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Grow More GM, says former anti-GMO activist
January 4, 2013 4:41 AM   Subscribe

Mark Lynas, author of several books on climate change and once a leading figurehead of the anti-GMO movement, has made an about turn on his opinions regarding GM crops. In an address to the Oxford Farming Conference, he stated: "For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment. As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely. So I guess you’ll be wondering—what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist."

While some environmentalists may wonder whether Lynas has been paid off by the likes of Monsanto, his lecture does bring up some very salient points in the ongoing public battle against GM crop technology and it's anti-scientific rhetoric. His address is worth reading in full, as are some of the comments (which range from complete denial to some valid criticism of accepting GM crops wholesale).

Lynas, again:
"I found myself arguing constantly with people who I considered to be incorrigibly anti-science, because they wouldn’t listen to the climatologists and denied the scientific reality of climate change. So I lectured them about the value of peer-review, about the importance of scientific consensus and how the only facts that mattered were the ones published in the most distinguished scholarly journals. My second climate book, Six Degrees, was so sciency that it even won the Royal Society science books prize, and climate scientists I had become friendly with would joke that I knew more about the subject than them. And yet, incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.
Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?"


His climate change view have been discussed on MeFi before
posted by rattleandhum (82 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
New Monsanto cucumbers cause genital baldness.
posted by absalom at 4:45 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


New Monsanto cucumbers cause genital baldness.

You're not holding it right.
posted by fairmettle at 4:47 AM on January 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


@absalom - you realise that's a parody, right?
posted by rattleandhum at 4:50 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Depending on how you roll, that would be a feature, not a bug.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:02 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Monsanto is still kind of a dick though, right?
posted by chillmost at 5:12 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't have problem with genetically modifying things. I have problems with people doing it in stupid ways (adding who-knows-what pesticides to the genes, etc...) and problems with corporations owning the rights to plants.
posted by ropeladder at 5:12 AM on January 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


Reading these links I'm really finding the term "anti-science" distasteful. It feels to me like it has become an amorphous pejorative term like "heretical" or "counter-revolutionary" or "terrorist" and hence it seems totally antithetical to the principles of evidence-based analysis and criticism that embody science.

If you want to say that someone's reasoning doesn't seem empirical or evidence-based, say so. And if you're finding fault with someone who dismisses a body of evidence for some reason, sees a particular analysis of it as incomplete, or has some other specific argument, you should address what they're saying and why you consider it invalid rather than trying to make a blanket claim that their opinion is "anti-science".

If, as Lynas evidently is, you're trying to describe some sort of PR messaging that involves the tactics of smearing and caricaturing people who wear white coats and work in corporate labs, well that appears to me as an even worse misuse of the term because "science" does not consist of people wearing white coats and working in corporate labs, being opposed to some category of activity like that does not mean that someone is opposed to "science", and the objectives of some white-coated people working in some corporate labs often can actually be validly described as anti-science themselves.

It's not that I think there aren't people or movements that could validly be described as "anti-science", I just think that the term has too often been used too sloppily at this point to do well at conveying any meaning more specific than "bad, in an insufficiently smart way".
posted by XMLicious at 5:24 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think a person can be pro-science but anti-businesses-owning-the-food-supply.
posted by DU at 5:27 AM on January 4, 2013 [31 favorites]


Roundup, when used in the real world, will not give you cancer. Apparently, GM crops are not the evil that some claim them to be.

Monsanto remains a huge dick, even with the above facts.
posted by Danf at 5:27 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's creditable when people change their views in the face of actual evidence, but when you find you have been egregiously and actively wrong you might consider shutting the fuck up for a while rather than a new round of publicity.

I suppose that's unfair because this is Mark Lynas and we are all, of course, his disciples. Because we have all shaped our lives around his insights and guidance he bears the responsibility of letting us know that the debate is now over and it is time for us, as he charmingly puts it, to get out of the way.
posted by Segundus at 5:33 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Enviros, having faced up to climate change longer than most, are starting to reevaluate sacred cows. Steward Brand's Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary is a pretty good primer on the subject.
posted by gwint at 5:36 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's creditable when people change their views in the face of actual evidence, but when you find you have been egregiously and actively wrong you might consider shutting the fuck up for a while rather than a new round of publicity.

I think this is exactly the opposite of what you should do if you have been egregiously and actively wrong in a very public and notable way.
posted by slkinsey at 5:38 AM on January 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


Steward Brand's Whole Earth Discipline . . .

Which is $10.88 if I order it and have it sent to me physically via fossil fuel-burning plane and truck, but $12.99 in Kindle edition. We've got a ways to go.

posted by yerfatma at 5:41 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Denying climate change and being opposed to GM crops are very different things viz a viz the belief in the veracity of science. The first is the denial of reason and science as a basis for understanding, the second is a decision about how to structure food production. Here he adopts the language of optimization: e.g. how to feed 9 billion? He asserts that this is a basic science and engineering problem and the idea of using GM crops follows. Of course this sidesteps the capitalist critique nicely, casting his argument purely in scientific terms. So we are left in a situation where we're obliged to invest massive amounts in industrial agriculture, tangibly linking our fates with monoliths like Monsanto.
I know it is politically incorrect to say all this, but we need a a major dose of both international myth-busting and de-regulation.
In my opinion, we need to start from an earlier set of assumptions, rather than reacting to the crisis as it unfolds. Population growth and over-consumption of resources for starters.
posted by kuatto at 5:47 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't have problem with genetically modifying things. I have problems with people doing it in stupid ways (adding who-knows-what pesticides to the genes, etc...) and problems with corporations owning the rights to plants.

