Feb 04 2014

The GMO Controversy

The controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMO) has intrigued me for some time, and recently I have been reading everything I can on the topic. It is an excellent topic for skeptics – it is mainstream (not a fringe topic), it has real importance for society, there are complex scientific and logical issues to sort through, and the topic is rife with misinformation and motivated reasoning.

I wrote recently about the fact that beliefs concerning GMO tend to be dominated by two opposing narratives: GMO critics despise corporate control and greed, and fear the unnatural, while GMO advocates see this technology as an example of the triumph of human ingenuity and science. I admit that with regard to this issue my bias is toward the latter narrative, however, I can understand caution regarding huge corporations (the tobacco industry comes to mind).

But, as a skeptic I have really tried to follow a critical thinking process and pull back from my initial gut reactions. Here, then, is my overview of the issues regarding GMO.

A Brief History of GMO

GMO advocates are quick to point out that pretty much all the food consumed by humans have already been extensively modified by human activity. Corn, for example, was cultivated from teosinte, which looks nothing like modern corn. In fact, it took some detective work to figure out that they are essentially the same species.

Cultivation is mostly about artificial selection – saving the best plants from one year’s crop to provide the seeds for the following year. Repeat that a few thousand times, and you have the development of agriculture and all the food you recognize today.

Cultivation can also involve cross-pollination, creating a hybrid species in an attempt to get the best traits from closely related species. Using a combination of cross-pollination and artificial selection, breeders have created countless varieties of common plants. The black or purple tomato, for example, of which there are about 50 varieties, is high in flavanoids, which give them their color.  Orange carrots were developed by a fortuitous mutation resulting in high levels of beta-carotine. This turned carrots into an important staple crop as a source of vitamin A.

Breeders who are impatient to wait for a fortuitous mutation to occur developed what is called mutation breeding – exposing plants to chemicals or to radiation that increases the mutation rate. Between 1930 and 2007, 2540 mutagenic plant varietals have been released.

Genetic modification is the latest technique for changing organisms to suit our wants and needs. The technology involves various techniques for inserting one or more specific genes directly into a target organism. There are two basic types of GMO – transgenic and cisgenic. Cisgenic involves inserting genes from closely related species, ones that could potentially cross breed with the target species. Transgenic refers to inserting genes from distant species – even from different kingdoms of life, such as putting a gene from a bacterium into a plant.

There are four types of GM plants currently approved for use: herbicide tolerance, insecticide production, altered fatty acid composition (for canola oil), and virus resistance. Many other potential applications are in various stages of development.

GMO advocates are quick to point out that GM technology is nothing new, and that it is simply an extension of the various technologies we have used for thousands of years to alter organisms. This is overstating the case, however – transgenic GMO is not just a new technique, it also opens up new possibilities, like putting a gene from a bacterium into corn. But it is legitimate to put GMO in its proper historical context. It is not entirely new. Contamination of genes from other kingdoms even occurs in nature through horizontal gene transfer.

In any case, the “it’s not natural” argument is fallacious. Meanwhile, GMO should be looked upon as a powerful technology, and such technologies can have both powerfully good and powerfully bad consequences depending on how they are used.

Health Effects

There are various specific controversies surrounding GMOs. Perhaps the most emotionally-laden is that of potential health effects of GMO food. Critics have coined the term “frankenfood,” which is a politically useful slogan but not very useful as a concept. These concerns strike me mostly as the naturalistic fallacy. There is a legitimate concern, however, in that introducing new proteins into human food might lead to allergic reactions or unforeseen health consequences.

For this reason the safety of GMO food has been researched. The bottom line is that the research shows that existing GMOs are safe for human consumption and as animal feed.

A 2012 statement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) concluded: 

“As a result and contrary to popular misconceptions, GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply. There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Indeed, a recent review of a dozen well-designed long-term animal feeding studies comparing GM and non-GM potatoes, soy, rice, corn and triticale found that the GM and their non-GM counterparts are nutritionally equivalent.”

The National Academies of Science agrees: 

“To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”

The World Health Organization also agrees: 

“GM foods currently traded on the international market have passed risk assessments in several countries and are not likely, nor have been shown, to present risks for human health.”

As referred to by the AAAS, reviews of animal feed studies have concluded: 

“Results obtained from testing GM food and feed in rodents indicate that large (at least 100-fold) ‘safety’ margins exist between animal exposure levels without observed adverse effects and estimated human daily intake. Results of feeding studies with feed derived from GM plants with improved agronomic properties, carried out in a wide range of livestock species, are discussed. The studies did not show any biologically relevant differences in the parameters tested between control and test animals.”

Critics claim there has not been enough testing. It is easy, however, to simply ask for more testing and make that seem as if it is the rational position. This is the same strategy used by antivaccinationists – no testing is ever enough, and the precautionary principle is endlessly invoked. Critics also have their studies to cherry pick, like the infamous Seralini study (now retracted).

It seems that we have as much of a consensus on the safety of current GMOs according to systematic reviews and expert panels as we do on the safety of vaccines, and perhaps even higher confidence intervals than the consensus that the planet is warming.

It can also be pointed out that plants that are produced through hybridization, which can chaotically mix in hundreds of genes, and plants resulting from mutagenic breeding do not require the same safety testing currently required of GMOs.

There is, for example, a GMO black tomato that takes two specific genes from the snapdragon and inserts them into a tomato to produce higher levels of flavanoids. This species must go through regulatory hoops, while the 50 varieties of black tomatoes made by cultivation, with much more unpredictable results, require no testing.

I do favor continued careful testing of GMO food for safety, but currently this is not a reason, in my opinion, to reject GMO, and the “frankenfood” label is unfair.

Environmental Effects

While the safety of GMO scientifically is rather straightforward, the net environmental impact of specific GMOs is a horrifically complex topic. This is a good time to recommend a series of articles by Nathaniel Johnson. He does a good job of exploring these issues and showing how complex they are. I don’t want this blog post to become a book, so I will only give a brief summary of the major issues.

Herbicide-tolerant plants, so-called “Roundup Ready” plants, are engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. This allows farmers to control weeds by spraying their entire crop, even after the crop has sprouted. The advantages of herbicide-tolerant crops are that they are less labor intensive and they save money. They also reduce the use of soil tillage, which is bad for the soil and releases CO2 into the environment.

The disadvantage of herbicide tolerant crops is that they increase herbicide use, which gets into the environment, and which encourages the development of resistant weeds.

So what’s the net effect? That all depends on how these crops are used. Relying solely on glyphosate and glyphosate-resistant crops is turning out to be a bad idea, mainly due to the development of resistance among weeds. But, as one tool among many, it can be a net advantage. Farmers are better off using minimal, rather than no, tillage farming, and using a variety of herbicides, not just glyphosate.

The real issue (a theme that will keep cropping up – pun intended) is that the bottom line does not rest with GMO vs no-GMO, but how GMO crops are used as part of the overall farming practice.

This is also true of insecticide-producing GMOs, specifically Bt crops. Bt is an insecticide produced by a bacterium. In fact, it is a popular insecticide among organic farmers because it is environmentally safe. Bt GMOs have the gene from the bacterium inserted so they make their own Bt.

The advantages of Bt crops is that they are pest resistant and they reduce insecticide spraying. The disadvantage is that over-reliance on this one strategy results in pests becoming resistant to Bt. This is worsened by cross-pollination spreading the Bt trait to wild plants. There are also concerns about the effects of Bt on friendly insects (however, I would point out Bt is already used as a pesticide).

Again – the bottom line is that the Bt trait can be a useful addition to the farmer’s bag of tricks. But, they should mix Bt crops with non-Bt crops, to reduce the evolution of resistance, and use other insecticides.

This is a very quick overview of a complex topic, but I think it demonstrates the bottom line that GM crops with insect and herbicide resistance can be useful and even protect the environment, but they have to be used as part of an overall sustainable strategy.

But…Monsanto

The relationship between big agricultural companies, GMO, and farming is also a complex topic. I have found, however, that this is the most common source of criticism aimed at GMO and that most of the issues raised are actually myths. There are real issues, to be sure, and I will cover them, but first we have to dispense with the propaganda.

There are many big seed producing companies, the top three being Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta. For some reason Monsanto has become the poster boy for big agro corporate evil. The common claims made against Monsanto that you will find on the internet are largely not true. 

They do not sue farmers for seeds blowing into their fields. They have only pursued cases against farmers who deliberately tried to violate their contracts and essentially steal seed. Monsanto has not marketed a terminator seed that produces sterile seed. They obtained the rights of terminator seeds when they purchased another company, and then never brought them to market.

Monsanto is also not responsible for suicides among Indian farmers. In fact the suicide rate among farmers in India has gone down slightly since the introduction of GMO crops.

When we get past the hype and propaganda, what we find, in my opinion, is an industry that is behaving fairly typically (and actually there is much less to complain about than with many other industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry, cosmetic industry, oil industry, tobacco industry, etc.). This is where I feel the fair criticism lies – the big seed companies have overhyped their own products and encouraged overreliance on their GMOs as a single solution to farming’s complex issues. In this way they have been counterproductive.

They assured farmers, for example, that resistance to glyphosate would not occur, but of course it has. Seed companies have pursued a strategy of maximizing their market. They would be happy for farmers to heavily rely on their crops.

I am not defending this behavior, but let’s keep it in perspective. I start with the assumption that every single company in the world overhypes their products and services. In fact there is an entire profession (advertising) that exists solely for the purpose of hyping products and services. At the very least they put a maximally favorable spin on what they are selling.

Farmers, however, are not dumb. They don’t simply buy the corporate line whole. They are also doing what’s in their immediate best interest and not necessarily what is best for the planet long term. Government regulators also have their own take on agricultural issues.

I do think we need a push for evidence-based sustainable agriculture (it exists, but perhaps could be more institutionalized). For example, best practices might be more expensive or labor intensive for farmers and less profitable for the big seed companies, but there needs to be a standard in the industry and incentives for farmers to adhere to them.

One big issue is monoculture. The dilemma is that we are trying to squeeze an incredible amount of food energy out of limited land. We are pushing plants and the environment to their limits. Further, whenever you plant millions of something, something will evolve to eat it. It’s inevitable.

Monoculture, the reliance on a single cultivar, is counterproductive because it is inviting the inevitable blight or pest to destroy the entire crop. This happened to the Gros Michel banana monoculture, and is currently happening to the current Cavendish banana cultivar.

It can be argued that GMOs encourage monoculture, although to be clear the issue of monoculture predates and exists independent of GMO crops. For now farmers should be incentivised to mix in many varieties, even if they prefer the most profitable cultivars. They need to hedge their bets. Seed companies should be encouraged to not just make one variety with a favorable trait, but put that trait into many varieties.

In short we need to move as far away from monoculture as possible while maintaining the viability of agriculture as a business.

Another corporate issue that frequently is raised is that of patents themselves. Some GMO critics have a problem with the very notion of patents, saying they restrict innovation. Others argue that patents are necessary, otherwise no company could afford the huge investment that development requires. I have heard persuasive arguments on both sides, and honestly I don’t know what the bottom line is on this issue.

This probably means that a reasonable solution might be a compromise in the middle – tweaking patent laws to get the benefits but minimize any downsides.

For example, patents could come with a requirement to allow independent academic research. Another serious charge is that seed companies restrict independent research on their products, for fear that their property will be reverse engineered.

I wrote about this specific topic before, and will therefore just reference that article. The quick bottom line is that they do restrict research, but over the last decade have voluntarily allowed for independent academic research. The situation is therefore pretty good now, but can be improved.

Future Potential of GMO – Golden Rice and Beyond

This is a difficult issue to write about because when discussing the future there is a tendency to simply project one’s biases into the future. Having said that, I think there is good reason to be optimistic about the potential of GM as a technology.

Golden rice, for me, is a touchstone issue. I honestly cannot see any legitimate reason to oppose the use of golden rice, which is rice that has had genes for beta-carotene inserted. Since rice is a staple food in many parts of the world, and blindness and death from vitamin A deficiency in children is a huge problem. the introduction of golden rice seems like a no-brainer.

This technology is also ready for field testing, and therefore could be saving lives very soon. I get the sense that GMO critics oppose golden rice because such a home-run success for GMO would destroy their narrative (that it is all bad all the time).

GMwatch, for example argues that golden rice has not been adequately tested. However, they ignore a 2012 study (and their article has been updated that recently) showing that beta-carotene from golden rice is converted to Vitamin A in children at the same rate as pure beta-carotene from oil. They estimate that one bowl of rice would provide 60% of the daily vitamin A needed.

They and other critics argue that there are better solutions than this “high tech” fix, for example fortifying food, vitamin supplements, and growing carrots and other vegetables high in vitamin A.

However, such efforts are already underway, and while they have produced good results, are a long way from solving the problem of vitamin A deficiency. Golden rice is being advocated as an additional method (not instead of) these other methods.

In fact the issue has caused ex-Greenpeace president, Patrick Moore, to criticize his former organization for their opposition to golden rice.

There are many other potential applications of GM technology. Increasing the nutritional content of food is just one. Another is nitrogen fixation. Some plants use bacteria to fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere. Others, including the cereals that make up most human calories, need to get their nitrogen from the soil, which means heavy fertilization. This has a huge environmental impact, a huge cost, and is one of the primary limiting factors in big agriculture.

Imagine if corn and wheat could fix their own nitrogen. This will probably never be developed with traditional breeding techniques – we need GM technology for this.

Another very promising goal is enhancing photosynthesis. Some plants have more efficient photosynthetic pathways than others. If we could get the optimal photosynthetic process into our major crops, that could increase yield significantly (estimates are by 20%).

Other potential applications include drought resistance, pathogen resistance, cold tolerance, and other ways of increasing yield.

One criticism of GM technology is that, while it may be good for applications that require 1-2 genes to accomplish, some traits (like drought resistance) involve many genes. Traditional breeding techniques might therefore be better for such complex traits.

Conclusion

GMOs are neither a panacea nor menace.  Genetic modification is simply a powerful technology, and its impact will depend entirely on how it is used. In fact, it is difficult to talk about GMOs as if they are one thing, and when someone does they are likely speaking from an ideological position. Rather, each individual GMO needs to be assessed on its own risks and merits.

Like many technologies, what matters most is how it is used. Safely feeding the growing population of the world in a sustainable way without having a major negative impact on the environment is a great challenge for our civilization. We should not accept uncritically the hype and spin of companies offering simple answers (that involve buying their product), but neither should we reject an entire technology based upon fear and misinformation.

In the end I think the conversation can be a healthy one – exploring all the complex issues of the use of GM technology can lead to better practices and solutions.

Share

152 responses so far

152 Responses to “The GMO Controversy”

  1. freemanosheaon 04 Feb 2014 at 12:00 pm

    S

    Nicely written. However, I would advise against using anything Patrick Moore has to say as a part of any argument. He’s a kind of “reformed” environmentalist fore hire.

    He’s been hired by just about any industry who’ll have him.

    Love the blog.

    Cheers,

    F

  2. Gallenodon 04 Feb 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Excellent! Thank you for taking the time to summarize the issue.

    I’m bookmarking this so I can share it the next time one of my activist (on either side, though most tend towards anti-GMO) friends posts a rant or links to nonsense on the subject.

  3. sonicon 04 Feb 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Wow- what a fantastic overview.

    Proof readers correction– 8th paragraph under ‘Monsanto…’ first word should be ‘farmers’ not ‘farmer’– right?

    Thank-you for a reasonable and balanced summary- I too think it is the best I’ve seen yet and will be using it in the future, if you don’t mind.

  4. Skeptical Caton 04 Feb 2014 at 2:42 pm

    This really is an excellent summary. The only thing I can think of that it needs is some discussion of the GMO labeling issue. Do you have any thoughts on that?

  5. Bronze Dogon 04 Feb 2014 at 2:50 pm

    I start with the assumption that every single company in the world overhypes their products and services. In fact there is an entire profession (advertising) that exists solely for the purpose of hyping products and services. At the very least they put a maximally favorable spin on what they are selling.

    This is something that any remotely intelligent person should be aware of. It also reminds me of one thing I’ve said about things like dodgy copyright laws and probably many other laws. “If everyone is guilty, it’s easy for someone with an agenda to selectively punish the people they don’t like.” Yes, it’s bad if someone uses deceptive marketing, but if everyone does it, it’s a double standard to criticize any one company for it while giving free passes to the ones you like.

    Regarding resistant germs/pests/weeds/whatever, I had a talk with my brother about it, and he had an appropriate phrase, “You can’t get off this treadmill.” I think it’s an apt metaphor, and it’s something of a restatement of the Red Queen Principle, “You have to run as fast as you can to just stay where you are.” There’s never going to be a magic bullet, only temporary, circumstantial advantages. I’ll take a temporary advantage over giving into fatalism, but I don’t stop there. I think the best strategy is to maximize the number of tools we have so we can create an extended cycle where the pests are adapting to the most recent intervention while losing the traits that gave them an advantage over previous interventions. After they lose old resistances from a lack of selective pressure to keep them, we bring back the corresponding intervention.

    An amusing image in my head: A weed in the distant future gloating about its newfound resistance to the latest herbicide. After discovering that Roundup is back in use, it bemoans its lack of preparation for “retro” herbicides, thinking we’d never go back to them.

  6. kevinfoltaon 04 Feb 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Great stuff Steve. Since my time on SGU on the topic it has exploded. Glad to hear/see you staying on it! Glad you touched on domestication issues. Recent work shows that two corn lines are massively different. Breeding is truly the basis of a frankenfood.

  7. Bronze Dogon 04 Feb 2014 at 4:27 pm

    I think I might start saying that if humans bred a food item, it’s a frankenfood. Our crops and livestock were aberrant freaks of nature millennia before we even discovered genes.

  8. BBBlueon 04 Feb 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Excellent! Thank you. This will be a great intro on the subject for many.

    I may not agree with everything you have said, but that’s more a matter of degree than of substance.

  9. Technogeekon 04 Feb 2014 at 7:54 pm

    As I’ve said elsewhere on the Intertubes, the fact that Monsanto has become the touchstone of GM opposition and not, say, Dow Chemical, says a lot. Dow is just as involved in the field as Monsanto (through their subsidiary, Dow AgroSciences), and they’re a lot more blatant about their evil (Nicaraguan death squads, anyone?)

    Seriously, how the hell does a company that made nuclear bombs manage to be LESS hated than Monsanto?

  10. hardnoseon 04 Feb 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Breeding of plants and animals has gone on for thousands of years. It is not at all the same as genetic engineering. Combining DNA from different species can have unforeseen and dangerous results.

    The studies showing that GMOs are safe were probably funded mostly by Monsanto, etc. You cannot trust that research.

    The world doesn’t need more and more food. t doesn’t need more and more humans creating devastation and destroying other species.

  11. rezistnzisfutlon 04 Feb 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Pesticide resistance, including of glyphosate, is not a new phenomenon and glyphosate resistance has been occurring at about the same rate before RR crops as after.

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

    I’m not aware of any biotech firm indicating that the use of their pesticide isn’t going to have any resistance develop with its use. I would like to see a citation for this. What they do indicate is that their pesticides will be as likely to have resistances develop as any other form of pesticide, especially if best practices are utilized, something they do advocate. While I do think that any company is going to put the best spin possible on their products, I also think we need to be careful of putting words into their mouths – they also have to consider their own reputations, so they won’t tend to put themselves out on a limb too much.

    What is not mentioned here is that glyphosate is one of the least toxic and most environmentally friendly pesticides available, with less toxicity than what is found in table salt. Organic production, which touts itself as being the safer alternative, routinely uses organic chemical pesticides that are orders of magnitude more toxic than glyphosate – those farmers that don’t use chemical pesticides often deal with devastating pest problems that substantially raises crop prices, and there’s the matter of foodborne pathogens often found in organic that is directly related to organic practices (the use of uncured manures and composts).

