Nov 20 2012

Some Feedback on Organic Farming

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112 responses so far

112 Responses to “Some Feedback on Organic Farming”

  1. ISKon 20 Nov 2012 at 10:40 am

    Organically grown foods may not be healthier than conventionally produced counterparts, but they often have much better taste. If fruits and vegetables taste better we eat more of it – which benefits our health.

  2. Kieselguhr Kidon 20 Nov 2012 at 10:52 am

    Not that I’d advocate people’s chugging RoundUp, but it’s worth pointing out that if I recall correctly the recent fiasco of a paper trying to show cancer caused by GM corn had rats drinking the stuff at 30% (!) with no statistically clear effect, so, it might not be the best case to discuss dose-dependent toxicity.

  3. MikeBon 20 Nov 2012 at 11:15 am

    I recently posted on another article–it might have been on SBM–that “organic” certification manuals “permit” the use of homeopathic and herbal “remedies” for veterinary care, while strictly disallowing antibiotics, routine “allopathic” medication, and genetic engineering.

    Abusing Organic Livestock.

    That the organic crowd runs with the woo crowd is a pretty strong indictment of it.

  4. ElTejonon 20 Nov 2012 at 11:53 am

    Great article, sir. You’re my favorite voice in the Skeptical movement.

  5. Steven Novellaon 20 Nov 2012 at 12:46 pm

    there is no compelling evidence to support the claim that organic produce tastes better:

  6. petrossaon 20 Nov 2012 at 12:56 pm

    There is only one question they need to answer: If our non-organic food is so unhealthy why are we living longer on average and are we getting longer with each generation?

    And why do most older vegetarians look like anorexics with bad skin?

  7. Bronze Dogon 20 Nov 2012 at 2:18 pm

    My personal position, the one I was expressing in the article where Geeksquad100 left their comment, is that “organic vs conventional” is a false dichotomy. We should use the best evidence-based practices, whatever they may be, rather than defend an ideology. Defending an ideology leads to comments like the one left by Geeksquad100.

    I’ve been trying to hammer a similar point to a pair of Reiki trolls over at Respectful Insolence for a while, since they love to spread the hate for pharmaceuticals rather than defend Reiki. It’s not an either/or situation: If, somehow, scientists started finding good evidence that Reiki works, I’d be fine with using both Reiki and pharmaceuticals for relevant medical issues. They can’t seem to accept that idea.

    Of course, I seriously doubt we’re going to be discovering any utility for Reiki between now and the heat death of the universe. It’s old, debunked vitalism with a relatively new coat of paint, defended by the same old quackery con games.

    Back on organic farming: I agree, overall. I hate package deals, and “organic” is a package deal cobbled together by ideology, not by science.

  8. CognitivePrimateon 20 Nov 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I’ve worked at an organic/natural foods store for a few years now and I feel that the common misconception that folks often have regarding organic food tasting better, at least in my area where we have a huge local food movement, is that generally the organic products are coming from local farms. What that means is that the time from which they’re harvested to the time they hit shelves is much much less than conventional produce and as a result these taste much fresher and more flavorful, giving the consumer the illusion that the “organic” label had something to do with it. I could be way off base here but it does seem to be an incredibly common theme where I am.

  9. sonicon 20 Nov 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Dr. N. is correct. ‘organic’ vs. ‘conventional’ is a false dilemma.
    “USDA Organic” is a political designation as much as a scientific or evidence based one.
    It is also true that some of the people on both sides of this debate see themselves as ‘saving humanity’ or ‘saving the world’ and in such cases one can expect savage attacks on those who disagree. (I’m thinking those who promote GMO’s vs. those who promote ‘organics’).

    “We will not make progress by assuming that those with whom we disagree are evil and beyond contempt.”

    Such a beautiful statement. Thank-you for the reminder.

    petrossa- your statement sounds like a common fallacy– confusing association with causation.

  10. locutusbrgon 20 Nov 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Even the term is insulting to my intelligence. Organic food it is like saying Christian Catholics. Do you eat inorganic food? You won’t last long eating metal only.
    Meaningless non-scientific marketing term that has become a ideology about the environment, and anti-corporate rhetoric. You want to pay more for your apples have a good time I will pass. You think putting nicotine sulfate on your plants are somehow safer than pyrethrin, have fun. I won’t drink a cup of either and I would wash both apples sprayed with either. I wouldn’t pay more for the nicotine apple. that’s just me.

  11. ccbowerson 20 Nov 2012 at 9:16 pm

    I find the “internet balls” phenomenon interesting in theory (although annoying in practice). I wonder what type of person is more likely to have large discrepancy between their level of assertiveness or aggression on the internet versus in person. I believe for me… there isn’t much of a discrepancy, because I try to be cautious about what I write online. I want anything I write to be accurate and representative, and I am very conscious of the problems of communicating with typed words only. I am very willing to be assertive when it is needed, but that also applies to real life.

    Is the “internet balls” phenomenon more pronounced in people who have difficulty in being assertive in real life, or is that just one of those intuitive thoughts that are not necessarily true?

  12. Mlemaon 20 Nov 2012 at 9:59 pm

    I’m thinking that none of us knows what the hell we’re talking about.

  13. BillyJoe7on 20 Nov 2012 at 10:46 pm

    …or that may be just the left over taste from reading that Lee Spetner interview. ;)

  14. ChrisHon 21 Nov 2012 at 12:47 am

    Dr. Novella:

    there is no compelling evidence to support the claim that organic produce tastes better:

    Sometimes it is the illusion it tastes better. Just like thinking that if you grow it yourself it will taste better. Though after gardening for a couple of decades I have learned that is not always the case, which is why I stopped growing corn. I also consider beets a personal challenge because I have to choose if I pull it will it be just skinny little root (like a chard), or will it be too woody.

    It took me several years to find to figure out what I can grow organically. And even then it takes quite a bit of work (I am presently battling pear rust). Sometimes I think those who write the screeds that prompted this article have only met veggies in a grocery store or farmer’s market. They have never actually tried to grow the food (if they had, they would know that some of the pesticides certified for organic farming are actually quite nasty).

  15. aabrown1971on 21 Nov 2012 at 2:59 am

    @ChrisH – Can you please explain what you mean by “grow organically”? I have to admit, I’m the opposite of a “green thumb”, but my wife is quite prolific with our vegetable garden, and I’ve never heard her talk about growing anything “organically”. I’m really interested in discovering what this term means to you. The more definition, the better. Thanks!

  16. Jared Olsenon 21 Nov 2012 at 5:21 am

    If this type of e-mail is a regular occurrence for you Steve, I admire your resilience and patience.
    Not sure I could deal with that as well as you…

  17. rezistnzisfutlon 21 Nov 2012 at 6:16 am

    I’ve recently been going in circles with the pro-organic, anti-GMO crowd, ever since California’s Prop 37 failed, and I’ve been experiencing the exact same phenomena as described in this article. I was rather taken aback by the level of scientific illiteracy, pseudoscience, misrepresentations, and outright hostility and fear mongering (along with a healthy dose of conspiracy theorizing) that I previously thought was more or less confined to creationists and AGW deniers. I found that for every bit of scientifically based evidence I presented (ie, studies, journal publications, etc), I received a conspiracy theory in return. Scientific evidence and knowledge mean little to people like that, and anything that is at odds with their ideology is met with open hostility.

    I pretty much gave up because I don’t know how you can have a serious, relevant conversation when it quickly degenerates into a long string of logical fallacies and insults. I’m reminded of a line in Forrest Gump, after he had returned home from Vietnam and was visiting with Jenny and her boyfriend greeted him with “Who’s the babykiller?” How can you have any sort of meaningful conversation with that?

    I think most of us can agree that, while the evidence for GMs indicates they are safe overall, the technology has been abused by the likes of Monsanto, and further study and research is always encouraged of ALL foodstuffs, not just GMs. The problem with the anti-GMO activists is that they claim that anything GMO is poisonous, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and that they’re conflating shady business practices with genetic engineering as a technology. Nevermind the fact that the potential good GMs can, and do, create.

    Conversely, the organic propaganda machine is just as tenacious, much of who authors anti-GMO rhetoric (and incidentally profits from measures like Prop 37).

    I wish I knew how to deal with these fruitcakes, other than at the very least put the actual evidence on display in the discussion forums. They are simply undeterred by factually correct data, and their campaign of scare-mongering, like with anti-vaccination, seems to be gaining traction among the wider public.

  18. SteveAon 21 Nov 2012 at 7:55 am

    There have been many taste tests where organic produce has fared better than non-organically grown produce. However, these are generally not fair comparisons.

    An organic tomato is generally a cosseted vegetable that has been grown, packaged and transported with care. If you compare the organic one to a mass produced ‘value’ tomato churned out of some greenhouse in the middle of winter, the organic one does better; but if you compare it to a similarly cosseted premium product (a sun-ripened, on-the-vine tomato, for example) the difference disappears.

    When you compare like with like, taste tests reveal no appreciable difference between organic and non-organic produce.

    There is one exception to this. In the UK organic milk routinely tests better than non-organic milk, but this is due to a difference in preparation. Because organic milk is more expensive than non-organic it tends to stay a day or two longer on the shelves. To increase its shelf life, organic milk is pasteurised longer than non-organic, a process that gives it a slightly more creamy taste, hence the difference.

    This additional pasteurisation is an additional cost in itself which is why most non-organic milk is not pasteurised to the same extent – they want to keep the price down.

  19. Amy(T)on 21 Nov 2012 at 1:42 pm

    ” but are they toxic to humans in the doses that people are likely to be exposed to consuming conventionally farmed produce? ”

    I agree with you on your answer, and am not concerned about my pesticide intake (from non-orgnaic, or organic food). But, I would say there is another question, which I do have a concern over, is pesticide use toxic to the farmers, their families/offspring and the surrounding environment?

  20. MikeBon 21 Nov 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Amy(T): “…is pesticide use toxic to the farmers, their families/offspring and the surrounding environment?”

    Amy, I hope you won’t think I’m being facetious when I say, “It depends.”

    It depends on the pesticide. It depends on how it’s used. It depends on how much exposure there is.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned: Do not attempt to generalize about “pesticides.”

    Pesticides are strictly formulated and regulated. We farmers (at least in Maine) now have to have a pesticide applicator’s license to buy and apply pesticides. So do “organic” farmers (but they don’t like to talk about that).

    I keep track of things through the NPIC.

    Here’s a slogan for you: No Pesticides, No Food. I don’t dare put it on my vehicle, yet (though I’m a stronger believer in that slogan.)

  21. Mlemaon 21 Nov 2012 at 3:41 pm

    My statement above was purposeless and inaccurate. I do trust that Dr Novella knows what he’s talking about. I’d really like to see him expand his discussion into those practices he feels are a part of the false dichotomy and why he sees them that way. I myself don’t see a false dichotomy between reduced pesticide residue and antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the one hand and use of GMOs and sewer sludge on the other. I think he’s right-on with his discussion of the issues in the “false dichotomy” post. But failing to come down in favor of some specific practices and instead simply say that you support sustainability and safety in our food supply, while placing emphasis on the nutritional equivalency of the foods that were grown in different ways, tends to minimize the fact that there is a dichotomy here, even if it’s not completely between organic vs. conventional

    I will venture that the techno-fix fallacy plays into the discussion of organic vs. conventional as much as the natural fallacy does. Just as Dr N says there’s no evidence that the pesticides on our foods are harmful if simply washed off (be sure to use soap) I will say there’s no evidence that GMO’s offer us any benefit in terms of safety, sustainability, or even the big one that proponents seem to subscribe to: production.

    There is a dichotomy that needs to be explored. I don’t think we do that by simply trying to drive home the problems with organic vs non0organic.

    How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops
    genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations
    Gaëtan Vanloqueren∗, Philippe V. Baret

  22. Mlemaon 21 Nov 2012 at 3:52 pm

    also, I don’t have the background to analyze the studies referred to in this, but maybe someone here who does would be interested in commenting:

    GMOs Myths and Truths:

    finally, let’s all be appreciative for the food we have to eat tomorrow. Because it fills us up and keeps us alive regardless. And be grateful to the people who work hard to produce it.

