GMO Rice

GMOs: it’s our right to know. But what will you do with the information?

This is a guest post by Allallt.

He writes prolifically on science and atheism. I’ve always been amazed at the simplicity of his arguments. I once jokingly referred to him as the Steve Jobs of atheist arguments, but I well and truly meant it. He knows how to write about both science and atheism in such a way as to make you slap your head at the obviousness of his arguments in hindsight. He makes his arguments and polemics very simple, and that is the most powerful thing about them, so I challenged him to write a post about GMOs a little while ago in the hope he could likewise make a difficult subject simpler. He dutifully accepted. I’d like to say he succeeded. (There’s another article written by him on organic farming coming in the pipeline.)

Knowledge, generally speaking, is a good thing (so long as it’s true). I’ve poked my head into the world of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) for the sake of food, and people are making the seemingly harmless demand to simply know if the food they’re buying is the result of genetic engineering or not. And, on the face of it, I’m happy with a little green sticker that says “GMO” in the bottom corner of my packaging. It’s about as important to me as the name of the person that sealed the box; whatever, who cares?

Normally the information on a packet helps me make certain decisions and answer certain questions: that’s too many calories; I can’t cook that for my cousin, he’s allergic to nuts; I feel ill if I eat that much salt; I’m trying to see if I feel more mentally focused if I cut aspartame out of my diet; I’m boycotting palm oil because there’s no distinction between orangutan friendly and unfriendly palm oil etc. What do you hope to know by seeing the “GMO” label, or not, on your food? That is the central question I want to discuss, and suggest that people will only be misinformed.

I spoke to a friend about GMOs and she is wildly against them, under the banner of “we don’t know what we’re doing”. She even had a reference for her issue: thalidomide. Now, there’s a word with a legacy. Thalidomide was an anti-nausea pill and sleeping aid, marketed at helping women with morning sickness. But it also induced birth defects in children and a high infant mortality rate. This, according to my friend, is what happens when we mess with nature and we don’t ’now what we’re doing. We have a good reason to fear new things.

My friend sees “GMO” as a thing she doesn’t understand and things she doesn’t understand as potentially being thalidomide. If there were truth in this, would we not know about it already? Thalidomide was on and off the market in the UK in 3 years. GMOs are not some idea that might be introduced and people are protesting. GMOs already happen, and they are widespread. I was learning about their application in terms of case studies when I was doing my GCSEs (when I was 16, 8 years ago). And there is simply no evidence to suggest there is a problem. Despite research.

I may need to digress momentarily to make a note about science, but as I’m guest-posting on Random Rationality I suspect I won’t need to say much. There is a big difference between there being no evidence and there being no evidence despite research. To be clear about the difference (and perhaps a little facetious) “there is no evidence that my sock is under my bed because I haven’t looked” is very different from “I have looked, and there is no evidence my sock is under my bed”. These mean “I haven’t looked” and “it’s not there” respectively. We have looked for health effects from GMOs and we haven’t found them.

“This box was packed by Steven; it will be identical to the boxes packed by Jill” is useless information. Trivia. “This food was produced via genetic engineering; it will be identical to foods not produced by genetic engineering” is an equally useless statement, and so any non-zero effort made to put a label on the box is a disproportionate amount of effort. But the issue is not just that the label is a disproportionate effort, but that it is misinformation.

You may wonder how correct facts can be misinformation. And that paradox is a fair question. So long as GMOs (wrongly) mean ill-health and disease and FrankenFood* and contaminated ingredients to people, the label “GMO” is simply misleading. GMOs are not these things, despite public perception and fear. To me, GMO means feeding the world, pest-resistance, better sustenance, more nutrition, bigger yields, longer shelf-lives. These are profoundly excellent things.

Imagine a child in sub-Saharan Africa who is both starving and malnourished. This means that she is immensely hungry, to the point the body is atrophying away, and what food she has eaten is so nutritionally imbalanced that she has life-threatening deficiencies of certain nutrients. She’s starving because farmers can’t grow enough food in the current drought, and pests and disease attack what is grown, and that which farmers can harvest doesn’t have the shelf-life to make it to her village. And she is malnourished because that is the nature of the food she can scavenge or does reach her village. There is hope, and it’s no mere glimmer. There’s no problem in this paragraph that cannot be eradicated by GMOs. GMOs would transform this poor girl’s life, and the thousands who live like her. They would be her saviour.

BandAid, in 1984, released “Do they know it’s Christmas (feed the world)”. And your one-off donation to buy a cheesy but delightful Christmas song made big differences in Ethiopia. But to feed the world, to have enough food successfully delivered to every remote corner of the planet, will take a lot more than your one-off donation. Feeding the world will take GMOs.

*Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a great metaphor for GMOs. Throughout most of the book, Frankenstein’s monster is a kind, humane, misunderstood and terrified creature. He seeks acceptance and love and doesn’t pose a threat to anyone’s health or wellbeing. Frankenstein’s monster is a good person. It is the DeLacey family, in their ignorant fear, who started the hatred.

58 thoughts on “GMOs: it’s our right to know. But what will you do with the information?”

  1. I think this article is inaccurate and ignorant.
    GMO companies are rarely producing food like “golden rice”. They are producing plants more resistant to chemical solutions that are bad for our bodies and the earth. Let’s use a simple example, a GMO corn meant to resist negative effects of chemical fertilizers. The biggest negative effect of this product is high acid levels that plants can’t handle so they make a GMO corn that grows in very acidic soil. There is nothing wrong with this corn per-say.

