Sunday, September 30, 2012

False balance and simplistic denunciation of the anti-GMO movement: Keith Kloor and Ed Yong, call your offices

Ed Yong certainly and Keith Kloor possibly understand false balance in climate reporting:  the scientific mainstream and a few outliers should not get equal billing.  Keith Kloor certainly and Ed Yong possibly don't understand the false balance problem in the simplistic and blanket denunciation of opposition to GMO foods that equates the anti-GMO movement to climate denialists.*

Neither can distinguish wheat and chaff, separating a few real environmental concerns and some pretty hypothetical health concerns from an admittedly-large amount of unfounded anti-GMO concerns, particularly about health.  One real environmental concerns is of genetic contamination in the wild from GMO genes, both of species related to domesticated species and of plant species gone "feral".  Another is how GMOs facilitate increased herbicide use through inserting resistance genes in targeted crops.  A hypothetical health concern is from transferring allergenic genes to otherwise non-allergenic foods.  Another (possibly less-hypothetical) is farmworker exposure to the increased herbicide use.

Despite that, the Kloor article that Yong cites has this disingenuous summation:

After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops.
Emphasis added.  Several paragraphs later, even Kloor has to admit poorly-phrased versions of some of the environmental issues, but that didn't get him to remove his summation or false equivalence to climate denialism.  He just then segues into the particularly-inane argument that GMOs are just a fast form of traditional breeding.  No.  Or at least, horizontal gene transfer from wildly different species is so unlikely in traditional breeding as to make it a ridiculous claim.

GMOs have real promise.  I'm particularly interested in the possibility of turning annual grasses like corn into perennials, something that could have significant climate benefits by allowing more carbon to be stored in no-tilled soils.  No point in being simplistic about GMOs though, including their real problems.

*This is mostly about Kloor, but Yong has a blog history of simply supporting the anti-anti-GMO people, including this Kloor article.

UPDATE:  Another potentially-good example of a GMO - inserting resistance to a non-native disease in the all-but-disappeared American chestnut.


JohnMashey said...

The false equivalency is easily seen by the model:

1) Science: how does the wrold work

2) Engineering (whether physical or biological): can we build something, cost effectively and safely?

3) Policy: using 1) and 2), what do we do?

Climate anti-science starts with 3) (no CO2 restrictions, protect all fossil fuels) and backs into claiming the science is all wrong.

Anti-GMO is a mix of 3) (unreasoning anti-GMO) and rational wish to be careful, and possibly-rational distrust of the carefulness of large agribusinesses.

However, I would actually claim that GMO is jut one more extension of existing methods of creating new breeds. Consider use of radioactive or chemical mutagens, not just traditional breeding, which takes a lot longer. Of course, using mutagens is like crashing a lot of cars together in hope of getting a truck.

GMO is more like designing a truck, or starting with a car and modifying it purposefully.

Anyone who wants to avoid plant varieties modified by mutagenesis might consider quote from above:

'Through the years, mutagenesishas generated a vast amount of genetic variability and has played a significant role in plant breeding programs throughout the world. Records maintained by the joint FAO/IAEA Division in Vienna show that 2965 crop cultivars, with one or more useful traits obtained from induced mutations, were released worldwide during the last 40 years [20]. Notable examples are several wheat varieties (e.g., durum wheat used in pasta), barley including malting barley, rice, cotton, sunflower, and grapefruit, resulting in an enormous positive economic impact.'

I.e., avoid most pasta.

david lewis said...

That study was the subject of a RealClimate post by Gavin Schmidt. What bothered Schmidt about it was the attempt by the authors to change the way pre publication papers are promoted.

I heard it covered on as a story on Public Radio International's "Living on Earth" show, i.e. New Study Links Genetically Modified Corn to Cancer

The whole study itself (an Article in Press copy) is here.

Kloor's number one study shattering argument was that the French study chose to use a strain of rodents extremely prone to tumors. The "Living on Earth" reporter Bascomb noted that the strain of rodents used by the French is identical to the one Monsanto itself uses in its own research.

Kloor's number two show stopper was the study size was too small. The French used 200 rodents. A Consumer Union spokesperson contacted by Bascomb said 400 would have been better.

Kloor didn't mention the French claim which is that "almost all" previous studies exposed this strain of rodents for three months. Bascomb reported that the French say they started to observe significant results after four months.

Monsanto declined to supply a representative to be interviewed for the Living on Earth show. They did provide a written statement.

Kloor's analysis doesn't seem to be that useful.

david lewis said...

PS. The chemical industry invented CFCs in the 1930s and discovered that they would be great refrigerants.

It took until the early 1970s before anyone realized there could possibly be a problem with them. No one even realized they were building up in the atmosphere until Lovelock measured them, and no one realized they could pose any kind of problem until Rowland found out they were building up.

Who would have thought that an unforeseen property of some new refrigerant gases would be that they removed ozone layers?

By the time anyone realized there could be a problem there was a civilization used to the cheap safe refrigeration it was getting from them. It took until the late 1980s and you could prove there really was a problem, when as Rowland said, you could see the ozone hole from Mars, before civilization could screw itself up to decide to put $4 worth of CFC substitute into a retooled fridge instead of the $1 worth of CFC it was using before.

CFCs and other Ozone depleting substances are the only class of industrial chemicals where an international treaty aimed at elimination of production and use was implemented.

The problem with GMOs may not be some direct effect on humans from eating them. After many decades of using them successfully, the big problem that emerges for our descendants may be something no one has begun to think of at this point.

Civilization should exercise caution.

Rachel Carson advocated more intelligent use of better researched chemicals, in case anyone believes the smear campaign currently being mounted against her.

William T said...