  23. tmac57on 21 Nov 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Mlema,you should check out the Tomorrow’s Table blog of Pamela Ronald for the kind of insight that you are seeking:

  24. MikeBon 21 Nov 2012 at 5:01 pm

    “I will say there’s no evidence that GMO’s offer us any benefit in terms of safety, sustainability, or even the big one that proponents seem to subscribe to: production.”

    So those 170 million or so acres in the US that have been planted with GE crops are just a waste, right, and the thousands of farmers who use them are just stupid dupes of Monsanto?

    And the folks who have pirated Bt cotton in India did so because they’re deluded?

    Perhaps the papaya farmers of Hawaii should cut down all their groves of virus-resistant GE papaya. No benefits there.

  25. amhovgaardon 22 Nov 2012 at 4:17 am

    SteveA: Yes that’s why I (sometimes) buy organic food. The label “organic” means the farmers can ask a higher price, and focus on quality not just quantity. No, not all of them do, but for the farmers who really care about food quality this is (at least where I live) the only way to survive – the number of people who care enough about taste and quality to be willing to pay that much more is just too small. Buying organic food means I get more varieties of fruit & veg, slower-grown veg, and meat & eggs from animals that have been treated more humanely (as long as they follow the regulations…) And some foods taste a lot better for obvious reasons: if you want to sell organic eggs you can’t just feed the egg-laying chickens whatever is cheaper, and chickens that get better food produce better-tasting (and looking) eggs.

  26. MikeBon 22 Nov 2012 at 4:50 am


    You’re implying that we farmers who are not “organic” don’t focus on quality. You’re implying that we don’t treat our animals humanely. We resent this, and there’s more of us out there than organic.

    You’ve bought into the organic propaganda, totally, for you seem to see the farming world as a dichotomy: the virtuous organic farmers versus just-in-it-for-the-money Big Ag.

    Better-tasting and looking eggs don’t come from organic chickens–that is, chickens that have been fed expensive organically-grown corn. They come from chickens that are allowed to eat grass and insects (free range).

    Organic farming is not necessarily more humane, either:

    The cruel irony of organic standards.

  27. kevinfoltaon 22 Nov 2012 at 5:55 am

    Mlema, GMO Myths and Truths is a joke book of empty claims by the same old authors. Right now a group of independent academic scientists is in the process of generating a science-based response. Unfortunately, the anti-GMO folks will say chalk it up to Monsanto (their sick obsession) and not even consider it.

    As someone that has studied this field for 25 years and loves engaging the public, I had to step away from the angry, venomous, insulting, attacks from the anti-GMO, pro-prop37 crowd. They are more anti-science and deluded than the anti-global warming goofballs.

    Steve, here’s my synopsis of what it means when they call you a “shill”. Basically, it is the same as their whole approach– they don’t have any evidence, so make something up!

  28. the bug guyon 22 Nov 2012 at 8:25 am

    To build on MikeB’s reply to Amy(T).

    Under FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act), labeled pesticides undergo rotating, scheduled reviews. As new tests are run and new data collected, the EPA will use these reviews to modify how pesticides can be used by adjusting allowable rates, allowable crops, re-entry intervals (how long you must wait for unprotected entry after application), pre-harvest intervals (how long must pass between last application and harvest) and formulations.

    Agricultural pesticides have specific instructions on what PPE (personal protective equipment) must be worn for mixing/loading and for application. There are specific instructions on how to apply to each crop. Any deviation from those instructions are violation of the laws.

    Learning these procedures and how to read a label are part of the licensing that MikeB mentioned. These licenses also require continuing education to remain valid.

    Pesticides can be very expensive, especially when applied on an agricultural scale. That is why so many farmers use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) methods to determine when and where to apply control materials. That way, applications are done only to those places that need it when it is needed, thus avoiding unnecessary costs and unneeded effects on the surrounding environment.

  29. the bug guyon 22 Nov 2012 at 8:40 am


    A few examples of the false dichotomy between organic and conventional.

    Many people have the inaccurate impression that organic uses either no pesticides or the natural pesticides allowed are universally safer. However, various copper salts are often used as a fungicide in organic agriculture. These are more acutely toxic to the applicator, can affect more non-target organisms than synthetic fungicides, and because they are simple salts, do not degrade in the environment. In warmer temperatures, care must be exercised to avoid damaging the crop with the copper application.

    Another example is a number of synthetic pyrethroid insecticides that are less toxic to birds and mammals than the natural pyrethrins allowed under organic rules.

    Animal manure fertilizers have multiple benefits to cropland that are highly desirable, such as building up organic content and water retention. However, they can be variable in their relative Nitrogen: Phosphorus: Potassium ratios, meaning that to reach the desired about of one component, you may be overapplying another nutrient. Synthetic fertilizers allow for more precise ratios of nutrients and, if used properly, can add just what is needed for optimal growth with minimal excess that can runoff.

    The use of glyphosate-resistant crops, while increasing the use of that chemical, has resulted in the reduction in the use of more environmentally damaging materials like Atrazine, as well as allowing farmers to adopt no-till methods that preserve soil and reduce fuel consumption.

    The use of Bt-crops have also resulted in lower applications of pesticides to control the target pests. However, in some places, other pests that formerly had been controlled by the old pesticide applications have increased in population, resulting in the need to separately control them. This has made for a number of trade-offs between reduced and increased applications.

    Both forms of agriculture have excellent ways to grow food and protect the environment. We need to move toward combining the best of these into a stronger, sustainable agriculture.

  30. MikeBon 22 Nov 2012 at 9:20 am

    Bug guy, Thanks for the round-up (as it were) of information about Teh Pezticidez! I’ve seen your comments elsewhere, probably at biofortified, and of course you spell it out better than I can.

    I would add an anecdote from one itsy-bitsy farmer’s perspective:

    We grow heritage apples for CSA customers and a local farmers market. We have just 85 trees (16 varieties) and I find that is almost more than I can care for. I mentioned that I have a license to apply pesticides. I’ve learned that, to grow apples in Maine, you have to apply pesticides, organic OR conventional.

    I went to a farmers workshop last year that had a section on pesticides and toxicology. One farmer spoke about his experience growing both organic and “conventional” apples (I hate that term: there’s no classification called “conventional”) Yes, you can be simultaneously an “organic” and a “conventional” apple grower. It works like this:

    This farmer has hundreds of acres of apples (compared to our minuscule 1/3 acre). His organic trees are completely surrounded by his conventional trees so that they can benefit from his conventional spray program without the dreaded “residues” (there’s a three-hundred-foot buffer between the two plots). He still has to spray the “organic” trees, though, because pest pressure here in New England is hideous, especially the fungi.

    So he sprays his conventional trees about 12 times a season.

    And here’s the kicker: he sprays his “organic” trees 22 times!

    “Sulfur, sulfur, sulfur,” was the farmer’s comment. It doesn’t work as well as conventional fungicides but it has to be reapplied after every rainfall. Also, the organic insecticides don’t last long and have to be re-applied.

    And not only that: the result is that his organic trees are stressed (“Those trees aren’t healthy”) because they are under constant attack, and they produce only 25% of what the conventional trees produce. But this guy is strictly a business man: He’s done the calculations, and he can sell his stressed-out organic apples up and down the east coast for beaucoup dollars.

    There you have it: His organic orchard requires almost twice as much tractor fuel, so that’s nearly twice as much emissions and soil compaction, never mind the sheer cost of all those “organically certified” compounds.

    By comparison, I spray only about 7 times a year with conventional pesticides, because I have to walk tree-to-tree with a wand in my hand. Yet I have had customers at the farmers market ask me if I “spray” and when I tell them “Yes” they say they won’t feed my apples to their children. But then they go right over to the organic stand that sells apples from the orchard I mention above and won’t even think to ask them if the apples have been sprayed.

    So that’s why I’m in this war with “organic” agriculture. They’re a pack of deceivers.

  31. Bronze Dogon 22 Nov 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Glad to hear your perspectives on the issues, MikeB and bug guy. The specifics really help to illustrate the issues I worry about “organic” farming. It kind of fits a perspective I had from some history classes, especially things like the dust bowl. Sometimes it seems to me that organic fans have this myth of a golden age of farming somewhere around the 1800′s or early 1900′s where everything was perfectly balanced with nature, and so on. I don’t buy it.

    Copper salts: One of the classic problems I’ve heard about is older, more dangerous pesticides being used for organic crops because they get “grandfathered in,” rather than because of their actual merits compared to more recently developed ones. I have an easy time imagining farmers buying or mixing “harsh” but simple chemicals in earlier eras because they simply didn’t know anything better, and they probably didn’t have health inspectors looking over their shoulders back then.

    Fertilizer: I very much identify with the need for more precise mixtures, much like I prefer carefully measured pharmaceuticals over raw herbs. I’ve heard of overfertilization, where runoff ends up feeding algae in lakes and ponds, which then ends up choking out other life. I’d expect being able to give your crops exactly how much they need would reduce runoff like that.

    Free range chickens: It’s good to know the tidbit about insects in a chicken’s diet. Previously, I mostly thought about it in terms of humane treatment and possibly effects of exercise on their meat, in contrast to the penned-up chickens eating from conveyor belts.

    Sick livestock: I think part of the perception fueling organic livestock is the same “golden age” myth and the modern notion that health is the natural state and that illness is an artificial aberration, hence artificial treatments are considered bad by default, rather than evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There is reason to worry about overuse of antibiotics, but I think that’d be an argument for careful, moderated use, not total abstinence.

    Pesticide/Pest-resistant crops: Very yes, and one of the big benefits sought in developing GM crops. I’m not paranoid about pesticide residue, but having resistant crops seems like a very good way to cut down on pesticide use. I think it’d also be a big benefit for impoverished regions to have crops like that, since it’d cut down the costs while increasing yield. I also wouldn’t be surprised if farmers in those regions are economically forced to use cheap, harsh pesticides, so anything that might cut down on that seems like a good idea. Of course, that leads into the topic of how they get the GM seeds, a part I don’t know as much about.

    Targeted spraying: I’m soon going to be defending my Master’s thesis in spatial science, and this caught my attention. GIS has all sorts of applications in many different sectors. For someone with an axe to grind against corporatism, it’s probably easier to imagine a corporate farm being mentally lazy and spraying their entire fields to get an infestation, likening them to blunt instruments. But it’s probably far cheaper to have people with GPS units going into the field to record trouble spots and focus their treatment efforts on those small targets. Sometimes the best solutions also happen to be cheaper.

    Overall, “organic” tends to strike me as a shallow, cynical marketing buzzword that’s integrated itself into the identity politics of woo while keeping a benign face for regular consumers who just like the “down home” sort of feel. We’ve got so many tools available for producing more and better food while minimizing environmental harm and health risks. We shouldn’t throw any out for the sake of an ideology or a marketing gimmick.

  32. amhovgaardon 23 Nov 2012 at 4:17 am

    “You’re implying that we farmers who are not “organic” don’t focus on quality. You’re implying that we don’t treat our animals humanely. We resent this, and there’s more of us out there than organic.

    You’ve bought into the organic propaganda, totally, for you seem to see the farming world as a dichotomy: the virtuous organic farmers versus just-in-it-for-the-money Big Ag.

    Better-tasting and looking eggs don’t come from organic chickens–that is, chickens that have been fed expensive organically-grown corn. They come from chickens that are allowed to eat grass and insects (free range).”

    You need to brush up on your reading skills. I didn’t “imply” anything like that; that’s all in your head. I stated quite clearly that the main (rational) reason for selling “organic” food is that you can ask a higher price – that was the whole point of my post! I know it’s not the “organic-ness” that makes the organic eggs taste & look better (as should be blindingly obvious from what I wrote!), but if you want eggs from chickens that get to eat grass and insects then you have to buy “organic” eggs. Where I live. Like I wrote. Because 1. you’re not allowed to call them “organic” if you keep the chickens in a tiny cage and feed them fishmeal and 2. not enough people are willing to pay twice as much or more “just” for high quality, free range eggs, but if you add the relatively large group of people who will buy anything as long as it’s labelled “organic”, you might get enough buyers.

    I know a lot of farmers focus on quality and treat their animals humanely. But people need to earn money to live – even farmers. And if you want to do things that will make your vegetables/eggs/meat cost more to produce, you need a way to get people to pay more. Unless you’re independently wealthy and farming is just a hobby.

