Amazon.com Widgets

« Links With Your Coffee - Friday | Main | Links With Your Coffee - Saturday »

More on GMO and the Place of Technology Generally



Q&A with Chef Dan Barber: Can organic farming feed the world? (He thinks it can)

 

Comments

I enjoyed this talk too. But I remain unconvinced on GE.

In fact, I think he was even less fair than the last talk you posted, because he didn't even acknowledge any of the problems associated with GE crops (ie. vast monocultures, seed saving vs. buying, profiteering by multinational corporations who take advantage of the poor, and so on) as the last guy did, before not addressing any of those concerns.

At least some people who remain skeptical of the claims of GE promoters are not against it because we're against science. We have legitimate concerns that have little to do with the science in many cases, but to do with legal, economic, and trade policy. There are some scientific fears too I suppose, and again, some of them I think are perfectly legitimate. Everyone always cites the "golden rice" as what GE is all about (as he did here), when really, that case is more of an outlier. There are like a handful of these "magic" seeds that are going to save the world from hunger/blindness/whatever. But most of the money and effort is in things like producing seeds with pesticides in them so they don't require spraying (perhaps noble, except that studies have found that the bugs quickly become resistant to the pesticides in the seeds and it's difficult to change that sort of thing the way you can change a spray) or more overtly problematic, producing seeds which are resistant to certain kinds of weed killers so farmers can spray with abandon and kill everything except the crops grown from the special seeds. What problem does this solve exactly? You're still being extremely wasteful with the spraying, covering the crops with pesticides, and on top of that you had to buy special, expensive non-savable seeds. I guess yields are more reliably higher or require less effort to tend to? Looks to me like a clever way to sell both seeds and the weed killer, both made by the same corporation. And isn't most of the GE research going into ways to produce the non-food crops anyway? Like the non-food corn used to make corn syrup. None of that is about saving the world, it's all about making money while simultaneously making my food taste worse. I've eaten food all over the world, and American food is some of the worst. Is it really too big a leap to blame "food science?" We certainly have the most of that.

But again, I'm not fundamentally opposed to the idea of GE food, but I do question the PR from Monsanto and the gang in a way that Mr. Brand doesn't seem to. Because the issue is a lot bigger than the science behind the seeds.

But I remain unconvinced on GE.

If the issue is profiteering etc, then you should make that issue. But you make GE the issue. You conflate the two. That's like saying I'm opposed to cars because some Toyotas don't stop the way they should.

Let me recommend that you read Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food a book that will put the issue in perspective for you.

Norm, I think you are overlooking a core component to Daniel's (and my) concerns about GMOs, which is that its supposed benefits can be met without GMOs.

Look at it this way: Is it possible for the abolizer or whatever it's called (that electronic device that tightens one's abs) to give you a trimmer physique? Sure. (I don't know if it actually works, but let's assume it does for the sake of this analogy.) But you know what else works? Sit-ups. Since a simple, free, non-electronic method for tightening one's abs exists, why should we spend money on a device to do the same? (Throw in the possibility that it doesn't work and this argument becomes even more compelling.)

The answer, of course, is that we are lazy and we don't want to do sit-ups.

The same can be said for GMOs. They might be able to reduce world hunger and disease and climate change, but you know what else would do those things? Wiser use of arable land, reducing our meat consumption, expanding the use of birth control, etc. Throw in the possibility that GMOs might be bad for us and/or the environment, and this argument becomes even more compelling.

Why not employ the simple, cheap, already existing method instead of embracing the expensive, untested, possibly dangerous method?

The answer, of course, is that we are lazy and self-indulgent, and do not want to eat less meat and stop consuming corn syrup and so forth.

Also, it was just yesterday, I think, that you admitted you only started paying attention to the topic of GMOs, and now you are recommending "Tomorrow's Table" as a book that will "put the issue in perspective for" us. Are we to infer that you read "Tomorrow's Table" and fully digested (pun intended) its contents just since yesterday?

Norm, I think you are overlooking a core component to Daniel's (and my) concerns about GMOs, which is that its supposed benefits can be met without GMOs.

The problem will not be solved in our lifetimes if history is a guide. Take off your rose-colored glasses. Remember: It's not an either or question. It's not an either or question. It's not an either or question. We should use all the tools we have to solve the problem.

Throw in the possibility that it doesn't work and this argument becomes even more compelling.

But it does work, and in many cases it works better than traditional methods. Take the example of Papaya in Hawaii. It was saved through genetic engineering that protected it from the ringspot virus. I'm sure you're aware of Golden Rice and the potential it has for helping the third world.

Also, it was just yesterday, I think, that you admitted you only started paying attention to the topic of GMOs, and now you are recommending "Tomorrow's Table" as a book that will "put the issue in perspective for" us. Are we to infer that you read "Tomorrow's Table" and fully digested (pun intended) its contents just since yesterday?

Not paying much attention is not being totally ignorant on the topic, and yes you are correct to infer that I read "Tomorrow's Table" yesterday. And no I haven't fully digested it, but I'm well on my way. I told you I'd be educating myself on the subject and that's what I'm doing.