For me the real issues with GMO are with other aspects:
- the IP issues. Farmers not being able to save seed. crop contamination evidently causing neighbouring farmers to be prosecuted for infringing the seed company's IP.
- terminator genese. Again, cutting off "natural" and "traditional" seed regeneration.
- the "frankenlife" factor and the lack of control involved in what could be produced in a world with no regulations. Margaret Atwood has some keen insights into her books (Oryx & Crake)
- and yes, the potential side effects both on ourselves and the ecosystem. Splicing in pesticide genes strikes me as playing with fire.

Brian said...

I think the terminator genes were a great idea and it's too bad Monsanto bowed to political pressure and got rid of them. They should've been mandatory in any GMO crop - it would significantly reduce the change of genetic contamination in the wild.

toto said...

Can someone point to one example of a farmer actually sued for *unwittingly* or *involuntarily* planting GMOs in his field?

Because all the example I've seen, starting with the infamous Percy Schmeiser case, involved farmers who deliberately and carefully selected GM plants for re-seeding.

Which led to the curious spectacle of anti-GMO activists falling over themselves to defend enthusiastic GMO producers!

Jeffrey Davis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey Davis said...

I just watched a science television documentary which featured the insertion of a spider gene into a goat. The protein for spider silk then emerged in the goat's milk.

So, yes, speeding up traditional breeding techniques. You can imagine the goat and spider in the breeding shed. And why not? Goats and spiders have shared the same barns for millenia. The scientist just adds the modern equivalent of wine and mood music. Some test tubes glistening in the half light. A centrifuge purring in the background. The intoxicating fragrance of ethylisation. Et voila! L'amour.

Science even adds the little lagniappe of no loss of head for the doughty male spider. Win Win!

Anonymous said...

You state in your post that, "Another is how GMOs facilitate increased herbicide use ... [leading to] farmworker exposure to the increased herbicide use."

My understanding is that this is an active area of debate. Even the article you link to states in the lad that GMO use reduces herbicide use: "If farmers use herbicide resistant crops, 'non-selective' herbicides can be used to remove all weeds in a single, quick application. This means less spraying..."

The article does mention that some critics think that GMOs can lead to increased herbicide use, at a quick google suggests this is still an active area of disagreement, with some researchers finding less, some more, and some finding that the type of herbicides used with herbicide resistant crops are less toxic... also, that there is reduced pesticide use with Bt crops.

-MMM, a GMO "lukewarmer" (eg, there may be some issues with some GMO applications and GMO modifications should be examined on a case-by-case basis, but GMO technology is not inherently a bad thing)

Jeffrey Davis said...

There was a news clip on the web in the last couple of weeks which showed fields beset with Roundup resistant weeds. The poor farmers had to actively walk the fields to remove the rather luxuriant weeds. Manually weeding a subsistence farm is backbreaking work, but doable. Barely. (Hence the term "subsistence".) Manually weeding modern multiple thousand acre farms would be impossible for a single family and demand a large number of field hands. Just in time for the AGW apocalypse, Monsanto has led the way to repopulate rural areas: weeding!

Turboblocke said...

What's the real story on "superweeds" which apparently are widespread in the USA? Apparently they have developed resistance to many herbicides. Is this due to GMO cross over or something else?

Anonymous said...

" He just then segues into the particularly-inane argument that GMOs are just a fast form of traditional breeding. No. Or at least, horizontal gene transfer from wildly different species is so unlikely in traditional breeding as to make it a ridiculous claim."

But then, how traditional is current traditional breeding?


Rattus Norvegicus said...


AFAIK, the problem stems from the overuse of herbicides, specifically RoundUp. The development was sadly entirely predictable based on simple evolutionary principals.


One real environmental concerns is of genetic contamination in the wild from GMO genes,

Cue the Discovery Institute demanding an end to archaeology le, st we end up contaminated with the vital bodily fluids of Gog and Magog.

Ian Forrester said...

Here is a link to the despicable tactics Monsanto has used in going after farmers:

Ian Forrester said...

There are two recent reports which have come out recently outlining problems and potential problems with GMOs.

The first is the peer reviewed paper by Seralini et al.:

which showed long term (2 years as compared to the industry 90 days) damage to the health of rats fed GM corn and/or Roundup.

The second is the result of a study and review of the possible negative effects of a GM wheat being tested in Australia. The GM wheat uses a novel form of genetic engineering, rather than inserting a foreign gene the technology uses a "silencer gene" to turn off one of the wheat's genes involved in carbohydrate metabolism.

Unfortunately the gene is very closely related to a human gene, mutation of which leads to glycogen storage disease. The technology uses the insertion of dsRNA (double stranded RNA)which causes the targeted gene to be silenced and not expressed. No one knows how stable these dsRNAs are or if they can be transferred to humans or animals eating the wheat.

Just remember that just about everything the GM industry has said will never happen has in fact been shown to happen and at substantial rates.

willard said...

One formal reason why "balance" narratives do not work is that the problem is not between two alternatives.

Most of our climate debates could be simplified by a game, which I call scientist-engineer-philosopher:

The scientist asks what or how come.

The engineer asks how or how much.

The philosopher asks why or how so.

I also like to model this game akin to another one:

Engineer beats Scientist (hi Steve).

Philosopher beats Engineer (hi Lucia).

Scientist beats Philosopher (hi Vaughan & alii).

This seems to model climateblogland quite well.


If we comprise journalists among the philosophers, they do share this ability to be able to talk about something they do nothing about, we could understand why Eli is so upset with Keith:

Engineer-philosopher alliances can't be to Eli's liking.

Some, not willard for sure, would contend that Dodger Junior carries the double-pronged strategy all by himself. The reason why willard won't say this is because there are limits to what one can say, even when one does not know what he's talking about. Limits of disingeniousness, so to speak.

