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Links With Your Coffee - Tuesday

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Hundreds of genetically modified potato plants are to be introduced to a field in Norfolk today.

Science reporter Tom Feilden talks to Professor Jonathan Jones of Sainsbury Laboratory about the importance of the new type of potatoes. Kirtana Chandrasekaran, from Friends of the Earth, outlines what she sees as the dangers of GM food trials.

The Friends of the Earth spokesperson was incredibly bad, she contradicted herself, and then made up stuff to try and salvage her position. When she didn't know what to say she just repeated her standard talking points. If she's the best they can do they're in serious trouble.

On this expedition out in Death Valley—where driest, hottest and lowest places on the continent are found — the scientists are investigating how geologists view landscapes, but such research could very well delve into how detectives analyze crime scenes or soldiers look for camouflaged targets or distinguish between friend and foe when storming rooms. Researchers then perhaps could train neophytes with virtual reality displays that simulate environments of interest.

"We know a lot about how to educate people on facts, but we know almost nothing about how to educate people on acquiring perceptual skills other than lots of repetition, which can be very time-consuming and expensive," says cognitive scientist Robert Jacobs at the University of Rochester. "It would be great to develop more effective training procedures."

Professor Moloney argues that GM is all about feeding a hungry world and says serious scientific bodies have looked at GM technology again in recent years and concluded it would be a mistake to exclude the technology from the arsenal of tools needed to deal with both global food security and environmental protection challenges.


 

Comments

The FOE spokesperson could've been better, but I wouldn't say she was incredibly bad. I like how the scientist made sure to mention the Irish potato famine. He (or the FOE spokesperson) could've mentioned that the same blight affected other regions without such catostrophic results because the other regions grew more than one kind of potato. The field test is being conducted on Desiree potatoes, which are commercially popular because they are uniform in shape and look good in grocery stores and restaurants. The field study is being conducted because the blight costs commercial interests lots of money, not because the blight represents a threat to global food security.

In other words, on the one hand, they raise the harrowing spectre of global food insecurity, but on the other hand, the GMO is being tested as a means for corporate interests to save money, which is a recurring hallmark of the GMO debate, and of advertising in general. Fear = profit.

There is no question that farmers who grew such potatoes would do it to save money. Normally when you can produce your product for less you are able to sell it at a lower price. So there is potential benefit for the farmer as well as the consumer. The potato will remain popular whether it is GM or not. So unless there is a monopoly in the potato market it should lower the price for everyone.

Fear=profit. You compare his mention of the potato famine, a real event, with the fear-mongering coming from the "Friends of the Earth," spokesperson. Why is it you mention his supposed use of fear and not hers. A little bit biased are you. A real friend of the earth, what was it she said, extremely dangerous at least a half dozen time, it's toxic, toxic it's killing the rain forests etc. His comment was mild compared to hers but that's not how you spin it. Give me a break. It isn't often you have massive crop failures in modern countries but it certainly still happens in the third world they could certainly benefit form such crops, but then you have yours so screw them.

Hmm so it is cheaper, less likely to get diseased, and farmers won't have to take the time, money and experience to grow other crops if they don't want to, just for the sake of having a safety net.

I think you forgot to list the cons again?

This is a two-in-one reply to both Andyo & Norm.

My complaint is that the pro-GMO argument always centers on food security worries, but when you get right down to it, the real objective is to facilitate some corporate objective. In this instance, public money is being used to study something that will benefit mainly private interest. There will, of course, be some collateral benefit to the public at large at some point in the future if the technology turns out to work, but it's the public that's taking the financial risk and the commercial farmers who stand to benefit. This would be a reasonable objection whether GMOs were involved or not. The scientist complains that an additional 10,000 pounds or whatever was needed for the fence, but since this tecnology will benefit only commercial potato farmers, why was any public money spent on the study? Why don't the commercial interests finance their own study? Oh yeah. The Irish potato famine. Right? Gotta get that in there to make sure the public thinks the study is helping to avoid a catastrophe.

