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Orphan Grain
July 23, 2007 8:58 AM   Subscribe

In January 2006, small amounts of genetically engineered rice turned up in a shipment that was tested ... by a French customer of Riceland Foods, a big rice mill based in Stuttgart, Ark. Testing revealed that the genetically modified rice contained a strain of Liberty Link that had not been approved for human consumption. What's more, trace amounts of the Liberty Link had mysteriously made their way into the commercial rice supply in all five of the Southern states where long-grain rice is grown. Aventis Crop Science had contracted with a handful of farmers to grow the rice, which was known as Liberty Link because its genes had been altered to resist a weed killer called Liberty, also made by Aventis. Then, the French pharmaceutical giant that owned Aventis Crop Science decided to sell the U.S. biotech unit and abandon the very emotional business of reengineering the foods we eat. "We didn't want to take any chances," says a former Aventis executive. "We burned and buried enough rice to feed 20 million people." Last November, the USDA retroactively approved the Liberty Link rice for human consumption.
posted by Kirth Gerson (92 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The department said the genes that it approved are similar to those inserted for years into canola and corn, with no apparent ill effects. The experts at the USDA, the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration, all of which bear some responsibility for regulating transgenic food, say the contamination is nothing to worry about.

Then again, the experts also have dismissed repeated warnings that genetically modified crops can't be managed or controlled. When organic farmers worried that their fields could be invaded by genetically modified plants grown nearby, regulators told them there was nothing to fear. The biotech industry promised that experimental, gene-altered plants could be grown in open fields and never, ever end up in the neighborhood Safeway.

Oops.

In any event, after last year's contamination became public, and after rice prices took a tumble, and after Europe said it no longer wanted any American rice, and after several other countries, including Japan and Iraq (!), demanded rigorous testing of U.S. rice, the industry moved to contain the damage.

Rice growers were told not to plant Cheniere, a popular seed variety that had been tainted by Liberty Link genes. Regulators set up a comprehensive testing program to keep future harvests clean. Last December, Bruce Knight, a USDA official, assured worried rice farmers, "The good news is that the only foundation seed to test positive for Liberty Link was of a single variety - 2003 Cheniere."

And then ... the tests that had been put in place uncovered a second contamination, and then a third, involving new, unapproved strains of Liberty Link, which turned up in another popular variety of rice seed, called Clearfield 131 (CL131). This seed variety is made by the German chemical giant BASF Corp. So the CL131 seed had to be banned as well.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:59 AM on July 23, 2007


So you are saying that a product that was found to be safe for human consumption may have been discovered in a shipment of food?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:07 AM on July 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


The company had contracted with a handful of farmers to grow the rice, which was known as Liberty Link because its genes had been altered to resist a weed killer called Liberty, also made by Aventis.

Wow. We're living in a dystopian future. This one, specifically. Even down to the Orwellian names of genetically altered species. Cool!
posted by gurple at 9:11 AM on July 23, 2007


No, he is saying that GMOs are difficult to contain, what with being biological and all. He is saying that the Liberty Link rice was approved, but has never been offered for sale. He is saying that Aventis wished to wash their hands of it, and burned huge quantitiies of the stuff, but it still made it into the food supply. He is saying that non-approved versions of the Liberty LInk rice have wandered into the food supply.

You have 3 choices, now, to learn what he is saying:

1. RTFA
2. RTFFPP
3. Read this comment

But you really must read something to get the gist of what this post is about. There are no pictures.
posted by Mister_A at 9:12 AM on July 23, 2007 [15 favorites]


LOLGMFOODZ???

Lord have mercy, someone wake me when people start growing gills as a result of this. In the meantime, lest we forget, genetically modified rice is one of many crops that is directly responsible for preventing the starvation of a million people and more.
posted by gsh at 9:12 AM on July 23, 2007


For fuck's sake. Can we have one single goddamn post without someone complaining that "X doesn't belong/isn't worth posting'?

If you think it doesn't belong here, flag it and/or take it to MetaTalk. Or better yet, if something does not interest you, walk away!


Anyway, thanks to Kirth Gerson for posting this. Not something I have heard about/would have found out about had it not been for this place.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:12 AM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


gsh, that's utterly unsubstantiated. The risks of this technology include the following (pdf link to real science):

• GMOs can survive or transfer their transgenes to indigenous organisms;
• DNA is more stable than has been hitherto imagined;
• and DNA taken up with the food is not completely degraded in the gastrointestinal tract, but has rather been found to enter white blood cells and spleen and liver cells.
• DNA can even be transferred to the cells of foetuses, as has been shown in newborn mice. Here transfer probably took place via the placenta (Doerfler and Schubbert, 1997).


And I'll get onto your emotional blackmail later unless someone else does.
posted by imperium at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


gsh, the title of the article is perhaps needlessly inflammatory, but it's a really interesting story that YOU HAVE NOT BOTHERED TO READ. Please shut the fuck up.
posted by Mister_A at 9:17 AM on July 23, 2007


gsh, I agree completely! And look, if we take this monounsaturated fat and add just ONE HYDROGEN ATOM, it stays good for much longer and becomes solid at room temperature! Sure, fats in excess are bad, but this is the wave of the future! Feed it to all the kids, nothing bad could possibly happen!