    Also, ANY change to an environmental system is going to place one form of selective pressure or another, many which we would consider negative.

    While safety assessments and studies should be a part of the deregulation process, currently GE crops are the only ones that must provide this. All other forms of agriculture are exempt from this requirement. We know virtually nothing about the actual safety of the new crops that come out, and have been out for the past few years. While there is potential for GE crops to cause harm, hybridation and other techniques used for genetic manipulation aren’t immune to causing harm. Lenape potatoes are a good example:

    http://boingboing.net/2013/03/25/the-case-of-the-poison-potato.html

    Hybrid techniques can cause increases in toxins and allergies in foods that weren’t an issue before, just by developing new varieties with slightly different phenotypes.

    As far as monoculture, this is a modern agricultural phonomenon that is NOT unique to GMOs. Yes, that argument is made, but it is fallacious. There simply is no evidence that GE crops are any more prone to monoculture than any other conventional method.

    That being said, again it comes to best practices – farmers should be discouraged from overusing any of their more successful cash crops. Most of them do, but not all farmers are conscientious or equally knowledgeable.

    I think most GMO advocates regard GMOs as nothing more or less than one tool among many in the toolbox of agriculture, and it’s a tool that should be used wisely, not just for safety, but for maximum benefit.

    Many pro-GMO people may seem like they’re pro-Monsanto, but what I think the issue is is a resistance to falsehoods and misinformation being propogated about them. If one is going to be critical of them, be critical for what they actually are. So many anti-GMO activists make up conspiracy theories, not just about Monsanto, but about governments and regulation as well. This is not conducive to meaningful discussion on real issues with agriculture.

  12. rezistnzisfutlon 04 Feb 2014 at 9:31 pm

    hardnose,

    Combining DNA from different species can have unforeseen and dangerous results.

    This is what current regulations are for. One reason why GE seeds can be more expensive than their conventional counterparts is because of the deregulation process (fortunately, the cost savings usually make them economically more viable).

    The studies showing that GMOs are safe were probably funded mostly by Monsanto, etc. You cannot trust that research.

    There are hundreds of studies by independent institutions, universities, regulating agencies, and other scientific bodies that corroborate anything industry puts out. Plus, just because industry publishes a study doesn’t automatically make it incorrect – the data stands on its own merits. Combine that with the fact that there has never been a health incident or case regarding GMOs in the decades since its use, along with the overwhelming scientific consensus by mostly unaffiliated scientists, your assertion is baseless.

    The world doesn’t need more and more food. t doesn’t need more and more humans creating devastation and destroying other species.

    This is one bit of activism that drives me crazy. What are we supposed to do, just let people starve? Population control by attrition? Probably not the best, or most humane, way to debate on the issue of population.

  13. Davdoodleson 04 Feb 2014 at 11:00 pm

    #hardnose: “The world doesn’t need more and more food. t doesn’t need more and more humans creating devastation and destroying other species.”

    I too believe that others should give up breeding and starve to death, simply so that you-and-I can enjoy un-challenged access to land, resources and luxurious low-tech food.

    Though, on second thought, I see no compelling reason why you shouldn’t starve along with them too.

    Nothing personal. Now give me your teosinte and your testicles, and begone. Your empty-belly rumbling is totally harshing my buzz.
    .

  14. ConspicuousCarlon 04 Feb 2014 at 11:42 pm

    rezistnzisfutl on 04 Feb 2014 at 9:31 pm
    This is one bit of activism that drives me crazy. What are we supposed to do, just let people starve? Population control by attrition?

    Yeah, it’s hideous.

  15. tudzaon 05 Feb 2014 at 3:18 am

    Last I read on the topic was that Monsanto is leveraging its expertise in GMO creation to speed regular cross breeding techniques. The goal would seem to be getting GMO type results with out the genetic modification.

  16. Bruceon 05 Feb 2014 at 6:06 am

    “The world doesn’t need more and more food. t doesn’t need more and more humans creating devastation and destroying other species.”

    I think we can point out one human we would all hope does not breed.

  17. Steven Novellaon 05 Feb 2014 at 7:13 am

    rez – you are correct, and I could have made this more explicit:

    pesticide and herbicide resistance, and monoculture, are not new or unique to GM. GM, if used simple-mindedly as a single solution, might encourage them, that’s all. GM use intelligently, as part of an overall strategy, actually can mitigate resistance.

    Also – farmers not reusing seed is also not unique to GM. The progeny of hybrid seeds also cannot be planted the next year because the hybrid traits will likely not breed through.

  18. MikeBon 05 Feb 2014 at 8:29 am

    An hilarious fact, one to make heads explode on the left:

    Monsanto scored a perfect 100 in its treatment of gay and lesbian employees, acc. to Human Rights Campaign.

    http://news.monsanto.com/press-release/recognition/monsanto-named-best-place-work-lgbt-equality-human-rights-campaign-hrc

    Another hilarious fact:

    Monsanto wins World Food Prize:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/17/world-food-prize-stirs-controversy/3006213/

    Yet another, for corporate responsibility:

    http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/Pages/corporate-sustainability-report.aspx

    Pop! Pop! Pop!

  19. Michael Finfer, MDon 05 Feb 2014 at 9:47 am

    One small criticism that does not just apply to you.

    “over-reliance on this one strategy results in pests becoming resistant to Bt.”

    I wish folks writing on subjects would call a spade a spade and state that …pests evolve resistance to… instead of using words liken”develop.” We have enough problems in that other department. Calling a spade a spade might help.

  20. Skepticoon 05 Feb 2014 at 10:48 am

    An excellent, measured, summary of the situation, as always Steven.

    Golden Rice is one of those subjects that tell me if someone is interested in reason, or if they are just opposed to GMOs no matter what the facts might be. For example you note that GMwatch argues that golden rice has not been adequately tested. And yet when scientists tried to test Golden Rice, anti-GMO activists destroyed the fields where the tests were taking place. Destroy the experiment before it’s finished – clearly those people don’t want more testing as they claim, they just want testing that supports the conclusion they have already arrived at.

  21. BBBlueon 05 Feb 2014 at 12:43 pm

    On the topic of resistance: Most farmers along with those who inform them are keenly aware of the selection pressure they are putting on pests. As others have said, resistance is not a new concept and predates GE. Resistance management has become a prominent component of pest management strategies in agriculture, particularly as many “hard”, broad-spectrum pesticides have been replaced by “soft”, targeted pesticides that often act on a single site within a metabolic pathway. For instance, many fungicides are categorized by mode of action with that information listed prominently on the use label (FRAC code), and label instructions specifically address resistance management strategies.

    As for advertising affecting the decisions a farmer makes, it happens, but probably less than in most buyer-seller relationships. There are often many trusted third parties involved in evaluating the efficacy of new products, and farmers are generally able to do their own efficacy trials as well. Imagine if doctors and patients were able to properly perform their own clinical trials and get reliable results within a year; they wouldn’t be nearly as dependent on the claims made by others. That’s the luxury farmers have. I can also assure you that every farmer I know takes a very dim view of being lied to, and those who misrepresent their products don’t usually last long in the marketplace.

  22. hardnoseon 05 Feb 2014 at 1:00 pm

    “An hilarious fact, one to make heads explode on the left:”

    My head has exploded. I am now a worshiper of Monsanto. Monsanto for One World Dictator.

  23. Bronze Dogon 05 Feb 2014 at 1:24 pm

    @hardnose

    Combining DNA from different species can have unforeseen and dangerous results.

    How is this different from breeding a stock of plants that are each capable of having dangerous mutations or might create dangerous combinations of genes from breeding? There’s this thing you might want to read up on. It’s called evolution. Genomes change with or without our help. Oh, and viruses do horizontal gene transfers all the time without human intervention. Does this mean that everything that’s ever picked up an ERV sequence is more or less likely to be a dangerous cross-species abomination? As I see it, if we were to apply this precautionary standard consistently, it would be a radically pro-monoculture argument of “change is bad.” Any change to a genome may have dangerous and unintended consequences. Monocultures don’t easily experience that sort of change.

    The real issue is that the naturalistic fallacy is invoked as an excuse for an ideological/political/economic double-standard. It gives a free pass to natural changes by presuming that they are somehow inherently and unfailingly safe, while artificial changes are somehow special in a way that removes that magical safety. I say it’s hubris to think that human-initiated changes are inherently more dangerous than natural changes. It elevates humans as being above and beyond the natural world, rather than a part of it.

    As always, I also find the language used to attack the risks of trans-species insertion reeks of the same core trope racists use when talking of interracial marriage. It’s dangerous because it violates an entirely mythical purity they elevate over the interests of the people involved. I hate to burst your Platonist bubble, but I don’t believe there is such a thing as species purity. As a result, ideological assertions that we’re inviting disaster by violating it just don’t work on me.

  24. Bronze Dogon 05 Feb 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Also, if you think GM crops are under-tested, why aren’t you even more terrified of non-GM crops, which aren’t tested with the same rigor?

  25. Ekkoon 05 Feb 2014 at 4:04 pm

    In addition to Golden Rice, there are also Arctic Apples, which I think are currently going through the hoops towards approval. They don’t even involve inserting new genes, just turning off the one responsible for an apple to brown when cut. Pretty innocuous imo but ideological champions still freak out and reject it.

  26. ChrisHon 05 Feb 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Ekko: “there are also Arctic Apples, which I think are currently going through the hoops towards approval.”

    I wonder if MikeB will like them apples… they are not being developed by Monsanto!

  27. MikeBon 05 Feb 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Chris H: why wouldn’t I like them? I don’t understand your point.

    I am an apple grower, by the way, so I’m unlikely to buy Arctic apples for that simple reason.

    I do think they’re cool, though.

    Let someone produce the goods on Monsanto and I’ll be the first to beat them with a stick.

  28. ChrisHon 05 Feb 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Because your argument started with “Monsanto scored a perfect 100 in its treatment of gay and lesbian employees, acc. to Human Rights Campaign.”

    My point is that Monsanto is not the only company working on GMO products. So I assumed you only dislike GMOs because you don’t like one company, despite there being at least on paragraph in the above article that mentioned other companies.

    Then you have absolutely no animosity towards Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., okay.

  29. hardnoseon 05 Feb 2014 at 7:26 pm

    DNA is not at all well understood. Most of it is considered “junk,” merely because scientists don’t know what it does. Instead of admitting they don’t know, they assume it is worthless.

    That is a recurring theme in the history of science. Most researchers are unimaginative and meekly believe what they were taught. Occasionally one comes along who actually thinks, and then meaningful discoveries can be made.

    At this time, DNA is mostly still a mystery. So when you engineer it, there can be many unintended effects.

    When DNA is modified naturally, there are probably safeguards that we know nothing about.

    We still don’t know, and so far we have not heard of any horrible consequences. That doesn’t mean they aren’t happening, but we don’t know. There are warning signs, like the supposedly dramatic increase in food allergies in children. If true, that would be very scary.

    The research cannot be trusted. The Big Ag companies don’t make it easy for independent researchers to use their seeds, for one thing. And research is hard for non-experts to interpret, and therefore can be made deceptive. For example, a researcher could feed GMOs to a small group of rats for a short time and not find a statistically significant adverse effect. The power would be too low to find an effect, even if one existed. But all the public would hear is that the GMO caused no harm.

  30. rezistnzisfutlon 05 Feb 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Hardnose,

    Where are you getting any of this from? DNA is not well understood? DNA is very well understood. We’ve been able to map the ENTIRE human genome, and that of several other species. We are able to successfully manipulate phenotypes of living organisms in a controlled and predictable manner. And no, “junk” DNA isn’t called that because scientists have no clue what they are, they are called that because they have no discernible function.

    Honestly, your post is so full of ignorance that one would think we’re talking to a creationist. Of course, compound your apparent ignorance about fairly basic biology as well as the fundamentals of science with conspiracy theories, and that would be a fair assessment at least in an apples to apples comparison of cognitive dissonances.

  31. pnambicon 05 Feb 2014 at 8:54 pm

    In other words, hardnose, you don’t understand any of this stuff, so you conclude that nobody else does, either, and those who claim otherwise must be out to make a fast buck, even at peril of destroying life as we know it?

    Have you considered that you might simply be wrong?

  32. BBBlueon 05 Feb 2014 at 9:01 pm

    But all the public would hear is that the GMO caused no harm.

    Existing evidence indicates that it is the anti-GMO crowd that is most complicit in spreading misinformation, if not bald-faced lies.

    I have asked many anti-GMO people to provide objective evidence that supports their argument and their fears and all I ever get are the same what-ifs and biased research that have already been exposed here and elsewhere.

    Have anything new to convince me, Mr. Hardnose?

  33. MikeLewinskion 05 Feb 2014 at 10:34 pm

    hardnose on 05 Feb 2014 at 7:26 pm

    DNA is not at all well understood. Most of it is considered “junk,” merely because scientists don’t know what it does. Instead of admitting they don’t know, they assume it is worthless

    Please see Science Writers Need Science History by Carl Zimmer:

    Less than two percent of the human genome consists of protein-coding genes. The “junk DNA” the news reports are referring to is the other 98%. But in the late 1950s, researchers discovered that short segments of DNA near protein-coding genes in E. coli played important functions. Proteins could clamp onto those segments to shut a gene down or to ramp up the production of the corresponding protein. In other words, scientists already knew fifty years ago that some segments of DNA that did not encode proteins were useful. This was not obscure research: the scientists got the Nobel prize. No big secret there.

    The whole article is worth reading, though it’s five years old already and soon will need be updated to read “sixty years ago”. I fear you’ve become a victim of bad science reporting. There’s no shame in that, as there are plenty of examples out there.

    You’re right that we don’t understand everything about genetics. Even after having mapped entire genomes we still don’t know how many of the constituent genes function.

    But as others are pointing out, we’ve been genetically modifying crops since the beginning of the agricultural revolution. The biggest difference is that historically we’ve done so mostly in the dark by trial and error. Now we have a bit of understanding and a little more precision. As far as breeding technology goes, that’s a marked improvement. Conventional breeding methods do produce poisonous foods from time to time. I fear there are no such “safeguards we know nothing about” where it concerns the potential for new crops bred conventionally to have unwanted effects.

    With biotechnology we have an understanding of what genes are modified, what their effects are, and where they are in the genome. The results can be confirmed by sequencing the genome of the new variety and comparing it to the parent. New organisms developed through biotechnology undergo years of laboratory evaluation and regulatory scrutiny. Introgression is used to move transgenes that were inserted by biotechnology into a variety of related hybrids through conventional breeding methods, and those are cultivated and tested to make sure that the farmers who buy the seeds will get a good crop.

    So to Steven’s point about the need for more varieties to address problems of monoculture, there are generally a wide number of varieties with various combinations of traits offered by the seed companies. Perhaps there aren’t as many as there should be, but to a large degree the commodity market is driven by the buyers’ demands for certain characteristics and the farmers only have so much latitude in what they plant if they want to be able to sell their harvest.

  34. MikeLewinskion 05 Feb 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Regarding the naturalistic fallacy, I’ve been sharing this widely since I found it last week, as it contains a couple surprising admissions.

    The National Organic Program of the USDA prohibits genetically engineered crops in organic production because GMOs are not the product of “natural” breeding methods.

    This quote comes from the National Organic Standards Board GMO ad hoc Subcommittee Discussion Document “Excluded Methods Terminology” and notes how poorly chosen the word “natural” is in reference to breeding methods:

    1. A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production.

    The phrase “not possible under natural conditions or processes” has become problematic in the context of “traditional” breeding methods that involve disruption of normal plant cell growth. For example, mutagenesis can be a process in which chemical or radiation stress is applied on a cell to force mutation to happen, but it also commonly occurs in nature and at least some of the mutagenesis chemicals are derived from nature…. The concept of “natural” is not defined in any regulations and is very blurred after centuries of humans manipulating the environment and plants, animals and microbes.

    This brings up the question, what exactly is it about a genetic modification process that is objectionable in the organic context? This larger question is what the GMO Subcommittee is re-visiting here in order for organic stakeholders to clarify the basis of objection to the technology because even acceptable breeding methods could very well not be possible under natural conditions. It may be that the species line is where people object to genetic exchange occurring. If this is the case, the terms interspecific (between species) and intraspecific (within species) or intergeneric (between genera) and intrageneric (within a genus) may come in handy. So many different techniques are used now that wording must be very carefully chosen or some crops already accepted in organic cultivation might be ruled out. Examples include triticale (created from breeding two different genera), bananas and seedless watermelon from somatic doubling, and more.

    Dutch organic plant breeder Edith Lammerts van Bueren has proposed that organisms have “intrinsic value” and “integrity” represented by an intact genome (Lammerts van Bueren et al. 2003). While this argument may seem to have more of a philosophical than scientific basis to it, it may be a useful organizing statement in describing what the organic community finds acceptable means of plant and animal breeding.

    So there it is–the organic industry’s rejection of GMO isn’t because science, but because philosophy. I don’t mean to denigrate philosophy here. It’s fine that people have such philosophic objections (until they mistake them for scientific ones, anyway). The argument for the intrinsic value of organisms (and of the importance of preserving species boundaries) is one of the few arguments against GMOs that has some legitimacy in my mind. It doesn’t fully sway me over the practical benefits offered by biotechnology, but it is worthy of consideration and represents a valid philosophical objection that doesn’t contain the naturalistic fallacy.

  35. Davdoodleson 05 Feb 2014 at 11:28 pm

    #hardnose: Contrast your assertion:

    “DNA is not at all well understood… …So when you engineer it, there can be many unintended effects.”

    With this, from the very same post:

    “When DNA is modified naturally, there are probably safeguards that we know nothing about.”

    So, while you freely admit to knowing nothing about DNA or the consequences when/if it alters, you simply decide without evidence that if it’s “engineered” consequences will be somehow bad, but if it alters “naturally” there are “probably safeguards”.

    Do you really have so little insight? Quite remarkable, in a train-wreck sort of way.
    .

  36. Bronze Dogon 06 Feb 2014 at 12:36 am

    @hardnose

    Wow. Asserting that messing with DNA is dangerous because we don’t know everything about it (but much more than hardnose thinks we do) but somehow hardnose knows enough to assert the probable existence of safeguards created by nature to protect the human species because the human race is special, deserving of being coddled, and mother nature’s obvious favorite. So when nature randomly tweaks genes (being mindless, it doesn’t know anything about DNA), bad things just simply can’t happen because reasons.

    Grow some humility, hardnose. Nature is not inherently subservient to humankind, you species jingoist. Right now, the only entities that think humans are special and deserving of magical protection are humans. Mother nature does not come pre-tamed with the safeguards you think humans deserve. I’m not aware of any reason to think universe exists for our benefit. Until I see evidence otherwise, I go with the null hypothesis that the universe has no purpose other than the purposes we choose to impose on it as beings with wants and needs.

    Man, I’m having to go really far into ranty mode just to express just how absurd hardnose has gotten.

    Oh, and researchers just meekly believing what they were taught?! Seriously?! Do you have any idea what scientific research means? Research inherently attracts people who want to prove that we didn’t understand something as well as we thought we did, so they can prove they found something that helps us understand it just a little bit more. You don’t become a famous or even interesting researcher by maintaining the status quo.

    And yet for all this whining about the conservative (not right-wing) caution of science, you’re hypocritically spouting what, to me, sounds much like the superstitious human jingoism from the time when nature was just something to exploit because gods told us the universe was our plaything and it didn’t matter in the long run because the four horsemen would just torch it all in a century or two at the most. You come across as the reactionary fringe. Not that that’s anything new, from my experience with other anti-GMO trolls.