And yes, Norm, the FOE spokesperson used fear. But whereas the Beeb reporter (I'm sorry I said it was the scientist, upon re-listening to the report, I see it was the BBC reporter and not the scientist who said it) uses the disingenuous famine fear mongering, she uses demonstable fears, albeit less articulately than I would've liked. Deforestation, cross-pollinization and increased pesticide use are real things that have occurred at least partly due to GMO technology. And the antibiotic concern she raised is valid too. Actually, I would've liked to hear the scientist respond to that concern, since if it's true, it's more worrisome than the other concerns she raised.

But, to reiterate, my main complaint is that once again, food security concerns are being used as a propaganda tool not only to use public money for private enterprise, but also to wear down GMO resistance. Why can't GMO advocates simply argue the case on its own merits?

Oh. And one more thing. If the GM potatoes work and the farmers save sixty million pounds per year, does that mean they will reduce the price of potatoes by sixty million pounds per year in an effort to repay the taxpayers who funded the field trial? Or will they simply add the sixty million to their profit margin?

You say the argument for GMOs always settles on food security issues. ALWAYS, and you complain about corporate hyperbole. The problem here is that you raise it as a reason to oppose GMOs when as you acknowledge the argument applies to governments relationship to business in general. It is a problem but it's not a reason to be opposed to GMOs anymore than anything else. It's not because they are more dangerous than other products or expose us to more risk. Once again you repeat arguments you should know don't stand up to scrutiny.

I had to laugh when you claimed the famine argument is fear mongering. It is a real problem and one that GMOs can help solve. 10 million face famine in West Africa Now compare that to FOEs arguments. Deforestation is no more a problem with GMOs than with any crop, it is a separate question and not a reason to be opposed to GMOs. Cross pollination is also a problem that happens whether you're talking about GM crops or others. Increased pesticide you say, but actually GMOs have decreased pesticide use, but you continue to make the argument. The antibiotic concern she raised is also a topic we've discussed before. GMOs could render important antibiotics worthless but you go on raising it time and again.

But why can't BMO advocates simply argue the case on its own merits you ask. Many of them do, the fallacy with your argument is one division what is true of the whole (They argue) is not necessarily true of all the parts. But you're right when you say corporate interests hype the benefits of their products, so do individuals by the way, but that isn't unique to GMOs. Once again you make the argument as a reason not to have GMOs, when it's really an argument against corporate hype.

re: " you complain about corporate hyperbole...."

I finally got around to reading your "birds prefer conventional food" posting of a while ago. The conclusion of this peer reviewed study, was that since the birds preferred the higher protein content of wheat created by the high doses of ammonium nitrate fertilizer on commercial crops, organic food isn't more nutritious and this may have large implications for consumers who buy organic food because they think it healthier.

Funny thing happened on the way to this conclusion.

2 of the four experiments the authors of this study performed were on 12 laboratory canaries (wheat is not normally in a canary diet). One of the experiments was on 9 canaries since the others got sick. In the fourth experiment (outdoor feeders) the total food intake(both conventional and organic) came to 1 and a half lbs of wheat per day over all the gardens tested. Oh, btw, all experiments were done on 2 Organic wheat samples and 4 conventional samples.

Gotta say, the far reaching conclusions drawn from this study give a whole new meaning to statistical significance - 9 canaries? 6 samples? 1 product (wheat) ?

Might I respectfully suggest that Peer review is no guarantee of meaningful science. Hyperbole does appear rather rampant on the pro GMO side.

Might I respectfully suggest that Peer review is no guarantee of meaningful science.

In science presenting a paper and having it challenged is meaningful, that's what science is about. What was it they discovered, that birds prefer food with higher protein. That's not a surprise, if the organic was higher in protein I suspect they would have chosen it. I posted the link mainly to make the point that organic doesn't mean more nutritious. Also you need to separate the article about the studies from the studies themselves. It is never a surprise when a journalist spins something to make it more controversial than it really is, that unfortunately is "modern" journalism.

"Increased pesticide you say, but actually GMOs have decreased pesticide use"

Really? What is your reference?

That is a rather nuanced or even ambiguous reference.

I thought it was a classic pwn.

Norm, thank you for this link. This particular article is pretty fair, and the aim is to recommend government funding for GM research. However, I felt it didn't support your point too well. There were a lot of "howevers" to the benefits of GE seeds.

