Feb 18 2013

GM Crops Overregulated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

54 responses so far

54 thoughts on “GM Crops Overregulated?”

  1. ccbowers says:

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

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

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

  2. roadfood says:

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

  3. SARA says:

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

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

  4. Bronze Dog says:

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

  5. rezistnzisfutl says:

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

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

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

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

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

  6. MikeB says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  7. kevinjearly says:

    Non-sequitor alert:

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

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

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

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

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

  8. Mlema says:

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

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

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

  9. Mlema says:

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

    also, the study you mention

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

  10. Mlema says:


    you’re posing Malthusianism questions 🙂

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

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

  11. Mlema says:


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

  12. MikeB says:

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

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

  13. jre says:

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

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

  14. Bill Openthalt says:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

  16. Bill Openthalt says:


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

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

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

  17. Mlema says:

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

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

  18. Mlema says:


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

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

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

    a good place to learn more about the problems with GMOs as implemented by companies like Monsanto is here:

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

  19. carassius says:

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

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

  20. BillyJoe7 says:


    “that’s a false dichotomy. :)”

    I think that was his point. 😉

  21. Mlema says:

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


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

  22. rezistnzisfutl says:


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

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

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

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

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

  23. Mlema says:

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

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

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

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

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

  24. rezistnzisfutl says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Let me cite the post by two Turkish scientists (in Turkish) in which this was first explained:

  26. Mlema says:

    hi again rezistnzisfutl

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

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

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

    why is the UCS making these recommendations? because currently none of them are in place.

  27. BuckarooSamurai says:

    Couple of things I believe the idea of “case-by-case assessment of each GM product” seems sensible but when you understand that both conventional hybridization and organic hybridization throw together genes willy nilly with unknown outcomes but don’t have to follow such regulations and GM is far more surgical with a more directed approach to solving problems rather than essentially shuffling the genetic deck and hoping for the best this seems somewhat backward. I understand that there can be unintended issues but the scientists working in the field tend to be just as conscientious.

    Still a pretty decent piece. I highly recommend the Biofortified.org website and blog they do a great job of making GM understandable to a layperson and respond quite quickly to questions in either forum or blog. I’d love to see you guys on SGU interview some of the guys at that blog they are my first stop for scientific analysis when it comes to GMO news stories.

    Also I find this is a fairly decent example of how misreported the safety testing and regulation of GMO is:

    More than 400 Peer-reviewed articles which document the general safety and nutritional content of GM foods and feeds :http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/

    From that list here are all the studies done independent from large seed producers:

    Love the show and blogs Steve keep’em coming!


  28. carassius – Originally the rice was criticized as not containing enough vitamin A, now some are saying it may contain too much.

    I have not see any studies myself, but Lomborg reports that the current version seems to be in the Goldilocks zone.

  29. I will have to look further into the Chassy issue. In my experience, such accusations are just as likely to be false as true. Some people genuinely are corporate shills. More often than not, however, corporations or organizations simply recruit scientists who happen to already share their views. This has happened to me numerous times, meaning that corporations have reached out to me because my skeptical viewpoint happens to coincide with their interests (I have always refused any collaboration, btw, just to avoid the appearance of being a shill).

    The accusation of conflicts of interest has become a witch-hunt strategy to dismiss scientists with whom one disagrees. But there are also genuine conflicts of interest.

    So – bottom line – don’t believe it until you have adequately looked into it.

  30. rezistnzisfutl says:

    I don’t disagree that GM foods, just like any other foods, should be well tested and regulated. I also don’t disagree that we should not be taking what the food manufacturers say about their benefits at face value – I no more regard their testimony about GM foods as unbiased than I do activists on the other side.

    The problem I have with the activism is, why does it exist? What is it about GMOs that scares people so much? What in our collective experience or scientific knowledge indicates harm or the potential for massive harm of GMOs themselves (using appropriate standards of evidence)? Given what we know about GM foods, why aren’t comparable calls for testing and regulation of more traditional agriculture methods and items being made?

