« Gypsy's musical gastronomy | Main | Links With Your Coffee - Friday »

Why GE Shouldn't be Excluded From Organic Farming

Ten bad reasons why GE is incompatible with Organic

One can understand an issue on an intellectual level but still not be able to share that understanding. It is particularly difficult on questions of science. You can be an expert in one field, even a related field, and be ignorant of the fine points of another. My background in science is limited and so I try to be more careful than I am on other topics I'm more familar with. I'm lucky that there are so many bright individuals who visit the blog, since they keep me on my toes.

They say you really know a subject when you can explain it to others. I've fallen down on that front, in part because my understanding has come recently, and also because I haven't been successfull in making the distinction between GE as a method and its use by big agri-business. But I view the topic as an important one and worthy of discussion so I've tried to educate myself and give it a try. I've argued that we don't need to throw the baby (GE) out with the bathwater (Corporatism). But that GE can and should thrive outside of the Monsanto world. In fact it does, but the Monsanto connection gets the ink while the other is ignored.

Back in the sixties when I attended the University of Utah the John Birch Society was strong and there was a book going around that the young conservatives on campus were promoting called 'None Dare Call it Treason' If you ran across one of the conservatives, they would say all you need to do is read this book and you'll understand.

Since that day whenever someone says just read this book, or just read this article and you'll understand I recall that time, and remind myself of the need to be skeptical. I've recently recommended a couple of books
Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food and Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food both of which I believe to be well written by people qualified to write on the subject, but it behooves one to be skeptical, because until you read something and verify that it is both logically sound and that the evidence is good, you need to remain skeptical. The article I've linked to is one I believe to be both logically sound and fact based. I encourage you to read it. I especially ask you to read the final section on transgenics because it is there where I think the true difference of opinion exists. The article may not change your mind, but you will understand better the sorts of arguments that have lead me to my current position on GMO's

If you decide to read the article perhaps you'd be kind enough to post a comment listing the points you agree with and those you dont and give your reasons. Ask yourself, are you challenging just the facts, or do you find the argument logically flawed.

I'll continue to post interesting links on the subject but my obession in posting about it on the blog, you'll be happy to hear is waning, at least I think it is.



Thank you for that link, Norm. As a retired Biology educator I think I can grasp most of the science and as a pedant I enjoyed von Mogel's dissection of the 10 bad reasons. Much of the reasons seemed to me to be characteristic of the modern trend of confusion, half-truth and ignorance, linked to some form of underlying conspiracy theory. The logic of von Mogel's case was, to my understanding, fine. Just one pedantic question - did he mean "Lactose INtolerance" in the section 1 rebuttal?

Actually he did mean tolerance. It's tolerance that is the new mutation. Most of us have developed a tolerance for lactose, while some of our less evolved neighbors have not. :)

I'm sorry, Norm. It's late here in jolly olde Englande, and I can't get the gist of your replies to the lactose (in)tolerance question.. What DID you mean, and where is the joke?

I am lactose intolerant. :(

Ah, another one lower on the evolutionary ladder than the rest of us. :)

Yes I'm sure he meant intolerance.

I like that, half-truth and ignorance linked to some underlying conspiracy theory.

I think it's obvious from the paucity of comments that I've worn most readers out with my many posts on the topic. This link, I think is a particularly good one at addressing the many misunderstandings people seem to have about the topic.

You might have received more comments had you not opened this subject in MAY - the busiest time of year for Organic farmers! Argh.

Re: Conspiracy theories. There is a difference between conspiracy theory and concern about unintended consequences. I expect most plant bio tech scientist are well meaning and think they are doing good. But our modern culture is rife with examples of poor or absent risk management. How does the old saying go? "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

So sorry about the timing, my new interests often appear without warning, taking hold of me and not releasing me until they're done. I would never say all those opposed to GMOs are conspiracy theorists but there is a significant number who are. I agree the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but like any road the traffic runs both ways.

As to unintended consequences that was item 4 in the article.

Let me start by asking you, what is the most disruptive thing you can do to modify the genetics of a plant – the one that has the highest risk of unintended consequences? And is it allowed in organic agriculture?

