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Mother Jones defending GMOs, there may be hope after all. We look at the science and decide, and not engage in the naturlistic fallacy.

Genetically modified Bt crops get a pretty bad rap. The pest-killing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria protein these plants are bioengineered to make has been accused of harming monarch butterflies, honey bees, rats, and showing up in the blood of pregnant women.

Just one problem: None of that is true. (Click on any of those links to see a scientific refutation of each claim.) Seven independent experts in genetically modified crops I spoke to all confirmed that the science shows Bt crops to be safer than their alternative: noxious chemical insecticides. In Europe—where suspicions over GM crops run even deeper than in the United States—the European Food Safety Authority just rejected a French ban on Bt corn, saying "there is no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health or the environment." A comprehensive report on 10 years of European Union-funded research, comprising 50 research projects, drew the same conclusions about Bt safety. . .

. . .How did the gulf between public perception and scientific evidence of Bt safety get so yawningly wide?

The answer might be the very people who push GM the hardest—the agricultural industry. Suing a farmer for patent infringement is just one example of how Monsanto bullies its way into crop fields and courtrooms in pursuit of profit. "These crops are driven by large companies pushing practices that benefit their bottom line," says Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But just as we do not blame a murder on, say, a knife, Bt technology is not to blame for the ills of industrial agriculture.


 

Comments

Through the years of debate on this blog, I have to admit that I've come around on GE. I'd say I now more or less share Norm's position. I started out categorically opposed (mostly due to the "if Monsanto is for it, I'm against it." anti-corporate, anti-patenting-life, stop-sueing-third-world-farmers camp. But reading all of the debates in the comments, as well as the links offered up, I've become a convert to the cause of rallying to the defense of GMO.

That said, I do blame guns, and the gun lobby for a lot of the murder in America. So, perhaps, the "we don't blame the weapon for the crime" argument isn't the strongest.

As they say "guns don't kill people. people kill people... with guns."

Oh come on, stop trolling.

I am not really a hard core gun control advocate, but that correlation is garbage.

The decrease in crime has been linked to abortion, not gun ownership, and has been proceeding indepEpendent of gun ownership for years.

I too was opposed to GMOs. I'd read the reports on Monarch Butterflies and such. It shouldn't have been a surprise that Liberals were subject to the same non-critical thinking of their right-wing counterparts, and that for a time I was willing to accept crap arguments without examining them critically. I still believe that corporate power is one of the biggest challenges to solving the worlds problems, and that they need to be contained. Corporate personhood is absurd, Corporations that go on for ever and whose charter never expires are an abomination.

Does that mean you still oppose GMOs, but now for "corporate power" reasons and not scientific ones?

While it may be true that Bt corn requires fewer pesticides than traditional corn, there is another even more beneficial approach: Stop growing corn. It's important to remember that most corn growers aren't interested in saving the environment; rather, they are interested in saving money, which is why they want to use fewer pesticides. Bt corn has the additional benefit of being patentable, which is another money-making scheme.

The refrain from the pro-GMO crowd ever since you posted that Michael Specter TED talk two or three years ago has been that GMOs are essential for feeding the growing population, and that opposition to GMOs is anti-science. But since corn is used primarily as cattle feed and a cheap source of soft drink sweetener, not to mention the fact that most corn growers cannot survive without government subsidies, wouldn't it be better to plant other crops in its place?

Imagine how far along we might be today if Pam Ronald, David Tribe, Michael Specter, et al. had campaigned for a saner allocation of agricultural resources rather than trying to paint the anti-GMO crowd as anti-science. But, of course, to take that approach would be to endanger their research funding.

I'm pretty sure Michael Pollan raised these points in an article I posted in one of these threads a couple years ago. His focus was Syngenta's golden rice, not Monsanto's Bt corn, but the message is the same. Syngenta hasn't spent billions promoting golden rice because they are worried about the hungry. They spent billions because they want to control the global food supply, or at least a portion thereof.

Used responsibly, there might be a role for GMOs in protecting the environment and reducing food insecurity, but there is almost no chance that Monsanto, Syngenta, ConAgra, etc. will use GMOs responsibly. To return to your knife analogy, moving forward with GMOs under the present circumstances is akin to putting Jeffery Dahmer in charge of the world's cutlery.

So although many GMO opponents have their heads up their asses, I still prefer them to the pro-GMO crowd.

BDM, so glad to read your post! I always thought you were the best arguer of my position. Much better than me, of course.

Did you ever actually read Tomorrow's Table that Norm went on and on about? I finally did, and I found it pretty convincing. You mentioned Pam in your post, so perhaps you did and you just weren't convinced.

To use a modified cliche: I think we are guilty of throwing the GE baby out with the Monsanto bathwater.

Like Norm always used to rebutt: Monsanto isn't the only GE there is! I always kinda thought that was a crap argument, cause they're the only group you ever hear anything about, so if there are all of these other people doing it, who are they? But it turns out, no, there actually are lots of people doing important work: non-profits and universities, all over the place. Perhaps it's in part because of Europe's bans and labeling laws all over the place (which are instituted because 9 out of 10 people everywhere are afraid of GMO and demand it from their governments even tho 10 out of 10 people know nothing about what GMOs are, how they are created, etc.), competition for Monsanto has been a bit stifled in the places that there would normally have been tremendous booms in research.

