Feb 18 2013

GM Crops Overregulated?

Genetically modified (GM) crops are the target of significant worldwide controversy, to the greatest extent in Europe but also in the US and elsewhere.  Are the concerns over GM crops justified by the science? What is the proper balance between the precautionary principle and making potentially improved crops available to a hungry world?

GM “golden rice” – rice genetically modified to produce beta carotene, a form of Vitamin A, is set to be introduced in the Philippines, creating another round of debate on this issue.

Crops have been genetically modified to resist pests or herbicide, to thrive in adverse environmental conditions (cold, drought), and to enhance nutrition. At present GM crops are highly regulated, with proponents arguing that the regulation is too strict while GM opponents argue that they are too lax. Still others argue for a case-by-case assessment of each GM product, which seems to me to be the most sensible approach. 

There are many concerns over GM crops – that they will have unintended consequences to health, the introduction of new proteins may pose an allergenic risk, that they pose a risk to the environment (mainly from genes getting out into the wild) and that they are a mechanism by which big corporations (i.e. Monsanto) control our food supply. The safety concerns do seem to vary greatly depending on the exact kind of GM we are assessing.

Golden rice does not pose many of the above concerns. The genetically added nutrient is vitamin A, not a novel protein or an allergenic risk. I also don’t see the risk of a gene for beta carotene getting out into the wild – at least it doesn’t pose the same risk as conferring herbicide resistance to a weed, creating a “super weed.”

Vitamin A deficiency remains a significant health problem in many parts of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports:

An estimated 250 million preschool children are vitamin A deficient and it is likely that in vitamin A deficient areas a substantial proportion of pregnant women is vitamin A deficient.
An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.

That is a significant health burden. Efforts are under way to reduce vitamin A deficiency through supplementation and diversification of food supply, but goals for reduction have not been met and deficiency remains a significant problem.

Golden rice is another potential solution. Rice is a staple food, which means it makes up a large part of the diet in certain regions. Staple crops had an interesting effect on human nutrition and populations. The growing of wheat, corn, and rice allowed for a tremendous increase in the number of calories that human farming could produce, and transformed human societies into agricultural societies. However, staple crops lack certain micronutrients, so the quality of human nutrition actually decreased after the initial development of agriculture. Staple crops need to be supplemented with a variety of food sources to maintain proper nutrition.

Enhancing staple crops with specific nutrients, like vitamin A, will create the best of both worlds – a significant source of nutrition that contains needed micronutrients.

Bruce Chassy is speaking this week at the AAAS meeting (American Academy for the Advancement of Science) arguing that the current regulation of GM crops is counterproductive (an opinion he also gives here). He argues that the last 20 years have demonstrated the overall safety of GM crops through multiple plantings and scientific studies. We still need to monitor GM crop safety, but the current level of regulation is harming the hungry and the poor, mostly in the third world.

This sentiment was echoed by an article in Slate magazine by Bjørn Lomborg, an economist who argues that delaying the introduction of golden rice has resulted in the death and blindness of millions of children. Lomborg is a controversial figure stemming from his earlier book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, in which he engaged in denial of many environmentalist issues. His books was widely criticized, including in an 11 page rebuttal in Scientific American. The full details of this controversy are beyond this post, my primary point is that Lomborg remains controversial, which haunts his current efforts, including his recent article on golden rice.

The statistics he quotes in the article that I have been able to check out appear to be valid. He essentially argues that golden rice would be the most cost effective intervention:

Supplementation programs costs $4,300 for every life they save in India, whereas fortification programs cost about $2,700 for each life saved. Both are great deals. But golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency.

I think these are annual figures. Keep in mind this is the cost of providing supplements not just to each life saved but to the target population.

Conclusion

GM crops remain controversial. While the precautionary principle and concerns over unintended consequences are legitimate, they need to be balanced against the unintended consequences of excessive regulation. The most prudent approach seems to be to take a science-based case-by-case approach to each GM product, and to considers all potential costs and benefits.

