Neil deGrasse Tyson is not afraid of genetically modified foods

| 175 Comments

A blogger in the Daily Kos reports that Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks people should “chill out” regarding genetically modified food. Tyson argues, as I have for years, that all our food is genetically modified, but it took on the order of 10,000 years to get where we are now.

The pseudonymous blogger, SkepticalRaptor, notes that GM foods are to many on the left as global warming is to many on the right: It is an article of faith that genetic modification is bad, and no amount of evidence can be adduced to change that opinion.

I would add, though, that there are valid reasons to oppose at least some genetic modifications, such as corn that is immune to glyphosate (Roundup) or plants laced with insecticide (Bt). Additionally, you could reasonably argue (as does SkepticalRaptor) that, whereas it may be legal to sell seeds that cannot reproduce themselves, it is certainly immoral to sell them to farmers in developing countries. Finally, I seem to recall that there have been occasional problems introducing, say, fish genes into tomatoes. None of these problems speaks against genetically modified food in general, though they surely militate in favor of considerable caution.

SkepticalRaptor concludes with the observation that Tyson is correct in following the evidence to its conclusion rather than denying the evidence in order to support a preordained conclusion. I could not agree more.

175 Comments

I agree. We have had millions of acres of genetically modified foods planted and eaten by nearly the entire population for many years now. AFAIK no deaths have been reported and indeed very little harm of any kind to any human has been documented. However, that doesn’t mean that all types of modifications are desirable. And it certainly doesn’t mean that all marketing and legal strategies are that have been used are desirable. The potential for helping mankind is enormous and so are the potential risks, so it is a technology that needs to be carefully regulated.

The risk of environmental damage seems to be much more serious, especially when it comes to unintended consequences. Since no long term studies have been done by independent sources, it is hard to say exactly how much is at risk. But until some dramatic damage is documented, it is likely that short term profits will drive the technology for some time to come.

I don’t understand the argument of not selling “seeds that cannot reproduce themselves.” For decades virtually all commercial seeds sold in the US have been hybrid seeds, which are not worth saving and replanting, since they seldom come true to seed. Some market gardeners may plant open pollinated crops, but hybrids have so many advantages that just about all commercial growers use them, and they must buy them every year.

I’m at least in agreement with him on the sub-issues behind it all. It isn’t that I don’t trust GMOs on principle, it is that I *specifically* don’t trust Monsanto and the other corporations doing this.

I don’t like their business practices. I don’t like their anti-competitive attitudes. I don’t like their use of legal threats against neighboring farmers when nature does what it likes to do (bees pollinate the flowers they get to, and don’t give an ear of wax over who they might belong to or what patents may be filed). And yes, I don’t like their practice of selling sterile seeds to 3rd world countries.

In fact, the 3rd World factor is the biggest concern of all. Natural selection (with a few rare cases in times of extinction events) tends to create diversity. Heck, if there wasn’t the diversity, we wouldn’t have had such a reason to come up with evolution as an explanation in the first place. When you talk about genetic modifications and 10,000 years, that’s 10,000 years of finding the best crops for the land one is growing on.

This, in my view, is what is different about the modern approach: rather than finding the best crop for the land you have, which would imply as it did 150 years ago that a wheat best suited for South Dakota might not be the same wheat best suited for the dry panhandle of Oklahoma (nevermind for Eastern Australia), the current practice seems to be *one* type of seed, and if the land doesn’t support it, change the land. Change fertilizer (at cost), change the irrigation (at an impact of others’ needs for the water), import topsoil from other countries, and above all, change the practices that the local farmers have known and understood for generations.

The elimination of diversity. There’s one species/variety that is “the best”, so *everybody* should be growing it.

THAT is the aspect of the current agricultural practices that most scares me. The loss of diversification, leading to the mass dependency on both the corporation that generates the seed, the massive infrastructure (bureaucratic and legal included) to protect it from the inevitable blight, and the loss of local farming practice and knowledge. When you change the crop and change the land, you inevitably change the people: a loss of diversity.

Organic crops may not really be the best, but I’m not purchasing them and supporting them when possible not because I (perhaps mistakenly) believe they are better for my health. I am supporting them to support diversity in the last and only way I can, just as I do in my tastes of music, of movies, of television, of literature, and even of the computer languages I program in. Because the loss of diversity, or the idea that ONLY man-made (and corporate-values driven) diversity will be allowed in the future, scares me more than anything else about all of this.

I agree that genetically modified foods are most likely a net benefit, and cultural attitudes towards them (especially by people wealthy enough to afford expensively produced food) are an impediment to improving lives around the world.

However, I think the argument that they’re just like traditional cultivars is disingenuous. In fact, if they were, we’d just stick with ordinary breeding methods. Recombinant DNA can combine genes that across species that would never get there through inheritance (except by very lucky coincidence). That’s why it’s such a powerful technique. It may have some unintended consequences and any potential products need to be tested for food safety as well as environmental impact on wild species.

The other thing I’m strongly opposed to is any suggestion that GM foods should be exempt from labeling. My reason for labeling is not based on scientific grounds, but on civic grounds. The reason for labeling is that a significant portion of the public wants to know and therefore has the right to know what they’re purchasing. To suggest that they don’t need to know is the kind of technocratic paternalism that is wrong to begin with and engenders suspicion. First educate the public that GM food is safe, change the cultural attitudes, then go ahead and label. This is not a change that should be accomplished by trying to trick people.

Monsanto claims that it only pursues actions against farmers who deliberately cultivate, collect, and replant protected seed strains, not farmers who just happened to have protected seed blow onto their property or get cross-pollinated or whatever.

I respectfully disagree on the labeling shtick. What’s next, requiring a “grown within 100 miles of a nuclear power facility” label? Basing it on what “the public wants to know and therefore has a right to know” seems like a slippery slope; you’re making policy dependent on the skill of pollsters. I’m sure that if asked “Would you like to know if the food you’re eating was grown using nuclear power,” most Americans would get alarmed and say yes. “Wants to know” is just dubious.

If there was a nutritional or other immediate health risk, that’s one thing. But no such credible risk exists.

david.starling.macmillan said:

I respectfully disagree on the labeling shtick. What’s next, requiring a “grown within 100 miles of a nuclear power facility” label? Basing it on what “the public wants to know and therefore has a right to know” seems like a slippery slope; you’re making policy dependent on the skill of pollsters. I’m sure that if asked “Would you like to know if the food you’re eating was grown using nuclear power,” most Americans would get alarmed and say yes. “Wants to know” is just dubious.

If there was a nutritional or other immediate health risk, that’s one thing. But no such credible risk exists.

And then there’s that whole “kosher” labeling schtick. “Wants kosher” is just dubious.

david.starling.macmillan said:

I respectfully disagree on the labeling shtick.

One alternative is voluntary non-GMO labeling, which may serve the same purpose (and which is already out there).

