Oct 24 2013

Golden Rice – A Touchstone

Psychologists have documented a human tendency to pick a belief and then defend it at all costs. We all do this to varying degrees, and the more emotionally invested we are in a belief, the more extreme we are in our defense.

In fact, a skeptical world-view is largely about avoiding this mental trap by tentatively accepting or rejecting claims based upon available evidence, and modifying our beliefs as new arguments and evidence come to light. Skepticism values the process over any individual belief.

Since reality is complicated, if one follows an objective process it will often be true that any controversial issue will have valid points on both or all sides. This is not always true (creationists are completely wrong in their denial of evolution, making this a false controversy), but it often is. For this reason, one of my skeptical “red flags” to alert me to the probability that someone is an ideologue rather than an honest broker of information and analysis is whether or not their opinions point entirely in one direction on a genuinely controversial topic.

In other words, if they believe that one side of a controversy is completely wrong all the time on every detail, then it seems more likely that they are biased rather than the facts favoring them 100%.

Looked at from the other direction, if someone can acknowledge a valid point on the other side, I tend to value their analysis more. It means they can recognize complexity, they can take a nuanced approach to an issue, they have a reasonable amount of comfort with uncertainty, and they are probably more interested in the truth than in defending “their side.” This does not mean they are free from bias, but at least you can have a meaningful conversation with them.

For many controversies I find that there are often touchstone issues – questions that seem very useful in separating ideologues from honest brokers. Even if you are against compulsory vaccination, you must acknowledge that vaccines work, and that the germ-theory of disease is valid. If not then you are likely an anti-vaccine ideologue who is only comfortable if every single relevant fact is anti-vaccine, and you do not have to deal with the complexity of a nuanced position.

Recently the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been a hot topic in skeptical circles. This is a good issue for skeptics because there are some genuine controversies, and there are valid points on both sides. There is also a great deal of misinformation, propaganda, and ideology, and separating all this out challenges one’s skeptic-fu.

For example, even if you are generally pro-GMO, you have to acknowledge, in my opinion, the problems of monoculture. This issue – over-reliance on very few cultivars – is not new or unique to GMO, but is encouraged by it. I believe this is a looming issue for world agriculture that we have to deal with.

If you are anti-GMO then I think the best current touchstone issue is golden rice – rice with genes inserted for the production of beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor. Let me explain why.

Vitamin A deficiency is a world-wide problem, but especially in poor and third-world countries. The WHO reports:

The available evidence suggests that nearly 800,000 deaths worldwide can be attributed to vitamin A deficiency among women and children. Approximately 20–24% of child mortality from measles, diarrhoea and malaria and 20% of all-cause maternal mortality can be attributed to this preventable condition. Africa and South-East Asia have the highest burden of disease.

In addition 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year due to vitamin A deficiency. This is a massive cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in children.

Rice is a staple food, especially in those parts of the world where vitamin A deficiency is a problem. Adding vitamin A to rice is like adding iodine to salt, or calcium to milk – putting a deficient nutrient into a food staple to have the broadest impact on the population. It’s a no-brainer, and it would work.

Implementation of golden rice, however, has been held up for years by anti-GMO activists and fear of “frankenfood”.

The reason this is such a good touchstone issue is that all the usual objections to GMO are not relevant here. Golden rice would not increase the use of a pesticide or herbicide. It is not introducing a novel protein to human consumption. The genes come from other plants, already present in food consumed by humans. There is no risk of spreading resistance or unwanted properties to wild plants.

Golden rice is the golden child of GMO, with the potential to save millions of poor children from premature death and blindness. Being against golden rice is really a hard sell for anti-GMO activists.

Here is what they say:

Promoters of golden rice have not proven that it will work. First, the concept here is so simple that not much proof is necessary. When a fortuitous mutation created the first orange carrots in Europe (orange from beta-carotene) orange carrots became an important staple, dramatically reducing vitamin A deficiency. African farmers have bred a variety of sweet potatoes (which already have beta-carotene) with increased beta-carotene, and this has increased vitamin A levels in populations fed this sweet potato. Increased intake of vitamin A treats vitamin A deficiency.