    The earlier Platonic garbage about violating the sacred species barrier sounds an awful lot like the stuff I’ve heard from racists, eugenicists, and other filth to justify ignoring the merits of an individual in favor of finding flimsy excuses to call a perfectly fine person an abomination because of some perceived taint from “those” people. “Species” is a human-created label used to (over-)simplify conversations about what happens in nature, not a law of nature in itself. A gene’s origin doesn’t matter to the organism that uses it.

  37. MikeLewinskion 06 Feb 2014 at 9:44 am

    Bronze Dog, I’d agree that the concepts (plural) of species are all human generated and all oversimplifications. Yet the concept still proves quite useful and does have meaning.

    You presumably value the integrity of your body. If I developed a virus that promoted neanderthal genes and physically transformed you, I suspect you’d protest because you value your human integrity.

    The mockery implicit in the word ‘sacred’ is uncharitable. You presumably value the integrity of your DNA and your cells without any reference to spiritual concepts. If humans don’t have intrinsic value, why should murder be a crime at all?

    One can assign intrinsic value without any reference to spirituality or platonic ideals, and certainly without making them sacred and hence, unalterable. I suggested just that degree of flexibility in my post, saying that while I appreciate the argument I still consider practical benefits of biotechnology more important (indeed it is a false dichotomy here that integrity and modification are mutually exclusive, given that transgenic organisms typically will have something on the order of a 0.0001% alteration–if held to that standard then ‘sacred’ would indeed apply).

    There’s intrinsic value to intact ecosystems. Integrity in the context of ecology means that the evolved communities of the food web are interacting in a way that promotes continued stability and flourishing of the whole. When we remove wolves from an ecosystem, the other herbivores such as deer and elk tend to overgraze and change the character of the flora, especially tree species. That in turn can affect other species such as beaver who rely on trees of certain size and type for building dams. As the beaver disappears the course of rivers changes, and with it, the aquatic community. By removing one species, the wolf, nearly every other part of the ecosystem is altered and the overall biological richness of the entire food web is affected. This is playing out today in the laboratory of the national parks in the U.S. where park managers are taking actions to repair the damage done by extirpation (in some cases through reintroductions, in others by substituting human hunters for wolves, such as in Rocky Mountain National Park).

    Of course the concept of ecosystem is just as imprecise and human-created as that of organism. We can acknowledge this while still appreciating the value of both concepts and still valuing their integrity. Such value need not be “sacred” or unalterable. I might change the brand of spark plug used in my car from the manufacturer-installed brand, and the integrity of the engine will persist as long as I use the right size plug with the right gap (so here I’m agreeing with you that a gene’s origin doesn’t matter to the organism that uses it).

  38. hardnoseon 06 Feb 2014 at 9:44 am

    I never thought nature was subservient to humans Bronze Dog. I think the opposite.

    And most researchers do try to maintain the status quo. At least, they dare not deviate from what the mainstream has dictated. You can’t have a successful career unless you support the mainstream consensus.

  39. hardnoseon 06 Feb 2014 at 9:47 am

    “And no, “junk” DNA isn’t called that because scientists have no clue what they are, they are called that because they have no discernible function.”

    Ok, the have “no discernible function.” In other words, they are not currently understood. So 90% of DNA is currently not understood, and only 10% is, supposedly, completely understood.

    Well this seems to be an admission that DNA is not well understood. At least not the great majority of it.

    And yet you feel it is safe to engineer it.

  40. MikeLewinskion 06 Feb 2014 at 10:13 am

    hardnose, in some cases non-coding sequences are almost certainly “junk” and we can see the explanation for why this in their provenance.

    Earlier in our evolutionary history, ancestral germ cells were infected with endogenous retroviruses (this probably happened many times). Then mutations occurred that left the virus unable to replicate, but because it infected a germ cell (sperm or egg) it became incorporated into every cell of the progeny.

    We can also do experiments in model organisms to remove sequences and observe that the organism develops as expected and doesn’t appear (or behave) differently than an organism that has the sequence intact.

    http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041018/full/news041018-7.html

    So in some cases it is almost certain that no amount of study will ever reveal a function because there truly is no function. But the objection that we haven’t found one yet (or lack perfect understanding) can be used indefinitely to stop technology. I suppose this is a form of the Nirvana fallacy.

  41. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Feb 2014 at 10:35 am

    Well this seems to be an admission that DNA is not well understood.

    Not really. It is well understood, but there will always be room for future adjustments to understanding as new data comes to light. That’s how science works, by levels of confidence, not certainties. Yours is playing on Nirvana Fallacy by seemingly requiring 100% understanding of things before we act, which is, of course always going to be impossible. Science must leave open the possibility some uncertainty, or else knowledge would never grow and we’d never bother exploring beyond our current understanding.

    Something can be well understood, yet not fully understood. This is true in pretty much every scientific endeavor.

    I suggest that you educate yourself on science itself, maybe talk to some actual biologists about subjects like these, get a sense of the fundamentals of science as that seems to be a problem for you.

  42. Bruceon 06 Feb 2014 at 10:44 am

    “Ok, the have “no discernible function.” In other words, they are not currently understood. So 90% of DNA is currently not understood, and only 10% is, supposedly, completely understood.

    Well this seems to be an admission that DNA is not well understood.”

    NEE NAW NEE NAW NEE NAW!!! Sorry, I can’t hear you over my bullcrap alarm.

    We don’t understand it so don’t study it/don’t play with it/god did it/it is where our psi powers lie latent!

    Anyway, aside from that, how do you think science works anyway? You think scientists should only experiment with the known? How do you think we will discover new things if we don’t delve into the unknown every now and then?

    And before you say anything else, do you actually know anything about the regulations surrounding the field of science you are so quick to call a no go zone?

  43. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Feb 2014 at 10:57 am

    MikeLewinski,

    While it’s all fine and good to value organisms’ innate value, and of course that’s anyone’s right to place whatever value they wish to any given organism, I would caution against the desire to retain that value in the face of a dynamic world. Very few organisms, and ecosystems for that matter, have been able to survive over countless millennia without change. I think it’s a fallacy to attribute specific value of an organism merely by the principle that it currently exists in its present form without examining whether any change to it could impart more useful features.

    I think it goes into deeper philosophical questions about human values versus the natural world, which will typically act independent of human values. Human values are essentially artificial in construction as well as arbitrary – nature doesn’t care whether we hold certain things in it valuable and others not. Most likely it’s going to change in one direction or another whether we want it to or not, at least on its own (without our contribution to it).

    When humans “artificially” interact with ecosystems, environments, and organisms, we alter those things to suit what our values are. ALL of us do it, including organic loving people who “value” their food in “natural” form (given that few foods we currently consume have not been altered by humans to some degree). Outside of their foods, there are MANY things even the most arduous nature-loving hippie will change about their environment. Creating homes, clothes, and farms are all artificial constructs, and in essence manipulating nature to suit what their values are.

    No matter what we do, we’re going to alter our environment and ecosystems. Even the most minute act will have some sort of resultant consequence in nature, putting new selective pressures on organisms. So, I think the more pertinent question is, what is the outcome of manipulating anything in particular? Is it something we can accept? Is it going to alter things negatively in our perspective? It is going to have much of an effect at all? Do the positive attributes of what we’re altering outweigh any sort of negatives?

    The way I see it, clinging to the form of a current organism, say, an apple, just because it is the way it is now, when it can be changed in such a way that makes it more valuable to us (eg, enhanced freshness, greater micronutrient content, higher frost resistance, etc) with few what we would consider negative consequences, is irrational. It also ignores the fact that few, if any, foods we currently know are anywhere like what they started out as in nature.

  44. MikeLewinskion 06 Feb 2014 at 12:03 pm

    rezistnzisfutl, I generally agree with your points, even as I’d allow that at some point humans may (over)? engineer a species out of existence that had intrinsic value in its native form (and perhaps also utilitarian value, as providing gene stock for engineering blight resistance against future threats).

    The difference between teosinte and modern (conventional) corn is far more striking than the difference between conventional corn and Bt or RoundUp ready corn (even a child can see the former, but it usually takes a specialist using high tech sequencing equipment to determine the latter, at least in its harvested form).

    Fortunately we still have teosinte, so this example really doesn’t stand well. However, I can imagine that an engineered species might some day escape into the wild and out compete its wild relatives into extinction. Even discarding the intrinsic value in such a case, we might lose the utilitarian value mentioned above.

    None of that concedes biotechnology shouldn’t be used. I think the current regulatory regime is adequately suited to the risks posed (and if anything serves as argument for increasing regulations on conventional breeding).

    To save double posting, one other earlier comment I wanted to address on another topic.

    Technogeek, re:

    Dow is just as involved in the field as Monsanto (through their subsidiary, Dow AgroSciences), and they’re a lot more blatant about their evil (Nicaraguan death squads, anyone?)

    Seriously, how the hell does a company that made nuclear bombs manage to be LESS hated than Monsanto?

    Actually Monsanto was involved in the Dayton Project that developed triggers for the very first nuclear bombs. I find some dark humor in the story that Monsanto’s Charles Allen Thomas borrowed his wife’s family estate for the development and promised to return it to them after the war in its original condition. Due to contamination the whole thing was dismantled and shipped out of state. I have to imagine that made dinners with the in-laws a little awkward thereafter.

    So in this regard, Monsanto is more culpable than DOW in that it helped build nuclear weapons that were actually used.

    But to answer the larger question “Why Monsanto?”, it’s been suggested that this is an exercise of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, #13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” If anti-GMO activists were to more evenly target all the big seed companies using biotechnology, they’d dilute their efforts. Given the combined history of Monsanto as a chemical company, and particularly given their more recent litigation against farmers, they make the most sense from a tactical perspective.

  45. hardnoseon 06 Feb 2014 at 12:42 pm

    “We can also do experiments in model organisms to remove sequences and observe that the organism develops as expected and doesn’t appear (or behave) differently than an organism that has the sequence intact.”

    That study’s authors admit that they only showed the mice survived a few generations. And they only removed 1% of the DNA, not 90%. There probably is some redundancy and resilience, so removing a small part might not cause obvious damage. But, as they said, the damage could be something they did not look at. Furthermore, it was in 2004, and more of the “junk” has been found to have functions since then.

    “Anyway, aside from that, how do you think science works anyway? You think scientists should only experiment with the known? How do you think we will discover new things if we don’t delve into the unknown every now and then?”

    Experimenting within a lab is very different from marketing engineered organisms to the world.

  46. hardnoseon 06 Feb 2014 at 12:47 pm

    GMOs should be labeled in the US, as they are elsewhere, and we should have a choice. Now they are forced on us.

    Whether they might be extremely dangerous is a matter of opinion at this point. Big Ag has tremendous power and I don’t see any reason to trust them.

  47. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Feb 2014 at 12:55 pm

    MikeLewinski,

    Who knows what species have been lost over time due to agriculture because humans valued the traits of the crops they were growing at the time more than what was found in the wild. Before humans existed, species came and went, and so did ecosystems. Something like 99.99+% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct.

    Of course, when it comes to hybridization, mutation, and outright genetic engineering organisms, we have a little more control over outcomes. Currently, I’m not aware of newly developed cultivars supplanting older varieties out of existence (though I’m sure its possible) so it seems to me that, at least what is currently on the menu for the nature-loving organic types on through to the more conventional consumers, both will have a choice instead of one or the other losing out. I seriously doubt that Arctic Apples are going to cause Red Delicious do disappear, as long as there’s a demand for them.

    Anyway, it seems we’re on the same page for the most part.

    As far as anti’s targeting Monsanto, it is irrational as I think most of us can agree. It’s irrational to hold what a company may have done 50+ years ago accountable for what some people perceive as “culpability”. Monsanto especially is no longer the same chemical company they were then, which was sold off back in the 90′s, much less none of the same staff is running the company or even living. Attitudes were different back then and we have the benefit of hindsight as well as different sensibilities to judge people. There were MANY companies that made items of warfare and destruction back in those days that still exist today, but we don’t hear anything about them. Boeing made the Enola Gay, but I don’t see anyone calling for their dissolution. It is Activism 101 to create a bogeyman that is representative of something people hate because it works on their emotions, which is often far more powerful and convincing than skeptical inquiry or scientific evidence, and whether intuitively or knowingly they’ve managed to leverage that quite successfully, even in the face of direct, and overwhelming, evidence to the contrary.

  48. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Feb 2014 at 1:08 pm

    But, as they said, the damage could be something they did not look at. Furthermore, it was in 2004, and more of the “junk” has been found to have functions since then.

    What damage? You automatically conclude that damage MUST be occurring with no evidence to back that up. You still don’t seem to understand the fundamentals of science, in this case what a null hypothesis is. When experiments are performed on lab animals, the null hypothesis tested against is that the being tested is safe. ANY abnormality or statistical variance will be investigated, whether it’s known or unknown.

    Furthermore, nothing has manifested itself since they’ve been released to market, so you really don’t have anything to hand your hat on. If GMOs really caused damage like you claim, even if it’s hitherto unknown, something would have manifested itself.

    Again, you’re committing the Nirvana Fallacy that is so prevalent in anti-GMO activism, requiring 100% certainty and knowledge about everything or else we shouldn’t act. If we had exercised that level of caution, we would still be living in caves scavenging for food (which is far more inherently risky that how we live today).

    What is also hypocritical is that the much vaunted organic, and even traditional conventional, agriculture also has been heavily genetically altered, much of it when we knew little about genetics, and both forms still produce hybrids to this day, with virtually nothing known about their health or safety consequences since no testing is done on them and there are no regulations surround them. Where is your precautionary principle regarding them?

  49. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Feb 2014 at 1:19 pm

    GMOs should be labeled in the US, as they are elsewhere, and we should have a choice. Now they are forced on us.

    OK, changing the subject. You already have a “non-GMO” alternative in the form of certified organic. You also have the free app known as “GMO Free” to determine what foods you choose. Other than that, mandatory labeling is a bad idea because there is no good reason for it, and it would add unnecessary overhead not just in added printing, but in the regulatory system that would then need to be emplaced to enforce labeling laws. Farmers, distributors, and transporters would be required to duplicate all forms of equipment and storage spaces to retain the integrity of each form of crop. But most of all, such a label would perpetuate MISINFORMATION.

    The purpose of a label is to inform consumers on pertinent details regarding safety and nutritional content. A GMO label has no pertinent information to impart. Each GE product has a different attribute to it anyway, so a label of “Contains GMO” is meaningless. It’s a purely ideological decision that has no practical, real-world effect, that would only serve to reinforce the fear-mongering and misinformation anti-GMO activists have already spread.

    Whether they might be extremely dangerous is a matter of opinion at this point. Big Ag has tremendous power and I don’t see any reason to trust them.

    I hope you’re including “big organic” in with that. Organic is a much larger industry than biotech and draws in orders of magnitude more revenue. They have lobbies in government and ad campaigns that rival any biotech firm. You do have a choice of buying foods only from local producers if you want, they’re not hard to find – nothing is stopping you if you choose not to trust “big ag”.

  50. hardnoseon 06 Feb 2014 at 1:50 pm

    “There were MANY companies that made items of warfare and destruction back in those days that still exist today, but we don’t hear anything about them. ”

    Companies that made weapons were hired by the government to make them, so if you hate the companies you should hate the government also.

    There are much better reasons for hating Big Ag or Big Drug or Big Bank. And the government isn’t too lovable either.

    Power corrupts, that’s life. But we don’t all have to be sheep and swallow everything they want to sell us.

  51. hardnoseon 06 Feb 2014 at 1:54 pm

    “much vaunted organic, and even traditional conventional, agriculture also has been heavily genetically altered, much of it when we knew little about genetics, and both forms still produce hybrids to this day, with virtually nothing known about their health or safety consequences since no testing is done on them and there are no regulations surround them. ”

    They have been around a long time, GMOs have not. Yes humans have influenced nature since prehistoric times. So have all animals. But what is being done now is more and different.

    In its rush to make money, Big Ag is reckless. And the government and the public are trusting sheep.

  52. MikeLewinskion 06 Feb 2014 at 2:11 pm

    In its rush to make money, Big Ag is reckless.

    This strikes me as argument by assertion and is one that I also used when I was an anti-GMO activist. Basically it’s an article of faith–a starting point of objection and not a conclusion founded on facts that I can find.

    It takes 8-14 years to commercialize a new GMO crop. Transgenic crops are subject to regulatory review in the US by the three different agencies (EPA, FDA and USDA). Of that development time, about 5.5 years is spent in the regulatory phase.

    It costs on average $136 million to bring a product to market.

    http://gmoanswers.com/ask/how-much-time-does-it-take-and-how-much-does-it-cost-successfully-develop-hybrid-one-or-more

  53. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Feb 2014 at 2:42 pm

    But we don’t all have to be sheep and swallow everything they want to sell us.

    The battle cry of the conspiracy theorist ,”Wake up, sheeple! Don’t believe what the government/big corporate/big whatever is telling you!”

    You seem to assume that’s what anyone is doing here, just taking what companies tell us on faith. Actually, that’s what you’re doing, taking it ,i.a priori that what companies and governments do cannot, by default, be trusted, no matter what. You also seem to be toeing the anti-GMO line, which means taking a LOT of what is claimed at face value (I know because I used to be one of them).

    We here are skeptics, which means we form conclusions as much as we can on the best available evidence, withhold forming solid conclusions when evidence is lacking, and formulate opinions based on what’s likely rather than what feels good. Conspiracy theorists are cynics, assuming the worst and that there is always foul play going on, so nothing can be trusted, whether there is evidence for it or not. Many conspiracy theorists accept the flimsiest of evidence (primarily because it fits their confirmation bias). Skeptics, on the other hand, have standards of evidence that must pass before acceptance. This is whether we “like” the conclusions or not.

    So, the assertion that anyone here just trust the government or big companies is false. What we trust is solid evidence, and the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the use of GMOs as one tool in the box of agriculture. We we know so far is that modern Monsanto is in earnest and we have yet to see evidence of harm, wrongdoing, or surreptitious collusion. We find your kind of conspiracy theorizing and fear-mongering misplaced, irrational, and perhaps even neurotic.

    They have been around a long time, GMOs have not. Yes humans have influenced nature since prehistoric times. So have all animals. But what is being done now is more and different.

    This is false. “Certified organic” has been around about as long as marketed GE crops have. There are many hybridized organic seeds out there, many which are very recent. Yet, we know virtually nothing about their safety or nutrition because none of it is tested or regulated (beyond basic USDA/EPA regulations that all agriculture must adhere to). “Organic” does not equal “natural”, which is an arbitrary term anyway. Nearly every food we find in the supermarket, whether is organic, GMO, or conventional, is far different from its pre-agricultural ancestor, most of which we would not recognize on sight if we saw it. Again, you’re committing the naturalistic fallacy (the bread and butter of the anti-GMO movement).

    You rail against “big corporate”, which is hypocritical since organic is far larger than biotech.

  54. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Feb 2014 at 2:47 pm

    In its rush to make money, Big Ag is reckless.

    This is inane, and just plain ignorant of the process. There is no rush to market as anti-GMO activists claim. Products are heavily vetted and it takes substantial time and resources to deregulate new GE seeds. It’s one reason why GE seeds tend to be a little more expensive than conventional seeds, and one reason why we don’t see many smaller companies taking up biotech. Ironically, because of activism and the ensuing regulations, as well as the litigious nature of activists, bigger companies are the only ones who have the resources to make biotech into any sort of viable business.