Golden Rice, by all the evidence I can find, appears to be a safe and effective way to combat the global health problem of vitamin A deficiency. Resistance to golden rice appears to be based mostly in generic opposition to GM, rather than evidence that this particular product poses risks in excess of benefits.

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54 responses so far

54 Responses to “GM Crops Overregulated?”

  1. ccbowerson 18 Feb 2013 at 10:44 am

    “Still others argue for a case-by-case assessment of each GM product, which seems to me to be the most sensible approach.”

    Of course it is. One of the problems is that people don’t really know what GM means, because the understanding of the term requires a basic understanding of genetics. Again, basic scientific literacy is an issue.

    There has been a push to require labeling of GM foods in some areas (and this requirement has existed for a while in many areas), which I think is a mistake because it reinforces misconceptions due to this lack of understanding and provides no information of value. This is because the GM status of a food says nothing about the safety or quality of the food, so having a labeling requirement would give the false impression that there is something of value in that label (i.e. that there is something to worry about with GM foods in general). When labels and warnings become excessive, the important ones can get lost in the sea of irrelevant ones. A GM labeling requirement would be in the latter category.

  2. roadfoodon 18 Feb 2013 at 11:33 am

    Steve, nice article, I agree with you. You have an unfortunate (some might say Freudian) typo in the paragraph that begins with ‘Bruce Chassy” where you refer to “the overall safety of GM craps”.

  3. SARAon 18 Feb 2013 at 11:40 am

    I find it overly simplistic to assume that we can move forward with our current population projections and not have GM. Indeed, we haven’t gotten this far without it.

    As ccbowers notes, most of the fuss seems to be based on scientific misconceptions when I listen to people talk about it.

  4. Bronze Dogon 18 Feb 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I think we really need to drill the idea of case-by-case judgements into public consciousness. As I say about stuff like this, “I hate package deals.” The sad thing is that there are too many people who want to simplify life into such package deals because it’s easier to accept “organic is better than conventional/GMO” and treat issues like a clash between two diametrically opposed titans, rather than featuring hard questions of fine-tuning, circumstantial benefits, diversity, and adaptability.

  5. rezistnzisfutlon 18 Feb 2013 at 4:24 pm

    This is an article who’s time has come. It’s very true that a lot of opposition to GM foods stems from a gross misunderstanding of the science involved. It is also perpetrated by a systematic, loud, and concerted campaign by certain activist groups playing on the public’s fear of the unknown as well as spreading disinformation, not because GM’s are inherently dangerous, but because of corporate outrage. I liken the movement to anti-vaccination which has similar agendas that really have little to do with the actual safety and efficacy of the substances in question.

    It’s unfortunate because there are a lot of potential benefits with GM’s going into the future. Could they be used for harm as well? Sure. Can businesses like Monsanto use them for their own means that aren’t necessarily for the greater good of humanity? Definitely. To ban GM’s because of bad behavior by corporations would be like banning all batteries because some are used in nuclear weapons.

    That is why I agree that GM crops and foods need to be assessed and monitored on a case-by-case basis.

    I completely agree with ccbowers on labeling. There is little that is informative about labeling a food GM, and it would only serve to reinforce misconceptions about it. Every GM will be different from each other in its nutritional properties and chemical makeup, enough that by simply calling it GM will make it impossible to inform about anything.

    One thing to note is that, while GM foods could be directly modified to cause harm, couldn’t more traditional methods of crop hybridization also modify foods at the genetic level to cause harm as well? Currently, there is little emphasis on the safety of “normal” crops that has been called for by GM crops. Perhaps someone with more knowledge in the area could help answer that for me.

  6. MikeBon 18 Feb 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Just read and commented on this at Skepticblog. Nice article. Hope you don’t mind if I repost my comment here:

    I’ve done a one-eighty on this issue (as a mostly-liberal, gay, atheist farmer): Having worked at an organic farm, I’m familiar with the boilerplate arguments against “frankenfoods” and such. Several things happened to change my mind:

    1. Discovering that the Humulin my Type 1 diabetic partner uses to stay alive is a genetically engineered analog to human insulin.