In Moshpit's case, it's even worse.

willard said...

Oh, and speaking of pasta:

> 8.30- 12.30 – Dinner. There was a 5 or 6-course banquets every night. Pre-dinner wine and hors-d’oeuvres. Then a pasta course, a fish course, a dessert course, a cheese course, plus good Italian bread – bread being a weakness of mine. Plentiful wine. Again, I stuck to 50% portions and still feared the scales when I got home. I also drank lots of water at dinner as sort of a wine extender, to avoid paying too severe a price.

One way of out of this misery is to avoid sugar altogether:

Works for me.

Brian said...

"'Superweeds' Linked to Rising Herbicide Use in GM Crops, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (Oct. 2, 2012) — A study published this week by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook finds that the use of herbicides in the production of three genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops -- cotton, soybeans and corn -- has actually increased."

Aaron said...

We are going into a period of increased weather variability (as a result of AGW).

Do we want to limit the genetic variability of our crops?

Parts of Europe survived the LIA by sowing several crops in the same field. If it was cold that year they lived on the barley and buckwheat that grew. Warmer years produced wheat crops for real bread. It was a very hard way to farm, but it kept them alive. They always had a Plan B.

The Chinese grew millet. If they did not get a rice crop, they could eat millet. Millet was their Plan B.

Do we want to plant everything to a single cultivar so that if it is a little too cold, or a little too wet or a little too day, we lose everything? - not just in one field, but everything across entire agricultural regions? Do we want to make it easy for a new bad bug to eat out the entire crop, everywhere, around the world - with no alternate cultivars to go back to when Asian Rust gets everything that we planted last year, and all the seed that Monsanto offers is susceptible to that bad bug?

Growing only a few cultivars of a few crops around the world is a path to mass famine. Growing the same cultivar in North America and South America is not a Plan B, it is just doubling down on your original bet.

Much of my professional career was spent cleaning up a very large mess (phosphorus mine and tailings) left by the folks that made Roundup. This tells me that they do not have a long term perspective.

Martin Lack said...

Hi there Eli, Martin Lack here (of LackofEnvironment infamy).

I recently attempted to get some sense out of the the HMG's Chief Scientist on his position on GMOs and failed. The UK Govt. has decided to throw its weight behind campaign to legitimise "helpful GMOs" such as self-fertilising cereals (i.e. using gene transfer to grow cereals with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in root nodules).

Like many other scientifically-literate environmentalists, I am not anti GMOs on the grounds that they are dangerous. I am opposed to them because they will probably just be another means for large multi-national companies to extort money from poor people!.

If we allow Monsanto this monopoly, it will be Nestle and Baby Milk Powder all over again. Discuss.

Marion Delgado said...

This is very nicely and conservatively put.

Lionel A said...


Climate Progress has just (17:05 BST) been reported to me by my systems security as 'An Attack Page'.

Anonymous said...


Totally OT but has anyone else had a problem with 'Stoat' recently? Last time I tried to leave the site my pooter tripped into opening countless new 'Stoat' windows and crashed my iphone that was linked at the time. Haven't dared go back since.

Jeffrey Davis said...

Yes. My anti-virus software also indicates that Think Progress has been compromised.

Sou said...

Need to separate the issues here.

Re use of herbicides and weed tolerance - I doubt that's down to GM plants. Roundup has been used and probably overused for nearly 40 years, well before GM plants.

The issue of genetic diversity isn't one of GM, it's one of seedbanks and storage. Again diversity has been an issue well before GM. It's a real concern, esp in places like remote Afghanistan where there are or were many pre-cultivation wheat plants, but its been very hard to collect for the last few decades because of the various wars. Preserving existing seedbanks in areas of conflict is a particular worry at the moment.

Very early days IMO. Potential is huge for GM. There could be unknown unknowns - best keep vigilant but also keep up the research.

(@Ian Forrester - I cannot think of a mechanism whereby plant RNA could be incorporated into our own RNA by eating the plant.)

Sou said...

Re the malware - could be an advert. I believe (from experience on another site I visit) that even after they fix it, it can take a while for the notice to disappear.

For safety's sake, I'll wait till Chrome says it's okay :)

Ian Forrester said...

Sou, did you read the link I posted on dsRNA? I suspect not since you would have found this paragraph:

"dsRNAs are remarkably stable in the environment. Insects and worms that feed on plants that make dsRNA can take in the dsRNA through their digestive system, where it remains intact (Gordon and Waterhouse, 2007, Mao et al., 2007).

Worms can absorb dsRNA through their skin when dsRNA is suspended in liquid (Cogoni and Macino, 2000, Tabara et al., 1998). Once taken up, the dsRNA can circulate throughout the body and alter gene expression in the animal (Mello and Conte Jr., 2004). In some cases, the dsRNA taken up is further amplified or causes a secondary reaction that leads to more and different dsRNAs (“secondary”
dsRNAs) with unpredictable targets."

Do you accept "opinions" from GMO shills who have been proven wrong time after time or do you trust the "opinion" of scientists who have actually worked in that area? I know who I trust.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Ian Forrester,
I believe most GMOs do not involve manipulation of/with ds-RNA. I know of only one such crop--insect resistant wheat.

I do not think it is fair to call the totality of GMO into question because of a single aberration.

Ian Forrester said...

a_ray, the wheat is not an insect resistant strain but is one which is reported to produce low-glycemic carbohydrates. There are much simpler ways for a consumer to lower their glycemic index than this risky experiment using humands as guinea pigs.

It does not matter that this is the first to use this technology, you can be sure that will be plenty more down the road.

I used this as an example of the cavalier attitude of GM promoters. They wear blinkers and only look for positive results to their bottom lines and to hell with the potential negative consequences.