Oh, wait, what? Trans fats are bad? Damnitalltohell.

Yay GMO! .....
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:27 AM on July 23, 2007


RunToThaHillsFilter: Human consumption approved for GMOs.
posted by freebird at 9:29 AM on July 23, 2007


Yes, it may be a long way to "Oryx and Crake," but the journey of a thousand steps begins with the one we anti-GMO folks have been warning about for a decade, with food scientists pooh-poohing our suggestions that genetically modified crops could migrate to natural crops.
posted by kozad at 9:30 AM on July 23, 2007


Hm. No cases of human death or disease caused by genetic technology -- which is really just an improved version of selective breeding -- versus billions and billions of deaths from starvation.

Given that, why are the anti-GMO folks here so touchy, insulting the people who have dared to question their articles of faith.
posted by docgonzo at 9:30 AM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


You're soaking in it.

"[A]bout 60 to 70 percent of the processed foods in U.S. grocery stores contains oils or ingredients derived from biotech corn."

I can feel my gills grow as we speak!!!! Run, run for the hills!!! I may bite!!!!
posted by johngumbo at 9:31 AM on July 23, 2007


Easy:

-We modify a certain type of cricket to eat only the tainted rice.
-Modify mice to eat the GM cricket
-Modify foxes to eat the GM mouse
-Modify gorillas to eat the GM fox
-Gorillas freeze and die over the winter

What could go wrong?
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:32 AM on July 23, 2007 [8 favorites]


docgonzo, it's because the industry has a history of involvement in pure misuse of science. To take just a small slice of Monsanto's records, the posterboy of "bioengineering", they have been involved in Agent Orange, the Manhattan Project, bovine growth hormone, and PCBs.

And now they want us to believe they're just about feeding the poor.
posted by imperium at 9:37 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


In this particular case, what's so bad about eating rice that has been made resistant to a weed killer?

And is it worse than eating rice with weed killer on it?

I realize there are GM things that are very bad news, and that some genes can even cross species barriers (like different bacteria sharing antibiotic resistances); the principle doesn't evade me, but its application here does.

In this case I'm picturing crowds of people being genetically resistant to weed killer and wondering if that's a bad thing.
posted by davy at 9:38 AM on July 23, 2007


genetic technology -- which is really just an improved version of selective breeding

Indeed! Also, installing 3rd party executables directly on your computer is pretty much just an improved version of using your computer to edit documents about software. Similarly, swallowing random chemicals found in a lab is basically just an improved version of eating.
posted by freebird at 9:40 AM on July 23, 2007 [6 favorites]


Hm. No cases of human death or disease caused by genetic technology -- which is really just an improved version of selective breeding -- versus billions and billions of deaths from starvation.

I wonder about that. Billions and billions of deaths from starvation. GMO cheap corn that uses huge amounts of fossil fuels is allowing us to feed (directly and indirectly) millions more people than we could otherwise. You could call that "saving millions of lives". But what if those farming methods suddenly become impossible because the oil dries up? Suddenly we've got an unsustainably large population that begins to starve. You could call that "destroying millions of lives", not to mention the associated political destabilization.

That's by no means a foregone conclusion. Who knows what nifty things we'll come up with. But I personally don't think a single number like the number of mouths filled in the last 50 years tells the whole story.
posted by gurple at 9:44 AM on July 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


Seems there is a split betweeen:

Those who see the INTENDED consequences (increased crop yields, thus lessening starvation as human population continues to rise) and feel they are a strong enough positive to overcome fears of possible disasters;

VS

Those who see the UNINTENDED consequences and feel they are sufficiently dire to overcome the benefits of lessening future starvation.

I'm in the first camp.
posted by johngumbo at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2007


Well, duh, the gorillas would be eaten by penguins, the penguins would mutate and become evil-clever, and wake up the shoggoths. Then we'd be all shoggoth food!
posted by Iosephus at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2007


Wow, snark on steroids in this thread. Or perhaps genetically modified thread, super-resistant to normal levels of snark.

and DNA taken up with the food is not completely degraded in the gastrointestinal tract, but has rather been found to enter white blood cells and spleen and liver cells.

They who the what now? Fucking el.
posted by dreamsign at 9:46 AM on July 23, 2007


davy - The alarming thing to me is not anything particular to this strain of rice, but rather the inability of Aventis and the various agriculture regulatory bodies involved to keep experimental genetically-modified foods out of the food supply. That is the key—Liberty Link never made it out of the experimental stage, retroactive approval notwithstanding. This strongly suggests that fields full of other experimental organisms, some of which may be less benign than this rice (whose long-term benignity or malignancy has still not been established) will make it into our food supply.

That is a frightening prospect.
posted by Mister_A at 9:47 AM on July 23, 2007


Is the future in Oryx and Crake really so bad? I can think of plenty Mefites who'd love to see the human race forced to the brink of the death by hubris...
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:48 AM on July 23, 2007


*their, oops
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2007


who'd love to see the human race forced to the brink of their death by hubris...