    As far as I can tell, there simply is very little evidence that GMOs are any more or less safe than “normal” agricultural items. There are few scientific or case studies indicating health issues caused directly by GMOs, at least that I’m aware of. The case studies done indicating financial or other economic harm are pretty well known. Furthermore, there is an entire field of science dedicated to GMOs, much of it entirely independent of food manufacturers, and nothing that I’ve seen has come out about warnings of harm, or even potential harm. These are people from research universities and facilities, not just corporate labs.

    While I agree that we have only spoken at a superficial level of the availablity and distribution of agriculture, the thing is, we haven’t gotten past the basic issue of whether GMOs should be considered and why there is such fear and hesitance about them. GM foods have been around for decades and again, as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any issues related to health in regards to them.

    I do agree that there seems to be issues in regards to the corporate practices by companies like Monsanto, and the political wrangling they’ve managed to favor them when it comes to the economics of the situation. That is a different subject and does not impugn GMOs as a food source. As with any other technology that exists, including how “normal” agricultural methods are currently practices, there is the potential for misuse and abuse. Personally, I have no problem with drawing the bad behaviors of business out into the light by making everyone aware of what’s going on, and working at a political level to make those changes. Again, that has little to do with whether or not GMOs are safe or effective.

  31. rezistnzisfutl says:


    Thanks for the link, some very interesting reading there! It’s nice to see a website and blog that is run by actual scientists within the field of study. I was able to scan a couple of articles, and I can tell there’s going to be some reading for me in the near future (as time permits).

    From what little I was able to glean from my first scan of the site, the consensus from the scientists there seem to be that GMOs are safe for consumption, but there are considerations when it comes to implementation and agricultural practices, just like with any other crop or technology. They seem to echo that the fears and contraversy regarding GMOs are overblown and far out of proportion to the reality of the situation, but also that there’s plenty of misconceptions to go around.

    As with any other subject, the conversation should be based on factual information and evidence, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case.

  32. Mlema says:

    So, what i’d like to know when Dr. Novella says:
    “Crops have been genetically modified to resist pests or herbicide, to thrive in adverse environmental conditions (cold, drought), and to enhance nutrition.”

    which crops is he talking about? those resistant to pests and herbicides are most likely the Monsanto crops. But those that have been (successfully) engineered to “thrive in adverse environmental conditions” , well, which are those? Are they transgenic? or are they simply bred with marker-assisted selection? a technique lumped under GE? And which transgenic foods have been nutritionally enhanced? Making a statement like the above is a way to perpetuate the feel-good rhetoric of GE. The industry purposely muddies the waters by refusing to differentiate between varying GE technologies and then claiming the good that can come from GE as justifying those practices that not only are incompletely tested in deployment, but are actually proving to be environmentally detrimental.

    Dr. Novella also says:
    “At present GM crops are highly regulated…”

    This a relative statement. It seems to me that we’re still discussing genetic engineering as though it’s not different from traditional breeding. Although SOME GE is considered roughly equivalent to traditional breeding, the kind we’re talking about here is not. Transgenic seeds are created in a kind of “crap shoot” where the desired genes are inserted via virus, bacteria, “bullets” etc. into host cells repeatedly until a test of the cell reveals that the desired trait has been expressed. It’s an efficient means of “breeding”, but differs in this fundamental aspect: the new cells contain genes from species that would never exist in the new organism no matter how much traditional breeding is done. The ultimate expression of those genes in that organism, and how the resultant fruit or vegetable of its seed compares to a traditionally eaten version beyond mere “equivalency” (the current regulatory standard) remains untested. Brand new species present problems to regulatory agencies. Some research suggests that testing might be improved with “exhaustive differential proteomic analysis”.

    further, from:
    The Ecological Impacts of Transgenic Crops on Agroecosystem Health
    Miguel A. Altieri, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, California

    “…Existing ecological theory and emerging research data suggest that the massive planting of
    transgenic monocultures can create critical environmental impacts ranging from gene flow between transgenic crops and wild relatives, the creation of super-weeds and the rapid development of insect resistance, to impacts on soil fauna and nontarget organisms.”

