Anti-GMO thinking
August 22, 2015 3:40 AM   Subscribe

 
Because science has been wrong? Because of all the science health reporting articles about wine and chocolate oscillating from healthy to killing you? Liberal interpretation of that good'ol "p" to get more published articles? Because the first benefit to GMO's seems to be large corporations bottom line?

I'm not too worried about eating them personally but "skeptic" does work both ways.
posted by sammyo at 4:14 AM on August 22, 2015 [61 favorites]


My feeling is that the pro-GMO folks are encouraging a strawman discussion about whether GMOs are safe to eat in order to distract from the legitimate discussion about whether they're safe for the environment (given plants' heightened propensity for hybridization and the demonstrated possibility of the modified genes "jumping" to other plants).
posted by Brachinus at 4:28 AM on August 22, 2015 [112 favorites]


I've found, in my personal experience, that GMOs and nuclear power are the two main arenas of scientific discourse where progressives act exactly like right wing hysterics, with lots of sputtering, handwaving, random pictures with fake attributions, cries about "slippery slopes," quotes from self-appointed rebels, and claims that an apparent dearth of predicted dire effects of An Indisputably Bad Thing™ mean that Big [insert industry] has gotten to someone. So you have to roll your eyes and settle into the cranky silence in the demilitarized zone usually found between yourself and a cranky uncle who thinks gay marriage is going to end America AND HERE'S WHY, because you can't even have a basic, reasoned discussion without it turning in a raging panic party because the other side will never, ever yield even a sliver of their hermetic vision of the obliteration of the entire natural world as the result of tampering with God's/Gaia's/Evolution's magical plan.
posted by sonascope at 4:55 AM on August 22, 2015 [174 favorites]


Frankly, my concern has nothing to with food safety and everything to do with the patenting of food and enforcement of said patents.
posted by postel's law at 4:58 AM on August 22, 2015 [194 favorites]


A particular GM application may have unwanted effects, which can also be the case with a product of organic or conventional farming. The risks and benefits should be assessed on a case-to-case basis, regardless of the process.
Sure, because that works so well for the patent system.
One may take issue with the involvement of multinationals or be concerned about herbicide resistance, but these issues have to do with how GM technology is sometimes applied and certainly do not warrant resistance to the technology and to GMOs in general.
Taking issue with the abuse and misapplication of GMOs is reactive; it can only happen after the abuse and misapplication has taken place, when the toothpaste is already out of the tube. “Oops! Sorry about this plague of pesticide-resistant locusts!”

Characterizing wariness of big ag’s motives as the irrational product of “emotional and intuitive” sentiment is weak sauce, which is why Blancke cloaks it with a bunch of weasel words and Psychology Today level speculation. The message is “Anti-GMO people are crazy! Just like those anti-vaxxers!” But suspecting that Monsanto may not have our best interests at the forefront of its heart is not like believing in a conspiracy of pediatricians trying to spread autism. That’s like lumping crypto activists in with hollow earth flying saucer paranoiacs.
posted by El Mariachi at 5:02 AM on August 22, 2015 [55 favorites]


My problem with GMOs isn't even with potential health problems, it's how the business was done. There's something very fucked up when they feel the need to patent a type of plant, but at the same claim "no, they're just like every other plant, don't worry".

All my other concerns originate mostly from regular farming concerns: the cost of new seeds and corresponding pesticides (particularly if there's a monopoly) and the dangers of monoculture.
posted by lmfsilva at 5:05 AM on August 22, 2015 [53 favorites]


And in my own personal experience, otherwise sensibly skeptical progressives who support GMOs act like perfect libertarians, content to accept uncritically the claims of industry, to de facto support the corporate ownership and control of material fundamental to life (the genome), and to define "safe" as narrowly as possible (e.g., safe = edible) and then to act like there are no possible good faith concerns about the overuse of pesticides that currently-available GMOs were specifically designed to facilitate in favor of a vaguely whiggish idea that some future GMOs will be used by their owners (pharmaceutical companies, well-known bastions of humanist philanthropy) for the free betterment of mankind.

And if you bring any of those issues up, they act as though the only possible reason to oppose GMOs is because you also believe in the healing power of crystals and magnets.
posted by gauche at 5:07 AM on August 22, 2015 [77 favorites]


So basically you me to trust that large companies totally got GMO right and it's totally healthy with no ill side effects. Sure, you got a bridge I can buy?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:16 AM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Are they saying that I'm not aware of too many things? That I know what I know, if you know what I mean?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:21 AM on August 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


Recent human history provides one example after another of people coming up with great new ways to make our lives better (DDT! chlorofluorocarbons!), eagerly trying them out, and then discovering they had created new problems. Yeah, it would be great if people understood the science behind GMO's and could think rationally about risks and benefits, but if the ignorant person's default position based on intuition is becoming, "Hold on! That sounds dangerous!" I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.
posted by Redstart at 5:22 AM on August 22, 2015 [25 favorites]


I just don't trust Monsanto.

About anything.
posted by freakazoid at 5:23 AM on August 22, 2015 [49 favorites]


Frankly, my concern has nothing to with food safety and everything to do with the patenting of food and enforcement of said patents.

Patenting of plant varieties has been part of US law, and actively done, since 1930.

This encapsulates most of my frustration with the anti-GMO movement. The practical results of what's being done -- creating new varieties of plants with favorable traits -- is something that humans have been doing for thousands of years, literally since the agricultural revolution. While GM techniques allow the process to happen more quickly and with more predictable results, "genetic manipulation" of plants is a very old concept and practice. That doesn't make it automatically right, but it makes me question a lot of the breathless calls to return to the simpler ways of a couple of decades ago.
posted by telegraph at 5:38 AM on August 22, 2015 [64 favorites]


Saying 'GMOs are safe' is like saying 'chemicals are safe'. They're not INHERENTLY unsafe just because they're GMOs. However, unintended consequences operate the same way they always have. And Monsanto is not your friend.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 5:41 AM on August 22, 2015 [27 favorites]


The Pew poll cited in the article says that 37% of U.S. adults believe that GMOs are safe to eat. I respect criticism of Monsanto and their patenting and strongarming, but I'm not sure those arguments are the main source of opposition to GMOs. The stuff I see passed around Facebook seems based in food contamination/purity fears and goes along with juice detoxing and colon cleanses and the like. Lots of "there's e. coli and animal DNA in your corn!" I mean, I hope that stuff isn't representative. I don't trust Monsanto either but don't want the technology unnecessarily demonized when there are so many positive applications.
posted by thetortoise at 5:46 AM on August 22, 2015 [22 favorites]


Anyone bothered by selective GM would be horrified to learn about the "conventional" ways we modify the genomes of our food. Irradiation, chemical baths, plant & pray, minimal oversight.

I was anti-GMO for a period because haphazard gene swapping in nature is scary enough without throwing corporate automation and lawyers at it. But I went to a couple rallies and every single sign with specific claims was factually incorrect.

The lab rats didn't die from GMO corn. Monsanto wasn't suing farmers, and farmers weren't committing mass suicide by drinking RoundUp. Terminator genes exist but aren't in production. Claims of high yields using organics have never born out. GMO yields bring down food costs. Conventional herbicides and pesticides are as damaging as RoundUp.

So these days I'm chagrined when another country bans GMO. Nobody's safer, and a few thousand families somewhere just lost their ability to afford groceries.

Anti-vax and anti-GMO and anti-nuke crowds have eliminated the possibility of nuanced debate on the actual problematic issues with each of those technologies by pre-poisoning minds with pseudoscience and blindly reposting memes from self-serving "authors" trying to keep their speaking tours alive.

(On the horizon: RNA pesticides.)
posted by jayCampbell at 5:51 AM on August 22, 2015 [67 favorites]


Full disclosure: As part of my normal job, which is funded in a relatively small part by some of the companies you might assume want a pro-GMO paper to be written, I recently assisted with some work on a pro-GMO paper. I'm far from an expert on the topic but I did learn a few things I found interesting.

First of all, I was surprised by how limited GMOs actually are. There are currently only two types of GMOs: pest resistant and herbicide resistant. All they are doing to increase yields is keeping bugs from destroying the crops. If health stuff is your concern (which I realize is not the only issue) then you can argue that the pest resistance is unhealthy, or that the roundup resistance is not healthy, or that maybe the roundup being on the plants is not healthy, but that's about it.

There are also only a few types of plants that have been genetically modified (corn, soybeans, and I think some wheat and maybe a few others, but it's almost all corn and soybeans). That's it. When you see giant fruits and vegetables at the supermarket, they're not GMOs, they're just normal hybrids with lots of fertilizer, etc...

I don't in general think that big agribusiness is a good thing. I think it can abuse its economic power and would prefer we did our agricultural innovation in universities and kept knowledge open and distribution less centralized. However, patents do expire after 20 years. And it seems pretty unassailable to me that increased yield is a good thing. Giant fields of monocultures are efficient under our current economic system.

Monsanto is not your friend but it DOES have a fairly large incentive both to make sure its seeds are not killing people* and that its seeds are priced so as to make GMOs worthwhile to farmers.

*Then again, you could have said the same thing about Dupont... Still, I think all the public focus on GMO health effects does create a good incentive for Monsanto to be careful.
posted by ropeladder at 5:55 AM on August 22, 2015 [28 favorites]


I will start believing it's about Monsanto and patents when the drives for warning label bills are for patented food, not GMO food, and when organic products made with organic pesticides sold by Monsanto are similarly given a warning label.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:55 AM on August 22, 2015 [33 favorites]


but it's almost all corn and soybeans). That's it.

Sure...and that same corn and soy is in like 99% of all processed food.

This is in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that proves that GMOs are safe to eat, and that they bring environmental benefits by making agriculture more sustainable.

This is bullshit. The idea that we have absolute certainty (proof) that long term consumption of these products is safe is ridiculous. Science can't provide this kind of certainty about anything, let alone problematic nutrition science. I don't care who thinks they are safe and who doesn't. But fucking LABEL IT and give people a choice.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:01 AM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Anyone bothered by selective GM would be horrified to learn about the "conventional" ways we modify the genomes of our food. Irradiation, chemical baths, plant & pray, minimal oversight."

I am.

But I don't actually believe plants purely exist to be exploited and mistreated by humans so there's a fundamental difference in reverence for life. I accept that my life will cause some harms and abuses to living beings, but I don't consider this innately good or even acceptable. I believe it needs to be changed.

Cruelty and abuse to living beings and industry/science are old friends. I hope to change that by encouraging myself and others to have relationships with plants, treat them well and respect their lives as much as possible.

The people who once chained themselves to trees were considered hysterical, foolish, emotional.

I think they were right but they couldn't prove it because science can't prove love is worthwhile or that other beings matter. It's a matter of belief.
posted by xarnop at 6:07 AM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


ropeladder, your information about there only being those two types of GMOs in production is incorrect. Golden rice is one example; it’s been modified with genes that produce beta carotene, which helps in vitamin A deficient diets.
posted by El Mariachi at 6:07 AM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I will also add, when my great grandma was told by professionals to let her children literally cry for hours at a time and that holding them would coddling them, her protests were hysterical, emotional, foolish.

The scientists, the professionals... they KNOW what life means, what living beings need, and how to treat them.

Anyone who FEELS otherwise is silly, emotional and wrong and need to be forcefully overturned. Or do they? After all, if you haven't been trained professionally in science, you don't deserve to be heard... or to matter.

The rallying cries mocking those who value what is in their hearts, is the very same force tearing down our rainforests, filling our oceans with pollution, fracking our earth and waiting until all plausible deniability is exhausted to admit these things are harmful.

Many people knew FROM THE BEGINNING these things were risky and taking a risk with the welfare of our planet but their views were (and still are) considered silly-- until after the damage is done.

Even many on the left have only finally admitted climate is happening because we have the evidence.

They had to wait til the damage was done to admit it was a bad idea. Before then any consideration these things were bad ideas was laughed at and considered hysterics.
posted by xarnop at 6:15 AM on August 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


Monsanto wasn't suing farmers

Incorrect.

(There's a debate to be had about this particular lawsuit, but it seems disingenuous to criticize people for false claims while also making a claim that is very easily proven false.)
posted by lunasol at 6:15 AM on August 22, 2015 [17 favorites]


I love how half of his links, like the "environmental benefits" one and the link to his own paper (!) lead only to paywalls. That's some nice evidence-providin', Lou.
posted by No-sword at 6:17 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


The idea we've done sufficient research on any new strain of food entering our supply chains is misguided. With GMO we at least know what changed, and that those genes and by-products have already been consumed by humans. It's more predictable than letting nature blow Agro Bacteria and its Cas9 cassettes of random gene shufflers into your field.

Industrial farming needs massive improvement to be ethical or even sustainable, but it's what's currently feeding the world. GMO is one toolkit to make those improvements. Individual gene modifications need to be judged on their own merits.

lunasol: I've yet to find any particular GMO lawsuit that makes Monsanto stand out as a bad actor in comparison to other suppliers. Lots of leads, lots of claims, but also lots of debunking.
posted by jayCampbell at 6:19 AM on August 22, 2015


Because science has been wrong?

We're not talking about the occasional news article that says "New Study Finds Fish Oil Causes Dementia," which the lead scientists have little control over anyway. We're talking about the headline that the scientist would write—something like: "While Overwhelming Consensus of Evidence Promotes Fish Oil as Healthful Supplement with Variety of Benefits, In Certain Conditions and Contexts It May Possibly Influence Dementia: We Need to Look Into It More."

