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The genetically modified cat is out of the proverbial bag.
December 3, 2001 3:38 PM   Subscribe

The genetically modified cat is out of the proverbial bag. New study finds traces of GM corn DNA in wild maize fields, over 60 miles away from the closest possible source. Are GM crops still the great idea that Monsanto thought they were? [via the pocket]
posted by mathowie (34 comments total)

 
Somehow, I think nature can cope with a little genetically modified DNA. Genetic mutations happen naturally all the time.
posted by geoff. at 3:41 PM on December 3, 2001


I think my life recently went across the tipping point that makes old people believe things were simpler when they were young.
posted by jeb at 3:45 PM on December 3, 2001


i agree that this could be potentially a pretty big deal. while geoff is right -- mutations happen naturally all the time -- most significant mutations arise out of natural selection. the problems with this are latent; we may not realize that we may have weakened the natural defenses of GM maize until that it is physically evident.

in addition, how funny is this: Guy Poppy of CropGen, an association backed by the UK biotech industry, described the study as "a good piece of research" ... the man's name is Guy Poppy and he works with genetically modified plants? whoa.
posted by moz at 3:47 PM on December 3, 2001


As in Canada, so in Mexico? No Corporate Liability for Seed Contamination. "Percy Schmeiser did not buy Monsanto's patented seed, nor did he obtain the seed illegally. Pollen from genetically engineered canola seeds blew onto his land from neighboring farms. (Percy Schmeiser's neighbors and an estimated 40% of farmers in Western Canada grow GM canola). Monsanto's GM canola genes invaded Schmeiser's farm without his consent. Shortly thereafter, Monsanto's "gene police" invaded his farm and took seed samples without his permission. Percy Schmeiser was a victim of genetic pollution from GM crops - but the court says he must now pay Monsanto $10,000 for licensing fees and up to $75,000 in profits from his 1998 crop. It's like saying that Monsanto's technology is spreading a sexually transmitted disease but everyone else has to wear a condom."
posted by Carol Anne at 4:06 PM on December 3, 2001


Geoff: Looking at the big picture, the Earth doesn't care about the life that's on it. A stable system can exist in many different forms. "Nature" will cope. Coping may include mass extinctions, but nature will find a new balance. Whether or not humans (or any other animal or plant) are part of that balance is something we need to be concerned with, since nature isn't.
posted by krisjohn at 4:10 PM on December 3, 2001


Pharmacia (the parent company) announced plans to get rid of Monsanto last week. Apparently the public consensus about the ethics of GM foods in most parts of the world was turning off investors. Even the US farmers, who are growing most of the world GM crops, are starting to change their tune. I suppose that seeing their export markets turning to non-GM competitors was a bit of a wake up call.
posted by dlewis at 4:27 PM on December 3, 2001


"Nature" is not the one who will cope with biodisaster. Humans are in control now, and have no choice about being "part of the balance." What we need now is steady research and cautious use. Otherwise we may destroy the diversity of life before we fully understand it.
posted by markluffel at 4:49 PM on December 3, 2001


All I have to say is I hope this:

Percy Schmeiser was a victim of genetic pollution from GM crops - but the court says he must now pay Monsanto $10,000 for licensing fees and up to $75,000 in profits from his 1998 crop. It's like saying that Monsanto's technology is spreading a sexually transmitted disease but everyone else has to wear a condom."

kind of shit ends when it becomes public knowledge that it's NOT THE FARMER'S FAULT.
posted by taumeson at 4:58 PM on December 3, 2001


Of course it's still a good idea. If more of these things happen, more people may decide they don't like the idea of genetically modified crops, and may refuse to eat foods made with them (as has happened in the UK); then it might turn out to be a good idea. Until then, GM crops are still money in the bank, and as a publicly-traded company that's all Monsanto is allowed to care about.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:16 PM on December 3, 2001


Er, that should have been "might turn out to be a bad idea".
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:17 PM on December 3, 2001


How does cross-pollenation resulting in the sharing of traces of genes from a new strain reduce diversity?
posted by techgnollogic at 5:21 PM on December 3, 2001


Talk about your viral marketing.
posted by holycola at 5:30 PM on December 3, 2001


the problems with this are latent; we may not realize that we may have weakened the natural defenses of GM maize until that it is physically evident.