    We need to break GMOs into the categories they fall into based not only on how they were created, but how they are grown and the issues unique in those situations. Without that, none of the questions asked here will give any meaningful or useful answers. More than 85% of corn and cotton currently grown in the US, and more than 90% of the soya is Monsanto-engineered. So it doesn’t matter how many times we ask questions about ALL gmos, it’s the questions we ask about THOSE gmos that really need answers. They have reached critical mass at >165 million acres in the US alone.

    also from Altieri:
    “Transgenic crops are being deployed at increasing rates in agricultural landscapes worldwide. This leads to increasing genetic uniformity of agroecosystems and enhances farmers dependence on biotechnological innovations subject to proprietary regimes controlled by multinational corporations. As developed transgenic crops respond to market niches and opportunities, there has been little consideration of the ecological implications of their deployment.”

    Transgenic technology is sexy and profitable. But it hasn’t been shown to be helpful for agriculture or the long term food supply. In fact, after a “honeymoon” period we see: shrinking yields, increased pesticide use, changes in beneficial soil organisms, “superweeds” and detrimental effects to non-target species. Worst of all, the seductive nature of current transgenic technology and it’s promise of agricultural solutions to meet ongoing challenges of food supply sucks brain power and finances from other agricultural sciences proven to deal effectively with those very same problems.

  33. Mlema says:

    Regarding Chassy:
    from a letter to the Journal “Nature” from the Center for Science in the Public Interest with a GM conflict-of-interest complaint:
    “Bruce Chassy has received research grants from major food companies and has conducted seminars for Mosanto, Mills Labs, Unilever, Genencor, Amgen, Connaught Labs and Transgene.”

    He’s also a scientific advisor for the American Council on Science and Health, an industry-funded “consumer health education and advocacy organization”.

    Also, Chassy’s article (that Dr. Novella linked) appeared in “New Biotechnology”, a publication of the European Federation of Biotechnology, which has an extensive corporate membership of around 100 Public and Private Companies with direct biotech interests. These include Monsanto Europe and other big-name biotech companies.

    But even the obvious conflict of interest is irrelevant when the link provided by Dr. Novella offers Chassy’s slick grade-school argument for loosening regulations:

    “It must be asked, however, if this rigorous analysis is necessary, because unregulated crops produced by other breeding methods also undergo genetic changes and contain unintended effects.”

    this statement shows a profoundly unreasonable premise for relaxing the already insufficient regulatory analysis required for GE crops, as well as willful deceit regarding the nature of transgenic food crops. In case i need to spell it out one more time: transgenic organisms contain genes from species that would not be able to breed with the intended species outside the lab. The “unintended effects” of trangenic crops can’t be compared to the unintended effects of other breeding methods because the genetic changes are cross-species. Chassy refers to “rigorous analysis” which is currently no more than establishing “equivalency” to the original species.
    more Chassy:

    “…the hyper-precautionary regulatory process applied to transgenic crops works to the extreme disadvantage of the hungry and the poor.”

    this is pure pro-Monsanto propoganda. There is no “hyper-precautionary regulatory process” applied to trangenic crops. And there’s no evidence whatsoever that the regulatory process either slowed Golden Rice’s availability to the poor, or that the regulatory process is a disadvantage to the “hungry and poor” in any way. In fact, there’s no way to prove or disprove that statement. It’s pure opinion. And as long as we’re working in opinions: it’s mine that the dollars invested into the development of Golden Rice could have helped the poor and hungry in far more reliable and sustainable ways. The importance of Golden Rice to companies like Monsanto is in its PR value alone. i contend: Chassy is a corporate shill who is working to loosen regulation in light of Golden Rice, in order to try to ease release of upcoming pharmaceutical crops.