I’m also not against government requirements to label GMO if enough people vote for representatives to make it into law (not sure of the current situation). I really do feel it is purely an issue of whether people in a democratic society choose require labeling rather than whether it “makes sense” on any other grounds. It’s true that you can imagine all kinds of irrelevant labeling, but in practice, there are specific labels of interest. This appears to be one of them.

When I buy produce, I usually expect to find out the variety (Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, etc.) and where it was grown (e.g. California, usually touted conspicuously, or off-season from somewhere outside the US, generally in fine print) . This should actually be sufficient to determine if fresh produce contains GMO strains by looking up the producer and their practices, but again, if people want it up front, they are entitled to it.

The other thing is that if I had personally contributed to the production of a better agricultural product using recombinant DNA, I’d be proud of it and want people to know. I grant that large parts of the public might not be ready to appreciate it in these terms.

I’d really much rather see the effort go into educating the public than in lobbying with the intent to foist it on them unknowingly. Actually, Tyson’s remarks are a step in this direction and maybe some progress could be made if other popular and knowledgable figures were more outspoken about it.

However, I disagree with the emphasis (including Tyson’s) that they’re just the same as our “other” genetically modified foods (ordinary hybrids). If the process was just the same, there would be no advantage to it.

(I’m not completely sure about Monsanto and the non-reproducing seed issue. I don’t think they’re a great exemplar of corporate beneficence, but maybe it’s not such a big deal. They’ve been the whipping boy for agriculture biotech for, what 20 years now? At least.)

Mostly unrelated: I remember reading that Johnny Appleseed was religiously opposed to fruit trees produced by grafting. As a result, his apples were not of consistent quality for eating, but they were suitable for cider. I doubt there are many people today who would go that far, but there are all kinds of things people care about.

phhht said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I respectfully disagree on the labeling shtick. What’s next, requiring a “grown within 100 miles of a nuclear power facility” label? Basing it on what “the public wants to know and therefore has a right to know” seems like a slippery slope; you’re making policy dependent on the skill of pollsters. I’m sure that if asked “Would you like to know if the food you’re eating was grown using nuclear power,” most Americans would get alarmed and say yes. “Wants to know” is just dubious.

If there was a nutritional or other immediate health risk, that’s one thing. But no such credible risk exists.

And then there’s that whole “kosher” labeling schtick. “Wants kosher” is just dubious.

Kosher labeling is 100% voluntary.

callahanpb said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I respectfully disagree on the labeling shtick.

One alternative is voluntary non-GMO labeling, which may serve the same purpose (and which is already out there).

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. If someone wants to go to the trouble of making sure their product is gluten-free or lactose-free or cage-free or humanely-slaughtered or GMO-free, more power to them. Label away, as long as the label doesn’t make additional misleading claims (e.g., “prevents cancer”). But mandatory labeling for non-injurious things like GMOs just becomes a political tool. I’m sure the oil and coal lobby would love to get “Made using nuclear energy” labels for anything that might push people to buy more oil and coal power.

And I don’t know whether that Monsanto claim is true or not, though it does seem like something that could be easily disproven if it was false.

Cobb County tried stickers for evolution–essentially, poisoning the well. To be sure, that ran afoul of the First Amendment, and presumably GMO stickers would be legal, but what point is there to it other than well poisoning? Warning labels should favor public health, not hysterics whipped up by unscientific demagogues.

For those who don’t like GMOs, there are foods to buy that specifically exclude GMOs. Labeling is about scaring more people when there’s no scientific reason for alarm. Should warning labels about gluten be next, or is just one scare-mongering fad be indulged by the government?

Moving on, I don’t really see what the problem with crops engineered to be immune to glyphosate is. Glyphosate is one of the safest herbicides out there. Certainly it’s no long-term solution, as weeds evolve their own immunity (now some crops are immune to two broad-spectrum herbicides, presumably less safe than glyphosate use alone), but you get a couple of decades of really good weed suppression and almost certainly less environmental damage during that time.

Bt is a very safe insecticide, whose problems are mainly akin to glyphosate–it’s not permanent, or even all that long, but certainly valuable for a while. What is interesting is that the organism originally making it is almost the same as anthrax-producing bacteria, other than that the Bt toxin hits insects almost exclusively, at least among metazoa.

Glen Davidson

david.starling.macmillan said:

phhht said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I respectfully disagree on the labeling shtick. What’s next, requiring a “grown within 100 miles of a nuclear power facility” label? Basing it on what “the public wants to know and therefore has a right to know” seems like a slippery slope; you’re making policy dependent on the skill of pollsters. I’m sure that if asked “Would you like to know if the food you’re eating was grown using nuclear power,” most Americans would get alarmed and say yes. “Wants to know” is just dubious.

If there was a nutritional or other immediate health risk, that’s one thing. But no such credible risk exists.

And then there’s that whole “kosher” labeling schtick. “Wants kosher” is just dubious.

Kosher labeling is 100% voluntary.

callahanpb said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I respectfully disagree on the labeling shtick.

One alternative is voluntary non-GMO labeling, which may serve the same purpose (and which is already out there).

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. If someone wants to go to the trouble of making sure their product is gluten-free or lactose-free or cage-free or humanely-slaughtered or GMO-free, more power to them. Label away, as long as the label doesn’t make additional misleading claims (e.g., “prevents cancer”). But mandatory labeling for non-injurious things like GMOs just becomes a political tool. I’m sure the oil and coal lobby would love to get “Made using nuclear energy” labels for anything that might push people to buy more oil and coal power.

And I don’t know whether that Monsanto claim is true or not, though it does seem like something that could be easily disproven if it was false.

But people “want to know” for reasons which are not rational, e.g. “kosher.” Why not tell them? There is nothing shameful about GMO, is there?

No, of course not. It’s just that the marketers understand that if people do in fact “know”, some of them will not buy the product - for their own reasons. Who are we to withhold that information if it is desirable to consumers, whether it is “rational” to do so or not? As long as the information is TRUE and consumers demand it, why not require it?

Let the informed market decide, not the marketers.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

For those who don’t like GMOs, there are foods to buy that specifically exclude GMOs. Labeling is about scaring more people when there’s no scientific reason for alarm. Should warning labels about gluten be next, or is just one scare-mongering fad be indulged by the government?

Glen Davidson

In California, you almost cannot enter a public building without reading a warning about the presence of substances known to cause cancer. I don’t believe that these warnings do much good, but I don’t see any particular problem with them. A lot of things are carcinogens, though it’s generally a matter of chance rather than immediate cause and effect. You learn to ignore the signs. There is no well-poisoning effect.

Actually, with GMOs I would argue that the “well” of trust is already poisoned. The question is how to turn the culture around, not just to complain that people are stupid. (The culture can be turned around–as it has on littering, tobacco, and racism to name a few things.)

