their crops. Of course this ignores the fact that more of the stuff will enter the food chain and that more weedly early successional plants will be exposed to it, meaning that resistance will evolve faster. This article sums it up:

http://botany.wiki.lovett.org/file/view/U.S.+Farmers+Cope+With+Roundup-…

In fact, weeds are becoming increasingly resistant to roundup. Hardly surprising really, but as always there are consequences. What your point illustrates Tristan, is that you don't know a whole lot about population genetics, evolutionary biology and ecology. Let me guess - these are not your areas of 'interest'.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

Having read most of this thread I must say the argument from both sides is very weak. I remain agnostic on the environmental threat(s)of GM technology though having worked on the UK GM FSE* trials it is clear that the beneficial effects of GMOs for the environment can sometimes be overstated.

I have seen that GP were instrumental in blocking aid to Zambia when the grain shipment was from GM crops (the advisor to the government (Lovemore Simwanda) had gleaned all his information from GP and had not done any further research) so Zambians starved whilst GM grain mouldered in silos near Lusaka.

I remain sceptical that multinationals have the best interests of the public at heart, but then the same could be said of big pharma. Though we still have better healthcare than at any time in history (and yes, I know the trickle down to the third world is poor in this respect too).

I do feel that there are several GM technologies that can be of great benefit to the human race though - not Roundup Ready or other economically-driven technologies, more the likes of the attempts to alleviate the pressure on fish stocks by the creation of Omega-3 rich plant oils** (note, the likes of linseed do contain Omega-3 fatty acids, but not the very-long-chain fatty acids found in fish oils that are considered beneficial to health)

What I find in this thread though is a continued linkage to secondary, partisan sources such as blogs and cherry-picking of results to bolster an argument (as WtD says this is as bad as linking to WUWT as a source of climate info).

A case in point: Ian Forrester states "Mallory-Smith studied wheat pollen flow last summer using blue seeded winter wheat, along with white wheat cultivars to identify the potential for gene transfer to nonresistant wheat varieties. Working with a graduate student, Brad Hansen, to do wheat-to-wheat studies, they verified that pollen traveled 145 ft. according to a recent Farm Journal report [mid-February 2002]. Mallory-Smith told Farm Journal, "It's safe to assume the same would be true for pollen from herbicide-resistant varieties." The research is ongoing. According to Martin Entz at the University of Manitoba, Pierre Hucl's research at the University of Saskatoon has shown that wheat pollen can move up to 800m".

A look at Mallory-Smith's research (easily found through google) finds this: "Jointed goatgrass continues to be a significant weed problem in wheat production in Oregon and across the wheat growing regions of the USA. It is closely related to wheat and the only options for control are to use a herbicide resistant wheat cultivar or to extend the rotation and use spring crops in the rotation sequence. Our research has shown that wheat and jointed goatgrass form hybrids and that it is possible for the resistance gene to be transferred to the hybrid. When the hybrid was backcrossed with jointed goatgrass, the backcross generations retained the gene and have a high level of self-fertility. The results of our studies are important to the development of management strategies to minimize gene movement to jointed goatgrass. Our data indicate that to prevent gene movement the hybrids must be controlled and jointed goatgrass control in areas surrounding the herbicide resistant wheat fields is critical. Because jointed goatgrass is a winter annual, spring crops have been effective at reducing jointed goatgrass populations but there were reports that spring biotypes of jointed goatgrass were being selected. However, no spring biotypes were identified in our studies although there were variations in vernalization requirements among different populations. A short vernalization requirement may allow jointed goatgrass to produce seed even in spring crops."*** Hardly the damnation that Ian no doubt hoped it would be.

In short this debate would be better if the participants held strictly to the science and referenced their claims using the literature that is available.

*webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20080306073937/http:/www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse/

**greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/accumulation_novel_omega_3_fatty_acids_transgenic_plants

***cris.csrees.usda.gov/cgi-bin/starfinder/0?path=fastlink1.txt&id=anon&pass=&search=AN=0186570&format=WEBFULL

>*It's looking a bit thin, and I'm only two papers in.*

Crumbs WTD, you've only got a few hundred more then you can make an informed decision.

>*In short it argues: WE DONT KNOW ENOUGH SO DO NOTHING.*

Your alleged summary shows me I shouldn't take a review from you as approximately accurate. Here is what the paper's authors actually find:

>To retain public and institutional confidence, biosafety
decisions need to be clearly grounded in evidence. This review is an attempt to determine the degree to which the genetic consequences of transgene insertion contribute to
uncertainty and risk in transgenic plants. We conclude that
much remains to be discovered about genome-wide and
insertion-site mutations. In particular, lack of information, especially for crop plants and particle bombardment, means that plant transformation may be even more damaging than is apparent from this review. Even with the limited information currently available it is clear that plant transformation is rarely, if ever, precise and that this lack of precision may cause many of the frequent unexpected phenotypes that characterise plant transformation and that pose a significant biosafety risk. It is also clear that implementation of the steps outlined above can greatly decrease that risk.

>Ultimately, it should not be forgotten that though transformation- induced mutations magnify the risks of genetic engineering, they bring no benefits and are unnecessary for the production of transgenic crops.

BTW WTD, I assume by your continued declining to answer [this question](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/07/greenpeace_destroy_genetically…) (despite my continued request) that you think it not important nor relevant?

>Do you accept the evidence that GMOs have been found to increase damage (e.g. gut, liver, or other organ damage) to rats and mice compared to controls, even in limited feeding trials? And consequently we cannot assume that GMO do not differ from other foods in "any meaningful" way?

>And following from this, do you not think it sensible and rational to require proper transparent verifiable feeding studies for GMO food before said GMOs are comercialised?

*I remain sceptical that multinationals have the best interests of the public at heart*

Chris, that's putting it mildly. The fact is that I cannot find a single example in the historical record where a multinational corporation had the 'best interests of the public at heart'. I suggest that you read Joel Bakan's "The Corporation", which should tell you everything you need to knw about the primary agenda of MNCs. There are some pretty shocking examples in there where, far from having the 'best interests of the public at heart', large and powerful corporations have dumped toxic wastes into rivers, broke environmental laws again and again, and compromised public safety in a number of other ways even though they were fully aware of the potentially devastating consequences of their actions (or inactions). In some of the more high profile cases, corporations have even presented their statisticians in court to coldly explain that they compromised public safety because in doing cost-benefit analyses it was cheaper to pay the victims of their negligence than to invest in producing safer products through recalling them. I think the term coined by Noam Chomsky, 'amoral tyrannies', describes many corporations perfectly. Some have gone farther and have argued that corporations display classic psychopathic tendencies, bearing in mind that self-valorization (through profit maximization) appears to overrule just about any societal obligations they might have.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

One potential impact of GP's action may not be increased transparency but increased secrecy.

Currently the OGTR website publicly lists the locations of all GMO tests sites and even gives you a nice Google map image. Now that scientists have good reason to expect their trials to be destroyed, we can expect a push for this information to be made private.

Own goal by GP in my opinion.

Another potential impact is visibility of the problem and more accountability.

Your opinion seems to be "this could happen, therefore it is happening because it isn't what greenpeace want".

It's basically common sense Wow

Scientists now know GP will happily break into their research sites and destroy their research. They will want to take steps to protect their research. The easiest step to take to do achieve this is not to make public where they are doing the research.

I personally support the fact that the sites are public but GP must have known that an obvious response to their action would be to make it harder for them to do the same again.

I will however make some inquiries with some plant scientists I know when I next seem them to see what people are thinking.

No, it's basically ignoring what you said.

Here is your statement again:

> One potential impact of GP's action may not be increased transparency but increased secrecy.

Note here: potential.

Then you drop straight through that potential and make it real:

> Own goal by GP in my opinion.

Now note that this was government testing. That information is releasable under FOIA.

Hiding it again is not an option.

The "own goal" in "my opinion" is that GP has made secrecy more likely, which is not their stated desire.

I thought what I said was pretty clear. I am assuming you disagree, so why not just say so, instead of performing acrobatics with my words?

From reading the Greenpeace info, they seem unhappy that an FOIA for more information about the target genes was declined. Can you not see a potential situation now where the sites of new research might become "commercial in confidence" or "confidential for security reason" leading to a rejection of any FOIA?

Form this Greenpeace Q&A on GMWatch:

*Why is Greenpeace targeting CSIRO?

Greenpeace's work is targeting the release of unsafe GM wheat into our food supply. The CSIRO is working with foreign GM companies to release unsafe GM wheat into our food supply. These foreign GM companies include Limagrain, one of the biggest investors in GM in the world, and Arcadia Biosciences.

CSIRO's closeness with foreign GM companies has created a clear conflict of interest within the CSIRO. The GM wheat field trial which Greenpeace has removed from the environment was proposed and approved while two directors of Nufarm were serving on the board of the CSIRO. Nufarm is the exclusive distributor of Monsanto's Roundup Ready products in Australia and Monsanto owns 90 per cent of GM products worldwide. Monsanto and its GM partners stand to make billions from the genetic modification of Australia's wheat.

CSIRO's closeness to these GM corporations compromises their ability to make decisions in Australia's public interest and has resulted in the release of unsafe genetically modified wheat into the Australian environment.

Does anyone know if this is correct?

And if it is: Can someone watch the documentary I linked to in one of my previous comments and tell me why I should trust anything Monsanto says? Why is CSIRO so close to these GM corporations? Why is Monsanto different from Exxon or BP?

Jeff Harvey, you probably know this, but there is a documentary film based on Bakan's book, also called The Corporation. It's really good, by the way.

Jeff, I write eight paragraphs and all you focus on is one line and then effectively rewrite what you're already written umpteen times upthread.

I don't think you'll find anyone arguing with your point from #237 but it's one thing to fantasise about hippy dreamworlds where there are no multinationals it's another to realise that that utopia aint gonna be around any time soon.

We live in a world of multinationals, the food we eat, the drugs we take, the vehicle we take to work and the fuel we put in it, the computers we sit at and the music we listen to are all largely controlled and produced by multinationals. If you're preaching revolution then I'll say aye but until the revolution comes we're stuck with the blasted corporations.

I'm more interested in your thoughts on the fish oil research I cited. Given a binary choice would you rather GM produced fish oil or further depletion of our fisheries?

(One note on destruction of crops: The UK GM FSEs found largely in favour of the GP-type viewpoint, despite protestors trashing many of the study sites and making those findings less robust - and therefore more open to wrangling by agribusiness).

> Given a binary choice would you rather GM produced fish oil or further depletion of our fisheries?

My answer: "Stop fishing so much"

There's no reason to be a binary choice and therefore answering "No GM fish" to it would be meaninglessly accurate.

Neven, I find it hard to believe that the likes of Syngenta & Bayer Cropscience (amongst others) only hols 10% of GM products. Perhaps it depends on how you measure it?

> The "own goal" in "my opinion" is that GP has made secrecy more likely

That doesn't make it an Own Goal for GP. It makes it IN YOUR OPINION counterproductive. Only if that even comes about would it be an own goal.

But given FOIA, more secrecy isn't really an option, is it.

Wow, how do you get Omega-3 into people without fishing?

Odd. I don't eat much fish. About once or twice a month, I'll have some fried fish in batter, but that's about it.

So how am I getting Omega-3 into me?

Nah, I've enough fatty acids as it is.O_o

I know what role they have, though. I also know that fish don't come in tubs with Flora Margarine written on the side (I also don't like margarine). I also note that we're fishing too much.

There's no need for your binary answer. The answers are far less constrained than you would like.

I'm still functioning absolutely fine and far better than many posting on here. Either they're exuding all Omega-3 they've eaten or they're eating less fish than me.

Which still begs the question: How am I getting the Omega-3 into me?

You insist we have to eat all the fish we do.

I contest this isn't necessary.

Chris S there are numerous sources for long chain unsaturated fatty acids besides fish. In fact most fish get them through their diet and do not synthesize them.

Many years ago when "biotechnology" was a respected discipline (I no longer refer to myself as a biotechnologist) one of the main areas of research was "single cell protein". I was at a meeting over 30 years ago and a prominent scientist said we should not be looking at "single cell protein" but at "single cell oil".