    The first year all is well. The corn grows great. The high acid in the soil reduces the number of pesky things like weeds that can’t handle the high acid level. By growing this corn in chemical fertilizers he gets larger yields than a traditional growing method.
    The next year the soil has more acid in it then the year before… but there’s nothing removing the acid from the soil. The plants (weeds) that usually add to the biodiversity of the soil and help add nutrients to the soil aren’t there anymore. Actually, there’s a whole new set of weeds that actually LIKE acidic soil. They absorb a lot of acid and then get tilled back into the soil every year causing the soil to be even more acidic. The high acid level ultimately means low nutrient levels and even more acidic chemical fertilizer must be applied this year. The corn still probably grows fine; it’s acid resistant and you replaced the nutrients that naturally exist with synthetic ones.
    Year three and the soil is degraded even further. The corn isn’t even doing well anymore. The weeds aren’t even there. The soil isn’t retaining moisture anymore. You tried adding more fertilizer and it did nothing.
    Year four and the plot of land that was once a fertile, lush, rich growing ground is now a highly acidic dust bowl. The dirt literally blows away on the wind. The few plants that grow there are impossible to remove; they’re extremely invasive. Now that piece of land is useless, and the farmer must move onto another piece of land to pillage to grow his GMO corn in chemical fertilizers.

    You run into similar problems with pesticides and herbicides. Bees are dying. It’s because of pesticides. Those pesticides can be used in greater amounts because the GMO crops are resistant to them, or even produce them. Soon we will have no more pollenaters. It has happened before, and the plants must be pollinated by hand.

    You use lots of chemical herbicides because now your crops are more resistant to them. Some of the weeds survive; some of those weeds are toxic for consumption, and they’re invasive. Suddenly those super weeds are in fields across America as a serious threat to livestock that graze on real grass. Animals are dying in mass numbers. The solution? Unsafe levels of more herbicides, to the point that it kills off many native and beneficial plants as well.

    This is why I do not wish to support GMOs. Because there’s nothing wrong with the corn I eat; there’s something wrong with how it’s grown. I’m fine with Golden Rice. I’m not so fine with our GMO tomatoes that have fish genes to make them last longer so they can be shipped from 10,000 miles away to get to my door still ripe. And that is why I want GMOs labeled.

    1. Wow. Already. It’s going to be hard for another commenter to top the whopping ignorance of this piece. It’s breath-taking.

      1. You’re welcome to point out the inaccuracies.

        In the past 30 years the number of honey bees in existence has been halved. In some areas in China, bees and other pollinators have gone extinct. Flowers that rely on bees no longer grow there. This is well documented.
        The nutrient-rich topsoil needed to grow our food is disappearing at an alarming rate. The UN estimates that we are using it at rates up to 100 times greater than it regenerates, which is about 100 years for one millimeter of soil. This is the UN that said this, not me.
        It’s well known that most chemical fertilizers are acidic and actually degrade the soil, contributing to dust-bowl conditions.
        It’s also well documented that pesticides and fertilizers have been leading to the development of super bugs and weeds. It’s easy to imagine that if a common weed like Hemlock were exposed to this, it could develop down the same lines. Hemlock is invasive, deadly, and livestock that live through eating it once tend to eat it over and over again. What do we do if a super-evolved Hemlock shows up in our fields for cattle?
        And these same plants and bugs are drowning out other plants and bugs that are struggling. This is simple natural selection. This reduces our biodiversity, and leads to an explosion in invasive pests that have no competition.

        Perhaps you should consider that it’s possible that GMOs which are banned in over 50 countries aren’t a clean purchase. Because it’s more likely that someone with a lot of money told a big lie and worked hard to cover it up, than over 50 countries hysterically over-reacting to GMOs.

        1. quarteracre, Wow! You so aren’t a farmer. I don’t know even where to begin with all the rubbish you just typed! Farmers have been spraying pesticides since the 1950’s! Not all of them were good for anyone and they’ve been banned. I don’t know what this high acid crap you’re talking about, but if weeds can’t grow then crops aren’t going to grow.

          Basic Biology here, you take soil samples of your fields. You get the results of the nutrients in the soil, organic matter, ph, and other fun data. You either apply fertilizer in organic form (manure) and/or chemical fertilizers. You can do both. Again, this is nothing new or unique to GM crops. Then you plant the seed of selected crop. You can do this conventional till or no-till. Which in a no-till system you leave former crop residue onto the field and plant directly into it without doing any other prep work. No-till will build organic matter, but it can be tricky to manage in heavier, wet soils. The seed won’t germinate in wet, cold soils as well. Conventional till is where more tillage is used to break up the soil and incorporate crop residue and manure solids.

          Pre, and post plant herbicide applications be done on many crops, but in particular corn and soy. Pre and post fertilizer applications can be done too.

          Have you ever heard of crop rotations? Well, most if not ALL farmers use a rotation. After a couple of years of one crop they rotate to another. This breaks disease cycles, pest cycles, and helps build up soil health. Since many farmers use a cover crop to help build up soil health and organic matter and scavange nutrients from the soil.

          GM crops are developed to BE resistant to herbicides like Roundup! That’s the beauty of it! They don’t become more resistant to herbicides that makes no sense. Yes, there are super weeds, but that was happening before GM seeds were developed. And super weeds dying or becoming resistant to fertilizers? That’s nuts! They love the stuff. You go put out a pile of manure and see how fast Pigweed and Lambsquarters starts up. Go to a fertilized field that’s only used manufactured fertilizers same idea. Heck if fertilizer was all that it took to kill weeds it would have been done a long time ago. Who needs pesticides then? Your points are invalid and completely inane.

          Bees, are dying yes. That’s about the only thing I’ll agree with you on, but that’s a complex issue. It seems neonics and some fungicides have been pointed to be PART of the problem! Not all of it! And Roundup isn’t either of those!

          Go farm for a while… and then come back with some credibility since 99%of what you posted is complete garbage.

          To the author: Nice job. Good article!

          1. Oh gee. Clearly everything you said is completely correct and you have provided much more credible sources for me than universities, the UN, professional scientists, people who have been farming since long before you were born or chemical pesticides were invented, or extremely successful permaculture and organic farmers. Clearly two-crop rotational systems with a two year chemical application which is how most farmers farm have NOT been linked to any soil degredation. Clearly companies that produce farm chemical are harmless. Clearly a generic speculative thought that only certain plants that grow in poor soils will be left if we let our soils degrade more is inaccurate. And clearly I am not a farmer. You must know everything. You have obviously proved everything I said wrong by mentioning hybrid seeds and tearing apart a clearly hypothetical situation.