  33. MikeBon 23 Nov 2012 at 4:40 am

    “Buying organic food means I get more varieties of fruit & veg, slower-grown veg, and meat & eggs from animals that have been treated more humanely (as long as they follow the regulations…)”

    That says what it says, and it is not true.

  34. DevoutCatalyston 23 Nov 2012 at 9:05 am


    A local organic dairywoman tells me the higher milk price isn’t always there to offset the higher costs associated with being organic. The invisible hand of the market sometimes gives you the finger.

  35. steven johnsonon 23 Nov 2012 at 9:28 am

    Is it not very likely that many internet posters do not exercise personal courtesies in their submissions because they do not feel that anyone will in fact be reading them? Most people have no outlets for self-expression on any substantive issue, after all. This is especially true as in personal life it is deemed quite rude to engage in lectures, what you would call facts and logic. Might it not even be the case that internet rudeness is, so far from being self-defeating, too often seems about the only thing that provokes a response?

    Also, you implicitly avowed that foundations do not have political, or economic, or social/cultural objectives. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in particular has a very explicit agenda in education, for instance. Frankly, I think you too should be tempted to dismiss anything funded by The Templeton Foundation out of hand. The notion that funding of research is structurally unsound in ways that may plausibly be interpreted as corrupt may be unsettling, but dismissing the idea as ideology is rhetoric, not fact or logic.

  36. Steven Novellaon 23 Nov 2012 at 9:55 am

    Steven – I did not implicity avow that foundations are without ideology or agenda. The difference I was trying to illuminate is between a reasonable approach to conflicts of interest vs a witch hunt. Looking skeptically at research funded by a source with a clear conflict of interest is reasonable, whether the Templeton foundation or tobacco research funded by the tobacco industry.

    Saying that any foundation that has corporate funding represents a conflict of interest for any research who works at an institution that has received money from that foundation is a witch hunt. This is partly a factor of how many degrees of separation there are between the funding and the ultimate recipients, and also about the agenda of the foundation (the proximate funder). Once you allow that several degrees of separation still represent a conflict of interest, then every researcher is potentially compromised and you can use this to dismiss virtually every study you don’t like.

    There is no formula. It’s messy and requires some judgement.

    As a counter example, there seems to be a network of corporate money being laundered through ideologically driven foundations with the purpose of denying climate change. So a chain of connection may still be meaningful if you can demonstrate a deliberate agenda.

  37. ccbowerson 23 Nov 2012 at 2:28 pm

    “…not enough people are willing to pay twice as much or more “just” for high quality, free range eggs, but if you add the relatively large group of people who will buy anything as long as it’s labelled “organic”, you might get enough buyers. ”

    You seem to be arguing that even though organic is an arbitrary standard, it allows farmers to do things to actually improve the final product by allowing them to charge more (since people are largely ignorant of the issues in general), but I do not know of any evidence that this is what actually occurs. Do farmers use the term organic in that way… to make a better final product separate from what the term entails? I’m not sure that the evidence supports this (that the product is better), and anectdotally I haven’t noticed a difference, for the most part. But- if this is true, in some ways that is even worse as it perpetuates the problem and misconception about the term.

    There is a cultural component to this issue as well. I have been to Japan a few times, and I’ve noticed a difference in attitudes about the balance between quality and price of produce/food. In Japan, there seem to be more people willing to pay more for better quality food in a grocery store or supermarket. Even in a chain supermarket in Japan you can by a $50-100 melon meant to be given as a gift (they can get much more expensive than that), and the meat section has quality grades far beyond the highest grade of prime in the US (and most US supermarkets don’t even carry prime beef).

  38. Bernie Mooneyon 23 Nov 2012 at 8:59 pm

    You might think this is crazy, but I have a theory. I don’t know if psychologists have a term for it but there seems to be a pervasive mindset among many on the liberal/left, that combines their political worldview with their personal identity. I’m sure this exists on the other side of the aisle, but I can’t speak to that since such people people are rare as hen’s teeth in my social circles.

    The organic/GM issue is a classic case. If you offer evidence that contradicts what they believe, they will find all kinds of reasons to dismiss it. It might be for the reasons you cite, but it also could be that because their worldview is a part of who they are. So, they consider it an attack on them, personally. You are saying who they are is wrong. I’ve actually presented fact filled evidence to refute various people’s belief about some aspect of GMOs and had them respond by saying, “That’s just your opinion.”

  39. ConspicuousCarlon 25 Nov 2012 at 3:04 am

    I always knew that “organic” didn’t really have anything to do with quality, but I did notice that the “organic” produce subsection looked better. But it was all handling. The regular apples were dumped into a large bin, but the “organic” apples were neatly stacked on stepped shelves, or placed in divided containers. Some even had individual padded wrappers (I am one of those people who hates to eat fruit with even a single little bruise, so I was in Monk heaven). It also looked like they had screened out the smaller or misshapen pieces (Waste! How un-hippie!).

    For cheese, it can look like organic stuff is better because you often have two choices: a super-cheap major brand (which was almost never labeled “organic”), or some specialty brand (which are often labeled organic). However, having lived in New York (the land of cheap-but-good cheddar), I knew that this was BS. It only looked like that because Texas had a terrible standard cheese selection, so we were forced to turn to the ultra-expensive section of the deli for anything better than Kraft.

    But that was years ago. “Organic” labels are popular enough now that you can find crappy food with them. Try the cheapest organic cheese at Whole Foods, and it sucks just as much as anything. Even the regular grocery stores now have one low-priced “organic” version of a lot of products, and it’s all crap. Once you get the organic hucksters producing the same category of products for the same target market, it becomes obvious that the quality reputation was just an illusion.

  40. steven johnsonon 25 Nov 2012 at 11:29 am

    “The article even included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a corporate connection – so any researcher at any institution that ever receives money from a foundation with corporate donations is now tainted by conflicts of interest.”

    The notion that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is obviously an institution with no genuine corporate connections is really strange. Unless you’re very narrowly defining the question of direct falsification for immediate profit. Your objection is like saying that news media are not influenced by corporate considerations because there are many degrees of separation between the ad sales department and the news division. This is a relevant example because of the importance of corporate/foundation funding for research in so many institutions today.

    By your standard, one could not possibly argue that hopes for patents drive research or the way discoveries are publicized or the way that research results are sometimes written up in the vaugest terms possible at the earliest date in hopes of making a possible patent application stronger.

    Or that the social milieu of experimental research isn’t influenced by the social expectations of members of corporations/foundations.

    My point is not that some people seize upon these connections to argue a genetic fallacy ad hominem. My point is that there are genuine questions about how funding of research affects that are not answered by dismissing lay people’s fears.

  41. ConspicuousCarlon 25 Nov 2012 at 4:49 pm

    steven johnson on 23 Nov 2012 at 9:28 am
    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in particular has a very explicit agenda in education, for instance.

    What is that explicit agenda?

  42. Mlemaon 28 Nov 2012 at 12:19 am

    Pamela Ronald’s article “What does GMO really mean?” is a classic example of the myth “Genetic engineering is just an extension of natural breeding”. She talks about her team using marker assisted selection to create a flood-resistant variety of rice. The process of marker-assisted “genetic engineering” is not considered to pose the risks of Monsanto-style genetic modification and is instead supported by organic and sustainable agriculture groups as an aspect of genetic engineering that really can benefit agriculture. Ronald then implies that the fact that MAS is “subject only to standard seed certification and not to the strict regulatory approval process required for GE crops” is because we’re not grouping GM practices as we should. She would like all the forms of genetic modification that she talks about to be described as “genetic engineering”. I hate to say it, but it reads as though she is purposefully trying to blur the line between GM and what is considered a safe extension of conventional breeding.

    This is talked about in the very first chapter of GMO Myths and Truths

  43. Mlemaon 28 Nov 2012 at 12:20 am

    “Mlema, GMO Myths and Truths is a joke book of empty claims by the same old authors. Right now a group of independent academic scientists is in the process of generating a science-based response.”

    pointless comment. get back to me when they’re done with the “science-based response”

    meanwhile, if you have the background and inclination to address the validity of the studies used to support the stance of the “same old authors”, I am eager to hear what you have to say.

  44. Mlemaon 28 Nov 2012 at 12:29 am

    MikeB, I will try to address each of your complaints regarding my post in future days. I have limited time this week, but I will come back. In general you can read a lot about the problems with Monsanto GMO’s (including eventual reduced yield) here, by following the links within the site:

    Union of Concerned Scientists
    Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

    also, the article you linked to:
    about a calf dying for lack of an antibiotic, if it’s true, only shows that under corporate influence, organic farming has been subverted from its original intent. It shows that under USDA administration, organic farming has fallen victim to the same industry pressures as conventional farming.
    From that article:
    “In the 1990s, an embattled organics movement defeated agribusiness’s attempt to allow all drugs, toxic pesticides and genetic engineering to fall under the proposed USDA organic label. Some speculate that when agribusiness saw that its strategy to eviscerate standards would fail, it began advocating regulations so strict that few farmers would adopt them, and those that did would become uncompetitive.”

    Administration and implementation need to be revamped. Also, you may correct me on this, but it is my understanding that certification is judged locally and farmers have the right to petition for redress.

    Somewhat unrelated: conventional agriculture is heavily subsidized through federal practices in place since the dust bowl. The lower cost compared to organic is somewhat artificial. Although organic farming is always more labor intensive. And we can’t minimize the influence of corporations, how they’re regulated, and their influence on government policy. There’s a revolving door between “biotech industry” and the USDA (I will provide more info on this if you like), and as Dr. N has talked about previously, organic business is big business:
    Who owns organic?

  45. Mlemaon 28 Nov 2012 at 12:32 am

    Also, I’d just like to say: I’m grateful to actual farmers who took the time to make comments here.

  46. Mlemaon 28 Nov 2012 at 12:45 am

    Also, since I have it handy, here is a very detailed discussion for scientists on the difficulty of assessing safety in GMO’s

    something that is NOT currently being done with any sort of thoroughness whatsoever (you can also read about this on the Union of Concerned Scientists site), and is instead largely reliant on the idea that “we’ve been growing and eating them for years and nothing bad has happened”

    although the risk of harm is small, the nature that harm is catastrophic

  47. MikeBon 28 Nov 2012 at 3:57 am

    So Mlema, I first went to the front page of the site you recommend above and I found these claims:

    “Animals have become seriously ill or died from GE foods”

    “Hazardous genes from GE foods can become inserted into your own genes.”

    “An unexpected poison in a GE food supplement killed 37 persons. The poison was not discovered because careful search for unexpected harmful substances was not made.”

    Some of the “sources” include Greenpeace, and “ISIS” (Institute of Science in Society), which is on Quackwatch’s list of Questionable Organizations.

    Repeatedly debunked B.S.


  48. MikeBon 28 Nov 2012 at 4:15 am

    Bernie Mooney:

    ” I don’t know if psychologists have a term for it but there seems to be a pervasive mindset among many on the liberal/left, that combines their political worldview with their personal identity. ”

    It is true, I think, that “organic” is more of an identity than a method. It certainly isn’t a science.

    I’ve seen them and worked with them. They’re a closed group. MOFGA in Maine doesn’t allow non-certified farmers to join their Fair. At farmer’s conventions here, the “organic” people seek each other out and hang around.

    Their standards are absolutist and often nonsensical. Antibiotics? Never! GMOs? Never! Synthetic fertilizers? Never! If you don’t adhere and you’re caught, you’re cast out of the camp.

    They have a missionary, salvationist mindset: The world is beleaguered by “toxic” Ag. “We” must convert everyone to our mission to salvage the planet.

    Noble intentions. Quack methods.

  49. Mlemaon 28 Nov 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I’m sorry the web site I linked you to prevented you from reading the paper. I didn’t look at the website. I was just trying to locate a free source for you to read it. You can read it here instead, but you might have to pay:

  50. sonicon 30 Nov 2012 at 12:10 am

    I have a garden where I grow food. I don’t use any pesticides, herbicides, or chemically derived fertilizer (I use compost). I don’t use any machines, never burn any fossil fuels in the garden, no motors. I eat from it pretty much everyday and the soil is more fertile now than when I started a few years ago. Oh, and I use less water than the neighbors who grow grass.
    I don’t know anything special. I put worm food on the ground and the worms make me great soil and the plants grow and feed me.
    It can be done.