However, GE crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate -- a main component in Roundup and other commercial weed killers -- could develop more weed problems as weeds evolve their own resistance to glyphosate. GE crops could lose their effectiveness unless farmers also use other proven weed and insect management practices.

amplified by

Farmers need to adopt better management practices to ensure that beneficial environmental effects of GE crops continue, the report says. In particular, farmers who grow GE herbicide-resistant crops should not rely exclusively on glyphosate and need to incorporate a range of weed management practices, including using other herbicide mixes. To date, at least nine species of weeds in the United States have evolved resistance to glyphosate since GE crops were introduced, largely because of repeated exposure. Federal and state government agencies, technology developers, universities, and other stakeholders should collaborate to document weed resistance problems and develop cost-effective ways to control weeds in current GE crops and new types of GE herbicide-resistant plants now under development.

Improvements in water quality could prove to be the largest single benefit of GE crops, the report says. Insecticide use has declined since GE crops were introduced, and farmers who grow GE crops use fewer insecticides and herbicides that linger in soil and waterways. In addition, farmers who grow herbicide-resistant crops till less often to control weeds and are more likely to practice conservation tillage, which improves soil quality and water filtration and reduces erosion.

However, no infrastructure exists to track and analyze the effects that GE crops may have on water quality. The U.S. Geological Survey, along with other federal and state environmental agencies, should be provided with financial resources to document effects of GE crops on U.S. watersheds.

The report notes that although two types of insects have developed resistance to Bt, there have been few economic or agronomic consequences from resistance. Practices to prevent insects from developing resistance should continue, such as an EPA-mandated strategy that requires farmers to plant a certain amount of conventional plants alongside Bt plants in "refuge" areas.

So basically there's more work to be done with GM seed technology, thus more $ are needed.

oops - last 3 quoted paragraphs should have been separated the the one 4th from the end.

Didn't support my point? The point was that GE crops had reduced pesticide use which the report confirms. In fact the report that BigDaddy offered also supports the fact that GE has reduced pesticide use, but the author was dishonest in his interpretation of the data as demonstrated by the links I provided. The National Academy of sciene report suggests not relying on single methods and adopting an integrated approach. The difference between reports such as this and the one BD presented is here no one is trying to spin the findings, that's how real scientists work, unlike those with an agenda.

No one on the GMO side of the debate argues that GMOs are a magic bullet, just a tool to be used with other tools to improve agriculture. The organic movement on the other hand excludes tools that don't fit in with their "natural" approach. We need all the tools we can muster and to exclude some with fear-mongering tactics is just wrong. And remember GMOs are more than just Roundup Ready and BT. They include introducing traits for drought resistance, fortifying plants to make them more nutritional and in increasing yields. We need to take the best of organic farming and augment it with the advantages GMOs can provide. The subject is complicated and easily distorted if you want to really understand it you have to take the time to actually look at the data and the peer reviews of the data I provided the links again to BD to do that but judging from his past approach to the subject doubt he'll do the work, you see just like the summary of the study he cited he made up his mind a long time ago, and won't let any facts get in the way of the conclusions he's arrived at.

Genetically Engineered Crops & Pesticide Use (2004)

"Most genetically engineered crops are modified to either tolerate the herbicide glyphosate (HT crops) or to produce their own insecticide (Bt crops), so in theory, fewer applications of pesticide on GE fields would be sufficient to take care of pests. For the first three years of use, this was true. However, a new report by agricultural economist Dr. Charles Benbrook, Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States, shows that farmers now use more pesticide on the top three GE crops—corn, soybeans, and cotton—than on conventional varieties.

"From 1996 to 1999, pest management in GE corn, soybeans, and cotton was relatively simple and effective, and engineered crops needed less pesticide than conventional varieties. By 2000, however, a contrary trend appeared—an increase in herbicide use on HT varieties over conventional varieties. That trend has continued and even accelerated in the last four years. Now, nine years of data on GE crops and pesticide use indicate that a total of 122 million more pounds of pesticides have been used on engineered crops than on conventional ones over that period."

Benbrook's report(pdf)

We've also been here before, and you obviously didn't read the link I provided then nor do I expect you to read it this time. You'll continue to post the same crap over and over again. I'm starting to think that you are not interested in arriving at the truth, but simply confirming your bias. Charles Benbrook is the chief scientist of the Organic Center. He has an agenda and it shows. He had a conclusion and then sorted through his data in an attempt to support the view of his employer.