Exactly. GMOs have a lot of promise.

GMOs plus capitalism? Suspicious.

GMOs plus capitalism plus an easily purchased government? Scary.
posted by Foosnark at 5:54 AM on January 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


we need a a major dose of both international myth-busting and de-regulation

Deregulation has solved all our other ills! CEOs have our best interests at heart and letting them make money in an even more unfettered manner can only help!
posted by DU at 5:57 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ok, I have a Master of Science in Environmental Science, I was Lab Manager at a Neurotoxicology Lab. This guy claims "rock-solid scientific consensus" on GMO while providing no citations. Here are two that contradict his claim:

New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity

A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health (Warning: lots of tumors.)

Claim of consensus debunked.

His perspective seems to have shifted from health to biomass yield, based on "the pressures of a growing population and a warming world." That's fine, but he is disingenuous to not be explicit about it. That may be tied in to his tendency to make absolute statements, while scientific claims cannot be absolute without assumptions.

Of course, maybe I'm just bugged about this phrase:

"I discovered science"
posted by dragonsi55 at 6:02 AM on January 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Unable to read the full text. stupid workplace restrictions on internet. But what I am interested in knowing is whether this realization was a gradual process or a sudden discovery.

When did he actually realise that he was wrong and would need to issue a Mea Culpa.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 6:04 AM on January 4, 2013


Of course, maybe I'm just bugged about this phrase:

"I discovered science"


Amen! Testify, brother Lynas!
posted by XMLicious at 6:05 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry if this is a derail. I was at the World Food Prize this year and it was pretty interesting to hear different takes on what the food need is...for the world. One of the more interesting sessions dealt with bacterial flora in the body and some very preliminary work that combines some small scale study of twin children in sub-Saharan Africa and what is being learned from fecal transplants to battle Clostridium Difficile. In studying twins, they discovered a case where the children received the same food, in the same quantity and were exposed to same conditions, yet one was malnourished and the other was seen to receive proper nutrition. The twin's bacteria were processing the food differently. This made the doc re-think the traditional position of "more food is required" to a "maybe if our bodies processed food differently we'd have enough to eat" position. Couple this with a very high success rate in battling C Diff with fecal transplants led her to think that moving specific healthy, high-food-processing bacteria was possible. The takeaway was that perhaps in the future, bacteria could be introduced to babies after birth to ensure that they could "maximize" the nutrients of their food. Fascinating stuff. A touch scary, but really cool future world stuff. Don't modify the crops, modify the people.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:10 AM on January 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


"I discovered science"

I always wondered who did that.
posted by scalefree at 6:21 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The problem with comparing climate change to GMOs is that the latter covers a wide range of modifications and potential effects. I'm glad he's willing to accept science on the issue, but a better comparison might be "for-profit corporations should geo-engineer the earth to counter climate change." There are things we can do that might be safe (planting trees) and things that might have all sorts of side effects (iron dumping).
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:23 AM on January 4, 2013


Denying climate change and being opposed to GM crops are very different things viz a viz the belief in the veracity of science. The first is the denial of reason and science as a basis for understanding, the second is a decision about how to structure food production.

That's not the case, and I think that it's very much worth pointing out that arguments about the utility and safety of GM crops are not interchangable with arguments about the "structure" of food production. They have related aspects certainly, but it's possible to argue that GM crops are safe and still make whatever argument you want about how good/evil monsanto is, and then there's an entirely different argument about what sort of political changes would be required to best effect the changes you want to see in the food supply. I'd argue that this distinction is roughly similar to the nuclear industry, where it's possible to be in favor of nuclear power plants but opposed to nuclear weapons. There are interdependencies between the two sides of course, but they're not so inextricably linked that having one guarantees having the other.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:25 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Ok, I have a Master of Science in Environmental Science, I was Lab Manager at a Neurotoxicology Lab. This guy claims "rock-solid scientific consensus" on GMO while providing no citations. Here are two that contradict his claim:

New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity

A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health (Warning: lots of tumors.)
"

You just linked to two papers by the same three self-funded cranks who have been doing their sad song and dance for decades. With a masters degree you should have the education to actually read those papers but for those following along:
Are the findings reliable?
There is little to suggest they are. Tom Sanders, head of nutritional research at King's College London, says that the strain of rat the French team used gets breast tumours easily, especially when given unlimited food, or maize contaminated by a common fungus that causes hormone imbalance, or just allowed to age. There were no data on food intake or tests for fungus in the maize, so we don't know whether this was a factor.

But didn't the treated rats get sicker than the untreated rats?
Some did, but that's not the full story. It wasn't that rats fed GM maize or herbicide got tumours, and the control rats did not. Five of the 20 control rats – 25 per cent – got tumours and died, while 60 per cent in "some test groups" that ate GM maize died. Some other test groups, however, were healthier than the controls. Toxicologists do a standard mathematical test, called the standard deviation, on such data to see whether the difference is what you might expect from random variation, or can be considered significant. The French team did not present these tests in their paper. They used a complicated and unconventional analysis that Sanders calls "a statistical fishing trip". Anthony Trewavas of the University of Edinburgh, UK, adds that in any case, there should be at least as many controls as test rats – there were only 20 of the former and 80 of the latter – to show how variably tumours appear. Without those additional controls, "these results are of no value", he says.