    I’m helping a guy put in his garden- big enough to feed 20 people. He likes how I do things, but even at this relatively small size there is a problem- the techniques I use are not scalable. At this small of a scale the maintaining will take more time than one would usually spend on a hobby. And that’s what it is to me- something I do a few hours a week. So either this guy will have to dedicate daily time or he will have to use some other methods.

    To get one person to produce over many acres, as it is done in the US today, large machines have been developed so that the work becomes scalable. To some extent the methods of planting and so forth are determined by the machinery available that can handle the job.

    The science of growing food has to be about how to do all kinds of methods of food production.

    My garden is my backyard. I don’t want any chemicals I can’t drink back there. And I don’t want to be the guinea pig for the next chemical from Monsanto- I’ll opt out of that test, if you don’t mind.
    Understand, I have been a guinea pig for other chemical tests. If you want to do that one, fine. I won’t make you do the tests I’ve done if you don’t make me do that one, OK? (That’s a rant ) :-)

    Anyway, Other farmers would have other concerns- and they should. And the food growing expert should know how to fire-up the massive tractor 8 stories tall and use GPS to plant the seed at optimal spacing while catching the view from 80 feet up.

    Obviously I’m not going to be using those methods in my backyard.

    I guess I’m thinking that rather than have this fight over the political term ‘organic’, it would make more sense to figure out how to make a variety of gardens work at a variety of scales using a variety of methods.
    Why not let the guy who is actually going to do the work have the full range of choices so that he can apply them appropriately for his exact situation?

  51. Mlemaon 30 Nov 2012 at 12:14 am

    I couldn’t find anything about farmers in India pirating bt Cotton. Maybe you can point me to the story.
    I did find this about Monsanto’s alleged bio-piracy in India:
    Indian Farmers denounce government sponsored bio-piracy plans

    When reviewing reports about btCotton in India, it’s important to be cognizant of when it was introduced, what the percentage of use (in all cotton planting ) was at introduction, the trend of increase in use, and how yields compare to those dates and trends. Many reports of btcotton’s success in India fail to separate this data in analysis.
    Those reports have insisted that the introduction of bt cotton multiplied yields. But while it’s true that cotton yields were growing when bt seed was introduced, it’s evident that it was non-GM cotton that was the largest contributor at that time. Further: when bt cotton became the predominant cotton, yields dropped. Also, there were initial failures of bt cotton as well, although these seem to be caused largely by farmers planting bt cotton in rain-fed areas where the seeds were not suited to thrive. The bt cotton demands high initial water input, and comes to flower later as well. This condition was not explained to farmers who were instead told to expect 10x their normal yield. Additionally, the toxin meant to lower pesticide costs by killing bollworm was ineffective on sucking pests. Too, bollworm resistance developed quickly. After admitting that Bollgard I had failed, Monsanto began to market Bollgard II, which offered nothing new, but promised to delay bollworm resistance.

    Now that btcotton accounts for 90% of cotton being planted in India, and the bollworm has developed resistance and sucking pests have increased to replace the bollworms which were subdued for the first years, yields are down and pesticide use is up.

    on his site “Food, Farming and Biotechnology” Glenn Davis Stone provides the statistics that show btcottons failure to increase yields:

    Bt cotton – less miracles, more failures for Indian farmers

    Bt cotton has failed admits Monsanto

    Review Bt cotton, orders state govt

    Is Bt-based resistance collapsing?

    Monsanto ‘admission’ has business motives?

    Bt cotton ineffective against pest in parts of Gujarat, admits Monsanto

    ‘Bt cotton has failed in Vidarbha’

    Maharashtra bans Bt cotton seeds

  52. Mlemaon 30 Nov 2012 at 1:14 am

    “Why not let the guy who is actually going to do the work have the full range of choices so that he can apply them appropriately for his exact situation?”

    I think that’s a great idea. Unfortunately the guy is currently prevented from having the full range of choices by the choices that others have made.
    And because that guy doesn’t have those choices, those of us who can’t grow our own food don’t have the choices we’d like to have either.
    The dichotomy isn’t between organic and conventional, but between big agribusiness on the one hand; and individual farmers and consumers on the other. Or to put it more philosophically: between sustainability and greed.

    one business’s ruthless quest for market domination and the type of ecological results we’ve reaped:

  53. Mlemaon 30 Nov 2012 at 1:38 am

    Sometimes industry directly influences research!

    Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

  54. Mlemaon 30 Nov 2012 at 1:44 am

    OK last one (for tonight :)

    Crop Rotation Generates Profits without Pollution (or, What Agribusiness Doesn’t Want You to Know)

  55. the bug guyon 30 Nov 2012 at 9:33 am

    You are bring up legitimate issues, but are still essentially arguing the organic v. conventional dichotomy.

    There are some serious issues with biotech crops, that is not in question. In the same vein, there are also issues with organic agriculture. Something many of their advocates don’t want to discuss, either. Neither will provide for a long-term, sustainable solution. That will come from using the best of what works from conventional and organic agriculture.

    A number of your links, however, are also based on poor-quality research (such as Benbrook, who only looked at quantity and not total environmental effect) or are more opinion-based than evidence based.

    Over time, any control technology will begin to fail as the target pests, whether insects or weeds, adapt and develop resistance. There are resistance management strategies that can be employed to mitigate, but over time, the resistance will develop. We are seeing that with some biotech crops.

    Agriculture will always be an arms race between control methods and their target species. That will never go away, regardless of what agricultural paradigm farmers follow.

    Would I like to see more biotech work done outside of large corporations? Yes. But, developing these traits to usable crops is very expensive and with the amount of opposition to gm technology out there, it is mostly only these large corporations that are willing to make the investment. If they make that investment, they want to protect their return.

    Yes, we have some publicly-funded biotech crops out there, but we need more and to do that, we need more government, university and ngo support for developing these technologies.

  56. sonicon 30 Nov 2012 at 10:19 am

    At this point if a GMO plant shows up on my property, Monsanto can claim I owe them money for use. These plants can show up through any number of ways (gene transfer, bird poop with seed in it, wind blowing seed…).
    I have asked the USDA and Monsanto and Dupont if there is anyway I can ensure that these plants never show up on my property.
    No reply thus far.
    On the day that I can sue Monsanto for trespassing when their ‘property’ shows up on mine without my consent- that’s the end of them.
    Will that day come to pass? How long will it remain my fault for their trespass?

  57. daedalus2uon 30 Nov 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Mlema, if you look at the actual article on crop rotation, the results are misinterpreted in the blog post. The yield over the course of the experiment was not the same in the conventional vs organic legs. The yield per hectare per year was close to being the same, but because of the rotation cycle there were more years of crop yields in the conventional fields.

    In other words, they tested a two year cycle, a three year cycle and a four year cycle. Even with the same yield per hectare per year, if you are on a four year cycle you will have half the total amount of grain as on a two year cycle.

  58. the bug guyon 30 Nov 2012 at 1:40 pm


    If you look at the real history, Monsanto has filed suit against a tiny handful of farmers over illegally using their biotech crops and have not brought action for small amounts of accidental introduction. The actual suits have been against farmers who have been found to have very high levels of the biotech trait in their fields without purchasing the seed, a sure sign that they were using it illegally.

    Do you take precautions to make sure that no seeds from your fields trespass onto a neighbors?

  59. sonicon 30 Nov 2012 at 6:07 pm

    the bug guy-
    I don’t take precautions about the seeds my plants produce because I don’t claim ownership of the genetics in them.
    Things I do claim ownership of: my car, my clothes, my golf clubs… these things I do take precautions so that they don’t end up at my neighbor’s.
    And if I do park my car at my neighbor’s, I don’t take them to court to force them to pay me for the privilege.
    You might want to consider the damages done even when they don’t actually sue farmer–

    an interesting study regarding yields–
    “Organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as does conventional farming, but uses 30 percent less energy, less water and no pesticides, a review of a 22-year farming trial study concludes.”

  60. the bug guyon 30 Nov 2012 at 8:30 pm


    The solid evidence is for a small number of actions per year, the rest of that article about claims is unsubstantiated.

    Yes, I can see where the unfounded fear of lawsuits may create some problems, but the fear is just that, unfounded. Even if there is some spillage of biotech seeds onto a field, that trait will not become widespread unless the farmer realizes that the trait is there and selects for it.

    As for the Cornell news link, it is known that for some crops, organic can produce better yields but for others, this is not the case. In wider reviews, you will find that the situation is complicated depending on crop and region, climate, pest pressures and a variety of other factors. It is not a simple X is better than Y situation.

  61. the bug guyon 30 Nov 2012 at 9:00 pm

    The following paper gives a good overview of the complexity of comparing yields between organic and conventional farming:

    Once again, we need to move away from the harmful us vs. them mentality and move on to developing a truly sustainable agriculture that incorporates the best practices of organic with the best practices of conventional farming.

  62. BillyJoe7on 30 Nov 2012 at 11:15 pm

    “Organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as does conventional farming, but uses 30 percent less energy, less water and no pesticides, a review of a 22-year farming trial study concludes.”

    A local grower sells at various community markets around the place and uses “organically grown” as a selling point. However, this person sells only flowers. I wonder if growing flowers has been shown to be cost or energy efficient? Otherwise I fail to see any advantage here. I’m assuming of course that, as much as they may wax lyrical about them, people don’t actually eat flowers.

  63. BillyJoe7on 30 Nov 2012 at 11:17 pm

    “we need to move away from the harmful us vs. them mentality and move on to developing a truly sustainable agriculture that incorporates the best practices of organic with the best practices of conventional farming.”

    It’s very hard to argue against that proposition. :)

  64. MikeBon 01 Dec 2012 at 4:07 am

    “…we need to move away from the harmful us vs. them mentality ”

    Well said, but too late.

    “Organic” is now a full-fledged identity. It’s principles are based in belief, not science. It has been given government sanction through the National Organics Program.

    You can expect all the psychological defense mechanisms to come to the fore whenever you point out the absurdities of the “organic” movement–confirmation bias, communal reinforcement, conspiratorial thinking.

  65. BillyJoe7on 01 Dec 2012 at 10:20 am

    MikeB, I suspect pretty soon you are going to end up on someone’s ignore list. ;)

  66. sonicon 01 Dec 2012 at 11:19 am

    the bug guy-
    When you say ‘best practice’, what do you mean?
    Best practice in what sense? Best for the soil? Easiest on the farmer? Most yield per acre? Best for the rivers and oceans? How about the practice that gets the farmer into good physical condition– should that be considered?
    Example– My concern is I don’t want to use any machinery at all. No stinky machines, no fossil fuels, no noisy motors. I use a handsaw, not a chainsaw, for example. So what I would consider best practice wouldn’t be considered at all by most.
    For example- the area that will be used to feed 20 that I’ve been working on will be watered using timers. Timers are machines. I wouldn’t use them, but it’s OK with me if it makes it workable for this guy.

    You seem to miss the point re: Monsanto and the law.
    Suppose I drive my car into the lobby of the Monsanto headquarters. They will want me to pay for damages. And I will have to.
    Suppose Monsanto fouls my property in a manner that I am incapable of fixing or preventing? They will want me to pay damages. And I will have to.
    Just make the law so that I can sue them for the same things they can sue me for. Of course you would have to understand that I don’t want their stuff on my property, I have written to them and told them that, and they can’t tell me how to avoid it. Why can’t I sue them for trespass? They can sue me? If they trespass on my property I owe them?
    Come on now– just because the guy with the rifle pointed at my head hasn’t fired yet doesn’t mean I want him to have the rifle. Or at least give me one too…

    Is ‘conventional’ a full-fledged identity?
    Seems I have been told that the way I do things can’t possibly work by those protecting themselves from the knowledge that the methods they have been using have fouled our environment.
    Just saying…

  67. BillyJoe7on 01 Dec 2012 at 4:13 pm


    I know you won’t respond because you would have to read this first and you have put me on ignore, despite my quite reasonable response to your last post to me, and the quite reasonable questions that you had refused to answer that I put to you again in that response. But, really, you can’t just ignore the reasonable view I represented in that discussion. And you can’t simply ignore questions that threaten to undermine the unreasonable views that you hold.

    You have, shall we say, an idiosyncratic view of things, and in more areas than one as we have seen. That is okay, but you can’t expect those with, shall we say, more conventional views to bend over backwards to accommodate those views. You have to make you own way as best you can in a world that doesn’t quite see things the way you do. The law won’t protect you because what you are asking of it is unreasonable.