In addition, there are studies that show that golden rice leads to increased vitamin A levels in those that consume it, sufficient to prevent blindness. However, anti-GMO activists have dismissed this study over ethical controversies – there is some controversy over whether parents were given sufficient information that their children would be eating GMO food. This controversy has nothing to do with the results of the study, however.

Another objection is that there are other methods to fight Vitamin A deficiency – supplements and introducing other vitamin A rich foods. These methods can help, but there are already programs in place and they are having little impact. The problem is that the very locations where vitamin A deficiency is rampant are poor and lack the infrastructure to effectively implement such programs. Whereas swapping out existing rice with golden rice does not require any new distribution infrastructure.

Greenpeace International opposes golden rice. They give three reasons: They cite the reason I discussed above, that the money would be better spent on traditional nutritional programs. This is a false dichotomy, we can and should do it all. (Plus the money has already been spent on the development of golden rice, so it’s not even relevant.)

They also argue that contamination from GE rice to non-GE rice would compromise the market for those who are anti-GM. This is circular reasoning, however.  Finally they argue that some populations have expressed resistance to golden rice. This is more circular reasoning – we should be against golden rice because some people are against golden rice.

They go on to list their reasons for generic opposition to GM. They also make the vacuous argument that golden rice does not address the underlying problem – poverty. Sure, you fix world poverty, meanwhile let’s let millions of poor children die or go blind. This is the same logic as CAM advocates who deride treating symptoms rather than the “underlying” cause of an illness. This is a false choice, and while we are searching for cures, I’m sure people would like to have their pain and other symptoms managed.

Conclusion

Golden rice is an excellent example, in my opinion, of the difference between reason and ideology. GMO technology is a complex topic – it’s a powerful tool that can cause both harm and good. We need to be cautious about this new technology, but not frightened children or luddites. If used carefully and with proper regulation, GMO technology can be a useful contribution to global agriculture.

Further, each GMO crop needs to be evaluated on its own merits. Those who make sweeping statements about all GMO are likely acting out of ideology, not logic and evidence. Some GMO crops can be harmful, others can be useless, while still others can save millions of children from death or blindness. We should be focused on individual crops, not the technology itself.

Golden rice has become the poster child for GMO advocates, for good reason. This one GMO crop seems to be a fairly solid case for the potential benefits of GMO. Opposition to golden rice, from what I can tell, is not based upon any solid reasoning or evidence concerning golden rice itself, but ideological opposition to all GMO.

Ideology can be a powerful and harmful force. It can even lead an organization that believes it is dedicated to humanitarian efforts to oppose a technology which could save millions of poor children. This has led UK environmental secretary Owen Paterson to declare such opposition “wicked.” This is political hyperbole, but I agree that the result (if not the intent) is wicked.

Ideology can lead good people with good intentions to do wicked things.

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114 responses so far

114 Responses to “Golden Rice – A Touchstone”

  1. davewon 24 Oct 2013 at 8:57 am

    I am one of those who is biased against GMO largely for emotional reasons. I’d like to think that my strong objections to Round-up ready crops are more fact based, however.

    You have made many good points about Golden Rice and it sounds like a winner. I did a quick read on Wikipedia and my last objection, cost, was assuaged as well. Monsanto is giving away free licenses for Golden Rice to developing countries.

  2. xeison 24 Oct 2013 at 9:10 am

    I agree, Golden Rice is an interesting case study as it appears to deal with the majority of the political concerns that are present at the heart of many GMO objections. In addition to the points raised above, when I read up on this a few months ago, it appeared to be “free”, can be grown and sold in local markets, the seeds can be retained and grown in following seasons (not breaking the agricultural cycle).

    My feeling is that resistance to Golden Rice from the likes of Greenpeace is an instinctive reaction to the process that produced Golden Rice. There is also an inability to accept that “big agriculture” would actually give away anything that did not benefit them by, for example, allowing GM crops to be grown in areas where it is currently outlawed. So if Europe starts growing GM rice, what objection could they have to growing pesticide resistant GM maze with all the features they object to.

    It is a difficult and nuanced issue, especially as we are right on the edge of “Think of the children” fallacies here. I find myself personally persuaded of the benefits of golden rice, and I hope it provides the benefits it promises.