            You’re right. I’ll just burn up all those studies on using 5-year rotational systems with forage crops and animals and their benefits to the soil. I’ll just ignore extremely successful permaculture farms that produce just as well without GMOs. I will jump up and down and wave the banner of companies that work only to push their own products and not worry about the health of humanity! I will ignore fifty countries and dozens of “big picture” studies that show the negative impacts of GMOs on our environment! Haljeluhia! I have seen the genetically modified light! Now lemme go eat some KFC and Monsanto corn after pouring Roundup on my lawn to get rid of my biodiversity! Yum! Flat grass and chemicals for all!

            1. Quarteracre, Did I touch a nerve?? Gee whiz not sure if I can take the sarcasm.

              At this point I think I have more experience on this subject than you do. Experience trumps theoritical scenarios. There’s dozen of peer reviewed studies. Here’s a link to a blog that has compiled said studies:

              Don’t be so obtuse to suggest that chemical companies such as Dow and Monsanto are harmless. They still need watching. My parents never used Monsanto’s rBGH on our milk cows. They didn’t feel it was necessary to produce more milk when there was all ready a huge milk surplus and it would have made the surplus more of a problem. They also didn’t like the time it would have taken to inject each cow with the hormone. I think if used correctly Posilac (the name of the hormone) is a tool to help boost milk production in high producing cows during their peak period and only using it on those that at their healthiest during that time. But that’s another topic for another time.

              Permaculture and organic will not feed a growing population. We’ve maxed out tillable land in most countries. Fertilizer inputs can only help so much. Seed technology is what’s increasing yield. GPS systems and other high tech tools on our tractors and equipment is making farming more efficient and less wasteful of fertilizers and pesticides. So how is the world going to keep feeding an increasing population? Better infrastructure in many third world countries would help and better political situations too, but at this point American and South American farmers are doing what we can to produce as much as possible.

              By the way, good luck with Roundup on the lawn. Let me know how that works out for you. 😉

              1. Permaculture and crop rotation have already been proven to increase soil conditions while providing the same yields as “modern” agriculture with an 80% decrease in chemical use. That website has complied all the studies that suit it’s own agenda, most of which are funded by big agriculture in the first place. Besides which, the earth we have can already provide for many more people than we are if it’s utilized properly. We produce enough food in the world RIGHT NOW to feed the world, it’s just not distributed equally.

                You didn’t touch a nerve. I’m just done arguing with someone who is set in their ways and can’t be bothered to refute the simple facts I posted that modern agriculture is depleting and damaging the landscape and that GMOs enable chemical use which greatly contributes to it. Some studies show otherwise, yes, but there’s plenty to support my argument as well.

                We’re done here. I think we can agree to disagree. You keep putting money in the pockets of the people controlling and ruining our food system from top to bottom. I’ll keep fighting back.

                Good bye.

    2. What you want, so far as I can see, is for the name of the fertilisers and pesticides to be labelled. Because having the GMO label doesn’t tell you if the farming practice is destructive or not.
      And that’s precisely what I argue: the label will be misleading to you if you think GMO means the harshest possible pesticides etc.

      1. I would agree with that. However, the whole point of many GMO products is to allow the use of the strongest chemicals possible, which ultimately degrade to land. If GMO companies focused on producing plants that were a benefit to society instead of a detriment to our land I would not have as much of an issue, but that’s not where the money is. The same company that produces Roundup produces the GMO round-up-resistant corn and they make a lot of money from people buying their corn, and their weed killer, and then even more weed killer.
        So something that is mostly produced with the sole intention of allowing it to be used in a manner that is harmful to me is bad. Even if there are small benefits. And there’s no point in raising 99% of GMO crops if you’re not using it in one of those ways… And if you’re growing a GMO anyhow, you’re supporting a company that encourages the degredation of our land, which I don’t want to support. So why not label it and let me decide?
        If GMO’s turned around and said “we’re only doing things like improving nutrition from now on”, GMO labeling would still be good because it would then become a badge of honor.
        Until they change their methods, GMOs come from, and support companies that have a negative impact on our environment. I want to have the option of NOT supporting those companies and growing methods. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

        1. Again, no credibility with me. Roundup is one of the LEAST toxic pesticides out there. Try using Atrazine! That’s stuff is potent! Monsanto has been in the seed and pesticide business for years! Nothing new there, again! For decades farmers have been buying hybrid seed and pesticide from companies like Monsanto. That is nothing new.

          You apparently didn’t read what I wrote. Monsanto has no say in the farming practices other than not saving their patented seed. Which many farmers all ready did NOT do. So in degrading the soil that’s poor farming practices. If you degrade the soil you can’t make a living growing crops. You can’t just go out and buy more land! It’s too expensive! Ever tried buying 50 acres in Corn Belt country? It’s more than my mortgage on my house! Farmers have recognized stewardship and conservation practices in all types of farming. They wouldn’t be in business other wise. There is no such thing as a dumb farmer now or ever.

          Your points are invalid. Seriously, try farming for a while and see how it works for you.

        2. To an extent, I understand your point of view. After all, I boycott palm oil because there is no way to distinguish responsibly farmed palm from highly destructive palm. But if the palm industry goes under, never to come back again, there will still be ingredients that can replace it; we don’t lose anything.
          This doesn’t work for GMOs. There are places in the world that desperately need GMOs because they need the self life for transport; they need drought resistent crops; they need the longest growing season available; they need higher pest resistence. If GMOs go under because of a failure to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible farming (an issue you rightly raise) there are part of the world that will suffer greatly.
          The information you need is not GMO or not. It is responsibly farmed or not. And that I support.