Does using GMOs really increase pesticide use?

Be sure and read through this pdf by PG Economics Limited which also challenges the Organic Center propaganda.

Norm,

I was responding to your saying that this study supports

but actually GMOs have decreased pesticide use

and I realize that you understand that. Short of re-quoting the material excerpted above, I'll re-cap as efficiently as I can.

I agree that the study is fair, with no spin. We seemed to read it differently. The opening paragraph does say that GE crops reduced the use of herbicides, but then counters that weeds develop resistance to pose future problems. Initially, yes, there was a reduction, but evolved weeds need to be dealt with. Thus there is a need for more solutions. The article asks for funds so the solutions can be more creative than more pesticides.

A recent "On Point" show discussed this problem, and both sides were represented. Farmers did call in and say that they had to return to using more chemicals to keep their GM crops. This is not explicitly discussed in the National Academy of Science article, but is alluded to in the opening paragraph and later

Farmers need to adopt better management practices to ensure that beneficial environmental effects of GE crops continue, the report says. In particular, farmers who grow GE herbicide-resistant crops should not rely exclusively on glyphosate and need to incorporate a range of weed management practices, including using other herbicide mixes.

This is a bland acknowledging that some farmers have used more sprays. In asking for government funding, the scientists are helping the farmers to be good stewards of the land. My understanding of this short thesis was that that they want $ to help search for more efficient and environmentally sound methods of growing food and cotton as we continue on this course. This doesn't necessitate that GMO will be the only avenue explored, nor will it be ignored.

In terms of your 2nd paragraph: yes, you and Big Daddy have been going at it, but I'm not addressing the issues you bring up there. I have read the material for drought resistance and nutritional yields. I just didn't think the your article you referenced was a "classic pwn" as Syngas characterized it. I did think that the article was fair handed. I also agree with their request for money and their goals for better farming. I read in it also that GE crops initially cut the use of herbicides, but we have to choose different avenues now to keep farming from returning to heavy chemical use.

I read in it also that GE crops initially cut the use of herbicides, but we have to choose different avenues now to keep farming from returning to heavy chemical use.

I'd take issue with the statement "initially cut" as that implies they are back where they started which is not the case there have been slight increases in herbicide use in some areas but the current total use of herbicides per acre is way below where is was pre GMO. It is important to distinguish between herbicides and pesticides too the BT trait continues to be very effective. The article makes that point that in order to maintain the lower use in the long run they should use things like Refuge crops, those without the traits in order to prevent pests and weeds from evolving defenses. Evolution will continue whether the plants are GMOs or not. The GMO traits are simply another tool in a fight between pests and weeds on the one hand and food crops on the other.

The initial question was about pesticide use and you've been addressing herbicide use which is fine, but it is important to keep the too separate they have different objects. The traits that address pests have proven to be extremely valuable from that for Papaya and the ringspot virus, a pest for which there is no natural solution other than destroying the crop and starting over. It is the same for the recently added trait that protects plum trees. Once again a problem for which the natural solution is to burn down the trees and start over, losing years of production in the mean time. And of course there is the BT trait used in cotton, soybeans, and rice.

The initial question was about pesticide use and you've been addressing herbicide use which is fine

Right - after swimming and working a bit, I got on my bike to go home and suddenly realized that you said "pesticides."

Hi, I am new. (to the english language, apparently)

Anyhoo - true, pesticide use is down. They will have to watch this, though, since 2 pests have developed resistance, and you mentioned the suggestion of refuge crops and so on.

I'd take issue with the statement "initially cut" as that implies they are back where they started which is not the case there have been slight increases in herbicide use in some areas but the current total use of herbicides per acre is way below where is was pre GMO.

Fair enough. However, diversifying the ways we tend to crops is important if we'd like to cut the risk of things returning or getting close to returning to pre-GMO chemical usage.

I'm hoping Vilsack is abreast of all of this. There are a lot of methods that need to be implemented, and he needs to use his influence well.

Fair enough. However, diversifying the ways we tend to crops is important if we'd like to cut the risk of things returning or getting close to returning to pre-GMO chemical usage.

I'm in complete agreement with you on that point, and I too hope that Vilsack has good scientific advisors and is listening carefully.

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