    Altieri on Golden Rice:
    “The suggestion that genetically altered rice is the proper way to address the condition of two million children at risk of Vitamin A deficiency-induced blindness reveals a tremendous naiveté about the reality and causes of vitamin and micro-nutrient malnutrition. If one reflects upon patterns of development and nutrition one must quickly realize that Vitamin A deficiency is not best characterized as a problem, but rather as a symptom, a warning sign if you will. It warns us of broader dietary inadequacies associated with both poverty, and with agricultural change from diverse cropping systems toward rice monoculture. People do not present Vitamin A deficiency because rice contains too little Vitamin A, or beta-carotene, but rather because their diet has been reduced to rice and almost nothing else, and they suffer many other dietary illnesses that cannot be addressed by beta-carotene, but which could be addressed, together with Vitamin A deficiency, by a more varied diet. A magic-bullet solution which places beta-carotene into rice—with potential health and ecological hazards—while leaving poverty, poor diets and extensive monoculture intact, is unlikely to make any durable contribution to well-being.”

  34. rezistnzisfutl says:

    There is very little here, Mlema, that is more than opinion. While I think it’s wise to have serious conversations about real issues and potential problems with the implementation of GMO crops, these really are no different than having similar conversations about “normal” crops. Additionally, while I do believe that GMO crops may pose unique, case-by-case issues that should be considered, again, as far as I can tell, that’s little different from considerations of “normal” crops.

    The problem is, there is a lot of caution and hesitance going on that is based on little more than fear and caution – there simply isn’t the data to back up those fears. For instance, I see a lot of talk about monoculture and lack of crop rotation. This is a concern with any form of crop, not just GMOs. “Superweeds” or “superbugs” will occur with “normal” forms of pesticide use than what may be engineered. It’s not uncommon for different forms of pesticides to have to be used as ecosystems adapt. In other words, it’s a non-argument.

    To paraphrase from the biofortified website, GM is the only major technology in use that has calls for regulation on issues that MIGHT exist, not those that DO exist.

    Do you have any actual peer-reviewed scientific publications from biologists/ecologists in the field you can cite that can back up much of the harm you’re suggesting, beyond the obvious? I think it’s obvious that careful testing, monitoring, and precautions should be implemented (if they aren’t already in place).

    Again, the shady business practices, iffy patent policies, and certain lax regulations are an issue and I don’t think anyone here is going to deny it. However, if any specific claims are going to be made, whether it’s from a university professor or any number of activist cites, they should include evidence and data to support those claims. Altieri, while he has interesting things to say, ultimately is just another activist a la UCS. I am all for calls for further independent study to help answer questions – the thing is, the many independent study that have been performed a) show no adverse health effects, b) don’t support many of the other claims of harm purported by activists. While I admit that I’m not a biologist, having (repeated) scientific studies to refer to would be very helpful in convincing me, and others, that there is legitimate cause for concern. Otherwise, at best this is a lot of anomoly hunting, and at worst, pseudoscience similar to anti-vaccination.

  35. Mlema says:

    rezistnzisfutl, I’d like to be able to help you find some clarity on this issue. All the information you need to make a decision about what viewpoint to take on this is available to you on the internet. that’s the great thing about being a skeptic: we get to make up our own minds. There was a discussion here on GM crops a little bit back and I tried to find it for you but I’m afraid it was the situation that the discussion was off-topic and I don’t remember the title:(

    It’s difficult to discuss this topic on a blog like this because it’s actually several different issues.
    Ironically, the one it always gets titled with is the gm science/technology. I don’t think either one of us has any disagreement that the technology is beneficial for us. the thing is, the technology doesn’t exist in isolation. It exists only as it’s implemented, in this case, in agriculture. Once that happens it entails questions of an extremely complex nature – as complex as the world’s ecosystem. That may sound grandiose, but with over 7 billion people on it, y’know, the whole butterfly effect thing.