  55. Bronze Dogon 06 Feb 2014 at 3:05 pm

    @MikeLewinski

    Bronze Dog, I’d agree that the concepts (plural) of species are all human generated and all oversimplifications. Yet the concept still proves quite useful and does have meaning.

    Exactly. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had a purpose in creating the word. It’s a useful concept for quickly describing these statistical clusters of organisms capable of interbreeding. It’s not easy to accurately and precisely describe them as a large table of individuals and their viable mates, so we label the cluster a “species.” By doing that, we accept that there are likely going to be some pairs from the same species who can’t produce fertile offspring because they’re just different enough to prevent it. We also accept that some members can cross a fuzzy border with the neighboring species.

    We sacrifice precision for the conversational convenience of saving time. That’s when “species” is a useful abstraction. We can get away with the lingual convenience because it’s accurate enough for our purposes. Nature is different. Nature works on the level of fundamental particles, strings, or whatever exists at the ‘bottom floor.’ Nature doesn’t cut corners like we do. We need abstractions because evolution kind of stuck us with symbolic modes of thought. The problem I have is that people who bring up the symbol’s purity is that they seem to think nature cares about our symbols. That’s when the abstraction is misused.

    I care what an inserted gene’s actual consequences are. That means I care about what nature does with the gene once it’s in there. That means using science to test new crops (all of them, GM and otherwise) as best we can on a case-by-case basis. I am going to maintain that stance until someone gives me a good reason to think the different categories have meaningful consequences.

    You presumably value the integrity of your body. If I developed a virus that promoted neanderthal genes and physically transformed you, I suspect you’d protest because you value your human integrity.

    Don’t project speciesism onto me. If it was done against my will, then I’d have grounds to feel violated based on the issue of informed consent, not because I value my alleged purity. If the procedure could benefit me, I might volunteer for it after weighing those benefits against the costs and risks. As long as I consent, I don’t see why it’d be morally different from any other medical procedure.

    You should know you’re talking to a cyborg. I had metal rods installed around my spine to prevent me from becoming a hunchback later in life due to advanced scoliosis. I also have some dental fillings and gold crowns. I care about personhood, not about being a physically “normal” homo sapiens. I see nothing morally wrong about voluntarily engaging in transhumanism. I don’t think of myself as any less of a person just because I’m deviating from what I would “naturally” be. If anyone does think of me as less than a person because of that, he’s a bigot.

    The mockery implicit in the word ‘sacred’ is uncharitable. You presumably value the integrity of your DNA and your cells without any reference to spiritual concepts. If humans don’t have intrinsic value, why should murder be a crime at all?

    You completely misunderstand the purpose of the mockery. I was mocking it for being dogmatic and in conflict with more commonly held or higher priority values. This is a well known sarcastic use of the term. Even if such concepts of purity is not supernaturally derived, its advocates quite often speak of it with the dogmatism of religious fanatics, which provides the parallel that sarcastic use of “sacred” is based on.

    I was not mocking it because I think it’s supernaturally derived or whatever. I’m a monist, and I don’t even humor the categories of “supernatural” or “spiritual” unless I’m engaged in fantasy fiction activities where the terms often have well-defined, practical meanings.

    Species purity is an ideological, pre-scientific notion as far as I can tell. In the real world, the things that define a species are constantly moving targets. Fuzzy borders between different species can be crossed. It’s a continuum with probabilities, and purity advocates usually speak as if it were discrete and absolute. Notions of purity are also a common xenophobic trope used to justify privileging one group above another based on standards other than merit or fairness. On top of that, purity is often defined in an impossible, ideologically based manner. This makes it easy to prove something is “tainted” because the real world is messier than those ideologies allow for. This means the people in power can selectively enforce the standards to further their own agendas.

  56. hardnoseon 06 Feb 2014 at 7:31 pm

    “Genetic engineering is 40 years old. It is based on the naive understanding of the genome based on the One Gene – one protein hypothesis of 70 years ago, that each gene codes for a single protein. The Human Genome project completed in 2002 showed that this hypothesis is wrong.

    The whole paradigm of the genetic engineering technology is based on a misunderstanding. Every scientist now learns that any gene can give more than one protein and that inserting a gene anywhere in a plant eventually creates rogue proteins. Some of these proteins are obviously allergenic or toxic.”

    http://www.foodrevolution.org/blog/former-pro-gmo-scientist/

  57. hardnoseon 06 Feb 2014 at 7:37 pm

    “Many GM fans will point out that if we do toxicity tests on GM foods, we should also have to do toxicity testing on every other kind of food in the world.

    But we’ve already done the testing on the existing plants. We tested them the hard way, by eating strange things and dying, or almost dying, over thousands of years. That’s how we’ve figured out which plants are poisonous. And over the course of each of our lifetimes we’ve learned which foods we’re allergic to.”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/01/the-very-real-danger-of-genetically-modified-foods/251051/

  58. MikeLewinskion 07 Feb 2014 at 3:04 am

    Bronze Dog,

    Species purity is an ideological, pre-scientific notion as far as I can tell.

    But really, what is intrinsic value other than ideology? I did acknowledge up front (per the USDA working group acknowledgement) that we’re in the realm of philosophy and out of the realm of science.

    One can still intrinsically value a species, and value its integrity, without characterizing it the way you’re describing generally (as xenophobic).

    I like that there are different species of birds in my yard, each with different songs and behaviors. Their existence is good (because I say it is) and I desire that the diversity of species continues to exist (so I’m valuing speciation intrinsically as well as the individual species resulting from the process, even though there are fuzzy boundaries).

    Moral psychology as described by Jonathan Haidt is one of my favorite topics, and I have a particularly keen interest in the purity moral value, or more particularly in the emotion that signifies its violation–disgust.

    Taboos against bestiality are, as far as I can tell, nearly universal, and also founded on a moral value of species purity. I’ve got a working hypothesis that a fair degree of opposition to GMO stems from that taboo manifesting in a subconscious way. Our traditional definition of species in popular culture revolves around the notion of sexual compatibility. Of the so-called “fish tomato” even a child can see “That’s disgusting”:

    http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/art/gallery/2005/smith-fish

    The purity value and disgust response are emotional in nature. Haidt argues this is true for our moral values more generally, and that they are subject to post-hoc rationalization. In the case of bestiality, no matter how well logical arguments might counter the taboo, the person holding the value will continue to seek out new arguments for why it is wrong (the objection that it spreads disease might be countered with condoms, the objection of consensuality might be countered by allowing the non-human animal to initiate). At the end even after all the post-hoc rationalizations are stripped away, the value remains and the person holding it usually concedes that “it’s just wrong” and stops trying to justify it rationally because they can’t. Rationality is generally insufficient to change such moral-emotional values, which becomes a big problem for us in this arena.

    In my own efforts against anti-GMO hysteria, I focus on this moral with main two points:

    1) That horizontal gene transfer “naturally” crosses species and even domain boundaries. Wild nature is far more promiscuous than we’ve realized. This isn’t to advance a naturalistic fallacy that it is morally right to create transgenic organisms as much as to counter the same fallacy applied with the logic that “it never happens in nature and therefore is morally wrong”. As an aside, you can tell you’ve hit the emotional side of morality when a person shifts from that argument to decrying the spread of transgenes in the wild.

    2) That the genes themselves are best considered separately of their provenance. We call it a “Bt bacteria gene” that is inserted in corn, but really genes are more like words. We wouldn’t say that “evil” is a “Shakespeare word” because it is used in his plays. I’m not sure the Cry genes have been isolated in anything other than Bacillus thuringiensis, but I won’t be too surprised when they are.

    I don’t think we’re really far apart in our views of species and of nature. I’ve got a lot more thoughts broadly on the issue of intrinsic value that probably go too far off topic here. I will mention just one, however: I value speciation intrinsically, but also extrinsically as the process has created the ability to value itself. I wouldn’t be able to assign intrinsic value if not for it.

    Finally, I’ve had this quote by Lewis Thomas from Lives of a Cell on my mind and it feels like a nice place to stop:

    “It is a natural tendency for genetically unrelated cells in tissue culture to come together, ignoring species differences, and fuse to form hybrid cells. Inflammation and immunology must indeed be powerfully designed to keep us apart; without such mechanisms, involving considerable effort, we might have developed as a kind of flowing syncytium over the earth, without the morphogenesis of even a flower.”

  59. MikeLewinskion 07 Feb 2014 at 3:23 am

    hardnose,

    Genetic engineering is 40 years old. It is based on the naive understanding of the genome based on the One Gene – one protein hypothesis of 70 years ago, that each gene codes for a single protein. The Human Genome project completed in 2002 showed that this hypothesis is wrong.

    This time I am double posting on account of needing to leave several links and fearing that’s going to trigger filters.

    First, wikipedia’s entry for the “One gene-one enzyme hypothesis”:

    By the early 1950s, advances in biochemical genetics—spurred in part by the original hypothesis—made the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis seem very unlikely (at least in its original form). Beginning in 1957, Vernon Ingram and others showed through protein fingerprinting that genetic variations in proteins (such as sickle cell hemoglobin) could be limited to differences in just a single polypeptide chain in a multimeric protein, leading to a “one gene-one polypeptide” hypothesis instead. According to geneticist Rowland H. Davis, “By 1958 – indeed, even by 1948 – one gene, one enzyme was no longer a hypothesis to be resolutely defended; it was simply the name of a research program.”

    Presently, the one gene-one polypeptide perspective cannot account for the various spliced versions in many eukaryote organisms which use a spliceosome to individually prepare a RNA transcript depending on the various inter- and intra-cellular environmental signals. This splicing was discovered in 1977 by Phillip Sharp and Richard J. Roberts.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_gene-one_enzyme_hypothesis

    Second, One gene one …. what? The problem with the ‘Centra Dogma’…or any dogmas in science by Ken Weiss

    The Central Dogma held that DNA is a string of codes that specifies messenger RNA (mRNA) that is translated in the cell into protein. One gene, one protein. That was how it looked when the nature of DNA was first being discovered. But it’s been decades since we knew that was not accurate.

    He lists eleven different reasons why that isn’t accurate, so be sure to click through and check out the entire piece. Also see the two links posted in the comments for even more from another writer in the field:

    http://ecodevoevo.blogspot.com/2011/07/one-gene-one-what-problem-with-centra.html

    Third, a comment thread on biofortified. I would hesitate to link to another blog’s comments directly, but in this case the comment is by a scientist actually employed in biotechnology at Monsanto. It’s not an appeal to authority when the authority is genuine and speaking on relevant matters of fact previously documented now:

    The mistake of “one gene, one protein” thinking is… that nobody thinks that way. But…. likewise nobody thinks that it is automatically “one gene, many proteins” – this is likewise as foolish an idea given the current state of knowledge as the “one gene, one protein” model, sometimes you get one gene, one protein. Sometimes you get one gene, three proteins. Etc etc. More often than not, with transgenics, what you get is exactly one gene, one protein. We look for this. We get terribly frustrated when our single gene goes ahead and has multiple transcripts (not least because should said gene be a success it will cost a whole lot more to get through regulatory) but luckily this isn’t overly common.

    Essentially the whole schtick around the apparent controversy of “one gene, one protein” is that the lack of biological knowledge of the general public is being played in order to make them mistrust people who frankly do know better. Ha, these high falutin’ types in their white coats don’t even know the basics of their own field. Totally likely. Thousands of specialists who have persued molecular biology as a career and have 10+ years of post-secondary education are all actually unaware of something that is taught in first year undergrad and hammered into them again and again throughout their career. Much as most scholars of Shakesperian literature are completely unaware that MacBeth is not actually an historical description of events which transpired in Scotland no doubt. Or much as most medical doctors are not aware of the placebo effect. It’s a bloody stupid and quite frankly insulting framing of the situation (and I only have a BSc, I would assume it leaves pHD’s and post-docs positively fuming…

    The entire discussion there is excellent and worth reading in full:

    http://www.biofortified.org/2013/11/i-522-open-thread/#comment-231084

  60. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Feb 2014 at 4:50 am

    Hardnose,

    I won’t go into the first post because ML more than adequately debunked it. What I will say is that it further highlights your apparent ignorance of the subject. What I’m seeing is typical of anti-GMO rhetoric – I liken it to creationists getting all of their information on evolution from creationist websites – you seem to be basing your conclusions about the science on the flawed understanding of it held by pseudoscience purveyors.

    “Many GM fans will point out that if we do toxicity tests on GM foods, we should also have to do toxicity testing on every other kind of food in the world.

    But we’ve already done the testing on the existing plants. We tested them the hard way, by eating strange things and dying, or almost dying, over thousands of years. That’s how we’ve figured out which plants are poisonous. And over the course of each of our lifetimes we’ve learned which foods we’re allergic to.”

    What’s erroneous about this claim is that it assumes that what we currently find in grocery stores, and even health food co-ops, is anywhere like what has been found over the millennia, or even 100 years ago. Nearly ALL of the foods we are familiar with today have been altered significantly over the past 100 years, not to mention the past thousands of years since agriculture began. In other words, what we eat today isn’t like what we ate 100 years ago, much less 1000 or 2000 years ago. You’re committing the same naturalistic fallacy that runs rampant in anti-GMO circles, that organic=traditional=what our ancestors ate=natural=better, none of which is true.

    Furthermore, new organic and conventional hybrids are being developed all the time. This was mentioned a couple of times before but you conveniently ignore it. This means that we’re getting new cultivars and varieties into our food system that have had NO safety or nutritional testing, and this has been going on since certified organic was emplaced in the 80s. Organic seed companies are just as likely to produce, and organic farmers are just as likely to grow, newly created hybrid/mutagenic cultivars as conventional and biotech seed producers.

    So no, the assertion that organic foods have been tested “the hard way” over thousands of years is wrong, because it assumes that what is bought as organic is what has been around for thousands of years. Most of it hasn’t been around a 100 years, and much of it hasn’t been around more than a couple of decades (some are brand new).

    Honestly, it would do you good to get your information from unbiased sources. It doesn’t even have to be from government or industry. Test your claims and assumptions, don’t take people’s word for it. I expect that you take a lot of what other activist’s say at face value because it’s likely comfortable for you. Vet their claims, verify whether they’re true or not. Make sure your sources are reliable and not equally biased. You expect us to do the same, but what you don’t seem to realize is that most of us USED to be you, so we’ve been down this path. The difference so far has been that we’ve honestly examined the claims made by activists and found them pretty much universally empty.

  61. Bruceon 07 Feb 2014 at 5:21 am

    rez and Mike, you guys have way more patience than I ever will.

    Nice posts with interesting links.

  62. hardnoseon 07 Feb 2014 at 9:31 am

    “I expect that you take a lot of what other activist’s say at face value because it’s likely comfortable for you.”

    I am very far from being an activist. I am a scientific skeptic who does not trust reckless interfering with complex natural systems. I am not a worshiper of human cleverness and scientific progress.

    I am convinced by evidence and logic, not by conspiracy theories or fanatical ideology.

  63. hardnoseon 07 Feb 2014 at 9:33 am

    And you are very wrong in thinking that DNA is well understood, and that 90% of it is useless junk. That is typical of the arrogance of progressive science-worshipers.

    (Yes, it is possible to be a scientist without being a science and technology worshiper).

  64. Gallenodon 07 Feb 2014 at 4:10 pm

    “I am convinced by evidence and logic, not by conspiracy theories or fanatical ideology.”
    – hardnose

    Not from what we’re seeing from you in the comments section, hardnose. Unless your purpose is to give people the useful opportunity to debunk nonsense, your personal Reality Distortion Field appears to be in perfect working order in protecting you from anything resembling evidence and logic.

    On the bright side, I am getting a lot of good information from all the responses, so I suppose we could thank you for spurring the discussion.

  65. MikeLewinskion 07 Feb 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I will reiterate what I said earlier, hardnose. The lack of perfect knowledge isn’t an argument against biotechnology, but rather for it. We’re already altering tens to hundreds of thousands of genes blindly through conventional breeding methods. Unless you’re going to argue we should stop all new crop development, it follows that a more precise technology that modifies just a few genes with known effects is far more preferable from a risk management standpoint.

    There’s a chart created by Kevin Folta that is invaluable in making risk assessments as it affects breeding methods. Give this a look and your serious consideration:

    http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2012/06/more-frankenfood-paradox.html

    To reiterate, conventional breeding methods can and do produce toxic foods. The Lenape potato is one example cited earlier in this discussion.

    But we’ve already done the testing on the existing plants. We tested them the hard way, by eating strange things and dying, or almost dying, over thousands of years. That’s how we’ve figured out which plants are poisonous. And over the course of each of our lifetimes we’ve learned which foods we’re allergic to.

    This declaration that the tests are already over and done with regard to conventional breeding is as foolish as declaring all future GMOs are safe because the current crop have tested well. Any breeding method can be used to produce new toxic foods.

    I’ll give you another example of a conventionally bred plant that had unwanted effects. In June 2012 near Austin, Texas 15 of a herd of 18 cattle died after consuming a hybrid Bermuda grass known as Tifton 85. Initial media reports created a minor media frenzy as they mistakenly reported that it was a GMO strain of grass that caused the deaths. Adding insult to injury in that case, it quickly spread through anti-GMO circles because the grass had produced prussic acid, better known as hydrogen cyanide. It was the perfect storm to show the dangers of GMO because of the unexpected production of a widely fear chemical, cyanide.

    You can see this CBS news story contains a correction at the end noting that the grass is a conventionally bred hybrid and not a GMO grass:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/grass-linked-to-texas-cattle-deaths/

    A few things to note about this incident:

    1) The grass was specifically tested for cyanogenic glycosides which are precursors to cyanide and tested negative. Even when we’re looking for effects we can miss them. There are probably an almost infinite number of potential epigenetic alterations and there’s no way we can test every possibility (which isn’t an excuse to not look for commonly encountered ones).

    2) The rancher ignored some best practices and bears a degree of responsibility for the cattle deaths. That field had been previously stressed by drought. And the cattle themselves were stressed and hungry and were turned out into a field that hadn’t been previously grazed. Those factors apparently combined to create just the right conditions for the poisoning to occur, and all contravened best practices.

    3) Forage that is stressed by drought is known to sometimes produce prussic acid (and other toxins). I speculate that this is a defense against herbivores who probably tend to increase their consumption in times of drought when fresh water isn’t available (to gain from water stored in the plants).

    4) You could breed this grass using off the shelf materials in your home. No sequencers, gene guns or Agrobacterium tumefaciens are needed.

    This is an excellent resource for further information about the incident:

    http://pearlsnapblog.com/2012/06/24/a-load-of-bull-tifton-85-bermudagrass-gmos-and-cyanide/

    So I’ll make this point one last time and then leave it: any breeding method can produce a poisonous food and past performance is no guarantee of future results. In general biotechnology offers more predictable and verifiable results, modifying fewer genes than conventional breeding, with a much greater understanding of their effects. The products of biotechnology are subject to a high degree of regulatory scrutiny that conventionally bred organisms are not. In light of all these facts, any rational risk assessment has to conclude that the products of biotechnology present lower risks. That’s not to say they are 100% perfectly safe, only that in relative terms, they’re safer.

    The biofortified thread I linked in my last response to you has an excellent discussion on the potential for unwanted insertional effects. There may be some unique risks created in biotechnology not found in conventional breeding, but as Ewan explains in that thread, they use introgression to backcross the transgenes into parent lines. They look for just such unwanted insertional effects. Using marker assisted breeding and sequencing, they can verify the final results are as desired. It’s not guesswork. They aren’t blindly modifying plants and throwing them on the market. That’s what conventional breeding does (albeit marker assisted breeding and other biotechnology methods are beginning to reform that to a degree… a nice example of biotech improving conventional breeding and exporting some benefits of its lower risk profile).