A whole witch's brew of these acids can be obtained from proper cultivation of various fungi and algae, in high yields I might add.

Unfortunately, over the past 20 years or so biotechnology has been taken over by the molecular biologists whose mantra is "genetic engineering can solve all your problems and who cares about knock on effects".

As you can see I am not a fan of what is going on in the commercial aspects of bio-science.

We have missed the boat with the Government and big business view that genetic engineering is a cure-all for all our problems.

I prepared a research proposal on microbial production of these fungal oils over 20 year ago. Unfortunately the response from the government official who looked over the proposal was insulting to say the least.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

Meh, I had typed a lengthy response to Jeff upthread, but alas my inability to properly create links (or save copies of my lengthy responses...) means it was lost in mdoeration.

Potted version without links follows.

Ewan, I am not being dishoest about genotypes. Let me ask you this: Is there more genetic diversity in Roundup ready resistant soybean or in the seeds that farmers have collected for years after harvest?

This isn't the right question to ask - comparison needs to be made within available commercial lines used pre and post adoption of GMOs - it's a given that production agriculture reduces diversity to an extent (at least in the farmers field - and frankly the important thing isn't the diversity in the field, but the diversity in the genome collections of the breeding population, which in large multinational collections are far wider than anything that has come previously) - you are asserting that GMOs reduce this further - which categorically isn't the case - there are hundreds of available varieties which have GM traits in them for GM crops - generally as many, or more, than the number of varieites available from the companies selling the traits than there was prior to the introduction of GMOs (because as a seed producer what sells your seed isn't the GM trait - they're so broadly licensed that they can essentially be assumed available in any germplasm - it's the performance of that trait under different conditions)

You certainly are being dishonest - you paint it as a picture where there is a single genotype of GM available. The following quote gives an example:-

Single genotypes of GM plants may be resistant (at least temporarily) to one kind of threat but not to many others, and thus balancing selection is lost.

So yes, on this subject you are clearly either an egragarious liar or have no actual knowledge of what you're talking about. I'll lean to the latter until shown otherwise.

Don't be stupid! Your BS degree is certainly clouding any rational judgment you have on this issue.

How exactly is my brief four year flirtation with molecular genetics having even the remotest impact on my judgement here? Would I perchance have better judgement had I foregone university altogether? Perhaps I would think with absolute crystal clarity if only I'd avoided any sort of formal education whatsoever?

The rest of Ewan's responses to my posts are useless bunk.

Well argued sir, concise counterpoints which sink everything I've said.

Besides, there is also evidence that many weeds are becoming resistant to herbicides as a result of increased spraying on crops, as well as insect resistance to Bt-crops. Hardly unexpected.

So? Yes, it's expected, but it is only a problem if you expect the technology to remain static. Herbicide and insecticide resistance, just like antibiotic resistance, are inevitabilities - but I don't see how this can be an arguement against using them, it's simply an arguement to maintain a broad arsenal and not rely on a single mode of action all the time (hence the current development of more HT and IR transgenics to bring to the mix). Also - if you are opposed to the utilization of, for instance, roundup - surely evolution of resistance isn't any sort of arguement against the technology - just something you'd hope to see ASAP - with enough resistance the GM trait simply goes away.

* There is however a proven advantage to utilizers of GM cotton of increased yields and increased net incomes -* he is speaking more rubbish.

Here you are, without doubt, an egragarious liar. There is a slew of peer reviewed literature expounding the virtues of GM cotton in India - it is linked with increased yield and incomes

Attributes and Socio-economic Dynamics of
Adopting Bt Cotton - Rajinder Peshin, A K Dhawan, Kamal Vatta, Kamaldeep Singh - Economic & Political Weekly december 29, 2007 (paper is rather scathing about production ag in general, but one can only draw the conclusion that the Bt varieties outperform non-Bt hybrids and utterly destroy non-hybrids in terms of productivity and profitability - for a 3% increase in upfront costs one stands to gain 90% in end of year profit)

Peer-reviewed surveys indicate positive impact of commercialized GM crops - Janet E Carpenter Nature Biotechnology Volume: 28, Pages: 319â321(2010)

- letter to nature biotech reviewing evidence of the impacts of GM crops in general - noteworthy is table 2 which has Bt cotton rated as on average giving +30% yield (across 82 individual results with a std error mean of 3.5%, a min value of -25% and a max value of 150%)

IFPRI Discussion Paper 00808 October 2008 - Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicides in India Reviewing the Evidence - Guillaume P. Gruère Purvi Mehta-Bhatt Debdatta Sengupta

Is a rather mammoth work - I'd call attention to the figures at the end graphing suicides vs adoption for 3 regions and for the rest of India - in 2 of 3 regions there is actually an apparent decline once adoption becomes significant, for most however the rates remain essentially unchanged year on year - which rather scuppers the arguement that GM cotton caused anything approaching a wave of suicides.

Bayer and other biotech firms donât want to sell conventional varieties anymore.

Most farmers don't want to buy conventional - they like the traits, they want more, market forces therefore dictate that you sell 'em what they want (why the hell Pioneer would willingly give up massive licensing fees to Monsanto if farmers wanted its products untraited for instance raises immediate questions - seems rather foolish to line your competitors pockets if there was actually a sizable market for untraited seeds)

I think that covers my lost response... (apologies for unlinked references - I think they killed my last post and thus I have avoided them, hopefully the references are enough for even a white belt in google-fu to find)

This guy argues that cotton yields cannot be attributed to biotech cotton, because they rose before it was in widespread use.

Also he suggests that Bt exacerbates the problem of technology treadmills:

"...Bt cotton has been generally effective in warding off caterpillars. It has not âfailedâ and has not run up farmer debts, no matter what the network of anti-GMO sources say. But it has now snagged farmers on a genetic technology treadmill. By 2009 there were 5 different Bt gene combinations going into 284 separate Bt hybrids. Before anyone figures out how these seeds function, they will be replaced. Now populations of the non-target pests are starting to explode, and biotech companies are working on new genes as a solution for that problem.

But for Indian cotton farmers, the âsolutionâ is the problem..."

http://fieldquestions.com/2011/05/13/do-not-read-gm-cotton-and-indian-f…

Ewan, this kind of thing is why you need to think about the whole ecological along with how the farmers actually farm. There appears to be a problem with producers of GM crops not understanding how the whole system works.

By Holly Stick (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

> There appears to be a problem with producers of GM crops not understanding how the whole system works.

I think it's also a problem with Western (especially American) farming practices being considered The One True Way To Farm (Everywhere), when in actual fact, there's a lot of problems in transplanting a mechanised western farming practice to a developing world.

A bit like a looong time back when Nestle (IIRC) gave "food aid" to the third world areas as baby formula. Except that the formula required water which is highly contaminated. If they'd fed the adults better, the babies would be fed better too.

Another one is where milk or powdered milk is sent as Aid. Except that lactose intolerance is the normal state of humans that have been weaned. But we don't remember that here in the west and lactose intolerance is seen as odd or different.

Ewan,

If you want to be taken seriously, then take your head out of your a** and look beyond the individual organism to trophic interactions, communities and ecosystems. For a gene jock that may indeed be difficult, if not impossible, but try for just a second. And may I say that your use of the term 'egregious liar' gains you few brownie points. What is clear to me is that your understanding of biology, at least what there is of it, begins with a few genes and ends at the genome. Beyond that it seems like you don't give a damn what happens. Ever heard of a complex adaptive system? Know even one iota about cause-and-effect relationships in ecology? Or do you think that humans will forever create techno-fixes to deal with our ever expanding war on systems that sustain us?

The entire saga with GMOs, especially in the United States, has largely bypassed regulation in favor of using open systems as testing grounds. Hence the use and abuse of the term ' substantial equivalence'. American consumers have been part of an ongoing experiment for the past 15 years, as GMO foods don't have to be labelled. Chock that one up for pressure applied by the chemical-agribiotech industry on government regulatory bodies, and the fact that these bodies and senior positions in these corporations are ostensibly 'revolving doors'. Once the horse has bolted, its usually too late to do anything about it, anyway. The real coup for the industry has been to be able to bypass the precautionary principle entirely and to use open systems and society as an experimental test ground.

Most farmers don't want to buy conventional??? Where are you referring to? In India, or Africa, where the technology is hardly cheap? I suggest you swallow a little bit of your arrogant pride and read Monique Robin's three year study, "The World According to Monsanto". She describes the effects of GMO cotton on farmers in India in quite a lot of detail, and it isn't pleasant reading. Perhaps it will take off those ideologically-driven blinkers you seem to be wearing. Like it or not, a lot of scientists, including many molecular biologists, have great reservations about this technology. And to presume that it benefits poor farmers in the developing world is utter nonsense. As Holly Stick says (and see my link the New York times article in my last posting) once roped in farmers find it very hard to go back to traditional farming methods.

Like it or not, you are as naive as anyone I have ever exchanged comments with online. I think the reason for that should be patently obvious to everyone reading here.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

Wow at #251. This is looking more like the "It's cold today in Wagga Wagga" tactic that we are all too familiar with.

Ian at #252. Sure, we could develop new cultivation methods for fungi & algae or we could use the tried & tested agricultural methods and engineer supplements into them.

Both. I used the fish oil example as it is GM tech that appears to work & is designed primarily for its health benefits than for saving money (through increased ease of cultivation etc.) I'm sure we all agree that in the long-term we are looking at a reduction of available crop-land combined with increasing population pressure that will necessitate squeezing more from our agriculture than we currently do. Perhaps I should have asked whether people are against genetic engineering for (insert health benefit here) instead.

Jeff, is there a reason you're continually referring us to books & newspaper articles rather than the primary literature?

This guy argues that cotton yields cannot be attributed to biotech cotton, because they rose before it was in widespread use.

I'll take the word of peer reviewed literature over a blog post.

Bennett, R.M., Ismael, Y., Kambhampati, U., & Morse, S. (2004). Economic impact of genetically modified cotton in India. AgBioForum, 7(3), 96-100.

Matin Qaim and David Zilberman. Yield Effects of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries
Science 7 February 2003: Vol. 299 no. 5608 pp. 900-902

Richard Bennett, Uma Kambhampati, Stephen Morse, and Yousouf Ismael
Farm-Level Economic Performance of Genetically Modified Cotton in Maharashtra, India
Appl. Econ. Perspect. Pol. (2006) 28(1): 59-71

etc etc

Ewan, this kind of thing is why you need to think about the whole ecological along with how the farmers actually farm. There appears to be a problem with producers of GM crops not understanding how the whole system works.

I don't think there is a problem with the producers not knowing how the system works - they know fine well how it works - pests are a problem farmers are going to have to deal with if they're growing a particular crop, Bt deals with a subset of these pests - farmers will have to buy it every year, great, here's a profit (or value-share, in industry parlance) opportunity - it's a win win, farmers increase their income wildly, companies producing the technology increase their income - but because you can attach the 'treadmill' label it's apparently a bad thing - seems to me however that if you're increasing productivity, profitability and reducing reliance on actual harful insecticides that rather than looking at things in a vacuum (oh dear, these poor farmers have to pay 3% of their production costs for this technology every year!) you could look at the difference to how things were previously (oh look, these farmers *only* increase production costs by 3% but see 30+% increases in productivity, massive reductions in insecticide use (particularly of the most toxic insecticides), 50-150% increases in profits - looked at in this light who cares that a portion of the money profits the company that originated the technology? The alternative is farmers making less money, producing less cotton, using more insecticides to do so.

ChrisS,

I agre with you entirely. My point was to say that multinational corporations need to be heavily regulated. I tremble when I hear such terms as 'public-private partnerships' or 'voluntary regulatory programs' because one of the main reasons for the existence of governments is to safeguard society as a whole from the actions of a small minority. I am not envisaging any kind of utopian world free of MNCs, but at the same time I believe that we need strong government to keep them in check. In the United States regulations have often been gutted because successive administrations have become more and more dependent on corporate money to get into and stay in power. In essence the system is a plutocracy - with both main parties utterly beholden to the corporate lobby.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

If you want to be taken seriously, then take your head out of your a** and look beyond the individual organism to trophic interactions, communities and ecosystems.