    As you may know, I also have a somewhat unconventional view. A long time ago I decided that I would not avail myself of the services of the medical profession unless I saw an immediate threat to my health or well being. In other words, depending on circumstances, I’m probably going to have my heart attack treated, but I’m not going to have cholesterol tests to see if I need lipid lowering agents to prevent it. In my view, this medicalising society. Most people want it and for good reasons that I can understand. It just doesn’t fit the way I want to live my life.

    So, in a sense, I empathise with you. I just don’t think anyone owes me anything.

  68. MikeBon 01 Dec 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Sonic, “Is ‘conventional’ a full-fledged identity?”

    There is no such entity as “conventional” farming, so, no, it is not an identity.

    There is no USDA “National Conventional Program.” There is no conventional farming movement.

    In the eyes of the organic crowd, there is “organic” and everyone else, and “conventional” became a handy shortcut.

    We consider ourselves “unconventional” farmers at my place. We use compost, and manure, as well as bagged fertilizer. We use row covers, and pesticides as needed.

    We think outside that little green box called “organic.”

  69. the bug guyon 01 Dec 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Sonic, Best Management Practices are using the methods that produce most profitable yields for the farmer with the least amount of environmental impact. In the balance between profit, yield and environmental protection, there will probably always be some room for discussion. We need to look at all types of agricultural to find these combinations of practices that will provide for our needs while still protecting the environment.

    I fully understand your claimed position. The problem is that it is not a real problem. Monsanto is not going to sue you for a few plants that may be accidentally spilled onto your property. If you consider nothing else, consider that it is simply not profitable for them to do so.

    Since there is no demonstrable harm to anyone from biotech crops, there is little need to be so upset about the possibility. Unless the farmer is doing something to select for the biotech trait, like spraying glyphosate, the presence will not even be noticed.

  70. sonicon 02 Dec 2012 at 11:38 am

    I don’t consider myself ‘organic’ either. I do things the way I do them because it is my favorite way of doing them- that is, I get good results and I enjoy the process. I don’t like to smell gas or hear motors and so I don’t use them. I put pine needles around my blueberries to acidify the soil instead of using sulfur. Does that make me organic? I don’t know… I had the pine needles and why use sulfur if you don’t have to- right?
    If I’m an advocate of any practice, it would be to do the thing you like the best.

    The dichotomy of USDA organic versus ‘conventional’ should not be relevant to the study of what practices actually work at various scales and in various places.
    It could turn out that there should be a number of designations as to how the food you are being sold was produced. It would make sense that if people wanted to continue to grow in certain areas they might be willing to pay more for the food grown in a manner that consistently improves the soil, for example. On the other hand, if you are broke, having any food is good– who cares how it got here– and some land that is being farmed now will be shopping malls in the not distant future.
    Which things are most important to consider need not be the same in each case.
    One might consider a pragmatic approach.

    You are right- there isn’t a union of ‘conventional’ farmers. Point taken.

    What it looks like to me is there are many ways to grow food and I think it is OK for an individual farmer to make decisions about what way is best for each situation. If the science was directed toward finding out what happens when you do certain things instead of ‘organic’ vs. ‘conventional’ we would get better answers more quickly.
    The techniques for people without access to machinery or chemically derived inputs (pesticides and fertilizers…) are more interesting to me than the methods that do involve those inputs. It’s a personal thing- not a ‘movement’.

    And other people will have other interests. And we need to know which inputs produce which results… and let the individual farmers determine which result is ‘best’ for his situation.

    I have a feeling we agree about this.

  71. sonicon 02 Dec 2012 at 11:38 am

    the bug guy-

    I have not communicated properly.
    If Monsanto trespasses on my property, and if their property destroys mine, I want to be able to sue them.
    Currently they can sue me for their trespass.
    It isn’t that they will. It’s that I should be able to sue them if they trespass and alter my property in ways that I have expressly asked them not to– just as they would be able to sue me in similar circumstance.
    If you trespass and alter my property, I could sue you. If they trespass and alter my property, I can’t sue them- they can sue me.
    That’s what I see as problematic.

    Sorry for any confusion.

    Oh, and you might not see any harm to me that my plants are turned into someone else’s property against my will, altered in ways that I have expressly asked them not to do; but I hope you can understand that I didn’t agree to give them the right to destroy my property in this manner and would like to have the usual recourse for when someone destroys something of mine.
    I don’t want their property on mine. It really isn’t that strange of a request.
    And then you tell me that if their property shows up on mine and destroys my property in ways that I have expressly asked them not to do– they can sue me?

    I agree with what you listed as possible concerns regarding farming methods.
    And I think that each method has trade-offs. The science can’t be about which method is ‘better’, but it has to be about what happens when you do certain things.
    We didn’t figure out the Standard Model of physics by trying to figure out what would be ‘better’. It came from trying to figure out what is.

    And that two cents comes from the peanut gallery– just thought I’d mangle a couple idioms for fun. :-)

  72. the bug guyon 02 Dec 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Sonic, you were clear, but what you are describing is a highly unlikely situation. There is no reasonable way that your property could be destroyed by an accidental introduction of a biotech trait. Unless there is some selective pressure for the trait, it will not increase in the local population. The classic Hardy-Weinberg principle applies.

    Even the European Union, which has severely restricted the use and sale of biotech crops, allows for small amounts (<0.9%, if I remember correctly) of biotech material in bulk commodities.

    If you look at the farmers who have actually been sued by Monsanto, you will find that there were growing the patented variety on a large scale that could only happen by premeditated effort. In other words, they intentionally broke the law and were caught. You are not going to be sued for a few incidental plants on your property. The idea is a fear tactic of anti-gmo groups that is not based on reality. Like I wrote before, it just doesn't make financial sense for Monsanto to put that much effort into such a small return.

    You are correct that the science is about determining what happens. That is then used to determine what combinations of practices will work best for a given location and season for each crop.

  73. BillyJoe7on 02 Dec 2012 at 3:45 pm

    So, if I’m walking past your property and the wind picks me up and deposits me onto a rose bush in your front lawn and ruining it, you should be able to sue me? But if you find me there, capture me, and put me to work propagating your rose bushes, that should be okay?

  74. MikeBon 02 Dec 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Bug guy:

    “If you look at the farmers who have actually been sued by Monsanto, you will find that [they] were growing the patented variety on a large scale that could only happen by premeditated effort.”

    I’m amazed that the anti-GMO effort continually (and shamelessly) trots out old Percy Schmeiser as some sort of Saint. You read the court records and it’s clear he broke the law, intentionally. He sprayed his canola crop with Roundup, collected the seeds, and replanted them. He got caught. And now he’s the poster boy for the poor, innocent farmer who is beat up on by Evil Monsanto.

    It’s such a crock. It’s misinformation like this that sent me screaming away from the organic movement.

  75. sonicon 02 Dec 2012 at 8:22 pm

    the bug guy,
    What I describe happens everyday.
    Monsanto’s property fouls someone else’s property. This is not some theoretical situation, or one where we can ‘trust them’ or any such thing.
    The destruction is occurring every minute of everyday.

    Your quoting of the EU’s claim that .09=0 is strong evidence that this is occurring everyday and that the actual property (GMO free food) has been destroyed.
    So rather than admit the actual property has been destroyed (GMO free food being the property), the government makes a rule so that the grower can tell bald-faced lies about the product (.09=0 after all).

    So the destruction is real. Only by making it legal to tell bald-faced lies is the destruction hidden (this food is ‘GMO-free’ is a lie that they are allowed to tell).

    Rather than making it legal to tell people lies about what is in the food they are buying, I’m suggesting the people who have had their property destroyed should have some right to recompense from the entity that did the destruction. That way they could tell people the honest truth about what is in the food and at the same time handle the actual situation that is causing the destruction of their property.

    One of us is missing something big here. It could be me, it could be you.
    I’ve explained myself as best I can.
    What makes you think the situation is OK?

  76. the bug guyon 03 Dec 2012 at 9:07 am

    Please document how how this destruction is “occurring every minute of every day” and please explain what kind of destruction is actually occurring.

    I’m reasonably sure that actual spills of seed are not a daily event. Yes, you can get cross pollination from nearby fields. However, since the reality of organic farming is that these farmers buy their seed every year from organic seed producers, any possible genetic drift becomes a non-issue. If a farmer does keep seeds, they only need to do what organic seed growers do, work with their neighbors to avoid cross-pollination via such methods as staggering plantings. For example, if the non-gmo is planted first and goes through its flowering stage before the adjacent crops flower, there is no cross-pollination.

    No, I am not claiming that the EU tolerance says that 0.9 equals zero. It is a regulatory tolerance that accepts the fact that many machines in the harvest – storage – destination stream may handle both biotech and nonbiotech commodities and that, because we are humans, some small amount of crossing will result.

    Why do I think that the situation is okay?
    Firstly, there is no documented, physical harm from biotech crops. Therefore, if there is a small amount of spillage from one property to the other, nothing will really happen. Monsanto does not pursue these situations.

    The only way you can claim harm is by trying to enforce a zero-tolerance situation, which, in the end, the harm is a self-inflicted wound by those that demand zero-tolerance and not by other farmers.

  77. sonicon 03 Dec 2012 at 1:15 pm

    the bug guy-
    Thank-you for the answers.
    I would like to understand your position better- and I would like to understand where I have gone off the rails here if I have.

    You say that cross pollination isn’t a problem.

    I would disagree-

    What to do about it is under study-

    I wrote to Monsanto sometime ago and asked them how I could ensure that none of their genes ever entered my garden. I have no interest in stealing from them , so I don’t want their property on mine. I wrote the USDA about it too.
    They haven’t told me how I can do this yet.

    I would further suggest there are mountains of examples of documented harm. Each GMO gene that is located in a place where it is undesirable is harm. The fact that the harm is to our food makes it especially egregious.

    From a legal dictionary-
    “in modern law trespass is an unauthorized entry upon land. A trespass gives the aggrieved party the right to bring a civil lawsuit and collect damages as compensation for the interference and for any harm suffered. Trespass is an intentional tort and, in some circumstances, can be punished as a crime.”

    If Monsanto does an unauthorized entry upon my land (their property entering mine) and ruins my garden- causing me interference and damages, what recourse do I have? This situation with the law (one group with special privileges to ruin others property without consequence) is another form of harm being done here.


  78. the bug guyon 03 Dec 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Actually, the Scientific American article fairly much backs up my comments. A couple of quotes:

    “There has been no evidence to show that the herbicide resistance genes will either increase or decrease fitness to date.”


    “Nor does Monsanto claim ownership of the escaped plants, even those with multiple transgenes, according to company spokesman John Combest. ”

    So yes, biotech traits have been documented to go out into the wild, the same as conventionally bred traits have also been introduced into the wild. So far, there has been no harm done, though it is something that should be continually monitored.

    In the Northern Ag Network article, this does not show destruction, but it is to look at potential losses in identity varieties. That is mainly driven by zero-tolerance attitudes about preserving identity. I find it odd that there is no concern about conventionally-bred traits contaminating heirloom varieties.

    Basically, if something does come through that puts up a legal wall to pollen, you are opening up farmers to a lot of litigation that would apply also to non-biotech varieties. For example, say that Farmer A has a variety of plants with a distinctive variegated leaf pattern that gives it a distinct identity. Next, Farmer B next door grows the same crop, only with a solid, dark green leaf. If pollen from Farmer B drifts over to Farmer A’s plot and contaminates his germ line so that some of Farmer A’s crops no longer have the variegated pattern, but instead have the less desirable solid pattern, should Farmer A be able to sue Farmer B for trespass?

  79. sonicon 03 Dec 2012 at 7:46 pm

    the bug guy-
    Your example is a bit non-sequitur.
    If farmer A has a patent that says he is the exclusive owner of the plants on farmer B’s property, we have a problem. Either farmer A is trespassing or farmer B is a thief.
    If A is trespassing, then he would need to make up the damages. If B is a thief, then he should pay A and perhaps spend some time in jail.
    If farmer A does not own the plants on farmer B’s property, there isn’t a problem.