The preponderance of evidence is that GMOs are safe, that climate change is a thing, that evolution is the process behind the variety of life we see on Earth, that long ago our universe began with a Big Bang. A few liberal "p" values, a few faulty methods, a few studies that may point to the contrary don't necessarily upend this or even really shake it.
posted by whiterteeth at 6:25 AM on August 22, 2015 [29 favorites]


'Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

Why would science say such things? That really doesn't sound like something a science would say.
posted by Ashenmote at 6:26 AM on August 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


Monsanto wasn't suing farmers

Incorrect.

To be clear, the talking point was that Monsanto was evil because they sued farmers when their fields were accidentally contaminated. This guy was the poster boy for it, but it turned out he wasn't sued for contamination. He was sued for intentional patent infringement. His field was round-up ready, it wasn't an accidental contamination of some plants in the field.

Don't like food patents? That's fine, but GMO and Monsanto are in no way unique in using them. So why are they always the targets when it really isn't about GMO dangers? I've never received a satisfying answer.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:26 AM on August 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


Golden Rice is one of those things we like to take credit for as an enlightened civilization, but as far as I know its cultivation has been blocked nearly worldwide by activists.

Yeah, here: AllowGoldenRiceNow.org
posted by jayCampbell at 6:26 AM on August 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


I will say that every science which has studied systems more complex than physics studies has basically had miserable failures of epistemology by the nature of things. That, of course, does not mean that physics hasn't had miserable failures of epistemology too, it just means that we're now settled on models in physics which have remarkable predictive power. Until they get to complexity.

When we can predict outcomes in nutrition with 5 sigma, then I will believe any claim made by nutritionists as much as possible. (actually, you can make such predictions in nutrition about certain claims - but about claims like the fact that vitamin C cures scurvy, not about GMO's) Until then, the state of the nutritional science is not good enough, and the radical inequality that exists in predictive power between sciences dictates that we say we know little about nutrition. Emotional reaction is not good enough, either: predictive power is.
posted by curuinor at 6:27 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Golden Rice is one of those things we like to take credit for as an enlightened civilization, but as far as I know its cultivation has been blocked nearly worldwide by activists.

Yup, activists have done things like destroying golden rice test fields.

The GMO Papaya is already a great success though.
Dennis Gonsalves doesn’t have to travel far to see the fruits of his labor.

The 70-year-old scientist, now retired and living in Hilo, is a short drive from Puna and the papaya farmers he came to know closely more than 20 years ago.

Growing up in Kohala during the plantation days, Gonsalves went to the University of Hawaii at Hilo, hoping to return with an education and a job as a boss for one of the sugar companies.

Life took him in another direction. Finding a passion in scientific research, he ended up as a plant pathologist at Cornell University, where he helped make genetic history through the creation of the virus-resistant Rainbow papaya, credited with bringing the industry back from the brink.

“If you drove here in the 1990s, you would see nothing but dead (papaya) trees,” he said recently as he drove his pick-up truck toward the farm of Alberto Belmes in Keaau.

Tucked away behind Highway 130, the farm stretches over 100 acres with a seemingly endless forest of the tall but slender papaya trees planted in neat rows and topped with their green oblong-shaped fruit. Some of the fruits are displaying a yellow tinge as they ripen, and are being harvested by workers using long pickers needed to reach the top of trees that are as tall as 15 feet.

Each tree is transgenic and can trace their origins back to Gonsalves’ lab.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:39 AM on August 22, 2015 [26 favorites]


Things I'd Want Labelled Before GMOs:

- Country of origin for each raw material
- List of intermediary companies with dates, licenses, inspection certs
- Ethical standards applied to the production of animal products
- Ecological standards applied to herds and fields
- Ratio of CEO pay to field and factory worker pay
- Workplace conditions and OSHA violations
- Taxes paid each leg of my food's journey
- Religious and political affiliations of companies involved
- Which of the chemical names in the ingredients are not proven safe
- History of cost per ounce for this product
- My actual odds of winning
posted by jayCampbell at 6:45 AM on August 22, 2015 [88 favorites]


Brandon BlatcherSo basically you me to trust that large companies totally got GMO right and it's totally healthy with no ill side effects. Sure, you got a bridge I can buy?


Safer than big pharma.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:58 AM on August 22, 2015


Safer than big pharma.

Which itself is better than a stick in the eye without antibiotics.
posted by jayCampbell at 7:04 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


And in my own personal experience, otherwise sensibly skeptical progressives who support GMOs act like perfect libertarians, content to accept uncritically the claims of industry, to de facto support the corporate ownership and control of material fundamental to life (the genome), and to define "safe" as narrowly as possible (e.g., safe = edible) and then to act like there are no possible good faith concerns about the overuse of pesticides that currently-available GMOs were specifically designed to facilitate in favor of a vaguely whiggish idea that some future GMOs will be used by their owners (pharmaceutical companies, well-known bastions of humanist philanthropy) for the free betterment of mankind.

Thing is—we don't need to uncritically accept anything. There's plenty of peer-reviewed research. There's actual data collected by actual organizations that are independent of Monsanto or whatever Big [insert industry] you think is at the root of a problem. Granted, I've got an advantage in that I live near ten miles away from a gigantic USDA agricultural research facility and was a longtime member of a science/tech Explorer Post, so I have a fair number of scientists in the field in my social circle, but this stuff is out there.

The corporate aspects are a whole other thing, which is why I think the government should be doing the GMO work instead of the private sector, but if the government was doing the work, the complaint would be that the government is mysterious and corrupt and "But what about [insert any number of legitimate horrible things governments have done]?" Personally, I'd love to see GMO labeling, because I think more information is better, and dispelling the cloud of amorphous scary is a good thing, and I'd love to see research done on the public dime again instead of solely within the preserve of profit. Not sure how libertarian that is, seeing as how I'm supposed to be a libertarian dupe for big industry, but…shrug.

The thing for me is that, when you ask someone who opposes GMOs point blank, "Do you think GMOs can ever be okay?" the answer is almost invariably "no" [nuclear power is the same way, alas], and that's just not a position that has anything to do with a good-faith effort to actually use the tools of science to do things.
posted by sonascope at 7:19 AM on August 22, 2015 [38 favorites]


Rich white people hand-wringing about genetically modified food are the worst kind of narcissism. Much of the world still struggles to grow enough food to feed itself. Golden Rice, as mentioned above, is a really great example of GMOs that can save lives. It's really simple. Hundreds of thousands of kids die every year from vitamin A deficiency. Golden Rice adds vitamin A to rice, the most important staple crop in the world. Fewer kids will die.

Yes, there are rational concerns about the patent system, and profit-driven companies, and potential risks of GMOs. There are rational concerns about the application of any technology. But to stand aside and say "this whole technology I don't understand is forbidden" is condemning people to starvation. Eat gluten-free organic food if you want, but don't condemn children in the rest of the world to malnutrition. (Bonus challenge: eat truly natural food, unsullied by the evils of crop selection and thousands of years of agricultural breeding.)
posted by Nelson at 7:27 AM on August 22, 2015 [48 favorites]


"Herbicide resistant crops require less or no tilling"

Herbicide resistant crops are grown in herbicide saturated soil, rather than tilled soil. Then growers feed the sileage from these herbicide rich byproducts to hogs and cattle. Then chemical companies from abroad make the income that tillers and weeders would have made, growing real food crops, rather than real profit crops. Then also every bit of meat we eat, or bread, or pasta is first saturated in herbicide.

Company scientists create GMO crops with various novel qualities. Looking for a particular result and achieving it, does not mean scientists will test for new allergic reactions, or look at the statisitcal evidence of broad changes in human populations, possibly attributable to alergic reactions that say manifest in mass behavioral alteration. For instance ADHD, and depression treated chemically in toddlers. Plus these novel substances may alter liver function creating an uptick in obesity blamed on fat, blamed on sugar, but what if it is new chemistry that causes the liver to constantly repel what it perceives as toxic substances, rather than metabolize fats?

This article simply states and restates that questioning the science behind GMOs is just emotional, overwrought, therefore unintelligent thinking. This same voice denies global warming when the money flows that way. This article is propaganda.

The money that makes GMOs is not going to do the epidemiological studies that hamper their business effort. I perceive their effort to be the shaking down of governments for aid monies, for projects that either benefit them, or benefit exploiters who want a marginally nourished slave work force.
posted by Oyéah at 7:32 AM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm willing to entertain the possibility that GMO foods are okay. Except. Trust Monsanto? No. Fucking. Way.

RBGH in milk is fine. really. Trust us. A great dairy in Maine (Oakhurst, their milk really does taste better) got sued because they use milk from farms that don't use RBGH, and they put that on their labels. They won, though it was costly. I don't want to feed RBGH to my kids. I am not convinced it's safe.

Big Agra has not even remotely shown itself to be trustworthy. In the US, our beef and chicken is full of antibiotics. There's evidence that it's seriously contributing to antibiotic-resistant diseases. But the industry has always said Trust us, it's fine. Yeah, well, when there's a strain of TB that's really resistant, and it gets into cows, and, well, that's somebody else's trouble.

Big Agra is about profit, and in every industry, like, say, health care, education, pharma, where Big profit enters, quality and safety are always at risk. Always. That's why suppressing labeling is dangerous. Label it. Let people investigate and decide for themselves. A whole lot of people are going to decide that those GMO chips are cheapier, and hey they're tasty with all that fake cheese powder, salt, fat, flavorings, etc., so screw it, I'm buying 'em. And some people will decide to buy overpriced non-GMO chips. Money will still be made.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 AM on August 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


I am not at all afraid of eating GMOs, but avoid it for the same reason I avoid BgH in milk: it's main goal is to increase corporate profits, not fix a real problem with food supply.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:38 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


sonascope lives near where I work. One of the most frustrating things to me is the near-universal opposition to GMO livestock entering the food chain, inexplicably including clones. For example, a line of Jersey cattle had a gene inserted that dramatically improved their resistance to mastitis. This had the potential to improve animal welfare and reduce the use of antibiotics in dairy animals. Ultimately, the animals were destroyed and the project discontinued because there was no realistic path for getting this animals into the food chain, neither milk nor meat.
posted by wintermind at 7:43 AM on August 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


telegraph: "While GM techniques allow the process to happen more quickly and with more predictable results, "genetic manipulation" of plants is a very old concept and practice."

I'm pro-GMO on scientific and ethical principles. I think there are a lot of people spreading genetically-modified FUD¹. But an alarm went off in my brain at “more quickly and with more predictable results.”

Don't get me wrong, It's completely valid, scientifically speaking. But GMO technology is not being advanced on its pure scientific merits; in large part, it's being developed for profitability. With that incentive structure, there's a lot of salivating about the “more quickly” thing, and in our quarterly-reports-driven business culture I don't think the “more predictable results” are all that sexy. Further, to the degree that GMOs do get more predictable results, the costs and benefits of those results are not going to be evaluated purely on their scientific or ethical merits.

It's tough for me; I have similar concerns about, for example, nuclear power. I believe it's objectively safer and cleaner than fossil fuels when handled properly. I believe our current nuclear regulations are largely able to enforce that safety. But knowing our present political climate, I don't trust us to maintain (let alone improve) those regulations. As soon as nuclear power became accepted and widespread I know we'd start seeing debates about repealing its burdensome job-killing bureaucratic restrictions, and just having that argument is already (in my opinion) far too much risk when dealing with such a dangerous technology.

I'm going to continue to have significant reservations on these types of issues — even while fully recognizing the failures of the existing system and the benefits of the proposed replacement — until we start acting like responsible adults in our political and financial decisions.

¹ To be honest, I'm ashamed of that pun. To be even more honest, I'm not.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:46 AM on August 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


This blog post by chef Rick Bayless decries GMO crops on the basis of agricultural diversity. I thought it was an interesting perspective.
posted by chrchr at 7:50 AM on August 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


Herbicide resistant crops are grown in herbicide saturated soil, rather than tilled soil.

The switch to no-till farming around here has done amazing things in terms of reducing erosion from wind and rain. The trade off is that it requires chemicals, but the net environmental benefits are clearly positive.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:52 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mass unemployment and migrant crises are big problems right now, and they're projected to get even worse with no hope in sight. Is it really a good idea to figure out how to feed more people without figuring out how to effectively and humanely deal with an explosion in population?

Which is one of those queasy, unsettling realities. Just look at how things are now. The world already more people than it can comfortably hold, and the problems related to that are only going to get worse (technology, climate change, resource limits, consumerist/growth-based culture, etc.). What's going to happen when we can feed more people than ever, yet have no place for them in the world? We could be cursing people with our good intentions.
posted by gehenna_lion at 7:52 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you're opposed to patenting crops, then argue against crop patents.

If you're opposed to RoundUp or other pesticides, then argue against RoundUp and pesticides.

If you're opposed to introducing specific traits (e.g., pest resistance) into crops (whether via conventional or transgenic means), then argue against introducing those specific traits.

If you object to Monsanto's business practices, then criticize those specific business practices.

If you're concerned in general about the industrialization/globalization of our agricultural economy, then talk about those things.

These are all wholly distinct issues from whether or not genetic modification, as a technique, is inherently dangerous or not.

Every time I've asked anti-GMO folks to explain exactly what their objection is—and I do mean every single time, without exception—they've immediately fallen back on one of two things:

1. Conflating transgenic techniques with the above issues. I ask "why do you oppose genetic modification?"—and they answer "because crop patents are bad!", or "because Monsanto sues people!".