In a more reasonable society, GMOs would be touted as an advance, like “Intel inside” on a computer. New ways of producing drought-resistant or blight-resistant crops are a great boon. Actually, these is our only hopes for pushing Malthusian limits that much further along, and like it or not, we’re nowhere near zero population growth.

The fact that companies don’t want to take conspicuous credit for their innovation is the one thing that does make me suspicious. In fact, I attribute it to a lack of imagination about how far the culture could move rather than some nefarious plot, but is still the wrong way of doing business.

Specifically, selling people what they don’t want is the wrong way of doing business. The right way is to convince people that they want what you’re selling. This isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s advertising, one of the fields I though we were pretty good at in the US.

I’m also just very opposed to any suggestion that the public are rubes and ought to be treated as such. If most people are wrong about what they think of genetically modified food (and I believe many people are wrongly concerned, even more so in Europe) then they ought to be educated and persuaded. This is how cultural change is supposed to happen in an open society, not through subterfuge.

I’m also just very opposed to any suggestion that the public are rubes and ought to be treated as such.

So, how many fads are supposed to get their own labeling program, at some cost to those who don’t care about stupid lies? Indeed, why am I supposed to pay the price for a bunch of mindless rumor-mondering?

If most people are wrong about what they think of genetically modified food (and I believe many people are wrongly concerned, even more so in Europe)

Gee, I wonder why “teaching them” didn’t work? Could it be because fears sell positions when the facts do not? Matt Young wrote:

It is an article of faith that genetic modification is bad, and no amount of evidence can be adduced to change that opinion.

And if true, what is wrong with the following sentence fragment?

then they ought to be educated and persuaded.

Oh yes, there you go, teaching simply doesn’t work for a lot of rumor-mongering. But why not put the government in charge of implying that there’s something wrong that is totally unsupported by the evidence? You aren’t really advocating education, merely the well-poisoning desired by some quarters.

You can say how it should be accepted, but it hardly matters when we know how it will be accepted. You excuse your complicity in stoking hysteria by saying how it “should be,” when it simply isn’t that way at all.

This is how cultural change is supposed to happen in an open society, not through subterfuge.

What subterfuge? You haven’t produced the slightest evidence for that charge, it’s a made-up attack.

Is cultural change supposed to occur by government mandating the desires of an unscientific sector for implying that there is actually something to their nonsense? That’s not serving the public, it’s serving demagogic special interests.

You didn’t indicate how many fads are supposed to get government support by labeling mandates. Just the loudest? The least scientific? What?

Glen Davidson

Tyson argues, as I have for years, that all our food is genetically modified, but it took on the order of 10,000 years to get where we are now.

This tends to mislead, IMO. Obviously, in some broad sense it’s true, but previously we modified plants and animals via sexual reproduction, while genetic engineering is the sort of lateral transfer that isn’t very common among metazoa and metaphyta, especially not with the specificity and direction that result in GMOs.

It’s more like what happens among bacteria and archaea, only with a good deal more planning and forethought.

Of course this isn’t to suggest that this necessarily leads to any kind of health issues with foods from GMOs, but it really does at least allow for changes that could be dangerous in a way that plant breeding, including hybridization, typically doesn’t. Biologic weapons could certainly be produced by genetic engineering, almost certainly far more readily than any traditional genetic manipulations could.

I can’t see how that relates to food from GMOs–just to the differences in processes–but non-food GMOs have occasionally been mixed into food supplies. The point being that GMOs can be, and sometimes are, conversions into non-food producers (usually not likely to be very harmful, but still not proper for nutrition), which is almost (or completely?) unheard of for traditional breeding of crops. I do think that proper safeguards should manage such problems reasonably well, but it really is different kettle of fish in important ways. We don’t want crops engineered for drug production to end up in our food. The higher value of the drug crops alone would tend to prevent such mix-ups, but we do need regulations and other safeguards as well in a way that we didn’t need for, say, hybrids.

Genetic engineering allows a lot that traditional genetic manipulation does not, which is why it must be, and is, treated differently from organisms produced by traditional breeding and selection.

Glen Davidson

Finally, after a 12-year delay caused by opponents of genetically modified foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about 8 million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency. Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?

The figures might not be etched in stone, but there are devastating consequences of the nonsense coming from the anti-scientific Luddites

Rich nations can afford the BS much better, even labeling if legislated, but fostering this nonsense has real consequences in the poorer countries.

Glen Davidson

phhht said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

phhht said:

And then there’s that whole “kosher” labeling schtick. “Wants kosher” is just dubious.

Kosher labeling is 100% voluntary.

But people “want to know” for reasons which are not rational, e.g. “kosher.” Why not tell them? There is nothing shameful about GMO, is there?

For one thing, it’s not necessarily irrational to avoid pork or seafood, or to insist on humane slaughter.

But that’s beside the point. The people who want “kosher” are actually wanting “pork-free, seafood-free, humanely-slaughtered, etc. etc.”, and so if someone wants to go to the trouble to make something that fits all those criteria, they have every right to label it as such. Just like someone who goes to the trouble to make GMO-free food has every right to label it as such.

But insisting on labeling for GMO food is like insisting on a “non-kosher” label. It’s the wrong way round.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

What subterfuge? You haven’t produced the slightest evidence for that charge, it’s a made-up attack.

Glen Davidson

I didn’t actually make any charge, but I’ll withdraw the entire sentence if it makes a difference.

The counterargument strikes me as the slippery slope fallacy. This is a label people actually want enough to campaign for. Your well-poisoning has already happened and this is a symptom. You can imagine all kinds of other “fads” but this is the only one I’m aware of that has a serious constituency. We can talk about nuclear plant proximity labeling (David’s example) as soon as you point to a significant group that wants it.

Actually, this isn’t a big issue with me. I just looked it up, and it seems Vermont is the only state with such a law and they’re currently being sued (by industry, but the source that says this is biased). So we have one state where the democratic process did its thing, and the answer was GMO labeling. That does not give the answer any validity except that it reflects the will of the public. I don’t have to agree but in this case I don’t feel especially vehement about it. The government is actually empowered to pass a law requiring such labels if people vote for representatives that pass such a law.

BTW, what do you think of cancer warnings on buildings in California?

I would also like to counter any suggestion that I was equating GMO labels to “education”. They would be about as informative as the warnings on buildings in California (i.e. not very). The education would be whatever it takes to change the mind of people who are suspicious of GMO food. In fact, I’d be happy if the government funded a public service campaign on behalf of countering myths and promoting GMO food. (I’d actually vote for such a referendum in CA for instance, while I would not vote for a mandatory GMO labeling referendum if such a thing came up).

The GMO issue has been kicking around for over 20 years. I have read a lot of complaints about the public being misinformed, and precious few constructive suggestions of what to do about it.

david.starling.macmillan said:

But insisting on labeling for GMO food is like insisting on a “non-kosher” label. It’s the wrong way round.