Alas as a Crohn's sufferer I would love to have the capacity to have my head where you appear to think it is, I would however suggest that it is you who requires a proctologist's help in seeing the light of day. You have perpetually ranted about seeing the trophic interactions, communities and ecosystems aspect without providing any relevant information about how GMOs are effecting these - again the peer reviewed literature would suggest that the effects are beneficial by and large - reduced toxicity of herbicide used, reduced overall insecticide use, the capacity to produce more on the same amount of land. If you could point me to specifics rather than shouting about generalities which appear to simply sound good but have no substantive backing I'd appreciate it - you simply look like you're running a gish gallop otherwise (ah you've countered that point, but what about the 500 other pieces of nebulous fluff I've ranted on! Ha, didn't cover them so I'm right!)

And may I say that your use of the term 'egregious liar' gains you few brownie points.

I wasn't attepting to gain brownie points, I was simply asserting that you're an egregious liar (although spelling it in an unconventional manner, which is amusing, and I thank you for at least not mocking that aspect!)

Most farmers don't want to buy conventional??? Where are you referring to? In India, or Africa, where the technology is hardly cheap?

As we were discussing the ubiquity of GM seeds in the seed market I was under the assumption that we were discussing the US seed market - where demand for GM seeds is such that those are the varieties on offer. If you want to take a look at India then fine - you'll note that recently a shortage of Bt seeds in India sparked panic amogst farmers leading to them lining up for days to get their hands on them - hardly the action of farmers who do not want the technology.

Also you again harp on about the cost - my citation above shows that the seed cost leads to an approximate 3% increase in production which is countered by 50%+ increases in profitability, in what world is this hardly cheap?

suggest you swallow a little bit of your arrogant pride and read Monique Robin's three year study, "The World According to Monsanto".

3 year studies are easy to do when you don't have to actually fact check or anything - I'm assuming it trots out the same old nonsense that gets raised time and time again, Putzai, Mexican corn contamination, revolving doors (I assume anyone who has moved from one company to another within the same industry would see immediately how bloody ridiculous the idea of holding such loyalty to your previous employer that you'd be willing to do your job improperly is... although probably not as conspiracies are always mroe exciting than the assumption that people with experience and expertise in an industry are likely to be among the top candidates for advancement ot positions requiring experience and expertise within that industry...), Indian farmer suicides (dealt with ad nauseum above... yadda yadda yadda.

And to presume that it benefits poor farmers in the developing world is utter nonsense.

To presume so is indeed nonsense, I do however have the benefit of about a decade of peer reviewed literature covering India, Burkina Faso, Mali, South Africa - so I don't have to work on presumption.

Asserting that there are no benefits to poor farmers in the developing world however is utter nonsense, particularly as it is completely at odds with the literature (although if you're including fluff pieces such as newspaper articles and massively biased documentaries as "literature" then you'll find an avalanche of "evidence" to the contrary - although at the same time you'll have to reject global warming, accept that Elvis is alive and well, and seriously doubt evolution (and apparently buy that for some reason the rutting habits of Hollywood celebs are important newsworthy items))

Like it or not, you are as naive as anyone I have ever exchanged comments with online.

You're the one citing documentary pieces and newspaper articles, I'm the one citing scientific literature (I guess Science may be a little low brow as a publication, for which I apologize) - clearly yes, I'm the naive one here.

"again the peer reviewed literature would suggest that the effects are beneficial by and large - reduced toxicity of herbicide used, reduced overall insecticide use, the capacity to produce more on the same amount of land"

Ewan, I refer you to my link above, repeated here: webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20080306073937/http:/www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse/ where it was found that GM management of Bt crops were, in general, more harmful to soil invertebrates and pollinators than conventional management (despite the efforts of anti-GM protesters to destroy the trial sites).

When I give you a link to an environmental anthropologist's blog, which you would do well to learn from, Ewan, remember that it is on the internet and that when he provides links that some of them are to the peer-reviewed literature, if you had the gumption to check them out.

If you actually read his blog, you would find some support for some of your positions, but not all.

Current Anthropology Volume 48, Number 1, February 2007
http://artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/research/stone/stone480102.web.pdf

Tests on GM associated pesticides in some Canadian women:

"...The spread HT crops into Canada and several other countries has not reduced weedkiller use â actually it has led to increases especially in the use of Roundup, but also to less use of other more toxic sprays. The spread of Bt crops has reduced the use of chlorpyrifos and many other toxic insecticides, but we now know it means most babies (in Quebec anyway) are born with Bt in their blood. What that means for our health and our babies, we really donât know, but itâs hard to resist the conclusion that itâs better than organophosphates in the blood, and worse than neither."

http://fieldquestions.com/2011/04/27/blood-type-bt/

By Holly Stick (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

"Summary. â A longitudinal anthropological study of cotton farming in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh, India, compares a group of villages before and after adoption of Bt cotton. It distinguishes âfield-levelâ and âfarm-levelâ impacts. During this five-year period yields rose by 18% overall, with greater increases among poor farmers with the least access to information. Insecticide sprayings dropped
by 55%, although predation by non-target pests was rising. However shifting from the field to the historically-situated context of the farm recasts insect attacks as a symptom of larger problems in agricultural decision-making. Bt cottonâs opponents have failed to recognize real benefits at the field level, while its backers have failed to recognize systemic problems that Bt cotton may exacerbate."

http://artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/research/stone/WD2456.pdf

From this blog post which I linked to before:
http://fieldquestions.com/2011/05/13/do-not-read-gm-cotton-and-indian-f…

By Holly Stick (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

I like John Quiggin but I don't care a bit what he thinks of Greenpeace. And vice versa.

I don't go out doing what they (Greenpeace) do. Even commercialized, secretive safety testing can be better than nothing.

That said, I wish I could say they should do X, Y or Z instead. But that would be misleading too. Nothing, so far, stops the corporatized science lobby. There are no good alternatives. Perhaps the best one would be, more brainstorming, more innovation. Breaking shop windows can draw press attention to protests, but it has diminishing returns.

To point out just one greater issue: if you have all these joint ventures, the secrecy agreements required by the corporate part violate the most fundamental principle in all science - the sharing of data and information so you make progress universally and don't have to reinvent the wheel, and can replicate or fail to replicate results.

To point out another, there's an evolutionary process that's absolutely destructive to the public interest at work here. If I do research, and you do research, and we're driven by market fundamentalist policies of cash-starving publicly funded research to seek private funding, and my research is corporate-friendly in results, and yours is not, I will be re-funded, and you will not. And after only a few years, the corporate-friendly research on that issue will predominate.

And only market fundamentalists who believe that markets have a superior informational process to traditional science will think that's a good outcome.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

Holly - Alas time is not something I have in as much of an abundance as I would like - you link me to a blog, I'll assume it's a worse source than peer reviewed science (given that the claims are contradicted by the bulk of the literature on yield I stand by this - yield for instance is shown on a comparitive basis within a single year to be higher in Bt hybrids than non-Bt hybrids - it would be wrong to claim that all of the yield increases are due to Bt (as it is clear that large increases are due to the adoption of hybrids - which themselves can be classed as a technology treadmill - again, not necessarily a bad thing although the terminology would appear to classify it as such)

The work on Bt levels in blood is deeply flawed - the paper reports levels of Bt below the threshold of the test utilized and deeper literature search on the test shows that it hasn't been validated in blood (entirely the opposite infact)

Chris S - your link doesn't work for me, in either incarnation.

Brookes, G. & Barfoot, P. (2006). Global impact of biotech crops: Socio-economic and environmental effects in the first ten years of commercial use. AgBioForum, 9(3), 139-151.

Shows environmental improvements discussed and relies on more than a single paper (if I recall correctly one of the reveiws on roundup safety also includes both modelling and real world analysis showing improved environmentla effects on beets) - again the literature, by and large, supports improved, rather than reduced environmental quality with utilization of GM crops - of course given the stochiastic nature of the world one would be surprised for there to not be any literature which shows otherwise (I'd go with the weight of evidence rather than hanging my hat on a single paper - generally the benefits aren't so great that you'd expect an absolute slam dunk every time, with statistics being what it is, and environmental variability being what it is you are of course going to get false positives and negatives at no fault of anyone)

Ewan: I'm not talking about a single paper but a body of work based around the largest field experiments on GM crops of its time I linked to the non-technical summary. Perhaps you may want to start at the Proc Royal Soc B theme issue linked below where the first papers were published and follow on from there - ISI will help there I'm sure.

http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/358/1439.toc

Chris S.

Thanksfor taking the time to dig out the roysociety link - alas I see nothing there about Bt crops - all the articles appear to be discussing HT crops - the effects seen in the 3 articles discussing GMHT crops all appear to simply be down to the efficacy of the herbicide - less weeds = less insects, which makes sense if the crop is not the primary draw for insects in the area. This I think is best summed up in the final paper on the link "Responses of plants and invertebrate trophic groups to contrasting herbicide regimes in the Farm Scale Evaluations of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops" which basically states that the reduced availability of weeds had a knock on effect - which isn't really surprising - I would suggest that anyone expecting better weed control without effecting downstream consumers of the weeds etc would be commiting exactly the fallacy I am accused of earlier in this thread (ignoring ecosystems and trophic levels etc) - however if you're going to go along the lines of this arguement you'd have to conclude that any weed control is a bad thing as it's always going to shift energy captured by plants away from insects and the like and towards consumers.

Ewan, you're right it is GMHT rather than Bt, senior moment on my part. Though I should point out that these were within-field comparisons between GM & conventional thus invalidating your general thrust - GMHT management is worse for agricultural invertebrate species than conventional.

As for this "shift energy captured by plants away from insects and the like and towards consumers" I guess you got that straight from the corporate phrasebook. I expected better from you

Chris - I don't think it invalidates my general thrust - GMHT management may be worse for some agricultural invertebrate species than conventional, however the overall environmental impact of the system (which is of greater importance than simply within field performance of invertebrates - particularly when their performance is dependant on the presence of weeds) has been demonstrated to be lower in the literature.

As for this "shift energy captured by plants away from insects and the like and towards consumers" I guess you got that straight from the corporate phrasebook. I expected better from you

Why? This is what agriculture does, it is directly about trophic levels etc - you stop light interception by weeds, capture that energy in crops, and prevent - to the best of your ability, insects from extracting energy from the crop - thus you maximize yield - any farmer is doing this - what else exactly do you think pest and weed management is trying to do?

Ewan R, if you're still reading: quit your job asap, plan for it, step out, you don't want to be part of this criminal organisation, no matter how friendly your colleagues and bosses are. You're smart, you can do something more useful. Please, it is people like you who are making all of this possible.

It's an honest plea, but it's probably not gonna happen. Ewan's in, as he's been demonstrating for years - his decade of reading the literature that somehow failed to turn up Rick Relyea or lead to a real engagement with the IAASTD, his claims that surfactants aren't a problem 'cause they're in shampoos and all, his dismissal of the human rights and environmental crimes of Monsanto connected to Plan Colombia as hyperbole, his hours upon hours years upon years of these disingenuous comments (google him),... Personally, I have nothing against Ewan, but admitting upfront the easily discoverable fact that you work for M*nsant* and talking about how you have Crohn's does not an ethical/epistemic justification make.

(By the way, Wow - I sure hope you're not the one commenting at ERV...)

@ Bernard J #232 above.

Thank you for that post. It sets out pretty much my somewhat fuzzy objections to many aspects of GE, only a lot better than wot i could have.

Speaking of fish oil, Omega-3, ecosystems and actions having consequences:

"...Thus menhaden have what I call ecological leverage. That is, if you fish them into oblivion, you're not just destroying a single species; you're also threatening to unleash a cascading set of effects that could lead to full-on ecosystem collapse..."

http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/07/menhaden-omega-protein-ches…

By Holly Stick (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

Personally, I have nothing against Ewan, but admitting upfront the easily discoverable fact that you work for Mnsant and talking about how you have Crohn's does not an ethical/epistemic justification make.

