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Wild GM corn begins to overtake Mexican countryside.
January 30, 2002 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Wild GM corn begins to overtake Mexican countryside. "It even grows out of the concrete."
posted by skallas (34 comments total)

 
I remember when the corn first got out, and now it's overtaking the entire area. Thanks Monsanto.

Who wants to bet an "Attack of the GM Corn/Blob/Tomatoes!" type disaster movie is in the works?
posted by mathowie at 3:03 PM on January 30, 2002


It's a shame they can't get it to grow in salt water! I'm not against bio-engineering but we should have some diversity in our crops or we'll end up with a potato famine on our hands one of these days!
posted by revbrian at 3:07 PM on January 30, 2002


So, wait. The locals find these odd kernels, plant them, and now they're surprised that the corn is thriving?

I recognize that the spread of alien strains is much faster than anticipated, and highly disturbing, but that was a very important tidbit left until near the end of the article.
posted by Ptrin at 3:18 PM on January 30, 2002


The indigenous make wicked moonshine out of that corn in Oaxaca, they call it Posh--wicked stuff!
posted by Eric Lloyd NYC at 3:19 PM on January 30, 2002


The Genie is out of the bottle...oops!
posted by Mack Twain at 3:36 PM on January 30, 2002


revbrian: "It's a shame they can't get it to grow in salt water!"

If we could grow them to be salty and buttery, that would be an awesome trick, and one that might give GM some more respect. Just heat and eat.
posted by jeffbarr at 3:41 PM on January 30, 2002


Don't Monarch butterflies winter in Mexico?
posted by thirteen at 3:44 PM on January 30, 2002


Yeah, I've always been anti-frankenfood, but I was completely ignorant about the butterfly thing until I heard about it a few months ago. It is truly a sad world when a potential environmental catastrophe is excused by something as base as corporate greed.
posted by snakey at 4:57 PM on January 30, 2002


Aren't these plants supposed to be sterile? The whole business plan behind GM plants is that you have to buy the seeds from the manufacturer.
posted by skallas at 5:37 PM on January 30, 2002


It is truly a sad world when a potential environmental catastrophe is excused by something as base as corporate greed.
<sarcasm>filthy pinko communist.</sarcasm>
posted by quonsar at 5:58 PM on January 30, 2002


Well, there's not just one kind of genetically modified corn. Some are made to generate natural insecticides (e.g., the the Bt corn whose pollen can also kill monarch butterflies), some are made sterile. And some are engineered to grow under fairly harsh conditions--which is what it sounds like these are. The butterflies are probably safe.
posted by shylock at 6:09 PM on January 30, 2002


people complained a lot about inserting genes that made the plants sterile, and rightly so, as it could seriously cause a famine if a country was destablized and could no longer pay monsanto for seeds.
posted by rhyax at 7:20 PM on January 30, 2002


"You can tell because the kernels are slightly bigger and the color is a bit off," he said.

End of the world as we know it? Perhaps not. I've got a solution - if you don't like the trans corn, cut it down.

Really, c'mon, this isn't deathweed we're talking about here - it's corn! Yeah, maybe it doesn't taste as superdelicious as the local stuff - what does? I buy my tomatoes at the roadside stands in the summer, instead of at the grocery store, for that very same reason. But in a country so beset with hunger and poverty, are we really going to get woogie about crops that grow well? Make sour mash out of it; feed it to pigs and make bacon and pork chops; meal it and make bread (corn bread being so scratchy that no one will ever notice the off taste); but to complain when food grows wild in their backyards? It's a bit unseemly.
posted by UncleFes at 8:13 PM on January 30, 2002


but to complain when food grows wild in their backyards? It's a bit unseemly.

The complaints I read have to do with fears that the GM plant, which is prone to plague, will overtake their native corn strains. GM plants aren't allowed in Mexico, its the US aid corn that's supposedly causing all the trouble. The question is who is making the riskier gambit: the US's embrace of GM plants or Mexico's banning of it?

Who knows, but right now this could turn into a disaster for the Mexicans if the GM plants take over and ruin their crops. Then they would be forced to lift their GM ban if it ever came down to that or famine.
posted by skallas at 8:23 PM on January 30, 2002


Does anyone else but me get nauseous when they here the word "frankenfood"?
posted by ArkIlloid at 9:02 PM on January 30, 2002


this could turn into a disaster for the Mexicans if the GM plants take over and ruin their crops.

I see your point; but I still firmly believe that GM crops are a real solution to the problems of hunger and malnutrition that contantly plague poor countries. There are issues to address, certainly, but from what I've seen, the real benefits so far easily outweigh the largely imagined detractions.
posted by UncleFes at 9:09 PM on January 30, 2002


christ. just eat it and shut up people.

or hire someone else to eat it. i don't care.
posted by jcterminal at 9:20 PM on January 30, 2002


but from what I've seen, the real benefits so far easily outweigh the largely imagined detractions.
Could you elaborate? I have read plenty on the subject and I have not found anything compelling on the pro side. Everything is a half step forward, 5 steps back.
posted by thirteen at 9:21 PM on January 30, 2002


thirteen....

well, there's a corn that produces three times what normal corn produces, heh. If that's not a pro, I don't know what is.