2. Vague, handwavey arguments based on fear of the unknown. They can't name any specific reason to believe that GMOs are more toxic, less nutritious, or more environmentally dangerous than conventional crop strains—but "it could be dangerous!", because "we just don't know!".

I'll grant that transgenics is a newer, and hence less fully understood, field than conventional selective breeding. But it's not like transgenics crops haven't been studied—they have.

"GMOs need further study" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say. But to hear it from the anti-GMO folks, GMOs are clearly and unquestionably lethal poison that cackling Monsanto executives are trying to inject directly into your children's veins—and if you express any reservations about that viewpoint then you're (at best) one of the duped sheeple, and (at worst) a crony of the aforementioned cackling executives. (Or, you know, a libertarian stooge.)

I wish that we (as a society) could frankly and honestly discuss potential concerns about GMOs, but sadly that seems to be impossible in the current climate. Anti-GMO sentiment is inextricably tied up in the "clean eating" phenomenon—which has nothing to do with health or nutrition or science, and everything to do with social performance and identity.

It also doesn't help that folks on the anti-GMO side often seem to have a really poor understanding of how genetics, and genetic engineering, actually work. I'm not saying that it's impossible to be simultaneously informed about the science and anti-GMO—I'm just saying that, in my experience, it's pretty rare.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:56 AM on August 22, 2015 [66 favorites]


The US trying to break Africa into submission is the same colonial "I know better than the stupid heathen" mindset that has plagued relations of the "developed" world with Africa from the beginning.

It is NOT about helping those in need. Or rather there may be some with the idea their superior mindset is all Africa needs, but Africa needs healing FROM the destruction colonialism did to their own knowledge of farming.

"Two major famines, one in each period, are examined to show their changing patterns. It emerges in the paper that food production systems in pre-colonial Gusiiland were fairly stable, diverse, efficient and largely self-sustaining. Mechanisms and strategies for preventing and minimizing the occurrence of famines and food shortages including complex food production systems and elaborate social and economic relationships and institutions emerged. Other food shortage alleviation strategies identified include agricultural diversification, rotational bush-fallowing, keeping of reserve food, use of bush foods, elaborate network of trade, widespread kin networks and efficient methods of food storage."

It's not just rich white people who opposed to these methods of "helping" other nations develop food sovereignty from abusive US "aid", a quick glance into food sovereignty organizations finds that many indigenous and local movements (like indigenous people leading the fight of the destruction of rainforests and exploitation of the earth that colonialists find so easy to ignore because they do not believe in respecting life or love of the land.. or fighting for it).

Calling it a white people thing is just because white people are the only voices heard. Indigenous voices speaking about love for the land have already been laughed out of being taken seriously at all. Their voices, their rights are erased. Their land and resources and respect for life as well.
posted by xarnop at 8:03 AM on August 22, 2015 [28 favorites]


Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

Has science proven that GMO products are safe to consume, or has it only shown that in the duration that they have been consumed, there has been no negative results in humans that consume them, as far as current available data sets and current data analysis tools and current data analysis schema can detect?

I mean, seriously. Margarine was touted for decades as the correct alternate to the "harmful" animal fats of butter. But now, transfats are the demon horribleness. Both of these pieces of information come from science. SCIENCE!
posted by hippybear at 8:05 AM on August 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Science never promises the truth about anything. Its practitioners can only offer a best effort to become less wrong over time.
posted by anifinder at 8:08 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Philippine people who pulled up the golden rice want diverse crops that provide the Vitamin A, and a better life overall. I see kid A, gets golden rice then, can afford Suez's water, his Sygenta golden rice, then can spin cotton somewhere or make bricks, until these industries are served by robots. Then the robot maker's will sell to Kid A's government to replace him. If they don't know how to grow what they need and barter for it, they may as well be dead already. Their grounds for growing food and their native environment will be taken from them. This is happening right now in Africa as corrupt governments give tribal lands, like those of the Massai, to foreign agro businesses who promise tax monies to officials. Then these indigenous peoples are housed in artificial towns where they cannot practice herding or agriculture any more. What are these people without their cattle, ritual, villages? They become refugees flooding cities.

The GMO crops are part of how the natural relationship of indigenous peoples to ancestral lands is further broken down for profit. This masquerades as aid, as an improvement. As peoples land traditional land holdings are stolen, they are less able to provide for their families.
posted by Oyéah at 8:09 AM on August 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


Riki tiki, my use of "more quickly" was not a value judgment; quicker isn't necessarily better, just faster. It is the primary practical difference between traditional horticultural selective breeding and GM methods. As I said, my horse in this race is not that GM is good or bad; merely that most of the arguments levied against it are staggeringly ignorant of the history of human agriculture.
posted by telegraph at 8:11 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


xarnop - imagine that favourite multiplied by a factor of 10
posted by infini at 8:13 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do think there is a fundamental difference between selective breeding of plants to produce a desired trait and genetic insertion of genes that would never have developed in a plant no matter how much selective breeding was used.

I'm not saying I necessarily place a value judgement on one or the other, but I think it's pretty easy to see that there is a major difference there. And the history of human agriculture has only contained one of those for millennia while the other has only been around for, what? 10-20 years tops?
posted by hippybear at 8:13 AM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Because the first benefit to GMO's seems to be large corporations bottom line?

Yes GMOs help corporations, but they also help feed billions of people. Corporations do a lot of stuff that helps people. I don't know where anyone got the idea that only government and nonprofit organizations can help people.

Dismissing scientific evidence anytime it goes against one's anti-corporate political views (even with a feeble excuse like "Oh, one day they say wine is bad for you and the next day they say it's good for you!") is just as anti-science as rejecting evolution because it goes against your religion.
posted by John Cohen at 8:14 AM on August 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


The US trying to break Africa into submission is the same colonial "I know better than the stupid heathen" mindset that has plagued relations of the "developed" world with Africa from the beginning.
xarnop, out of curiosity, have you ever worked with anyone from, say, FAO, USAID, or Gates Foundation? I have, and your characterization of their work is uncharitable, to say the least. International agriculture is complex, and lots of mistakes have been made in the past because the technocratic solutions favored by American and European institutions commonly failed to properly consider the cultural context of agriculture. That is changing rapidly, and most of the international development programs I'm famiiiar with spend most of their time engaging with local institutions, such as ILRI. What is your ideal form of aid from the US?
posted by wintermind at 8:14 AM on August 22, 2015 [21 favorites]


Has science proven that

The answer to that question is always no.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:15 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oyéah, the only way GMO is at fault for those predatory land practices is it's the best seed economically. The same local power politics would play out without GMO. Same for pollution, monoculture, foreign sourcing, and many other things it has been tenuously linked to.
posted by jayCampbell at 8:15 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


lunasol: I've yet to find any particular GMO lawsuit that makes Monsanto stand out as a bad actor in comparison to other suppliers. Lots of leads, lots of claims, but also lots of debunking.

Yeah, but that's not what you said. You said:

But I went to a couple rallies and every single sign with specific claims was factually incorrect.

The lab rats didn't die from GMO corn. Monsanto wasn't suing farmers, and farmers weren't committing mass suicide by drinking RoundUp.


This is incorrect.
posted by lunasol at 8:17 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Actually it is China buying up the East African traditional lands.
posted by Oyéah at 8:17 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


As an aside, if the anti-anti-gmo crowd is going to lump people against nuclear power in with people against GMOs, then my impression is that they really don't know what they are talking about since a large number of people who study nuclear proliferation find links between civilian nuclear programs and nuclear weapons. It makes me think some of the backlash is just good ol' hippy punching.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:19 AM on August 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


wintermind, I have worked on a food security project from the perspective of the Netherlands focusing on African smallholders. I hold a opinion similar to xarnops. The language has certainly changed. The wellmeaning intent might have changed. The last mile implementation, the systems & processes, and the worldview still hasn't changed. Some of this not unrelated to the rather publically known opinion of darker hued persons originating from the continent among the relatively more privileged 0.001% such as those mentioned by you.
posted by infini at 8:23 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


oyeah, its primarily the World Bank, DFID, USAID etc Its nice to imagine China is the enemy of all mankind but sadly "development aid" more powerful a factor that cheap profit.

Aid donors and international institutions including the World Bank and World Economic Forum (WEF) have been accused of promoting an environment that fuels land grabs through policies and initiatives that pave the way for large-scale private investment.

In a report published on Tuesday, the NGO ActionAid says public money and policy incentives such as tax breaks and cut-price loans are facilitating land deals that threaten the lives and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in poor countries.


[...]

The NGO's report points to the G8's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition as one of the international initiatives "via which taxpayer money and public policies are fuelling land grabs" and failing to ensure strong safeguards to protect the poorest.

The New Alliance was condemned as a new form of colonialism this year, after African governments agreed to change seed, land and tax laws to encourage private investment.

Last month, World Development Movement, the anti-poverty group, said the New Alliance was in effect carving up Africa in the interests of big business.

posted by infini at 8:28 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only people I know against GMOs are also anti-vax. My default assumption now is if I hear anti-gmo I hear anti-vax. I haven't been wrong yet, at least in my experience.

And I am not talking about loud, public anti advocates. These are just relatively normal people who approach life in a "there's a chance it may hurt me or my family and even though it may help the greater good I am not going to risk it. Let the other people take the risk."

Trying to argue against that is tough. Especially when profit is the motive behind 99.9% of everything we consume (as food or media.)
posted by M Edward at 8:30 AM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


It could have something to do with privilege. We all have food security (thanks to industry and science), and paying a little more for food won't ruin our lives. Famine is not something we try to live through, as producers or consumers. We can buy anything we want, in season or not, and then throw half of it away. So it's easy for us to sharpen our pencils and come up with good reasons to not support increased food security for the entire world. I've see similar arguments from progressives about fluoridation and vaccinations. "I don't trust Monsanto!" is fun to say when you're not starving. We know what's best for the poors, they'll thank us later.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:31 AM on August 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


Imagine the response to a meme that said the FDA had just approved a new process called mutation breeding.

MisantropicPainforest, it's hard not to over-generalize, but my problems with the anti-nuke people I've talked to include refusal to accept stats about the radiation belched out by coal plants (or vague dismissals about 100% renewables); applying old statistics to new technology; cherry picking studies and rejecting meta-studies; overall poor risk assessment. My comparison to the anti-vax and anti-GMO movements stems from my frustration with all these camps for pushing emotional buttons rather than run evidence based campaigns.

There are legitimate concerns with all the technologies brought up in this thread. It's going to take years (optimistically) to unravel the misconceptions bouncing around so we can debate those issues meaningfully.
posted by jayCampbell at 8:35 AM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


British government accused of exacerbating poverty and inequality by prioritising multinational firms over African farmers

G8 New Alliance condemned as new wave of colonialism in Africa
Critics say landmark initiative to boost agriculture and relieve poverty favours big business to the detriment of small farmers


This isn't news, nor is it only Grauniad ranting.

As this is happening, hundreds of civil society organizations are denouncing the World Bank's role in global land grabs. As the organization I am part of, The Rules, is a member of Our Land Our Business, the umbrella campaign of farmer organizations, indigenous groups, trade unions and grassroots organizers from around the world protesting against the Bank's policies, I often get asked the question, why do civil society and the World Bank have such differing views of the Bank's role? Reading the Bank's website, one would think that the World Bank was in the same line of work as the activists challenging their policy. In fact, they have recently adopted the earnest tagline of "Working for a world free of poverty."

In the Grips of Ideology

As always, the first place to start is ideology, as it is always a background condition. The World Bank is an unapologetic proponent of neoliberalism, a moral philosophy that pushes self-interest, corporate control and "free markets." These forces, they believe, will result in such a large amount of overall economic growth that enough will trickle-down to the "masses" to lift them out of poverty.


All of these are hand waving pinkos, right? so lets go find more diverse sources, one of them is bound to be credible

The Global Land Grab: International Aid – A Smokescreen for Multinationals Looting Nations’ Wealth


...cont'd
posted by infini at 8:39 AM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Otoh, Monsanto will indeed lift a gazillion poors out of poverty and stuff their distended bellies with high yielding GMO seeds, on a licence.

Carry on...
posted by infini at 8:40 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


escape from the potato planet:
"GMOs need further study" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say. But to hear it from the anti-GMO folks, GMOs are clearly and unquestionably lethal poison that cackling Monsanto executives are trying to inject directly into your children's veins—and if you express any reservations about that viewpoint then you're (at best) one of the duped sheeple, and (at worst) a crony of the aforementioned cackling executives. (Or, you know, a libertarian stooge.)
That seems like a similar level of over-statement in the opposite direction. One of the problems which your framing doesn't deal with are the large number of people who aren't intrinsically opposed to GMOs but are skeptical of the “science has proven” framing given the long history of industry misrepresentation or outright manufacturing of scientific consensus. I know a number of scientists who have volunteered concerns about GMOs not because they're skeptical of the science in general or fail to recognize the need, which many are very concerned about due to climate change, but solely due to the concern that too much is happening in the private sector, in secret for IP concerns, and hasn't had the same level of review which publicly-funded research gets. You're unlikely to get the actual woo-peddlers on board but I think it's a grave mistake to assume that they're driving even a majority of the hesitation.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to be pro-science, pro-GMO and reject the sadly-common attempts to label you as an industry tool: advocate for effective regulation and oversight. Most of the concerns could be addressed by strong, public testing regimens and mandatory publication of all results. Right now, it's really easy to imagine Monsanto reporting skewed results for efficacy or burying drawbacks because we see that regularly in the pharmaceutical industry. That could be easily solved legally – imagine a simple change that permanently revokes all U.S. intellectual property protections if a company fails to publish internal research or problem reports, no matter where the actual study happened – and I think some reasonable efforts like that would go a long way towards giving the pro-GMO camp some public distance from industry. Similarly, I'd be pushing for an increase in federal grant funding for both basic research and productization – if most of the products were Golden Rice, the discussion wouldn't be dominated by the spectre of corporate mistakes. Even Greenpeace's misguided attempts to block that seem to boil down to concern that this will make Monsanto's products seem less unusual.
posted by adamsc at 8:42 AM on August 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


https://thegranddisillusion.wordpress.com/monsanto-vs-farmer/

Here is the article about Monsanto's suits against a third generation Canadian farmer. Monsanto got all crops touched by its windblown pollens. This farmer had the gaul and wherewithal to fight them. The rest are crushed.