Neither one is intended as such, the being upfront about being a Monsanto employee is nothing more than professional cowardice on my part - not doing so has ramifications at work - we're told "sure go out and engage in the debate - but make sure you a) Tell people you work for us and b)tell them that whatever you say isn't the view of the company"

The second is merely my attempt at a little dark humour, it's a pretty defining aspect of my life this past couple of years and as such I rarely pass up the opportunity to make light of the situation a little when head up the ass type comments happen along (having your haemoglobin levels drop to 50% of where they should be due to things I'm sure you can picture without me spelling them out any more obviously here can do odd things to your sense of humour I guess) - if you want to be utterly conspiratorial about things then fine, it's all a fine tuned strategy to make the people love me - I would have assumed that from my history with your own fine self, and on other matters, that you'd have come to the pretty obvious conclusion that such strategy is probably beyond me.

I am however rather upset that I wasn't greeted with what I thought was our agreed standard, apparently my powers of corporate manipulation are only good for a few hours on a single blog.

Neither one is intended as such, the being upfront about being a Monsanto employee is nothing more than professional cowardice on my part - not doing so has ramifications at work - we're told "sure go out and engage in the debate - but make sure you a) Tell people you work for us and b)tell them that whatever you say isn't the view of the company"

I don't fully believe your "not PR!" shtick. I honestly kind of want not to believe you, given the commitment you've shown to this. If there's no compensation...

The second is merely my attempt at a little dark humour, it's a pretty defining aspect of my life this past couple of years and as such I rarely pass up the opportunity to make light of the situation a little when head up the ass type comments happen along (having your haemoglobin levels drop to 50% of where they should be due to things I'm sure you can picture without me spelling them out any more obviously here can do odd things to your sense of humour I guess)

Whatever. Of course, you know nothing about your interlocutors.

I am however rather upset that I wasn't greeted with what I thought was our agreed standard, apparently my powers of corporate manipulation are only good for a few hours on a single blog.

It's been more than 24 hours since reading your first comments here (which I was shocked, shocked to see, knowing your amateur status).

People can google you, dear.

SC:

I don't fully believe your "not PR!" shtick. I honestly kind of want not to believe you, given the commitment you've shown to this. If there's no compensation...

Seriously: how is that statement not precisely equivalent to the "you're just doing it for the grant money / corporate kickbacks / desire for totalitarian world domination" argument commonly used by climate change deniers on this very blog?

Seriously: how is that statement not precisely equivalent to the "you're just doing it for the grant money / corporate kickbacks / desire for totalitarian world domination" argument commonly used by climate change deniers on this very blog?

Huh? That some people are writing in some form on behalf of corporate insterests is well substantiated by Oreskes and others. I've been dealing with Ewan since I think 2009. Monsanto couldn't buy better spin. (The "not PR!" quote is an actual quote from Ewan. Google it.) I can't prove it, and, as I suggested, it's possible that he's a pathetically unremunerated ideologue. Are you confused?

it's possible that he's a pathetically unremunerated ideologue.

This is exactly what I'm talking about. A person who is:

- (almost) unfailingly polite unless provoked (and even then only goes so far as to call a lie a lie);
- knowledgable;
- erudite; and
- willing to take the time to communicate details of the actual science behind GM, rather than snippets

must, of course, be either a paid shill or a "pathetically unremunerated ideologue". You honestly don't see that you're committing a textbook ad hominem fallacy?

A person who is:...

I've described what he "is." Google it or do a search at Pharyngula.

You honestly don't see that you're committing a textbook ad hominem fallacy?

Sigh. That's not the case. As I've said, I've been dealing with Ewan and his arguments (in great depth) for two years if not more. My comment was in response to one pleading with him to find alternate employment - not to a substantive argument from him. Drop the tiresome nonsense.

Well, I certainly haven't hung off every word he writes, but I've noted Ewan's posts many times over the past few years, and have yet to see one that I disapproved of. As far as I'm concerned, as long as someone is fairly representing the science, I honestly don't care whether or not they're being paid for it. The truth is never "spin".

and have yet to see one that I disapproved of.

How nice for you!

As far as I'm concerned, as long as someone is fairly representing the science,

Brilliant. Of course that's wrong, as I just began to hint at in my original post. I don't have the time to provide you with links to previous discussions, but you're more than welcome to find them or investigate more generally what I referred to.

I honestly don't care whether or not they're being paid for it.

You're sharp.

Brilliant. Of course that's wrong,

Riiight. Of course it is.

It's been more than 24 hours since reading your first comments here (which I was shocked, shocked to see, knowing your amateur status).

Clearly you leave a more lasting memory than I do - I was referring to your rather tender "f*ck off Ewan" way back when on Pharyngula - the one I utilized my powers of corporate whateverwhatever to coerce out of you. It at least left me feeling warm and fuzzy and seemed like a good punctuation mark in our raging to and fro of the period.

Monsanto couldn't buy better spin.

Could you perhaps tell our PR people that - I don't particularly want a job with them, but the occasional kickback would be nice... or a plaque or something, perhaps a statue outside the Monsanto sponsored lecture theatre or whatever it is at St Louis Zoo... nothing too fancy.

The "not PR!" quote is an actual quote from Ewan.

Indeed it is, which, if I did actually work in PR, would likely be a hanging offence internally (that or they'd feed me to the Triffids) - I occasionally change up my disclaimer and attempt to be humorous with it too (and to head off the automatic ah ha - you're from PR, which frankly should be obvious from my unpolished, wordy and quite often rude comments - our PR folk at least tend to be non-confrontational, sunny and nice - all of which I guess I could fake for a while but not so well, and not in so few words) (plus who in PR would use a half paragraph parenthetical so blithly?)

"I don't go out doing what they (Greenpeace) do. Even commercialized, secretive safety testing can be better than nothing."

However, why is it secretive testing?

If it's a secret to protect the company in being beaten to the punch (or not getting as much a headstart as others), then once there's a request for an open trial, why is the testing kept secret?

Why are reports that are started never mentioned again when they don't turn up the right answer when they're done in-house?

The reasons may be benign, but there's a shitload of money out there to get the pressure on to do wrong.

And since you get the patent on it anyway, why be secret about it? The patent is on the mechanism to get the result, not the result itself (you patent the way the moustrap is made, not the trapping of mice in a device), why does even that make a difference?

Each internal trial should be recorded and displayed. The results of them should be made available when a public trial is requested. At least them ideas on how safe the trial may be can begin to be formed on information.

And in the case of this GM product, though it may be benign in this specific case, it is true as well, for this specific case, that it's a rather pointless problem. If you aren't over-eating the wheat with lots of other high-calorie foodstuffs, you won't have a problem. Therefore "eat less" would be just as effective, cheaper and also help in feeding the rest of the world. And without worries about the unintended.

"Wow at #251. This is looking more like the "It's cold today in Wagga Wagga" tactic that we are all too familiar with."

Nope.

This is me countering your "All swans are white" proposal, Chris.

There are a lot of people who don't get much protein from fish around the world. Are we not human too?

There's also a problem with [bycatch](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bycatch). Some small improvement for some things (e.g. Australian Shrimp nets being improved reduced bycatch from 85+% of the catch to less than 60% of the catch), but this fish isn't being caught to give people Omega-3, is it.

I'm not saying that Omega-3 has no effect. I'm not extrapolating myself to the entire world. I'm saying that your assertion that humanity needs more fish because we need more Omega-3 is false as anything other than a vague "nicety".

So again, I ask: how am I getting my Omega-3?

Am I not human?

If it's a secret to protect the company in being beaten to the punch (or not getting as much a headstart as others), then once there's a request for an open trial, why is the testing kept secret?

The rather banal reason is that big companies don't want to let their competitors know what strategies they are trying, and also that corporate lawyers would probably prefer employees not to disclose the contents of their lunch - just incase (they are a spectacularly conservative bunch regarding any and all information)

If you aren't over-eating the wheat with lots of other high-calorie foodstuffs, you won't have a problem. Therefore "eat less" would be just as effective, cheaper and also help in feeding the rest of the world. And without worries about the unintended.

Because that has worked so well.

Ewan R said:

Because that has worked so well.

I'm assuming you are being sarcastic. There are many ways to eat a lower glycemic diet than eating less. People seem to confuse glycemic index with total calorie intake. While the two are related they are not the same.

One can eat the same number of calories but have foods with a lower glycemic index.

Simple ways are to eat whole grain wheat bread rather than over-refined white bread, or whole grain bread, or substitute other cereals for white rice. An example of this is to eat more barley. As any good Scotsman knows barley is an excellent replacement for potatoes when eating lamb. Barley is also great in stews and soups.

What makes you think that people who are unwilling to take these simple steps to eat a diet with a lower glycemic index will buy into more expensive refined white bread made from this new GMO wheat?

Is this project simply a way to get the government in the mood for approving GMO wheat which will have other traits but once again offering no benefits for the consumer? Or are you expecting this new GMO wheat to displace existing non GMO wheat so that consumers, once again will have no choice in the matter?

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

And if the problem is "They won't want the BROWN bread", then why would they be eating the Golden Rice GMO?

I'm assuming you are being sarcastic. There are many ways to eat a lower glycemic diet than eating less. People seem to confuse glycemic index with total calorie intake. While the two are related they are not the same.

There may be many ways, but a vague assessment of society at large shows that they fail horribly in most cases - if you can provide a lower glycemic index product which is otherwise identical to the crap people stuff into themselves against their own best health interests then in my opinion this is a good thing. If you can provide expanded choice of products to people who have to carefully watch what they eat (type I diabetics for instance) then this, in my opinion, is a good thing.

What makes you think that people who are unwilling to take these simple steps to eat a diet with a lower glycemic index will buy into more expensive refined white bread made from this new GMO wheat?

What makes you think the white bread made from this wheat will necessarily be more expensive? What makes you make the rather bizarre assumption that people won't pay a little more to avoid what many see as a major impediment (drastically altering diet - I've done many various elimination diets in my time to attempt to figure out if any particular products are problematic for me, and it isn't at all easy or pleasurable - my wife works in the gluten free industry where the goal is essentially to provide gluten free products which are as close to indistinguishable from gluten containing products as possible - the rather pat arguement would be 'simply avoid gluten rather than trying to imitate' - but it rather ignores human nature.

I'm not arguing that your solution wouldn't work if everyone had the willpower to undertake it, just that as I see it people don't have that willpower, and that it makes sense to ameliorate the bad choices people do make rather than throwing up ones hands and saying "oh well, they chose it, guess that's score one for the makers of diabetes medicine" (well and that giving people expanded diet choice when they're in a shitty health situation is good)

And if the problem is "They won't want the BROWN bread", then why would they be eating the Golden Rice GMO?

These are two totally different products and you're being incredibly stupid to equate the two - the targetting of golden rice is at people who, I'd assume, would be deeply shocked to hear that anyone at all would refuse food of any sort, and equally dismayed at the wild overabundance and waste of food in the societies to which the low glycemic wheat is aimed - it is a case of fortifying a staple crop to improve nutrition amongst some of the worlds poorest people - the wheat project, as I see it, is somewhat less laudible as it ameliorates issues caused at the complete opposite end of the spectrum (as well as autoimmune issues which cause type I diabetes - not everyone this would help can have blame heaped on them for their condition) of ridiculous overabundance.

Ewan R jokes:

What makes you think the white bread made from this wheat will necessarily be more expensive?

So the GMO companies are going to give the seeds away? The farmers will not pass on the additional costs to keep this product segregated from non GMO wheat? They will not pass on the costs of cleaning their equipment before moving from one field to another? The rail companies (or trucking companies) will not pass on the extra costs of keeping track of this GMO wheat? The millers will not pass on the extra charges for rigorous cleaning of their equipment when changing from GMO wheat to non GMO wheat. Bakers will not pass on the costs of baking small quantities of bread thus losing economies of scale? Grocery stores will not pass on the additional cost of additional marking and pricing of products?

You, Sir, live in a dream world. Of course it is the objective of the company you work for to negate all the additional costs I have outlined by ensuring that everyone in the supply chain has no choice in the market hence no additional costs.

Good grief, you are pathetic if you think people will stand for that. Of course, they haven't in the past but unfortunately numerous governments have failed to represent the people who elected them and have succumbed to their generous sugar daddies i.e. GMO promoting companies.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

And why is this wheat cheaper than the wheat we already have? Are they going to swallow the costs of R&D and the application for the patent?

In fact, why bother with a patent at all, if they aren't going to charge more for the wheat under patent?