    2. Reading Nina Federoff’s book “Mendel In the Kitchen.”

    3. Checking out the claims of a “scientific study” that purported to show that Bt corn left residues of “pesticides” in the fetuses and umbilical cords of pregnant women (Google Aris and Leblanc, bt corn).

    It was tough going reading that study, but I saw how the authors did not even manage to demonstrate that the women they studied had eaten Bt corn! And as a friend who is a microbiologist pointed out, the test kit they used to detect the alleged pesticide residue is the wrong kit to use for detecting the protein in blood.

    It’s so easy for a lay person to have the wool pulled over his eyes. I now detest the atavistic, anti-GMO, pro-organic movement.

    I recommend the blogs of David Tribe, Kevin Folta, and the gang at Biofortifed. Great critical thinking there.

  7. kevinjearlyon 18 Feb 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Non-sequitor alert:

    Doc, maybe you or one of your readers can straighten me out here. Your piece didn’t really do this, but often when this topic is brought up, one of the selling points from GMO proponents is that GMOs are one promising line in the fight against world hunger (a point I don’t dispute). OK, I guess you did use that line of thinking a bit too, but your rationale — improving nutrient values in food, and improving the health of consumers — seems completely valorous.

    So here’s my quandary: Why is the topic of world hunger almost exclusively viewed as a supply issue? It seems fairly obvious that supply will generally lag behind demand so long as human beings continue to reproduce at present (or even historical) birth rates. Every person who survives because of improved food production (via advances in food science and technology) will likely reproduce and thereby create even more consumers of food / producers of waste. Lets say that we find a way to feed 8 billion people through better use of resources, and by increasing food production and the like: it won’t be too terribly long before we face the challenge of feeding those 8 billion + their offspring, and then their offspring, and so on.

    At some point, it seems like we’ll will need to have a grown-up conversation about just how many people can occupy the planet at the same time. I think this conversation will be much harder to have than the one we typically like to have, which typically plods along the line of looking for (or fetishizing over) the next technological, medical or scientific fix for the ever-present “hunger problem.”

    Certainly, a timely discussion would likely have a better outcome than one that’s postponed.

    To summarize: why is it that we look to science to solve the hunger problem, rather than for science to consider the inevitable problem of demand? (I’m not suggesting eugenics at all, btw) Is it because contemplating demand involves a series of philosophical questions, and this is outside the realm of science (sorry Dr. Shermer)? Or is it something else?

  8. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2013 at 4:08 am

    The proponents you offer are unfortunately biased: Chassy by industry-friendly associations (American Council on Science and Health and his seminars at Monsanto and others), and Lomborg by his well-established anti-environmental stance (view his other articles in Slate: like pro-fracking). The article by Lomborg omits important elements of the Golden Rice story. Golden rice was touted as a solution for vit A deficiency long before it was able to offer a form that provided sufficient precursor to be of viable use. That cultivar was not developed until 2005. From 2005 to 2010 the “golden” trait was being adapted to local rice varieties. Beyond that the only delay was caused by the need for patent releases. As of now a farmer growing golden rice will not be asked to pay royalties until he’s earned $10K off his fields (admittedly probably not an issue).

    GM foods in the US are NOT highly regulated. This is largely thanks to the the fact that executive positions in these organizations are held by political appointees who enjoy a revolving door between companies like Monsanto and regulatory agencies like the USDA, FDA and EPA.

    So now anti-GM sentiment is blamed for vit A deficiency in the 3rd world? Give me a break.
    Vit A deficiency, along with malnutrition in general in developing countries can be blamed on economic policies more clearly than on technological failure. Where staple crops have become monocultures (which is further encouraged by GM crops) plant diversity decreases and malnutrition increases. We’ll see how golden rice fares in its quest to help end vit A deficiency in regions where diets low in fat may hinder utilization of the precursor the rice is supposed to provide. Now that the rice is going to be planted, the GM industry advocates are jumping on every opportunity to advance even the riskiest technologies under the banner “loosen regulation to help save the world”.