Monsanto is present at every farm bureau meeting, they control local groups and influence legislation.

"We do not all have food security."
posted by Oyéah at 8:43 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Where in the sanity spectrum being discussed here do the EU bureaucrats fall, wrt their opinion of GMO?
posted by infini at 8:45 AM on August 22, 2015


Why is the Gates foundation investing in GM giant Monsanto?
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's investments in Monsanto and Cargill have come under heavy criticism. Is it time for the foundation to come clean on its visions for agriculture in developing countries?



the poors, nothing but the best for those far too many goddamn poors
posted by infini at 8:48 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


me> Monsanto wasn't suing farmers

lunasol> This is incorrect.

Acknowledged. Like most large corporations, Monsanto is involved in a lot of lawsuits with their customers, suppliers and the general public.

I was talking specifically about the popular notion that Monsanto was, for instance, repeatedly targeting farmers for seed blown into their fields. A source of that rumor was pasted above but like the others turns out not to be what people were saying on their protest signs. "We" - the protesters and the public - were told farmers were being sued for re-using GMO seed, while in fact first generation seed is preferred anyway for its yields and the normalcy of no-replanting contracts predates GMO.

That said, Monsanto is a lawsuit-happy profit-monger. But it's not GMO's fault.
posted by jayCampbell at 8:51 AM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think part of the misunderstanding is this:

Some folks assume that we're trying to answer a question about biology: "do transgenic crops contain [ fewer nutrients / more harmful compounds / a greater likelihood for undesirable environmental consequences ] than conventional crops?". To them, "genetic modification" is strictly a technical and scientific technique.

Other folks assume that we're trying to answer a question about social utility: "are transgenic crops and the legal, social, and economic consequences of introducing them into our economy a net good for humanity?". To them, "genetic modification" is an economic technique that businesses use to further their profit agenda.

So we're talking past each other.

Part of my problem with the social-utility question, though, is the assumption that genetic modification, as a technique, necessarily entails certain socioeconomic consequences (supposed exploitation of the third world, etc.).

It's sort of like arguing that television, as a technology and a medium, is bad because so much of the programming that gets broadcast on television is trash. The technology (which is just a tool) is distinct from the ways in which we choose to use the technology (whether to broadcast Cosmos or Maury).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:52 AM on August 22, 2015 [28 favorites]


> I do think there is a fundamental difference between selective breeding of plants to produce a desired trait and genetic insertion of genes that would never have developed in a plant no matter how much selective breeding was used.

But the difference isn't, "One is inherently safe and one is inherently unsafe." Just through random mutation, plants can become deadly on their own without human intervention. Potatoes, tomatoes, belladonna and tobacco all evolved from a common ancestor long before selective breeding was a thing, much less GMO.

In my opinion the correct way to deal with GMO is not through banning, but through proper labeling. We don't ban peanuts, which are far deadlier than any GMO product has ever been established to be; we label products containing them so that consumers can be informed and make choices.

Now if researchers ever developed GMO non-allergenic peanuts or GMO gluten-reaction-free wheat, all hell would break loose.
posted by xigxag at 8:55 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's sort of like arguing that television, as a technology and a medium, is bad because so much of the programming that gets broadcast on television is trash. The technology (which is just a tool) is distinct from the ways in which we choose to use the technology (whether to broadcast Cosmos or Maury).

The way "we" "choose" (we = the people who own and control the technology) (choose = the choices these controlling parties make) to use the technology.

How it's worked out is that this incredibly powerful technology is owned and controlled by a small number of people who use it to advance their own interests, often times against the best interests of everyone else. I think we have an illusion that use of technology is a democracy.
posted by gehenna_lion at 8:56 AM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oyéah, in your Schmeiser example the court found that the farmer intentionally planted the patented seed. The occurrence was far to high to have been accidental. This is an example quoted at rallies but nobody wants to hear how it ended.
posted by jayCampbell at 8:56 AM on August 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


My default assumption now is if I hear anti-gmo I hear anti-vax. I haven't been wrong yet, at least in my experience.

Given the choice betwen two similar-looking, similarly priced foods in a store, I would choose the non-GMO version if that knowledge was available to me. And I am of the opinion that everyone needs to be vaccinated.

I don't feel there is anything inherently wrong with GMO technology. We have been generically modifying brewer's yeast to produce drugs for decades and it's been a huge benefit. But I am deeply suspicious of the profit motive and of Monsanto in particular.

Monsanto continued to manufacture DDT in the US for 5 years after its use was banned and the dangers were abundantly clear; it was Monsanto that introduced the agricultural world to chemical pesticides (dioxins) in the 40s.

So far, the only GMO food crops except for golden rice were created to sell more Monsanto products (Roundup, which is arguably extremely bad for human health), and the World Health Organization among others don't believe that golden rice is a good approach to malnutrition -- they recommend supplements, fortification and a varied diet.

I don't necessarily want a GMO ban, but I support labelling it and strong regulations on it. But as a much lower priority than, say, a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, and serious consideration of a ban on glyphosates.
posted by Foosnark at 8:56 AM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Farmer suicide is a popular response to lower seed varieties and disappointing crop yields, and cost of GMO seed in Africa.

National Geographic
posted by Oyéah at 8:57 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Farmer suicide is a popular response to lower seed varieties and disappointing crop yields, and cost of GMO seed in Africa.

GMO seed is cheaper per bushel yield. Other seeds were not pulled from the market. Farmers choose GMO for economic reasons.

The GMO-Suicide Myth
posted by jayCampbell at 9:00 AM on August 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


There seems to be a dearth of evidence in this discussion. That's partially SCIENCE's fault for not providing open access to papers and forcing everyone here to argue based on the high-quality reportage of Buzzfeed/Medium/inductive reasoning, but some of that has to fall on us. We are reduced to name-calling and snide one-upsmanship. Here's a quick review of what evidence I've been able to dig up with my institutional subscription. Most of it comes from Snell & al, 2012, but in many cases I had to go back to the original studies to clarify some things.

Review of Animal Feeding Studies (Snell &al, 2012): 12 long-term (10 publically-financed) and 12 multi-generational (all public-sector generated) studies. Six were very rigorous, adhering to OECD Test Guidelines:
  • Dalprene &al, 2009: 30 Wistar rats assigned to Organic, Conventional, or GMO soybeans and followed for 65 weeks. Turns out the GMO and Organic groups had (equally) higher weights than the controls but that makes sense because the controls were fed casein and not soy, which is like comparing corn grits to oatmeal. No difference found in hemoglobin/hematocrit, serum protein/albumin, and growth rate.
  • Dalprene &al, 2010: Same idea as the above-- 30 Wistar rats, 10 Organic/10 GMO soybean; 10 casein. No difference between the organic & GMO groups in cholesterol/lipids, insulin, glucose, testosterone; no difference in aortic histology, body fat, or body mass. Similar slight differences found between casein and soy-based diets.
  • Sissener &al, 2009 (free article?!!): 1920 salmon fed 25% GMO soybean vs non-GMO feed and followed for 7 months. Slight differences found in mid-intestinal segment weight (1 to 3% difference when compared to body weight) and in tri-acyl glycerol levels (potentially confounded by varying lipid content of the two bean strains unrelated to the genetic changes). No other differences in growth, body composition, organ development, haematological parameters, clinical plasma chemistry and lysozyme levels.
  • Brake &al, 2003: 400 broiler chickens, half fed GMO maize, followed for 6 weeks. No difference in survival, body weight, feed efficiency, and carcass analysis.
  • Flachowsky &al, 2007: Bt-producing maize fed to 34 chickens for 5 weeks, 40 bulls and 40 cows for 35 weeks, 12 hens for 31 weeks, 12 pigs for 13 weeks, 145 quails for 12 weeks and 10 generations, 4 sheep for 13 weeks. No recombinant DNA found in any animal; no difference in digestibility, feed intake, health and performance, meat quality, or reproduction.
  • Haryu &al., 2009 (open access!): 94 mice fed Bt-producing maize and followed for 153 weeks. No differences in growth, gestation, milking periods, reproduction, and life span.
  • I'm not going to tell anyone what to think. Folks may criticize the lack of human data here, but it's important to remember that we don't regulate/test foods in the same way that we regulate/test pharmaceuticals. If we were using GMO corn as a way to produce some drug compound, that compound would then need to be supported by animal AND human studies. For foods, however, the OECD rules set a lower bar. Snell summarizes:
    General principles outlined in the OECD Test Guideline (1998) or discussed by EFSA (2008) have been built or adjusted to get a ro- bust evaluation for the safety of GM-based diet in a case-by-case basis. These are based on i) the substantial equivalence principle, the use of which is intended to compare chemical composition in macro and micro nutrients and known anti-nutrients and natural toxicants of GM lines and near unmodified isogenic lines, and ii) the toxico-nutritional response of animals fed either a GM-based diet or a control diet in sub-chronic toxicity tests, and if necessary long-term or multigenerational studies.

    GM lines with no deliberate metabolic modification are usually found to be nutritionally equivalent to their comparator non-GM line. This is not surprising since these GM lines have been selected, from laboratory and field trials, by comparison with known non- GM lines on various phenotypic traits. Thus, it is highly unlikely that such a comparative process would yield GM lines with major unintended chemical differences. Furthermore, these lines are usu- ally backcrossed to elite lines, which also contribute to their equivalence to these comparator lines. Thus, although this has often been overlooked, the whole process of production of GM commer- cial lines contributes to the food safety of such lines and no other study has been proven really necessary to assess this safety.

    Nevertheless, if doubts about this nutritional equivalence still exist, some experts recommend performing sub-chronic toxicity 90-day tests to assess this uncertainty (Aumaitre, com. pers.). Therefore, in this general step-by-step assessment frame, long- term and multigenerational studies would be performed only after such a sub-chronic toxicity 90-day testing."
    And of course none of this addresses xarnop's concern over respect for NATURE because the scientific/biomedical perspective doesn't really recognize NATURE as its own distinct entity with its own anthropomorphic interests. We see crops destroyed and acreage laid waste by corn bores. We see hungry people and want to feed them. I detest a great deal of Monsanto's business practices-- I detest a great deal of business practices in general. But witness to such tangible suffering, is speculative fiction sufficient to put the kibosh on an evidence-based, politically-feasible solution?
    posted by The White Hat at 9:01 AM on August 22, 2015 [41 favorites]


    Is it really a good idea to figure out how to feed more people

    That is a monstrous line of thinking. Which children do you want to starve?

    There are much more humane ways to control population size than forbidding efficient agriculture so that children starve.
    posted by Nelson at 9:04 AM on August 22, 2015 [24 favorites]


    That is a monstrous line of thinking. Which children do you want to starve?

    Is it any more monstrous than knowingly bringing people into the world just to have them suffer a fate of excruciating poverty, servitude, powerlessness, and violence?

    Also, we don't need GMOs to feed people. They're irrelevant to the problem of children starving -- political issues are more relevant to that than whether crop A has more nutrients.
    posted by gehenna_lion at 9:08 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


    How it's worked out is that this incredibly powerful technology is owned and controlled by a small number of people who use it to advance their own interests, often times against the best interests of everyone else.

    Yeah, and nothing about that is inherent to the technology itself. That is a consequence of the social, political, and legal context in which GM exists, not a consequence of GM technology itself. That's the entire point I'm trying to make.

    Criticize the social, political, and legal order all you like. Just don't say that GM (as a technique) is inherently bad because, in the current social/political/legal context, it happens to be applied by parties you don't like, toward ends you don't approve of.
    posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:09 AM on August 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


    But witness to such tangible suffering, is speculative fiction sufficient to put the kibosh on an evidence-based, politically-feasible solution?

    The White Hat, next time please split your contribution up into individual single-paragraph comments so that I can favorite them all individually. Thanks.
    posted by tonycpsu at 9:12 AM on August 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


    Is it really a good idea to figure out how to feed more people without figuring out how to effectively and humanely deal with an explosion in population?

    Good point. Shut down all the soup kitchens and any kind of subsidized food. It's good for the planet.
    posted by vanar sena at 9:13 AM on August 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


    Does it feel more democratic if you can learn RNA manipulation, design and order your own, and patent it online?
    posted by jayCampbell at 9:15 AM on August 22, 2015


    Good point. Shut down all the soup kitchens and any kind of subsidized food. It's good for the planet.

    Soup kitchens in the United States are a little different. Our society is a little more flexible in allowing people to improve their standard of living.

    But the point there still stands: what good is prolonging suffering when you make no effort whatsoever to fix the structures that cause it in the first place? You're amplifying and prolonging suffering because of good intentions, or personal vanity of being a morally upright individual, or using "starving children" as an emotional hook to advance an agenda. Or the dread fear of seeing how ugly reality really is.
    posted by gehenna_lion at 9:21 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    People are going to elope like cantaloupe even if they're hungry. You can't ethically use starvation as birth control policy. Suggesting we should try to take care of everyone as best we can isn't an appeal to emotion, it's an appeal to common decency.