Which, I'm sure, is a wonderful comfort to people who don't currently have anything to eat. I'm not a fan of Monsanto, AMD or any such conglomerate, but isn't this basically a white person's problem? As I understand it, people are arguing that it would be a good thing if this incident were to stem the research into GM foods, which might possibly provide more food to an exploding world populace because the idea is abhorrent to you for reasons no one has ever exactly made clear.

How, exactly, is the underlying idea of genetically modifying existing crops different from the cross-breeding of plants humans have been doing for 6,000 years? Should the first agrarian societies have skipped their engineering for fear of unintended consequences?

I'm not advocating Monsanto splicing together whatever is on the shop floor, patenting it and shoving it down peoples' throats; I just don't understand why it's so easy for people to shout down the possibility of helping starving millions without proof of negative consequences. At least a concrete suggestion of negative consequences.
posted by yerfatma at 6:00 PM on December 3, 2001


well said, yerfatma
posted by techgnollogic at 6:05 PM on December 3, 2001


How does cross-pollenation resulting in the sharing of traces of genes from a new strain reduce diversity?

See the Greenpeace report: Genetically Engineered Plants: a Threat to Centres of Diversity (find in the references of the lead article). They summarize:

The introduction of genetically engineered (GE) plants into agriculture poses a serious threat to our centres of diversity. In particular wild plants and local crop varieties risk acquiring the GE traits, giving rise to strains of plants with a fitness advantage over their neighbours. This could severely disrupt local ecosystems. Any release of GE plants in centres of diversity - either through seed or commodity import - poses a serious threat to our biological heritage, cultural roots, and global food security.

posted by ferris at 6:08 PM on December 3, 2001



If I could get my hands on some biocrop seeds I'd be happy!

The corn I plant always gets worms, leafy plants get leaf
miners, thrips, white fly's and many other bugs that will are
virtually impossible to kill because you can't spray most
chemicals on your edible crops, and on Jan-1 most of the
good chemicals will be illegal to sell (which is BULLSHIT!).

Most of the GM strains are resistant to the pests that
attack that crop, which would eliminate the need for (most)
chemicals.
posted by BlitzK at 6:16 PM on December 3, 2001


Genetic engineering in fundamentally different from cross-pollination because altering DNA directly allows for far more radical change. Given what's possible through genetic engineering, I think the burden of proof is on Monsanto to prove their products safe, not on the public to prove them harmful.
posted by lbergstr at 6:22 PM on December 3, 2001


"In particular wild plants and local crop varieties risk acquiring the GE traits, giving rise to strains of plants with a fitness advantage over their neighbours. This could severely disrupt local ecosystems."

Thank you. Exactly. In the words of Snoop Dogg, "That types of shit be happenin' every single day." It's f'ing Darwinism. Bad enough we've got this culture of "Everyone's a Winner, Baby" in regards to social standing, now we have to worry about plants that might lose out in an evolutionary battle?

(Ok, so the Catatonia reference was a bit much)
posted by yerfatma at 6:26 PM on December 3, 2001


Monsanto's Roundup-Ready GM crops aren't more resistant to pests, they're more resistant to Roundup pesticide.
posted by retrofut at 6:32 PM on December 3, 2001


most significant mutations arise out of natural selection

That is soo incredibly wrong it's not even funny. Mutation happens randomly, then natural selection happens and if the mutation is good it'll stay. If these man-made mutations are good, then natural selection will select them, if not, they'll go away. Same with a natural mutation.
posted by delmoi at 6:33 PM on December 3, 2001


That's what you get when you buy a pig in a poke. Of course, a genetically modified cat, hmm...
Well, it's a good thing that mammals don't cross-pollinate--imagine a cross between a cat and a pig...
OHMYGOD! I'm living with one!
posted by y2karl at 6:36 PM on December 3, 2001


Bad enough we've got this culture of "Everyone's a Winner, Baby" in regards to social standing, now we have to worry about plants that might lose out in an evolutionary battle?

