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Links With Your Coffee - Saturday

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  • Plant study dims silver lining to global warming
    Los Angeles » So much for a hoped-for bright spot to global warming. Some biologists had theorized earlier that rising greenhouse gas levels would encourage plant growth over the long term because of the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Plant physiologists from the University of California, Davis, may have further dashed those hopes.

    They have shown that too much carbon dioxide, which plants need for energy, actually can inhibit a plant's ability to assimilate nitrates -- nitrogen-based nutrients pulled from the soil that plants use to make enzymes and other essential proteins.

    Without those essential proteins, plant health -- and food quality -- may suffer, the researchers say in a study published online Thursday in the journal Science .


  • Monsanto Profile by Organic Lifestyle Magazine

    A remarkably well-balanced article which among other things covers the story of farmers in India committing suicide. You've seen the story, it's all over the Internets, and has been cited here numerous times as evidence of the evil Monsanto. Monsanto is certainly no saint, and I'm no friend of Monsanto, but the characterizations I've read from members of the anti-GMO crowd are decidely over the top. The facts presented provide strong evidence that Monsanto is not responsible for the suicides.


  • Special Report: Are regulators dropping the ball on biocrops?

    Another decent article on the subject of GMOs raising legitimate issues on regulation. I highlighted the quote by Nina Federoff, to point out the difference between legitimate news sources who quote experts and those sources that have a bias toward one side or the other. This article is news reporting, others are simply advocacy for a point of view. Take the part of the quotation that says "We preach to the world about science-based regulations but really our regulations on crop biotechnology are not yet science-based," you'll find this part in every article by an anti-GMO advocate but they leave out the rest. Do a search it's quite remarkable it took me several pages of google results to find the entire quotation.

    Nina Fedoroff, a special adviser on science and technology to the U.S. State Department, which promotes GMO adoption overseas, said even though she is confident that biotech crops are ultimately safe and highly beneficial for agriculture and food production, an improved regulatory framework could help boost confidence in the products.

    "We preach to the world about science-based regulations but really our regulations on crop biotechnology are not yet science-based," said Fedoroff in an interview. "They are way, way out of date. In many countries scientists are much better represented at the government ranks than they are here."


  • Where the Superpowers of Superweeds Come From

    This is really quite good, a little technical, but he does a great job of explaining it, hell even I got the gist of it.

    Superman had the yellow sun of earth, spiderman had a radioactive spider-bite, but what about superweeds, where does their super power (surviving application of Round-up/glyphosate) come from?

    To understand how superweeds survive, we first have to understand why normal weeds (the Jimmy Olsens and Lois Lanes of the plant world) die) last superhero reference of this post I promise.

    Plants are not like people. The list of differences goes on and on, but today the difference we’re concerned about is where amino acids come from. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, the same way Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G) and Cytosine (C) are the building blocks of DNA. Both our bodies and plants (and almost every other living thing) use the same twenty amino acids to build proteins. Our bodies can make ~12 of the twenty animo acids for themselves, but there are at least eight amino acids that the human body cannot produce (called essential amino acids). Our only source of these amino acids is from protein in our food.

    It’s all well and good for us to get amino acids from our food, but plants don’t eat. They’re made of pretty much nothing more than water, sunlight and air. And trust me, none of those things are a good source of protein.

    Unlike us, plants have to be able to make all twenty amino acids from scratch. That means they need whole biochemical pathways* that aren’t found in animals. But a biochemical pathway is like an assembly line. Break one of the steps in the middle and the whole thing falls apart. That’s what glyphosate/round-up does.


  • Letting Go of God Should be Hard

  • Weaning (Of course, )



 

Comments

My opinion on GMOs is about the same as Federoff's except that I think we should put the brakes on GMOs until sufficiently unbiased regulatory apparatuses are in place, whereas she seems to think we should plunge forward despite the lack of sufficiently unbiased regulatory apparatuses.

BTW, everything after the Letting Go of God link is crossed out.

My opinion on GMOs is about the same as Federoff's except that I think we should put the brakes on GMOs until sufficiently unbiased regulatory apparatuses are in place, whereas she seems to think we should plunge forward despite the lack of sufficiently unbiased regulatory apparatuses.