          1. And as soon as that becomes to focus of GMO technology I will support GMOs. Until then it’s a money machiene that encourages the depletion of farmland. In theory, right now we grow enough food to feed the world, it’s a matter of distribution.
            And while I think and agree GMOs may contribute to the solution they’re not the only option.
            Most hunger issues in other countries stem from an incredible lack of knowledge and resources of the people and programs that teach them farming and help them get equipment they need have been highly successful. Just something as simple as teaching a Vietnamese lady how to manage her pigs can let her feed her village and build a new house. Or teaching a coffee farmer how to sort through their beans that get exported so that they can sell the higher quality beans for a better price. There are people who are now raising trees instead of grass to create animal feed because it’s drought resistant. (Mesquite is a great example of a feed tree.) They’re already breeding drought resistant animals (think brahman cattle) and developing specialized breeds and looking into alternative low-water use animals to raise. It’s just a matter of getting them there.
            I sincerely don’t think the world will starve any more without GMOs than with because there are alternative effective means of solving world hunger just like there are alternative effective means to grow food in the US efficiently, even if it may take a little longer to implement. Many countries don’t even want GMOs. After the Tsunami in Haiti Monsanto sent them thousands of lbs of GMO seed corn and they burned it all. They wanted to grow their own, more traditional corn and not have this thing tying them to America and Monsanto. So until GMOs become a source of change for the positive, I will continue to not want to support them.

            1. My dear friend.
              Think in this. For the last 5 years US, Canada and South American yields had been increasing at a rate of 2% per year. At the same time, European yields have been decreasing by 0,2 % per year (Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, NESTLE CEO, Borlaug Dilaogue conference, Iowa, 2012) Why is the difference??? Europe does not allow farmers to grow GM crops. So you mention that without GM crops we are still able to feed the entire world. And that (once again…) is not correct. Right now more than 60% of world soybean production is under GM seeds. AMAZING! And in corn rates are above 45%. Does this tells you something? First, that farmers are not taking but embracing GM technology. Even when this destroy their own farms???? Wow. Do you think they (we) are so stupid to do that? Or that they (we) didn’t realize about this??? Please, have a little consideration. We are not that moron…
              Second, check some numbers. In 1950 world grain production was about 600 million tons. thanks to (chemical) fertilizers we added 800 million tons to reach 1400 million tons by 1990 (in 30 years). Then GMO crops appeared. What happened since then? Another 1000 million tons added. In only 20 years. Imagine a world without GM crops. With previous rates we would have up to 1900 million instead of 2400 million tons. That’s a lot of food, don’t you think?
              I’m not against all the other technology, food production or cultures. But what makes me mad is that people like you throws numbers and lyric phrases so happily, without thinking in other people.
              “You can’t build a piece of world in an empty stomach”, Norman Borlaug said 40 years ago. How amazingly right he was!!!

            2. It has been explained to you, repeatedly, in these comment threads, that designing GMOs to withstand conditions that desertify land (or turn it into dust bowls) is simply not the goal. That has been explained to you by a farmer that uses GMOs.
              And to say that GMOs won’t solve problem of shelf life and pests is just dim.

              1. That’s because your points had no merit, also repeatedly explained to you by people with practical experience in managing their lands, which they fully intend to pass down to the next generation, so the accusation of carelessness was likewise without merit.

              2. The comment that was made was completely irrelevant to all the points I made. Some places are doing fine but for every piece of land doing great there is another drifting away. You can ignore the statistics on that all you like. There are better ways to manage our earth. You please continue to believe what you want. I will continue to believe what I want. And I hope that someday one of us is wrong.

              3. Sorry this has taken a while, and I sorry you don’t think what I said was relevant. But, in my defence, here is why I think it is relevant:
                You said “And as soon as that becomes to focus of GMO technology I will support GMOs. Until then it’s a money machiene that encourages the depletion of farmland”
                I said you’ve been told that’s not the case.
                You said “In theory, right now we grow enough food to feed the world, it’s a matter of distribution.”
                I’ve already told you that GMOs help with distribution (longer shelf lives)
                You said “Most hunger issues in other countries stem from an incredible lack of knowledge and resources of the people and programs that teach them farming and help them get equipment they need have been highly successful. Just something as simple as teaching a Vietnamese lady how to manage her pigs can let her feed her village and build a new house.”
                And I ignored that completely because I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. Plus, haven’t we already said the information you want, therefore, is about farming methods: responsible or irresponsible? I’m sure we have, but you ignored it.
                You then talked about some other farming methods. Well, see above.
                You said “They’re already breeding drought resistant animals (think brahman cattle) and developing specialized breeds and looking into alternative low-water use animals to raise. It’s just a matter of getting them there”
                And by implication you said that GMOs can’t help here. What do you want me to say? You know they can help. Oh, they can selectively breed all they like, they just can’t genetically engineer… What?
                You said “I sincerely don’t think the world will starve any more without GMOs than with because there are alternative effective means of solving world hunger just like there are alternative effective means to grow food in the US efficiently, even if it may take a little longer to implement.”
                And we’ve talked about this already. If rice can survive another week on the back of a truck then it can make it hundreds more miles. You’ve already rebutted this claim -yourself- saying that the problem is distribution, not amount. So what has “efficiency” got to do with it?
                But, while we’re on the issue of efficiency, consider that GMOs can get you more food for your money (more bang for your buck). GMOs afford the process of farming the liberty to use less fertiliser, to use less pesticide and to lose less food to pests and storage etc. (If I sound like a broken record it’s because you don’t seem to be absorbing these issues.) If you are an impoverished farmer in Angola or the Congo this is kind of a big deal.
                You said “Many countries don’t even want GMOs. After the Tsunami in Haiti Monsanto sent them thousands of lbs of GMO seed corn and they burned it all. They wanted to grow their own, more traditional corn and not have this thing tying them to America and Monsanto.”
                Moot point, I rightly ignored this.
                You said “So until GMOs become a source of change for the positive, I will continue to not want to support them.”
                I decided not give you the economics lesson I wanted to. I also decided not to repeat that it’s not GMO vs non-GMOs; that’s not the useful information in this. I’d love to know if what I buy has been farmed using contour stones, or contour ploughing (or not). I’d love to know the erosion rate of the farms my products were grown on. I’d love to know the health of the rivers near the farm (as a proxy for knowing the over-use of fertilisers). The term GMO doesn’t help me here. Again, I’m a broken record on the issue.