FWIW, I actually think that voluntary non-GMO labeling is sufficient for purposes of keeping the public informed, and would be nearly equivalent in practice.

What has always annoyed me about this issue is that the reason that “bt” and “Roundup ready” crops are the face of GMO is the simple fact that it is almost impossible to get funding to make beneficial crops. This is primarily thanks to groups like Greenpeace. Where I come from, the well has been so poisoned that no amount of information will ever convince Jane and Joe Public that GM crops are anything other than Frankenfood.

I did have another question for Glen Davidson that I forgot.

If I wanted to know if any product contained GMO products (food, furniture, shoe polish), should I be able to? How much work should it require? E.g., if it’s fresh produce, then I should be able to look up the variety pretty easily. If it’s a highly processed good, perhaps there is no reasonable expectation of any audit trail. Both seem fine as long as there is not an intention to conceal the origin of the product.

I can also sort of accept your point that scare labeling is potentially detrimental, but I have always (perhaps mistakenly) thought that the stance against labeling was that it’s better for most people not to worry about it at all, since it really will be safe, and there is just a lot of misunderstanding about it. Maybe I’ve been misreading the view the whole time. I am really not an advocate of labeling, in case you thought so. I dislike anything that smacks of we-know-better-than-you paternalism, and if that’s a “made up attack” regarding GMO it is certainly not unprecedented in other technology areas such as nuclear power.

callahanpb said:

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

What subterfuge? You haven’t produced the slightest evidence for that charge, it’s a made-up attack.

Glen Davidson

I didn’t actually make any charge, but I’ll withdraw the entire sentence if it makes a difference.

What was this?

This is how cultural change is supposed to happen in an open society, not through subterfuge.

If you weren’t responding to subterfuge, why would you mention it?

The counterargument strikes me as the slippery slope fallacy.

That’s because you ignored the arguments I made against well-poisoning. Very convenient, then, to pretend that it was all about how many fads should be supported by the government. It’s about that, but not just about that, and it’s disingenuous to imply that it is about just that.

This is a label people actually want enough to campaign for.

So it’s the powerful groups that should have their agendas promoted by the government. We’re supposed to mandate the desires of powerful groups, apparently, irrespective of the merits.

Your well-poisoning has already happened and this is a symptom.

Ah, I see. Should we cater to creationist well-poisoning too?

You can imagine all kinds of other “fads” but this is the only one I’m aware of that has a serious constituency. We can talk about nuclear plant proximity labeling (David’s example) as soon as you point to a significant group that wants it.

No, you can go ahead and justify laws catering to dishonest groups because they’re powerful, if you have anything other than caving to powerful anti-science bigots to justify it.

So we have one state where the democratic process did its thing, and the answer was GMO labeling.

You really don’t know what you’re talking about. Washington had a referendum on a GMO labeling law a little under a year ago, and it was voted down. I voted against it, fwiw.

The government is actually empowered to pass a law requiring such labels if people vote for representatives that pass such a law.

That the best you can do? I didn’t say anything different, but I certainly don’t see any reason to support the agendas of the wackos.

BTW, what do you think of cancer warnings on buildings in California?

What do you suppose? They’re stupid. California warns, or at least did warn, about the carcinogenic capacity of silica, one of the most common natural substances on earth. It’s ridiculous.

I would also like to counter any suggestion that I was equating GMO labels to “education”.

I didn’t make any such suggestion, I was pointing out that your “cure” of education doesn’t affect people emotionally tied to nonsense. Something anyone fighting against creationism should recognize.

The GMO issue has been kicking around for over 20 years. I have read a lot of complaints about the public being misinformed, and precious few constructive suggestions of what to do about it.

That’s because it’s like creationism, about all you can do is ridicule the ridiculous on the one hand, and provide information for the open-minded (all too few) on the other hand.

Glen Davidson

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

No, you can go ahead and justify laws

If a law is constitutional and is passed according to a constitutional process, no further argument is needed to justify it, at least on legal grounds.

You seem to be suggesting that you can invalidate a democratic process simply because you disagree with the conclusion.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

Finally, after a 12-year delay caused by opponents of genetically modified foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about 8 million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency. Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?

The figures might not be etched in stone, but there are devastating consequences of the nonsense coming from the anti-scientific Luddites

Rich nations can afford the BS much better, even labeling if legislated, but fostering this nonsense has real consequences in the poorer countries.

Glen Davidson

I don’t doubt the benefits and effectiveness of Golden Rice, and I know it’s been held back by a bunch of panicky activists for a variety of reasons that don’t amount to much. At the same time, I have trouble trusting anything coming from Bjorn Lomborg, especially when it’s used to take a shot at environmentalists. I really wish people would stop citing him since he’s already proven himself to be less than trustworthy on climate matters.

callahanpb said:

I did have another question for Glen Davidson that I forgot.

If I wanted to know if any product contained GMO products (food, furniture, shoe polish), should I be able to?

Gee, how about drugs? BTW, why are drugs that are the result of genetic engineering typically off of the agenda? Because people aren’t going enough to die for these charlatans (my Mom is in remission due to a GMO-produced cancer drug, Rituxan), while they might buy into their lies about their food?

Sure, if you want to find out, find out. I don’t have any reason to facilitate the stupidity of people however.

How much work should it require?

How much work should it require to find out if your food is the result of hybridization?

E.g., if it’s fresh produce, then I should be able to look up the variety pretty easily.

Why? Do I owe you easy information on hybridization, or the ferilizer used? Go to a “natural foods” store, they’ll sell you something non-GMO. There would be better reason to tell people what pesticides have been used.

If it’s a highly processed good, perhaps there is no reasonable expectation of any audit trail. Both seem fine as long as there is not an intention to conceal the origin of the product.

There never was any intention to conceal the origin of the product. Any American not trying to avoid GMOs has been eating a lot of food from them as it is.

I can also sort of accept your point that scare labeling is potentially detrimental, but I have always (perhaps mistakenly) thought that the stance against labeling was that it’s better for most people not to worry about it at all, since it really will be safe, and there is just a lot of misunderstanding about it.

There is a huge number of facts about your food that you’re not privy to. Basically, what you know about food that isn’t organic, or non-GMO, is that it (most likely) complies with the requirements of the US government, and possibly of certain states.

Maybe I’ve been misreading the view the whole time. I am really not an advocate of labeling, in case you thought so.

Whatever. It’s just absurd to suppose that we ought to cave to the loudest numbskulls out there.

I dislike anything that smacks of we-know-better-than-you paternalism, and if that’s a “made up attack” regarding GMO it is certainly not unprecedented in other technology areas such as nuclear power.