Aside from the statistics, are there any other problems?
Yes. Tests like this have been done before, more rigorously, and found no effect of GM food on health. The French team claims to be the first to test for the animal's whole lifespan. But "most toxicology studies are terminated at normal lifespan – 2 years", as this one was, says Sanders. "Immortality is not an alternative." And those tests did not find this effect. Furthermore, the team claims to see the same toxic effects both with actual Roundup, and with the GM maize – whether or not the maize contained any actual herbicide. It is hard to imagine any way in which a herbicide could have identical toxic effects to a gene tweak that gives the maize a gene for an enzyme that actually destroys the herbicide.

Does seeming unlikely mean that this is an invalid result?
Not necessarily. But even more damning from a pharmacological perspective, the team found the same effect at all doses of either herbicide or GM maize. That's unusual, because nearly all toxic effects worsen as the dose increases – it is considered essential for proving that the agent causes the effect. Even the smallest dose that the team applied resulted in alleged effects on the rats. That is sometimes seen with other toxic agents. The team suggests that the effect kicks in at some very low dose, hits its maximum extent immediately, and stays the same at any higher dose. But it could more simply mean the GM maize and the herbicide had no measured effect, and that is why the dose made no difference. "They show that old rats get tumours and die," says Mark Tester of the University of Adelaide, Australia. "That is all that can be concluded."

Why would scientists do this?
The research group has long been opposed to GM crops. It claimed in 2010 to have found evidence of toxicity in tests by the GM-crops giant Monsanto of its own Roundup-resistant maize. Other toxicologists, however, said the supposedly damning data revealed only insignificant fluctuations in the physiology of normal rats. French blogger Anton Suwalki, who campaigns against pseudoscience, has a long list of complaints about the group, including what he calls "fantasy statistics".

And who funded the work?
The group was funded by the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, or CRIIGEN, based in Paris, France. The lead author on today's study, Séralini, is head of its scientific board, and it pledges to "make every effort towards the removal of the status of secrecy prevailing in genetic engineering experiments and concerning genetically modified crops (GMOs), both being likely to have an impact on the environment and/or on health".

Don't they realise that other scientists criticise their methods?
They might. The paper is supposed to have been reviewed by other scientists before it was allowed for publication. But the team refused to allow journalists to show the paper to other scientists before the news reports were due to be published.
They arn't just not taken seriously by any of the American regulatory agencies, but also the European, Kiwi, and Australian equivalents that take the precautionary principle way way past any conceivable sense of reason. Only the Russians, who have direct protectionist interests in not importing grain, give a damn.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:45 AM on January 4, 2013 [56 favorites]


perhaps in the future, bacteria could be introduced to babies after birth to ensure that they could "maximize" the nutrients of their food

I'm guessing there would be more than a little opposition, both informed and otherwise, to implementing this.
posted by snottydick at 6:50 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb: Yup, I shot from the hip on that one, thank you.
posted by dragonsi55 at 6:55 AM on January 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's creditable when people change their views in the face of actual evidence, but when you find you have been egregiously and actively wrong you might consider shutting the fuck up for a while rather than a new round of publicity.

No, I think that the correction should be posted in the same place and prominence as the error. Mr. Lynas has spent a great deal of time advocating against GMO based food crops without any scientific backing, and now he is attempting to undo that by stating, just as loud and publicly, that he was wrong to do so.

He's not shutting up and letting the harm of his incorrect position continue to affect the debate, and I give him credit for doing so. The core tenant of science is that when you do an experiment, you then make sure the experiment is valid, and if it is, you then accept the results of that experiment as true -- even if it directly contradicts your worldview.

He looked at the large body of science on GMO, he realized that his deeply held worldview about the immediate and dramatic harm of GMO crops was wrong, and he discarded that worldview. If more people would look at the actual science and adjust their worldviews to fit reality, the world would be in a much better place, and Humanity's survival would be far more likely.
posted by eriko at 6:56 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


kiltedtaco, I agree, but whatever conclusions we draw towards GMO and the eventual structure of our food economy, the underlying rational is not in conflict with science as is the case with climate-change deniers. These climate "skeptics" are people who are arguing for material changes to how we qualify economic and political movements in ways that exclude science.

The criticism I'm trying to illustrate here is that just because something is scientifically possible does not imply that it is politically or socially necessary or inevitable--or even desirable.
posted by kuatto at 6:57 AM on January 4, 2013


New Monsanto cucumbers cause genital baldness.

@absalom - you realise that's a parody, right?


Too bad - if this really worked, there'd be a huge market for it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:00 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's been a lot of amazing work in GMO's which Monsanto isn't involved in.

My favorite example of that is "golden rice", genetically engineered to contain precursors to Vitamin A. All the patents involved in producing it have been placed into the public domain; no evil corporation will have any ownership or control.

If widely adopted it would reduce a lot of health problems in the Third World. But GMO opponents have been working hard to suppress it anyway, calling it a "frankenfood" and suchlike.

There was another advance, gained by studying desert plants which could survive prolonged drought. Turns out there was a kind of sugar produced by those plants, and just for the heck of it certain researchers tried moving the synthesis gene for that sugar into food crops. The resulting plants could, indeed, survive quite nicely on more intermittent rain than the original. Again, all the research involved was done by government labs, and all the patents were placed into the public domain. No evil corporations were involved.