    Agricultural science isn’t some neolithic practice. We have very advanced knowledge on how to manage our food resources. However, again, nothing exists in a vacuum and farmers are often restricted in their utilization of best practices by federal financial policies. Industrial farming favors unsustainable practices. So, when we ask a question like “are GMO regulations too lax?” Well, IMHO, it’s not even a question you ask unless you’ve got something to gain by loosening regulations. Because there’s no evidence to support that more GMOs, or any new GMOs are going to give us more and better food. That’s the mythology that Monsanto believers follow.

    biofortified is effectively serving as social media PR for Monsanto as they are exclusively pro-GE (they don’t discuss the environmental and economical problems with GE crops).
    the “Council for Biotechnology Information” (BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences LLC, DuPont, Monsanto Company, Syngenta) endorse the Karl Haro von Mogel’ entry in an Ashoka Changemaker’s competition. Karl is on biofortified’s board of directors, along with David tribe who runs a pro-GM web site with Chassy.
    The Union of Concerned Scientists activism is directed toward the public good. Biofortified’s activism is simply pro-GM. So, of course I am prone to ally myself with UCS because their scientific focus is more broad, and seems to me more comprehensive.

    anyway, in trying to quickly find you some science:
    ‘Superweeds’ Linked to Rising Herbicide Use in GM Crops, Study Finds

  36. Mlema says:

    ran across this farmer’s article on his experiences with GM rice:
    and thought it interesting and somewhat apropos

  37. Mlema says:

    Hey, remember the Seralini Corn-Rat study?
    Seralini answers his critics:

    Séralini, G.-E., et al. Answers to critics: Why there is a long term toxicity due to a Roundup- tolerant genetically modified maize and to a Roundup herbicide. Food Chem. Toxicol. (2012),

  38. Bronze Dog says:

    The problem I have with the activism is, why does it exist? What is it about GMOs that scares people so much?

    One suspicion of mine is that it’s about people being in control of something that people used to be blissfully ignorant about and previously left up to chance. Farmers first took advantage of random mutations, breeding whatever they thought was beneficial into later generations of crops without the slightest inkling of what was going on inside the plant that made them tastier or more productive. Then when genetics and mutations were known, they used radiation to produce more random mutations to speed up the process. When they found a mutation they liked, they probably still didn’t know anything about that mutation and possible unintended effects.

    But now we can know what we do with our crops, and a lot of people want to retreat back into blissful ignorance, blindly trusting that nature’s random chance mixed with the opportunistic ignorance of humans is somehow more benevolent than a planned approach. To them, thinking about an issue and having new, clear responsibilities assigned is scarier than comfortable, old fashioned leaping without looking.

  39. rezistnzisfutl says:

    I wish I had more time to form good responses, but unfortunately I have other matters in my life that requires my attention. In short, the management practices of a company, how they utilize a technology by manipulating holes in regulation and the legal system, and the claims they make, do not impugn GMO’s, sorry. While I agree that there are legitimate concerns, it seems to me that these concerns regard ANY crop being utilized, whether it’s monoculture issues, insufficient crop rotation, or the development of resistances by pests. These things occur in any agricultural situation, and as far as I know, is not different with GMOs. Furthermore, the insertion of genes is far more deliberate and well-known that what is done through hybridization, bombardment of radiation, or other means that have a “lets see what happens” component to it. It seems that these issues have more to do with corporate ag firms than with the manufacturers of seeds, and would exist whether it’s from the use of GMOs or traditional seeds.

    The implication that biofortified.org is a corporate shill isn’t founded, that I can see. That another website that does have clear endorsement by industry gives an award to the president isn’t relevant. From what I can see, biofortified is just as much critical of the incorrect statements made by proponents as they are with opponents. This seems to be simply a conspiracy theory, and I would say that biofortified has more science and evidence to back it up than UCS, who ultimately agree that GMOs don’t cause the purported harm claimed by activists, and that more study is called for, something we call can agree on.

    What it comes down to is, what does the evidence indicate? Is there actual evidence of harm that can be traced specifically to GMOs? Specific issues related to specific crops aren’t really the same as an issue with GMOs, as those issues would occur with any new crop or method of farming or pest control. While I agree that careful testing, management, necessary regulation, and mitigation as needed, that should be true in any scenario.

    One problem I have with anti-GMO activism is that it calls for perfect safety, perfect performance, and mitigation of issues that MAY occur, not ones that HAVE occurred. No other agricultural endeavor has had to face similar calls for regulation. This is a very similar approach to how anti-vaccination activists operate. Incidentally, they have the same safety record as each other in that, aside from the existence of allergic reactions, they have been operating safely and effectively for decades.