Well, whatever the past of nuclear power, it’s the only low carbon source of baseload power now that is even close to affordable (sure, it’s bankrupting France, Yardbird, yuou twit), so that’s another case where do-gooders are doing anything but good. But they’re very self-righteous, and tend to get a pass for supposedly being well-motivated, so it’s always blather about using wind and solar, while those are only tokens and we get carbon fuels burned instead.

Glen Davidson

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

This is how cultural change is supposed to happen in an open society, not through subterfuge.

If you weren’t responding to subterfuge, why would you mention it?

Glen Davidson

Got carried away here. Retracting it.

Keeping the positive half of the point, though. So why is an industry poised to do great things so bad at marketing its own potential? This is actually pathetic. I mean this as a real criticism, not a snark. I have seen a lot of complaints about the stupid uninformed public for at least 20 years. Given the resources of multi-billion dollar industries, there ought be some attempt to move the needle a little. The trend has been in the opposite direction (organic, locally grown, etc. which are fine for consumers with money but a bad way to feed the whole word) Maybe the word I’m looking for is not education but advertising (and I already used it in the previous post).

I still feel there is a lack of imagination here. The assumption seems to be that people will never actually desire GMO food and there is no way to change that. Which is a pretty defeatist starting position. (I’d be first in line to try golden rice if I knew where to get it).

Eventually, the developing world may have to lead the way because they really can’t afford boutique products. Having the luxury to afford what you actually want to eat makes other products a tough sell whether or not you rationally “should” be willing to eat them.

callahanpb said:

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

No, you can go ahead and justify laws

If a law is constitutional and is passed according to a constitutional process, no further argument is needed to justify it, at least on legal grounds.

Duh, cretin.

The issue is whether or not we should fight such laws, whether they’re legitimate demands upon society. As I wrote in my first comment on this thread:

To be sure, that ran afoul of the First Amendment, and presumably GMO stickers would be legal, but what point is there to it other than well poisoning? Warning labels should favor public health, not hysterics whipped up by unscientific demagogues.

Clearly I know that the laws can be passed, but decent people want decent laws, not mobocracy. There are public health reasons for some labeling laws, there can be environmental labeling for the sake of our world, and GMO labeling fails to meet such normal justifications. Tyranny of the majority, or of the noisy minority, is not in the public interest.

You seem to be suggesting that you can invalidate a democratic process simply because you disagree with the conclusion.

You seem to be lying.

Glen Davidson

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

Clearly I know that the laws can be passed, but decent people want decent laws, not mobocracy.

Maybe I’m not a decent person. I primarily want laws that reflect the will of the people (according to a particular process that will often not represent all people). If the law is fairly harmless on other grounds, I prefer it to whatever other law I might impose if it were up to me. Beyond a certain point, a law can be unjust (Jim Crow, obviously or laws that try to inject creationism into science class). If it’s unconstitutional, it can be overturned on those grounds, but I would oppose an unjust law independent of its constitutionality.

I don’t consider requirements to label GMO food to be unjust. Pointless maybe (like CA carcinogen building signs) but not unjust.

So why is an industry poised to do great things so bad at marketing its own potential?

Why is science, which is poised for much more discovery, so bad at marketing its own potential?

Actually, in many ways it even isn’t, which is why creationists want to don the mantle of science. Yet demagogues can still persuade huge numbers of the public that evolution is just a way to rationalize atheism.

This is actually pathetic. I mean this as a real criticism, not a snark. I have seen a lot of complaints about the stupid uninformed public for at least 20 years.

Largely misplaced, since most people are bound not to know a great deal of science. Many people are fooled about their own finances, something that they actually do care a great deal about, yet they’re naive enough to fall for scams.

Given the resources of multi-billion dollar industries, there ought be some attempt to move the needle a little.

Corporations don’t get to spend money on educating the public, or only rarely do when it helps their bottom line.

I still feel there is a lack of imagination here. The assumption seems to be that people will never actually desire GMO food and there is no way to change that.

But why should they desire GMO food, other than that it’s cheaper? We don’t need “golden rice” to get beta-carotene, and the main value for the consumer is that GMOs tend to produce cheaper food. And most consumers really don’t care, except to buy what’s good quality and affordable.

Farmers are sold GMOs, because Bt corn and glyphosate-tolerant crops have been rather cheaper to produce.

Eventually, the developing world may have to lead the way because they really can’t afford boutique products. Having the luxury to afford what you actually want to eat makes other products a tough sell whether or not you rationally “should” be willing to eat them.

What you seem not to be aware of is that an awful lot of the anti-GMO hysteria arose when Monsanto threatened European agricultural markets. No doubt a lot of the BS was believed, because it was convenient for them to do so, but protectionists and entrenched agricultural interests in Europe felt threatened by GMOs, which were largely American, not European.

There was a lot of money opposed to Monsanto, and European interests protected themselves (believing their own junk, or not) by demonizing GMOs. Poor countries paid the real price. Idiots propagated the “message,” of course, but it likely wouldn’t be a powerful crackpot position today if it weren’t for European moneyed interests.

That, by the way, is also why there is a lot less anti-GMO hysteria in the US. Health gurus make money off of it, but there hasn’t been the large moneyed interests opposed to GMOs in America like there has been in Europe.

Glen Davidson

Many people are fooled about their own finances, something that they actually do care a great deal about, yet they’re naive enough to fall for scams.

Or, much bigger, they fall for houses of cards that financial gurus sell them, almost certainly most often because the financial “wizards” themselves believe it.

Housing prices have never gone down nationwide for an entire year, so your house “investment” is safe. It makes no sense to believe that when housing prices are rising at high rates year over year (why not rather say, what goes up must come down? At least when the rise is well above wage increases, anyway).

But no one wants to leave a “sure thing” on the table, not to make money when one’s neighbors are raking it in.

Glen Davidson

On the subject of monarchs and suspicion, monarchs seem so well adapted to large scale migrations (unlike any other kind of butterfly) that I suspect it is not a recent phenomenon, convenient as that would be in putting our collective conscience to rest.

I don’t have a lot to go on here, but a starting point would be to look for references in indigenous folklore of the regions where monarchs gather. I did find this tiny shred (from a tourism website):

http://mexicolesstraveled.com/monarch.htm

[Monarch migration] is an essential part of indigenous folklore and rituals in large areas of Mexico; a natural time clock for the changing of the seasons.

It’s an interesting subject, and I don’t claim that this resolves anything (popular claims about indigenous folklore are unreliable). My hunch is more along the lines that if monarchs were currently overpopulated, the migration would look like Malthusian disaster (think swarm of diseased rats) rather than the spectacular, choreographed event that people travel to see.

It may or may not be easy to resolve this from written accounts. Spanish missions were already in Mexico before the development of midwest agriculture, so you’d think a sudden increase in the monarch population would not go unrecorded.

ksplawn said:

We don’t engineer plants to produce herbicides. We engineer them to resist herbicides, and specific ones at that. Somewhat different kind of consequences there.

