Friday, January 04, 2013


So the Stoat, who started this (or at least the sensible bit) has replied to Eli's note of caution by pointing out in an update:

* that we should err on the side of caution is true, but isn't an answer. We already do, with the range of trials needed. And the opposition from anti-GM groups isn't "caution" any more than the denialism from the anti-IPCC folks is "scepticism". How useful are lessons like CFCs, or lead-in-petrol? In terms of GMOs I doubt they are useful, because people are already aware of them. it isn't as if people haven't desperately striven to prove GMOs dangerous.
 To which Eli notes that although we are increasingly good at identifying first year problems, what CFCs and tetraethyl lead show is that there are still large issues with things that are decades down the road.  Now Eli, the Weasel, and even KK are pretty well satisfied that there are at worst minor issues with the immediate effects of GMOs introduced to date, but accumulating ecological (such as increasing resistance to Round Up) and biological issues are only now emerging and who knows what the future holds.  DDT, Vioxx, estrogen therapy are examples of such accumulating issues.  DDT and halons are particularly interesting in this regard.  They show that once aware of these types of problems, use can be modified from broadcast use to niche, but vital applications.


William Connolley said...

Hold on. "accumulating ecological (such as increasing resistance to Round Up)" makes no sense. You're trying to talk about problems with the natural world - so resistance to roundup is irrelevant. Resistance to artificial pesticides is definitely a farming and economic problem, but if you pose it like that, its fairly trivial. It can't become some kind of "runaway" issue that are the real potential problems with GM.

EliRabett said...

The problem accumulates as more weeds become resistant and then you get into an arms war with your food supply under attack. If you try an solve the problem by increasing the amount of Round Up that you use and you saturate the local area, why everything not Round Up ready dies and that can be a problem. While Eli is not particularly worried about Round Up, the incorporation of BT into crops is this issue in spades.

dhogaza said...

"You're trying to talk about problems with the natural world - so resistance to roundup is irrelevant."

Round-up is commonly used in habitat restoration projects and the like, to remove large stands of invasive species in preparation for reseeding with natives, etc.

So, yes, the conservation professionally ecology communities view round-up resistance as being a potentially serious problem as glyphosphate is the closest thing to an ideal broad-spectrum herbicide that's ever been invented.

There's some evidence that the rise of resistant weeds we're seeing is at least partly due to farmers overusing round-up. Or so it is said, I've not tried to track down how much that view is independent of Monsanto ...

Like Eli, I'm not particularly worried about round-up, and as I mentioned above, one of the primary worries is that it might become less useful ...

We should also keep in mind that the level of use of atrazine in the american mid-west has dropped due to round-up ready crops and the switch to round-up on corn. That's a good thing.

Bt ... yes, eli, that's potentially worrisome.

dhogaza said...

"conservation professionally ecology communities"

conservation and professional ecologist communities ...

captcha: "EuropToy". Is stoat our europtoy? :)

thefordprefect said...

Found this stuff some time ago, about resistant weeds.

Because roundup can be applied later in the growth of crops there was a story some years ago that the max levels in the plant at crop time had to be increased (in new zealand?)

Russell Seitz said...

How useful are lessons like CFCs, or lead-in-petrol?

Not very- it's a literally elementary category error to confuse gene juggling with the artifiical concentration and transport of halogens or metals.

If you want to wax indignant at insults to ecology, best start with the global homogenization of the biosphere by plant swapping Victorian gardeners

John said...

Stoat is a little off with his attempted smear that "anti-GM groups" are the equivalent of climate denialists.

Denialists will not accept climate science. Thus, they admit that the policy response to the science, the whole range of which they do not want, are then inevitable.

On this site scientists and one lawyer, at least, most of whom accept climate science, have an ongoing, meaningful debate on the policy response to the climate science.

No "anti-GM" groups reject the underlying science that makes possible GM crops. They oppose, instead, certain technological applications of that science.

Scientists unable to see that the technological application of their work ALWAYS has the potential for destructive application are as willfully blind as the climate denialists.

John Puma

Ian Forrester said...

John I agree completely with your post. Too many people including scientists really don't understand what is going on with rDNA technology as it is being applied to our food crops. In the case of RR crops,I think it is fair to say that the majority of people who have even thought about what is going on is that Monsanto simply added a gene to degrade or otherwise interfere with glyphosate. I myself thought that was the case for a number of years and I have a background related to the area. Slowly more information was made available as to what exactly was involved with RR modification. There are at least two other genes added, an antibiotic resistance gene and the so called promoter gene (cauliflower mosaic virus promoter) which ensures that the RR gene is fully turned on. Just what it might do to other genes in the plant is not considered a problem by the GM companies.

I have had some other thoughts recently since trying to interpret the results shown in Seralini's paper. This paper as most people know was trashed by the GMO promoters but in my view it was unwarranted. There are problem, just as there are problems with many first papers in any field.

Dose response was noted by some critics so that got me thinking about what is going on in RR crops.