I question your use of the subjunctive...
posted by freebird at 9:54 AM on July 23, 2007


It's an its anyway. There's no their there. You'd be better served by moving the possessive over to "hubris".
posted by Mister_A at 10:01 AM on July 23, 2007


GM food isn't "frankenfood" but it is an issue to keep an eye on. This example of it is a really bad one for the anti-GM types to latch onto, though, since it's totally harmless.

(Yes yes, I realize it didn't have to have turned out harmless. My point is you are going to have a hard time selling DISASTERWEMUSTDOSOMETHINGRIGHTNOW to the public based on a) rice and b) is resistance to weedkiller and c) is perfectly safe to eat.)
posted by DU at 10:02 AM on July 23, 2007


In this particular case, what's so bad about eating rice that has been made resistant to a weed killer?
And is it worse than eating rice with weed killer on it?


Actually, being resistant to weed killer implies that they will be sprayed with weed killer.

Just wanted to point that out; I don't have a horse in this race.
posted by mrnutty at 10:04 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


But you really must read something to get the gist of what this post is about. There are no pictures.

Can you rephrase this post in the form of a cat?
posted by Krrrlson at 10:05 AM on July 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


Actually, being resistant to weed killer implies that they will be sprayed with weed killer.

Yep, ever higher concentrations of it. That's the point, in fact.
posted by dreamsign at 10:07 AM on July 23, 2007


Add into this the fact that GMO companies have sued farmers for having the gall to let their crops be pollenated by the neighboring GMO crops.

Add into this the fact that ADM, Monsanto, et. al., are "encouraging" US government foreign policy to require third-world nations to give up their historical crop varieties for the "new and improved" varieties. The heirlooms have the amazing property of producing viable seeds, so farmers don't have to buy seeds for planting every year. The US-mandated replacement varieties must be purchased every year.

Sustainable agricultural practices don't really require the services of Aventis, Monsanto, or ADM; they're trying really hard to make sure that this will change.
posted by yesster at 10:07 AM on July 23, 2007


re: "Perfectly safe" GM rice - other things deemed perfectly safe by FDA:

-Carcinogenic red dyes
-Vioxx
-Thalidomide
-Hydrogenated fats
-Avandia
-Baycol
posted by Mister_A at 10:17 AM on July 23, 2007


The article may be a bit sensationalist, but it's actually relating an a pretty interesting story, something I didn't know anything about before. Putting aside the simplistic pro/anti gmo arguments for a minute, there are some weird things going on here that deserve a closer look.

How did one strain of rice get so out of control, and how do you stop these things? The fact that it's approved as safe in the US doesn't mean shit for the farmers who can't sell it to their buyers in Europe; this is something that no one wanted to happen and has had a negative impact on the industry. It doesn't look like there are decent government regulatory mechanisms in place to deal with containing modified crops, and that's problematic whether you support the use of those crops or not. The questions of who is at fault are interesting, too-- the farmers want to sue but can't seem to decide on one responsible party.
posted by bookish at 10:18 AM on July 23, 2007


Warning: Genetically altered rice may cause zombie outbreak.
posted by 29 at 10:18 AM on July 23, 2007


Listen, I'm not anti-chemical or anti-drug company or anything of the sort. The issue is that people can live without drugs and chemicals and things, but no one, not even Nicolo Richie, can live without food, and I'm tired of people fucking around with my food and I'm tired of not knowing what's in it, and I'm tired of people who say, "well the FDA approved it, so it must be completely fucking harmless for long-term, everyday use".

I guess I'm just tired today.
posted by Mister_A at 10:19 AM on July 23, 2007


I am so tired of butchering Nicole Richie jokes.
posted by Mister_A at 10:20 AM on July 23, 2007


Can you rephrase this post in the form of a cat?

That would be a picture using the phrase "Do Not Want".
posted by imperium at 10:21 AM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


"lessening starvation as human population continues to rise"

But there's already plenty of food, so much that we Americans can now rival Samoa and STILL throw out enough food to keep millions of rats sleek and happy. That was pointed out 30 years ago by the Hunger Project, and I doubt Werner Ehrhard and John Denver were the first to discover this fact back then.

Off the top of my head we could improve distribution of current stocks of food and seed, encourage things like irrigation and better agriculture techniques, encourage population movement out of chronically dry areas where irrigation is overwhelmingly unfeasible to fertile areas that are currently underused, etc. And if the U.S. must "spread freedom" we might "liberate" a few countries from kleptocratic dictators and win goodwill by such means as building irrigation systems. (As for the initial task of winning hearts & minds, "Join us and we'll feed you!" is a powerful slogan.)

For that matter we could break up a few U.S. agribusinesses and import hungry people from the drying parts of Africa, giving them family farms in Kansas or North Dakota. (I'm not saying "entrenched interests" would ever let that happen but it sounds good to me.)

On preview, yesster got me wondering: is the point of switching over to herbicide-resistant grain that those who don't knuckle under and get with the program will suffer their fields being sprayed with herbicide?

As for rising population, isn't that a bad idea given the Earth's (and humanity's) constant problems? Do we need another billion people forced to live in literal dumps?