But the anti-GMO movement opposed this one, too.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:07 AM on January 4, 2013 [22 favorites]


may wonder whether Lynas has been paid off by the likes of Monsanto,

This was my first thought as I clicked through in order to discover more. Will not only read this stuff up but pass it along to my far more knowledgeable colleagues in Wageningen. I'm an accidental tourist in agriculture, at the lowest income levels in the developing world. And what little I hear and understand still makes me concerned - specifically relating to modified seeds that are not only patented but can't be used for future plantings. Not every farmer can afford what OECD's subsidized agro industrialists can, and suicides are still happening.
posted by infini at 7:08 AM on January 4, 2013


On postview, Chocolate Pickle's comment does make me feel a tad better.
posted by infini at 7:09 AM on January 4, 2013


the problem with GMOs has always been that they represented tying the world's food supply even more tightly to large vertically integrated agriculture corporations through licensing and patents. the idea that corporate scientists were going to unleash apocalyptic organisms or mega-cancer was always a sop to the audience of pseudo-lefties who like disaster porn and are gullible. Producing a viable GMO is hard enough, much less a virulent one.

but it's easier to say OMG GMO=CANCER at a cocktail party with free-range organic slow food canapes, then get into issues which get to the heart of how you can afford those canapes.

same way that the best thing for CO^2 levels in the past decade came not from environmental treaties and agreements but the economic collapse of 2008.

If widely adopted it would reduce a lot of health problems in the Third World. But GMO opponents have been working hard to suppress it anyway, calling it a "frankenfood" and suchlike.

that's a canard as well. the idea that the problems with "Third World" diets are due to a technological problem is a nakedly political idea masked in an aura of scientific do-gooderism. the problems with third world diets are political and economic, not scientific. by all means, make better strains of rice, but don't try to claim you are solving political problems with science: you can't (unless you are part and parcel of the institutions that keep the majority of the world's population in a state of permanent and exploitable insecurity in which case...)
posted by ennui.bz at 7:13 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you have a solution, why not go with it?

Just because it isn't the solution you want, isn't a good reason to reject it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:15 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?"

You have got to be kidding me
posted by criticalbill at 7:19 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


the correction should be posted in the same place and prominence as the error

Yes, you should admit in public you were wrong, and due credit for that. I suppose what I'm missing is any dawning sense that:

* if I was so badly wrong once, I might still be wrong, just in a new way;
* people should actually pay attention to facts, not my opinion;
* after admitting to being gravely and culpably wrong, my credibility is a little diminished.

Is it conceivable his advocacy and his conception of advocacy is part of the problem, not just something that needs to be pointed in a different direction?
posted by Segundus at 7:21 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just because it isn't the solution you want, isn't a good reason to reject it.

It's like saying the Great Irish potato famine could have been solved by genetic engineering, when it was caused by Great Britain turning Ireland into yet another "Third World" playground. So, yes, maybe they could have genetically engineered a solution to the blight, but by advocating this rather than a remediation of the political relationship between Ireland and Britain you would be implicitly advocating for maintaining Ireland's political status. And the problems with Ireland's diet i.e. poverty went much farther than over-reliance on potatoes, itself a product of imperial mismanagement.
The Celtic grazing lands of... Ireland had been used to pasture cows for centuries. The British colonised... the Irish, transforming much of their countryside into an extended grazing land to raise cattle for a hungry consumer market at home... The British taste for beef had a devastating impact on the impoverished and disenfranchised people of... Ireland... Pushed off the best pasture land and forced to farm smaller plots of marginal land, the Irish turned to the potato, a crop that could be grown abundantly in less favorable soil. Eventually, cows took over much of Ireland, leaving the native population virtually dependent on the potato for survival.
So, is this a problem for science or politics?
posted by ennui.bz at 7:25 AM on January 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


the problems with third world diets are political and economic,

Eleni Gabre-Madhin on how a market has empowered Ethiopian farmers by focusing on distribution as well as production

That's exactly what happened in 1984 in the big famine that claimed a million lives in Ethiopia. There was obviously a shortage in the north and yet Ethiopia had to go to the world and beg for food aid, but there was a grain surplus in the fertile parts of western Ethiopia.

When I found out about this, I said: "It can't just be about producing more – sure, producing more is important but we've got to figure out how to distribute it. We've got to figure out how to make an efficient market work for everybody – for the farmers, for the buyers, because otherwise we're always going to be in this cycle."

The same thing happened in 2002, when there were consecutive bumper harvests in 2000 and 2001, and Ethiopia was doing really well. Then six months later prices collapsed almost to zero, and farmers could not sell the grain. Six months later, in mid-2002, Ethiopia went to the world for emergency food aid for 14 million people at risk of starvation.

I was so shocked. By that time I had my PhD and I knew this was what I wanted to work on. I had the idea of a commodity exchange – I'd written about it in my dissertation. I did my PhD at Stanford, which is really specialised on commodity markets.

posted by infini at 7:31 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, is this a problem for science or politics?

Are you saying that because GMO crops cannot solve every problem, we should not use them to solve any problem?

No one is claiming GMO crops are a comprehensive solution to the problems of the third world. But they can be part of an overall solution which involves other things as well.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:56 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


perhaps in the future, bacteria could be introduced to babies after birth to ensure that they could "maximize" the nutrients of their food

We already do this - I believe the pertinent quote is "between piss and shit we are born". Bon apetit!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:58 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


* if I was so badly wrong once, I might still be wrong, just in a new way;
...
* after admitting to being gravely and culpably wrong, my credibility is a little diminished.


Completely disagree. I think someone who reverses opinion on something they have been vocal about after doing more research is more credible than a person who has steadfastly maintained the same opinions their entire adult life.
posted by justkevin at 8:10 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Roundup, when used in the real world, will not give you cancer.