So the GMO companies are going to give the seeds away?

No, like any wheat seed there will obviously be a cost.

The farmers will not pass on the additional costs to keep this product segregated from non GMO wheat?

Wheat markets are built to keep different grades of wheat segregated - I'm not convinced that adding GM to the mix will cause issues. So your arguements on farmers, rail companies, millers etc fail.

On bakers etc - it rather depends - if company A sees an opportunity to gain market share by selling low glycemic bread (requiring no extra effort on their part) then selling at parity with the competition makes sense.

Not that this is an inevitability - my next point went on about why exactly I felt that even if there were an increased cost that in my opinion most consumers would be far happier paying a bit extra than making a pretty significant dietary shift. Odd that you decided to omit that bit.

Of course it is the objective of the company you work for to negate all the additional costs

I'm thinking not - this project, afaik, isn't a Monsanto project (at least not from a cursory glance) so I would, given that Monsanto is getting back into wheat, infact have every reason to suggest that this stuff will incur extra costs and shouldn't be released because my desire, shurely, should be that the only wheat seed sold, or traits marketed, be big M.

Good story in Crikey about the political economy of GM wheat trials:

James, do you have a link where I can read the whole piece (I don't feel like signing up for a daily mail from Crikey)?

Ewan R said:

Wheat markets are built to keep different grades of wheat segregated - I'm not convinced that adding GM to the mix will cause issues. So your arguements on farmers, rail companies, millers etc fail.

For someone who professes to work for a GMO company you seem to lack understanding of what happens in the real world.

There is a big difference between various strains of non GMO wheat and GMO wheat (assuming it is ever approved, it seems like Canada is backing away from GM wheat). There are two big reasons why they should be completely segregated. Number one, obviously is contamination. Farmers and buyers of wheat (or other crops) do not want contamination since it will affect their price.

Secondly, since it is illegal for farmers to have any GM plants in their fields without paying the GMO companies exorbitant fees (check out the Supreme Court of Canada ruling where the judge stated that it doesn't matter how the GM material got there, spillage, contamination of seeds, wind blown or whether the farmer actually planted them you are in default of the patent holder's rights and will be guilty). Anyone in the supply chain could be sued by an angry farmer if he can identify where the pollutant seeds came from. This will encourage anyone who handles GMO material to be extremely cautious and will (if they have any sense) ensure costly protocols are implemented.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

For someone who professes to work for a GMO company you seem to lack understanding of what happens in the real world.

You are the one who appears to be operating under the assumption that wheat isn't already heavily segregated and that the processes for doing so aren't already implemented pretty much wherever wheat is grown. It appears that you lack any understanding of what happens in the real world vis a vis wheat production, distribution, and utilization - as I haven't the first clue what you do however I can't say whether this is a massive failing on your part or something that shouldn't be expected because you're so removed from Ag that to expect anything other than rhetoric and romanticized notions of what farming should be is near hopeless.

There are two big reasons why they should be completely segregated.

No more so than for any other GM crop - just because you want it to be so doesn't make it a necessity in the real world.

My point is however that unlike corn and soy, wheat is already segregated by variety heavily, therefore there would be no additional burden in segregating if this were required.

Farmers and buyers of wheat (or other crops) do not want contamination since it will affect their price.

As it would if you mixed varieites of wheat designed for different processes (hard red and soft red winter wheat for example - which have overlapping areas of growth) - as stated, the mechanisms for segregation of wheat types already exist within the market for wheat. There is no reason to think that a small amount of possible cross contamination wouldn't be perfectly acceptable - just as it is for other commodity crops - it would infact create a market where a premium could be charged for wheat which was segregated and could be guaranteed non-GMO.

Secondly, since it is illegal for farmers to have any GM plants in their fields without paying the GMO companies exorbitant fees

Firstly GM companies don't go after farmers for accidental presence, secondly to call the fees exorbitant is theatrical for sure but hardly accurate.

Anyone in the supply chain could be sued by an angry farmer if he can identify where the pollutant seeds came from. This will encourage anyone who handles GMO material to be extremely cautious and will (if they have any sense) ensure costly protocols are implemented.

15 years evidence of GM crops in commerce would suggest you're making this up.

No wonder Monsanto is one of the most hated corporations there is. They and their employees have no idea what is happening in the real world concerning their GMO crops.

[Here](http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2011/03/30/us-farmers-sue-monsanto-over-…) is a recent quote concerning farmers' attitudes to exactly what I said in my last post:

The Public Patent Foundation filed suit yesterday against Monsantoâs patents on genetically modified seeds with farmers asking to be protected against the biotechnology giantâs potential lawsuits in case of accidental contamination from plants grown with its seeds.

Now this law suit is just the first step, I'm sure that if the farmers win their next step will to sue GMO companies for polluting their crops if it results in lost business income or loss of markets.

If farmers will sue Monsanto they will sue others who contribute to the mess.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

Golden rice was a public relations stunt. Thats hardly surprising, since GMOs require deep PR cover - using hunger as their beating stick - to promote their products. At the same time, the ago-biotech industries have invested a lot of money in PR firms which have spun the GM story using all kinds of mendacious propaganda. John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of 'PR Watch' in Wisconsin have authored two startling books, "Toxic Sludge is Good for You" and "Trust Us, We're Experts" which examine the sordid link between the agro-biotech industry and billion dollar Public Relations firms. Of course Ewan hasn't read them - why should he in his position? Just keep those blinkers on, Ewan.

With respect to vitamin A-enhanced golden rice, vitamin A deficiency has never been a problem for people in the far east. The billions invested into it would have been far better off encouraging people in the region to have a more nutritionally diverse, healthier and ecologically more sound diet. Imagine someone telling you to eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner - in fact at every meal. They'd tell you to take a running jump.

As economist Tom Athansiou said in his book, "Divided Planet: The Ecology of Rich and Poor", he would think that things were headed in a better direction if new technologies were shared between the north and south. But of course this is not the case, nor is there any sign that it will ever be. Technologies are monopolized by the rich north and are foisted onto the developing world who have to pay big dollars for access to them. Its a kind of economic imperialism in which there is more concern over who has patent rights to biodiversity than there is concern over protecting it. This is what the stumbling block in getting the United States to ratify the Rio Biodiversity Treaty (1992) was all about: patents and intellectual property rights. And in the U.S. corner big time in Rio were the agro-biotech firms, rubbing their hands together over the prospects of seeing the planet's genetic diversity carved up for profit.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

They and their employees have no idea what is happening in the real world concerning their GMO crops.

So you're basing this on what exactly... because there is a lawsuit by one group concerning something that has never happened this somehow means that Monsanto employees don't know what is happening in the real world?

Protection against lawsuits for accidental presence (which, if it eases folks minds, would probably be a good thing (I think I am probably at odds with company policy in this belief)) in no way suggests that therefore if there is accidental presence a lawsuit would be succesful - the two are clearly completely different stories (the first appears to me at least cut and dry - the second would open up a whole slew of potential cross contamination type lawsuits (can a farmer growing field corn sue a farmer growing sweet corn for contamination with pollen, or vice versa, can a grower of heirloom tomatoes sue for presence of pollen from non-heirlooms? (although as these are cases where there would be an actual meaningful change rather than simply presence of a transgene which confers no meaningful change to the end product perhaps there'd actually be some merit there...))

ChrisS asks:

*Jeff, is there a reason you're continually referring us to books & newspaper articles rather than the primary literature?*

That's a rather dumb question, especially considering I have published over 100 articles in the peer-reviewed literature, so I know how important it is. The reason is that I don't have time to do long literature searches whilst doing my day job as a scientist. If you are that frustrated about my comments that I need to cite literature, I will certainly get papers for you showing (1) negative effects of GMOs on non-target insects (e.g predators and parasitoids), and (2) the recently described resistance of insects (e.g. cotton bollworm) to Bt-containing crops. At the same time, I have several times mentioned on this thread that I recently attended an entomological congress in South Africa (where I was one of 3 Plenary Speakers) and listened to several speakers deliver seminars in which they were describing recently observed resistance to Bt crops in *Helicoverpa armigera*, *Heliothis virescens* and *Plutella xylostella*; or is this not good enough for you? In other words do you honestly think I am making this up? I am a professional population ecologist who works in studying insect-plant interactions and I had lengthy talks with people working with bioengineered plants in agriculture in South Africa and these people were very concerned about the short-medium term future because of what they were finding. I should point out that these researchers were not anti-GM (neither am I, for that matter), but, like any good scientist who should understand the fact that cause-and-effect relationships in nature are usually distinctly non-linear, they realize that there are inherent risks with this technology, irrespective as to what the reductionists and manufacturers are telling you.

What you must understand is that there may be significant time lags in the manifestation of a process after an initial perturbation. The GM experiment has barely been running for more than a decade in many parts of the world, and many of the studies even being published now were based on data gathered 5-10 years ago (yes, there is that often that much of delay between data gathering, writing, submission and publication). I published an article in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment in 2008 on the effects of differences in plant species richness and traits on carabid beetles in a biodiversity plot here in Holland even though the experiment was carried out between 2000 and 2002. My point is that its early days yet. Its like the old maxim of the guy who jumps off a 100 story building, falls 50 floors, looks up and yells out, "Everything's fine!". Its the same story with climate change, habitat loss, the effects of invasive species etc, where the effects can take decades or even centuries to manifest themselves.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

With respect to vitamin A-enhanced golden rice, vitamin A deficiency has never been a problem for people in the far east.

The WHO would disagree with this statement I think.The document:- Global prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in populations at risk 1995â2005. WHO Global Database
on Vitamin A Deficiency. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2009.

Paints a somewhat less ideal picure than you

Table 11 shows numbers of pre-school children aSoth East Asia estimated to have levels of retinol lower than 0.7umol/L at between 85.6 and 100 million. Although clearly this is not a problem in your eyes.

Globally, which is more pertinent than just focusing (erroneously...) on the far east, of countries with a GDP lower than $15000 only 2 countries had no public health problems with retinol in preschool age children, 32 a mild problem, 49 moderate and 79 severe.

the prevalence of serum retinol <0.70 μmol/l as a public health problem in both preschool-age children and pregnant women is categorized as follows:
<2%, no public health problem;
â¥2â<10%, mild public health problem;
â¥10â<20%, moderate public health problem;
â¥20%, severe public health problem.

The billions invested into it would have been far better off encouraging people in the region to have a more nutritionally diverse, healthier and ecologically more sound diet.

"let them eat cake" essentially (although a more nutritious version thereof)

This rather ignores that in these areas rice is already a staple source of calories, grows well, and that while a diet deficient in vitamin A carries some risks a diet deficient in calories has far higher risks (I'd argue that in most cases in the countries under discussion the notion of empty calories is a laughable one) - fortifying the source of calories rather than expecting the population to shift to lower yielding crops (both in terms of absolute yield and calorific yield) would seem to me a far better approach.

if new technologies were shared between the north and south. But of course this is not the case, nor is there any sign that it will ever be.

Because Monsanto haven't licensed their drought trait to the WEMA project sans fee for any producer making under $10,000 p/a (this figure is ballpark but essentially correct afaik)

Nor do technologies ever go off patent allowing them to be used by whoever wherever.

Plus of course, it will be rather difficult to get any of these technolgies shared if, to return to the gist of the original post rather than continue on this tangent, dubmasses like those who vandalized the CSIRO trial carry on what they are doing - keeping government run & academic run research out of the field is a sure fire way to make sure that only a tiny trickly of useful technology will make it out there sans cash tie in (obviously the regulatory burden, both in initial acceptance and maintenance globally poses problems too - as Pam Ronald discovered with her flood tolerant rice (which last I heard was doing great after the serendipitous discovery of the capacity to breed in the trait from a wild relative))

Ewan R is living in a dream world all right, unfortunately they are all night mares.

There are at least two major law suits where GMO companies have been found liable for contamination.

[Firstly](http://inewp.com/?p=8031) Bayer had to pay out a total of $750 million to over 11,000 farmers when Bayer was found responsible for contaminating rice.

[Secondly](http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/techpolicy/business/2004-08-23-starli…) there is the $110 million payment that Aventis had to make to farmers when Starlink corn (approved for animal use but not human use) was mixed in with human use corn.