The problem is that the GE debate isn't about food. It's about globalization. Monsanto offered GE food that was sterile. But the anti-globalists were all like "now we're going to be dependent on the big American corporation to buy seeds from every year" and gobbledygook.

Thirteen and skallas, the number of people who have died from GE is zero. The number who have died from starvation is millions on the year.

The number of *real world* environmental problems have been limited to the butterfly thing which was quickly taken care of. This whole debate is based on misinformation.

GE is saving thousands from blindness in India. It has unbelievable potential.

The worry about overtaking local varieties of a crop are ridiculous. For one, such things happen all the time in the 'natural' world, as anyone who has seen the crabgrass in the East can attest. It's much easier to, as UncleFes says, simply cut down an overburdening non-native variety than to let people starve.

Put it this way: No starving kids in Chiapas care about the DNA of this corn or whether the "color is a little off." They care about eating. Sheesh louise.

(All of the above applied to BGH, too. And for those who think it should be labeled so one can choose: First, a government labeling would imply there's something inherently dangerous about GE and Second, organic growers can already label if they want. For those who say there's more than enough food surplus already: True. The problem is distribution. If we had corn that grew in the Sahara (which we can do with GE), that problem would disappear.)
posted by Kevs at 9:32 PM on January 30, 2002


Could you elaborate?

OK, I'm no biotechnologist, but sure, two words: Golden Rice. Chock full of blindness fighting, disease-reducing vitamin goodness. Grows damn near anywhere. Handed out for free. Whereas the anti-GM information I've read is mostly of the 'what if" variety: what if it takes over? What if it mutates? What if there's reduced foodcrop diversity? That, and obviously contrived experiments like that butterfly fiasco, the ones where they jammed them so full of pollen they nearly died from bursting.

Obviously, this is the definitive post on the subject, but to my knowledge that what I've seen. GM foods are less subject to insects, need less care, grow in more diverse locations, render higher yields, are hardier then the local weeds, and are more nutritive than their organic counterparts. That's hard to ignore.
posted by UncleFes at 9:32 PM on January 30, 2002


Um, that's this "isn't" the definitive post on the subject. Guh.
posted by UncleFes at 9:33 PM on January 30, 2002


Thirteen and skallas, the number of people who have died from GE is zero. The number who have died from starvation is millions on the year.


Hold on a sec here, I never claimed GE foods are the personification of evil or anything but it's management in this case is obviously a problem. GE foods should never be apearing in the wild, especially when the wild GE is going to compete for the same resources as the local plant. Especially when the GE plant in question can actually bring a much lower yield due to its susceptibility to plague.

What I posted was about this particular situation and its important to keep that in mind, instead of just praising GE foods in general. What does this mean to the people living in Oaxaca? Why is this plant growing? What are the possible outcomes? Its important to take a look at each GE problem within its context.
posted by skallas at 9:51 PM on January 30, 2002


well, there's a corn that produces three times what normal corn produces, heh. If that's not a pro, I don't know what is.

I have not read about this corn, but I assume it is possible. I have heard of the corn that produces less fruit, but can withstand exposure to roundup chemicals which destroy the soil. Less food is lost to insects I suppose, but it seems like the long way around. I have heard of the BT corn which reduces the effectiveness of natural bug repellents. All the pros always end up sounding like an offer to poke out my eye, with the promise of replacing it with a cooler robot eye.

As for golden rice, I have read plenty about that too. The results are all well and good, but these are hollow results. Real world benefit true, but it is essentially not fixing anything. It is a delay on fixing the real malnutrition that causes the blindness in the first place. The rice does not get me all hot though. My concerns are cross pollination, and unknown effects. How do you remove genes from a wild product? I don't think the fact that no one has died yet, means these are great foods. I think you can eat a decent amount of mercury and live a good long time, that
doesn't mean it is a wise thing to do.
posted by thirteen at 10:00 PM on January 30, 2002


The results are all well and good, but these are hollow results.
Yeech. I think that means I should go to bed I should go.
posted by thirteen at 10:02 PM on January 30, 2002


thirteen....

1) I've never heard of any real-world cross-pollination. It's very difficult for transposons to jump, and nearly impossible except in very closely related species.

2) The fast growing corn I referred to was the one which the FPP-linked article talked about.
posted by Kevs at 10:05 PM on January 30, 2002


oh...

and skallas, sorry for the misrepresentation. I also agree that everything possible should be done to keep GE plants out of the wild if people don't want them on their plots. I think that since the people in this village planted the corn, though, it's a bit of a different story.