John said...

To Sou:

The problem of monoculture (and concomitant loss of genetic diversity) can be more than adequately discussed in relation to US agriculture alone without recourse to any other country including Afghanistan.

For example, Google "1970 us corn crop failure" to get an idea of the length of time we have been actively committing agricultural Russian roulette - well before our upping the ante with genetic manipulation.

The problem is that the GMO "research" you encourage is now occurring "in the field." Soon, as with climate change, the only activity available will be documenting disaster as opposed to ameliorating it or avoiding it.

Thus, Kloor has it backwards, if "balance" must be invoked.

John Puma

Sou said...

@John Puma - you repeated the point I made regarding monoculture. Monoculture has been around long before GM crops.

Re my reference to Afghanistan - I think you misunderstand me, but not sure. I am referring to source genetic material from wild precursor plants - for crops such as wheat. To assure/insure for genetic diversity in agricultural crops we need to make sure we have genetic material from the plants that are precursors of domesticated crops. For example, in the case of wheat, from plants that existed before wheat was cultivated as a crop. Such wild plants still survive in the far reaches of Afghanistan among other places (including near the Russian border - which has in the past been a bit tricky for collectors when the borders were 'fuzzy'.)

It's very important to collect and retain seeds/genetic material from wild varieties of plants (precursors of cultivated plants). They will continue to provide the source of most of the genetic diversity of crops as they have done in the past, provided we don't lose them forever.

(Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between opinions/'beliefs' of people who are against all forms of modern agriculture and those who are only against modern genetic manipulation techniques.)

To my mind, overall genetic diversity and maintaining good collections of plant material is much more important than the issue of GM. It will become even more important in the future as climate change and encroaching human developments will undoubtedly bring about the extinction of some of these plants in the wild.

Sou said...

@ Ian Forrester - that's interesting re the dsRNA research you pointed to.

I'll do some more reading on the subject before making more speculative statements about it :)

Anonymous said...


Crawley et al. (2001) Nature 409

"Here we present the results of a long-term study of the performance of transgenic crops in natural habitats. Four different crops (oilseed rape, potato, maize and sugar beet) were grown in 12 different habitats and monitored over a period of 10 years. In no case were the genetically modified plants found to be more invasive or more persistent than their conventional counterparts...Our results do not mean that other genetic modifications could not increase weediness or invasiveness of crop plants, but they do indicate that arable crops are unlikely to survive for long outside cultivation."


Sou said...

Having read the articles referenced by Ian Forrester, I still fail to see any evidence of harm.

One of the articles was highly speculative and read like other run of the mill anti-GM pamphlets. I then went to one of the source documents and, although it proposed how dsRNA could possibly have an effect, there did not appear to be any evidence that it did so in humans. Nor any evidence that there existed pre-requisite conditions that would allow any harm by ingesting plant material from GM crops.

I also found this article, which was more in accord with what I know of human biochemistry, refuting some of the claims made about dsRNA.

(Having read more about dsRNA in the context of GM, as promised, I can go back to making speculative statements :D)

Ian Forrester said...

Sou, you have just shown your lack of intellectual rigour by quoting "Academicsreview."

Here is a quote from a respected site criticizing Chassey and Tribe, founders of Academicsreview:

"Well, if they can't close down GMWatch and Lobbywatch again, there was probably no option but for the forces of darkness to do their vilification on a spanking new web site -- carefully designed and no doubt financially underwritten by all the usual culprits.

So this is the latest salvo in the "shoot the messenger" campaign -- our old friends Bruce Chassy and David Tribe are now doing a hatchet job on Jeffrey Smith and all those whom he has cited in his books".

As for your comments about RNA and its supposed lack of interaction with human DNA I suggest you read up on how retro-viruses get their genetic information incorporated into human DNA. One of the more well known retro-viruses is of course HIV. They use an enzyme called reverse trancriptase for this task.

I now know that you are getting all your information from well known corporate funded shills, just as the AGW deniers get theirs from similar sources. You have just shown the equivalency of AGW deniers and GMO promoters, which of course, is the exact opposite of what people like Revkin and Kloor are saying.

Sou said...

Oops - didn't mean to offend anyone. (Looks like I hit a nerve.)

Is GMWatch the plant equivalent of PETA?

It's hard for me to consider a site 'respected' when it uses such emotive language throughout. (It reads more like WUWT.)

However I don't doubt their passion or the strength of their opinions, and I respect the rights of anyone else to consider it 'respected'.

Ian Forrester said...

Sou asks:

"Is GMWatch the plant equivalent of PETA?

The answer to your pernicious question is a resounding NO.

You have offended any honest scientist who has spent the time and effort in exposing the fraudulent and dishonest behaviour of the GMO shills. I suggest you either stop reading such anti-science and anti-scientist rhetoric as found in Academicsreview and other propaganda outlets for the GM industry or take a course in elementary biochemistry and molecular biology.

I suspect you will do neither since you are firmly under the control of the GMO promoters.

For your information, GMWatch is a respectable web site run by scientists who are well aware of the propaganda put out by the GMO industry. If you want a comparison, GMWatch can be compared to Real Climate and Skeptical Science. I am amazed that you cannot see the difference between what real and honest scientists are saying and choose instead to believe the dishonest propaganda put out by the GM industry.

I will repeat once more, AGW deniers are equivalent to GM promoters. They are often the same people, see for example Dennis Avery and his son, Roger Bates and "junkman" Milloy. The same right wing "think" tanks spouting disinformation about climate science are also spreading disinformation about the effects of GMOs.

Sou said...

Fallacies of association, hyperbole and similar rhetorical devices are not good substitutes for evidence.

Ian Forrester said...