First of all, here is what the RR gene does. Glyphosate kills plants by inhibiting one of the enzymes in what is known as the shikimic acid pathway. This is one of two pathways for the synthesis of aromatic compounds in plants and lower organisms. The gene added is for a replacement enzyme which is not inhibited by glyphosate.

Many biologically active compounds are synthesized using this pathway. The compounds are usually referred to as "secondary metabolites". Many of these SMs are used in medicine (antibiotics) or have a very profound effect on other organisms metabolism (hallucinogens, opiates, etc).

No one has ever asked the question, "what has this modified shikimic acid pathway enzyme done to alter the range and/or concentration of these metabolically active metabolites?"

Many pathways are regulated by product inhibition of the pathway on one particular enzyme. I don't know if the enzymes (either the native or added enzyme) has a regulatory function but perhaps we should be looking at this since we are ingesting the crop. Can the addition of the RR gene alter secondary metabolites produced by the crops? We need do do a lot more study on these crops since there are still way too many unanswered questions.

John said...

To Ian F.

Having worked in the areas of rDNA/cancer I agree that GM crops could well cause physiological harm to those who ingest them.

As a Forbes article denouncing Seralini suggested, to paraphrase, "we've been eating GM crops for 10 years without obvious cancer increases." Sure, but many cancers take much longer than this to become obvious. The point is: for those adamantly opposed to finding any (potential) fault with new technology, it is almost impossible to make an successful argument based on altered physiology of product users. (tobacco is the prime example).

My major concern is the sociological/economic impact of the introduction of GM-crops to augment the less than stellar effect of the industrial agriculture ushered in with the so-called "Green Revolution" now some 50+ years of age.

It was hailed as the sure way to keep a billion people from starving. Well, we have a LOT more people, for sure, killing themselves acquiring the baubles consumer capitalism AND we still have a billion people starving.

The "revolution" transferred agriculture into fewer, corporate, hands (enter the likes of Monsanto), sent many millions from their subsistence farming in countryside into already overcrowded cities and drastically narrowed the number and varieties of crops grown.

So restricting the suitable "cash crops" to those our Wall Street Saviors could comfortably manipulate in their futures markets, we increased the chances that the inevitable pest (or climate!) change could wipe out a large fraction of the world's food supply.

Fields were bathed in pesticides and chemical fertilizers that contaminated water supplies. In my area, "the grass seed capital of the world," private wells must pass a nitrate test when a property is sold as grass is a heavily fertilized crop.

The fertilizer chemotherapy is expensive both in cash and energy, has shown some increases in yield, but is slowly killing off THE most important factor in soil fertility - the micro organism whose by-products of metabolism of organic and mineral sources are what literally feed plants. Not only does this result in lowered fertility but it increases loss of soil from erosion.

The GM crops can be relied upon to exacerbate all the problems of "the green revolution" and add a few more unique ones.

A link to a more comprehensive reference is included below. It is old (2000!) but the limitations of "the green revolution" were obvious early on to those interested in truly feeding humans as opposed to feeding the already obese bank accounts of the hyper rich.

John Puma

Ian Forrester said...

Since the original article for William's post came from a group called "Campaign for Real Farming" and since I had never heard of them, I decided to do a little bit of surfing on their web site. They seem like a reasonable group of people who are concerned for the future of farming and for the future of our food supply. I came across this article which, to me, shows they are really thinking this through and are not just a crowd of nutters as I am sure a number of GM promoters will be thinking.

The article is entitled:

"Science, Technology and the Philosophy of Science"

Here is an excerpt:

"Science is one of the triumphs of humankind, and the high technologies it gives rise to could be our finest servants. But as things are, they are not serving us well. Indeed, the products and side-effects of present-day science and high tech are now among the greatest threats to our survival – a ludicrous state of affairs. Science itself has become the handmaiden of big business and big finance and is in serious danger of losing its own integrity. Yet without its integrity, it is nothing.

In short, we, humanity, need to take science in hand, just as we need to take agriculture in hand: to ask again what science actually is, and what it is not, and what its limits are; to re-define what we want science to do, and try to make sure that it does it; and indeed to rescue science itself from the present, crude dogma of the neoliberal, finance-led, allegedly free global market".

Anonymous said...

I also visited the Campaign for Real Farming site and also got a different impression than one might get from reading Stoat's post alone.
I commented on Stoat's take in another thread)

However one might answer the questions posed about GMOs in the CRF article, they are precisely the types of questions that should be addressed.

Dismissing people(and their questions) out of hand as "disingenuous" (dishonest is the word Stoat used) simply because one believes they are absolutely opposed to GMOs is simply not a reasonable position to take (though it is a time honored propaganda technique)

And it's actually very counterproductive if one is genuinely interested in educating the public -- ie, it's not a good way to allay people's fears.

I have grown to almost expect this kind of "pigeonholing" from "journalists" (Kloor and others) , but I somehow expect scientists to do better.