  9. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2013 at 4:18 am

    MikeB, pharmaceuticals gentically-engineered in a lab don’t reflect on the issue of genetically-engineered food crops.

    also, the study you mention
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21338670

    was about finding the pesticides/herbicides associated with those particular GM food crops in maternal/fetal blood, not about them eating btcorn and ending up with pesticides in their blood.

  10. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2013 at 4:30 am

    kevinjearly,

    you’re posing Malthusianism questions :)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusianism

    and observing the “techo-fix” fallacy: a passive hope/faith for resolution of the world’s problems through as-yet-undeveloped technologies: that it’s just a matter of time before every problem will be solved by a scientific discovery or invention (poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, species extinction, violence, etc.)

    It can be seen that improvements in education and reduction of hunger, and increasing women’s rights are related to a reduction in population growth (demand reduction). However, we don’t know what the eventual result will be when even a shrinking population demands more in the way of resources, like meat, gas, water, etc.
    I would suggest that sustainability, as opposed to conspicuous consumption, needs to become a cultural virtue.

  11. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2013 at 4:41 am

    ccbowers,

    the only foods that would have to be labelled as genetically-modified are the ones created by recombinant DNA technology. Other GM technologies are mostly considered to be equivalent to traditional breeding. Many people wish to avoid supporting the development of these crops because of their environmental consequences, apart from their unknown effects on human health (which may be due to factors other than their genetic make-up). They can’t exercise their wishes in this area when they don’t know what they’re buying.

  12. MikeBon 19 Feb 2013 at 6:08 am

    Mlema said: “also, the study you mention … was about finding the pesticides/herbicides associated with those particular GM food crops in maternal/fetal blood, not about them eating btcorn and ending up with pesticides in their blood.”

    This comment makes no sense whatsoever and is typical of the kind of thing that alienates me from the anti-GMO movement.

  13. jreon 19 Feb 2013 at 8:59 am

    [S]taple crops lack certain micronutrients, so the quality of human nutrition actually decreased after the initial development of agriculture.

    Dr. N.:
    I don’t disagree with this — it certainly sounds plausible. But I presume there were archaeological studies, of bones and teeth and such, that led to this conclusion. Could you point to one or two? I’d like to read up on the subject.

  14. Bill Openthalton 19 Feb 2013 at 9:02 am

    @Mlema:

    Organisms continue to reproduce until they run out of resources. To stop reproducing, they must experience deprivation.

    For humans, social acceptance is just as important a resource as food, and humans need to be able to acquire the material objects (house, car, cellphone etc.) and perform the rituals (education, vacation, concerts, etc.) defined by society as criteria for inclusion not to feel deprived.

    This explains why humans living in Western societies have such low rates of reproduction. Even though they are affluent compared with humans in other societies, the perceived difficulty of achieving social success generates a sense of deprivation which regulates the reproductive urge downwards. Perversely, if these societies would succeed in socially adopting sustainable practices (no travel, no individual transport, no expensive mass entertainment, etc.), they would reduce the sense of deprivation and would in all likelihood see an increase in population, putting more strain on basic resources such as food and water.

    The challenge is to develop social inclusion criteria that are onerous to achieve (sense of deprivation), while remaining accessible to the vast majority (social cohesion) and without requiring the use of finite resources (sustainability). This might not be possible, in which case we could see a rather sudden, dramatic reduction of the human population.

  15. watermelonpunchon 19 Feb 2013 at 9:03 am

    “The most prudent approach seems to be to take a science-based case-by-case approach to each GM product”

    I would’ve thought this was obvious. But apparently not, judging by a lot of the comments I’ve seen.

    It has seemed to me like one is always faced with extreme choices.
    In the case of “GM” crops, your choices are as follows:

    a) You can be for it, completely & unquestionably, including any kind of nefarious usage of GM crops by big corporations seeking to glean a profit in any way shape or form, no matter who gets hurt

    or

    b) You can be against it, completely & unquestionably, including wanting to ban even the most innocuous and beneficial forms of agriculture manipulation, including pretty standard “traditional breeding” in your backyard garden.