Roundup, the herbicide that most GM crops are engineered to tolerate, based on the chemical glyphosate, is marketed as a “safe” herbicide, based on outdated and largely unpublished studies by manufacturers.
But laboratory and epidemiological studies confirm that Roundup poses serious health hazards, including endocrine (hormone) disruption, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders.

Some of these effects are found at low, realistic doses that could be found as residues in food and feed crops and in contaminated water.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:09 AM on January 4, 2013


"Some of these effects are found at low, realistic doses that could be found as residues in food and feed crops and in contaminated water."

Well at least the got the name of the chemical right, but for the most part their references don't actually say the things that they say they do.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:20 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A grassroots alternative to RoundUp?

Indian farmers have come up with what they think is the real thing to keep crops free of bugs.

Instead of paying hefty fees to international chemical companies for patented pesticides, they are reportedly spraying their cotton and chilli fields with Coca-Cola.

In the past month there have been reports of hundreds of farmers turning to Coke in Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh states.

But as word gets out that soft drinks may be bad for bugs and a lot cheaper than anything that Messrs Monsanto, Shell and Dow can offer, thousands of others are expected to switch.

Gotu Laxmaiah, a farmer from Ramakrishnapuram in Andra Pradesh, said he was delighted with his new cola spray, which he applied this year to several hectares of cotton. "I observed that the pests began to die after the soft drink was sprayed on my cotton," he told the Deccan Herald newspaper.

Coca-Cola has had a bad year in India.

posted by infini at 9:20 AM on January 4, 2013


I don't know enough to criticize what anyone is saying, but am automatically more sceptical of an autocratic assertion that there is only one simple solution. It's arrogant and most likely wrong.
posted by annsunny at 9:20 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, is this a problem for science or politics?

Both, I'm sure. F***ing complexity.
posted by philip-random at 9:26 AM on January 4, 2013


Don't modify the crops, modify the people.

Virus-Induced Obesity in Humans
posted by rough ashlar at 9:34 AM on January 4, 2013


an autocratic assertion that there is only one simple solution

Maybe I haven't been reading closely enough, but are there any of those in this thread or in the linked articles?
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:44 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?"

"You have got to be kidding me"

Eeh, corporations are tools, used skillfully as well as with care and good intention they can do amazingly wonderful and profoundly powerful things that benefit employees, customers, investors, and the world at large while in incompetent or callously indifferent hands they can do terrible things. Its not just the shareholders, employees, or CEOs who play a part in shaping these kinds of things, but we all do and the activist community has been just about the most callously stupid stakeholder in companies like Monsanto. As voices like ennui.bz's keep the lay public so woefully uninformed to the point where few could name an actually real reason for opposing or being wary of Monsanto, they have few critics actually worth listening to, and so just stop listening.

I know people who work for Monsanto, they're not evil mad scientists bent on whatever it is activists these days imagine, but kind loving folks primarily interested in global food security and the inherent benefits of basic research who love to talk about the actual problems with their company that are actually real, most of which few activists have a meaningful understanding off or are even aware of .
posted by Blasdelb at 9:48 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I don't have problem with genetically modifying things. I have problems with people doing it in stupid ways (adding who-knows-what pesticides to the genes, etc...) and problems with corporations owning the rights to plants."

I don't suppose you have specific examples of 'people doing it in stupid ways'?
posted by Blasdelb at 9:51 AM on January 4, 2013


Hm. I was mostly aiming at the idea that one idea will solve all the world's hunger problems.

Some of the ideas popping into my head: The huge increase of the cost of food in this country, maybe related to the corn/ethanol subsidies, People with not enough food are more likely to be hungry because of economics rather than food supply, etc. Like I said, not an expert, but anyone asserting that there is only one way to solve a problem this large bugs me. It's usually wrong.
posted by annsunny at 9:58 AM on January 4, 2013


From what I've been hearing from those whose day to day responsibilities are indeed Food Security and all the PESTE that that entails, the focus from the scientific research side has indeed been to look at yield improvement among a host of other beneficial things such as drought resistant crops and whatnot. On the other side of the conversation is distribution and agricultural value chains, as ever increasing productivity will have no meaningful impact in the ways that these people envision if the food doesn't actually get to where its supposed to. Add to this, the bumbling wasteful "silver bullets" that development funds tend to love, you have a huge fuzzy mess that nobody knows how to fix yet everyone with an iota of larger picture thinking (as opposed to those individuals with their own agendas) knows that there is a problem.

So now, even as research scientists and researchers look at all these aspects, there's an increasing willingness from those that back and fund these programs, all of them, that they are still unable to meaningfully effect any impact. A gap, if you will, between the intent--->action--->impact chain.

Could their originating process be one of the areas where a systems level perspective could benefit by taking a closer look? A way then to align all the well meaning and hardworking people's individual works into some sort of coherent strategy?

And the largest margin for improvement is among the vast majority of teensy weensy farmers spread out across the globe, not the mega corps who actually mass produce the bulk of the world's industrialized food equivalent output.
posted by infini at 10:01 AM on January 4, 2013


but anyone asserting that there is only one way to solve a problem this large bugs me. It's usually wrong.

And actually now being increasingly seen as a key component of the problem. Certification as a silver bullet is one example.
posted by infini at 10:02 AM on January 4, 2013


But Blasdelb, you cannot ignore the impact of Monsanto's policies, the commercial ones, that are in force, at the grassroots level in the developing world. The R&D departments are usually far removed from what marketing or sales might actually be doing.
posted by infini at 10:04 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


My favorite example of that is "golden rice", genetically engineered to contain precursors to Vitamin A. All the patents involved in producing it have been placed into the public domain; no evil corporation will have any ownership or control.