And just because corn sucks, can't we agree it's still better for the world for Bt corn to be grown than non-Bt-corn? Even if farmers only grow it to save money, isn't it still better than all that corn being grown with tons of pesticides? I mean, sure, it'd be great if the political system could change, all that crap corn could stop be being grown, Monsanto could be regulated into submission, and the food system in America could be more sane! Believe me, I'm right there with you! But to hold geneticists accountable because of the politics of farm policy in America just seems silly. People who spend all day figuring out how to breed plants with precision don't necessarily also have time to be the best advocates for their cause. Any more than scientists who study climate change do.

Looking around I'd say "science" is in serious need of its own PR Firm. Monsanto has one, of course, but GE is NOT Monsanto, and none of us have any interest in hearing more of Monsanto's spin. But GE in general holds a tremendous amount of potential and is really just the natural progression of the sort of crop breeding that's been done for thousands of years to create virtually every plant we eat today. But if we ever want to see that potential reached, the knee-jerk "GE is bad because Monsanto is bad!" stuff needs to be taken down a notch.

A couple quick points in rebuttal; you can read my reply to Norm for a fuller explanation of my position.

First of all, yes, I did read "Tomorrow's Table." Norm was kind enough to mail it to me. I then sent it along to another friend of his or another GMO skeptic, I can't remember which now.

Secondly, yes, of course it's better to use fewer pesticides whilst growing corn, despite corn's many shortcomings. However, we aren't simply removing one stone from the "bad" pile; we are also adding a stone to the "bad" pile. Yes, we will use fewer pesticides, but we will also further entrench Monsanto's control of the global food supply. It isn't even a wash (or a push in gambling lingo). It's actually a step backwards.

And I agree that science needs a PR firm, or some such thing. Perhaps if more people understood the science of genetic engineering, they would achieve the capacity for nuance that this discussion requires. Michael Specter, Pam Ronald, David Tribe, et al. have done a good job of equating opposition to GMOs with opposition to science. Certainly there are many GMO opponents who fall into that category.

And lastly, many of those non-profits and universities you speak of rely on corporations for their research funding. Pam Ronald is an excellent example.

Does that mean you still oppose GMOs, but now for "corporate power" reasons and not scientific ones?

We've had this discussion many times. No I don't oppose GMOs for corporate reasons. In my opinion that is an absurd argument. If one follows it to it's logical conclusion, one would oppose cars, computers, life saving drugs, the list is endless, simply because they benefit corporations. We need to find ways to limit corporate power on that we can agree, but to give up the benefits of valuable scientific discoveries is stupid.

It's true that we have had this discussion many times before. But as I've said many times before, my objection to GMOs isn't simply that it would benefit corporations. Indeed, as I've stated in the past (I'm too lazy to look for the comment now, but if you're in the mood, maybe you can locate it), the ideal situation (at least within the capitalist paradigm that we are presently stuck with) would be for a corporation or at least some sort of business enterprise to be able to turn a profit by using GMOs to benefit mankind.

Unfortunately, that isn't the world we live in. Either we sell the antidote to ringspot virus at cost, i.e. no profit, or we con the governments of the world into removing all restrictions on GMOs so that a tiny handful of corporations can patent the food supply. Those are the two options. And other than the papaya ringspot deal, there are no examples of the former. Yes, yes. I know Pam Ronald got Monsanto or whoever it was to relinquish their claim on flood resistant rice. But as far as I can tell, that rice has yet to fill a single bowl, except in one or two highly publicized instances.

So to summarize, my objection isn't that GMOs will benefit a corporation. My objection is that it will benefit very bad people with a proven track record of being very bad, and the ramifications for the rest of us will be disastrous.

If there were some net neutrality-like legislation in place requiring GMOs to be used only altruistically, they would have my support, provided, of course, other reasonable conditions were met.

So can we please make this the last time you use that argument? Pretty please?

Again, my objection to GMOs isn't merely that they benefit corporations. Refer to my above Jeffery Dahmer analogy.

Used responsibly, there might be a role for GMOs in protecting the environment and reducing food insecurity, but there is almost no chance that Monsanto, Syngenta, ConAgra, etc. will use GMOs responsibly. To return to your knife analogy, moving forward with GMOs under the present circumstances is akin to putting Jeffery Dahmer in charge of the world's cutlery.

My goal is to prevent Dahmer from having control of the world's knives, not to outlaw knives altogether. If the rest of us must suffer some inconvenience, real or perceived, due to our effort to keep Dahmer from owning and controlling the world's cutlery, so be it.

Specter, Ronald, Tribe, et al. are putting the cart before the horse. Fix the "Monsanto issue" first. Then work on GMOs.

Be careful there Daniel, changing your mind in the face of evidence is a sign of weakness on the interwebs. Resist! Be strong like Syngas. He still thinks AGW is hoax promulgated by a worldwide conspiracy of grant-grubbing geophysicists, physical chemists, biologists, oceanographers, and all manner of other scientists studying the aspects of climate change. He ain't gonna surrender to no stinkin' evidence.

Let's discuss this in the forum.

oops, that was reply to Red.

really got a kick out of the deepak generator, what a gas. i actually spent like, 10 minutes just clicking on the 'receive more wisdom" button, like one of those rats in a skinner box. very, very funny, thanks.

Ah, and I thought perhaps I was the only one that entertained myself by generating more and more additional wisdom.

"Everything unfolds into unparalleled sexual energy"

I finally got a hot Deepak deepity!

That's priceless!

it's like a slot machine- just keep pulling that lever, you're bound to get a hit sometime. or maybe more like a stopped clock being right twice a day, i don't know.i bet if i just keep clicking that button the deepak generator will find the right words for what i'm trying to say. :)

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