In practice, I’m pretty sure you’re right that we don’t, though there’s no obvious contradiction assuming the plant in question is immune to the effects of whatever herbicide it could produce. Plants clearly do have means of competing with other species of plants, at least by starving them out or depriving them of sunlight. I’m not sure if it extends to the production of herbicides that affect other species, but it would surprise me if nothing like this ever happened.

callahanpb said:

Do you have anything better than suspicion to go on? This is the first I’ve heard of the idea that monarch underwent a population boom with modern agriculture. It would change the picture somewhat if we had any reason to believe it, but you’d need better evidence to back it up.

If you had read beyond the portion you quoted, you would see something addressing this question of my personal certainty. Furthermore, I have never said anything to indicate that monarchs DIDN’T form massive migrations in the past.

callahanpb said:

ksplawn said:

We don’t engineer plants to produce herbicides. We engineer them to resist herbicides, and specific ones at that. Somewhat different kind of consequences there.

In practice, I’m pretty sure you’re right that we don’t, though there’s no obvious contradiction assuming the plant in question is immune to the effects of whatever herbicide it could produce. Plants clearly do have means of competing with other species of plants, at least by starving them out or depriving them of sunlight. I’m not sure if it extends to the production of herbicides that affect other species, but it would surprise me if nothing like this ever happened.

Again, please read my posts beyond the part you’re quoting. And if you encounter a word you might not be familiar with, please do look it up.

This article on “superweeds” appeared today in my local paper. Note especially the observation that weeds resistant to glyphosate began to appear within a few years after glyphosate-resistant crops were introduced:

But overreliance on Roundup accelerated the spread of weeds resistant to glyphosate. After the first few years of remarkably clean fields, farmers began to notice that they needed to apply Roundup earlier in the year, when weeds were no more than 3 or 4 inches tall. Then, some fields began to need two or three applications a year for effective weed control.

Weeds that were resistant to glyphosate survived, flowered and seeded. In fields that used the herbicide year after year, the weed populations skyrocketed.

Glyphosate resistance would have evolved anyway, but glyphosate-resistant crops arguably reduced the useful lifetime of glyphosate by allowing its indiscriminate application.

The industry’s answer? Spray with 2 herbicides.

ksplawn said:

We don’t engineer plants to produce herbicides. We engineer them to resist herbicides, and specific ones at that. Somewhat different kind of consequences there.

I don’t even known how we’d create transgenic crops with herbicidal features. Wouldn’t that generally make the crop itself non-viable? In nature, there are plants with mild herbicidal properties via allelopathy in order to out-compete other species in the same space, but those mechanisms are probably very intricate and tightly-dependent on several genetic traits distributed throughout the genome working together instead of being a package of a single gene, promoters for that gene, and genetic markers to ferret out cross-breeding abuses. I think fears of accidentally creating weeds with super-allelopathy (or however you’d want to make a plant literally herbicidal) are pretty much unreasonable to start with.

Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be keeping on top of this stuff. But it does bug me when the potential risks are so misunderstood. It’s almost like saying “What if we accidentally created ivy that dissolves human flesh?”

This is not correct. Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) bacteria is a natural herbicide. Additionally, it is non toxic to people. BT corn has been genetically altered to produce Bt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneti[…]dified_maize

Bt happens to be one of the few herbicides the organic community can use without affecting the organic label. Organic practices would dictate it’s use only when necessary. When Bt corn was introduced, the organic community strongly objected because constant exposure to the pesticide is the sure way to produce Bt resistant pests (as has been demonstrated with other pesticides). Bt resistant insects would have significant adverse affect on organic farming. While big agriculture will simply move on to the next chemical/GMO solution to the problem, devastated organic farms will be left in the wake. Multi-billion dollar agriculture vs. small individual organic farms. Who has the political power? Who do you think won that battle?

There you have it folks. Documented evidence of doing one thing causing problems later. Yet, it was allowed to happen.

GMO labeling would allow consumers who wish to put free market pressure on the agriculture industry are prevented from doing so because GMO products are hidden among non-GMO products on the shelf. In my opinion, GMO labeling is a reasonable compromise.

alicejohn said:

ksplawn said:

We don’t engineer plants to produce herbicides. We engineer them to resist herbicides, and specific ones at that. Somewhat different kind of consequences there.

I don’t even known how we’d create transgenic crops with herbicidal features. Wouldn’t that generally make the crop itself non-viable? In nature, there are plants with mild herbicidal properties via allelopathy in order to out-compete other species in the same space, but those mechanisms are probably very intricate and tightly-dependent on several genetic traits distributed throughout the genome working together instead of being a package of a single gene, promoters for that gene, and genetic markers to ferret out cross-breeding abuses. I think fears of accidentally creating weeds with super-allelopathy (or however you’d want to make a plant literally herbicidal) are pretty much unreasonable to start with.

Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be keeping on top of this stuff. But it does bug me when the potential risks are so misunderstood. It’s almost like saying “What if we accidentally created ivy that dissolves human flesh?”

This is not correct. Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) bacteria is a natural herbicide. Additionally, it is non toxic to people. BT corn has been genetically altered to produce Bt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneti[…]dified_maize

Bt happens to be one of the few herbicides the organic community can use without affecting the organic label. Organic practices would dictate it’s use only when necessary. When Bt corn was introduced, the organic community strongly objected because constant exposure to the pesticide is the sure way to produce Bt resistant pests (as has been demonstrated with other pesticides). Bt resistant insects would have significant adverse affect on organic farming. While big agriculture will simply move on to the next chemical/GMO solution to the problem, devastated organic farms will be left in the wake. Multi-billion dollar agriculture vs. small individual organic farms. Who has the political power? Who do you think won that battle?

There you have it folks. Documented evidence of doing one thing causing problems later. Yet, it was allowed to happen.

GMO labeling would allow consumers who wish to put free market pressure on the agriculture industry are prevented from doing so because GMO products are hidden among non-GMO products on the shelf. In my opinion, GMO labeling is a reasonable compromise.

My mistake. Bt is a pesticide.

GMO labeling would allow consumers who wish to put free market pressure on the agriculture industry are prevented from doing so because GMO products are hidden among non-GMO products on the shelf. In my opinion, GMO labeling is a reasonable compromise.

I guess I’m not sure what mandatory GMO labeling would accomplish that voluntary non-GMO labeling wouldn’t.

And in this particular instance, we’d be better served with a “contains/does not contain genetically-expressed Bt pesticide-grown crops” label.

ksplawn said:

If you had read beyond the portion you quoted, you would see something addressing this question of my personal certainty

I read the whole thing before I responded. I just reread it, and I still don’t see anything beyond a certain amount of speculation that cultivating the prairie might have led to milkweed proliferation and and increase in monarch population.