              4. So you deliberately ignored what you felt was irrelevant, you have no knowledge of how farming is done in other countries, what people want doesn’t matter and because YOU say so GMOs are beneficial. There’s plenty of evidence to show that GMOs have a detrimental effect on the world which is why they’re banned in 50+ countries and climbing. You clearly don’t understand that the distribution issue’s not going to be solved by increasing shelf life, because nobody’s shipping food overseas to feed hungry people without being paid for it somehow anyway. It’s the issue of where the crops are grown in the first place and the fact that food is grown inefficiently in other countries from a lack of knowledge. And GMOs don’t actually decrease the need for any chemicals, the best solution that produces equally strong results are things like crop rotation and permaculture, cover crops and no-till crops which have been shown to decrease the need for chemicals 80% over what classically farmed GMO crops use and produce the same about of food in the same space. Oh there are studies to show the other way too, but most of those are funded by the companies that produce the products either directly or indirectly. GMOs are not the solution to feeding the world. Right now GMOs have shown no benefits that can’t be gotten through other means and HAVE shown detrimental effects. And it’s my right to refuse to support that or not.

                I hope that someday you realize what millions of other people do that GMOs are out there to make money, regardless of the effect on the rest of the world.

                If you care to acknowledge the existence and legitamacy of studies showing the detrimental effect of GMOs, or studies that show that there are fantastic alternatives to GMO technology, or even bother to learn about small agriculture in other countries I’ll be happy to re-open this debate. Until then (which will probably be, well, forever since you’re a GMO supporter), I’ll just thank my lucky stars that it’s not up to you what people support or not.

              5. No, he ignored those sections of your comment that were without merit. I would’ve too. 1/4, you’ve clearly very little grasp of what you’re talking about. There have been farmers here, who farm hundreds of acres, who have told you that GMOs reduce chemical use on their farms and who fully intend to pass on their farms to their children. What don’t you get about that? Do you think they’re lying to win some skeptics points on the internet that they won’t be able to cash in when their lands frivel up? Obviously, they’re saying it because it is true, otherwise they’d stop. The reduction in pesticide use is practical, empirical, and unequivocal. How do you not get this? You’re so blinkered that you don’t even know you’re blinkered. Or, as someone recently put it, so wrong that you’re not even wrong.

                Yes, many hundreds of industry supported studies show that there are benefits, but so do many hundreds of independently funded studies, and so does every public scientific institution: the National Academies of Science, the Royal Society, the AMA, the WHO, the FAO, and dozens of others I could name-drop if I wanted too. Is that a giant conspiracy? The NSA, the most secretive organizations on Earth, can’t even keep secrets. You think some public scientists can do what the NSA, an organization devoted entirely to spying and secret intelligence gathering with the most advanced technology that money can’t buy, can’t?

                One last point I’ll make, as I doubt Allallt will respond (nor does he need too, he made his points and they are well made–and you didn’t rebut a single one of his contentions), your insistence that he is blinkered is merely a projection of your ignorance viewed through your flawed assumptions onto him. The last point I’ll make is to point out that you, in a stunning dual display of the ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy and the ‘appeal to popular belief’ fallacy, is your meaningless statement that because 50 countries have banned GMOs, they just might be onto something. Well, 71 countries have laws against homosexuality. I guess we should lock up those pesky sinners! I mean, that’s 21 more countries, that many people can’t be wrong! How about atheism? Countless countries have laws explicitly forbidding it. Quite a few of them even have the death sentence for it. Those pesky humanists need to be silenced as, using your own logic, there must be something there. Seriously, appealing to populist ignorance is the smartest thing you’ve said in this back-and-forth.

                Learn to read some science and go into it with open eyes: the evidence all lines up on one side. The scientists who are paid with public money and are the best trained to evaluate the evidence all come down on one side. That’s not a coincidence, it’s not a conspiracy, and just because industry has said somethings which are true, it doesn’t mean those claims are all of a sudden untrue (another logical fallacy). I’m not trying to be mean, you really don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s nothing wrong with that. Switch the subject to rocketry, and my head will explode, or to hydrodynamics, or modern art, or ancient art for the matter, or any one of a million other subjects, but I don’t pretend to know anything about them. What you do on your 1/4 acre does not translate to farming for a million, billion, let alone 7 billion people. Unfortunately, the reverse of your closing statement to Allallt is true, people like you, who’ve no training in plant pathology, horticultures, permacultures, molecular and evolutionary biology, immunology, pesticide research/development/and application, and the dozen related fields, have an altogether undue influence over the food debate. Nothing could be sadder. The people most in the know are in favor of GMOs. The people most ignorant about them are vehemently against. Go read into the Dunning-Kruger effect: the anti-gmo movement are a prime example of the principle in action. Go read what the anti-GMO movement has done to millions of vitamin-A deficient children. History will not treat the anti-GMO movement kindly…

              6. I ended my conversation with you. You don’t want a debate, you just want to be right. When you choose to sincerely want more than that I’ll be happy to re-open this conversation with you.

              7. The sad thing is is that is not what you are asking for. You’ve been told repeatedly why you are wrong with explicit examples and studies. You respond saying there are plenty of studies that show you are right, without posting any, you give examples that are false and been told as such by farmers who farm 100s of acres. It is you who doesn’t want a debate. I’m happy too, so long as science is the given language. Good, high quality science.

              8. And yet you could bother to look up those studies yourself and the fact that you don’t know them shows you haven’t even tried to formulate an opinion from all sides. There’s lots of people who farm 100’s of acres with the EXACT OPPOSITE opinion… I doubt most of them would bother posting here because this is the reaction they get. I’ve looked at the issue from both sides, and I have my own opinion based on that. When you bother to look at it from more sides than one we’ll talk. Until then you keep sitting in the pocket of a company so large it can and will destroy the entire US food system from the top down.