Sou, have you actually read what you just posted? You say:

"Fallacies of association, hyperbole and similar rhetorical devices are not good substitutes for evidence".

You were the one who first used "association" in your attempts to smear the good work being carried out by the scientists behind GMWatch. You just proved to any sensible and intelligent follower of this blog that you are in completer denial about the negative effects of GMOs, effects which are clearly found in the peeer reviewed scientific literature, some thing which you do not seem to be "associated" with at all.

Showing that many AGW deniers are in fact GMO promoters is not a logical fallacy as you pretend but is an accurate demonstration of their dishonesty and lack of scientific understanding. Why do you decry these AGW deniers yet applaud them when they spout out similar disinformation about GMOs? It says a lot about your lack of scientific abilities when you are so easily persuaded by these dis-informers, when their deceitful tactics are shown on this blog and on other climate science blogs.

Sou said...

It's true that visiting the GMWatch site it called to mind style of writing of WUWT and PETA. Less emotive discussions are found on blogs like Tomorrow's World, and sites like The Conversation and, yes, the website I linked to in a previous post as well as contributions to scientific journals, like this article that discusses hazards, including some not sufficiently catered for.

As I said in my first post in this thread: "There could be unknown unknowns - best keep vigilant but also keep up the research."

All R&D is subject to caveats, further research and the findings should be used responsibly.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

While I do agree that ds-RNA is a risk that needs to be examined more thoroughly, and that Academics Review is a questionable source wrt industry funding, etc.

Your shrill rants are not doing you any favors here. Genetic modification is way too broad and important a set of techniques to condemn based on a few instances where risks may not have been fully appreciated.

Yes, monocultures are a problem. Yes, it is conceivable that genetic modification could introduce risks. No, that doesn't invalidate the entire field of enquiry. And no, not all GM promoters are equivalent to AGW deniers. Frankly, your insinuation that it is tends to discredit your entire argument.

Ian Forrester said...

a_ray says:

"Your shrill rants are not doing you any favors here. Genetic modification is way too broad and important a set of techniques to condemn based on a few instances where risks may not have been fully appreciated.

Please show me where I used "shrill rants". Telling some one, who obviously is biased in their opinions, that they are wrong and presenting fact based arguments to show how they are wrong is not being shrill or ranting.

I consider the safety and long term sustainability of our food supply to be a very important area for research and public input. What I have no time for are the dishonest articles put out by the GM industry and their corporate shills.

Your comment that we should not condemn the technology because of a "few instances where risks may not have been fully appreciated" just does not stand up to a rigorous review. There are many many documented instances where we have found not just the risk of a problem but have in fact found many problems to be occurring right now.

I will not give a complete list but will mention the following, some of which have been discussed here:

herbicide resistant weeds
Bt resistant insects
organic farms being de-certified because of GMO contamination
SDS in GM soy beans
Fusarium head blight in wheat planted in fields previously growing RR canola
Research papers in the peer reviewed scientific literature showing glyphosate to be much more toxic than claimed by Monsanto
Bt proteins found in human blood
Many reports of abnormal metabolism in animal feeding experiments
Large numbers of farmers in India forced into bankruptcy after planting BT cotton
Huge increase in birth defects in states growing RR soybeans in South America.
Costs to farmers increasing at a high rate when locked into growing GM crops.

It is you and Sou who are being blinded by the propaganda put out by the GM promoters. You also seem to like to use ad hominem attacks on me. That is surely a sign that you do not have a science based response to my criticisms.

David B. Benson said...

All makes for interesting reading at any rate.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Ian Forrester, here is an example of a shrill rant:

"It is you and Sou who are being blinded by the propaganda put out by the GM promoters."

Oh, and by the way, nothing I have said here is an ad hominem attack. An ad hominem attack has the form "One should not listen to Spunkydrawers because he is an idiot." That is, it ignores the evidence and seeks to discredit the argument by discrediting the one making it.

Were I to simply call you a moron, that would not be an ad hominem attack, but rather an insult.

The science-based response to your criticism/rants is that merely changing the genetic makeup of a plant or animal need not threaten the food supply. We have done so for years by more indirect ways.

It would seem to me that your quarrel is less with the techniques of genetic modification and more with the industrialization of agriculture. In that latter, I sympathize. I also deplore cattle feed containing ground up cattle, industrial raising of pigs and poultry, monocultures of conventional crops and so on.

All of these threats come from industrialization of agriculture, not from anything inherent to genetic modification of crops.

Perhaps you would do well to wonder why you feel that everyone but you is unscientific--particularly those of us who have been doing science for nearly 30 years.

Ian Forrester said...

a-ray, you are using ad hominem tactics by referring to my rebuttals of the junk science put out by the GMO promoters as "shrill rants" i.e. do not believe what I say because I only communicate in "shrill rants."

I beat you by about 15 years as a scientist, one who has worked in the field of genetic regulation as it occurs in chemical carcinogenesis and fetal development so I have a good understanding of what may happen when one messes around playing genetic roulette.

So please stop your insults and ad hominem comments and go and do some serious research on this subject.

Sou said...

The main problem with blaming GM crops with every thing that goes wrong on a farm (two headed calves, exploding babies, farmers going broke etc) is that it risks masking or sublimating valid public discussion of any real problem or potential risk. It gets lost in the fray.

It's important to separate issues, scope problems, and then determine causes and effects based on evidence. Otherwise it's no different to saying that vaccinations cause autism, or retirement homes kill people sooner, or eating meat causes planes to crash (80% of pilots ate meat within three days of their plane crashing).

Ian Forrester said...

OK the responses to my comments have degenerated to juvenile rubbish and non-scientific nonsense. I'm out of this till anyone comes back with rational discussion. Till then I will stick to my belief that many AGW deniers are also GMO promoters and that rDNA technologies are full of potential and observed risks.