    I fail to see the sinister agenda of the pro-feeding-children movement.
    posted by jayCampbell at 9:27 AM on August 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


    People are going to elope like cantaloupe even if they're hungry. You can't ethically use starvation as birth control policy. Suggesting we should try to take care of everyone as best we can isn't an appeal to emotion, it's an appeal to common decency.

    I fail to see the sinister agenda of the pro-feeding-children movement.


    I never said to use starvation as a birth control policy. I was calling into question the benefit of "feeding the children" when the reasons why "the children" are starving are far more complex and multidimensional than anything GMO crops can fix. And even proceeding down this line could have some pretty serious consequences down the road.

    If you really cared about helping the lives of starving children, then it's strange to me why you're dismissing some pretty common concerns about their actual lives and the conditions they live in. It seems like you're more pro-GMO than pro-children, and the former comes before the latter.
    posted by gehenna_lion at 9:34 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I fail to see the sinister agenda of the pro-feeding-children movement.

    I think that is because the sinister-ness (if that is a word, and if it actually exists) lies more in a willful blindness to inevitable tragedy than in mustache-twirling, evil-laughter villainy.

    (Or, jinx gehenna).
    posted by Chitownfats at 9:40 AM on August 22, 2015


    I was calling into question the benefit of "feeding the children" when the reasons why "the children" are starving are far more complex and multidimensional than anything GMO crops can fix.

    Feeding them right now is going to save lives right now. You acknowledge that the reasons why they're starving are complex and multidimensional, and there's nothing about feeding them now that will take away from our ability to work on those problems over the longer term. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, but if your position is that we can't, then it's pretty ghoulish to say that the current people starving need to be held hostage so that we can work on the larger problems that contributed to them being hungry in the first place.
    posted by tonycpsu at 9:43 AM on August 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


    I acknowledge that no amount of even free food can help if your local warlord is commandeering your donation convoys, or your dictator insists on domestic production without sufficient infrastructure, or foreign economies cripple yours.

    If I feed a child, they may grow up to birth other children that needs feeding. I accept that too.

    But this is a GMO thread, not a general international humanitarian policy thread. Don't presume I care more about GMO than I do children. I'm participating here because I think a lot of activists are de facto more anti-GMO than they are pro-children.
    posted by jayCampbell at 9:48 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    "That's fine, but GMO and Monsanto are in no way unique in using them. So why are they always the targets when it really isn't about GMO dangers?"

    Around here, in corn and soybeans country, its because 80% of corn and 90% of soybeans have Monsanto-patented traits. They ARE the market. If you're not delighted with the farming practices that Roundup-Ready corn encourages, Monsanto is who you're pissed at. There are some 1700 seed companies selling corn seed in my regional market (although the vast majority of the market is 3 or 4 companies) and they ALL license the patented traits from Monsanto.

    If you don't know this, you're the one who's lacking knowledge about agribusiness, not me.

    I don't really give a shit about EATING GMO corn. I have really serious concerns about business practices, farming practices, soil management, monoculture, pesticide runoff, bees and butterflies, ladybugs, mantises, farmworkers, and long-term environmental stability of my region. Monsanto's technology provides 80% and 90%, respectively, of the crops that make these things a concern. So, yes, I have a problem with Monsanto.

    I dunno who people in the Central Valley of California have a problem with, they grow different crops. But here in the corn belt, it's Monsanto.
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:48 AM on August 22, 2015 [33 favorites]


    and there's nothing about feeding them now that will take away from our ability to work on those problems over the longer term

    Person, meet Malthus. Malthus, person. Two go in, only one comes out.
    posted by Chitownfats at 9:50 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    This historical question of "should we feed more people it leads to overpopulation" is not new. The Green Revolution is the most recent defined event, the enormous increase in agriculture in the 1940s to 1960s thanks to technologies like modern irrigation, artificial fertilizer, and pesticides. Numbers are squishy but as many as a billion more people have enough food now because of this technological advance. Combined with access to clean water and enough electricity for night lighting and we are improving life for the poorest three quarters of the planet. I can't think of a more noble application of technology.

    Personally I think these life-saving and life-enhancing technologies need to be paired with another life-enhancing technology, contraception. To give families, particularly women, a choice in whether they have children or not. It turns out that worldwide when families have a reproductive choice, they generally choose to have fewer children. That is the counterbalance to overpopulation.

    I'll say it again: it is monstrous to say we should withhold food production technology to a society because "those people" are going to overpopulate. There are many reasons to be concerned about GMOs. But "we should just let people starve" is an evil thing to say.
    posted by Nelson at 9:50 AM on August 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


    Feeding them right now is going to save lives right now. You acknowledge that the reasons why they're starving are complex and multidimensional, and there's nothing about feeding them now that will take away from our ability to work on those problems over the longer term. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, but if your position is that we can't, then it's pretty ghoulish to say that the current people starving need to be held hostage so that we can work on the larger problems that contributed to them being hungry in the first place.

    We don't need GMOs to feed starving children right now. They're irrelevant. The real issues are structural, political, and cultural. So we pump these kids full of modified crops to cover up the actual structural problems that are causing food shortages; what happens is we get increasingly large populations in a system that simply can't sustain them.

    So instead of fixing the actual problem, some of which is beyond our control, we instead create solutions that improve them superficially but then exacerbate them in the future. We feed one kid today, and we create 10 refugees tomorrow.

    It's our mindset in the West that we can fiddle around with systems to extract short-term benefits while covering up structural issues that will inevitably collapse, all the while the people receiving the benefits are insulated from the cost that goes to the people who were ostensibly being helped. So it's ghoulish for me to be concerned about the lives of people in the future?
    posted by gehenna_lion at 9:50 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


    Eyebrows McGee, those 1700 seed companies and their customer demand made that choice. Especially since the RoundUp patent expired. There are other places to buy seed.

    So back to the original question, why is Monsanto a culprit when they're just selling on the open market, and the individual farmers are choosing GMO? It's happened in the US, Africa, Asia...
    posted by jayCampbell at 9:52 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    gehenna_lion Also, we don't need GMOs to feed people. They're irrelevant to the problem of children starving

    Golden Rice.
    posted by yeolcoatl at 9:53 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Chitownfats: Person, meet Malthus. Malthus, person. Two go in, only one comes out.

    Malthus, meet birth control. Birth control, Malthus. Many can go in with none coming out.
    posted by tonycpsu at 9:53 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Nutrition -> education -> women's rights -> birth control -> population stability.
    posted by jayCampbell at 9:54 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    GMOs are bad for the environment. For instance, they require increased pesticide use, which increases exposure to farm workers, increases runoff into the water table, and makes greater use of petroleum we have to dig out of the ground and process to the detriment of our collective climate system. Further, the goal of GMO development isn't really to feed people, but to lock farmers and consumers into a relationship that is financially beneficial for owners of GMO patents. GMOs decrease biological variability to a greater extent than before, which in the context of decreased land arability and increased resistance by pests and weeds is dangerous for food security in the long term. Because I never see these sorts of downsides ever honestly accepted and addressed, I don't see GMO technology as an intelligent, thoughtful option.
    posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:56 AM on August 22, 2015 [8 favorites]




    "Organics" require even more pesticides and herbicides that haven't gone through the scrutiny RoundUp has. The point of currently deployed GMO is to decrease the amount of chemicals (and petrochemicals) used. This is a straight up cost savings that factors into the farmer's ability to break even. Big farmers, little farmers.

    Decreases in diversity, ecology, and arable land are not GMO's fault. It may in fact help some of those situations. It saved the papaya, as referenced above.
    posted by jayCampbell at 10:04 AM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    It's not just about being able to feed more people, it's about feeding people with a shrinking availability of affordable resources. Climate change is real.
    posted by Brocktoon at 10:10 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


    I'll say it again: it is monstrous to say we should withhold food production technology to a society because "those people" are going to overpopulate. There are many reasons to be concerned about GMOs. But "we should just let people starve" is an evil thing to say.

    I guess it would be sort of "monstrous" or something if that were what gehenna lion actually said or even suggested, but it's not. You distorted what they said by quoting only the first half of their statement -- "Is it really a good idea to figure out how to feed more people" -- and omitting the second half -- "without figuring out how to effectively and humanely deal with an explosion in population?"

    They never said we shouldn't feed people or should let them starve. They said we shouldn't ONLY feed them WITHOUT ALSO working on the larger forces that produce and perpetuate starvation, including population control. Which is exactly the same thing you just said: "Personally I think these life-saving and life-enhancing technologies need to be paired with another life-enhancing technology, contraception."
    posted by FelliniBlank at 10:11 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


    How many of the top 10 bulletpoint advices on how to shift conversation in sensitive topics are being used in this thread?
    posted by infini at 10:13 AM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


    My default assumption now is if I hear anti-gmo I hear anti-vax. I haven't been wrong yet, at least in my experience.

    Now you've been wrong at least once--though, as alluded to above by others, the "anti-GMO" label is a defamatory rhetorical ploy. I'm a GMO critic, particularly in its global industrial monoculture-promoting, energy-guzzling, soil and climate destroying implementation. I'm not against a body of scientific knowledge and technical procedures. I'm against the exaggerations and lies used by corporations that are using the technology to extend their rent-seeking into all levels of agriculture, while externalizing all of the societal costs.

    It is utterly nonsensical to say that "science says GMOs are safe." As a scientific researcher and educator, I find such rhetoric to be profoundly ignorant of science. It is much more accurate to say that there is nothing intrinsically unsafe about the processes of genetic modification. That is an entirely true statement. But, obviously, these processes can be used in unsafe ways. See the history of fossil fuel energy production if you want a readily at hand example from another technical domain. Or, if you want something more closely related, look at the increasing scientific evidence that long term exposure to common herbicides are linked to neurological diseases--even though science had previously "proven" that these herbicides were "safe".

    Many who jump into these threads to champion GMOs wrap themselves in the mantle of science's cultural authority, while, oddly enough, often revealing themselves to have a pretty shallow understanding of what science is. The champions rarely acknowledge the incredibly narrow sense in which science has "proved" the safety of GMOs (very focused, highly reductionist studies--not system-level analyses), and then they non-reflectively repeat industry and big-science cant about saving the starving masses, in an attempt to shame critics into silence.

    I call bullshit on that. Eat all of the damn GMOs you want, but don't exaggerate their efficacy (particularly without talking about alternatives), don't lie about the degree to which they have been "proven safe", and don't expect me to eat them. Above all, there is absolutely no justification--moral, political, scientific or otherwise--for opposing labeling. I want to know what I'm eating. If you don't, don't read the label.
    posted by mondo dentro at 10:13 AM on August 22, 2015 [23 favorites]


    Fair enough, FelliniBlank, and I fully agree that we need to pair global increase in food production with things to improve the lives of the people who are no longer starving to death. Hopefully we can all agree on that.
    posted by Nelson at 10:15 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    I've said it before: GMO foods are a solution in need of a problem.

    1.

    If you look at India (which is and has always been GMO-food-free), it becomes apparent. From genocide-scale famines under British rule less than a hundred years ago, India has come to being food self-sufficient and in fact a massive exporter of things you wouldn't expect (beef!), all without GMO foods.

    2.

    This ties into a larger misconception people have about food scarcity and malnutrition being a result of global under-production.
    posted by splitpeasoup at 10:24 AM on August 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


    The only people I know against GMOs are also anti-vax. My default assumption now is if I hear anti-gmo I hear anti-vax. I haven't been wrong yet, at least in my experience.

    Then you aren't exactly leaving yourself in a position to criticize others for believing things based on emotion, personal preference or confirmation bias, are you?
    posted by George_Spiggott at 10:27 AM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


    It's disingenuous to call the "GMOs are safe" rhetoric as unscientific because it doesn't clarify we mean current ones, to the extent we know about them. If that line is unscientific then the same statement about vaccines is unscientific. After all, you could make an unsafe one (in fact we've made ones that had unacceptably high unintended risks), but the commonly used ones are safe and the processes by which we make them are generally pretty neutral to risk. But of course most everyone usually takes "X is safe" to mean "Current things in the class of things that are X are generally accepted to have low risk and we have no reason to think similar new things in X are inherently high risk". I don't like using the phrase "GMOs are safe" because it derails into caveats but seriously it's not that hard to understand what people mean when they say it. Steelman a bit please.
    posted by R343L at 10:27 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


    splitpeasoup, although I'm pro-GMO in this thread you get my upvote. Counterpoints would be rescuing a collapsing plant species and farming previously unplantable land using new crop variants as shifts in weather patterns redefine our climate zones. Conventional methods can't keep up with these calamities. And Golden Rice is a real solution to a real problem.
    posted by jayCampbell at 10:28 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    It's disingenuous to call the "GMOs are safe" rhetoric as unscientific because it doesn't clarify we mean current ones, to the extent we know about them.

    Nonsense. Nothing disingenuous about it. So you think Roundup Ready plants are "proven safe"? Safe in what sense? If I eat the plant I don't drop dead? That's a pretty low bar.
    posted by mondo dentro at 10:37 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Also if it's not obvious this thread is demonstration exactly what the authors of the post were making. We're not talking about the article. Instead we all seem to have firm opinions about GMOs (concerns for which may have started years ago with the emotionally driven claims the authors talk abut) which we are arguing about and nitpicking each other's points.