As for GM crops, I wish somebody would come up with paraquat-resistant cannabis.
posted by davy at 10:22 AM on July 23, 2007


• and DNA taken up with the food is not completely degraded in the gastrointestinal tract, but has rather been found to enter white blood cells and spleen and liver cells.
• DNA can even be transferred to the cells of foetuses, as has been shown in newborn mice. Here transfer probably took place via the placenta (Doerfler and Schubbert, 1997).


So? The modified gene would only be one of billions in the rice. Even if it was possible to transfer to humans, the risk wouldn't be any greater then the risk posed by all the other genes in non-modified rice. Especially since we are eating food that contains that gene anyway.

gsh, I agree completely! And look, if we take this monounsaturated fat and add just ONE HYDROGEN ATOM, it stays good for much longer and becomes solid at room temperature!

So what, there are natural foods that are bad for you too, like bacon, pure sugar, etc.
posted by delmoi at 10:22 AM on July 23, 2007


re: "Perfectly safe" GM rice - other things deemed perfectly safe by FDA:
...
-Thalidomide


Huh? The FDA didn't approve thalidomide, famously so. It's non-approval spared millions of American children from being deformed (as happened in Europe, where it was prescribed for morning sickness), and is a lot of the reason why the FDA became so powerful.
posted by delmoi at 10:24 AM on July 23, 2007


I found these things about the article interesting enough to make a post:

*GM grains can enter the food supply, despite years of assurances from biotech companies that they wouldn't.

*The genetic modifications in this case did not remain confined to the original strain of rice, as expected, nor to the first 'tainted' strain - 2003 Cheniere - as predicted. In fact, the modifications seem to be propagating across numerous strains of rice. Is there any assurance that this is not going to happen with other foods?

*The FDA's response was to give approval after the modifications were already in the food supply. Did they have any choice? Does the approval actually mean that the stuff is safe, or that the FDA chose the least-disruptive course?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:30 AM on July 23, 2007


DNA can even be transferred to the cells of foetuses, as has been shown in newborn mice. Here transfer probably took place via the placenta (Doerfler and Schubbert, 1997).

Technically, this would mean that you owe the biotech companies $X royalties fees per child contaminated by their technology. Fascinating.
posted by stet at 10:33 AM on July 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


More on what yesster mentions above. I don't know if I'll grow gills because I've eaten strawberries with fish genes in them, but I do think it's wrong that companies like Monsanto can sue farmers for "stealing" because Monsanto-bred seeds drift into the farmer's neighboring field and do what seeds do...
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


Hey, I have an idea: maybe Adventis and Monsanto could come up with birth-control chemicals that could be used en-masse, say put into the water or sprayed from helicopters. Cutting the world's population in half might be a good idea. They could start in refugee camps or the "unincorporated suburbs" of Mumbai, Cairo or Kansas City.

As for herbicide resistance, assuming I want to live and be free of annoying cancers and mutations, I'd like to resistant to herbicides.
posted by davy at 10:34 AM on July 23, 2007


Er, '...I'd like to BE resistant to herbicides.' (But you knew that.)
posted by davy at 10:36 AM on July 23, 2007


All modern crops are genetically modified. It was done more slowly, with more room for error, in the old days. But it's nothing new.
posted by spitbull at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2007


Resistance is futile.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2007


"By [August 2006] the tainted rice was everywhere. If in the past year or so you or your family ate Uncle Ben's, Rice Krispies, or Gerber's, or drank a Budweiser - Anheuser-Busch is America's biggest buyer of rice - you probably ingested a little bit of Liberty Link, with the unapproved gene."

Raises my third hand!
posted by ericb at 10:39 AM on July 23, 2007


All modern crops are genetically modified. It was done more slowly, with more room for error, in the old days. But it's nothing new.

Except that in the old days, all the genes involved came from plants.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:48 AM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


There is going to come a day when all food is GMO and homogenous. Then there is going to come a day when disease that normally would wipe out one type of plant - wipes out many. Or there is going to come a day when man finds that fucking with the dna of our food alters our DNA as well. There are many diseases such as Alzheimers and Cancer on the rise for no apparent reason - could it possibly be due to the food we eat being altered and processed to get the best yield and longest shelf life? Shouldn't we test this stuff for 20 years before we allow our entire food supply to be modified? There is no going back with something like this and the decision is too important to be left in the hands of corporations and lobbyists. That's what we are concerned about.
posted by any major dude at 10:52 AM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Another issue about genetically altered grains and veggies is that if a company's gene is found in another farmers rice crop, they possible could make a case for that farmer having to pay them royalties for having that gene in their product. An excellent program on the subject of big companies taking over the food industry is a DVD called The Future of Food
It's scary how much power these companies have.
posted by brneyedgrl at 10:55 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


All food is already a GMO. Oh, you mean not the old-school GMO where we shotgun it by crossing breeds by phenotype, but the new-school we can snipe a specific gene and know precisely what we are doing to the genotype.