Now, can you tell me where that $860 million comes from? I doubt that it will come out of the back pockets of the CEO's or the employees responsible for the problem. Will it be passed on to consumers, farmers and buyers of GMO's?

So in the future we will see one of two options. The first and best would be for GMO companies to be forced into bankruptcy with law suit after law suit. The second option is not so favourable to contemplate. The second option is that our basic food resources will just get more and more expensive to pay off all the lawsuits that will be forthcoming. The only people to benefit will be the lawyers on both sides.

Once again Ewan R shows his lack of knowledge about the real world of farming and use of GM crops:

My point is however that unlike corn and soy, wheat is already segregated by variety

As I just pointed out above, GM crops must be segregated and failure to do so involves huge fines.

Keep it up Ewan, you are doing a great job of showing just how much out of touch with the reality of farming you and your employers are. Is it any wonder why the average person is so against GMO's when they read what you have to say on the topic?

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

There are at least two major law suits where GMO companies have been found liable for contamination.

Both instances where unregulated (well, one totally unapproved and the otehr only approved for feed) traits contaminated and where the companies were punished - the money, I would guess, came at the expense of the shareholder - big fine payouts like that tend to.

As I just pointed out above, GM crops must be segregated and failure to do so involves huge fines.

GM crops which have not been granted regulatory approval must be segregated (I'm actually unsure why they'd be released in the first place, seems a gambit that came back and bit the company in the ass hard) - releasing GM material which isn't granted regulatory approval is a big no-no and involves huge fines - once regulatory approval has been granted this financial risk goes away. This is why the vast majority of GM corn and GM soy are not segregated at any point past planting into the farmers field (obviously the farmer would do well to make sure if he is planting GM and non-GM to keep his seed segregated, as sparying glyphosate on a non-RR crop may prove a bit of an error) - it is this non-segregation which I was referring to, one would assume of course that wheat genetically modified for a low glycemic index would be approved for hyman consumption and therefore wouldn't carry any of the risk you are assigning.

"That's a rather dumb question, especially considering I have published over 100 articles in the peer-reviewed literature, so I know how important it is."

Jeff, that's why I asked the question in the first place - you know how important the primary lit is but instead you suggest we read books & newspaper articles.

"The reason is that I don't have time to do long literature searches whilst doing my day job as a scientist."

And yet you have the time to write long screeds at Deltoid that go completely unreferenced. The searches don't need to be long, just long enough to back-up the points you make. If you can find & link newspapers articles surely someone with your knowledge of the literature can find the papers that form the foundation for said articles?

"I published an article in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment in 2008"

And you don't provide a link/citation for your own research even.

Jeff, don't get me wrong I respect your work in the field of ecology (even though I don't agree with your paper on generalism - it's good to see that Hugh retains his impish sense of humour but it can lead to flawed science, I look forward to talking to him and Nicola about soon). But, as I stated earlier in the thread, the apparent reliance of the anti-GM posters on this thread on grey lit and blog posts doesn't do their case any favours, particularly when those who do have access to the literature (and have presumably read a representative sample of it) are apparently unwilling to provide peer-reviewed citations.

"I will certainly get papers for you showing (1) negative effects of GMOs on non-target insects (e.g predators and parasitoids), and (2) the recently described resistance of insects (e.g. cotton bollworm) to Bt-containing crops."

Go for it. Bear in mind I've already provided links to the UK FSEs that cover (1). I try to provide peer-reviewed literature to bolster any argument that I make knowing full well that unreviewed books & articles often have an idealogical slant to them that peer-review should (but sometimes doesn't) counter. I should hope that top scientists with many papers to their names could do the same - hence the question which you dismissed as dumb above. Hopefully I've elucidated here why I don't agree with your assessment of it.

ChrisS,

Thanks for your post.

Yes, I am guilty of writing long screeds here, but if you knew me you'd realize that I could write this up in minutes. And you are indeed correct that newspaper articles and press releases should be read with considerable skepticism. However, you did not address the point I made with respect to time lags in ecology and in the peer-reviewed literature. The thrust of what I am saying is that the potentially negative effects of GMOs on the environment may be yet to be manifested. And of course all of this relates once again to the precautionary principle: should the onus be on the scientific community to prove that a largely untested product is environmentally safe or the other way around? As with climate change and other aspects of anthropogenically mediated global change, the widespread use of GMOs reflects a largely unpredictable experiment that may tkae many years to manifest itself.

With respect to my paper with Hugh, what I liked about our discussion was the fact that generalism IS indeed rare in natural systems - especially where insects are concerned (see Singer's discussion of 'composite specialization') and that Hugh saw this in a similar way as the classical biologists of old would. I was happy to be on board, even if I agree with you that we might have oversimplified the question. Our aim to to stimulate discussion, and that is exactly what we did quite well, I think. My work with parasitoids suggests that there are indeed very few broad generalists, and this is especially true for endoparasitic koinobionts, but I digress.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

> As I just pointed out above, GM crops must be segregated and failure to do so involves huge fines.

Especially for the European Union and any other country that decides to inform their customers that GM products are in the food they eat so they can make a choice.

Also remember that the ROI for patents for First World corporations are made at the rate at which the first world wants payment. Whereas the ability to pay in the developing world is set at the rate of pay in the third world.

This discrepancy is another problem with patents being loaded out onto the market: they may be fine in the first world where the wages are set such that the money is available to be paid, but a dollar in Africa is a lot of money, whereas in the USA, it's not even pocket money.

Also remember that the ROI for patents for First World corporations are made at the rate at which the first world wants payment. Whereas the ability to pay in the developing world is set at the rate of pay in the third world.

Trait pricing varies globally, it varies even within the US market - where the trait is deemed to add more value the charge is higher, where less valuable the charge lower - in India the pricing of Bt cotton seed is subject to a governmentally mandated ceiling on a per trait basis - your assertion is incorrect - prices in third world markets are dictated by value of that trait within that market, for projects such as golden rice and WEMA this falls by the wayside as the patented material has been licensed free so long as farmers are under a certain income level.

Jeff Harvey - question regarding the evolution of resistance to Bt (which I would see as an inevitability in the mid to long term, albeit one that can be prolonged by stacked traits, refuge, one would hope in time for new traits down the line) - why would this particularly matter? I mean clearly it's something you have to be aware of, you have to know it's gonna happen, and you should have a contingency plan for when/if it does - but what exactly would you predict the major downside is to this resistance, and how persistent would you guess it to be in a population when it has definite negative fitness effects once Bt is no longer in play.

The only major downside I can see is that the technology itself is rather self defeating in the mid to long term (although I guess it could be argued that if used cyclically it could see a resurgence every decade or so(depending largely on the magnitude of the fitness penalty and length of time for resistance alleles to die off), be used until resistance is an issue, replaced and come back online once natural selection against the resistance alleles brings their frequency down to a certain threshold)

Also, what weight do you give to the potential ecological effects of not utilizing the technology - I'm assuming that for IR products you do not dispute that they go hand in hand with reductions in insecticide useage (not elimination of, but large reductions nontheless) - one wonders what the ecological effects would have been had the initial spraying conditions been kept and no IR products had hit the markets - while it is only possible to speculate on this I'm of the opinion that this would have caused real, measurable in the current time scale, negative effects (its apparent in human populations that the reduction in insecticide use had positive health benefits in China for instance) on ecosystems not just within farm (which for reasons I've alluded to above I think are a restrictive and almost silly set to look at - because any methodology which reduces insect predation of the crop, or weed populations will obviously have a knock on effect which essentially leads to an arguement against agriculture in general rather than any individual process) but on a broader scale (production, transportation, spraying, drift etc of insecticides vs simply being produced in planta - plus different toxicity profiles for insecticides used)

For HT products the story is a little different - while there has not been a reduction in quantities utilized there has been a reduction in the environmental impact of the products used (and, if I remember the literature right, glufosinate tolerance offers an even lower environmental impact than glyphosate) so you are left with the same question - had the technology not been utilized would the environment be in a worse state? Again issues of weed resistance to glyphosate only really make sense if looked at in terms of utilization within a GR system - if you dont have GR plants then glyphosate resistant pigweed is just pigweed, there isn't a thing that is super about it (and one would predict that it actually should fare worse than its non-GR colleagues outside of environments where glyphosate is widely used - although here the fitness differences will depend entirely on the mechanism of GR adopted) - so here one is looking at reduced impact of herbicides used, increased utilization of no-till and reduced till farming (HT traits aren't a necessity for this, but it would be hard to argue that they haven't been instrumental in the spread of the practice), reduced number of sprays etc (even with herbicide mixes now likely having a higher EI than glyphosate spray alone when you compare to the baseline of what was used prior to GR the impacts would still, I assume, be lower - particularly if you go to a Glyphosate/Glufosinate mix (given that glufosinate, from what I remember, has a lower EIQ than Glyphosate)

Ewan,

A point that I have tried to make here is that the onus should have been on the manufacturers to prove the technology is ecologically safe, rather than on scientists to 'prove' its benefits outweigh the risks over a longer time frame. I have witnessed, time and again, people try and downplay the effects of habitat destruction, acid rain, and climate change, arguing in effect what the GMO-advocates are saying, which is essentially that we should continue along the current path until 100% concrete proof comes in that these 'experiments' (for that is what they are, on open systems) are harmful. Certainly one can also claim that clear-cutting forests (in terms of profits from logging and using the land to grow crops), climate change (via the burning of fossil fuels) etc. have benefits as well in terms of short-term economic gains, and that there will of course be short-term economic costs in reducing the scale of the human enterprise in this regard.

Multinational corporations generate technologies aimed at maximizing short-term profits, irrespective as to their ecological soundness or longer term societal implications. The are programmed to focus on investor returns over the next fiscal quarter, half year or two years at the most. In the mind of the corporate manager, the environmental risks of GMOs does not even enter into the equation, and certainly not any 'longer' term risks, meaning those that may play themselves out even over only 5 years ahead and certainly not any longer than that. I am aware that some of the agro-biotech/pesticide firms in the United States fought bitterly against any measures suggested by scientists to impede the speed of evolving resistance in insect populations by increasing the amount of land under which genetically engineered crops would be grown. This was under the premise that predictable threats lead to the rapid evolution of resistance, whereas setting aside land next to crops with conventional varieties slows down the process by varying the exposure of different generations of the insects being targeted to the insecticidal plants. You'd think that the corporations would support any measure at resistance management, but alas, the government and the manufacturers had to reach a 'compromise' on the amount of land that should be set aside with conventional varieties. Why was this? To repeat myself, because the manufacturers do not think about long-term solutions, but only in terms of short-term profit maximization: at most they plan for the next year or two, but certainly anything beyond that is dismissed.

As I have said above, I am not anti-GMO, but unlike the technophiles out there, I realize that most so-called 'miracle' technologies have nasty sting in their tail. The consequences of these technologies are not immediately apparent, but instead can manifest themselves after many years. Most importantly, multinational corporations do not plan very far ahead in evaluating the potential costs of their products. They are adept at hiring the best PR firms in order to 'sell' their wares to the public, and at downplaying any risks, no matter how evident they may be.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 20 Jul 2011 #permalink

A point that I have tried to make here is that the onus should have been on the manufacturers to prove the technology is ecologically safe

How does one do this, for any technology, on a timescale that is not prohibitive? What tests and what timescale would you have proposed (or did you propose)?

Could you perhaps spend some time addressing the questions I raise directly - particularly:-
1. Why is insect resistance to Bt a bad thing (other than for the tech itself)
2. Why is weed resistance to glyphosate a bad thing (other than for the tech itself)
3. Perhaps a comment on the ecological effects of having not adopted GM crops over the past 15 years.
4. Can you define what you think the ecological consequences of IR and HT crops may be (you may have done this already in which case I apologise for missing it, however I don't believe that you have) and comment on whether they are worse than the effects discussed in point 3 above.