As the diversity of a biological system decreases, so does its stability -- we're talking about protecting human long-term survival. Re your comment: whatever your view of environmentalists or PCness is; if it's obviously absurd, don't assume that it's what they believe to make it easier to argue against them.
posted by skyline at 7:20 PM on December 3, 2001


yerfatma:

Which, I'm sure, is a wonderful comfort to people who don't currently have anything to eat. I'm not a fan of Monsanto, AMD or any such conglomerate, but isn't this basically a white person's problem? As I understand it, people are arguing that it would be a good thing if this incident were to stem the research into GM foods, which might possibly provide more food to an exploding world populace because the idea is abhorrent to you for reasons no one has ever exactly made clear.

given that the GM maize is spreading into wild populations of maize, i would say that this isn't a "white person's problem." it's the problem of those who might harvest maize from these wild fields, or who might plant their own fields with seeds from these fields. it, specifically, is a problem of the poor people who depend on these wild fields for their food.

How, exactly, is the underlying idea of genetically modifying existing crops different from the cross-breeding of plants humans have been doing for 6,000 years? Should the first agrarian societies have skipped their engineering for fear of unintended consequences?

it's not very different: you're right. however, it's false to believe that cross-breeding -- really, introducing anything new to an ecosystem -- is always "ok." you likely won't have a problem cross-breeding plants that are indiginous to the same region where you plant them, but you do introduce the possibility that animals and insects -- which normally help keep the plant population in check -- cannot or do not any longer, for whatever reason as a result of mutation. for example, the plants may give off a foul scent close to that of a poisonous plant known to animals and insects in the region, and they henceforth stay away. in fact, this trait may be desired by a farmer (but should those plants seed outside of his farmland, things would then become a problem -- as much is the case in this instance.)

delmoi:

That is soo incredibly wrong it's not even funny. Mutation happens randomly, then natural selection happens and if the mutation is good it'll stay. If these man-made mutations are good, then natural selection will select them, if not, they'll go away. Same with a natural mutation.

delmoi, i said most "significant" mutations. i know that mutation happens randomly, but -- to me -- to be significant, mutations need to persist through a number of generations. i wasn't very clear about what i meant; sorry about that.
posted by moz at 7:26 PM on December 3, 2001


What is most disconcerting is the cross pollination issue. If it falls to the farmers to make sure that their crops are not cross pollinated with GM seed then it will become cost prohibitive to farm without GM seed. If you farm without GM seed the DNA police will show up at your door and Monsanto will sue you. Do you really want Monsanto controlling your food supply?
posted by MaddCutty at 8:29 PM on December 3, 2001


Is this the proverbial cat you speak of?
posted by panopticon at 10:10 PM on December 3, 2001


And that's what it's really all about: Monsanto sitting back and going, "Well, it's too expensive to protect your naturally-grown crops from our GM pollen, so you'll just have to either buy our seed or suck up the cross-pollenation. 'Course, if we find out you have cross-pollenated crops, we'll sue your ass into next Tuesday, so really, buy our fucking seeds and nobody gets hurt."

Please don't play the "oh, so you don't want to save millions of lives!!!" card, because first of all, Monsanto doesn't give two shits about saving lives - they just want to monopolize agriculture production because that'll pump the stock price wayyyyy up. Second, maybe some negative population growth would do our planet some good. From a biological/ecosphere perspective, a human population reduction would be useful. Third of all, stop comparing traditional agricultural methods to GM, because that's a fallacy of scale - "oh, this is the same, only larger!" It's precisely the widespread and instant reach of GM food that pose such a threat to biodiversity. And fourth of all, just to preempt any other arguments, being concerned about an amoral corporation's mass dietary, agricultural, and biological experimentation on an unknowing public is not alarmism. What gives Monsanto the right to act without regulation or oversight? Why is it caveat emptor when we're not even being told what's being sold? Why is the onus on us, the masses consuming products potentially made from GM foods, to prove it's wrong, rather than Monsanto proving their food is safe? Why are Monsanto's profit margins more important than ethical considerations regarding their product?
posted by solistrato at 11:45 PM on December 3, 2001


(And in the meantime Terminator research continues.)
posted by retrofut at 12:25 AM on December 4, 2001


Yerfatma, given all the talk a few years back about how GM could revolutionise the third-world famine problem, I don't see how this is a "white man's problem".