  3. Kieselguhr Kidon 24 Oct 2013 at 10:26 am

    I’m pretty strongly pro-GMO, but I think you undercut your own argument (and, sort of acknowledged it). You point out that pro-GMO folks should acknowledge the problems of monoculture — and I do! But as you point out also, that’s not really a GMO issue. Similarly I have issues with big agricultural firms and how they use market power — but it’s not a GMO issue. You say GMO encourages monoculture, but that’s hardly clear and you don’t make any effort to support it. I think in the prevailing climate of fear, GMO encourages monoculture and big ag largely because nobody else can develop it! If you’re an academic lab trying to make something that will help people, a bunch of morons will come destroy your work, and you’ll be buried in lawsuits: so it’s big firms defending small product lines, or nobody. I mean, they grow crops that people hope may be used to produce vaccines _at Fort Detrick_. What does it say that you need military protection for something like tht?

    I have never heard an anti-GMO argument which isn’t general far outside of GMOs.

    I am unaware of “fact-based” objections to Roundup ready crops. They encourage some resistance, but again, true of all herbicidal techniques.

  4. ccbowerson 24 Oct 2013 at 10:45 am

    Having the issue already framed as pro-GMO or anti-GMO is really a problem. Unfortunately that is the way to issue is usually discussed at the current time. Hopefully public attitudes about this topic will mature over time. To me GMO or not is not directly relevant to any issue, and I agree that each GMO product should be evaluated on a per case basis. Having an opinion about GMOs in a broad sense is nonsensical, and to me is like having an opinion about drugs, or people, or emotions. The category is so heterogenous that no broad statements positive or negative statements can be made about the category as a whole.

    The only issue GM crops have is that they introduce a new product, and should be evaluated as perhaps a new cultivar is, the difference is that we have more specific information about how that new product is different. The issue of monoculture you mention seems like a broader modern agricultural issue not directly related to GMOs, although I could see how GMOs could impact the issue. Having one or a few desirable cultivars of a plant seems to be the issue, and this will be the issue with or without GMOs

  5. ccbowerson 24 Oct 2013 at 10:52 am

    “The category is so heterogenous that no broad statements positive or negative statements can be made about the category as a whole.”

    Let me clarify as I read K Kid’s post after my own. I can see being pro-GMO as a technology to be used, but I was thinking more along the lines of being pro-GMO as a category of plants. Now that I think about it, that appears to be a difference between the 2 sides.

    Anti-GMO people tend to dislike GMO as a category, due to ideological attachment to the naturalistic fallacy (or more general fear of technology or change). People who are “pro-GMO” tend to think of the category more in terms of what the technology can potentially do rather than being for GMO plants in general. It is clear to me who is letting their ideology do the thinking

  6. locutusbrgon 24 Oct 2013 at 11:38 am

    Beyond the monoculture issue, there is also an economic issue with GM organisms. Proprietary organisms give the patent owner economic/production monopoly sway. There is some substance to GM objector’s issues with economic manipulation and proprietary organisms. If a poor third world region converted to Golden rice completely. Unless the creator has sacrificed all rights to the organism for the good of the children. Which I am doubtful of.

  7. pdeboeron 24 Oct 2013 at 11:39 am

    If I start buying Golden rice, will this help grow the product, or will this just encourage an exclusive first world market?

    Also, why can’t I buy it now!?

  8. Steven Novellaon 24 Oct 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Golden rice is freely available for humanitarian use: http://www.goldenrice.org/Content1-Who/who4_IP.php

    They also encourage breeding with local varieties to increase the number of cultivars with the beta carotene, and to deal with the issue of monoculture.

  9. locutusbrgon 24 Oct 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Well then there should be no objections from reasonable people.

  10. pdeboeron 24 Oct 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Dang, I was hoping for a non-profit in North America to sell the rice, but its humanitarian operations in developing countries only, no exports.

    In looking at the opposition, I see a claim that beta-Carotene can only be absorbed when served with fats. I found that this is untrue.

    This study says b-Carotene in Golden Rice is as good as b-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children and even better than spinach.

    http://www.goldenrice.org/PDFs/GR_bioavailability_AJCN2012.pdf

    The study link is broken by the way.