Let me know when you've finished reading it? Hell send me an email with your name and address and I'll have a copy sent to you.

I'm not familiar with the papaya dilemma to which you refer, but if GE (genetic engineering, not General Electric) helped save the papaya, then bully for GE. I only hope that there aren't three Roundup Readies for every papaya. If so, I'll take a papaya-less world if that's the price for a Roundup Redy-less world. But unfortunately, that genie is already out of the bottle.

It may please you to know that Roundup is far less toxic than most of the pesticides in use, or so says the book you'll soon be reading. That's not to say that we should avoid using pesticides if possible.

It's not the Roundup that concerns me so much as the genetically modified "Roundup Ready" crops, which are cross-polinating with the weeds in their midst, thereby making them impervious to Roundup, not to mention the patented seeds that Monsanto is suing farmers over.

But I'll suspend my comments for now until I've finished with the book (and the subject comes up again.)

It's not an either or question. It's not an either or question. It's not an either or question.

Right! It's not EITHER "GMOs are all dangerous; none should ever be used in crops" OR "they're totally fine- bring 'em on!", but that's the way this debate is often framed, unfortunately.

Here are some facts as I see them (an entomologist having studied Bt impacts on monarch caterpillars):

1) the companies that are promoting 99% of the GMO crops out there are megacorporations who are not a whit interested in feeding the world; they are interested purely in profit, and they are making tons of it. They are busy felling enormous swaths of the world's remaining tropical forests to do so. The talk about golden rice is just that: talk.

[see Martin Enserink's Science 2008 article on Golden Rice reproduced here.]

2) There are increasing reports of glyphosate tolerance spreading to "weeds" and other natural populations of plants.

3) Some scientific studies notwithstanding, there is good evidence that pesticide-containing plants (like Bt corn and cotton) can have negative consequences for non-target insects like monarchs. The studies vindicating GMO crops in this way are mainly funded by industry, and are, in my professional opinion, incredibly flawed and biased. The conclusion that GMOs are "subsdtantially equivalent" to non-GMO crops is simply not supported by the data.

4) GMO crops are mainly grown for soy and corn as feedlot animal (cow, chicken, pig) feed, and for making stuff that is not food (like corn syrup). Another major class is not food at all (notably Bt cotton). Part and parcel of feeding corn to cows is the need to pump them full of antibiotics (corn is not good for cow digestion). Part and parcel of GMO soy production is massive deforestation in the tropics.

5) GMO crops do not always result in decreased pesticide/herbicide use, as is often claimed, and is not always profitable for farmers. It is, however, always profitable for Monsanto.

6) One of my big complaints about GMO crops is the sloppy production of the transgenic plants. Take Bt corn. The main target in the USA is the corn borer, and introduced pest that attacks corn kernels (female reproductive parts), but the available Bt corn varieties all produce massive quantities of the toxin in the male reproductive structures (pollen and tassel) as well as all over the rest of the plant. The latter is what causes the non-target impacts on monarchs. If Monsanto did a good job, they would make a transgenic corn that expressed Bt specifically in female (but not male and non-reproductive) structures. By comparison, let's say you are a Drosophila (fruit fly) biologist, and you want to study a certain gene's effect if expressed in the gut. You make a transgenic fly that expressed the gene in gut, but also the brain, heart, wings, muscles, etc. etc. If you tried to give a talk at the annual Drosophila meeting (yes, there is one) on these results, you'd be laughed off the stage. If you are Monsanto, your crops cover 90% of the country and are considered "substantially equivalent" to standard varieties.

7) In general, I think it unwise to use GMOs in wind pollinated crops (like corn) unless it has been extremely widely tested.

As a research biologist, I use transgenic organisms all of the time. But if we are going to consider releasing GMOs into food crops, I think that absence of environmental impacts should have to proven by the companies producing the stuff, rather than the reverse. In other words. "innocent until proven guilty" works for people, not for food biotechnology.

Right! It's not EITHER "GMOs are all dangerous; none should ever be used in crops" OR "they're totally fine- bring 'em on!", but that's the way this debate is often framed, unfortunately.

The GMOs are all dangerous side of the equation is correct, but I've never heard the scientists who work in the field say they're totally fine. The review process for GMO is far more robust than traditional breeding. One can take seeds irradiate them to create genetic mutations then plant the seeds and see which ones still work and may have beneficial characteristics. There is no regulation of that at all as I understand it and yet it seems potentially as dangerous as most of what a genetic engineered process may be.

1) the companies that are promoting 99% of the GMO crops out there are megacorporations who are not a whit interested in feeding the world; they are interested purely in profit, and they are making tons of it. They are busy felling enormous swaths of the world's remaining tropical forests to do so.

Not a whit, you say. That is a part of the problem I've talked about. Painting megacorporations as all bad, incapable of ever doing anything good. It's an absurd statment to make. It's seldom as simple as that.

And what does felling enormous swaths of the the world's remaining forests have to do SPECIFICALLY with GMO crops. Isn't that true of non gm crops too. Why do you conflate the two, it seems like more hyperbole that distracts from the discussion.

2) There are increasing reports of glyphosate tolerance spreading to "weeds" and other natural populations of plants.