Truth is, none of us *needs* GM crops. Have any of our lives improved by eating a genetically-modified tomato? The people who benefit from GM crops are firms like Monsanto (who can patent the food chain, license a product year after year and sue farmers who misbehave), major supermarkets (who need longer-lasting perishables to help centralise their distribution and cut costs which they *don't* pass on to the consumer) and of course shareholders in the aforementioned companies.

I've yet to be convinced of a reason why the average person on the street is better off buying GM foods than getting them from his/her local farmer's market or small grocery store. Major supermarket-bought vegetables are certainly not cheaper, at least not in my neck of the woods.
posted by skylar at 1:48 AM on December 4, 2001


Anyone thinking Monsanto has the interests of the third world at heart, should consider powdered baby milk. Monsanto have the interests of their shareholders at heart, and making them money. In fact yerfatma, the most extreme demonstrations against GM crops have been in the third world (scroll down to the part about crop-burning in India).

Companies like Monsanto have been quite active in enforcing their patents, as the case linked above shows (cheers CA). How about when these GM crops have "infected" all the grain in the third world and everyone there has to pay licensing fees to grow anything?

It's a disengenius argument in any case to imply that third world starvation could be solved by fucking with our genetic heritage, when research appears to show that there is enough food! It's the uneven distribution we need to be addressing.
posted by walrus at 3:12 AM on December 4, 2001


From a biological/ecosphere perspective, a human population reduction would be useful.

OK Solistrato-you first. -but seriously-I do not understand this concept. I know it is widespread, but it is more of a religious than a scientific attitude, a yearning for a pre-Adam garden of eden.
Of course, environmental practices could be improved, but really, humans are an integral part of the ecosphere as it is NOW on earth. This division of ecosphere here, and humans over there is artificial at best.
Yes if all humans were removed from South America tomorrow, deforestation would cease. On the other hand, humans have been there quite "naturally" for at least 15,000 years, so their rapid removal would apparently constitute just such a radical intervention in "nature" that this whole thread seems to protest.
Who else but humans has "perspective" anyway? The perspective that humanity is a cancer on earth is just that-mere opinion. For all we know, we could be acting as earth's antibodies removing the toxic mold we call a "rainforest" and restoring it's preferred state of pure rock.
posted by quercus at 7:38 AM on December 4, 2001


quercus:

simply, more humans implies more consumption. because most animals indiginous to areas have lived there for longer than have human beings, it is reasonable to argue that our existence is not necessarily vital to the survival of an ecosystem (assuming such a stance can be supported by demonstrating that animals have known predators, etc). furthermore, while humans may be an integral part of one or several ecosystems right now, it's not correct to assume that -- because of that -- the ecosystem is stable. humans rarely leave the environment alone; we cut down trees, we hunt different animals (some to extinction), which differs from the largely fixed behavior of most animals. in fact, i would say that no ecosystem in which humans live is ever stable, and for it to approach stability would take a tremendous -- perhaps impossible -- amount of effort by the hands of humans.

by that token, you can then see how humanity today in south america is virtually nothing like the human civilizations that existed on the continents before they were "discovered" by the conquistadors. while humans had, happily, struck somewhat of a balance in nature there, that is no longer the case: forests are burned to create pastureland, trees are cut down for their wood, animals are poached for their worth on the world market, and so on. some of those things have happened in the past, but nowhere close to the scale that they happen now.

i would say that the planet earth has no preferred state of anything. in the end, it doesn't really matter if we care or the planet cares what we're doing. environmentalism is only indirectly about "saving the planet": it's really about saving ourselves.
posted by moz at 8:32 AM on December 4, 2001


I just wanted to post here b/c it's the same as my user #. Doubt anyone will see it.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:21 AM on March 20, 2002


boo!
posted by walrus at 5:56 AM on March 20, 2002


Aaaah!
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:16 PM on April 8, 2002


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