Your questions are ones worth looking at, for sure. This thread seemed like it was going on a "GE is bad, so this must be bad too!" track, though.
posted by Kevs at 10:08 PM on January 30, 2002


Actually, cross-pollination has been observed between GM corn and wild-type corn grown nearby. Which, IMO, is a great reason to manufacture sterile plants.
posted by shylock at 12:23 AM on January 31, 2002


Do the cells of this stuff have plasmids in them, the way bacteria do? I wonder about a really unfortunate gene expression like sterility finding its way into the environment, including us.
posted by alumshubby at 6:16 AM on January 31, 2002


Cross pollination has also been observed in Canadian rape seed (canola.)
posted by nofundy at 6:28 AM on January 31, 2002


Obviously, this is the definitive post on the subject, but to my knowledge that what I've seen. GM foods are less subject to insects, need less care, grow in more diverse locations, render higher yields, are hardier then the local weeds, and are more nutritive than their organic counterparts. That's hard to ignore.


It is hard to ignore, but the gains from genetically modified foods or overinflated. One of the big myths about world hunger is that more quantity is necessary to feed the world. In fact, many of the world's worst famines have not been the results of the ability to produce large quantities of food, but about distribution and control. For example, thousands died in French Indochina in the 1930s while rice farms were exporting rice to Europe. (This is one of the drawbacks to "globalization" under the current policy. A local farmer can make a choice between selling for cash or focusing locally, a worker on the farm owned by overseas investors doesn't have that luxury.) In many cases where famine is due to natural causes, the production of genetically modified crops would also be problematic. Most of the crops being worked on through genetic modification are cash crop strains and not more durable strains that are more likely to survive harsh extremes, but are less attractive in western markets. After all, quite a bit of work is spent on Basmati rice and field corn, and quite a bit less on cassava.

The nutritional benefits are also overrated. For example, the vitamins lacking in cereal crops can easily be found in traditional vegetable crops that grow in the same field as cereal crops. The only problem is that to agribusiness these broad leaf vegetables are classified as "weeds." The golden rice is more convenient for mass production then crop rotation with pot marigold. In addition, golden rice is unlikely to answer the political structures that lead to malnutrition. It's unlikely to solve the problems if the people who need it cannot afford it.

The insect and disease resistance of these crops are also overrated. BT crops are resistant to some kind to pests, but are more vulnerable to others. In addition, evolutionary pressures make these attempts quickly obsolete.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:45 AM on January 31, 2002


KirkJobSluder: rice, corn, and wheat aren't staple crops in your book?

Also, the assertion that the use of Bt corn is going to render organic Bt ineffective isn't generally accepted. As long as there are other food sources available to agricultural pests, there's very little selective pressure for the evolution of resistance in the wild.
posted by shylock at 1:06 PM on February 1, 2002


KirkJobSluder: rice, corn, and wheat aren't staple crops in your book?

They certainly are in North America. However most of the research has been done on the strains and species and wide use in North America, and not on the strains and species that are very well adapted to Africa, Asia and South America. After all, although cassava is the primary source of dietary carbohydrates for a large portion of the world's population, there is very little research going on in regards to making cassava more nutritious, or disease and pest resistant.

Also, the assertion that the use of Bt corn is going to render organic Bt ineffective isn't generally accepted. As long as there are other food sources available to agricultural pests, there's very little selective pressure for the evolution of resistance in the wild.

The problem at the statement is that evolution does not require a fatal hammer in order to work, all at requires is situations in which one individual strain has an evolutionary advantage over another strain. In fact, this appears to already be happening. BT corn is surviving against the pests it was designed to inhibit, but that just makes it more juicy for other insect pests. There certainly is selective pressure when you use any form of pesticide in wide use, because individuals who can exploit a food source produce more young than individuals who can't.

Now granted, I find the hype regarding genetic engineering to be bullshit from both sides. Genetic engineering of food sources is not going to revolutionize food production in a way that eliminates hunger (not as long as the causes of hunger are political). Nor will it create an ecological disaster. However it seems to more people are interested in the hype than in the facts.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:38 PM on February 1, 2002


Rice, for one, is certainly well-adapted to growing in many parts of Asia and is a daily staple for over a third of the world's population. Cassava tends to be a staple only in arid areas where more nutritious cereal grains don't normally grow. There are companies who are developing hardier strains of wheat and corn that are designed to grow in these areas of Africa.

I mean, yeah, clearly soybeans were targeted early as an easy cash crop, but let's be fair--there are worse crops to target than rice, corn, and wheat.

Also, I should have been more specific--I should have said that Bt resistance shouldn't be a problem, as long as the crops are grown responsibly. Here's a recent study.
posted by shylock at 1:31 AM on February 2, 2002


Let's get one thing straight, people.

GM = General Motors
GE = General Electric

Please come up with some other acronyms for your debates, please, so those of us who are half-interested can follow it without continually thinking of cars and light bulbs.

Thank you for your support.
posted by kindall at 10:14 AM on February 2, 2002


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