    You seem to miss the point- nobody claims ownership of the heirloom plants or the hybrids. This is a different situation than when someone does claim ownership of the genes.

    to quote the SciAm article-
    “Nor does Monsanto claim ownership of the escaped plants, even those with multiple transgenes, according to company spokesman John Combest. “It has never been, nor will it be, Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented traits are present in fields as a result of inadvertent means,” although researchers would have to obtain a license from the company to work with the GM plant.”

    Notice they have the right to sue if their plant is on my property. They claim they won’t ‘exercise its patent rights’ — they will not claim ownership.

    How nice– if I want the plant, they claim ownership and will bill me. If I don’t want the plant and they are criminally trespassing on my property- they claim they don’t own the plant and are therefore not liable for the damages done by this action that would be deemed actionable if anyone else had done it.

    And you thought they did that for the good of the farmers?

    Question- If Monsanto trespasses on my property and destroys it in a manner that I have specifically asked them not to, what recourse do I have?
    I think the answer is ‘none’. I think that is a situation that needs correcting.
    Perhaps I’m wrong about having no recourse. Perhaps I’m wrong about the situation needing correcting even if I have no recourse.

    But that’s the question this boils down to.

  80. the bug guyon 03 Dec 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Sonic, my example is valid and you seem to have missed the point. My point was that pollen will disperse and cross-pollination will happen from time to time. And if a farmer can successfully claim such pollen movement as a trespass, then you open up farmers to a lot of unnecessary litigation. That would be the result if you do claim the right to sue a patent holder for a small, unintended introduction.

    Otherwise, you are trying to create a problem where none really exists. Yes, it is legally possible for a patent holder to sue for incidental growth of the trait. However, this does not happen in the real world for the reason I explained before, it simply is not worth the legal expenditures and effort. So, unless you find such plants and go to the effort to isolate and propagate those traits, you really don’t have anything to worry about.

    Outside of failing some kind of botanical eugenics purity test, you have yet to show any way in which biotech traits can cause you harm. As I have stated before, even the EU recognizes that absolute purity is not practical on a commercial scale, and therefore have set a tolerance level for the presence of a biotech trait.

    If you are concerned, it is in your best interest to collaborate with your neighbors on things like buffers and crop timing to mitigate the risk of the cross pollination that worries you. That is the whole basis for the idea of agricultural coexistence. Neighbors working together so that each may farm in the way that they choose.

  81. BillyJoe7on 03 Dec 2012 at 10:34 pm

    the big guy,

    “you have yet to show any way in which biotech traits can cause you harm”

    I think sonic is talking about, what we might call, ‘psychic’ harm.
    From a previous post:

    sonic: “I don’t want to use any machinery at all. No stinky machines, no fossil fuels, no noisy motors. I use a handsaw, not a chainsaw”

    He has an idiosyncratric personal philosophy and he believes everyone must make allowances for that.
    Personally, I think that is neither reasonable nor practical.

  82. Mlemaon 04 Dec 2012 at 3:43 am

    hi bug guy
    you said:
    “You are bring up legitimate issues, but are still essentially arguing the organic v. conventional dichotomy.”

    I think I’ve illustrated that the dichotomy I see is not between organic and conventional (although it’s hard to argue there’s no difference between the two when one uses sewer sludge and the other offers less antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our food and less pesticide in the urine of children) but is rather a dichotomy between big business and government on the one hand, and farmers and consumers on the other. I believe the goal should be to make government and industry’s goals align with the health and future of the public.

    “There are some serious issues with biotech crops, that is not in question. In the same vein, there are also issues with organic agriculture. Something many of their advocates don’t want to discuss, either. Neither will provide for a long-term, sustainable solution. That will come from using the best of what works from conventional and organic agriculture.”

    From what you’ve said about the differences in pesticides and fertilizer I still see that the dichotomy is between on the one side: industrial agriculture (conventional or organic) which is supported by farm subsidies and benefits big chemical companies and, on the other side: independent farmers who should be supported in their attempts to maintain biodiveristy, soil health, water and wildlife safety. But to me biotech crops remain on the side of big business whereas you seem to believe they have a place in sustainable agriculture. What do you believe is best about “conventional” agriculture that organic agriculture doesn’t do? What is worst about “organic” agriculture that conventional agriculture doesn’t do? I am most interested in your statement about sustainability. What is conventional ag doing toward sustainability that organic is not? I have some very definite conventional practices in mind that do not contribute to sustainability – like GM and monoculture, reducing biodiversity, etc…

    “A number of your links, however, are also based on poor-quality research (such as Benbrook, who only looked at quantity and not total environmental effect) or are more opinion-based than evidence based.”

    Quantity is how we measure use of pesticide. I would need to know what you suspect is being omitted in order to accept your criticism that it’s poor quality research. Do you feel that glycosophate in larger amounts is still safer than other pesicides? how does the toxicity of glycosophate compare? it’s affects on soil organisms? Water quality? Human health?
    Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects onVertebrates by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling
    Roundup andbirth defects
    And weren’t other more toxic pesticides included in the measure in response to weed resistance? There are many resistant weeds now.

    “Over time, any control technology will begin to fail as the target pests, whether insects or weeds, adapt and develop resistance. There are resistance management strategies that can be employed to mitigate, but over time, the resistance will develop. We are seeing that with some biotech crops.”

    “The emergence of a resistant insect population is likely whenever a pesticide is used. One strategy for delaying the emergence of insects resistant to Bt toxin is to plant a “refuge” of conventional crops near Bt-expressing crops. The idea is that these conventional crops will harbor susceptible insects that will mate with resistant insects, diluting out recessive resistance alleles. Of course, if resistance develops as a dominant allele, this strategy will not work.“

    “Agriculture will always be an arms race between control methods and their target species. That will never go away, regardless of what agricultural paradigm farmers follow.”

    In a way that’s true. However, the “arms” we use are dependent upon an ideology that either goes toward sustainable practices or an ever more toxic environment. The insects, microbes, bees, birds, etc. without which none of this happens can’t sustain the growing onslaught of toxins in the environment. For example, it looks like bee colony collapse may be caused by the increase of neonicinoids in the environment.

    “Would I like to see more biotech work done outside of large corporations? Yes. But, developing these traits to usable crops is very expensive and with the amount of opposition to gm technology out there, it is mostly only these large corporations that are willing to make the investment. If they make that investment, they want to protect their return.
    Yes, we have some publicly-funded biotech crops out there, but we need more and to do that, we need more government, university and ngo support for developing these technologies.”

    “Biotech” is too big a word to discuss in this way. If you mean research for GM crops engineered in the same way as Monsanto’s corn, cotton and soya, then: the only kind being done at big chemical corps is the kind that can be patented and turned into profit. And from everything I’ve been able to learn, these crops offer no benefits beyond a limited period of decreased pesticide use. This, in light of the remaining unknowns regarding their safety and their use as monoculture, and their role in reducing biodiversity, causes me to doubt whether this is the kind of research I would like public money to support. i would prefer that research be done on how to improve sustainable agricultural practices . What gets studied depends on what gets funded. Right now “high-tech” but unproven solutions are given more money than “low-tech” but proven. Our current paradigm drives a “technology treadmill” that farmers are being forced to step onto.

    “When I’m visiting agricultural research institutes in Africa and India, I find the labs for biological control half empty and with broken windows. But the biotechlabs will be all new, with new equipment and stuffed with staff. Biocontrol projects, as we do it, are not so spectacular, not so sexy. Here I see a big problem.”
    Hans Herren, Director of the ICIPE , Kenya,
    winner of the World Food prize 1995

    How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations
    Gaëtan Vanloqueren∗, Philippe V. Baret

  83. Mlemaon 04 Dec 2012 at 3:50 am

    Hi daedalus!
    I think the point being: it’s possible to have similar yields and maintain those yields per year over the long run with a smaller input of pesticides that end up in the water – by sacrificing a portion of the yield to other uses periodically (like growing animals). I think that’s been a farming practice since ancient times. We come out ahead because: less toxins in the environment and practices that can be sustained long-term (get off the chemical treadmill)
    I’m not going to say that I’m definitely not misinterpreting this study myself – you obviously have made a relevant observation. Please tell me if you think I’m missing something else here or if what I’m saying is wrong.

  84. Mlemaon 04 Dec 2012 at 4:01 am

    Everything said only serves to illustrate that: “conventional” agriculture is not sustainable agriculture, and, that if organics fail to meet the demands that conventional currently does – it only serves to justify strengthening our understanding of how to utilize whatever currently ecologically-sound science we have, and expanding that science by supporting it with the kind of monies currently spent on advancing unsustainable technologies. If a person wants to say: we can’t do it without the chemicals that are increasing in kind and toxicity and killing the very microbes, insects and birds that we rely on to make the whole system work, and that pesticides in children’s urine is an acceptable trade-of for convenience and ease, along with prophylactic antibiotics in our food, well, then i would ask: what are the prospects for our future?

  85. Mlemaon 04 Dec 2012 at 4:04 am

    prophylactic antibiotics s/b antibiotic-resistant bacteria
    it’s the animals who are getting the prophylactic antibiotics because they often have to live in conditions that would otherwise most likely cause disease

  86. Mlemaon 04 Dec 2012 at 4:22 am

    sonic, when I was talking about the choices available to farmers (as to how and what to farm) and consumers (as to what’s available to buy and whether they’re able to discern what it is) , i was meaning to refer to how governmental policies support a type of farming that reduces those choices.

    But your comments about Monsanto’s patent policies have spurred an interesting conversation. Sounds like there’s no trespass going on, only thievery. But it’s OK because Monsanto is gracious enough not to press charges most of the time. (did you know that gm crops have been found 1K miles from where they were planted?) I hope you’ll let us know what you hear back from Monsanto or the USDA. :)

  87. the bug guyon 04 Dec 2012 at 6:48 am

    You are correct that current conventional agriculture is not sustainable, just as current organic agriculture is not. In the long-term, the best aspects of each need to be combined to produce a system that hopefully will be sustainable.

    However, the trend in crop chemicals has been the other way than what you present. It is moving toward more target specificity and lower non-target toxicity. Advances in precision agriculture is allowing those that use it to further reduce applications to just the portions of a field that require treatment.

  88. Mlemaon 04 Dec 2012 at 1:30 pm

    ok bug guy. Thanks for the talk.

    for general interest:
    an interview with Troy Roush, one farmer who was sued by Monsanto, who plants GM crops, and who would like to see GMOs labelled.

  89. sonicon 04 Dec 2012 at 6:20 pm

    The Monsanto policy (they are not responsible for any damages their product causes)– I mean they don’t claim ownership of the ‘escaped’ products that they actually hold a patent on and are the sole owner of…
    What a bunch of suckers we have to be not to see through that ploy.
    And what a bunch of suckers we are being… :-)

    I am aware of some of the government involvement with agriculture. Big money goes to those who can ‘contribute’ to the proper campaigns.
    Got to love it– government in action.

    Personally I don’t mind if someone wants to experiment with GMO’s and if they want to grow them and so forth. I just ask that they not be allowed to trespass and ruin what I have without any consequence to them.
    Gee, I must be some sort of Luddite… :-)

    BTW- put in a hugelkultur today- buried an oak tree that came down to make room for some solar panels.
    Monsanto doesn’t have a product nearly that good– :-)

  90. sonicon 04 Dec 2012 at 6:22 pm

    the bug guy-
    You continue to deny harm.
    Yet you would admit that ‘non-GMO’ food products are worth more on the market than ‘GMO’ food products.
    You ask me to alter my property, to plan my life around avoiding their property from coming onto mine.
    Seriously? How much they gonna pay me to do that?

    You fail to see the problem of having someone’s property on my property without my consent-.
    Perhaps an analogy would help– If my car was parked in your living room, you would no doubt expect me to move the car and to pay for any damages that were caused.
    Ordinarily I would have to move the car and pay damages.
    But, if I had Monsanto’s deal, I could deny ownership of the car and tell you that you should build stronger walls around your house to avoid such things in the future.
    And I could threaten to sue you for having misused my car.
    And I would win if it came to court.

    Would you allow me that right? To park my cart in your living room and then threaten you for having done so? And I win if it comes to court?

    Why do you demand that I give someone else that right?

    I ask again- if they trespass on my property- altering in a manner that I have expressly asked them not to, what recourse do I have?

    BTW- most the people I know do ‘open pollination’ when it comes to plants going to seed.
    The beauty of this system is that everybody owns and can use the genes that make our food. How much should Monsanto pay me for the removal of this ownership?
    We (you, me, everyone else) used to own all the genes that make our food. Monsanto has taken that from us.
    How much you want to get paid for that loss?