  66. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Feb 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Great post Mike. One thing to add that most anti-GMO activists seem to not realize, or ignore, is that nothing in the universe is 100% safe or risk-free. Even things that are essential for life, such as water and sodium chloride are harmful in high enough amounts (which speaks to another concept that is not realized or ignored by activists, which is toxicity).

    We accept a certain level of risk in everything we do and take for granted every day. If we didn’t, we’d hole up in our homes and never move about (even that has its own associated risks). So, what is being demanded is once again the Nirvana Fallacy, but the hypocrisy is, whether knowingly or not, these activists accept far greater risks all the time, they just either have not thought enough about it or choose to ignore it because of their ideology.

    Interesting story about the grass. One aspect of genetic manipulation, by whatever means, that is often overlooked is that we can breed undesirable, even harmful, traits out of foods to where the resultant food is less dangerous. Something as innocuous as seedless grapes are an example. Tomatoes and potatoes are both part of the nightshade family, with some wild breeds having relatively high levels of alkaloids (their stems, leaves, unripened fruit/root, and eyes still contain these). Selective breeding has helped reduce this effect.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lycopersicon_esculentum#Safety

  67. SimonWon 07 Feb 2014 at 10:23 pm

    As follow up from previous discussion – the most compelling reason not to grow Golden Rice are the insane conditions the patent holder’s inflict.

    Any farmer would have to be desperate to agree to the current terms, thus it makes sense for the farmer not to grow it.

    The farmer probably isn’t that interested in vitamin A deficiency unless there is a clear premium in the market (seems unlikely since vitamin A is wide spread in other foods), he probably is interested in not falling foul of restrictions on his seed stock, and in making good profits.

    Here we see the failure to align the market interests of patent holders, farmers, and consumers. As someone whose watched the tech scene for the last 30 years, it is painfully obvious that you need to align the economic interests of key parties.

    Arctic apples, targeting supermarket delivery chains sounds like it could be a hit, because the supermarkets will see better handling characteristic e.g. less spoilage, thus more profit. Farmers can easily charge more. Of course it does depend how the apple’s spoil, if consumers find they are getting older apples they may not be impressed.

  68. hardnoseon 07 Feb 2014 at 11:47 pm

    I am not an activist. I am a scientific skeptic. Some people claim to be scientific skeptics, but in reality they are science and technology worshipers.

    If you want to experiment with DNA in a lab, that is ok. But selling your experiments to the public as food is very different. Mothers don’t have a right to decide whether or not to give their children GM food, because it is in almost everything now, and is not labeled.

    I don’t expect everything to be perfectly safe — no one expects that.

    But GMOs are still controversial. Other countries outside the US are much more cautious. The US is owned by Big Science, Big Ag, Big Drug, and Big Banks.

    There are people who believe every crazy conspiracy theory they hear. And, on the other side, there are people who dismiss and ridicule anyone who distrusts or disagrees with any mainstream scientific consensus.

    There are many sane, rational, scientific people who are labeled lunatics merely because they don’t always go along with the mainstream.

  69. BillyJoe7on 08 Feb 2014 at 12:19 am

    Seems to me hardnose has his nose so badly out of joint that he is hardly listening.
    Apt avatar at least.

  70. hardnoseon 08 Feb 2014 at 7:29 pm

    Wikipedia tends to be biased towards mainstream science, yet its article on GMOs acknowledges that the research is still very controversial http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_controversies

  71. MikeLewinskion 08 Feb 2014 at 7:43 pm

    According to creationists, the theory of evolution is controversial. Likewise for vaccines in the eyes of the anti-vaccine crowd.

    Controversy is fine. What’s not fine is suggesting that there’s scientific controversy among experts in the field when there’s actually broad consensus on the general safety of the current GMO foods on the market.

    This wikipedia RFC is worth reading in full. The point I’d stress in it most is that consensus doesn’t mean unanimity.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Genetically_modified_food_controversies/Archive_6

  72. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Feb 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Few people think they’re actually anti-science, even anti-science proponents like creationists and anti-GMO activists. Hardnose, you are being a science denialist by denying the consensus behind the safety and efficacy of GMOs.

    What most anti-science have in common is that they try to redefine science into something they can live with, but something that it is not. They also tend to deny parts of science that run contrary to their ideology or religion, but accept other things that aren’t. Another commonality is the liberal use of conspiracy theories, primarily by contriving rather intricate collusion between government, industry, and/or scientists, without really pointing to any evidence or specific cases.

    No, GMOs are not controversial in the scientific community, and I’m talking about the ENTIRE scientific community. This includes university, NGO, and regulatory scientists in pretty much all parts of the world.

    The so-called “lunatics” are frauds like Seralini who practice bad science to where even their own compatriots disavow, not by name but by practice.

    There are no countries that outright ban GMOs altogether. Different countries have different regulations regarding them. The US takes a sensible approach, and other countries are beginning to follow suit, INCLUDING European countries, Canada, Japan, and several South American countries that once had stricter regulations regarding them. However, at no point were GMOs outright banned – people could still purchase them, and most countries still had GE programs to develop their own seeds.

    As mentioned before, the “controversy” is contrived by anti-GMO activists like yourself, hardnose. There is no controversy within the scientific community. This very closely mirrors the “controversy” between young-earth creationists and evolutionary biologists.

    It does not surprise me that you resort to the tu quoque, us being science and technology worshipers, whatever that means. While there is no basis for that assertion, we do have a basis for you being an activists.

    An no, there is no reason to ban mothers from serving their kids GMOs. None whatsoever, that’s asinine. I’m beginning to think you’re a poe, no one can be this willfully inane, but I’ve seen it before.

  73. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Feb 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Wikipedia is as good as the supporting documentation. Typically, it’s a good starting point and place to gather remedial information on a topic. While it’s good to review the source material, to outright generalize about Wikipedia being a biased source is foolish and inaccurate.

  74. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Feb 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Here are some articles, written by scientists, regarding the consensus of scientists as well as the peer-reviewed studies that back them up, hundreds of them being independently funded. The evidence is overwhelming and consensus at least equal to that of AGW.

    “600+ published safety assessments”
    http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/p/450-published-safety-assessments.html

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

    “With 2000+ global studies affirming safety, GM foods among most analyzed subjects in science”
    http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/08/with-2000-global-studies-confirming-safety-gm-foods-among-most-analyzed-subject-in-science/#.UvbgKbShQxi

  75. Mlemaon 09 Feb 2014 at 2:30 am

    rezistnzisfutl, perhaps to sway hardnose (and others who seem to be in denial about the things you know from examining the science), you could take one of the many studies which show how GMOs are safe, and explain to us how that study illustrates that safety. I just think it could be a turning point to actually discuss one meta-analysis, examine its legitimacy in being used as a support for the blanket statement that GMOs are safe, and discuss what exactly we mean by “safe” – that is, what do we tolerate as far as detrimental. This would be a profound service to scientific skepticism with regards to GMOs. I have no doubt that among the thousands of studies affirming safety you can find a good meta – study. Let’s look at one so we can discuss some specifics and get down to the nitty gritty. The discussion above seems to be pretty general. We know that generalities never cause anyone to move away from their own generalizations. I sense a lot of confidence in the science from you. Can you start that discussion for us? One meta-study, with your critical review to help those of us who are less confident see that the research HAS been done, that it IS appropriate, well-designed, conducted, etc.

    Thank you. I know you and I don’t ever seem to agree on this issue, but if you can do this it will go a long way, truly, towards bringing us together on this.

  76. BillyJoe7on 09 Feb 2014 at 3:12 am

    Mlema,

    I think RIF’s point is that there is a consensus of experts regarding the safely of GM foods. Just like there is a consensus of experts regarding climate change. Does this mean that they are necessarily correct? No. But you have to consider the probability that the consensus of experts is correct against the probability that the minority of detractors are correct. Who do you think is more likely to be correct? The consensus of experts (who have likely considered and weighed all the available evidence) or the few detractors (who have likely not considered and weighed all the evidence if my experience of climate change is any guide). And we have to consider this in light of the fact that none of us here are actual experts.

    BTW, how do you sway a Hard Nose?

  77. rezistnzisfutlon 09 Feb 2014 at 4:06 am

    Mlema,

    I don’t have illusions of swaying yourself or hardnose. That typically doesn’t happen in the course of one thread or conversation, and often doesn’t happen at all.

    As BJ7 mentions, the consensus is there. There is also the matter of the overwhelming scientific literature on the subject all of which confirms the safety of GMOs. You seem to continue to not understand that science works best in repetition, which is what we find with multiple studies that compound and confirm each other. They don’t even have to be the exact same studies for them to reinforce each other. Furthermore, there is the matter of the null hypothesis that you continue to either ignore, or still don’t understand. In all of the studies done as well as the history of use, there has yet to be one hypothesis to test against the null hypothesis. That is because there is no evidence, data, or even theoretical model to create a hypothesis about. This is pretty much the crux of what you guys are missing about the science.

    As we see with anti-GMO, anti-fluoridation, anti-vaccination, anti-chlorination, etc., is a demand for long-term studies that have no hypothesis to test. It’s a misuse of the precautionary principle that is the Nirvana Fallacy. I know I keep repeating that, but it’s because you guys keep bringing up the same nonsense, so either you just aren’t getting it, or you’re intentionally ignoring it. I suspect that the demand is made in hopes to prevent GMOs from ever coming to market due to the inappropriately long and costly studies that had no proper impetus in the first place making GMOs too cost prohibitive, at which point they would likely be abandoned as a technology even by the most solvent and resourceful corporation.

    The glut of affirming studies, the dearth of negating studies, the history of use with not one case study or incident ever arising that is related to GMOs, and the overwhelming worldwide scientific consensus all confirm the safety of GMOs.

  78. rezistnzisfutlon 09 Feb 2014 at 4:34 am

    When the term “safe” is used in regards to GMOs, it is meant that they are regarded as safe as their conventional counterparts.

    I don’t feel compelled to find a meta-analysis because all of the studies to date are negative for health issues or safety concerns. Meta-analyses are useful when data is variable and there’s some differential in outcomes – there may be negative results in one area and positive results in another. They are useful for quantifying such studies.

    The links I provided already are more than enough. Considering my above post regarding null hypotheses, it would be more useful to find studies with positive results where the hypothesis was that GMOs cause some sort of harm or health effect. So far, the only studies we have like that have either been retracted and universally rebuked by the scientific community.

    So, if you feel that the over 3000 peer-reviewed studies, with nearly 700 of those from independently funded sources, an over 95% scientific consensus, and no cases or incidences resulting in the consumption of GMOs, not compelling enough, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s about as good as you’re going to get in science. So yes, I have high confidence in the science, for good reason.

    Also, keeping in mind that even if a study came out indicating harm from a GMO, that’s still not an indictment of all GMOs, just an issue with the specific one. And there has yet to be one that has passed regulation.

  79. Mlemaon 09 Feb 2014 at 4:47 am

    Billy Joe, I don’t “play odds” on the correctness of scientific information in order to form my skeptical opinion. If it’s important for a skeptic to have an opinion on GMOs in the first place, and they want to form that opinion by seeking out what the consensus is, that’s fine with me. I want to see the research myself and understand it before I form an opinion. Especially when I frankly don’t see that there is necessarily a consensus among independent scientists on all gmos. I don’t think it’s even scientific to have an opinion of safety on all gmos because the different technologies of development create different levels of risk. And methods of evaluation prior to commercialization vary widely.

    rezistnzisfutl, so you can’t? or you won’t? All I’m asking for is one meta-study and a brief explanation of how it illustrates safety. You don’t need a hypothesis to test for safety. You’ve told us that experts have concurred that GMOs are safe. (I guess we’ve abandoned the “each should be evaluated individually” tenet.) Those experts must be basing their consensus on SOMETHING besides “we’ve been eating them for years and nothing’s happened” because, first of all, we haven’t been eating them for years (especially nutritionally enhanced GMOs) and second, that is not a scientifically valid method for determining safety unless you’re going to follow and observe the animals that are eating them for years.

    So, again, I’m not saying you’re wrong in everything you’re saying. I’m just asking you to show me one good quality meta-study upon which experts have formed their consensus opinion of safety. I’m honestly willing to listen to what you say with a suspension of our former conversations if you are willing to link to the study and explain why it’s a pretty reasonable assurance of safety. And I’ll even share this with you: it’s probably going to be easier for you to find such a study on the gmos currently being grown than it will be on those that the industry is attempting to expand: stacked traits and so-called biofortification. But we will have to have that discussion in the future if the industry is successful in marketing those foods. Because that’s when the safety studies usually happen: after the plants have been growing and on the market for some number of years.

  80. Mlemaon 09 Feb 2014 at 5:13 am

    here’s another good “skeptical science” discussion i believe we can have:

    right now the vast majority of GMOs being grown are those commercially engineered to produce or be resistant to pesticide. Bt corn expresses a toxin throughout its growing cycle which, in plants which produce it without engineering, is released in response to infestation. Likewise in organic farming the pesticide is utilized during critical periods of growth when it is most effective. How does the continual expression of bt toxin throughout the growing cycle affect its effectiveness for both conventional and organic agriculture? And with rr cotton in the south spurring the development of resistant pigweed (nearly impossible to eradicate with pesticides and even hand-pulling) the industry is developing new pesticide resistant breeds with the anticipation of the application of pesticides far more toxic than the relatively benign glyphosate. What is the best way to overcome the increasing toxicity of pesticides in the long-term?

  81. rezistnzisfutlon 09 Feb 2014 at 5:43 am

    Sure, I’ll play your little game as far as providing a meta-analysis. I’m not going to provide an analysis for you, though as the analysis speaks for itself. There is no need to patronize me, either, thank you.

    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6rVaZq-HU2WRWIyakFkWTNMZnM/edit?pli=1

    Safety studies are already done during the deregulation process. They feed rats and monitor results. If there are no effects, then there is nothing further to test. Since there are no other effects observed past deregulation, there is nothing to test. So, again, you are wrong, a hypothesis IS needed for safety studies. You continually move the goalposts back into Nirvana Fallacy territory.

    Of course scientists are basing their conclusions about GMOs being safe more than just “we’ve been using them for years” (to no ill effect). Did you even bother to read my post? They have over 3000 peer-reviewed studies to base it on as well.

    I guess we’ve abandoned the “each should be evaluated individually” tenet

    That’s your tenet, not mine. It again betrays your misunderstanding of science in that scientific conclusions aren’t drawn upon one study, but upon multitudinous studies that compound and reinforce each other (see “single study fallacy”). Also, you simply can’t ignore the need for hypotheses and the null hypothesis. Empirical evidence is REQUIRED for a hypothesis to be created against the null hypothesis. Safety and efficacy studies employ these things, and the reason no further studies are required beyond these is because no positive data results from these tested, and passed, hypotheses.

    As for the discussion about pesticide use and “superweeds”, see the posts above that include useful links to literature regarding the subject. In essence, no matter what we do with agriculture, even the mere planting of seeds in tilled ground, there will be a resultant selective pressure put on surrounding organisms inhabiting that environment. Like with vaccinations, it is only a matter of time before ALL pesticides, genetic pest resistance, and other pest control methods will be overcome by evolution, even when rotating crops and pesticide types. Battling selective pressures is a never ending evolutionary arms race that will require constant diligence to keep ahead of. Best practices will always need to be employed in order to mitigate toxicity and other selective effects. This isn’t something new to agriculture, nor is it a point lost in biological research. This is one reason why ag schools were created in the first place.

    Seriously, you really should consider getting some remedial education on what science is in the first place as you appear to be lacking some fundamentals of what science is, how it operates, and why it’s useful.

  82. Mlemaon 09 Feb 2014 at 6:15 am

    rezistnzisfutl,

    you don’t impress me as having much authority or expertise on this subject. What i see is the parroting of claims that you can’t back up with any specifics. But you’ve given me your answer, which was no. The skeptic conversation stops there as far as I’m concerned.

  83. hardnoseon 09 Feb 2014 at 11:16 am

    There are problems with basing your opinions on the mainstream scientific consensus — there is a snowballing effect which can lead to wrong conclusions.

    As soon as a majority of scientists have been convinced of something, others start to follow along with the consensus. The consensus gets bigger, and more scientists (as well as the more scientifically-minded public) are increasingly likely to go along with it.

    At some point, it becomes career suicide for a scientist to go against the consensus.

    This cannot happen, of course, when the evidence is clear and unambiguous, but that seldom happens in relatively new fields. Research is inherently hard to interpret, since no one does research on questions that have simple and obvious answers.

    I will continue looking at the GMO evidence, but for now just wanted to caution those who believe the scientific consensus is an oracle of truth. It is not.

    This is especially true when large amounts of money are involved. We know that Big Drug companies have sometimes influenced researchers. We know that Big Tobacco got away with slanting research for a long time. I don’t think Big Ag is above that. However much you admire Monsanto and others like it, it is undeniably a giant political power, and can influence who gets research grants.

  84. hardnoseon 09 Feb 2014 at 11:25 am

    “Empirical evidence is REQUIRED for a hypothesis to be created against the null hypothesis. Safety and efficacy studies employ these things, and the reason no further studies are required beyond these is because no positive data results from these tested, and passed, hypotheses.”

    You seem to be unaware that you cannot accept the null hypothesis just because the experiment did not find any significant difference between control and test groups.

    For example, an experiment might find no difference between rats fed GMOs vs non-GMOs after 90 days. So the GMOs were proven safe, right? No, not necessarily.

    For one thing, statistical tests are less likely to be significant when subject populations are small. So the easiest way to make a result seem null is to make sure your groups are too small.

    Next, the experiment’s “treatment” might be too weak. Maybe it takes more than 90 days for GMOs to cause damage.

    Next, your measurements might not be completely valid. Suppose to feed rats GMOs and then compare the control and test groups for incidence of liver cancer. No difference found, hurray for GMOs.

    Well suppose the GMOs in your experiment don’t cause liver cancer, but they do cause asthma. Oops, you didn’t measure the incidence of asthma in your rats.

    (I am just using fictional examples here, please try to just get the point of my argument and ignore the specifics).

  85. Bronze Dogon 09 Feb 2014 at 1:00 pm

    As for the discussion about pesticide use and “superweeds”, see the posts above that include useful links to literature regarding the subject. In essence, no matter what we do with agriculture, even the mere planting of seeds in tilled ground, there will be a resultant selective pressure put on surrounding organisms inhabiting that environment.

    The fact that anti-GMO trolls never understand this makes me wonder if they lack a concept of object permanence, at least with regard to humanity as a whole, if not individuals. Once upon a time, humans weren’t aware of evolution, therefore, the trolls presume that pests and weeds did not evolve in response to changes in our agricultural practice. But now that we are aware of evolution and that our actions will have an evolutionary response, so evolution only just starts happening. So they propose that closing our eyes and pretending things are like the nostalgic “good old days” will make the problem go away.

    I think the popular myth of evolution being an objective progression as implied in the use of “super” is also causing confusion. Combine that with bad sci-fi and comic books where the “evolutionary” monsters adapt to the heroes’ weapons and tactics at frightening speed without taking on new disadvantages. So now you have the popular “superbug” narrative, full of heavily armored space bugs with supersonic flight who can fire gigawatt bio-energy weapons while subsisting on a low calorie diet.

    Unlike in space opera, real life evolving new abilities involves some kind of trade off.

    I suppose the issue is that they think we’re playing one of those “adaptive difficulty” video games. They’re encouraging us to play dumb and just eek by so the AI won’t improve so quickly. I’m in favor of observing and controlling how the AI adapts so that we can make it more vulnerable to the next round’s combination of weapons and tactics. Fight reactive adaptability with predictive adaptability. If we can’t do it so ideally, we can at least try developing lots of different weapons and tactics to cycle through when things get tough, rather than just wait for the AI to adapt to one habitual “organic” play style and rage quit once it’s got us pegged.