The answer is not “genetic engineering, and no” – it is “mutagenesis, and yes.” Using radiation or chemicals, you can create random mutations all over the genome of a plant. Then you look at thousands of plants that have gone through this process and pick out some that have interesting traits that you can use. Finally, this trait is bred into the crop that you grow. But along with your desired trait there are many other unknown changes that have occurred in the genome and there is no way of knowing where they are except by sequencing the whole thing. Several studies have compared mutagenesis to genetic engineering in its potential to cause unintended consequences, and GE has always come out looking good. In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences compared the risks of unintended consequences between different methods, and concluded that yes, mutagenesis is the worst offender. Mind you, the risks of all the methods they surveyed are low, but if you are going to start drawing lines about acceptable risks, clearly the reason why mutagenesis was ‘grandfathered’ into organic ag and genetic engineering was excluded has nothing to do with relative risks.


Is/was mutagenesis part of organic farming? If so, then organic farming sux.

My understanding was that the organic farmers simply used the best (by whatever criterion) selected traits for seed stock. The variation in the trait was not from mutagenensis, but from the natural (or manual pollenation) sexual reproduction between individual plants.

I'd be happy to be corrected on this.

Yes, Lactose tolerance is what I meant, it has been shown that its emergence coincided with cultures that were largely dependent upon dairy for food, and it gave them a competitive advantage. However, I reject the notion that I am "less evolved" :) Its a good thing my intolerance is not so severe that I can't enjoy cheese - otherwise there would be little point to existence, hehe. Thanks for the compliments on my logic, this post took a while to put together!

re: "clearly the reason why mutagenesis was ‘grandfathered’ into organic ag and genetic engineering was excluded has nothing to do with relative risks."

Establishing the National Organic Program was a huge undertaking, for which we ought all give thanks to folks like Raoul Adamchak and so many others. A key issue was Organic seed stock, for until there was a definition, no market could appear, and many years are required to build an Organic seed industry. It was kinda a chicken and egg problem.

So, in the beginning the NOSB started with a "choose certified Organic seed if you can. Look hard before you say you can't find the right thing from Certified seed producers. Allowing mutageneis hybrids was an unpleasant necessity. The Standard is not perfect. And yet, as the years have progressed, the Organic industry has stepped up with more Organic seed stock and Organic Certifiers look much more closely at seed selection choices. For the last 5 years I've been able to find organic seed for most all the food crops, but only in the last two years have I been able to source organic grass/alfalfa/clover seed.

I think that mutageneisis is a bad thing to allow in the Organic standard. I hope that the NOSB can get around to sunsetting that grandfather allowance soon.

Of course, IMO it's hardly fair to to use "well they allow mutagenesis seeds" to justify forcing Organic standard to allow GMO, for NO SEED STOCK PRODUCER is required to label their product by its means of production (else we'd know about use of mutagenisis AND GE). That would, after all, just 'confuse' the consumer.

Sorry, I'm sounding like a broken record. It's a freedom thing. Freedom doesn't mean GUNS, it means CHOICE. Without labeling laws we don't have choice.

Without labeling laws we don't have choice.

What's interesting about that is in Europe they have labeling but no choice. Since the stores won't stock GM foods because the activists boycott them, and use fear-mongering to persuade others to follow them.

It looks to me like it's less about choice and more about defeating the evil GM foods even though there is no evidence that they cause harm.

So tell me is the reason you want GM foods labeled is because you fear that eating them will compromise your health or just a general opposition to GM in any form more of a philosophical position. Are you also opposed to GMOs in medicine.

I think the debate is more about the what's in it for me question. If you don't see a direct benefit from GM foods it's easy to be opposed to them on some philosophical ground.

The first wave of GM Crops benefited the farmers and the food industry, but less so the consumer and so the, I don't see why we need to accept any risk no matter how small because there is nothing in it for me.

This opposition, has slowed the process on new GMOs and so benefits such as better nutrition, etc have lagged behind. Ironically those opposed to GMOs cite this longer wait as proof that the consumer won't benefit.


Support this site

Google Ads

Powered by Movable Type Pro

Copyright © 2002-2017 Norman Jenson


Commenting Policy

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

Random Quotation

Individual Archives

Monthly Archives