    So let me pose a question: if the real risks / problems from GMOs are one of several things not inherent to genetic engineering (the technology) what do we all think are the reasons the political rhetoric and activism is focused on labeling (or in extemes banning) "GMO food" rather than somehow labeling food produced in manners that increase those underlying problems? One of my favorites would be if food were labeled with a EIQ or similar measure of pesticide impact ("environmental impact quotient" is a tool used in agricultural science to compare the impacts of various methods). The benefits of that would be great: not only does it allow consumer choice (without falling back on fuzzy feel good imagery about pristine farms) but you'd have to figure out a way to audit it efficiently which would have salutary effects in increasing oversight.

    My biggest frustration with the GMO argument at this point is it's sucked all air out of other ways we could be improving agricultural practices.
    posted by R343L at 10:38 AM on August 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


    Hey there Mondo Dentro-- seeing as we're both academics and all, would you mind engaging with some of the safety evidence I posted above? Generally, folks either cite inadequate length of follow-up or incomparability between animal and human models, but nobody ever cites sources for why we should care about those methodologic issues. Do you have any?
    posted by The White Hat at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


    splitpeasoup ding.

    Most of the GMO stuff I know about, and that friends have worked on is all about 'can we make this patentable?' and absolutely nothing to do with 'Can we feed more people, etc etc etc.'
    posted by mrdaneri at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    What is an upvote?
    posted by infini at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    This ties into a larger misconception people have about food scarcity and malnutrition being a result of global under-production.

    Yeah, I've been under the (possibly stupid) impression that food scarcity and malnutrition have less to do with production or population and much much more to do with politics, culture, and grossly inequitable worldwide distribution and management of resources per capita.
    posted by FelliniBlank at 11:08 AM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    Nonsense. Nothing disingenuous about it. So you think Roundup Ready plants are "proven safe"? Safe in what sense? If I eat the plant I don't drop dead? That's a pretty low bar.

    What do you think Roundup Ready plants to people who eat them?
    posted by Pope Guilty at 11:09 AM on August 22, 2015


    "Recent human history provides one example after another of people coming up with great new ways to make our lives better (DDT! chlorofluorocarbons!), eagerly trying them out, and then discovering they had created new problems."

    Extending this logic would mean no technological innovation whatsoever. There are also plenty of things people thought were "bad" that turned out to be OK. Like eating tomatoes.

    People made/make the same arguments about other technologies: cellphones, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cars, air travel, vaccines, digital audio, radio, nuclear weapons...

    Yeah, we don't know what will happen, but we have a pretty good idea. Nature is pretty robust. We can certainly decide the (very small) risk of gene-crossing outweighs the larger benefits of being able to feed more people, but one has to be clear about the trade-offs.
    posted by Jinsai at 11:09 AM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    Anti GMO pro vaxxer here.

    I find the pro GMO stuff very untrustworthy.

    "We've been doing selective breeding for millenia" is such a bad comparison as to seem disingenuous. If you'll grant that people selectively mate with more attractive partners; does that mean modifying the human genome to create beautiful babies is inherently safe and a great idea? No.

    When people say GMOs are safe, my mind goes to information like this:
    In 2006, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) distributed a 38-question survey to 5,918 FDA scientists to examine the state of science at the FDA. The results paint a picture of a troubled agency: hundreds of scientists reported significant interference with the FDA's scientific work, compromising the agency's ability to fulfill its mission of protecting public health and safety.
    Then there's the anti-science behavior of GMO proponents. As of 2009 at least, "Scientists must ask corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops." I just fundamentally don't believe that there's an atmosphere of scientific integrity around these issues.
    posted by salvia at 11:22 AM on August 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


    What do you think Roundup Ready plants to people who eat them?

    To first order, nothing. Over the long haul? After higher order interaction effects are taken into consideration? No one knows.

    What do you think vast monocultures of perennial commodity crops--that depend on huge inputs of fossil fuels and biochemical trickery for stability--do to the soil, water, our food system, and the environment?

    We can certainly decide the (very small) risk of gene-crossing outweighs the larger benefits of being able to feed more people, but one has to be clear about the trade-offs.

    Oh, let's do be clear about the trade offs. Please do tell me where this science has been done. I'm particularly interested in hearing how such a society-scale risk analysis can be done from within the confines of a cellular/molecular biology laboratory using rat models, as some seem to think.
    posted by mondo dentro at 11:32 AM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


    Also if it's not obvious this thread is demonstration exactly what the authors of the post were making. We're not talking about the article. Instead we all seem to have firm opinions about GMOs (concerns for which may have started years ago with the emotionally driven claims the authors talk abut) which we are arguing about and nitpicking each other's points.

    Well, that does happen in every thread. People talk about all sorts of issues related to the topic of TFA rather than only TFA itself. But to actually discuss TFA, it's an interesting enough discussion of the common types of intuitive anti-GMO thinking. The ending seems really problematic, though, for an article that purports to be a disinterested analysis:
    However, for now, the best way to turn the tide and generate a more positive public response to GMOs is to play into people’s intuitions as well. For instance, emphasizing the benefits of current and future GM applications — improved soil structures because herbicide resistant crops require less or no tilling, higher income for farmers in developing countries, reduced vitamin A deficiency, virus and drought resistance, to name a few — might constitute the most effective approach to changing people’s minds. Given the benefits and promises of GM technology, such a change is much needed.
    The author clearly has a (genetically modified) dog in this fight, and it seems that the article is really about rhetoric or PR. That is, it's not aimed at explaining human thought patterns (with respect to GMOs) but at discovering what sort of persuasive tactics the GMO industry should use to sway the public. And it's interesting that the big takeaway is essentially "Since anti-GMO views among laypeople are all dumb superstitious intuitive non-scientific nonsense, the pro-GMO camp should appeal to those very same dumb illogical intuitive superstitions to win the morons over to our side!" That's pretty dang cynical, isn't it?, especially coming from a self-proclaimed spokesperson for empirical science-y evidence-based discourse.
    posted by FelliniBlank at 11:34 AM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


    Then there's the anti-science behavior of GMO proponents.

    Er, that would be "the anti-science behavior of the companies that make the seeds." It's entirely consistent to not be anti-GMO while also believing that scientific research should not be interfered with by companies looking to protect their financial interests.
    posted by tonycpsu at 11:40 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


    The proactive question here is, how can we encourage honest GMO research and evidence based policies?
    posted by jayCampbell at 11:48 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


    The proactive question here is, how can we encourage honest GMO research and evidence based policies?

    Solve the problem of regulatory capture. (Bonus: it might make nuclear power more viable too!)

    It's a tough problem, though. Because with specialized tech, who except the people who make it, or who used to make it, can know enough to regulate? The people who would best know how to regulate Monsanto and others would be, most likely, former employees thereof. Which has obvious conflict of interest issues.

    One thing we could do though is work on availability of research-- as mentioned above, it's problematic that so much research is behind paywalls. And that so much may never get published, because the result "isn't interesting" or more nefariously doesn't align with what's wanted. Perhaps we could institute a registration system for food safety/environmental safety research that's similar to that for clinic trials?
    posted by nat at 12:02 PM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    Soup kitchens in the United States are a little different. Our society is a little more flexible in allowing people to improve their standard of living.

    Didn't say anything about the US. Why mention the US? I was talking about everywhere. Surely everyone should bear the burden equally.

    But the point there still stands: what good is prolonging suffering when you make no effort whatsoever to fix the structures that cause it in the first place?

    Who is this "you" we're talking about? Are you implying that if Monsanto stopped creating GMO crops, they'd get into the contraception business? Are geneticists going to spontaneously give up their careers and go door to door to expound the benefits of sensible family planning? Will better farming techniques not help smaller populations just as much as they help larger ones?

    Or, to put it more bluntly, why is this anything other than a false dichotomy?

    Every time these discussions come up here on the blue it's the same story. You know what else causes population surges? Lowered infant mortality through better medical care. Will it be better for everyone if doctors stopped treating infants, for the greater sake of humanity?
    posted by vanar sena at 12:41 PM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    If you want to argue about whether the interested parties in the GMO debate are being honest or fully forthcoming, one thing to keep in mind is that any time you read a science-related report in the popular media, the report will almost always get something wrong. Wrong in the sense that there will be a scientifically inaccurate description of one or more points in the report. If there's any complexity to a topic beyond a simple good / bad binary variable, a news story will try hard to force it into a binary model. And if you read enough of those stories with even one error in each of them, they will add up to a completely bogus picture.

    If you think political reporting is dismal, science reporting is an order of magnitude worse.
    posted by Flexagon at 12:42 PM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


    Every time these discussions come up here on the blue it's the same story. You know what else causes population surges? Lowered infant mortality through better medical care. Will it be better for everyone if doctors stopped treating infants, for the greater sake of humanity?

    I wonder how many of those saved children wished they could murder the doctor who helped bring them into the world. I bet it'd be more than zero. Also, messing around in other countries and cultures tends to cause distortions of all sorts that we, as glorious Western saviors, don't have to deal with once we get what we want out of the experience.

    It's like we go into these countries as if we're saviors, and we screw with things we know nothing about, have no part of, bear no responsibility for the results of, and for the reason of satisfying our own moral sensibilities. It's colonialism of another kind. Thank you for adding to my point.
    posted by gehenna_lion at 1:43 PM on August 22, 2015


    Lazy +1 for the concise patent point early on in the thread, and then I'll also point out that we get upset at invasive species being introduced to an area and each GMO strain has the potential to be exactly that.

    Pretending we know all the variables in ecology or even plant biology is pretty unconvincing, these days.
    posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:45 PM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    I don't get what this colonialism argument is all about? In order to prevent interference with local agriculture we need to decide for local farmers that they can't choose GMO if they want?
    posted by Drinky Die at 1:50 PM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


    I wonder how many of those saved children wished they could murder the doctor who helped bring them into the world. I bet it'd be more than zero.

    Oh for fuck's sake, is this really the level of discussion we're having here? No really, how many is it? Do you have some data? Or is it really just a guess because this is something you're personally really, really concerned about?

    It's like we go into these countries as if we're saviors

    I'm from "these countries", and we're not all sheep here, waiting for you to come here and practice your patient husbandry.
    posted by vanar sena at 1:52 PM on August 22, 2015 [20 favorites]




    I delivered six babies last month and none of them have come back for vengeance yet. I trust when they grow older that they will be able to make decisions for themselves and if retribution on me is part of that, then so be it. After all, if they got Dr. Tiller they can get me too. Until then, the only game that exists is one that protects and enhances their agency.
    posted by The White Hat at 1:59 PM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


    This is not a paper by psychologists characterizing how people respond to GMOs. It is a paper that expresses how three plant scientists and a philosopher think people respond to GMOs.

    I think its sort of absurd to look at the GMO issue through the lens of "are they safe?" with the focus on whether the engineering process itself is safe.

    Implying that opposition to GMOs is a sort of irrational anti-science stance is reductionist. There is a more interesting argument can be made in terms of political economy, although in the paper this is reduced to the maudlin: "In Africa and Asia, the resistance to GMOs has had tragic consequences, costing thousands of lives [6,7]."

    A better driving question would be, "is what they are designed for a good idea?"

    In the early days there were three major traits that GMO corn had been created for:

    1. Resistance to the herbicide Roundup (which is a terrible thing to spray, have in your soil, eat etc). Regardless of whether the corn itself is safe, the only reason for the modification is to make it unsafe by spraying Roundup on it.

    2. Infertility, so that patented genes could be controlled both legally and reproductively. Obviously this facilitates a transfer of power from farmers to seed producers.

    3. BT production, so that corn would produce its own pesticides. Inconveniently, BT is one of the best pesticides organic farmers can use and susceptible to resistance with overuse. Creating corn that indiscriminately produces and exposes pests to it can in the long run hurt organic farmers, while conventional farmers can return to their previous practices.

    As such, GMOs became synonymous with large scale consequences be damned agribusiness because the varieties that were created were specifically designed to facilitate that sort of agriculture. Its not really surprising then that GMOs still have a bad rap, because as mentioned above, they still are designed to have some of the same harmful properties.

    The authors of the paper demand that these specific instances of poor design not be generalized to all GMOs. Indeed, there are some rather inspiring GMO stories, notably the Rainbow variety of papaya. If Monsanto had led with "we are going to make drought resistant poor oppressed people saving varieties of plants with good seed yields to allow sustainable development" they might have had a better time.

    Instead they went with "We are making another Green Revolution, but this time it won't wreck your soil*" and people were wise.

    "Folk Biology" as the authors call it, has incorporated two decades of biotechnology producing comically evil transgenics. This has nothing to do with intuition, and everything to do with the fact that the GMOs most people know about are terrible ideas for everyone but Monsanto.

    * Provided you buy new seeds every year, you fucking seed pirates.
    posted by ethansr at 2:04 PM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


    The lab rats didn't die from GMO corn. Monsanto wasn't suing farmers, and farmers weren't committing mass suicide by drinking RoundUp.

    Where's your proof of any of this? People have already disputed the lawsuit bit. And here's: "Thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide after using genetically modified crops."
    posted by salvia at 2:06 PM on August 22, 2015




    Study Linking Genetically Modified Corn to Rat Tumors Is Retracted. It turns out rats are naturally short-lived and eventually get cancer no matter what they're fed. But the gruesome photos are still being passed around as "see what GMO does".
    posted by jayCampbell at 2:15 PM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


    People have already disputed the lawsuit bit.

    People have been super pedantic about it, that's for sure.
    posted by Drinky Die at 2:18 PM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    I'm still waiting for a link to any GMO-specific legal case where Monsanto was a bad actor in ways different than how large companies typically sell non-GMO seed. None so far.
    posted by jayCampbell at 2:24 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I was calling into question the benefit of "feeding the children" when the reasons why "the children" are starving are far more complex and multidimensional [...]

    There's a reason doctors don't sit around debating the societal conditions that caused the gunshot wound, but instead treat the goddamned wound. Why we have people paid to pick up garbage *and* to set up conditions where less of it is thrown into the streets. Why we recognize the need for cops even as we decry the corruption within their ranks. Why soup kitchens exist simultaneous to anti-poverty activism. Why GMO crops exist in round-up ready *and* hyper nutritious forms.

    This is the issue with this kind of, frankly, unserious "nuance" -- in the end, it is not an argument to be more effective, it is the imagined perfect Disney world being the enemy of the good.

    wished they could murder the doctor who helped bring them into the world

    Really?

    You may want to consider the actual people -- whoever you have picked out. Do you consider them human beings, like yourself, or are they simply archetypes in some grand drama you've constructed in your head?
    posted by smidgen at 2:48 PM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]






    I read the article.

    It seems to say that we simply follow our intuition, and that's why we oppose GMO. But intuition is based on a few things including irrational fear but also experience. As mentioned up-thread, as non-scientists, we have nothing to go on but that intuition and experience. In my lived experience, corporate "science" is routinely tainted by greed and often has led to terrible environmental and human costs. My negative "intuition" about GMO, in that light, is perfectly rational. Few of us have the means, ability or time to carefully research each new technology as it arrises. A better way to re-instill a faith in scientific advancement would be to implement strict government regulation on research that enforced a valuing of human and environmental good, even when that comes at the cost of short term profit.
    posted by latkes at 3:16 PM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


    I've found, in my personal experience, that GMOs and nuclear power are the two main arenas of scientific discourse where progressives act exactly like right wing hysterics, with lots of sputtering, handwaving, random pictures with fake attributions, cries about "slippery slopes," quotes from self-appointed rebels, and claims that an apparent dearth of predicted dire effects of An Indisputably Bad Thing™ mean that Big [insert industry] has gotten to someone. So you have to roll your eyes and settle into the cranky silence in the demilitarized zone usually found between yourself and a cranky uncle who thinks gay marriage is going to end America AND HERE'S WHY, because you can't even have a basic, reasoned discussion without it turning in a raging panic party because the other side will never, ever yield even a sliver of their hermetic vision of the obliteration of the entire natural world as the result of tampering with God's/Gaia's/Evolution's magical plan.

    By saying this has been your personal experience, you remove yourself from having to back this assertion up. Without any systemic analysis of the quality of the public critique of GMO, I frankly don't believe you that what you describe is the norm - because it doesn't reflect my anecdotal experience. Just wildly asserting that GMO critics are hysterical is a pretty weak critique. Let's see the analysis.
    posted by latkes at 3:19 PM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    I posted an analysis upthread but nobody is really engaging with it. Perhaps folks are not interested in this as a truth-seeking exercise so much as a forum to broadcast their shibboleths.
    posted by The White Hat at 3:28 PM on August 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


    By saying this has been your personal experience, you remove yourself from having to back this assertion up.

    In my lived experience, corporate "science" is routinely tainted by greed and often has led to terrible environmental and human costs. My negative "intuition" about GMO, in that light, is perfectly rational.

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    posted by Drinky Die at 3:39 PM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    No, I mean, I get it. I'm just saying that if you want to dismantle the master's house, you actually *do* have to use the master's tools. Dollar for DALY, the best way to increase agency is keeping kids fed.
    posted by The White Hat at 3:55 PM on August 22, 2015


    tl;dr: neither religion submits to logic.
    posted by five fresh fish at 4:00 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    The White Hat, what is your evidence that GMOs are the best way to increase agency by keeping kids fed?

    It's odd that someone who seems to have a self image of sticking to scientific facts would make such a naked appeal to emotion.
    posted by mondo dentro at 4:45 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    See Golden Rice above. This literally is about feeding kids and I'm confused why anyone would think it's just a ploy.
    posted by jayCampbell at 4:47 PM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


    And I don't believe The White Hat claimed GMOs are the "best way" but this is a thread about GMO. Its effectiveness versus hunting down warlords or instigating a coup in North Korea are outside the scope.
    posted by jayCampbell at 4:55 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


    Ok I will engage with you. While disease risk is not my primary objection, I fail to find the current studies of a few months in mice compelling in the slightest.

    In multiple places I have found statements like this "This complex pathogenesis develops over a long period of time; therefore, it is difficult to induce cancer in short-living animals exposed to CS (cigarette smoke)"

    And this:
    "Over the years, many attempts to reproduce lung cancer in experimental animals exposed to tobacco smoke have been made, most often with negative or on"ly marginally positive results. Coggins [11–13] reviewed several chronic inhalation studies using rodents, dogs, and nonhuman primates, and concluded that no study has produced a statistically significant increase in lung tumors."

    It seems to be consistently discussed that only a few mice strains are easy to induce cancer in by specific agents and other methods than simple exposure of tobacco smoke are often required.

    What I mean to get at... these studies of a few months in a few different strains of mice are ridiculously inadequate by my standards to tell me if something will have effects in decades to come-- a concern that is apparently not had by people who think studies of a few month in mice are adequate.

    That's not even to get into the effects on ecosystems- or that people who think Africa so urgently needs GMO rice don't seem to also be supporting African lead movements to support the super foods diminished by colonialism to begin with-- the plant strains that thrive more naturally to begin with and often have higher nutrient content. If Africa really wants to drive it's own biotech agricultural movement, that's fine, but if that's the case, it shouldn't be required to persuade or convince African nations to accept this if they are resisting, which does not seem to be something those offering aid respect. Resistance is viewed not as something to respect, "no means no" can't be left at that but strong arming unwilling farmers and governments is considered acceptable.

    "Nature is pretty robust."

    This assumption has certainly worked out to some great environmental policies. By great I mean.. not?
    posted by xarnop at 4:59 PM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


    I don't have a strong opinion about GMOs (where I am now is I'm not fundamentally against them but we have to be careful about how we proceed and whether we're willing to let Big Ag have all the say in this discussion). I just wish these discussions didn't always devolve into someone pushing the "because CHILDREN" argument out front as a mic drop. No, no one actually wants children to starve.

    I haven't read the whole thread but I just want to give props to this post:

    Calling it a white people thing is just because white people are the only voices heard. Indigenous voices speaking about love for the land have already been laughed out of being taken seriously at all. Their voices, their rights are erased. Their land and resources and respect for life as well.

    ...which is something I've been thinking for a while. I'm really uncomfortable with the condescending attitude some people take on developing-world human rights issues, that whole "this is a rich-whitey problem; do you think starving third-world families give a shit about any of this? They just want to eat." And, you know, they very well might give a shit, or would probably give a shit if they had the same access to the information resources we have. Don't make underserved people out to be simpletons who are capable of saying nothing but FEED ME. They have brains and voices. But this sort of "some people don't have the luxury of complaining; they'd take whatever you don't want in a heartbeat" argument comes out whenever someone who's part of a first-world system deigns to question, like, anything.
    posted by mirepoix at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


    <xarnop> But I don't actually believe plants purely exist to be exploited and mistreated by humans

    I want to pre-disclaim by saying that I am asking this as an honest question, and not trying to be snarky, sarcastic, or anything like that.

    That said, what distinguishes the correct/proper treatment of a plant from mistreatment of a plant?
    posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:17 PM on August 22, 2015


    Is it any more monstrous than knowingly bringing people into the world just to have them suffer a fate of excruciating poverty, servitude, powerlessness, and violence?

    I was about to type, but then G. K. Chesterton stumbled over and typed with his sausage fingers:
    The shortest general definition of Eugenics on its practical side is that it does, in a more or less degree, propose to control some families at least as if they were families of pagan slaves. I shall discuss later the question of the people to whom this pressure may be applied; and the much more puzzling question of what people will apply it. But it is to be applied at the very least by somebody to somebody, and that on certain calculations about breeding which are affirmed to be demonstrable. So much for the subject itself. I say that this thing exists. I define it as closely as matters involving moral evidence can be defined; I call it Eugenics. If after that anyone chooses to say that Eugenics is not the Greek for this --- I am content to answer that "chivalrous" is not the French for "horsy"; and that such controversial games are more horsy than chivalrous.
    posted by Sticherbeast at 7:54 PM on August 22, 2015


    Y'know, since people are insisting on making the analogy, I actually would be opposed to getting injected with a bunch of different vaccines created by unknown companies of varying competence for purposes having nothing to do with the health and well-being of the recipient, every single time I shop for food, without my knowledge or say-so. So I guess you can call me an anti-vaxxer.
    posted by XMLicious at 9:20 PM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


    Uncertainty is kind of an odd thing -- it really depends on actually thinking about probabilities and expected outcomes. With all scientific consensus theories, there's always a chance it could be wrong. The question is less about the exact probability that the theory is wrong, and more about how big the downside of excessive risk-aversion is.

    With global warming, we are pretty sure it's correct, and if so, we need to take drastic action to fix it. If we are wrong though, fixing the non-problem will not actually be that damaging. So given the catastrophic effects of doing nothing if global warming is true and the mild downsides of doing something to prevent it if it is false, clearly the only rational thing to do is take action to reduce CO2, etc.

    With vaccines, there are some genuine (though minor) side-effect risks, and there's always the possibility that there are some other downsides that the medical community hasn't caught (you can't prove a negative, after all). On an individual level, if you are very risk-averse and there is no chance of catching the disease when everyone else is immunized, it can be selfishly rational to avoid even a mild and uncertain risk. On the other hand, on a societal level, the downside of lots of people doing that are catastrophic, so even if it is true that there is a slight chance of unknown bad side effects, it's worth mandating immunizations.

    Now let's turn to the two bugbears of the centrist: nuclear power and GMOs. The left's irrationality to match the right's denial of global warming or evolution or whatever.

    Nuclear power plants have a known low probability of developing a major problem, plus a less well understood black-swan-type chance of catastrophe. Based on past events, a crude estimate of the probability of a serious meltdown due to any cause might be one per 30 years globally, with perhaps the chance of a milder meltdown being one per decade. The downside of these low-probability events are pretty significant. On the other hand, with 5% of the world's energy coming from nuclear, the downside of eliminating it (with the presumed increase in coal usage, eg) is fairly significant as well. So while on consideration the downside of taking action to avoid the low-probability meltdown is probably worse than a few meltdowns, it is not entirely irrational (though probably wrong) to have a different risk assessment of these trade-offs.

    So what of GMOs? Once again, there is always uncertainty. There may be some undiscovered downsides, just as that is possible for vaccines. The question, then, is what is the cost of being highly risk-averse, particularly looking ahead to more complex GMOs? If we believe significant quantities of people will starve without GMOs, then that downside is pretty bad, and it's probably worth accepting the risk of unknown harms. If on the other hand the only harm in being excessively risk-averse is that the profits of Monsanto and big agricultural businesses will be hurt, then it is not irrational to be highly risk averse, even if there is currently little to no existing evidence to support the fear of those risks.

    Like nuclear power, the rationality of GMO fear turns less on the precise risk assessment of the downsides, and much more on what the dangers are of acting to eliminate those risks: banning nuclear plants or GMO plants. In both cases, the majority view here is that the harms of banning outweigh the risks of allowing. But this brings me to my main point, which is that in this sense, the nuclear power and GMO debates are fundamentally different from vaccines, global warming, or many other anti-science positions on the right. In the latter cases, the downsides of taking the wrong action -- acting to prevent global warming if it's false, or avoiding vaccines to prevent potentially unknown harms -- are clear, significant, and highly dangerous.

    It is reasonable to be risk-averse in the face of uncertainty. And proud proclamations notwithstanding, science and industry have a long track record of a very specific type of error: claiming things are more safe than they in fact turn out to be. But there is a difference between being risk-averse with regard to taking global-warming action or avoiding vaccines, and being risk-averse with regard to nuclear power or GMOs. The downsides of excessive risk-aversion in the first two are catastrophic. The downsides of the second two are probably significant, but (I believe) rationally debatable. In this sense, despite many apparent similarities, the scientific-consensus-opposing views in these four cases are nevertheless deeply asymmetric. When the downsides of excessive risk-aversion are moderate, it is not nearly so irrational to be highly risk-averse. Opposing nuclear power and GMOs out of fear -- while probably wrong -- is not nearly so wrong and dangerous as opposing vaccines and global warming action. And it's not a coincidence that the less wrong pair is on the left. If billions of lives were clearly at stake -- as they clearly are with global warming and vaccines -- the left would be far less indulgent (individually and collectively) of risk-averse proposals to ban nuclear power or GMOs. As it is, because the downsides of excessive risk-aversion are less clear in these two cases, the excessive risk-aversion persists among the left. But again, nothing like that can be said of the anti-vaxxers or anti-global-warming folks, who are unmoved by the threats to billions.

    TL;DR: Cut the left some slack. They really aren't the same as global warming deniers.
    posted by chortly at 10:34 PM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


    My default assumption now is if I hear anti-gmo I hear anti-vax. I haven't been wrong yet, at least in my experience.

    Yeah, no. You need to widen your circle, I guess. Anti-vaxxers are usually anti-GMO. The reverse does not hold true.