If it helps, I will change my reply:

Do you have anything better than suspicion speculation about the effects of Great Plains agriculture to go on?

The “taming of the Great Plains” was a fairly recent event (second half of 19th century) and parts of Mexico known for monarch migration (Michoacán) had been colonized centuries earlier. Is there any historical record of an increase in monarch migrations? That would be interesting to know and would be strong support for your claim. If there is no such record, that would also require explanation.

Again, please read my posts beyond the part you’re quoting. And if you encounter

My bad. I admit I got as far as “Wouldn’t that generally make the crop itself non-viable?” and did not read further for your qualifications. I’ll be more careful in the future.

But we all have time constraints, right? You started by laying one stake in the ground: we don’t engineer plants with herbicides. I’m still not even sure that’s true, or that nobody would ever try (hard to search, and results tend to come up for herbicide resistance). Obviously it would have to be one that did not kill the plant itself.

Your second stake in the ground was the sentence ending with “non-viable.” I was hasty in responding, but I would not have expected the qualification to come right after a question like that. My comment basically agreed with your qualification.

a word you might not be familiar with, please do look it up.

Can we avoid the condescension? My reply was not intended to be hostile and I’m sorry if it came across like that. I used the word “suspicion”, since you literally did say “suspect”. I used the word myself in a subsequent comment, since suspicion is all I have too, until I do some research. But if you think that was discourteous, I’ll retract the term.

I think that if monarch butterfly populations are actually diminishing from a human-induced peak, that would be quite interesting to know. But I also think that your explanation is insufficient to establish it. I realize that you did not claim that it was sufficient, but I wonder if you’re interested in the question enough to make a more convincing case.

“Perhaps someone more familiar with the issues (or with better access to the scientific literature) than me could look into these questions.”

If you really can’t devote the time to read an entire comment, why do you devote the time respond to part of it?

ksplawn said:

“Perhaps someone more familiar with the issues (or with better access to the scientific literature) than me could look into these questions.”

If you really can’t devote the time to read an entire comment, why do you devote the time respond to part of it?

This is now the third time I’ve reread your comment about monarchs in its entirety. I admit that my attention was not drawn to this weak, generic disclaimer until you pointed it out just now. I’m not sure how you think its existence would change the contents of my replies.

(And fine, I will retract my expectations of courtesy. You can be condescending as all f*** if you want. I was not originally trying to pick a fight, but if the above comes across as hostile, you are entitled to view it that way.)

By contrast, you are correct that I would have acknowledged your point that “there are plants with mild herbicidal” if I had made it that far, and I once again apologize for that. That reply was intended as kind of a pedantic aside and I should not have posted it.

ksplawn said:

“Perhaps someone more familiar with the issues (or with better access to the scientific literature) than me could look into these questions.”

If you really can’t devote the time to read an entire comment, why do you devote the time respond to part of it?

Or was this directed at my statement:

but I wonder if you’re interested in the question enough to make a more convincing case.

In which case you’re saying that if I had only thought about the implications of “Perhaps …” I would see that the answer to my musing is a resounding “No.”

Jesus Christ, get over yourself.

ksplawn said:

Jesus Christ, get over yourself.

Sorry for personalizing things.

What makes me laugh, or is it cry, is Monsanto marketing Round-Up for home use. Have you seen the inane TV ads? In the time it takes to drive to the store, buy Round-Up, and drive back home you could pull all the weeds from your yard. You won’t be left with dead plants in your sidewalk cracks or flower beds, you won’t be applying poisons to your lawn, and you will save tons of money. This is a company manufacturing a solution for a non-problem. For the most part, home use of herbicide or pesticides should be avoided.

There are several problematic weeds that really are asking for a spritz of glyphosate.

Dandelions have a substantial taproot, and if you don’t manually pluck out the whole thing a dandelion can quickly grow back. Blackberries can be extremely invasive. They root very deeply and have starchy nodules that let them come back after being manually mowed, trimmed, or pulled. Poison ivy can be a severe irritant to many people, preventing manual removal and control. I know my mother sometimes gets problems just by mowing it, even if her skin never physically touches the plant itself.

Not that I’m totally against “weeds.” Dandelions are very edible and nutritious. Blackberries, likewise. Heck, even kudzu has significant benefits and is used commercially in its native lands for human AND animal feed. That’s not even considering the upsides to erosion control and reducing runoff for just about all of those.

But the old adage is that “a weed is a plant where you don’t want it.” And the “weediest” species of plants tend to be very good at getting into the places they’re not wanted, despite our best efforts.

I started to use glyphosate (low toxicity, in fact), and it was an interesting experience to finally go to a store.

I mean, it’s not like anyone goes to stores for other things, and might actually buy glyphosate then.

Glen Davidson

DS said:

Carl W said:

DS said:

The EPA and the FDA are essentially impotent. They have not conducted or required the kind of testing that is necessary in order to address long term concerns.

What additional tests do you think the FDA should require? Should crops created with mutation breeding have the same requirement? How about conventional breeding?

Well for starters, it would be a good idea to test crops that are engineered to express high levels of pesticides in order to determine if the genes are expressed in pollen. This would have sent up a warning flag that could have helped to prevent the damage done to monarch caterpillars. Testing for introgression into native populations would also be a good idea, along with more safeguards to try to prevent such things from happening. Testing for persistence of herbicides in waste produced by harvesting would also be desirable, as well as testing persistence in soil, ground water, runoff, streams and lakes. In general, somebody should be considering the long term consequences of planting millions of acres in genetically engineered crops and they should be doing this before planting occurs. The type of testing required would depend on the type of modification. If the companies that are marketing these products cannot, or will not, perform the testing, then the government should be responsible.

Those sound like tests you think the EPA should perform or require. I haven’t read enough about ecology, or the ecological effects of GMOs, to even have an opinion on the topic.

I specifically asked about the FDA, rather than the EPA.

Lower toxicity than pulling weeds by hand?

A couple more comments about monarch butterflies and their population levels.

Despite being known to Europeans for a long time, monarch wintering sites in Mexico were not known (outside that region) until 1975 (after decades of research by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Urquhart). By that time, obviously, the effects of Great Plains agriculture would have already had an impact.

However, Urquhart had been studying monarchs since 1937 and you’d think he would have noticed any major increases in population. The Great Plains were settled mostly in the second part of the 19th century, but farming technology changed significantly between 1937 and 1975. Even if 1937 monarch populations were high, 1975 populations would be higher if the cause had been milkweed associated with cultivated land.

Has anyone ever documented an increase in monarch population? (It could be cyclical, but there should be longterm trends that would be noticeable.)

So in short, I am very skeptical that Urquhart was actually studying an artificially boosted population of monarchs and not something closer to the pre-Great Plains farming norm.