I realize there are concerns about GMO and certainly having a particular engineered gene escaping into the wild is "not good". But to cry out that GMOs are bad and unnatural is laughable. Anyone who has ever seen a wild type rice or corn will realize that we have long controlled the genetic makeup of our food, exactly as long as we've been tilling the soil and choosing the seeds, to be precise.
posted by linux at 11:03 AM on July 23, 2007


There is going to come a day when all food is GMO and homogenous. Then there is going to come a day when disease that normally would wipe out one type of plant - wipes out many. Or there is going to come a day when man finds that fucking with the dna of our food alters our DNA as well. There are many diseases such as Alzheimers and Cancer on the rise for no apparent reason - could it possibly be due to the food we eat being altered and processed to get the best yield and longest shelf life? Shouldn't we test this stuff for 20 years before we allow our entire food supply to be modified? There is no going back with something like this and the decision is too important to be left in the hands of corporations and lobbyists. That's what we are concerned about.
Uh, oh. You'd better adjust your tinfoil hat, then.
posted by delmoi at 11:07 AM on July 23, 2007


Anyone who has ever seen a wild type rice or corn will realize that we have long controlled the genetic makeup of our food, exactly as long as we've been tilling the soil and choosing the seeds, to be precise.

Jeez, are we still there? Ok, fine, I'll bite.

Modern genetic manipulation can lead to permutations impossible through selective breeding; for good or ill -- the problem being, we don't necessarily know which. E7-E5.
posted by dreamsign at 11:11 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


All modern crops are genetically modified. It was done more slowly, with more room for error, in the old days. But it's nothing new.

This is simply untrue. I think both sides oversimplify this issue, but to claim that direct genetic modification is the same process as evolution and directed breeding betrays a lack of understanding of all these things.

Evolution and breeding work through the normal reproductive and genetic systems of a species. Certain alterations are made impossible, and vastly complex systems for regulating geno- and pheno-typic change exist.

Direct genetic modification (can) bypass these systems. It doesn't (have to) respect the "meta-systems" in place to regulate species change.

Your point is basically akin to saying installing a rootkit on your computer is the same as viewing a web page - only faster and more direct. On some level, it's technically true - but on most, it's a ridiculous and dangerous misunderstanding.
posted by freebird at 11:11 AM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


The corruption that is engulfing the whole agriculture community is unreal. It has never been legal or ethical to own forms of life by patent until corporations began altering the foods we eat at the genetic level. Patenting life was unheard of up until 1978. Now companies "own" and collect royalties on different seeds.
posted by brneyedgrl at 11:15 AM on July 23, 2007


Maybe U.S. Mefites should form a vanguard faction to pose as right-wingers, infiltrate the major parties, and gently subvert the government into doing good things like, oh, invade Darfur to get rid of the janjaweed, divert some flow from a Nile or two to run west through the Sahel, or force Israel/Palestine to have a secular democratic multi-ethnic system within the 1972 borders. If the U.S. must be an Empire it needn't be unmitigatedly Evil. And thanks to "silently" taking over large areas by by colonizing neighboring crops' gene pools, those who resist will get their crops sprayed with plant killers.

As a neat-o coincidence, you know who else is again GM crops? Uh-huh: certain neo-Nazi "patriot" groups. I can't easily find a list of links now, too much else to do, but they are out there. It shouldn't be hard to steal their thunder by parroting them in a more respectable fashion but leaving out the parts about ZOG and the Talmud.
posted by davy at 11:24 AM on July 23, 2007


Those who won't get with the program will get their crops sprayed with plant killers, and will be refused resistant seed, and will have to kowtow to get a ration of Soylent Green!
posted by davy at 11:30 AM on July 23, 2007


Modern genetic manipulation can lead to permutations impossible through selective breeding; for good or ill -- the problem being, we don't necessarily know which. E7-E5.

Either process, phenotype-based cross-breeding or direct genetic manipulation, has its pitfalls, and like I said, regulation is very important (in both). My beef is that the division between either broad form of genetic manipulation creates a false perception of what is natural and therefore what is healthy. Maybe it's semantics, but those semantics have helped Whole Foods make a whole lot of money based on the perception of what is natural.
posted by linux at 11:36 AM on July 23, 2007


Your point is basically akin to saying installing a rootkit on your computer is the same as viewing a web page

A computer is not a good analogy for a living thing. I understand that you're trying to make the point that inserting a human-engineered gene is different from producing a novel function purely through mutation of a wild-type plant, but the comment you quote is fundamentally correct: Government regulation of GMO foods has so far been entirely hypocritical in being overcareful about the potential risks of GMO plants and therefore undercareful about plants produced by "traditional" methods (interbreeding, mutagenization, addition of novel genes via uncultured wild-type bacteria, phenotypic selection). If we believe that a plant with a "novel" function necessarily is a potential threat, we can't be ignoring all of the plants produced with "traditional" methods.
posted by rxrfrx at 11:40 AM on July 23, 2007


Potential risks of genetically modifed crops.

Getting the genes we want into a plant with precision isn't the issue. It's what the genes do once the plant is out in a field and in the food supply that's the issue. We have powerful biotechnology but we don't have a strong understanding of what genetically modified plants will do once they're interacting with other plants, pests, pollinators, and other environmental factors. We also don't know how people will react to proteins not normally found in their food.