If widely adopted it would reduce a lot of health problems in the Third World. But GMO opponents have been working hard to suppress it anyway, calling it a "frankenfood" and suchlike.


And yet the Corporations can't be bothered to actually follow laws.
Chinese families did not give consent for children to consume genetically modifed rice in the part US-funded study.

But go ahead, defend why, for such a 'wonder' the law had to be broken.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2013


Golden rice? People still fall for that?

If that sounds harsh, consider this: an 11-year-old would have to eat 15 pounds of cooked golden rice a day -- quite a bowlful -- to satisfy his minimum daily requirement of vitamin A. Even if that were possible (or if scientists boosted beta-carotene levels), it probably wouldn't do a malnourished child much good, since the body can only convert beta-carotene into vitamin A when fat and protein are present in the diet. Fat and protein in the diet are, of course, precisely what a malnourished child lacks.

And you guys hadn't heard about Roundup-ready weeds?
posted by Slinga at 10:09 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And yet the Corporations can't be bothered to actually follow laws.

First of all, the three people who were sacked in this story for ethics violations worked for the CDC in China and/or a Chinese university, not a corporation. I also don't think you're going to find anyone willing to defend this kind of ethical violation here and am confused by this implication. Finally, this article does not actually rebut anything that Blasdelb said. Corruption is a problem across all sectors.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:22 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

No, but I would be if the big auto companies claimed a monopoly on all round shapes, and spent as much money on lawsuits as they did on R&D, and if round shapes were capable of blowing into neighboring fields on the wind and creating accidental (but heavily liable) copyright violations there as well.

The arguments against GMO have nothing to do with science and everything to do with obscene intellectual-property rights over living things which, among other things, make it a crime for farmers to propagate from seed, forcing them to buy new seed from Monsanto every year. And a million other things.
posted by Fnarf at 10:27 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The arguments against GMO have nothing to do with science

The arguments often have a lot to do with science, even if the reason behind the arguments have little to do with science.

If you want a way to criticize the fundamental concept of GMO, then you pretty much have to deal with science. Otherwise you're just criticizing companies and the patent system and such, which is a tough sell and/or hard to think about. It's much easier just to stereotype the whole thing as bad.

And so you get pseudo-science claims about GMO.
posted by tychotesla at 10:42 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The arguments against GMO have nothing to do with science

Science doesn't care if the biosphere becomes dead.

The engineered bacterium produces far beyond the required amount of alcohol per gram soil than required to kill any terrestrial plant. This would result in the death of all terrestrial plants, because the parent bacterium has been found in the root systems of all plants where anyone has looked for its presence.

Hrmmm GMOed things killing most of the plants isn't a good enough argument?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2013


I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.
I have a confession to make too. I'd assumed that anyone who would have believed any of these of Lynas' original assumptions was beyond hope for finding the truth, too religious to ever be convinced of anything else. Particularly if they'd gone so far as to vandalize experiments.

I don't know what to make of this guy, and frankly, anybody who was ever so deeply anti-science is going to give me the heebie-jeebies for a while, as I simply can't relate to the mindset, and that's the mindset that drives otherwise normal people to send threatening letters and firebombs to the homes of my colleagues. And it's the mindset that makes academics who I thought were compassionate people, or even pacifists, think that violence is A-OK as long as it happens to the academics on Science Hill.

But I'm so very thrilled that by attempting to understand the world, he was able to improve his knowledge. It abates some of my heebie-jeebies, and restores my faith in humanity. And I'm very hopeful that his conversion will crack at least a few of the information shields that so many have put up.
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:09 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


kuatto: Denying climate change and being opposed to GM crops are very different things viz a viz the belief in the veracity of science.
... Of course this sidesteps the capitalist critique nicely, casting his argument purely in scientific terms. ...

He doesn't explicitly say this, but I think the overall gist is that as he became more famailiar with scientific appraches (while researching climate change) he realised that his GM attitudes were based in a sort of arbitrary belief-in-nature, where some technologies (plough) were OK, and some weren't (GM) irrespective of any evidence.

Again, reading between the lines - I'm sure he'd still be fairly wary of major corporations messing with GM with dodgy motives, but he's no longer going to oppose all GM on principle. He gives several examples of well meaning research that was scuppered by anti-GM activists.
posted by memebake at 11:12 AM on January 4, 2013


When I started agriculture school I was completely opposed to GMOs. Some biotech law, science, and regulation classes later I realized it was more complex than that. That just as there are many genes that do many different things, there are many different risks and benefits that can apply with individual types of genetically modified organisms. In the end, the biotech law stuff I studied underscored the fact that a lot of concerns people have are at their root about laws and regulations. I don't think Americans trust regulatory agencies to determine whether or not GMO products are safe. With the "revolving door" practices of staff cycling through working for agribusiness and these agencies, I'm not sure I trust them. There are also serious IP concerns for these products. Another recent Slate article rightfully said that greens should focus on these and not be so hot for bad science like those terrible rat tumor studies.
posted by melissam at 11:38 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


rough ashlar: "Science doesn't care if the biosphere becomes dead.

The engineered bacterium produces far beyond the required amount of alcohol per gram soil than required to kill any terrestrial plant. This would result in the death of all terrestrial plants, because the parent bacterium has been found in the root systems of all plants where anyone has looked for its presence.