              9. I’ve mentioned alternatives. I’ve lived in Thailand and in Vietnam, so I do know other farming practices (and I still don’t know what you’re talking about–manage your pigs and you can build a house? I studied agriculture at university (in part, it was a Geography and Environmental Management BSc).
                Millions of people vote republican, millions of others vote democrat; they can’t all be right. (Knowledge is not a popularity contest.)
                Distribution absolutely will be solved by a longer shelf-life; half of food in the developing world is lost in transport (half in the UK is lost to waste; you see the issue? It’s not amount, therefore efficiency–in terms of tonnage per acre–is not the issue. The issue is tonnage per $ and distance it can travel.)
                And, to stick to my post, a “GMO” label will be misleading to people like you. Maybe (maybe!) you can argue that the developed world doesn’t need GMOs (yet). But you cannot argue that the developing world doesn’t need them.

                Lastly, Fourat J asked me to post on this issue and NEVER told me what my opinion should be to guest post here. I went and read the data with a critical eye, evaluated the science and essentially built a meta-analysis in my own head before writing. I’ve been a GMO supporter for about 3 weeks. Before that I had no opinion and an approximate memory of a poster in my school saying “GMO free food” (handwritten on a whiteboard in the dining hall). Your claims are poorly supported by those practicing GMO farming. You have quite selectively gone through the literature. And you don’t seem to really grasp the food crisis many people find themselves in (benefit of being rich, I suppose).

              10. WordPress keeps tagging you as spam, so I apologize for the 2nd time your comment was delayed. Can’t figure out why. Anyway, nice comment.

              11. You sure make a lot of assumptions about me…
                And yes, I choose to reference literature to support my views, views I formulated after reading both sides. I can easily decide that a company with as much influence as GMO companies can pretty much say what they want so I looked at other, unrelated to GMO or not, studies…. Studies that showed alternatives work just as well if not better than traditional GMOs for growing crops and raising animals. And other countries could easily use those techniques as well, they just have to be introduced. Whereas I feel that introducing modern GMO farming on a four-year rotation, with chemicals being two of those four enabled BY the GMO crops, would have a negative effect. Which means since there’s a high risk that GMOs can cause detriment to the landscape and there’s alternatives easily available I won’t support them. That’s my right. I can also choose not to support organizations like Boy Scouts because they don’t allow gays, even though they often have a positive effect on society, even based off the opinion that they’re detrimental to society. People choose to willingly take up smoking even with a big label on it that says “Hey! This will probably kill you!”. People can make up their own minds, and a label just allows them to make choices in line with their own beliefs. I am anti-GMO. I have a right to make that call in the products I buy. You don’t have a right to make that call for me. And many countries, again, don’t even want GMOs. They just want to grow crops better in poor areas. Not that you care what people want, but that’s why you’re not in charge. Unfortunately the people who are don’t care either. But at least a labeling law can work to change that.

                I’ll continue to not support GMOs based on the fact that they have a detrimental effect on the world, and are introduced solely for money when there are superior alternatives. You keep on believing otherwise.

              12. You’re anti-GMO. I get that. You’re dogmatically anti-GMO; you don’t care if they can help. You simply have a fear of big corporations. You’re oddly okay with selective breeding, which in a number of cases gets the same results but just takes many many generations. And for those generations people will be suffering with all the issues they’re currently suffering.
                You’ve ignored the people who are farmers who have told you your claims are wrong.
                You can request that food companies pander to your dogmatic objection and print a little green label which says “GMO”, and thus misinform you because you think it’s killing the environment. But so long as science is the currency of information (as it should be) such misleading information should not be available.
                I’ve suggested to you already that you really want the names of pesticides and soil erosion rates printed on your food. That request makes more sense, and allows you to identify destructive farms, even the ones that are GMO-free. Remember, bad farming practices are destructive even when they’re not GMO. On top of being misinformed, you’ll accidentally give some farms (which may well be destructive) a free pass.

    3. No way. You are the one misinforming. The post presented is written in another perspective, But first of all, not lying.
      With the usage of GMO crops you are not using more pesticides (as you point), neither equal amounts. You are using much mush less. Bt corn uses no harmful pesticide to control caterpillar. The corn makes it’s own control. And it’s a very directed control. No problems for other insects. No problem for birds. No problem for butterflies (as some ingenious anti GMO scientific said some years ago, lying and confusing people and users)
      What do we do to avoid what you first said of increasing acidification? We plant NO TILL crops. Here in South America we are leaders in this tillage (or much better said, absence of tillage) system. You left the soil complete covered, using much less herbicides (this is about 3 times less herbicides), retaining moisture (as no direct sunlight impacts the soil) and improving micro and macro fauna in there. There are more microorganisms in 1 square inch of soil than all the inhabitants of the earth. Who we must feed…
      So we can use chemical fertilizer (I understand you are not challenging the usage of fertilizers) as you grow yields as you IMPROVE the soil and produce more food.
      Is this so bad? Don’t think so.
      I’m a farmer and talk not from my knowledge but my experience. Hope it be useful

      1. So what you’re saying is you use a completely different system where you live than the majority of American farmers and get a different result? Big shock there. You’re not using the plants the same way there are being used in America. You are not using a 4-year rotation of soy-corn-chemicals-chemicals that most farmers use. You’re implementing crazy things like permaculture and no-till into your farming. And then you see better results? No surprises there to me at all! You’re basically using organic permaculture gardening with GMO’s as a backup plan. Not the same thing at all.

        1. you’re right. we are in a GMO based agriculture, with no till system at all (100% of our crops are being planted under that system) and in a soybean-wheat-soybean-corn-soybean, etc, etc muticulture. Je. We are as Americans as the northern ones. And probably we are caring the soil better than them. But don’t be that blind. Agriculture system is almost the same. And not such bad things are happening here as you point in your several posts.
          Is good to farm a little bit before talk so happily. Things are going well. We are feeding twice the people. Improving yields. Which is your idea? Cut the trees of Amazonas forest? Till subsaharian lands? Maybe cut 30 or 40% of the population??? (Dan Brown drops some ideas in his new bestseller). We must focus in actual situation. We found a good way of producing, but bad information (as you seems to supply), subjective emotions and fear makes people turn the head. Not good for mankind…

  2. Great great piece of writing!
    We are very convinced on using this crops for producing food and cutting starvation.
    I met a friend from Africa who cleared my mind hugely.
    When he planted non GMO crops he had terrible bad yields due to huge weeds and pest damage. Weeds raced for light, water and nutrients, pests devoured his crops.
    What happened when GMO crops entered his farm? He could send his children to school. How this happened I asked? My first thought was that he had not enough money for sending his sons and daughters to school. But the true was that as GMO crops made pest control and glyphosate tolerant crops made weed control much easier, he could avoid using his kids as “human plant by plant pest and weed controller”. This is double positive. Not child labour and kids much better prepared for the future. If we add improved yields, improved way of life, this is endless better.
    We must start thinking in other people improvement instead of cutting with no clue every new idea based on fear. Emotions must not dominate reason.
    Thanks once again!