And when, if ever, do you think a sufficiently unbiased regulatory apparatus will be in place, and who will make that judgment? Lets say 90% of the scientists in the field thought we should continue would that satisfy you. Can you put a number on it?

Thanks for the heads up on the strike-thru I had just noticed it myself.

Lets say 90% of the scientists in the field thought we should continue would that satisfy you. Can you put a number on it?

I don't know. Let me know when we get to 90% and then I'll do a reassessment. If even Nina Federoff is saying the regulations are not science-based, and the Union of Concerned Scientists are expressing concern, it would seem we are far short of the 90% mark.

I like the WHOs take: "individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis."

I don't know. Let me know when we get to 90% and then I'll do a reassessment. If even Nina Federoff is saying the regulations are not science-based, and the Union of Concerned Scientists are expressing concern, it would seem we are far short of the 90% mark.

This is exactly the mistake I've seen countless times before, just because someone is a scientist doesn't make them an expert on all science. There are lists of thousands of scientists who think global warming is a crock, but they don't have any expertise in the field. Likewise, the number of members of the Union of Concerned Scientists who have expertise in the field of biotechnology is undoubtedly small, for all we know there may be none. Furthermore not every pronouncement from the Union of Concerned Scientists is based on 100% of the members agreeing. I suspect we are far closer to the 90%, if we haven't in fact surpassed it, of those with expertise in the field.

Are you unwilling to provide a number that would satisfy you? Do you agree that it is the sort of question that we should rely on the experts in the field to determine? I suppose we could just vote on it.

Sorry about putting part of my reply in your comment, I've fixed it.

Well, as I've noted in the past, there's more to the question than simply whether or not GMOs are safe to eat, increase yield or decrease pesticide use. Most soy and corn is used as cattle feed and to produce cheap, government-subsidized corn syrup for the softdrink industry, not to feed the poor. Reducing our meat intake and eliminating corporate welfare for CocaCola, et al. will produce greater global food security gains. So even if 100% of scientists deem GMOs perfectly safe to eat, the as yet unrealized food security gains proposed by GMO advocates can be met otherwise and probably with greater success. Also, replacing at least part of the cotton crop with industrial hemp will achieve the reduced pesticide goals so often cited by Bt cotton advocates.

Well, as I've noted in the past, there's more to the question than simply whether or not GMOs are safe to eat, increase yield or decrease pesticide use.

Agreed they can also be use to make food more nutritious, allow plants to thrive in areas where they couldn't before thereby increasing arable land.

Most soy and corn is used as cattle feed and to produce cheap, government-subsidized corn syrup for the softdrink industry, not to feed the poor.

And the point is . . .

Reducing our meat intake and eliminating corporate welfare for CocaCola, et al. will produce greater global food security gains.

So will reducing what we spend on defense and devoting that to helping the world's poor, the point is irrelevant as it applys to GMOs, and anyway it's not an either or question.

So even if 100% of scientists deem GMOs perfectly safe to eat, the as yet unrealized food security gains proposed by GMO advocates can be met otherwise and probably with greater success.

But will they be met otherwise and should we limit ourselves only to one course of action? If you provide a farmer in Africa with seeds that produce drought resistant plants is that not better than just sending him food? Is it not better to to provide a rice grower with a crop that tolerates flooding better than their current crop, increasing yields where the food is needed, oh yeah and it's not either or question.

Also, replacing at least part of the cotton crop with industrial hemp will achieve the reduced pesticide goals so often cited by Bt cotton advocates.

It's not either or question.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

Another thought:

The more I reflect on the quote from the WHO, the more I like it. To make an analogy to the pharmaceutical industry, I think drugs should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, not the industry as a whole. Indeed, the recent phenomenon of fast-tracking FDA approval and relying on industry studies has created problem medications like Vioxx, among others, thereby undermining people's confidence in "Big Pharma." Presumably, under the WHO's approach, ringspot resistant papaya would be ratified, but Roundup Ready soy might not.

Monsanto is just shorthand for the criminal corporations.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3m5lq9FHDo

The part on Monsanto begins at about 11 and a half minutes. Not about GMO's but other Monsanto activities.