    I’m completely convinced that a lot of people on the organic bandwagon fail to realize that even their backyard garden with their heirloom vegetable plants, is a case of modern human technology grossly manipulating nature.
    I think the lack of understanding is really THAT BASIC.
    Just like a lot of history is forgotten and a lot of modern technology is taken for granted by an under-informed population.

  16. Bill Openthalton 19 Feb 2013 at 11:29 am

    @waatlemoenpunch:

    (watermelon is waatlemoen in Afrikaans. It’s just such a lovely word I couldn’t resist :-)

    As Douglas Adams said in “The Salmon of Doubt”:

    “Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty- five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. “

  17. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Bill Openthalt, I can’t really argue with what you say, but it’s the kind of thing we can’t really know.

    It’s also seems true that as populations establish security for their poor, sick and elderly, (things like social security or private insurance) it becomes less important to have lots of kids and relatives in order to ensure your survival. Of course, science and technology also mean: all bets are off. When poor women have access to birth control and know how to use it, they do :)

  18. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2013 at 2:34 pm

    watermelonpunch,

    I hate to throw one of the phrases commonly used here at you, but: that’s a false dichotomy :)

    There are many forms of “genetic modification”, and scientists are coming to prefer the term “trangenic” for organisms which are created using the type of process which are generally in question. These processes can’t be compared to traditional breeding. Proponents of Monsanto-style GMOs like to blur the distinctions in order to paint opponents as technology-fearing, naturalistic-fallacy subscribing and ignorant.

    Currently GMOs ARE evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The question is: what does this evaluation entail? Is it sufficient? and who is doing it? Currently regulation is fraught with inadequacy and conflict of interest.

    a good place to learn more about the problems with GMOs as implemented by companies like Monsanto is here:
    http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/

    other pages at that site also talk specifically about the current problems in regulation

  19. carassiuson 19 Feb 2013 at 3:19 pm

    So, how much vitamin A is in the rice? If an individual relies on the rice as one of the primary sources of sustenance (i.e. morning, noon, and night), is there a risk of hypervitaminosis A?

    I saw the above question on a comment section somewhere as a blanket rejection of golden rice but I believe it to be reasonable.

  20. BillyJoe7on 19 Feb 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Mlema,

    “that’s a false dichotomy. :)

    I think that was his point. ;)

  21. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2013 at 5:21 pm

    for those interested, an evaluation of the type we might begin to employ in assessing the nature of risk in any new transgenic food crop:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18393457

    Personally, i can’t help but wonder if the investments here are worthwhile, especially when we have current agricultural technology, including genetic modification, that avoids the risk, expense and controversy over transgenic food.

  22. rezistnzisfutlon 19 Feb 2013 at 9:26 pm

    Mlema,

    Much of the controversy is manufactured, and is based on ignorance and misguided activism. One cannot consider the future of agriculture with an ever-growing population without certain technologies in mind. The fact of the matter is, traditional agricultural and distribution methods simply aren’t cutting it, and GMOs are ONE option that can supply substantial benefits and solve a lot of problems, including the widespread famine many regions around the world face.

    Yes, there are problems with the testing, patenting, and regulation of food products, and it’s systematic and definitely not confined to GMOs. Furthermore, there are plenty of none-GMO food products on the market that are very unhealthy, even dangerous in some aspects, and they’ve been around for decades.

    While it’s great to want to fix the problems with the testing and regulation, it would be foolish throw out the baby with the bathwater (if there is any bathwater in the first place). The fact of the matter is, there is no good reason to outright disregard GM foods because of the ignorance surrounding them.

    Currently, the activism centers around banning ALL GMOs, citing a myriad health and environmental dangers. I challenge anyone to find anything in the scientific literature that comes anywhere near close to indicating the dangers claimed by activists of even a single GM food species, not to mention ALL of GMOs.

    I realize that you’re not necessarily suggesting the extreme measures demanded by activists, but until the time they stop their campaign of disinformation based on the misrepresentation of science, it’s going to be hard to have any serious conversation about it.