Unfortunately most of the press I see on this either refuses to recognize the risks or misidentifies them, similar to reports on global warming (very real, very much a problem, not responsible for every tornado in Kansas).
posted by Tehanu at 11:47 AM on July 23, 2007


Speaking of GM crops, what's going on with PEST resistance these days? That sounded like a good idea 20 years ago. And how could that backfire on humans?

I found one paper here.
posted by davy at 11:47 AM on July 23, 2007


Seriously guys, I don't think we're going to reach much of a consensus here if the argument keeps being "Gentically modified crops are the exact same thing as selective breeding and those who oppose them are conspiracy theorists ignoring the starvation of millions" versus "Genetically modified crops are infiltratating our world with dangerous DNA that we won't know the repurcussions of until its too late, while the giant corporations call the shots for the FDA."
posted by bookish at 11:54 AM on July 23, 2007


All modern crops are genetically modified. It was done more slowly, with more room for error, in the old days. But it's nothing new

Beyond the genes themselves, an issue that's been covered above, the technique for inserting them is generally recombinant DNA tech. Essentially, you use a virus that already attacks hosts' DNA, and alter its operations to insert your desired DNA sequence. You have normally add antibiotic resistance into that desired sequence so you can dose the resulting organisms with antibiotics and thus isolate those specimens where the viral attack has taken.

Note that the viruses snip DNA randomly, insert new sequences and then reunite them. So even when you know what's been inserted, you don't know what it's been snipped out. Generally it'll either cause no problem, or it'll be fatal, so that variant won't survive. However, it's a massive chance to take. But in order to find out exactly where it's gone you need to resequence every single surviving instance of the plant/whatever that then gets used as seedstock etc.

That remaining DNA is then also unstable, has been demonstrated to pass to soil bacteria, and also, most obviously, to wild relatives by cross-pollination. Brassicas like oilseed rape (aka canola), which regularly gets modified, are especially vulnerable to the latter, being a notoriously promiscuous genus.

In short, the phrase "genetic engineering" makes us all think of precise sci-fi style improvements, but the reality is more like trying to improve computer code by dropping sequences into it at random.

And yes, the GM crowd try and do some "feed the world" greenwash research alongside their companies' main interest, which is tailoring plants to the same companies' herbicides and pesticides. In particular, if anyone tells you they will get grain crops to fix nitrogen, please call BS on them from me.
posted by imperium at 12:08 PM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


Well, I can't find any links to make an FPP, but my Chinese friend said that an incident that occurred during Nixon's visit to China was widely believed and a source of great pride:

When showing the Nixon party a large bowl of some kind of special super rice, one on the Americans stuck his hand in and let it run through his fingers. Cameras were running, and an incident was to be avoided, so they did not grab the guys hand to make sure he didn't secret a grain or two.

Some kind of must-see impromptu entertainment was immediately scheduled as a cover for searching his room and possessions. Finding nothing they brought out a super ninja pickpocket who had trained his whole life for just such a dire threat to national security.

He was able to remove the few grains wrapped in tissue paper that the guy had in his pocket.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:26 PM on July 23, 2007


Is it just me, or do people with no microbiology background seem to be the most active in commenting on GMOs?

A pretty good life motto is if you don't know what you're talking about, shut the fuck up.
posted by Muddler at 1:17 PM on July 23, 2007


Ice-nine.
posted by exlotuseater at 1:20 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


They could start in refugee camps or the "unincorporated suburbs" of Mumbai, Cairo or Kansas City.

Wait, what? Not only is this a total non sequitur, it's just uncalled for. (You might have guessed that I live near and work in one of the cities you so generously recommended for involuntary birth control).

There, just needed to get that out of the way. Despite it being a single-link, CNN post with an inflammatory headline - this was freaking interesting! I'm not ready to get my tinfoil hat out yet, but the fact is we don't know all of the consequences of messing with our natural food supplies, and we should be mindful of the unintended ones. Past experience has shown us, in the examples already cited as well as others, that we don't always think things all the way through, and we don't always know what we're doing.

Bringing up Oryx and Crake is particularly interesting, because I remember reading The Handmaid's Tale almost 20 years ago and shaking my head at some of the outlandish ideas Atwood had; if you look around now, you'll see that many of her plot devices have become reality in our world (I'm thinking of the prevalence of ATM cards and the declining use of cash). Do I think that Atwood is able to predict the future? No. Do I think that genetic alteration of food has possible catastrophic ramifications? Yes. But I'm not putting in for my pet rakunk just yet.
posted by jennaratrix at 1:29 PM on July 23, 2007


In particular, if anyone tells you they will get grain crops to fix nitrogen, please call BS on them from me.

Why would ag companies want to modify crops for that? Wouldn't they basically eliminate their sales of chemical fertilizers?

A pretty good life motto is if you don't know what you're talking about, shut the fuck up.

You're talking about MeFi here, good luck with that argument! Though I do see from the diverse topics on which you've posted the irony is not lost on you!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:30 PM on July 23, 2007


Seriously guys, I don't think we're going to reach much of a consensus

A consensus? On MeFi?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
posted by eyeballkid at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


What's the relevance of some US agency's pronouncement? Everyone knows that the US and EU differ over the classification of GMOs as "food".