    Turns out it should be the link above…

  11. Enzoon 24 Oct 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I was glad to see they are paying attention to how it tastes and cooks and its texture. http://www.goldenrice.org/Content2-How/how8_tests.php

    I honestly think, in addition to the knee-jerk anti-GMO sentiments, taste is a significant adoption barrier. Seems like the beta-carotene concentrations ought to be low enough to not affect flavor profiles, but I’m glad it is being evaluated. Now to avoid the golden-color placebo flavor (though apparently the yellow partially fades when cooked).

  12. ConspicuousCarlon 24 Oct 2013 at 3:18 pm

    “there is some controversy over whether parents were given
    sufficient information that their children would be eating GMO food.”

    From that linked page, it sounds like they knew they were part of a trial of rice with vitamin A, but they merely weren’t told that it was added to the rice by genetic means?

    That’s a completely irrelevant gripe given that there are no special risks. You don’t normally tell test subjects the exact manufacturing method for a trial, and in most cases they are unlikely to even understand the chemistry involved. Asking for the GMO origin to be disclosed is an arbitrary and additional demand.

    And given that there are no known or even likely risks, this is basically complaining that GMO is bad because people weren’t warned that GMO might be bad.

  13. Kieselguhr Kidon 24 Oct 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Conspicuous Carl, even though I’m strongly pro-GMO, your argument disturbs me a whole lot, and I think (and I’ve submitted a few protocols to IRBs) that it’s not good practice. In the current environment., lots of people really, really fear and dislike GMOs (and Chinese certainly do, too). When you write that disclosure you genuinely are trying to accommodate the subject where you can; it’s not adversarial. I’m a vegetarian; that comes for core ethical beliefs about right and wrong that are in some sense superstition. If I were in some trial and the researcher did not disclose that something I might reasonably assume did not contain animal products, did, then I’d feel pretty ill used. Probably they should’ve seen a reason who people would want to know (and if they think there’s a reason people might want to know and the don’t disclose, then, whoo, somebody should be flogged). That’s just good research practice.

  14. ccbowerson 24 Oct 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Kieselguhr Kid-

    I’m not sure if I understand what what bothered you in particular about what CCarl said. Is it regarding the labeling of GMO products, and whether or not labeling should become mandatory for foods sold, or is it a more narrow issue regarding informed consent in clinical research?

  15. ConspicuousCarlon 25 Oct 2013 at 8:54 am

    Maybe KK lives somewhere with standard “lookout GMO!” labels, or maybe China has that, but it certainly isn’t a legal standard everywhere and there isn’t really a logical basis for concern.

    If vegetarianism were really just a superstition, maybe that would raise an interesting point. But it isn’t. Many, maybe even most, vegetarians have a direct goal of reducing harm to animals. Nobody opposes GMO because they think that nucleic acids experience moral harm.

  16. Kieselguhr Kidon 25 Oct 2013 at 11:54 am

    ccbowers, Conspicuous Carl — it’s neither of the things you suggest, rather it’s that what Conspicuous Carl suggests really undermines the concept of patient disclosure. Again, it;s not supposed to be adversarial. The researcher is not trying to stay tightly within the law and go no further. In California, say, where there is no GMO labelling law, you had probably better disclose anyway, because it is a reasonable belief — as it is pretty much everywhere, including China — that your research subject may be strongly opposed to GMOs. The fact that your subject’s belief is loopy is beside the point; when you can respect it you do. To do otherwise, as Carl suggests, would do immense harm to human subjects research; the cure you guys have is much worse than the disease.

  17. ccbowerson 25 Oct 2013 at 2:43 pm

    “ccbowers, Conspicuous Carl — it’s neither of the things you suggest”
    “the cure you guys have is much worse than the disease.”

    I’m not sure what you are talking about. I have not provided a “cure” for anything. I just asked a question to clarify your objection, because I wasn’t quite sure which CCarl statement you objected to. Your explanation sounds much more like the informed consent issue I suggested, but perhaps you mean it more generally with regards to research practice. If I understand you, you are saying disclosure about GMOs used in a study should be done, even if the only reason is that there are people who would want to know. I don’t disagree, and I’m not sure how you thought I did since I didn’t previously offer an opinion..