Hrmmm GMOed things killing most of the plants isn't a good enough argument?
"

Oh Jesus, are people really still taking that seriously? A middle school level of understanding of evolution should surely be enough for at least some skepticism right? Elaine Ingham of Oregon State University got a masters student to dump a shit load of the modified Klebsiella onto some potted plants and they died, this means pretty much nothing. This is especially when you consider that the Klebsiella dumped onto the plants also died very fast, was not shown to spread in any way, could not conceivably spread in any way, and did nothing in lower doses.

Just think this through with me for a moment, if just a couple of yeast genes that are incredibly common in nature could turn something as susceptible to horizontal gene transfer as Klebsiella into a world ending menace, why hasn't it happened already? Why arn't the world's plants constantly going through mass death phases as nature selects for far more efficient alcohol producers that are already actual pathogens of plants than we could ever make?
posted by Blasdelb at 11:40 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was an anti-GMO activist who said essentially "We aren't concerned about creating new mistakes but perfecting old ones" over a decade ago. In other words, he didn't worry about the possible safety issues, but worried lots about monocultures, patents, etc.  If we make GMOs unpatentable then innumerable problems disappear, including reducing the extra-monoculture issues through greater competition.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:45 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't believe most GMOs are biologically harmful, and recent studies tend to bear that out. However, the companies behind them tend to be incredibly destructive. For example, in 1998, Delta Land and Pine Company announced that they had been awarded a patent on a technique that genetically disables a seed’s ability to germinate when planted a second season. Scarcely two months after the patent was awarded, Monsanto, the world’s second largest agrochemical corporation, began the process of acquiring Delta Land and Pine and with it the rights to this new technology.

Now, like a drug pusher, Monsanto sells grain to farmers that is genetically modified not to germinate, so that their farmer customers need to come back for more. Furthermore, because they have a patent on these seeds, farmers are legally liable if any Monsanto GMO grain is found on their land and they didn't pay for it. (It sounds hard to believe, but seriously - Monsanto litigates ferociously against these people.) It's possible that one of the rare fertile seeds blew onto their property by accident. It may even be possible that somebody working for Monsanto planted such "evidence" - after all, it's not like farmers can patrol the entirety of their fields 24/7.

Whether it's a solid case or not doesn't matter, because Monsanto very effectively uses the legal technique that Scientologists invented - it doesn't matter if you have a solid case, as long as you have enough lawyers on staff to drag out the case long enough to bleed the other person dry via legal fees. Most farmers thus settle without even going to trial, giving in to whatever the company wants, simply because they can't afford to mount a defense.

GMOs may not be bad in and of themselves, but I firmly believe that the world would be a better place if every Monsanto executive were set on fire.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:48 PM on January 4, 2013


and spent as much money on lawsuits as they did on R&D

Cite?

and if round shapes were capable of blowing into neighboring fields on the wind and creating accidental (but heavily liable) copyright violations there as well.


False
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:53 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Monsanto sells grain to farmers that is genetically modified not to germinate, so that their farmer customers need to come back for more.

False. Farmers are charged a licensing fee to replant any Monsanto seeds they save from previous years.

(It sounds hard to believe, but seriously - Monsanto litigates ferociously against these people.) It's possible that one of the rare fertile seeds blew onto their property by accident. It may even be possible that somebody working for Monsanto planted such "evidence" - after all, it's not like farmers can patrol the entirety of their fields 24/7.


Its sounds hard to believe because its a myth.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:55 PM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I've seen some commenting on the issue of farmers needing to buy new seed every year. As Lynas mentions, this isn't really a new issue, nor is it one exclusively related to GM crops. Hybrid plants don't breed true, so farmers who want the advantages of a hybrid crop end up buying new seed every year. That's been true for some time. Former U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace founded Pioneer Hi-Bred in Iowa in the 1920s. Many farmers have switched to using hybrid seed since the 1920s because they found the increased yields were worth the cost of buying seed annually. I don't know whether that was the right choice for every farmer, but I don't believe we need some big NGO movement to ban hybrid crops because some farmers might make bad business decisions.
posted by Area Man at 12:59 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's too bad terminator seeds (maybe it's the name) have been demonized because from an environmental perspective it's better not to have have GMO plants that have the ability to stick around.
posted by melissam at 1:01 PM on January 4, 2013


Its sounds hard to believe because its a myth.

Oh really? Why don't we just ask Monsanto?

"Since 1997, we have only filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States. This may sound like a lot, but when you consider that we sell seed to more than 250,000 American farmers a year, it’s really a small number. Of these, we’ve proceeded through trial with only eleven farmers. All eleven cases were found in Monsanto’s favor."

Gosh, it's great that they reassure us that it only sounds like a lot. Thankfully, it only took making examples of 145 people who stood in their way for the other farmers to stop fighting and surrender.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:14 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Gosh, it's great that they reassure us that it only sounds like a lot.

And only 11 farmers. Farmers who use Monsanto seed sign a contract explaining if they replant, they pay a fee. If you don't, you're in breach of contract and its going to court, simple as that. There isn't single case of a rogue GM seed blowing into a field and Monsanto using that as pretext to sue a farmer.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:51 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


So you're saying that farmers who don't sign contracts with Monsanto and completely avoid doing business with them don't get sued? Thank God! I must be totally hallucinating this case then.

Sorry about that! You know how it goes on a Friday - you have a little too much caffeine to get you through the day, and next thing you know you're spontaneously getting visions of lawsuits that apparently never happened.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2013


So you're saying that farmers who don't sign contracts with Monsanto and completely avoid doing business with them don't get sued?

from your link
In Bowman's case, he planted Roundup Ready seeds as his first-crop in each growing season from 1999-2007 and did not save seed in compliance with licensing agreements. But he also purchased commodity seed from a local grain elevator for a late-season planting, or what is known as a "second-crop."