  91. the bug guyon 05 Dec 2012 at 6:54 am

    Sonic, you still fail to demonstrate actual harm. Otherwise, you are arguing a strawman since Monsanto does not file suit for incidental introductions. If you examine the case history, they have been for purposeful use of the trait without paying for it.

    If you drive your car into my living room, I can document the damage caused. It is real harm. So far, you have not shown any evidence of harm from incidental cross-pollination.

    While you see your demands for zero-tolerance as standing up for your rights to farm as you choose, it also restricts your neighbors rights to farm as they choose.

    Since you object so much to a biotech trait crossing onto your property from a neighbors fields and think you should be able to sue, do you think you should be able to sue if other undesirable traits cross-pollinate from your neighbor, such as susceptibility to a common fungus?

    And, since the majority of farmers, including organic, purchase seeds every year, most of this argument is also moot since you would need to run specific dna tests on the seeds to determine if the biotech trait had cross-pollinated the crop.

    I’m sorry that you seem to actually be hostile to the idea of actually cooperating with neighbors so that each can farm as they choose. That is the most logical recourse.

    One more thing. Please tell me how, if a farmer allows pollen to cross onto your property, is it the fault of Monsanto? That is like saying that Remington is at fault for making the firearm used in a shooting.

  92. sonicon 05 Dec 2012 at 10:42 am

    the bug guy-
    What would I have to do to demonstrate harm?
    At this point I have said that my food is worth less than it was and that my property is worthless than it was.
    This reduced value (harm) is due to the property of another being in or on my property without my permission or consent- in fact, against my direct request that their property not be in or on my property.

    Please explain how I haven’t demonstrated harm.

  93. the bug guyon 05 Dec 2012 at 12:05 pm

    How has your food lost value?

    The only way would be if you are attempting to sell completely gmo-free commodities with a certification system that does genetic testing on your produce. Even then, your crop is not worthless, it can still be sold at other venues.

    In that case, you are partially responsible because you are targeting to a zero-tolerance market. In that case, you should follow the example of other responsible farmers growing for those markets, work with your neighbors to establish buffers and timings to avoid cross-pollination. It is called taking responsibility for what you produce. Yes, you have the right to grow as you please, just as your neighbors do. Your choice to be gmo-free should not impose an undue burden on your neighbors from growing biotech crops if they wish. In return, their choice of what to grow should not impose an undue burden on you. That is where cooperation comes in.

    Now, if you have a neighbor that refuses to cooperate and intentionally grows a biotech crop next to yours knowing that cross-pollination may happen, then you would have a case against that farmer, but not against the company that developed the biotech variety.

  94. sonicon 05 Dec 2012 at 3:20 pm

    bug guy-
    The GMO contaminated food is worth less- not worthless. That is to say I will receive less money and/ or value from it than I would if it were GMO free.
    Are you willing to stop denying the harm yet?

    You seem to not know that the industry (monsanto et. al.) demand that their products can be grown anywhere without restrictions or concern for cross pollination.
    So the people you are asking me to protect myself from are in fact demanding that I not be allowed to—

    So when their property shows up on mine- it is due to their efforts to ensure that I can’t protect myself. (I do grow alfalfa- the harm is real– please stop denying the harm.)

    And of course they will claim no ownership of their legally owned property- unless I decide to use their product or experiment with it- in which case they will prosecute me as a criminal for theft or misuse — why, because I used something they claim no ownership of.
    And they will win. And we are suckers of magnitude to continue to let such abusive practices continue.
    You do realize that their products are completely unnecessary for food production- right?

    So now that you know that the reason for the contamination of my property is expensive lobbying and huge legal expense on the part of the contaminator– and that the contamination is from products that are completely unnecessary- what do you think?

    I’m interested in how all this is really my fault for wanting to grow food that isn’t contaminated with someone else’s property… :-)

  95. the bug guyon 05 Dec 2012 at 3:49 pm


    You used the word worthless in your previous post, so I assumed that you meant worthless and not worth less. Otherwise, we agreed.

    Again, you are evading the point about working with your neighbors to avoid issues with cross-pollination. That is where the real effort has to be made and not in restricting areas where certain varieties can and cannot be planted.

    Just as you have the right to grow as you wish, so do your neighbors. Therefore, when there is a conflict, you must cooperate with them to avoid the problem. If they refuse, then you could have an issue. If you refuse, then you are partly to blame since you did not take reasonable measures to protect the value of your property. Coexistence takes the efforts of all parties. It is not fair to expect one party to make no effort while all others make all the effort.

    You are still arguing a strawman about Monsanto suing you. For small, incidental introductions, it is clear that a farmer was not intentionally trying to grow the patented seed, therefore, no crime. If the farmer collects the seed and intentionally grows it, then there is a crime. It is that simple. Monstanto themselves are not responsible if there is pollen drift, just as Ford is not responsible for the damage done by a drunk driver in one of their vehicles. If a farmer makes no effort to work with a neighbor that wishes to avoid cross-pollination, then yes, the farmer should be held liable.

    Back to a point I made earlier; even the EU, which is hardly biotech friendly, accepts a tolerance level for biotech presence in commodities. If the US were to adopt something similar and stop promoting zero-tolerance, then even more of the problem would become moot.

    We need both systems to move forward and to do that, we need cooperation, not obstinance.

  96. Mlemaon 05 Dec 2012 at 9:30 pm

    hi bug guy,
    I’d like to interject in this debate.
    I feel like your comparisons aren’t parallel. First, GMO’s aren’t so readily comparable to ordinary hybrids. Instead they carry a particularly undesirable trait (you may argue this, but undesirable is in the eye of the beholder). Second, it’s not realistic to think that the kind of buffers you’re talking about would prevent cross-pollination. What if sonic lives in the region of a gigantic GM monoculture? There are more and more of them all the time. Third, the car manufacturer is liable if an accident is caused due to some fault in his product. In this cause the fault is the undesirable trait Monsanto has engineered into it’s seed – and since Monsanto is claiming continuing ownership of that trait, then they should carry a continuing liability. They should be responsible for all the contamination they’ve caused because they’re the only source: the farmers who’ve planted them aren’t even allowed to keep seeds.
    Insisting that co-operation between neighbors can solve this problem is forgetting that there would be no problem but for the GE trait. The instances where someone might be trying to do something very specific with breeding aren’t really a fair comparison to ordinary neighboring crops.

    And finally, I just want to remind you that none of Monsanto’s pre-release tests ensure the safety of these products. Monsanto itself has said “we’re not responsible for safety, that’s the FDA’s job” and the FDA does no comprehensive tests, trusting that Monsanto’s “equivalency test” is good enough! Basing safety on “we see no problems so far” is absurd. There’s no longer any way to associate any problems caused with the cause itself. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine suggests that their consumption be avoided for a number of reasons.
    Safety tests have been left up to university researchers. And they’re given no assistance by the creators, and, as we’ve learned, sometimes get stymied instead!

    And i just deleted a rather lengthy diatribe (you’re welcome), which I will just replace with:
    as sonic said, they’re not needed. Their sole raison d’etre is: make lots of money for creator.
    We really have to air out this mythology about them being necessary to feed the world.

  97. sonicon 05 Dec 2012 at 11:40 pm

    bug guy-
    I get along very well with my neighbors- thanks for the concern.

    We do not need GMO’s to feed anyone. The notion that we need these things is mistaken.

    You want me to get along with the GMO makers. No problem. Here’s the deal:

    If my property is on their property and/ or has caused any damage, I will remove my property from theirs as best I can and I will pay for any damages and I will pay for the loss of use that I have imposed on them. Also I could probably be hit up for a few bucks for the hassle of it all.
    I will determine to take steps so that my property doesn’t foul theirs in the future.

    In return I would ask them to do the same for me– remove their property from mine if it is on it, and pay for any damages and hassle and loss of use- and take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

    That’s perfect cooperation- right?
    And that’s the bargain I have been suggesting all along.

    You seem to think that if I hurt their property I should make up the damages, but if they hurt mine- well too bad for me.
    Cooperation you call this?

    You say things so much better than I do sometimes. The points you make are right on target. Thanks.

    BTW- I think Dow chemical will produce the replacement for ’roundup’.
    I believe they are going to instruct the farmers that they should use the herbicide only once– after that the real way to control weeds is to cover crop. Perhaps I’m just wishful thinking, but that’s what I’ve heard…
    Wow, if the Dow people actually did that… :-)

  98. the bug guyon 06 Dec 2012 at 7:19 am

    No, I have not argued that if you damage your neighbors property that you should pay, but if they damage yours, too bad. Please represent my arguments accurately.

    Actually, I have not argued that we need biotech crops, so that is just a distraction. I have been discussing other farmers choice to use these crops, just as you are exercising your choice to not use them.

    What I am arguing it tolerance, cooperation and patience between different farming systems so that each can proceed as they wish while interfering as little as possible with their neighbors.

    The reality is that from time to time, even with buffer zones and timing, there will be pollen drift. That is where reasonable tolerances come in so that farmers like you are not harmed by a small, inadvertent introduction.

    You miss the second side of the problem, the zero-tolerance of biotech traits built into organic certification. If a reasonable tolerance, such as what the EU employs, is used, then most of this issue goes away.

    I stand by my analogy since Monsanto does not try to enforce patent protection on accidental introductions. If they did, you would have a point, but since they don’t, you can’t hold them responsible for the actions of the farmer.

    There are hundreds of quality papers in the peer-reviewed literature, including many from independent sources, that demonstrate the safety of biotech crops. When it comes to food crops, these are some of the most intensely studied. In contrast, the few articles that claim harm from biotech crops have been poor quality and riddled with problems in methodology, analysis and interpretation, such as the recent misfire by Seralini.

    As I stated earlier, I have not argued that biotech crops are needed to feed the world. Yes, they produce income for their patent holder, but they also increase income for the farmers growing them, one of the major reasons for their widespread popularity. They also provide a number of other benefits, but that’s a different discussion.

    Just as biotechnology will not feed the world on its own, neither will organic farming. However, both provide very valuable tools and methods to reach our goal. Once again, we are back to the destructive us vs them dichotomy when we should be working to combine the best aspects of all of our agricultural practices to develop a truly sustainable system.

  99. MikeBon 06 Dec 2012 at 9:29 am

    the bug guy,

    Your comments are perfectly reasonable–but, might I add, futile.

    May I call a spade a spade?

    After having worked with people in the organic field–and continuing to work side-by-side with them in farmers markets–I have come to the sad conclusion that they are not interested in coexistence, or even debate over coexistence. They are purity zealots. The organic farmer in the booth next to my own puts up a sign that reads: DON’T PANIC! IT’S ORGANIC!”

    Your phrase “zero-tolerance” to describe their attitude towards “biotech traits” is applicable to their attitudes across the spectrum of farming tools:

    Genetic engineering
    Veterinary medications

    They will continue to say “GMOs have not been tested for safety,” no matter how many independent studies you put before their faces.

    They will continue to conflate Monsanto’s patent enforcement tactics with the issue of whether or not genetic modification is a viable tool for farmers, no matter how politely you point out the difference.

    They will continue to generalize about “toxic pesticide residues” without considering dose or toxicity.

    They will continue to cherry-pick the “studies” which purport to show that “organic” is “safer,” “better-tasting,” “more nutritious,” “more sustainable,” no matter how many careful meta-analyses refuting such claims are issued.

    “Organic” is a full-fledged ideology and identity: It’s pretensions are as salvationist as its “standards” are absurd.

    I will close with a quotation from a mighty muckety-muck of my local organics organization.

    Context: At a farmers conference in my state awhile back, the organics people began to complain of feeling “excluded” from a “convergence” workshop because they were not given their own special platform! Everyone was invited, but because they didn’t get a special invitation, they moped. In response, the muckety-muck declared:

    “Why would organic growers and consumers want to converge with conventional agriculture, as the title of a Maine Agricultural Trades Show session, held in January, suggested? Craving the Organophosphate-Arsenic-Laced Special for dinner?”

    And that, my friends, encapsulates the attitude of the “organic” movement.