  18. rezistnzisfutlon 25 Oct 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Putting Golden Rice research studies into perspective, I don’t think the researchers at the time had any reasonable expectation of participant objections to GE rice. That was a time before the existence of an anti-GMO movement where fear and hysteria regarding it was well known. To the researchers, GR was merely rice that had beta carotene grown into it, nothing more I’m sure if it was a known objection at the time, it would have been taken into account and disclosed, or the studies designed differently.

    As most skeptics and nearly any agricultural biologist will say, there was no biological reason to suspect harm, and since there was no cultural attachment one way or another with GMOs, there was no reason to disclose that aspect of it.

  19. rezistnzisfutlon 25 Oct 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Unfortunately, nearly all of the conversation regarding GMOs have been clogged by hysteria and misinformation. Little meaningful conversation regarding them has had the opportunity to flourish outside of science and academia, and this is nearly universally due to ideologically-driven activists and their systematic campaign of misinformation.

    When drilled down to facts, none of the objections to GMOs have to do with safety, nutrition, or the health of the foods themselves, but rather visceral reactions to the concept of seed patenting, and even corporations themselves. There are many who object for naturalistic reasons and some even on religious grounds, though for the most part these are unfounded considering that humans have been altering the genetics of crops since agriculture began. The irony is, due to the high cost of regulation, litigation, and unpopularity in many areas, only larger corporations can shoulder the risks in order to yield profits of any sort.

    I echo what Kieselguhr Kid said earlier about monoculture, which really is a more universal issue related to feeding a population in the billions. Currently, there simply is no way around it and, as far as I know, solutions to this becoming an ever growing problem are being constantly researched. While logically it makes sense that GM crops may encourage monocultures, I have yet to see actual data supporting this.

    As far as seed patenting, this has been in place in the US since the 1930s with the Plant Patent Act.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_Patent_Act_of_1930

    One possible legitimate concern regarding RR resistant crops is the continued use of glyphosate, though the current research on glyphosate resistant weeds seems to indicate that this has been on ongoing problem long before RR crops were introduced. The solution to this seems to be simply rotating crops as well as the types of pesticides used, and develop different pesticides if/when weeds become tolerant to multiple vectors.

    http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2013/05/superweed/

    Anyone with any knowledge of evolution will understand that ANY change placed on an environment, whether it’s with the introduction of predatory insects to control for insect pests with organic farming, or the use of a particular chemical fungicide, will introduce selection pressures causing the eventual adaptation of the target species, or the (likely) introduction of a “replacement” resistant species filling the niche.

    A great resource to learn more about GMOs is Biology Fortified, for anyone not familiar with them. The comments sections in the articles are especially useful in seeing common anti-GMO arguments and their deconstructions based on science, evidence, and properly applied skepticism:

    http://www.biofortified.org/

    Here is a link indicating the broad scientific consensus regarding GMOs by major scientific organizations and regulatory bodies from around the world:

    http://www.biofortified.org/2013/10/20-points-of-broad-scientific-consensus-on-ge-crops/

    Here is a link to 600+ safety assessment published in peer-reviewed scientific journals:

    http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/p/450-published-safety-assessments.html

    http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/08/with-2000-global-studies-confirming-safety-gm-foods-among-most-analyzed-subject-in-science/#.UmrOUxDUMcW

    I hope this isn’t too many links for one post.

  20. kevinfoltaon 25 Oct 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Steve, a good note, but monoculture is not a GM issue. It is a plant breeding issue, and most of the GM crops are actually hybrids that exploit heterosis arising from ranging genetic diversity to boost their value.

    Today plant breeders (then genetic engineers) have access to the most ranging germplasm ever available along with molecular tools to characterize diversity. They oftentimes combine ranging genotypes because of excellent combining qualities.

    The plants in the field come from materials produced through many pipelines, not much narrower germplasm than what is used on conventional ag and has kept us fat, happy and fueled for a long time.

  21. rezistnzisfutlon 25 Oct 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Kevin, I’m glad you’re here. :)

  22. rezistnzisfutlon 25 Oct 2013 at 7:20 pm

    I actually posted some links to Biofortified, etc., regarding this discussion that is awaiting moderation, must have been one too many.