Please note that the proper use of scientific terms are required. To say that people are against all genetic technologies because they object to rDNA is wrong. There are many useful and seen to be safe genetic technologies including conventional cross breeding and the much newer technology "marker assisted selection".

Anonymous said...

"the equivalency of AGW deniers and GMO promoters"

Sense About Scince on Climate:

"We already have the tools to investigate climate change and predict future trends such as the 2-4C temperature rise. Even though uncertainty exists (and always will to some degree), there is a lot of very valuable information within this."

And on GM tech:

"GM is a development in a long line of plant breeding techniques. Older techniques shuffled the plant’s genes, leading to lots of unintended changes, whereas GM is more precise. It is relatively new(though over 20 years old) but many of the comments that it is “unnatural” are just as true of plants bred for conventional and organic agriculture."


a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Ian Forrester: "OK the responses to my comments have degenerated to juvenile rubbish and non-scientific nonsense. I'm out of this till anyone comes back with rational discussion."

When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled...

How sad, Ian that we haven't all realized your brilliance and fallen down before it. Interesting also that you want to attribute your own inability to articulate to the rest of us.

What is more, you still fail to comprehend what an ad hominem is--that doesn't indicate much of a slope to your learning curve.

Ian, you won't be missed. You've added nothing to this debate except shrill noise. Stick the flounce.

Ian Forrester said...

WOW, now I know what it is like to be a scientists and try to post on wattsup and other anti-AGW sites.

Eli, I think you are more of a scientist to allow this on your blog. All my comments are based on scientific evidence and fact based reports.

So sad that people are so blinkered by the thought of money from large corporations to not see how they are being misled. The agricultural equivalent of the IPCC, the IAASTD says that rDNA technology will not solve world food problems.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Couldn't stick the flounce, could ya, Ian? Look, moron, there is more to "scientific evidence" than merely citing a single study. You have taken a few cases that have merit and used them to draw global conclusions. That is NOT scientific, and your position is far from the scientific mainstream. You have further construed anyone who disagrees with you even mildly as a "Monsanto shill".

You have distorted the positions expressed in opposition to you into straw men. I for one have been happy to state that some of the issues you raise have merit and deserve study. What I am NOT willing to do is condemn a powerful technique in its entirety because its very power poses risks. Risk and reward are two sides of the same coin--in both finance and in technology.

You, in short, have been unprofessional, unethical and unscientific throughout.

Ian, on this issue, you are a crank.

J Bowers said...

Good to see 'alarmists' aren't sheep following some eco-fascistic party line.

Sou said...

If anyone is interested in learning about herbicide resistance, this paper describes it well. The paper was written some years ago, but the principles haven't changed. Notice how it cautions about GM resistant crops (which weren't as widespread back when the paper was written) - to avoid relying on the chemical to which the crop is resistant to get rid of weeds.

There's a chart in the paper that shows how herbicide resistance has been increasing over time, particularly since the early 1970s as their use in agriculture increased. It's a problem that stems from years ago and not caused by GM crops. It's been brought about by poor weed control practices. GM crops bred for herbicide resistance will exacerbate the problem if it encourages continued overuse of the chemical to which the GM crop is resistant.

Bear in mind that much GM is for traits other than herbicide resistance - lots of different desirable traits are being engineered into agricultural crops: eg improved productivity, stress tolerance, resistance to fungi and viruses, increased nutrition, controlled ripening etc etc. Also, the genetic material may come from the same species or a different species. Another point to remember is that few domesticated species grown for agriculture can survive/thrive in the wild.

As for dsRNA from GM crops - if eating it could affect us, cancer researchers would have been onto it like a shot.

EliRabett said...

Eli's policy is that the comments section belongs to the bunnies. It has to get pretty raucous (and this is not raucous) before the Rabett will ask the denizens to behave and then he will ask politely. Eli is a very proper Bunny.

Note that the current tictac at the climate change denial blogs is to feign pearl clutching and slow walk or ban certain lagomorphs and/or weasels, but again, Eli has always been of the opinion that it is their own damn blog and they can commit ritual suicide in any way they please.

Now this does mean that there is a bit of sawdust on the floor here necessary on occasion to soak up a bit of blood. . . .

Sou said...

Oh good - now we can say what we really think, can we?


J Bowers said...

There's actually a UK mag devoted to "balancing" the health debate entitled 'What Doctors Don't Tell You', which is in some news here because its threatening to sue Simon Singh. They have stories about vaccines, sunblock causes cancer, you know the type... "balance". At least it's prompted some amusing kickback, e.g., 'What Geologists Don't Tell You'.

Brian said...

What Eli said re comment policy. And while I normally don't bother correcting comments that get confused about who wrote the OP, the OP in this case is my opinion, not his.

And just to stir things up a little, I think it's missing a point to say the problem is with industrial agriculture and not GMOs, because GMOs seem to be made (primarily) to facilitate industrial agriculture. Reminds me a little of the fracking industry saying contamination from fracking is from the wells they use to frack, and not from the fracking process itself.

Sou said...

Brian, I think that's a false analogy. Agriculture isn't a well waiting to be fracked.

I could be wrong, but it looks as if you are making the mistake of rolling every potential problem with GM and modern agriculture into one. There are a lot of things that could and can go wrong with both modern agriculture and with GM crops and pastures. Some things will apply to agriculture generally while some will be specific to GM crops. Many of the supposed GM-specific problems apply to agriculture regardless of whether GM crops are grown or not.

If a person is anti modern agriculture then they will most likely be anti-GMO. The reverse isn't the case by any means.

One of the difficulties of discussing these issues on a general forum is that very few people seem to know much about modern (or historical) agriculture or about GM.