  3. Quarteracrehome, you point out that in 5 short years, land goes from lush, green and fertile to dust bowl. We grow GMO cotton. We use chemical fertilizers, as there are only a few small animal facilities within several hundreds of miles, so manure is not available. We have beautiful, lush, green cotton growing in our fields right now, on land that has been in cotton production for almost 100 years, in very acidic soil out next to the Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas. Our pesticide usage is now zero, as compared to the Brazilian farmers we met last year who spray their non-GMO cotton up to 13 times with pesticides. With no pesticides, our beneficial insect population is flourishing. This is just our story on our cotton farms, out here in West Texas.

    1. I was using five years as a sped-up example. For most farms it’s taken twenty or so but it has been happening. Plenty of scientists who know about this sort of thing than any of us have shown this. I have no knowledge on growing cotton so I have no idea of it’s impact on the environment in GMO VS not, and I don’t know what soil conditions cotton grows in normally, and what the local pest levels are in your area VS Brazil, and I doubt your cotton is required to be FDA approved for human consumption. So I really can’t comment on cotton since I know nothing about it.

      1. Actually, you eat a lot of cotton. Cottonseed oil is used in hundreds of foods and many restaurants use it because of it’s low flash temperature. It works the best to fry a Thanksgiving turkey. It is also found in hundreds of cosmetics. Cottonseed and the cottonseed hulls are a major source of feed for the cattle and dairy industry.
        Your statements about the use of chemical fertilizers causing the land to turn to a dust bowl waste land situation should be happening, regardless of what soil conditions cotton likes to grow in. However, we are growing better, healthier cotton crops than ever before all across the plains of Texas (when we get the rainfall, that is.)
        As for pest pressure, when we didn’t have the genetic trait available that protects the cotton from the boll worm, we sprayed pesticides all the way through the growing season, sometimes up to levels like they still do in Brazil. To be pesticide free and flourishing beneficial insects is like a miracle happening before our eyes.

    1. Kini, that has yet to be established. This discussion is very limited — interesting, but deals with only a small part of multiple problems, and the basic problems are not well defined. GMO is a product in search of a problem so that these seeds can generate profits for large chemical businesses. The discussion, which was initially about the safety of these products for human consumption, has gone off on other issues which are entirely different. Decide what you are discussing and, if you change the subject, recognize you have done so and define that.
      Is the issue the safety of GMO crops? Is it whether these are good or bad for the soil and the environment in which they are planted? (This discussion suggests that may not be so.) Is it how to provide food for the hungry?
      Some years ago I learned that feeding the millions who are starving is much more a problem of distribution than it is of the quantity of available food. The world is already producing sufficient food to feed everyone, but the prosperous nations, who have a surplus of food, do not feel it is a priority to feed the malnourished in other countries. What is more, roads are poor or non-existent to some of the areas where people most need food.
      Some examples of relevant issues surrounding food: 1) The problem really is not how to produce megacrops. We have had those for decades without GMOs. The U.S. government subsidizes large farm businesses who produce excessive quantities of milk and other foods — and then pays these food producers to destroy those excesses — OR to NOT plant all their acreage. That food could be distributed to rather to those who are starving — or hungry (remember that is a problem in the U.S., too). (Food stamps are, indirectly, part of that subsidy. The purchase of foods with food stamps provides an otherwise unavailable market for excess products.)
      2) The overlooked problem in this discussion is that the U.S. is scrambling to find ways to utilize the excess food crops we already produce. The solution has been to look for other uses, rather than to grow other (more nourishing) foods. Food crops are dedicated to inefficient uses other than food. For example, Corn is touted as a source for biofuel — though in fact there are many other crops which are more efficient as sources for biofuel — so land which could produce food is used to grow a poor source for biofuel – and to produce corn products which are used so broadly in other processed food products as to be ubiquitous. You don’t want to be allergic to corn because it is extremely difficult to escape such products. (That was established decades ago by an economist in the Dept. of Economics at the U of Chicago who found she was allergic to corn oil and corn syrup. in the interest of her own health, pursued the subject.) Acreage now used to grow corn (which depletes the soil and is far from the most nourishing food plant) could be used for other crops.
      So – what is the question you want to discuss here? Is it the safety, for human consumption, of GMO? Is it the (questionable) necessity to use GMOs in preference to other versions of the same food? Is it the effects of farming methods & crops on the environment? While you are at it, please take a close look at ways to distribute the food already produced. Please, make a decision & define each issue as you come to it. At this point the discussion has confabulated a number of related – but distinct issues. Clarity would be appreciated.

      1. Hi owleyes,

        Thanks for a measured comment. Something all too commonly lacking in discussions over Biotech.

        So you hit the nail on the head. What is the problem? The problem worldwide is uneven access to food, to the point of a billion going hungry every night. This actually has very little to do with how much food the West wastes. It’s how much food those billion souls don’t have access too.

        To digress. On the issue of population control, this is no longer a problem. Global births are at 2.4 births (barely above the 2.2 replacement levels). The reason why the population will still expand to 9-10 billion is because we are at peak child, and more children will survive to adulthood to have their own babies. This is not a bad thing. Besides, population control is not the problem to begin with, it’s resource management. The poorer they stay, the more of nature they will cut down to everyone’s detriment. There is a direct correlation between poverty and deforestation. Our forests in the developed worlds are actually regrowing as we’ve learned to intensify our farming into those megacrops everybody loves to hate.