It's true the reports are certainly there, but that needs to be weighed against possible benefits. Weeds have a way of evolving all on their own and becoming resistant to substances designed to control them. I don't know if the economic advantage of being able to spray the entire field as opposed to a the additional labor of targeting only the weeds is an overall plus. Perhaps not, but we need the data not the hyperbolic fear-mongering we usually see.

3) Some scientific studies notwithstanding, there is good evidence that pesticide-containing plants (like Bt corn and cotton) can have negative consequences for non-target insects like monarchs.

It's my understanding that Bt is used in spray form on organic crops, so are you saying that those organic farms are also having negative consequences on insects like monarchs.

It is also important to know how great those impacts are and weigh that against the benefits of Bt, but you frame it that any negative consequence is reason enough to abandon it. You probably don't believe that but that's the impression you leave.

5) GMO crops do not always result in decreased pesticide/herbicide use, as is often claimed, and is not always profitable for farmers. It is, however, always profitable for Monsanto.

Do not ALWAYS result in decreased pesticide/herbicide use, that IMPLIES that they often do, isn't that a good thing.

6) One of my big complaints about GMO crops is the sloppy production of the transgenic plants.

I'm sure there is room for improvement and I have not doubt that corporations are a problem, but it seems only in the GMO debate do we require perfection before we're willing to use them.

As a research biologist, I use transgenic organisms all of the time. But if we are going to consider releasing GMOs into food crops, I think that absence of environmental impacts should have to proven by the companies producing the stuff, rather than the reverse. In other words. "innocent until proven guilty" works for people, not for food biotechnology.

So the standard for GM foods should be NO environmental impact, a standard not required of non-GM foods. Guilty until proven 100% innocent is a standard no one can meet. There are always some risks. We need to minimize them in proportion to the benefits, but I see a standard for GM that no one is willing to apply to anything else.

I didn't cover all your points, but I'm sure the discussion will be a continuing one and we'll eventually cover most of it.

very nice. gm fillet mignon for all.-

monarch caterpillar #647896

wow, anti-gem is becoming more and more like creationism, the same tired arguments repeated over and over again regardless of wether or not their true or relevant.

if you want to talk about how Monsanto operates, talk about Monsanto, don't talk about them being an example of whats wrong with GMOs. i don't see you conflating Iran's nuclear ambitions with why nuclear power is wrong.

when it comes to "mono-culture" argument there are two problems:

1 thats how evolution works, beneficial traits spread throughout the population

2 if you heavily regulate GMO's so that they can't be cross pollinated with other "non GM'd" crops, all your doing is creating the economic conditions to favor mono-culture farms.

remember, separate the science from the business, if you can't do that than you will deny yourself a valuable tool for no reason other than guilt by association.

...but talking about Iran (or Pakistan, India, etc) is TOTALLY relevant to a discussion of why nuclear power may be 'right' or 'wrong.' In the real world, we think about abuses of technology when we discuss the prois and cons on that technology.

In the real world, GMO crops means aventis, novartis, syngenta, cargill, monsanto (or whatever any of their new names might be to cover any past transgressions). A discussion of the actions of these companies, then, is totally relevant to a discussion of the pros and cons of the gmo crop technology.

If you want to have a theoretical discussion on the pros & cons of the technology in the absence of how that technology is actually used in the real world, then go ahead and start another forum discussion.

But when Brand says that 'we' were wrong about GMOs, a discussion of the way GMO crops are deployed in the real world is totally relevant, which is the topic of this discussion, I believe.

On your monoculture thoughts, I can only say that I have no idea what you are talking about. Healthy, natural populations do not naturally go to monoculture as you seem to be suggesting. Most evidence suggests that ecological communities that are the most robust to environmental change (and hence persist the longest) are ecologically complex, with multiple interacting species.

But maybe this kind of thing (i.e. actual experimental data) is not what you're talking about when you use the word 'science.'

I'll respond to Norm's more substantive comments when I have a chance to provide some links (apologies for not having time to supply them in my previous post).

user-pic

again, if you want to talk about how we can control GM for the sake of safety and economic ethics, than lets talk about it in the legal sense, not in the sense that we should see GM as automatically bad simply because people can or have used it in an unethical way. this is what i think Brand was referring to, the litany of arguments against GM in general, automatically being applied without respect to the actual science and potential benefit that can be realized via GM. the people who see GM and automatically rail against GM simply because of what companies like Monsanto has done with it.

and in regards to mono-culture the problem is with how we farm and how we regulate. BT Corn for instance is a strain of Corn just like all the others, if you regulate it so that the GM aspect of the corn can not exist in "wild" populations or even in other cultivated populations than your encouraging mono-cultures by limiting what strains farmers can use (the legal practices of Monsanto use this kind of policy, and im sure you can find anti-GM people who would want this kind of regulation to keep our tampering from entering the "natural world")

Navigation

Support this site

Google Ads


Powered by Movable Type Pro

Copyright © 2002-2017 Norman Jenson

Contact


Commenting Policy

note: non-authenticated comments are moderated, you can avoid the delay by registering.

Random Quotation

Individual Archives

Monthly Archives