  100. sonicon 06 Dec 2012 at 1:27 pm

    bug guy,
    Sorry if I put words in your mouth-

    bug guy, Mike B.
    I am trying to make co-existence possible.
    Non-GMO food is what I want to exist.
    I believe it is possible for the owners of the GMO to take responsibility for their property such that we can co-exist.

    Your solutions have not allowed for my existence.
    That is the problem that you seem so willing to deny.

    You think I’m being some sort of zealot. Yet I have made a very clear offer as to what I think should be done– I clean up if my property is on theirs and they clean up if their property is on mine (this is completely common law I believe).

    Note- I have not demanded that they don’t exist, or that they don’t use the products. I am asking that they clean up when their property covers mine. (And to pay damages , of course).
    Please explain why my request is something other than ‘co-operation’ and ‘co-existenxce’.

    That is exactly what I’m asking for.

    I am well aware of the zealotry that passes for ‘environmentalism’ these days. I have had to reduce my donations to numerous ‘environmental’ organizations due to their zealotry.
    Greenpeace has ‘jumped the shark’ as has Sierra Club in my mind, to name two that have currently lost my support.
    This is too bad- especially the Sierra Club. I have done so much work with them and for them over the years– it saddens me to see the level of zealotry at such a wonderful organization.
    I think they will right the ship- it could happen at any moment.
    At least I can hope…

    My current favorite environmental organization now is “Nature Conservancy”.
    BTW– Donations made in an individual’s name could make a great Christmas gift!

  101. the bug guyon 06 Dec 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I very explicitly said that if a neighbor refuses to cooperate with you to protect your fields from cross-pollination, that you should have the option to collect damages.

    For small amounts of unintended cross-pollination, there should be tolerances in place that protects you from economic loss, just as the EU has successfully implemented and still allows your neighbors to grow biotech crops if they choose. Allowing for damages from small amounts of drift of traits have the potential to open up all farmers to additional litigation if they can show that any undesirable trait has crossed into their fields from elsewhere.

  102. Mlemaon 06 Dec 2012 at 6:12 pm

    bug guy,

    you’re avoiding specifics
    you say:
    “There are hundreds of quality papers in the peer-reviewed literature, including many from independent sources, that demonstrate the safety of biotech crops. When it comes to food crops, these are some of the most intensely studied. In contrast, the few articles that claim harm from biotech crops have been poor quality and riddled with problems in methodology, analysis and interpretation, such as the recent misfire by Seralini.”

    Please read the link I provided to the statement by the American Association of Environmental Medicine. Is what they’re saying is not intelligible? If it is, then you need to show why the studies they’ve referenced are “riddled with problems” Or, alternatively, perhaps you could find one of the “hundreds of quality papers in the peer-reviewed literature” you mention, and link us to it?
    You can’t use the Seralini study for your critique. The work’s already been done for you there.

    The reality is, we’re still trying to determine how to assess the safety of these foods.
    Should it be up to independent researchers, with little funding, to prove the safety of these particular GMOs?
    No, it’s not up to the public or me to prove that they’re safe and beneficial. It’s up to the one who profits from them to do that.
    From the declaration by the AAEM: “…from an environmental meeting in the United States in 1998 …: ‘When an activity raises threats to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof (of the safety of the activity).’”

    The Union of Concerned Scientists has shown you there’s no protocol in place to test safety. I’ve shown you that environmental physicians find that there are health problems.

    Here I will indulge in quoting without source (because I’ve lost the links) But there’s nothing below that isn’t general knowledge and that you can’t substantiate on your own:

    “Director of corporate communications for Monsanto, Phil Angell, summed up Monsanto’s take on the issue in a report by food author Michael Pollan for New York Times Magazine in 1998: ‘Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.’”
    “According to documents released from a lawsuit, FDA scientists repeatedly warned that GM foods can create hard-to-detect allergies, poisons, new diseases, and nutritional problems. But the first Bush White House ordered the agency to promote biotechnology. So they brought in Michael Taylor, the former attorney of biotech giant Monsanto, to head up the FDA’s GMO policy. That policy ignored the scientists and declares that Monsanto and others can determine if their own foods are safe. There are no required safety studies. After leaving the FDA, Taylor later became Monsanto’s vice president. In 2009, he was reinstalled at the FDA as the U.S. Food Safety Czar.”

    So now, if you’re not worried about GMOs all by themselves, maybe you should be worried about them as part of food safety in general!
    Michael Taylor:

    and from the Union of Concerned Scientists:
    “…the FDA oversees genetically modified foods under a largely voluntary consultation program in which companies decide whether or not to consult on safety matters and what data, if any, to submit. The agency does not subject engineered foods to the rigorous safety reviews required for substances considered food additives. The end of a consultation is marked, not by an FDA approval, but by the agency’s statement that the company has found the engineered crop to be as safe as non-engineered versions and that the agency has no further questions”

    “You miss the second side of the problem, the zero-tolerance of biotech traits built into organic certification. If a reasonable tolerance, such as what the EU employs, is used, then most of this issue goes away.”

    you’re suggesting that the way to solve the problem of people not wanting to eat GMOs is: make sure they can’t know whether they’re eating them. You’re basing your support of Monsanto’s patent enforcement on an assumption of safety that’s not scientifically founded. Facing the possibly detrimental nature of a GM crop changes the equation when you talk about harm to property.

    “Just as biotechnology will not feed the world on its own, neither will organic farming. However, both provide very valuable tools and methods to reach our goal. Once again, we are back to the destructive us vs them dichotomy when we should be working to combine the best aspects of all of our agricultural practices to develop a truly sustainable system.”

    you’re speaking in platitudes. You’re trying to slip out from under the problem with Monsanto’s GM crops by implying that it’s one of the “valuable tools and methods” for a sustainable system. I just can’t let you do it.
    GMOs haven’t increased yields:
    The reason they make things cheaper for farmers are the same reasons they’re not sustainable. Here, in the end, cheap turns out expensive.
    They (temporarily) generate more income for farmers for reasons beside a (temporary) reduction in pesticide use. This is an artificial, policy-based increase in income, supported by unsustainable practices.

    There is indeed a destructive dichotomy and we need to sort out just exactly what methods fall on either side. The fact that you’re a flesh and blood person like me probably means that in the end we’ll end up on the same side of this. Monsanto and it’s GM crops will end up on the other.

  103. Mlemaon 06 Dec 2012 at 6:42 pm

    MikeB, you will find this very interesting. It concerns the: “An unexpected poison in a GE food supplement killed 37 persons. The poison was not discovered because careful search for unexpected harmful substances was not made.” you were so outraged about.

    The Problem with Nutritionally Enhanced Plants

    and, I apologize for this, but -it’s so funny how you grouse about organic and then provide links that support it! :)

  104. Mlemaon 06 Dec 2012 at 6:43 pm

    sonic, can we now say: you’re a person of kulture? ;)

  105. MikeBon 06 Dec 2012 at 6:46 pm


    You cite “American Association of Environmental Medicine.” There is no such organization.

    Surely you don’t mean the American Academy of Environmental Medicine?

    The one on Quackwatch’s list of “Questionable Organizations”?

    The one the indomitable Dr. Harriet Hall debunks here?

  106. sonicon 06 Dec 2012 at 7:45 pm

    bug guy-
    I am not an organic farmer.
    I have nothing to do with the USDA designations of organic, nor do I want to, so there is no need to compare what I’m discussing with any of that.

    I am certain that we can feed the world without any GMO crops. We have done so for some centuries now, and unless you can tell me specifically why they are needed now, I see no need to accept any contamination from them.

    You miss the point about being neighborly:
    There is no need for me to take my neighbor to court- he never leaves his property on mine. And if his property does end up on mine, he is more than willing to remove it and pay damages. That’s because he is a good neighbor.
    Funny, that’s exactly what I’ve been suggesting Monsanto do from the beginning- act like a good neighbor.

    You say that if I agree that there can be no GMO-free food, then we can discuss co-existence. But I’m for GMO-free food. Food with zero GMO in it.
    How does agreeing that what I want can’t exist make for a discussion of co-existence?
    Realize, that what I’m asking to exist does in fact exist, so I’m not asking for the impossible.

    I think GMO food can exist and I thing non-GMO food can exist. In fact, they both exist right now. I think it can stay that way.
    I think that if they would agree to clean up their mess when their exclusively owned property is on someone else’s who doesn’t want it there- and agreed to fix any damages- both could exist in the future.

    What is it that you object to specifically-
    I say Monsanto should come remove their property from mine if it is there without my consent. Do you agree or disagree?
    I say that Monsanto should pay for the damages their exclusively owned property has caused (assuming some damage)- do you agree or disagree?

    Perhaps if I knew what your specific disagreement was we could get better understanding.

  107. sonicon 06 Dec 2012 at 7:45 pm

    I think I’m more likely a hoogle than a culture :-)

  108. Mlemaon 06 Dec 2012 at 9:17 pm

    A quick re-direct on your part once again! You make criticisms of what I say and then, instead of considering my defenses, you make a new criticism about something else I’ve said! Sometimes on comments I’ve made to other people!

    I don’t see that Stephen Barrett any credentials by which to judge the field of environmental medicine. I think it’s possible he doesn’t even know what it is.
    He’s a retired psychiatrist (who never passed his boards) who claims to be an authority on nutrition.

    He’s a “Member, Board of Scientific Advisors, American Council on Science and Health”
    which is not a very highly rated charity:
    and is on a watch list itself:
    (note corporate funding – sounds like a possible conflict of interest to me.)
    I had never heard of him before but apparently he’s pretty famous.

    But why am I defending what i’ve said? Can’t you reply to ANYTHING specific or directly? Can you take a stab at critiquing the individual studies on the AAEM site? or ANY of the scientific studies I’ve linked you to through ANY of the websites I’ve posted in ANY of my comments? Or will you continue to simply make insinuations about people and their motives?

    I’m really starting to resent your comments to me. Please don’t make any more unless you’re going to have some kind of 2-way conversation, as I’ve tried to do with you. I end up wasting my time trying to defend myself against unwarranted criticisms.

    SBM is an opinion-based blog just like this one. More on that later as it relates to organic vs. conventional diet.

  109. Mlemaon 06 Dec 2012 at 10:16 pm

    OK, I just read Harriet Hall’s entry on SBM, and I found it very insightful.
    So, can we just go back to what the AAEM statement is actually saying and what they’re basing it?
    or the paper I linked you to?
    or anything else that’s actually been said instead of implied or justified by association?

  110. Mlemaon 07 Dec 2012 at 8:55 pm

    first of all: I need to correct myself on Stephen Barrett as far as: he apparently wasn’t required to pass boards for certification when he entered the field of psychiatry. So: sorry.

    You know, I had an epiphany of sorts today. I have no vested interest in this debate past a certain degree which I’ve already passed. I’m normally not so argumentative. So, I’m going to let go of trying to convince people GM foods might not be safe. I would just maintain that, scientifically, that’s an unknown. If people want to accept: ‘nothing’s happened so far’ as a measure of safety, and if those people are the majority, well…majority rules! I think maybe the concern that’s pushed me into argument is: whether or not something has happened so far is really impossible to assess. Further, I’m concerned that people are way too trusting of government regulations in the face of the influence of multinational corporations. When there’s big money at stake, I become skeptical of the motives of those MNCs.

    I think it’s very likely that the average person doesn’t have time to concern himself with issues over which he feels powerless.
    And, I believe the rational approach to unknowns should be: caution. But I seem to be in the minority here as well. Or, possibly, the silent majority.

    Finally, based on research, I will continue to contend that: GM crops do not improve yield, they increase use of pesticides in the long run, encourage monoculture and decrease biodiversity, offer no help for farming in dry areas, don’t solve the nitrogen problem, and have sucked up the resources that could help develop more traditional breeding methods that have shown promise in addressing these issues. And, as they’re currently marketed, GM crops are disadvantageous for poor independent farmers in countries where they’re irresponsibly promoted. We don’t need ‘em!

    Being eager to extricate myself from this conversation, I am happy to let Mike B and bug guy have the last word if they wish to.
    thanks friends

  111. Mlemaon 07 Dec 2012 at 8:56 pm

    sonic, it’s up to others to decide whether or not you’re a hoogle, and/or are “hoogleable” :)

  112. sonicon 08 Dec 2012 at 11:34 am

    I didn’t know hoogle had those meanings, therefore I can’t be one- right? :-)

    Deflection- what a wonderful description of certain methods of response.

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