The entire film, "The Corporation" is a good history of an absurd legal situation.

You can watch the entire movie The Corporation on hulu. I have that one bookmarked for future viewing.

well, bernarda, seems it is possible for us to agree on something. thanks for the link(s) (i can't get hulu in israel, youtube is better for me).

i don't know why norm is being so ornery about this. probably because he wants to sue his neighbor for his weeds and (properly) feels guilty about it. bigdaddy seems to be handling him pretty well, but i always thought norm hated corporations as much as i (we) do. what happened? he's probably trying out some new version of "fairness", which he's always been into.

Oh I still hate corporations, but genetic engineering is not a corporation. My liberal friends the one who hate not only corporations but also genetic engineering have conflated the two. It's a little like hating thinking because a corporation might benefit from it too. Genetic engineering is complicated and it includes a multitude of different methods that entail different levels of risk, though overall the risks are not huge. Since genetic engineering is a method and not a product what is important is if the method is safe.

In answer to a question of mine at the biofortified website Anastasia over at the biofortified website in answer to a question of mine explained some of the methods used.

There’s biolistic (gene gun) and Agrobacterium, plus some newer methods that aren’t quite ready for the mainstream yet, like zinc finger endonuclease mediated mutations (yea, that’s a mouthful, look for a post on ZFNs from me soon). Each method within the larger set of “genetic engineering” has its own nuances of risks and benefits. Then there’s plant tissue culture itself which might introduce unintended changes even if there’s no genetic engineering involved! Then there’s other practices like using linear DNA instead of a plasmid to cut down on the possibility of having little bits of DNA from the plasmid being inserted. And whether or not different types of marker genes should be used. And how many genes can or should be inserted at once or how many should be stacked through breeding. And how evolutionarily divergent the source of the genes should be from the desired species. Soooo many little details!

People freak over genetically modified plants but have no trouble with the many medicines created using the same kinds of techniques. Insulin produced using bacteria for example. They even use them knowing through testing of the product that there are known side effects, but a modified plant that was tested and found to have no side effects is feared. Part of the reason is that it has to do with perceived benefits, if there is something in it for the consumer they are less likely to be concerned. The first wave of genetically modified plants benefited farmers and corporations the most and any consumer benefit was of the trickle down effect. The next wave of products will probably be more palatable to the consumer products that will be rich in usable calcium for all the women who now get osteoporosis, things like higher levels of omega 3s without having to down capsules or eat shitloads of fish. Products that will be more affordable to those who can't afford the more expensive fare. I understand the reluctance of accepting GMOs in Europe and the United States, because we'll do fine without them. But why would anyone be opposed to a GM seed that contained traits to make the plant drought resistant. There are places in Africa where they are entirely dependent on whether they get enough rain or not to have a crop at all. It's easy to say no to GMO foods when you don't have to worry if it will rain or not. There is go again rambling on and on. I'll stop now.

you seem to be implying that ge exists outside a corporate/govt/military context. i'd like to hear about all the independant ge work "just for the sake of humanity" out there.

and don't tell me about universities. i know ALL about universities and other prostitutes. :)

No wonder I enjoyed attending a university, I was consorting with a prostitute and didn't even know it.

Fair enough, but you'll have to show me any anything that corporations don't currently have their hands on or soon will, like the products of organic farming. That said we could point to the Rockefeller Foundation and the research that provided the solution to the ringspot virus. More recently it looks like Gates Foundation is doing a fair amount of good work without benefiting corporations directly. Royalty free technology. There was a time when the agricultural departments at major universities provided their research for free and there is some of that still occurring. The problem harkens back to the 1980s when the republican party officially adopted the Ferangi Rules of Acquisition. The private sector and can do it better, crowd. But your implied argument that we should eschew GE because corporations benefit is a weak one. Using that logic we would have to forgo nearly everything we do in the name of not benefitting a corporation. There are two major problems with corporations in my view. One that they have been granted personhood, and the second that we don't enforce our anti-trust laws.

J. Becker, I think we may have agreed one or two other times, but probably not alot.

Thanks for your comments.

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