June 25, 2003 12:08 AM   Subscribe

I was smoking pot when I read the headline and I got really excited for a moment.
posted by Keyser Soze at 12:13 AM on June 25, 2003

Oops. This ought to make it difficult for the USA to get the World Trade Organization to overturn Europe's ban on GM maize.

Can anyone honestly say they are surprised by this?
posted by salmacis at 12:25 AM on June 25, 2003

Im totally, completely surprised.
posted by Keyser Soze at 12:28 AM on June 25, 2003

I think some of the threads here need to be genetically modified...
posted by wendell at 12:38 AM on June 25, 2003

I'm kinda confused. As far as I can tell the herbicide resistance had nothing to do with the GM crops at all. This would have happened if GM crops had never been invented, and would pose the same problems, correct? Of course this reduces the value of the "roundup resistant" crops, but this is a small portion of GM food.
posted by phatboy at 1:26 AM on June 25, 2003

the issue is that this developed much quicker, and also dues to the insane fact that there is actually Genetically Modified food being grown that is not contained from the wild. That fact scares me.

And I don't think I would be presumptuous to assume that it scares other people, too. Genetically modified food should be properly labelled, as skallas says. GM food MUST BE CONTAINED TO KEEP CROSS POLLINATION WITH OTHER PLANTS OF THE SAME SPECIES. The consequences of this environmental precipice are real and present.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:49 AM on June 25, 2003

Just a 'me too' to echo skallas and phatboy's comments. While I do advocate GM crops, I never liked the brute-force method that Monsanto uses with roundup-ready resistant crops. As skallas says, there are many better uses of GM technology that could, for example, produce 'golden rice' with increased vitamin A, or increased crop yields.

Also, it should be stressed that these superweeds did not come about by gene transfer, which is what most people are worried about. I'm not even sure if gene transfer has ever been observed between crops and weeds.
posted by adrianhon at 2:03 AM on June 25, 2003

.....the sky is falling?
posted by Keyser Soze at 2:12 AM on June 25, 2003

adrianhon, I would say that "what most people are worried about" are the non-specific, unforeseen consequences of this technology, a la DDT and BSE debacles of yesteryear. It's very easy for the food industry to do a quick pop pseudo-scientifical survey and make these sweeping changes to the way we do agriculture on a purely economic basis, only to be bit in the arse ten years later by the unforseen consequences of massive experiments which worked fine in the controlled lab environment but failed drastically in the field. Look at the history: it's pure common sense to be as suspicious as hell of these money-grabbing, child-poisoning bastards. I'm not addressing this at you personally, but there's a definite attempt by certain scientists and those in the industry to paint reluctance to grow GM crops as simple-minded, superstitious ignorance, or to put up strawmen arguments as has been done in this thread. I find that kind of argument more insulting to the intelligence of its proponents than its targets.
posted by walrus at 4:31 AM on June 25, 2003

GM could have some potential if and when we figure out what are the long terms effects along a wide variety of vectors. After all, GM technology has just turned 20. In the meantime, anything else is just wishful thinking: cold fusion would be great help as well, if we could just figure it out ... and it turned out to be what we are hoping it to be.

Right now, what's a disgrace is not only Monsanto's recklessly unscientific GM bandwagon but the economic plan behind it. Using Monsanto's current GM crops, farmers are not allowed to re-use seeds from the GM plants that they grow. According to the contract they sign to purchase GM seeds, they have to buy whatever seeds Monsanto wants them to buy each year. Even more amusing is to watch Monsanto sue farmers whose GM fields got polluted with seeds from nearby GM fields carried by the wind. Less amusing is to learn about some of the mini biodisasters that Monsanto has been setting up in its "search for excellence", usually in quiet, third world shitholes where nobody dreams of suing a corporation several times richer than the local government. It is not a conspiration against traditional agriculture methods: it is just a business plan to milk money designed out of agriculture in today's world, at whatever cost. Only the cost is way too high for my taste: when an agricompany doesn't take into account the effects of the wind on agriculture (to mention only the very obvious), it sure looks like something is way off track.

Finally, the superweeds have nothing to do with GM crops ... but I'll bet they have plenty to do with the same companies that now sell GM seeds ... along with the pesticides that helped create the superweed situation in the first place. The only other connection between superweed and GM crops is that superweeds have just proven that GM crops cannot solve some of the problems that they were precisely designed for.
posted by magullo at 4:38 AM on June 25, 2003

evolution happens ...
posted by nofundy at 4:50 AM on June 25, 2003

Those superweeds better start runnin', the robots are coming for 'em!
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:31 AM on June 25, 2003

walrus: I agree with you entirely that the food industry and governments in the past (and today) have not paid attention to the potential consequences of new technologies, sometimes with very unfortunate results, and I do think that we need to be careful with GM crops as well. While there is a lot of clouding of the issues going on with the pro-GM side (Monsanto comes to mind first), that's not to say that the anti-GM side is completely innocent either.

A lot of the opposition against GM crops is very well founded, but a lot is simply scare tactics and publicity stunts. Ever since Friends of the Earth started their anti-GM campaign, I lost all respect I ever had for them (not much, to be fair) as I don't think they're giving the public an accurate portrayal of the facts (and yes, neither do all of the pro-GM camp but that doesn't make the FoE any better).

As a scientist and biologist, I personally think that GM crops are in general completely safe; I don't think there's much evidence at all for gene transfer*. As I said earlier, I don't like the brute force method of roundup-ready resistance which is already clearly causing problems. I don't think that GM crops will do much to help world hunger, which I believe is more of a problem of distribution and poor government intervention (Amartya Sen has a lot to say on famines).