The point is that this stuff turned up on sale as food in France.
posted by mr. strange at 2:09 PM on July 23, 2007


In the meantime, lest we forget, genetically modified rice is one of many crops that is directly responsible for preventing the starvation of a million people and more.

I just wanted to casually mention that rice (not necessarily GMO) is a crop that is directly responsible for preventing the starvation of a million people and more.

Therefore, when a discovery is made that our genetic engineering efforts are resulting in accidental contamination of, and resulting displacement of, non-GMO rice -- at a time when long-term consequences of our actions are not yet known with any certainty -- it's probably a good idea to say "whoa" and pull back a bit.

After all, it would be a shame if we accidentally allowed a type of GMO rice to dominate our worldwide food supplies (accidentally or not), only to then discover that there was a huge drawback, like causing cancer or nobody in the world being able to grow rice at all without paying for the privilege.

Just something to think about.
posted by davejay at 2:20 PM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't get what is so hard to understand about this sort of thing for most people. It seems that most people are either "Ick! Genetically Modified Food!" or "Yay, we love GMO, it feeds millions!"

I don't really care one way or the other. What I do care about is that it's rapidly becoming impossible to choose to consume only non-GMO food. This is because life does what comes naturally, and the GMO stuff will invade my field if you grow it next door. That sucks. What if I want to make a business selling food to staunchly anti-GMO people? Or sell my crops to the rest of the world?

I guess I'm just fucked then, because the cheerleaders (and more importantly the megacorps who develop and market this stuff) presume that they know what's best for me and the rest of the world and really don't care that they're contaminating my field, and possibly ruining my livelihood. All because if I don't want to grow GMO crops I must be some environmentalist freak, in the case of the cheerleaders, and in the case of the megacorps because they can then sue me for nature taking its course.

Why is it OK for other people to contaminate my crops and significantly constrain my market? (and profit margin! Greenies will pay top dollar for "organic" and "non-GMO" food, after all)
posted by wierdo at 2:23 PM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


In other news, I failed to read the post properly. The rice was in the USA, not France. Sorry.

Carry on eating whatever you damn well please.
posted by mr. strange at 2:29 PM on July 23, 2007


Is it just me, or do people with no microbiology background seem to be the most active in commenting on GMOs?

See: the discussion on any science FPP, ever.
posted by rxrfrx at 4:30 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


imperium: the paper you've linked is rather explicitly about genetically modified microorganisms, which are much more susceptible to gene transfer in the first place, and I don't see much of what they're talking about that really applies to rice. I didn't read all the way through, so maybe the second half applies, but it seems fairly misleading to me to cite that here.

For me, there are two issues with GMO crops: IP and safety. I think the safety issue is generally overhyped, and the IP issue gets mentioned, but tends to play second fiddle to the OMG WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE, which is unfortunate. The rice which is being produced is quite safe, and not really any more subject to creating a uniform global population of rice going to be wiped out in one swipe than conventionally bred rice is.

The IP issue though, this is a biggie. Copyright on genomes is immoral. Flat out. There's no way to enforce it without handing over power over life and death to the corporations, which is terrifying. What we need is the open source model for genomes. GPL the rice. The cross contamination of rice is unfortunate, and something we need to deal with and learn to prevent, but what's really needed is an assurance that no lawsuits can result from the natural dissemination of the rice. We need to get the grassroots involved in creating GMO crops, so that they are not built on the basis of perpetuating the artificial pesticide and fertilizer heavy model of current large scale farming. That's unsustainable, but this doesn't mean that all GMO crops need to be built around an unsustainable model.

What we need, is the mainstreaming of Biopunk ideology (more here and here.

The work being done with Golden rice is good, but it doesn't go far enough. They got the companies to back off on their patents a little bit, but until we get them to give up the patents altogether, the system will not be democratic or free. This is too important to not have that.

I'm really frustrated with how the major sides of the discourse around GMOs is either corpratist and (overtly or covertly) anti-green, or green and anti-tech. I don't think either is an acceptable position.
posted by Arturus at 4:34 PM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Perhaps I underestimated the appeal of the continual wait for the various apocalypses.

Clearly, everything will end badly. Very badly indeed! Bad scientists, bad!
posted by gsh at 5:46 PM on July 23, 2007


A pretty good life motto is if you don't know what you're talking about, shut the fuck up.

True but useless ( since everything thinks they know what's up ) and unenforcable ( if you are smart enough to understand the rule, it's not intended for you ).
posted by freebird at 6:15 PM on July 23, 2007


You know, I read Jeremy Rifkin's The Biotech Century when it came out in 1998, and it predicted this. And with my fancy Harvard biochem degree, I thought, "No, you know, he's wrong. This'll never happen - they'll engineer the artificial genes in, in a way better than what he's predicting, so they can't get loose."

You might want to take a look at what else he predicted, reader. It's not particularly nice and it's all coming true.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:07 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can you rephrase this post in the form of a cat?
posted by Krrrlson


I can haz GMF00ds pleez? kbai!
posted by dejah420 at 7:39 PM on July 23, 2007


Where is this "feeding millions" stuff coming from? Last I heard, not only was the licensing requirements and lawsuits (and shit like terminator genes) making it harder for the 3rd world to feed itself, but the only GMO crops designed to help instead of hinder the alleviation of starvation, had come out of non-profit institutions, while the industry touting the "feed millions" PR BS simply weren't interested in making crops useful to people with no money, and had even stood in the way of such crops being produced.