I was curious what was known to people living near the wintering sites. In fact, several sources refer to indigenous folklore, and particularly a connection with dia de los muertos. http://www.americanforests.org/maga[…]g-michoacan/ http://www.mexonline.com/mariposas-monarcas.htm

From the first link:

No one knows for sure how long the butterflies have been coming to these mountaintops, or how long indigenous people have lived in their midst. What we do know is that the butterflies have influenced the culture of these people for centuries, as evidenced by the myths and folklore that surround them. The monarchs arrive on or near November 2, when Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead, known as All Souls Day by Christians in the US) is celebrated across Mexico as a time to remember loved ones who have passed on. Because the two events have coincided for so long, many in these mountains believe that the butterflies carry with them the returning souls of their ancestors.

This is something I’ll follow up on, but I’m more convinced now than initially that large monarch populations are not an artifact of Great Plains cultivation. Has anyone ever made a published claim to this effect?

david.starling.macmillan said:

I guess I’m not sure what mandatory GMO labeling would accomplish that voluntary non-GMO labeling wouldn’t.

And in this particular instance, we’d be better served with a “contains/does not contain genetically-expressed Bt pesticide-grown crops” label.

Who took the action that started the debate? The GMO industry introduced a product that some people object to for a variety of reasons, some valid, some ridiculous. GMO clearly dominate the market and, as a result, are the economic giant. Why put the burden on the little guy to educate the consumer? The GMO industry performed the action that caused the concern, they should bare the burden to educate the consumer.

As has been pointed out by others, the GMO industry have been successful at everything but PR. A large part of the PR problem is their insistence at not being visible to the consumer. The government’s siding with the industry has not helped their PR case. It actually has had the opposite affect. GMO label will significantly help their PR. Ultimately, I seriously doubt if GMO labeling will have the slightest affect on the GMO industry. I bet you a vast majority of consumers have no idea that a majority of the food they eat is a GMO. And nearly 100% of them do not care. In some ways, the GMO industry and its backers are begin more paranoid than the GMO opponents.

How about this for a GMO-free label: “Completely Free of Environmental-Altering GMO”. I think it would pass a legal challenge.

If we began labeling GMOs we would see thousands of people develop “GMO allergy” overnight.

Carl W said:

Those sound like tests you think the EPA should perform or require. I haven’t read enough about ecology, or the ecological effects of GMOs, to even have an opinion on the topic.

I specifically asked about the FDA, rather than the EPA.

Well the FDA should definitely test for allergic reactions and label accordingly. This is probably not a big problem, but it could at least alleviate some fears. They should also test for the effects of altered hormone levels in modified animals, such as growth hormone in cow milk. And of course, any immunization program should be carefully tested and monitored, especially considering some of the fears over immunization. You can’t really object on “religious grounds” if you don’t know that you are being immunized. This is also probably not a big problem, but the idea of informed consent kind of depends on the informed part. This can be especially problematic in third world countries, where such technology is most likely to be employed. Really, long term tests on the effects of any significant modification in nutrient content would be a good idea, if only to demonstrate the efficacy of the modification. Whatever the original intent, unintended consequences can always occur. This is certainly true for any modification involving shelf life. The appearance of the product might not remain a reliable indicator of nutritional content, so proper testing would have to be done to determine the more subtle effects of these modifications.

Whether the FDA should be responsible for all of these tests or not, at least somebody somewhere should be paying closer attention to the direct effects of modifications that could impact a significant proportion of the population. Considering their track record with the pharmaceutical industry, one could certainly argue that a more trustworthy approach should be required.

Sorry my comment below is a non sequitur.

callahanpb said:

but farming technology changed significantly between 1937 and 1975. Even if 1937 monarch populations were high, 1975 populations would be higher if the cause had been milkweed associated with cultivated land.

The claim was that milkweed proliferates in disrupted land. The Great Plains were already very disrupted by the time of the Dust Bowl. Even if agriculture productivity later increased, the native prairie was already destroyed. So there is no reason to expect an increase in milkweed after 1937.

I found it counterintuitive that milkweed would be less common in uncultivated prairie, but it is backed up here (for common milkweed specifically).

http://monarchwatch.org/bring-back-[…]pias-syriaca

Among the milkweeds, this species is the best at colonizing in disturbed sites. Within its range it can be found in a broad array of habitats from croplands, to pastures, roadsides, ditches and old fields. It is surprisingly rare in prairies in the Midwest being found mostly in disturbed sites within these habitats.

The wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asclepias_syriaca also says:

Deforestation due to European settlement may have expanded the range and density of milkweed.

It does not give any citation for this.

Deforestation would have preceded Great Plains farming, so maybe there was an earlier milkweed/monarch boom.

This would again be pretty interesting, but I really don’t believe it.

Disclaimer: I’m not any sort of expert on this; the following is mostly from a few hours with Google.

DS said:

Well the FDA should definitely test for allergic reactions and label accordingly. This is probably not a big problem, but it could at least alleviate some fears.

The FDA does pay attention to allergens. Rather than labeling, evidently the approach is that GMO organisms should avoid all known allergens; evidently the approach has worked so far, because I’m not aware of any research showing that a currently-available GMO has introduced an allergen. According to this post, the approach is not considered foolproof, but it’s difficult to come up with a better approach: http://grist.org/food/genetically-e[…]regulations/

They should also test for the effects of altered hormone levels in modified animals, such as growth hormone in cow milk.

I’m not sure what you mean by “modified animals”. AFAICT rbGH is produced by GMO bacteria and then injected into milk cows; do you count injections as modifications? Anyway, I looked up the FDA report on the issue; from reading the report, their stance seems to be appropriately science-based. (However, the FDA position is controversial, and I didn’t spend much time looking for science on the other side.) http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary[…]cm130321.htm

And of course, any immunization program should be carefully tested and monitored, especially considering some of the fears over immunization. You can’t really object on “religious grounds” if you don’t know that you are being immunized. This is also probably not a big problem, but the idea of informed consent kind of depends on the informed part. This can be especially problematic in third world countries, where such technology is most likely to be employed.

Interesting. I hadn’t realized that people were working on GMO crops that produce vaccines, but evidently it’s a topic of current research (in particular, researchers are working on a GMO banana that is an oral vaccine for Hepatitis B). AFAICT it’s only in the lab so far, but yes, before it gets to the production stage there are significant issues of monitoring and informed consent to work out. (Although I’m not sure it’s the FDA’s job to worry about informed consent in third-world contries.)

Really, long term tests on the effects of any significant modification in nutrient content would be a good idea, if only to demonstrate the efficacy of the modification. Whatever the original intent, unintended consequences can always occur. This is certainly true for any modification involving shelf life. The appearance of the product might not remain a reliable indicator of nutritional content, so proper testing would have to be done to determine the more subtle effects of these modifications.

I hadn’t thought of that potential issue with shelf life modifications; that’s a good point.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on August 6, 2014 6:14 PM.

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