  23. Mlemaon 19 Feb 2013 at 11:15 pm

    rezistnzisfutl, what I see is people on both sides of this who are unwilling to try to learn exactly what’s involved in the issue. The first problem is lumping all genetic modification under one label. This allows proponents to insist that all breeding is GM and transgenic crops are simply bred with the newest technology and no different from any other breeding. Some GM technology does actually present risks that traditional breeding and some forms of genetic modification technology don’t. Proponents deny this. This lumping also tends to push those who oppose GM (for whatever reason, scientifically-sound or ideologically-based) into a polar opposition to “GM”, when in reality the issue isn’t so simple.

    I think as skeptics we also need to examine the belief that gmo’s like Monsanto’s corn, soy and cotton, along with those from other companies like Bayer, Sygenta, Dow, etc., have for many years propagated this mythology that the food needs of the world can’t be met without their products. It’s simply not true. In fact, if you’re wiling to spend some time at the UCS site I linked to above, you can learn about the 8 ways that Monsanto has failed to improve agriculture or meet world hunger.
    http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/eight-ways-monsanto-fails.html
    It’s a “feel-good” rhetoric that for some reason even skeptics want to believe.

    This doesn’t mean that genetic modification isn’t useful (although again I’m talking about certain forms – and we’re back to the problem of definition). These companies are about profit and aren’t doing anything to improve the diversity of food sources – especially in countries where diversity means security. Our governmental food policies, and those which are encouraged by the WHO, mean that risky monoculture farming is the norm. Corporate “industrial farming” in the US is underwritten by our Farm Bill. Monsanto and other chemical companies benefit financially from these policies.

    To me it seems illogical to say that because there are other non-GMO foods on the market that aren’t healthy or may be dangerous that we shouldn’t be concerned about the unknown risks of transgenic foods. Especially as the risks include environmental risks ones that aren’t easily contained once loosed.
    The scientific literature is lacking in many areas with regards to transgenic food. This is thanks largely to the fact that regulatory research is left to the companies who profit from those products, and those companies aren’t required to share the information that would allow public entities to test against it.
    It’s true, there are unfounded fears “out there” amongst anti-GMO activists. But there are real problems with the transgenic food crops that companies like Monsanto market, especially as they’re sold and planted here in the US and in other countries.
    please see:
    http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/

    there are tried and true agricultural sciences that have continued to improve yield, diversity and sustainability. These can be enhanced with some forms of GM. But those ag methods aren’t “sexy” or massively profitable like transgenic seeds, and so it seems that transgenic food crops aren’t examined critically by the skeptical crowd. Instead we avoid the analysis in the same way that the anti-GMO extremists do, and simply chose to take the opposite stance. I’m guessing that’s because the anti-GMO activists appear to be anti-science (and so often are). I prefer (as I think you do too) to judge the issue in its components, and try to hold regulatory agencies responsible for doing the same. We can’t do that while we’re being bamboozled by murky terminology, and failure to elucidate the technology and problems to the public, because we’re all responsible for our government’s actions in a democracy.

  24. rezistnzisfutlon 19 Feb 2013 at 11:58 pm

    I appreciate the concerns you raise, and they are legitimate, though I think there’s some misunderstanding about intent and acceptance.

    People here are skeptics, and not just about the things we like. We’re skeptical about claims anyone makes, including those made by the likes of Monsanto, et al. I don’t think many people here just accept what they say at face value without evidence to back it up. I also don’t think anyone here is naive about the motivations of large corporate farm and ranch operations, or that they’ll (likely) attempt to manipulate the system to their favor as well as exploit whatever they can in the pursuit of that goal. I, for one, am in favor of sensible regulation, testing, oversight, and legislation, as well as adequate funding to enforce those things. Furthermore, no one here is suggesting we go all GMO and not employ other methods as well. It would be sensible to utilize the best of all practices for the maximum benefit, and NOT to ignore methods that may help meet that goal.