Anonymous said...

"Many of the supposed GM-specific problems apply to agriculture regardless of whether GM crops are grown or not."

Herbicide resistance and "Superweeds" being a case-in-point.

Herbicide resistance occurs widely in conventional agriculture. The following primer may help illustrate:

Or you can look deeper:

"The 1998 International Survey of Herbicide-Resistant Weeds recorded 216 herbicide-resistant weed biotypes in 45 countries. The increase in the number of new herbicide-resistant weeds has remained relatively constant since 1978, at an average of nine new cases per year worldwide. Whilst 60 weed species have evolved resistance to triazine herbicides this figure now accounts for less than one third of all documented herbicide resistant biotypes...The lack of alternative herbicides to control weeds with multiple herbicide resistance, such as Lolium rigidum and Alopecurus myosuroides, make these the most challenging resistance problems. The discovery of glyphosate-resistant Lolium rigidum in Australia (1996) and Lolium multiflorum in California (1998) is a timely reminder that sound herbicide-resistant management strategies will remain important after the widespread adoption of glyphosate-resistant crops."


a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Huh? There is nothing inherent in GM that necessitates that it be carried out by industrial agricultural firms. That is simply bizarre.

EliRabett said...

Some clown doing GMO manipulation in his garage is much more scary.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

How about scientists working in a lab to tackle a malnutrition problem--as was done with golden rice.

The opposition to a powerful technique merely because it can be misused strikes me as bizarre and anti-scientific. I am hardly a technophile, but I do at least realize that Mary Shelley wrote ficiton.

EliRabett said...

Well somewhat better than the clowns who synthesized a polio virus just to show it could be done. Now that was scary and they should have been shot (literally as far as Eli is concerned).

Brian said...

"There is nothing inherent in GM that necessitates that it be carried out by industrial agricultural firms. That is simply bizarre."

I agree! That's why my statement was that GMOs are primarily for large scale commercial agriculture and not the subsistence farmer.

As for golden rice, they've talked that one for a long long time. I would love to see it actually come into usage, but after over a decade of talk, it doesn't provide a lot to defend GMOs.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

OK. Now let me see if I've got this straight. We have a crop that you admit would be useful and that couldn not be bred any other way and that is STILL being developed--successfully--at this time, and because it isn't in wide use yet, you feel this is an indictment of the technique that developed it?

You want to maybe check your logic here?

Brian said...

A-Ray - the problem is with the "successfully" part. I've been hearing 'GMOs are great, just look at golden rice that's about to help millions' for too many years.

As I said earlier I think they should continue trying to develop it. If they ever get anywhere with it, then they can make a pro-GMO argument based on golden rice, but that's not how I'd argue for GMOs at this point in time.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Technology takes time to develop and deploy. The technology behind the photocopier existed in the '30s, and we are still waiting on the first practical advancements to come out of high Tc superconductivity. Despite the hype surrounding the Human Genome project, we're still waiting on that to pay off.

We have powerful techniques. Dismissing them before they've had 30 or so years to bear fruit is just silly.

John said...

To a-ray:

The condition of vitamin A deficiency exists precisely because of an earlier agricultural "revolution."

Widespread use of herbicides was made possible by, and heavily marketed by, the "Green" revolution.

The result: many species of weeds formerly found among crops in the third world, containing high levels of vitamin A, and traditionally harvested for food were now killed by the farmers who accepted capitalism's lure rejected "poor people's" subsistence farming for the exciting word of the cash crops and global economy.

This is a perfect example of technology being touted as the solution to a problem it created but which it refuses to acknowledge. Sometimes technology can create a short term fix. Here we see only the hype, always the hype.

Read Vandana Shiva for revelations of golden rice, in particular, and the effect of industrial agriculture on the one-third of humanity she's familiar with in south Asia.

( For example, "The Golden Rice Hoax" )

Craig Dilworth's "Too Smart For Our Own Good" is a great summary of technology's cycle of appearing to solve problems while generally making bigger ones.

John Puma

Sou said...

Technology and science certainly can create new problems. And they are indeed arguably bigger problems than the ones they solve at least at an individual level.

If not for advances in medical science, agriculture and engineering (eg water storage and drainage, transport etc) the world would not be nearly as populated with the human species as it is today. There would be nowhere near the extinction rate of other species and we'd undoubtedly not have the climate problems we're facing.

There would be people who think we should go back to subsistence farming and a pre-modern world. I don't know that the majority would agree - but there are small communities who have rejected modern living. If everyone did so, that would also come at a huge cost.

John said...

So human population approaching a level the earth cannot support, massive extinction rate of other species and looming climate disaster ARE acknowledged problems technology has caused BUT to reconsider our profligate and unsustainable system would "come at a huge cost"?

Please, SOU, detail the costs larger than what we have put in motion, essentially premature species self-extinction, without assuming infinite petroleum supplies.

John Puma

Sou said...

John - why are you putting words in my mouth that I didn't write? Of course we are reconsidering much of how we live. (You haven't rejected modern life for example, even though you appear to advocate it.)

I'll answer your question, though, even though you've taken it to extremes. I honestly don't know if the costs of going back to subsistence living would be greater than 'what we've put in motion' or not.

I can easily list what some of the costs of attempting to do so would be, given the current population - much premature death from thirst, hunger, conflict and disease. Virtually no more travel or communication between what would be left of social groups of people. And more.

But it's all a bit pointless to speculate about that because the majority of people won't be giving up modern living without a fight. That's why many people are shifting to renewable energy, rejecting cars in favour of public transport, even having a shot at growing a few veges.

Many people are working to try to shift reliance away from the 'profligate and unsustainable' system. That doesn't necessarily mean everyone will eventually have to go back to some sort of nomadic or subsistence living.