  86. BillyJoe7on 09 Feb 2014 at 3:36 pm

    BillyJoe:
    “there is a consensus of experts regarding the safely of GM foods. Just like there is a consensus of experts regarding climate change. Does this mean that they are necessarily correct? No”

    Hardnose:
    “for now just wanted to caution those who believe the scientific consensus is an oracle of truth. It is not”

    Well, who would gave known if you weren’t here to “caution” us. |:

    ———————————–

    BillyJoe:

    “But you have to consider the probability that the consensus of experts is correct against the probability that the minority of detractors are correct… And we have to consider this in light of the fact that none of us here are actual experts.

    Hardnose:

  87. BillyJoe7on 09 Feb 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Hardnose:

    “I am just using fictional examples here, please try to just get the point of my argument and ignore the specifics”

    Your argument has no point.
    It is a complete non sequitur.
    It bears no relationship to the quote to which you’re responding.

  88. rezistnzisfutlon 09 Feb 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Mlema,

    I don’t really care if you’re not impressed, and I’m not surprised as you’re an anti entrenched in your ideology. I suspect you’re like Ken Ham in that little, if anything, will every change your mind about GMOs – they will always be unsafe in your mind and the only legitimate course of action is to have them banned. It apparently doesn’t matter how strong the science is, how safe they’ve been demonstrated to be, how useful they are to modern agriculture, or what assurances any number of experts can give, it’ll never be enough.

    The only reason I’m here is to correct the misinformation that people like you and hardnose spread about GMOs and to give readers a chance to make up their own minds about it. To “set the record straight” as it were, attempt to undo the damage done by anti-GMO activists. Mostly, I wish to preserve the integrity of science that activists are so eager to mangle in the name of their ideology.

  89. rezistnzisfutlon 09 Feb 2014 at 7:00 pm

    If by parroting you mean reflecting what the scientific evidence indicates and consensus is, then OK. If those things, along with the fact that there is no incident that has ever pointed to GMOs as a health concern, aren’t compelling enough for you, then again I don’t know what to tell you.

  90. sonicon 10 Feb 2014 at 1:28 am

    The National Academy of Sciences suggests that the techniques involved in GMO’s are more likely to have unintended genetic effects than other methods of plant genetic modification.
    (Figure ES-1 from the link provided by Dr. N. above).

    Is that part of the scientific consensus on this subject?

  91. Mlemaon 10 Feb 2014 at 4:57 am

    R,
    “Safety studies are already done during the deregulation process. They feed rats and monitor results.”

    Monsanto fought tooth and nail to prevent the release of it’s “safety study” of MON863. A German court ordered it made public. It showed blood parameter changes, lesions in liver, kidneys, etc.
    There was no follow-up.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20051109175625/http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/content/sci_tech/prod_safety/fullratstudy.pdf

    There were problems with the study itself, but I doubt that Monsanto wanted to discredit their own research in order to cast doubt on its findings.

  92. rezistnzisfutlon 10 Feb 2014 at 5:18 am

    Nice conspiracy theory, Mlema. Monsanto protects it’s investments, just like anyone else. The deregulation process is still the same and privy to the FDA.

    You need to actually read the study, I’m not sure where you’re getting your information.

    “ABSTRACT
    This study compared various toxicologic parameters in rats fed a diet containing grain
    derived from corn event MON 863 (11 and 33% w/w in the diets) to (1) rats fed a diet
    containing the non-transgenic control line LH82xA634 corn grain (11 and 33% w/w in
    the diets), which has background genetics representative of event MON 863 but does not
    contain the cry3Bb1 coding sequence, and (2) a population of rats fed diets containing
    grain from six commercial non-transgenic corn reference control varieties (33% w/w in
    the diets) for at least 13 weeks.

    Toxicological parameters evaluated were survival, clinical signs, body weights, food
    consumption, clinical pathology, organ weights, and macroscopic and microscopic
    pathology. There were no test article related changes in any of the aforementioned
    toxicological parameters. The response of rats fed either 11 or 33% w/w corn event
    MON 863 in the diet was comparable to rats fed diets containing the non-transgenic
    control line LH82xA634 and corn from six commercial non-transgenic reference control
    varieties.

    They recorded alterations in certain variables that they themselves mention aren’t biologically significant. Furthermore, they do not record any lesions.

    Prime example of quote mining. Maybe you could learn how to read a study? Perhaps you should just stick with Seralini. Oh, wait…

  93. rezistnzisfutlon 10 Feb 2014 at 5:36 am

    The National Academy of Sciences suggests that the techniques involved in GMO’s are more likely to have unintended genetic effects than other methods of plant genetic modification.
    (Figure ES-1 from the link provided by Dr. N. above).

    Is that part of the scientific consensus on this subject?

    That’s the point of deregulation, Sonic, to determine if there are any unintended consequences. However, what anti’s fail to mention is that while some forms of genetic manipulation may have higher uncertainties than others, genetic engineering falls about in the middle, bracketed by conventional techniques, with the added benefit of having some predictive power. When it comes to chemical or radiation mutagenesis, that’s actually far more unpredictable with a much greater range of unpredictability, and there is no testing done on it, or on conventional manipulation techniques.

    A better graphs with more relevant information was created to address this topic and, as usual, clear up the misinformation.

    http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2012/06/more-frankenfood-paradox.html

  94. hardnoseon 10 Feb 2014 at 12:05 pm

    rezistnzisfutl works for Monsanto. Yes maybe resistance is futile against that kind of money and power. But you can’t stop us from being skeptical and expressing concerns.

  95. Bronze Dogon 10 Feb 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Nice link, RIF. It puts things in perspective. The old familiar techniques involve so many unknowns because of the inherent sloppiness of the tools, yet they get grandfathered in. They’re familiar risks we’re used to taking, which means many people find it easier to avoid thinking about it, like some people avoid thinking about the everyday dangers of driving a car and become reckless drivers. They’d rather delude themselves into thinking an everyday activity is innately “safe” than take the extra hassle creating a safety margin for every decision or deal with the fact that we live in an uncertain world full of everyday dangers.

    And there’s media sensationalism doing its part to warp people’s perspective: When a plane crashes, it’s rare, showy, and more likely to make it on the news. When a car crashes, it’s “dog bites man” and gets passed over. I’ll take a statistician’s risk management advice over a newsreader’s.

    The lesson I take home from all the talk of GMO versus non-GMO is that we should test all crops as best we can, not single out the ones produced by the least familiar (but more transparent and controllable) technique.

  96. sonicon 10 Feb 2014 at 12:28 pm

    rezistnzisfutl-
    Nice table-
    thank-you.

  97. rezistnzisfutlon 10 Feb 2014 at 2:06 pm

    You’re welcome, Sonic.

    Ah, the shill card. I was wondering when that would be played. Ohh, if I only had a nickel… Unfortunately, I’m still waiting on those checks.

    BD, I agree, we should either test all crops, or find some reasonable middle ground. Testing is expensive and requires a lot of overhead, and the result would unfortunately mean more expensive seeds even from conventional/organic fronts. But, perhaps that’s a cost many people could live with? I do find it irrational to demand regulation for one type of crop when others have their own set of risks that are virtually unknown.

  98. Bronze Dogon 10 Feb 2014 at 3:49 pm

    @hardnose: The shill card, usually the first refuge of the woo conspiracy theorist who knows he doesn’t have anything to support his arguments. This is also commonly known as the ad hominem fallacy, by the way. It’s one reason parents usually discourage children from calling people names: It doesn’t advance the argument and instead distracts from the substance. Given cultural trends, I think it’s also leading various echo chambers into rejecting the existence of objective truth because they think they can just label the speaker based on who their argument supports, rather than determine if the argument is cogent or not.

    It’s also generally unverifiable. It’s easy for childish people to just make up crap about strangers on the internet. I once had a racist troll accuse me (over the course of several threads) of being an unemployed gay Jewish black Mexican illegal immigrant welfare queen suffering from white guilt. Why? Because I kept pointing out his logical fallacies, his naivete about human nature, and his repetition of suspiciously video game-like tropes about how technology develops.

    @RIF: Yeah, I realize there are costs involved in testing and a need for finding a balance between caution and practicality. The irritating thing about woos who go on about false safety concerns is that there’s never enough testing, and never a reason to stop increasing. Of course, the big issue is fairness in testing versus the double-standards they apply. Their safety rhetoric is commonly hypocritical because, when you cut through it all, they generally want Big Organic to be privileged with a historical free pass even though evolution is still producing new crop variations. Most don’t realize that’s what they’re defending because they’re just parroting the propaganda of the Disney version of nature. We don’t want GMOs to get a free pass, we want to eliminate free passes.

  99. Mlemaon 10 Feb 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Rez, look at the data. The study was a piece of crap that Monsanto never intended to supply for critical review. Even so, there’s evidence of problems. But how do we know they are real problems if the study is a piece of crap? To my way of thinking, Monsanto should want to have good studies to show how safe the food is. How would feeding studies reveal trade secrets?
    And where are these rat studies you say are being done? Where is the repetition you claim is happening? Read the meta-study you linked to.

    Kevin Folta’s chart is also a piece of crap.
    Let me answer his questions:

    1. How many genes are transferred.
    irrelevant – trying to scare people by showing that in non-transgenic breeding lots of genes are transferred.
    2. If we know where transferred or affected genes are located
    again – irrelevant. Of course we know where the transgene is located. Trying to scare people because in non-transgenic we don’t know where all the genes are located?
    3. If we know what transferred or affected genes do
    duh, that’s why we put them in there. And no, we don’t know what they do in all cases, and we are less able to guess. When you’re breeding a potato with a potato you know what kinds of things might crop up, because it’s a potato and it’s been a potato. Potatoes can have problems. Potato problems. But a transgenic potato is different from the potato that the potato has been. It may have potato problems, or it may have transgenic potato problems. We know what potato problems look like because we have seen them before. We may not know what a transgenic potato problem looks like. This is why we must evaluate them, just like we do with medical GMOs. However, another thing to remember is: when the industry tests the safety of a transgene by “manufacturing” it in bacteria, the complex secondary metabolism of the plant in which the transgene will eventually be located doesn’t come into play. This is a faulty model for testing.

    You seem to think that if a transgenic plant has generated some unwanted compound that it will glow or have horns or something.

    4 If genes can be used from one species to another
    irrelevant – trying to distort the nature of the technology. Genes aren’t introduced biolistically in conventional breeding
    5. If plant products are acceptable for organic cultivation
    relevance?
    6. If laws are pending to label the products
    relevance?
    7. How long it takes to make an improved plant product
    ok, first we have to ask what kind of improvement he’s talking about. Otherwise, again this is irrelevant. Stacking new pesticide traits doesn’t take anywhere near as long as making Golden Rice. And neither does conventional breeding. and neither one costs as much either

    1. Which technology is most precise?
    neither is “precise”. Precision isn’t a word we can apply to any kind of plant breeding.
    2. Which technology is best understood?
    don’t understand what this question means. We’re still studying plant genetics. He seems to be implying that adding a transgene or two somehow causes plant reproduction to be made simple and to rise above plant breeding. Plant breeding is difficult. It takes time. GM helps immensely to develop certain traits. But it doesn’t make plant genetics more understandable than they already are. And actually, we know a lot about plant breeding even to the exclusion of transgenics. He’s attempting to persuade us to a viewpoint that transgenics are precise and completely innocuous to gene regulation. All breeding affects gene regulation. In conventional breeding, these mutations would be shut down, or even kill the plant. Or actually, in most cases they wouldn’t happen in the first place. But that’s irrelevant too. Humans have been forcing things to happen for thousands of years.
    3. Did you realize that humans have intervened to create so many common foods?
    so?
    4. Did you know that you regularly consumed so many genetically altered products?
    misleading – all our food is “genetically altered” – again trying to draw equivalency
    5. Isn’t it amazing that humans just implement nature’s own tools to improve plants?
    I’m amazed he thinks I’m so dumb. First there’s an implication of the naturalistic fallacy. Then we’re cajoled with “nature’s own tools”?

  100. Mlemaon 10 Feb 2014 at 6:14 pm

    “That’s the point of deregulation, Sonic, to determine if there are any unintended consequences.”

    oh my god

  101. hardnoseon 10 Feb 2014 at 7:34 pm

    The reason I suspect RIF works for Monsanto is that it’s so unusual for anyone to express faith in and admiration for such a monstrosity. No I am not against corporations and people making money and all that. But on the other hand we all know, or should know, that power corrupts. Monsanto, and similar ugly giants, have too much control over our lives.

    Maybe they really mean well and are not trying to poison us. Maybe they think, like some of you here, that human populations should continue exploding forever, and this explosion is something that should be encouraged. (We don’t even know if GMOs will make food easier and cheaper to grow. I doubt it, but that is supposedly the assumption.)

    Maybe Monsanto really loves humanity and wants it to grow and prosper and continue destroying all other species. Maybe Monsanto really doesn’t care about money at all, and they would do this wonderful work even if it didn’t pay.

    Maybe Monsanto is nothing like the evil tobacco companies who deliberately tried to deceive us.

    But I still don’t trust them at all. Refusing to label is, to me, a sure sign that no one should trust them. Unless you work for them and in that case, it would be understandable.

  102. kevinfoltaon 10 Feb 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Mlema,

    Let me help you with your synthesis of my crappy chart. Admittedly, I did have to simplify an explanation of the magnitude of genetic variation during breeding and other techniques. In this topic, it is how you answer the critics’ comments most effectively. The points I raise are those of the critics, and then I compare how traditional breeding, wide introgressions, addition of a transgene and other technologies compare and contrast. That’s pretty good stuff.

    People have used this chart quite a bit because they found it helpful in educating about transgenic technologies and the relative changes taking place. I’m sorry you didn’t see its magic.

    What is especially funny is that in almost every case you agree with me, then tell me I’m a moron. Think about that for a minute. Here’s my rationale. Compare to your comments.

    1. People do not realize that tens/hundreds of thousands of genes are intermingled in untraceable ways during wide crosses. Work by Schnable & coworkers showed hundreds of genes different between two corn varieties that never would have met without a human.

    2. Critics say that the technology is imprecise. You point out correctly that we can identify where a transgene integrates. That statement simply implies precision. Not to stoke fear.

    3. No, again, critics say that we don’ t know what is produced, and what problems it could cause. Yes we do, as you correctly point out.

    4. Genes are regularly transferred between species. Apple scab resistance comes to mind. Many others.

    5. There is irony in that a technology that can limit environmental inputs cannot be used in a production scheme that desired limited input.

    6. We can make radical changes and nobody wants a label, yet with a gentle, minor, predictable, precise change they want a label. That’s just goofy.

    7. Quite relevant. Breeding in apple scab resistance to commercial apple took 54 years. GM did it in 5. Same gene.

    1. Precise. Yes, we do use precision when discussing the location and content. The technology is precise.

    2. The gene and its products are more well understood than those that underlie most traits. (again, you agree with me but make some implication that I don’t know what I’m talking about)

    3. All crops came about with human intervention. GM is a logical extension of our command of genetics and traits.

    4. Right again. Everything is GMO.

    5. No naturalistic fallacy here.

    Again, I do appreciate that you agree with me on most points here, but I don’t get why so angry. It is a simple chart that asks the reader to really consider what happens when we mix genes and genomes—in any case. It shows that transgenics are surgical alternatives, not dangerous haphazard poisons.

  103. BillyJoe7on 10 Feb 2014 at 10:51 pm

    I think we just had a Woody Allen, Marshall McLuhan moment. |:

  104. Mlemaon 11 Feb 2014 at 12:23 am

    Kevin, I’m sorry if my comment had an angry tone. It was in reply to rezistnzisfutl, who has replied to my own comments with only insults. I’ll learn to be more equanimous.

    Your chart serves to compare and contrast different types of breeding with the intent to portray transgenics as “surgical alternatives”. And yes, we agree that your information isn’t incorrect, but it’s incomplete and misleading.

    “1. People do not realize that tens/hundreds of thousands of genes are intermingled in untraceable ways during wide crosses. Work by Schnable & coworkers showed hundreds of genes different between two corn varieties that never would have met without a human”

    so? plant reproduction is complicated. How does this deflect criticism of certain transgenics?

    “2. Critics say that the technology is imprecise. You point out correctly that we can identify where a transgene integrates. That statement simply implies precision. Not to stoke fear.”

    Your implication is that we can’t identify where genes are in non-transgenic plants. Relatively, how important is it for us to identify the location of any particular gene in a non-transgenic plant? It’s not important at all unless we want to develop another plant – so what is the relevance of identifying where a transgene integrates? For the transgene, it’s absolutely necessary because of the risk of it landing where it will critically modify the plant. Perhaps we would be well-served by an explanation of precisely what you mean when you say “precise”?

    “3. No, again, critics say that we don’ t know what is produced, and what problems it could cause. Yes we do, as you correctly point out.”

    We know what the transgene does. We know what the plant is. We don’t know what the transgene in the plant does until we check it out. Plants aren’t like bacteria. The effect of the transgene in a bacteria isn’t the same as a transgene in a complicated plant. And just which transgenics are we talking about in your chart? They’re not all equally prone to disregulation.

    “4. Genes are regularly transferred between species. Apple scab resistance comes to mind. Many others.
    and 7. Breeding in apple scab resistance to commercial apple took 54 years. GM did it in 5. Same gene.”

    Not comparable. Species are relevant here: apple to apple transfer. Also, it looks like the developers were unable to identify the copy number and TDNA integration site? Don’t know if that’s important. Maybe not. How is it appropriate to draw an equivalency between this and MON863, for example?

    “5. There is irony in that a technology that can limit environmental inputs cannot be used in a production scheme that desired limited input.”

    This is not established beyond a limited period of time and I think you’re making some assumptions here. There may very well be long-term problems. I’m not qualified to speculate on that. I sense you don’t like it that organics don’t accept transgenics. irrelevant to the chart, which you claim is an attempt to compare the nature of the plants, not the politics.

    “6. We can make radical changes and nobody wants a label, yet with a gentle, minor, predictable, precise change they want a label. That’s just goofy.”

    Tell me your example of a radical change that no one wants a label for. Tell me your example of a gentle, minor, predictable, precise change for which a label is desired. I think your descriptors are subjective and relative. Also, use of “they?” implies an “other” – are these the irrational anti-gmo people you’re referring to? This is why i say that a comparison of labeling is also irrelevant to the science.

    “1. Precise. Yes, we do use precision when discussing the location and content. The technology is precise.”

    Precise precision precise . Lovely words. But the technology is about as precise as genetics in general. Yes, there is some precision within a limited scope. And, no, it’s not really a precise technology like car repair. And the whole discussion about precision is relative and subjective. People like precision. It’s a good word to use to appeal to people’s desire to avoid chaos and engender control. It’s a narrative. Not scientific.

    “2. The gene and its products are more well understood than those that underlie most traits. (again, you agree with me but make some implication that I don’t know what I’m talking about)”

    You asked the question “which technology is best understood?” Again, you’re comparing two different categories. We understand plant genetics to a certain degree. We understand transgenic technology. It happens within plant genetics. But knowing what the gene that you’re inserting codes for doesn’t reflect on the larger knowledge of the technology or plant genetics. I think you’re saying that since we’re able to isolate a gene that produces a toxin, for instance, that we understand that better? But how can you compare that understanding to the understanding of how a plant’s genetics, with the gene you understand inserted, and all of the products relate? And how they function in the larger environment? One is a small area of understanding within a larger area. There’s no “best understood” because they’re different in scope.