        To respond to your other comment here. GMOs are not a problem looking for a problem. To come to that conclusion, one of two things happened. You ignored all evidence to the contrary, or you only come into contact with evidence to the contrary. I’m not prescribing any nefarious here, but your position is suspect as soon as you said GMOs are there only to stuff the pockets of “chemical companies.”

        They were invented with a profit motive, yes, of course there can be no doubt. Are you suggesting that other types of farmers (organic) give away their produce for free? Or that subsistence farmers eat their own food because they choose to (instead of having no other choice)?

        As I alluded earlier, the billion hungry are not hungry because of distribution problems in the West (they were hungry before we were well-fed). Most food is perishable, and the businesses who produce more of it are for-profit, which is what makes us so good at it. And I hope you’re not suggesting we socialize farms because that very well might be a fast-track to disaster. At the height of Soviet Russia, 97% of farms were owned by the state and 3% were privately owned. The privately owned farms produced 25% of the entire food output of the USSR. The for-profit market system is the most powerful arsenal in our society and is why we are so well-fed. That is why they don’t have a mandate to give away food for free. The solution therefore is not how to waste less (though that would be nice) but how to ensure they can produce their own food in those countries most afflicted by hunger. Tell me something. Is it easier for people to grow their own food, in independence, in their own way, and at their own leisure, or is it better for them to rely on handouts, the whim of foreign governments and NGOs? That question has only one answer. It is better that they do it themselves. Now that being said, if one wants to farm economically, produce high yields, protect those yields from pests, and get that yield to market, you need to do it in a certain way and in a certain environment; i.e., it is largely an empirical matter — there are a few ways to do it right, and many more ways to do it wrong. Right now, given that their biggest problem is often their environment, and there is nothing they, or we, can do about that, but, we have the know-how to create GMO seeds that alleviate the environmental aspect, GMOs are not looking for a problem. They never have been. They’ve found one! That is clear as day.

        Our 1st-generation GMO crops have been primarily focused on the Western market. They allowed our farmers (those allowed to use them, anyway) to use less insecticides, replace toxic herbicides with benign ones, encouraged no-till farming (which stops run-off into waterways, emits less CO2, keeps soil moisture intact, and uses far less petrol — I’m sure some of the farmers who’ve commented here can add some more benefits than I’ve missed). That has never been searching for a problem. It has benefited farmers in less dangerous work (and less work in general), consumers in lower prices due to the lower inputs required (oil, tractors et al), and the environment in less CO2 emissions, less run-off into waterways and many more. These would be profoundly helpful to nations suffering from hunger because their biggest benefit is less inputs, especially important for low-income farmers.

        To answer those points you bring up in your last paragraph. GMOs are safe, there are no documented incidences of harm. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t none, but it sure means that they are so insignificant as to be verging on non-existent. For the billion hungry, the choice between theoretical (and I’m being generous here) detriments decades down the line, or staying alive now is not a choice at all.

        As to the questionable necessity. I’ve answered that already. They are necessary. Anything that reduces our footprint on the environment is necessary and imperative. Whether in the West or anywhere else.

        Distribution is not the problem. Uneven production is the problem. They need their own crops: drought-resistant, heat-tolerant, and flood-tolerant seeds so they can stop relying on the West, which must be immensely degrading. (Yes, they’ll still need to rely on us for the initial handout of seeds, but if you think that relying on one handout once to being reliant on NGOs and governments for the rest of one’s short life are comparable, then this reply has been a waste of time.) And Industry can sometimes do good things, not in the profit motive, as evidenced by Golden Rice, of which many biotech companies gave up patent rights so that it can be distributed, replanted, and seed saved for any poor farmers who need it.

        I hope this has helped.

        1. Nice answer Fourat J! I hope someday to write responses like yours. I get to empassioned about this stuff. Thank you again!

  4. Why do we need more food? There is already too much food and too many people are surviving, breeding and creating more breeders. We have a runaway bloom of human population and starvation is our best friend. Anything that increases food production temporarily limits starvation, and until we have better population controls in place, we need starvation. Sure, we could feed everybody theoretically, but then we will just increase our growth rate and hit the tipping point sooner. Human caused climate change means we don’t want more humans, with eventual runaway greenhouse gases, drought, food riots, mass starvation, the collapse of society, and armageddon. If you really care about people, you need to think this through and not adopt simplistic solutions with unintended consequences.

    1. Kilimanjouranl, so are you going to starve yourself to make good on your well thought out plan? If you have kids are you going to starve them too? Bets are on that you probably won’t. I agree that us first worlders are wasteful with a LOT of things and we could all do a better job with that, but I don’t think anyone would wish starvation on anyone else. What a horrible way to die. “If you really care about people, you need to think this through and not adopt simplistic solutions with unintended consequences.”, I think this statement is really the case of the pot calling the kettle black.

      1. I agree that embracing starvation for population control is not the answer. However, I think that Kilimanjourani has stated one aspect of the problem very succinctly. I agree that whatever the problem may be, it needs to be thought through and caution taken to avoid simplistic solutions [which may have] unintended consequences,
        In order to ensure that, FIRST and ALWAYS the “problem(s)” under discussion need to be defined clearly. I do not salute starvation as a solution to the world’s problems — that is brutal and smacks of “I got mine, so I don’t care how about you.”

        But — just what IS the problem to which GMO is being proposed as the solution?
        As for the issue of population control — that is another, separate, complex problem. It has been shown to be linked to the social status and education of women. Educate women, give them an equal role in governance, provide a reliable birth control option – that has been the most effective way to reduce population growth. The results have been dramatic. Notice that providing a reliable birth control option includes providing accurate sex education, and safe abortion. To add another issue: reliable birth control for women and accurate sex education for them sharply reduces the need for access to safe abortion.

      2. Well-said Jodi. I’m not quite sure if he’s trying to incite or not, but either way, it’s an immensely degrading comment. And if he’s being serious, then I have no words to contend against such ignorance.

      1. Haha. I read that. Not one of his best. As soon as he started going on about population, I was WTF! That’s not going to happen. Thanks for all the helpful comments here 🙂

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