Life as it is today for the vast majority of people, is only possible because of modern life. No-one's going to throw every aspect of that away willingly. Many are willing to change some things however.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

John Puma,
OK. Let us consider 3 alternatives:

1)Humanity exctacts its collective head from the orifice in which it currently resides. They develop new infrastructure that maybe, just maybe, allows us to make a "soft landing" reducing human population to sustainable levels.

2)Same as above, except we fail in our efforts, resulting in a crash of human population + mass extinction of other species.

3)An unmanaged crash, with humans burning/ eating whatever they can to survive as long as they can.

Pick one.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Vandana Shiva is hardly an objective source when it comes to GMO or anything else for that matter.

Does he really think there was no incidence of vitamin deficiency prior to the green revolution? I mean, I am hardly a fan of monoculture, but really? His critique of golden rice is about 3 generations out of date!

Holly Stick said...

a-ray, you don't earn much credibility when you claim someone is not objective about anything without noticing that he is a she:

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Holly, why would her gender matter a fig to me? I do not care who she is. I do not care what her background is. I care whether she can string together a logical argument that uses the facts as they are. Shiva fails in this. Her numbers for carotenoids are so low as to be laughable. All in all her style reminds me of the quote by Andrew Lang:

"He uses statistics as a drunkard uses a lamppost--for support rather than illumination."

Holly Stick said...

a-ray, you were implying that you knew enough about the individual to judge that she was not capable of objectivity on any matter.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

No, Holly, I was implying I knew enough about the subject to determine whether what she was writing reflected the current state of the research. It does not. It does not matter whether her chromosomal pairs are XX XY or even XXY--she is not giving an objective assessment of the research. I do not give a tinker's damn who Shiva is.

I am not interested in ad hominem attacks. I'll look at the research, no matter who writes it.

Ian Forrester said...

Get off your high horse a_ray. If you did know anything about the research and what is going on you should have known that the article John cited was written in 2000 when it was accurate in describing golden rice at that time.

You are also smearing a well respected advocate for health and social responsibility when you attack Vandana Shiva. You show your lack of knowledge about her since she is a proponent of what you claim to be a supporter of i.e. the overuse of monocultures.

I will refrain from pointing out your many other errors in your series of posts in this thread.

Keep your head in the sand, just like all the AGW deniers.

David B. Benson said...

Continues to be entertaining, anyway, even if the enlightenment factor has rather faded by now...

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Ian, care to explain--in actual scientific terms, rather than ooga-booga laced diatribes--how manipulation of genetic material at the gene level is inherently more dangerous than hybridization or long known and even longer extant ways in which viruses exchange genetic material?

Oh, and for the record, I am against over-reliance on monocultures. Can't you at least get that right.

Ian Forrester said...

a_ray, the only person showing "ooga-booga laced diatribes" (whatever that is supposed to mean) is you.

Here is a very simple explanation of why we see toxicity in a number of plants modified using rDNA technology. Most Bt plants and a rDNA modified pea showed toxicity and/or altered immunological responses when modified.

The reason is very simple and was first shown but not completely understood in the original Pusztai and Ewen paper in The Lancet. The problem is due to post-translational modification of the protein expressed from the trans-gene. Post-translational modification of proteins can take a number of different forms: chain hydrolysis and shortening, methylation, phosphorylation and gycosylation. The modifications can alter the 3D structure and function of proteins. Glycosylation in particular is very important in affecting how proteins interact with and modify cell metabolism, including immune response.

In the parent organism the post-translational modification is determined by enzymes coded for and produced by the parent organism. When the gene is transferred into another organism the post-translational modification is now performed (if at all) by the new host's enzymes, which leads to a very different protein than the one which was isolated from the parent host and tested for toxicity.

The Bt proteins have not been isolated or characterized from their new rDNA hosts. This is a huge gap in the testing of rDNA modified plants.

A similar result was found when Australian scientists transferred a gene from beans to peas (plants which are very closely related). The gene product (an alpha-amylase inhibitor) was found not to exert an adverse immunological effect when isolated from its natural host but the rDNA peas showed a large immunological response when tested in mice. The research was stopped when this result was found. It is interesting to note that immunological testing is not required but was done in addition to other tests.

World-wide, there are no agreed on criteria for the testing of new crops produced via rDNA technology. The closest was in the UK where Arpad Pusztai was selected from a number of applicants to set up test protocols for the UK. Unfortunately, some of his first experiments showed negative effects and he suffered a concerted attack from "scientists" who had close ties to the rDNA industry and he was fired and his research rubbished and stopped.

Is it any wonder that independent scientist who have researched the area are concerned about what is going on in this industry?

Also, please read my responses more carefully. Where did I ever say that you were against the over-use of mono-cultures? I said that you "claim to be a supporter" of the over use which is exactly the position of Vandana Shiva who you tried to smear in a typical ad hominem response.

Ian Forrester said...

Arggh, I should clarify my comments. Both a-ray and Vandana Shiva agree that the over use of mono-cultures is bad.

Anonymous said...

"The research was stopped when this result was found. It is interesting to note that immunological testing is not required but was done in addition to other tests."


"I used this as an example of the cavalier attitude of GM promoters. They wear blinkers and only look for positive results to their bottom lines and to hell with the potential negative consequences."



a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Ian, I do not see why that is inherently a result of genetic modification. It seems eminently surmountable. Try again.

David B. Benson said...

The embers are still hot. Be careful where you step.

Unknown said...

I would still prefer GMO foods to be labelled. After all it is my fundamental right to know what I am eating and feeding my family. There will always be a debate on GMO foods. There are several GMO food documentaries in the market. We should look at it & decide ourselves.