I also have a little difficulty fully agreeing with your no longterm view from big business - the group I work in hasn't a chance of getting a product to market until well into next decade (I'm not 100% sure what the timeline is on the trait we recently advanced to phase II testing, but believe it is still 8 years out) - also considering the cost of actually getting a GM product to market, and the lag period between useful GM products, consideration of longevity of the profit life (or however business types classify it) of a product has some bearing - this also then has some bearing on future products - with absolutely zero planning then stacked products (such as smartstax, and the btxRR beans to be released in South America shortly) wouldn't be a feature of long term strategy for biotech companies (and they are, and increasingly will be) would lose viability - I feel perhaps that rather than having no care about emergence of resistance there is simply less conservatism (in the value neutral sense, not the I've got mine f*** you sense - just to be clear) from agri-business driven by the profit motive - the desire here will be to delay resistance while maximizing utility for the farmer and profit for themselves (the two being intertwined to a degree) whereas from a purely academic stance having refuge areas larger than they absolutely must be so as to further delay resistance (or do it with more certaintly) - although on this ground I rather like the USDA (I believe) strategy of airdropping sterile bugs periodically onto Bt in an effort to swamp out resistant bugs - seems a good way to ameliorate emergent resistance should refuge fail.

Ewan,

Bt resistance is a bad thing is it destroys the viability of the insecticidal pathogen on its own. Bt has proven to be a very useful pathogen against chewing herbivores for many years, and resistance to it will render the pathogen as ineffective in future pest management.

Resistance to herbicides alike Roundup Ready mean that farmers will spray more and more of the stuff on their crops to get the same results. This means that more RR will enter the food chain. Of course the agrobiotech firms care diddly squat about the effects of their products on the environment, which should be patently obvious as the case of RR shows (as it did with agent orange, PCBs and dioxin). Sure, they may plan their marketing strategies a few years ahead, but environmental expediency never enters in the equation. IMO most of the biggest firms in the industry have appalling environmental records anyway.

Your defense of golden rice was pretty weak yesterday. My point is that there were many better ways of investing billions of dollars to deal with vitamin deficiency. Investing in helping people in the region grow a wider variety of crops, which would be ecologically sounder than growing one strain of rice, would generate a more balanced diet would be welcomed by the local populations, as Vandana Shiva has explained. The golden rice example was nothing more than a publicity stunt: how would you like it if you were told to eat GM-nutient enhanced potatoes morning, noon and night, especially when other more sustainable options were available? You'd tell those pushing the technology on you to take a hike, I am sure.

I will say it again: GM technology has some utility but is certainly no cure to global hunger and poverty. There is already enough food to feed the planet's population, but the real problems are based on social justice and inequity. In many parts of the south where farmers should be growing sustenance crops, they are instead growing cash crops in order to pay off crippling debts to western financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF (in effect, the US Treasury by proxy) and their structural adjustment programs. I saw emaciated villagers in Cameroon gathering cotton for export. Poverty is driven by huge inequities in wealth and in the chasm between the economic have's and have not's, and by the fact that western planners are well aware that the planet does not have enough resources to support people living like the average American or European. If you were to read declassified US and/or UK planning documents (I have) you'd realize that western foreign policy has little to do with alleviating poverty in the south and everything to with maintaining capital flows and wealth disparity between the first and third world's. Influential planners and politicians like Kissinger, Brezinski, Kennan and Nitze have made this clear over the years. When Samir Amin, Africa's leading economist, said a the World Social Forum in 2003 that western policy towards the third world was simply aimed at the 'looting of resources' rather than economic integration (a point reiterated by economists like Patrick Bond and Tom Athanasiou), he was pointing out what should be obvious. The reason that it isn't is because we in the west like to believe that our leaders are truly interested in creating a sustainable world with social justice, in spite of the volumes of evidence to the contrary. I lecture students on this topic, one in which I have read a great deal of of literature.

So where does GM fit into this? Well, my cynicism of this technology is based on political realities. The technology is controlled by the rich states, requires deep PR cover, and will play only a very minor role (if any) in alleviating hunger. The fat cats promoting the technology of course sell it that way, but the reality is that the answer to poverty lies in the equity dilemma. So long as 16% of the world consumes and monopolizes > 80% of the world's resources, then things are going to go from bad to worse. The planet's natural systems are in terminal decline, and GM technology is not going to stop that. We are forever being led to believe that there are no limits to growth: every time a theoretical limit is approached, that we will pull some technological rabbit out of a hat and forever increase our carrying capacity. Well by now it should be patently obvious that the planet already has a reduced capacity to support man. Instead of dealing with symptoms of the human assault, we ought to be dealing with the disease which is the very scale of the human enterprise. New technologies may temporarily slow the delayed effects of human actions, but they will not stop them. Thus IMO the billions of dollars being thrown at transgenic technology would be far better off spent elsewhere.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 20 Jul 2011 #permalink

Bt resistance is a bad thing is it destroys the viability of the insecticidal pathogen on its own.

So we shouldn't use Bt in transgenics so that we can spray Bt instead? Yes? This seems an odd approach. Don't use something so that in the future using it will be effective - how does one pick when and where to use?

Resistance to herbicides alike Roundup Ready mean that farmers will spray more and more of the stuff on their crops to get the same results.

Well no, resistance to roundup in weeds effectively invalidates roundup as a herbicide option - if you are afraid of roundup then you should be gleeful about the rise of resistant weeds

Your defense of golden rice was pretty weak yesterday

My defense may have been weak - you however outright lied about vitamin A deficiency in Asia - and calling my defense weak isn't a counterarguement against the points raised.

. My point is that there were many better ways of investing billions of dollars to deal with vitamin deficiency.

I'm pretty sure that golden rice has cost nowhere near billions, and once in place it is, not unlike the jelly of the month club, the gift that keeps on giving

as Vandana Shiva has explained

Vandana Shiva, reknowned liar and arson supporter - incapable apparently of telling a field of rice from a field of weeds. She rather illustrates that to be a figurehead in the anti-GM movement all that is required is the capacity to keep a straight face while spewing lies, overinflated claims of ones own scientific prowess (the blurb on one of her books claims she is one of India's leading physicists - this is unsupported, much like most of her claims) - I guess at least she isn't a yoga instructor, but for all the difference it makes she might aswell be.

I will say it again: GM technology has some utility

I'll bite - what, given your general scathing approach, do you feel is the utility of GM technology - specifically within agriculture (as the uses of GM tech are wide and varied and this discussion revolves largely around Ag)

but is certainly no cure to global hunger and poverty

Not by itself, and nobody claims it is - just as a nail gun isn't going to build you a house - it is certainly a useful tool in the process however. Increased yields and reduced insecticide use of Bt crops in developing world countries illustrate this point (as do reduced insecticide poisonings in India (recent paper Kouser & Qaim)).

I lecture students on this topic, one in which I have read a great deal of of literature.

One wonders then why you have to stoop to outright lies about Vitamin A deficiency.

I'd still like some input on your thoughts on the ecological impacts of not having utilized either HT or IR (individually, or paired, your choice) GM tech in the past 15 years - possibly the IR thing takes on a new light to some extent - if as the above mentioned paper states several million cases of pesticide poisoning have been avoided in India presumably this is a negative as there are all those pesky extra humans out there impacting the ecosystem.

The GM-supporter castigates an opponent:

"...she illustrates that to be a figurehead in the anti-GM movement all that is required is the capacity to keep a straight face while spewing lies, overinflated claims..."

Ooh, the irony.

The anti-GM movement has *some* way to go to catch up with the lies and over-inflated claims of the GM corporations who clothe their planet-raping antics with mock-concern for the world's poor.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 20 Jul 2011 #permalink

Jeff writes:

>*the point I made with respect to time lags in ecology and in the peer-reviewed literature. The thrust of what I am saying is that the potentially negative effects of GMOs on the environment may be yet to be manifested.*

Not to mention that at this initial phase biotech corporations [block access to seed for independent trials](http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/13/opinion/la-oe-guriansherman-see…)

>Companies have broad power over the use of any patented product, including who can study it and how.

"the blurb on one of her books claims she is one of India's leading physicists - this is unsupported, much like most of her claims"

Does she claim to be a member of the House of Lords too?

Jeff #305. I refer you to my earlier post (#234) and repeat my query as to your thoughts on the use of GM tech to improve the nutrition quality of foodstuffs.

Hugh has a talent for producing papers that invoke discussion - his "Do aphids migrate?" paper was a classic of the art. But this is digression & I'll leave it there. Now, where are those papers on non-target insects and Bt resistance?

I'd like to see if Ewan has backup for his libellous-appearing smear of Vandama Shiva, whom he calls: "reknowned liar and arson supporter".

Others have a different opinion of her and she has received many awards:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandana_Shiva#Recognition

Probably Ewan hates her because she founded this organization:

"Navdanya means ânine seedsâ (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also the ânew giftâ (for seed as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds In todayâs context of biological and ecological destruction, seed savers are the true givers of seed. This gift or âdanaâ of Navadhanyas (nine seeds) is the ultimate gift â it is a gift of life, of heritage and continuity. Conserving seed is conserving biodiversity, conserving knowledge of the seed and its utilization, conserving culture, conserving sustainability..."

http://www.navdanya.org/

http://www.ucalgary.ca/peacestudies/2011_PeacePrize

By Holly Stick (not verified) on 20 Jul 2011 #permalink

ChrisS,

A few studies:

Fitness Cost of Resistance to Bt Cotton Linked with Increased Gossypol Content in Pink Bollworm Larvae
PLOS ONE Volume: 6 Issue: 6 Article Number: e21863

Reduced Levels of Membrane-Bound Alkaline Phosphatase Are Common to Lepidopteran Strains Resistant to Cry Toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis PLOS ONE Volume: 6 Issue: 3 Article Number: e17606

Survival and reproduction of natural populations of Helicoverpa armigera on Bt-cotton hybrids in Raichur, India
CURRENT SCIENCE Volume: 99 Issue: 11 Pages: 1602-1606

Effects of infection with Nosema pyrausta on survival and development of offspring of laboratory selected Bt-resistant and Bt-susceptible European corn borers
JOURNAL OF INVERTEBRATE PATHOLOGY Volume: 105 Issue: 3 Pages: 248-253

Cotton bollworm resistance to Bt transgenic cotton: A case analysis SCIENCE CHINA-LIFE SCIENCES Volume: 53 Issue: 8 Pages: 934-941

Chris, I am sure that you are able to search for more papers in this area. Why do I have to do it for you? Is this some kind of exercise? Furthermore, I must point out that I never mentioned non-target insects and resistance. I was referring to the pests themselves - my concern is more based on the results of studies like Losey's which suggested that Bt pollen could contaminate non-crop food plants and harm non-target herbivores.

Your still have not addressed my points with respect to (1) time lags in the evolution of resistance, (2) why you apparently disregard the talks I attended in Sotuh Africa and (3) the precuationary principle. I'd also be interested in knowing what you think about the economic and political aspects of the technology. Ewan's responses in this regard have been dismissive and superficial (as expected of someone who clearly doesn't know a whole lot about foreign policy agendas and economic programs that have more to do with wealth concentration that poverty elimination). As I said yesterday, this technology will hardly dent the vast social, wealth and economic divisions in the world - in fact, it will more liekly exacerbate them by making poor nations more beholden to the whim of the elites than ever. Transgenic technology has nix to do in my opinion with creating food security for the poor but everything to do with profit maximization for the rich. The reason that 1 in 8 people are malnourished is not a technological problem but a political one. Trust Ewan to have a large memory hole where this is concerned. The global economy has grown by a factor of 15 since 1950, yet extreme poverty has not been reduced but has increased since then. In 1983 Africa contributed to 4% of the global economy - by 2000 this had shrunk to a miniscule 1.3%. In 1970 for every 1 dollar that went from the rich north to the poor south, 3 dollars went the other way. By 1997 this had increased to a ratio of 7:1. This is the Washington Consensus folks, and trangenic technology is very much a part of it because it is a multi-billion dollar industry. And it explains why the US maintains ~1,000 military bases in 140 foreign nations (gunboat diplomacy), and why it has recently expanded Afri-com, SouthCom, Centcom etc. The whole 'Grand Chessboard' (to coin a term first coined by Zbignieuw Brezinski) is about control of resource-rich areas and about outright expansionism, subjegation of other countires assets and nullification of alternatives to the 'Washington Consensus' and its attendant nakedly predatory capitalism. The resource wars in Africa and the middle east are all part of the mix, and in there tucked nicely away is the technology Ewan claims will be a 'useful tool' in reducing hunger. But of course that's pure nonsense.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

Holly and Jeff, thank you for ensuring that honesty and integrity are active in this thread. I just don't understand how certain people who can see through the dishonest tactics used by the AGW deniers to support their multi-national friends cannot see that very similar tactics are being used by the GMO promoters.