    The thing is, there just isn’t evidence that GMO’s are harmful, or I should say, any more harmful that traditional agricultural methods. Are there things to consider when it comes to GMOs? Of course. No one is denying that. There is no good reason, at this time, to limit them, create labeling laws, or otherwise fear them any more than any other food. That is in the context of the aforementioned regulations, etc.

    The reason I pointed out issue with non-GMO foods is that there is little call to test and regulate them, even though they pose just as much risk as GMOs currently do. The fear-mongering about GMOs simply is irrational and hypocritical in that light.

    However, I don’t buy that the scientific literature is lacking. There are reams of studies, reports, analyses, textbooks, and even fields of study on the subject.

    Corporate outrage is not a good reason to limit GMOs. That’s the purview of politics and economics, not science (though the exploitation of science is involved). Even IF GMOs were outlawed tomorrow, those kinds of companies would still employ the same practices. If corporations are somehow misusing GMOs in a harmful way, of course that should be dealt with accordingly. That still doesn’t impugn GMOs as a viable food source.

    As for the Union of Concerned Scientist articles, I’ve read a couple about GMOs. While they point out some (rather obvious) things about GMO food manufacturers, even they admit that the public outcry about GMOs is unwarranted. The worst thing they have to say about it, as far as I can tell, is that more study is needed. They are a biased activist group, and while activist groups have their place, what they say has to be regarded in that context. If they, or anyone else for that matter, start posting repeated peer-reviewed studies on the massive harm currently claimed of GMOs, I’ll be right there next to the activist holding a picket sign.

  25. Çağrı Yalgınon 20 Feb 2013 at 12:42 am

    I generally agree with your post, but I also think Bruce Chassy is not a good name to cite. Wikileaks revealed the U.S. Embassy in Ankara arranged a visit by him to Turkey to influence public opinion (http://tinyurl.com/05ANKARA5425). I had just finished reading Merchants of Doubt (by Oreskes and Conway) when this came up. Chassy seemed to fit well into the profile of scientists in that book: He was a successful scientist in the past, no longer doing research but investing all his time into the defense of industry position.

    Let me cite the post by two Turkish scientists (in Turkish) in which this was first explained:
    http://www.subjektif.org/2011/10/wikileaks-incelemesi/

  26. Mlemaon 20 Feb 2013 at 3:13 am

    hi again rezistnzisfutl

    Here are the problems as I see them:
    we’re trying to talk about an issue that’s terribly complicated but we’re not talking about it beyond the most superficial level. Anyone who understands this technology very much will recognize that i do not. But I’m able to understand enough to know that we can’t simply say we approve of GMOs, or we disapprove, without being ideological. Real scientists can and do approach these things on a case by case basis, but it’s not real scientists who are regulating them. An industry-friendly administration appointed industry-friendly regulators. As a result, they are under-regulated. An industry-friendly administration appointed industry-friendly regulators.
    The said purposes and technology behind the GMOs that have been and continue to be at the center of the controversy are: to increase yield, reduce pesticide use and toxicity, improve drought tolerance and soil quality. Fail, fail, fail and fail. The unspoken purposes were to increase profit for biotech companies. Big win. There are other problems with our agricultural system that help to hide the problems posed by gm crops. But what is the point of our skeptical consideration if not to form an opinion on what should be done? If we ask a question like “are GM crops over-regulated?” don’t we want an answer?
    I’ll just agree with the UCS on this, as to date i find them to present the most balanced take on the issue:

    “These are a few things policy makers should do to best serve the public interest:

    Expand research funding for public crop breeding programs, so that a broad range of non-GE as well as GE crop varieties will remain available.
    Expand public research funding and incentives to further develop and adopt agroecologically based farming systems.
    Take steps—such as changes in patent law—to facilitate independent scientific research on GE risks and benefits.
    Take a more rigorous, conservative approach to GE product approvals, so that products do not come to market until their risks and benefits are well understood.
    Support food labeling laws that require foods containing GE crops to be clearly identified as such, so that consumers can make informed decisions about buying GE products.”

    why is the UCS making thes