    The people who are trying to separate the political and corporate aspects from the technical? You just can't really separate them right now. They are hand-in-glove. If there were better regulation... well, I still don't know if I'd trust the government, because of corporate infiltration. (Goldman Sachs springs to mind, after the last financial crash.) It's tough because I think GMO could do great things. The downside is that there's no getting the cat back in the bag once it's widespread. That's the part that bothers me. We couldn't even manage the cane toads, the mongooses, the starlings, and all the other things that were introduced with improving crop yields as the goal. (actually, I have no idea why starlings were introduced. It was dumb, though.)
    posted by small_ruminant at 10:57 PM on August 22, 2015


    Juffo-wup-- sure, I can answer that! While I am not a Jainist and do not share all the beliefs involved, the Jains created an elaborate ethical system that involves respect for all living beings and refraining from killing or causing suffering if possible, however accepting that to live as a human will likely cause some suffering and death.

    Therefore they do not eat root vegetables or eat plants in a way that kills an already growing plant, and there are restrictions on cutting down trees for wood (however it's a pretty ancient religion I don't know what standard practice at present is on a lot of these things). As a very ancient religion a lot of the rules are based in ideas of spirit that are (to me) subjective, however I like the idea of reducing mistreatment and killing to creatures, even if I don't understand how they feel, if at all possible.

    I wonder if we met an alien species without a central nervous system how long it would take us to see it as a food source or use for experiments regardless of the potential for harm. That is how we treat species on earth that don't communicate in ways we understand. The more we learn about plants the more we are learning they are sensing and responding to their environments, and have internal cellular communication processes that generate similar responses as animals nervous systems. Essentially, it's entirely possible they experience pain and we refuse to even consider it as a possibility.
    posted by xarnop at 1:44 AM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Cut the left some slack.

    As a pro-GMO leftie I consider it a humanitarian issue. I haven't noticed this cleaving sharply along political lines.

    In my opinion climate change demands we explore this technology, or we face preventable losses of life equal to halting vaccines or melting down all the nuclear plants. Although, as pointed out, sheer amount of food available globally isn't currently the problem, as weather patterns continue to disrupt we're facing the starvation of millions currently fed. Traditional methods have no chance of repurposing land fast enough to make up the difference.

    So I find fault with the risk assessment that things are OK enough now to leave GMO on the backburner till we run a few more decades of testing.

    How long would it take to create a saltwater tolerant potato by cross-breeding?
    posted by jayCampbell at 6:24 AM on August 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


    The similarities among the anti's mentioned in this thread have been noted and even studied.

    "Lewandowsky carried out a survey in which he attempted to examine correlations between conspiratorial thinking and belief in conspiracy theories with three major forms of antiscientific belief systems: Antivaccinationism, anti-GMO, and [global warming] denialism. The three potential predictors of these anti-science views that they chose to examine were endorsement of the free market, conservatism-liberalism, and conspiracist ideation." - source

    I only really see a mild bit of "conspiracist ideation" in this thread, but the above phenomenon is so common elsewhere it's no surprise that certain opinions have been assigned to people here by association rather than statement.

    Re lefties: "When it comes to GM foods, Lewandowsky found no association between left-right political orientation and distrust of these foods’ safety in his American sample."
    posted by jayCampbell at 6:50 AM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


    From the socialist perspective, GMOs falls squarely within the realm of the commoditization of all life on the planet. The widespread devastation that this commoditization inflicts on the biosphere requires an enforced regime of total ecological management. This management programme can function only on the basis of the concept of the Gattungswesen. This German word means genus essence. It is often badly translated as species essence. Essentialism is generally disparaged in science today, as we see in the o.p.'s linked article. Socialism, founded on essentialist thought, stands opposed to the reductive atomism that dominates science today. For more on this topic, see Nick Dyer-Witheford 's "Twenty‐First Century Species‐Being" (pdf), and Scott Meikle's Essentialism in the thought of Karl Marx (review).
    posted by No Robots at 7:59 AM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Roundup Ready seeds from Monsanto are perhaps the best known GMOs and the oldest. There's some interesting history behind it.

    Monsanto was looking for new herbicides back in the 1960s. They spent years screening thousands of chemicals, natural and synthetic, for herbicidal effects. They way they did this was to spray various chemicals on plants, wait a week, and then see if they had any effects. Glyphosate, later known as Roundup, is a very slow acting herbicide. Its effects can take as long as 10 days to show up. It turns out that two competing laboratories had tested glyphosate, but at Monsanto, their week long test in this one case happened to end late on a Friday so the test plants were left to be thrown away on the following Monday. On Monday they were surprised to find that the test plants were dead. Much like many serendipitous science discoveries, if they hadn't gone home early on Friday, they wouldn't have discovered that glyphosate works very well, but takes as long as 10 days to show effects. This was in 1971.

    So the next step was to find out the mechanism of operation of Roundup glyphosate. They found that glyphosate inhibits an enzyme called EPSP synthase. This enzyme is in the path necessary for the synthesis of the amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan which are essential to making proteins. Without these amino acids, the plants can't make proteins and they gradually break down and die.

    The important discovery was that glyphosate fits into the EPSP enzyme very specifically like a key in a lock, thereby blocking this single enzyme's normal active site. This specificity is very important to glphosate's usefulness as an herbicide. Almost all plants require this enzyme, meaning that glyphosate will kill almost any plant, but this enzyme does not exist in animals which means that glyphosate has no known biologic effects on humans or other animals. Roundup is unique in its specificity to plants, unlike other dangerous herbicides like 2,4-D (in agent orange). Glyphosate also breaks down quickly in the soil in the presence of microorganisms. It is digested, much like compost, and broken down into carbon dioxide, ammonia and phosphate. It also dissolves in water, not fat, so it does not bioaccumulate like other pesticides.

    Because of these unique properties of specificity and benignity, glyphosate is considered a once in a century discovery akin to penicillin.

    So the scientists take their new discovery into the board of directors at Monsanto and tell them they have this great herbicide that kills every plant but doesn't' affect humans. But the board said that they were an agricultural company. What use was an herbicide that killed every plant, including crops they wanted to grow. Roundup almost ended right there, but it turns out that there are limited uses for that type of herbicide for things like roadside maintenance, landscaping and invasive plant species where you just want to kill everything. So in 1974 glyphosate went on the market, but had limited use in agriculture.

    So the scientists go back to work to find a way to use Roundup on agricultural crops without killing the crops. They realized that if they could modify the crops so that they could still produce the essential amino acids in the presence of Roundup, the weeds would die and the crops would survive. So they spent the next 20 years looking for organisms that were resistant to glyphosate. Turns out they found it in the waste processing stream of a Roundup factory. Where else would you find Roundup resistant organisms but where there's lots of Roundup.

    They found that certain gram-positive bacteria have a slightly different version of the EPSP synthase enzyme. The glyphosate key doesn't quite fit into the lock and therefore doesn't inhibit the enzyme's activity. So this is where the genetic modification comes in. They inserted the gene from the bacteria into soybeans so that it produces the gyphosate resistance version of the EPSP synthase enzyme. So the GMO soybeans can now produce exactly the same essential amino acids as before through exactly the same chemical enzyme path, but without being inhibited by glyphosate. This means that you can spray your fields with Roundup and the weeds will die but the soybeans will not. It took another 25 years after the discovery of Roundup to produce the first Roundup Ready soybeans.

    The patent for glyphosate expired in 2000. The patent for the first generation of GMO soybeans expired in 2014, so 2015 is the first year that farmers can legally replant GMO seed that they saved from the previous year. It also means seed producers can now sell GMO soybeans without paying licensing fees to Monsanto. This should reduce the price of these seeds, although Monsanto keeps producing newer generations GMOs that may still be preferred by some farmers.
    posted by JackFlash at 11:22 AM on August 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


    And proud proclamations notwithstanding, science and industry have a long track record of a very specific type of error: claiming things are more safe than they in fact turn out to be.

    Not to detract from an argument I mostly agree with, but there is some bias in this statement: The cases where science is excessively cautious and nothing bad happens to anybody anyway because no real danger exists do not make the news.
    posted by Dr Dracator at 11:35 AM on August 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


    --The switch to no-till farming around here has done amazing things in terms of reducing erosion from wind and rain. The trade off is that it requires chemicals, but the net environmental benefits are clearly positive.

    No-till does not require herbicides. Organic no-till using cover crops that are mowed at a critical point at their lifecycle, turning them into mulch, is increasingly common all over the country. The net environmental benefits of not tilling or dumping Roundup everywhere are clearly positive.
    posted by hydropsyche at 11:44 AM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


    No-till does not require herbicides. Organic no-till using cover crops that are mowed at a critical point at their lifecycle, turning them into mulch, is increasingly common all over the country.

    This is of course correct; I was referring to mainstream, large-scale ag where, as practiced in this region, chemicals are an integral part of no-till farming. Even with chemicals no-till is a BMP with clear benefits in terms of reducing sediment inputs to streams and the associated soil losses; in other areas the trade-offs may be less clear.
    posted by Dip Flash at 4:08 PM on August 23, 2015


    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/23/hawaii-birth-defects-pesticides-gmo

    I guess this is about the invulnerability complex that bad actors get when they feel unobserved. What if the frankenbacteria engineered by the roundup runoff, takes on some new function in the bodies of animals?
    posted by Oyéah at 4:33 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


    There are no "Frankenbacteria" in your crops. There are genes that in some case originally were found in a bacteria and bacteria are used in some cases to modify the original plant (insert a gene). But you're not eating "Frankenbacteria". For glyphosate tolerant plants you're eating a plant with a slightly different EPSPS system.
    posted by R343L at 10:09 PM on August 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


    In Kauai, chemical companies Dow, BASF, Syngenta and DuPont spray 17 times more pesticide per acre (mostly herbicides, along with insecticides and fungicides) than on ordinary cornfields in the US mainland, according to the most detailed study of the sector, by the Center for Food Safety.

    That’s because they are precisely testing the strain’s resistance to herbicides that kill other plants. About a fourth of the total are called Restricted Use Pesticides because of their harmfulness. Just in Kauai, 18 tons – mostly atrazine, paraquat (both banned in Europe) and chlorpyrifos – were applied in 2012. The World Health Organization this year announced that glyphosate, sold as Roundup, the most common of the non-restricted herbicides, is “probably carcinogenic in humans”.


    At what point can we start calling out these lying shills for who they are? Selling us all out for a fucking dollar. This is not why I got into science.
    posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:00 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]




    The frankenbacteria are in the soils and water, on the fish we catch, in the waterfowl, in the lake where we swim, same with the herbicides and pesticides we need more and more of because the weeds are not GMO, so now they have mutated to flourish in spite of the war to forward desirable plants, via controlled mutation. Everything is warping to facilitate frankencorn for gasoline, this isn't feeding children.
    posted by Oyéah at 2:25 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


    there are 2 real problems with GMO: the mass suicides of indian farmers who were sold the seeds with lies (i can't believe thousands misunderstood the packaging or didn't listen - hundreds even maybe, but thousands had a false belief so strong they killed themselves when it failed just because they didn't listen to the marketing description? (Monsanto's claim)) boycott for same reason as Nestle, Danone etc (falsely promoting baby milk in thirdworld countries) Second: field trials and miscegenation of genetic data. This was claimed to be scientifically impossible by everyone and now we have super hogweed, widespread contamination of indigenous latin american crops etc. So this one's proven. The first is moral decision. I don't understand what's 'safe' in either case. Oh, final reason: starting a trade war with the EU on the grounds that, when citizens forced their governments to pass legislation stating if food contained over 1% GMO, this constituted unfair prejudice. I want my democratic rights, if for some reason i want (i don't) to know what's in my food Monsanto have no right to stop me just because it might harm their profits... again, no argument against this has ever been forthcoming
    posted by maiamaia at 3:21 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


    Perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine by respected environmental scientists Phil Landrigan and Charles Benbrook. They focus on the environmental harm but also mention potential novel food allergies as risks. The belief that we may need to be more cautious about GMOs is in no way a marginal scientific position, as much as the producers would like you to believe the opposite.
    posted by Mental Wimp at 4:10 PM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


    "One-third of respondents indicated that they now have improved soil structure following the adoption of minimum or zero tillage with HT canola."[1]

    improved soil structures because herbicide resistant crops require less or no tilling


    That sentence has been bothering me for a couple weeks now because "soil structure" is a bit involved (a few organisms reside there that might have a say) so seems to be glossing over a lot while conflating other stuff but at least I think I found where it came from.

    When no till was introduced (I first heard about it in the mid 80's and was fascinated by the idea as tilling was just what was done) it was designed to fight soil erosion and more specifically to try to keep the wind swept plains from blowing away. It was also thought it would help keep moisture in the ground. And it was surmised that it would also help with weeds because the crops would have a better footing to out compete them (get bigger before they do and eat the light). So what was an improved planting method for soil health is being used to claim a positive effect of running a high clearance sprayer in opposition to Mr. Benbrook's findings[2] and polling farmers doesn't strike me as a very scientific method or proof in determining soil structure or composition.

    [1] Assessing the economic and ecological impacts of herbicide tolerant canola in western Canada

    [2] Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -- the first sixteen years
    posted by phoque at 8:46 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


    ... or at least it feels like a couple of weeks because it was really bugging me.
    posted by phoque at 8:56 PM on September 1, 2015


    While GM techniques allow the process to happen more quickly and with more predictable results, "genetic manipulation" of plants is a very old concept and practice.
    Happen more quickly? In a million monkey/Shakespeare sort of way? How long would it take for a goat to acquire the ability to spin a web through its teat, under "natural" circumstances?

    True Story, Bro.
    posted by Monkey0nCrack at 3:00 PM on September 19, 2015




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