Chris S, you keep hounding Jeff to produce "peer reviewed" literature and scold him when he produces honest information which is not peer reviewed. Why do you not complain about the "peer reviewed papers" listed by Ewan R?

Many of his cites come from "Agbioforum" which is just a tarted up piece of PR propaganda made to look like a real journal. It is financed and supported by the Biotechnology Industries. It is neither peer reviewed in the normal sense or real science. It serves the same function as wattsup blog, to spread disinformation and cherry picked information to naive readers.

For anyone to try and smear Dr. Vandama Shiva just shows how low the GMO promoters will go to try and keep their dysfunctional technology alive. If anyone really wants to see a real nasty piece of work in GM PR and promotion just check out C. S. Prakash. He is the Antony Watts figure for the GMO industry.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

As I said yesterday, this technology will hardly dent the vast social, wealth and economic divisions in the world

It demonstrably increases the income of Indian cotton farmers. It demonstrably increases the income of farmers in Africa who use the technology. Does it address all the many global political issues which also keep developing nations in poverty? No, but then nobody has claimed that it will - personally I'm happy if farmer incomes are raised and less toxic insecticides are sprayed because this is a real tangible benefit - whereas all the hand wringing in the world about the awful political scenario essentially equates to sitting on your hands not doing a bloody thing - which helps absolutely nobody.

and in there tucked nicely away is the technology Ewan claims will be a 'useful tool' in reducing hunger. But of course that's pure nonsense.

The technology demonstrably increases yields in developing nations, for subsistence farmers how would this not be a useful tool in reducing hunger - don't farmers who can produce more of their own food have less likelihood of, I dunno, going hungry? Won't farmers who utilize GM cotton and make 50-150% more per season have reduced levels of poverty?

I'd like to see if Ewan has backup for his libellous-appearing smear of Vandama Shiva, whom he calls: "reknowned liar and arson supporter".

http://www.houstonpress.com/2000-11-23/news/ricetec-paddy-whack/ - Vandana incapable of distinguishing field of rice from field of weeds

http://www.amazon.com/Vandana-Shiva/e/B001JO49BM - Vandana (or a representative, I don't believe however that she's recanted this claim) claims to have been a leading Indian physicist - google scholar turns up 2 references - one is her pHD thesis http://search.proquest.com/docview/302922089 which interestingly is philosophy, not physics (perhaps someone could chime in on the level of dishonesty required to claim to be a leading Indian physicist when infact you are a philosopher of science, and not an actual, y'know, physicist?)

Shiva repeatedly claims that there is a link between Bt cotton and increased suicides amongst Indian farmers - such a link is not present (suicide amongst Indian farmers is largely unaltered since the adoption of Bt cotton - the rate has neither gone up nor down - the focus on Bt is erroneous and takes the focus away from the real issues of predatory loan interest, lack of social safety net for a risky profession etc)

She makes other insane claims about Bt cotton killing 1000's of cows - something which you'd think would have been spotted

http://vimeo.com/23099099 link to Shiva endorsing Arson of university property as a means of protesting GM crops (far more serious than weed-whacking a GM wheat trial) and going so far as to claim that the legal action taken against the arsonist is itself criminal.

I repeat what I said yesterday: transgenic technology will hardly dent the vast social, wealth and economic divisions in the world. It is not aimed at doing so - it is solely aimed at maximizing short-term profits for investors in the north.

Ewan, if you knew one iota about US foreign policy agendas towards Africa, Asia and South America you'd finally get it through your head that poverty eradication is nowhere on the agenda. I can only smile when I read the snippets you respond to - its the larger volume of political material that you rotuinely ignore that is significant. Again, your brain has a large hole in it where this is concerned. Try reading Tom Athanasiou's or Patrick Bond's books, or Greg Grandin's 'Empire's Workshop'. Pepe Escobar's 'Globalistan' might also wake your up out of your current stupor. But as I said its impossible to separate policy agendas of the wealthy governments from the agendas of corporate elites. As I also said yesterday, I have read a lot of declassified planning documents (one benefit of living in a superficially democratic environment) and western planners are essentially unconcerned about poverty and hunger eradication, but are terrified of indigeonous nationalism - that countries worth the trouble will embrace nationalistic governments that will attempt to redirect the benefits of their own resources and raw materials towards internal development. Why are our government planners opposed to this? Because it will conflict with the business interests of western corporations. So they do all they can to maintain influence in the internal decision making processes in these countries. With all that I have read, this is as clear to me as the difference between day and night.

So in the end the alleged benefits of GMOs are going to be rammed down the throats of people here because our governments are promoting the interests of the corporate elites that get them into power in the first place and sustain them thereafter. It doesn't mean a jot whether this is good for society or not, its just the way that it is. Farmers in many countries in the south should not be growing cotton anyway, given the grinding poverty and starvation, but would be far better off growing sustenance food crops. In Argentina, crop diversity has been greatly reduced since the advent of transgenic soybean, which has certainly not been good to the health of the people in the nation as a whole.

With respect to Ewan, I might as well be debating a brick wall when it comes to the real policy agendas of the agro-biotech industry and its backers in government. His arguments appear to mimic those of Bjorn Lomborg, in that he thinks that the aim of his 'wonder technology' and of those promoting it is to help those poverty stricken farmers in the south, whilst ignoring all of the other evidence suggesting that our leaders and their corporate paymasters couldn't give a rat's ass about eliminating poverty and hunger. It's about the money, stupid (to partially paraphrase Bill Clinton), and about expanding another form of economic imperialism through what we grow and eat.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

Jeff - you state you may as well be debating a brick wall, I feel the same - I've asked questions abotu specific applications, what your experimental plan around demonstrating ecological effects or lack thereof, your assessment of the ecological effects of not utilizing the technology - real tangible stuff.

You come back, repeatedly, with the same rants about economic imperialism and such - I acknowledge fully that there are numerous political problems which need to be solved - I don't buy fully into your whole schtick that because Western governments are dicks, and have been dicks, that every action by every Western company, government, NGO and scientist must therefore also be an act of dickitude. I have no expertise in the area of foreign policy, but you repeatedly fail to demonstrate why on the specifics of increased incomes (which one would assume would counter grinding poverty to an extent for the effected group at least, although not for society as a whole) this can't be part of a wider fix, or how, with technologies donated freely (golden rice, WEMA maize, potentially the Pioneer N efficient corn if it is actually efficacious) any sort of monetary gain is to be had from the developing world. Less broad generalization and more specifics is what I'm asking for (rather than simply grandstanding I asked specific questions the bulk of which you avoided, and those you answered you failed to do so with anything near clarity), but each time you trot out broad generalizations and the oft repeated phrase "I've read declassified documents"

Ewan,

My point is that, as much as you try, you cannot separate politics, economics and technology. Its the nature of the beast that needs examination, not some superficial idealistic idea of a technology stripped of its economic and political components. Technology cannot address social inequalities - it never has and never will. The solutions to poverty and starvation do not lie in the science but in the political economy. Until you get that through your head we are done talking. You apparently do not understand much about the horrific realities of the world except for the little utopian bubble in which you live. Since you cannot connect the dots, you doggedly stay in your own little corner and thrash it out from there. Its hardly surprising that people whose ignorance is exposed in crucial areas resort to calling the arguments of their opponents, 'rants'.

I never said that evert scientist or NGO in the west are 'dicks' - those are your words, not mine. Heck, I am a scientist who for sure has published a lot more in the empirical literature than you ever will. Whether you like it or not, a huge number of scientists have strong misgivings about GMOs. You seem to be referring to molecular biologists when you refer to scientists, and even many in this field are skeptical. Moreover, I am not against new technologies but believe that they should be strongly regulated, something that appears to be lacking in the case of many GMOs. Since the cat is already out of the bag, so to speak, we are not going to be able to do anything until problems arise, as they are likely to in the future. Previous 'miracle' technologies - CFCs, pesticides, fossil fuels, and others have all been proven in time to have seriously deleterious effects on the environment. Will it be any different with GMOs? Time will tell. But it certainly is likely.

Finally, golden rice was 'donated freely' as a public relations ploy. People in the region need a balanced diet, not Vitamin A enhanced rice on its own. If you seriously think that its been a boon to people in the far east, then you need to do open up your eyes a little bit more than you do.

And for you to bitterly criticize an esteemed scientist and humanitarian like Dr. Vandana Shiva, given the wretched environmental record of your employer, takes remarkable hubris. Talk about blind devotion to duty.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

And for you to bitterly criticize an esteemed scientist and humanitarian like Dr. Vandana Shiva

Shiva is no more a scientist than she is a Triceratops. As detailed above.

Technology cannot address social inequalities

Have I claimed that it can in a vacuum? (one might argue that given the recent social media based revolutions around and about that claiming technology cannot at least help to address social inequalities is bunk, although that's entirely tangential to the present discussion) Would you deny that a farmer making 50-150% more net profit per season is better off than had they not used the tech that brought them to this level. Is there a certain level of social equalizing attached to preventing pesticide deaths as a result of global economics having farmers spray cotton 12+ times a season (or the freeing of their kids to go to school rather than backpack up and spray class Is to control bugs so that the loan sharks can be paid at the end of the year?)

I never said that evert scientist or NGO in the west are 'dicks' - those are your words, not mine.

Just the ones trying to implement changes you don't like

Heck, I am a scientist who for sure has published a lot more in the empirical literature than you ever will.

Congratulations, I guess. I make no claim to being a scientist, nor do I have aspirations to publish (thankfully I guess given that getting anything into the literature is nigh on impossible given the lovely folk at legal here!) One still wonders when you'll address your reasons for flat out lying about vitamin A deficiencies in the far East then - one hopes reviewers caught similar howlers in your published work.

Will it be any different with GMOs? Time will tell. But it certainly is likely.

Likely how - again a question I've repeatedly asked of you and one you haven't addressed. I'm not asking for peer reviewed data here, I'm simply asking how, exactly do you forsee GMO technology itself will have deleterious effects - what mechanism do you propose, lets skip away from the nebulous unnamed threat and get specific.

People in the region need a balanced diet, not Vitamin A enhanced rice on its own.

I don't think anyone is arguing that they don't - but when people aren't getting a balanced diet and are instead being supplemented with pills etc at yearly cost (and threat of discontinuation, and perpetually being therefore under the thumb of the west who supplies the pills - at least where they aren't being flat out ignored) are you seriously arguing that it is better to maintain the status quo rather than to supplement the diet that they have? Do I think it's been a boon to people? No... because it hasnt been released yet. Do I think it will be? Yes... because Vitamin A deficiency is a serious problem which kills people. Do I think it is a replacement for a balanced diet? Not at all - but given the choice between the status quo, and an improvement in the right direction, I know which side I'll choose. (I can't help but think your whole "but people should just get a balanced diet" bit is a little (probably not enough to warrant mention, for which I anticipate some flak that I likely have no defence of) along the lines of abstinence only education - great in theory but given that it ain't happening rather pointless - it'd work great if it had a good chance of being implemented, but given the massive social inequality, the shitty state of infrastructure, corrupt governments and the whole shebang it appears about as useful a piece of advice as telling bored teenagers to not bump uglies.

Again I post a link from the blog of a scientist who studies agriculture in India, and says India has 30 million ton of buffer stocks of wheat and grain:

"...So who is it who keeps telling us that Indiaâs problem is an imbalance between population and agriculture? Mostly 2 groups, I believe: 1) those who donât really follow Indian agriculture, and 2) those who have a vested interest in selling things to Indian agriculturalists (biotechnology interests spring to mind).

For group 1, give them this blog and suggest they follow some of the links.

For group 2, ask them a simple question: Just exactly how are their technologies going to feed hungry Indians when over 30 million tons of excess grain canât?"

http://fieldquestions.com/2011/06/16/feeding-hungry-indians/

By Holly Stick (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink