Pests Turning Genetically Modified Pesticides Into Food
April 18, 2003 5:54 PM   Subscribe

An article in the Independent newspaper reports that pests have started thriving on poisons genetically implanted in crops.

It seems that before, the organic pesticide used, was effective because it was only sprayed occasionally (once or twice a year) and the pests didn't have time to develop resistance.

With the pesticide being accessible throughout the whole crop-cycle, the pests have adapted, and now thrive on the poison, which they now regard as a food source, growing even larger than normal, and rendering a weapon in the arsenal against pests, entirely ineffective.
posted by Blue Stone (15 comments total)
It is not like there was any warning or clue this would come to pass, oh wait. EVERYBODY SAID THIS WOULD HAPPEN!!
posted by thirteen at 6:14 PM on April 18, 2003

That's some ugly science reporting. Not only do they fail to name the journal in which the research was published, they don't even give the names of the scientists. This article seems to be referring to a letter by Sayyed et al. to Ecology Letters, vol. 6(3), pp 167-169. Here's a link, for those of you with access.

Based on a rudimentary literature search, diamondback moth resistance to Bt crops seems to be a well-known phenomenon; the suggestion that moth larval growth might be accelerated by Bt is novel, however.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:15 PM on April 18, 2003

When we started industrializing our food supply around the turn of the Century we created one of the worlds largest experiments in human health. The resulting public health care costs are strangeling modern nations in a way more traditional cultures with traditional foods have "paradoxicaly" escaped. But as the traditional cultures become modernized so do the people gain the modern diseases: cancer, heart attacks, obesity, diabetes, etc..

GM crops represents the next wave of food industrialization and it will create problems on a scale we have yet to imagine.
posted by stbalbach at 6:22 PM on April 18, 2003

Oh; that's ridiculous. People in industrialized countries are dying from the modern diseases because they live long enough to contract them: they're not dying early in life from malnutrition, childbirth, infectious diseases, and traumatic accidents. I'll take the life expectancy of an industrialized nation (Japan, preferably) any day, thank you very much.

To blame health care costs in industrialized nations on the "industrialized" food supply is baseless; there was no comparable technological heath care system in the pre-industrial world. One imagines that if there had been, the cost of treating all of those cases of scurvy and rickets would have been immense.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2003

Wow, stbalbach, that is a very interesting response. I am currently reading Plague, Pox & Pestilence, Diseases in History and an early chapter discusses the diseases caused by agriculture and sedentism (as opposed to being a hunter-gatherer) such as typhoid, anemia, schistosomiasis, and various parasites. It goes on to discuss the various health consequences of other human progress. FASCINATING!

Though I think this particular article's source is dubious at best, the subject still bears scrutiny. Maybe it'll be a new rung on the evolutionary ladder! And who knows! Perhaps we'll get to see the consequences at "internet speed"!
posted by airgirl at 6:44 PM on April 18, 2003

For Mr_Roboto -

Could Bt transgenic crops have nutritionally favourable effects on resistant insects?

Ali H. Sayyed, Hugo Cerda and Denis J. Wright

We present an idea that larvae of some Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) resistant populations of the diamondback moth, Plutella xylostella (L.), may be able to use Cry1Ac toxin derived from Bt as a supplementary food protein. Bt transgenic crops could therefore have unanticipated nutritionally favourable effects, increasing the fitness of resistant populations. This idea is discussed in the context of the evolution of resistance to Bt transgenic crops.

found at this site.

A Google search throws up numerous other details and sources.
posted by Blue Stone at 6:45 PM on April 18, 2003

I wonder who Monsanto is going to threaten to sue now.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:11 PM on April 18, 2003

May I be the first to say: AH-HA!
posted by crazy finger at 9:16 PM on April 18, 2003

I'm all in favor of using genetic engineering to make our food better but jerry-rigging a pesticide in there just seems stupid.
posted by wobh at 9:18 PM on April 18, 2003

Didn't anyone else in here watch tonight's episode of Penn & Teller Bullshi!t?
posted by billsaysthis at 9:28 PM on April 18, 2003

GM is basically a good thing, but is still in its infancy - there's bound to be some setbacks.

This was to a large deegre expected, I think. Nature always adopts to changes, and it's pretty much a given that if we rely on pesticides to control pests (duh), we'll have to switch pesticide once the target pest is immune.

Regarding industrialized agriculture and human health:
I would, like mr_roboto, take the Japanese life expectancy over the Botswanan one any day, thank you very much - lifestyle diseases are caused by lifestyle, not by how your wheat is grown.
posted by spazzm at 10:37 PM on April 18, 2003

We have to be careful about boosting the resistances of organisms that reproduce faster than we do. This is exactly the reason why I don't use antibiotic soap.

*scractches weird red spot on elbow*
posted by Samsonov14 at 12:15 PM on April 19, 2003

GM is basically a good thing, but is still in its infancy - there's bound to be some setbacks.

...setbacks which may well involve permanently fucking up the planetary ecosystem.

This was to a large deegre expected, I think.

Yes, and this is part of the reason so many people refuse to buy the stuff.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:38 PM on April 19, 2003

I have been thinking about this all day. Am I too suspicious to be thinking that this was an excellent way to make organic farming less effective and more difficult? Everyone knew this was going to kill BT as a pesticide, and still they pushed ahead with the genetic alteration. Why? I am no lefty group thinker, but if this grows as a problem, I would think that a class action lawsuit is in order.
posted by thirteen at 3:24 PM on April 19, 2003

If we understood the genome of the plants we were altering well enough to reliably predict the results and we were able to test them, both short-term and long-term, in a controlled environment, I wouldn't have any problem with gengineered crops.

Problem is, we're doing the agricultural equivalent of a "Hail Mary" most of the time. I agree with Mars Saxman; I'm not afraid of GM per se, I'm afraid of greed pushing stuff out the door long before it's ready. We're observing the thalidomide of the agricultural world; it's not a matter of "if" a serious ecological accident occurs, it's a matter of "when."
posted by FormlessOne at 7:02 AM on April 21, 2003

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