The farmer applied glyphosate to his second soybean crops and was able to identify herbicide-resistant plants, from which he then saved seed for subsequent years of second-crop planting, according to the court documents.


You buy a old Windows PC at a thrift shop, image copies of the OS and start selling CDs with Vista installs. Are you going to claim its totally legal to pirate Windows Vista because you bought it without the customary shrink-wrapped license agreement?

These farmers get caught because they are buying Round-Up to spray their fields but suspiciously not a license agreement. These farmers enjoy all the advantages of the plants resistance to RU but try to forgo paying for that 'use'.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


How was Bowman to know that the commodity seed had Roundup-Ready seeds in it? They're undifferentiated seeds, and Monsanto doesn't force the grain elevators that sell them to disclose anything to buyers - even though apparently they hold the end user responsible. Wasn't there even a metafilter FPP earlier where the general consensus was that holding end users responsible for reseller errors is the very height of patent trolling? If Monsanto was genuinely upset about people using their products in this way (as opposed to strongarming people who resist their stranglehold on the market), why not simply force their resellers to disclose? It's not that hard - companies like Cisco and Apple have an incredible degree of control over distribution channels, and they don't even pack half the punch Monsanto does.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:47 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I don't know much about anything, but I do know my subsistence farmers and their income streams and challenges under conditions of adversity. This thread led me to this snippet, the provenance of which I don't know the credibility of, but I do know the people whom to ask for more information and understanding. I also have begun attempting to understand GAP and sustainability, all of which talk about natural methods minimizing the use of pesticides. I'm still shocked by the below.

Gates' philanthropic methods came under scrutiny back in August 2010, when it was discovered that The Gates Foundation had purchased 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock; dramatically increasing its previous holdings—and hence its financial conflicts of interest—in the biotech firm. AGRA-Watch commented on the ties stating4:

"The Foundation's direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels," said Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington Professor Emeritus and recognized expert on genetic engineering.

"First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation's heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests."

It would be naive to think that all these philanthropic collaborations are designed to solve any problem besides how to help Monsanto monopolize the world's food supply with expensive patented GM seeds, and the herbicides to go with them.

In the interview above, Gates claims the seeds would be donated to the impoverished areas in question. But seriously, how long would the seeds remain free? There's rarely such a thing as a free lunch anymore, and it appears highly unlikely that Monsanto is poised to "feed Africa" indefinitely... And since you cannot save Monsanto's seeds from year to year, they will literally own the areas and the people they temporarily donate their seeds to. And once you own the rights to all the food grown around the globe, you literally rule the world.

posted by infini at 3:22 PM on January 4, 2013


someone who reverses opinion on something they have been vocal about after doing more research is more credible than a person who has steadfastly maintained the same opinions their entire adult life.

Someone who pays attention to research is more credible than someone who doesn't, but someone who was wrong once is not more credible than someone who wasn't. Or Harold Camping's doomsdays would each have been more believable than the last, and the papacy would now be tops on astronomy.

Indeed, suppose the Pope were to announce he had determined that God, in fact, did not exist, but that he proposed to continue aggressively regulating our ethical and metaphysical beliefs from his new atheistical viewpoint: would he enjoy refreshed credibility or would a degree of personal humility be in order?
posted by Segundus at 3:55 PM on January 4, 2013


"...and the papacy would now be tops on astronomy."

ummm... these guys actually do really great work and have been for nearly 500 years.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:17 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Someone who pays attention to research is more credible than someone who doesn't, but someone who was wrong once is not more credible than someone who wasn't.

I think there is a real problem with the right answers (to creationism, vaccine fear, homeopathy, GMO) winning via the wrong methods (repeated and confident assertion, attempts to shame the opposition). While I appreciate that the rest of the world is in superficial agreement with me (and I with it!) with greater frequency, I would much prefer that skeptic blogs looked less like youtube comments than they do, and I can feel a backlash looming.

But I don't think that's what's happening in this instance. Mr. Lynas is not an evangelist flipping sides. (If you read some of his previous work, say at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jun/19/gmcrops.food, I think it's clear that he never was this sort of evangelist.)

Until we find a way for everybody to be more brilliant and knowledgeable than any individual ever has been, good old capital-T Truth is largely about assigning authority and credibility. Very few people demonstrate the ability to reverse based on new evidence. I do assign authority, in part, based on the ability to do that, and I think it's appropriate for others to do so as well.
posted by nathan v at 4:40 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


infini: Eleni Gabre-Madhin

60 Minutes aired a segment about her. That woman is remarkable, as is her work.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:00 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, she's managed to inspire two young diaspora women I know of, a new to be launched section on Appropedia.org and for sure a bunch of other countries looking into commodity exchanges.
posted by infini at 8:41 PM on January 4, 2013


In response to Lynas, activist Vandana Shiva says
#MarkLynas saying farmers shd be free to grow #GMOs which can contaminate #organic farms is like saying #rapists shd have freedom to rape
Yikes.

As aside, I always felt activists who opposed terminator seeds, which were less likely to contaminate other crops, were being disingenuous about their motivations. So farmers can't save their seeds, but they are teh evil GMO seeds, so isn't that a good thing? Why don't you guys provide them some heritage breed seeds instead? The truth is that these farmers were freely choosing the GMO seeds over the heritage breed seeds.
posted by melissam at 10:19 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


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