What does get my goat about the anti-GM camp is simply the scare tactics that are employed, the fact that there might be 'unforeseen consequences' which are always unnamed but could destroy the entire world. GM crops have been around for a long time, and GM organisms even longer. The worst thing that could happen with GM crops is that gene transfer to weeds could take place, or that somehow genetically modified food could poison humans. I don't believe there is any evidence for this (you're welcome to prove me wrong though).

Again, I have no problems with people who oppose GM crops, and I'm sure this is the same for many pro-GM people. I do have problems with people who are so opposed to GM crops that they will never change their minds, no matter how much evidence there is that it's safe - and I think that there are a lot of people out there like that. For my part, if there is a reliable body of evidence demonstrating that GM crops could pose a real threat to the environment or humans, then I'd be more than happy to stop supporting them.

Just as it is unfair to lump all anti-GM people into one group, it is unfair to do the same with pro-GM people. Monsanto is nuts. A lot of pro-GM people (including me) are just as angry with them as anyone else.

*Incidentally, I don't even think that gene transfer is all that bad. Quite apart from the fact that gene transfer between very different species is really, really, really unlikely (some might say impossible) due to the biology involved, what would a weed do with, say, a gene to produce vitamin A? Nothing at all. Ditto for things that might increase the size of the harvestable crop. Most genes in GM crops would in fact confer a selective disadvantage, or no advantage, against weeds, by diverting the metabolism to do unnecessary things except for herbicide-resistance genes which I have said I already don't like.
posted by adrianhon at 5:49 AM on June 25, 2003

GM crops have been around for a long time, and GM organisms even longer.

Monsanto, a company previously known for producing herbicides in farming, set up its own biotechnology division in 1981

The first field trial of a GM organism went ahead in 1986.

The first commercially available GM food appeared on the market in 1994 (this was in the USA, and the enterprise failed).

While everything is of course relative, I do not think these figures qualify as "long" or "even longer" when we talk about foodstuffs.

if there is a reliable body of evidence demonstrating that GM crops could pose a real threat to the environment or humans, then I'd be more than happy to stop supporting them.

Same here, only I have to be convinced that there are no threats before I eat something made artificially. Or, for that matter, let it loose in nature - how crazy is that?
posted by magullo at 6:25 AM on June 25, 2003

that's not to say that the anti-GM side is completely innocent either.

Absolutely, mate. I'm aware of this, but fully half of the "anti-GM camp" are people like my mum, and they aren't that cynical, just perhaps misled. Personally, I'm always happy to change my mind when presented with peer-reviewed evidence, the gathering of which meets certain scientific preconditions. I'm not 100% convinced that GM advocates have always been true to scientific principles on this one, or to put it another way: yes, Monsanto are nuts. Rich nuts, which possibly make them frighteningly sane instead, but that's another argument, and one for the philosophers.

Personally, I don't think the unforeseen consequences will "destroy the world", and I'd be happy to show you evidence that they're ok as long as the collection of that evidence didn't jeopardise a single human life, or our ecology. We're on a bit of a stand-off with that one perhaps, but if the benefits really are that great then maybe it's worth a wait. Thank you, by the way, for treating my comment with more respect than it possibly deserved and giving me your long-form answer.
posted by walrus at 6:38 AM on June 25, 2003

"These discoveries remove a central plank from the whole argument for GM crops."

Er, yeah... that's kind of what I was saying yesterday with this link...

I'm just sayin'.
posted by soyjoy at 7:22 AM on June 25, 2003

Incidentally, I also think that part of the difference in attitude between the American consumers towards GM products and the European ones has very little to do with science and a lot with culture/tradition. This probably belongs to another discussion at another time. But it seems like the idea of "the same food everywhere" has more followers on one side of the Atlantic than on the other and the GM debate is touching (perhaps ever so slightly) on that matter too. Each position clearly has pros and cons (as well as consequences and origins) so it would be futile to defend objectively one over the other. I personally prefer finding different food everywhere I go, but I also prefer disparity of opinions. So go figure.
posted by magullo at 7:25 AM on June 25, 2003

As the article itself stated, the "superweeds" evolved naturally. Anyone who has any background in science knows that it is what's called "natural selection", though in this case the selection is pretty unnatural. I don't have a problem with Genetic Modification in general, I do have problems with specific examples of it like in this case. Putting pesticide resistance, or even putting in the insecticide gene from Bacillus thuriengensis into plants is a bad idea. I had read an article about the BT several years ago, and Monsanto I believe it was, even admitted that it would only be effective for 60 years or so (to their best guess). I would think one would be affecting entire ecosystems in that way as well as basically rendering a natural pesticide basically useless so Monsanto can sell some more chemicals to dump on our farms and gardens.

Pro GM people also argue that all our food is currently "Genetically Modified" since the plants we eat for the most part have been bred and selected for various traits and don't resemble anything in nature. This is true, but people have known you can't get a pig to mate with a corn plant, or a strawberry with a flounder. I am all for using technology to our benefit, but we have to be more careful and sure of the ramifications of our actions.
posted by Eekacat at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2003

You will eat what your masters give you to eat. And you will shut up about it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:11 PM on June 25, 2003

I'm starting a garden with legacy seeds. No, not *that* kind of garden.
posted by mecran01 at 7:00 PM on June 25, 2003

Biological warfare, corporate waged, for corporate wages.

Stick those WMDs in your salad.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 2:26 AM on June 26, 2003

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