AFAIK, the "feeding millions" line is just fairytale bullshit. It sounds like the only thing that the big industry players produce to feed to the masses is PR and slogans.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:05 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


That said, I'm a few years out of date. Perhaps since then Monsanto has turned over a new leaf?
posted by -harlequin- at 9:07 PM on July 23, 2007


Is it true that the more food you have, the more people will breed, the more food you'll need?
posted by davy at 11:01 PM on July 23, 2007


Add me to the choir of people who think that posting "not best of the web" in the first ten comments is the metafilter equivalent of fark's or slashdot's "first post;" it's invoked by those who have nothing to add but their own stamp that they were here first and know the least. Since you have nothing else to contribute, please sit on your hands and give the more thoughtful and informed among us a chance to read, think, and comment.

delmoi: The FDA didn't approve thalidomide, famously so.

Except that it did; but later, quietly for something else. However, I think that we both agree that Mister_A's list is poorly thought-out and factually incorrect. He misses the point. To add to the trouble, the FDA's mission asks that the agency act as both a cheerleader for progress and a referee of safety. Unfortunately, politics determine the outcome when these goals come into conflict.

spitbull: All modern crops are genetically modified. It was done more slowly, with more room for error, in the old days. But it's nothing new.

That's a nonsensical statement. All extant organisms exist because of the genetic modifications of a prior ancestor. That process is not the focus of the disagreement. The quandary stems from questions about methods and their implications: is mankind's vision too near-sighted to appropriately wield the tools it has developed, are our political and economic systems unsuited to this type of effort, and how can the uneducated consumer be involved in a complicated risk analysis discussion when it comes to something as visceral as the food production system?

Kirth Gerson: Resistance is futile.

Resistance is also fertile, man.
posted by peeedro at 11:01 PM on July 23, 2007


what's really needed is an assurance that no lawsuits can result from the natural dissemination of the rice.

I strongly disagree. It's just that the lawsuits are wrong-sided. Why the hell should a farmer be sued because his crops get cross-pollinated by someone down the road? Why shouldn't the contaminated farmer sue the source of contamination? After all, the contaminated farmer is the one with a loss, especially when some corporation owning a patent is allowed to claim he can't use his own seeds, due to the contamination! Shouldn't the source have to replace those contaminated seeds?

I'm not anti-GM. I'm just anti-corporatism. And against the whole profits-at-any-cost mindset. So, you wanna make GM crops? Okay, make them so they don't spread.
posted by Goofyy at 11:10 PM on July 23, 2007


I strongly disagree. It's just that the lawsuits are wrong-sided.

True, I wasn't thinking of that angle.
posted by Arturus at 11:41 PM on July 23, 2007


I did RTFA and I find the way it is summarized in the post slightly misleading, especially the chronology of events. Correct me if I'm wrong but:

1) pre-2001: GMO StarLink corn, produced by Aventis Crop Science and only approved as animal feed, is found in Kraft Taco shells.
2) ACS settle StarLink lawsuits for $120 million.
3) 2001: ACS destroy all their GMO Liberty Link rice crops.
4) Aventis sells ACS to Bayer.
5) Bayer drop plans to market Liberty Link rice.
6) 2006: Liberty Link rice is found in a shipment at Riceland Foods.
posted by surrendering monkey at 2:34 AM on July 24, 2007


s. monkey, it's true that I rearranged the order of the bits I posted, because the way it was written in the original article was much less to-the-point than I wanted to put in a FPP. From some of the comments, I realized that my rearrangement confused the chronology some. The points I found interesting are not really affected by that, though.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:16 AM on July 24, 2007


Except that it did; but later, quietly for something else.

I was aware of that, but I meant that they had not approved thalidomide at the time that thalidomide babies started cropping up. I'm pretty sure that thalidomide is not currently approved for pregnant women.
posted by delmoi at 10:16 AM on July 24, 2007


One concern I have regarding modern agriculture is the replacement of diverse varieties with a very restricted number of varieties. Such plant monocultures are much more susceptible to disease and climate change. If half the world's caloric intake comes from one strain of rice, what happens when that strain suddenly declines or even ceases to exist?
posted by neuron at 12:38 PM on July 24, 2007


Is it true that the more food you have, the more people will breed, the more food you'll need?

No, nations with the most wealth have the lowest fertility rates. Food security means less children, because poor people have children for economic reasons. Kids can work and support their parents. If people don't need kids to support them, they'll have less.
posted by delmoi at 6:23 AM on July 26, 2007


any major dude writes "There are many diseases such as Alzheimers and Cancer on the rise for no apparent reason - could it possibly be due to the food we eat being altered and processed to get the best yield and longest shelf life?"

More likely we are living long enough to get these diseases and medical science has gotten much better at identifying them when they occur.
posted by Mitheral at 8:26 PM on July 29, 2007


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