    While I agree that there are legitimate concerns with crop implementation and management, and that the shady business practices and politics of companies like Monsanto should be called out, I have yet to see any compelling evidence to convince me that any of the actions proposed by anti-GMO activists against GMOs themselves should be heeded or implemented, or that any of their claims are true, beyond “don’t trust the claims made by Monsanto!” Well, duh!

  40. TsuDhoNimh says:

    I participate in a very large gardening forum, and some of the shrieking of “OMG GMO” (hey, it’s a palindrome!) shows a complete lack of reading comprehension and a knee-jerk reaction whenever any word having to do with genetics is seen in an article about plant research and strain developing.

    Vilification of Norman Borlaug’s wheat strains out of CIMMYT for being “GMOs” (they are all naturally occurring varieties, created the same way your great-grandpas did, the guy just had a knack for crossbreeding).

    Claiming that any hybridizing program that does gene profiling is creating “GMOs. (it’s just checking the genes early to see what to discard and what has the desired genes before they invest months in growing it out)

  41. Mlema says:

    it’s this confusion/ignorance about “biotech” that causes the anti-GM activists to fear and decry all the technology that’s currently called “GM”. At the same time, companies like Monsanto exploit this confusion by trying to categorize transgenic plants with hybrids like the ones you describe. This allows them to paint their detractors as anti-science/anti-progress. If Monsanto has confidence in their practices, why aren’t they working to really educate the public about these varying technologies so that the public can weigh the cost and benefits? instead Monsanto continues to engage in PR that blurs the distinctions and divides people.

  42. Mlema says:

    Supporters of biofortified.org,
    You should be aware that the site is decidedly pro-industry, pro-Monsanto and not necessarily pro-science.

    In an earlier conversation on Neurologicablog, i was directed to Pamela Ronald’s article:

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

    This is one way GMO industry activists attempt to loosen regulations.

    Pamela Ronald is on the board of directors at biofortified.org, along with Anastasia Bodnar, who definitely exhibits a proclivity for pro-industry rhetoric. Here:
    she says:
    “I don’t mean to be crass, but we have two options here. Either the traits work and have at least some benefits, or farmers are stupid and wasting their money, right?”
    This is the typical false (and insulting) dichotomy we hear from pro-Monsanto activists. She also uses an analogy that distorts the issue in the Monsanto vs. Bowman case, which is currently before the supreme court.
    Add Tribe, Chassy’s pro-industry cohort, and at least 60% of the board at biofortified.org could well be characterized as pro-industry. And although there’s nothing inherently bad in that, it explains some of the bias and requires that we read there with critical eyes.

  43. Mlema says:

    In asking the question “GM crops overregulated” we are implying that GM crops are at least adequately regulated. Scientists like Schubert suggest that they are not. Proteonomic analysis in more than one study has revealed unexpected, unpredictable and unwanted protein expression in GMO as compared to non-GMO equivalent. Monsanto does it’s own safety studies, assures the FDA it’s product is safe, and is given permission to commercialize. in the past the AAAS, along with the FDA’s own scientists, have questioned the appropriateness of such regulation. During the time that Monsanto was ready to release its roundup ready and bt crops, we were simultaneously cutting funds for research, education and regulation. Money in industry was also simultaneously more plentiful. Science is affected by money. As skeptics we need to keep that in mind. We need to be aware of the fact that there are many very talented and brilliant scientists who, for whatever reason (I’m seriously NOT suggesting anything untoward, there are many motivations other than money) tend to take the pro-industry stance, and even become detractors of also-legitimate scientists who are trying to conduct independent analysis and form independent opinions. Why are the independent scientists called anti-GMO?

    The development of transgenic crops takes place in a lab. Field tests are limited and continuing oversight is lax. We understand enough about evolution to know it’s unpredictable. We need more interdisciplinary involvement in the oversight of transgenic crops. The way they’ve been utilized and promoted, and legally defended, has social, economic and environmental effects.