    “3. All crops came about with human intervention. GM is a logical extension of our command of genetics and traits.”

    True. We just need to be cognizant of the risks of the technology, just as we’re cognizant of the risks of all breeding. They’re different kinds of risks. Again, you seem to be attempting to draw equivalency between all different kinds of breeding, or even to make non-transgenics appear more risky.

    “4. Right again. Everything is GMO.”

    When people say “GMO” they’re referring to transgenic technology. Not everything is transgenic technology. Hence, not everything is GMO.

    “5. Isn’t it amazing that humans just implement nature’s own tools to improve plants?”

    It’s good to appreciate that humans are ingenious and have worked hard to develop the tools which provide us with delicious, nutritious food. But let’s not lose our heads with amazement and close our eyes in some kind of technophilic ecstasy. It’s just a new tool after all. Skeptics criticize GMO detractors by insinuating that they follow a “naturalistic fallacy”. I believe you’re attempting to appeal to those who do follow such a fallacy. It sounds ingratiating to me, like something you’d say in a second grade classroom to inspire interest.
    thanks

  105. Mlemaon 11 Feb 2014 at 12:28 am

    I really did mean “thanks”. I just re-read my comment and it seems a little sarcastic. Sorry, I meant thanks for the discussion.

  106. Bill Openthalton 11 Feb 2014 at 7:54 am

    Mlema –

    The effect of traditional plant husbandry is exactly the same as splicing genes, only the technology is less sophisticated. Not only that, but every carbon-based life form is genetically modified, it’s what evolution is all about. To the unsophisticated observer, there is the illusion of stability, but each individual organism is subtly different from even genetically identical organisms. We are all mutations.

    The whole anti-GMO activism is based on ignorance and fear of change. That is what the “crappy table” shows. Based on objective criteria, we should be more wary of traditional methods of plant manipulation than of gene splicing. Zero risk doesn’t exist, but we’re not going to see triffids emerging from Monsanto’s labs any time soon (and if they would emerge, it would probably be from an “organic” breeding program).

  107. sonicon 11 Feb 2014 at 10:20 am

    rezistnzisfutl-
    I have come to appreciate what you are doing more. You have introduced me to better information on this.

    Here is an article that captures part of what I’m still concerned about–

    http://www.scidev.net/global/gm/news/rifts-emerge-in-scientists-views-on-safety-of-gmos.html

    “Most scientists believe the biosafety protocols in which the regulatory agencies of organised countries rely on are rigorous — sometimes excessively rigorous, I would say — and feature robust data on the safety of the products tested. This is a consensus,” says Aragão.

    Current GMOs are safe to eat– however (from the article)

    “The concrete results show that, of general form, is possible to affirm that transgenics have offered for some [farmers], for some time, easier management, in terms of the homogenization of decision processes related to herbicides and control of some pests. However, this has very severe consequences for those involved. And even for those who benefit in the short term, the results seen in the medium and long term do not allow optimism.”…

    Comments?

  108. Steven Novellaon 11 Feb 2014 at 11:13 am

    hardnose wrote: “Maybe they really mean well and are not trying to poison us. Maybe they think, like some of you here, that human populations should continue exploding forever, and this explosion is something that should be encouraged.”

    I find statements like this very revealing. Clearly hardnose is working off of a particular ideological narrative.

    If you care about population control and the environment, then argue those issues. I feel many people use GMO as a proxy issue for these other concerns.

    Also – don’t make assumptions about the concerns of those who feel GMOs are a safe and useful technology. That view is not incompatible with concerns about the effect of human population growth on the earth and protecting the environment.

    In fact, I think the evidence supports the conclusion that intelligent use of GMOs could be a huge net benefit to the environment.

    Regarding labeling – the issue is more complex than a simple desire to be deceptive. Mandating labeling of this particular feature implies something that is not true (that there are safety concerns), and will be a burden to food producers without any benefit to the consumer, and is absolutely a backdoor issue for the anti-GMO crowd. They want to stigmatize GMO. They are actively and admittedly doing this, pressuring cereal companies, for example, to put out GMO-free products. This is about creating consumer demand up front, through marketing, rather than following the science.

  109. Steven Novellaon 11 Feb 2014 at 11:17 am

    mlema – why do you think transgenic GMO is inherently more risky than hybrids, or mutation farming? I would not say all these mechanisms are equivalent, but they do all involve genetic changes, some more predictable than others.

    I also think there is a point in that much anti-GMO rhetoric implies that there is a preferred “natural” state for species and that changing things from their natural state is inherently wrong or risky. The bigger point is – we are already so far from anything that is natural (as it evolved without human intervention) that adding one more gene is a tiny change by comparison, and species are not pristine unchangeable things. Every living thing is a mutant.

    None of this means that any specific GMO is risk free. The point is just to put anti-GMO rhetoric into proper perspective

  110. hardnoseon 11 Feb 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I think we have been shown repeatedly that unnatural, human-made substances are more likely to be harmful than naturally occurring substances. Yes there are poisons in nature, but nothing on the scale of what has been created by human technology.

    Life evolved over extremely long periods and has adapted to certain kinds of substances. It has been a gradual process. Our immune systems can recognize and fight off certain kinds of pathogens.

    But artificial substances and by-products of industry are often carcinogenic, for example.

    The health status of Americans is generally not great. This can be blamed on the modern lifestyle. However we should not rule out the possibility that environmental pollution also contributes. We are continually exposed to substances that did not exist while we and our ancestors evolved.

    GMOs are yet another type of unnatural substance that we are exposed to. As has happened so often in the past, I think we will eventually find out they cause more damage than their advocates ever expected.

    Regarding over-population — yes I do feel strongly about that, and yes I know it is not what the post is about. However, the main stated motivation for growing GMOs is usually to feed an ever-growing population. It seems to be taken for granted that the explosion will continue, and that science will deal with it somehow.

    But we should always keep in mind that not all science fiction predictions become reality. In fact, most probably don’t. It is irresponsible to count on the Starship Enterprise to save the day. More likely, we will cause our own extinction, if we can’t find a way to slow down our trashing of the planet.

  111. Bronze Dogon 11 Feb 2014 at 1:24 pm

    If you care about population control and the environment, then argue those issues. I feel many people use GMO as a proxy issue for these other concerns.

    I think I’d call it a ‘convenience scapegoat.’ Understanding the economics and politics of our food supply is hard, and so is solving the problems. Hating GMOs based on a black-and-white dichotomy of natural versus artificial is easy and makes for simple sloganized thinking. They attack the convenient target instead of the actual problems so they can feel good about themselves without putting much effort into actually helping.

  112. Steven Novellaon 11 Feb 2014 at 1:31 pm

    hardnose – I completely disagree with your take on “natural.”

    First – give me an operational definition of “natural.”

    If you mean – a product of evolution without human intervention, then there is no a-prior reason to assume that substances in nature are safer than those synthesized by people. Nature does not care about us, there are many toxins in nature, and in fact many substances evolved specifically to be toxic.

    It has already been pointed out that no food you eat is as it evolved – just about all human food has been cultivated over thousands of years. Is this natural by your definition? Does it matter? How is GM technology qualitatively different in terms of the final product than hybrids or mutation farming? Does a gene become “unnatural” when it is moved to another plant? How far removed from the target species does the gene have to originate for it to be “unnatural?”

    I think you have fallen for the naturalistic fallacy. But this does not make for a coherent logical or scientific argument.

  113. hardnoseon 11 Feb 2014 at 1:50 pm

    As I explained, by “natural” I mean substances that we and our ancestors evolved with over extremely long periods of time. As I said, yes there are poisons in nature, but not on the scale of what we are creating now.

    Yes, humans have modified plants and animals with selective breeding for thousands of years. But they never inserted a gene from a bacteria, for example, into a tomato. Transgenic species probably did not happen often, if ever, before biotechnology.

    There are no long term studies on humans. GMO advocates say that we would have seen harmful effects by now, if there were any, since GMOs have been in our food for a while. However that is not true, because there is no control group. Since there is no labeling, we cannot differentiate Americans who eat GMOs vs those who do not.

    Yes, anyone who eats a lot of processed food gets more GMOs, and is more likely to be sick. But we can’t blame the GMOs, since processed food would cause sickness even without GMOs.

    There is a health crisis in this country and we don’t know if GMOs might contribute in some way. As I said before, the American lifestyle might be the major cause. But it does not seem possible that pollution from industry and automobiles would not also contribute. And maybe GMOs contribute also. We do not know at this point, and we should admit that we don’t know.

    Anyone who is worried about feeding the ever-exploding population should also worry about other results of over-population. For example, what happens as hundreds of millions more people start driving cars?

  114. JJ Borgmanon 11 Feb 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Interesting. The real issue here seems to be the loggerhead between scale (the size of the effect) and time frame (over what period of time might there be an effect). Both are worthy of notice and study. Fear of notice and study puts everything dead in the water. Progress, having had taken study into account, is the desired outcome. Ending up wrong or right is one of the risks of existing. It seems to me that due diligence is being exercised.

  115. Bruceon 11 Feb 2014 at 5:41 pm

    “Since there is no labeling, we cannot differentiate Americans who eat GMOs vs those who do not”

    Because, you know… Americans are the only people who matter…

    I would also like you to define what this “health crisis” is. From what I understand, if you don’t mind a non-American commenting, it is a health care crisis and all statistics point to the fact that people are living longer and healthier lives in the first world.

    https://www.google.co.uk/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=sp_dyn_le00_in&hl=en&dl=en&idim=country:USA:GBR:CAN

    That should show a graph of life expectancy over the past 50 years or so, from what I can see it has gone from 70 years to 80 years.

    As I have mentioned a few times before, the only health crisis we are seeing here in the UK, is that people are living longer.

    But then again, you seem to argue “too many poisons will kill us” on one hand and then “don’t make people live longer” on the other… so you will most likely read this in completely the wrong way and make a supercilious and tangential response.

  116. hardnoseon 11 Feb 2014 at 6:54 pm

    I referred to Americans because GMOs are not labeled here. Also because Americans are notorious for bad health. Not because I only love Americans, don’t worry.

    “all statistics point to the fact that people are living longer and healthier lives in the first world.”

    If you examine the statistics carefully you will find that mean lifespan has increased mainly because young children are unlikely to die in advanced countries. This is largely because of antibiotics.

    However, adult health has not benefited much from modern advances, and in fact the modern lifestyle is quite deadly.

    But what you stated is a very common misconception and I knew someone would say it, as soon as I complained about the health crisis here.

    For those who believe in the relentless progress of humanity, it goes without saying that the Big Drug companies have blessed us with radiant health and long lives. And if only everyone had access to the drugs, life would be glorious for all.

    But it isn’t true, just a myth. Check out longevity statistics carefully, and make sure you actually understand something about statistics. Most people don’t, and are therefore easily fooled by this Big Drug myth.

  117. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Feb 2014 at 8:26 pm

    GMOs ARE labeled – by organic, and GMO-Free apps.

  118. sonicon 11 Feb 2014 at 11:52 pm

    hardnose-
    This group does not worship ‘science and technology’- more like ‘rationality’ and its cousin the ‘scientific consensus’.

    You are arguing against a consensus by bringing up possibilities.

    This won’t work- it is assumed the possibilities have been analyzed (and the consensus is that the testing methods are robust– see the quote I put up) and that you must now bring evidence to overturn the consensus.

    I understand your concerns about the health of the people around you.
    Is it in the food? doesn’t seem an odd question to me.

    But to break the consensus on safety about GMO – around here you will need to bring evidence specific to GMOs.

    On a lighter note– I thought rezistnzisfutl was Dupont man. :)
    Just goes to show how wrong I can be.

  119. rezistnzisfutlon 12 Feb 2014 at 2:21 am

    Syntenta, actually, Sonic, though my shill checks likely come from several different industry sources. Of course, once they start actually adding ZEROES behind the single figures, that would really help… These electrons aren’t cheap! :D

  120. rezistnzisfutlon 12 Feb 2014 at 2:21 am

    *Syngenta. Guess that’ll cost me a few cents on the next check.

  121. Bruceon 12 Feb 2014 at 2:30 am

    “Check out longevity statistics carefully, and make sure you actually understand something about statistics”

    Ummm… have you even looked at the figures? There are increases across the board, but the greatest increase (at least in the UK) is for those 65+. Our challenge here is supporting those over 65 because of the very fact that people are living longer (Health and Social care are bracing for the baby boomoers to hit retirement in the next 10 years)!

    Can you PLEASE substantiate your claims instead of just stating that what we are claiming are myths or misconceptions.

    Here is a nice little visualisation of the population statistics over the past 100 years in Scotland:

    http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/en/censusresults/visualisations/rel1ccenturyofcensus.html

    You will note that the population had a very different profile in 1911 compared to 2011… and if you look at the data you will see that children under 10 represent a much smaller portion of the population.

    I there might be something similar for the US of A, but I would put the onus on you to actually do some research yourself, and present some data instead of making wild claims that seem to have little basis in fact.

  122. Mlemaon 12 Feb 2014 at 4:48 am

    Bill Openthalt:
    “The effect of traditional plant husbandry is exactly the same as splicing genes, only the technology is less sophisticated.”
    The effect isn’t exactly the same. But I guess you could say that “splicing genes” is more sophisticated.

    ” Not only that, but every carbon-based life form is genetically modified, it’s what evolution is all about.”
    Using the term “genetically modified” in this way makes the term irrelevant to transgenic technology. When we say “genetically modified” in the context of plant breeding, we’re referring to a very specific manipulation with a purpose chosen by humans. And I don’t think you mean to imply that someone or something is purposefully manipulating evolution with some purpose in mind. I know that instead, you’re just saying that both evolution and transgenic breeding change the genome of the plant. That’s true, but I think it’s unimportant in this particular discussion and is perhaps a truth that might be useful in spurring a more philosophical question, perhaps about the naturalistic fallacy.

    “Based on objective criteria, we should be more wary of traditional methods of plant manipulation than of gene splicing.”
    There’s no objective criteria that would support being more wary of traditional methods in general, nor of certain transgenics as opposed to other transgenics, or even as opposed to traditional breeding. Plant breeding is risky, and there are various risks inherent in the various methodologies. The safety of the resultant product is the thing we want to determine. (for eating, the environment, etc.) Transgenics challenge our current evaluation practices.

  123. Mlemaon 12 Feb 2014 at 4:51 am

    Dr. Novella: “…why do you think transgenic GMO is inherently more risky than hybrids, or mutation farming? I would not say all these mechanisms are equivalent, but they do all involve genetic changes, some more predictable than others.
    I also think there is a point in that much anti-GMO rhetoric implies that there is a preferred “natural” state for species and that changing things from their natural state is inherently wrong or risky. The bigger point is – we are already so far from anything that is natural (as it evolved without human intervention) that adding one more gene is a tiny change by comparison, and species are not pristine unchangeable things. Every living thing is a mutant.”

    Dr. N – I’m unable to talk about transgenic GMOs as a homogeneous entity. Only agrobacterium transfer of rDNA from closely related species is less risky than hybridization. All biolistic methods are more risky, and mutagenics are more risky still and should be regulated now that they’re being employed in the same arena as transgenics. New technologies are being developed as we speak. Improved regulation is critical to protecting the integrity of our food supply and needs to adapt to the constantly changing technology. I see a serious and sustained effort by the industry to undermine regs even as we develop more risky breeding technologies.

    “adding one more gene is a tiny change by comparison”
    This is a critically inadequate characterization of the technology.

    The discussion re: ideology and fallacious reasoning is a separate issue for me. I think it’s better to look at things scientifically than to decide what’s true or false based on who’s saying it. Whenever someone tries to plead their case as representing what’s “natural”, I balk.

  124. Bill Openthalton 12 Feb 2014 at 6:35 am

    Mlema –

    The effect isn’t exactly the same. But I guess you could say that “splicing genes” is more sophisticated.

    Any plant “improvement” programme changes its generic material. Just that until recently, we didn’t even know about genetics and genes (Mendel, anyone?) so no-one cared.

    Transgenics challenge our current evaluation practices.

    We have no standard protocols for the evaluation the genetic risks of new cultivars; until now, if it’s not too poisonous, it can be sold and eaten. We do monitor toxins and bacteria that can be present (or develop) in foodstuffs, but we do not gauge the genetic impact on the environment or humans. I can buy Cherokee purple tomato seeds in my local garden centre — I bet you a dime to a dollar the EU never bothered to even question their introduction, unlike their agonising over maize 1507.

  125. Bruceon 12 Feb 2014 at 8:37 am

    @ Hardnose,

    FYI, thought I would do a quick search in my lunch hour and on the first page of my first search on google I found this:

    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32701.pdf

    The summary says:

    “The United States Is Getting Older. Aside from the total size, one of the most important
    demographic characteristics of a population for public policy is its age and sex structure. This
    report illustrates how the United States has been in the midst of a profound demographic change:
    the rapid aging of its population, as reflected by an increasing proportion of persons aged 65 and
    older, and an increasing median age in the population.”

    And if you read page 7 where it discusses mortality rates:

    “If age-adjusted rates are considered for the United States over time,26
    a striking pattern of the mortality risk emerges (see Figure 3): age-adjusted death rates have
    exhibited a dramatic decline since 1950 (rather than being remarkably constant, as suggested by
    the crude death rates). Use of the age-adjusted rates has allowed a much more refined evaluation
    of trends in American mortality over time. Specifically, they show that, despite the fact that the
    U.S. population has been aging over the past half-century, the risk of mortality has actually been
    falling.”

    This would not suggest amore “deadly” lifestyle to me. I am still quite interested to see any data you might have to support your claims though.

  126. hardnoseon 12 Feb 2014 at 9:04 am

    Bruce,

    The population is aging because of lower birth rates in generations after the baby boom. You need to improve your math and reasoning skills.

    It is well know that there is an obesity epidemic in the US, with resulting epidemics of some serious diseases.

    One thing has improved American health in recent decades — decreasing number of smokers.

  127. Steven Novellaon 12 Feb 2014 at 9:35 am

    Mlema wrote: ““adding one more gene is a tiny change by comparison”
    This is a critically inadequate characterization of the technology.”

    You miss my point – the question remains, why are genes from distant species inherently more risky than from closer species? You are assuming this as a premise. A gene for a toxin from a related plant is more dangerous than a gene for a pesticide from a bacterium.

    The source of the gene is no the ultimate determination of its effect. Some genes are highly conserved across phylla. Benign and beneficial genes can come from any phyllum. What the gene does seems much more important than its source. I do think this is a subtle version of the naturalistic fallacy – crossing taxa seems “unnatural”

    GMOs should each be evaluated on their own merits, not based on the technology employed, in my opinion.

  128. Bill Openthalton 12 Feb 2014 at 11:29 am

    hardnose –

    Life expectancy has increased at all ages, not just for infants, where it has been most dramatic. We will have to wait for the statistical effects of the obesity “epidemic” on overall life expectancy as most sufferers are still fairly young and not dying.

  129. Bruceon 12 Feb 2014 at 12:47 pm

    “The population is aging because of lower birth rates in generations after the baby boom.”

    And from a few posts previously:

    “If you examine the statistics carefully you will find that mean lifespan has increased mainly because young children are unlikely to die in advanced countries.”

    Have you even read what you are writing? In one post you justify your position because of lower birth rates and in another you justify it due to children being less likely to die (ie higher birth rates).

    As Bill has stated, life expectancy has increased at all age points, this is because people are living longer because people are generally healthier.

    You have yet to provide me with one bit of data to evidence any of the assertions you have made. Before you go claiming I or anyone here is statistically illiterate, I suggest you put up or shut up. Either provide some data or perhaps revisit your position.