  23. ccbowerson 25 Oct 2013 at 11:51 pm

    “Putting Golden Rice research studies into perspective, I don’t think the researchers at the time had any reasonable expectation of participant objections to GE rice.”

    I am not sure which studies we are talking about, and I am not sure exactly how we came to this topic, but I came across one article involving Tufts University in which their internal investigation found problems with how informed consent was obtained beginning in 2008. Both the CDC and Tufts felt the ethical violations (and I assume negative publicity as well) were significant enough to result in significant repercussions (including firing and suspensiosn) for several of the investigators.

    According to the article they were aware of the issue so much that they intentionally avoided the disclosure. That makes the violation much worse, since it runs exactly counter to the purpose of obtaining informed consent in the first place. The anti-GMO movement is fairly new, but not that new. It has been around as long as people have been aware that GMO have been in use, sometime in the mid to late 1990s I believe.

    http://www.tuftsdaily.com/news/university-admits-golden-rice-ethics-violation-1.2838537#.Umsy4UbD9es

    Now requiring labeling on products is another issue altogether, and for that I have been against (as discussed in previous blog posts on this site) For me, adding additional labeling (and add more information noise to packaging) should be optional, just like other characteristics that some people may be interested in, but otherwise have no compelling reason to be required. If a person wants GMO free food (for whatever irrelevant reason they think up), then they will have their choice of products that advertise this.

  24. rezistnzisfutlon 26 Oct 2013 at 12:56 am

    Golden Rice was in development 8 years before 2000 when it was published in Nature, so I was referring to the studies done then. However, I do agree that the more recent iteration should have had better informed consent procedures. My understanding is that the scientist in question was admonished by the community fairly rapidly and severely.

    As far as I know, the anti-GMO movement didn’t get much traction until the mid-2000s as GMOs became more prevalent. There has always been opposition to it, but it didn’t have the national attention it’s gotten more recently.

  25. kevinfoltaon 26 Oct 2013 at 4:46 am

    @rezistnzisfutl – The Tufts University PI resigned. IRB rules are extremely important and it is such a great case where the science takes a major step forward but some element leads to misdirection and a place to poke. The data are good and support the hypothesis that GR can raise vitamin A levels.

    If GR was deployed back in 2000 you would have now seen a decade of rapid breeding and adaptation, new strains, more lives saved. They have a death count.

    GR is one issue that the anti-GM folks CANNOT let succeed. It (like PRV resistant papaya) does what GM should do– help people in ways that have no effect on a corporate bottom line. If it is allowed to save lives, then the labeling argument goes out the window, the insane regulation/deregulation bar comes down and more products gravitate toward the poor, especially from the public sector.

    The more we can demonstrate successful assistance of the farmer, the needy, the environment and the consumer the weaker their position gets.

  26. Mlemaon 27 Oct 2013 at 4:31 am

    Understanding what I do about transgenic technology and it’s potential for unwanted effects in many areas, I’m not willing to accept gr as a “touchstone”. It seems unreasonable to say: “here we have golden rice, and if you don’t now acknowledge transgenic technology as integral to the benefit of suffering humanity, you are a fanatic of some sort.” I prefer to study the issue in depth, including it’s epidemiological ramifications, wait for the evidence (after sorting it out from the media spin), and then form a decision. Isn’t that what skepticism suggests? Why must we make an ideological choice?

    This talk about “evil” and “death counts” is decidedly irrational and inflammatory. I find no evidence that anti-gmo campaigns slowed the development of gr in any way. The implementation may have been slowed by some governmental resistance. That’s because not all countries rubber-stamp new gmos like the US does, and farmers have seen what problems can happen when gm crops find their way into their economy – if for no other reason than a plunge in marketability.