    I’m thinking of a song with the lyrics: “she blinded me with science”. i feel it’s important not to be blinded by the science of transgenic organisms. We need to recognize and manage the issues involved. Failing to distinguish methodologies, and praising with faint damnation those that pose costly problems is not good science.

  44. Mlema says:

    Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

  45. Mlema says:

    the link i provided above regarding proteonomic analysis actually doesn’t show what i said, and may actually hurt my argument but only that part of it 🙂

  46. Mlema says:

    actually, now I’m confused. Can somebody with more knowledge than i have please do a better job than I have at deciphering these:

    here’s the one i linked to earlier:
    Proteomics as a complementary tool for identifying unintended side effects occurring in transgenic maize seeds as a result of genetic modifications.

    and here’s another one
    Unintended changes in protein expression revealed by proteomic analysis of seeds from transgenic pea expressing a bean alpha-amylase inhibitor gene.


  47. Mlema says:

    This is the article i meant to link to originally.
    “Proteonomic analysis of a genetically modified maize flour carrying cry1ab gene and comparison to the corresponding wild-type”

    “Currently, only key compounds, such as macro- and micro-nutrients, anti-nutrients and plant specific toxins are included in comparative analyses (KUIPER et al., 2002), and targeted analytical assays are employed for their assessment. This approach requires the a priori knowledge of the possible unwanted species, and unpredicted toxins or allergens cannot be detected. Moreover, the limits beyond which differences have to be considered as “sizeable” are not well-defined, leading to somewhat subjective judgments (HODGSON, 2006). For these reasons, the concept of “substantial equivalence” as originally proposed was soon criticized as being a pseudo-scientific concept, not properly defined and inadequate to serve as a safety assessment tool (MILLSTONE et al.,1999).”

    “Despite the huge potential of proteomics and the outstanding importance to improve the concept of substantial equivalence, the studies published in this field are scanty.”

  48. BillyJoe7 says:

    “And it seems there’s no-body left for tennis;
    and i’m a one-band-man”



  49. Mlema says:

    Dr. Novella, do you know where Bjørn Lomborg got his cost stats? I can’t make them jibe with this:

    “..just two annual doses of high-potency supplements, costing less than US $0.04 per child, can prevent and correct the deficiency.”


    I suspect his supplementation cost figures are erroneous. If his Golden Rice figures are correct, it seems Golden Rice is already a poor investment.
    (but an invaluable investment for transgenic PR if it works)

  50. sonic says:

    Have you seen this?
    Evaluation of Genetically Engineered Crops Using Transcriptomic, Proteomic, and Metabolomic Profiling Techniques

    I’m not sure what each of these techniques consists of, but reading the paper (as best a could) left me the impression that there has been very little study done in these areas- the attempts to show ‘equivilence’.

    And that might be the point, right? How can something that has been studied so little be ‘over-regulated’?

    BTW- I don’t think we need these GMO’s to feed people. It seems there are lots of people now, and the shortages of food are political problems, not supply.
    I think if one removes that premise or claim from the GMO literature we are left with ‘sciency sounding’ marketing materials making claims that have not been all that accurate.

  51. Mlema says:

    Sonic, it’s very probable that I looked at that article at some point, but i really appreciate the link, as it does a good job of pointing to the issues that regulation should be concerning itself with.

    thank you 🙂

  52. rezistnzisfutl says:


    It seems there are lots of people now, and the shortages of food are political problems, not supply.

    While there likely is some truth to that, it really depends on the region in question, the geography, regional socioeconomics, climate, relative isolation from adequate farmland, available technology, etc..

    It’s not such a simple question as to write the problems off to one issue.

    Transversely, if any technology can be included to help grow foods in arid, isolated, or otherwise unfertile land, then why limit it? I don’t think anyone here is suggesting we give big corporations carte blanche, and I think everyone here is all for more research and proper regulation, but there simply is no good reason at this point to curtail the use of GMOs, much less halt them altogether. Furthermore, it’s unreasonable to demand 100% safety and efficacy in all purported situations.

    Do we simply accept the word of big corporations? Of course not. Should there be continued research and thoughtful use of regulation of food crops, GMO and otherwise? Absolutely. I think it’s an excellent idea to continue to foster and develop technologies that can, and do, help.