  130. Bronze Dogon 12 Feb 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Since we’re back to trying to get people to state exactly what’s inherently risky about cross-species gene transfers, I once again feel compelled to point out that the premise comes across as disturbingly similar to tropes of racial purity.

    I also think Platonism rears its ugly head since so many people seem to think that a gene has an inherent species property rather than seeing species as continually redefined by their ever-changing genome. The universe isn’t built on our middle world abstractions.

    There’s nothing about the concept of species I can see that would suggest a danger from transferring a handful of genes at a time. To me, inserting a few genes from other species is no different than producing the same genes by mutation and breeding. They’re still the same species because reproductive ability generally isn’t inhibited by a handful of new genes. If it were, evolution would be much harder.

    If there is a danger to humans, it comes from the gene itself and/or its place in a genome, not its origin. The same is true of all genes, not just the ones humans insert.

  131. hardnoseon 12 Feb 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Bruce, you want to believe the Big Drug PR. But it is not true. It’s easy to distort reality with statistics, if you are interested in PR not truth.

    The population ages when the birth rate declines. This is a fact. There can be other reasons, but we know the birth rate declined after the baby boom.

    If you need to believe Americans have been getting healthier thanks to the miracles of Big Drug, then you will never care about logic and statistics and reality.

    Yes some sub-populations of America are getting healthier, because of lifestyle changes. Others are getting much sicker. Most, probably.

    You also have to decide what is being compared to. If you compare Americans today to the Americans who were starving during the great depression, they might be healthier today. It depends what you compare to what.

    The American diet and lifestyle, in general, is deadly. We know that. Do you really think diet and lifestyle do not matter, as long as you take plenty of drugs?

  132. Bruceon 12 Feb 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Hardnose,

    All you have conjecture and conspiracy theories and are not willing to provide any evidence for any of your claims. I am not discussing this with you anymore.

    Good day.

  133. Mlemaon 12 Feb 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Dr. Novella said: “…the question remains, why are genes from distant species inherently more risky than from closer species? You are assuming this as a premise. A gene for a toxin from a related plant is more dangerous than a gene for a pesticide from a bacterium.
    The source of the gene is no the ultimate determination of its effect. Some genes are highly conserved across phylla. Benign and beneficial genes can come from any phyllum. What the gene does seems much more important than its source. I do think this is a subtle version of the naturalistic fallacy – crossing taxa seems “unnatural””

    We never introduce a gene we believe will be harmful with regards to its ultimate purpose (if we introduce a toxin it’s in order to kill insects, not people). However, it does appear that the source plays some role in affecting the level of risk. It’s the reason traditional hybridization carries more risk of unpredicted change than agrobacterium transfer of rDNA from closely related species. There are other factors within this scheme that likewise affect predictability, and one of them is indeed the methodology used. This chart from the 2004 NAS publication you linked to in your article above illustrates relative risk:

    http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10977&page=4#p2000a7b39960004001

    It appears that both the methodology and the relationship between species affect risk. The ultimate product is what needs to be evaluated – I think we agree on that. And because of the types of changes (both intended and unintended) we can generate with transgenics (and of course mutagenics, as you’ve pointed out), we need to be thorough in our environmental impact assessments as well. In line with these considerations, I feel it’s important to examine the sort of safety testing we’re doing as the technology becomes more advanced and humans begin to consume gmos. An overview from several years ago is already outdated. Currently, feeding trials are scanty, despite industry rhetoric. For example, I encourage critical review of the research by the EFSA upon which the AAAS has apparently based its safety assessment.

    When we modify a plant for nutritional enhancement, which is where the patented seed market is moving, we target specific metabolic pathways for alteration. So far this has never been a “surgical” procedure. We’ve been surprised by the results and have learned a lot. But isn’t it prudent to ask questions about the unintended changes and whether they’re desirable to maintain in the plants genome? changes in protein profiles, for instance? or the appearance of unevaluated compounds?

    The industry is ramping up the media narrative of gmo safety. It’s simplistic and only reflects part of the history of these plants to date, and comes on the verge of a new direction in gmos for human consumption, in which adding new and marketable traits to justify patents may concurrently disregard important elements of nutrition and safety. The World Health Organization supports ongoing risk assessments and says “GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.”

  134. rezistnzisfutlon 13 Feb 2014 at 5:53 am

    Mlema,

    You seem to think that anyone who supports GMOs are in some way beholden to corporate interests, or that we don’t know that biotech companies are in it for the profit. Let me acquit you of that notion now. We aren’t falling for some industry line or slick marketing campaign. What you’re suggesting is little more than a conspiracy theory really. Let me suggest it’s you who are choosing not to skeptically evaluate GE as a tool for agriculture, that you do not understand the science, agriculture, what a consensus means, or the history of genetic engineering. I don’t think it’s mere ignorance that can be attributed to your position, it’s ideology.

    Sorry if you think I’m insulting you, but you don’t seem to realize that you are being insulting, arrogant, and even a little patronizing in suggesting that we don’t understand what’s going on and that we are merely being duped by industry. I would suggest that pointing out your factual errors, logical fallacies, and misrepresentations of science is merely criticism, not insults.

    It’s been explained to you in great detail how your continuous point about risk is fallacious. You again bring up the NAP graph as if that’s evidence of any sort of extra risks GE poses, while seemingly ignoring the fact that GE foods must go through a long, expensive, and rigorous deregulation process, which essentially obviates the risk. Which brings me to:

    “That’s the point of deregulation, Sonic, to determine if there are any unintended consequences.”

    oh my god

    Do you know what it means when the phrase “deregulating a newly developed seed” means? I suspect you think it means that regulation should be removed for new seed assessment. It’s actually an industry term meaning a new seed that goes through the regulatory process in order to then be sold on the open market, if it passes the regulations. Hope that’s clear enough for you.

    Do no think that we are stooges for industry. We here are following the science and best evidence available, and we also understand what the risks are (which also is backed up by strong science), which are that they are no more risky than conventional/organic crops. We don’t have to take a company’s word for it – we have a glut of independent research, an army of highly trained scientists from all over the world, and decades of use to evaluate for ourselves.

    Again, anti-GMO rhetoric closely matches that of anti-fluoride, anti-vaccination, and even creationists in denying the science. None of those proponents consider themselves anti-science. I suspect you believe you support science. Unfortunately, like with the proponents, you can’t really pick and choose what you feel like supporting just by what feels good or what fits a certain ideology.

    And speaking of narrative, the anti-GMO narrative is far stronger, much more emotionally charged, and much less rational than anything industry has ever put out. Many within that movement are like Ken Ham, who admits that no amount of evidence will ever sway them in their beliefs. Let’s hope that you don’t all into that category. With your apparent embrace of the Nirvana Fallacy, somehow I think that may be a practical impossibility.

  135. hardnoseon 13 Feb 2014 at 6:46 am

    Skeptical scientists, like myself, who are not convinced that GMOs are just as safe as non-GMOs, should not be confused with unscientific conspiracy theorists.

    Thanks to the internet, there is no shortage of nutty theories. There are people who will believe anything, as long as a conspiracy is involved.

    I don’t think there is any conspiracy surrounding GMOs. Or anything, for that matter. I think most people are more or less well-intentioned. The problem is that we are limited and fallible — no matter how scientific. Science is difficult and often goes wrong. Especially when there is a chance to make tons of money.

    I think there is too much faith in technology now days. Technology is impressive and people assume that means nature is well understood. It is not at all well understood.

    Yes I am old, and that might have something to do with my skepticism about some of the new technologies. I still have respect for nature and its unfathomable complexity.

  136. rezistnzisfutlon 13 Feb 2014 at 7:40 am

    Hardnose,

    While your willingness to admit to no conspiracy, though I would never go as far as to state that there are no conspiracies anywhere (we know they exist, but knowing they exist is different in scope and premise than a conspiracy theory), is admirable, you still appear to be concocting a conspiracy theory with the point about a profit motive, which suggests that there is an unsafe and risky rush toward new, profitable technologies. You also imply that, again, we are beholden to new technologies and ignore their risks to the detriment of civilizations. That combined with your previous posts belie your self-appointed title of “skeptical scientist”.

    You may be skeptical about GMOs, but that does not make you a skeptic, and most of your posts indicate more of a cynical bent than the practice of skepticism that also illustrates that you don’t really understand what skepticism is in how we practice it here.

    Everything in this world has risk associated with it. There is risk with moving forward, and there is a risk with not moving forward. There is no worship of technology here, no blind faith in science (if there is such a thing). No one here has illusions about GMOs being a panacea. If there were actual demonstrated harms associated with GMOs, it’s likely that most of us here would share in your caution.

    What you and Mlema have demonstrated is both a lack of understanding of some fundamentals of science as well as a misapplication of precautionary principle, which is more akin to Nirvana Fallacy (the demand for near zero risk and near perfect outcome). You also embrace the naturalistic fallacy, and what appears to be a lack of understanding of populations genetics and evolution. The list of logical fallacies and scientific illiteracy is stacking up.

    If you are going to make a compelling argument on here, you need to first have a firm understanding of at least the basics of science as well as what skepticism is. Unfortunately, the anti-GMO movement is a denialist movement – the science, evidence, and preponderance of the scientific community is not on their side. You and Mlema are both anti-GMO activists, and you have yet to promote anything compelling.

    Mlema seems more inclined to drill into minutiae in hopes to find some minor “crack in the armor” that will impugn GMOs as a whole (which would be an argument from fallacy even if he were to find some legitimate issue, which he hasn’t). You seem more content to stick with vague conspiracies, naturalistic fallacy, and what seems to be resistance to new technologies (which is an appeal to incredulity – you don’t understand “nature”, you think it has “unfathomable complexity”, so therefore we have no business messing with it. This ignores the fact that we’ve been “messing” with nature since we’ve been in existence).

    So, I’ll say this to both of you – either put up, or shut up. You both have yet to demonstrate anything compelling. Not one shred of evidence of harm, not any indication of extraordinary risk, not any evidence of conspiracies.

    Honestly, the only reason I’m here, besides to fulfill my shill quota, is to correct the misinformation, factual inaccuracies, and science mangling anti’s systematically spread. I don’t have any illusions of changing your minds, but at least we won’t stand by while you undermine the science or continue to spread lies, intentionally or unintentionally.

  137. hardnoseon 13 Feb 2014 at 12:04 pm

    RIF,

    I watched a youtube video of a talk by a GMO scientist at Cornell. Her goal was obviously to reassure everyone about GMOs.

    However, in the question period some concerns were raised that she could not really answer. For example, about unknown allergens, about transgenic breeds, and about the reliability of Monsanto when it comes to assuring safety.

    I am not home now, but can send you the link tonight. If you watch the video, you will have to admit that you have gone overboard in your confidence in GMO safety.

  138. Bronze Dogon 13 Feb 2014 at 1:27 pm

    I don’t read the agricultural industry’s marketing. I doubt I’d be able to recognize the company names in a lineup, aside from the ever unpopular Monsanto. Like all companies, I know they’re in it for a profit, so yeah, I know I should be wary should I encounter rhetoric I know is from them. But I’m also wary of “Big Organic” since they’re also in it for a profit.

    I read science blogs that often talk about biology in general. GMOs occasionally come up as a topic. The stance taken on them is consistent with the biology lessons about everything else. They don’t invent special exceptions to the laws governing biology to pretend that humans are above and beyond nature. Our interventions are good or bad because of their results, not because they’re “natural” or “artificial.” So I find it entirely expected that they’d argue there’s nothing inherently wrong or dangerous about artificially inserted genes as compared to other causes of genetic change. Biology is an elaborate subject, so if there was a deliberate lie in there, it’d be relatively easy to expose because it would very likely contradict something else we know to be true.

    If there was an enormous conspiracy, it would be all too easy to expose such inconsistencies, and silencing everyone knowledgeable enough to point out the problems would so costly, I’d be amazed if it were possible to make a profit. Acting in this fashion would also be largely pointless since woo and quackery are much easier and more profitable despite the ease of falsifying them. After all, marketers and consumers generally aren’t interested in what the scientific community says.

    The anti-GMO crowd is inconsistent whenever I look. They cite unintended effects that arise from new genes, combinations, and so forth, but they only do so when GMOs are the topic, giving much bigger natural changes a free pass. They cite the (human-centric) notion of a difference between natural and artificial when GMOs come up, but generally don’t acknowledge that we’ve been artificially modifying plants into human-dependent freaks known as “crops” for millenna. Why start complaining about it only now? They may acknowledge evolution, but they often hold notions of species purity that contradict evolution.

    Finding the truth is no easy task, but spotting falsehood tends to be a bit easier: Look for internal inconsistencies.

    One difference I feel I should note is that the accusation of being a Monsanto shill assumes an intentional conspiracy that would have an organized bureaucracy, hierarchies, and so forth. This idea is typically thrown out there to make a comforting explanation of why people disagree, rather than debate the logic behind that position. In contrast, I see the anti-GMO crowd as part of a well-established subculture, rather than paid shills. They don’t need to be paid because they’ve been indoctrinated, and go on to indoctrinate the next generation. They have thought-stopping cliches, unexamined enthymemes, stricter social controls, and notions of authority that generally serve to guard against inquiry and self-examination. While I think it’s useful to know that culture is the reason, it gives us something worth challenging: Commonly shared fallacies and false premises.

  139. BillyJoe7on 13 Feb 2014 at 3:26 pm

    RIF:
    “The list of logical fallacies…is stacking up”

    hardnose:
    “I watched a youtube video of a talk by a GMO scientist at Cornell”

    This one is called “cherry picking”.

  140. hardnoseon 13 Feb 2014 at 4:11 pm

    BillyJoe7, my point is that a GMO scientist at Cornell is unlikely to be biased against GMOs. The video is a very good example of a real expert admitting there are reasons for caution.

  141. rezistnzisfutlon 13 Feb 2014 at 5:38 pm

    No scientific consensus is EVER 100%. There will always be outliers. There will always be mouthpieces for activist movements. Creationists have scientists on their side denouncing evolution. This is why we harp on about a consensus, because even the most respected scientist or subject matter expert can go off the deep end one day. So what if you found one scientist who was critical of GMOs? Unless he can bring legitimate evidence and sound argumentation, he’s got nothing. If it’s another cautionary tale, that’s simply his opinion. I could list a half a dozen scientists who oppose GMOs, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the thousands of professional scientists who work directly in the field for a living on a day-in day-out basis who support their use and attest to their safety. Again, you’re getting science wrong, and BJ is correct in your cherry picking fallacy.

  142. hardnoseon 13 Feb 2014 at 6:38 pm

    This is a scientist at Cornell who does genetic engineering of corn, not an outlier. She is very much in favor of GMOs.

    About 40 minutes into the video there are questions from the audience. The scientists admits that some of their concerns are valid, because she is being honest, not PR person for Monsanto.

  143. Mlemaon 14 Feb 2014 at 2:00 am

    Rez, deregulation is what happens when the seed is released for commercial use. I believe you meant to say:

    “That’s the point of the deregulation PROCESS…to determine if there are any unintended consequences.”

    The way you wrote it makes it sound like the seeds are deregulated in order to see what happens when they’re planted.

    Please don’t tell me i should have known what you meant. You’re not using the term “deregulation” properly, nor are you defining it properly.

  144. Mlemaon 14 Feb 2014 at 5:00 am

    “…an industry term meaning a new seed that goes through the regulatory process in order to then be sold on the open market, if it passes the regulations.”

    deregulation is not a seed

  145. carbonUniton 15 Feb 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Doctor Novella was interviewed about the GMO controversy on the 2014-02-14 edition of the Inquiring Minds podcast. Nice job!! https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds/21-steven-novella-no-gmos-wont

    I have an acquaintance who is quite anti-GMO. I’ve been gently trying to get him to re-examine his position. When I sent him a copy of this blog post he responded by saying that Steve was obviously a pro-GMO person trying to appear open minded. :( He fired back a link to http://www.responsibletechnology.org/10-Reasons-to-Avoid-GMOs which I haven’t had an opportunity to analyze for substance. The Institute for Responsible Technology looks to be in the pocket of Big Organic. ;)

  146. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2014 at 6:12 pm

    “…an industry term meaning a new seed that goes through the regulatory process in order to then be sold on the open market, if it passes the regulations.”

    deregulation is not a seed

    Of course deregulation is not a seed, I never said that. And yes, I was using the term properly. New GMO seeds go through the deregulation process, that is what I said. Not sure what the confusion is here. Even the quote you point to has it listed as a process. In fact, I described it accurately and more than adequately in multiple points. So yes, you did get it wrong nor have you demonstrated that you understand it.

    The scientists admits that some of their concerns are valid, because she is being honest, not PR person for Monsanto.

    Scientists do understand any potential risks, it’s true. They also understand that regulations are adequate and any concerns they express are NOT correspondent with anti’s concerns.

  147. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2014 at 6:14 pm

    carbonUnit,

    You know you have made it when you are accused of being a shill. :)

  148. Mlemaon 15 Feb 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Res,
    Deregulation is the removal of restrictions. Some gmos, like Scotts RR Kentucky Bluegrass are deregulated without any environmental safety assessment. You seem to think deregulation entails: assessment. It doesn’t. It’s simply the removal of any restriction set by law. The statement:

    “That’s the point of deregulation, Sonic, to determine if there are any unintended consequences.”

    shows that you don’t know what the word means,

    and the statement:

    “It’s actually an industry term meaning a new seed that goes through the regulatory process in order to then be sold on the open market, if it passes the regulations.”

    shows you don’t know how to define it or how to use it.

    It’s not an industry term either – we’ve experienced deregulation in a number of areas. It’s a legislative or legal term. A term of governance.

  149. BBBlueon 02 Apr 2014 at 11:01 am

    In a move designed to avoid consumer confusion, the Opal apple will carry Non-GMO labelling to set it apart from a non-browning apple being considered for approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    http://bit.ly/1hhuNNC

  150. sonicon 02 Apr 2014 at 2:25 pm

    BBBlue-
    The ‘non-GMO’ project apparently divides things into 3 categories-
    Organic- No GMO, and grown under certain conditions
    Non-GMO- No GMO, but not clear how grown
    No label- could be GMO or not, no telling how it was grown.

    If I were selling to a grocery store, I’d want the ‘organic’ label- but if I didn’t qualify for that, then I would want ‘Non-GMO’ label- if I couldn’t qualify for that, then I might complain about labeling.

    Consumer preferences- so fickle, sometimes baseless.

    Personal experience- I’ve made a lot more money giving the customer exactly what he wants than I have trying to educate him about how wrong he is for wanting something. I can give a couple specific examples of where I won by educating… but those are the outliers.
    Just saying…

  151. carbonUniton 12 Apr 2014 at 11:09 pm

    http://www.alternet.org/food/golden-rice-and-monoculture-gmo-seeds-wont-solve-world-hunger

    1. There really isn’t a vitamin A deficiency in rice eating lands. (They often just lack enough food of any kind.)

    2. Instead of wasting millions developing things like this, we should just solve poverty!

    I really don’t know how to argue against stuff like this.

  152. rezistnzisfutlon 12 Apr 2014 at 11:59 pm

    carbonUnit,

    All we can really do is correct the misinformation and present facts and evidence the best you can and let people decide for themselves. This is the very kind of misinformation that we’re dealing with, and not just misinformation, but intentional disinformation. The first point especially is outright science denialism. The second point is, in a way, worse, because it denotes a first world arrogance that denies indigent populations a tool to fight a serious problem, and ignores the fact that one can develop an economy and help with issues at the same time (the “let them eat cake” idea).

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.