    Perhaps the gmo industries will supply vast amounts of gmo canola to the starving children in order to ensure that the beta-carotene in gr will be utilized. That would be good. Maybe. It would be more calories and fat. It’s too bad we can’t engineer into the rice something that would quell the people’s hunger for something more than rice. Sorry, but I can’t help but wonder how far all the money spent on the development and PR around GR would have gone towards some more comprehensive solution to the problem of malnourished populations. One thing they need is to have land restored. Many of the hungry have lost their family farms to land grabbing or violent conflict. Many could be helped by instruction in improved agriculture and the introduction of diverse plantings that provide plenty of vit a. Has the golden rice been tested in the target populations? I’ve read that in the Phillipines where it’s been grown, the vit a problem has been greatly reduced in recent years, prior to gr. If it continues to decline – will gr claim responsibility for that? The way Monsanto claimed increased yields of cotton in India were due to bt cotton, when in reality yields were growing prior to its introduction – and they fell after bt cotton was established?

    GMOs are an issue that we can’t seem to sort out so long as the science remains obscure to so many, and as that science is represented in a limited way to the public, and as long as independent research is stymied due to lack of access to industry protocols and also due to lack of funding. It’s not skeptical to claim a touchstone issue on golden rice, IMHO.

  27. Mlemaon 27 Oct 2013 at 4:59 am

    kevinfolta,

    I would be interested in your comments on this research:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23215020

    also, isn’t it true that the ringspot virus grew as a problem due to the encouragement of more intensive planting? the same type of agriculture which has encouraged the pests that have supplanted the virus? And that both these pests have been mitigated with more traditional style plantings? And that researchers have developed a non-gmo ringspot-resistant papaya? And that the gmo labs failed to contain their research, and that many non-gmo farms were contaminated – causing financial loss to the farmers who could no longer sell to many of their lucrative overseas markets?

    There seems to be a recurring story every time a fruit faces some particular pest/ The story goes: “only GMO can save this fruit.”

    Also interested in your thoughts on:
    http://www.biosafety-info.net/file_dir/697848857c49a7da2.pdf

  28. Mlemaon 27 Oct 2013 at 5:10 am

    Many scientists are encouraging a deeper look at gmo’s in their ubiquitous presence in our diet and environment.

    http://www.stopogm.net/sites/stopogm.net/files/DifferentPerspective.pdf

    http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/service221.htm

  29. Mlemaon 27 Oct 2013 at 5:16 am

    kevinfolta,

    wondering also about your thoughts about unpredicted and unwanted consequences of in vitro RNA modification, which will likely comprise a growing number of GMOs?

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412013000494

  30. ccbowerson 27 Oct 2013 at 10:51 am

    “Understanding what I do about transgenic technology and it’s potential for unwanted effects in many areas”

    If you are going to make a statement like this, follow it up with examples of the “many areas” of “unwanted effects.” Otherwise it reads like an unsubstantiated claim

    “Isn’t that what skepticism suggests? Why must we make an ideological choice?”

    Hmm, well to me it is the anti-GMO movement that is prone to ideological motivated reasoning. It is not necessarily the conscious choice you imply- I am sure that for the most part, people think that they are thinking clearly and without significant bias. GMO proponents may sound overly optimistic at times, but that is different than the blatant misunderstanding or the spreading of misinformation, which is common for groups who are strongly against (just use the googles and you will see).

    There seem to be 2 main ideological areas that skew attitudes against GMOs – anti-corporate attitudes, and naturalistic fallacy. You appear to have tendencies toward both, so that helps certain arguments seem compelling to you. There really isn’t a pro GMO equivalent movement among the general public. Let’s not forget that most people do not have strong feelings one way or the other, at least in the U.S., and also most are not that knowledgeable about the topic.

    “Sorry, but I can’t help but wonder how far all the money spent on the development and PR around GR would have gone towards some more comprehensive solution to the problem of malnourished populations.”

    Like… what is already being done? Steve mentioned this argument above as being a false choice. From my perspective, it is absurd to think that we should not develop new approaches and technologies just because there will continue to be poverty in the world. That is a false choice. It advocates for only a perfect solution, or none at all. It is ideologically motivated reasoning that is argued for people who do not like the approach for other reasons.

  31. Mlemaon 27 Oct 2013 at 4:18 pm

    ccbowers,
    “If you are going to make a statement like this, follow it up with examples of the “many areas” of “unwanted effects.” Otherwise it reads like an unsubstantiated claim”

    I’ve