  53. sonic says:

    I was amazed at how few tests and how little research there is (as of 2011, anyway).
    I didn’t see any of the tests that indicated ‘equivalence’, did you?

    If there is a political will to feed someone; anyone, anywhere in the world, under any circumstance– There will be volumes of food made available from purely charitable sources.
    The reason these people don’t get fed is there is a political will to deny them.

    Check with the Red Cross.

    I would agree that this area (genetic modification) holds fantastic promise, who knows– perhaps one day we will have GMO humans who can actually walk and chew gum at the same time! 🙂
    Imagine what the plants will be like– not swaying in the breeze, but doing the mamba. Yes, I want to look out at my GMO wheat field that has been bred to do the mamba in the breeze instead of just swaying.
    The possibilities are endless… 🙂

    Sorry- those examples might seem like I’m making fun of the idea. Actually I’m just having fun with the idea.

    In the meantime, when a company says their product will reduce herbicide use and it actually produces ‘superweeds’, can we ask them to clean up the mess and to show that the other claims they are making are actually true?

  54. Mlema says:

    resistant pigweed in the Southeast US: a tough and costly problem requiring intensive labor, more more toxic pesticides


    “A different perspective on GM food”, David Schubert

    rezistnzisfutl, the Schubert article will explain in more readable terms what the safety issues are as regards human consumption. This is very important as biotech companies like Ventria Bioscience are growing engineered rice with human dna to produce human proteins. I can’t find a justification for this, can you?

    I’d like to address some of the concerns you’ve expressed, especially because a lot of people have the same concerns:

    “…if any technology can be included to help grow foods in arid, isolated, or otherwise unfertile land, then why limit it?”

    No one would argue with that, but you seem to be suggesting that one of those technologies is transgenic engineering. Which transgenic crops are you referring to in this statement? and remember: not all GMO is transgenic GMO

    ” I don’t think anyone here is suggesting we give big corporations carte blanche, and I think everyone here is all for more research and proper regulation, but there simply is no good reason at this point to curtail the use of GMOs, much less halt them altogether.”

    Corporations do their own safety tests, “equivalency” tests, etc. and tell the FDA: “this ones good to go!” Many scientists think this is a good reason to curtail transgenic organisms, especially when coupled with the unevaluated results, We all support “more research and proper regulation” – what do we mean when we say that if not independent research and stronger regulation than is currently in place?

    “… first, introduction of the same gene into two different types of cells can produce two very distinct protein molecules; second, the introduction of any gene, whether from a different or the same species, usually significantly changes overall gene expression and therefore the phenotype of the recipient cell; and third, enzymatic pathways introduced to synthesize small molecules, such as vitamins, could interact with endogenous pathways to produce novel molecules. The potential consequence of all of these perturbations could be the biosynthesis of molecules that are toxic, allergenic, or carcinogenic. And there is no a priori way of predicting the outcome.”

    Since there are no transgenic plants that offer any benefits over traditional hybrids, or even marker-assisted breeding of hybrids. (outside of pesticide-resistance, but the jury’s still out on whether or not the consequences of acquired resistance in weeds and other pests is worth the ease of use and temporary reduction in toxicity) There are broader problems, but transgenic crops aren’t one of the solutions, again: although some crops that are called GM are part of the solution.

    “Do we simply accept the word of big corporations? Of course not. Should there be continued research and thoughtful use of regulation of food crops, GMO and otherwise? Absolutely. I think it’s an excellent idea to continue to foster and develop technologies that can, and do, help.”

    amen to that brother 🙂

    I encourage people to examine which crops are transgenic (as opposed to other forms of GE) and what the purported benefits are from those plants. What are the purported problems? how and from whom do we get the information to decide? What are the current regulations? Are they appropriate to the risks inherent in transgenic species? To me, there’s no good reason for transgenic crops: they’re risky to public health and too expensive. And right now, with a company like Monsanto in control of most of the transgenic plants on the market and in the ground, they’re posing serious problems for biodiversity and food security.

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